When I first started writing about the Bat-Flip Royale, detailing individual’s attempts to gain entry into a (fictional) season-ending bracket of Bat-Flips, the winner of which would be granted the 2014 belt, it was all in fun. Jayson Werth had just punctuated the Marlin’s decision to intentionally walk the batter ahead of him with a grand slam, and his emphatic bat-flip was the icing on the cake. The bat-flip bar was set, and several well-known contenders (offenders?) soon stepped up. Yasiel Puig in fact, took the competition very seriously indeed, adding quantity to his bat-flip quality.
But yesterday, well… to put it lightly, things turned sour, when Manny Machado took the name of my little contest a tad too literally. After his very real effort to start a rumble, Twitter blew up, and calls for him to be suspended for his childish actions abounded. Even as a lover of a good bat-flips, even I must admit this was a step too far. But like a good ol’ train wreck, Machado’s actions can’t be ignored.
Machado’s interesting weekend actually started on Friday night with a seemingly innocuous play. With the option to throw to first to end the third inning, A’s third baseman (and my AL MVP pick so far) Josh Donaldson instead chose to tag Machado, who was literally just in front of him. Unconventional, according to the unwritten rules of baseball, but altogether harmless. The 21-year-old Machado however, thought not, taking exception to what was essentially a love tap, and tumbling to the ground. Whether it stemmed from his recent knee injury, or something else entirely, his reaction was entirely unwarranted, so much so that even the umpires found it amusing. Anyhow, after a round of ‘hold me back’ posturing between the two benches, the game went on with no ejections. Wei-Yin Chen though, plunked Donaldson the next time he came up (Donaldson had earlier hit his 17th homer of the season off of Chen, but dude…). Things were officially on.
On Saturday, Machado teased us with his bat-flip promise. Just look at the frustration in that toss, it’s a thing of beauty. I count a 480° twist on that thing, which in combination with the petulant helmet spike and look of disbelief, really adds to the dramatic effect of it all. His matinee display however, not that we knew then, was just a precursor to the main event that would follow a day later.
Yikes. From whatever angle you look at it, that’s not a pretty sight. Sure Fernando Abad had thrown in on him twice in a long decided game (the Atletics had a 10-0 lead at the time), but Machado had already knocked Oakland’s catcher Derek Norris out of the game with two rather exaggerated backswings. He can’t exactly claim Abad’s retribution was unwarranted. But throwing the bat… jeese Manny. It’s not even Donaldson at third base – it’s Alberto Callaspo! Naturally the benches cleared once again, with Stephen Vogt (who had replaced Norris behind the dish) particularly upset it seemed. This time, crew chief Larry Vanover had the good sense to eject both Abad and Machado, later explaining “It was obvious the pitcher threw at him the second time… then [Machado] threw the bat. That wasn’t accidental. He threw the bat, so two ejections.”
Yeah, no matter what you say Manny, that wasn’t an accident. You are hereby suspended. For the remainder of the season, no theatrical action of yours at the plate will be considered for entry into the Bat-Flip Royale. I suggest you spend the time wisely, getting back into the so far elusive form you displayed during the first half of the 2013 season, where it seemed like every darn plate appearance ended in a double, and doing your best Brooks Robinson impersonation over at third.
And if you really want to get back at Josh Donaldson, taking his crown as the best third baseman in the American League would be a solid, responsible way to go about it.
Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall) ↑ With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid.
- Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21) ↓
- Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24) ↑ Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
- Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25) ↓ Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws.
- New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27) ↓ Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June.
- Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28) ↑ After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too.
- Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29) ↓ After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
- Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28) ↑
- Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) ↑
- Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29) ↓ Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakas‘ quick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
- Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28) ↓ Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field.
- Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33) ↓ Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too.
- Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33) → Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 6, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 6! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-2 last week, 22-11 overall) → For the season, Victor Martinez has 8 home runs, 7 intentional walks, and just 5 strikeouts. Before Monday’s game against Houston, he’d gone 154 games without being called out on strikes (his streak went back to May 21st of last year, with Jarred Cosart finally getting him with a 94-mph fastball). That’s ridiculous. AT 35-years-old, V-Mart’s now batting .328/.381/.588, making his free-agency at the end of the year all the more interesting. The Tigers meanwhile, after facing a creampuff schedule last week, will be tested more sternly in the next seven days with trips to first Baltimore, and then Boston on the docket.
- Oakland Athletics (4-3, 22-15) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-1, 20-14) ↑ A great week on the field for the Birds was only marred by the ongoing Matt Wieters injury saga. While it at first appeared they dodged a bullet when it was cleared up that Wieters would not need Tommy John to cure his right elbow ailment (the track history of the surgery on catchers is brutal), just maybe some rest days at DH rather than behind the plate, the 27-year-old was this morning placed on the DL. Perhaps it was due to him going 1-13 in his four games as the DH, a move which forced Nelson Cruz to play the field, but losing Wieters’ production at the dish (.308/.339/.500, 130 OPS+) for any longer than the 15 days his stint mandates will be a huge blow to Baltimore. The return of Chris Davis to the lineup today however (he’d been out with a strained oblique), should go some way to mask the loss of their All-Star catcher.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 18-17) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 19-16) → After being taken deep 3 times during his 5.1 innings against his former team Milwaukee yesterday, C.C. Sabathia was today banished to the DL with a mysterious ‘fluid in his right knee’ problem. The injury seems a little odd given how a MRI showed no meniscus tear (and Sabathia’s incredible weight loss), but if some rest gets him back on track, it will be well worth it for New York. In the meantime, their rotation is paper-thin all of a sudden; behind the excellent Masahiro Tanaka, with Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Ivan Nova out, Alfredo Aceves, David Phelps and Vidal Nuno have all been pushed into starting roles. Such rough starting pitching isn’t going to cut it for long in the AL East.
- Boston Red Sox (3-2, 18-18) →
- Texas Rangers (3-4, 19-18) → Despite their winning record, Texas have the second worst run differential among Junior circuit teams (-25), and lousy playoff odds (19.1%, 4th worst in the AL). Yu Darvish‘s one hitter was pretty darn impressive mind you, blown call and all.
- Seattle Mariners (6-2, 19-17) ↑
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 18-19) ↑ After missing the first six weeks of the season due to a back injury that he originally suffered at the end of spring training, 32-year-old closer Casey Janssen was activated from the DL today. Hopefully for those north of the border, he’ll shore up the Toronto relief corps – entering Sunday, the pull pen had the fourth highest ERA in the majors, with a mark of 4.77.
- Kansas City Royals (3-4, 17-19) ↓ That the Royals are even close to .500 speaks to their crappy division and solid pitching, because their offense is truly abysmal. Twice in their last three games, they’ve scratched just four hits, shutout on Thursday by the combination of Hisashi Iwakuma and Fernando Rodney, and limited to just one run by Chris Young yesterday. Chris Young!
- Tampa Bay Rays ↓ (2-4, 16-21) For a team that prized itself on its organizational depth, and for years brought up non-heralded pitching prospects who achieved instant success, Tampa Bay are really struggling for decent innings right now.
With Matt Moore and Alex Cobb out, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer underwhelming, and David Price somewhat languishing, the Rays have only got 12 quality starts so far in 2014 – 28th in the majors. If things don’t pick up soon, which seems unlikely considering their tough upcoming schedule, the Rays are at risk of falling even further down these rankings.
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 17-20) ↓ John Axford was removed as closer after Friday’s blowup in a move which came about a month later than I originally expected. On the bright side of things, Asdrubal Cabrera had himself an encouraging week, batting .321 over the last week – all nine hits coming in a three-game span. With Francisco Lindor presumably on track to take over the shortstop job next year, would it be a surprise to see Cabrera moved at some point this summer if he keeps on hitting? Does anyone even care about baseball in Cleveland anymore now they have Jonny Football?!
- Chicago White Sox (5-5, 19-19) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (3-4, 16-19) ↓ In absolutely terrifying news, top prospect Byron Buxton is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam on his left wrist in the next few days after reinjuring it on a slide on Thursday. Considering the blah season the Twins are currently enduring, anymore bad news about their vaunted corral of prospects (Miguel Sano is already out having had TJ surgery remember) might just turn Minnesotans off baseball for the rest of the year.
- Houston Astros (1-6, 11-26) → Picking no. 1 overall in the upcoming draft is becoming more of an advantage by the day it seems; what with top amateur prospect Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina RHP) needing Tommy John surgery and UNC working LHP Carlos Rodon to disgusting pitch counts (former Tar Heel Matt Harvey‘s opinion on their ethics might be interesting), the number of potential top picks is dwindling. Unfortunately for fans of the rebuilding Astro’s though, Houston are on pace for their fourth consecutive 100-loss season and worst record yet. Even the promise of the first two #SpringerDingers of the year can’t mask the fact that Jeff Luhnow’s experimental tear-down job is taking a lot longer than originally thought.
Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 5, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 5! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (4-0 last week, 16-9 overall) ↑ You can only beat what’s put in front of you, and recently, Detroit have been doing just that. After playing just four games last week, bringing their season total to 25 (Seattle have played the next fewest in the AL, with 28), and handily winning them all, the Tigers finally have a full slate to look forward to over the next seven days. Considering how they’ll face Kansas City (once), Houston, and Minnesota, while being scheduled to send Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to the mound twice apiece, Brad Ausmus‘ crew stand a good chance of remaining in single-digit losses by this time next Sunday.
- Oakland Athletics (3-3, 18-12) ↓ The A’s sure got their revenge on Texas by outscoring them 25-4 in their three-game sweep, but were comprehensively dealt with by Boston over the past couple of days. Having faced a pretty light schedule so far this season, today’s tilt at Fenway will serve as somewhat of a yardstick; are the A’s actually good enough to beat the cream of the crop, and compete all year with the likes of Boston and Detroit? With Sonny Gray on the bump to face John Lackey, the Oakland have a decent enough chance to prove they belong.
- Los Angeles Angels (4-2, 15-14) ↑ Scoring 5.38 runs per game, the Angels have by some distance the best offense in the AL thus far – not that much of a surprise considering Mike Trout‘s continued excellence (he once again leads the AL in WAR), Albert Pujols‘ solid bounce back, and Howie Kendrick‘s nice start at the plate (.314/.391/.441). Where Anaheim have stood out most so far though, has been on the mound, where they have allowed just 4.03 runs per game – the third best mark in the AL. C.J. Wilson, Tyler Skaggs and Jered Weaver have all been solid, but Garrett Richards has been the star so far; the 25-year-old Oklahoma product has struck out 40 and allowed an opponent’s batting average of just .184 in his first 38 innings (6 starts), posting a surprising 2.84 ERA. If the hard-throwing righty can get the walks under control (18 BB in the early going), the Angels might really have found something here.
- Baltimore Orioles (3-2, 15-13) ↑ Manny Machado returns, fielding nerds rejoice everywhere. Including me.
- New York Yankees (2-3, 16-13) ↓ With a -13 run differential, the Yankees are still somewhat getting by with a smoke and mirrors act. Visiting the Angels and Milwaukee for series this week, the Bombers will receive a stern test of their mettle – the Friday return of C.C. Sabathia to Miller Park should see a hero’s welcome from the Brewers fans however.
- Boston Red Sox (3-3, 15-16) →
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 16-14) ↓ I must have cursed Texas in this space last week; in likely their healthiest state since the start of the season, the Rangers were simply punted by AL West rivals Oakland and Los Angeles over the past seven days, with Martin Perez and Yu Darvish getting knocked about especially brutally. Things aren’t going to get much easier for the frontline pair this week either; Darvish is slated against the top-ranked Angels offense today, and will face Boston on Friday, whereas Perez will be tasked with stymying Colorado’s explosive offense during the days in between.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 14-17) → Heath Bell was finally DFA’d, but the equally terrible, yet much more despicable Josh Lueke remains on the team. Urgh.
- Kansas City Royals (3-3, 14-15) → Fun stat of the day: to start the season, the Royals are winless when scoring 3 or fewer runs (0-15) and unbeaten when scoring at least 4 runs (14-0). Bonus factoid: thanks to Billy Butler‘s first home run of the year on Friday, the Royals as a team are now one jack ahead (12) of Jose Abreu‘s individual bomb total (11).
- Toronto Blue Jays (2-4, 13-17) → Well, Dustin McGowan is starting again today, so I guess my Marcus Stroman love was a tad premature. With Brandon Morrow now out though, it can’t be long until the Jays call up the diminutive righty.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 13-17) → It’s probably not an encouraging sign for your team when Michael Brantley has been by far and away your best player. The 26-year-old is having a veritable breakout, hitting .271/.336/.458, while leading the team in HR (5), runs (15), and RBIzzzzz (23), but unless Carlos Santana starts mashing (he did hit .261 with 3 homers last week, though his average remains a ghastly .158), the Indians will be up against it with both Jason Kipnis (strained oblique) and Michael Bourn (hamstring/continued case of NL-to-AL-itis) out for the near future.
- Seattle Mariners (4-1, 13-15) ↑ Wouldn’t you know it, the Mariners become a somewhat frisky team when someone else along with Robinson Cano hits. Mike Zunino (1.071 OPS), Michael Saunders (1.033), and Kyle Seager (1.030) have been terrific over the past seven days, helping Seattle to an impressive 4-1 record over that time – the M’s taking two apiece from Texas and the Yankees. With no. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma making his return yesterday against the Astros too, it’s been a good week for Seattle. Shame they have to travel for a 4-game set against Oakland this week really then, a series which will likely set them back down the standings again.
- Minnesota Twins (1-4, 13-15) ↓
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 14-17) ↓ Adam Eaton‘s hamstring strain lands him on the 15-day DL, and suddenly the offense that has kept the Pale Hose afloat so far becomes a little less potent. The Sox could badly do with their pitching picking up some of the slack – at 5.29 runs allowed per game, they are worst among Junior Circuit teams.
- Houston Astros (2-3, 10-20) → Through 66 plate appearances, the George Springer era has not got off to a good start. Known for his prodigious power/speed combination, the 24-year-old has yet to clear the fence, and has a 0 SBN number, all whilst batting just .180/.254/.213 and looking lost at the dish; even before his call-up there were worries about his plate discipline and contact rate – with 23 strikeouts to 5 walks, those concerns have been more than justified. Throw in his 5 errors in fifteen games out in right field, and its little wonder why Bo Porter dropped him from the lineup yesterday. On the bright side though, Collin McHugh!
Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 4, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 4! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (3-4 last week, 15-9 overall) →
- Detroit Tigers (4-3, 12-9) → For a presumed powerhouse, Detroit have somewhat underwhelmed thus far. With their upcoming schedule consisting of trips to Minnesota, Kansas City, and Chicago (White Sox), and games at home against Houston and Minnesota (again) however, the Tigers have themselves a creampuff of a fortnight on the way. Against such an easy slate, you would think Brad Ausmus‘ squad should roll. If they don’t, well, perhaps then it will be time to worry.
- Texas Rangers (4-2, 15-9) ↑ The Rangers rode into the O.co Coliseum this past week to face the rolling A’s, and emerged unsullied (there’s a sewage joke to be made in there somewhere). Capping off the 3-game sweep*, Martin Perez threw his second straight compete-game shutout, extending his scoreless innings streak to 26 in the process. Throwing more strikes, generating ground balls, and letting his defense do the work, the 23-year-old lefty has thus far been sensational backing up Yu Darvish in the Texas rotation – a group which is about to get a further boost; Matt Harrison starts today for the first time after back problems sidelined him during Spring Training. The injury bug continued to riddle the Texas lineup, with Shin-Soo Choo (ankle sprain) and surprise contributor Kevin Kouzmanoff (back) both dinged up during the past seven days, but things are getting slight better in regards to health – star third baseman Adrian Beltre returned to have a key go-ahead hit in the ninth inning of Friday’s 6-5 loss in his first game back. Just imagine what they’ll be capable of when they all finally get healthy.
- New York Yankees (4-2, 14-10) ↑ Quite the news week in the Bronx, and it pretty much all centered around Michael Pineda‘s pine tar use. After being ejected on Wednesday for his stupidity (and inspiring humorous analogies for his error on Twitter), Pineda was suspended for 10 games by MLB the day after, but the debate over Sticky Fingers II and the use of gripping aids will likely continue on into the offseason. In the meantime, the Yanks will be somewhat short of starters until his return on May 5th – fellow rotation member Ivan Nova formally confirmed what we all feared last week; he’ll need Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.
- Boston Red Sox (4-3, 12-13) ↑
- Baltimore Orioles (4-3, 12-11) ↑ Getting Manny Machado back should offset the loss of Chris Davis to the DL with a strained oblique. Do the Birds sneakily have the AL’s best lineup?
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 11-12) ↑ Despite their losing record, the Angels have the second best run differential of the Junior Circuit (+30, trailing only Oakland), suggesting they’ve perhaps been a tad unlucky so far**. With Mike Trout still warming up (which sounds stupid considering his .977 OPS, but hey, it’s Mike ‘Freakin Trout we’re talking about), Albert Pujols has shouldered the offensive load over the last week; “The Machine” not only posted a 1.101 OPS, but slugged his way into the 500 Home Run Club with a two-homer night in Washington, becoming the 26th player to the mammoth landmark. After being plagued by injuries during his first two years in L.A., perhaps the Angels are finally getting the Old Albert Pujols rather than just the old Albert Pujols.
- Tampa Bay Rays (2-4, 11-13) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (2-5, 11-12) ↓ As if losing 5 of 7 wasn’t bad enough, Kansas City fans were dealt yet another gut punch by team manger Ned Yost on Saturday; after KC closer Greg Holland never left the bullpen in the Royals’ 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Orioles, Yost told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star that he would never use Holland in tied road game again. Asked why he did so against the Detroit Tigers back on March 31/Opening Day, Yost responded, “Because I really wanted to win that game Opening Day.” I’m so dreadfully sorry for all Royals fans out there that this man is in charge of your team. Really, I am.
- Toronto Blue Jays (1-5, 11-13) ↓ After a promising start, the Jays have dropped four straight to AL East rivals. Maybe they’re too busy watching the Raptors in the NBA playoffs #WeTheNorth!
- Cleveland Indians (4-3, 11-13) → With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar struggling, down at Class AAA Columbus Trevor Bauer must be rubbing his hands with glee in anticipation of an extended shot at cracking the big league rotation. If they’re to make it back to the postseason, the Indians can’t afford to wallow in mediocrity much longer.
- Minnesota Twins (4-2, 12-11)↑ Go vote for your All-Stars everybody!
- Chicago White Sox (4-3, 12-13) →
- Seattle Mariners (2-4, 9-14) ↓ The Mariners offense remains putrid overall, but Robinson Cano rebounded from his slow start to hit .409 over the past seven days. Cano is heating up at an especially convenient time, for on Tuesday he’ll return to the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium for the first time since leaving the Evil Empire over the winter. If the over/under for his HR total in the 3-game series is 2.5, give me the over, as Jay Z’s client looks to stick it to his former mates.
- Houston Astros (3-4, 8-17) → After exhibiting a worrying dip in his pitching velocity during Spring Training and then putting up a 6.23 ERA in 13 innings of work at Class A Advanced Lancaster, Houston’s top pitching prospect Mark Appel was demoted on Friday to participate in extended spring training sessions in Florida. Jeff Luhnow is for now insistent upon last years 1:1 pick not being injured, but the big righty’s setback raises questions over the viability of the Astro’s four-man tandem Minor League rotations.
** In fact, they’re second by a huge margin of 25, with Minnesota (!) next highest at +5.
*I completed this post yesterday, just minutes prior to it being reported that RHP Ubaldo Jimenez had reached an agreement to sign with Baltimore. The terms of the deal can be found here. Unfortunately with a politics paper to research, I’ve been unable to update the Orioles preview accordingly. It is however, still my hope that Kevin Gausman still makes the team out of Spring Training.*
Halfway! Yesterday in my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series I capped off my coverage of the NL with a look at the most recent addition to Washington’s fearsome rotation – Doug Fister – and failed to wrap my head around what the Tigers got in return. From the National’s heralded set of starters then, to a team whose starting pitching depth currently only sits 80% full; as the opening team of my AL portion of the preview, the Baltimore Orioles have some serious questions to answer concerning their lack of a starting five (or a DH, or 2B, or LF). Fortunately for them, they also have Kevin Gausman.
After an 85-77 2013 campaign, the Baltimore Orioles had some pressing needs to address this offseason if they were to return to the postseason party that they had crashed so enchantingly in 2012; after winning the O’s left field job, Nate McLouth was signed by the Nationals; Brian Roberts – whom Baltimore had desperately clung to for years in the hope of him eventually returning to fill the void at 2B – skipped town to play in pinstripes, leaving his position vacant too; the perennially open DH slot (which had garnered only 0.4 WAR for the season) again was in need of a (preferably able) warm body to fill it; Closer Jim Johnson was lured away to the A’s, which in turn led to the Grant Balfour fiasco and evtually left Tommy Hunter slated to finish games. Then there was the starting pitching issue. Orioles starters ranked near the bottom of the majors in ERA (27th), innings pitched (22nd) and strikeouts (24th) in 2013, making upgrading the rotation the biggest need over the winter if the Birds were serious about 2014.
But when Baltimore opened Spring Training in Sarasota, FL, last week, having had the whole offseason in which to take care of business and right the ship, the gaping holes largely remained – none of which were more evident than the lack of a fifth starter.
No other team in the majors has a depth chart which lists only four starting pitchers. That the quartet includes names such as Bud Norris, Wei-Jin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez too, is hardly likely to strike fear in the hitters of the AL East. AJ Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, and Matt Garza were all linked with Baltimore at some point, but whether it be Peter Angelos, Baltimore’s infamous physicals, or hitter-friendly Camden Yards, none put pen to paper on a contract. With no movement on either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana (both of whom command draft pick compensation), it now appears that Baltimore will have to fill their remaining rotation position with a player already in their organization. Fortunately, they have Kevin Gausman.
The fourth overall selection of the 2012 amateur draft, Gausman projects as a future ace, despite a rough start to his major-league career. Called up by the Orioles last May after burning through Double A ball for a month and half (9.8K/BB!), the lanky flamethrower struggled mightily in his first experience as a starter in the big leagues – throwing 24.2 IP with a 7.66 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, with a truly horrific 2.55 HR/9 before being moved into a bullpen role. There he fared much better; in 23 IP in relief, Gausman lowered both his ERA (3.52) and WHIP (1.04), while jacking his K% up to 31.9. Most significantly however, he limited the home runs which plagued his work as a starter to just 0.39 per nine innings, suggesting that early struggles were perhaps more a momentary blip in control than anything serious to worry about (it didn’t help that he faced Detroit, Toronto, and Boston in that 5 start span).
Even considering his uneven start, Orioles fans could do much worse than having Gausman break camp as their fifth starter. Alternative in-house options include lefties Zach Britton, T.J. McFarland and Brian Matusz, along with right-handers Josh Stinson, Steve Johnson, Liam Hendriks; none of which would have any dramatic impact on the club’s chances. Gausman on the other hand, has the potential to be this year’s Matt Harvey. Even after his baptism of fire, the scouts still love him; the most recent Fangraphs analysis concluding “Gausman’s rough introduction to The Show in 2013 should not cause anyone to doubt his future. He still has the talent to develop into a No. 2 starter at the big league level.” If there was anything to glean from his 2013, it was that the Orioles had clearly called the LSU product up too soon; it’s worth remembering that Gausman had still less than a full year of professional experience when he made his debut. After an offseason spent adding 12 pounds to his frame (#Musclewatch!), and further refining of his awesome raw stuff, Gausman apparently has rebounding on his mind already, as he strives to become the innings-eating power pitcher the scouts envision.
Adding Gausman to that fifth spot should bring other benefits to the O’s too; aside from deploying his formidable services every fifth day, Baltimore is saving money. Rather than paying either the aforementioned Santana or Jimenez, the Orioles can use their spare change elsewhere – say, on a DH type like Kendrys Morales – to further improve their squad, in the same way Russell Wilson’s cheap deal allowed the Seahawks to grab Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. Of course, that’s if penny-pinching owner Peter Angelos chooses to. He’s leaving it late either way. With Gausman however, there is hope for O’s fans; there may not be a impact free-agent coming to town anytime soon, but their young righty at the very least has the electric stuff to brighten what has otherwise (so far) been a dark offseason in Baltimore. And if everything breaks right, propel Baltimore back into AL East contention.