Tagged: New York Mets

The Senior Class: NL Power Rankings – Week 9!

Every week 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. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 9! (All records correct as of Saturday morning). 

  1. San Francisco Giants (9-3 over the last fortnight, 36-19 overall)  After initially hoping they’d be able to avoid a roster move, Matt Cain was finally placed on the DL yesterday, and Yusmeiro Petit will take his turn against the Cardinals today. With Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the offense rolling, and ten consecutive games against sub-.500 teams after this series with St. Louis is complete, there’s probably no better time for the Giants to lose Cain for a stretch. 
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (7-6, 29-26)  With Matt Adams banished to the DL with a calf strain, the Redbirds finally pulled the Super-2 trigger yesterday and called up their top prospect, Oscar Taveras. The jewel of St. Louis’ loaded farm system, Taveras was batting .325 in 49 games with Memphis with seven homers and 40 RBIs, and is being counted on to provide an injection to a languishing Cardinals offense that after leading the senior circuit in darn near every metric last year, is producing just 3.93 runs per game in 2014 (10th best among NL teams). The 21-year-old Dominican will apparently bat sixth in the order, and also presumably push Allen Craig to first base while he plays in right field. The real fun however, will come when the Cards finish up their early June interleague schedule and Adams returns; someone is going to be squeezed out of playing time, a problem shared by the…
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (6-7, 29-27)  An awkward situation resolved itself on Wednesday when left fielder Carl Crawford was placed on the DL with a left ankle sprain. For the previous 5 days, Matt Kemp had found himself riding the pine, replaced in center field by Andre Ethiersomething that apparently didn’t sit too well with the highly-paid Kemp. Crawford’s injury permitted Kemp back into the lineup, but starting in left field for the first time since his rookie year, the 29-year-old hasn’t exactly excelled since his return; he’s gone 0-13 over the last four days, and is now batting .242 with a .719 OPS on the season. Given how Don Mattingly is making noise that he might not even start Kemp today, it might be time to go out and grab Joc Pedersen in your fantasy leagues. 
  4. Atlanta Braves (7-7, 29-25) 
  5. Milwaukee Brewers (6-7, 33-22)  After racking up 13 saves with a 12.9 K/9 ratio in April, the Francisco Rodriguez revival train came off the tracks in May. Over the past 30 days, K-Rod has allowed 7 earned runs and three homers in just 11 innings pitched, his strikeout rate falling to a meager 6.5/9 in that span. Paging Jim Henderson
  6. Colorado Rockies (4-7, 28-26)  
  7. Washington Nationals (4-8, 26-27)  Ryan Zimmerman went 0-3 as a designated hitter in his first rehab game at Class-A Potomac yesterday, but the bigger news is where he’ll be playing today. Working his way back into the swing of things after breaking his right thumb back on April 12th, Zimmerman will be playing left field, his first experience of the outfield, as the Nationals experiment with him at positions other than third. The 29-year-old will also apparently get time at first base, which he could man for the Nationals while Adam LaRoche remains on the DL.
  8. Miami Marlins (6-5, 28-26)  In some much-needed good injury news, right-hander Henderson Alvarez has been cleared to pitch Tuesday after complaining of a sore elbow in his most recent start. The last thing the Marlins need is another promising starter following Jose Fernandez to the operating table.
  9. New York Mets (6-7, 25-29)  Rafael Montero has been demoted, clearing the way for Daisuke Matsuzaka to start next Wednesday. I would argue, but the Mets have 35 quality starts this season, the third-highest mark in the majors. They must be doing something right. 
  10. Cincinnati Reds (5-8, 24-29)  With a team OPS of .673 for the season, the Cincinnati offense is officially floundering. Jay Bruce is back, but has done little, scratching his way to a .111/.111/.148 triple slash line since making his return. Perhaps worse, he’s now being out-slugged by Billy Hamilton. Only two members of the Reds starting lineup, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco rank above league average by OPS+. Joey Votto, the only other Red who can claim such a title, is eligible to come off the DL today, but unfortunately doesn’t yet appear ready to return. Thank goodness for Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, and the rest of the excellent starting pitching, a staff should be further boosted by the imminent return of Mat Latos. Without them, my Reds would be dead and buried already. 
  11. Pittsburgh Pirates (8-6, 25-29) 
  12. Philadelphia Phillies (7-6, 24-28)  Ruben Amaro remains a contentious figure at best, but it appears he at least got something right – keeping Chase Utley. After receiving a lucrative contract extension in the midst of a successful streak last summer, the 35-year-old has continued his hot-hitting ways in 2014, batting .323/.379/.525 so far. At the keystone, that’s incredible production, and well worth the $15 million the Phillies have invested in him this season. Whether he can avoid injury and keep it up for the remaining length of the contract however, well into his late thirties, remains the funkier angle of Amaro’s logic. 
  13. San Diego Padres (5-7, 25-30)  
  14. Arizona Diamondbacks (5-6, 23-34) Believe it or not, the D’Backs have actually been relatively respectable in May, going 14-12 over the past month. Arizona’s pitching remains a mess, but with Aaron Hill supporting Paul Goldschmidt nicely, their offense isn’t half the train wreck. They travel to Coors Field this week, so expect the trend of horrific pitching, good hitting to continue. 
  15. Chicago Cubs (6-6, 19-33)  Going into Thursday’s game, Kris Bryant was batting .349 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs for the Tennessee Smokies, with a .452 OBP (he’s added another home run since, obviously) .Accordingly, he was bumped up to no. 8 in Keith Law’s most recent prospect rankings, leapfrogging fellow Cubs prospect Javier Baez, who checked in at no. 9. The first round selection of the Cubs last year, Bryant has destroyed Southern League pitching to such an extent that a promotion to Triple-A can’t be far away, which will hopefully serve as a prelude to a September cup of coffee in the big leagues. Until then though, it’s another dull losing season at Wrigley.

Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 9!

The Senior Class: NL Power Rankings – Week 7!

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.  First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 7! (All records correct as of Saturday morning). 

  1. San Francisco Giants (4-3 last week, 27-16 overall)  Bruce Bochy‘s gang continue to quietly roll on atop the NL West, but the injury bug that they had mostly evaded for the first 6 weeks of the season has begun to bite; after losing Brandon Belt for six weeks after he underwent surgery to repair his fractured thumb, Tim Hudson missed his Friday start against the Marlins with a strained hip.The 38-year-old should be back in time for his next start, but probably won’t be too miffed if he’s held out again – he’ll otherwise be taking on the Rockies at Coors Field.
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 23-20)  Yasiel Puig so far in May: 67 plate appearances, .421/.507/.772 triple slash line, 10 walks, 12 strikeouts, and five home runs. The wild horse is loose, and bat-flipping like his life depended upon it.
  3. Milwaukee Brewers (5-1, 27-15)  In his 152 plate appearances this year, Khris Davis has 3 walks, good (bad?) for a 2.0 BB%. In his 152 plate appearances this year, Khris Davis has 42 strikeouts, good (bad?) for a 27.6 K%. And yet by OPS+ (he has a disgusting mark of 73, 13th worst among Senior Circuit qualifiers) the artist formerly known as Khrush is by far Milwaukee’s best option to play left field. Dear Lord do the Brewers need a outfield bench upgrade from the pitiful trio of Logan Schafer, Elian Herrera and Kaleb Gindl.
  4. Colorado Rockies (2-3, 24-19)  
  5. Washington Nationals (3-3, 22-19)  Doug Fister‘s second start as a National went a lot better than his first, as he allowed just five hits over seven innings, striking out six and walking none, in Wednesday’s win. Then again, he was only facing the Diamondbacks.
  6. St. Louis Cardinals (4-2, 22-20)  After playing 26 of the first 38 games on the road, the Redbirds returned home to Busch Stadium on Monday and were promptly hammered 17-5 by the Cubs. They’ve won 3 straight since though, and remain the sleeping giants of the NL in my eyes. With Trevor Rosenthal struggling in the closer role of late, keep an eye on Jason Motte‘s imminent return in your fantasy leagues.
  7. Atlanta Braves (3-3, 22-18) The Braves released renderings for their new $672 million stadium in Cobb County this week. In other news, aside from Freddie Freeman and his dancing, Atlanta’s offense still stinks.
  8. Miami Marlins (2-4, 22-21)  I’m still not ready to write about how I feel regarding Jose Fernandez‘s Tommy John surgery, but thankfully Bill Barnwell has moved on already. In his Friday post for Grantland, Barnwell astutely illustrated how Fernandez was the perfect prototype for aggressively calling up stud young pitchers – demonstrating how he was basically the same guy in High-A ball as he was in the major leagues. By promoting him straight from Class-A ball however, the Marlins extracted over 200 innings of Cy Young worthy pitching from Fernandez before his injury, while fellow heralded prospects Dylan Bundy and Jameson Taillon lingered in the minors before blowing out their arms. A great piece, and an interesting future strategy, though being labeling Fernandez a prototype rather than a cautionary tale does little to soften the blow of losing the most exciting pitcher in the game. 
  9. Cincinnati Reds (3-3, 19-21)  I hate to think about where the Reds would be this year without Johnny Cueto; with Mat Latos yet to make a start, Homer Bailey scuffling, and Tony Cingrani ineffective, not to mention an offense already without Jay Bruce and perhaps now Joey Votto too, Cueto has been carrying Cincinnati almost single-handedly thus far in 2014. This week apparently, everyone else aside from Reds fans like me also caught on to how good he has been; amongst many other pieces, the Dominican Republic native was most notably given the spotlight treatment from Dave Schoenfield on the ESPN Sweetspot blog, and the subject of a brilliant PitchCraft feature from Shane Ryan on Grantland. Sam and Ben on the Effectively Wild Podcast too, noted how Cueto’s ERA+ since 2011 is second only to Clayton Kershaw amongst all qualified starters during that time. Knowing Cincinnati’s (lack of) injury luck this season though (the Reds are second only to the Rangers in DL assignments thus far), he’ll be down within the next week now.
  10. San Diego Padres (4-2, 20-23)  With Carlos Quentin back from injury, the battle for outfield playing time is officially on. Considering how Seth Smith‘s recent tear will likely grant him a corner spot, that leaves 2 positions to be filled by either Quentin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, or Cameron Maybin. With the Padres ranking last among all teams in the majors in batting average (.219), on base percentage (.274), and slugging percentage (.342), you would have to think manager Bud Black will prioritize offense when filling out his lineup card.
  11. New York Mets (3-4, 19-22)  Both Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom were more than solid in their big league debuts on the mound this week, limiting the Yankees to just four runs in 13 innings between them. They received absolutely zero run support though, the offense behind them tallying only 7 cumulative hits in those two games. deGrom however, did finally end the Mets pitchers’ streak of futility at the plate – the group are now 1-66 on the season.
  12. Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 17-23)  Jason Grilli reckons he’s ready to return from the DL, and wants to step straight back in as closer. He probably will too given Mark Melancon‘s performance on Thursday; the 29-year-old failed to record an out, and allowed two hits and two walks en route to his second blown save in seven opportunities, bringing the Pirates’ blown save total to 10 already this season. After nailing down 55 of their 70 opportunities last year, Pittsburgh are currently on pace for the most blown saves ever, a record currently held by the 2004 Colorado Rockies (34).
  13. Philadelphia Phillies (1-4, 17-22) 
  14. Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 16-28) Jonah Keri made the point here somewhat, but when will the Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks accept their fate and start to sell off some of their few desirable players?
  15. Chicago Cubs (1-5, 13-27) → As good as he’s been so far this year, if the Cubs could get Jon Gray for Jeff Samardzija, as proposed by Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post here, they should pull the trigger in a millisecond. Sounds pretty darn unlikely though.

Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 7!

Hallelujah, the Mets pitchers finally have a hit!

It took 40 games and 65 at-bats, but a Mets pitcher finally has a hit. Unfortunately (at least for comedic purposes), it wasn’t Bartolo Colon who broke the streak – though he did his part in contributing 11 outs to the cause. Nor was it Jenrry Mejia, who aside from being unable to get through a lineup more than once, swings as wildly as an unlatched, rusty gate during a hurricane. And no, it wasn’t Jon Niese, the owner of a .205 batting average last year and who I reckoned the staff’s best hope for salvation.

Nope, the pitcher to finally end the record-setting futility was Jacob deGrom. Who you say? Jacob. deGrom. A 25-year-old rookie making his very first appearance in the big leagues, in the final tilt of a subway series no less. And how did he do it? With all the skill left over from his former days as a shortstop at Stetson University, singling in the third inning – his first at-bat in the majors.

So what if it came against Chase Whitley?!* Though it came way too late to prevent the Mets’ motley crew of hurlers from establishing the longest hitless streak to start a season in Major League history, deGrom’s single ensured the pitchers no longer have to collectively worry about challenging the all-time longest hitless streak for pitchers – a 100-year record set by the 1914 Cleveland Naps, who contrived to go 0-for-92 (!) during one especially putrid midseason stretch.

If only deGrom could possibly have batted more for New York, perhaps then he’d have left with a debut win. His ungrateful teammates however, only scratched 2 more hits all night (in related news, Dellin Betances is a monster out of the bullpen). Poor deGrom then, who went 7 innings while allowing only four hits and two walks and striking out six, was unfortunately awarded a rather tough-luck loss.

I’ve got your back Jacob, even if your horrible offense doesn’t.

A couple of other things to note concerning this special occasion;

– If Jacoby Ellsbury had gotten just a minutely better jump out in center field, that ball is being caught. Seriously, it lands within a few feet of him. Now Ellsbury and the Yankees are probably overly-conscious of the consequences of laying out considering his brittle injury history, hence why he didn’t dive, but I prefer to believe that Ellsbury was simply in too much shock to comprehend fully what was happening. The poor guy probably wasn’t expecting the ball to leave the infield if contact was made at all.

– This is no way makes up for the shocking haircut (or lack thereof) deGrom is currently sporting.  I can absolve him of blame for the silly spelling of his surname – that isn’t his fault after all – but that hair… It’s like some nasty cross between Clay Buchholz, the 2010 version of Tim Lincecum, and Jeff Samardzija. Mind you, if he pitches anything like the latter, fans at Citi Field will soon be coveting his gnarly tresses to place in lockets over their hearts (this is how depressingly weird I imagine life as a fan of the not-so-Amazin’s to be).

* If you were looking for well-known starting pitchers, this game was not for you.

On The Bump: Rafael Montero

As the season progresses (and sadly, as more and more starters succumb to Tommy John surgery), many a young pitcher will be called up to make his ML debut. To introduce some of the more intriguing first-time starters then, I’ve a new segment: On The Bump. Consider these posts your cliff notes, a cheat sheet if you will, for looking good at the local sports bar in front of your friends, annoying your significant other at home, or purely for feeling smug whilst sneakily watching MLB.tv on your iPhone at work. Whatever floats your boat, you’ll be prepared at least. 

Who is this guy? The Mets’ No. 2 prospect behind Noah Syndergaard, that’s who! Out of the Dominican Republic Montero signed with the Mets at the relatively late age of 20 back in 2011. Despite his late introduction to professional ball stateside however, the diminutive righty has shot through the farm system to become one of the more polished pitching prospects in the game. 

What has he done? Montero split the 2013 season between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a total of 156 innings and 150 strikeouts to go with a combined 12-7 record and 2.78 ERA in his 27 starts. Pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in Triple-A, Las Vegas’ Cashman Field, Montero greatly aided his prospect status with 88.2 innings of sub-3 FIP ball – he had a 2.87 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and surrendered only two homers in nine home starts. Having started 2014 back in the PCL, the 24-year-old has done nothing but impress once again; prior to his promotion he was 4-1 with a 3.67 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 41 2-3 innings, and tossed 5 1-3 hitless innings (98 pitches) in his last start – a win over Salt Lake. He also started the 2013 Futures Game at Citi Field for the World team

How has he done it? Though slight of build, he possesses as close to a perfect delivery as any in the game, an easy and repeatable motion from a three quarter arm slot that truly benefits his performance. According to Marc Hulet of Fangraphs ‘[Montero’s] strengths as a pitcher are his above-average command and control, which help all three of his pitches play up. He possesses a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup.” Sounds dead-on: while he doesn’t overpower batters (though he can reach back for some 95 mph heat if he needs it), thanks to his sound mechanics, that great command of his fastball and slider in particular has allowed him to dominate his minor league competition thus far. 

Why is he pitching in the majors? Primarily because Jenrry Mejia, after a couple of decent enough starts to begin the season, has lately proven he can’t work through a big league lineup effectively more than twice (he can ‘moonwalk’ off the mound after striking out a batter to end the inning however). To wit, Mejia was limiting opponents to a .193/.258/.246 line in their first plate appearance of the game, a somewhat-palatable .245/.365/.415 triple slash the second time around, but a disastrous .405/.500/.595 clip the third time through. Combine his dicey injury history (the 24-year-old has already undergone two operations on his right elbow, including Tommy John surgery in 2011), with the Mets’ horrific relief corps (they’ve deployed both Jose Valverde and Daisuke Matsuzaka far too plentifully for a team with any self-respect), and a trip to the bullpen was log in the cards for Mejia – opening up a rotation spot.

What they’re saying: Las Vegas 51s manager Wally Backman gave his departing stud a nice endorsement on his way out the door – “With Rafael, he’s able to locate to both sides of the plate, commands his off-speed stuff. He throws every pitch over the plate for strikes. If he falls behind in the count, he’s capable of throwing his changeup, his breaking ball over for strikes at any time. He’s always ahead in the count and the kid really knows how to pitch.” But c’mon, what was he really going to say? The objective Hulet, in his pre-season write-up of New York’s top 10 prospects deemed that “Montero cannot challenge the ceilings of Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard but he has the potential to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter.” That’s a darn sight better than Mejia anyway.

Worth a follow on Twitter? Unfortunately not. As far as my not-so-extensive search indicated, Rafael Montero does not have Twitter, or even Instagram. He does however, have a very poorly maintained fan page on Facebook – which has so far garnered a whole 23 likes. Go Rafael!

Anything else? He’ll be squaring off against Masahiro Tanaka, who is currently the proud owner of a 2.57 ERA and perfect 5-0 record, so is unlikely to pick up the ‘win’. If he manages to notch a hit and break the Mets pitchers’ collective 0-63 streak though, he’ll be a winner in my eyes no matter what he does on the mound.

The Senior Class: NL Power Rankings – Week 6!

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. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 6! (All records correct as of Saturday morning). 

  1. San Francisco Giants (5-2 last week, 23-13 overall)  I’ll leave this one to Tom the Intern.
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5, 19-18)  Though the Giants may own them (they’re 2-6 against their NL West rivals this year, after going 8-11 in 2013), and they’re currently behind the Rockies, I’ve a lot of faith in the Dodgers eventually winning their division. Not exactly a bold prediction I know, it’s the freakin’ Dodgers and their immensely deep pockets after all, but I can’t imagine their listless play continuing much longer – especially considering how they’ve now got Clayton Kershaw back. Their lefty ace went seven innings strong in his return on Tuesday, striking out nine Nationals while throwing only 89 pitches, providing some welcome relief  for an exhausted bullpen that began the day leading the majors in innings pitched. In other news, Yasiel Puig is still being Yasiel Puig, and it’s glorious.
  3. Colorado Rockies (4-3, 22-16)  The Rockies are scoring 1.27 more runs per game than anyone else in the National League, and rank first in all of baseball in average (.303), on base percentage (.351), and slugging percentage (.499). Troy Tulowitzki meanwhile, has a 228 OPS+, has already amassed 3.9 WAR in just 35 games, and a heat map that Jonak Keri described as “a nuclear blast that’s threatening to wipe out Western civilization.” With so many crazy offensive stats to keep track of, perhaps it’s a good thing Nolan Arenado had his hit streak ended on Friday night.
  4. Miami Marlins (5-1, 20-17)  After winning five straight, and nine of their last ten heading into Fridays game against the Padres, it was of great surprise that having sent staff ace Jose Fernandez to the mound the Marlins were crushed 10-1. Of course, this whole Miami season has been a surprise so far – who saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Casey McGehee and Derek Dietrich being valuable offensive contributors, or Tom Koehler being the top performer in a rotation containing the aforementioned Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez? You would have to think the wheels will fall off this week, with a trip out West to face the Dodgers and Giants on the slate, but these ain’t your normal Marlins anymore.
  5. Washington Nationals (2-4, 19-16)  Doug Fister finally made his debut against Oakland yesterday, but got shelled for 9 hits and five earned runs in just 4.1 innings as the Nats dropped the first meet of their three-game interleague series. Things will presumably get a little easier in the nation’s capital over the next even days – Washington have favorable matchups against Arizona and the Mets on the docket – but their season is beginning to feel a little 2013-ish; full of injury, unfulfilled promise, and eventual disappointment. New manager Matt Williams seems to have a cool head on his shoulders at least.
  6. St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 18-18) 
  7. Milwaukee Brewers (1-5, 22-14)  They might only be one game out of leading the entire Senior Circuit in record, but boy have things come back down to earth quickly in Milwaukee. Without Ryan Braun, the Brew Crew’s on-field performance has quickly regressed (since losing the Hebrew Hammer, they’re 4-8), each passing day he spends on the DL the club looking more and more like the average team their pythagorean win/loss expectation dictates. Thankfully for Milwaukee fans, Braun is due to return on Tuesday – whether he can singly lift them back to their lofty April perch however, remains dubious.
  8. Atlanta Braves (2-4, 19-15)  Yes, the Braves have gone 2-8 over their last ten, but their schedule was brutal – a trip to Miami, followed by series against San Francisco and St. Louis at home? No thank you. What that ugly stretch did do was establish that the Braves are in a very similar position to that of the last two years; they’re a good team, but not a great one, and can certainly be pitched too. Predictably, the second base position has become a black hole offensively, with Dan Uggla‘s already tiny offensive value (his occasional power, and ability to draw a walk), completely falling off a cliff thus far in 2014, and Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky little better in relief. How soon will it be until Tommy La Stella‘s phone rings? 
  9. Cincinnati Reds (3-2, 16-18)  Literally hours after the discussion that he was too passive was rekindled (He has a .409 OBP thus far, but only a .262 average), Joey Votto belted a huge leadoff home run (437 feet apparently) on a 3-0 fastball from Boone Logan to lift Cincinnati to their second straight win over the Rockies. With Jay Bruce out for a month recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, the Reds will need their leader more than ever to carry them on offense if they’re to remain competitive in the NL Central; to wit, batting ahead of Votto yesterday were Skip Schumaker, Bryan Pena, and Brandon Philips – not exactly the ’27 Yankees. But hey, at least Todd Frazier has the longest home run of 2014 now, so there’s that at least.
  10. New York Mets (1-5, 16-18)  Is it time to worry about David Wright? He’s generally been one of the most valuable players in the league when healthy, but in his age-31 season (in which he’s making a cool $20 million), he’s only been marginally better than average (he has a 103 OPS+, and 0.3 WAR value thus far). With only 1 home run, and an uncharacteristic .362 slugging mark, his power looks to have evaporated in the early going. Maybe he’s simply just injured, again, but the decline of their captain is not an encouraging line of thought for Mets fans to pursue.
  11. Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 15-20) 
  12. Philadelphia Phillies (3-4, 16-18)  A.J Burnett had been utterly fantastic through his first seven starts as a Phillie, boasting a 2.06 ERA with his hernia and all. He’d been so good in fact, I even was beginning to come round on Ruben Amaro‘s incredulous decision to hand him such a large contract considering Philadelphia wouldn’t be contending. Naturally, he got blown up by the Blue Jays for six earned runs in his next start, and for hours afterwards I cursed myself for being even partially complementary of Amaro’s management.
  13. San Diego Padres (3-4, 16-21)  If he keeps up his current pace, Everth Cabrera is one day going to be a fascinating case study concerning the effects of PEDs on a person’s eyesight; after walking at a 9.5% clip between 2009-2013, then subsequently being busted, the 27-year-old shortstop has only drawn five free passes so far this season, good (bad?) for a 3.2% BB rate. Not-so-coincidentally, he’s only on pace for 39 stolen bases this season, after an per-162-game average of 89.5 the prior two campaigns. If I had some knowledge of Biology, I’d be heading the study, I swear.
  14. Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 13-25) 
  15. Chicago Cubs (2-5, 12-22)  The Cubbies may have dropped 3 of 4 to their crosstown rival White Sox last week, but at least the Wrigley faithful had the pleasure of ESPN broadcasters Dan Shulman and John Kruk singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch while broadcasting from the bleachers on Sunday night.

Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 6!

Blake Bortles? What about baseball!?

While you (along with most everyone in America) were watching the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft play out yesterday, some baseball was being played! Here’s a recap of some of the things you missed while making fun of the Jaguars and watching Jonny Football sit at a table for an extended period of time:

– It took until the 20th game, 84th plate appearance and 318th pitch of his major league career, but Houston’s much-heralded rookie George Springer finally hit his first home run as a big-leaguer, an opposite field shot off Tigers lefty Drew Smyly that got out to the right field bleachers in a hurry*. It would be the first of three runs scored by the Astros in the inning, and lift them to a 6-2 win over Detroit, snapping their seven-game winning streak in the process. He would also show off his athleticism in the field, laying out to rob Miguel Cabrera of a hit.

– Another home run milestone was also reached elsewhere in the AL, this time in Toronto. In a ‘rivalry’ game against the Phillies, Edwin Encarnacion launched the 200th, and then 201st home runs of his career, giving him four in the past three games, and capping off a four game sweep for the Jays in which they comprehensively outscored Philadelpia 31-11. Having endured a sluggish April at the Dish, the 31-year-old Encarnacion is now hitting .281 in May, and has only struck out 3 times in contrast to his five walks. Look out AL East, it looks like the guy who put up 36 jacks and a .904 OPS last year is back.

Michael Brantley continued his sizzling start to the month too, nabbing three hits (including a double and a home run) in Cleveland’s 9-4 beatdown of AL Central mates Minnesota. Brantley is now hitting .400 this month, and leads the team in average, runs, RBI, and homers. In other Cleveland-related news, Jonny Manziel!!!

Nolan Arenado extended his hit streak to 28 games with a third-inning single off of Texas starter Matt Harrison. It would be his only hit of the game (one of just five for the league-leading Colorado offense, who were shutout 5-0), but gave him the franchise record, beating the mark set by teammate Michael Cuddyer just last season. Halfway to Joe DiMaggio‘s all-time record, Arenado has now hit .360 (40-of-111) with four home runs, 10 doubles and 19 RBIs since his run began back on April 9th. Today though, he’ll face Johnny Cueto, who leads the Majors with a 1.31 ERA and a .132 opponent’s batting average, in the first of a three-game set at Cincinnati.

– Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 2 prospect in the Rangers’ farm system, left-handed second basemen Rougned Odor was called up after Donnie Murphy went on the disabled list with a strained neck and Josh Wilson was designated for assignment. After hitting .279 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 32 games at Frisco, the moved immediately into the Texas starting lineup, becoming the youngest to play in the majors so far this season at just 20 years and 94 days old. He promptly went 0-4. 

– In another middle infield prospect promotion, right-handed shortstop Wilmer Flores was brought up by the New York Mets in an attempt to patch up their woeful offense (they had failed to score in 23 straight innings before getting a run in the first frame of yesterday’s tilt against the Nationals). Of course, like Odor, Flores also went 0-4 in his debut, but he has far less competition for the starting slot than his peer in Texas – who will presumably be pushed aside when Jurickson Profar returns off the DL.

– Surpise, surprise, Giancarlo Stanton did something few else could: hit a humpback liner out to center field for a home run in 3.63 seconds, on an 0-2 pitch from Dale Thayer, at Petco Park no less! The two-out, two-run jack gave Miami the Marlins their first lead of the game in the 11th, and would secure only their third road win of the season. Additionally, Stanton’s 40 RBIs for the season lead the NL, and through 35 team games are the most in Marlins franchise history.

– Having conquered elbow inflammation during March, rehabbed from a strained lat muscle in April, and seen the prospect he was traded for (Robbie Ray) called up and make an immediate impression on the Tigers, Doug Fister will today finally debut as a Washington National. Expected to throw no more than 100 pitches, the big righty will square off against Tommy Milone in Oakland, as the Nats start a three-game inter league series at O.co Coliseum. 

– Seattle won despite only notching two hits. Of course, they were playing the feckless Royals, whose poor fans got another post game treat from manager Ned Yost after the embarrassing 1-0 loss. 

That’s it! Enjoy the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft today!

* He will apparently gift the ball to his father at today’s game in Baltimore.

The not-so-Amazin’ Mets: Colon and Co. are still hitless

Rather than providing a Bat-Flip Royale update yesterday, like I eventually did, I was initially planning on explaining a hunch. I had the first sentence all ready to go, but for some reason or other, held off on typing. As it turned out, avoiding proclaiming “tonight will be the night a pitcher records a hit for the New York Mets” was a good decision; once again, the historically bad group failed to notch a hit.

If you think that’s harsh, I’m sorry, but it’s true. New York’s pitchers – though proficient on the mound, even without nominal ace Matt Harvey and wunderkid prospect Noah Syndergaard among their ranks – are now setting records for ineptitude at the plate.

Entering Saturday’s tilt with the Colorado Rockies at (the very hitter-friendly) Coors Field, the Mets staff had been tied in terms of futility with the 1914 St. Louis Browns, whose pitchers went hitless in their first 45 ABs of the season*. When Jenrry Mejia grounded out to end the third inning though, the title was theirs alone – the not-so-Amazins’ pitchers were then officially off to the worst offensive start for the position since modern-era (from 1900 onward) scorekeeping began.

1 Jon Niese 5 12 7 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 5 .000 .364 .000 .364 0 0 0 1 0
2 Zack Wheeler 6 11 8 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 4 .000 .111 .000 .111 0 0 0 2 0
3 Dillon Gee 6 15 12 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 5 .000 .077 .000 .077 0 0 0 2 0
4 Bartolo Colon 5 10 9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 1 0
5 Gonzalez Germen 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
6 Daisuke Matsuzaka 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
7 Jenrry Mejia 6 15 15 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
8 Carlos Torres 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0 0 0 0 0
Team Total 28 66 54 3 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 6 28 .000 .100 .000 .100 0 0 0 6 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/6/2014.

As the above table shows, the situation is all sorts of ugly. The aforementioned Mejia has been an unvarying offender, as he’s gone 0-for-15 on the year with six strikeouts. His one career hit came over four years ago, so there’s not much hope for drastic improvement there. Bartolo Colon‘s forays at the plate, despite having warmed many a heart with some of the GIFs of the year thus far, might somehow inspire even less optimism than Mejia; the 40-year-old has incredibly struck out in 66.7% of his at-bats so far this season, and hasn’t gotten a regular-season hit since June 10, 2005. He has 1o total in 17 major-league seasons. Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee have both drawn a walk and secured two sacrifice hits, but done nothing else aside from kill (rare) Mets rallies.

Which brings me to Jon Niese, the principal cause for my optimism yesterday – the starter who I was ready to dub the chosen one, who would finally end the barren streak. Heading into Mondays matchup against Nathan Eovaldi and the Marlins, the 27-year-old had somehow drawn walks in four of his eight trips to the plate, and boasted a career .161/.251/.189 triple slash line. Surely, surely, he had it in him to finally scratch a hit and halt the record continuing on?

Nope. Instead Niese struck out twice in his three at-bats, lowering his 2014 OBP to .364, and pushed the collective failure to a stunning 54 at-bats. Yordano Ventura for goodness sakes, he of an AL team, has single-handedly logged more hits than Mets pitchers this season thanks to his hit against San Diego yesterdayIt almost goes without saying that the group are still firmly rooted to the bottom of the National League positional splits table**.

Yes, the pitchers aren’t the only Mets struggling at the dish – Travis d’Arnaud (.195 batting average), Curtis Granderson (.185), Ruben Tejada (.195), and Eric Young (.214) are actually all paid to hit believe it or not) – but with such anemic offensive production elsewhere in the lineup, the Mets can ill afford to literally make an automatic out every time through the lineup. The fact of the matter is, hits from pitchers do often matter: Three of the top four NL teams in pitcher batting average last season—Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Atlanta—made the playoffs, something Mets GM Sandy Alderson surely must have been hoping for when he told staff before the season he expected 90 wins. They need to get on the board, and soon, but with Mejia due up again tonight, and the team’s best hope Niese facing Cole Hamels on Sunday too, it might be a while yet until the pitchers get off the schneid.

Good job I held off on making my bold prediction eh?

* The Atlanta Braves’ pitchers came closest in recent times, having started 0-for-39 in both 2008 and 2011.

** Which is slightly surprising in itself; I did not expect a team employing Tim Lincecum to be at the summit, though the Giants are almost exclusively there thanks to Madison Bumgarner‘s April grand slam. Meanwhile, I would have guessed the Dodgers, with the handy Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and when he returns, Clayton Kershaw, would have been nearer the top. Instead, they’re languishing in 11th, at least in terms of hitting for average.