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 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 10, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 10! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (5-2 last week, 38-24 overall) → Like their Bay Area mates the Giants, Oakland are lapping the field in terms of run differential (their mark of +118 is more than double the next best team, the Blue Jays). Unlike San Francisco however, the rest of their division is looking pretty frisky too, with only the Astros rocking a losing record amongst the other four AL West teams. They might well be the best team in the AL, but the A’s are going to have to be on their game all year long to stay at the summit of their own division with such stellar competition.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-1, 38-25) ↑ As a starter, Marcus Stroman has pitched 12 innings of 1.50 ERA ball, walking two while striking out 13. As a reliever, he was rocked for 9 earned runs in just 6.1 innings, and had a 2.21 WHIP. A small sample size admittedly, but lets keep handing Stroman the ball to start games, rather than finish them, eh Mr. Gibbons?
- Detroit Tigers (2-4, 33-25) ↓ Three weeks ago, the Tigers looked like they were pulling away from the rest of the AL Central. Having just swept the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park, getting some measure of revenge for the 2013 ALCS, they stood seven games clear in the division, at 27-12. Since then however, Detroit has gone 6-13, and seen their division lead cut back down to 4. Surprisingly at the forefront of the Tigers’ struggles is their usually dominant pitching; Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have both been excellent, and Rick Porcello his steady self, but Drew Smyly has failed to live up to expectations since being promoted to the rotation in place of the departed Doug Fister, and Justin Verlander looks to be a shell of his former self. Remember the panic this time last year when the 2011 AL MVP had a 3.71 ERA after 13 starts? Well this year, he’s gotten off to an even worse start – through 13 starts, he has a 4.19 ERA, a heightened walk rate (3.7 BB/9 compared to a career mark of 2.8, and a 2.0 figure in that career 2011 season), and is displaying a diminished strikeout rate (just 6.4 k/9 after averaging 9.0 over the prior four seasons). In return for collecting $20 million in salary this year, Verlander has been distinctly average, as proven by his 101 ERA+. Of course, Verlander rebounded in the second half last season, and might still be getting back into the swing of things after offseason core surgery, but at 31 years old, and owed $28 million per season for the next five years, I’d say there’s significant cause for concern amongst Tigers fans.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 33-28) →
- Baltimore Orioles (4-2, 31-29) ↑
- Seattle Mariners (4-1, 32-29) ↑
- New York Yankees (2-5, 31-30) ↓ New York’s record in games in which Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t pitched you ask? 21-28. First on the list of pointers for improvement, stop playing Brendan Ryan at first base while riding with Derek Jeter at shortstop! If you couldn’t tell, this drives me insane.
- Chicago White Sox (3-3, 31-32) ↑ Just as I was about ready to gush about how amazing Chris Sale had been of late, Mike Trout happened. Oh well. Prior to the eighth inning last night, Sale had allowed just 5 hits in 31 innings, a mere 7 to the last 107 batters he had faced, and owned a 0.72 ERA over his last four starts. Of course, after 93 pitches and seven scoreless innings last night, aided by an error, he allowed all five Angels he faced in the bottom of the eight to score, as L.A. erased a 5-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. Still, as of right now, I’m of the belief that the man known as ‘The Condor’ is the best pitcher in the AL. Mike Trout is the Most Valuable Horse after all.
- Cleveland Indians (5-1, 31-31) ↑ In his second game back off the 7-day concussion DL, Carlos Santana yesterday went 2-2, with 2 walks, a home run and a single, lifting the Tribe to an 8-3 win over the Rangers. No more games behind the plate for Mr. Santana methinks…
- Boston Red Sox (1-5, 27-34) ↓ They lose 10 in a row. They win 7 in a row. They lose 6 in a row. Why Boston, must you make it so incredibly difficult for me to rank you?!
- Texas Rangers (3-3, 31-31) ↓ Just hours after Kendrys Morales, you know, a designated hitter/first baseman type, signed with the Twins, Mitch Moreland, you know, Texas’ designated hitter/first baseman type, who had replaced Prince Fielder, you know, the Rangers’ presumed first baseman/designate hitter type after he went down with injury, was announced to be in need of reconstructive ankle surgery, and out for the next three months. The Rangers now have made 19 DL moves this season. No other team has made more than 12.
- Kansas City Royals (4-3, 30-32) ↓ Eric Hosmer home run alert! I repeat, Eric Hosmer home run alert!
- Minnesota Twins → (4-3, 29-31) The Twins came out of nowhere yesterday to ink Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal, thought to be “in the ballpark” of the $10 million contract that Stephen Drew signed with the Red Sox in May. After the 30-year-old hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs with Seattle last season, he’ll likely slot into the DH spot which has preeminently been manned by Josmil Pinto (19 GP) this year. Jason Kubel was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move.
- Tampa Bay Rays (1-6, 24-39) → The Rays are holding on to 14th place in these rankings by the skin of their teeth, probably because I still can’t comprehend fully how they are three games back of the Astros. Seriously, I look at the standings and think it’s a mistake. Things have got to a point with the Rays however, where Joe Maddon‘s optimistic tweets, have got about as much baloney to them as the sandwiches he makes in the clubhouse.
- Houston Astros (3-3, 27-36) → Not a bad way to get your first hit Jon Singleton.
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 7, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 7! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Detroit Tigers (5-1 last week, 26-12 overall) → Over their last 17 games, the Tigers have just 3 losses, and have swept away both their closest AL Central challenger (Kansas City), and the AL East leader (Baltimore). If they extend their winning streak to six tonight at Fenway Park, you can add the defending World Series champions Boston to that list too. Cleveland and Texas better look out this week, because Detroit are rolling…
- Oakland Athletics (5-1, 27-16) → … as are the Athletics, who have now won 8 of their last 9, outscoring their opponents 58-15 during that time. 58-15! Given how they’re an unglamorous team that plays in a sewer bowl though, no one is watching the Athletics no matter how good they’ve been of late – only 10,120 fans went to their Monday game at O.co Coliseum against the White Sox. At least they’ll be used to a lack of crowd noise for when they travel to play in front of empty seats at Tampa Bay this week.
- Los Angeles Angels (5-2, 23-19) ↑ Mike Trout is ‘struggling’ in May, not that it stopped him from hitting a three-run, walk-off home run against the Rays, or 41,959 fans (including over 4000 from his hometown of Millville, NJ) coming out to see him in his first trip back to Philadelphia. He’s still second in the AL WAR standings too, with 2.8, trailing only Josh Donaldson (3.3), and remains on pace for a career high value. Must be real hard being Mike Trout right now eh?
- Baltimore Orioles (2-5, 22-19) ↓
- New York Yankees (3-3, 22-19) → Masahiro Tanaka notched his first shutout in the US on Wednesday against the Mets, and in the process moved to 30-0 since the beginning of 2013. That $155 million contract that Brian Cashman handed out to the 25-year-old Tanaka is looking like more and more of a steal with every start he makes.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-2, 23-21) ↑ Hands up if you had Drew Hutchison throwing a three-hit shutout and out dueling Yu Darvish on Friday night? Liars… In other news, after injury marred 2012 and 2013 seasons, Jose Bautista appears to be back in vintage form. His .998 OPS thus far is actually marginally better than his 2010 mark, a season in which he famously hit 54 home runs, though he still has a little way to go to match his 2011 total (1.055). Either way, along with Edwin Encarnacion, a healthy Bautista gives Toronto one of the most fearsome middle-order duos in all of baseball – which should help whenever Hutchison’s deal with the baseball Gods expires.
- Boston Red Sox (2-4, 20-22) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (4-2, 21-21) ↑ Mike Moustakas apparently didn’t appreciate all the speculation regarding whether he should be demoted – if you haven’t yet heard the audio from his post game ‘interview’ after Wednesday’s game, I’d recommend giving Buster Olney’s Baseball Tonight podcast from Friday a listen (skip to the end for Moustakas’ incredibly childish non-response to questions). I’d have sent him down just for that.
- Seattle Mariners (1-5, 20-22) ↓ Is it selfish for me to be praying that Seattle somehow have their schedule messed up a bit this week so that either King Felix Hernandez or Hisashi Iwakuma gets pushed into starting against the Angels on Memorial Day? Otherwise it looks like I’ll be watching Chris Young pitch when I venture north to visit Safeco Field.
- Minnesota Twins (5-1, 21-20) ↑ After surprisingly jacking seven home runs and stealing seven bases during April, I can’t say I was expected Brian Dozier to get better. But improve even further he has, pasting a further 4 long balls and pilfering another 6 bags so far in May, and batting .318/.420/.545 after an April in which he hit just .226. Factor in his tremendous defense at second base, and fellow keystoner Jason Kipnis‘ 2014 campaign being limited by injury thus far, and Dozier may well find himself playing an additional game at Target Field later this summer.
- Tampa Bay Rays (3-4, 19-25) →
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 21-23) ↑ Jose Abreu hits the disabled list with tendinitis in his left ankle, as some evil genius out there strives to take away every exciting young player in baseball during half a season.
- Texas Rangers (1-5, 20-23) ↓ After starting the season 4-0 with a 1.42 ERA, including a pair of 3-hit shutouts, it did seem odd that Martin Perez would suddenly allow 19 runs in the 13 1/3 innings that constituted his next three starts – almost as weird as how the San Diego Padres could abruptly pepper Jose Fernandez. Well, like Fernandez, an MRI showed that Texas’ 23-year-old sophomore also has a torn UCL, and will require Tommy John surgery. The season-ending procedure will be administered this Monday by team physician Dr. Keith Meister. In another devastating blow to the Ranger’s rotation, Matt Harrison may require career-threatening spinal-fusion surgery. After being limited by injury to just six starts over the 2013 and 2014 seasons combined, it unfortunately seems that we’ve likely seen the last of Harrison on the mound. Throw in Prince Fielder needing a nerve-root injection yesterday due to a herniated disk in his neck (ending his consecutive games streak at 547), and the deluge of injuries that first began in Spring Training has officially drowned Texas’ chances in 2014. A lost season if there ever was one, and it’s only May 18th – sorry Rangers fans.
- Cleveland Indians (2-4, 19-24) ↓ From jumping three levels of the Indians organization in 2013 and pitching in the Wild-Card game, to surrendering a a 5.53 ERA and barely lasting five innings a start to begin 2014, the Danny Salazar rollercoaster ride continued on this week with the 24-year-old being sent back to Triple-A Columbus. On the plus side of things, his demotion will mean we should get to see Trevor Bauer again this week, who has gone 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his seven starts so far down at Columbus. He’s slated to square off against Justin Verlander and Detroit on Tuesday though, so it won’t exactly be a cushy re-introduction back into major league competition.
- Houston Astros (4-2, 15-28) → Are my eyes deceiving me? Did the Astros just have a winning week? You betcha!
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!
Back on March 29th, Jack Weiland wrote “In the course of human events, there aren’t many things worse than late spring training injuries.” Aside from simply making an excellent observation – seeing your team’s ace go down in his last start before an Opening Day assignment must be a top-five gut punch moment – Weiland was actually busy finding a silver lining for the Oakland Athletics amidst their injury turmoil; with nominal staff anchor Jarrod Parker headed for a second round of Tommy John surgery, and fellow rotation member A.J. Griffin also on the DL, the A’s had been forced to elevate relative unknown Jesse Chavez – a reliever with a career a 5.48 ERA – into a starting role. Weiland though, saw some cause for optimism in the involuntary promotion, even opining “Chavez may have the stuff to stick, and to be an effective major league starter.”
So far, Weiland has looked like a genius. Through his first four starts of 2014, Chavez has pitched 26 innings in which he has allowed just 3 earned runs – good for a team-leading 1.38 ERA – and posted very impressive 9.7 SO/9 and 1.7 BB/9 marks. Additionally, after mostly teeing off on Chavez throughout his career, opponents so far this season are batting just .194 against the 30-year-old. From a would-be reliever then, to a dominant starter all of a sudden, it seems reasonable to ask ‘where on earth did this come from?!’
Selected by the Texas Rangers in the 42nd round of the 2002 amateur draft*, the Riverside Community College product was moved to the bullpen before he even progressed past Single A due to both durability concerns and command issues. Traded in 2006 to the Pirates in return for Kip Wells, he finally made his ML debut as a reliever in 2008, but would soon move from Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay, where he wouldn’t make an appearance before being shipped to Atlanta for Rafael Soriano, before bouncing to Kansas City, then Toronto, and finally, Oakland. Prior to the 2013 season, the California native had made 2 starts and 154 relief appearances, racking up -2.6 WAR (per Baseball Reference) along the way; he was the quintessential journeyman, perennially in danger of being waived.
In 2013 however, things began to pick up for the string bean righty (despite being 6’2, he’s listed at just 160 lbs). In his first full year with the pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum as his home park, Chavez fanned nearly a batter an inning and gave up just three homers in 57⅓ innings out of the bullpen, and posted his first positive WAR contribution since 2009 (0.2). More encouragingly though, he showed subtle signs of an improved repertoire. As told to Jonah Keri by A’s pitching coach Curt Young, on June 13th against the Yankees, Chavez provided a glimpse of what we’ve so far been treated to this season: “the game goes to extra innings, and he really starts showing what he can do. He goes through multiple times in the order, and he’s got just great command of all four pitches.” Inserted to hopefully hold down the fort for a while, Chavez instead tossed 5⅔ shutout innings, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out seven – sowing the initial seeds of thought in the minds of Oakland’s manager Bob Melvin and GM Billy Beane that led to his being given an opportunity to start when the injury bug bit this spring.
Given his chance, Chavez has so far run with it; in his season debut against the Mariners, he allowed one earned run over six innings en route to a 3-2 A’s win. He followed up that strong initial effort on April 9th against the Twins, fanning nine, walking none, and surrendering a single run in seven innings of work, before posting an identical line versus the Angels five days later. On Sunday facing the Astros, he finally picked up his first win of the season in what was probably his worst start to date (highlighting the ridiculousness of the win statistic) – still, even though he was struggling with his control, he only allowed one earned run over six innings, and managed to make some franchise history.
Jesse Chavez is the 1st #Athletics pitcher on the Opening Day roster to allow 1 ER or less and toss 6 IP or more in each of his 1st 4 starts
— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) April 20, 2014
But back to Weiland, and what he saw to suggest Chavez’s usefulness. Well, Chavez actually has a surprisingly deep repertoire for a guy who was once pigeon-holed into a relief role; there is the odd kind of 90-95 mph fastball, handsomely backed with a 87-90 mph cutter (an offering that . Then there is a changeup at 84-87 mph, and finally, as written by Carson Cistulli “a curveball with considerable vertical break at 76-78 mph” – a pitch which even Mike Trout can only stare and admire. As acknowledged by Weiland too, “His command has also improved over the years,” something that (helped somewhat by the weak offenses he has so far face, the home ballpark, and Oakland’s defensive prowess), has certainly played a large part in Chavez’s unlikely success so far; he ranks in the top 10 among AL pitchers in percentage of strikes thrown, and thus also finds himself among the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Felix Hernandez, and David Price as the early AL leaders in SO/BB**.
Also on that list is A’s teammate Scott Kazmir. In fact, as well as being first among Junior Circuit teams in team ERA (2.55), the A’s also rank 2nd in the AL in BB% (Boston lead the way at 6.8%). Pounding the strike zone, Oakland’s pitchers have ensured the club hasn’t missed a beat (they topped my AL Power Rankings on Sunday) in 2014 despite the losses of two of their idealized rotation to injury and 2013 staff anchor (in more ways than one) Bartolo Colon to free agency. With Sonny Gray, the aforementioned Kazmir, and of course, the resurgent Chavez, the A’s are poised to ride their starting pitching to a third consecutive AL West division title.
So much for licking their wounds. With Oakland, and in the case of Jesse Chavez, injuries are merely an opportunity for another to shine.
* He didn’t actually sign until May 17th, 2003 though.
** While Tanaka signed a $155 million contract with the Yankees over the winter though, Chavez will this year make $775k (#Moneyball!)
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 3, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 3! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (7-0 last week, 12-5 overall) ↑ As much as I want to make a ‘there’s something in the water’ joke here, I have no grounds to do it – Oakland, much like the top-ranked Braves in the NL, are defying the cruel bite of the injury bug and winning legitimately behind their starting pitching. Jesse Chavez, Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray have been brilliant in masking the losses of Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, the trio not only having accounted for 11 of the team’s 14 quality starts, but also largely responsible for Oakland ranking 1st across the ML in both WHIP and BAA. In off-the-field news, the A’s also this week finalized a five-year deal with Sean Doolittle – after their offseason addition of Jim Johnson, perhaps it’s another sign that expensive relievers are the new market inefficiency?!
- Detroit Tigers (2-3, 8-6) ↓ After going just 5 for 30 in a Tigers uniform, Detroit yesterday released their 37-year-old Opening Day shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, and purchased the contract of Danny Worth from Triple-A Toledo. I give it a further two weeks before Mike Ilitch’s pizza money brings Stephen Drew into the fold.
- Tampa Bay Rays (2-4, 9-9) ↓
- Kansas City Royals (5-2, 9-7) ↑ The Royals have taken five straight, but their streak has benefitted from an extremely light schedule (Astros and Twins). Yordano Ventura takes to the mound today, so adjust your schedule accordingly.
- New York Yankees (4-2, 10-8) ↑ The Yankees continue to baffle me. Behind Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, they held the Cubs scoreless for 18 innings of doubleheader baseball in the Bronx on Wednesday, before taking it to David Price the following day – a win in which they turned their third triple play behind C.C. Sabathia since 2010. Over the past two games however, Tampa outscored them 27-6, and Ivan Nova was forced to the DL with a partial UCL tear. Talk about a Jekyll and Hyde week.
- Boston Red Sox (3-3, 8-10) ↓
- Texas Rangers (6-1, 11-7) ↑ Injuries, schminjuries – even after officially losing Adrian Beltre, the Rangers mercilessly beat up the White Sox and Mariners over the past week, remedying their various ailments with a strong dose of victory. Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder both hit their first jacks in Texas uniforms (though Fielder is still hitting at a sub-Mendoza level), but it was Kevin Kouzmanoff who was the (Lone) Star of the Rangers’ week, batting .414 over the past seven days. Texas will face Oakland 6 times in the next 1o days – a crucial stretch not just in determining where Texas really stand as a squad, but in the ultimate complexion of the AL West.
- Toronto Blue Jays (4-2, 10-8) → I’m pretty sure Mark Buehrle (boasting a 0.64 ERA through four starts) could pitch effectively well into his 40s, á la Jamie Moyer.
- Baltimore Orioles (3-2, 8-8) ↑
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 8-9) ↑ Another member of the Angels’ outfield joined Josh Hamilton on the DL this week, but thankfully it wasn’t Mike Trout. Kole Calhoun‘s ankle injury did have its silver lining however; his replacement J.B. Shuck‘s home run trot amusingly felled a FOX cameraman.
- Cleveland Indians (1-4, 7-10) ↓
- Seattle Mariners (1-6, 7-10) ↓ Congratulations to Robinson Cano on hitting his first home run as a Mariner. I’m sure the $240 million is making watching Blake Beavan pitch a lot more bearable.
- Chicago White Sox (2-4, 8-10) ↓ The Pale Hose got a tremendous effort from Chris Sale against the Red Sox on Thursday, but Robin Ventura‘s decision to leave his ace out there for a career-high 127 pitches in April was a questionable one.
- Minnesota Twins (3-3, 8-9) → I hate to break it to Twins fans, but Kyle Gibson‘s smoke-and-mirrors act can’t continue much longer, nor is it likely Chris Colabello continues to rake. Enjoy them while you still can.
- Houston Astros (0-6, 5-13) → George Springer made it to the majors, not that it helped much; in losing 6 straight, the Astros dropped their run differential by an additional 18 to a hideous overall figure of -38.