Boy, the baseball Gods are in a vengeful mood this year. Anyone have any idea what has upset them? It’s evidently not Yasiel Puig‘s bat-flips like some of the old curmudgeon sports writers would have you believe – he’s still standing after all. Still, they’re smiting down other young, exciting, and crucial players at a depressingly prolific rate right now. It’s getting ridiculous – just ask the poor Texas Rangers, who can barely cobble together a starting rotation anymore. Is there a player we can send as some sort of sacrifice offering to appease them? No one would miss Josh Lueke I’m guessing – probably not even the Rays. Fine, too drastic a measure. Until you come up with something better to end the madness though, here’s a quick rundown of some of the more important figures who were sidelined over the past weekend, and a reason perhaps why the higher powers don’t want them taking the field.
In the case of Gio Gonzalez, the logic of the Gods is easy; in a year in which nearly every team has a starter missing from the rotation, why should one team allowed to be fully healthy? Boosted by the return of Doug Fister (who turned in a very nice seven innings of one run ball in his second start last Thursday), the Nationals had all of eight days with a fully healthy starting staff before Gio Gonzalez was given the special treatment. After being rocked for 7 earned runs in just 4.1 innings in his previous start against the Athletics, Gio was once taken behind the woodshed on Saturday, allowing 5 runs to the Mets of all offenses, lasting just 3 innings to boot. After telling the club he was struggling to find any consistency with his arm slot – a precursor for shoulder trouble – he was given an MRI on Sunday morning. The results came back negative however, so for now the 28-year-old lefty is only on the 15-day DL with slight shoulder inflammation, joining the likes of Bryce Harper, Adam Laroche and Ryan Zimmerman in watching from the bench.
It’s dubious exactly why, but poor Will Middlebrooks seems to have had the worst of injury luck in his young career. Maybe his two trips to the DL already this year are a form of karmic retribution for taking Jenny Dell away from us on NESN Red Sox broadcasts, but permitting a sixteen-year-old to take her to prom should surely make up for something. Anyhow, after seeing his promising rookie year cut short by a wrist fracture caused by a HBP, suffering through torn cartilage in his rib cage and lower back problems in 2013, and then injuring his calf earlier this year, Middlebrooks will once again be making himself comfortable in the Boston training room for a while after sustaining a non-displaced fracture of his right index finger during Saturday’s game against the Tigers. Ian Kinsler‘s scorching line drive apparently left the digit bent and discolored, and it will now be immobilized in a split for the next five to seven days. No return timetable has been set of yet, but batting .197 at the moment, maybe Middlebrooks needed some extended time off anyway. He gets to spend more time with Jenny now too, so it can’t be all that bad.
Oh, Andrew Cashner… My fingers are sincerely crossed that you aren’t the next young, hard-throwing pitcher to have caught the Tommy John plague, but I’m very concerned. You’ve tempted fate all year with that 2.35 ERA, 143 OPS+ and 2.76 K/BB ratio; we should have learnt by now that as baseball fans, we aren’t allowed nice things (see Harvey, Matt last year). So of course, with the Padres looking like coming around somewhat, the Gods were going to pick you next to reminds us of our cruel mortality. It would have been Nate Eovaldi, but that dreadful mullet you sport, and the fact they’ve already taken Jose Fernandez from the Marlins this year, swung it in your (dis-)favor. Hopefully your sore elbow will require nothing more than the 15-day DL stint set out for you, but with a history of injuries (albeit shoulder ones), you’re not giving us much reason for hope here.
Seriously though, why did you have to take down Jose Abreu though – is leading the major leagues in home runs as a rookie not sacred anymore? I can understand wanting to get Paul Konerko some extra playing time in his final year, but wouldn’t just Abreu having a tight back for a couple of days be sufficient? Instead, it had to be posterior tibia tendinitis in the ankle, a nagging injury that will likely plague the 27-year-old all year long rather than heal completely during his short time on the disabled list. Do you know how important the back foot achilles is to power hitters? Just look at Ryan Howard (though he wasn’t great to start with). Is this all some part of a weird Cuban vendetta? First it was Aroldis Chapman taking a liner to the head, then Fernandez, and now this.
Maybe Puig should be looking out for himself after all…
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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Colorado Rockies (2-3, 24-19) ↓
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Philadelphia Phillies (1-4, 17-22) ↓
- 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?
- 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!
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).
- San Francisco Giants (5-2 last week, 23-13 overall) ↑ I’ll leave this one to Tom the Intern.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 18-18) →
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 15-20) ↑
- 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.
- 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.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 13-25) ↑
- 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!
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 5! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Milwaukee Brewers (4-3 last week, 21-9 overall) ↑ As so succinctly put by Jonah Keri, “The lineup the Milwaukee Brewers fielded against the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night looked like it belonged in a split-squad spring training game.” Everyone’s favorite Canadian wasn’t wrong either – behind Joey Votto‘s All-Star nemesis (Carlos Gomez) in the leadoff spot, the Brew Crew trotted out the following order; Elian Herrera (1 career HR), Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis (.257 OBP this year), Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds (both of whom are first basemen, and could well be playing in Japan), Jeff Bianchi (career backup, .222 hitter), and Martin Maldonado (a part-time pitcher now). Naturally, they won – and now stand a full 6 games clear of the Cardinals in the NL Central race. With Ryan Braun now on the DL and their paper-thin lineup already exposed, the load will continue to be on their pitching staff to keep up the pace, but with a surprisingly stocked rotation, and shutdown relief corps, I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if they did. It’s shaping up to be just that kind of year in Milwaukee*.
- San Francisco Giants (5-1, 18-11) ↑ Worryingly thin in terms of starting pitch depth by the end of last season, the Giants went out and grabbed the 38-year-old Tim Hudson from the injury scrapheap (a nasty fractured ankle had needed his 2013 season), signing the veteran to a two-year, $23 million contract in the hope of landing some solid back-end production. So far, the move is looking like a steal; after completing his first month in the Giants’ rotation with a 2.17 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and 31:2 K:BB across 45.2 innings, Hudson clearly has plenty left in the tank, and has already contributed 1.1 WAR to the club. He’ll unfortunately miss pitching against his former Atlanta mates this weekend, but will have a nice opportunity to bump his stats further on Tuesday, when he is scheduled to face the anemic Pirates. An NL West showdown with the Dodgers will round out the week.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 17-11) ↓ After being swept by a combined score of 23-7 this week, Aaron Harang and manager Fredi Gonzalez hilariously voiced suspicion that the Marlins’ offensive explosion could only have been caused by them stealing signs. Sure, it’s a tad odd that after striking out 11 times against him last week, Miami this time touched up Harang for 10 hits and a career-high nine runs, but how about this: it’s not cameras, the bullpen, or sneaky men lingering around the center-field sculpture in red hats – Harang, who entered the game with the best ERA in the major leagues at 0.85, but the owned a career mark of 4.28, simply (finally) turned back into a pumpkin. Or an orangutan, whatever. The April shine is off either way.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (4-2, 17-13) →
- Washington Nationals (4-1, 17-12) ↑ Bryce Harper hustles his way to third, tears the UCL in his thumb, and is now out until July. I wonder how #smrtbaseball proponent Matt Williams feels about this outcome, after sitting his star 21-year-old, one of the most intense players in recent memory, for his effort in a what looked like misguiding attempt to establish some new managerial authority.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 15-15) ↓
- Colorado Rockies (5-2, 18-13) ↑ Meet the major leagues’ best offense. Ranking first in runs (174), batting average (.297), slugging percentage (.484), and second in on-base percentage (.346), the Rox offense and their 115 OPS+ are legit. Troy Tulowitzki has been his usual top-five-player-in-baseball-when-not-injured self (1.217 OPS), and big contributions from Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon have more than made up for Carlos Gonzalez‘s sluggish start (CarGo is apparently battling a finger injury), but it’s perhaps been the continued emergence of Nolan Arenado in his second year that has most impacted Colorado’s early season success. As per usual, the California native has been an absolute vacuum at the hot corner (teaming up with defensive player of the month Tulowitzki to form the most impenetrable left side of an infield in the bigs), but has also stood out at the dish in so far in 2014; the 23-year-old is working on a 22-game hitting streak, and is hitting .309 with four home runs and 16 RBI entering today’s games. Though he still can’t take a walk (having an 86% contact rate does offset the problem somewhat), if Arenado can continue to give Colorado the production of a third offensive star, perhaps we’ll see Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray a little sooner than expected, as the Rockies push for the playoffs.
- Cincinnati Reds (2-4, 13-16) ↓ Aroldis Chapman reportedly clocked in at 101mph during his first minor league rehab start. I won’t say anything too positive though, after I apparently cursed Billy Hamilton on Thursday.
- New York Mets (2-3, 15-13) →
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 15-14) ↑ It’s incredible how different this team is at home compared to on the road. In front of approximately no one, the Marlins are 13-4, and have scored 105 runs while allowing only 54. Meanwhile, on the road, the Fish are 2-10, and have a -26 run differential.
- Philadelphia Phillies (2-2, 13-14) → For one glorious moment this week, the entire NL East were all above .500. Of course, the Phillies had to go and wreck the feel-good story by dropping their next two games, but still… who would have seen that statistic coming at the start of the season in a division that featured the Mets, Marlins, and a team employing Ryan Howard?
- Pittsburgh Pirates (2-3, 11-18) ↓
- San Diego Padres (2-4, 13-17) ↓ If you ever wondered what happens when the league’s worst offense meets the worst defense, well, you got your depressing answer on Friday night: San Diego (70 OPS+**) fell to Arizona (72 ERA+) 2-0, notching only three hits against Bronson Arroyo. After many (including this guy) thought the Friars would challenge for a Wild-Card berth this season, their woeful offense looks set to doom them to yet another disappointing year; the club ranks last among Senior Circuit teams in all three traditional slash line categories – batting average (.213), on-base percentage (.266), and slugging (.320) – and have managed to score 20 fewer runs (77) than the 14th-ranked Braves despite playing two more games. Literally no one is hitting; Jedd Gyorko is bordering on unplayable (.155/.222/.216), Will Venable has predictably regressed after his unsustainable FB/HR rate of last year (.190/.229/.260, with no homers), Yonder Alonso has failed to build upon any of the positive signs he once offered (.172/.202/.232, -0.7 WAR in 103 PAs)… The list goes on and on. Maybe the imminent return of Carlos Quentin will boost the floundering offe… Ha.
- Chicago Cubs (3-2, 10-17) ↑ Hired with an aim to resurrect the careers of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, Rick Renteria has done just that. Rizzo is currently hitting .295/.419/.495 and Castro .306/.336/.463 (the latter being on pace for a 198-hit season). As the only two projected holdovers of this team when the top prospects eventually arrive, the Cubs long-term plan is looking good right now.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (2-4, 10-22) ↓ I’m so sick of these guys.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 5!
* For more on the Brewers, I have to recommend Thursday’s excellent Effectively Wild Podcast from Baseball Prospectus, in which Ben and Sam speak with J.P. Breen about Milwaukee’s hot start.
** OPS+ is adjusted for ballparks too, so the Padres can’t even blame their struggles on the admittedly pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
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 4! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- Atlanta Braves (4-2 last week, 15-7 overall) → The Atlanta rotation continues to amaze, and will only be getting stronger this week when Mike Minor returns. Minor will likely supplant David Hale, who owns the highest ERA of the starting crew (2.93), but his status as the team’s top lefty might well be in danger; fellow southpaw Alex Wood looked like Chris Sale on Tuesday, allowing only four hits and one run with no walks and a career-high 11 strikeouts in eight innings against the Marlins. Jose Fernandez however, was somehow even better, saddling Wood with the tough-luck loss. In other news, B.J. Upton wore prescription glasses for the first time in his major-league career on Friday, and noted an improvement in his vision. Perhaps the benefit of some visual clarity will help him boost his horrific .207/.286/.293 season line and ignite the Braves offense.
- Milwaukee Brewers (5-1, 17-6) ↑ The Brew Crew rolled against a weak schedule last week, beating up on the lowly Pirates, Padres, and Cubs, and now have a 4.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead. Even if they regress to the .500 form that many predicted for them before the season, the wins they’ve banked already will mean they’ll end up with a 86.5-win season; that wouldn’t have been enough for a Wild-Card berth last year, but Milwaukee are showing no signs of slowing down – Baseball Prospectus‘ Effectively Wild podcast with Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh did an excellent job of breaking down how the Brewers have the most improved playoff odds since the start of the year. Francisco Rodriguez by the way, who was only meant to be covering for Jim Henderson as closer for the first few games, may now have locked down the ninth-inning job; K-Rod now has 10 saves and hasn’t allowed a run in his 13 innings, striking out 20 in the process.
- St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 13-11) ↓
- Los Angeles Dodgers (2-4, 13-11) ↓
- San Francisco Giants (3-3, 13-10) → After missing a great portion of 2013 with a particularly bad hamstring injury, the rerun of Angel Pagan has been huge to the Giants thus far. Batting .337 atop the lineup, along with the production of fellow outfielders Hunter Pence and Michael Morse (who has 4 HRs in the last week), the 32-year-old’s contact skills have been especially crucial in masking the early struggles of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, and thus keeping the San Francisco offense mildly respectable. It was worrying then, when an MRI this week revealed a slight tear in Pagan’s patella tendon – he should be able to play through the injury, though of course now there is the inherent risk that the tendon could completely tear, and the Giants could be without their spark plug center-fielder for an extended stretch once again.
- Washington Nationals (3-4, 13-11) →
- Cincinnati Reds (4-3, 11-12) → Aroldis Chapman threw some BP, Johnny Cueto had another complete game. Aside from Devin Mesoraco‘s inevitable BABIP regression hitting soon, things are looking up in Cincy (YES!).
- Colorado Rockies (4-2, 13-11) →
- New York Mets (5-2, 13-10) ↑ Faced with a seemingly tough series against St. Louis this past week, the Metropolitans naturally took 3 0f the 4 games. Jenrry Mejia was particularly fantastic in Monday’s game, tossing 6.2 scoreless innings while striking out 7, lowering his ERA to 1.99 on the season. He’ll get another good chance to lower that number against the Marlins today. Elsewhere in Flushing this week, Daisuke Matsuzaka racked up the first save of his career on Thursday with a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Having already seen Bobby Parnell, Jose Valverde, and Kyle Farnsworth in the role, perhaps Terry Collins has found someone to his liking.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (1-6, 9-15) ↓ Of their last 15 games (all against NL Central foes), the Pirates have won… 3. Things have got ugly in Pittsburgh fast; aside from their poor recent record, the Carlos Gomez brawl last Saturday led to both Travis Snider and Russell Martin receiving suspensions, and now key cogs Martin (hamstring) and closer Jason Grilli (left oblique) have been placed on the DL. With upcoming games against the Cardinals, and then interleague sets with the Orioles and Blue Jays, it’s likely going to only get worse for the Bucs in the next week or so.
- Philadelphia Phillies (4-3, 11-12) ↑ The Phillies last week went to L.A. and came away with a 3-1 series win. More significantly however, was the return of Cole Hamels; after recovering from biceps tendinitis, the 30-year-old southpaw made his season debut on Wednesday and threw 6 very solid innings of 2-run ball. Along with Cliff Lee, the presence of Hamels will once again give the Phillies one of the most-envied top of the rotation combinations around the majors – whether the pair can lift up the rest of the pitching staff and keep the team in contention however, will, like last year, be the burning question around Citizen’s Bank Park all season long.
- San Diego Padres (3-4, 11-13) ↓ Josh Johnson will be out for the season after his recent elbow injury necessitated Tommy John surgery. *Yawn*.
- Miami Marlins (3-3, 10-13) ↓ The Jose Fernandez Show should carry a R rating. HE IS FILTHY.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-4, 8-18) → Even when the Diamondbacks win, they somehow lose; after staging a stunning ninth-inning rally to win at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, it was announced newly-added slugger Mark Trumbo will be out for an extended period of time with a stress fracture in his foot. Trumbo suffered a similar injury back in 2011, an ailment which took 5½ months to heal. If it takes that long this time around, he might have a new manager to frustrate upon his return.
- Chicago Cubs (3-4, 7-15) → The Cubs celebrated Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary on Wednesday with not just a loss to Arizona, but a 400-pound cake. Naturally, the amazing-looking Wrigley Field replica was later found ingloriously disposed of in a dumpster outside the real stadium. Because #Cubs.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 4!
When the Athletics acquired Craig Gentry from the Rangers this past offseason, it was clear someone had to go; between Gentry, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith they had five outfielders for three spots (though at least had the luxury of the DH position available), all of whom were too good (/valuable as trade pieces) to simply languish on the bench. Cashing in one of their outfield chips for additional help elsewhere on the roster thus seemed inevitable for Oakland – it was just a matter of who would go. In the end it was Smith who was the man to escape not only the O.co Coliseum’s dreaded sewage system, but the A’s positional logjam, traded to San Diego in return for highly regarded reliever Luke Gregerson.
Once again though, despite his change in zip codes, Smith found himself surrounded by a bevy of capable outfielders, positional incumbents Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and Carlos Quentin all presumably vying for limited at bats (not to mention rookie Tommy Medica transitioning to the outfield after an impressive cup of coffee in 2013, or the presences of Kyle Blanks and Alexi Amarista). With no DH slot to fill in at either, it looked like the 31-year-old would be used sparsely as a situational pinch-hitter until the depth chart was thinned. Fortunately for Smith, albeit not so much for those mentioned, his path to playing time was made somewhat easier when both Maybin (ruptured biceps tendon) and Quentin (lingering knee issues) went down with injuries; with their absences, Bud Black would have little choice but to give Smith run as the strong side of a left field platoon with Medica.
So (#small) far (sample) so (size) good. Four at bats into his Padres career, the former backup quarterback of Eli Manning at Ole Miss already has two homers, including the game tying shot against the Dodgers’ Brian Wilson in Sunday’s Opening Night tilt – a hanging 2-and-0 cutter that he crushed to right field, endearing himself to his new home crowd.
Due to yesterday’s focus, the lefty Hjun-jin Ryu starting for L.A., Smith and his garish .203 average against fellow portsiders were relegated to pinch-hitting duties that night, but his 8th inning leadoff jack started the three run rally for San Diego that would ultimately propel them to victory. He was at it again just two nights later, getting the start in left against Zack Greinke, and breaking up the righty’s no-hit bid with a similar bomb in the fourth inning (it was a 2-and-1 change-up that he took 374 feet to right on Tuesday). This time though, his best efforts (2-3, 1BB) weren’t enough to lift the Friars over their NL West rivals.
Selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 2nd Round of the 2004 amateur draft, Smith has proven to be a useful player during his tenure in the majors; since making his debut in 2007, Smith has a lifetime line of .265/.342/.456, his best season coming in 2009, when he hit for .293 with 55 RBI and 14 homeruns with a .510 slugging percentage. His extreme splits though have sufficiently limited his ultimate usefulness as an everyday player – his OPS diving .262 points against fellow southpaws compared to his .849 mark versus righties. For comparisons sake however, since Smith came up in 2007, Andre Ethier owns a -.200 OPS differential between his total mark and that against lefties, while Shin-Soo Choo checks in with a -.174 figure; Smith though, will make $4.5 million this year before becoming eligible for free agency, while Ethier has (including this year and his vesting option) $86.5 million remaining on his deal, and the 31-year old Choo has just started a seven-year $130 million pact. I shall say no more.
In a carefully managed 400-500 PA role, Smith could prove very useful – and supremely valuable – indeed. As demonstrated over the past couple of days, he has the potential to pick on righties; Bud Black‘s optimal usage of his lefty weapon then should see him face no one but right-handed pitchers in a similar (albeit less-powerful) platoon role as former Oakland teammate – and previous DP topic – Brandon Moss. The Padres could sure do with his continued platoon production – last year San Diego ranked 25th in baseball with a .241 average against right-handed pitching, and were 29th in OPS (.668) against righties (H/T to Corey Brock of MLB.com).
Tipped by many to sneak a NL Wild-Card berth, Smith’s lefty pop could be pivotal in swinging a few games San Diego’s way in 2014, and thus helping them back to the postseason. Sure it may have taken a couple of unfortunate injuries for him to get his shot, but just ask the Dodgers what Seth Smith can do when given the appropriate chance.
It’s an annual tradition at this point. With two weeks of Spring Training in the books, the exciting young prospects are mostly cut, the superstars are going through the motions, and most everyone just wants the regular season to get underway. With little else to focus on then, the number of stories focusing on potential breakout performers increases exponentially, most of which are based off a ridiculously impressive, but ridiculously small sample size of Spring Training statistics. Deciphering which ones are for real (think Giancarlo Stanton’s 2010 showing, Evan Longoria in 2008, or even Yasiel Puig just last spring), and identifying the frauds masquerading momentarily at the top of the statistical leaderboards (Jake Fox being the classic example, with Aaron Hicks running him close in 2013) is therefore always a fun game to play in the dog days of March – and something I’ll be engaging in over the weekend. Today, I’ve looked at this Spring Training’s batting leaders (as of 2PM PST at least), in which I found a few names of interest; can any of them actually make much of an impact in the regular season though?
Guess what you guys? Mike Moustakas is hammering Spring Training pitching! The former No. 2 overall draft pick must finally be ready to live up to the promise that led Baseball America to rank him the 9th best prospect in all of baseball! Let’s go Royals!
If only it were as simple as such a #HotSportsTake… Yes, the man known as Moose is crushing right now – leading the Cactus League with 4 home runs and batting .500/.559/1.036 – but the Royals third baseman did exactly the same last spring, not that it led to anything close to a breakout; after smoking 13 extra-base hits on his way to a .394 average (and 16 RBIzzzz), the once-heralded prospect had himself a stinker of a season, struggling to a .233/.287/.364 line – good(?) for not only a 77 OPS+, but a ton of speculation regarding his future with the Royals.
His statistics so far are undeniably a small sample mirage, but there are encouraging signs beyond the numbers. After swallowing his pride and going to Venezuela in order to play under Kansas City’s hitting coach Pedro Grifol at the Cardenales de Lara club, the 25-year old has radically altered his approach; not only has Moustakas widened his batting stance, but according to Royals legend George Brett, has finally realized (after being one of the most shifted-against players last year) that purely being a pull hitter won’t bring him the success necessary to keep his job. As such, he’s made a concerted effort to hit the ball to all fields so far this spring. Perhaps more importantly so far though, the left-hander has an even strikeout to walk ratio, suggesting that maybe in 2014, we’ll finally see a more mature Moustakas flourish. With recent signing Danny Valencia breathing down his neck for playing time should he falter, the Royals’ leash is certainly shorter on Moustakas should he again fail to translate his spring success into regular season production.
Placing not far behind Moustakas in Spring Training OPS (1.257) is a career journeyman by the name of Miguel Cabrera. Horrible by defensive metrics, Cabrera will need to continue eating pitchers for breakfast to stick with Detro… Of course, I’m kidding. Does this guy ever not hit though, like, just for a game or two, strictly for fun, sometime?
Ranked as the No. 23 prospect in the San Diego Padres organization according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook for 2014, 25-year old Tommy Medica is making a strong case to start the year in the Padres lineup. After hitting .296/.372/.582 with 18 homers in 280 at-bats for Double-A San Antonio in 2013, Medica put up a .290/.380/.449 slash line in his 69 at-bat September cameo with the Padres, and so far hasn’t let up his assault this spring; through 35 at-bats, Medica has crushed at a .429/.459/.686 clip, a performance leading Bleacher Report to dub him the Padres’ “Next Face of the Franchise.” Somewhere out there, Austin Hedges just cussed out the internet.
The fact is that despite all his hitting, the Padres have nowhere to currently play the defensively-fringy Medica; at his preferred first base, there’s already Yonder Alonso, whom barring injury should remain at the position. With Cameron Maybin out, the Padres are experimenting with Medica at a corner outfield spot just to get him in the lineup – despite already having Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Chris Denorfia and Seth Smith duking it out for the two available spots. Additionally, it will take much more significant time than occasional Spring Training play for the former catcher to adequately adjust to roaming Petco Park’s spacious ground. So while his sustained performance may warrant a space on the San Diego 25 man roster, Medica will likely end up in Triple-A in order to accrue some outfield reps. Frankly, I’d be surprised if he becomes more than a bench player this year – still, not bad for a system’s No. 23 prospect.
Staying in the Cactus League, Colorado have quite the battle on their hands for the outfield spot vacated by Dexter Fowler this past offseason. With Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer occupying two of three outfield slots, Brandon Barnes, Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon, and Corey Dickerson are all fighting for the final role – with varying amounts of success.
The favorite for the job, Stubbs, is a known commodity at this point, no matter what his spring .333 average and .391 OBP say; he’s a career .239 hitter, while his on-base percentage continues to barely scrape over .300 year after year – as a long-time Reds fan, I can tell you now the Rockies will be looking to be rid of him by June – leaving the other three contenders.
After being tripped up by the Spring Training hurdle for the last couple of years, Charlie Blackmon has again faltered so far – at least in comparison to his positional competition. Brandon Barnes, acquired from Houston in the Fowler trade, currently ranks 6th in batting average (.414) and can boast a .934 OPS, while Corey Dickerson can point to a similarly impressive .355/.364/.581 slash line. Barnes, who had a 69 OPS+ in a season and change with the Astros is no doubt a fraud. Dickerson’s performance on the other hand, after he hit .371 with an OPS of 1.046 in Colorado Springs last year, should be considered more bonafide than Bonifacio. He might begin the season in the Minors again, but given both Stubbs’ propensity to underwhelm, and the fragility of both CarGo and Cuddyer, could quickly become a fixture at Coors Field. At just 24-years old too, his impressive Spring Training display could actually be indicative of a breakout to come.
In between watching Oregon take on USC, tomorrow I’ll be writing more of the same. Check back soon for more regarding the leading hitters of spring!