Daily Dose: Johnson wins No. 300

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Randy Johnson became the 24th member of the 300-win club Thursday,
tossing six innings of one-run ball against Washington. It wasn’t
exactly vintage Big Unit, as Johnson managed only two strikeouts and
threw just 78 pitches one day after his start was delayed by rain, but
with just two hits and two walks he was plenty effective and the lone
run was unearned.

At 45 he’s the second-oldest pitcher to reach 300 wins, behind only
46-year-old Phil Niekro, and Johnson joins Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton,
Eddie Plank, Lefty Grove, and Tom Glavine as the 300-win southpaws. And
while it might not have registered with most people thanks to the name
change from Expos to Nationals, Johnson won No. 300 against the
franchise that he debuted with back in 1988.

While media members with zero sense of history misguidedly proclaim
Johnson the last 300-game winner, here are some other notes from around
baseball …

* Dontrelle Willis fared reasonably well in his first four starts
and cruised through the first two innings Thursday, but unraveled in
the third inning by hitting a batter and walking four, including the
last two with the bases loaded. His five runs tied for the most allowed
without giving up a hit during the last 55 years, joining Mark Fidrych,
Sandy Koufax, Mitch Williams, Pat Combs, and Mark Hutton.

* Andrew McCutchen had a nice MLB debut Thursday, going 2-for-4 with
a walk, a stolen base, and three runs while leading off and taking over
for Nate McLouth in center field. Gordon Beckham’s debut didn’t go
quite so well, as he was hitless in three at-bats. Beckham batted
eighth, played third base, and as Ozzie Guillen put it “had a bad day
just like everyone else” as the White Sox were shut out.

* Chien-Ming Wang’s return to the rotation was a mixed bag Thursday
afternoon, as five runs in 4.2 innings isn’t as bad as it looks against
a strong Texas lineup in a good ballpark for hitting. It certainly
wasn’t an impressive start, but he showed good velocity while inducing
eight ground-ball outs and struck out five versus just one walk.
Unfortunately for Wang, he has no time to settle in with Boston next.

* Cole Hamels’ year began with injuries and ineffectiveness, but
that now seems like a distant memory following his complete-game
shutout Thursday against the Dodgers. He needed just 97 pitches to
record 27 outs, striking out five, walking zero, and allowing five
hits. And since giving up a dozen runs through two starts, Hamels is
4-0 with a 2.84 ERA and 44/8 K/BB ratio in 44.1 innings.

* Miguel Cabrera left Thursday’s game with a hamstring injury, but
not before the Tigers oddly allowed him limp home from second base on a
Brandon Inge double after being looked at by trainers prior to the
at-bat. Cabrera somehow avoided an immediate removal despite being in
obvious pain and then could barely walk/jog the 180 feet to the plate,
at which point he was pulled in favor of Jeff Larish.

AL Quick Hits: Adam Lind went 5-for-5 with three doubles
Thursday and now has hits in a team-record eight straight at-bats …
David Ortiz said Thursday that he’s considering getting his eyes
“checked out” … James Shields threw eight innings of two-run ball
Thursday and J.P. Howell closed out his win … Scott Baker struck out 10
while dropping his ERA below 6.00 for the first time Thursday … Fausto
Carmona kept struggling Thursday, coughing up seven runs as his ERA
climbed to 7.42 … Mike Aviles’ rehab has been shut down for two weeks
as he attempts to come back from a forearm strain … John Lackey allowed
two runs over seven innings Thursday, but the bullpen cost him a win …
Jason Kubel smacked a pair of three-run homers Thursday … Brett
Anderson tossed seven scoreless innings Thursday after posting a 6.38
ERA in May … Travis Hafner (shoulder) is due off the disabled list
Friday, but is unlikely to get everyday playing time initially.

NL Quick Hits: Garrett Atkins hadn’t homered since April 27, but
went deep twice Thursday … Chris Carpenter needed just 95 pitches for a
complete-game victory Thursday, allowing one run on three hits … Anibal
Sanchez is reportedly headed right back to the disabled list after
aggravating his shoulder injury … Brett Myers underwent hip surgery
Thursday and will likely miss the rest of the year … Kyle Lohse looks
destined for another DL stint after tweaking his forearm injury … J.J.
Putz will have his sore elbow examined Friday and might need surgery …
Wandy Rodriguez was knocked around again Thursday and has now allowed
18 runs in his last three starts … Mike Pelfrey’s streak of five
straight Quality Starts ended with nine runs Thursday … Josh Johnson
tossed 7.2 innings of two-run ball and hit a three-run homer Thursday …
Shane Victorino missed Thursday with a sore hip … Andy LaRoche left
Thursday’s game after being plunked on the knee.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.

 

Sure, Carlos Gomez is the problem in Houston

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Associated Press
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No one will claim that Carlos Gomez is playing up to his ability. He’s got a .634 OPS in the 65 games he’s played for the Astros between last year and this year. Not good at all.

Still, he seems to be taking an outsized amount of the blame for the Astros’ slow start to this year. I do a weekly radio hit on a Texas station and Gomez has been the talk for three weeks when the Astros’ troubles are mentioned. Today Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle spends a whole column going at Gomez, with the usual dash of “you can’t be flamboyant if you can’t back it up” sentiment often given to players like Gomez when they struggle but which is seemingly never given to players whose act is more “tough guy.” Funny that.

More notable: nowhere in the column is it mentioned that, overall, the Astros’ offense is above league average and that, in reality, it’s the pitching that’s killing them. Gomez may not be carrying his weight, but his teammates in the lineup are for now, as teammates do for every hitter at one time of the year or another. Meanwhile, Smith doesn’t seem to be writing columns about how three of the Astros’ five starters have ERAs above 5.00 and how the bullpen has been a disaster. Gomez, however, gets a “Rally Killer” subheading in reference to his performance in a game his team actually won, primarily due to the offense.

There’s also an unfortunate quote in the article. Specifically, Smith quotes Gomez as saying “For the last year and this year, I not really do much for this team. The fans be angry. They be disappointed.”

I’m sure that’s what he said, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the quote’s imperfect English fits satisfyingly into a column designed to rip Gomez and that it’s going to play right into stereotyping a certain sort of reader who has just HAD it with those allegedly lazy, entitled Latino players likes to engage in. For the record, its not uncommon for other players whose grammar is less than perfect to get [the bracket treatment] to make the mistakes less noticeable. Or, if the quote is less than clear or enlightening, to get the paraphrasing treatment and have his sentiment conveyed in keeping with the intent of the sentiment. I guess Gomez doesn’t get that treatment. He gets to be portrayed in such a way that a certain sort of reader will unfortunately interpret as him being too dumb or too lazy to learn proper English or something.

And no, it’s not just sensitive old Craig noticing that:

Empathy is the key word here, I think. Smith as no interest in portraying Gomez as a player who, like all players, struggles from time to time. He has to be the bad guy who is responsible for all of the Astros’ woes, it seems.

Puerto Rico official calls MLB’s likely series cancellation “an act of touristic terrorism”

Ricardo Arduengo -- Associated Press
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On Tuesday it was reported that Major League Baseball is on the verge of cancelling the upcoming series in Puerto Rico between the Marlins and the Pirates due to Zika concerns. Puerto Rico is not particularly pleased with that.

As this story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review makes clear, their displeasure is being expressed in totally calm and rational terms:

“It’s an outrageous situation,” Rep. Angel Matos, head of the tourism commission for Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, told the Tribune-Review. “The reality is that this cancellation is unfair, disproportionate, and makes our country look bad. It’s an act of touristic terrorism.”

I will grant that a cancellation wouldn’t be great for Puerto Rico. I will also grant that an expert cited in the same article claims that the odds of any players contracting Zika are very, very long. Indeed, he compares it to someone hitting 20 homers in a single game. Which, sure, Giancarlo Stanton is involved here so you can never totally rule it out, but it’s super unlikely.

But MLB, the union and the players involved aren’t in the business of dealing with the probability of disease contraction. They’re dealing with a bunch of players being really nervous about something vs. a two-game series in May that, while carrying big meaning for Puerto Rico, is sort of meaningless to them in a lot of ways, even if they won’t say so publicly. They’re weighing this a lot differently than tourism commission executives.

My guess is that it still gets cancelled. My guess is that, even if it does, Puerto Rico will survive this act of alleged “touristic terrorism.”

Yasiel Puig caught a big fish

Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig looks to the dugout for signs as he steps out of the batter's box while facing Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Jordan Lyles in the first inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 24, 2016, in Denver. Puig drew a walk, the first of three in a row yielded by Lyles. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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I know I’m in the tank for Puig and have been for years now, but it’s a pretty fun tank so I don’t care.

Lately I’ve been taken with his hashtag game. Last week we encountered #PuigYourFriend. This one is not as good, but #PuigHungry is pretty solid too.

I just hope this isn’t ruined by word that he’s hired some social media professional to curate his feed. It’s possible and maybe likely, but I just don’t want to hear about it if it’s the case: