Daily Dose: When celebrations go wrong

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Ryan Dempster was put on the disabled list Tuesday with a broken toe suffered while celebrating Sunday’s victory. Seriously.
Dempster was attempting to jump over the dugout fence and onto the
field after the final out when he stumbled and slammed into the ground.
His teammates laughed at the time, but X-rays showed a non-displaced
fracture and he’ll also soon be missing a toenail.

Dempster has pitched very well since a poor April, posting a 3.57
ERA and 64/30 K/BB ratio in 75.2 innings spread over a dozen starts
since May 1, but he’ll likely miss at least three weeks and could be
sidelined for more than a month. For now at least Kevin Hart has been
tabbed to replace him in the rotation, but giving Jeff Samardzija a
chance to start in the majors for the first time is also an option.

While the Cubs add to this season’s extensive list of woes, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Picking up Mark DeRosa two weeks ago looked like a solid deal for
St. Louis at the time, but he went hitless in nine at-bats before
suffering a wrist injury that put him on the disabled list Tuesday.
General manager John Mozeliak called the DL stint a “precautionary
move,” but there are reports that DeRosa may be out for a long time
after being diagnosed with a torn tendon sheath.

While admitting Tuesday that he doesn’t “know all the jargon” DeRosa
explained: “There’s definitely something wrong with it. There’s
definitely a partial tear of the sheath. It’s one of those things where
you hope time allows it to heal itself.” Now it’s back to Joe Thurston
and Brian Barden at third base for the Cardinals, who’re in the same
spot as two weeks ago except without Chris Perez in the bullpen.

* Despite being out for six weeks with a shoulder injury Erik Bedard
didn’t miss a beat returning from the disabled list Tuesday, striking
out eight and giving up just two hits in an abbreviated four-inning
start. Despite multiple injuries Bedard has yet to stop being a
dominant pitcher in between DL stints and the impending free agent is
now 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA and 73/23 K/BB ratio in 69.2 innings this year.

* Adam Wainwright was two outs short of a shutout Tuesday and Colby
Rasmus backed him by going 3-for-5 with a homer as the Cardinals
extended their lead in the NL Central with a 5-0 win against the
Brewers. Rasmus’ overall numbers are plenty strong, but the 22-year-old
rookie has been fantastic since a slow first two months and is now
39-for-106 (.368) with 17 extra-base hits since June 1.

AL Quick Hits: General manager J.P. Ricciardi said Tuesday that the Blue Jays are willing to listen to offers for Roy Halladay, but was vague about the likelihood of a trade … Chicago has reportedly acquired
reliever Tony Pena from Arizona for first-base prospect Brandon Allen …
Scott Rolen extended his hitting streak to 24 games with an
eighth-inning single Tuesday … Alfredo Aceves has joined the rotation
in place of the Chien-Ming Wang and has AL-only upside … Shaun Marcum
is said to be on track for an August comeback from Tommy John elbow
surgery … Scott Hairston started in center field Tuesday and blasted
his first A’s homer … Justin Verlander allowed five runs Tuesday, but
picked up his ninth win and struck out 11 … Grady Sizemore went deep
twice Tuesday and has 15 RBIs since coming off the disabled list on
June 23 … Jeremy Bonderman played catch from 60 feet Tuesday and said
afterward that his shoulder “feels pretty good.”

NL Quick Hits: Carlos Beltran (knee) has yet to begin
high-impact workouts and likely isn’t close to coming off the disabled
list … ESPN reports that the Phillies are “more interested” in Pedro
Martinez “than they’re letting on” … Jose Reyes (hamstring) received a
cortisone shot Tuesday, pushing his return timetable back even further
… Kyle Lohse (forearm) gave up two hits over six innings in a rehab
start Tuesday at Triple-A … Chipper Jones was scratched from Tuesday’s
lineup with a sore groin … Hanley Ramirez missed his third straight
game Tuesday with a hip strain … Clayton Kershaw tossed six scoreless
innings Tuesday, allowing two runs or fewer in his fifth straight start
… Manny Ramirez was ejected from Tuesday’s game for arguing a called
third strike, but drove in three runs before leaving … Javier Vazquez
tossed seven innings of one-run ball Tuesday, cutting his ERA to 2.95 …
Freddy Sanchez (back) missed a fifth straight game Tuesday.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

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.