Daily Dose: All's Wells for Vernon Again?

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Vernon Wells went 3-for-4 with a homer on Opening Day and followed that up with two more homers Wednesday, showing some serious signs of life after a terrible 2009. Last year was either the worst or second-worst of Wells’ career, with the other forgettable campaign being 2007, and he bounced back from that to hit .300 with an .840 OPS in 2008. Too early to expect a similar story in 2010, but so far so good.
While the $107 million left on Wells’ contract looks slightly less horrific for the Blue Jays, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Billy Wagner looked excellent Wednesday nailing down his first Braves save, clocking in at 96-99 miles per hour with his fastball and breaking off several unhittable sliders to strike out the side. Wagner has come back amazingly well from Tommy John surgery given that he went under the knife at age 36. Since returning late last season he’s thrown 17.2 innings, racking up 31 strikeouts compared to just nine hits.
* Rich Harden’s lack of peak velocity during spring training carried over to his Rangers debut Wednesday, as he worked mostly in the high-80s and topped 91-92 miles per hour on just a couple pitches. Harden has always managed to remain dominant despite a never-ending string of injuries, but his velocity has crept downward for several years now and he was anything but overpowering against the Blue Jays.
* After a cortisone shot and having his surgically repaired knee drained, Lance Berkman said Wednesday that he’s hoping to come off the disabled list during the six-game road trip that begins Monday. Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth while replacing Berkman at first base, so the Astros desperately need him back in the lineup, but some of his comments suggest that the knee is still far from full strength.
* Kelly Johnson moved into the leadoff spot Wednesday with Conor Jackson getting the night off and responded by going 3-for-3 with two homers and a walk. With his value at an all-time low following a poor, injury wrecked season Johnson was one of my favorite sleeper targets in part because Arizona is a great place to hit and in part because he batted .282/.362/.451 in 297 games for the Braves in the previous two seasons.
* Milwaukee faced a right-handed pitcher for the second time Wednesday and for the second time Jim Edmonds started over Corey Hart in right field, going 2-for-4 with a double. Edmonds is 40 years old and sat out last season when the job market proved lacking, but looked good this spring and posted an .882 OPS against righties in 2008. He’s unlikely to hit for much of a batting average, but the power and patience remain.
AL Quick Hits: John Lackey tossed six shutout innings in his Red Sox debut Wednesday, but Curtis Granderson won it with an extra-inning homer off Jonathan Papelbon … Ian Kinsler (ankle) is hoping to join the Rangers during an 11-game road trip that begins Monday … Russell Branyan (back) is slated to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Max Scherzer and Luke Hochevar combined for 13.2 shutout innings Wednesday in a game that went into extra frames … Nolan Reimold got his first start Wednesday when Felix Pie was scratched from the lineup with a sore shoulder … Fausto Carmona handed out six walks Wednesday, but also held the White Sox to one hit in six innings … Hideki Matsui is scheduled to play the outfield Thursday for the first time since June of 2008 … Jim Thome got his first start Wednesday, but Ron Gardenhire oddly chose to bench Jason Kubel rather than Delmon Young versus a right-hander … Matt Joyce (elbow) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Jake Fox replaced Eric Chavez at designated hitter Wednesday against a left-hander.
NL Quick Hits: Edgar Renteria reached safely in all six plate appearances Wednesday, collecting five hits and a walk in a blowout win … Brad Lidge (elbow, knee) is slated to throw a bullpen session Thursday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return … Jose Reyes went 1-for-5 with a double in an extended spring training game Wednesday … Jason Giambi started Wednesday as part of the Rockies’ plan to give Todd Helton more rest … Brett Myers escaped with a no-decision Wednesday despite giving up a dozen hits in six innings … Jason Marquis lasted just four innings in his Nationals debut, coughing up six runs … Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop Wednesday after Tommy Manzella was plunked on the wrist … Joe Blanton (oblique) made 60 throws from 60 feet Wednesday, but isn’t close to rejoining the rotation yet … After batting .373 with 18 RBIs in 20 games this spring, Hunter Pence is 0-for-12 … With his path to Cincinnati blocked by Joey Votto, the Reds have moved prospect Yonder Alonso to left field.

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.