The Week Ahead: Hey, isn't that Johnny Damon?

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damon-100509.jpgIt’s reunion time in Detroit as the New York Yankees come to town to take on the Tigers. And this means the Yankees get a chance to see Johnny Damon and show him how little they miss him.

OK, so that’s a bit harsh, but at 21-9, New York is cruising right along. Remember the hand wringing when the Bronx Bombers decided to save their Damon money and go with Brett Gardner/Marcus Thames/Randy Winn in left field? Yeah, that was all for a whole lot of nothing wasn’t it?

The Yankees and Tigers already met up in spring training, but the contests in this four-game series count, so I doubt we’ll see any applause from A-Rod this time around.

Damon, who played a huge role in the Yankees’ championship run last season, is having a fine year so for in Detroit, hitting .302/.409/.443 with 22 runs and 14 RBIs as the Tigers sit at 17-14.

Curtis Granderson, the former Tiger acquired by the Yankees in the offseason, will reluctantly miss the trip as he works to heal from a strained groin.

“I was looking forward to seeing friends and teammates that I haven’t talked to over there,” Granderson said. “I’ve got to stay back and get better. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything; I’d still be inside getting treatment.”

In addition to a reunion with Damon, the Yankees will get a nice up-close look at Austin Jackson, the player they sent to Detroit in the Granderson deal. Jackson is hitting .370 with nine doubles, three triples and a home run in 29 games for the Tigers.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Nationals at Mets, May 10-12:
Believe it or not, this is a good matchup in the standings, as both teams are 17-14, two games behind the NL East-leading Phillies. Enjoy it while you can, fellas.

A’s at Rangers, May 11-13: Where are the Angels and Mariners? Battling it out for cellar space, that’s where. These two are your top two AL West teams – at least for the moment – with  the Rangers (18-14) holding a slim lead over the A’s (17-15). Both teams are getting some surprisingly good pitching.

Padres at Giants, May 11-13: Neither of these teams figured to have enough offense to compete this season, but that should only serve to teach us not to figure. San Diego (19-12) is tied for the second best record in the NL, with the Giants just a half-game behind.

Twins at Yankees, May 14-16: The Yankees can’t go after Joe Mauer anymore, so they’ll just try to be unfriendly hosts and steal some games over the weekend instead. These Twins, however, don’t look like the same old team the Yankees always seem to beat up on in the playoffs.

Indians at Orioles, May 14-16: They can’t all be Yankees-Red Sox, right? Both of these teams are pretty bad, but that could make for some entertaining viewing in itself. And if the game itself doesn’t make you laugh, maybe the postgame show will.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Yankees at Tigers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Astros at Giants (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Mariners at Rays (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Twins at Yankees (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Phillies at Brewers (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Dee Gordon reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.