And That Happened: Wednesday's Scores and Highlights

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Adrian Beltre home run.jpgRed Sox 11, Rays 3: I’m going to imagine the next Shaughnessy column: “Theo Epstein and his calculator cavalry wowed all the stat-butts eating Fruit Rollups in their step-dad’s carports by selling them on ‘run prevention.’  Well, from where I’m sitting, scoring 11 runs against the best team in baseball is not ‘run prevention.’ And what’s with Adrian Beltre going 4 for 6 with two homers, a triple and six RBI?  I thought he was there for his glove? Note to Theo: call me when you stick with a plan, because from where I’m sitting you’re just making this up as you go along.”

Mets 5, Phillies 0: The Phillies get shut out for the second game in a row, this time courtesy of Hisanori Takahashi and a trio of relievers. Word is that Charlie Manuel held a closed door meeting after the game. According to Shane Victorino,  Cholly simply told his team to “play with some intensity . . . no reaming. No yelling at anybody.” Good thing too, because if he did people would start filling up his comments section calling him a hater for doubting the Phillies’ greatness.  Oh, and don’t look now, Philly, ’cause something might be gainin’ on ya. As in, the whole NL East, which is within 3 games of y’all.

Yankees 1, Twins 0; Yankees 3, Twins 2: Yeah, I know the first one was technically yesterday’s game but it’s not like I’m going to go update the Wednesday ATH, so let’s just pretend that this was a doubleheader.  In game one Jeter hit a dinger that held up and threw in one of those patented jump-throw things he doesn’t need to do.  Andy Pettitte pitched a gem in the second one, getting the win when Nick Swisher hit the daylights out of one out to right field in the top of the ninth.  Mariano saved both of them because he’s less man than machine.

Reds 4, Pirates 0:  The Pittsburgh Pirates: when you absolutely positively have to get a shutout.  Seventh one against them this year. Three of them courtesy of the Reds. Last night it was Arroyo for seven and two-thirds.

Braves 7, Marlins 3: Tommy Hanson walked five dudes, but otherwise bounced back from his worst start as a major leaguer to allow two runs on four hits.  The Marlins had a 2-1 lead until the Bravos exploded for six runs in the seventh.

Angels 6, Blue Jays 5: If Bobby Abreu hadn’t made an error in the top of the ninth, the Angels wouldn’t have had to bat in the bottom of the ninth.  Yet if the Angels didn’t bat in the bottom of the ninth, he wouldn’t have had a chance to hit his game-winning single.  There are monks who spend their whole lives on mountaintops in silent contemplation and intense prayer trying to figure this kind of crap out, you know. That’s why baseball friggin’ rocks.

Athletics 6, Orioles 1: Brian Matusz allowed six earned runs in five innings. Adam Rosales was 3 for 4 with a homer and 4 RBI. From the game story: “The Orioles gave away Nolan Reimold bobbleheads to fans entering the ballpark, even though
Reimold was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on May 12.” That’s the saddest thing that has happened at Camden Yards since Robin Williams’ wife got shot down in the “Bop Gun” episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Astros 5, Brewers 0: Roy Oswalt: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 9K and absolutely no reason to be toiling for this Astros team anymore.

Mariners 5, Tigers 4: A big two-run homer from Mike Sweeney followed by a two-run single from Josh Wilson gives the M’s a come-from-behind victory.

Royals 5, Rangers 2: Luke Hochevar allowed only two runs on six hits, striking out four and walking
none in eight innings.  We’ve seen flashes like this from him before. Here’s hoping he’s finally putting it together.

White Sox 5, Indians 4: Bobby Jenks allowed
three runs to score and had two runners sitting on base with nobody out.  But then Manny Acta decided that merry-go-round was spinning too fast and ordered a bunt which (a) gave the Sox something they hadn’t been able to get yet (i.e. an out); and (b) took the bat out of Shin-Soo Choo’s hands due to him being intentionally walked to fill the now-open first base. Jenks then struck out
Austin Kearns and got Russell Branyan to fly out and that was that.  Gee, if only they had one more out to play with, I’m sure they could have gotten the tying run home from third and lived to play on!  Sadly, there was absolutely nothing whatsoever that could have been done about it, what with the Moral imperative to bunt and all.

Rockies 7, Diamondbacks 3: Ubaldo does it again: eight innings of shutout ball, lowering his ERA to 0.88.  Just ridiculous.

Nationals 7, Giants 3: We’ve secretly replaced the fine pitching performance Tim Lincecum usually serves with Folger’s Crystals (4.2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 5BB).

Padres 2, Cardinals 1: You wanna know how you do it? Here’s how, they score zero runs, you score one. They score one run in 13 innings, you score two! That’s the San Diego way!

Dodgers 8, Cubs 5: The game was delayed for 18 minutes in top of the fourth inning after a
nearby fire caused the lights to go out at Wrigley Field. This trick is known in the Cubs’ organization as “pulling a Mrs. O’Leary with a Vicki Lawrence twist” but it didn’t work this time.

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)
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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.