There’s nothing going on news-wise today, as every national sports writer is trying to figure out how to make a heroic “triumph over adversity” narrative out of Ben Roethlisberger. Tall order, but I’m sure they can find a way to do it. Jason Whitlock will probably go there first. It ought to be fun to read.
In the absence of breaking news, Buster Olney’s musings on various team’s lineups today is worth a look. He concentrates on four teams — the Phillies, Cardinals, Red Sox and Rays — who have some open questions about how to best structure the lineup heading into the season. I find the Red Sox the most interesting because it reminds me most of playing 1980s-era computer simulation games in which you can totally stack your roster (I was always partial to the Lance Hafner simulations). Here’s Buster:
There is no definitive word on how the Red Sox are going to structure what should be a very deep lineup, but generally, a lot of the speculation has had Jacoby Ellsbury hitting leadoff, followed by Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez. Given that Crawford has never liked leading off and would prefer to hit No. 2 or No. 3 — as he did with the Rays — it’s a natural thought to place Ellsbury in the leadoff spot.
I find lineup optimization to be a somewhat boring topic because no lineup tends to last much beyond the first week of the season. Guys get hurt. Others slump. Some managers can’t help but tinker. But still: who is advocating for Ellsbury to bat leadoff?
Buster thinks — and I wholeheartedly agree — that Terry Francona should put Pedroia in the leadoff spot followed by Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez and Ortiz in some order or another. Pedroia gets on base at a way, way better clip than Ellsbury, he’s coming off an injury that is way less likely to have messed with his hitting ability than Ellsbury’s and even if they’re both healthy and at their peak ability, it’s not like the Sox are going to be stealing tons of bases with the kind of firepower they have batting in the 2-5 slots.
Are Buster and I out to lunch here? Are there really a lot of people advocating for Ellsbury to lead off? If so, why?
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.
Twins’ right-hander Nick Burdi is set to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the team announced on Friday. Burdi made 14 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga before succumbing to a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is not expected to make his major league debut until mid-2018 at the earliest. A UCL tear doesn’t always require Tommy John surgery — less severe cases can be treated with platelet-rich plasma injections, for example — but Twins’ chief baseball officer Derek Falvey told the press that surgery was unavoidable as Burdi had sustained a “full thickness tear” in his elbow.
Entering the 2016 season, Burdi was widely considered a top ten prospect in the Twins’ system. His exceptional velocity and potent fastball-slider combo made him a fearsome relief option as he came off of his first season in Double-A Chattanooga in 2015. During the 2016 season, however, the 24-year-old experienced a significant setback after a bone bruise cut his season short in late July. Prior to Friday’s diagnosis, he appeared to be staging an impressive comeback with the Chattanooga Lookouts this spring, decorating his efforts with a sparkling 0.53 ERA, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.6 SO/9 over 17 innings.
It’s a tough break for the Twins, whose farm system was ranked 21st in the league by Baseball America. “Obviously he’s proven when he’s healthy he’s an absolute premium prospect, and the Twins are treating him that way,” Burdi’s agent, Matt Sosnick, told Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press. “We just want to make sure everything we do ultimately leads to the goal of getting him back on the field as quickly as he can.”