Colorado Rockies v New York Mets

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

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Rockies 6, Mets 5; Rockies 9, Mets 4:  The Rockies sweep the doubleheader and the series, with Troy Tulowitzki hitting home runs in both games yesterday.  His line on the year right now is .364/.491/.909 with seven homers and 14 RBI, which I think makes him your NL MVP at the 12 game mark.  In the first game Scott Hairston stopped running for a ball when he got to the warning track, allowing it to drop for a two-run double by Seth Smith. I’m guessing he saw his shadow or something. Or maybe it was a hallucination of his dead grandmother crawling up his leg with a knife in her teeth. Either way, it inspired Dustin Parkes to tell a funny joke on Twitter.

Yankees 6, Orioles 5: This one has to hurt. Baltimore had a 5-0 lead after they got done batting in the fifth, only to watch the Yankees steadily chip away.  I didn’t see this game, but I bet it was one of those deals where the team in front seemed like they were behind even before they actually were. It wasn’t all grins for the Yankees, though. Phil Hughes continues to suffer from low velocity and, consequently, continues to stink. For the second straight start Bartolo Colon came in to bail him out and to do so effectively. Hmmm, I wonder who gets the next start when Hughes’ turn comes up? Anyway, four straight losses for Baltimore, as the bloom continues to come off the rose for some early season surprises. They’re off to face Cleveland next, though, so at least one of the First Week Friskies will likely leave with some momentum.

Phillies 4, Nationals 0: Cliff Lee dominates with a three-hit shutout and 12Ks. This kind of update is going to become so ubiquitous in Phillies games by the middle of the season that I may just start reducing their ATH entry to the pitcher’s name and line score.

Marlins 6, Braves 5Mac points out something I hadn’t realized: the Braves keep winning the first game of series and then losing the rest of them. Cool. I mean, no, not cool, but it is slightly less unpleasant to momentarily appreciate a pattern rather than to stare at an undifferentiated pile of stank.

Brewers 4, Pirates 1: The Ships in the Night Series. Four straight losses for the Pirates and five of six, all at home. The Brewers, for their part, have won four straight and seven of eight. Randy Wolf struck out ten and shut out the Pirates over six and two-thirds. The Pirates need to get back out on the road where it’s safer.

Royals 5, Mariners 1: A rain-shortened game. Which was probably fine by the Mariners, because one doesn’t want to be forced to sit and dwell too long on the fact that one can’t hit Bruce Chen (8 IP, 6 H, 0 ER).

Rays 4, Twins 3: Walkoff two-run bomb for Johnny Damon in the 10th inning after Minnesota had taken a one-run lead in the top of the inning. This was a bullpen meltdown for Ron Gardenhire’s crew. Carl Pavano was money, shutting the Rays down over eight innings, but Joe Nathan and Matt Capps each gave up two runs, in the ninth and tenth, respectively. If Gardenhire were Ozzie Guillen he’d probably consider calling Rick Aguilera right about now.

Astros 1, Padres 0: Bud Norris and a trio of relievers shut out the Padres on three hits. Dustin Mosely has had three starts for the Padres this year. In all three, the Padres have been shut out. On the bright side, the experience has inspired Mosely to launch a career in music. His first song is actually about his Padres teammates.

Cardinals 9, Dodgers 5: A homer from Pujols and two doubles and three RBI from Matt Holliday. This is how it was supposed to go from the get-go for St. Louis. The offense has done a complete about-face in the last week. You know, ever since La Russa had that hissy fit at the press conference. Which is a shame, because it’s just going to make him feel validated for acting like a little brat.

Tigers 3, Athletics 0: Our third shutout of the night comes courtesy of Phil Coke and three relievers who three-hit the A’s. The Tigers couldn’t do anything against Gio Gonzalez but broke through for three against the Oakland pen. A pen which, I’m starting to believe, I talked up entirely too much over the winter.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

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.