Kevin Youkilis

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Twins 4, White Sox 1: Kevin Youkilis made his Chisox debut and went one for four in a loss and gave us this odd picture of him in a White Sox uniform. Adam Dunn went 0 for 4 and struck out four times, but the list of things he gives less of a crap about than that is pretty short, I’d presume. Francisco Liriano went seven innings and allowed only one run. Looked like the Twins’ ace.

Reds 3, Brewers 1: When I was at Great American Ballpark over the weekend I learned that if Reds pitchers combine for 11 or more strikeouts that everyone in the park got a free small pizza and a free scoop of ice cream from LaRosa’s. Johnny Cueto and the bullpen came close to that on Saturday, and when, late in the game, a Twins batter would ground out or fly out, some people in the upper deck near us would boo because, dammit, they wanted their free pizza and ice cream.  Well, Mat Latos got it for ’em last night: 13 strikeouts in a four-hit complete game.

Royals 8, Rays 0: Luke Hochevar tossed a seven hit shutout while striking out eight. I wonder if anyone gets free burnt ends in Kansas City for eleven strikeouts.

Rockies 4, Nationals 2: You’d think that Steven Strasburg giving up only three runs while striking out eight and walking only one dude in Coors Field would lead to a Nats win, but the park played somewhat reasonably on a 100 degree night in Denver. Jeff Francis allowed only two runs over five and the Rockies’ pen shut ’em out over the next four.

Cubs 6, Mets 1: The AP headline as of 11:44 last night was “Wood pitches Cubs to win over Mets.” Made me think of Kerry and I got all sad and nostalgic. Of course I doubt Kerry Wood would show up to bat looking like this.

Padres 8, Astros 7: Last week at the Padres game I used Carlos Quentin as the example to my kids of why a player may be traded in the middle of a season. As in, “sometimes when a guy is playing well for a team that isn’t so good, he’ll get traded to a team that is doing better in the middle of the season in exchange for someone who might help the bad team next year.” Since then, the boy keeps asking me if Carlos Quentin has been traded yet. Not yet, Carlo. He was around to double in the winning run on the top of the tenth for the Padres.

Tigers 8, Rangers 2: Rangers starter Justin Grimm lived up to his name — and I’m sure inspired some punny headlines this morning — in allowing six runs on eight hits in a single inning of work which saw him throw 52 pitches. Way to lay one on the pen on a night that saw triple digit temperatures.

Cardinals 8, Marlins 6: Miami had a 6-1 lead as the eighth inning began, and a 6-2 lead entering the ninth, but then Heath Bell worked his magic, allowing four runs on three hits in the ninth. But hey, since it was such a large lead he surrendered, no blown save! I’m always looking on the bright side of things, folks. It’s just who I am.

Yankees 7, Indians 1: Robinson Cano stayed hot, homering and driving in three. DeWayne Wise — really? — homered, tripled and drove in three too. Maybe it’s too early for watching the standings, but a Tigers win and an Indians and White Sox loss pulls Detroit to within two of first place. For as miserable as their season has gone, they’re in the Central, so I’ve never really worried about them. Until they have to face teams like the Yankees in the playoffs, of course.

Phillies 8, Pirates 2: If you had told me that Joe Blanton would be one of the Phillies best two starters before the season started I woulda told you you was crazy. But there you go. Blanton struck out eight and allowed two earned runs over seven innings while walking one. Jimmy Rollins continued his recent tear by going long again.

Blue Jays 9, Red Sox 6: Colby Rasmus drove in three. The Jays also lost another starting pitcher to an injury when Henderson Alvarez had to leave the game early, but what the hell else is new for Toronto? On the Boston side of the ledger, two homers for Big Papi. Meanwhile, Will Middlebrooks went 1 for 4, a mirror image of Kevin Youkilis’ night in Chicago. Yeah, that’s kind of meaningless, but if you don’t think the Boston media won’t be keeping track of that kind of thing for the rest of the year, you’re just not familiar with their work.

Giants 8, Dodgers 0: Barry Zito shut the Dodgers out for seven innings on three hits. Meanwhile, Pablo Sandoval drove in three while Angel Pagan and Hector Sanchez added a couple a piece. The Giants — who a month ago trailed the Dodgers by seven and a half games — have closed the gap to two. After getting swept by the A’s last week, I’m thinking that the Dodgers want the hell out of the Bay Area.

Athletics 1, Mariners 0: Did you know that heading into yesterday’s games the A’s led the league in runs scored for June? Yep! That was weird. Seeing an A’s-M’s game end 1-0 in a crisp 2:18, then, is much more normal and comforting. Tommy Milone outduels Erasmo Ramirez, who struck out ten in eight innings in a losing effort.

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)
Associated Press
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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.