Mike Trout Bow and Arrow

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Angels 6, Mariners 5: Fernando Rodney was called on for the five-out save. He got the first two to close out the eighth and even did his little bow and arrow thing. Maybe a bit too early there, Fernando. In the ninth Albert Pujols doubled home Mike Trout to tie it, and mocked Rodney with his own bow-and-arrow move when he pulled into second. Trout shot one back at him from the dugout. Then, after a Josh Hamilton single, a couple of intentional walks and a double play, Grant Green singled home Hamilton for the winning run. It was the Angels’ 30th come-from-behind win this season. The A’s may be handing out whuppin’s, but a win is a win no matter what the margin of victory and there the Angels sit a game and a half back.

Athletics 10, Orioles 2: Here’s that whuppin’ I was taking about. The A’s have delivered a lot of whuppin’s this year. This was their 12th win by eight or more runs so far this season. No one else in baseball has more than five.

Rays 5, Twins 3: Five straight wins for the Rays and 14 of their last 18. Which is either just good enough to mess up the front office’s plans to trade David Price and Ben Zobrist by making the fans think the Rays have a chance or just good enough to enhance those plans by giving the front office some “well, we may not trade him after all . . .” leverage with potential trading partners. I have no idea how that all works. For all I know they make trades in the big leagues via some computerized system in which they get emails telling you “Congratulations: [Team] has accepted your offer.”

Astros 11, White Sox 7: A 17-hit attack by Houston. They had a 4-0 lead and then watched as the Sox tied it at seven but then they pulled away. This snaps a losing streak of four for Houston. Three games and that trainwreck of a draftee signing deadline on Friday afternoon.

Pirates 5, Rockies 3: Aggressive baserunning helped the Pirates as, on three occasions, a base runner took an extra base and then ended up scoring. Also helping: the fact that they were playing the Rockies. Following this sweep someone had better take Dick Monfort’s iPad away from him.

Nationals 5, Brewers 4: Milwaukee tied it in the top of the ninth but then Werth walks ’em off with an RBI double. After the game Werth talked about situations where runners are in scoring position and the game is on the line:

“That’s what it’s all about, right? It’s why we do this. If you find yourself in that situation and you don’t want to be there, I think you’re in the wrong line of work.”

Upon hearing that teammate Scott Hairston (.071/.118/.071 with runners in scoring position all year) turned in his bat and applied to grad school.

Red Sox 6, Royals 0: Jon Lester with eight shutout innings and eight strikeouts. That’s the third time in his last four starts he’s allowed no earned runs. He and the Red Sox may not be negotiating about his contract anymore, but he’s definitely making statements about it.

Braves 8, Phillies 2: Tommy La Stella drove in three runs and Chris Johnson hit a two-run homer. Dan Uggla watched the game with increasing anger from his couch, flexing his biceps and thinking about what could’ve been, probably. Of course he also spent some time thinking about how he’ll spend the $19 million he has coming from the Braves for the next year and a half, so it’s not too bad.

Yankees 3, Reds 2: Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Skip Schumaker were converging on a pop in shallow right. Two of them were playing positions they really probably shouldn’t be playing. The other one — Bruce — is a pretty nifty right fielder but had the farthest to go for the ball. Guess what happened? Yankees walk off and Brian McCann is credited with an RBI single off the nastiest lefty reliever going. Baseball is cool sometimes.

Tigers 5, Indians 1: Miguel Cabrera was 3 for 5 with a homer and three RBI. Drew Smyly allowed one run on four his over seven innings. Between this game, the Reds game and the birthday party I misguidedly held in my home for my nine-year-old son yesterday (eight additional nine-years-olds attending) it was just a horrible day for people from Ohio. I probably got the worst of it, though.

Marlins 3, Giants 2: Tim Lincecum threw great but he bounced one in the dirt in the seventh allowing the go-ahead run to score. Casey McGehee hit a homer. It was only his second of the year, but the two-run shot gives him 56 RBI on the year. That’s a pace of 94 RBI and only three homers. Which is pretty trippy. In 1957 Mickey Mantle drove in 94 homers with 34 homers. In 1960 he drove in 94 RBI with 40 homers. The takeaway: Casey McGehee just knows how to drive in runners better than Mickey Mantle ever did.

Blue Jays 9, Rangers 6: Melky Cabrera hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh and was 3 for 5 with three RBI overall. He was 3 for 4 the day before. The Rangers scored a run on a balk in the sixth in which Mark Buehrle slipped and fell down. I bet the time it took him to set for that pitch, fall, get back up and deliver the subsequent pitch was still less than it takes half the guys in baseball to throw a single pitch.

Diamondbacks 3, Cubs 2: Not gonna say the Cubs are historically unlucky, but in this one the go-ahead run scored when Anthony Rizzo made an awesome catch on a foul ball. Except the catch took him and the ball out of play. Problem: there was a runner on third and when the defender takes the ball out of play, the runners are awarded a base. In this case, home.

Padres 2, Mets 1: Odrisamer Despaigne didn’t allow a hit until two outs in the eighth. Not bad for a guy who throws more junk than Lamont Sanford. After five starts he has a 1.31 ERA, though, so it’s not like it ain’t workin’.

Dodgers 4, Cardinals 3: Peter Bourjos hit an unexpected homer to tie it in the sixth off of Clayton Kershaw of all people, but then the Dodgers plated the winning run in the ninth rallying against Trevor Rosenthal. Kershaw’s run of seven starts allowing one or fewer runs comes to an end but a win makes everything shiny.*

*note: I watched “Serenity” again last night so I’m going to be sprinkling that stuff in for a few days. Can’t help myself.

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.