Bill Baer

Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano (22) makes contact for a two-run home run during the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers Wednesday, April 6, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade

What’s on Tap: Previewing Monday’s action

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Now that the regular season schedule has normalized somewhat, we can introduce something we would like to do for you here at HardballTalk: preview the baseball action every night. We’ll give you the pitching matchups and any important aspect of the game that might make it compelling. As it’s a new feature, we are certainly open to hearing your feedback and will make adjustments as needed. These might not always be as thorough; sometimes less is more.

Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana) @ Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson), 4:10 PM EST

Jose Quintana is among the most unlucky pitchers in baseball. Since he came into the league in 2012, only one pitcher has recorded more quality starts (at least 6 innings pitched, three or fewer earned runs allowed) without getting the win: Cole Hamels (53). Quintana is tied for second place with James Shields (45), followed by Jeff Samardzija (42). Quintana came one out shy of a quality start in his season debut last Tuesday against the Athletics. He’ll try to grab that elusive W tonight against the Twins.

Milwaukee Brewers (Taylor Jungmann) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Michael Wacha), 4:15 PM EST

How about Scooter Gennett‘s hot start? The Brewers’ second baseman, in 22 plate appearances, has four singles and three solo homers while walking more times than he has struck out (four to three). Gennett’s career-high in home runs for a full season is nine, set in 2014. While he started on Opening Day against a lefty starter (Madison Bumgarner), he sat on Sunday against Dallas Keuchel in favor of Yadiel Rivera. Gennett’s career platoon split is pretty severe — .803 OPS vs. righties, .349 vs. lefties — so expect that to happen often throughout the season.

Atlanta Braves (Bud Norris) @ Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 7:05 PM EST

Braves prospect Mallex Smith is making his major league debut on Monday and he’ll immediately be tested against Max Scherzer. Outfielder Ender Inciarte suffered a strained hamstring, opening the door for Smith, who began his minor league season with four singles, two doubles, a triple, and a stolen base in his first 16 plate appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves acquired Smith along with three others from the Padres in the Justin Upton deal.

Miami Marlins (Jarred Cosart) @ New York Mets (Steven Matz), 7:10 PM EST

During the offseason, the Mets brought back Yoenis Cespedes, replaced Daniel Murphy with Neil Walker, and bolstered the shortstop position by signing Asdrubal Cabrera. The offense should be even better than it was last year, right? It hasn’t so far. As a team, the club has mustered only a .529 OPS and their two home runs are tied with the Marlins and Pirates for the fewest in the league. David Wright and Michael Conforto are the Mets’ only regulars with an above-average OPS, and it’s only because they have drawn seven walks in their 38 combined plate appearances. While the Mets have the tough task of facing Jose Fernandez on Tuesday, they’ll get Jarred Cosart on Monday night and Adam Conley on Wednesday afternoon. That’s as good a time as any for the offense to make an appearance.

Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan) @ Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester), 8:05 PM EST

The Reds last season finished with the second-worst record in baseball. In the midst of a rebuild, the club traded Johnny Cueto to the Royals ahead of the trade deadline last year, and sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox during the offseason. One would think they’d get off to a rough start in 2015, but they’re currently 5-1. They beat the Phillies on Opening Day with a five-run rally in the eighth inning. The next game, they walked off against the Phillies on a Scott Schebler double. The Reds completed the sweep with an eight-run fourth inning the next day. On Friday, the Pirates slowed their roll, pulling off a 6-5 victory, but the Reds exacted revenge with a 5-1 win on Saturday. On Sunday, they walked off again as Jay Bruce tripled off of Arquimedes Caminero. They’ll have their hands full with Jon Lester, who pitched excellently on Opening Day against the Angels, hurling seven innings of one-run ball.

Kansas City Royals (Chris Young) @ Houston Astros (Collin McHugh), 8:10 PM EST

So far, the Astros’ pitching has been a nightmare. Their 7.02 ERA over six games is by far the worst in the league and a lot of it has to do with tonight’s starter, Collin McHugh. The right-hander recorded only one out before being pulled against the Yankees last Wednesday, serving up six runs (five earned) on three hits and a pair of walks. McHugh has always been the inconsistent sort, but he finished eighth in AL Cy Young balloting last season with a 19-7 record, 3.89 ERA, and 171/53 K/BB ratio over 203 2/3 innings. If he is to rebound tonight, he’ll have to do it against the defending world champs.

Los Angeles Angels (Nick Tropeano) @ Oakland Athletics (Sonny Gray), 10:05 PM EST

Nick Tropeano gets the start Monday in place of Andrew Heaney, who suffered a flexor strain. Tropeano didn’t make the club’s Opening Day roster as he struggled in five spring training starts, but he was quite good in seven sporadic starts and a relief appearance last season. He finished with a 3.82 ERA and a 38/10 K/BB ratio in 37 2/3 innings. Heaney, as a former top prospect, has more upside, but the Angels may not be missing that much in going to Tropeano.

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Seattle Mariners (Hisashi Iwakuma), 10:10 PM EST

Robinson Cano is off to a scorching start, having blasted four homers in his first 27 plate appearances. He didn’t hit his fourth homer until June 26 last season. His slow start had many concerned, particularly because he was in the second year of a ten-year, $240 million deal. Cano still finished with fine numbers, hitting 21 homers total with 79 RBI and a .779 OPS. If he doesn’t have such a slow start this year, imagine where his numbers might wind up.

Jose Bautista learned from last week’s slide incident

Toronto Blue Jays' Jose Bautista celebrates his two-run home run with teammate Josh Donaldson during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox in Toronto, Saturday, April 9, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Last Tuesday, Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista was called out for slide interference on a double play attempt in the ninth inning, resulting in the game ending in a loss against the Rays. There was a lot of controversy over the ruling, but ultimately the correct call was made.

Bautista learned from his mistake. The Jays had the bases loaded in the first inning of Sunday’s game against the Red Sox after Bautista had drawn a walk. Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground ball to shortstop Xander Bogaerts for what seemed like an easy double play. However, Bogaerts had a moment of indecision and quickly fed the ball to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who then fired high to first baseman Hanley Ramirez, allowing a run to score and Encarnacion to reach safely.

What you can see on the replay is that Bautista made certain to slide directly into the bag and held onto it with his hand, making sure there was no chance he would be called for an infraction. Here’s a link to the MLB.com video.

We’ll see more of this as the season goes on — the players will become more familiar with the correct way to slide into the bag and soon it will become second nature.

The A’s seem to be leaning towards platooning Billy Butler

Oakland Athletics Billy Butler follows through on an RBI double against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)
AP Photo/Matt York
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Billy Butler remained out of the Athletics’ lineup on Sunday and won’t be back in there on Monday when they take on the Angels. Right-hander Nick Tropeano will start for the Halos, marking the fourth day in a row the A’s will face a right-handed starter.

This seems to point towards a platoon, but A’s manager Bob Melvin didn’t admit to it. Via MLB.com’s Jane Lee, Melvin said that Butler would be in the lineup on Tuesday, when lefty Hector Santiago will start for the Angels.

“That’s a tough one right now,” Melvin said Sunday morning. “That’s going to be a day-to-day proposition. I communicated with him where we are right now.”

Butler doubled twice on Opening Day and is 3-for-10 to start the season. However, the soon-to-be 30-year-old hit a disappointing .251 with 15 home runs in 601 plate appearances last year after signing a three-year, $30 million contract.

In terms of OPS, Butler has hit lefties over 100 points better than righties last year, with respective marks of .887 and .765. That being said, Butler actually hit same-handed pitching better in 2015, with a .722 OPS versus righties and .687 versus lefties.

Orioles move to 5-0, tie franchise mark for best start to a season

Baltimore Orioles' Manny Machado, second from right, steadies himself at home with umpire Dana DeMuth, second from left, after he slid home on a wild pitch by Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) during the eighth inning of an baseball game, Sunday, April 10, 2016, in Baltimore. Machado scored on the play. Also seen is Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters who points to home plate. The Orioles won 5-3. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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In 1970, the Orioles opened the season with five consecutive wins. They would go on to win 103 more, finishing 108-54, and they would vanquish the Reds in five games in the World Series. That season featured three 20-game winners in Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, and Dave McNally.

Could a similar fate await the 2016 Orioles? The club beat the Rays 5-3 on Sunday, jumping out to a 5-0 start and tying the ’70 Orioles for the best start in team history. Third baseman Manny Machado went 4-for-4 with a two-run home run, his third of the year. Starter Vance Worley couldn’t escape the fifth inning, but the bullpen put up 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.

Excepting Pedro Alvarez and Adam Jones, the entire team has been hitting. Machado, Joey Rickard, and Mark Trumbo are each hitting above .400. In fact, Trumbo — who had two singles in four at-bats Sunday — has hit only singles. As a unit, the Orioles are hitting just under .300. It’s hard to imagine the O’s hitting .300 for an entire season, but stranger things have happened.

Barry Bonds on Bryce Harper: “He is a beast. [But] he doesn’t compare to me yet.”

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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is sitting on 99 career home runs. At 23 years and 177 days old, the defending NL MVP could become the eighth-youngest player to reach 100 career homers. Harper, the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, has had quite a good start to his career.

But Barry Bonds, baseball’s all-time home run leader, doesn’t think comparisons should be made between himself and Harper. Per MLB.com’s William Ladson:

“He is a beast. [But] he doesn’t compare to me yet. He has a long way to go [in order to be compared] to me. He is not even close to me. But he is one hell of a ballplayer. I watch him, I admire and I look at him and I’m in awe. You don’t see that often.”

To Harper’s credit, he responded to Bonds’ comments with praise. Via James Wagner of the Washington Post:

For what it’s worth, Harper has arguably had the better start to his career, at least offensively. To match Bonds, however, he’ll need to keep it up for another 18 years. A comparison:

Age

PA HR SB AVG OBP SLG

WAR

Bonds

21-24

2388 84 117 .256 .345 .458

23.4

Harper

19-22

2143 97 37 .289 .384 .517

19.8