Matthew Pouliot

Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner

First-inning success fueling Yankees start, while failures bury Indians

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In theory, anyway, every manager in baseball designs his lineup to give his team the best chance of scoring in the first inning of the game. And it generally works: there have been 509 runs scored in the first innings of games this year, 23 more than the next highest-scoring inning.

One team’s pitching staff hasn’t been contributing to that total, though. The Pittsburgh Pirates have allowed just three first-inning runs in 31 games. It’s not simply the best mark in baseball, but it blows everyone else out of the water. No other team has allowed fewer than 10 first-inning runs.

First-inning runs allowed
1. Pirates – 3
2. Nationals – 10
2. Royals – 10
4. Giants – 12
4. Marlins – 12
4. Rays – 12

27. Blue Jays – 24
27. Dodgers – 24
27. Red Sox – 24
30. Indians – 27

On the flip side, the Pirates have been a middling offensive team in the first, totaling 14 runs. The Yankees lead the way there.

First-inning runs scored
1. Yankees – 31
2. Braves – 28
2. Tigers – 28
4. Padres – 27

26. Marlins – 11
26. Mets – 11
28. Indians – 10
29. Phillies – 9
30. White Sox – 7

The Yankees have the game’s best run-differential in the first inning this year, which plays a big role in their 20-12 record. They’ve outscored the opposition by 17 runs in the first and just 13 over the remainder of the game.

First-inning run differential
1. Yankees +17
2. Pirates +11
2. Royals +11
4. Tigers +10
5. Padres +9

27. Phillies -11
27. Red Sox -11
29. White Sox -13
30. Indians -17

We can also see just how difficult it is to consistently dig out of an early hole. The Red Sox and Indians were both expected by most to be contenders this year, and the White Sox had their share of backers, as well. All are struggling. The Indians, with the AL’s worst record at 11-19, have a -17 run differential in the first, though they’re practically matching the competition the rest of the way (-2 from the second inning on).

Red Sox place Shane Victorino on 15-day disabled list

Shane Victorino
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The Red Sox probably got a little better today in placing Shane Victorino on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring.

Due to various ailments, Victorino has been day-to-day since pretty much the start of the spring, and he’s hit just .143/.302/.171 in 35 at-bats to begin the regular season. He also hasn’t looked like his old self in right field. It seems pretty obvious that he can’t help the Red Sox unless he’s 100 percent — and perhaps not then — so it makes sense to sit him out for a couple of weeks to get him healthy.

With Rusney Castillo still on the minor league DL because of a shoulder injury, the Red Sox will get by with some combination of Brock Holt, Daniel Nava and Allen Craig in right field. Holt probably deserves most of the playing time against right-handers, considering he’s off to a 14-for-33 start at the plate and he’s the best defender in the group.

Matt Barnes was called up from Triple-A as Victorino’s replacement, giving the Red Sox the eight-man bullpen they might need with their rotation of 5 1/3-inning pitchers.

Former Cubs catcher, Expos manager Jim Fanning dies at 87

jim fanning
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Jim Fanning, best known as a former general manager and manager of the Expos, passed away Saturday at age 87.

Fanning did a bit of everything over the course of his long career in baseball. He played in 64 games as a catcher for the Cubs from 1954-57, hitting .170 with no homers in 141 at-bats. After calling it a career at age 33, he went into managing in the minors, and then he found himself with the Expos at their birth, becoming their general manager prior to the expansion draft in 1968. He later served as their director of scouting and took over as manager in 1981, occupying the role through the 1982 season and again briefly in 1984.

Fanning also worked for the Blue Jays towards the end of his career, serving as an ambassador. He adopted Canada as his home and was elected into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2009, the Blue Jays held a pregame ceremony for him, honoring his 60 years in baseball.

Josh Hamilton heads back where he belongs

Josh Hamilton
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With the Angels so terribly eager to dump him, Friday’s trade couldn’t have possibly worked out much better for Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton, ostracized by Angels management after his drug relapse, will return to a setting that suits him far better, even if his time in Arlington didn’t end on a high note. While there is lingering bitterness from part of the fan base, some of it deserved after negative comments that Hamilton made, there’s nothing so bad it can’t be put into the past. Obviously, Hamilton is embracing it, since he’s giving up money to make the trade happen. Hamilton was, after all, a bonafide superstar in Texas, winning MVP honors in 2010 and going to All-Star Games in each of his five seasons with the club. He hit 43 homers and drove in 128 runs in his final season there in 2012.

Just getting back into a ballpark that favors left-handed power hitters should do wonders for Hamilton. His decline in Anaheim wasn’t all about the tough hitting environment there, but it did exacerbate his problems. In 2014, all 10 of Hamilton’s homers came in road games. He hit .249/.314/.302 at home and .278/.347/.527 on the road. Basically, he was still a star while playing outside of Southern California.

It’s too much to ask Hamilton to match those road numbers after he returns from shoulder surgery this year, especially with everything else he’s dealing with off the field, including a divorce, but this is the best-case scenario for him from an on-field standpoint. And it’s a nice gamble for the Rangers, since they’ll be paying a fraction of the $25 million per year he’s owed through 2017. Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan says they’ll be on the hook for a mere $15 million total.

The Rangers will have to wait for Hamilton to finish rehabbing his shoulder, but once healthy, he’ll fill their massive void in left field. They opened the spring with Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, Michael Choice, Carlos Peguero and veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Schierholtz competing for the job, eventually settling on Rua and Smolinski. Rua, though, is going to miss at least a month with an ankle injury, and he wasn’t likely to settle in as a quality regular anyway.

 

 

When instant replay wrongs a right

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With the score tied at 5 in the eighth inning of Sunday’s Cardinals-Reds game, Yadier Molina dropped down a sac bunt with runners on first and second and none out. It was a bad bunt and Molina was slow getting out of the box. Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco picked up the ball and attempted to tag Molina without getting the call. No problem. Mesoraco simply threw to third for the force, and Todd Frazier was able to convert the double play by throwing to first.

That should have been the end of things. Except for one very important fact: Mesoraco did, in fact, tag Molina on the play.

The Cardinals saw the tag on replay, and Mike Matheny came out to challenge the call. Replay determined that Kerwin Danley blew it when he signaled that no tag was made. Unfortunately, at this point, Danley and crew chief Joe West decided that this meant Peter Bourjos was safe at third base, giving the Cardinals runners on second and third with one out in the frame.

That was totally the wrong outcome. Had Frazier known the tag was made on Molina and there was no force at third base, he would have been in position to make the tag on Bourjos at third base, completing the double play. It’s not 100 percent sure that he would have gotten the tag down, but it was clearly better than 50-50.

The crew is given discretion in cases like these to determine what should have happened. Being that it was a Joe West crew, it’s not much of a surprise that the decision turned out wrong. At least the Cardinals failed to capitalize, with Kolten Wong and Matt Adams popping up to end the inning and keep the game tied.

Still, if you ask me, plays like this are another reason that managers should not be involved in the replay process. I don’t want managers looking for technicalities in order to steal or revoke outs. This was basically a loophole that Matheny crawled through; the defense earned this double play, only to be stripped of it by Danley’s bad call. The very thing replay was designed to overcome was used against it here.