What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

Thursday gives us a few afternoon games and seven night games. The Braves beat the Reds, the Mariners and Rays are still doing battle, and the Rangers and Athletics started not too long ago.

They’re not playing tonight, but I want to talk about the Cubs. Specifically, their run differential. It’s +159, by far the best in baseball. The Red Sox have the next-best at +86, almost half as good as the Cubs. The Cubs are on pace for a +402 run differential, which would be the best in any 162-game season in baseball history. The best run differential of all time was set by the 1939 Yankees at +411, winning 106 of 151 games. According to pythagorean expectation, which uses run differential to figure out what a team’s record “should” be, the 44-20 Cubs have underperformed their record by four games.

The Cubs have the league’s second-best offense, averaging 5.38 runs per game. They’re nothing special in the batting average department, but own the best on-base percentage at .347 and couple that with a solid .424 slugging percentage.

Where the Cubs really make their money, though, is with pitching. Their starting rotation ERA of 2.33 is by far the best in baseball, almost a full run better than the second-best Mets’ 3.17. They can thank reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and his 1.86 ERA for that, but Jon Lester is at 1.89, Jason Hammel at 2.26, John Lackey at 2.66, and Kyle Hendricks at 3.05. A typical No. 5 starter has an ERA in the 4.50-5.00 range, just to put Hendricks’ performance in perspective.

Once opponents get the Cubs’ starter after the game, it only gets marginally easier, as the Cubs’ 3.48 bullpen ERA is 10th-best in baseball. Closer Hector Rondon has been among the best in the game, getting the save in 11 of 13 opportunities with a 1.57 ERA and a 32/3 K/BB ratio in 23 innings. Somehow, the Cubs have turned failed starters Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill into reliable relievers and Pedro Strop — the “other guy” in the infamous Arrieta trade with the Orioles — has made significant strides with his control.

Defense is harder to analyze, particularly only 64 games into a season, but the Cubs also shine here — no surprise. Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, and Kris Bryant have graded out as elite defenders. Jorge Soler has really been the only red mark defensively.

Will the Cubs continue to challenge the ’39 Yankees’ all-time run differential record in late September? Probably not. The grind of a 162-game season always seems to level the playing field to some degree. The Cubs, who have had only three multiple-game losing streaks this season, will slump at some point. But they’ve shown they are clearly the top dogs in baseball this season. It will be interesting to see how far they can take it.

Thursday’s action…

Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ) @ Philadelphia Phillies (Aaron Nola)

Baltimore Orioles (Tyler Wilson) @ Boston Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez)

Pittsburgh Pirates (Juan Nicasio) @ New York Mets (Bartolo Colon)

New York Yankees (CC Sabathia) @ Minnesota Twins (Kyle Gibson)

Detroit Tigers (Justin Verlander) @ Kansas City Royals (Danny Duffy)

Milwaukee Brewers (Junior Guerra) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Scott Kazmir)

Washington Nationals (Tanner Roark) @ San Diego Padres (Erik Johnson)

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.