The Warning Track: Week Five

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Awards Watch

With this year’s contenders, for both the postseason and individual awards at the end of the season, starting to becoming clear, it’s a good time to look back and see how off The Warning Track was with its preseason predictions, as far as the five-week old season is concerned.

 

American League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Mike Trout, with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu on deck

Trout and Cabrera are in the top ten in homers (seven and six, respectively), with Abreu close on their heels with five. Their among the leaders of their respective teams in most offensive categories, and have certainly performed as expected.

But two key things: The Angels and White Sox are playing sub-.500 ball, so Trout and Abreu are susceptible, just susceptible, to getting knocked out of the conversation in the early going. Cabrera’s Tigers are 19-12  in the early going, but players like Jose Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez are contributing just as much on a team that has averaged four and a half runs a game.

And, secondly, other players have simply been more incredible as of early May, dominating the opposition consistently and unabashedly.

As such, we have a couple new contenders, including one who would be named MVP of both leagues should the season end today.

1. Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

MLB-leading 14 home runs and .748 slugging percentage, AL-leading 1.130 OPS, third in AL in hits (39)

Hey, I said Trout and Abreu were susceptible to getting knocked out of the early MVP discussion due to their teams losing more games than they’ve won. Nelson Cruz’s Mariners are currently hanging out in the basement of the AL West, but no player in baseball has been more intimidating than Cruz through five weeks. If it wasn’t for Cruz (and probably King Felix), Seattle might not even be at five wins. He leads the team in average, home runs, RBI, runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, hits and walks.

As of now, there is one Seattle Mariner with his eye on October, and it’s Nelson Cruz.

2. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (19-12)

Top five in AL in home runs (10), RBI (23), walks (19), fifth in AL in SLG (.584)

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (14-16)

Top ten in AL in home runs (7), runs (24), stolen bases (7), SLG (.570), OPS (.959), walks (16)  

 

National League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Giancarlo Stanton, followed by Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant

Jason Heyward has been eclipsed by another Cardinal, and Kris Bryant isn’t even the top contender for NL Rookie of the Year (yet). But Stanton has surely been tearing up the league, right?

Well, yes. After a slow first couple weeks, he’s turned it on to lead the majors in RBI (29) and lingering at the top of other major offensive categories.

But the National League has had its own Nelson Cruz, another veteran slugger who makes even the most potent National League pitcher drip sweat when he comes to the plate.

Here are my updated NL MVP standings.

1. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

MLB-leading 1.166 OPS, NL-leading .727 slugging percentage, top five in NL in home runs (9), batting average (.373), RBI (25), runs (23), OBP (.439), hits (41), doubles (12)

A-Gone came out swinging right out of the gate, becoming the first player in major league history to hit five homers in his team’s first three games, and refused to cool down. He’s led his team to a hot start, along with youngster Joc Pederson, and has wholeheartedly hoisted the Dodgers on his shoulders in the absence of Yasiel Puig. 

2. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (22-7)

MLB-leading 14 doubles, top five in NL runs (23), SLG (.620), top ten in NL in RBI (20), average (.333), hits (36), OPS (1.024)

3. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Top five in NL in home runs (9), SLG (.632), OPS (1.057) , walks (24), top ten in NL in RBI (19), runs (21), OBP (.425)

 

American League Cy Young

Who I said: Felix Hernandez, followed by Chris Sale and Corey Kluber

In a league inhabited by very few consistently powerful aces, my preseason pick, the King, has had another astounding start to the season, with a 1.73 ERA and sterling 5-0 record, a bright spot on an underperforming Mariners squad. But someone on an overperforming American League club has taken the reigns in the early going of what has been a very tight race for best pitcher in a batter-friendly league.

As far as the other guys, Chris Sale is serving a five-game suspension, and reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has given up at least four earned runs in four of seven starts. Sooooo……

Updated AL Cy Young standings

  1. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (19-11)

MLB-leading .80 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, fifth-in-MLB 45.0 innings pitched, AL-leading .139 batting average against 

The Astros are leading their division one week into May. Woah.

For the first time in over a decade, they are proving to be a fundamentally complete team. Woah.

And they have a player leading an awards race. WOAH!!!!!

Woah, indeed.

Woah, indeed.

Keuchel has been incredible so far for an Astros squad that is third in team ERA in the AL at 3.40. He’s given up only four earned runs in six starts this season, and in all but one he went at least seven innings. He’s the pitcher Houston needs and the one it deserves right now.

Heck, their fans have been deserving for ten years.

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

AL-leading five wins, top ten in AL in ERA (1.73), strikeouts (44), WHIP (.084), innings pitched (41.2), one complete game along with four other AL pitchers

3. Chris Archers, Tampa Bay Rays (16-14)

AL-leading 50 strikeouts, top ten in AL in ERA (2.59), WHIP (1.01), batting average against (.185)

 

National League Cy Young

Who I said: Max Scherzer beating out Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright

Scherzer has performed okay, Clayton Kershaw hasn’t at all, and the baseball world was rocked when Wainwright went down for the season two weeks ago. That’ll cause some changes.

Updated NL Cy Young standings

1. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Tied-for-MLB-lead five wins, NL-leading 0.84 WHIP,  ERA (1.56), top ten in NL in batting average (.174), innings pitched (40.1)

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been himself this season. He is 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA through six starts, numbers he has no right to own. He’s gone at least seven innings his last two times on the mound, after failing to do so the previous four starts, but he has yet to not allow a run in a game.

In the meantime, Greinke has made up for it with, filling his role as co-ace admirably for a team that might that’ll make a huge jump once Kershaw is his old self once again.

Oh he’s raking at the plate, too, and he wants the world to know.

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (13-16)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.27), wins (4), strikeouts (39)

3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (16-15)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.11), strikeouts (49), WHIP (0.94), batting average (.216), innings pitched (42.2)    

 

An Ovation With An Asterisk

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 661st career home run on Thursday, passing Willie Mays to solely occupy fourth place on the all-time career list, there was excitement among those in the Yankees fandom who had forgiven A-Rod, accepted A-Rod, and now cheered on A-Rod.

But outside New York, there seemed to be little ovation to be had. As for me, I got an alert on my phone form my favorite sports app, followed quickly by a brief twitter takeover by various sports media bringing attention to the historic moment, and then nothing.

With a sigh, I went back to my day.

It’s unusual, and a little bit frightening, to think about what could have been, would have been, should have been. It’s no secret that the Yankees organization was planning a huge marketing campaign to be centered around A-Rod’s journey to 660.

We’re talking a big, season-long campaign. Creative slogans. Countless billboards in the Big Apple. Nike-endorsed commercials. Merchandise upon merchandise upon merchandise. A-Rod everywhere, the prodigy, the champion, the modern day Babe Ruth, just as it was meant to be.

And now, we’re left wondering whether it would have ever even been considered if A-Rod hadn’t used PEDs. Would he even have gotten close?

There would have been grandeur, lights, fireworks, spectacle. Every baseball fan form Yankee Stadium to AT&T Stadium in San Fran, whether they loved him or loathed him, would have at least given him a tip of the cap for what he accomplished.

I’ll give him a golf clap. 661 is still an astounding number, and hitting a baseball in general is still one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tasks in sports. But a golf clap is all I’m willing to do before contemplating how magnificent the event could have been, would have been…perhaps may never have been.

His name would have been written in the history books of baseball in sharpie with a flourish and an exclamation point, as someone who, in the Golden Age of Pitching, would have dominated the competition.

Instead, a miniscule “Alex Rodriguez: 661 and counting” is inscribed rather feebly into the margins between Willie Mays Babe Ruth. With pencil and an enormous asterisk, etched in such a way that perhaps the name might be someday be erased or otherwise wiped away, with no one noticing.

 

Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez sits at 2,963 hits, setting up another uncomfortable celebration for the near future as he looks to become the 29th player in history to garner 3,000 hits.

 

 

The Minority Report

In 2009, ten of major league baseball’s 30 managers belonged to a minority.

At the start of last season, that number was whittled down to five.

Now, only two major league managers – Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, an African American, and Fredi Gonzalez, a Latino, in Atlanta – are not white.

Those interesting facts once you consider that the same figures aren’t reflected on the diamond. According to a 2014 report by Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), 60.9 percent of players on 2014 Opening Day rosters were white, compared to 93.4 percent of managers.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

The game is more diverse than ever, with major league clubs looking more and more at big-time prospects from Cuba, Japan and other countries who could make an impact on their squads.

So why isn’t that commonplace when it comes to the ultimate leader of the clubhouse?

Major League Baseball is also seemingly concerned about the trend, issuing a memo to its 30 clubs reminding them of a protocol that was installed in the Bud Selig era. The rule calls for teams to at least consider those of minority descent when looking to fill the roles of general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.”

It’s a good move on their part, because how would it look to have a game that is becoming more global being represented by 30 managers who are all white?

It’s as big as issue as is the dropping levels of black players on the field. According to the TIDES study, only 8.2 percent of players were black, a sharp decrease from 13 percent at the start of the millennium.

It isn’t necessarily a new problem when it comes to managers, either. In every years 1991, at least 76 percent (about 23) of major league baseball’s managers where white. The one outlier came in 2002, when there were eight black and two Latino managers in the league.

While the problem is an enduring one, the trends are disturbing, seeing as baseball is on track to have all-white managers sooner rather than later.

There are obviously facts we don’t know. Perhaps there aren’t people of ethnic descent interviewing for the position. Maybe teams are only relaying information about job openings to a certain group of people, though that is unlikely.

But it’s something to keep an eye on – and major league baseball is, rightfully so – in a game that is becoming more globalized.

The TIDES report at the start of 2014, when there were five minority managers in the bigs, gave major league baseball an A when it came to hiring practices. It would be interesting to see what grade the league would get a little over a year later.

 

 

Other baseball thoughts from the week

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

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The Warning Track: Opening Week

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

The Longball Takes Center Stage

It’s a common philosophy with sports, however tough it is to follow at time, not to overreact to anything….especially at the end of Opening Week in baseball, with 155-plus games still to be played.

But it would be unwise not to at least take a look at how the homerun ball dominated the first week of the 2015 season.

Exhibit A: Adrian Gonzalez, who after homering three times in one game earlier in the week, is being affectionately dubbed A-Gone by the baseball world. Gonzalez became the first player to hit five home runs in his team’s first three games of a season, and in the process has early MVP stamped all over him (yes, it’s week 1, but this is what I meant by overreacting).

A-Gone hasn’t hit forty home runs since a career year in 2009, but if he keeps it up he’ll smash that personal record, as well as help break a bigger one that I predicted will happen this year.

Gonzalez isn’t the only one who put on a power display this week. In an Opening Day that was dominated by pitching, the Boston Red Sox unveiled their revamped lineup in style, hitting five moonshots in an 8-0 victory over the Phillies.

Just as impressive? Four of them were hit off of Cole Hamels, who is trying to impress other teams as he will almost surely be wearing a different uniform by the trade deadline this summer.

I’ve got to admit…I thought Boston came into this season a little overrated. When you acquire the big-name talent they did in the offseason – Pablo Sandoval, who pretty much becomes Babe Ruth in October, as well as ex-Dodger Hanley Ramirez – people are either going to label you as automatic postseason contenders…or see the club as one that may have trouble developing a homogeneous identity.

I belong to the latter. I just got the sense that this team would have a tough time gelling together, spending too much of the season trying to form a clubhouse dynamic that once they did it would be too late.

Then again, when you have the pure power that the BoSox showed off on Monday, that doesn’t matter as much. Homers score runs, and scoring runs wins games.

Another home run display to note, although just a single longball…A-Rod’s first since September of 2013.

Although that alone will add drama to the hit, the real story – now that we know supposedly-steroid-free-Alex-Rodriguez can still hit ‘em far and hit ‘em deep – is what happens if he when he hits five more and passes Willie Mays for fourth all time on the career homer list.

When he does, the Yankees, per the contract they gave him in 2007, are obligated to pay him a $6 million bonus…something they said in the offseason they will no longer do.

It’s a shame, really, to see what once was a journey toward making epic major league history become a cheating-fueled soap opera of undeserved greatness.

However.

As polarizing as A-Rod and his legacy has become – to this writer especially – the Yankees should do their due diligence once he gets to that mark, and you know he will. Aside from the fact that the Yankees already popped up to shallow left by putting the bonus in a signed contract…his home runs will be helping the Yanks win games, and they should thank him as they are contractually obligated to do so.

He’s still Alex Rodriguez, which means he puts the Jeter-less Yankees on an entirely other tier, maybe not in terms of competition but in recognition. Paying his bonus is the least they can do to compensate for his services.

Home runs provided plenty of storylines and drama in Opening Week. In what has become the Golden Age of Pitching, let’s hope it stays that way.

 

On the Cusp of Going to Infinity and Beyond in Houston

The Houston Astros, perennial cellar dwellers for the better part of the last decade, are making their way to the stairs.

Slowly. But ever so surely.

Much like the position the Cubs occupied in recent years, Houston is full-on retooling, rearming, and reenergizing their fanbase with a team that should only be a year or two away from playing .500 baseball.

Their youngsters, high picks resulting from last-place regular season finishes, are the Kris Bryants and Jose Fernandez’s of tomorrow. Players like George Springer and Dallas Keuchel are on the cusp of breaking into their own and leading this team.

The Astros, like the Cubs were a couple years back, are on the brink of relevance. And general manager Jeff Luhnow knows it, which is why he manufactured one of the busiest offseasons the Astros have had in recent memory, however much it was shaded by the offseason lusting spending of other teams (looking at you, San Diego, Boston).

Beyond acquiring new manager A.J. Hinch, Luhnow went out and nabbed All-Star relief pitcher Pat Neshek as well as Jed Lowrie and basher Evan Gattis.

And don’t forget about star Jose Altuve, who led the league in hits in 2014 with an astounding 225. When a guy puts in this kind of effort, opposing pitchers know he’s never going to be an easy out.

The Astros have a healthy dose of young – very young – guys and experienced players. They’re 2-2 on the young season (as of the time I am writing this) and were already very nearly held hitless in a 5-1 loss to the Indians on Thursday. Needless to say, it was the kind of game that we’ve come to expect from Houston’s club.

At a time when the National League is experiencing a wealth of young talent, Springer hopes to make the same kind of impact in the American League

At a time when the National League is experiencing a wealth of young talent, Springer hopes to make the same kind of impact in the American League

But they’ve also had victories that have showcased their potential, like a 5-1 score going in their favor against the lowly Rangers on Friday, in which Lowrie and newcomer Colby Rasmus both homered and Collin McHugh gave a sterling first start of the season after delighting fans with a 7-0 record and 1.77 ERA in ten starts as a rookie last season.

But if Houston is going to entice their fans with any kind of major  jump this season, it’s going to have to be on George Springer, their budding face of the franchise who hit 20 home runs and drove in 51 in 78 games in 2014, his rookie season. With Major League Baseball abuzz over the arrivals of Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler and soon-to-be-big league superstar Kris Bryant, the baseball world isn’t paying too much attention to Springer.

They’ll regret that.

So keep your heads high, Astros fans. The torment is almost over.

astros fail

 

 

I See Your Pace-of-Play Rules and Raise You A Marathon

How ironic is it that soon after major pace-of-play rules meant to shorten game length are introduced to regular season baseball, we get an epic 19-inning battle as part of the fiercest rivalry in American sports?

The Red Sox and Yankees battled for the length of two baseball games, and then added another inning for good measure before Boston finally pulled out a 6-5 victory 6 hours and 49 minutes after first pitch. It came close to being the first 20-inning game since 2013, and only the fifth this millennia.

Oh and the game set some records for two already historic franchises.

Take that, pace of play rules. Even you can’t take away one of the most unique aspects of baseball – it ain’t over till it’s over.

Truthfully, we should thank the Red Sox and Yankees for giving us a game like this at a time when Commissioner Rob Manfred is working so hard to quicken the game to supposedly appeal to a younger crowd of sports fans.

The means are worth experimenting but in my opinion that motivation driving the initiative is going to hurt the sport.

Just let ‘em play. True baseball fans won’t leave the game as the clock ticks closer and closer until morning just because it goes on for a little longer. When are extra innings not tense? Every base hit has added drama, every defensive play more weight, every inning a chance for walk-off victory for the home crowd.

If baseball fans can’t see the fun in that, whether young or old, then they probably don’t appreciate the game like some people would say it’s meant to be experienced – as naturally as possible.

Sometimes the nature of baseball takes a game twice as long as it is meant to go, and by the baseball gods….let ‘em play. And allow what makes the sport so special to be on display for the true baseball fan, the kind who doesn’t care if it takes nine innings or 19 to decide an outcome.

So thank you, Red Sox and Yankees. For giving us a nailbiter. For giving spectators two games for the price of one. For reminding us why we love your sport.

bosox

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico.