The Warning Track: Predicting October’s squads in March

The weather is getting warmer, the grass is getting greener and Major League Baseball marches towards Opening Day on Monday, with a triple-header preceding on Sunday.

The business of predicting who will reign supreme in their respective division is always an obstensively exciting and enticing one, like waiting for 3-0 pitch and being confident that you’ll take it for ball one,, only to swing away and hit an infield popup.

Because for most of us columnists, barring some rare mercy from the baseball gods (sportswriting gods?), most of our predictions are destroyed by the time the All-Star Break rolls around.

Exhibit A: My World Series prediction around this time last year. 

There will be injuries, there will be unforeseen breakouts, there will be hypothetical apologies to fans for leading them in the wrong direction.

Most likely.

But before that time comes around, us columnists can revel in the glory of the return of regular season baseball, and with it the false feeling that we have more say in what the 2016 season is fated to become than the baseball gods do.

We begin by predicting the postseason field, with MVP, Cy Young, and other predictions to come later in the week.

American League East 

It’s easy to be enticed by the image of David Price leading Boston to the division crown, until you remember there is a huge possibility that last year’s costly acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval perform poorly for a second consecutive year.

It’s easy to fall in love with the home-run happy group in Baltimore, until you remember that they’re a strikeout-happy core as well.

It’s easy to conclude a 30 game suspension for Aroldis Chapman might not mean much to the Yankees’ already top-three bullpen in the long run, until you remember the average age of their core is high enough for them to be considered the senior citizens of Major League Baseball.

It would also be easy to buy into the Toronto Blue Jays and the steamroller of a squad they were in the second half of the season last year, led by eventual AL MVP Josh Donaldson…and it’d be easy to think that even if they were to regress a little bit, they’d still be the favorite for the division.

Which is why I’m going with Toronto, the club that has unfinished business in returning the Fall Classic to Canada for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, as well as a stable enough rotation that should do well to weather the absence of Price.

Pick: Toronto Blue Jays

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American League Central

The AL Central has the potential to be very much like its counterpart in the Senior Circuit – extremely competitive, with tight races and tighter storylines.

It will be interesting to see how the White Sox move on from the Adam LaRoche controversy that dominated headlines for a time during Spring Training. But even if they do, and even if Jose Abreu fulfills his MVP potential, it’s tough to think they did enough in the offseason to improve on last years’ ballclub.

In Detroit, Miguel Cabrera will be Miguel Cabrera, but it will be acquisitions like Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmerman and, perhaps most importantly, a revived, down to business Justin Verlander that will decide the fate of the 2016 Tigers. There should be some fantastic showdowns between Detroit and the defending champions in Kansas City, with a grossly underrated Indians club lurking in the shadows.

And who knows? Sports Illustrated took care not to spotlight Cleveland, so that just might be enough to get them into October.

Pick: Kansas City Royals, somewhat hesitantly

royals

 

American League West

If he can shoulder the incredible weight of expectations placed upon him, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (.279 avg., 22 home runs, 68 RBI in 99 games in 2015) could be the second best player in the American League by the end of the season, only looking up to division co-superstar Mike Trout.

There’s reason to believe the 21-year-old Correa could play a major part in ensuring the rest of the baseball landscape that 2015 was no fluke and Houston is here to stay in contention, not to mention Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Evan Gattis…the list of impact players goes on and on…

…as it does for in-state rival Texas, which is looking to stay relevant over the course of a full season again behind Prince Fielder, veteran Adrian Beltre and 2015 trade deadline acquisition Cole Hamels.

The Rangers will look to give Houston a run for their money, and they’ve got high-end prospects waiting in the wings looking to assist if need be.

It’ll be a two-horse race between that pair of Lone Star State squads as they feast on the work-in-progress A’s, the consistently underachieving Mariners (no, I won’t be making that mistake again) and the mind-boggling Angels, who might have had the most dissapointingly quiet offseason in baseball.

Trout can do a lot, some would say he can even do it all. But expecting him to be the player to step up every day is just too much for the young star, and Albert Pujols isn’t getting any younger.

Pick: Houston Astros 

astros

American League Wild Cards

1) Cleveland Indians 

The offense has the potential to impress, but even if it doesn’t, the starting rotation in Cleveland is one to be feared. That town deserves one adequate sports team, right?

2) Texas Rangers 

While the Astros’ youth may prevail for the division, the Rangers’ experience will lead them back to October. A healthy Yu Darvish – which would mean a terrifyingly dominant Yu Darvish – is the key for Texas.

 

National League East

The Phillies and Braves are still a few years away from returning to the status of contender, and the Marlins’ success depends largely on full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, a much-awaited phenomenon that has to happen.

Will Bryce Harper make sure the 2016 Nationals live up to the expectations of yesteryear? How quickly will the Mets rotation – essentially made up of four aces – make the baseball landscape think that the 2015 Cardinals’ staff was nothing compared to the arms they have in New York?

Those will be the dominant storylines in what should be a tight NL East all season long in the top two spots.

But Yoenis Cespedes’ decision to return to New York long-term should be what pushes the Mets over the bump. If he can lead the offense to even a semblance of what it was in the 2015 home stretch (1st in the NL after the All-Star Break in runs, home runs, and doubles), New York will withstand Harper and an overall stronger Washington club to come out on top.

Pick: New York Mets 

cespedes

National League Central

What may be the best division in all of the four major sports associations is also the easiest to predict and call it a day.

Whether the Cubs will end their curse in October remains to be seen, but it would be mind-boggling if this group doesn’t at least improve on their 98 wins from last season. Taking the two most productive players away from their rivals in St. Louis is enough to sharpie them in for the NLDS.

It will be fascinating to see how the relatively young group in Chicago – which still has a healthy dose of experienced players –  deals with the monstrous amount of expectations thrust upon them, but if any manager in the game can keep the young Cubbies’ focus on their ultimate goal, it’s Joe Maddon.

The tougher question with the NL Central is whether it will again produce three postseason teams as it did a season ago.

Pick: Chicago Cubs  

maddon

National League West

Contrary to most sportswriters, I’m pretty sold on what the Diamondbacks have cooking in Arizona.

Already armed with an offense that has been top five in the NL in four of the past five seasons, the D-Backs went out a nabbed a legitimate ace who still has something to prove in Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA in 2015 with L.A.).

That move simultaneously set off questions marks for every starter behind Clayton Kershaw in L.A., who have been plagued by injuries this spring. Meanwhile, while it is an even year and they still have what it is by far the best battery mates in the game in Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, San Francisco will need formidable comebacks from offseason additions Jeff Samardzija (4.96 ERA in 2015) and Johnny Cueto (4.76 ERA in 13 starts with the Royals in 2015) to be competitive.

And, let’s be honest, it’s time to see what Paul Goldschmidt (.321 avg., 33 home runs, 110 RBI in 2015) can do in October.

Pick: Arizona Diamondbacks 

Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin (46) prepare to hit during a spring training baseball practice, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Scottsdale, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

National League Wild Cards

1) Washington Nationals

Harper will mash, Scherzer will break hearts, and Dusty Baker might just have his best season yet as a Major League Baseball manager.

2) San Francisco Giants

What? It is an even year.

giants gif

Thanks for reading.

 

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent 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 hot button topics like MLB’s expansion mission, which players could be headed to new homes, and the latest clubhouse chemistry conundrum. 

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.

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The Warning Track: Why 2016 Would Be A Great Year To Start Watching Baseball

This column originally appeared in the Daily Lobo, the independent student newspaper at the University of New Mexico, and can be viewed here.

Major League Baseball is in somewhat of a transitional phase the likes of which neither the sport, nor its fans, have never really seen before. It’s not experiencing an existential crisis, per se, but the sport has devoted much attention and resources towards tailoring a very traditional game for a younger generation.

The modern sports fan tends to prefer the fast and furious of the NBA and NFL over the more easy-going nature of our national pastime. That’s not a bad thing, but the overused cliché that “baseball is boring/too slow/just not that exciting,” will just make the lifelong baseball fan roll their eyes.

It doesn’t have to be any of those things, though, and most people who say baseball fits any combination of those three might not have taken the time to actually sit through a game.
As it turns out, the 2016 season might be the perfect time to do just that – give the sport a try.

You don’t have to fight the urge of resisting the sport any more. And with pitchers and catchers from most major league ballclubs reporting for Spring Training duty on Friday, you’re only going to hear about it more and more as Opening Day (which has as much a right as the Monday after the Super Bowl to be a national holiday) gets ever close on April 4.

At the very least, the boys of summer will keep you occupied until the boys of fall hit the gridiron once more.

Here are just some of the big reasons why this upcoming 2016 season is a great one to start watching the sport.

Parity Parade
Baseball’s “final four” of the 2015 postseason field – the Cubs, Mets, Royals and Blue Jays – had a whopping zero World Series Championships, collectively, this century. Their respective droughts added up to 188 seasons, until the Royals ended theirs by beating the Mets.

That that relatively inexperienced group of organizations was in the running to win it all in late October is no fluke; for the past few years they and other teams have rebuilt themselves to challenge perennial contenders like the Yankees, Giants and Cardinals. It amounts to an incredible level of parity in the sport, one in which fans would be reluctant to say who is going to make it all the way.

It could be the mega-hyped young Cubs, trying to end one of the most infamous and mocked droughts in all of sports. It could be the Astros, who last year shook off the label of division cellar-dwellers to reach October and look poised to go a step further. It could also be the Mariners, who have vastly underachieved the last few years. It could even be the Giants, vying for their fourth championship in seven years.

The point is, save for a couple organizations in rebuild mode, the postseason field tough to predict, between the established contenders and the teams trying to make a name for themselves as underdogs. It will make for an exciting season, but even more importantly, an unexpected one.

Now Batting: The Kids

Just as baseball is achieving a level of parity rarely seen historically in the sport, so too is there an unprecedented amount of young talent that has taken the league by storm.

Players like Carlos Correa (21 years old), Kris Bryant (24) and reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper (23) have started to hog the spotlight, and for good reason. With veterans like Albert Pujols (36), Alex Rodriguez (40) and David Ortiz (40) all playing in the twilight of their careers, the torch has been figuratively handed off to the young guns who have a big role to play in ushering in a new era.

And don’t forget about Mike Trout (24), either. Arguably the face of major league baseball ever since Derek Jeter’s retirement in 2014, he’s finished in the top 2 in American League MVP voting in each of his four full seasons. Any perfectly competent baseball fan could agree he’s already an all-time great.

Byron Buxton, touted prospect for the Twins, will be the next young star to make waves in the major leagues this year.

Byron Buxton, touted prospect for the Twins, will be the next young star to make waves in the major leagues this year.

Relishing the DH Rules While We Still Can

MLB stands out from the other “big four” American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL) in that there is a stark difference between how American League and National League games strategize, due to the designated hitter rules in the AL.

Essentially, in the National League there must be a pitcher’s spot in the lineup, while the AL has a “designated hitter” to occupy that spot. The result is two leagues with distinct personalities – one with more offensive fireworks and one that prides itself on being essentially a chessmatch in terms of making decisions with pitchers.

It’s a fun dichotomy to experience, but it might not be around for much longer. Due to the recent increase in pitchers suffering long-term injuries at the plate, there is now, for the first time, very real consideration to employ the DH in both leagues.

Traditionalists of the game sigh at the thought of such a change, which could be implemented as early as 2017. For that reason, the person on the fence about baseball should take it upon themselves to experience the way the game has been played for virtually its entire history before the changes (may) take place.

Vin Scully’s Final Ride

Vin Scully, lone wolf broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers since 1950, is as much a baseball icon as Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson or Pete Rose.

From his ability to interweave personal anecdotes seamlessly into the game to staying insightful and reactive well into his 80s, to his catalogue of memorable calls at historic moments (see: Hank Aaron hits No. 715), Scully is a pure national treasure.

Which is why the baseball world shed a collective tear when he announced that his upcoming, unprecedented 67th season would be his final one. If there is just one reason to tune in to the sport for the first time in 2016, it’s to marvel and appreciate Scully’s magic behind the mic, and to experience his final year that marks the end of an era.

Thanks for reading!

mlb_scully_01

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent 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 conundrum. 

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 Warning Track: The Good and Bad of the All-Star Starters

*all stats are entering play on Friday, July 10th

The rosters for the 86th MLB All-Star Game were unveiled a few days ago, and we all can rest easy: It won’t be the National League versus the Kansas City Royals.

“Only” four Royals were named starters to the game earlier in the week – and that number has since dwindled down to three – while the other components of each team is made of some intriguing as well as frustrating components.

Such is the nature of selecting who is worthy, whether it be at the hands of fans, players or managers.

Oftentimes as baseball fans our first reaction, naturally, is to judge an All-Star squad by how represented our favorite teams are. But then we analyze each selection not by stats…but by straightforward feeling and emotion. The players we like, the players we hate. The obvious snubs and suspicious inclusions. The surefire Hall of Famers who absolutely must be present at All-Star Week versus egotistical youngsters who are all bark and no bite.

So that’s how I’ll “analyze” this year’s All-Star Representatives: likeability. We won’t delve too much into stats…WAR and home run numbers are more or less going to be tossed out the window. Instead we’ll see how good baseball fans all over the country did at picking the players that embody the spirit of the game – those who truly personify the meaning of “All-Sar” with their more vague and shadowed qualities, whether on or off the field.

Without further ado, away we go.

asg

 

National League Starters

Catcher: Buster Posey, Giants – Thumbs Up                     .300/.372/.493, 14 home runs, 57 RBI, 8.3 on the likeability scale

Who doesn’t respect Buster Posey, who has built a Hall of Fame resume before his 30th birthday.

Posey has already garnered Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Honors as well as two silver slugger awards three championship rings, and yet he still seems to fly under the radar.

Posey doesn’t command attention, because he doesn’t need to. He’s quietly the leader on one of the Senior Circuit’s model franchises, and is as much a part of Madison Bumgarner’s record breaking-October as MadBum is. Posey has arguably been the rock of the San Francisco Giant’s three world championships in five years.

When discussing who is the best catcher in the Senior Circuit, the debate basically comes down to Posey and Yadier Molina, who has taken on the villain role to more than a few teams in the league, as compared to Posey’s more youthful calm air.

Either option would get a thumbs up, but Posey’s subtle but superior success gets him a thumbs up.

 

First Baseman: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondacks – Thumbs Up        .349/.466/.618, 20 home runs, 68 RBI, 68 walks, 59 runs, 8.8 on the likeability scale

One of the most cluttered positions in the National League as far as deserving candidates go, the 1B selection of Goldy gets a thumbs up for the sole fact that he is much like Posey – offensive firepower, defensively capable, club leaders, babe-faced – but lacking any rings to validate his success, which makes you feel for the guy who doesn’t hold a shred of visible ego.

Much of that lacking-of-rings-ness is, of course, due to his belonging to a Diamondbacks club that has underachieved for a long time, though things may be starting to look up for them (7-3 in their last 10 games, tied for second in the NL West).

Goldy’s standardly remarkable season and sympathy-for-being-on-an-unfortunate-team aside, the only other NL 1B I would have preferred to make the All-Star squad is Anthony Rizzo (.296 batting average, 16 home runs, 48 RBI, 24 doubles) for leading the resurgence resurrection of the Chicago Cubs, who would be a postseason squad if the season ended today.

But Goldy will do as well. Thumbs up.

 

Second Baseman: Dee Gordon, Marlins – Thumbs Down   .336/.358/.412, 1 home run, 21 RBI, 5.3 on the likeability scale

Ehhhh…ehhhhhh. 

This is the first of the NL selections that, while pleasant at face value just for the sheer fact that Dee Gordon is one of the most fun players to watch on the bases, doesn’t make much sense.

And I won’t shy away from saying that much of that is due to his belonging on the temporarily Stanton-less Marlins that is just a hard team to root for.

However, the bigger factor in lacking excitement about this selection: Kolten Wong of the Cardinals (.284 average, 9 home runs, 37 RBI), the superior candidate in almost every way.

Besides the fact that he leads all NL 2B in runs, home runs and RBI, along with being near the top in average and slugging percentage, he becomes one of the most complete players in the league – period – when you take into account some of the plays in the field that he makes.

Plays like this.

No big deal, tbh.

WE ARE NOT WORTHY.

Sure, Gordon can get on base and run around them almost as good as Billy Hamilton, but it’s hard not to be disappointed at the exclusion of Wong, who has come a long way from the player who go picked off to end a World Series game.    

 

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Cardinals – Thumbs Up                .292/.349/.465, 12 home runs, 44 RBI, 8.5 on the likeability scale

It’s obviously tough to oversee the fact that Troy Tulowitzki has been a shoo-in for the All-Star game for so long, but so is the cold hard fact that he has regressed in recent years and is now not even the best player on his own squad.

On the flip side, Jhonny Peralta (.289 average, 12 home runs, 44 RBI) has had his best times in St. Louis, where he has hit .273 with 33 home runs and 119 RBI over a season and a half. Sure he was looked down upon two years ago when he was in Detroit for being busted for use of PEDs, but he’s become a feel-good comeback story since then with his transition to the National League, arguably becoming the best all-around shortstop in the majors over that span.

There really is no legitimate desirable second for National League All-Star shortstop.      

 

Third Baseman: Todd Frazier, Reds – Thumbs Up           .281/.337/.586, 25 home runs, 55 RBI, 9.0 on the likeability scale

Had voting ended two months ago, one month ago, even perhaps two weeks ago, the vote would have gone to Matt Carpenter, and righteously so. But his clear extended slump over the last month and a half ultimately cleared the way for Todd Frazier.

It may just be fate, as the Reds slugger gets the All-Star start on his home field, something that’s always easy to root for.

It’s even better when you take into account that Frazier has been giving superstar teammate Joey Votto a run for his money as the offensive leader in Cinci. Frazier will be busy next week, also participating in Monday’s Home Run Derby, where he shocked some fans with his strong performance in 2014.

Will next week’s All-Star festivities be the Todd Frazier show? It could be, and it would be incredibly satisfying.      

 

Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Nationals – Thumbs Up                          .343/.471/.709, 25 home runs, 60 RBI, 7.9 on the likeability scale

Matt Holliday, Cardinals – Thumbs Up                                     .303/.417/.421, 8.6 on the likeability scale  

Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins* – Thumb sideways      .265/.346/.606, 27 home runs, 67 RBI, 9.9 on the likeability scale if he was starting, 0.3 otherwise                                           *Being replaced by Andrew McCutchen

Fans were pretty much on-par with picking the outfield representatives for the National League.

Despite a bombastic ego that borders on major league villain outside of our nation’s capital, it would be criminal for any real baseball fan not to want Bryce Harper in the All-Star game with his outrageous performance thus far in 2015 – he’s already surpassed his career highs for single-seasn home runs and RBIs.

As such, fans gave him what he deserves: an All-Star start, in the form of the most votes for any NL player.

If the year had been 2013 or 2014 Harper would be getting a thumbs down, but he really came into his own in silencing his critics and letting them know with his bat that his first two seasons in the league were just a warmup, reminding us in the process that he isn’t even 23 yet, for Pete’s sake.

Matt Holliday also gets a thumbs up for his uncharacteristically fast start.

Holliday has been one of the most consistent hitters in the league over the last few years, although he hasn’t played for St. Louis in a few weeks due to injury. He is also one of those players who doesn’t get as much recognition as he should for his team’s success, but he is certainly among the most respected in the St. Louis clubhouse, a legitimate veteran of the league.

Starling Marte (.281 average, 13 homers, 48 RBI) would have been another ideal candidate to take left field at Cinci, as well as Joc Pederson in recognition of his unreal rookie season, but Holliday the quiet, seasoned veteran is just as deserving.

Stanton’s selection is where things get deeply underwhelming, due to his injury that will keep him sidelined for at least another month. He is a clear selection for the All-Star game each year, and rightly so as he is the preeminent power hitter in the bigs, but will be replaced by Andrew McCutchen (.302 batting average, 10 home runs, 53 RBI, 9.3 on the likeability scale), a worthy candidate in his own right.

Injuries are obviously a part of the game, as is missing the All-Star game due to some ailment, but this goes beyond next week’s festivities in that Stanton is beginning to garner an unhealthy reputation of health concerns.

Granted, his last two major injuries – a fastball to the face and breaking bones in his hand while swinging – are straight out of the Complete Fluke Department, but the fact of the matter is that the strongest basher in baseball has played more than 123 games only once in the last three years.

His latest injury looks to continue that trend, and that gets a big fat 0 on our likeability scale.

 

American League Starters

Catcher: Salvador Perez, Royals – Thumbs Up     .262/.274/.448, 14 home runs, 37 RBI, 7.9 on the likeability scale

Salvador Perez is one of the most consistent and reliable performers on the best team in the American League, one of the best catchers in the major leagues, and resides on a team that is easy to root for, unless you’re the Chicago White Sox.

He resembles Molina a bit more than Posey, as his defensive numbers are more sterling than his offensive stats (although his 14 home runs are tied with Posey and Yasmani Grandal for the most among catchers in either league), and will undoubtedly be one of the best two or three all-around catchers in baseball once 2020 rolls around.

 

First Baseman: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers* – Thumbs Up .350/.456/.578, 15 home runs, 54 RBI, 9.6 on the likeability scale *Being replaced by Albert Pujols, Angels

The Giancarlo Stanton of not only the American League in terms of hitting prowess, but of this year’s All-Star rosters; Cabrera, too, will miss the festivities due to injury, a big blow to the game and fans alike.

But not all is lost, because Albert Pujols and his AL-leading 26 long balls will start in his place, a comeback story of sorts. After a somewhat mediocre first couple of seasons with the Angels, The Machine is back to destroying baseballs – as well as opposing pitchers’ hearts – like it’s 2009. Pujols was the most feared hitter of the 2000s, and his return to form in 2015 isn’t as much surprising as it is relieving for fans watching him climb the career home run total list.

He’s not only one of the most consistent and powerful hitters of our time, but perhaps the only suitable replacement for someone like Cabrera, and for that, the AL starting first baseman gets a thumbs up.

 

Second Baseman: Jose Altuve, Astros – Thumbs Down  .298/.342/.413, 7 home runs, 36 RBI, 6.4 on the likeability scale

Dozier: 18 home runs, 45 RBI, 65 runs. Kipnis: 111 hits, 27 doubles, .904 OPS. Kinsler: 39 RBI, 49 runs.

Compare any of those other candidates for AL 2B, and Jose Altuve’s selection is maddeningly frustrating.

Altuve was incredible last year, leading the big leagues with 225 hits, and this selection feels like an extended formality to that performance instead of the more mediocre numbers he’s put up in 2015. He’s absolutely a likeable guy, no doubt about that; any guy who jumps to try and hit the ball into play deserves respect.

But this was arguably the most snubbed position out of both All-Star squads, with a multitude of impressive candidates deserving the start over Houston’s 2B.

 

Shortstop: Alcide Escobar, Royals – Thumbs More or Less Up .289/.328/.372, 2 home runs, 31 RBI, 7.3 on the likeability scale

Aside from Rangers phenom Carlos Correa (.282 average, 7 home runs, 19 RBI in 29 games) AL shortstops leave something to be desire when it comes to offensive firepower. Escobar is one of four Royals getting the start next Tuesday thanks to the fervor of the Royals fanbase, and although Boston’s 22-year-old Xander Bogaerts (.304 average, 41 RBI, 3 homers) leads him in almost every major offensive category, Escobar is a vital cog in the defensively-superior machine that is the Kansas City Royals, and for that, a high ranking on the likeability scale won’t be denied.

If only a career of 29 games would be acceptable to make an All-Star case. Next year, Carlos.

 

Third Baseman: Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays – Thumbs Up .299/.358/.543, 21 home runs, 60 RBI, 8.5 on the likeablility scale

Baseball fans were salivating at the prospect of Josh Donaldson playing in Cinci – he was the leading vote-getter in all of baseball, and set a record for most votes for an All-Star candidate.

As in, all time. Ever.

Being the offensive leader on the best offensive team in baseball will get ya there, that’s for sure. And it wasn’t a tough decision for voters – no other 3B in the Junior Circuit comes real close to his numbers.  

 

Outfielders: Mike Trout, Angels – Thumbs Up        .305/.400/.604, 24 home runs, 50 RBI, 9.8 on the likeability scale

Lorenzo Cain, Royals – Thumbs Down                  .312/.371/.489, 8 home runs, 41 RBI, 5.6 on the likeability scale

Alex Gordon, Royals* – Thumbs Up                        .279/.394/.457, 11 home runs, 39 RBI, 7.5 on the likeability scale *Replaced by Brett Gardner

There is no debate surrounding Mike Trout’s selection, and there shouldn’t be. Period.

Lorenzo Cain, however, is a different story. Cain is the first and only starting Royal on the AL squad who I have a gripe with, primarily because out of the three selected AL All-Star outfielders, Cain is the one who should be replaced by none other than Detroit’s J.D. Martinez, who had an absolutely ridiculous June to bring his 2015 totals up to 24 home runs and 58 RBI to go along with a .291 average . He should be representing the Tigers and the AL in the outfield, both to recognize his play and to allow a bit more parity to the AL roster as well.

Meanwhile, the Royal outfielder who is worthy of being named starter, Alex Gordon, won’t be, due to a severe groin strain suffered on Wednesday that will take him out for a couple months. Excellent timing, eh? He’ll be replaced by the Orioles’ Adam Jones , who is a suitable enough replacement with his 11 home runs and 40 RBI except HE ISN’T J.D. MARTINEZ. But I digress. Trout makes up for it all.

 

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz, Mariners – Thumbs Way Up .300/.367/.546, 21 home runs, 51 RBI, 10.0 on the likeability scale

It isn’t Alex Rodriguez, and for that, you’ve done well, baseball fans.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

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 conundrum. 

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 Warning Track: Power Rankings, Week 10

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 conundrum. 

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. 

 

All statistics are entering play on Saturday, June 13th

Fab Five

It was a week of regression for many teams who have been off to scorching starts through the first two months of the season as we are just past the one-third mark of the 2015 campaign, inevitably leading to some fresh faces among the Fab Five.

The Redbirds hold on to the top spot once again, but just barely. After dominating the Dodgers last weekend, taking 3 of 4 from the team with the second-best mark at home, the Cardinals stumbled a bit in Colorado, winning only one of three games in that set while giving up 17 runs. They’re off to a good start back home against the AL-leading Royals, having won the first game of that series 4-0 on Friday to become the first team in the majors to 40 victories.

Time will tell whether the Cardinals will be able to weather yet another injury, this one arguably the most impactful.

Lance Lynn, one of the Cardinals’ most durable starters, is also experiencing some forearm tightness and will be out for at least a couple weeks, leading to some more starts by Tyler Lyons that the offense may or may not have to win.

Meanwhile, the Houston Astros have fallen plummeted back to Earth after their surprising start, losing six straight before halting that streak against Seattle on Friday. A couple of blown leads by the bullpen as well as a rough offensive stretch where they only managed to score more than two runs once over that 6-game losing streak has them out of the Fab Five for the first time in quite a while, being replaced by a Pirates squad that has been on fire for a month now as they make their 2015 Fab Five debut.

The Bucs will arguably be the NL Central club that will give the Cardinals the most fits in the long run, and the only way they’ll be able to do that in the short term will be to keep winning, seeing as they don’t face the Cardinals again until mid-July. Their pitching has been incredible, tossing three shutouts over the past week to lower their team ERA to 2.90, only one of two teams in the bigs to have a team ERA besides….who else, the Cardinals at 2.66.

A 9-game winning streak by the Toronto Blue Jays has them holding the honor of being the hottest team in baseball by far as they make a move in the ultra-tight AL Eas. Toronto leads the majors in offense by 60 total runs, having scored 338 to the Yankees’ 278. They’ve scored 6 or more runs in 8 of 10 games in June, and double-digit runs twice in their last four runs. Oh and they’ve only given up more than three runs twice over that span. Those numbers will you to make your debut on the Fab Five.

Despite being 5-5 over their last ten games, the Royals stay in the Fab Five due to most of those being tight contests; 6 decided by two runs or less. A sweep of a strong and surprising Minnesota Twins team on the road reasserted them as top dogs of the American League after dropping two consecutive series. Salvador Perez (8-for-26) and Mike Moustakas (10-for-23) had strong offensive weeks for Kansas City, but they’ll need their bats to show up in St. Louis this weekend if they want to make a statement against the best record in the bigs.

A medicore couple of weeks by the Nationals (2-8 in their last ten, 3-11 since May 29th) has dropped the team many have pegged to win the World Series out of the Fab Five, reflecting the relative struggles of Washington’s star Bryce Harper (3 home runs and 6 RBI in 11 games in June compared to 5 dingers in the last 11 games in May).

So their place in the rankings is swapped with the Yankees, who reenter the Fab Five after reemerging as a force in the AL East by sweeping the Mariners and Angels to begin the month. They’ve given up only 2.6 runs per game to opponents in 7 June victories (out of 9 total games) and are scoring 5.4 runs in those same matchups.

Alex Rodriguez (.275, 11 home runs, 30 RBI) continues to be a surprisingly pivotal component of the Yankees lineup as his march to 3,000 hits continues, but it’s Brian McCann (6-for-18, 5 RBI over last 4 games) and Mark Teixeira (8-for-26, 4 runs, 5 RBI over last 7 games) that have helped spark the Bronx Bombers’ offensive surge of late. Upcoming series’ against the slumping Tigers and Astros will give the Yankees a chance to get some breathing room in the AL East, where just 3 games separates New York, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore, all playing at least .500 ball.

1. St. Louis Cardinals (40-21, 1st in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 1

Last ten games: 7-3

Telling stats: MLB-best 2.66 team ERA, MLB-best 2.99 starter ERA, second in MLB in bullpen ERA (1.97), 4th in the NL in team average (.262), 3rd in MLB in doubles (113), 5th in MLB in WHIP (1.21), MLB-best 23-7 record at home    

 

2. Pittsburgh Pirates (33-27, 2nd in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Last ten games: 7-3

Telling stats: 4th in MLB in doubles (111), 2nd in MLB in team ERA on the road (2.90), 2nd in MLB in ERA with RISP (9.13), 1 epic shutout  

 

3. Toronto Blue Jays (32-30, 3rd in the AL East)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Last ten games: 9-1

Telling stats: MLB-best 338 runs scored, 4th in MLB in batting average (.268), 3rd in MLB in average with RISP (.295), 1st in MLB in average against lefties (.310), 4th in MLB on home runs (76), MLB-best .782 team OPS, MLB-best 131 doubles,

 

4. Kansas City Royals (34-24, 1st in the AL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 3

Last ten games: 505

Telling stats: 6th in MLB in average with RISP (.288), 5th in MLB in doubles (108), 3rd in MLB in triples (14), 5th in MLB in team ERA (3.38), 2nd in MLB in batting average against (.232), 4th in MLB in average on the road (.267)

 

  1. New York Yankees (33-27, 1st in the AL East)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Last ten games: 7-3

Telling stats: 2nd in MLB in runs scored (278), 3rd in MLB in home runs (77), 3rd in AL in runs scored on the road (136), 3rd in AL in average with the bases loaded (.333)

 

Flawed Five

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (22-40, 5th in the NL East)

Telling stats: MLB-worst run -89 differential, 27th in MLB in batting average (.239), MLB-worst 36 home runs, MLB-worst 194 runs scored, 29th in MLB in OBP (.290), 26th in MLB in Team ERA (4.22), MLB-worst .355 winning percentage, 26th in MLB in opponent batting average (.268)

 

  1. Boston Red Sox (27-35, 5th in the AL East)

Telling stats: 29th in MLB in team ERA (4.76), 29th in MLB in starter ERA (4.76), 28th in MLB in opponent batting average with RISP (.290), 1 downright heartbreaker

 

    1. Seattle Mariners (27-34, 4th in the AL West)

Telling stats: Tied for MLB-worst .235 batting average, 29th in MLB in runs scored (208), 1 missing Felix Hernandez

 

  1. Milwaukee Brewers (24-38, 5th in the NL Central)

Telling stats: Tied for MLB-worst .235 batting average, 26th in MLB in runs scored (232), MLB-worst .287 team OBP, 28th in MLB in errors (51)

 

  1. Miami Marlins (26-36, 4th in the NL East)

Telling stats: 27th in MLB in opponent batting average with RISP (.281), 27th in MLB in ERA with the bases loaded (37.45), 25th in MLB in ERA in innings 7-8-9 (4.01), 1 failed managerial experiment

 

 

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.

 

The Warning Track: An Oddly Annual Celebration By The Bay

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 conundrum. 

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. 

 

A couple weeks after Shelby Miller of the Braves came one out away from pitching the first no-hitter of the 2015 season, Giants hurler Chris Heston indulged baseball fans with (finally) the first no-no of the year, becoming the first rookie to do so since Clay Buchholz in 2007.

But the more astounding feat? It’s the fourth year in a row that the Giants have thrown a no-hitter, following Matt Cain in 2012 and Tim Lincecum the last two years. That’s more than 7 MLB franchises have in their respective histories, with the San Diego Padres being the lone club yet to throw a no-no.

If there’s one thing the Giants of this decade are known for, too an almost comical extent, it is their consistent inconsistency. Everyone knows about the whole odd-year, even-year dichotomy, with the Giants winning the Fall Classic in 2010, 2012 and 2014 while failing to make the playoffs in the sandwiched seasons of 2011 and 2013.

They’ve even been difficult to figure out this season alone. After going 9-13 in April, the return of Hunter Pence spurred the defending champs to a spirited 15-4 run in late May, enough to propel them to the division’s summit for a short time. But they’ve slid back to a game behind the Dodgers after going 4-6 in their last 10 while giving up five or more runs six times in that span.

Nothing like a no-hitter to halt that streak, huh? By your rookie starter who has given up 16 runs over his last four starts entering the day, no less. Baseball has come to expect the unexpected from the Giants – fulfilling that unwritten mantra of the sport – whether in June or October, so perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised at all by the caliber of Heston’s performance, or even its odd nature.

No-hitters do tend to be completely unexpected, coming at the most unusual points and, at times, for teams not known for their pitching. Exhibit A: the Giants themselves. Over the last three seasons of their no-hitter streak they’ve ranked 10th (3.50), 21st (4.00), and 7th (3.68) in the bigs in team ERA. They’re currently 13th for the 2015 campaign with a 3.78 mark.

And a pitcher can be destined to throw a no-hitter on any given day, or any given season. Tim Lincecum was among the league’s best from 2008 through 2011. It wasn’t until 2013 and 2014, when he had ERAs of 4.37 and 4.74, respectively, that he decided, seemingly out of the blue, to remind the baseball world what made him so good in years prior.

 

So no-no’s in four consecutive seasons? That hasn’t happened for one team since Sandy Koufax – who else? – took it upon himself to do it for the Dodgers every season from 1962 -1965. In fact, that’s the only other time it’s happened in major league history, making the feat all the more fascinating and strange.

But perhaps it isn’t as strange as it sounds for the oddball, consistently inconstent Giants, as much as it is a treat for a loyal fanbase that has ranked in the top 4 in ballpark attendance each year since their remarkable run of championships began in October of 2010. But the fact that every other year a no-hitter might be the highlight of the season when they celebrated a World Series win the fall before must take some getting used to.

It’s looking like that might be the case this season. It is an odd-year after all. But until we know for sure, Giants fans can celebrate – once again – a dominant performance by their pitcher, one of such a caliber that many teams haven’t seen from their own arms in years or decades.

But then again, they might be getting tired of it four years running. World Series championships and no-hitters. What more can a fan ask for?

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He is the assistant news editor at The Daily Lobo, the independent student newspaper at the University of New Mexico, and can be reached at lynchdavid695@unm.edu or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

The Warning Track: A Year of Resurgence

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 conundrum. 

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 2015 major league baseball campaign has been, thus far, dominated by surprising individual performances. Bryce Harper is finally doing what everyone in Washington expected him to do. Shelby Miller has pitched his way into the Cy Young discussion. A-Rod is etching his name into more pages of the records books. And Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw thus far.

With all the fanfare surrounding individual players, whether for better or for worse, it’s easy to overlook the status of whole ballclubs, some of which are giving their fans new faith after years of holding the position as cellar-dwellar, lending a whole new dimension to a sport that prides itself on parity in the process.

 

Houston Astros

The Astros – who have averaged a 69-93 regular season record since they got swept in the 2005 World Series – have the best record in the American League at 30-18, second-best in the bigs only to St. Louis.

Read that sentence again. Take a deep breath, maybe two. It’s okay, everyone else it just as shocked as you are. Led by AL Cy Young contender Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 1.98 ERA) and hit machine Jose Altuve (.299 batting average, AL-leading 15 swiped bags), the Astros are coming into their own as a team that is completely defying all expectations – which, admittedly, were minimal – and becoming legitimate threats for the AL West crown.

It’s one thing to have brushed the 2015 Astros off as a team that is simply hot for the time being, but it’s nearing the end of May, and they have yet to lose more than three games in a row.

They embarked on a ten-game winning streak from late April to early May to make a statement, and so far they have justified it, as they are one of only five ballclubs in the major leagues (and only one of two in the American League) to have a winning record both on the road (15-8) and at home (15-10).

That being said, it’s time to take the Astros seriously, something I thought was still a couple years away from happening. They’re proving me and many others wrong, and the sport is all the better for it.

And when you take into account the youth that is energizing the team – Altuve is 25, George Springer 25, Luis Valbuena 29, Keuchel 27 – as well as the fact that Carlos Correa and Mark Appel (the 2nd- and 28th-ranked MLB prospects, according to minor league baseball’s Prospect Watch) have yet to arrive, maybe it’s time we settle in and enjoy this team, because their time might just be right now, and it might just last for the better part of the next decade.

 

 

Minnesota Twins

The Twins haven’t won more than 70 games in a season since 2010, when they were swept in the division series for the second consecutive year. They have’t advanced passed that round since 2002, where they lost in the ALCS 4 games to 1.

They’ve set a benchmark for futility and irrelevance for baseball, but lately they’ve been looking like a team ready to forget all of that history, to the tune of an 8-2 record in their last ten games and a 28-18 mark overall.

That’s good enough to tie them for first in an ultra-competitive AL Central division, where the Royals, Twins and Tigers are all separated by just 1.5 games.

But the Twins are the hottest of those three, as well as one of the hottest clubs in all of baseball, having not lost a series in over two weeks and outscoring opponents 27-11 on a current five-game winning streak.

These are the Twins, mind you. It’s been a long long time since they’ve been this intimidating. But they are, and the return of Torii Hunter, who spent his first ten big league season in Minnesota, is a big reason why. He’s 29 RBI and 7 dingers to go along with a .280/.333/.457 line. In addition, their pitching has improved by leaps and bounds this season. An AL-worst 4.57 team ERA from 2014 has undergone a seemingly impossible evolution in 2015, where they now sport a 3.94 team ERA.

They’ve also already won half as many extra-inning games this seasons as they did in all of 2014 (3-1 versus 6-7), showing that they have a newfound resilience to churning out victories.

Time will tell if the Twins can live up to the new expectations they’ve set for themselves, expectations they know they’re capable of. It isn’t the most common thing in baseball for a team to go from worst to first as the Twins are gunning to do this season, but at the very least, for the time being, it makes for a good story, and one that might be worth revisiting in the coming weeks and months.

 

Chicago Cubs

Unlike the Astros and Twins, the Cubs entered 2015 with expectations as high as a ball hit off the bat of Nelson Cruz, looking to end over a century of disappointment.

Although they’ve been inconsistent at time, they will have a record over .500 once the calendar flips to June – they are 25-21 entering play today – which for the Cubs is reason enough to get excited, especially seeing as they would be only one game back of a wild card spot if the season ended today.

Much of what the Cubs are expected to do this season and in the coming years is dependent on the performances of their stars – experienced ace Jon Lester, inexperienced phenom Kris Bryant, and budding MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo. So far the potential has not only been warranted, but fulfilled.

After struggling in April to begin his National League career, Lester (has pitched his way back into his starring role as rotation leader, giving up two earned runs or less in 5 of his last 6 starts. He hasn’t quite performed at the plate, but Rizzo, the undisputed face of the franchise at just 25 years old, has more than made up for it, batting his way to a .315 average to go along with 9 homers and 29 RBI.

But the star of the show, and the storyline of the season on the North Side, has been the arrival of basher Kris Bryant. After taking a couple weeks to adjust to the big leagues upon his advent, the third baseman began to hit like we all knew he would. He leads the team in RBI (31) and also has hit 7 longballs and crossed home plate 26 times, all top three for the Cubs.

Although a struggling bullpen (4.07 ERA) has caused them to drop some games in the late innings, the Cubs so far have been making their fans happy.

There’s excitement in the air on the North Side of the Windy City, and if the Cardinals ever cool off on their historic start, the NL Central race should be a fun one to watch down the stretch, especially with the Pirates winning their last seven and making a move toward the front of the pack.

 

 

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.

The Warning Track: A Near No-No and the Fallout

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. 

 

A Star in the Making

Last Saturday, against the Miami Marlins, Braves pitcher Shelby Miller came an out away from a no-hitter for the second time in his young career. It was, incredibly, not even the most eye-opening linescore of his time in the bigs.

Acquired in an offseason trade with the Cardinals, Miller has done more than finally give us a taste of his full potential; he’s taking over the position of Braves ace, the guy who can be counted on to put in gem after gem, from Julio Teheran. But last weekend’s performance put him on a whole other tier, one which puts the rest of the National League on notice.

Miller sits first in major league baseball in ERA (1.33), ahead of established superstars like A.J. Burnett (1.38), Zack Greinke (1.48) and Max Scherzer (1,67). He also leads baseball in WHIP (0.83), batting average against (.156) and complete games (2) and is a bona fide Cy Young contender in the early going, a discussion that many foresaw when he was with the Cardinals.

Miller spent his first two big league seasons in St. Louis, where he garnered a 3.40 ERA and 25-18 record in 62 starts. That’s not bad for a young hurler getting his first taste of The Show, but issues with St. Louis brass, as well as the need for an upgrade in right field in The Gateway City, led Miller to Atlanta while Jason Heyward was shipped to the Cardinals.

Now, without the chip on his shoulder and on a club working to rebuild, Miller is dominating the opposition in a way that was seemingly inevitable.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Atlanta Braves and their fans, who have had to settle for only one division title in the last 9 seasons after being crowned NL East champions every year from 1991 through 2005, with the exception of 1994.

For the better part of the past decade, the core group of Justin and Melvin Upton, Freddie Freeman, and Dan Uggla couldn’t translate 80-plus win seasons into postsesaon success, leading to the exporting of most of those players and the start of a new rebuild.

Freeman has helped lead the Braves to three postseason appearances since 2010, but the team has yet to advance to advance to the League Championship Series for the first time since 2001.

Freeman has helped lead the Braves to three postseason appearances since 2010, but the team has yet to advance to advance to the League Championship Series for the first time since 2001.

But as the organization develops young talent for the big leagues – their farm was ranked 15th before the season began by Baseball America – Miller is giving them some hope for the future of their franchise every fifth day. He is the only Braves starter with an ERA under 3.00, and has at least 6 innings in every one of his starts but two. He has yet to give up more than earned runs in a start, and even then he has only given up that many earned runs thrice.

In addition, Miller is dominant no matter what the situation is. His home and road ERAs are virtually identical – 1.29 versus 1.36, respectively – and he has a 1.20 ERA in day games compared to a 1.38 mark in night games.

Miller is the future of the Braves franchise, that much as been made clear through the first seven weeks of the 2015 campaign. He’s flown under the radar for much of that time, but with his nearly-flawless performance last weekend, the rest of major league baseball has been put on notice.

 

A Fishy Move

While we’re on the topic of Shelby Miller’s excellent outing against the Marlins, let’s talk about the aftermath: the unsurprising dismissal of manager Mike Redmond immediately following the game.

His seat has definitely been scorching for a while. Two years ago he had been expected to help lead the resurgence of the franchise, and this year was when everything was supposed to come together, what with the established superstar status of 300 million dollar man Giancarlo Stanton as well as supporting players like Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.

But his 155-207 record in Miami hasn’t amounted to much other than disappointment, and unfortunately home runs hit out of the stadium alone won’t amount to much success.

So while many wondered who would succeed Redmond, some in the media were getting tips that Bartolo Colon would hit a home run before guessing who would take over as Marlins manager.

Ultimately, the baseball world was left incredulous at the announcement that General Manager Dan Jennings would take over managing duties.

Jennings has never coached in the big leagues, nor in the minors. His experience amounts to four years of coaching at Davidson High School in the ‘80s. He has also never played in a major league game.

In a sense, this is an extremely Marlins-esque move. The organization hasn’t exactly had a stable, successful manager for some time, and this is as perplexing a move as we’ve ever seen them make.

One manager in the last 22 seasons has had a winning tenure in Miami.

One manager in the last 22 seasons has had a winning tenure in Miami.

It’s tough to see the pros of this move from owner Jeffrey Loria, and certain figures around the sport haven’t exactly endorsed the move. The only thing I can think of is that Loria and Marlins brass believe Jennings has the ability to instill an enduring culture in the Marlins clubhouse, one set on winning at all cost and utilizing the talent that the club knows they have.

jennings

Jennings certainly knows they have it. After all, he crafted this team. Maybe he knows them better than they know themselves. And if not, if the experiment turns out to be a bust, then it isn’t like the Marlins’ championship window is closing.

Heck, it hasn’t even fully opened. Maybe Jennings will be able to show his squad how beautiful it can be outside their ongoing nightmare of underperforming, because right now it’s a storm.

 

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.

 

 

The Warning Track – Week 6

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. 

 

A Blockbuster in the Making?

For a couple years the Colorado Rockies have tempted 29 other clubs by dangling their star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki like a carrot for one or two or ten young guys (because let’s face it, Tulo is worth it), only to snatch it back in the hopes that their team might one year get out of the basement of the NL West.

Well, in 2015 Tulowitzki is 30 years old and the Rockies continue to be unforgiving to their fans, already nine and a half games back of the Dodgers in their division and losers of 9 of their last 10. .

So, naturally, Tulowitzki came close to taking matters into his own hands and getting the rumor train a-chugging with reports that he was considering asking the organization he has been with his whole career for a trade, only to forego/delay the move.

It all seems pretty inevitable. Tulowitzki is one of the premier shortshops in the majors, and even with his susceptibility to injury – he failed to play in 100 games in two of the last three seasons – he is still a considerable upgrade at the position for several contenders, including the Mets and Mariners, as someone who averages 29 home runs and 101 RBI over a full season.

But all that production in Colorado has been made moot by Rockie pitching, among the league’s worst in recenty years. It’s no different this year with their 5.30 team ERA, the worst in baseball by over half a run. It would be a win-win situation for Colorado and a potential trade partner if they got Tulo’s worth in young pitching with potential as part of a complete rebuild.

And Colorado wouldn’t be surrendering all of its offensive firepower. Player like Nolan Arenado (.291 avg., six home runs, 17 RBI), Charlie Blackmon (.298 average, five home runs, 14 RBI), and Corey Dickerson (.315 average, five home runs, 15 RBI), all aged 28 or under, have done just as much, if not more, than Tulowitzki (.284 average, 2 home runs, 11 RBI) this season.

As a result, for the price of someone hungry to play in October, the Rockies would ask for pitching, pitching, and more pitching, especially when their top two prospects, Jon Gray (7.75 ERA in 33.2 innings) and Eddie Butler (4.24 ERA in 34.0 innings), aren’t exactly tearing it up in the minors.

If another organization was willing to pay that price, Tulo could play this October – something every baseball fans wants to see – and the Rockies could be two or three years away from (finally) winning games on a consistent basis.

Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?

 

Power Rankings

The Cardinals stay strong despite losing their ace, and the Dodgers are giving them a run for their money as the best team in the National League. The AL Central is becoming a fun race to watch, with the Royals, Tigers and surprising Twins all within three games of each other. And a couple of teams make their Fab Five debut thanks to some offensive firepower.

 

Fab Five

1. St. Louis Cardinals (24-12, 1st in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 1

An NL-best bullpen (1.71 ERA) and rising offensive attack (5.3 runs over the last ten games) have helped the Redbirds overcome some shaky starts by Adam Wainwright’s (temporary?) replacement Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez, who after giving up five earned runs through his first five starts to the season, has given up seven in each of his last two start to inflate his ERA.

The Cards are owners of the second best run differential in baseball at +51, and a weekend series with the Detroit Tigers (21-14) will play a big part in legitimizing them as the best all-around team in baseball, or a club whose easy early schedule plays into their MLB-best record.

 

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (23-12, 1st in the NL West)

Ranking two weeks ago: 5

A 15-4 home record and MLB-best +61 run differential has helped to compensate for a 7-8 road record, as well as an offense that has scored the most runs in baseball (178), along with leading the bigs in home runs (53), on –base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.485), on-plus-slugging percentage (.837) and walks (138).

Upcoming series’ with the Padres, Braves and Cardinals should test a Dodgers club that hasn’t yet reached its full potential with a subpar Kershaw (1-2, 4.26 ERA through seven starts).

 

3. Kansas City Royals (23-13, 1st in the AL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 2

One of only two teams in baseball (St. Louis) whose longest losing streak was two, the Royals took two of three from Detroit, hot on their heels in the Central, to whom they lost an earlier series. They then went on to split a 4-game series with the Rangers. KC is top five in runs scored as well as team ERA, and they’ve shown that they can win without getting physical with their opponents.

 

4. Washington Nationals (20-17, 2nd in the NL East)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

The team most everyone has pegged to win the World Series has gotten hot as of late, winning 5 of their last 7 and going 7-3 in their last 10 overall. And they’re doing it not with their pitching, which has allowed at least 6 runs four times in the last week, but by the leadership of Bryce Harper, who has burst into the MVP discussion, hitting seven homers in 9 games, with five of those being multi-hit performances. He’s raised his average from .256 to .303 over the last two weeks.

 

5. Chicago Cubs (21-15, 2nd in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Welcome to relative consistency, Cubbies.

After losing two of three to the white flag-waving Brewers last weekend, Chicago came back home and cooled off a hot New York Mets team by sweeping all four games, all but one of them being one-run affairs. That’s important if Chicago wants to make any noise in September in October; games like Wednesday’s comeback from being down 5-1 early to win 6-5 will give some experience to Chicago’s youngsters who have yet to experience October.

And speaking of youngsters, Kris Bryant has officially arrived. After a couple weeks of homer-less baseball, he’s hit four in seven games, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Ace Jon Lester has also settled in, giving up only four runs over his last three starts (15 in his first four) to drop his ERA to just over 4.

 

Flawed Five

1. Milwaukee Brewers (13-23, last in the NL Central)

Telling statistics: 27th team ERA in MLB (4.49), NL-worst .228 team batting average, NL-worst 262 hits (7.5/game)1 dismissed manager

2. Colorado Rockies (12-20, last in NL West)

Telling statistics: 27th in MLB in runs scored (121, 3.9/game), MLB-worst 61 walks (1.9/game), MLB-worst 5.29 ERA, MLB-worst .287 batting average against, NL-worst 26 runs scored in 7-8-9th innings

3. Oakland Athletics (13-24, last in the AL West)

Telling stats: MLB-worst 36 errors (1/game), AL-worst 4.98 bullpen ERA, 27th in MLB in batting average against left-handers (.206)

4. Cleveland Indians (13-21, last in AL Central)

Telling stats: 13th in AL in team ERA (4.49), 13th in AL in batting average against (.267), 13th in AL in runs scored in 7-8-9th innings (38)

5. Philadelphia Phillies (14-23, last in NL East)

Telling stats: MLB-worst 103 runs scored, MLB-worst 19 home runs, 26th in MLB in batting average (.232), 14th in NL in starter ERA (4.85), NL-worst 11.89 ERA with runners in scoring position and two outs, 

 

 

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.

 

 

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. 

The Warning Track: Week 3

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. 

 

Why ya gotta be so rude?

Early in the week, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price continued a recent trend by sports figures of questioning media methods and the overall importance of sports journalists.

He didn’t exactly take the Marshawn Lynch route, either. Price went on a red-hot (ha) profanity laden rant in which he used “f***” 77 times during a cringeworthy criticism of a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer who was just doing his job, reporting that catcher Devin Mesoraco was unavailable for last Sunday’s game due to injury.

But Price didn’t see it that way. Apparently he’s stuck in the 60s because he confronts the reporter, C. Trent Rosecrans, as if he were a Cold War spy trying to infiltrate the Reds organization for his own nefarious means.

It made for sensational, if not entertaining, news on Monday; a byproduct no doubt of the Reds’ early season struggles – they were coming off a sweep at the hands of St. Louis at the time of the all-time classic rant. It seemed like it was going to follow a familiar script – Price goes off on a victim unjustly and unjustifiably, it makes the rounds on social media, late-night shows crack jokes about it, and Price apologizes the next morning, saying he didn’t mean a word.

It pretty much went that way on Tuesday, except for one thing.

So even after taking a full day to cool off, Price takes us deep into the inner workings of his mind to reveal that he doesn’t understand the basic duty of journalism and its primary loyalties: the truth and the public.

And yes, Mr. Price, that includes “sniff[ing] out every f***ing thing about the Reds and f***ing put[ting] it out there for every other f***ing guy to hear.” Lesson one: that is essence of a journalist’s job.

You’re right; it may not benefit your team, but you’ve got to understand that you’re not the only ones suffering at the torment and unspeakably evil methods of local journalism. Every other professional sports team goes through the exact same thing, and members of those teams understand – I hope – their relationship with reporters and how it must be conducted.

And no, as a matter of fact, whatever Mr. Rosecrans chooses to write and publish does not have to benefit the Reds as you so passionately believe it should. That is not real journalism, that is censorship.

This is baseball, not warfare (well okay, maybe, of a much different kind). Your argument questioning the media’s decision-making on what and what not to write is like Mr. Rosecrans demanding why the Reds aren’t playing during a rain delay because he’d have no story to write.

 

Bryan Price has a couple things to learn when it comes to contributing to local journalism.

Bryan Price has a couple things to learn when it comes to contributing to local journalism.

I’ll cut you the smallest sliver of slack since this is your first year as a manager and, thus, you are in a fairly unfamiliar role. But I suggest you get used to reporters “f***ing blowing it all over the f***ing place” because, win or loss, Spring Training or World Series, that is precisely what they make a living off of.

So be clear on your role, Mr. Price, and the role of reporters like Mr. Rosecrans. He was doing his job just like he was supposed to. You work in a fairly public industry that yields news on a daily basis. Refusing to contribute to it would be neglecting your job as leader of a major league ballclub.

This isn’t “f***ing b*******”, Mr. Price. This is 2015. Get with it.

 

The Kansas City Brawlers

Something interesting has been happening with the Royals lately.

They’ve shown a keen interest in not only winning games this year – they are RECORD – but also making sure they don’t complete nine innings without confronting the opponent in some ways more physical than the unwritten but universal law of baseball dictates.

After getting through a tense series with the Athletics last weekend that feature a couple of ejections and hit batters, the Royals, “led” by Yordano Ventura, once again set off some fireworks against the White Sox this week, leading to some big name players being booted out.

Maybe the MLB’s newfound fastidiousness is getting to them.

This is every baseball fan’s guilty pleasure. In a sport that has been termed “limited-contact” as opposed to rough-and-tumble games in football and basketball, most fans secretly welcome the chance to see some extracurricular activity out of the diamond. I’ll admit it, I do.

C’mon, when have you ever missed a baseball bout and were sorry that you weren’t there to witness it?

But the Royals are taking that to a whole other level, seemingly taking their frustration over a World Series loss out on other teams. Just two weeks into the season they have a culture surrounding them, like a fight between the Royals and their opponent is something to be expected.

And why shouldn’t they be labeled that way? So what if they get on the league’s bad side for having a fire more brightly lit than some other teams? It never leads to any travesty, apart from some bruises on hitters and a couple of ejections and slaps on the wrist.

Whatever motivates the Royals, even if that means the bullpens come rushing in as umpires try to break up a scuffle, I say go for it. Because I’ll be damned if these Kansas City Brawlers and their methods of conducting themselves on the field don’t intimidate future opponents at least a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong. Baseball as a sport shouldn’t become more prone or tolerant of fights occurring regularly. That would ruin the nature of the sport itself.

But i’ll be damned if I don’t respect the Royals a little more than I did two weeks ago. They’ve got the best record in the American League. Why change that culture?

I mean, unless this kind of stuff happens as a result.

 

 

 

Slow Starts or Scarred Seasons?

It’s still the beginning of the season, which means pitcher’s arms are fresh and they’re dominating the competition.

At least, some pitchers are.

Some hurlers that have started out 2015 as expected – Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Sonny Gray and virtually the entire St. Louis Cardinals staff – are tearing up the league, a somewhat traditional way to kick off the baseball calendar. They’re on a level all their own.

Then there’s a middle tier of pitchers who have uncharacteristically been jumped on by opposing batters in major ways, digging holes for their clubs early in games.

That group includes the likes of CC Sabathia, Madison Bumgarner, and reigning Best Player On The Face Of The Planet Clayton Kershaw, who has been almost anything but this season. Their ERAs – between 4.00 and teetering on 6.00 – aren’t quite inflated to disaster but they are scary statistics nonetheless.

Those three players in particular raise different levels of concern.

Sabathia, who actually dropped his ERA by more than a full run with a good last outing against the hot-hitting Tigers, has been prone to struggle recently. He hasn’t been a consistent ace since 2011, when he was a Cy Young candidate, and most of his starts are an extreme hit or miss. So maybe his 14 years in the bigs have finally caught up to him, and his age – 34 – is a telling sign that he may be done.

Note: As i’m editing The Warning Track, Girardi is taking out Sabathia after giving up six runs and nine hits (three homers) against the Mets. Ouch. 

Bumgarner’s a different story – the guy’s ten years younger for starters. He’s pitching to the tune of a 4.63 ERA thus far, way below what we’ve come to expect after consecutive season of sub-3.00, and even more so when you take into account his worst season ERA is an average 3.37 from 2012.

bumgarner sads

However, Bumgarner’s slow start may be more cause for concern than with other pitchers. His struggles thus far are coming at the cost of the Giant’s World Series run last October, in which Bumgarner reached legendary status, due to his pitching an astronomical 52.2 innings, the most in any single postseason in history. There were concerns in the offseason about if his usage in October amounted to overusage, resulting in a down year this season. Thus far, it looks like that may just be the case.

Kershaw presents the most puzzling circumstance of all. He’s young, he barely pitched in October when St. Louis knocked out the Dodgers, and, most importantly, he’s Clayton f***ing Kershaw, to use Brian Price’s language.

Maybe it’s tough for Kershaw to keep improving after having sub-2.00 ERAs each of the last two seasons, but Kershaw simply has not resembled the person immortal deity who has won three of the last four National League Cy Youngs.

He’s failed to get through 7 innings in each of his starts this year, and though his strikeout numbers are there – 9, 5, 12, and 9 through four starts – he also has yet to not allow an earned run. As picky as that is, we know Kershaw is capable of it.

But the most telling stat from Kershaw’s early-season sluggishness? In an April 12th game against the Diamondbacks, he gave up ten hits. He never gave up ten hits at any point last season.

Now we get to the bottom tier, the established veterans and supposed aces who have resembled anything but in the early going. This group includes the likes of Jon Lester and Kyle Lohse, off to some of the most disappointing starts of any player in baseball.

Lester, signed by the Cubs in the offseason to be their ace as they began their long-awaited crusade to October, boasts sports an inflated 6.23 ERA through four starts, giving up at least three runs in each start. He has his moss Lester-esque game in his last start against the Reds on Friday, in which he set a season high in strikeouts (10) and looking fairly comfortable for the first time this season.

Plus, who can argue with how awesome this was?

And maybe the tides really are changing for the new Cubbie. Lester’s Spring Training was cut short due to his experiencing some dead arm, so perhaps his first couple starts were just an extension of getting fully ready for the the rest of the season. One thing’s for sure: If the Cubs want any chance of reaching the postseason in 2015, they’re going to need Lester to be at his best.

Journeyman Kyle Lohse has had a similar script through his first four games. After three straight starts of giving up at least four runs in a less-than-mediocre start to 2015, he finally broke through on Thursday, allowing only two earned runs in seven innings of work to bring his ERA under 10.00 and snap a prolonged losing streak for the Brew Crew. Only time will tell if the consistent Lohse is here to stay.

In an era of pitching dominance, it’s unusual to see so many superstar hurlers struggle against offenses, especially in the National League. Seeing when they break out of their slumps – if they break out of their slumps – will be an interesting storyline to examine over the next few weeks.

 

 

Reunited, but will it feel so good?

In the latest chapter of one of the more fascinating off-field stories of 2015 – albeit for all the wrong reasons – the Angels and Rangers, two teams trending in opposite directions, have agreed on a deal that would send troubled outfielder Josh Hamilton back to Texas, his home from 2008 to 2012.

Getting back with your ex is rarely a great idea, especially when the breakup wasn’t so smooth.

But once in a while, you realize that your life has become so dull that you need to inject yourself with some excitement that has the potential to turn into a better relationship than you had before.

And that’s what the Rangers are betting on. They’re in some bumpy waters for the second straight year, due in no small part to being seemingly cursed with endless injuries. There really isn’t very much team chemistry or momentum that Hamilton, whose past ghosts came back to haunt him in the form of a drug relapse in the offseason, could distort.

Even better for Texas: of the five-year, $125 million that the Angels singed him for in 2012, the Rangers will only be expected to pay around $7 million. Not bad for a former MVP who averages 32 homers a season. It’s virtually a steal for the Rangers, should Hamilton get his life back on track, and his former teammates have said they will do all they can to help him do so. 

This deal is about as win-win as deals go. The Angels, who had a productive but relatively average season from Hamilton in 2013 (he missed half of 2014 with injury), are gunning for the World Series, and they can’t have Hamilton, a walking distraction, taking their mind off of October for one second.

They wouldn’t have made the move if they weren’t content with his replacements, and they already have a couple of in-house options for left field. Matt Joyce, acquired in the offseason, is no doubt a dropoff from what Hamilton provided – his career year in 2011 yielded 19 longballs and 75 RBI to go along with a .277 average – but they also have Grant Green, a career .309 hitter in the minor leagues, waiting in the wings.

As far as what Hamilton brings (back) to the Rangers, he is an astronomical upgrade over Jake Smolinski and Carlos Peguero, who have combined for one home run and four RBI. And once the team gets healthy – because they have to, eventually – and a couple of their stars like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre get things rolling and playing like the stars that all of major league baseball knows they are, the Rangers might just find that Hamilton is, ironically, the piece they’ve been missing since he left.

As far as reconciling with your ex? Well, we’ll just have to see the kind of reception the fans give him.

 

Other thoughts from the week

  • A pretty cool thing happened this week
  • https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/590995607315226627
  • The Cardinals rotation, so far, is everything the Nationals were supposed to be, and might still be at some point. But between St. Louis staff and bullpen, they’re on a historic pace.
  • The NL West is already contentious, with the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies all at ten wins. With a potentially surprising club in the Diamondbacks looming at 8-8, that division might just be the most exciting in baseball.
  • The Cubs are hanging in there early in the season, 9-7 and in second place in the NL Central. How long can they keep it up?
  • And WHEN will Kris Bryant hit his first home run??
  • Dusty Baker, last with the Reds, is reportedly yearning to manage again. The Miami Marlins’ Mike Redmond is reportedly on the hot seat. Good timing?
  • Snow in a regular season baseball game? Climate change is real, people.

Have a great week, baseball fans. Let’s see if A-Rod can hit two more.

 

 

 

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.