(Editor’s Note: I’m trying to come up with a regular format. Last week we went over each league, but frankly I found that boring. For now, I’m going to serve up random thoughts about what I saw this week in the Bigs, but I will keep my “Giant Rants” frankly because they’re my team, love ‘em or hate ‘em.) LET’S DO THIS!
- Just when we thought we were on the other side of the COVID-19 outbreak in Miami and St. Louis, five more members of the Cardinals team (two staff, three players) tested positive for the virus, forcing the cancellation of last weekend’s series against the Cubs and this week’s series against the Pirates. That’s ten players total now, one-third of the team. That’s 55 games they need to play in 46 days if they want to play the full 60-game slate. All this because (allegedly) two or three members went out in public for a night.
- In the wake of the outbreak, MLB and its players agreed to two major changes for this season: rosters, which were reduced from 30 to 28 players on Thursday, would remain at that level for the rest of the season. Rosters were supposed to be pared further to 26 in two weeks but both sides felt that would be too much strain on the teams. Also, taxi squads would be expanded from three to five players. By doing this, rosters essentially stay at their original number, allowing teams to deal with any future COVID or injury issues. Second, because so many double headers would be required to play the full sixty game regular season schedule, both sides agreed to 7-inning double headers. This move will protect pitching staffs and reduce exposure between teams, lessening the chances of virus transmission.
- MLB also put some meat into the COVID protocols, requiring (no longer advocating) the wearing of masks while in the dugout and installing an Observer in each dugout to monitor the teams. But the Indians took it a step further when they sent SP Zach Plesac home for three days of quarantine after they found out he went out to dinner Saturday night in Chicago with some friends. Maybe he’s suffering short term memory loss:
“There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed, or going out to the bars and drinking—doing stuff like that isn’t stuff that’s really important to us right now and shouldn’t be important to us right now…”
—Zach Plesac, July 3rd
- At the outset of this season I opined that the Tigers would be one of the few teams looking to trade away players and that their most likely candidate would be SP Matt Boyd, and with good reason: He’s in his pitching prime (29), affordable (less than $2million adjusted salary) and would be under team control for two more years. But neither team nor player are cooperating with my plans: The Tigers are three games above .500 after Sunday, but don’t thank Boyd for that. The distant relative of HOFer Bob Feller has struggled so far, going 0-1 in his first three starts with a 9.20 ERA, a 1.91 WHIP and opponents hitting .365 against him. With each start, his trade value gets worse.
- My early season picks for Manager of the Year would have to be Brandon Hyde for the O’s and Don Mattingly for the Miami Marlins. Hyde has his boys playing hard, with a team BA of .252, good for fourth in the majors. Their defensive efficiency is near the bottom and the team ERA is not much better (21st out of 30 teams in team ERA of 4.42), but their starting rotation is solid, with Tommy Milone and Alex Cobb each sporting sub 3.50 ERAs. However, no one has weathered 2020 season’s challenges better than Miami’s “Donny Baseball”. Go ahead and rip him and the Marlins all you want for their lax attitude toward COVID protocols, but anyone who has spent any time in a clubhouse knows it’s nearly impossible to control everything each player does, especially before and after game time. The Marlins roster was devastated by the virus outbreak, placing thirteen players on the IL. The front office rebuilt the team pool via trades and free agent signings. But it takes a real leader to be able to take this group plucked from the Land of Misfit Toys and turn them into a team and Mattingly has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Let’s face it, this team wasn’t supposed to be competitive much less contend even before the season started (I dare you to name one position player and one pitcher on this team) and the virus outbreak was supposed to be the final nail on the coffin. Check the standings! Miami sits atop at 7-1, including 5-2 since they resumed play! Marlins Magic!! GET ON BOARD!!
- The old saying goes, if you come to the ballpark, there’s a good chance you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. So true! I’ve been watching my favorite pastime for over forty years and Friday I witnessed something I’ve never seen at any level and it involved my SF Giants and their overpaid SP Jeff Samardzija. In the series opener Friday against the Dodgers in LA, the Shark was having his usual struggles, already tagged for five runs in four innings of work when he began the bottom of the 5th inning. He walked Cody Bellinger to lead off the inning, then proceeded to hit 3B Justin Turner and 2B Kiki Hernandez on consecutive pitches, loading the bases. Or DID HE?? Hernandez, awarded first base, actually argued with HP umpire Jim Reynolds that HE WASN’T HIT BY THE PITCH! He even looked at Samardzija and the Giants’ dugout as if to apologize for being sent to first base. The Giants appealed the call (which stood, of course) and Manager Gabe Kapler immediately pulled his ineffective starter. To Samardzija’s credit, he took no offense to it, saying later that Hernandez was just being honest. But what does it say about your pitcher when your opponent would rather take their chances at the plate than accept a gift like that?? (Only nine more starts for Samardzija as a Giant!)
- Speaking of struggling Giants, fan favorite OF Hunter Pence is really in a bad way. Last year’s AL Comeback Player of the Year probably wishes he was back with the Rangers. Entering Sunday’s finale in LA he’s hitting .063 (2-32) including 10 Ks and lost a ball in the SoCal sky Saturday night, costing Johnny Cueto a shot at a no hitter…not to be outdone, NYY Catcher Gary Sanchez is making Yankee fans long for the days of Jorge Posada, hitting a paltry .103 (4-39); what’s really sad is he’s not even making contact, striking out a whopping 22 times in 45 total plate appearances! And although his defense behind the plate has improved, he’s committed two passed balls already this season and has allowed even more pitches to get away that he shouldn’t have.
- More on the Yankees’ catching situation: backup backstop Kyle Higashioka (yes, I had to check on the spelling of that twice to get it right!) was placed on the IL before Saturday’s twin bill due to a right oblique strain. This type of injury can last anywhere from two weeks to two months (ask Aaron Judge), so NY signed forty-year old Eric Kratz to a major league contract and immediately put him on the active roster. This doesn’t bode well when arguably the most important position on the field is covered by a guy who strikes out nearly fifty percent of time, still has issues blocking pitches and who’s backup had all of 17 ABs last year. I can’t believe that a farm system as highly touted as the Yankees offers THIS as their best option.
- When Houston Astro’s ace Justin Verlander was shut down due to a forearm strain, the thought was he was going to rest for two weeks before trying to throw and deciding on his return timetable. Well, here we are, two weeks later, and Justin hasn’t even picked up a baseball yet. The silence from Astros camp is very unsettling…
- Speaking of the defending AL champs, if you asked the Astros, I’d bet they’d tell you to a man they would rather have dealt with the fan abuse while winning ballgames rather than what they’re going through this year in front of empty seats. (can we call it “The COVID KHARMA??”). Yes, their bullpen has been beset by injuries and they’re trying to patch together a rotation after losing Cole and Verlander. So far, Framber Valdez and Christian Perez have filled in admirably. However, any avid Houston fan will tell you their root problem is in their hitting. Take a look at these numbers, showing where the Astros ranked in the major leagues last year compared to 2020 YTD:
When your three best hitters (Springer, Altuve, Bregman) are hitting anywhere from 70 to 110 points below last year’s BA and you’re missing another important piece in Yordan Alvarez (.313BA/27HR/78RBI in 2019), you’re going to feel it. Hopefully Alvarez, who’s apparently raking it in Corpus Christi, is close to returning to the active roster and will provide a spark. But time is running out; Sunday’s game will mark the quarter turn of the regular season.
- Altuve in particular is really starting to worry me. I wonder if the backlash from the 2017 Cheating scandal has irreparably affected his play. He’s a quiet unassuming guy who plays hard and does everything well and nothing flashy. And in 2017, it was well documented he did not care for the trash can banging when he was at the plate and put a stop to it while he was hitting. But as a five-year veteran then (and let’s face it a Latin in a clubhouse dominated by Latins), he had an opportunity to exert Leadership and stop the practice altogether. But his quiet persona got in the way of him speaking up. In light of the fan and league-wide reaction, I wonder if that reluctance is now eating at him. He looks lost at the plate and in the field. Case in point: in the sixth inning of their game Saturday in Oakland, he failed to make a play on a ball hit by Marcus Semien that was generously ruled a single. Later in the inning he failed to stop an errant throw to second when Semien stole the base. I’ve seen him make both those plays in his sleep. Semien came around to score the A’s second run on a ground out. The Astros went on to lose, 3-1, with Altuve going 0-4 to drop his average to .177. I hope he snaps out of it; he’s one of my favorite players to watch and by all accounts a great guy.
- However, I cannot say that for the rest of the Houston Astros. They’ve managed to rekindle the animosity for them lost during the shutdown with their actions this weekend against the A’s. Not only did they get swept by Oakland, scoring only five runs in the three games, they incited a benches’ clearing brawl after hitting A’s OF Ramon Laureano twice (three times total in the series); worse, Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron was seen jawing at Laureano and actually provoked Laureano to approach the Astros dugout only to hide behind three Astros players, a cowardly and childish act. That’s right, a hitting coach, going all Broken Arrow because his manager wasn’t around to control him (Dusty Baker was ejected earlier in the game). MLB will investigate, but Cintron should receive a hefty suspension (the rest of the year, in my opinion) and fine because as a Coach he’s supposed to set an example, especially given how the rest of the league feels about the Astros (ask any Dodgers or Yankees fan).
- Here’s someone else to root for: Rays 3B Yandy Diaz, who’s been described as a “Baseball gym rat”, came to the US via the Dominican Republic on his third attempt to defect from Cuba. After each of his previous attempts failed, he was jailed for twenty-one days. He spent thirty-six hours on a motorized raft on his third and successful attempt, watching sharks circle the raft before arriving safely. Even though he hasn’t seen his family in the five plus years since he defected, he still calls his Mom every day. For my Socialist friends out there, if that way of life is so great and US is so terrible, why are people like Yandy willing to risk their lives to leave it and come over here?
- I really like Pittsburgh SP Derek Holland. He’s got a great personality and does a marvelous impersonation of Harry Caray. So, I really felt for the former SF Giant after reading the box score of his latest outing against the Tigers on Saturday: 5IP, 9ER, 13H, 1B, 6K. But even that ugly line doesn’t tell the real story: he served up five home runs, four of them before he recorded his first out! It’s a testament to his character to be able to stick it out for five innings. I can imagine that he felt anything he served up would land in the cheap seats!
- Speaking of struggling starters, former SFG ace Madison Bumgarner obviously isn’t right. In two innings of work Sunday, he served up four home runs to the Padres. (He never did that in his ten-year career in SF). That makes seven long balls in four starts this year; worse, his fastball never touched 88 mph and he’s currently wearing a 0-3 mark with 9.35ERA and a .282 opponents BA.
- I told you that the KC Royals would be a headache, but I didn’t think they would be for both their fans and their opponents; they currently rank near the bottom in errors in the field and strikeouts at the plate, but they’re playing their AL Central rivals tough, including a sweep last weekend of the AL Central front-running Twins. I love that they’re throwing youngsters Brady Singer and Kris Bubic into the starting rotation and their lineup is starting to remind me of the 2014-15 championship teams in that every at bat is a battle. Yes, they’re looking up at everyone in the standings right now, but new owner John Sherman and GM Dayton Moore are building something.
- Bitter Mike’s “Giant Rants”: it seems maybe rumors of 3B Evan Longoria’s resurgence were a little premature. Since last week’s post, he’s hitting .148 (4-27), with one extra base hit and two RBIs, one of which was a sacrifice fly. If the last two years are any indication, he’s set to go on the IL any day now…SS Brandon Crawford has not been in the starting lineup for three days in a row. The left-handed hitting fan favorite of many SF Giant female fans (aka Crawford’s Cougars!) may have been sat because the team has faced southpaw starters in each of those three games, but platooning due to matchups was never a thing for Crawford until this year. Maybe the fact that his decreasing production at the plate is the real reason…whatever IF Donavan Solano is having for a pre-game meal, he needs to share it with his teammates. He’s currently sporting a major-league leading .455 average and on a 14-game hitting streak. They don’t call. Him “Donny Barrels” just because it sounds good…overall, my heroes by the Bay are holding their own, outplaying to their talent level. They’re getting no help from Belt, Crawford and Pence, but Solano and OFs Mike Yastrzemski and Austin Slater are making up for it and I think they’ve found someone in Aruban born Catcher Chadwick Tromp as a serviceable replacement for Buster Posey (if there is such a thing). But aside from closer Trevor Gott, their young bullpen has been shaky, blowing two late leads last week. Right now, they are in the middle of their nastiest road trip of the year (ten games through Denver, LA and Houston) and if they somehow come through on the other end at 4-6, they could make some noise. But can we FINALLY call it a Giants’ career for one Jeff Samardzija?? He’s been absolutely terrible, allowing 28 HRs last year and already SIX this year in three starts! After his latest debacle Friday, he was placed on the IL with a shoulder impingement (surprise, surprise). Will the team finally cut ties with him when Trevor Cahill comes off the IL? Stay tuned!
Let me know what you think!