Well, what a week. From more Red Sox hitters achieving feats of amazement to the Blue Jays taking 5 of 6 from division rivals, with a big 4-gamer against Baltimore looming a week from today, the American League East race is really in full swing. And none of David Price, Chris Archer, Marcus Stroman are their team’s most reliable starter two months into the season. Lots to get to!
But before we start, I just wanted to let you know that I’m always happy to get your feedback on this feature. Feel free to leave it down below, or tweet at me at @gbradyradio. I’ll be writing one more of these from North America, and then a couple from France, while at Euro 2016 — yes, I’ll watch plenty of game action and highlights on the MLB app, but from remembering trying to watch World Series games that start at 1:40 am UK time, it can make one a little loopy.
Upon reader suggestion, I’ve decided to take a look at kick things off by looking at where each team in the division ranks among the American League by several important statistical categories, so you’ll see trends and who is stacking up where:
OPS: 1. Boston – .854, 3. Baltimore – .773, 6. Tampa Bay – .734, 9. Toronto – .727, 15. Yankees – .669
BA: 1. Boston – .296, 6. Baltimore – .260, 12. Toronto – .241, 13. Tampa Bay – .239, 15. Yankees – .232
OBP: 1. Boston – .360, 3. Baltimore – .325, 8. Toronto – .318, 12. Tampa Bay – .309, 15. Yankees – .298
SLG: 1. Boston – .494, 2. Baltimore – .448, 5. Tampa Bay – .425, 9. Toronto – .409, 15. Yankees – .370
ERA: 2. Toronto – 3.58, 7. Baltimore – 4.07, 8. Yankees – 4.15, 9. Tampa Bay – 4.18, 12. Boston 4.44
WHIP: 1. Toronto – 1.22, T2. Yankees – 1.23, 6. Tampa Bay – 1.27, 8. Boston – 1.33, 12. Baltimore 1.36
BA vs: 1. Toronto – 2.38, 5. Boston – 2.46, T7: Tampa Bay – 2.51, T7: Yankees – 2.51, 9. Baltimore – 2.57
SP ERA: 2. Toronto: 2.51, 6. Tampa Bay: 4.21, 7. Yankees: 4.35, 11. Boston: 4.79, 13. Baltimore – 4.85
Bottom line — the Blue Jays are pitching better than anyone in the division, despite some difficulty getting to Roberto Osuna in tied games or when they have the lead. The Red Sox may come back down to earth, but they’re having an earth-shatteringly good offensive season, led by Ortiz, Betts, Bradley, and Bogaerts. Baltimore’s getting #1 SP outings from Chris Tillman, yet little else from their starters, and Tampa just looks like they’re not going to get any breaks that might allow them not to be bad this season, record-wise, even if their talent and advanced numbers tell us they shouldn’t be on pace for 90+ losses.
Let’s go deeper into where the teams are at:
Boston Red Sox: 32-22, .593, 1st, Home: 18-10, Road: 14-12, Run Differential: +71 (1st in AL)
VS Division: AL East: 13-13, AL Central: 6-5, AL West: 8-2, Interleague: 5-2
Last 7 Days: 1-2 at Toronto, 2-2 at Baltimore
Next 3 Series: 3 games vs. Toronto, 2 games at San Francisco, 3 games at Minnesota
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. Xander Bogaerts, good heavens! Is HE that incredible, or is he PLAYING that incredibly? There often is a difference, but Bogaerts has provided the Red So twelve months of insane production after a slow start to 2016. How good has the production been? Check it:
From June 2nd until this Friday afternoon Bogaerts has played 161 games, scored 107 runs, picked up 228 hits, 48 doubles, 95 RBI, and a put up slash line for a shortstop that’s just bazonkers — .340/.378/.489. Incredible stuff for a player with seemingly limited power. Just for the sake of context, in Red Sox history, only Wade Boggs has more than 220 hits in an actual season (240 in 1985, when he hit .368), but he only did it once. Once! Tris Speaker didn’t do it playing before the colour barrier was broken, and guys threw 200 pitches a game! Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Fred Lynn, hell, even Ellis Burks and Mike Greenwell — no one’s had a 12 month stretch like Bogaerts, and they’re just now starting to talk about its historical nature in Boston, where they always overrate their own.
Just in case Jackie Bradley’s 29-game hitting streak, and the huge power week of Mookie Betts weren’t enough, Bogaerts is real, and he is spectacular. Credit former Sox GM Ben Cherington for hanging onto Bradley, Betts, and, Bogaerts through all of 2014 and 2015, during lean times amid high expectations (and payrolls). It couldn’t have been easy, but now? are there three position players on any one team under the age of 26 you’d rather “grow older” with? Not sure there are.
2. This is the production the Red Sox missed out on last year. True, the Red Sox were 5th in the AL in 2015 in team OPS at .740 (ahead of playoff teams, Kansas City and Texas — albeit while playing half their games in a bandbox). But they got so little from the 1B and 3B positions — a declining year for Mike Napoli, and the disaster that was Pablo Sandoval — and just not a ton of power or speed from the outfielders. This year they’re way ahead of what they were doing then. Yes, there have been some rarities — I can’t recall the last time a team had two players involved in hitting streaks of 25 games or more in the same season — and yes, David Ortiz will slow up at some point, but right now they’re the best hitting team in ages, and, yeah, for now, that includes last year’s Blue Jays group. And unless the starting pitching falls off a cliff, this is a playoff team, one way or the other. Teams that hit that well cannot miss. I don’t even have the space to write about Mookie Betts and his week of adventurous behaviour. He hit five home runs in two nights and became the first player ever to hit homers in the first two innings of consecutive games. Incredible.
3. Ah yes, the pitching. Rick Porcello wasn’t great Saturday against the Blue Jays on a sweltering hot and beautiful afternoon, but he did leave in the 7th inning, with an 8-4 lead, two outs and a man on first. The dam burst, and of the next sixteen batters only six were retired, five scored runs, and five were left on base, including a strangely nerve-wracking outing by Craig Kimbrel, who had a 9-8 lead in the ninth thanks to a David Ortiz moonshot. Just disastrous. Then Wednesday, after steadying starts (and wins against Baltimore) by Steven Wright (CG Memorial Day win, despite 5 Orioles walked), and Eduardo Rodriguez (6IP, 2ER, 0BB, 3K), Joe Kelly was blown to bits by Baltimore’s bats, lasting 2 1/3 IP, and giving up 7 runs. Thing is, the Sox’ great lineup got them back into it, until, trailing 8-7 in the bottom of the 4th, Clay Buchholz began a long-relief outing that was as bad as several of his starts have been (3.1 IP, 4 runs allowed, 4 BB, 1K) and the Red Sox were denied the sweep.
4. What’s the danger? Boston spending on power arms at the deadline. That has to be a concern for the other AL East residents — and Boston has the farm system, or the young arms on the MLB roster to do so. Boston finished 32-26 last season but no one noticed because their starters’ ERA was an ugly 4.39 (and while, yes, the eventual World Series champion Royals were just above that at 4.34, they added Johnny Cueto at the deadline and had a lights-out bullpen all season — Boston not so much). This year, Boston’s starter ERA is even worse (4.74) but runs are up all around the AL, and they rank just 10th. The rotation doesn’t exactly scream “playoff calibre,” so they’ll very likely be looking to add a #2 SP. Dave Dombrowski never went into a playoff run in Detroit not thinking of adding arms (Doug Fister one year, Anibal Sanchez another). Safe to say, he won’t risk the chance they aren’t deep enough and waste all this amazing hitting.
5. Is David Price missing the All-Star game this season? Right now, you’d have to say he is. Too many excellent seasons are being had by other starters. Even if Price shaves down that ERA from 5.11 to a low 4-number (and we all know he will, he’s not Barry Zito in San Francisco), it may not be enough. Last season, seven starters were selected for the team (LAA’s Hector Santiago filled in for Oakland’s Sonny Gray after Gray was named to the team).
Who do I feel is going for sure? Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez (if off the DL in time), Danny Salazar, Chris Tillman, Jordan Zimmermann, and Masahiro Tanaka (who maybe doesn’t absolutely deserve to be there, but Yankee, international appeal, blah blah, you get the idea).
Rich Hill going would be a neat story. I would tell you I certainly hope Marco Estrada goes. He’s proven last year was no fluke and he’s truly figured out in his early 30s how to be an excellent starter. I’m sure MLB is hoping one of Price, Verlander, and Archer (maybe even two) can have a great June and justify inclusion. It’s also hard to see Ned Yost not giving a trip to one of his starting staff (Wade Davis is a lock to be there out of the ‘pen), and the best bet there would be Edinson Volquez. But bottom line, Price probably gets left out barring a spectacular June, which starts tonight at Fenway against R.A. Dickey.
Baltimore Orioles: 30-22, .577, 1 GB, Home: 19-10, Road: 11-12, Run Differential: +17 (6th in AL)
VS Division: AL East: 11-7, AL Central: 13-6, AL West: 6-9, Interleague: 0-0
Last 7 Days: 2-1 at Cleveland, 2-2 vs. Boston
Next 3 Series: 3 games vs. Yankees, 3 games vs. Kansas City, 4 games at Toronto
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. You were warned to check the home/road schedule. Yes, you were. The Orioles played 25 of their first 39 games at home — a huge advantage, especially for given that some of the teams coming in (Seattle, Detroit, Toronto, the White Sox) have big lineups that don’t necessarily appreciate the pleasures of attempting to hit a baseball when the temperature is under 8 degrees Celsius. With the weather of the past 10 days here in Toronto, it’s hard to recall how crappy it was most of April and early May, but it was! The Jays’ 3-game series in Baltimore in mid-April? Toronto hit 21-for-99 (.212) with just one HR (Donaldson) and 21 strikeouts. I’m telling you, I’ve been to enough games in April in warm press boxes to know when the players are kinda miserable.
So after starting 24-15 in those 39 games (17-8 at home, 7-7 away), the Orioles have had to play 9 of their most recent 12 away from Camden Yards. Over that span they went 4-5 away, and 1-2 at home in their recent showdown with the Red Sox. It doesn’t mean the wheels are falling off, but anyone with simple math skills could tell the 40-game record for the Orioles was a touch illusory.
2. Chris Tillman is turning a good “start” into a good season. You can deny it all you want, but the roadbump that was Tillman’s 2015 season (4.88 ERA in 31 starts, 1.39 WHIP, and a notably lousy 1.88 K/BB ratio) looks like a weird Bobby-Ewing-in-the-shower type dream. He’s still not going incredibly deep into games (averaging just under 6 IP per start, compared to averaging a blip under 5.2 IP per start during last year’s carnage), but in his past 10, he’s given up more than 3 earned runs just twice. He’s the undeniable ace of an unproven staff. There’s nothing dramatic about him, no fancy hashtags, or inspirational quotes on twitter. He just shows up and delivers.
3. That’s good, because few other O’s starters are as consistent as Tillman. You are correct, O Great One! The Orioles’ SP ERA is 12th in the AL at 4.78. Take away Tillman’s 11 starts, and it’s an even yuckier 5.32 as a group. The good thing for Baltimore is, no one’s taking away those Tillman starts (the Orioles are 9-2 when he starts, 20-20 when he doesn’t), but bad thing is, no one’s establishing themselves as a true #2 SP either. We know Boston’s duo is Price/Porcello. In Toronto, Sanchez/Estrada (not Stroman, not even close) have separated themselves as the most reliable starters so far. In Baltimore, you have Tillman and “TBD”. Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wilson haven’t been good, and though Tyler Wilson and Kevin Gausman have been reasonably average, putting bets on them to either improve or be reliable come September (and October?) is really asking a lot. Remember, Baltimore’s 96 win 2014 season did feel like it came out of nowhere, but what wasn’t out of nowhere was their consistent rotation — Tillman/Chen/Bud Norris/Miguel Gonzalez didn’t fluke their season, and if anything, FA signing Jimenez was their unreliable one. I don’t regard this Baltimore rotation the same way, and until Gallardo gets off the DL and gets back, maybe they truly don’t have a #2 starter to rely on.
4. Adam Jones: Bad season? Bad luck? Declining asset? It’s OK to ask these type of questions, just like it was quite ok to wonder going into 2011 if Jose Bautista fluked his way through a 50+ HR 2010 season. He didn’t, obviously, but asking didn’t make you a “hater”. Hard to hate anything about how Adam Jones plays or his 5 All-Star appearances and 4 Gold Gloves, but he’ll turn 31 this summer, and he doesn’t quite look himself yet at the plate. He’s a lifetime .277/.318/.459 hitter, but so far this year is checking in at .238/.295/.365. He’s averaged 23 HRs per season over the past 7 years, but is on pace to hit just 17 this year. No one is stressing and no one should — if Adam Jones appeared in any MLB clubhouse, that team instantly becomes better, and say what you will about intangibles, but the atmosphere probably does also. So what gives?
Luck is factoring into this. Jones has a career BABIP of .310 and it’s under .260 this season. He isn’t “hitting them where they ain’t” — something that happens to all players. Jones smartly noted recently that because he’s out there playing centerfield, he sees and an awful lot of good swings and connections that simply don’t fall, but rather end in line drive outs or well-earned catches by above-average outfielders. Anyone would sensibly think Jones will end his season just fine and not suffer more of the mini-slumps he did in April and May. If anything, watching whether (like Jose Bautista in Toronto) he stays in the leadoff position will be fascinating. He’s been there the last six games, and raised his average from .223 to .238 and his OBP from .282 to .293.
5. Buck Showalter a HOF manager? I should remember this for a useful sports radio segment titled: “I Don’t Think So, But…”. There’s nothing to me about Showalter’s career that screams that he needs to be in Cooperstown, or even a candidate. We just had three absolute no-brainer HOF managers retire in Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa, and Bobby Cox, over the past several years. Jim Leyland will get his consideration (I wouldn’t put him in) and obviously Giants manager Bruce Bochy with 3 World Series rings will (I would, yes). Showalter is a couple games away from passing Davey Johnson into 29th in all-time games won by managers. He’s a bunch of games ahead of Terry Francona, who has won 2 World Series rings.
Of the men who will be ahead of Showalter, 19 are already in the Hall (as noted, Leyland and Bochy aren’t yet, nor is current Angels skipper Mike Scioscia). But there just isn’t enough there for Showalter, is there? He should get credit for partially resurrecting baseball in Baltimore, but that doesn’t earn a bust in Cooperstown, sorry. Going to the playoffs five different times and never getting to a World Series is hardly helpful, either. Good career, far from great.
New York Yankees: 25-28, .472, 6.5 GB, Home: 13-12, Road: 12-16, Run Differential: -30
Vs. Divisions: AL East: 9-15, AL Central: 7-3, AL West: 8-8, Interleague: 1-2
Last 7 Days: 2-1 at Tampa Bay, 0-3 at Toronto, 1-0 at Detroit
Next 3 Series: 3 games at Baltimore, 4 games vs. LA Angels, 3 games vs. Detroit
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. A forgettable Toronto trip. Actually, if only it was. Good teams are able to put lopsided sweeps in late May behind them pretty quickly, but this Yankees team is not such a thing right now, and this may linger. Forget any rivalry factor, or that the the Blue Jays and Yankees were trading punches for a good nine week stretch last summer, it’s just not practical to be swept away by the 3rd place team in your division, no matter who it is. It also turned into five straight losses against the same opponent in an eight-day stretch of being outscored 24-8. Sure, I suppose Toronto got somewhat fortunate missing Nathan Eovaldi (who dusted off Toronto with 6 innings of 2-hit shutout ball the week prior) but excuses are for losers, and the Yankees aren’t in a position to garner sympathy from many right now.
2. They survive a bad night of Betances/Miller/Chapman, on the road no less. True story. Thursday’s make-up game in Detroit saw a rare dazzler this season from Michael Pineda, building the Yanks to a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the 7th. He gave way (after a 0BB, 8K outing) to Dellin Betances, who gave up an earned run. And then Andrew Miller did. And then Aroldis Chapman did. Now, honestly, how many times this season is that going to happen? Maybe one more at most, and New York broke their losing skid anyway, giving them some momentum (shhhhh, it often doesn’t even exist) into an important three-gamer in Baltimore, heading into a seven-game homestand. By the way, former Blue Jay Matt Boyd made his season debut with Detroit and gave up four earned runs in 6.1 IP.
3. The law of averages says the Yankees average is awful. I’m well aware of the flaws of the batting average stat, but many times a walk is not as good as a hit. In the 2016 Yankees case, though they’re 9th in the AL in team walks, it’s not near enough to mask the gruesome repercussions of their team .232 batting average. Six of their 9 usual starters are hitting below .245, and though I’ve documented Teixeira’s awful start this season in previous posts, Brett Gardner is making a case for being most disappointing Yank at the dish, given he’s a lifetime .261 hitter, hitting .211. But he is at least getting on-base (.342, and was .343 last season, in a decent year) more efficiently. Meanwhile somehow, somehow, Carlos Beltran continues to make it obvious his death as an MLB hitter was just a wacky rumour. He had a crushing May, helping the Yankees to their 16-13 May record. Seventeen of his 27 May hits went for extra bases (8 HRs) and his 12 are as many as Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera, and more than Jose Bautista or an also-revived Albert Pujols, all at the tender age of 57.
4. Luis Severino — it’s a process. The Yankees didn’t trade their prized pitching prospect despite countless phone calls to Brian Cashman’s office about him the last few seasons, including tons of them in the summer of 2014 when New York was heavily criticized for not doing enough (hey, that happened in Toronto also, mostly by buffoons! Cool!) at the MLB Trade Deadline. So given what they understand they have here, they aren’t going to panic or move Severino to another team when he hits a rough patch. Yes, he was terrible in the 7 starts he made this season, but having just turned 22, there’s still growth and development to come. Word is he’s over the mild triceps strain that wasn’t helping his consistency, and he may get a couple starts with the Railriders in Scranton (with teammate Nick Swisher!) to prove such. Given the good start Pineda had against Detroit this week, Eovaldi’s consistency (they missed him way more than was mentioned last August and September), and that Tanaka and Sabathia have been far more good than bad, it would hardly be disastrous for the Yankees to give Severino as much time as he needs.
5. How quiet will this A-Rod Milestone be? Given his slow start, plus the DL stint, this might be the Alex Rodriguez in 2016 that some thought they’d see in 2015. But 2014’s “resting season” did him well, and we all know what noise he made in the first half of the year, helping carry the Yanks to that big AL East lead before Toronto reloaded the guns in July and stalked them down. Rodriguez has just the one home run so far, meaning he’s stuck at 693 for his career (21 away from Babe Ruth — and right now it’s hard to see him catching Ruth this season — in fact Ruth is probably more likely to hit one more than A-Rod is to pass him before September). Number 700 won’t be for weeks, I’d figure. But he can pass Derek Jeter in a milestone before next week’s Round-Up — he played in his 2,745th game Thursday night in Detroit, and if he starts this every game this weekend in Baltimore, he’ll pass Jeter in all-time games on Sunday. Now, the game’s away from Yankee Stadium, but that is a notable achievement. Even if A-Rod plays 90 of the 103 games remaining this year, he’ll wind up at 2,835, 17th all-time, just behind Robin Yount and Craig Biggio, and passing Reggie Jackson, Frank Robinson, and Rafael Palmeiro.
Tampa Bay Rays: 22-30, .423, 9GB, Home: 11-15, Road: 11-15, Run Differential: -10 (11th in AL)
VS. Divisions: AL East: 12-12, AL Central: 4-9, AL West: 4-5, Interleague: 2-4
Last 7 Days: 1-2 vs. Yankees, 0-3 at Kansas City, 0-1 at Minnesota
Next 3 Series: 4 games at Minnesota, 3 games at Arizona, 3 games vs. Houston
5 Things To Ponder:
1. Not saying they’re a real good team, but can we agree on their bad luck so far. The Rays are 4-8 in one-run games, and have a run-differential of only minus-10. That’s good for 9th in a 15-team league, and yet they’ve won the 14th-most games. Now, run differential can certainly be overplayed as a stat. Throw in a couple random 15-1 or 14-3 wins and any team will start to look better on paper. Still, there’s nothing glaring to suggest the Rays are headed for a 92 loss season or something strange like it. Nothing from a quarter of their season says they’re terribly constructed. They’re not great, but the wins just haven’t been there some nights.
2. Three bad starts this week — all on the road against the World Champs. You take your lumps playing series in tough stadiums, I suppose, but this Kansas City trip had to be a punch in the lungs for Tampa. Outscored 22-10 in a 3-game sweep, they wasted a great outing by Matt Andriese (7 IP, 1 ER, 90 pitches), as Erasmo Ramirez went into “Full Erasmo” mode and turned a 2-2 tie into a 6-2 deficit. Ramirez managed to get just one of five batters out, and giving up four straight hits, climaxing in a 3-run HR by Eric Hosmer.
They followed that with lousy starts in consecutive nights from Drew Smyly (12H, 8ER in 4 IP) and Chris Archer (only 14 strikes swinging over 111 pitches, and 4 ER spread over 6 IP). Not good.
3. Good arms not being good at all. Sure, there has to be concern about where Archer’s at. Mentally and physically. He just isn’t this bad. He’s had three of the most consistent seasons in the American League, where, let’s face it, being real consistent is hard. But this guy has crazy stuff, and obviously is bright, eloquent, and must be utterly confused why it’s not working for him so far — he’s at a 4.75 ERA, 1.44 higher than his career average through 93 starts coming into this season.
And Smyly — wow, my praise for him a couple weeks ago can’t be maintained or expounded upon. He had a terrible outing in Kansas City, that had less to do with control (1 walk in 24 batters faced) than it did getting pounded all over that big yard in Missouri. The season hasn’t gone from good to bad just yet — he’s maintaining a 4.77 ERA — but after his April (4 great starts in a row, with little run support), expectations rose. But Smyly is in a rut right now, and, it isn’t being helped by the fact that the Rays are not scoring in his starts — take the weird 13-2 win in Toronto against the Jays on May 16 out of the equasion, and they’ve only scored just 41 runs in his 10 other starts.
4. And, yes, a second brutal injury in two weeks. Great! Grand! How delightful. Closer Brad Boxberger finds himself back on the DL with an oblique strain, and this won’t be a short fix. Reports have him out 4-8 weeks, which could practically keep him out past the non-waiver trade deadline — a deadline that may see the Rays selling off some assets, given the way things are going. It’d be slightly less concerning (only slightly) if Boxberger hadn’t missed all of spring training, all of April, and most of May, before Tuesday’s fateful 17-pitch outing in Kansas City. He’s important to this team, and last year’s American League saves leader with 41. Yes, Alex Colome has done well closing the minimal amount of games the Rays have led going into the ninth, but their bullpen depth is thinner than ever given they moved Kevin Jepsen to the Twins and Jake McGee to the Rockies to bring Corey Dickerson in to be the full-time DH. So, first Kiermeyer, now Boxberger (again), plus Logan Forsythe on the DL, and Brandon Jennings, Logan Morrison, and Curt Casali just being lousy at the plate in general. It’s just not looking like the Rays have any way to overhaul what’s going against them.
5. Would the Rays even bother rushing Alex Cobb back from Tommy John if they’re out of it? It’s a good question. You may remember that this was heavily debated (though for a very different injury) a year ago at this time in Toronto with Marcus Stroman. What are the risks? Does it matter where the team is in the standings? In 2015 I was like many (many wrong people), thinking it was asking too much to get consistently good starts from Stroman after not having been on a mound for over sixty percent of the season, but he was mostly great. As for the Rays and Cobb, given all of his 2015 was washed out, you figure they would really like to see where he’s at. They’ll be looking for a lot out of him over the next few years, so I’m very curious as to how his return goes.