Things can change rapidly in a week of baseball. Last week we’re raving about the Red Sox hitting, doom-and-glooming it about every Orioles starter except Chris Tillman, and talking about the Blue Jays fattening up and getting back into contention. This morning? The Blue Jays lose a second game this week they shouldn’t have, concerns continue to grow about who the real Marcus Stroman is, and the Yankees (and even Rays) show signs of life. It happens. It’s baseball.
These are long seasons and this is truly the one North American sport that demands a focus on the bigger picture. So let’s give you that, without further ado…
HITTING: (Rank out of 15 AL teams)
OPS: 1. Boston – .837, 2. Baltimore – .779, 5. Tampa Bay – .746, 9. Toronto – .719, 13. Yankees – .700
BA: 1. Boston – .290, 2. Baltimore – .260, 11. Yankees – .244, 13. Tampa Bay – .240, 15. Toronto – .234
OBP: 1. Boston – .355, 2. Baltimore – .326, 10. Toronto – .315, 12. Tampa Bay – .311, 14. Yankees – .307
SLG: 1. Boston – .482, 2. Baltimore – .453, 5. Tampa Bay – .435, 9. Toronto – .404, 13. Yankees – .393
PITCHING: (Rank out of 15 AL teams)
ERA: 2. Toronto – 3.72, 6. Baltimore – 3.93, 8. Tampa Bay – 4.13, 9. Yankees – 4.15, 11. Red Sox – 4.30
(Again, Orioles/Red Sox shave down their Team ERA slightly, Toronto rises (11-0 losses do that) by 0.14)
WHIP: T2: Yanks – 1.23, 4. Toronto – 1.25, T5. Tampa Bay – 1.29, T5. Boston – 1.29, 11. Baltimore – 1.35
BA vs.: T1: Boston – .239, T3: Toronto – .241, 5. Yanks – .251, 6. Tampa Bay – .252, 10. Baltimore – .259
SP ERA: 2. Toronto – 3.62, 6. Tampa Bay – 4.29, 8. Yankees – 4.42, 9. Boston – 4.66, 10. Baltimore – 4.71
BALTIMORE ORIOLES: 36-23, .610, 1st place, Home: 24-11, Road: 12-12, Run Diff: +34 (5th in AL)
VS Divisions: AL East: 14-8, AL Central: 16-6, AL West: 6-9, Interleague: 0-0
Last 7 Days: 2-1 vs. Yankees, 3-0 vs. Kansas City, 1-0 at Toronto
Next 3 Series: 3 more at Toronto, 3 games at Boston, 3 games vs. Toronto
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. Simply a great week of pitching, or a sign of things to come? I lean heavily one way on this, and it’s simply that the Orioles rotation isn’t that good. But credit where credit is due for recent achievements: Kevin Gausman dueled with C.C. Sabathia Sunday at Camden Yards, and left trailing 1-0 after 6 innings of work (the bats got to Dellin Betances in the eighth inning to grab the 3-1 win). Mike Wright was fantastic Monday against the Royals (7 IP, 0 ER, 1 XBH), and Ubaldo Jimenez got through 5 innings (despite 9 hits/3 walks) to turn a big lead over to mop-up relievers in the 9-1 win that featured the Machado/Ventura incident. Chris Tillman continued his All-Star worthy first half tossing 7 1/3 shutout innings Wednesday, with no walks and nine strikeouts. Good for them!
2. Chris Davis remains durable, but less productive than last season. There were lots of whispers and concerns when Chris Davis missed his first game of the season, and it was the evening after the bench-clearing brawl, but Buck Showalter says simply wanted to give him a rest from a few nagging things. Davis felt better and played in Toronto last night, and had a HR, 3 RBI, and a key sacrifice fly off Roberto Osuna in the top of the ninth inning. His 3-for-29 stretch before Thursday’s win was drawing the attention of many who cover the Orioles, but once again the Rogers Centre might be good for what ails him. In 146 career ABs, he slashes at .336/.429/.719 there (!!!), with 14 home runs including one last season off Drew Hutchison that might not have landed yet. Still, overall, he’s a step behind last year, when he led the American League in home runs and strikeouts.
3. The good times continue for Mark Trumbo. It’s an odd AL home run race with Trumbo leading with 20, Todd Frazier of the White Sox with 19, and Seattle’s Robinson Cano’s with 18, in third. My guess is Trumbo hangs in there and competes for the HR title, while the other two do not, but either way, Trumbo’s given Baltimore far, far more productivity than they were likely expecting when they acquired him from Seattle. Baltimore’s sports talk radio is probably already talking about what to offer Trumbo in the offseason to stay long-term. He’ll only be 31 next season, but he’s a bad defensive outfielder, so it will be interesting to see if the Orioles think they can grow old with Davis, Trumbo, and even a Matt Wieters, who may want/need to play more 1B or DH as he moves into his 30’s. But for now, it’s about the moment, and the O’s should be thrilled with what they’ve received so far.
4. Zach Britton keeps dazzling as a rare lefty closer. Britton is now 19-for-19 in save opportunities, with no earned runs given up since April 30th, and no home runs since April 11th. Being a lefty myself, the lefty closer does fascinate me, because there have been so few, but are the best two in the American League now southpaws (Aroldis Chapman and Britton)? You can pretty easily make the case. Quietly, the 28-year old Britton is into his 3rd year of this, and his numbers are getting eerily close to what Greg Holland did in Kansas City before his arm exploded. Right-handed hitters this season are hitting just 10-for-70 with 4 extra-base hits, with 3 walks and 22 strikeouts. He’s been nasty.
5. No Yovani Gallardo matchup against the Blue Jays until much later in the season. Even next wekeend at Camden Yards would be too soon to expect Gallardo back. He hasn’t pitched in the bigs since April 22nd, and next will make his second minor-league start with AAA Norfolk in the lovely city of Charlotte (he threw 85 pitches in a five-inning outing for the Tides earlier this week). His injury is right-shoulder tendinitis — and a reminder that he signed very late in spring training with the Orioles, inking a $33 million/3 year deal, which the Orioles could buy out for only $2 million after the 2017 season.
BOSTON RED SOX: 34-25, .576, 2 GB in 2nd, Home: 19-12, Road: 15-13, Run Diff: +70 (1st in AL)
VS Divisions: AL East: 14-15, AL Central: 6-5, AL West: 8-2, Interleague: 6-3
Last 7 Days: 1-2 vs. Toronto, 1-1 at San Francisco
Next 3 Series: 3 games at Minnesota, 3 games vs. Baltimore, 3 games vs. Seattle
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. A modest offensive regression over a small sample of games. I heard from a lot of people last week saying the Red Sox cannot continue producing at the pace they were over the first 50+ games, and I’d agree with that. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t still the best offensive club in the American League. Still, Boston looked like an average offensive machine this week. After averaging 6 runs scored/game for the first 54 games, they only tallied 18 over their 5 games, beginning last Friday against the Blue Jays at Fenway. Anything leap out — not terribly, no. They were stymied by R.A. Dickey last Friday night, and Madison Bumgarner and four relievers held them to one run on five hits in a 3-1 loss last night. In fact, the Red Sox, known for their early-season late innings heroics and explosive innings, got only two runners on base in the final four innings of last night’s loss.
2. Is David Price going to have his worst-ever season? Despite having some hard luck in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in San Francisco, (2 earned runs over 7 IP, and really no jams to work out of — just the two solo shots he surrendered), Price is following good starts with average ones. He sits now (with his next start at home against the red-hot Orioles) on a 4.63 ERA, which is worse than any year in his career. But there’s nothing to do for the Red Sox but keep rolling with their prized free agent. He isn’t pitching badly, and he happens to be surrounded by starters who often do just that! No one suggests he’s injured or fatigued, but he’ll be crucial for the Red Sox and the only way to earn the $30 million he’s getting for this season is to be one of the very best pitchers on the planet. He has quite a ways to go in 2016 (and not much landing strip left) to claim such a title.
3. The Red Sox are now under .500 in their own division. Boston 15-16 against the AL East, and you won’t win the division without a big turnaround there, no matter how good the hitting is. Last year’s Blue Jays were 42-34 in the East, 2014’s Orioles were an amazing 47-29, the 2013 World Champ Red Sox 44-32. The last team to win the AL East and not have the best in-division record were the 2012 Yankees. who were 41-31, worse than the 43-29 Orioles (who still made the playoffs as a wild card, finishing at 93-69.
4. Chris Young is red-hot and making a case to play more. On Wednesday against the Giants, Young batted 6th in the Red Sox lineup and did the only damage of the game with a solo homer off Madison Bumgarner. Over his last 14 starts Young has produced 13 extra-base hits (5 home runs among them), and is 20-for-50 — a nice and tidy .400. His OBP against left-handed pitching for the season is now .486 and he’s slugging at a .774 clip against lefties. If only there were more of us! But, bottom line, Young is moving from a situational starter to a player John Farrell seems quite confident in against all pitchers. The Red Sox have to consider whether Brock Holt gives them more than Young does in LF — defensively, he does, but can Young do more with the pop in his bat? Still to be determined.
5. Boston may have stayed too long with Koji Uehara. Though Uehara is 41 years old, age aside, there were growing signs he wasn’t going to continue to be a reliable set-up man for closer Craig Kimbrel. Did the Red Sox ignore them? So far 2016 has been tough — notably last Friday’s 8th inning meltdown against the Blue Jays. He now has a 4.43 K/BB ratio, and three outings since May 17th where he’s given up two or more runs. It could be a blip, yes, but it has to be a concern in Boston. The Red Sox can at least be thankful they’re getting what they are from Craig Breslow many nights, acting as a bridge to Kimbrel’s save situations.
NEW YORK YANKEES 30-30, .500, 6.5 GB, 4th, Home: 17-12, Road: 13-18, Run Diff. -16 (11th in AL)
VS Divisions: AL East: 10-17, AL Central: 7-3, AL West: 12-8, Interleague 1-2
Last 7 Days: 1-2 at Baltimore, 4-0 vs. LA Angels
Next 3 Series: 3 games vs. Detroit, 2 games at Colorado, 4 games at Minnesota
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. The worst might be over for the Yankees. The Yankees were 9-17 on May 5th and didn’t have a single stretch where they had won 3 straight games. Since then, they’ve clawed back to .500 by going 21-13 (.617), and that’s with an ugly 3 game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jays over a week ago. They also were last in the American League in more offensive categories than you could count, and now, well, they sorta aren’t. Baby steps, right? Still, they’ve only managed to move up to 13th in OPS in the AL — only the White Sox and A’s are worse. None of this means they’re playoff-bound or will even be a factor, but I’m not sure you’d take a bet that they’ll drop eight games under .500 again, as they were just over a month ago.
2. They might be too streaky to get back in the game. While 94 wins might get the job done and get the Yankees to the postseason a second straight year (they were there for a couple hours, right?), just getting those 94 wins means the Yankees going 64-38 — and from this point that’s a .627 clip. A six-game win streak in mid-May got the positive chatter up, and their current 4-game run as a result of sweeping the Angels is similarly impressive, but the streaks bookend a 4-8 stretch.
3. Still too many nights when they can’t produce. The Bronx Bombers are more likely to bomb out at the plate than bomb your pitching. In that 12 game stretch before the four most recent wins, they scored two runs or fewer in six of them. They are, as a team, hitting a 13th-best (in the AL) .226 with runners in scoring position — only the befuddling Blue Jays and awful Twins have done worse.
4. Things are happening with Dellin Betances that weren’t the last two seasons. Look, he’s only human. Of flesh and blood, he’s made. Born to make mistakes. Please don’t begrudge me that. But if a seventh-inning specialist can “slump”, it’s safe to say Betances is. And the thing is, his 2015 wasn’t nearly as good as season as 2014, as he went from unhittable to merely pretty damned good. This season hasn’t corrected that trajectory. In 2014 and 2015 combined, he surrendered 28 earned runs in 174 innings pitched, and this year, he’s already given up 11 in just under 30. It’s hardly a bad season for him — his WHIP is quite comparable to last season — be he just hasn’t been quite right yet. The problem for other teams in the division is, he may still get there.
5. Mark Teixeira is on the disabled list. DRINK. If you detest the Yankees, then you’re likely already well-armed with jokes about Mark Teixeira’s health. But, man, he’s gone through a lot. Unlike 2015 though, the Teixeira that has been shelved this season was a really not good version, clipping away at an ugly.180/.271/.263 — and yes, his OBP is higher than his slugging…..you’re not misreading that. Given it’s his contract year, Teixeira even admitted retirement is on his mind, and you can’t possibly see how it couldn’t be. He’s not close to any notable milestones to hang in for, he has more money than the GDP of most countries, and has his World Series ring. The earliest the Yankees say he could be back from repairs to the torn knee cartilage is just before the All-Star break, but given the “repairs” didn’t include surgery, even Teixeira admits his everyday-playing days are probably over for the rest of the season.
TAMPA BAY RAYS, 27-31, .466, 8.5 GB, 5th, Home: 11-15, Road: 16-16, Run Diff: -3 (8th in AL)
VS Divisions: AL East: 12-12, AL Central: 7-9, AL West: 4-5, Interleague: 4-5
Last 7 Days: 3-0 at Minnesota, 2-1 at Arizona
Next 3 Series: 3 games vs. Houston, 3 games vs. Seattle, 3 games vs. San Francisco.
FIVE THINGS TO PONDER:
1. They may not be that interesting, but they’re not that bad. Tampa is probably not going to make a race of it for the playoffs, but they’re going to be maddeningly frustrating to play against, I predict. Still, if they have a chance, this would be a good time to make a move. The Rays are looking at nine straight at home beginning tonight. If they can’t win six of the nine and end up 33-34 at least, I think it’s safe to say they’ll be sellers at the Trade Deadline.
2. They had the misfortune of Zack Greinke re-discovering his awesomeness. Greinke’s had a very bumpy start in Phoenix, but tossed a complete-game shutout against the Rays on Tuesday. Good thing he didn’t wreck a good Rays outing by their starter — Matt Moore got lit up for 5 runs in 7 innings, including a 3-run homer by Jake Lamb, and a 2-run shot by Paul Goldschmidt.
3. Tampa loves going deep, but how they are is the confusing part. Win cash from your pals with this one tonight: what American League team has the most home runs per at-bat? Yes, it’s the Rays. The MLB average is a home run every 32.7 AB, but the Rays do it every 22.3 AB. (Baltimore, Seattle, and Toronto are 2nd/3rd/4th). If only they weren’t 13th in OBP, they might have some home runs that…..scored more runs, that’s it!
4. Evan Longoria’s having his most productive season at the plate since 2012. Longoria is just one of those constants, right? We just know he’s doing fine, is usually healthy, and though we don’t watch a lot of Rays’ games, we’re never surprised when he has a huge night and makes the highlight pack. But 2016 is seeing him hit for a bit better average, and after 21 and 22 HR seasons the past two years, the fact he has 14 already puts him on a track to get at least close to his career high of 33, which came all the way back in 2009, his second year in the league. He’s been on fire lately and it’s worth mentioning, clubbing the ball in June at a .393/.469/.964 rate.
5. Ben Zobrist looks like Chris Martin of Coldplay. I’m not the first to notice, I’m sure, but I refuse to be last. Anyway, do you know how hard it is to write about the Rays and keep it interesting week after week. Give me a break! And writing about them from freaking France next week? Has anyone ever attempted such madness???
Thanks for reading, as always.