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MLB News and Notes: May 2016

The notes column has a distinct place within the culture of baseball writing. Peter Gammons is widely regarded as the godfather of the format, with his notes first appearing in the Boston Globe around 1972. Gammons would unearth nuggets of information from around the league each week and compile them in the Sunday edition, keeping folks updated in a concise manner.

The format seems ideal for our digital age of reduced attention spans, where the bullet point is king. Nick Cafardo continues the tradition in Boston, while Jon Heyman has produced something similar in recent years for numerous outlets. I’ve always enjoyed reading baseball notes, and have finally decided to begin my own such column here at The Pastime.

Please enjoy the first instalment of what hopefully will be a regular feature.

Major News

  • The Texas Rangers recently announced plans for a new retractable roof stadium, despite their current ballpark being just twenty-two years old. Like many baseball fans, I’m a little perplexed by the news, as the current park is one of baseball’s better venues. However, here’s a helpful article from the Dallas Morning News on the plans.

 

  • Major League Baseball hopes to approve some significant rule changes for the 2017 season, including a higher strike zone and a refined process for issuing intentional walks. ESPN had the full story first.

 

  • Chris Sale is making history with the White Sox. He has won each of his first nine starts this season, something that hasn’t happened since 2008. Here, Fox Sports presents five astonishing facts from Sale’s outstanding start to the season.

From The Notebook

  • The Dodgers appear to be in serious trouble. While Clayton Kershaw is having perhaps the best season of his career, Los Angeles is still treading water right around .500. Behind the historic ace, the rotation has been poor, while the lineup has been wildly inconsistent and lacking in punch. Andrew Friedman, President of Baseball Operations, is now under more scrutiny than at any point since taking control at Chavez Ravine. For $245 million, he’s built a roster of impressive depth but lacking in top-end quality. I expect a major shake-up near the trade deadline should the Dodgers remain four-and-a-half games behind San Francisco.

 

  • Much is made about parity in Major League Baseball, but I’m beginning to question whether that’s just a fancy byword for mediocrity. Right now, the standings are a mess. Not from a standpoint of particular teams doing badly, but from a stance of not knowing exactly what to believe or what to expect. Due to the long season, baseball relies heavily on narrative. We need some kind of guide and structure around which to order our thoughts and affirm our beliefs. At present, that is increasingly arduous in a league of such capriciousness, where the Astros are dire and the Phillies are contenders; the Blue Jays are below .500 and the Mariners are in first place. On most nights, it’s difficult to comprehend the paradox between what certain teams should be and what they have actually become. And while parity has many positive connotations, I feel there is a case to be made that the general quality of baseball has been diminished in recent years.

 

  • There is something magical about Ichiro Suzuki’s march towards 3,000 hits. I’m slightly saddened by the sight of him in those ghastly Marlins uniforms, playing in that peculiar ballpark, but seeing him make history has a certain mawkish appeal. Ichiro was in his scorching prime when I first fell in love with baseball, so that sweet, familiar swing evokes a lot of memories. Suzuki has collected eight hits in his last three games, to put him at 2,960 lifetime. Perhaps I’m overly romantic, but a deadline trade back to Seattle, so he can reach the landmark in a Mariners uniform, would be fantastic.

Who’s Hot?

  • San Francisco Giants – There has been a real momentum swing towards the Giants in recent weeks, as the Cubs encounter more choppy waters. Indeed, San Francisco took two of three from Chicago, and has a 9-1 record over the last ten games. The front three pitchers, namely Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, have been brilliant, as the Giants have stormed to the top of a chaotic NL West.

 

  • New York Yankees – Following a dismal start, the Yankees are slowly clawing their way out of a large hole. Eight games below .500 at one point, the Bombers have been energised by the reinstatement of Aroldis Chapman. The bullpen is potent, and the bats are slowly heating up. A productive West Coast road trip has New York just one game under .500, with hopes of playoff contention blooming once again.

 

  • Detroit Tigers – Just a fortnight ago, the seat of Brad Ausmus was firmly ablaze, as a talented Tigers team lost eleven of thirteen games. However, a revival is underway, with Detroit winning seven of its last ten. Miguel Cabrera is on a tear, and the AL Central has opened up considerably. A groin injury for ace Jordan Zimmerman is far from ideal, but for now, the Tigers have righted what was once a sinking ship.

Who’s Cold?

  • Cincinnati Reds – With one of the worst bullpens in baseball history, and underperforming veterans punctuating a patchwork lineup, the Reds are in a dark place. Cincinnati has lost eight straight, and nine of the last ten. Joey Votto isn’t hitting, and the Reds are already fifteen games adrift in the NL Central. A long summer lies ahead.

 

  • Minnesota Twins – Minnesota has somehow found a way to undercut Atlanta as the worst team in baseball. Right now, Paul Molitor’s team is in a horrific mess. The Twins have only won eleven ballgames all season, compared with thirty-three losses. That’s a .250 winning percentage, worst in the game. What’s more, Minnesota was expected to be a stealth contender this year, as the fruits of a lengthy rebuild flowed liberally. Instead, bad fundamental baseball has become the norm, with budding stars like Miguel Sano neglecting to hustle. It’s difficult to know quite where the Twins go from here.

 

  • Houston Astros – A trendy pick to win the American League pennant, Houston was supposed to take another big step forward this season. They have a precociously talented roster of young stars, led by Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Yet, strangely, the Astros just haven’t got out of the gate well this season, and are now anchored to the bottom of a perplexing AL West. Houston is eleven games below .500, which is deeply worrying for a franchise tied in to a plan for sustainable growth. Dallas Keuchel has been poor, as has the entire pitching staff, which means time is running out in Texas.

Three Up

  • Jackie Bradley Jr is on a historic tear for the Boston Red Sox. The centre fielder, known more for his defensive efficiency, has hit safely in 27 consecutive games. Though unlikely to top the hallowed mark of 56, set by Joe DiMaggio seventy-five years ago, Bradley may eclipse the Red Sox record of 34, ironically held by Joe’s younger brother Dominic.

 

  • Miguel Cabrera is back to his best. The Tigers first baseman took a while to get going, but a formidable May has him batting .327 on the season with 11 home runs, 28 RBI and a .401 on-base percentage. Over the past fifteen games, Miggy has clubbed seven long balls, while his OBP of .600 in the past week defies belief.

 

  • Ben Zobrist embodies everything the Cubs are trying to accomplish, in terms of offensive approach. The guy is an on-base machine, having gotten aboard at a .448 clip this season, tops in the Majors. In the past thirty days, that mark jumps to .495, while Zobrist has also slugged six homers and drove in 29 runs on the season. In every way, Ben is the archetypal Theo Epstein player.

Three Down

  • Mark Teixeira is a notorious slow starter, but even he has never experienced a downturn quite like this. The Yankees slugger is hitting just .193 with a .295 on-base percentage through 166 plate appearances this season. His last home run came on 13th April. Since then, 137 trips to the plate have passed without a long ball. Teixeira has two RBI in May, and he is batting just .140 from the left side this season.

 

  • Giancarlo Stanton, signed to the most lucrative contract in North American sports history, is playing like somebody worthy of the Major League minimum. The Marlins slugger is hitting just .213 on the season, with 60 strikeouts in 178 plate appearances. Admittedly, Stanton does have eleven home runs, but 35% of his trips to the plate in May have resulted in strikeouts. In the past fifteen games, that ratio is 45%. We all love watching the ball fly off his bat, but Giancarlo must quit swinging for the fences or else risk being considered the most overrated player in sports.

 

  • Matt Harvey has New York in full-on Panic Mode right now. Talk radio is ablaze with discussions about the one-time Mets ace, who has been shelled in recent outings. Harvey has a 5.77 ERA and 1.655 WHIP on the season, to compliment six losses already. Noah Syndergaard has surpassed him as the Mets’ number one starter, and Harvey has a lot to prove in the months ahead.

Recommended Media

  • I really enjoyed this episode of Jonah Keri’s podcast, in which he interviews Braves general manager John Coppolella. Keri takes a unique approach, giving fans a glimpse behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Coppolella offers a rare insight into the Braves’ plans moving forward, in a candid exchange noticeable for its lack of PR niceties.

Stat of the Day

  • In his career, Clayton Kershaw is 82-0 when his teammates provide at least four runs of support. That is unbelievably good.
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