The Astros strike out a slew to set one record, Fernandez whiffs a bunch to tie a franchise mark, and Jackie Bradley is back to being a regular guy.
The Thursday Takeaway
With the power-packed but whiff-happy Astros and Orioles squaring off this week, strikeouts were sure to be a-plenty at Minute Maid. Suffice it to say that the Astros’ arms held up their end of the bargain.
After Houston struck out 19 Baltimore batters in the opener and 18 more in the middle match, Lance McCullers took it upon himself to bring his team into record territory. The right-hander was effectively wild Thursday,
That’s the reality to which many big-league GMs woke up Tuesday morning, now that Strasburg appears to have agreed to a seven-year deal worth $175 million (or more) with the Nationals. For those among that group who hadn’t gotten their free-agent pitching spending out of the way by now, this is very bad news. Billy Eppler, Brian Cashman, Dan Duquette, Dayton Moore, Neal Huntington, A.J. Preller, and Jerry Dipoto all would have liked the chance to bid on Strasburg this winter, even if most of them run teams unable to realistically meet the asking price he would have been able to set on the open market. Now, they face the unpleasant prospect of improving their pitching staffs for 2017 without having a single ace to chase. It’s perfectly possible that Rich Hill will get the biggest free-agent deal handed out to any starting pitcher in the coming winter.
“From the beginning,” Ted Cruz said, “I’ve said that I would continue on, as long as there was a viable path to victory. Tonight, I’m sorry to say, it appears, that that path has been foreclosed.” He said it slower than you just read it. (Nope, even slower. Try again.) What he was saying, though, was that he no longer had any hope of winning the Republican nomination for President, and so, he was finally giving up. To be sure, Cruz hung in there as long as he could. If his opponent were anyone other than Donald Trump, or if Cruz were anyone other than himself, the pendulum would have swung in one direction or the other long ago, and things would have been decided. As it was, the nomination fight dragged into the spring, allowing Cruz’s capitulation to act as a backdrop (perhaps) for the dying of another Texas dream.
The Astros won Tuesday night. That’s the good news. The bad news, beyond the fact that the win came over the lowly (and even lowlier than we thought, maybe) Twins, is that that win pulled them up to 9-18. The only team in the Wild Card era to make the playoffs after such a start was the remarkable Oakland unit from 2001. That team was streaky: They surged from that 9-18 mark to reach .500 at 22-22, and then treaded water until the halfway point, before finishing a ridiculous 63-18 over the second half of their schedule and racking up 102 wins for the season. Those A’s aren’t really a model you want to count on reproducing, especially given that the league of which they were a part, the league they eventually routed past, was a more polarized, weaker one than the Astros have before them. History says it’s probably too late already, for Houston.
Is the #process going to suffer the same fate as every other broadly embraced tactic?
The all-out, sell-it-if-it-ain’t-nailed-down, multi-year rebuild is totally in vogue. It seems to be working too. The Royals—whose rebuild appeared to have flopped by 2013—are coming off a World Series Championship and consecutive World Series appearances. The team the Royals defeated in last year’s World Series was none other than the fresh-out-of-a-rebuild (or at least just-not-spending-money) Mets. The Cubs, who lost to the Mets in the 2015 NLCS and who entered the 2016 season with the highest odds (per the odds makers) to win the World Series, appear to be perennial contenders after completely overhauling their roster upon the arrival of team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer in 2011. The Astros' drastic rebuild was well documented during their playoff run last year, as is that of the Braves. The Phillies’ rebuild even appears to be going better than planned.
You all, of course, already knew all this, but the point, as maybe unnecessary as it is, is made. It seems that all teams have to do is be diligent about providing a terrible major-league product for several years in order to enjoy success for many years thereafter. For those who have been paying attention, and especially for those who have frustratingly watched their teams stagnate in mediocrity (or worse) for years, the full-rebuild (as we will refer to it here) can appear to not only be a savior, but also optimal strategy.
Adam Wainwright is a exit-velo monster at the dish, Dallas Keuchel loses a streak, and Lorenzo Cain has a tough night.
The Monday Takeaway
For those who sought to go out on a limb with their World Series picks this spring, the Rangers represented an alluring dark horse. They were so alluring, in fact, that, at least in this neck of the woods, the horse in question wasn’t dark at all. Five BP’ers, including yours truly, pegged Texas to go all the way in 2016, giving Jeff Banister’s club more backing than any other except the Cubs.
The Rangers had plenty going for them as a tempting pennant pick. They’d have a full season of Cole Hamels. They sported a breakout candidate in Rougned Odor. They’d added a cheap, high-upside bat in Ian Desmond near the end of the offseason. And, beyond all that, the injury-ravaged 2015 outfit had managed to win 88 games and the American League West. But, while I can’t speak for my colleagues, the determining factor behind my preseason vote was the potential for internal reinforcements to greatly bolster the roster midyear.
Testing the belief that ninth-inning losses hurt more.
There’s nothing more thrilling in baseball than a ninth-inning comeback. Unless, of course, it’s your team being victimized by the comeback. Then, there’s nothing worse. To have fought for eight innings and held the lead, only to have the game snatched away in the ninth. It might leave the other team breathless, but it will leave you with a nasty scar.
HACKING MASS, as you surely know, is fantasy baseball flipped on its head. The goal, unlike conventional fantasy, is to pick the worst players in the league and the catch is that the players can’t just be bad—they have to be both bad and in the major leagues, accumulating playing time. The rules make assembling a winning roster a balancing act between finding glove-first guys, aging veterans with big contracts, and long-leashed youngsters on bad teams.
How a cycling equipment company splashed color onto every baseball broadcast.
You may have noticed a trend of major-league players using brightly colored bat grips in recent seasons. Bats that were once adorned only by pine tar buildup and cleat marks were now wrapped with a rubber-like material that was only seen on metal or composite bats to that point. What was once reserved for Little League had made its way to the highest level of the sport.
Behind this transformation in brightly colored grip tapes was a company who first made hay in the cycling industry. Their vision and, frankly, good fortune, have made images like the one below commonplace across the majors. Lizard Skins, a company who saw an opportunity to improve the feel players have with their bats, is now a big player in the baseball world.
There's the obvious, the non-obvious, and the ominous.
When the Astros acquired Ken Giles back in December, it felt like a logical next step for a team on the rise. Houston’s built a powerhouse around good drafting and developing—young stars Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Dallas Keuchel might even be better than advertised—and getting Giles from Philadelphia represented a win-now approach for an organization shedding the habits of its slow-burn rebuild.
The expectation was that Giles would take over the closer role from the soon-to-be 32-year-old Luke Gregerson, demoting the former ‘Stros closer back to a familiar setup role while making the bullpen that much stronger. That expectation was curiously not met when the Astros announced earlier this month that Gregerson would remain the closer, with Giles being used in “a more versatile role that can help [the Astros] win the most games.” What are the Astros thinking?
Three middle infielders are hitting all the home runs.
The Wednesday Takeaway
In 1941, Boston Red Sox second baseman Bobby Doerr started off the season by hitting a homer in each of Boston’s first three games. For 75 years, that was the benchmark for hot-hitting second basemen, until Robinson Cano decided that it was time to meet that benchmark. Cano slugged two homers on Wednesday afternoon against the Rangers—one in the first inning, and another in the top of the ninth inning to cap a five-run comeback that powered the Seattle Mariners to a 9-5 victory over Texas.