Andrew McCutchen is continuing his pace to stardom and bringing big attention to Pittsburgh.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Remember when Matt Kemp was “the league’s best player, and the most valuable player to his team”—not to mention “the best show in the NL.” Over his first 100 at-bats of the season, Kemp produced 40 hits, including four doubles, a triple, and 12 home runs. The Dodgers were running away with the National League West, and Kemp was running away with the Most Valuable Player race.
No one knows how long a healthy Kemp could have sustained his incredible early-season run, though by the time he landed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury on May 13, his batting average was down to .359, and he had added only one more extra-base hit. Likewise, no one could have predicted that a player would top that run less two months later.
The Pirates have gained sole possession of first place in the NL Central, mirroring their brief run from 2011, and a conversation with Ron Gardenhire.
The Pirates have been down this road before. In fact, it was just a year ago. The Pirates were one of the best stories in baseball approaching the All-Star break in 2011. They were in contention in the National League Central and even sported a winning record, something they have not achieved since 1992.
The Kansas City Royals are suffering through yet another losing season, but the team still trusts in The Process, and an interview with Andrew McCutchen.
When Dayton Moore was hired as general manager by the Royals in June 2006, he talked about how it would be a process to turn around a franchise that hadn't been to the postseason since 1985. Moore used the word so much over time that the business of restoring the Royals to respectability became known as “The Process” by their fans.
Stephen Strasburg faced the Pirates for the first time since his major-league debut, and he reeled off a similar line.
The Thursday Takeaway
Merry Strasmas, Nationals fans. With the team coming off a disappointing three-game skid, Stephen Strasburg took the mound against the Pirates and played stopper with results strikingly similar to his major-league debut.
Back on June 8, 2010, Strasburg surpassed even the loftiest of expectations by striking out 14 batters without issuing a walk over seven innings in his first career start. Strasburg’s victims that night were the Pirates, who managed only two runs on four hits, one of which was a Delwyn Young homer.
The tater trots for April 20: two inside-the-park home runs, plus an invalid trot from David Ortiz!
What do you do when two different players each hit an inside-the-park home run on the same night? Normally, one is good enough for Home Run of the Day, but how do you choose? And what if they both come on a once-in-a-century day where two storied teams are wearing fantastic uniforms from generations past while celebrating the birthday of a park like Fenway? Especially when there are six different home runs in that game? And let's not forget a pair of home runs from last year's sad sack story Adam Dunn, or home run number 631(good enough for fifth all-time) from Alex Rodriguez?
Alvarez is 1-for-19 to start the season, but are the images as ugly as the numbers?
Later tonight, the Pirates will take on the Diamondbacks. Pittsburgh is unlikely to start Pedro Alvarez because Joe Saunders is scheduled to take the mound for Arizona. Alvarez as a platoon player isn’t what the Pirates envisioned for him back on Draft Day 2008, but the reality is more grim. There are slow starts, and then there are 1-for-19-with-12-strikeout starts. Why is Alvarez floundering? I went back and reviewed his at-bats while taking some notes.
For baseball's underdogs, why not here, why not now?
On Opening Day of last season, Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds gave the Arizona Diamondbacks a 1.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Until May 25th, their record remained under .500, and their playoff odds stayed stuck under 2 percent. That was when they made their move, morphing into the season’s most surprising success. From May 26th through the end of the season, they went 69-44, winning the National League West with eight games to spare.
There’s no way anyone could have known that the Diamondbacks would be that good, for the simple reason that they weren’t that good. The D-backs had a run-of-the-mill rotation and relief corps, a defense that was no better than decent, and a league-average lineup that hit much worse away from Chase Field. However, they also stayed healthy, losing the fewest days to injury of any NL team. Perhaps more importantly, they recorded a league-best 28-16 record in one-run games, which often hinge as much on luck as they do on skill. As a result, they outplayed their third-order winning percentage—an expected record based on underlying statistics and adjusted for quality of opponents—by 10 1/2 games, the biggest margin in baseball.
What are some of the big questions surrounding the AL and NL Central?
Continuing what I started with the two East divisions on Friday, I've identified one nagging question I have about each team coming out of spring training, one loose thread that I can't resist tugging upon as the season nears. Today, it's the two Central divisions.