The Weekend Takeaway
Since 1970, only four players have kicked off their major-league careers by collecting at least one extra-base hit in each of their first four games. But before you start racking your brains for the answers to that bit of trivia, here’s a hint: Had I asked you the question in March, the only answer would have been Jason Bay.
During the past five months, three rookies have broken into a group that once was as exclusive as the 700-home run club. Between 1918 and Opening Day this year, only three players—Enos Slaughter (1938), Coco Laboy (1969), and Bay (2003)—accomplished the aforementioned feat. Yoenis Cespedes joined them in April. Will Middlebrooks, the only one since Slaughter to do it in five straight, got his membership card in May. And now, those five will have to make room for Manny Machado.
With the Orioles improbably still afloat in the American League wild-card race, first-year general manager Dan Duquette decided on Thursday that it was time to go all-in. His final chip: Machado, the 20-year-old infielder some scouts have likened to Alex Rodriguez.
Four games into his major-league career, Machado has already done something A-Rod will never do. He tripled in his debut on Thursday, made history by going deep twice on Friday, doubled on Saturday, and added another home run in Sunday’s 5-3 win over the Royals to push his extra-base-hit streak to four. Remember when Bradley Ankrom mused last week about who would usurp Mike Trout’s title as the best 20-year-old in baseball? Answer: This guy.
Machado’s instant impact is just the latest in a string of debuts that have taken the baseball world by storm this season. Bryce Harper has looked human over the past two months, but five games into his career, he was sitting on a 1.014 OPS. Cespedes didn’t take long to announce his arrival by going yard in his second, third, and fourth stateside contests. Middlebrooks is likely to miss the rest of the season with a broken wrist, but his performance out of the gate made a disgruntled Kevin Youkilis expendable. And Trout, who warmed up with a cup of coffee last year? Well, he might already have the American League MVP award signed, sealed, and delivered.
The Orioles are off tonight, which means that Machado will have to wait until Tuesday for his chance to join Slaughter and Middlebrooks in the five-in-a-row club. A date with Josh Beckett is all that stands in his way.
What to Watch for on Monday
- Josh Hamilton was cold for a while, but now he’s heating up again—and just in time, as the Rangers travel to the Bronx for a four-game showdown between the American League’s two best teams. After smacking only one home run between July 18 and August 7, Hamilton has hit three in his last four games, pulling back ahead of Adam Dunn for the league lead at 32. Despite his historic Home Run Derby effort in 2008, Hamilton has never gone deep in a regular-season game at (old or new) Yankee Stadium. He’ll try to stay hot and send the Bleacher Creatures scurrying for the first time in the series opener (7:05 p.m. ET).
- Some feats in baseball are so incredible, you wonder if they were intentionally orchestrated in a season of MLB 12: The Show. Clint Barmes’ 1-to-57 BB/K against right-handed pitching may top the list of such accomplishments this season. The Pirates shortstop hit a grand slam off Ross Ohlendorf on Sunday, is a quality defender, and is one of only two active major-league representatives of Indiana State University, but that revolting ratio had, through Saturday, saddled him with a -12.6 VORP, the second-worst mark in the National League (only James Loney lagged behind at -15.4). There is some good news in store for Barmes, though: The Dodgers, armed with both Loney and Monday’s starting pitcher Aaron Harang, are coming to PNC Park for a four-game series. Barmes has gone 4-for-9 with three walks in his past encounters with the 6-foot-7, 260-pound northpaw, so perhaps the insanity will end tonight (7:05 p.m. ET).
- Anibal Sanchez’s first three starts in a Tigers uniform have not gone well for the former Marlins righty. The 28-year-old has been charged with 13 earned runs in 15 innings (7.80 ERA)—and deservedly so, considering that he has served up four home runs and compiled a 10-to-7 K/BB. Sanchez can take solace in the fact that most of that damage came at the Rogers Centre and in a home matchup with the Yankees, two of the toughest assignments in the junior circuit. He will try to get back on track in tonight’s series opener against the Twins at Target Field (8:10 p.m. ET).
- Sam Miller examined Mike Fiers’ remarkable success last month, and the 27-year-old rookie has shown no signs of slowing down in the interim. Fiers has actually lowered his ERA from 2.31 to 1.80 since the All-Star break, and he has allowed only one home run in his last 11 starts. That ability to keep the ball in the yard may be tested tonight, as Fiers is set to take the mound at Coors Field for the first time in his young career. The Rockies will counter with Jeff Francis (9:40 p.m. ET).
- Monday’s best pitchers’ duel may take place late on the west coast, where the Nationals will send Gio Gonzalez to the hill to take on Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants. Davey Johnson’s team had an eight-game winning streak snapped in yesterday’s 7-4 loss to the Diamondbacks, but its 39-22 road record is the best in the league. That ledger will be put to the test tonight, though, as Vogelsong has logged a 1.42 ERA in 11 starts at AT&T Park this season (10:15 p.m. ET).