The Weekend Takeaway
In a sport with a culture as staid and a season as long as baseball's, everyone loves a nice dose of old-fashioned shenanigans. This weekend’s A’s-Royals series was a shenanigan factory.
Everything started in the top of seventh inning on Friday, when Josh Reddick grounded into a 1-5-6 fielder’s choice. Though it was somewhat strange for Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to be covering second base in the first place, he fielded the throw from third baseman Mike Moustakas, turned to first and was unable to complete the turn due to a takeout slide from Brett Lawrie that may or may not have been dirty. I’ll let you judge for yourself.
Escobar fell to the ground in pain with a sprained left knee, and tempers flared in both dugouts. After the game, Lawrie insisted that he had no intention to hurt Escobar, got the shortstop’s phone number from Eric Hosmer and sent a text clarifying his non-intent to cause injury.
However, in perhaps the most interesting tidbit from this whole ordeal, Lawrie got a text back that rejected the apology, but Escobar claimed he never got a text in the first place, with each player showing his phone to corroborate his side of the story. So, whose number did Hosmer give to Lawrie? And, more importantly: Was it yours?
In any case, there was a baseball game on Saturday. Yordano Ventura got the start for the Royals, and was quite good until the fourth inning, when he gave up an RBI double to Stephen Vogt, an RBI single to Billy Butler, and a two-run dinger to Reddick.
Then Lawrie stepped to the plate, and whether it was Ventura’s frustration at the previous events of the inning or leftover animosity from the night before, this happened.
Ventura was swiftly ejected, both benches cleared, and nothing particularly interesting happened for the rest of the game.
I’m of the mind that this was unintentional, mainly judging by catcher Josh Phegley setting up inside and Kazmir’s “aw, hamburgers” tilt of the head after the fact. Royals manager Ned Yost and pitching coach Dave Eiland thought otherwise, though, because they caused enough ruckus from the dugout to get tossed by umpire Greg Gibson.
In the eighth, Lawrie had the misfortune of coming to bat again—lousy rules of baseball—and he was greeted by a fastball behind the back from Kelvin Herrera, who, as he was being led off the field, pointed to his head, which Lawrie took as a signal of his more nefarious future intentions.
Anyways, there was some baseball played between all of this. The Royals took the series two games to one. Paulo Orlando hit an RBI triple—his fourth in four career games!—to drive in the go-ahead run on Friday, and the Royals wound up winning 6-4. After being shut out on Saturday, Kansas City took the rubber game 4-2 on the strength of a three-run eighth, which featured RBI doubles from Cain and Kendrys Morales.
Kansas City continues to be quite good, boosted by a surprisingly stalwart offense, led by Cain’s .413 average.
The Royals’ 9-3 record is second-best in the American League, but also second-best in the American League Central, trailing the Detroit Tigers. Speaking of which…
Quick Hits from the Weekend
The Tigers took two of three games from the White Sox this weekend. They walked off with a 2-1 win on Friday, with José Iglesias singling home Andrew Romine in the bottom of the ninth. Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez then got absolutely obliterated on Saturday, giving up nine runs in 3 1/3 innings to bump his season ERA up to 7.71. Here’s the strike zone plot from that start, which shows that Sanchez was getting crushed even when he was working around the corners and out of the zone.
Sanchez’s velocity was fine, but his four-seamer, sinker and changeup were straight, which proved to be a recipe for getting shelled. The Tigers bounced back on Sunday, though, riding a first-inning grand slam from Yoenis Cespedes to a 9-1 victory. Cespedes also hit a two-run shot in the fifth, giving him six RBIs on the day.
Not to be overshadowed were the strong seven innings the Tigers got from Shane Greene, whose ERA is now 0.39, which is second in the majors. Greene’s success story has not been one of overpowering stuff—he has just 11 strikeouts in 23 innings pitched—though neither one of absolutely sterling control, as his 6.3 percent walk rate is just 48th in baseball.
Greene just isn’t really giving up hits. He doesn’t possess a single overwhelming pitch—his slider has some pretty serious tilt, having averaged 7.9 inches of horizontal movement through his first two starts, via brooksbaseball.net—but mixes everything very well. Through his first two starts of the season, Greene’s least frequently seen pitch was his changeup, at 12 percent of the time, and the most frequent was his sinker, at 36 percent usage. His four-seamer, slider and cutter all rested in the middle.
If Greene is able to keep mixing it up that well and avoid the heart of the plate, he might make the Tigers forget about the ills of Justin Verlander. Of course, if he can keep generating a .188 BABIP, he might make all of us forget about the work of Voros McCracken, and that seems unlikely.
By miraculous coincidence, the Cubs’ front office brass decided on Friday that super-prospect Kris Bryant was ready for big-league action after 12 days in Triple-A, which by MLB service-time rules gives them an extra year of team control of Bryant. How fortuitous!
Bryant entered the Cubs’ lineup in the cleanup spot as the team faced James Shields and the Padres at Wrigley Field. In his first at-bat, he hit a ball approximately 550 feet, which landed in the rooftop bleachers on Waveland right in the lap of a cancer-stricken 6-year-old, who was instantly cured.
I’m just kidding. He struck out on three pitches. Bryant struck out in the second at-bat, then again in his third. He didn’t put a ball in play until his fourth plate appearance, when he grounded into a fielder’s choice against Dale Thayer.
Bryant was much more productive in Saturday’s game, walking three times and hitting an RBI single to center for his first hit. On Sunday, he hit his first career extra-base hit, a double to center field.
The debut of their top prospect covered up what was a pretty lousy weekend for the Cubs, who lost two of three to San Diego. Sunday’s 5-2 defeat was particularly troubling, as Jon Lester again failed to turn in a performance befitting the fat contract he signed in the offseason. He wasn’t terrible, giving up three runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings, but he struck out just four and showed faulty command, throwing just 57 of his 97 pitches for strikes.
Lester did, however, offer a possible to solution to his impinged ability to throw to first. When a comebacker from Clint Barmes got stuck in his glove, Lester just tossed the whole thing to Anthony Rizzo.
The Cubs are currently 6-5, two games back of the Cardinals in the N.L. Central.
Alex Rodriguez is mashing like it’s Arlington, Texas in 2003. His .316 batting is helping a moribund Yankees offense keep its head above water, and on Friday, he hit two dingers against Tampa Bay, including this absolute tank shot which was estimated to have traveled 477 feet.
Rodriguez’s stats might belie even greater success, as this graph, created by Rob Arthur on Saturday afternoon, plots isolated power against their average batted ball velocity. Rodriguez is that dot furthest to the right.
— Rob Arthur (@No_Little_Plans) April 18, 2015
The Yankees wound up sweeping the Rays, with Rodriguez contributing four hits and Masahiro Tanaka turning in a fantastic start on Saturday, giving up just two hits in seven innings. Contrary to his earlier junkballing ways, Tanaka worked primarily off the hard stuff on Saturday, throwing his four-seamer 25 times—the most of any of his pitches—and the sinker and cutter 12 times each.
Tanaka averaged 92 mph with his fastball and topped out at 94.1. For comparison, he threw the four-seamer 21 times on April 12th against Boston—a start in which Tanaka threw 97 pitches, as opposed to 85 on Saturday—and just five times in his season-opening start. Tanaka also threw his curveball 10 times against the Rays; he had used the pitch just twice prior to that start.
There are currently two MLB teams with 10 wins: the aforementioned Tigers, and the Mets. New York won three games over the weekend, and while they were against the lowly Marlins, a sweep is a sweep, and it puts them four games up on the Nationals in the N.L. East. (Technically, they’re also 1.5 games clear of the Braves, but Atlanta's footsteps are much less intimidating.)
The ageless Bartolo Colon gave up a run in seven innings on Friday, Jacob deGrom threw seven scoreless frames on Saturday, and Matt Harvey gave up four runs in six-plus innings on Sunday, but still had seven strikeouts. It appears that, yes, the Mets rotation is quite good.
All is not totally peachy in Queens, however. The bullpen depth looks suspect, with Jenrry Mejia picking up an 80-game suspension for use of an anabolic steroid, Vic Black’s rehab not progressing smoothly and Jerry Blevins suffering a fractured left forearm on Sunday. And catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who had been hitting .317 and slugging .537, also broke his right hand, leaving the Mets to rely on the rookie Kevin Plawecki and the handsome Anthony Recker.
Unless the rest of the lineup can seriously pick up the slack, it might not be long before the Nationals snap out of their malaise and charge up the standings. And remember: That’s a team that’s been without Anthony Rendon and Denard Span and has bitten by a bad-curveball-having Stephen Strasburg.
Defensive play of the weekend
This one’s from the college ranks: Iowa center fielder Eric Toole made this bonkers diving catch on Friday against Northwestern, running back and going full-extension to rob what would likely have been a leadoff triple.
The 20th-ranked Hawkeyes continued their ascendance in the Big Ten this weekend, taking two of three from Northwestern to put themselves half a game behind Illinois in the conference standings.
What to watch on Monday
The White Sox and Indians will face off in a battle between the AL Central's disappointments. Trevor Bauer is set to get the ball for Cleveland, and he has been very difficult to hit in the early going, but also shockingly wild. Bauer walked five batters in six no-hit innings in his first start, then put four men on in six innings against the White Sox. However, he’s struck out 19 between those two starts and only allowed four hits. Will Bauer continue to show the electric stuff he’s displayed so far, and maybe throw some more strikes, or will his arsenal dull and the strong fly-ball tendencies he’s showed so far bite him in the hitter’s paradise of U.S. Cellular Field? Well, if I knew, I wouldn’t be writing this section, ya knuckleheads.
Which Kendall Graveman will we see when the A’s take on the Angels? Will it be the one who got manhandled for eight runs in 3 1/3 innings against the Rangers in his first start, or the one who was quite good against the Astros, allowing four hits and no runs—albeit with four walks—in 5 1/3 frames? The answer might lie in Graveman’s ability to mix in his offspeed pitches. He threw his changeup and slider 28 times in his start against Houston, but only once did he throw an offspeed pitch—and it was a slider, so not that offspeed—against Texas. So basically, Graveman should working on changing speeds. Seems pretty basic, right?
Another somewhat promising rookie will get a start on Monday, as the Astros’ Asher Wojciechowski goes against the Mariners. Wojciechowski was a supplemental first-round pick, and his strong fastball and big frame gave him some prospect pedigree, but he was injured quite a bit in 2014 and got walloped in Triple-A. It didn’t look like he had turned a corner in his first outing of 2015, when the Indians knocked him around for four innings. Wojciechowski gave up eight hits and four runs in the outing, and perhaps most of most for concern for a guy the team hoped to be an innings-eater, threw only 50 strikes in 88 pitches. Wojciechowski was better in a four-inning relief stint against Oakland on April 13th, but Monday could be a crucial outing for the big right-hander to show he deserves to be in the rotation.