Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we look at a Red-hot outfielder, a National disaster of a starter, and more (including our weekly Wainwright Walk Watch). Off we go:
Jay Bruce, Cincinnati Reds
Sorry for the pun up above. But take a look at that the Reds’ right fielder has done over the past two weeks and you’ll understand: a .322/.349/.796 slash line, eight home runs, 14 RBI, and 10 runs scored. What’s more, Bruce had a stretch where seven straight hits sailed out of the park. Red hot, indeed. For the season, he has 18 homers (tied for 4th in the NL) and 54 RBI (5th). The 26-year-old is on track to belt 38 homers, knock in 115 and score 95 runs, which would all represent career highs. Isn’t amazing what happens when Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are on base in front of you regularly? Each season of his career, Bruce’s home run total has gone up, and that’s on pace to continue in 2013. The .279 average and lack of stolen bases prevent Bruce from approaching Carlos Gonzalez-territory in the fantasy baseball world, but you won’t find a Reds fan complaining right now. With Ryan Ludwick’s injury, the team needed Bruce to step up and he has responded in a big way.
Dan Haren, Washington Nationals
How far has Haren fallen? While with the Los Angeles Angels in 2011, Haren started 34 games and led the American League with a 5.82 K-to-BB ratio while winning 16 games. In 2013, Haren has started 16 games for the Nats and leads the NL in hits allowed (105), earned runs allowed (56) and homers allowed (19). What exactly has happened? Haren has offered no excuses for his ghastly performance, but after his most recent start Saturday, manager Davey Johnson said that his big righty has been dealing with stiffness in his pitching shoulder. Washington GM Mike Rizzo confirmed as much Sunday, saying a trip to the disabled list is imminent. Whether a shoulder injury actually exists is anyone’s guess, but the DL trip should serve as a welcome break to fantasy owners and Nationals fans alike.
Playing the Name Game
Name this team: .239/.306/.384, 283 runs scored, 72 HR, 50 SB, 3.20 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 61 HR allowed, 591 strikeouts.
This team ranks 11th in the National League in most batting statistics, but they are tops in ERA, fewest hits allowed and third in home runs allowed. As this team continues to rise and improve in a virtually unnoticed way, I am reminded of the old American Express commercial from the original Major League movie: “Hi, do you know us? We’re a professional baseball team. But, since we haven’t won a pennant in over (20) years, nobody recognizes us, even in our own hometown.”
Right now, their top starter is on the disabled list, their best position player hasn’t really gotten going yet and their most prolific slugger is hitting below .240. Recognize this team yet? They play in one of the most beautiful parks in all of baseball, where their fans are desperate for a winning season, which last happened when their pre-steroid slugger still played there. Got it now? Yes, it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates, who sit one game back of St. Louis in the NL Central.
The team hasn’t had a winning season since 1992, when Barry Bonds was last seen noodle-arming a throw home that failed to retire the slow-footed Sid Bream in Game 7 of the NLCS. It’s been a long dry spell for Pirates fans. The past two seasons, Pittsburgh flirted with first place in July, only to falter badly down the stretch. This current Pirates team is a fascinating bunch. Their ace, A.J. Burnett, is out with a torn calf muscle in his right leg, but was leading the NL in strikeouts before the injury. Andrew McCutchen, their All-Star center fielder, is currently hitting .288/.357/.453 with only eight homers – a far cry from the 18 he bashed in the first half of 2012. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is red hot right now (three homers, seven RBI over the weekend against the Angels), but struggles mightily to make consistent contact. When he does, though, the results are mighty impressive. Despite a .234/.301/.498 batting line, he leads the team in home runs and RBI. If the 26-year-old Alvarez could drag his average up to the .275 range, he would be a threat to launch 50 home runs a season.
The keys to the Pirates’ success this season have been huge contributions from unexpected players. Left fielder Starling Marte leads the team with 22 stolen bases. Rookie lefty Jeff Locke is 6-1 with a 2.01 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and the lowest H/9 ratio among the team’s starters. Veteran Francisco Liriano has been every bit as good, going 6-3 with a 2.30 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and the lowest HR/9 ratio in the rotation. Closer Jason Grilli has been among the best in all of baseball, saving 26 games with an eye-popping 15 strikeouts per nine innings. Best of all, prized rookie Gerrit Cole has been worthy of the hype, averaging over six innings in each of his three starts (all wins) while walking just one batter. Set-up man Mark Melancon (acquired in the Joel Hanrahan deal with Boston) has been every bit as dominant, sporting a 0.99 ERA/0.88 WHIP.
What should be frightening for the division-leading St. Louis Cardinals (and the rest of the NL) is that lineup anchors McCutchen and Neil Walker have yet to get going offensively compared to 2012. McCutchen is just too good to keep hitting below .300. Walker isn’t the same kind of force, but he’s much better than he has shown. With Burnett, his injury may prove a blessing in disguise; if he can return from the calf injury rested, it may prevent the fatigue that slowed him down the stretch in 2012. The 2013 Pirates are 16 games above .500, largely on the strength of their starting pitching and dominant bullpen. If they can combine improved hitting with that pitching, they will not fade the same way they have the past two seasons – and the rest of the National League had better beware.
Incidentally, the Pirates and Cardinals still have 14 games against one another this season. It is shaping up to be an exciting season in Pittsburgh.
- Wainwright Walk Watch: Adam Wainwright pitched 37 consecutive innings before issuing his first walk of the season. All season long, we are keeping track of how few free passes are handed out by the Cardinals’ ace. Sunday night, he walked one batter (while striking out six) in a 2-1 loss to Texas. That gives him 10 walks on the season (versus 106 strikeouts), leaving him with a better than 10-to-1 K/BB ratio, which is still the best in the NL (as is his 0.8 BB/9 ratio). Sunday’s game was a struggle, though, as Wainwright went to a 3-ball count several times against the Rangers. He has now dropped two straight decisions, leaving him with a 10-5/2.31/ 1.01 pitching line for the season. He will look to bounce back at Oakland this Saturday.
- Considering how the Rangers had been scuffling coming into the series in St. Louis (their first trip back since the 2011 World Series), their sweep was particularly impressive. Still, I don’t think that Texas truly considers it “revenge.” It’s a little like losing a winning Powerball ticket and having to replace it with a lottery scratcher. Nice, but just not quite the same.
- Wil Myers’ stats after one week: .280/.440/.720, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 runs. Yasiel Puig really set the bar too high for everyone else.
- In related news, Jeff Francoeur is still playing right field in Kansas City, where he sports a rally-killing .143 batting average this month.
- The Angels get a rare quality start from Joe Blanton (7 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 6 K), only to watch the bullpen allow seven runs in the final two innings. It’s been That Kind of Season for baseball in Los Angeles.
- Speaking of which, Matt Kemp with 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in his first rehab game with Triple-A Albuquerque. Yikes.
- I have read twice in the past week that Toronto might trade Josh Johnson at the trade deadline. This makes no sense at all. The Blue Jays have won 11 straight and are on the verge of getting Jose Reyes back into their lineup. With no clear front-runner in the AL East (sorry, not buying Boston yet), why would they deal away one of their top starters? Oh, right. It’s coming up on the Silly Season – you know, that time of year when baseball writers start throwing as much stuff against the wall as they can think of, just to see if any of it sticks.
- During their 11-game streak, the Blue Jays have swept three consecutive series for the first time in 15 years.
- With each stellar start, I’m becoming more convinced that Matt Harvey should start for the NL at the All-Star Game at Citi Field. It might be the biggest highlight of the Mets’ season.
- In the AL, Max Scherzer is looking like the guy. First time in Tigers’ history that a starter has gone 11-0 to start the season. Detroit has had some pretty darn good pitchers in its history. Think the Diamondbacks might like a do-over on that trade?
- The Rockies have made some smart moves recently, namely jettisoning Jon Garland/Jeff Francis from the rotation in favor of Tyler Chatwood/Roy Oswalt, and dumping all-around liability Eric Young Jr. Here’s another they should make post haste: 1) promote Drew Pomeranz into the rotation and move Juan Nicasio to the bullpen, where he could serve as a late-inning weapon. Pomeranz is 8-1 with a 1.35 WHIP down at Triple-A Colorado Springs, with 96 punchouts in 85 innings and only 33 walks. He appears to be ready for his second try at the majors. Beyond closer Rex Brothers, Colorado’s bullpen is a mess. They desperately miss Rafael Betancourt (although he hopes to return within a week), and ballyhooed off-season acquisition Wilton Lopez has been abominable since day one. Nicasio and Brothers could form a strong bridge to Betancourt and allow the Rockies to avoid falling further behind in the NL West.
- I’m still shaking my head at the Mariners’ box score from Sunday – Jeremy Bonderman and Oliver Perez both pitching well. Is this 2013 or 2006?
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