Welcome to this week’s edition of the Triple Play. This week, we feature the red-hot Rockies shortstop, a cement-headed Brewer, a power-hitting surprise at second, and the game of the year (well, so far, anyway). Let’s get to it.
The reigning National League Player of the Month has maintained his scorching pace well into the month of May, hitting .428/.519/1.047 in the past week, with four home runs, eight RBI and 7 runs scored coming into Sunday’s game. For the season, Tulo boasts a batting line of .395/.497/.766 with 11 long balls, 33 RBI, and a major-league best 36 runs scored. No other major leaguer with at least 50 at-bats is even close. Now, Tulowitzki has had red-hot stretches like this before. He has proven capable of carrying a team on his back for prolonged periods of time, but, fortunately for the Rockies, he hasn’t had to this season. Charlie Blackmon, Justin Morneau and Nolan Arenado (he of the recent 28-game hitting streak) have more than made up for Carlos Gonzalez’s inconsistent start. Tulo is on pace for 45 homers, nearly 140 RBI, and an impossible-to-maintain 150 runs scored. Of course, he is unlikely to maintain this pace, as his career highs are nowhere near those levels. His best average is nearly 100 points lower (.315, in 2010), while he has never hit 35 home runs or driven in more than 105. The biggest concern with Tulowitzki is his health. He’s always just one sprint down the first-base line or a dive in the hole away from a long-term trip to the disabled list. He hasn’t played more than 140 games in a season since 2011, and the last time he took the field for 150 games or more is 2009. The other issue? His home/road splits. Entering Sunday’s games, he was batting .608/.677/1.775 at Coors Field, but just .257/.372/.557 on the road. As the Rockies try to thwart their history of plummeting down the standings as the weather heats up and their pitchers wear down, it is imperative that Tulowitzki find a way to continue hitting well on the road. If he can do that (and avoid the DL), he should find himself firmly in the conversation for Most Valuable Player at season’s end.
Weeks used to be an effective everyday player for the Brewers, but has become less and less so the past few years. Entering this season, he was expected to be part of a platoon at second base with Scooter Gennett. However, Gennett has played well and pushed Weeks to the bench. His atrocious start (.188/.257/.219 in April) didn’t help, either. Relegated to pinch-hitting duties primarily and the occasional start, Weeks has accumulated just 43 plate appearances this season, with one RBI. As bad as that is, that isn’t what landed Weeks in this week’s Who’s Not section. He earned that distinction thanks to a report last week from CBS Sports. According to that report, Weeks was asked by manager Ron Roenicke to consider learning left field in an effort to boost the team’s production from the position. Last season’s revelation, Khris Davis, has scuffled this season, hitting just .217/.239/.388. Jordan Schafer and Caleb Gindl have been even worse. Despite the Brewers’ great start to the season, Roenicke was wisely looking for some more consistency for his offense (especially now that Aramis Ramirez is on the DL). Weeks said no. Really? So he would prefer one start per week plus a handful of plate appearances as a pinch hitter rather than making himself more valuable to the team (not to mention more marketable to other teams) by being able to play multiple positions. Good to know. So not only has he become a waste of space to fantasy owners, he might just be playing and pouting his way out of a job in Milwaukee. And in a season where the Brewers are exceeding everyone’s expectations, Weeks is showing his true colors by not wanting to be a bigger part of the team.
Playing the Name Game
Name this second baseman: he isn’t setting the world on fire with his batting average (.238), but he leads all players at his position with nine home runs (the total also leads his team). In fact, no other second baseman went into Sunday’s games with more than three. He has speed too. His 11 stolen bases were good for second in the American League for second basemen. So, that rules out players like Chase Utley, Judd Gyorko or big-mouth Brandon Phillips. His defense has been good so far this season. Fangraphs lists his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) at 3.4 above average. Between his offense and his defense, his Wins Above Replacement rating is already 2.8 this season. It can’t be Jason Kipnis, since he’s been on the DL for a couple of weeks with an oblique injury. So who does that leave? Robinson Cano, maybe? He’s got elite power at the position. Nope. Ian Kinsler? No, sir. It can’t be the Angels’ Howie Kendrick, either. Ben Zobrist? No. Okay, it must be Dustin Pedroia then, right? Wrong. He isn’t even one of the top 5 second basemen in the American League right now. It’s Minnesota’s Brian Dozier.
Who is this outfielder? He has started out the past two seasons like a house afire, then the fire suddenly goes out in May. In 2013, he slugged 12 home runs with a 1.136 OPS in April, but then slumped to a .654 OPS the following month. He was even worse in June before getting back on track after the All-Star Break. He’s following the same script this season: a .326/.400/.641 slash line (good for a 1.041 OPS), with eight round-trippers, 18 RBI and 17 runs scored. But once the calendar flipped to May, something changed. This month, he is struggling keep his average above Mendoza-ville (.212/.316/.394), and he has managed just one home run and four runs scored. What is it about the month of May that suddenly seems so disagreeable to him? This wasn’t an issue before he was traded. He’s become a frustrating enigma for his team (and fantasy owners). If you have him on your team, you’re fairly certain to whom I’m referring. Not sure who it is yet? What if I mention that his brother plays for the same team? Yes, I figured that would give it away. It’s Justin Upton of the Braves.
- Hardest-earned home run of the season has got to go to Dodgers catcher Drew Butera, who – in the same at-bat Tuesday night – was hit in the face by a ball fouled off home plate and plunked in the elbow. Later in the game, he hit a homer to left. Might not have eased the physical aches too much, but I’m sure it helped a little.
- The second no-hitter of the season was tossed by another minor-leaguer. This time, it was the Iowa Cubs’ Chris Rusin, who blanked the New Orleans Zephyrs 3-0.
- If you’re anything like me, though, you practically expect Yu Darvish to spin a no-hitter each time he takes the mound. Last time out, it was the Red Sox who nearly were victimized. Only a fluky David Ortiz grounder (through the exaggerated shift, no less) that prevented it. That’s twice in the past two seasons that Darvish has been one out away. It’s bound to happen again soon.
- St. Louis’ game in Pittsburgh last night marked the team’s 26th one in the team’s first 38 games. According to ESPN, that’s the most road games a team has played this early in a season in over 40 years.
- Tulowitzki has been phenomenal this season, but for my money, it’s the Rockies’ 23-year-old Arenado who has become their most exciting player. In addition to the 28-game hitting streak (the longest for any player age 23 or younger since Albert Pujols notched a 30-game streak in 2003), Arenado is a threat to make a highlight-reel defensive play any time a ball is hit towards third base. The play he made several days ago where he cut off a throw from Carlos Gonzalez in left field and tossed it — in mid-air — to his teammate covering third to nab a Mets player who overran the base was nothing short of amazing.
- As impressive as Arenado’s streak was, is Jose Bautista’s 38-game on-base streak even more so? I don’t know of an official statistic for this, but when you’re paying a guy to get on base and produce offense for your team, it sure seems like Bautista is earning his keep – and then some. He’s on pace to hit 40 home runs, knock in 100 and score 140 runs. Unsustainable? Yes. But 100 runs scored would be mighty impressive.
- Is there a player who has been as great as quietly as Adrian Beltre? Last week, he became only the fifth player ever to hit at least 100 home runs for three different teams. Beltre, in his fourth season with Texas, previously hit 147 homers for the Los Angeles Dodgers (1998-2004) and 103 homers for Seattle (2005-09).
- Incidentally, the other players with 100 homers for three different teams are Darrell Evans (Atlanta, San Francisco and Detroit), Reggie Jackson (Kansas City/Oakland, New York Yankees, California), Alex Rodriguez (Seattle, Texas and Yankees) and Jim Thome (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago White Sox).
- Never would have guessed Thome. Didn’t seem like he was in Chicago that long, but there you go. Another example of a player who was quietly great. I remember seeing him in the early 1990s as a minor league in Colorado Springs, when the Sky Sox were the Triple-A affiliate for the Indians. Had no idea that I would be watching a future Hall of Famer.
- Now that CC Sabathia has joined Michael Pinhead, er, Pineda and Ivan Nova on the DL, the Yankees’ rotation behind Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda includes Vidal Nuno, David Phelps and Alfredo Aceves. It’s almost enough to wish the Yankees would put last names on their jerseys.
- Odd stat #1: Stephen Strasburg has allowed eight earned runs in the first inning of his starts this season, good for a 9.00 ERA. From the second inning on, it’s 2.29.
- Odd stat #2: in Wednesday night’s start against Oakland, Felix Hernandez failed to strike out a batter for the first time Aug. 19, 2008, against the Chicago White Sox, ending a streak of 179 straight starts with at least one strikeout
- Great to see Aroldis Chapman back on a mound taking that line drive off his head in spring training. He absolutely blew away the Rockies in the 9th inning Sunday, routinely exceeding 100 mph on the radar gun.
- Does Tracy McGrady REALLY think he’s going to make a major-league roster as a pitcher? I know there are some bad pitchers out there, but seriously?
- Your leader for Game of the Year: Wednesday night, the Class A Clinton Lumber Kings trailed the Burlington Bees 17-1 after five innings. After seven innings, it was 17-7. I admit, I probably would have called it a night at that point. Well, the Kings didn’t. They scored 10 runs in the final two innings to tie the game and send it into extras. In the 12th, Clinton scored three runs to pull out a 20-17 win. Some other fun notes about this game:
- The save was awarded to Lonnie Kauppila, who is normally an infielder. Kauppila said after the game that he hadn’t pitched since 2010 – when he was a senior in high school.
- The winning run was driven in by Justin Seager, whose older brother Kyle is the Mariners’ third baseman.
- Clinton has a player named Burt Reynolds.
- The announced crowd for the game in Burlington, IA was 558. After such a miraculous comeback, you just know there will be 10,000 people who claimed they were there.
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