Welcome to this week’s edition of the Triple Play. This week, we look at an outfielder who has stepped up his game, a commentator who needs to step away from the game, a team turning a nifty triple play feat, and more. Off we go:
Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers
Going into this season, opinions were sharply divided as to whether Puig would be a one-year flash in the pan, or if he truly was as good as he appeared to be in 2013. So far, the answer appears to be the latter. Puig has been white hot this month, hitting .403/.486/.774, with a 1.260 OPS. In the past week, Puig has belted four homers, knocked in 11, and scored six runs. As impressive as his power is, the improved plate discipline has been even more so. After drawing 36 walks in 432 plate appearances last season, Puig has already walked 19 times in 173 PAs this season. At this rate, Puig is on pace for 33 homers, 131 RBI, 15 steals, 82 runs scored — and 71 walks. While he is still prone to baserunning blunders or an unnecessary bat flip on a routine fly ball, there is no question that Puig has become a man with a plan every time he comes to bat. As long as he can maintain that selectivity, he’s going to stay in the company of the elite outfielders like Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton. He has earned the confidence of manager Don Mattingly, who told MLB.com that Puig has “become more patient and getting more strikes. Last year, he was more emotional. He’s quit chasing, made adjustments.” While Puig won’t keep hitting .400, it seems that the only thing preventing him from continuing to rack up big numbers is the outfield wall.
Mitch Williams, professional windbag
Last week, it was a current player (Rickie Weeks) acting like a petulant brat. This week, it’s a former player. The former Phillies closer has had a week to forget. First, it was news of him being tossed from a Ripken Baseball tournament game for arguing with an umpire. Onlookers have been quoted as saying that Williams was swearing loud enough for the players and fans to hear the choice words. He disputed the report, but nonetheless issued an apology on Twitter. The latest bit of news is much worse: Williams, according to Deadspin, ordered one of his pitchers to intentionally plunk a hitter. Why is this such an obscene action? Because the kids are age 10 and under. Multiple reports have indicated that Williams was heckling the other team’s coaches, and even used a demeaning slur when referring to the other team’s pitcher. Now, can anyone really be surprised that Williams would spout a bunch of nonsense during a game? If you have ever watched him for five minutes on the MLB Network, you know that he’s every bit as clueless about the game as Joe Morgan or any Yankees announcer. But ordering an intentional drilling of an opposing player in a U10 league, regardless of its competitive nature, is so far beyond ridiculous that he should be banned from ever coaching baseball again. In a move that should surprise no one, MLB Network announced Saturday that Williams was “taking a leave of absence” from his job as a blowhard, er, analyst. I hope that extends to his “coaching” duties as well. Williams doesn’t belong anywhere near a baseball field.
Playing the Name Game
Player A, past three starts: 3-0, 2.01 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 20:1 K:BB ratio
Player B, past three starts: 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 23:4 K:BB ratio
Player A joined his new team amid a mountain of hype – and has delivered. With 60% of the opening day rotation on the disabled list, his consistency has been crucial for his team. The stats above are what he’s done the past two weeks. For the season, he has six wins, with a 2.17 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. His control has been impeccable (seven walks in 58 innings, versus 66 strikeouts). He’s on pace to fan over 250 hitters in 230 innings, which would be dominance and durability far beyond what his team could have expected. Without him, his team unquestionably be below .500 and possibly even in last place in its division, given the competition.
Player B has unexpectedly emerged as his team’s ace, despite being the #3 starter. He has allowed one home run this season in 52 innings, and a rotation-low 14 earned runs. He is averaging more than six innings per start and his 2.42 ERA and 2.47 FIP show that his pitching hasn’t been a fluke. His success this year has been surprising, but his talent has never been questioned. He possesses a heater that averages 96 mph, plus a devastating slider that he has been able to locate much better than in previous years. At age 26, he has the look of a budding ace.
Player A is the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka. Player B is the Angels’ Garrett Richards.
- Here at the Triple Play, we are big fans of, well, the triple play. So, for this week, we’re big fans of the Penn State baseball team, which turned not one, but TWO trifectas in one game Friday against Michigan State. The first one happened in the fourth inning with runners on first and second. The shortstop snared a line drive, then raced to the second base bag to double off the runner there and fired to first, just in time to nail the other runner for the third out. In the eighth, Michigan State again placed runners on 1st and 2nd with nobody out. This time, the ball reached the second baseman, who caught the liner, flipped to short, who threw to first for the third out. The Associated Press reported that this is the second time an NCAA Division I team achieved the feat (Gonzaga did it previously in 2006). Despite the double-triple feat, Michigan State won the game, 4-2.
- Not to be outdone, the Rockies turned one of their own Sunday afternoon against the Padres. With runners on 1st and 2nd and no one out (detecting a theme here?), Carlos Quentin hit a groundball to third baseman Nolan Arenado, who stepped on third, fired to second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, who relayed to Justin Morneau at first for the third out. It looked like Quentin may have been safe, but it became moot when the umpire ruled that Seth Smith interfered with LeMahieu at second.
- Big kudos to Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg for calling out Jonathan Papelbon for his unwillingness to pitch for a third consecutive game last weekend. The Phillies’ bullpen hasn’t exactly been lights-out this season and they eventually lost the game for which the loudmouth closer declared himself unavailable. When you’re the highest-paid relief pitcher in the league (and yammer as much as Papelbon), you get out there and pitch when the manager says. Sandberg said he needs someone who can pitch three straight games – “that’s his job.” Good for you, Ryno.
- News: the Marlins sign Randy Wolf to replace Jose Fernandez’s spot on the roster. Views: this is not unlike taking your Ferrari in for repairs and getting a Ford Fiesta as a loner car.
- Earlier this season, we had some fun at the expense of Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa, calling him Jorge Diva Rosa, partially due to his temper tantrums and pouting. It also was partially due to his atrocious pitching (7.58 ERA, 29 baserunners allowed in his first four starts). It’s only fair, then, to note that in his past five starts, De La Rosa has regained his composure and his effectiveness (four quality starts, 2.03 ERA, 60% of his pitches thrown for strikes). His turnaround couldn’t have come at a better time for the Rockies, because….
- ….it looks like the clock has struck midnight on Jordan Lyles. After spinning four consecutive quality starts, his past two have not been as good. In his last 9 1/3 innings, Lyles has surrendered nine hits, walked 10, and hit one. Saturday night was particularly ugly….In the span of two pitches, he: 1) surrendered a base hit, then fielded the ball when the throw home missed the catcher, and proceeded to airmail the throw to the second baseman. The ball sailed into center field, allowing the runner to advance to third, and; 2) uncorked a wild pitch directly to the backstop, allowing that runner on third to score. He only lasted 3 1/3 innings and gave up six runs to the anemic Padres. Yikes.
- Can we petition Commissioner Bud Selig to officially change the Cubs’ name from the Chicago Cubs to the Keystone Kops?
- Here’s a quote that would make Hall of Famers like Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson cringe: “I’ll take more of them. But that’s not my goal.” That was Orioles starter Chris Tillman, after throwing his first career shutout Friday against against the Royals. Question: can a pitcher truly be a team’s ace if he is content only with a quality start and not a complete game?
- In last week’s Triple Play, we saluted Dodgers backup catcher Drew Butera for persevering through a game in which he fouled a ball off his face and was plunked in the elbow, only to see him hit a home run later in the game. Well, he deserves another shout-out this week – for his pitching. In Wednesday’s night 13-3 shellacking at the hands of the Marlins, the 30-year-old Butera threw eight of 11 pitches for strikes and retired the side in order in the ninth. As if that isn’t enough, he hit 95 mph with his fastball! It’s pretty common for position players to volunteer for mop-up duty in a blowout, but flashing Verlander-type velocity is not. Yes, I know he surrendered a mammoth two-run blast to Paul Goldschmidt on Saturday night (during another drubbing, this time to Arizona), but I’m tipping my cap to him anyway.
- Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of Randy Johnson’s perfect game against Atlanta. The 40-year-old Johnson became one of 23 pitchers in history to toss a perfecto, and just the fourth man to throw a no-hitter in both leagues (Hideo Nomo, Nolan Ryan and Jim Bunning are the others). Johnson is Hall of Fame-eligible for the first time the next time around. He should be as close to a lock as The Express was when he first hit the ballot.
- Finally, in case you needed to be reminded just how amazing Cal Ripken’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games played really was, consider this: Prince Fielder, the player with the longest current streak, was forced to end his streak Saturday – at 547 games. The longest current streak now belongs to San Francisco’s Hunter Pence. It’s 214 games, or 2,418 short of Cal. Iron Man, indeed.
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