Welcome to this week’s edition of the Triple Play. This week, we look at a slugger enjoying a month that no one has since 2010, a free-falling outfielder, how the Rockies might replace Nolan Arenado, and more. Off we go:
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto
The Blue Jays’ first baseman/designated hitter is doing exactly that these days. Encarnacion smacked his 12th home run this month in yesterday’s win over Oakland. He also has four multi-home run games this month, becoming the first player to achieve that feat since Troy Tulowitzki in September 2010. The team record for home runs in a month is 14, set by Jose Bautista in June 2012. With a handful of games left this month, that record is in serious jeopardy. He isn’t going to be a high-average hitter (.254/.332/.553), but when you can mash the ball the way he can, who cares? With Encarnacion leading the way, the red-hot Blue Jays have launched 38 home runs this month, most in baseball. Even more impressive, he has performed this month despite suffering from back spasms that have limited his ability to play first. His massive May has him on pace to finish with 44 home runs, 128 RBI, and 99 runs scored. As he has heated up, so have the Blue Jays, who have won six straight and 11 of their past 13 games.
Grady Sizemore, Boston Red Sox
This could have gone to Jackie Bradley Jr or Shane Victorino as well. In fact, the entire Red Sox outfield has gone missing in action this month, as the defending champs have endured their longest losing streak since 1994. Victorino, at age 33, has been limited by hamstring injuries, while Bradley has simply looked overmatched as a major leaguer, so the “winner” here is Sizemore. When he got off to a hot start during the season’s first two weeks, remember how the Boston media (which includes ESPN) raved about how the Red Sox had made the steal of the offseason? Well, what are they saying now? Um, not much. Okay, they are still yammering on and on, but about other things now. I digress. Since April 15, when Sizemore was batting .308/.357/.513, he has slumped horribly. From that point on, he has wet-noodled his way to a .169/.257/.236 slash line. He hasn’t homered since April 11, and only has five extra base hits in 101 at-bats. As sensible baseball followers know, making declarations like “Sizemore is back!” or “Great Grady!” after a hot two-week stretch is just foolish. Then again, we are talking about the Boston media, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, the Red Sox appear to be realizing that Sizemore never again will be the player he was while with Cleveland; Daniel Nava was recalled over the weekend, and probably will be taking at least some of Sizemore’s at-bats. Then again, the Red Sox outfield has been so putrid lately, Nava could be pushing either Sizemore or Bradley to the bench. If things don’t improve soon, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make a trade for some additional help.
Playing the Name Game
Player A: .200/.231/.320, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 4 runs, 42 OPS+ (26 games)
Player B: .277/.337/.324, 0 HR, 12 RBI, 3 SB, 21 runs, 74 OPS+ (47 games)
Player C: .243/.289/.357, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 4 runs, 68 OPS+ (20 games)
These players seem to be the most likely options to replace Rockies’ third baseman Nolan Arenado, who broke his left middle finger Friday night while sliding into second base. Player A is Charlie Culberson, who started for the Rockies on Saturday in Atlanta. Player B is D.J. LeMahieu, who has been playing every day at second base, but has experience playing third. Player C is Jordan Pacheco, who has primarily been the backup catcher, but also has some experience at the hot corner. Another option is veteran Michael Cuddyer, who played third (amongst many other positions) while with the Minnesota Twins. Cuddyer, however, downplayed that idea to the Denver Post, saying that “there are guys more suitable to be in the mix than having to put me at third.” I’m not so sure about that. None of those players inspire much confidence. In just his second season, Arenado has established himself as perhaps the best defensive third baseman in the National League. When you combine that defense (5.9 UZR rating already in 2014) with his improved hitting (.305/.333/.489, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 27 runs, 112 OPS+), I think you can make a strong case that Arenado has been the Rockies’ MVP so far this season. No, I am not forgetting about Troy Tulowitzki or Justin Morneau. I just think the 23-year-old Arenado has been THAT good.
Looking at the uninspiring options above, I think the most likely scenario will involve LeMahieu moving over to third and some combination of Culberson and the recently-recalled Josh Rutledge (a career .257/.302/.406 hitter) at second base. Rockies manager Walt Weiss expressed some hesitation at moving LeMahieu off second, saying that he was playing “a Gold Glove second base.” That may be a slight exaggeration, but Fangraphs does show LeMahieu has a UZR defensive rating of 1.8 so far this season. It is fortunate that LeMahieu is so capable defensively, because he brings little to the plate. The fine defense and lack of offense combine to make LeMahieu barely above a replacement player (0.2 WAR). If the Rockies move LeMahieu to third, his lack of offense becomes even more glaring. Unfortunately, the Rockies have no other options in the minors. They may have to essentially replace Arenado with Rutledge, which is a significant downgrade to their lineup. Only a long-term injury to Tulowitzki would have been more damaging to the Rockies.
- Yeah, so Josh Beckett threw a no-hitter on Sunday. If he really wants to do something for the good of baseball, he’ll pitch a game in less than seven hours.
- Drew Butera was Beckett’s catcher today. This marks the third consecutive week Butera has done something of note. He’s becoming a regular Triple Play character.
- Sunday’s game was the first time the Phillies have been held hitless since St. Louis’ Bob Forsch did it to them in 1978.
- It is beyond me why Dodgers prospect Alex Guerrero is not pressing criminal charges against former teammate (and overall useless thug) Miguel Olivo.
- Just to put Mike Moustakas’ struggles in perspective, his replacement, Danny Valencia, has hit .267/.389/.400 – and that’s a marked improvement. If Moustakas can rediscover his stroke in the minors, he shouldn’t have much difficulty getting his job back, unless the Royals have completely given up on him.
- Moustakas would do well to watch how Kolten Wong went about his business after getting sent down to the minors himself on April 25. Wong, recalled on May 16, has been on a tear since his return (entering Sunday, he was hitting .348/.444/.435). He won’t keep hitting that well, but this is much more indicative of the type of player Wong can be than those first three-plus weeks of the season.
- Last week, the Cubs – of all teams – became the first major-league team to beat the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka. Is it just a coincidence that the Cubs were the first team to see him pitch a second time?
- Of course, being the Cubs, they once again found a spectacular way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In the rubber match of their series with the Yankees last Wednesday, Chicago choked away a two-run lead in the ninth and then allowing the eventual game-winning run to score on a wild pitch.
- When the Milwaukee Brewers were 20-8 on May 1 and many in the baseball media were proclaiming the team was “for real”, I warned against such foolishness. While the month isn’t done yet, the Brewers have frittered away most of their division lead, leading the Cardinals by just 1 ½ games. I hate to say I told you so, but…..okay, fine, I don’t hate to say that. And I’ll say it again: the Brewers ain’t for real, folks.
- Interesting stat that ultimately means nothing, part one: Saturday night pairing of Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole marked the first time in nine years that overall number-one picks in the draft had faced each other. Strasburg was drafted in 2009 (doesn’t it seem like he’s already been around for about 10 years?), while the Pirates chose Cole in 2011.
- Incidentally, the previous matchup featured Paul Wilson (1994) and Kris Benson (1995). Wilson was pitching for the Reds at the time, but was drafted by the Mets. Benson was pitching for the Mets, but was drafted by Pittsburgh.
- Interesting stat that ultimately means nothing, part two: Al Alburquerque last week become the first player to commit a walk-off balk (a balk-off?) since the Mets’ D.J. Carrasco did it against Atlanta on June 16, 2011.
- Write this down: the Tigers will regret not signing Stephen Drew to play shortstop. It might not happen until September or October, but it will happen. In that 13th-inning game the Tigers lost to Cleveland due to the balk, current shortstop Danny Worth went 0 for 6 with four whiffs. Woof.
- Am I the only one who does a double take every time I see Kevin Pillar’s name in a Toronto boxscore and, for a split second, think of Kevin Millar? Then I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s bad enough that the obnoxious Millar is on MLB Network five days a week. If he was playing again and I had to see (or worse, HEAR) him every day for six months again, it could be construed as cruel and unusual punishment.
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