Welcome to this week’s edition of the Triple Play. As the season turns to June – one-third of the way done in 2014 – we look at a bargain-priced slugger, a young outfielder having a season to forget, and more, including what may be the most clutch triple play I’ve ever seen or read about. Let’s dive in:
Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles
This easily could have gone to Blue Jays’ slugger Edwin Encarnacion for the second straight week, but Cruz certainly deserves some mention for his plate production. After slugging seven home runs in April, he followed that up with 13 more long balls in May (to go with a slash line of .339/.388/.748). Entering Sunday’s games, Cruz led the majors in the following categories: home runs (20), RBI (52), total bases (137), slugging percentage (.675), OPS (1.057), and park-adjusted OPS+ (186). Not too shabby for a modest $8 million investment. He’s on pace to mash 61 home runs, drive in 158, score 119 and hit .315 – all of which would be extremely out of whack with his career numbers. If you own Cruz on your fantasy team (as I do), you might be seriously considering trading him right now because his value will never be higher.
Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
The reigning American League Rookie of the Year is having a rough second season. After hitting .293/.354/.478 last season, he is scuffling this year, batting .227/.313/.354. Myers flashed 30-homer power last year, belting 13 of them in 88 games. This year, however, he has just five in 53 games. The Rays’ lineup really took off last year when he was called up, but with his struggles this year, Tampa Bay’s offense has slumped again. Then, to add injury to insult, Myers was placed on the 15-day DL on Sunday. He suffered a sprained right wrist Friday night after colliding with center fielder Desmond Jennings and landing hard on his right arm. The exact length of his absence isn’t known yet, but for a team struggling to score even with their rising star, it’s about to become even more challenging.
Playing the Name Game
Name that pitcher – This pitcher has turned his career completely around. Once considered an ace-in-the-making, he battled control issues and then injuries before disappearing altogether. He made just one appearance in 2011 (which went disastrously) and didn’t even throw a pitch in 2012. He was a bargain-basement signing before the 2013 season began. Unexpectedly, he made 29 starts and showed the best control of his career to that point, spinning a 3.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio and the 2nd-lowest WHIP of his career. His performance was a big reason why his team made a surprising run to the postseason. That team did not re-sign him in the offseason. He parlayed his success into a two-year deal with his new team. So far in 2014, he has been even better. No longer the power strikeout pitcher he was in his youth, he is displaying the best control of his career. In his 11 starts, his ERA (2.36) is nearly a full run lower than his previous best, and his WHIP is a sparkling 0.96. Obviously, the largest part of the season lies ahead, but that WHIP and his 1.7 walks per nine innings would be far and away the best he has ever posted. Some regression is to be expected, but it appears he has finally reached the potential expected of him when the Mets gave him away for next to nothing. I bet that last little item gave it away, right? Yep, it’s Oakland’s Scott Kazmir.
Who’s that hitter? – This player has reached some pretty impressive milestones in his career. Friday night, he stole the 400th base of his career. According to Baseball-Reference, he also has drawn over 1,200 walks (1,463) and hit over 200 home runs (288). That combination of stats puts him in some elite company. The only other players who have done those things in their career? Rickey Henderson, Joe Morgan and Barry Bonds. Earlier this week, this player also notched 4,000 total bases in his career. While he isn’t playing very much, he is being quite productive in his limited time: a .320/.a .320/.397/.500 batting line with a home run, eight RBI, one steal and 4 runs scored in 58 plate appearances. He is 49 hits short of 2,500 for his career. At this current pace, he won’t reach that milestone this season, but if he continues to play this well, one would think he would be able to find a job as a reserve outfielder/DH next season. He’s also within 12 home runs of 300 – not a Hall of Fame milestone, but another significant notch in the belt nonetheless. Got his name yet? It’s Bobby Abreu of the Mets.
As we sit here, one-third of the way through the season, here are my choices for the major baseball awards thus far. I am basing these on how players have performed so far, and not how I expect the remainder of their seasons will go:
- AL MVP – Josh Donaldson, Oakland. He’s already been worth 3.4 WAR to the Athletics this season. The most indispensable player on the AL’s best team. Runner-up: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto.
- NL MVP – Yasiel Puig, L.A. Dodgers. Yeah, I know, the bone-headed baserunning is still maddening. But his defense has been stellar and his hitting has been other-worldly. Runner-up: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado. I really debated this one, but gave the nod to Puig because I’m not certain that Tulo is the most valuable Rockie. That title might belong to Nolan Arenado. The Rockies have really struggled since he broke his finger a little over a week ago.
- AL Cy Young – Yu Darvish, Texas. Every single time he takes the mound, you get the sense he could throw a perfect game. He is just that good. Runner-up: Felix Hernandez, Seattle. I know Mark Buehrle has been sensational so far, but his peripheral stats are strongly hinting that he’s going to come crashing to Earth before long.
- NL Cy Young – Zack Greinke, L.A. Dodgers. Until Sunday night’s loss to the Pirates (in which he surrendered four runs), he hadn’t allowed more than two runs in any start this season. Runner-up: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis.
- AL Rookie – (tie) Masahiro Tanaka, N.Y. Yankees and Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox. Tanaka has been better than advertised, becoming the staff ace New York so desperately needed. Considering all the injuries the Yankees have endured, they are probably in last place in the AL East without him. Before his stint on the DL, Abreu was displaying such elite power (15 homers, .595 slugging percentage) that he was on pace to easily surpass Mark McGwire’s record of 49 dingers for a rookie.
- NL Rookie – none. The crop of rookies in the National League this year is terrible so far.
- It would sure be nice if David Ortiz would just shut up. Baseball is not, has never been, and never will be, anything like war. Just another example of what an ignorant fool he truly is. Boston fans may love him, but that says more about THEM and their ignorance. If “Papi” (I refuse to call him Big) doesn’t want to get plunked with a pitch, then stop staring at your fly balls for a full five seconds before deciding to lumber around the bases. Very few pitchers are going to tolerate that, and frankly, I don’t blame David Price for being annoyed. I enjoyed Price’s even-handed response to Ortiz’ idiotic statements.
- To me, the biggest takeaway in Mike Moustakas getting his long-anticipated ticket back to Triple-A, then being recalled just over a week later is this: a week in the minors probably wasn’t enough for him to regain the team’s confidence, but they must have felt like they had no choice when Danny Valencia hit the DL. I wondered why they didn’t consider moving veteran Omar Infante (who has years of experience at third) over to play there. Then I looked at Johnny Giovatella’s numbers before he was sent down: .176/.216/.265. Ugh. Moving Infante would just have created a new crater in the Royals infield. For now, I guess they just have to hope that Moustakas can turn things around after 10 days in Omaha.
- Maybe I’m missing something here, but declaring that Oscar Taveras and George Springer are the next Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are just a wee bit premature, aren’t they?
- After some research, I have learned that the name Jhoulys Chacin translates to “tons of talent, no heart.”
- A.J. Pollock’s broken hand (thanks to Johnny Cueto) probably means more playing time for Cody Ross. Unfortunately, he’s “hitting” .184/.229/.233 this season. It might be time to stick a fork in him.
- So far this season, we have featured a handful of triple plays executed by teams at various levels. The pair of triple plays by Michigan State in a game earlier this season was particularly nifty. However, the trifecta turned by Menlo (CA) High School shortstop Mikey Diekroeger (who is headed to Stanford on a baseball scholarship, according to MaxWire National Prep blog) rises to the top of the list. Why? Because he turned a game-clinching triple play with the bases loaded in a state playoff game versus Capuchino HS. He caught a sinking line drive for the first out, raced to second to double off the runner there, then fired to first for the final out, preserving a 2-1 victory. Just outstanding. As Tommy Lee Jones once said: “well done, young man!”
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