Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. In this installment, we look at some aces: the Rays’ blossoming ace, the devastating loss of the Cardinals’ rock-steady ace, and the Royals’ emotionally unstable ace.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
If they handed out Cy Young awards on a monthly basis, Archer would likely be the AL winner for April. After five starts, Archer sits with a 3-2 record, 0.84 ERA, 0.74 WHIP and an eye-popping 37/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his 32 1/3 innings of work. He allowed three earned runs to Baltimore on Opening Day – and hasn’t allowed a single earned run since. That’s 26 2/3 innings of near-spotless work. The strikeout rate is the best he has flashed in his young career and his groundball percentage has increased by over 10 percent. Of course, the usual small-sample size caveats apply, but Archer has impressive maturity for a 26-year-old and it’s not unreasonable to think that he has blossomed into a top starter. Should that be the case, Archer will be the Rays’ ace and anchor many fantasy teams who either lucked into getting him on their team or snapped him up after all the big-name starters went off the board.
Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
It appears that Ventura sits on the opposite end of the maturity scale from Archer. Kansas City’s young fireballer has been ejected twice already this season for initiating bench-clearing confrontations with other teams. Kansas City was the talk of baseball for their underdog run last October, but in less than a month, their image has dissolved into that of a group of petulant brats. That takes some doing. Ventura has become Public Enemy #1 and it has nothing to do with his curveball. First, it was drilling notorious hothead Brett Lawrie as part of a weekend-long incident with Oakland. Next time out, he shouted some magic words at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton, leading to an ugly brawl that resulted multiple ejections and player suspensions. Ventura himself was given a seven-game timeout (after being fined for the A’s fracas), while three teammates were also suspended. And this doesn’t factor in Ventura’s bizarre staredown of the Angels’ Mike Trout after he singled and scored while Ventura was on the mound. What gives? Royals manager Ned Yost has implied that Ventura is attempting to fill the “leadership” void created when James Shields departed for San Diego via free agency. Well, playing stupid – not to mention dangerous – beanball games, instigating brawls and putting his teammates at risk don’t demonstrate leadership. It’s not being melodramatic to state that 100 mph fastballs have the capacity to maim or kill. Yost needs to rein in his 23-year-old top starter before someone gets seriously hurt. The Royals don’t have a deep rotation; they need Ventura’s electric arm every fifth day. What they DON’T need is a cement-headed lunatic stomping around on the mound.
Playing the Name Game
Last week, longtime Detroit ace Justin Verlander was listed in the “Who’s Not?” section because of his initial (and extended) appearance on the disabled list. But the Tigers haven’t missed Verlander, and new Tiger Alfredo Simon is a big reason why. After being acquired from Cincinnati for Eugenio Suarez and a minor-leaguer, he has roared to an AL-leading four wins, a 1.65 ERA, and 0.95 WHIP. Simon has walked only four batters in 27 1/3 innings. As good as he’s been, though, there are reasons for caution. He has only fanned 15 batters and is averaging less than five strikeouts per nine innings. Combine the low strikeout numbers with the fact that Simon has never averaged less than 2.5 walks per nine innings and he has a thin margin for error. At age 33, it’s highly unlikely that a breakout season is coming. Realistically, he is just off to a hot start and a regression is coming. Fantasy owners should enjoy the stats and strongly consider trading him before he comes back to Earth. Meanwhile, the Tigers will hope he can maintain his strong start as long as possible.
Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke may well end up being the first manager fired this season, but the first one who SHOULD be canned is Cincinnati manager Bryan Price. Much has been made of the tirade last week in which he launched 77 F-bombs at a Reds beat writer, but to me, most disturbing is his complete and utter cluelessness about the nature of his job. In today’s world, a case can be made that a manager’s most vital job is dealing with the media. The coverage of the game is more detailed and expansive than ever before and for Price’s complete lack of understanding is baffling. He served as pitching coach under Dusty Baker, who was no stranger to criticism and second-guessing. Are we really to believe that Price watched none of that and no mental notes about how he might handle certain situations once he was promoted? Is he living in such a vacuum that he really thinks that independent media people are there to “benefit” his team? Managers have long had contentious relationships with the media, but Cincinnati is far from a rough media market. If Price can’t handle the job there, perhaps he shouldn’t be managing a big-league team at all.
Clearing the Bases
So, is it even possible to replace Adam Wainwright? In a word, no. Wainwright scuffled at times during the second half of the 2014 season, and some of his stats are trending downward from his peak (hits allowed, strikeouts), but he remained an elite starter and legitimate fantasy ace due to his low walk rate and aversion to the long ball. What’s more, when you read Cardinals beat writers explaining what a steadying influence he is on the rest of the staff, it also drives home the point that the big right-hander is irreplaceable. However, given how well Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez have pitched thus far, the Cardinals still have three top starters (including Lance Lynn). John Lackey has struggled on the road, but performed well at home. He is a perfectly suitable fourth starter. Who joins the rotation now?
Jaime Garcia pitched fairly well in spring training, but wasn’t able to go deep into those games and ended up on the disabled list again with shoulder pain. He pitched a simulated game over the weekend. He will need to progress past that and have a successful (and probably lengthy) rehab stint in the minors before the Cardinals could realistically count on him for a spot in the rotation. Fans and fantasy owners should temper their enthusiasm about Garcia until he has demonstrated that he is healthy again.
A much more intriguing option is young lefty Marco Gonzales, who emerged as a force out of the bullpen last October. As a starter, though, he needs to harness his control. He lost out on the fifth starter job to Martinez because he walked too many batters during the spring (seven batters in 17 1/3 innings). Should he get a handle on the walks, he possesses the ability to be an impact starter for the Cardinals. His changeup could become a true weapon, which he needs against right-handed batters due to his low-90s fastball. I have to believe he would be the preferred choice to fill the rotation, but he needs to be activated from the minor-league DL and display big-league readiness before getting called up.
With neither of those two immediately available, the Cardinals may turn to one of the following minor-league starters: Tim Cooney or Tyler Lyons. Cooney won 14 games for Triple-A Memphis in 2014 and pitched to a 3.47 ERA, 1.29 WHIP. Through three starts this season, his WHIP is down to 1.15. Some Cardinals bloggers feel he would already be in a big-league rotation if he were with another team. Lyons has made 23 starts between the 2013-14 seasons and the results don’t appear impressive at first (4.62 ERA, 2-8 record), but his 3.70 FIP indicates that he has pitched better than the results show. Like Cooney, Lyons might well be a rotation member for several other teams.
Other, less appealing options include Zach Petrick, who is off to an atrocious start with Triple-A Memphis, allowing 17 earned runs and 26 hits in 17 2/3 innings in his four starts. Can’t see him getting the call. John Gast started three games for St. Louis in 2013 before injuring his arm and hasn’t reached the majors since. He doesn’t seem a likely choice, either.
Cards GM John Mozeliak has never been one to make a knee-jerk move, so it seems certain that he will use in-house options before pursuing external options such as Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels. The Dodgers and Red Sox have been linked to Hamels, so this will be an interesting situation to monitor throughout the summer. One thing feels certain, though: although the Cardinals lead the NL Central, losing Wainwright makes it feel like the division race is now wide open.