The Inning Revived
A long and grueling winter is coming to an end, and we are finally within earshot of some baseball. Seems like a good a time as any to revive our little recap article, the inning. A little reminder of how this article works:
We will discuss 3 “good” happenings and 3 “bad” happenings. Obviously, your view on these events will depend on where your allegiances lie… but we will try and be as unbiased as possible. So, with that out of the way:
1. Oakland A’s pitching is HOT – Oakland has been through it for the last few seasons. After finishing 1 and 2 in the AL West in the first two years of the league, the Athletics have consistently finished in 4th place (5th one time) in arguably the toughest division in baseball. After holding steadfastly to the belief that their farm system would produce the pieces they needed to compete for years, management finally got a little more aggressive and shipped off some mainstays for future assets. Phillip Aulmonte, the teams longtime closer was shipped off for 2 young arms, one of whom is currently in Spring Training competing for a spot in the rotation. Andres Yanez, long positioned by Oakland management as a top tier middle infielder was sold for a seemingly less impressive cache of players, but did allow the A’s to shed a huge salary in David Price, and bring in Matt Moore, who was quickly dealt with a handful of others to Minnesota for Juan Oramas. Which brings us to the point of this blurb. The A’s pitching is off to a killer start.
Oakland is the only team to give up fewer than 5 runs in each of its Spring Training games in 2019, and actually boast one of the only shut outs so far. Carlos E. Martinez, Sonny Gray, Juan Oramas and Jeremy Benson have combined to allow 3 runs over 16 innings, while fanning 12 batters and only walking 4. Not a bad start from the front 4 of a rotation that all have 1 year or less tenure in Oakland. The bullpen has tossed 15 innings and only surrendered 3 runs if you remove 21 year old Ed Petty‘s 4 inning 4 run game against Boston last night. This is a miniscule sample size obviously… but it is fun to watch and think about. If Oakland can get consistent production on the mound… how high can they climb in the crowded AL West?
2) Cardinals are undefeated – After making the playoffs in their first 5 years of existence, St. Louis missed post season play in 2017 and 2018 under long time GM Ryan Brookman. They have responded by turning their attention on the starting rotation. Brookman shipped out fan favorite Prince Fielder, after the aging 1st baseman hit .221 over 32 games with the club in 2018. Almost all that money was spent on bringing in former Pittsburgh Pirate Jarrod Parker, and then sent projected starter at 1B Alex Dickerson to Boston in exchange for pitching prospect Jeriome Hill. Quick side note, Hill was dealt to the Cardinals in 2016 by the Braves in exchange for Anthony Gose, then sent to Miami as part of a large package for relief pitcher Hector Santiago. After being dealt back to Atlanta, he was then shipped at the deadline to Boston as part of a package for John Bauer, and then again back to St. Louis in the aforementioned deal. Hope this kid has finally found a home.
Parker had a solid debut, and is currently projected in the 5 spot of a rotation that is anchored by Clayton Kershaw. Hill got hit hard in his debut, but likely has a future in the pen for the Cardinals this season. Ronald Guzman is hitting well through 4 games, and looks like the successor to Fielder/Dickerson. Its easy to forget (somehow) that this team boasts some of MLB Pro’s biggest names – Kershaw, Evan Longoria, Cedric Rutherford, Christian Yelich, and newcomer Yasiel Puig. If the young staff between Kershaw and Parker can manage ANYTHING this year, the NL Central should be the Cardinals for the taking.
3) Brewers Outfield is Mashing – This shouldn’t be shocking to anyone out there, but it is still worth noting. If you consider Ryan Braun part of the outfield, which you should because I don’t know how you keep that bat out of the lineup, the 3 headed monster of Braun, Gonzalez and Hernandez have driven in 20 runs over 5 games. The trio reached base 14 times in last nights game alone. The rest of the lineup hasn’t been shabby either, but this level of production needed to be mentioned. The team has scored 40 runs over the first 5 games, but has unfortunately surrendered 45. This shootout style of baseball is likely to continue into the regular season, and is the main reason that Brewers fan are non to excited about this season. Which is a bit heartbreaking.
After recently being picked to finish 4th in the division by league writer John Heinz, a local fan was quoted as saying “fuck that guy…. but yea… that is probably right”. A team that possesses 2 of the brightest young bats in the game deserves to be more intriguing than this. The Brewers enter the year with their highest payroll to date, but what upgrades do they have to show for that? Their largest acquisition this off season was a 33 year old relief pitcher. As a fan of the sport, I am imploring the brass in Milwaukee… stop wasting the prime of two of our brightest stars.
1. Shohei Ohtani makes his debut. – The most exciting off season media fest was the courtship of Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani. I think my favorite part about it was the fact that he decided to play for a team that has finished in dead last in the NL West 4 years in a row. A team that no doubt has an intriguing future with prospects like Jeremy Scott, Juan Morin and Vlad Guerrero Jr. all likely to see action in the desert in the next two years. Perhaps the 24 year old right-hander is playing the long game here, hoping that the ever reclusive Jay Schlegel has the stones to stick to the process. All signs point to yes on that one by the way. So when Ohtani finally hit the field this spring, all lenses and eyes were on the young foreign import.
Hitting seventh and starting the FIRST GAME of Spring Training (a move I love by the way), our first look at Ohtani was on the bump. The first batter he faced was ironically fellow countryman and new Rockie Hideki Abe. The two man bowed to one another and then Ohtani walked Abe on 5 pitches. After retiring the next two batters, Ramon Zarragoza knocked a single into center to score the speedy Abe. Ohtani then struck out Will Myers to get out of his first major league inning.
“It was sureal to step on the mound and look to the plate to see a fellow Japanese player.” Ohtani said through a translator. “I think I was able to settle down knowing I wasn’t as alone as I was feeling in that moment.” Ohtani has since clarified that Schlegel and the rest of the D-Backs have done nothing but support him since his arrival, and that his comment was not intended as an indictment of the culture there.
After a more or less quiet second frame (did include another base on balls though), Ohtani strode up the plate to take his first swings. Manuel Reyes took a little longer than usual to get onto the rubber as Ohtani took an extra practice cut, and the cameras all fixed on his slender frame. Ohtani watched the first 4 pitches go by, before finally swinging the wood and striking out. Ohtani would then allow two more runners before being pulled, eventually being held responsible for a second run.
Since then, Ohtani has played in the field twice, and had 4 more at bats, striking out in 3 of them. Full Spring line so far at the plate, 0-5 4 k’s. Obviously he is just adjusting to the game here in the US, but he is not off to the killer start the Diamondbacks hoped he would be, though they will never admit it.
2) Brewers Pitchers are drunk – As previously discussed, the Brewers have an issue. The front office seems to be afraid to make moves to make this team competitive in a division that is BEGGING for someone to take hold of it. The Cubs are a mess, the Reds cant stay healthy consistently, the Cardinals mysteriously continue to lose games despite splashing all kinds of cash, and the Pirates are so irrelevant I forgot who the last team was in this division and had to go look it up. Despite all this, the Brewers have refused to address the issue at hand, their pitching staff. In fact, they actually let their most consistent performer on the mound, Madison Bumgarner, walk in free agency 2 years ago. Bumgarner has now found his way back into the division by the way.
“We are ready to go back to battle with the same guys who won this division last year” said new manager Jim Thome (who was managing in high A ball last year btw). “We feel like we are in a really good spot”. Well, not if this spring is any indication. We already covered how great their outfield has performed to date, but Thome has an interesting situation on his hands. Who is the stopper? Who stops a slide? What happens in May when the Brewers play the Phillies, Braves, Reds, Phillies and then Twins over a 15 day stretch? Miller, Peralta and Cueto have been mainstays in this rotation for years, but none inspire confidence. Nor does newcomer Ian Kennedy or second year Brewer Josh Tomlin. The Brewers staff and pen have surrendered 45 runs over their first 5 games in Spring, including 3 straight games over double digits. This scares me as a avid fan of the Brew City (not its teams, just the city). Thome for his part, isnt worried.
“Shelby and Johnny are vets, they just arent taking this Spring to seriously yet. The first few days are all about getting back into it and having fun. Lets talk again in mid March”.
3) Yankees still winless – This doesn’t need much coverage, mainly because it is hard as hell to keep track of the Yanks. New GM Rhett Parker has been insanely busy overhauling this roster that had settled into a level of mediocrity that is unacceptable in the Bronx. Anyone familiar with Rhett’s style of team building has to be excited to watch him work with a big boy budget. He took a hapless Royals squad and improved their record year over year, culminating in a 92 win season in 2018 that still somehow saw the Royals miss the playoffs. He arrives in New York and the city has for sure been put on notice, its produce or get lost if you are wearing Pinstripes.
But all the change seems to be having an effect of the club, as they have gotten off to an 0-4 start in Spring. The typically verbose New York media has been patient to date, but how much longer will they wait before they begin to question the moves made by their new baseball leader?
Projected starting RF Xaiver Maclin finally got his first hit as a Yank last night, blooping a single into left in a meaningless scenario. Teammate and outfield mate Miguel Velazquez was sarcastically impressed.
“Yea I was real happy to see X finally hit the ball. He is a professional baseball player, he is supposed to hit the damn ball. What kind of stupid ass question was that? Why aren’t you asking me about that MONSTER shot I hit in the 2nd?!?! Too bad no one was on base to score when I hit it, typical…” Ignoring the fact that Velazquez was leading off the inning, and that his home run barely cleared the center field wall, how can this kind of attitude be something the rest of the team embraces? I guess we will see if winning truly does cure all ills, or if a slow start and MV’s dickish attitude spells disaster in the Bronx.