Chris Davis and the world’s worst case of homesickness

Chris Davis and the world’s worst case of homesickness

In a sad state of affairs, the Washington Capitals closed out the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to win the Stanley Cup last night. I had them in six. Tonight, the Golden State Warriors can sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers, the thought of which curdles Charlie Red‘s blood. If that happens, sports fans who can’t make it through 45 minutes without a commercial and will thus skip the World Cup, will be left with two options: Major League Baseball or going to the drive-in every night to binge-watch the new Halloween reboot.

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One is a frightening prospect. Assuming you’re not an Orioles fan, that would be the drive-in. Baroness Haden-Guest, aka Jaime Lee Curtis, is still kinda hot at 59, but shouting “Don’t open the damned door!” might get old after a week or so. There’s always going to be a lunatic in a mask behind it, and he’ll never say a word.

Jaime Lee Curtis in the 2018 Halloween reboot.

Baseball gives us two lunatics in masks. The umpire speaks but its gibberish. Mostly, you understand what he means by the violent gestures he makes. The catcher crouches in front of him, frantically signalling for help that never arrives.

The most frightening thing in the 2018 baseball season, however, is seeing Chris Davis at the plate. The Baltimore first baseman is on pace to have the worst batting season in baseball history. Through 55 games his line is .152/.232/.232. His slugging percentage is equal to his on-base percentage, which is sabermetrics for the slugger is not slugging.

He has four home runs and 15 rbi, meaning he has driven in 11 teammates. ESPN’s David Schoenfeld helpfully relates 109 runners have been on base when Davis has batted. Worse, he has scored only five times when not driving himself in. That’s from 22 singles, four doubles, 19 walks and one base reached on an error. In other words, he’s picking up runners roughly 10% of the time and being driven in by his teammates at an 11% [rounding up]. Davis is bad but his teammates aren’t much better.

Baltimore is probably reluctant to send their slumping infielder to the minors on a one-way $23 million/year contract. They are hoping the problem can be solved at Camden Yards. If it isn’t, Davis may produce the worst negative Wins Above Replacement score the game has seen. Worse, he may break Leo Cardenas’ 1972 record for fewest runs scored in a season. The Angels Cuban-born shortstop touched home plate 25 times that year. Davis projects to only 24.

It’s one thing to say you can never go home in life. In baseball, though…

The data shifts on shifts

Today is my day for learning from ESPN writers. Stat geek Bradford Doolittle reported on the data upgrade for shift analysis in MLB. Before the addition, numbers were only available for balls put in play when a shift was on. Now, every pitch is documented.

Whereas the consensus had been defensive shifts produced more outs by overloading whichever side a pull hitter favors, the new numbers show more walks are surrendered than hits saved.

Seeing four infielders in their hitting zone has intimidated hitters into being more selective about swinging at inside pitches. With an imbalanced defence behind them, pitchers are reluctant to throw strikes the batter can send the opposite way. Instead, they throw off the plate and put the runner on.

Unless pitchers can find a way to get pull hitters to bite, the new numbers may result in fewer shifts being put on, if any at all. If it results in more pitches put in play, that can only be good for the game.

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Seattle Mariners are can do without Robinson Cano

Seattle Mariners are can do without Robinson Cano

Thursday, December 12th, 2013 was a momentous day for the Seattle Mariners.  While I was blowing out candles on a cake in Miami, they equalled the third-largest deal in Major League Baseball history by signing New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year $240 million contract. Then-M’s general manager Jack Zduriencik may have thought it wise to get the deal done before Friday the 13th. Unfortunately, he didn’t think to send me birthday wishes for my 50th, thereby failing to avoid cursing the deal.

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In the four since-completed seasons with Cano in the lineup, the club hasn’t improved noticeably, finishing third, fourth, second and third in the American League West. When you make a signing of that magnitude, you expect to win. Or you should.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2018 turned out to be the second momentous day in the marriage between the Mariners and their high-priced second-sacker. Cano was suspended 80 days by Major League Baseball for a positive result to a drug test.

You wouldn’t imagine the Mariners would take the news positively. Not the fans, not Cano’s teammates, not manager Scott Servais or current GM Jerry Dipoto. While Cano had only hit four home runs on the season, he had contributed 24 rbi and 23 runs in 39 games, projecting him into the 90s for both over an entire season. His basic numbers as a Mariner suggest the team was faced with replacing 12 hr, 45 rbi and 40 runs. That isn’t a pleasing prospect.

Robinson Cano's numbers in his first four seasons as a Seattle Mariner.

The Mariners were their typical third in the AL West on May 14th, a game-and-a-half behind the Angels, with the World Series champion Houston Astros nestled in between. Seattle’s suddenly looked like another lost season. How could they stay close until Cano returned?

Only, they’ve gone far beyond staying close. After chasing Dallas Keuchel last night, the Mariners are in first place. In the first 20 games sans Cano, they are 15-5. That’s a .750 winning percentage. With Cano, they were 23-17, or .575.

Former Yankee teammate Mark Teixeira, now an ESPN analyst claimed he wasn’t surprised by the suspension.

Alex Rodriguez got popped by Biogenesis, and Melky [Cabrera, also with the Yankees for a time] got popped. They were best friends.

Cano accepted responsibility for the failed test although he claimed it was prescribed in the Dominican for a medical issue rather than to cheat the system. Nevertheless, it has to create a trust issue within the organisation. When he left New York, former hitting coach Kevin Long lamented his habit of not running to first on sure outs.

When you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception. But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time.

Cano will be eligible to play again for the Mariners’ 121st game, on August 14th in Oakland, ten weeks from now, assuming the club don’t first send him down to the minors for a conditioning assignment. Will Scott Servais be eager to plug him right into the lineup if the Mariners are still rolling along atop the division? How could he ignore an elite power hitter? If the M’s begin to slide with Cano back in the clubhouse and the batting order, what then?

It’s difficult to sit a $240 million player. It’s even harder to trade him when he has a PED suspension on his record. Seattle managed to rid themselves of the original Alex Rodriguez before he went bad. Now, too late, they may have to divorce ARod’s protegé. That’s the Emerald City for you. It never rains but it pours.

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Blue Jays and Dodgers both face lost seasons but only one is desperate for a rescue

Blue Jays and Dodgers both face lost seasons but only one is desperate for a rescue

Toronto and Los Angeles are just over 2,700 miles apart. That’s not the farthest distance between Major League cities. Seattle is baseball’s most isolated franchise. It’s over 3,000 miles away from every East Coast club, and 2,750 miles from Toronto, but I mentioned LA for a reason. The distance between Canada’s most populous city and America’s second-most is emblematic of the dichotomy between the Blue Jays and Dodgers’ respective approaches to their most prized assets.

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Two months and one-third of the way into the 2018 Major League Baseball season both teams are struggling. Toronto’s 25-31 record projects to a 72-win season. The Dodgers are a game better and on pace for 75. The Jays are two seasons removed from an ALCS series against the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. The Dodgers are the defending National League Champions.

The Dodgers pitching staff has been hit hard with injuries. Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda are on the 10-Day disabled list; Tom Koehler is on the 60. Clayton Kershaw was just activated, which I’ll get to in a minute. Corey Seager [60] and Chase Utley [10] are also on the DL.

The Blue Jays have also lost players. Troy Tulowitzki is on the 60-day DL after surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels. Josh Donaldson has been day-to-day with a calf problem. Marcus Stroman’s shoulder fatigue has him on the 10-day DL and closer Roberto Osuna’s temper has run him afoul of the league’s domestic violence policy. He is indefinitely suspended.

There are still more than a 100 games remaining for both clubs but the Dodgers, with their massive payroll, are feeling the pressure to salvage their campaign far more than the Blue Jays. For one thing, despite similar records, LA is only four games off the pace in the NL West.The Dodgers brought Clayton Kershaw back from injury too quickly.

Clayton Kershaw had missed all but the first and last days of May with a shoulder problem. when he was medically cleared this week, the club put him back on the mound. No rehab stint to shake off the rust, test all the moving parts, or build up lost strength. Just give him the ball and hope he can turn the season around.

Instead, Kershaw may turn around and head back to the DL, this time with stiffness in his back. In his return against the Phillies, manager Dave Roberts limited him to 60+ pitches in five innings. The lefty gave up just one run but ESPN’s Dave Schoenfeld highlighted a disturbing statistic.

Kershaw threw 20 four-seam fastballs. Not one reached 90 mph. Compare that to the 1100 or so he threw in 2017, of which not a one went under 90, and there is reason to be concerned. Even at 88 or 89, the Dodger ace was an effective pitcher, but he’s not Greg Maddux. Over several starts, hitters will catch up to him. He needs that dominant fastball.

If he goes on the DL again this weekend, Los Angeles should consider taking their time bringing him back to the rotation.

For their part, the Blue Jays have been resisting pressure from all sides to get a sensational player into the lineup yesterday if not sooner. For one thing, they are 13.5 games behind Boston in the AL East. For another, their potential hero is not a veteran Cy Young winning left-hander. It’s a 19-year-old third-baseman whose father will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame this summer.

Vladimir Guerrero is rated the Blue Jays' top prospect by MLB and Baseball America.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr is rated as the Jays’ top prospect by MLB’s scouting bureau and Baseball America. This season, he’s living free while opposing pitchers die as a third baseman for the New Hampshire Fishercats in the AA Eastern League.

In 49 games, Baby Vlad has 11 HRs, 53 RBI and 44 runs scored. His line reads .414/.464/.691. He has been so consistent at the plate that his OPS (1.155) is over 1 in every meaningful split, be it by the month, vs lefties or righties, or in various critical pitch counts and out situations. Unlike his heralded dad, who would swing at anything from ankles to eyebrows that was thrown between first and third base, Junior has some plate discipline. He’s walked 19 times while striking out just 21.

Comparing Josh Donaldson's numbers with Vladimir Guerrero Jr through May 31st 2018

Slowed by injury, Josh Donaldson’s big league numbers pale in comparison. He’s hitting 180 points lower, with 40% of the hits, half the homers and runs scored, a third as many driven in.

There’s a school of thought that advises trading the 32-year-old while his value is still high and letting Vlad show what he can do at the big league level. In a throwaway year, there would be less pressure on the teenager.

On the other hand, he’s doing fine in AA. Not only would he have to adjust to big league pitching in Toronto, he’d be exposed to a negative culture. It’s no fun coming to work when you’re 11 games under .500 going into June.

More importantly, Donaldson is a much better fielder. Toronto GM Ross Atkins has already stated he wants Guerrero to stay on the farm to improve his defence. If he can’t, he’d still have to stay down to learn a new position. Right field, like dear old Dad?

Either way, it’s a sound decision. It’s never a good sign for your major league career if you’re a DH before you can legally drink.

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Is Shohei Ohtani an argument for or against the DH?

Is Shohei Ohtani an argument for or against the DH?

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, near Beverley Hills 90210, United States of America, Earth, Sol 3-8, Milky Way, Known Universe [please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your order] are willing to go a long way to cover all the bases. Beyond their ridiculous compromise of a name, they’ve set the clock back a century to allow a uniquely gifted player to both pitch and hit full time.

Japanese star Shohei Ohtani has an impressive pair of stat lines.

Shohei Ohtani batting and pitching numbers as of 5.22.18

I may have gotten ahead of myself when saying Ohtani is pitching and hitting full time. He’s being platooned as a designated hitter, not asked to hit against left-handed pitching. He’s projecting to 84 games in the batter’s box, which also promises 19 home runs and 57 RBIs from the lefty slugger. On the mound, his four wins in seven starts project to 14 in 24.

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In reality, Ohtani is pitching and hitting slightly less than full time. His appearances are parallel to the limits your grocery store places on stock clerk and cashiers’ hours to avoid paying health benefits. Of course, that’s not an issue for the Angels. The limits on his playing time are Ohtani’s health insurance while this experiment plays out.

Los Angeles Angels Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani wants to strike you out then take you yard.

The question here is whether the club will ever feel safe increasing that workload to full time on both sides of the ball? Can Ohtani cope? Can any player? Is the DH a help to Ohtani? What does that say about the position’s credibility?

Work load

Recently @SamMillerBB wrote a hypothetical letter from the Boston Red Sox non-existant-a-century-ago analytics department to Ed Barrow, Babe Ruth’s manager with the Bosox. It was an imaginative way to delve into the statistical clues as to whether a major leaguer could both pitch and hit full time.

The thinking circa 1916-18 was no different than now. Pitcher, hitter, a player can only be one, not both. Ruth, who was the best left-handed hurler in baseball with the Red Sox, wanted to hit. He didn’t want to multitask. Even he thought it was impossible.

I don’t think a man can pitch in his regular turn and play some other position and keep the pace year after year. I can do it this season all right. I’m young and strong and don’t mind the work, but I wouldn’t guarantee to do it for many seasons.

Of course, there wouldn’t be a designated hitter in the game until 1973. George Herman had to learn and train at a new position to hit. No surprise, then, that Ed Barrow put him in right field, the same place Little League coaches deposit their most helpless cases.

In 1919, when Harry Frazee ironically tried to be both a baseball owner and theater impresario, the Babe was sold to the Yankees. Even though Ruth only had potential as a hitter but was a proven elite pitcher, New York manager Miller Huggins fell into the same camp as his new signing and the vast majority of baseball enthusiasts who value hitting over pitching. He ended the Bambino’s pitching career and went all-in on his bat. Safe to say, it paid off.

Babe Ruth pitching for the Boston Red Sox.

A hundred years later, Ohtani can’t or won’t make the choice between the two. In an age when the world reaches for medication when a starter’s pitch count enters triple-digits, when a young Stephen Strasburg was shut down in September 2012 with the Washington Nationals playoff bound, doing double duty doesn’t just contradict conventional wisdom, it goes all D-Generation X on it.

If the Angels were to choose for him, his OPS+ and ERA+ numbers offer a suggestion. The + in the two stats indicate they measure his on-base plus slugging percentage and earned run average numbers against his peers, with 100 representing the respective major league averages. His ERA is only 24% better than the average major leaguer, whereas his OPS is 60 points higher. The two numbers hint he has a greater impact at the plate than on the mound.

But Ohtani wants to pitch and hit. Further, like Ruth, he has the power to get what he wants.

Thank [insert your deity of choice] for the DH

Unlike the Babe, Ohtani doesn’t need to learn a second position. In some ways, that’s a blessing. The game is obsessed with data. He has had to learn tendencies and out pitches for the pitchers he bats against, but that’s de rigueur for National League pitchers. He also absorbs information on how to get batters out. Throw in the numbers on where they likely to put the ball in play for different pitches in various locations in particular situations and his brain would risk a severe meltdown trying to process it all.

As a pitcher and designated hitter, the 23-year-old is doing fine. Going for the trifecta by playing defense as well might be too much. When Rick Ankiel lost his pitching mojo for the Cardinals, he made the decision to switch to the outfield in 2005. He spent two years in the minors learning his new role before returning in 2007. His best season as an outfielder was 2008 when he racked up 109 hits and 25 home runs for the Cardinals. His production fell off from there, however, and he lasted as a fourth or fifth outfielder for five clubs then retired in 2013. Memories of Ankiel’s struggles add to the perception Ohtani is playing with fire.

Rick Ankiel inexplicably lost his control to the point he had to reinvent himself as an outfielder.

But assuming Ohtani continues to succeed, that he pitches more innings, takes more at-bats and becomes a more complete baseball player than any before him, then what? Does that change attitudes about the DH? About expecting pitchers to be more effective hitters? Can we imagine a game where pitchers are expected to take BP and hit for power and average? Can we convince ourselves that needn’t erode the standard of pitching? If you think about it, that is the argument Ohtani is making.

People rooted in a bias more than a century old insist it can’t be done. Shohei Ohtani says, “Nazena no?”

Why not?

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How the Baltimore Orioles can win the World Series next year

How the Baltimore Orioles can win the World Series next year

I know, I know. The Baltimore Orioles are bad. They’re 13-30 one game into their four-game weekend set with Boston. That’s the second-worst record in Major League Baseball. What am I doing talking about them winning it all next season?

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Hey, it’s not like worst-to-first doesn’t happen now and then. The Amazing Mets pulled it off in 1969. Kirby Puckett’s Minnesota Twins managed it in 1991. The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine, hired John Farrell and did the deed in 2013. It’s at least a generational thing. Of course, that could mean it’s too soon for the O’s, but there’s another interesting trend that suggests they might have a chance, even though it isn’t something a sane person would put money on right now.

David Price looked like his normal pre-All Star self in the first game of the current series. He pitched the full nine innings against Baltimore. Manny Machado ruined his bid for a complete-game shutout by crushing a two-run shot with two out in the ninth. The Bosox were already up six when the shortstop took Price yard for his 14th of the season.

If Buck Showalter was Rich Renteria, we might be talking about his job being on the line. That is the difference between owning a 1517-1432 record and being 151-213. The O’s boss has roughly ten times the experience of his Chisox counterpart.

While that experience counts him in good stead, it can also work against him. With Showalter, what you’ve seen in the past seems to be what you get in the present. He can lay the foundation for a contender but can’t seem to build the roof. Maybe we should be talking about the team cutting ties with the skipper.

In his first three seasons with the Yankees, the then-30-something maverick led the Bronx Bombers to fourth, second, and first-place finishes in the American League East. He did it by relying more on the farm system than free agency. When the team fell back to second in his fourth season, George Steinbrenner panicked, firing Showalter and hiring Joe Torre. The former catcher and first-baseman took Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada et al to a World Series title in his first campaign.

Even though the expansion Diamondbacks wouldn’t begin play for two seasons, Arizona immediately hired Showalter to help them design their minor league system. Again, the club improved in his second season, winning 100 games before falling to the Mets in the playoffs. A regression to 85 wins in his third season left him looking for work again while Bob Brenly delivered the franchise’s only World Series title on the strength of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling’s pitching, and Luis Gonzalez’s clutch hitting.

Another manager wins a World Series on the back of Buck Showalter's good work.

Following another three-year hiatus, Showalter spent four seasons in Texas. Once more, the best year was the second, although the Rangers never rose above third in the AL West during his tenure, and successor Ron Washington needed another four years to build the Arlington club into two-time American League champions.

The first of those pennants coincided with Showalter’s arrival at Camden Yards. After short spells with his previous clubs, Baltimore has shown more faith in the 61-year-old. This is his eighth campaign yet, despite CEO Peter Angelos’ trust, Showalter hasn’t taken his game or the Orioles’ to the next level.

It’s been the same old Buck in Baltimore. The first season was a write-off followed by a strong 93-win second year. Predictably, year three was a step back. Angelos stuck with Showalter, though, and the manager produced his best season in year four, going 96-66. Then, he failed to maintain that level. The O’s played .500 ball in 2015, won 89 the next season and 75 last year. With this season’s woeful start, the pattern of one good season, one bad isn’t even sustainable anymore.

Manny Machado's bat is the one good thing about the Baltimore Orioles in 2018.

Despite a decent roster, the Orioles don’t look like bouncing back in 2018. Machado is the only player producing. He’s on the early-season AL MVP radar with a .339 batting average, 14 HRs, 40 RBI and 26 runs scored. He’s earning a base on balls for virtually every strikeout (23:24) and sports a ridiculous .418/.661/1.079 line. The problem is the rest of the order is letting him down.

Centerfielder Adam Jones is not getting on base enough. In a season where pitchers are walking more batters than ever, Jones is hitting .253. He hasn’t drawn enough walks to boost that number by 20 points. His on-base percentage is only .271. Compare that with the 79-point bump Machado is providing.

Slugger Chris Davis has a pitiful .248/.275/.523 line, his batting average below the Mendoza line. Mark Trumbo has better numbers but just 60 plate appearances. Showalter is showing the same misplaced faith in Davis that the owner has in him.

Meanwhile, Tim Beckham and Anthony Santander are on the 60 and 40-day DLs respectively. Colby Rasmus is on the 10-day version. Caleb Joseph has been sent down to Norfolk.

The pitching is no more encouraging. The staff is carrying a 5.09 ERA and 1.496 WHIP. They’re 10th in the Al in walks, 11th in strikeouts. The busier rotation is the movement between the DL and active status.

Overall, it’s a bleak picture. So, why do I think the Orioles can win it all next year? You may have noticed what happens to teams after Showalter leaves. The Yankees and Diamondbacks both earned trips to the White House. Texas took longer but won two pennants under Showalter’s replacement. Like Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.

Admittedly, I’m grasping at straws, but sometimes you just need to get out of your own way. Peter Angelos has had seven years to see that Buck Showalter has nothing more to offer. If he decides to let him go while there are still talented, hopeful pieces for a new man to work with, there’s a 67% chance the club can put a championship run together.

And why not? It’s not like the Orioles are going anywhere now.

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Is Ozzie Albies the second coming of Andruw Jones?

Is Ozzie Albies the second coming of Andruw Jones?

In 1996, the Atlanta Braves were World Series Champions. They had beaten their American League clones, the Cleveland Indians, in six games the previous fall.

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The Braves were in the midst of a 15-year run as the National League’s dominant team. From 1991-2005 they would win the National League West [’91-93] or the East [95-05] a combined 14 times, at least 90 games 13 times, 100 in a half-dozen seasons, and go to five World Series [1991, 92, 95, 96, 99]. For all that, the 1995 Series was the only one they would win. From that perspective, the 1996 season began a long decline.

It didn’t look that way at the time. Exactly the opposite in fact.

While it was lefty Steve Avery’s final season with the team, the rotation appeared ready to dominate for years. John Smoltz, five seasons away from his conversion to the closer’s role, was the 1996 NL Cy Young winner. Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux were also on course for Hall of Fame careers.

There was speed and power up and down the lineup. Javy Lopez, Fred McGriff, Chipper Jones, Marquis Grissom, Ryan Klesko, Terry Pendleton, Jermaine Dye, David Justice, Luis Polonia. The Braves were going to score runs.

Bobby Cox’s coaching staff was formidable as well. First base, third base, and bullpen coaches Pat Corrales, Jimy Williams, and Ned Yost would all become major league managers in their own right. And Bobby always had Leo Mazzone’s company. The venerated pitching coach only stopped rocking in the dugout when he stood up to go to the mound.

That said, the best advertisement for the Braves’ future was a teenager who came up to the club late in the season to play left field. Andruw Jones was 19. He hailed from the Caribbean island of Curacao, off the Venezuelan coast, and he had some pop in his bat. In 31 games, he drove hit five home runs, drove in 13 runs, scored 11, stole three bases, and showed excellent range in the outfield.

It was in the Fall Classic where he made the greatest impression, however. In his first World Series game, the teenager hit two home runs and drove in five in the second and third innings to spark a 12-1 rout in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees would lose Game 2 as well before rebounding to sweep the next four,. Nevertheless, Jones became a fixture in the Braves outfield for the next 11 seasons before bouncing around the major leagues for another five, the last two with the Yankees. His major league resume reads more than 400 home runs and 150 stolen bases, a career 62.8 Wins Above Replacement, five All-Star appearances, the 2005 MLB home run and National League RBI crowns, and ten Gold Gloves.

That’s a tough act to follow. The Braves seem to have a pipeline to Curacaoan talent, though. Two players from the tiny island have followed Jones’ path to the big leagues.

Andrelton Simmons didn’t quite work out. His first full season at Turner Field held promise. The shortstop finished the season with 150 hits, 59 RBI, 76 runs, and 17 HRs. When his production dipped in the next two campaigns, the Braves traded him to the Angels in 2015. Last season, Simmons rediscovered his hitting stroke, setting new career marks for hits, doubles, homers, runs, RBIs, stolen bases, and walks. He also struck out more, although that was a fair price for the increased production. The 28-year-old has the talent to enjoy a solid major league career. It just won’t be with the Braves.

Last season, Atlanta mined their private Caribbean island for a third time, bringing away a second-baseman. Ozzie Albies made his debut on August 1st and quickly turned heads. In 57 games before season’s end, he cracked 62 hits, knocked six out of the park and collected 28 ribbies. His power was complemented by speed. Albies scored 34 runs and stole eight bases in nine attempts.

This season, he is proving it’s not a fluke. With teams coming up on the season’s quarter-pole, the 21-year-old infielder is third in the majors in run production, having scored or driven in 67. Only Boston’s Mookie Betts and the Yankees Aaron Judge, with 69 and 68 respectively, surpass the islander. Albies’ batting line reads .304/.564/.868.

He could certainly walk more, especially as pitchers are now pitching around him. His slugging percentage is seventh-best in the National League. It was fourth going into the weekend. It’s his turn to adjust now. The youngster must lay off pitches outside the strike zone to get on base more.

Couple Albie’s numbers with first-baseman Freddie Freeman’s power, though, and it’s little wonder the Braves are setting the pace in the National League East. Still young, Albies has the potential to be even better as he learns. If he does, people will start to look at Curacao less as the home of Andruw Jones and more as a baseball hotbed.

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Yankees showing they have pitching depth to go with the sluggers

Yankees showing they have pitching depth to go with the sluggers

If you’re going to cherry-pick one statistic to rate a team in any sport, it should be goal/run/point difference. Some teams can score like nobody’s business but can’t defend to save their lives. Others are just the opposite. They can’t do anything with the ball but won’t let you have any fun, either. When the margin between for and against is wide, though, you know you have a team that can do it all.

The World Series champion Houston Astros have the league’s fourth-best record at 24-15 but are lapping the field in run difference. They have scored 86 more runs than their pitchers have allowed. That would suggest they run hot and cold, which is why you must be careful when picking cherries.

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On the other hand, the league’s two best teams are running neck-and-neck in run difference. They’ve also been playing a three-game series at Yankee Stadium that wraps up tonight. The Bronx Bombers [26-10] have taken the first two to wrest the American League East lead from the Boston Red Sox [25-11]. Aaron Boone’s squad is on an 8-game winning streak in which their hitting has largely covered for a slumping pitching staff.

The first two games were 4-0 shutouts over the typically potent Astros. In the first, 25-year-old lefty Jim Montgomery only lasted an inning. ‘Gumby’s’ injury was later diagnosed as a flexor strain in his elbow that will cost him 6-8 weeks. The bullpen covered for him with eight scoreless innings. In the second game, Luis Severino pitched a much-appreciated complete game shutout. He surrendered only five hits while striking out ten. From there, the bats took over.

Masahiro Tanaka couldn’t get out of the seventh, giving up three runs after pitching six scoreless innings in the series finale. The bullpen surrendered two more, but Yankee bats came alive in the ninth, ringing up three runs to come home to New York with three of the four games and an unbeaten start to May.

Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez can now rub elbows with Giancarlo Stantaon, as well.

Cleveland came to town to open the six-game homestand. The Yankees raked Terry Francona’s staff for 19 runs in the three games and needed most of them. Boone’s pitchers surrendered 12.

Things settled down a bit in the first game against the BoSox. Severino went six-plus, surrendering two runs and the Yankees eked out a 3-2 win. Both teams went to town in the second game but the Bombers prevailed 9-6. They’ll have a chance to extend the winning streak to nine while adding a small cushion to their division lead.

The unbeaten run is something of a surprise. Montgomery’s loss is hardly the Yanks’ only injury concern. First baseman Greg Bird has been nursing a broken spur in his ankle. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s plantar fasciitis and hip problems will keep him out until June. Pitcher Adam Warren will be out a couple of weeks with a back issue. Relievers Tommy Kahnle and Luis Cessa are also on the 10-day DL.

The Yankees have powered through, however. Opponents thought they’d have to deal with three sluggers coming into the season. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and new signing Giancarlo Stanton are all on nine home runs through the season’s first six weeks but shortstop Didi Gregorius leads the way with an even ten. The group has combined to position New York as the league’s most prolific hitters. They’ve scored 209 runs already. Boston is second with 200.

More importantly to their postseason hopes — I know, it’s early — is the pitching staff’s contribution. As Aaron Boone has had to reach into the minors to keep arms in the bullpen, Larry Rothchild’s group has remained stingy. They’ve combined with the starters to yield the American League’s third-fewest runs, behind the Astros and Red Sox. The Yankees’ ERA is a respectable 3.46, their WHIP 1.165.

The Yankees rotation is putting together solid numbers despite Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka's struggles.

Rothchild has some work to do with Tanaka and Sonny Gray. The Japanese star has decent numbers. In 46 innings he’s walked only ten. His WHIP is below the team average at 1.101. He is struggling to make the out pitch, however. Gray is a more alarming problem. His control is way off. The former Oakland ace has issued 21 passes in 33 IP and is allowing six runs per nine innings.

On the other hand, Severino is handling duties as an ace with aplomb and CC Sabbathia is rolling through lineups as the fourth man in the rotation. If Kahnle and Cessa return soon, the Yankees have a chance to open up some distance on the Red Sox.

The first step will be completing the series sweep tonight.

The Best, MLB Handicappers Predictions

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.