The MLB season is less than thirty games old as we depart April and enter May. Despite the season still being in its infancy, numerous storylines have been created that could factor into the remaining 130+ games. While some teams jumped out to an early lead (Brewers) others have stumbled spectacularly out of the gate (Diamondbacks). From impressive rookie break outs (Abreu/Ventrua/Tanaka) to sophomores on the cusp of superstardom (Jose Fernandez) April has had a little bit of everything for baseball fans.
The Brew Crew Best in Baseball:
One of the biggest April story lines has been the incredible start by the Milwaukee Brewers. Heading into May the Brewers are the BEST team in baseball with a 20-8 record (.714%) including an astounding 11-2 on the road. What makes the Brewers early season success so surprising is that it comes on the heels of one of the franchise’s most disappointing seasons. Even with the breakouts by Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Jean Segura, the Brewers couldn’t get out of the shadow of Ryan Braun’s PED/Biogenesis scandal and eventual suspension. The Brewers were also plagued by injuries, errors and bullpen instability. When all was said and done, the Brewers were 74-88 and 4th in the NL Central.
The main reason for the Brewers early season success has been their ability to get production out of every facet of their roster. Not only are their big names producing – .288/6/14 for Gomez and .318/6/18 for Braun – but they are also getting run production from young players like Khris Davis and Scooter Gennett and veterans like Aramis Ramirez, Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. Not to be outdone by their offense, the Brew Crew starters have been dominant, combining for 22 Quality Starts in 27 chances. Once their starters are out of the game the Brewers hand the ball over to their bulletproof bullpen. Last year the Brewers struggled to close out games and ended up going through THREE closers (John Axford, Jim Henderson and Francisco Rodriguez).
This year, the man known as ”K-Rod” has grabbed hold of the closers job and is not looking back. For a man who once had FOUR STRAIGHT 40 save seasons, including the MLB record for saves in a season with 62 in 2008, the past couple seasons have been a bit of a struggle. Between 2012 and 2013 Rodriguez only saved 13 games for both the Orioles and the Brewers. This month alone he has saved 13 games! Even if K-Rod struggles the Brewers have power arms like Jim Henderson, Tyler Thornburg and Will Smith waiting in the wings.
Personally I don’t think the Brewers hot start is a fluke by any means. The Brewers have a solid pitching staff and strong bullpen combined with a potent lineup that gets run production from every spot in their lineup. If the supporting cast can continue to help the Brewers star power and their starters continue to pitch deep into games then this is a team that could be playing meaningful baseball down the stretch.
Struggles in the Desert:
The Arizona Diamondbacks and their fans have got to be thinking “what’s next?” Not only are the Diamondbacks last in the NL West but they are dead last in the entire MLB. Their 9-22 record (.290%) has them behind perennial cellar dwellers like the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros. What’s more pathetic than their overall record is their abysmal display at Chase Field so far. Through April, the Diamondbacks are 6-7 on the road and 3-15 playing in front of their own fans. As if their overall record wasn’t insulting enough, the Diamondbacks have faced a rash of injuries to their key players. 2013 breakout and staff ace Patrick Corbin was lost to Tommy John season before the season even started. The latest blow was the news that Mark Trumbo (one of the lone bright spots) will miss the next 6-8 weeks with a fractured foot. Trumbo was acquired in a three team trade from the Angels in exchange for SP Tyler Skaggs and OF Adam Eaton.
Sadly even the Diamondbacks farm system isn’t immune from the injury bug as the DBacks were forced to put top pitching prospect Archie Bradley on the 7 Day DL with a… wait for it… *cue dark and ominous music* a “mild” elbow sprain… I would be shocked if he avoids Tommy John. It’s also a matter of time before Manager Kirk Gibson gets shown the door. At least that will buy Towers a little more time before he too is (potentially) shown the door. At least DBacks fans can take solace in the play of Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings.
The Good, the Bad and the Gomez:
Last season Carlos Gomez enjoyed a huge coming out party that saw him get voted an All Star, win a Gold Glove and even finish 9th in NL MVP voting. Gomez hit.288/24/73 and swiped 40 bags in 536 AB’s during the 2013 season, and even managed to have a .338 OBP despite striking out 146 times compared to just 37 walks. The only negative moment of the season came during an altercation with pretty much the entire infield of the Atlanta Braves that led to a bench clearing brawl and ejections.
Flash forward to this season. Once again Gomez is enjoying a (very) nice start to the season having hit .288/6/14 though the first 27 games. He is also showing on a near nightly basis why he was a Gold Glove winner in 2013. Yet all his accolades and accomplishments are being overshadowed by his childish antics on the field. Once again Gomez was at the centre of ANOTHER bench clearing brawl that he instigated.
His performance is plain embarrassing. I also love how he “needs” to be held back by his teammates, real tough guy. The only guy who appears to be as tough as Gomez is backup C Martin Maldanado who sucker punches Travis Snider during the melee.
So which is the real Carlos Gomez? Is it the Gold Glove defender at a premium position with elite speed that could see him be a perennial 25/25 or 30/30 player; not to mention an All Star? Or is it the showboating clown who pimps fly balls to the wall and runs his mouth knowing that his teammates will eventually “hold” him back? Seeing as how he is 28 years old it’s hard to imagine if he will completely clean up his act and mature which is a shame because his BS on the field could/will eventually overshadow his on field abilities. Let’s hope that he doesn’t turn out to be another Milton Bradley or Niger “Tony Plush” Morgan.
The “Feel Goods” of 2014:
The rich history of baseball is rife with stories of underdogs and unknowns making a lasting impact on the game, whether it is for a season, a playoff run, or even a single game. It is nothing new in baseball and it seems that every season has one or two “feel good” stories. Even Hollywood jumped in on the trend in 1984 when Robert Redford portrayed the mythical Roy Hobbs in “the Natural.” The 2014 season has been no different. In fact, there are two solid candidates for “feel good” story of the year.
Chris Colabello was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. Colabello was 28 years old. He was never drafted by an MLB team. And his only “professional” baseball had been played in the CAN-AM League. The CAN-AM is more known for signing wash ups and novelties like Eric Gagne and Jose Canseco than it is for churning out MLB calibre players – although Steve Delabar and Craig Breslow have both pitched in the league. In fact in Colabello’s last stint in the CAN-AM, his team’s jerseys were seized for an unpaid cleaning bill.
Where most players spend one season toiling in the CAN-AM before bouncing elsewhere, Colabello laboured for seven seasons before the Twins signed him prior to the 2012 season. Colabello went on to hit .284/19/98 in AA New Britain. 2013 would be a big year for Colabello as he would play in the World Baseball Classic and make his MLB debut. Colabello hit .333/2/7 in 5 games for team Italy. The Twins called him up in May and he made his debut against the Braves on the 22nd. Colabello would get 160 at bats for the Twins in 2013 and, despite hitting .194; he would show his power by hitting 7 home runs and adding 17 RBI.
2014 has been special to say the least. To date Colabello is hitting .308 with 3 HR’s and 27 RBI. He ranks among AL leaders in both Batting Average (BA) and RBI. In fact his 27 RBI in April broke Kirby Puckett’s club record for RBI in April. Statistics aside, the highlight for Chris Colabello’s 2014 season has to be this:
Yes that was Colabello hitting a home run on his mom’s birthday as she was being interviewed. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Although his journey to the show wasn’t as arduous as Chris Colabello’s, Charlie Blackmon has earned his place as one of the early feel good stories. Unlike Colabello, Blackmon has had plenty of “professional” experience as he was drafted by the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2008 MLB Draft and made his debut as a 24 year old in 2011. The knock against Blackmon was that he wasn’t a good enough defender to stay in CF and he didn’t have enough power to last as a corner OF. The other issue was that he was road blocked by Dexter Fowler in center and Carlos Gonzalez in LF. The offseason trade of Fowler to Houston opened up an open casting call for CF between Drew Stubbs, Corey Dickerson and Blackmon. Despite Stubbs and Dickerson having a better resume, Blackmon won the job outright and he has not disappointed.
Blackmon is currently hitting .379 to go along with 5 HR’s and 18 RBI in 95 AB’s – he’s also added 7 steals too. The highlights of Blackmon’s torrid April were a 6 for 6 showing against the Diamondbacks at Opening Day at Coors Field and a two home run game against the Giants. Going into the last weekend of the month Blackmon was hitting over .400.
It’s doubtful that both Colabello and Blackmon keep up their hot starts to the seasons given their limited experience and the grind that is the 162 game MLB season. Even with the odds stacked against them, it’s hard not to cheer for the two “feel goods.”
Honourable Mention: Grady Sizemore and Dustin McGowan.
I understand that the MLB is trying with their new replay system. It isn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The biggest complaints have been the stalling tactics used by MLB managers before deciding to challenge or not challenge a play… most times not challenge. Nothing is more painstaking than seeing John Gibbons waddle out of the dugout to go “discuss” the call with the umps before getting the “shake off” from the bench coach. This has to be changed. Baseball is SLOW enough. Managers should have a “shot clock” of sorts that gives them a certain amount of time to decide whether or not to throw their challenge flag… or challenge bat. It is baseball after all.
What is also lost in this replay nonsense is the fact that as fans we are missing out on the time honoured tradition of managers BLOWING UP on umpires.
I know and understand that the replay system was brought in to prevent a game changing error and to prevent these exact confrontations. But lets be honest… who doesn’t want to see more managers doing their best Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella impression?
Josh Donaldson is giving the A’s something they haven’t had in a LONG time… a true star. Yes the A’s have turned out some absolute stud pitchers and yes they do have Yoenis Cespedes on their current roster but Donaldson trumps them. Donaldson enjoyed a HUGE coming out party in 2013 where he hit .301/24/93 in 579 AB. Those numbers were good enough for a 4th place finish in the AL MVP voting but NOT good enough for an All Star appearance. Donaldson has picked right up where he left off. Through 27 games Donaldson has hit for .274 and added 7 HR and 22 RBI in 117 AB; he also has 10 doubles to date. If Donaldson can keep up this kind of pace there is NO DOUBT that he will be an All Star in 2014 and perhaps be higher than 4th in MVP voting.
Another chapter in the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry was written in April when Yankees starter Michael Pineda was ejected from a game for using a foreign substance (pine tar) to doctor the baseball. What is astounding is that this was the SECOND time THIS MONTH that Pineda had used pine tar on a ball. But what is even more ASTOUNDING is that BOTH times he decided to do it against the RED SOX!!! The first time Pineda was shown to have a “dark” substance on his pitching hand but the Red Sox did not have the umpires check him out.
Amazingly Pineda gave them a second crack at proving him a cheater in HIS NEXT START AGAINST THEM! After having control problems in the 1st inning and surrendering two runs, Pineda took the mound in the 2nd with a VERY NOTICEABLE substance on his neck. This time John Farrell came out and had the umps check Pineda and what do you think they found? Yup, pine tar. Immediate ejection and 10 game suspension.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much of a clown Michael Pineda is. I mean, what kind of dope goes out and cheats TWICE against the SAME TEAM in the SAME MONTH?! You have to be a REAL special kind of stupid to do that. Especially against your ARCH RIVAL whose Manager is a former pitching coach and that has their own pitchers (Clay Bucholz) who may or may not doctor the ball…
The Billy Hamilton experience: 25 G • 90 AB • .244 BA • .281 OBP • 10SB/5CS • 12 R • 1HR/6RBI •19 K’s. His stat line may not be overly impressive but going 1st to 3rd on a squib hit to the pitcher before scoring on a routine grounder to 3rd after being HIT BY A PITCH is DAMN impressive!
What still amazes me is that someone with ELITE speed like Hamilton cannot master the bunt; especially when playing in the NL. His wheels will
always ensure him a job in the MLB but it will be his plate approach and discipline that will allow him to become a potential star.
No one knew what to expect of Masahiro Tanaka going into the 2014 season. The one thing that everyone could agree on was that the Yankees had paid an awful lot for someone who has never thrown a pitch in a major league uniform. However, one month in and the Japanese import, who was signed to a ludicrous 7 year/ $155 million dollar deal, is looking better than advertised. Through his first 5 starts, Tanaka is:
3-0 • 2.27 ERA • 46 SO/6 BB • .93 WHIP • 35.1 IP
The only thing that has been filthier than his stat line has been his disgusting split finger fastball. In the video link below, former MLB catcher Mike Lieberthal compares Tanaka’s splitter to that of potential HoF’er Curt Schilling’s.
I would like to say that that is awful high praise for someone who has pitched less than 40 innings in the majors (especially being a Yankee). But oh my goodness at that splitter…
When he announced his free agency and his intentions to play in the MLB, the White Sox were quick to sign Jose Abreu to a 6 yr/ $68 million dollar deal. It was an incredibly bold move to make on a power hitter who has never played in the MLB but the White Sox were hoping that Abreu would be the latest Cuban position player to take the MLB world by storm. And to date, Jose Abreu has not disappointed. His 10 HR and 31 RBI are BOTH new MLB records for a rookie. He has three multi home run games to date including a walk off Grand Slam off Rays closer Grant Balfour.
Abreu has “easy” power and can hit to all fields. His torrid pace should slow down as MLB teams get more video on the slugger but his numbers and tools alone could see him in the 2014 All Star game and hopefully in the Home Run Derby too.
Going into Wednesday’s game Aaron Harang was the MLB ERA leader (.86 ERA) and among the league leaders in wins (3) and strikeouts (33). Unfortunately for the Harangatang he turned back into a pumpkin as he was lit up by the Marlins for 9 earned runs (a career high) in his start on Wednesday. Harang was part of a patchwork rotation that the Braves pieced together after placing SP Mike Minor on the 15 day DL and losing pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season with Tommy John surgery. The Braves were also able to coax Ervin Santana into signing a one year deal after he had been rumoured to have signed with the Blue Jays. LHP Alex Wood has also stepped out of the bullpen and into the rotation with relative ease. Despite a 2-4 record the lefty has a 2.93 ERA and 37 punch outs in 40 innings pitched. Wood, who was a 2nd round pick by the Braves in 2012, is looking like the latest homegrown pitcher to impact the Braves rotation.
Jose Fernandez is making his case for being the best young RHP since the days of Doc Gooden and Roger Clemens. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year is showing NO SIGNS of a sophomore slump. At the end of the month, Fernandez is 4-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 39.2 innings. Fernandez is straight up DOMINANT and most games looks completely unhittable. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the 21 year old Fernandez is currently the best RHP in the game.
What to Look Forward to in May:
The DL returns of Clayton Kershaw, Manny Machado, Taijuan Walker, Mike Minor and Aroldis Chapman.
MLB top prospects finally getting the call: Gregory Polanco and Oscar Taveras could make a big impact. Not to mention guys like Andrew Heaney, Kyle
Zimmer and Mark Appel.
The pink bats and apparel that signify Mothers Day/Breast Cancer awareness.
More Tommy John injuries… currently sitting at 16 MLB pitchers and counting….