An interesting week passed for the New York Yankees, who lost right-hander Michael Pineda to Tommy John surgery and Aaron Judge to the rigors of baseball impermanence, then were attempting to rebuild with a good piece of the Chicago White Sox’s roster, highlighted by the addition of Todd Frazier. Pineda will be gone for at least a year, an outcome that is likely to add another item to Brian Cashman’s July agenda. Judge’s batter’s box infirmary is temporary, probably, certainly to the degree of a 3-for-25 blindside, and still a reminder that the game is as relentless as it is capricious.
Only two players this season have struck out at least 86 times and batted .300. Marcell Ozuna has hit .316 while striking out 88 times in 358 at-bats. And Judge: 117 strikeouts, .313 average, 326 at-bats. Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson are in the ballpark, too. None, though, is even close to Judge’s .434 on-base percentage. Still, it was always going to be incredible, if not impossible, to have a guy on a 200-strikeout pace also challenge for a batting title.
And while 3 for 25 isn’t much fun, it’ll pass. Judge’s past 25 at-bats hardly looked different than his first 301, other than the outcomes. Pitchers seem to be challenging him with fastballs more, seeking better spots in that big ol’ strike zone of his, and for the moment finding them. To his credit, Judge has grinned and vowed to get ‘em next time, and had two hits and a walk Tuesday night, which is how you survive this thing. He remains, today, the MVP frontrunner, with the likes of Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts and George Springer, maybe even Mike Trout, in pursuit.
The momentary wobble should inspire the Yankees’ front office to consider life in the second half with a good Judge, if something less than a legendary Judge. Only the Los Angeles Angels have been less productive at first base. Only a few teams have been less productive at third base (including the Boston Red Sox.) But you knew that. And they knew that. And now in a month in which their ERA has swelled, and the offense has declined, it would seem Cashman has his pick of where to upgrade, even when Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle arrive, which is now.
Those later innings have turned into a bit of an organizational commotion over the years, hardly ever more so than the past few months. So the Nationals moved out three players, Blake Treinen among them, for a chunk of the Oakland A’s bullpen, because Madson and Doolittle are good pitchers and salt-of-the-earth guys. Except maybe not closers. Or, together, closers.
It’s hard to say.
Baker made a point Tuesday of saying he’d talked long and hard with A’s manager Bob Melvin and come away with the impression back-to-back games aren’t ideal for either pitcher, and particularly not for Doolittle, who has a history of shoulder injuries. (Doolittle, asked about pitching consecutive games, asserted he was “Full go” and had “No restrictions.”) Baker also said Melvin told him Doolittle was death to lefties (they are 1 for 25 against him), and to watch out for “a fastball-hitting right-hander.”
Bottom line, Baker, when asked to identify his closer, said, “Right now, I don’t know.”
Which is fair and honest and we’ll have to see how it goes. The Nationals bullpen just got better, though. They’ll start there, from a place of a 5.27 ERA, worst in baseball, and 14 blown saves and six ninth-inning leads gone. You could say it’s no way to run a season, except the Nationals are easily the best team in the NL East and that won’t change for the next two months.
Turned out, Baker looked up in the late innings Tuesday night, saw he had a two-run lead, pitched Madson in the eighth inning and Doolittle in the ninth. Because there’s some sort of weird juju going on in the Nats’ pen, Doolittle almost immediately allowed his first hit to a left-handed hitter this season. Then, with first base open, he retired both Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, right-handed hitters who know their ways around a fastball.
The wait is on October. And on Koda Glover’s shoulder. And what the ninth inning looks like when that all comes together.
“Bob Melvin assured me these guys were two of his finest,” Baker said, “on the field and off the field.”
So, yeah, start there.
The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired J.D. Martinez, which makes a right handed-hitting team lean even further to the right, which is fine, in part because of the Los Angeles Dodgers. If the Dbacks are going to make a run in the NL West, it’ll have to come at the expense of the Dodgers, and that’ll mean some head-to-head wins, and that’ll probably mean beating Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu. All lefties.
July, August and September generally play as a crawl, as much for the team out in front as the team hopelessly not in front. Football teams with a lead watch a clock for 15 minutes. Baseball teams? For a couple months.
The Milwaukee Brewers have been the best team in the NL Central for three months. They have out-hit the Chicago Cubs. They steal more bases. They’ve pitched with them.
Three months is a long time, and certainly a reasonable period in which to identify the better team. Except the Brewers aren’t as familiar to us, and we hold up Kris Bryant against Travis Shaw, or Anthony Rizzo against Domingo Santana, or Jon Lester and Jimmy Nelson, and your heart says mismatch, and your box score – along with your standings — says otherwise.
So, the Cubs. On Friday at Wrigley, they’ll play the first of 10 second-half games against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs also have 10 games coming against the Brewers, three of them next weekend at Miller Park.
This weekend’s probables:
Friday: Carlos Martinez vs. Jake Arrieta
Saturday: Adam Wainwright vs. Jose Quintana
Sunday: Michael Wacha vs. Jon Lester
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