I was ready to write a whole column and then a bombshell dropped on Friday, with star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. getting suspended 80 games for using PEDs. Tatis claimed that he used Clostebol to treat ringworm. I can’t say whether or not that is true, but I can for sure say that his 2022 season is over, and will likely miss the first month of the 2023 season (The 80 games also include any postseason games San Diego plays). It’s a blow for the Padres’ World Series hopes this season. Also on the docket this week:
- The Field of Dreams game
- A New Boss in Texas
- A look at the NL Central race
- Al Avila’s Downfall in Detroit
- Baffling Baserunning in Seattle
- Player Spotlight: Justin Verlander
- and finally: Is it time to fear the Orioles?
The Field of Disillusions game
My favorite baseball movie is Field of Dreams. When I found out that there would be a game played between the White Sox and Yankees in Dyersville, I was ecstatic. The atmosphere last season, playing into the corniness of the move, Kevin Costner throwing out the first pitch, and the cinematic ending was integral to making last year’s game an instant classic. Wanting to capitalize on the success, Major League Baseball called for a sequel, with the Cubs and Reds taking the place of the White Sox and Yankees.
The only problem with this logic was that by the time the season started, both teams had started to rebuild and embark on a race to the bottom. The two participants had sold off the most marketable players by the time they embarked on Iowa, and the game itself was a drag, with both teams far removed from competitive baseball. The sequel was just not as good as the original, and hopefully the next time MLB chooses to play in Iowa, they choose at least one team that cares about winning.
(The Griffeys playing catch was a great feature, but probably the only memorable part of the event.)
A New Boss of the Texas Rangers?
A bombshell dropped on Monday morning, as the Texas Rangers decided to fire their manager Chris Woodward. Prior to his firing, Woodward had never finished a season with the Rangers above .500 or made the playoffs. However, he was hired to guide a young Rangers team through a rebuild and played a critical role in Texas landing superstar shortstop Corey Seager. I think that next season the Rangers could have been a dark horse playoff team, but there wasn’t enough talent on the major league roster to win now. A poor record in one-run games (6-24) played a part in Texas falling out of the playoff picture, and Woodward was the fall guy.
Cardinals on the come-up?
The Milwaukee Brewers had a strange deadline, as they were sellers despite being in first place in the NL Central. All-Star closer Josh Hader was shipped to San Diego for prospects and Taylor Rogers, and the Brewers’ front office sold the deal as a way for the Brewers to thread the needle and win now and win later. The problem was this sent the Brewers into a spiral, and the Cardinals took advantage, going from 3 games back when the trade happened to 1.5 games ahead of the Brewers.
After last weekend’s series in St. Louis, the Cardinals and Brewers will face each other only four more times, so the Brewers losing the series could be very critical in deciding the NL playoff field.
Al Avila Deposed in Detroit
Shortly after I criticized the Tigers and their rebuild under Al Avila, they fired their general manager. Many preseason projections had pegged the Tigers as a team that would win between 70 and 80 games and could take another step forward in their rebuild. The plan was to have Austin Meadows, Javier Baez, and Eduardo Rodriguez add a winning mentality to a clubhouse that had only known losing. The two former all-stars have been disappointments, with a combined 11 home runs between them, after both players had 30 home run seasons in the past. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has struggled in his first season in the Motor City, posting a 4.38 ERA before going on leave for personal reasons.
The other major reason for optimism was the kids would be maturing. The Tigers’ pitching staff was supposed to be supporting Rodriguez with Matt Manning, Casey Mize, and Tarik Skubal. Mize struggled and then had Tommy John Surgery and Manning has been out for most of the year with a shoulder injury, while Skubal is slated to miss the rest of the season. Both Manning and Skubal have been excellent, but neither were able to stay healthy.
On the hitting side, Spencer Torkelson debuted less than two years after going first overall in the draft and sported a .197/.282/.295 slash line before being sent down to Triple-A Toledo. Fellow rookie Riley Greene has been better, with a .237/.296/.348 line that still clocks in below league average. Evidently, the Tigers were expecting more from their roster this year, and Avila took the blame with his dismissal.
Baffling Baserunning in Seattle
The Mariners made a splashy move to acquire Luis Castillo over a team like the Yankees, who were the rumored destination for Castillo. In his first start in Seattle, against those very Yankees, Castillo shoved, throwing eight scoreless innings. However, the biggest takeaway from that game was not how Castillo was dominant for a team seeking the postseason, but rather an embarrassment on the base paths by the Yankees.
The game was tied 0-0 going into extra innings, and Andrew Benintendi started on second base for the Yankees. Josh Donaldson was hit by a pitch and was replaced by Tim Locastro at first. The Yankees then attempted a double steal, with Benintendi getting caught stealing at third. In the next inning, Miguel Andujar started the frame at second and was out on a lineout double play from Aaron Hicks. The very next inning, Jose Trevino was at second and was thrown out on a fielder’s choice double play from Isiah Kiner-Falefa for yet another extra runner to be out on the base paths. In consecutive innings, the Yankees had two batters instead of three due to leadoff double plays. Thanks for the zombie runner, Rob Manfred!
Player Spotlight: Justin Verlander
Last week, I took a look at the American League Cy Young race that featured Dylan Cease, Kevin Gausman, Shane McClanahan, and Verlander himself. The most accomplished name on this list is easily Verlander, who went to Houston and became reinvigorated, winning a Cy Young in 2019 and finishing as the runner-up the year before. Even before going to Houston, Verlander had won the AL MVP in 2011 when he won the triple crown (leading the league in strikeouts, ERA, and wins). Over a decade later, he’s nearly as dominant:
2022 Verlander: 1.85 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 0.860 WHIP, 25.7 K%
2011 Verlander: 2.40 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 0.920 WHIP, 25.8 K%
Yes, Justin Verlander, at age 39, is having a season comparable to his MVP season over a decade ago. Not only that, Verlander is doing this in his first season since having Tommy John surgery in September 2020. Unlike 2011, he probably won’t win MVP, but if I had a vote, he would be my choice for the AL Cy Young this year.
The Orioles (might) be back
Last season, the Seattle Mariners surprised many as they chased a wild card spot in the American League and won 90 games. This season, the new darlings are the Baltimore Orioles. Over the last few years, the Orioles had failed to win more than 55 games, as they sunk to the cellar of the American League. So far this season, the Orioles have won 59 games, their most since the 2017 season. How have they made the leap?
The pitching took a major league, as last season the O’s finished last in the American League in many pitching measures such as strikeouts, earned run average, and home runs allowed. This year, Orioles pitchers have become league average, ranking seventh in ERA. On the hitting side, the Orioles went from 12th to 5th in stolen bases. Finally, the Orioles started winning more close games, as they have collected 17 victories in one-run games so far this year, four more than last season. The improvement of the Orioles has been great to watch, and hopefully, they will continue on an upward trajectory.
Statistics courtesy of MLB.com, FanGraphs, baseball-reference, and BaseballSavant
Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated