Have we really learned any more in the baseball season’s second week than we did on the first? You can essentially set your watch to a team that starts out scorching taking a mild step back (see: Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates). You can also count on the inverse taking place (see: St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers). Some thoughts on the week that was, and the 24 more we have in store before October hits:
A different Cardinals vibe in 2016
Last year, when they became the first team in four years to win 100 games, the St. Louis Cardinals did it virtually all with pitching. Fast forward one season, and the Cardinals lead the Majors in runs scored with 85 through just 12 games. More impressively, they’ve scored 78 of those over their last nine contests.
Granted, those last nine contests have been against three of baseball’s worst teams in the Braves, Brewers, and Reds. But it’s a big transition for a team that led the league in ERA but struggled offensively in 2015. The Cards are not only blasting a lot of homers (21), they’re hitting them in big spots. They already have six pinch-hit bombs on the year, including an MLB-record three in one game on April 8 and the most overall in 10 games in league history.
With Adam Wainwright and Mike Leake off to rocky starts, the Cardinals have needed their potent offensive attack, and it will serve them exceptionally well once the pitching staff finds its groove.
Think you can touch Betances and Miller? Bull(pen)
It’s absolutely frightening to think that the New York Yankees are going to be getting Aroldis Chapman back on May 9. As it stands, no one can even make contact against the lethal 8-9 combo of Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. On two straight days, both Betances and Miller kept their ERAs at 0.00 by striking out the side in the eighth and ninth, respectively. Betances has an absurd 15 strikeouts in six innings, while Miller isn’t far behind with 12 over five innings. Betances has walked just two, while Miller has yet to issue a free pass.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Yankees are World Series-bound. But what it does mean that virtually any team that falls behind the Yanks after six innings is toast. Given that the team’s starters rank just 23rd in innings pitched, manager Joe Girardi could even turn to Betances or Miller as early as the sixth inning once Chapman returns. Ony time will tell if GM Brian Cashman’s plan to copy the Kansas City Royals’ championship formula pans out, but if nothing else the back end of New York’s bullpen is going to be record-settingly good.
Speaking of good bullpens…
Quick, name the team with baseball’s best bullpen ERA.
Bet you didn’t guess the Chicago White Sox. But shockingly, the South Siders are atop the leaderboard during their 8-4 start. The good news/good news routine here is that with just 28 innings pitched, the White Sox are last in that category because their starters are tied for fifth with 77. Even if you might scoff at the pen’s 1.61 ERA for that reason, keep in mind that Chicago still has a very good and underrated closer in David Robertson. The 31-year-old righty has yet to allow a hit in five outings, converting all five of his save chances.
Along with Robertson, contributions are coming from everywhere. Reclamation project Matt Albers has been a pleasant surprise, hurling seven scoreless frames spanning six outings. Jake Petricka is unscored upon in four outings, while Nate Jones has yielded just one hit and has a 1.80 ERA in six games. This will help manager Robin Ventura immensely, as well as ease some concerns for Sox fans insisting that the rotation is unstable after Chris Sale.
Sweeping aside bad feelings
It wouldn’t shock me if there were some baseball pundits thinking 100 losses would be a given for the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins after their 0-9 starts. Shows you how quickly things can change in baseball.
25 years after they met in an epic 1991 World Series, these two franchises were wearing the collar through nine games. But both got off the mat in a big way this weekend, sweeping series to move to 3-9. Minnesota took three at home from the Los Angeles Angels, including a walk-off victory yesterday, while Atlanta snagged three in Miami, also going extra innings in the Sunday finale.
Atlanta is in for a much longer season than Minnesota, but at least Fredi Gonzalez can breathe a little easier after outmanaging counterpart Don Mattingly. For the Twinkies, Paul Molitor isn’t on the hot seat after being a Manager of the Year finalist in his first season, but he knows his team has more talent than its shown thus far.
All in all, a much needed respite for these two franchises.