Opening Thoughts: The Yanks are exciting again, the Reds won’t last in 1st place, the Pirates are a lot better than people think, Chris Devenski might be the best relief pitcher who isn’t a closer, the Rockies prove a lockdown closer can change the entire direction of a team, and Bartolo Colon and his 0.82 WHIP are still just as sexy in a Braves uniform.
Beast of the Week: What a colossal difference a week can make. The Beast of the Week goes to the collective New York Yankees for being the only MLB team out of 30 to go undefeated in week two. More impressively, the team is doing it without perhaps their most indispensable player, catcher Gary Sanchez. How did the previously mediocre Yanks pulled this off? Excellent and more importantly consistent pitching has propelled the team’s seven game win streak. The Yanks haven’t been blowing out their opponents, but the starting pitching stepped up in a big way this past week. Combined this with the lowest bullpen ERA in all of baseball at 1.22, and you’ve got the recipe for a dominant run. This past week saw the promising major league debut of southpaw Jordan Montgomery, rare quality back-to-back starts by Michael Pineda, and the final transformation of CC Sabathia from 97 mph fireballer to crafty lefty. The rotation veteran is now 2-0 this season with a 1.47 ERA. Overall consistency is what the Yankees have lacked from their starters for several years now, and things seem to finally be rounding into form. As I mentioned in my Battle for NY piece, the development of Luis Severino into a quality starting pitcher is arguably the most important storyline for the Yanks in 2017, given the impending free agency of 3/5 of the rotation. After dominating the Rays on Thursday by allowing 2 runs over 7 IP with 1 BB and 11 strikeouts, Severino took a giant leap in fulfilling his tantalizing potential. It’s early, but his 17:2 strikeout to walk ratio demonstrates a starter that is much more in command of his pitches than he was in 2016. On the offensive end, Aaron Judge is looking much improved from 2016. Showing more patience at the plate while unleashing his remarkable raw power, Judge currently owns a. 925 OPS. After a painful start, first baseman Greg Bird seems to finally be turning the corner after hitting a 444-foot homer off Adam Wainwright and finishing 3 for 3 on the evening. A serious disappointment at third base during his first two seasons, Chase Headley, had four multi-hit games this week and is hitting a stellar .410 with a .531 OBP and .615 SLG%. Even the backups are contributing with catcher Austin Romine coming up with clutch hits and hitting .428 this week, along with Aaron Hicks hitting three bombs with eight RBI on the week. The Yanks played with an energy this week that’s been missing for years, evident by the 12 stolen bases the team has surprisingly swiped so far, besting the totals of 28 other MLB clubs. The Yanks are only a half-game behind the Orioles for 1st in the AL East and enter Week Three on a seven-game winning streak. Increases in parody make seven-game win streaks a rarity in baseball, so cheers to the NY Yankees, the Week Two Beast of the Week.
Weak Sauce of the Week: Earlier this week, Mets Manager Terry Collins joked he had the FBI searching for the real Jose Reyes…it wouldn’t be the first time authorities were looking into Reyes’s activities…the Met’s third baseman is 4 for 46, with one extra base hit and sports an almost impossible .285 OPS. The nonexistence of Reyes in the lineup has greatly hindered the Mets offense as he’s supposed to be the sparkplug that gets it going, not a black hole of despair. With SS top prospect Amed Rosario hitting .359 at AAA, I wouldn’t hesitate calling him up, moving Asdrubal Cabrera to 3B, and benching Reyes. Better yet, just like the Rockies did, release the wife beater for his league-leading ineptitude at the plate.
Things to Know: What in the world is going on with the Toronto Blue Jays? A pre-season favorite by many to make the postseason, including myself, the Blue Jays after a rash of injuries and lackluster hitting, find themselves at a major league worst 2-10. Nobody would have predicted on April 16th they’d already be 6.5 games out of first in the AL East. This is why they play the games…Francisco Lindor is the best player on the Indians, but teammate Jose Ramirez is quickly becoming one of my favorite guys to follow.
The man can play any infield position, hit anywhere in the lineup, and despite only being 5’9, currently leads the AL in RBI’s with 13. He’s a 24-year old switch hitter and the Indians were wise to recently lock him up for the next six years…The Brewers let last year’s NL HR Champ Chris Carter walk, instead opting to sign Eric Thames out of Korea. Their gamble is paying off in a big way, as Thames has homed five times in his past four games, adding eight RBI and eight Runs, to go along with his league leading .912 SLG%. Reminds me a bit of when another 1B made a return to the majors from Japan in 1990, and ended up leading the league with 51 HR’s for the Tigers…I’ve been waiting for James Paxton to put it all together, and so far the Seattle southpaw has thrown 21 consecutive shutout innings to start 2017. The talent is there, let’s see if at 28 he can stay healthy for a full season and live up to his former top prospect status…Jameson Taillon, one of my picks for Breakout Pitchers for 2017, has dominated in three starts, allowing only 2 runs for an 0.90 ERA and most recently took down the defending champion Cubs with seven shutout innings to complete a weekend sweep…Another starter dominating in the early going is Chris Sale, averaging over 7 IP/start and leading the majors with 29 strikeouts for the Red Sox. He could challenge the 274 strikeouts he put up in 2015 when he came 4th in the AL CY voting…The most bizarre stat line of the week was authored by Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez, who in 5 1/3 IP, allowed 19 instances of no contact, by walking a whopping eight batters, and striking out 11! Just in case you were wondering, it took him 118 pitches to accomplish the feat…a blister plague bit multiple pitchers in week two, headlined by Noah Syndergaard , Rich Hill, and Aaron Sanchez. What’s troubling for the Mets and Dodgers, is these are becoming chronic flare ups for both Syndergaard and Hill, with no apparent remedy (don’t say pee on your fingers). Also bitten by the injury bug, Orioles All-Star closer Zach Britton, who came down with what for now appears to be a strained left forearm. Britton has converted an incredible 54-straight save opportunities and is a rock for the stalwart Orioles bullpen. A big loss for the 1st place Birds…the biggest momentum shift in the AL occurred when the Astros took command of the AL West, winning four in a row while the Angels dropped their last five, falling to 6-7 after a hot start…In the NL, the Cardinals having lost 8 of their last 10, now surprisingly sit in the NL Central basement, while the Rockies lead the NL West with a NL best 9-5 record. The Mets dropped three of four to divisional foe Miami, who now sit tied with the Nationals for the NL East lead. The Mets are now only one game above .500 with a mediocre 7-6 record, and 2.5 games behind the Yanks for bragging rights, despite Yoenis Cespedes going yard five times this week with eight RBI’s. Bring on Week Three!