Has anyone noticed that, as of Wednesday of this past week, the teams with the best records in baseball were the Houston Astros, sitting atop the American League West with a record of 36-16, 11 games ahead of second place Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Colorado Rockies, 33-20, in first place in the National League West by ½ game over the Los Angeles Angels?
The Rockies finished in third place last year, 16 games out of first, and the Astros finished in third place, 11 games out of first. The Astros have been to the playoffs just once in the last 11 years and the Rockies just once in ten years.
Do you find that surprising? For those of you that think that baseball is boring, this is the year for the inexplicable. Unlike the other major professional sports, baseball news is not full of sensational stories about the players who got arrested this week but baseball has had its share of bizarre stories this year.
Take for example the San Francisco Giants’ ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner. As good a pitcher as almost any in baseball, with a record of 100 wins and 70 losses and a 2.99 ERA in his career, this winner of the Most Valuable Player Awards in both the NLCS and World Series in 2014, and key to the Giants’ fortunes in 2017, who makes $11.5 million a year to throw a baseball, decided to ride a dirt bike on a day off on April 20.
He had an accident and injured the shoulder of his $11.5 million arm and is out for the foreseeable future. His Giants are in fourth place in the NL West with a 22-31 record without him. What was he doing on a dirt bike in the first place?
Or how about Hunter Strickland, of those same Giants? Bryce Harper, not the sharpest knife in the box himself, took Strickland deep twice in the 2014 Division Series and Strickland apparently took offense at the manner in which he celebrated the homers. What did Strickland do? He waited three years and then plunked Harper with a pitch in a game this past week. Naturally, Harper took offense at being plunked and charged the mound.
Now, if you want excitement in a baseball game, if it’s usually too boring for you, go on You Tube or one of those other social media sites and watch the result. Harper charged the mound and, perhaps for the first time in baseball history, more than one punch was landed in a benches clearing brawl. Harper got suspended for four games and Strickland for six.
Not all the excitement in baseball comes from stupidity, some of it comes from sheer bad luck. If you watched the Red Sox play in Chicago on Monday night, you saw Dustin Pedroia get injured in a fluke play. He hit a ground ball to White Sox first baseman Jose Abreau. Instead of tossing the ball to the pitcher, Abreau elected to slide into first to beat Pedroia to the bag and ended up sprawled over the bag. Pedroia tripped over him and fell, injuring his left wrist and ending up on the disabled list for at least ten days.
As soon as the Sox found that they had lost Pedroia, they called Pablo Sandoval up from Pawtucket, where he had been on rehab, to give them another infielder. Of course, Sandoval was hitting just .160 at Pawtucket with only four hits in 25 at bats and had made two errors in just 18 fielding chances at third base while there.
As if that was not strange enough, Deven Marrero, who had inherited the third base job after Travis Shaw was traded and Sandoval and Brock Holt went down and the fill ins had led the league in errors and lack of offensive production, appeared to be losing his job to Sandoval with his less than impressive record.
What did Marrero do while Sandoval was traveling to Chicago to perhaps replace him? Marrero, who was hitting .175 for the season, slightly higher than Sandoval, with only one homer, hit a two run homer in the second inning to put the Sox up 3-0, just before Sandoval made his triumphant return to the Sox dugout, and, almost as soon as Sandoval arrived, hit a three run homer in the third inning to put the Sox up 7-3.
And how about Pedroia? He got hurt on Monday night in Chicago, flew to Boston for an MRI on his wrist, consulted with two specialists there and was back in the Red Sox dugout, cheering for his team mates the next night. Dustin Pedroia is not only one of the best second basemen in the game today, he is also the ultimate team player. No one, except perhaps Pete Rose, has ever been more committed to the game than Pedroia.
In the midst of this bizarre season, when Red Sox fans are trying to figure out what is wrong with their team, it’s time to take a quick look at where they are and why they are there. As of Wednesday, 51 games into the season, with 111 left to play, they were in second place, three games behind the Yankees.
They had been without David Price for the first 49 games, without Steven Wright for almost the entire season, without Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg, without Marco Hernandez, who was hitting .276 when he went down and without Brock Holt, who might have been the solution to their third base problem.
Jackie Bradley was hitting just .214, Andrew Benintendi had fallen to .272 after a great start, Xander Bogaerts, while hitting .339, had just two homers.
I’d say they had done well to be where they were, although I’m not sure whether to credit John Farrell for their hanging in there or blame him for their lack of success.
On Tuesday night, in Chris Sale’s first bad performance after one of the greatest starts in baseball history, the bats came alive again and he got just his sixth win when he should have had at least nine.
As I always say, it’s a 162 game season and there is a long way to go. Pitching is the name of the game and Price is back, Sale is one of the best in baseball, Rodriguez has proven he can win, Porcello keeps plodding along and Pomeranz has shown improvement. Oh, and don’t forget, Brian Johnson is waiting in the wings although shutting out that punchless Mariners team may not be as impressive as it looked.
Baseball might be boring to some people but this season has had more than its share of excitement and controversy, both on and off the field. Stay tuned because it will only get better the further we get into the pennant races.