Three weeks down, at least… several more to go! That is, if the traditionally-impeccable Off Base Baseball record-keeping is correct. A lot happened this week! Let’s get to the rundown, first:
Died. There’s more fact-checking to do on this story, but based on my Twitter feed, I can say with confidence that Adam Wainwright, late 33 of Brunswick, Georgia, did spontaneously combust while attempting to exit the batter’s box on Saturday night. Reports that his final words were “If only the NL had the DH!” are still unconfirmed, but they have fueled speculation that the incident was a planned self-immolation in protest of the National League’s refusal to adopt the designated hitter. Still others say that a group of American League-sympathetic saboteurs was behind the grisly scene.
In any case, Wainwright was the only Cardinal I genuinely liked without reservation, so that’s going to make it that much tougher for me when they win the World Series this year.
The ugliest player-team divorce of recent memory reached its denouement on Monday. The Angels agreed to send Josh Hamilton back to the Rangers for essentially nothing. They got some of their salary burden reduced due to Texas’ lack of state income tax, and another $7m that will be covered by the Rangers, but they didn’t quite manage to avoid an all-out disaster with the way they handled this situation. Arte Moreno was so insensitive and arrogant throughout the whole affair that it will almost be a joy to watch him continue to pay Hamilton roughly $65m to play for a division rival. For their own good, the Angels may want to stay away from the free agent market for awhile, it never ends well. Still, if ever there was a losing hand, Moreno held it; I’d say he fought it to a draw.
As for the Rangers, they could do a lot worse. Even at his diminished Anaheim-level performance, Hamilton represents a substantive upgrade over the team’s current corner OF production (Shin-Soo Choo’s batting average is down below .100! Maybe take the Rangers’ checkbook away too). The better hitting environment and familiar situation could help Josh bounce back, even if there was some bad blood on the way out the door. If it doesn’t work out, at least they didn’t invest particularly much in him; it’s hard not to like this from their perspective.
Kris and Russell: The Kids Will Be Alright
Kris Bryant’s been in the majors a bit over a week and, even though his vaunted power stroke hasn’t shown up, it’s hard not to be satisfied by the results. He’s not getting totally chewed up by strikeouts as many feared, though he was a little over-anxious in his debut. After 42 PA his K-rate stands at a sustainable 21.4%, though it’ll probably end the year higher. He’s also drawing walks at the highest rate of his professional career, giving him a .476 OBP. His overall numbers are inflated by a .458 BABIP, but he has generally been the polished, big-league ready power bat he was advertised to be, even if he won’t be an immediate MVP candidate.
Addison Russell’s call-up was the more surprising move. He was already a ML-quality SS, but there were still questions about his bat, concerns which appear to be borne out by his 3 for 22 start, with 12 K’s. The Cubs are hurting at second base right now, but it is interesting to note that Russell appears to have already jumped Javier Baez on the organizational depth chart (I personally believe Baez will be buried in the minors for the majority of his remaining professional career, and it may already be happening), but it doesn’t do them much good long-term to rush a prospect of his caliber, especially one who only has 11 Triple-A games under their belt. A healthy Tommy La Stella, a sneaky-value acquisition this offseason, is probably still the Cubs best bet at the keystone in 2015.
For all the positive vibes radiating out of Kauffman Stadium last fall, the Kansas City Royals appear to have emerged from their winter of quasi-stunted gratification bearing an enormous grunge, against anything and anyone. Against anyone who… slides into 2nd base, against anyone who… scores a run, and definitely against anyone who… grounds out to the pitcher. Inside baseball, weak groundouts to the mound are a well-known “punk” move to which any reasonable pitcher, like Yordano Ventura, and definitely not just some diminutive hot-head with a persecution complex, which doesn’t describe Ventura at all, would take exception.
For the Royals, it took them about 10 games to execute this astonishing heel turn. The last time they played, they were beloved by the entire country, cheered on as they broke a 29-year playoff drought and pinch-ran all the way to the World Series. Never mind that the team wasn’t all that good, don’t be a wet blanket and point out that the team only had an 84-win Pythagorean record. And now look. Do you see what you’ve created, America? Do you see what you’ve done? I weep for you, the time for penance is here.
Le Man, Le Legend, LeMahieu
Earlier I alluded to that phenomenon whereby the Rockies break out of the gate with a spectacular start before fading into sub-mediocrity as the year drags on. Sometimes, a particular hitter catches fire right away which helps to conveniently illustrate the arc of the entire Rockies season, from hope and enthusiasm to quiet, resigned despair. Last year, that arch-Rockie was Charlie Blackmon. I figured that maybe Corey Dickerson could play the Blackmon-role this year, as he’s genuinely a much better player. But no, as of today, it is DJ LeMahieu who’s hitting .419/.455/.548 (with a .472 BABIP!). DJ LeMahieu who, entering this season, had a lifetime OPS+ of 76, is leading the league in batting average. Like Blackmon before him.
I could talk about how LeMahieu is one of the best second-basemen in baseball and how, with a healthy Arenado, and a healthy Tulowitzki, that infield is practically impenetrable for ground balls, and how… no, I must stop, I told myself I wouldn’t let myself get pulled into Rockie-optimism again. It’s one of the hard lessons of April. For now, let’s just look at DJ LeMahieu’s batting line and take a moment to laugh and realize that early-season baseball is still fun.
Stay safe out there, and try not to make eye contact with Yordano Ventura.
Featured Image: Via USA TODAY Sports