MLB 2021: Three Weekends In
(originally written 4/18/21)
In last month's Spring Training 2021 blog, I pointed out that baseball's brightest stars had managed, for the most part, to avoid notable injuries—which was definitely not the case in 2020 or many other years.
That good fortune took, oh, about five minutes to evaporate once the season started.
As I begin this blog, you could probably field an All-Star team of dudes who have lost, or are about to lose, substantial early time on the IL. Names include George Springer, Fernando Tatis, Luke Voit, James Paxton, Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rendon, Khris Davis, Dexter Fowler, Max Fried, Ketel Marte, Sonny Gray, Aristides Aquino, Christian Yelich and Cody Bellinger—they diagnosed his hairline fracture as a CONTUSION, for Christ's sake. (4/18 update: add Lance Lynn, Starling Marte and Ronald Acuna to that list. Fortunately, Tatis and Gray have returned to action.)
Speaking of the IL...I suppose I understand the reasons why MLB retired the term "disabled" list, but it seems silly to put a guy on the "injured" list when he's got an illness. I'm using this platform to lobby for the renaming of "injured list" to "inactive list". Or at the very least, the "unwell list". Unwell covers everything.
Oft-injured White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon fired a no-hitter 4/14 against the Indians. It was the second CG of his seven-year career and the third of he 2021 major league season..
COVID took mercy on MLB during the Spring as well, and for a time the virus felt like a (horrible) malady of the past. Vaccinations were underway, fans were back at ballparks—normalcy was resuming. But during Week 1 of the regular season, the Nationals were hit hard by COVID, and since then the Astros and Twins have been impacted as well. (Note: between COVID and bad weather, the Mets have had seven games postponed already.)
Speaking of the Astros...
Yeah, they cheated their way to the 2017 championship and yeah, the players got off easy. But most of them are no longer with Houston, so what purpose does vociferously booing the current Astros and throwing trash cans on the field they occupy serve? I highly doubt Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa lost any sleep over the hostile fans.
If you haven't been paying attention, the two most talked-about MLB rookies so far would be OF Akil Baddoo of Detroit (.370, 4, 11 before his current 0-for-11 slump) and 2B Jazz Chisholm of Miami (.325/.451/.675), though I admit the old-school in me doesn't much care for rookies sporting blue hair and massive gold chains. Yermin Mercedes, a 28-year-old White Sox rookie, is up there too—he's leading the star-studded Sox lineup in just about everything (.415/.456/.717 to date).
Hall-of-Famers-in-waiting Albert Pujols of the Angels and Cabrera of the Tigers had each gone deep by the season's second game, the latter's memorably occurring during a snowstorm. But 41-year-old Pujols has no other XBH in 2021, and 38-year-old Cabrera went on the IL 4/11 (biceps).
After taking last season off, Giants C Buster Posey seemed rejuvenated early on, homering in each of San Francisco's first two games. But he's got exactly zero RBI since.
They are experimenting with a 61-foot, 6-inch mound distance in the independent Atlantic League. I'll just say this: baseball can be so ridiculously idiotic sometimes that you wonder if the people in charge get their ideas from inebriated hobos behind buildings.
The only April performance more fulfilling than the pitching appearance 4/4 by A's OF Ka'ai Tom? The 4/16 pitching appearance by Twins IF Willians Astudillo. Neither man cracked 72 MPH or used a breaking ball, but neither man allowed a run.
Angels DH/SP Shohei Ohtani reached a bit higher than 72 in his first start of 2021, holding the White Sox at bay until being clipped by Jose Abreu while covering the plate. Though Ohtani's continued to rake as a DH—and perfect the staredown—he hasn't pitched since (in part due to a blister). Los Angeles plans for Ohtani to finally return to the mound 4/20 against Texas.
All month I told myself "The Red Sox can't be serious about wearing yellow. The Red Sox CAN'T be serious about wearing yellow!" The Red Sox were serious about wearing yellow. For a whole weekend.
Speaking of Boston: since they were swept by Baltimore to open the season, they've lost ONE game. After a down 2020 and a COVID battle in early 2021, Sox DH J.D. Martinez is back to his old torrid self—he's batting .364 with five home runs, including a revenge three-homer game 4/11 against Baltimore.
IF Ryan McMahon of Colorado has the other homer trifecta in MLB this year, achieved 4/6 against Arizona. The MLB-worst 4-12 Rockies still found a way to lose that day.
Oakland started even uglier than did Boston (1-7, with 45 runs allowed in their first five games), but since then they've run off eight straight victories. In his third Athletics stint, 2B Jed Lowrie—the same Lowrie who went hitless in two seasons as a Met—is batting .333 and slugging .519 in 15 games.
Fresh off the COVID list, Boston star DH J.D. Martinez belted three home runs at Baltimore April 11. Two were to RF, one was to dead CF, and all were off different Oriole pitchers.
People keep drilling Cubs C Willson Contreras (five HBP this year after leading the NL with 14 in 2020). And in response he's become the Cubs' most consistently reliable hitter. Granted, this year that's not saying all that much (34 total runs in Chicago's first 13 games before a 13-run explosion against Atlanta 4/17), but it illustrates the toughness Contreras brings.
People kept drilling Mets OF Jeff McNeil in Spring Training, but so far in April he's only been hit once. Meanwhile, his teammate Michael Conforto KNOWS he leaned into the strike zone for the game-winning HBP 4/8 vs. Miami's Anthony Bass. I guess when you're batting .200 in your walk year, rules and honor be damned.
Toronto's Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was hyped to oblivion for years, and his performance to date—while not bad—has not measured up. This past winter he changed his body, and in the early going Guerrero's slashing .389/.507/.667 with four home runs. Even more impressive considering his genes: Guerrero has 11 walks against 11 strikeouts.
Maybe I'm just telling myself what I want to hear, but it seems starting pitchers are being stretched out a tad more this year (although I almost seized up when Minnesota's Jose Berrios was pulled from a no-hitter 4/3 at Milwaukee after six innings and 84 pitches.) As a longtime admirer of the workhorse starting pitcher, I need to believe that the number-crunchers running baseball learned something from the gross mismanagement of then-Rays ace SP Blake Snell by skipper Kevin Cash in the 2020 World Series.
Can Milwaukee SP Corbin Burnes really be THIS good? (0.49 ERA, 30 K, four hits allowed in 18 IP across three starts) This is a man with a 2019 ERA of 8.82 in 32 games. That's hard to do.
It's also hard to open a season 10-for-18, as 33-year-old Washington IF Josh Harrison did before taking an 0-for-4 on 4/18. This is a man who was cut by the 114-loss 2019 Tigers with a .175 average.
If he does anything at all for Baltimore, Trey Mancini's triumph over cancer last year will almost definitely earn him 2021 AL Comeback Player of the Year. Any other season, and Seattle's Mitch Haniger (who missed 2020 after back surgery) would be a strong favorite for the award; so far in 2021 he's slashing .338/.357/.631 with a tied-for-league-high 22 hits.
Facing at minimum extended bench time, if not his outright release, 1B Jay Bruce of the Yankees retired at 34 on 4/18. From MLB Network's Quick Pitch: Bruce leads MLB lefties with 319 homers since his 2008 debut.
Remember flamethrowing White Sox rookie Garrett Crochet leaving a 2020 playoff game with the dreaded "forearm tightness"? Well, he's back in the 2021 Sox bullpen no worse for wear, and though he's 0-2 in six games, UCL surgery does not appear on the horizon.
Onetime Cardinals ace SP Carlos Martinez is trying to bounce back from a poor 2020 season, but his 2021 has not been much better to date (0-3, 7.80 in three starts). Martinez's defense has not helped him out much, either.
Twins C Ryan Jeffers has struck out 12 times in 21 AB thru 4/18. Minnesota didn't play this weekend, and yet I suspect Jeffers still managed to swing and miss three times (at a fly, a nail, something).
A's reliever Sergio Romo fully shaved for the first time since 2010, I believe. If you thought Rougned Odor of the Yankees looked off without facial hair, just wait until you lay eyes upon the now-beardless Romo—especially if you've watched most of his career as I have.
Romo's longtime SF teammate Pablo Sandoval, who homered once in all of 2020, already has three bombs this season (all as a PH, in just 10 total AB) for the Braves.
On 4/15, Washington SP Patrick Corbin allowed 10 runs (nine earned) to the Diamondbacks in two innings; Corbin's stuff looked ordinary and he didn't seem particularly interested in competing against his old team that day (at least to me). He now sports a 21.32 ERA after two starts this season.
The back-from-the-baseball-dead story of Atlanta's Sean Kazmar is amazing. He returned to MLB 4/17 after being absent from MLB for 4,589 days; Kazmar last played in the majors 9/23/08 with the Padres. From MLB Network: only one player from Kazmar's last game is still active in MLB (Baltimore P Wade LeBlanc, Kazmar's old SD teammate).
COMPLETE GAME WATCH
As you may know, I've got a fascination with the complete game (and workhorse pitchers in general), so as they've become nearly extinct from MLB I've tracked them very closely. So far in 2021, there's been a somewhat surprising five CG in MLB (a 4/8 shutout by Lynn of the White Sox, a 4/9 no-hitter by Joe Musgrove of the Padres, a 4/14 no-hitter by Carlos Rodon of the White Sox, a 4/18 shutout by Aaron Nola of the Phillies, and a seven-inning edition 4/17 by German Marquez of Colorado.)
Additionally, Indians ace Shane Bieber went the first nine innings of a 10-inning win over the White Sox the night before Rodon's gem. Cueto of the Giants was given the chance to go nine against the Rockies 4/9, but Trevor Story's single knocked him out after 8.2 innings. He entered the 9th with a shutout intact.
From Rodon's no-hitter (against Cleveland): if he didn't at least offer to treat Abreu with dinner, appetizers, drinks and dessert for that sliding tag of first base on Josh Naylor's slow roller in the T9th...then he deserves at least eight hours of Montezuma's Revenge. I've watched the replay at least six or seven times and I'm STILL not sure what the correct call is, but the umps said "out".
See y'all again in a couple weeks.