MLB: The Summer Of 2016
(originally written 8/26/16)
If you know me, you know that since age 10, I have cared more about major league baseball than, well, pretty much anything. That's 26 years of barely-wavering fandom not just of my hometown Giants, but of the sport as a whole. Only once in those 26 years have I "written off" the game—go ahead and assume it was the 1994-95 strike, but you'll be wrong.
In early 2000, after a barbaric brawl between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox that more resembled Springer than sport, I took a long break from MLB in disgust—unlike ever other on-field fracas I'd seen, everybody seemed to want blood here; cooler heads couldn't prevail because cooler heads didn't exist. Fighting was on the rise, I didn't like it, so I walked away for several months. (I remember doing so while visiting my buddies' dorm at California Polytechnical. We had much booze that night. But I'm not here to talk about the past.)
This spring marked the second time since age 10 I lost interest in baseball for more than a few days, but this time brutality had nothing to do with it.
It's ironic looking back, because Spring Training 2016 was quite possibly the most exciting one ever. Which is sort of like saying L.A. Reid was the shining star of The X-Factor—it's not really all that boastworthy in proper context—but still. Between the Goose Gossage attack on Jose Bautista, controversies related to the new "Utley Rule", the Adam LaRoche saga, Barry Bonds reportedly out-homering his Marlin proteges at age 51, etc., baseball didn't wait for the season opener to grab our attention this year.
Despite all of that, once the season did start...I just wasn't feelin' it. Don't know how else to articulate it.
I wasn't thrilled at the dollars thrown at Zack Greinke and ESPECIALLY at Jason Heyward—a continuation of the reckless, short-sighted and irresponsible spending that plagues pro sports and leaves us the fans eventually holding the bag via ticket price increases.
In most every game I watched to begin the year, no matter the combatants, pitchers, even top pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Sonny Gray and Dallas Kuechel, just couldn't put hitters away with two strikes—batters seemed near invincible. Not helping: umpires refusing to call strikes. That's not the kind of baseball I want to watch.
While this subpar baseball was going on, the Golden State Warriors were playing superb (an intentional near-anagram) basketball, storming through most of the competition en route to a record 73 wins. I was glued to my TV for all of it, and stayed there into June for their NBA Finals run. Baseball had gotten completely lost in the shuffle by this time. I was aware of David Ortiz' crazy start, Roughned Odor's punch, Trevor Story's heroics...and not much else.
Basketball season finally ended, but my disinterest in baseball, mysteriously, had not. It took another full month to restore my hardball fever to its usual temperature. With that settled, let's reflect upon late July/August 2016 in MLB—I've got much more than two cents to offer on the deals, demotions, dollar-driven DNPs, and every other non-alliterative diamond development.
Some of it you know about already. Much of it you don't. If you see a link...I advise you to click on it!
JULY 27: Jeruys Familia saved 36 in a row this year, including becoming the first Met ever (that's 54 years of Mets) to escape a loaded-with-zero-out-in-the-9th situation without a run scoring! He then blew two in a row, fittingly—in the second one, he again faced loaded-with-zero-out vs. the Rockies. Rookie catcher Tony Wolters opted for the old "let the line-hugging bunt roll foul" strategy against Daniel Descalso. Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, that strategy is only effective when the bunt actually rolls foul.
JULY 30: Justin Verlander almost got cheated out of a win today by his offense, but they came through for him at the very last minute. I'm pushing for JV to reach Cooperstown one day; right now he's borderline, and every win is crucial to the cause.
JULY 30: I attended a Nats/Giants game today, probably the 35th MLB game I've been to in person. Never before had I wondered (or cared) about what managers do at the mound after a pitching change. 99% of televised games cut to commercial as the new pitcher trots in.
This time I watched closely as Dusty Baker replaced Yusmeiro Petit with Oliver Perez. Would they talk strategy? Pat on the butt? Talk with the ump? Nope. In the most anticlimactic of letdowns, Dusty put the ball in Perez' glove...and walked back to the dugout.
JULY 31: SP Madison Bumgarner pinch-hit a double. Fellow SP Jeff Samardzija pinch-ran and scored a crucial run. How many nine-inning games do you see three starting pitchers used? (Former-ace-turned- Matt Cain started today, and was credited with a badly-needed victory.)
AUGUST 1: Rookie Max Kepler of the Twins bonked three home runs, giving him 14 on the year. He then hit #15 the next day. He was the talk of the league those 48 hours, yet he's barely whispered now because
⦁ A) He didn't homer again until August 31,
⦁ B) Gary Sanchez sort of upstaged him, and
⦁ C) Minnesota is now 16-114 this year. Okay, not quite that bad.
AUGUST 3: A.J. Ramos just didn't have it today at Wrigley Field. If you're gonna blow a save. blow it in epic, wild-pitch fashion like this.
Joe Mauer and Ryan Howard briefly resembled their old dominant selves today—Mauer went 4-for-5 with 3 XBH and 4 RBI, and Howard went 3-for-4 with a home run (unfortunately, against my Giants.) This was the midpoint of a mini-hot streak for Howard; from 7/24 to 8/16, he batted .400 and slugged .800 in 40 AB over 13 games. He was at .159 entering play 7/24.
AUGUST 5: Orioles slugger Pedro Alvarez is killing it right now (six homers in his past five games.)
San Francisco's Angel Pagan homered to left at Nationals Park, where I spotted a fan in a Nationals Dan Uggla jersey. How the hell did Uggla get his own Nats jersey? By the time he joined them (2015), you could hear his career's death rattle if in close proximity.
Mark Teixeira retired today, effective at season's end. Many tears during the conference. He seemed genuine and humble. I still dislike him. Greatly. Probably always will. It's my constitutional right.
Veteran White Sox catcher Dioner Navarro wore goat horns big time today. As his team rallied against Baltimore at home, Navarro was inexplicably nabbed way off base following a run-scoring Adam Eaton groundout—end rally, end inning. Tyler Saladino, already with two hits, would have batted with two men on base. Note: the Sox went on to lose.
AUGUST 6: With all their rotation issues, all the Angels hoped for when they signed TIm Lincecum was a warm body who could battle through five innings without getting killed, basically what he'd been the past two seasons with the Giants. Unfortunately, the once-dominant righty was getting killed with regularity, with no signs of improving. Today, even the desperate Angels had to cut him. This is like being rejected by a guy who just got out of prison...chin up, Timmy.
Pittsburgh's Sean Rodriguez hit a walk-off homer. His teammates waited at home plate. Rodriguez calmly circled the bases and stepped on the plate, not seeming to want any part of the theatrics. He acted like he'd been there before. In an era of walk-off celebrations that vary from forced to silly to trite...I salute him. (In this game, teammate and ex-MVP Andrew McCutchen returned from his "mental break".)
Pitcher Colin Rea was the throw-in for Miami when they acquired Andrew Cashner from San Diego. Rea turned out to be damaged goods who made one Marlins start before needing Tommy John surgery; San Diego traded one of the prospects acquired in the original deal back to Miami for Rea—noble, yes, but it was either that or lose a grievance. (Something similar happened when the Blue Jays traded David Wells to the White Sox 16 years ago.)
San Francisco's Hunter Pence joined Aledmys Diaz, Michael Barrett and my 5th-grade classmate Ryan Hare as batters to foul balls off their own face today. Pence, unlike the others, stayed in the game (and wound up with a nice shiner.) Toronto star Josh Donaldson also got hit up high by a baseball, though he took a more conventional route—being beaned (by KC's Kelvin Herrera; he also stayed in the game.)
AUGUST 8-9: Red Sox OF Andrew Bennitendi hit his first MLB home run to that weird, confusing nook in Fenway Park's right-center field—replay was needed to confirm the blast. (Such ground rules would not exist if I ran baseball...rant blog to come.)
Giants star SS Brandon Crawford enjoed a seven-hit game in a 14-inning win against Miami. Rick Porcello, who once ran away from a charging Kevin Youkilis, didn't shy away from confrontation with Yankee 3B Chase Headley after the latter was thrown out at third base—neither would confirm why; Headley peeking at the catcher's signs while at-bat is a popular theory.
AUGUST 10: Red Sox fans usually boil my blood, but chanting for the soon-to-be-released Alex Rodriguez, only to vociferously boo him when the Yankees finally obliged...that's cold-blooded. And I 100% approve—Rodriguez was scummy for a long time. Remember: these are the same Sox fans who loudly cheered Yankee legend Derek Jeter as he took his final Fenway bow.
Prince Fielder needs another neck surgery and won't be medically cleared to play again—in other words, he'll be forced to retire at 33. Barring a medical miracle down the line, he'll finish with the exact same career home run total as papa Cecil (319). Prince and Cecil weren't always on the best of terms; I wonder how that sits with them.
Like many pitchers, including the aforementioned Samardzija earlier in the month, Boston SP Steven Wright was asked to pinch-run for David Ortiz. And on a faked pickoff throw, Wright—who had less than zero intent of running—made every manager's nightmare a reality when he jammed his shoulder diving back. As of this writing, he's still not fully recovered. My idea for the rules committee—you can declare a runner off-limits to pick-off attempts to the umpires if A) the runner takes no more than a marked five-foot lead, and B) the runner cannot attempt to steal or advance on a wild pitch/passed ball unless it goes out of play (there has to be some forfeiture in exchange for the free lead).
Tommy LaStella of the Cubs threatened to retire rather than report to AAA Iowa even temporarily, stating he only wanted to play for the Cubs, plain and simple. Though this wasn't a case of a fringe major leaguer pouting his way out of a demotion—read or listen to subsequent interviews of the involved parties—it sure looked that way, and will undoubtedly spark copycats who are pouting their way out of a demotion. I say anybody else who'd rather quit than go to the farm...LET 'em, especially somebody ineligible for pension as LaStella. (Update: he did eventually report to Iowa and eventually rejoined the Cubs.)
AUGUST 11: Carlos Santana of the Indians was creamed in the dugout by a foul ball; thankfully, it wasn't disabling . Dugout fouls are no joke, people—Eugenio Velez was concussed by one in 2010, Matt Keough's 1991 comeback attempt was derailed by one, and most notably Braves guest coach Luis Salazar lost an eye when Brian McCann crushed his face with one in 2011. (Okay, dugout fouls CAN be a joke once in a while...)
I absolutely LOVE those freak plays when two runners end up scoring about three feet apart. While I'm still pissed I didn't save a now-unavailable 2007 clip of Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee in such a moment, Frankie Lindor and Jose Ramirez were nice enough to provide a substitute.
The Astros beat the Twins a combined 25-9 in a doubleheader.
AUGUST 15: Giancarlo Stanton is allegedly done with a groin injury. Why...why...WHY is Alex Rodriguez being discussed as a possible replacement RH power source? Ummm...am I the only one who seems to remember why Rodriguez is even available? He can't hit anymore! If he could he'd still be playing for the Yankees! If he could still play AT ALL, wouldn't New York be making him earn that salary?
Hunter Pence has defensive SKILLZ.
AUGUST 20-23: Benintendi, Seattle's Shawn O'Malley and Yankee Brett Gardner also have defensive SKILLZ.
Dodger 1B Adrian Gonzalez hit three homers today. Meanwhile, ex-MVP Josh Hamilton, who hasn't played this year and won't, was released by the Rangers in order to be able to sign him in the off-season. Short explanation: if they hadn't, FA-to-be Hamilton couldn't return to the team until May 2017.
Nats rookie Trea Turner had not one, but two successful steals overturned by replay 8/23.
The extra couple percentage points on Cubs catcher Willson Contreras' slugging percentage can be credited to Joe West—at San Diego, the veteran ump couldn't dodge Contreras' shot up the middle quickly enough, turning what would have been a single into a double.
AUGUST 24: Zack Britton's 43-game streak of no ER allowed came to an end. Meanwhile, Benintendi was injured, perhaps for the year, on a tag play at second base. After what happened with Wright earlier in the month, this can't be a coincidence. Revenge hex from A-Rod for being lustily booed by Sox fans in his Fenway farewell? We're gonna go with...yes.
AUGUST 25: In 2012 I stopped watching NFL football for a while after a bad injury (that I didn't even see and never will.) Freddie Freeman came precariously close to ruining baseball for me as well with a nasty fall...Skillz don't do contortion, folks. Nope, nope, nope.
Matt Moore went 8.2 hitless innings before Corey Seager singled to right. I still wouldn't have traded Duffy to get him.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis, he of a career .226 average and 30 homers in five years, is gonna get drilled for posturing like he did against the Pirates after he actually did clear a fence.