Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB Week 5
One month into the season, it is nice to be able to piece storylines together and start looking at numbers to see trends in Major League Baseball.
Of course, that doesn't mean we are any closer to being able to tell what will happen at the end of the year. Separation doesn't really start to happen until July and August, which is good because it gives plenty of teams and fanbases hope.
As we look back on the week that was in MLB, we can say with absolute certainty that a lot of things are backwards right now. Toronto was supposed to take control of the AL East with a rebuilt roster, yet injuries and poor performances have destroyed that team.
Meanwhile, Boston, which entered the season with expectations as low as they have been in years, is tied for the best record in baseball.
Stephen Strasburg and Roy Halladay are struggling, though to very different degrees, while Carlos Gomez leads the National League in batting average.
The more you try to apply logic to baseball, the sillier you will look. Here is our look back at the biggest winners and losers from the fifth week of the 2013 season.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Winner: San Francisco Giants
When the Los Angeles Dodgers increased their payroll by more than $100 million from 2012 to 2013 (h/t Cot's Baseball Contracts), many thought they would take control of the National League West.
After all, it is easy to assume that a huge payroll will lead to a lot of success on the field. But there comes a point where you have to actually show what you can do.
In that respect, the San Francisco Giants have to feel like one of the least respected teams out there. They don't need to prove anything anyone, as they have won two of the last three World Series and have become a model franchise in the sport.
Yet even as the Giants keep on winning, some keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Oh, the offense isn't that good. How will their pitching hold up with Tim Lincecum not being what he once was?
So many questions, but the Giants just continue to win. This was a big weekend for the defending champions, as they broke the hearts of their biggest rival with a walk-off win on Friday night thanks to Buster Posey's home run. Then, for good measure, Guillermo Quiroz did the same thing on Saturday night. They completed the sweep on Sunday with a 4-3 victory.
So while pundits keep waiting for the Dodgers to hit their stride, you have to remember that the Giants are the best team in the division.
Loser: Los Angeles Dodgers SS Hanley Ramirez
While we are on the Los Angeles Dodgers, this figures to be one of those seasons that Hanley Ramirez wants to forget.
The star shortstop missed the first month of the season with a thumb injury he suffered in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic in March.
The Dodgers activated Ramirez from the disabled list last Monday against Colorado. He didn't start the game but did make an appearance as a pinch-hitter. He started Tuesday and Wednesday, going 5-for-8 with two doubles.
But on Friday, in the first game of the series against San Francisco, Ramirez strained his hamstring in the sixth inning when he tried to reach third base. To add insult to injury, he was thrown out before coming up lame.
Ramirez went back on the DL, and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, when asked how long he thought his shortstop would be out, simply said, "A while...I hope that puts it in the right category."
A rough start for Los Angeles gets a little bit worse. This team needs Matt Kemp to come alive in the worst way.
Winner: Detroit Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera
For every great athlete, regardless of what the sport is, there comes a point where we get so conditioned to seeing all the amazing things he or she can do on a year-to-year basis that we take it for granted.
This leads me into Miguel Cabrera and all the things he is doing with the bat right now. He has been regarded as the best hitter in the sport for at least the last five years, is the defending AL MVP and might somehow be getting better.
Now, we are still just one month into the season, so changing expectations for any player or team is foolish, and the likelihood that Cabrera hits .385 all year is about as good as my chances of winning the Powerball.
But he is in one of the grooves right now where you want to stop what you are doing just to watch him swing a bat. Entering Sunday, he led the league in average (.385), on-base percentage (.465), hits (47) and total bases (75).
Yet for some reason, we aren't hearing as much about Cabrera as we are, say, Josh Hamilton, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper or Matt Harvey.
Part of that has to do with the struggles of Strasburg and Hamilton—it is easier to get buzz when you are not playing well. In the case of Harper and Harvey, they are the new, shiny objects on the block, and we talk about how great they will become.
In the case of Cabrera, we know how great he already is. He reminds us of it on a nightly basis.
Loser: Washington Nationals SP Stephen Strasburg
Pitching is the best thing to have in Major League Baseball, but it can also easily be the most frustrating part of the game.
Take, for instance, Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg. The young phenom was the consensus pick to win the National League Cy Young Award and appeared ready to take whatever remaining leap he needed to in order to go from stud to true ace.
A big reason for that is because that ridiculous innings limit the Nationals imposed on him last year was gone. With the reins taken off, who knew what limits Strasburg could climb to?
Well, using the usual caveat of small samples, Strasburg has been nothing more than a league-average starting pitcher so far with a 3.45 ERA in seven starts. It hasn't been just bad luck either, as his FIP (3.56) and xFIP (3.52) are slightly worse.
The biggest difference for Strasburg this season has been command. He is still finding the zone, as his walk rate (2.64) is about the same as it was last year (2.71). But the quality of strikes he is throwing is off, as evidenced by the fact he is striking out more than two fewer hitters per nine innings this year than he did in 2012.
On top of all that, there was a scare after his start against Atlanta when the Nationals revealed that Strasburg battled forearm tightness. He made his next start against Pittsburgh on Saturday night, giving up four runs on five hits (two home runs) with eight strikeouts in a no-decision.
Strasburg's velocity is fine, so we shouldn't push the panic button quite yet. But hopefully he cleans up his delivery soon, because when he is on, there is no better pitcher to watch in baseball.
Winner: Texas Rangers
One of the big reasons that I never worried about Texas falling off a cliff after Josh Hamilton left via free agency in the offseason was because of the depth the organization had built up, both in the big leagues and the upper levels of the minors.
While Oakland has slowed down after a 9-2 start, and Los Angeles' offense hasn't clicked and the pitching staff remains a mess, the Rangers quietly look like the team to beat in the American League West.
A weekend series in Arlington against the red-hot Boston Red Sox was a good litmus test for the Rangers. They did everything well, with good hitting and outstanding pitching from Derek Holland on Friday and Alexi Ogando and the bullpen on Saturday.
Then on Sunday, behind Yu Darvish's 14 strikeouts and late-game heroics from Adrian Beltre, the Rangers moved into a tie with the Red Sox for the best record in the AL (20-11).
Darvish has taken the leap from really good pitcher last season to dominant this year. He is as untouchable as any starter in the league right now, limiting right-handed hitters to a .141 average and all hitters to just .169.
The offense hasn't been as dynamic as it used to be, but they are still getting great performances from Ian Kinsler, Lance Berkman and Nelson Cruz. Just wait until Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus get going.
Loser: Boston Red Sox SP Clay Buchholz vs. Toronto Blue Jays Announcers
Since the start of professional baseball, players have tried to gain any kind of advantage they could find. Whether it was pitchers doctoring the baseball, hitters using corked bats or teams stealing signals, it is a part of the game.
That is why the controversy that started when Clay Buchholz pitched against the Toronto Blue Jays was a bit ridiculous. I am not saying that doctoring a baseball, if Buchholz was doing that, is right. It's just not anything that hasn't been done countless times before.
If you missed it, Blue Jays radio announcer Dirk Hayhurst wrote on Twitter that he saw Buchholz loading up the ball with...something.
Forget the hair, I just saw video of Buchholz loading the ball with some Eddie Harris worthy slick'em painted up his left forearm. Wow.— Dirk Hayhurst (@TheGarfoose) May 2, 2013
Jack Morris, who calls games for the Blue Jays, said (h/t ESPN Boston) that he could see on the tape that Buchholz was throwing a "spitter."
Boston manager John Farrell and Buchholz both said after the game that the substance shown on Buchholz's arm was rosin that was shining because he constantly wets his hair during the game and sweats when on the mound.
If you have seen the video of Buchholz's performance, there is a lot of movement on his pitches. But as David Schoenfield of ESPN.com noted, the right-hander's fastball movement this season (horizontal break: minus-4.7 inches, vertical break: 9.9 inches) is roughly in line with 2012 (horizontal break: minus-4.8 inches, vertical break: 9.1 inches).
Winner: American League Central
Eventually, the Detroit Tigers will pull away from the pack in the American League Central. But for one week, we can talk about how well the top of the division has played.
Let's start with the Tigers, who have the best run differential in baseball and rank in the top 10 in runs scored, hits, average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, ERA, quality starts, strikeouts and batting average against.
Even though the defense has been awful (as expected), Detroit has built the perfect pitching staff to overcome the deficiencies in the field.
Moving on to the Kansas City Royals, even though their offseason moves were widely panned—not because of any venom for James Shields, but they gave up six years of control over Wil Myers to acquire him—they have been very good to start the season.
Shields and the surprising Ervin Santana have stabilized a Kansas City rotation that finished 26th in starters' ERA last season.
The Royals offense remains an issue, as Eric Hosmer still isn't hitting for power, Mike Moustakas isn't hitting anything, Jeff Francoeur still has a roster spot and Salvador Perez has an on-base percentage of .299.
But if they can get quality pitching, perhaps the Royals will break the .500 mark. That won't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but they will have a leg up on the Pirates.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians have hit their stride. They still don't have any quality starting pitching—I am not buying Justin Masterson's start—but they are getting exactly what they hoped for from a rebuilt lineup.
The Indians are second in slugging percentage, third in average, fifth in on-base percentage and eighth in runs scored.
Let's enjoy the success of the AL Central right now and not worry about what will eventually happen to the division.
Loser: Philadelphia Phillies SP Roy Halladay
Athletes prove, all too often, that they are humans just like the rest of us. It can be sad and painful to watch, but it is just an unfortunate fact of life.
Roy Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball for so long that it is hard to think of a time when he really struggled, even though he came to the big leagues with Toronto and fell apart in 2000. It was that collapse that ultimately led to the pitcher we all knew and loved.
Two Cy Young Awards and a (likely) Hall of Fame career later, Halladay had nothing to prove to anyone after an injury-plagued 2012 season.
But how things have fallen apart for the right-hander this season.
The year started off badly, as Halladay allowed five runs and two homers in 3.1 innings against Atlanta and seven more runs in four innings against the New York Mets.
Things looked like they were turning around, at least to some extent, as Halladay threw 21 innings, allowing eight hits and four earned runs with a 16-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio, in his next three starts. Granted, two of them were against Pittsburgh and Miami, but it was still something.
Then came starts against Cleveland and, once again, Miami, where everything came crashing down on Halladay. He gave up 17 runs on 13 hits (four home runs) in six innings.
As ESPN Stats and Info noted, the five earned runs Halladay allowed in the first inning of Sunday's start against Miami was his worst first inning of a game since 1999.
Roy Halladay: 1st time he allowed 5+ runs in 1st inning since April 29, 1999 at Angels— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 5, 2013
To add injury to this insult, Halladay said after the game that he is experiencing discomfort in his shoulder.
You hope to see Halladay go out on a high note just because he has been so much fun to watch for so many years, but it doesn't seem like a happy ending will happen.
Winner: Texas Rangers SP Yu Darvish
We talked about the Rangers earlier, but it seems only right that we give an entire portion of this piece to Yu Darvish. The flame-throwing right-hander has been absolutely incredible for the first month of the season.
Going up against a Boston lineup on Sunday that ranked in the top six in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, Darvish shoved it right in their face.
He did struggle with location early, as David Ortiz and David Ross took him deep, but Darvish eventually found himself and did what he has been doing all year. When the dust settled, the 26-year-old had 14 strikeouts in just seven innings.
Texas manager Ron Washington left Darvish out there for 127 pitches, but there was never a sense that he was laboring. He started slowly and was in command after the second inning.
So far this season, Darvish has an incredible 72-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 45.2 innings. His 14.19 strikeouts per nine innings pitched is nearly two full punchouts higher than MLB's No. 2 pitcher (Detroit's Max Scherzer at 12.36).
To put that in perspective, the gap between Darvish and Scherzer is greater than the gap between Scherzer and Chicago's Jeff Samardzija (No. 7 at 10.72).
Dud of the Week: Umpire John Hirschbeck
The worst thing that can happen in a baseball game is hearing the name of an umpire. Despite what some of these egomaniacs may think, we do not tune in to see them call balls and strikes as emphatically as possible or try to become part of the action.
On Sunday in Washington, third-base umpire John Hirschbeck wanted to get his name in the paper and on message boards, so he decided to stand toe-to-toe with Bryce Harper.
Harper checked his swing on a pitch from Wandy Rodriguez, so home plate umpire Bob Davidson asked for help to see if he went around. Hirschbeck pumped his fist, and Harper threw his helmet down.
That was when the ump show started. Hirschbeck threw up his hands right away and started jawing with Harper. Moments later he threw the Nationals phenom out of the game.
As the Washington announcers said on the video, Hirschbeck just wanted for an excuse to throw Harper out of the game. Too often we find ourselves talking about umpires at the end of these games, instead of what happened with the players.
Major League Baseball practically enables the umpires, too, by giving them the equivalent of a slap on the hand.
For more talk on the week that was in baseball, or to look ahead, feel free to chat me up on Twitter.