Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB Week 6
There is a common misconception, at least among casual sports fans, that nothing really interesting happens in Major League Baseball until September. People act as if the games late in the season count for more than the one win or loss they do right now.
But to the people who look for drama early in the season, all you have to do is point them to everything that happened last week. It seemed like every day there was something noteworthy dominating the headlines.
Granted, not all of the headlines were good. In fact, given the nature of media reporting nowadays, the only way to get attention for a sport not in the playoffs now is when something bad happens.
Yet for all of the boneheaded things we saw, there were also some positive stories worth highlighting.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from the week that was in MLB.
Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Winner(s): St. Louis Cardinals Pitchers Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright
Take a look at the numbers Shelby Miller and Adam Wainwright put up on consecutive days against Colorado this weekend:
18 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 20 K, 233 pitches, 172 strikes (73.8 percent), 49 consecutive hitless at-bats.
Miller started things off in masterful fashion on Friday night, giving up a leadoff single to Eric Young before retiring the next 27 he faced in a complete-game shutout of a Colorado team that ranks in the top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs scored.
Wainwright followed up that performance by taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Saturday. He went 22 hitters before giving up a base hit.
But even those two don't tell the whole story of how good St. Louis' rotation has been this year. Without Kyle Lohse and Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals rank first in starters' ERA at 2.25 (Washington is second at 3.22), first in shutouts (seven), third in innings pitched (236.1), fifth in batting average against (.232) and sixth in strikeouts (210).
Yeah, the Cardinals are going to be just fine.
Loser: Umpires Angel Hernandez and Fieldin Culbreth
Between judgment calls that are so horribly wrong you wonder what they are seeing and an entire crew not knowing the rules of the game, it is safe to say that the umpires in Major League Baseball had a week to forget.
Angel Hernandez started things off in spectacular fashion on Wednesday night, initially calling a ball hit by Oakland's Adam Rosales off Cleveland's Chris Perez a double in the ninth inning that would have tied the game.
A's manager Bob Melvin asked the umpires to look at the replay, which they did. It took about three minutes—a lot longer than it should have, considering how replays clearly showed the ball hit the railing over the fence for a home run—for Hernandez and the crew to come back out and "confirm" the initial call was correct.
Adding more insult to the frustration, the next night in Houston saw the umpiring crew completely forget a rule. Astros manager Bo Porter brought in Wesley Wright to face Angels hitter J.B. Shuck, but Mike Scioscia pinch-hit for Shuck after Wright completed his warm-up pitches.
Porter countered by trying to bring in Hector Ambriz. The rulebook states that if a pitcher is replaced, the new pitcher has to face at least one batter before he can be pulled from the game. But umpires allowed the change, and Ambriz was able to pitch.
To put the final cherry on top of the umpire-bashing sundae, Joe Torre, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations, released a statement saying that Hernandez was wrong in Cleveland, but because it was a judgment call, it's final.
MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons raised an interesting question when he said during an interview on The Dan Patrick Show that Hernandez may have upheld his call as an act of defiance against replay.
Being an umpire isn't an easy job, but there is no excuse whatsoever for the complete lack of competence that we saw this week. Yet nothing has changed. At this rate, it will take something disastrous in a playoff or World Series game to get MLB to take notice of what is going on.
Winner: Houston Astros 2B Jose Altuve
Playing for the Houston Astros, you are not likely to catch a lot of media attention unless it is for people to poke fun at how poor the big league club has been for the last few years.
But by ignoring the franchise entirely, you miss out on one of the most fun and exciting players in all of baseball: Jose Altuve.
The diminutive second baseman has been a fan favorite ever since he was called up late in the 2011 season. Altuve put together a solid performance last year, hitting .290/.340/.399 and making it to the All-Star Game in Kansas City.
This year has seen Altuve continue his upward trend. He is hitting a robust .336/.373/.447 through 37 games. He's also been fantastic with the glove, saving six runs on defense and boasting a UZR of 2.5 already (per FanGraphs).
For the week, Altuve went 8-for-22 with one double, one home run, three RBI and two stolen bases. It may be difficult to watch the Astros on a daily basis, but they have a second baseman who is worth your attention.
Loser: New York Yankees RP Joba Chamberlain
To say that Joba Chamberlain's career hasn't gone as expected after his stellar debut in 2007 would be an understatement. Piggybacking off the New York hype machine, the right-hander was supposed to be the greatest pitcher in the history of the world.
While things haven't worked out that well for Chamberlain, he has carved out a decent career for himself when he is healthy.
But when you are a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees, the one thing you never do is have an argument—particularly one in public—with Mariano Rivera.
According to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News, Chamberlain got into it a bit with Rivera after Rivera asked him to lower his voice during a pregame media session on Saturday. Chamberlain, in full view of reporters, went to Rivera and said, "Don’t ever shush me again."
The two reportedly laughed it off on Sunday, with Chamberlain telling ESPN New York that it was just like an argument that you have with your brother.
Still, Joba, when the choice comes down to you or Rivera, just know that no one in New York will ever take your side.
Winner: New York Yankees
Meanwhile, in things relating to the Yankees on the field, the team is actually playing really well and has put that slow start well behind them.
After going 1-4 in its first five games, New York has won 22 of its last 31 games and taken over first place in the American League East.
Now, before we go proclaiming that the Yankees are back and can get by with a lineup that includes Vernon Wells, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Jayson Nix, it is important to note that 10 of those games have come against Toronto and Houston, who have combined for a 24-51 record.
But you can only win the games on your schedule, and the Yankees are doing just that right now. I am not ready to proclaim them a playoff team yet—I wouldn't do that to any team on May 13—but this has been a positive start for a team that looked decimated when the season started.
Loser: Colorado Rockies
It is not a good time to be a fan of the Colorado Rockies. They do have legitimate star talent with Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler. Nolan Arenado, one of the team's top prospects, recently moved up to the big leagues.
But the song remains the same, as there is never enough pitching—or any pitching—for the Rockies to depend on. Yet a hot start that saw the team go 13-4 likely had some people feeling a little better about where they were at.
As the saying goes in baseball, it's a marathon and not a sprint. The Rockies have won six of their last 14 to sit at 20-17. They lost four straight games this week against the Yankees and St. Louis by scoring a grand total of three runs. They did get back on track Sunday with an 8-2 victory against the Cardinals.
The Rockies have pitched better than expected but rank just 19th in starters' ERA (4.35). If they aren't scoring runs, they won't win a lot of games.
Winner: Washington Nationals SP Jordan Zimmermann
Everyone in Washington wants to know what is up with Stephen Strasburg, even though I maintain he is, for the most part, fine and the offense—and in some cases, the defense—isn't helping him out at all.
Yet while we continue to wait for Strasburg to have that one start where he strikes out 13 with one hit allowed in eight innings, Jordan Zimmermann reminds everyone that he is pretty good and can lead a rotation until Strasburg figures himself out.
Zimmermann only started one game last week, against Detroit on Wednesday, but it was a microcosm of everything he has done this season. The 26-year-old threw seven innings with seven hits, one run and two walks allowed. He also recorded seven strikeouts.
That start put Zimmermann's season numbers at a 1.59 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, .181 average against, 33 hits, nine walks and 34 strikeouts in 51 innings.
The Nationals are built around strong starting pitching, and Zimmermann just continues to get better the further away from his 2009 Tommy John surgery he gets.
Loser: Oakland Athletics SP Jarrod Parker
Sometimes when we use the term sophomore slump to describe the way someone is playing, we use it wrong, because the player who succeeded as a rookie really showed a lot of signs that what happened before was not indicative of the player he is.
For example, when Chris Coghlan went from Rookie of the Year in 2009 to afterthought the next year, it was easy to say he just got caught up in the sophomore slump. Few pointed out the fact that his rookie season was his peak and his .321/.390/.460 slash line came as the result of a fluky second half where he hit .372/.423/.543 in 72 games.
I say all that to bring up Jarrod Parker, who had a strong rookie season with 181.1 innings, a 3.47 ERA and 3.5 wins above replacement (per FanGraphs). He is a pitcher who has been highly regarded since Arizona selected him in the first round of the 2007 draft.
Parker's stock did dip a bit after he missed the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery, but his stuff was still good enough to project he could be a very good big league starter for a long time, which he showed as a rookie.
This season has been a test for Parker, who has had a difficult season and posted a week to forget last week. The problem doesn't come as the result of a sophomore slump, but some bad luck and poor command.
Parker has pitched up in the zone a lot more this year, leading to a ridiculous home run rate of 1.99 and a 6.86 ERA.
Last week Parker gave up four home runs in five innings against Cleveland and followed it up with a start against Seattle where he walked four and struck out five in 6.1 innings.
Oakland's young pitching helped springboard it to a division title last year, and Parker was a huge part of that. That rotation needs him to step up his performance to stay in the race all season.
Winner: Cleveland Indians
We all know that the Detroit Tigers are the best team in the American League Central, and everyone else is fighting to catch them.
Kansas City and Cleveland made a lot of moves in the offseason to close the gap, but it likely won't matter when the end of the season comes.
However, if we want to give credit where credit is due, the Indians certainly had a lot to celebrate this weekend when they took two out of three games from the Tigers in Detroit. Making the feat even more impressive is two games in the series were started by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
While Scherzer took care of business on Friday night, Verlander didn't have his best stuff on Saturday, and the new-look Cleveland offense made him pay. The Tribe bullpen nearly let the lead slip away but held on for a 7-6 victory.
On Sunday, with Rick Porcello throwing six strong innings, the Indians had to get after the bullpen. With proven closer Jose Valverde on the mound in the ninth inning. Michael Bourn took advantage of him by drawing a walk and stealing second base. After Detroit recorded two outs, Jason Giambi drew a walk, and Michael Brantley followed up with a game-tying single.
In the 10th inning, Mark Reynolds delivered a pinch-hit RBI single to push the Indians ahead. Rich Hill and Cody Allen closed out the inning to preserve the victory and push the Tribe into a first-place tie with Detroit.
It is only a series in May, but the Indians have managed to win a few games and are at least entertaining to watch right now.
Star of the Week: Los Angeles Dodgers OF Matt Kemp
Ignore that the Los Angeles Dodgers are 15-21 right now. Forget the fact that Matt Kemp is hitting just .277/.329/.350 with one home run in 36 games.
What Kemp did prior to a game last week against San Francisco, giving his jersey, hat and other memorabilia to a cancer patient in the stands, was far more important than anything he can do on a baseball field.
We love to laugh at some of the stupidity from athletes—like Joba Chamberlain thinking he can talk down to Mariano Rivera, or something you will see on the next page—but it is important to highlight the great things that athletes do for fans.
Kemp didn't know that he was being filmed and probably didn't want this moment to be on tape, but it does show the kind of character the former All-Star center fielder has and how even something as simple as giving up a jersey can be the biggest gesture.
Whoops Moment of the Week: Houston Astros SP Jordan Lyles
Since we gave praise to something about the Astros earlier, it is only appropriate that we poke some fun at them when it is warranted.
Staring pitcher Jordan Lyles had one of those moments that seemingly every pitcher has at one point during their career and all would like to forget.
On Sunday against Texas, in a game where the 12-7 score looks a lot closer than it actually was, Lyles went into his wind-up with runners on first and third. He was moving towards the plate, ready to throw the pitch, when all of a sudden everything just stopped.
Lyles slowed down to cut off his delivery as he moved forward and held on to the ball, almost as if he thought someone called timeout. The umpires called a balk, the runners advanced a base and Lyles had to deal with being a punch line for a couple of days.
On the bright side, considering where the Astros are at right now, it shouldn't take too long before some other "D'oh!" moment takes Lyles' place.
For more analysis on the week that was in baseball, or a look ahead at what's to come, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.