1. Alex Rodriguez charges at Willie Mays
Imagine: Alex Rodriguez, Knight in Shining Armor.
He is the story of April, no fooling. He is smashing home runs, winning games, jacking up his on-base percentage (.412!), making love to television cameras with those doe eyes (as ever) and kissing babies (presumably).
This is at once great news and chilling news for the Yankees, of course.
Great news because, well, how cool is it that the old clunker of a car you thought would have to be junked turns out to purr?
Chilling news because, well, when A-Rod at 39 is easily the best hitter in your lineup, it's more of an indictment on your lineup than anything else.
And chilling news because the Yankees now are on a collision course with the $6 million bonuses they owe him for landmark home runs, starting with matching Mays at No. 660 (A-Rod is at 658 now).
The club sent several flares up over the winter indicating it is prepared to go to arbitration in an effort to weasel out of the bonuses. No matter that the Yankees entered into them with full knowledge back in 2007 that they were surrounded by a steroid minefield, as detailed in the Mitchell Report, and anyone was suspect. Where was that dogged investigator Howie Spira when they really needed him?
Revamping his image for approximately the 1,000th time, A-Rod could seize the good-guy high road in a flash. Here's how:
A-Rod comes out strong and hard, saying he will donate the $6 million to charity when he hits No. 660. Maybe to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Maybe to charities supported during Yankees Hope Week (which, incidentally, is an incredibly inspirational and meaningful annual tradition). How petty would the Yankees look if they fought that?
A-Rod passes on blood money for an inauthentic milestone and looks like a prince in the process. The Yankees get some satisfaction. Win-win for both sides. You're welcome.
Sure, that's a lot of dough to give up, but Rodriguez is due $61 million in salary over the next three years. Plus he'll get another $6 million each when he hits Nos. 714 (tying Babe Ruth), 755 (tying Hank Aaron), 762 (tying Barry Bonds) and 763 (breaking the all-time record).
By the time he hits those, he'll be viewed as cleaner than a bar of Irish Spring after delivering cupful after cupful of untainted urine in tests. And maybe by then, the Yanks will be happy to pay him his bonuses. And at that point, he can do whatever he wants with all that cash. Spring for some more Armani suits. Get a new hip (or two). Donate to the Centaur Hall of Fame. Whatever.
Point is, the Big Guy is back and swinging it, so who are we to doubt that the good times are just beginning for him and the Yankees?
2. Those Frisky Royals
Kansas City picked up exactly where it left off last year, waxing the Los Angeles Angels of Josh Hamilton Doesn't Exist and knocking the air out of the Oakland A's.
But anybody who watched them take on the A's over the weekend saw that these are not the same Royals. They are another year older, another year more confident and far less willing to take anybody's crap.
That's all great—to a point. No question, Brett Lawrie's slide that took out shortstop Alcides Escobar on Friday night was late, too late, with spikes too high, and Kansas City was right to retaliate the next day. Which the Royals did, when Yordano Ventura drilled Lawrie. That was old-school, now-we're-even baseball.
Sunday was over the top. Kelvin Herrera throwing a 99 mph fastball behind Lawrie was beyond the pale, but when he pointed to his head as if to warn the A's of what would happen next, that's not OK, and it should draw a significant suspension. Yes, Scott Kazmir had hit Lorenzo Cain in the foot during the first inning, drawing a warning from the umpires and beginning an Ejection Festival that saw Royals manager Ned Yost, pitching coach Dave Eiland and bench coach Don Wakamatsu get sent to the showers early.
But there is a fine line between having your teammates' back and hurting your team by getting yourself suspended. Herrera crossed it.
The teams next meet in Oakland June 26-28. Stay tuned.
3. Tigers, Tigers, Pitching Bright
Detroit lost Max Scherzer to free agency and Justin Verlander to the disabled list, yet the Tigers' staff ERA of 2.61 was the best in the American League heading into this week. Also, their 2.48 starters' ERA led the league.
Aside from their Murderers' Row of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes, the story of the year so far in Motown is the brilliance of Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon.
Greene, acquired from the Yankees last Dec. 5 as part of a three-team deal with the Diamondbacks, has surrendered just one earned run in 23 innings. The 26-year-old right-hander throws six different pitches and so far is backing up general manager Dave Dombrowski's faith in him.
The Tigers acquired Simon from Cincinnati six days after Greene. Following Monday night's start against the Yankees, Simon is 3-0 with a 1.74 ERA through three starts.
4. Other Early Numbers
Remember when Dodgers fans were wondering where the power would come from after they traded Matt Kemp to San Diego and let Hanley Ramirez walk as a free agent? Through Monday, they led the NL with 17 homers. Adrian Gonzalez smashed five homers in Los Angeles' first three games and leads the team. Alex Guerrero, Howie Kendrick, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig have two each.
Fewest homers in the NL? Milwaukee was stuck on three heading into this week—and Ryan Braun was stuck on one.
The Astros started the week leading the AL West, the latest they've led a division since they started 9-6 and led the NL Central on April 20, 2007.
Zack Greinke now is 20-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 30 starts against NL West clubs since signing with the Dodgers in December 2012. Next up: in San Diego, against the Padres, on Friday.
Four clubs have yet to have a baserunner thrown out stealing through Monday: The Reds are 14-of-14, Boston is 9-of-9, the Mets are 8-of-8 and Oakland is 7-of-7.
Through his start Monday night, the Pirates' A.J. Burnett has 2,386 career strikeouts, second among active pitchers behind the Yankees' CC Sabathia (2,452). Burnett ranked 43rd on the all-time strikeout list, 10 behind Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
5. Another Marlins Manager to Bite the Dust?
It would be ridiculous, of course, if Mike Redmond is tossed overboard this year during the season, yet rumblings persist, according to Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald, that owner Jeffrey Loria is upset and that this week's series in Philadelphia could determine Redmond's fate.
Loria has a history of gassing managers early, from Jeff Torborg in May 2003, to Fredi Gonzalez in June 2010. With him and managers, I still think the finest moment I've heard came when then-Marlins manager Joe Girardi told Loria to "Shut the f--k up" during a game not long before he was fired in 2006. Loria was sitting in the stands near the Marlins' dugout, chirping at the umpires.
Giancarlo Stanton's recent postgame statement that "the fire is not there" certainly was damning to both the Marlins and Redmond, but that observation also might have simply been Stanton trying to grow into his $325 million contract and do what he thinks a leader should do.
Regardless, 13 games into the season, it is far too early to read much into anything. The Marlins are talented. They are far better than they are playing. And for the same reasons they loved Redmond when they hired him before the 2013 season, those skills should get Miami back on track, and sooner rather than later.
6. This Archie Is No Comic Book Hero
So far, so good for Diamondbacks rookie Archie Bradley, who on Thursday nearly became the first pitcher ever to beat a Cy Young Award winner and a World Series MVP in his first two career appearances.
Bradley outdueled the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw with six shutout innings in Arizona in his first outing of the season.
Thursday in San Francisco, Bradley held the Giants to two runs and four hits in 6.2 innings but came away with a no-decision in Arizona's 7-6 win.
Bradley is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA in two starts, and the Diamondbacks like what they see.
"He's thrown that way all spring," manager Chip Hale says. "He's very focused. You never have to worry about him losing it, mentally. It's unbelievable, the difference I've seen in him this spring versus last fall."
Says catcher Tuffy Gosewisch: "He's got great, great stuff. As long as he continues to work hard, he's going to get better. This is what I saw all spring."
7. Jon Lester’s Glove Toss
If you missed how he recorded this out at first against the Padres on Saturday, it's worth taking a look:
8. Weekly Power Rankings
1. Pete Rose: Newly signed as a television analyst on Fox Sports, Rose unexpectedly takes the lead for Comeback Would-Be Hall of Famer of the Year.
2. Jon Lester: Fantastic glove toss. Now, can he incorporate that into his pickoff move?
3. Patriots' Day: The Red Sox now are 69-51 all-time on the early-start day. As Paul Revere once said, "One if by a fastball, two if by a curve, three if by a Big Papi big fly."
4. Josh Donaldson and Brett Lawrie: The two third basemen, traded for each other, have big weekends. Donaldson hits three homers against the Braves, including a walk-off Saturday night, and Lawrie is at the center of hostilities between the Athletics and Royals.
5. Chip Hale: Tells his Diamondbacks to gather in the dugout pregame Saturday to watch the San Francisco Giants receive their World Series rings. Classy plus educational move, but with the Giants equaling their worst 14-game start since moving to San Francisco in 1958 (4-10), the Snakes had to be wondering: These guys won the World Series?
9. Final Add, Jackie Robinson Day
While former Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (rightfully) gets all of the credit for steering baseball into a new era in 1947, there were others involved. One of them was Rickey's assistant at the time who later became an extraordinary GM himself, Buzzie Bavasi.
Happily, Buzzie's son, Bill, is involved in the game and last November left the Reds, where he was working as a special assistant to GM Walt Jocketty, to run the MLB Scouting Bureau. Though B/R missed him before Jackie Robinson Day last week, we caught up with him right after and he had a great story to tell, passed down from his father.
"Mr. Rickey had a lot of people in the organization go out and check Jackie out because it was going to be such a tough thing to do, and it was going to take someone of special character to do this," Bill Bavasi says. "My guess is they had the approach that they would only have one bite of the apple, which probably wasn't true, but it would have been just once in Mr. Rickey's lifetime.
"Buzzie was one of the guys who got sent out to check Jackie out. Buzzie was running a club in their farm system, and he would work in Brooklyn in the winter. Before they signed Jackie, and I really don't know where this happened, but Buzzie went out to check him out—either before they signed him, or before they brought him up. Buzzie was one of the guys dispatched to see if the guy was ready.
"Buzzie knew everyone would be watching him from a scouting standpoint, so Buzzie chose to sit behind his wife. He met Rachel, eavesdropped on her a little, watched Jackie play from behind her, or close enough to know what was going on.
"He reported back to Mr. Rickey: She's a real special woman, and if Jackie's good enough for her, he's good enough for us."
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day
Being that I'm headed to see this band Wednesday night, I'd like to send this one out to the fightin' Kansas City Royals and Oakland A's:
"I don't want anything I done to be nobody's fault
"Even if they got more money and mouth than they got balls.
"That's just how it went down, right or wrong, it's just that way.
"Just 'cause I don't run my mouth don't mean I got nothin' to say"
— Drive-By Truckers, "Marry Me"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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