1. No Forgiveness by Padres
Managers are hired to be fired, everyone knows it, and rarely is a man more vulnerable than when he's working for an ownership group that didn’t hire him and a general manager that inherited him. Especially when the payroll is jacked up to a club-record $108 million.
So Bud Black’s firing Monday was surprising only in terms of its timing, since it came early in a season in which the Padres’ best player, Wil Myers, has been down with a wrist injury; their marquee player, Matt Kemp, is hitting .246 with just two homers; and their starting pitching has been disappointing more often than not.
“We do take it personally,” starter Andrew Cashner snapped to Bleacher Report amid the stunned faces in the clubhouse Monday afternoon. “It’s our manager, man.”
What set Cashner off was my suggestion that if the rotation had pitched more like it did last year, then perhaps the Padres would be higher in the standings and Black would still be their manager. In response, he accused me of getting personal and noted that the Padres lead the majors in quality starts.
Which is true. They do lead the majors with 42 quality starts.
What’s also true is Padres starters have surrendered an MLB-high 663 total bases. Meanwhile, the club has won four games in a row just once this season and three games in a row four times.
So at 32-34, fourth in the NL West and six games behind the Dodgers, general manager A.J. Preller followed up a winter of earning the “Rock Star” nickname from Kemp with a managerial bloodletting.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the past two or three weeks,” Preller said, noting that he made the final decision Sunday night, slept on it and pulled the plug Monday. With that, the second-winningest manager in Padres history arrived at Petco Park around 11 a.m. Monday and had left the building by noon.
“It’s not like the club bottomed out,” Preller said. “There were inconsistencies.”
He pointed to inconsistencies in the pitching. He noted that though the Padres are tied for second in the NL in runs scored, those runs have “come in bunches.” It is a streaky, primarily right-handed team, and on too many nights, it’s showed.
“It’s not one specific thing I can put a finger on,” Preller said. “The last few weeks, I started thinking that maybe he was not the guy for next year.”
So he made the change, and over the next 24 to 48 hours, the Padres will name a full-time interim manager, as opposed to temporary interim manager Dave Roberts, who piloted Monday night’s game. It could be Roberts, third-base coach Glenn Hoffman, hitting coach Mark Kotsay or Triple-A manager Pat Murphy.
Unusual, yes. But Preller did not want to talk to folks about managing the Padres while Black was still employed. Thus, Roberts will manage for a game…or two…or three…or more, and during that time, conversations will be held and a more permanent interim manager will be decided upon.
“It’s surprising, but those things happen all the time,” outfielder Will Venable said. “It’s an unfortunate part of the game. But the front office made decisions to help us get to where we need to be, and if that’s what they think, that’s what we’ll be rolling with.”
Whoever is managing this team, Preller noted, Kemp needs to have more than two home runs, more starting pitchers need to go eight innings and the lineup needs to be set.
That last one, of course, falls in no small part on Preller, who reconstructed a team stocked with players who shouldn’t have been in the majors last year into a club currently short on accomplishment and long on things to prove.
“I’m not looking to put the blame on anybody…I look at myself in the mirror,” Preller said. “I’m the guy who had a big part in picking the players.
“I’m looking at it like what can I do better? What can the coaching staff do better? What can the players do better?”
Expectations for the remaining 96 games, Preller said, have not changed.
“I’m hoping to see a club that can contend for a playoff slot,” he said, noting that the kind of baseball the Padres have expected has appeared “in spurts, but we need to be more consistent in catching the ball, winning the one-and-one count, throwing first-pitch strikes, getting [good] pitching early in the game, and as a bullpen, closing things out at the end.”
While they’re looking for that, the Padres placed Myers back on the disabled list Monday with tendonitis in his left wrist.
After winning the winter, the Padres continue to search for a way to win the summer.
2. Changing Winds in Philadelphia Overdue
No team is in more dire need of retooling than the Philadelphia Phillies, and now word has come that should give the city’s beleaguered baseball fans hope: There are indications that the club is targeting veteran baseball executive Andy MacPhail for a leadership role in the front office, according to longtime Phillies beat writer Jim Salisbury of CSN Philadelphia.
MacPhail was the architect of the Minnesota Twins’ 1987 and 1991 World Series clubs and most recently was the president of operations for the Baltimore Orioles. He left after the 2011 season, having positioned the Orioles for the 2012 and 2014 postseasons, their first taste of October since 1997.
3. The Buster Posey Rule and Intent
As controversial as it was when commissioner Bud Selig instituted the rule protecting catchers a few years back, the aftermath remains murky and in need of clarification. Or, better yet, if it’s on the books, enforcement.
Last week in Atlanta, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons came barreling into home plate on a close play, and Padres catcher Derek Norris was there to receive the throw. Norris was positioned in front of the plate, giving Simmons a clear lane in which to slide. Yet Simmons veered to his left, sliding hard with his knee smashing into Norris’ upper left thigh as he crossed the plate.
It should have been an easy call: Simmons should have been out at the plate for going out of his way to make contact with the catcher. Instead, he was safe, and the Braves wound up winning 4-1.
Norris and the Padres were furious, and with good reason. Norris asked plate umpire Andy Fletcher why the rule wasn’t enforced, and Fletcher indicated that he didn’t see Simmons going out of his way.
For his part, as Norris told me, he never thought the rule needed to be changed in the first place; he was fine with hard plays at the plate. But he has adjusted to the way the rule is written now.
And herein lies a significant issue: By setting up in front of the plate and giving runners a clear lane to slide, catchers also are not gearing up and setting themselves in case there is contact. Because under the rule, there shouldn’t be contact.
So on the rare occasion that there is contact, catchers are especially vulnerable to injury. To that end, umpires need to be especially vigilant.
4. Boston Tea Party II
As it is, Hanley Ramirez is unwatchable in left field, David Ortiz’s slow fade is borderline agonizing and Boston’s pitching is a mess.
Then came starter Wade Miley’s dugout confrontation with manager John Farrell last week following his four-inning, nine-hit, five-run beating against Baltimore, and the Red Sox became baseball’s closest answer to a five-alarm fire.
Miley lost it in the dugout and screamed at Farrell, and tabloids everywhere began drooling enough to fill up your average backyard swimming pool.
Farrell called the outburst “unacceptable”, adding, “I won’t stand for it.”
Miley apologized, saying, “I lost my mind last night. Like I said, the emotions ran wild. I did something I shouldn’t have done. That’s it.”
It's difficult to keep track of all of the losses in Boston this summer, but that one stands a good chance of becoming the signature play in a lost Red Sox season.
5. The Natural and the Land of 10,000 Lakes
Remember last year when Derek Jeter was taking his final victory lap and everyone wondered who would succeed him as the "Face of Baseball"?
Two things: First, Mike Trout remains the runaway leader, though Bryce Harper has a few things to say about that this summer. Second, given an extraordinary class of young talent, there will be many other candidates over the next few years, and the game is in terrific shape.
In a season already notable for the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, the Cubs calling up Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, the Astros summoning Carlos Correa last week and the Rangers bringing up Joey Gallo, we watched the Twins’ Byron Buxton race all the way home from first base to score the winning run in Texas in his major league debut.
“I knew if it stayed in the park it would be a no-doubter,” Twins manager Paul Molitor told reporters, according to the Pioneer Press. “He’s got a beautiful stride. He runs like not too many other people we’ve seen in this game.”
Buxton has been rated as the best prospect in baseball—even ahead of Bryant—for the past couple of seasons by experts such as Baseball America. Following a 20-7 month of May, the Twins started June with a 3-9 record and summoned Buxton to the majors Saturday.
He will be the club’s new center fielder, a perfect position for a man Torii Hunter described to me this spring as “Mike Trout 2.”
Given that Hunter was Trout’s teammate with the Angels when Trout debuted, and given that Hunter took Trout under his wing in that first year, the comparison is very interesting.
6. Most Likely to Be Scheduled for Homecoming
7. Weekly Power Rankings
1. Toronto Blue Jays: The team tied a club-record 11-game winning streak with no help from exchange-rate inflation.
2. Chris Sale: With 12 K’s against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Sale became the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2001 to fan 12 or more hitters in four consecutive starts. Word is, the Rangers have already ordered extra bats for Friday’s encounter with the White Sox ace.
3. College World Series: The annual gathering where Cal State Fullerton—the training ground for Phil Nevin, Mark Kotsay and many others—reinforces its place on the map.
4. Francisco Lindor: Before you can say “Byron Buxton,” “Carlos Correa,” “Joey Gallo” or even “Kris Bryant,” the Indians have recalled their shortstop of the future, the eighth overall pick in 2011. Fans still say the call came too late.
5. Entourage: The once-popular HBO show becomes a movie, and this seems a perfect opportunity to say that CC Sabathia once told me his favorite character is Turtle.
8. Dodger on a Fence
With two Padres aboard, two out in the ninth and his team clinging to a 2-2 tie Sunday, Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson saved a game that Los Angeles wound up winning. And you will not see a more dramatic game-saving catch than this from the rookie whom a scout told me this spring reminded him defensively of Fred Lynn:
9. The Unmarketability of Alex Rodriguez
Two months ago, I wrote that Alex Rodriguez could earn a boatload of goodwill in his marketing-clause dispute by offering to donate the $6 million he was in line to receive for each milestone home run (passing Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, etc.) to charity.
Now, a New York Daily News story has emerged indicating the Yankees offered to donate the money to charity instead of paying A-Rod, and the tainted slugger so far has rebuffed them.
It was believed the dispute was set to be settled by Sunday, the 45-day deadline for A-Rod to file a grievance against the Yankees for their refusal to pay him the $6 million “marketing” award for passing Mays. According to the Daily News, Sunday passed with no award and no grievance. Stay tuned.
“If you guys are so interested in my charities, I’ll be at the Boys and Girls Club on Tuesday,” A-Rod told the newspaper. “That’s a great organization, and we welcome all you guys to come out and give the Boys and Girls Club some exposure.”
Happy to help with the exposure here. The Boys and Girls Club indeed is a very worthy cause.
A-Rod? Not so much. The Yankees’ television ratings and attendance have declined this year, so as far as helping with “marketing” for the Yankees brand, historic homers or not, A-Rod is not.
9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week
This week’s pop culture trivia nugget: The new film Love & Mercy, a biopic of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, was directed by Bill Pohlad, known in baseball circles as one of the key members of the Twins’ executive board of directors (as in, one of the owners).
A Hollywood veteran, Pohlad is developing an impressive film resume: So far, he has received producing credits for 12 Years a Slave, Brokeback Mountain and Into the Wild.
"I may not always love you
"But long as there are stars above you
"You never need to doubt it
"I'll make you so sure about it
"God only knows what I'd be without you
"If you should ever leave me
"Though life would still go on believe me
"The world could show nothing to me
"So what good would living do me
"God only knows what I'd be without you"
—The Beach Boys, "God Only Knows"
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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