10 Biggest Takeaways from MLB's Week 25
The fodder does not stop just because the number of relevant teams in this regular season has shrunk to about a dozen.
There was plenty of news in Major League Baseball this past week, and some of it was made by non-contending organizations such as the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers, both of whom hired new general managers—Mike Hazen and David Stearns, respectively.
We won't discuss those things in this week's takeaways, but we should note that the moves are significant because Hazen and Stearns will guide their franchises for the next several years, and they could alter the landscapes of the American and National Leagues this coming offseason.
There was also the typical weekly news, like a meaningful injury, a declining player getting the nod over a hot up-and-coming one, another player trying to police an opponent and, of course, more questions and concerns about the New York Yankees' rotation.
Unfortunately, there was also the death of a baseball icon: Yogi Berra.
Jake Arrieta's Rise to True Ace
Jake Arrieta's rise started last season, but because the Chicago Cubs lost 89 games and he had never performed so well before, it was mostly overlooked and somewhat dismissed. Arrieta was, at that point, a one-hit wonder. To be considered one of the game's real aces, a pitcher has to consistently put up elite numbers.
Arrieta has done that this season, adding his name to the same sentence as National League stalwarts Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke when it comes to Cy Young Award favorites.
On Tuesday, Arrieta became the first 20-game winner of 2015. He also kept his ERA below 2.00 (it's now 1.88) with a complete-game shutout of the Milwaukee Brewers. His numbers are great, and if you're a fan of run-prevention statistics or strikeout numbers, he squares up well with both Los Angeles Dodgers candidates.
In the offseason, Chicago signed a big-ticket free agent to help its rotation. Jon Lester has been solid, but he has not lived up to his contract. Thankfully for the Cubs, Arrieta's season has overshadowed that issue, and if they go after another arm this winter—Greinke or David Price could be in their vast financial wheelhouse—the North Siders could be the National League favorite for several seasons to come.
For now, Chicago has its October ace.
"You don't think about something for the first time the day you do it," Arrieta told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. "You think about pitching in the playoffs; you think about pitching in the World Series. And if you don't, you should."
Jonathan Papelbon's 'Tired' Act
Depending on one's attitude about baseball, Washington Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is easy to like or easy to hate. He is one of the most polarizing figures in the sport.
So is Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. And so is Papelbon's Nationals teammate Bryce Harper.
All three were involved in Papelbon's attempt to police Machado on Wednesday night after Machado stung his 30th home run of the season against Max Scherzer. When Machado hit again in the ninth inning, Papelbon threw up and in on him once before landing a fastball on Machado's shoulder, earning an immediate ejection and causing a minor flaring of tempers.
It earned Papelbon a three-game suspension Friday.
"That's just bulls--t," Machado told reporters. "It's coward stuff."
Machado's celebration was mild by this era's standards. Papelbon's reaction was on par with the game's archaic ones, and Harper, as the best hitter on Papelbon's team, did not like it very much.
"I mean, Manny freaking hit a homer and walked it off and somebody drilled him," a clearly bothered Harper told reporters. "It's pretty tired. It's one of those situations where it happens. I don't know. I'll probably get drilled tomorrow. We'll see what happens."
Harper was not hit the next day, but that is not the point. The point is Papelbon, who never has to worry about stepping into the batter's box, put a target on his teammate's back because he passed some sort of ridiculous judgment on Machado's handling of his own success.
Harper is right. It's tired. And if Papelbon is on the Nationals next season, this whole thing might not be over. For that, Harper can thank his "teammate" for putting him in harm's way.
Royals' Pitching Again a Concern
Last season, the Kansas City Royals did not have to worry a whole lot about their pitching once the postseason started. Sure, their rotation was just OK. But their bullpen, particularly the back end of it, was dominant, and that was enough to alleviate rotation issues since scoring off the relievers was a rarity.
That could change this year, as closer Greg Holland has been shut down for the season with a "significant" UCL tear, Royals manager Ned Yost told the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough. According to McCullough, Holland likely headed for Tommy John surgery. That leaves a still-dominant Wade Davis as the closer and a struggling Kelvin Herrera as his setup man. Herrera has allowed six runs in his last five outings, though his last three have been scoreless.
More troubling than the bullpen, however, is Johnny Cueto. The Royals believed they had a postseason ace when they traded for him in July, but over his last seven starts, he has a 7.36 ERA and opponents have hit .356 against him. His last two turns have been better—five earned runs over 14 innings—but not enough to eradicate the worry that he could blow up again.
Plus, the rest of the rotation—namely Yordano Ventura (5.32 ERA in his last four starts), Edinson Volquez (6.00 ERA in his last four starts) and Kris Medlen (who has thrown less than 50 innings this season)—has its own issues.
The Royals might have the best record in the American League, but they are far from looking like the best team right now, and their lack of pitching is the reason.
Corey Seager Makes His Case for the Postseason
The Los Angeles Dodgers traded for shortstop Jimmy Rollins to add a respected veteran presence to their clubhouse while also improving their defense at the position. Rollins, to his credit, has done both, though his defense has been only a slight upgrade over what Hanley Ramirez provided last season.
Rollins has also been an offensive disappointment, and the emergence of Corey Seager, the team's top prospect, has made Rollins an expendable asset when third basemen Justin Turner and Chase Utley are healthy. That is the case as the regular season comes to a close, and age or experience should not play a factor in who the Dodgers use at shortstop this postseason.
"Well, we'll see," Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly told reporters earlier this month (via Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times). "We've used Corey, and we'll continue to put our best lineup out there."
Assuming that is the case going forward, and it should be, then Rollins must watch the Dodgers' playoff push from the bench.
The reasons? Seager is hitting .353/.457/.603 with three home runs, eight doubles and a 192 OPS+ in 19 games (81 plate appearances), according to Baseball-Reference.com, and defensively there isn't much question that Seager is better than Rollins. Meanwhile, Rollins has an OPS+ of 78, per Baseball-Reference.com; the league average is 100.
Of course, Seager's numbers have come in a small sample, but the entire postseason is a small sample. And if he can continue to produce at or near this level, he gives the club its best chance to win a pennant and World Series.
The problem, despite Mattingly's declaration, is that Seager has not started since Rollins returned from a bruised finger Wednesday. If that trend continues into the playoffs, Mattingly is doing the team a disservice.
New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, one of the sport's icons, died Tuesday at 90 years old. It was a loss of one of the game's wonderful characters.
Berra was a great player, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972. But his contributions to the sport and society were greater than just statistics. He provided both memorable wisdom and comical quotes galore.
His words have become so famous that they're a part of the American lexicon, even if many people don't know they came from one of the most beloved, charismatic men to ever put on a baseball uniform.
Berra might be gone, but his words will never be forgotten.
Yankees' Rotation Still in Flux
As has been the case all season, the New York Yankees don't have a clear option for the No. 1 spot in their rotation. In other words, they have a question mark for a potential do-or-die American League Wild Card Game.
Masahiro Tanaka, with his so-so 3.38 ERA and 118 ERA+, per Baseball-Reference.com, seemed like he'd be that guy for a while. But he is again hurting, forcing New York to consider other options, none of which are appealing. It is not that Tanaka's hamstring injury, suffered Sept. 18 and the cause of his missed start Wednesday, is damning to the rest of his season, because maybe it's not.
It's just that the Yankees can't seem to go more than a week without a blowup performance or nagging injury cropping up. It's happened with Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Nathan Eovaldi and rookie Luis Severino. CC Sabathia, who's had his own performance and injury issues this season, shouldn't even be an option for the playoffs, but who knows? It might soon come down to that.
The rotation has been a problem for the Yankees for the last few seasons. This year, it might help them make the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but it might also end up costing them a chance to advance once they get there.
Marcus Stroman's Return Makes Blue Jays AL Favorites
It seemed unlikely Marcus Stroman would return this season when he tore his ACL in March. But the right-hander's back in the Toronto Blue Jays' rotation, and he has been exactly what the team needed.
Stroman again proved Wednesday that Toronto should be the American League favorite in the postseason when he shut out the New York Yankees over seven innings, pushing the Blue Jays closer to the AL East title.
In his three starts this season, Stroman has allowed four earned runs in 19 innings (1.89 ERA). That production leaves little doubt who will be the team's third starter in the postseason, and teaming the 24-year-old with David Price and R.A. Dickey gives Toronto the best group of starters in the league.
"I've never seen the kid rattled," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons told reporters after Wednesday's 4-0 win, (via David Lennon of Newsday). "So you don't have to worry about that. He was the perfect guy for this game."
He is also the perfect piece for Toronto's playoff rotation.
T-Minus X Days for Matt Williams
Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams has been on the receiving end of his fair share of criticism this season, and now there is another legitimate reason he might soon be out of a job since his own general manager won't commit to him for next season.
"Well, we're going to certainly evaluate everything that went right and went wrong this season after the season," Mike Rizzo told Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier of 106.7 The Fan on Wednesday (via Chris Lingebach of 106.7 The Fan). "We still have a lot of games to go here in the 2015 season."
Rizzo added more of the same later in the interview, and it's noteworthy because it is the first time this season Rizzo has not staunchly supported Williams when asked about his job security.
Add in the fact that Washington has been the most disappointing team in baseball this season, and the writing is on the wall.
Living Hope for AL Wild-Card Drama
The Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins all have a chance to win the second American League wild card. This past week did nothing to separate the Astros, the current leaders, from the other two.
The Astros and Angels will not play each other in the final week, but both face the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. Houston also takes on the Arizona Diamondbacks, while Los Angeles gets the Oakland Athletics. The Twins finish with the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals.
Here's hoping this somehow ends in a three-way tie and the postseason drama can start early. Understandably, Astros fans do not want that scenario to play out, but it would be great for MLB and the rest of its fans.
Baby Born at Petco Park
The announced paid attendance at the San Francisco Giants-San Diego Padres game Thursday night was 31,137. There was, however, at least one more fan in attendance as of the third inning.
A woman gave birth to a baby boy during the game at Petco Park. What a way to come into the world.
Neither team is going to make the playoffs, but being born in a ballpark in beautiful San Diego trumps all, especially for mother and son, who are both doing well.