MLB Quick Takes: Dodgers' Unjust Suspensions, Nate Pearson the Ace and More
We're one week into the 60-game MLB season, and we've already been treated to storylines aplenty.
Just in the past few days, we've gotten a benches-clearing incident followed by an excessive suspension, a scintillating debut by a burgeoning ace, a chance to evaluate the new extra-inning rule and some intriguing hot and cold starts by various clubs.
Let's examine all that and more in our latest quick takes as we wait to see what twists the rest of this unique, truncated campaign has in store.
The Cubs' Bullpen Could Be Their Undoing
The Chicago Cubs entered play Thursday at 4-2 and in first place in the National League Central. In a deep and crowded division in which only the Pittsburgh Pirates don't look like a postseason factor, the Cubs have a chance.
So far, though, their bullpen looks like it could be their undoing.
Through six games, Cubs relievers ranked dead last in baseball with a 9.16 ERA and had issued 20 walks in 18.2 innings. That's...not great.
On Monday, the Cubs pen melted down and coughed up a 7-0 lead against the Cincinnati Reds before the offense bailed them out in an 8-7 victory.
Closer Craig Kimbrel was especially dreadful, allowing four walks, two runs and a hit-by-pitch while recording one out. That's after he posted a 6.53 ERA in 23 appearances with the Cubbies last year.
Other than Jeremy Jeffress, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick, no Cubs reliever had an ERA under 6.75 entering Thursday. It's a small sample, sure. But based on the eye test, this unit has been plain bad.
Though there's time to right the ship, if Chicago hopes to make a postseason run—even with the expanded 16-team format—it should go shopping for relief help before the Aug. 31 trade deadline.
The Padres and Rockies Look Like They're for Real
The short season was bound to give us some surprise contenders, and two candidates have emerged in the National League West.
The Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres entered Thursday with records of 4-1 and 4-2, respectively. Before you dismiss that, remember that six games are the equivalent of 10 percent of the season.
Three of the Padres' four wins have come against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who were widely considered contenders coming into the season. The Rockies took two of three from the Texas Rangers, a possible playoff team, and the two of two from the Oakland Athletics, one of the better teams in the American League.
San Diego and Colorado also ranked second and third in the NL with respective run differentials of plus-13 and plus-12 entering Thursday.
The Rockies have gotten balanced offensive production with shortstop Trevor Story leading the way. But the main story has been their pitching staff, which owned an MLB-best 1.84 ERA through five games. That's probably unsustainable for a team that plays its home games at Mile High altitude (and, indeed, the Rox have yet to play a home game), but Jon Gray and German Marquez have looked capable of keeping Colorado in contention.
The Padres, meanwhile, have enjoyed a strong start from shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. at the head of the offense, while their pitching staff, led by ace Chris Paddack and early bullpen standout Drew Pomeranz, was fourth in the NL with a 3.06 ERA through a half-dozen contests.
The Los Angeles Dodgers remain the favorites in the NL West. But with 16 teams making the dance, don't be surprised if both Colorado and San Diego get an invite.
The Red Sox May Need to Throw in the Towel
The Boston Red Sox entered 2020 on the fringe of the playoff picture, and they aren't out of anything after a 2-4 start.
But the early returns aren't great.
The Red Sox have a minus-four run differential at the 10 percent mark, and their pitching staff ranked 25th with a 5.83 ERA entering Thursday. Nathan Eovaldi has allowed 13 hits in 11 innings, and he's easily been the Sox's best starting pitcher thus far. Key members of the bullpen, including closer Brandon Workman, have wobbled.
The Sox could try to add at the trade deadline, but they don't have many chips in a thin farm system we ranked No. 25.
A better plan may be to continue to trade assets from the big league club, which Boston began by dealing Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February.
Veteran center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is off to a good start and is an impending free agent. He could net a few pieces before the deadline.
Painful as it may be to admit, the Red Sox simply don't appear equipped to hang with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays—and perhaps not even the upstart Toronto Blue Jays—in the American League East.
Cleveland's Starting Pitchers Have Been Outstanding
Six games into the season, Cleveland's starting pitchers look like bat-missing world-beaters.
It began on Opening Day when Shane Bieber struck out 14 in six shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals.
Since then, Zach Plesac (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 11 K) and Carlos Carrasco (6 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 10 K) have followed with double-digit strikeout totals of their own. Only five other teams have had three such games in their first six contests since 1901, including the 2020 Cincinnati Reds.
On Thursday, Bieber struck out 13 in eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. His 27 Ks through his first two starts tie an all-time record set by Karl Spooner in 1954.
Add solid starts by Aaron Civale (6 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 9 K) and Mike Clevinger (7 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 6 K), and the Cleveland rotation has been superlative.
If they can keep it up, it will make Cleveland a force—not merely in the AL Central but in the Junior Circuit as a whole. Who wants to face that starting corps in a short series?
At the very least, it should push the team into win-now mode and temporarily quash any trade speculation surrounding star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who is set to hit free agency after 2021.
New Extra-Inning Rule Seems Odd and Unneccesary
One day after a benches-clearing incident that led to suspensions (more on that in a moment), the Dodgers defeated the Astros 4-2 in 13 innings at Minute Maid Park.
The decisive blow was a leadoff two-run homer in the top of the 13th by the Dodgers' Edwin Rios. Yes, you read that right: a leadoff two-run homer.
That statistical anomaly was made possible by the new rule that automatically places a runner on second base at the beginning of each extra half-inning. The idea is to speed things along and avoid drawn-out contests.
In this case, however, the rule's flaws were exposed.
First, this game went 13 innings despite the rule, with both clubs scoring a single run in the 11th. Second, Diaz's homer would have ended it anyway, runner on second or not.
There will doubtless be times at which the rule ends a game a bit more quickly. But there may be other instances in which clubs simply go back and forth scoring. Was it worth mucking with the rules in this odd and unprecedented way? We say no.
Joe Kelly Hit with Excessive Suspension
OK, now about that suspension.
On Tuesday, Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly entered a game against the Astros and threw several inside pitches to Houston batters. He never hit anyone, nor was he warned or ejected.
When Kelly struck out Astros shortstop Carlos Correa for the third out, he exited the field and made a face toward Correa. The two exchanged words, and the benches cleared. No punches were thrown, and as on-field incidents go, it was fairly tame.
MLB, however, was harsh in its judgment, slapping Kelly with an eight-game suspension and suspending Dodgers manager Dave Roberts for one game.
Kelly has appealed, and for good reason. In a 60-game season, an eight-game suspension is the equivalent of about 22 games. That's excessive, to say the least.
There is bad blood between the Dodgers and Astros stemming from the sign-stealing scheme Houston employed in its seven-game World Series win over L.A. in 2017. The league may be trying to send a message that no retaliation will be tolerated.
But it's a convoluted message and one sent with far too harsh a punishment. New York Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman summed up the feelings of many.
"[Kelly] wasn't even thrown out of the game," he wrote on Twitter. "MLB siding with/protecting a team that openly and knowingly cheated their way to a World Series. He doesn't deserve to be suspended at all. Hoping he wins his appeal."
Nate Pearson Has Arrived and Looks Like an Ace
One start into his big league career, it's not too early to declare that the Nate Pearson era has begun.
The Toronto Blue Jays right-hander and top prospect lived up to the hype in his MLB debut on Wednesday, logging five innings of two-hit shutout ball with five strikeouts.
The Jays would lose the game 4-0 to Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals. But Pearson was the story.
The 6'6" 23-year-old was an imposing presence, hitting the high 90s with his fastball and complementing it with a plus slider and a changeup that should allow him to flummox hitters at the highest level.
"My stuff plays here and I belong here," Pearson told reporters. "I'll just carry that confidence that I had today into my next outing and my outings in years to come."
Pearson was initially placed on the Jays' taxi squad and had his debut delayed, perhaps due to service-time considerations. Now that he's here, he should be here to stay.
All statistics current as of Thursday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.