A look at what’s trending in Major League Baseball this week:
Dutch treat: The best double-play duo this year? That would be Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. Next best? Our vote goes to the unheralded duo of Jonathan Schoop and Andrelton Simmons, the second baseman and shortstop for the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. The Netherlands did not win the WBC, but Schoop (Baltimore Orioles) and Simmons (Angels) are having career years. Schoop — born in Willemstad, Curacao, same as the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen — entered play Saturday batting .300, ranking second in the American League with 84 RBIs and leading major league second basemen with 25 home runs. Simmons is at .305 and, considering his usual superlative glove, Fangraphs ranks him as the third most valuable player in the AL, behind Altuve and Aaron Judge.
Pitching poor: We hesitate to publicize the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees — you probably hear enough about them already — but the two teams you love to hate are fighting for first place in the AL East. As with the Dodgers, money is important, but it’s not everything. Chris Sale, the front-runner for the AL Cy Young award, starts Sunday for Boston. He’s making $12 million this season. The other five scheduled starting pitchers in this weekend’s series — Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez for Boston; Jaime Garcia, Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino for New York — are being paid a total of $6 million by the teams. (The disabled list includes Boston’s David Price and the Yankees’ CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, at a combined $77 million.)
Showing off: When the league unveiled its Players’ Weekend uniforms, with two-tone tops and player-chosen nicknames on the back, the resistance came quickly from the traditionalists and social media snark artists: gimmicky, tacky overkill. But every nickname tells a story — Kyle Seager is wearing “Corey’s Brother” — and every uniform includes a patch for player to dedicate to a person or group that helped him reach the big leagues. That’s another story to tell. For a sport that has struggled to market its personalities and reach out to kids, this is well worth a shot. There are far more potential customers interested in getting to know the athletes and their stories than there are interested in exit velocities and catch probabilities.
Treading water: The Seattle Mariners are staying afloat in the AL wild-card race — the .500 Derby — but they might run out of arms before they get to the finish line. The pitching has been poor enough — the starters have a 4.79 ERA, atrocious in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field — and Felix Hernandez and James Paxton just went on the disabled list within a week of one another. Hisashi Iwakuma, who has not pitched since June because of a sore shoulder, had a setback last week. The Mariners have used 15 starters this season, and Paxton (12-3, 2.78 ERA) is the only one to start at least twice and perform above the league average. The moral of the story: The Dodgers’ obsession with depth is often mocked, but depth in both quality and quantity is difficult to assemble.
Astro funk: Might be a blip, but the Houston Astros’ outlook has downgraded from “Sports Illustrated was right to pick us to win the World Series” to “How are we going to win any postseason series?” The Astros have lost 10 of 13 games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the tanking Chicago White Sox. The Astros’ ERA since the All-Star break: 5.32, last in the AL. Ace Dallas Keuchel is 0-2 with a 10.75 ERA since coming off the disabled list. Lance McCullers Jr., the No. 2 starter, had a 9.64 ERA in July, then went on the DL with a bad back. The Astros held tight to their prospects at the trade deadline; Keuchel and outfielder Josh Reddick issued rare public rebukes to the front office. On the team website, where a discouraging word seldom is heard, this headline: “Astros’ slide hardly cause for concern.”
If he’s out, speak up: In 2014, when umpire Joe West was suspended for grabbing the jersey of pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, the league announced the decision. But, when the league suspended West this week for publicly labeling Adrian Beltre as baseball’s biggest complainer, the announcement came from the umpires’ union — in a news release protesting the decision. That was a bad look for West, who is the president of the umpires’ union. It was a worse look for the league, which still has said nothing. There was no secrecy in West’s offense; it just came in a newspaper interview rather than on a baseball field. If the league wants its justice to be perceived as fair, it needs to treat umps the same as players and managers. If the evidence is strong enough to warrant a suspension, say so, and say why.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
Astros vs. Diamondbacks
Monday through Thursday
The Astros are staggering, but their double-digit cushion in the American League West enables them to coast into the playoffs. The Diamondbacks also are staggering, losers of 23 of their last 37 games, and the contending objects in their rear-view mirror are closer than they appear. Their lead in the National League wild-card had shrunk to 4½ games entering play Saturday. Their young rotation (Zack Greinke aside) might be fading; Patrick Corbin, Zack Godley, Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker each has thrown more innings than any Dodger except Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood. With the team involved in a stadium lease dispute, a team attorney clumsily suggested the Diamondbacks might have to move. When your team offers cheap tickets, plays three games against the Dodgers, and cannot sell 25,000 of them for any until Yu Darvish pitches, well, yes, bye Felicia.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin