A look at who’s hot and who’s not in MLB this week:
Old school, new school: The Tampa Bay Rays have two pitchers who have started 20 games this year. One is their ace, Blake Snell, whose 2.03 earned-run average ranks second in the American League. The other is Ryne Stanek, a reliever turned “opener” — in his case, a right-hander who works the first inning or so, followed by a left-hander. In a year in which the Rays lost starters Anthony Banda, Jose DeLeon and Brent Honeywell to Tommy John surgery and traded starters Chris Archer and Nathan Eovaldi, the team leads the AL in ERA since May 19, when Sergio Romo debuted as Tampa Bay’s first “opener.” There is no pitching statistic more derided in sabermetrics than wins for a pitcher. Snell has 19, which means the team with the most unconventional pitching plan in baseball might be the only one with a 20-game winner.
One-hit wonder: A tip of the cap to Terrance Gore, who played in the World Series four years ago and got his first major league hit this week. Gore, an outfielder, has spent eight years in the minor leagues. In 2,265 plate appearances, he has hit one home run. No, it was not an inside-the-park shot. But good guess: Gore’s calling card is speed. In one minor league season, he stole 68 bases. He was the designated runner for the Kansas City Royals in their World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015. The Chicago Cubs acquired him last month, as their postseason pinch-runner. In the 54th major league game of his career — and the 13th at bat — he finally got a hit: a single off three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.
A hand for Hailey: When Hailey Dawson throws out the ceremonial first pitch Sunday at Angel Stadium, she’ll become the first person to do the first pitch at all 30 major league ballparks. Hailey is 8. She was born without the three middle fingers of her right hand, but she’ll throw right-handed, using a robotic arm, decorated with an Angels theme. The robotic hand opens and closes as Hailey flexes her wrist, without electronics. The hand, designed with the aid of a 3-D printer, is much more affordable than traditional prosthetics — no small factor to a growing girl and her family. The “Journey to 30” — a first pitch at every park to raise awareness of her condition (Poland’s syndrome) and the new robotic hand — started three years ago, when Manny Machado caught first pitch #1 at Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
The Warriors, soon: There are 127 players who have hit at least 16 home runs this season, through Friday. Eight of them play for the Dodgers. None of them play for the San Francisco Giants, who are about to complete a second consecutive season without anyone hitting 20 home runs. In this era of the launch angle, that’s hard to do. The Giants just lost 11 consecutive games, their longest such streak since moving to San Francisco in 1958. Seasons ended early for Buster Posey (hip surgery) and Johnny Cueto (elbow surgery). The Giants have the money and the need to make a play for Bryce Harper this winter, but in the meantime they can look forward to watching the NBA champions, and we can enjoy the death of the phrase “even year magic.”
Rat trap: The Boston Red Sox endlessly hype their home as “America’s most beloved ballpark,” but Fenway Park is unpopular among visiting players crowded into a clubhouse scarcely bigger than a large walk-in closet. On Friday, after walking the creaky steps down from that clubhouse and toward the field, the New York Mets discovered a rat in their dugout, three days after the Toronto Blue Jays had come across a rat in the very same dugout. “NYC rats are way bigger and meaner,” tweeted Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Not as light-hearted about it: first baseman Dominic Smith. “I’m from L.A., bro,” Smith told Newsday. “We don’t have rats. When you see one, it’s time to move out of that place and time to buy a whole new place. I want to buy a whole new dugout.” The Red Sox moved into Fenway Park in 1912.
Moneyball: When the Green Bay Packers trailed 20-0 in their season opener, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers out with a knee injury, former Miami Marlins president David Samson tweeted: “Anyone else worried about the packers extension they gave to Aaron Rodgers? Reminds me of the extension given to Ryan Howard. One helluva thank you.” Rodgers rallied the Packers to victory after returning to the game, the first under an extension that guarantees him $100 million. Under Samson, the Marlins guaranteed $325 million to outfielder Giancarlo Stanton but failed to post a winning season with him. Derek Jeter replaced Samson, immediately unloaded Stanton and his contract, then traded outfielder Christian Yelich, who responded to Samson’s tweet about Rodgers thusly: “Looks like it worked out alright....don’t be so anti-player all the time!”