A look at what’s trending in Major League Baseball:
Power of Brew: Chris Carter tied for the National League lead last season with 41 home runs. The Brewers let him go — for nothing! — and replaced him with Eric Thames, who had washed out of the majors in 2012 but hit 124 home runs in three years for the NC Dinos in South Korea. Thames, 30, is batting .379 with eight home runs — the most in the majors — in his first 16 games for the Brewers. Turns out the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays also pursued him last winter. “Milwaukee has great beer,” he told USA Today. “I love beer.”
Rocky mountain high: The Colorado Rockies rebuilt their pitching staff with a veteran-laden bullpen, taking a chance on former Kansas City Royals closer Greg Holland, in his first year coming off Tommy John surgery. Holland has appeared in nine games and saved each one. The Rockies surged to the early lead in the NL West in large part to a bullpen that has put up a 2.64 ERA – the best in the NL. The Rockies’ relief ERA last season: 5.13. The Colorado pitching depth already is tested because two of the top four starters are on the disabled list, Jon Gray (fractured toe) and Chad Bettis (testicular cancer).
Going out in style: Ichiro Suzuki said in spring training that he’d like to play until he’s 50. For now, he’s a 43-year-old fourth outfielder, which means every season could be his last. On Wednesday, in what could have been his final at-bat in Safeco Field, he homered for the Miami Marlins. Ichiro is revered in Seattle, the brightest star on the last Mariners playoff team in (ugh) 2001 and one of two Mariners to win the American League MVP award. Ken Griffey Jr. is the other, and the Mariners put up a statue of him last weekend. Ichiro could very well be next. What, you think A-Rod is getting one?
Giant mess: Hey, San Francisco Giants, this is your April: Your best player, Buster Posey, suffered a concussion. Your manager, Bruce Bochy, had to undergo a heart procedure. And now your best pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, injured his pitching shoulder in what the team said was a dirt-bike accident. The Dodgers survived two months without Clayton Kershaw last season, so maybe the Giants can do the same without Bumgarner this season. But if the injury had happened to Bumgarner’s nemesis, Yasiel Puig, wouldn’t Puig have been ripped for disrespecting his teammates by engaging in a dangerous activity during the season?
Powering down: As Jose Bautista headed into his walk year last season, he reportedly told the Toronto Blue Jays that he needed at least five years and $150 million. Such a contract would have taken Bautista to at least age 40, in an era where drug testing has restored the aging curve for sluggers. The Jays said no and, when he hit free agency last fall, so did every other team. He took a one-year contract to return to Toronto, rebound from a .234 season and earn a lavish long-term deal. But he’s batting .131, with one home run and 24 strikeouts in 61 at-bats. It’s still early, but only three free-agent outfielders signed for more than $18 million last winter, all at least five years younger than Bautista.
Hamilton ends run: Josh Hamilton could have been one of the all-time greats, and his career might well have ended with a glorious farewell ceremony. Instead, he bowed out with a prepared statement, released from a minor league contract in news greeted around baseball with a collective shrug. He had undergone three knee surgeries since his last major league appearance, and he’s headed for a fourth, this one more for quality of life than an extremely slim comeback chance. His Angels run was a disaster for employer and employee, but we’ll remember his four-homer game in 2012, his legendary home-run derby in 2008 and his willingness to open up about his demons, even if he could not fully conquer them.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
(Statistics through Friday’s games.)
Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees
Friday-Sunday at Yankee Stadium
The Orioles have the most victories in the American League over the past five years, but the computer projection never likes them. The Yankees are rebuilding. The Boston Red Sox had Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello, and surely they would have the AL East too. Not so fast — Sale has been terrific, but Price is on the disabled list indefinitely and Porcello has a 5.32 ERA. CC Sabathia, 36, has a 2.70 ERA for the Yankees. Dylan Bundy, 24, drafted by the Orioles ahead of Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Jose Fernandez in 2011, is an emerging ace with a 1.37 ERA. Oh, and those breathlessly hyped Red Sox? Dead last in the majors in home runs; the Orioles and Yankees each have three times as many.
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