A look at what’s trending in Major League Baseball this week:
Sports Illustrated: It was three years ago, with the Houston Astros coming off three consecutive 100-loss seasons, that SI proclaimed them — on its cover — as “Your 2017 World Series Champs.” Hey, look now: the Astros have the best record in the major leagues. The SI vision for how the Astros would win the World Series is not quite as impressive: George Springer as AL MVP (longshot), Mark Appel as Cy Young contender (failed prospect, traded in 2015), Brady Aiken gets the last out (unsigned draft pick). But good for SI for spotting a winner in the making. The SI folks were so confident in their projection that, when prediction time came this spring, their pick to win the 2017 World Series was … the Dodgers.
Kevin Pillar: No, he is not to be excused for using an anti-gay slur. But Pillar and the Toronto Blue Jays are to be commended for a refreshingly rapid response, and for admirable accountability. The Blue Jays did not shrug, or pass the buck to the commissioner’s office. Pillar did not issue the standard weasel’s apology “to anyone I might have offended.” No, the Jays suspended him two games, without pay, and with the backing of the league and the players’ union. And Pillar, rather than appeal, owned up in a contrite statement. He was “completely and utterly embarrassed,” he said, to “extend the use of a word that has no place in baseball, in sports or anywhere in society today.” As teaching moments go, this one was well done.
Terry Collins: On Saturday, Collins became the longest-tenured manager in New York Mets history — when the Mets played the Angels, the team that had a player mutiny when he managed them in 1999. The Mets hired him a dozen years later, and he has so successfully moderated his emotions that, when “Piano Man” plays at Citi Field and Billy Joel sings “and the manager gives me a smile,” an actual image of a smiling Collins flashes on the scoreboard. Collins should hit 1,000 career victories this season. Joe Maddon, who replaced Collins on an interim basis in Anaheim before managing the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs, hit 1,000 this week. Mike Scioscia, who has managed the Angels since then, topped 1,500 last month, trailing only Bruce Bochy and Dusty Baker among active managers.
Jake Arrieta: It was almost exactly one year ago that Stephen Strasburg signed a $175-million extension with the Washington Nationals; Arrieta dismissed the suggestion of a contractual comparison. “Just look at the numbers,” Arrieta said. The implication: his contract in free agency this fall would more closely resemble that awarded to David Price ($217 million) or Max Scherzer ($210 million). Arrieta was a few months removed from beating Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for the NL Cy Young award. However, since that Strasburg extension, Strasburg has a 3.81 ERA and Arrieta has a 4.13 ERA. This year, Arrieta has a 5.44 ERA. He’ll probably bring that number down, but he’ll also be 32 at the start of next season. “Aces get seven years,” Arrieta also said last year. At this rate, and at that age, well, no, they don’t.
Cleveland getting rocked: The Indians’ outstanding pitching propelled them to the World Series last year, but the hangover effect has hit their starting rotation. The Indians’ starters have a 5.14 ERA, the worst in the American League. Of the seven starters with the worst ERAs in the AL, the Indians have three: Trevor Bauer (6.65), Josh Tomlin (6.86) and Danny Salazar (5.66). Corey Kluber, the ace, is at 5.06, and on the disabled list because of a bad back. The good news: the bullpen, led by closer Cody Allen and setup man Andrew Miller, has a league-leading 1.85 ERA. The fallacy that last October foretold a high-leverage revolution in the regular season has been exposed: Miller made five of his 10 postseason appearances before the seventh inning. He has never appeared before the seventh inning this season.
Free(man) route to October: For a rebuilding team, the Atlanta Braves weighted down their lineup and starting rotation with past-their-prime players. First year in a new ballpark, try to be competitive, yada, yada, yada. Now their one prime-time player, first baseman Freddie Freeman, is out for two to three months because of a broken wrist. Freeman led the major leagues in slugging percentage. The upshot: with the Braves about to fade, the Mets decimated by injury, the Philadelphia Phillies rebuilding and the Miami Marlins floating aimlessly amid sale negotiations, the Nationals should coast to the NL East title — and, sorry Dodgers, to home-field advantage through the NL playoffs.
SERIES OF THE WEEK
Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays
Friday through Sunday at Rogers Centre
Jose Bautista annoyed the Braves in Atlanta last week, flipping his bat after hitting a home run with his team down by five runs. The Blue Jays return home for Bautista to face his most celebrated nemesis, Rangers infielder Rougned Odor, who punched him in the face after a hard and late slide last May. Recall the Baltimore Orioles passed on Bautista in free agency last winter because, according to general manager Dan Duquette, “Our fans just don’t like Jose.” The last-place Blue Jays hope to get third baseman Josh Donaldson, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and catcher Russell Martin back from the disabled list by month’s end; what they really could use is a 10-game winning-streak — like the one the Rangers just ran off to resuscitate their season.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin