Three up, three down: Paul Goldschmidt has awoken; all six division winners could repeat
Who’s hot and who’s not in baseball? Let’s take a look:
Goldschmidt happens: We were about to write off the Arizona Diamondbacks after a horrendous May in which they lost 19 of 27 games and their two best offensive players: outfielder A.J. Pollock (broken thumb) and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (broken bat). But they’re back in first place in the National League West, bolstered in part by a trade for outfielder Jon Jay, who hit .345 in his first eight games as a fill-in for Pollock, but mostly by the revival of Goldschmidt, who has reclaimed his status as one of baseball’s most feared hitters. He batted .144 in May. He is batting .426 in June, with seven home runs in 15 games. The Diamondbacks’ record in June: 11-4. In one span, Goldschmidt became the first major league player in 50 years with at least two extra-base hits and at least two RBI in four consecutive games.
Scoreboard, baby: The Seattle Mariners are shooting for their first playoff spot since 2001. They’re 21 games over .500, basically running even with the World Series champion Astros in the American League West, and what do those fans hear? The Mariners are lucky, not good! Look at their run differential: They should be barely above .500! Ahem: The standings are based on actual victories, not projected ones. Yes, the Mariners are the first team in major league history with 22 one-run wins in their first 70 games. And, yes, they have just started a stretch of 10 consecutive games against the Yankees and Red Sox. But the Angels last decade repeatedly showed how to win despite a modest run differential: with a good but not deep bullpen, and with winning the close games and losing the blowouts. Here’s what might not be sustainable: Closer Edwin Diaz is on pace for 86 appearances. His career high: 66.
Quote of the week: New York Yankees fans, long conditioned to believe their team deserves every major league star, took a few days off from dreaming up trades for Mike Trout to dream up trades for Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, aces of the crosstown rival Mets and better than any of the starters likely to be traded. What could the Yankees offer to entice the Mets to do business with them? How about infield phenom Gleyber Torres, even though the Yankees have rebuilt with kids such as Torres, outfielder Aaron Judge, pitcher Luis Severino and infielder Miguel Andujar? Torres, in his first full season, has hit 13 home runs since May 4. Only J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox has more. Trade Torres? “Come on now,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “I’ve got to walk around this city.”
Repeat party: Never mind banning shifts, limiting the use of relief pitchers or modifying the strike zone. A more fundamental issue might be coming to a head: Competitive balance is out of balance. With the Dodgers, Cubs and Nationals all within 2 1/2 games of first place after slow starts, the league faces the possibility that — for the first time since the six-division setup was adopted in 1994 — all six winners will repeat. Attendance is down among 18 of the 30 teams, with the league on pace for its lowest total attendance in 15 years. When the league’s average ticket price goes up in a year when 10 teams are at least 10 games out before the season is halfway done, supply and demand is tilted, with an oversupply of tanking teams and an undersupply of competitive ones.
Designated controversy: After two New York pitchers were injured this season — the Mets’ Jacob deGrom while batting, the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka while running the bases — the issue of whether to extend the designated hitter to the NL flared again. “I think that is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said after this week’s owners meeting, “and I think that the dialogue actually probably moved a little bit.” That old argument about no one wanting to see pitchers strike out? Everyone strikes out these days. Here’s a shout out to the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, who has struck out five times in 36 at-bats. That’s 14% of the time, a lower percentage than all but one of his teammates: outfielder Adam Eaton.
Opener to defeat? The Tampa Bay Rays’ experiment with an “opener” attracted attention throughout baseball — including from the Dodgers, who tried it once, with unimpressive results. The Rays haven’t given up. They are 5-7 (.417) when they use an opener, 27-30 (.474) when they do not. The openers have an earned-run average of 7.47. Then again, maybe the pitchers are just not that good. The Rays have tried five openers, most recently Wilmer Font, who started the season with the Dodgers and put up an 11.32 ERA. The Rays have four starters on the disabled list, including perpetual trade candidate Chris Archer, and two on the active roster: Nathan Eovaldi and Blake Snell. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times described the Rays’ rotation thusly: “Eovaldi and Snell and what the hell.”
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin
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