JFtC brings you a look around MLB with some Blue Jays coloured glasses. This week: Bean balls, standings and the 3000 hit club
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As you read this, the calendar has flipped to May and the abbreviated April schedule of MLB games is in the record books. Fans of “winning” teams are already saving for playoff tickets and struggling barrackers are singing the “it’s still early” chorus. It may be cliched to say “You don’t win a pennant in April.” But there are a few teams on the brink of losing it should their fortunes not improve over the next 30+ days.
* The New York Yankees entered Saturday’s contest in Kansas City with the best record in the American League (14-6), thanks in part to a 7-game winning streak and having only played 4 games against teams with a record at or above .500 (2-2). If the season ended Saturday, the Yankees would be enjoying a first round bye with the surprising and streaking Los Angeles Angels (14-7). The AL Central Division leader is the Minnesota Twins (11-9)-the only team in the division with a record above .500. The Toronto Blue Jays (13-8) have the third best winning percentage in the AL (.619) and would host the Tampa Bay Rays in a Wild Card series while the Twins would welcome the Seattle Mariners for the other opening round matchup. Pre-season presumptive playoff favorites in Chicago and Houston have seen injuries severely impact their ability to score runs and both teams have posted negative run differentials.
In the National League every team is looking up at the New York Mets (15-6), who have winning records at home (6-2), on the road (9-4), and versus teams with .500+ records (5-2). Money may not buy happiness, but in the early going it does seem to have bought wins for their fanbase. Same can be said of the Los Angeles Dodgers (13-6), who are integrating prospects into a roster so deep they can pay David Price $25 million dollars to nurse a minor injury on the IL. The Milwaukee Brewers (14-7) complete the chalk lines for division leaders and figure to allow their arms to do most of their damage going forward. The San Diego Padres (14-7) and San Francisco Giants (13-7) may trail the Dodgers in the NL West but a one solid week from catching them in the standings. St.Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins stake claim to identical 11-8 records and the final two Wild Card spots-but the retooled and reinvigorated Colorado Rockies only trail them by 1 game in the loss column. Defending World Champions Atlanta Braves are below .500-but same dilemma faced Alex Anthopolous as late as July in 2021. All things considered, April has not showered the NL with too many surprises. Though the Philadelphia Phillies’ inability to score runs is a puzzle yet to be solved by Joe Giradi.
Blue Jays supporters are no doubt thrilled by the early team successes and knew they would be jousting with the Yankees and Rays for supremacy in the AL East. The strength of their April schedule has demonstrated an ability to compete and beat the best the AL has to offer. Like a thoroughbred stakes race, stalking the leaders early can provide openings to take advantage of down the stretch.
* While the Mets boast the best record in major league baseball, one category lead they are upset about concerns hit batsmen. Entering the weekend Mets batters have been hit 19 times-many of the hitters have been struck in the upper body or head. Manager Buck Showalter, no stranger to “old school” strategies, has complained that the majority of the hit by pitches are intentional in nature. A benches clearing brawl ensued during the recent Mets-Cardinals series after Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado tried to storm the mound after being hit in retaliation for multiple Mets being drilled earlier in the game. Arenado received a two game suspension, but MLB offices have received complaints from several front offices regarding their hitters being hit.
Mets pitcher Chris Bassitt was not shy about pointing the finger directly at the Office of the Commissioner. “MLB doesn’t give a damn about it. They don’t care.” Bassitt called the new balls “bad” and offered the observation that the texture of the balls often change from inning to inning.
It is true that a serious lack of command across all pitching staffs is (pardon the pun) painfully obvious to major league batters and coaching staffs. Since Opening Day, 218 hitters have been hit by errant pitches. That seems like a lot, but over a similar number of games in 2021, 248 hit by pitches were recorded. During the 2019 season, 236 hitters were plunked. So levelling all the blame at the baseballs is being presumptive. Some media analysts have suggested that the abbreviated Spring Training schedule has had a direct impact on pitcher command. But as the numbers show, the number of hit batsmen were higher in the early going for the last 2 seasons that had a normal spring training timeline.
Rob Manfred (naturally) has dismissed the quality of the current baseball being used as a reason for either lack of command or increase in hit batters. Just as he dismissed the impact of the league cracking down on the usage of sticky substances last year. MLB is experimenting with an enhanced-grip baseball in the AA Texas League in 2022 and early consensus has been positive from pitchers.
Blue Jays Nation held their collective breath early in the season after George Springer took a direct hit on his forearm. Given the aggressive nature of many Toronto hitters, it will not be unusual to see many inside brushback pitches thrown to disrupt hitter rhythms. Another baseball strategy of using “purpose” pitches to keep batters honest will also increase, given the explosive power bats in the Blue Jays lineup. It will be interesting to see how Jays pitchers will react to such actions. Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah and Jose Berrios are not afraid to pitch inside and “old school” pitchers such as David Phelps have travelled these situations before. So far so good for Jays hitters in 2022-but this is something fans may want to keep an eye on as successes at the plate lead to more wins in 2022.
* Detroit Tigers slugger and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera became the 33rd player to collect 3,000 hits last week. While teammates and opponents alike celebrated the feat, many baseball analysts began to wonder aloud if Cabrera may be the last major league player to accomplish this hallowed milestone. As with the 300-win benchmark, reduced career lengths and the limiting of player usage does call into question the ability for another player to reach either goal.
The 3 current major leaguers with most career hits- Robinson Cano (2632), Yadier Molina (2121), Joey Votto (2036)- will have turned 39 before the end of the 2022 season. The 2 youngest candidates- Manny Machado (1456) Mike Trout (1439) will turn 30 and are not yet halfway to 3,000 hits.
There are a dozen or so major league position hitters who started their careers in their early 20’s and could find themselves climbing the steps towards 3,000 hits rather quickly. But given salaries that assure generational wealth, how many of them will feel motivated to play long enough to make a serious run at Cabrera and the others? In Toronto, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. would be the logical candidates to join the 3,000 hit club. Bichette has 307 hits since 2019 and collected 191 hits during his first full major league season in 2021. If he were to average 190 hits per season, Bo would collect his 3,00th hit early in the 2036 season at the age of 39. Guerrero has 394 career hits and to date is averaging 175 hits per season. At this pace, Vladdy would join his Hall of Fame father near the end of the 2035 campaign at the age of 37.
Impossible? Not all. But time, health and consistency will tell the tale.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Jersey born, Pittsburgh resident, baseball lifer. Staff Writer jaysfromthecouch.com. Host THE ON FEK CIRCLE on JFtC YouTube Channel. Regular guest on Jays From the couch Radio Podcast. Established WPPJ Rock-a-thon benefit, which has been broadcast annually since 1981 and has raised for than $500,000 for the Early Learning Institute of Pittsburgh. IBWAA member.