Welcome to the imperfect season.
There is an old baseball adage that you can’t get a true gauge on your team until June 15 or thereabouts, when a third of the schedule has been played. But as we passed the 54-game pole at the start of the weekend, other than perhaps the St. Louis Cardinals, it was hard to make heads or tails of almost any club in baseball, starting with our two locals, the most imperfect first-place teams imaginable.
It was fitting that the Mets should creep past the Nationals into first place on Thursday at the same time they lost yet another key regular, Daniel Murphy, to an injury. David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, Dilson Herrera, Zack Wheeler, Jerry Blevins and now Murphy. When does it stop? When I went out on a limb and picked the Mets to win the NL East at the start of the season, I based that thinking on what I perceived to be their superior depth, especially at the Triple-A level where, in the event of injuries to the starting rotation, or the failure of Wilmer Flores to pan out at shortstop, they had plenty of viable options in Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Rafael Montero, Herrera, Matt Reynolds. Plus, on the big club, they had Ruben Tejada. But now GM Sandy Alderson has pretty much tapped that depth to the limit — although he needs to figure out a way to get Matz up to New York and into the rotation in place of either Jonathon Niese or Dillon Gee — and there is a real sense of urgency for him to go out and get a bat.
With Murphy (quad) now down for at least three weeks and probably (given that it’s the Mets) more, Alderson can’t count on getting anything from Wright this season. The problem is there’s a scarcity of bats to be had amid all the imperfect teams, contenders or otherwise, in baseball. In recent days, Oakland’s Ben Zobrist and Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez, neither of whom is having a good season, have been mentioned as Met targets. But Oakland GM Billy Beane is not giving up on this season — nor should he in the very imperfect AL West, which the Astros continue to lead despite entering Friday with the 11th worst on-base percentage(.236) in the AL, and a rotation with three starters whose ERAs were well over 4.00 — and Zobrist is therefore unavailable. On the other hand, the 36-year-old Ramirez, hitting .214 with six homers and 23 RBI can be had — and not for a whole lot, since he’s making $ 14 million and has already announced this is most likely his last season. Cincinnati is also looking to start unloading players — but not Toms River, N.J.’s Todd Frazier (unless the Mets give up Syndergaard or Matz-plus). Since last year, however, the Reds have tried to move outspoken Brandon Phillips, who is owed $ 32 million through 2017.
… or the putrid Yankee signings, such as Didi Gregorius, it’s been a strange ride for two of baseball’s better teams.
As for the Yankees, they continue to lead the AL East despite the fact that none of GM Brian Cashman’s trades last winter have worked out particularly well, and that drastically improved defense they talked about last winter has been anything but. Second base has been mostly a black hole, Didi Gregorius has played horribly at short (eight errors), Chase Headley has 12 errors at third base, Carlos Beltran has been a liability in right field, CC Sabathia, if he wasn’t making $ 23 million, would have pitched his way out of the rotation by now, and the middle relief has been mostly lousy. But with Michael Pineda and now Masahiro Tanaka back, the Yankees have two No. 1-caliber starters who seldom turn in a bad outing, and with the best closing tandem in baseball in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, they may nevertheless have enough to win baseball’s worst division. There’s no guarantee, however, they’ll have a winning record.
Keeping on the subject of imperfection, it is a good time to examine the current fortunes of the Tigers and Red Sox, both of whom were the preseason favorites of many to win their respective divisions. The Tigers, with a rotation of David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, Alfredo Simon and Shane Greene, a power-filled, explosive lineup of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, and Ian Kinsler, Nick Castellanos and Alex Avila, plus the return of Jose Iglesias to shore up the infield defense, looked to be an almost perfect team, with only their bullpen a question area. But that was all on paper. In reality, the Tigers went into the weekend with one fewer loss than the last-place White Sox and have leaks everywhere. With Victor Martinez (knee), by far the most productive DH in the AL, sidelined since May 13, and Avila (knee, arm) out since May 9, the heavily righthanded Tiger offense has really struggled. And while Price and Simon have both pitched well, Sanchez (5.69 ERA) and Greene (5.40 ERA) have been wildly inconsistent and Verlander has been hurt all season.
Last week, GM Dave Dombrowski absolved second-year manager Brad Ausmus of any blame for the Tigers’ poor performance, but the fact is this is a team that was supposed to win and needs to win this year. Dombrowski has all but conceded that the Tigers probably aren’t going to be able to re-sign Price after the season, while no one knows what to expect from Verlander, in the first year of a $ 180 million contract through 2019. And Cespedes, for whom Dombrowski traded Rick Porcello, one of Detroit’s most consistently effective starters last year, is also a free agent and not likely to be re-signed.
Meanwhile, the last-place Red Sox have an even bigger mess on their hands, as all the money they spent to beef up their offense (a combined $ 183 million on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez last winter, along with $ 72 million on Cuban refugee Rusney Castillo last summer) has gone for naught, as they ranked 13th in the AL in runs, 26th in the majors in batting with runners in scoring position and 28th in runners left on base. And while this will come as no surprise to the Giants (who looked the other way regarding Sandoval’s periodic “dog days” during the regular season), the Panda, who was hitting just .239 with 17 RBI and was on pace to make a career-high 21 errors, is having a terrible time in Boston. Last Thursday, after he committed two errors and made a baserunning mistake, Sandoval got into it with the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley after the veteran scribe had the temerity to suggest that Sandoval didn’t look comfortable. “So you know the way I’m feeling, right? No, that is not the right question.” Memo to Panda: You’re not in laid-back, forgiving San Francisco anymore.
* * *
IT’S A MADD MADD WORLD …
– It is probably no surprise that Josh Hamilton and Slade Heathcott, both of whom have a history of substance/alcohol abuse problems and associated injuries, landed on the disabled list last week, barely a week after joining their respective teams (Rangers and Yankees), and will now be out indefinitely.
– The Mariners’ trade for Mark Trumbo from the Diamondbacks last week to beef up their woeful offense (14th in the AL in batting and runs, last in OBP, 29th in the majors in batting with runners in scoring position as of Friday) is being viewed as sheer desperation by GM Jack Zduriencik. Another lumbering, high-strikeout power hitter in a lineup that really needs on-base guys — that and a semblance of the $ 240 million player they thought was Robinson Cano.
SAY IT AIN’T SO
“I speak to (A’s managing general partner Lew Wolff) probably more than any other individual owner because I’m very concerned about the situation in Oakland and I’m concerned at the pace at which this is moving forward.”
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on the A’s eternal stadium problem.
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