“You are on deck.” “You are on the clock.” “It is your turn to nominate a player.” “Going, going, GONE.” Sold to Clubhouse Corner for $30.”
And with those words, I enjoyed yet another fantasy baseball draft and auction season. Millions of us heard those words or similar through our fantasy platforms.
Now, we have to sit back and enjoy our teams or wish we had made different decisions. Such is the life in fantasy.
Well, the 2019 championship baseball season is off and running. Players and teams are sending mixed messages and really playing tricks with fans emotions.
The first four games of a new year are always interesting. They get fans excited or bummed about what is to come. Fantasy owners are ready to think they are winning a championship, or they’re ready to dump their entire team.
After the first four games, 158 contests remain. I think there is more than enough time to reverse good or bad trends.
We have seen some great pitching performances so far. We have seen some awful pitching performances so far. And, we have seen both great hitting and horrible hitting.
Paul Goldschmidt, Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich each pounded four home runs in their first four games. Think about that. And Khris Davis launched four of his own home runs in his first six games, including two in Tokyo.
In his first four games, Kolten Wong had a batting average of .571 on 8 for 14, including a double and two home runs. Bellinger hit .500 through his first four. He also had eight RBI. Yelich hit .500 on 6 for 12 with a double and those four homers.
Who knew Joc Pederson of the Dodgers would open with seven hits in 15 at-bats. He had three homers and drove in eight on his way to hitting an early .467. Wil Myers of the Padres hit .462 through four games. He had a double and a homer.
Seattle’s Marco Gonzalez had three wins in his bank in his first three starts. He had thrown 19.2 innings and had an ERA of 3.20 and a 1.17 WHIP. He had yielded two home runs and the opposition hit .256 against him. And his Mariners club is one of the early surprises.
Who would ever guess that after six games and 18 at-bats, Maikel Franco would be hitting .389 with three home runs?
SURPRISES OUT OF THE GATE
I realize it is very early in the season. However, I feel the Boston Red Sox are in trouble. They can’t pitch. In Major League Baseball, if you can’t pitch, you can’t win. If Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi struggle as they have so far, the season will be out of control. And Chris Sale hasn’t looked like the Chris Sale of the past, either. His velocity is way, way down to 89 miles per hour. That means we will see more finesse from him going forward. David Price hasn’t looked sharp. The bullpen could be a mess as well, although we really haven’t seen much in the way of closing situations yet. Dave Dombrowski has some work ahead of him to get his team on track. Is there a deal to be made?
There were some other early surprises that may have an impact on the entire season. Of course we knew that the Yankees had lost the services of injured pitcher Luis Severino. He may be out for quite a while. However, it is difficult to make up for the loss of Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar in the same week. Andujar’s injury is more serious. He has a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He may even need surgery, but no decision has been made at the time I am writing this. Losing Severino, Stanton and Andujar takes a dynamic trio out of the Yankees equation. I don’t count Troy Tulowitzki’s injury as significant. Why? Because most analysts felt he would be hurt sooner than later. And, he was hurt sooner than later.
And I’m sure Yankees fans weren’t too thrilled with the pitching performance of Aroldis Chapman after Masahiro Tanaka turned a 1-1 tie to the bullpen.
The Cleveland Indians are dealing with their own surprise. Not only are their bats totally frozen, they will be without one-third of their best offensive players while Francisco Lindor is on the shelf at least until the end of April with an ankle injury. He and Jose Ramirez, along with Carlos Santana are the most potent bats in a popgun offense. And so far, Ramirez looks to be pressing at the plate, as well. There are signs of life for him, but the Indians could be 0-7 as I write this if it weren’t for poor play by the opposition late in games.
Tampa Bay has gotten off to a very solid start with the assistance of a brilliant pitching performance by Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, who struck out 13 Rockies in coming back from an Opening Day clunker. The Rays intrigue me. I think they could sneak up on the Red Sox. But not the Yankees.
The Mariners are riding good pitching by Marco Gonzales along with timely hitting to a fast start. They lost closer Hunter Strickland and now appear to be turning that role to Anthony Swarzak, himself just off the injury list.
The Houston Astros have begun the season with their bats in a bit of a deep freeze. The pitching has been good enough in general, but even Justin Verlander had a hiccup or two in his start against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. The Astros offense is far too good to continue hitting at a .240 team batting average as I write this after their first eight games. Even if the bats awaken, the team has not shown the crisp play and dedicated commitment to excellence we have seen in recent years. But I believe that will change. A couple early season losses gets the juices flowing on good teams.
After an excellent beginning to his season, Corey Kluber looked totally out of sync in his second start. He had no command or control of his repertoire, fell behind in counts and got knocked around pretty good by the Chicago White Sox. If Kluber continues to lay an egg every other outing, the pitching advantage for the Indians goes out the window. With their anemic offense, every pitching performance has to be stellar. Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber delivered gems this week.
Kluber wasn’t alone in his miseries. Nathan Eovaldi has made two starts for the Red Sox. In those two starts, he has an ERA of 8.10 in 10 innings pitched. He has walked six and has a 1.80 WHIP.
Diamondbacks No. 1 starter Zack Greinke began the season with a clunker but rebounded with a solid start. He also hit two home runs in his second start, leading the club on the mound and at the plate.
Aaron Nola of the Phillies, Miles Miklos of the Cardinals and Chris Sale of the Red Sox are among superb starters who have been roughed up already this season.
On the positive side, Toronto starter Matt Shoemaker has responded tremendously to his new home with the Blue Jays. He has two wins and is pitching very well, having gone 14 innings in his first two starts. He has not yielded an earned run and has a WHIP of 0.50. It really is a good story. So far.
But how about the Mets Jacob deGrom. The Cy Young Award winner has returned with his 2018 form in tact. He has started twice for the club as of this writing and has yielded 8 hits in 13 innings. He has struck out 24 and walked two. He is carrying a 0.77 WHIP and 0.00 ERA. He struck out 14 in his Wednesday outing. deGrom has thrown 26 consecutive quality starts. Amazing.
Kansas City Royals speedster Adelberto Mondesi is making head turns with his loud bat and blazing speed. Hitting .346 at this writing, Mondesi has two doubles, three triples, a home run and a stolen base in his six games played.
As I write this, Daniel Palka of the White Sox hasen’t had a hit yet in his 18 at-bats. The Indians Eric Stamets hasn’t had a hit in 16 at-bats. Yolmer Sanchez, Scott Schebler, Zack Cozart and Willy Adames each have one hit.
The Cubs are hitting .307 as a team, but they just can’t pitch. The starters and the bullpen have cost the club games. The main culprits are Carl Edwards, Jr., and Jose Quintana. But they aren’t alone. Add Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels to the list of under-performers early in the season as well.
Chicago White Sox fans have to be thrilled with the start of Yoan Moncada, a highly rated prospect a couple seasons ago. Moncada had not yet figured out major league pitching in his first couple years. He was taking too many good pitches and appeared to be passive at the plate. This year, Moncada has come out swinging and he’s hitting the ball hard. His strikeouts are down, his contact is improving and he is earning rave early reviews. As of this writing, Moncada is hitting .458 with two home runs and four doubles.
For me, the success we are seeing from the Phillies Maikel Franco is long overdue. I mentioned him above. While it was loudly rumored that the Phillies would have jettisoned Franco had they signed Manny Machado, the Phils third baseman is responding with power and a fine batting average of .389 so far. Can he keep this up, or is just a fluke? The Phillies have been rolling with their new additions, including Bryce Harper who is hitting a very hot .400 with three homers.
Hats off to the Dodgers Cody Bellinger who is using his pronounced upper cut swing to hit massive home runs that are game changing. He, too, is making better contact, driving in runs and proving he is a force to be reckoned with at the plate. He already has six homers and 16 RBI. I don’t think that will last all year. I just don’t.
The Orioles Trey Mancini has done a fine job of putting some excitement into Orioles games. He has hit the long ball and driven in runs for an Orioles team that many, including this writer, had written off. Mancini is solid in the middle of the order, but I still don’t think the Orioles can sustain their winning ways.
Carlos Santana is the only Cleveland Indians player showing a glimmer of an offensive pulse so far. He appears to be enjoying his return to the Indians as their first baseman and most feared hitter in the first days of the season. The Indians have scored very few runs, but it could be even worse without Santana.
The Mets Peter Alonso is showing the world the type of hitter I raved about in this past Arizona Fall League. Off to a great start at first base for the Mets, Alonso has hit singles, doubles and has shown an ability to hit the long ball. Using good plate disciple, Alonso is also willing and able to draw bases on balls while putting the bat on the ball and not striking out. That’s a good combination for any hitter.
David Peralta has been on fire for an Arizona Diamondbacks, a club desperate for a team leader. He has shown the way to driving in and scoring runs for a Dbacks team still reeling from the losses of Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollack. They now face the losses of first baseman Jake Lamb to a quad injury and Steven Souza Jr. to knee surgery. Souza and Lamb were both hurt last year as well, and these are two very tough situations for both players.
The Yankees made a terrific free agency acquisition by signing versatile D.J. LeMahieu. With both Miguel Andujar and Troy Tulowitzki sidelined with injuries, LeMahieu has been on the infield scene with a big bat and great defense. He has an outstanding batting average and has covered the gap created by the infield losses. It was another terrific offseason move made by general manager Brian Cashman. LeMahieu adds a bit of stability until the injured players return. I am not optimistic about an early return for Andujar. Shouldn’t the team be considering surgery and not mess around?
His batting average remains miserable, but where would the Oakland Athletics be without the incredible home run power of Khris Davis? I marvel at the balls he sends into the night with such ease. Davis could win the home run championship if he keeps up the tremendous power season he has shown so far.
Josh Hader is amazing. In four appearances, he has yielded one hit and one walk. He has struck out 10 and has four saves. No, I don’t think you can burn this guy out by pitching him too much. His innings are limited and he’s a strong guy.
Recent injuries include that left quad strain for Jake Lamb. It really is the type of injury that can linger. Lamb’s injury opens the door at first base for right-handed hitting Christian Walker, a power hitter who has never really had a sustained chance to play. His time may be now. He will play first along with Wilmer Flores.
We knew that Indians Francisco Lindor had an injured hip and that he had injured his ankle while in rehabilitation for the hip. We now know he may be out all of April while his ankle heals.
Mariners designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is day-to-day with left hand soreness.
Mariners pitcher Hunter Strickland is on the 10-day injured list with a right lat sprain. The injury may require at least a half-season of rest and rehab.
Nationals first baseman Matt Adams is day-to-day with back spasms.
Nationals pitcher Anibal Sanchez is day-to-day with a bruised right hip
Probably the biggest concern for the Nationals is the right index finger fracture suffered by shortstop Trea Turner.
Rays second baseman/third baseman Joey Wendle is out with a left hamstring strain that may take him out of the lineup for quite a while.
Rockies reliever Jake McGee has gone on the 10-day injured list with a left knee sprain.
Rockies first baseman Daniel Murphy has a fracture of his left index finger and will miss at least a month.
Twins Byron Buxton ran into the center field wall and suffered a rib contusion and back soreness. He did pinch run, stole a base and scored after the incident. But can this guy stay healthy for an entire season?
As mentioned above, Yankees Troy Tulowitzki joins the many injured Yankees on the 10-day IL with a left calf strain. It could keep him out all of April or longer.
OPINIONS and THOUGHTS
The Red Sox better fix their bullpen soon. Real soon.
The Indians better promote Yu Chan and Oscar Mercado to play shortstop and the outfield respectively before their season comes to a crashing halt. Eric Stamets is not the answer at shortstop while they wait for Lindor to return.
I’m happy to see baseball teams opening their checkbooks and extending younger players. Those young players do not wish to be subjected to the free agency gamble and the team’s wish to keep their own guys. It all makes too much sense.
I love watching the Kansas City Royals Mondesi, Merrifield and Hamilton run. They can put plenty of pressure on a pitcher.
There is a love affair in Philadelphia between Bryce Harper and the fans. For now.
Right-hander Chris Paddack had an outstanding debut for the Padres. He threw 5 innings and yielded two hits, an earned run, walked 1 and struck out 7. He and the Padres have very bright futures.
Good teams win close games. The Brewers are a good team. I picked them to win the NL Central. They are winning close games. So far.
The Reds are a better team than they were in 2018. They are losing close games. They have the Ohio bat flu. Like the Indians, they aren’t hitting or scoring runs.
Minnesota will not be out of many games with that offense. They can make up runs in a hurry. And I absolutely love watching hitting phenom Willians Astudillo. There is no way they can keep this guy out of the lineup. He hits ropes to dead left/center field with a very, very strong barrel approach. By the way, he was once a member of the Diamondbacks organization.
Twins shortstop Gregory Polanco is greatly underrated.
As I write this, Cincinnati has scored 11 runs in seven games. Detroit has scored 17 runs in eight games. The Dodgers have scored 65 runs in the same number of games. Seattle has scored 56 runs in eight games. The Dodgers have scored 82 runs in nine games. The last time I looked, scoring runs was important in baseball. The team that scores the most runs in a game wins.
The Dodgers and Mariners have hit a whopping 21 home runs already. The Tigers have hit two. Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Cincinnati have hit three.
As I write this, the Detroit Tigers have struck out 89 times in 259 at-bats. Kansas City? 44. The Mariners have stolen 11 bases. Cincinnati and Toronto? None.
The Reds pitchers have done their jobs. They have thrown to a combined 2.80 ERA, among the best in baseball. So it is clearly their lack of hitting that is of concern. But the best ERA so far is the 1.58 ERA turned in by the Rays pitching staff.
Chicago Cubs pitchers have thrown to a 7.85 ERA, the worst in the game. The Diamondbacks are close at 7.25. The Red Sox? They check in just a tad better than the Dbacks at 7.18.
After these first few games I remain convinced the Cubs will have pitching problems and will have to work their tails off to catch both the Brewers and the Cardinals.
Pitcher Jon Duplantier had a great debut for the Diamondbacks. He recorded three scoreless innings and picked up a save on April 1st.
San Francisco is woeful. They have a team batting average of .206 and they have scored 19 runs. Maybe the acquisition of Kevin Pillar and his .111 batting average will help. Seriously? Kevin Pillar? I don’t think so. But the Giants have been adding mediocre outfielder after mediocre outfielder since the end of last season. Connor Joe. Michael Reed (released), Cameron Maybin (released) Gerardo Parra and now Pillar. I just don’t get it. And the fans are responding by staying away.
The clock at Chase Field was broken during the two exhibition games at the end of spring training between the Dbacks and White Sox. Now it has been removed and not replaced. At the team’s home opener before an enthusiastic sellout crowed, the roof got stuck while being opened. It has to be fixed. The Dbacks are responsible for all the maintenance at Chase Field as agreed upon in a deal with Maricopa County. Now the Dbacks will get the bill to fix the roof. It could be costly. Or, it could be an easy fix. It really is possible the roof will be closed all season. I’m watching that.
Umpire Ron Kulpa deserves all the criticism he is getting for his behavior in recent Astros games. He is accused of antagonizing pitcher Gerrit Cole and catcher Max Stassi. Astros manager A.J. Hinch and coach Alex Cintron felt Kulpa was missing pitches and not calling strikes. At one point, Kulpa told Hinch that he, Kulpa could do “anything he wanted.” His attitude and demeanor was unbecoming of an umpire. He should have been reprimanded for that comment. But there he was, working the Diamondbacks vs. Red Sox series in Arizona. There has to be more accountability for umpires who feel they are bigger than the game or its on- field personnel.
Some team batting averages so far:
Los Angeles Angels=.168
Los Angeles Dodgers=.297
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff