The Yankees Rotation Has Stepped Up in Gerrit Cole’s Absence

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — On Tuesday afternoon, Gerrit Cole donned the pinstripes and took the mound at Yankee Stadium, not for his long-awaited season debut, but for a key milestone in his rehab: his first live batting practice session since a bout of nerve inflammation in his right elbow sidelined him in mid-March. The reigning AL Cy Young winner is still at least a few weeks away from returning, but in his absence — and in the face of considerable uncertainty given last year’s performances — his fellow starters have stepped up to help the Yankees into the AL East lead and the American League’s best record.

In front of an empty ballpark but an audience of teammates, coaches, and media, Cole — who eschewed his batting practice jersey in favor of the real thing “because I miss it” — faced teammates Jahmai Jones (a righty) and Oswaldo Cabrera (a switch-hitter batting lefty) from behind an L-screen. He threw 22 pitches, working through his full five-pitch arsenal, and by his own admission, the adrenaline from the setting led him to push his velocity to 96 mph, a point where pitching coach Matt Blake told him to back off. “Matt yelled at me, so I had to throw it like 90 a few times to even it back out,” he quipped afterwards.

“To me, he looked very much in control, with easy velocity,” said manager Aaron Boone of Cole’s session. The ace is eligible to come off the 60-day injured list later this month, but his rehab isn’t far enough for that to be realistic. As for a return in June, Boone indicated that it was a possibility, “but I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.” Assuming Cole’s recovery from the session goes as planned, he’ll probably throw a couple more BP sessions before heading out on a rehab assignment, which given the math of building up a pitch count points to a late June return. Read the rest of this entry »

Kevin Kelly Is a Tampa Bay Find With a ‘Unique Look’

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Kelly is proving to be yet another diamond in the rough for the Tampa Bay Rays. Acquired from the Cleveland Guardians via the Colorado Rockies in the December 2022 Rule 5 draft, the 26-year-old right-hander has since logged a 3.14 ERA and a 3.24 FIP in 73 appearances out of the Rays bullpen. Attacking the strike zone from a low arm slot, Kelly has fanned 74 batters while allowing 70 hits and just 16 walks over 86 innings.

His prospect profile was modest at best. A 19th-round pick in the 2019 draft out of James Madison University, Kelly was unranked prior to changing organizations, and going into last year he was conservatively assigned a 40 FV and a no. 27 ranking on our Rays list. Which isn’t to say that Eric Longenhagen didn’t recognize Kelly’s potential. Pointing to the side-slinger’s east-west arsenal and ability to keep the ball out of the air, Longenhagen wrote that Kelly had a chance to stick on Tampa Bay’s roster and be “a great option out of the bullpen when you need a ground ball to get out of a jam.”

Inducing worm-killers is indeed one of Kelly’s greatest strengths. Per Statcast, his 48.2% ground ball rate ranked in the 78th percentile last season, and this year he’s currently in the 91st percentile at 55.6%. And it’s not as though he doesn’t miss a reasonable amount of bats. His strikeout rate might not be anything to write home about, but at 23.0% it dwells in middle of the pack of major league hurlers.

According to Tampa Bay pitching coach Kyle Snyder, the righty reliever’s success is based on multiple factors. Read the rest of this entry »

Shohei Ohtani’s Threshold Moment With the Angels

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Writers frequently use threshold moments as a way to delineate a shift in the narrative from some prior homeostasis to an entirely new one. As author Jeannine Ouellette describes them, “These thresholds — the pause at the top of each breath, the space between the before and the after — can hold the entirety of our lives in a single second. Can hold everything we have been and everything we might become.”

Threshold moments exist in real life too. Sometimes we don’t notice them until years later, through the lens of hindsight. Other times, it’s as if an arrow-shaped neon sign is casting the scene with a vintage glow, reminding us that we’ll look back on this moment for years to come.

When Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels in December of 2017, he experienced a threshold moment. Maybe not the day he officially signed, and maybe not for a singular instant, but as he met with teams and envisioned the different iterations of his future, everything he was in Japan and everything he might become in the U.S. likely began to clarify in his mind’s eye. Ohtani’s decision to sign with the Dodgers six years later represents another threshold moment, but again, one that didn’t happen on signing day. More likely, Ohtani underwent two transformational shifts: one where he stopped viewing himself as a Los Angeles Angel, and one where he started viewing himself as a Los Angeles Dodger. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cardinals Look Cooked

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

One of my menagerie of cats, a black cat named Cassiopeia, has a mortal enemy. Not the vacuum cleaner or an empty food bowl like my other cats, but a bright red cardinal that has been hanging around my backyard for quite a while. Cassie’s bête noire survives because she’s an indoor cat, but if for some reason Cassie ever gained access to the cardinal, that bird would be toast. The St. Louis Cardinals are in a not-dissimilar position. A stable, secure franchise for two decades, their careful planning and prudent measures have kept them away from the cat. But as things have gone wrong for the Cardinals over the last year, they’ve found themselves on a precarious perch, short of options other than unpleasant ones.

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I talk positively about the long-term stability of the Cardinals. Before last year’s dreadful 71-91 campaign, the franchise had not been under .500 since 2007, and to find a season with more losses, you have to go all the way back to 1990, when this grumpy aging Gen X’er was a grumpy 12-year-old. Last year’s 4.54 ERA doesn’t sound particularly unusual for a lousy team, but it was for the Cards. The pitching staff’s 114 ERA- was the worst for the franchise in a full season (1994 was an even worse disaster, but a truncated one) since 1913.

All in all, this is an organization that even in rough years could never be described as a dumpster fire. And then last year happened. If we go through the Cardinals’ history of ZiPS projections, we can see a team that was a titan of above-average competence.

ZiPS Projected Wins – St. Louis Cardinals
Year Projected Wins Actual Wins
2005 98 100
2006 94 83
2007 84 78
2008 78 86
2009 87 91
2010 91 86
2011 83 90
2012 85 88
2013 85 97
2014 90 90
2015 86 100
2016 86 86
2017 85 83
2018 87 88
2019 86 91
2020 31 30
2021 86 90
2022 89 93
2023 91 71
2024 83 79 (Proj.)

This year, the Cardinals were projected to have a bit of a bounceback from 2023, but 83-79 should have served as a bit of a red flag, as only once had ZiPS projected a Cards team to finish with a worse record. The NL Central is one of the weakest divisions and the Cards are not a team in the middle of a rebuild, but one trying to win now. This was an organization that tried to go back to its usual playbook and retool carefully and conservatively. Sonny Gray was the highlight of the winter, signed to a three-year, $75 million contract, but the other signings were one-year stopgaps, either to patch holes in the rotation with no. 4 starters (Lance Lynn, Kyle Gibson) or fill out the back of the depth chart (Brandon Crawford, Matt Carpenter, Keynan Middleton).

Staying the course may work as a long-term strategy when you’re dependably winning 87-93 games a year and your farm system is steadily reinforcing the parent club’s depth with unheralded prospects that end up being real contributors, like Lars Nootbaar, Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, and Harrison Bader, among others. This strategy basically involved pretending 2023 didn’t happen, and it ignored a key aspect that also needed addressing: the team’s offense. While the lineup didn’t collapse as drastically as the pitching staff, the team finished 10th in the National League in runs scored, with three of its key contributors in their 30s (Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Willson Contreras). Yet the most significant move the Cardinals made with their position players this offseason was a subtraction, when they traded left fielder Tyler O’Neill to the Red Sox. The Cardinals certainly couldn’t have counted on the oft-injured O’Neill to stay healthy enough to be one of the most productive power hitters in the league, as he is right now with the Red Sox (.255/.366/.540, 11 HR, 146 wRC+, 1.1 WAR in 38 games entering Tuesday), but just to shed $6 million in salary, the trade cost St. Louis depth and upside that it no longer had to spare.

It was certainly within the realm of probability that the pitching triage would be effective and Arenado and Goldschmidt would play more like they had in 2022 than last year, but so far, that hasn’t been the case. And now the Cards face a serious problem: The expectations of their talent are simply a lot lower than they were a year ago, or even two months ago. To try to demonstrate this in a straightforward manner, I started with everyone projected to make one plate appearance or throw one inning in the majors the rest of the season. To me, that’s a realistic definition of the short-term talent a team intends to use. Then, I grouped each of these players by team. From there, using these groupings, I looked at each of the 30 teams’ projected WAR for 2025, as of Tuesday morning, and compared it to the 2025 outlooks from before the 2023 season and before the 2024 season. This list doesn’t make any accounting for free agents; I’m simply trying to get a feel for the trajectory of the talent each team has access to at this moment.

2025 Team Outlook by Projection Period
Team Before 2023 WAR Before 2024 Now Change, Before 2023 to Now Change, Before 2024 to Now
Arizona 52.1 61.6 62.5 10.4 0.9
Baltimore 55.6 60.7 65.5 9.9 4.8
Atlanta 57.6 64.8 67.2 9.6 2.5
Chicago (N) 50.8 58.4 59.0 8.2 0.6
Milwaukee 44.8 53.0 52.9 8.1 0.0
Pittsburgh 49.0 57.3 56.7 7.7 -0.6
Houston 57.7 61.8 64.1 6.4 2.3
Boston 43.6 49.1 49.9 6.3 0.9
Oakland 33.3 38.3 39.3 6.0 1.0
Miami 38.1 46.1 43.5 5.4 -2.5
Tampa Bay 48.9 57.2 52.5 3.7 -4.7
Minnesota 52.0 55.9 55.6 3.6 -0.2
Texas 53.9 57.9 56.7 2.8 -1.2
Cleveland 58.8 61.6 61.4 2.6 -0.2
Detroit 50.2 53.5 51.2 1.0 -2.3
San Francisco 51.3 52.2 52.3 1.0 0.0
Seattle 53.1 53.0 53.6 0.6 0.6
New York (A) 60.5 59.8 60.7 0.2 0.9
Cincinnati 45.1 48.8 45.3 0.2 -3.5
Los Angeles (N) 63.3 59.8 62.7 -0.6 2.9
Toronto 57.9 54.9 57.2 -0.8 2.3
Philadelphia 52.9 46.3 50.9 -1.9 4.6
San Diego 52.5 48.0 50.3 -2.2 2.3
Colorado 31.0 31.9 28.5 -2.5 -3.5
Kansas City 44.3 36.6 39.8 -4.5 3.2
Washington 35.8 31.2 31.1 -4.7 -0.1
Los Angeles (A) 39.0 33.0 33.6 -5.4 0.6
St. Louis 58.3 55.3 50.8 -7.5 -4.5
New York (N) 55.1 44.0 43.7 -11.5 -0.3
Chicago (A) 44.5 35.3 29.3 -15.2 -6.0

The absolute numbers don’t really matter here, so don’t read too much into them. Few teams, if any, will use the same number of players this season, so these projections are based on a varying amount of players for teams, depending on how each club deploys its roster. What does matter is the change in these numbers.

And, as you can see, the Cardinals have the third-largest dropoff in baseball, from before the 2023 season and before Opening Day this year to now. What’s going on here? The simple answer is that many of the players the Cardinals are relying on the most (Arenado, Goldschmidt, the injured Contreras, Gray, Lynn, and Gibson, among others) are in the decline stage of their careers.

Meanwhile, quick reinforcements from within are unlikely. Of the 11 pitchers who have thrown at least 20 innings at Double-A or Triple-A, only Connor Thomas has a translated ERA in ZiPS under four. Perhaps more concerning, Thomas is the only one of the 11 whose projected 2025 ERA is better now than it was before this season began.

2025 ZiPS Projections – Cardinals Minor League Pitchers
Player 2025 ERA (Before 2024) 2025 ERA (Now) Difference
Connor Thomas 4.16 4.11 -0.05
Tink Hence 4.19 4.21 0.02
Trent Baker 4.98 5.05 0.07
Gordon Graceffo 4.34 4.45 0.11
Michael McGreevy 4.20 4.32 0.12
Ian Bedell 5.11 5.23 0.12
Sem Robberse 4.11 4.25 0.14
Victor Santos 4.33 4.49 0.15
Adam Kloffenstein 4.56 4.73 0.17
Max Rajcic 5.18 5.38 0.20
Tekoah Roby 4.21 4.42 0.21

The story is the same for the hitters. Entering Tuesday, 21 players in the high minors have at least 60 plate appearances, and even in that really small sample size, only two of them (José Fermín and Jimmy Crooks) have a translated OPS north of .750. More than half the players (12) have OPS translations below .600.

2025 ZiPS Projections – Cardinals Minor League Hitters
Player 2025 OPS (Pre-2024) 2025 OPS (Now) Diff
José Fermín .666 .700 .034
César Prieto .648 .674 .026
Nick Dunn .643 .662 .019
Bryan Torres .633 .652 .019
Matt Lloyd .512 .531 .019
Jeremy Rivas .546 .558 .012
Jared Young .691 .692 .001
Nathan Church .620 .613 -.007
Jimmy Crooks .671 .663 -.008
Nick Raposo .642 .630 -.012
Luken Baker .727 .710 -.017
Thomas Saggese .693 .676 -.017
Victor Scott II .644 .625 -.019
Jacob Buchberger .619 .600 -.019
Chris Rotondo .445 .423 -.022
Matt Koperniak .684 .661 -.023
Noah Mendlinger .664 .635 -.029
Alfonso Rivas III .692 .652 -.041
Moises Gomez .676 .632 -.044
Chandler Redmond .649 .605 -.044
R.J. Yeager .686 .641 -.045

Two-thirds of the hitters have seen their projections for 2025 get worse. Even more troubling is how few of these projected numbers are actually useful to a major league club. Only two hitters project with a .700 OPS in the majors in 2025, and only then just barely.

Further complicating matters is that the diminished projections haven’t been limited to veterans like Goldschmidt. Rather, they’re also the case for pretty much all of the core hitters on the roster who were expected to be “the next generation” of Cardinals. The departed O’Neill may have resuscitated his career with his 2024 so far, but after two injury-affected seasons, he had dropped in status from a player who was eighth in the NL MVP balloting in 2021 to one the Cardinals were happy to see go to save a little cash. Jordan Walker was demoted to Triple-A Memphis before the end of April, and while he’s hit somewhat better since then, a wRC+ of 111 down there is not impressive for a player whose contributions will almost entirely come on offense. Nolan Gorman’s hits this year have been softer than an erotic thriller edited for network television, resulting in 10 points shaved off his projected 2025 wRC+ (115 to 105). Dylan Carlson bears less responsibility for 2024 given the shoulder injury that cost him a month, but after bursting into the majors with a solid rookie season in 2021, he now looks like a fourth outfielder — if that.

Here’s what makes things even trickier for the Cardinals: Despite their 21-26 record and third-place standing, they’ve won six of their last eight games entering Wednesday — their game Tuesday night against the Orioles was suspended due to rain in the sixth inning with the score tied, 1-1 — and have an 19.1% probability to make the postseason, per our Depth Charts playoff odds. That certainly isn’t a great chance, but considering the lack of options to turn things around in time for short-term future seasons, it might be more appealing for the organization to stay the course with the hope of making an unlikely, but hardly impossible, playoff push than it would be to make a drastic decision now that might be more beneficial in the long run.

It’s worth mentioning that, as of Tuesday morning, ZiPS projected St. Louis to have a 15.3% playoff probability because ZiPS is normally more optimistic about the Cardinals than is Depth Charts. ZiPS generally factors in organizational depth more than DC does, and the Cardinals typically have excellent depth. This year, that is not the case. Additionally, even with the expectation that Goldschmidt and Arenado are likely to better the rest of the way than their early season performance, as well as the assumption that Contreras will come back strong from his brutal arm fracture, ZiPS projects the Cardinals to have the 11th-best offense in the National League for the remainder of the season. And the rotation projects no better, at 12th of the 15 NL teams. Amusingly, the bullpen may be the team’s strongest asset, a reversal of fortune from previous years.

In other words, the Cards could very well win 85 games and sneak into a wild card spot. But that’s the hope of a mediocre team, not a top contender. It’s a risky one, too; the prospect of having some chance of making the playoffs may keep the team willing to tread water, again trying to filibuster the decision of whether to push in all their chips or to fold their hand. If the Cardinals decide to punt, some of their players would still have value to other teams in a trade. Closer Ryan Helsley, lefty setup man JoJo Romero, Nootbaar, and Goldschmidt, assuming he starts to hit again, all could fetch significant prospects for the farm system. The 33-year-old Arenado would also net a nice return so long as the Cardinals would agree to pay a chunk of his remaining salary. (After this season, he’ll make $52 million over the final three years of his contract.) Or, if St. Louis wants to double down and try to win in 2025 without selling before the deadline, there are some enticing players who will be free agents after the season, such as Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Pete Alonso, and – dare I say – Juan Soto. But the organization’s track record suggests that neither of these approaches is likely; the Cardinals don’t tear everything down, and they don’t play at the top of the free agent market.

As things stand, time is not on the organization’s side. When I project the results for the NL Central in 2025 and 2026, using each team’s in-system talent and therefore not accounting for potential future moves, the Cardinals continue to slide relative to the other teams in the division. In fact, St. Louis is the only one of the five teams that has a worse projection for 2026 projection than it does for 2024. The system-only projection for 2025 pegs the Cardinals to win only 79 games, followed by 77 wins for 2026. In these projections, the young pitching in the high minors would replace the team’s current starters, except for Gray, but Hence is the only one who projects to have a high ceiling. Meanwhile, on offense, ZiPS projects the team to continue to get almost nothing from the farm. That’s a problem for many reasons, but one of the most immediate ones is that Goldschmidt, who turns 37 in September, will be a free agent after the season. Even if he isn’t as bad as he’s looked so far this year, it’s unlikely that he’ll be as good as he once was in the future; recognizing this, it would make sense for the Cardinals to move on from him. Except, because of their uninspiring hitting prospects, the Cardinals don’t have a good option to replace even a diminished version of Goldschmidt. Walker and Gorman are natural third basemen, so one of them could take over for Arenado if the Cardinals trade him, but that would open up a hole somewhere else on their roster that would need to be filled by players who aren’t good enough to replace the lost production.

The Cards have long been one of the most competent organizations in the league. But at the moment, steadiness looks like indecision and conservatism looks meek. My cat Cassie will never get the chance to catch her cardinal, but there’s a very real possibility that the predators in the NL Central have successfully captured theirs.

Streak. Don’t Walk.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Amid all the (mostly Gunnar Henderson-related, as I understand it) Orioles hoopla, John Means has a chance to do something unusual in his start later today against the Cardinals. Means is the only starting pitcher this season to make it through his first three outings without walking a batter.

That might not sound like much to all you folks who walked barefoot in the snow — uphill, both ways — to see Christy Mathewson shut out the Louisville Trench Foots every three days, way back when. But it’s pretty impressive by modern standards. Only four other starters — Mitchell Parker, Sonny Gray, Corbin Burnes, and Shota Imanaga — even made it through their first two starts without giving up a free pass in 2024. And if Means continues according to form this afternoon, he’ll join a surprisingly small group of pitchers. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 2167: All Tuckered Out

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the hype surrounding Paul Skenes starts and how Skenes has leveled up since he was drafted, whether Kyle Tucker could finally shed his “most underrated player” label, Gunnar Henderson vs. Bobby Witt Jr. (and the Orioles’ infield/outfield future), the resurgent Royals, Jo Adell’s (maybe?) breakout, Joey Gallo’s ever-stranger stats, the Yankees’ success without Gerrit Cole, the powerhouse Phillies, Chris Sale’s bounceback, Ketel Marte’s unspectacular hitting streak (and Orlando Cabrera’s unspectacular on-base streak), disputes about pitch usage featuring Framber Valdez and Jhoan Duran, Alek Manoah’s strong starts, pitchers facing themselves via advanced pitching machines, Javy Báez tags, stripping out luck from batter WAR, and more.

Audio intro: Dave Armstrong and Mike Murray, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio outro: Xavier LeBlanc, “Effectively Wild Theme

Link to Longenhagen on Skenes
Link to Woodward on Skenes
Link to top 100 prospects update
Link to Baumann on Tucker
Link to combined WAR leaderboard
Link to Rome on Tucker
Link to Sheehan on shortstops
Link to Sheehan on shortstops 2
Link to Ben on Machado/Arenado
Link to EW on Freeman/Goldschmidt
Link to Holliday CF rumor
Link to Clemens on Ortiz
Link to Sheehan on the Royals
Link to BaseRuns standings
Link to Sheehan on the Phils
Link to Phillies smooches
Link to Tango on net FA spending
Link to Jaffe on Sale
Link to Jaffe on Adell
Link to Adell wall ball
Link to Cole update
Link to team framing
Link to Ben on Gallo in 2014
Link to Gallo’s Savant page
Link to Marte streak story
Link to longest 1-hit streaks
Link to Cabrera streak post
Link to tweets about Valdez
Link to story on Duran
Link to blog about Duran
Link to Duran curve xWOBA
Link to Duran pitch values
Link to team fastball %
Link to pitch sequencing post
Link to Rob Arthur on pitch usage
Link to Rob on pitch usage 2
Link to Angels pitching machines
Link to Ben on pitching machines
Link to BABIP explainer
Link to Tango on xWOBA
Link to Richard on “on deck”
Link to ballpark meetup forms
Link to meetup organizer form

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A Top 100 Prospects Update

Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

We’re about a month and a half into the minor league season, a reasonable time for a Top 100 update, albeit one with a relatively light touch. The purpose of this update is to pluck the low-hanging fruit, to polish and reshape the list rather than tear down the one from February. Much of the country is chilly or rainy in April and early May, and it can take time for players (hitters especially) to get going. Young players are also changing all the time, which often includes adjustments to their first taste of failure.

You can see the updated list in its entirety here. Below, I’ve highlighted some individual players. I touch on how everyone who is a 60 FV prospect or better has performed so far this year, as well as which players have moved up the list in a meaningful way. There are many cases in which the order of the list changed but the player’s overall grade and evaluation did not. If a pitcher is hurt and slid to the back of their FV tier (as with River Ryan, Ricky Tiedemann, Kyle Hurt and Chase Hampton), or if guys are stacked differently due to syllogistic reasoning (such as former back-of-the-list starter Christian Scott racing past similar talents who are in, say, Double-A), then I don’t address that individual move. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Sale Is Dominant Once More

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Chris Sale pitch like an ace — or it had been, until recently. For the first time in more than half a decade, the 35-year-old lefty is dominating hitters on a routine basis. On Monday night in Atlanta, Sale turned in his third consecutive scoreless start, shutting out the Padres for seven innings while striking out nine, and helping the Braves halt a four-game losing streak.

Sale allowed just five hits, didn’t walk a single batter, and went to a three-ball count just twice (he retired both hitters). Only in the fourth, when Donovan Solano and Ha-Seong Kim hit back-to-back two-out singles, did the Padres put two men on base against Sale. Solano took third on Kim’s single, and then Kim stole second, but Sale escaped the jam by getting José Azocar to fly out. San Diego mustered just five hard-hit balls, which together amounted to two singles — a 95.9-mph one in the first inning by Jurickson Profar, and a 108.2-mph scorcher in the second inning by Manny Machado — plus two groundouts and a fly out. The last of those, a towering 104.9-mph drive to left center by Kyle Higashioka, would have been a home run in 28 out of the 30 major league parks according to Statcast, but at Truist Park it was a routine warning track out to left fielder Adam Duvall.

Meanwhile, Sale generated 18 whiffs, seven apiece with his four-seamer and his slider, and four with his changeup. He had a 35% called strike and walk rate, and got the Padres to chase on 37% of his pitches outside the zone, consistent with his season rate, which is also his Statcast-era high. All but one of his strikeouts came on pitches out of the zone, most of them on the outer edge; six of them were swinging (three sliders, two fastballs, one changeup) and two were foul tips, while the other was a swinging strike at the top border:

Read the rest of this entry »

Edwin Díaz Isn’t Fully Back Yet

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

What’s wrong with Edwin Díaz? In a single GIF, this is what’s wrong with Edwin Díaz:

I don’t want to tell him how to pitch, because he’s Edwin Díaz and I’m an anonymous person on the internet. But putting a slider right in Josh Bell’s nitro zone is not a great way to approach a high-leverage at-bat. Bell put a good swing on it, which was hardly a given, but Díaz put himself into that situation and paid the price for it.

On a superficial level, there’s not a lot of uncertainty over what’s wrong. During the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Díaz tore his patellar tendon, and then he missed the entirety of the season recovering from surgery that repaired that tendon. He’s back on the mound, but he’s clearly not the same pitcher that he was in his dominant 2022 season.
Read the rest of this entry »

Top of the Order: The Phillies Keep Turning Without Trea

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Tuesday and Friday I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

Losing your starting shortstop and no. 2 hitter all at once is one of the worst things that can happen to a team, but somehow, the Phillies have weathered the absence of Trea Turner better than anyone could have hoped. The All-Star departed Philadelphia’s May 3 game against the Giants (in which he also scored from second on a wild pitch!) with a strained hamstring; at the time, he was expected to miss about six weeks, though he is “progressing at a surprising pace given the original timetable,” as Matt Gelb of The Athletic recently reported.

Obviously, the Phillies would love to have Turner back ahead of schedule, but they have more than held their own without him. They are 12-3 in their 15 games since May 4, their first following Turner’s injury, and their 123 wRC+ is the second-best mark in the majors during that stretch, behind only the Yankees. Philadelphia’s success isn’t due to the other positions carrying the load; though they’ve certainly been playing well, too. Rather, Philadelphia’s shortstop platoon of Bryson Stott and Edmundo Sosa has combined for a 163 wRC+ over that 15-game span; that’s better than every other NL team’s shortstop production. Only the Orioles, led by Gunnar Henderson, have gotten more offense at short.

Since Turner went down, Stott leads the Phillies with a 230 wRC+ and ranks fourth in the majors among players with at least 50 plate appearances in that span. Meanwhile, Sosa’s 167 wRC+ as a shortstop is the second-best mark since May 4, behind Henderson (187). Catcher J.T. Realmuto (153), first baseman Bryce Harper (180), and DH Kyle Schwarber (129) have also propelled the offense over these last 15 games. Additionally, the Phillies have received surprising contributions from utilityman Kody Clemens, who’s popped a couple of homers and has a 183 wRC+ across his 25 plate appearances since he was recalled to replace Turner on the roster. Even right fielder Nick Castellanos has woken up a bit, mustering a respectable 117 wRC+ during the 15 games without Turner after having posted a woeful 42 wRC+ from Opening Day through May 3.

On the other side of the ball, Phillies pitchers have kept up their end of the bargain for pretty much the whole season, and they’ve continued to perform well over the last 15 games, ranking fifth in ERA (2.78) and third in FIP (3.22).

All in all, even without Turner, everything’s clicking for the Phillies this season. They enter play Tuesday with a five-game lead over the Braves in the NL East, with the highest scoring offense (5.33 runs per game) and by far the most valuable pitching staff (9.3 WAR) in the majors. As Jake Mailhot noted in yesterday’s Power Rankings, Philadelphia has played the weakest schedule in baseball so far this season, so perhaps the team won’t maintain its .708 winning percentage the rest of the way. Even so, the Phillies have been winning at an .800 clip without their superstar shortstop. That is certainly encouraging.

Quick Hits

Let’s run through some other notable things from the past few days of games:

• The Yankees’ seven-game winning streak was snapped Monday night in heartbreaking fashion, when closer Clay Holmes allowed his first four earned runs of the season to blow a 4-1 ninth-inning lead against the Mariners in an eventual 5-4 Seattle win. Nevertheless, New York is playing its best baseball of the year right now. Aaron Judge has continued his reign of terror on opposing pitchers, going his 14-for-28 with 10 extra-base hits, including four homers, in his last eight games, and after a mini-slump, Juan Soto is catching fire again; over his last four games, he is 7-for-15 (.467) with two homers. Luis Gil, who wouldn’t have made the rotation if not for Gerrit Cole’s injury, struck out 14 in his start on Saturday. The Orioles lost on Monday as well, keeping the Yankees’ division lead at two games. The two sides don’t meet again until June 18.

• Like the Yankees, the Astros also coughed up an early lead on Monday night after a recent stretch of excellence. Houston led 6-1 before the Angels scored seven runs in the top of the fifth inning in what ended up as a 9-7 Astros loss. Still, the Astros have won each of their previous three series and jumped back into the AL West race after their dreadful start. They enter play Tuesday 4.5 games behind the first-place Mariners. Less than two weeks ago, on May 8, they were 8.5 games back. Yordan Alvarez still isn’t hitting anywhere near his abilities — though perhaps a double, single, and walk on Monday portends the start of a hot streak — but Alex Bregman has woken up and Kyle Tucker is playing like an MVP.

• Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers set a franchise record Monday night when he homered in his sixth consecutive game. His home run, a two-run blast, came in the fourth inning off Rays righty Taj Bradley and extended Boston’s lead in its 5-0 win. Over his last six games, Devers is 7-for-24, his only non-homer hit being a single, with a 1.042 slugging percentage. With his home run Monday night, Devers surpassed the six other players who went yard in five straight games with the Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec (2020), Jose Canseco (1995), George Scott (1977), Dick Stuart (1963), Ted Williams (1957), and Jimmie Foxx (1940). The major league record for consecutive games with a home run is eight, shared by Dale Long (1956), Don Mattingly (1987), and Ken Griffey Jr. (1993).