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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 »

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:

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The Reds Have Completely Crashed in May

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK

With his combination of power and speed, Elly De La Cruz may be the eighth wonder of the world, or merely one of baseball’s most improved players, but lately he’s been just about the only one keeping the Reds relevant. After starting the season in promising fashion, Cincinnati has now dropped seven straight series, most recently losing three out of four against the Dodgers in Los Angeles while slipping into last place in the NL Central. Thanks to an offense that’s gone missing, the Reds own a major league-worst 3-14 record in May. Yuck.

They had their chances to arrest their slide against the Dodgers. After winning 7-2 on Thursday, the Reds fell behind early 3-0 on Friday as Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani both homered off Frankie Montas. They clawed their way back to tie the game, and looked to build upon that when Mike Ford singled off James Paxton to open the seventh. Paxton got the hook in favor of righty Michael Grove, while Jake Fraley pinch-hit for Stuart Fairchild and Jacob Hurtubise pinch-ran for Ford. On a 1-1 count, Grove picked off Hurtubise, and he soon escaped the inning; the Dodgers responded by putting up two runs apiece against relievers Fernando Cruz and Alexis Díaz in the next two innings to pull away for a 7-3 win.

After being shut out by Walker Buehler and friends on Saturday, the Reds squandered numerous opportunities that would have allowed them to escape with a split. They left 10 runners on base in Sunday’s 10-inning loss, and while they erased a 2-0 deficit to tie the game in the seventh, De La Cruz struck out with men on second and third in both that inning and the ninth, part of a tough 0-for-5, four-strikeout day. The Reds lost when Díaz walked Will Smith with one out, forcing him to pitch to Ohtani, who singled for his first walk-off hit since September 4, 2020. Read the rest of this entry »

Max Fried Has Been Unhittable Lately

Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday at Citi Field, Max Fried was unhittable. For seven innings, the 30-year-old lefty baffled the Mets, surviving a handful of hard-hit balls, including two that would have been home runs in several other ballparks. But because he walked three batters, went to a three-ball count against five others, and needed 24 pitches to complete the seventh while running his count to a season-high 109, Fried got the hook from manager Brian Snitker. He could only watch as J.D. Martinez — who had already hit two scorchers of at least 105 mph off Fried — clubbed a solo homer off closer Raisel Iglesias with two outs in the ninth. The Mets’ rally would ultimately fall short, but the run left the Braves still searching for their first no-hitter since Kent Mercker’s gem on April 8, 1994.

If Fried’s hitless outing evoked a sense of déjà vu, that’s because he did a very similar thing just 12 days earlier. On April 29 in Seattle, he and the Mariners’ Bryce Miller each held the opposing lineup hitless through six innings, the first time two pitchers did that in the same game in just over three full years. Miller faltered first, giving up an infield single to Ronald Acuña Jr., who came around to score; meanwhile, Fried departed after 100 pitches, and while Pierce Johnson pitched a hitless seventh inning, Joe Jiménez surrendered a single in the eighth. Unlike on Saturday, the Braves lost that one on a walk-off homer. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 5/14/24

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks!

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Welcome to another edition of my Tuesday chat. I’ve got a piece up today on Jung Ho Lee and the Giants’ unrelenting wave of injuries (…). Yesterday I wrote about Jo Adell finally breaking through ( — a piece I’d had in mind for a few weeks after a reader asked about him here in a chat!

Avatar Jay Jaffe: All of which is to say that in addition to having a good time interacting with our readers in these chats, they’re a good place to get an idea of what you folks are interested in, and I come out of each one with at least a couple of ideas — not all of which come to fruition, but they’re still useful. So thank you for that. And now, on with the show

Shotamania: Shota has the lowest ERA in his first 8 starts (0.96) since Fernando Valenzuela way back in 1981.  I’m just old enough to remember Fernando-mania.  Should we be talking about Shotamania?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: As somebody whose baseball fandom was in full flower during Fernandomania — I cut his box scores out of the Salt Lake Tribune and taped them into a three-ring binder — I’ve thought about this comparison, and even considered doing a Shotamania piece, but  Kyle Kishimoto, who’s not old enough to remember Fernando, beat me to the coverage

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Obviously, Imanaga is on an impressive run, with a 0.96 ERA and 2.30 FIP through eight starts. Is it a mania? I don’t think it’s had anywhere near the cultural impact of Fernandomania, which tapped into the Los Angeles Dodgers’ original sin of building their ballpark at Chavez Ravine, which forced the eviction of nearly 2,000 Mexican-American families living there.

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Jung Hoo Lee Goes Down Amid a Brutal String of Giants Injuries

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a strong late-winter effort to beef up their roster by adding big-name free agents Jorge Soler, Matt Chapman, and Blake Snell in February and March, the Giants have stumbled out of the gate. They haven’t even been at .500 since March 31, when they were 2-2, and now they’re 19-24 and in the midst of an unrelenting wave of injuries that has thinned their roster. The most serious is that of Jung Hoo Lee, who dislocated his left shoulder trying to make a run-saving catch in Sunday’s win over the Reds and could be out for several weeks, or even months.

The play occurred in the top of the first inning at Oracle Park, after the Reds loaded the bases against starter Kyle Harrison on a hit-by-pitch, two steals, a throwing error, and a walk. With two outs, Jeimer Candelario hit a high 104-mph drive to deep center field. At the warning track, Lee leaped for the ball, but it bounced off the padding on top of the wall instead of hitting his glove. On his way down, he smacked his left forearm into the padding; his elbow and then his back both hit the chain link fence (!) below the padding, jamming his left shoulder. He went down hard as all three runners scored, and after several minutes on the ground, left the game accompanied by head athletic trainer Dave Groeschner, who held Lee’s arm in place.

Though manager Bob Melvin initially indicated that the 25-year-old center fielder had separated his shoulder, the Giants later clarified that he had dislocated it, indicating a more serious injury. Lee underwent an MRI on Monday, but a more detailed prognosis won’t be known until at least Tuesday after he and the Giants consult with Dr. Ken Akizuki, the team’s orthopedic surgeon. The Giants are hopeful that Lee won’t need surgery, unlike Red Sox shortstop Trevor Story, who on April 5 dislocated his left shoulder while diving for a ball and additionally suffered a fracture of the glenoid rim, an injury that required season-ending surgery. There’s been no report of a fracture yet for Lee, but soft-tissue damage could be another matter.

[Update: Indeed, on Tuesday evening, the Giants confirmed that Lee has suffered structural damage in his shoulder. He will get a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Thursday, indicating that surgery is a possibility.] Read the rest of this entry »

Jo Adell Is Finally Putting It Together

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Angels haven’t had a whole lot to cheer about this season aside from Mike Trout’s power outburst before he suffered his knee injury. They’re 15-26, last in the AL West, and given both their lackluster offense and dreadful run prevention, they appear on track for their ninth consecutive sub-.500 season. Amid that, one positive development worth noting is the progress of Jo Adell, who looks as though he’s finally carved out a spot in the majors.

The 25-year-old Adell recently homered three times in a four-game span, and none of them were cheapies. Last Wednesday against the Pirates, he hit a Martín Pérez cutter 407 feet to center field, a third-inning solo homer that kicked off the scoring in a 5-4 win. On Friday against the Royals, he crushed an Alec Marsh sinker, sending it 436 feet into the Angel Stadium rockpile; alas, that was the Halos’ only run in a 2-1 loss. On Saturday he destroyed a Cole Ragans slider for a 419-foot three-run homer that led to a 9-3 win.

Adell is now hitting .255/.314/.532 (134 wRC+) with seven homers and seven steals in 105 plate appearances. While those slash stats aren’t as eye-catching as the .316/.365/.614 (171 wRC+) that he posted in April, his recent outburst has followed an 0-for-16 skid that could have sent him into a deeper slide or worse, the bench or Triple-A. What’s more, Adell now has enough plate appearances and batted ball events for several of his key stats to have stabilized, which should hopefully make this check-in more illuminating. Read the rest of this entry »

Willson Contreras and the Cardinals Catch a Bad Break

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Willson Contreras’ tenure with the Cardinals has not lacked for drama, controversy, or interruptions in his work behind the plate. Unfortunately, the latest chapter in that saga began on Tuesday, when a J.D. Martinez swing fractured the 31-year-old catcher’s left forearm. After undergoing surgery on Wednesday, he’s likely to be out until around the All-Star break, leaving the struggling Cardinals to right their season without their most productive hitter.

The injury took place during the top of the second inning of Tuesday’s Mets-Cardinals game. With one out and nobody on base, Martinez swung at a 2-1 slider from Miles Mikolas and connected squarely with Contreras’ forearm “like a lumberjack taking a hack at a sequoia tree,” as Cardinals broadcaster Brad Thompson said. Conteras went down immediately and then began flailing around in obvious pain before being tended to by the Cardinals’ staff. Adding insult to injury, Martinez was awarded first base due to catcher’s interference. Here’s the video, which is not for the faint of heart:

X-rays taken at the ballpark confirmed the fracture, and while the Cardinals have not revealed whether it was Contreras’ radius or ulna that broke, Under the Knife’s Will Carroll reported that he did have a plate inserted because the bone was slightly out of alignment. It is worth noting that in the immediate aftermath of the injury, Contreras said he was told he’d be out six to eight weeks, but that estimate has since been revised upward to 10 weeks, which would put his return right after the All-Star break. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Year’s Model of Ronald Acuña Jr. Is Nowhere in Sight

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge, Paul Goldschmidt, and José Abreu aren’t the only recent MVPs off to underwhelming starts in 2024. After putting together a season for the ages last year, Ronald Acuña Jr. has scuffled thus far, both in terms of making contact and hitting for power. His struggles have coincided with those of a couple of the team’s other heavy hitters, with the result that the team recently slipped out of first place in the NL East for the first time in more than a year.

Roughly two years removed from season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL, Acuña became the first player ever to hit at least 40 homers and steal at least 70 bases in the same season. He clubbed 41 dingers and swiped a major league-leading 73 bags, aided by a couple of rule changes that increased per-game stolen base rates by 41% league-wide. Playing a career-high 159 games, he hit .337/.416/.596 while leading the NL in on-base percentage, steals, wRC+ (170), plate appearances (735), at-bats (643), total bases (383), hits (217), runs (149), and WAR (9.0). Despite a strong challenge from Mookie Betts, he was a unanimous pick for the NL MVP award.

Where has that electrifying slugger gone? With more than a month of play under his belt this season, Acuña has hit just .267/.373/.359 with 14 steals but just two homers. Thanks to his 12.4% walk rate and his high on-base percentage, that slash line is still good for a 116 wRC+, but the 54-point drop in wRC+ is steep, even if it’s “only” the 16th-largest in the majors among players with at least 400 PA last year and 100 this year. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guardians Lose Hot-Hitting Steven Kwan

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Steven Kwan has been instrumental in helping the Guardians climb to the top of the AL Central and compile the league’s second-best record (23-12) and largest division lead (2.5 games). Unfortunately, the 26-year-old left fielder won’t be around to help them for awhile due to a hamstring strain, though if there’s a silver lining, the injury has opened the door for the debut of one of their top prospects, 23-year-old Kyle Manzardo.

Kwan felt tightness in his left hamstring and departed after the third inning in Saturday’s game against the Angels. During the inning, he had run into foul territory to make a basket catch on a Mickey Moniak fly ball, and afterwards, showed some discomfort:

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