As we near the All-Star break notable injuries are afoot, notable returns are nearing, some teams we didn’t expect to underwhelm may be in full-on sell mode, and while division races are far from clear, select pictures are at least coming into focus—albeit in the slightest.
Back on the diamond a couple of pitchers have been nearly untouchable, while a manager who was handed a failure in the making of a situation took it upon himself to move on.
Let’s Talk about Max Scherzer (and Marco Estrada)
We know all about Max Scherzer, the Washington Nationals ace, and what he’s done over the past few weeks. There are many words we could use to describe his recent performances: incredible, unbelievable, untouchable, dominating, etc. All you need to do is think of a positive descriptor—any of them—and attach it to Scherzer.
On June 14 in Milwaukee Scherzer went the distance, striking out 16 in the process. His only mistake? Surrendering a bloop single to Carlos Gomez in the eighth inning. No-hitter over; life went on. Six days later pitching at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Scherzer again went the distance. This time he was one strike away from a perfect game before hitting Jose Tabata with a pitch on the elbow. With the perfect game lost Scherzer collected himself, got the next batter to fly out, and secured the no-hitter. This time he added only 10 strikeouts.
Friday night in Philadelphia, Scherzer was at it again. His final line will show eight innings pitched with two earned runs and five hits allowed, but a simple line score doesn’t do the story justice. Before a one-out double off the bat of Freddy Galvis in the bottom of the sixth, Scherzer had retired the first 16 batters of the game. Again, he was flirting with perfection. Again, the baseball world stood in amazement. I’ve never seen a three-start stretch like this before and there’s a very good chance I never will again. The ace is in cruise control, and that’s putting it mildly.
If not for his incredible recent performances, perhaps we’d be talking a little more about a lesser-known, much less accomplished hurler over in the AL. That pitcher is Marco Estrada of the Toronto Blue Jays, and he’s had some historic success recently as well.
On June 19, Estrada took a no-no into the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles but had walked four. He ultimately did not complete the no-hitter. On Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays Estrada upped his game by retiring the first 22 batters in order. In taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning of consecutive starts, he became the first pitcher since 1988 to accomplish such a feat. And while Scherzer’s chance at perfection was dashed by hitting a batter, Estrada surrendered the worst of hits—an infield single—in his bid that again ultimately came up short. He exited the game one out away from a complete game shutout and allowed a second hit, but struck out 10 in what was the best performance of his career.
Obviously there is no comparing these two pitchers in terms of ability or overall career success, but we as baseball fans have been witness to incredible stretches out on the mound in recent weeks. Throw in Chris Heston’s no-no from a few weeks ago and it becomes that much more unbelievable. Enjoy it.
Misfortune For Stanton … Again
The past two seasons have not been kind to Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton in terms of unfortunate injuries. Last year he took a pitch to the face in what was a very scary scene, missing the final month of the 2014 season. Friday night he injured his left hand swinging the bat and X-rays revealed a broken bone in the hand, something that will take Stanton at least four to six weeks to return from.
This could prove to officially be the final nail in the Marlins season, as the team many expected to compete for a playoff spot this season finds themselves very close to the bottom of the NL East barrel. Behind Philadelphia and Milwaukee, they own baseball’s third-worst record. More on that later.
On the season, the 25-year-old outfielder is slashing .265/.346/.606 with a league-leading 27 home runs.
Promising Arms Return
Continuing with the Marlins theme, young ace Jose Fernandez is set to return to the rotation after one last rehab start with Double-A Jacksonville. His first major league start since undergoing Tommy John surgery on May 16 of last year will come against the San Francisco Giants. As for the man himself, he believes he’s ready and has wisely trusted his doctor throughout the process:
“I feel ready, I’m not going to lie … The doctor is the one. I said, ‘You know, doc, I’m going with exactly what you say. You’re the only one who knows exactly what you did in there.’”
Fernandez returning to the Marlins rotation is undoubtedly exciting for baseball and its fans—especially Miami’s—but the team itself is hurting off the field with injuries and are even worse off on the field in terms of performance. It remains to be seen what kind of impact his presence will have going forward this year, but I can’t imagine the Marlins climbing up the NL East standings anytime soon.
On a separate note, one player who will be hoping his return means good things for a team that is already in first place is Matt Moore of the Tampa Bay Rays. Moore is also on his way back from Tommy John surgery and was slated to pitch in one last rehab start on Friday night but a rain delay scrapped those plans. Instead he pitched Saturday and plans to re-join the team this week.
The Rays hold an extremely slim lead over the likes of New York, Baltimore, and Toronto entering play Saturday but are certainly contenders. Moore’s return is just what the doctor ordered.
To Sell or Not to Sell
Of course nothing comes without its bad news, and while I’ve already touched on Miami twice, let’s hear it for ’em one last time: the Marlins, at 31–45, could and probably should be sellers—outside of Fernandez and Stanton, of course. Other clubs that undoubtedly find themselves on this list are the Phillies (26-49) and Brewers (28–48).
Then there are those on the fringes, such as ASG hosts Cincinnati (34–38) and just shy of 15 games back of first in the division, as well as three teams that—given their offseasons—were supposed to perform much better than we’ve come to see.
Those include the Chicago White Sox (32–41, 11.5 GB), Seattle Mariners (34–41, 8 GB), and San Diego Padres (37–40, 6.5). The Padres make this list solely due to underachieving, but in reality they shouldn’t be sellers at the trade deadline. After all, their entire offseason consisted of buying, buying, and a little more buying. While the White Sox and Mariners have tough roads ahead, the Padres still have a legitimate shot out West—specifically as a wild card participant.
Pre-ASG Division Pictures
Who would have thought the Houston Astros would be leading the AL West this season? At 43–33 their lead stands at five games. I’ve already touched on the Rays leading the AL East, and to those who assumed the Kansas City Royals would drop off a bit this season (myself included), is it time we at least begin preparing our crow? At 43–28, the best record in the AL, they lead the Central Division by 4.5 games over—wait for it—the Minnesota Twins (40–34).
In a sport dominated by clubs with unbelievably high payrolls (looking at you Boston, NY, LA), it’s refreshing to see the rebuilding process come to fruition for several small market clubs in recent years.
Sandberg Steps Down
In conclusion, the Phillies are a bad baseball team. They are loaded with aging players and awful contracts, they are nowhere near being competitive, are in desperate need of a rebuild, and so on. No manager could have taken this job thinking that any outcome this season would be remotely positive, and Ryne Sandberg was no exception.
That is part of the reason why he took it upon himself to remove himself from the situation Friday afternoon: “The fact Ryne Sandberg will not manage the Phillies in 2016 should not shock anybody. The fact he pulled the plug on himself with more than half the ’15 season to play should.”
“It was better now than later” Sandberg said. “I think it was important for me … with the way things have gone this year. It allows the organization to go forward and really get this thing going.”
Sandberg is old school and prefers that style of play—something he even promised the team would get back to this year—but no school of thought or practice was going to save the Phillies this season. Or next season, for that matter. Sandberg swallowed his pride Friday afternoon by announcing his resignation, the first of several steps on the road to recovery for the once-great Philadelphia Phillies franchise.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.