One of the great baseball quotes, one that has transcended the genre, was uttered by legendary innovator Branch Rickey, who said, “Luck is the residue of design.” It’s a shame that Rickey is no longer around to offer up a corollary for what’s going on with the San Francisco Giants.
The one thing that the Giants couldn’t afford to have happen happened Friday afternoon during San Francisco’s final game of the Cactus League season. During the third inning, the Kansas City Royals’ Whit Merrifield lined a screamer right at Madison Bumgarner, who reflexively reached up and deflected the ball with his pitching hand. The result: a broken bone and a prolonged stay on the disabled list.
Early word is that Bumgarner will have pins inserted into his left pinkie to aid the healing of a broken fifth metacarpal in his pitching hand. He’s expected to miss six to eight weeks, after which he’ll have to start his innings buildup from scratch.
The news comes on the heels of the pectoral strain that will keep fellow Giants rotation member Jeff Samardzija on the sidelines to begin the season. Samardzija is anticipated to miss three to four weeks, leaving San Francisco two key arms short in a rotation expected to be the foundation of the team.
The best-case scenario is that Samardzija misses a handful of starts and Bumgarner heals quickly and is back on the mound by, say, Memorial Day. In the meantime, the Giants will hope that they can patch together some innings from what looks like a replacement-level set of rotation options. Or worse.
It’s hard to overdramatize the impact these injuries would have on the Giants’ season if they linger. Over at fangraphs.com, the San Francisco rotation is projected for 12.0 WAR. More than half of those wins — 3.5 for Bumgarner and 3.0 for Samardzija — are attributed to these two pitchers.
Beyond that pair and No. 2 starter Johnny Cueto, no Giants starter is projected for an ERA of under 4.50. The replacements will come from a group that includes Derek Holland, who is well into the journeyman phase of his career, and Tyler Beede.
The overriding problem is that the 2018 Giants were not built on the depth model. The rotation is not deep, and the bullpen could be replacement level in the aggregate if closer Mark Melancon doesn’t bounce back from his injury-marred 2017 season. And the offense, which is counting on veterans Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to boost a group that finished second to last in the National League in runs scored last season, has middling upside.
The rotation was the one position group that looked playoff caliber, if everything went according to plan and the other groups could at least play at a league-average level. That plan is quickly unraveling, with Opening Day less than a week away.
Compounding everything is the Giants’ wish to stay under the luxury tax threshold this season, making any kind of impactful addition from outside the organization unlikely, unless money can be moved or the plan to avoid the tax is abandoned. According to Cot’s Contracts, the Giants currently project to be about $187,000 over the threshold.
The Giants begin the season next week with a four-game series on the home field of their archrivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. They return home to face the NL East champion Washington Nationals for three games, with the Dodgers paying a three-game visit to AT&T Park right after that.
Suffice to say, it’s not a good time for the Giants to face that kind of a schedule. But it’s hardly an aberration: The NL West is four-deep in playoff contenders. The competition is fierce.
If San Francisco gets off to a bad start, the clock will start ticking on what many will say should be a franchise reset. After all, this is a team that lost 98 games last season. And it will feature one of baseball’s oldest rosters in 2018 — that is, if some of those veterans can actually stay on the field.
San Francisco’s attempt to reclaim its pre-2017 standing by staying aggressive during last winter’s generally passive market was refreshing, even if you can make an easy case that it was misguided. However, when you’re starting from a base of 98 losses, you need things to break your way. Bumgarner’s break is not the kind of break we had in mind.
The veteran moxie of the Giants will be tested and tested early. The upside is probably this: If San Francisco can navigate through these early setbacks, then perhaps this fading group will get its ace back in time to enjoy one more summer together by the bay.
But if not … those summer winds can get awfully cold in Frisco.
Minnesota Twins’ Sergio Romo suspended for actions vs. Cleveland Indians
Romo pitched a perfect eighth for the Twins, and added some spice to the night when he finished the inning with a flyout by Francisco Lindor.
The flamboyant Romo was jawing at Lindor as he jogged past, along the first-base line. Lindor then charged at Romo, and the pitcher kept on shouting. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but the teams were able to diffuse the tension without incident.
Lindor was also fined an undisclosed amount for his role in the incident.
The tiff between the players predated this series.
“It’s just a couple of players who continually interact with each other when they probably shouldn’t,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said after the game. “And I think it would probably be better if they didn’t.”
Romo’s animated expressions after critical outs have rankled several opponents this season.
“If he’s going to dish it, we’re going to dish it back. He has to take it,” acting Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Fantasy baseball forecaster for Week 8 — Sept. 14-20
The 2020 season’s penultimate week includes 11 rescheduled games, 10 of which make up games postponed for COVID-19 reasons and one for protests for racial justice, and that leads to an even busier week than the one that preceded it: 101 total contests. The full list of makeup games:
1. Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds, Monday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 16 postponement)
2. Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins, Monday (makes up Aug. 6 postponement)
3. St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers, Monday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 1 postponement)
4 and 5. Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners, Monday doubleheader (makes up Sept. 1-2 postponements)
6. Cardinals at Brewers, Wednesday doubleheader (one game makes up July 31 postponement)
7. Tampa Bay Rays–Baltimore Orioles at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, Thursday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 27 postponement, each team will play as home team once)
8. Washington Nationals at Marlins, Friday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 1 postponement)
9. Toronto Blue Jays-Phillies at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Friday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 2 postponement, each team will play as home team once)
10. Cardinals-Pirates at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Friday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 12 postponement, each team will play as home team once)
11. Nationals at Marlins, Sunday doubleheader (one game makes up Aug. 2 postponement)
All in all, there are nine doubleheaders on the Week 8 schedule, and remember, all doubleheaders are seven regulation innings in length. In addition to these rescheduled games, the Boston Red Sox at Marlins week-starting series opener on Monday has been moved to Thursday to accommodate the Phillies-Marlins makeup game.
The Cardinals’ three scheduled doubleheaders give them a prospective 10-game week — yes, you read that right, that’s 10 games. The additional volume is a huge boon in fantasy leagues and the Forecaster ratings reflect that, but be aware that these represent days 31-37 and games 36-45 of a season-ending, 53-games-in-44-days stretch, during which the Cardinals will play 23 times in the final 18 days without a day off. Exhaustion could rapidly become a factor for the Cardinals, especially on the pitching side, where starter Kwang-Hyun Kim is currently sidelined with a kidney issue, closer Giovanny Gallegos exited the Sept. 10 game with a groin injury and starter Johan Oviedo is now quarantined after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals have gone 5-5 since Sept. 2, have middling runs-per-game (hitting) and ERA (pitching) numbers during that 10-game stretch, and have shown inconsistent play in settling at those roughly league-average numbers. Still, here are a few key individuals who haven’t appeared fatigued and might shine for you accordingly: Tommy Edman (36% available in ESPN leagues), who has played every inning of the team’s past 14 games and batted .273/.317/.491; Kolten Wong (68% available), a .400 hitter (14-for-35) while playing all 11 September games (10 as a starter) whose .277 batting average and .389 on-base percentage against right-handers this season should prove beneficial with the Cardinals facing mostly right-handed starters and bullpen pieces; two-start pitcher and ace Jack Flaherty, who will probably be asked to step up his workload; and swingman Austin Gomber (98% available), who should make at least one start but whose career 3.38 relief ERA and 26.8% strikeout rate in 2020 alone make him an intriguing plug-and-play.
The Marlins and Pirates enjoy nine-game weeks — I told you there was a hefty number of games in Week 8! Neither, however, grades as high as you might expect in terms of weekly matchups, with the Marlins earning a 7 and the Pirates 5. Still, both teams should face a minimum of six right-handed starters, not to mention a pair of doubleheader spot starters, and that’s good news for the teams’ lefty-hitting regulars: Corey Dickerson (74% available in ESPN leagues), a .267/.340/.411 hitter against right-handers this year; Matt Joyce (99% available), a .282/.402/.423 hitter against righties; and Colin Moran (83%), a .253/.354/.506 hitter against righties. Additionally, monitor Jazz Chisholm’s (98%) role through the Sept. 11-13 weekend, as he has picked up five consecutive starts and would match up nicely for this schedule should the Marlins decide to keep Isan Diaz at the alternate camp for a lengthier period.
The Orioles, Brewers and Phillies each play eight-game weeks, which while fewer than those the above three teams will enjoy, still represents a sizable advantage in a week when 15 other teams will play either five or six times. This is great news for Corbin Burnes (11% available in ESPN leagues), the No. 14 pitcher on the Player Rater, who will make his first scheduled two-start week — his Week 4 pair wasn’t initially in the Brewers’ plans — and is a near-lock to take both turns thanks to his Monday schedule and the team’s loaded schedule.
On the short end of the schedule stick are the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, each of whom will play only five times in this otherwise busy Week 8. The Cubs have a miserable schedule, having to face Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Civale, Michael Pineda, Jose Berrios and Randy Dobnak, at a time when the top half of their lineup is ice cold: The Cubs’ Nos. 1-5 hitters combined batted .184/.268/.288 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in the team’s nine games from Sept. 3-10. If you want to bench one of their “name” players for a matchups-driven Week 8 sleeper, you’re within reason to.
The Athletics’ schedule got a noticeable boost with the rescheduling of their Sept. 1-2 postponements as a Monday doubleheader, because what was initially a five-game week is now a seven-game week, and two of those seven games will be played at Colorado’s Coors Field. New leadoff man Tommy La Stella (31% available in ESPN leagues) is in prime position to shine, but as the Athletics haven’t faced a left-handed starter since his acquisition, might they move him down or sit him altogether in either/both of the two games against Mariners lefties on Monday? Start him nevertheless, as Rockies lefty Kyle Freeland is scheduled to miss the Athletics series.
Absorbing portions of the previous two topics, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a miserable schedule on the pitching side, and it’s largely because they’ll play four weekend games at Coors. Note: It doesn’t help that they begin Week 8 with three road games against a San Diego Padres offense that ranks second in baseball in runs per game (5.73), with that rate almost identical if split between home/road. The Dodgers are currently without Walker Buehler (blister), are awaiting CT scan results on Dustin May’s left foot and haven’t made it clear where Tony Gonsolin fits in the Week 8 rotation. Clayton Kershaw (4.60 ERA in 22 career starts) and Julio Urias (7.71 ERA in three starts and two relief appearances) are the only current Dodgers starters with any sort of extensive experience at Coors. Two-start pitcher Kershaw, naturally, still warrants your lineup spot, as does closer Kenley Jansen, but that’s about where you should draw the line in shallow mixed leagues.
Among the teams scheduled to face a greater-than-usual number of left- or right-handed starting pitchers are the Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Padres and Mariners, who are scheduled to face three left-handers; Pirates, who are scheduled to face eight right-handers; Blue Jays, who are scheduled to face seven right-handers; and Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Marlins, Brewers and Cardinals, who are scheduled to face six right-handers. Among the hitters you should activate accordingly: Maikel Franco (72% available in ESPN leagues), a .271/.345/.465 hitter against lefties between 2019-20; Matt Kemp (97% available), a .324/.405/.486 hitter against lefties this season; Brad Miller (80%), a .280/.394/.512 hitter against righties this season; Kevin Pillar (62%), a .288/.344/.559 hitter against lefties this season; Pat Valaika (97%), a .242/.303/.493 career hitter against lefties; and Daniel Vogelbach (97%), a .217/.345/.435 career hitter against righties.
Astros-Dodgers about more than just bad blood
The Houston Astros have more pressing issues than their 2017 misdeeds.
While their cheating scandal will again be part of the narrative when they face the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend, the reality of 2020 is the Astros are under .500 and — despite being a virtual lock for the postseason because of this season’s new format and competing in a poor division — jockeying for the best possible playoff seed.
They’ll also be facing a Dodgers team that holds the best record in baseball and is the favorite to win the World Series.
“The Dodgers have an unbelievable team. They pitch really well. They play defense. They hit. They have played a lot better baseball than we have this year. And that’s what we’re focused on,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman told ESPN. “We got beat twice by them last time we played them. For us, it’s about trying to find a way to be a good baseball team because they’re hard to beat.”
Tempers flared in Houston in late July when the teams met for the first time since an MLB investigation revealed the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based sign-stealing system during their 2017 championship run. That run culminated in a World Series victory for the Astros in seven games over the Dodgers.
During a two-game sweep by L.A., hard-throwing reliever Joe Kelly tossed a pitch in the area of Bregman’s head and taunted shortstop Carlos Correa after striking him out, prompting both benches to clear. Kelly later received an eight-game suspension for his actions, reduced to five games on appeal.
Kelly’s pouty expression, directed at Correa, has since been immortalized in a mural in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, a few miles from Dodger Stadium.
“You can’t look back at what happened. At this point in the season, every game is crucial. When you’re playing against a great team like the Dodgers, you have to be ready to go. You have to be at your best and ready to play, and not think about anything else,” Bregman said. “These games are bigger games for us than they are for the Dodgers just because of where we are in the season. We need to win. We’re playing .500 baseball right now and need to start playing better as a unit. You have to do that in order to beat a team like the Dodgers. The intensity is definitely going to be there for us because these are must-win ballgames.
“The Dodgers are the best team in baseball. Our focus has to be on trying to win a baseball game. We need to put together good team at-bats, and we need to hit with runners in scoring position. And they have a great pitching staff so that’s tough to do. And we have to play solid defense. And you have to pitch well. They have an unbelievable lineup, All-Stars all the way through that lineup. That’s what we’re focused on.”
Though the Astros apologized this spring and said they believed they had the team to win in 2017, without sign-stealing, the scandal didn’t just disappear. Calls for Houston to vacate the title and players to be punished echoed loudly throughout the game. But once the sports world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, big-picture attention shifted from disparaging the Astros for banging trash cans to coming up with ways to put together an abbreviated championship season.
The Astros caught another break when the season restart required competing without fans as part of MLB’s expansive health and safety protocols. Before the pandemic, outraged fans had anticipated Houston’s visits to their home ballparks to voice their displeasure at players they considered cheaters.
Still, the fact that the players themselves were not punished by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who granted them immunity during the league’s investigation, did not sit well with many of their opponents.
“Sometimes you simply will not be able to change people’s perspective. They are going to think what they are going to think. And that’s fine. It’s their prerogative,” Correa said. “For many, it did not matter that we asked for forgiveness. We were accused of not being honest in our apology and all that. We said we were sorry. We were honest in our apology. And now it’s about playing baseball. We have to focus on our job, which is trying to make the playoffs and win a World Series again. That is our only focus. It cannot be on anything else.”
Said Bregman: “Like so many teams, our team has gone through a ton of adversity with injuries this year. And our team has done a great job of being resilient and really coming together. Each day that goes by we’re trying, we’re trying every single day, to move on and worry about playing baseball. So that’s what matters. If you focus on anything else besides winning games, you’re not doing your job.”
In looking back at the first Dodgers series this season, Bregman’s attention is on correcting his mistakes. And, maybe more than occasionally, taking in a Mookie Betts at-bat.
“There was a ball hit to my left that I tried too much,” Bregman said of a throwing error that contributed to four fifth-inning runs in Los Angeles’ 5-2 win July 28. “I threw the ball home but should have just gone to second base and tried to turn a double play that way. But since I threw the ball home, we didn’t. It was an error. The inning went on and you can’t give extra outs to a team that is that talented and that good.
“And Mookie has been unbelievable. Definitely one of my favorite players to watch,” Bregman said. “I personally try and learn a lot from just watching his swings. I think he does so many good things mechanically that I try and incorporate. And what he does a great job of is hitting a ball in the air to the pull side of the field. And when you pull a ball in the air correctly, with backspin inside the baseball, I love it. And that’s cool, man.”
As for Kelly, the Dodgers activated him off the injured list, where he had been because of right shoulder inflammation, but the reliever will serve his five-game suspension and will not be available for the series.
“[Joe Kelly] is one of the best pitchers in the majors. The Dodgers have so many of those. And all we want to do is compete and show who is best that day,” Correa said. “We are athletes. And sometimes we say things we don’t mean in the heat of the moment. But what the Astros and the Dodgers want is to compete and show who the best is. This is an important series, and if that is what it takes for people to tune in, then that’s great.
“Every team wants to play on Sunday Night Baseball because everybody is watching,” he said. “All the players are traveling and they want to see the game on the plane. Whenever there is Sunday Night Baseball, so many teams are flying to another city. It’s the one game we all get to watch. And because baseball is not the most-watched sport, rivalries like Dodgers-Astros, and the history that we have now, are going to make people tune in and watch. And that’s important. It’s important to our game that it becomes must-see TV.”
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