Three strikes 23rd April 2018

Happy Monday baseball fans! Reidball here to take my turn to summarise the last week’s top three stories in the world of Major League Baseball in this week’s edition of 3 strikes!

Strike One: The Boston Red Sox are still hot right now

The start of the regular season can be a gruelling time for some teams, maybe their starting rotation hasn’t found their groove yet or their defence is still sluggish after the offseason. The 2018 Boston Red Sox are not one of those teams. Coming into last Saturday night, they have opened the season to an eye-popping 17-2 which has happened only 6 times since 1900. They currently lead the MLB in several offense categories (Runs, Hits, RBIs, BA/OBP/SLG), have had tremendous performance from their pitching staff (1st in ERA+, FIP and bWAR, 2nd in ERA, 4th in WHIP) and playing defence like their gloves were made by King Midas himself (1st in Fld%, 2nd in RA/G). This team right now seems to have everything working towards their maximum potential, despite having key players like Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia on the disabled list.

Mookie Betts has currently been reminding everyone just how phenomenal a player he can be, hitting a .382/.469/.765 to date in 68 at bats with 10 walks and 6 home runs, good for the best OPS in MLB to date. New Red Sox Slugger J. D. Martinez, after signing on a £110 million / 5 year deal this offseason, has been giving his case that he’s worth the big money he was signed for, starting out with a very respectable .338/.365/.618 slash line in 68 at bats with 4 walks and 4 home runs, which for the record is a better slash line and overall production to Giancarlo Stanton, whom the Red Sox were initially after and who signed with the Yankees.

It’s not just the superstars that are pulling their weight in the line-up either; Mitch Moreland and Hanley Ramirez are likely making the hottest 1st base platoon in MLB, averaging 172 and 149 OPS+ stats, respectively, and the youngsters of Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers are showing the young blood can hold their own with a respectable 122 and 132 OPS+, not forgetting the backup shortstop Tzu-Wei Lin who is currently sitting on an OPS+ of 167 (19 plate appearances), shredding it up while Bogaerts is on the DL. The biggest hole in the Red Sox line up has to be the catching though; between Christian Vazquez, Blake Swihart and Sandy Leon, they have a combined OPS+ of 87, making an average contribution of 29 OPS+.

As equally impressive as the hitting, the Red Sox pitching staff are proving to be dominant: the starting rotation featuring Chris Sale (1.23 ERA, 1.60 FIP, 0.955 WHIP), Rick Porcello (1.40 ERA, 1.70 FIP, 0.818 WHIP), David Price (2.25 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 1.100 WHIP) and Eduardo Rodriguez (3.45 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 1.277 WHIP), has been one of the most reliable in the league to start the season. Their bullpen has also been very dependable, with only one loss reported in over 70 innings of relief pitching. Closer Craig Kimbrel is still rocking a 0.00 ERA. Yikes!

Stats this early in the season are not ones to extrapolate the rest of the season off of. That said, there’s no reason why the Red Sox can’t keep producing at a top of the league output. They have the potential, new Manager Alex Cora seems to be utilising it efficiently, and praying that the baseball gods don’t decide to smite the Red Sox for being too good, then the Red Sox could be seeing themselves winning the highly stacked AL East again this year.

Strike Two: the Oakland Athletics host a free game celebrating their 50th Birthday

Confession: I love the Oakland Athletics. Green and Gold are excellent colours for a team, Moneyball was a fantastic film and their ethos as a club is something I truly admire. This last Tuesday marked 50 years to the day since the premiere of the Oakland Athletics, and to celebrate the A’s had already celebrated the top 50 players in Oakland Athletics history, from Hall of Famer’s Rickey Henderson, Rollie Fingers, Dennis Eckersley, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas, to active players including Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Sonny Gray, Sean Doolittle, Stephen Vogt and Khris Davis (the only member still playing for the A’s).

The celebrations kept coming on Tuesday with a free game against the Chicago White Sox, the same team that was there on that fateful day 50 years before. Both teams were adorned in jaw-dropping throwback jerseys, the classic threads a testament to how timeless baseball style is. With free tickets came lots of fans, 46,028 fans to be precise (per A’s official statement) who were there to celebrate, from fans who were there 50 years ago (they were allocated the exact same seats in special recognition of their fandom) to first time visitors to the Coliseum. The majority of seats were general admission as well, allowing some fans once in a Blue Moon (not to be confused with A’s legend Blue Moon Odom) the chance to sit right behind home plate. The pregame ceremony was capped off with the first pitch from the opening day start from 50 years before, Lew Krausse.

The game itself did not disappoint the hype: the return of Trevor Cahill to the A’s raised questions as to how he would fair, being a late offseason acquisition, yet his performance was exactly what was needed: Seven scoreless innings with five hits and two walks, an impressive return for the veteran who gave the backdrop for an offensive display to keep the party going.

In the 1st inning, the A’s wasted no time to get on board, with Jed Lowrie launching a two out home run, igniting a rally that saw the next 5 batters get on base safely, with a Mark Canha 2 RBI single and a Stephen Piscotty 2 RBI double to bring the score up to 5-0 by the end of the inning. The A’s jumped on the Chi Sox again in the 4th, with a Jonathan Lucroy 2 RBI single, followed by a Matt Joyce double to bring Lucroy into scoring position and a Marcus Semien Sacrifice flyball to bring in the 3rd run of the inning. The last two runs from the A’s came in the 7th, with Matt Chapman taking a leadoff walk, followed by a Mark Canha double to bring them both into scoring position, allowing runs to be scored from a Piscotty sac fly and a Lucroy single. For the night, the 7-8-9 hitters of Canha, Piscotty and Lucroy combined for an insane 8/11 hits with 8 RBI, with many citing Canha’s latest fashion choice his newfound source of power.

Strike Three:No one cared who Mark Canha was until he put on the mask.

Aside from a shaky start from reliever Ryan Dull (season debut after DL stint), allowing two runs were allowed from a 2 run homer from Yoan Moncada, Dull struck out the next three batters in a row, showing that he is not easily shook and flashes of his dominance from 2016. That lead to rookie Lou Trivino to pitch the 9th, making his MLB debut. Perhaps it was nerves that lead to him loading the bases, making what should have been a simple close out of the game feel like it could go entirely wrong, but the rookie knuckled down and proceeded to strike out the last two batters. All in, the A’s won 10-2 on their 50th birthday in stellar fashion.

With talk of the A’s trying to secure a location in Oakland to build their new stadium, I’m hopeful that for the next 50 years the A’s will remain in the Bay Area and continue to show the baseball world that it’s impossible to not be romantic about baseball.

Strike Three: Sean Manaea throws his career-first No Hitter against the Red Sox.

Question: What’s hotter: The 2018 Boston Red Sox, or one Baby Giraffe?

If you asked anyone that question going into Saturday Night’s match up between the A’s and the Red Sox, many would have asked “What do giraffes have to do with the best team in baseball right now?” Well it turns out that on this fateful Saturday night, it was all to do with Sean “Baby Giraffe” Manaea, who in a spectacular display of pitching and a couple of lucky breaks on some close calls, joined the ranks of history by throwing a no hitter against the Red Sox. It was the 1st of the 2018 season, and only the 7th in Oakland Athletics history, the last time being Dallas Braden’s perfect game back in 2010.

Sean was tremendous on the mound, using a combination of three plus-rated pitches: fastball, change up and slider to rack up 10 strikeouts and just two walks towards his necessary 27 outs. In total he needed just 108 pitches, and his battery mate Jonathan Lucroy commented that “…that was the most well pitched, well executed game I’ve ever had behind the plate,”. His teammates provided for the most part impeccable defence, aside from a catching error charged to Marcus Semien on a fumbled catch in the 5th lead to Sandy Leon reaching 1st base. His teammates also provided sufficient run support to Manaea, with an RBI apiece from Jed Lowrie (now leading the AL in BA, beating Mookie Bets), Stephen Piscotty and Marcus Semien, all against Red Sox Ace Chris Sale. Overall a monumental performance from the Oakland A’s, just 4 days after their 50th birthday.

I wrote Strike One of this article on Saturday, where I was applauding the offensive contribution of the Red Sox to start this season off. They are still the top offensive contributor in the MLB at the moment, but Saturday night’s game against the A’s proved to be the reality check to remind them of their mortality. Sean Manaea himself continues to be on a hot streak, starting the season with a 3-2 record, a 1.23 ERA with 30 strikeouts and just 6 walks over 36 2/3 innings, making him the most valued SP to date in the MLB (based on bWAR). Here’s hoping he continues to be dominant, helping to anchor a questionable A’s starting rotation.

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