Welcome to This Particular Week in Baseball, the only baseball column with actual Pokemon Go™ characters hidden throughout the text! Good luck catching that Wurmple in the sixth paragraph! This particular week, we note and dissect in perhaps overly bloody fashion the first big pre-deadline trade, locate the problems with the once-but-no-longer division-leading Seattle Mariners, and ponder what it means to be an injured trade target. To the baseball talkings!
First Big Trade! Involves, Uh, Drew Pomeranz!
The trade deadline is just two weeks away, and the first big shoe dropped last week. Large shoes are heavy, and can make a startling sound when dropped from a sufficient height, but fortunately nobody was injured here. Some Red Sox fans might have been shocked, though, as Boston traded away an 18-year-old pitcher named Anderson Espinoza—the team's best pitching prospect, and probably their best since Jon Lester 11 years ago—to the San Diego Padres for Drew Pomeranz.
Pomeranz might have been the most appealing pitcher on the market, in that he offered the strongest recent performance and is also under team control for two more seasons after this one. He's a strong get for Boston, especially considering the back of their rotation may as well be culled from a Denny's parking lot at 4 AM. No, not 2 AM. You have to go back at 4 AM to find these dudes. Pomeranz will start this Wednesday, which means Boston can avoid putting Clay Buchholz, Sean O'Sullivan, Henry Owens, or Roenis Elias, all of whom have ERAs over 5.0—Elias's is over 15.00!—out there to flush away another game. Just for that, this year it's a win.
Pomeranz does have some grinds in his coffee, though. Since coming into the majors in 2011, he's never been a particularly good pitcher. He also has never thrown much more than 130 innings in a season, and that's crediting him for innings pitched in the minors. In the majors, Pomeranz had never eclipsed 96.2 before this season; he's currently at 102. So there are both injury and effectiveness concerns, which you probably don't want if you're giving up your best pitching prospect in over a decade. Still, if Pomeranz holds together, Boston will have four average-to-good starting pitchers and the best offense in baseball. That's a pretty good place to start in the playoffs.
Say this for Dave Dombrowski: his trades are bold enough to generate extremely passionate responses, both pro and con. Some people are going to hate this deal, especially if Pomeranz doesn't pitch well or gets hurt or both. But GMs can't predict the future. Espinoza is a steep price to pay in any deal, especially for a pitcher, in Pomeranz, who has some big questions attached. It's a big chance the Red Sox are taking. David Ortiz is retiring, and the Red Sox want to win this October; an 18-year-old in Single-A is too far away to put his hands squarely on the deck. Another weighty shoe could be falling any time now.
As for the Padres, considering where they are (pretty much nowhere) and where they're likely to be in the next few seasons (same), this is a pretty great deal! They paid very little to get Pomeranz before the season, and have already got everything they could have hoped out of it. Yes, 18-year-old starters aren't the surest of things, and Espinoza could be a thing of beauty or one of the many 18-year-old pitchers who don't ever quite make it. The Padres have nothing but time.
Hey! Remember when the Mariners used to be good? I don't mean like in 2001, though that was also fun. I'm talking about this June, the month before this one. Back on June 2nd, Seattle had a lead in the division, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz were crushing the ball, and summer was almost here. Good things coming! Now summer is here, and the Mariners are 8.5 games out, behind both the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros. They're 15-24 since June 2nd, and there is talk about them selling at the deadline instead of buying. What happened?
Most glaringly, the starting pitching kind of fell apart without Felix Hernandez. The bullpen somehow struck out more batters per nine innings (K/9) than any team in baseball, didn't walk too many, and yet still got beat up. The defense was bad even when the team was winning, and it has remained bad while they've been losing. The pen should improve and so should the rotation with Felix due back soon, but a team in the thick of a division battle doesn't get to fall apart for a month. It doesn't take much to undo a baseball season. About a month, as it turns out.
The Sad Ballad of Rich Hill
Sunday was going to be a big day for Rich Hill and all of baseball's Rich Hill-wanting teams. The Oakland A's starter had an afternoon start against the Toronto Blue Jays, and scouts were stacked upon scouts behind the plate, ready to get one last look before they wrote up reports full of weirdly snipped syntax to their GMs about whether Hill was worthy of great prospects. The A's wanted Hill to be great because they were trying to win a dang baseball game, and also so they could cash him in; other teams wanted Hill to be great so they could grab him and make the playoffs. A lot was on the line.
And then, because Rich Hill is the unluckiest pitcher of his generation, it wasn't. Because Rich Hill's start lasted five pitches. He was taken out of the game due to a blister, a problem he had once already this season; he also had a groin injury that put him on the disabled list in early June. So now we don't know if Hill will be able to pitch at all before the trade deadline or how good he'd have been had he pitched on Sunday. Potential trade partners don't know what they would get out of Hill, either.
The A's bought a lottery ticket in Hill—it was one of those one-year, $6 million lottery tickets—and it paid off, but they can't cash it in because of poor Rich Hill's blisters and groin strains and general Rich Hill-ish luck. The deadline is two weeks from now, and the A's need Hill to have one more good start before then if they're going to get the return they want in a deal. That start might not happen. Then what do the A's do? Keeping Hill would be silly, and unfair to a pitcher who deserves a shot at pitching some meaningful innings. Dealing him for little would be exceptionally disappointing. Something is going to happen here, so stay tuned.
Top Three of the Moment
I continue to think the Chicago Cubs are the best team in baseball. I'm sorry. I know the San Francisco Giants have a better record. I know the Washington Nationals do, too. I know, I know, I know. I'm giving it one more week before we declare moving day here at the TTOTM. One more week. Unless the Cubs win a ton of games between now and then. Then it's all nah nah nah-nah-nah.
3. Washington Nationals
The Nationals don't have the best offense or bullpen. They're not the best defensive team in baseball. Their rotation is excellent, but would you pick it over, say, the Dodgers or the Cubs? Or the Giants, or the Indians? I'm not sure I would, but baseball doesn't give points for winning a ranking contest, and very good is good enough. That's where the Nationals are. You probably wouldn't pick them to win it all, but picking against them doesn't sound all that smart, either. Being a very good team: it's pretty good.
2. San Francisco Giants
The Giants have another odd mid-week two-game series with the Red Sox, this one in Boston. They're throwing Jake Peavy and Matt Cain in that one, and neither guy looks like a good bet to be successful against Boston's offense. The good news, for the Giants, is that it kind of doesn't matter. The Giants are 5.5 games ahead of the Dodgers, who get to face the Nationals in DC, in a series that (spoiler) I probably should've talked about in more detail below but didn't. No matter! The Giants can afford a loss or two this week, is the point, as the Dodgers likely aren't going to do much winning. Ah, the gentle breezes that you can only feel at the top of the mountain.
1. Chicago Cubs
Is it possible the Cubs have the worst starters in baseball over the past month? Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta have been getting trounced of late: Lester's ERA is almost 7.0 over that period, while Arrieta's mid-season malaise continues. The numbers for the rest of the rotation—John Lackey, Kyle Hendricks, and Jason Hammel—are all about the same, at least when you look at xFIP. Baseball being baseball, Hendricks has pitched to an ERA less than 1.0 while the other two are in the 6s, but their underlying performances are all about the same: eh.
And still here they are, the proclaimed best team in baseball. Why? Because one month of baseball may be enough to sink a team in a dogfight for the postseason, but a team way out ahead can afford a lousy month. The Cubs are better than this, by a lot. Maybe they're not what they were in April or May, but still, they're much better than this. I think.
Bottom Three of the Moment
The Tampa Bay Rays are pushing hard into this group and yuck, why would anyone push hard to get into this group?
3. Minnesota Twins
Do you know what's fun about the Twins pitching? Literally nothing. Trevor May and Michael Tonkin should both be good, but they're mostly not. The rest shouldn't be good and aren't. Sometimes there is useful stuff in garbage so that's not to say the Twins can't pawn some of the shinier bits of garbage on the roster off to other teams. They probably will. But good gosh what a collection of blah and barf and huh? Also they just fired their GM on Monday. Good times all around.
2. Cincinnati Reds
There is probably something about the Reds I should tell you, like they did something notable or have new throwback socks. But I am not going to tell you any of that, because it would be unfair to you, because it would be so boring. Right now, they're inert as inert can be. Maybe they'll deal someone for someone else before the deadline. There's a headline: "Reds Move a Guy for Someone Else." Subhed: "We felt it was a move we could make," says a Reds official. They should go for that! It's hard to make the situation much worse than "irrelevant."
1. Atlanta Braves
The Braves might not sell. They are 23.5 games out in their division but they like starter Julio Teheran despite teams offering minor planets and delicious chocolates in return, and may keep him. They might've traded excellent reliever Arodys Vizcaino, but they just lost him to the disabled list, something he won't be able to escape until just before the deadline. This is shaping up to be perhaps the most Braves deadline in the most Braves season. Should the Braves trade Teheran? If the return for Drew Pomeranz is any indication, YES. If the Vizcaino injury tells them anything, YES. If they take note of where they are in the division and where they are likely to be next season and in a few seasons, YES YES YES. But, you know, they're the Braves. So we'll see.
Matchup of the Year of the Week: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees
After losing two of three at home to Boston, the Yankees find themselves in a bad spot. They're 8.5 games behind Baltimore for first in the American League East, and behind a whopping seven teams for a spot in the AL Wild Card, but there is good news. The good news is they get a clean shot at the first-place Orioles, starting Monday, for four games. If the Yankees can manage a sweep, the front office might have to reconsider selling off Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, and/or Aroldis Chapman.
Anything less than a sweep, and, well, Yankees decision-makers are split on selling, with the baseball side wanting to do it and the Steinbrenner/Performative Grumpiness axis resisting it. But something is going to have to give, which means this is a huge series for more than just the participants. Many other teams are eyeing the Yankees should they decide to sell off any of the above-mentioned stars. If the Yankees win, their season goes on. If Baltimore wins, watch out for heavy falling shoes.
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