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Price Is Wrong, Bryce Is Walking, Cubs Are Crushing: This Particular Week in Baseball

In which good teams shrug off bad free agent signings, Bryce Harper is bypassed without shame or repercussion, and Robinson Cano shreds the league in secret.

by Matthew Kory
May 9 2016, 4:44pm

Photo by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever tried to explain baseball to a child? As a father, this is now pretty much the only thing I do, and I've found it very useful in revealing the game's strange logic and deep randomness. Why do you hit the ball and run to the right? Why can't you run to the left? Why four balls for a walk but three for a strikeout? Where, exactly, is the base called shortstop? These are normal questions for a seven-year-old to ask, and honestly kind of difficult ones for an ostensible adult to answer.

Seven-Year-Old: Dad, why can the runner not run on a fly ball?

Me: Because when the ball is in the air the base runner isn't allowed to get to the next base unless the ball drops.

Seven-Year-Old: But the batter runs when the ball is in the air.

Me: That's because he's hoping the fielder drops it.

Seven-Year-Old: But doesn't the base runner hope he drops it, too?

Me: Yes.

Read More: Free Baseball With Dave Brown: Tim Lincecum Tries To Get His Freak On Again

Seven-Year-Old: [Silence]

Me: Let's get ice cream!

Walking and Walking and Walking and...

If Bryce Harper had known that he wouldn't need his bat last weekend, I'm sure he could have found some more creative things to do with it. The Washington Nationals slugger and reigning MVP came to the plate seven times on Sunday and was intentionally walked for six of them; for the seventh, the Chicago Cubs just hit him. It was the cherry on top of the robust heap of dogshit that the Nationals produced in their four-game series with the Cubs. The Nationals were swept, in case that metaphor wasn't clear, and Harper was walked 13 times. Normally that would be an open invitation for the rest of the lineup to put the screws to the Cubs staff, but the Nationals seized upon it as an opportunity to fill their sports diapers to beat the band. Ryan Zimmerman, batting directly behind Harper, left 14 runners on base—not in this series. On Sunday. For his part, Harper managed to score three times in four games despite taking his on-base percentage from .372 to .432.

This recalls the strategy the entire league used against Barry Bonds back when he was busy breaking the sport. It's a shame that the Cubs and manager Joe Maddon were able to get away with this because now we may see more of it. Intentional walks are right up there with instant replay reviews during the ninth innings of 8-2 games in terms of things baseball needs more of. So yeah, let's bring those on.

Rich but sad...that Drake look. Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Mo Money, Mo Problems

As we will discuss later, the Cubs are the class of baseball. It's not much of a secret. People were saying it before the season started, and they are currently three up on the White Sox for best record in baseball. Things are not perfect in Cubland. Prized offseason free agent and St. Louis Cardinals defector Jason Heyward has been awful at the plate, putting up .202/.313/.253 in the first month-plus of the season—a slash line that you'd expect from a backup catcher with a bum knee and a severe flu, not a 26-year-old with an eight-year, $184 million contract. He can only get better from here.

And yet, the Cubs are fine. You don't hear Cubs fans saying, "If only Heyward would start hitting, we'd be undefeated." Or maybe you do in Chicago, I don't know, I haven't visited recently. But it would make sense if Cubs fans were still in a state of mild shock, akin to stepping on a rake made of sex and money. Heyward has been authentically bad, and the team is dominating the game all the same.

The Boston Red Sox are in a similar, if slightly leakier, boat. Perhaps this boat is slightly smaller, older, and is kept afloat mostly with boogers and Big League Chew. To lose the metaphor, this is about David Price. Price, a former Cy Young winner, was the best pitcher available on the free-agent market this past winter, and Boston won the bidding by offering him $217 million over seven years. Price has put up a 6.75 ERA over his first seven starts; this is not a three- or four-start slump, and while it is still early, seven is a significant enough number of games to make Red Sox fans nervous.

The even more concerning number—worse than the seven starts, or the $217 million—is the drop-off in velocity evident in all of Price's pitches this season. His fastball has gone from 95 mph last season to 93 mph this season. Yes, it's early and, yes, pitchers typically throw harder as the season goes on and the weather warms up. Last April, Price averaged 94.24 mph on his four-seam fastball. This April, it was 93.23; in two starts this May it's been 92.7 mph.

We're talking about small bits here. Small samples for Heyward who has over 3,500 plate appearances in his career, and small samples for Price who has almost 1,500 innings pitched in his. They'll probably both be fine. Right? Sure! That's what life teaches us. When there's a problem it always works itself out. Thanks, baseball! Thanks, life!

Lot of different ways to win. Even ones involving Javy Baez. Photo by David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Top Five of the Moment

During my extensive research for this piece, which may or may not consist of feeding the cat, taking out the garbage, and calling up the MLB standings, I became aware that there are, in fact, other outlets offering Top Five lists. Sure, they don't have a similarly snappy name—ours rolls off the tongue like breakable dishware off the hands of a small child, and yes I've been doing some premium Dadding of late—but they do purport to offer the exact same thing as the Top Five of the Moment. Some even offer reasons for their rankings! Let's take a moment to see what our competitors are thinking.

Five Thirty Eight says:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. New York Mets
  3. Washington Nationals
  4. Boston Red Sox
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers

FanGraphs has:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. New York Mets
  3. Washington Nationals
  4. Los Angeles Dodgers
  5. Boston Red Sox

According to Baseball Prospectus, it's:

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. New York Mets
  3. Washington Nationals
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Seattle Mariners

So you probably have some idea what this list will look like. The challenging part, for me and everyone else attempting this important journalistic task, is figuring out which team to put fifth on this list. It could have been the Dodgers; they aren't blowing anyone's doors off, but they are a deep, strong team. Same could be said for the San Francisco Giants. The Baltimore Orioles are in first place in the American League East, a half-game up on Boston as I write this, and the O's are as worthy of the spot as anyone.

Perhaps the team getting screwed worst, if a team can really be screwed by some internet doofus writing words on a computer, are the Mariners. Have you seen what Robinson Cano is doing of late? Me neither, but the numbers look very good! As I haven't seen it, I'm not going to write about it. But perhaps you should look elsewhere for more information on this topic because it's quite something.

Photograph depicts ball spinning at actual speed. Photo by David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

5. Boston Red Sox

Quick Comment: Going 4-2 against a last-place team is expected. When that last place team is the Yankees, it means the season has been a success so far.

Less Quick Comment: In exactly the same 41.1 innings, David Price has allowed more than three times as many runs as Steven Wright. This is baseball, the game of skill, in case you'd forgotten.

4. Washington Nationals

Quick Comment: If you had to sum up their series against the Cubs in one word, "ouch" might be as good an answer as any.

Less Quick Comment: The Nationals won five of six against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals before losing four straight to the Cubs. You can't read too much into a four-game series in early May, but doesn't it kind of feel like the Nationals missed their window last season?

3. Chicago White Sox

Quick Comment: The White Sox should pretend they meant to sign Dexter Fowler instead of Austin Jackson and sue the Cubs. "No! We signed the other formerly mediocre center fielder. No, the one who is crazy good now, not the one who is bad."

Less Quick Comment: The White Sox are winning with defense as much as any team in baseball. The hitting is fine, though maybe not quite as good as it's been early, and their pitching has been quite good but is probably a bit over its head at the moment, at least according to their peripherals. But their defense may actually be this good. The crazy thing is that the defensive difference has mostly been the work of just one guy: Adam Eaton. I won't pretend to know if that's sustainable, but it is kind of weird.

2. New York Mets

Quick Comment: The following are facts: Bartolo Colon hit a homer. Bartolo Colon is about to turn 43 years old. Bartolo Colon is a pitcher. Bartolo Colon is pleasantly plump. Baseball is the best.

Less Quick Comment: The good news is the Nationals just lost four straight to the Cubs. It helps when your main competitor has to face what looks to be one of the best regular season teams in the past two decades while you get the Stupid Padres. The bad news is the Mets haven't had to face the Cubs yet. The first of those seven games won't arrive until June 30, so there's still time to cover the windows with plywood and stock the basement with canned food and TP.

King. Photo by Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

1. Chicago Cubs

Quick Comment: What do you say about the team that has everything?

Less Quick Comment: On top of everything else, just about everyone on this team is a plus defender. Other than Jorge Soler, who has been pressed into duty due to Kyle Schwarber's injury, everyone on the damn team is at least decent defensively. Isn't that annoying? Like, can't there be something wrong with these guys?

Bottom Three of the Moment

You won't believe it, but the order from last week is exactly the same. The three worst teams in baseball aren't just bad; they're consistently bad. So that's something, I guess.

3. Houston Astros

Quick Comment: If you reversed their record, they'd be in first place, which may explain some of the drinking laws in Texas.

Less Quick Comment: The Astros team ERA is 4.69, which A) nice, and B) is shitty. Given that they pitch most of the innings, it would stand to reason that the starters are the big culprits, and they mostly are. But if you sort by runs allowed, it doesn't take long to get to Ken Giles, the young relief ace Houston got from the Philadelphia Phillies for a massive prospect haul this past off-season. Giles has given up 12 runs in 11.2 innings pitched. Scott Feldman has thrown 24.2 innings and given up just 10 runs, and he's Scott Feldman.

2. Minnesota Twins

Quick Comment: The Twins have already used eight different starting pitchers, which is a bit like trying to start your car with eight different keys you found in a desk drawer.

Less Quick Comment: Trevor May, who is now a reliever, has a lot of strikeouts. The Twins don't do strikeouts generally, so you have to wonder if, like cavemen seeing fire for the first time, they are scared shitless.

1. Atlanta Braves

Quick Comment: Is Julio Teheran good? Eh. He's not bad. So, trade him, right? Yeah, probably.

Less Quick Comment: Since I wrote last week's column, the Braves went 1-5, which was an even worse winning percentage than they'd managed to that point. Julio Teheran is still on the Braves, by the way.

The Match-Up of the Year of the Week

Last week, I suggested you pay attention to the Cubs–Pirates series. That was a barn burner, and I hope you were not watching from a barn! There will be less property damage when the Tampa Bay Rays meet the Mariners in Seattle. The Mariners leveraged some games against the Oakland A's and the Astros into a bit of a lead in the AL West, while the Rays took four straight against the Dodgers and the Angels, have passed .500, and are just 2.5 games behind the Orioles in the AL East. Both teams will use their aces in this series, although not against each other, which is how it should be. Who wants two good pitchers facing off against each other? Anyway, because of that there are now two games in this series that you should watch, and I suggest you watch them.

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Chicago Cubs
Boston Red Sox
Atlanta Braves
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jason heyward
bryce harper
david price
robinson cano
ryan zimmerman
bad free agent signings
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coastal biases
julio teheran