Other than coasters, designer socks, and people who can't stop talking about their gardens, baseball fights are about the most boring thing imaginable. Picture a bunch of people at the grocery store, all milling about in the fresh vegetable section trying not to bump their baskets too much or too hard while passive-aggressively positioning themselves to get first choice of the organic beets. This is your average baseball fight. It's essentially a walk to the farmer's market with the vague possibility of swearing. That's what made Sunday's go between the Rangers and Blue Jays so strange. It was not that.
Hitting But Not The Baseball Kind
What happened Sunday afternoon was the Rangers and Blue Jays staged an actual fight. It featured an actual punch, delivered by Rougned Odor and received, with proper postage, by Jose Bautista's face. Following that, that there was lots of yelling, swearing, jumping around, pointing, swearing, and more swearing. Following that, a substantial portion of each team was shown the door.
Aesthetically, this was a good baseball fight. It had actual violence and true bloodlust, two components of real actual fights, but two aspects frequently missing from baseball fights because the players are typically too busy jostling for better beet position.
This is not to say it was good. It was not good. I would go so far as to say it was bad. Human beings attempting to injure one another on a baseball field is not good. And yet it was notable, and the fans certainly seemed more energetic than they had been pre-fight. At one point they even started chanting, "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" which makes sense if you make sure you don't think about it at all, wait no, stop stop STOP awwww. You're right, it was dumb.
Given the history between these teams (history defined as Jose Bautista bat flipping the Rangers 2015 season through a plate glass window like Jackie Chan flipping an anonymous henchman) and all the supporting shenanigans that followed, it's perhaps surprising we didn't get here sooner. But whether we took that left at Albuquerque or not, we're here now and that's all that matters. Well, all that matters until the Commissioner's office suspends half the rosters for both teams.
Baseball fights are a lot like fast food. They can be enjoyable, but as soon as you finish watching one, you start questioning why the hell you just did. This fits that bill for me. It was a good fight as far as baseball fights go, but I'm not sure I don't feel a bit dirtier for deliberately seeking out the highlights and the post-game comments of a game I wouldn't normally give two shits about. Baseball games aren't and shouldn't be about fights for the same reason baseball should have the DH: because this isn't the skill set you're paying for.
All the drooling and bloodlust amounts to very little in the end (though in this case, probably slightly more than usual), and for my part, I already regret bringing it up.
Hitting But The Baseball Kind
Since the 1860s, New York City has been burying people in a mass grave on an island in the Long Island Sound. It's called Hart Island and it's where the remains of the unclaimed, unwanted, and unloved are unceremoniously dumped. In some ways this is not unlike what the Red Sox offense has been doing to opposing pitchers. Boston's offense leads baseball, having totaled 229 runs while the next closest team, the Cubs, sit at 214. The Red Sox are on pace (I know, I know) to score 976 runs. Should they reach that number, it would be the second highest total scored by a team since the 2000 season, only behind the 2000 White Sox who scored 978.
This is a very different offensive environment from then, for a number of reasons up to and including PEDs, greenies, juiced baseballs, and whatever other insanity lurked beyond, so should the Red Sox come close to 976, they would be one of the best offenses in baseball history.
And even all this doesn't quite do the Red Sox justice. Let's take a trip to Arbitrary Endpoints Village, a town with only three letters in it if you start counting after the A in Village. Over the last seven games (the length of Boston's home stand), the Red Sox scored 73 runs. They failed to score 10 or more in just two of those games. The Red Sox starting lineup features eight guys with OPSs in the 700s, six of whom are over .800, three of whom are over .900, and David Ortiz who is at 1.101. Right now this is a mid-aughts lineup, and the major reason a team with an under-performing rotation featuring Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, and whomever is manning the fifth slot at the moment finds itself tied for first place at press time.
The Cubs are excellent because they are fantastic hitters, terrific pitchers, and exceptional fielders. The Red Sox are really only one of those things, but at least so far, they're a damn sight better than anyone else. That may not be sustainable, it may not even be ultimately meaningful, but like a rollerblading inflatable Raptors mascot cartoonishly crashing to the floor, it's endlessly fun to watch.
Top Five of The Moment
This week, it's the return of the undead American League to the T5OTM. Previous editions of this feature have contained as few as one AL team and that was mostly out of a sense of requirement. How else am I going to make fun of them if I don't push one into the top five? But this week it's the NL who has taken a bit of a tumble. The Nationals, Pirates, Mets, and Dodgers all had mediocre weeks at a time in the season when mediocre weeks still have an outsized effect on the overall record. Meanwhile, the Red Sox, Orioles, and Rangers all have seven or eight wins in their last 10 to commend them, and so you will find more of their contemporaries below.
Yet with all that said, the Cubs are still the best and it's not even close.
5. Red Sox
Quick Comment: The Red Sox offense is bludgeoning everything in sight so how come nobody has brought Curt Schilling to a game yet?
Less Quick Comment: David Price may have figured out a problem with his delivery which got him knocked around over his first seven starts. If Price stops pitching like an injured Clay Buchholz and starts pitching reliably like David Price, the Red Sox could actually get better. In Price's starts, Boston has lost games they've scored 7 and 8 runs because Price couldn't get out of his own way. He can't be expected to be perfect, but any decent pitcher should win when he gets seven runs of support, and with this tweak to his delivery, perhaps Price has re-entered the realm of decent pitchers.
Quick Comment: The Cardinals solve positional problems the same way Clark Kent stopped bad guys: by yanking a previously unseen superhero out of a phone booth.
Less Quick Comment: Aledmys Diaz is perhaps the best hitting player in baseball nobody has ever heard of or knows anything about. Diaz is hitting .377/.410/.667 which is basically what you'd expect out of a great year of Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. Who is Diaz? He's a Cuban-born hitter who... uh... uh... um... yeah. At the plate he's been insane. He's been the best hitter on a team that's actually played as well as any in the NL save the Cubs. Whether he'll stay that way or not is a bit tougher to decipher considering he's an uh... uh... um... yeah. Stay tuned I guess is what I'm saying. It's possible the Cardinals have turned nothing into wine yet again.
3. White Sox
Quick Comment: When you're picking up Baltimore's tossed off starters you can't expect to win. That's what makes Sunday's game so amazing! Just kidding they lost.
Less Quick Comment: Chris Sale continues to strike fewer hitters out, and it continues to not fucking matter. The ace starter shut down the Yankees going nine full innings on just 99 pitches. Yes it was just the Yankees who are to baseball offenses what a dead frog is to running marathons, but if the White Sox are to remain competitive by the end of the season, having Chris Sale both healthy and as fresh as possible could go a long way. This new less-strikeout-y Sale might be a new way to get at that.
Quick Comment: Remember how Buck Showalter used to have all those silly clubhouse rules? Well those are a thing of the past! In fact, Showalter recently made a clubhouse rule to ensure it: no silly clubhouse rules ever. Heck of a job, Buck!
Less Quick Comment: The Orioles just keep winning. They did lose Sunday night, but that came after taking seven straight from Detroit, Minnesota, and Oakland. Baltimore's schedule hasn't been especially difficult so far, and a third of their positive run differential has come courtesy of five games and five wins against the awful Twins, but it's worth noting they're a game over .500 against a combination of Boston, the White Sox, Toronto, and Texas. We're not at the point of figuring out, as Denis Green famously put it, if the Orioles are who we thought they were, but they're ranked second because there's an increasing chance that they are, in fact, much better than that.
Quick Comment: Will any other team challenge for the top spot? I'll answer that question with this question: will the Cubs join the choice few eaten alive by pigs each year?
Less Quick Comment: The Cubs pitching and defense essentially turns all opposing offenses into the Atlanta Braves. Their offense essentially turns all opposing pitching staffs into the Cincinnati Reds. Playing against a half-Braves, half-Reds mutant team every day seems like a recipe for wins and also a really bad horror movie.
Bottom Three of the Moment
It's a broken record over here at the bt3otm (no, they don't deserve capitalization). Just when you think the Astros might win a few, they don't. The Twins seem destined to underachieve even the least optimistic projections, and the Braves are redefining what it means to suck.
Quick Comment: Is it possible Dallas Keuchel's struggles are due to unbalanced beard density? No, but let's start that rumor just for fun!
Less Quick Comment: Look at the top of the leaderboards on FanGraphs and you'll see baseball's leading hitter. He's not Mike Trout, not Bryce Harper, not even Dexter Fowler. He's Jose Altuve and he is playing like a man two Altuves high. Unfortunately, that's mostly the beginning and end of the list when it comes to the Astros. Oh wait! They haven't been eaten by mutant bees, though there is still quite a bit of the season left.
Quick Comment: Byron Buxton is hitting in Triple-A, so here's hoping he can make it back up the majors soon because the Twins are getting production from at least one outfielder on any given night and that needs to end.
Less Quick Comment: Congratulations to the Twins for winning their 10th game on Sunday night. The Cubs won their 10th game on April 18. That was for context. Rude context, but context.
Quick Comment: You know, it is sort of brave for the Braves to put a team this bad on the field. In that odd way, it's taken this level of awfulness to un-racist their team name. At some point though they'll probably win a bit and then, yuck racist all over again.
Less Quick Comment: The Braves have scored 109 runs, least in baseball. It's like if they opted to start the top four hitters in the Cubs lineup in their lineup and then nobody else, accepting the next five slots will be outs every time through the lineup. At least that would be more interesting.
The Match-Up of the Year of the Week: Marlins at Phillies
So. This is weird. I'm going to ask you, as part of your baseball watching homework, to take in the Phillies playing the Marlins. WAIT WAIT Let me explain! Neither team is under .500, which seems like a fittingly negative way to say both teams are over .500. The Phillies are just a game out of the NL East lead, and that would be remarkable any day of the season including the first and second days of the season. That it's today, a month and a half into the season is nuts. The Marlins are in the same boat, and dare I say it, one of these teams is falling out of this boat. This is too small a boat and the NL East only has room for one weirdly over-performing luck-fest of a baseball team. Who will it be? Watch this series, take notes, find out, and report back to me. You know, so I don't have to watch it.