Amidst the madness that baseball has become, it is good to see managers who are given some authority making a difference. That is the case with the Red Sox and Alex Cora, who leads off this week’s Baseball or Bust.
You know you want a good notes column to catch you up on all the baseball happenings, both good and bad, some one-stop shopping that touches a lot of bases or as I like to say, one handful of baseball popcorn after another. Fans love nuggets and we at BallNine are here to bring you that kind of content as well as the in-depth Sunday pieces we deliver in The Story.
So let’s get started with a notes-filled edition of Baseball or Bust.
The Red Sox are off to a terrific start, first place in the AL East and Cora’s return to the dugout is a big reason for their surprising success. They can hit, leading the majors with a .272 batting average and .786 OPS.
Please refrain from the “He’s an Astros cheater!’’ comments about Cora. Move on, please. Save them for someone who cares. I’ve known Alex Cora since he was a player and pushed for him to become the Mets manager before they hired Mickey Callaway, but Fred Wilpon had other ideas. Cora would have been the perfect fit in New York, an ex-Met who knew what was right and what was wrong within the organization and with baseball. He is a baseball teacher who challenges players to get better.
But all that is Boston’s win right now. Cora knows that success comes with the little things, like getting closer Matt Barnes to throw strikes. Barnes earned his fifth save of the season in five tries Tuesday in a 2-1 win over the Mets at Citi Field and he did it by throwing strikes, nine of his 10 pitches were strikes against the heart of the Mets order. Attack is the order of the day.
“Baseball is losing its romanticism. Lose that and you lose it all.”
Barnes also mixed in a quick pitch strike that irritated Pete Alonso, who stood and glared at the pitcher, but that’s okay, this is competition – not a Kumbaya conference – and Cora gets that as well. He knows how to draw a line and where you stand. Too many managers are playing the “see no evil” game. Cora fixes problems and gets the players pulling in the same direction. He also believes in curve balls and fastballs, what a concept.
“In 2018 he did a hell of a job,’’ one talent evaluator told BallNine this week of those World Champion Red Sox. “Every guy on that team played their ass off for him.’’
The Red Sox’ strong start forced the Yankees into trading a good player in Mike Tauchman this week to the Giants, another surprising team, for lefty reliever Wandy Peralta. The Yankees knew they needed to beef up the bullpen from the left side because Justin Wilson is not as good as he was last year. Here is the scouting report on Peralta: “Good arm, good stuff, he’s not real consistent but where the Yankees are, he is a good get for them,’’ offered one scout.
Garrett Richards pitched his best game as a Red Sox on Tuesday night, and when Cora was asked “What did Richards have going for him tonight,’’ by Boston media legend Jonny Miller, Cora answered: “Besides everything? Everything. Mechanics. He was under control on the mound, good fastball, good curve ball and good slider and this is the guy we envisioned. We know stuff-wise he is one of the best in the league and if he can repeat his delivery, stay under control, we know he can do this every five days… We will keep working on the things he needs to do to keep getting better.’’
Notice the details of that answer.
It wasn’t: “He was really good tonight,’’ a comment most managers make these days. He was specific and here is what I like, Cora challenged Richards in a positive manner with his words. Too many managers are afraid of hurting players’ feelings. Cora challenges players and that’s a huge difference. In that way he is like the Rays’ Kevin Cash.
As for his power right-hander Barnes, Cora said, “He’s under control … you can see him developing into this guy who doesn’t abandon the strike zone and with his stuff and that is good to see.’’ Abandoning the strike zone has become a way of life in the majors, unfortunately.
Boston Closer Matt Barnes (Photo Rick Scuteri/Associated Press via AP)
The Red Sox are only playing .500 baseball at home but are 8-1 on the road.
Cora also is a big believer in his hitters hitting the ball the other way, unlike the managers who basically act like fans at a home run derby contest. “When we do that we are pretty good offensively,’’ Cora said of spreading the hits around the large green ball field. “This was a good baseball game,’’ he said of the win over the Mets. He’s right. It was fun to watch.
That is the kind of games fans love to see. Imagine that, throwing strikes, attacking hitters and hitting the ball where it is pitched, almost like a game from 1970s.
Another manager who is off to a strong start is the Giants’ Gabe Kapler, who admitted he is a different manager than he was in Philadelphia when he was addicted to numbers. He is a bit humbler now too, and that helps as well. Kapler has said he is learning to use his gut a little more as a manager. Some people learn from their first jobs and Kapler learned some lessons in Philadelphia.
The addition of Tauchman to the Giants will be interesting. They need outfield help. As a team the Giants are hitting .224, 22nd in baseball. Giants boss Farhan Zaidi said, “Tauchman is a guy we’ve had interest in a while. It was not easy to trade Wandy. This gives Kap the opportunity to get a left-handed bat in centerfield.’’ Tauchman also has a little edge to him, which I like, and he is one of those players that is always talking the game in the clubhouse and on the bench.
The starting pitching has been a huge plus for the Giants in April. They are second in starters ERA with a 2.93 mark, right behind the Padres at 2.87 and ahead of the Dodgers at 3.13. The NL West is home to the best starting pitching at the moment. The Giants are 20th in relievers ERA at 4.40, but one smart thing the Giants have done overall is compile a staff that offers different looks. It is not a staff of clones. There is good mix and match. Beware though, the Giants have yet to play the Dodgers this season. That will be the true test.
New San Francisco Giant Mike Tauchman (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Speaking of the Phillies, the Rockies can begin to get their house in order if they hire Phillies broadcaster Ruben Amaro Jr. as GM or perhaps as president of baseball operations and hire a GM from within. The problem with Jeff Bridich, who resigned, was that he was not a good communicator. He kept to himself. Amaro Jr. is an excellent communicator, has the baseball knowledge and pedigree and even went back on the field to coach after his GM days in Philadelphia ended, coaching with the Red Sox and Mets. And in 2019 he scouted as well. Amaro Jr. learned under Pat Gillick and Charlie Manuel, two terrific teachers. Amaro Jr. was the GM of the 2009 Phillies, who lost the World Series to the Yankees. They were in the midst of a five-year playoff run.
“They had a classic good baseball team that played the game the right way,’’ one MLB talent evaluator said of the Phillies of that era.
I really got to know Amaro Jr. during his time with the Mets and came to appreciate his knowledge of the game and of people. Amaro Jr. played eight years in the majors. His dad played 11 years in the majors and Ruben is a Stanford guy, too. As they love to say, he checks all the boxes. He understands the role of scouting as well and I have long maintained the Rockies are going about this Coors Field nightmare elevation thing all wrong. They need to add more speed, more defense and physically challenge opposing teams with aggressive baserunning, strong defense and, this is huge, have their pitchers pitch inside more.
There you go Rockies, become the Go-Go Rockies. Fixed it for you.
Ruben Amaro, Jr. (Photo by Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)
Love listening to my old friend Tim Kurkjian on the ESPN broadcasts for his understated golden nuggets. His small statements have huge baseball ramifications about the state of the game. He quietly pointed out on Tuesday when Pete Alonso struck out four times there have already been 34 players (it went up to 36 by the time all games were completed) who have struck out four times in a game this season. We all know the strikeout numbers are through the roof and that is helping to destroy the game from within, but that number is painful to hear and speaks volumes…
The Twins are off to a last-place start in the AL Central with the coming-together Royals in first place and the talented White Sox right behind them. Geez, if the Twins don’t turn it around soon, their window to win a playoff game, will close. The Twins have lost 18 straight postseason games.
When Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. went down with a partial dislocation of the left shoulder, I said it could be a blessing in disguise… as long as he figures out to play with that left shoulder and hit, that means – for the most part – keeping both hands on the bat. I’ve maintained that Tatis simply swings too hard. Swing more like the Swingin’ Friar with two hands on the bat. Cut down the big swing with the one-handed finish a bit and there will be more success. He’s figured something out. Going into Wednesday’s games, Tatis owned a seven-game hitting streak with a .407 average, .467 on base percentage, 1.037 slugging percentage and 1.504 OPS during that span. There might be a lesson in there for a lot of hitters if they are smart enough to figure it out.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. is figuring it out, crushing baseballs, including three home runs against the Nationals on Tuesday. The ballpark in Dunedin may be the best ballpark in baseball to hit in, according to scouts. Vlad Jr. has made tremendous improvements at the plate and in the field. “He looked like Manny Ramirez Tuesday night,’’ said one scout who was in Dunedin.
“The ball is just flying out of there,’’ added the scout. Kyle Schwarber, he noted, hit 10 straight balls out in batting practice. That place is launch angle heaven right now and will be until the Blue Jays move their home games to Buffalo. “This place makes Denver look like a pitcher’s park right now,’’ the scout said. “Imagine when George Springer finally gets in that lineup.’’
You’ve heard the Pioneer League is going to a home run derby to end tie ballgames. The five-pitch HR Derby for each team will put a lot of pressure on the coach-pitch BP throwers ending the games. That’s okay. If the coach messes up, he still will be able to go for ice cream with the rest of the team after games. His mom has to bring the snacks for the next game, though. And they call it pro baseball.
As you know I am not a fan of seven-inning games, but I still don’t see how you can’t consider a game where the pitcher gives up no hits over the length of the game not a no-hitter. What the hell is it? The Braves didn’t get any hits Sunday against Madison Bumgarner Credit Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly who said, “It’s still a no-hitter. It was a seven-inning game … We gave up no hits in seven innings.’’ He’s right. Throw down an asterisk, after all, this is the 60th anniversary of 61 in ’61, so give Bumgarner his no-hitter and an asterisk as well. It’s almost as if baseball is embarrassed by the non-baseball rules they have put into the game. Own it, baseball. This is all based on a 1991 rule so you can’t blame Rob Manfred. But Rob Manfred can change the rule like he is changing everything else in the game. He’s already made imaginary people real in baseball by creating a Fake Runner in extra innings, so I am blaming Rob Manfred. In MLB and Manfred’s world, a seven-inning no hitter is not a no-hitter and the World Series trophy is just “a piece of metal.’’ Got all that?
At this stage of the game, baseball has made so many changes and is trying out so many New Rules fans are becoming desensitized to all the changes. Combine that with the changes in the minor league, the loss of franchises, the high-cost of buy-ins and baseball is losing much more than traditions.
Baseball is losing its romanticism. Lose that and you lose it all.
Spoke to an MLB talent evaluator this week who said my Randy Jones article from Sunday in The Story should be mandatory reading for all pitching coaches and take that article and pair it up with some YouTube videos to learn about the Art of Pitching. What you are beginning to see is more chest high pitches after going down, down, down. Or let me put it another way, pitchers are beginning to copy Jacob deGrom.
Pitching is forever about location and speed differential.