As we speak, the Chicago Cubs are going for the series sweep against the St. Louis Cardinals. Of course, I am writing this slightly ahead of time, so, how’s it going, future-Michael? (Edit: Not great, past-Michael).
Regardless of the outcome of today’s matchup, you have to be happy with the Cubs’ start against the Cardinals and the season as a whole. The Cubs (11-3) have the best record in baseball, and are humming right along despite some seriously slow offensive starts, individually.
Surprisingly, it’s been the pitching staff that’s carried the team, as their 2.15 ERA is best in baseball, while their 2.60 FIP and 3.3 WAR are both second best to only the Mets. That’s the beauty of having a deep roster, when one part falters, the other can pick it back up.
But there’s more to baseball than just the Cubs (right?), so let’s check in to some news from around the league …
- Over at Fox Sports, Flinder Boyd has your daily must-read, taking a long look back on Rafael Palmeiro and his storied, but scandalous 20-year career. His story of MLB greatness and steroid-related shame is an absolutely enthralling one, and even includes last-minute, last-ditch phone calls to President George W. Bush, and words of wisdom for a rookie from former Cubs All-Stars Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe. It’s important to read these sort of stories, because even when players are cheating, we must remember that they are still people with real, human emotions. You can’t help but feel bad for Palmeiro, and there’s always more to every story than what meets the eye. Very good, long read.
- Although there were several reports (and many tweets) to the contrary, Jason Heyward did not hear any racial taunts directed at him or center fielder Dexter Fowler during Monday night’s game, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Officials with both television broadcast networks and the Cardinals were also unable to find any such remarks in the recordings, so that’s that. Because this was pretty clearly off-base, I don’t even want to say too much on, because the Cardinals and their fans (“best in baseball” or not) don’t deserve to have their name associated with something terrible that they didn’t actually do. Suffice it to say, all parties are happy that no such remarks were found.
- The Atlanta Braves became a publicly-traded company on Monday, but their shares of stock fell sharply from their opening price. Originally opening at $36 on the Nasdaq stock exchange, shares of Liberty Braves Group’s Series A plummeted quickly and ended the day at $19.95 per share (-44.6%). Similarly, the Liberty Braves Group’s Series C shares opened at $27 dollars, but closed Monday at just $19.14/share (-29.1%). [Brett: They are rebuilding right now, so … opportunity? Should I get a few shares so I can say I own a big league team? Would I then have to disclose on every post about the Braves that I’m a part-owner of the team? Should I tell you now that I’m not a financial advisor of any kind, and if you decided to buy Braves stock and they continue to stink, you can’t blame me?]
- Mike Trout has long been considered the best player in baseball (at least the last 3.5 years), but now Bryce Harper is giving him a run for his money. At FanGraphs, Dave Cameron writes that Bryce Harper is Catching Up to Mike Trout, and it may be due to focusing more on his pull-side power and his newfound ability to elevate the ball better than ever. And although he’s pulling the ball more, elevating it more and hitting for more power, he isn’t sacrificing any contact or average in the process. In fact, he’s actually making more contact than he used to. There are SO MANY other good stats and bits of information in there, but I don’t want to spoil them all. Although, I’ll spoil just one more: in 2016, Harper is pairing a 21% O-swing rate with a 93% Z-contact rate. So that means, throw it out of the zone, he doesn’t swing. Throw it in the zone, he’s going to make contact. What a nightmare. Just go read the article for yourself. It’s a really fun one.
- Speaking of fun: Harper hit his second grand slam of the year last night as part of an inning in which the Nationals went back-to-back twice.
- Just so you have some reference before we get into the good stuff, the lowest single season contact rate ever allowed by a qualified reliever was 56% (Aroldis Chapman – 2014). So far in 2016, Cardinals reliever Seung Hwan Oh has an O-Contact rate of 45.0% and a Z-Contact rate of 38.7%, combining for an overall contact rate of just 41.2% overall(!!!). The next closest reliever is Craig Kimbrel at 59.5%, so Oh has been nothing short of historic. To be fair, he’s faced only 25 batters this season – including three Cubs last night (2Ks) – but he’s been too good to ignore. August Fagerstrom has more on his incredible start, including some additional context, here at FanGraphs.
- On Monday, we checked in with Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom as he was placed on the family medical emergency list, after his son, Jaxon, was born with complications. Thankfully, Jaxon has been discharged from the hospital, and deGrom is expected to return to the rotation Sunday against the Atlanta Braves.
- Although his preliminary one-week leave period was scheduled to expire tomorrow, Hector Olivera has received a two-week extension on his suspension from MLB, as the investigation of his arrest for alleged domestic violence continues. Rob Manfred has had his hands full lately, as he had to rule on cases involving Aroldis Chapman (30 game suspension), Yasiel Puig (no disciplinary action), Jose Reyes (unresolved) and now Olivera (two week paid leave as the investigation wraps up).
- Here’s a terrifying stat: According to Mark Newman (MLB.com), “An estimated 27% of U.S. public high schools will have no sports by 2020 (at the current rate of cuts in funding for those programs).” Obviously, that can have a direct impact on baseball, because (the thinking goes) kids that play the sport tend to watch it and participate in it as well. So MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has joined with Serena Williams, Tom Brady and Missy Franklin to help raise awareness and discuss solutions for the expected dip in publicly-available sports.
- Lastly, remind me never to disappoint Adrian Beltre.