AL East Beat – May 22nd Update
The rumors involving potential Manny Machado deals figure to intensify as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline gets nearer.
However, one rumor that has already been circulating for the better part of a month is that the Chicago Cubs have strong interest in the star shortstop, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.
Thus, Machado was the center of plenty of media attention Monday night when the Orioles opened a four-game series against the Chicago White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Machado adeptly sidestepped questions about a potential trade, just as he has since the beginning of spring training.
“I go out there and play baseball. I’m not getting distracted by any of this,” Machado told reporters. “All these talks, rumors, they’re all rumors and talks. At the end of the day I’ve got to go out there and perform and win games for this ballclub. We’re trying to make a push for things and we’re a little behind, but we’ve got to keep pushing forward.”
Machado is being charitable when he says the Orioles are a little behind.
At 15-32, they are in last place in the AL East, a whopping 17 ½ games behind the division-leading Yankees. The White Sox (13-31) are the only team in the major leagues with a worse record.
Orioles owner Peter Angelos has long been opposed to trading players during the season, even in years when his team is out of contention. However, many baseball people think the Orioles will change their stance when it comes to Machado.
“You’re going to let him walk at the end of the year and only get a draft pick as compensation?” an executive from another team said. “The Orioles do some crazy things but they’re not that crazy.”
Machado is keeping his trade value high, hitting .343/.420/.663 with 15 home runs and 43 RBIs in 47 games. He is tied with the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez for the major league lead in home runs and his 62 hits top the AL while he ranks third in the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Manager Buck Showalter admits that Machado’s days on his roster could be numbered.
“I got it. I know what it looks like on paper,” Showalter said. “I hope we win the next 20 games and he’s here all year.”
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Boston Red Sox
Betts and Martinez are the first pair of Red Sox’s teammates to have at least 15 home runs within the first 50 games of the season.
The Red Sox have played 47 games and are 32-15, giving them the second-best record in the major leagues but good for just second place in the AL East behind the Yankees (31-13).
Betts, the right fielder, is hitting .365/.438/.670 in 43 games. Signed to a five-year, $110-million contract as a free agent in February to be the Red Sox’s primary designated hitter, Martinez has a .343/.397/.680 batting line in 45 games.
“I don’t know if anybody else can do what he does, so that’s why he’s one of a kind,” Betts said to reports about Martinez. “He can also hit it out of any part of the park.”
Betts is having a one-of-a-kind season. In addition to being tied for the lead in homers, he is first in the majors in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored (48), total bases (127) and doubles (19).
“It’s incredible. It’s a lot of fun to watch. I don’t know what to say,” right-hander Rick Porcello said. “When he gets his pitch, he’s not missing it. When he doesn’t get his pitch, he’s not missing it.”
Left fielder Andrew Benintendi believes Betts can be even better.
“He’s in a groove right now but it’s not like he’s hot-hot,” Benintendi said. “It feels like he can get hotter.”
New York Yankees
A rough start to last week did little to deter the Yankees.
The Yankees spent last Wednesday night at Dulles International Airport after their scheduled game with the Washington Nationals was rained out. Bad weather and a mechanical issue with their charter flight left the team stranded.
The Yankees were also unable to find enough hotel rooms on short notice. Thus, the players, coaches and rest of the traveling party either tried to sleep on the plane or in the terminal.
Twelve hours after their scheduled departure, the Yankees finally took off for Kansas City early Thursday afternoon, where they had an off day before opening a three-game series with the Royals.
Left-hander CC Sabathia called the night at Dulles the worst of his 18-year career.
However, it did not affect the Yankees for very long. They lost the opener to the Royals but then bounced back to win the next two games then won the opener of a three-game road series against the Texas Rangers on Monday night.
The Yankees have now hit at least four home runs in three straight games for the first time in franchise history. The last team to do that was the 2011 Rangers.
“We have a lot of really good hitters, a lot of power, so I’m not surprised when we do these kind of things, but obviously it’s hard to keep that kind of pace,” manager Aaron Boone told reporters. “It just shows you how difficult that is, and obviously how rare it is.”
Tampa Bay Rays
Sergio Romo had never started a game during his 11-year career prior to last weekend. Each of his 588 appearances were in relief.
Then he was the starter both Saturday and Sunday in road games against the Los Angeles Angels as the Rays continued their unique way of handling the pitching staff.
Romo became the first pitcher to start back-to-back games since Zack Greinke for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012. Greinke was ejected from the first outing after four pitches. The last starter to pitch at least one inning in consecutive games was Steve McCatty with the 1980 Oakland Athletics.
Manager Kevin Cash employed the strategy to allow the two young pitchers who followed Romo — rookie left-hander Ryan Yarbrough and right-hander Matt Andriese — to face the middle of the Angels’ batting order one fewer time.
Romo pitched one perfect inning on Saturday, striking out the side, as the Rays went on to extend their winning streak to six games and even their record at 22-22. However, they lost the next afternoon when Romo went 1 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out three and walking two.
“For me, my preparation didn’t really change too much,” Romo told reporters. “The only difference was the timing. Typically, you get the call, and two minutes later, you’re in the game. Warming up on the field is different.
“The one thing that was odd was going onto an unscathed mound. I was like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’ I kind of had to kick it out a little so I could get that bump in the middle that I’m used to.”
Cash said the plan will modified in the coming weeks but that Romo or another of the Rays’ short relievers could get more starts, though unlikely in back-to-back games.
Toronto Blue Jays
Roberto Osuna remains on administrative leave and the closer won’t be eligible to return to the active roster until at least May 28, though that date remains in question.
Osuna was put on leave by Major League Baseball on May 8 after being charged by Toronto Police with one count of assault. He is scheduled to appear in court on June 18.
MLB extended the leave Monday for a third seven-day period.
Though Osuna is ineligible to play, he continues to receive his $5.3-million salary because administrative leave in not considered discipline.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has the option of suspending Osuna either without pay or with pay pending the resolution of legal proceedings. Osuna could challenge any discipline before independent arbitrator Mark Irvings.
The Blue Jays have lost nine of 12 games since Osuna has been gone, falling to 22-25 overall. They are in fourth place, 10 ½ games behind the Yankees.
“We’re on a bad stretch right now,” manager John Gibbons told reporters Sunday following a 9-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics that completed a four-game series sweep. “We’re not playing real good baseball in a bunch of different areas.”
Tyler Clippard has the Blue Jays’ only save in Osuna’s absence.
Osuna has converted nine of 10 save opportunities this season with a 2.93 ERA in 15 games. He has 104 saves in his four-year career.
John Perrotto has been a professional sports writer since 1982 and has covered a multitude of sports, including MLB, NFL and college football and basketball. He has been a member of the Baseball Writers' Association since 1988, a Hall of Fame voter since 1997 and has covered 21 World Series and two Super Bowls. He is a graduate of Geneva College, the birthplace of college basketball, and lives in Beaver Falls, Pa., the hometown of Joe Willie Namath.
He also writes The Perrotto Report (theperrottoreport.com), newsletters that concentrate on Major League Baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates.