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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Baseball

Gerrit Cole becomes second fastest ever to reach 200 strikeouts in a season

Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole reached a momentous milestone during Monday’s game between the Houston Astros and Oakland A’s.

Cole entered the game leading Major League Baseball with 194 strikeouts through his first 21 starts of the season. During the fourth inning, Cole got Matt Olson to strike out swinging for strikeout No. 200, making him the second fastest to accomplish the feat in a season.

The only pitcher to do it quicker was Hall of Famer Randy Johnson in 2001. Johnson finished with a career-high 372 strikeouts that season.

Since joining the Astros last season, Cole has taken his game to another level. In 2018, he posted an ERA of 2.88 with 276 strikeouts in 200.1 innings.

Cole isn’t the only pitcher who has experienced success since joining the Astros. Justin Verlander credited the use of technology with improving his slider two years ago in his first season in Houston. Perhaps Cole is putting it to good use as well.

Dodgers will try to ‘not be stupid’ with moves

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers are 15 games ahead of their nearest NL West foe and have essentially wrapped up the division race by the end of July, but there’s an acceptance that there’s still work to be done on the roster. That work just has to make sense.

The Dodgers’ bullpen, in particular, is seen as a threat to their World Series aspirations. Team president Andrew Friedman admitted that he feels the pressure to improve the team, but there’s one important thing he must abide by: he can’t be stupid.

The Dodgers have so much talent at the big league level and one of the sport’s better farm systems, so in theory, they should have all the weapons to ensure they get over the top after falling short in the World Series for two straight years. Kenley Jansen may not want to hear it, but that probably means bullpen improvements are a must. The key is finding talent without giving up something they’ll regret too much, and that’s the fine line Friedman is walking.

Tigers’ Nicholas Castellanos rips Comerica Park as a ‘joke’

Nick Castellanos draft

Comerica Park is known for being a pitcher-friendly ballpark due to its large outfield and a 420-foot distance to center field. One of the hitters who plays 81 games per year there has had enough of that.

Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos dismissed the home of the Detroit Tigers after Sunday’s 4-3 ten-inning win that saw him deliver a walkoff home run. He called the park a “joke” and worried about how Detroit’s hitters may compare to the rest of the league statistically as a result of its size.

Comerica Park’s dimensions have been a talking point ever since it opened in 2000, and the left field fences were moved in a few years after its debut. Castellanos, despite his complaints, has hit 20 points better in Detroit since entering the big leagues as opposed to on the road, though he has hit more home runs away from home. As understandable as Castellanos’ frustration is, plenty of hitters have been successful there, and Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown playing home games at Comerica.

Castellanos is in the final year of his contract and is almost certain to leave Detroit at the end of the season, if not sooner. He may get a move to a ballpark that can play more hitter-friendly by the July 31 trade deadline.

Watch: Luke Voit takes fastball to face, tries to stay in game

A fastball was no match for New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit, at least initially.

Voit took a 91 MPH Chad Bettis fastball to the face in Saturday’s game against the Colorado Rockies. Not only did Voit stay on his feet, but he managed to stay in the game for the remainder of the fourth inning. The ball glanced off his shoulder just before hitting him in the face, which may have taken a bit of the sting out of it, but not much.

With the Yankees up 9-0 in the fifth, though, they opted to take Voit out of the game, even though he looked to be fine.

Very bad things can happen when baseballs traveling at a high velocity collide with jaws. Luckily, it looks like Voit dodged that.

MLB needs to address Rays’ latest absurd pitching move

Rays Michael Brosseau

MLB needs to take a serious look at what happened in Monday night’s Tampa Bay Rays-Boston Red Sox game and recognize that they have a problem to address.

The Rays entered Monday’s game against their division rivals short on pitching. They played a doubleheader on Thursday and used four pitchers in one game and three in the other. Seven pitchers appeared in Friday’s 9-2 loss to the White Sox and seven appeared in Saturday’s 2-1 11-inning loss to the White Sox. Four appeared in Sunday’s game. Emilio Pagan had pitched three days in a row. Adam Kolarek and Andrew Kittredge had pitched three games in four days. All were likely unavailable for the series opener against Boston.

So guess what happened?

The Rays fell behind early in the game 8-0. They scored three in the eighth off Nathan Eovaldi to make it an 8-3 game going to the ninth. But because they were so short on pitching, the Rays used third baseman Michael Brosseau to pitch the ninth.

The rookie was making his first pitching appearance in MLB and predictably had some struggles. He was essentially lobbing the ball in and allowed a run on three hits. Here’s what it looked like:

Brosseau was clocked at between 57-75 mph on his pitches. The Rays scored a run in the bottom of the ninth and lost 9-3.

So why did the Rays use a position player in just a 5-run game? The statistical likelihood of making a comeback down by five in the ninth inning is below 1 percent. Also factor in that the Rays had 8-9-1 coming up in the bottom of the inning, and the odds of a major 9th-inning rally were even worse.

Pushing a reliever in that situation rather than save them for a game they’re more likely to win may make sense in an analytical way, but it’s just a horrible freaking look for the league. Teams down by five runs during a playoff race should be TRYING TO WIN, not conceding games. Why even play, why have fans, why do anything if you’re not trying to win? This sends an awful message to the rest of the team’s players and its fans.

The Rays are so hamstrung by a lack of attendance and revenue that they have pioneered some very creative strategies to field competitive teams, such as using an opener to begin games. One of the consequences of relying on so many bullpen arms because of a lack of starters is not having enough guys to pitch in five-run games.

This is a shining example of how some of the advancements in strategic thinking have made the sport WORSE. The league needs to recognize just how bad this sort of thing is for the health of the sport. Their first thought should be that the Rays either need a new home stadium in Tampa and not St. Petersburg, or a new home city. Their next thoughts should be how they can make rule and roster tweaks to avoid such embarrassing things like this from happening. And if games are of so little importance that you’re conceding down five in the ninth, maybe that should tell you 162 regular season games is far too many.

Tigers reportedly have very high asking price for closer Shane Greene

Detroit Tigers

Any team that wants to acquire Detroit Tigers closer Shane Greene is going to have to pay up.

According to Jason Beck of MLB.com, the Washington Nationals have interest in Greene, but the Tigers asked them for top prospect Carter Kieboom in return.

That’s a very high asking price for Greene, who is having an excellent season but lacks a long track record of high-level success in any role. It’s still understandable, though. Greene is under contract for another season and the Tigers don’t absolutely have to move him this July. The Tigers need talent and this is their chance to aim high for it. They’re doing the same with pitcher Matthew Boyd, who has even more team control left.

Greene has saved 22 games for the Tigers, posting a 1.03 ERA in the process. He’s very much expendable, as there are few things less useful to a non-contending team than a top closer.

Astros’ Michael Brantley got boost from ‘The Lion King’ during two-homer game

Minute Maid Park Houston

Michael Brantley just couldn’t wait to be king on Sunday.

The Houston Astros outfielder led the charge for the team with two home runs and three RBIs in a 5-3 win over the Texas Rangers. Brantley’s new walk-up music for the game was none other than “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, and teammate George Springer told reporters how the usually mild-mannered Brantley claimed that he would one day use the track as his walk-up song.

“I said he didn’t have [the] hair on his chest,” Springer said, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle.

As fate would have it, Brantley homered on the first pitch of his first at-bat after walking up to “Circle of Life” and followed it up with another dinger three at-bats later when the song played again. As for his two at-bats in between, also preceded by “Circle of Life”? A single and a walk.

“They called me out on it, said I wouldn’t play it for my walk-out song. So I delivered,” he said afterwards. “I’ll keep it for a little while.”

Brantley, who made his fourth career All-Star team this season, appears to have found his good luck charm, and the timing could not have been better with the new Lion King movie having just hit theaters. At least that Disney flair worked out better for him than it did for this other professional athlete.