Heard anything about the Nationals lately? Good Christ. It seems like every game they played this week had some sort of national news attached to it. First, they got swept by the Cubs in four games at Wrigley, in a series between the two teams with the best records in baseball. That left the 24-6 Cubs with the best 30-game start to a season since the ’84 Tigers (26-4), as well as the best first-30-game run differential (+102) in the history of baseball. In the final game of the series on Sunday, the Cubs walked Bryce Harper six times, tying a Major League record set by Jeff Bagwell in 1999. And since he also got hit by a pitch in the game, that meant Harper reached base seven times in the game without a single official at-bat. That’s also never been done before, no big deal.
All that led to the first time (and there will be many more) that fans started to question Dusty Baker and his decision to bat Ryan Zimmerman behind Harper instead of Daniel Murphy, since Zimmerman went 2-for-19 in the series and left 14 runners on base, while Murphy has basically been Ted Williams unfrozen from carbonite. If any manager should know how to combat a player getting the ‘Barry Bonds Treatment’, you would think it would be the guy who also happened to manage Barry Bonds while he was getting said treatment.
Anyway, the very next day, all of this would be put on the back burner for two major reasons. One, Stephen Strasburg signed a seven-year $175 million contract to stay with the team. And Two, Harper got ejected from the game in the 9th inning against the Tigers for screaming about balls and strikes from the dugout. And then Clint Robinson (who actually thought it was the 8th inning), immediately hit a pinch-hit, walk-off home run, sending Harper back onto the field to scream, “fuck you” at umpire, Brian Knight, in plain view of TV cameras, while also kind of celebrating the win with the very confused Robinson. Make Baseball Fun Again, Bryce!
Then finally, on Wednesday (the same day we learned Harper would be getting a one-game suspension for his F bomb), Max Scherzer goes out against his former team and strikes out 20 batters. ESPN said it looked like the scoreboard operator fell asleep on the K key. More amazingly, Scherzer did that throwing 80% strikes. So not only did he have 20 K’s, he also only threw 23 balls the whole game. Sexy is right, Max! This was coming off a start against the Cubs where Scherzer was terrible. Apparently, when this guy has his best stuff, nobody is better. You know, other than the two home runs he gave up.
What’s even more fun is that a 20-strikeout game has only happened four other times (I’m not counting Tom Cheney’s 21 K’s in 16 innings), and Tigers’ manager, Brad Ausmus, has been there, on the losing end, for THREE of them. He was on the Astros when Kerry Wood struck out 20 in 1998. And he was on the Tigers when Clemens did it a second time in 1996. Dude is like Robert Todd Lincoln at presidential assassinations. And this has been a horrible week for his ballclub.
Speaking of managers, the 20-strikeout game is something that a lot of people didn’t think would ever happen again. Sure, strikeouts are up. But also pitch counts are way down. Clemens threw 151 pitches in that ’96 game. Nobody would allow that now. Then again, this is Dusty Baker we’re talking about.
So, as you can see, the Nationals dominated the baseball world this week – a week when Papi got ejected against the Yankees, J.T. Realmuto got called out after hitting a home run, Aroldis Chapman and his first-pitch 100 mph fastball returned from suspension, the Zika virus cancelled games in Puerto Rico, Bartolo Colon hit a fat person home run and Thor actually managed to hit two of them in L.A. But, somehow, all the news kept coming back to the Nationals. I mean, I’ve heard of politicians in D.C. manipulating the 24-hour news cycle, but this was ridiculous.
Oh, there’s one more thing about the Nationals…
NL MVP: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Murphy is hitting .409, you guys. He’s a career .290 hitter. He’s projected at .302 – .312. So either he’s figured something out, or this isn’t going to last much longer. Either way, I’ll say it again, Daniel Murphy is currently hitting .409, you guys.
As I said earlier, Bartolo Colon hit a home run this week. And with the Mets scoring all of their runs on long balls anyway, it’s almost fitting. As a Mets hater, I begrudgingly admit that it was a pretty great moment. He’s the oldest player in baseball history to hit his first career home run. He’s also a big fatso, so it was hilarious. And the Mets’ dugout reaction was equally great and hilarious. As was the radio call by Gary Cohen echoing Vin Scully’s “the impossible has happened” call of Kirk Gibson’s Game 1 walk-off in the 1988 World Series. If he hit two home runs in a game like Noah Syndergaard did on Wednesday, I’d probably assume the world was about to end. And that would be a shame because I never got to see the Cubs win it all.
NL Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
We still know absolutely nothing about the NL West, where every team has major problems and we’ve been in a big rotating jumble of mediocre teams thus far. The Dodgers and the Giants (even year!) are still favored. Yasiel Puig’s highlight reel in right keeps growing. But the Dodgers have injuries and the Giants have major problems with Matt Cain and Jake Peavy in the 4 and 5 slots in their rotation. Cain is actually winless in his last 14 starts going back to last year. Meanwhile, the DBacks have only flirted with the idea of getting better. And although Nolan Arenado has established himself as an elite player in Colorado, nobody is buying the Rockies or the Padres. If this is how it stays, I might actually start feeling bad for the Phillies, Marlins, Pirates and Cardinals, who all seem like they could win this shitty division.
NL Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals
Yes, the Cardinals and Pirates are heating back up, but NL Central is still all Cubs all the time. I already mentioned all their first-30-game records. But the Cubs have been so dominant thus far, that when they lost back-to-back games in a doubleheader against the Padres, it felt like the sky was falling. There’s really no shame in getting shut down by Drew Pomeranz, but it still felt really weird. It was the lowly Padres. And all my Cubs’ fan friends were calling for Jorge Soler to be traded or sent down to Des Moines.
Still, it took 33 games for the Cubs to lose back-to-back, which is the deepest in to a season any team had gone without doing that since the 1929 Philadelphia A’s. Odd how all these teams that keep popping up in 2016 Cub comparisons won the World Series. Odd indeed. Although I highly doubt that Connie Mack had a mariachi band in the clubhouse on Cinco de Mayo for Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove and Al Simmons. So advantage Joe Maddon there.
This week, Sports Illustrated called Wrigley Field the happiest place on earth. And they also called the Cubs the ‘Last Great American Sports Story’. I’ve listened to people discuss the 116-win record. I’ve listened to Tim Kurkjian argue with Karl Ravech on Baseball Tonight about whether the Cubs will break the ’39 Yankees run differential record of +411. They’re currently on pace for +486. And it was well over +500. I’m also listening to myself argue about whether these Cubs would kill that ’39 Yankees staff, because they didn’t have any actual athletes.
Sure, I’d say to myself when nobody was looking, the rarely-used Oral Hildebrand was a basketball star and a national champion at Butler. But Red Ruffing, their Hall of Fame ace, lost four toes in a coal mining accident when he was 15 and had to learn how to pitch because he could no longer run. And Lefty Gomez, their Hall of Fame #2 pitcher who said he’d throw at his own mother, was 6’2″, 155 pounds. They eventually had to pull all of his teeth to get him to eat.
Plus, pitcher Wes Ferrell would refuse to be pulled from games, punch himself in the face and slam his head into walls until he was restrained by teammates. And I’d regret not telling you that Bump Hadley, their 3 starter, ended the aforementioned Mickey Chocrane’s Hall of Fame career (and actually almost killed him) with an intentional beanball in 1937. I’d doubly regret not telling you that Monte Pearson, their 5 starter, who threw the first no-hitter at Yankee Stadium in 1938, was arrested in 1962 for accepting bribes for approving shoddy septic tanks.
These are the conversations people are having surrounding the Cubs. Well, maybe not the last one. But Javier Baez hit that 13th inning walk-off on Mother’s Day against the Nationals. Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Jon Lester are 1st, 3rd and 4th in the league in ERA. Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist are legitimate MVP candidates. And I haven’t been to Wrigley Field this year (although I’m told it’s insane), and I know this could all go away with a key injury or a bad postseason series against the Mets or the Nationals, but this is the Last Great American Sports Story. And I hope the happy ending comes sooner than later.
AL MVP: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles
Yes, Machado is bonkers. And yes, people are actually starting to notice. And yes, the Orioles are still hanging around. But this week, the Red Sox are actually worth talking about. You know, besides the Big Papi and John Farrell ejections that had people around baseball calling for robot umpires (it was a strike, guys. McCann just got crossed up). Anyway, after the Red Sox outscored the A’s 40-15 in three games, they were tied with the Cubs for the most runs scored in the Majors (with one more game played).
If Thursday is any indication, David Price isn’t going to have a 6.00 ERA for much longer (Dustin Pedroia found something wrong with his delivery!). But the fact that he was 4-1 before all that means that it might not even matter. Jackie Bradley Jr. is their 9 hitter. He’s got an 18-game hitting streak going. David Ortiz is retiring. He probably shouldn’t be. I’m almost ready to concede that he’s the 3rd best hitter in their franchise history after Williams and Yaz. The Red Sox are not only relevant for the first time in three years, they’ve actually convinced me that they’re the favorites in the American League for a reason. You know, other than the fact that the entire league isn’t all that good.
AL Cy Young: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox
The White Sox still have the best record in the American League. The Royals are still below .500. And nobody can wrap their head around it. Not even White Sox fans I’m friends with are fully embracing the mid-May standings. But hey, this week ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor has Quintana at #2 behind Chris Sale. And he leads the league in ERA with Sale at #4. I’m still waiting for that Indians surge everyone is predicting, but right now I’m still saying the White Sox are legit. And you can put it on the booooo… I won’t do it.
AL Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers
The big story in the AL West this week has not been Robinson Cano and the first place Mariners. Nor has it been the never-say-die Rangers. It’s actually been whether or not the Angels should trade Mike Trout. Their ace, Garrett Richards, needs Tommy John surgery. Andrelton Simmons is going to miss two months due to torn thumb ligaments. There’s also CJ Wilson, Andrew Heaney, Huston Street and Craig Gentry on the DL. They’re just taking too much damage. So the question remains whether to try to remake their farm system with the monster return they would undoubtedly get for Trout or learn the lessons the Milwaukee Bucks learned after trading Kareem Abdul Jabbar to the Lakers in 1975. Either way, the Angels are screwed and the Astros are probably going to be out of last place real soon.
Alright. That does it for this week’s Angelino in the Outfield. If you need more you can always listen to me on the baseball recap shows on Comedians Talking Sports, available for free on iTunes.