The Cardinals still haven’t returned to play, MLB has punished a player and coach for the Astros-Athletics melee over the past weekend, and two Cleveland starters have been sent home for violating health and safety protocols. Three weeks into the MLB season, several of the top topics in baseball still have COVID-19 connections.
Every Friday, Extra Innings gets you caught up on the biggest storylines across the baseball world and provide analysis of what lies ahead. Let’s jump right into this week’s edition:
Major League Baseball set an appropriately strong precedent with the suspension of Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron.
On Aug. 11, MLB announced that Athletics outfielder Ramon Laureano had been suspended six games for his role in the benches-clearing altercation between the A’s and Astros on Aug. 9. Such a punishment for Laureano was to be expected after he charged the Houston bench upon being goaded by Cintron for a fight. Laureano, who told reporters that Cintron made a vile comment about his mother, said he regretted the action and has no ill will toward the Astros organization. He has appealed his suspension.
The biggest aspect of the announcement was undoubtedly the punishment for Cintron, who was held to a higher standard as a coach. Former pitcher Chris Young, MLB’s senior vice president for operations, handed out a 20-game suspension for Cintron’s role in “inciting and escalating the conflict.” It’s one of the longest bans given to a coach in MLB history, and is the longest suspension for an on-field incident since former major leaguer Kenny Rogers was handed 20 games following a physical altercation with two cameramen in 2005.
First of all, some have argued that Laureano’s suspension, the equivalent of 16 games in a 162-game season, is too harsh. It is likely to get knocked down a few games, I believe, and no matter what Cintron may have said, breaking physical distancing guidelines by charging the dugout of an opponent is a significant transgression which does deserve significant punishment.
As for Cintron, Astros manager Dusty Baker told reporters that he thought the league “threw the book at us big time.” He’s not wrong, but that doesn’t mean MLB’s punishment was wrong. The league did the right thing in setting an example out of Cintron, who has denied referencing Laureano’s mother. Regardless, the coach’s behavior in instigating a fight — motioning for the outfielder to come at him before he was shielded by other Astros members and ultimately ended up outside the fracas — was unbecoming, reckless and wildly irresponsible. Cintron deserves every minute of his 20-game suspension, if not more.
After violating health protocols, Indians pitcher Zach Plesac shows he still doesn’t get it.
The news that Plesac and fellow Cleveland hurler Mike Clevinger were sent home by the team for violating health and safety protocols by leaving the team hotel to socialize with friends in Chicago isn’t exactly breaking. Both pitchers put out statements expressing their regret for the action earlier this week, and players and coaches expressed the common sentiment that the pair has some work to do to earn trust back.
But what is more recent is a more than six-minute long, rambling video posted on Instagram by Plesac on Thursday. In the video, Plesac, who appeared to be driving at the time while not properly wearing his seatbelt, asserted his commitment to the safety of others, saying he believes himself and Clevinger have been unfairly portrayed as “bad people” by the media. The right-hander acknowledged breaking team curfew and said he and Clevinger were within CDC guidelines when they left the team hotel and were with “never more than eight people the entire night.”
“The media, really, is terrible, man,” he said. “They do some evil things to create stories and make things sound better … Truthfully, I’m disgusted with the way the media’s handled this whole situation surrounding our team…”
Oh boy. For the record, credible media outlets have been reporting exactly what the Indians have announced and said publicly, and what Plesac himself has admitted to doing. The biggest notes of disappointment and judgment have come from Indians players themselves, with fellow pitcher Adam Plutko saying Plesac and Cleinger “hurt us bad. They lied to us.”
Plesac’s defense, if that’s what you want to call it, makes absolutely no sense and does absolutely nothing to change the facts of the situation. Blaming “the media” for reporting facts as doing evil things for a story just shows Plesac absolutely has not learned his lesson. The Indians have not said if Plesac and Clevinger, who are currently on the restricted list, will be subjected to any further discipline.
We must not take Mike Trout for granted.
After two serious points, let’s lighten the mood: Mike Trout has some serious dad strength. The Angels outfielder has now homered seven times in nine games since returning from paternity leave on Aug. 4. In that stretch, the 29-year-old has hit .351 with a 1.309 OPS. And despite that missing time, Trout was tied for second in baseball with eight homers entering playing Aug. 13. He also recently became the first player in MLB history with at least 250 homers, a .300 average, a .400 on-base percentage, and 200 stolen bases through their age-28 season. How’s that for a stat?
The point here is simple: Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. He’s a dynamic, exciting, easy to root for, modest superstar. Could he continue to put up utterly sensational numbers for years and years to come? That’s certainly possible. But at 29 years old, we could be witnessing the final peak years of an elite talent. Let’s not take for granted that we’re watching one of the best players in the history of the sport in his prime.
The best pitcher thus far in 2020 has been…Dylan Bundy?
At least that’s what Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs’ wins above replacement metrics indicate as of Aug. 13. The former fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Bundy, now 27, has been one of the worst full-time starters in the majors over the last few years with the Orioles, never living up to big expectations. He posted a 5.45 ERA in 2018 with a league-high 16 losses, and last year pitched to a 4.79 mark with Baltimore before being shipped to the Angels in an offseason trade. Coming off a seven-inning shutout of the A’s with 10 strikeouts, Bundy has posted a 3-1 record and 1.57 ERA to begin 2020, logging 35 strikeouts and just three walks in 28 ⅔ innings.
“It’s getting to the point now where it’s the expectation,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said after that most recent Bundy start. “It’s the real deal. I mean the pitchers are that sharp, the swings are not good and the takes are bad.”
So what’s been the key to Bundy’s success this season? He’s throwing his fastball at a career-low rate of 29.7%, while he’s increased the frequency in which he’s thrown his slider from roughly 23% last season to 30% so far this year. It may not seem like much, but that’s a significant jump. Catcher Jason Castro recently said that Bundy has done a great job of commanding all four of his pitches. After years of underwhelming numbers, it appears Bundy has unlocked something new and tapped into the potential those in baseball always knew he had.
What’s on Deck?
I wrote in Extra Innings last week that all 30 MLB teams were set to play on Aug. 7 for the first time in nearly two weeks following the Cardinals COVID-19 outbreak. That certainly didn’t happen, as more positive tests from the organization resulted in the postponement of several additional games. As of this writing, the team is slated to return to action on Saturday with a doubleheader against the White Sox in Chicago. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported Thursday evening that MLB and the players union are still working to set a schedule for the team moving forward. That schedule reportedly could still allow the team to get close to 60 games with doubleheaders.
As for some other weekend series of interest, the Red Sox are set to take on the Yankees in New York and the Dodgers will square off against the Angels in Anaheim in two rivalry series. The Cubs are set to host the Brewers and the Diamondbacks will host the Padres in two other series of note.
Photo by “slgckgc” / Flickr