Three topics for your Monday:
Alex Rodriguez turns 40 next month. He’s past the part of the MLB aging curve where it’s a curve. At age 40, you’re looking back at the edge of the aging cliff you just ran off.
In the cartoon, Wile E. Coyote didn’t start to fall until he looked down. That’s where ARod is, defying baseball’s gravity for the moment.
The Yankees’ slugger is hitting .268/.371/.502 (OPS .873). That’s sufficient to qualify for baseball’s top 30 in on-base percentage, slugging and weighted runs created. He’s ahead of players like Jose Bautista, Justin Upton, Buster Posey and Andrew McCutchen.
There’s a decent case, all things equal, that ARod should play for the American League in the upcoming All-Star game in Cincinnati. It would be his 15th time as an All-Star. That would give him more appearances than Johnny Bench and Roberto Clemente. And more than Yankees Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter.
ARod’sÃ‚Â performance this year is all the more remarkable considering heÃ‚Â hasn’t really played regularly since 2012. More on that in a minute.
Rodriguez has been in the news because of historic hitting milestones he’s surpassed. This week, he knocked in his 2000th RBI, only the second player to do so since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920. Hank Aaron is first at 2,297. Babe Ruth and Cap Anson have more than 2,000 if you consider years before 1920.
ARod also passed Willie Mays in career home runs and is now 4th on the all-time list.Ã‚Â Rodriguez is 8th all-time in total bases, 9th all-time in runs scored, 4th all-time in power-speed combination (between Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds). The next player ARod will pass on the total bases list is Pete Rose. He has won the MVP three times, the Silver Slugger award ten times and two Golden Glove awards at shortstop for the Texas Rangers.
It’s easy to write off the career accomplishments of Alex Rodriguez. He’s a notorious and admitted PED user. ARod was suspended for 162 games – the entire 2014 season – for obtaining illegal performance enhancing substances and hindering an MLB investigation.
Full disclosure: I’ve always been on the “not a big deal” end of the spectrum on the PED issue. And I’m not today saying we should forgive, feel sorry for or even like Alex Rodriguez.
But I do want to add this bit of context when you think about his career numbers. Alex Rodriguez’s suspension cost him about 600 plate appearances or right around 5 percent of his total number of 11,592. He was punished with the loss of roughly 5 percent of his career.
Is there any proof that PEDs helped hitters perform at a level at least 5 percent better than they would have without using them? On the contrary, there is evidence that PEDs didn’t help much at all.
Instead of writing off ARod’s historic accomplishments, consider the possibility that his suspension “corrected” for the enhancement and that the numbers he’ll end up with – at age 41, 42, who knows when he’ll finally look down – are reasonable expressions of his tremendous talent.
The Cardinals’ Parade
The St. Louis Cardinals are in first place in the NL Central division and at 41-21 have the best record in baseball. The LA Dodgers have the next most wins at 37.
The Cardinals have amassed this winning percentage in the face of serious injuries to key players. Adam Wainwright was lost for 2015 before the season began. Their 8th-inning reliever Jordan Walden has been sidelined. First baseman Matt Adams is out until late September at best, having had surgery to repair a torn right quad muscle. Left fielder Matt Holliday is also on the disabled list with a partially torn right quad. It is unclear how long he will be missing. On Friday, the Cardinals announced that Lance Lynn was headed to the DL with a forearm injury.
You know the well-worn Cardinal Way narrative. Next man up. Doesn’t matter who gets hurt … yada, yada, yuck.
That said, the Cardinals resilience in the face of these losses is a testament to their organizational depth and careful roster construction by their general manager. Considering how proactive their front office has been in acquiring players in the offseason and trade deadlines in recent years, it’s hard to imagine they will let the opportunity presented by their great start be squandered by inaction or paralysis. Does anyone doubt John Mozeliak (49) will figure out a way to make the moves St. Louis need to keep going?
That said, the Cardinals’ losses are real. The subtraction of two big bats in the span of three weeks is beginning to take a toll. The Cardinals are LAST in runs scored in the NL in June with 38. By comparison, the Reds have scored 61 this month.
St. Louis has the best ERA (2.65) in baseball, by far. But their ERA estimators are more modest (xFIP 3.50, 6th; SEIRA 3.49, 8th). Lynn has been the Cardinals second-best starter this year, with a 3.07 ERA. He’s out for now. Carlos Martinez, their #3 starter (2.97 ERA) is on an innings limit. He pitched 89 innings last year. The club has been vague about how many they’ll allow him to log this year, but 140-150 is a good guess. He’s already thrown 73.2. Michael Wacha (2.45 ERA) is due for a significant BABIP-related correction.
I’m not suggesting the Reds, with all their injuries, can catch the Cardinals. That task is left to the Pirates, if anyone. And the Cardinals may have enough talent to win the division, but without key players, may not hold up in the postseason. The loss of Wainwright will hurt most then.
SoÃ‚Â don’t plan the parade by the arch just yet.
Cueto’s Last Waltz
The Reds begin a four-game, away-and-home series against the Detroit Tigers tonight. The two teams play on Woodward Avenue this evening and tomorrow. They resume 263 miles South on I-75 with games on Joe Nuxhall way on Wednesday and Thursday.
The Tigers aren’t the same fearsome club of the past few years. Their dominating pitching staff is mostly gone or faded. Victor Martinez, a key part of their lineup, is on the DL. The Tigers have scored 264 runs and allowed 260. They are 33-30 and in third place in the AL Central, behind the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. They recently went through an 8-game losing streak.
But the Sparky Anderson Series between two mediocre teams offers a superbÃ‚Â pitching match-up that demands our attention.
David Price will face Johnny Cueto on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. The two pitchers led their respective leagues in strikeouts (Price 271; Cueto 242) and innings pitched (Price 248; Cueto 243.2) last season. Price won the AL Cy Young award in 2012 and finished second in the voting in 2010. Cueto has been 2nd and 4th in the NL race the past three years.
This season, Price (2.44 ERA, 2.89 FIP) and Cueto (2.85 ERA, 3.15 FIP) are once again top-20 pitchers.
The two also share an intimate relationship with the major league trade deadline and free agency. Last summer, Price was acquired by the Tigers from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-way trade on July 31. He can become a free agent in 2016. Cueto is one of the best pitchers who could be available at this year’s deadline. And he’s a free agent in 2016 as well.
Several thousand Tigers fans will make their presence felt; they always travel well (the largest visiting fan contingent, in my experience).Ã‚Â And the scout section will be at overflow capacity.
GABP should be rockin’ Wednesday night. Cincinnati fans should flock downtown for the pitching duel and the prospect of seeing one of Cueto’s final starts for the home team. If the game turns out to be Johnny Cueto’s last waltz in a Cincinnati Reds uniform, the opposing pitcher makes it quite a dance.