May 25, 2024

Red Sox, Rangers pitchers off to great starts; why the AL and NL Central are interesting


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The Rangers and Red Sox are relying on their strong … pitching? Ken addresses Pete Alonso’s impending free agency, there’s intrigue in the Central(s) and we find out about white whale pitches. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!


Surprise: Red Sox, Rangers starters are shoving

The Texas Rangers have a whole rotation on the IL: Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi, Cody Bradford and Tyler Mahle. Eovaldi and Bradford have combined for 10 starts, but the other three have yet to see big-league action this year.

And yet … going into last night’s games, Rangers starters had the second-best batting average against (.209) in baseball, trailing only Philadelphia (.199).

Bradford (.145) and Eovaldi (.199) have been big contributors to that stat, but so has Dane Dunning (.195), who is building on a breakout 2023. Tack on newcomer Michael Lorenzen (.203), Jon Gray (.235) and Andrew Heaney (.212 before last night’s game) and it’s going to make for some interesting decisions when five more starters — maybe six, if you count Jack Leiter — are ready to rejoin the big-league rotation.

Meanwhile, in Boston … Here, let me tattle on myself. This is from my Red Sox season preview:

… Boston made just one noteworthy pitching acquisition this offseason: Lucas Giolito, who will now miss the season recovering from elbow surgery. … I don’t see much to indicate an ability to leapfrog any of the other four teams in a brutal AL East.

Ho-hum, the pitching staff just turned in the best April in Boston in over 100 years. Chad Jennings has a breakdown of just how unexpected this run has been, given the relative dearth of high draft picks represented. (Numbers are through Monday afternoon.)

Top 10 pitching staffs by ERA

Team Staff ERA 1st round picks Top 5 rounds Top 10 rounds 15th round and later

2.61

1

4

5

9

2.98

4

8

9

4

2.99

4

7

9

5

3.24

8

8

10

1

3.31

2

7

7

3

3.35

3

11

13

4

3.35

5

10

12

3

3.36

5

8

9

1

3.41

2

8

11

4

3.64

2

7

8

4

The Red Sox still have a ways to go if they want to catch the Yankees and Orioles, but they’re in third place in the AL East, ahead of the Rays and Blue Jays.

The Rangers, meanwhile, moved back into first place in the AL West with a win over the A’s and a Mariners loss to the Twins.


Ken’s Notebook: The fascinating dynamics of Pete Alonso’s free agency

Pete Alonso’s value to the New York Mets is greater than it is to any other team. He is homegrown. He is proven in New York. He is 53 home runs shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time home-run leader.

But how much of a priority Alonso will be for the Mets this offseason — and how much of a priority his agent, Scott Boras, will place on keeping him in New York — are open questions.

Boras represents a number of other potential free agents whom the Mets are likely to pursue, most notably outfielder Juan Soto and right-hander Corbin Burnes. Many in the industry expect Mets owner Steve Cohen to splurge this offseason as his payroll flexibility increases dramatically. But the dynamics of Alonso’s pending free agency are fascinating, to say the least.

It’s almost impossible to imagine Cohen making the same type of preemptive move he did with Edwin Díaz in 2022, signing the pitcher to a record $102 million guarantee for a reliever just four days before the free-agent market opened.

Oh, Boras might be amenable if the Mets offer a deal in excess of Miguel Cabrera’s record $248 million contract for a first baseman. But the way first basemen are valued today, the Mets might not see him as worth more than the $162 million the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Freddie Freeman. And Boras, at least initially, likely will want to keep his options open.

Alonso, in an interview on Friday, expressed no particular concern about his future with the Mets, or his free agency in general. At the moment, he is dealing with other issues. In the middle of a 1-for-30 slump, he is batting only .205 with eight homers and a .710 OPS on the season. With runners in scoring position, his batting average is .138. Mets manager Carlos Mendoza kept him out of the starting lineup Monday for the first time this season.

When asked if he was worried Boras might potentially block his return to the Mets by directing, say, Soto and Burnes to New York, Alonso said, “I’m not particularly thinking about that right now.

“I love the city I play in. I consider myself a New Yorker. I have a great relationship with guys on the team obviously. And I think I have a great relationship with people in the front office and Steve as well. We’ll see what happens this winter. It’s a big question mark. For me, right now, I’m just focusing on doing what I can to help us win every day.”


The Centrals are interesting, actually

Nobody can be blamed for having low expectations for the Central divisions this year. Last year, Minnesota won 87 games and Milwaukee won 92, yet both won their respective divisions by nine games. Only one other division lacked a 100-game winner, but at least the AL West had the intrigue of Houston and Texas finishing with the same record (90-72), with Seattle just two games back.

I expected more of the same this year, and I was wrong.

AL Central

Guardians: They have the third-best record in baseball, even with Shane Bieber out for the year after just two starts. After finishing dead last in home runs last year, they’ve jumped to 13th so far this year.

• Twins: Recently had a 12-game winning streak, and have overcome injuries to all three guys I worried might get injured (Carlos Correa, Royce LewisByron Buxton).

Royals: The roster overhaul has worked, and would you believe it: The Royals are currently sitting in the third wild-card position in the AL.

Tigers: The Tigers are just 18-17, but being over .500 after last year’s 78-84 finish is still interesting. Tarik Skubal has been a revelation, and Riley Greene has bounced back.

White Sox: Interesting, but for none of the right reasons.

NL Central

• Brewers: It seemed like a sell-off this winter, and I expected a collapse. Instead, the Fightin’ Pat Murphys are leading the division again, at 20-14, in a virtual tie with the …

Cubs: I half-expected the Cubs to run away with this division, and that was before Shota Imanaga manifested as the second coming of Hippo Vaughn. Up next: a closer?

Reds: This point would have been better made last week, before the Reds’ five-game slide. Still, Elly De La Cruz is the sort of player who can almost single-handedly make a team watchable.

Pirates: They’re not good, but they are interesting. Jared Jones, Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz — Mitch Keller pitched a complete game last night. They’ll likely add Paul Skenes soon.

Cardinals: Not even really that interesting, even for the wrong reasons.

Neither division is going to be the best in baseball. But as I’m flipping through games every night, I’ve found myself more interested in the Central(s) than I expected to be.


The pitch they couldn’t master

Once in a while, I come across a story that makes me wish I’d thought to ask the central question. Today, it’s Andy McCullough and Stephen Nesbitt with a great premise: Let’s ask a lot of All-Star pitchers if there’s a pitch they never could quite master.

Every year, there are a glut of stories from every spring training camp — pitchers who spent their winter adding a new pitch (hello Spencer Strider’s curveball). But as McCullough and Nesbitt illustrate, it really isn’t easy.

The quotes in this story are great. Starting pitchers are, by nature, incredibly competitive. And yet, here are a dozen of the game’s best, admitting defeat: Their job is to throw pitches, and yet — here is a pitch I cannot throw.

But while it’s interesting to hear, say, Logan Webb of the Giants wax wistful on a cutter (“I’ve tried for five years now, and I just can’t figure it out”), I found myself wondering how each of their careers would look different if they had. What if Clayton Kershaw had a devastating changeup to go with his other dominant pitches?

If Shane Bieber is anything to go by, the answer is: pretty great. Bieber went to Driveline last winter, and finally got his changeup right, throwing the pitch to a 41.7 whiff rate before going down with a UCL injury. (So, maybe not great?)

Others never even attempted their white whale; Pablo López wanted to throw a screwball, but watching Brent Honeywell with the Rays, he worried that the arm action would cause an injury, so he never even tried it.


Handshakes and High Fives

McCullough has written a book about Clayton Kershaw, and if this excerpt is any indication, it’s going to be a must-read for any baseball fan.

It’s “wish you were here” week for the Power Rankings.

The Phillies are baseball’s best team so far. They might be … great?


Courtesy of the Detroit Tigers

The Tigers revealed their City Connect jerseys yesterday. I can get behind the tire tracks and the “313/M1” patches are very cool, but those hats aren’t great.

Luis-Arraez-to-San-Diego has not sated Jim Bowden’s thirst for more trades.

Dave Roberts joined Starkville to talk Ohtani, Mookie, vanilla ice cream and bee delays.

Bizarre moment in Oakland last night: Ezequiel Durán made a nice catch, then tried to throw out J.D. Davis at home. If you can’t tell from this GIF, the throw hit Davis right in the helmet (he stayed in the game).

You can buy tickets to every MLB game here.


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(Top photo of Dane Dunning: Jay Biggerstaff / Getty Images)





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