April 15, 2024

Rhys Hoskins, first villain of the MLB season; Juan Soto’s defense helps sink Astros

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The Rhys Hoskins Villain Era is blossoming, the Yankees and Juan Soto devoured the Astros whole and we ask: Are the Pirates good? Or are the Marlins bad? I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Rhys Hoskins is still irritating the Mets

I can’t explain it. In real life, I value open communication and peacemaking in stressful environments. But when I’m watching baseball … look, it doesn’t get much more compelling for me than Rhys Hoskins making a “crybaby” motion from the dugout.

It’s high theater; immature, hilarious and basically harmless. I love it.

So, how did we get here?

There’s history, of course. Before he joined the Brewers, Hoskins played for the Phillies, scientifically proven to be the fastest route to Mets-related pettiness. In 2019, Hoskins responded to being thrown at by hitting a home run and trotting around the bases at a borderline lethargic pace.

Rivalry: firmly established.

On Friday, Hoskins slid into second base — a slide that would have been standard fare 20 years ago, but was legal but pretty late by 2024 standards — and his spike caught second baseman Jeff McNeil’s right ankle. While Hoskins was down, McNeil vehemently voiced his displeasure, and benches immediately cleared. The aftermath of that dust-up was how we got the above GIF.

On Saturday, Hoskins went off, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs, including another home run. In Hoskins’ final at-bat, Yohan Ramírez threw behind Hoskins and was promptly ejected (Ramírez was later suspended three games).

Hoskins, says Tim Britton, is rapidly ascending through the ranks of all-time Mets villains. More importantly, the Brewers swept the Mets in New York to open the season.

Me? I will definitely be tuning in when the Mets visit Milwaukee in … ugh, late September?! They bookend the season against each other?

More tempers flaring: What was Genesis Cabrera doing, shoving José Caballero? (Cabrera was also suspended for three games).

Ken’s Notebook: Juan Soto’s defense turning heads

From my latest story:

Jackie Bradley Jr. saw the Opening Day highlight, the game-saving, one-hop throw to home plate by his offseason training buddy, New York Yankees right fielder Juan Soto.

“I did. I sure did,” Bradley said. “You could tell he was more confident. He wasn’t just getting to the ball and trying to hit the cutoff man. No. He attacked the ball. He had every intention of throwing him out. And it was an awesome throw.”

Soto, 25, sought advice from Bradley, a former Gold Glove center fielder, while the two worked out together in Miami. He is working diligently with Luis Rojas, the Yankees’ third base coach and outfield instructor. In the words of his manager, Aaron Boone, “He’s not satisfied with his reputation of being an average outfielder. He wants to win a Gold Glove.”

Make no mistake: Soto’s historic offensive production, on display all weekend as he dismantled the Houston Astros, is the primary reason he likely will command $500 million next offseason in free agency. But in the early days of the season, starting with his ninth-inning erasure of Mauricio Dubón as the potential tying run on Opening Day, his defense has been eye-opening.

For Davey Martinez, Soto’s former manager with the Washington Nationals, the play on Dubón evoked memories of Soto’s early years, when few complained about his defense.

“His first step was good and he would always come get the ball as he did the other day,” said Martinez, a former major-league outfielder. “I love the kid because he’s always willing to put the work in.”

After last season, however, Soto recognized additional work was necessary. Playing for the San Diego Padres, he ranked 31st among left fielders in defensive runs saved and 32nd in outs above average. His regression alarmed some evaluators, who considered him, at a young age, on a path to becoming a DH.

His trade to the Yankees entailed a return to right field, a position he played in 2021 and ’22. The first of those years was Soto’s last full season with the Nationals, and he rated as an above-average defender. But after his trade to the Padres in July 2022, he dropped off considerably.

A cynic would suggest Soto’s renewed commitment to both his defense and base running is the natural response of a player recognizing that in his walk year, he needs to be at his best. But Soto was serious about his defense before, so it’s not out of character for him to be serious about it again.

Astros fall flat in opening series

This is definitely not the start we expected from the Houston Astros. For the first time since 2010, they’re 0-4 to start the season. That was the year that preceded three straight 100-loss seasons as the Astros went through an era of pain to set themselves up for a decade of dominance. But this year? This year, just about every major publication picked them to win the AL West.

Some of the blame could be chalked up to bad luck, but two factors stick out after the opening series.

The first is that the Astros had a lead in three of the four games (and lost the other in the ninth inning). While their starting rotation depth has been a question, a reliever took the loss in each game. As Chandler Rome points out, the signing of Josh Hader does not account for the fact that the team lost a ton of relief depth this offseason.

  • Astros starting pitchers: 7 runs (6 earned) in four games.
  • Astros relievers: 14 runs (12 earned) in four games.

Rome also points to the second cause for the bumpy start: The team’s offensive stars simply aren’t producing to the level we’ve come to expect from them.

It’s early yet — Yordan Alvarez, for example, is no more likely to continue to hit .118 than Yainer Díaz is to continue to hit .429 — but three come-from-ahead losses to the Yankees is certainly a bumpy way to start the season.

More Astros: Tuesday night is Autism Awareness Night in Houston. For manager Joe Espada and his family, it’s a particularly meaningful night.

Pirates sweep Marlins … ?

The Astros weren’t the only team to start the season 0-4. The Miami Marlins also dropped four straight to the Pirates over the weekend, leaving me asking: Are the Pirates better than I thought? Or are the Marlins worse?

This is not a question that can be answered now (remember when Pittsburgh jumped out to a 20-9 record last April, then finished 76-86?) but we can at least look at a few takeaways:

The exciting stars were fun to watch. Oneil Cruz and Jazz Chisolm Jr. were both electric, and Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds both have an OPS over 1.000 after the opening series (Jake Burger is close, at .944). There was no shortage of highlights — Chisolm Jr. had two diving catches in center field, and Cruz ran the bases like a maniac.

But for all the highlight-reel plays, these were not particularly clean games; the action alternated between brilliance and sloppiness. The teams combined for 7 errors (plus a few other misplays that weren’t scored errors) and each miscue seemed to lead to runs. The Pirates had three runners thrown out at home in the first game.

Jared Jones of the Pirates had 10 strikeouts in his impressive big-league debut on Saturday. By the end of that game, the Marlins had a combined four extra-base hits in the first three games. Miami woke up in game four, jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning and smashing three home runs, but … two of the three games (including Sunday) went to extra innings, and here is a line that might explain why the Pirates came out on top:

  • Pirates bullpen (4 games): 20 1/3 innings, 1 ER, 8 hits, 21 strikeouts, 4 walks
  • Marlins bullpen (4 games): 24 innings, 14 ER, 27 hits, 26 strikeouts, 12 walks

Who knows what is in store, but the Pirates appear to be on their way to proving Eno Sarris right; last week he predicted the Buccos would make the playoffs.

Handshakes and High Fives

Evan Drellich has been on top of the MLBPA mutiny since the beginning. In today’s article, he recounts the issues that led to the problem, where it stands, and what might be next.

Andy McCullough explains the often-predatory world of illegal bookies, and Jim Trotter says leagues only have themselves to blame after partnering with betting companies. Mike Vornukov spoke to lawyers about Shohei Ohtani’s potential legal exposure in the matter.

Royce Lewis of the Twins won’t need surgery, but his quad injury could keep him out for two months. And in Atlanta, a timeline for return is unclear after Sean Murphy’s left oblique strain. Same for DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees, who has a non-displaced fracture in his foot.

It took two games for the Angels to have a team meeting, which might be a record. It worked; they beat the Orioles 4-1 on Sunday to avoid the sweep.

Who doesn’t love a “family attends a big-league debut” story? We have two: Victor Scott II of the Cardinals and Cade Smith of the Guardians, who hadn’t seen his family in a year.

Matt Gelb recaps the Phillies’ first series of the year, including this moment from Saturday’s game featuring Baseball Banshee Bryce Harper. He sat out the next game — scheduled rest day, the team said — but is supposed to play today.

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(Top photo of Rhys Hoskins: Christopher Pasatieri / Getty Images)