A stacked slate of 15 ballgames made up this second Saturday of the 2016 Major League Baseball season as action got underway around the one o’clock hour.
After going winless throughout the majority of the first two weeks of the season, both the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves got off the shinde Friday night, and looked to start streaking in the other direction in their respective afternoon contests. The Twins got off to a good start by plating a pair in the bottom half of the first, but found themselves in a 4-4 tie heading into the eighth. Back-to-back home runs from Oswaldo Arcia and Byung Ho Park put the team back out in front 6-4, and newly named closer Kevin Jepsen was able to seal the game with a fairly smooth ninth inning for the team’s second win in a row. After hanging around in the playoff hunt until the final week of the season last year, expectations were high for the 2016 Twins. The club’s promising young offense is off to an abysmal start, however, posting a .206 team batting average heading into the day. Starting position players Trevor Plouffe, Miguel Sano, Byung Ho Park, Byron Buxton, Brian Dozier, and Eddie Rozario are all hitting .200 or worse on the season, with Sano, Park, and Buxton all posting troubling strikeout numbers. All three players are striking out around 40% of their at-bats, and the young Buxton in particular has looked overmatched thus far with a 50% K-rate. The club may have overachieved last season, but surely they are better than they are performing right now.
The Braves also won their second straight game today; however, any form of prolonged success for the ballclub seems like a pipedream. One of a handful of teams that could be viewed as “tanking” the 2016 MLB season, the Braves are trotting out mostly replacement level players on a daily basis. They are currently the worst offensive team in baseball and have a 5.59 team ERA to go with it. The one constant source of production this year was intended to be the team’s 26 year-old first baseman, Freddie Freeman, but even he is off to a slow start this year with a .107/.324/.214 slashline entering play today. The hand and wrist issues that plagued Freeman last season could still be lingering, and the slugger admitted recently to having slower bat speed than normal early on. While it’s not yet time for fantasy owners to panic and drop Freddie Freeman, the re-injury risk is worth monitoring. If the diminished production continues into June, it may be time to start looking for another option at first base and chalk 2016 up to a hurt-year for Freeman.
IF YOU ONLY READ ONE THING…
After living to rue the fact they let the Mets hang around in the NL East race last season, the Washington Nationals are looking to put some distance between themselves and the second place Phillies in an effort to run away with the division. Though the early success can be attributed to a collective team effort, reigning NL-MVP Bryce Harper remains the center of attention for the cruising Nats. Harper nearly won the sabermetric triple crown in his historic 2015 season — leading the league in OBP and slugging, and trailing only the Marlins’ Dee Gordon in batting average — but the 23 year-old superstar is off to an even better start this year than last. Harper hit another emphatic homer today, and has posted a monstrous .781 slugging percentage with a .313 BA despite some bad luck with only a .240 BABIP. Harper is also walking at a 17.9% clip and only striking out in 7.7% of his at-bats. Those numbers are roughly the inverse of the league average rates with the majority of major leaguers posting a 20% K-percentage and 8% BB-percentage.
JUST AS WE EXPECTED…
The Chicago Cubs are the odd-on favorite to win the World Series this year for the first time in recent memory, and the ballclub has been playing as such so far this season. The Cubbies hit three home runs in today’s game against the Rockies, which proved to be more than enough for team-ace, Jake Arrieta. The righthander tossed eight innings of shutout ball to stay unbeaten in 2016 with 8 Ks and just one walk, and improving his early season ERA to 1.23. Arrieta has been virtually unhittable from the second half of 2015 on. That streak of excellence earned him a National League Cy Young award last year and has bled over into the 2016 season as well. Dating back to last year, Arrieta is 14-0 with 116 ⅓ IP, a 0.70 ERA, and 115 SO in his last 16 regular season starts. He responsible for a third of the Cubs wins this season and is eyeing to repeat as the best pitcher in the NL.
WHAT WE DIDN’T EXPECT…
Matt Harvey’s 2016 struggles continued today against the Cleveland Indians as the Mets failed to build off last night’s win. Harvey has had a tendency to unravel around the fifth inning in the early stages of this season, and today was no different with the majority of the damage from the Tribe coming in his last inning and ⅔ of work. The Dark Knight fell to 0-3 on the year after giving up five earned runs and raising his ERA to 5.71. Harvey lead-off the game with three perfect innings, but began to struggle with command and started to get knocked around a bit. Ideally, the Mets would like to view the early dominance in today’s game as a positive sign and believe he will improve as he starts to stretch out more, but these struggles date back to late-Spring Training and his somewhat infamous blood clot issue. Granted, the team has not given Harvey a great deal of run support, and they seem susceptible to long streaks of not scoring with all five of today’s runs coming via the longball. Both the offense and the pitching will need to be more consistant if New York hopes to repeat their 2015 pennant.
Travis d’Arnaud also left today’s loss for the Mets early after being hit with a 93-MPH fastball in the top of the seventh inning. Reliever Zach McAllister’s offering struck d’Arnaud in the left elbow, sending the Mets’ backstop to first base in visible pain. Though d’Arnaud stayed in to run the bases, he was lifted for backup catcher Kevin Plawecki in the bottom half of the inning. X-Rays on the elbow came back negative, but the oft-injured catcher will likely be given the day off in tomorrow’s rubber-match against Cleveland. He is currently listed as day to day.
Steve Cishek (1)
Kevin Jepsen (2)
J.J. Hoover (1)
Ryan Madson (3)
Craig Kimbrel (4)
Cody Allen (3)