The two great franchises that tangled in the 1960 World Series are the first two this season to raise the white flag above their ball park. No proud championship banner in New York, no Jolly Roger of piracy in Pittsburgh. All season I had my doubts about which way the Pirates were bound, starting when they unloaded second baseman Neil Walker and power-hitting corner infielder Pedro Alvarez in winter.
Now, for any doubting Tommies or Tammies in Pittsburgh, the trade of closer Mark Melancon to Washington for a very questionable reliever and an A-ball player makes it certain that Clint Hurdle’s crew are headed to the bottom of Davy Jones’ Locker. And the purge of the Yankees that began last week with the giveaway of Aroldis Chapman continues as they send Andrew Miller to Cleveland, leaving all closing duty to Dellin Betances. The Indians kept the Mets from getting catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Brewers and now have gotten the second of two exceptional lefties off the Yankees. Again, the Yankees hope_ what they get isn’t two pigs in a poke-guys named Justus Sheffield and Clint Frazier plus two others who are unknown outside of whatever hamlet in the Indians’ system they occupied before the trade. One has a major red flag in his genes. Justus Sheffield is blood relations to Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield, both of whom mixed talent and trouble as long as they played. Now he’s 20 and was pitching at A Lynchburg, VA. With the Yankees that would put him in Tampa of the Florida State League.
Meantime, the Pirates get lefty Felipe Rivero and A-ball pitcher Taylor Hearn from the Nationals in exchange for a fine closer whose only flaw is that he could have left them in October to try free agency. Rivero was one of the many relievers who were largely to blame for the Nationals’ collapse last season along with Drew Storen ( Traded) and Jonathan Papelbon (not.) Papelbon ended last season suspended for attacking his own teammate Bryce Harper, and 11 of the last 15 batters he has seen have reached base, which rendered the Nats’ situation critical to put it kindly. The Bucs’ ownership should have known this and held out for somebody worth having, namely a starter plus possible comer Lucas Giolito.
Today’s earliest start features a rarity in today’s brand of baseball, a matchup of double-digit winners. Baltimore’s Chris Tillman who has 14 wins faces the Jays’ Aaron Sanchez who has 10. The way the game is going, a matchup like this is similar to a duel of two 20-game winners as late as the 1970’s. Now the 20-game winner is becoming a dinosaur and the 15-game winner may soon follow given the deplorable state of most teams’ middle relief and the inability of the modern starter to get past 6 innings. The Rockies are in the astonishing position of being able to sweep a 4-game series over the Mets at Citi Field with a win today. When this season started the very idea of a poor team like the Rockies winning 4 straight in New York against the Mets’ 2015 starting pitchers would have been laughable. But that was before Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard were hurt, and before the Mets’ bats that hit so well in April stopped hitting. Syndergaard will go today but he’s only gotten into the 7th in 1 of his last 6 starts. He was supposed to be the most durable of any starter in the game, if not just on the Mets and carries the increasingly less potent nickname Thor. His Thor arm may be all he’s remembered for in 2016. The Reds will welcome back Homer Bailey to the hill for the first time since he underwent Tommy John surgery in April, 2015. They hope they get back the Homer Bailey of two no-hitters. He’ll face Paul Clemens of the Padres, 60% of whose rotation have been traded, one to Boston and two to Miami. The Sunday night game will be the Mariners at Wrigley against the Cubs. King Felix Hernandez goes for the M’s, but the Cubs don’t have Jake Arrieta available for the dream matchup. They turn to Brian Matusz, a lefty who was released by the Orioles in May and hasn’t seen the bigs since.
The Marlins’ Jose Fernandez is 24 today. Incredibly, he’s got a 34-14 record on a historically bad team. He missed much of 2014 and 2015 with Tommy John surgery. He was an All-Star and rookie of the year in 2013, and an All-Star again post-surgery this season. He was boyhood chums in Cuba with Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Fernandez defected from Cuba on his 4th try when he was still only 16. He was drafted out of high school in round 1 of the 2011 draft by the Marlins. He and Diaz first faced each other this past Thursday, when Diaz launched one out of the park against his old pal.
Leon Durham, called “Bull” way_ before the movie came out, is 59 today. The Cincinnati native was a first-round draftee by the Cardinals in 1976. He played for a decade in the bigs and was an original member of the St. Paul Saints when the independent Northern League began play in 1993. In their first game he hit a 10th-inning grand slam to lead the Saints to victory over the Duluth Dukes. In the majors he’s best known for playing with the Cubs from 1981-88. As a Cub he was an All-Star in 1982 and 1983 and did his level best to propel his team to the World Series with home runs in game 4 and 5 of the 1984 NLCS. But Steve Garvey hit a walk-off home run to win game 4 and the Padres won game 5, erasing a 2-0 deficit and making their first World Series. The Cubs are still waiting.0