HomeTrending MLB NewsFive Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, May 3

Five Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week, May 3

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Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to another edition of Five Things I Liked (Or Didn’t Like) This Week. As always, thanks to Zach Lowe for coming up with the idea for the column, because it’s a great excuse to watch a ton of baseball and write about plays that make me smile. This week had a little bit of everything: close and fun games, lopsided and fun games, idiosyncratic batter behavior, and even an all-time major league record (nope, not a good one). Let’s get started. One quick note: Five Things is taking a week off next week for workload management. No word on whether I’ll be assigned to FanGraphs Triple-A to keep my typing arm fresh, but the column will return a week from Friday.

1. High-Stakes Games in April
Two division leaders faced off in Seattle on Monday night. The juggernaut Braves need no introduction; they have the best record in baseball and won 104 games last year. The Mariners have ridden a dominant rotation to the top of the AL West despite a sputtering offense. The first game of the series pitted Bryce Miller against Max Fried, and while neither was projected as their team’s ace coming into the season, they both looked the part in this game.

Miller started things off with his customary dominant fastball. He got Ronald Acuña Jr. looking and Ozzie Albies swinging in the first inning, and kept going from there. When Miller’s fastball is cooking, it’s hard to imagine making contact against him, never mind getting a hit:

Fried got off to a slow start this year after missing half of last season with injury, but he’d just thrown a three-hitter against the Marlins, and he picked up right where he left off. He baffled the Mariners with an array of fastballs, sliders, and delightful slow curves:

These two battled long into the night, exchanging scoreless innings and confident struts. One thing they didn’t exchange was baserunners; through six innings, they combined for three walks and no hits allowed. They traded strikeouts – 10 for Miller, seven for Fried – and made every 2-1 count feel like a rally.

The Braves lineup is too good to hold down forever. Acuña recorded the first hit of the game with a smashed groundball single in the seventh. Then he stole second. Then he stole third. Then Albies cracked a ground-rule double to bring him home. Miller recovered to escape the inning with no further damage, but Fried and the relievers that followed him could work with that. They made it through eight innings without any damage, setting up a dramatic clash between Atlanta closer A.J. Minter, trying to protect that one-run lead, and the two goats of the Seattle offense so far, Jorge Polanco and Mitch Garver. Polanco led off the bottom of the ninth with a single through the six hole before Garver clobbered a walk-off blast:

More games like this in April, please. More games like it in May and June. I like whimsical baseball just as much as the next person – probably more, in fact. But when games are this well played and this tight, it’s like a little piece of the playoffs escaped October and landed in my living room. My heart couldn’t handle every game being like this, but getting one every once in a while is a delight.

2. Wyatt Langford in Space
Wyatt Langford’s debut has been uneven, to be kind. He’s hitting .239/.311/.312, not exactly the offensive juggernaut Rangers fans expected after he tore up the minors last year. He has top-of-the-scale power; he hit six homers in spring training this year, and 10 in fewer than 200 minor league plate appearances last season. So far, that power hasn’t shown up. He only has a single home run in the majors this year. But oh boy, was that home run fun:

It feels weird for a power hitting DH to have an inside-the-park home run and no regular ones, but Langford is a strange DH. The fact that he isn’t a plus corner outfielder is surprising, because he can absolutely fly. Statcast clocks his average sprint speed so far this year at 29.6 ft/sec, one of the fastest marks in the sport. That somehow hasn’t translated to defense yet, but on offense? The man can move.

For a lot of players, this would be a triple. I clocked him at just under 15 seconds around the bases, and that could have been even faster if he didn’t think he hit a homer at first:

Now, did the Reds defense help out? Sure. Jake Fraley didn’t play the carom well at all; if he’d simply been less aggressive chasing the ball into that corner, this would have been a double or triple at most. But that one mistake is all it took (and for the Sam Miller enthusiasts out there, note Elly De La Cruz taking the cutoff throw from right field). But even accounting for the defensive miscue, Langford’s speed is what made this play happen.

Langford doesn’t seem like a track star to me, though I’m not sure how much of that is because I keep seeing “DH” next to his name. (He was playing left field in this game, for what it’s worth.) But watching him round the bases, you can’t miss it:

I particularly liked this close-up angle the Rangers posted:

Maybe it’s the red gloves. Maybe it’s the stride length. There’s just something simultaneously soothing and surprising about seeing him round the bases. He’s a large man with flailing arms, but there’s a grace to it too; his torso and head barely bounce around even as he accelerates to full speed. It’s a joy to watch, is my point. And Adolis García loved it just as much as I did:

3. Walk Offs
It all started with a mistake. In the bottom of the first inning last Thursday, Yoshinobu Yamamoto missed just low to Joey Meneses in a full count. Umpire Brian Walsh didn’t see it that way:

You can see Meneses at the edge of the frame looking back in shock. That was a ball! But the game moved on. The next three-ball pitch Yamamoto threw was a walk to Joey Gallo. The next one after that? Another one to Gallo with a different result:

I do think that one was a strike, but Gallo clearly didn’t. And now the battle lines were set: The Nationals were walking to first on every three-ball pitch they saw. Jacob Young got the memo:

And then on 3-2, he got the memo again:

Jesse Winker looked to me like he was ready to trot off – but Yamamoto’s 3-2 curveball caught so much of the plate that he instead pivoted around and marched back to the dugout:

Yamamoto was commanding the edges of the plate masterfully, and getting some help there to boot. But I loved Washington’s strategy. Just trot down to first base if it’s close. Maybe you’ll influence the umpire. Yamamoto threw eight pitches in three-ball counts in the game. The Nats swung at one and ran down toward first on five. That’s aspirational living right there. Maybe Mike Rizzo should put up a sign that says “no one cares how fast you run down to first base on strike three.” Or maybe he shouldn’t – I had a lot of fun watching them do it.

4. Revenge
You can only pull off this play when a catcher is hitting:

Don’t get me wrong, José Ramírez is a great defender. That was a heck of a play, a difficult barehanded scoop and an impressive off-platform throw. Not many third basemen can combine those two so smoothly. But if pretty much anyone else on the Braves were running, that would have been a single. Travis d’Arnaud is a 35-year-old catcher, and he moves like one, with 18th percentile sprint speed and 10th percentile home-to-first splits.

A series of unlikely events needs to happen for that to be such an unlucky out. Replace Ramírez with a slightly worse defender and it’s a hit. Replace d’Arnaud with a slightly faster runner and it’s a hit. Take a mile per hour off of the contact, or move it just a bit more away from Ramírez’s path, and it’s a hit. Part of being a good defender is making a lot of these edge-case plays, but I’m sure d’Arnaud was unhappy about losing a hit that way.

It’s OK, though, because he got his revenge two nights later. With two out and no one on in the top of the 10th, Ramírez singled off of A.J. Minter. He got a huge jump on the second pitch of the next at-bat and stole second standing up. Or at least, he thought he did:

Blink and you’ll miss it. Orlando Arcia’s swipe tag was way late, and it didn’t even make contact. A reverse angle is even more confusing. I have no idea why Ramírez didn’t slide, but he looks pretty clearly safe on this one:

Surely replay would fix this, right? Wrong:

What a remarkably perfect throw. Without meaning to, d’Arnaud hit Ramírez’s back pocket batting gloves from 130 feet away. Ramírez was out the moment Arcia caught the ball. The after-the-fact swipe was just instinctual, because Arcia has caught thousands of throws like that in his life but probably never received one that precise. I’ve heard of letting the ball do the work on a tag, but this takes that to a new level.

If Ramírez had been faster, there would be no play. If he’d been slower, he probably would have slid – honestly, he should have anyway. If the throw had been three inches off in either direction, the tag wouldn’t have been there. Ramírez stole one from d’Arnaud thanks to a series of just-so events. It’s only fair that d’Arnaud did the same to him.

5. Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory
With their loss to the Astros on Sunday, the Rockies fell to 7-21 in their first 28 games, which is bad enough. Even worse, they trailed at some point in each of those games. That tied a “record” set by the 1910 St. Louis Browns for most consecutive games trailing to start a season. Any time you’re tying a record set by the Browns, something has gone wrong.

Luckily for them, the next game, on Tuesday, offered a quick reprieve. They ambushed the Marlins with five runs in the top of the first, and Ryan Feltner was absolutely dealing. He faced the minimum number of batters through six innings, with the two singles he allowed quickly erased by a double play and a caught stealing, respectively. He needed only 79 pitches to get through eight scoreless innings. Bud Black sent him back out for the ninth to try for his first career complete game, a shutout to boot.

Things started to go wrong right away. Vidal Bruján snuck a single through the infield, Feltner hit Christian Bethancourt to add another baserunner, and then Luis Arraez doubled Bruján home to open the scoring ledger for Miami. Feltner’s first complete game would have to wait, because the Rockies needed this win. Closer Justin Lawrence came in to slam the door. But uh… he walked Bryan De La Cruz, and then Dane Myers (in the game because Jazz Chisholm Jr. got ejected for arguing balls and strikes) singled home two runs, and then Josh Bell singled to load the bases, and then Lawrence hit Jesús Sánchez to make it 5-4, and then… well, you get the idea. By the time Jalen Beeks came in to replace Lawrence, the game was tied and there was still only one out. But Beeks wriggled out of the jam without conceding anything further. The Rockies still had a chance to bury this accursed streak – they hadn’t trailed at any point in this game.

They scored a run in the top of the 10th when Ryan McMahon stroked a two-out double. But it wasn’t to be. De La Cruz doubled in the bottom of the inning to even the score. Then Myers – c’mon, the guy who wasn’t even supposed to be in the game! – won it for Miami with a seeing-eye single. Or maybe De La Cruz won it by remembering to touch home. Or maybe catcher Elias Díaz lost it with a bobble:

Oh boy, that one’s gonna sting. The Rockies can’t get out of their own way. They’ve trailed in the two games they’ve played since this collapse, too, extending the record to an outrageous 31 straight games trailing to start the season. Include the end of last year, and it’s 37 straight games trailing. I’m sorry for the Rockies fans enduring this, and for Patrick Dubuque for choosing to live the Rockies fan life for a year in this year of all years. At this point, there’s not much you can do other than stare, like rubbernecking but for sports.

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