The season still has three weeks remaining and the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Pirates, and Rangers have already been eliminated from postseason contention.
That’s just how Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Texas drew it up. They’re tanking to improve their draft position. But it’s Arizona, which came out of spring training believing it could contend for a playoff spot, that is leading the race to the bottom going into the weekend.
The Diamondbacks were 14-12 in April before going 8-48 in May and June. They were an unfathomable 2-31 from May 16 to June 20.
Now, as the season winds down, it’s ugly. The Orioles drew an announced crowd of 5,087 for their game against the Royals at Camden Yards on Thursday. The Diamondbacks hosted the Rangers on Wednesday and only 6,354 fans showed up.
Is there hope for the four worst teams in baseball? Let’s take a look at what the future holds:
Diamondbacks: Arizona won 85 games in 2019 even with trading Zack Greinke. The Diamondbacks decided to go for it and signed Madison Bumgarner for a robust $85 million over five seasons. He’s now 32 and has a 5.02 ERA in 31 starts for Arizona.
Now the Diamondbacks would seem to have little choice but to fully embrace rebuilding with the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres in the same division. The first decision will be whether to bring Torey Lovullo back for a sixth year as manager. His frustration with the players this season has been evident.
Pitching and lack of power are the biggest issues. Losing top prospects Corbin Carroll and Jordan Lawler to shoulder injuries was a blow, too. Lawler was injured two games into his professional career after being the sixth overall pick. The shortstop is a foundational talent, but the immediate setback was typical of what Arizona has endured this season.
Orioles: Baltimore isn’t getting anywhere in the standings. But it is as an organization.
John Means can anchor the rotation in the future. Cedric Mullins is a leadoff hitter they can build around. Catcher Adley Rutschman, the first overall pick in 2019, is in Triple A and hitting well.
An ace, a center fielder, and a catcher is a good place to start. Grayson Rodriguez, a first-rounder in 2019, has a 2.66 ERA this season and advanced to Double A.
The Orioles invested in scouting and development. It’s starting to work. The AL East is unforgiving, but Baltimore is taking the right path.
Pirates: Ben Cherington got so many little moves right as GM of the Red Sox. But the big ones (some that clearly weren’t his doing) backfired on him.
Now with the Pirates he has a largely blank slate. Oneil Cruz, a 6-foot-7-inch shortstop, had a strong season in Double A despite injuries. Catcher Henry Davis, the top overall pick in July, has the profile to make a quick climb to the majors.
Righthander Quinn Priester and second baseman Nick Gonzalez have had promising seasons in the minors.
Center fielder Bryan Reynolds is one core player on the roster. The same is true for third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, although his production dipped after a strong 2020.
Pittsburgh starters have a 5.52 ERA this season. That’ll be the focus of the offseason.
Rangers: This has been a season of structural change as president of baseball operations Jon Daniels and new GM Chris Young made a series of moves to reshape the scouting and player development departments.
This is the fifth consecutive losing season for Texas and ownership is getting antsy after putting up a new ballpark. Trading Joey Gallo (as opposed to signing him to an extension) was a sign of how much the Rangers were willing to get away from their past.
There is some talent on the major league roster, but Texas has five prospects generally listed among the top 100 and will build around that group.
Third baseman Josh Jung is finishing the season in Triple A. Righthander Cole Winn has a 2.63 ERA in Double A. Righthander A.J. Alexy pitched well in his first two major league starts.
Doctor: Vaccines key for Red Sox
The Red Sox have offered few details about how and why 10 of their players contracted COVID-19 over the last two-plus weeks. What we do know is that several of the players who tested positive were vaccinated and either recovered quickly or had no symptoms.
Yet the Sox remain one of seven teams who have yet to reach 85 percent of their players, coaches, and staffers being vaccinated. They still can’t convince enough of the holdouts.
Dr. Todd Ellerin, an infectious disease specialist affiliated with South Shore Hospital, has been in that position before.
“There’s no one line you can say to convince people,” he said. “You have to listen to them and ask questions. If there are 10 people, they probably have 10 different reasons. Patience is required.”
While acknowledging that he doesn’t know the particulars of what happened with the Red Sox, Ellerin said there is clearly a connection between the Sox lagging on vaccines and having an outbreak within the team.
“There is a vulnerability being unvaccinated,” he said. “The vaccines are really good. They’re keeping people out of the hospital. But there are some breakthroughs. You can still become infected.
“You’d hope that people would want to protect those around them.”
In the meantime, the Sox will have to live with the fear that another outbreak could keep them out of the postseason. The only other American League contender without an 85 percent vaccination rate is the Mariners.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ On Thursday, President Biden announced a plan calling on sports arenas to require patrons be vaccinated or show proof of a negative COVID test.
The Red Sox had eight home games remaining starting Friday. To date, they have not mandated vaccines for fans or team employees.
Via Twitter, I conducted a poll asking if people would be more likely or less likely to attend a game at Fenway Park if attendance required proof of full vaccination or a negative test.
Of the 2,817 responses: 61 percent said they were more likely to attend, 11 percent were less likely, and 27 percent said it didn’t matter.
The Sox may find requiring vaccines would be good for business. Considering they’re 11th in the majors with an average attendance of only 20,105, it would be worth trying.
▪ Nate Eovaldi has a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts, with the Sox winning five of those games. He’s held opponents to a .207 batting average, and he has averaged 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
Eovaldi should get some votes for Cy Young. He’s third in the American League among pitchers with 4.8 WAR, sixth in ERA, tied for second in innings, and sixth in strikeouts.
▪ The Red Sox picked up four prospects, along with Franchy Cordero, in the trade that sent Andrew Benintendi to Kansas City.One or two of those prospects needs to pop because Cordero is a candidate to be designated for assignment. He’s 3 for 20 with nine strikeouts in his last 10 major league games and now has a .663 OPS in 451 career plate appearances. There’s little evidence Cordero will be useful.
▪ Jarren Duran has only 341 plate appearances counting the games he has played in Triple A. Wonder if the Sox will have him play winter ball again. He needs a lot of work in center field.
▪ Michael Gettys, a 25-year-old outfielder, was signed as a minor league free agent before the season and had a .620 OPS in 46 games at Triple A Worcester. He’s now a pitcher and has worked two games in the Florida Complex League.
As a high school prospect in Georgia, Gettys recorded some 100-mile-per-hour throws from the outfield and was one of the best pitchers in a talent-laden state. Evaluators saw him as a hitter, and he was a second-round pick by the Padres in 2014.
Gettys showed occasional power in the minors but couldn’t overcome a .313 on-base percentage. The Sox offered an opportunity to pitch, and he took it.
Jeter ably wraps up career
Derek Jeter said a few weeks ago that he hadn’t really worked on his Hall of Fame speech, but it would be ready when the time came. He was right, of course, and his comments at Cooperstown were perfect.
Jeter connected the game and his career to his family and those who influenced him along the way. He provided enough detail without getting too sentimental.
As a Yankees beat writer from 2006-09, that came to be expected. Whatever happened with the Yankees — good, bad, or controversial — Jeter knew what to say afterward. It wasn’t usually particularly memorable, but it was appropriate and that’s a skill, especially in a market in New York.
Jeter understood who he was. If the Yankees lost a few games in a row, he would be at his locker afterward to represent the team whether he had anything to do with the loss or not. If they won a few games in a row, he would often step back and allow other players to have the spotlight.
On the field, you better understood Jeter’s value the more you watched him. He wasn’t the best shortstop, but if a play had to be made, he made it. He wasn’t a hitter who awed you with how long or how hard he hit the ball, but if the Yankees needed a hit, he was the guy they wanted at the plate.
His goal was to find a way to win the game that day. Then do it again tomorrow.
Jeter has five World Series rings, 3,465 hits, and 14 All-Star appearances. But the number that stands out is 4. He played only four games in his career [out of 2,747] when the Yankees were eliminated from playoff contention.
How Jeter wasn’t a unanimous choice for the Hall remains a mystery. He was left off one ballot out of 397.
In January 2020, when he first learned of his election, Jeter professed not to care that one voter had left him off the ballot. That denied him joining his good friend and teammate Mariano Rivera as the only unanimous choices in history.
Of course, Jeter did care.
“Thank you to the baseball writers,” he said Wednesday. “All but one of you who voted for me.”
In 2016, The Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted to make all ballots public. The Hall of Fame refused.
Most voters favor transparency. Of the 411 ballots cast last year, 311 were made public.
All votes should be public, as they are when the BBWAA votes for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year. As a profession, journalists ask people to make on-the-record comments every day. We seek accountability. The least we can do is hold ourselves to that standard.
The ballot the writers will get in December will include David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez for the first time, and Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling for the last time.
It’s about to get messy.
Schilling got to 71.1 percent last year and traditionally players in their final season of eligibility get a bump. That was the case for Larry Walker, who went from 54.6 percent to 76.6 percent.
But Schilling is not a traditional candidate given his series of inflammatory comments in recent years. Bonds, Clemens, Ortiz, and Rodriguez are home runs statistically but have been tied to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
The Cubs are on pace to lose 86 games, which would be their worst season since 2014. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer is searching for a GM from outside the organization to bring in a fresh perspective on the situation. The Cubs have the payroll space to strike quickly and make their rebuild brief. In the meantime, 29-year-old rookie first baseman Frank Schwindel had 10 homers, 30 RBIs, and a 1.066 OPS in his first 35 games after being claimed off waivers from Oakland on July 18. The former St. John’s player has been nicknamed “Frank the Tank” in Chicago . . . Marvin Miller was stubborn even in death. The first executive director of the MLB Players Association was denied entrance to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 2003, ‘07, ‘08, and ‘10 despite his historical impact on the game. In 2008, Miller said the voting was a farce and he no longer wanted any part of it. Before his death in 2012, Miller left instructions for the family not to represent him at Cooperstown if he were elected posthumously. His two children honored that request after he was finally voted in and former MLBPA director Donald Fehr spoke on Miller’s behalf Wednesday . . . The Braves cleared the decks for Freddie Freeman, agreeing to deals with pending free agents Travis d’Arnaud and Charlie Morton. Freeman, who has been in the organization since 2007, is coming to the end of an eight-year, $135 million deal. It’s hard to picture Freeman bouncing to another team given what he’s meant to the franchise, but he’s 32 and the Braves won’t want a long-term deal. With the NL likely to have a designated hitter next season, the sides should be able to find common ground . . . Pete Alonso of the Mets is the second-fastest player to 100 career home runs. He got there in 347 games. Ryan Howard needed 325 . . . The Cubs and Mets have used 63 players this season. The major league record is 67, set by the Mariners in 2019 . . . In partnership with the Diamondbacks, the Nicole Hazen Fund for Hope was launched this summer to provide support for the Barrow Neurological Institute’s Ivy Brain Tumor Center. Nicole, who is battling an aggressive brain tumor, is the wife of Arizona GM Mike Hazen and the mother of four sons. The Hazens were longtime Massachusetts residents before moving to Arizona in 2017. The fund has raised more than $1.5 million. Go to https://www.mlb.com/dbacks/community/foundation/nicole-hazen-fund-for-hope to donate . . . Happy birthday to Kyle Weiland, who is 35. The righthander was a third-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 2008 out of Notre Dame and made his major league debut July 10, 2011. Weiland’s start happened to come during a tense series between the Sox and Orioles at Fenway Park that included a series of ejections. Weiland was ejected when he accidentally hit Vladimir Guerrero with a pitch in the fifth inning. He remains the only Sox player ejected in his debut. Weiland and Jed Lowrie were traded to the Astros after the season in return for closer Mark Melancon. It was the first transaction made by new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. Weiland opened the 2012 season in the Houston rotation but lasted only three games because of a shoulder injury that led to an infection. He retired after a brief comeback in 2014 and now works in medical sales.