This week for many was mired by the smoke from the wildfires in eastern Canada. Many east coast cities were blanked by pollution, smoke, and some of the worst air quality experienced in decades. It’s a lasting memory for many when they look back at this week, not just for baseball fans who saw a handful of games canceled.
More on the smoke later but this week, was an eventful one in baseball. Andrew McCutchen notched his 2000th career hit, Kyle Hendricks had a no-hit bid through the eighth inning, and two divisions have a new team in first. But, the big highlight of the week for many baseball fans was the impressive showing from one of the top prospects in baseball. One player has given a fanbase hope for the first time in a decade and could help propel his team to a division title.
Takeaways From Last Week in Major League Baseball
De La Cruz Fuels Big Red Machine
Elly De La Cruz made his MLB debut on Tuesday, June 6. Before stepping up to the plate, there was already an understandable buzz in Great American Ballpark. The 6-5 200-pound infielder brings a large presence not just for his size but his skills and ability in the lineup. His first game provided the breadcrumbs for the fans as they saw him smash a double to the outfield wall and speed his way around the bases.
Then came the game where the national baseball world took notice of the phenom. The Cincinnati Reds were eager to return to the win column and put De La Cruz in the cleanup spot in the lineup. The second pitch of the plate appearance was high and inside and the power-hitting prospect pulled the ball with a sound off the bat that had anyone watching convinced that the ball was going to break through a wall. His first big league homer barely remained in the stadium and sent everyone into a frenzy. How often does a player hit a ball that hard? How often does a rookie make contact like that?
De Le Cruz wasn’t done that night. Later in the game, he powered a triple which allowed him to score another run in an 8-6 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The rest of the week wasn’t as eventful with only five singles but the baseball world has already seen his ceiling. The power, speed, and sheer athleticism have many Reds fans wondering what he can become.
More importantly, it puts the Reds back on the map. They have a 31-35 record but suddenly look like a formidable team. De La Cruz makes the rest of the lineup look better and suddenly, Spencer Steer has lineup support. Jonathan India and TJ Friedl look a little better with a power bat in the middle. It’s an overreaction to say one player turns a team into a contender but De La Cruz can boost a lineup and team to the point where suddenly a good roster becomes a playoff-caliber one.
For the Reds, this is what they’ve needed for years. The franchise has only reached the postseason once in the last nine seasons. Last year looked like a low point when they started the season 3-22 and ended the year looking like a hapless organization. This week gave the Reds hope, a possible return to the Big Red Machine days of the 1970s or even the days when they were perennial division winners in the early 2010s. For a fanbase that has gone through a lot, De La Cruz is the antidote they’ve needed and the player that they can look forward to watching on a nightly basis.
Marlins Are Sneaking Up On Everyone
Did you know that the Miami Marlins are 37-29 and in second place in the National League East Division? Did you know that they won eight of their last 10 games including a comeback win on Sunday against the Chicago White Sox where they scored three runs in the ninth inning to win 6-5? Unless you are a Marlins fan, this might be a surprise (it certainly has been a surprise for the one writing this article).
— Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports) June 11, 2023
The Marlins are having a good season but it’s interesting to see how they are winning games. Their lineup is below league average, scoring only 4.00 runs per game but they have a batting order where the pieces fit. Reigning Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara is having a rough season on the mound but the rest of the rotation has been exceptional. The Marlins are a team of odd pieces but have put together a roster that can not only make the postseason but possibly take the division.
The highlight of their lineup and team as a whole has been Luis Arraez. While the batting average has been evaluated differently in recent years (with many using the slash line instead to evaluate a hitter), he’s batting over .400 at the moment. This is historic territory. Aaron Judge hit 62 home runs and that felt monumental but the last time someone had a batting average over .400 was in 1953 (by the great Ted Williams). Players have gotten close but Arraez is on pace to hit that monumental .400 threshold. But along with the average, he’s been the slap hitter that the Marlins have needed, slashing .402/.452/.491 and putting the ball in play to keep the line moving.
Along with Arraez, the Marlins have surrounded him with notable players that contrast his hitting style to form a dynamic lineup. Jorge Soler is a power hitter who has a .524 slugging percentage and 17 home runs. Jazz Chisholm Jr. was the speedster (before he got hurt) who when he got on base, could put himself in scoring position, stealing 14 bases in 16 attempts. The Marlins assemble a lineup that doesn’t have star power but the players fit alongside each other.
It’s still early in the season and a lot can change. However, the Marlins have shown that they will be in the fight for the rest of the season. They’ll compete for a Wild Card spot and they have a slight chance to win the division at the end of the day. Best yet, Alcantara can turn a corner and become unhittable again. Imagine if that happens.
Diamondbacks Win Five Straight
Sure, the hot streak can be taken with a grain of salt. The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Washington Nationals in back-to-back games and then swept the Detroit Tigers this weekend. However, they’ve been playing at a high level all season, and weeks like these are the ones that win divisions.
The Diamondbacks are 40-25 and in first place in the National League West Division by 3.5 games. The expectation is that the Dodgers will eventually overtake them in the division but they’ve consistently remained near the top all season.
The Diamondbacks finally have a lineup to pair with their strong pitching staff. Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly were expected to put together good years but they needed run support. Enter a team that averages 5.14 runs per game and has scored 38 runs in the last five games. Five batters have an OPS+ over 100 and Corbin Carroll looks like one of baseball’s best young hitters, slashing .301/.385/.565 with 13 home runs and 122 total bases.
The Diamondbacks have quietly leaped to the top of the National League. While the hot streak will cool off and they will regress to the mean, they’ve been playing well all year and have established themselves as a playoff team. They won’t buy in at the trade deadline but they have a core that is easy to like and expect to keep them competitive this season and for years to come.
Braves Over Mets Anyday
It’s hard to know whether teams or cursed or not unless you are a New York Mets fan. For this team, it seems like whatever can go wrong does. They sign Carlos Correa! Turns out, his physical leaves them concerned about his long-term health and they fail to come to an agreement. They have the best closer in baseball! Edwin Diaz suffers a season-ending injury after celebrating the final out of a game in the World Baseball Classic. They have a billionaire owner willing to spend big on free agents! Turns out, those players are underachieving or injured (they are 40 years old).
This week, the Mets faced their rival Atlanta Braves, a team that has had their number for the past 30 years. These two teams have gone through ownership changes, roster overhauls, and new stadiums, and just about everything has changed from 1990 until now except one thing. The Braves continue to own the Mets. Last year, everything went right for them in a 101-win season but they fail to win the division after they are swept by the Braves in Atlanta in the final week of the season.
Fast forward to this week. The two teams are playing in the same ballpark as they did in September and it felt like deja vu. The Mets would take commanding leads only to squander them late. They’d have great starts ruined by a terrible bullpen. They were swept by the Braves and to make matters worse, Pete Alonso, their best hitter, was hit in the hand by a pitch and will miss time.
The Braves built off the series sweep and moved to 40-25. They are in first place in the division and the common theme is that it’s their division to lose until it’s not. The Mets meanwhile lost two of their three games to the Pittsburgh Pirates and dropped to 31-35 on the season. The Mets division hopes seem crushed and now the questions start to swirl around manager Buck Showalter and if he’ll remain with the team for the rest of the season. As Yogi Berra once said “It gets late out there early” and in June, the season looks bleak for a team with World Series aspirations.
Smoke & Pollution Create a New Obstacle for Manfred
Whether the forest fires are an outlier or something to expect moving forward with global warming, they create an uncomfortable and difficult problem for Commissioner Rob Manfred. If extreme weather issues can and will affect the playing conditions, baseball as we know it will have to change. Specifically, those beautiful summer nights with teams playing in the great weather might not be available or there will be stretches where it will be impossible to play outdoors.
This week, the air quality made it not only a bad idea to play baseball in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC but it made it deadly to do so. Breathing in the smoke would result in fatigue, dizziness, coughing, or worse, collapsing. Poor air quality in the summer can be commonplace not just on the east coast but throughout the country.
Along with air quality, there are other possible weather issues MLB must consider after this week. Extreme heat, flooding, and hurricanes can force the league to postpone more games. It’s an issue that baseball has to confront and this week was a reminder that there must be answers that allow the league to continue to play (although admittedly, baseball isn’t the priority for tackling the extreme weather).
The first thing that can be expected is a push for teams to move indoors. More accurately, teams will need to build ballparks in the future that are open-air but have the ability to play with a closed roof. Baseball fans know the pleasant feeling of sitting in a ballpark on a nice summer night and watching the sunset while taking in the experience. That shouldn’t be taken away from fans. However, baseball needs to prepare for a time when there are weather issues and make it possible to still attend games without health risks. This week was a reminder that baseball needs to adapt sooner rather than later.
Other Takeaways From The Week in Baseball
- The Tampa Bay Rays took two of the three games in the weekend series against the Texas Rangers. In a matchup between the two best teams in the American League, the series felt like a postseason preview even though it is only June.
- The Pirates took two of three this weekend and have won seven of their last 10 games. In a division where it seems like nobody wants to win, they are in first place again with a 34-30 record. That record, by the way, would have them in last place in the American League East Division.
- The Oakland A’s have been the laughingstock of baseball this season and oftentimes, a basket case. Yet, they’ve won five games in a row. They still have the worst record in baseball at 17-50 but the Kansas City Royals at 18-47 are not far behind.
Main Image: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK