Angels comeback win, two-way MLB players, league leaders, trade candidate power rankings and more

Apr 9, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels players celebrate with second baseman Cliff Pennington (7) after he hit a walk off RBI single to defeat the Seattle Mariners 10-9 in the ninth inning of the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 9, 2017; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels players celebrate with second baseman Cliff Pennington (7) after he hit a walk off RBI single to defeat the Seattle Mariners 10-9 in the ninth inning of the game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The Angels won in thrilling comeback fashion, pitchers continue to rake, what we learned in the first full week of the 2017 MLB season, power rankings, league leaders and more.

It’s early. We must remind ourselves that it’s early. The things that happen on Opening Day, or the first five games, or even the first 10 games of a 162-game season might be indicators of what’s to come, but they may also be red herrings.

The first week of the MLB season is behind us, and while we’ve learned a few things and think we know a few others, we really don’t know much at this point.

The Twins are in first place. Are they good? Probably not. Are they better than last year? Maybe. Is Byron Buxton still struggling to hit big league pitching? Yes.

The Orioles are in first place, which seems relatively normal, but the favored Red Sox suffered through a team-wide flu and lost three of four in Detroit as a result. The Cubs are atop the NL Central, and the Nationals and Mets are tied in the East, which is all spot-on. But the Angels, Reds and Diamondbacks would all be in the playoffs if the season ended today, which probably isn’t something we’ll be able to say in September.

We’re still referring to Opening Day regualarly. Monday, the Cubs, Yankees, Giants, Mariners and Royals each held their home openers, and the Indians and Marlins played at home for the first time Tuesday. The Atlanta Braves won’t formally open SunTrust Park until Friday.

We’ve already seen some great things, and we’re beginning to see how the season ahead will unfold. But it’s early.

One Game to Remember

We’re a little more than one week into the 2017 season, but we’ve probably already seen the most incredible comeback we’ll see all year. Chances are, you didn’t see it live because, well, who hadn’t already turned the channel, or left for Sunday dinner? Most of the fans at Angel Stadium had certainly already cleared out.

Trailing 9-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Albert Pujols strode to the plate to face Mariners reliever Casey Fien. Pujols jumped on a first-pitch fastball and crushed it for his 592nd career home run, his first of the season.

After what appeared to be a fairly meaningless blast, Fien walked Cliff Pennington, allowed a single to C.J. Cron, and walked Ben Revere. With the score now 9-4, the bases loaded, and no one out, the Mariners lifted Fien for closer Edwin Diaz.

He’s just 23 years old, but Diaz was brilliant in 2016 as a rookie. He struck out 88 hitters in 51.7 innings with a 40.9 percent strikeout rate, and ranked second among all major league pitchers last year with 15.33 strikeouts per nine innings.

Diaz promptly induced a ground ball from Danny Espinosa, but Seattle was unable to turn a double play, and Pennington scored to cut the M’s lead to 9-5. Next, Diaz did what he does best, and struck out Martin Maldonado. Two hitters, two outs.

But the hard-throwing right-hander wasn’t able to slam the door. Diaz made a good pitch to Yunel Escobar, who hit a groundball double down the right field line to score two more runs. Escobar was nearly thrown out at second base but instead slid in safely to keep the Angels alive. Diaz then walked Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout, the ninth hitter of the inning, who also represented the winning run.

With Pujols at the plate for his second at bat of the inning, Diaz once again forced a ground ball to the right side of the infield, but Danny Valencia, who rarely plays first base, couldn’t knock it down as Escobar and Calhoun came around to score. Tie game.

Not wasting any time, Pennington drove a first-pitch Diaz fastball to the wall in right-center field to score Trout and complete the comeback.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, and research from Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Angels scored six or more runs in the ninth inning of a victory was Aug. 29, 1986. The Angels snapped a string of 346 consecutive losses when trailing by six or more runs in the ninth.

Also, the win put an exclamation point on a three-game sweep, which improved the Angels record to 5-2 – the best start for the club since 2007.

Two-Way Players

A week ago, we spent a large portion of this space discussing Madison Bumgarner’s rare talents as a pitcher and a hitter on Opening Day. But, Bumgarner isn’t the only big leaguer that’s making an impact both on the mound and at the plate so far in 2017 – and we should expect more in the future.

Noah Syndergaard is also a pitcher that rakes, as’s Daren Willman pointed out this week:

But as the aces of their respective pitching staffs, Bumgarner and Syndergaard aren’t likely to be used more than every fifth day, aside from the occasional pinch hit appearance. But, there are a few names to watch among players that can provide production both on the mound and at the plate.

Christian Bethancourt made headlines last summer when he took to the hill twice for the Padres and tossed 1.2 scoreless innings in a pair of blowout losses. On the surface, Bethancourt’s pitching performances were just the result of a lopsided score and a desire to avoid overworking an already thin bullpen. However, as the 25-year old consistently hit the mid 90s with his fastball, speculation began that the Panama native could develop into a rare two-way player.

A former top prospect and perceived catcher of the future for several years with the Braves, Bethancourt was highly regarded for his defensive abilities, and naturally, his strong arm behind the plate. Unfortunately, he was never able to stick in Atlanta and found his way to San Diego. He hit .228/.265/.368 with six home runs and 25 RBI in 73 games with the Padres. This spring, the club made it clear that Bethancourt would pitch more often, which would increase his chances of making the team.

It’s not unheard of for a position player to make the switch to pitcher. For example, Trevor Hoffman was a shortstop in the Reds system before he converted, and eventually became one of the most dominant closers in history. Kenley Jansen began his pro career as a catcher. Jacob deGrom was a college infielder before making the switch as a junior at Stetson. And there are plenty of other examples.

But, Brooks Kieschnick is probably the closest thing we’ve seen to a true two-way player in the last two decades (though Royals pitcher Travis Wood played five innings in left field across three games for the Cubs in 2016). A two-way star with the Texas Longhorns, Kieschnick was the 10th overall pick by the Cubs in the 1993 MLB Draft, though he never established himself as an everyday major league outfielder.

Nevertheless, after reinventing himself as a pitcher, Kieschnick proved valuable as a pinch hitter. In 2003-04, Kieschnick hit .286/.340/.496 with eight homers and 19 RBI in 144 plate appearances with the Brewers, and he played three games in left field (all in 2003). He also made a combined 74 relief appearances and posted a 4.59 ERA across 96 innings.

Bethancourt can catch, and he also played right field, left field, and second base last year. Throw in the ability to pitch, and Bethancourt provides terrific value as a utility player. But the experiment hasn’t gone so well in 2017.

In his season debut, Bethancourt allowed three runs on three hits, including a home run, and two walks. He also tossed two wild pitches, both of which allowed a runner to score from third. Bethancourt walked four consecutive hitters in his second outing, and surrendered four runs (three earned) while recording just one out. Overall, he’s posted a 32.40 ERA in 1.2 innings. He’s also 0-for-3 at the plate.

Things are going much better for Michael Lorenzen, however. A highly regarded pitching prospect in the Cincinnati organization, Lorenzen struggled as a starter for the Reds in 2015 but blossomed into one of the team’s top relievers last season. In 35 appearances, Lorenzen posted a 2.88 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 50 innings. He also hit an emotional home run on Aug. 19, Lorenzen’s first game following the death of his father.

In addition to pitching, Lorenzen played outfield at Cal State Fullerton, and was a finalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award in 2012. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that Reds manager Bryan Price would send the right-hander to the plate as a pinch hitter on occasion.

On Thursday April 6, Price did exactly that in the bottom of the sixth inning, and Lorenzen hit a long homer to center to break a 4-4 tie with the Phillies. Lorenzen’s blast was the first pinch-hit homer by a pitcher since Micah Owings in 2009.

Both players provide their teams a deeper bench, but neither Bethancourt nor Lorenzen are likely to evolve into full-time two-way players. It doesn’t even appear likely that we’ll see Lorenz play the field. However, we’re likely to see a full-time two-way big leaguer soon.

As Jon Wertheim explains in the April 17 issue of Sports Illustrated, Shohei Ohtani, a star in Japan that has been compared to Babe Ruth for his ability to be a legitimate two-way icon, could be in the majors as early as 2018.

Three things we learned

1. The Diamondbacks have gotten better

Despite high expectations, the Arizona Diamondbacks finished 69-93 last season, one game out of last place in the NL West. A big league worst 5.09 ERA was largely to blame. Again, it’s early. But it’s pretty clear through the first week of the season that the D-backs are an improved team.

Sitting atop the AL West with a 6-2 record as of Tuesday morning, the Diamondbacks plus-16 run differential is just one run behind the Dodgers and Twins for the best in baseball. Arizona has scored 49 runs on 81 hits, including 19 doubles – all more than any major league team to date. The D-Backs are also tied with the Reds for the league lead in stolen bases with nine.

It’s been a collective effort so far. Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb and David Peralta each have two home runs. Chris Owings is hitting .345/.387/.517 with a homer and four steals, and Brandon Drury is hitting .417/.440/.542. Lamb leads the team with seven RBI, though Goldschmidt, Peralta, Owings, Drury, A.J. Pollock and Yasmany Tomas have all driven in five runs apiece.

The pitching staff is also off to a decent start. Led by Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin, Arizona has a 3.55 staff ERA. Greinke is 1-0 with a 2.31 ERA in two starts, and Corbin has posted a 1.80 ERA through his first 10 innings. Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray are both exciting young starters, and there’s hope that Shelby Miller will bounce back from a disastrous 2016. Miller picked up a win in his first start, a 5.1-inning performance in which he allowed three runs on five hits with seven strikeouts.

The bullpen is also looking good as a whole. Closer Fernando Rodney was shaky on Opening Day, but has picked up two saves in two appearances since. Archie Bradley has pitched extremely well thus far, with 5.1 scoreless frames in two appearances.

The defense still leaves something to be desired: Arizona looked like a Little League team Monday when they allowed the Giants to score three runs on a swinging bunt by pitcher Matt Moore. But those things can happen over the course of 162 games.

With a well-rounded offense and an improving pitching staff, the Diamondbacks aren’t likely to go away any time soon, and have the makeup to challenge for a Wild Card spot this season.

2. The Blue Jays have gotten worse

On the other hand, the Toronto Blue Jays could be headed for a rough year.

The Blue Jays offense was far less productive in 2016 (759 runs scored) than it had been the previous year (891), and lost its biggest bat – Edwin Encarnacion – over the winter. Josh Donaldson looks great so far in 2017, as the third baseman has posted a team best .348/.444/.652 triple slash with two home runs, but the rest of the lineup has struggled.

Troy Tulowitzki and Kendrys Morales share the team lead with six RBI and have Toronto’s other two long balls, but Tulo is hitting .125/.160/.292 while Morales has hit .208/.296/.417 to date. Jose Bautista has just three hits and one RBI with nine strikeouts in 28 plate appearances. As a whole, the Blue Jays have scored 3.33 runs per game – worse than all but three other major league clubs.

Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman have looked great so far, but Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano have been hit hard and the pitching staff has a collective 4.64 ERA through its first six games, which is the second worst mark in the American League. The bullpen has missed injured closer Roberto Osuna, and the starting rotation is thin.

At 1-5, Toronto is sitting in last place in the ultra competitive AL East.

3. Justin Verlander and Chris Sale are as good as always

We were treated to one of the best pitching matchups of the young season Monday when aces Justin Verlander and Chris Sale squared off in Detroit. It was the fifth time Verlander and Sale started against one another, and as they had in each previous meeting, the Tigers came out on top.

Verlander allowed an unearned run in the second inning, but surrendered just three hits and two walks in seven strong frames. It was the 20th straight start in which the 2016 AL Cy Young runner-up surrendered three or fewer runs. The 34-year-old struck out four before giving way to the bullpen.

In two starts this season, Verlander is 1-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. He has allowed just nine hits and four walks. After last year’s slow start, a dominant April from Verlander is a great sign.

Sale, making his second start for the Red Sox after an offseason trade with the White Sox, looked even more dominant through his first seven innings. The lefty allowed a sixth inning home run to Ian Kinsler, but struck out 10 hitters and allowed just four hits and one walk before Nicholas Castellanos’ RBI single gave the Tigers a decisive 2-1 lead and knocked Sale out of the game.

In his young Red Sox career, Sale is now 0-1 with a 1.23 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 14.2 innings. He has walked two and allowed a total of eight hits.


"“A few years ago, I led a giant fantasy league in which only relief pitchers could be drafted. It required me to learn hundreds of these guys’ names and skills. It made me so happy…”"

Sam Miller of in his April 6 piece … How to enjoy baseball

Obviously, I’m late to the party if Miller says he participated in an all relief pitchers fantasy league “a few years ago,” but it was news to me when I read it last week.

I’m a pretty casual fantasy baseball player. I usually have one team per season, and though I like deeper leagues, and AL-only or NL-only formats, a relievers-only league has never crossed my mind. I didn’t know it was even possible.

Simply put, this is the greatest idea I’ve ever heard.

Play of the Week

Javier Baez may have picked up a reputation as the best tagger in baseball, but Andrelton Simmons isn’t ready to concede any defensive accolades just yet.

Saturday night, the Angels shortstop covered third base after a ground ball forced Yunel Escobar to charge. Leaving first base on a hit-and-run, Jean Segura sprinted to third as first baseman Jefry Marte fired high across the diamond, forcing Simmons to jump high in the air to field the throw, then reach between his legs to tag Segura out.

Segura was initially called safe, but instant replay proved Simmons made an incredible tag and the Angels had a rare 5-3-6 double play.

League Leaders

Baseball analytics can be difficult to understand, but many advanced metrics offer information that falls through the cracks when looking at traditional statistics alone. Each week, we take a quick look at a couple of advanced baseball stats to learn more about them, as well as gauge the success of today’s top players.


  • T. Realmuto, Marlins (276)
  • Avisail Garcia, White Sox (274)
  • Miguel Sano, Twins (265)
  • Ian Kinsler, Tigers (265)
  • Nomar Mazara, Rangers (254)

wRC+ is one of the most complicated-sounding statistics in baseball today (for a full description and formula, check here). However, it is also one of the most telling stats available because it puts a value on a player’s complete offensive output.

When looking at wRC+, remember that 100 is average, 115 is above average, 140 is great and 160 is excellent. On the other end of the spectrum, 60 is terrible, 75 is poor and 80 is below average. Last season, Mike Trout’s 171 wRC+ led all big league hitters, David Ortiz (163) ranked second and Joey Votto (158) paced the National League.

Therefore, it’s easy to see that our early leaders aren’t likely to maintain their red-hot starts. Nevertheless, J.T. Realmuto, who leads the majors in slugging percentage (.909), gives Miami another solid run producer to go alongside Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich.


  • Noah Syndergaard, Mets (0.51)
  • Dylan Bundy*, Orioles (0.68)
  • Jon Lester, Cubs (1.24)
  • Chris Devenski, Astros (1.47)
  • James Paxton, Mariners (1.66)

*As of Monday, April 10, 2017

FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, is far less complicated than wRC+, though it also does a good job showing how well as pitcher actually pitches by stripping out many of the factors a pitcher doesn’t control – specifically the defense in the field behind him – and focusing on what he can, such as strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen and home runs. Read more about FIP here.

Noah Syndergaard led the majors with a 2.29 FIP last season, and has an early lead in the category – and possibly the NL Cy Young race – this year. Thor leads all NL pitchers with 16 strikeouts in 13 innings, and has a 1-0 record with a 0.69 ERA in 13 innings.

Random MLB Power Rankings

Top 10 trade candidates (position players)

  1. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
  2. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
  3. Lorenzo Cain, OF, Royals
  4. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
  5. Eric Hosmer, 1B, Royals
  6. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Royals
  8. Todd Frazier, 3B, White Sox
  9. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays
  10. Brian Dozier, 2B, Twins

Early season trades are rare, but it’s never too early to look at players that could be available this summer. Also, while a blockbuster can happen at any time and even Mike Trout could be available for the right price, we tried to stick with players from teams most likely to sell because of poor results, those who were considered available over the winter, or with contract situation makes them an ideal late-season rental.

Despite a strong start, the Reds aren’t likely to contend for a postseason spot this year, and dealing Joey Votto could jump-start the club’s rebuild. The Rockies may make a playoff push, but Carlos Gonzalez has long been a fixture in trade rumors and his impending free agency makes the sweet-swinging outfielder a potential trade candidate.

The Royals are off to a poor start, and given their upcoming free agency, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain could all be playing for a different club by August. The same goes for Alcides Escobar, who didn’t make the top 10, but would provide speed and defense for a contending club.

All-Star outfielders Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen could also be available this summer, though neither is likely to bring back a package of prized prospects similar to what they would command a few years ago. Remember McCutchen was rumored to be headed to Washington over the winter and a change of scenery could help the 2013 NL MVP bounce back from a disappointing performance last year.

The White Sox are certain sellers, and Todd Frazier and outfielder Melky Cabrera are likely to move on along with a couple of pitchers. If the Blue Jays continue to slump, Jose Bautista could be available for an AL contender looking for a DH. Toronto would probably also like to move Troy Tulowitzki in that situation.

Brian Dozier was reportedly available all winter, and was expected to end up with the Dodgers, though the new Twins front office passed on all offers. Minnesota isn’t likely to stay atop the AL Central, and a slugging second baseman could bring back some useful pieces for the future.

Useless Info

San Diego Padres first baseman Wil Myers became the first player to hit for the cycle in 2017, and recorded the second cycle in Padres franchise history. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Myers’ cycle was the second for the club in its last 217 games after not recording a cycle in its first 7,443 contests.

Myers’ feat was the 15th cycle at Coors Field – more than twice as many as any other ballpark since it opened.

Renovations at Wrigley Field have reduced the foul territory by roughly 2,500 square feet.

With the help of Rawlings, the Braves unveiled a new form of helmet technology.

Felix Hernandez struck out Mike Trout on 14 pitches Saturday to set a new career high for most pitches thrown during an at bat.

With his stolen base April 5 against the Giants, Paul Goldschmidt joined the 100 home runs, 100 stolen bases club. He now has 142 career home runs and 101 stolen bases.

With help of the Baseball-Reference Play Index, we learned Eric Thames hit his first home run with the Brewers Wednesday April 5, 2017. It was his first major league homer since September 23, 2012 – a span of 1,655 days.

After not pitching in the majors at all in 2016, veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie allowed ten unearned runs on six hits and four walks in two-thirds of an inning in a Saturday start for the Washington Nationals. It happened to be Guthrie’s 38th birthday. The Nats lost 17-3, and Guthrie was designated for assignment the following day.

The Braves signed 2006 MVP Ryan Howard to a minor league contract last week with the expectation being he may contribute as a designated hitter in interleague games and provide some organizational depth for Freddie Freeman at first base. In his career to date, Howard has hit 52 home runs in 757 career plate appearances against Atlanta, which may have influenced the club’s decision to give the veteran slugger a chance.

The Yankees have the best record in MLB history in the first home game of the season. With an 8-1 win Monday against the Tampa Bay Rays – which included a dominant pitching performance from Michael Pineda – the Yankees improved to 68-30 in home openers all time.

Finally, Pineda pitched 6.2 perfect innings in the win, which was the longest perfect start in a home opener since 1961, according to Elias Sports.