Finding Positives for Five Winless Teams

After three games, five teams — the Braves, Giants, Red Sox, Twins and Yankees — are 0-3. You can hear the hair pulling and consternation all over the land. Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine poured a tanker of gasoline on to the “Daniel Bard going back to the bullpen” story, and Giants manager Bruce Bochy is already benching Brandon Belt, using the old “we haven’t won a game yet” rationale as his reasoning. But even in a weekend of seeming disasters, positives abound for each squad.

Several hitters with question marks had good weekends. None were more encouraging perhaps, than Justin Morneau. After posting just a 69 wRC+ in a second-straight injury shortened campaign in 2011, it was an open question as to whether or not Morneau would ever be right at the plate again. Now, three games against the Orioles are not going to erase doubts, but Morneau showed positive signs. He tallied a hit in all three games, including a double each on Saturday and Sunday. Down in Atlanta, Jason Heyward didn’t collect a hit in all three games himself, but he made his two hits count, as both went for extra bases. Heyward also drew two walks, and looked very much like the guy Atlanta needs him to be this season.

Down in Tampa, Alex Rodriguez brushed the dirt off his shoulder with a great weekend. When we last saw Rodriguez, he was fanning on a 94-mph fastball from Jose Valverde to end the Yankees’ season. Then he flew to Germany for the same surgery that Kobe Bryant had. As a result, it was fair to wonder whether or not the train had run off the rails a little bit, but the very early returns show that that is not the case. On Opening Day, Rodriguez did more to put the Yankees in a position to win than anyone else on the team, as he reached base four times in five trips. He would reach base in the subsequent two games as well, giving him a robust .449 wOBA for the weekend. Again, it’s too early to draw conclusions, but it was a positive first step for the Yankee great.

Buster Posey may have them all beat though. While Posey’s failure to stand on home plate allowed the winning run to score for the D-backs on Sunday, Posey had himself quite an opening weekend. While he went 0-for-4 on Saturday, Posey reached base three times each on Friday and Sunday. Perhaps most importantly, he got his first home run out of the way early, taking a Josh Collmenter pitch to the deepest part of Chase Field on Sunday. That was particularly nice to see, especially after Posey’s 2011 season ended with him slugging just .389. Again, one homer doesn’t foretell a rebound to a .500 SLG, especially when you consider that it only took him six games to homer last year, but in a weekend of lowlights, it was a highlight for the Giants.

The Red Sox didn’t have any trouble scoring runs this weekend, nor should they all season, but they did have trouble keeping runs off the board. Mark Melancon was bad, and Alfredo Alceves turned into “LOLfredo Blownceves,” as he became the first Red Sox pitcher since 1966 to not record an out in either of his first two appearances of the season. But there were positive performances. Vicente Padilla and Franklin Morales each recorded a shutdown over the weekend. After Clay Buchholz slowly threw up all over the field on Sunday (his 27.9 pace score currently stands as the slowest in baseball), Padilla and Morales combined for six innings of shutout baseball, stabilizing the game and putting the Sox in position to win.

Both pitchers are interesting cases, and should not be overlooked should the team choose to bail on either Aceves or Melancon as a late-inning option (and they shouldn’t do that). Padilla might be the first reliever in a long time to throw seven pitches out of the bullpen — yesterday he successfully threw two straight eephus pitches for strikes. And Morales, who was Baseball America’s eighth-best prospect in 2008, was a revelation after coming over from the Rockies last season. Among left-handed relievers who threw at least 40 innings last season, only Matt Thornton, Rex Brothers, Chris Sale and Jonny Venters had better velocity on their fastball than did Morales, and Venters’ edge was a scant 0.1 mph. Morales has always had the stuff, but has had trouble harnessing it. He made progress last year, and if he continues this year, the Red Sox will have a fantastic late-game weapon on their hands.

Three games are three games. In October, three games can mean the world, but in April, it rarely means anything. Last season, the Mets won at least three straight games on 12 different occasions, and still finished eight games under .500. Last season, Baltimore won their first four games, and six of their first seven. They would only win 63 of their next 154. Would it have been nice for Atlanta, Boston, Minnesota, New York and San Francisco to win a game this weekend? Sure. But each team still had positive takeaways, and even if some of their respective front offices are exuding a little early-season panic, doesn’t mean you have to join them.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

24 Responses to “Finding Positives for Five Winless Teams”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    Pace score?

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  2. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    And another discussion question for the masses: two straight eephus pitches? Genius, or madness?

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  3. NY Braves Fan says:

    Well, its a good think Fredi Gonzalez is sitting Heyward so he can play BOTH Diaz and Juan Fransisco.

    What a coach…

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    • Name says:

      With Chipper coming back it was the last game for probably a while for Francisco to get AB’s. It actually made some sense (this is probably the ONLY time I will say that phrase in regards to Fredi). ATL wants to see what they have in Francisco since they can’t send him to the minors. Diaz had to play, since he’s one of the few guys on the team that actually hits left-handed pitching. That left Heyward as the odd man out. Just one game. Whatevs. As long as he doesn’t start platooning Heyward, it’s not a big deal.

      For the love of god, though, someone please tell them to cut Constanza. Watching him imitate Happy Gilmore during a MLB AB is just painful. It’s like watching something out of a ’90’s Disney baseball movie. That man’s got more gimmicks than a 12 pack of Coors light… and the end product is just as crappy.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        See what you have in Francisco? A horrible glove and not much of a bat. Could have told you that before you blew a game.

        “Just one game” yea, tell that to the 2011 Atlanta Braves. I think it’s great that the Braves hire the mentally handicapped, but I don’t think making them managers is a good idea.

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  4. Scott says:

    And Fredi Gonzalez has benched Heyward for the game in Houston. Worst manager in baseball.

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    • Seth says:

      How many times will Bobby Valentine bat Nick Punto leadoff before he gets that thorny crown? The fact that Punto was such a little sparkplug yesterday does not bode well on that front.

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      • deadpool says:

        Diaz will get a couple hits and Freddie will stick with the platoon for months.

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      • rea says:

        Punto is a notorious Tiger killer. Whether he ought to be in the lineup against anyone else, barring serious injury to other players, is problematic

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  5. soladoras says:

    The fact that Belt has convinced himself that he is “pressing” after a mere 3 games makes me worry about his mental fortitude. Who gets worried after 3 games? I can still blame Bochy and Sabean for it, given that the way he was handled last year is probably still in the back of his mind, so that’s comforting. I guess.

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    • chuckb says:

      “Who gets worried after 3 games?”

      Bruce Bochy.

      If he was your manager, and you were already sent down last year after not being great in about 15 PAs or so, it’s natural for a young guy to be pressing after just a few PAs. They need to just put him in there and leave him alone, but that’s not their style.

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  6. west says:

    I hope they keeping messing with him, maybe a smart team can pick him up on the cheap.

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  7. walt526 says:

    A positive for the Giants heading into today was probably not that Zito would start in Coors Field. And yet…

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    • Jack says:

      Least likely thing in baseball this year:
      The Giants have averaged over 5 runs a game so far.
      The Giants are 1-3.
      The one win was a Barry Zito complete game shut out at Coors Field.
      Giorgio Tsoukalos probably has some theory about this.

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      • Mr. Observant says:

        Oh, those ancient aliens and their megalithic building projects, always putting a wrench in the plans of MLB teams…

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  8. Greg says:

    You seem to have gotten the velocity of Daniel Bard and Franklin Morales mixed up. Bard was fourth at 97.3 MPH while Morales only averaged 94.6 MPH.

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  9. Tom says:

    When you say the Red Sox didn’t have any trouble scoring… you are referring to the one loss?

    They scored 2 combined runs over the first two games, not sure how that equates to no trouble scoring runs.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Game one was against the reigning Cy Young/MVP and they knocked Valverde around pretty effectively in the ninth. They’ve plated 18 runs in 30 innings not pitched by Justin Verlander.

      So yeah, no trouble scoring runs.

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  10. Conner says:

    LOLfredo Blownceves made me fall off my chair.

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