Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado swear it’s not this easy. Breaking into the big leagues, that is.
Alas, through four games and 16 plate appearances, there’s Machado, hitting .375/.375/1.125 with three home runs, five extra-base hits and seven RBI.
This, after he hit .266/.352/.438 for Double-A Bowie before his recall. And there’s your first clue. It really isn’t this easy. Machado is a special, special player, and 19/20 year olds almost never hit that well in Double-A. But as we noted on Thursday, a .266/.352/.438 line still doesn’t denote major-league readiness. Or at least, you know, superstar readiness.
So how to explain Machado’s scorching start? A sudden jump in skill? A newfound energy after growing stagnant on the farm? Luck?
How about bad pitching? Yes, any MLB hitter worth his salt will punish bad pitching, but Machado’s been punishing really bad pitching.
Take the triple he roped in his Thursday debut. It came against rookie Royals lefty Will Smith, the owner of a 5.48 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Smith has particularly struggled against right-handed hitters.
Then came Machado’s two-homer Friday. His victim? Luke Hochevar, one of the worst pitchers in baseball this season (and the past few seasons, for that matter). Hochevar has served up 16 home runs in 130 1/3 innings, and posted a 5.85 ERA in 32 1/3 frames since the All-Star break. His 5.32 ERA is tied for eighth worst among all qualifying starters. Bad, hittable pitching. I mean, seriously, just look at these pitches.
Then we have Machado’s Saturday double. Again, a mediocre Royals starter was his enabler, this time Luis Mendoza.
Which finally brings us to Sunday, where Machado socked his third home run. Yes, his third in just four games since making his MLB debut. It's a remarkable accomplishment, no matter the competition. But like his previous four extra-base hits, it came against an awful Royals starter, in this case, the honorable Bruce Chen.
Chen has been even worse than his teammate Hochevar this season, getting knocked to the tune of a 5.56 ERA in 134 1/3 innings of work. He’s allowed an ugly 23 home runs along the way.
For the final time, this is not to say that what Machado has done isn’t impressive. It is, extremely so. But it’s also created unreasonable expectations and a false pattern that’s in no way sustainable. We’re talking about a player who hit only 11 home runs in 109 games before he was summoned to Baltimore.
Now if Machado keeps hitting this way against the Red Sox and Tigers this week? Then maybe we’re onto something. But for now, consider his hot start what it is: incredibly good hitting against incredibly bad pitching.
Machado is a gifted young player, one of the best in professional baseball. But his prodigious start has much more to do with the level of competition than his raw skill. A shrewd fantasy owner might realize as such and sell high.
More Strasburg Confusion
Which brings us to a young player whose major-league dominance has been anything but ambiguous. The owner of a 2.90 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, Stephen Strasburg has fanned 166 hitters in 133 1/3 innings. That comes out to an 11.21 K/9, which is second to only Max Scherzer (nevermind the fact that Scherzer has a 4.65 ERA).
It’s real tangible, dominance from the 24-year-old former No. 1 overall pick.
Only the Nationals’ plan for him is anything but tangible. It’s muddled, ill thought out and potentially fungible.
The latest report, via beat writer Bill Ladson, is that Strasburg is “expected” to miss 2-3 regular starts, but that his innings limit is not “set in stone.” And, oh yeah, he’s unlikely to pitch in the postseason regardless of the Washington’s fate.
The only problem — that is, aside from Strasburg’s murky and ever-changing supposed innings limit — it’s not entirely clear when these fabled 2-3 missed starts will come to pass. This week? The end of the season? Whenever Strasburg hits his unknowable limit?
Provided there isn't a mysterious case of "lower-back stiffness," the end of the season is, of course, most likely. But only time and more unsourced reports will tell for sure. If you can get a fair return for Strasburg, move him. If frightened fellow owners are low-balling you, stick with your No. 1 starter into the great unknown, and hope for the best.
Game Notes: Neil Walker went 5-for-5 with a home run, double and two RBI. The five-hit day was his second of 2012. … Ryan Howard continued to unthaw, homering for the third time in five games. … Jesus Montero had the first two-homer game of his career, single-handedly sending Jered Weaver to just his second loss. … Weaver’s counterpart, meanwhile, tossed his ninth consecutive quality start. No, not Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas. In nine outings since June 26, Vargas has posted a 1.88 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 43/16 K/BB ratio in 67 innings. … Adrian Gonzalez homered, doubled and drove in four runs against the Indians. He’s now hitting .393 with 35 RBI in 28 games since the All-Star break. This, after he entered the Midsummer Classic batting .283/.329/.416 with “just” 45 RBI in 86 games. … Josh Hamilton went deep for the third time in four games. Perhaps he’s finally putting his horrendous June/July behind him. … Phil Hughes got rocked. … So did Corey Kluber. … Jon Lester fanned 12, Chris Sale 11. … Chris Capuano and Johnny Cueto both threw eight innings of shutout ball. … Yu Darvish issued five walks, giving him at least four in five of his past six outings. … Nick Markakis hit his fifth home run in 15 games.
Short Hops: An MRI revealed damage behind Lance Berkman’s left knee. That’s not the same knee that’s already landed him on the disabled list twice this season. The Big Puma has vowed to return, but with roster spots growing ever more precious as the playoffs fast approach, Berkman is droppable in fantasy leagues. … Franklin Gutierrez (concussion) suffered another setback. Sadly, the odds are strongly stacked against him returning this season. … The Padres signed Mark Kotsay to a one-year contract extension for some reason. … Denard Span exited Sunday’s loss with a right shoulder injury, but X-rays came back negative. He’s day-to-day. … Eric Chavez (back) expects to return this evening. … Brandon Inge (shoulder) is slated for an MRI, and likely headed for a stint on the disabled list. … CC Sabathia (elbow) is targeting an August 24 return to the Yankees rotation. … The Indians released Jose Lopez.