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Can MLB’s most disappointing teams turn things around?

PHOENIX — Why is Aaron Boone still managing the last-place Yankees? 

Hasn’t Rob Thomson’s expiration date come in Philadelphia? 

Isn’t it time to fire rookie manager Pedro Grifol and bring back Ozzie Guillen in Chicago? 

Is Mike Shildt still available to come back to St. Louis and replace Oli Marmol? 

Yep, this is the world we live in these days. We have absolutely zero patience.

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And whatever you do, you better perform to our standards. If not, we want you immediately fired. 

It doesn’t matter that the baseball season is barely a month old, the first day of summer is a month away, the trade deadline is 10 weeks away and there are five months left in the season. 

We’re ready for heads to roll. 

Why, just in the last week, Yankees fans were chanting ‘Fire Boone’ after they blew a ninth-inning lead, while hoping GM Brian Cashman goes out the door with him. The friendly folks in St. Louis are making Phillies fans blush with their incessant booing over the team’s worst start in 50 years. The Phillies fans’ honeymoon with Thomson has abruptly ended. And you don’t want to be anywhere near 35th and Shields in Chicago where fans want owner Jerry Reinsdorf to sell the team, but not before he fires everyone in the front office and takes Grifol with him. 

‘April is just weird, it can go in all kinds of directions,’ Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez told USA TODAY Sports. ‘On paper, everybody says this team should do this or do that. But for me, it’s about staying the course and trying to get the players to relax a little bit. I mean, everybody wants to start off 20-10. 

‘Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen.’ 

And sometimes, a god-awful start can be swatted off like a mosquito on a muggy summer night. 

If you’re the Cardinals, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Mets, or any other underachieving team, a poster of the 2019 Nationals team should be hanging on your clubhouse walls. 

This is a team that was 19-31 and sitting 10 games out of first place in the NL East on May 24, 2019. 

They were World Series champions on Oct. 30, 2019. 

The secret? Don’t panic. 

‘You have to understand the process, understand what you’re trying to do, and stay positive,’ Martinez said, ‘and things will turn around. In ’19, that was my focus, with the coaches, with the players. I was fired up, ‘Hey, keep playing hard. Keep staying positive. And don’t worry about the wins and losses. Everything will even themselves out.’ 

‘You just go stay in the fight. You never know what’s going to happen.’ 

The Nationals were at the crossroads when they were swept by the Mets in New York, returned home, and Martinez honestly thought he would be fired. 

‘Basically, everybody said I was fired already,’ Martinez said. ‘But I just couldn’t listen to that, right? So that’s the advice I to give these managers now. Don’t panic. Don’t press. Be yourself.’ 

Martinez arrived at Nats Park the next day, and discovered that GM Mike Rizzo had no intention of firing him. They promptly went out and won three consecutive games, nine of their next 11, had a winning record by the end of June, were 76-58 by the end of August, and finished the regular season with a 93-69 record and a wild-card berth. 

Never once, the Nats say, did Martinez ever change. 

‘I mean, we thought we were really good still,’ said Nats starter Patrick Corbin, one of the two active carryovers from the 2019 team. ‘We knew we were talented. Guys were still working hard every day, we just weren’t getting the results. The big thing was that Davey was the same person, just showing who he is, and believed in us. 

‘We got a few wins here and there, and then got into a stretch where we didn’t think we could lose.’ 

While the Nats’ dramatic comeback season certainly is a lesson in perseverance, giving hope and faith to furious fanbases, there, of course, is a little kicker to their Cinderella story. 

They also happened to have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Corbin and Anibal Sanchez in their starting rotation. 

‘Yeah, we had that going for us, too,’ Martinez said, laughing. 

The Yankees currently have $152.8 million worth of players on the injured list, with their $162 million free-agent prize, Carlos Rodon, having no idea whether he can pitch with his chronic back problems. 

The Cardinals starting rotation is yielding a 5.48 ERA, third-worst in baseball, with only six quality starts. 

The White Sox have the Bermuda Triangle of lousy hitting, awful pitching and horrendous defense. 

The Mets have been shut out six times, the same number of times as the lowly Kansas City Royals. 

The Phillies’ pitching staff has the NL’s worst ERA (5.15), yielding a 9.12 ERA in their six-game losing streak, with their high-powered offense scoring three or fewer runs in 16 games. 

Can it turn around for these teams? 

Sure, it’s possible. They are all rich in talent. And, of course, they have plenty of time. 

Remember, the Phillies were 21-29 on June 1 last season and went to the World Series. 

Atlanta was 52-55 and was without Ronald Acuna on Aug. 1, 2021, and won the World Series. 

So who’s staging this year’s comeback? 

The Cardinals, who haven’t had a losing record since 2007, have the luxury of playing in easily the worst division in the National League. 

The White Sox, believing that last year was just an aberration, are playing in the weakest division in the American League. 

The Yankees, who have scored just 3.93 runs a game, barely more than the A’s, will have Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back off the injured list this month. 

The Phillies finally have Bryce Harper, their $330 million man, in their lineup. 

The Mets just welcomed the return of Cy Young winner Justin Verlander to their rotation. 

So, is it enough to make you run to your nearest casino and bet that any of them will be on a World Series float in October? 

Probably not. 

But come on, not all of these teams will make the playoffs, right? 

If that happens, rest assured, a whole lot of folks will be paying the price. 

Even patience, in the world of baseball, has an expiration date. 

Liam Hendriks readies for return from cancer

Chicago White Sox closer Liam Hendriks wore a shirt that read: ‘Struck out Cancer’ in his first media appearance since being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, saying he never once felt sorry for himself and asked, ‘Why me?’ 

‘I looked at it as a ‘Why not me?’ ‘ Hendriks said. ‘I tend to have a little rosier perspective on life. So that was the process behind it. ‘Look, I’ve got this. This is my next challenge.’ I know that going into it, I could never be introverted and hold it all in, just the woe is me, that attitude. I’ve seen family members go through it. You hear the stories of people going through it. 

‘You see how much it ravages not only the person but also the spouse. Not only was I wondering about myself and making sure I had the right mentality, I wanted to make sure everybody around me knew I was attacking this thing head on and to not worry about me and my mental state because I’m attacking this no matter what.’ 

Hendriks made his first rehab appearance Friday for Triple-A Charlotte and is expected to return to the White Sox later this month. 

The only negative about his first outing, Hendriks joked, is that the opposing team and crowd were too nice welcoming him back. 

‘Don’t get me wrong, it’s really, really nice,’ Hendriks said on his Zoom call. ‘I very much appreciate it. It made me very emotional. 

‘But I’m a guy who pitches on anger, and it’s really hard to get angry when you know the other team is full of nice people.’ 

Numbers game

– Cleveland Guardians closer Emmanuel Clase was the AL’s best reliever, saving a major-league best 42 games in 46 chances in 2022 – but this season he has already blown three saves in 14 opportunities. 

The fastball that averaged 100.2 mph in 2021 has now dipped to 97.7. 

– This is the first time in their proud franchise histories that the Cardinals and the Yankees were 10 games out of first place entering May. 

– You think All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson makes an impact on the White Sox? 

They are 8-7 with Anderson this season and 3-15 without him. 

Since the start of the 2020 season, they’re 153-113 (.575) with him and 67-84 (.444) without him. 

‘He’s the heart and soul of the club,’ White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. ‘As he goes, we go. He’s the energy. It takes 26 guys to do what we want to do, but he’s a really big piece to this thing.’ 

– The A’s, with two crowds under 3,000 this past week, are now offering summer packages for just $99 to catch 37 games. 

The A’s entered Saturday with a 7-26 record, and are on pace to finish 34-128, which would shatter the record for futility set by the 1962 New York Mets who went 42-120 as an expansion team. They already set the MLB record for most losses in April with 23. 

– The 114 runs scored by the Pirates in their first 32 games were the team’s most since Honus Wagner played for them in 1902. 

– The Kansas City Royals have a 2-16 record at home. 

– It’s hard to believe the Padres’ powerful offense has been limited to one or no runs in nine games already this season. 

– The Pirates starting pitchers have 15 victories and 18 quality starts this year. 

A year ago, they didn’t have their first win until May 9 with only two quality starts. 

– The Marlins are 10-0 in one-run games this year after going 24-40 in one-run games last seasons. The 1972 Mets are the only team with a longer stretch of consecutive wins in one-run games to open a season, going 11-0. 

– The AL East looks like it will become the greatest division since divisional play began in 1969. 

The best winning percentage by a division is .566 by the 2002 AL West, according to MLB’s Sarah Langs, but the AL East now has a combined .623 winning percentage, with every team above .500. 

There has never been a season in which every team in a division finished with a winning record. 

– Closer Craig Kimbrel was an All-Star with the Chicago Cubs in 2021, yielding a 0.49 ERA and 0.70 WHIP, but hasn’t been the same since being traded to the White Sox that summer, then with the Dodgers and now Phillies. 

He since has yielded a 4.64 ERA and this year has a gruesome 8.25 ERA and 1.750 WHIP. 

– Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. has hit at least 120 homers with 120 stolen bases quicker than anyone in baseball history, achieving the feat in 539 games, eclipsing Cincinnati Reds’ great Eric Davis who did it 559 games. 

– The Boston Red Sox were 3-16 last season against the Toronto Blue Jays. 

This year?  They’re 4-0 after sweeping them this week. 

‘They kicked our butts last year,’ Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters. ‘The reason we didn’t make it to the playoffs last year was because of them.’ 

They said it

– Cardinals manager Oli Marmol went off when asked bout being booed at home this week. 

‘You think they are more frustrated than us?’ Marmol said. ‘No, I can tell you right now they’re not. That clubhouse is extremely frustrated. Understand something. I’ve had the privilege of doing this for 17 years for one organization. And whether you are in the minor leagues as a coach in the lowest level, or if you are a coach at the big league level, or you are managing in my seat, you wake up every single day with one thing in mind, and it’s how to improve the organization. So, to sit here and think other people are more frustrated than the people in this clubhouse, is insane. Absolutely insane.’ 

– Toronto Blue Jays starter Chris Bassitt, formerly of the A’s, pulled no punches ripping A’s owner John Fisher and the mess they have on the baseball field speaking to ‘Foul Territory’. 

‘We know how much money is made in this game,’ he said. ‘We just know it and with revenue sharing and all that, I just think it’s ridiculous to have a team that’s just not trying to win when you know how much money is being brought in. … I’m not saying you got to go spend $400 million, but I mean, you got to put a product on the field where it’s like, ‘Alright, we’re investing in players that are really, really good to try to win a World Series.’ 

‘So I just think if you’re not in the game to try to win a World Series, then I don’t think you should be an owner. I really don’t.’ 

Around the basepaths

– Enough with the crazy numbers folks are predicting for Shohei Ohtani’s free agent contract. 

Ohtani and his representatives are expecting a $500-$550 million contract, and certainly don’t believe anyone is going to offer $600 million. 

– The Texas Rangers are scrambling to find a closer after blowing four late-inning leads this week, converting just six of 11 save opportunities. The best closer currently available is the Royals’ Aroldis Chapman. 

If the Rangers wait, they could pick up veterans Joe Kelly or Kendall Graveman if the Chicago White Sox are out of the race by July. 

– The White Sox don’t plan to keep starter Lucas Giolito after this season, and will make him available at the trade deadline if they are out of the race. 

– The White Sox certainly plan to pick up the $15 million option on closer Liam Hendriks in 2024 considering the buyout is also $15 million. 

– The Houston Astros have yet to release a timetable on All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve’s return from his fractured right thumb, but privately they believe he’ll join the Astros during their May 29-June 4 homestand.  

It’s been a rough stint with Altuve being robbed on opening day when four people broke into his home and stole $1 million worth of watches and jewelry. 

– The St. Louis Cardinals became so frustrated with Willson Contreras’ rapport with their pitching staff that they stripped him of his catching duties over the weekend and are making him a full-time DH and part-time outfielder. 

This comes on the heels of giving him a five-year, $87.5 million contract to be their everyday catcher to replace future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina. 

So, just like that, the Cardinals have a grossly overpriced DH on their hands, and a guy who has played the outfield a grand total of 15 times in the last seven years, joining an outfield where there is no room. 

Remember, it was Astros manager Dusty Baker and owner Jim Crane who vetoed former GM James Click’s pending deal to acquire Contreras at last year’s trade deadline for starter Jose Urquidy, believing the fit would be a nightmare for their prized pitching staff. 

And, yes, this is why the Chicago Cubs barely made an effort to keep Contreras from hitting free agency. 

The Contreras fiasco simply is the latest embarrassing episode in the Cardinals’ horrific start, and after just five weeks of a five-year contract, they are stuck with a catcher they don’t want. 

– The Washington Nationals front office actually recommended they give Stephen Strasburg a two-year, $35 million contract extension when he exercised his opt-out after the 2019 season. 

He instead received a seven-year, $245 million deal. 

In the three years since signing the deal, he has since pitched 31.1 innings, going 1-4 with a 6.89 ERA. 

It’s unclear whether he will pitch again. 

– The Pittsburgh Pirates are the surprise story of the National League the first month of the season, sitting atop the division entering May for the first time since 1992, but pardon executives and scouts for not believing it will last, believing they are a year away. 

‘If they finish .500, I’ll be shocked,’ one GM said. ‘But they’re coming. They’re getting close.’ 

– The Twins’ plan to keep Byron Buxton healthy by limiting him to the DH role is certainly working. He has played in 30 of their first 33 games, hitting eight homers with 19 RBI and a .901 OPS. The Gold Glove center fielder last played in 117 games in 2017. 

The Twins eventually plan to shift Buxton back to the outfield, but are being cautious. 

– While the Yankees continue to be ridiculed for not acquiring ace Luis Castillo at last year’s trade deadline, instead settling for injured Frankie Montas, the Reds were insisting on including prized shortstop Anthony Volpe in any trade. 

– The Royals believe that prized shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.’s slow start is due to his two-week stint at the World Baseball Classic in which he got only three at-bats. 

– The Houston Astros are becoming increasingly concerned with first baseman Jose Abreu, who signed a three-year, $58.5 million contract this winter. Abreu, 36, is hitting just .223 with a paltry .527 OPS and still has not homered in 139 plate appearances. 

– The Colorado Rockies are expected to try to work out an incentive-laden contract extension with German Marquez now that he will undergo Tommy John surgery that will sideline him late into 2024. He’s in the final year of a five-year, $43 million contract that includes a $16.5 million option or $2.5 million buyout in 2024. Marquez, the team’s ace, had made at least 28 starts in each of his past six full seasons. 

– San Diego Padres outfielder Fernando Tatis is the only player in baseball to have two, two-homer games against future Dodgers Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. 

‘He’s a star in the game,’ the Dodgers’ Mookie Betts told reporters after the Padres’ 5-2 victory Friday night over the Dodgers. ‘He adds what any star in the game would add: energy, he plays a good right field, a leadoff bat with thump. He’s a superstar.’ 

– It’s amazing that the Astros have managed to produce a winning record considering they have played all season without All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve and outfielder Michael Brantley, and are missing three of their starters in Lance McCullers, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy. Garcia now needs Tommy John surgery and likely is out until 2025. 

– Well, don’t count on the San Francisco Giants joining the Mexico tourism committee after their two-game series against the San Diego Padres in Mexico City last week. 

‘It’s been a mental grind, it’s been a physical grind,’ ace Logan Webb said. ‘I think three-quarters of our clubhouse has (diarrhea). Hopefully the (diarrhea will) go away and we’ll be better in a couple days.’ 

Giants outfielder Joc Pederson called it the most treacherous trip of his career. 

‘We had a 4 ½-hour flight to get there,’ Pederson told reporters. ‘We got in at 1 in the morning, we were at customs for two hours, we had an hour and a half bus ride. Get to the hotel at 4 in the morning. In altitude. Every bus ride to and from the stadium was an hour, 15 minutes. The game ended (Sunday) and after our bus left the field, it still took four hours to get in the air, and we got here at 12 o’clock again.’ 

Good luck to the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies, who will make the trip next year. 

– You know things are going fabulous for the Tampa Bay Rays when they desperately need a reliever, call the Cincinnati Reds about 35-year-old Chase Anderson, trade for him, put him on a flight that morning, put him in the game that night, and watch him pitch three shutout innings for his first career save. 

The cost of business? One dollar. A cash deal. 

And you wonder why they have the second-best start, 27-7, by any team since 1901. 

– One of the best free-agent pickups of the winter was 37-year-old Wade Miley, who has been stellar for the Brewers, going 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA, averaging six innings a start. 

The price-tag: 1 year, $3.5 million, with a $10 million mutual option or a $1 million buyout. 

– Minnesota Twins starter Sonny Gray could be in for a nice payday this winter as a free agent. He is 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA, and still has not given up a home run this season. 

– The Nationals and Denver Nuggets have gotten quite chummy, sharing the same hotel in Minnesota in April, and now the same hotel in Phoenix this weekend. 

‘They told us that we are their good-luck charm,’ Nats manager Davey Martinez said. 

Will the Nationals bring that good luck to another Western Conference contender?

They’ll be sharing a hotel with the Lakers in San Francisco next week when Los Angeles plays the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs. 

– The Ted Williams estate is auctioning off his Hall of Fame ring from 1966 and the Babe Ruth Sultan of Swat Award crown awarded to him in 1957, and a 35-ounce bat he used during his 1946 MVP season. They will be on the block in Heritage’s May 11-13 Sports Catalog Auction. 

– This could be the first time in Rays history that they have a player finish in the top 5 of the MVP race with shortstop Wander Franco and left fielder Randy Arozarena off to hot starts. 

The highest MVP finish by a Rays’ player was Evan Longoria who finished sixth in 2010 and 2013. 

– Detroit Tigers starter Eduardo Rodriguez is going old-school this year, ditching PitchCom and actually relying on his catcher’s fingers calling pitches. 

‘That’s how we’ve been playing all our career,’ Rodriguez told the Detroit Free Press, ‘and we like it like that. We’ll keep doing it.’

Well, something sure is working. 

Rodriguez is 3-2 with a 1.81 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP, including a 0.52 ERA in his last five starts. 

– Congratulations to Kyle Muller, who became the first Athletics starter to win a game on Friday night. It’s the latest in a season that any team has gone without a starting pitcher winning a game. 

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale 

This post appeared first on USA TODAY

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