Jose Altuve, A-Rod and other first-half topics
The first half of the 2015 season is almost in the books with few surprises, except maybe the success of the young and feisty Houston Astros. Even if you don’t follow this club as a fan, it’s hard not to be amazed at the performances of last year’s batting king Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, the pride of Puerto Rico who could end up grabbing the American League Rookie of the Year honors. There’s nobody better than these two kids when it comes to inspiring teammates to play loose, have fun and perhaps even overachieve.
The Philadelphia Phillies are terrible as expected, despite the emergence of prized third baseman Maikel Franco. And when general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is eventually relieved of his duties, there will be no more Latinos who hold chief executive positions in the major leagues. Furthermore, Fredi Gonzalez of the Atlanta Braves is the only foreign-born field boss still employed in that capacity. It’s also a fact that almost 30 percent of big league players are of Hispanic heritage. There’s something wrong with this picture, but it doesn’t surprise me that the discrimination continues.
It’s certainly not unusual to see Adrian Gonzalez having another terrific season. The veteran Los Angeles Dodger first basement continues to be a model of consistency, hitting .291 with 15 big flies and 50 RBI approaching the halfway mark. He has also ripped 23 doubles to rank third in the National League. So I’ve always wondered why A-Gon seems to have a disgusted expression on his face. Is he bored with a job that allows him to bank nearly $22 million each year until 2018? Maybe the Tijuana, Mexico, native is just tired of mentoring the Wild Horse, otherwise known as Yasiel Puig. The Cuban right fielder can be a headache at times, and a slow start has probably compounded matters. Regarding the Dodgers of Havana, it wasn’t a shocker when the club inked pitcher Yadier Alvarez, this year’s top prospect in the international free agent pool. I predicted the pending pick in my last column, but the terms of the pact are beyond imagination. Alvarez agreed to a $16 million package offered by Los Angeles even though scouts confirm that the right-handed teen won’t be suiting up in Dodger blue anytime soon.
Another Cuban sure to make a difference, however, is Jose Fernandez, who is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery and ready to help the scuffling Miami Marlins. During his down time, Fernandez filmed some 5 Hour Energy commercials and the Marlins definitely need a strong stimulant after an injury to Giancarlo Stanton put their season on life support. Jose’s pitch command is not dialed in yet, but fastballs clocked up to 99 mpr prove that he’s healthy. The charismatic 22-year-old made a splashy debut by pelting a line drive jack, and threw well enough to earn his first victory in over a year.
“I could’ve pitched better, but I kept our team in the game and we got a win,” Fernandez reported afterwards. “I’m really excited to be back.”
Here are a few other notes I’ve jotted down as the season’s second half and trade deadline approaches:
My Milwaukee Brewers have been even worse than I expected, although they’ve recently put together a mini streak now that their season is over. They will definitely be sellers before the deadline, and sure to be on the block is Carlos Gomez. That’s a shame since the 30-year-old Dominican is a huge fan favorite. But the flamboyant center fielder is a free agent after the 2016 season, and it makes more sense to move him now to a contender and receive a better return. I also expect closer Francisco Rodriguez to be shopped because he has a team-friendly contract and has been reasonably effective with a 1.45 ERA and 18 saves. The Chicago Cubbies are also interested in obtaining Gold Glove outfielder Gerardo Parra, who is in the last year of his deal. So the Brew Crew have plenty of chips and some soul-searching to do.
Unless he screws up in the second half, my amigo Ubaldo Jimenez should be considered a legit candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award. The 31 year old Dominican has been the glue that has held the Baltimore Orioles pitching staff together, compiling a 7-4 record with a 2.96 ERA over 16 starts. But there is no better story than the Alex Rodriguez soap opera in the Big Apple, and the Yankees would probably be in the cellar with the Red Sox without him.
I like the new humble A-Rod much better than the stupid conceited version, whether it’s genuine or not. And to be honest, it doesn’t surprise me that he’s played so well. On the “juice” or not, Alex has always been one of the game’s premier players. Even though he’ll be 40 later on this month, Rodriguez is in great shape after a year of rest. The incentive was there with all the milestones within reach, and I believe he’s sincerely grateful to have a chance to play again in baseball’s greatest venue. Like Commissioner Rob Manfred, I wish Alex the best, and I personally tip my cap.
As the entire world knows by now, Miguel Cabrera is on the DL for the first time in his career with a serious calf strain and will be out of action until late August. So baseball’s best hitter will be replaced at first base in the All-Star classic by Albert Pujols, who used to be the guy pitchers feared the most. I’m happy for Albert because he’s been playing second fiddle to the Mike Trout show for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and has put up some impressive numbers in the first half. But when the dust settles, it’s going to be a tough go in Detroit without Miggy. This club needs to lean on Victor Martinez to produce like he did last year, or the Kansas City Royals will start to pull away in the AL Central. And with Ervin Santana now back with the upstart Minnesota Twins after his PED suspension, the Tigers might have to settle for a bronze medal in their division.
Finally, I’d like to throw in my two cents about the Kansas City Royals dominating the AL All-Star voting. As I’ve said many times before, the Royals get very little respect around the junior circuit, so let their fans be heard! Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar all deserve to be starters, although I admit that Jose Iglesias of the Detroit Tigers should get some love and his share of innings at shortstop. It’s also just that Jose Altuve, who has slashed .302/.345/.420, get the nod at second base over Omar Infante. But even though Royals fans were smart enough to “organize and mobilize,” it all came out in the wash. So quit whining, folks. There’s no crying in baseball.