Three Strikes: Fowler’s return sparks Cubs; are Yankees still sellers?
Three things that stood out from Friday night in baseball.
When centerfielder Dexter Fowler played his last game before going on the disabled list with a right hamstring injury, the Cubs were 46–20. Since then, they’ve gone 11–17.
It’s a good thing he came back. Fowler returned to the lineup Friday night and picked up right where he left off. He hit a leadoff homer in his first at-bat; he followed that up with a two-run double and finished the night with three hits in the Cubs’ 5–2 victory over Milwaukee.
Fowler, 30, is not the first Cub that comes to mind when thinking of their offensive prowess. But his ability to get on-base (.405 OBP) steal bases (averages 19 per year) sets things up for the big boys.
The Cubs entered Friday night’s action with a healthy 6 1/2 game lead in the NL Central division over St. Louis. Their Fowler-less slump did not impact their playoff chances. But Fowler’s ability to spark their offense is crucial for a team with serious playoff dreams.
This is how you know the Yankees are hot.
Masahiro Tanaka out-dueled Giants ace Madison Bumgarner (Tanaka gave up no runs in six innings; Bumgarner gave up two in seven).
And then the untouchable no-Run DMC (Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman) proceeded to give it away.
A bullpen that hadn’t given up a run since July 9 (31 innings), Betances and Miller each gave up one, wasting a potential big win over an ace, and a chance to prove why the Yankees are a .500 team.
But wait. Maybe things are different. In the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks manufactured the winning run—infield single, walk and error—and won the game 3–2.
Okay, so maybe the Yankees aren’t contenders yet. But something is brewing. The Yankees are 8–4 in their last 12 games, including series wins over the Indians and Orioles. Tanaka has had two strong starts in a row and they’ve gotten better outings from Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova.
And there’s that bullpen.
In the long run, the Yankees will most likely be better off selling. They could get a ton for Miller and Chapman, and a decent return for Carlos Beltran. There are some promising prospects in the pipeline. But given this recent surge, and ownership’s propensity for big deals, it would not be shocking if the Yankees make a move. They would benefit from another starter and bat.
But an 8–4 mark against four playoff teams is impressive, especially when the Yankees are failing to get major production from their big names. Enough to warrant a buying spree? Probably not. Enough to spark a buying spree? It just might.
Work, Work, Work, Work, Work
Take a glance at the top 10 home run hitters this season and there’s one name that stands out: Matt Kemp.
Yes, there was a time when Kemp was a superstar. He batted .324 with 39 homers and 126 RBI in 2011. He was a potential face of the league and dated Rihanna. Injuries have slowed him down, and he’s been unable to bat with the same consistency (no word on if Rihanna dumped because of his slump).
And while Kemp has yet to reach his former all-around level, he is still able to mash the ball. With two home runs in Friday’s 5–3 win over Washington, Kemp has now hit 22, including six in his last six games. He hit 23 last year and 25 the year before.
His power surge might spark some trade interest for a power-hungry team, although that comes with significant qualifications. To start, there’s his onerous contract. He has three years and $64.5 million left. Two, he doesn’t do much besides hit dingers. He’s slashing .258/.278/.484. Few teams would take that on.
So, for now, he’s stuck in San Diego, a former star showing flashes of his previous greatness. It’s not Rihanna-era Kemp, but it’s enough to get “Dem Haters” off his back.