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Every time I say something bad about the Astros, they win. Every time I say something nice, they lose. I was unaware that The Curse of The Windup worked both ways, but here we are. Plus, we have quarter-season grades, the White Sox on the upswing, and Eno Sarris plays fortune teller once again. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!
I wish that I could show you where the center is
It feels like cheating to include the ninth inning of Monday’s Brewers game when I talk about their 19-inning scoreless streak. After all, they lost that game 12-2 to the Astros. Can anything from that game be included in a stat about pitching dominance?
But context matters, and they followed that scoreless inning with 18 more. Colin Rea and four relievers allowed zero runs on Tuesday, then Adrian Houser and four relievers duplicated the feat Wednesday, shutting out the defending champions.
Words can mislead too. Back-to-back shutouts are impressive against any opponent, but framing it with “defending champions” ignores the fact that the Astros offense this year (with the exception of Yordan Alvarez) has not looked like the 2022 squad that posted the 7th-highest OPS in the league. This year, their .696 mark is just 24th out of 30 teams.
Hey, wasn’t it earlier this week that the subject line of this very newsletter read: “Look out, the Astros are rolling?”
Yes. Much like statistics and words, baseball teams can also be misleading. So, which version of the Astros is real?
I have the same question about the Brewers’ pitching. Their team ERA (4.05) and ERA by starting pitchers (4.10) both rank 12th in the league. They’re very good, except when they’re not!
The Astros, meanwhile, are off today before a weekend in Oakland, so expect another “The Astros are back, babyyyy” section in Tuesday’s newsletter.
Ken’s Corner: White Sox reverse their fortunes
Uh, might the White Sox end up buyers?
Don’t look now, but the Sox are only 5 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central. Never mind that they’re still only 21-30. The “division leading” Twins are a mere 26-24.
The White Sox’s turnaround began on April 30, when they scored seven runs in the ninth inning to defeat the Rays, 12-9, and end a 10-game losing streak. That victory began their current 14-9 run, which has come against a series of softer opponents.
Based on current records, the White Sox faced the toughest strength of schedule of any team in April, according to Stats Perform. The combined winning percentage of their opponents was .578. In May, on the other hand, they have faced the Twins, Reds, Astros, Royals twice and Guardians twice.
Still, give the Sox credit: They’re playing like the team they thought they would be under new manager Pedro Grifol.
- Their 2.19 team ERA over the past 13 games is the best in the majors.
- Center fielder Luis Robert is slashing .360/.429/.773 in May.
- Third baseman Yoán Moncada, while 0-for-10 in his last three games, has mostly played well since returning on May 12 from a one-month absence due to lower back soreness.
- Lefty Garrett Crochet returned from Tommy John surgery on May 16, and closer Liam Hendriks is on track to return from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by the end of May.
The White Sox’s 7-21 start prompted me (and others) to suggest they might sell at the trade deadline. They certainly have intriguing trade candidates, from Dylan Cease to Lucas Giolito, Hendriks to Tim Anderson.
But the team’s 87-year-old owner Jerry Reinsdorf surely would prefer to win with his $192 million payroll, the highest in the division.
The way things are starting to look, he just might get his wish.
More White Sox:
More AL Central:
Show the world just how we passed this test
With a quarter of the season done, it’s time for a check-in. While the league certainly has produced some surprises — both good and bad — the grades we gave each team are a bit less surprising.
The Rays? A+. The A’s? F. Obviously.
But I’m curious about which team’s grade will change the most (in either direction) by season’s end.
• Upward: The Padres are an easy contender here. Dennis Lin has them graded as the only non-Oakland F in the league. That’s fair — they’re just one spot ahead of the Astros in team OPS, at 23rd (.699). Juan Soto has shown signs of life lately, but big picture: The offense has been a disappointment. Surely the roster is too talent-laden to stay this bad all season.
• Huge variance: The Phillies and Mets are both graded at C right now, and both teams have large enough payrolls that anything short of a division win probably won’t land them an A+. But a postseason berth could squeak them into A- territory. Likewise, a collapse into fourth in the division would have to veer into D- or F territory. What’s wild: I could still see either team going in either direction.
• Downward: The Yankees snapped a five-game winning streak last night, turning a 5-1 lead into a 9-6 loss with an eight-run meltdown in the seventh inning. The Yankees have been incredibly injury-prone, and to their credit, have overcome it with remarkable resilience. But they’ll have to keep it up to keep that A grade, and it’s not hard to imagine what it would look like to see them in last place in the division. Just look at the standings from all the way back on … 13 days ago.
You look like yourself, but you’re somebody else
About a week ago, Eno Sarris fired up the smoke machine, hovered his hands above a crystal ball, and did his best to make us believe he was predicting how five struggling starting pitchers would recover (or not).
We all knew that he had some spreadsheets taped to the table, but we were impressed anyway — math, science and thorough preparation are all worthy of some oohs and ahhs once in a while.
Anyway, he likes wearing the cape, so he’s back with another version, this time looking at seven struggling hitters.
• This story was written before Wednesday night’s Phillies game, and Eno had this to say about Trea Turner: “The theory is that once Turner has a normal week, even if it was due to a little good luck, he’ll feel more secure on his new team and will be a little less likely to try and push the envelope to prove he’s worth that big ol’ contract to his new teammates.” Turner hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning on Wednesday, and the Phillies won it on a walk-off in the 10th inning. Oooh, ahhh.
• Others mentioned as primed for a comeback: Austin Riley (2-for-4 on Wednesday), Teoscar Hernández (1-for-4 with a home run), Andrés Giménez (2-for-3), and George Springer, who wrecked this whole paragraph by going 0-for-4.
Handshakes and High Fives
Kodai Senga has run a bit hot and cold in his first MLB campaign. Will Sammon takes a closer look.
If you’re a fan of relief pitchers in the AL West, this section is for you. We have Sam Blum on Matt Moore’s long path back to efficacy, and Corey Brock on Mariners closer Paul Sewald.
I really don’t know what to make of this story other than I’m not a fan of monopolies, so I guess it’s … good (?) that Zack Hample has some competition in the Whatever-It-Is-We’re-Calling-
beatings writings about the Guardians will continue until morale the offense improves. And what’s fair for the Guardians is fair for their division rivals: the Twins’ offense hasn’t been great, either.
The Athletic Baseball Show: Tas and Joel recast “Succession” with baseball personalities and share the five best things in baseball right now, on No Bunts.
(Top photo of Juan Soto: Geoff Burke / USA Today)