Yes, our national pastime has some problems. An awful lot of them have to do with money, and at the very least we are likely to have the threat of a major work stoppage in the sport during this offseason. The basic agreement between the owners and players expires Dec. 1.
The easiest way to avoid an all-out bloodbath is for both sides to admit, especially after the pandemic-shortened season in 2020, that missing games would hurt the sport in ways both parties can’t even fully contemplate. Thus, they agree to kick the can down the street for one year.
Perhaps that one year would somehow, some way allow both sides to come to their senses. One thing for certain — both sides are so entrenched in where they stand it seems that only by bringing two new faces can this think end peacefully.
But having said all that, that doesn’t stop excitement from creeping in. Here are two examples –one at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie, Md., and then a second one just a couple days later at Camden Yards.
A rebuild, by its very nature, is a deferral of trying to immediately put a winning product on the field. Because of that, the rebuild can be about as exciting as watching paint dry.
And then there are nights like June 15, when Orioles star pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez made his home debut for the Bowie Baysox against the Akron RubberDucks, Cleveland’s Double-A team.
Thanks in part to a clever promotion called “gas tank night,” the game drew about 6,000 fans and there was a tangible electricity not often seen in the minor leagues. Before I go on, I don’t want to leave the impression that the Baysox allowed used gas tanks to be brought into the stadium. The stipulation called for these gas tanks to be brand new and without gas. The top several cans, which had to be decorated, won a gas gift card.
Rodriguez was about as good as advertised. He clearly will be a very meaningful member of the Orioles rotation from 2023-2030 and hopefully a bit beyond that.
But the crowd was really stoked to see the organization’s top pitching prospect.
For me, as much as I liked what I saw from Rodriguez and can begin to think ahead to the day he arrives, I was even more excited the face of the franchise — catcher Adley Rutschman.
Most of the time when you use the term quarterback when talking about a baseball player, you think of the ace pitcher who takes the ball on every play, like a quarterback in football.
But the real quarterback of the Baltimore Orioles starting either in the second half of 2022 or the very beginning of 2023 will be Rutschman. The offensive numbers are impressive for the switch-hitter, but while there is room for him to improve his offensive skills by developing at the minor-league level, he already possesses the skill set to far outplay Pedro Severino, Austin Wynns and any other Orioles catchers in the past 30-plus years.
Pitchers love the way he calls a game. They love the way he communicates with them throughout their outings. And did I mention that he actually catches the baseball? When Rutschman arrives, the days of routinely giving up bases to opposing runners will be over.
The combination of a potential ace pitching and someone who can help what will be a young staff during the next phase of this rebuild is legitimate cause for some excitement.
The recent excitement at Camden Yards was brought about by Ryan Mountcastle June 19 when he hit three homers against the Blue Jays’ staff. Mountcastle actually came to bat in the seventh inning with a chance to hit his fourth homer.
How many times has someone hit four homers in a Major League Baseball game? The number, which for now does not include Mountcastle, is just 18. To give you a little context that may help everyone understand how hard it is to do this, 26 pitchers have thrown perfect games.
I was there the one time it happened in Baltimore, on May 8, 2012. And that time, Josh Hamilton accomplished the feat against the Orioles. You want to talk about exciting? That was one of my favorite moments in the lifelong love affair I have had with the game of baseball.
Hamilton also doubled in the game, narrowly missing becoming the only player in MLB history to hit five long balls. He did, however, set the American League record for total bases in a single game (18). Hamilton’s special night was history-making in another regard. He was and still is the only player to hit four two-run homers in a game.
Two of Hamilton’s homers were hit off of starter Jake Arrieta. The third was hit off of Zach Phillips and the fourth was hit off of Darren O’Day.
Mountcastle’s fourth at-bat was full of excitement for me. He cheated nobody with a ferocious swing that was a bolt off his bat — but no lift, so it was just a single. But what a display by Mountcastle, and something tells me we might not have seen the last opportunity he’ll ever have to club a fourth homer.
Without further ado, here are my MLB power rankings.
1. San Francisco Giants (46-26, No. 3 last week): Gabe Kapler has to get serious consideration for Manager of the Year. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will be in the hunt for Executive of the Year.
2. Oakland Athletics (44-29, No. 4): Despite having the best record in the American League, the A’s can’t seem to shake the red-hot Astros.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (44-27, No. 5): The Dodgers are 9-3 in the last two weeks, bringing them right back into the thick of things chasing the surprising Giants. This past weekend against the Diamondbacks, right-hander Walker Buehler flirted with what would have been the sixth no-hitter of the season.
4. Chicago White Sox (43-29, No. 2): I have ragged on Tony La Russa’s comeback as a manager after being out of uniform for a decade. But I must say that even after losing outfielder Eloy Jimenez toward the end of spring training and then center fielder Luis Robert shortly thereafter, the White Sox are showing a quite a bit of perseverance and they are playing hard for this skipper despite the generational divide.
5. Tampa Bay Rays (43-30, No. 1): A 1-6 mark this past week and just like that, 20-year-old shortstop Wander Franco, the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, is up.
6. Houston Astros (43-28, No. 7): The Astros’ 6-0 week included a four-game sweep of the White Sox in Houston in the battle of over 70-something managers, as Dusty Baker matched wits with Tony La Russa.
7. Boston Red Sox (43-29, No. 8): The highlight of their week was second baseman Christian Arroyo hitting a pinch-hit grand slam to beat the Braves and sweep a two-game series in Atlanta.
8. San Diego Padres (42-32, No. 9): The Padres’ 4-3 week was not impressive on the face of it, but after losing three of four to the Rockies at Coors Field, they got home and swept the Reds (three straight). Fernando Tatis Jr. had to exit the game June 19 with shoulder issues.
9. Milwaukee Brewers (40-32, No. 6): The Brewers had been so hot (15-4) in the past three weeks that it’s not too surprising they were due for a bit of regression. Still, it was a tad surprising that their 2-5 week included three straight losses to the Reds and losses in their first two games at Coors Field.
10. Chicago Cubs (40-32, No. 10): A disappointing week saw the Cubs lose three of four at Citi Field against the Mets, but what’s worse they lost a three-game series to the Miami Marlins.
11. New York Mets (36-29, No. 11)
12. Cleveland Indians (39-30, No. 12)
13. New York Yankees (38-33, No. 15)
14. Seattle Mariners (38-36, No. 21)
15. Washington Nationals (33-36, No. 22)
16. St. Louis Cardinals (36-36, No. 19)
17. Cincinnati Reds (35-35, No. 16)
18. Philadelphia Phillies (34-35, No. 14)
19. Toronto Blue Jays (35-35, No. 13)
20. Los Angeles Angels (36-36, No. 17)
21. Atlanta Braves (33-36, No. 20)
22. Kansas City Royals (32-38, No. 18)
23. Detroit Tigers (30-41, No. 24)
24. Minnesota Twins (30-41, No. 25)
25. Miami Marlins (31-40, No. 23)
26. Colorado Rockies (30-43, No. 26)
27. Pittsburgh Pirates (25-45, No. 28)
28. Baltimore Orioles (23-48, No. 29)
29. Texas Rangers (25-46, No. 27)
30. Arizona Diamondbacks (20-53, No. 30)