Case of the Mondays: Pitching is for Pandas (And Big Sexy)

While you were watching LeBron James take over the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers, baseball was happening. Ready to get caught up? Here are your Case of the Mondays for April 30th!

  1. One step forward, two steps D-Back.

Death, taxes, and an Arizona Diamondbacks series win.

MLB: SEP 24 Marlins at Diamondbacks
“You want the slider? Okay, kid. I’ll show you the slider.”

The D-Backs have won all nine series they’ve played this season, dispatching the Rockies, Dodgers (twice), Cardinals, Giants (twice), Padres, Phillies, and Nationals. It’s the first time since the 1907 Cubs that a National League club won its first nine series to start a season–and that group went on to win the World Series.

The loss of slugger JD Martinez hasn’t hurt them in the win-loss column, but the offense has been mediocre this season, producing just a .230 batting average and a .311 OBP, and the lineup is just 14th in baseball in runs scored.

It’s been the pitching that’s carried Arizona so far. Patrick Corbin has produced a Cy Young-worthy month of April, allowing just a .165 batting average while striking out 55 batters over 40 innings. The bullpen has been by far the best in baseball with a 1.70 ERA; all but one of their relievers have a sub-3.00 ERA.

However, while the D-Backs have reason for celebration, there’s also cause for concern, particularly in the starting rotation. Two weeks ago Arizona announced that starting pitcher Taijuan Walker would be shutdown for the season, and would have to undergo Tommy John surgery; he threw 157 1/3 innings for the D-Backs last season, striking out 146 batters while throwing a 3.49 ERA.

Robbie Ray
The D-Backs have yet to give a timeline for the severity of Robbie Ray’s injury, but a comparison might be found in another Arizona starter: Zack Greinke missed 39 games with an oblique injury in 2016.

On Sunday afternoon, the D-Backs number 3 starter, strikeout artist Robbie Ray, left the game in the second inning; Arizona later announced that Ray suffered a strained right oblique, an injury which will likely lead to a stint on the disabled list. Ray’s ERA is a bit high at 4.88, but his peripherals (including an unholy 36% K-rate) suggest that he was on track to bring that number down.

Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin still give the D-Backs an enviable 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation, but the loss of Walker and Ray leave the back end of the rotation perilously thin. Unless Arizona’s bats can start making some noise, they might be in for a tumultuous May.

2. Position Panda Pitching!

What weighs 255 pounds, owns three World Series rings, and possess a 0.00 career ERA?

Pablo Sandoval

That would be San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, known as “Kung Fu Panda,” who came on to pitch the ninth inning in a blowout loss to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers.

Twitter, of course, had thoughts.

All jokes aside, Sandoval didn’t look terrible on the mound. He sported a fastball that reached the upper-80s, and a curveball with some serious cheese on it.

After his perfect inning, Sandoval was asked about where he learned his curveball. “You don’t learn that,” Sandoval said, “You’re born with it.”

Sandoval looked like a better pitcher than…

3. Baker Mayfield, uh, “shows off” his arm in Cleveland

If you managed to avoid all sports news over the weekend, here’s a spoiler: the Cleveland Browns drafted Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the number one overall pick, with a clause in his contract that forbids him from wearing jorts ever again.

Mayfield and fellow Browns’ first round pick Denzel Ward had the honor of throwing out the first pitch at the Cleveland Indians game the day after joining the team. And, well, if he throws a baseball like he throws a football, it’s clear to see why some Cleveland fans were disappointed with the team’s choice.

It’s easy to poke fun, and I don’t know enough about football to say whether Mayfield will be a star or a bust–and frankly, anyone who says they know for sure is lying. I do know this, though: the Indians’ pitching staff gave up 32 runs to the Seattle Mariners in the four-game series, so maybe they could have used Mayfield on the mound.

4. Land of the Free, Home of the Braves.

Remember when we thought the Braves had a solid team, but might need a year or two more to fully develop? Yeah…we might have been wrong.

Atlanta is third in the majors in batting average, second in OBP, fifth in slugging percentage, and second in runs scored. Their offense has propelled them to a 16-11 record, and the team has firmly entrenched themselves in the wildcard conversation–if not the race for the NL East pennant.

It’s not just the Freddie Freeman show anymore. Atlanta’s first baseman is up to his usual tricks (.314/.437/.559), and this time he has help around him in the lineup. Young second baseman Ozzie Albies has nine home runs on the season, good for a tie for second in Major League Baseball. Veteran outfielder Nick Markakis is getting on base at a .400 clip. Dansby Swanson is bouncing back from a rocky rookie campaign with a .287/.330/.435 slash line. New acquisitions Preston Tucker and Ryan Flaherty are making an instant impact in the lineup, and now top prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. is joining the team–and hitting dingers.

The .317 BABIP suggests that there might be some offensive regression from the lineup, but don’t expect the Braves to go away. The roster is young, and will go through its growing pains, but the talent is undeniable. The Braves, like the Yankees last season, may have fast-tracked their rebuild.

5. Yo’s just out here playing Cornhole.

Despite what the loudmouthed drunk in your local bar says, it takes immense skill and power to hit a home run off a major league pitcher. Just putting the ball over the fence is an incredible achievement.

Then, there’s Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who was just taking target practice:

6. Your weekly dose of Big Sexy.

And who says pitchers aren’t athletes?

The Next Round

Albert Pujols

“The Machine” and future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols is at 2,996 hits. Could he get hit number 3,000 at home against a struggling Orioles pitching staff during the week? If not, he’ll have a chance over the weekend in Seattle when the Angels head north to take on their division rival.

As much as everyone complains about the pro-Yankees coverage in baseball media, they’ll be the team to watch this week with two rematches from last October. First, they’ll head to Houston to take on the Astros, who beat them four games to three in last year’s ALCS. Over the weekend they’ll host the Cleveland Indians, who are looking for payback after blowing a 2-0 lead to New York in the 2017 ALDS.

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