With Harper Back, The Fun Begins
Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who is about to return to the Nationals' lineup June 30 against the Colorado Rockies, kind of stamped himself as ready June 28 during a game in Akron, Ohio. He hit three home runs in a Harrisburg Senators uniform, while going 4-for-5 and driving in five runs.
Getting Harper back will certainly be fun for first-year skipper Matt Williams. But there will no doubt be another type of fun for Williams, as he has to juggle a number of moving parts when making out his daily lineup. The two players that will be pretty much unaffected by Harper's addition are right fielder Jayson Werth and Harper himself. After that, Williams will juggle matchups, platoon splits and the need to find adequate playing time for outfielder Denard Span, third baseman/outfielder Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman Adam LaRoche, second/third baseman Anthony Rendon and second baseman Danny Espinosa.
In the simplest mathematics, there are four positions for five players. If Williams is looking to get help from the designated hitter during games played in American League parks, he'd better look quickly, or he'll miss those chances. In fact, the Nationals have two games coming up in Baltimore July 9 and 10, and then three more in Seattle Aug. 29-31 -- those are the only designated hitter opportunities.
It seems a foregone conclusion that the 2015 solution to Williams' mathematical problem is to simply let LaRoche move on, thereby freeing up first base for Zimmerman. That would also allow Rendon to take over a more permanent ownership of the hot corner. But that is nine months from now, and doesn't help Williams at all during the last half of the 2014 season, and possibly the postseason.
The solution is complicated because Zimmerman's surgically repaired shoulder doesn't allow him to make the throws necessary from third base. Furthermore, while left field is the outfield position easiest on the arm, the person playing the position does have to make throws.
The larger issue is that the Nationals' Achilles' heel is their porous defense. And Zimmerman's situation seems to put someone off his otherwise best position. Harper is not a true center fielder, and his best position is in left. But if Zimmerman needs to play left, Span, who is one of the club's better defenders, will have to sit. Then, if Washington elects to play Zimmerman at third base, Harper in left field and Span in center field, Rendon would play second base, where he is not nearly as strong, and Zimmerman's arm also creates issues of its own.
As I say, Harper is back. And although the fun may start to take place on the field, sorting out who plays where is anything but fun for Williams.
Cubs' Scheduled Sunday Off
If you were looking to place a bet on the Chicago Cubs' game June 29, or wanted to check on how shortstop Starlin Castro or first baseman Anthony Rizzo were doing on your fantasy team, what you saw was not a misprint. Yes, Virginia, the Cubs had their first scheduled Sunday off day in 82 years. The team they played during a doubleheader June 28, the Washington Nationals, also got to rest up before a big three-game series against the Rockies begins at Nationals Park July 30.
The reason for the rare day off was a scheduling snafu among MLB, the Cubs and the 44th Ward politicians. The culprit in Chicago was the annual Pride Day parade, which could have caused the ultimate gridlock if combined with a Cubs game. The two sides could have probably opted for a Sunday night affair, but perhaps the Nationals balked at that idea.
Regardless of all the ins and outs, the solution ended up being the Cubs' first regularly scheduled doubleheader of any kind since they played the Nats' former incarnation, the Montreal Expos, July 4, 1983.
Carrie Muskat of MLB.com wrote an article that looked into how players react to this rarity -- a Sunday off day. It got me wondering; wouldn't it be a good idea to allow the managers, players, coaches and public relations staffs a breather once or twice a season?
Well, yes. But don't count on it happening for about another 82 years. The reasons seem rather obvious at first blush. Sunday is a great family day, and believe it or not, the broadcast rights would probably be affected if all 30 teams did this even once a season. From management's perspective, there probably is a strong feeling that from a scheduling standpoint, with salaries where they are, there really isn't much wiggle room with the schedule to accommodate such a civilized idea.
Here are this week's rankings.
1. Oakland Athletics (51-30 overall record, No. 1 ranking last week)
2. Milwaukee Brewers (51-33, No. 2)
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (47-37, No. 3)
4. Washington Nationals (43-38, No. 4)
5. Detroit Tigers (44-34, No. 9)
6. Baltimore Orioles (42-39, No. 7)
7. Los Angeles Angels (45-35, No. 11)
8. St. Louis Cardinals (44-39, No. 10)
9. San Francisco Giants (46-36, No. 5)
10. Toronto Blue Jays (45-39, No. 6)
11. New York Yankees (41-39, No. 8)
12. Seattle Mariners (44-38, No. 12)
13. Atlanta Braves (44-38, No. 14)
14. Pittsburgh Pirates (42-40, No. 15)
15. Cincinnati Reds (43-38, No. 18)
16. Kansas City Royals (42-39, No. 13)
17. Boston Red Sox (38-44, No. 16)
18. Texas Rangers (37-44, No. 17)
19. Tampa Bay Rays (35-49, No. 24)
20. Cleveland Indians (39-42, No. 19)
21. Miami Marlins (39-43, No. 20)
22. New York Mets (37-45, No. 23)
23. Chicago White Sox (39-44, No. 26)
24. Chicago Cubs (34-46, No. 27)
25. Minnesota Twins (37-43, No. 22)
26. Colorado Rockies (36-46, No. 21)
27. Philadelphia Phillies (36-46, No. 25)
28. Houston Astros (36-47, No. 28)
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (35-49, No. 29)
30. San Diego Padres (35-47, No. 30)