This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at the Milwaukee Brewers surviving, the San Francisco Giants deep pitching staff and the Dodgers waiting on Dustin May.
When asked about what has stood out to him the most, a prominent American League executive pointed to the Milwaukee Brewers, specifically how they have overcome so many injuries to start the season.
The Brewers entered Sunday with 17 players on the injured list. They are without Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain and recently lost Corbin Burnes, perhaps the best pitcher in the National League this season. They have relied on a patchwork roster to get through the toughest stretch of their season, a 17-game in 17 days stretch, and still lead the NL Central after taking three of four games from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It’s a testament to manager Craig Counsell, but also the depth that president of baseball operations David Stearns has accumulated throughout the roster. Travis Shaw looks like a bargain on a $1.5 million deal. Tyrone Taylor and Billy McKinney are getting meaningful at-bats. Omar Narvaez, who struggled mightily in 2020, was hitting .368/.443/.529 in 79 plate appearances before going on the IL.
But to get through this stretch, the Brewers will need their pitching staff to step up in a similar way to their position players. In addition to Burnes, they are without No. 4 starter Brett Anderson and Josh Lindblom, who was pitching out of the bullpen, as well as Zack Godley and Eric Yardley.
That task became infinitely more challenging without Burnes and finding capable replacements, at least early on, has proven challenging. Alec Bettinger allowed 11 runs in four innings in a start against the Dodgers on Sunday. Jordan Zimmermann was retired for two hours before being called up by the Brewers. It’s possible that Eric Lauer could stick in the rotation after a strong five-inning start against the Dodgers.
The imminent returns of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain should make Counsell’s job easier. Even then, he has continually proven to have a deft touch maximizing the talent on his rosters, and getting his team to 17-11 with this many injuries may be his best work yet.
Will the San Francisco Giants be selling pitching at the trade deadline?
That same American League executive believes that the San Francisco Giants’ starting rotation will be the talk of the trade deadline — if they are in the position to sell.
The Giants have been the biggest surprise in the National League, with their league-leading 3.21 runs allowed per game paving the way for their 17-11 start. Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafini, both signed to one-year deals this winter, have been revelations and have ERAs under 2.00. Kevin Gausman and Aaron Sanchez have been equally impressive. And club officials remain hopeful that Johnny Cueto will return soon from a strained lat.
All are under one-year commitments, meaning president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi must decide whether to trade, keep them or hold onto each pitcher. But that decision will be complicated, with the Giants being one of four contending teams in perhaps the best division in baseball.
If the Giants decide to sell, and that is a big if considering they currently lead the NL West, the executive believes Cueto would be the most coveted pitcher. But Wood, who has extensive postseason experience, could be a strong under-the-radar option for contending teams looking to round out their rotation.
Wood, 30, is 3-0 with a 1.50 since coming off the injured list, with 20 strikeouts and only nine hits allowed in 18 innings. He was signed for $3 million to give the rotation another veteran pitcher with upside. But in a division that features arguably the two most talented rotations in baseball, it is the Giants who have the best starting staff through the first month of the regular season.
Wood has played a key role in that early success. And should the Giants make him or any of their starters available at the deadline, there is expected to be a long line of teams ready to pounce. But if their current success continues, they may be in a position to buy, not sell, come July 30.
The Dodgers are hoping for the best with Dustin May
Dustin May will undergo an MRI on his right elbow on Monday, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are holding their collective breaths that the injury is not serious.
May, 23, averaged 98.4 mph on his four-seam fastball in his first four starts this season and touched 100 mph in his start Saturday against the Brewers. But his final pitch to Billy McKinney was just 94.3 mph, immediately wincing in pain and leaving the game with trainers with what he described as “a shooting sensation” in his right elbow.
“I think that anytime a pitcher comes out of a game and you start talking about the elbow, yeah, I’m concerned certainly — for him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
May is one of the best young pitchers in baseball, and should the injury be serious, finding similar production from a No. 5 starter would prove incredibly difficult for the Dodgers. Tony Gonsolin, who is progressing in his recovery from right shoulder inflammation, would be the most likely candidate to replace May in the rotation.
But the Dodgers, who have three off days in a seven-day span, might not need to fill the No. 5 spot in the rotation for a couple weeks. It would allow Gonsolin enough time to work his way back and give David Price, who is also on the IL with a right hamstring strain, ample time to return to his multi-inning bullpen role.
The Dodgers are as prepared to deal with an injury to a starting pitcher as any team in baseball. But losing May would be a massive blow for a team that envisioned him playing a significant role in their efforts of repeating as World Series champions.
Five things I think:
- I think there is no division in baseball that has been hit harder with injuries than the National League East. We talked about the Brewers, who have been decimated by injuries to start the season. But Fox Sports posted a graphic Friday night that showed just how bad the division has been hit by injuries. It looks like executives had every right to be concerned about the impact of going from 60 to 162 games.
- I think that I’m finally ready to say that baseball needs robot umpires. I’ve always been on the fence on this, but some of the ball/strike calls that I’ve seen this season … yikes. It’s time.
- I think the Colorado Rockies’ GM opening is fascinating. The job security and opportunity for an innovative thinker to maximize the team’s potential at Coors Field is intriguing. But the presence of owner Dick Monfort, who likes to meddle in baseball operations, could scare off some of the top candidates.
- I think, speaking of the Rockies, they would be smart to consider Chicago Cubs executive Jason McLeod for their GM opening. He has interviewed for other openings in recent years and two people close to him agreed that he is “more than ready to become a GM.”
- I think (hope?) that the Kansas City Royals’ early success incentives more teams to spend in free agency. They made splash moves such as Carlos Santana and Andrew Benintendi, but Michael A. Taylor has shown to be one of the best bargains in baseball on a one-year, $1.75 million deal.