One word to describe April? That's easy.
It was a bizarre month on the diamond anyway but the weather made it even more difficult for a lot of teams in the majors and minors. There was snow during games in places like Chicago, Pittsburgh and Kansas City, temperatures in the 40s in Texas and so much snow in Minnesota that the Twins entered the weekend having played just six home games thus far in Target Field (two others were in Puerto Rico).
The player of the month in terms of oration might be Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He called out what many observers have said for years: The season is too long. And especially now with three rounds of playoffs, I've always felt we're headed to a disaster at the World Series some year trying to play in November. Starting in March is no picnic either.
“I think we play too much baseball,” Rizzo said during his weekly appearance on a Chicago radio station. “Yes, guys are going to take pay cuts. But are we playing this game for the money or do we love this game? I know it’s both, but in the long run, it will make everything better."
Conditions were sleeting and just plain ugly for a Cardinals visit to Wrigley Field a couple of days before Rizzo's chat and that clearly influenced his thinking. Same for a brutally cold day against the Braves, where the Cubs rallied for nine runs in the eighth to win 14-10 as Atlanta pitchers could barely hold the ball in the chill.
"I think playing in the cold stinks," said Rizzo, who didn't really say "stinks." "I was thinking about this the other day. When you think of Cubs and Cardinals, you think of a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field. You don't think about playing in 20 degrees. ... As a fan you're going to a baseball game in April, and it's raining, snowing and freezing rain. Is it really that much fun? That's my question."
One or two scheduled doubleheaders a season would help teams get more off days and so would a reduction to 158 or even 154 games from the current 162. Big-market, big TV contract-teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, etc. are going to howl but most teams would be fine with that.
Some day that's going to happen but it's going to need to be negotiated with the players' union. Rizzo and others are already floating the idea of grandfathered contracts for 162 games and then new salaries structured for deals signed with a smaller schedule.
Both MLB and the minors have to better utilize their warm weather sites and domes. Yes, those teams don't want a boatload of April home games either but some common sense has to prevail. The Blue Jays play in a dome, opened with four games at home and then were sent on a 10-day road trip. Just bizarre.
All the cold weather seemed to turn things into a what's-in-the-water kind of month.
Bryce Harper hit a broken bat homer. Brandon Belt of the Giants flied to right to complete a 21-pitch at-bat that was the longest since pitches were tracked. Old friend Torey Lovullo, off to another fast start leading the Diamondbacks, nearly started a brawl by using a colorful 12-letter word to describe Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and his ability to trick umpires by training pitches. Bartolo Colon vs. Justin Verlander turned into the first MLB game since 1975 with just two baserunners over the first seven innings.
Oh, there's more. The Red Sox started 17-2 – and then got no-hit by Oakland's Sean Manaea. The Indians started 5-6 and set an all-time record for lowest batting average through 11 games at a paltry .158. New Phillies manager/analytics hound Gabe Kapler used 18 relievers in his first three games, a record for a new manager. The Marlins somehow beat Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw a few days after Derek Jeter called Bryant Gumbel "mentally weak" for talking about tanking during their HBO interview.
While crossing over from watching one game played on ice to one that's not supposed to be played on it, here's some other things that piqued this corner's mind:
Tanking derby is on -- Seven teams hit the weekend playing less than .350 ball. And while the Rangers and Padres didn't seem to intend to be in this spot, you sure have to wonder about the White Sox, Orioles, Royals, Marlins and Reds. And that doesn't include the Rays, who started 3-12 and were 10 games out of first place after just 15 games (at least they've rallied to win six straight).
Miami, Chicago, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cincinnati entered the weekend a combined 29-90 -- and just 12-47 at home. What are people supposed to do all summer in those cities? Commissioner Rob Manfred seemed to have his head firmly planted in the sand when he told the New York Post, "The reality is we have very few teams’ owners who would tolerate several years of losing to get better." The commish also said a large number would not tank simultaneously because of “the limiting possibilities” of actually getting the first draft pick. Guess he has to read up on the NHL, circa 2015.
Mega prospects -- Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna made his MLB debut by singling and scoring the tying run in Wednesday's win in Cincinnati. The Angels' Shohei Ohtani quickly eliminated concerns that grew during his pedestrian spring training and showed what all the fuss was about at the plate. On the mound, he's hit 101 mph and showed wicked offspeed stuff but still has a 4.43 ERA. In this area, keep your eye on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. He's only 19 and you wonder how soon he's going to be in Buffalo -- or even Toronto. Baby Vlad is tearing up the Eastern League with 22 RBIs in 17 games, is batting .353 and slugging .529.
Dark Knight shrouded -- From talk of the town to All-Star Game starter to World Series anti-hero, Matt Harvey's career in New York is on a fast descent. The Mets sentenced him to the bullpen last week and Harvey was not pleased. Reporters tried to get his comments on his first relief outing and were told in no uncertain terms to beat it. Harvey is 0-2, 5.87 this year after going 9-17, 5.78 over the last two years.
"No chance. Zero chance," Harvey said. Asked why, he said, "I have nothing to say to you guys." Asked why not, he said, "I dont [expletive] want to" and walked away. Nice guy.
Rogers Centre -- An interesting month in Toronto. The Blue Jays are much better than expected offensively even with Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki out. Maybe not having that black hole of a washed-up Jose Bautista in the middle of their lineup was addition by subtraction. A healthy Aaron Sanchez sure helps too. But a game in the downtown dome was wiped out by falling ice from the CN Tower going through the roof and Manfred made it clear during a visit on Tuesday that the time is now for major renovations to the 30-year-old facility that was billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened as SkyDome in 1989.
Jays president Mark Shapiro is bent on major changes in the building, much like he did at Cleveland's Progressive Field.
"The stadium when it was built was a great building, one of our best,” Manfred said. "Given the passage of time, the building is probably out of date in terms of the amenities that are available in many of our ballparks. So many of our stadiums have millennial areas, things that have been built and become more popular recently. While the building is fundamentally sound, it needs an update to make it as economically viable as possible."
A point of emphasis?
"I do know that there’s limited premium seating in this facility,” Manfred said. “In a market as robust as Toronto, if it were my club I’d probably want a lot more than you have.”
It seemed like an odd point to make. There are all kinds of empty suites in the Rogers Centre for Jays games and there is a large club section on the 200 level for premium ticket holders featuring the standard buffet and in-seat service you get in most stadiums. Sounds like the folks who sit close to home plate on the 100 level better get ready to pony up a lot more for lavish amenities they may not want but the team is about to force-feed them.
Best story of the month -- Tampa Bay's Jonny Venters got on the mound Wednesday night in Baltimore -- six years and three Tommy John surgeries after his last big-league appearance for the Braves in 2012. That's perseverance right there. Venters was in the Durham bullpen for the Bulls' Wednesday morning game against the Bisons when he got the word his moment had come during a pregame rain delay.
"There simply is not a word to accurately assess what this man has done,'' longtime Tampa-based agent B.B. Abbott told the Tampa Bay Times. "Resilient seems wholly lacking for what he has accomplished. He has not thrown a pitch in the big leagues for almost six years and has endured three additional surgeries, with only 27 minor-league innings in between. He has spent months away from his family rehabbing for an outcome that was so improbable and unknown that to simply call it unprecedented feels almost hollow."
Venters, 33, made 230 appearances for the Braves from 2010-2012 before his career took heavy detours. He retired Chris Davis on a groundout Wednesday, the only batter he faced.
"It's hard to put into words how I'm feeling,'' said Venters. "It's been an emotional day. I'm excited to be here, grateful for the opportunity.''