Sunday, April 19, 2015

Gonzalez Going Bananas, Miggy Mashing

Gonzalez's great start has helped the Dodgers to an 8-3 record (ABC News)
Adrian Gonzalez came up to bat with the bases loaded twice in yesterday's Rockies-Dodgers game. The first time was in the bottom of the third, with the score tied 1-1 and only one out. With nowhere to put Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles had no choice but to pitch to the man from Mildon, who entered the game batting a scintillating .550/.609/1.125.

To his credit, Lyles got Gonzalez to ground into what should have been an inning-ending double play. Gonzalez rolled a tailor-made rally killer to Troy Tulowitzki, who quickly flipped to DJ LeMahieu at second. Though he had plenty of time to get the slow-footed Gonzalez, LeMahieu rushed his throw to first and buried it in the dirt. Justin Morneau was unable to field the hop at first, allowing Gonzalez to reach and the go-ahead run to score.

But that's just how hot Gonzalez is these days. The fielders are just as afraid of him as the pitchers are, and even his outs hurt opposing teams.

In the bottom of the fifth with the score still 2-1, Gonzalez came up in another bases loaded situation. Once again, Lyles was forced to pitch to him, and once again Gonzalez made him wish he hadn't. Gonzalez laced a long, looping drive that one-hopped the center field wall, landing just beyond the reach of a diving Charlie Blackmon. Joc Pederson and Jimmy Rollins scored, giving Los Angeles a 4-1 lead and boosting Gonzalez's RBI total to 14 on the young season. Gonzalez's single would prove to be the game-winning hit, as LA went on to win 6-3.

Gonzalez, who has hit safely in every game thus far and leads the majors in just about every conceivable batting metric, has been unstoppable since starting the season on fire against San Diego. Gonzalez had an opening series for the ages, going 10-for-13 with five home runs, two doubles, seven RBI, and seven runs scored as the Dodgers took two out of three from the Padres. After falling a triple shy of the cycle in each of the first two games, Gonzalez capped his monster series with his first career three-homer game.

Gonzalez has yet to go hard since, but he hasn't stopped hitting in the meantime. For starters, his .523/.580/1.625 line represents season lows in all three categories. Yeah. His plate discipline stats also reflect how locked in he is right now. He's made contact on nearly 90 percent of his swings, getting wood on almost 98 percent of the pitches he's swung at inside the strike zone. His swinging strike percentage, currently below five percent, is half his career rate. He's done his best Victor Martinez impression by striking out only three times.

Gonzalez's hot streak shows that even as his 33rd birthday rapidly approaches, he's still a great player. The quiet, steady first baseman usually doesn't generate many headlines, but right now he's the star of the show. Los Angeles is first in the NL West, but if he was having a Mark Teixeira-type start they wouldn't be. He's either scored or driven in 22 of the team's 56 runs thus far--a whopping 39.3 percent--and is responsible for over a quarter of their total bases.

With Matt Kemp gone and Yasiel Puig struggling to find consistency at the major league level, Gonzalez is clearly the best hitter on his team. If the last two weeks have taught us anything, it's that.
Cabrera can still crank, too (Tigers Sout)
Gonzalez isn't the only 30-something first baseman off to a torrid start. Over in the American League, in a mysterious land called Michigan, Miguel Cabrera has continued to remind everyone why he was considered the best hitter on the planet before last year.

Cabrera, who turned 32 yesterday, has been almost as impossible to get out as Gonzalez. Although his numbers pale in comparison to the latter's gaudy figures, they're still video game worthy. Through 11 games, Cabrera's hitting .442/.510/.674 with an AL-leading 19 hits. He's also driven in 10 runs so far, tied with J.D. Martinez for most on the Tigers.

Like Los Angeles, Detroit is also off to a strong start, having won nine of ten before getting blown up by Chicago yesterday. The Tigers, who many thought might fall apart this year, have resumed their usual perch atop the AL Central, Cabrera once again a big reason why.

While the two-time AL MVP hasn't been as consistent as Gonzalez (he's already gone hitless three times), he did have a series where the other team had no answer for him. In Cleveland last weekend for Detroit's first road series of the season, Cabrera laid waste to Tribe pitching. He went 3-for-5 in the opener and 4-for-5 the next day, but that was just a teaser for the grand finale: a 4-for-4 day with two long balls and a double as Detroit won 8-5 to complete the sweep.

Like Gonzalez, Cabrera hasn't cleared the fences since his mega-game but has continued to rake. He's reached base in every game since Opening Day and currently leads the American League in on-base percentage. The ankle injury that plagued him last year and required offseason surgery appears not to be an issue, and if it is he's hiding it very well. This is an encouraging sign for the Tigers, who won't see Cabrera's eight-year, $248 million contract extension begin until next year.

Before the year, everyone was quick to hand Mike Trout the MVP award (myself included). However, it looks like Cabrera's going to make it an interesting race...

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