MLB Reality Check: Making Sense of the Astros, Mets and More - Rolling Stone
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MLB Reality Check: Making Sense of the Astros, Mets, Dodgers and More

Dallas Keuchel’s dominance, Matt Harvey’s hot start and Clayton Kershaw’s supposed struggles: Real talk about baseball’s biggest stories

Dallas KeuchelDallas Keuchel

The Houston Astros' improbable ace Dallas Keuchel has dominated in 2015.

R. Yeatts/Getty

I don’t know if the Houston Astros are “for real” or not, but Dallas Keuchel sure is. My goodness, what a start to 2015. My cap is off to whomever predicted a Cy Young Award for the left-hander after just one excellent season in the big leagues.

To label him an out-of-nowhere star would be a mistake, but it has been a quick rise. Keuchel’s minor league career was fine but unspectacular, with his most sustained period of success being the 9-7, 3.17, 1.12 at AA-Corpus Christi in 2011. He was in the Houston rotation for a chunk of 2012 and a bigger chunk in 2013 – with ERAs of 5.27 and 5.15 respectively – before finding himself last year, pitching to a 12-9, 2.93, 1.175 line, with a league-leading five complete games.

With his tough no decision Monday, Keuchel sports a 3-0 record, with an 0.80 ERA and an almost incomprehensible WHIP of 0.756.

I have a special place in my heart for pitchers who toil in these ridiculous home parks – Johnny Cueto is another one – where you just tap the ball and it goes out. Minute Maid Park, unaffectionately nicknamed “The Juice Box” today was, in its original incarnation as Enron Field, called “Ten-Run Field,” remember, and not for nothing.

I don’t know if the New York Mets are for real, but Matt Harvey sure is. Eighteen months after Tommy John surgery, Harvey is 5-0, 2.41, 0.921 with a strikeout per inning and a fastball that’s good as new.

And actually, I do know whether the Mets are for real or not. They’re not. 

I don’t know if the Chicago Cubs or Kris Bryant are for real, but Anthony Rizzo certainly is. The first baseman boasts a .333/.473/.552 line and is hitting better against lefties than righties, which is always a good sign. Look for Rizzo to improve on his projected pace of 27 home runs and 81 RBIs soon enough.

The St. Louis Cardinals are for real. The Redbirds dropped their first two games after losing ace Adam Wainwright for the year, and have won every game since, eight in all.

Hanley Ramirez’s bat is for real. And so is his inability to stay on the field. In running into an outfield wall, Ramirez picked the one way he couldn’t get hurt while playing shortstop. Red Sox fans who didn’t see some sort of disabling coming simply weren’t paying attention.

The race for the American League Central crown is for real, as is the consolation prize of a wild card, which goes to the runner-up. The Detroit Tigers are better off without Joe Nathan and everyone – quite possibly even Nathan himself – knows it.

I don’t know if Clayton Kershaw’s “slump” is for real, deserving of quotes, air quotes or a slap across the face of the suggestor. But with writers in Los Angeles in fear of the “left arm of God,” public shaming or Kersh-knows-what, you might want to look elsewhere for the answer.

In “Is there anything wrong with Clayton Kershaw?”’s David Schoenfield gets it about right with this: “However, advanced metrics don’t keep actual runs off the scoreboard and Kershaw has a 3.72 ERA through his first six starts. He’s allowed five home runs in 38.2 innings after allowing just nine in 198.1 innings in 2014 and 11 in 236 innings in 2013.”

But then he spoils it with the follow-up: “So this could be something; it could be nothing. It could be just a couple of extra fly balls leaving the park and a few extra bloopers falling. But maybe it is something.”

And later, “He’s made some mistakes and got a little unlucky with some of the fly balls leaving the park.”

No. There is no such thing as unlucky with fly balls leaving the park, unless assisted by an outfielder who uses the glove (or in the case of Jose Canseco, his head) to help the baseball over the fence. And it can’t be both something or nothing. It’s something, best summarized thusly: “He’s human.”

Kershaw “struggled” early last year too. After missing April with a back injury, the Dodgers ace recorded a 2-2 with a 4.08 ERA in May. His ERA was 3.57 after six starts in 2014; it’s 3.72 after six starts now.

This feels worse because it comes on the heels of Kershaw’s 0-2, 7.82 National League Division Series last year, and because he hasn’t pitched a truly great game since his final start of 2014, when he beat the Giants on a run and seven hits, with no walks and 11 strikeouts on 117 pitches in eight innings. He hasn’t thrown as many pitches or innings since.

Look, there is a number to support just about any argument in baseball. Here’s one for the something’s wrong crowd: Kershaw allowed three doubles, a triple and a homer to left-hand batters in all of 2014, with .193/.225/.252 line. He’s allowed a double, a triple and a homer, with a .269/.321/.500 against them so far this year. That’s a problem – for real.

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