Madden: Here's how the no-name Oakland A's are giving baseball's super teams a run for their money

Madden: Here's how the no-name Oakland A's are giving baseball's super teams a run for their money

Before being drilled by the Marlins’ Jose Urena last Wednesday, Braves 20-year-old rookie phenom Ronald Acuna Jr. was on an historic home run tear, becoming the youngest player ever to (1) homer twice in back-to-back days, (2) homer eight times in an eight-game span, (3) homer in five straight games and (4) lead off three straight games with homers. The tear, which coincided with the Braves winning six of eight and surging past the Phillies into first place in the NL East, at least got Acuna into the MVP conversation because of his effect on the Braves. What he likely will win is the NL Rookie of the Year. Both Acuna and 19-year-old phenom Juan Soto are on pace to have an OPS-plus (the metric of offensive production adjusted for ballpark and era where 100 is average) of more than 140. If so, it will be the first time in history two players, with 400 plate appearances accomplished that in the same season….Has anyone noticed that baseball’s biggest stars and gate attractions, Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant and Joey Votto are all on the disabled list? If you think there continues to be an inordinate amount of injuries in baseball you’d be right. As of Friday, there had been 644 players on the DL – 16 more than last year and the most ever by this time of the season. For context, 2016 was the first time in MLB history there’d been over 500 players on the DL at this time of the season…Cowboy Joe West last Wednesday worked his 5,164th game as an umpire to move into second place for most games on the all-time list. It now seems likely West will pass Hall-of-Famer Bill Klem, at 5,375, for the all-time record. What’s remarkable is that West somehow lasted this long to achieve this milestone because, with all his fines and reprimands for transgressions against players and the game through the years, he will never be considered for the Hall of Fame.

Yasiel Puig appeals 2-game suspension for role in Dodgers-Giants brawl

Yasiel Puig appeals 2-game suspension for role in Dodgers-Giants brawl

Yasiel Puig is appealing a two-game suspension he received for starting a bench-clearing brawl Tuesday during the Dodgers-Giants game.

Puig and Giants catcher Nick Hundley also received undisclosed fines for their roles in the fight, although Hundley wasn’t suspended. MLB announced the penalties Thursday.

Puig is eligible to play while MLB considers his appeal, but he was not in the lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Mariners, an 11-1 Dodgers victory. 

The melee started in the bottom of the seventh inning, when Puig fouled off a pitch. He and Hundley exchanged words, which caused Puig to shove and smack Hundley. The dugouts immediately cleared.

Blue Jays fall to Yankees 7-5 in rain-shortened series opener in New York

Blue Jays fall to Yankees 7-5 in rain-shortened series opener in New York

Neil Walker hit a three-run homer, Giancarlo Stanton added an impressive opposite-field blast and the New York Yankees rallied for a rain-shortened 7-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night.Stanton hit his 31st homer of the season into a party deck behind the home bullpen in the bottom of the seventh, and a batter later, umpires pulled the teams off the field amid rain at Yankee Stadium. The game was called with one out in the seventh after a delay of one hour and 25 minutes.Story continues belowREAD MORE: Royals earn series split with Blue Jays in 6-2 win after lengthy rain delayChad Green (6-2) pitched two scoreless innings for the win. In a scoring oddity, David Robertson got his third save, despite not recording the final out of the game.Rookie Gleyber Torres drove in the go-ahead run with a fielder’s choice off Joe Biagini (1-7) in the fifth.Toronto jumped on starter Lance Lynn for four runs in the first inning. Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar each had RBI singles before Randal Grichuk walked to load the bases with two outs and Aledmys Diaz followed with a two-run single.READ MORE: Ex-Blue Jay Bautista sets career-high with 7 RBI, in Mets 24-4 rout of PhilliesThe Yankees, who were limited to just six runs in their previous three games against Tampa Bay, cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning against starter Marcus Stroman. Aaron Hicks worked a two-out walk and scored from first, when sure-handed centre fielder Pillar misplayed Didi Gregorius’ triple in the gap. Miguel Andujar added an RBI double.Get daily local headlines and alerts

Cubs' Cole Hamels doubles his pleasure with record-setting defense

Cubs' Cole Hamels doubles his pleasure with record-setting defense

Even at 34 years old and with 13 years of major-league service, Cole Hamels is learning about the talent of his new Cubs teammates at a rapid pace.

“I know even if the results aren’t backing up on the stat sheet at the end of the day, guys are trying their best,” Hamels said Friday night after he was the beneficiary of five of the record-tying seven double plays turned by the defense in a 1-0 win over the Pirates.

“To be able to see and recognize it that guys are going to pick up each other, that’s what you got to love about this team. And especially this team, that guys are willing to pick each other up, and it really shows. You need that one guy one day sometimes.

“When everyone is firing, it’s a great to be a part of. We got a good team. Everyone is trying to pick up each other and trying to play the small part into a bigger role.”

There aren’t many times that a 1-0 victory produced so many feats as it did for the Cubs (71-50), who expanded their lead over the Brewers in the National League Central to 4½ games while improving to 21 games over .500 for the first time this season.

The Cubs’ seven double plays tied a major-league record for a nine-inning game, joining the Yankees against the Athletics on Aug. 14, 1942, and the Astros against the Giants on May 4, 1969, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The Cubs became the fourth team to win consecutive 1-0 games on solo home runs, joining the Tigers (1960), the Angels (1964) and Giants (2010), according to STATS. Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber provided the offense with home runs the last two games.

And this marked the ninth time the Cubs won consecutive 1-0 games and first since April 17-18, 1973, against the Mets at Shea Stadium, according to Christopher Kamka of NBC Sports Chicago.

In the first game, Ferguson Jenkins threw a two-hitter to beat Tom Seaver, who allowed a home run to Rick Monday. That was one of 11 home runs Monday hit off Seaver, the most any player hit off Seaver during his Hall of Fame career.

In the second 1-0 victory, Ray Burris, Larry Gura and Jack Aker combined to beat Jon Matlack.

But the Cubs wouldn’t have achieved their first three-game winning streak of the second half had it not been for their defense.

“We didn’t give them extra outs,” Maddon said. “That was the pertinent part.”

Javier Baez moved from third base to second in the eighth and caught a line drive and turned it into an inning-ending double play.

And in the ninth with the tying and winning runs on base, newly inserted David Bote fielded a grounder by David Freese and turned it into a game-ending double play.

“What (Hamels) learned was that our defense can play for him, and that’s a good thing for pitcher to know,” Maddon said.

Hamels, who appreciated playing with five-time Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre for parts of four seasons, took note of the Cubs’ stellar defense.

“It’s saying something when you can play with a Hall of Famer and you get guys who are obviously 18 years younger but are still putting up incredible defensive skills,” Hamels said. “It does remind you of what they can accomplish when they get older and what kind of resume they’re going to have as they get older because they’re tremendous athletes and defenders. It’s great to have those guys at third.”

Coincidentally, Beltre and Bote share the same birthday — April 7.

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Hitting refresh button may be Chris Sale's key to winning 1st Cy Young Award

Hitting refresh button may be Chris Sale's key to winning 1st Cy Young Award

Red Sox ace Chris Sale has a career ERA of 2.82 or lower for April, May, June and July. But the number rises to 3.16 in August and 3.78 in September, suggesting he tires as the season wears on.

Last year, Sale’s first in Boston, he posted a 4.38 ERA in August and 3.72 in September. Those numbers helped the Indians’ Corey Kluber sneak past Sale in American League Cy Young voting, depriving Sale of the award he never has won in spite of a stellar career with the White Sox and Red Sox.

The solution would seem to be to take a break, catch his breath and hit the refresh button. Whether it was intended that way or not, Sale was dominant Sunday in his first start after a 10-day disabled list stint with shoulder soreness, striking out 12 in five shutout innings while improving to 6-0 with an 0.20 ERA over his last seven starts.

The last pitcher to better that in a seven-start span was the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson (0.14 ERA in 1968). Gibson finished with a 1.12 ERA and won the National League Cy Young Award in what’s known as the Year of the Pitcher.

Sale, scheduled to start Sunday against the Rays at Fenway Park, is having his greatest year and became the seventh pitcher in AL history with 200 or more strikeouts in six consecutive seasons. With the Indians’ Trevor Bauer on the DL and possibly out for the season with a stress fracture in his right fibula, Sale is in good position for his first Cy. His closest competitor is Kluber, so it might depend on whether Sale can stay strong the final six weeks.

Meanwhile, the NL Cy Young debate could test voters’ knowledge of analytics. Jacob de Grom has a 1.81 ERA but is only 7-7 for the Mets, yet he has the same WAR (6.3) as probable favorite Max Scherzer of the Nationals. Fivethirtyeight.com pointed out de Grom’s ERA would be the second-lowest in history for a qualified pitcher with a non-winning record. Tim O’Keefe went 6-6 with an 0.86 ERA for the 1880 Troy Trojans.

Wins have been devalued for several years in the analytics world and aren’t a factor in some voters’ minds. Remember the MarinersFelix Hernandez won in 2010 despite a 13-12 record, so de Grom will get some support in spite of his record. The award goes to the “most outstanding” pitcher, not the winningest, and unlike the MVP award, it usually doesn’t matter if your team made the postseason.

Either way it should spark another interesting debate between the old-school dinosaurs and the analytically inclined among the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters.

California dreamin’

A’s third baseman Matt Chapman made a personal plea on the team’s postgame telecast Monday, asking fans to come out and support the team.

READ MORE: MLB turns cowardly and stupid in punishment of Jose Urena for intentionally drilling Ronald Acuna, writes Steve Rosenbloom »

It was reminiscent of the 1977 movie “Slap Shot” about a factory-town minor-league hockey team that goons it up to create fan interest, though the A’s are far from goons and Oakland is much bigger than Charlestown.

It’s sad to see it come to that, but the Oakland Coliseum is widely regarded as one of baseball’s worst stadiums. The owners can’t seem to get a new one approved, and the A’s go through boom-and-bust cycles in which they get good and then trade off their best players and start over again. Another problem is no one expected the A’s to contend, and there are no real stars on the overachieving team.

But here they are, and this weekend’s series against the division-leading Astros may be the biggest in Oakland since 2014, when the A’s acquired Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija during the season, earned an AL wild-card spot and blew the wild-card game to the Royals.

Chapman said he didn’t mean to upset anyone with his plea, pointing to crowds of less than 18,000 as “sad.”

“It’s how I feel,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It was all positive. I want the fans to just come out and support us. We’re out here playing our butts off, playing as hard as we can. A game like last night, for there to be that many people, it’s just sad.

“We want to play in front of our fans. We have faithful fans. We love all the support we could get. We’ve had games where this place is rocking, and it’s unbelievable. Late in the season, it can only help us. I would just encourage them to come out.”

If only they played across the bay at AT&T Park, the A’s would sell out nightly.

Dumb Quote of the Week

Mets broadcaster Keith Hernandez, commenting on Marlins pitcher Jose Urena’s plunking of the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr., who had homered in five straight games, including three straight to lead off the game: “He’s hit three home runs. You’ve got to hit him. I’m sorry. People aren’t going to like that. You’ve got to hit him; knock him down, at least.”

Three up

Edwin Diaz

With 47 saves entering weekend, Mariners closer has chance to break all-time record of 62 set by Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez in 2008. Bobby Thigpen’s 57 for 1990 White Sox ranks second.

Ronald Acuna

Braves rookie tied franchise record by homering in five straight games, leading to unfortunate purpose pitch by Marlins starter Jose Urena, who received six-game suspension.

Mets

With 24-4 win over Phillies, became first team since 1894 to score more than 24 runs in a game the same season they allowed 24 or more (25 to Nationals).

Three down

Chris Davis

Orioles slugger has lowest WAR among qualified players (minus-2.2), leads majors with 36.4 strikeout percentage while hitting robust .163. #Crashed

Rafael Devers

Red Sox third baseman had committed league-high 21 errors through Thursday and had lowest fielding percentage (.929) among qualified players.

Bryan Shaw

Former Indians setup man signed three-year, $27 million deal with Rockies and has posted 6.31 ERA with four blown saves.

The list

NL position-player WAR through Thursday (fangraphs.com)

Freddie Freeman, Braves 5.0

Nolan Arenado, Rockies 5.0

Matt Carpenter, Cardinals 5.0

Lorenzo Cain, Brewers 4.3

Javier Baez, Cubs 4.2

Fact check

The Red Sox were on pace for 114 wins entering the weekend and had five players in the top 34 in WAR, according to fangraphs.com: Mookie Betts (2nd, 7.9 WAR), Chris Sale (7th, 6.0), J.D. Martinez (11th, 5.2), Andrew Benintendi (23rd, 4.3), and Xander Bogaerts (34th, 3.8).

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Twitter @PWSullivan

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