Brawls and bad hops: A’s, Astros and Angels make the West wild

  • Joined ESPN in 2016 to cover the Los Angeles Rams
  • Previously covered the Angels for MLB.com

We saw fighting in the time of social distancing. We saw one of the Major League Baseball’s most athletic players suffer through one of its most unpleasant blunders. And we saw a 21-year-old superstar continue to emerge in front of our eyes. Here’s a look through a wild Sunday for baseball’s West teams.

First off, just when it seemed as if the Houston Astros couldn’t possibly be any more hated, we get what appears to be one of their coaches provoking an opposing player, then hanging back and watching that player get mauled by his teammates.

The details of what actually occurred at RingCentral Coliseum on Sunday are partly unclear and partly open to interpretation. What we do know is that Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano charged at Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron shortly after he was plunked for the second time in that game and the third time this weekend, and was then promptly swarmed by several Astros players in the process.

If you thought Joe Kelly’s suspension was harsh, get ready. Major League Baseball made one thing clear when handing Kelly an eight-game suspension that translated to 22 over the course of a 162-game season — it will not tolerate on-field skirmishes in a season so dependent on abiding by protocols in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, especially given recent outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals. If the target is a member of the Astros, clearly the most reviled team in the sport, the penalty will be even worse.

The irony of the Kelly situation was that a player who may have retaliated against what some consider to be baseball’s worst cheating scandal received more punishment than any of the players who benefited from that scandal in the first place. In this case, Laureano will probably be punished just as much if not more so than Cintron, whose role as a coach makes him far less valuable than an emerging catalyst. And so the team that might have been provoked — a team possessing a 12-4 record and riding a nine-game winning streak — will be more severely affected than the team that did the provoking.

A’s manager Bob Melvin hopes that is not the case.

“Ramon doesn’t go over there unless something completely offensive comes out of their dugout,” he said. “I think the league will know who that is, and that person should get suspended.”

Adell pulls a Canseco

Jo Adell ranged near the warning track at Globe Life Field in Arlington, a stadium hosting only its eighth major league game, and lost track of a fifth-inning fly ball from Nick Solak right around the time it reached its apex. Then he flipped quickly to his left. By the time he found it again, Adell said, “the ball was right on me, so I threw my glove out there to make the play and it hit off the middle of my glove and it went right over the fence.”

Right. Over. The. Fence.

The baseball traveled an extra five or so feet after it ricocheted with the pocket of Adell’s glove in deep right field, prompting a Jose Canseco-level blooper to cap a tough first week for the 21-year-old rookie.

Adell has compiled two hits, zero walks and nine strikeouts, four of which came on Sunday. On Wednesday, he took an awkward route on a fly ball in the gap and nearly collided with Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, prompting a two-run double. Four days later, he committed the most embarrassing blunder possible, Sunday’s run-scoring four-base error.

Adell — ESPN’s 10th-highest-rated prospect in March — will be fine, of course. He should be good. He might be really, really good. But the Angels didn’t just option him to their alternate camp at the start of the season for service-time reasons; they legitimately needed him to tighten up his defense. When he was finally called up on Tuesday, Adell acknowledged that he had spent most of the previous couple of weeks reporting to the field early so he could work on reading balls off the bat and taking proper routes.

A longtime scout who has watched Adell often noted how difficult it is to get one’s first major league experience in unfamiliar ballparks and noted that a lot of players have been misjudging batted balls lately, yet another byproduct of the quick ramp-up to the regular season.

“He can play center field well,” the scout said of Adell. “He will be fine in the corner.”

Adell buried his head in his glove after that play. Later, he was engaged in what seemed like a light-hearted conversation with Trout, who tried his best to ease his mind. Angels manager Joe Maddon has been working individually with Adell on certain drills and has tried to speak with him daily. He has found Adell to be “a very thoughtful young man” who listens well.

“I’m not there yet,” Adell said. “I’m ready to get there. I’m on my way to getting there. But it’s one of those things where I have to go out, relax and just do my thing and not really worry about the result.”

The reeling Angels

After what was basically a five-year malaise, the Angels, fresh off hiring Maddon and signing Anthony Rendon, had their sights set on legitimate contention this year. The Astros paved the way for them in a season that has seen them lose Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna and instead deploy 10 rookie pitchers on their active roster.

But the Angels have done nothing with the opportunity. They’re 5-11 with less than three-quarters of the season remaining. Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch this season, depriving a thin pitching staff of an ace-caliber arm. Hansel Robles, who emerged as their closer last year, is pitching in low-leverage situations as he tries to regain velocity. And Justin Upton, owed $51 million over the next four years, has been relegated to the weak side of a left-field platoon.

The Angels carried an 18-inning scoreless streak into the middle of Sunday’s game and finished it with the sixth-lowest batting average in the sport. Rendon, 4-for-39, will be better. So will Ohtani, who has already struck out 15 times as the designated hitter. And so will the team’s batting average on balls in play, second-lowest in the sport. But it needs to happen quickly. The Angels have the lowest winning percentage in the American League and already find themselves seven games back in their division.

“I think we all know that when we’re clicking we’re gonna be a great team,” Angels starter Andrew Heaney said. “It’s just not happening right now.”

Still haven’t peaked?

Walker Buehler is only now rounding into form after finding himself behind with his throwing program when baseball restarted. Cody Bellinger, 11-for-64, is clearly still working through recent tweaks to his mechanics. And yet the Los Angeles Dodgers — without Mookie Betts for most of the first three games of this week and without Corey Seager for most of the last three games of this week — are 11-5 while leading the majors in run differential.

The Dodgers have the fifth-lowest batting average on balls in play but the fifth-highest hard-hit percentage, a possible sign of an offense that might soon break out. The most encouraging development thus far: A.J. Pollock, barely replacement level in the first year of a $55 million contract in 2019, boasts a 1.021 OPS.

Pollock had a rough time during the shutdown, watching his wife give birth to a baby three premature, then acquiring coronavirus and reporting to the Dodgers with his newborn daughter still in the neonatal intensive-care unit. That experience, he said recently, gave him a different perspective that indirectly led to a more simplified approach with baseball. He might be reaping the benefits of that.

“Even the days when I don’t get any results, I feel like I’m in a good position to hit,” Pollock said after providing the game-winning three-run homer on Sunday. “I’m seeing the ball well and I’m competitive with my at-bats.”

More than homers

Fernando Tatis Jr. would probably have won the 2019 National League Rookie of the Year Award if not for an ill-timed back injury. So far this season, Tatis has six home runs and a 1.741 OPS in his last six games. He has homered in four straight games and is the fourth-youngest player in modern MLB history with six home runs in a six-game span, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information. On Monday in L.A., he could join Alex Rodriguez and Eddie Miller as the only shortstops over the last 100 years to homer in five straight games.

“I think the most impressive part of all this is not about the home runs that he’s been hitting, but how he’s been playing defense,” San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado said. “That’s a big reason why I think the other side of things are flowing with him because he’s kind of just getting used to playing good shortstop. When you’re at shortstop, you’re basically the quarterback of the infield. You gotta be on point at all times and he’s been showing that. He’s been under control at all times, he’s been doing what he needs to do on the defensive side. And once you do that defensively, now you become an all-around player. We’ve been seeing that.”

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