Going into the 2020 season, the Astros were despised by fans and peers alike for the sign stealing scandal. What awaited them was a backlash like has never been seen before, but Covid kept the ballparks empty until the post season, so the Astros have not yet “faced the music” in the court of public opinion.
Houston made the 2020 post season with an under .500 record (29-31) but they tried to use their role as baseball’s most hated villains to their advantage by adopting a chip on their shoulder and an “us vs. the world” approach.
After Houston swept Minnesota in the best-of-three Wild Card round and then took a 2-0 lead over Oakland in the ALDS, SNY’s Andy Martino reported, “Astros players are telling people behind the scenes they’re focused, mad, and very into the idea of avenging themselves against what they consider haters.” Whether that fueled their run to the ALCS is debatable. It was more a case of Carlos Correa getting hot at the right time, while Houston faced two teams that have been chronic underachievers in the post season in Minnesota and Oakland.
Astros outfielder Josh Reddick told reporters, “It’s about silencing the haters, that’s what all this year was about. The trash talk seems to be a little bit more running, and I love it.”
Hey Josh, the trash talk may be running a marathon in 2021.
Besides facing divisional opponents with fans in the stands for the first time in two seasons, the first Yankees/Astros (May 4-6 at Yankee Stadium) series will bear watching. Not only will that be the first time they’ve faced each other since Jose Altuve’s walk off, pennant winning home run in 2019, but it’s the first time they’ve faced each other since the scandal was made public.
James McCann has made a nice impression in Mets’ camp. McCann has done all the right things in learning about the Mets’ pitchers, their tendencies and how they like to attack the hitters.
In my Karpin’s Korner column from November, 2019, I wrote this about McCann.
“I think he would be a perfect fit for the Mets and that’s the White Sox former starting catcher and now the back up, James McCann.” (Chicago had just signed free agent catcher Yasmani Grandal)
“McCann is available for a trade and I don’t think it would take an expensive price. The 29-year old signed a one year, $5.4 million dollar deal and is a free agent after the 2020 season. Remember last season when word surfaced that the Mets’ pitchers, particularly Noah Syndergaard, did not like throwing to Wilson Ramos, who, let’s be honest, is deficient defensively.
Can the Mets really expect Ramos to handle the load defensively when that’s not his strong point? They need a catcher who is solid at blocking balls in the dirt, is capable of throwing out potential base stealers and can make the pitchers feel comfortable. In 540 career games caught, McCann has a .996 fielding percentage and has thrown out 36% of potential base stealers. McCann is your man.”
The comparisons with J.T. Realmuto are inevitable, but one thing is certain, the Mets’ pitchers will love having McCann as their catcher.
Of course, there will be those who will mock what the Mets did at spring training on Wednesday.
The Mets ran a defensive drill where they had to record 27 straight outs, without making an error. If they made an error at any point, they would have to start over. The coaches put the balls in play with fungo bats and the Mets only needed to do it one time successfully.
After they got the 27 outs, the Mets and the coaches played a little “shadow ball.” Coach Tony Tarasco put an imaginary ball in play and Michael Conforto made an imaginary leaping catch at the right field wall. The team simulated how they would react to winning the 7th game of the World Series.
The drills can only help, especially if they see results pretty quickly. Will that celebratory act become a reality? Stay tuned, but the team would do themselves a favor by continuing to put a serious emphasis on stressing defense throughout the season. Yes, I’m old enough to remember when teams took infield practice before every game.
I’ve been saying all along that Jeff McNeil is not a third baseman. That’s no disrespect to McNeil, but the team would be best suited if he’s at second base. McNeil has trouble making the throws from third, as you saw earlier this week and it’s not his best position.
Aaron Judge, when he is playing, has been plagued by the “low strike call.” Yes, sometimes he’s gotten some bad calls in that regard. Judge needs to swing at those pitches sometimes so opposing pitchers will think twice about that location. He’s got enough ability to get hits on pitches out of the strike zone, but you have to find yourself in the right counts to execute that. In his first at bat of Wednesday night’s game, Pirates pitcher Tyler Anderson tried to get a low strike on the first pitch and Judge lined it into right center field for a hit.
There seems to be a pattern developing in spring training. A number of pitchers have already experienced elbow problems.
Yankees’ reliever Zack Britton is having a bone chip removed from his left elbow. Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco is now reporting soreness in his elbow, while Padres pitcher Jacob Nix has re-injured his elbow and may need Tommy John surgery. Nix had a UCL injury two years ago and treated it with platelet-rich plasma.
As far as the pitchers go, teams will be walking on “egg shells” all year long, hoping that their arms can stay healthy. After a 60-game season in which many pitchers did not even make on pitch, the 2021 season will feature a lot of unfamiliar territory for teams and their pitching staffs.
Karpin’s Korner, Sunday night at 8 PM on 365Sportscast.com. My guests are NY Post Baseball Columnist Ken Davidoff and Fantasy Sports Expert Scott Engel