Posts Tagged ‘j.d. martinez’

Sweet sweepiness – Cubs v. Astros

The write-up says that Wandy Rodriguez didn’t have his best stuff last night, but I think that he DID have his best stuff last night. Unperturbed in appearance after 7 innings of solid work–Wandy’s fastball jumped from his hand, the usual 90 mile per hour straight shooters that somehow by dint of location and delivery seem to travel at a much quicker 94 miles per hour or so. The curveball that curves above the strike zone but never lands there.

I guess Wandy disagrees with me as Brad Mills reported that Wandy told him that his fastball told him that he was a little under the weather–and I’ll admit I wasn’t glued to every pitch as I’ve got a life to live here after all–but I was very satisfied with the work.

And the results! 21-23 feels alright with me. Now on to the Jose Altuve’s All-Star bid. The Pocket Jaguar must play in Kansas City! (Nice logo, BTW, All-Star game graphic designer….)

It’s a tired adage that slumping hitters just need a few easy ones to fall in to get their confidence back. But if the adage happens to true despite its fatigue, then J.D. Martinez had a confidence-boosting night. His triple in the fourth inning is a true scorecard-defier, as Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney and right fielder David Dejesus combined to completely horse up a catchable high short pop-up when Barney, like a retriever pursuing a tennis ball, bounded heedlessly into Dejesus’ ball-filled glove head first and knocked it free. There should be a special asterisk-esque symbol for hits that should have been outs if any other team besides the Cubs were in the field. The & is a decent visualization of the path that Barney took to the ball.

Good teams beat the teams that they should beat, and the Cubs are worse than the Astros so we should have beat them. I’m not saying we’re a great team, but we aren’t a lie-down team that succumbs to even the dregs of the league. Just not being the dregs of the league feels superb. You can have your two-out-of-three, Texas, honestly. You’re a great team, we aren’t gonna beat you. But Cubbies, we’ll sweep you good, because we have a good bullpen and youthful exuberance and a patch of talent where there was thought to be none.

Astros Lose 4-3 In Game 1 of the Cubs Series

One of my favorite pastimes when I find myself in conversations with a British person over a drink is to discuss the difference between American and European sports. I found myself in just such a whiskey-warmed scenario this past weekend–explaining, perhaps, my glossing over of the Dodgers series, despite my newfound love of LA–talking to a visitor from England who had just gone to an Astros game. He noted first that baseball fans were a distracted bunch, socializing pleasantly when our English counterparts might have been chanting two-hundred-year-old epithets and pressing each other against chain link fences. The other observation my new English friend offered was that baseball stadiums feature no home-and-away crowds and the requisite sense of rivalry that such arrangements engendered. I reminded him that there are not thirty-six teams per metro area as in England, therefore each schoolchild isn’t rooting for a different team. He was shocked that a visiting fan could come to a place like Houston wearing the colors of the visiting team and face no retribution, assault, or lambasting whatsoever.

The Cubs offer a fine example of this cultural divide. Every time the Cubs play in Houston, they flock to Minute Maid Park to support the team they grew to know by watching cable TV. The Cubs, for all of their futility, infuriate fans of middle range teams like the Astros wherever they travel when their fans tip the color palette strongly to primary blues and reds in away stadiums. If any volume of Astros fans do a thing about their quiet ire, I’ve never seen it. If a Yankees fan ventures down Yawkey Way bedecked in pinstripes, or a Dodgers fan flaunts his wares in San Francisco, a scuffle seems possible, but it’s hard to imagine an Astros fan working up the kind of deep-rooted, block-to-block, ingrained distaste for a visiting fan to make it into a thing.

That said, the Cubs are hardly big boys on the block these days. Their fans in blue and ours in–as far as I can tell and myself included–mostly retro stars and Hs are cheering to drown out the sound of pity from across the MLB. Henry Sosa faced Rodrigo Lopez.

Sosa, for his part, will continue to learn that fat pitches to good hitters will lead to hits. Aramis Ramirez, still a fine slugger even if attention paid him has diminished, was more than happy to teach Sosa that lesson early on in the match against the Cubs by ripping a quick single on a pitch right down the middle. Carlos Pena played teacher’s assistant by leaving a divot in Tal’s Hill just out of reach of the climbing, diving Jason Bourgeois. Those fat fastballs gave the Chicago Cubs a two-run lead over the Houston Astros before the home towners had a turn at the plate. Should Sosa learn to throw his pitches a few inches one way or the other of the middle of the plate, he will have marked success. The natural break on his slider already takes it away from the worst danger. The fastball tends more heavily to Main Street, but when it finds the alleyways and back streets, it’ll shine.

The Astros finally struck when Matt Downs dropped a single to right in the fourth inning and challenged the lean right fielder Tyler Colvin to make a throw to second. That throw bounced away from Darwin Barney, and J.D. Martinez, who had singled, scored easily. The aggression that led to the run led to Downs poorly deciding to attempt third on a fly ball tag-up to center field. He was thrown out immediately, committing one of baseball’s cardinal sins.

As he did in his first major league start, Sosa settled in after a tough first inning, veering away from the aforementioned danger, in the end holding the Cubs to only a few runs for a while. Then, a tough 6th inning put the pressure on the Astros to score more than their typical one or two runs.

In the bottom of the 6th, J.D. Martinez (see more on the many of his successes below) was involved in an at bat that defined a rally when he worked the count to full after hitting some effective foul balls, and a near double down the line, only to take a walk from Rodrigo Lopez before Matt Downs–who my wife said looks like Toby from The Office–did his Morgan Ensberg impression–my choice for his body double–when he drove a ball to left center field to drive in Martinez and Jose Altuve and bring the Astros within a run.

Astros relievers were able to escape catastrophe in the 7th when Fernando Rodriguez busted in on Reed Johnson with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the 7th, inducing a pop out. The score held at 4 to 3 in the Cubs favor.

No more runs would score for the either side, and that includes the trailying Astros, whose hitters failed to stick it to Jeff Samardzija in the 7th inning; in the 8th inning, J.D. Martinez led off the inning with a strikeout against Sean Marshall’s evasive curveball, El Caballo dinked an out up the middle, and Downs failed to repeat the power stroke of the earlier rally, sending the game to the ninth with the Astros needing a run to tie the game.

In the crucual bottom of the ninth, down by a run, Michaels, Paredes, and Quintero couldn’t cool the Kerry Wood burn, and the game ended. This was a good loss. The game was well-played. We hit the ball, they hit the ball. We pitched well, they pitched well. In the end, the math was in their favor.

Hello, Starling

Starlin Castro has a trebuchet of an arm, propelling the ball across the diamond on a trajectory that could dent a brick wall. Castro seemed to field the lion’s share of plays through the first three innings, each throw of which beat the runner to the base by parts of a second. 1 Castro showed his youth, though, when he booted a very simple ground ball hit to him easily by Jose Altuve. Castro

The J.D. Way

JD Martinez hit a single in the first, a fine line drive up the middle, and another in the fourth. I’ve coronated the young man already, but many hoped that Chris Johnson would’ve proven himself sufficiently in the second half of last year to last at the major league level. Now he’s creaming Triple-A pitchers. Martinez does not hit as though he is a fluke. He hits balls to the opposite field, and he takes a walk. His success isn’t dependent on only home runs or only infield singles, but on a varied palette of flourishes.

Making his Mark

A closer’s stuff is often judged by his fastball, and the velocity therein. The odd great closer earns his paycheck with an offspeed pitch. Those that come to mind are Trevor Hoffman and his change up, Brad Lidge and his slider, and probably twenty more. Tonight, even in a game the Astros trailed by one during his appearance, Mark Melancon showed a big game curveball, with a hard drop close enough to 90 degrees to justify a protractor. Combine the Uncle Charlie with his unnerving cut fastball, and Melancon may well possess the two-pitch arsenal that a closer needs to succeed.

  1. The strong fingers and wrists that make those throws also enable him to swing the bat prettily.

Power Stroke: The Strong Swing of JD Martinez

I didn’t watch JD Martinez hit his third home run live last night, because I was foolish enough to think that a cable channel with a deal to show Astros games would actually show Astros games rather than “letting” me watch the game “for free” on a separate paid subscription service. But I did watch it in replay form, and there’s a certain element of Martinez’s thus far very effective home run swing: the end.

The beginning isn’t half bad, sure to say. Martinez holds his hands high over his head before the pitch, with his front leg extended towards the pitcher aggressively. As the pitch arrives, he shifts his leg over to a more reasonable spot, then draws his hands back as though he was loading up a slingshot. His hands take a direct course to the ball in the swing, and that is where the swing gets good.

Successful pro power hitters distinguish themselves in the moment when their bat meets the ball. The best out there–from Lance Berkman to Albert Pujols to Prince “oh my goodness” Fielder–seem to direct all of their weight, bat speed, and momentum into that single point where the bat touches the ball. One can almost feel the moment when the ball exchanges the kinetic energy provided by the pitcher for that of the hitter, as though the image freezes for a barely discernible instant. During this paycheck moment, the hitter’s bat seems to lose no speed as the ball springs towards the fence.

Early returns suggest to me that JD Martinez is capable of such moments. When he hit the ball last night, it sprang to the opposite field with special vigor, driven by Martinez’s powerful shoulders. He finished with a one-armed flourish, then flipped the bat back across his body. Let me repeat that, because it is the element that I take the most pleasure in: JD Martinez hit a home run, then flipped his bat.

JD Martinez flipped his bat because he is a power hitter. In the hands of a power hitter, the bat is an expressive object, an instrument of creation; a paintbrush, not an anchor.

Elsewhere, David Coleman at Crawfish Boxes mentioned the unexpectedness of Martinez’s power, casting some doubt over my untroubled conviction about his power swing: “Martinez, questioned about his power stroke every season he’s been in Houston’s system, was projected by ZiPS to hit just four home runs for the rest of this season. That’s over a projected 157 plate appearances. He’s got three in 34 plate appearances right now. Project that out over a whole season and he’s on pace to hit 52 home runs. There’s no way that happens, but it still flies in the face of everything we thought we knew about J.D. Martinez.”