Some thoughts on the Atlanta Braves and Mike Soroka's impressive major league debut in a 3-2 victory over the Mets:
First, Soroka was exactly as advertised, showing poise and pitching with confidence with his fastball, showcasing an excellent sinker while changing eye level with a running four-seamer that impressed Mets broadcaster Ron Darling. He cruised through five scoreless innings, striking out Asdrubal Cabrera with a runner on third to end the fifth with a filthy 95 mph sinker, before serving up a Yoenis Cespedes home run in the sixth, his only blemish as he struck out five and didn't walk anybody.
Soroka doesn't have the upper-90s fastball that puts pitchers at the top of the prospect leaderboards, but I view him as more of a sure thing than some of the pitching prospects rated ahead of him. (He was No. 60 on Keith Law's top 100 heading into the season.) He throws strikes, his coaches praise his intelligence and athleticism, and he drops down a bit with a crossfire delivery that offers some deception. He's a fastball/sinker/slider guy -- he threw four changeups in 80 pitches -- so the long-term test will be his ability to get out lefties.
Second, the 20-year-old Canadian joined 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. and 21-year-old Ozzie Albies in the starting lineup -- the three youngest players in the majors. The last team with a 20-year-old starting pitcher and 20-year-old position player in a game before September was the 2006 Mariners, with Felix Hernandez and Adam Jones. When Luiz Gohara returns to the rotation, that's another 21-year-old. It seems "Baby Braves" is already catching on.
This team is going to be so fun to watch the rest of the season. Here's Albies making a great play to help out Soroka:
Third, they're not only fun, maybe they're even going to be good a year ahead of schedule -- similar to how the Astros won a wild-card spot in 2015. There are some similarities between the two teams. The Astros already had Jose Altuve, and the Braves are adding the kids alongside Freddie Freeman. Carlos Correa reached the majors at 20 that year, like Acuna. George Springer was in his first full season, like Albies. Lance McCullers Jr. debuted in May, as did Soroka. The one main difference is the Astros had Dallas Keuchel, who won the Cy Young Award that year.
They're 17-11 and they've done it against good teams. They're 3-1 against the Mets and 6-3 against the Phillies. They had one series against the Reds, but that has been the only bad team they've played. They haven't even played the Marlins yet.
Finally, thinking ahead, they could use some bullpen help. We'll have to see how the young starters hold up. But it looks as if they're going to score runs. It will be interesting to see how general manager Alex Anthopoulos addresses the roster deeper into the season. When he was GM of the Blue Jays, he wasn't shy about making deals. Could they be a player for Manny Machado? He'd plug their hole at third base.
Sanchez is super: For eight innings, Justin Verlander dominated the Yankees like ... oh, like in last year's ALCS. He struck out 14, gave up three hits and retired the final 16 batters he faced. He became only the fourth pitcher since 1908 to have 13-plus strikeouts and no walks against the Yankees (Urban Shocker, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez are the others). Alas, he was at 105 pitches and A.J. Hinch went to Ken Giles. Four batters later, Gary Sanchez did this, snapping a 0-0 tie:
FACT: Krakens wear capes. pic.twitter.com/Lama11jBlX— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 2, 2018
That's five home runs in eight games for Sanchez, including:
A walk-off three-run homer to beat Fernando Rodney and the Twins last Thursday;
A two-run homer in a 2-1 win over the Angels on Sunday;
The go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth against the Astros on Tuesday.
It wasn't all happy news for the Yankees, as Jordan Montgomery left the game after one inning because of a sore elbow and headed back to New York for tests. Domingo German tossed four scoreless innings to bridge the gap to the late-inning guys.
For the Astros, you can't really fault Hinch for going to Giles, who had retired 21 in a row and struck out the side on Monday. Nonetheless, it's blow-ups like this that indicate Giles is going to be an unresolved question at closer until he proves he can do it in October. (Not to get ahead of ourselves.)
Meet your new leadoff hitters: Bryce Harper hit leadoff for the Nationals. Anthony Rizzo hit leadoff for the Cubs. Both homered, although the Nationals won while Jonathan Gray shut down the Cubs in a 3-1 victory for the Rockies. Statcast gave Rizzo's home run, launched at 44.4 degrees, a 1 percent hit probability (yes, the wind was blowing out).
Both moves make some sense. Harper simply hasn't been getting much to hit. He's on pace for over 200 walks and had gone 12 games without a home run. He has seen the lowest percent of pitches in the strike zone of any batter. If he's going to walk, you might as well have him potentially start the game with one.
The Cubs have been scuffling at the plate and so has Rizzo. He spent two weeks last year hitting leadoff and hit five home runs, so this move was as much to maybe get him going as anything.
Look for a longer piece later in the week, but putting more power in the leadoff spot is an ongoing trend in recent seasons. Heading into Tuesday, leadoff hitters had accounted for 11.4 percent of all home runs, up from 10.5 percent last year and 8.5 percent in 2013 and 2014.
Ninth-inning magic: Besides Sanchez's homer, all this also happened in the ninth inning on Tuesday night:
• Alex Gordon tied it for the Royals against Craig Kimbrel -- for Gordon's first homer of the year -- and costing Chris Sale a win. Both teams scored in the 12th (Eduardo Nunez's homer tied it for the Red Sox) and then Jorge Soler hit a three-run shot in the 13th and the Royals held on for a 7-6 win.