Peter Gammons: Lester shelved, Astros’ pitching, Marlins ownership, and more

Of course Cubs fans were dispirited Friday morning after Jon Lester had to leave Thursday’s game after five outs and nine runs with a lat strain that required an MRI. The Cubs starters were already 21st in innings, had a 4.19 ERA that bested the Brewers’ 4.20, and, after all, from the time he won the World Series clincher a year off beating cancer, he’s won nine post-season games, including a 4-1, 1.77 mark in winning three world series rings.

Of course Yankee fans are concerned about Aroldis Chapman, who at his best makes a really good bullpen great and a huge October factor. Of course the Red Sox fans believe they need a decent September from David Price, who in his career is 25-8 in that month. Of course Nationals fans, now conditioned in a very short history to worry about October, this year the rehabs of Bryce Harper and Trea Turner

All of which is part of the most important storylines we’ll watch for the next five weeks, which brings us to the final nine days of the regular season:

  • Lester’s health. The initial thought was that it will keep him out for a couple of starts, maybe through Labor Day, and that he’ll have a month to prepare for the post-season, presuming the Cubs make it. The diagnosis is “general shoulder fatigue,” which obviously is vague because they don’t have a timetable. Front office sources indicate that whatever is the Lester timetable, “there is nothing available. Mike Montomery goes into the rotation,”   

The two inning, five walk performance by three relievers Thursday may have been an indication that, like to many heavily-used bullpens, especially one that pitched an extra month’s intense pressure in 2016, may be weary, especially with more than 400 innings this season and starters that are 21st innings pitched. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have pitched better, and are capable of strong finishes, and both John Lackey and Jose Quintana always post it up. Lester, however, is special.

 

  • Chapman’s stuff. He’s hit 103 MPH this week, but his last three outings he’s run 3.1 3 5 5 4 5 including a monster opposite field homer by Rafael Devers that had an exit velocity of 108 MPH. Look, he threw a ton right down to Game Seven in Cleveland, and we’ve seen how Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen have shown signs that their weariness could use a power nap before the post-season.

Even with Chapman off his norm, the Yankee bullpen is very good. “They have a lot of guys who are really good at the 4-seam high fastballs/breaking balls combination,” says one opposing team’s evaluator. Then they have guys like Adam Warren who can really pitch and execute. But if Chapman is as good as he can be, they and the Dodgers are in another league.”

Tommy Kahnle, acquired by taking on the salaries of David Robertson and Todd Frazier, has 75 strikeouts and 9 walks in 47 2/3 innings. Chad Green has 74 strikeouts and 13 walks in 50 2/3 innings. That, friends is infrastructure. And with C.C. Sabathia, the Yankee starting pitching is getting better.

 

  • What will the Nationals look like come the playoffs? Harper is one of the small handful of truly great players. Turner makes them go. Give them a healthy Strasburg and consistent work by their bullpen-by-committee with Sean Doolittle at the end holds up. This is a team that deserves good fortune in the post-season. Ryan Zimmerman is someone who deserves to play in a World Series. So does Anthony Rendon. Above of all, the Nationals need to be whole. When they are on September 22, they will have a week and a half to be what their fans expect them to be.

 

  • How good is the Houston pitching? The Astros team in the field is deep, it is really talented and they’ve played long stretches without Carlos Correa and George Springer. Dallas Keuchel appears to be returning to his 2015 Cy Young form, but their starting pitching is 11th of 15 AL teams in innings pitched, 12th in quality starts. Which in October may mean a lot of bullpen juggling. Not playing particularly well in August is not a big deal, but come the post-season, swing-and-miss pitching can be.

 

  • Is Price able to come back, or is he headed to surgery?

Talk to players, they don’t think Price is a distraction. They want him pitching. He’s made but 11 starts because of the odd elbow injury, which has never been fully explained to the public. When he pitched, he touched 96, better than what he threw last season, he goes deep into games and keeps the bullpen fresh. Price hears his winless post-season record day in, day out, but there is more pressure pitching in September, because there is no post-season if you don’t make it out of September, which makes his 25-8 record in that month significant. Price pitching every fifth day keeps Chris Sale and Rick Porcello from having to go on three days rest. As good as Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez have been been, neither has ever thrown 175 innings in a season. There is increasing optimism that the five miles per hour Brandon Workman has added during the season could make him a reliable eighth inning guy—and he pitched the eighth in the 2013 clincher against the Cardinals—with Craig Kimbrel behind him and Addison Reed, Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes before him.

 

  • Has the time off because of his back problems given Clayton Kershaw a chance to catch his breath before October? The best pitcher of his time—and most others—is only 4-7, 4.55 in the post-seasons. This Dodger team is deep in starters, deep in the bullpen and has the best bench in the game, which put a lot less pressure on the meaning of every one of Kershaw’s starts. If the back issue comes up, it’s a different scenario with Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda. It will be fun to see Walker Buehler if he is doing 2-3 two inning blowout stints.

 

  • Can Matt Harvey and Steven Matz convince the Mets they are capable of being 25-30 start compliments to Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard? Matz’s 3.1 7 7 6 2 4 line against the Yankees Thursday brought his season to 2-7, 6.08, not what they expected. At this point, they know Syndergaard and deGrom will be part of their rotation in 2018. Otherwise? No idea. Matt Harvey has two outings in the New York-Penn League, is in great shape and throwing strikes, but he is a ways away from pitching for the Mets. He will take $6.5M in arbitration this winter, his starts have gone from 29 to 17 to 13, and sometime next season a decision will get made on what he means to the franchise longterm.

 

  • Are Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco going to become huge factors in September and October? It is still remarkable that the Indians went to the 10th inning of the seventh game of the World Series using four starters in the post season—Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and Ryan Merritt. Tomlin is hurt, but Carrasco throws the way he has his last two starts (one run, 19 strikeouts, 3 walks) and Salazar keeps growing off the five starts he’s made since coming off the DL July 22 (32 IP, 18 H, 9 BB, 46 K), their September rotation will give Miller, Allen and Shaw more rest and can be post-season swing-and-miss starters with command.

 

  • What will Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter do to the Marlins? The front office has some very smart, talented, experienced people. There has been a great deal of inconsistencies; Jefferey Loria is a kind man, but he’d get upset at players and demand the front office unload them, like Brad Hand. In the last few months David Samson, who wanted to stay on, was ordering money off the playroll, useful players like A.J. Ramos.

Sherman has admitted to those in the organization with whom he’s talked that he knows little about baseball and, frankly, Jeter knows little about the complexities of organizations, and the integration of scouting, development, analytics and 21st century neuroscience.

They can try to find a president of baseball operations versed in all that, like Mike Hazen, Derek Falvey or David Stearns (Ned Rice of the Phillies and Zach Rosenthal of the Rockies will get recommended, as will David Forst of the A’s, but it’s unlikely he would leave the Bay Area. They can find organizational and business minds and hire an exceptional baseball evaluator, like Tim Naehring of the Yankees.

The agenda for the new ownership will be to overhaul their draft and international scouting departments. Since the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez, none of their their ensuing first round picks—most of them near the top of the draft—are with the Marlins. Two high school pitchers have had Tommy john Surgery. Loria essentially ignored the international market; if Sherman hasn’t noticed, the top eight prospects on MLB.com are international signings.

And none of that addresses a central issue: can South Florida ever support baseball? Or should they have Jeter, Don Mattingly and Giancarlo Stanton sign autographs for three hours a day?