When the White Sox hired Tony La Russa this past offseason, they knew what they were getting.
Hell, we all did. Shortly after his hiring, news of La Russa’s most recent arrest for drunk driving went public. The incident had occurred nearly 10 months earlier, but charges were filed against the 76-year old on October 28, one day before his hiring by the Chicago White Sox. The team stood by its newly-hired manager, noting that the arrest was something they’d been aware of throughout the hiring process.
At the time, the hiring was puzzling to virtually everyone but White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf - after all, La Russa hadn’t managed since his stint with the St. Louis Cardinals ended in 2011. A sport can change a lot in 10 years, and the sport of baseball certainly has - and Russa’s deafness to the sport’s new tone isn’t remotely surprising given his reputation or extended absence. Yet somehow, by being unaware of the details of MLB’s new extra-inning rule on May 5th and possibly costing his team a game, I still found myself shocked by his occupational incompetence. And this past week La Russa made news again.
When Chicago's rookie sensation Yermin Mercedes homered in a 3-0 count with a 15-4 lead off portly Minnesota Twins’ position player Willians Astudillo, much of the baseball world enjoyed the theatrics.
It was a truly absurd moment - a backup catcher pitching and allowing a mammoth home run is a beautiful baseball moment to be celebrated, and the price one pays for running out of actual pitchers to put into the game. Instead of enjoying the exploits of his rookie hitter, however, La Russa could be seen outside the dugout admonishing Mercedes as he rounded third base and jogged home. His postgame comments echoed the sentiment many saw on the field - La Russa was in fact upset at Mercedes for the home run, calling him “clueless” and suggesting that internal punishment was in order for the young player.
The following night, Minnesota Twins pitcher Tyler Duffey purposely threw at Mercedes, missing behind him with a fastball. Duffey was immediately ejected by the umpire, who recognized the obvious intention behind the pitch. In an effort to defend his pitcher, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli argued to the umpire and was subsequently ejected as well. Tony La Russa, the manager whose player was purposely thrown at, was nowhere to be found and suggested postgame that he was fine with the way the Twins handled it.
La Russa - who has now been arrested for drinking and driving multiple times and has already misunderstood the rules of the game he’s paid to be an expert in - not only publicly trashed his own player and hinted at punishing him for hitting a home run, but also expressed public approval of an opposing pitcher intentionally throwing a baseball at one of his most productive said players. I’ll let you form your own opinions on baseball’s unwritten rules. Maybe you agree with La Russa’s approach and believe he’s in the right. I’m going to disagree with you vehemently, but you absolutely have a right to think that way.
One look at most White Sox players’ social media accounts this week, however, will tell you that most of the players on that team absolutely do not think that way. If Tony La Russa has already lost the support of the clubhouse in May, where does that leave the Sox in October? My best guess: with a new manager.
La Russa’s White Sox now head to the Bronx for what will surely be a challenging series with the New York Yankees this weekend. With that said, let’s now take a look at another weekend of betting baseball below:
Last week: 1-1
Friday, May 21
New York Mets (Stroman) @ Miami Marlins (Holloway)
Friday night sees the New York Mets travel to Miami to open a series with the Miami Marlins, where they’ll send Marcus Stroman to the mound against Jordan Holloway. The Marlins' season is off to a better start than initially meets the eye, too - their 20-23 record and 4th place position in the NL East don’t reflect the fact that they are the only team in their division with a positive run differential and feature one of the better young pitching rotations in baseball. Perhaps the shine of their rotation as a whole is blinding the eyes of oddsmakers when trying to figure out Friday starter Jordan Holloway, who currently sports a 2.70 ERA that also fits the mold. When digging deeper, however, there’s plenty of reason for concern for the rookie righty. His DRA- per Baseball Prospectus is a putrid 119, or 19% worse than the average MLB pitcher - although he’s managed to hide his struggles mostly due to an unsustainably low BABIP against of .234 (MLB average: .260). He’s yet to pitch more than 3 ⅔ innings in a game this season and is starting to see the peripherals catch up with him over his last three outings (9.2 IP, 9 hits, 9 walks, 5 earned runs).
While the Mets have been far from an offensive juggernaut in 2021, it’s difficult to imagine Holloway suddenly finding the form needed to push deeper into a game in this spot. Marcus Stroman, on the other hand, is one of two remaining healthy starters for the Mets, and for the most part he has pitched well this season. He’s increased his Whiff% to a career high 25.6% in 2021 and has also pitched well above average with a DRA- of 91, even after a poor outing in his last start on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays. He’ll face a bottom 10 lineup against right-handed pitching in the Miami Marlins on Friday, and the Mets should enter the game with a rested bullpen behind him after an off day Thursday. I like the ML value here for NY.
The Pick: New York Mets +120
Sunday, May 23
Detroit Tigers (Mize) @ Kansas City Royals (Bubic)
Casey Mize has been the talk of the town amongst Detroit Tigers fans for several years now and dating back to when he was drafted first overall in 2018. He arrived at the big league level last season, posting underwhelming numbers but exciting the Detroit faithful nevertheless - after all, Clayton Kershaw’s rookie season was a 5-5 campaign where he posted a 4.26 ERA. Recently though, Mize has begun to put it together: over his last three starts, including one against Kansas City, Mize has posted a 1.83 ERA, pitched at least 6 innings in all three outings, and allowed 9 hits over 19 ⅔ innings. It’s not unreasonable to think that Mize’s success is here to stay, and it's even less unreasonable to imagine him posting another excellent outing against a Kansas City team batting .230 against right-handed pitching in 2021.
Mize will be opposed by Kris Bubic for the Royals, another 2018 first round pick from the college ranks (Stanford) coming into his own in 2021. Bubic has allowed only 2 earned runs through his first 18 ⅔ innings pitched this season, including 5 scoreless innings against the Tigers on May 13. The Detroit Tigers offense has been bad as a whole in 2021, but especially so against left-handed pitching, a split in which they’ve posted a .201 batting average that ranks 29th in Major League Baseball. While I struggle to trust the Tigers’ and Royals' bullpens (ranking 30th and 22nd in MLB, respectively) to keep the total low into the later innings, I would indeed be surprised to see the two sides combine for 4+ runs in the first 5 innings on Sunday in Kansas City. It's only Friday now, so make sure to shop for the best numbers/odds here.
The Pick: First 5 Innings (Under 4 or Better)