On the evening prior to Major League Baseball’s league-wide celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, 14 franchises -- Nationals, Phillies, Athletics, Rangers, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins, Tigers, Rockies, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Rays, Mets and Marlins -- chose not to play on Thursday, leading to the postponement of seven scheduled contests, as teams continue to take a stand against ongoing racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the police shooting of 29-year-old Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin last weekend.
The teams made the decision to stand in solidarity with other players and organizations across the professional sports landscape in the fight for social justice after a half-dozen franchises -- Brewers, Reds, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Giants -- and several individual players -- Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, Jack Flaherty and Matt Kemp -- joined NBA, WNBA and MLS teams by electing not to take the field on Wednesday night. NBA playoff games were postponed for a second straight day on Thursday, in addition to NHL playoff games and scheduled games in the WNBA and MLS.
The most powerful display of unity and solidarity came at an empty Citi Field in New York on Thursday night where the Mets and Marlins briefly took the field together, observed a 42-second moment of silence in honor of Robinson and then exited together. Before leaving, Marlins outfielder Lewis Brinson placed a Black Lives Matter T-shirt over home plate. That incredible scene unfolded less than 24 hours after Mets outfielder Dominic Smith was the lone player on either squad to take a knee during the national anthem prior to Wednesday’s contest. The 25-year-old slugger was extremely emotional when speaking to reporters in his postgame press conference. “I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care,” Smith said through tears. “For this to just continually happen, it just shows just the hate in people’s hearts. That just sucks. Being a Black man in America is not easy.”
It’s impossible to single out a single player’s actions or statements that properly convey the gravity of this moment, yet Smith’s raw heartbreaking comments must resonate with Americans who believe that sports should affect the national conversation and catalyze long-overdue societal changes. Simply put, it was incredibly moving to witness Smith’s teammates and the Marlins organization -- which reportedly hatched the idea for the 42-second moment of silence -- come together to support him and send a powerful message the following evening.
“There comes a time where you have to live it, you have to step up,” Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich told reporters on Wednesday after Milwaukee became the first big-league team to vote against playing their scheduled contest. “You can't just wear these shirts and think that's all well and good and then when it comes time to act on it, or make a stand or make a statement … you can't just not do it.”
The individual players and teams have made a historic and powerful statement over the last 48 hours by joining together, utilizing their platforms to advocate for social justice and police reform. This is bigger than sports. It’s even more symbolic with MLB set to honor Jackie Robinson, the first player to break baseball’s color barrier on April 15, 1945. All uniformed personnel will wear No. 42, which Robinson wore with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The players have our attention. What truly matters, though, is what happens from here.
Walker Winds Up In Toronto
The Blue Jays bolstered their starting rotation ahead of next week’s major-league trade deadline, acquiring right-hander Taijuan Walker from the Mariners on Thursday in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations. According to multiple reports, the Mariners are expected to receive a prospect from outside the Blue Jays 60-man player pool. The 28-year-old former first-round selection has recorded a 4.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 25/8 K/BB ratio across 27 innings (five starts) this season. According to widespread reports, Walker was drawing interest from a wide range of teams ahead of next Monday's trade deadline and could make his Blue Jays’ debut during the club's four-game series against the Orioles this weekend.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound former top prospect spent his first seven seasons with Seattle before being dealt to Arizona prior to the 2017 season. He’s battled persistent injuries throughout his professional career and been especially snake-bitten in recent years. He made only three starts with the Diamondbacks to open the 2018 campaign before undergoing Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for nearly the entire 2019 season as well. He inked a one-year deal to return to the Mariners last offseason. He’s managed to stay healthy and put up solid numbers, thanks to an overhauled pitch mix -- headlined by a massive uptick in cutter usage -- this season.
In a condensed 60-game sprint, where every contest has massive playoff implications, even a marginal upgrade can make a tremendous difference to a borderline playoff contender like the Blue Jays, who currently occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the American League playoff picture. With just over a month remaining in the abbreviated campaign, they trail the division-leading Rays by four and a half games and sit just two and a half games behind the Yankees.
It’s fairly obvious why the Blue Jays front office elected to pursue a low-cost rental to augment their starting rotation, which has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks. In addition to losing top pitching prospect Nate Pearson (flexor strain) and veteran free agent acquisition Matt Shoemaker (lat strain) the club also will be without Trent Thornton (elbow inflammation) for the remainder of the year. There’s still a possibility that Pearson and Shoemaker could return next month, but the organization’s pitching depth has seemingly evaporated overnight. Outside of marquee free agent acquisition Hyun-Jin Ryu, who has recorded a stellar 3.19 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 33/9 K/BB ratio across 31 innings (six starts), there are more question marks than answers moving forward. Despite the absence of hard-throwing closer Ken Giles, the Blue Jays bullpen has been one of their greatest strengths this season. That should prove beneficial in the postseason, but they need to get there first. It’ll be up to some combination of Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson and Walker to string together enough quality starts to get them over the finish line. He may not be a game-changing front-line starter, but Walker should stabilize the back-end of the Blue Jays’ starting rotation.
From a pure fantasy perspective, it’s difficult to envision Walker suddenly blossoming into a reliable mixed-league starting pitcher at this stage of his career. He’s certainly benefited from relying on his cutter more often, made some gains in terms of control and recorded palatable surface statistics this season. However, his strikeout rate (8.33 K/9) is merely pedestrian in the three-true-outcomes era, and several advanced metrics, including DRA, FIP and xFIP, all indicate that Walker has been extremely fortunate from a run prevention standpoint. Per Baseball Prospectus’ Deserved Run Average (DRA) metric, which uses a mixed-model approach to present a value on the common runs-allowed-per-nine-innings scale that more accurately described the pitcher’s effect on run prevention, Walker’s 5.59 DRA ranks 76th out of 115 pitchers with at least 20 innings of work this season.
Per FanGraph’s data, Walker’s 4.94 FIP and 4.77 xFIP don’t inspire much confidence either. There’s some regression coming, especially factoring in that the Blue Jays temporary home at Sahlen Field in Buffalo has ostensibly functioned as Coors Field East from a park factors perspective. Relocating to the hitter-friendly (with the notable exception of Tropicana Field) represents a massive downgrade from the cavernous ballparks in the AL-West. It’s great to see Walker healthy and performing at the big-league level again, but fantasy managers in shallow mixed-leagues should strongly consider selling high.
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Blister Sidelines Buehler, Gonsolin Returns
No Buehler, no problem. Despite the absence of hard-throwing righty Walker Buehler, who was scratched from his scheduled start on Thursday and placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to August 23, due to a blister on his right hand, the Dodgers swept a seven-inning doubleheader against the division-rival Giants. Veteran left-hander Clayton Kershaw recorded four strikeouts and scattered four hits over six shutout frames to carry the Dodgers to a 7-0 victory in the opening contest of the twin-billing. It was a total team effort in the nightcap as seven Dodgers relievers combined on a two-hit shutout.
It’s unlikely Buehler will be sidelined for more than a week or so, but that still opens the door for rookie sensation Tony Gonsolin an opportunity to take the ball against the Rangers this weekend. The 26-year-old righty hasn’t allowed a run over 14 2/3 innings across three starts at the major-league level this season. He was unavailable to take Buehler’s spot against the Giants because he threw 99 pitches during an intrasquad game earlier in the week, but Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters that Gonsolin will start on Sunday at Globe Life Field. It feels like only a matter of time before he’s given a permanent spot in their rotation. While Gonsolin didn’t get the call on Thursday, top prospect Gavin Lux was recalled from the team’s alternative training site to serve as their 29th man for the doubleheader. He was sent back to the team’s taxi squad after going 0-for-3 with a pair of strikeouts in the second game of the doubleheader. Where -- or if -- he'll ultimately fit into the team's plans down the stretch remains to be seen.
American League Quick Hits: Jose Marmolejos went 2-for-4 with a grand slam to help the Mariners salvage a split of a doubleheader against the Padres … Yusei Kikuchi posted six strikeouts over five innings to pick up his first win of the year in that contest … Rays acquired outfielder Brett Phillips from the Royals in exchange for shortstop prospect Lucius Fox … Mariners first baseman Evan White is being evaluated for right shoulder discomfort after exiting Thursday's game against the Padres due to an apparent upper-body injury … Yankees manager Aaron Boone said in an interview on WFAN Thursday that DJ LeMahieu (thumb) could return this weekend … Aaron Judge underwent an MRI on his ailing right calf on Thursday after aggravating the injury in his return to the Yankees’ starting lineup on Wednesday … Giancarlo Stanton (hamstring) did some hitting on the field at Yankee Stadium on Thursday … Angels optioned INF Luis Rengifo to their alternate training site.
National League Quick Hits: Pirates placed RHP Keone Kela on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to August 24, due to right forearm tightness and also placed 3B Colin Moran on the 7-day concussion injured list, retroactive to August 24 … Will Myers crushed a walk-off three-run homer as the Padres erased a seven-run deficit in the ninth inning to emerge victorious in the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Mariners … Manny Machado clobbered three homers and Fernando Tatis Jr. walloped his 13th round-tripper of the season in the doubleheader … Luis Perdomo whiffed six batters over 3 1/3 scoreless frames in relief in the second game of that doubleheader … Jesse Winker went 5-for-7 with two homers and Nick Castellanos went 4-for-7 with a homer to lead the Reds to a sweep of a doubleheader against the Brewers … Sonny Gray tossed five scoreless innings to pick up a win in the first game of that doubleheader … Kwang-Hyun Kim was charged with one run (zero earned) over six innings in a no-decision against the Pirates … Nik Turley collected his first save of the season in the second game of the Pirates’ doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals … Mets activated RHP Michael Wacha from the 10-day injured list … Cardinals placed LHP Andrew Miller on the 10-day injured list with left shoulder fatigue … Pirates claimed OF Anthony Alford off waivers from the Blue Jays … Brewers released INF/OF Brock Holt.