By Norm Elrod
(CBS Philadelphia/CBS Local) — The MLB season is still young, though not so young that we can’t take stock of where things stand. (And since when has a small sample set ever stopped anyone from making grand pronouncements?) Every team has about 40 games in the books, and a couple things starting to crystallizing: Philadelphia Phillies acquisition Bryce Harper still has issues at the plate, but the World Series-champion Boston Red Sox will be fine.
Harper’s 2018 season with the Nationals ranks among his worst, and despite a giant new contact, 2019 season with the Phillies hasn’t been much better. Philadelphia is winning despite his meager contributions. But that isn’t likely to last.
The Red Sox seem to have overcome their World Series hangover with plenty of baseball left on the calendar. Boston’s recent dismantling of Seattle laid bare two teams heading in opposite directions.
Sometimes progress just means hanging on. Just ask pitcher Edwin Jackson, who sits on the cusp of setting the MLB record for most teams.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at the slumping Bryce Harper, the rising Red Sox and one pitcher who’s just happy to still be playing.
Bryce Harper’s Slump
Harper and the Phillies have a long future in front of them. And much of it will be bright, once the two sides get on the same page. But for now Harper seems still mired in last season’s slump.
As of Monday, the Phillies (23-16) lead the competitive National League East by three games, most recently taking two of three from the Royals and two of three from the Cardinals before that. Contributors dot the lineup, and the pitching has held up well. Their most high-profile acquisition, however, hasn’t been earning his rather large paycheck this season.
Outfielder Bryce Harper, who the Phillies signed to a 13-year, $330 million contract this past off-season, has slumped his way through the first quarter of the season. In 140 at-bats to date, the outfielder is hitting .229, with seven home runs and 25 RBIs, along with 51 strikeouts and 31 walks. Those can’t be the numbers Philadelphia was hoping for.
The career .277 hitter with a ton of power and the propensity to strike out is coming off a below-average 2018 season (for him, anyway) that saw him produce at a .249 clip over 159 games, with 34 home runs and 100 RBIs, along with 169 strikeouts and 131 walks. He’s pacing to fall short of 2018 in average, home runs and walks and exceed it in strikeouts.
Harper can certainly be a streaky hitter, and he’s shown signs of turning it around, including a monster grand slam last week. But will the Phillies get their money’s worth this season and in the seasons to come?
Red Sox Back… No, Really
Did you really think Boston was done? The team was left for dead in mid-April after an abysmal start. But from their lowest point a month ago, the Red Sox have turned in a 16-6 record. And now, halfway through May, they’re only three games out in in the American League East.
Many factors might explain the turnaround. One is the starting rotation, which is finally performing up to potential. Starters Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez, who began the season in disastrous fashion, have put up ERAs of 1.73, 3.04 and 2.28 in their last four start respectively.
Infielder Micheal Chavis, brought up early due to injuries, has hit .282 and contributed six home runs and 19 RBIs since the middle of April. Mookie Betts is putting up comparable stats, even if he’s a little short of last year’s monster season.
The Red Sox are coming off a weekend sweep of the Mariners, in which they averaged over 11 runs per game while allowing under three. They welcome the Colorado Rockies to Fenway for two games starting Tuesday, followed by a weekend series with the Houston Astros.
Edwin Jackson Trade
The Toronto Blue Jays acquired right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson over the weekend. The 16-year veteran was pitching in the Oakland A’s minor league system. It was the kind of deal that wouldn’t normally move the needle, except for one thing.
If Jackson ever dresses for the Blue Jays — a distinct possibility given their injury situation — he will set a Major League record by playing for his 14th team. His career so far has included three-year stints with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays and Chicago Cubs, along with 10 other shorter stints.
Jackson has amassed 1,456 strikeouts in 1,892 1/3 innings along with a 4.60 ERA in the major leagues.