Welcome back to The Rotation! Here are five topics in the world of Major League Baseball worth bantering about this week.
1. Marwins Above Replacement
Astros manager A.J. Hinch explained recently why utilityman Marwin Gonzalez was, sneakily, one of his more valuable players: because of his ability to handle literally any position on the field aside from catcher.
"I can pinch-hit for anybody because I have Marwin Gonzalez," Hinch said. "If Carlos Beltran's on the bench and Marwin Gonzalez is on the bench, I can hit Beltran whenever I want because Marwin can cover. He can cover center, right, left, all infield positions. He sort [of] wants to catch, but he doesn't really want to catch, but he could. That's a huge, huge advantage."
I checked the timestamp on my voice recordings, and Hinch said this on the afternoon of April 27. You may have heard Gonzalez's name a time or two since then. He homered that night and, over his past nine games (including eight starts at four different positions), he's had a .464/.529/1.179 slash with six homers (including one in five straight games), two doubles and 15 RBIs in 28 at-bats. Gonzalez entered the week with a higher slugging percentage (.686) than every American League player other than Aaron Judge (.773) and Mike Trout (.700).
In other words, if Gonzalez is on the bench for any reason right now (and he was on Sunday, after a pitch hit his left foot Saturday night), he's the one you want to send up to pinch-hit.
Obviously, this is an unsustainable stretch, and maybe the minor foot soreness will contribute to a cooling-off period. But even when Gonzalez isn't on an unexpected offensive tear, he brings the first-place Astros necessary versatility. Despite not being locked into any one spot ever since Carlos Correa took over at shortstop midway through 2015, Gonzalez was worth a combined 4.8 Wins Above Replacement between 2014-16. This year, he's already been worth 1.1.
"When a player can count as virtually two players or three players in terms of defensive coverage, not only in how I can align off days or even alignments but in-game decisions, that's huge," Hinch said. "It's easy to say I can give [Jose] Altuve or Correa a day off because I have Marwin, but there are some in-game decisions that people will miss that come in handy when you've got answers everywhere."
2. Making his Mark
Speaking of surprising starts from role players, there's Mark Reynolds, who homered again Sunday and now has a .321/.379/.661 slash with 11 homers, five doubles and 27 in 31 games.
As is always the case this time of year, a little perspective is in order. Four years ago at this point, Reynolds was sitting on a .291/.367/.645 slash with 11 homers, six doubles and 29 RBI in 31 games for the Indians. Then, like now, he was an early season sensation.
Three months later, he had a sub-.700 OPS and was DFA'd.
So maybe don't take Reynolds' darn-near-identical April/early May as a given to continue. But there's no doubt he's been a big reason behind the first-place status of the Rockies, who have an interesting week ahead of them with home series against last year's National League Championship Series clubs, the Cubs and Dodgers.
Reynolds has given manager Bud Black a daily dichotomy with regard to the lineup. Ian Desmond was the club's prized (albeit odd) offseason acquisition as a first baseman. But Desmond has played primarily in the outfield since his return last week from a broken hand, as Black has been riding Reynolds' hot start for all it's worth.
"We take each and every day as a unique game," Black told reporters over the weekend. "We have a plan every day about why we are doing certain things. We'll look at the opponent, we'll look at the opposing pitcher, we'll see how our guys are playing and we'll formulate a lineup."
As long as Reynolds keeps slugging like he has early on, he'll make those decisions difficult.
3. What a catch
There is a lot to talk about with regard to the Nationals lineup, which has continued to pile up the production even after that awful injury to Adam Eaton.
Dusty Baker, who saw Barry Bonds play once or twice, referred to Ryan Zimmerman as "Bonds-like" the other day, and the crazy thing is that it wasn't crazy. Zimmerman entered the week on pace for 70 homers, 184 RBIs and 254 hits. He has somehow overshadowed the incredible Bryce Harper, who has somehow overshadowed the incredible Daniel Murphy, who somehow distracts you from the elite output the Nats get on the left-hand side of the infield from Trea Turner and Anthony Rendon. On and on it goes, and that's why the Nationals have the greatest lineup in the game in the early going.
All of the above hasn't left much room in the conversation for Matt Wieters, but with the Nats playing the Orioles this week, it's only natural to shed a little light on just how much of a steal Washington's late-winter signing of the former O's All-Star backstop has been. Wieters is second among MLB catchers in OPS (.841), with four homers and five doubles in 84 at-bats. He's drawn walks in 11.5 percent of his plate appearances, the highest such mark in his career.
Wieters had a tough free agency. Teams were leery of his pitch-framing metrics, his 2014 Tommy John surgery and, of course, his price tag (he went into the winter looking for five years and $80 million). Wieters lingered until the third week of February, and though the Nats were hardly an obvious fit for his services after trading for Derek Norris to replace Wilson Ramos, the reduced cost (two years, $21 million) was too good to turn down.
That, like so much else involving the Nats' offense, has worked out well.
4. All or nothing
The strained right oblique muscle that will keep Cole Hamels out of the Rangers' rotation another two months has led to plenty of prognosticating about what might happen with this club between now and the July 31 Trade Deadline. The Rangers have two especially prominent pending free agents in Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy, and those are nice chips for a club that needs to replenish its upper-level pitching after several go-for-it trades.
Of course, that's assuming the Rangers are deemed out of it after the amateur draft, which is when the trade season truly starts to formulate. But beyond the Hamels injury and beyond the expected regression from last year's one-run-game prowess, there's an offensive trend with this club that is literally striking.
Sunday's loss to the Mariners marked the first time in eight games that the Rangers didn't strike out at least 10 times (they struck out nine times … so close). They set an AL record with that seven-game mark, and in so doing put themselves on pace for 1,448 strikeouts for the season. The franchise record for K's in a given year is 1,253, in 2009. As is often the case, there's a devil's deal taking place here, because the Rangers do have a high home-run rate (one every 22.5 at-bats, or three at-bats fewer than last year).
But the Rangers basically need home runs to have success. Entering the week, home runs had accounted for 53.2 percent of their runs, which, according to Baseball Prospectus, was second only to the Yankees (54.9). The Yankees, though, were getting on base at a 36 percent of the time, with the Rangers at a 29.5-percent clip. When the Rangers had two sacrifice flies Sunday, it actually doubled their season total. Small ball generally ain't their thing.
Clearly, Adrian Beltre's calf injury, which will keep him out at least another few weeks, has had a dramatic impact on this lineup. And now Hamels is out of the rotation picture, too. The Rangers have more time to evaluate things and at least get into the AL Wild Card picture, but with a 13-19 record, this is looking like a possible sell situation.
5. Harvey, dented
Finally, just a quick reminder that the Matt Harvey "Dark Knight" Sports Illustrated cover came out four years ago this month.
Since then? Tommy John surgery, the public squabble about the club's attempts to protect their young arms, the even-more-public squabble over the 2015 innings cap that necessitated a stint as "New York City Bureau Chief" for the Players' Tribune, the ninth inning of Game 5, an injury caused by not peeing properly, thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, some more pointed public remarks about the Mets messing with his schedule and, now, a three-day suspension for violating team rules.
This kind of stuff never happened to Batman.
Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.