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They called him the Crime Dog, but when Fred McGriff arrived in Atlanta nearly 30 years ago, what they needed was a firefighter. We have notes on the Twins, a sport-wide scoring spree, and the Braves’ $8 million backup catcher. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!
This all began when I arrived …
Fred McGriff will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, and Dave O’Brien tells the story today of the day in 1993 (it will be exactly 30 years tomorrow, in fact) when McGriff — traded from the Padres to the Braves on July 18 — made his Atlanta debut and “lit a fire” under the Braves.
That’s a metaphorical fire, of course. It’s important to differentiate between the two because there was an actual fire involved that day. A can of Sterno (basically fire in a can) was left unattended and started a fire in a suite at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which quickly spread, burning suites, radio booths and the press box.
As it turns out, that benefited McGriff, who had taken a couple of days before reporting to the Braves as he dealt with a muscle strain in his side. He hadn’t planned on being in the lineup that night, but Bobby Cox wrote him in any way. The fire delay allowed him some time in the training room, and he went 1-for-4 with a home run.
He added two more dingers, going 3-for-4 the next day. His arrival was a turning point for the Braves, who ultimately overtook the Giants to win the NL West (divisions used to be so weird).
The Braves didn’t win the World Series that year, but — after the strike shuttered the 1994 season — they pulled it off in 1995.
More Hall of Fame: Bananas, self-bronzing and TikTok: How baseball’s Hall of Fame is attracting new fans
Ken’s Notebook: Twins need star performances from star players
From today’s notes column: For the Twins to succeed offensively, they need Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton to be four-, five- or even six-win players, levels they have attained at various points of their respective careers. But here’s a statistical comparison that sheds particular light on the Twins’ offensive woes.
Entering Tuesday night, Correa, Donovan Solano, Willi Castro and Ryan Jeffers were tied for the team lead in FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, at 1.2. No other team leader in fWAR had a figure that low. The next-worst were the Rockies Ryan McMahon, 1.6 and Tigers Riley Greene, 1.6.
As a team, the Twins ranked 17th in fWAR and 21st in runs per game. Yet, while they appear in clear need of an offensive upgrade, it’s not obvious which position they should try to improve. Second baseman Jorge Polanco, recovering from a left hamstring strain, began a rehabilitation assignment Sunday. Third baseman Royce Lewis, dealing with a left oblique strain, also could return in August.
It’s odd, the way the Twins have evolved. They are not getting high-end offensive production from their stars, but most of their position players are contributing. Sixteen, in fact, are registering positive fWARs, with Buxton the lowest at 0.2. At the All-Star break, no other club had that many.
The Twins, who are 1 1/2 games up on the Guardians in the AL Central, still could seek a complementary bat at the deadline, and will also be in the market for bullpen help while awaiting the returns of Brock Stewart and Caleb Thielbar. But as has been the case all season, their stars need to be stars. Correa, at least, has been hot since becoming the leadoff hitter on June 30. And the team still plans for Buxton, at some point, to stop DHing exclusively and play center field.
You gotta run, run, run, run, run
The Diamondbacks are the latest team (joining the Padres) to have their TV broadcasts jump from Bally Sports to being produced by MLB. The new arrangement began last night and according to the broadcast intro, the move from Bally increases the availability by 506 percent, up from 930,000 homes to 5.6 million.
Arizona beat the Braves in a wild 16-13 circus in Atlanta that featured a combined 27 hits, 7 walks, and 6 home runs. Arizona scored their final three runs in the ninth inning, all before Raisel Iglesias could record a single out.
But that wasn’t the only high-scoring game of the night. Not only did the Cubs drop 17 on the Nationals, winning by two touchdowns, three games ended in 11-10 scores.
• The Mets outlasted the White Sox at home, getting two home runs from Francisco Álvarez and one each from Brett Baty and DJ Stewart. Lucas Giolito had a rough go, allowing eight earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings.
• In Kansas City, the Royals just escaped, despite four ninth-inning runs from the Tigers. Spencer Torkelson’s 14th and 15th home runs of the year weren’t enough to overcome the Royals’ 13 hits.
• The Giants outlasted the suddenly frigid Reds, handing Cincinnati their sixth straight loss. The Reds hit four home runs (including the first by Christian Encarnacion-Strand), but the Giants got two dingers from Wilmer Flores as part of their 11-hit attack, and now just 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. The Reds are now 2 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the Central.
Oh, but we are not through: The Dodgers, Twins and Guardians each also scored 10 runs in their wins over the Orioles, Mariners and Pirates, respectively.
Don’t see why you can’t stay a little longer
When the Braves acquired Sean Murphy from the A’s in December, it didn’t seem like Travis d’Arnaud was long for the team. After all, he had been an All-Star just a year prior, surely he wouldn’t have any interest in taking a backup role less than a year later, right?
Actually, the 34-year-old d’Arnaud seems to be just fine — he signed an extension yesterday that will pay him $8 million to stick around in 2024, with another $8 million club option for 2025.
That’s more than you might expect for a “backup” catcher, but the Braves are benefiting from the situation. D’Arnaud’s offensive prowess allows the team to catch Murphy around two-thirds of the time, keeping him fresh while not creating a black hole in the lineup.
Or as Dave O’Brien put it: “The Braves have created a culture under catching coach Sal Fasano, who has sought each year to have two quality catchers rather than the conventional frontline starter and strong-defense, weak-bat backup.”
It’s working: At the catching position, the Braves rank first in home runs (25), on-base percentage (.372), slugging percentage (.559) and, thus, OPS (.931).
Handshakes and High Fives
Shohei Ohtani Trade Rumors Tracker: It’s a pretty light day today.
- I haven’t found any audio, but ESPN’s Buster Olney went on 92.1 The Ticket in Fayetteville, Ark., and as best I can tell, said he expects the Rangers to be “as aggressive as anyone” in pursuing Ohtani.
- His new home is unlikely to be in Boston, for reasons that Chad Jennings lays out here.
- Tim Kawakami takes a practical look at the Giants’ chances of landing him.
- Not a trade rumor, but Tim Keown at ESPN has an excellent in-depth profile on Ohtani.
We’ll transition to the other links by presenting Sam Blum telling us about everyone else the Angels might trade.
Ken wrote yesterday about the difficulty the Mets might have in trading either Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer. Today, Will Sammon has a good conversation with Verlander, who didn’t speak specifically about his no-trade clause but did say, “I remain committed to trying to win a championship here.”
No. 1 draft pick Paul Skenes is officially a Pirate, thanks to a record $9.2 million signing bonus.
Estevan Florial is having a “monster” season in Triple A. So, uh, is he ever gonna get a shot in the big leagues? The Yankees are 1-4 since the All-Star break, and the offense continues to struggle. In a similar situation, Sahadev Sharma asks of the Cubs: “Where’s Matt Mervis?”
The Padres aren’t dead, but they did appear to be twitching on Tuesday, designating infielder Rougned Odor for assignment and optioning catcher Austin Nola and utility guy Brandon Dixon to Triple A, calling up infielder Alfonso Rivas and outfielder Taylor Kohlwey, and reinstating Luis Campusano from the 60-day IL.
On the Roundtable this week, Katie Woo fills in for Grant Brisbee and chats with Andy McCullough and Marc Carig about which team could be the key to the trade deadline, why can’t the Angels put it all together and more Ohtani trade watch.
(Photo of Fred McGriff: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)