‘Electric’ Elly De La Cruz heads for history; are the A’s … good? No. But they are interesting

‘Electric’ Elly De La Cruz heads for history; are the A’s … good? No. But they are interesting

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I hereby petition we start calling him by his full name: Electric De La Cruz. Also: lefties returning in Houston and Baltimore raise roster questions, Steve Sax honors his son and the A’s are … better than the Astros? I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

De La Cruz is on pace for history

It is simply a lot of fun to watch Elly De La Cruz play baseball. The combination of power, speed and a cannon arm is just too electric to ignore — even in a slump, as he was for the last couple months of 2023.

That’s a thing of the past, by the way. De La Cruz is hitting .306 (1.051 OPS) with seven home runs and a league-leading 15 stolen bases after 25 games. I did the math: He’s on pace for 45 home runs and 97 stolen bases.

It’s still April, too early for “X player is on pace for Y statistical line” stories to be written in good faith. (Surely the White Sox won’t go 19-143, right?) So let me start by saying I do not believe that Elly De La Cruz is going to be the game’s first 40/100 guy.

But a year after we saw Ronald Acuña Jr. become the first player in MLB history to hit 40+ home runs and steal 70+ bases, would it be a surprise to see De La Cruz create a club of his own? There’s never been a 30/100 season. Nor 30/90, 30/80 …

In fact, we have to count all the way down to 30/50 to find a precedent, and it’s only been done twice: Barry Bonds hit 33 home runs and stole 52 bases in 1990 for the Pirates, and Eric Davis went 37/50 in 1987 (Mike Trout came up one steal short of the club in 2012, as did Bobby Witt Jr. last year).

Could we see 30/60 or even 30/70 from De La Cruz this year? I don’t think that’s unrealistic at all. If he manages to get to 40 home runs, there’s a huge gap between Acuña’s 73 steals and A-Rods 46 in 1998. No 40/50 or 40/60 seasons exist.

If De La Cruz “only” ends up being the third member of the 30/50 club, it would still be cool for another reason: he wears No. 44 on his Reds uniform. That’s the same number Davis wore when he established the 30/50 club with Cincinnati nearly 40 years ago.

Ken’s Notebook: A’s are ahead of Astros, as we all predicted 

In a notes column a week ago, I wrote, “Only in this crazy sport could the game’s ultimate poverty franchise, the Oakland A’s, win a series from the defending World Series champions, the Texas Rangers.” Well, the A’s were at it again this week, splitting a four-game series against Juan Soto, Aaron Judge and the New York Yankees — at Yankee Stadium, no less.

Raise your hand if, at any point this season, you expected the A’s would hold a three-game lead over the Houston Astros. Granted, the A’s are only 10-16, while the Astros are a ghastly 7-19. But the mighty Yankees outscored the A’s by only one run in the four games. A’s closer Mason Miller, he of the 100-plus mph fastball, struck out six of the eight hitters he faced in the series, including Soto twice.

Are the A’s good? Of course not. But they have some interesting young pitchers, led by Miller and lefty starter J.P. Sears. They also have some veteran starters who ultimately could be trade candidates — most notably right-hander Paul Blackburn, but also righty Ross Stripling and lefty Alex Wood. Neither Stripling nor Wood has pitched all that well thus far, though the latter held the Yankees to one run on 5 2/3 innings on Thursday night.

The A’s can’t hit — they’re averaging only 2.96 runs per game, ahead of only the Chicago White Sox, who are at an almost unfathomable 2.24. As I noted last week, perhaps when owner John Fisher, ahem, fulfills his promise to spend, the A’s will buy some hitters.

A’s fans know better than anyone — it’s not worth getting overly excited about a team that, while appearing to be making progress, still is on a 100-loss pace. Astros fans, meanwhile, can start panicking any time now. Those fans chided me in the comments section when I wrote on April 15 that the team’s path to an eighth straight ALCS looked increasingly problematic. The Astros were 6-11 then. They’re 1-8 since. At this rate, they will finish 44-118.

Help is on the way, or should be — the Astros’ next two games are in Mexico City against the wretched Colorado Rockies, who are also 7-19. But after that, Houston’s schedule again gets more difficult — home against Cleveland and Seattle, on the road against the Yankees and Detroit. And then — look out! — a four-game set at Minute Maid Park against the team the Astros currently are chasing for fourth place. The going, going, almost gone Oakland-Sacramento-Las Vegas A’s.

More Astros: Alex Bregman dismisses the idea that walk-year pressure is contributing to his slow start.

Tough choices ahead in Houston, Baltimore

The last-place Astros and first-place Orioles have very little in common this year, but here’s one similarity: They both have left-handed starting pitchers coming off the IL soon, which will force some interesting decisions.

In Houston, it’s Framber Valdez returning from a short IL stint (elbow soreness) to start Sunday against the Rockies. The surprise here is that J.P. France — not Spencer Arrighetti — will be sent down to make room for Valdez. France hasn’t exactly set the sport alight (0-3, 7.46 ERA, .290 batting average against), but in his second year, he’s a bit more established than Arrighetti (0-3, 10.97, .367 BAA), who has made three big-league starts. Perhaps the answer is in the strikeout rate (Arrighetti is at 25.9 percent, while France is at 18.2), or the home runs — France has allowed five in 25 1/3 innings, while Arrighetti has only allowed one in 10 2/3 innings.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, John Means is returning from some residual soreness that accompanied his return from Tommy John surgery last year, when he made four starts. Baltimore has slow-played him thus far this season, but he could potentially also start Sunday. His return — and that of Kyle Bradish, who is also expected back soon — leads to an interesting question: What happens to surprise-of-the-year Albert Suárez? He has not allowed a run in two starts and is among eight Orioles pitchers who are out of minor-league options. The five with options: starting pitchers Dean Kremer and Grayson Rodriguez, and relievers Yennier Cano, Keegan Akin and Dillon Tate. None are having bad seasons.

Steve Sax on his son’s legacy

Maybe you know Steve Sax from his role as one of nine big-league “ringers” who help the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team obliterate the competition on “The Simpsons.” Or maybe you were around when the second baseman was a five-time All-Star who overcame the yips in 1983 to lead the league in fielding percentage by 1989. Or perhaps you know that Sax was in the on-deck circle when Kirk Gibson hit that legendary walk-off home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.

The part of Sax’s story that you might not know happened more recently. In 2022, his son John — that’s Captain John Sax, of the Marines — was killed, along with four other service members, when his MV-22B Osprey malfunctioned. Dan Brown spoke with Sax about his career, his son and the grief that remains.

It’s not an easy read, and Brown did a great job of accurately painting the picture. Grief is not easy; it is untidy and discomfiting, especially in a society conditioned to look for the happy ending, the redemption, the final knot tied in the bow.

Grief persistently unravels the bow.

But grief can also be beautiful, if you’re willing to accept its terms, sit with it, let it have its say. Sax quotes a line I’ve heard many times before, though repetition has not dulled the impact: “Grief is the price you pay for loving someone.” Seen through that lens, there is beauty in accepting the unsolvable, and courage in a refusal to hide it.

As such, I think it’s a testimony to Sax’s love for his son that he was able to be so unguarded with Brown. Sax acknowledges that he still hasn’t reached the “acceptance” stage.

Kudos to Sax for his willingness to share his profound love with us, and to Brown for telling the story so eloquently.

Baseball Card of the Week

As much as I enjoy baseball cards, I’ve found myself increasingly enjoying reading through the SABR BioProject entries for each player. How else would I have learned that Joe Dobson, star of this 1949 Bowman card, lost his left thumb and part of his forefinger as a child playing with — and I’m not making this up — dynamite, then went on to set a record for defensive prowess?

Also, one of these days, I’m going to attempt to cash in on one of these decades-old mail-in offers, just to see what happens.

Handshakes and High Fives

Tyler Kepner asks if it might be time to reconsider the criteria for the pitcher win in his weekly “Sliders” column.

Not to pack too many Simpsons references into one newsletter, but there’s a new face of the Mets’ dollar dog night — just don’t call Moe’s Tavern and ask for him by name.

We love quizzing veterans about their careers. Zack Meisel puts Carlos Carrasco to the test.

Brendan Kuty tells us how Carlos Rodón has mended things with Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake after a public diss on the mound last season.

Holy cow, look at this Kyle Isbel catch!

You can buy tickets to every MLB game here.

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(Top photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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