Sports | August 11, 2020 10:14 am

Zach Plesac, Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Cardinals: Buying or Selling MLB's Top Week 3 Storylines

A third of the season is nearly complete for the majority of teams in MLB

Fernando Tatis Jr. Is MLB's Next Star
Fernando Tatis Jr. points skyward after hitting a solo home run. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
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With a third of the season nearly complete for the majority of teams in Major League Baseball, some clubs have started to pull away from the pack and new stars are starting to emerge. Though there was some disturbing off-field news that had nothing to do with COVID-19, the coronavirus has continued to be a big story in MLB — but it’s far from the only one.

Below, you’ll find some of the top storylines to emerge around the league as MLB pushed through its third full week of play, and whether we’re buying or selling ’em.

Buy: Fernando Tatis Jr. Is MLB’s Next Superstar

On Sunday against the Diamondbacks, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. went 2-for-4 in San Diego’s 9-5 win over Arizona. For the fourth game in a row, the 21-year-old hit a home run, with Sunday’s shot being a two-run blast in the second inning,

Tied with Aaron Judge for the league lead with eight long balls in 2020, Tatis boasts a stellar .333/.417/.810 with 18 RBI and 15 runs scored across 72 plate appearances, and nobody in baseball had more wins above replacement through the first quarter of the truncated 60-game season.

In addition to putting up eye-popping numbers in 2020, Tatis has also stood out with his dyed-blond dreadlocks and big-time bat flips. Tatis has been exciting enough that ESPN just did a huge feature on him, and though the Padres are only 9-7, they have a decent shot at making the postseason due to the expanded playoff format this season.

That would be a major achievement for a team that hasn’t played playoff baseball in more than a decade, and Tatis would almost certainly be the driving forced behind it.

Will the Padres win a World Series? Probably not. Will Tatis become a household name across the country? Seems unlikely (MLB’s current best player, Mike Trout, is yet to achieve that status). But will people in San Diego start to care about baseball? It’s early yet, but Tatis seems like he’s just the rare type of talent who can make it happen.

Buy: Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger Should Not Return This Season

In many circumstances, leagues should allow players who make mistakes off the field to apologize, serve any suspension or pay any fine that is levied, and return to playing. In the case of Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger of the Indians, who have both been suspended by the team after going out with friends on Saturday night in Chicago — thus clearly violating team rules and COVID-19 protocols — MLB can’t show any mercy.

Even though what the pair did is far from a crime and normal behavior for a 20-something ballplayer, the League cannot afford to allow any violations to a policy that, before it was tightened, was criticized for being too lenient. Baseball has already postponed 27 games due to coronavirus outbreaks, and if they want to finish the season on schedule, it must do everything it can to prevent further games being lost or jeopardized.

If MLB makes an example out of Plesac and Clevinger, the MLBPA will certainly file a grievance and fight it, but players may think twice next time they want to go out after a game.

“I realize I made a poor choice to leave the hotel, which broke protocols and could have endangered other people,” Plesac said. “I understand that in these times of uncertainty, I need to be more vigilant and responsible, and I am determined to earn my teammates’ forgiveness and get back to work.”

If MLB really wants to send a message, they shouldn’t let him.

Buy: The Oakland Athletics Are For Real

When the A’s aren’t making headlines for their bench coach giving a Nazi salute or brawling with the Astros in clear violation of MLB’s safety protocol as well as common sense, Oakland has been pretty busy winning baseball games.

At 12-4 entering play on Monday, the A’s sit atop the AL West and are the only team in their division with a record over .500. While Oakland’s record is almost certainly bolstered by the poor play of the other four teams in the AL West — the Astros, Angels, Mariners and Rangers — the A’s have also been really good to start the shortened season, particularly on the mound.

Thanks to a pitching staff led by starters Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and Chris Bassitt that’s anchored at the back end by star closer Liam Hendriks, the A’s have the third-lowest team ERA in baseball at 2.66, trailing only the Indians and Dodgers.

The stellar pitching is what’s kept the A’s winning games, as they do not have a single batter on their roster who is hitting over .300, and are batting just .214 as a team. That has been somewhat remedied by the club’s above-average power-hitting (they are tied for eighth in home runs with 21), but pitching has been the true key to the team’s success.

And it’s a good formula in the long run: while hitting comes and goes, pitching is usually far less streaky. That means the A’s are a real contender this year, whether their bats heat up or not.

Sell: The Cardinals Will Be Able to Make Up All Their Games

Thanks to an outbreak of COVID-19 that has led to 17 members of the organization (10 players and seven staff members) testing positive for coronavirus since last week, the St. Louis Cardinals have not played since July 29, when they lost to the Twins in Minnesota.

The Cardinals’ series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which was scheduled to run Monday through Wednesday in St. Louis, was postponed yesterday, and the earliest the team can get back on the field now is on Thursday against the Tigers in Detroit. That means, at a minimum, the Cardinals will have to make up 15 games if they are going to play 60 like the rest of the league (theoretically) will.

Before Monday’s postponement, the Cardinals had already added three doubleheaders against the Brewers to a previously scheduled series to make up three games that were postponed previously. Now, they will to do the same thing with the Pirates, as well as every other team they’ve missed games against.

“It’s a bummer. We’re learning as we go,” Cardinals president John Mozeliak said on Sunday night. “What’s the right amount of time to not assemble to try and prevent the spread? I don’t think we know that answer perfectly.”

Given how long it has taken the team to get back on the field already and no guarantee St. Louis’s season will actually resume Thursday, it seems more likely than not the Cardinals will have to eliminate some games. With the team sitting at 2-3, perhaps it won’t matter that much.

(Note: All statistics, standings and streaks are current as of the afternoon of 8/10/2020.)