(CBS Chicago) — Summer is still two weeks away, but a few races around the league are already heating up. As of Monday, the three top teams in the National League West — the San Francisco Giants, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers — boasted the top three records in the National League. In three other divisions, the top two teams are separated by a game or less.
On the other hand, the Chicago White Sox, who have emerged from years of rebuilding, are enjoying a four-game lead in the American League Central. Tony La Russa’s leadership has certainly helped the young squad. And over the weekend he led the White Sox to a milestone win, one that put him in second place on the all-time manager’s win list.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at La Russa passing John McGraw on the career manager wins list, the coming crackdown on pitchers using foreign substances and the Boston Red Sox’s sweep of the New York Yankees.
La Russa Passes McGraw On Wins List
When the White Sox hired La Russa, he hadn’t managed a team since 2011. In his last position, he led the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2011 World Series championship. That was his third in six tries. A decade later he has the White Sox on the right track.
Whether they make it to late October remains to be seen. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played. But La Russa just passed another significant milestone. On Sunday, he led the White Sox to a 3-0 win over the Detroit Tigers. It was the 76-year-old Hall of Famer’s 2,764th win, and he achieved it with the team where he began his managerial career over 40 years ago. Since then he managed the Oakland Athletics (1986-1995) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1996-2011). La Russa won 522 games with the White Sox his first time around, 789 games for the A’s and 1,408 games for the Cardinals. He’s earned Manager of the Year honors with each of the three teams he’s managed.
One thing he probably won’t do is become MLB’s all-time winningest manager. That honor belongs to Connie Mack, who led the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Athletics to 3,731 wins in his 53 seasons managing. That’s almost 1,000 more than La Russa has in 34 seasons. Bobby Cox (2,504 wins) and Joe Torre (2,326 wins) round out the top five.
Getting a little closer to Mack seems inevitable, however, especially with a White Sox team looking to extend its lead over the Cleveland Indians. Sunday’s win was their 10th in the last 14 games, putting them at 36-23 for the season. The White Sox open a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday.
Foreign Substance Enforcement
Pitchers have seemed to have a growing advantage over hitters in recent years. But that advantage may be curtailed some before MLB has a chance to push back the mound or re-balance the scales some other way. The league is thinking about cracking down on pitchers’ use of foreign substances.
Though there have been rules on the books for years meant to keep pitchers from using foreign substances on the ball, they have been rarely enforced. That all seems to be changing as ESPN’s Buster Olney reported over the weekend that the league will be instructing umpires to enforce those rules. According to the report, pitchers will be “checked repeatedly and randomly for foreign substances by umpires.” The penalty for offenders will reportedly include a 10-day suspension without pay.
The biggest reason for the change in attitude from MLB is the dominance pitchers across the league have shown this season. The league batting average is .236, the lowest in history, while the strike out rate is the highest ever. The new enforcement initiative is expected to begin in the next few weeks.
After news of the coming enforcement broke, Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was accused of doctoring baseballs in a lawsuit, showed reduced spin rates in his most recent start. Cole didn’t meet with reporters but Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson asked if people believe it’s a coincidence that happened immediately after several minor leaguers were suspended for foreign substances on the ball.
“Is it a coincidence that Gerrit Cole’s spin rate numbers went down [Thursday] after four minor leaguers got suspended for 10 games?” Donaldson said. “Is that possible? I don’t know. Maybe. At the same time, with this situation, they’ve let guys do it.”
Red Sox Sweep Yankees
Entering the season, the Red Sox were expected to be in a bit of a rebuilding year as the organization continued to turn over its roster. The Yankees were projected to win the division and have the best record in the American League. Thus far, the roles have been flipped and the Red Sox pulled off a feat they hadn’t accomplished in a decade over the weekend.
Boston swept the Yanks in New York for the first time since 2011. After the weekend set, the Sox sat in second place in the A.L. East with a 37-23 record, a half game behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the A.L. The Yankees? They’re just two games over .500 (31-29) and have gone 2-8 in their last ten games.
There are still about 100 games left in the season so there is plenty of time for things to regress towards preseason projections. However, Boston’s three-game sweep appears to be a message sent to their rivals that the competition for the division crown will be hard fought.