Some things never change: Ageless Nelson Cruz, unlucky Jacob deGrom

The Twins and Tigers had Monday afternoon to themselves, the lone matinee on the schedule, and they made it count. Most 21-run games are baskets of fantasy goodness.

Start with Nelson Cruz, estimable 40-year-old slugger, proponent of the midday nap. Unfortunately for the Tigers, this wasn’t one of Cruz’s napping days. Cruz belted two homers and a double in the laugher, a juicy 6-3-3-5 line to start his season right. Remember, Cruz missed most of the opening series, as the Twins didn’t have a DH at Milwaukee. Happily, Minnesota only has two NL trips remaining — visiting St. Louis and Cincinnati after the All-Star break.

Cruz’s second at-bat underscores his legend. Batting with the bases loaded, Cruz lofted a fly ball down the right field line, dangerously close to the foul pole. Cruz felt the ball grazed the pole, the umpires (and replay) disagreed. No worries — Cruz crushed the next flipping pitch over the left-field wall. May we all age so gracefully.

Similar to David Ortiz, Cruz seems like a player who can dominate as long as he wants, no matter the age. There are no victory laps this early in the year and Cruz managers need to accept the utility-only tag, but that 69.2 spring ADP was probably a bargain.

DETROIT, MI -  APRIL 5:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Minnesota Twins hits a solo home run with catcher Wilson Ramos #40 of the Detroit Tigers behind the plate during the fifth inning at Comerica Park on April 5, 2021, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Nelson Cruz was unstoppable at Detroit on Monday. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Minnesota’s offensive outburst carried Matt Shoemaker (6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 5 K) to an easy win. Call it a sort of homecoming — Shoemaker was born in Wyandotte (about 20 minutes from Comerica Park), and matriculated at Eastern Michigan. Talent has never been the issue with Shoemaker; health is the concern. Carrying a career 3.83 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, he’ll probably carry mixed-league value for as long as he can stay hale. Minnesota’s defense helps the cause, especially up the middle.

Shoemaker is rostered in a modest eight percent of Yahoo leagues. Perhaps you’ll call his number for a weekend home start against the Mariners.

Detroit’s lone highlight came at the end of the game, when Akil Baddoo socked a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth. Baddoo, a Rule 5 pick, has two homers and a steal over the past two days, presenting a plausible-upside case for deeper leagues (roster tag: 17 percent). The 22-year-old outfielder was a wrecking ball in the spring, slashing .325/.460/.750 with five homers and four steals. A bunch of that production came against sub-major pitching, but it’s impressive just the same.

I was excited to see Baddoo play Tuesday, but of course the silly Tigers don’t have him in the lineup. We’ll keep him on the watch list, anyway.

Baddoo's homer came off Minnesota reliever Randy Dobnak, Minnesota’s mop-up man. Dobnak allowed five runs and two homers in his three-inning stint, but the loophole-filled save rule gave him a handshake nonetheless. It’s one of the cheapest saves in modern history, just the second five-run save since 1986. Surely Jerome Holtzman is looking down at us and having a good laugh.

Meet the new Mets, same as the old Mets

The best thing about the Mets is watching Jacob deGrom pitch every fifth day. And the worst thing about the Mets is watching them screw up deGrom’s victory every fifth day.

Okay, it doesn’t happen every deGrom start, but Monday’s turn was an old story we’re sick of watching. The New York ace dominated the Phillies over six innings (3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 7 K), then watched his teammates give the game away. DeGrom only threw 77 pitches for the evening.

Perhaps the Mets were justified with the quick hook, given that deGrom was pitching out of his normal cycle (Thursday’s start was canceled) and you don’t want to overtax your horses in the opening week. DeGrom didn’t throw his manager under the bus after the game; he toed the company line. Reliever Miguel Castro worked a smooth seventh inning, but Trevor May and Aaron Loup made a mess of the eighth (abetted by some leaky infield defense). Five runs later, the ballgame was lost.

Perhaps the Mets blew the game before it began, slotting their worst offensive starter, Kevin Pillar, in the leadoff position. Pillar’s best production comes against left-handed pitching, but Brandon Nimmo’s been an OBP machine against everyone for three years, and no one expected Phillies starter Matt Moore to work deep into the game. The Mets scored two runs in the fourth and had the bases loaded, but Pillar ended the rally by grounding into a routine double play against Brandon Kintzler, a right-handed reliever. (New York could have gone for the kill in that critical moment — pinch-hit Dominic Smith, use Albert Almora for defense — but Luis Rojas wasn’t proactive in the fourth inning.)

Bill Belichick likes to say games are lost more often than they’re won. Bob Knight is more blunt; he’d tell you dumb loses more than smart wins. Pick whatever tag feels right, Mets.

The case for Carlos Rodon

Everyone likes a good post-hype story; perhaps we can interest you in Carlos Rodon? The Chicago lefty had five snappy innings at Seattle (2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 9 K), breezing to a 6-0 victory.

While we’re trained to take one start with a grain of salt, perhaps the nine strikeouts would indicate signature significance. Also note Rodon’s fastball averaged 95.4 mph, two full ticks over his career average. Velocity is a good thing.

Rodon’s career has bounced around plenty over six years. He was a highly rated prospect going into the 2015 season, and averaged a strikeout per inning that year — back when that sort of ratio would catch your attention. Growing pains followed, and his 2019 season turned into a Tommy John shipwreck. Rodon pitched an undistinguished four games last year, and was non-tendered in December, though the White Sox brought him back about two months later.

You can still grab Rodon in about two-thirds of Yahoo leagues. The Royals are an appealing target on the weekend.

Even if you don’t feel like kicking the Rodon tires, the legend of Yermin Mercedes demands attention. Mercedes collected three more hits Monday, putting him at a tidy 12-for-18 on the year. He’s only walked once, but he’s only struck out twice. Pablo Sandoval 2.0? (That's meant as a compliment, kids.)

Hitting has never been a problem for the well-traveled Mercedes — he slashed .302/.366/.491 over eight minor-league seasons. He’s never had a fit in the field, but the White Sox are happy to DH him. He’s started four straight games, the last two in the No. 5 slot. Last call in the shallow leagues; Mercedes is free to add in 35 percent of Yahoo.