Absences of Marte, Bumgarner could shake up NL

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Starling Marte slides to catch a line drive by St. Louis Cardinals' Dexter Fowler to end the eighth inning of a baseball game Monday, April 17, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP)
The Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants are both in last place, and that’s not even their biggest problem at the moment.

They will both have to overcome some significant adversity to contend for the postseason this year after losing two of the National League’s top players this past week. Pittsburgh will be without outfielder Starling Marte, who was suspended 80 games because of a positive drug test, and San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner was injured in a dirt bike crash .

A slow start at this stage of the season isn’t the end of the world, but the Pirates (8-10) and Giants (6-13) will now be missing key players.

“We get the angst. We get the concern. Unfortunately, in a small market, there’s going to be angst and concern about a number of different things,” Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said. “We like the group we have.”

Huntington said the Pirates would consider external options when dealing with Marte’s absence, but it won’t be easy to replace a player who hit .311 last year with 47 stolen bases. Pittsburgh went 78-83 in 2016 and needed some things to go right to have a good season this year. Marte’s suspension was obviously an unexpected setback.

The same can certainly be said for Bumgarner’s mishap. The left-hander is on the disabled list for the first time in his career after bruising his ribs and spraining a joint in his pitching shoulder in the bike accident. It’s not clear how long he’ll be sidelined.

Only six NL teams finished above .500 last year, with five of them making the postseason. With such a clear gap between the haves and have-nots, those five playoff teams — the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Mets and Giants — all looked like decent bets to return.

Bumgarner’s injury, however, is certainly a blow to San Francisco’s chances, and the Giants already have a hole to climb out of. They have the worst record in the NL.

The Mets and Dodgers are also below .500, so perhaps there’s hope for some of last year’s also-rans. Colorado (13-6) and Arizona (12-8) are off to strong starts in the NL West, a sign that maybe the NL won’t be as predictable as it seemed.

Here are a few more developments from around baseball:


Josh Harrison is one Pittsburgh hitter who can help make up for Marte’s absence if he can start getting on base more consistently. He did that in unusual fashion recently when he was hit by a pitch in four consecutive plate appearances. Harrison was plunked by Jon Lester and Justin Grimm of the Chicago Cubs last Sunday, then Lance Lynn of St. Louis hit him twice a day later.


The April leaderboards often include some unexpected names, and that’s certainly the case right now. Eric Thames of Milwaukee leads the NL with eight home runs and 21 runs.

Thames hit 12 homers as a rookie for Toronto in 2011, but after playing in 86 games for the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners in 2012, he vanished from the major league scene. He ended up in South Korea, where he spent three seasons crushing the ball for the NC Dinos. That helped earn him a $16 million, three-year contract with Milwaukee this past offseason, and so far at least, it’s paying off for the Brewers.


The Oakland Athletics are off to a nice start. They’re in second place in the AL West, and Khris Davis already has seven homers.

Adam Rosales only has two home runs on the year, but he has his own way of making them memorable. When Rosales went deep against Seattle on Saturday, he was clocked zooming around the bases in just 15.9 seconds by MLB’s Statcast.


Wei-Yin Chen, Marlins, held Seattle hitless for seven innings in a 5-0 victory Tuesday. Miami nearly completed a combined no-hitter, but Kyle Barraclough allowed a one-out double to Mitch Haniger in the ninth.