(CBS Boston) — Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer. It’s also a good mile-marker in the long MLB season. With two months of games played, the 2021 baseball season is a third of the way through. And that’s enough to get a sense of how things may shake out.
The Boston Red Sox, for example, seem to be for real. Alex Cora has led them to a 32-21 record so far, good enough for second place in the challenging American League East. He returned to Minute Maid Park in Houston for the first time since his suspension for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. The Red Sox were trounced by the Astros, 11-2, in the first game of a four-game series between two contenders.READ MORE: Sixers' Ben Simmons Making NBA History With Free-Throw Struggles
This week’s Baseball Report looks at Cora’s visit to Houston, the Baltimore Orioles’ losing streak and Cody Bellinger’s return to the Los Angeles Dodgers lineup.
Alex Cora Back In Houston
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended for all of the 2020 season for his role in the Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal. Monday marked his return to Houston where, as bench coach, he helped lead them to their World Series title that same year. Cora became the Red Sox manager in 2018, helping lead them to a title as well. He was fired in 2020 and rehired after his suspension.
Cora faced lots of questions going into the series, and has owned up to his transgressions. “I made a mistake and that’s part of it,” said Cora. “I’m not the first human to make a mistake, but at this level with this platform, it’s going to be tough forever. Not only when I’m here but wherever I go.”
While he knows the occasion is a reason to revisit the scandal, he’d prefer that the attention focus more on the baseball. “People are going to ask why we did it and I don’t know,” he continued. “We just did it and we put ourselves in a bad situation. People will always talk about the 2017 Astros for what we did instead of the talent we had.”
The verdict came to light before the 2020 season, which was played without fans in attendance thanks to COVID. Cora has faced boos and jeers on the road this season, as have the current Astros team and other former Astros.
The series between two of the American League’s better teams started Monday with a big Astros win. Kyle Tucker had three hits and four RBI. Second baseman Jose Altuve hit a two-run home run. And third baseman Alex Bregman drove in two more of the Astros’ runs. Jose Urquidy gave up only three hits and a run in his six innings on the mound. The series continues on Tuesday evening.
Orioles’ Losing Streak
The Orioles are one of the worst teams in the majors. And it becomes more apparent each day. Baltimore has lost 14 games in a row, dating back to their May 18 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. That leaves them at 17-37, on pace to win just over 50 games. Two straight weeks of losses include four series to the Rays, Washington Nationals, Minnesota Twins, and Chicago White Sox. But that still leaves them seven games short of the franchise record of 21, which started the 1988 season.READ MORE: Fans Sound Off After 76ers Blow 26-Point Lead In Game 5 Loss To Atlanta Hawks
The Orioles have problems up and down the lineup. John Means is their only pitcher to throw at least 20 innings who has earned an ERA below 3.00. Without him, their league-worst ERA of 5.95 would be even higher. Means is the only pitcher of note in a pitching rotation that also includes Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey, who are both very much on the downside of their careers. Starters don’t carry leads deep into games, and the bullpen can’t hold onto leads when they do.
The lineup, among the youngest in the league, is slashing .230/.295/.678, each of which puts them in the bottom third of teams.
Rebuilding is a tough process with no guarantee of success. But it worked for the Astros awhile back, and it could work for the Orioles. Some of Baltimore’s top prospects are making progress in the minor leagues. Former top overall pick Adley Rutschman is hitting .293 with 6 HRs and 20 RBI after a week that saw him go 11-18 for the AA Bowie Baysox. Grayson Rodriguez has also looked good on the mound.
The Orioles return to action Tuesday night, when their current series with the Twins continues.
Cody Bellinger Returns
Bellinger, who won the 2019 MVP, has spent most of the season on the injured list. On April 5, he was cleated in a game with the Oakland A’s. What was thought to be a day-to-day injury turned into a long-term recovery when tests revealed a hairline fracture of his left fibula. Bellinger was slashing just .211/.286/.368 in that first week of the season.
The Dodgers missed him, of course, though maybe not as much as a lesser team might have. The injury-riddled World Series champions still managed a 31-20 record and a plus-74 run differential in his absence. They were only 1.5 games behind the San Diego Padres when he returned.
Bellinger returned to the lineup on Saturday to give the Dodgers four former MVPs on the roster. Starting in centerfield and batting fourth, he went 0-4, but reached base on a walk and scored a run. On Sunday, he went 0-3 with another walk and another run. The Dodgers lost both games to the San Francisco Giants, but beat the St. Louis Cardinals Monday night. Bellinger was hitless again.MORE NEWS: Complete Meltdown: Sixers Blow 26-Point Lead In Loss To Hawks, Down 3-2 In Series
Look for those stats to improve for the career .271 hitter who has 123 HRs and 320 RBI.