Another weekend of Major League Baseball is in the books. We're coming together every Sunday to award winners and losers after each weekend of MLB action this season. Here are the big winners and losers from the last few days, which includes Shane Bieber's continued dominance, the Braves' bad series vs. the Jays and more.
Winner: Yankees' offseason adds
The New York Yankees took a risk this winter by filling out their rotation with a pair of notable names with shaky injury histories. The best-case scenario for the moves is about what played out on Saturday and Sunday. Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber were both sharp in back-to-back wins as the Bronx Bombers swept the lowly Tigers.
Taillon, acquired from the Pirates in a trade, struck out eight batters and allowed just one earned run on three hits and three walks in five innings. The effort gave him his first win in exactly two years.
"There were times when I wasn't 100% sure whether I would be back in a big league uniform, let alone be on a team like the Yankees and contribute to wins throughout the year," Taillon told reporters. "So, it's definitely meaningful. There's a lot of people that played part in it to get me back to this point."
Kluber followed it up with his best start as a Yankee on Sunday. The two-time Cy Young winner tossed eight scoreless innings and notched 10 strikeouts in a 2-0 win. The outing lowered Kluber's ERA by more than a full run, to 3.03.
The Yankees, now .500 at 14-14, appear to be back on track after a woeful start. They should stay there if Taillon and Kluber keep pitching like they did this weekend.
Loser: Reigning East champs
We know, we know. It's still very early. But the standings in AL and NL East have a different look than they did in 2020, and both the Rays and Braves continued their struggles this weekend.
The Rays, who lost two of three vs. the Astros this weekend, went from being two wins away from capturing the World Series in 2020 to flirting with the cellar of the AL East standings one month into the 2021 season. Tampa has never been known for being an offensive powerhouse, but they entered Sunday only hitting .223/.303/.369 as a team.
Beyond the lackluster offense, injuries are continuing to pile up for the reigning AL East champs. This weekend, Tampa was without Ji-Man Choi along with right-handers Peter Fairbanks, Collin McHugh and Chris Archer. The club's definitely in a bad stretch, but top Rays prospect Wander Franco is starting his season at Triple-A, which has begun speculation of a summer arrival for the highly touted shortstop.
In the NL, not much is going right for the Braves, who find themselves in the loser section for the second weekend in a row. Atlanta responded with three straight wins after getting "no-hit" by Madison Bumgarner last Sunday, but ended their week with four losses in a row. The Toronto Blue Jays outscored the Braves 26-12 in a three-game sweep this weekend. In addition to the four-game skid, the Braves also placed catcher Travis d'Arnaud on the 60-day injured list on Sunday, meaning their starting backstop will likely be out until the All-Star break. A silver lining: Atlanta sits at 12-16, but they don't have much catching up to do in the NL East, which finished the weekend without anyone above .500.
Winner: Bench-clearin' baseball beef
It was a spicy weekend for a few divisional rivals. First, on Friday night in Philadelphia, Phillies reliever Josè Alvarado and Mets outfielder Dominic Smith exchanged some words after an inning-ending strikeout. The benches cleared once after the incident and then once more after Mets reliever Miguel Castro buzzed two pitches inside to Rhys Hoskins. Alvarado -- who was hit with a three-game suspension on Sunday -- and Smith also got under each other's skin earlier this season at Citi Field, and Smith sent an invitation to Alvarado for a post-game meeting in the catacombs of Citizens Bank Park.
"I'm a grown-ass man," Smith said. "Come meet me then if you really got a problem, and we can really handle it. So that's how I look at that issue. He waited for his team to grab him and stuff, but I'm right there. And he can meet me in the tunnel tomorrow if he really wants to get after it."
On Saturday in Cincinnati, the Reds and Cubs renewed some bad blood in a similar fashion. Reds reliever Amir Garrett struck out Anthony Rizzo in the eighth inning and celebrated with some barks in his direction. The Cubs took exception and the benches emptied.
These teams will see plenty of each other during the summer, so don't be surprised if we see more relievers jogging in from the bullpen to help their side with a fracas again before long.
Winner: AL Central arms
It's highly unlikely that the Royals' current pace is sustainable, but here's a stat that will give Kansas City fans some more hope: since 1996, 53 percent of teams with a share of the division lead on May 1 ended up winning the division. The Royals are in first in the AL Central in early May at 16-10.
A big reason why? Starter Danny Duffy, who has been dominant on the mound thus far. Duffy has recorded the second-lowest ERA by a Royals pitcher through five starts (0.60) in a season. The mark is behind Zack Greinke's 0.50 ERA in 2009. Over the weekend, Duffy threw seven innings, struck out seven and allowed one run on two hits against the reigning AL Central champion Twins.
Elsewhere in the Al Central, Cleveland ace Shane Bieber just keeps on making history. The reigning AL Cy Young champion is picking up right where he left off and currently leads the league in strikeouts with 68 (!!). In his weekend start against the White Sox on Saturday, he struck out 11 batters.
With that, Bieber set a new MLB record for the most consecutive games with at least eight or more strikeouts, extending his streak to 18 straight games. He passed Randy Johnson's record set in 1999-2000. To reiterate: Bieber hasn't had fewer than eight strikeouts in a start since 2019.