Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Return of the J-Hey Kid

Jason Heyward is only 28 years old. And he's already had a pretty full career. Which is nice.

I'll say that this may be Heyward's best season since joining the Cubs. Yes, last year was kind of nice, but this is the first we're seeing of 2015-esque league dominance Heyward, and it's a welcome presence in this lineup. He understands, I think, that he's not a home-run hitter anymore, but he's still great at hits and RBIs, and is one of the main producers of a team of dominators. Yes, thankfully the Cubs have Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo to hit home runs, but Heyward might be one of the more consistent members of the team, which is nice.

The Cubs, currently a game over Milwaukee, are doing pretty well. Javier Baez is running the team, Kyle Schwarber's having his best season to date, David Bote and Ben Zobrist have been lights-out off the bench, and Cole Hamels has been back to his old self in 3 starts with the team. There's a pretty specific element of power with this team, one that wasn't even this prevalent in previous iterations of this team. The pitching, while not at 2016 levels, is still sharp- Mike Montgomery has been great as 5th starter, and while Jon Lester's start quality has gone down, Kyle Hendricks has picked up the ace mantle.

This team needs to get a definite lead over the Brewers if they want to truly pave the way to a great postseason. They're at the point where they could do well, but they could get lost in the picture. Remember, the Cubs have made the NLCS three years in a row, and they'd need one more push to make it to tying the Cardinals' recent record of 4. I think they can do well this postseason, but...with the Brewers right behind, it could be tricky.

Coming Tomorrow- With injuries to the top performers, it's up to a perennial standout to try and save the hype of a Surefire Playoff Team that fell far from the mark.

No Competition? No Problem!

The Indians are going to win the AL Central. This much is absolutely certain.

This is one of those freak years where 4 teams in a division are absolutely terrible, and one happens to be really good. The Indians have the luxury of not having to be INCREDIBLE this season, just better than the competition. And so far, they've been exactly that. The outfield has been a bit more disappointing than usual, and some of the flagship hitters have been mildly disappointing, but with a pitching staff like that, it's not a huge loss.

The bullpen has DEFINITELY improved since June, with Brad Hand being a better closer than Cody Allen, Neil Ramirez has improved his ERA, Andrew Miller is back with a vengeance, and Oliver Perez is still riding pretty high. The rotation is still strong, even with Shane Bieber bringing up the rear. The Ramirez-Lindor duo is still hella powerful, and the team is still winning games.

I do worry about how a team that's been coasting like this will stack up against teams that have arguably had to work harder for their playoff spots, but...they're the Indians. They've been solid for the past few years, and they've worked off of the same base. I imagine they'll make their usual effort, so...other teams should proceed with caution.

Coming Tonight: 3 years ago, he was one of the biggest stars in the game. Now, he's not AS good, but he's still a member of one of the strongest teams in baseball.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Stronger Than an Injured Bullpen

The Atlanta Braves, as powerful as they have been this season, have had one...increasingly hysterical problem. Nearly every single member of their bullpen has wound up on the DL.

And even worse, their bullpen had been doing pretty well this year. Arodys Vizcaino had taken up the closer position, Shane Carle was working well in middle relief, Max Fried was beginning a move to the rotation...and they all just went down, leaving only AJ Minter and Dan Winkler to...try and hold the fort, while the rest of the team prospered. For a little while, the Braves' front office just hoped the starters would be good enough to not need a ton of relievers.

Thankfully, the trade deadline brought Darren O'Day and Brad Brach from Baltimore, and they've been lights-out ever since arriving in Atlanta. They also brought up Chase Sobotka, who's been steady in middle relief as well. So things are beginning to turn around, and as more relievers begin to hang on, they'll be in the clear.

Despite the bullpen calamity, the Braves wound up tied for first with Philadelphia, and I can see why they have the momentum- some people on this team, like Ronald Acuna, Kevin Gausman and Freddie Freeman, are simply propelling them to the top, regardless of logic. Dansby Swanson's season is definitely an improvement over his 2017, but he's still hanging on and making the best of his improved gameplay. Only Julio Teheran is throwing over a 4.0 ERA in the rotation- Gausman, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz are all way under.

This team isn't perfect, and needs to retool one or two sections of the team, but they're keeping the Phillies on the ropes, and this year, that's not easy to do.

Coming Tomorrow- Meant to post this last week, but a trade got in the way. Here he is, the Indians' oft-injured star.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Smoak on the Water

(Music Pun Streak #2. Had to)

This is a very curious bad team we have on our hands here. An aging catcher who's batting under the Mendoza line currently has a 2.3 WAR, second-most on the squad. The franchise guy's been injured for most the year, but still has a 1.0 WAR. And the guy leading the team...is Justin Smoak.

Man, I knew the Blue Jays wouldn't be the same after the 2016 run, but...this is pathetic. I kinda feel bad for them, too. Curtis Granderson and Kendrys Morales have become imperative home-run producers, and Kevin Pillar's too imperfect to be the everyman. Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman have too many bad days to be the ace, and there's no concrete closer. So it's bad...but it's just messy, too. Which isn't fun.

There are people doing a nice job on this team, and they've accumulated a ton of young stars, like Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz and Teoscar Hernandez and Richard Urena, but, again, there's too much of a disconnect between its older stars, the ones running the team, and the youth, who are attempting to. The dissonance is making it hard to win games, and harder for the team to establish an identity outside of this season.

I don't know where the offseason will leave them. Will the aging stars leave? Will the youth leave? Will they completely clean house? I have no idea. But the Blue Jays, as powerful as they can be in fleeting moments, need to do something, or else they might be lapped by the Orioles next year. And 2 years after a ALCS run, I don't think they want that.

Coming Tonight:A guy with a pompous name doing good work with a...yeah, first place team.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Paint it, Blackmon

(Screw it, a new Music Pun streak starts now, with some Stones)

For a third-place team, the Rockies are surprisingly tight. Compact. Small bench, small bullpen, solid rotation. Pretty much every big decision has been penciled in, and everything seems to be efficient for them. Which is...nice, I guess.

The thing about the Rockies as that nothing they're doing...isn't working, per se. It's just, some things aren't working as well as they are in Phoenix or LA. How's the bullpen? Definitely improved, after Seung-Hwan Oh landed, and Scott Oberg's ERA improved, but Arizona's is still the better of the three. How's the bench? Minimal, and with good stuff from David Dahl and (finally) Ryan McMahon, but compared to the more high-scale bench in LA, it's nothing. How's the rotation? So much better; Jon Gray's finally making things work, Marquez is doing better, and Tyler Anderson and Kyle Freeland have been untouchable lately. Of course, the Anderson-Freeland combo may lack the punch of the Greinke-Corbin combo, or even the Kershaw-Stripling.

How's the lineup? Well, they're hitting, at least. Blackmon, Parra, Story and Desmond are all hitting pretty damned well, especially for power. Yes, Nolan Arenado just landed on the DL, but the team doesn't seem to be in panic mode yet. However, Arenado's does hinder them defensively, as several starters have negative WAR due to poor defensive work (looking at you, Blackmon). Defense may be an afterthought in a hitter's park like Coors Field, but it still matters if you're chasing a Wild Card spot.

And yes, the Rox are 3.5 games away from the WC spot. But, then again, so are the (gulp) Cardinals...and the Pirates are a game and a half behind them. So they may need to be better than 'compact' in order to stand out in this crowded race.

Coming Tomorrow- A very streaky first baseman that's one of the few people who's stuck around in Toronto.

Could You At Least Wait Until After I've Posted The Custom to Trade the Guy?

Less than an hour after I made this custom yesterday, I hear news that the Marlins have traded him to Philadelphia.

Which...okay, not a BAD move, just...I was planning on posting this damn thing in a few weeks, when it came up in the rotation. And now I have to take it out of the rotation right after making it, and post it now so it doesn't feel belated. That's what I just had to do with the Fernando Rodney custom.

I mean...either I should stop scheduling customs so far in advance, or teams should just stop making big trades after July 31st. Because it's hard to do customs this month without hitting a minefield.

Again, I appreciate the move in terms of bringing a big hitter to Philly, but...now I've gotta make another Marlins custom, and I don't like doing that!

Charlie Morton's Career Turnaround

Two years ago, Charlie Morton pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies. I can't believe I have to remind people of this now.

He pitched 4 games, had a 4.00 ERA, 19 strikeouts, and...got injured, I think. So the Phils, naturally, didn't pick him back up, and let him sign with Houston.

...where he promptly became a stellar third-starter, topped 10 wins for the first time in his career, had his lowest ERA, his highest amount of strikeouts, and won a World Series.

Philly certainly knows talent.

This year, Morton has the MLB-best W/L ratio, with a 12-2 record, as well as leading the Astros in wins. It's a tough rotation to lead something in, with Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole playing just as well, but Morton, at 35, has finally gotten things worked out, is playing better than he's ever been, and is part of a powerful, postseason-bound roster that might try and build a dynasty off of last year's WS win.

The one concerning thing for the Astros has been the loss of Correa, Springer and Altuve, and now Lance McCullers, but Correa has made his return, and Springer and Altuve are on the way. Things don't seem to be irreparable here, as even if the BIG THREE are out, Alex Bregman is having his best year, Tony Kemp is doing well in the outfield, and Evan Gattis is still a powerful DH. There aren't any concerning over-arching problems for the Astros, which is nice.

Still, with the A's catching up, the Astros will need to keep this momentum going, and hopefully Charlie Morton will continue to add to the offensive.

Coming Tonight: Another guy named Charlie, this one...with a larger beard.