Saturday, August 27, 2016

Not Exactly What You'd Call Ready to Rock

(This custom has been waiting in the bin since May 28th. About time.)
So...while the NL West has been a race between the Dodgers and Giants, and right now the Dodgers are far ahead of the Giants...we have to remember that there are still two other teams in that division, and not all of them are terrible.

I mean...two of them are. Yeah. As you were, San Diego and Arizona. Nono, I want to talk about the Rockies, because aside from their pitching, which is hard to keep in good condition in a homer-heavy ballpark like Coors Field, they're not in the worst place.

If nobody leaves after the season, this is a pretty solid lineup. The infield is Mark Reynolds, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado. Reynolds is injured right now, but hopefully the Rockies will get him back next season, as he's been pretty nice so far. The outfield WAS Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez and Charlie Blackmon...but then David Dahl came along and started hitting like it was his job. So, there's even some depth if there if CarGo leaves in the offseason, or if they keep CarGo and git rid of Parra or something.

People are hitting, and if it weren't for some structural problems, the Rockies would be a lot better off. But the important thing is that the foundation for a good team is there...they just have to rework it a little.

Coming Tonight- Our monthly reminder that the Rays still exist this year.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Full Range

When the Rangers came to power back in June, there was a lot of 'hmmm', 'eeeerrghh', 'I don't knowww..' in regards to the team's chances to stay on top. I mean, this was a pretty lopsided division, with even the teams in 2nd and 3rd having to fix severe structural issues, so the Rangers were probably going to walk away with it, but they still had a few injuries, and their main problem was their lack of a strong catcher, with Robinson Chirinos struggling to stay healthy, and Bryan Holaday and Bobby Wilson unsuitable, non-hitting options.

Enter Jonathan Lucroy.

Now...with a strong catcher adding to the already-strong remainder of the lineup, and Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis shortly returning to the already-tight pitching staff...the lead's secured. The Rangers might actually waltz to the end.

Lucroy's been hitting pretty well for the team, and even the newest addition, Carlos Gomez, is actually back to his Milwaukee progress in his three games with the team. This is now a more complete, fuller, more powerful team, and even with the Mariners on a slight incline since the end of July, they may just give the Rangers the AL West title now.

This is a team that's been at the very top, and very bottom of the league...and has made the right moves to get where they are right now. This is a young team, with enough veteran players to keep the credibility high. Cole Hamels, Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond are having some amazing seasons when nobody really thought they would. Hamels is a sleeper Cy Young candidate, Beltre just made his HOF chances a tad better, and Ian Desmond has proved he's got more depth from being a power hitter from Washington.

I'm already predicting that this will be a very heated postseason, because the Rangers will be out for blood. They may not be the fun choice like the Cubs that all the bandwagoners can get behind...but they can win games like nobody else can.

Coming Tomorrow- An outfielder who's been traveling a bit lately, and is doing some nice work in Denver.

The Unsung Hero of the Best Team in Baseball

I believe I've already talked at great length about how wonderful the Chicago Cubs have been doing this season. Several...several times. To the point where all 29 other teams have got to be sick of it by now.

But here...I need to talk about Dexter Fowler. Because this is a guy that people counted out years ago, and now he's become one of the more unlikely sources of power for the Cubs.

Keep in mind...Fowler wasn't even supposed to be playing for the Cubs this year. Thanks to the Cubbies locking up Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber (so they thought) and Jorge Soler, they really didn't need Dexter Fowler back at the top of the season, so he was left to sign somewhere else, and...he almost did. For a few weeks, we kind of assumed Fowler would be suiting up the Orioles, which would have changed that dynamic and potentially brought them a few more wins than they have right now (which is plenty).

However, at the last second, Fowler opted out in favor of going back to Chicago, where he had one of his best offensive seasons since coming up with the Rockies. And that was an amazing decision, because thanks to Fowler, the Cubs have become the best team in baseball by far. Yes, Dexter Fowler, the guy everybody took out of their binders after a quiet 2011 season, is one of the prime players in Chicago.

It's because he was finally given a proper place for his abilities, and because he had the right kind of roster to fit into and thrive with. He's obviously not the star of the show, but he can come in when you least expect it and do something really cool. He's also a nice base-stealer, and a pretty decent defensive outfielder. He's one of those five-tool guys that the Cubs weren't expecting to just have handed to them (thanks to a trade with Houston in '15).

Fowler's probably going to be a huge part of the playoff effort once September comes (in a few days), and will probably be one to watch for in some tough games. I love that he's come this far, and I love that he might go farther.

Coming Tonight- The exact person the Rangers needed to pick up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

And Somehow the Royals Have Come Back

I don't think the Royals are going to be able to finish the season in first place this year- that ship has sadly sailed...but they're making a heck of a case for literally every other position in the divisional standings this season- they can't decide on one, really. Right now they're gaining like heck on the Tigers for 2nd place, but any other point in the season they could be circling 4th or 5th- they're an inconstant team that doesn't know what they want.

Right now they've won nine games in a row, thanks to the revival of the pitching staff, and people like Danny Duffy giving solid performances in the absence of a lot of the injured, struggling players. Billy Burns, shipped in from Oakland, is doing a pretty solid job and is giving some nice average stuff.

And this is...roughly a month after the Royals essentially threw in the towel and slumped their way underneath the White Sox to take fourth. It's a zig-zaggy kind of year for them, which is pretty sad after they had a solid, constant incline last year.

I don't know if this means they'll be vying for the Wild Card, and I honestly don't think their roster's in the proper condition for a postseason run. Honestly, I think they'll just spend the rest of the season just where they are, in third.

Coming Tomorrow- A career reclamation story years in the making...and, of course, it's happening in Chicago.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Maybe This Wasn't Such a Good Idea: Diamondbacks Edition

Last year, around this time, I was mourning the San Diego Padres, how they'd tried so hard to accumulate enough stars to compete, but still couldn't. And now...around the same time, I'm saying the same things about the Arizona Diamondbacks., there's just nothing going on there this year, man.

The guys that they brought to the team, like Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke, just aren't getting it done. Yes, the hitters like Jean Segura, Paul Goldschmidt and Yasmany Tomas are perfectly fine, but this is a flawed team, one that has a ton of pieces loose. You can sign whoever the hell you want in January, but new, big contracts aren't gonna help a team with structural problems that have been running since arounnnnd 2013.

This is a team that revolves around Paul Goldschmidt, and thrived on homegrown, impressive pitching, and now that all the contracts were thrown in, it's a bit more...artificial. Goldschmidt's still powerful, but there's scattered emphasis, and a lot of guys who were trying to come up and do big things, like David Peralta and Chris Owings, are struggling.

It's a sad situation, and I do see them doing the same amount of shaving-off that the Padres have been doing this year, when it comes down for the 2017 rosters. Even worse, I don't know if they're gonna hold onto Goldschmidt.

Still...they'll win games and there'll be standouts, but it's not enough. It's a muddied team that put money on the wrong horses, and can only wait until the offseason to regroup.

Coming Tomorrow- Finally, something involving pitching in Kansas City that's worth blogging about!

Nationals vs. Orioles 8/22/16: Not Especially a Pitching Battle...

There were a few reasons why I bought tickets to my third MLB game of the year, this one back in Camden Yards, one of those parks I've been to a billion times:

1. It was a week until I went back to school, and I wanted to fit one more in- my dad and I had planned on going to Fenway this year, but it had become clear due to a few logistical factors that this wouldn't happen. So, we compromised and went to Baltimore.
2. The O's are pennant contending, it'd been 4 years and I wanted to see them, especially in a home stand against the regional rivals the Nationals.
3. The schedule said the matchup would be Stephen Strasburg against Dylan Bundy, and there was no way I was passing that shit up.

So, my dad and I made the brief, by comparison, pilgrimage to Baltimore, and were instantly reminded why we love that stadium. It's just so homey and cool and fun, and there are a ton of elements that just make it a very relaxed place to watch a game- you can see they were trying to replicate someplace like Ebbets Field when they made it.

One of the other reasons why this was such a good game for me was that today, they were doing a giveaway for essentially everybody that made it out- they gave out free Wicker-design baseball caps, with the old 80's logo (like the one on the Britton custom) on it. As a guy who cannot have enough baseball caps, I couldn't refuse.

By the time my dad and I got to our seats, which were pretty nice, especially compared to our usual 'all-the-way-up-at-the-top' seats, we realized that there had been a slight...snag in the plan. Stephen Strasburg had JUUUUUUUST been put on the DL, and in his place, the Nationals were starting a recently-called-up AAA pitcher, A.J. Cole. And...needless to say I felt a bit betrayed. Yes, I'd be seeing Harper and Werth and Trea Turner and all those guys, but...Strasburg pitching would have been so cool.

The O's were starting Dylan Bundy, and, yes, this factor was the same when the O's actually went on the field. But...after an inning of play, it seemed like people were wishing it wasn't- Bundy allowed a run in the first inning, and he was looking more like his wild, clumsy self that he was trying to perfect when he went back to the minors in '14.

And don't get me wrong, Bundy can still throw strikes and be dominant, but when he gets you a win, it's a hard win, and he'll have given up a few home runs here and there- he's not all the way there, but he can still give strikeouts and keep the team down ENOUGH.

Around me in the seats were a nice mix of Nats and O's fans. There was an incredibly excited Baltimore fan sitting next to me, female (which is refreshing), sitting next to her not-quite-as-into-it boyfriend. She said she'd called some Trumbo magic before the game, and she was just waiting for him to do something impressive. Knowing Mark Trumbo, and how he's been this year...I wasn't exactly swatting it down.

Third inning, it wasn't Trumbo that hit the home run off of the surprisingly-dominant was Jonathan Schoop, who was batting eighth in the lineup, yet this was his 20th home run of the year. My dad turned to me, and said "when your #8 guy is hitting 20 homers, you're doing pretty damn well."

It was actually a pretty close race- just when Schoop had homered to tie it, Anthony Rendon got up and hit one out himself, bringing the lead by one back.

And then...the magic that the section-mate had been referring to had begun to unfold. Machado hit a double that Ben Revere bobbled, and Chris Davis doubled himself to score Machado. And then...Mark Trumbo got up. The girl next to me already knew what was about to happen. I just didn't believe her yet.


The ball looked like it was just reaching an arc by the time it had already crossed over the fence. The entire place went wild, and I turned to the girl, who had this 'what'd I tell ya' look on her face. The score was 4-2, and things were looking pretty nice.

As the game sort of gelled into a routine, and as Bundy began to lose steam, the Nationals fan, bluntly honest with a beer in his hand, sitting in front of us began to throw this game into the routine. When Danny Espinosa hit a one-run home run to bring it to 4-3, he was astonished. 'ESPINOZA hit a homer? Espinosa SUCKS!' he exclaimed, mostly in jest. When Revere got him, he turned to me and went 'this guy's even worse than Espinosa.'

For a while, it turned into a battle of the relievers. Brad Brach did get in there and got himself out of an incredibly tight squeeze in the eighth, after Daniel Murphy fouled up the potentially tie by trying to steal on a play that...he had no business stealing on. After Brach got out of the eighth, to quote the Nats fan, now embittered, 'game's basically over now.'

And then 'For Those About to Rock' by AC/DC began to play at the top of 9...and every O's fan knew exactly what was about to happen. Zach Britton, one of the best, most horrifying closers in baseball, entered the field. And just the stuff he started shelling out when he was warming up...if I had to bat against that, I'd probably wet myself.

It was simple enough, as he shut down Espinosa and Revere pretty easily...but then Trea Turner got up, and he gave up three straight walks. 'Come on now', my Dad said optimistically, 'let's not get off on a bad foot'.

I had a similar approach. "Come on Zach. Show 'em why all those Cy Young talks mean something.'

And then...the strikes began to show up. Until it was full count, and everybody in the house was standing. They wanted to see this with their own eyes.

Strike three. Birdland explodes.

Baltimore's one of those cities where, they win a game, and everybody in your row becomes your best friend. Cleveland's like that too. But everybody around me, every O's fan around me, was slapping high fives. It felt pretty nice.

The fact is that last year, I went to four MLB games, and this year I went to three. And the home team won every single one, all seven. I like to consider myself the good luck charm.

Still...hell of a game all around, and I'm glad I went. I hope the O's can build on this one.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Nearly-Impossible Mariners Comeback

Back in July, I saw the Mariners take on another wayward middling team, the Pirates, in Pittsburgh. This was actually pretty evenly matched- two uneven teams with momentum waning and elements taking them back. That night the Pirates embarrassed them, taking their pitching yard several times throughout the night.

However...since the deadline, the Mariners have been fiercely fighting back, with Felix Hernandez back in full form, the lineup of Cano, Seager, Cruz and friends catching fire, and the Astros absolutely buckling against them. A team that started out the season with high hopes and high numbers could be getting back there sooner than we thought.

Felix Hernandez, in any hair color, is one of the best pitchers of the last ten years, and one of the most infuriating strikeout artists in baseball; what he's done by his age is pretty amazing, and the fact that he's still pretty sharp is a wonder for the M's, who are recovering from some pitching problems (and the loss of Wade Miley). Nate Karns and Hisashi Iwakuma are improving and the depth of the lineup is allowing for some clutch home runs.

I'll argue that it will be tough with the Astros fighting for it too, as the M's still have a lot of problems to attend to, but it should be fun to see them fighting for the rest of the season.

Coming Tomorrow- A hard-hitting infielder that's one of the few consistent sources of power in Phoenix.