Monday, September 24, 2018

The Toddfather Part III (aka, the one that's not as good as the others)


I wonder aloud what would have happened here if this Mets team had stayed healthy throughout the year, or if players who had been so strong in 2017 had stayed hot this year. If Cespedes, Bruce, Frazier and Lagares had all stayed healthy and consistent and given us a red-hot core of the lineup, or if we hadn't had Thor and Matz peek in and out of the rotation like usual.

And...maybe that would have been enough to stop the Braves. But even then, I'm not sure.

This Mets team, without David Wright (now indefinitely), or without Daniel Murphy, is scattered in terms of priority. This year it was simply young and old players fighting for a spotlight, taking turns, and just playing more of a selfish game rather than a unified one. If Cespedes were healthy, maybe it would have been different.

Look, the one silver lining of this team was Jacob deGrom. People everywhere are calling for a Cy Young for his dominant, strikeout-heavy season. I'd personally suggest really crunching his numbers with Max Scherzer's, as this is clearly another Felix vs. CC kind of 'should the guy with more wins get it, or should the guy on the shittier team who just dominated get it?' matchup. But regardless of whatever happens during awards week, Jacob deGrom was phenomenal this year, and had arguably his best season to date, even with his trademark long hair. I hope he keeps playing this well for the rest of his career.

I don't know where this leaves the 2019 Mets. If the team will heal in time to be an integral piece of the division. It's not clear. It could happen, but...that would mean the Mets would need to do a lot of work this offseason. Especially on safety nets, in case of more injuries, because they were not ready. Not even remotely.

But...they can be.

Coming Tonight: He closed games for a team that was good enough to be in 2nd, but not good enough to be anywhere near the 1st place team.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Top Seeded Sox (And Why That Might Not be a Good Thing)


The Red Sox are the absolute team to beat right now, a week away from the playoffs. They are well over 100 wins, they have a stellar lineup, a fantastic pitching rotation, and they have enough bench and bullpen support to ensure security for the foreseeable future.

Except...here's the problem. They're seeded first overall in the AL. In recent history, only a few teams seeded first have managed to win the whole thing. Several, like the 2016 Rangers, the 2017 Indians and the 2014 Angels, couldn't get out of the first round. Why? Because the upward momentum of a Wild Card champion is sometimes enough to withstand a surging #1 team with a bye.

So, the Red Sox are either looking at a five-game series with either the New York Yankees, who they've easily beaten a few times this year, and the Oakland Athletics, who they've played less but still lost to four times out of six. I feel like they'd prefer the Yankees at this point. But even now, they don't know what kind of momentum the Yankees could show up with? Perhaps enough to act as karma for the 2004 ALCS? Or am I getting ahead of myself?

Look, the Red Sox, in order to ensure that somebody like Oakland or New York...or even, like, Houston, doesn't embarrass them next month, they NEED to lock down on their momentum. Because they've dropped a few matchups lately to teams they could be facing off against, like Houston, Cleveland and the Yankees. And while other teams, like the Astros, are ZOOMING into the playoff season, the Red Sox are stuttering. And a team that's been as powerful as the Sox this year can't be stuttering now. Especially since they've lost in the ALDS the past two years.

The Sox have three more series' left. One against Cleveland, one against the Yankees, and one against Baltimore. It would be wise to win more than just the Baltimore one.

Coming Tomorrow- A guy who figured it'd be a wise idea to return to New York this year, except he picked the wrong borough.

Defying the Odds (but not Inevitability)


So, the Dodgers are a few games away from winning the NL West. If this was March, it wouldn't be a shock. If this was May, it definitely would be.

The Dodgers had one of those unlucky stretches where all their viable pitching options got injured, most of their lineup was slumping, and the teams that they kept to Wild Card threats last year, the Rockies and Diamondbacks, took hold of the division, leaving them to sort of mope around in third and fourth for most of the year. And that was kind of depressing, especially considering that these guys nearly won the World Series last year.

But once this team reconfigured, got healthy, and found the strike zone...things immediately got better. I don't know how it all turned around at once, but seeing this team rise from third and become a true contender was pretty damned nice, even grabbing Manny Machado out of the claws of Philadelphia (for now), and getting bit players like Brian Dozier, Ryan Madson and David Freese to help with the playoff push. And the lineup went from just Matt Kemp doing well to the rest of the offensive, like Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, Yasiel Puig and Cody Bellinger, springing back to life.

And yes...once Clayton Kershaw stepped off the DL, he was back to his normal, unhittable self. Which definitely helps.

So, in a matter of days, I can only imagine they'll be grabbing the third seed, and securing a spot in the NLDS against the Atlanta Braves. And now that they're here, they need to prove that they're better than a team that's been good all year. The Braves have only improved once they figured out the winning combination, and while the Dodgers' pitching may outweigh the Braves', they have some crafty elements that may still stymie LA during this series.

A Dodgers run could definitely happen, even if it's a bit less likely than last year. But seeing as Jansen's back to his old tricks, and Puig's hot as hell...I'm certainly not ruling it out.

Coming Tonight: This year, the Red Sox have relied on three veterans to fill the shoes of the injured Dustin Pedroia. Here's the best of the three.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

That's No Bull


The Astros of this era are so fantastic, and so eclectic, that they even have room for simply just a big guy that just hits home runs. And they're still a good team.

The Astros managed to notch their playoff spot today, and confirm that they'll be squaring off against the Indians in a few weeks, which will definitely be an interesting matchup. Two former AL champions enter, only one exits. And the winner plays either the best team in baseball, or the Wild Card winner. Judging by how the Indians-Red Sox matchups have been going, and how their August went with Oakland, I think the Astros will be better off going up against someone like the Yankees.

It's slightly evident that the Astros may not be as wholly dominant as their 2017 team, even if they do have an insanely potent rotation. Their bullpen is spottier, their lineup is less consistent, the bench has a few more holes, and one of the marquee stars, Carlos Correa, is feeling back stiffness. This is also a team that's relying more on pitching, and less on big stars like Springer and Altuve, with more emphasis on Alex Bregman as the team batting leader. I'm not saying this shift in priority is bad, I'm just saying it's different, and it's the kind of tactic that may not get them as far.

Plus, to say the Astros and Indians are kind of evenly matched is pretty apt. Both have the same types of pitching staffs, both have similarly re-organized lineups, and both could be a threat to the Red Sox for the AL spot.

What will separate the Astros from anyone else is how hard they're willing to go, and how much they want to batter down on opponents going into the playoffs. Because if they want to win their second in a row, they need to build some major momentum now, because the A's currently have more. I do think they can do some serious damage this postseason, but they need to work towards it.

Coming Tomorrow- He's had a rocky season, but his team's about to clinch the NL West, so...there's that.

Two More Rack Packs of 2018 Topps Archives

Yeah. More. I'm still trying to complete the set. Expect a wantlist to go up soon after this is posted.

Pack 1-
88- Paul DeJong. Dupe, sadly
38- Marcus Stroman. As is this
100- Kris Bryant. And this one, which at least I get to keep for my binders
29- Dansby Swanson
18- Ozzie Albies. This one's also a dupe, so I've been having good luck with Braves rookies lately
78- Red Schoendienst. All of my 59s were dupes, but there's all still good cards.
175- Ryan McMahon. Now THIS ONE I need..
157- Alcides Escobar. Now we've hit a stride
158- Travis D'Arnaud, the oft-injured one
155- Hunter Pence. Glad we're obliterating my 150s needs here.
113- Robin Yount. This one's sadly a dupe though
Dodgers Future Stars- Verdugo, Buehler, Farmer. Buehler's the best of the three
1993 Coming Attractions of MIGUEL ANDUJAR. GREAT ONE.
297- Willie Stargell. Not too far off photographically from his actual 81T issue.
299- Mike Trout. Needed this one, and thank god I pulled it rather than having to pay 5 bucks for it.
222- Jose Ramirez, a great season so far
209- Starlin Castro. The 81 Marlins ones are odd, but I'm fine with them.
296- Gregory Polanco. So this pack, I needed all the 81s, and all but one of the 77s. Not bad.

Pack 2-
34- Anthony Rendon. More 59 dupes
62- Addison Russell. This one too
36- Adam Jones
74- Anthony Banda
49- Bobby Doerr. Like the other 59s, a dupe, but at least this one goes into the binder, next to all the rare Bobby Doerr modern issues.
108- Amed Rosario. AND WE'RE BACK WITH NEEDS
182- Lou Boudreau, another rarity for modern releases
145- Willie McCovey, which I did have
178- Satchel Paige, another dupe for the rarely-Topps-carded legend
172- James McCann
118- Jacob deGrom. Only 2 77 needs, and...
123- Joey Lucchesi SILVER BORDER PARALLEL NUMBERED TO 99. So, while this is a cool low-numbered card of the Padres rookie...I also need the non-parallel version of this card.
Coming Attractions of Walker Buehler. Which I have already
207- Luiz Gohara. And back to 81 needs to the rescue.
211- Chance Sisco. The rest of these are also needs
262- A happy looking Ralph Kiner
248- An even happier-looking Wade Boggs.
201- Roberto Clemente. Great card, too.

So I did get a bunch of cards for the set, but...not many of them were 59s. Which isn't bad per se, just...I'd appreciate some 59 needs show up in packs one of these days.

So, You Let the Cardinals into the Playoffs (Possibly)


Now, I can't exactly confirm that this is happening, but...seeing the direction the Cards are going, and also seeing the direction the Rockies are going...I can only imagine this is how it's going to go.

The Cardinals, who began this season flirting with last, have decided ONCE AGAIN to spring into the playoff conversation halfway through the year. I don't know why they do it this way, they just seem to think it's the right idea. Anyway, they've developed a really nice young rotation/cavalry of arms, they've developed a ton of rookie position players who are starting, and they've managed to completely revitalize the team without being overshouted by veterans and contracts. Granted, not everything has worked, like the acquisitions of Matt Adams and Tyson Ross, and the back half of the bullpen, but this is a fine, sturdy team.

Now...I don't really know if they're a playoff team. But that's just what they want you to think. They're likely going to be facing off against the Brewers for the WC spot, and that's one that I'd rather go to Milwaukee, solely because they've had a phenomenal year, and I'd hate for dumb luck to keep them from a playoff run for the UMPTEENTH TIME. The Brewers have only gone so far as winning the NLDS in recent years...and then going up against the Cardinals in the playoffs and frigging losing. It would be nice for a team that never really catchers a break, like the Brewers, to defeat a team that always gets really lucky, like the Cardinals.

And yes, I'll admit there is legitimate talent in this Cardinals team...but all four other NL playoff teams have more talent, and deserve the playoff spot more than they do. The Brewers deserve the right to square off against the Cubs in the NLDS for supremacy, and potentially take down Atlanta or LA for the right for full MLB supremacy. I can't really say the Cards deserve that this year.

Coming Tonight: He's big, strong, and hits home runs. And his team's seeded second.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Show of Hand


Well, not only are the Cleveland Indians headed to the playoffs for the third straight year, but they're doing so with more than one viable bullpen option. Because along with Oliver Perez's scarily consistent work, they also have the return of Andrew Miller, and Brad Hand as their new closer. Yes, Dan Otero can occasionally relieve a game without giving up 20 runs, but as long as they have that solid core, they're better off than they were in June.

Oh yeah, and they also still have one of the toughest pitching rotations in baseball. All four of the Kluber-Bauer-Clevinger-Carrasco combo have been churning out amazing numbers this year (with Clevinger the only one under 200 strikeouts, though he'll rectify that in his next start). And even if the fifth man has to be Shane Bieber or Adam Plutko, it's not likely they'll need to start them in the playoffs.

And yes, the lineup is still pretty great. The Indians have surprised me in that even if most of their outfield options have gotten injured, they've still gotten by on using Greg Allen, Rajai Davis and Melky Cabrera. To that end, this team has a pseudo-2016 feel to it- guys you wouldn't expect to help a playoff team being integral parts. And still, there's a 40-home run DP combo, an MVP on the bench, and some genuine talent pulling walk-offs. There's some under-the-radar dominant qualities to this team that may bring them a lot of good luck in their eventual series with the Astros.

Could the Tribe go further than last year? Possibly. The 'Stros series could be tough, but I'm not ruling it out. Could they go further than 2016? ...I'm not ruling that out either.

Coming Tomorrow- It's looking like he may get the last Wild Card spot, which may or not spell doom for the rest of the league.

Two Hanger Boxes of 2018 Topps Heritage High Numbers

As usual, Topps has managed to put out an Update version of Heritage that would have been timely in about June. Not that it's a bad set, it's just...similar to Topps Update (at least last year's set, though I'm fearing this will apply to this year's as well), it doesn't mean much if it's trying to update uniforms that have themselves already been updated. Plus, not every rookie here is timely, and there are some that have lost relevance months ago that are here.

Nevertheless, I got two Hanger Boxes. I'm going to try and review this set as fairly as I can, though, that said, I'm going to have a running tally of players who've been traded since release. Because I can only be so kind.

Box #1-
580- Ronald Acuna. LITERALLY THE FIRST CARD I PULL is probably the only card worth pulling according to most of the blogosphere. I guess I've peaked.
517- Jonathan Lucroy, the sole A's starter not hitting over 10 home runs.
551- Tyler Clippard. Kinda done with him, tbh. He hasn't been consistent in a while.
545- Preston Tucker
634- Dylan Cozens. A rare Phillies rookie that didn't do much this year.
526- Steven Souza Jr.
590- Dereck Rodriguez, one of the only other non-Yankee rookies I cared about pulling.
591- Kevin Plawecki
550- Leonys Martin. Outdated Update #1- Martin is not only on the Indians, but also on the DL.
671- Carlos Gomez. A shame this guy really couldn't perform well outside of Milwaukee.
569- Greg Holland
572- Tyler Skaggs, the Angels best non-Ohtani arm this year
687- Roberto Perez
587- Brandon McCarthy, a better Twitter presence than ballplayer at this point, sadly.
680- Cheslor Cuthbert
701- Stephen Piscotty
69 Yellow insert of ICHIRO, which is nice
Now and Then insert of Shohei Ohtani, which is also nice
Deckle Edge of Scott Kingery. Nice to pull a Phillie one of these.
639- Anibal Sanchez
613- Christian Arroyo, who sort of lost his use after the Rays called up Willy Adames
573- Max Stassi, who sort of lost his use after the Astros traded for Martin Maldonado
689- Wade Davis
679- Carson Smith
595- FREDDY GALVIS. Kinda disappointed in SD, but still pretty cool.
676- Keynan Middleton, who needs to stay healthy in order to be a great reliever
507- Jacob Barnes
625- Mitch Moreland
645- Tyson Ross. Outdated Update #2- Now on the Cardinals, but I appreciate that we got one last Padres issue of him.
593- Jaime Barria
678- Drew Robinson
566- Adam Ottavino, one of the few decent relievers in Colorado this year
552- Adeiny Hechavarria. Outdated Update #3- Traded to Pittsburgh, then to the Bronx
516- Hector Velazquez
597- Luis Valbuena

Box 2-
691- Brock Holt, now kinda back to being an impressive bench bat
620- Jordan Hicks RC, which is nice.
577- Jesse Biddle
638- Logan Forsythe. Outdated Update #4- now killing it in Minneapolis.
693- Daniel Palka
640- Anthony Santander, who's 3 rookie outfielders ago for Baltimore.
682- Lance Lynn. Outdated Update #5- now on the Yankees
661- Darren O'Day. Outdated Update #6- Now injured for the Braves
635- Austin Romine. RO. WELL DONE, TOPPS.
652- Seung-Hwan Oh. Outdated Update #7- now with the Rockies
584- Jurickson Profar, who had a nice comeback this year
578- Victor Caratini
586- Mike Gerber
666- Alex Avila. Yeah, that card number says it all for Avila's 2018 season
540- David Bote, who seems like a fun Chicago bench player
Rookie Performers insert of Christian Villanueva
704- Yonder Alonso SP.
502- JUAN SOTO...MINI NUMBERED TO 100. THAT IS A COOL PULL. The future NL ROY (probably) in a cool, low-numbered insert. Very nice.
Award Winners insert of Jose Altuve
674- Isiah Kiner Falefa, one of the more intriguing rookies of the year
622- Jake Odorizzi
502- Juan Soto RC. And even better, now I get the real thing.
514- Matt Duffy
617- Shane Greene, who had a nice year as the Tigers' closer
532- JD Davis
521- Seth Lugo
601- Matt Albers
585- Brian Goodwin. Outdated Update #8, now with Kansas City
695- David Peralta. He...wasn't in Low-Numbered Heritage???
605- Marcus Walden
632- Sergio Romo, who did well as closer for the Rays this year
615- Matt Koch
700- Dan Vogelbach
688- Fernando Romero
648- Austin Jackson. Outdated update #9-traded to Texas, then signed by the Mets, who've been using him insanely well.

Overall...yeah, it's fine. I don't have a ton of problems here, it's just more Heritage, which is always nice. Just...ya gotta be more careful with releasing this in September after a lot of these guys have been traded.

Nat's Life


I'd like to start this post on those...insanely unlucky Washington Nationals...by talking about the New Orleans Saints. Because they're the closest parallel I can think of with these teams.

The Saints were a 60s expansion team, and they were more focused on wild publicity stunts like throwing Carol Channing on an ostrich or something than actually creating good football. It took them two decades until they were finally able to craft a playoff team, and it took them another decade or so to actually get their first playoff win. And then, nine years after that, they finally won a Super Bowl, established a playoff dynasty, and made their fans happy.

But...it took 40 or so years for anything big to happen. Which is where I bring in the Nationals. They've never won a playoff series, even since Montreal. They only went to the playoffs once as the Expos, in the strike-shortened 1981 season; ironically, during the other strike-shortened year, 1994, the Expos finished in 1st place, and would have been a favorite to win the World Series, had one happened that year. The Nats have only made it as far as the NLDS, even with these fantastic teams with Harper, Scherzer and Rendon.

Next year...it's very likely that Bryce Harper will be leaving, after some fantastic peak seasons with the team. He's probably gonna search for a team with a future who can give him money, and...I'm not sure if the Nats have much of a future without him. Heck, Scherzer only has a few more seasons left himself. The Nats, even with Scherzer pitching to Cy Young perfection every year, could be headed for a major downslope without Harper. Their farm system can only produce so much, and with the disappointing morsels of talent I saw at their AAA squad this year, I can only hope there's better players waiting in earlier rungs of the minors.

The Nationals are a great team. Right now, I can name four team legends on this current squad- Harper, Scherzer, Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman. All four are team HOFers for sure. But I'm just worried that that's all they'll have to show for this leg of the team's history.

Coming Tonight: He's already a lock for the playoffs, which is more than I could have said for him when he was still in San Diego.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The 2018 Rays in Summation


I've talked at great detail about the Tampa Bay Rays this year, solely because they're one of the strangest teams ever to be 20 wins over .500. They only have three designated starting pitchers, a gaggle of craftily-used relievers, and their flagship player has taken a backseat to a bunch of rookies. There's no sense baked in here.

First of all, this is a very young team. Only one current starter, Carlos Gomez, is older than 30, and he's probably gone next year. A lot of the heftier pieces of this team were either rookies or really young players: Daniel Robertson, Joey Wendle, Willy Adames, Jake Bauers: all did a nice amount at the plate this year, and have cemented themselves in next year's lineup. Duffy in particular has become the Travis Shaw of this team, commanding things post-trade and making it his own.

And also...Blake Snell had an absolutely incredible season, despite being one of the ugliest successful pitchers since Aaron Harang. I really hope he keeps these numbers up throughout his career, because so far this season, compared to his come-up years, feels either flukey or like it's the new normal (remember, Max Scherzer took a few years to hit his stride, too)

So many intriguing things hiding on this team- Ji-Man Choi hiding behind CJ Cron as backup DH, but not needing to be in the lineup much anyway since Cron has over 30 home runs. Tyler Glasnow's insanely sharp performance on the mound. The resurgence of several former bit players, like Adeiny Hechavarria, Nate Eovaldi, Wilson Ramos and Jonny Venters, before subsequent trades. The use of four different position players as pitchers. Weird stuff.

Weirder still- they finished with a winning record, third in the AL East, after a spectacular last 2 months of the season. They proved that you can still do well in a season where you don't have a ton to work with. Perhaps they could sneak into the race next year, if they keep these strange tactics going.

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of third place teams, a perennial hitter for one that...quite frankly, is pretty confused as to why THEY didn't make the playoffs.

Holz in the Plan


The Arizona Diamondbacks nearly had it this year. Strong performances from the lineup, a new ace emergence, some really scrappy wins. It felt like this would be the year that someone other than the Dodgers would win the NL West.

And then September happened.

And then it was kind of all downhill from there.

Look, I'm not exactly sure what happened, but all I know is that Clay Buchholz got injured, and when that happens, the bottom falls out of the rest of the team, I think. Funny thing is he was doing pretty well this year, which he hasn't really done in a while. He just needs to work on staying healthy and he'll be fine, but...then again, so does Robbie Ray. And Jake Lamb, while we're here.

This D-Backs season comes down to three players, really: Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin. All three were fantastic. Everyone else...for the most part, just sort of carried on behind them. Aside from David Peralta, there weren't that many other people hitting over .250 or playing terrifically. It was just a generally okay team after a while, lifted by one or two standouts. And by September, you saw other teams, like Colorado and the Dodgers, strengthening themselves fully and ascending the standings. At that point, the D-Backs were going the opposite direction.

The once-promising youth core of Lamb-Owings-Ahmed hasn't really amounted to much except a supporting cast. AJ Pollock had a fantastic start and dropped off in the second half. Eduardo Escobar was a fine pickup but only did so much.

Next year, I imagine they'll be able to rebound, but it's going to take getting everyone on the same page, because a lot of usually-reliable people just weren't on this year. And...if they keep Buchholz, they have to avoid what happened with Boston, and keep him healthy and consistent.

Coming Tonight- DH for the single strangest team in the bigs this year.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

LeBlanc Slate


Wade LeBlanc pitching for a team over .500. Who'd have thought?

Wade LeBlanc was one of those rookies for the 2010 Padres that everyone thought would end up panning out, along with the rest of that team. Him and Kyle Blanks. And we all know that Kyle Blanks certainly ended up winning batting titles and not as a perennial bench player for the Giants for a few years.

LeBlanc had us all worried there as well, taking a couple of seasons as a reliever ping-ponging between teams that didn't need him. Eventually he wound up in Seattle, on a Mariners team that had way too few starting options. And so...they used LeBlanc as a starter, and he did pretty damned well for them, providing a constant, powerful presence that nobody else that wasn't Marco Gonzales could seem to supply this year.

The Mariners have tried to develop a team that could withstand injury, slumps, and general bullshit this decade, and it hasn't really happened. Even with Cruz hitting homers, and the one-two of Jean Segura and Dee Gordon, there's still been the James Paxton injuries, Robinson Cano's suspension, and the July skid. It hasn't really been fun since the A's took hold of the WC spot, and while I'd like to say I didn't see it coming...I kinda did. This team's imperfections have sort of been there since April, and it was only a matter of time until the bottom fell out.

Next year should be an improvement...I hope...

Coming Tonight: Another 'got injured while his custom was backlogged' guy...also kinda indicative of his team's plight.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The 2018 Reds Could Have Been Worse


When I went to the Great American Ball Park this summer to see the Reds, I was not expecting much. The team was in last, the pitching was floundering, and it didn't feel like there would be a lot of life in this team.

And...I was sort of right. There's not a ton of life in this Reds team. If there was more life, they'd be chasing the offensive. But there is a ton of charm in this team. Especially in its lineup, where Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez and Jose Peraza all sported some phenomenal numbers. Even defensive specialists, like Tucker Barnhart and Billy Hamilton, did a bang-up job throughout. And even though walkoff hero Jesse Winker hit the DL halfway through the year, Phil Ervin and Mason Williams did well enough as home run-producing bench players, the latter proving that there is indeed life after being a bench player in the bronx.

The pitching was still pretty bad, but there were some exceptions: Matt Harvey managed to recapture his better numbers after a mid-season trade from New York, Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle have kept serviceable numbers, and Raisel Iglesias and Jared Hughes have been fun to watch in the bullpen. They just need to work on...literally everything else about pitching. And then they'll be in better shape.

Looking to 2019, with the likelihood of some NL Central contenders regressing a little bit, we could see the Reds squirm out of fifth. It's a nice thing to hope for, even if it may not happen, but...I dunno, if they keep the right people around, I'm not calling it impossible.

Coming Tomorrow- A journeyman starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-again, doing his best to finish out the season for a playoff hopeful that didn't exactly pan out.

Where Things Went South (Side)


Michael Kopech perfectly represents the White Sox' 2018 season. When he was brought up, people were going wild. He pitched a few lights-out games, made a name for himself as a fearful starting pitcher...and then tore his UCL, and misses the rest of the season. And possibly next season as well.

The White Sox just can't seem to catch a break lately.

And it's sad, because they're shitting away the best years of Jose Abreu's career. By the time he eventually gets out of Chicago, and I imagine it will be soon, he might not be able to make the same-sized impact anywhere else. Even with Yolmer Sanchez and Tim Anderson grounding a pretty alright infield, and Reynaldo Lopez and Carlos Rodon pitching well...they still have a lot undecided, and a lot that isn't working. Their staff ace is James Shields, who hasn't had a good season since leaving Kansas City, and he's been losing 16 games thus far, bringing his career to an embarrassing halt. The other co-leader in home runs, besides Abreu, is Daniel Palka, a bench player turned starting right fielder who has 22 home runs, but lacks the staying power. Their closing pitcher is...Jace Fry? Nate Jones? It's not entirely clear.

It's also not clear how this team will rebound for 2019. I don't know if Abreu's sticking around, or even if Rick Renteria is worth keeping (though good things happened to the last team that fired him), but I do know that something needs to be done. The White Sox need to prove that what's been happening over the last few years isn't the new normal, and that they can be a strong presence in the AL Central again.

Coming Tonight- Closer for a pretty nice last place team.

Monday, September 17, 2018

It All Comes Down to Slamtana


The Phillies may, in fact, be the 2017 Brewers of this season. They had a great run, came up through a mostly youth-movement led charge, held first for a little while, and once it came to the Wild Card season...sort of vanished into the background.

Look, it's honestly not anybody's fault. It's just hard for a team to succeed when their pitching staff is miles ahead of their lineup, even with Wilson Ramos in the mix. This is also a very strikeout-friendly lineup, with a lot of people weighing down their averages with strikeouts, even once-heroic ballplayers like Odubel Herrera. Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana can hit all the home runs they want, but in order for this team to truly work, they NEED to hit for average. Or else there's no point.

This offseason, I would suggest that the Phils try to keep as much of this team around for next year as humanly possible, because there is a chance that Kapler and co can help perfect these guys. There are little things that might need to be done, little changes, that could help this team power past the Braves next year, and it starts with getting the lineup back in line. The little glimpses we saw in July, of this team in first place being awesome? That could be a bit more longer-lasting than we all were thinking.

Coming Tomorrow- He's out for the season, but even then he's kind of perfect to help me eulogize the White Sox.

Congratulations Frank Gore!


Yesterday, Miami Dolphins RB Frank Gore passed Curtis Martin, a legend of the opposing Jets, on the all-time rushing leaders list, nudging Martin off of fourth. It was a fantastic day for Gore, and Miami, and to commemorate that, I might as well post this Stars Are Out custom that's been waiting in my folder for a few months.

Well done, Frank. Onto Sanders, I guess.

It All Comes Down to Slamdujar


The Yankees, with roughly two weeks to go in the season, are looking like they're going to clinch a wild card spot. Yes, the A's are right behind, and they have the momentum, but...the Yankees are still finding some sneaky ways to win. They've been unlucky lately, and have lost a few too many games due to some suspect pitching choices, but they seem to know what they're doing as the playoffs approach.

Part of the strategy seems to be using Miguel Andujar more, and seeing as his rookie season has been phenomenal on multiple levels, it's a noble plan. He and Torres have been a perfectly fine infield duo, both chasing Ohtani for the ROY award, though Andujar deserves a few extra points for not getting injured at all this year, which definitely helps.

It's also been nice having Luke Voit and Andrew McCutchen on the team, as both have been fantastic lineup presences. The former is a welcome replacement for the listless Greg Bird, while the latter has been filling in admirably for Aaron Judge, who still isn't able to hit. It's also been great to have Ronald Torreyes back on the bench, while the additions of JA Happ and Lance Lynn have, for the most part, been pretty smart, and have worked well. Justus Sheffield may be starting a game for us soon, which...might be interesting, but seeing what happened to Chance Adams on his first start, I'm not making an assumption quite yet.

The goal here is to retain the upward momentum of this current stretch while also shaving off the elements that made them so prone to losses, especially to losing teams. This is a strong Yankees team, one that could be dangerous if given a major playoff position, but this year they need to earn the right to be there, and it is going to taken playing better than Oakland...something I'm not sure if they can do.

Coming Tonight: Another guy with 'Slam' in his nickname, this one night quite as lucky statistically.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Another Year of Unmemorable Padres Baseball


In 2010, the Padres had a record of 90 wins and 72 losses, a record that would get them into the playoffs any other year, and a record several teams are gunning for this year. They finished second in the NL to the San Francisco Giants, and the wild card exploits of the Atlanta Braves kept them out of the playoffs, after organizing a surprisingly potent team.

That was the last time the Padres had a foreseeable chance at the playoffs. And that includes their 2015-era quest for contracts. They've been middling or unspectacular ever since. And even if they've drafted a few competent people, they haven't especially handled their farm system well, owing back to last season, where they had to squeeze two Rule 5 acquisitions into the 40-man roster due to lack of options.

Is it possible that a lot of the people they're calling up just aren't good? Not necessarily. I'm not denying the talents of people like Hunter Renfroe, Manny Margot, Christian Villanueva or new standout Franmil Reyes, but...none of them are able to lift this team past mediocrity. It's not like you can see any of these guys carrying the next generation of this team. I don't know if that's a knock at the farm system or a knock at the team in general, who, even with Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers, still can't seem to get things together.

And you want to see a team like this succeed, but with the rotation as messy as it is, and with the lack of impressive batting averages in this lineup...I don't know how likely success is for a team like this. And even if they try another tactic like 2015, it may not work with a hollow iteration of the team, like this one.

I wanna be optimistic, but...just look at what the Padres are dealing with.

Coming Tomorrow- It may be Gleyber Torres' year, but this guy might try to steal the ROY honors right out from under him.

Minor Threat


When your team's in last, and you're still pitching 4.20 with a 12-7 record...you could be doing a lot worse.

And that's how Mike Minor's return to the rotation has been going- he's been the sole constant of the preseason's proposed Hamels-Martin-Minor-Fister-Colon rotation, with Martin and Fister getting injured, Hamels leaving for Chicago, and Colon...finally pitching like he's 45. Several of the other pitching options haven't worked well either, like Matt Moore and Yovani Gallardo. And some of the kids they're brought up into the rotation just...haven't really made an impact.

It doesn't help that, on the whole, this has been a pretty unspectacular Rangers team, with usual standouts Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre just...doing alright. And there's the usual emphasis on home runs over average, especially with Joey Gallo, who SERIOUSLY needs to improve his technique, because if he's thinking the league revolves around guys who hit 40 home runs and strike out 200 times, he's dead wrong.

And while the farm system has pointed to people like Willie Calhoun and Ronald Guzman succeeding the old guard...they haven't done a great deal yet. A lot of this farm system has suffered since the last wave of prospects have come up, and at this point we're sort of waiting on better rookies to come up, which is kind of sad, but...it's how things work in the leagues sometimes.

Coming Tonight: Someone who's doing alright for the Padres.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Climb


(I couldn't resist)

So. Right now the Brewers are the Yankees of the NL. They essentially have the top Wild Card spot all locked up, are statistically ahead of another few division leaders, and have the right momentum at this point in September. Going back to last September, when they caught momentum at the exact wrong time, and lost out on a WC spot to two already-red-hot NL West teams...this is a nice change of pace.

It's also nice that the formerly-homegrown rotations have taken on a few veteran augmentations, like Jhoulys Chacin, the staff's ace, Wade Miley, who's been having a comeback year, and Gio Gonzalez, who's been fantastic in his two starts thus far. And even with them, the mainstays like Chase Anderson, Junior Guerra and Zach Davies have all been great. Heck, even the bullpen, with Josh Vader and Jeremy Jeffress pitching like pros in middle relief, is ferocious.

This is a team that's very ready for playoff contention, even if they're likely going in as a Wild Card team. The Cubs are only two games ahead of them, but the Brewers have won eight of their last ten, they have the momentum, and they have Curtis Granderson. So even though the Brewers are still probably going in as a Wild Card team, I'm not calling the division just yet.

The Brewers, if they do end up with the WC spot, would either be going up against the Cardinals, who are fading, or the Dodgers, who are rising quickly. And right now...I think they're up to either challenge. They're just wholly great this year.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the last remaining consistent pitchers in Arlington.

The Race to 100 Losses


The Orioles have already wrapped up the title of the Worst Team in Baseball for 2018. But that doesn't mean the Kansas City Royals can't notch 100 losses along with Baltimore's current tally of 104.

Looking at this team's baseball reference page, you can see why: everyone who made a positive impact on this team in the last few years (save for Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez) is gone. And the replacements really aren't worth it. A ton of inexperienced, just-plain-pathetic players are being trusted with trying to lead this team, and it's not...really working? I dunno. Some guy named Ryan O'Hearn has 10 home runs as DH in 33 games, but...again, it's unknowns doing all the work. The best pitcher on this team is Brad Keller, and the best hitter is Whit Merrifield. Household names they are not.

Like with the Marlins, the veterans are dragging this team down, as well. Alcides Escobar is lagging at short, Jason Hammel has squandered his Chicago graces, and even Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy are being dragged down by the weight of this unenthusiastic team. It's a full mess, and with 96 losses under their belt, the only accolade the Royals can hope for at this point is the 100 losses marker.

I also have to ask how long it's going to be until the Royals can compete again, and...it's hazy. Because there's still a chance that something could come around, and there could be a complete farm system refurbishment that could save this team...but unless they clean all the unspectacular veterans off the roster and just start relatively fresh, I can't see this happening in the next two years.

Coming Tonight: A guy who bopped around a bit too much over the past few seasons, but seems to have found a niche as a starter in a surging, NL Wild Card-ready team.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Those Poor Marlins: Part...Like Eight


Yesterday I talked about the fact that the Colorado Rockies have never finished a season in first. Well...neither have the 2-time World Series-winning Miami Marlins. Only...to be honest, with the last 10 years of this team in mind, I can sort of see that. This team hasn't won more than 80 games in a season since 2009, a season where Josh Johnson was their strongest player. They've also only been to the playoffs twice in their existence...and they've only won two World Series', so do the math there. They've never lost a playoff matchup...solely because they've never been good enough to lose in the playoffs, if that makes sense.

And now, they're having yet another bad season for the ages, just a year after having the lineup but not the pitching to make it big...and promptly splitting up said lineup. Now, what do the Marlins have? JT Realmuto. That's basically it.

And look, you can begin to see prospects beginning to make their way up, like Isaac Galloway, Rafael Ortega and Sandy Alcantara, but this team is filled with so much more dead weight than they need. Lots of older players, like Dan Straily and Martin Prado, who, while fine, are showing some 'on their last legs' qualities this year. And just...too much of this team is unmemorable. After the incredible lineup last year, to go from that to...'sure, let's start Derek Dietrich' is pretty pathetic.

And even with the rookies coming up, I can't say with certainty that the Marlins will get back to first or anything in the near future. It might take a few more years of sucking for anything great to happen, which is kind of sad.

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of depleted teams that were recently competitors, a pitcher for another last place team.

The End of the Toronto Dynasty


Normally, I'd be sad to see a perennial playoff-contending team fall apart like this, but...seeing as it's one that caused me so much misery over the years...I'm really not.

The only principal members of the 2015-16 Jays teams to still be around are Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar, Marco Estrada, Devon Travis and Marcus Stroman. Which is the equivalent of having an Avengers movie with just Hawkeye and The Wasp.

Luckily, Kendrys Morales is still around to hit home runs a bunch of games in a row. Granted, he's not the supreme home run supplier, as most people on the team are prone to hitting around 20 home runs, but with low batting averages and a shit-ton of strikeouts. This is a problem this team hasn't really had in a while. And the problem is really just an over reliance on veterans, and a minimization of a youth movement that...has yet to arrive.

Look, everyone's obviously waiting for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio too if you wanna throw him in there, but...there's a reason they're not here yet. Either they're not ready, or they are ready and they're being held for another season, one that doesn't suck as bad as this one. Look, Gleyber Torres was ready a year or so ago, but he needed time. Maybe the same goes for Guerrero...even though he's hitting literally everything in Buffalo.

The bottom line is...the meshing of the new blood, now including Billy McKinney, and the older veterans, like Morales, scares me. And it may not lead to immediate success in 2019.

Coming Tonight: A pitcher for the Marlins. He has my condolences.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Breathtaking Return of Matt Holliday


As someone who's seen Matt Holliday as a member of his own team...I have to say that this sight is a lot sweeter.

Matt Holliday last played for the Rockies 10 years ago. He was one of the offensive mainstays of what was commonly known as the Todd Helton era or Colorado baseball. In 2009, he was shipped to Oakland in exchange for...well, another guy that would end up playing in Colorado for ten years. And after a half year in Oakland, 8 years in St. Louis, and a season in New York, we all kind of thought Holliday's career was over.

And then...mid-year, the Rox took a chance on Holliday. And he started gestating in the minors, getting his average back up, and playing like he used to. And it was only a matter of time before he got brought up, and got to play for a first place Rockies team for the first time since 200

...wait a minute...

They came in 2nd in 2007 and 2008.

...this would be the Rockies' first ever 1st place finish, if they do manage to stay on top on September 30th. And that's something Holliday's Rockies teams couldn't even do.

This Colorado team actually has a chance at some dangerous October work, especially if they manage to keep the Dodgers and D-Backs out of the wild card race over the next few weeks. And it'll be tricky, seeing as the Dodgers are only one game behind, and one flip in the standings could doom the Rockies, and put them in the same position the Dodgers are currently in.

So, with Holliday playing well, Trevor Story breaking records, and Kyle Freeland pitching like a champ, they'll need to hold onto their momentum and keep someone else, like the Dodgers, from stealing their mojo...or their chance to end in 1st for the first time ever.

Coming Tomorrow- He's big, strong and hits home runs. And, with a few weeks left, that's honestly all the Blue Jays need.

Anyone Can Pitch: Pablo Sandoval


It's a typical scenario for the Giants this year: last inning, they're trailing by a lot, and every pitcher's getting hammered on the mound. On April 28th of this year, it was against the Dodgers, who'd gotten 15 points out of them before, and were looking ferocious even going into the ninth.

The Giants, after a botched attempt by Cory Gearrin to stop the blood flow, called a puzzler from the bullpen: Pablo Sandoval, the city's hero of the decade, and steady third base backup, came in...to pitch the ninth?

I talked about Erik Kratz being an unlikely choice to pitch, but Kung Fu Panda might be even more unlikely, as he's a noted power hitter, and a noted...round player. They don't call him Kung Fu Panda for nothing. So seeing him on the mound must have been eerie to some people. I mean, he's never pitched before, so we'd be leaving this to the Season of Pitching Hitters.

Sandoval did pretty well, though: he allowed no hits, retired every batter he faced, and threw eight strikes on eleven pitches. Granted, he left most of the work to the defense, but Pablo Sandoval had a better day on the mound than most of the Giants' pitchers that day...which is an odd thing to say.

Seeing Sandoval pitch is one of the many reasons this season has just been great for hitters on the mound.

Next up with these posts? A journeyman home run hitter who did his best on the mound for a struggling third place team.

Fiers Fighter


So...with this guy...throwing like he's throwing...the A's might be feeling slightly better about losing Sean Manaea.

Granted, it's a larger hit than expected, since even with Daniel Mengden, Edwin Jackson and Trevor Cahill all playing well, only Manaea and Mike Fiers have made it around 'ace status'. And it definitely helps that Fiers quickly became the ace in Detroit, STILL holding the WAR record for this 2018 Tigers team despite not being on it for the last month.

And yeah, Fiers is 4-0 in six starts in Oakland, throwing strikeouts left and right, and getting right back to his dominance he showed in Detroit, which is what the A's really need about now. As good as this team has been all year, there's still some uneasiness heading into what will likely be a series with the Yankees. Yes, the A's have been keeping their momentum and power close to their chest...but all of the sudden, the Yankees have gained theirs back as well. And their pitching is beginning to take shape as well, possibly quicker than Oakland's.

We're at the point where the Wild Card matchup could go either way, and both teams are heading toward October with some tremendous ferocity, even the Oakland Athletics. And I'm so happy that a team like this has come this far.

Coming Tonight: Ten years ago he left Colorado. This year, he came back...right when they needed him most.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Zo What?


Next year or so, people are going to start eulogizing the decade and making lists and trying to sum everything up. And I propose, a year early, that Ben Zobrist should be named the Unsung Hero of the 2010s.

I mean, think about it. Zobrist has contributed to so many great teams without being the overall standout player. He was a member of the 2015 Royals, and helped them win a World Series. He then went right to Chicago, was a member of the all-Cubs ASG infield, and helped THEM win a World Series. Since then, while not starting at 2nd, he's been a fantastic bench presence and utility specialist. This season alone he's got a 2.9 WAR, a .314 average, 122 hits...and he's thirty-seven. He's got third-highest WAR on the team, he's still a five-tool defender...and he's 37. This guy deserves so much more respect.

And in a season like this, where the Cubs have been at the front of the pack for the majority of the year, Ben Zobrist may be the most important piece in Chicago. Yes, Baez will get the MVP votes, Bryant sells all the jerseys, and Rizzo hits all the home runs, but Zo is crafty, gets hits, and keeps pitchers guessing. And the Cubs couldn't have made it big this year without him.

Now? With the Cubs probably headed into October seeded first, and looking like they'll be playing an NL Central competitor in the NLDS, they will need to prove that they deserved to be in first, and they will need to prove they have what it takes to make the NLCS for the fourth year in a row, tying the Cardinals' mark earlier this decade.

But...they're the Cubs, and they have Ben Zobrist. So they're looking pretty good.

Coming Tomorrow- His team's #1 starter just hit the DL with less than a month until the playoffs. Luckily...he's more than capable of taking that mantle.

It Ain't Odorizzi


Yankees-Twins last year was the Wild Card matchup, and it was one that could have gone either way. Now? Yankees-Twins is just another excuse for the Yankees to get past 90 wins.

The Twins...look, the good stuff they had was given away. Some guys have stayed around, like Jose Berrios and Eddie Rosario, but everything else is pathetic...and this is the second place team. This is the statistically fourth-most-pathetic team out there, and they're still not looking good.

Jake Odorizzi is one of the lower-tier starters this year for them, and while he's doing alright, it's still not terrific stuff. At least Kyle Gibson has kept his ERA down, and at least Jose Berrios is still a fine strikeout artist. Otherwise, not a great deal going on with this pitching staff. Which is sad, because last year the pitching was right there. Ervin Santana was healthy, Adalberto Mejia was up, things were fine. And it sucks that a year later it's fallen apart like this.

There is probability that next year could go better, especially if Buxton, Sano and Santana are all back and healthy, but...even with less than a month left, it's just not pretty. At all. And I don't know if it'll get better.

Coming Tonight: Two years ago he was an All Star starter. Now, he may not be a starting infielder, but wherever they play him he's been phenomenal.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Do the Braves Have it?


The Braves are currently a first place team, and are zooming in the direction of the playoffs, looking currently at a series with Colorado (or possibly LA) to start October. The Braves have withstood competition from Washington and Philadelphia, and are looking pretty good right now, despite a few recent losing streaks.

Now, the question on everyone's mind: can a first place team like this make it far into the playoffs?

I mean, these guys have been great, but...lately they've been imperfect. A lot of the strong performances, like Ender Inciarte and and Dansby Swanson, have waned a bit since this team's apex in July. This is also a team full of a lot of fringe players, odd performances, and a lot of untested performers. This isn't the Red Sox, where everyone's been doing this and are all at their peaks. There's a ragtag, underdog quality to this team, which either means they're going big or they're going out early.

And even this late, new wrinkles are forming- AJ Minter has emerged as a crucial closer. Brad Brach has returned to being a crucial bullpen arm. Lucas Duda was a surprise acquisition that's not the worst idea thus far. And Kevin Gausman...is playing better than he ever did in Baltimore. And this is what this team pulls out right near the end.

The Braves could be a playoffs nightmare for the rest of the NL, and it's a year where the NL pennant race is wide open pretty much. They could sneak into the heat of the race, or they could fall hard. Either/or.

Coming Tomorrow- His team's playing the Yankees this week, and they're not expected to win.

The Return of Nasty Nate


Silly me. I made the mistake of giving up on Nate Eovaldi. Well, he goes and joins the Red Sox and becomes stronger than he ever was with the Yankees. Funny how that works out.

Eovaldi is definitely not bringing up the rear of the Red Sox' rotation. There is no rear. There is only a rear when Steven Wright pitches in Chris Sale's absence. The entire rotation is pitching well: Price, Sale, Porcello, Rodriguez...and now Eovaldi. And people wonder why this team is doing so well.

The Red Sox are going to hit 100 wins within the week. This is ABSOLUTELY going to happen. Now it's going to be the question of whether or not they chase 117, which would be the wins record set by Seattle in 2001. And the next part...is whether or not the Red Sox will go the way of the 2001 Mariners...in that they didn't win the World Series, or even the ALCS.

The Red Sox have all the makings of a great playoff team: great lineup, solid home run hitter, a guy that's going to win the MVP award, a guy that's probably going to win the Cy Young award. They have so much of 'the best' that it's easy to see this team falling to a team that gets hot at the right time. And yes, there's a chance that the best team in baseball can win it all: it's happened the past two seasons. But with a team this big...an iceberg can very clearly happen, and it can come from anywhere.

If they win it all, I'll be fine with it...but somehow, I don't know if it'll be that simple.

Coming Tonight: He hurled fire for Baltimore, got out, and now he's even more powerful in Atlanta.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Turner Classic Comebacks


April: Nobody is playing well except for Matt Kemp
September: Everybody is playing well except for Matt Kemp.
How's that for a season turnaround??

This Dodgers team, while great, and a borderline playoff contender, is...just plain weird. I mean, Max Muncy, a guy who no one had heard of until May, is leading the team in home runs, and has more than Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp and Yasmani Grandal. Ross Stripling, a guy who wasn't even a thought to be a starter for the Dodgers this year, is leading the rotation in wins. No one has more than 10 wins right now, or more than 200 strikeouts. Even Clayton Kershaw. And yet, they're off and running.

This team has not only embraced weirdness, but they've embraced the fact that lineups change over time, and injuries happened. This is a team that rebounded after Ryu, Kershaw, Hill and Buehler all wound up on the DL. This is a team that didn't die after losing Corey Seager, instead picking up Manny Machado and becoming even stronger. This is a team that didn't even have Justin Turner until June, at which point he promptly returned to the flat-out dominance he'd be dealing out on any other year.

Right now, the Dodgers are barely below the Rockies for the NL West, and are capable of catching up. Still, the Cardinals and Brewers are, at the moment, so far ahead of the rest of the pack (by 2 games), that winning the NL West may be the most feasible option for LA. I think they can do it, though this team may not be as all-out strong as last year's. Still, that's not exactly a dooming aspect.

Coming Tomorrow- First he pitched for my team. Then, he wound up as a deadly pitcher that kept having to face my Yankees. Then he got traded and that last bit didn't change at all.

'Stros Nest


The Astros won seven games in a row. Two of those games were against the Boston Red Sox, the best team in baseball. They may have swept. I don't know, I'm writing this before the Sunday night game even started.

The point is...even if the Astros aren't flat-out dominating like they were last year, they're still not to be slept on. At all.

For one, the emphasis isn't even on Jose Altuve anymore. It's on Alex Bregman. After a great rookie year last year, he's carrying the team in the absence of the formerly immortal Altuve-Correa-Springer combo, all three of which spent time on the DL this year. He's been a maniac at the plate, a smart defensive player, and the kind of versatile that reminds people of 2017.

Plus, even with the DL stint from Lance McCullers, a new fifth man has emerged in the sturdy, impressive Framber Valdez, who, while not to the caliber of Verlander, Cole, Morton or Keuchel, is still making sure teams can't just rely on the fifth day to attack. The bullpen has also improved, giving the ninth to Hector Rendon with full trust, and still having people like Roberto Osuna, Chris Devenski and Collin McHugh on standby just in case. It might even be a bit more shapely than their 2017 bullpen.

Martin Maldonado is looking more and more like a starting catcher. Tyler White and Tony Kemp have been phenomenal off the bench. This team is looking very strong, and they're approaching a postseason where they'll be second seed, and playing a team that's been on autopilot for the last two months. People should be scared. This team could make it back to the World Series. It's not definite yet, but it could happen.

Coming Tonight: The team they played last November, and their bearded third baseman.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Cardinals Update: Somebody Do Something Edition


Well...somehow, the Cardinals did it. They climbed from fourth place, and embedded themselves into the Wild Card race, holding onto the 2nd WC spot for dear life. The only problem is...they're still in third place in the NL Central, their possible WC rivals are the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers...and they're the latter horse in a race that's not quite solid yet.

Here's the deal: the Los Angeles Dodgers are one game behind the Cards for the spot. The Dodgers have more momentum right now, and have won their last few. The Cards have lost their last two, even with some great work from Jack Flaherty heating up this stretch.

And the thing is...right now, the magic that brought the Cardinals to the forefront this month is beginning to wear off. Matt Adams hasn't been hitting in his return to St. Louis, recent rookies like Adolis Garcia and Carson Kelly have disappointed, and while people all still surging, there's this feeling that everything's been spread too thin. That there's an overabundance of talent, and that the Cardinals really don't know how to organize themselves so that talented players still aren't left out. It's a good problem to have, but it's a similar one to last season- there's so much interchangeability that it's hard to know when they've hit the correct combination. And when they have, someone gets injured, like Jedd Gyorko.

The Cardinals have less than three weeks left to prove they have what it takes to outdo the Dodgers, and eventually the Brewers and Cubs. But it will not be easy, even with the talent they've accumulated.

Coming Tomorrow- A loyal member of those unsinkable Astros.

Two More Rack Packs of 2018 Topps Archives (Yes, Still!)

I know there's been a lot of Archives on the blog lately, but A.) it's a fun set, B.) it's a dry card product season, and C.) I'm trying to collect the base set, and I don't think I've reached the halfway mark yet.

So. TWO MORE RACK PACKS. Hopefully there won't be many dupes.

Pack 1-
80- Danny Duffy
75- Giancarlo Stanton. Fantastic, not only is he a Yankee hero right now, but I need him for the base set.
55- Duke Snider. Brooklyn legend.
40- Rafael Devers, one of the cursed Red Sox middle infielders.
82- AJ Pollock, finally staying healthy
10- Lucas Giolito. Thanks to Kopech's injury, might be keeping his job after all.
135- Nelson Cruz. Cruz has hit 39+ homers in every season since 2014. He's at 34 now. 5 in 3 weeks sounds doable.
161- Justin Smoak
164- GLEYBER TORRES ROOKIE. YES!
150- CLAYTON KERSHAW. Nice I pulled this out of a pack, rather than having to pay too much money for it online.
146- Nick Williams rookie
Phillies Future Stars: Hoskins, Williams Crawford. Sensing a theme here?
93 Coming Attractions of JP Crawford. Phils rookie hot pack!
220- Yoenis Cespedes
228- Johnny Cueto. The Injury Bunch, I guess
264- A nice batting cages shot of Frank Thomas
295- Bob Lemon, another guy you don't always see in modern products.
242- Alex Bregman, Astros hero.
I needed ALL of those cards.

Pack 2-
97- Dee Gordon, looking happy to be out of Miami
83- Jordan Zimmerman
39- Adrian Beltre. I kind of like him with a mustache on this card.
91- Garrett Cooper. Former Yankee
4- Jack Flaherty rookie.
7- Orlando Cepeda...AS A CARDINAL. I'd usually flag for excessive Cards pulls, but since it's Baby Bull, I'll allow it.
145- Willie McCovey. Speaking of Giants legends. Nice to have a non-airbrushed shot for McCovey in this design, though I'd have appreciated a later-career photo, rather than this obvious late 60s uni.
178- Satchel Paige. So much respect. Great card, too.
172- James McCann
118- Jacob de Grom. A very fun shot on this one.
110- Matt Olson
Rookie History of '93 Pedro. Somehow, THIS is my only dupe thus far...and it's an insert.
93 Coming Attractions of Victor Robles
281- Xander Bogaerts
230- Alex Gordon
300- The marquee man himself, Bryce Harper
258- Eddie Mathews. I love this card.
265- Victor Robles

So...to recap...out of 32 base cards in these packs...I pulled 32 that I needed, which should pull me over the 150 mark. My only dupe was an insert. And I still really, really like this set. I'll probably see if I can squeeze maybe a few more set needs out of my next Target expenditure, but...I might put a want-list up for this set relatively soon, for anyone who wants to dump any '18 archives they don't need. I don't trade often, because of some social anxiety stuff that I've been meaning to do an editorial post about, but throwing these on a wantlist would at least be a start.

The Indians are Going to Win the AL Central (But You Knew That)


So, unless it's not clear by this point: the Cleveland Indians are your 2018 AL Central champions. I don't think I'm wrong in saying that, even remotely.

It's partially because the Indians are great this year, and capitalizing on their recent playoff teams, but also because nobody else in the AL Central has shown up. The remaining four teams have been playing pretty poorly, with only partial standouts, and without too much action this time of year, seeing as any playoff push would be misguided.

So...we have the Indians as out gimme team for the rest of the month. No real suspense...just...the Cleveland Indians. Winning games, and getting 3rd seed, it looks like.

So...what is there left to say about this team that hasn't been said every two weeks when I write about them?

Uhh....the bullpen's a little better? Not entirely, but a little. Also, Yandy Diaz and Erik Gonzalez are surprisingly great bench players, and Melky Cabrera has had one of his best seasons in a while. It's not to the caliber of having Brandon Guyer's killer bat in 2016, but...it's close.

This team could do so many little things right this October, and could sneak into the later matchups without having to break too much of a sweat. And even with Trevor Bauer's currently on the DL, Shane Bieber's not bad at all. They might not have anything to worry about for the moment.

So, yeah...for a predictable division winner, the Indians have more than a few tricks up their sleeves.

Coming Tonight: Yeah...Cardinals are still pretty good. Not August good, but good. So here's their rookie starter.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Eaton Mess


So, to recap: the Nationals aren't going to make the playoffs. Not even remotely. But that doesn't mean they can't decide some outcomes by still being alright enough to beat competitors.

This team is still relatively dangerous, even without Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez. Max Scherzer is still a Cy Young caliber ace, Bryce Harper's still hitting home runs, and there's still a ton of versatility here, with a lot of players just popping up and being good at several things at once. Plus, we're getting a fuller performance from Adam Eaton for the first time since 2016, and he's been doing a great job in center as...well, technically a backup for Michael Taylor, but Eaton's having the better year.

Now, obviously there are problems, like the back half of the rotation, which is now beginning to show due to Gonzalez' loss; Erick Fedde and Jefry Rodriguez aren't really up to the caliber that the rest of this rotation is used to. Plus, the Doolittle-less bullpen is weaker, especially now that Madson is in LA, and it's been illuminated that there wasn't really a succeeding closing option in Doolittle's absence (so thank god he's back).

This team will be going into another off year, and will be losing Bryce Harper, and possibly more, at its end. And they need to figure out if they want to ride high on their farm system, which isn't yielding much else right now, or if they still want to try to squeeze one more playoff team out of this lineup. But it's a tough choice.

Coming Tomorrow- A team that's so much of a playoff gimme that even their catcher's name sounds like 'yawn'

Glasnow, Ask Questions Later


Everyone kept saying Tyler Glasnow would be doing big things. And I, as well as most of Pittsburgh, kept waiting with baited breath for them to start happening. And in his two years playing for the Pirates, they didn't.

...and then he gets traded to the Rays, and BOOM. Tyler Glasnow is an ace, with a ton of strikeouts, and a 3.23 ERA in 6 starts. And suddenly, Tyler Glasnow is the reverse Drew Smyly.

The Rays have finally gotten a concrete rotation together, with Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, and Blake Snell's nasty material, in between Ryne Stanek's occasional 'opener' status. This pitching experiment has sort of worked for the Rays, at least as an excuse to let everyone know how awesome the Rays' bullpen is. Ryne Stanek is a tricky little reliever, Sergio Romo's back to closing games like a pro, and Jose Alvarado has been pretty great as a setup man. Good to see the craftiness of Kevin Cash and his pitching coaches has amounted to something.

Also...this third place team is slowly peeking into the Wild Card race, too. They've, at the time of writing, got a 74-63 record, and are rapidly catching up to the Mariners. I don't know if they'll be able to touch the Yankees or A's, but they could be a dangerous spoiler for the Wild Card race. Not only is their pitching underrated, but they've got a nice amount of rookie hitters who could stifle the hell out of some relievers this month.

I dunno how likely it is that the Rays wind up in the Wild Card game, but...they're dangerous. And they could make some waves in the next few weeks.

Coming Tonight: He'd been injured for most of 2017, and a month or so of 2018. Now, he's finally trying to prove himself on a team that no one's really paying attention to anymore.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Escobar None


So, the plot certainly has thickened in this Musical Chairs round that is the NL West race.

The Rockies currently have the division (I'm writing this on Tuesday, so maybe they still do?), with the Dodgers a half-game behind, and the D-Backs, who've been on first for most of the year, trailing by a few games. Currently, neither the Dodgers or Diamondbacks are within reach of the two Wild Card spots, which are both currently held by NL Central teams (Brewers and Cardinals). Still, these teams are close enough to the battle that they've not been ruled out yet, similar to the Phillies, who are 3.5 games back, and while they probably won't make it, they still have a chance.

But let's talk about Arizona here, because they're the most startling members of this race. For most of the year, they were in first, and rightfully so. However, they lost four games in a row earlier this week, and the Dodgers and Rox took full advantage of this. And it's not like there was a huge shift in injuries, or anything prompted this: the D-Backs were just unlucky consistently at the exact wrong time.

This team still has a ton of promise, and it helps that Paul Goldschmidt is playing like himself again. The rotation is still sharp, especially with Clay Buchholz healthy again. The addition of Eduardo Escobar has definitely helped. The main problems are the lack of bench depth and the back end of the rotation. This team isn't as wholly strong as it was last year, and they're losing a lot of games off of silly little things.

And I want them to make it back into the playoffs, but I don't know if ending in first is a feasible option at this point. Their goal this season was to prevent the Dodgers from making a late run, and they've failed. The Dodgers have a nice shot at making it back into the playoffs, and the D-Backs may not have a place there if so. And that's a sad statement for a team that I thought was all in this year.

Coming Tomorrow- He was listless for the Pirates. He lands in Tampa and becomes unstoppable.

I Can't See Your Halos


I talked about the Pirates yesterday, and now we have the Anaheim Angels. At the time I am writing this (Tuesday), the Angels have the exact same record as the Pirates. 67-71. Under .500 by a few games. And considering what the Angels had in April (Ian Kinsler, Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, a healthy Zack Cozart), it's just a wee bit of a disappointment.

And the sad part is, when the Angels bulk up with a big star in January or so, it usually is. In 2008, the Angels landed Torii Hunter, and lost to the Red Sox in the playoffs. In 2012, the Angels landed Albert Pujols, and the next year they landed Josh Hamilton, both at the top of their respective free agent classes, and both years they ended in third place...and in 2012, it was third of four, since the Astros were still in the NL. And this year, with Ohtani, Upton, Cozart, and a half-season of Ian Kinsler, they're looking to end in fourth. Behind Seattle.

Injuries doomed this Angels team, sad to say. The entire pitching staff, it seems like (or at least the consistent guys, like Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and Shohei Ohtani) were on the DL for most of the year (which is normal for Richards at this point), leaving Andrew Heaney as the staff's ace, and Jamie Barria as one of the few positive options the rotation had. Heck, the team went through musical closers, as usual, with Blake Parker being the most healthy option after Cam Bedrosian got injured early yet again, and Kenyan Middleton also had a badly timed DL stint.

There's got to be some good news with this team, besides the Trout and Simmons combo which will always be awesome, and said good news is David Fletcher, a multi-position utility player who's been racking up hits and making a case for himself as a 2019 starter, which he'll probably get. He's a smart move at third base, and with Jefry Marte being a solid defensive option at first, hopefully the Angels will figure out how to complete the infield for 2019, or, at the very most, the rest of 2018.

This team is looking kind of dire...but they still, after all, have Mike Trout. Which is more than I can say for a lot of similar 4th place teams.

Coming Tonight: One of the stowaways from the 2018 Twins, now playing for a...well, Wild Card contender now, but they had the division like a week ago.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Pirates Update: That Didn't Really Work Out, Now Did It? Edition


For a few weeks in July, the Pirates were a serious favorite to win the NL Central. They crawled up the standings, powered by great performances from Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli and Jameson Taillon, with Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove even having some nice starts.

...and then August happened. And even if the Pirates had went and traded their future (Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz) for Chris Archer, not even that could stop their sharp, steep decline. The Cardinals seized the momentum, the Brewers got better, and the Pirates couldn't contend suddenly, even with their surprisingly nice core.

But...at the end of the day, the Bucs really aren't anything more than just a streaky little team that's okay for most of the season and was really good for a few weeks. And, in their first season without flagship star Andrew McCutchen, that's a pretty good thing to say. It's nice to know that the rotation can step up even in a weak year for Ivan Nova, and that the lineup can rise up even in Gregory Polanco's recent doldrums. And it's still nice to know that Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela are probably sticking around.

It's become evident that, unless something big happens next year, the Pirates may be relegated to being a third or fourth place squad for the rest of this decade, which isn't a great outlook, but considering what this team still has, and who might be sticking around next year, it could be a lot worse.

Coming Tomorrow- Desperate times in Anaheim call for crafty prospects.

Nostalgic Box Break: 1991 Stadium Club Series Two (Part Four)


About a month ago, I posted the third part of this box...that I initially bought last year. Now, granted, it's not like the gaggle of boxes I broke during the 2014-15 year but never posted until 2017 (and I may have one more box from that era??), but...considering that I have two more similar boxes from last year that I need to post, and considering that this box has taken most of the summer...I've been slacking.

So yeah. Here, for your viewing entertainment, are the last nine packs of these thirty-six.

 Pack 28-
Dupes: 3/12
Needs: 9/12
Guys Named Hill: 2/12
 Some general AL Central stuff- Brian McRae on a base running action shot, and Tom Candiotti in a nice night card.

 Photos like the Glenallen Hill shot are why I love Stadium Club. It's not at all pretty. There's a butt obscuring a lot of the action. But sometimes a lot of the action of baseball isn't pretty. Stadium Club's success came from its ability to produce raw, unfiltered vision of this game. To this day, it still does...albeit, in a slightly tidier fashion.
The Devereaux is also pretty cool, proving even the static shots could be layered, and interesting.

More interesting static shots in St. Louis. Hill's might be the more interesting one, as it's just a profile shot, but...the facial expression is really nice.

 Pack 29-
Needs: 6/12
Dupes: 6/12
Guys With Kids Who Played as Well: 2/12
Guys With Kids Who Played Alongside Them: 1/12

 Some solid, well-lit batters cards of Alfredo Griffin and Wes Chamberlain.

Ken Griffey, rounding out his Seattle career alongside his son, looking graceful fielding grounders. And Steve Bedrosian closes some games in Minnesota here, 25 or so years before his son would close games for the Angels.

 Pack 30-
Needs: 3
Not a ton else to write about here, other than the three needs.

 Pack 31-
Dupes: 4/12
Needs: 8/12
Absolutely awesome shots: 1/12

 I like the moment of capture on the Darren Lewis photo. It just sort of works.

I forget is this card has been documented on blogs before, probably PATP or someone like that, but...damn. This is pretty incredible. 

 Pack 32-
Dupes: 8/12
Needs: 4/12
HOFers: 1/12

 ROBERTO ALOMAR! In one of his first Blue Jays releases, too.
And a cool horizontal shot of Gary Scott.

 Pack 33-
Dupes: 8/12
Needs: 4/12
Catching shots: 2/12

 Bernard Gilkey, 6 years before being distracted by a spaceship in center field at Shea Stadium, in an early-career release in a Cards uniform, and a pre-managerial Bud Black.

There catching shots are pretty cool, especially Don Slaught's. Tettleton's is nice, and the little orange Tiger stripe is a nice touch, but the angle is a little unrevealing.

 Pack 34-
Dupes: 4/12
Needs: 8/12
 Great batter's box shot of Phil Plantier, and a nice shot of young Todd Hundley.

 Brian Downing's swing is HUGE in this. I imagine he's probably striking out, though. And I love the Caminiti card because it's also a rare shot of the career power hitter working third base.

Pack 35-
These were my three needs, and only Wally Backman's batting stance, Tim Burke's hair, and Roger Clemens not taking steroids yet could take me out of this dupe-fest.

 Pack 36-
Dupes: 6/12
Needs: 6/12

Tony Fernandez' smile, Chris Gwynn's stride and Mel Hall's swing bring this box to a close. I didn't yield an entire base set, but I came close enough, which is nice.

So, that was 1991 Stadium Club Series 2. Not bad at all. Collation, as usual with these products, leaves a lot to be desired, but I got enough of the base set that I'm not...completely discouraged.

Expect another SC break soon. Preferably one that takes less than 4 months to blog about.