Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Kris Bryant is Still Here

So Kris Bryant's star may have fallen slightly since 2017, after a 2018 plagued by injuries and general inefficiency. So he's off to a fine but middling start so far. So his numbers aren't close to his MVP numbers from 2016. Does this mean that Bryant's career is DOA? Hell no.

Kris Bryant is still one of the more important performers in the Chicago Cubs' rolodex right now, even if Javier Baez is the showier personality right now. Bryant and Rizzo are the two pillars of this team, as they got here early on, got good early, stayed good, and the entire team was built around them. The team is still steady around the top of the NL Central solely because Bryant and Rizzo's foundation is still strong. It helps that other players, like Baez, Willson Contreras and David Bote, are stepping up, but Bryant is still a prime contender; dude's batting .274 with 15 home runs, which is not bad at all (though Rizzo is doing a little better).

Bryant's Cubs are no longer in first place, thanks to a boom by the Brewers, but they're definitely not out of the race. Pedro Strop is a more than worthy placeholder until Craig Kimbrel arrives, Kyle Hendricks' injury opens the door for Tyler Chatwood, who's been great this year. Yu Darvish's mojo is slowly returning with every great start, and he's 8 away from an 100 strikeout season, which would definitely help his case. Victor Caratini's a pretty good backup catcher. The lineup's strong, the rotation is strong, and they're a half-game behind Milwaukee.

I'm thinking the Cubs-Brewers rivalry is gonna be the most deadly one down the stretch. The winner of that is gonna really, really deserve it.

Coming Tomorrow- Forever one of my favorites, especially now that he's having quite the comeback year.

Oscar; The Slouch

The good news is that the Cleveland Indians have been a lot better in June so far. The bad news is that they're still missing Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber. So while they're good, they still have a ways to go before they catch Minnesota, and in a year where there's an intriguing Wild Card race going on in the AL East, it's gonna take a lot for the Indians to keep the second spot.

So...with a team that's mostly kind of meh, and partially kind of injured, what's left?

Well...thankfully the Indians are taking this opportunity to build up from the farm system again, seeing as they don't want their core to get too old, and have seen this down season as a perfect opportunity to rebuild again while keeping pieces of the initial core intact. So rookies like Zach Plesac and Oscar Mercado are being intermixed with veterans like Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor, and it's coming off cleanly. It's not like one piece is trying to upstage the other (like the Pirates), and it's not like both pieces are incompatible (like the Giants).

Hell, look at Oscar Mercado. He's gotten off to a great start in his first 24 games, hitting .304 with 13 RBIs, and booting Tyler Naquin out of yet another starting outfield campaign (poor guy). He's already MLB-ready, without needing a ton of time to buffer...which is kinda like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor were when they came up. Hell, Zach Plesac has a 2.92 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 4 starts, which is the kind of nasty work that the rotation has been thriving on this year (thanks to Bieber and Bauer). Kind of reminds me of the start Mike Clevinger got off to when he came up, which...OH HEY, GUESS WHO JUST GOT ACTIVATED?

I mean, I know the Indians were trying to prepare for a Kluber-less rotation, but...this Bauer-Bieber-Plutko-Plesac-Clevinger rotation is pretty damn awesome.

So, despite the bundles of okay players in the lineup (even if, you know, one of them just hit for the cycle), there is still some promise from this team. I'd just...like a bit more.

Coming Tonight: Three years ago he was one of the most ubiquitous stars in baseball. Now...he's still good, but not the star he used to be. Why??

Monday, June 17, 2019

Philly Not-Too Special

So. The Phils are out of first. Which is actually kind of the best thing for them.

I mean, I feel like they were never an especially strong first-place team. They were always a bit too close to .500 to be taken fully seriously, and the sportswriters never really did. They were too vulnerable, and being in first place when you're kind of okay is the perfect way to illuminate your flaws for everyone to see.

The main flaw was the decline of the pitching staff. The rotation definitely has some good eggs, like Zach Eflin, Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, but...Velazquez crapped out, Pivetta's slowly improving, and Eickhoff is fried, and the search for a competent fifth starter CONTINUES. And then the bullpen sort of dissolved into meh-ness. Nobody's doing too terribly anymore, but aside from Hector Neris (of all people), nobody's doing too great. Lot of 4 and 5 ERAs, even from veterans like Pat Neshek and Juan Nicasio. Lots of big leads being blown, kinda like the big one we had over the Braves Wednesday night.

I'd be more worried if the lineup wasn't so impressive right now. I mean, Harper is the showier bat, but JT Realmuto is HURTLING towards an ASG start. Like, as good as Willson Contreras is, Realmuto might be a dark horse in that race. He's hitting like hell, he's still one of the best defensive catchers in the league, and he's making us feel better about trading Jorge Alfaro. Trades like him, Jean Segura and Jay Bruce (who, by the way, only has 3 strikeouts as a Phillie) are REALLY paying off for us, as they're all hitting, and they're all making the team look good.

But...how the hell can I write a post about the Phillies without talking about Scott Kingery? That dude has FINALLY figured out how to hit at this level, and he's responded with a .344 average, 8 homers in 39 games, and worthy replacement numbers for Andrew McCutchen. Kingery may finally have turned into a keeper, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

So while this team isn't quite as good as the standings used to make us seem, I'm definitely not counting them out. They're one or two moves away from dominating the Braves in September, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Coming Tomorrow- A rookie from a once-powerful, currently-vulnerable AL Central team.

The Austin Meadows Revolution

Yeah, you could arguably root the Rays' 2019 come-up back to their new, trusty DH. Who, just a season ago, was making waves as a sturdy outfield bat for the Pirates who wasn't getting any playing time due to the strength of the Polanco-Marte-Dickerson combo (ironically Bryan Reynolds is in the same predicament now that Dickerson's bat. One of those four Bucs outfielders might be traded soon). Once Meadows was given a lineup to dominate, the rest was history.

The best part about Austin Meadows' 2019 success is that it's not showy. He's not outright leading the team like Longoria used to. He's just playing beautiful baseball, hitting insanely well with a .315 average and 12 home runs, and just getting fans in a humble way. It also helps that this isn't a very showy lineup, either. Lots of guys like Tommy Pham, Brandon Lowe, Avisail Garcia and Yandy Diaz, are doing super well without being huge, heralded stars.

And how weird is that? The Rays are one of the best teams in baseball, the guy who's leading the team in home runs is a rookie, and nobody's talking about him! That's rare, man. But I guess he's not the son of a HOFer, so he's not getting the publicity.

Moreover, the best pitcher on the team is not Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, but Charlie Morton, the most underrated pitcher of the decade. He's got a World Series win from Houston, and is coming off two straight 14+ win seasons, and currently has an 8-1 record with a 2.37 ERA and 107 strikeouts, which is 6 more than Snell has. And he's doing so without a ton of fanfare.

The Rays are the single most low-key great team of the season. It's not like the Yankees, where once they start winning again, the trumpets blare and angels sing. And it's not like the Dodgers, who've been getting publicity even for the silly, small things that happen in the background of 2-1 wins. This is just a solid, sturdy-ass team that nobody has anything really to say about.

And that's a complete 360 from last year, where they were a very okay team that just had weird shit happen to them all the time.

I hope the Rays keep it up. They're very fun to watch, even as a Yankee fan.

Coming Tonight: If it weren't for a certain free agent signing from this year, this guy would be the most important Philadelphia Phillie right now.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Father's Day Blasterful of 2019 Topps Series 2

I remember back in the early days of card-blogging, it was a big deal to get a new product first and scan it, so that everybody could see what it looked like, or so that I could get a glimpse of what it looked like. I'm not sure if the blogosphere is still like that.

So anyway, here's 2019 Topps Series 2. You know the drill. I think they changed the pack configuration in blasters, as there's 14 cards per pack, and 7 cards per box. You shirking me out of those extra 2 cards per blaster, Topps? You really testing me?

Also, since every blaster still comes with a commemorative patch card that doesn't mean anything:

 Here's one of Donnie Baseball. Thrilling.

 Pack 1- Standard uptick in photo quality with Series 2, as we actually get shots of people in new uniforms, like Ben Gamel, and under-the-radar rookies like Stephen Tarpley, who...I *THINK* is still with the Yankees? You get a prospect like that and you have to wonder whether or not we've traded him away.

 Some landscapes. These stadium shots are beautiful.

And uh, well...
I couldn't have done this better if I tried. My first pack of my first blaster of Topps Series 2, and I not only pull a short print, but I pull one of the only short prints I'd been interested in pulling.

This is a Felix Hernandez card, but it's from last year's Turn Forward the Clock promotion at Safeco Field, to commemorate the awesomely 90s faux-backs the Ms wore in the late 90s. This is incredible, and I'm glad I pulled it.

 Also, right on Felix's heels, an ACTUAL GOOD INSERT OUT OF TOPPS.

This is a Uniform Evolution insert for the Angels. On the front side is Rod Carew sporting some 80s Angels unis, and on the back side is Mike Trout sporting some modern Angels duds. I could have done a little more with the execution, but it's an insanely smart insert idea. Well done!

And some more base. Relatively standard stuff, though the background of Carrasco's is pretty cool.

 Pack 2- Commons, but I like Fiers as a pitcher, and Carson Kelly is starting a ton of games in Arizona.

Sta. Di. And I can't emphasize this enough, Ums.

That Coors Field shot is frigging awesome, though.

You may recognize these inserts from Series 1. Javy's is a Home Run Challenge, which should do well seeing as this is Javier Baez. Our 84T insert is of Josh James, a Houston farmhand who's yet to really make his mark on that pitching staff. Should happen soon, though.

 Heroes and villains. I love the Betances shot. And good to see Gardy in a good mood.

Lo and behold, our first official Topps issue of Manny Machado on the Padres, plus a cool Walker Buehler card.

Pack 3-
Rookies and Stras. Kevin Newman is having the best year of the three. Jake Cave's rookie year was technically last year, but Topps is catching up. Johnny Field may not even still be with the Cubs, I have to check.

Some fantastic horizontal shots all-around. Pedroia's may be his last Topps issue? Not sure if he'll be back in 2020, but I'm rooting for him. And Quinn's gonna be fantastic ones he get back to the Phils lineup.

Another Target-exclusive Aaron Judge insert. Thank God I'm a Yankees fan, or else I'd be pissed about these.

Some commons. CC's is the biggest star for me, but lots of relievers and also rans. I hope Matt Shoemaker gets back to 100% next year.

Pack 4- Base stuff. The entire middle row is just awesome shot after awesome shot.

 Two sentimental favorites from the base: Kingery because of how well he's playing in place of Cutch, and Rodney for being one of the most well-traveled closers of our generation.

 Great horizontal shots all around. I don't like this insert set, though. It's very wordy, very Panini-y. Why tell when you can show?

Pack 5- Base stuff. Ryu's is the best 'star' card in here, though the Adam Cimber shot is my favorite.

 Love both Woodruff's and Mejia's photo, especially the cut-out. Alfaro will always be a favorite for his service to Philly. And it's always a treat to get an insert of Red Schoendienst.

And here's where my luck starts to get ridiculous:

This is a card of Mikie Mahtook. Which is all well and good. But this is a Father's Day blue parallel.

This is a card...numbered to 50...which is a Father's Day parallel.

I bought this box...ON FATHER'S DAY.

Where the hell is Rod Serling? This is too crazy. I'm not supposed to have this kind of luck with retail. First I pull the only short print I wanted, and now I pull a /50 parallel on the exact holiday it's commemorating.

 Pack 6-
A trio of youthful players. Renfroe's hot as hell right now. Kiner-Falefa is not.

LOVE that Royals TC.
And that Ohtani might be one of my favorites of the year. From the photography to the fire to the lettering. I love it all.

I threw in Thames because I love that throwback, but that Naquin is a shiny parallel.
Also...I will NEVER say no to a new Bo Jackson insert. This one looks considerably awesome, too.

Some final base cards, featuring an entire row of awesomely hot players. Ramos' is sadly an airbrush, though. I love Escobar's shot.

 Pack 7- I love that Santana card, and I love that Nelson Cruz has an updated base card. Good stuff.

BEAUTIFUL. I do love these team cards this year.

Not wild about giving Gary Vee his own insert set. Still, I'm fine with more Aaron Judge, though.

Some last base cards. Both Leon's and Ro's are awesome, I love the throwbacks on Fry and Frazier, and...I just like this set.

I also bought two rack-packs of this set, but...they were both absolutely identical as far as base cards were concerned. Damn retail collation.

Still, I'm liking Series 2, as this set has cemented my admiration for the flagship set this year. Might not be a bit til I buy more, as I don't wanna pull the exact same guys.

Always Be Closing: Kirby Yates

Once again, we roll out our recurring spotlight on closing pitching to talk about the guy who has the most saves of anyone in the MLB, San Diego's Kirby Yates.

Last year, this exact month, I wrote an ABC post about Brad Hand, who was doing the exact same thing for the Padres: closing a ton of games despite the team's general mediocrity. However, things have changed for the Padres. Instead of being a lock for last place, the Padres are now sort of a lock for fourth, with the D-Backs and Rockies a few wins ahead of them, battling for second.

Which is, if anything, an improvement.

I don't think there's a ton of comparison needed when talking about Yates and Brad Hand. Though I will say that Brad Hand is the type of closer whose abilities outweigh his team's: this is the second year in a row where he's been on the saves leaders list while playing for a team that's not in first, and whole the Indians are a lot better than the Padres right now, it's safe to say that their best days are behind them.

Yates, like Hand, came up as a middle reliever, switched teams a few times and eventually got handed the closing gig. And since taking over for Hand, Yates has been fantastic in the ninth, getting 12 saves in the last two months of the 2018 season, and having 23 saves so far this season. He's also a late bloomer, as he's 32 years old and just now reaching his potential.

...but it is quite a potential. Yates has a 1.24 ERA in 29 appearances, has finished a league-leading 28 games and has saved 23 of them. And since we're doing Hand comparisons, let's do the ratio: Kirby Yates has saved 67% of the Padres victories, comparative to Brad Hand's 60% this time last year.

So...is Kirby Yates a better closer than Brad Hand, or are the Padres just better now than they were with Brad Hand?

Honestly, I'm not sure. I have less stats to work with on Yates' side than Hand's, and Hand is still pitching beautifully in Cleveland, but it might just be the slight improvement of the San Diego offense. The games are still close, but the wins are more frequent. And it helps having Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and a consistent Franmil Reyes in that lineup. Run support is nice for closers.

For now, let's just say that Kirby Yates is one of the best closers in the league right now, and if the Padres are, in fact, selling at the deadline, then he's gonna make a team very happy in the postseason.

Coming Tonight: Another piece of proof that the Pirates gave up too much in the Chris Archer deal last year.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Edwin Deal, Overanalyzed

Funny how all of this has worked out for Seattle. They lose their two marquee stars, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, and so they get a new hard-hitting outfielder, Jay Bruce, and a new hard-hitting first baseman/DH (Edwin Encarnacion), and now both of them are gone.

I'd say 'Poor M's fans', but that goes without saying at this point. They've lost two team heroes named Edwin in a span of six months.

Without Encarnacion and Bruce, the Mariners have...a few pieces left. Thankfully most of them are younger players, like Mallex Smith, Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach. Plus, JP Crawford is finally up in the majors, and (get this) he's HITTING! AAAAHHH.

All I care about is this: Do the M's have an outfield strong enough to carry on from losing Bruce? Well, right now Haniger is injured, so it's been a Smith-Santana-Mac Williamson outfield, and Williamson isn't hitting, so...maybe? Once they get Haniger back, this will be firmer. And do they have strong enough options at first and DH to carry on from losing Edwin? Well, their DH is Daniel Vogelbach, and they...don't accessibly have anyone who's ever consistently played first base except for Tim Beckham, who can't be too used to it. So...no.

The M's didn't get rid of Bruce and Edwin because they knew they'd be safe without them. This was a pure and simple salary dump, and a message to all teams that the M's, despite that insane start, are not competing. Not even remotely.

So, now that we've gotten that depressing business out of the way, let's talk about Edwin in the Bronx.

I love this move. I love it because Edwin is a much better DH than Kendrys Morales, he'll fill a steady hole at DH when Stanton gets off the DL, and he can jump in and swap with Luke Voit at first once or twice if his defense gets too scary. Edwin, despite being 36, is still in his prime, and is leading the AL in homers with 21 (SIDENOTE: I find it interesting that Seattle traded both Bruce and Edwin after they both hit a milestone home run; Bruce had just hit his 300th before joining the Phils, and Edwin just hit his 400th the other day). To say that Edwin will bolster the already powerful Yankee offense is an understatement.

He just needs to stay healthy. Because as great as a DH as he is, he's better off on the lineup than on the IL, and we have enough players on the IL. So I'm hoping for good, consistent things with Edwin.

Coming Tomorrow- For the second year in a row, the Padres have the best closer in baseball nearing the halfway point of the season. And for the second year in a row, the Padres might be trading said closer to a competitor by July 31st.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Brewers Improve

And right as the Brewers reenter first place, everything just kinda clicks for them.

I mean, forget about Yelich and Mous and Cain and all the guys that were already golden for them. No, the stars of this June run belong to the pitching staff. And that's nice, because pitching was the one question mark throughout most of their 2018 season.

The biggest improvement has to be Brandon Woodruff, who was a long-man last season, got some big hits in the NLCS, then FINALLY was moved to the rotation, where he's had an impressive 8-1 record with 96 strikeouts, which is the kind of start the Brewers have needed from a pitcher. And for the record, Zach Davies ain't doing much worse, as he hasn't lost a game yet, although he has half of Woodruff's strikeouts. Woodruff might just be the Kluber-esque big-game pitcher the Brewers needed, and the one they thought they had with Chase Anderson.

Plus, with Gio Gonzalez coming off the DL soon and Chase Anderson doing better than his 2018 second half, the rotation is in better shape than it's been in over half a decade.

And...need I even say that Josh Hader is one of the best closers in baseball? Shouldn't that go without saying? I mean, the dude's a beast, he throws hella hard, and he hasn't lost his mojo yet. Brewers are lucky to have him.

The Brewers are just gonna need to make sure they don't get too cocky this stretch, because it's caught up to them before, and the Cubs have taken advantage of it. As this has essentially become a two-horse race between Milwaukee and Chicago (again), the Brewers need to step ahead a bit more with their offense, and firm up a few weaker points in their roster. I do want them to repeat atop the NL Central, but it's gonna take some work this year.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the best players in baseball on one of the meh-est teams.

The Stars Are Out: May 2019

I had planned on doing month wrap-up posts with Stars Are Outs from that month at like, the end of each month, or at least the very beginning of the next one. But life just happens, and here we are midway through June...and now I'm just gonna talk about it like it's the beginning of the month again.

So. Wonderful May-like weather we're having. Wonder when the Raptors are gonna drop out of contention.

Anyway, Jimmy Kimmel is the first of May's many first pitch/celeb sighting showcases. Kimmel's case is kind of rare because he did not throw out the first pitch for the Dodgers...firstly because he's a Mets fan, and secondly because he was in charge of some Alumni Game festivities for the Dodgers. This photo was taken with him and Steve Garvey, so sadly I had to crop Garv out of this one. He'll get his due someday, I imagine.

We'll stick with late-night personalities and go onto Roy Wood Jr., who is not related to the guy from Wizzard, for the record. Roy Wood's one of the better desk personalities left on the Daily Show, and while it may not be as consistently solid as it was under Jon Stewart's watch, Wood is still a fantastic writing talent to have on the show. He's also a great stand-up comic, and allegedly, like most great comedians apparently, a Cubs fan.

And with the subject of comedians, we move onto another Dodger who's definitely been pictured throwing out the first pitch for another team, Gabriel Iglesias, who decided to trade in his Marlins jersey for a Dodgers one in lieu of LA's Mexican Heritage night. Whatever the case, glad to make a card of Gabe, as I've been a low-key fan of his since he was on Last Comic Standing.

Hell, while we're talking about people who were mildly famous, here's a custom of Fez from That 70s Show. I know he's done other things, and he's writing comic books now, but...he's Fez from That 70s Show. He just is. All those Astros fans gotta be looking at him, going 'THAT IS FEZ, FROM THAT 70S SHOW'.

Hell, let's go for a legend First Pitch. Those are always fun.

Tom Browning pitched a no-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds, in addition to playing there for 10 years, winning a World Series and notching 20 wins once. Browning was one of those consistent staff aces that you kinda need, and he's gotta be a Reds hero at this point. Good to see the reception's still good for him at GABP these days.

While we're at it, here's another team legend, former Seattle fireballer Mark Langston, who threw out this first pitch on Star Wars night with fellow 80s Mariner Alvin Davis, who I couldn't find a good enough shot of. Langston I always felt was slightly ahead of his time as a strikeout-artist, and if he'd come about a decade later he could have been a legend in the same vein as Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux. Oddly enough, I always thought of him more as an Angel than a Mariner, so I'm glad he still gets a warm welcome in Seattle.

We'll end on this guy.

Buddy of mine worked with Bruce Willis on a movie once. Said he was a good enough dude, but was always pretty quiet off-set. Another friend of mine took his coat at a banquet at my college, said he was gracious but kept to himself. I've always felt like Bruce Willis could have had a longer career if he'd kept the same charisma that he had in his movies all the time. But, it's been...ten or so years since a Bruce Willis movie was considered a tentpole? So I guess he went with what was most comfortable.

I always forget he's from PA, too. Big Phils fan. So it was nice to see him throw one out at Citizens Bank Park, and see him chat with Kapler and those guys. If I recall correctly, his first pitch bounced, but he still did well enough.

I'll try and get the June ones out relatively soon after June ends, and not halfway through July.

The Way of the Odo

I'm gonna say something shocking. I know it's early, but I need to say this:

The Cy Young voting needs to include at least one person who's a realist. Someone who's more well-versed in logic than in sabermetrics. And I say this because when we're totaling up who was the best pitcher of the year, that realist will come forward and say 'Yes, but aren't we going a bit over our heads here?' We would have LOVED someone like that voting in 2016, just so they could come in and go 'I mean, REALLY? RICK PORCELLO OF ALL PEOPLE? WHEN JUSTIN VERLANDER'S HAD THE YEAR HE'S HAVING??'

I say this is a shocking point because said realist wouldn't have found anything wrong with the results of the 2010 Cy Young voting. Because as a Yankee fan, I do not count as a realist. Most New York sports fans do not think realistically. I should not have to explain this, but if you need an explanation, I direct you to the Knicks fandom.

If a realist will not suffice for Cy Young voters, then I'd suggest they get a soothsayer some voting privileges. Because they can see whether or not this Cy Young award is gonna be the only thing on this guy's shelf other than a jar of peanut butter. And I'd be interested to see what they'd see with the rest of Jake Odorizzi's career.

Odo is having a fantastic start to the year, with 9 wins and a league-leading 1.92 ERA. He's part of an ironclad rotation featuring Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Martin Perez all playing beautifully. And yet I get the feeling that if Odo does finish out the year as well as he started, therefore qualifying a Cy Young case...firstly he'd be taking it away from Verlander again, which isn't fair, and secondly...I worry that this is just the oddsmakers taking advantage of a generally flukey year from an alright pitcher.

Like...Jake Odorizzi is a fine pitcher, don't get me wrong. He's had solid years with Tampa, and his Twins debut year was...passable. But I look at his previous years' stats, and I just see a lot of lines of very okay work. Like, a 10-6 season, a 10-8 season, a 4+ ERA here, a 150 strikeout year there. I'm not seeing anything league-defining until this year, which makes me wonder if Odo will do anything league-defining after this year. It's the same thing that's sort of plagued Rick Porcello ever since his Cy Young win. It's also the same thing that's hurt Jason Vargas ever since his crazy 2017- one good year, in the absence of others, can ruin a pitcher's longevity.

Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe Odorizzi has like 5 straight Cy-Young-caliber years after this, but...at least with someone like Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber, who took some time to start dominating the league...at least they showed early signs of dominance with strikeout numbers and such. I didn't really see too many early signs with Odo's early numbers.

So maybe he's just...having a good season. And there's a difference between having a good season and having a Cy-Young caliber year.

Coming Tonight: A guy who hit a home run during the playoffs last year, and became such a great postseason reliever that he's leading this team's rotation right now.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

First Place Braves (Yet Again)

Last time I wrote about the Braves, I audibly said that they had less flaws than the Phillies, and that they had more of a reason to be in first. Somebody heard me, because as of last night the Braves are in first in the NL East.

And as much of a Philadelphia sports fan I am, I have to say that this shift in the standings is warranted. The Braves have been doing everything right in the past few weeks, powering through their bullpen troubles by slotting Luke Jackson into the ninth, signing Dallas Keuchel to eventually take the empty rotation spot, and finalizing their already-stellar lineup. The Phils, meanwhile, had been backpedaling, with some pitching troubles and a deadly injury to Andrew McCutchen. Not even a great-hitting Jay Bruce could stop that skid.

But, the question is: now that the Braves are in first, will they stay there? Because the bullpen could very well rip open again now that they've finally gotten to first (which is what happens when you wait until June to try and sign Craig Kimbrel).

Good news is the rotation doesn't seem to be problematic, even without Kevin Gausman. The solid four of Julio Teheran, Max Fried, Mike Soroka and Mike Foltynewicz is strong enough to keep the team's momentum going for a bit. Fried and Soroka have been especially welcome, as both are strong young arms that have been gestating for a while in the minors. Soroka has 7 wins and a 1.92 ERA in 11 appearances, so his Rookie of the Year case is steadily being made. And Fried is doing a similar tactic, but with more strikeouts.

And also, not many people have noticed this, but Julio Teheran is having his best season since 2016. The last two years, he's been inconsistent and slightly bothersome for the Braves, but now he seems to be back to his dominant, early-2010s self, and it couldn't have come at a better time, either.

I'm interested to see what this rotation will look like with Keuchel, which is nice, because he doesn't seem to be too far away from joining the club.

Coming Tomorrow- As airtight as Justin Verlander's Cy Young case is...this guy from Minnesota might be the one guy who could challenge him.

The Yanks Come Back

Monday could be a very big day for the New York Yankees.

According to BaseballReference.com, that is the day that two of their biggest stars are eligible to come off the Injured List. Now, it's not guaranteed that we'll get them both back on that day, because they may need more time, but...Aaron Judge AND Giancarlo Stanton have been working towards monday. The Yankees could get their two best hitters back in a single day.

Meanwhile, in the past month they've reattained James Paxton, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks from the IL, and all but Hicks have immediately gotten back to what they were good at. Didi has been explosive at the plate in his fourteen at-bats. And while Domingo German has just landed on the IL, CC has just returned, and is well on his way to notching that elusive 250th win.

What intrigues me is what's going to happen to the outfield once Judge and Stanton return. I imagine Stanton will usurp Kendrys Morales' spot at DH, and Judge will replace either Gardy or Frazier. I don't know if Cameron Maybin will be demoted or not, but this may be his last full week of consistent Yankee action, which is sad, as he's done wonderfully in the Bronx.

And as for everyone else? I guess they're gonna keep on rolling. That infield of Voit-LeMahieu-Didi-Torres has shaped into something pretty great, even if this means that Gio Urshela is gonna be used less. Tanaka, Happ and Paxton have gelled into a solid unit under CC. And Chapman is having a fantastic year in the ninth.

With the oncoming activations, and with competition from Tampa looming, I sincerely hope the Yankees keep things up. This has been an insanely fun team to follow, and I'd hate for the fun to stop now.

Coming Tonight: One of two insane rookie pitching talents for the Braves.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Countdown to an Inevitable Astros-Dodgers World Series Rematch

I know it's a bit early, but...well look.

Do we...need to do the rest of this season?

Actually, screw it. If the season ended today.
Rays win AL Wild card. Cubs win NL wild card.
ALCS: Astros-Yankees.
NLCS: Dodgers-Brewers.
World Series: Astros-Dodgers.

You see? It's that inevitable. It's that obvious. And it could definitely happen.

Now I know what you're thinking. And you're thinking that it's literally impossible for any two frontrunners in OCTOBER, let alone in June, to make it all the way to the World Series without hitting any obstacles. It's physically impossible, because you have to just zoom through endless probabilities and outcomes.

I just ask myself...can any team catch the Dodgers? No. And can any team catch the Astros? Maybe the Twins, but I don't know if they're a World Series team.

So...unless insane things happen soon, we may be looking at a Dodgers-Astros WS rematch. And I kinda like that, because that means the Dodgers might be able to win it.

I mean, think about this. Unlike last year, their entire rotation is very healthy. Ryu, Kershaw and Hill are all themselves. Nobody has an ERA over 4. Hell, Hyun-Jin Ryu is so good that he's only given up 13 runs. For comparison's sake, Lance Lynn, who has started the same amount of games for Texas, has given up 39 runs.

You've also got a lineup where six members [Bellinger, Muncy, Verdugo, Seager, Turner, Pederson] have 1.0 and up WARs. You've also got TWO GREAT BACKUP CATCHERS, David Freese being the best bench player out there, and at the very least some home runs from Enrique Hernandez. This is a fantastic team, and this is after AJ Pollock's injury.

The Dodgers are better than they were in either of the years they lost the World Series. I just can't wait to see how they'll do in a third one.

Coming Tomorrow- His team is slowly gaining some injured players back. Which is nice. But...it's gotta help that he's been playing hella well since April, right?

Call to the Hall: 2019 Edition

I've got some time today, so might as well write a sequel to a favorite post of mine from 3 years ago.

In 2016, I was a stone's throw from Cooperstown for a few days, and wondered aloud how many active players had a shot at being enshrined eventually, considering that children of the 80s and 90s are getting all their fringe players in the hall at this point. I went down the list of teams, and named the most likely player on that team to make the Baseball Hall of Fame, or at the very least the player with the absolute best HOF chances of any, even if they are unsuccessful.

I think it's a good time to do a sequel now because of the fact that people can look back at 80s Topps or whatever and count 20, or 30 or so Hall of Famers, and think 'wow, all of those guys were playing at the same time, cool!' And it's weird to think that somebody who's a rookie right now could potentially be a Hall of Famer in 24 years...granted, this assumes that the planet will still be here in 24 years, but nevertheless.

So I'm doing it again. For all 30 teams, the best, or most-votes-getting, candidate for the Hall. You'd think there'd be a lot of repeats from 2016, but...a lot has changed since then.

ANGELS: Albert Pujols, who's gotten to the point where everything he's done since like 2015 has sort of have been just for tiny little footnotes on his plaque. He's definitely in, even if he's kind of a non-factor this year. If it weren't for him, it would most certainly be Mike Trout occupying this space.

ASTROS: Justin Verlander. I'm interested to see what the sportswriters will say about this guy. I see him as a Roy Halladay type, where his overall dominance will clear up any blank spots in his award case. And I do think that Verlander's one of the best overall pitchers of this modern era, as he's been a perennial standout since his rookie year in 2006, has come within the top 3 in the Cy Young voting 5 times, has an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and a Cy Young. This season with the Astros, he's STILL doling out amazing numbers, as he's already leading the league in wins AND WHIP. Unless somebody else (David Price?) challenges him further down the stretch, I'm guessing he'll get another Cy this year. And probably that HOF plaque.

ATHLETICS: Khris Davis. There's a lot of youth on this team, so this was a tough choice, but I went with Davis over Joakim Soria solely because Davis may be the single most consistent power hitter of the decade, a sort of variation on Albert Belle or Cecil Fielder. He's very one-dimensional, and doesn't do much else other than hit homers, but he's exceptional at that one thing. He'd probably get some votes for that alone.

BLUE JAYS: Edwin Jackson. Dude has the longest career out of all of the Jays, has a storied, veteran pitching career, and even if he's a long-shot to get in, has more of a resume than most of this team.

BRAVES: Josh Donaldson. This was a toss-up between him, Markakis and Freeman, but I went with Donaldson because he has an MVP, he's still just an insanely-talented all-around player, and he's still got some big-game oomph with the Braves. Freeman and Markakis have been solid, consistent players, but haven't had the sort of quality that Donaldson's been playing with the past 5 or so years.

BREWERS: Christian Yelich. Yelich's the only guy who's numbers are screaming at me, solely because Yelich might be the best player in baseball right now. And because Cain and Moose might not have great cases.

CARDINALS: Yadier Molina. And then maybe after he gets in, they'll vote in Ted Simmons. Yadi's an all-time-great catcher.

CUBS: This is literally a deadlocked tie between Jon Lester and Cole Hamels. It is so tough to decide who has the better HOF case, because both are some of the best pitchers of this era, and neither have enough credentials to either outdo each other or tangibly receive over 75% of the vote in my eyes. I mean...of the two, Lester has more rings, so maybe his case is a little better, but it's still tough.

DIAMONDBACKS: Zack Greinke. This would have been Adam Jones if I hadn't just...completely forgot Greinke was on this team. Another classic talent.

DODGERS: Clayton Kershaw. Next.

GIANTS: 3 years ago I said Buster Posey, but his HOF case has plummeted since then. Now, I'd have to say Evan Longoria, for being a consistently solid third baseman, and for even staying sharp despite this team's inescapable downfall.

INDIANS: Corey Kluber, because he's the one with two Cy Young awards. Even if he's hurt right now, and has had some down seasons, he's still one of the hardest throwing pitchers of the strikeout era we're in right now.

MARINERS: Felix Hernandez. Would have gone with Edwin, but then I remembered Felix's first decade of baseball.

MARLINS: Curtis Granderson. This is a tough team to make a case for someone for, because everyone is either too young, or too washed-up, to really make a difference right now. Grandy kind of has the best case, because he has the most home runs, has been on a ton of playoff teams, and is one of the most notable humanitarians in the game. But those strikeout numbers would really chase sportswriters.

METS: Jacob de Grom. The strength of this guy's first six seasons in the league bypass career numbers from Robinson Cano and Todd Frazier. If de Grom keeps it up, he'll be an all-time great.

NATIONALS: Max Scherzer. Next.

ORIOLES: oof. Uh. I guess Andrew Cashner has the best HOF case on this team. Which says a lot about the quality of ball playing on the Orioles.

PADRES: On a team with Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado and Wil Myers, would you believe that I'm going with Ian Kinsler? If it weren't for his last 2 seasons, this wouldn't be a stretch, but Kinsler's numbers with Detroit and Texas have been consistently fantastic. He's a great-hitting player, a great defensive shortstop, and a very Scott-Rolen-esque talent...which means, considering how much traction Rolen has gotten on the ballot, that Kinsler might not have a great case.

PHILLIES: Andrew McCutchen. This was a tight race between Cutch, Jay Bruce, Bryce Harper and Jake Arrieta, but I had to go with Cutch due to his star presence, all-around abilities, and the fact that he's one of my favorite players.

PIRATES: Francisco Liriano. Because Chris Archer and Starling Marte don't have very good Hall cases, and because Liriano's been great as a starter AND reliever on multiple teams. He'll get 4 votes, but he's still got more of a definite case than those 2.

RANGERS: Hunter Pence over Elvis Andrus because I love controversy. I put Andrus into the Freddie Freeman category as he's been perfectly solid for 10 years, and hasn't had the huge, league-dominating breakout year that we've been waiting for. Hunter Pence has had a few of those years for different teams. And now he's having another huge year with Arlington after everyone counted him out. Hall voters will enjoy interpreting his career.

RAYS: Charlie Morton. He's got the longest career of anybody on the team, and he's probably the most underrated pitcher of the decade.

RED SOX: I'd put Dustin Pedroia, but I don't know if he's what you'd call active anymore. So instead, I'll put Chris Sale, because he's another insane hard-throwing strikeout artist, he's gonna win a Cy Young anyday now, and he's gonna be this generation's Randy Johnson.

REDS: Joey Votto. Next.

ROCKIES: Nolan Arenado. Props to the person who predicted that he'd overtake this spot back in 2016. You clearly know your stuff. Arenado is another guy who's basically one MVP away from running the MLB. He hits home runs, he's strong at third, he's essentially the team captain in Denver, and he might be their first genuine HOF talent.

ROYALS: Alex Gordon, solely because Perez is injured and nobody else has enough longevity to have a good enough case. Yes, that includes you too, Ian Kennedy.

TIGERS: Miguel Cabrera. Next.

TWINS: Nelson Cruz. He's the post-Ortiz-generation's marquee DH, he's 29 away from 400 home runs, and he's hit for power AND contact.

WHITE SOX: Jose Abreu? I don't know, this one's pretty tough, because I can't say with confidence that any of these guys are really HOF-caliber. Everyone's good enough for right now, but I don't really know if there are any all-time talents.

YANKEES: CC Sabathia. He got his 3000th strikeout this year, and will get his 250th win this year as well. He's also one of the best pitchers of the 2000s, and has jumpstarted a generation of hard-throwing aces. He belongs.

Did I get anything gloriously wrong? Sound off, if you'd like.

Coming Tonight: The best pitcher on the Dodgers right now is not Kershaw, not Rich Hill, not Walker Buehler....but this guy.