Monday, July 26, 2021

No Cubs Go

 


The Cubs have fallen below .500, and below the Cardinals. The reclamation project that we all thought was in the works earlier this year has dissipated with Jake Arrieta's ERA. So now...for the first time since roughly 2013, the Chicago Cubs have to sell.

Craig Kimbrel and Kris Bryant have been attracting lots of trade attention, and rightfully so. Kimbrel's still an elite closer that could become a fixture anywhere he goes, at least with some time, and Bryant is still pretty elite as a hitter and now has the power to play just about everywhere. I've also seen Zach Davies and Andrew Chafin talked about in trade discussions [UPDATE: So long, Chafin!], same with Ryan Tepera and Matt Duffy. A good chunk of this team is probably gonna get dealt, and that's a reality they have to come to terms with.

It's honestly a case of being alright with who sticks around. I'm guessing Kyle Hendricks is gonna stay put, but not certain. Hendricks still has a few years left on his contract, and is still definitely a leader in the clubhouse. He's also got 12 wins and a 3.60 ERA, and a massive improvement over his start this year. If people go this year, Hendricks, along with Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo, are gonna be the tentpoles that keep this team together as it reforms.

You can see the next generation of this team beginning to take place, with Patrick Wisdom beginning to look more and more like an everyday 3rd baseman for Chicago, and Keegan Thompson looking like a safe bet in the ninth if Kimbrel goes. Also, Nico Hoerner is definitely coming into his own at 2nd, and somehow Rafael Ortega is turning into a nice short-term replacement in the outfield. I do see this team letting Ian Happ loose in a year or so if he keeps hitting like this, but that may be as they figure out what the next stage of this team may be.

As for this current stage, this is gonna be a weird week. A lot of Cubs legends might be playing their last games as Cubs, and we may be saying goodbye to this sort of dynasty that's lasted since 2015. Which is kinda weird.

Coming Tomorrow- A former hero for a 1st place team, now a power bat for a team that once again might be looking to sneak in as a Wild Card.

Guardian Ship

 


So. Last week, the Cleveland Indians changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians. This is the single weirdest reasoning for why someone might like it, but I like this because it's a name change that still keeps the team alphabetically between the Giants and Mariners in my binders, alphabetically, and therefore I don't need to move the Cleveland sections anywhere else in my binders.

Personally, I'd have preferred 'Spiders'. How awesome would it be for a sports team to be named the Spiders? We have Jaguars, Pelicans, Coyotes, Sharks and Rays. Why not Spiders??? But yeah, Guardians is fine, a little safe for my standards, but...considering what it's replacing, I do understand. Guardians isn't gonna piss anybody off...except for, uh, the people who were really, really attached to Chief Wahoo.

But anyway. Guardians is for 2022. For now, we still have to follow the 2021 Cleveland Indians. As I write this, they're at .500, and in second. Which means the AL Central is back to where it was a few years ago, where one team competes mightily and all the other ones sort of shrug behind it. The Indians are not that team, so they're sort of hanging on at second. Zach Plesac is healthy again, and he's doing alright, with 5 wins in 13 starts. But he's the only real trusted starter from Opening Day to really meet expectations. Triston McKenzie strikes people out, but he has a 5.91 ERA. Sam Hentges and J.C. Mejia are giving up runs left and right, as was Eli Morgan before the demotion. They are using Cal Quantrill more as a starter, meaning we're now at two Cleveland starters whose relatives were relievers in the 90s, and Quantrill's been doing a decent job. But the lack of a strong, healthy rotation has doomed this team more than any other aspect.

Like, I don't think anyone would have predicted that the Cleveland outfield by midyear would be Harold Ramirez, Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado, but none of them are doing too badly. Ramirez is having a great comeback year, hitting .269 with 24 RBIs. Bobby Bradley already has 11 homers and is coming into his own as the everyday first baseman. Roberto Perez is back, and while he's not hitting for average, he's still a better option than Austin Hedges. Cesar Hernandez has sacrificed his contact numbers for excellent power, with 16 homers. And Ramirez and Reyes are still holding the lineup together.

This is far from a great team, and they're barely even competitive, but they're solid enough to finish with some semblance of dignity, and I doubt they'll be complete sellers this week. 

Coming Tonight: A lot of his teammates are likely to be traded this week. Will he survive?

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Jean Pool

 


May be a bit of a shocker to some of you, but the Philadelphia Phillies are somehow still alive.

After a win against the Braves, led by homers from two non-power players [Jean Segura and Ronald Torreyes], the Phils have a slight lead over Atlanta and are back in 2nd, 4 games behind the Mets. The divide is palpable. The Rays were able to snap back against the Red Sox, the Astros were able to bridge the gap against the A's. Why not the Phils?

Well...this team, obviously, is still not perfect. Yesterday they lost 15-3, thanks to Vince Velasquez being himself. Matt Moore, Spencer Howard and Velasquez have become a very unstable latter half of the rotation, and are doing so in Zach Eflin's absence. If the Phils thought it was hard only having 3 good starters, now they're down to just Nola and Wheeler, and hoping that those other 3 days are good for the offense. And quite obviously the bullpen still needs help. They're not has bad as they have been, but lots of 3 and 4 ERAs, and even trusted arms like Brandon Kintzler and Jose Alvarado letting them down. Thankfully Archie Bradley's heating up, and Ranger Suarez has become an excellent closer, but this bullpen still runs the risk of preventing this team from glory.

What does help is that the flexibility of this lineup is beginning to aid them. Guys like Torreyes, Brad Miller, Travis Jankowski and Luke Williams are really impressing off the bench, and providing great backup material. Toe and Janko were incredibly cheap pickups that have thankfully succeeded for the Phils, and Miller was also relatively cheap but still one of the best bench bats in the leagues. Now that Herrera is back, they are using him primarily in center but also relying on Janko and Williams when they can, as well as potentially fielding offers for a big OF piece. And, of course, Hoskins, Harper, Realmuto, Segura and Cutch are performing as promised. Didi's beginning to heat up, and Bohm is still saddled by a sophomore slump that could lead to a rental taking his job for the latter bit of the season.

The bottom line is that this team is moving, and is definitely capable of performing well into the season if given the right momentum. They have a lot of huge pieces working right now, and they're nowhere near as piss-poor as they were in May. They just need...prolonged luck. Which is not easy to come by in Philadelphia.

Coming Tomorrow- The whole rotation got hurt. This guy was the first to return, and given his stance on COVID regulations last season, I kinda wonder what his thoughts are on the new name. 

Lowe or Never

 


There are officially two teams at the top of the AL East. The Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees have cut down the Sox's lead, and the Rays have caught up. Meanwhile, all three teams will likely be stocking up in the coming week. So...now what?

Well, the Rays are having one of the most intriguing trade years in some time. Their first move of the season was trading their shortstop, Willy Adames, to Milwaukee in exchange for bullpen help in the form of Drew Rasmussen and J.P. Feyereisen. Why did they need bullpen help? A week earlier, they had cut Hunter Strickland and let the Angels take him. They had solved a problem they had helped to create themselves. 

Then they had the issue of shortstop, which couldn't be fixed by Taylor Walls or even Wander Franco [though Franco is sloooowly getting better]. It is an issue that still persists, and could be helped by trading for one of the many infield pieces on the block. They did have a lot of outfielders and flexibility there, but by making the first big move of the July deadline season to get Nelson Cruz, the Rays made that situation even more crowded. Manuel Margot is hurt, yes, but now Austin Meadows has to play outfield more often, which is not his strength, and Brett Phillips is now more of a bench/alt type. 

Meanwhile, starting pitching became an issue once Tyler Glasnow got hurt. It would have been less of an issue if they hadn't traded Trevor Richards to the Brewers all the way in May. So then they had Ryan Yarbrough, Shane McClanahan, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and Josh Fleming all capable of starting, which was a solid rotation but a bit thin. So...then they trade Rich Hill to the Mets. Why?? What good comes of that? Now you need pitching help again? Today, Drew Rasmussen started, and by the grace of the Tampa offense he did a nice job, but...at this point, the Rays have less of a solid rotation and more suggestions at this point. The only person starting games that's started every single one has been McClanahan, the rookie. That's odd.

The Rays have proved that they are buyers this season, and that they are competitors. But whenever they fix something, something else falls off, and it's usually their fault. Some things, though, happened on their own- Brandon Lowe's average stopped being a factor, Glasnow got caught with sticky stuff and promptly got injured trying to pitch without it, Meadows is getting colder, and the bullpen still isn't perfect. 

It's very possible that the Rays could get past all of this and still make it to the playoffs, and they've overcome worse issues in the past. But this is a lot of very suspect and very confounding behavior from a team that just won an AL title, and I hope some of it works out for them.

Coming Tonight: Three seasons into his contract, he finally started hitting like he used to for the Phillies.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Yaz You Like It

 


It's mid-July and the Giants are still in first. I'm kinda cool with this.

First of all, they're so many games over .500 that it's downright impressive, being 61-35. They've also done this while sustaining a minimal lead over the Dodgers [now at 3 games], and have only had two losing streaks longer than 2 games. They also have 11 players with at least 1 WAR, 6 players with at least 2 WAR, and 3 players with at least 3 WAR, two of which being Kevin Gausman and Anthony Desclafani, two rather cheap pickups that most teams passed on.

And also, yes, the Giants still have Buster Posey, Mike Yastrzemski, Steven Duggar and now suddenly Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf all surging. It's a very good time to be a Giants fan.

There is a worrying detail, though, in the injuries to Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford, three big pieces of the Giants' infield [all of which are over 30]. Add that to the already-out-for-the-year Tommy La Stella and you have a less-confident infield for the first time in years for this team. The good news is that Ruf has done perfectly well covering at 1st, and his average is approaching last year's levels finally. Flores has mastered the third base gig and is now hitting .251 with 33 RBIs. And of all people, former Yankee Thairo Estrada has been the most helpful taking over for Crawford. Like Mike Tauchman, Estrada was cut from a bulging Yanks team and his bringing his bench talents to SF to great results so far.

Also, it looks like Jake McGee has finally got the hang of the closing gig, with a lower ERA in addition to his 20 saves. Pretty much the whole bullpen right now is sharp, with choice performances by Dominic Leone, Zack Littell and Tyler Rogers. The highest starting ERA is Johnny Cueto's 4ish one, and even he's still doing decently enough. Gausman and Disco have brought some rotation firepower to this team that no one could have predicted, and even Logan Webb and Alex Wood have complemented them well. 

Plus, Taz may not have a very high average, but he's power-hitting really well, and having another strong season in SF. I was worried he'd be a fluke after his 2019 debut, but he's really settled in for the Giants, and has become a mainstay there, even surrounded by contracts and such.

The stretch will yield big players coming to NL West competitors, and the Giants may grab one to stay hot themselves. I'd like to see them upset the Padres and Dodgers for the gold, though any outcome will probably be a thrilling one.

Coming Tonight: Former young standout, now watching his team both buy and sell simultaneously at the deadline.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Free of Blame in Houston

 

Michael Brantley began his career being traded for C.C. Sabathia. He missed an entire year due to injuries while his team made it to a World Series. He's been trying to prove himself his entire career, and to a degree he has succeeded- Brantley's made five All-Star teams, has a career .299 average [and is a few points from breaking 300], has never scored lower than 2 WAR in a full season since 2011 [aside from his injury-plagued 2016], and currently is one of the single best contact hitters in baseball by a large margin.

Except...the only problem is that since 2019, he's been playing for the Houston Astros. Who are all pretty much smoke and mirrors, and even the consciously good performers like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have an asterisk next to them.

Now, I'm of the firm belief that Brantley didn't do a hell of a lot wrong. He certainly played by the rules in Cleveland, and he didn't exactly change a great deal when signing with Houston. Is there a chance that maybe he contributed to the group deception? Maybe. But I don't think his big numbers in 2019 and 2021 have anything to do with being on the Astros. It's a lot like the pitchers in Houston, they had nothing to do with the trashcan scheme, they were always doing their thing, and guys like Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton and Zack Greinke shouldn't have their careers marred. Gerrit Cole, though...may have to recover from another scandal. But that's completely different.

So Brantley's having another huge 2021. Good for him, I suppose. I assume he's playing the right way. But him doing this on the Astros, surrounded by so many players I do not like, is a little harder to stomach. The Astros are currently in first by 2.5 games, and are looking at two straight series' against beatable teams. The only pieces who are injured are Alex Bregman and Jose Urquidy. Everyone else is playing well because too much of the core remains, and they haven't exactly been scattered for their insolence. I can only be okay with so many players from this team, like Brantley, Greinke and Pressly, doing well when so many have played huge parts in the cheating scandal. 

It's likely that the Astros will be a playoff team once again, because that's what happens. It's also likely that the Astros could pick up a fairly useful piece at the deadline. And so hopefully, they'll get something of a fun comeuppance this year without having to humiliate the Yankees again.

Coming Tomorrow- His team just broke 60 wins, and he's still one of the chief pieces of them. 

Willy Adames Saves the Brewers


 Willy Adames began the season with a .197 average, and 15 RBIs in 41 games. It was a disappointing, muddled start for an infielder who had been so essential to the 2020 World Series team. With two infield prospects waiting behind him and the team sagging in the standings, Adames needed something to fix his swing and jolt him back up.

That something was, as it turns out, a trade to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Since Adames' departure, the Rays have struggled at short, with Taylor Walls and Wander Franco not shaping up as major leaguers quite yet. Meanwhile, Adames has been hitting .302 with 38 RBIs in 53 games with the Brewers. So I guess you could say they won, with all apologies to J.P. Feyereisen.

The Brewers have managed to fend off the Reds and remain in 1st place, which is a very nice feat considering how the Cubs and Cardinals have curled after taking 1st themselves. The trick is that three-headed monster in the rotation, Woodruff, Burnes and Peralta all have upwards of a 3.0 WAR, they all have ERAs lower than 2.39, and they all have between 135 and 140 strikeouts. They are all in sync, on fire, and coming for you. The trick is praying for the other two days, which are slightly easier with Adrian Houser and Brett Anderson, but not completely harmless. Houser still has 5 wins and a 3.97 ERA, and that's no slouch. 

Meanwhile, Adames, Kolten Wong and Omar Narvaez are all league-caliber, Yelich is heating up, Luis Urias and Jace Peterson are working at third, and Keston Hiura and Rowdy Tellez, uh...hopefully will hit for average soon enough. The important detail is that the bulk of this team can contact-hit, and the lack of true power-hitters won't be much of an issue [though Avisail Garcia's 17 homers certainly aren't bad]. 

I'd love to see this team make it to the end in 1st, but I can't really count out the Reds, or even the Cubs or Cardinals. This division almost always has a spoiler, and hopefully the Brewers can hang onto the momentum.

Coming Tonight: Perhaps the one player who didn't even need the Astros' help to become a contact-hitting superstar.