Friday, June 14, 2024

Before He Sheets


I will give the 2024 White Sox credit, their series with the Mariners was positively gripping.

It ended up being a pretty fair matchup, as both teams have had stars in the starting rotation, and both teams have had several cases of the lineup just not showing up. So seeing games where both pitchers go far without giving up many runs made for a cool and impressive atmosphere, not befitting of a last-place team who'll likely be losing 100 games. Even if the Sox only ended up winning one of these, it was still a tense matchup between Garrett Crochet and Emerson Hancock. Still, even the pitchers that started in losses, including Jonathan Cannon, Erick Fedde and newcomer Drew Thorpe, only gave up a run or so, and mostly have the bullpen to blame for further tomfoolery. 

So I will give the White Sox that credit. Even while stinking it up, they've managed to compile a fairly strong rotation of people like Crochet, Fedde, Cannon, Thorpe and honestly Chris Flexen who can go deep into games and keep runs down. Unfortunately I'm not sure if Fedde, Flexen and Crochet will still be around in a month or so. I'm not even sure if it's a good business move to trade those guys, as Fedde's signed til next year and Flexen and Crochet are still under team control for a bit, but like...they're good players and the Sox are trying to rebuild.

I can say with some certainty that Luis Robert Jr. will probably be dealt this year. He's the only real tentpole piece left on this team, the majority of the contract is through, and even in an injury-shortened year he's shown elite numbers and big hits. Robert has 7 homers and 10 RBIs in 16 games. Most of this team don't have the kind of production to hit those numbers until a month of play has passed. Having him on this team, healthy and hitting, will give the Sox a slight boost, and give them a bit more of a reason to exist, but it'll make it very clear how much he needs to be on a more balanced roster as well. 

The rest of the Sox is just a mix of mediocrity all throughout. Gavin Sheets leads the team in RBIs with 28  but is also hitting .238. Korey Lee is outhitting Martin Maldonado and starting behind the plate, but I feel like if he's trying to do this to stick it to Houston then he should probably know that they actually have a decent backup this year and have already forgotten who both of them are. Oscar Colas and Corey Julks are hitting consistently at an MLB level, but the team they'll be inheriting is not the one they thought they would a couple years ago. And Andrew Vaughn is hitting .225, which is enough to get Sox fans to want Jose Abreu back, EVEN NOW.

It's still a dire situation, even if the pitching picture has improved. You have to hope that the steps are being taken to improve the quality of play but I don't know how many people have to leave for that to happen at this point.

Coming Tomorrow- You blink and all of the sudden this guy's hitting well and his team's in 2nd. 

Lend Me a Tanner

 Here is how dire the situation is in Miami currently. Recently, the Marlins had a promotion that advertised that before the game, there would be an onfield celebration of Miami as the setting for the Bad Boys movies, led by Bad Boys: Ride or Die stars Will Smith, no not the pitcher for the Royals nor the catcher for the Dodgers, and Martin Lawrence. Additionally, Lawrence and Smith would partake in the ceremonial first pitch, clad in modern Marlins jerseys adorned with the surnames of their Bad Boys characters.

Let's think about this. The plan to get Marlins fans in the seats is not by, say, putting money into the team or making it an entertaining product, but doing a promotional appearance by two people who are not Marlins fans, one of which infamously defied SNL censors by making derogatory jokes about feminine hygiene, the other whom committed a sin so heinous that he shouldn't even be allowed into LoanDepot Park...that being growing up as a Philadelphia sports fan. 

That's not a great advertising hook! 'Come, Marlins fans, and see our special guest, a Phillies fan! And if you don't, there's a non-zero percent chance he will punch you!'

The thing is, Miami has been a great hub for the modern cultural conversation. One of the current ambassadors for hispanic presence in baseball is Marcello Hernandez, an SNL player who's getting positively huge right now. Hernandez is a Miami native and Marlins fan, and features prominently in promotional material for MLB's Beisbol initiative, alongside ballplayers from spanish-speaking countries. The rebranding the Marlins had in 2019 was successful in staying true to the Miami area's Cuban and hispanic roots, as have the City Connect uniforms. The Marlins are very much a great symbol of the rise of Miami as an American culture point. You're seeing way more modern Marlins caps than you did Rainbow Fish caps in the 2010s, because it means something to be a Marlins fan, or from Miami, now.

Now...if only the team didn't suck. 

I haven't had this much trouble finding players to customize from a team, THIS EARLY, in years. Nobody is playing well. The people who were, like Ryan Weathers and Bryan Hoeing, are hurt. There are multiple players who have succeeded in the majors that the Marlins are keeping in Jacksonville for no reason, while Nick Fortes, Christian Bethancourt and Tim Anderson get to remain on the roster. The team's best hitter, Jazz Chisholm Jr., has a 1.0 WAR. And the team's best pitcher, Tanner Scott, a reliever with a 1.30 ERA, looks to be getting the hell out of Miami. This team was not this dire in 2023, but they're extremely dire now, and just don't have any starters with an ERA lower than 5 or any starting lineup pieces hitting more than .250. 

The White Sox are a worse team, but at least they have Erick Fedde, Garrett Crochet and Luis Robert, at least for the moment. The Marlins have nobody like that, and they're struggling to get by without any people who can consistently be the hero. And it's really depressing to watch.

I want the Marlins to improve solely to meet the demands of Miami's burgeoning moment. But I don't know how long it'll take for them to get there.

Coming Tonight: A hitter for, somehow, a worse team. 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

End of Jays?


With Cavan Biggio being picked up by the Dodgers, there's a sense that whatever process began in 2019 with the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio has since dissipated. The attempts to strengthen the team have resulted in dealing away great central pieces like Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel, letting great trades like Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman walk away in free agency, and sitting on contracts like George Springer's and Kevin Kiermaier's as they age out of their primes. 

And thus we have this current moment, where the team's circling last, and they're seriously considering trading Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

I remember the buzz in 2018 about Bichette and Guerrero, and even if the Jays weren't terrible in 2018 there was a sense that these young kids would be a new foundation that would bring the team back to relevancy. And in a sense they did, as Vlad made a few Home Run Derbys, has made 3 straight All-Star teams, nearly won an MVP in 2021, has a home run title and, even in a lesser year, still feels like one of the best hitters in the game. Same with Bo Bichette, who's already led the league in hits twice, hit for .300 three times and has shown more versatility and range than even his dad. With these two, and a few others, the Jays made the playoffs 3 times in the 2020s...though they couldn't get past the Wild Card round each time. Last year stung the most, as it was the confirmation that this team, no matter who was at the helm, just couldn't succeed in October.

And with the current fourth place position and sub-.500 record, the Jays are seriously thinking about whether or not it's worth it to keep competing. Next year alone the Jays will lose Yusei Kikuchi, Yimi Garcia, Kevin Kiermaier and Danny Jansen, and are coming to the end of contracts with Vlad Jr., Jordan Romano and Bo Bichette. Already, this team has openly discussed dealing some of these guys, even Vlad. And that's very upsetting, considering that at one point Vlad felt like the future of this club.

This year he's had decent enough numbers,  hitting .281 with 7 homers and 30 RBIs, but he's definitely gotten hotter in the last few weeks. I think he knows teams are gonna be looking at him, and wants to come off as strong as possible, even if it means parting with the organization his father entrusted to bring him up. It's uncertain who'll be making the deal, but Houston, San Francisco, Cincinnati, maybe even Seattle or New York, could go for an upgrade at 1st. Or maybe none of it happens and he rounds out the year in Toronto. Or maybe somehow the Jays figure it out and stuff themselves back into the race.

I don't know if the Jays are gonna sell this year, but if it does happen, it'll bring out some sadness in me that I never thought I'd feel for a Jays team after 2016. 

Coming Tomorrow- It is June, and there is a team where literally nobody is worth making a custom of. So I had to go with a reliever. 

Joc Steady

 The deal with Joc Pederson has traditionally been that you're gonna get power numbers. His defense was never especially the draw, even in LA. You get him, you're gonna get 25-to-35 home runs, some solid RBI numbers, some low averages and his younger brother pumping everybody up. That's already a pretty good deal. Pederson has 2 World Series wins, has competed in two Home Run Derbys, is responsible for 12 postseason home runs, and is one of the most fun guys to have around. In the heat of an All-Star season in San Francisco, when Tommy Pham went at him, almost nobody thought it was because of anything Pederson did. It's not like Josh Donaldson egging on Tim Anderson or anything. No, Pedey was in the right and Pham was bringing stuff about their fantasy league into the ring, and Pham got rightfully attacked for it.

What I'm saying is I thought I knew the limitations of what Joc Pederson could bring to a ballclub. And so here he is, in Phoenix, with his best contact hitting year of his career. Hitting .286 with 44 hits, 23 RBIs and an .878 OPS. And his slugging numbers are a .494, but he's gone higher. He only has 7 home runs. It's not really about power this season. Which is kinda wild, cause...this is Joc Pederson we're talking about here. Career .239 average Joc Pederson. 

And hey, the D-Backs will certainly take it at this point. They're hitting .249 as a team, which is 8th in baseball, thanks to contact hitters like Ketel Marte, Jake McCarthy, Geraldo Perdomo and somehow Randal Grichuk. Walker and Marte are hitting home runs, even if resident home run hitter Eugenio Suarez...uh...isn't. Really the only disappointments here have been Suarez and Corbin Carroll, everybody else has been either decent or extremely good. And it's wild to see Pederson an integral part of the team. Not that I didn't think he could, I saw what he could do with the Giants and Braves, but you forget how versatile he is, and how many different things he can excel at. And he's reminding us in AZ this year.

Yes, quite obviously the injuries to the pitching staff has held this team back. We've still yet to see Eduardo Rodriguez, we're without Merrill Kelly for a while, now we're without Zac Gallen, and a rotation of Montgomery-Pfaadt-Nelson-Henry-Cecconi just isn't the same. This is what the D-Backs were trying to get around all last postseason with the Kelly-Gallen-Pfaadt trio. Now that the big pieces of the rotation are hurt it's just 5 guys with 5 ERAs. Montgomery is proving why he made the right decision firing Scott Boras, because that holdout may have tanked his season. If they didn't have Paul Sewald on fire in the ninth, and a very strong bullpen, it'd be over for these guys.

It's a lot like the Astros in the earlier part of the season, and the Marlins and A's now honestly. If there's no 'safe zone' starter to guide you through after a ton of bad starts, then you're really putting a lot on your lineup to show up. And the D-Backs are lucky this lineup can. If there was substantial pitching here, and healthy, they wouldn't be paddling through 4th place.

Coming Tonight: A guy who fans once thought would be the franchise's savior...beginning to look at other clubs. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Understaffing Before Closure

So, here's a brief bit of topical depression from your local Jersey resident: I found out earlier today that one of our local diners just closed suddenly, out of the blue. This is the third or fourth diner in the last year or so to close down, one's been made into a dispensary. And this one was still standing but now it's suddenly gone. And there was no run-up to it, or signs that it might be on the way out. Nah, beginning of the week the doors were shut, the website was offline and the business was kaput. Thankfully there's a good diner still local, probably one or two others a bit further off, but this specific diner just skidding to a halt like this feels like the ultimate insult. 

It's not that the customers stopped showing up, it's that nobody really wanted to put in the work to keep it open.

Oh yeah and there's an Oakland A at the top of the post, I wonder how that anecdote is related...

Look, the A's were a decent enough team when there were healthy and viable starting options. That at least kept them in the race, and they actually had 5 guys starting all their games for a while. Then Paul Blackburn, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Joe Boyle all got hurt, and the replacements were people like Aaron Brooks, Luis Medina and Hogan Harris, who were left out of the picture for a reason. And then suddenly it makes sense that the A's aren't winning games. Nobody's really around to make the first 5 innings suspenseful in any way.

It's really just J.P. Sears right now, as he's the only one who's stayed healthy this time. And it's a good time for ex-Yankee pitching prospects in other markets. Michael King had an amazing day for the Padres [against uh...oh dear this is awkward], and just last night Drew Thorpe had a stunning debut for the White Sox. Sears has been relatively sharp since coming over in the Frankie Montas deal, he's just never particularly had the best teams to defend. This year does seem to be an improvement, as he's 4-5 with a 4.02 ERA in 13 games. Sears isn't an overpowering pitcher, but he's gained some control, and is the best asset the A's have right now. Having Joey Estes and Mitch Spence helps somewhat, but there's still a 'let's throw 'em out there' quality to most of the starters not named Sears, and it's at least nice that he can be reliable for them in a time when everything is failing them.

And now it's getting even more ridiculous than just simply 'no starters showing up'. One of the team's best relievers, Michael Kelly, is facing a long-term league ban due to sports-betting. The plan to get Brandon Bielak over and fix his issues didn't work because the A's aren't the Dodgers. There's three crucial hitters with sub-.200 averages, including one that has been linked to trade rumors due to his, uh, hitting. And two guys who looked like the future of the team last year, Ryan Noda and Lawrence Butler, are back in the minors. Even if people like Tyler Soderstrom, Kyle McCann and Max Schuemann are actually coming into their own, too many parts that were working have been knocked back off for there to be any progress. 

The hope at this point is that things don't get any worse. But seeing as the Twins and Royals are up next...I'm not all that sure...

Coming Tomorrow- A career power hitter having one of his best pure contact seasons yet.

Reds Up


Somehow it all just fell into place. The Reds were struggling throughout May, and circling last for a lot of the month. Then all of the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals started tanking, and the second June started, the Reds took off, and have only lost 2 games since the month began. And guess who's looking at 2nd place all of the sudden?

It's not like the Reds were waiting for everything to fall into place. There was a lot about this team that was working before- Elly stealing all those bases, the golden trio of Greene-Abbott-Lodolo, a surprising amount of strong innings from Frankie Montas, and another fun bench campaign from Stuart Fairchild. But it just seemed like they weren't matching up well against other teams, especially surging teams like the Dodgers, Padres and Orioles, and teams in the midst of hot streaks like the Cardinals and D-Backs. Sometimes the schedule can screw you like that. And as has been documented, even genuinely good teams have trouble with the Dodgers. 

And yet in several games against the Cubs, the Reds have prevailed, and grown even stronger, thanks to Tyler Stephenson finally putting together a complete campaign, Jonathan India finally getting hot, and Nick Lodolo staying firm after his IL stint and looking better than he's looked in years. Lodolo is still a really nice asset, and so far he's 6-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 9 starts. Not the overall crowdpleaser that Hunter Greene is but a really solid, honestly underrated starter. The only upside of Ashcraft getting hurt again is that the Reds are giving innings to people like Nick Martinez and Brent Suter, swing men who can work a ton of innings without really giving out, rather than the carousel of inexperienced chumps that they went through last year. Hell, one of last year's failed starters, Carson Spiers, has become an excellent long-man, and could be given another opportunity to start after he's comfortable enough being opened for.

It's also helped just having people like T.J. Friedl and Sam Moll back, those were two very important pieces from last year. And you're at least seeing positive offensive production from people like Jeimer Candelario, Jonathan India and Spencer Steer, who've had slower starts than preferred. The team does come down to Elly de la Cruz right now, and he's still phenomenal, already with 34 steals and 11 homers. I don't know if he'll go 40, but he could definitely chase some of the numbers Acuna hit last year.

It's a lot more satisfying when this Reds team is doing well, and they could use this month to hold second for a while. I think a lot of people would enjoy them as a major factor heading into the more pivotal months of the year.

Coming Tonight: The Yankees traded him for a guy who's ironically now on the Reds. He's got a tall order upon him, and he's doing better than one might expect. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

North Correa


Some people hit a wall at 30, some at 33, others at 27. Carlos Correa had an amazing year for the Twins back in 2022, and despite the murmurings that there was a medical issue, and the botched attempts by the Giants and Mets, the Twins re-signed him anyway. Since then he's done...alright.

I mean, the thing is, with a 1.5 WAR, Correa's the second-best performer on the Twins right now. But like...we know what he's capable of. We know what he did with the Astros. And this is not that, clearly. Defensively he's just not the same, and lacks a lot of the pop he had in Houston. Yes, age, but he's only 29. I know some 29-year-olds that are still very good defensively, or even some 32 year olds. Correa, maybe due to some of the medical stuff that deterred the Giants and Mets, just isn't the same shortstop anymore, and is only sort of an average one.

Thankfully he can still hit, though. Right now he's hitting .270 with 27 RBIs and 5 homers. This is...around his usual pace, and his career average is .272 so it's not terribly off base. But...there doesn't seem to be an exclamation point or anything with this stuff anymore. In like 2017 or whatever, when Correa got hot it felt noteworthy, he felt big. For a 6 year period he was one of the best players in the game. And now that he's been banged up a bit he's...not that. He's just an above-average bat, in a way that sort of fits with the Twins, but not even in the way that Kepler, Buxton, Jeffers and Carlos Santana are above-average bats at this point. There just doesn't seem like there's an x-factor with Correa this time. Even Jeremy Pena, who I've criticized as never really being challenged, is having a better year than Correa. And that's got to hurt.

To his credit, Correa's added a nice amount to this newly-surging Twins team, who've at least peaked above .500 again and are looking a lot better now that they don't have to play good teams anymore. Cause obviously the Yankees series didn't go well, but they have to play the Rockies and A's this week, so that'll go a lot better. Simeon Woods-Richardson and Jose Miranda are finally performing consistency in the majors, and Royce Lewis is FINALLY healthy again. Don't hold your breath, it may be like a John Means thing where it happens immediately after I post this. 

This is not a perfect team, much like this is not a perfect Carlos Correa performance, but they're getting by. There are worse teams in the majors, and there's teams with plenty less to work with. This team just needs to spark fire, like they did last year, if they want to be a match for Cleveland or Kansas City.

Coming Tomorrow- Another hurler the Reds' prospectors were thankfully right about.