Friday, April 12, 2024

What's the Story?


The last couple of years, the Red Sox have had a 'magic hat' player in April, meaning a player who almost singlehandedly marks the team's success and once he's gone leaves a hole the team cannot fill. Last year it was Adam Duvall, who was incredible for 2 weeks in April and then got injured, missed most of the season and arrived just in time to see the Sox fall out of contention. 

Part of me was thinking the magic hat this season would be someone like Tyler O'Neill, who was certainly slugging a lot of home runs to begin the season. As I write this he's sitting on 6 home runs. We're not gonna talk about how he's only batted 1 other run in, he's hit 6 home runs, Judge only has 2, it's a big deal.

But no...much more depressing.

I cannot help but feel for Trevor Story. From 2016 to 2021 he was one of the best hitting infielders in baseball, could hit for power and contact, and contributed mightily to those great Rockies teams. He deserved a payday, and a team that could allow him to compete again. And he certainly deserves to have played more than 145 games in 3 seasons with Boston. After staying healthy for the majority of his Colorado career, Story has been injured every year of this deal, all coming in more heartbreaking and poorly-timed ways. And this year, where he was gearing up for a terrific comeback season, to go down 8 games in with a shoulder injury diving for a catch feels like an insult. Story will be 32 by the time the 2025 season begins, and by that point he will have 3 years left on the contract. It is not at all what he wanted, and hopefully his luck will improve, but it's genuinely awful.

The Sox, meanwhile, have no choice but to soldier on without him, and they will probably be going with David Hamilton at short going forward, which seems to be a decent enough tradeoff. The good news is that they're getting excellent production from people like O'Neill, Jarren Duran and, somehow, Reese McGuire. Ceddanne Rafaela is taking a while to blossom at the plate but the team seems to have a lot of faith in him [hence the extension]. Jansen's still an elite closer, Crawford and Houck are solid homegrown starting options, and the team's ahead of Tampa in the standings, which has to count for something. 

I think the...sparse quality of a lot of the roster will cause things to even out further, but I think the Sox can craft a respectable, somewhat interesting season despite a lot of missing tentpoles. If Tyler O'Neill can become a star here, that will definitely help.

Coming Tonight: It's been a while since we've had someone talk the talk like this guy. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Twentysomethings Named Jackson


By now you've probably heard that the three youngest players in baseball right now are all named 'Jackson'. Jackson Chourio of Milwaukee, Jackson Merrill of San Diego, and now Jackson Holliday of Baltimore. Which proves one thing: Jackson was just a really popular baby name in, like, 2003. 

[Then again, my nephew, who just turned 1, is a Jackson, so what the hell do I know? And for those of you that are longtime readers of the blog, yes, I, Jordan of Mint Condition, am an uncle. I'll keep AARP at bay for ya.]

Of the two, the one Jackson that people seem to be talking about the least is Jackson Merrill, who made the Opening Day roster with San Diego. While Merrill isn't quite the big name that Chourio or Holliday have been, he's been one of the Padres' top performers so far this season. The 21-year-old is currently hitting .286 with 12 hits, 3 RBIs and 2 stolen bases. He's also a decent defender, and has been doing his best to make up for the loss of Trent Grisham [who's cursing his luck over in New York at the moment]. 

Right now, with the number of Padres who just aren't showing up, it's nice that someone like Merrill can go from a prospect piece to a team mainstay. Because right now Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Ha-Seong Kim and Joe Musgrove are all struggling. Machado's beginning to pick up, but the fact that the starting 3B is currently Tyler Wade, and Machado is spending most of his time at DH, is...concerning. Machado is 31, and one would assume he still had at least some peak material left, even if it's very possible that he hit his peak at 30 and is now just sliding back downhill, like Pujols before him. I just think that, considering how much the Padres paid to keep him around while their owner was still alive, it would be nice if he had some solid seasons left in him. 

The good news is that Merrill has ensured that this inefficiency hasn't spread to the outfield, as he, Fernando Tatis and Jurickson Profar are all off to hot starts. Profar I think is just made to perform well in San Diego, as the Denver experiment did not work whatsoever for him. He's hitting .333 with 10 RBIs and 3 homers already, that's what they're used to. Tatis is kinda doing his thing, 9 RBIs and 4 homers, he's probably only gonna build from here. And as he improves we're just all gonna collectively forget he took HGHs, just like the Dodgers are trying to sweep the Ippei thing under the rug. Y'know, just watch how he plays, focus entirely on that.

The Padres are still figuring themselves out in the post-Seidler era, and I think they're coming to terms with the fact that they may not compete, but they at least have enough people right now who are performing well to keep them out of last. And somebody like Merrill is a great future piece that could lead them to a future era where they aren't trapped behind the Dodgers and D-Backs.

Maybe another couple Jacksons will come along as well. Who knows at this point?

Coming Tomorrow- The phrase 'a swing that was made for Fenway' comes to mind.

The Long and Short of Things in Houston


To give you an idea of how things are going for the Astros, the top of the depth chart for starting pitching consists of five people who are currently injured. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers, Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia. That is an entire starting rotation worth of people that have had great seasons for the Astros. And they are all currently injured, with JV expected month I think.

Until then, their rotation consists of the five next best options: Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, J.P. France, Ronel Blanco and Spencer Arrighetti. In a different scenario, Javier would be a platooned rotation option, France, Brown and Blanco would have been dealt due to overflow. Arrighetti is a prospect, and he's not even the first prospect the 'Stros have thrown out this month; they tried Blair Henley, who got completely lit up by the Rangers' starting nine in just one inning. To Arrighetti's credit, he's looked a ton better, and might be a surprise hero for them this season.

I mean, let's be honest, we shouldn't be in a position where a team should need an entire backup rotation, but the Astros have enough depth and development that they do. Anybody else would start panicking, and the Astros have somebody like Ronel Blanco just sitting there. He gets up and allows 1 hit in 2 starts. And they have someone like Spencer Arrighetti, who can quiet the Royals [at least for an inning or so]. You don't see the other teams developing their team that well, though with the amount of pitching injuries I think you're beginning to see them start to.

At the same time, this team is still extremely well-built, and has a varied core made up of people from various points in this team's history. Jose Altuve is still the longest tenured hitter, and he's, I say this begrudgingly, only adding to his future Hall of Fame case. This season he's been playing spectacularly, hitting .333 with 16 hits, 3 RBIs and 3 homers. After being a pure contact man for his first several years, and then switching to power more recently, Altuve seems to have combined the two to level up even further. At 34, Altuve is still relevant, still producing prime numbers, and still a thorn in my side. And I have to hand it to him. I don't hate him because he's inefficient, I hate him because he's good, and he keeps being good. 

Him, Tucker, Bregman, Alvarez, Pena and Diaz have shown no atrophy at the core of this team, and they're still keeping opposing defenses at bay just by being overpowered [except the Yankees but they don't wanna talk about that]. The division matchups, especially the Rangers, will determine this team's full worth, and their current record is the result of being outmatched by teams with less backup pitching options, but for a sub-.500 team they're hitting extremely well, and shouldn't be counted out.

I know this seems like an Astros team that could underwhelm...but that's what they always want you to think. So I'll believe it when I see it.

Coming Tonight: I have done a custom of one of the three rookie Jacksons. Tonight is the second one. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Elly & Back


There's only a few players that you can routinely rely on to do something incredible every few days. Y'know, Trout, Soto, Betts, Ohtani, occasionally Julio. And I think we can handily add Elly de la Cruz to that list, because I feel like whenever he hits for power, steals bases, or hits an inside-the-parker, I hear about it. 

That said, it's been odd seeing de la Cruz fit into this Reds team. I think as they developed this current youth movement they were building things around him, because you saw great players with less-starry names like Spencer Steer and Matt McLain take hold of the team last year, and you've already seen the young pitchers like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Andrew Abbott make names for themselves. But I felt like, last year, there wasn't any real role for de la Cruz to play, as if he was sort of the mascot. Y'know, steal some bases, do some damage, but...the lack of solid defense prevented him from really having a specified role on the team. He had games at 2nd and short, and off the bench, and was used as a utility bat. Which I was not expecting from a top prospect.

But now I feel like, since de la Cruz has been given shortstop fully [due to the temporary loss of McLain], he's had more footing on this team, and has been able to be its central figure more regularly. So far this year he has 6 RBIs and 6 steals, 12 hits and a .293 record. His flaws lie in his strikeout numbers and his defense, which is still imperfect, but he's been one of the main reasons why the Reds have gotten off to a strong start. With McLain hurt, and Friedl out for a little while as well, having Elly de la Cruz surging and powering the team is a very good thing, and hopefully proves he can be a reliable force for this team.

Despite a 6-5 record and a fourth place position, the Reds are still working with a lot this year. Hunter Greene and Frankie Montas are off to great starts. Steer, Fraley and Stephenson are working at the plate and providing a solid core. Stuart Fairchild's off to a nice start off the bench [a lot like last year, actually]. There are issues that can be straightened out, like the bullpen and the corners, but this Reds team feels a lot more confident than last year, and has the pieces to make something happen this year.

Coming Tomorrow- My least favorite player in baseball, but at the very least it's because he's so damned good all the time.

One Missed Cole


I don't think enough people will admit this, but the Royals have figured out how properly to combine a homegrown farm rollout and supplemental additions. The development division has given this team Bobby Witt Jr., Kyle Isbel, Maikel Garcia, M.J. Melendez, Brady Singer, Freddy Fermin and Angel Zerpa, and they're making up the majority of the team's best performers right now. This team knew Witt was gonna become a mainstay, but seeing Garcia and Fermin go from backups to perennial standouts had to have been reassuring. 

But what they're getting good at, the Royals, is the art of finding players that other teams may be giving up on that can help them both in short term and long term ways. There's a few other teams that do this, the Rays famously can snag somebody from anywhere and make them a star, the Dodgers' pitching coaches can straighten out careers once thought dead, and the Reds seem to be the go-to place for pitchers that destroy their free agency perks after tenure in the Bronx. But the Royals seem to be picking it up, and this year, so far, they've taken some chances on people that have been immediately helping out.

Cole Ragans is probably the poster child for this mentality, because the Rangers traded him to KC in exchange for a postseason closer that is now pitching for Pittsburgh, and that's looking like a deal the Royals have won. Ragans has been stellar since coming over here, with a combined 2.46 ERA through 14 starts for the Royals. So far this season he's continued his hot streak, and is being relied upon as a staff ace [which Brady Singer seems to be alright with]. Ragans can strike people out and eat innings, and he's very quickly become one of the most reliable Royals aside from Witt. It's very much a case of 'it'd be nice if this held up', but Ragans seems to be a great pitcher who just needed a place with opportunity, and it's doubtful he would have found that in Arlington.

The bullpen is also a case of a lot of guys who got yanked over to KC when no one expected them. Chris Stratton, James McArthur, Matt Sauer: all guys who did not originate in this organization that came over either as a prospect in a deal, a sneaky free agency grab or a low-key trade in the night. All three of them are being used in major roles in the bullpen, and all three have been reliable so far. Add John Schreiber to that; Schreiber was a favorite bullpen piece in Boston, then right as Spring Training was getting underway the Royals dealt for him, in exchange for a prospect. You should have heard the outcry from Sox fans. They did NOT like that, because they knew that the Sox were trying to save space and didn't care whether or not the fans liked him. Schreiber's been excellent so far in Kansas City, scoreless in five appearances.

This new tactic is already paying dividends, as the Royals are currently in second place, knotted up with Detroit, another team who's experienced some nice organizational growth. It remains to be seen whether the Royals will stay afloat this year, especially considering that the Twins are expected to rebound from their slow start, but this new method of building the team up and intermixing homegrown prospects with sneaky dealt guys seems to be working, and I hope it continues to.

Coming Tonight: There's a handful of players who define 'must-see TV' just by stepping onto the field, and this is the latest and greatest.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Just Trying


Look, considering that the Phillies had to start the season playing two very good teams, I think it's perfectly understandable that we're working around .500 right now. You try breaking even after having to play against Ronald Acuna and Elly de la Cruz. We don't need spitefulness towards Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber for having rough starts, it's an understandable response. 

This is what you need to remind Phillies fans sometimes, because they are quick to start bashing people the second they do something they perceive as 'inferior'. Nick Castellanos has gotten off to a rough start, he's hitting only .114 with only 2 RBIs. And people are going 'why didn't we trade this schmo in January?' The second he starts hitting, and it will likely be soon, they'll forget they were ever mad at him. Same with Whit Merrifield, he's had a slow start at the plate, he will get there. It is April, it takes some time for some people to get it together. 

The inverse of that is that some guys on this team aren't having that slow start. J.T. Realmuto's hitting .300, with 9 hits, 4 RBIs and 2 homers. It was only a year or so ago that I was at a Phils game with some people, and J.T. got up and one of them said 'now what does J.T. do really?'. The hell kind of question is that? He's one of the best catchers in the game, makes anybody regret running on him, can hit 25 homers and go for contact. And he's going 'well what's he done this year?' What are you looking for? Since coming to Philly in 2019, he's hit .267 with 339 RBIs and 97 homers, including a 25-homer year and 2 ASG appearances. We had just two catchers last year, Realmuto and Stubbs, and that was it. That's a winning combination, and everybody knows it. 

Similarly, Brandon Marsh is hitting .310 right now. I think the Phillies fans like Marsh, they certainly dig his massive beard and perpetually damp hair. I feel like they're waiting for him to make his way up the lineup and do something bigger, but this season is definitely a step in that direction. 

I think my favorite story out of this team so far has been Spencer Turnbull. It's been years since Turnbull's been a full-season starting option, and his multiple partial years deterred Detroit from keeping him around. But so far, Turnbull has been the Phils' second-most reliable pitcher after Wheeler. In 2 starts, Wheeler has allowed no runs and struck out 13. As all things should be.

I think there are minor issues with defense, the bullpen and some back half guys, but A.) these are issues this iteration of the team has solved before, and B.) it's early, and things could even out. With the rest of the division being okay-to-terrible, the Phillies are a good choice for second place, and that could go a long way if they have that many easy division matchups. 

I just hope the fans can be patient with this team. It's happened before with this group, it could happen again. 

Coming Tomorrow- It says a lot about how well the Rangers' depth has been that even the guys that don't make it there are headlining other teams. 

Province of Denial


The way the AL East has fallen to start the season certainly makes sense to me. The Red Sox over perform and outhit the west? Yeah, they can charge into 2nd. The Rays have a perfectly pedestrian start after losing some gimmes to Colorado? Yeah, around even in 4th sounds right.

But if the Blue Jays are gonna have most of their lineup hitting under the Mendoza line and expect anything other than last place, then I'm sorry but that's not at all how this works. The Red Sox not only have people hitting for average, but Tyler O'Neill's power-hitting as if Oli Marmol's no longer breathing down his neck. The Rays even have people like Isaac Paredes, Jose Caballero and even Yankee castoff Ben Rortvedt hitting really well right now, and have gotten 9 RBIs out of new marquee guy Yandy Diaz. 

The Jays...cannot get production out of their core right now. Vlad Jr. is slowly getting better, he's been a hero in the last few games and is slowly getting his average back up. But Bo Bichette's hitting .200, Alejandro Kirk is hitting .176, George Springer is hitting .167, Daulton Varsho, now looking like the lesser piece of his own trade deal, is hitting .133, and Kevin Kiermaier is hitting .107. And y'all freaked out when Giancarlo Stanton was hitting around there a few days ago. The bulk of this lineup isn't hitting to start the season, and that is not good for a team that has yet to truly establish itself as a perennial playoff menace. You can't be menacing when the guys you paid to stick around go 0-for-4 against off-peak Luis Castillo.

There are people on the Blue Jays who are doing well. But they are mostly pitchers. Jose Berrios is off to an excellent start, with a 1.45 ERA, a 2-0 record and 14 Ks. He's mellowed into a reliable, consistent pitcher in Toronto, and all he needed was a year or so to get used to it. Yusei Kikuchi's also off to a great start, he's got a 2.79 ERA already and is continuing his Yankee-silencing ways. And the bullpen is pretty nice, with Chad Green doing a decent Jordan Romano impression as the latter pitcher fights to return from the IL. Plus, newbies like Justin Turner and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are fitting in pretty well so far, with IKF's defense being the main takeaway despite decent contact numbers. 

The Blue Jays do not have a bad team this year, they've just started out looking like one. They need to warm up, and if there's one thing the Jays have always known how to do, it's warm up when no one's expecting it. It used to be every damned June. It could be this year. We know this team can do well, and maybe a last place start is what they need to wake up and shift into overdrive. 

Coming Tonight: An elite catcher for a team just inching up to .500.