Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Yu May Be Right


A week in New York and the Padres are even closer to last than they were before, have now lost Juan Soto to a back issue, and I'm pretty sure Bob Melvin got pick-pocketed on the 4 train.

It's not going well for this Padres team at all. Even with all the contracts, all the stars, and all the impressive defensive players, they're just not getting it done, and they've fallen so far behind in the NL West that the Giants have overtaken them. The big feel-good breakout in that division is the Diamondbacks, and the Padres now have so much money and so many contracts that they're not even the small competitors that can sneak in anymore. It's hard for the Titanic to sneak. Icebergs can sneak.

Some of the people the Padres have spent all the money on, like Xander Bogaerts and, honestly, Yu Darvish, are doing well. Bogaerts is still hitting at Boston levels. Darvish got rocked the other day but he's still struck out 59 people so far this year and still looks relatively dominant at 36. The two guys that the Padres need to worry about for the offseason, Josh Hader and Juan Soto, are putting on tour-de-force seasons, perhaps knowing that free agency isn't too far away. And the much-maligned Fernando Tatis Jr. is at least delivering, and hitting well despite the cries of 'cheater' coming from the Yankee fans. 

But a lot of contracted guys aren't delivering as well as they should. Manny Machado is not only hurt right now, but he wasn't playing very well, and having his first real down year since roughly 2017. He's hitting .231 with only one more hit than he has strikeouts. After nearly winning an MVP last year, this is a harsh alternative. Joe Musgrove is similarly struggling, with a 5.64 ERA over 6 starts. And then there's just so many guys, like Blake Snell, Matt Carpenter, Adam Engel and the very injured Drew Pomeranz, that they shouldn't have spent money on in the first place. Like, what the hell can you say about Nelson Cruz at this point? Oh, he does his one thing he always does kinda well, but not as well as he did when he was 40. 

There is some promise creeping in, and some of the depth choices, like Tom Cosgrove and Rougned Odor, have had some recent successes, but this has been a first two months the Padres would rather move on from, and hopefully they'll be able to as they head into June. If they finish the year out of playoff contention, after everything they did last year, it'll be heartbreaking.

Coming Tonight: Who'd have thought this guy would become the hero he's become in Tampa?

Monday, May 29, 2023

Wouldn't It be Bryce


The good news is the Mariners are finally above .500 again. The bad news is there's still two teams that are a lot further above .500 than they are in the AL West. 

I think the best part of yesterday is getting a sneaky little walk off win while the Angels get trounced by the Marlins. Having Geno Suarez do something awesome while the Angels suffer changes the trajectory of the division a little, lands the Angels in fourth, which is a place they go a lot with Ohtani and Trout, and makes the Mariners look even more impressive going into the third month of the season. I mean, yes, taking down the Pirates isn't the toughest thing in the world right now, but they did this when the pressure was on, and that's always a nice sign.

Part of what's making the Mariners so tough right now is that, a lot like the Pirates, their pitching has been outstanding. Four of the Mariners' starters have WAR above 0.9, including Luis Castillo and Bryce Miller, who have WARs over 1.4. Castillo doing well is something we all saw coming, and both Logan Gilbert and George Kirby doing well is enough of a sure bet, considering how quickly they've taken to the bigs in the last few years. But the fifth spot, after Robbie Ray's injury, looked to be an issue following both Chris Flexen's struggles and Easton McGee flirting with a no-no and then immediately needing Tommy John surgery [which is honestly the perfect metaphor for pitching development in the modern era]. 

Bryce Miller, therefore, coming out of nowhere to win the fifth spot and becoming one of the most dominant rookie starters of all time...is the best possible outcome.

Through 5 starts, Miller has a 1.15 ERA, a 3-1 record, and has only allowed 4 earned runs. And this is Miller's first month in the majors. Typically when people start in the majors, they make some mistakes. Miller's teammate Jarred Kelenic can attest to this, it took him three years to figure out MLB pitching and now he's a hero. J.P. Crawford struggled mightily in Philly and only found his stride a few years into his career. And yet at the moment it seems like Bryce Miller has the talent and knowhow to figure it out immediately. Which is a very nice perk for this Mariners team, which seems to only be getting better with every day.

The M's have been fantastic lately. Unfortunately, so have the two teams above them in the standings. It may not be enough at the moment to catch Houston or Texas, but hopefully they can build on this week and get back to where they were last year.

Coming Tomorrow: A pitcher whose team my Yankees had some fun with this week.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Cutch Down


Of course the Andrew McCutchen comeback season I've been waiting years for happens the second he gets back to Pittsburgh. Of course it does.

I've followed Cutch every step of the way, and I enjoyed his time in Philly because I got to drive maybe 20 minutes to see him play, and when one of your favorite players is local for a bit, that's always a good thing. Granted, his only real triumph of a year was his truncated 2019 season, where he had 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 59 games. The other two years on that contract weren't as good, despite 27 homers in 2021. The Brewers year last year was mostly a low key DH role, which not only relegated Rowdy Tellez to playing defense but didn't give his offense many favors. In fact, most surprisingly, Cutch's best statistics last year came from his 42 games in the outfield, where he still provided a leg up compared to most defensemen.

Granted, he hasn't been needed as much in the outfield as much in Pittsburgh, as Bryan Reynolds, Connor Joe and Jack Suwinski are getting the nods there, even if defense isn't what any of them are known for. Though, admittedly, all six of McCutchen's appearances in right field have gone pretty well. But at this point in his career, I don't think the intention was to get Cutch for his defense.

In Cutch's last five games, he's had three multi-hit affairs, including a home run. He's hitting .268 right now with 8 homers and 20 RBIs, and his 8 home runs are second-most on the team, behind Jack Suwinski. Cutch is on pace for what would be his fifth 25+ home run season, and, most crucially, he is ten hits away from the 2000 hit mark.

I think the single best thing about this revitalized play from McCutchen is that it's happening in Pittsburgh, the city where he became a star and an MVP. There was so much emotion behind his first few games back at PNC, including crucial home runs and big moments. The fans never fell out of love with this guy no matter where he went, and I remember being there in one of his last seasons in Pittsburgh and seeing him hit a home run to a crowd that absolutely loved him. He will hit his 2000th hit as a member of the Pirates, and, as he's five away, he will also hit his 300th home run as a member of the Pirates. And that's absolutely fantastic. 

Even if the Pirates continue to slip, which, while they're well enough ahead of the Cardinals, is still a possibility, I'm glad that Cutch could have a season like this as the team is doing well. The pitching's been fantastic, Reynolds is earning star status, the 43-year-old has 4 wins, it's going better than anyone anticipated and I am here for it.

Coming Tomorrow- There aren't many pitchers in the game's history who've started in the MLB as well as this guy.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Always Be Closing: Clase for Effort


Y'ever just...casually remember that Emmanuel Clase has 83 saves since the start of the 2021 season?

It's not the most in that stretch, Kenley Jansen has 89, but no other closer in that period has more. Ironically Clase has as many saves since 2021 as Josh Hader, another one of the few perennial closers we have right now. 

I'd honestly refer to the group of closers that has most dominated since the start of the decade as people like Liam Hendriks, Jansen, Hader, Clase, Edwin Diaz and Jordan Romano. That is, admittedly, a small sample size, but you don't see many other people right now who are guaranteed the closing spot wherever they go, and are guaranteed to dominate. You have a lot of veteran closers who are chasing what they had, people like Mark Melancon, Craig Kimbrel, Will Smith, Brad Hand and Aroldis Chapman, but some of those guys can lose the ninth. Some of them already have. 

What makes Clase a member of the small, dying breed of relied-upon closers is just how tough he is to face. We don't have a ton of pure intimidators as closing heroes anymore, guys like Lee Smith, Rod Beck or Trevor Hoffman who scare the shit out of you. Clase is as close as we have to that right now. He's not the tallest, he's only 6'2, but he's built like a brick shithouse and throws fire. I still have the memory of Clase being suspended for the whole 2020 season for PEDs, but even if that is what's made him into the pitcher he is, I think a lot of the work is just pure intimidation and workmanship.

Clase led the majors last year with 42 saves, and he's leading the majors again at the moment with 16. However, even with that said he's blown 5 already, and has given up too many earned runs. I don't know if this means the fans are turning on him, but his status as a sure thing is being tested this year, even with the amount of saves he's already racked up. Some of it is an indictment on the Guardians themselves, and how  often their bad luck gets in the way of what should be wins, especially if their contact-friendly play isn't amounting to many overpowering wins so far. But some of it may just be that Clase is getting too confident and might not be as much of a perennial standout as we thought.

The good news is that the closest challengers to the league mark are at 13 right now. One of them is Josh Hader, whose goodwill hasn't especially been harmed much by the last half of the 2022 season. We'll see if Clase can hold the throne for now, or if his blown saves will catch up to him.

Coming Tomorrow- All things as they should be.

Aged New York Cheddar


And then, suddenly, the Mets realized that packing the team with sixteen players over 30 may not have been the best idea after all.

I dunno, man, getting tons of aging free agents and overpopulating the team with them, and they just expecting these people not to break down, get injured or disappoint you in any way, is like asking to get rained upon. Omar Narvaez, Tim Locastro and Jose Quintana, all over 30, are all on the 60-day IL. And then you have Verlander and Scherzer, who have been perfectly alright this year in between their own respective injuries. Verlander's got a 3.60 ERA in 4 starts, Scherzer has a 4 ERA in 7 starts, they're both around 40 and it's nice that they're still even doing that. But having four rotation spots being taken by Verlander, Scherzer, a very serviceable Carlos Carrasco and Kodai Senga, who, as good as he has been, is still 30 and knowing Japanese pitchers that acclimate to US standards, might miss some time next year...that's worrying.

Apart from Senga, the only Mets starter to not miss an outing is Tylor Megill, who at least is 27 and has shown promise. Megill has 5 wins, but his ERA is a bit higher than it should be and he's only doing an alright job overall. It's not like David Peterson was doing much better, but this isn't a very young rotation, and the reinforcements aren't the most polished options. I'm glad most of these guys are doing well enough at the moment, but with 3 guys being over 35 I'm still very worried about the next few months of this.

The youth is thankfully being applied to the lineup, as Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez are all up. Alvarez is doing the best out of the three, he's hitting .261 with 6 homers and 13 RBIs. Alvarez is also doing the best to retain a starting job, though Baty is basically the guy for third given Eduardo Escobar's lessening play. These three do add an edge to this team that they desperately need, and a spark of youth that needs to spread as they go. 

It's not lost on me that Jeff McNeil, one of the best contact hitters on this team and one of their best assets, is over 30 as well. He was called-up late, bloomed late, but he's here now and helping the team a ton, hitting .291 with 53 hits. Pete Alonso leads the league in homers with 19, so he's been surging as well lately. Starling Marte's already stolen 14 bases, he's doing his thing. Lindor and Nimmo are still playing like themselves. The core of this team is well-preserved enough to not scare the shit out of me like other aspects do.

The Mets have been winning games lately, but a lot of them have been close. This Cubs series has been better, but they're gonna need more than just 1 or 2 point wins to reestablish the dominance they lost earlier in the month.

Coming Tonight: I guess this guy might be one of the best closers of the last few years.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Toron-tial Downpour


Look, the Jays were just fine 10 days ago. 24-16, chasing the Pirates and Braves, Kikuchi was having a great month, the division was looking smooth. And then splat. Only a drubbing of the Rays is evidence for the 'good' column here. John Schneider just had to give everybody a serious talking to about how awful the Blue Jays have been playing, and when you have to give people like Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman a talking to, you know something's been fouled up down the line.

I don't fault people like Bo, Vlad, Chapman, Kiermaier and Varsho, as the heart of the lineup, and the defensemen, haven't really been the problem. This lineup only has 2 guys hitting under .250, and one of them is Daulton Varsho, who's making up for it on defense. I think the biggest disappointment on this team, though, might be Alejandro Kirk, who looked like such a sure thing last year. Then again, Alek Manoah also looked like a sure thing last year, and right now he's 1-5 with a 5.53 ERA, which I was not expecting whatsoever given how he was looking.

I think it's more likely that this is just a rough stretch for the Jays. All these losses have come at the expense of division rivals like the Yankees, Rays and Orioles. To be honest, this is what division series' should be doing, leveling the less serious competitors in competitive divisions. I wish it would have been less of a shock that the division stacked this way this month, but that's what happens when you have less division series'. Needless to say, the Jays are currently in last, and have to play several consecutive great teams coming up, including the Twins, Brewers, Mets, Astros, the Twins again, the O's and then Texas. This is the roughest stretch of their schedule, they're gonna lose some games. At the end of June they get some easier matches.

And at the same time, there's still people to watch even if the play wasn't was it was earlier. Kevin Gausman still has 81 strikeouts on the year, and even as people are beginning to hit him, he's still as tough as he's been in the last few years. Chris Bassitt also had a nice run of starts, and while he's trying to get back to where he was, he's still 5-3 with 52 Ks. Whit Merrifield has 14 stolen bases and is hitting .286. Vlad Jr. has 34 RBIs already. This is still a good team, they've just got a tough schedule this year. They're still capable of a ton, and have a ton of depth even with everyone working out alright.

Maybe we'll see the Jays begin to fight back against these really good teams. You never know when they'll spring to life.

Coming Tomorrow- A standout for a team that had a similar dry spell and have now come back from it.

Fear the Milkman


I'm just now finding out that Zac Gallen's a local prospect.

It's honestly insulting that it took until now for me to find out. Apparently he's from Gibbsboro, NJ, which is not far from me at all, and was born in Somerdale, which is also not far from me at all. He went to Bishop Eustace, which is a prep school that kids I played little league against went to. I know I've talked about people like Andrew Bailey and Devin Smeltzer being from my neck of the woods, but somehow Gallen flew past my radar as a local hero. 

Which is ironic because Zac Gallen might be one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, and you'd think this area would want you to hear about it.

Gallen has been slowly building his case over the last few years as one of the most consistent and dominant pitchers out there, and this season is no different. Gallen is already 6-2, a lot like the guy I talked about yesterday, with 75 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA after some recent losses. He began the season with one of his usual scoreless streaks, and has only given up 2 home runs in 67 innings. His 1.020 WHIP is not quite as low as his 2022 total of 0.913, which led the league, but it may be coming down further as he comes back from a recent stretch. 

As usual, having Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly both surging at once gives the D-Backs an advantage even in a pitching-stuffed division like the NL West. Granted, having three rookies behind the strong two, being Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson and Brandon Pfaadt, does cut back the intimidation a bit, even if the Dodgers are also starting some rookies right now as well. The difference is, the Dodgers rookies are taking to the game a little quicker than these three, who have been alright but are having a more gradual acclimation period than someone like, say, Zac Gallen, who was great from the moment the Marlins brought him up.

The D-Backs took a win or two away from the Phillies this week, thanks to excellent hitting from Lourdes Gurriel, Evan Longoria and Gabriel Moreno, and even the reinforcements, like rookie Dominic Fletcher and utiltyman Emmanuel Rivera, are doing well so far. The D-Backs are still 5 games ahead of the next best NL West team, and at the very least have a Rockies series in between tough matches with the Red Sox and Braves. This team could continue to be a major player if they stay this fresh and impressive despite their faults. It's not a complex team, but it's an interesting one, and I enjoy seeing their rise.

Coming Tonight: This guy is striking out everybody right now.