Monday, April 19, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Card #163-171

 With this post, we reach the halfway point of 2020 Topps Final Edition. We started in February, we've hit 165/330 in April, which means at this rate we'll finish in like June. Hope that's alright. I'm still enjoying rolling these out, hope y'all are still enjoying looking at them. 

Anyway, here's the next 9 cards in the set:

Card #163- Jace Peterson, Milwaukee Brewers

A former Braves infielder from the dire mid-2010s teams, Jace Peterson had bopped between New York and Baltimore for a few years before settling in Milwaukee for 2020. Peterson, primarily a 3rd baseman, was used in an outfield role to cover for the loss of Lorenzo Cain, and did alright at the plate with a .200 average and 5 RBIs. His decent bench work was rewarded by the Brewers, as they re-upped him for 2021.

Card #164- Mark Melancon ASG, Atlanta Braves

If a potential 2020 All Star Game had happened, and both managers were allowed a limited number of relief options, I still think Mark Melancon would have been on Dave Martinez' shortlist. After failing in big-contract deals in SF before this, Melancon finally had the pressure off as part of a super-bullpen in Atlanta, and rose to the closing gig like no time had passed. Melancon's ability not only to work the ninth but aid the team in regular relief was an asset to a surging Braves squad, and would have garnered Melancon his fourth ASG gig. But I suppose that will have to happen this year in Colorado. 

Card #165- David Peterson, New York Mets

David Peterson was the biggest rookie call-up in Queens last year, even bigger than Andres Gimenez. Peterson had been a strong arm in the minors for a few years, and was brought up to cover for the tepid results of Wacha and Porcello's signings. Peterson had to fight injury at one point, but still finished the season with great numbers, including a 3.44 ERA in 10 games, and 40 strikeouts. While he hasn't been as lucky in 2021 so far, he definitely has the big-game ability the Mets were worried they'd lost with the dissolution of the 2015 rotation.

Card #166- Dean Kremer, Baltimore Orioles

The pride of Israel, Dean Kremer became the first ever Israeli citizen [his folks are from there so he has citizenship] to play in the majors, and his first few starts for the O's were a ton to celebrate. He struck out 22 in 18 innings, and had a 4.82 ERA in 4 games, certainly not a bad shake of things for a struggling rotation. So far his numbers have been up to his 2020 standards, and he's since been demoted, but I imagine he's like John Means in that he needs to fail a little in order to get into his stride. 

Card #167- Scott Alexander, Los Angeles Dodgers

Alexander has been one of the many sharp relievers to come out of the Dodgers' bullpen, and he continued his strong work in the shortened 2020 season. In only 13 appearances, Alexander posted a 2.92 ERA with 2 wins and 9 Ks, before missing the postseason due to injury. Nevertheless, Alexander is still counted on as an integral member of the Dodgers' current bullpen.

Card #168- Jason Castro, San Diego Padres

Jason Castro's slow fall from starting catching weapon to backup catcher has officially set in, as his contact ability has dissipated since leaving Houston. After backing up Max Stassi in LA for the first half of the 2020 season, Castro was picked up as a backup option for the Padres, who were now without Luis Torrens and Austin Hedges. Castro proceeded to hit .179 in 9 regular season games, and didn't have any offensive luck in the playoffs. Now he's back to backing up Martin Maldonado in Houston. 

Card #169- Nelson Cruz ASG, Minnesota Twins

This should not shock you. Not that Nelson Cruz would have been an All Star last year, and not that he would have been the AL's starting DH. While an earlier HGH suspension has made me wary of the authenticity of his late-era exploits, it's still a wonder that at 39, Cruz can still hit .300 and bounce homers over the wall. Hell, he already has 4 home runs on the season, and he's hitting .390. Though logically 2021 may be his last contractual season, it may not be the end of his career. 

Card #170- Anthony Bass, Toronto Blue Jays

Anthony Bass is one of those journeyman odd-job relievers that you may not know, but has done some impressive stuff. He's pitched in Chicago, Seattle and Toronto the last few years and been a worthy relief option in all 3 cities. Last season in Toronto was doubly impressive because Bass was a ninth inning option for the first part of it, and he posted a 0.6 WAR in 26 games, even getting his first postseason strikeout out of it. So far, though, he's having some trouble in Miami this year.

Card #171- Phillips Valdez, Boston Red Sox

Phillips Valdez kicked around the minors for 10 years before making the Rangers in 2019, but had to get waived twice more in order to find a true home in Boston. Making the team out of camp, Valdez was an incredible relief option, with a 3.26 ERA in 24 games, with 30 Ks as well. Valdez is this string-bean-y type who throws smoke and keeps runs down. So far he's repeating the same kind of performance this year, so Boston's very lucky to have him. 


The next 9 cards go up on Friday. This batch includes some very big rookies and a few interesting veterans to talk about.

Bundy Driver

 


Yesterday the Angels had first place. Today, thanks to some Twins-inflicted off days, the Mariners have caught up. So they're just sitting in limbo for a few days til their series with the Rangers starts today. Which, when you have as much momentum as the Angels have this year, is not the place you wanna be.

Look, we've been waiting patiently since the middle of the decade for an Angels team to compete mightily, and 2021 might finally be the year where they have something that works. Not only do they still have a surging star in Mike Trout, but they have a competent, on-target base around him, with Jared Walsh, David Fletcher, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani all performing really well around him. One thing the lineup needs to be careful of right now is injuries- Rendon and Max Stassi are missing some time this month, in addition to the out-for-the-year Dexter Fowler, and so having competent performances from Luis Rengifo and Kurt Suzuki in their absence will be very important. This is the most in-tune this lineup has been in a while, and I really hope they don't waste it.

Also, this is a lot more selfish, but this is probably Albert Pujols' last season. He's not doing too badly right now, but I would love if his WAR passed into the positive so he can finish his career with an 100 WAR. That'd be awesome in the post-steroids era. 

And heck, the pitching is doing well enough right now as well. The big takeaway right now is that Dylan Bundy is capable of recreating his ace material from 2020. He's already got 22 Ks and has a low enough ERA. Alex Cobb is also doing alright in a starting role, and Shohei Ohtani's few starts so far have been golden. The bullpen is really doing a lot of the work right now, not only with traditional types like Junior Guerra and Mike Mayers, but late-offseason pickups like Steve Cishek [from Houston] and Tony Watson [from, sniff, Philly]. Like last year, Raisel Iglesias is having trouble keeping runs down entirely in the ninth, but he seems to be getting slightly better as it goes along. 

This team has too much going for them to be completely lapped by the Mariners, so I hope they gain some ground against the Rangers this week. 

Coming Tomorrow- He made a last-minute decision to return to his beloved team, and it's been working out for him because he's absolutely on fire right now.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Always Be Closing: Don't Call it a Comeback

 


What do we make of a closer who loses a ninth inning gig and eventually comes back better than before? 

On one hand, it's a common trait for ballclubs ever since the delineation of the fireman position to award the ninth inning to the most consistently lights out of the relievers on-staff. Sometimes, that is not the journeyman 300-game closer. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it's someone who's been a middle relief specialist for 10 years and now has no one blocking him. But it's less likely nowadays for someone to be a Mariano Rivera or a Kenley Jansen, or even a Rollie Fingers- almost no one is guaranteed the ninth inning job for the entirety of their career anymore. Because of the evolution of the reliever, there are so many more parts to play. 

But closing games like no time has passed despite years of other relief work separating the last 40-save season? That's something that's become sort of common.

This season, there are two major closing pitchers who are returning to the role, whole hog, after some troubles in past years. And they are Craig Kimbrel and Mark Melancon. It is very good to have them both back.

Kimbrel especially. His 2019 and 2020 seasons would be best forgotten if he had his way- from a late signing in 2019 to some frequent ERA issues to losing the closing gig to Jeremy Jeffress, it was not the best stretch of his career. But, regardless, Kimbrel is still the active saves leader with 351, and is still probably the best active closing pitcher of the class [if the Kenley Jansen fangirls come sliding into my comments again, I'm getting the hose]. What he's capable of in a ninth inning situation is bonkers, and the fact that he still has a career 2.15 ERA even despite the first two Cubs years says more than anything. 

Right now, despite the Cubs' inefficiency, Kimbrel has a lock on the closing gig and has 3 saves already with no runs, or HITS, allowed. While it's not out of the question for Kimbrel's previous woes to return, he's looking better than he's looked since Boston, and is probably gonna head back to his previous glory.

However, Melancon might have the edge on Kimbrel right now, solely because the Padres are a better team than the Cubs. And Melancon going in for save situations with a monster lineup like the Padres one is just as dominant as he was with the early 2010s Pirates. He's already notched 5 saves, and is looking for more as the Padres gain more ground with the return of Tatis.

I hope this means that Kimbrel and Melancon are back as prime closers now. It saddened me when Trevor Rosenthal returned last year and then immediately got injured this year. It would also be nice if a closer from this class had a HOF-worthy second act, and Kimbrel might be the closest to doing that. 

Coming Tomorrow- The Mariners have been batted down, and the Angels have the AL West. Which means this guy can be an ace for a 1st place team. How about that?

Yermin Shepherd

 


Eight straight hits to begin a rookie season. A .429 average after 46 at-bats, including a team-leading 10 RBIs. And you guys really thought the White Sox' big rookie DH would be Andrew Vaughn.

Man, Yermin Mercedes has been a complete breath of fresh air in a team that's honestly a bit below expectations right now. Mercedes has been one of the key players so far, and we're still waiting for the better numbers of Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Dallas Keuchel and Liam Hendriks to show up. That's a depressing stat, honestly. The team was supposed to thrive off of all of those players, and some backup catcher yielded in a Rule 5 deal is outplaying them all right now. That definitely speaks volumes, especially to the people who were picking the Sox to win the World Series this year.

Not that there's still not a chance of a rebound. I mean, enough of this team is doing well enough that they're still in third, and they're slowly catching up to the Indians [despite being a game behind them thanks to a loss yesterday to Boston]. But enough isn't that we all have reason to be worried. 

The bottom line is that the Sox still have Lance Lynn pitching to normal caliber [read: striking everyone out], they're getting great seasons out of Carlos Rodon and Lucas Giolito, they finally have a healthy Michael Kopech to rely on, and they're farming fantastic seasons from Danny Mendick, Adam Eaton and, yes prospectors, Luis Robert. LouBob is slightly power-ended this season, but he's still providing great extra-base work in lieu of some stumpage from Jose Abreu. 

So I'm not saying that the White Sox are completely out of it, at least not yet, but they're gonna need their slumping core to find their better numbers soon, or else the Indians and Royals, and Twins honestly, are gonna separate quickly. 

Coming Tonight: D'you think he switched his walk-up music from Ted Nugent's Stranglehold to LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out given the return of his former mojo?

Saturday, April 17, 2021

All Killer, No Phil-ler

 


And we're back to normal in Philly. Blowing games by leaving on Vince Velasquez too long and losing ground that others are gaining by simply not playing games. 

I shouldn't be surprised that we've kind of evened out, but...I dunno, I thought for once that this Phillies team could finally deliver on all the promises they've been making? I actually thought this year would be different. And again, it's early and the Phils are still in second, not mentioning the fact that the Braves are still losing games and the Marlins and Nats aren't especially close to catching them...but I'm just not getting a good vibe from this Phillies team anymore.

And the sucky part is, a lot of this team could still work if it had a tightened, trusted whole to it. Right now you have players like Zack Wheeler, Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola all pitching beautifully, and welcome strong seasons from Jean Segura, Didi Gregorius, Jose Alvarado and Conor Brogdon. Also, while Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper aren't hitting for average very well, the team is still uniting around the strong numbers of J.T. Realmuto, obviously psyched to be back in Philly and playing like an All-Star again.

But once again, you have parts of this team that don't work because they weren't the parts being focused on during the offseason. Now that the bullpen is better, the back half of the rotation fell off. And I reckon that once the Phils recall Spencer Howard to replace Matt Moore [like they should], the lineup's gonna get even worse. Right now center field alone is tough because of Adam Haseley's sudden disappearance, as Roman Quinn and Mickey Moniak aren't pulling compelling auditions for it. But you also have Cutch not hitting for average, Alec Bohm hitting .234, and Hoskins leading the team in strikeouts. You set up three walls and the fourth one falls over. Every time.

So...look, maybe they'll keep winning games, maybe they'll fix things, hell maybe they even catch the Mets. But...this team has lost me. It's bad enough the Yankees are sucking right now, but the Phils are making a lot of the same mistakes and expecting a different result. And I don't know if that's healthy.

Coming Tomorrow- Sometimes, great baseball stories come out of absolutely nowhere. 

Hard Sox


Well...looks like the Red Sox are gonna be competing after all...

I'm honestly not sure why we're shocked. 2018 was the huge year, then 2019 was a down year because the pitching was worse, and 2020 was even worse cause there was NO pitching. But now that we have a competent rotation led by three healthy, strong arms [and also Garrett Richards], the lineup, which even without Betts, Benintendi and Bradley is still strong, can actually mash without being held back.

Meaning...the Sox might be on their way to another big year.

Somebody put up a stat that the last times the Red Sox' ERA through the first 2 weeks was as low as it was, there was a ring at the end of the season. And it's gotten me very, very scared. Since 2004, the Boston Red Sox have not lost a World Series upon gaining admittance to one. They've had some exceptional teams that have missed the Series [the 2005 and 2016 teams especially], but usually either they're on or they're off. And right now, the Red Sox are looking very, very on.

Look at J.D. Martinez. The man is en fuego. He's hitting .378 with 16 RBIs and 5 homers. He hasn't looked this deadly since 2018 in my opinion. We'd lost sight of how ferocious he could be as a true league-caliber DH, and now he's stood out as the hero of the team thus far, not to discredit Xander Bogaerts, Christian Arroyo and Alex Verdugo, who are also all hitting well. Really, everybody but Bobby Dalbec is currently showcasing some decent stuff in this lineup, and everybody seems to be on the same page, which arguably wasn't the case in 2020.

And the rotation is pretty sound too. I honestly wish they'd demote Garrett Richards and let Tanner Houck start games as he rightfully should, but if Nate Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nick Pivetta and Martin Perez keep up the good work, the rest of the AL East is gonna be in trouble.

Which...makes sense, as the AL East already is kinda in disarray. The Yankees and Rays are underperforming, the Blue Jays are under .500, and the Orioles' bubble has popped. So for the Red Sox to be one of the sole constants of the division, and to have a 9-game win streak in April...yeah, that makes sense.

I don't know if the Sox will be sole dominators in this division for the whole season, as you know the big 3 competitors are gonna strike back, but...wouldn't it be something if this was their year? Not that I'm asking for another Red Sox title, just...it'd be a nice surprise given all the Rays/Yankees predictions.

Coming Tonight: Hashtag Signed him.

Friday, April 16, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #154-162

 As we approach the halfway point of the set, and continue to knock off the players Topps should have depicted in last year's flagship sets, we're still covering a lot of ground, a lot of veterans from the 2010s who were still kicking around last year, and a lot of interesting rookies who are already killing it this year. These next 9 fall into a few of those categories.

Card #154- Robinson Chirinos, New York Mets

After a pair of impressive seasons catching for Texas-area teams, Robinson Chirinos returned to Arlington last year to compete for a starting catching gig that would eventually go to Jose Trevino. After injuries ruined Chirinos' attempt, he was dealt to Queens with Todd Frazier to help their supposed playoff push. In 12 games, Chirinos hit .219 with 5 RBIs, and mostly deferred to the disappointing performance from Wilson Ramos. Chirinos fought to make the Yankees out of camp but came short.

Card #155- Mickey Moniak, Philadelphia Phillies

One of the Phillies' most prized prospects of the last few years, and a former #1 overall pick, Mickey Moniak had struggled to hit for power despite his monster high school numbers. Last year, the 22-year-old finally made it to the bigs, overshadowed slightly by fellow prospect Alec Bohm. Moniak didn't have any RBIs in his 8 game call-up, and only hit .214 with 3 hits. Moniak is currently up with the Phillies, and looks to make a larger impact following better power numbers in Spring Training.

Card #156- Jeremy Jeffress ASG, Chicago Cubs

One of two proposed 2020 ASG cards in this set for players who did not make the flagship Topps sets, Jeremy Jeffress was far and away one of the best relievers of 2020, and was a fantastic ninth inning asset for the Cubs last year, so clearly Dave Martinez would have chosen him for a supposed ASG roster. Heck, he tried choosing him as a National, though that didn't end as well.

Card #157- Adam Kolarek, Los Angeles Dodgers

It honestly baffles me that Adam Kolarek didn't get a 2020 Topps card after his MONSTER 2019 second half. Plucked from the Rays in 2019, Kolarek quickly became one of the most ferocious relievers in LA, only allowing 1 earned run throughout all of his 2019 Dodgers games. 2020 was a similar year for Kolarek, only allowing 2 earned runs in 20 games, and being a lights-out star in the World Series. Unfortunately, Kolarek's low-run mojo seems to be limited to LA, as he's struggled mightily in his first few games with the A's. 

Card #158- Justin Smoak, San Francisco Giants

Justin Smoak was signed by the Brewers in an attempt to continue the Blue Jays veteran's reign of dominance on the 1st base position. Unfortunately, Smoak's one-dimensional numbers were more of a nuisance for Milwaukee, and he was released in September. Then the Giants rolled the dice, and picked up Smoak for what became a 3-game run. Smoak never got on base in 6 plate appearances. So away he went again. 

Card #159- Tyler Duffey, Minnesota Twins

One of the duo of Duffey & May that has been a consistently breezy Minnesota bullpen presence, Tyler Duffey had an exceptionally strong season, despite it only lasting 22 games. Duffey had a 1.88 ERA with 31 Ks in 24 innings, which helped the Twins sneak into the postseason last year. Duffey is being used in a similar setup role this year, though without the help of Trevor May.

Card #160- Casey Mize, Detroit Tigers

Arguably one of the biggest rookie prospects of the last few years, Casey Mize finally made it to the majors in 2020, and Tigers fans were ready to see the #1 pick dominate right off the bat. That did not happen. In 7 starts, the 23-year old posted a 6.99 ERA with only one more strikeout than runs allowed. I figure you just chalk it up to early-appearance yips, because in his sophomore season, Mize is already pitching a ton better and with less earned runs. 

Card #161- Jonathan Loaisiga, New York Yankees

It seems that, as of 2021, the Yankees have finally figured out what to do with Jonathan Loaisiga. For a while they split him between the rotation and the bullpen, and last year he made three starts, but they're looking like they're gonna keep him in the 'pen this year. Which is a relief, as that's where Loaisiga did best last year, with a 3.68 ERA and 13 Ks. Hopefully Loiasiga can bridge the gap between the departed Adam Ottavino and the injured Zack Britton for a bit.

Card #162- Pavin Smith, Arizona Diamondbacks

In the last few weeks of MLB play in 2020, the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks promoted prospect Pavin Smith to the bigs. A former 7th overall pick, Pavin had been an heir-apparent type for the D-Backs for a while, and in the first 12 games of his MLB career, he hit .270 with 10 hits and 4 RBIs. Already he's been thrust into a starting outfield role for the D-Backs, and is already one of the more consistent young performers on the 2021 squad.

The next 9 cards in this set will go up on Monday. A few very interesting cases, and a few people already struggling in 2021.