Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Kris Bryant is Still Here

So Kris Bryant's star may have fallen slightly since 2017, after a 2018 plagued by injuries and general inefficiency. So he's off to a fine but middling start so far. So his numbers aren't close to his MVP numbers from 2016. Does this mean that Bryant's career is DOA? Hell no.

Kris Bryant is still one of the more important performers in the Chicago Cubs' rolodex right now, even if Javier Baez is the showier personality right now. Bryant and Rizzo are the two pillars of this team, as they got here early on, got good early, stayed good, and the entire team was built around them. The team is still steady around the top of the NL Central solely because Bryant and Rizzo's foundation is still strong. It helps that other players, like Baez, Willson Contreras and David Bote, are stepping up, but Bryant is still a prime contender; dude's batting .274 with 15 home runs, which is not bad at all (though Rizzo is doing a little better).

Bryant's Cubs are no longer in first place, thanks to a boom by the Brewers, but they're definitely not out of the race. Pedro Strop is a more than worthy placeholder until Craig Kimbrel arrives, Kyle Hendricks' injury opens the door for Tyler Chatwood, who's been great this year. Yu Darvish's mojo is slowly returning with every great start, and he's 8 away from an 100 strikeout season, which would definitely help his case. Victor Caratini's a pretty good backup catcher. The lineup's strong, the rotation is strong, and they're a half-game behind Milwaukee.

I'm thinking the Cubs-Brewers rivalry is gonna be the most deadly one down the stretch. The winner of that is gonna really, really deserve it.

Coming Tomorrow- Forever one of my favorites, especially now that he's having quite the comeback year.

Oscar; The Slouch

The good news is that the Cleveland Indians have been a lot better in June so far. The bad news is that they're still missing Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber. So while they're good, they still have a ways to go before they catch Minnesota, and in a year where there's an intriguing Wild Card race going on in the AL East, it's gonna take a lot for the Indians to keep the second spot.

So...with a team that's mostly kind of meh, and partially kind of injured, what's left?

Well...thankfully the Indians are taking this opportunity to build up from the farm system again, seeing as they don't want their core to get too old, and have seen this down season as a perfect opportunity to rebuild again while keeping pieces of the initial core intact. So rookies like Zach Plesac and Oscar Mercado are being intermixed with veterans like Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor, and it's coming off cleanly. It's not like one piece is trying to upstage the other (like the Pirates), and it's not like both pieces are incompatible (like the Giants).

Hell, look at Oscar Mercado. He's gotten off to a great start in his first 24 games, hitting .304 with 13 RBIs, and booting Tyler Naquin out of yet another starting outfield campaign (poor guy). He's already MLB-ready, without needing a ton of time to buffer...which is kinda like Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor were when they came up. Hell, Zach Plesac has a 2.92 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 4 starts, which is the kind of nasty work that the rotation has been thriving on this year (thanks to Bieber and Bauer). Kind of reminds me of the start Mike Clevinger got off to when he came up, which...OH HEY, GUESS WHO JUST GOT ACTIVATED?

I mean, I know the Indians were trying to prepare for a Kluber-less rotation, but...this Bauer-Bieber-Plutko-Plesac-Clevinger rotation is pretty damn awesome.

So, despite the bundles of okay players in the lineup (even if, you know, one of them just hit for the cycle), there is still some promise from this team. I'd just...like a bit more.

Coming Tonight: Three years ago he was one of the most ubiquitous stars in baseball. Now...he's still good, but not the star he used to be. Why??

Monday, June 17, 2019

Philly Not-Too Special

So. The Phils are out of first. Which is actually kind of the best thing for them.

I mean, I feel like they were never an especially strong first-place team. They were always a bit too close to .500 to be taken fully seriously, and the sportswriters never really did. They were too vulnerable, and being in first place when you're kind of okay is the perfect way to illuminate your flaws for everyone to see.

The main flaw was the decline of the pitching staff. The rotation definitely has some good eggs, like Zach Eflin, Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola, but...Velazquez crapped out, Pivetta's slowly improving, and Eickhoff is fried, and the search for a competent fifth starter CONTINUES. And then the bullpen sort of dissolved into meh-ness. Nobody's doing too terribly anymore, but aside from Hector Neris (of all people), nobody's doing too great. Lot of 4 and 5 ERAs, even from veterans like Pat Neshek and Juan Nicasio. Lots of big leads being blown, kinda like the big one we had over the Braves Wednesday night.

I'd be more worried if the lineup wasn't so impressive right now. I mean, Harper is the showier bat, but JT Realmuto is HURTLING towards an ASG start. Like, as good as Willson Contreras is, Realmuto might be a dark horse in that race. He's hitting like hell, he's still one of the best defensive catchers in the league, and he's making us feel better about trading Jorge Alfaro. Trades like him, Jean Segura and Jay Bruce (who, by the way, only has 3 strikeouts as a Phillie) are REALLY paying off for us, as they're all hitting, and they're all making the team look good.

But...how the hell can I write a post about the Phillies without talking about Scott Kingery? That dude has FINALLY figured out how to hit at this level, and he's responded with a .344 average, 8 homers in 39 games, and worthy replacement numbers for Andrew McCutchen. Kingery may finally have turned into a keeper, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

So while this team isn't quite as good as the standings used to make us seem, I'm definitely not counting them out. They're one or two moves away from dominating the Braves in September, and I can't wait to see what they do next.

Coming Tomorrow- A rookie from a once-powerful, currently-vulnerable AL Central team.

The Austin Meadows Revolution

Yeah, you could arguably root the Rays' 2019 come-up back to their new, trusty DH. Who, just a season ago, was making waves as a sturdy outfield bat for the Pirates who wasn't getting any playing time due to the strength of the Polanco-Marte-Dickerson combo (ironically Bryan Reynolds is in the same predicament now that Dickerson's bat. One of those four Bucs outfielders might be traded soon). Once Meadows was given a lineup to dominate, the rest was history.

The best part about Austin Meadows' 2019 success is that it's not showy. He's not outright leading the team like Longoria used to. He's just playing beautiful baseball, hitting insanely well with a .315 average and 12 home runs, and just getting fans in a humble way. It also helps that this isn't a very showy lineup, either. Lots of guys like Tommy Pham, Brandon Lowe, Avisail Garcia and Yandy Diaz, are doing super well without being huge, heralded stars.

And how weird is that? The Rays are one of the best teams in baseball, the guy who's leading the team in home runs is a rookie, and nobody's talking about him! That's rare, man. But I guess he's not the son of a HOFer, so he's not getting the publicity.

Moreover, the best pitcher on the team is not Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, but Charlie Morton, the most underrated pitcher of the decade. He's got a World Series win from Houston, and is coming off two straight 14+ win seasons, and currently has an 8-1 record with a 2.37 ERA and 107 strikeouts, which is 6 more than Snell has. And he's doing so without a ton of fanfare.

The Rays are the single most low-key great team of the season. It's not like the Yankees, where once they start winning again, the trumpets blare and angels sing. And it's not like the Dodgers, who've been getting publicity even for the silly, small things that happen in the background of 2-1 wins. This is just a solid, sturdy-ass team that nobody has anything really to say about.

And that's a complete 360 from last year, where they were a very okay team that just had weird shit happen to them all the time.

I hope the Rays keep it up. They're very fun to watch, even as a Yankee fan.

Coming Tonight: If it weren't for a certain free agent signing from this year, this guy would be the most important Philadelphia Phillie right now.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Father's Day Blasterful of 2019 Topps Series 2

I remember back in the early days of card-blogging, it was a big deal to get a new product first and scan it, so that everybody could see what it looked like, or so that I could get a glimpse of what it looked like. I'm not sure if the blogosphere is still like that.

So anyway, here's 2019 Topps Series 2. You know the drill. I think they changed the pack configuration in blasters, as there's 14 cards per pack, and 7 cards per box. You shirking me out of those extra 2 cards per blaster, Topps? You really testing me?

Also, since every blaster still comes with a commemorative patch card that doesn't mean anything:

 Here's one of Donnie Baseball. Thrilling.

 Pack 1- Standard uptick in photo quality with Series 2, as we actually get shots of people in new uniforms, like Ben Gamel, and under-the-radar rookies like Stephen Tarpley, who...I *THINK* is still with the Yankees? You get a prospect like that and you have to wonder whether or not we've traded him away.

 Some landscapes. These stadium shots are beautiful.

And uh, well...
I couldn't have done this better if I tried. My first pack of my first blaster of Topps Series 2, and I not only pull a short print, but I pull one of the only short prints I'd been interested in pulling.

This is a Felix Hernandez card, but it's from last year's Turn Forward the Clock promotion at Safeco Field, to commemorate the awesomely 90s faux-backs the Ms wore in the late 90s. This is incredible, and I'm glad I pulled it.

 Also, right on Felix's heels, an ACTUAL GOOD INSERT OUT OF TOPPS.

This is a Uniform Evolution insert for the Angels. On the front side is Rod Carew sporting some 80s Angels unis, and on the back side is Mike Trout sporting some modern Angels duds. I could have done a little more with the execution, but it's an insanely smart insert idea. Well done!

And some more base. Relatively standard stuff, though the background of Carrasco's is pretty cool.

 Pack 2- Commons, but I like Fiers as a pitcher, and Carson Kelly is starting a ton of games in Arizona.

Sta. Di. And I can't emphasize this enough, Ums.

That Coors Field shot is frigging awesome, though.

You may recognize these inserts from Series 1. Javy's is a Home Run Challenge, which should do well seeing as this is Javier Baez. Our 84T insert is of Josh James, a Houston farmhand who's yet to really make his mark on that pitching staff. Should happen soon, though.

 Heroes and villains. I love the Betances shot. And good to see Gardy in a good mood.

Lo and behold, our first official Topps issue of Manny Machado on the Padres, plus a cool Walker Buehler card.

Pack 3-
Rookies and Stras. Kevin Newman is having the best year of the three. Jake Cave's rookie year was technically last year, but Topps is catching up. Johnny Field may not even still be with the Cubs, I have to check.

Some fantastic horizontal shots all-around. Pedroia's may be his last Topps issue? Not sure if he'll be back in 2020, but I'm rooting for him. And Quinn's gonna be fantastic ones he get back to the Phils lineup.

Another Target-exclusive Aaron Judge insert. Thank God I'm a Yankees fan, or else I'd be pissed about these.

Some commons. CC's is the biggest star for me, but lots of relievers and also rans. I hope Matt Shoemaker gets back to 100% next year.

Pack 4- Base stuff. The entire middle row is just awesome shot after awesome shot.

 Two sentimental favorites from the base: Kingery because of how well he's playing in place of Cutch, and Rodney for being one of the most well-traveled closers of our generation.

 Great horizontal shots all around. I don't like this insert set, though. It's very wordy, very Panini-y. Why tell when you can show?

Pack 5- Base stuff. Ryu's is the best 'star' card in here, though the Adam Cimber shot is my favorite.

 Love both Woodruff's and Mejia's photo, especially the cut-out. Alfaro will always be a favorite for his service to Philly. And it's always a treat to get an insert of Red Schoendienst.

And here's where my luck starts to get ridiculous:

This is a card of Mikie Mahtook. Which is all well and good. But this is a Father's Day blue parallel.

This is a card...numbered to 50...which is a Father's Day parallel.

I bought this box...ON FATHER'S DAY.

Where the hell is Rod Serling? This is too crazy. I'm not supposed to have this kind of luck with retail. First I pull the only short print I wanted, and now I pull a /50 parallel on the exact holiday it's commemorating.

 Pack 6-
A trio of youthful players. Renfroe's hot as hell right now. Kiner-Falefa is not.

LOVE that Royals TC.
And that Ohtani might be one of my favorites of the year. From the photography to the fire to the lettering. I love it all.

I threw in Thames because I love that throwback, but that Naquin is a shiny parallel.
Also...I will NEVER say no to a new Bo Jackson insert. This one looks considerably awesome, too.

Some final base cards, featuring an entire row of awesomely hot players. Ramos' is sadly an airbrush, though. I love Escobar's shot.

 Pack 7- I love that Santana card, and I love that Nelson Cruz has an updated base card. Good stuff.

BEAUTIFUL. I do love these team cards this year.

Not wild about giving Gary Vee his own insert set. Still, I'm fine with more Aaron Judge, though.

Some last base cards. Both Leon's and Ro's are awesome, I love the throwbacks on Fry and Frazier, and...I just like this set.

I also bought two rack-packs of this set, but...they were both absolutely identical as far as base cards were concerned. Damn retail collation.

Still, I'm liking Series 2, as this set has cemented my admiration for the flagship set this year. Might not be a bit til I buy more, as I don't wanna pull the exact same guys.

Always Be Closing: Kirby Yates

Once again, we roll out our recurring spotlight on closing pitching to talk about the guy who has the most saves of anyone in the MLB, San Diego's Kirby Yates.

Last year, this exact month, I wrote an ABC post about Brad Hand, who was doing the exact same thing for the Padres: closing a ton of games despite the team's general mediocrity. However, things have changed for the Padres. Instead of being a lock for last place, the Padres are now sort of a lock for fourth, with the D-Backs and Rockies a few wins ahead of them, battling for second.

Which is, if anything, an improvement.

I don't think there's a ton of comparison needed when talking about Yates and Brad Hand. Though I will say that Brad Hand is the type of closer whose abilities outweigh his team's: this is the second year in a row where he's been on the saves leaders list while playing for a team that's not in first, and whole the Indians are a lot better than the Padres right now, it's safe to say that their best days are behind them.

Yates, like Hand, came up as a middle reliever, switched teams a few times and eventually got handed the closing gig. And since taking over for Hand, Yates has been fantastic in the ninth, getting 12 saves in the last two months of the 2018 season, and having 23 saves so far this season. He's also a late bloomer, as he's 32 years old and just now reaching his potential.

...but it is quite a potential. Yates has a 1.24 ERA in 29 appearances, has finished a league-leading 28 games and has saved 23 of them. And since we're doing Hand comparisons, let's do the ratio: Kirby Yates has saved 67% of the Padres victories, comparative to Brad Hand's 60% this time last year.

So...is Kirby Yates a better closer than Brad Hand, or are the Padres just better now than they were with Brad Hand?

Honestly, I'm not sure. I have less stats to work with on Yates' side than Hand's, and Hand is still pitching beautifully in Cleveland, but it might just be the slight improvement of the San Diego offense. The games are still close, but the wins are more frequent. And it helps having Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr. and a consistent Franmil Reyes in that lineup. Run support is nice for closers.

For now, let's just say that Kirby Yates is one of the best closers in the league right now, and if the Padres are, in fact, selling at the deadline, then he's gonna make a team very happy in the postseason.

Coming Tonight: Another piece of proof that the Pirates gave up too much in the Chris Archer deal last year.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Edwin Deal, Overanalyzed

Funny how all of this has worked out for Seattle. They lose their two marquee stars, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, and so they get a new hard-hitting outfielder, Jay Bruce, and a new hard-hitting first baseman/DH (Edwin Encarnacion), and now both of them are gone.

I'd say 'Poor M's fans', but that goes without saying at this point. They've lost two team heroes named Edwin in a span of six months.

Without Encarnacion and Bruce, the Mariners have...a few pieces left. Thankfully most of them are younger players, like Mallex Smith, Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach. Plus, JP Crawford is finally up in the majors, and (get this) he's HITTING! AAAAHHH.

All I care about is this: Do the M's have an outfield strong enough to carry on from losing Bruce? Well, right now Haniger is injured, so it's been a Smith-Santana-Mac Williamson outfield, and Williamson isn't hitting, so...maybe? Once they get Haniger back, this will be firmer. And do they have strong enough options at first and DH to carry on from losing Edwin? Well, their DH is Daniel Vogelbach, and they...don't accessibly have anyone who's ever consistently played first base except for Tim Beckham, who can't be too used to it. So...no.

The M's didn't get rid of Bruce and Edwin because they knew they'd be safe without them. This was a pure and simple salary dump, and a message to all teams that the M's, despite that insane start, are not competing. Not even remotely.

So, now that we've gotten that depressing business out of the way, let's talk about Edwin in the Bronx.

I love this move. I love it because Edwin is a much better DH than Kendrys Morales, he'll fill a steady hole at DH when Stanton gets off the DL, and he can jump in and swap with Luke Voit at first once or twice if his defense gets too scary. Edwin, despite being 36, is still in his prime, and is leading the AL in homers with 21 (SIDENOTE: I find it interesting that Seattle traded both Bruce and Edwin after they both hit a milestone home run; Bruce had just hit his 300th before joining the Phils, and Edwin just hit his 400th the other day). To say that Edwin will bolster the already powerful Yankee offense is an understatement.

He just needs to stay healthy. Because as great as a DH as he is, he's better off on the lineup than on the IL, and we have enough players on the IL. So I'm hoping for good, consistent things with Edwin.

Coming Tomorrow- For the second year in a row, the Padres have the best closer in baseball nearing the halfway point of the season. And for the second year in a row, the Padres might be trading said closer to a competitor by July 31st.