Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Fried All About It


The thing about this Braves team is that because so much insane stuff happened last year, it's hard to get excited about some of the developments comparatively. What's that? William Contreras has 6 home runs? What, Matt Olson has more doubles than he has RBIs? Oh, don't spoil me with the news that Spencer Strider's been killing long relief!

Once you win a World Series, it's hard to really enjoy a perfectly okay team again, especially if it's the year afterwards. And that's what this Braves team is right now- perfectly okay.

I mean, as I've said before, what made the Braves a World Series champion, a lot like the Nats two years before, was the time, the place, the momentum, the deadline acquisitions, all of that. That team at that moment was a World Series champion because no one could stop them. This team at this moment can be stopped. They've been stopped by the Phillies this week, because it's the Phillies turn to be good for a bit until they drop enough games for the Braves to end the season in second. 

Like, look at this rotation. Max Fried and Kyle Wright are both 4-2 and are doing well, but Ian Anderson and Charlie Morton are both doing very okay [Anderson's impending Tommy John surgery is staring him down]. The fifth starter spot is just a roulette wheel of great pitchers who cannot get a damned thing done this year. Kyle Muller is struggling, Huascar Ynoa is struggling, Tucker Davidson is struggling, and Bryce Elder, who started out doing pretty well, eventually started struggling. I imagine Elder'll get the fifth spot again now, but I don't know how well it'll go. Remember last year when the Braves had 5 starters and Drew Smyly hanging around for depth? They've gotta be missing Smyly about now.

The lineup is...very okay. Albies, Swanson and Riley have become great defenders but they're all hitting around .230. Acuna's himself but he's taking it very slowly. The hangers-on from last July onward, like Rosario and Duvall, aren't adding much at all. There's no real standouts on this team so far, everyone's just kinda doing alright and sort of getting by. 

The spark the Braves had last year hasn't really showed up yet, and I hate to think they're all waiting around for it to get there. 

Coming Tonight: The man of the moment, controversy be damned.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Reassessing the Blue Jays' Rotation Grab


Prior to the season, the Toronto Blue Jays, in an attempt to combat their AL East adversaries after missing the playoffs at their expense, decided to sign three starting pitchers. One of them, Jose Berrios, was being re-upped after the trade last July. The other two, Yusei Kikuchi and Kevin Gausman, were free agent signings. As a full rotation has always been hard for the Jays to come by, this move was made to give them a wider arsenal, and to supplant homegrown or preexisting arms like Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah. 

Let's see how they're doing:

-Kevin Gausman is having a season very much in the same vein as his Giants numbers, which was one of the main make-or-break points of this plan working. Kevin Gausman was excellent in Baltimore, and San Francisco, but for some reason he went absolutely dead in Atlanta and nearly derailed his entire career with an awful start there. Like a lot of pitchers, Gausman's success is regional, and he can't always perform in big, pressing markets. So I didn't know if Toronto would be the best market for him, but...apparently he's been flourishing there, with a 2.52 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 8 starts, a start only dwarfed by Alek Manoah's. Gausman is a smashing success already and is getting some Cy Young buzz. In May. That's...very good.

-Yusei Kikuchi, signed after a great year in Seattle last year, is proving what I kinda knew, that his 2021 was the nth degree of his promise and not indicative of his promise in general. So far he's done alright. 2-1, 3.57 ERA, 40 Ks, nothing too fancy but I'm sure the Blue Jays are glad they have him around. Plus, with Hyun-Jin Ryu finally pitching like a 35-year-old, Kikuchi is providing some international appeal and dominance in the absence of the beloved Korean Monster. 

-Jose Berrios, re-signed in the nick of time as the Jays wanted Berrios as an ace, is still struggling a bit. Berrios is working with a 4.75 ERA, a 3-2 record, 35 strikeouts and a 1.437 WHIP. Though he had great numbers for the Jays last fall, he just seems to be having a shakier start so far, which is fine. I mean, he's 28, still in his prime, still capable of big game moments, but it's maybe just not his best year in general. If the Jays didn't have Manoah, Gausman, and Kikuchi doing better, I'd be more worried. I just think he'll make up some ground in the next few month. Remember, June is coming up, and the Jays always do well in June.

So...not perfect, but pretty good. I'd rest my head on a rotation like this, even if Berrios and Ross Stripling leave a bit to be desired. I can't imagine the Yankees having to take on Gausman or Manoah right now, especially during what I can only assume is their obligatory slide.

Meanwhile, Bichette and Guerrero are heating up, Alejandro Kirk might finally have the starting catching spot, Springer is valuable, and this team is slowly gearing up for some major damage next month. I just hope that the Yankees don't choose June for the moment where they fall apart, because a Jays comeback is all but inevitable. 

Coming Tomorrow- He has a World Series ring, but why's his team still struggling to stay out of fourth?

Belli of the Beast


I just think that if by 24 you have an MVP, a Rookie of the Year and have been to two World Series', your standard for greatness changes a little bit.

The thing about Cody Bellinger's last few seasons is that nobody was saying 'oh he's cooked'. It's more like 'oh, he has time to have seasons like this.' He came up at 21, which is rare for MLBers these days, had success almost right off the bat, and then had an explosive 2019 with 47 homers and 115 RBIs in the year that Rob Manfred has said that he juiced the balls a bit. Then in a COVID-shortened season he hit .239 and last year he couldn't even hit for average. The game changed, he had to keep up, and he had time to keep up.

Which should explain why his age-26 season is going better. He's a bit more comfortable, he's not relied upon as much, and he's not even at the period where most MLB players are fully in their prime. He knows the pressure's off, so he's hitting a ton better, and has a 1.1 WAR as of now, with some impressive defensive work lifting him as well as his recent offensive improvement. As of now, Bellinger only has 5 homers, but I don't think it's for lack of trying- the balls are harder to hit out, Bellinger lacks the homer-or-bust mentality of his earlier career, and he's still warming up. I reckon he'll hit 25 or 30 this year, and then next year he'll chase the big guns again.

Bellinger is just another one of the many intriguing pieces of another great Dodgers team. It should not surprise you that Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner and Clayton Kershaw are the most efficient pieces so far, but great years are being had by Gavin Lux, Tony Gonsolin and, honestly, David Price. This is a team mixed between contract wins and curious farm system prizes, and they're all learning to coexist and play great baseball together. Kimbrel has 9 saves, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney can start competently, and DHing Muncy has become a very, very good idea [motions to Sunday].

On this Dodgers team, with this kind of efficiency, Cody Bellinger can have a comeback year. It remains to be seen how his peak years will go.

Coming Tonight: One of two Toronto arms making waves right now.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Tucker Round and Find Out

 This may come off as hypocritical being said by a Yankee fan...but I am so damned sick of this team taking 1st every frigging year.

It's like clockwork. The Astros take a month to heat up, they heat up, and it's insufferable. Forget there are new teams with new narratives in the AL West, like the Angels and Mariners, no, we have to have the Astros in first for most of the damned season. Ohtani and Trout are both hitting? Hogwash, look at Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Kyle Tucker doing the same things they always do. Look, Yordan Alvarez is hitting home runs again, what the hell else matters in this division?

I know for a fact that the reason why the Astros have continued to be such a factor in the AL these last 5 years is the way the organization is built. It's a well oiled machine that has run splendidly for the last 5 years, and even the last 10, with everything they've done since moving to the AL including honing prospects like Springer, Correa and Keuchel yet still being alright when they leave. The Astros let Correa go fair and square because they knew they had Jeremy Pena right behind. The Astros let George Springer go to Toronto because they knew Kyle Tucker would move in and become the contact annihilator he is today. The Astros phased out Evan Gattis as DH because they knew Yordan Alvarez would jump in and become a home run hitter.

The only mark on their record since 2017 has been the cheating scandal, which only really Rob Manfred has forgiven them for. 

But taking away the villainous stance they have, taking away how they've been Yankee killers in the playoffs, all of the controversy and everything aside...this team just knows how to keep momentum going. They've been postseason regulars for 5 straight seasons and they're going for number six, and unless the Angels do enough to keep them fully out, they're gonna get it. With everything stacked against this team, they've still managed to win, and they've done so with Justin Verlander at 39, Jose Altuve past his contact-hitting prime, two catchers hitting around .100 and Jeremy Pena taking over for a legend. You kind of have to admire that. 

I don't, but I see why you could.

Coming Tomorrow- Similar to Christian Yelich, a former MVP trying to regain career momentum. This guy seems to have figured it out though.

Rebel Yelich


I think a lot of people have resigned themselves to the fact that Christian Yelich's peak was from his age-24 season in 2016 to his age-27 season in 2019. He had a very strong run, played for some great teams, won an MVP and nearly won a second one. And it was a great time, but he's no longer in that peak period, and a majority of people have accepted that.

...Christian Yelich has not accepted that, though.

So far, Yelich is hitting .250 with 20 RBIs and 5 home runs. Perfectly sane numbers. But Yelich is striving for more, and he's trying to go bigger, and in that want to go bigger he's garnered 38 strikeouts. That's on pace for 158 strikeouts, which would be a career high. Remember in 2019, the season he came 2nd in MVP voting, Yelich only struck out 118 times. That's low for 2019. And then he had 76 strikeouts in 58 games in 2020, and...look, I think he's just chasing the dragon at this point. 

The Brewers are at a point where they can rely on a full ensemble of people for a variety of things, and it's less and less reliant on Yelich being the complete leader he was in 2019. Like, yes, it helps and all, but we still have people like Lorenzo Cain, Willy Adames and Andrew McCutchen, who can also be the centerpiece if they want to. Plus, Yelich isn't the most consistent power guy on this team anymore- Hunter Renfroe and Rowdy Tellez are both bringing excellent power numbers so far, and they've both amassed 9 home runs each. I'm not saying the Brewers have evolved past the need for Christian Yelich, because they definitely still need him, but...I don't think they need him to be the only marquee guy anymore.

We're now at a point where the starting pitchers aren't the nobodies that they were. Corbin Burnes has a Cy Young now, people come to Milwaukee to see him pitch, and he delivers. Burnes has a 1.5 WAR, a 2.26 ERA and 62 strikeouts, he's on pace for another Cy Young if he desires. Despite Freddy Peralta landing on the IL yesterday, the Brewers have 4 guys with 48 strikeouts or more right now, and that includes Brandon Woodruff, who's a bit more scattershot than he's been in years. People come to see Josh Hader- the guy's got 15 saves already, and is on pace for 60. That's really damned good.

The goal is for Yelich to finish with a season he's proud of, and that the Brewers are proud of as well. At this pace, they're favorites for a playoff spot, and if Yelich plays a nice enough role in that endeavor, he'll be even. If not...the man may have to face the facts and modify his approach.

Coming Tonight: Outfielder and young standout from The Team That Wouldn't Die.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Buck Toothed


The conversation needs to be had of 'how good of a career would Byron Buxton have right now if he was at all able to stay healthy?'

All things considered, Buxton has played just one full season, in 2017, and even that was an age 23 season where he was still warming up and coming into his own, despite a 4.9 WAR and 29 steals. Buxton has matured into a pure hitter, an efficient power bat who has knocked 11 homers so far this season. But every season since 2017 he's struggled with staying healthy, culminating in an ever-so-heartbreaking 2021, where an injury ruined what could have been an MVP year for Buxton.

The best news about the injury he suffered last year is that it protected him from being traded someplace like San Diego. Now he gets to suit up and hit home runs for the Twins again, as they return to 1st place.

Regardless of the fact that Buxton isn't exactly hitting for average, 21 RBIs and 11 home runs is a very good look to be leading the team with. It's clear that the rest of the squad looks to Buxton as an authority figure, even if he is only 28, and Buxton having another nice season, even if he does miss a little time here and there, does keep the team centered as it goes into the heat of the season. I don't think Correa can be relied upon fully as a centerpiece yet, and Kepler and Polanco are too inconsistent, even if they are all doing well do far. Plus, now Gio Urshela is beginning to heat up at the plate, which will only help the Twins. It does shock me still that Gary Sanchez has only hit 3 home runs. I suppose we gave him up at the right time, especially considering how the returns are doing [racism notwithstanding]. 

It's also very promising to see the callups like Jose Miranda, Gilberto Celestino and Royce Lewis playing such a role in this team. Celestino seems to be pretty ready, as he's chasing Nick Gordon for a starting OF spot. Miranda is taking a bit more time, but he is a pretty useful infield piece, especially in Sano's absence. Lewis was doing so well covering for Correa that people began to think that Correa might get dealt so Lewis can play everyday, and while I don't think the Twins would do that so soon with their big 2022 pickup...I would rather see Lewis start than Correa, honestly.

The burgeoning youth is a fine factor in this team's success. Josh Winder was having a great go of things before he got injured. The second you forgot about him, South Jersey native Devin Smeltzer sprung back into the fold and notched two careful, low-hit starts. People like Bailey Ober and Joe Ryan are ruling this rotation in favor of people like Sonny Gray or Dylan Bundy, and it's very promising.

The White Sox are 4 games back as I write this, so the Twins' lead isn't guaranteed for the next stretch, but the Twins have stayed very hot recently, and they're just now getting some big pieces back from the IL, so maybe that'll propel them further into the lead.

Coming Tomorrow- A former MVP determined to stay relevant. 

Bassitt Found


It's always gotta be a little trickier than usual with the Mets, doesn't it?

We already knew the Mets would be starting the season without Jacob deGrom, that's all doable. They start the season with a Scherzer-Megill-Bassitt-Walker-Carrasco rotation. Walker misses a few starts, they have David Peterson, it's fine. Then Megill gets hurt. Now Scherzer's hurt. So now the rotation consists of Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson and Trevor Williams. And it's still sort of a win for the Mets.

They still have an ace, and that ace is Chris Bassitt, and after he's been locked up for a little longer in Queens, Bassitt is very capable of mowing down batters, as he always has. So far he's 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA and 49 Ks, which is still a pretty powerful ace performance taking Scherzer out of the equation. The funny thing about Bassitt is he's 33, and yet has only really become a force in baseball since 2018, so he's making up for a lot of lost time. As is Carrasco, who's battled injuries the last few years, and is off to his best start in years, with a 3.73 ERA, 3 wins and 37 Ks. Walker has been the comparative weak link so far, at least in terms of velocity, but he hasn't exactly been counted out yet. 

The other two are the intriguing bits, because the Mets aren't exactly out of luck. Filling in for Walker, David Peterson had a 1.89 ERA in 4 appearances, and fit right in with the rest of the bunch. I don't doubt he'll be fine. Williams, however, I'm confused by, as he's been problematic ever since his 2-8 2020 as the top pitcher in Pittsburgh. Williams has had only one true start, and it went well enough, going 4 innings and not allowing a hit, notching 6 strikeouts. His relief numbers are telling me he'll be in better shape as they go, and even if he is a bit faulty, he's still working with an excellent Mets lineup.

In addition to that, the Mets also have a sixth starter ready if they need him, in the form of Thomas Szapucki, who's been a fairly decent starter in Syracuse so far. So that's really what we're working with. Three Opening Day rotation members fall, there's four in waiting. 

As for the Mets in general, they're not doing a ton wrong. Starling Marte just got back from a week away and he's already back to hitting. Alonso, Nimmo, Lindor and McNeil are all pounding the ball. Edwin Diaz is actually working as a closer again. Patrick Mazeika actually works as a backup catcher. Travis Jankowski has fully embraced being a killer bench player. The fans are showing up, the belief is there, and nobody else in the NL East is coming close to them. May they keep it up, at least for a little while longer.

Coming Tomorrow- He was within inches of getting dealt last year, and he's stayed around long enough to see his team retake first.