Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Greene River (Always Be Closing)

(Music Pun Streak #13. Even if this is an Always Be Closing post, I'm still throwing in a CCR pun, even if it's easy)

Like last year, I'll occasionally take an opportunity to analyze a successful closing pitcher. So let's talk about the Tigers' Shane Greene, who managed to get the majority of his 11 saves thus far within the first ten games of play. Does this say more about Greene, or the Tigers? Well...let's examine this.

So let's flash back to the tenth game of the season, against the Royals, when Shane Greene notches his seventh save. The team is in first in the AL Central, and has the most wins among teams that have NOT played two extra games in Japan (hint). And Greene, with his blazing fastball and perfected ninth-inning presence, is the star of the show, getting them out of numerous close matches.

Now, immediately after this, the Tigers go on a skid. They lose seven of their next ten; the other three wins, Greene gets three more saves.

...actually, screw this math. The Tigers have 12 wins. 11 of them came from Greene saves. The other one was a blowout where they didn't need a closer. The fact is that for the most part, the Tigers aren't out-hitting their opponents enough to not need to rely on a closer very often. And the ultimate conclusion, is that Shane Greene is responsible for nearly all of their wins, and has not blown a save yet.

So...the Tigers are okay, but Shane Greene's abilities as a closer are superior enough to be lifting them from last (Royals again).

Which makes me wonder what they'll be like without him. Because he's a free agent next year, and could very well be an intriguing pickup for a team that needs bullpen help. Unless the Tigers improve, they will be without Greene in the ninth for the rest of the year, and will have to use someone like Buck Farmer or Daniel Stumpf as closer. Which, at the moment, isn't preferable. But that's what tends to happen when you're the only thing keeping your team from losing (just ask Brad Hand or Edwin Diaz)

I'd like to think the Tigers can improve, but...I wonder if they can improve without Greene. And what that says about them as a team?

Coming Tomorrow- A strong pitcher for what has, once again, become the single most fun last place team in the bigs.

The Stars Are Out: April 2019

That's right: for another year of blogging, I'll be doing customs of notable first pitches throughout the MLB. We had some pretty good ones last year, so I'll try and keep things at the same standard. And seeing as April had some nice results, I think it'll be another good year of these.

I'll start with the obvious one: Mariano Rivera made history by becoming the first-ever unanimous HOF inductee, because nobody could even dispute that man's talent. He's enshrined in Cooperstown this summer, and he's having a great year so far. So why WOULDN'T the Yankees grab Mo for a first pitch early on in the season? I mean, as you can see here, he's definitely still got it.

Similarly, recent HOF-inductee Jack Morris had a modest homecoming in Toronto, where he won his final of three World Series rings. In two seasons in Toronto, he notched 20 wins once and surpassed 100 strikeouts twice. Even for a guy who's better known in Detroit, the Toronto fans sure love him, and i'm glad they had him in town to throw out a first pitch.

As we seem to be on a streak of former players turned-HOFers, Lee Smith had a welcome homecoming to Chicago, where he made a name for himself as a dominating, intimidating and powerful closer. For someone like him, who was considered borderline for many years, this must be a joy and a thrill, and I'm glad he's still beloved in Chicago.

Meanwhile in LA, the Angels fans still have a lot of fondness for their perennial All-Star and team hero, Bobby Grich. And as you can see by this fun pose, he still seems pretty happy to be there. You could argue that his prime years were with Baltimore, but with the Angels Grich had a better average, hit more for power, and became more of a fan favorite.

And then there's a more recent fan favorite like Justin Morneau, who isn't too distant of a memory in Minnesota fans' eyes, but seeing as his teammate Joe Mauer just retired, should begin to steer towards deification on that wall of fame. The guy snagged an MVP in a year where it was basically Jeter's to lose, hit home runs into the postseason, and only left when he knew the team wouldn't be screwed without him. Class act, and deserves the applause he's getting here.

Shifting now to a slightly-more-obscure former player, Billy Bean threw out a first pitch on LGBTQ+ night at PETCO Park, commemorating his decision to come out as an acting player. I know that Bean's fame is less about ability and more about queer identity, but even if it is just that, it's nice that he's getting recognition, rather than scorn. After what he must have gone through, he deserves it.

Shifting to other sports, here's a shot of one of the biggest sports figures in contemporary Philadelphia history throwing one out at CBP. As someone who's witnessed him play, I'll confirm it: AI is still huge, still gets applause, and is still beloved in Philly, even after leaving or retiring due to an issue with his kid or whatever. He delivered when it meant something, and without him, we never would have had Embiid and Simmons and those guys. So of course his first pitch is gonna be huge.

Just as the dust from the NFL draft settles, here's a shot of Parris Campbell, back when he was known for being a star receiver in Ohio, throwing one out for the Reds. Since then, he's been drafted in Round 2 by the Colts, and hopefully will get some reps during his rookie year.

...and if you want to count pro-wrestling as a sport, here's WWE superstar Braun Strowman dealing one out in Milwaukee. I was gonna say this must mean he's a Milwaukee native, but seeing as he only recently threw out a first pitch for the Astros...maybe he's just campaigning for something? I don't know.

We'll end on some acting personnel. First of all, Jamie Foxx, yes THAT Jamie Foxx, was in Philly for Jackie Robinson day. Which...is kinda weird, seeing as he's from the Dallas metropolitan area. Whatever, he's an amazing actor, I'll take it. Good to have anyone in Philly.

And now for some Cubs. Kumail Nanjiani wrote and starred in the very funny The Big Sick, and now he's ending up in several studio pictures, which is deserved. Plus, like every other moderately funny person these days, he's from Chicago.

Noah Wyle was on ER longer than anybody else from the original cast, did Falling Skies, and now is doing another procedural on CBS. He is a TV man through and through, and thankfully he's still welcome in his hometown of Chicago.

Jon Favreau has done so much that it's hard to pinpoint one thing he should be known for. He was in Swingers? He's Happy Hogan in the Iron Man movies? He directed The Jungle Book? He's showrunning the new Star Wars series The Mandalorian? It's really hard, because he's good at most things. And, hence the theme, he is a Cubs fan.

Speaking of Star Wars...

...we'll end on this guy.

This is Joonas Suotamo. He's incredibly tall, incredibly friendly, and he's been playing Chewbacca onscreen since 2015. He was in town for Star Wars Celebration earlier this month, so of course he stopped by Wrigley, got a ton of applause and wookie roars, and threw out what I can only assume was a cool first pitch.

That's all for April. Hopefully we'll get some good ones during this month.

Lay Your Dans on Me

(Music Pun Streak #12. You can go with Thompson Twins or Peter Gabriel here. Whichever works)

The Atlanta Braves were one of the best teams of 2018. The pitching was strong, the lineup was bombastic, and the heroes were among those of the year entirely. And yet...with only a few minor adjustments to this team, the Braves have found themselves...in third place.

...that's right. For the umpteenth time this decade, the Braves have found themselves in third, behind the Phillies and Mets. Because screw unpredictability.

The baffling part is that the Braves seem to kind of have their shit together still. The youth-based core of Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies is still powering the team, Freddie Freeman is still an elite leader-type, Josh Donaldson is having his best numbers since the injury-plagued years, and Tyler Flowers and Charlie Culberson have been electric off the bench. There aren't many bad eggs in this lineup, and there aren't many signs that things need to be drastically changed.

The rotation is the real problem area, and I say this sadly after last year's strong core there. Sean Newcomb, a year post-ASG nod, has been demoted, Julio Teheran's ERA is high again, Folty is still shaking off the jitters post-injury, and the only trusted arms the Braves seem to have are Max Fried, Kevin Gausman and Mike Soroka, which is a very paltry three-man core for a rotation, not to diminish Fried's fastball. Also, for the second year in a row there's no concrete closer thanks to an injury to Arodys Vizcaino, so AJ Minter's been doing his best.

The messiness of the pitching unit is taking away from how well the lineup is doing, and it's that kind of disconnect that may cost the Braves a run at a division title this year. They're an alright team, and they can win some games, but unless they can figure out how to shore up the pitching, the Mets and Phillies will continue to outdo them.

...and for a team that had to endure a few too many seasons of that, it's got to be annoying.

Coming Tonight: A closer for a similarly-okay AL Central team.

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Notorious B.I.G. M.A.P.L.E.

(Music Pun Streak #11. Simple but still applies.)

I hate bringing a topical reference to this blog, but here I go.

The 2019 New York Yankees are currently playing out the baseball equivalent of Avengers: Infinity War. Only instead of Thanos claiming half the players, it's the IL. And several big guns, like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks (to name just a few) were claimed by injuries within the first few weeks of play. As numbers piled up, the team looked doomed.

...but, it's not really about the Yankees that were lost. It's about the Yankees who were left. And there are some pretty good ones left.

For instance, Luke Voit has been lighting up the AL in the past week, hitting 8 home runs, rounding his average up to .283, and making a ton less errors at first. Upon taking the 2nd base position, DJ LeMahieu has quickly returned to his Rockies numbers, has an average over .310 and is defensively shining for us. Hell, even Gio Urshela is playing well at third, and this is a guy who's bopped around several teams lately.

And even if we're down Sevvy and Gumby, we still have Tanaka pitching beautifully, Domingo German having a breakout year, and...James Paxton. I was worried when we signed him that we wouldn't get quality starts out of Paxton, but so far it's been unfounded. The dude's been throwing fire even in the losses, and he already has 51 strikeouts. Paxton could become a steady, Mussina-esque arm for us, and with this start I'm very, very excited.

The biggest indicator of the success post-injuries this year was what I saw in Scranton last year, in their AAA unit. I saw a ton of players who were at the right point to jump into the majors, and were just being blocked by the amount of talent that was already up. Guys like Tyler Wade, Mike Ford, Clint Frazier and Thairo Estrada, who are all getting their shot this year, and for the most part impressing, would still be down in AAA any other year, but now they're proving their worth. Even Cameron Maybin, who'd be toiling in the minors either way, is getting a shot and killing it. And that makes me happy.

Yes, it'll be nice when everyone comes back, but...the Yanks are still winning games, and playing beautifully. And that's all I could ask for.

Coming Tomorrow- Shortstop for a team we all thought would be doing a lot better about now.

Giants in the Sty

(Music Pun Streak #10. Yes, I am going with a Sondheim pun. Try and stop me.)

The Giants just finished a series with the Yankees. It did not go well.

I think the difference is that the Yankees, even with an injured core, still have a strong youth movement ready to step in and fight. The Giants...don't really have that. They have one or two fledgling rookies, but most of the prospect haven't been promoted yet because there's no room. Most of the roster spots are being taken by 30 year olds.

Steven Duggar is a 25-year-old on a team of 30-year-olds, so it's no shock that he's the best hitter on the team right now. Even with his hits-leading numbers, he's still hitting .223. As is most of the rest of the team. Posey's close to .250, but even he's having a really human year. Even the bench reinforcements, like Gerardo Parra and Yangervis Solarte, are feeling uninspired.

And you'd think a rotation of Bumgarner-D-Rod-Holland-Shark-Pomeranz would be good, but...Samardzija has the lowest ERA, and it's at 3. Lots of inflated, home-run allowing guys among this bunch, which is kind of depressing to be honest. Hell, Will Smith and his 6 saves have the best WAR on the team, and this is a team that has Evan Longoria and Buster Posey on it.

I don't even know if this is a team that can shed some contracts at the deadline or anything. I don't know if this Giants team is anything north of a glum last place team. Not even a laughable one like the Marlins- this is a team that knows they should be better, and can't be.

They were in a World Series 5 years ago. And now they're here. I wish it were different.

Coming Tonight: Big. Frigging. Maple.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Old Brown Choo

(Music Pun Streak #9. The upside of that horrible Beatles pun is that at least it's a cool deep cut)

The Rangers are at exactly .500. Which is nice, considering everyone thought they'd be in last. But...it's also very, very, very meh. Which isn't preferable for the Rangers.

At least Elvis Andrus and Shin-Soo Choo are back to their old selves? At least Hunter Pence is doing super well off the bench? At least Joey Gallo is finally hitting somewhat for average? At least Mike Minor is pitching well? I dunno, it's hard to find concrete upsides to a team whose pitching is so atrocious this year?

Like, what are their pitching options beyond Mike Minor? Lance Lynn and Shelby Miller? Kyle Dowdy and Adrian Sampson, who I've never heard of? They called up a guy yesterday, and he barely even got out of the first inning. Even Jose Leclerc is having trouble getting saves, and Shawn Kelley's relief numbers alone are keeping the staff ERA down a bit. It's honestly a mess that hasn't recovered since the losses of the early-2010s youth movement.

Is there a silver lining? Sort of? I mean, I don't know if there's more pitching help coming, but if the lineup continues its strong streak, they can keep winning close divisional matchups and slowly inch towards the top two. They're at a tough point in the division, and may alternate at third with the A's, but...they do have a leg up in terms of home run hitting, which helps.

Coming Tomorrow- His team dropped 3 to the Yankees, so I'm a little happy, but he's become a modest outfield bat for a team needing some.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Homemade Dynamite

(Music Pun Streak #8. Yes, this is the usual insanely clever reference I make with Yelich's customs)

I feel like even if Bryce Harper had never become a superstar, we would have ended up calling him the best player in the NL anyway. I do hold the controversial opinion that most of the legend of Harper is thanks in part to the hype surrounding him all throughout his career in high school, the minors, and eventually the Nationals. And I don't know if his numbers have matched up to the hype.

If we're looking for the NL answer to Mike Trout, might I suggest Christian Yelich? Because with what that man has done since last year, Harper might as well be shaking in his boots.

In the last two seasons, Yelich has a combined batting average of .329, 49 home runs, 142 RBIs, and a 9.4 WAR. And lord knows what those totals are going to be at the end of this season. Because Yelich is for real. He has 14 home runs in one month of gameplay. To pull an asinine stat out of nowhere, that means he's on pace to hit 70 home runs after 5 months of gameplay. If the real world worked mathematically, that'd be possible.

He's also the right marquee star to help lift the Brewers during this noticeably tight season of NL Central gameplay. Every few days, someone else has first. Everyone seems to be in the race, even Cincinnati, who's in last but not especially too far out. St. Louis and Milwaukee seem to be the big guns, and the Cards do have a formidable leader-type in Paul Goldschmidt. But while Goldy has embraced more power numbers, Yelich is a more well-rounded and versatile hitter. Yes, he hits home runs, but he also hits for average. And Brewers seem to be building themselves around Yelich, while also not being completely overshadowed by him (hence Mous and Cain still playing beautifully).

Yelich is the kind of five-tool star that the Brewers needed, and that the NL needed. I sincerely hope he keeps it up.

Coming Tomorrow- A very good, very fun player on a very, very, very okay AL West team.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Spring Samplings: 2019 Diamond Kings & 2019 Gypsy Queen

This is an odd time in the card-collecting year for me, because products are definitely being released, but I...really don't want to collect most of them. Diamond Kings I usually collect a little bit of and wait til the hobby box reaches an affordable price. Gypsy Queen...since they did away with all their great insert sets, I can't really get into.

Anyway, I had a spare moment, so here's a blaster of '19 DK, and a 'VALUE PACK' of Gypsy Queen. In that order. And I will try and enthuse some character into this, though don't hold me to it.


Bonus Pack;
HOF Heroes of Mel Ott, a worthy get
Blue-Bordered Parallel of Larry Doby. Photos and filtering look nice this year. Very colorful.
Blue-Bordered parallel of Cionel Perez. Neither of these are numbered, btw.
16- Lou Gehrig Artist's Proof. And neither is this.
Babe Ruth Collection insert of his pitching days in Boston. Nice.

Pack 1-
73- Matt Carpenter. Of course we start with a Cardinal. Of course
109- Steven Duggar. I believe this is a short print.
Team Heroes insert of Christian Yelich. These are very quaint and 80s'-esque.
80 Ichiro. A nice throwback uniform on his DK sunset card.
37- Tony Gwynn

Pack 2-
30- Charlie Keller
205 insert of Max Scherzer...blue foil. NUMBERED TO 25 COPIES. Holy crap. Low-numbered parallel of a future Hall of Famer. Fantastic. Not sure about the odds of pulling one of these, but I am impressed.
HOF Heroes of Ty Cobb
94- Jonathan Davis RC. Not especially the Toronto rookie I was looking for.
52- Garrett Hampson RC

Pack 3-
87- AARON NOLA. Nice
45- Kevin Kramer RC
Masters of the Game of Jacob De Grom. I really like these. These are similarly retro, and they're closer to what DK should be
76- Kyle Wright RC
33- Nolan Ryan

Pack 4-
3- Babe Ruth. Because of course.
112- Yusei Kikuchi IMAGE VARIATION SHORT PRINT. This is my second good pull of the box, and this one's also pretty impressive.
Team Heroes of Shohei Ohtani. I sincerely hope he wasn't the sole Angel in this insert set. You wanna talk about an Angels team hero? It's not Ohtani, that's for sure.
90- David Fletcher RC. It's not him either
48- Johnny Bench. Beautiful shot here.

Pack 5-
61- Kolby Allard RC
19- Joe DiMaggio. Nice
205 insert of Mookie Betts. I do like these.
6- Mel Ott
64- Ryan O'Hearn

Pack 6-
42- Max Scherzer
99- Christin Stewart RC
Squires insert of Jack Flaherty. These are so damn cool that I'm not even bothered that this is a Cardinal.
22- Ted Williams
79- Jacob Nix

Not a bad product. Very retro-oriented, which is a step in the right direction, I think.

Now for the Gypsy Queen:

Pack 1-
170- Lou Trivino. Design isn't bad, but I feel like every year this set gets further and further away from what the original Gypsy Queen sets were
158- Luis Urias RC
26- Dee Gordon
110- Salvador Perez. A lot of the good photos in this set are just of catchers.
239- James McCann. Case in point
43- Josh Rogers RC

Pack 2-
196- Tucker Barnhart. Another really good catcher shot
164- Jake Odorizzi
88- Tyler Mahle
156- Jake Cave
204- Josh Hader MISSING NAMEPLATE VARIATION. Man, the short prints just keep coming.
276- Rowdy Tellez RC

Pack 3-
94- Francisco Lindor
44- Jeimer Candelario
267- Alex Bregman
Fortune Teller insert of Javier Baez
59- Zack Wheeler
156- Javier Baez again!

Green Pack-
22- Ryan Borucki
36- Starling Marte
268- Willy Adames

Very blah set in my opinion. Base set isn't terribly interesting, nor are the inserts. Even the guaranteed green parallels are just border and not a framed parallel or anything.

DK wins here. More likely to get more of that than more of GQ.

Chulo for Zero

(Music Pun Streak #7. I apologize for not picking a better Elton John album)

Of late, Jorge Polanco has been one of those players that gets a lot of fan response, gets a lot of Twins money thrown at him, has supposedly been good for a few years, and yet...hasn't really resonated with me. Like, I've thought he's supremely overrated for a while, and I like to remind people about his positive test for PEDs. He's only had close to one full season with the Twins, and that one was okay at best. I don't really like being this negative, but to this point, he hasn't had spectacular numbers.

...and by 'to this point', I mean pre-2019. Because damn has this guy come to play this year.

Jorge Polanco hit a cycle against my hometown team, the Phillies. And his team still lost. That's the wild bit. He could get four types of hits and yet still be on the losing side. Thankfully the Twins have been doing better since the Phils series, ruling the AL Central for a week or so, and letting their new big guns, like Polanco, Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios, shine. The reinforcements have done well as well, with Jonathan Schoop returning to Baltimore numbers, Blake Parker doing well in the ninth, and Willians Astudillo capturing the heart and spirit of the Minnesota fanbase.

Still, even with concrete leaders in Polanco and Rosario, it's not perfect; Nelson Cruz' home run well has dried up as of late, Max Kepler is hitting human numbers, Michael Pineda's giving up too many runs, and the Indians have caught up. The Twins, over the next few weeks, will need to prove that they deserve to remain atop the division, regardless of a team that usually presides there making a run at the throne.

Didn't think a team led by Jorge Polanco would have this grave stakes, but here we are.

Coming Tonight: The best player in baseball right now. That, uh, isn't Mike Trout.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Invisible Cutch

(Music Pun Streak #6. I sincerely wish this pun game from a better Genesis record)

So. The 2019 Philadelphia Phillies, one month in.

...uh...not bad. Not too bad at all.

Look, things CLEARLY could be better. The bullpen, stocked with big names, isn't wholly impressive. A few of the signings haven't completely gone according to plan (Robertson and Segura are currently injured), and Bryce Harper is mouthing off umpires, but because he's Bryce Harper it's apparently a big deal (file this with Chris Archer getting mad at Tim Anderson for a bat flip). But...this team is still in second place.

At this point, they're not as good as the Mets because...the Mets have the better constructed team right now. There's higher heights over there- Alonso, Conforto and de Grom are all doing great. In Philly...Jake Arrieta is having a good year, but he still has 2 losses. Andrew McCutchen is having a comeback year, but even he's got an imperfect average. Hoskins, Franco and Harper, as well as they're doing, aren't...burning down the league. Even Aaron Nola is slumping like hell.

So far, the Phillies, a team that everyone was expecting to dominate the league...is just doing alright. Which has got to be a letdown for some people. I mean...they're still a team above .500, and they're still winning games after all, but...the sports community needs to come to terms for the fact that the Phillies might not be as good as we all thought.

...even if they do still end up being pretty good. Maybe we should lower our preseason expectations, so that 'okay' starts like this don't end up dooming still good teams.

Coming Tonight: The guy who hit a cycle against the Phillies.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Bogaerts Beat as One

(Music Pun Streak #5. At least it's a horrible VINTAGE U2 pun...)

The 2019 Red Sox. How sweet it is.

The best you can say about this team is that they've managed once again to be the exact opposite of the Yankees. With the Yankees, you can say that all the people who were playing well have gotten injured. With the Red Sox...you can say that all the people who are still healthy aren't playing well.

It's the other end of the coin that's not being discussed as much because sportswriters love it when the Yankees fail. A Sox team failing is not news to them; after all, until 2004 it was kind of the norm.

I mean, what can you say? Gee, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are doing well? That was bound to happen. No, the real crime is that all those people they paid to come back are all tanking. Chris Sale, Steve Pearce, Eduardo Nunez, Rick Porcello...they're all massive disappointments so far. Especially Sale, who's been giving up way too many home runs. There is a small core with the Bs, Martinez and Moreland, that can't really get too far because the pitching is letting them down. Hell, even RYAN BRASIER is doing a nice job as closer, and this is a job he shouldn't have even had.

Good news is they're trying to solve the problem. The Sox called up Michael Chavis to take some games at second, and while he's good, he's not MLB-level great yet. They've been using Hector Velazquez as a starter, with...mixed results. Hell, they've even been using Tzu-Wei Lin...because they just realized they still have him.

I'm not exactly sure what the Red Sox are trying to become this season. They clearly don't have the competitive team this year, and they're just trying to beat the Orioles right now. Not sure what this means for the long run of the season, but...baby steps for now.

Coming Tomorrow- Somehow, THIS GUY is the best acquisition the Phillies made this year. Which...only I saw coming.

Friar Maker

(Music Pun Streak #4- Because Zeppelin is never a bad idea)

So...let's talk about something Padre-wise that has nothing to do with Manny Machado or Fernando Tatis Jr.

Yes, the rotation. Literally the one thing I thought would doom the Padres this year is putting them right into the conversation. The rotation consists of six pitchers ranging from 22 to 27; three of them came from the farm system, three of them were traded to San Diego for such talents as Fernando Rodney, Trevor Cahill and Derek Norris.

...and we all know how THEY turned out in Miami, Kansas City and Washington, respectively.

Right now, the stars of this rotation are the rookies. Chris Paddack, Nick Margevicius and Pedro Avila all have ERAs under 3, and all have staggeringly low WHIPs. Paddack seems to be an early standout, with 21 strikeouts in 4 starts. And the 'old guard' of Matt Strahm, Joey Lucchesi and Eric Lauer seems to be holding up well as well, with Lucchesi notching 29 strikeouts in 5 starts. I think if you can call anyone here the ace, it's Lucchesi, as he had an impressive rookie year last year and could have a MLB-great year if given the right team.

This rotation and a surprisingly alright bullpen have headed up a decent Padres squad. More importantly, they've proved that the Padres are gonna do more than just hit home runs this year. Having Machado, Tatis, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers certainly helps the run total, but...they can pitch their way out of things as well, which is a good thing to say for a team that hasn't had a wholly impressive pitching staff in over a decade.

The team's in second now, dominating over the expansionists and San Fran, and hopes to stay in the conversation long enough to overtake first from the Dodgers. For their sake, I kinda hope it happens.

Coming Tomorrow- His team still isn't in first. But that's not gonna stop this frigging fanbase.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Bay City Strollers

(Music Pun Streak #3. Kind of a stretch, but better than nothing)

There's a flip-side to the Mariners' rise to glory, because it does have a little to do with that two game head start in Tokyo. You see...if you're a good team, that two-game head start is a statistical aid to you.

...but if you're NOT a good team, like the A's...it just makes you a weightier bad team than the other bad teams. Like, 11-13 isn't HORRIBLE, but having 13 losses right now is NOT what you want at this stage.

The sad reality is that the 2018 A's have not showed up. A lot of what made that team great was very dependent on the current moment. A lot of guys like Edwin Jackson, Shawn Kelley, Jeurys Familia, Cory Gearrin- they were all late-stage additions to the team. Hell, even a few of the main performers, like Jed Lowrie, Trevor Cahill and Jonathan Lucroy, are in other places...mostly LA. And the 2018 staff ace, Sean Manaea, is out for most of the season. So they have to make do with what they have.

And they have...some good stuff. Obviously Matt Chapman is still an elite third baseman, Marcus Semien is hot right now, Trivino and Treinen are a great late-innings combo and Khris Davis is hitting home runs left and right. But unlike last year, there's not a lot of depth, especially in the rotation. Frankie Montas and Brett Anderson are the highlights, but sure shots like Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada and Aaron Brooks have been letdowns so far. Yes, Edwin Jackson seems to be waiting in the minors, but how soon do they want to go to that option?

So far, this is a very okay team...which to a fanbase that just had a surprise hit season and will be losing their football team soon...may not be a great sign. Hopefully things improve for the A's, and hopefully there are some call-ups and activations that will signal a change in attitudes.

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of call-ups, a representative from a rotation made almost entirely of call-ups and draft picks. This one specifically was traded for Fernando Rodney...and seems to be the winner so far in that deal.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

(Music Pun Streak #2. Yeah, Metallica. Also, I've mapped out the next like 10 music puns. I'm not promising they're all gonna be good. I'm looking at a fairly messy Beatles pun that's gonna go down next week, and an even messier U2 pun that's a few days away)

Yep. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in first place. And in a year where the favorites in that division included a Goldschmidt-fronted Cardinals, this is a very, VERY good thing.

The Pirates are one of those teams that have been pretty good all decade, but have never been especially lucky. They're a lot like the Nationals, except unlike the Nats, the Pirates won a playoff match. Yeah, the 2013 NL Wild Card game. And then they went and lost an NLDS. Thrilling stuff. But this is a team that's come within 2 games of 100 wins this decade, and would have made it to the 2015 playoffs had it not been for those cinderella Cubs.

So what's their deal now? Well, they've shed everyone who made up those initial competitive teams, save for Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli and Francisco Liriano. They've developed a new core, with Josh Bell being the main offensive producer, and have compacted a new rotation of Chris Archer, Joe Musgrove, Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams and Jordan Lyles. And it's going pretty damn well for them.

That rotation is the biggest factor, because...all five are playing beautifully right now. For Taillon and Archer, this kind of goes without saying, but...Joe Musgrove only hinted at his unhittableness during his first season in Pittsburgh last year, Trevor Williams has kept his ERA down, and Jordan Lyles, who hadn't been counted on as a consistent starter since playing for the Rockies, has an ERA below 3 for the first time in his career. Something pretty fantastic is happening with this rotation, and I'm glad it's happening in Pittsburgh. Not to mention...the bullpen is great too. Of course, knowing that Felipe Vazquez, Keone Kela, Kyle Crick and Francisco Liriano are all in there would probably lead you to that conclusion.

And the farm system keeps spitting out gold- Cole Tucker and Bryan Reynolds just made debuts and both hit home runs; Tucker seems to be the new option at shortstop, and I'm impressed so far. Jason Martin is only a few weeks old and is already a mainstay in this lineup. This lineup is proving that both youth (Martin, Tucker) and experience (Melky Cabrera) can work here. And I am so happy it's working well for them so far.

The one problem they have to deal with is...being in the NL Central. The Brewers and Cardinals are gonna be chasing them in the standings, and might ping-pong back and forth between first, second and third. The Pirates' main task will be staying afloat and relevant through those other two teams' rises and falls. It'd be fantastic if this team was still part of the conversation in September, and I hope they can work towards making that happen.

Coming Tomorrow- After doubling down too much on younger pitchers last year, the A's have settled on keeping experience in the rotation. Like this guy, who came up with the team earlier in the decade, and is still impressing today.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Evil Ways

(...yeah, might as well. A new Music Pun streak begins with this low-hanging fruit)

I guess that both World Series teams from 2016 had about the same shelf life. As the Cubs are wading back to 3rd-4th place, the Indians have regressed back to second, letting the Minnesota Twins ascend to power. And like the Cubs, the Indians have made the mistake of not attracting major contracts while simultaneously gradually losing their stars to teams who are attracting major contracts.

The difference, though, is that while they are no longer a first-place team, the tribe seems to still have upward momentum thanks to its farm system, which hasn't been completely compromised in the come-up, as evidenced by second-years Greg Allen and Shane Bieber getting substantial playing time. Plus, although they're not chasing big contracts, they've still netted some intriguing pieces, like Jake Bauers and his power hitting, Carlos Gonzalez' bench numbers, and their old friend Carlos Santana, who has been absolutely ruling this team in Francisco Lindor's absence.

Good news is that Lindor is back, and the DP combo of him and Ramirez will begin to heat up with both of them in the lineup (yeah, seeing Jose Ramirez trying to act like he and Eric Stamets were compatible was kinda odd). Plus, Leonys Martin has become a pretty solid replacement for Michael Brantley, and it's good to see that his 2018 numbers weren't a fluke. As for the rotation...look, even with Kluber and Carrasco giving up a few more runs than usual, they're still ferocious as hell. Nobody wants to go up against those guys, especially Trevor Bauer.

So really, the only real issues involve rebuilding the lineup a bit after some inexperience early in the season, and figuring out the Twins' weakness. This isn't a bad team, but they're circling 'okay' about now, and they need to figure out how to lock down first again.

Coming Tomorrow- I checked just now to see who's ahead of the NL Central and legitimately did a double take. In a good way, though. I'll explain tomorrow, but the custom will be of the first baseman.

Too Close for Conforto

Meanwhile, back in the NL East...still pretty tight.

You've got two teams tied for first, two teams tied for second.....and the Marlins. Brother, don't expect the Marlins to be involved in this tight divisional race at all.

The Mets, who seem to be the favorite so far in the NL East, are tied for first with the Phillies, who've been dropping too many games to subpar teams recently, and are currently dropping a few to the Colorado Rockies because we simply have good things. This doesn't exactly mean the Mets aren't flawed, though; yesterday they started Chris Flexen for some reason, and...unsurprisingly, it didn't go well. Hell, he even made Jason Vargas' stuff look good, to be honest.

Flexen ineptitude notwithstanding (you think Philippe Aumont was watching just to laugh?), the Mets seem to be doing well. Yes, Robinson Cano seems to inherited David Wright's role as the moral center of the team, even though his average hasn't quite arrived yet, but the team really belongs to guys like Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, both of whom are offensive standouts early. Conforto's having his most well-rounded season yet, and Alonso is off to a powerful-ass rookie year. Even bit players like J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil have awesome batting averages, and even Wilson Ramos is giving the Mets a catcher worth showing off (for the first time since...I guess Paul Lo Duca?)

Granted, the rotation ERAs could be a bit problematic if they stay this high, and de Grom's brief injury spell isn't a TERRIFIC sign, but at least Noah Syndergaard's fastball is still definitely a thing, and at least the surefire success of Edwin Diaz has been shining through in the ninth.

I feel like the Mets could potentially have the edge over the Phils, but...in order to really cement their 1st place status, they need to cool down the rotation and work on Cano's contact hitting. They're very close to competing, but they could fall backwards very easily.

Coming Tonight: After a year in Philly, he's back to his old stomping grounds, and I assume he's ready for another sick guitar solo.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Heart of Glasnow

The Tampa Bay Rays were GOING to be good this season. That was bound to happen. But I don't think anybody thought they would be THIS GOOD.

Look, I think we're finding out that the secret weapon that separates this Rays team from last year's might have just been a healthy Kevin Kiermaier. Because he's completely back on his best numbers, and he's the leadership figure that they wished they had last year.

Plus, while the Rays' opener strategy is still very much in effect (thanks to Ryne Stanek and Jalen Beeks for doing the work of a starter, but...combined), there does seem to be a concrete rotation in effect, besides just Blake Snell. I mean...yes, as much as the Rays want to just use Snell as their only starter, they've come to realize that if they put all their eggs in one basket (HAPPY EASTER), the basket breaks, and they do not want to break Blake Snell. So they've trusted Tyler Glasnow with the #2 spot, and he's been beautiful so far, FINALLY getting to the ace numbers he'd teased in the minors. Yonny Chirinos and Charlie Morton are also pretty good in the other two rotation spots, with an edge to Morton with the ERA closer to 1.

And Jose Alvarado has embraced the closer position in Sergio Romo's absence (and don't worry, he's...at least being utilized in Miami), with 4 saves and not a single earned run allowed yet. The bullpen can be strong without being too flashy, and judging by the fact that only Stanek and Hunter Wood have been used as openers thus far, it seems like the bullpen is beginning to drift back towards sanity.

This isn't even mentioning the durable-as-hell lineup, with Avisail Garcia, Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi saving their careers, Austin Meadows having one hell of a breakout year at the plate, and Tommy Pham and Brandon Lowe doing some amazing contact hit work. This is honestly one of the most complete teams the Rays have amassed since the 2008 run, and that's saying something.

I sincerely hope that they can keep it up, as the AL East in general isn't going to be this dormant forever.

Coming Tomorrow- In the still-tight NL East, a perennial outfield standout is determined to help his team stand out.

Cody Bellinger is Just Getting Started

So, yes. Cody Bellinger's sophomore slump season happened. We are all aware of that.

...but it seems to be behind Bellinger now, because LOOK WHAT HE'S BEEN DOING SO FAR THIS YEAR!

In 20 games, Bellinger has 10 home runs, 24 RBIs, 32 hits and a .432 batting average. And he already has a 2.3 WAR. What kind of mere mortal, outside of Mike Trout, is capable of something like that?

Look, I guess that Bellinger was just hinting at his full capabilities in his first two seasons, even in his ROY season. Even then, he was high on strikeouts and low on average. Now? I think he's finally mastered something at the plate, in a way that's making him the marquee guy in LA...which is kind of something the Dodgers wanted for him.

Rest of the team is no slouch either, with the best record in the NL, and a pretty damn strong pitching rotation, complete with Julio Urias' better numbers and a returned, healthy Clayton Kershaw. Alex Verdugo has been impressing like hell off the bench, Muncy and Hernandez are continuing their great 2018s, and AJ Pollock is off to an okay start in his new city. It could be going a lot worse for this team, especially with the Padres on their tail.

Again, a lot of covering the first season is waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Cody Bellinger is looking pretty for real so far. I don't think he's especially flukey, especially with the amount of power he's shown thus far. I'm expecting a fantastic season from him, as well as the Dodgers.

Coming Tonight: Fine, another Tampa Bay Ray, seeing as they're the best team in baseball and everything. Here's their killer starter, saved from obscurity in Pittsburgh.

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Bruce is Loose

So I guess this is how the Mariners rebound from losing Nelson Cruz. Instead of having one single-dimensional power-hitter, they get two more- Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion.

Not that...Jay Bruce didn't used to have multi-dimensions. He used to hit more for contact than for power, and he used to be a better defender, but you don't get to choose what happens to you when you get older. The only thing Jay Bruce can do for Seattle right now is hit home runs...which he has been doing. Granted, he hasn't been doing much else, he's got a low average, and he's losing playing time to Dan Vogelbach, who DOES hit for average. I wish he was a bit more well-rounded right now, but...the M's thankfully have other options.

Oh boy...do they have other options.

Look, for a team that pundits feared wouldn't have an identity without Cruz and Cano, the Mariners are off to a pretty nice start. And yes, I am aware that they lost six straight immediately after winning six straight. In the business, that is called balance.

What's working for this team are the outcasts, the unknowns, the stowaways. Dan Vogelbach was a bench player for a year before finally blossoming into a lineup piece with a killer bat. Domingo Santana and Mallex Smith were fighting for playing time last year, and now they've earned lineup spots. Tim Beckham's having his single best year yet, even considering his amazing second half in 2017. Omar Narvaez might be the first catching option in Seattle to NOT suck since roughly Dan Wilson. And Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales are still the statistical captains of their respective sectors. It's a clean team all round, even if there are one or two flawed pieces, like Yusei Kikuchi's ERA and Ryon Healy's average.

Granted, the Astros might be the better team for the long run of the season, and it may be a matter of time before they claim 1st place, but...the M's still have a lot more than anyone credited them for at the beginning of the year, and they might make a run at the playoffs now that the Angels and A's have been semi-compromised.

And look...after getting screwed out of playoff competition for so many years, a scrappy little underdog team like this deserves to break the Mariners' playoff drought. I just hope it happens.

Coming Tomorrow- Best player in the NL right now.

Is America Ready for an Okay Cubs Team?

Well, after four years of competing Cubs teams winding up in the playoff race, we've finally hit our first merely okay Cubs team since 2014. Which is kind of hard to believe, to be honest.

The thing is...not much has changed in between years. There isn't really an element that has made the Cubs more or less susceptible to other teams, because most of the 2016 squad is still here- the core of Rizzo-Bryant-Heyward-Zobrist is still powerful, some of the areas that were even hazy in '16 have been improved by people like Willson Contreras and Cole Hamels, and...I mean, the rotation is Darvish-Hamels-Lester-Hendricks-Quintana. I mean, regardless of injury and weak starts, those five are great across the board. Possibly an upgrade on the years with Hammel and Lester. Possibly, depending on how this year comes out.

Really, the problem is that while the Cubs have stayed level, they haven't made many steps upward. Literally every other NL Central squad took precautions and made moves, and the Cubs only made a few tiny ones. Compared to the last-place Reds, who revamped most of their lineup, it's minuscule. And as the Cardinals and Brewers, two teams that made big moves this offseason, are heading the division, the Cubs are in fourth.

I don't especially think this is the end of the dynasty, but it's definitely a roadblock. If enough of the team stays in its prime, which is looking semi-likely, then they'll be fine. But...I'm not the only one watching this Cubs team with a bit of concern.

Coming Tonight: We've gone through all 30, so let's go back to the top again. A professional home run hitter for a team with an insanely hot start.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Box Break: 2018 Panini Diamond Kings

It's become a running thing on this blog that a box of the previous year's Diamond Kings gets broken on here once it becomes cheap enough. Well...it's cheap enough, so I got one.

I really only collect DK as a nostalgia thing. I loved the old inserts, the old sets from the 2000s. This isn't...nominally DK, though; it's a bit more similar to Topps Gallery, which is kinda ironic because this new incarnation of Topps Gallery is actually more similar to Diamond Kings than anything. Which is slightly backwards, but a subject for an editorial rather than a box break post.

Anyway, 12 cards, with 8 cards per pack. Because we've got time, I'll try and knock everything out in one post.

There are two guaranteed hits, and other fun things to keep aware of, but we'll get there when we get there.

 Pack One- Design wise, this is fine. Allows for more colorful bits, which is fine. Logoless-ness is immediately a thing, but...it doesn't bother me as much as it should, I think.
The set's peppered with rookies, so here are two.

 Two weightier base cards, with one guy who's already moved onto St. Louis. A-Rod's is a 500 Club insert, which is kind of basic but looks kinda cool.

Of course, what really makes this set are the legends. Not just your everyday legends like Roberto Clemente, who's welcome of course, but early-century HOFers like Grover Cleveland Alexander and non-HOF team heroes like Carl Erskine.
 Pack 2- Standard current base, featuring a Chicago bench player and, I've got to say it, the best player on the Phillies right now. More Cutch cards is never enough.

 And more legends. We go from accessible, like Mick and the Big Hurt, to obscure, like Nellie Fox, to welcome in a modern product, like Leo Durocher.

But the pack's highlight was its double-dose of Lindor, first on a past-and-present insert paired with Lou Boudreau, and then on a base card.

 Pack 3- Two of these are dupes for me. The other is Tony Lazzeri.

 Lots to discuss here. First of all, Carl Furillo is one of my grandmother's favorite players, having watched him at Ebbets Field on multiple occasions. Secondly, good on Panini to produce a card of Shoeless Joe Jackson. We need more of those. And then there's Ohtani, who I have already pulled another base card of, of him batting. But this one isn't a short-print. Remember that now.

First ANOTHER Lindor, this one from the painstakingly beautiful Aurora set. Then a Portraits insert of Ken Griffey, which look cool but...again, brings back to the Topps Gallery comparison.
 Pack 4- A quartet of fun legends pulls. Heinie Groh is NOT a Hall of Famer, but he's a Reds legend. Chuck Klein is a Phils home run legend who has evaded me for a while. And then Pee-Wee and Maris, always welcome.

 Two modern heroes in Judge and Betts, and one Iron Horse.
Here we are at the first hit- a sticker auto of Cleveland, and now Padres, backup catcher Francisco Mejia. Possibly the most common guy to pull a mediocre hit of last year. Until he blossoms, I'm regarding this as an 'okay' hit. I mean, even the signature is kinda measly.

Pack 5- A modern legend and a guy that likes to strike out. 

 Three more obscure legends. I mean...I love any set that prioritizes Paul Waner, Harry Hooper and Hack Wilson.
 Fun stuff here. Babe is babe, which is always welcome. Mick's is...a name variation, which are sort of rare, and nice to pull. And deGrom's is my Gallery of Stars...which look so cool this year.

Pack 6- Three dupes to start us off.

 Four spirited base cards. Averill's is welcome, and it's nice to see him in the same shot as Kluber.

...this was my second hit.

...of Nick Williams. Of the Philadelphia Phillies.

...just as a notice, I never usually pull hits of people who play for my teams. It is very rare, especially considering that there are 28 other teams out there with many other players. So getting a hit of Nick, and not only that but one that's numbered to 99, is kinda nice. I know he's hugging the bench this year, but he's still a fine player, and a member of this team nonetheless.

Still, a fine hit. And I'm happy I got this box, not some box with a Cardinals hit or something.

 Pack 7- Two more dupes, a subpar rookie, and a Cardinals HOF-er.

 CANO, Don Larsen, and Gabby Hartnett. May I mention again how cool these sets are?

And...good lord this card is beautiful. Even without logos. No Jackie card is a bad pickup, man.

 Pack 8- Lots of current players in this pack, all worthy of the collection, so why not throw 'em in with Billy Herman. Just as a contrast.

 Manny Ramirez is my second 500 Club insert. Again, not bad in terms of design.

DiMaggio and Cobb. Two of the greats.

 Pack 9- Averill is a dupe, but the rest are welcome. Lyons' is pretty cool. Thomson's has enough depth in the background.

Victor Robles is my first red border- they're not numbered but they're seeded relatively rarely. And Judge is my first Trophy Club insert, which harken back to a 90s Fleer insert.

 Pack 10- Donaldson and Ohtani are dupes, as I pulled this batting Ohtani a while back. Remember that now. Woodruff and Robles are new, though.

 Not a lot of old-timers in this pack, as Sevvy and Springer are our big stars here.

Additionally, Andrew Benintendi's card is a sepia short print/photo variation. So not a bad pull there, either.

 Pack 11- Other than Santander, some beautiful choices for this checklist.
 Rizzo and Stan the Man.
Bryant's is my second Trophy Club, while Alexander's is my second red border.

 Pack 12- Tyler Wade is the better of three subpar rookies, McGraw's a manager and Brecheen I pulled last year.

 ...A baseball card of Jim Thorpe. This just pushes my love for this set over the edge, doesn't it?
And Pedroia-Doerr Past and Present.

So...this is my last red border. And...I did not know that Black-and-white variations could get red bordered parallels. That's fantastic, and makes this even more valuable. It'd be crazier if it was numbered, but this is still a pretty huge hit of a player that everyone seems to want. And a great way to end this box.

So...that's 2018 Diamond Kings. I think it's an improvement on the last few, and it's intricate enough to allow a real baseball fan some genuine smiles.