Monday, May 10, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #217-225

 Onto another 9 cards of the 2020 Final Edition set. We're very close to having less than 100 cards left to cover in this set, and I'm already setting up more Topps Cards That Should Have Been cards for after we're done here. Still, we have 2020 to keep wrapping up, so onward we go...


Card #217- Clayton Kershaw ASG, Los Angeles Dodgers

2020 marked the beginning of the Kershawnaissiance. After a few seasons of injuries, slightly more elevated ERAs [like 3], and stepping back to let Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler excel, Clayton Kershaw finally struck back and had another classic, incredible year. So while I don't think he would have started the ASG for the NL, had the 2020 ASG happened, I think it'd be necessary for the home crowd at Dodger Stadium for Kersh to show up in some capacity. Whatever, it'll happen again soon.

Card #218- David Phelps, Philadelphia Phillies

Phelps was yet another attempt at revitalizing the sorry, pitiful Phillies bullpen last year, and after his impressive Brewers start, he was a fine idea, especially considering his prior connection to Phils skipper Joe Girardi. But...the ineptitude of the Philly bullpen sucked David Phelps in as well, with 12.91 ERA in 10 games. TWELVE...NINETY-ONE. And eleven earned runs a game, meaning 1 earned run per game, which no reliever wants. It was not a good stretch for Phelps. Thankfully, he's doing a lot better in Toronto right now.

Card #219- Jonathan Lucroy, Boston Red Sox

Another zero-year type card. Jonathan Lucroy was a spring training signee, after a disappointing end to the 2019 season with Chicago, in Boston. He'd be fighting for a backup role behind Christian Vazquez, and he was a bit removed from his career peak. So while he didn't make the team, he did squeeze in a single game of MLB service last year, without a place appearance or an at-bat. He was a defensive substitution, then he suddenly wasn't needed anymore. The Washington Nationals used Lucroy similarly in 2021 before setting him aside once Yan Gomes and Alex Avila returned.

Card #220- Brady Singer, Kansas City Royals

One of the big rookies out of camp last season. Brady Singer made the Royals to begin the season, and made the rotation right off the bat. While he took a bit to really get acclimated to AL play, Singer still finished strong in 2020, with a 4.06 ERA and 61 Ks in 12 games. He's currently a trusted lower-tier member of the rotation, behind Danny Duffy and...ERVIN SANTANA? THE HELL'S HE DOING HERE?

Card #221- Lance Lynn ASG, Texas Rangers

[Not sure why the siding isn't in this one. My apologies]

Lance Lynn had an even stronger 2020 in Arlington than he did a 2019. 89 Ks in 13 starts tells you everything you need to know about Lynn, as well as how dominant he can be even in a shortened season. Lynn would have been an easy pick for the ASG, as well as, most likely, the only Texas Ranger on the AL team. Lynn's taken a step down currently with the White Sox, but he's still capable of big games.

Card #222- Carlos Estevez, Colorado Rockies

I shouldn't have to explain to you all why a state known for its use of recreational drugs having a relief pitcher named Carlos Estevez is funny. Do a little research into stage names, maybe. Anyway, hotshot Carlos Estevez had another full season as relief specialist in Denver last year, and things went a little south compared to his usual numbers, with a 7.50 ERA in 26 games. He's off to a better start this year, though. 

Card #223- Brock Holt, Washington Nationals

Brock Holt began the 2020 season as an infield option with the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately, in 16 games with the Brewers, he could not hit for shit. So he was released, then almost immediately was picked up by the Nationals, a team still struggling to land on a competent infield picture. Holt was a pretty strong choice as a 2B/SS type, hitting .262 with 4 RBIs in 20 games. He's been pulling similar numbers in Arlington thus far, though he days of pulling higher than replacement level may be behind him.

Card #224- Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

Something aligned last year when Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy were all active in the same rotation at the same time- other than, you know, the Astros pulling into the playoffs. All three homegrown latino talents were enough to provide an x-factor for the team, which is desperately needed in the absence of Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke's better numbers. Valdez actually pitched more innings than any other Astros starter, had a 5-3 record with 76 Ks, and had a 3-1 record and a 1.88 ERA during the postseason, with 26 Ks as well. Valdez is currently injured, but like Verlander he'll likely be back with a vengeance rather soon.

Card #225- Jonathan Villar, Toronto Blue Jays

Since leaving the Baltimore Orioles, Jonathan Villar has played for three teams that have absolutely no room for him. The first was the Marlins, who brought him on for 2020, and had him hit .259 while also surrounded by more viable defensive options. So Villar was Miami's sole trade deadline loss, as he was acquired by fellow competitor the Blue Jays...who ALSO did not have a place for Villar, with an already-set infield. So Villar's .188 average really did nothing for them, postseason notwithstanding. And now Villar plays for the Mets, who ALSO kind of had their infield pretty tight before the season, and is mostly a bench bat type. Glad the O's got the last good numbers out of this guy, I guess.

The next 9 cards, which you'll see on Friday, feature one of the biggest rookies of 2021 and one of the biggest trade deadline deals of 2020. 

Disco 2000 [or Why the Giants Are in First]

 


It was looking pretty normal til around mid-April.

The Dodgers were in first, the Padres were in second, the Giants were well over .500 but in third, the other 2 fell in. This was the way the NL West was supposed to fall. 

And then the Dodgers started losing games. Badly. They started completely falling apart. May got injured, the lineup stopped hitting for average, it began to unravel. The Padres also began to lose some ground thanks to injuries and also some outmatched games. 

And by the beginning of May, who was standing on 1st place in the hottest division in the NL but the one team everybody thought would stay in third this year. Those San Francisco Giants. You've got to love it, they're the underdogs again.

And what's even funnier is that the same strategy I've been ridiculing this team for since 2018, stocking up on older players and older contracts rather than letting the youth movement breathe, is actually working because the Giants saw how Washington utilized an older core in 2019. Because said older core in SF is made up of longer-tenured contracted players, this one has more of a chance for sustainability. Now, granted, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Donovan Solano are all free agents after this season, and there's a chance for Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto and Wilmer Flores not to make their options. So this could all be gone by next season, which means this, like Washington, is a win now or never sort of plan.

And right now it's just...really working.

Let's see- Aaron Sanchez gets injured in his masterful comeback attempt, and Alex Wood ascends to the rotation in his place and starts killing it again, with 3 wins and 22 Ks in 4 starts. Johnny Cueto just got off the IL yesterday, and though he was seasonably roughed up by the Padres, he's still a healthy, consistent arm to add to Wood, Logan Webb, and the impenetrable duo of Gausman and DeSclafani. Gausman we all know was gonna be big this year, but Disco has been a nice surprise on a one-year deal, with a 2.40 ERA and 36 Ks in 7 starts. 

The lineup is just...every holdover from the 2010 runs doing well, including Buster Posey [who's on fire], Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt and Evan Longoria, some new guys like Yaz and Austin Slater doing their thing, and the 'anyone-can-succeed-here' bench mentality which isn't just benefitting Darin Ruf and Wilmer Flores, but former Yankee bench player Mike Tauchman, who's been unsurprisingly great filling in for Alex Dickerson in his first 2 weeks of Giants play. 

The Giants are red-hot, cemented when the rest of the division is crumbling, and looking at some more strong series' ahead. I hope they stay this hot, because an NL West upset like this would be excellent for baseball.

Coming Tomorrow- Look, if Brandon Lowe's not gonna hit in Tampa, then this 3rd baseman might as well.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Worst to First, A's Style


 I admire the tenacity of these Oakland Athletics. Start the season with 6 straight losses, then win 13 straight games. Burning the candle at both ends. Catching my attention no matter how they spin it.

And right now, the A's are in 1st place, have the 2nd-best record in the AL, are still maintaining a good piece of their mid-April momentum, AND they're coming off of a Sean Manaea start that nearly became Friday's second no-hitter. 

Heck, those 7 innings were the biggest indicator that Manaea is back now, cause it's been a rocky few years. He was out for most of 2019 with injuries but was activated in time for the playoffs. Then he was a bit too unstable in terms of ERA, and things didn't look great for him last year. But now? 7 starts in and he's back in his prime, with a 3.07 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 3 wins. Considering that Chris Bassitt took a while to bring his ERA down, Frankie Montas is struggling and Mike Fiers and Jesus Luzardo are both injured, having a competent, ace-caliber Sean Manaea is exactly what the A's need right now. Cole Irvin's also a decent rotation piece, though he struggled a bit today against Tampa.

And considering that the rotation's in a decent place, the bullpen is pretty tight [look at Yusmeiro Petit go!], and we're finally getting offensive production from Matt Chapman and Sean Murphy, the A's could be a 1st place team for a little while. Like, you could guess the big highlights of this roster [yes, it's Ramon Laureano, Mark Canha and Matt Olson again], but guys like Seth Brown and Jed Lowrie are surprising people, which is nice. And while there are some places where there could be a biiiit more offensive production [Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus still aren't hitting], this is still a pretty strong team overall.

And as the Angels plummet further and further out of the conversation, the Astros duck back under .500, and the Mariners' old habits catch up to them, the A's may be one of the few sure bets the AL West has right now. I sincerely hope this continues, then.

Coming Tomorrow- You wouldn't believe who just took first in the NL West. 

Is Kris Bryant Still Elite?


 When Kris Bryant burst onto the scene in 2015, all eyes were on him. The Cubs' reformation project was in full swing, and Bryant was the centerpiece, bringing the youth movement and the contract stars together and bringing the team into the limelight. Bryant's initial two seasons were huge deals in baseball, with a Rookie of the Year win, an MVP win and a World Series all in that time, not to mention an 100-RBI season. 

However, in 2018, Bryant gets injured, as well as in 2020, and the best moments of Bryant's prowess have been fleeting lately. He did have an excellent 2019 season with a 4.5 WAR and 31 homers, but it was also during a season where the Cubs lost steam late and didn't make the playoffs. Bryant, like the Cubs, has faltered and has had human moments since the heights of things in 2016. 

And now, Bryant's off to another really nice start, with a 1.5 WAR after a month of play in 2021, 9 homers and 22 RBIs already, a .306 average and a league-leading 12 doubles. These are great numbers for Bryant, and great numbers for the Cubs. He's outdoing everyone else on the team right now, especially the pitchers, and he's proving his worth after some wobbly seasons.

But. This is Kris Bryant's last season under contract with the Cubs. This is also the last season for Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez. Three crucial pieces of the 2016 Cubs team could all be gone by next season. And the Cubs, with how they're doing so far, may not be able to keep all of them, if any. 

Bryant could go either way. He could either decide to take the hero approach, re-sign for the rest of his career, or at least another few years, and continue to play where it's safe. Or he could test the open market, which is what J.T. Realmuto tried to no avail this year. The big question is that will Bryant be a draw as a free agent? Will teams be running to lock Bryant up like they have Lindor and Betts? Is Kris Bryant still a top tier major leaguer?

And...honestly, it's not clear to me. It might be closer to a Bryce Harper situation, where the name outweighs the results, and you just want a steady, consistently great hitter in your lineup without getting 7 MVPs or such. I think Bryant's still a star, but what he's gonna need to come to terms with is that he's more of a functional player than a team-dragging player right now. The Cubs' season will no longer come down to Bryant's moods...they now come down to the pitching coaches' moods. 

Bryant will either finish the season strong with the Cubs and re-up, or he'll be traded at the deadline and sign a contract somewhere else for a bit. But I know he'll make the honest choice and think about his legacy as a player rather than as a name. I hope.

Coming Tonight: He nearly no-hit the Rays the other night. So I guess you could say he's back.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

The Return of Michael Kopech

 


It's like something out of a sci-fi movie. Michael Kopech comes onto the scene in August 2018, the fresh-faced rookie looking to take on the world in Chicago, and 5 starts into his career he has an injury, needs immediate surgery, and doesn't get to pitch again for 3 years. When he gets back, the world is different, the team has moved on, and he has to cope with the fact that he needs to fulfill an entirely different role now.

And perhaps last season, Kopech would have been able to fight for a fifth starter spot, but...Carlos Rodon rightfully wowed the team out of camp, and the rotation of Giolito-Lynn-Keuchel-Cease-Rodon, which has been STELLAR so far, was set in stone. Meaning the comeback Kopech was hoping for would need to happen in the bullpen.

So far, Kopech has succeeded both in two starts and in 6 relief appearances. He also currently has 5 more strikeouts than Lance Lynn, despite Lynn playing in 5 more innings. And he has a higher WAR than Keuchel and Giolito combined. So...the Michael Kopech revolution is still happening, just not in the way we planned it. He's still an exceptional pitcher, and he's still younger than a lot of the rookies coming up this year [he's 3 years younger than Yermin Mercedes], and so even if right now the rotation is locked, he's still a great relief asset and a nice sixth option for whenever someone gets injured.

Speaking of injuries, that might be the big fear with this otherwise-great White Sox team. First Eloy Jimenez to start the season, now Luis Robert. This isn't good, even with Andrew Vaughn and Leury Garcia covering the outfield. This team does have enough momentum right now without them, thanks to the pitching, Mercedes, a surprisingly apt Yoan Moncada, and the usual suspects like Anderson, Abreu and Eaton. But those were some big pieces on the IL, and it'd be disappointing if anymore surging White Sox come and join them. 

I still think the Sox can take the division. The pitching is there, with or without Kopech, and the lineup has enough to reckon with the rest of the league. I just hope the momentum stays.

Coming Tomorrow- On the other side of Chicago, their star 3rd baseman works on what might be his last season there.

Five in Five Weeks

 


I swear, it's never usually this frequent.

Not only did Wade Miley squeak out a no-no against the surging Indians last night, but for 7 innings, Sean Manaea was working one against the Rays. Now, while Manaea's was less successful than Miley's, it's still wild that we have 5 no-hitters, or four and a half if you don't count MadBum's 7-inning one. It's also pretty cool that it happened to Wade Miley, one of those guys who bounces around, does his thing and doesn't really need the fame. He's a New Orleans guy [I met some family members of his on a cruise once], and he's a very serious, bare-bones pitcher, and it's nice that he's having a bounce-back season, let alone one featuring a no-hitter.

I said this a few days ago, but keep...them...coming.

Friday, May 7, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #208-216

 Heading further into the 200s with this post, for the Final Edition set. A few of these set up the 2021 season, while a few more set up developments that have since been halted.

Card #208- Donovan Solano ASG, San Francisco Giants

The man now affectionately known as Donnie Barrels would have been the starting 2nd baseman of the NL team had the 2020 ASG happened. It would have been a winning, surprise moment for the longtime journeyman infielder, who'd came up with Miami years ago and never found a true niche until he got slotted into a starting position in 2019. Two straight years of .300+ averages later, Solano was a fixture, a silver slugger winner and a Giants hero. Before his 2021 injury he was hitting .300, so he's still definitely league-caliber.

Card #209- Heath Hembree, Philadelphia Phillies

Heath Hembree was one of two Red Sox relievers traded to Philly to save the sinking rotation, only to get pulled into the wreckage themselves. Hembree had the worst shake of anyone, seeing his already-bad 5.59 ERA sink to a 12.54 in Philly. He's thankfully pitching an improved 0 ERA in Cincinnati, so maybe it is just Philly that brings out the worst in people.

Card #210- Josh Harrison, Washington Nationals

Speaking of Philly bringing out the worst in people...the Phils signed Josh Harrison to a minor league deal for Spring Training [this DID get a Topps card], and both the pandemic and the tight 2nd base race led to Harrison being cut. So then the Nationals pick him up prior to the July start to the season, and then Harrison improved even past his disappointing 2019 in Detroit. In 33 games, he hit .278 with 14 RBIs, not a bad shake at all for an infield in flux. So far in 2021 he's been even better, and even more of a fixture. Thanks, Ruben.

Card #211- James McCann ASG, Chicago White Sox

For the second year in a row, James McCann would have been a reserve catcher on the AL All Star team, and unlike in 2019, he'd be on the roster as a backup. McCann spent all of 2020 being the superior option to the powerful-but-one-dimensional Yasmani Grandal, while being either a bench bat or a DH. However, by ASG terms, he's a catcher, and he'd catch some innings in the ASG. 

Card #212- Mike Freeman, Cleveland Indians

Another career journeyman infielder who finally found a constant place, Mike Freeman followed a decent season as a bench infielder for the Indians in 2019 with another similar season with less immediate results. In 24 2020 games, Freeman hit .237 with 5 hits and 3 RBIs. He was released after the season and is now in the Reds organization.

Card #213- Devin Williams ASG, Milwaukee Brewers

Another no-brainer inclusion. Devin Williams was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball in 2020, rookie or none. He was lights-out in August, and would have been worthy of an addition by Dave Martinez as a relief option. It would have been even more of a cherry on top of an extraordinary rookie season, which hopefully will lead to a strong career and not more earned-run-friendly seasons like his 2021 so far.

Card #214- Matt Kemp, Miami Marlins

Ah yes, one of my favorite parts of doing this series, the zero-year card. Matt Kemp played all of his 2020 games with the Colorado Rockies, but he spent Spring Training with the other 1993 expansion team, the Miami Marlins. Kemp was decent out of camp, and was still working solely as a power-hitter, but the crowded Marlins outfield last year made it impossible for Kemp to make the team. Topps did produce some Gallery, Fire and Heritage High releases of Marlin Kemp, but they were too late.

Card #215- Trevor Rosenthal, San Diego Padres

After a sensational start in Kansas City, and some thrilling comeback numbers, Trevor Rosenthal was dealt to the San Diego Padres in one of many 2020 Padres-Royals trades. Rosenthal was given the ninth in SD, and in 9 games he was unhittable, with a 0 ERA and only 3 hits allowed on top of 17 Ks. While his postseason numbers were a little rockier, he was still a formidable closer again, which led the A's to give him a ton of money...and to him subsequently getting injured.

Card #216- Estevan Florial

One of the biggest Yankee prospects not named Dominguez, Estevan Florial has been a bright star in the minors in the last few years, and in a flash doubleheader with the Mets last season, the Yankees figured it'd be a cool idea to bring him up. The 22 -year-old Florial only had one game last year, but he made it count, with his first MLB hit against the Mets. I'm not entirely sure when Florial will be back in the majors again, but he teased us with a little bit of what he's capable of.

The next 9 cards go up Monday, and there are some interesting ones in there. Like Kemp, another zero-year type card, as well as some more big rookies and relievers. 

Wheeler's Choice

 


Phils are in first? How about that.

Kinda funny that the second Jacob deGrom skips a start, the balance of power in the NL East shifts entirely. The Braves get hot and start hitting grand slams all over, and the Phils start winning games and climb back to the top of the division again. I'm not saying any of this is permanent, and knowing the Phillies it probably won't be, but it's just funny.

The whole trick to the Phillies right now is that you have a 60% chance of facing a really damn good starting pitcher, and you have a 50% chance that Chase Anderson or Vince Velasquez will have a random on night. And in that past week, those two have been alright in addition to Nola, Wheeler and Eflin. And in case there was any doubt, that starting hydra of Nola, Wheeler and Eflin is the top WAR earner on the team right now. JT and Harper come close, but...with how those 3 are doing right now, it's hard to top them. Nola's at 3-1 and has 49 Ks, Wheeler pitched a CG gem with 8 Ks to add to his 2.83 ERA, 3-2 season. And Eflin has a 3.49 ERA and the least to show for his fine numbers right now, but he's right there with them.

The lineup has also improved since the addition of Nick Maton covering for Jean Segura, and since Didi and Bohm have started hitting. The centerfield issue is still very much that, and Mickey Moniak and Odubel Herrera's piss-poor average can only do so much to circumvent that, but you never know what'll click into place soon enough.

My one worry with this Phillies team right now is our recent win margins. We've won 6 of our last 10, but those wins have been extremely close, and most times they've been strong leads cut down by the same bullpen issues we've been dealing with for a while. Yesterday was a nice win, but the only runs were scored by Alec Bohm. And that 2-0 lead was enough to hold, which isn't always gonna be the case. You saw the Brewers cutting leads down and getting to our bullpen because they're an actual good team and our bullpen still has holes. Neris, Coonrod and Alvarado are good, but with Bradley hurt and Romero and Brogdon struggling, we've sort of leveled ourselves to where we were last year, which isn't good.

So hopefully the bullpen improves somehow and the Phillies find a way to sustain what's working and funnel that to what's not. Because as human as the Phils are so far, they are very close to good, and I hope they don't stray too far from it. 

Coming Tomorrow- For a good week or so in 2018, he was a surefire phenom of the future. It took three seasons, but he's finally healthy again. A lot has changed.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

All Eyes on the O's


 Your ace just pitched a no-no, your star outfielder was leading the league in hits for a split second, your closer's a career journeyman with 7 saves already, and you've gotten Matt Harvey off to a 3-1 record. Even if you're in last place, don't be surprised if everyone's peering over at you now, Orioles.

And that's honestly where we're at with the O's right now. They're not gonna compete, that's clear. They're gonna have to try really hard to finish anywhere above the Rays, Blue Jays or Yankees in the standings [forget the Sox]. All they really need to worry about is not being the worst team in the league right now. Cause they've been down that road, that's how they got Adley Rutschman [who, for the record, has started the 2021 minor league season in AA], and it'd be nice if they began to pick back up again now that they have John Means, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays playing well right now. 

I mean, with the exception of the Tigers and Rockies, the last place teams, for the most part, are just fun teams that happen to be in last. The O's most obviously have a lot of fun pieces, plus two former Phillie outfielders doing well enough so far and the aforementioned Matt Harvey renaissance project. The Rangers have that island of misfit toys mentality I talked about last night, lots of young players finally finding themselves. The Marlins and Nats, whichever ends up in last, both have solid pieces and intriguing stories happening with who's hitting for power and who's appeared out of nowhere in the rotation. And the Pirates at least have some people you never thought would be playing well anywhere, like Phillip Evans and Erik Gonzalez, making things work.

The O's do have some promise, because the strength of their farm system means that the gaggle of guys that aren't pulling their weight could soon be switched off in favor of someone ready, but judging by Ryan Mountcastle, Ramon Urias and Dean Kremer this season, the transition to the majors is never an immediate success. Mountcastle was excellent last season, and now he's hitting .200. Kremer was stellar in late-season starts in 2020, now he's 0-2 with a 6.45 ERA. People like Rio Ruiz and Jorge Lopez can only be acceptable starting options for so long.

So even if the Orioles have a lot of reasons to celebrate right now, and I'm fine with that, they still need to work towards readying a team for the next phase of Orioles baseball, and making the necessary moves that will make that transition as painless as possible.

Coming Tomorrow- One of three Phillies starters who are actually doing things right. 

The No-Nos Keep Coming

 


We're a little over a month into the season and we're already had four no-hitters now. And in case Joe Musgrove, Carlos Rodon and Madison Bumgarner's 7-inning weren't enough for you, we now have John Means throwing the first Orioles no-no in over 50 years. I caught the last inning of this one yesterday and it was a great overall performance from means.

I say keep 'em coming. No-hitters are good for baseball, the pitching is pretty awesome across the board...yeah, keep throwing them out there, I'll put them on customs. 

McMahon Up

 


2018 was supposed to be the year of Ryan McMahon. After a quiet call-up in 2017, the Rockies would be starting McMahon in the 1st base position after the departure of Mark Reynolds. They had tried something similar with an Opening Day start for Trevor Story, and it'd worked very well for him, so all eyes were on McMahon to make a similar big splash out of the gate.

It didn't happen. McMahon hit .232 with 19 RBIs in 91 games in 2018. Ian Desmond was given the position, followed by Daniel Murphy. McMahon would be used as a backup infielder and eventual 2nd base piece. 

It's now 2021, McMahon has been given the 2nd base gig in Colorado, and NOW is the part where he starts hitting like hell. McMahon hits 8 home runs in April, at one point being tied for the leaders in the NL. He also has 21 RBIs, more than he banked in that entire blasted 2018 season, and he's hitting .272, his highest average to date. Meanwhile, while Trevor Story is hitting .304, he only has 4 homers. The power has shifted.

In fact, power hitting is coming from some new and different sources so far in Colorado. Dom Nunez, the new starting catcher, currently has 5 homers, as does C.J. Cron, who seems to have acclimated to this haven for power hitters quite well. Chris Owings managed 3 triples in 7 games before succumbing to an injury that's gonna keep him out for a bit, and even supposed contact wizard Raimel Tapia is hitting homers. Maybe it's the Denver-ness, but a lot of this team is really beginning to pop.

It's obviously not a perfect team, and there's still the matter of German Marquez, Austin Gomber and Chi Chi Gonzalez struggling to keep runs down [all while Jon Gray excels once again]. And while the core of the bullpen is strong, the further out you go, the more inflated ERAs you run into. So I can see why the other 4 teams have easily lapped this one. 

But there's still a nice amount of intrigue going on here, and with McMahon having a strong April, it's good to know that pretty much anybody can snap into greatness in Denver this year.

Coming Tonight: Yes, John Means is the Big Oriole of yesterday [a Season Highlight card is forthcoming], but the best Oriole right now is some outfielder guy.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Hawaiian Punch

 


Alright, I guess we can add the Texas Rangers to the list of fun last place teams. Because quite a bit is working for these guys right now, and not just tested successes like Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Nick Solak.

The main takeaway from this team is that the strategy of taking little contracts and minor guys that people were willing to get rid of has paid off. It's the equivalent of filmmakers pooling film from the ends of negatives in order to get enough film to make a movie. The Rangers had to really scrape the bottom of the barrel to find people like Adolis Garcia, Jonah Heim and Josh Sborz, but they're all doing well when no one expected them to. Garcia has 7 homers and 19 RBIs, some huge numbers for a guy let loose by St. Louis. 

Then you get to the roster pieces of other teams that didn't fit there. Mike Foltynewicz got chased out of Atlanta, now he's got 31 Ks for the Rangers and is looking pretty decent. Dane Dunning was snatched in the Lance Lynn trade, he's unsurprisingly doing well so far. Nate Lowe was a late trade from Tampa, he's having an awesome season in a full starting role, leading the team in RBIs. Charlie Culberson is the Tommy La Stella- he's been a bench player extraordinaire for years, now he's got a starting role and he's making the absolute most of it. And Ian Kennedy is rebounding from a disappointing sophomore year as a closer by getting right back into motion, with 8 saves already. 

And then you have the formative guys who stuck around. The one drawback is that without Odor, Andrus and Choo, there's not much of a core, and Joey Gallo is having a sort of ho-hum season thus far. So they're rallying around people like Kiner-Falefa, who's off to an excellent start with 31 hits already, and Kyle Gibson, who's 3-0 as the apparent ace of the team. 

So what's good is good, and it's there to distract from the fact that there's still a lot of holes and a lot of room for people to grow into things. I feel like they're three or four pieces away from having a good enough core to make a run at things. Somebody else is gonna fall into their lap soon enough, and then they'll be chasing the A's and Astros in no time.

Coming Tomorrow- The great thing about playing in Denver is that anytime you want, you can just decide to become a home run hitter. 

For a Few Bucs More


 On April 27th, 2021, the Pittsburgh Pirates were a hair over .500 and sitting at 2nd place in the NL Central. I'm as surprised as you were.

If you look at the week the Pirates had before, there's not a ton out of the ordinary. Won a series against Detroit, then took two from the Twins, and took a surprise win away from the surging Royals. They won a few, lost some, came out with a decent week...but at the same time, the Cardinals, Reds and Cubs all had AWFUL weeks, all sinking very low in the standings. Because the Pirates did alright for themselves, they made it to second, behind the Brewers.

Before you congratulate them, you should probably know that April 27th was the last time the Pirates won a game. They are now in last place once again, after a series against the Padres, which has pushed the once-third-place Padres back into the NL West race, despite nearly being no-hit by Tyler Anderson the other day.

So, despite a compelling week, back to business as usual for the Pirates, which means losing games and blowing opportunities.

Despite this, there are still some big pieces having nice seasons for the Buccos. J.T. Brubaker has taken his decent breakout year in 2020 and crafted a thrilling second act, with a 2.63 ERA and 30 Ks in his first 5 starts. Phillip Evans has taken a year where he was supposed to be a bench player and sprung into the starting third base position [thanks, Ke'Bryan], with some of the best offensive work on the team. Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, Bryan Reynolds and Jacob Stallings are all having seasonably strong years. And Richard Rodriguez, Tyler Anderson and a finally-healthy Kyle Crick are all having strong years as far as pitching is concerned.

But the rest of the team is so okay that everyone else just seems like either outliers or potential trade bait for contenders. Picking out a good player for the Pirates these days is a lot like pointing out someone to a sniper. It won't end well for anyone involved. And as we move further into what will clearly be a non-competitive year for the Pirates, it's gonna be hard for this entire team to stay together in order to ensure franchise improvement in the coming years. Remember, Ke'Bryan Hayes is supposed to be the forerunner for a new generation of strong Pirates teams, and him missing substantial playing time just...prolongs that further. 

But still, having a solid ace in J.T. Brubaker is better than the 'every man for himself' pitching mentality of last year.

Coming Tonight: #7 on the all-time Hawaiian-born hits list.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

UnaBoydable

 


New year, same old Tigers. These poor Tigers are the only team in the majors whose win column is still single digits.

I dunno what's the deal with this team. They pull in people like Robbie Grossman, Wilson Ramos and Jonathan Schoop to help them out of the hole and pretty soon all three have fallen in themselves. The only person with double-digit RBIs is Akil Baddoo, and he's cooled down tremendously in the last few weeks, as have Ramos and Jeimer Candelario, who is the only position player with a batting average higher than .250. Hooray, I guess.

And yet regardless of the inefficiency of the lineup...the pitching kinda works this year. Matt Boyd has gotten over his 2020 woes and is back to his old tricks, with a 2.27 ERA in his first 6 starts. Jose Urena is also doing pretty well as far as velocity is concerned despite a 1-4 record. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Spencer Turnbull are all struggling, and they're supposed to be the youth of the rotation. All this as Michael Fulmer and Tyler Alexander have strong seasons, while also being some of the few competent relievers on the team. 

I have no idea how the Tigers can continue to just let such promising players and signings just result in last place hysteria for the umpteenth time. They have Casey Mize, Akil Baddoo and Zack Short all up, three guys who've been waiting in the minors for a while. And even THEY can't help matters at all. It also doesn't help that while the Indians, Royals and White Sox are all handsomely better than the Tigers, even the struggling Twins are higher up. The Yankees, the butt of many jokes in the trades, managed to kickstart a comeback thanks to a series against the Tigers. The Pirates, expected to be the 30th best team in the bigs this year, outdo them by 4 wins right now. 

Even a month in, it's not looking like many strategies are gonna work for the Tigers, even with A.J. Hinch managing. So if you hear a trashcan banging at Comerica Park, it's probably just the lineup card being violently tossed in.

Coming Tomorrow- Oh yeah, the other really bad team I mentioned. At least they were in 2nd for a bit last week.

Scherz, Mine and Ours

 


How's this- a 9 inning complete game victory with 9 strikeouts and an earned run, immediately followed by a taxi to the hospital to watch your wife give birth to your third child. To Max Scherzer, it's just another day of being the best.

I mean, the fact that Scherzer is still one of the best pitchers in the game right now is kind of superfluous. He's already a Hall of Famer, for sure. He already has 3 Cy Youngs and a World Series ring. If this season continues at a strong pace, he will hit 3000 strikeouts this year, after leading the leagues in said category 3 times already over the course of his career, and in wins 4 times. Scherzer's place among all-time pitchers is already pretty cemented, and he's already one of the greatest Jewish ballplayers to grace the bigs. But the reality of Scherzer collecting all of those accolades, and at 36 showing no sign of slowing down and continuing to be among the best...that just speaks to his incredible abilities. 

For the record- looking back at the deal that sent him to Detroit 11 years ago, you see a lot of big names. Curtis Granderson obviously. Ian Kennedy. Austin Jackson. Edwin Jackson. Only Scherzer and Kennedy are still in the leagues, and only Scherzer is still a trusted starter. And this is a guy that had never had a winning season prior to the trade, had WAR earnings around 1.2 or 1.3 in both of his Arizona seasons, and was thought of as a lower-key piece of the trade. And he's the HOFer of the deal.

Max Scherzer's great for baseball. This shouldn't be disputed. 

However, looking at the 2021 Nationals, I'm seeing some similar patterns to their 2019 squad, and they're not exactly wowing me. The top performers right now are people like Scherzer, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Harrison, Yadiel Hernandez, Yan Gomes and Jon Lester. All of these people are over 30. If you'll recall, this was one of the chief strategies of the 2019 squad- getting older veterans to mix in with the kids and creating a strong core that way. It's not a long-lasting strategy, it's not a feasible way of creating a long-lasting franchise, but it works in short term. And if they wanna do that, fine. They're in third now, and they had a nice week that brought them here. But I worry about the overabundance of older players.

Not that the youth is doing badly, because they still have younger guys like Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Victor Robles doing well. But it's not the focus of the team. This team still has a very old median age to it, and it's very visible. Even the newer additions to help the team, like Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, skew older. Neither are hitting for average either.

So as good as Scherzer is doing, I worry about the sustainability and future of his Nationals. As everyone should.

Coming Tonight: An ace that has done the unthinkable- stay on the Detroit Tigers for SEVEN SEASONS.

Monday, May 3, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Card #199-207

 Today, we reach the 200-card-marker of this set. I've been plugging these in since February, and now in early May we get to card 200. Not bad at all. Hope you guys are still enjoying the set. 

Here are the next 9 cards, including the hero card.


#199- Brandon Lowe ASG, Tampa Bay Rays

In a season where D.J. LeMahieu, Cesar Hernandez and Nick Madrigal all would have racked up votes, Brandon Lowe would have been the starting 2nd baseman of the AL team if the 2020 All Star Game had happened. Putting the 2020 season into context, it shouldn't be much of a shocker- Lowe had an incredible sophomore season, being among the chief difference-makers for the Rays, and leading them to a World Series. While Lowe's numbers have been a bit more human so far, he's still healthy and relatively reliable right now in a slightly thinner roster climate.

Card #200- Alec Bohm, Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies fans had been waiting a few years for Alec Bohm to hit the majors, especially after his impressive minor league numbers in Lehigh Valley and Reading. Midway through the 2020 season, Bohm hit Philly, and in 44 games, hit .338 with 23 RBIs, finishing 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting to Devin Williams. He established himself as a strong option at third almost immediately, and gave the fans confidence that is fraying now that Bohm seems resigned to hitting around .200 this year. 

Card #201- Chad Kuhl, Pittsburgh Pirates

Yeah, no Chad Kuhl card in 2020 Topps. I know. Kuhl missed 2019 with Tommy John surgery, returned to the rotation in 2020 as a strong enough option, pitched a 4.27 ERA in 9 starts with 44 Ks, and was one of the more consistent players for the Pirates last year. He was given a high ranking in the rotation this year, and he's currently on the IL. That is the exhilaration of Pirates baseball for you.

Card #202- Salvador Perez ASG, Kansas City Royals

As Salvador Perez continues to be one of the most consistently-excellent catchers in the game, the 2020 All Star Game would have been his seventh, as well as his triumphant return. The best part is that the year of injury did nothing to dull Perez' abilities, as 2020 was still a very strong year for him, with his 2.1 WAR being very much on par with other recent numbers. Perez has been doing well this season so far, and hopefully he'll get his ASG moment this year.

Card #203- Jesus Sanchez, Miami Marlins

One of the SEVERAL youngsters the Marlins called up during the 2020 season, Jesus Sanchez was called up specifically to aid the team after Starling Marte's injury. Sanchez took Marte's place, and only hit .040 with 11 strikeouts and 2 RBIs in that 10 game period. For those reasons, Sanchez is still currently in the minors. 

Card #204- Yency Almonte, Colorado Rockies

Yency Almonte might have been one of the Rockies' best bullpen pieces of a very forgettable year. Almonte appeared in 24 games, and hit a 2.93 ERA with 23 Ks and 3 wins. Almonte was used in middle relief as well as a final-out man, getting his first save as well last year. So far in 2021, his WAR is negating the entirety of his 2020 earnings in that category.

Card #205- Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins

One of the more intriguing prospects heading into the 2020 season, Alex Kirilloff saw no major league playing time last year, but was added to the postseason roster before playing a single MLB regular season game. That says everything you need to know about how confident the Twins are in Kirilloff. Granted, Kirilloff only hit .250 in 4 postseason at-bats, but he still had a postseason hit before any of his 2021 regular season hits. He's currently a decent offensive piece for the Twins, and while the 2021 Topps rookie is a lot more practical, this one could have been cool.

Card #206- Mookie Betts ASG, Los Angeles Dodgers

Third 2020 ASG starter in this post. Lowe, Perez and Betts. For the first time, though, they wouldn't all be starting for the same team, as Betts would have taken an NL start in 2020 for the Dodgers. I don't think anyone would dispute Betts' starting outfield position in a supposed 2020 ASG, especially considering his red-hot numbers and high MVP vote-getting. 

Card #207- Robert Gsellman, New York Mets

Robert Gsellman haČ™ been one of three indispensable Mets relief arms for the past few years. With him, Seth Lugo and Jeurys Familia, the Mets have just needed to build around the core. Gsellman had an alright 2020, being utilized in a starting role and finishing with a 9.64 ERA, but he's been returned to the 'pen for 2021 and is working on a lower, sub-4 ERA so far. 

Friday brings the next 9 cards in this set. A few important player omissions, a few amusing rookies, and a very big 'what could have been'.

Still Nasty After All These Years


 The last time Nate Eovaldi had a full season to flex his talents upon the MLB, he went 14-3 for the 2015 New York Yankees. It's a winning season by a Yankee starter that most of the internet has forgotten because he wasn't named Tanaka, Sabathia or Severino, but it was very impressive, and had he not trailed off in 2016, he may have been re-upped and still be in New York. 

Instead he signed a two-year deal with Tampa, which he played exactly 4 months of before being flipped to Boston for Jalen Beeks, and quickly became one of the most furious pieces of the 2018 Red Sox playoff team. Eovaldi has 2 career postseason wins and 16 career postseason strikeouts, all with Boston. 

Eovaldi has also never finished a season with a WAR higher than 2.3. So his challenge, as well as to bring the Red Sox back to relevancy, is to beat his season high and gain long term MLB legitimacy. 

So far I'd say he's on a good pace.

The Red Sox rotation being as consistent as it is has been one of the reasons why the Sox have been so dominant so far. Last year, all they had was Eovaldi and Martin Perez, and then right there at the end you saw Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta showing up and foreshadowing the 2021 season. Now you have Eovaldi, Perez, Pivetta, Eduardo Rodriguez and Garrett Richards' better numbers...all on at once. In addition to a bloodthirsty lineup. What the hell.

Eovaldi, Rodriguez and Pivetta each have 3 to 4 wins. Pivetta has a 2.18 ERA, making it even stupider that the Phillies gave him up last year. Matt Barnes is good at closing games again. Ottavino is healthy and picking up where he left off. This team is really damn good and is heading for more dominance. Help.

I mean there are weak spots, like Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe, but J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are making everyone forget that. This team seems to be mostly be on the same page, which is nice considering how dire the last few seasons were, but horrible considering that I still want my Yankees to do relatively well this year, and while we don't play them for another month, I'm still dreading what'll happen when my still-human team plays this very-impressive one.

It's just...a lot that could happen, especially regarding this Red Sox team. 

Coming Tomorrow- He just pitched a 9 inning gem yesterday. He's still got it, even if his team is a little cluttered. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Unexpected Breakout Star of April


 Carson Kelly has always been a strong choice at catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he's never been considered a legitimate star. Always playing adequate ball, taking a backseat to the main guns of the D-Backs lineup. Not especially a name everyone knows.

And then this year, he has one of the most inexplicably amazing Aprils of anyone in the league.

Carson Kelly, for starters, had a 1.9 WAR in April. For comparison's sake, Kelly's highest full-season WAR is a 1.6 in 2019. So if he got injured tomorrow, and I really hope this isn't jinxing anything, but if his season ended tomorrow, he'd have a career high WAR. Now he's gonna keep going and adding to that and being awesome, but one month in and the bar has already been raised.

The other numbers are just frosting but equally important- in 19 April games, Kelly hit .340 with 14 RBIs and 6 home runs, along with a 1.224 OPS. They are the best numbers in Arizona, and among the best numbers in the NL right now. Jacob de Grom leads all NL players in WAR, but Carson Kelly leads all NL position players. Not Fernando Tatis, not Bryce Harper, not Nolan Arenado. Carson Kelly. And I couldn't be anymore here for it.

It's also a great thing because the Diamondbacks don't have a ton going on this year. Right now, the other big offensive lineup pieces are guys over 30. David Peralta, Asdrubal Cabrera, Eduardo Escobar are all doing well, but the other pieces, the younger ones, are either injured or puttering around aimlessly. We're at least getting rookies like Andy Young and Pavin Smith doing well right now, as well as the recent callup of apparent heir-apparent Daulton Varsho, but the whole lineup isn't on the same page.

Same with the pitching staff, which has decent performances from Zac Gallen and Taylor Widener buttressed by disappointing stints from Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver, and non-7-inning-no-no-caliber Madison Bumgarner. Lot of 5+ ERAs in the bullpen as well. 

So as disheveled as this D-Backs team is right now...at least they're still currently playing over .500 baseball, and at least Carson Kelly is putting them over the edge.

Coming Tomorrow- We called him Nasty. He was happy to oblige.

Yuli, Madly, Deeply


 The Astros are back, guys! I know you're all excited to see them climbing back up the standings!

Look, I don't know if the Astros have fully embraced their status as the villains of baseball, but they're certainly playing like they don't care if nobody wants them to win. They had a weak spell a few years back, it leveled them a bit, but now they're back after some series' with the Angels, Mariners and Rays, they're back into the race, chasing the Ms for second and waiting for their chance to level the A's a bit. 

The core of this team is still capable of big things. Carlos Correa, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel have been playing beautifully so far, and both are hitting over .300 right now. Yordan Alvarez hasn't been perfect in his return from injury, but he's still hitting .315 with 14 RBIs, so it could be a lot worse. Bregman is still a power-hitting machine. There's still people like Kyle Tucker, Martin Maldonado and Jose Altuve who could be doing better, but the lineup is moving in the right direction.

The rotation has shifted in their approach, and is centering less around veterans like Zack Greinke and more around the homegrown younger group from the last few years. Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers and Jose Urquidy are really the bulk of this rotation, and now Luis Garcia has been starting games and hitting a 2.70 ERA. It's not a perfect rotation, and the lack of Justin Verlander is still quite glaring, but it's a more unassuming and practical rotation. We're far from the 5-man chaos of the 2018 team, but we're close. 

This team is a bit more unpolished and human than previous recent Astros teams, but judging by last season, being unpolished isn't going to stop the Astros from making the playoffs. What will need to stop them is not being one of the best teams in the AL, and the A's have enough right now to stop them in their tracks if they keep clashing with this speed. I'm very wary of this Astros team, but I don't fear them like I've feared other incarnations of it.

Coming Tonight: Right now, Byron Buxton and Jacob de Grom have the top two WARs in baseball. Tied for third with Mike Trout is a former backup catcher from St. Louis. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Card to Handle


 When your team heroes are 38 and 39, you're not allowed to be shocked when they hit the IL within a week of each other. 

That's where the Cardinals are right now. They're doing relatively well, and rising in the standings towards the Brewers, but the loss of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright to injuries has put this team at more of a stalemate than it should. Yes, Andrew Knizner is doing a fine job as backup catcher, but I don't see a backup to him anywhere. And I would have suggested Daniel Ponce de Leon as a replacement for Wainwright in the rotation, but now he's injured as well, and Johan Oviedo just got brought down to the minors. 

So right now, the schematic is a Flaherty-Gant-Kim-Martinez rotation with maybe one more callup, or an Oviedo return, helping out. And...I'm not 100% confident. Flaherty, Gant and Kim are fine, and doing good enough things right now, but...good enough. Flaherty has 4 wins, but none of them have more than 30 Ks. Gant and Kim have WHIP over 1.4. Carlos Martinez is also pretty shaky, and is miles from where he was around 2017. I don't know who they can bring up or wrangle into the rotation while Waino and Ponce de Leon are gone, but hopefully they have some good ideas or else we're gonna flounder for a bit.

The good news is that the lineup is in pretty good shape. Obviously Nolan Arenado is a great fit for this offense, and while Paul Goldschmidt's bat has gone a bit colder since early games, he'll hopefully take May and turn things around. And you also have Tyler O'Neill, Tommy Edman and rookie hero Dylan Carlson all hitting well. We're still waiting on people like Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader to return to career numbers, but the team is in enough of an upward place that all of that can happen in progress.

Right now, they're in a decent place in the standings, and are above a bit of a blockade of the other 3 NL Central teams. That may not last forever, and one of them, mainly Cincinnati, could come charging out chasing the competitors. The Cardinals will then need to decide how much of this lineup is ready for above-.500 work, and if they can make it this year. If they can't, it's be best if they didn't pretend like they were ready even if they aren't. They've done that enough lately.

Coming Tomorrow- First baseman for a team making a push back towards the underdogs that lapped them. Let's be clear that these are the bad guys in this situation. 

April 2020 in Review [feat. Jose Ramirez]

 


A while back, I made a habit of doing month-capper posts, trying to predict the big stories and making sure future readers would know the big ticks in progress as this season goes by. 

So, as we continue those, let's start with the predictions I made on the first of last month:

1. The Tampa Bay Rays are gonna disappoint people. It's gonna be April 30th and they're gonna be in fourth place, and the fans are gonna be screaming 'WHAT HAPPENED?'. Not quite. Right now they're in second behind the Red Sox, but they definitely have been playing a bit less-majestically than last year, with Brandon Lowe, Willy Adames and Kevin Kiermaier struggling right now. They are still technically a good team, but they're not a great one.

2. First place Astros, because that's what tends to happen around here. It was looking this way for a while, but slowly the A's and Mariners snuck up upon the 'Stros and as of now they're in fourth. 

3. Fernando Tatis is gonna claim the MVP talks almost immediately by getting off to the best start of his career and jumping out to a home run lead early.  Also not quite. Tatis is hitting .262 with 7 homers, which is one short of the league bar for home runs. He was doing amazing to start the season but an injury slowed him down a wee bit. 

4. The chorus of people calling for Joe Girardi's firing will begin partway through the month and get louder as the Phillies continue to lose. We're not entirely there yet. The Phils are in second behind the Braves, have been playing decently recently, and have been thriving off of Nola, Realmuto, Harper and Wheeler. Girardi seems to be safe for the moment.

5. Five crucial Yankees will be injured, and this will not affect their still-great place in the standings.  Oooooh, don't be so cocky. Luke Voit is still injured, but injuries are not the problem with this team.

Okay, so I was off on most of these. Let's examine why. Here are 5 Things from April 2021 that No One Could Predict

  1. The Return of the Boston Red Sox. Led by J.D. Martinez, a revitalized rotation, and a new, island-of-misfit-toys approach to roster-building, the Red Sox quickly scaled to 1st place and have stayed there for the entirety of the month, as the Yanks and Jays struggle, and as the Rays fight to be a first place team again. The Sox have been human over the last week or so, but right now they have two guys with over 20 RBIs, and 3 pitchers with 3 wins or more [E-Rod is 4-0]. They are off to a fantastic start, and it'll be interesting to see how they do in the next month.
  2. The Fall of the New York Yankees. With a strong, healthy roster, a lot of new contracts in the rotation, and confidence from Sanchez and Stanton, this was not the outcome many people expected. At the end of April, the Yankees are circling last, losing games due to the lack of run support, and trying desperately to get people like Giancarlo Stanton and Clint Frazier to hit for average. It's a very sad sight, and I hope this changes.
  3. Carlos Rodon. A last-minute re-addition to a roster he was cut from last year, Carlos Rodon responded to a return to Chicago by delivering the year he'd been promising since he came up. In 4 starts he has 4 wins, a 0.72 ERA and 36 Ks, just refusing to let people hit his stuff. He even managed to fit in a no-hitter that was 5 outs away from perfection. As great as the Sox' rotation is right now, Rodon may be the most important piece, and his starts have been a big factor as to why the White Sox have been inching back to the top in the AL Central.
  4. Giants > Padres. The NL West dichotomy had sort of been settled before the season- the Padres would come in second, the Giants in third, and then the other 2. Well, after a relatively sane first week or so, the Padres started dropping games. And slowly, thanks to Buster Posey and Kevin Gausman among others, the Giants rose and rose in the standings every week, to the point where they'd be tied for 1st place with the Dodgers by the end of the month. That Gabe Kapler has driven this team to the top is not surprising, but that he's done it this quickly and with this many great performers is impressive. And I hope he keeps it up.
  5. Ryan McMahon, the Power Hitter. Since McMahon was brought up as a potential 1st baseman before the 2018 season, the front office people have been assuring people that the infielder can hit for power, and while McMahon did hit 24 homers in 2019, he hasn't been wholly impressive outside of some occasional contact stuff. McMahon came alive with several multi-homer games, bringing his total to 8 by the end of the month, more than Trevor Story and C.J. Cron combined. 
And for good measure, 5 Things from April 2021 That I Probably Could Have Predicted

  1. First Place Dodgers. I mean, come on. Even with their slippage in the past week or so, I still knew they'd be surging. And if you said that Kershaw and Turner were running the team, I'd have bought that as well
  2. League-worst Tigers. I didn't think they'd be THIS bad [8-18], but I knew they'd be pretty bad. There is quite a drop-off after Matt Boyd on the WAR rankings.
  3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hitting up a storm. With his Spring Training numbers, I figured he'd be red-hot this year, and sure enough he's really that powerful right now.
  4. Insane pitching in Milwaukee. I went into this season with Corbin Burnes as my Cy pick, but seeing Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Josh Hader all surging is also really affirming
  5. Ohtani the Pitcher returns with a smash. I mean, I didn't think he'd be worrying on the mound forever, and this season felt prime for a comeback from him. 
Five Most Important Players of April 2021:
  1. Jacob de Grom, New York Mets
  2. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
  3. Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
  4. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
  5. Yermin Mercedes, Chicago White Sox
And finally, 5 Predictions for May 2021:
  1. A clear frontrunner in the NL East. Either the Mets, Phillies or Braves...just pull ahead and save my suspense. 
  2. The second the Marlins bring Sixto Sanchez back up he's gonna start throwing fire and pulling them away from Washington.
  3. One of the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates to decide to chase the Brewers. Or maybe more.
  4. One of the big cinderella teams [Royals, Red Sox, Mariners] to still be the real deal, while one or more of the other two revert as the month goes on.
  5. Monumental rookie call-up that shakes the balance of an entire division.
Again, my predictions are never meant to be accurate, just interesting. On with May...

Coming Tonight: A Cardinals rookie who's hitting like mad. Yay. 

Friday, April 30, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #190-198

 We are just getting to the tip of 200 right at the end of April, as far as this mega-set I made is concerned. By the end of May, we'll have hit #275. Which means I feel like we'll get to the end of this set by June. If you've been enjoying this set, which I sincerely hope you have, that would be a bad thing.

Still, here are the next 9 cards in the set.

Card #190- Matt Kemp, Colorado Rockies

I am guessing that 2020 will end up having been Matt Kemp's final season, and at the very least it is a more dignified way of going out than his 2019 season, where he was bounced after 20 games with the Reds. Here, the Rockies picked up Kemp after the Marlins had cut him prior to the season, and Kemp acted as the Rockies' primary DH during their only season [to date] with the NL utilizing a DH. In 43 games, Kemp hit .239 with 21 RBIs and 6 homers, which wasn't BAD per se, but it wasn't anywhere above replacement level. To that, no MLB teams bit on Kemp for the 2021 season, so unless he has a late audition somewhere, this would have been his last issue. And Topps, with its schedules as they were, didn't get to it.

Card #191- Nick Tropeano, Pittsburgh Pirates 

Nick Tropeano was a starting success for the Angels in 2018, which made the diminishing returns of his starter numbers a little heartbreaking. However, as Tropeano missed camp with the Yankees in 2020, the Pirates had some room in the bullpen, and Tropeano couldn't pass down an opportunity. Sure enough, Tropeano was one of the best pitchers on the roster for the Bucs last year, with a 1.15 ERA in 7 appearances with 19 Ks. Note that Tropeano was used as a long-man in this period, which was close enough to starting, I guess. Tropeano tried to make camp with the Giants this season, but hasn't made the team quite yet. 

Card #192- Tommy Hunter, Philadelphia Phillies

Tommy Hunter had been a mainstay in the Phillies bullpen for a few years, and after only pitching in 5 games during 2019, made a comeback in 24 games in 2020. His 4.01 ERA and 25 Ks may not look like much, but considering the dire state of the Phils bullpen that year, Hunter was one of the few consistently not-terrible performers, and brought stability to a 'pen that had anything but. Hunter is currently signed to a minor league deal with the Mets and has not made the team yet.

Card #193- Erik Kratz, New York Yankees

Erik Kratz was one of the premier backup catchers of the 2010s. After coming up with Philly as a backup for Carlos Ruiz, Kratz became a journeyman with EVERYONE, becoming a mainstream favorite as a backup catcher with the 2018 Brewers, and splitting 2019 with the Giants and Rays. He was never a huge offensive force, but he was durable and lovable. 2020, he was brought on as a backup catcher during Gary Sanchez' injury stretch in New York, and did surprisingly really well. He hit .321 with 9 hits and 4 RBIs, which is some of the most impressive performances by a catcher during the 2020 Yankees season. Kratz hung it up after the season, though, but not without a lot of Yankee fans being thankful for his work.

Card #194- Juan Soto ASG, Washington Nationals

It should not be much of a shock when I reveal that Juan Soto would have been a starting outfielder if the 2020 All Star Game had happened. He was coming off a HUGE 2019 and a monster postseason, and had some pretty impressive 2020 numbers despite missing some time to injury. Soto is currently injured, but he was hitting .300 so far this season, so I don't even think THAT will stop this guy from continuing to dominate the majors.

Card #195- Victor Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

The 2020 Dodgers bullpen comes down to two rookies- Brusdar Graterol and Victor Gonzalez. Gonzalez had been in the Dodgers' system for 7 years, and finally made the majors at 24 last year, becoming a relief favorite by just...not really allowing many runs at all. In 15 games, he had a 1.33 ERA with 23 Ks, and a 2.70 postseason ERA with 5 Ks. Gonzalez was a very stable, impressive relief option for a World Series team during his rookie season. Tomorrow the world. Right now he has a 2.57 ERA.

Card #196- Richard Bleier, Miami Marlins

I've talked during this project about the number of relievers that were summoned to Miami due to several of their relievers coming down with COVID at once. Brian Moran and James Hoyt I've already talked about, but the other big one was former Orioles reliever Richard Bleier. Bleier actually pitched in 2 games for the Os in 2020, and Topps covered that, but once he got traded to the Marlins, he was in similarly high demand. In 19 games, he had a 2.63 ERA, which wasn't bad at all. He also has a 0 ERA in 2 innings of postseason play. Bleier is waiting for his 2021 numbers to go down, but he's still on similar workload duty in Miami.

Card #197- Jacob De Grom ASG, New York Mets

Due to Yu Darvish's strong start, I don't think Jacob de Grom would have started the 2020 ASG for the National League, but can you imagine an ASG without him at this point? De Grom is one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, he's practically unhittable, and even if he has no run support, he is still incredible in big-game scenarios. He'll probably be starting this one anyway.

Card #198- Sam Selman, San Fransisco Giants

After a 10-game come-up in 2019, Sam Selman was able to be utilized a bit more regularly in 2020, becoming one of the more consistent relievers of the Giants' pen. Selman was a well-relied-upon mop-up man, finishing 8 games, and having a 3.72 ERA with 23 Ks in 24 games. Selman was only recently promoted back to the Giants, so hopefully you'll see some similar numbers from him in 2021. 

Monday, you get to see who got to be card #200, as well as some decent rookies.