Wednesday, March 31, 2021

2021's Dream Team


One of the frustrations of the spring training season is seeing great players in new uniforms, and resigning yourself to wait to make customs of them during the regular season...and then they get cut before the end of training camp and you never get to make a regular season custom of them, or even see a Topps card of them. It's a sucky feeling, just for the possibilities of it all. 

So I figured...why not make them anyway? 

I used Topps' K-Mart oddball set Dream Team for the basis of these, because this is literally a dream team- you can only dream of seeing these players in these uniforms in regular season play.

Coolest one first- Felix Hernandez signed a minor league deal with Baltimore this season, was looking like a surefire hit to make the rotation, then got injured and opted out of his contract. Like with Atlanta, the next stage of King Felix' career only existed in preseason views of it. I'm still holding out for him to somehow pitch again,'d be awesome, but whatever he's most comfortable with.

One of the ones I was looking forward to seeing in regulation was Jonathan Lucroy in Chicago. After Yasmani Grandal's injury-laden start, it was looking like Lucroy was gonna make the team as a backup, and was hitting really well at that. But, Grandal came back looking confident, and Zack Collins came alive during the second half of camp, meaning Lucroy as a White Sock would never happen. I keep waiting for Lucroy to have a comeback, cause he was so great with the Brewers, but it might never be a thing.

Heck, this one hurts for me because Todd Frazier is such a New Jersey legend, and I kinda want him to succeed anywhere he goes. Here he is 10 years after his rookie year, and he's failing to make camp with the PITTSBURGH PIRATES, the dregs of the majors. It's mainly because the Pirates are stacked at 3rd, with people like Kevin Kramer, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Colin Moran blocking him, but it's still sad to see him so depleted. 
Some of these aren't indicators that these players might not play at all this season- Billy Hamilton is looking to make the White Sox in some faction right now, but earlier this month he was a hopeful potential outfielder for the Indians, doing his best in early games despite once again refusing to perform at the plate. With Oscar Mercado and Bradley Zimmer, despite not making the team either, taking preference in the minors, Hamilton really had no reason to pretend he'd make the team at all, so he was an early release for the benefit of trying to make another team. Not sure if the Sox will take him, but you can only hope.
Similarly, another former all-star and base-stealer extraordinaire was trying to make Hamilton's old team, the Cincinnati Reds. Dee Strange-Gordon was looking very human after his last few seasons in Seattle, and his attempt for the Reds made him look even more unworthy. I hate that this cut happened, because Gordon was the league's best in 2015, and he was an all-star and hero for a few consecutive years, and now he's essentially an also-ran. 
Jake Lamb had a tremendous comeback year in 2020 filling in for Matt Chapman in Oakland. So he was a nice idea for the Braves as a third baseman, in a year where the position once again seems to be relatively open. Not only does Jake Lamb fail to make the Braves despite this schematic, but he misses the team while PABLO SANDOVAL makes the team. Lamb is younger and had more promise, and thanks to a weaker spring, he's now trying to make the White Sox. 
Ivan Nova was a strong pitcher for the Yankees and Pirates before bopping around the league in Chicago and Detroit unsuccessfully, his velocity down. The Philadelphia Phillies were the latest stop on his career reclamation tour, and he was chased in multiple starts. With the Phils prioritizing Chase Anderson and Matt Moore, there was no place for Nova in Philly.

After jump-starting the offseason by being sent by his longtime White Sox to the Orioles, former gold-glover Yolmer Sanchez was thought to be a threat to Rio Ruiz for the third baseman job, and made the most of some early spring starts. Unfortunately, the combination of Ruiz's continued dominance and the arrival of Maikel Franco onto the scene spelt doom for Sanchez' starting bid.

Arguably one of the saddest stories here is of Francisco Liriano, the former Twins and Pirates fireballer who was coming off a comeback season in Pittsburgh as a reliever in 2019. He was in camp with the Phillies in 2020 when COVID hit, and that was a setback that cost him a roster spot. So he tried again with a team he'd played for in the past, the Toronto Blue Jays, but this was a different Jays and an older Liriano, so that combination didn't exactly work, despite Liriano circling the final roster spots well into camp. I'm not sure if this is the end of the road for Liriano, but he was certainly a strong pitcher in his prime.

Hopefully there's better futures in new uniforms for these players, but it helped to at least do customs of them now rather than never having done any of them. 

The regular custom season begins tomorrow. What fun!

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Jesus Walks


At the end of Spring Training, the Cactus League team that, statistically, had the best offensive performance was clearly the Oakland Athletics, who had a +45 run differential, and the best W/L percentage in the western divisions. True, thanks to the Royals and Cubs they're third in the Cactus League standings, but their numbers speak to the fact that the A's are the undisputed frontrunner in the AL West race...and after years of the Astros getting playoff time, I could not be any more here for it.

The A's have always been a favorite of mine in the standings ever since their come-up in 2018, out of nowhere. The Chapman-Olson-Semien years did them well, as did the years of Mike Fiers' acehood and last year's Liam Hendriks masterclass in relief pitching. However, now that Fiers is older, Semien and Hendriks are gone, and the team is culling more from its youth movement, the real test is about to begin.

This season is going to rely on people like Jesus Luzardo, who's been decent in 3 starts out of camp, Sean Murphy, who's gonna be a late roster addition thanks to an injury I believe, and Vimael Machin, who's playing well but is still in search of a position. It's also gonna rely on A.J. Puk, who isn't doing too well out of camp and may not have a place in this team as it is. And there are a lot of minor pieces that could factor into things, like former Phillies prospect Cole Irvin, who's been fantastic in several starts for the A's, and Aramis Garcia, the former Giants prospect who could be a keen backup for Murphy this year.

And even with veteran pieces like Elvis Andrus and Mitch Moreland shoved where they may not fit, the true core of this team is going to impress people this year. The lineup definitely, but I'm confident in people like Luzardo and Chris Bassitt. I know the Astros are still gonna be trying shit this year, as they are prone to, but I'm hoping the A's can pull away on all accounts.

Coming Tomorrow- A set of customs pertaining to some incredibly sad late-camp cuts.

A Joc, A Nerd, and a Conundrum

 We've hit the point where some of the bigger pieces of the 2016 Cubs Championship team are beginning to evaporate. Now Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora are gone, and the Cubs are putting in regular free agents like Joc Pederson, Zach Davies and Eric Sogard, which is a big sign that the Cubs are plummeting even further towards normalcy for 2021.

Like, the big factor nobody wants to talk about is that the big stars want to leave. Kris Bryant was nearly traded this offseason, and was putting on a face and doing the 'Chicago is my home' schtick, but really Bryant and the rest of the world knows that a change of scenery is gonna do better for Bryant's career than keeping him on this sinking Cubs team. You also hears that the Cubs were trying to hammer down an extension for Anthony Rizzo, which didn't get anywhere, and eventually Rizzo used the excuse of 'we'll just wait until after the season'. J.T. Realmuto used that excuse last year, and it, translated, means 'I wanna see how much money the Mets offer me before I choose to come back'. Additionally, both Javier Baez and Zach Davies would be free agents next offseason. Pretty soon, this Cubs team could come crashing down even further.

And yet, in a pretty spread-out year for the NL Central, the Cubs still have something of a chance to compete. Again, the reliance is on a lot of the big pieces and contracts, but if these guys can sink something, with help from guys like Pederson and Davies, it could mean a lot more for the future of this team. But one of the biggest problems is that the youth movement that should be carrying on the legacy of these 2010s Cubs teams has not arrived yet. Nico Hoerner and Adbert Alzolay have had brief stints in the majors but haven't wowed people quite yet. There is still a deference to veteran presence, possibly to hide the fact that the farm system was completely torn up in the mid-2010s in order to compete. 

I still think the Brewers and Cardinals have more to work with for 2021 than the Cubs do. I could be wrong. They could have another big year. But I don't see a unified outlook for this team past the contracts expiring at the end of the year. This may be the last hurrah for the 'good cubs' that showed up in 2015, and we may just have to be okay with losing them.

Coming Tonight: An A's pitcher hoping his division is as up in the air as the NL Central. 

Monday, March 29, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #109-117

As we come closer to the beginning of the season, the slow roll of 2020 Topps Final Edition customs continues. Some of these players have been picked up and are on new teams. Some haven't. Some are already in minor league camp. But still, they were important enough during the 2020 season to have needed a Topps card that never came. 

Here are the next 9 cards.

 Card #109- Brian Moran, Miami Marlins

The story of Brian Moran in the MLB is a strange but exciting one. In 2019, he made his debut for the Marlins in a game against the Pirates, and the 30-year-old sidearmer from Port Chester, NY came face to face with a familiar adversary...his brother, Brian. With one strikeout, the legend was born, and the relief talents of Brian Moran, while not quite as starry as the power numbers of Colin Moran, were known. He was supposed to start the 2020 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, but after COVID broke out at the Marlins' base, a call was made to any possible relievers who needed work. So Brian Moran returned to Miami. In 5 days he was eaten up by batters, and had a 12+ ERA by the time he was demoted, but this would have been the Topps Marlins card that Moran never got for his 2019 efforts. Moran is currently in camp with another Florida team, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Card #110- Pablo Sandoval, Atlanta Braves

One of the feel-good stories of 2021 was jumpstarted last fall. After being released by his longtime San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval was surprisingly picked up by a new team, the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, Kung Fu Panda didn't have much luck at the plate in one game during the regular season, nor did he make any progress during the NLCS. But the Braves seem to have faith in Sandoval, as he's made the team for 2021, so he could have a comeback year this year. At least I hope so, this guy is fun to root for.

Card #111- Chris Stratton, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates' quest for pitching gave them relief options from all over the league, even people predominantly known for starting. Enter Chris Stratton, the former Giants low-rotation man, who was used as a big relief piece for the struggling Bucs in 2020. He did a nice job for himself, with a 3.90 ERA in 27 games, and 39 strikeouts. It's looking like Stratton will have a similarly large role in the Pirates' plans this year.

Card #112- Jarlin Garcia, San Francisco Giants

Meanwhile at Stratton's old team, the bullpen was trying new and interesting things in an effort to make a playoff spot that wasn't theirs. One of their tactics was using Marlins relief weapon Jarlin Garcia as a setup/middle relief man in tough situations, and Garcia delivered, with an 0.49 ERA in 19 appearances, meaning he only gave up one earned run in all that time. With a potentially feistier Giants team in 2021, Garcia could be a ninth inning option for a team that desperately needs one.

Card #113- Andrew Kittredge, Tampa Bay Rays

Yes, another member of the mighty Rays bullpen from last year. For everything it accomplished on the road to the postseason, every strong piece counted, and Andrew Kittredge was another one of those. Appearing in 8 games, Kittredge posted a 2.25 ERA, and was a solid midseason option.

Card #114- Dan Altavilla, San Diego Padres

While the primary reliever picked up from Seattle in the Austin Nola Deal, Taylor Williams, wasn't very useful, the secondary one, Dan Altavilla, managed to drastically improve his 7+ ERA with the Mariners to a 3 ERA with the Padres. In 10 appearances, Altavilla knocked 9 strikeouts, helping the Padres make the playoffs, and notched 2 more in the NLDS against the Dodgers. 

Card #115- Tyler Clippard, Minnesota Twins

Who would have thought that this guy would have become one of the most durable relievers in the game? I say that as he's on the IL for 6 weeks, but he's still at it, and still pitching for new teams every year. 2020 was his year in Minnesota, and Tyler Clippard did not disappoint, with a 2.27 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 26 games, a season that seemed like a companion to his strong numbers in Cleveland in 2019. Once he gets healthy, the Diamondbacks will hopefully get more strong stuff out of Clippard.

Card #116- Mike Yastrzemski ASG, San Francisco Giants

For Yaz's incredible start in 2020, one that put him onto the radar of so many baseball fans, he'd have at least gotten a reserve nod for a potential ASG roster. But Mike Yastrzemski getting an All Star Game appearance would have been a fitting moment, and a great piece of baseball history considering how many his grandfather made. Hopefully he makes another All-Star team this year while we still have Carl.

Card #117- Caleb Ferguson, Los Angeles Dodgers

I gave you a Rays reliever, so here's a member of the Dodgers' bullpen as part of equal time. 2020 was Caleb Ferguson's best season since coming up in 2018, it was his lowest ERA with 2.89, and his lowest WHIP with 1.018. Unfortunately he didn't make the postseason roster, and he's still on the IL starting the 2021 season, but his relief numbers helped the Dodgers win a World Series. Simple as that.

On Friday, we get another 9 cards from this set. A few good ones for East coast teams in here. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Plan Shifts in Chicago

 With less than a week before the start of the season, things have taken a bit of a snag for the White Sox. 

First of all, Eloy Jimenez is injured, and will be out for a few months. Either you can chalk this up to the overworking theory of 2021 Spring Training that's dooming a lot of people, or this is genuinely something that happened besides the fact. Bottom line, one of the big pieces of this team that was hitting really well out of camp is now out for the first third of the season. So now either Adam Engel is gonna get a lot more time in right or Leury Garcia is gonna be phased back into an outfield position. Both ideas are fine, but maybe not to the caliber of Jimenez, especially considering his 2020 season.

Similarly, Luis Robert isn't hitting. He's played 16 games, which means he's been given several opportunities to hit, but has only mustered 11 hits, including 4 RBIs. He's also struck out 16 times. For a guy who is supposed to be the hero once again, this isn't a great camp showing. It may not translate immediately to how his season is going to go, but if he's already striking out this many times, it may not be a good sign. Like, we already know the big strikeout-guy Jimenez is gonna be out for a bit, it's not like Robert needs to take over.

And there's little things abound as well. There's the catching thing, where Grandal still may not be ready for Opening Day and the Sox might need to bring Jonathan Lucroy with them, but now him and Zack Collins are fighting for the backup position, and it's not clear what's gonna happen there. You also have to factor in some early spring woes from Jose Abreu and Dallas Keuchel.

But really, a lot of this is an attempt to make the Chicago White Sox look more human in a year where, until now, they looked unstoppable. This is a team that could still go very far into the playoffs, and now these little foibles are enough to get teams to underestimate them again. Oh, Jimenez is hurt, Abreu isn't his 2020 self, maybe we can beat them? Wrong. There's still a lot of punch left in this team, especially with Giolito and Adam Eaton having excellent springs. I do think they'll go far into it this year, even if Jimenez takes a bit to come back. They have the team that can withstand things like that.

Coming Tomorrow- Former low-average power hitter for LA, current low-average power hitter in Chicago, replacing a fan-favorite low-average power hitter who used to play in Chicago.

Friday, March 26, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #100-108

 We've reached the 100s in our rundown of my 2020 Topps Final Edition set, ironically in the week where I've finished production on all 330 cards in it. So that's how prepared I am for the rest of this run, as we begin to head into the regular season, as I focus on regular customs and other projects. I made sure this one had a real hero card for #100, plus a few interesting cases to talk about.

Card #100- Jo Adell, Los Angeles Angels

Jo Adell was first brought to my attention when I pulled a relic of his out of 2019 Heritage Minor Leagues. I reckon that'd go for a nice amount of money now. Adell may see his stock fall slightly due to his not starting the 2021 season in the majors, but you can't deny how impressive the guy looks for the Angels. He's been touted as the outfielder of the future for years, and will probably be the guy who replaces Justin Upton in the Angels outfield. Last year in 38 games, he hit .161 with 7 RBIs, a poor showing, even for a 21-year-old. Hopefully Maddon is right that some time in the minors will help him blossom a bit, because I'd hate to think this is all we get from the guy.

Card #101- Freddie Freeman ASG, Atlanta Braves

I don't want there to be any doubt here. If the 2020 All Star Game had happened, Freddie Freeman would have been the starting first baseman for the NL. Brandon Belt and Paul Goldschmidt would have votes to combat him, but they wouldn't come anywhere near him. Freeman was league-caliber last year, he was deserving of the MVP, and he hit fire like nobody I've seen in a while. It was also a season that rewarded Freeman for being the rock in the Braves lineup for years, which hopefully he continues to be from here on out.

Card #102- Keegan Akin, Baltimore Orioles

One of two rookie starters brought up towards the end of the season to help out the cause, Keegan Akin was the more traditional choice for sure. In 6 starts, he had a 4.58 ERA with 35 Ks and a high whip, but he still made himself known as a young option for a team that needed some. I'm fully expecting him and Dean Kremer to factor into the rotation this year. 

Card #103- Trevor Cahill, San Francisco Giants

Ever since his legendary 18-8 year in 2010, Trevor Cahill has been a fairly inconsistent pitcher. At his best, he could be a strong, low-rotation hurler, like he was in Oakland in 2018. At his worst, he can be a waste of a trade deadline deal, like he was in 2017 for the Royals. But after a mixed-at-best year in Anaheim, Cahill returned to the bay area to audition for a role in the Giants rotation. He started 6 games but also was used as a relief option, and had a 3.24 ERA in 11 games with 31 strikeouts. Not enough to keep Drew Smyly at bay, but enough to charm his way into a starting role in Pittsburgh out of camp.

Card #104- Josh Van Meter, Arizona Diamondbacks

The former Reds prospect who found himself buried behind a strong infield last year, Van Meter found himself dealt to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Archie Bradley. In Phoenix, Van Meter bat .194, which was, to be fair, 150 points higher than his average in Cincinnati, and had 5 RBIs in 12 games. I'm not sure how he'll factor into the D-Backs' 2021 roster picture, but hopefully his average will come around.

Card #105- Brian Goodwin, Cincinnati Reds

Speaking of the Reds, the other deadline deal they made was to fleece Brian Goodwin from the Angels to provide outfield support, or, more likely, to block Aristedes Aquino from getting any playing time. Unfortunately, the second Goodwin arrived in Cincinnati was also the moment that Shogo Akiyama started hitting, so Goodwin's 20 games of .163 hitting weren't especially needed. He's looking to make the Pirates this spring. Godspeed to him.

Card #106- Dinelson Lamet ASG, San Diego Padres

After a surprising late-season push in 2019, Dinelson Lamet certified himself as one of the deadliest arms in the NL West, with a 2.09 ERA in 12 games and 93 strikeouts. It was a performance that was shortened due to an injury RIGHT BEFORE THE PLAYOFFS, but in a regular 2020, Lamet would have still made the All Star team, and pitched an inning or so of solid stuff for the NL.

Card #107- Code Heuer, Chicago White Sox

The surprisingly impressive White Sox relief canon of Bummer and Fry added a new homegrown arm, this time Codi Heuer, the rookie who proceeded to let all of Chicago know his name in 21 games, with a 1.52 ERA and 25 Ks in that timeframe. Heck, he even got some postseason numbers, even if the A's did beat him up a little. Sure to have a big role in the 2021 postseason effort.

Card #108- D.J. LeMahieu ASG, New York Yankees

Here's a shocker- D.J. LeMahieu would end up a few votes short of the starting second baseman job for the AL. And he'd lose to a fellow AL East infielder as well. That shouldn't diminish LeMahieu's season, where he excelled once again for the Yankees despite a brief injury setting him back a bit. Thanks to a new contract, the Yankees seem to have found their 2nd baseman for the 2020s, and hopefully LeMahieu keeps up the fantastic work.

The next 9 cards are set for Monday. A few standard commons for this set, and one or two very odd sights.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Finding Nimmo


So now that we've had some time to get a clear picture of the New York Mets going into this season, let's see what you're working with.

Right now, two thirds of the lineup is hitting well. McCann, Lindor, Pillar, Conforto, Nimmo and Alonso are all hitting for average and impressing people. Conforto, Nimmo and Alonso shouldn't be surprising because they've been hot for the last few years, but Pillar is picking up where last year left off, McCann is looking like a fantastic choice for starting catcher, and Lindor is making an extension look like an excellent idea. It's only Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith who really aren't hitting, and those two can find their averages as they go. It's also looking like Luis Guillorme is gonna be a great bench presence while Jonathan Villar and Albert Almora might not do a great deal.

As for the pitching...aside from deGrom and Stroman, who both look incredible, the rest of the rotation options look...modest, if anything. David Peterson looks slightly shaky, and Jordan Yamamoto is looking more functional than anything so far, but Joey Lucchesi is looking at a bounce-back year, and Taijuan Walker is looking sharp for the second year in a row. So while we may need to wait a bit for Thor and Carrasco to heal, having Lucchesi and Yamamoto as options may not be the worst thing.

And Miguel Castro, Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Trevor May and Aaron Loup are all looking sharp out of the bullpen. So...if the team's looking this good, even after injuries have been taken into account...does that mean the Mets are gonna compete like the sportswriters are saying they will?'s really a case of whether or not the team is peaking too early. That's the biggest struggle right now with everybody in camp- are people peaking too soon, are teams being overworked due to the lack of minor leaguers relieving them? There's a reason so many players are getting injured right now, because there hasn't been as gradual of a ramp up to playing longer games as there has been in recent years. You can't just start at full capacity if you haven't played at full capacity since October, you have to work towards that. And so the players who are working too hard early are getting hurt, and that's a problem for lots of teams.

So is there a chance that guys like Pete Alonso, Marcus Stroman and Francisco Lindor could peter out quickly into the season due to how soon they're catching fire? There is. There's also a chance that this team could get banged up as we go and the momentum may not last. But if you were to capture this current momentum in a bottle and bring it to September, it'd probably get to the playoffs. So the Braves, Marlins, Nats and Phillies are going to need to work hard to stop the Mets from either being the division winner or being the spoiler again this year.

Coming Tomorrow- Eloy Jimenez just landed on the IL. Guess who just got a lot more playing time?

Demolition Mancini

 This is the absolute wrong way to start a post about a player who recovered from cancer, but, uh, IN THE MOVIE DEMOLITION MAN...

Sylvester Stallone's character is unfrozen after years of incarceration in order to aid the new police force. However, while he was frozen, everything has changed, including the scope of society, and the softened edges of policemen in general. 

Now, I'm not saying that the Orioles team Mancini is walking into only has Taco Bell as the only restaurant option, but thematically there are similarities. When Trey Mancini left the Orioles, there was no hope, no pitching, and some veterans like Jonathan Villar and Andrew Cashner holding things up. It was absolutely dire, and it was a dark and gritty place to do some damage.

But in 2021, things have changed drastically. There is a pitching staff, led by John Means, and featuring potential young stars like Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin, and they could potentially get things done this year. There are more homegrown stars around the Orioles lineup, and people like Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins are finally playing to their potential. Plus, this season the Orioles actually managed to get decent veterans from around the league to help out, and Freddy Galvis, Maikel Franco, Yolmer Sanchez and, yes, Felix Hernandez are all looking at crucial roster spots. The veteran additions aren't looking like they're here to overshadow the youth movement, as I imagine people like Franco and Sanchez will be phased out as Luis Urias and others find their stride in the majors.

So...Trey Mancini's return means that, while this team could still be a last place team, they're further towards good than they were when he left. Which is a start.

Like last season, a lot of wild things could happen to the O's this year, especially with a solid star reattached with Mancini. Him, Santander, Mountcastle, Means and Severino could all do great things this year, and the slow train of young players could keep delivering hits [I don't think Rutschman is ready yet this season but you never know]. Considering that the top four teams intend to be good this year, even Boston, I'm still not sure if the Orioles are a last place team or not, but even if they are, they'll be a better last place team than they've been in years.

Coming Tomorrow- An outfielder waiting for a huge season for his team that may or may not be happening. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Blackmon Rising


In the fateful words of Rob Schneider, "OH NO. WE SUCK AGAIN!"

Nolan Arenado, Daniel Murphy, David Dahl and Tony Wolters are all gone. The other three pieces weren't as essential, but Nolan Arenado was the core of this team, and taking him out of the equation is going to make the 2021 Colorado Rockies' season look like a long, slow descent into nothingness again. 

However, enough of the core remains that they could be semi-alright this year. The rotation of German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Kyle Freeland and Jon Gray has stayed intact. Senza and Freeland are on the right track right now, but that core four hasn't been split up by trades...yet. At this rate, Marquez could be gone by July. 

And the two big pieces that remain with this team, Charlie Blackmon and Trevor Story, seem to be on pace for strong years, but they may be just auditions for other, better rosters. Especially Story, who might as well put 'trade for me' on his back at this point.

The real story with this Rockies team is gonna be the foundation put into place for the next generation of this team. Josh Fuentes, Brendan Rodgers, Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon are still floating around and need to be hammered down to positions and claim their spots for the next several years. Raimel Tapia had a strong 2020, he needs to prove he's a player for the next few seasons as well. Ryan Castellani's still chasing a roster spot, he needs to prove he's worthy of being in the rotation at all. Dom Nunez needs to come up and prove that he's the catcher of the future.

Cause if none of this happens, the Rockies are gonna keep contracting and releasing and the cycle's gonna continue for another decade without any playoff results. Remember, the Rockies still have never finished a season in 1st place. And it's not looking like they will in 2021 either. So hopefully, some of the things they put into place this year will stay intact for the next few seasons.

Coming Tomorrow- The long-awaited return of the hero in Baltimore.

South Correa

Okay. I still hate the Astros. Nothing has changed in that department. 

Look, it was made very clear that the Astros cheated, and they didn't suffer enough for it. They still got to the ALCS last year despite finishing the season under .500, Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch still got rehired, and the majority of this team is still expected to thrive like nothing happened. That's not what penalizing means. If you penalize someone, that means you make repeated behavior a negative connotation, so they won't do it again. The Astros may not get caught cheating again, but the team they used to get to those places is still capable of winning games. 

That's really the infuriating part. We still have Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel and Lance McCullers running around this team, and they're expected to continue to do well, as are the Astros. Yes, Springer left, that's a big piece that's been redistributed, but this team could still feasibly win the division, or at the very least make the playoffs. And we don't want a team that has been caught cheating to continue to win. 

Even stranger, a lot of the newcomers are beginning to carry the load. Kyle Tucker had a breakout season last year, and is primed to have another big year. The rotation is giving people like Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy chances to have big moments. This team is shifting into a new, post-2017 era that may still be able to compete, which is pretty scary for the fans who hate the Astros right now.

Yet at the same time, the A's and Angels are also expected to compete this year, and they've made more offseason moves than the Astros, who only really leapt late for people like Jake Odorizzi. Those teams also have more peak lineup pieces intact than the Astros, who are beginning to lose theirs, and they have more flexibility when it comes to younger players. The Astros may still make the playoffs, but I don't see them thriving as much as they did in the last few years. 

Coming Tonight: One of the few stars still left in Denver. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Not Kuhl


Ten years ago I was in Pittsburgh and caught a game at PNC. It was the glittering instance where the Pirates, who had been bad for the last 18 years, were creeping towards 2nd place, thanks to Andrew McCutchen. They did end up losing that night, to the last-place Astros no less, but it was nice to see the beginnings of promise from the once dead lineup. 

Any trace of that 2011 promise is all but gone. The only remnant of the mid-2010s playoff teams is Gregory Polanco, and he hasn't hit for average since 2018. Everything else is a mixture of cheap contracts with nowhere else to go and the up-and-comers like Ke'Bryan Hayes and Mitch Keller waiting for a good team to be on. And as 2021 looks to be another buffering period in between interesting teams, there's really nothing left for the Pirates to do this year but...sort of exist.

Like...okay. The pitching looking very dire. A lot is riding on Mitch Keller to be ace-level when he hasn't pitched more than 11 games in a season, and just got to pitching well last year. You also have guys like Chad Kuhl and Steven Brault, who've always been meant to buttress a rotation but now have prime spots in it. And while Brault, I think, will pull something nice off, I don't know about Chad Kuhl because other than little glints in previous seasons, he's only really had the very okay 2017 season for us to base anything off of. 

The only major league deal the Pirates signed this year was Tyler Anderson. Think about that. Todd Frazier's a big deal, but that was a minor league deal. Tyler Anderson's whole thing is staying around a 4 ERA and doing well enough to be sort of noticed but not well enough to run a rotation. And that's probably what he's gonna do here, though with way less run support than in Colorado or SF. And then you have J.T. Brubaker, who, as alright as he's been with the Bucs, would be a bullpen arm in any other city. 

So...the rotation is middling but not something that breeds confidence. And as for the lineup...Anthony Alford, Kevin Newman and Jacob Stallings all have starting spots, handsomely. Even with the impressive pieces like Hayes and Reynolds, that is this team. Guys that are passable, that most people have never heard of, filling roles just to fill them. I'll note here that Alford's been having a great spring, so I could be wrong about his impact, doesn't look good at all.

Look, if they hadn't made the Chris Archer deal, they'd still have an ace in Glasnow, a steady OF bat in Meadows, and they'd have already brought up Shane Baz. Or, alternatively, they'd have already traded Glasnow somewhere like they did Musgrove and they'd be struggling to hold onto Meadows. 

The bottom line- the Pirates will be lucky if they lose only 100 games this year. It saddens me that we're back at this era of Pirates baseball, but here we are again. Just without Jason Bay this time.

Coming Tonight: I guess I do have to post a Houston Astro, don't I?

Monday, March 22, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #91-99

With a new week, comes a new 2020 Final Edition post. I guess I forgot today was monday, and didn't realize til like noon, after I'd already done the custom post for today. No worries. I guess I'll just do these 9 as the overnight post tonight. 

Anyway. Next 9 cards. Honestly, some pretty big guns as far as the 2020 season are concerned are in here. 

Card #091- Noe Ramirez, Los Angeles Angels

Since 2018, Noe Ramirez has been one of the most consistent, reliable relief options in Anaheim. Where Parker, Robles and Middleton have fallen apart, Ramirez has stayed strong. 2020 was no exception, with a 3.00 ERA in 21 games, including 14 Ks. Ramirez is hoping for a similar role with the Reds in 2021.

Card #092- Johan Oviedo, St. Louis Cardinals

As hazy as the starting pitching, at least the back half, seemed to be in St. Louis last year, a rookie start from Johan Oviedo did seem to put things into more perspective. Oviedo wasn't perfect, as evidenced by his 5.47 ERA over 5 starts, but he does seem to have some good mechanics and strikeout material that would probably benefit for a more comfortable year at it. It's not certain that he'll have a role in the 2021 rotation, but he could sneak in and make another case for himself very soon.

Card #093- Ronald Acuna Jr. ASG, Atlanta Braves

Due to a minimized role in the outfit schematic, Ronald Acuna Jr. would not notch a starting outfield spot [we'll get to the surprising keeper of the CF spot in a bit]. But he would still make the team, because...I mean, Acuna's still one of the best players in the game, and even 8/10 Acuna is still worthy of being on a potential ASG roster. 

Card #094- Josh Fleming, Tampa Bay Rays

After the injury to Yonny Chirinos, the Rays tried several things in order to fill his roster spot. The latest and, arguably, most successful fix to it was rookie hurler Josh Fleming. In 7 games, he hit a 2.78 ERA with 5 wins and 25 Ks, a pretty impressive run at things. Despite this, he was only used in relief during the postseason, and his ERA ballooned while facing better lineups like Houston and LA. Not sure if the Rays will need him as a rotation piece this year. 

Card #095- Kevin Pillar, Colorado Rockies

After a pretty good start for the Red Sox, Kevin Pillar was traded to the Rockies at the deadline. I'm still not quite sure why the Rox had so many deadline deals, especially considering their drop-off that had begun even before the deadline. The Denver air did help his pop a bit, as his average grew to .308 in 24 games, with 13 RBIs and 28 hits. If anything, he was a refreshing addition to a team whose productivity was winding down. He's slated to play for the Mets this season in their overloaded roster, so hopefully his contact abilities continue.

Card #096- Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

This is probably the most shameful exclusion from the Topps sets in 2020. Corbin Burnes could have been in flagship, but Topps was too fixated on Adrian Houser. While they weren't looking, Burnes had a mightily impressive breakout last year, with a 4-1 record, a 2.11 ERA and 88 Ks in 12 games. This was a rotation presence that didn't become too apparent until late in the season, moving the Brewers towards the playoffs just when the eyes of baseball weren't paying attention. Shamefully, Burnes wouldn't get his chance to start during the postseason, as the Dodgers didn't give the Brewers a chance to.

Card #097- Bryan Garcia, Detroit Tigers

After a miserable seven game debut in 2019, Bryan Garcia became the relief asset the Tigers needed right as Joe Jimenez began to lose his luster. Garcia came alive in 26 games, with a 1.66 ERA and 4 saves, giving the Tigers ninth inning security for the first time since Shane Greene left, and being the next step towards competing in maybe 4 years. Garcia is looking at the closing gig in 2021, and hopefully he has similar luck this year.

Card #098- Ty France, Seattle Mariners

One of the biggest pieces of the Austin Nola trade, Ty France was an infield prospect that had been blocked twice, first by the arrival of Manny Machado and then by the signing of Jurickson Profar [and subsequent call-up of Jake Cronenworth]. There was no room for him in San Diego, so he made it to a team that had plenty of room and started hitting beautifully. In 23 games, he hit .302 with 13 RBIs and 26 hits, plus a 0.5 WAR that made him the fifth-best Mariners hitter to still be on the team by the end of the season. France may have the DH position this year, and will turn this into a campaign to keep playing as well as he did last year. 

Card #099- Lucas Giolito ASG, Chicago White Sox

In a season where he would throw a no-hitter and have an unforgettable postseason start, it's only fitting that Lucas Giolito would be welcome on a potential 2020 All Star team. Gio's stuff has only improved in the last 3 years, and has become one of the premier arms in one of the most burgeoning rosters in baseball. With Lance Lynn and Dallas Keuchel bolstering him this year, hopefully he'll continue his dominance and maybe make another ASG team.

We start the 100s on Friday. One very big rookie to start and some interesting ones follow.

Robbie Rotten

 The Tigers are trying a new approach this year, it seems. And said approach seems to be 'flood the roster with dozens of young callups from the last 3 years with a few veterans, and just take a picture on the last day of camp and just go with that as the lineup'

Because my gosh, the Tigers have somehow bungled a gradual rollout of their farm system. Instead of just letting a prospect loose and seeing if they work, they've had to just bring up several young players at a time and test them out in tandem. This wouldn't be happening if the Tigers had strong players left from previous regimes- next to Miguel Cabrera, the longest-standing veteran might be Niko Goodrum or JaCoby Jones. But you have young people like Willi Castro, Harold Castro and now Renato Nunez fighting for Goodrum's old spot. And then Victor Reyes, Daz Cameron, Jorge Bonifacio and Christin Stewart are fighting with Nomar Mazara for an outfield spot. 

And it's not like most of these people can be brought down, because a lot of them are running out of options to begin with. Plus, most of them haven't entirely made a strong case for a position, hence why so many of them are running around looking for roster spots. And a lot of them are good [Harold Castro, Victor Reyes and Willi Castro all have potential], but none of them have really had moments that scream 'okay, they're the starter for 5 years' yet. So we just have this...scramble for a bit.

And it must be alarming to some of the veterans who have starting spots hammered down, like Robbie Grossman, whose A's numbers will likely keep his job sustained until at least July. Same with Jonathan Schoop, brought back as a goodwill re-signing for his superior work last year. Jeimer Candelario is looking at another strong season after he FINALLY figured out how to hit for average.

And the rotation, despite some additional youth shakiness, also seems pretty set in stone, especially considering that Spencer Turnbull's injury opens the door for Jose Urena. Mize and Skubal have rotation spots, but really need to earn them this year, especially Mize, who's yet to really show any of his minor league promise. Boyd has an ace job until the inevitable midseason trade, and Fulmer has a rotation job until he craps out again and joins Matt Harvey in Baltimore. 

And yet despite all the tumult, this Tigers team might be better than last year's. I still expect them to finish in last, but not quite as painfully. Or maybe they lose 100 games again, I dunno.

Coming Tonight- Hey, wanna see the guy that might have the top rotation spot in Pittsburgh? What do you mean 'no'?

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Living in the Past


[I had to. I just had to.]

So here's the cycle we've been working with here with homegrown Atlanta pitchers. The Braves will bring up an impressive fireballer out of the comfort of their own farm system, they'll come out to a breathtaking start, then immediately need Tommy John surgery. At which point they're out for a season or so and the Braves need to focus on another young homegrown pitcher. It's been happening for the last 12 years. It happened with Kris Medlen, it happened with Brandon Beachy, and it happened with Mike Soroka. 

So...I don't want Braves fans to get their hopes up involving Ian Anderson. Because people have been studying the way he throws ever since he was in triple A, noticing the twist of the wrist before he releases the ball, and they're all prepared for him to need Tommy John surgery. This is going to happen whether you like it or not, and Braves fans just need to accept that. 

I mean, one of the issues with this surgery being available is that pitchers will just continue to pitch the same problematic way, tempting fate, just because that if the worst case does happen, they'll just miss a year and come back stronger. The goal, I surmise, is to avoid the surgery entirely, so that you don't miss any playing time and you don't cost your team a year or so. Look at Justin Verlander- he's gonna be out for another large portion of a season because of last year's surgery. If you know the risk, it's probably a better idea to avoid doing something that will exacerbate things. But, Ian Anderson likes pitching this way, and he'll inevitably wear out his arm. Possibly this year, maybe next year. 

The good news is that the Braves seem to have a rotation that'll counteract this change. First of all, Mike Soroka will be back this year. That helps. Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Kyle Wright all look good, and Bryse Wilson and Huascar Ynoa are fine choices for a fifth spot. If Anderson goes down, the Braves have enough of a team built up that they won't need to worry. Plus, it's looking like the Braves even have security further down the line, with Michael Harris having some insane showings out of camp. Sure to be a presence in their 2023 team. 

I guess what I'm saying is I'm thankful the Braves have a team that's as strong as their farm system. If catastrophes happen, they will be ready. I'm thinking 1st place is theirs again this year, and a World Series run isn't out of the realm of possibility either. 

Coming Tomorrow- The Tigers are trying some new things this year, and this contact-hitting outfielder is one of them.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Welcome Matz


My 'Spring Training customs' Blue Jay was Vlad Jr. last year, so I wanted to pick someone different. That's why I didn't do a Vlad. I know, he's hitting like mad, but...let's see how that translates to the regular season.

One of the most surprising factors of this upcoming Blue Jays team is the near-pristine quality of the pitching. Like...yes, it's only limited innings, but everybody's doing pretty well so far. Steven Matz, the shakiest of all of the starting batch, hasn't allowed a run yet. Tanner Roark and Robbie Ray, both coming off of disappointing seasons, have 2 wins apiece. Ray has 18 strikeouts. And yes, Hyun-Jin Ryu is also looking hot as hell, but we knew that. 

So, if this five-man rotation is looking this impressive out of camp...does this mean the Blue Jays are gonna be really damned good this year?

Welllllllll....looking at the lineup, I see some areas of concern. Right now, George Springer and Marcus Semien aren't hitting very well. The team signed them for a lot of money as a way of boosting the lineup with veteran status to counteract the youth movement. And while members of said movement, like Vlad, Cavan Biggio, Alejandro Kirk and Jonathan Davis [!] are hitting well, Springer and Semien are only doing modestly. Springer's hitting .250, but he's still sort of figuring things out in Dunedin [where he will be playing home games as well]. 

Most concerningly, Bo Bichette isn't hitting either. Mr. 5-Tool only has 1 RBI in 23 at bats. And a year after an injury as well. It should be alarming, even if it is pre-season. 

So while the pitching in Toronto is looking like it could be a nice step up, the lineup isn't as strong as it was last year right now. I know it's early, I know they could figure it out as they go, but this isn't the greatest first impression. They're still winning games right now, but the people they were really counting on haven't especially come through yet. 

Coming Tomorrow- Get out your flutes everybody!

By the Gallen


2020 was the year of Zac Gallen in Phoenix. He cost the Diamondbacks Jazz Chisholm, an infielder that would continue to wait behind Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed otherwise, but he delivered the best performance by anyone on the D-Backs last year. He's also yet to finish a season with an ERA higher than 3, despite playing for such pitiful teams as the 2019 Marlins and the 2020 Diamondbacks.

2021, however, could be the year of both Gallen and Madison Bumgarner. After a disappointing year for MadBum, he's looking at year 2 of his contract with a lot more optimism, has a 3.00 ERA in his early spring numbers, and is aching for a comeback in every sense of the term. Right now, though, the only D-Backs pitchers who seem to be excelling are Bumgarner and Gallen. Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver and Caleb Smith have all struggled in spring starts, and it's looking like it's gonna be another top-heavy rotation year.

Which is fine. Having two excellent starters is better than having none. But it also means that a lot of potentially great starts could be dive-bombed by the status of not being on a great team. Yes, we're looking at strong years from Ketel Marte, David Peralta and Josh Rojas, but the majority of this team is filing into the very 'okay' category. And in the NL West, if you're registering at 'okay', you might as well not even bother to show up. The Dodgers and Padres are looking at repeating in those two playoff spots, and even competing against those two will be difficult in itself. Even more so considering that Kole Calhoun might be out for a bit with an injury. 

So while this may not be a perfect Diamondbacks team this year, I'm still expecting great things from the pitching. Gallen could turn into a league-caliber arm that everyone's eyes will be watching. 

Coming Tonight: One of two former members of the Mets rotation of 2015 now camping out in the AL East.

Friday, March 19, 2021

2020 Topps Final Edition: Cards #82-90

We're very close to polishing off the first 100 cards of this set, amending the print omissions of the 2020 Topps set. I like to think this set isn't solely relievers, as this post features a lot of rookies, some of which have gotten cards in 2021 Topps. 

 Card #082- Christian Colon, Cincinnati Reds

A former Royals prospect who was a member of the 2015 team, Christian Colon found himself in between gigs after being waived by his team. The Reds picked him up in 2019, and in 2020, Colon got 11 games in covering 2nd. Colon hit .130 with 2 RBIs, meaning he's not exactly in the race for 2nd base this training camp.

Card #083- Brandon Kintzler, Miami Marlins

Brandon Kintzler is one of those relievers that just pops up in unexpected places and strikes gold. In 2019 he was a crucial member of the Cubs, and settled into a modest middle-relief role. In 2020, Kintzler went back to closing, making the Marlins out of camp and taking the ninth inning gig. In 24 appearances, Kintzler notched 12 saves with a 2.22 ERA, gaining him a 1.2 WAR, one of the highest on the team. Now that Kintzler's proved himself a valuable relief asset, he's a favorite to make the team in Philly this year.

Card #084- Trea Turner ASG, Washington Nationals

For this proposed, theoretical 2020 All Star Game, the NL would have carried three shortstops, because you try telling Fernando Tatis, Trea Turner or Trevor Story that they're not among the best in the league last year. Because Tatis would have gotten a great deal of the votes at short, Turner would have been included as a reserve member, but I reckon he'd have finished the game for the NL team and brought some contact highlights. 

Card #085- J.T. Brubaker, Pittsburgh Pirates

In a year where pitching was not the highest commodity, spots were open in the Pittsburgh rotation almost every week, meaning rookie relief option J.T. Brubaker got to start a few games as well. His starting numbers were sullied by his last-place, ineffective team, as he had a 5.53 ERA in 9 starts. Hopefully he'll have slightly better luck this year, given a starting role from the start of the season.

Card #086- Jace Fry, Chicago White Sox

Jace Fry has been a strong, reliable relief option for the White Sox even in their ineffective years. Unsurprisingly, in a season where the Sox were one of the best teams in the league, Fry's numbers also saw improvement. His ERA jumped from the 4 zone to 3.66 in 18 appearances, with 24 strikeouts in that time. His numbers are good for his team right now, but he needs a big season to become a league-wide relief talent and branch out the way Trevor May did last year. 

Card #087- Brent Rooker, Minnesota Twins

The Twins, suffice to say, have a few outfield prospects waiting behind Cave, Buxton and Kepler. While the big one, Alex Kirilloff, didn't get playing time til the playoffs, Brent Rooker was brought up for a good 7 games, and made a nice impression. Rooker hit .316 with 5 RBIs including a home run, and is currently hitting .386 in spring training camp, having a good chance of making the team and covering for Jake Cave once or twice. If this is how Rooker hits when he gets a chance, I hope he keeps it up for 2021.

Card #088- Caleb Smith, Arizona Diamondbacks

After injuries limited him to 1 start in his beloved Miami, and as Sixto Sanchez began to make the Marlins rotation his own, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Caleb Smith. Sure enough, he was the big piece headed to Arizona in exchange for Starling Marte. Reunited with former rotation-mate Zac Gallen, Smith began to build back to his 2018 numbers, with a 2.45 ERA and 12 Ks in 3 starts. He looks to factor into the D-Backs 2021 rotation, and with Bumgarner chasing a comeback and Gallen still looking good, Smith could have a nice season on his hands.

Card #089- Cole Sulser, Baltimore Orioles

A former Tampa Bay prospect, Cole Sulser was used in several roles in Baltimore this year. Initially as a closer, as well. After 5 saves, his ERA lost him the gig, and he was used in general relief, and he finished with a disastrous 5.56 ERA, putting a snag into the Orioles' bullpen reclamation project. Hopefully he rebounds this year.

Card #090- Jake Cronenworth

Brought to San Diego in the Tommy Pham trade and billed as a two-way player, Jake Cronenworth dazzled the Padres with the primary 'way', his offensive and fielding abilities, and that was enough. Cronenworth's rookie year was a smash from the getgo, hitting .285 with 49 hits and 20 RBIs in 54 games, a key member of the Padres playoff lineup, and a high WAR scorer on a team with Tatis, Machado and Lamet on it. Cronenworth came 2nd in the ROY voting last year, and seeing as he still seems to have the 2B gig down even with Ha-Seong Kim and Jurickson Profar in the mix, he's bound for another strong season in 2021. 

The next 9 come on Monday. A few fun traded players in here.