Saturday, April 30, 2022

Somebody Get This Man an MVP

 


The Guardians' rebranding could have been a disaster if no one was paying attention.

A major team name change in a long-standing market, hawked by Tom Hanks trying to save its street cred, in a year where the team itself might not be too competitive, and might be at the risk of losing its star player. I think of so many other rebranding years, like the Brewers' first year in the NL, the Astros' first year in the AL, the Nats' first year in Washington, the Marlins' first year after the 'Miami' rebrand, and it's a bunch of disasters with players leaving, bad decisions and meh play overall. 

So...to set themselves apart from the pack, the Guardians re-signed Jose Ramirez, and in response he got off to another incredible start. 

Jose Ramirez has already been one of the best players in the game since 2016. He's been a steady rock at 3rd base, a contact superstar, and a power bat, AND he's beloved in that clubhouse. The kind of formational player most teams dream of, like Joey Votto or Miguel Cabrera. Ramirez is only 29 and I see him going into that category.

Right now, Ramirez is leading the league in RBIs and in total bases, he has 7 home runs, 27 hits and is hitting .360. And he already has a 1.5 WAR. I don't know about you, but I think somebody might be a little cross about just barely missing an MVP the last few years.

It's the worst luck in the world. I thought he had it in 2020, but Jose Abreu came through. I thought he had a shot last year but Vlad and Ohtani brought him down to sixth. And through it all, Ramirez has accumulated 33.0 total WAR since his breakout year in 2016, which is more than a lot of people can accumulate in an entire career. That is him in six and 1/6th seasons. In his absolute prime. And I think that's pretty damn good.

I'm beginning to think that this season might be the 2020 season in terms of MVPs, but for third baseman. Cause, brawl notwithstanding, Nolan Arenado's playing incredible baseball right now, and Ramirez is playing miles above pretty much everybody. And these are two guys who might be Hall of Famers and deserve an MVP, and if it's not this year I don't know when it'll be. I know it's early, I know we're only a month in, but it'd be great if that happened. 

There's not really a lot to report about the rest of the Guardians, though that rotation, Civale notwithstanding, is a pretty nice start. I think this team is a bit more humble after being swept by some great teams, but I don't think they're out of it yet, especially as the White Sox are still falling. They can still be a decent spoiler in this division, and Ramirez can certainly help that.

Coming Tomorrow- A man named Greene on a team named Red. 

Not Even Off of Edwin Diaz?!?!?


 I had this whole post drafted and scheduled...and then the Mets no-hit my team.

And it's a little awkward now, cause here I was saying constructive things about them, and then Tylor Megill and the gang go and absolutely blank them at home. I knew the Mets series would be tough, but not 'can't even do anything against Joely Rodriguez' tough. The other night, this team was having a great time braising Ryan Feltner, and now, faced with a better team, we can't do anything? Is this really what we're up against, once again?

It's awful. Absolutely awful. Happy for Megill, Lugo, Rodriguez, Diaz, the whole gang. But man do I wish some of the energy I witnessed was on display last night.

Here now, the post I originally had drafted, with some minor alterations-

A few notes on the 2022 Phillies, after seeing them beat the Rockies a few days ago:

  • Alec Bohm, it seems, is gonna be one of those jekyll and hyde type infielders, like Rickie Weeks, Jason Kipnis and J.J. Hardy, who's incredible one year and mediocre the next. I thought he was fantastic his rookie year, and thought he was dreadful last year. The other night he was throwing some contact hits in, playing better in the infield [though not without some mistakes], and looked to be more of his 2020 self. I'd love to see more of it. Kid's tied with Bryce for the lead in RBIs with 14. You love to see it.
  • The pro-offense schematic is gonna be problematic if we're gonna continue to start Schwarber, Herrera and Castellanos in the outfield. There were a few plays on Wednesday that could have sopped up runs had there been a better outfield. And I do get it- Roman Quinn and Matt Vierling are better defensive players but neither of them are hitting right now. This would be helped a bit by Mickey Moniak if he wasn't hurt. I get it. But I worry that the outfield is gonna lose us some games, especially against fellow competitive teams like the Mets.
  • Not that they especially needed them the other day, but a game without them really reminded me of how valuable Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto are to this team. I know J.P. Crawford has become a big star after getting some room in Seattle, but it remains to be seen if that ever would have happened had he stayed in Philly. Segura, meanwhile, has slowly found his way into a nice position as a versatile bat with great infield perks. J.T. is still J.T. Undeniably the best player on this team, still a great defensive catcher, and skilled at so many useful aspects the Phils have needed help with. Yet neither of them could get hits off of the Mets' pen when it counted.
  • The bullpen isn't quite as terrible as it has been in recent years, but you can't get them all working in one night. The other night Jose Alvarado and Jeurys Familia were being testy and Brad Hand was efficient, and then Thursday night Hand was the tricky one. Then Nick Nelson goes and nearly gives up more points when we're already being no-hit 3-0. It's also upsetting to see Cristopher Sanchez, who looked so good in Spring Training, to be struggling so much thus far. I do think eventually he'll handle a starting position with gusto, but he needs to get used to the majors a bit more.
  • I give Dombrowski credit for finding useful players from other rosters. Garrett Stubbs, Johan Camargo, James Norwood...all really sharp pickups that have paid off for us thus far. I also credit him for giving us middle relievers like Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia and Corey Knebel, and paving the way for Knebel to become a great closer again.
  • Right now Realmuto, Harper, Castellanos, Gregorius and Bohm are hitting, and Hoskins and Schwarber are not. I would like us to get those two to the level of the rest of the team without losing the rest of the team. 
I will be seeing these guys again next Wednesday against the Rangers. I hope they're similarly sharp then. And maybe they can put up some points against the Mets in this series. Anything. I'll take ANYTHING.

Coming Tonight- He's locked up and searching for an MVP. Will this finally be his year?

Friday, April 29, 2022

Revenge of the Openers

 


After a few years at bay, aided by genuinely sharp starting pitching and a 1st place mentality, FOLKS...THE OPENER IS BACK IN TAMPA.

Believe me, with the lack of Ryne Stanek in Tampa, one would assume that any inclination towards beginning a game with a 1-inning opening spot by a relief pitcher had died off, but no. We have plenty of relievers ready to start games and then give it to the rest of the pen. J.P. Feyereisen, Jeffrey Springs, Matt Wisler, Tommy Romero. The all hands on deck mentality of Kevin Cash's earlier Rays teams has come aboard in the pitching staff, and it's for one of two reasons:

1. The Rays are no longer a guaranteed first place team so they can go back to sneaky, lower-tier seed tactics like they did in 2018.

2. The Rays only have three active starting pitchers.

It's probably the second one.

The Tampa Bay Rays are working with only 3 starters right now- Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen and Corey Kluber. None of them were starting games for this team a year ago. And now here they all are. McClanahan is the best of the bunch, and is the closest to ace material. Rasmussen is a bit lower key but still has a 3.50 ERA and 18 Ks. Kluber still has some decent stuff to deliver, despite not being as k-based as he used to be. 

Right now, though, the Rays are without Ryan Yarbrough, Yonny Chirinos, Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz, Luis Patino and Brendan McKay. That's six guys that could be starting games, all injured. It also makes me wonder why Josh Fleming isn't an immediate solution to start games, as he did pretty well as a starter a few years ago, but hey, Kevin Cash seems to know what he's doing. I think he knows that Baz and Yarbrough could be back soon so he's trying not to fully fill these holes, and I sort of get that. But it's still very awkward to see only 3 real starters on this team. Even if they are doing pretty well.

The Rays overall are...doing alright, I guess. This is Wander Franco's team right now, pretty much everybody else is following suit behind him. There's decent stuff from people like Ji-Man Choi, Taylor Walls, Harold Ramirez and Yandy Diaz, but right now it's really just Franco leading the charge. Which is fine for the moment, as they still have a leg up on Boston, but if they want legitimacy this year, the rest of the lineup's gonna need to heat up.

And hopefully the other starters will be activated soon enough so that the return of the openers will be a bit more of a short-lived project for the Rays.

Coming Tomorrow- Probably the best catcher in the NL now that Posey's retired. 

Giants Who Are Still Healthy

 


Well usually it's the Yankees, but this year, the team that can make a pretty good roster just using its injured list is the San Francisco Giants. The Giants started the year without Evan Longoria, Tommy La Stella, LaMonte Wade or Matt Boyd, and have since lost Alex Cobb, Anthony Desclafani, Steven Duggar, Zack Littell and Mike Yastrzemski.

THAT...is a lot of big pieces. Like...that's most of the outfield, a good chunk of the rotation, and half the infield. So naturally, the Giants have been trying to use their insane depth to cover their losses. Here's how it's been going for them:

The Rotation: The good news is that the Giants' top 3 guys are all really good. Carlos Rodon is picking up exactly where his 2021 left off and is throwing fire, with 38 Ks and a 1.17 ERA. Logan Webb is similarly still a force to be reckoned with, with a 2-1 record and a 2.96 ERA in his first 3 starts. And Alex Wood is no slouch either, with a 2-0 record and a 2.56 ERA in his first 3 starts. Beyond that, things get tricky. One thing Kapler has been trying is using Sam Long as an opener and throwing in relievers, forgetting of course that starting a game with a man named Long and using someone else as a long man is very redundant. Said long man has usually been former Royals starter Jakob Junis, who's been pretty untouchable so far, with no earned runs and 10 Ks in 2 appearances in long relief work. If I were a betting man, I'd guess that Junis will be starting games in a little bit. As for the fifth spot, when not covered by openers, perhaps there's enough room to bring up prospect Sean Hjelle? He seems to be ready. Maybe he's up next week if Cobb or Disco ain't back yet.

The Outfield: When the only starting outfielder left non-injured is Joc Pederson, the least defensively-inclined one, you know you might be in trouble. The good news is Pederson's bat is off to a nice start, as he's hitting .353 with 6 homers and 10 RBIs. The other good news is that Austin Slater seems to be in decent shape filling in at right field, and while his bat needs some work, he's a solid replacement. As for center, the Giants have been starting Luis Gonzalez, the longtime White Sox prospect, and he's been alright, hitting .316 with 5 RBIs already. Dubon is slowly becoming more of a backup choice. 

The Infield: Replacing Longoria for a bit is easy, because the team still has Wilmer Flores, who was gonna be a bench bat if La Stella was healthy. Flores is doing well so far, hitting .266 with 12 RBIs. At second, in the grand tradition of Donovan Solano, we have Thairo Estrada, he's notched 11 RBIs in that time and doing pretty well. I think he'll be a similar choice to Solano, someone who feels like a replacement choice but who warms up eventually. 

So yeah, it's all working pretty well. And at the same time, the old heroes like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Camilo Doval are working out as well. So hopefully the depth of this team will hold out, especially if more people get injured, which I hope isn't the case.

Coming Tonight: Last year he pitched a no-hitter for my team. Even as he suits up for a division rival, I'm still rooting for him.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Yordan's, Mine's and Ours

 


The best way I can describe the Astros this year is that they are a team where the two most important players are a 24 year old and a 39 year old. 

The 24-year old is Jeremy Pena, shortstop of the future, playing excellent defense and beginning to get his bat up to par. The 39-year old is Justin Verlander, who's been stellar through 3 starts, has a 1.89 ERA and is looking very much like his old self. The team's future, baseball's past, both exceeding limits at the same time.

Now...where does that leave the actual Astros here, the remnants of the playoff squads? Well it...kinda doesn't.

The majority of the once-ironclad rotations has given way to a homegrown, young base for it, and only Framber Valdez is really excelling from that. You have people like Jake Odorizzi, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy doing alright, but not excellent. Ryan Pressly's injured so you have middle relief guys like Ryne Stanek trying to take the ninth. 

And then the only real stars of the playoff squads that are still doing well at the plate right now are Yordan Alvarez, Michael Brantley and Alex Bregman. Bregman has 12 RBIs, Brantley's hitting .303 with 20 hits, Alvarez has 4 homers. And then you look over at Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, Martin Maldonado, Jose Siri and Yuli Gurriel and...nothing's really happening at the plate. I mean, Maldonado and Gurriel are entering their late 30s, but so is Brantley and he's still playing really well. Altuve not only isn't hitting, but is injured, leaving this team without a proper leadership piece. And most of the bench, with the exception of Chas McCormick, isn't doing much to help.

I'm not gonna say this is the end of the dynasty, because I've tried that and this team always comes back no matter how much you want them to be gone. But this .500 ratio after 3 weeks of play isn't...the most promising. The Mariners are killing it, the Angels are reaching their potential, even the A's are higher in the standings. They did sneak out a nice win today, but are the Astros at the point where they can take games away from competitive teams anymore? 

I'll have to see how things look after another month or so of play, but...this is not a great look for a team trying to be a dynasty.

Coming Tomorrow- In a rotation of some excellent contracted arms, this guy might be the ace.

Rockies v. Phillies 4/27/22: Trading Paint


 I don't need many excuses to hit games at Citizens Bank Park these days, but I look for convenient ones.

As the season was gearing up, the Phillies did a discounted tickets flash sale, commemorating their new players at #8 and #12, so they had 12 dollar tickets, 8 dollar tickets, and 25 dollar tickets because the guy making the discount sale can't do math properly. But I checked some out, and while the 8 and 12 ones were some of the higher levels, the 25 dollar tickets were some pretty nice field level sections, and so I jumped at a few of them. You'll be seeing another game recap in another week if all goes according to plan.

But, on one of the chillier April nights we've had in Philly, I came down into the city for a night game, against the Colorado Rockies. I got there early so I could walk around and see what was new.

Citizens Bank Park had added a few new food kiosks, like a chicken joint co-owned by Ryan Howard [which a friend told me wasn't worth it], and a Manco and Manco pizza stand [which, like the real thing in Ocean City, was a bit overpriced]. Bull's BBQ was still holding court, and Greg Luzinski himself was out in front signing stuff for folks who came by. I declined, as I still had a Bull auto from Archives from last year. 

And while there really wasn't anything new and affordable in the gift shop, I did make a note of this:


Fully stocked card shelves. At a baseball stadium in a major market. I don't even think my local Target has a shelf that's as well-stocked as this. Kinda wild to see. No, I didn't get any. Not at these prices, which, you can't even see prices on these so that's how you KNOW they're gonna get ya.

These, for the record, were my 25 dollar seats. 

...not bad at all, I think. Row 20, not far from the third base line, decent view of the field. Getting to my seats, and getting further and further down, I was a little shocked. And no, don't worry, this was the stadium with like 45 minutes to go before the start. People did show up. Not a peak crowd, as it was a weeknight and chilly, but a decent enough crowd.

Eventually, once Charlie Blackmon started running around out there, it became more real. Looking out to the Rockies, seeing Connor Joe and Randal Grichuk and those guys out there warming up. The Rockies had most of their starters, though Kris Bryant, one of the players I was most excited to see, had the night off. Similarly, the Phils had everybody big except for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto; Johan Camargo started at 2nd and Garrett Stubbs started behind the plate. 

As for the pitching matchup, the Phils started Ranger Suarez, who was a strong, if slightly imperfect compared to last year, choice. The Rockies, as their next man in the rotation pitched the first game of a double-header 5 days ago, had to bring in Ryan Feltner, who had pitched in 2 games prior to this. As I explained to my friend Mat, Feltner got lit up in his first two games, so there was a chance it could happen again in his third.

Well, almost immediately, Odubel Herrera smoked a home run off of Feltner. First at-bat of the start. Boom. I am still very hesitant to cheer on Odubel Herrera, but he seems to be back in full form. And, once again, there's not a lot of great choices at center field, and Herrera can still hit, so...I guess we're sticking with Herrera. And if he can do what he did last night, including that homer and a sac-fly that accounted for another Phils run.

The thing, though about this being a close match between two flawed yet competitive teams is that it was never truly a runaway. The Phils put up 2 runs early? Fine. The Rockies throw some singles where they ain't thanks to Joe, Blackmon, C.J. Cron and Elias Diaz, and tie it up early. Then, before anyone gets too worried, Harper smokes a TRIPLE and Castellanos brings him home. Then Didi Gregorius heats up and brings in a run as well. Then Cron has a homer and makes it 4-3. I'm not saying I would have preferred a total blowout, but the tense quality of the game did make it interesting for a bit. Especially when both teams were making mistakes, like misplaying outfield fly balls or failing to take liners. The Phils even loaded the bases on some very bad outfield work, and still managed to squeak out of it.


This slowly became a big Didi Gregorius game. Once it became official, the PA announcer made it clear that Didi had now played 1000 games at shortstop, which was pretty cool. Then during the later innings, Gregorius's bat came alive, with a 2 for 3 night including 2 RBIs and 2 hits. Garrett Stubbs of all people came up with the second triple of the game to get him home in the 6th, and then Didi helped bring the game to a 7-3 lead after an explosive 7th inning. And heck, this was the inning where Alec Bohm had a bases loaded scenario, had a small infield single that Alan Trejo could NOT GET TO in time and let a run come in. 

And then, despite the Philly bullpen's best efforts, they got through it. Jose Alvarado struggled to throw strikes and landed some batters. Jeurys Familia gave up some hits and made it tense. Seranthony Dominguez and Brad Hand got us out of innings, including a truly incredible K from Hand, who I'm kinda glad we have around this year. And then by the time the ninth came around, Corey Knebel could come around and knock the heart of the lineup out for the win. Not the save, because 7-3, but a solid closing inning. I think he'll be alright for us.

The game overall was pretty cool [literally and figuratively], and the stars, like Harper, Castellanos and Didi, definitely showed up. I was worried that after the last 2 blowouts vs. the Rockies that they wouldn't have any energy left, but the Phils looked pretty damn good last night. I hope they keep it up...especially for another week or so.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Always Be Closing: Hader the Alpha

 


I'm writing this a night in advance because as this goes out I'll be lounging at Citizens Bank Park watching the Phillies take on Colorado, so forgive me if this post as inaccurate stats.

The most important stat to open with in terms of Josh Hader is this: Josh Hader has a league-high 8 saves right now. He has made 8 appearances, and in each of those appearances, he has gotten a save. This has amounted to all but two of the Brewers' wins so far this season. Like Shane Greene in 2019, Josh Hader is the make or break man for the Brewers. And right now, he is making, and he is driving this team towards its first-month success.

I think it's a safe bet to say that Josh Hader might be the best closer in baseball right now. Kimbrel and Chapman have the best career totals, Emmanuel Clase has the best velocity, Liam Hendriks and Ryan Pressly have done the most lately...but Hader's the best. He hasn't had a down season yet. He's had 104 saves by age 28, averaging 29 per season, breaking 100 strikeouts 3 times, and outlasting all three players he's been traded for [Bud Norris, Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers]. Hader is one of those pitchers that just knows how to outsmart you in the ninth, leaving his postseason struggles aside for a moment.

I'm not quite sure what it is about Hader that's so effective. I think it's his status as one of the few long-haired, skinny closers still out there. Most of the 9th inning men right now are either big, stocky intimidators, like Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel or Gregory Soto, skinny hispanic flamethrowers like Raisel Iglesias, Camilo Doval or Giovanny Gallegos, or meek-looking craftsman like David Robertson, Mark Melancon and Jordan Romano. There hasn't been many long-haired flamethrowers guarding the ninth lately, not since Chris Perez maybe. And yes, before you stop me, there's an abundance of long-haired flamethrowing starters [Syndergaard, Mike Clevinger, Tony Gonsolin], and long haired, flame throwing middle relievers [A.J. Puk, Pierce Johnson, Dillon Peters]. Just not closers. Our days of Ecks and Turnbows may be coming to an end, but there's Josh Hader, looking striking on the mound and still getting the job done.

I do think Hader has been one of the chief reasons for the Brewers' continued success in the last few seasons. If you're safe in the ninth for a few years in a row, you focus more on the other parts, and it's allowed the Brewers to pin down their rotation, refine their bullpen, and now focus on shoring up the offense aspect of the lineup. And regardless of if Hader struggles again in the postseason, he'll have helped the team get there, and it'll be in the hands of the power hitters to keep hope alive then. 

Coming Tomorrow- The bridge from the cheating era of the Astros to the new, hopefully less-cheating-inclined era of the Astros.

The Twins Get Kraken

 


I don't know why I keep expecting the AL Central to not be weird.

This year we went in with a competitive White Sox team, and the Twins, Tigers and Guardians looking to win games now, and...once again, this means that the AL Central race is pretty hard to separate. Even more surprisingly, the White Sox have sank in the past week, and now the Twins and Guardians have been trading off taking 1st with .500 records. 

And even stranger, the Twins are getting where they're going without Carlos Correa's better average guiding them there.

The key to this Twins team, as it was last year, has been Byron Buxton. My god, that guy is incredible. So far he's hitting .351 with 11 RBIs and SIX HOME RUNS. Pretty much the same type of dominance Buxton was pulling in the first half last season has returned here, which is a relief for the Twins, who nearly lost him on a few occasions in the last 9 months. The people who have been supporting him in the lineup are not the imports like Correa, Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela, but the regulars like Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez. Nick Gordon has also been doing pretty well in a mostly bench-centric role.

It's not that the new guys are bad per se, as you can't quite call Carlos Correa a bad player. But...they're just taking a little longer to fully heat up. Correa's hitting .192 right now, which isn't good at all. Sanchez, even with 8 RBIs, is hitting .216. Urshela is at least hitting .279 but his defense hasn't been an upgrade from Josh Donaldson exactly. 

What's been most surprising about this team is that the first four guys in the rotation have ERAs under 3.50 and are all doing fairly well. Joe Ryan, the unlikely Opening Day starter, is 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 16 Ks. Bailey Ober has logged the most innings of everyone and has a 2.81 ERA to show for it. Dylan Bundy is putting his 2021 behind him immediately and has a 0.59 ERA and 3 wins already. And Chris Archer, healthier and happier, has a 3.18 ERA in 3 starts. Yes, Chris Paddack is also here, and he's still trying desperately hard to recreate his 2019 rookie year. But both the cheap imports and the young players have combined to craft a pretty solid rotation. And all this with Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda on the IL. 

This isn't a perfect team, and a lot of this team's foibles come down to who isn't hitting, but there's a lot of fun energy here, and they could go further than anyone is thinking. I still think it'll be tough to get past Cleveland or Chicago, but it could happen. 

Coming Tonight: A safe choice for the best closer in the game right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Wright Stuff

 


Kyle Wright's ascent to the top of the Braves rotation is something I saw coming during the 2020 playoffs but assumed would happen sooner than it did.

I think the Braves have been both lucky and unlucky as far as their rotation is concerned. Lucky in that they have been able to wrangle Mike Foltynewicz, Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Drew Smyly, Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson, Kyle Muller, Sean Newcomb, Ian Anderson, Huascar Ynoa, Touki Toussaint and now Bryce Elder in the same rotation space, but unlucky that they haven't all been healthy or active at the same time. It's the same thing- 4 or 5 people get injured, they call up more people who are ready, then the first people are healthy and the younger pitchers get stuck in bullpen or minors roles. All this talent, and no real accumulation or coexistence. 

Right now, the team is without Mike Soroka [...again], and they have demoted Ynoa and Davidson. Ian Anderson has a high ERA because he needs Tommy John surgery and is in denial about it. Morton's struggling cause he's 38. This new kid Bryce Elder is doing alright but is still a bit untested. Max Fried is, as usual, waiting for his ERA to come down. And above them all, out of nowhere, is whiz kid Kyle Wright, with 2 wins, a 1.06 ERA and 26 Ks. I am very happy that Wright is doing so well, and I think he's got a lot of really nice starts ahead of him. The goal, at least for next year, is to have Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Kyle Wright, Huascar Ynoa and Ian Anderson all healthy and doing well at the same time. I think that'd be a pretty scary rotation.

As for the rest of the team...nothing too special as of yet. The usual suspects of Matt Olson, Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies are surging, and Marcell Ozuna's power numbers are completely back. Kenley Jansen has 4 saves but his usual inconsistency. Dansby Swanson, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Alex Dickerson aren't hitting. Rosario might need to have a corrective eye surgery and therefore be out of commission for a bit.

I think really a lot of this team is proving that the momentum this team hit during the second half last year was really only valid in that shining moment, and bringing back a lot of the responsible players on contracts didn't exactly keep that going. Which is alright. It just confirms that a lot of what made the Braves a World Series team came at the deadline. What the Braves now need to do is to keep the dynasty going using a lot of their perennial players, without the sort of fair-weather quality that gave them rings. This will be very difficult, but it's not impossible.

Coming Tomorrow- A man that used to catch for my team, and now seems to maybe be better off?

Sox on the Run

 


    Now, there's more season to be played and all, but at the current moment it does look like my 'Red Sox will have this division comfortably' prediction may have been slightly inaccurate.

Not that this team isn't good. The core of Bogaerts, Devers, Martinez and Verdugo is still an excellent one, with all four still seeming like essential pieces. I still think Devers is one of those insane talents that don't come around often, and though he's still on his way up this year [he's only hitting .265 so far], I still think some insane production is coming. And in the absence of big guns like Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez, we still have Nate Eovaldi, Tanner Houck and, surprisingly, Michael Wacha, providing great starting power. 

The main issue, though, is that both the depth this team has promised for so long and the extensive contract work they've done in recent years is not working right now. They are being drained from above and below, and all that's left is the middle right now.

Concerning the top, uh...Trevor Story, best known for being a contact hitting, defensively-inclined big bat...isn't doing well at any of those things. He's hitting .230, only has 4 RBIs and has yet to hit a homer as a Red Sock, and his defense has been average so far. None of the extreme upsides the Rockies enjoyed have really showed up yet. Maybe it's the unfamiliarity of the 2nd base position, maybe it's a new city to acclimate to, it could be a lot of things. Or maybe it's not just Story- Enrique Hernandez, snatched last year from LA, isn't hitting either. And this is after a huge season from him, too. 

And as for the bottom up, well Bobby Dalbec still isn't hitting, and his sole homer of the season so far amounts to 1 of his 2 current RBIs. The farm system is so diluted right now that the only people being called up are minor league hangers-on like Rob Refsnyder and Connor Wong. And the only two players placed on the 'Unvax'd and Unable to Play in Toronto' list, Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck, are both farm products. I'd say they should call-up South Jersey hero Jay Groome, but considering how mediocre he's been in the minors recently, would that be any different? 

All that's really left to succeed right now for the Sox are the stars who have been established as viable options in the last several seasons. Which is good, as this team's core is up there with anyone's, but...without the substantial depth, which a lot of the AL East competitors do have, are they really a match?

Coming Tonight: Right now, the best starting pitcher in Atlanta is not Max Fried, or Mike Soroka, or Charlie Morton, or Huascar Ynoa, or Ian Anderson, or even rookie Bryce Elder. And it's kinda cool who it's ended up being. 

Monday, April 25, 2022

250 Cards for Staying Up Late

 


I think I've said this in fewer words in the last few years, but I think about where the blogosphere is now, and I compare it to where it was when I started reading blogs in late 2008, and...there's so much that's different. 

In fall 2008, there was something very homogenized about the clientele. Lots of 30something guys, 40something guys, exploring the medium and not being afraid to go to creative places, at times with the help of some substances. There was very much an undercurrent of 'well this isn't much, but it's mine'. Could you imagine that from most collectors in 2022? Especially the 'this isn't much' part? There was so much humility back then. Not that there isn't now, there still is, but with a lot of the hobby going towards eBay profiting and sites detailing who's the biggest collector of which player or who has all of the cards from x set, there's a lot less of a space to be humble. 

And that's what I appreciated about a lot of the early blogs, people like Dinged Corners, 30 Year Old Cardboard, Baseball Dad [and also TribeCards now that you mention it], and, yes, Dayf the Cardboard Junkie, who I will probably be hearing from if my Sixers end up playing his Hawks again this year. 

But one of the constants in that time, from that period in 2008 where I was jumping blogrolls and figuring out if I wanted in on it, to now, when I'm posting twice a day and churning out content, is that Night Owl Cards has been there. So the humility of the cardblogosphere will never completely go away.

I've traded with Night Owl in the past, gotten some giveaway stuff, corresponded with him on Twitter. Always positive experiences. Sometimes my inferiority complex does catch up to me, and I find myself going 'well he's this big blogger that everybody knows and he writes for Beckett Vintage, and here I am this small potato after all these years who only posts about tangible cards every so often', and of course that's BS because everyone in the blogosphere is valid and every collector has a right to network and find things in common no matter who you are. But it does reinforce that sense of community as well. You know, here you are, some kid out of south jersey, talking about card design with a journalist and writer from the Buffalo area. All on the same team. 

A little while back, Night Owl Cards hit 5,000 posts. A very impressive feat, even without the knowledge that as I write this, I am sitting on 4,588 posts. But, you know, Jared Leto has an Oscar, even mediocre talents can fall into impressive statistics. So obviously I'm glad Night Owl got there. And to commemorate, he introduced a big, sprawling giveaway where he'd both part with 5,000 cards of his own collection and give a bunch of 250 card repacks, the likes of which Fairfield WISHES they could match up to, to the bloggers and contemporaries he's written alongside for all of these years. A worthy feat, one I knew I needed to get in on.

A few days ago, the results arrived on my front step. When I say that the contents of this 250-card package surprised, impressed and amazed me, I am not putting in a hyperbole to coerce viewership. This, like Night Owl himself, is the real deal. So, away we go:


Sifting through the package, I first began to see some things that I assume Night Owl already had a copy of, hence these Dodgers inserts and Panini issues. I somehow still have a soft spot for finding the Topps design reprint inserts in the wild, as they sort of connect back to my bread and butter in customs. 

I remember reading that Night Owl was building the 80s Baseball Immortals sets, of which I have a bunch of somewhere in this house. So it was nice to see a few mixed in, including a very smiley Bill Dickey.

I also know for a fact that Night Owl went after the 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes set, a fan favorite of a lot of modern collectors, especially for its underrated checklist subjects. You never see modern cards of Larry Bowl or Oscar Gamble. And, hey, a new McGriff is always gonna work for me.

Though these were random repacks, there were a few cards in here that I assume were tailor made to specific collectors. So there were some Yanks and Phils in this package. I've stayed far away from Topps Fire over the years, mostly due to the superfluousness of the set, but these are all welcome. I like the more stylized later designs, like the 2 2020s on the right. 

Yankee inserts I did not have. Most shocking that the 2011 Diamond Duos one didn't come my way eventually. 

Stadium Club base. I did not have that Posada, that is pretty damn awesome.

Yanks rookies old and new. Night Owl is the second blogger in the last few months to add an integral Gary Sanchez rookie to my collection. Even if he's in Minneapolis right now, I kinda still root for him. And again, it's the kindness of bloggers who have been singlehandedly contributing to my now-burgeoning Clarke Schmidt collection. It's honestly very cool to currently have both a Yankee pitcher with my first name [Mr. Montgomery] and a Yankee pitcher with my last name [Clarke up there], and they're both doing well. I want Clarke to succeed, and he seems to be on the right track. 
And that Ian Kennedy rookie is another reminder that 2008 Upper Deck Timeline is an underrated little trip of a set. You can argue it paved the way for Panini Chronicles. 

And some Phillies heroes as well, old and new. Abreu and Thome I grew up watching back when Citizens Bank Park was new. Bohm and Hoskins I'll be watching in a few days when I head back to CBP. That Hoskins rookie Beam Team is pretty awesome. 

Owing back to the repack mentality of this package, a slew of modern Topps inserts were in here. Someone, probably me, needs to go back and assess the subjects of Topps' 2010 'Topps 2020' insert set, and see how accurate they were in picking them. Longo made it to 2020, though not as a Ray. 

Some surprise early-2010s shiny also appeared, courtesy of underrated turn of the century Yankee Freddy Garcia. I file him in the Javier Vazquez category of just being really good without being a superstar for a while. 

Some Topps rookies, including a rare look at Mitch Haniger on the Diamondbacks, and a welcome appearance from Kyle Higashioka, who had better start hitting one of these days.

In addition, some shinier, cooler rookies as well lay in here. I am not sure if the Nasty Nestor multi-K game had happened before Night Owl sent the package, but having a Nestor Cortes Chrome rookie arrive as he was becoming such a Yankee hero was very good timing, and a great sign. And while I came into contact with Villar's 2011 Astros Bowman XRC a few cards shows ago, his zero year Phillies XRC from 2010 Bowman Draft was new to me, and was very much welcome. Of course, a reminder that Villar was a piece of the Roy Oswalt trade.
A few Stadium Club photos that, I believe, were new to me.

As I said earlier, this box was good for giving me cards from products I didn't always go for. For instance, a bunch of Topps Fire, including a pre-Yankee Donaldson.

Some Bowman chrome and regular excerpts, including a non-rookie but still pre-playing Jesse Winker, and a Ryan Howard from the end of his career.
A lot of the Archives cards were ones I already had gotten as part of my set chases, but could now go into my main collection. Roberts' and Spahn's are pretty cool.
Some assorted Heritage stars. I know people have talked about the normalization and downturn of Heritage since it went out of the 50s, but I still like a lot of these sets. I do agree that the fake backgrounds are a bit much.

Some A&G highlights. I don't collect a ton of Allen and Ginter when it's out, so these were pretty cool, especially the HOFers, and the rare instance of Jonathan Lucroy in Anaheim. 

A card of reggae royalty Ziggy Marley. I'm certainly not saying no to that.

The package also did highlight a lot of usual repack subjects, like 90s cards. But unlike a lot of repacks, this one had some excellent star selection. Guys I collect, like Lee Smith and Kenny Lofton, great cards of Lou Whitaker and Jim Abbott, and a Pinnacle subset of Jim Edmonds

Some later 80s stuff made an appearance as well, like 1999 Fleer Tradition and 1998 Leaf Rookies and Stars, featuring an always-welcome Wade Boggs Rays card.

Inserts and subsets. That Bo cards is awesome. The Biggio insert also highlights Chuck Knoblauch. That Gwynn Counterparts has Brett Butler on the back.

Yankee inserts. That Mattingly from 96 Lead was new to me, I'm down for that. And that is a very cool Roger Maris insert from the underrated Ted Williams sets.

It was cool to see a few dupes from Night Owl's Musicards set collecting quests in here. Never thought I'd see M.C. Hammer wind up in one of these posts. And hey, Zeppelin in '78 in San Francisco sounds pretty awesome. Especially considering that Neil Innes' Bonzo Dog Band was opening for them. If you're a Monty Python fan, you know how cool that would have been. 


I don't even watch Eastbound and Down but I got a chuckle out of this one. 


And, of course, there was some 80s action in these repacks. But not just 80s commons. Cool stuff. A Dan Quisenberry card from 1981 Fleer. A Mickey Tettleton ROOKIE from 1985 Fleer.

And lots and lots of oddballs, food issues and extra sets. This was cool, considering I'd done customs of K-Mart Dream Team and Drake's Big Hitters. 

And yes, the granddaddy of food issues made an appearance as well. I knew that Night Owl would be throwing some decently-conditioned Kellogg's cards in, so even with that knowledge it was a nice surprise to see a Dave Kingman card from the 1980 set. I haven't acquired as many of these as most collectors, but these are pretty cool.
And yes, there were even cards that might be considered vintage mojo. A 1978 Steve Carlton, even if it's not new to me, is always a welcome pull. Additionally, it's great to find Dave Parker cards out there as well, as he's slowly becoming a collection favorite.

And the big reaction from me came from this one...

I...I think I might have double-taked.

I have found a great deal of 1970s cards, even 1970s rookies. And yet the Jack Morris rookie has eluded me, maybe because I've taken a step back in vintage collecting in the last several years. So seeing this fall in the middle of the giveaway box took me aback. And it's in pretty decent condition as well. Morris I have a lot of respect for as a pure strikeout artist, and as a consistent fireballer. So this was insanely cool, and will go in a nice spot in my collection next to some other similar 70s rookies. 

So yeah...so much cool stuff in this giveaway box. Thankful for bloggers like Night Owl who are still at it and still showing their generosity all these years later. I'm also thankful for Night Owl because he still managed to surprise me several times throughout the opening of this box. 

This is why I'm still at it, all these years later. For cool stuff like this to come my way. And the pursuit of that feeling will likely leave me at it for a while longer.

Cron Justice

 


So, uh...the Colorado Rockies aren't doing too badly right now. 

I was expecting the NL West to be a three horse race between LA, San Fran and San Diego, but I also never completely counted the Rockies out, especially after getting Kris Bryant when no one expected them to. So their 10-5 record after 2 and a half weeks of play is...while not completely surprising, pretty impressive. Especially considering that Kris Bryant, hitting .300 but not exactly scoring well in the WAR category, isn't really the main reason why the team is doing well.

Right now, that overpowering force running the team is C.J. Cron, coming off the best season of his career. As I write this, he's leading the league in both home runs and RBIs, he's hitting .283 at the moment, and he's looking like a very solid piece of this team. I did expect someone like Ryan McMahon to fall into this role, but it's something I think he's going to work towards. I do think that, with Story and Arenado gone, McMahon will eventually ascend to the top of this team, but he is hitting .216 right now and taking a bit longer to fully heat up than he did last year. 

You're also seeing a lot of loose ends of this team come together. Yonathan Daza has been an excellent bench bat. Randal Grichuk is finally turning into a pretty decent outfield piece now that he's out of Toronto. Connor Joe is picking up where last season left off and being an excellent DH option. Jose Iglesias has a surprising amount of pop left. Elias Diaz works as an everyday catcher. And this Alan Trejo kid could be something.

My worry is that the ironclad rotation we've had is gonna begin to unwind now that Senzatela's off his stuff again. The way the rotation works, I'm supposed to see Senza at CBP on Wednesday, but I don't know if he'll be on enough rest, so it'll either be a bullpen game or a newcomer will have to enter the fold. And as is, Gomber and Marquez are good enough, I suppose, and the best of these guys, Chad Kuhl, is off to a very good start that I worry he won't be able to sustain. As good as Tyler Kinley, Justin Lawrence and Ashton Goudeau are, the bullpen is putting in a lot of older guys that give up a lot of hits, so I'm not sure about that either.

The thing about this Rockies team, especially when your team's about to play them, is that they very well might show up in a big way. But they also might not. So I'll keep my options open for now.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the many OMG talents on the Red Sox right now.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Rangers Update: That Didn't Really Work, Did It? Edition


 So...I could have probably predicted this, but, here: The Rangers signed four big pieces prior to the season: Corey Seager, Jon Gray, Marcus Semien and Kole Calhoun. Right now Gray's injured, Semien isn't hitting and Calhoun's hitting .200. Seager is hitting .259 with 14 hits and 8 RBIs. And even with all of this, the team only has 5 wins.

I don't know why teams keep expecting immediate success from this model. You build the team then you add the contracts, not vice versa. 

What's at least reassuring about this Rangers team is that some of the slowly expanding core is actually doing something. Nate Lowe, much like last April, is off to a nice start. These kids they have, like Jonah Heim, Andy IbaƱez, Nick Solak and Eli White, aren't doing anything earthshattering, but they're keeping things moving, doing a decent job. It's a very low-key, not flashy at all core of a team, doing fine. And fitting that with these flashy free agents, like Marcus Semien and Kole Calhoun, isn't a great fit. It'd be great if Semien was hitting like he was the last few seasons, but he's under .200 and struggling. 

I think more of a preview of how the Rangers should be rehabbing their roster is the rotation. Jon Gray is injured, but even when healthy he acts as a lower-key, handy piece to build around. You also have a a couple of cheap free agents like Martin Perez and Garrett Richards who don't have to own the rotation but can keep it going [Perez is doing well, Richards is mostly out of the 'pen]. And then they can build the younger people up. Then there's less pressure on Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn to succeed immediately, and it allows newer prospects like Glenn Otto to wow people who aren't expecting them. 

Still, the team's a mess, and putting some free agents on top of it isn't solving the problems immediately. Perhaps they'll blossom over time and maybe more of a long-game plan, like the Phillies I suppose, but...with the Angels, Astros and Mariners doing better than them right now, it's not the greatest look, even with Seager playing like his usual self.

Coming Tomorrow- A guy who, for the first time since 2017, is staying on a team for more than one season, and is also currently leading the league in home runs and RBIs.

You Seiya Want a Revolution

 


Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs scored 21 points against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were able to do this without Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Joc Pederson or any of the plethora of Cubs regulars who have left in the last few years. This puts away the belief that everything that made these Cubs teams great was shuttled out the window at the earliest sign of collapse.

Not everything. Not yet.

Why else would the Cubs leapfrog San Diego in the race for Seiya Suzuki? The Padres had him, Yu Darvish was helping him pick a neighborhood, it was a done deal...and yet he still chose the Cubs. Clearly he knew what this team still had. Because Suzuki has jumped right into the mix and is performing already like an MLB regular.

To give you an idea of the battery damage this team can do, everybody in the lineup except for Rafael Ortega was responsible for an RBI. Every Cub who appeared got at least one hit. 5 players got 3 or more hits- those players were Seiya Suzuki, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner and, surprisingly enough, Alfonso Rivas. Rivas had a 5-RBI day as well, putting him onto the radar loudly, and giving the more modest Frank Schwindel some serious competition. Hoerner, Contreras and Jonathan Villar had at least 3 RBIs as well. And all the while Kyle Hendricks, who I thought was cooked last year, went 7 innings allowing only 2 hits and no runs. 

I'm not implying that these same Cubs are going to show up every game. And I'm not saying it's because it's this specific Pirates team, and Zach Thompson, that bring it out. But if this is what this team is capable of...we really have been underestimating them.

Nico Hoerner is finally hitting at an MLB level. David Robertson and Mychal Givens have been on point in relief, and it's a joy to see Robertson truly excel in the ninth again. Of all the non-Hendricks starters, Drew Smyly has been the surest bet, though Marcus Stroman is working on it. Wisdom, Happ and Contreras are ensuring that the power core of this team isn't dissipating when the regulars leave. So many good baseball things are happening, and I'm glad that they seem to be in the race, even if the Cardinals and Brewers might be a bit more conventional.

I hope they, and Suzuki, keep it up.

Coming Tonight: One of the top free agents of the offseason. Wonder if he picked the right team.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Right Back to Where We Started From

 


I like that we have multiple cases this season of players returning to the place of greatness for themselves and appealing to all their old fans. The most obvious case of this is Albert Pujols coming back to St. Louis, but we also have Stephen Vogt coming back to Oakland, Ian Kennedy's return to Phoenix, and Jesse Chavez returning to Atlanta after like 3 months away. 

But I honestly think Zack Greinke suiting up for the Royals again might be the most sentimental.

Keep in mind, back in 2006 or 2007, Zack Greinke's career could have been dead in the water. After coming up as a crafty starter with high velocity, the anxiety of the big leagues and the lack of proper run support in Kansas City made for a very difficult time for him, and heading into the 2007 season, no one was quite sure what exactly would become of Greinke. That was 15 years ago. Essentially every year since has been nothing short of incredible. Greinke becomes a starting fixture in KC from 2007 til 2010, wins a Cy Young award and an ERA title, finds fame and fortune in Milwaukee, LA, Phoenix and Houston, gets another ERA title, his 200th win and enough strikeouts to make 3000 a possibility, and cements his status as a cerebral pitcher that probably will wind up in the Hall of Fame. 

Part of me honestly thinks he'll go there as a Royal, too. The heights may have been in LA, but like with most non-KC places, it took a little while for Greinke to get going and find his rhythm. He's had the most tenure, and made the most difference, while playing for the Royals. And I think they'll take that into consideration. You can tell by this season that Greinke feels especially at home in Kansas City.

Even more evidence for that- through 2 and a half weeks of play, Zack Greinke is the Royals' top WAR earner, and has a 2.25 ERA through 3 starts, despite only throwing 2 strikeouts. This is an older, craftier Greinke with less velocity, and he's relying more on craftsmanship, as well as a strong core defense. Granted, the run support isn't always there, as evidenced by his lack of a win so far, but he's still pitching as low-key and as strongly as he wants to. I think it's the lack of pressure, too. He's out of the spotlight, out of the playoff race. Some people, like Verlander and Wainwright and such, can eat that sort of thing up, and Greinke isn't one of those people. I respect that.

The Royals might not amount to a whole lot this season, but I think that if they get a great season out of Zack Greinke, especially if he bows out afterwards, it'll be a sure highlight.

Coming Tomorrow- 14 years later, the Chicago Cubs have another Japanese rookie ready to rock your socks off.

Liberty Bell


 First of all, I think it's pretty cool that Ryan Zimmerman can hand off 1st base to someone as solid as Josh Bell in Washington. Guy essentially jumpstarts the franchise, is a fixture at third, the outfield and first, hangs it up and when he's done, there's already a Grade-A choice at 1st ready to take over. I'm glad that hand-off can be so smooth. 

Josh Bell's honestly one of the few non-Soto things going right so far for the Nats. I worried early last year that he'd struggle to recreate his 2019 success in Pittsburgh, but he's been doing really well so far this season, hitting .333 with 17 hits, 12 RBIs and 2 home runs. I'm glad that he's going more toward contact work and less towards full power, though I do see him maybe going a bit further towards homers as we go forward, seeing as he was so good at knocking 'em out for the Pirates. 

Additionally, this team has Juan Soto, and for as long as he sticks around, that's going to be a huge factor. Soto knocked his 500th hit yesterday, and him doing so at 23 is a very big deal. He's still very new in this game, and the fact that he's gotten so much done by this age is incredible. Juan Soto hopefully has enough of this power and hitting energy to last an entire career, but man it's really filling seats in DC right now, right?

Other than that, uh....not a hell of a lot going on for the Nationals right now. Nelson Cruz has finally decided to start hitting like a 40something year old, he has as many hits as he does strikeouts. Alcides Escobar's 2021 magic seems to have worn off, Patrick Corbin still can't get his stuff together, Victor Robles might be done for, and there's a guy on the bench with the super-cool name of Lucius Fox who has some insane defensive abilities but has not been able to hit. The team does have a decent closer in Tanner Rainey, some good starts from Josiah Gray and Joan Adon, and, til he went on the IL, the welcome support of Sean Doolittle. But this team seems clearly depleted, and isn't going to be able to get much done this year. 

Right now, however, they're doing better in the stands than the Phillies. I do hope that this evens out eventually, but...knowing the Phillies, this could be all April.

Coming Tonight: 11 years after a trade that shook the balance of two teams, a hero returns home.