Tuesday, October 3, 2023

The Stars Are Out: August & September 2023


What a sight this is. Bartolo Colon, after a 5 year retirement limbo period, finally officially ended his MLB career last month as a member of the New York Mets, a team that held him for just three seasons, all past what would normally be considered a pitcher's prime. One of the most unexpected developments of the last decade of baseball was the return, and deification, of Bartolo Colon. The Mets fans still love Colon, and that home run he hit against the Padres is still one of the greatest things to me. I half considered taking a train to Queens just to be in attendance for this one, but decided against it.

Bartolo Colon throwing out the first pitch for the Mets is one of a few interesting sights I collected in the final two months of the 2023, to benefit the still-ongoing Stars Are Out series.

Richard Sherman once told a close member of my family that he'd never come back to a Seahawks game again. Not long after leaving Seattle, he was still disillusioned about how things left off, and while several people tried explaining to him that he'd clearly get a hero's welcome in that stadium, despite the end of his Hawks tenure, he was still not having it. Things clearly must have changed, as Sherman decided to return to T-Mobile Stadium this year, decked in one of those swanky City Connect jerseys, to throw out a first pitch. I'm glad he's come around, he's a very crucial part of 2010s Seattle sports.

I know next to nothing about the WNBA. I know two names- Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. And I only know Taurasi because Lebron James recognized her talent enough to include her as one of the Monstars in the vastly inferior sequel to Space Jam. Taurasi's one of the all-time greats of the sport, is just winding down her career, and is clearly a legend in Phoenix, where she threw out a first pitch last month.

Similarly, Megan Rapinoe just rounded the last curve of her USWNT career, after a host of medals and big moments in the World Cup. The US team's first place dreams ended early this year, which means Rapinoe didn't exactly end on the high that her former teammates Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach did, but she still finished things off with dignity. I really like the old school Mariners jacket she's wearing here for her T-Mobile Park first pitch.

I think this one can be explained as simply as 'Garth Brooks was in town'. I don't think he's residing anywhere near the Kansas City area, I'm pretty sure he's still back in Oklahoma City though, let me be clear, I don't know much at all about country music. I can name one Garth Brooks song. Friends in Low Places. That's it. His music didn't exactly reach northeastern mainstream radio when I was growing up. He's still a legend, and he's done so much for legitimizing country music. I'm sure he got a warm welcome from Royals fans when he threw this one out.

In the same vein, Mike Love's connection with the Cleveland metropolitan area is similarly tenuous. As a member of the Beach Boys, Love is clearly from California, as that's basically a requirement for entry into the band. I think the band, or moreover Love's 'No Wilsons Allowed' reformation of the band that's fought to tarnish the group's reputation for 35-odd years now, was passing through Ohio and Love thought 'why not'. Also, Mike's nephew used to play basketball in Cleveland, so maybe that's what it is. Either way, Mike Love got a nice response, because at the end of the day he is still a rock legend, despite also being a genuinely terrible human being.

Kyle Mooney is one of those fringe comedy guys that either works for you or doesn't. I always liked him on Saturday Night Live, and thought he had more of an odder edge to him than usual comedy partner Beck Bennett. He was usually misused on the show, and he's now trying his best to find similarly rewarding post-SNL work. But it's kinda awesome that he got a first pitch out of it all; a lot of his early sketches mention SoCal, and the San Diego area, prominently, complete with I believe a 90s-era Padres cap. So this is a true fan pick, and I'm glad he was able to make it happen.

And these two kinda caught me off guard. Like...Hit Girl? Mets fan? Sure. Chloe Grace Moretz has spent the last decade or so being in practically everything; now she's in mediocre action films. She definitely has a nice career for herself, even though she may never be in something as memorable as something like Kick-Ass. But hey, she's a Mets fan, and she got a warm CitiField welcome.

And then you have Ayo Edebiri, who, between a prominent role in Hulu's The Bear, playing April O'Neil in the latest animated iteration of TMNT, and being in Bottoms, one of the funniest studio comedies in a while, has been having an excellent year. I'd call her similar to a Sydney Sweeney 'she's one of ours? get her in here before the star fades' pick for the Sox, though Edebiri thankfully did not curse the team like Sweeney did last year. I hope Edebiri's career keeps going, she's a fun, versatile young actress with a lot of great uses this year.

That's all for the regular season, though I'm sure there'll be some cool ones during the postseason.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Best of the Rest: 2023

Up until yesterday, this was a post with a ton of question marks.

I started this draft on Thursday, and that was when there was only like 2 sure things in the wild card races, and a lot of teams that I wasn't sure whether or not were out yet. And then yesterday happened, all the elimination outcomes happened and now we have a playoff picture, including a Game 162 that honestly doesn't mean much other than...happy last day of the season everybody. One or two people might hang it up after today, who knows. 

But with that suspense gone, that means it's clear who's in, and it's clear who's out. Which means what once was a very live 'Best of the Rest' post is now tamed and ready to be dissected. Because boy do we have some interesting losers to dissect. Boy howdy do we.

As per usual, I use this post to highlight the other 18 teams that did not make the playoffs and won't finish with any title or achievement, and give them high school-esque superlatives, in the same vein as 'most improved' or 'best personality' or 'most likely to work here after graduation, ya failure'. Some of these will have an undercurrent or promise, others an undercurrent of misery. All in all, every season needs to be remembered for something.

So, without further ado, here are the eighteen teams that were still standing when the music stopped, and how they'll be remembered:

Most Likely to Succeed [According to the Sportswriters in January]: TIE: New York Yankees & New York Mets

Team That Did Pretty Much Exactly What Everyone Expected: Colorado Rockies

Team That Peaked Too Early: Pittsburgh Pirates

Team That Peaked Far Too Late: San Diego Padres

Most Confused Youth Movement: Kansas City Royals

Best Squanderer of Hopes Their Fans Had in 2022: In a squeaker, the Cleveland Guardians. Narrowly defeating San Diego.

Best Squanderer of Hopes Their Fans Had in July: Los Angeles Angels

Most Blatantly Incomplete Team: San Francisco Giants

Best Pitching Staff for a Team That Didn't Make the Playoffs: Seattle Mariners

Worst Pitching: Oakland Athletics 

Most Inexplicably Incredible Bullpen: Detroit Tigers

Most Likely to Toy With Its Fans' Emotions: Cincinnati Reds

Worst Trade Deadline Luck: Los Angeles Angels

Most Depressing Team to Talk About Every Few Weeks: Chicago White Sox

Biggest Anticlimax: Seattle Mariners

Most Comically-Timed Injuries: New York Yankees

Most Shakespearean Collapse: Chicago Cubs

Most Fun Last Place Team: Washington Nationals. No way I was putting Boston here.

Most Unwilling to Recapture the Lightning in the Bottle: TIE: Boston Red Sox & Chicago White Sox

Most Likely to Not End Up on This List in 2024: San Diego Padres & Seattle Mariners

It was a hard fought season, and these 18 teams should hopefully be alright with coming away with some of these. Hopefully they'll have a little more to show for themselves next year.

September 2023 in Review [feat. Jordan Romano]


The end of the regular season is nigh. The sixth month is about to close with a bang, with several spots still in limbo [I think, I'm writing this Saturday afternoon]. As this is happening on Sunday, it also makes this the single most populous sports day we're gonna have for a while. Football on every channel, baseball if you know where to look. Everything happening all at once.

But before we put the whole regular season to bed as it is, I should at least bring this season of monthly reflection posts to a close. I enjoy doing these, it keeps my thoughts at different points in the season preserved. 

First, let's examine the 5 predictions I made last month:

1. One of the players netted in the waver deals of the last 48 hours will be a crucial figure in the race to the playoffs. Honestly, not really. Renfroe and Moore were chucked out, Giolito faltered in Cleveland, Bader got hurt again. 

2. Someone who has been hot for a while picks the exact wrong month to completely run out of steam. The Chicago Cubs? I think you're referring to the Chicago Cubs. Because man, did they completely fall apart down the stretch.

3. Jasson Dominguez is going to do something amazing, but it'll be too little, too late for the Yankees. Oh, he did something amazing, alright. And then he got hurt.

4. The battle for the top spot of the AL West is going to come down to the wire, and it will have a final outcome that nobody will expect. It's very odd that, with everything that elapsed this year, the Rangers taking, and keeping, the top spot in the AL West is the outcome that surprises people. But the Astros were being stubborn for a while, and the Mariners were leading for a month or so, so the fact they were able to come back and keep it is a big deal.

5. I'll say this, as tough as Blake Snell has been, the NL Cy Young race will be decided this month. One of the other guys is gonna jump out in front. It could be Spencer Strider. And I'll have to come back to this in November. I thought somebody was gonna catch Snell back in late August, and he responded with some of his best starts of the season. So it's looking like Justin Steele or Spencer Strider won't have enough to catch him after all. 

Yeah, not many accurate ones there. But hey, that's the risk you run. To that point, here are 5 Things from September 2023 that no one Could Predict:

1. The Padres miss the playoffs by a surprisingly close margin. Yeah, they spent the whole season doing nothing, then in September they went 18-7 and leveled their record to .500. Soto and Machado are coming away with 30-homer years, Snell lowered his ERA to 2.25, and so many things that were plaguing this team before came together. They hit their September second wind alright, but unlike last year it came after a much worse quality of play. It's a more dignified ending than I ever would have thought for the Padres, but it's still not the repeat year they were hoping for.

2. The first manager to fall is Gabe Kapler. Again, I was betting on Grifol or Marmol, as they had steeper falls. You could throw Terry Francona into this category, but he's at least managing the last few games and retiring with his dignity intact. Kapler was essentially chucked out of SF, similar to how he left Philly. And look, my surprise mostly comes because two years ago Kaplerball worked, but I feel like taking Posey out of the equation diluted the team, as there haven't been as many stars and as much of a united team effort. This year was good, but they're ending in fourth after being as high as 1st at one point. Hopefully a new manager can fix that.

3. The Olson and Acuna record breakings. Acuna's 2023 success wasn't that surprising, but just the level of it is insane. Nobody in MLB history has stolen 70 bases and hit 40 home runs before. Some people are complaining it's because of the pitch clock, and to that I ask: is people stealing 70 bases again a BAD thing to you? It's not inflating Acuna's stats, Ronnie's already that good of a player, this is just making him easier to be truly statistically great. Matt Olson I knew was having a good season, but FIFTY-FOUR HOMERS AND 136 RBIS?? That is truly insane. Yes, he's a power hitter, he does this, but...these are Barry Bonds numbers. I hope he's still able to be this useful after he turns 30, that's all I'll say.

4. The Shohei Ohtani story ends as quickly as it did. I knew that Ohtani's arm issue would at least lessen his output, but him missing most of September I did not call, and it's a crushing blow to a team that already feels like it's suffered so much this season. The Angels already got burned by Trout and Rendon this year, and they were getting so much from Ohtani, and...maybe they overtaxed him? Maybe they brought this on themselves? Ohtani's going into a free agency year with an injury that's lessened his overall value, maybe that could have been avoided. Hell, without that last month, does Ohtani get as many MVP votes? Who's our MVP if not? Corey Seager?

5. The Twins come roaring back to like. After a few months of not playing well enough to earn the playoff spot they'd landed in, the Minnesota Twins started hitting. Max Kepler, Royce Lewis, Jorge Polanco, Ryan Jeffers and Matt Wallner all started hitting. Thankfully the rotation stayed in line while this happened, with Lopez and Gray continuing their excellent seasons. The Twins' September has been nothing short of extraordinary, and hopefully this means they're gearing up for their first playoff series win in decades. 

And now, the antithesis, 5 Things from September 2023 That a lot of People Could Have Predicted:

1. The Astros cannot skate to the top with Hunter Brown, Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez pitching like they are. They just can't. Maybe they still make October, but the entitlement stops here. You got this far on borrowed time, now you have to work for it.

2. You're gonna have to do better than suspending Julio Urias if you want to stop the Dodgers. They only have like 2 starters, but they're still gonna outhit everybody anyway. 

3. Jordan Romano notches 30 saves again. I genuinely think this guy might be one of the true perennial closers left in the game, and I hope the Jays hold onto him for as long as possible.

4. Similarly, Aaron Judge has another 35+ homer season despite missing like 2 months. You cannot stop Aaron Judge, you can only hope to contain him.

5. All it took was a fully competent outfield for the Brewers to look as good as they'd felt all year. Just putting Mark Canha and Sal Frelick in there goes a long way.

Here now, the 5 Most Important Players of September 2023:

1. Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
2. Blake Snell, San Diego Padres
3. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees
4. Corey Seager, Texas Rangers
5. Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers

And now, 5 Bold Predictions for the 2023 Postseason:

1. One of the monoliths, those being the Braves, Dodgers and Orioles, will not make the CSs. I am hoping it's not the O's.
2. Like last year, a Wild Card team is gonna shock the world and go really far, and I'm not thinking it'll be the Phillies. 
3. One team loses embarrassingly. Like, think 2011 NLDS, Phils lose AND lose Ryan Howard kinda shit.
4. One player singlehandedly boosts his free agency case with one playoff series.
5. The World Series is not what any of us are expecting. It's not gonna be Braves-Rangers or whatever. It's still gonna feel evenly matched, but it's gonna be something that, even if we squint, we could never see coming.

That's been an excellent regular season of predicting things. Hopefully the next stage of this goes well. 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Dangling in Theoreticals


The fate of the Marlins' season may hinge on a game that may or may not need to be finished.

The story goes that, because the Mets-Marlins game from the other night was still a one-point game going into the ninth...an inning that was not finished due to the rain that eventually postponed other somewhat crucial New York-set games this week. If the Marlins can hang on to the third playoff spot, the game will be called as a Mets win, as it won't matter. But if the Marlins are still in a deadlocked situation after tomorrow night, they will definitely have to go all the way back to Queens and finish the last inning of that game, meaning that the Mets' eternal role as the spoiler of NL wild card races may come back into vogue. 

It is insane that the entirety of the NL Wild Card race could come down to one inning of one game that would have already finished anyway. But that is the game we're dealing with right now. 

The Cubs and Reds, as I write this, are a game and a half back. I cannot believe I'm saying this, but the Reds may have the higher probability of sneaking in because they've been hot lately. They absolutely killed the Cardinals, tied themselves with the Cubs, and went from a long shot to a slightly more possible playoff variable. Again, this doesn't happen if the Marlins hold on, but it could.

The Marlins still having the momentum in addition to still being prone to win games does make me think they might be alright. Even without Alcantara or Perez, the rotation is getting by, and they're really just narrowing their postseason options. That means that Edward Cabrera, who's been a great lower-tier starter for them, might get a playoff start if things to right, and being that he leads the team in Ks per 9 innings, with 10.7 [OVER ALCANTARA AND LUZARDO], he could be especially lethal given the right postseason picture. Not to say that Luzardo and Garrett won't be problems for opposing offenses either, but those two are the expected ones; Cabrera might be the wild card, and it'd be cool if he shifts into high gear.

Also, and this is a nice change of pace for the Marlins, but everybody in this lineup is healthy. Jake Burger has slid into the starting 3B position, Josh Bell is taking the majority of reps at 1B, Jazz Chisholm and Jorge Soler are healthy and surging, and you've got a 200+ hit season on your hands with Luis Arraez, who's sure to be dangerous in the postseason. Even the depth options, like Xavier Edwards, Jon Berti and Garrett Hampson, are really impressive. 

The Marlins, at their peak, have been dangerous, scrappy and hard to handle. Only issue is they've gone cold when it benefits them the least. It could happen now, as the postseason is on the line. It may come down to one inning in Queens. However this season finishes, be it now or next month, the Marlins should be very proud with how well this season went, and how they defied everyone's expectations despite the moment belonging, it seemed, to the Mets. 

Coming Tomorrow- Julian Merryweather had the job, then he got hurt. Then Rafael Dolis got the job, then he got hurt. The rest has been history in Toronto.

Friday, September 29, 2023

The Narrowest Possibility


There's a large probability that the Mariners don't make the playoffs. Their last three games are against Texas, they may not be able to catch Houston or Toronto, after everything in July and August they couldn't hold onto the momentum and are now hoping to hold onto something. 

And look, like a lot of people who missed the playoffs this year, like the Padres, Cardinals, Guardians and Giants, this isn't a death nell of their way of life. The Mariners will probably compete again next year, they still have so many great pieces, including Rodriguez, Gilbert, Castillo, Kelenic and Crawford, and it will really come down to whether or not circumstances are different next year, and if the division can withstand having three competitors or not. I think this season was still a net win, even if they fell apart towards the end, and the fact that they were able to go on the run they did midyear and sit atop the division for a bit does prove how much they have going for them. This is a very good team, it's just stuck in a division with two better ones. 

But even as a lot of Mariners fans come to terms with the fact that they probably won't be watching into October this year, there still exists the tiniest probability that the Mariners make it. A lot of it does have to do with the outcome of last night's game, and as I'm writing this last night, I'm not sure what happened. At this point, it could go either way. But if the Astros fall down another peg and make the deficit only a half-game, then the Mariners just need to win a game or so against the Mariners, and the Astros need to lose a game or so against the Diamondbacks. And then...y'know...

Look, I know it's unlikely. The Astros rarely ever do what they're supposed to, especially when the thing they're supposed to do is lose. The Mariners also have been very inconsistent and haven't gripped the moment like they had earlier in the year. That's what makes this unlikely. But if it does happen, it'll be one of the greatest baseball developments in a while. The Astros, after cockily trouncing their way back to 1st in the West, then skidding back down thanks to series' against the Yankees and Royals, would be the funniest thing ever, and the poetic justice this team has evaded for so long. They may evade it again, but the thought of it is pretty impressive.

The Mariners do have a lot of things going for them that could still land them a playoff spot. The pitching is still awesome, and the bullpen has evened out, with Andres Muñoz doing a bang-up job as closer. Rodriguez is finishing the season with a 30-30 season with 100+ RBIs, and for a season that was looking meh for a bit, it's an incredible outcome. And as the Kolten Wong experiment failed, Jose Caballero has risen to the starting 2B spot and has been an excellent defensive infielder, creating a really cool double play duo with J.P. Crawford. A lot is still great on this team, and that's what makes this possible, even if it's not the overwhelming possibility.

I'd love for the Mariners to somehow squeak in, especially in Houston's spot. I'm prepared for it to not happen...but wouldn't it be awesome if it did?

Coming Tonight: He took a year off, joined a cool competitive team, and...things didn't completely go as planned.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Still Cursed?


In 2016, everyone took the Cubs' winning of the World Series as the end of their curse. 7 years later, perhaps we were looking at it from the wrong angle. Maybe that outcome, the Cubs finally winning it all and still not being fulfilled by it, and shuttering the core 5 years later, was just...the continuation of the curse.

And I bring this up because the Cubs have rebuilt and were within inches of a playoff berth, and because of a game they should have won a few nights ago, botched by Seiya Suzuki making a boneheaded move in the outfield. And now they're sort of on the outside, fighting to stay in the race as the Marlins are neck and neck and the Reds aren't out of it yet. And of course, the week that their momentum is sputtering and the wild card spot is on the line is also the week where they have to play the Braves and Brewers, two very tough teams. The Braves have been calming down slightly in the leadup to the playoffs, but the Brewers may not be as kind.

And if this rocky finish does them in, it'll be a very disappointing and sad ending to a season that featured so much promise for the Cubs. So many of the pieces that the Cubs gambled on, like Bellinger, Stroman, Swanson, Nico Hoerner as a leading man and Adbert Alzolay in the ninth, exceeded expectations. Even with Bellinger probably leaving town after the season, the Cubs now have a working closer, a Cy Young-contending starter to build around, a really impressive lineup of people who aren't going anywhere, and faith in David Ross restored [as it should be]. And I really thought that at their height, the Cubs were a playoff team.

I think one of those indicators was Yan Gomes, who has always been helpful on competitive squads when he's surging. Gomes, who was supposed to back up Tucker Barnhart this year, had his best season since Washington, and is hitting .272 with 57 RBIs. He has been way more reliable as a starting catcher than anyone could have thought, especially in the wake of Contreras' departure. Obviously he's not the definitive answer going forward, and Miguel Amaya has been a decent backup, but Gomes thrives on teams like this, and if they somehow hold on and make it to October, he could be a big help. Same with people like Kyle Hendricks and Christopher Morel, two guys who could be dangerous this postseason.

It just comes down to whether or not the Cubs can get through this week. There's a chance they do, and prevail over Miami and Cincinnati, but it's not going to be easy for them. Still hoping they make it through though, they'll be fun in October.

Coming Tomorrow- Another team on the razor's edge of the playoff race, similarly faced with a tough final lap.

Tribe Swap

 After a season of being the logical 2nd place team in a division that the Twins essentially clinched months ago, the Cleveland Guardians are now looking at a third place finish as the Tigers have a strong surge to end it all. No wonder Francona's walking.

Clearly the 'contact above all else' plan that made the Guardians division leaders in 2022 did not carry over to this year. So many things that the Guardians relied upon last year, including a lot of rookie hitters, a well-developed rotation, and a lot of the quality of the bullpen, weren't really there for them this year. And in some respects, they could rise beyond that, like with the rookie-centric rotation they used this year, but it wasn't every aspect. Only Josh Naylor was a .300 hitter out of this lineup, meaning even Kwan, Ramirez and Gimenez, as awesome as they are, couldn't crack that average. Several players that were once crucial at that plate, including Myles Straw, have struggled to deliver similar contact. And even some of the young, multi-faceted guys, like Will Brennan and Bo Naylor, still have a ways to go til they can be relied on consistently.

The pitching depth is what kept this team afloat, but everybody kept getting injured. Even now that they've cracked a winning formula, Bibee and Allen are injured, and now they have to meld the newer starters, like Curry and Williams, with the now-activated Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie. And also Lucas Giolito is here, don't mind him he's completely screwed himself up since leaving Chicago. I reckon one of those guys will be traded for a contact bit during the offseason or something, cause if they're all healthy going into Spring Training that's 7 guys fighting for 5 spots, and even if Curry can be a long relief man like he is this year, it's not gonna be easy for one of the other 6 to settle. 

What will be interesting is how the Guardians do next year without Terry Francona, who's been managing the team since 2013, before the 2016 AL Champion team. They've been working with someone who'll likely be a future Hall of Fame manager for over a decade, and next year they'll have to start over and get someone less experienced. It may go as well as Oli Marmol and Pedro Grifol did this year. However, it could also go as well as it went for Rob Thomson. I just know the kind of hole Francona's absence leaves, and I remember Boston struggling to fill it immediately before eventually finding John Farrell. 

Hopefully the right guy isn't too far away, because the Guardians aren't too far from competing again, and just need the right circumstances, and less injuries.

Coming Tonight: Ironically an ex-Guardian, someone who's always been an underrated piece of competitive teams.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Bohm Field Advantage


It is guaranteed that the Philadelphia Phillies will end the 2023 season with a better record than their National League Champion 2022 season. They've already surpassed the 87 wins, and they've doubled their players with a 3.0 WAR or higher. The Phillies look like an excellent baseball team, even moreso than they did during the last regular season. 

However. Last season they snuck into the postseason, caught fire like mad and outlasted the competition. It is insanely difficult for that to happen consecutively. If the postseason lasts the whole month with 14 teams, September momentum is only gonna keep together for certain teams. The Phillies have caught fire this year, but they've also gone cold in a snap. They've also blown games thanks to a bullpen explosion, or somebody like Dylan Covey or Craig Kimbrel deciding the game wasn't over yet. 

And yet...I just feel really good about this team, in a way I didn't even feel good about the 2022 team. 

Last year, Bohm, Marsh, Stott and Suarez weren't definites to me. They felt like placeholders. And then after a while they clicked into place. Bryson Stott has been incredible this year, both defensively and at the plate; he has over 150 hits and over 30 steals, and Trea Turner's close to joining him on the steals front. Ranger Suarez has an ERA under 4 and has continued his standard of consistency. Brandon Marsh has been an excellent starting outfielder, and he's become more of a contact option than a 'strikeout-or-nothing' type like he was his rookie year in Anaheim.

...And then there's Alec Bohm. Who is so close to greatness. Bohm is within reach of an 100-RBI season, has 150 hits, and could reach 20 home runs this year. He's proved himself offensively, and has been there for several big-game moments. Unfortunately, he's absolutely terrible defensively. He has a -11 defensive WAR figure. The only way that's not the worst defensive total on this team is that Kyle Schwarber also exists. But a bad defensive outfielder isn't as bad because the Phils have Johan Rojas and Cristian Pache on hand as defensive substitutions. Bohm is a corner infielder in a year without Rhys Hoskins. The pressure is on him to be a competent defensive position player at either corner, and he's just not good at it at all. 

The hope is that the season doesn't come down to him needing to be proficient at third, because games have come down to that before, and it's not always pretty. Same with Schwarber's strikeouts, Nola's rough year and Kimbrel's blown saves. This is a team that has flaws, and even if people like Harper, Stott, Castellanos, Wheeler and Marsh have made me very happy this year, they still exist, and still could prevent this team from truly excelling this postseason. 

I'm hoping for the best, and I think the Phillies could make another push, but it's gonna take so many things falling into place, much like they did last postseason.

Coming Tomorrow- An outfielder for a team that, if their division was a little better, would still be in the conversation.

The Rays vs. The Setbacks


The Rays winning 95 games this year is impressive enough in itself. The Rays winning 95 games with only 3 games of Jeffrey Springs, a half season of Shane McClanahan, partial seasons of Brandon Lowe, Manny Margot, Drew Rasmussen and Andrew Kittredge, and their star player who they were trying to build future iterations of the team around gone thanks to his postgame habits. 

This is the power of the Kevin Cash Rays teams. They can still be one of the best teams in the league without half the powerful assets you might think they'd need to be great. 

Honestly, the Rays' depth has kept them great this year. If they didn't have Taylor Walls to once again fill the void defensively at short after Franco's departure, I don't know what they'd do. Walls is probably the bridge to Junior Caminero, the 19-year-old shortstop prospect that just landed in the majors. Walls will get the starts until Caminero proves he's 100% ready to take the reins, and that he has no intention of dating any high-schoolers. 

This same depth has kept the outfield strong despite big injuries taking out Jose Siri and Manny Margot for a lot of the year. Luke Raley, before his injury, was an excellent utility option with great bench perks and decent power numbers. Josh Lowe actually became an excellent starting OF option in the wake of Margot's injury, and has held onto the position as Harold Ramirez takes the majority of the OF reps in Siri's absence. And then you look around this lineup and realize that only Lowe and the infield fill-ins [Aranda, Walls and Caminero] are actually homegrown. Everybody else was either nicked for a big piece or came over as a small free agent helper. And it's built this surprisingly useful soon-to-be-postseason lineup.

The starting is where some of the depth runs out, because while bullpen games can continue to be the Rays' specialty, they're using Taj Bradley as a starter again. Bradley has some good perks but hasn't had a wholly inspiring season, and needs to grow into himself. At the very least Eflin, Civale and Glasnow are less liable, but you're putting a lot on the bullpen, especially one that isn't as well-trusted as previous versions. The lineup has all the depth in the world, but the pitching depth is beginning to run out, and it could sink this team long-term.

The Rays will probably do some damage this postseason. I'm not sure if they really have enough to intimidate the bigger guns this year, and may need to hope some momentum comes their way, because this team pales in comparison to their last few to me. They could surprise me, as they're very good at doing that, but I'm not really seeing the 'oh no' factor from them as much this year. And after their April, that's a sad turn of events.

Coming Tonight: A hard-hitting third baseman who just helped his team get back to October.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Rise and Paul


When it became apparent that the Yankees would not be a postseason team this year, I hoped they'd play the part of the spoiler, and take down middle-of-the-pack teams that thought they could make it this year. Hilariously, the opposite happened; thanks to a 3-game series against the Yankees, the Diamondbacks now have a firmer grasp on a wild card spot than they did last week. If the Diamondbacks make the playoffs, it will be largely the Yankees' fault.

We...seem to have that effect on the franchise.

As it stands right now, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a decent foothold on a wild card spot, though only one game ahead of the Marlins, who are the closest wild card competitors outside the bubble. If the season ended today, it'd be the D-Backs and Cubs hanging onto those last two spots, meaning a wild card race would actually result in an extra team for each division, rather than just the AL East/West invasion we've had recently. And while, as I write this, both the D-Backs and Cubs are winning their games while Miami sits, it's looking better and better for Arizona.

The Diamondbacks this year were a long-shot team whose rise to prominence made more sense the more I thought about it. The pieces had been forming, and last year had an early spike for them despite a lot of work still needing to be done. This year, some of those younger pieces, like Corbin Carroll, Gerardo Perdomo and Alek Thomas, switched into place, while some wise acquisitions like Lourdes Gurriel, Gabriel Moreno and Evan Longoria added depth and confidence. It's even made past moves look good, like the then-baffling move to grab Emmanuel Rivera last year, which has given them a strong everyday third baseman to cover for Longo's usual injuries.

And some of these moves are beginning to make other GMs look foolish. The Jays' Varsho deal may have worked out well for them, but the pieces that landed in Arizona immediately paid dividends and added two crucial pieces that have helped the D-Backs compete. And while I still think the D-Backs shouldn't have traded Andrew Chapin, especially considering that Peter Strzelecki hadn't done much for them at all, convincing the Mariners to give up their closer in the midst of a wild card chase was a daring move. Now, in response, Paul Sewald has given the D-Backs his grade-A closing material, and he's notched 12 saves in 19 games. Already the fans love Sewald, as one might assume they would. 

If the Diamondbacks do, in fact, stick it out and make the playoffs, they'll be a very scrappy, underrated competitor that could take out a genuinely great team. It helps that they're up against the White Sox this week, and may finish things off with a duel with Houston, where the stakes might be higher for the Astros than they are for the D-Backs. They're looking at an eventual playoff series with Milwaukee if things fall where I think they will [or possibly Philly, who knows where they'll land], and they could surprise some people in both, even if I don't see them going all the way.

Coming Tomorrow- A handy utility piece for a team that's had to resort to a lot of backup plans this year.

Stroetic Justice


I would like to start this post by giving a round of applause to the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals played the Astros in six games during September, a month where the Astros needed to keep winning and preserve an umpteenth AL West title, and the Royals won FIVE out of those six games. The Royals are gonna finish this season with five losses, having undone a ton of the progress they made in 2022, and yet five of their 54 wins in this season came against the mighty Houston Astros. 

In fact, the more you look at the Astros' 2023 track record, the more you realize how much they struggled against sub-.500 teams. They had crucial losses, and big losses at that, against teams like the A's, Padres, Tigers, Red Sox, Mets and Pirates. And then, when you look at their first half, those losses are against GOOD teams. The Mariners, Brewers, Phillies, Twins, Blue Jays and Reds all won series' against the Astros during the first half. Even during the midyear stretch when the Astros gained ground and fought back against the Rangers, there was a human element to them that wasn't there in the past. Now there were 'good' starters and 'beatable' starters; teams consistently got the best of people like Hunter Brown, J.P. France and Cristian Javier while stomaching getting shut out by Framber Valdez. And as more and more younger players took large roles in this team's success, you began to see this team lose its identity. 

Which is why we can finally acknowledge the team's move to bring back Justin Verlander via trade with the Mets for what it is; an act of desperation to return the team, though still doing well, to its earlier dominance. They never used to stand a chance against us, but with Verlander back, that'll have to be the difference maker, right? 

Well...Verlander's been good. 5-3 record, 3.93 ERA, 50 Ks. That's not exactly a stain on his career, especially as a 40-year-old. But the team hasn't exactly reverted to their 2022 selves. The last month has been a savage crawl to the finish, with losses to the Yankees and Royals evening things and letting the Rangers back into 1st place. The pitching might honestly be to blame, with even Valdez's ERA headed towards 4, Javier nowhere near as dominant as prior years, and several options just being too inexperienced. Verlander can only help that so much.

There are still enough elements of this Astros team that worry me for this postseason, as now they have a better hitting catcher in Yainer Diaz, a healthy and surging Jose Altuve, a younger and more compact outfield and Kyle Tucker's best season to date. I want to hope that this downhill turn is the death nell of their season, but I also know these guys always overstay their welcome. Hopefully they bow out at the right time. 

It would be hilarious if the Mariners suddenly got hot and boxed them out of October entirely, even if it is unlikely. Still would make a hell of a finish. 

Coming Tonight: One of the teams the Astros have to go up against before the season's out. Specifically, their closer.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Mark of the Beast


Anyone who had 'Mark Canha being the most effective deadline acquisition' on their bingo cards can collect.

Two months removed, not all of these gambits have gone according to plan. Jack Flaherty was supposed to fill the void of John Means...but now Means is back and showing Flaherty how it's done. Max Scherzer was supposed to be the kill switch to the AL West, now he's hurt and watching them clinch from the sidelines. Lucas Giolito was supposed to keep the Angels surging, and y'all know how that ended. Even keeping in mind surprises like Josh Bell, relative successes like Michael Lorenzen and Aaron Civale, and successes with caveats like Paul Sewald, I don't think anyone has made an impact on their new team like Mark Canha.

I just think about how listless this outfield in Milwaukee was in the first half. Christian Yelich was awesome, of course, but the rest of it felt very one-dimensional. Joey Wiemer was great defensively, but his offensive struggles were his undoing, which is why he probably won't make the team's postseason roster. Tyrone Taylor finally had a chance to start, but he's only hit .233 and hasn't starred as much as he'd like to. Even with Sal Frelick creeping in towards the end of July, it felt very lopsided. Then Canha arrived, and now Yelich-Canha-Frelick is one of the stronger outfields in the postseason picture.

Since coming over from the Mets, Canha has hit .296 with 32 RBIs and 48 hits in 46 games. He also has a 1.2 WAR, which is higher than roughly half the Opening Day starters. The team is also 31-18 since he got here, not solely because of his efforts but definitely not at the detriment of them. Canha's exactly what the Brewers needed, a contact hitting outfielder with occasional power perks who could play multiple roles. He's a handy guy to have around in general, no wonder the A's and Mets loved him so much. Yes, it's nice that Carlos Santana has 10 homers, but power hitting isn't the priority here.

The Brewers' postseason gameplan involves A.) outpitching everybody, B.) outdefending everybody and C.) contact hitting when everyone least expects it. They are arguably a more refined version of the 2022 Guardians, and they are hotter than anyone could have expected right now. I'm excited to see what they'll do in October.

Coming Tomorrow- I promised I wouldn't gloat. I might gloat a little. Anyway, another former Met.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

The Philly Show 9/23/23 Part Two: Eyebrow Raisers


It was at this point in my Philly Show journey that I began to grow slightly despondent. Yes, there had been some good stuff, and I'd fulfilled a lot of recent needs in my year or so since actively going to shows, but there weren't any true oddball, wtf finds in any of these dime boxes I'd found. And if I know the Philly Show dime boxes, I know they've gotta really wow me.

Needless to say, these last two did the trick.

Dealer #4: The Guy Who Must Have Known I Was Coming

Seriously. Some of the stuff in here, I was doing double-takes. I definitely scrounged the most stuff out of this one vs. the other dime boxes I'd went towards, a good 140 cards from this one alone. What impressed me about this dealer was just the unrelenting variety of stuff. Not just recent stuff, but products from my collecting blindspots. A Sweet Spot Classic Dave Winfield, for instance.

A lot of the stuff in these dime bins probably should have been priced higher. All four of these impressed me. Crucial rookies from 2022 Heritage, and a sunset card of an MLB legend.

This dealer also had, at LAST, my first real taste of 2022 Archives, a set that seemed to avoid me at every turn. This is another set where I applaud the extensive legends selection, as seeing Satchel Paige and Thurman Munson here really impressed me.

A few early-2010s inserts I didn't have. Breaking Out is such a cool design.

This guy also had a surprising amount of numbered Topps cards. Maybe a few odd corners here and there, but these are always fun dime box finds. Especially of great players like these three.

These two, though, were numbered to 399 and were copper parallels, which I'd never seen with my own eyes before. I admittedly didn't know they existed til I found these two, including newly-minted HOFer Scott Rolen. 

But the real fun was in all the 90s and 00s stuff that was in here. Finding a 1995 Leaf Hideo Nomo rookie was just the beginning.
Two sets I'd never seen in the wild: 1999 Fleer Sports Illustrated, and the 1992 Fleer Ultra awards subset. Both cool player selections.

Both ends of Donruss's initial Studio run. I think 1997 Studio is underrated. Again, Bobby Abreu's Houston tenure showed up a lot at this show. I also love Larkin's. Who's he looking at? Is he auditioning for a Bangles video?

92 Studios I somehow didn't have yet. What a fun set.

Here's what amazed me: 1998 Pinnacle Inside cards. SANS CAN. The edges weren't even too screwed up.  This is an intriguing set, and I like the close-up static photos we have here.

Both these sets, '93 SP and '93 Flair, used to be very hard to come by, but I've found more and more of them in recent years. I love Rickey's. 

1996 Circa! Man, these sets were wild. I kinda dig' em though, just as a timely sort of glimpse into what graphic design was back then.

1997 Finest! There was a BUNCH of these.

Assorted early-2000s picture-centric sets. Lots of 2001 SC, somehow.

Assorted mid-2000s sets. Again, dime-box peak Albert, used to be WAY rarer. And it's always cool to find a new 2004 Skybox Autographis, I have a lot of sentimentality towards that set.

But here's where I emphasize that this guy MUST HAVE known I was coming:

...cause there were a TON of Yankees in there. Yankee hero cards. Guys I collect. A bunch of Pettittes.

A good amount of Jorge Posadas, including 2004 Fleer Splendid Splinters, a set I'd never seen before.

A bunch of Mos, which, again, used to be way rarer in dime boxes. 

A WHOLE MESS OF MIKE MUSSINAS. I'm so glad it's become cool to like Mussina again in recent years.

And, of course, too many Bernie Williams cards. I didn't even scan all of 'em. I love that 2000 SC one.

Dealer #5: The One That Almost Got Away

When I came into the Philly Show yesterday, and did my initial scouting, there was a dime box not too far from the entrance that looked really nice. The only issue was when I passed by at 11ish, it was mobbed. Absolutely mobbed. So I had to bookmark it and come back later. Sure enough, on my way out I passed it, and it was...slightly clearer. Still mobbed, but I could find a space to slide in.

It was tricky, because in order to get a good vantage point on some of these bins, and there were MANY, I had to sort of trickle along the edge of the vender next door, who wasn't getting half as much business. I'm in mid-sift and the guy next door tells me to move. I motion to the packed front of the table; "to where?". Eventually the dealer I was buying from muttered 'he's been like this all weekend', and his perennial sifter was able to move inside of the booth to accommodate my perusing. 

I am very glad I came back for these bins, because, like the 4th dealer, this guy had a lot of stuff that really should have been worth more. And it's funny, because he had large 50 cent bins as well, and they were lined with stuff I'd expect in dollar bins. I think he just wanted to get rid of a lot of this stuff. Which is fine by me. 

I somehow had never come across this 1996 Bowman Kirby Puckett. Beautiful card.

There was some requisite recent stuff, but even this felt better. An actual Kelenic rookie in one of these. A star card of a Philly hero. Something was up.

Same goes for these Ginters. Maybe he wasn't from around here, because a Stott or Marsh rookie for 10 cents here is a steal. 

A few SC legends I forget if I had or not. I'd seen the Boggs on some blog, I just forget if I pulled it. That Maddux is great though.

A few Pro Debuts from last year. All but Luisangel are up in the majors. 

10 cent inserts of players worth a damn. Bieber and Soto, 10 cent Stadium Club inserts. Yeah, I was impressed.

A smattering of recent Topps inserts. I absolutely love these All Aces ones, they're genuinely awesome. I had no idea Topps even did WBC inserts this year. More inserts need to embrace the shiny like All Aces and the Oneil one do.

Speaking of embracing the shiny, a pair of Panini inserts. Those Unleashed ones are usually hard to find, so getting one for 10 cents was pretty cool. And though Keuchel's kinda cooked, getting a low-numbered card of his was a nice perk.

Like the last box, there was a wonderful amount of 90s stuff. And not just usual finds. 90s Topps Gallery star cards. And yet another Bernie as well.

Hall of Famers from 90s Topps base. Surprised I didn't have that Randy already.

Pinnacle was underrated at just putting out solid base cards. That Ripken's a beaut. 

SKYBOX METAL UNIVERSE. SURE, MAN. All of these are absolutely wild, and I'm kinda shocked I was able to find some.

Two cards that used to be worth more than 10 cents. Weaver's rookie used to be high on my wantlist, but he sort of fell apart over time. Nomo's SC RC I already have, but I needed one for my player collection.

VINTAGE FOR 10 CENTS. I was floored. Even a 1981 Topps Traded card for a dime. Awesome!

This one appealed to me on a number of levels. I was recently down in Ocean City, Maryland for a few days, me and the family like it there. On a drive, it dawned on me that the Delmarva Shorebirds, an Orioles A-affiliate, are down there, and that could be an option if we ever go back again. So seeing a minor league issue from the 1998s with a Delmarva Shorebird was cool. Even cooler that it was a minor league rookie issue of Jayson Werth, who'd become one of my favorite players as a Phillie. I thought this was a cool find, and it's a nice addition to my small collection of minor league cards of players I love.

All in all, a very nice Philly show. Just enough 'omg' pulls, and a lot of variety among the dime boxes. Not sure if I'll go to the one in December, but I'm glad I went to this one.