Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Yu May Be Right


A week in New York and the Padres are even closer to last than they were before, have now lost Juan Soto to a back issue, and I'm pretty sure Bob Melvin got pick-pocketed on the 4 train.

It's not going well for this Padres team at all. Even with all the contracts, all the stars, and all the impressive defensive players, they're just not getting it done, and they've fallen so far behind in the NL West that the Giants have overtaken them. The big feel-good breakout in that division is the Diamondbacks, and the Padres now have so much money and so many contracts that they're not even the small competitors that can sneak in anymore. It's hard for the Titanic to sneak. Icebergs can sneak.

Some of the people the Padres have spent all the money on, like Xander Bogaerts and, honestly, Yu Darvish, are doing well. Bogaerts is still hitting at Boston levels. Darvish got rocked the other day but he's still struck out 59 people so far this year and still looks relatively dominant at 36. The two guys that the Padres need to worry about for the offseason, Josh Hader and Juan Soto, are putting on tour-de-force seasons, perhaps knowing that free agency isn't too far away. And the much-maligned Fernando Tatis Jr. is at least delivering, and hitting well despite the cries of 'cheater' coming from the Yankee fans. 

But a lot of contracted guys aren't delivering as well as they should. Manny Machado is not only hurt right now, but he wasn't playing very well, and having his first real down year since roughly 2017. He's hitting .231 with only one more hit than he has strikeouts. After nearly winning an MVP last year, this is a harsh alternative. Joe Musgrove is similarly struggling, with a 5.64 ERA over 6 starts. And then there's just so many guys, like Blake Snell, Matt Carpenter, Adam Engel and the very injured Drew Pomeranz, that they shouldn't have spent money on in the first place. Like, what the hell can you say about Nelson Cruz at this point? Oh, he does his one thing he always does kinda well, but not as well as he did when he was 40. 

There is some promise creeping in, and some of the depth choices, like Tom Cosgrove and Rougned Odor, have had some recent successes, but this has been a first two months the Padres would rather move on from, and hopefully they'll be able to as they head into June. If they finish the year out of playoff contention, after everything they did last year, it'll be heartbreaking.

Coming Tonight: Who'd have thought this guy would become the hero he's become in Tampa?

Monday, May 29, 2023

Wouldn't It be Bryce


The good news is the Mariners are finally above .500 again. The bad news is there's still two teams that are a lot further above .500 than they are in the AL West. 

I think the best part of yesterday is getting a sneaky little walk off win while the Angels get trounced by the Marlins. Having Geno Suarez do something awesome while the Angels suffer changes the trajectory of the division a little, lands the Angels in fourth, which is a place they go a lot with Ohtani and Trout, and makes the Mariners look even more impressive going into the third month of the season. I mean, yes, taking down the Pirates isn't the toughest thing in the world right now, but they did this when the pressure was on, and that's always a nice sign.

Part of what's making the Mariners so tough right now is that, a lot like the Pirates, their pitching has been outstanding. Four of the Mariners' starters have WAR above 0.9, including Luis Castillo and Bryce Miller, who have WARs over 1.4. Castillo doing well is something we all saw coming, and both Logan Gilbert and George Kirby doing well is enough of a sure bet, considering how quickly they've taken to the bigs in the last few years. But the fifth spot, after Robbie Ray's injury, looked to be an issue following both Chris Flexen's struggles and Easton McGee flirting with a no-no and then immediately needing Tommy John surgery [which is honestly the perfect metaphor for pitching development in the modern era]. 

Bryce Miller, therefore, coming out of nowhere to win the fifth spot and becoming one of the most dominant rookie starters of all time...is the best possible outcome.

Through 5 starts, Miller has a 1.15 ERA, a 3-1 record, and has only allowed 4 earned runs. And this is Miller's first month in the majors. Typically when people start in the majors, they make some mistakes. Miller's teammate Jarred Kelenic can attest to this, it took him three years to figure out MLB pitching and now he's a hero. J.P. Crawford struggled mightily in Philly and only found his stride a few years into his career. And yet at the moment it seems like Bryce Miller has the talent and knowhow to figure it out immediately. Which is a very nice perk for this Mariners team, which seems to only be getting better with every day.

The M's have been fantastic lately. Unfortunately, so have the two teams above them in the standings. It may not be enough at the moment to catch Houston or Texas, but hopefully they can build on this week and get back to where they were last year.

Coming Tomorrow: A pitcher whose team my Yankees had some fun with this week.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Cutch Down


Of course the Andrew McCutchen comeback season I've been waiting years for happens the second he gets back to Pittsburgh. Of course it does.

I've followed Cutch every step of the way, and I enjoyed his time in Philly because I got to drive maybe 20 minutes to see him play, and when one of your favorite players is local for a bit, that's always a good thing. Granted, his only real triumph of a year was his truncated 2019 season, where he had 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 59 games. The other two years on that contract weren't as good, despite 27 homers in 2021. The Brewers year last year was mostly a low key DH role, which not only relegated Rowdy Tellez to playing defense but didn't give his offense many favors. In fact, most surprisingly, Cutch's best statistics last year came from his 42 games in the outfield, where he still provided a leg up compared to most defensemen.

Granted, he hasn't been needed as much in the outfield as much in Pittsburgh, as Bryan Reynolds, Connor Joe and Jack Suwinski are getting the nods there, even if defense isn't what any of them are known for. Though, admittedly, all six of McCutchen's appearances in right field have gone pretty well. But at this point in his career, I don't think the intention was to get Cutch for his defense.

In Cutch's last five games, he's had three multi-hit affairs, including a home run. He's hitting .268 right now with 8 homers and 20 RBIs, and his 8 home runs are second-most on the team, behind Jack Suwinski. Cutch is on pace for what would be his fifth 25+ home run season, and, most crucially, he is ten hits away from the 2000 hit mark.

I think the single best thing about this revitalized play from McCutchen is that it's happening in Pittsburgh, the city where he became a star and an MVP. There was so much emotion behind his first few games back at PNC, including crucial home runs and big moments. The fans never fell out of love with this guy no matter where he went, and I remember being there in one of his last seasons in Pittsburgh and seeing him hit a home run to a crowd that absolutely loved him. He will hit his 2000th hit as a member of the Pirates, and, as he's five away, he will also hit his 300th home run as a member of the Pirates. And that's absolutely fantastic. 

Even if the Pirates continue to slip, which, while they're well enough ahead of the Cardinals, is still a possibility, I'm glad that Cutch could have a season like this as the team is doing well. The pitching's been fantastic, Reynolds is earning star status, the 43-year-old has 4 wins, it's going better than anyone anticipated and I am here for it.

Coming Tomorrow- There aren't many pitchers in the game's history who've started in the MLB as well as this guy.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Always Be Closing: Clase for Effort


Y'ever just...casually remember that Emmanuel Clase has 83 saves since the start of the 2021 season?

It's not the most in that stretch, Kenley Jansen has 89, but no other closer in that period has more. Ironically Clase has as many saves since 2021 as Josh Hader, another one of the few perennial closers we have right now. 

I'd honestly refer to the group of closers that has most dominated since the start of the decade as people like Liam Hendriks, Jansen, Hader, Clase, Edwin Diaz and Jordan Romano. That is, admittedly, a small sample size, but you don't see many other people right now who are guaranteed the closing spot wherever they go, and are guaranteed to dominate. You have a lot of veteran closers who are chasing what they had, people like Mark Melancon, Craig Kimbrel, Will Smith, Brad Hand and Aroldis Chapman, but some of those guys can lose the ninth. Some of them already have. 

What makes Clase a member of the small, dying breed of relied-upon closers is just how tough he is to face. We don't have a ton of pure intimidators as closing heroes anymore, guys like Lee Smith, Rod Beck or Trevor Hoffman who scare the shit out of you. Clase is as close as we have to that right now. He's not the tallest, he's only 6'2, but he's built like a brick shithouse and throws fire. I still have the memory of Clase being suspended for the whole 2020 season for PEDs, but even if that is what's made him into the pitcher he is, I think a lot of the work is just pure intimidation and workmanship.

Clase led the majors last year with 42 saves, and he's leading the majors again at the moment with 16. However, even with that said he's blown 5 already, and has given up too many earned runs. I don't know if this means the fans are turning on him, but his status as a sure thing is being tested this year, even with the amount of saves he's already racked up. Some of it is an indictment on the Guardians themselves, and how  often their bad luck gets in the way of what should be wins, especially if their contact-friendly play isn't amounting to many overpowering wins so far. But some of it may just be that Clase is getting too confident and might not be as much of a perennial standout as we thought.

The good news is that the closest challengers to the league mark are at 13 right now. One of them is Josh Hader, whose goodwill hasn't especially been harmed much by the last half of the 2022 season. We'll see if Clase can hold the throne for now, or if his blown saves will catch up to him.

Coming Tomorrow- All things as they should be.

Aged New York Cheddar


And then, suddenly, the Mets realized that packing the team with sixteen players over 30 may not have been the best idea after all.

I dunno, man, getting tons of aging free agents and overpopulating the team with them, and they just expecting these people not to break down, get injured or disappoint you in any way, is like asking to get rained upon. Omar Narvaez, Tim Locastro and Jose Quintana, all over 30, are all on the 60-day IL. And then you have Verlander and Scherzer, who have been perfectly alright this year in between their own respective injuries. Verlander's got a 3.60 ERA in 4 starts, Scherzer has a 4 ERA in 7 starts, they're both around 40 and it's nice that they're still even doing that. But having four rotation spots being taken by Verlander, Scherzer, a very serviceable Carlos Carrasco and Kodai Senga, who, as good as he has been, is still 30 and knowing Japanese pitchers that acclimate to US standards, might miss some time next year...that's worrying.

Apart from Senga, the only Mets starter to not miss an outing is Tylor Megill, who at least is 27 and has shown promise. Megill has 5 wins, but his ERA is a bit higher than it should be and he's only doing an alright job overall. It's not like David Peterson was doing much better, but this isn't a very young rotation, and the reinforcements aren't the most polished options. I'm glad most of these guys are doing well enough at the moment, but with 3 guys being over 35 I'm still very worried about the next few months of this.

The youth is thankfully being applied to the lineup, as Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Francisco Alvarez are all up. Alvarez is doing the best out of the three, he's hitting .261 with 6 homers and 13 RBIs. Alvarez is also doing the best to retain a starting job, though Baty is basically the guy for third given Eduardo Escobar's lessening play. These three do add an edge to this team that they desperately need, and a spark of youth that needs to spread as they go. 

It's not lost on me that Jeff McNeil, one of the best contact hitters on this team and one of their best assets, is over 30 as well. He was called-up late, bloomed late, but he's here now and helping the team a ton, hitting .291 with 53 hits. Pete Alonso leads the league in homers with 19, so he's been surging as well lately. Starling Marte's already stolen 14 bases, he's doing his thing. Lindor and Nimmo are still playing like themselves. The core of this team is well-preserved enough to not scare the shit out of me like other aspects do.

The Mets have been winning games lately, but a lot of them have been close. This Cubs series has been better, but they're gonna need more than just 1 or 2 point wins to reestablish the dominance they lost earlier in the month.

Coming Tonight: I guess this guy might be one of the best closers of the last few years.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Toron-tial Downpour


Look, the Jays were just fine 10 days ago. 24-16, chasing the Pirates and Braves, Kikuchi was having a great month, the division was looking smooth. And then splat. Only a drubbing of the Rays is evidence for the 'good' column here. John Schneider just had to give everybody a serious talking to about how awful the Blue Jays have been playing, and when you have to give people like Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman a talking to, you know something's been fouled up down the line.

I don't fault people like Bo, Vlad, Chapman, Kiermaier and Varsho, as the heart of the lineup, and the defensemen, haven't really been the problem. This lineup only has 2 guys hitting under .250, and one of them is Daulton Varsho, who's making up for it on defense. I think the biggest disappointment on this team, though, might be Alejandro Kirk, who looked like such a sure thing last year. Then again, Alek Manoah also looked like a sure thing last year, and right now he's 1-5 with a 5.53 ERA, which I was not expecting whatsoever given how he was looking.

I think it's more likely that this is just a rough stretch for the Jays. All these losses have come at the expense of division rivals like the Yankees, Rays and Orioles. To be honest, this is what division series' should be doing, leveling the less serious competitors in competitive divisions. I wish it would have been less of a shock that the division stacked this way this month, but that's what happens when you have less division series'. Needless to say, the Jays are currently in last, and have to play several consecutive great teams coming up, including the Twins, Brewers, Mets, Astros, the Twins again, the O's and then Texas. This is the roughest stretch of their schedule, they're gonna lose some games. At the end of June they get some easier matches.

And at the same time, there's still people to watch even if the play wasn't was it was earlier. Kevin Gausman still has 81 strikeouts on the year, and even as people are beginning to hit him, he's still as tough as he's been in the last few years. Chris Bassitt also had a nice run of starts, and while he's trying to get back to where he was, he's still 5-3 with 52 Ks. Whit Merrifield has 14 stolen bases and is hitting .286. Vlad Jr. has 34 RBIs already. This is still a good team, they've just got a tough schedule this year. They're still capable of a ton, and have a ton of depth even with everyone working out alright.

Maybe we'll see the Jays begin to fight back against these really good teams. You never know when they'll spring to life.

Coming Tomorrow- A standout for a team that had a similar dry spell and have now come back from it.

Fear the Milkman


I'm just now finding out that Zac Gallen's a local prospect.

It's honestly insulting that it took until now for me to find out. Apparently he's from Gibbsboro, NJ, which is not far from me at all, and was born in Somerdale, which is also not far from me at all. He went to Bishop Eustace, which is a prep school that kids I played little league against went to. I know I've talked about people like Andrew Bailey and Devin Smeltzer being from my neck of the woods, but somehow Gallen flew past my radar as a local hero. 

Which is ironic because Zac Gallen might be one of the best pitchers in baseball right now, and you'd think this area would want you to hear about it.

Gallen has been slowly building his case over the last few years as one of the most consistent and dominant pitchers out there, and this season is no different. Gallen is already 6-2, a lot like the guy I talked about yesterday, with 75 strikeouts and a 2.97 ERA after some recent losses. He began the season with one of his usual scoreless streaks, and has only given up 2 home runs in 67 innings. His 1.020 WHIP is not quite as low as his 2022 total of 0.913, which led the league, but it may be coming down further as he comes back from a recent stretch. 

As usual, having Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly both surging at once gives the D-Backs an advantage even in a pitching-stuffed division like the NL West. Granted, having three rookies behind the strong two, being Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson and Brandon Pfaadt, does cut back the intimidation a bit, even if the Dodgers are also starting some rookies right now as well. The difference is, the Dodgers rookies are taking to the game a little quicker than these three, who have been alright but are having a more gradual acclimation period than someone like, say, Zac Gallen, who was great from the moment the Marlins brought him up.

The D-Backs took a win or two away from the Phillies this week, thanks to excellent hitting from Lourdes Gurriel, Evan Longoria and Gabriel Moreno, and even the reinforcements, like rookie Dominic Fletcher and utiltyman Emmanuel Rivera, are doing well so far. The D-Backs are still 5 games ahead of the next best NL West team, and at the very least have a Rockies series in between tough matches with the Red Sox and Braves. This team could continue to be a major player if they stay this fresh and impressive despite their faults. It's not a complex team, but it's an interesting one, and I enjoy seeing their rise.

Coming Tonight: This guy is striking out everybody right now.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Nastier Than Ever


Nate Eovaldi's Yankees tenure really was 7 years ago, wasn't it?

What a weird career this guy's had. Traded for Hanley Ramirez and then Martin Prado, goes 14-3 as a member of a mediocre Yankees team, misses all of 2017, spends exactly 10 games with a Rays team that signed him for 2 years, then gets dealt to Boston for a reliever who'd become the patron saint of its bullpen for better or worse, and becomes one of the most reliable arms in the game for a bit. It's so weird that this guy's been around for over a decade. Even weirder that he's a former Dodgers prospect. File with Edwin Jackson, Dave Stewart and former Camden Rivershark Dwight Maness in the category of Dodgers farm prospects I do not associate with the Dodgers.

Anyway, Nate's been on fire recently. He's already got 2 complete games and a shutout, leads the league in IP with 69.1, and sports a 6-2 record with a 2.60 ERA. For the Rangers, he is the perfect holdover until deGrom returns from the IL. For baseball, he is the guy we counted out in April that kept pounding and still can tear offenses apart like he did in Boston. It's nice, because Eovaldi and Martin Perez, who pitched together in Boston before, both have 6 wins and lead the team in IP. Perez is admittedly a little shakier than he was last year, but he's still a welcome rotation presence. Gray and Dunning have rebounded, Heaney's getting there, and this is all while the big star pitcher is gone. 

This is how they're doing without him. It's almost as if they prepared for Jacob deGrom straining his pitching arm or something.

The Rangers have been a seasonably satisfying success story. They just got Corey Seager back and he's still hitting really well. Semien and Lowe are running this team, with Semien already past 3.0 WAR. Jung, Heim and Duran are all looking awesome as future pieces. Adolis Garcia has 14 home runs and 49 RBIs. FORTY NINE RBIS IN MAY. And it's a big deal if you get 100 by September, and he's got 49 in May. And to think, the Cardinals must kick themselves that they let him go.

The combination of the big pieces playing well, the contracts coming through, and the re-ignition of Bruce Bochy's passion for the game is fueling this team's excellent start, and there's a chance they could keep it going through the year. The Angels, Astros and Mariners could chase them, but this is a great place for the Rangers to be after nearly 2 months of play.

Coming Tomorrow- An early Cy Young favorite in the NL.

Central Inefficiency


"Thank goodness for the shitty play of everyone else in the division." -David Ross.

Only one team in the NL Central has a positive W/L ratio in the past 10 days. Unsurprisingly, it is the Cardinals. It was nice while it lasted. Meanwhile the Cubs have completely fallen apart, the Pirates are plummeting back to earth, and even the Brewers have had trouble recently against great teams like the Astros and the Rays. It's just been a tough week. It doesn't mean this is a division of bad teams, it just means that having to play teams from other divisions more often leads to a more even W/L displacement, especially if the division is good. 

The Brewers are still in first, and are still one of the best teams in this division. They've had a rough week, yeah, but those happen. The Yankees had a rough week about a month ago, now they're good again. The Brewers definitely aren't out of it yet.

The biggest issues of this team so far have been with the injuries to the rotation. Woodruff, Lauer and Miley are all injured right now. Houser, Burnes and Peralta are doing well enough. The auxiliary choice, Colin Rea, is decent enough but very clearly is a replacement player. I'm not sure who the fifth guy is gonna be this week, probably Janson Junk but he hasn't been great in the majors. Ethan Small would be my pick but I don't know if the organization wants to keep control over him and give him fewer chances. They'll figure something out but it's not ideal.

Honestly, though, the lineup could be a lot worse. This isn't a classic Christian Yelich performance, but he still has 7 home runs, 24 RBIs and 10 steals. Still as versatile as ever, just not burning down the league like he had. Rowdy Tellez can still hit lots of homers, he's got 12. Adames and Contreras are still surging. Owen Miller's been incredible since the Brewers brought him up and is chasing rookie heir apparent Brice Turang. There's a lot of crafty hitters on this team, and it sets them apart from a lot of their competitors. 

The Brewers have to play relatively simple teams like the Giants and Reds and difficult teams like the Jays this week. It could level them further, or it could bring them back to where they'd like to be. We'll see where we're at in a few more weeks.

Coming Tonight: How many complete games is this guy capable of doing this year?

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A Buck Short


The Twins right now are a tale of two teams. The rotation is one of the strongest in all of baseball right now. The lineup is essentially bare.

I think part of why the Twins are still in first is that the rotation just hasn't been allowing opposing runs. I worried when Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle got hurt, but having Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Pablo Lopez Bailey Ober and Louie Varland all doing well at the same time is a really nice perk. Obviously people have been talking about Sonny Gray as a Cy Young possibility and an incredible run, but that doesn't mean that Lopez and Ryan aren't also really dominant this year. Ryan's 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA. Lopez has 75 Ks and a 1.100 WHIP. Even the monstrous Ober has been excellent since coming up, going 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA. Only Lopez has allowed more than 20 earned runs so far this year, and none of them have more hits than strikeouts. 

It's a great pitching staff that becomes even better when you factor in relief options like Jorge Lopez, Jhoan Duran, Brock Stewart and Cole Sands. A lot of extremely dominant pitchers on this team, and it doesn't exactly shock me that they're been so adept at shutting down the rest of the AL Central.

But...right now, the remains of the Opening Day lineup that are still active are just Byron Buxton, Christian Vazquez, Donovan Solano, Michael Taylor and Joey Gallo. Larnach, Kepler, Polanco and Gordon are all hurt, and now it's looking like Carlos Correa will be joining them on the IL. In addition, Jose Miranda is down in the minors again. The reinforcements are rolling in, as Alex Kirilloff, Eduoard Julien and the returning Kyle Farmer, and at least Farmer is turning in some good stuff, with a .288 average and 14 RBIs.

Really, the only original tentpole holding up this team as the injuries roll in is, unsurprisingly, Byron Buxton. The only thing that has been able to stop Buxton recently has been his own injuries in the past through years; at any other point he's been one of the best players in baseball. The Twins have been using Buxton as a DH, which is preventing against another immediate injury, but he's still hit 10 homers and 23 RBIs. Buxton and Gallo have been routinely successful sources of power, even if their defense isn't really worth the price of admission right now.

I'm not saying Buxton alone can carry this team, but his continued excellence and leading by example will save this team from completely cratering under the injuries. We'll see if the pitching, and Buxton, stays afloat going forward.

Coming Tomorrow- He has an MVP, but can he still deliver seasons worthy of that former glory?

Ozzie Hits Homers Now


10 homers for Ozzie Albies so far. For the record, Austin Riley has 7, Marcell Ozuna has 8 and Eddie Rosario has 5. But Ozzie Albies, the mostly contact-centric Brave who, while a 30-homer man in the past, has led the league in hits...has TEN.

I'm not sure if this says more about the Braves in general or just Ozzie. Albies has always been a great player, and a cool asset for these building Braves teams to have lately. To be honest, Albies' best seasons were before the pandemic, and he peaked with a great year in 2019, with the years since being either just not as good or injury prone. Last year, he got hurt with a good chunk of the year left to go, causing Vaughn Grissom's promotion in August. This year, the tables turned slightly, with second base being pretty tightly-packed and shortstop being the more competitive position this year [between Arcia, Grissom and Shewmake]. Even without Dansby Swanson as his double-play partner, he's still been an excellent infielder and trusted presence.

But...he hits homers now. He just does. 

It's always gonna weird me out when a career contact hitter suddenly starts hitting for power. It was weird when Luis Gonzalez became the power hitter he's remembered for. It was bizarre when Salvador Perez became the homer guy he is now. And this Ozzie Albies business is a little weird. Not completely un-called for, as, again, he was part of the all-30-homer infield from 2021, but...strange.

And even as the Braves continue to do well, there are still strange elements to this team. This is a team with two catchers, Murphy and D'Arnaud, that are both playing well. This is a team with two 39-year-olds, Morton and Chavez, playing like they're ten years younger. Hell, a lot of the bullpen is made up of several people in their mid to late 30s that feel like strange cases- Michael Tonkin came back from International leagues, Lucas Luetge found his stuff after a half a decade away, Kirby Yates has been injured for 2 or 3 years now, and Jesse Chavez is Jesse Chavez. 

The Braves are likely to keep surging, as so many stars are succeeding, and the closest competitor, the Mets, are only winning games by small margins. If Albies can not only do what he's been doing since coming up, but do it while hitting home runs, there's a lot more versatility we're gonna see from them going forward.

Coming Tonight: Saw this guy sign a ton of autographs for kids in Spring Training. As if I didn't already love him.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Aaron After 62


Aaron Judge has been playing with expectations this year.

There was the week where we all thought the Giants would take the slugger in free agency, down to the league scheduling the Giants as the Yankees' opening competitors, and that unfortunate typo that made many fans think their hero was heading across the country. But ultimately Judge re-signed with the Yanks and we were safe. Then Judge had a back strain that kept him out for a week and a half. And everyone thought Judge's injury-prone tendencies would hit him again directly after his best season yet. But after Judge returned from the IL, he made up for his dormant time by bouncing right back and has had 17 hits, 18 RBIs and 7 home runs since his May 9th return.

Also, and more importantly, the Yankees have gone 9-3 since Judge's activation, and are 14-5 since Harrison Bader was activated from the IL. Something about having two of the team's best players who are absolutely on their game is helping this team.

It has to help that Judge is still very much in his prime, even at 31. He's hitting .299, has 32 RBIs and 13 homers, still excellent figures for the prospect of a full season run. What's even more important- Judge isn't striking out as much as he used to. Yes, he has 50 Ks, but that's not the most on this team, thanks to Anthony Volpe, who has 8 more. Judge hasn't broke 200 strikeouts since that huge 2018 season he had, and he seems to have gotten his K count under control as he's learned to hit more for contact as well as dropping bombs. 

The Yankees have improved mightily since their Judgeless, Baderless, 'what even is the point of this team anymore' run in late April. Getting Luis Severino back helped a ton, as we can rely less on Jhony Brito and, ugh, Domingo German. Ben Rortvedt is finally up and doing an excellent job of contact hitting, meaning the deal that brought IKF and Donaldson to New York is at least somewhat worthwhile. Even Greg Allen has been looking like a major improvement over Aaron Hicks, and joining in with the piecemeal-but-interesting quality of the outfield along with Jake Bauers and Willie Calhoun.

Having Judge back and surging is saving this team, and keeping them alive as the Rays and Orioles dominate the conversation. Now that they're heading into a series with the Orioles, they're gonna need to keep this momentum and stay hot. 

Coming Tomorrow- A contact-hitting infielder that's racked up a surprising amount of home runs this year.

Freddie or Not


One thing I haven't heard enough people talk about with the 2023 Dodgers? Freeman and Heyward back together for the first time since 2014. I mean, 2014 Jason Heyward and 2023 Jason Heyward are miles apart in terms of skillset, but to have them in the same lineup again, and it still being a competitive lineup, is pretty cool. Would have been cooler if Kimbrel stuck around to complete the trifecta, but this is cool enough.

Anyway, Freddie Freeman's been at this for over a decade now and he's still undeniably one of the best first baseman in baseball, as well as one of the best pure hitters in baseball. Right now he has 300 home runs, over 1000 RBIs, a career .299 average and will surpass 2000 hits this year. The strangest part of this is that even at 33, I still refer to this as part of Freeman's peak period, from 26 [2016] til now. In this period he has a combined 36.1 WAR, and a combined 367 wBatting figure. Even on a team with Clayton Kershaw and Mookie Betts, we are looking at a future Hall of Famer in Freeman, and it's fantastic knowing that while still seeing him in his prime period.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, have withstood both unflattering preseason write-ups and competition from both the D-Backs and Padres to still be in first place with nearly 2 months in the books for 2023. They're doing this with a very injury-prone rotation, and, as Night Owl recently discussed, three starters that can't go for more than five innings for fear of falling apart [that's been Syndergaard since he came back, sad to say]. As of now, the next option is pitching prospects, and both Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller are now officially in the mix. Stone got pulled apart, ironically, by Freeman's old team, in a very 'trial by fire' sort of debut, and Miller is on for tonight against the same team. We'll see if they're truly ready over the next few weeks.

The lineup is still basically on the right track. The guys who are hitting are excellent, the guys who aren't are making things a little tougher. I'd love for Miguel Rojas, Miguel Vargas, David Peralta and J.D. Martinez to figure out this team, but I'm also not sure how long that will take. The heart of this lineup, the usual suspects like Muncy, Betts, Freeman, Smith and Outman, are making it worthwhile, but it's not a full team effort like a lot of earlier iterations of this club have been. If anything, they're more similar to the Yankees, who have a great early lineup but peter off and have too many injured starters. 

This is still a solid and entertaining team, but it is one in need of more depth and more unsung heroes. It can't just be the obvious heroes, it has to be everybody, and hopefully soon enough everybody else will show up.

Coming Tonight: The Giants wish.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Surprisingly Not the Wild Thing


As I've recently discussed, the dictated full-career closers may be on the way out, and it may just be a fleeting, 'what have you done for me lately' type of job. As relief has become more valuable, and the middle reliever becomes a steadier job than the full-on closer, we're seeing less career closers become relievers and more career relievers become closers.

So what do we make of Carlos Estevez, the career reliever who's been one of the best closers in baseball? I'm still trying to figure that out.

Estevez was a beloved relief option for the Rockies during the late 2010s, and stayed steady when many Colorado relievers [Ottavino, Oberg, Rusin] failed to. He previously reached 11 saves in 2021, but only as a fill-in for Daniel Bard during an injury. Once Estevez reached the end of his contract, he joined the Angels, which has been a haven for so many great relievers in the past few seasons, including Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and now Chris Devenski. Only problem is there really isn't a designated closer this year, so after Jose Quijada had a go at it, Carlos Estevez was next on the depth chart and was thrust into the role.

So far this season, Estevez has been the Angels second-most-crucial player WAR-wise, after the unbelievable Shohei Ohtani. Higher than Trout, which is pretty insane. All he's done is stay very hot in the ninth, with a 1.23 ERA, 12 saves and 29 strikeouts, ironically more than Tyler Anderson's notched in 8 games. Surprisingly, while he closes games, a lot of the Angels' best relievers have been former starters. Matt Moore, as he has been since leaving Philly, has been unhittable in relief, with a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings. Jaime Barria, no longer the swing starter for this team, has a 1.96 as a long reliever so far. Even if they are unconventional options, they seem to be working, especially as many of the other pieces [Tucker Davidson, Chase Silseth, Aaron Loup] struggle.

I don't know if Estevez can turn a really nice May turn into a career, or if he'll be this good of a closer in a few years. I think all the Angels want right now is for him to be a great closer in 2023, and for him to continue his May work into the rest of the season. With the Angels flirting with .500 and trying to stay ahead of Seattle, Estevez's continued dominance is an element they'd like to keep intact, and I hope he can.

Coming Tomorrow- A future Hall of Famer spending this season reuniting with his battery partner from when he was a lot younger.

They Call Him Rake


Usually, player names fall on the side of negative irony. There's a ton of those. Reliever named Aaron Bummer. Unsuccessful reliever named Scott Blewett. Oft-decked pitcher named Homer Bailey. Oft-injured pitcher named D.L. Hall. More and more, funnier and funnier. Only occasionally does a player name turn out to be positively ironic. This season, Pittsburgh has a pitcher named Holderman that's racked up a ton of holds. 

And in Cincinatti, they've got a guy named Jake, who they call Rake, because that's exactly what he does. It's that simple.

I think it's a little unfair to compare Jake Fraley to the typical Reds all-or-nothing power hitter. He's not Adam Dunn, he's not Adam Duvall, he's not even Jesse Winker, the guy he was ironically traded for. Fraley is a little more well-rounded, and he's currently known more for his 32 RBIs than he is for his 5 homers. But a guy like Fraley cranking the ball does a lot to improve the mood of a team that's had so much trouble recently. The Reds currently don't have Joey Votto, and they're without T.J. Friedl for a little while, and a lot of their best players [India, Senzel, Stephenson, now Steer and McLain] aren't traditionally known for hitting power. They do have somebody like Fraley, and that's why his power numbers have made him a clubhouse favorite. It seems like more often than not, the dugout celebration, complete with viking hat, is centered around Fraley, and I kinda dig that.

Trouble is right now, only four position players sit in the top 12 Reds in terms of WAR; Fraley, Friedl, Senzel and India. Looking around at people like Wil Myers, Jose Barrero, Curt Casali and...the since-DFA'd Jason Vosler, and you see a lot of missed opportunities and disappointment. I wasn't thinking Myers would have much left, but they signed him to be a veteran bat to help the team out, and that really hasn't happened. The only older players who seem to be doing any sort of help are people like Luke Maile and Kevin Newman, who aren't really starters anyhow.

I'd really like Fraley to keep his offensive work going, because while the Reds will continue to make the news thanks to pitching, and that rotation, I don't want people to completely give up on the lineup. I saw these guys in Cincinnati 5 years ago, and even then they had a pretty solid lineup, where guys like Winker and Suarez could do something cool when they wanted. It sucks that after years and years of strong Reds lineups, we've graduated to one with barely any power and gigantic holes. Hopefully that changes soon enough, and hopefully the young guys like Steer and McLain play some integral roles in this change.

Coming Tonight: In the category of unlikely closing standouts...

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Tales from Fifth Place: Royals Edition


It's one thing to be a last-place team. It's another thing entirely to be a last-place team while confusing the hell out of me.

I'm not confused that the Royals are in last. No, that makes sense, they don't have much this year and injuries have depleted the rotation further than it already was. But just the strange things we're seeing because this team is in last is pretty incredible. I don't know if this will be a recurring column, but I just wanted to detail some of the strange things I've noticed on this 2023 Royals team, and there's a lot more than just the obvious.

  • Salvador Perez is a power-hitter now and leads the team in home runs. I guess on some level you could have told me that Perez, after being one of the best defensive catchers of the 2010s, would bottom out and focus purely on power hitting. But the way his stats have flipped from being a negative hitter and positive defender to being a positive hitter and negative defender is odd. It's odd that he can't be both at once, but it's insanely hard to be a good hitting catcher. Perez is easily the best hitter on the team, and may have a shot at yet another ASG nomination.
  • The Royals' best starter is 39-year-old Zack Greinke, who is also 1-5. Greinke may not be the unhittable force he was in his 20s, but he's durable, and the Royals need durability right now if Brady Singer and Jordan Lyles aren't going to be reliable. Greinke has the lowest WHIP in the rotation, and has allowed the least amount of earned runs. There's also a chance he may hit his 3000th strikeout this year, which would be a worthy achievement to go out on.
  • The best player on this team that isn't Perez or Greinke? Kyle Isbel. Yeah, the outfielder prospect that started the season with the team a few years ago and was demoted for the rest of the year. Isbel has struggled to show consistent work in the majors for KC, much like Bubba Starling, Ryan McBroom and Ryan O'Hearn before him. Before he got injured, he was hitting .209 but defensively a standout. Of course, he is currently injured.
  • The Kansas City Royal that has the highest batting average is Matt Duffy, who's appeared in 23 games and has only 7 RBIs.
  • The single best defensive catcher on this team might be the 28-year-old Freddy Fermin, who's been the primary backup since M.J. Melendez is mostly starting in the outfield. Fermin can also hit. I remember last year seeing Freddy Fermin mentioned because he sounded like dollar store Freddie Freeman.
  • They have a starter who is currently 0-8. Shockingly, it is Jordan Lyles.
  • One of the Royals' main bullpen options this year is Jose Cuas, who is most famously a former hitting prospect that became a pitcher midway through his minor league career. Cuas has been surprisingly smooth as a reliever, though his 4.58 ERA needs some work.
  • I feel like there's so many failed starters hiding in the minors for the Royals, getting in occasional relief innings. Jackson Kowar, Jonathan Heasley, Carlos Hernandez I suppose. 
  • Only Perez, Pasquantino and Nick Pratto have averages above .250 for this lineup. Something about Ps.
It's an odd team with a lot of interesting faults. I don't know if they'll improve at all, but there something fascinating about them.

Coming Tomorrow- The Reds got him in exchange for Jesse Winker, and he's honestly been a nice piece for them.

Extreme Gore


I don't think it's completely unexpected that the numerous dynasty-breaking-up deals have resulted in trusted pieces for the Nationals. This was sort of the point. The Dodgers and Padres needed to deliver some of their future if it was gonna be Juan Soto instead, the Nats wanted big piece, if this didn't happen then that's shady GM practice. Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore both succeeding for the Nats right now is a best case scenario in a sense. 

Y'know, cause if those two were still messing up, the rotation would be down to Patrick Corbin and that...would not be preferable.

Gray, as discussed, is having an ASG-caliber year with a 2.73 ERA and 45 Ks. Gore, meanwhile, has struck out 58 in 9 games, has a 3.69 ERA and an 11.3 SO/9. If Strasburg's gonna sit out the rest of his contract doing a tour of the many hospitals of the DC area, Gore will be a serviceable replacement as far as strikeout artists go. Hell, they're honestly pretty similar when you really think about it- first overall pick, shat away the majority of their early 20s, strikes everybody out. Hope Gore stays healthy, though.

As far as the 'other people's prospects' era of National baseball goes, this is at least a somewhat promising year, at least compared to past failures. Alex Call has become a favorite, he's got 17 RBIs, as does Jeimer Candelario, who's one of the offensive standouts this year so far. Candelario is not only a Cubs product, but he's a product of the Tigers' development. Both have...sort of primed him for this moment, and he's at least got 12 doubles 5 homers right now. Granted, some of these guys, like Lane Thomas and Keibert Ruiz, aren't performing quite as well as they should given their places on this team. C.J. Abrams is also a bit further out than he should be, even if he does currently lead the team in RBIs [which surprised me]. Otherwise it's just odds and ends of other farm systems. Ildemaro Vargas, Riley Adams, Michael Chavis. All sort of doing their thing, honestly. Stone Garrett might end up being a fan-favorite as a Nat, which I wouldn't have predicted.

I'm still frustrated that the Nats don't, and won't for a while, have much to really call theirs. It's really just Jake Irvin right now that's truly a Nats product, worth talking about and he's just starting out anyhow. More will probably follow at this rate, especially as the big Soto pieces start coming up. 

Coming Tonight: It's still odd to me that this guy's just a full-on power hitter now.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Always Be Closing: 400 Blows


As usual, I use the Always Be Closing tag as a way of highlighting specific developments and moments in the field of closing pitching, how things are different now, changing now, yada yada. And I think it's probably a good moment to talk about closing pitching, seeing as we have one longtime closer just passing the 400 saves mark, and another looking to pass that mark within his next few appearances. 

Kenley Jansen, after a decade's work in Los Angeles delivering season after season of consistent work, has mellowed into a decent option for teams willing to compete, but also willing to stomach the occasional dropped save. Basically, Jansen's 2010s made him look like Mariano Rivera, and his 2020s have made him look like Jose Mesa. Craig Kimbrel, who's still sitting at 398 saves, had a 2010s that made him look like Mariano Rivera, and a 2020s that has made him look like Rod Beck in the 2000s. As predicted. But Jansen, even in the last few years, has kept pounding out saves, led the league with 41 last year for the Braves, and has 9 saves already with Boston. Granted, he's been shaky since getting #400, but he's still reliable enough for a Sox team that only has so much to hold onto.

Kimbrel has been given some more ninth inning opportunities than he had earlier this season, thanks to an injury to Jose Alvarado, but he's not the closer he was. Even if he did deliver 22 saves last year for a team that didn't especially need even an okay closer, he's failed to really latch onto a team since leaving the Cubs. He was extremely rough starting out, but has been scoreless in his last four appearances, has picked up a save in the last week or so, and is beginning to look more comfortable in middle relief than he has in a while. I don't know if this means that Kimbrel is 'back' or anything, but it does make his goal of reaching 400 a little more attainable. 

Right now, there are two active closers in the all time top-10 saves list. The next closest active closer to the top 10 is #24. Unfortunately, it is Aroldis Chapman. Unless he somehow figures his shit out, I doubt he's passing Dennis Eckersley. The only other two active closers in the Top 50 all-time list are Mark Melancon, who is both injured and in his late 30s, and Edwin Diaz, who is juuust over the Top 50 line. The way closing careers are going, and the way teams are utilizing relievers, there have been less and less 'perennial' type closers, people that have been at this for 10 consecutive years or whatnot. Of the current designated closers, five of them, six if you count Kimbrel covering for Alvarado, have had careers as closers going back to before the pandemic; Jansen, Josh Hader, David Robertson, Will Smith and Ryan Pressly. If they weren't hurt this year, I'd add Melancon and Diaz. Two of the six names, Robertson and Smith, had years that stopped them from consistent runs of saves/9th inning work. 

I think it's gonna be harder going forward to get someone like Jansen or Kimbrel, or for there to be somebody who notches 40 saves multiple years in a row. Closing is very much a 'what have you done for me lately' thing, and a lot of current closers are just people who've relieved excellently and are first on the depth chart. That's how we have people like Carlos Estevez, Evan Phillips, Felix Bautista and Clay Holmes pressed into the role. While there are some young guys who could be at this for a while, like Alexis Diaz, Jhoan Duran, Camilo Doval and especially Emmanuel Clase, who's to say they won't struggle to hit consistent marks, like several other recent closers have?

I'm still happy for Kenley Jansen, and hopeful for Craig Kimbrel. All the while I'm not sure when another player will join them in the top 10, though.

Coming Tomorrow- The Padres farmed him, started him, then the moment he got injured they dealt him. And now he's making them regret it.

The Search for Rockies Who Are Not Hurt


I don't know how the Rockies did it, but they wound up with a majority of their pitchers on the IL at once. Antonio Senzatela, German Marquez, Noah Davis, Dinelson Lamet and even rookie Ryan Rolison. Then, Ryan Feltner went on the IL with a nasty comebacker injury. That is...a good chunk of a rotation, and right now only Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber remain from the opening day rotation. Freeland is doing well, Gomber...is not.

Having all that open space for starters means that some wild stuff is happening in Denver. Like...Chase Anderson's starting games. And he's actually doing alright with it so far. Connor Seabold's starting more than he did in Boston, and he's...doing as well as you'd expect. Last night they brought up Karl Kauffmann to start against Texas and that didn't go particularly well either. Playing the Rockies right now is like Russian roulette, like you will likely get one of the bad starters but there is a chance you could get Kyle Freeland.

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, this bullpen is still very good, and new Peter Lambert has joined as a long-man, which is a nice touch. Fernando Abad is also getting reps with this team, which...it's so weird that someone like Fernando Abad lasted til 2023, this current era of relief. But yeah, mostly it's Jake Bird, Justin Lawrence, Brent Suter and Brad Hand staying hot, even without Gilbreath and Kinley, so I still have to commend that aspect.

The injuries have also carried over to the lineup, aside from the obvious absence of Brendan Rodgers, whose specter sort of haunts this team. I never thought somebody like Brendan Rodgers would be missed this much, but then who else is the centerpiece? Not McMahon this year. Not Bryant, with this mediocrity. Cron's hurt. There's really no central lineup piece to guide this team forward, and I think they still expect it to be the 36-year-old Charlie Blackmon, which...isn't ideal. I'd love it if Kris Bryant started playing multi-dimensionally, but I'm not sure if that's asking too much of him.

The Rockies are banged-up, scattered and a bit lost. I hope they find some answers as they go, but I'm not exactly sure how long that'll take.

Coming Tonight: He beat Kimbrel to 400, and I think he deserves to be commended for it.

Friday, May 19, 2023

By Rooker, By Crook


The good news is the A's recently picked up their tenth win of the season. The bad news is tonight they have to play the Astros, who just activated Jose Altuve. He is revved up and ready to cheat-I mean play. So, even if they've set themselves back by a bit, that's a large mountain to climb.

What's weird is that there are individual performances that still make the A's an interesting team. If things keep going at this rate, we will have someone hit a 50+ steal season as a rookie in Oakland [which hasn't happened since....no don't tell me it's right there..], and we will have at least one 30+ homer year. They're not the most multi-dimensional performances, but if they were, ownership would have had them traded years ago.

Brent Rooker is having the best season of anybody, hitting .295 with 11 home runs and 30 RBIs, which is pretty fantastic for a guy who looked like a burnout after last year. True, they are mostly using Rooker as a DH, which also means there's not much use for Jesus Aguilar and, well, Shea Langeliers is forced to catch more often. But they are making sure one of their best players gets to play as much as possible, and keeping him as a DH means there's less of a chance of injury, even on a team which lost one of its sole returning position players, Seth Brown, less than two weeks into the season. I do worry of the sort of cinderella nature of Rooker's rise, and how it may not be good for many longterm plans, but it's nice that he's doing well.

It just seems like so many trusted players on this team have big pieces missing. Ramon Laureano is still a defensive hero but he's only hitting .226. Esteury Ruiz is a great contact hitter and a stellar baserunner that's terrible defensively. So many young players, like Langeliers, Jordan Diaz, J.J. Bleday and Ryan Noda, are great with power-hitting but haven't figured out some of the other stuff yet. Diaz had 2 homers during a Yankee loss, that alone is incredible. You also have three great young pitchers from the Frankie Montas deal, J.P. Sears, Ken Waldichuk and Luis Medina, and none of them are doing well at all with opposing offenses. 

I don't know if much is going to change substantially if people like Brown, Paul Blackburn and, eventually, Mason Miller get activated. This is gonna keep being a sad team to watch, and hopefully these types of performers will keep at it so the A's get to leave with something before the cries for the Vegas move get louder.

Coming Tomorrow- A rookie who had a tour-de-force game a few days ago.

Noot Perspective


The good news is that the Cardinals are 5-2 in their last 7 games. The bad news is that right now they're playing the Dodgers, a team that basically only Paul Goldschmidt does well against. If I wanted to see everybody but Paul Goldschmidt flounder, I'd have watched literally every other Cardinals series this year.

Things are going better for this Cardinals team, but just because they're doing better doesn't mean they're 'good' yet. Are they better than the Reds, absolutely, even if the standings don't show it. They just have too many highly regarded players not performing at the levels they were anticipated to. Willson Contreras has gotten better in the last few weeks, and he's back to catching again, but this isn't an overwhelming year to put against his Cubs numbers. Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas both have ERAs around 5. Even Adam Wainwright is pitching like a 41-year-old should be pitching. And with an outfield overloaded with homegrown stars, O'Neill and Carlson are hurt, Jordan Walker's back in the minors and the main outfield assets are people like Alec Burleson and Juan Yepez, who aren't exactly known for their defense. 

The good news is that this does leave Lars Nootbaar as a starting outfield option, and he's been fantastic in a full season effort after scorching through the WBC alongside Ohtani and Yoshida. Not only his he hitting .287 with 13 RBIs and 5 steals, but his defense is definitely Bader caliber, and having a young guy like that in the outfield, especially with so many outfielders injured, is a plus. I think he'll be a handy guy as the team builds going forward, especially if Walker does figure out MLB consistency.

The sweet spot these Cardinals need to find is balancing the impressive prospects with the big tentpole free agents they can pull. Right now this team belongs to people like Goldschmidt, Arenado and Contreras, and there are performances like Nootbaar, Tommy Edman, Nolan Gorman and Ryan Helsley that are just as impressive but perhaps not as well-heralded. There's also the fear that these guys could be dealt or leave in free agency because of the emphasis on the big deals. I don't think this organization is short-sighted enough for that to happen, but you also never know.

I do think the Cardinals' May will be a better look than their April, but I don't know how long it will be until they're ready to take on the Brewers and Cubs [and Pirates I suppose] for a climb back to the top.

Coming Tonight: He was decent enough for the Twins, was dealt for Emilio Pagan, and somehow ended up on the worst team in baseball. Making the most of it, though.

Thursday, May 18, 2023



Even two years after the MLB put down a ban on spider tack and similar sticky devices, I feel like we're still hearing about tack-users as much as we used to. Obviously Domingo German got a storm of boos from Yankee fans after his tack suspension, which means he's finally found another way to miss games without being injured or beating the shit out of someone. There's still lingering distrust from Mets fans towards Max Scherzer, who's still on the mend from injuries in addition to his tack usage. And it's clear that the umps are really trying to nail people on this, even in a season where one of the best pitchers in baseball is someone who very famously used tack in his prime, that being Gerrit Cole.

But Cole's resurgence despite the lack of sticky substances does point to another trend, a better one, which is pitchers who used to be relying on tack either never recovering or finding their way back to where they were. And right now it's looking like Lucas Giolito has fallen into the latter category after fears he'd be lost to the former. 

I had considered Giolito one of the biggest names in the category of careers lost to giving up tack, like Michael Pineda, Hector Santiago and, well, Tyler Glasnow. Last year, though not terrible, Giolito has a 4.90 ERA and a 1.435 WHIP, despite making all his starts and striking out 177. When you compare it to his prime, likely thanks to tack, it's not great. But so far in 2023, Giolito seems to have gotten his mojo back, with a 3.86 ERA, 56 Ks and a 1.118 WHIP, in addition to leading all White Sox pitchers in WAR. It's a sign of massive improvement, and a step in the right direction for someone who already had a ton of talent, regardless of tack.

Now, the big question is whether pitching without training wheels, in a sense, is gonna lead to more injuries for Giolito, who's mostly avoided the IL for the majority of his career. We saw how it affected Glasnow, and how he's struggled to get back to where he was. I worry something similar could happen to Giolito. Hell, right now his chief collaborator, Mike Clevinger, can talk about injuries ripping out a chunk of one's career. Sunshine did make it out the other side, though, but I'm not sure if the domestic issues are gonna make him teammates with Bauer again soon.

I think having a stronger Giolito does bode well for this Sox season, as does some of the team activity within the last week. They're winning games again, getting people off the IL and finding stars where they may not expect it [Jake Burger's suddenly their chief power guy]. I'm not sure if they'll completely rebound from their awful start, but I feel better about this team than I did.

Coming Tomorrow- He played with Ohtani this March, and now he's blossoming into a big piece of his team.

Marlins Update: I Guess Everyone In Florida Does This Edition


In 2019, one of the big deals coming out of Oakland were the callups of both A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo, two of their top pitching prospects, at once. With the A's still a big part of playoff races, this was an extremely big deal, and the hope was that these two would supplant the rotation in years to come.

That did not happen. Puk could not stay healthy, or up in the majors, while Luzardo struggled at every chance the A's gave him. The only way this power duo took off was, ultimately, once Luzardo was traded for Starling Marte in mid-2021. The following year, Luzardo took off in Miami, with a 3.32 ERA and 120 Ks in 18 games around injuries. Puk had his best relief year yet, with a 3.12 ERA and 76 Ks in 62 appearances for the A's. 

And then, almost unceremoniously, Puk was shipped off to Miami in exchange for J.J. Bleday. And without even meaning to, the Marlins just reunited the rookie power duo of their heyday in a market going the exact opposite that they were. How much d'you wanna think Billy Beane realized what he did about an hour after the fact and facepalmed big-time?

This is, I suppose, the genius of the Kim Ng era of Marlins baseball. Ng has learned from the Rays in how she's snuck great players away from big teams for practically nothing. Considering how many injuries it took to get Bleday up last year, it was clear that Bleday was worth more as a trade piece than he was as a Marlins power hitter, and Puk has been worth his weight in gold so far for the Marlins, even if he is injured.

It's interesting considering that there's still leftovers from the previous regime's decisions. I mean, yeah we're rid of, like, Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra, Jordan Yamamoto and Starlin Castro, but there are some big pieces of those trades remaining, like Garrett Cooper and Sandy Alcantara, and obviously Alcantara is still one of the biggest stars in Miami. And then most of the current lineup is made up of either big contracts [Jorge Soler, Avisail Garcia, Jean Segura] or really sneaky GM moves [Joey Wendle, Jon Berti, Tanner Scott, Luis Arraez]. The only people in the current lineup who came up through the team are Nick Fortes, Bryan de la Cruz and Jesus Sanchez. And while those are good pieces, they're not as crucial as someone like Chisholm or Alcantara.

Now, the future of this team, and the longer-term Ng sensibilities, are beginning to seep in. The rotation is beginning to load up with homegrown people, like the preexisting Garrett, Cabrera and Rogers, and now the 20-year-old Eury Perez, who's been impressive already. You also have Peyton Burdick and Jerar Encarnacion beginning to creep up and begin to inherit the team. The homegrown guys are definitely there, and are getting more chances now. 

Even if the Marlins aren't an overwhelming favorite in the NL East this year, they're still doing a lot right, and are setting the foundation for the next few years. That definitely counts for something.

Coming Tonight: I thought he'd lost his stuff after the tack ban, and evidently I was wrong.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Yennier Dark


Initially I thought the decision for the Orioles to trade Jorge Lopez, especially in a year where the team was rebuilding, was a little misguided. Yes, they could move beyond the need for people like Trey Mancini, Pablo Lopez and Tanner Scott, but it just seemed like a kneecapping of a bullpen that was getting better and better.

Only one piece of the Twins' return for Lopez has made the majors thus far, as he had MLB experience before the trade, and that is Yennier Cano. Cano, a Cuban defector who made his MLB debut at 28, gave up 14 runs with the Twins, and then 9 runs with the Orioles, over only 13 games. And yet in 16 games as an Oriole in 2023, Yennier Cano has given up...zero runs. 

16 games, 21 innings, 64 batters, 4 hits and a HBP. No walks. No runs. What in blazes?

I know I got mad at Brian Snikter last year for nominating Ryan Helsley for an ASG role despite him being essentially a nobody, but Yenier Cano may be pulling off one of the most incredible relief runs we've seen in a while. All this while the O's not only have bigger bullpen stars, like Felix Bautista, Bryan Baker and Mike Baumann, as well as huge performances from Adley Rutschman, Cedric Mullins and Jorge Mateo. I would not have guessed that somebody like Cano would have a bigger WAR after a month and a half than Mullins or Rutschman. But evidently not giving up any runs for 16 games makes you extremely valuable.

I have no idea how long the Yennier Cano untouchable train is gonna keep rolling for, but this is the sort of team that has enough great relievers to withstand a catastrophe. The funny thing about building a team for over a decade is that you figure out which great pieces to prioritize, and that includes bullpen guys. Baker, Bautista, Cionel Perez, Danny Coloumbe and, well, Cano aren't homegrown, but they've come up through this system and have been well-regarded enough to be in this position right now. This also explains the amount of rookie position players the O's have honed in the last few years, including some, like Ryan McKenna and Terrin Vavra, who are getting chances this year.

Somebody like Yennier Cano is one of the best things that could happen to this Orioles team as they come to prominence, and he's not the only feel good, out-of-nowhere guy on this team.

Coming Tomorrow- The A's should just change their slogan to 'What Oakland Makes, Miami Takes' at this point.

Cobb And a Half

As I am writing this Alex Cobb is on the mound against my Philadelphia Phillies. To be perfectly honest, of all Giants pitchers I figured my Phils would struggle with, I wasn't expecting Alex Cobb. He's 35, he's been a mid-rotation starter his whole career, I saw him get lit up in Toronto 5 years ago, I just figure somebody like Logan Webb or Anthony Desclafani will be more of a menace to these guys right now.

But no. Cobb's having his best season in years, with a 1.70 ERA, 41 Ks and 3 wins. It is, by far, the most impressive starting performance on this team, even as Webb and Wood lower their ERAs. And right now, he's not letting the Phils budge even an inch. Oh sure, he's walking people a lot, but so far nobody's getting home.

The Giants are a flawed team this year, as the Kaplerball experiment really only yielded a superior product once, and now the team's more of a novelty than something like Tampa, which is legit. It's fun to see second-hand guys like Mike Yastrzemski, LaMonte Wade, Thairo Estrada and J.D. Davis succeed for this team, but uh...have you noticed how few actual Giants products have impacted this team? Giants fans were waiting on Joey Bart to come up, he did and for the third year in a row he's looking more like a bust than the future. David Villar was expected to be the starting man at third this year, he's currently back in the minors. Sean Hjelle, despite his stature, has continued to be unsuccessful at an MLB level. It's really just Webb, Camilo Doval and Tyler Rogers at this point.

Or at least it was until Casey Schmitt came up. Schmitt, who is 24 and was a 2020-era draft pick, has been nothing short of incredible ever since his callup. He's hitting .464 with 13 hits, 5 RBIs and 2 homers in 7 games. Granted, his average does shrink with every meeting with Zack Wheeler, but can you blame him? I do think someone like Schmitt is a good sign in terms of homegrown Giants pieces, but we're gonna need more than that. Thairo Estrada and John Brebbia aren't gonna be the answer forever. 

There's some intriguing signs of movement with this Giants team, and I hope they keep it up and move towards a new era. It remains to be seen if that involves doing especially well this year, though.

Coming Tonight: Next on TLC, it's The Man Who Forgot How to Give Up Runs

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

The Curiosity of a Cubs-Astros Series


One of the upsides of the expanded schedule displacements is seeing matchups you may not always get, or seeing players come to markets that may not always get big stars like that. One of the downsides is sometimes these teams that don't always play each other end up delivering outmatched outcomes. How else do you explain the Twins completely obliterating the Cubs this weekend? 27 points the Twins scored off these guys, which is alarming considering how excellent this pitching has been lately. It was enough to completely humanize Marcus Stroman, and it was debilitating enough to send Hayden Wesneski right back to Iowa for the first time this year. 

And now that they're playing the Astros, they've already lost Cody Bellinger to an outfield wall. Even for a feel-good team like the Cubs, things aren't looking great.

When looking at it from afar, this matchup seems straightforward. 2016's champ vs. 2017's champ, rebuilder vs. the perennial, upward trajectory vs. downward spiral. The Astros, with all their faults and absences, are still 22-19, while the Cubs, with all their triumphs, are still 19-22. They're inverted versions of each other, and though it's not certain which direction they're both heading in, it's curious that they've run into each other at this stage.

The Astros, as they are right now, are curious enough. Altuve, Garcia, McCullers, Urquidy and Brantley hurt, Springer, Gurriel, Correa, Cole and Verlander are gone, and the rotation is comprised of two veterans [Valdez and Javier] and three rookies [Hunter Brown, Brandon Bielak and J.P. France]. And yet even with all this inexperience populating the team, because the Astros have been conservative at deadlines and trusted their homegrown pieces, all these guys coming up and inheriting the team are quite good. France has been superb in his first few starts, Brown is an early ROY candidate and longtime minor leaguer Corey Julks is starting in left. What's odder still is that, with the exception of Brown, most of these guys are already in their late 20s, so these pieces are essentially being promoted in their primes, as the Astros have been so good in the early 2020s that they haven't needed to promote people like that. Which is why you get J.P. France already pitching like a pro in his first starts or Julks already stealing 5 bases. The initial buffering period has been circumvented, and these guys are already ready.

Which, compared to the Cubs, is a little over-the-top.

Right now, Christopher Morel is hitting .346 with 9 RBIs and 4 homers in 6 games. It makes it seem misguided, then, that the Cubs left Morel in Iowa to start the season, instead giving Miles Mastrobuoni the third outfielder spot out of camp. Then once Nico Hoerner got hurt, instead of giving Nick Madrigal more playing time, the Cubs let Morel take 2nd more often, and use that to get more at-bats to absolutely crush the ball with. In Chicago, because there's more open spots, some people get rushed into positions they haven't earned yet, and some people have to earn positions that the team isn't sure is theirs yet. Morel has to use a different ramp to a starting position than someone like Corey Julks. It also means that someone like Morel is a bigger name because he came on the scene more suddenly than someone like a gradual shifting of gears like Brown or Julks. 

At the same time, the Cubs' big signing going into 2023, Dansby Swanson, has been phenomenal, hitting .280 with 15 RBIs and 11 doubles. The Astros' big signing going into 2023, Jose Abreu, has been less than phenomenal, only hitting .223 with more strikeouts than hits and NO HOME RUNS. Although I do think it's a bit unfair to exchange assets, seeing as an Astros addition just beat a Cubs addition last night, but enough about Bellinger and the wall..

Obviously in a series like this, I'm rooting for the Cubs. You want a team like the Cubs to come to prominence and take down a team that's always good, like the Stos. I'm not saying the Cubs WILL finish the series victorious, I'd just like them to. And I say this knowing how unable the Astros are to chill for just five seconds.

Coming Tomorrow- He's 35, he's having a hell of a comeback season, and he's facing my team tonight at home.

Greener Pastures


The Tigers this year have been hanging onto the fringes of what is considered 'good baseball'. They had a 5 game winning streak last month, then they had another 5-game winning streak to begin this month. The products of these streaks make up 5/9ths [more than half] of the team's 18 overall wins. So they're good at winning a bunch of games in a row, but they're not very good at winning games...otherwise. 

It's strange. These Tigers teams are always strange because the tools necessary to compete are all there, and they just never exactly click into place the way they're supposed to. Every year in Detroit is leading a horse to water that is defiantly against drinking. Passed out on the side of the oasis, knowing the solution but too stubborn to actually use it. You've got a whole rotation that keeps getting injured, two of the biggest prospects in baseball who have a combined 0.5 WAR, and a bunch of legitimately great players who aren't keen to channel their best years.

[Save for Eddie Rodriguez, he's doing great.]

I mean, Riley Greene is still one of the best players on this team. He's not really hitting, he only has 15 RBIs. He's not a terrific fielder, he's got negative defensive WAR numbers. He at least has 5 steals and is still a good baserunner, but...he's not exactly running the team. Yes, I am aware that he's only 22 and not everyone is Juan Soto, but Greene was looking way better than this in the minors. Same with Spencer Torkelson, who once again refuses to deliver anything salvageable at MLB levels, even with 17 RBIs. These two weren't supposed to be struggling this badly, and yet here we are. 

The same problems have persisted. Nobody's hitting home runs, the injuries are keeping the rotation from being in any way intimidating, too many starring players are hitting under the Mendoza line, and whichever impressive players are there [Alex Lange, Jake Rogers] may not be there after July. I wish there was something that could stop the cycle, like, I dunno, Casey Mize, Matt Manning or Tarik Skubal all being healthy and dominant at once. But will that ever happen? 

The Tigers have this much that they're struggling with...and yet they're in third place handsomely, with enough of a chance to lap the Guardians in the next week or so. What a wild team this is.

Coming Tonight: A shortstop that went from a contender to a team that is just now contending again.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Hell on Wheels


I blink and the Phils are in second. It's not certain whether it's due chiefly to the 5 game winning streak or due to the Mets completely falling apart. I wanna say the former buuuut you can't always cut out Met inefficiency. 

I think that it's a bit more complex than simply 'Bryce Harper saved the Phillies', but I'm also not seeing a ton of evidence to the contrary. The Phils got Bryce back 10 games ago, and after 4 losses, the team started heating up. What's interesting is that, conversely, Bryce only took one game to heat back up, with 6 hits, including a home run, in the three games immediately before the win streak. Overall, he's had 13 hits and 5 RBIs, 2 homers included, since returning from the IL. This is peak Bryce we are witnessing, and even if I do have some worries about his defensive versatility, since he's been DHing since coming back, I am overjoyed that we've gotten this guy back. 

It's also nice that this resurgence has brought Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler back to their usual dominance after rough starts. Wheeler had been striking a lot of people out, but opposing offenses were getting the best of him. Now he's leveled to a 3-2 record and a 3.80 ERA, and still leads the team in strikeouts with 53. I'm very glad that Wheeler's been one of our most consistent pitchers since coming over from New York. I feel like Wheeler has been just a better version of Jake Arrieta; more bang for our buck, I guess. 

It's also been nice to see Castellanos, Stott, Marsh, Turner and Realmuto continue to surge after their strong starts. Apart from Turner, most of these guys took a while to figure out how to be consistent in Philly, and it's nice that they're still doing well. Turner is still not entirely where I'd thought he'd be at this point, but he's still one of the best defenders on the team, and his bat will eventually heat up. I do worry about the injury to Alvarado, but we have Gregory Soto and Craig Kimbrel here, and they're both improving slowly.

I know this team has a while before they really impress me as much as they did last October, but they're doing a lot correctly right now, and I sincerely hope they keep it up. 

Coming Tomorrow- A rare coveted Tigers rookie who's actually performing well this year.