Monday, July 31, 2023

Entrances and Exits in Denver


Things seem to have hit even more of a snag for the Rockies as of late. C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk just got traded, Kris Bryant, Charlie Blackmon and Chase Anderson just got hurt, and there's a chance that Jurickson Profar and Brent Suter could go too. The Rox are the one team in the NL West with absolutely no chance of competing, as the Padres have even had a decent enough week in addition to the strong Giants, D-Backs and Dodgers seasons. It's another 24 hours of tension for a team that's just had rotten luck since the core of the 2018 team dissipated.

But...Brendan Rodgers just got activated, and is jumping back into the lineup. So after 4 months of waiting, the Rockies may have just got their hero back.

Not that it was the difference between first and last or anything, but I do credit the inefficiency of the Rockies this year to not having someone like Rodgers to rally everyone around [in addition to, y'know, Marquez and Senza being hurt]. The team signed people like Kris Bryant, Jurickson Profar and, well, C.J. Cron, to build the heart of the lineup after cementing McMahon and Rodgers in there, and that really has not happened. This year, a lot has rested on Ryan McMahon's shoulders, and while he's delivered another great year, it's gotta be up to more than him. Tovar, Jones and Doyle are young and beginning to figure it out, but not to that level yet. And so here we are, a Rockies team that can barely be relied upon to hit for power. McMahon leads the team in homers with 16. Ellis Burks weeps. 

Since the very beginning of the season, though, one of this team's saving graces has been the bullpen, and it's been durable enough to continue to be one of their best attributes. I think the trick is having enough guys that are either really young and still under team control for a while, or contracted for the next several years and not going anywhere, so that's why only really Brent Suter is in the line of fire. Justin Lawrence is the most impressive of these, he's been an excellent middle relief guy, with a 2.89 ERA in 59 innings. Since Pierce Johnson's departure, Lawrence has been closing games, and he's been sharp enough, with 8 saves already. And then behind him you have Jake Bird, Matt Koch, Daniel Bard and, for the moment at least, Suter and Brad Hand. That's not a bad assortment of relievers, and they've at the very least taken the sting out of half the starters being injured. 

I'm hoping Rodgers' return will add a little bit of comfort to this struggling Rockies team, especially as people continue to depart. It may be a bit more complicated than that, and they might even be waving goodbye to Rodgers in another year if this keeps up, but it's nice to hope that something good comes of all this.

Coming Tomorrow-It's been a while since I've looked at a homegrown Red Sox pitching prospect and gone 'ohhhhboy' to myself. I mean, yes, Tanner Houck, but this one might be something special.

The A's in Rebuild Limbo


Here's how you know the A's have achieved a new level of badness: I haven't heard many of their pieces being talked about in trades. Like, who can you pilfer at this point? Trevor May? Paul Blackburn? Rooker I guess but would that just be kicking a team when they're down?

The A's, as the worst team in baseball, are trying to rebuild, but are doing so at a gradual enough pace that it's not clear if this current wave of it is going to amount to anything. The rebuild going into this year involved a lot of prospects from other teams, like J.J. Bleday, Esteury Ruiz, Kyle Muller, Ken Waldichuk and Freddy Tarnok, and I honestly don't know if they're gonna be here long enough for the team to compete. It's why I call this 'rebuild limbo', like the period in between the actual rebuild, where they just sort of get by with what they have and hope it's enough. 

And the fact that even established guys like Jace Peterson and Aledmys Diaz can't help lift this especially much just proves how unsuccessful a lot of this mid-rebuild has been. Ruiz at the very least can steal bases, but that's all he can do. Bleday was supposed to be big for Miami, but I think they knew he wasn't all that great, because all he's done for the A's is hit .213 and occasionally hit for power. The ex-Yanks aren't great rotation guys, save for J.P. Sears, who's just proven how ready he was last year, and how ill-advised that Montas trade was. It just seems like a dumping ground for people that couldn't work in other markets, and ironically feels more like an expansion team than the A's probably will in a few years.

The decent enough news is that you can begin to see the next wave of rebuilding start to figure things out. Of the two guys the A's brought up recently, Zack Gelof is doing the best right now, with 2 home runs in his past two games [I wrote this Sunday morning], 6 RBIs and 12 hits in 13 games. He seems like a useful young piece, a decent infielder with a nice contact bat. Tyler Soderstrom is coming a bit slower, hitting only .200 in his first 11 games, but something may happen over time with this guy, considering how highly ranked he was as a prospect. And then you also have to remember that Mason Miller was playing really well before he got injured, Cody Thomas is beginning to figure things out, and you still have Darell Hernaiz and Lawrence Butler in triple-A.

You can see the next stage of this team waiting to take over, but it does involve a lot of this stage standing aside, which they may not realize needs to happen for another year or so. And by that point, who knows how many fans will still want to go to games.

Coming Tonight: A Rockies outfielder that may or may not have been traded by the time I have to write this post, so if he has, a Rockies reliever. 

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Everything Must Chicago


The Cubs-White Sox series often times itself oddly. This year, it happened as the league ramped up to the trade deadline. Also I think there was a sports memorabilia show in town.

At the time of this series, both the White Sox and the Cubs had been thought of as sellers. The White Sox were already in the process of dealing Lucas Giolito, and by the end of the series, which was a Cubs sweep, they'd have let go of Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Kendall Graveman as well. Meanwhile, the Cubs are now a game over .500, coming off a 7 game winning streak [as I write this], and looking a lot more like a competitor than they previously were. The Cubs are only 3.5 games out of a wild card spot, and with this streak they've separated themselves from the pack. Even though I hear they're still listening to offers on Stroman and Bellinger, I don't think the Cubs are as sure of a bet to sell as they were.

It's also evident right now because even the little pieces that were supposed to be replacement level are working for the Cubs. Mike Tauchman has been an awesome leadoff hitter, batting .261 with 33 RBIs in 54 games. Yan Gomes, at 35, has been a surprisingly spry starting catcher, hitting .274 with 62 hits in 69 games. Adbert Alzolay has become an excellent closer, with 12 saves already. And the guys who've joined the cause late, especially Christopher Morel, have been worth it; Morel has 16 homers and 48 RBIs in 60 games. 

This is a Cubs team that can and will teeter on the brink of legitimacy, and maybe needs one more year to be an actual contender, but they have enough to be considered a team that doesn't need to sell, at least in my opinion. You never know what they'll end up doing, but I think they're gonna stand relatively pat.

As for the White Sox...the question for them is who they're gonna end up holding onto. Because even after Lynn, Giolito and Graveman have left, I'm still hearing question marks over several members of this team, will they or won't they go. Mike Clevinger just got activated, and will start in time for people to take a last look at him. Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal and Andrew Vaughn have been mentioned in trade talks, especially Anderson, who I think just needs a change of scenery at this point. I'm even hearing they might want to deal Robert or Jimenez for some reason, who are both still young enough to be pieces of this team for a bit longer. I don't entirely get that approach. Yes, repopulate the youth movement, but maybe give them a few more years?

It is very much down to how pessimistic Kenny Williams is about this team, and considering how far they've fallen I bet he's not thinking anything's gonna happen with this group. And with the team they had in 2019, 2020 and 2021, that's a really depressing thought. They hired the wrong managers, squandered development, got really unlucky with injuries, and can't even rise above a genuinely appalling division. And I hate that they're probably gonna just start trading big pieces and start over, because there's already 3 or 4 teams in this division that are doing that.

It's odd that the Cubs have been luckier than the White Sox, even just 2 years after splitting up their own dynasty. It may also be organizational. It definitely is organizational, a lot of this is the White Sox's organizational struggles. And while both teams could still deal, it's sad that the Cubs feel like the comparative victor here.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the two big rookie call-ups for a team desperate for anything to talk about.

The JV Question


See what happens, Steve? See what happens when you sign a bunch of 40 year olds instead of building upwards?

So, the 2023 Mets ended up being a bold experiment in the field of piling an already-good team with contracts in the hopes of making it better, only for the two biggest contracts to sink solely because they'd been given to a couple of pitchers over 38. The Scherzer and Verlander era of Mets baseball ended after 3 months, with only like 2 or 3 months of them actually being active together. Steve Cohen meant this to be a last hurrah for the 2010s Tigers, and a bulking up of Cy Young winners in the absence of deGrom, what he got was two very human seasons from two guys who didn't need to perform well anymore. These are both first-ballot of Hall of Famers with enough accolades at this point, and a ring each. It was nice to have 'em here, but if the team's gonna sink and not even get over the Marlins, it just points out how meaningless this whole experiment was.

Anyway, once David Robertson was dealt, Max Scherzer went to complain only to get dealt to Texas himself, which is...just a little funny when you think about it. And just like that, the Max Scherzer era of Mets baseball ended after a year and a half of no playoff success and very okay stuff from Scherzer. Like, Scherz was 9-4 with a 4.01 ERA, but we've all seen him do better, and he's also 38 and missed parts of last season. This is the Scherzer I kinda thought would be showing up in Queens, and while it must have been nice for merchandise, it didn't really do anything in the long run. 

So now Scherzer's gone, and Pham and Canha might be going. What does this mean for Verlander? JV, who is 40, is still signed for another year and a half. He's actually built himself a solid enough season, with a 3.24 ERA and 76 Ks in 15 starts. It's not, like, close to what he did last year, or even with the Astros in general, but he can still pitch, and he's still one of the best in the game. There's a chance the Mets trade him too. It's not as clean-cut as Scherzer because there's that extra year, but it's an option, and there are competitors who might need the help. And if Scherzer was underwhelmed with the Mets' level of success this year, I bet Verlander has to be bummed about it too. Here he is, one of the best pitchers of his generation, right off a World Series ring and a Cy Young, doing his best for a team that once again doesn't have the run support to do anything. It's gotta absolutely crush him. And if my instinct's right and JV doesn't even get dealt, well he got to watch Scherzer suit up for a competitor while he gets stuck here to round out the year.

The Mets thankfully have enough guys to start games if they lose both Scherzer and Verlander. Quintana, Carrasco, Senga, Peterson and Megill are all healthy, and while it's not an ideal rotation, it'll get the job done for a bit. There's a chance Cohen could just have Quintana dealt instead of JV, that's just as well. But for a season that began with such trumpets and such promise to lead to losing some of the big marquee pitchers...that has gotta hurt. It's a needed move, but it's gotta be painful as hell for them, and I really wish that this one would have been the one that worked.

For now, we'll just have to see what the Mets do with Verlander. Part of me thinks they keep him. Another part of me wonders what that 35 would look like in red pinstripes.

Coming Tonight- A Chicago White Sock that I am pretty sure is staying in town.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Very Berrios


I think that, with how development has evolved in the past several years, it's a lot more understandable if a player is called up at 20 or 21 and things don't click immediately. Not everybody can be Dave Winfield or Alex Rodriguez, and even somebody like Juan Soto is that. The years of 20-year-careers may be behind us, because so many people are getting called up at 24 and 25 and not getting good til 27. That's just how things are.

Jose Berrios was one of those guys that came up as a huge prospect and didn't immediately soar in the majors. He struggled his first year in 2016, and while he did eventually become an All-Star for the Twins at 24, he had this habit of finding a sweet spot and then losing it and then finding it again over time. And I don't think it's too unheard of for someone to really need a buffering period to get the hang of a new city to play in, Nick Castellanos has needed a year or so to 'get' a new team ever since leaving Detroit, and I'd also throw Yu Darvish into that category. So Berrios, once he found his comfort zone, was fantastic in Minnesota, and then when the Jays traded for him he struggled a bit. He was alright in the second half of 2021, but last year he just couldn't figure it out, with a 5.23 ERA and a league-leading 100 earned runs, despite a respectable 12-7 record.

This season has a lot more of a familiar feel for Berrios. While many Jays pitchers have been on at different times this year, though concerningly not at the same time, Berrios has slowly built the most consistent season of any Blue Jays starter not named Gausman, with an 8-7 record, a 3.40 ERA and 117 strikeouts. Even with the Twins, Berrios wasn't the kind of guy that'd blow you away with immensely hard throwing, but he was always just a solid, consistent starter that could give you 6 or so innings of strong work, and that's what he's returned to being this year. What's been nice is that 4 Jays starters have ERAs below 4, and those same 4 starters have 8 or more wins, also including Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Bassitt, the latter of which has racked up 10 wins, as he's been prone to do lately.

And what's cool is that in addition to the 5 current starters the Jays have going, the four good ones and also Alek Manoah, they have also added a sixth, the returning Hyun-Jin Ryu. Like Berrios, Ryu is prone to his cycles- incredible for a few years, hurt for a few years, incredible again, etc. Now that he's back, while there is a worry that he may not have anything left, there's also the hope that he does have something, and it's enough to make the Jays even more of a threat down the stretch. It also means they don't need to trade for any starting pitchers this year, which helps. 

The Jays have been heating up recently, have been excellent this week especially, and are working their way towards Tampa in the AL East standings. I'd be perfectly alright with them lapping the Rays and embedding themselves deeper into the wild card race. If the Yanks are long-shots now, anyone more likable than the Rays [just Baltimore and Toronto at this point] is a good AL East contender for me.

Coming Tomorrow- So uh...this guy just got a hell of a lot more worried. 

Manny for All Seasons


So here we are. A team with two of the best defenders in baseball, three of the best hitters in baseball, two of the best pitchers in baseball and one of the best closers in baseball...cannot get over .500 no matter how hard they try. In a season where they were projected to win the NL East and waltz through October. It's gotta be the most devastating bait-and-switch for both the players and the fans in San Diego. This was supposed to be their year. And now they have to come out and say that there's not an overwhelming chance that Juan Soto will be traded, which didn't even appear like a thing that needed to be said going into this year.

What makes a lot of this harder for the Padres is that the Dodgers have already stocked up at the deadline, and both the Diamondbacks and Giants have been checking in on trade targets. And because the Padres are 5 games under .500 and not really close to a wild card spot, people are checking in on some of their pieces. They're thinking about trading Josh Hader, which is odd considering that Hader and Soto were some of their most impressive steals of LAST deadline. This is how wild a year can be, that a team like the Padres can go from buyers to potential sellers.

And I hate it for somebody like Manny Machado, who is locked up and playing well, because he deserves to continue to have a strong team to play around. Wil Myers played in San Diego just long enough to see the team compete, and Machado was a big piece of the 2022 team. But while the Padres will still have a ton of great pieces left even if they do sell, there's still the feeling that Machado may have gotten himself back into a post-2016 Orioles situation, where it looks like it's gonna get better but it keeps getting worse. And while Machado did have a slow start, he's now playing just as well as usual, with 59 RBIs, 88 hits and 20 home runs, well on the way to another 25+ homer year. He may not be as flashy as Soto or Tatis, but he has matured into the rock of this team, and I'm so happy he's come as far as he has. He was once the young whiz kid, like Soto and Tatis, and now he's evolving into the sort of central figure, a lot like Miguel Cabrera, that the rest of the club can lean on. I do hope he doesn't have the drop-off that Miggy had.

I love that this Padres team has all of Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado playing well in their primes, and I really hope that even if they don't compete this year that they can keep that big three intact. I know Preller thinks he can get something nice for Soto, but maybe wait it out and see if he wants to stick around for a decent sum. Y'never know.

Coming Tonight: It took this guy a while to figure out Toronto, but I think he's got it down pat now.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Kirby: All-Star Allies


The Mariners have the kind of team this year that is good on enough levels to keep them from being a punchline, but not good enough to be intimidating to any competitors. After a 2022 which saw this team thrust into glory more than halfway through, it's still not impossible for the Mariners of 2023 to figure something out, and they definitely have the team for it. But the real issue is that the AL West is not as wide open as it was last year.

Last year, all the Mariners had to contend with really were the Astros, as the Rangers were a 2nd place team only due to being luckier midyear than the lower three. This year, the Mariners not only have Houston to worry about, but a much better Rangers team, and an Angels team that just decided to catch fire, and will be wielding Shohei Ohtani for the rest of the year. And with the Mariners just being 'good' right now, and the other three being decidedly better...that doesn't really allow the Ms much of a chance. Especially considering that there will already be three or four AL East teams in the running for the wild card race, in addition to the Angels and, for the moment, Astros.

So unless something goes extremely right, this just may be a down year for the Mariners. And looking at a lot of this team, it's a shame. The development from years past has led to a really well-formed and varied Mariners team. George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo are all young guys that are providing solid rotation support, even alongside the foregone conclusion that is Luis Castillo. One of the things that may have doomed this team was the injury to Robbie Ray, as even if he was not at 100% last year he was still an excellent innings eater with a ton of experience, and the Mariners only have one of those right now with Gonzales injured. Yes, people like Kirby are doing well enough even without veteran presence, as Kirby's got a 3.49 ERA in 20 starts, but Woo and Miller are still having occasional rookie mistakes. I look at how good Miller was in his first few starts, and how he's still good now but looking a lot more human.

And that's honestly how I'd describe a lot of this Mariners team. Good, yes, but human. Jarred Kelenic's a few steps down from where he was in May. Teoscar Hernandez has 16 home runs and 58 RBIs, but it still feels like a step down from his Jays numbers. Even Julio Rodriguez, while good this year, isn't blowing the doors off the place like he did last year. And while there's a ton that's working with this Mariners team, like both catchers, the bench support of Jose Caballero, Paul Sewald and his 20 saves, and the continued dominance of J.P. Crawford, there's still a lot that really should be better than it is.

The Mariners probably aren't going to sell this weekend, or at least not substantially, but after this series with Arizona they're gonna really need to figure out if they're a sure bet for this October. Because if not, they need to put in the steps to get over this season and get back to where they were last year.

Coming Tomorrow- I was worried about him for a second, but he always manages to show up.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Reds Against the Pointy End


Here's the truth of the matter. The Reds have to play three games against the Dodgers starting tomorrow. The Dodgers are very good. They've dropped some games here and there, but they're very good, just re-bolstered their infield, and are looking to reestablish themselves as a first-placer to be reckoned with. The Reds, for this series, will be starting Brandon Williamson, Luke Weaver and Graham Ashcraft. Williamson's the only one with an ERA lower than 5. 

This is what happens when the majority of the rotation gets hurt. You wind up stuck in a win-or-sink situation where Luke Weaver has to pitch competently, and...I mean, what do you think's gonna happen? 

The weirdest part is that two of these guys, Ashcraft and Weaver, have been in the rotation since the start of the season, and the ones who've been the most helpful in the absence of Greene, Lodolo, Overton and Gutierrez, namely Williamson, Andrew Abbott and Ben Lively, have been the called-in reinforcements. And while it's nice that the people they've called up have been so reliable, it's at the point where once those guys have pitched around, you're stuck with the less savory options and you kinda have to hope the offense and bullpen come through. And while the Dodgers are similarly fighting rotation injuries at the moment, they're putting up Bobby Miller and Emmet Sheehan, and they're the product of a slightly more ironclad farm system. 

The good news is that the lineup is a ton less worrying, especially against a competitor like the Dodgers, because of the rise of guys like Spencer Steer, Elly de la Cruz, T.J. Friedl, Will Benson and Matt McLain, who are all playing super well right now. McLain's hitting .300 with 35 RBIs in 62 games, and might somehow nab more ROY votes than de la Cruz or Steer. Benson has also emerged as a secret weapon this month, hitting .282 with 42 hits in 56 games, plus 10 steals and a team-leading .909 OPS. I am loving how this infield has come together, though while I hear rumors that Jonathan India could be shopped, I honestly think Nick Senzel is the more economic option to cut seeing how well India gets on with these three rookies. 

The Reds are a game and a half out of first and are still embedded within the wild card race. I am proud to say these guys are competitors, and might even bulk up a bit in the next few days, and I'm overjoyed that this is a possibility. After losing Castillo and Mahle last year, the Reds now could snag some cool players to bolster their playoff case, and possibly make the playoffs with almost an entirely different mindset than the 2020 team. I'd absolutely love to see it. The first step might need to be a loaner starter, though, as starting Luke Weaver every 5 days is not how you get to October.

Coming Tomorrow- Out of all the homegrown Mariners starters from the last few years, the one I didn't expect to break the biggest this year.

Something Has Clicked in Detroit


Even as I'm aware that the Tigers will likely be sellers this deadline, and will likely be shopping Michael Lorenzen and possibly some relief pieces. But the remainder of the pieces of this team that are free agents relatively soon are injured, and there's so many who are under team control for the foreseeable future and probably won't be dealt. So it might just be Lorenzen.

And then I just looked at the rest of this team made sense. What had been an indistinct mess of different gameplans and ideas is now beginning to look like a unified, organized vision for a Tigers team going forward. So, uh...I guess if they lose people at the deadline it's not gonna really hurt them too much.

Losing a starter in Lorenzen, which hasn't happened yet but probably will, will only set the team back slightly. Lorenzen's been a great addition, with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.093 WHIP in 17 starts, providing consistency and flair during Rodriguez's injury stint. But as good as Lorenzen is, he's only there to fuel the next generation. That he was pushed into a leading role in the first half is more the fault of injuries than his own dominance, but he's done a lot for this team. Right now both Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal are healthy and thriving; Manning already has a combined no-no under his belt, while Skubal has a 0.882 WHIP in his first 4 starts back. 

If Lorenzen goes, the rotation will consist of Manning, Skubal, Rodriguez, Reese Olson, and either Alex Faedo or Joey Wentz, probably Wentz cause he's done 16 starts. And then you still have Boyd and Turnbull as short term options, Mize coming back eventually, and Sawyer Gipson-Long somewhere in the picture as the team goes forward. That's...pretty decent going forward. There's incentives in place to keep things from scattering into disarray as they did when Mize, Skubal and Manning all got hurt.

Meanwhile, the lineup actually seems compact and concise. Some of the dead weight has been dropped, Jonathan Schoop's been cut, Jake Marisnick's elsewhere, and they seem to have a pretty compact group of 13 guys that are doing the right thing. Andy Ibanez has seemed to take 2nd base, Nick Maton has been starting more at 3rd but ceding more to Zach McKinstry on the offensive side, Vierling and Kerry Carpenter are bobbing for right field but still factoring into the team's future plans, and there's enough flexibility with the eventual return of Austin Meadows considering Akil Baddoo and Miguel Cabrera's relative disposability. 

With Riley Greene playing well, Spencer Torkelson's power bat heating up and the bullpen producing several nice seasons, the Tigers might actually be building something here, and one can only hope that it can be sustained once Mize and Meadows come back.

Coming Tonight: Bursting onto the scene like a bat out of hell and hitting for power like only few Reds before him, a guy who's making sure we don't count out Cincinnati just yet.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

How the East was Taijuan


It really is as simple as this: if Andrew Painter hadn't overworked himself in the minors and didn't need Tommy John surgery, the Phillies would have Top 5 all-MLB rotation this year. And that's with no disrespect intended towards Cristopher Sanchez, who's been decent if imperfect since coming up. When Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler, Taijuan Walker and Ranger Suarez are that good, doing just alright is gonna make you feel inadequate comparatively.

The Phillies are in second place in the NL East, have a great spot in the Wild Card race, and get to play teams like the Pirates and Marlins coming up. What's been interesting to watch has been this current series with the Orioles, where all the games have been close, and most have been decided by a late run or extra-innings move by somebody like Alec Bohm or Colton Cowser. These are two great teams neck-and-neck, and it's been awesome to see them try and outmatch each other. As I write this the Phils are looking like they're finishing with the series win, but you can never tell honestly.

The Phillies were able to hold on to momentum for most of June and early July, and have looked relatively decent since the break, in order to stave off the Mets and Marlins, who've had debilitating losing streaks in those periods. A lot of that comes down to the starting pitching, which has a 3.84 cumulative ERA, honestly lightened by Cristopher Sanchez's surprisingly low 2.98 ERA. The bulk of the rotation is made up of solid innings-eaters like Nola and Wheeler, plus Taijuan Walker, who shook off a slow start to become one of the team's best pitchers this year. Walker has been a tad inconsistent since his return to consistency in 2020, but he's been excellent when on, and the Phillies have been experiencing an excellent campaign from him, with an 11-4 record and a 4.06 ERA. Walker may not be the flashiest of these starters, but he's allowed the least amount of hits, and the least amount of runs, of the three who've been active since Opening Day. I'm very happy with how he's done for the Phils, as I worried he'd resemble the shoddiest of his Mets tenure with us. 

We're also seeing a fairly strong campaign from Aaron Nola in what could be his last season in Philadelphia. As the team seems to be competing through the end of the month, I doubt he'll be ending the season anywhere else, and it will be interesting to see if Sam Fuld tries to keep Nola around after the season. I think it'd be nice if he stuck around, he's certainly been a fan favorite here, but I also know he might want a big contract somewhere starrier, so that might happen as well. And considering that we're likely without Painter for another damned year, it'd be nice to have more starting security.

Speaking of starting security, there's a feeling that Fuld might go for a fifth starter at the deadline to take the pressure off Sanchez. While Syndergaard wasn't worth his weight in gold last year, I'd be down to see the team net someone cool for the stretch run. Maybe we bring back Drew Smyly? Maybe we give Michael Lorenzen a shot? Maybe we aim higher and go for a bigger gun a seller's auctioning off? It's fun to dream, even though I've been disappointed in July before.

Coming Tomorrow- Ironically, one of the potential rotation additions I mentioned.

Gleyber Shortage


When Gleyber Torres left the game this weekend with a thankfully mild injury, my first thought was 'figures'.

The Yankees' modern culture is getting injured and losing ALCSs. There's no legacy of winning or getting to the World Series, there's no perennial standouts, there's just 'well, you could have been there if you were healthier'. We're not the 70s Steelers anymore, we're the 70s Raiders. And even they managed to win once or twice. 

The Yankee experience has been boiled down to 'oh, well once x gets back off the IL we'll be set', and then that player gets off the IL and isn't the same. Carlos Rodon still hasn't reached any of the material that made him great with Chicago or San Francisco, he's more along the lines of the stuff he had before then that nearly got him cut from the White Sox. 7.36 ERA with 11 strikeouts in 3 starts? Either we rushed him from the injury or he just doesn't have it this year. Severino similarly looks shaken in his return from the injury plagued years, and it's kinda upsetting. At least Tommy Kahnle isn't a shell of his former self post-injury, but I'm still worried for Jonathan Loiasiga when he comes back. 

On top of that, we're still waiting for Frankie Montas's first start of the season, we've lost Jose Trevino and Josh Donaldson for the season, and we're hoping that Nestor Cortes and Aaron Judge are back soon enough. Because unlike the 2019 year, where we had enough depth pieces to stop up from completely submarining when everybody got hurt, we're in 5th place right now. The Red Sox are selling and they're doing about as well as we are. And I bet Cashman still wants to buy.

Hence why I got so worried when Torres left early. Gleyber has been one of the few bright spots of the Yankees in July, hitting .325 this month with 11 RBIs and 25 hits. Torres hasn't been a super-duper-star like many fans wanted him to be, but he's been consistent, reliable and capable of several different types of winning moves. Though Bader has had his moments, Rizzo's been heating up and Stanton's been hitting lots of home runs, Torres has been carrying this team, as we've always wanted him to. It's just...not enough right now because half the team's injured.

As I write this, the Yankees are getting killed by the Mets. They're headed to Baltimore this weekend. It's a little odd that I may have been there for one of their few wins of July 2023. I really hope that there's an uptick of some sort, but...again, I'm putting all my hope on the backs of people who are injured to get right back into where they were, and that's not sustainable. It hasn't been this far.

Coming Tonight [?]: Conversely, someone who's honestly playing really well as I write this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Catcher That Saved The Giants [No, Not That One]


Joey Bart must feel like hell about now.

Since being drafted second overall in the 2018 draft by the Giants, Joey Bart has been primed to be the heir apparent behind the plate of Buster Posey. His minors numbers were awesome, his bat was nailing the developmental opposition, and as Posey continued injury-prone campaigns, the countdown to Bart taking over seemed to tick closer and closer. In 2020, during a pandemic-shortened season that Posey refused to take part in for the sake of his own safety, Bart got called up. Because there were no minor leagues for him to ramp up in, Bart hit .233 in 33 games. 

Then, in 2021, Posey comes back, the Giants go with Curt Casali as backup, and Bart gets 2 spectacular games in the majors while hitting .294 in the minors. Interestingly, the season Bart's not a factor in the Giants' plans, the Giants make the playoffs and win the NL West with a tremendous year. Then Posey retires. Bart is primed for a starting position, with Casali still looking to back up, and in 2022, in 97 games in the majors, Bart hits .215 with double the amount of strikeouts to his hits total. The one chance he had when all the eyes were on him was blown.

This season, the Giants began the year with Roberto Perez behind the plate, and while he did well, he was injured very soon into the season, meaning Bart would be the next logical choice. Barr has hit .231 with 21 strikeouts and 18 hits. And he is now currently down in the minors, while the Giants currently only have ONE CATCHER on the 26-man roster. ONE CATCHER...and it's NOT Joey Bart. That's gotta kill him.

Said catcher is a newcomer to the fold, a man named Patrick Bailey, who no one was expecting to really factor too much into the Giants' 2023 plans. Ultimately, though, the Giants have been fantastic since Bailey's call-up; they're 33-24 since the rookie catcher came up, though admittedly this 6 game losing streak they've been on hasn't helped that figure [they're in Oakland this week, it'll be alright]. Bailey, for the record, is hitting .265 with 29 RBIs and 45 hits. Bailey's an excellent defensive catcher who can hold his own at the plate, and is showing more versatility and presence than Bart has since coming up. It's gotta be heartbreaking for the former 1st rounder, he must feel like Pete Best.

The Giants, as evidenced by their losing streak, are imperfect, but still capable of sparks of greatness. The unsung guys [Cobb, Estrada, Wade, Flores] are leading this team more than the true heroes [Yaz, Peterson, Conforto] are, but I think that's part of their charm. This team does have a guy who's leading the league in saves, as Camilo Doval has taken to the ninth as smoothly as I'd hoped he would, as well as two excellent seasons from the Rogers brothers. They don't have as many offensive standouts as I'd like, but they're still a promising team from the middle of the pack, and they're right there in the thick of the wild card race as well.

Maybe they'll deal for somebody cool. Maybe Joey Bart will be the return.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the few lifelines my slowly-sinking team has left.

The Eyes That Fell Upon Anaheim


The latest ESPN headline to concern the Angels was this: 'Ohtani Homers in Last Angels Home Game Before Deadline'. The fact that it makes the front page of ESPN dot com does say a lot about the assumption most of the league has about Ohtani. At this point last year, there wasn't even that much of a certainty about Juan Soto, like 'there's a chance he could go, but could teams pony up enough', and the Padres managed it. And while that's what we're hearing a lot of, 'will somebody give the Angels the deal they want for Ohtani', for some reason, despite the steepness of those demands, everybody just...thinks Shohei Ohtani's gonna get dealt.

And there's a chance he could. A...strong chance. But at the same time, the Angels are 6-3 since the All-Star Break, and beginning to climb back up the AL West. So...maybe they should keep him around?

For the first time this season, I had to glance at the wild card standings. And it's early, there's still 2 and a half months left, but the Angels have an okay position, all things considered. Within 8 games of the division, within 4 games of the last wild card spot. Within 5 of Houston as well, as they've had a similar record since the break. This is...not impossible. The Angels have more of a chance of a playoff spot than the Mariners, and than whoever comes in 2nd in the AL Central. The nearest two teams to them in the wild card standings are the Yankees and Red Sox, who are both, to paraphrase Logan Roy, not serious teams. It can happen.

And there are a lot of pieces of this Angels team that are convincing me that competing this year and keeping Ohtani is the way to go. Zach Neto was drafted last year, was brought up in May, and is one of the best performers on the team, with 27 RBIs and 8 homers in 62 games, as well as some excellent defense. Mickey Moniak's been awesome since getting the call-up, hitting .331 with 11 homers and 34 RBIs. And now recent callups like Michael Stefanic and Trey Cabbage have been great additions to the fold, along with bench trades like Eduardo Escobar and Mike Moustakas. It also helps that Griffin Canning and Reid Detmers have had better starts lately to catch them up with Ohtani and Sandoval. 

A ton more is working than it was last month, and they might be better off if they keep Ohtani and focus on what's working rather than giving up as they're hot. The desire to offload him might be greater than the desire to go for it, but I kinda want a team like the Angels to be conservative here, even if they could get a lot of assets from somebody in return.

Coming Tonight- A rookie catcher who's been a surprise pick-me-up for his team. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

Bednar of Roses


We've now reached the point in the season where the Pirates have fallen so far that they're looking to sell at the deadline. Which...makes me sad but is understandable.

The Pirates' ascent was puzzling, because it was an ascent that happened while the team was still at a preliminary development stage, and were still gradually bringing people up and setting pieces into their place. I think the biggest indication that the Pirates at least want to build on this year even if it's not a year that they make October was the fact that, once the lead started slipping, people like Henry Davis, Jared Triolo, Nick Gonzales, Endy Rodriguez, Quinn Priester and Carmen Moldzinski started coming up. If people are gonna be dealt, it's alright if the roster's a little fatty, and it's alright if young people start getting reps. Some of these guys have actually been doing well- Davis is hitting .284, Triolo's hitting .288. For the most part, a lot of them are a little slower getting used to the bigs, but that's understandable for this point in the rebuild.

I think what made the Pirates' lead unsustainable was a combination of two factors. Firstly, a lot of the bigger pieces this team had initially were injury-prone almost immediately. Both Oneil Cruz and J.T. Brubaker were lost causes from the very beginning of the year. Ke'Bryan Hayes has also been injured for stretches of the year, Ji-Man Choi also missed months with injuries [more examples of the Rays magic wearing off the second they leave the team], and both Bryan Reynolds and Andrew McCutchen were hurt for weeks this year. 

The second factor is that a lot of the people this team was resting on in the first half were unreliable, chiefmost Vince Velasquez. When you're riding high on Vince Velasquez to keep being good, it's never gonna go well. Ask Philly, San Diego and Chicago, he did the same thing there. He fell off and got hurt. Rich Hill did something similar. Colin Holderman, who's never been spectacular, was the top reliever of the first few months, and now he's leveled off, his ERA near 4, his WHIP near 1.5. Several of the people who provided some semblance of consistency for this team in May, like Jason Delay, Rodolfo Castro, Luis Ortiz and Josh Palacios, are now in the minors. 

So the Pirates are thinking of going into 'well, that didn't work' mode, and that might mean dealing people. They've made David Bednar available, and while I hope they're able to keep him, Bednar is one of the best closers on the market, and he'd be an excellent relief asset to anyone looking. They might also listen to offers on Carlos Santana, though they'd need to be really confident that Ji-Man Choi can still play first in order for that to happen. The good news is that the Pirates have refused offers on Andrew McCutchen, saying they'd prefer to keep him in Pittsburgh for the rest of the season, which is a classy move. Not sure if that classiness will spread to the team's first ever 2-time All-Star reliever, but...again, I get it.

I do kinda hope the Pirates can improve somewhat, even if I'm not sure if they're a contender anymore. I at least want them to end the year with dignity rather than losing 100 or so games again. I think they have enough working right now to ensure that, but you never know what they'll do in the name of draft picks.

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of draft picks, he was drafted last year and he's already playing shortstop for a 3rd place team. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

This Year in Naylors


There are currently two Naylor siblings in the major leagues, and they both play for the Cleveland Guardians. Now that a third Naylor sibling has been drafted by an MLB club, as the youngest brother Myles was just selected by Oakland, we are not far from having three Naylor siblings in the league at the same time. And while at the moment it seems highly unlikely that Myles could be in a position to be dealt to Cleveland to join Josh and Bo on one team, remember that it was unlikely for Bo to join Josh for a while, and then Josh was traded by the Padres to Cleveland in exchange for Mike Clevinger, so you never know what might go down. Maybe the other Naylors will insist that Myles be an add-on in a trade for some Oakland asset. The possibility exists, and I'm gonna want it to happen.

As it stands, though, having two Naylor brothers aligned is already cool enough. Josh is already having a great season, hitting .312 with 76 RBIs and 15 homers, team marks on all three counts. I think it's easy to boil the Guardians down to just Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber sometime, as they're the marquee guys and nobody else is as outwardly newsworthy as them, but the Guardians have thrived off smaller, more subtle players who still get the job done for a while. All of Andres Gimenez, Steven Kwan, Aaron Civale and Trevor Stephan can be described like that. Naylor just hits insanely well, and has a 2.0 WAR even if he's not especially well known for his defense [he's better than Josh Bell, though]. 

Bo, meanwhile, has been slowly working himself up the depth chart to get to the starting catching position. The opening day starter, Mike Zunino, struggled mightily to do the same things he'd struggled mightily to do a year prior with Tampa, but instead of getting universal acclaim and fan followings for it, he was DFA'd within 2 months. The next logical backup was Cam Gallagher, former Royals backup, and he's currently hitting .136 in 40 games, so at this point he's probably just meant to be a backup. And seeing as the nearest reliable catching option, Brian Lavastida, is still getting some much needed minors time, Naylor was the next best option. Bo is currently the better of the two catchers, even while only hitting .200 with 8 RBIs in 19 games. He, like his brother, is a fun piece of the clubhouse and the goal is for Bo to grow into his role as catcher and prevent against the Guardians dealing prospects for Omar Narvaez. 

The Guardians have been improving in recent weeks, have won 3 out of their last 4, and have a relatively easy run of scheduling til the Astros series at the end of the month. This can give them time to recover, and potentially build momentum for a playoff run that the still-hitting-starved Twins are only nominally going for at the moment. This is also the time of the year where the Guardians began to go for it last year, so it may happen again, especially with similar tactics. 

And remember, this is the amount of potential this Guardians team has with only two Naylors. Imagine if they add a third.

Coming Tonight: Closer for a team that dropped like a stone, even moreso than people thought they would.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Fish Fry


The Marlins left for the All-Star break 14 games over .500. They have not won a single game since returning from break. 

I figured that the bubble would pop a little for the Marlins, who have been fantastic since late May, but this is an embarrassing start to the second half, and it's a start that's tampering with the team's newfound legitimacy. The team ERA has gone up, and even some great pitchers like Tanner Scott, A.J. Puk, Dylan Floro, J.T. Chargois and Braxton Garrett, are struggling now. Garrett's been fantastic given a full campaign as a starter, and has a 5-3 record with a 4.32 ERA and 111 strikeouts. But like most Marlins starters, he's had a rough go of things recently, and is trying his best to stay statistically impressive even as the team wilts a bit. Johnny Cueto had a really nice, nearly-vintage start on the mound earlier today, and yet the second he got off the mound, the bullpen imploded and the Rockies figured out how to advance. 

And that's the other part- while the initial losses came at the hands of the Orioles, a legitimately good team, the last 5 have come from last place squads, namely the Cardinals and the Rockies. And considering that another good team is up next, as the Rays will be inviting them over in a few days, the Marlins need to find whatever's causing them to implode, root it out and excise it.

I think the most obvious part is that since returning from the ASG break, they haven't scored more than 5 runs once. Soler, de la Cruz, Gurriel and even Luis Arraez are all calming down, and are seeing hits to production. It's nice that, at the very least, Jon Berti and Jesus Sanchez have looked decent during this stretch, and that Wendle and Arraez aided in the early barrage today, but...this is a team that's somewhat formidable on offense, and they're not doing as much damage. Meanwhile, the Phillies, even as they struggle similarly, have lapped them in the standings because they've won games in between consecutive losses. Plus, their first baseman's younger.

The Marlins need to use this stretch as fuel to reignite and recapture the momentum that got them to 2nd in the first place. It's clear that, with the Braves as untouchable as they've been, they're playing for second, and the field's still wide open with the Phillies and Mets also displaying very human traits. This is still a competitive Marlins team with the the superstitious signs present in previous championship wins still appearing before them, and while it's not a foregone conclusion that they go the distance, they still have a lot on their side, and it may only get more interesting for them.

Coming Tomorrow- His brother just got drafted by Oakland, and his other brother plays about 30 feet away from him. 

First, At Long Last


This is the kind of stuff you live to see in baseball scheduling. As the AL East race has gotten closer and closer, the Rays and Orioles have been volleying to see who gets first. As of now, we're tied again, but the other night the O's snuck out a win and got to be in first place for a good 24 hours.

But still, in a season which began with the Rays getting off to an overwhelming lead over the rest of the division, here we are. Two teams tied at first. The Rays...and the Baltimore Orioles.

Last year, when the O's rebuilding efforts stopped short of competition, I figured they'd be back in 2023 but bigger, a lot like what we assumed about the Blue Jays going into 2020. Unlike the 2020 Jays, the Orioles' rebuild was ready almost immediately, and not only are the O's competitive, but they're very close to a first place team. Not only has the gradual roll of prospects worked, with Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez now fully acclimated to the bigs, but further call-ups, like Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser, have added to the overall effect. Admittedly the team still has another year or so to go before Jackson Holliday can comfortably join the brigade, but Adley Rutschman, Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells have all been excellent signs of the accuracy of the team's draft picks.

Even more satisfying is Austin Hays, a 2016 draft pick, who has gone from a reliable mid-lineup guy with defensive perks to starting in the outfield for the All-Star team. Hays has always been a handy guy to have around, but I never considered him All-Star material, and part of that makes me happy he was chosen. The ASG squad is meant to honor not only the big guns, but the smaller names that are just as volatile. Hays is the team's sole Opening Day starter to maintain a .300 average, and has 94 hits and 37 RBIs. I feel like O's fans have wished Cedric Mullins was healthier this year, but Hays having a star-making year is certainly a plus. It's also provided room for Anthony Santander to lead the team in home runs with 17, and for Aaron Hicks of all people to provide a solid backup center-field presence for a fanbase that doesn't hate his guts.

What I love about this team is that despite all of its great hitters, their highest WAR performer is a relief pitcher. Felix Bautista now has a lower ERA than Yennier Cano, which...says something. The 26 saves helps as well, but Bautista has been damn near untouchable this year, and I love that it's happening. I also love that as it stands now Kyle Bradish, who always struck a lot of people out but also gave up too many home runs, has the lowest ERA in the rotation with a 3.05. Great character growth.

I love so much of this Orioles team this year, and I hope their good luck continues. I don't know if they're gonna leave this series as the victors in the AL East, but considering that their next series' are against struggling could happen.

Coming Tonight: His team's been skidding since the break, but at least he's still pitching well.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Several Extremely Careful Dodgers


The problem with employing 6 guys who famously all throw really hard is that they're gonna be much more likely to spend copious amounts of time on the IL. 

None of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May and Noah Syndergaard have made all of their starts this year. Some of them have pitched beautifully and then gotten injured, like Kershaw and May. Some have spent weeks rehabbing and hit the scene late, like Urias and, eventually, Buehler. And the most disheartening thing is the guys who've been injured so frequently that they're playing what I have begun to refer to as 'careful-ball', where instead of actually throwing smoke like they used to, they're doing as much as they can within the capabilities of their diminished arm power. 

Noah Syndergaard may be the prime example of 'careful-ball', in that he was an incredible strikeout artist, missed multiple seasons due to injuries, and has been too conservative of a pitcher ever since. Last year, while he did keep a low ERA, his control was already cooked, he gave up too many walks, and became a liability for the Phillies heading into October. This year the tendencies bit at him even more, with a 7.16 ERA in 12 starts before the inevitable return to the IL. Dodger fans were turning on him even before he got hurt, and were bummed that someone who'd once been so powerful could be this fragile. This, ultimately, is the risk you take when you throw that hard every night. 

Tony Gonsolin is similar, because since his return he was playing a lot of careful-ball, taking shorter starts and not striking out as many. He's been decent this year, with a 3.72 ERA and a 5-3 record in 14 starts, but, like Thor, his strikeouts are down at only 57. The joy of someone like Gonsolin is that he already could fool you without throwing too hard, but last year he was getting the hang of striking people out, and you worry that his 'careful-ball' tendencies might dull his ultimate appeal. He's still good, but he's a bit easier to hit now, as evidenced by his last start.

This team still has enough good pitching for the current moment, thanks to Urias, Gonsolin, and the new kids like Bobby Miller and Emmett Sheehan who haven't learned how ill-advised it is to throw this hard. And their hitting has put them in 1st for the time being, with Outman heating back up and Freeman, Betts and Martinez still fantastic. I'd think this team could get even stronger if the hurt pitchers return relatively unharmed, but this is the modern era of 'throw yourself out' pitching we're talking about, so we really can't be sure.

Coming Tomorrow- A guy who started for the AL All-Star team, then helped his team slide into 1st place.

Tucker Gently


[I...I typically say I'm not proud when I hit a music pun like that, but in this case I am proud. It may not be in great taste but it fits.]

The 2023 Astros. Where five huge pieces of the team are down for the count and all of the sudden this actually might be enough to stop these guys.

I worried when the break ended that the Astros would capitalize on the narrow lead the Rangers had over them, but that did not happen. The 'Stros have been involved in some extremely close games recently, and while they have been getting wins, they also managed to lose 12 to 13 to the Angels, right before they beat the Angels 9 to 8. The Astros clearly are not the team to completely blow their competitors out this season; the other guys from Texas seem to have that covered. 

The Astros last shut someone out on June 29th. They've held a team to 1 point twice this month. Every other time, they haven't exactly had a handle on keeping other teams down. Part of this may be due to the relative inexperience of a lot of the pitching. Three rotation spots are filled by rookies this year: Hunter Brown, Brandon Bielak and J.P. France have been strong so far, but not perfect. Brown, after a promising start, is now 6-7 with a 4.26 ERA. Bielak, though strong lately, is 5-5. And while the 'pen still has Hector Neris, Ryan Pressly and Phil Eaton doing insanely well, a lot of the best pieces of last year's bullpen, namely Rafael Montero, Seth Martinez and Ryne Stanek, are struggling. And yes, the team ERA is the third-lowest in the bigs, but the pitching didn't go off a cliff like this in previous years.

I still get that quality from the lineup as well. Some of these new guys, like Corey Julks, Yainer Diaz, Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers, have settled in nicely and are playing decent roles in this team. But it's also making this more of an anonymous team, as a lot of the big stars have either left or are injured. They have employed a big star at 1st, but Jose Abreu is 36 and leaving his prime. Kyle Tucker's having another nice season, and leads the team in RBIs with 62, and Bregman is no slouch with 59 RBIs, but without Alvarez, at least for another week or so, and without Springer, Correa, Gurriel and prime Altuve, this team feels like it has a lot of holes, and can only sustain itself so successfully.

It's still very likely that the Astros are a playoff team this year, and given that they usually do something infuriating at the deadline, they may go far into October like usual. I just don't think they have the team to beat in the AL. We've seen plenty of great teams beat them this year. Even the Phillies took two from them. They don't feel like the alpha anymore, and I think they need to work with that rather than fight against it.

Coming Tonight: A fireballer who is being very, very careful this year.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

The New Contreras Supremacy


I knew that 2023 was going to be interesting considering that William and Willson Contreras, who were both on the same All-Star team last year, would be spending the season in the same division, with Willson suiting up for St. Louis and William behind the plate for Milwaukee. Yes, some of the true meat of this rivalry may have been excised by Rob Manfred dispersing the schedules and thinning out divisional series', but...they'd still play each other for important games down the stretch, and they'd both be big pieces of their competitive squads.

Midway through the year and William might be having the better season, which I did not see coming.

It's mostly because I didn't see the Cardinals' collapse coming, and I thought they'd still be pretty competitive this year with all things considered. Plus, Willson Contreras has been a light on bad teams before, surely he wouldn't be a part of the bloodshed. Ultimately, this season Willson has been just as disappointing as his team, hitting .238, hurtling towards average as a catcher, and only doing so much to quell the fears of Cards fans. Willson Contreras was supposed to be the last piece of a dynasty, it ended up being one of the final nails in their coffin. 

William, however, has been one of the standouts of this year's Brewers team. Some of that admittedly has to do with a few of the disappointments of this team, like Brice Turang not hanging around for long as 2nd baseman, Jesse Winker still refusing to deliver a season like his 2021, Garrett Mitchell and Brian Anderson getting injured right when they figured things out, and Rowdy Tellez being even less dimensional than before. Contreras just being consistent and hitting .275 can be enough on a team like that. But Contreras has also been one of the team's best pure hitters this year, with a doubles amount seconded only by Christian Yelich, an .802 OPS and 75 hits. As a bonus, he's actually improved defensively after last year, and is actually a better defensive catcher than Victor Caratini this year, which is...interesting.

The Brewers are a very interesting team, because a lot of their depth has been subject to injuries, and they're very much the sum of their highlights: Yelich, Burnes, Williams and Adames. There are a few performances that are climbing the walls to make impacts, like Joey Wiemer and Blake Perkins playing defense alongside Yelich, Joel Payamps staying in for 2 or 3 innings without getting beaten up, and bench players like Owen Miller and Andruw Monasterio providing great pick-me-ups. The division is still not exactly paved for their success, as the Reds are still building momentum, and the Cubs, Pirates and Cardinals still have an outside chance of catching up. But the Brewers are still frontrunners, and having Contreras in a starting role definitely helps that case.

Coming Tomorrow- A guy who makes the All-Star team every year, I'm guessing, on account of spiting me.

City of Too Many Arms


The Twins this year have had no problem outpitching all of their AL Central competitors. Having Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Bailey Ober, Pablo Lopez and Griffin Jax all having tremendous seasons is a nice perk, and seeing this rotation so strong, and so consistent, has to be a calming presence for a team that struggled to find viable starting options in the wake of Jose Berrios' departure in 2021. 

It's just a shame that none of the hitters are showing up. 

I will admit that since the last time I wrote about this team, there have been more improving hitters. Edouard Julien is hitting .308 and has been a fantastic fill-in at 2nd base for Jorge Polanco. I wouldn't be shocked if they end up letting Polanco walk and going with Julien going forward. There's also been production from Donovan Solano, who's hitting .275 with a team-leading 20 doubles. Additionally, Willi Castro has been an excellent defensive substitution and is the most valuable hitter at the moment.

But...thinking logically here, a team with Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Max Kepler, Michael Taylor, Jorge Polanco, Joey Gallo, Kyle Farmer and Christian Vazquez should not be relying on people like Willi Castro and Donnie Barrels to lift the lineup statistically. Those are depth guys, the bench guys that help bail you out. Solano's a nice guy to have around but he really shouldn't be hitting better than half the team. Correa at least is playing decently now, and leads the team in RBIs with 42, but it still feels like everything that was great about him might have come with the territory in Houston. And then...Buxton, your marquee guy, is hitting .196. That's not ideal.

This team is actually showing signs of versatility despite all of this, with Castro, Taylor and Correa having great defensive seasons, Castro also stealing 21 bases, and Jhoan Duran fitting into his role in the ninth fairly well, with 15 saves and a 2.17 ERA. They're just not hitting; not for contact, and not for power either, which is kind of upsetting for a team that hit so many home runs in 2019. Unlike in New York, nobody's especially blaming Rocco Baldelli, it's just been an unlucky shake of things; also, because this division is such a crapshoot, there's still a chance this team still makes the playoffs, so I doubt the manager would lose his job if that happens unless, again, if they're in New York.

The Twins could afford to turn things around a little bit, and for some of the veteran hitters to at least do something. I wouldn't rest on the inevitability of a playoff spot, as that's honestly what did them in last time.

Coming Tonight: I actually think that he might be having the best season of anyone in his family this year, which is weird, considering.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

No, The Braves Aren't Cheating


The good news is that the Braves put up 13 points against the Diamondbacks last night. The bad news is that the D-Backs put up 16. 

Since June, honestly, the Braves have been virtually unstoppable, commanding the league's attention with the best lineup in baseball, a guy that already has 30 home runs, and the obvious MVP. However, they've also lost 4 of their last 5 games. Some off these games are against contenders, such as the D-Backs and Rays, but losing 2 to the White Sox? Maybe you can blame the post-break cobwebs, but...are the Braves headed for a downturn?

Well, the people who think this is a strategically placed downturn to get the league's eyes off the Braves are also the same people who think the Braves are cheating, and they're not. There's some guy who's convinced that the team is employing the 'guy with coughing woman in the audience to give the answers on Millionaire' strategy to point out breaking balls with a woman's scream. The trashcan thing at least was uncovered because it was out of the ordinary. Now the smoking gun for the Braves is that you have to believe that the Braves don't normally have screaming fans. To hear these people out, yes, it wouldn't be noticeable if one fan in a field of thousands in that fanbase screamed consistently. But like...I think you're reaching. You miss spy camera systems and trashcan codes and you want something like that, and also the Braves have won so many games so obviously they must be cheating.

The Braves aren't cheating. A.J. Hinch I can see bending some rules to get ahead. Brian Snitker is too much of an old school sort to really challenge what's legal. It's also why the Astros haven't cheated as much since bringing on Dusty Baker, that guy's way too 'this is the way things have to be' to cheat. Also, I think the Braves' lineup is just...really damn good this year, because so many of these seasons, like Arcia's, Albies's, Riley's, Olson's, Acuna's I suppose, seem like the culminations of years of trying to thread the needle ever so carefully. Albies has been building his star for so long, now he's looking at a 30+ homer season. Riley's had two strong campaigns in a row, now he's a varied, consistent piece of the larger team. The rotation built and built so that eventually Michael Soroka, Max Fried, Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder could pitch together and impress people. 

The Braves were always good, but instead of losing too many of their pieces to free agency, they kept building and extending people so that they'd continue their primes in Atlanta, leading to the monolithic team we have now. They're not cheating, like the 2017 Astros. They're just reaping the benefits of a really well-run the 2022 Astros.

I think the Braves may drop a slight bit in the next week or so, just from how things have gone to this point, but they're still looking like a top seed to me, and I still think it's gonna take some wild momentum to stop them from going all the way this year.

Coming Tomorrow- A very impressive closer for a very mediocre competitor.

Rays the Stakes


As I write this, the deficit between the Rays, who began the season by winning 13 straight games, and the Orioles, who have been their steady #2 for the majority of the year, has been cut to only 1 game. It happens during a tough week for both teams. The Rays are playing the Rangers right now, as the Orioles fend off the Dodgers. Whatever either side will have recouped, they'll have to put it to the test on Friday, as they must play each other and potentially solidify a divisional lead. 

Now...because one of these teams has been notoriously pesky the last few years and the other has undergone an insanely likable development process over the past few years, I have my favorites. I love pretty much everybody on the Orioles, they have such an amazing story and have so many great players. Meanwhile, the Rays have become great simply because of the organizational voodoo that Kevin Cash has laid down, and it's a more evil variation on the moneyball concept by taking great players that other teams don't want for cheap and then booting them when it comes time to pay. 

This is also a team that's had so many villains, or players I just plain do not like. The Rays have been behind an array of pissants-for those not in the know, Thorzul coined that term for a player that hits .200 against the rest of the league and .400 against your team. Carlos Pena used to be the big one, there was the one season where he got all his homers in against the Yanks pretty much. Then Mike Zunino, who was just a statistical trashfire of a player who still managed to get decent WAR on account of his defense. The current iteration of that is Taylor Walls, who is the single least spectacular MLB player in some time. I cannot name a single thing I've seen him do well. He hits .200 or less every year, maybe steals some bases and just refuses to do anything noteworthy, and leaves with like a 2 or 3 WAR. My guess is the guy who invented Wins Above Replacement is his dad. That'd be the only logical explanation. 

And there's all the relievers, but the funny thing is a lot of them just aren't doing very well this year. Ryan Thompson and Jalen Beeks are both down in the minors right now, as they haven't gotten it together at all this year. Jason Adam has 5 blown saves in addition to his 11 notched ones. Jeffrey Springs, as reported upon, had the single best mound success of his career and all the money in the world to enjoy it with only to immediately be out for what seems like the rest of the season. It's been nice.

With all the things that infuriate me about the Rays, they still have Harold Ramirez, who's not only a really fun contact hitter, but the dude's an autism parent and he loves his kid, and you have to respect that. Dyes his hair blue to support his son. I dunno if it's the full branded 'light it up blue' thing the corporations like or if he just likes the color. It's really awesome to see. Ramirez himself is hitting .286 with 36 RBIs and 9 homers. Ever since he came up with the Marlins I just wanted him to find success somewhere, and even if it took a few different teams it's happened with Tampa. Even if I don't like the Rays, I like that he's doing well for them.

The Rays, admittedly, are a bit less infuriating than usual lately, and still have Shane McClanahan, Wander Franco, Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena playing really well. The O's may be extremely tough for them to fend off, but I know they're gonna do some incredible things before the fight in them's gone out.

Coming Tonight: A third baseman for a team that a lot of people seem to think is cheating right now.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Lourdes of War


Lourdes Gurriel Jr. making an All-Star team not just because of how bloodthirsty the Diamondbacks fans are but because of how bloodthirsty the Blue Jays fans that still love him even after he was traded for Daulton Varsho not something I predicted going into this year.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. always seemed like a solid enough player but was never a big piece of those Jays teams, a lot like his older brother Yulieski was more a solid and consistent Astros piece than a particularly newsworthy one. I think he was in the right place to be a fan favorite, because Toronto just rewards you if you stay around a while, have some nice seasons and play the game right. Lourdes is one of those guys that dyes his hair blue and has a good time, and he's clearly someone you can recognize by the look of him. Kids in Toronto must have loved him, much like the youth of Phoenix must be rallying around this pink-haired, feather-duster-headed marvel who pounds balls into the outfield and makes fun leaps. 

It's been really cool seeing him do well in Phoenix, because I worried the Jays traded him because they figured he'd begin to trail off, a lot like what's happening to Teoscar Hernandez in Seattle. And considering that they were going for a level-up/upgrade with Varsho, I kinda figured it just meant Gurriel wasn't meant to compete at the level of the rest of the team. That hasn't been the case, as Gurriel has fit right into this D-Backs squad, hitting .270 with 54 RBIs and 15 homers. Though it has admittedly taken longer than expected for Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy to catch up this year, Gurriel has been the rock this outfield has needed. 

The sucky part about this Diamondbacks team is that the slow careening that was beginning prior to the break has continued, and thanks to losing a series against the Blue Jays, funnily enough, the D-Backs have now dropped to third in the NL West. Which means the Dodgers, who'd been waiting for something to happen, and the Giants, who've been arcing upward ever since Patrick Bailey came up, have lapped them in the standings, and they're back down to third, which is where many people thought they'd be anyhow this year. It hasn't been without continued greatness, like Corbin Carroll doing his thing, and Tommy Henry continuing to come into his own, but the honeymoon phase of the season is over and now the D-Backs will have to fight to remain a contender.

What's interesting is that as I write this, the D-Backs are actually chasing the Braves, and some clumsy defensive moves on Atlanta's part have been their undoing. Even as the Diamondbacks return to earth, there's still some fight in them, and I don't think they can be completely counted out yet. I even think they have a chance of netting a trade piece in a week or so, that's how serious they might still be. A crap week might just be a crap week, and even though the Braves may be even tougher than Toronto, this team has way more to work with than they used to, especially with people like Gurriel there.

Coming Tomorrow- Coincidentally another guy who dyes his hair to support the team.

Heim to Pretend


There were two division leads that immediately worried me going into the second half, as I worried they'd be snapped at by oncoming competitors. One of them has, the Reds have been stuffed back to 2nd thanks to this series with the Brewers. The other one was the AL West, I was worried the Astros would lap the Rangers and that would be the season, but not the case. The Astros had a somewhat close series with Anaheim, while the Rangers swept the Guardians and cemented their 3 game lead. 

Oh yeah and also the Rays' lead over the AL East, but like...I'm fine if the O's keep inching up. You know, that one doesn't bother me as much for some reason..

The Rangers' pure outscoring has calmed itself a bit since May, but they've still put up 10 or more points four times in the last month, including right at the beginning of the second half. They still have 7 guys with 40 or more RBIs, including Adolis Garcia, who currently has 80 of them, which is honestly pretty insane. It's incredible to me that Jonah Heim has 60 RBIs, and has become such a confident, formidable hitting catcher. I initially didn't think he'd warranted the ASG start, but with the season he's having, and the way he's come into his own, I completely get it. On a team that's bought many of its biggest performers, Heim was developed post-trade, a lot like Garcia, Duran and Lowe. It's a little ironic that Heim was traded from Oakland with the knowledge he'd be backing up Sean Murphy, only for Murphy to be traded himself and start an ASG against him. 

I think the main issue this team's been facing lately is the trailing off of rotation depth, which is ironic considering how the rotation looked entering the season. Right now behind Eovaldi, Dunning and Gray there's a steep drop-off, as Andrew Heaney and Martin Perez are doing just okay. Both healthy, yes, which can't be said for Odorizzi or deGrom, but both with ERAs over 4. Then there is this Cody Bradford character, who's done well enough but is still wet behind the ears as a starter, whenever he's been given that opportunity. Heaney and Perez are decent enough but not perfect this year. That may be where people are catching up.

But at the same time, the Rangers have to play the Rays this week, and the Rays have arguably had even worse troubles with the back half of their rotation. They are gaining Shane McClanahan again, but will this be the same guy who felt unstoppable in the first half [I am writing this Monday night and, uh, yeah probably]. But they still have to pitch Taj Bradley and a lesser Tyler Glasnow, and are just trying to salvage Zach Eflin's season after people have begun to hit him. It's an evenly matched series, even if the Rays seem to have an advantage as I write this.

I still think the Rangers have a lot to work with this season, but they need to still stay ahead in these tough series' up ahead, or else we'll have yet another Astros bye year, and I don't wanna go through that again.

Coming Tonight: Another All-Star guy I didn't do before the break.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Aren-Outta Here?


With a couple more weeks to go til the trade deadline, the big potential pieces are emerging in the race to see who will infuriate 2023 Topps Update collectors the most. There are talks that the Angels will try and deal Shohei Ohtani, but I'm of the mind that they probably won't ultimately, because there's a lot they're asking for that most teams won't pony up with for a rental. 

Then you have Nolan Arenado. Who I am almost certain is being dealt this year, and will likely be a large piece of wherever he's going for the foreseeable future. 

Arenado's potential status as a trade piece is despite there still being 4 more years on his contract that he signed with the Rockies back in 2019. Whoever gets him will have to pay for a good portion of what's left, and will have to stomach a 4 year contract hanging around. There have been talks of the Yankees being in the race for Arenado. While this is a very likely choice, and one that could pay off if handled correctly, I do worry about the ability the St. Louis GM has to get Brian Cashman to give up too much. He got him to give up Jordan Montgomery last year, and I worry he could talk him into giving up one of the big prospects, like Austin Davis or Spencer Jones, in exchange for Arenado. Peraza being in on the deal I'm fine with, if we're getting four years of third base excellence it all works out.

It is odd that Arenado's Cardinals tenure may only be capped at three years potentially. When he was initially traded to the Cards, I thought he'd just be there for the rest of his career. I figured they'd keep competing, and build properly, and utilize people like him and Goldy til the contracts ran out. Ultimately, the Cardinals aren't exactly playing worth their weight, and if Arenado helps them shed some cap space while rebuilding, so be it. But Arenado being a potential deadline guy...that's odd for me. Mostly because he joined the Cardinals thinking they'd keep competing to that level.

And what's nice is that Arenado's still very much in his prime, he's made an All-Star team every year he's been in St. Louis, he's on par for a third straight 100+ RBI season, he's batting .280 and already has 20 home runs. This has admittedly been Arenado's first season where he's seeming like more of a liability at third, but I'm chalking that up to a down year rather than a career downturn, even if he is 32. He's a future hall of famer who's still having 30-homer/100+ RBI seasons. The fact that even he can't help the Cardinals get out of fifth says more about the team than Arenado.

I'd honestly be alright if the Yankees went for him, it honestly depends on what they give up. I do think there's probably gonna be teams that want him more, I expect the Brewers, Dodgers, D-Backs, Rays, maybe even the Phillies to make attempts to land him, and probably somebody bigger and badder will win out. It's be nice if it could happen, I dunno how much further it'd get us, but it'd be kinda cool.

Coming Tomorrow- The man who started the All-Star Game for the AL over Adley Rutschman, Cal Raleigh, Salvador Perez or Christian Vazquez.