Thursday, August 31, 2023

A Moment with the Fringe Wild Card Teams

The Boston Red Sox and the San Diego Padres are both currently in the outer rung of their respective wild card races. The Sox are 6.5 games back from the last Wild Card spot, and have four teams in front of them. Their nearest competitor, the Blue Jays, are 2.5 games back, and in a better spot to wait for one of the AL West teams to drop. The Padres, meanwhile, are 7.5 games back from the last NL Wild Card spot, which is the same amount of games back the Washington Nationals are. The Padres have six teams in front of them, and are 4.5 games behind the nearest competitor, the Miami Marlins.

Either of these teams making the postseason, things as they are currently, is unlikely. But 'unlikely' and 'impossible' are not the same word.

The Red Sox, from almost the beginning of the season, have been the biggest spoiler in the AL. They weren't good enough to truly rock the AL East, but they had enough to really surprise some teams, and spend most of the year above .500. A lot of the slow roll of rookies the Sox have brought out in the last few years is paying off, as Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, Jarren Duran, Triston Casas, Connor Wong and Masataka Yoshida have all played big roles in this team's success. And now Ceddanne Rafaela, a 22-year-old SS/OF-type, is making waves 2 games into his career while Wilyer Abreu, conveniently on paternity leave, is hitting .353 with 5 games under his belt. 

The rookie success is relieving because so many trusted veterans, like Chris Sale, Trevor Story, Bobby Dalbec, Corey Kluber and Garrett Whitlock, have let the team down this year. And if the young guys were gonna pick any season to start blooming, it might as well have been this one. Even if Crawford started the year in the bullpen, he's been excellent as a starter, with 6 wins and 84 Ks in 18 starts. Brayan Bello may be the true crowd-pleaser going forward, but Crawford seems like a durable workhorse. As Sale begins to wind the last curve of his contract next year, I see Bello and Crawford forming the foundation for a new intimidating rotation for future Sox teams.

As for the Padres, they fell way below expectations despite several of their stars, including Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Blake Snell and Ha-Seong Kim, having awesome seasons. It really amounts to a series of misguided decisions, like signing Nelson Cruz, Matt Carpenter and Rougned Odor at the start of the season, banking on Austin Nola as the starting catcher and Jake Cronenworth as the starting 1st baseman, building the team around a Joe Musgrove performance that wouldn't be healthy all year, and trading for Rich Hill, Garrett Cooper and Ji-Man Choi. Ultimately, a team weighed down this much by its own foibles couldn't stand a chance against the Dodgers, or even the Diamondbacks.

And it stinks because, as I said, so many of these guys actually played well this year. Michael Wacha has somehow figured things out after the Cardinals cut him loose a few years ago, got the gist of it midway through 2021 in Tampa, became great in Boston last year and now is back to where he was. I don't think the Padres figured they'd rely on veterans like Wacha and Snell as much as they have, but they've gotten strong seasons out of them both. Wacha's gone 10-2 with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP in 18 starts. He's just been a steady, reliable veteran force on this team. Maybe not as flashy as Darvish or Musgrove, but he's getting the job done.

And while the Sox are over .500 and have had some big wins this month, the Padres are 10 games below .500, and they've been struggling all August. This could have been an opportunity for them to build back momentum, and that just hasn't happened. Meanwhile, the six-man wild card race isn't getting any closer to them, and it's becoming clear that any attempt to avenge their 2022 NLCS loss won't come until, at least, next year. 

If there's one thing I never would have thought I'd be saying this year, it's that the Red Sox have a better chance at the playoffs than the Padres. Yet here we are.

Coming Tomorrow- Just had the game of his life last night. 

Waiving Goodbye


...well the good news is that the Angels won yesterday.

Honestly, this Angels-Phillies game was the product of the type of team the Angels should have been this year. Battling back at all costs, having hero moments from Brandon Drury, Nolan Schanuel and Hunter Renfroe, and taking down one of the deadliest teams in the NL at home, on the day of Bryce Harper's 300th homer. In a better year this would be a defining, badass moment.

...but it comes at a time where one of the guys to have multiple RBIs yesterday is currently on waivers.

Yeah, the placement of Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Randal Grichuk, Matt Moore and Hunter Renfroe on waivers not even a month after three of them arrived in LA, in addition to Shohei Ohtani no longer being a viable starting option for the rest of the year and possibly needing surgery, Trout going back on the IL days after being activated, and Anthony Rendon missing time yet again, feels like some sick practical joke by this point. The Angels had so much going for them going into this year, and looked so good in the first half, but lost steam not just gradually but entirely. And even as someone relatively unbiased, it has been awful to see this team break apart piece by piece. It makes me sad to even think of what they're gonna look like next year. 

As a means of being optimistic, here are some people that have been working for the Angels recently:

-Griffin Canning, in the absence of Ohtani, has become one of the more consistent starters in Anaheim. He's 7-4 and he's given up 4 runs or less in his last 5 starts. The road to get him back to a healthy season was longer than anticipated but he's back and doing what he was supposed to.

-Nolan Schanuel has begun his MLB career, which was jumpstarted a month after being drafted, with a 10 game hitting streak and a .324 average, with 12 hits. Trey Cabbage is doing his best not to feel jaded after losing the 1st base spot to Schanuel, but I think there's a reason the Angels banked on Schanuel so early, and he'll be useful going forward if he keeps this up.

-Luis Rengifo, perpetually the Angels 'break in case of starter injury' remedy, is hitting .258 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs. It's a very nice season for Rengifo. I'm not sure if it'll be enough for the Angels to start him from the beginning of a season, but it's at least keeping him a reliable second half mainstay.

-Logan O'Hoppe is healthy again for the first time since April. He's not hitting near as well as he was, but he's a major upgrade behind the plate compared to Matt Thaiss.

-Shohei Ohtani is still finishing this season with an MVP, let's make that 100% clear. Even if he doesn't pitch in September, he's looking at a 50+ homer years and a 10+ WAR overall total. That is definitely going in his trophy case.

Again, this wasn't an ideal year for the Angels, and it probably spoiled a lot of the opportunities to compete down the line, but if you look hard enough you can find some dignified takeaways. I'm not sure if there'll be near as many next year, but at least you're getting somebody like Schanuel who'll be there for a while. 

Coming Tonight: He's played for a different team in each of the last few seasons, and he's actually pitched pretty well for all of them. The Padres are no exception.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Seiya Real Soon


So uh, remember the commanding lead the Brewers had over the NL Central that many people thought would propel them to the NL Central title? Uh...not the case, it seems.

And it's not really the Brewers' fault, they had a major winning streak going until yesterday, still have so many great pieces in place, and were expected to roll towards October. Only issue is the Cubs decided to get hot at the same time, are creeping up the divisional leaderboard, and used a three-game series this week to move up two games thanks to beating the Brewers twice. So now the Brewers are only 3 games in front of the Cubs, and have this mounting terror breathing down their backs.

It's actually kind of fitting, because we all remember the 2018 season where the Brewers snuck ahead at the last second after the Cubs had led the whole year, then forced the Cubs out at Wild Card week and went toe-to-toe with the Dodgers in the NLCS. This Brewers team isn't quite the same as the one that broke big in 2018, but a few key figures, including Christian Yelich, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes, Wade Miley and Adrian Houser, all still remain. Meanwhile, the only 2018 holdovers in Chicago are Ian Happ and Kyle Hendricks, the latter being a year away from a full ten years of service with the Cubs. 

The Cubs, after selling the farm a few years ago, have used the last few years to rebuild. However, unlike many rebuilding teams [the Orioles, Tigers, D-Backs and Reds come to mind], the Cubs still have a strong enough ownership to be able to buy crucial pieces in their prime. So, yes, getting Dansby Swanson, Cody Bellinger and Seiya Suzuki does help. But, as we saw in Texas last year, getting three great pieces doesn't mean much if the team hasn't been built up to support them. 

So the Cubs, having firmed up a lot of their own options, look a lot more confident this year and are able to supplant Swanson and Bellinger. It's not just the preexisting guys like Happ, Nico Hoerner and Adbert Alzolay that are impressing people this year, but the people that have come up in the last year or so. Christopher Morel had a big come up in 2022, yes, but his power numbers have cemented this case as a Cubs mainstay [even at the mercy of Patrick Wisdom's playing time]. Miguel Amaya and Nick Madrigal haven't always been starting but they're still crucial depth pieces that could aid this team fully going forward. And while I did think Javier Assad returning to the rotation would be the team's last smart retooling in that division, bringing up Jordan Wicks in time for him to be ready to strike everybody out does make me feel like their hard work paid off.

Plus, August has also provided Seiya Suzuki with a chance to return to the conversation. The prized Japanese outfielder hadn't succeeded a great deal since last April, but Suzuki has improved, and is hitting .333 this month with 19 RBIs and 5 homers. Suzuki is a strong hitter and reliable player, he's just a little streakier than the Cubs would like. I do think he's got some super seasons to give to the Cubs going forward, and his heating up now does make me excited for the rest of this season.

The Cubs' growing momentum could either lead to a surprise division title or a boost in their wild card case. Either way, though the Cubs could be looking at a lower seed, they have enough depth and momentum to not completely make me confident that they'll be an early departure from the playoff picture if they do make it.

Coming Tomorrow- When I do the end of the year superlatives post, I usually denote a 'team most depressing to talk about each week'. Most times it's a really boring last place team. But this year, it might be the team that had the single worst luck, where it pained me to even report what was happening. Tomorrow, a pitcher from that team.

Open Kerry


It is extremely difficult for a Tigers team to sum up a season and transfer the working parts of said season to the following one without a whole bunch of shit flying off the walls again.

How many seasons in a row have the Tigers built a foundation, ended a season strong, and then the second the team is supposed to improve, half the guys they're relying on get injured and the rest of the team is dead weight? They are relying on some of these pieces, and so many of them just aren't giving them the consecutive success that one might think would be in play for building a new dynasty. This is yet another Tigers team that Casey Mize has had absolutely no effect on, and that Spencer Torkelson could only muster one dimension for. The Tigers have already been through years where they're really hoping they can build shit off of people like Justin Thompson, Ryan Anderson and Bobby Higginson, and then none of that actually comes to fruition. And I fear we're back at that.

There has been some signs of improvement, though, as more and more people are getting activated and helping out. Both Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning have been strong since coming off the IL, with the latter helping the Tigers with a combined no-hitter last month. Riley Greene is hitting .289 and having a season that, while truncated, is still enough to calm the nerves of Tigers fans. The bullpen is still really strong, and people like Alex Lange, Jason Foley, Tyler Holton and Will Vest are at least making up for a shakier rotation. 

And then you have the sudden emergence of Kerry Carpenter. Carpenter's been decent in the past, has had a surprisingly lethal power bonus, and is at least a sturdier option at left field than a lot of veteran alternatives. But in the past month, Carpenter's strength has reached an unprecedented level. This month, he's had a .364 average, 19 RBIs and 9 home runs, which is a pretty insane month of offensive production. The team is rightfully being built around Carpenter now, even at the expense of Torkelson. And look, even if he wasn't the biggest prospect on this team, to have a young guy like Carpenter who can hit 20+ home runs, baffle opposing pitching and command the narrative while still posting on LinkedIn--that's gotta mean they're doing something right, right? 

Even if not everything's held together, pieces like Carpenter are coming forward and making this team begin to mean something. And just last week, Parker Meadows, whose brother Austin's had a rough go of things this year, had a crucial walk-off hit to get the Tigers past an Astros team that was at one point no-hitting them. The continued presence of Parker Meadows infers a potential 2024 season where both Meadows brothers could play alongside each other in the lineup. And that's something I'd absolutely love to see, especially if Austin sticks around.

You can see it again, the foundation set in place for what could be a much better and much fuller year next year for the Tigers. What they need to do, for the first time in nearly a decade, is actually deliver on their own promises. Because I don't want to write this post again next year, and I feel like this is something I've said a million times about the Tigers. They really need to change their own narrative, because it's gotten extremely old.

Coming Tomorrow- He had an excellent first month in the majors, then struggled. A year later, there's a lot he's figured out, and a lot he's helping his team with.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Fiesta Burger


The Miami Marlins are 13-26 since the All-Star Break, and I bet they don't want you to know that. They bulked up at the trade deadline, farmed a great season out of Sandy Alcantara, still have an MVP candidate in Luis Arraez, and continue to be in the running for a wild card spot. They're just not the sure bet they were in June. But everything they've been doing involves making an effort to distract from that.

For instance: have you seen what the new power duo of Bell & Burger have been doing since landing in Miami? Isn't that cool?

I initially scoffed at the Marlins' belief that taking Josh Bell out of Cleveland would erase his struggles, but it really was as simple as that: in 23 games for the Marlins, Bell is hitting .276 with 24 hits, 13 RBIs and 8 homers. A lot like Amed Rosario, something just wasn't clicking for Bell this year in Cleveland, and it took a new environment and new stakes to get him back to what he did best. What's more, Bell joining Jorge Soler in the heart of the lineup does bring this team back to what they were trying to do a few years ago, just pack the team with one-dimensional power hitters just to make sure something happened. I mean, yes, gone are the days of Jesus Aguilar and Starlin Castro having to start, but Bell is a higher ticket version of that which seems to be paying off more. It is a shame that fellow outsourced power supplier Avisail Garcia hasn't been so lucky, but with de la Cruz and Sanchez guarding the outfield, it's not all bad.

Jake Burger has been even more important to this team, because while Arraez has acted as something of a central figure for the new contact hitting mentality of this team, Burger is a bigger step in the direction of lining the roster with trusted hitters. Like how Rizzo was just waiting for Bryant to show up, Burger seems to be what the Marlins needed, a phenomenal hitter in so many ways. So far Burger's hitting .333 with 29 hits, 11 RBIs and 2 homers. There hasn't been a great deal of the clutch abilities he regularly displayed in Chicago, but there's still time for that to show up. In any case, Burger's a vast improvement over Jean Segura, who was previously guarding third before being traded for Bell.

The chief foe of this Marlins team, honestly, has been scheduling. Since the start of August, the Marlins have had to play 7 straight competitive teams, and said rocky momentum cost them during a series against the Nats. And aside from more games against Washington this weekend, series' against the Rays, Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers and Braves are all up ahead, meaning that unless the Marlins can somehow regain their killer June momentum, a competitive finish may be asking for too much. It's not a damning outcome for their status as a future playoff mainstay, but it may just doom what could have been a fun story for this year.

Coming Tomorrow- Out of absolutely nowhere, the Tigers most important player of 2023 just made his presence known.

Careful What Yusei


The Blue Jays are 71-60, which is better than all but one NL Wild Card competitor. In the AL, however, it's enough to get them a sideline seat. 

It does say a lot about the AL race, which is a duel between divisions more than anything. It's 'which one's more competitive, the AL East or AL West?'. And right now the West is winning, with the Astros and Rangers still hanging onto wild card spots for the moment. That doesn't mean the East is going to lie down quietly, as the Jays and Sox are still in the race. But it seems like the big question is 'are the Rangers or Astros going to calm down so significantly that it vaults them out of the playoffs?' And with the Jays still steadily doing what they've been doing all year, it's a very important question.

One of the main things that's kept the Jays doing as well as they have is their compact rotation. Only six people have started games for the Blue Jays this year, and said sixth, Alek Manoah, has a good reason to not be starting at the current moment. The other five are all having solid years, and have all had moments in the sun where they can be the reliable point in the rotation. I think Kevin Gausman has had the most consistent year, and his 200 K mark does mean he'll get the most Cy Young votes. Chris Bassitt has garnered the most innings, as is custom, and he's also got a 12-7 record, which...makes sense, cause he goes really deep into games without giving up many runs. At the same time, both Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi have warmed up recently. Berrios took a no-hitter late last week, while Kikuchi has a very solid 3.63 ERA and a 9-4 record. When the Jays netted Kikuchi there was worries that he'd struggle, as he had in Seattle, but he's figured things out and is just as deadly as he was in Japan. 

The most surprising thing about this Jays team is that Hyun-Jin Ryu was able to return in full health and get right back to what he was doing before. The Dodgers played this waiting game with Ryu before, and Ryu rewarded them with an incredible year. The arm issues returned in the last few years, and now that Ryu's back he's got a 2.25 ERA and is 3-1 through his first 5 starts back. It is a very relieving thing that Ryu is still deadly, even at 36, and it's a factor that makes the Jays even more of a contender going into the last month of the season. 

I wouldn't want to go up against any of those five guys, or have to throw against Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman or Vlad Jr. And though there have been series' where things haven't clicked, or teams that are clearly better than them, the Jays still have a shot to advance this year, and could pick up momentum and surprise people further into October. It's something that they've yet to produce, despite the potential, but there's a lot about this team that says they could compete this year. They just need to make it happen.

Coming Tonight: A month ago he was having a breakout year in Chicago. Now he's having a breakout year somewhere a bit nicer.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Saga of the Many Jays Catchers


I've had several posts this year where I've paid attention to former members of a farm system and how they've fared away from their original team. And there's ways of doing that which can last you the whole year. But while thinking about an angle for this post on Gabriel Moreno, I came upon a fascinating discovery:

There are currently seven catching products of the Toronto Blue Jays' system employed by the MLB. 

You'd think this wouldn't be that out of the ordinary, but it's really not. Like, here's all the former Yankee farm system 1st basemen products still fishing around the league: Mike Ford, Garrett Cooper, Luke Voit. This isn't really a game you can play with every team and every position. But there's something about Toronto catchers that has made it so that there's seven of them batting around the league, many of which barely even passed through the MLB roster before going onto better teams. And I'm not entirely sure how it's happened. 

So let's go through all seven of them and see how they're doing with and without the Jays.

Gabriel Moreno: Yes, the reason I came up with this post. Moreno came up last year, and with the dual, at-times-triple, catching situation at the front of the pack, there wasn't a ton of room for him, and so he was dealt for Daulton Varsho. Somehow, the Varsho-for-Moreno/Gurriel deal might be one of the most crucial ones of the year, because all of those pieces have succeeded for their new teams, and Moreno might be most important one. Moreno was expected to back up Carson Kelly, then Kelly got injured and Moreno got the Opening Day gig. Moreno has hit .282 this year with 35 RBIs, as well as being one of the most impressive defensive catchers in baseball. As the D-Backs remain in the playoff picture, excellent defenders like Moreno, Gurriel, Christian Walker and Alek Thomas have kept this team relevant and made them continue to be talked about even if they're no longer a division leader.

Alejandro Kirk: The guy the Jays went with, especially after his 2022 ASG year. Kirk has had a different approach this year, focusing more on his defense than his power hitting, and that's led to a less thrilling year for the team hero. Kirk is less than halfway to his 2022 totals at RBI and homers, and he's hitting below .250. I think it's just a sophomore slump kind of thing, but it does make me wonder if Kirk's 2022 was a fluke. 

Danny Jansen: The Jays' perennial backup, Jansen has never been flashy, but he's been relatively consistent. Even if he doesn't start, even if he did earlier on this year, he's still capable of some choice highlights and defensive plays. It's looking like 2023 will be an average year for Jansen, as he's hitting .224 and has 50 RBIs, which is incidentally a career high. The fans love him, he's been a solid piece of the team as it's grown, and he's at times been more reliable than Kirk.

Reese McGuire: Prior to Kirk's come up, McGuire was Jansen's primary back-up. McGuire was known for his power hitting in addition to his domestic abuse charges. Once Kirk showed up, and once Jansen hit more consistently, McGuire was dealt to Chicago, and eventually to Boston. Even though he was heavily favored to start behind the plate this season, McGuire has been backing up Connor Wong. And while on one hand he's hitting .299 with 15 RBIs so far this year, his defensive abilities have trailed off even further, and he might just be a backup guy going forward.

Riley Adams: Adams was one of the many catchers called upon in 2021 once people started dropping, and he was alright in that position, though he couldn't quite crack MLB pitching. Most famously, Adams would eventually become one of the many prospects shuttled to Washington as they dealt several of their own products: Brad Hand wouldn't spend much time in Toronto, but he was a crucial enough piece to get Adams out of there. Since then, Adams has been the primary backup to Keibert Ruiz, himself a fellow 2021 Nationals trade deadline addition [a deadline that resulted in yet another Jays catcher being dealt as well, but we'll get to him shortly]. He's been sharp this year, hitting .278 with 19 RBIs in 36 games, but as the Nats bring up their own catching prospect, it's not certain how much longer Adams will be in the picture.

Travis d'Arnaud: These next two you may have forgotten about. D'Arnaud was a Blue Jay so briefly, and was famously part of the package that the Jays sent to New York in exchange for R.A Dickey, along with Noah Syndergaard. And with all of the injuries that D'Arnaud struggled with as a member of the Mets, it is still hard to believe that D'Arnaud is currently employed by an MLB team and Thor is not. That does speak to d'Arnaud's consistency since turning thirty- once he joined the Rays and figured things out, he was reliable for everyone he suited up for since. The Braves first used d'Arnaud as their All-Star starting catcher last year, then once they upgraded and got Sean Murphy, d'Arnaud became the backup. And as backups go, he's been a pretty solid one, with 32 RBIs and 9 homers in 56 games. It's a step down from last season, but he's still a reliable catcher a decade after breaking in.

Yan Gomes: It was a trade for reliever Esmil Rogers that brought Yan Gomes to Cleveland, meaning that the prior three years in the Blue Jays system has been lost to time. Gomes did suit up for the Jays as a backup in 2012, and while his defense was decent he only hit .201 that year, the first year of the Jays' rebranding. Of course, he comes to Cleveland and slowly becomes their starter, helps them get to a World series, then is traded to Washington and helps them WIN a World Series. Since then he's been a steady catching option for a few different teams, and while he joined the Cubs last year to back up Willson Contreras, he's taken the starting job himself and is having a wonderful year, hitting .268 with 46 RBIs and 9 homers. I'm glad Gomes is still in the league, and still a reliable catching option.

So that's all seven. It is wild that there's so much to say about all of them, and about this many Jays catching products in general, but sometimes bizarre things like this happen.

Coming Tomorrow- Ironically, someone on the opposite side of the battery for the Blue Jays.

Eleventh Hour Raleigh


Remember back at the end of June when the Mariners were 38-42, and we all sort of went 'well so much for that'?

For the second season in a row, the Seattle Mariners have used a huge August to catapult themselves back into the conversation and absolutely annihilate the competition. And yes, typically I am not a fan of a team coming from the depths of the division to take first, because it does tamper with the narrative that's been going the whole year, in this case the Rangers and their multi-run games. But...the Rangers ran out of steam. They stopped the 10+ run stuff after early June. They were in danger of the Astros lapping them. And while they got hot a few weeks ago, they couldn't hang onto that, got swept by the Brewers, and are dropping like a stone. Even if the divisional narrative has belonged to them, they've done nothing to conserve that.

At the same time, the Mariners solved a ton of their internal issues, somehow won the Paul Sewald trade by getting Josh Rojas to hit, got solid production out of Suarez and Hernandez finally, and, AND...gave Julio enough space to let him get back to his 2022 tricks without pressure. That insane stretch he had last week, where he was outhitting everybody and carrying the whole team on his back? That was 2022 Julio again. And now that the kid's got 82 RBIs, 35 steals, 22 homers and a 4.8 WAR, the center of this team has been restored.

Now so many of the pieces that made the 2022 team a force have been added back. Cal Raleigh certainly wasn't awful earlier this year, but he did take a little while to get back to what he was doing. He currently leads the team in home runs with 25; kinda odd that he's the home run king on a team with Geno Suarez and Teoscar Hernandez, but happy he's stayed as good of a power hitter. I was worried he was just a one-dimensional replacement guy last year, but Raleigh might be the Mariners' safest, most consistent catching option since Dan Wilson. And remember, this is a team who's always struggled with catchers; sometimes they're good defensively and can't hit [Kenji Johjima], sometimes they're good hitters that can't catch [Jesus Montero], sometimes they can't do a single damned thing [Mike Zunino]. Cal Raleigh is decent defensively, excellent offensively and can hit for power. That is range.

It is nice to have these defensive pieces, like Jose Caballero and Cade Marlowe, coming in and aiding the team as it continues to power-hit the shit out of everybody. And it does say something, considering how noticeably strong power teams the Rangers and Astros are, that the Mariners have caught fire and made it to the top at all. You've got league-wide home run contenders on those teams, Garcia and Tucker, and the Ms don't have anybody with over 25; all you have are just a widespread array of power hitters that can all come through for you, and that does not go unnoticed.

The Mariners' stay at 1st base may not be permanent, considering that the Astros won a game with 17 runs today, and logic dictates they're probably gonna try and make their way towards first again. But I do think this M's team has a lot going for them, and they've turned this team into a very fitting and satisfying sequel to the team that broke the playoff streak. Plus, with series' against the A's and Mets coming up, the baseball gods want the Mariners to keep this going for as long as they can, and I hope they do.

Coming Tonight- The Blue Jays had no room for him to play. The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, needed catching help.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Red Dawn

 I just would like to remind you all that in 2022, absolutely none of Matt McLain, Elly de la Cruz, Noelvi Marte, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Andrew Abbott, Levi Stoudt, Brandon Williamson or Will Benson were on the Reds' active roster. And now they've all taken over this team. And if there's any team in baseball that was due for its farm system to completely reinherit the narrative, it is the Cincinnati Reds.

And so here we are. Spencer Steer, Matt McLain, Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson are all looking at Rookie of the Year votes, with Abbott and McLain looking like fair bets for the final round. And Elly de la Cruz, who began the year as one of the most sought-after rookies in the game, and now that he's here has made things all the more interesting.

It's nice that we've had this slow trickle of OMG prospects that light up the minors and do the same to the big leagues. 2022 had both Adley Rutschman and Julio Rodriguez, who did everything they set out to do and became MLB-wide names because of it. This year already began with Anthony Volpe, who, at the very least, steals bases like it's his god-given right. And now we have Elly, who's got 33 RBIs, 11 homers and 22 steals in 69 games. And when he does something, like have a multiple RBI game or make a blazing throw to catch Corbin Carroll at home or run so fast he makes a home plate tag obsolete, everybody hears about it. Elly de la Cruz is one of those 'must see TV' type athletes, descended from Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter. And even if he's only hitting .248 so far, and is definitely doing more of the talking than his stats, his presence in Cincinnati has been solidified. 

What's very funny about Elly is that there's someone in his exact division that I'd say is his equal on a number of levels, and that's Oneil Cruz. Oneil, like Elly, is a tall-ass shortstop; Oneil is 6'7, Elly is 6'5. They're both Dominican, both speedy, and both deadly when given the right opportunity. When Oneil went down early in the season, I was worried that a lot of the fun factor of him would be gone, and while I was sort of right in regards to the rest of Pittsburgh's season, Elly fills that void very well. It will be interesting to see Reds-Pirates games next year, as these two going against each other should be fun to watch. 

The Reds stumbled a little, and the Brewers zipping ahead has not helped them, but getting Hunter Greene back, early struggles notwithstanding, gives them slightly firmer footing heading into the last month of the season. This series with the D-Backs has left them 1.5 games back from the last wild card spot, and appropriately their next series is with the Giants, who is their nearest rival for said spot, so they'll need to hold onto whatever momentum they can muster if they want to compete at all this year.

It's fantastic that the Reds were a 1st place team at all this year. With the converging number of wild card teams, it's no longer guaranteed that they're playoff-bound, but it definitely confirms that this rebuild may not be as dire of a process as previously thought.

Coming Tomorrow- It's the strangest thing for non-baseball people, if you tell them this guy gets called 'the big dumper' and it's a compliment.

Gavin a Good Time


It's very odd. When the Guardians' season began, the prevailing thought was that they'd be going ahead with a rotation consisting of Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale and Triston McKenzie. The current iteration of the Guardians' rotation consists, in all actuality, of Tanner Bibee, Logan Allen, Gavin Williams, Xzavion Curry and Noah Syndergaard. And yet the cumulative ERA of the rotation is still 3.66, which is not bad at all considering that Shane Bieber isn't there.

It's been a season of backup plans for the Guardians. They really thought they'd be going forward with Mike Zunino behind the plate, but that didn't work at all and they've ultimately been using Bo Naylor and Eric Haase there. There was all this hubbub about Josh Bell being the new source of power, then he struggles all through his time there and immediately finds his bat in Miami; meanwhile, Kole Calhoun has been playing that role relatively well. 

The biggest reset of the year has obviously been this rotation, and the fact that it's gone so well is really just a testament to how quietly excellent the Guardians' farm system has continued to be. Gavin Williams was at least a predetermined breakout, as he was such a high-ranked prospect, but Allen and Bibee were lesser known and outdid expectations. Bibee's 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA and 117 Ks in 21 starts, I think he's an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate. Allen, through 19 games, has a 3.31 ERA and 100 strikeouts, he might be the most solid, consistent guy there.

Williams has had the shakier year but the sharper upsides. Gavin Williams is looking like one of those overpowered hard-throwing guys you need at least one of, and since Trevor Bauer left the Tribe has really needed one of those. Shane Bieber does count a lot of the time, but he's known more for consistency than for really challenging the speed gauge. The thing about the current faction of hard-throwing guys is that the accuracy isn't always there, and it takes them a while to really figure that out. Williams has a 3.52 ERA and has only won 1 game, but he's struck out 68 batters in 12 games, which is a very nice stat. In a full season I do wonder what madness he'd get up to.

At the same time though, in a full season I wonder how a lot of this rotation would work. It's looking like only Thor is a free agent at the end of this season, which means if all eight guys are healthy come 2024 Spring Training, it's gonna be a mad fight to see who lands in those five spaces. Not like Bieber, Quantrill or Bibee's spots would be in question, but would Triston McKenzie still have a firm spot even if he's missed all this time in the past few years? Do they give up on Plesac entirely? Does one of the rookies get dealt for a big piece? Will Curry end up back in the bullpen? It's a complicated scenario that the Tribe is really gonna have to measure out after the season, because both halves of this puzzle are working halves.

Even if the Guardians aren't exactly a playoff team this year, it's been eye-opening seeing them reform and adjust down the stretch, and this rotation does make me think they'll be competitive again fairly soon.

Coming Tonight: Oh yeah...there's this, uh, 21-year-old infielder that's setting the league on fire, I should probably do one of him..

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Bryce is Right


Only won NL Wild Card contender has won 70 games. And that contender is the Philadelphia Phillies. Even if their low point was a bit earlier than last year's, this team battled back and became one of the best teams in the NL without having to change much.

I mean, some of the issues that plagued this team in May were just 'well, this is a shitty defensive outfield since we traded away Vierling and Moniak', and 'Bohm can't play third OR first', things like that. We've figured out some ways around this. The Phils have a much better defensive center fielder in Johan Rojas, who's also hitting .289 with 17 RBIs in 31 games. They also at least have Edmundo Sosa doing a fine job at third to balance out Bohm's fielding troubles, despite Bohm still working as a power bat. And the Phils have also gotten some decent defensive numbers from Jake Cave, who was a spring training piece I didn't think would do much with the team. Might be our most fun bench guy, and I'm cool with that.

It's still a bit odd with this outfield not having Bryce Harper in it, but it's not as if Bryce isn't making his presence known at the plate. The two-time MVP is certainly playing like a league great, and is now hitting .301 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in 95 games. Even in a shortened season with no OF stats, Harper's still one of the most important pieces of this team, and he's not a complete liability, as many people thought he'd end up being midway through his deal with Philly. Also, just want to point out that this is Harper's FIFTH YEAR in Philadelphia, and he's just as beloved and well-liked as I'd hoped he be. If your team signs somebody for 10 or so years, that worry that it's a waste of money is gonna be there, but Harper's everything this city wanted, and his actions during the Little League Classic only confirm that.

Also, Trea Turner is coming into his own as well, with another recent multi-homer game, 23 steals under his belt, and the whole city behind him even during his dry spells. It's clear that this fanbase enjoys Turner even if it's taken him a while to figure out Philly, but I'm definitely thinking he'll improve over time. It's also gotta help being around such great young players like Bryson Stott and Brandon Marsh all the time.

The rotation is also very lucky that Michael Lorenzen could swing into the picture right when Ranger Suarez's arm was getting tired. I do have this fear that Lorenzen getting lit up in his last two starts is a side effect of going 9 innings earlier this month, but I also feel like it's just gonna take time to recalibrate and it's not an injury [please don't let it be an injury]. Nola, Walker and Wheeler are awesome enough to rest on at this point, and Cristopher Sanchez has been having some great starts recently. I always knew he'd eventually be a good starter for us, it was just a matter of timing, and I think he's a bit more of a keeper than someone like Bailey Falter.

The Phils are looking very good right now, and have the Cardinals and Angels to contend with before a crucial duel with Brewers, who are very close to them in the overall NL standings. I hope they keep rolling, as it'd be awesome to see a refined version of the 2022 team do some damage in October. 

Coming Tomorrow- Another rookie flamethrower in Cleveland.

You May Be Wandering...


A year in a half into the only 11-year contract the Rays ever felt the need to give out after years of letting people walk, a funny thing happened.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been a lot of things since changing their name and becoming one of the most crafty and interesting teams in the majors. But I don't think anyone would really be able to call them 'unlucky'. A lot of their aesthetic is things falling into place at the exact right time. Randy Arozarena landing in Tampa and becoming a hero right before a World Series run. Evan Longoria being ready for the majors right when things are moving towards the Rays' first ever division title. That Delmon Young trade that netted the Rays essentially 15 years of overwhelmingly good prospects in exchange for a power hitter they at one point thought was the future. Most famously, Joe Maddon leaving, Kevin Cash entering, and an entirely new outside-the-box managerial regime beginning without there being even the slightest misstep in between [like a Bobby Valentine year in between Francona and Farrell]. 

But the Rays' biggest misstep may have happened now, in the midst of a season that began with the team's monumental winning streak and proceeded with some killer seasons. The heartbreaking thing is many of these seasons have stopped in their tracks. Noted bigot Jeffrey Springs got injured after being damn near untouchable. Then Shane McClanahan got injured after a Cy Young-caliber campaign. And then, 112 games into a season that could result in MVP votes, Wander Franco gets caught in a teen's DMs and now the guy they spent hundreds of millions of dollars on for the next ten years probably will never play baseball again. That is the single worst snowball of luck that the Rays have ever encountered, and need I remind you how many seasons Evan Longoria stayed healthy for?

Just yesterday I saw an ESPN profile on a Rays player, and it was Randy Arozarena. And in the back of my head, I had to think, 'was that supposed to be Wander and things got shifted?'. This happened this week as well, Empire released a big magazine rollout on Dune Part Two a day after its release was shifted, and they had to sort of go on with it anyway. So as good as Arozarena was, I have to think about the narrative around the Rays. Initially a lot of the story of this team centered around Franco, the unstoppable prospect that rocketed up to the bigs, had a great run as a rookie, battled injuries his sophomore year, and became an MLB fixture. And now that Franco's a no-no, there has to be a different narrative. Like, now it's back to 'well look at all these pieces they made a great team out of'. That's been the narrative for the past five years. We thought we had something new, now we don't. 

So now this Rays team is sort of back to where it was, and it's trying to win that way, and that's all well and good but why do I have this sneaking suspicion that the Rays are gonna trade a bunch of these guys anyway during the offseason. Y'know, Brandon Lowe and Harold Ramirez thinking they're safe, suddenly they're thrown somewhere else just cause the Rays wanna save money. And this'll happen even if the Rays still do well this year, which is likely considering they're still within reach of Baltimore. 

The thing is, without Wander it's hard for them to seem wholly legitimate. Look, it's very nice that Jose Siri's got 24 home runs with only 88 games under his belt, but it'd look a lot better if Siri was any good of a defender. Without McClanahan, the team's best pitcher is Zach Eflin, who can still get roughed up by the Yankees every so often. I still think the rotation's incomplete and I still think the bullpen pales in comparison to past iterations. And while Jason Adam and Jalen Beeks are no longer the most morally reprehensible people on the active roster, they're also struggling to recreate their 2022 magic.

It's been up to people like Arozarena, Isaac Paredes, Yandy Diaz and Josh Lowe to keep things rolling for the Rays, and while they're still very much in the race, they're not the overwhelming favorites they once were, and there's still a ton of internal problems that could keep them back. Also, any attempt to make them likable has failed now that the Wander stuff has arisen.

The Rays could still go far this year. But I'll always wonder what they could have been had they not banked so hard on someone awful. 

Coming Tonight: Someone that makes me a lot happier than the Rays, and he's been hitting so well recently as well.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Cornering Wilmer

 There are some alternate histories I think about in accordance with baseball. You know, we've had some good ones recently, like 'what if Dexter Fowler's Orioles deal goes through prior to the 2016 season', 'what if Johnny Cueto approves the Diamondbacks deal and Greinke has to sign elsewhere', 'what if the Yankees sign Strasburg in 2020 and have to eat that contract' or 'what if MadBum never takes up quadding'. But there's an intriguing one I've always thought about, and it involves Wilmer Flores.

In 2015, the New York Mets have a plan on the table to trade for Carlos Gomez, who's having another great season in Milwaukee. Gomez would have been a huge piece at CF for the Mets, and could have been part of the Championship team. Plus, knowing what we know now about how Gomez did in Houston, perhaps the Mets could have been a better fit. But, of course, we'll never know, because the deal never happens, the Mets trade for Yoenis Cespedes instead and go to the World Series.

Crucially, the deal's dissolution was due to concerns the Brewers had with one of the pieces they'd be receiving, namely Zack Wheeler, who was still rehabbing from Tommy John [and as we know contemporarily, giving him 2 years to rehab ensured he could excel upon his return]. But the part that everyone remembers, especially Mets fans, concerns the other piece of the deal that would be heading to the Brewers. It was shortstop/middle infield piece Wilmer Flores, and in the midst of one of the last games before the deadline, Flores, very much aware of the trade, began to shed real tears for his departure for the team that primed him into what he was. He'd had an opportunity to start with the Mets, and was on the verge of helping a team make the playoffs--his palpable sadness was seen the league over.

And then the part everyone remembers; the deal's off, Flores stays a Met, and then immediately hits a walk-off home run for his team to thank them for keeping him around. Even though Flores has played for different teams since, that moment in mid-2015 might be his biggest claim to fame.

Though as it happens, Flores has completely reinvented himself as a member of the Giants. Instead of being a speedy little middle infield guy, Flores is now a corner bat who's been deadly off the bench. The Giants have worked it so that both LaMonte Wade Jr. and Wilmer Flores are prime corner infield options with killer power perks. Flores actually leads the Giants in home runs with 18, which, while it does make sense for a team that's had Pederson, Conforto, Yaz and Haniger all either injured or slumping at different points, is still a cool outcome. I mean, there's three hard-hitting ex-Mets on this team, and I don't think Flores would have been anyone's first choice as to who'd hit better this year, but Flores has 46 RBIs and a .304 average. And he's doing most of this as either a DH or bench guy, as Wade seems to still be the starting guy.

There's been a lot of twists and turns to this Giants team that I've been pleasantly surprised by, Wilmer included. We also have Patrick Bailey coming from out of nowhere to become the catching replacement for Posey the team's been looking for, Alex Cobb having a comeback year when no one expected him to, both Rogers brothers bringing out the best in each other, Thairo Estrada cementing his status as starter, and now Paul deJong going from DFA'd to a 2-homer game against the Phils. 

Even if the hardest series' of the season are ahead, with games against the Braves, Reds, Padres and Cubs on the way, the Giants are still looking very good, and this Kaplerball is definitely paying off, even in a year with a definitive ace, a definitive closer and consistent hitting. This week will be their biggest test, and it'll be interesting to see how they look afterwards.

Coming Tomorrow- Getting traded to the Rays by the Astros is a lot like trading in a Hummer for a Tesla. Try as you might, you're gonna get consequences anyway.

French Fried


And so...the Astros have fallen to third.

True, it's a tie with the Mariners, they're technically still in second, but the Mariners were off yesterday and get to play the Royals this weekend, so perhaps it'll happen still, but...the Astros haven't dropped this low in a while, especially in a competitive frame of the season.

And this skid didn't happen against a divisional competitor or an unbeatable rival. Nono. The Astros were beaten 17-1 by the Boston Red Sox. Yes, a team that's 8 games over .500, but a team that is still a marginal contender for a playoff spot, especially with the Astros, Mariners, Rays and Jays already fighting for 3 spots. This team beat the Astros, who have been slowly building a playoff case of their own, 17 to 1. 

10 of those runs came from J.P. France, which shocked me, as France has been one of the Astros' best pitchers as of late. Through 18 games, the mustachioed rookie had gone 9-4 with a 2.75 ERA, and had built a consistent year for himself, even as returning pitchers like Jose Urquidy and Justin Verlander threatened to take his starting spot. Now France's ERA sits at 3.51, thanks to giving up 10 runs in 2.1 innings. I mean, we all get rocked, but Cristian Javier just got rocked the other night as well. Four Houston starters stand at 9 wins, and several of them have stayed at that total despite opportunities this week. I think they wanna just stay at 9 together, it's fun. NOBODY WIN A TENTH. DON'T RUIN THIS.

Two other Astros pitchers got rocked after France left. Brandon Bielak, himself a former starter this year, gave up 3 runs, while last-resort option Martin Maldonado gave up 4 more runs in the ninth. And this may all be a distant memory this week when Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander hold the Tigers to nothing,'s yet another reminder of how human the Astros this year.

Believe me, they are trying. They want so badly for you to think they're just as unstoppable as ever. Jose Altuve has been working overtime to deliver a season worthy of his name. Because god forbid he's gone for more than a few months, he'll lose his mind. Kyle Tucker and Alex Bregman had slow starts and are now playing excellent baseball, with Tucker looking at a 25+ homer, 100+ RBI year, his second overall. But there's still multiple pieces in this lineup that don't work, and even Yordan Alvarez is missing too much time with either injuries or self-inflicted nonsense that keeps him off the field. The team is beginning to fray.

After 2024, both Altuve and Bregman will be free agents. And I can tell they don't want to think about that, because they're still playing like a defending champion even as the Mariners begin to close in. Say what you will about the Rangers sputtering, but right now the Mariners are playing better baseball than the Astros, and have more of a playoff case. The Astros are still good, and may still make the playoffs by the sheer force of Rob Manfred, but they're not what they've been in recent years, and it's time for them to face it. 

If this isn't their sign to slow down, I'm worried for what will be.

Coming Tonight: The Mets used him as a utility infield option. The Diamondbacks used him as a utility infield option. The Giants are using him as a corner infield bat. And it's working pretty well for them.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Brewers Earn Their Keep


After several months of bobbing around first without overwhelmingly leading the division, the Milwaukee Brewers are finally playing like a first place team. They just swept the Texas Rangers, leveling them even further as the Mariners and, I suppose, Astros close in behind them. They just took two games against the Twins, and now head towards two wild card competitors that are relatively hot right now, the Cubs and Padres. Even if it's not a high mark for division leaders, the Brewers have won 70 games, are 13 games over .500, and are in the best shape they've been in all season.

One of the issues with this Brewers team has been the lack of surefire hitting among many starters, including rookies Joey Wiemer and Brice Turang, as well as the lack of true power options in the absence of Rowdy Tellez. The deadline did bring Carlos Santana, who has 6 homers already. He doesn't seem to be as outwardly powerful as he was in Pittsburgh, but he's been a relatively reliable source of power hitting, and that's definitely what they needed. And seeing as Tellez has just returned from the IL, having him AND Santana bulking up the lineup is definitely the power boost you need, even if you still have Adames and Yelich hitting for power amicably.

What's also started happening is that Turang and Wiemer are finding other roles to play in this team aside from their defense. Turang has 17 steals, which isn't bad at all. The real issue is he's not even succeeding as a contact guy, as he only has 70 hits in 103 games, but he's got 29 RBIs in this time, and he's capable of decent hitting, just not as reliably as some other pieces. Wiemer, meanwhile, has 40 RBIs and 13 homers in 113 games, which is better. The defense stuff does make a lot of it worth it, and I'd say they're both better than people like Taylor Walls or Esteury Ruiz who refuse to even hit anything, but they're clearly both at the start of their careers. Adversely, Sal Frelick's only been up for 26 games and he's hitting .250 with 16 RBIs and 3 homers, in addition to his eye-popping defense. Some people just take to it earlier than others.

The most relieving thing about this team is that after all the struggles they had with covering rotation spots due to injury, the Brewers' arrangement of Burnes-Woodruff-Peralta-Miley-Houser is actually doing really well right now, and powering through as they should have if the injuries hadn't happened. Woodruff has struck out 18 and lowered his ERA to 2.89 since returning from the IL, and he seems like he's back to normal. Burnes is still having a nice year, 9-6 with 160 Ks, only outdone by Freddy Peralta with 168. The bullpen also looks awesome, with the only weak link being Andrew Chafin, who it's become clear that the Diamondbacks honestly shouldn't have given up. Lots has fallen into place for the Brewers, making it all the more believable that they could stay surging for the next month.

The goal for this Brewers team is to not fumble this Padres series so that by the time they get to Chicago the Cubs are in position to take the division. As good as the Brewers have been, the Cubs are sneaky, can catch fire without warning, and arguably have more pieces in place than the Brewers this year. It's gonna be a battle of who can outlast the other's flickering momentum, and it could be either one.

Coming Tomorrow- Ohhh man did I time this one poorly. Not in a Wander Franco kinda way, nothing that bad, but uh....this guy sure did get lit up today...

Twinning by Losing


When Rob Manfred extended the playoffs last year, I think he did so in the thought that competitive teams that didn't quite make the previous mark would be able to find momentum and build their World Series case then rather than during the regular season, and in a sense he was giving teams that wouldn't previously have the chance a shot at October glory, which is generous before you really think about what it does to the deserving cases of division-leading teams. 

I do wonder if he thought of the inverse of this--what of the division leader that only won because the other teams in the division were awful and they're only just okay? I guess we're about to find out, as the Twins are still looking like the favorite to win the division despite being only 4 games above .500.

It's a team that should be better than it is. Byron Buxton should have stayed healthy, Kyle Farmer should have avoided that head injury, Max Kepler should have been hitting this well from the start, Vazquez and Correa really should be playing like they're being paid. Even the starting pitching has gone downward a bit since Joe Ryan's injury. Sonny Gray, as nice as he's throwing, has leveled his record to 6-6 and his ERA to 3.15. Gray, Lopez and Ober are doing alright, but not as well as they were prior to the ASG break. And with the open spot, they're letting Dallas Keuchel start games, and while he did go 6 innings without giving up a hit last start, his ability to strike people out is gone. He is at the mercy of his fielders to get the easy outs, and not all of these fielders are great. Plus, Keuchel could return to his old meddling next, we're not sure. It's just a wonder he was able to get out of a game without getting lit up.

And of all the big bats on this team, it shouldn't be down to someone like Ryan Jeffers, who was supposed to be the backup catcher this year, to do all the work. Jeffers has gotten progressively hotter in the last two months, and now has 56 hits, 25 RBIs and 9 home runs in 72 games. Vazquez has 26 RBIs in 80 games. Somehow, the guy they paid all that money for isn't doing as well as the homegrown guy lower on the depth chart. Which is just another funny detail of this Twins team. Y'know, they have Jorge Polanco as their guy, he gets hurt and now Edouard Julien is making him practically obsolete, hitting .290 with 22 RBIs and 10 homers in 75 games. At the same time, a finally-healthy Royce Lewis is hitting .316 with 17 RBIs and 4 homers in 34 games, and making a serious run at 3rd base. 

This Twins team is sort of doing what it's supposed to, but not in any of the ways it really should be. They're probably still a playoff team, and could probably get a lot done, but...I am puzzled by what a playoff version of these Twins will look like, and if they'll have any success whatsoever. It'll definitely be interesting, because something could happen, and they could actually win a playoff series for the first time in a while, that even possible with them currently being this meh?

Coming Tonight: Yet another defense-heavy rookie for a team that's now becoming as good as they were always supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Two for the Money Mike


The Braves have won 81 games, have 7 starters with over 20 home runs, and three pitchers with 10+ wins and 100+ strikeouts. I'd say they have a chance.

The thing about the Braves is that they have a bunch of guys who've been good the whole year [Acuna, Olson, Strider, Elder, Albies, Arcia], and now we're seeing the ripples of people who've gotten better as we've gone on. Michael Harris started very slow and now is having a perfectly respectable sophomore season, hitting .282 with 39 RBIs, 17 steals and 11 home runs. He's also still an excellent defensive center fielder, so he's still as versatile as he was. It's odd that someone like Harris is a lower-tier lineup guy on a team like the Braves, but the fact that he's still doing incredibly even when the emphasis is more on the central power hitters proves how many Braves are truly killing it right now.

And just added to that list is Eddie Rosario, who's been especially hot recently. In August alone he's hitting .356 with 15 RBIs and 4 homers, bringing his current home run total to 20 and his current RBI total to 63. Rosario has been known for his cold spots but when he's hot, he's horrifying--you all remember how hot he got in October 2021. He's had a similar 2023, where he's been excellent some months and average in others, but it's building towards a relatively respectable overall year for the veteran outfield bat. Between Rosario and Marcell Ozuna, who's at least gonna leave here with a 25+ homer year, they're getting a lot out of guys whose contracts they thought were losses.

Even better, though Ozzie Albies will be out for a short while, both Vaughn Grissom and Nicky Lopez have been excellent at covering for him. Lopez is hitting .407 with 11 hits and 8 RBIs in 10 games since arriving in Atlanta. Grissom is hitting .282 with 7 RBIs in 22 games. I reckon this isn't the audition Grissom wanted for this year, since it's very similar to last year's opportunity and he's got not one but two other guys he's competing with [even if Shewmake's still in the minors]. So even despite that, the lineup is still pretty awesome. And with Max Fried back and healthy, as well as Jared Shuster being a decent enough fifth option, the rotation is still in excellent shape.

...heading into the last month of the season, I'm not seeing many flaws in this team.

I mean, as I discussed yesterday, the biggest and baddest teams don't always survive to the World Series anymore, especially since they made the playoffs longer and gave teams more opportunities to lose momentum. The Braves have so much momentum right now that it scares me that they won't be able to hold onto it either. It certainly happened last year, and it's worth asking what they'll do to ensure it won't happen again. The team is better, yes, but we don't know who'll show up once the games start to really matter. 

Of anyone right now, the Braves are in the best position to repeat as World Series champion only a couple years after their last win. All it takes is for them to follow it through.

Coming Tomorrow- This season he was the designated backup catcher and injured for several months. Didn't stop him from outdoing most of the team in the hitting department, though.

Two Kyles and a Dream


Two of the people who've thrown 125 innings or more for the Orioles are named Kyle. One of them is Kyle Gibson, the 10-year vet who recently won his 100th career game, and has pretty much succeeded as the designated veteran arm to help the younger guys come along, much like his former Rangers teammate Jordan Lyles did last year. 

The other one is someone I never considered would be the O's most consistent pitcher of the year.

Kyle Bradish burst onto the scene last year and was more known for his strikeout abilities than for his overall dominance. Though he pitched 117 innings in 23 games, the same he's pitched thus far in 2023, Bradish struggled to keep runs down, and left with a 4.90 ERA despite 111 Ks. This year, though, he's delivered the closest thing to an ace performance in Baltimore, with an 8-6 record, a 3.03 ERA and 122 Ks. It's not only an improvement on last year, but it's a more confident, better-realized version of his previous innings-eating attempt last year.

The Orioles have been very unlucky finding an ace type to build the rotation around. Obviously if John Means were here it'd be him, but Means is still hurt from last season. For a while we thought it might be Tyler Wells, but he fell off extremely quickly last month. The assumption was also that Grayson Rodriguez would grow into things and lead the rotation, but Rodriguez's ERA is still over 5. The thought in bringing Jack Flaherty to Baltimore was that he'd string the rest along, but he's gotten lit up in his last two starts. It could be the case that at this stage, they really don't need a designated ace. If enough guys like Bradish, Dean Kremer and Gibson are just solid mid-rotation guys that can be relied upon at the front, that works too. Obviously it'd be better if the first guy in the depth chart was healthy or consistent, but that could turn around going forward. 

And besides, as long as they continue to deliver solid enough starting innings, the O's are still a force to be reckoned with in the AL. Yes, the Rays have now moved to two games behind them, and they have the easier week schedule-wise, but the Orioles have 3 guys with 60 or more RBIs, an incredibly complete lineup that still has Ramon Urias and Jordan Westburg as excellent extra pieces, and some of the most lethal contact hitting in the league. Even if the Rays lap them, the Orioles are still playoff favorites with a lot of advantages and a lot going for them. I am thinking they'll get my rooting interest in the AL, as it's not looking like my Yankees will be there in October and the O's are extremely likable. 

Coming Tonight: Last year he won the Rookie of the Year award, and he's no slouch this year either..

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Way Outman in Front


Remember a little while ago when the Diamondbacks, Dodgers and Giants were all pretty close to each other in the NL West standings? Yeah, the Dodgers decided there wasn't gonna be any drama this year. 

It is looking like, once again, the Dodgers will be taking the division, having only lost two games in August, and having pulled 12 games ahead of the nearest competition [the Giants]. And while I liked the tension of having the Giants and D-Backs ahead in the division at certain points, all of that is gone because both of those teams have lost a bunch of momentum. The Giants are trying their best, and Kyle Harrison did a decent enough job in his first start, but unless the Dodgers completely fall apart, which is unlikely, there's not gonna be any catching up. 

What this all tells me is that everything the Dodgers needed at the deadline, they got, and those pieces did exactly what they're supposed to. Miguel Vargas wasn't working at 2nd, but now both Enrique Hernandez and Amed Rosario are excellent upgrades both defensively and, in Rosario's case, power-wise. After a limp year in Cleveland, Rosario's issues at the plate seem to have been curtailed, and he's got 12 RBIs and 3 homers through 19 games. Too many starters were unpolished options, now you've got Lance Lynn pitching like he used to before his 2022 arm troubles. Lynn is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 4 starts for LA. This is the kind of Lance Lynn performance the Dodgers wanted, and they're getting it.

Plus, a lot of the guys that took a while to figure things out have built up decent seasons. David Peralta is now hitting .275, and is playing outstanding defense. Miguel Rojas is also having the kind of defensive season that's at least keeping him at SS despite weaker offensive numbers. James Outman, after a quality dip in June, is now the kind of hard-hitting outfielder the prospectors were excited about, with 52 RBIs and 15 homers in his rookie season so far. Outman may be striking out a bit too much, and he may only be hitting .250, but he's establishing solid power numbers and has been a big part of this Dodgers team's intimidation. Freeman, Betts, Muncy and Martinez are scary enough, but if you've got this rookie who can hit just as well, that's even scarier, cause that's the next 5 or 6 years for ya, if he keeps it up.

The Dodgers are looking pretty unbeatable this year, but that is, ultimately, how they always look. In years like this, where they rack up wins in the regular season, the bottom usually falls out before the World Series. Sometimes they do make it work, but they've only won the whole thing once with this regime. Even with Betts, Freeman, Kershaw and Urias all delivering their best work, you can't predict if this momentum's going to last, and if the guys they go up against in October are gonna strike said momentum before they do. I think the Dodgers do have a shot this year, but they need to fight this 'unsinkable' image that's doomed them so many times before. Being 12 games ahead may not help that, sadly.

Coming Tomorrow- Was not expecting this guy to have the best season of any Baltimore starter, but am grateful regardless.

Carlos Santana Swept Here


So. You just got swept by the Milwaukee Brewers, including giving up 6 RBIs and 2 home runs to Carlos Santana, and are now within 3 games of being caught up to by both the Astros AND the red-hot Seattle Mariners. Now what?

For the majority of this season, the Texas Rangers have been the heavy favorite not only in the AL West picture but in the AL in general. Their entire lineup is surging, with people like Jonah Heim, Corey Seager, Leody Taveras and now depth pieces like Mitch Garver and Travis Jankowski playing some of the best baseball of their careers. And as strong as their pitching was before, bringing in Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton has made the unit even stronger, and they might have one of the best rosters in the bigs.

But after the series against the Brewers, the Rangers have the Astros 2.5 games behind them and the Mariners 3 games behind them. Regardless of the trouble the Astros had vs. Boston last night, they've still built a ton of momentum and can never be truly counted out. The Mariners, almost purely on the heels of Julio Rodriguez, have shifted into overdrive and just keep winning games, have won seven in a row and now get to beat up easier teams like the White Sox and Royals this week.

If the Rangers didn't still have the best rotation in baseball, I'd be a lot more worried.

Here is the funny part. Like in 2020, the Rangers' rotation was built to withstand catastrophe yet still combatted more catastrophe than anticipated. The initial plan for this year was deGrom-Gray-Eovaldi-Perez-Heaney-Odorizzi. Immediately Odorizzi gets hurt, then deGrom struggles to stay healthy and finally drops midyear. Perez and Heaney are less consistent than they need to be, and while Eovaldi and Gray are great, Eovaldi gets hurt around mid-July, meaning that by the time reinforcements are brought in in the form of Scherzer and Montgomery, we're back at a healthy five. And the variable that's perhaps been the most consistent out of all of them is the guy SEVENTH on the initial depth chart, the great Dane Dunning, who started the season in a long relief role. 

I'm glad Dunning got a chance to start, because he's been excellent, as expected, in that role. He's got a 3.15 ERA, a 9-5 record, 101 Ks and a 1.161 WHIP, the lowest of anyone active in the rotation. Dunning, Gray and Heaney are still consistently logging innings, and while Perez has been moved to the bullpen he's still strong enough. Scherzer's 3-1 in his first 4 starts and still pitches like classic Max. Montgomery's 2-1 in his first 3 starts and is just as dominant as he was in St. Louis. Even with all the casualties and mishaps, that's still a solid five man rotation. Even without deGrom or Eovaldi, I'm not that worried. I'm writing this before Gumby took the mound in Phoenix, but I'm hoping he continued his excellent work, because that's what this rotation is chock full of. Granted, maybe gutting some of the bullpen wasn't the greatest idea but the goal is to not have much use for it. Which...I mean, we'll see how that goes.

I still think the Rangers have enough talent to stay ahead. The momentum may not immediately be on their side, but they can still keep the upper hand. I still think this year will have an AL West winner that is not Houston. The Rangers just need to make sure it's them and not Seattle.

Coming Tonight: Unlike Jordan Walker, an Opening Day rookie who's actually built something nice this season.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Bare Jordan


Remember back in March when the prospect of a Jordan Walker rookie card left the promise of dollar signs in the eyes of prospectors? 

Oh man, what a year it's been. Jordan Walker began his career with an incredible hitting streak, then stopped hitting, got himself demoted, then was promoted again when the bottom fell out of the Cardinals' season, and instead of being a prevailing force of contact hitting for this team, he's...just kinda there.

And so even as Walker's rookie cards are hitting the streets, and are probably well peppered throughout the products Topps has planned through the end of the year, the rookie right fielder is currently hitting .260 with 76 hits, 35 RBIs and 11 home runs. Brendan Donovan is out for the rest of the year, and there's a decent chance he'll still finish the season with more hits than Walker. That is how things have gone for him. And after how confident he felt in his initial few weeks, I'm honestly really sad to see this.

To be honest, there's a lot of 'can't miss' Cardinals prospects that have missed quite a bit this year, aside from Walker. Matthew Liberatore, who was getting raves back in the Rays organization, has a 6.12 ERA in 11 starts, and still doesn't seem to be too prepared for MLB work. Masyn Wynn, brought up this week to succeed Paul DeJong at short, has yet to bat a run in through 3 games. Luken Baker, a DH who's hit 33 home runs in Memphis this year, still has yet to hit his first Cardinals homer. Even Alec Burleson, who was given a much fuller role for 2023, is only hitting .243 with 28 RBIs in 89 games. The Cardinals have brought up Drew Rom, a pitching prospect they received from the Orioles last month, and as I write this he's being lit up by the Pirates, a team desperate to stay ahead of them in the standings. 

As good as these prospects are, maybe there's just something keeping the Cardinals down this year, and not just the team but the people who've left the team. If you ask me, maybe that playoff loss last year lifted the curse against the Phillies and brought it on them, and that'd be really delicious if that was it. Maybe it's Oli Marmol, maybe he just can't get a solid team together. Honestly, it may just not be this organization's year, much like it's not the Yankees' year. 

A common theme through a lot of teams that have suffered greatly this year, including the Cardinals, Yankees, Pirates, White Sox, A's and Tigers, is that they're all 100+ year old organizations. Meanwhile, some of the best teams this year have been teams like the Rays, Diamondbacks, Mariners, Brewers, Rangers and Blue Jays, all formed in the last half-century [give or take a few years]. Even if a lot of the still-competitive teams are ones that have been lucky lately, like the Dodgers, Astros and Red Sox, the cutting out of the old standard guys who always win does give other teams a chance to create some highlights, as well as a chance for teams like the Mariners, Brewers, Rays, Padres or Rangers to win their first organizational rings, or teams like the Twins, Reds, Jays, Marlins and Phillies to win their first in decades. 

The Cardinals will compete again, perhaps as soon as next year. But them not competing this year, if you can believe it, is good for the rest of the league. And if you're genuinely worried about Jordan Walker, fear not: it took Bobby Witt a year or so to get it, and Walker's still only 21. It'll happen eventually, I reckon.

Coming Tomorrow- A trusted starting pitcher for a team that picked the exact wrong time to get swept.

A Different Kind of Cole


The Royals have had only one 'sure thing' this year, and that is Bobby Witt Jr. Everyone else has had moments in the sun, like Freddy Fermin and Maikel Garcia, or have been quiet for most of the year and chosen now to get hot, like Dairon Blanco and Brady Singer, or even started strong and flamed out, like Vinnie Pasquantino, Daniel Lynch and Brad Keller. But Witt has really been the one locked-in piece the Royals have had all year, which is depressing when you consider that Salvador Perez, Zack Greinke and Brady Singer are on this team.

Although...what it's looking like at the moment is that, after 4 months, the Royals have gained a second confirmed, locked-in piece. Because how else can you explain how good Cole Ragans has looked?

Ragans was a decent starting option for the Rangers last year, and though he went 0-3 in 9 starts, he showed promise as a steady and sturdy innings-eater. Only issue is Ragans was the type of starter the Rangers could only use when they were running thin on proven options. For 2023, they were overstocked with starters, so Ragans was mostly a bullpen long man, and not a particularly effective one at that. So when the Rangers needed arms to give up in exchange for Aroldis Chapman, Ragans was relatively high on the list.

Since landing in Kansas City however, Cole Ragans has been given the stability, opportunity and healthy environment that the Rangers didn't have the space to provide him with before. And that's why his first 5 starts for the Royals have been excellent, with a 2.51 ERA, 36 strikeouts and a 2-1 record. It's the kind of strong, dominant material that's rocketed him to the top of the WAR leaderboards after barely even a month. And even if the Royals have built people like Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic and Brad Keller to be their rotation, a lot of them are injured or unreliable, and if the plan's not gonna succeed, this team needs people who will. 

Even if the Royals still suck next year, which is a likely option, having both Brady Singer and Cole Ragans pitching consistently well, and on par with how they are now, will ensure that that team will be a step up from this one. It felt like with all the potential pieces the Royals set up last year, nothing really came to fruition and they took steps back. If Witt, Singer and Ragans all deliver seasons similar to their peak years, the Royals could begin to build something to separate themselves from the pack and potentially raise the quality of the AL Central. However...this could be a mirage, and Ragans could struggle next year just like Michael Massey, Nate Eaton and Scott Barlow did this year.

It'd be nice, though. What if Ragans gets good and makes the Rangers regret ever trading him? How awesome would that be?

Coming Tonight: Of the remaining members of the 2015 Mets rotation, the biggest active long-term success has been Noah Syndergaard. The second biggest somehow might be this guy.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Stone Cold


As we speak, the Nationals are playing the Phillies in the annual Little League Classic in Williamsport. I always love this whenever they do it, I love the interactions between the MLBers and the little leaguers. Seeing Garrett Stubbs and Dom Smith hanging out with little leaguers from around the country, that is why you do it. Even better that the Yankees get to do it next season, though I don't blame the MLB brass for not picking Tampa.

Among the many Nats having a good time right now is Stone Garrett. Garrett, as well as being a strong outfield bat and fun player to watch, has been one of the moral backbones of this team. The Nats this year aren't...GOOD, but in a number of places they are fun. Here more than anywhere else, you get the sense that it's just this mad assortment of players that have wound up here, and they've gotta do what they can to keep at it for another month, so they might as well have a good time. You get guys like Garrett, Dom Smith, Josiah Gray and Joey Meneses who may not have a starring role in other situations but are making the most of it here, and are enjoying every last second.

Garrett especially was having trouble finding a place to get reps in. Drafted by the Marlins, Garrett struggled to do anything in the minors, and was hampered even further by the minor league stoppage of 2020. After that non-season, Garrett was cut, picked up by the Diamondbacks, improved in Amarillo and Reno, and managed to crack the majors last year at 26. In 27 games last year, Garrett hit .276 with 4 homers and 10 RBIs. It was a decent showing, but with Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, Pavin Smith and Lourdes Gurriel looking at OF spots going into 2023, there was no room for Garrett, as good as he was. Hence him landing in Washington this year.

Thankfully, the Nats had a much more open outfield scenario, and Garrett worked his way into a starting spot eventually. This year he's been a perfectly capable OF option with great contact ability, hitting .279 with 40 RBIs and 9 homers, as well as the lead in OPS with .825 for the team. Even when he was working off the bench in Phoenix, Garrett always had this fun, 'look what he can do' sort of factor to him, and he still wields that sort of unpredictable x-factor. Somebody like Dom Smith or even C.J. Abrams has slightly less of that, so the Nats building up their team with guys like that is a good plan for the future, even if many of them are temporary options.

The big twist of this year for Washington is that they're within a game or so of overtaking the Mets for 4th place. In a year where the Mets were gonna go all the way, them potentially sitting in last as the Nats move up to fourth is an insane development. Even more insane, the Nats have approached 'good' stats lately, and they're 11-6 since August began. This is a year where the Washington Nationals, with Patrick Corbin as the ace, are 11-6 in August and the Yankees can barely win 5 games. And I kinda love that the Nats are going there, and that they have people like Lane Thomas, Josiah Gray and, again, Stone Garrett, who can push them over the edge.

And so, even when the name of the game is being fun, like in Williamsport, the Nats will still be leaving this series as a fun, relatively watchable option, despite having zero chance of advancing.

Coming Tomorrow- He was getting nothing done in Arlington, then he found a place that really needed starting innings.