Friday, April 12, 2024

What's the Story?

 


The last couple of years, the Red Sox have had a 'magic hat' player in April, meaning a player who almost singlehandedly marks the team's success and once he's gone leaves a hole the team cannot fill. Last year it was Adam Duvall, who was incredible for 2 weeks in April and then got injured, missed most of the season and arrived just in time to see the Sox fall out of contention. 

Part of me was thinking the magic hat this season would be someone like Tyler O'Neill, who was certainly slugging a lot of home runs to begin the season. As I write this he's sitting on 6 home runs. We're not gonna talk about how he's only batted 1 other run in, he's hit 6 home runs, Judge only has 2, it's a big deal.

But no...much more depressing.

I cannot help but feel for Trevor Story. From 2016 to 2021 he was one of the best hitting infielders in baseball, could hit for power and contact, and contributed mightily to those great Rockies teams. He deserved a payday, and a team that could allow him to compete again. And he certainly deserves to have played more than 145 games in 3 seasons with Boston. After staying healthy for the majority of his Colorado career, Story has been injured every year of this deal, all coming in more heartbreaking and poorly-timed ways. And this year, where he was gearing up for a terrific comeback season, to go down 8 games in with a shoulder injury diving for a catch feels like an insult. Story will be 32 by the time the 2025 season begins, and by that point he will have 3 years left on the contract. It is not at all what he wanted, and hopefully his luck will improve, but it's genuinely awful.

The Sox, meanwhile, have no choice but to soldier on without him, and they will probably be going with David Hamilton at short going forward, which seems to be a decent enough tradeoff. The good news is that they're getting excellent production from people like O'Neill, Jarren Duran and, somehow, Reese McGuire. Ceddanne Rafaela is taking a while to blossom at the plate but the team seems to have a lot of faith in him [hence the extension]. Jansen's still an elite closer, Crawford and Houck are solid homegrown starting options, and the team's ahead of Tampa in the standings, which has to count for something. 

I think the...sparse quality of a lot of the roster will cause things to even out further, but I think the Sox can craft a respectable, somewhat interesting season despite a lot of missing tentpoles. If Tyler O'Neill can become a star here, that will definitely help.

Coming Tonight: It's been a while since we've had someone talk the talk like this guy. 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Twentysomethings Named Jackson

 


By now you've probably heard that the three youngest players in baseball right now are all named 'Jackson'. Jackson Chourio of Milwaukee, Jackson Merrill of San Diego, and now Jackson Holliday of Baltimore. Which proves one thing: Jackson was just a really popular baby name in, like, 2003. 

[Then again, my nephew, who just turned 1, is a Jackson, so what the hell do I know? And for those of you that are longtime readers of the blog, yes, I, Jordan of Mint Condition, am an uncle. I'll keep AARP at bay for ya.]

Of the two, the one Jackson that people seem to be talking about the least is Jackson Merrill, who made the Opening Day roster with San Diego. While Merrill isn't quite the big name that Chourio or Holliday have been, he's been one of the Padres' top performers so far this season. The 21-year-old is currently hitting .286 with 12 hits, 3 RBIs and 2 stolen bases. He's also a decent defender, and has been doing his best to make up for the loss of Trent Grisham [who's cursing his luck over in New York at the moment]. 

Right now, with the number of Padres who just aren't showing up, it's nice that someone like Merrill can go from a prospect piece to a team mainstay. Because right now Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, Ha-Seong Kim and Joe Musgrove are all struggling. Machado's beginning to pick up, but the fact that the starting 3B is currently Tyler Wade, and Machado is spending most of his time at DH, is...concerning. Machado is 31, and one would assume he still had at least some peak material left, even if it's very possible that he hit his peak at 30 and is now just sliding back downhill, like Pujols before him. I just think that, considering how much the Padres paid to keep him around while their owner was still alive, it would be nice if he had some solid seasons left in him. 

The good news is that Merrill has ensured that this inefficiency hasn't spread to the outfield, as he, Fernando Tatis and Jurickson Profar are all off to hot starts. Profar I think is just made to perform well in San Diego, as the Denver experiment did not work whatsoever for him. He's hitting .333 with 10 RBIs and 3 homers already, that's what they're used to. Tatis is kinda doing his thing, 9 RBIs and 4 homers, he's probably only gonna build from here. And as he improves we're just all gonna collectively forget he took HGHs, just like the Dodgers are trying to sweep the Ippei thing under the rug. Y'know, just watch how he plays, focus entirely on that.

The Padres are still figuring themselves out in the post-Seidler era, and I think they're coming to terms with the fact that they may not compete, but they at least have enough people right now who are performing well to keep them out of last. And somebody like Merrill is a great future piece that could lead them to a future era where they aren't trapped behind the Dodgers and D-Backs.

Maybe another couple Jacksons will come along as well. Who knows at this point?

Coming Tomorrow- The phrase 'a swing that was made for Fenway' comes to mind.

The Long and Short of Things in Houston

 


To give you an idea of how things are going for the Astros, the top of the depth chart for starting pitching consists of five people who are currently injured. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers, Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia. That is an entire starting rotation worth of people that have had great seasons for the Astros. And they are all currently injured, with JV expected back...next month I think.

Until then, their rotation consists of the five next best options: Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, J.P. France, Ronel Blanco and Spencer Arrighetti. In a different scenario, Javier would be a platooned rotation option, France, Brown and Blanco would have been dealt due to overflow. Arrighetti is a prospect, and he's not even the first prospect the 'Stros have thrown out this month; they tried Blair Henley, who got completely lit up by the Rangers' starting nine in just one inning. To Arrighetti's credit, he's looked a ton better, and might be a surprise hero for them this season.

I mean, let's be honest, we shouldn't be in a position where a team should need an entire backup rotation, but the Astros have enough depth and development that they do. Anybody else would start panicking, and the Astros have somebody like Ronel Blanco just sitting there. He gets up and allows 1 hit in 2 starts. And they have someone like Spencer Arrighetti, who can quiet the Royals [at least for an inning or so]. You don't see the other teams developing their team that well, though with the amount of pitching injuries I think you're beginning to see them start to.

At the same time, this team is still extremely well-built, and has a varied core made up of people from various points in this team's history. Jose Altuve is still the longest tenured hitter, and he's, I say this begrudgingly, only adding to his future Hall of Fame case. This season he's been playing spectacularly, hitting .333 with 16 hits, 3 RBIs and 3 homers. After being a pure contact man for his first several years, and then switching to power more recently, Altuve seems to have combined the two to level up even further. At 34, Altuve is still relevant, still producing prime numbers, and still a thorn in my side. And I have to hand it to him. I don't hate him because he's inefficient, I hate him because he's good, and he keeps being good. 

Him, Tucker, Bregman, Alvarez, Pena and Diaz have shown no atrophy at the core of this team, and they're still keeping opposing defenses at bay just by being overpowered [except the Yankees but they don't wanna talk about that]. The division matchups, especially the Rangers, will determine this team's full worth, and their current record is the result of being outmatched by teams with less backup pitching options, but for a sub-.500 team they're hitting extremely well, and shouldn't be counted out.

I know this seems like an Astros team that could underwhelm...but that's what they always want you to think. So I'll believe it when I see it.

Coming Tonight: I have done a custom of one of the three rookie Jacksons. Tonight is the second one. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Elly & Back

 


There's only a few players that you can routinely rely on to do something incredible every few days. Y'know, Trout, Soto, Betts, Ohtani, occasionally Julio. And I think we can handily add Elly de la Cruz to that list, because I feel like whenever he hits for power, steals bases, or hits an inside-the-parker, I hear about it. 

That said, it's been odd seeing de la Cruz fit into this Reds team. I think as they developed this current youth movement they were building things around him, because you saw great players with less-starry names like Spencer Steer and Matt McLain take hold of the team last year, and you've already seen the young pitchers like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Andrew Abbott make names for themselves. But I felt like, last year, there wasn't any real role for de la Cruz to play, as if he was sort of the mascot. Y'know, steal some bases, do some damage, but...the lack of solid defense prevented him from really having a specified role on the team. He had games at 2nd and short, and off the bench, and was used as a utility bat. Which I was not expecting from a top prospect.

But now I feel like, since de la Cruz has been given shortstop fully [due to the temporary loss of McLain], he's had more footing on this team, and has been able to be its central figure more regularly. So far this year he has 6 RBIs and 6 steals, 12 hits and a .293 record. His flaws lie in his strikeout numbers and his defense, which is still imperfect, but he's been one of the main reasons why the Reds have gotten off to a strong start. With McLain hurt, and Friedl out for a little while as well, having Elly de la Cruz surging and powering the team is a very good thing, and hopefully proves he can be a reliable force for this team.

Despite a 6-5 record and a fourth place position, the Reds are still working with a lot this year. Hunter Greene and Frankie Montas are off to great starts. Steer, Fraley and Stephenson are working at the plate and providing a solid core. Stuart Fairchild's off to a nice start off the bench [a lot like last year, actually]. There are issues that can be straightened out, like the bullpen and the corners, but this Reds team feels a lot more confident than last year, and has the pieces to make something happen this year.

Coming Tomorrow- My least favorite player in baseball, but at the very least it's because he's so damned good all the time.

One Missed Cole

 


I don't think enough people will admit this, but the Royals have figured out how properly to combine a homegrown farm rollout and supplemental additions. The development division has given this team Bobby Witt Jr., Kyle Isbel, Maikel Garcia, M.J. Melendez, Brady Singer, Freddy Fermin and Angel Zerpa, and they're making up the majority of the team's best performers right now. This team knew Witt was gonna become a mainstay, but seeing Garcia and Fermin go from backups to perennial standouts had to have been reassuring. 

But what they're getting good at, the Royals, is the art of finding players that other teams may be giving up on that can help them both in short term and long term ways. There's a few other teams that do this, the Rays famously can snag somebody from anywhere and make them a star, the Dodgers' pitching coaches can straighten out careers once thought dead, and the Reds seem to be the go-to place for pitchers that destroy their free agency perks after tenure in the Bronx. But the Royals seem to be picking it up, and this year, so far, they've taken some chances on people that have been immediately helping out.

Cole Ragans is probably the poster child for this mentality, because the Rangers traded him to KC in exchange for a postseason closer that is now pitching for Pittsburgh, and that's looking like a deal the Royals have won. Ragans has been stellar since coming over here, with a combined 2.46 ERA through 14 starts for the Royals. So far this season he's continued his hot streak, and is being relied upon as a staff ace [which Brady Singer seems to be alright with]. Ragans can strike people out and eat innings, and he's very quickly become one of the most reliable Royals aside from Witt. It's very much a case of 'it'd be nice if this held up', but Ragans seems to be a great pitcher who just needed a place with opportunity, and it's doubtful he would have found that in Arlington.

The bullpen is also a case of a lot of guys who got yanked over to KC when no one expected them. Chris Stratton, James McArthur, Matt Sauer: all guys who did not originate in this organization that came over either as a prospect in a deal, a sneaky free agency grab or a low-key trade in the night. All three of them are being used in major roles in the bullpen, and all three have been reliable so far. Add John Schreiber to that; Schreiber was a favorite bullpen piece in Boston, then right as Spring Training was getting underway the Royals dealt for him, in exchange for a prospect. You should have heard the outcry from Sox fans. They did NOT like that, because they knew that the Sox were trying to save space and didn't care whether or not the fans liked him. Schreiber's been excellent so far in Kansas City, scoreless in five appearances.

This new tactic is already paying dividends, as the Royals are currently in second place, knotted up with Detroit, another team who's experienced some nice organizational growth. It remains to be seen whether the Royals will stay afloat this year, especially considering that the Twins are expected to rebound from their slow start, but this new method of building the team up and intermixing homegrown prospects with sneaky dealt guys seems to be working, and I hope it continues to.

Coming Tonight: There's a handful of players who define 'must-see TV' just by stepping onto the field, and this is the latest and greatest.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Just Trying

 


Look, considering that the Phillies had to start the season playing two very good teams, I think it's perfectly understandable that we're working around .500 right now. You try breaking even after having to play against Ronald Acuna and Elly de la Cruz. We don't need spitefulness towards Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber for having rough starts, it's an understandable response. 

This is what you need to remind Phillies fans sometimes, because they are quick to start bashing people the second they do something they perceive as 'inferior'. Nick Castellanos has gotten off to a rough start, he's hitting only .114 with only 2 RBIs. And people are going 'why didn't we trade this schmo in January?' The second he starts hitting, and it will likely be soon, they'll forget they were ever mad at him. Same with Whit Merrifield, he's had a slow start at the plate, he will get there. It is April, it takes some time for some people to get it together. 

The inverse of that is that some guys on this team aren't having that slow start. J.T. Realmuto's hitting .300, with 9 hits, 4 RBIs and 2 homers. It was only a year or so ago that I was at a Phils game with some people, and J.T. got up and one of them said 'now what does J.T. do really?'. The hell kind of question is that? He's one of the best catchers in the game, makes anybody regret running on him, can hit 25 homers and go for contact. And he's going 'well what's he done this year?' What are you looking for? Since coming to Philly in 2019, he's hit .267 with 339 RBIs and 97 homers, including a 25-homer year and 2 ASG appearances. We had just two catchers last year, Realmuto and Stubbs, and that was it. That's a winning combination, and everybody knows it. 

Similarly, Brandon Marsh is hitting .310 right now. I think the Phillies fans like Marsh, they certainly dig his massive beard and perpetually damp hair. I feel like they're waiting for him to make his way up the lineup and do something bigger, but this season is definitely a step in that direction. 

I think my favorite story out of this team so far has been Spencer Turnbull. It's been years since Turnbull's been a full-season starting option, and his multiple partial years deterred Detroit from keeping him around. But so far, Turnbull has been the Phils' second-most reliable pitcher after Wheeler. In 2 starts, Wheeler has allowed no runs and struck out 13. As all things should be.

I think there are minor issues with defense, the bullpen and some back half guys, but A.) these are issues this iteration of the team has solved before, and B.) it's early, and things could even out. With the rest of the division being okay-to-terrible, the Phillies are a good choice for second place, and that could go a long way if they have that many easy division matchups. 

I just hope the fans can be patient with this team. It's happened before with this group, it could happen again. 

Coming Tomorrow- It says a lot about how well the Rangers' depth has been that even the guys that don't make it there are headlining other teams. 

Province of Denial

 


The way the AL East has fallen to start the season certainly makes sense to me. The Red Sox over perform and outhit the west? Yeah, they can charge into 2nd. The Rays have a perfectly pedestrian start after losing some gimmes to Colorado? Yeah, around even in 4th sounds right.

But if the Blue Jays are gonna have most of their lineup hitting under the Mendoza line and expect anything other than last place, then I'm sorry but that's not at all how this works. The Red Sox not only have people hitting for average, but Tyler O'Neill's power-hitting as if Oli Marmol's no longer breathing down his neck. The Rays even have people like Isaac Paredes, Jose Caballero and even Yankee castoff Ben Rortvedt hitting really well right now, and have gotten 9 RBIs out of new marquee guy Yandy Diaz. 

The Jays...cannot get production out of their core right now. Vlad Jr. is slowly getting better, he's been a hero in the last few games and is slowly getting his average back up. But Bo Bichette's hitting .200, Alejandro Kirk is hitting .176, George Springer is hitting .167, Daulton Varsho, now looking like the lesser piece of his own trade deal, is hitting .133, and Kevin Kiermaier is hitting .107. And y'all freaked out when Giancarlo Stanton was hitting around there a few days ago. The bulk of this lineup isn't hitting to start the season, and that is not good for a team that has yet to truly establish itself as a perennial playoff menace. You can't be menacing when the guys you paid to stick around go 0-for-4 against off-peak Luis Castillo.

There are people on the Blue Jays who are doing well. But they are mostly pitchers. Jose Berrios is off to an excellent start, with a 1.45 ERA, a 2-0 record and 14 Ks. He's mellowed into a reliable, consistent pitcher in Toronto, and all he needed was a year or so to get used to it. Yusei Kikuchi's also off to a great start, he's got a 2.79 ERA already and is continuing his Yankee-silencing ways. And the bullpen is pretty nice, with Chad Green doing a decent Jordan Romano impression as the latter pitcher fights to return from the IL. Plus, newbies like Justin Turner and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are fitting in pretty well so far, with IKF's defense being the main takeaway despite decent contact numbers. 

The Blue Jays do not have a bad team this year, they've just started out looking like one. They need to warm up, and if there's one thing the Jays have always known how to do, it's warm up when no one's expecting it. It used to be every damned June. It could be this year. We know this team can do well, and maybe a last place start is what they need to wake up and shift into overdrive. 

Coming Tonight: An elite catcher for a team just inching up to .500.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Analyzing Shohei's Timing

 



It's just funny is all. The Angels right now are better, and more varied, than they've been in a while. They not only have more answers at important positions than ever, but so many relied-upon players actually playing worth a damn. And yet going into this season, Shohei Ohtani figured that staying in Anaheim was no way to actually compete, hence going with the other LA ballclub.

I get that he wanted the payday. I get that he wanted the Hollywood lineup. I get that he wanted more eyes upon him. But we're headed towards the possibility that Ohtani could have been on a playoff team if he'd stayed in Anaheim. Which is...kinda hysterical. 

The Angels aren't perfect right now, judging by yesterday's drubbing by the Red Sox. But so much of this team just feels ironed-on now, which...is kinda wild considering how disastrously shorthanded they were last year. For one, the two early call-ups from 2023, Zach Neto and Nolan Schanuel, are regulars in this lineup. Neto's been decent so far, but Schanuel made some waves by continuing an on-base streak from his debut like nobody before him, and it was going well til the MLB brass overturned a call, erroneously, and ended his streak. The Angels broadcasters basically used this as a way of going into a whole rant about how the MLB is making terrible decision after terrible decision right now, and seeing as the Orioles guy got suspended for just saying it took a while for them to compete again, hopefully they won't be forced to rescind those statements at gunpoint. 

But the main issue with last season for the Angels was that, while they had good players doing big things, they all happened in spurts. Y'know, O'Hoppe had his good week, then Ward had his good month, then Moniak showed up and was good for a month, etc. Right now Logan O'Hoppe, Taylor Ward, Tyler Anderson, Reid Detmers, Carlos Estevez and ESPECIALLY Mike Trout are playing well. Trout's hitting home runs like the old days, but Ward's right there with him, with 3 homers and 8 RBIs already. I'm really hoping for Ward to turn a strong start into an excellent full season one of these days, and hopefully now's the time. And Detmers has 19 strikeouts in 2 starts, which is a very good thing.

But you look at what Ohtani actually chose, and...they're actually doing pretty well at the moment too. The Dodgers are still shortchanged in the pitching department, and they have a lot of guys [including Ohtani himself] who won't pitch this year. But they've still managed to cobble together a decent rotation, because look at Tyler Glasnow go. Three starts in, he's 2-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 15 Ks. This is his most confident, most consistent start in a while, and hopefully he'll keep this success going. You're also seeing James Paxton's A-material again, and while it's wild that he's the 35+ veteran hurler after the injuries ate away at his peak years, it's refreshing to see him A.) in a Dodgers uniform and B.) succeeding in this role. 

But Ohtani wanted to be the third piece of the hydra. And Betts, Freeman and Ohtani are all off to nice starts. Mookie Betts especially, he's hitting .415 with 17 hits, 11 RBIs and 5 homers. And he's doing this while playing excellent shortstop, which is something nobody was really sure he could do. Betts may finally nab a second MVP this year, and I think Ohtani will be gracious enough to let him. Still, a .304 average, 6 RBIs and 2 homers ain't nothin' to sneeze at.

I think the Dodgers are going to have the better overall season, but it would be cool if the Angels finally put something together, even without Ohtani. Unless he bet on that as well...

Coming Tomorrow- A hurler who probably didn't think he'd be starting for a last place team this year. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Pirates Update: Let's Try This Again Edition

 


Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Pittsburgh Pirates are one of the best teams in baseball this April. They're led by some great homegrown stars, a few pitchers having great seasons where no one would expect it, a power hitter not acting his 30+ age whatsoever, and a rookie that everyone's paying attention to. 

...sounds a hell of a lot like last April, doesn't it?

I don't know what it is about these Derek Shelton Pirates teams that seem to have such a mirage spike in April every year, but this is where we're at. There is a chance that this team is the one that puts something together, and considering the amount of people that are succeeding now that weren't even here last April, it's a decent chance, but...this Pirates team isn't at a point like the Orioles or Reds where you can trust them when they take off yet.

That being said, I've liked what I've seen from this team lately. The walkoff ability from this team is very nice. It can be as dramatic as Oneil Cruz blasting something or just Edward Olivares sneaking something past the reigning Rookie of the Year. These games can be close, especially with great teams like the Orioles, and the Pirates have the momentum to keep getting past them. They also have the bullpen strength to stay in place while outrunning someone like Yennier Cano, who was unbeatable last year. Somebody like Jose Hernandez or Hunter Stratton can just keep the other guys at bay while the contact guys run out with the win.

And look, it's great that the expected guys, like Bryan Reynolds, Oneil Cruz, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Henry Davis can be the heroes. Reynolds has 9 RBIs already, Hayes and Cruz are batting .300, it's going great. But the guys that everybody counted out aren't doing too badly either. Michael Taylor, Connor Joe and Rowdy Tellez, guys the Pirates picked up for nothing, are having the best starts at the plate of anybody. Taylor just keeps slapping hits away from people, and his defense is still respectable. Joe has 10 hits and 7 RBIs and is still an integral piece years after I thought he'd fade back off. The best defensive piece on the team has been Jared Triolo, a take-or-leave guy from last year. And somehow, this of all environments is the one to get production out of Joey Bart. I can't believe it.

It's also been wild that pitchers I'd counted out due to subpar 2023 material, like Martin Perez, Bailey Falter and Marco Gonzales, have done so well in Pittsburgh. Perez is looking like his early-decade self, with a low ERA and 8 Ks through his first 2 starts. Bringing in Jared Jones and his unhittable material is also a good sign. It'll be a little while til Paul Skenes is ready, but this is a working group right here, and it'll only strengthen as Mitch Keller finds his stuff.

It's been fantastic seeing this team not only get off to a good start, but have the wherewithal to take down great teams in close games. I sincerely hope they keep this energy going, as it'd be a nice surprise if the Pirates were competitive this year.

Coming Tomorrow- I was not expecting to have this much good news about this team, but an outfielder who's one of many that are off to excellent starts for them.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Are You Perhaps Seeing the Problem Here?

 


This week alone, we have seen Shane Bieber, Spencer Strider, Justin Steele and Jonathan Loiasiga pitch some absolutely beautiful stuff and then promptly undergo testing to determine internal issues. Bieber is missing the rest of the season, Steele will be out for a while, Loiasiga is missing the rest of the season, Strider...I'm not sure but it's not looking good.

That's...three, maybe four excellent pitchers gone by Week 1. The goal, need I remind you, is for this shit to not happen.

I feel like I bring this up on the blog now every three weeks, but it's a genuinely flagrant issue. Every pitcher feels the need to throw hard on every pitch, and that is not as sustainable as it used to be. Not everyone is built like Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson, and not everybody can just do that. So if the human body is relied upon to do that every game, there is going to be even more wear and tear.

Now, as for why it's happening more frequently now than ever? Well, the commissioner implemented two rules that are reasonably unfair to one's pitching arm. One is the ban on tack, and substances that can help pitchers gain leverage without overexerting themselves. Gerrit Cole famously would use tack, and once the ban was instituted he continued at the same pace and this season, surprise surprise, had arm issues. It should be clear that some pitchers use these sort of things not to cheat, but to make sure they don't blow their arm out. This is why Gaylord Perry pitched for 20 years, because he used sticky substances, and it helped him stay afloat in the 70s and 80s. 

The other, of course, is the pitch clock, which forces pitchers to speed up their windups and call for less time in between pitches. If you're throwing that hard over and over with less buffer time between, there is going to be wear and tear. And there's no coincidence that both this season and last season, you've seen so many pitching injuries to people acclimating to the pitch clock in March and April.

Rob Manfred is the latest example of a businessman who thinks they know what makes something great trying to dictate decisions over people who actually have first-hand experience. This is happening all over right now. The president of Warner Brothers is a charts-and-ratings guy who's writing off entire films that don't fit his exact business model, and he's pissing off all the creatives that actually know what movies are supposed to be. Hell, even in baseball, the owner of the A's has no idea what the fanbase wants and won't spend money on the team, hence pissing off everybody and moving the team to Sacramento. This never works, even if the idea of the current economy depends on what makes money instead of what is viable and ethical. 

And as much as people have criticized Rob Manfred for cutting costs and making rules the players don't support and forcing a lockout because he lets the owners have whatever they want, he's not going anywhere. He's stated that he'll be done when his contract expires, which is the equivalent of a mobster dying of natural causes. It's likely that whoever takes over as commissioner will be someone who has a lot of the same ideas about baseball as he does, and won't make any fundamental changes, as much as the fans, and the players, complain.

I have no idea what the straw that will break the camel's back will be. If there will be anybody brave enough to properly say, 'hey, we're all getting injured because the commissioner keeps putting in rules that don't respect the players'. Maybe Strider, given how smart he is. But logically, no one will want to rock the  boat so soon after the lockout, and everything will keep going on as normal, despite everything clearly being done incorrectly and sacrificing player health for exciting product.

Shane Bieber deserves better than this. Baseball deserves better than this. I'm exhausted.

Coming Tomorrow [?]: A star outfielder I figured would be gone by now, but here he is helping his team dominate in April for a second straight year. 

The Early Leader in Strangeness


Every year, among the teams that probably won't compete or will hang around the bottom of the division, there's always one or two baffling, bizarre teams that are fascinating to write about. I think about the Rays in 2018, as they were figuring out their 'opener' strategy, or the Marlins a couple years ago before they became competitive, or the Tigers last year with their strong bullpen and exactly nothing else. 

And this year, already, I'm seeing some very strange things afoot in Washington. Like how, on their WAR leaderboard, three of the top 6 are pictured with prior Photo Day sessions because they weren't with the team for that stage of camp. Derek Law, who was a late addition, Jesse Winker, who was a very late addition, and Trey Lipscomb, who was a late call-up due to Nick Senzel's poorly-timed injury.

And how another one of their current WAR leaders is...well, Joey Gallo. God bless April, right?

There are so many wild aspects of this Nats team, who, despite their relative inexperience, are still around the middle of the NL East thanks to the torrid starts for the Mets and Marlins. The bullpen consists of like 7 or 8 guys over 30, including Matt Barnes, who I had no idea was still in the league. I know there's been a lot of talk about bullpen regimen this year, how the Yankees have done it and how the Rangers have fixed theirs, and having like three 33 year olds mop up games is...definitely an approach. At the very least some of them, like Derek Law and Dylan Floro, are still on top of things. The rest are having some trouble, being...33-year-old relievers. 

What's interesting, though, is how you're beginning to see more genuine Nationals farm products poke their heads out. That was the problem I had with last year's team, how it was basically just Victor Robles and Luis Garcia, and everybody else was either a trade inclusion or a free agent guy. Now Robles is hurt, which...figures, and Garcia is still holding his own at 2nd. But thankfully, thanks to people like Lipscomb, Jacob Young and, despite being in the minors right now, Jake Alu, you are seeing a replenishment of the team's actual development. Lipscomb has actually been a nice rookie piece, he's hitting .286 with 2 RBIs and a homer already. Jake Irvin is also a nice homegrown guy, he can eat innings just fine.

But for now, the team is still gonna be led by guys like C.J. Abrams, MacKenzie Gore and Keibert Ruiz. Which isn't a bad thing, as they're all still good. Especially Abrams, who's off to an excellent start, hitting .321 with 5 RBIs, 2 homers and 3 steals. When he came up with San Diego, I'd worried he'd never find a solid enough opportunity to start regularly, but the Nats have not only given him that, but a place where he can be the star. And I'm glad that their season can be defined by someone like Abrams, rather than someone like Patrick Corbin who's probably gonna lead the team in IP despite getting killed every game.

This is a very strange Nats team, and they'll hopefully continue to be this entertaining to talk about as we go.

Coming Tomorrow- Well, it's April, which means this guy's on an absolute tear in Cleveland again..

Friday, April 5, 2024

Juan Week Later

 


The Juan Soto era of Yankees baseball is already off to a blistering start. Getting to watch this guy in pinstripes has been insanely fun, because every game you're guaranteed at least one insane Soto moment. Like either he pounds a liner where nobody would even think of being, he makes an unbelievable play in the outfield, he throws out a runner from Mars or he power-hits like a pro. 

So much seems to be brought into line with Soto's addition to the squad. He and Judge have gotten along like gangbusters in the outfield, and provide even more of a boost back-to-back in the lineup. He's also a guaranteed contact guy in a lineup that predominantly values power, and getting Soto, as well as other contact guys like Alex Verdugo and Jon Berti, in this lineup has rounded us a little more. Even our best guys can have days where they don't show up, like...a lot of them did today. But even in those games, Soto is usually getting something done for us, and that's a great feeling.

Soto is just one tremendous piece of a Yankees team that has been impressing me almost overall. The bullpen have been off to an amazing start, with that crazy stat of not allowing any runs for the first three or so games. Despite losing Jonathan Loiasiga immediately [as per...like, usual], we have Ian Hamilton, Clay Holmes, Caleb Ferguson, Nick Burdi and even Luke Weaver pitching dominant baseball in the spots where we need them most. We've had decent bullpens lately, but this seems to be a new level, and remember that we'll be getting Tommy Kahnle back soon enough as well.

I've also been really impressed with the starting pitching, even if we're without Gerrit Cole [and J.T. Brubaker] for a bit. The goal was always just to keep the balls in the park for a bit and not have to do anything flashy, but already I'm impressed with Marcus Stroman, Luis Gil and Carlos Rodon with just how skillfully they've been keeping opposing offenses at bay. Yes, the Yanks couldn't show up against Yusei Kikuchi, but what made the game suspenseful today was that the Jays weren't exactly showing up against their old compatriot Stroman. The dude's still got a lot of upsides, and he might be are best surefire weapon without Cole. Having Rodon seemingly back to his old, consistent self is also a plus. If all of Gil, Rodon and Stroman stay healthy for a while, we could be alright, but these are guys that have missed entire chunks of season lately, so I'm not exactly holding my breath.

The Yankees quite obviously have some flaws still [,Giancarlo], but the team looks insanely good and so much is working that seemed broken last year. It's gonna be a tight division this year, and the Orioles and Red Sox are closing in, but I'm already optimistic just from what I've been seeing so far.

And if we can get a longer deal for Soto if this is how he hits in his first week? That would be...incredible.

Coming Tomorrow- A shortstop for a team the Phillies are having no trouble whapping around.

The Snakes Look the Part

 


There was a lot of outcry last year when the Diamondbacks, who finished with a 84-78 record, made it to the World Series over teams that had won 90 games. And despite this team finding momentum and coming into their own, which is genuinely the name of the game these days, people complained the team wasn't 'good enough' to get as far as they did. 

Despite, y'know...having two of the best pitchers in the league, the Rookie of the Year, an unbeatable heart of the lineup and an unstoppable rookie pitcher. 

But I think this was the best thing to happen to the Diamondbacks, because now they can actually construct a perennial competitor out of that 'fluke' playoff team. Re-upping Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was a very good idea, as he's already hit 3 home runs and 10 RBIs. Gurriel is a versatile piece that can hit for power and contact, and he seems to have brought his 2023 skills into the next form of this team. The other returning players from previous regimes have continued their strong work, and this team continuing to have Marte, Walker, Gallen, Kelly and Moreno in peak periods is proving to be a killer asset. 

I also think they signed the right guys to supplementary roles on this team. Joc Pederson's already rebounding from his down 2023 nicely, he's hitting .500 in his first 10 at-bats with an RBI and a double. Eugenio Suarez has been understandably great coming off his Seattle runs, he's already got 9 hits, 5 RBIs and a homer. Even Tucker Barnhart has been a sturdy and dependable backup catcher, and is the most relevant he's been in years. 

And, even better, this team is still calling up people that can immediately aid the team. Blaze Alexander was an early addition to the roster and he's been excellent, hitting .417 with 5 hits, 3 RBIs and a homer in 4 games. Jorge Barrosa was brought up to cover center field in Alek Thomas' absence and he definitely seems to have the defensive chops for it. And then you have to factor in that Andrew Saalfrank and Jordan Lawlar are sitting in the minors, waiting for an opportunity. 

[Oh yeah and Eddie Rodriguez and Jordan Montgomery are chilling back at base. Gumby'll be up in a couple weeks, Rodriguez might be longer but still looks to factor in. So, like, things will improve.]

After a week of play, the D-Backs look confident, varied and fresh, and still look so after the Yankees came to town. The Yankees may have taken 2, but they weren't easy wins, and that last one came down to the wire. This is a very good Diamondbacks team, perhaps better than last year. Only time will tell if they have the same luck.

Coming Tonight: Appropriately enough, one of the Yankees that had fun in Phoenix. 

Thursday, April 4, 2024

That Quick Thinking, and If It's Paid Off Yet

 


Between the end of the 2023 season and the beginning of the 2024 season, the Mariners parted ways with Jarred Kelenic, Evan White, Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Anthony Desclafani, Jose Caballero, Tom Murphy, Eugenio Suarez, Teoscar Hernandez, Taylor Trammell, Justin Topa, Isaiah Campbell, Easton McGee and Prelander Berroa. That is...an awful lot of people. Many of which, including Kelenic, Suarez, Ray, White, Gonzales and Trammell, were at one point central to the development of the team.

And just for comparison's sake, the people they got in return for some of these guys? Jorge Polanco, Luke Raley, Luis Urias and Gregory Santos. Santos is currently injured, and the other three have a combined 8 hits and 2 RBIs in 49 at-bats. Meanwhile, some of those other guys are doing pretty well at the moment.

I sort of get the mentality. The Mariners were trying to copy the tactics of one of their trade partners, the Atlanta Braves, who began the offseason by offloading a ton of players they felt would have no chance of starting this year, and just getting smaller pieces in return. This works for the Braves because they have an excellent GM who knows what he's doing. The Mariners don't really have that right now. And as sneaky as they want to be getting Jorge Polanco with about a month to go before the opener, that means that Polanco has less time to gel with the rest of the infield and runs the risk of getting off to a slow start...which he has. 

And with three straight years of the Mariners dealing for a solid hitting second baseman and said player just not working in Seattle, I'm beginning to think that position is cursed. I used to think that about the backstop, but now we have Cal Raleigh turning things around. Neither Adam Frazier nor Kolten Wong were able to continue their momentum in Seattle, and now we know that at the very least Frazier can still perform above replacement level for other teams. So Polanco, who at the very least has been around 10 years and is just now playing for a new team, is in danger of being the latest great 2nd baseman to fall victim to this curse. I'd feel worse for him if he hadn't gotten busted for PEDs a while back.

The Mariners themselves are doing...fine, I suppose? France and Haniger are power-hitting, the pitchers are still good despite giving up too many runs, it's a cohesive enough group. But they split a series with a decent enough Red Sox team and got run over by a very good Guardians team. And the only reason they're in third is because the Yankees took 4 from Houston before they had a chance to process their emotions properly. Considering everybody that left this team, the Mariners should be feeling more refined and confident than they are right now.

It would be nice if this team got something together, but I fear their offseason moves sped up the process of peaking too much.

Coming Tomorrow- The inverse of this is a team that responds to success by keeping as many of the people involved around as humanly possible, because maybe if you do re-sign them they'll hit 3 home runs for you in as many games to start the season.

Pre-Paid Planning Pays Off

 


Not quite the Jackson people thought would be making waves this April, but I bet the Brewers are grateful. 

Jackson Chourio already raised a lot of eyebrows this spring, just by signing a massive contract with a team he'd never even played an MLB game for. To be fair, extensions for rookies aren't exactly unheard of, the Phillies did one for Scott Kingery several years back, but the thing you need to reconcile is how much of a can't miss prospect's fate is up to absolute chance. Somebody can have a great career or a lousy one, and if they have a lousy one and you still have to pay for another 4 years of them, as Philly found out with Kingery and Boston found out with Rusney Castillo, you kind of just have to eat it and hope you don't make the same mistake again. 

This season alone, contracts have been given to both Jackson Chourio and Yoshinobu Yamamoto before they've played a game in the majors. Granted, at least Yamamoto had some Japan league stats to go by. Chourio's 20 years old. First ever MLBer born in 2004. All the Brewers had to go by were some minor league stats, as good as they are. And, to their credit, Chourio has been fantastic so far this year, hitting .350 with 6 hits, 4 RBIs and, as of yesterday, his first MLB home run. So far, that gamble has worked out, but it remains to be seen how long he'll be able to keep it up.

At the same time, Oliver Dunn got called up as a corner option. Much lower risk rookie, but someone they value enough to give a shot at third over Burnes deal survivor Joey Ortiz. Dunn's hit pretty well so far, though he's beginning to strike out a lot more than he should. I think he's having the more understandable rookie path, especially considering Wiemer and Turang's slow starts last year, but it's cool to have both the reasonable rookie path and the phenom rookie path at the same time. And considering that Brice Turang's been hitting well so far, maybe a year to figure it out isn't the worst thing for someone like Dunn. 

The Brewers look pretty good so far. There's a lot of cool new pieces, like Rhys Hoskins and Joe Ross, that are meshing well with the team, and pieces in bigger roles, like Abner Uribe and Freddy Peralta, who are rewarding the team's trust. It'll be interesting if Chourio continues to be a force throughout the whole year, and what that could mean for a division that's already looking pretty tough to call.

Coming Tomorrow- The Twins, at nearly the last moment, flipped one of their longest tenured stars. So far he's been fitting in fine with his new team. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Sku Knows?

 


At long last, the AL Central is competitive again. This week, not only have I been hearing about Shane Bieber striking out half the country, or Byron Buxton being in his best shape in years, but we're dealing with an undefeated Tigers team. Yes, some of this is helped by some recent rainouts in New York, but the Tigers have played four games and won four games, and considering how terrible this team has been in recent years, that's something to talk about.

In 17.2 innings of work between Tarik Skubal, Jack Flaherty and Reese Olson, the Tigers allowed only one run and struck out 16. Really only Kenta Maeda got lit up this week, meaning those three, and potentially Casey Mize if he has anything left after being injured for like 2 years, could be an excellent core for this team. We have been waiting...too long to get a working combination for this rotation. Whenever the Tigers land on one, somebody gets hurt and they have to figure something else out. That's how we got this combination of Mize and Skubal, from the first wave of young pitchers, Olson, from the more recent wave of young pitchers, and Flaherty and Maeda who just got signed. Considering all the other guys who either left [Spencer Turnbull, Matt Boyd] or are still injured [Matt Manning, Sawyer Gipson-Long], it's kinda wild.

It's also wild that Skubal has moved ahead of Mize in the depth chart. From the moment Mize came up in 2020, he was pegged as the centerpiece of a young team that was beginning to come into its own. Mize had a strong 2021, even if the team was still not ready yet. Then in 2022, as Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene came up, Mize got hurt and missed all of 2023. Meanwhile, despite missing a similar amount of time, Tarik Skubal has arguably been more consistent, and had an astonishing second half last year. So it's very odd, to me at least, that Skubal has become more reliable than the former #1 pick solely by not getting injured enough to miss entire seasons.

Then again, Austin Meadows essentially got blacklisted for walking out on the Tigers for anxiety, so I think it's just not being there when the team needs you. 

Skubal is one of many Tigers who've gotten off to great starts this year. Jason Foley and Tyler Holton are already picking up where their hard-to-hit 2023s left off. Kerry Carpenter is already providing solid power numbers. And newcomers like Gio Urshela, Carson Kelly and especially Mark Canha are providing excellent material right off the bat. I knew Canha would be a good addition for the Tigers but he's already been really helpful. Greene and Tork are gonna take their time, like usual it seems, but the team seems more confident and more well-composed than ever, and it's awesome to see.

It'll be interesting to see if this is a mirage, but I'd love for this to be the Tigers team that finally makes something happen. It's been around a decade, it's about time.

Coming Tomorrow- ...well, seeing how much the Brewers spent on him before he even played a game, it's kinda nice how well he's been playing. 

Is it Really That Simple?

 


Through the first 5 games of the season, the NL East picture is already relatively clear. There are currently four teams under .500, and there is the Atlanta Braves. Yes, it's early, and one of these teams had to PLAY the Braves this week...but it's a very intriguing sign as we head into a season that was supposed to be a two horse race.

The Braves getting the better of the Phillies during their series was...honestly going to happen. The Phils have a lot going for them, but rumors of the bullpen's mastery were greatly exaggerated, as the pen spoiled things in multiple games, just like they used to. It's not even as simple as 'the Phillies lost' in these cases: they're playing the Braves, and the Braves are still extremely good! YOU try pitching to Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Matt Olson or Michael Harris without something going horribly wrong. Even for a good team that has Zach Wheeler, Ranger Suarez and Cristopher Sanchez all pitching well, those guys are still gonna kill ya. You can see them begin to come into their own now that they're playing a more equal team in the Reds, but from the jump it's clear the Braves are better than them head-on.

And picking up from how last year was going, Ozzie Albies is still responsible for leading the charge in power, he's got 2 home runs already and 7 RBIs. Matt Olson's already got 4 RBIs and a home run, and though he's still got the high hopes of everyone who saw how much he hit out last year, I think he's gonna take a more gradual approach and space out those moments. Riley and Ozuna have also had nice power moments so far. Really, the only people who've been concerning so far are Max Fried and Aaron Bummer, aside from Sean Murphy, who'll be out for a bit. The Braves have the depth to withstand that, and getting people like Chris Sale and Pierce Johnson was wise in preventing against further setbacks.

You look around to the rest of the league and you don't see that mentality. The Nats lost Nick Senzel right at the start of the season, and had to rush Trey Lipscomb, who, at the very least is doing some things well, but it sort of goes against the strategy they'd agreed on. The Mets are already down Tylor Megill and aren't seeing great stuff from Luis Severino, meaning their next two options to start are Joey Lucchesi and Jose Butto. The Marlins are still waiting for positive production from most of their stars, including Jazz Chisholm, who has literally been complaining out of the gate, against former teammates, stadium roofs and everybody in between. The Phils sort of have depth options, but they may have also dinged up Bryce Harper on a leap into the dugout [not to worry, he can still apparently hit home runs].

The Braves have to feel great about themselves, and have a lot to keep working with as the season goes on. However, last season should tell them that no matter how much they dominate by in the regular season, it means nothing if the momentum doesn't carry over to October, and they need to figure out how to make that leap again this year. Or else one of these other guys who aren't starting well could outfox them.

Coming Tonight: It's nice to know this guy can be reliable once again, after so many injury-shortened years.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

What Happens Now That the O's Can Spend

 


Here is how you can properly delineate the beginning of the David Rubenstein era of Orioles baseball. Corbin Burnes started the first game of the year, and he was phenomenal, going 6 innings with 11 strikeouts and allowing only one hit, a home run to the greatest hitter of the modern generation. Normally, an Orioles fan would see a performance like this and go 'this is lovely but there's no way he'll be here after the end of the year'. Now, they can sit back and go 'Rubenstein, if he is as mad as we think he is, will likely offer him a lot of money and get him to stay in town'. 

I think back to how many great years could have been solved with Rubenstein money. Manny Machado in 2017. Nelson Cruz in 2014. Andrew Miller in 2014. Hell, Erik Bedard in 2007. If there was a guy with enough money to spend on the team rather than using the conservative approach for decades, the team would look completely different and not have to suck every 10 years. But now David Rubenstein is in control, wants to make the team great now, and wants to invest all this money in keeping these great players around. If he is smart, he will combine the approaches of two big spenders: the Braves in keeping their best players alive til the end of the decade, and the Mets, in outbidding even the sharpest of GMs to bring amazing players into town. I think Rubenstein wants to chase Steve Cohen, and maybe do a better version of what he's been doing in New York.

The only thing is, where does Rubenstein start? Does he do what Milwaukee did and lock up Holliday before he even plays an MLB game? Does he go for Rutschman or Mullins? Does he lock up Burnes? It's a matter of who he thinks the key to the franchise going forward is. I personally think it's Rutschman, or even Gunnar Henderson, but Burnes could be the ace for a while. And then it's a game of putting your money everywhere and not letting one of the resources [young starting pitching, speed, the bullpen] run out.

The O's so far have been excellent, and it hasn't just been games against the Angels to showcase how good they are. Last night they needed a Jordan Westburg walk-off to save them [from Craig Kimbrel's save-blowing], as the Royals actually went toe-to-toe with them all night. Yet these guys are still coming out on top, and it's solely because they're just outmatching everybody. Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander can just out power-hit anybody, Yennier Cano and Keegan Akin can just not give up runs, and now the under the radar guys like Westburg and Dean Kremer can be the hero. 

What I worry about is some of the small stuff. A lot of Royals stole bases yesterday. A lot of infielders made errors. And Kremer gave up home runs to the two guys on that lineup you do not wanna get cocky around. But all the big pieces are giving this team everything you want, and Burnes is already looking like he's gonna have a big year.

I would love the Orioles to get something done this year. It feels like it's about time that something good happened to this team. 

Coming Tomorrow: One of two current Atlanta starters that came up in Oakland. The one that's healthy right now.

Taking it Out on Someone Else

 


From what I can gather, the New York Yankees really pissed Houston off.

It's just been pooling. We swept 'em last year. Then we sweep 'em at home with an all-new, all-different Yankee team, make them start the season 0-4 despite the promise of another contending year, and make a mockery of Jose Altuve. And considering all the times the Astros have pissed us off, I think they're due. Y'know, let them be the ones who get fleeced now. We did our time.

But yeah, the Astros were angry, and they're so angry that you put them against another team and they run wild. Last night, the Astros not only scored 10 runs against a very good Blue Jays team, but they started a rookie with 7 starts to his name and he didn't allow a single hit. Ronel Blanco, who even I can admit felt like a stretch for a starting option this year, went 108 pitches, allowed 2 walks, and kept the Blue Jays missing all night, keeping the bullpen at bay. 

It is wild to me that this is the first Astros win of the season. A Ronel Blanco no-hitter against the Blue Jays. And I bet they wish the Yankees were still in town. I bet they wish they didn't get out so easily. Like they want to wage war on the Yankees by no-hitting the next best team, going 'try that again in Houston and see what happens'. 

Look, it'd be funny if the Yankees mopped the floor with them in the playoffs after this. This has extreme 'divorced dad punching a hole in the wall' energy, and you have to appreciate that. 

I'm happy for Ronel Blanco. Best case scenario this is the beginning of a bright career for this guy. Worst case scenario last night proves why players can't throw solo no-hitters anymore.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Giant Justification

 


It's not often where a team can unceremoniously release a player they drafted #2 overall and primed to take the reins of the franchise and I can completely understand. But the San Francisco Giants are not where they were in 2020. Joey Bart could try and squeeze into the picture then, but now? Things are different. 

This past offseason, the Giants made some of the smartest moves of anyone. Bringing Jung-Ho Lee to America. Waiting til the moment was right to grab both Matt Chapman and Blake Snell. Flipping Mitch Haniger for Robbie Ray. Signing Jordan Hicks and insisting he start. All of these moves are working out at the moment; Chapman's off to a huge start at the plate, Lee's already providing heroic moments, Hicks had an excellent start in his first go, and both Snell and Ray will be along shortly.

Arguably, this wouldn't work if there wasn't a preexisting base on the team already. Mike Yastrzemski will be back from paternity leave eventually but Wilmer Flores, Michael Conforto, Kyle Harrison, Thairo Estrada and Patrick Bailey, aka the guy who rendered Joey Bart obsolete, are all picking up where last season left off and keeping the team strong. This is what the Rangers learned over time, how to build a base gradually rather than dump the contracts on and hope for success overnight.

The biggest piece of evidence in favor of the gradual build strategy in SF has been Logan Webb, who's gone from a lower-tier starting option to the staff ace within just a couple years. Webb was inches from a Cy Young last year, and this year he's still looking strong, durable and reliable. In his first start of the season, Webb went 6 innings, struck out 5 and only gave up 2 runs. It's the kind of 'best foot forward' the rotation is lucky to have, even if he's the only perennial starter not to have a win so far [I don't think Daulton Jeffries counts after what he came out with yesterday]. 

The thing is, as strong as Webb, Harrison and Hicks have looked so far, until Snell and eventually Ray get here, it's gonna really be up to the three of them to hold things down. They do have Keaton Winn, and are eventually thinking Alex Cobb will be back, but their depth options are chilling in Oakland and they have to hope people are ready. Winn will probably be serviceable at the back end but if their 5 guy is Jeffries, and if he keeps doing...that...it might be a long wait for Snell to finish late camp.

The Giants have a pretty well-rounded squad this year, and the contracts do help, but at the moment they're already looking at 2nd place if the Dodgers are gonna run this year, and they'll need to outdo both the Diamondbacks, who look good already, and the Padres, who they just split a series with. I do think the Giants have the team this year, and having Bob Melvin also helps tremendously, but they just need the luck. And hopefully they have some of that this year.

Coming Tomorrow- One of two guys this week to cause a bunch of people online to go 'omg stop what you're doing and sign this guy for as much money as he wants'

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The 'Never a Dull Moment' Opening Series

 


I think it speaks to the people that make the schedules that I've been so enthralled by this Rangers-Cubs series. You look at it one way, you go 'oh yeah, the team that just won the World Series is cleaning up', but the games are anything but simple. These are two very well-built teams that are already playing playoff-caliber matches with playoff-style stakes. 

It's primarily been wild solely because I didn't think Wyatt Langford would see the majors this soon. The 22-year-old was drafted just last year, zoomed through the minors and was killing it in Spring Training. I just assumed he wouldn't make it because he's only had a half-year in the minors, but him making it to the show [and Jackson Holliday still 'not being ready yet'] was a late Spring Training shocker. And even now, with the outfield still being reserved for Adolis Garcia, Evan Carter and Leody Taveras, Langford has been the starting DH for this team, meaning they're not sure where to play him in the field yet.

It certainly seemed like a puzzling move until Langford started hitting like hell and driving in runs. So I guess he was ready.

That's been an interesting parallel to the Cubs because while both Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford have factored into the Rangers' 2024 plans, Pete Crow Armstrong, who was brought up last year and even dyed his hair blue this spring, is back in Iowa. The Cubs' dependence on young stars is more out of convenience, as Ben Brown was brought up as a seat-filler for Justin Steele, who injured his hamstring after some excellent work in the opener. Brown promptly got the snot kicked out of him yesterday in a long-relief role after Hendricks similarly got rocked. So even if he is probably gonna start in a few days, the fact that the Rangers can already get to him is telling. Maybe a 'first start hazing' kinda thing, like 'hey, welcome to the bigs, over there are the World Champions, go get 'em kid', but...hopefully he comes into his own over time.

But yeah, already you've seen, like, playoff-quality highs and lows from this matchup. Jonah Heim getting absolutely screwed by an ump into letting a runner go by, then redeeming himself with a walkoff moment. Jared Walsh and Adolis Garcia raining on Kyle Hendricks' parade. Travis Jankowski still finding ways to be the hero a couple years after most of the league gave up on him. Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson having heroic moments when the team needs them. Even if the Cubs aren't showing it in the win column yet, they are hanging in there with one of the best teams in baseball, and making for entertaining, dramatic games.

If both of these teams are preparing for playoff stakes in the first series of the year, it's gonna be a huge, wild season for both of them.

Coming Tomorrow- The Giants added a few new pitchers this year, yet this guy might still be the most important piece in town.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Rounding the Next Bar

 


For the first time in over 20 years, the Minnesota Twins won a playoff series last year, solely because it'd be funnier if a matchup between a team that never wins playoff games and the Toronto Blue Jays would end their way. The 2023 Twins team had so many great pieces, solidified heroes and great performances, and was much more varied and versatile than the 2019 Bomba team. Granted, they didn't last long before falling in battle to those damned Astros, but the playoff win was something the Minnesota fans had been waiting for ages for, and I'm glad they finally got it.

That said it's interesting to see the Twins' improved approach in 2024, because to me a lot is different. Sonny Gray, Jorge Polanco, Michael Taylor, Kenta Maeda and Joey Gallo are all gone, there goes the team's home run leaders and ace from last year. This year, people like Alex Kirilloff, Willi Castro, Louie Varland, Chris Paddack and Matt Wallner are playing larger, crucial roles, while newcomers like Carlos Santana, Steven Okert and Manuel Margot look to factor in prominently. And while the big pieces like Pablo Lopez, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Joe Ryan and Carlos Correa are still intact, you're already seeing pieces like Jhoan Duran and, just recently, Royce Lewis land on the IL. 

The Twins team I glimpsed in 2023 was the type that could come back from setbacks, and had enough depth options to withstand things like this. I'm not immediately seeing this depth, as the fourth and fifth starting options are now Chris Paddack and Louie Varland, which is a far cry from Ober and Maeda being positioned there last year. I look at teams like the Guardians and even, kinda, the Tigers, and there might arguably be more depth there than in Minnesota, which is wild.

That said, the Twins just brought up Austin Martin, another recent draft pick, sort of the Junior Caminero in this situation, although Royce Lewis isn't a creep. Martin was the other piece of the Jose Berrios trade [aside from Simeon Woods-Richardson, who, typeface constricting aside hasn't affected the majors much at all], he was heating up triple-A last year, made the roster to start the season, I feel like he'll be a cool corner infield pick for this stretch. Worse comes to worse, if he and Lewis are fighting for reps, deal him for a starter. Ya never know when you're gonna need a better choice for 4 and 5 [again, I'd love for Paddack to prove me wrong this year]. 

The other thing in the Twins' favor? I wasn't sure about their 2023 approach either. I was worried the lower-budget mentality and focus on newer kids in big positions would make them too forgettable. Then Pablo Lopez showed up and started owning everybody. Lopez is already looking for a trophy case year, his first start went super well and this is still prime material for the hurler. If it had been anybody else in the Marlins' rotation, the Arraez deal would have been a mistake, but Lopez has provided this team consistency and so many perks. Plus, they love Pablo Lopez. The fans love this guy. I'm here for it.

The Twins may look different, and may be working on different things, but I think they still have a chance for the division this year. It won't be easy, but these guys could pull away pretty quickly.

Coming Tomorrow- One of many Chicago Cubs looking for a big year.

Friday, March 29, 2024

So Where Does That Leave the Mets?

 


Future baseball historians are going to look at the period of Mets baseball between 2021 and 2023 as the first Cohen gambit. There will be more, we know there will be more, but this was the first wave. Where Steve Cohen brought Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Francisco Lindor, Chris Bassitt, Carlos Carrasco, Kodai Senga and very nearly Carlos Correa to Queens for the purposes of bulking up the roster, and it didn't work. How would he learn from this? How much time would it take? All of this is important to the degree and refinement of the next Cohen gambit, which we all know is coming as soon as the non-Lindor pieces of the first wave have subsided.

But going into 2024, which is a year where the Mets cooled down a great deal and only nabbed J.D. Martinez as a gain, is an odd look after three years of trying hard and coming up short. Most of the figures Cohen signed in the last few years are gone. Senga is hurt. Marte at the very least can still hit but he's rounding his last few years. Lindor is really the only piece that's stayed constant, and even he's not 100% as volatile at the plate as he was back in 2021 [despite, at this rate, being almost definitely a future Hall of Famer with just how good he's been since coming up]. 

And so this year, you see a lot of smaller gambles in terms of bolstering the roster. Harrison Bader is on as an outfielder after a down year in 2023, and he's primed for a slight improvement, even if the Mets assume he'll be a lower-key player in this lineup. Luis Severino is a crucial rotation piece, and seems to have found his rhythm again after some dire years in the Bronx. Zack Short and Joey Wendle are both on the roster as infield substitutions, with Wendle having an excellent spring showing. 

But with the exception of Wendle, many of these guys are 'it'd be nice if they did something for us' cases. Severino is the perfect example of someone who could have an excellent season on this small 1-year deal, boost his free agency case, have somebody [maybe even the Mets] overpay to keep him around and then pitch 100 innings in 3 years. He did that for the Yanks loads of times, and we really cooked his throwing arm. Martinez, who isn't ready for MLB play yet given how late his offseason lasted, is in his late 30s and may be a waste of a contract, as many teams figured during Boras' long winded sales processes. 

It also just points to how diluted the Mets' core is. The rotation is astonishingly simple, with only one real homegrown hurler [Tylor Megill], a lot of veterans coming off poor seasons [Sean Manaea, Jose Quintana, Sevvy, Adrian Houser] and...whatever the hell Jose Butto is supposed to be. It's really been like 12 or so years since the Mets had a rotation consisting entirely of shrugs. Even in the early 2010s they had Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey and the beginnings of Matt Harvey, now they have 'well I guess this could work' x5. The lineup still has the core of Lindor, McNeil, Nimmo and Alonso, and Francisco Alvarez being a perennial guy helps, but there's a drop-off after that, and it's palpable. 

There is a chance the Mets throw something together with this team now that the pressure's off, but with two, possibly three NL East squads that are probably better this year, it's a tall order to ask for. Maybe they want these kind of underdog odds. Maybe it's a sign that they needed this last period to fail in order to succeed. 

Or, uh...maybe the rotation being defined by Jose Butto and not De Grom or Scherzer is a sign that things won't go well at all.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

2024: Don't Believe the Hype

 


With everything that's elapsed this offseason, all the big contracts, contract deferring, contract holdouts, super-teaming, massive overspending, will the 2024 season come down to two teams that outspent the competition?

I say....don't bet on it. 

...lord that's like a Crypt Keeper line. Especially with context. Lordy this season.

Okay. Today is Opening Day. And that usually means that I should probably predict some things. But we know how that goes. I'm famously terrible at predicting things. I think in the mid-2010s I said the White Sox were a World Series team. What the hell happened there? And recently, when I have made predictions that have turned out to be correct, they've done so at the expense of a better outcome. Like saying that Corbin Burnes should win the Cy Young in 2021, and he did...but over Zack Wheeler, who I still think deserved it that year. 

So I think it's a little easier for all involved parties if I go general this year. Cause if I just outright say, oh the World Series is gonna be Orioles-Phillies or something, then it's just not gonna happen and it'll be Astros-Dodgers for me even wanting a fun outcome. 

The key thing that I think is going to happen in 2024 is that the trend of small teams overtaking the big teams thanks to momentum is going to continue. With this playoff schematic being what it is, this will keep happening, because Rob Manfred doesn't see anything wrong with it. So any of you expecting the Braves, Dodgers, Yankees and Giants to factor heavily into this season's endgame, I don't think it'll happen. If the Dodgers make it to the World Series, it will likely be for the same reason the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl this year; because people seem to like watching when it happens. 

But odds are the playoffs won't work that day. So it'll be someone we're not expecting dominating the narrative this year. Does that mean the Rays, a team that nobody is talking about despite making a lot of really smart moves this offseason, might have a chance? Possibly. The Rays brought on Jose Caballero, Richie Palacios, Amed Rosario, Jake Mangum and Ryan Pepiot this winter, and if you're wondering how these small pieces are going to affect this team, you do not know Rays baseball. The Rays currently have Isaac Paredes, Yandy Diaz, Jose Siri and Harold Ramirez playing major roles, and playing well. This team takes the guy your organization has no idea what to do with, makes him a star and then trades him away before he gets what he's earned. The Rays machine just works, and even if people are pegging them to come fourth this year due to a banged up infield, it will still work this year. They might outdo the Yankees. Who knows?

Does that also mean the Diamondbacks have a shot at repeating in the NL? It's more complicated, because they're not even guaranteed a Wild Card spot this year due to the number of people in this league that might aim to compete this year. And yes, bringing on Jordan Montgomery is a big deal, but the D-Backs made a lot of smaller, rudimentary moves to keep the core power intact, and I know they wanna get back to September and build from there but I don't know if it'll be a lot to get there. A lot of the Diamondbacks' plan for 2024 involves lightning striking twice, which at least happened to the Phillies because they built on their 2022 team, signed huge pieces and became a great team. The Diamondbacks had a great season but need to figure out if it makes them a great perennial team, and I'm not convinced yet.

Does this mean that a middle of the road team, like the Tigers, Reds, Pirates or Marlins, could spring into action and claim the narrative? Perhaps. It's happened before. And this is a league that's fit to be surprised, with every narrative about the season being about 'will Ohtani hit 40' or 'will Soto be a Yankee legend' or 'will it be Houston or Texas'. What if we're looking in the wrong place? We usually are.

I'm still excited for this season, there's a lot that could happen and a lot that I'm hoping does. I'd love to see the Yankees or Phillies do well this year, I'd love to see the Orioles go deep, and I'd love to see the Astros miss the playoffs. But if I left every season happy it'd be a different vibe all around, I think. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Anything is an Improvement

 


I talked about the Chicago White Sox being in this position the other day, but there's a few teams out there where the eventual last place finish is a likely outcome, at least according to a lot of different pundits. I'm still not certain who'll finish in last in the NL Central, or even the NL West, but you can definitely make a guess that the A's or Red Sox will have a last place year this year. 1, because how can they compare to the rest of the division, and 2, because they're not working with a lot right now.

Notably, the Red Sox do still have some large pieces that will at least keep them from losing 100 games. Rafael Devers, Brayan Bello, Trevor Story and Masataka Yoshida are still integral pieces of this team, and they all had great showings in Spring Training. There's even some lower-key pieces that are looking impressive, like Garrett Whitlock, who looks healthy enough to start a ton of great games for the Sox this year. In 6 preseason starts he sported a 2.49 ERA, 22 Ks and a .877 WHIP. Those would be excellent April stats, and hopefully his power carries over to the regular season. 

The issue with the Sox's rotation is that they don't have a ton of big names anymore, not since Chris Sale got traded. So it is a largely anonymous group, with people like Bello, Whitlock, Kutter Crawford, Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck. And there are great pitchers here, with many likely to have an excellent season. But they're not names people have heard of, even with someone like Bello getting an extension. Comparatively, the Yankees have Stroman, Rodon and Cole in their rotation, the Jays have Gausman, Berrios and Bassitt, the Orioles have Corbin Burnes and Kyle Bradish, and even the Rays have Zach Eflin and Aaron Civale, who are at least lower-tier favorites. The Sox just don't have many trustworthy starters anymore, and after their legendary postseason rotation in 2018, that's just disappointing.

The Sox may still have a decent enough season, especially with Story prime for a comeback and so many young pieces hoping to factor in, but with the other four AL East teams all competing, and all excellent, even if they do well they're not expected to go for first place. So even if they exceed standards, they may still have to pawn people off in July and continue to rebuild. It's upsetting that it needs to happen, but that's how good the AL East has been.

Similarly, the AL West has three excellent teams, an alright team, and the Oakland Athletics, who are probably heading to Vegas next year, despite the hesitancy on many accounts to actually bring them there. Unlike the Red Sox, who still aim to be a decent team trapped by four better ones, the A's...are just hoping to finish the season, honestly. 

We seem to be at the beginning of the stage where they build a team of young phenoms. Now they have Zach Gelof and Lawrence Butler starting in the majors with the team, they confirmed that Joe Boyle will start games from the jump, Darrell Hernaiz made the team as a backup infielder that could start and Esteury Ruiz, Shea Langeliers and J.J. Bleday are still populating the roster. People will only continue to keep coming up, and they could build a passable core with these guys. The issue is that I doubt it'll be enough to catch the Rangers, Astros or Mariners as they continue to build around their ever-growing youth movements, but it's a start.

You also see the A's employing more veterans this year to provide structure. Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and J.D. Davis are all expected to play big roles in this team, and with the exception of possibly Davis they're all expected to be building blocks to get the team to the next stage. The Orioles had a season where they got low-rent veterans to help out before they could rely fully on the youth, and the A's may need a few more years of that but they're definitely bringing up the right people.

The expectation is still for the A's to come in last, and while the Angels could potentially have another disaster of a season, I don't see the A's outrunning them. It's awful that the organization has gotten to this point, and it's hard to see a team hung out to dry like this. I definitely think they'll be better than last year, and there'll be more specific heroes and promising developments for the future. But they definitely don't have as much as Boston, and will take longer to get back to a competitive form.

Someone needs to come in last in both these tight divisions. Time will tell if it does end up being these two.