Friday, May 31, 2024

Ranger Than Fiction


Tomorrow night, I'll be heading to Citizens Bank Park to see for myself about one of the big baseball stories of 2024: the sheer unhittability of Ranger Suarez. 

Ranger Suarez's high bar for Phils work was already 2021, where he was used in basically every role under the sun and topped out as a truly great starting option. He'd been, at best, consistent in the years that followed, and was responsible for some excellent starts last year especially. I've seen him pitch once before I think; I've seen pretty much everybody in this rotation pitch [Nola, Wheeler, not Sanchez though], and I've liked what I've seen every time. Suarez is not a flashy pitcher, at least not from what I recall; he doesn't need to hit the high gas, he's just got great control and just vexes batters.

In the eleven games Suarez has pitched this year, he is 9-1, with a 1.75 ERA, 77 strikeouts and a 0.819 WHIP. This is a first half start that only comes around once in a while. I remember Zack Greinke being similarly dominant during the 2015 season. Suarez is doing this well for a few reasons, and the most important one is the run support. The Phillies lineup has definitely been showing up this year, and even when Harper or Bohm doesn't do anything, somebody like Edmundo Sosa or Nick Castellanos will do something surprising. It is rare to see this team shut out, especially at this point in the year. 

The other thing is Suarez' ability to go deep into games without overtaxing himself. This is something that Aaron Nola, Zach Wheeler, and honestly Spencer Turnbull, have been able to do this season. Suarez can just get to the end of a start without giving up many hits, or runs, and just keep at it another few days later. The closest Suarez has gotten to being 'lit up' was giving up 4 runs at Coors Field. And for Coors Field, that's honestly kinda low. And even then he still lasted 6 innings. 

The Phils already knew they could rely upon Nola and Wheeler. Now they've got Suarez in just as good of a position. And honestly, Cristopher Sanchez isn't too far from that category either, he just needs to even out a bit more. But yeah, Suarez being a league talent this year is really good for this team. I just hope he'll be able to keep it up.

The Phils have the Cardinals in town this weekend, and this is the kind of series they could go into too cockily. As I'm writing this, they seem to be doing well enough, but the Cardinals have enough guys that can give this team trouble. One of them, Sonny Gray, will be on the mound tomorrow night, so let's hope we've figured out the bullpen.

Coming Tomorrow- You count this guy out for 5 seconds and he starts hitting a billion home runs. 

99 Revolutions


Ya know, in the 27 games Aaron Judge played during the 2016 season, around when the team called up him and Tyler Austin to raise morale after Beltran, Chapman and Miller all got traded, I was not looking at this guy thinking he'd be the most important Yankee of his era. Just a high-strikeout lunkhead of an outfielder, couldn't hit at the MLB level at 24, worryingly adequate, not sure where the Scranton perks were anyhow.

Which made me think in 2017, once he started really taking off, 'well eventually the other shoe's gonna drop and we're all gonna look really silly for thinking this kid was for real'. Look, I've gotten excited for Yankee prospects that didn't amount to shit before. I got excited for Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, I waited for Brackman and Banuelos to get called up, I thought Greg Bird was the first baseman of the future, I've been screwed before. So I waited with trepidation to see if Aaron Judge was the real deal or not. And after some injury-plagued seasons, during which he was still one of the best pure hitters in the game, I think I'm finally convinced this Judge fella is for real.

Until last week I'd never seen him hit one out live. I'd seen Stanton hit a homer, I'd seen Cutch and Granderson hit homers, I've seen Harper hit one out a few times, but until last Wednesday I'd only seen Judge homers on TV. But this one was something, because you could just tell where it was going before it got there. With the degree of his swing, and with the pure strength he hit it at, there wasn't much of a doubt. And the exaltation of that crowd once it did go out, that's pretty nice. Obviously he's hit a few homers at Yankee Stadium, but the novelty never goes away. I'll add that it's the same with Juan Soto, he hit two of them that day and it didn't get any less cool.

And that sums up the Aaron Judge experience for me; it really hasn't gotten old yet. He's been around for 9 seasons, he's hit 274 home runs, 26 away from 300, which means he's got a shot at that milestone this year, he's had 5 35+ homer years, including the one where he passed 60. And right now he's already got 18 homers, 41 RBIs and is hitting .275. That's pretty damn good. Unsurprisingly he's also leading the league in OPS with a 1.020, and SLG with .613. Judge is the most important power hitter in the game right now, and his hot streak this month has been nothing short of legendary. People were a little worried in April, but now it's like that slump didn't exist and he's helping power the team, along with fellow hot Yanks Alex Verdugo, Juan Soto and Luis Gil.

I'll admit that since the 'hot streak' era of the month, the Yankees have been hit with a few setbacks. They've lost the occasional game, including losses to good teams like the Mariners and Padres, and they've seen the occasional blown save by Clay Holmes. They just lost Clarke Schmidt for a little while, which would be a bigger problem if A.) Cody Poteet wasn't having a surprisingly strong year in Scranton, and B.) Gerrit Cole isn't gonna be back in a couple weeks anyway. You knew an injury was gonna happen eventually, and thankfully there's enough circumstantial elements to keep this one from being especially momentum-killing. Schmidt's having a great year, but so are Gil, Rodon, Cortes and Stroman. So hopefully we'll be alright.

The Yankees are in a very good spot right now, and it's thanks in part to the stars showing up and doing what they need to. I sincerely hope this continues, because it's been really damn fun to watch.

Coming Tonight: One of the best pitchers in baseball right now. And I'm seeing him live tomorrow night.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The Rotation Had Other Plans


In 2017, the Colorado Rockies established a homegrown rotation consisting of Jon Gray, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland. After a certain point, knowing that these guys would be hot commodities, the Rockies signed three of them to long term contracts, and eventually let the fourth go after 5 or 6 years. So Freeland, Senza and Marquez are all still contracted by the Rockies organization, and will be for at least another year or three. 

Except, uh...none of them are pitching right now. They're all hurt. Senza and Marquez started the season on the IL, then Freeland joined them. And the pitching staff has consisted of one homegrown product, two Cardinals products, a Padres product and a Giants product. And, like...they're honestly doing fine?

Austin Gomber having a fantastic season was not something the team was expecting, as Gomber had limped along the past two years without having a great deal of success. But this season, the former Cardinals pitcher, who'd been dealt in exchange for Nolan Arenado, has been nothing short of fantastic. In 10 starts he has a 2.76 ERA and a 1.108 WHIP, both surprisingly low for someone who has to pitch in Coors Field a lot. Gomber isn't a flashy pitcher, and isn't exactly known for his strikeouts, but he's just a calculated, controlled pitcher that hasn't given up many hits this year. Compare that to Ryan Feltner, who leads the team in Ks but has a high ERA and a 1.500 WHIP. Sometimes throwing hard doesn't mean as much if they know where it's coming.

But people like Gomber, Cal Quantrill and somehow Ty Blach have been pleasant surprises for the Rockies this year, and while some, especially Blach, may seem like replacement-level options, they've been holding down opposing lineups and making the games close. If the Rockies were known for their run support right now it'd be a different story [and why should I believe a team with Kris Bryant and Ryan McMahon would be known for their run support?], but this team having more pitchers they can actually trust to keep things pinned down does help. Marquez, Senzatela and Freeland may not be what they were a few years ago, but they did infer a sense of stability, and Gomber and Quantrill have been stable, reliable options.

The Rockies still aren't great of course. Bryant's signing might be one of the worst in recent memory, and I say that keeping Javier Baez's in mind as well. Tovar, Diaz, McMahon and Doyle are hitting but there's so many holes in this team. They've given the ninth to Jalen Beeks, and it's not exactly going well [sidenote: between today and the start of June coming up, Beeks must be having a rough time]. It's still wild to me that Diaz/Stallings has been such a good catching battery, but there's so few working outfield options that Jake Cave is starting games. It's a rough time, even if some aspects are going well.

The Rockies get to play the Dodgers and Reds this week, and the best case scenario is no one gets injured this time. 

Coming Tomorrow- Someone I got to see go yard recently, and it is as wonderful as you might expect.

Don't Let it Go to Your Head This Time


Yankees-Angels is generally a low stakes series. Two teams on opposite sides of the country, opposite W/L records, opposite mentalities. It shouldn't generally be the sort of thing that a team can put that much stake in.

And yet. The last time the Angels and Yankees played each other, the Angels beat the Yankees so badly that they thought they were a playoff team, got a ton of players at the deadline and set themselves up for an intense letdown in August. What happened to the Angels last year was uniquely terrible, because they made things so much worse for themselves than if they had just...done nothing. The Yankees didn't base a playoff run off of sweeping the Astros last year. The Angels just got too greedy, and they mistook a good week for a good team, and...y'know...screwed themselves.

And seeing that the Angels have already taken one from the Yankees, I have to make it clear that just because the Yankees' hot streak has been winding down on a road trip, that doesn't mean the Angels are a good team. It is pure happenstance, differing wavelengths, and something more generic than the Angels, without Mike Trout, being an actual good team.

Now, there have been some wild things happening in Anaheim recently, mostly ex-Braves, but it's only moved the needle slightly. Kevin Pillar has been surprisingly amazing for the Angels, and right now he's hitting .431 with 5 homers and 20 RBIs in 17 games. Taking the place of Trout for a spell, Pillar is way above replacement level, and providing a sense of urgency to a team without much. Meanwhile, Luis Guillorme is filling in at 3rd for the oft-injured Anthony Rendon, and he's hitting .355 in 11 games. Guillorme is great at sneaky contact work and great infield play, and he's helping a fairly odd infield of people like Zach Neto and Nolan Schanuel who are doing in the majors what most people their age would regularly be doing in the minors.

And then there's Luis Rengifo, who's been wonderful this season in a starting role. He's currently hitting .338 with 17 RBIs and 12 steals, plus he leads the lineup in WAR. Rengifo always seemed like an extra hand thrust into a starting role after the midway point, but now he's proving he's more crucial to the Angels than just an extra infielder, and he's come into his own. Hell, even Jo Adell is finally performing well at an MLB level, he's got 10 homers and 23 RBIs, and he's succeeding as a power guy despite some general versatility issues. 

You probably wouldn't have expected much from a team 10 games under .500, but the Angels actually have a fair amount to work with right now, which explains why the Yankees series isn't an out-and-out rout like we all thought it would be. I'm not exactly expecting it to go as well for the Angels as it did last year, but I do think it'll get them above the A's in the standings.

Coming Tomorrow- He was traded for Nolan Arenado, and somehow he's having a better season than Arenado is. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I Used to be DeJong

Right now there's a Cardinals shortstop with an impressive-at-hell hitting streak to start his career, and somewhere in Chicago there's a guy going 'that used to be me'.

Last year, round this time, Paul deJong was still being trusted as the starting shortstop in St. Louis. After an extremely good 2019, deJong was kept on as primary SS due mostly to his excellent defensive abilities. But even as recently as 2022, those defensive perks were wearing off. Eventually he stopped hitting for average, and struggled to get much done at all anywhere they put up. The reason deJong was cut last year was mainly to make way for younger, more reliable infield options, like Brendan Donovan and the soon-to-be-called-up Masyn Winn. It just seemed like nothing was clicking with deJong anymore, and the Blue Jays and Giants corroborated this after stints with them.

But now, due to the frantically bare White Sox needing veteran options to, at the very least, keep the lights on, deJong gets to be the starting shortstop again. So far this is looking like his best season in a couple years, solely due to the fact that he's not hitting under .200 and isn't a liability at short. He's perfectly okay in both departments, has some base running perks, and has 7 homers and 17 RBIs. So it's not bad, especially considering the quality of the rest of the team. But like...considering the drop-off, it's not ideal.

Then you think about the Cardinals' current shortstop, Masyn Winn. Winn's 22 years old, he's playing in his first full season in the bigs, and has hit safely in 18 straight games. Considering his debut last year, where he struggled both offensively and defensively, it's been relieving to see Winn hitting .297, stealing 7 bases and providing excellent defensive play. Winn is young, talented, versatile, in his prime, and is a much better double play partner to Nolan Gorman than deJong was. And with this piece intact, the Cardinals have had a slight upward trajectory over the past few weeks, as they're now in third and heading for the Cubs.

It's gotta be a big ego hit to someone like Paul deJong when someone's doing your old job better than you could, and is succeeding there. Cause he's still stuck with this White Sox team, winning only occasionally and getting next to nothing done. He's there because it's a place to play everyday, which isn't exactly guaranteed on most other rosters. And he's gotta be thankful he has that. But man, he's gotta wish the luck shone on him more, especially recently. Cause he's been where Winn is, and he wishes he was still there.

Coming Tomorrow- Typically this infielder is the August-era 'break in case of embarrassment' guy, but he's actually been a big help for most of the season. 

Jesus Walks


I did not want to assume that Sandy Alcantara was the glue holding the Miami Marlins together. Famously, even when he was active with them, the team wasn't guaranteed to do well. His first full season, 2019, he led the league in losses...while also having an ERA lower than 4 and making an All-Star team. In 2020 he missed some games and the Marlins still made the playoffs. The majority of Alcantara's career is made up of seasons with negative W/L ratios, he was just extremely good while he was there. I never thought this team solely came down to Sandy Alcantara.

But...since he got hurt, the Marlins have pencil dove out of the playoffs, lost their best hitter before the trade deadline even began, and already seem like last place finishers in a division race that still has 4 months left in it. I get the sense that if Sandy was here it wouldn't be going down like that.

At the same time, the Marlins are this bad without Eury Perez as well, who was there for the heat of the 2023 season and made the most of his 19 games pitched while being 20 years old. If you add Perez and Alcantara back into the Marlins' rotation, that takes away a lot of problems. You don't have to put Sixto Sanchez or A.J. Puk out there to die, you can put less pressure on Trevor Rogers, you don't risk burning out Edward Cabrera and you can rely on Weathers and Luzardo as back-half options rather than 'if you don't win the team sinks further into the ground' guys. But as it is, Weathers is doing the best he can but is at 3-4, Luzardo is really trying to get back to where he was but he's got a 4.14 ERA and a brief IL stint, and Rogers' comeback year being a 1-6, 5.65 ERA debacle.

And of course there's no run support. Because why would a team with Josh Bell, Jake Burger, Bryan de la Cruz and Jazz Chisholm have any run support? You can see the replacement players fully trying to carry the team now, guys like Otto Lopez, Dane Myers, Vidal Brujan, Nick Gordon a little. What's even going on with the heart of this team? Tim Anderson can't hit AND he's a liability in the infield. Bell's hitting for power but can't do much else. Chisholm is a solid player but he's not blowing the doors off the place like he did in 2022. It's just tepid hitting all around, without a rear savior anywhere nearby. And this is just how it is right now.

The Marlins were better than this last year, and now that one or two players are hurt it's depressing and dull. I hate that a team that seemed so fun is now so much less enjoyable to talk about. Hopefully it gets better, but...can it?

Coming Tomorrow- Right now a Cardinals rookie shortstop is on a massive hitting streak, which must be awkward for any former Cardinals shortstops in the league who've forgotten how to hit. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Legacy of the Japanese Hurler


Next year will mark 30 years since Hideo Nomo made his debut for the Dodgers, and ushered in an entirely new era of hard-throwing Japanese pitchers. He wasn't the first, as Masanori Murakami made his debut 30 years earlier, but he had the biggest exclamation point attached. A hard-throwing, high-speed ace for one of the biggest teams of the decade, making himself known with every start. Even if his full career wasn't as legendary as his Dodgers years, what Hideo Nomo paved the way for, as far as Japanese pitching in the MLB is concerned, cannot be ignored.

Though I would also argue that somebody like Yu Darvish is just as crucial to the modern standard of Japanese pitchers. Because for a few years back there nothing was really clicking. There were some good pitchers that flamed out, like Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Shigetoshi Hasegawa, great Japanese league pitchers who were too old to hit prime numbers for especially long, like Hiroki Kuroda, Takashi Saito, Yasuhiko Yabuta and Masahide Kobayashi, and pitchers that just couldn't make things work in the MLB, like Keiichi Yabu, Kei Igawa and Ken Takahashi. 

But the arrival of Darvish, and Hisashi Iwakuma, in 2012 presented a desire for Japanese players to post early enough to experience a fuller, more lucrative MLB career, as opposed to achieving full success in Japan and not reaching worldwide fame. Darvish, to this point, had 7 seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, the final five of which all featured an ERA lower than 2, and four of those featuring strikeouts over 200. And this was just his early 20s. With his prime years coming up, and the clout of JPPL success, he wanted to cross over, and so he signed with the Rangers and went big.

It's honestly fantastic to see Darvish still performing at peak levels, and he may go down as the greatest Japanese pitching export in MLB history. Obviously Nomo and Ohtani would rival him, but nobody has achieved his level of absolute consistency. Darvish will hit 2000 strikeouts this year, a mark that Nomo couldn't even hit in 13 years in the bigs. He also currently holds the record for cumulative WAR for Japanese pitchers, with a 32.62, and next year he will become the longest-tenured Japanese MLBer upon his 13th official season. But also, he's still extremely good, even at 37. Right now he's 4-2 with a 3.02 ERA and 51 Ks in 10 starts, another strong campaign for the Padres. He's signed for the next 4 seasons, and will likely retire as a Padre, and at this rate he'll have been one of their most foundational pieces of the 2020s. 

But what's been great about the rise in Japanese pitchers is that not all of them need to be the hard-throwing ace. We've seen a lot of Japanese pitchers just fit right into a rotation and play a steady role without being the overwhelming favorite. Iwakuma did this during the 2010s with the Mariners. Kuroda did this with Yankees in the early 2010s. And now Yusei Kikuchi's become the patron saint of that with the Blue Jays. He doesn't have to be at the head of the rotation, because there's people like Jose Berrios and Kevin Gausman who can do that. What he is right now is extremely consistent. Kikuchi goes 5 or 6 innings every game, keeps his ERA around 3, strikes people out and doesn't do anything flashy. And for the Jays this year, that's the winning strategy, because the flashy guys, Gausman and Manoah, aren't getting the job done. So having someone like Yusei Kikuchi, who just gets the job done without much incident, is really handy for the Jays, especially in a year where so much has let them down.

This season has seen Yoshinobu Yamaoto, Shota Imanaga, Naoyuki Uwasawa and Yuki Matsui all ascend to the bigs and plug in admirably. We will likely see even more going forward, as Roki Sasaki has spoken at length about wanting to come over here. I am 100% fine with this trend, especially if Japan keeps allowing their best and brightest to become efficient, consistent options for MLB teams. It makes the game more fun, and it allows for even more complex stories of heroic players to come from anywhere in the world.

Coming Tomorrow- A starting pitcher who was probably expecting things to be going a bit better about now.

Stro Away

 One year. ONE YEAR that I don't have to worry about the Houston Astros storming in and ruining everything. That is all I ask. I didn't think it was asking too much. But as apparently a terrible start and a lack of pitching isn't enough to deter these people, it seems to be asking too much. 

The Astros, after being comfortably 10 games under .500 for most of the season, had a winning streak and are now 5 games under .500, which puts them close to the Rangers, who've been struggling, and the Mariners, who just split a series with the Yanks. And it's one of those things where the winning streak, like the no-hitter, began out of spite towards the Yankees. Remember how the Yanks swept the Astros in a 4-game opening series, and then Ronel Blanco and his tack took it out on the Blue Jays? The Yanks took two more from the Astros at home, and then after finally winning their first game against the Yankees in over a year, the Astros got so fired up that they kept going, sweeping Oakland a bunch of times and taking some crucial games away from the Brewers. They've just finished killing the A's again, which is a ton easier to do without all their good pitchers.

It's also easier for the Astros now that they have some of their pitchers back. Verlander, Valdez and Javier are all active, and they're all doing...decently. JV's the obvious crowdpleaser, he's got a 3.60 ERA and is slowly creeping up the all-time K list. Javier's got a 3.89 ERA, and while he's not as dominant as he was in the past few years, he's still capable of a lot. I think Framber's worn out a bit from overthrowing in the last two seasons but he's still making starts and doing alright. Pretty much the only starter truly getting killed every few days is Spencer Arrighetti, but that's not as bad now that A.) Hunter Brown's down in the pen and B.) there's four viable options again. 

So now that there's actually a halfway decent rotation, and now that Josh Hader's improved a bit in the ninth, the lineup, who was already doing well, can lead this team to wins. And it's the same old schtick. Altuve's hitting damn near .300 with some home runs, Tucker leads the league in homers and nobody's thinking about the fact that he might be out of here soon. Jeremy Pena is hitting .320, leading the team in hits, and playing decent shortstop, despite the fact that I don't think he's been terribly inconvenienced his entire Houston career. Jake Meyers, Mauricio Dubon and now this Joey Loperfido kid are providing cool support. Even the guys doing okay are still hitting. And so they're bulldozing people.

This week, the Astros have to play the Mariners. And this never goes well because the way the schedule works, the Astros always have to play the Mariners right when the Astros have gained momentum and the Mariners have lost momentum. The scheduling people probably do this by design. Manfred gives them an extra nickel for it. But even if the Mariners have the better pitching, and now have Ryan Bliss up in the majors, I still have this terrible feeling that the Astros are gonna keep rolling and level the division some more. And I am really, absolutely sick of the Astros barging in on an AL West race that didn't concern them. It's my least favorite thing, and it keeps happening.

So go Mariners. I hope they can rebound nicely from the Yankees outdoing them last week.

Coming Tonight: Despite a run-in with the Phillies, this guy's having another great season in a career of many.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Steer Clear


It's been very upsetting to see two of last year's most exciting wild card competitors, the Reds and Marlins, in last this season. And the good news is you're beginning to see the Reds pick back up again.

The biggest issue with this Reds team so far has been injuries. A lot of the guys that made 2023 so lethal for them down the stretch, like Matt McLain, T.J. Friedl, Brandon Williamson, Nick Lodolo and Christian Encarnacion-Strand, have all been hurt this year. And the other parts of that offensive front, like Spencer Steer, Jake Fraley, Will Benson and Jonathan India, are just plain okay at the moment. Steer has shown improvement, he's at least got 35 RBIs this season, but it's not as well rounded as he was last year, and I think he knows it. Fraley, supposedly the team's power hitter, has more steals than RBIs right now. India's hitting .220, Benson's hitting well for power but not for average, this new kid Jacob Hurtubise is...fine but hasn't done anything huge yet.

And yes, it's been fantastic that Elly de la Cruz has broken out, and is playing like an absolute pro on all levels, but even last year the offensive success was more spread out. Right now it seems like it's kinda all on Elly, and that's not a sustainable mentality. At the very least people like Tyler Stephenson, Stuart Fairchild, and the recently-activated Jeimer Candelario have had some moments of dominance. But clearly not enough.

...And yet the Reds just swept the Los Angeles Dodgers. So maybe something's finally clicking.

The Reds have won four straight, and not only has it been thanks to some of the more recent re-additions to the team, like Candelario and Lodolo, but it may be because it's hard for a lot of teams, even the Dodgers, to get past this pitching staff. The rotation has had some issues recently, Montas and Ashcraft have seen their ERAs raised, but the bullpen might be the secret weapon. Fernando Cruz, Lucas Sims, Buck Farmer, Sam Moll, Alexis Diaz, Brent Suter, all of them have been fantastic this year, and especially recently. Cruz has been untouchable recently, and Sims seems to be the top middle relief guy in town. Having Greene, Abbott and Lodolo all doing well certainly gives the Reds an edge over many competitors, and it's something that could ease them right back into the thick of the NL Central race.

The Reds have struggled, but they have too much going for them to be completely out of the race yet. We'll see how June fares for them.

Coming Tomorrow- A shortstop for a team that is once again unwilling to read the damned room.

Kep Ladder


Max Kepler has been with the Minnesota Twins for 10 seasons, and recently played his 1000th game as a major leaguer. You forget he's been around that long. Buxton's been around for just as long but he's only gotten through a season without getting injured for 60 or more games ONE TIME. Kepler has been much more consistent, despite the occasional 15-day IL stint. 

In those 10 seasons, Kepler has accumulated 21.3 WAR, 833 hits, 484 RBIs and 157 home runs. He's not one of the best in the league, and he's not a Hall of Famer. Hell, he's never even been an all-star, and to be perfectly honest if Bruce Bochy has room this year it'd be a wise idea to include him. But what Kepler is is steady, consistent and reliable. Even in seasons where the Twins haven't competed, Kepler's been there to hit stuff. He's not quite a contact hitter, as the .238 average could tell you, but he's very good at hitting for power, and he's great at launching hits fast enough to evade defensemen. Kepler so far this season has a .303 average, a rarity for him, and has 18 RBIs and 4 homers, plus an .892 OPS, which is the real difference maker.

That said, it's extremely funny given the Bomba rebellion of 2019 that a more contact-friendly guy like Kepler is more vital to this specific Twins team than somebody like Buxton. Buxton hasn't done a ton at the plate so far, but I think his emphasis is more toward power still, while Kepler is hitting for average and showing his versatility. The guys with the higher OPSs on this team, namely Kepler, Correa and Jeffers, aren't completely power hitters, but are more extremely accurate, and consistent, contact guys who can continue to get the job done. And while I'm not saying there's no place for a power hitter on this Twins team, especially considering Carlos Santana, they definitely have less of a place on this team than they did when Cruz and Sano were king. 

And considering that the AL Central is being run by a contact team right now that's also seeing power production from its own marquee guy, it makes sense that this kind of tactic would work for the modern Twins. There aren't as many big exclamation points with this Twins team, especially with Pablo Lopez, and Jhoan Duran having down years and Royce Lewis getting injured again, but they're definitely able to win games, and they've had no trouble with that recently, even against the Rangers. 

The real trick will be taking down the Royals, who're in town for a four game stretch this week. The Royals are playing better than the Twins overall right now, but the Twins may be hotter at the current moment. Still, it'll be interesting to see if Joe Ryan and Simeon Woods-Richardson match up favorably against people like Brady Singer and Seth Lugo. A decent showing in this series could mean the Twins are still a favored player in the division race; a poor showing could be a sign that they need a new approach.

Coming Tonight: Last year his offensive performance seemed to indicate a new, powerful youth regime. Now he's...cooled down a bit, I'd say.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Broken Citi

 The Mets were 15-14 as April ended. They're 22-30 now. So something clearly happened somewhere down the line.

I go back to the mid-April stretch where the Mets triumphed over the Royals, Pirates and Dodgers. And the way things have set now, really only the Pirates series makes sense. Because the Royals overcame early stumbles and are now one of the best teams in the league, the Dodgers' rotation needed to come into its own, and now that it has they're better, and the Pirates, even with Skenes, are still not accomplishing much. So what I can gather is that everything lined up in that section of April for the Mets to be better than those teams, and when the window closed there really wasn't much left for the Mets to excel at.

And I wanna make this clear: it's not my intention to be salty towards the Mets. I try and be critical of all teams, even the ones I like, and I've been probably more critical of the Mets because they've tried so much that hadn't worked. I still like this team more than most Philly residents, and I enjoy a lot of their players. But when the team isn't working, I'm not gonna stand here and pretend that it is.

So...the Mets have won 7 games this month, their marquee star they're paying hundreds of millions to is hitting .209, every great performance from earlier this season has trailed off and they might have to hire their fourth manager since the 2020s began extremely soon.

The main issue is that the Mets assembled this offensive core of Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Starling Marte, and out of all of them, Marte's the only one hitting over .250. Brandon Nimmo is still having a solid enough year, but by his standard it's several steps down. He's hitting .216 with 7 homers and a team-leading 29 RBIs. Pete Alonso has 12 homers, but there seems to be less of an exclamation point to his power hitting this year. I don't have much doubt that he'll finish with over 35 homers, but going into free agency this isn't the most lethal version of Alonso we've witnessed. McNeil, meanwhile, has rarely felt this ineffective, and is struggling both offensively and defensively. The moment Luis Guillorme is elsewhere, no less. And Lindor not only isn't hitting, he's beginning to embarrass himself, with several multi-strikeout days and games where his inefficiency feels like a foregone conclusion.

The people that have stepped up for this Mets team have been the replacement level guys, many of which could just be gone by the deadline. Sean Manaea's had a great season, but aren't there supposed to be younger players doing better? Harrison Bader's heated up, but wasn't he a contingency outfielder? I think the only person doing what he was signed to do might be J.D. Martinez, and even then he's a month behind everybody else.

The fact that the Mets seem this dire and we're not even 2 months into the season is not a good sign for the future of the Steve Cohen regime. This schtick didn't work for Chaim Bloom, and it may not work here.

Coming Tomorrow- It's so weird that a young team like the Twins not only has multiple veterans, but ones that are still very crucial to the team's success. 

Delayed Gratification

 Tanner Houck was called up by the Red Sox at the tail end of the already-truncated 2020 season. He was in the majors for three starts, and he was incredible, going 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA and 21 strikeouts. Houck was primed to be a major player in 2021's bullpen picture, as well as the future of the Sox going forward. 

That didn't happen.

A mixture of injuries, regime changes, low placements in depth charts and a year out of the bullpen kept Tanner Houck from becoming the foundational Sox starter he felt destined to be. He's now 28 years old, still yet to pitch a 'full' season, and despite starting 21 games last year, an underdog heading into the starting picture of 2024.

So naturally now he's pitching the best stuff of his entire career.

In 10 games, Tanner Houck is 4-5 with a 1.94 ERA and 62 Ks, already lapsing his WAR high marks from previous seasons. Some crucial numbers in his stat line so far include a complete game shutout, and only 1 home run allowed thus far. And for reference, last year in 21 starts he allowed 14 homers. There is something about the Boston pitching staff that can repair pitchers who were thought to be washed. It happened with Nick Pivetta, he's been starting for Boston ever since. It happened with Brennan Bernardino, he's been the team's most efficient bullpen guy of the last 2 years. Hell, we're seeing it happen with Cooper Criswell, a guy the RAYS somehow couldn't even fix. If it can happen to guys that won't work in other markets, surely it works with a Boston product like Houck. And so far, even as Brayan Bello has underperformed and the lack of Chris Sale is evident, Houck is finally pitching like he should have been all along. 

It is enough to make the current rotation schematic of Houck-Bello-Crawford-Pivetta-Criswell into a pretty strong one, as they're more consistent than any other AL East rotation [BARRING ONE]. The trouble is all the lineup injuries, which have depleted the team. Triston Casas, Masataka Yoshida and Trevor Story are pretty big pieces of this team, and while the Sox at least still have Rafael Devers, Jarren Duran and Connor Wong hitting well right now, there are some holes in this team that they probably wish had better solutions. Ceddanne Raffaela is at least an intriguing player, but he's struggling at the plate. Tyler O'Neill has cooled down after his big April. David Hamilton and Romy Gonzalez are decent enough replacement infielders, even if they're not fully formed yet. And both Dominic Smith and Garrett Cooper are clearly replacement-level fill-ins at 1st. Rob Refsnyder and Reese McGuire are still playing big roles in this team, and both of those guys are the equivalent of bowling with the bumpers on.

This is still a third-place Sox team, and they're over .500, but they're closer to the bottom than the top and aren't 100% as well-formed as they'd like to be. Maybe some more pieces will click as we move forward, but those holes in the lineup might keep this team from doing anything, sad to say.

Coming Tonight: The Mets re-signed him for a lot of money, and I suppose he's made them proud so far.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Walker Bout


First the Nats uniforms, now these D-Backs uniforms are reminding me of the mid-2000s Reds jerseys. The red-and-black-on-grey just harkens back to that. And the D-Backs aren't even the ones rebranding to avoid being lumped in with a political party. Perhaps this is why the Diamondbacks have gone downhill this year. You're not trying to be like the 2023 D-Backs with these uniforms, you're trying to be like the 2005 Reds! Who wants to be the 2005 Reds? How often do you see Austin Kearns jerseys out in the wild?

It's really turned into a disappointing year to be a Diamondbacks fan, even if expectations may have been set a bit too high after last year's World Series appearance. The team is 24-27, 4th in the NL West behind two teams exactly at .500, and missing Geraldo Perdomo, Alek Thomas, Merrill Kelly, Drey Jameson and Eduardo Rodriguez. This is a team that was supposed to be a heavy competitor in the race to take down LA, and as of right now LA's sped ahead without much competition. 

What the D-Backs, at the very least, have going for them is the heart of their lineup, which is still insanely strong. Ketel Marte's having his best season in years, and is reestablishing himself as a big star. Joc Pederson's been hitting beautifully, with a .311 average and 6 homers, an improved emphasis on contact for the premier power hitter. And somehow, a 33-year-old Christian Walker is still one of the most versatile 1st baseman in the game. Walker is still an excellent defensive corner infielder, and along with Marte is one of the best defenders on the team. And he can still hit, not only for power but for contact. He's got 10 homers and 32 RBIs, and he's got an .810 OPS. I used to think Walker was a very simple one-dimensional power hitter, but he's gotten so much better over his many years in Phoenix. Proof that an everyday guy can come from literally anywhere.

Last year the issue was the back half of the rotation, and even with Jordan Montgomery and Brandon Pfaadt joining Zac Gallen as rotation mainstays, it still really is. If Kelly was still around at least you'd be limited to one weaker start per go-round, but without him, you have to start Ryne Nelson, who still cannot seem to hold things together, and get a bullpen guy like Brandon Hughes or Joe Mantiply to open. Logically they should throw Tommy Henry back into the ring, and I think they've thought of this, but at this rate it may be too much of a risk. The good news is Paul Sewald can finally work the ninth again, and he's been wonderful so far, with 3 saves in 6 appearances. 

But the D-Backs are dealing with too many guys who were supposed to be exceeding expectations and are currently just playing alright. Kevin Newman's been covering short for Perdomo, and he's at least good defensively,'s clear Newman's a replacement level player. Suarez and Gurriel are both extremely okay right now. And it looks like either the MLB has just figured out Corbin Carroll, or he's suffering from one of the worst sophomore slumps in recent memory. But either way, it's not fun to watch.

At the very least, the D-Backs get to play the Marlins and Mets this week. But yeah, the upcoming Rangers-D-Backs rematch series isn't shaping up to be as exciting as last October's.

Coming Tomorrow- I feel like every year, this guy's started to get things going and it hasn't completely panned out. Til now, that is. 

Rook Before You Leap


I think it says a lot about the A's that their most tense series of the year thus far was against the Colorado Rockies.

Two teams that aren't very good battling it out! Close games! Extra innings! Dramatic finishes! It's like watching two pigeons try to play chess! Eventually they do move a piece or so but they can't really do anything without shitting all over the board.

And while it doesn't shock me that the A's took the series, two games going to extras make me think it honestly could have gone either way. Logically the Athletics are better than the Rockies, but the A's followed a 6 game winning streak with an 8 game losing streak, and are only in 4th place because the Angels without Trout or Ohtani is just a dire experience all-around. At the same time, the Astros have gotten hot, they're in third, they're trying to make everyone forget their first 40 games didn't happen, and now they're...more of a factor than the A's. Of course. 

A lot of the pieces people were talking about in Oakland just weeks ago have suddenly dissipated. Paul Blackburn's hurt. Esteury Ruiz just landed on the IL. J.P. Sears evened out. Joey Estes had his good start then fell apart. There have been some strong pieces, especially somebody like Brent Rooker, who's back to  excelling at offensive production, hitting .286 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs. You're even seeing people like Abraham Toro, Kyle McCann and somehow Aaron Brooks claim important spots on this roster and own them. And yes, the core of Shea Langeliers, Zach Gelof, Seth Brown and J.J. Bleday isn't perfect, but these guys do have some perks, mostly in the realm of power hitting. In a year where a lot of great teams can't power-hit to save their life, I'll gladly take some one-dimensional power stuff if it means A's games are watchable. 

But with an injury-plagued rotation, a lot of unsure pieces of the lineup, and some dire losing streaks, there's still not a ton that's truly comforting about the A's right now. Even Mason Miller seems to bring up the topic of 'who's trading for him in two months', rather than what he can actually accomplish as an Oakland Athletic. And while it was kinda clear that this team wouldn't compete, the early games in May gave the idea that they'd turn out a little better than this. It's a real 'nothing has changed, everything has changed' sort of thing, cause they're still a bottom feeding team despite being more sure of themselves than they were last year. We know who's good on this team, it's just that most of them are injured and the rest keep striking out. 

The A's have to play the Astros this weekend, and while I'd love to say that the A's somehow triumph, the Astros have improved in recent weeks and might have the pitching now to overpower them. Not that I wouldn't mind some upsets to put Houston in their place, I think we'd all love that,'d take a lot of things coming together for the A's, and we need more working variables for that probably.

Coming Tonight: 5 years ago I did not think this guy being a multi-faceted first baseman would be a regular thing. 

Friday, May 24, 2024

The First Domino?


Paul Skenes, in his first 3 MLB games, has gone 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA and 21 Ks. Of the two games he was not credited for, one the Pirates were able to leg out, while the other got blown up by the bullpen. It tells me that we are early enough in the development of the Pittsburgh Pirates that Paul Skenes alone isn't quite the make or break force powering the Pirates yet. 

Though here's something interesting. Y'know who's hit a home run in each of Skenes' three starts thus far? Andrew McCutchen. Y'know, the LAST big rookie that the Pirates were designed to be built around.

And yes, I know there's been people like Bryan Reynolds, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz that have developed prior to Skenes' call-up, but nobody cared about Mountcastle til Rutschman got called up. Sometimes, until the central figure comes around, it's just a couple of good young players hanging around. And then the guy appears, and...then it means something. And Skenes' early starts are an extremely good sign for the development of this team. The guy can go 6 innings, strike like 10 people out, and his power comes from his legs. So he's got less of a chance of an elbow issue, though, considering that he throws 100 mph, it's not exactly zero. 

But while Skenes at least has Cruz, Reynolds, Keller and Hayes that are working right now, the rest of this Pirates team needs to develop before Skenes feels more valuable. Cause a lot's on him now, cause he's the hot young thing, and it needs to be on the whole team. And while you're at least seeing Jared Triolo and Nick Gonzales doing well, there hasn't been a ton of true standouts on the hitting end. Hayes is out, Cruz is hitting .250 but struggling defensively, Suwinski and Davis are down in the minors after they were supposed to have big starts to the year. Replacement players are still getting a lot of time in Pittsburgh, and that might be the plan til some of these guys start consistently impressing people. 

And hopefully in that time Paul Skenes, as well as Keller and Jared Jones, will continue to pitch as well as they are now, and continue to be under team control. Because after giving up Jameson Taillon, Gerrit Cole and J.T. Brubaker, the last thing the Pirates want to see is another team taking one of their organizational pitching weapons far. Especially not the Yankees, they've had all three at different points. 

Still, I want Skenes' powerful run to keep going. Eventually, the Pirates will develop around him. It's just not gonna be immediate.

Coming Tomorrow- This year he probably figured he'd be playing for a last place team. The good news is, his team's in fourth right now. The bad news is it's not certain they'll be there for too long.

The Missouri Breakout


Five teams in baseball right now have 30 or more wins. Four of them are usual suspects. Yanks, Phils, Dodgers, Guardians. Teams you've heard about. Teams that have been dominating all season. The fifth is one you probably haven't heard about, because up until now it hasn't occurred to many people that it's a big deal that the Royals have won six games in a row. But now that they have, they've won 32 games, and that puts them in the top tier of the MLB.

The Royals were looking at 2023 as the year they'd fully break out. You could see them putting the pieces together, bringing up Michael Massey and Vinnie Pasquantino, even Freddy Fermin for a spell, and setting up a nice young team at the end of 2022. Then 2023 happens and everything falls apart, everybody gets hurt and only really Bobby Witt overperforms. These guys were expecting great things from Pasquatch and Brady Singer and Scott Barlow and none of it happened. So they crumpled and tossed. And now, with only a few small changes and more time to develop, the Royals are a competitive team.

Around when I saw these guys signing free agent starters was when I knew something was up. Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha, trading for Kyle Wright. With Brad Keller gone and Kris Bubic still out, they were making an effort to really boost the rotation, and it worked out. Lugo has been excellent so far this season, reaffirming the positive decision by his agent to sell him as a starter going into 2023. In 10 starts, he's 10-1 with a 1.79 ERA, some extremely dominant work that has not gone unnoticed. Thankfully Singer and Ragans have also been sharp, both with low ERAs and high strikeout totals. And Alec Marsh of all people has become a strong fifth starter, with a 4-1 record and a 2.72 ERA in 8 starts, made even more crucial by KC's inability to properly replace him in the rotation during his two missed starts. Wacha is currently the weak link but even he's still pretty good.

Then you see all those young players finally looking confident in that lineup. Massey, Pasquantino, Fermin, Maikel Garcia, Dairon Blanco, they're all doing great so far. And they're all rallying around Bobby Witt, who's had a huge start to the season already, and might be a favorite at shortstop once All Star Game voting begins next month. There's enough offensive production to keep them as favorites, and it's brought them within a game and a half of the Guardians for the division. Kansas City is the better power team, and has the better rotation, but Cleveland has better contact luck, and arguably more big stars. They're also better defensively, which may be the edge during future matchups. 

But at the moment, the Royals are feeling pretty great about themselves, and are looking like favorites in future series against the Rays and Twins. If they keep this going, who knows what they'll be able to accomplish later on.

Coming Tonight: So there's this, uh...this guy in Pittsburgh who throws a hundred miles an hour...

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Yankees v Mariners 5/22/24: Two for Twenty-Two

Whenever you go to see your favorite team in the middle of a really nice run, you have to hope for the best. The worst feeling is if they lose and you feel like you’re the jinx. The best is when everything seems to fall into place, the right people come through and it’s like there was nothing to worry about in the first place.

Last night in the Bronx, I experienced the latter feeling.

I’ll be frank with you all. You’re gonna see a few more Yankee Stadium write ups than usual this year. A friend of a friend had nice seats there, season tickets, and he insists on giving them away, and he insists that we don’t hold back for fear of taking too much. So we’re going to a few games this year. This one, though, was spur of the moment. ‘Hey, y’all free next Wednesday?’, something like that. And so we were, and thus we went.

These tickets included some time watching BP from right over the bullpen. Mostly we used that real estate to watch Nestor Cortes warm up. Dude looked sharp at 6:30, which never tells you everything but we were optimistic. I made sure to cheer Cortes on as he headed back to the bullpen, “you’re gonna be awesome.” And, by and large, he was.

This game, however, had relatively high stakes going in. This was game 3 against the Seattle Mariners, a team that’s leading the AL East for a reason, and that reason is starting pitching. The first two games went to the Ms, thanks to newly-christened Yankee killer Dylan Moore. This game had Bryce Miller on the mound. Miller has some really impressive stuff, even if he’s been unlucky recently. It looked like it’d be close, and a win would elevate us from the ‘only does well against sub-.500 teams’ thing that’s also chasing Philly.

The first inning set the tone for the game. Nestor Cortes let counts get full yet still left with two strikeouts and no runs. Anthony Volpe made his way on base, then Aaron Judge brought him home with an undeniable home run blast. Bryce Miller may be good, but he hadn’t met Aaron Judge in the midst of a hot streak yet.

This combination was enough for a while. Cortes would walk the occasional batter but nobody got home and people, especially Julio Rodriguez, kept striking out. The Ms were capable of some contact work, and every so often someone like Moore would do something, but Cortes didn’t let it get further than that. The only downside was he threw 90something pitches in only 4 innings, and if our bullpen wasn’t awesome that would be more worrying.

There were a few people I was excited to watch at this game. One of them was Tommy Kahnle, he just got activated the morning of the game, I thought it’d be nice if he showed up. He did, he kept the Ms quiet. I also wanted to see Alex Verdugo. First of all, just from how jazzed he is to hear the bleacher creatures calling his name at the top of the game, I like this guy. Really fun. He hit a homer as we were leaving that cracked the game open further.

But the #1 person I wanted to see play last night was #22, Juan Soto. And he made it a memorable one.

Inning three, a man on, Soto completely annihilated a ball, PULLED EVEN,over right. It was absolutely nuts. I dunno who was more excited, him or the crowd. Then in the sixth, essentially because he could, Soto hits another one out. This one was essentially a scorching liner with extra pop. Because he hit it so hard, it had no choice but to fly over the left field wall. This one was less of a pure power hit and more Soto just being that good.

So I got to see Juan Soto hit two homers for my first game since he joined the team. And what’s wild is that Judge hit a homer too, but it seems like an afterthought. Not that it didn’t matter, not that Judge is competing or anything. This was just Soto’s night. Judge, Cortes, Verdugo and Weaver definitely helped though.

And look, credit where credit’s due, the one crack in the armor was Cal Raleigh hitting one out after Michael Tonkin loaded the bases. But that’s bound to happen. Don’t put guys on when the only successful power hitter on the team is coming up! Weaver gave up the homer and the fans around us were like ‘we know it wasn’t your fault, Luke’.

By the way, whoever chose Dream Weaver as his warmup music? Gold star.

All in all a successful night at 161st. The people I hoped would show up certainly did, and so many aspects of this team are really impressing me right now. With the Rangers losing and my train back delayed til the end of time, it wasn’t a pristine night in New York, but the Yankees made me happy I made it out.

Next time I hit a game it’ll be a little closer to home. At this rate, though, I’ll get to see a truly great pitching matchup.

To Be Young at Heart


It felt like eternity waiting for the Nationals to go from plugging replacement players into big positions to actually trusting their young players to inherit the team. It was only like 3 years but it felt like way longer. 

And yes, the Nats still have some seat-filler guys around this roster, but A.) not as many, and B.) some of them are actually playing well. Jesse Winker, Trevor Williams and Ildemaro Vargas are among the best players on this team. Trevor Williams, who has not been this relevant since his Pirates years, is 4-0 with a 2.35 ERA. He's really earning his obligatory status as a starter here, unlike some Patrick Corbins on this team. Winker's one of the best producers on the team, even if he's not exactly at 2021 Reds levels. And Vargas is hitting .300 filling in at third, and...honestly, they'll take it I guess. Yes, there's still people like Joey Gallo, Eddie Rosario and Patrick Corbin who are being paid to eat shit out there, but that kind of player isn't overpopulating the team like it used to.

Look, the way I've weighed this team since like 2017 is 'how much of the weight is on Victor Robles'. When they relied on someone like Robles to be great, and he wasn't, the team struggled. Then in 2019 when the team was great, the pressure was off Robles and he was much better. But then people started leaving and Robles was now needed in a more permanent role, so he struggled again. Now that people like Jacob Young, C.J. Abrams, MacKenzie Gore and Keibert Ruiz are actually dominating this team, Robles can do his thing, hitting like .091 and taking up roster space, and it's not even that big of a deal anymore. Oh well. They can just cut him now. Wouldn't that be the biggest 'change of the guard' move? Robles, Carter Kieboom and Patrick Corbin all getting cut at some point this year?

Meanwhile, Jacob Young, a year after a rookie peek, is making a case for his legitimacy going forward in Washington. Already he's hitting .270 with 11 RBIs, 15 stolen bases and 31 hits. Young is a speedy, contact-friendly swiss army knife of an outfielder, and having a guy like him in addition to Abrams and Ruiz boosts the versatility of the lineup. Similarly, having Mitchell Parker showing up to the bigs ready to go also helped, as he's got a 3.32 ERA in his first 7 starts, with 32 Ks [for reference, Corbin has 29 Ks in 9 starts, what HAPPENED to this man?]. Jake Irvin is also a steady starting option right now, even if he's not as showy as someone like Gore. 

So there's just so much more homegrown or young stuff happening with this Nats team, and that does a lot to explain why they're in third place as the Mets and Marlins flounder. They're not the best, they're not over the top, they're just a steady, decent enough team who might not compete but aren't gonna lose 100 games. And considering where the Nats where just recently, that is some nice progress.

Coming Tonight: If any other team drafted this guy, he'd already be a veteran starter for 10 years by now. But as such, the Royals are getting a year like this now rather than the Mets getting 5 of them in his prime.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Pure Frosting


2018: There are good players on the Rays, but they're extremely under the radar, unconventional types.
2020: There's lots of great players on the Rays, and they've built an incredible team out of a lot of cool moves.
2022: There's great players on the Rays but a lot of them are traded away right before the Rays can actually pay them.
2024: There's some good players on the Rays, but you have to wade through a lot of mediocrity to get there.

Full circle. Welcome to the 2024 Rays, a team that desperately wants you to forget about the last 5 or 6 good Rays teams. Because this one's different and cheaper.

[And worse!]

There is literally only one person on the Rays right now who's doing everything he's supposed to, and it is Isaac Paredes. He's hitting .300, he's got 9 homers and 26 RBIs, he's a well rounded hitter who can succeed in many different roles for this team. That's...pretty much it. The guys who were great last year, like Yandy Diaz and Randy Arozarena, aren't great right now. Arozarena's not even hitting .200, even if his power numbers are fine. The one true ace on this team, Zach Eflin, just hit the IL and now they're left with people like Zach Littell and Tyler Alexander, both long-men who are starting due to lack of options, Aaron Civale and Taj Bradley, who just can't seem to get those ERAs down. The once strong bullpen is now a bunch of guys with a 4 ERA and a 32-year-old racist who's confused as to why nobody's happy he's doing well.

And look, there are a lot of great contact hitters on the Rays this year. Richie Palacios, Ben Rortvedt, Jose Caballero, even Harold Ramirez. But...I think about the degree of contact hitter this team used to have. Kevin Kiermaier, Austin Meadows, even peak Brandon Lowe. And these guys...aren't really there. Palacios is a handy guy to have around, he hits well, steals bases. Not exactly a very versatile, productive guy though. Same with Rortvedt. 23 hits, 8 RBIs. At least Zunino could produce. 

And so you're seeing why their year has been so even so far. They'll win some games, then somebody'll blank them, then they'll have another hot streak. Right now they're playing the Sox, who seem to have their number. There's really not much that's especially exciting about the Rays right now. Hell, even Tyler Alexander taking a no-no late wasn't very interesting. 

The thing about the AL East is that teams like this don't often see this as a hint to maybe ride it out and not compete. So the Rays might still inch themselves up and act like they're worth it this year. And something could still happen, but....unless a lot of things spring to life at once, this isn't the team at all.

Coming Tomorrow- A rookie for a team that wasn't exactly projected to be a third place team but, hey, it's an improvement. 

The Sho Must Go On


13 home runs, 33 RBIs, a .353 average, a 3.1 WAR, 67 hits and 11 steals. And the betting thing has quieted down. Hell of a recovery year for Shohei Ohtani.

The Dodgers signed Ohtani to this mega deal knowing he was still in his prime, and even if he left his prime years he'd still give them production, star power and effort. They figured there'd be huge years ahead when they signed him, and this is exactly the kind of stuff they were hoping for. Ohtani has been a big piece of the lineup, has given glorious power numbers, and joins Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in having more hits than games played. And it's gotta be so weird for Freddie Freeman to be hitting .298 with 29 RBIs and 13 doubles and not even be in the top three most crucial producers for this team.

So the topic is coming around now, 'hey, Ohtani's so good in the batter's box right now, so why even have him return to pitching next year?'. And uh...have you SEEN the Dodgers' pitching situation? They are SO lucky they've managed to get five working options right now, because for a while they were all dropping like flies. Gavin Stone and James Paxton have to be so relieved they're working out right now, because if not the Dodgers might be forced to start Ryan Yarbrough. Kershaw, Gonsolin, May and Miller are all out, and after this season Buehler, Paxton, Kershaw and possibly even May [I mean, I'd cut a guy that's never played a full season for me] will be gone. So just saying 'you know that really good pitcher you just signed for 10 years? Maybe he never has to pitch again' is the kind of nearsighted buffoonery that shouldn't be validated. Just put it in the corner with all the articles about how Trevor Bauer thinks he can strike out the Yankees or how bad umpiring is good actually.

Ohtani shouldn't be encouraged to stop pitching, at least not yet. If he's able to next year, he should take as many starts as he wants. Back in the day he'd take extra days between starts all the time. Angels promotions would be set up specifically to get people to Shohei starts, and then after the tickets had been sold they'd go 'heyyyy uhhhh so ABOUT THAT..'. The Dodgers don't have that issue, they can sell tickets. So even if Shohei isn't pitching, people will come to games. And I think once he gets back to the mound he'll win another MVP or two with the Dodgers, which I'M guessing they want. 

The Dodgers, even with some pitching woes, have become one of the best teams in baseball, and they've done so thanks to Shohei Ohtani not solely standing out but fitting in with the lineup and making an unstoppable tag team with Mookie Betts. So far, so good. Let's see how it goes as we get further in.

Coming Tonight: I'll be in the Bronx, but I'll be able to write up some counterprogramming on an AL East team that ISN'T all that it's cracked up to be.

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

The Rangers vs. A Ranger


It really says a lot when the defending World Series champions are looking like underdogs in a matchup against the Philadelphia Phillies. Forgetting that the Phils are good now, forgetting that the Rangers have a lot of's a very wild contrast to what went on last season.

The Rangers did have some moments of mediocrity throughout the 2023 season, but when they had momentum, they were unstoppable. There was that April-May run where they were scoring 10 runs every game, that was awesome. And they hit some serious momentum in October and rode that all the way to the end. But yeah, there were months where they really couldn't get much done, or jogged in place while the Astros or Mariners caught up. And that is where we find the Rangers now, a second-place team thanks to the unstoppable Mariners rotation, only 3 games ahead of the Astros, who've caught up because...I mean, of course they have, and are currently at .500 exactly. What's more, they're without Josh Jung, Cody Bradford, Nate Eovaldi, Wyatt Langford, Dane Dunning, Brock Burke, and, yes, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom

Also, anyone else like me and completely forgot the Rangers signed Tyler Mahle this offseason? Yeah, well he's hurt too but...y'know. He HAS been for a bit. 

The Rangers can make an entire rotation out of people that are injured right now, which is never a great sign. Usually somebody like the Yankees has that kind of luck, but right now it's the Rangers. And the Astros ironically, so it's nice that they're at least still better than the Astros right now, but the Rangers really need to hold on and prevent themselves from losing any more ground. 

Which is why it's kind of a bad sign that the narrative behind tonight's game in Philly is 'are the Rangers gonna get their asses handed to them by a guy named Ranger?'

In fairness, Ranger Suarez is one of the best pitchers in the NL right now, he's commanding the narrative anytime he pitches, any team he'd face wouldn't be the favorite. But a guy named Ranger is looking to strike out a bunch of Rangers tonight, and this incarnation of the team, without Jung, Langford or possibly Adolis Garcia, might let him. At the very least the Rangers have Jon Gray, one of the only pitchers who's managed to stay healthy AND keep pitching well, on the mound, so it should be tight, but...this is a depleted team facing a team that still has a lot of its best assets.

Still, Josh Smith at 3rd is proof that the Rangers are at least making do with what they've got. A return from New York in the Gallo trade, Smith came up months before Josh Jung, and was too okay to really keep the position. But thanks to Jung's injury, Smith has been the primary third baseman this year and he's been pretty great, hitting .284 with 18 RBIs and a team-leading 12 doubles. He's not the overwhelming star right now [that would be Marcus Semien] but he's a solid role player who can get a lot done, and in this interim the team needs guys like that.

It remains to be seen how mighty the defending champion Rangers will look after playing one of the best teams in baseball, but like last September I'll just hope the Astros go through hell as well.

Coming Tomorrow- 50 years after Tommy John gave a name to a surgery, someone who is having one of the best seasons of his career...while still technically recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Assad One Out


If it had just been Javier Assad and Jameson Taillon with ERAs under 2.50 by mid-May, that might be good enough for Cubs fans. Two unhittable pitchers, one who's come into his own in Chicago, the other who's only gotten better with more opportunities. That's fantastic. But...then they've got Shota Imanaga with a sub-1 ERA by mid-May, and that's something most Cubs fans didn't even know they wanted til earlier this year.

The Cubs' rotation this year has not been perfect. Justin Steele has been a bit rockier than usual coming back from an injury, and there is the worry that after pitching the best material of his career last year that he'll immediately need surgery. Ben Brown and Jordan Wicks haven't been THE answers that the club previously thought. Kyle Hendricks...I mean...look at 'im. What's going on there?? Something is clearly up. But Imanaga-Assad-Taillon has been fantastic, and it looks like Hayden Wesneski is finally fully MLB-ready and catching up in a longman/occasionally-fifth starter role. Considering we went from the ironclad 2016-2019 rotations to the starting options being 'Kyle Hendricks and whoever we can wrangle into one place for 30 seconds', this is some immense improvement, and it says a lot about how well the Cubs have been building themselves.

The most striking issue the Cubs have had in the last month has been injuries. You've already seen people like Cody Bellinger, Jameson Taillon and Justin Steele take IL stints and then come back, but we're just now losing Dansby Swanson, and the majority of the bullpen is on the IL. The Cubs have had to scramble for relief options, hence trading for Tyson Miller and doubling down on innings for Jose Cuas and Luke Little. They have so much roster space dedicated to injured relievers that they only have one active pitcher on the 40-man who's not up with the club. Michael Arias, who's up in double-A. And you know what? If this arrangement's working, then fine. But if one more reliever gets hurt, and your next best option is a 22-year old from the Smokies who hasn't even made it to Iowa yet, then you really need to work on putting together a package for Mason Miller or something.

There's still a lot about this team that works. Bellinger and Morel are RBI machines. PCA and Amaya are proof that the kids can take over. Busch and Tauchman have been nice surprises. And Hector Neris and Mark Leiter Jr. have been doing a lot to prove that problem was, in fact, the Phillies' bullpen coaches. This is a strong 2nd place Cubs team, and their more even May has been helped by the fact that the only NL Central team to really improve in the last few weeks has been the Pirates, helped by two Paul Skenes starts...against the Cubs.

The Cubs have a fair shot to compete in October this year, and hopefully the injury gods are a little kinder to them going forward. 

Coming Tonight- Josh Jung's out for a bit, and the next best option is someone who had been waiting for an opportunity to play everyday for the past 2 years. So, unsurprisingly, it's going well for him. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

The Tigers vs. Run Support


The Tigers have one of the best bullpens in baseball right now. A lot of people are surprised by this, I'm not, seeing as they were also very good last year. All of Jason Foley, Alex Faedo, Will Vest, Andrew Chafin, Tyler Holton and Joey Wentz are all playing extremely well and have low ERAs. Foley has been an excellent closing option, and has 10 saves already. Even Shelby Miller was able to nab 3 wins before getting hurt. 

Together, the Tigers' bullpen has been responsible for 14 wins. As opposed to the starting pitching, who are responsible for...9 wins. And 6 of them belong to Tarik Skubal.

So clearly, it seems like a tall order for Tigers hitters to get anything done while the starting pitcher's on the mound. Forget that the bulk of the lineup is made up of people like Javier Baez, Spencer Torkelson and Gio Urshela, guys who are extremely okay. There are some good hitters on this team, and many of them, including Kerry Carpenter, Riley Greene, Mark Canha and Wenceel Perez, have been extremely good lately. But I feel like they don't think to show up during the first 5 innings. 

I think about Reece Olson and Jack Flaherty, two of the best pitchers on the Tigers that aren't named Skubal. Olson has a 2.09 ERA in 8 starts, he's got a 0.993 WHIP, and he hasn't given up a home run yet. Reece Olson is currently 0-4. Because he only really goes 5 innings, and he hasn't pitched in a game yet where the Tigers have done anything to outscore the competitor indefinitely while he's been on the mound. Similarly, Jack Flaherty's having a comeback year in the sense that he's striking everybody out. He's got 72 Ks in 9 games, which means he's on pace for 256 Ks if he makes all his starts and doesn't slow down [which is a tall order for Flaherty honestly]. Flaherty is 1-3, so at least he has A win, but he's run into the same run support issues as Olson. It's the whole rest of the rotation, too; Matt Manning's 0-1, and Casey Mize, in the midst of a lower-velocity comeback campaign, is 1-2. Yet none of these guys are pitching badly, or really deserving losses. They just don't have enough great hitters to fall back on yet.

The reason the Mariners are a first place team is that, even is Luis Castillo or Bryce Miller gives up 2 or 3 runs, they at least have enough hitters right now to ensure that it's close, or that it's not completely on the pitcher to do all the work. Well in Detroit right now it kinda is, and I think they'd prefer it if it wasn't.

This is a better Tigers team than we've seen in the last 5 or so years, but you can see they're still not 100% where they should be, and it will take some better hitting performances from people [Torkelson, Baez, Colt Keith] who have been trusted to carry the weight. Or else Reese Olson's gonna vie for a Cy Young with a negative record, and he's no Jacob deGrom.

Coming Tomorrow- He's 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA and that's not even the highest bar in this rotation.