Marco’s Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2021: WHAT WE KNOW
WHAT WE KNOW AL EAST: It’s a Wild Card Goat Rope is what we know. I’m looking at the Almanac to figure out who plays the most games against the Orioles in the stretch and it’s the Red Sox, so they should probably win the first Wild Card. That leaves New York and Toronto to slug it out for the second Wild Card. Problem for the Red Sox is, New York and Toronto typically beat up on Baltimore. It’s like Foreman vs. Frazier. I mean, they can hardly wait to see the orange bird on those Baltimore jerseys.
Boston seems to struggle against the Birds, both the Orioles and the Jays. They also struggle against the Yankees and they can’t handle the Rays at all, so expect Boston to fold under the pressure and finish out of the money.
But of course, Boston has already gone through a Covid crisis and lost twelve players or more for a week each. Builds character. Both the Yanks and the Jays had Covid issues earlier. The Jays seem to have the spark, though, and a healthy young glow, so I pick them.
WHAT WE KNOW: the Yankees are streaky. They won 13 in a row in August and then went 5-11!
WHAT WE ALSO KNOW: The Yanks have so many big guys...Stanton, Judge, Gallo, Rizzo, LeMahieu, Sanchez, Voit...but if it comes down to a clutch moment you know who will be coming to bat? Brett Gardner...every time. And he comes through, too.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW BUT MOST CERTAINLY SUSPECT: It doesn’t matter who wins the Wild Card, Tampa Bay will smoke them in the divisional.
WHAT WE KNOW A.L. CENTRAL: It’s a tip toe through the tulips for the Chicago South Siders...the Pale Hose...the Tony LaRussa-rarians. The Hosers have acquitted themselves well this season, weathering the loss of several key players and still cakewalking into a division crown. But can they rally to the pressure of the playoffs and do some damage?
I love the White Stockings. They are one of the only teams that has enough starting pitching to challenge the Rays in that department. But I don’t think they’ll get past the battle-tested Houston Astros.
WHAT WE KNOW A.L. WEST: Houston’s offense is fairly awesome. And they play like they want to hurt somebody. Being reviled by the rest of baseball is obviously good for their concentration. The ‘Stros are counting scalps right now. I don’t see this slowing down in the playoffs, either. Houston’s pitching has to hold up, but they are the best bet against the Rays.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT SHOHEI OHTANI: Without Trout and Rendon, Ohtani has been without any protection the whole second half. The league is not pitching to him. He takes walks like a good player should, but he strikes out too much trying to hit bad pitches out of the park to please us. What a player... in a bad predicament.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE MVP: A.L. MVP is Shohei Ohtani. If Ernie Banks can win two MVPs on a losing team, so can Showtime. Second place is Salvador Perez of the Royals...where would they be without him? A new record for catcher home runs? From the top defensive catcher in the league? Forget-about-it! Vlad Guerrero Jr. would win it any other year but he finishes third if people can calculate the value of an ace pitcher and home run leader IN ONE PLAYER like Ohtani. Or a great defensive catcher who rakes like Sal. My hat is off to all three of these remarkable players. Well done, gentlemen!
WHAT WE EXPECT TO TRANSPIRE: Toronto wins the first wild card and defeats the Yankees at home in the play-in game, but uses up their ace Robbie Ray. Tampa makes short work of the Canadians in the division five-gamer.
Houston bludgeons the White Sox in the divisional, then gets sliced and diced by the Rays in a repeat of last year. Rays go to the Series.
WHAT WE KNOW N.L. EAST: The Mets are going to put you through a Circus of Pain. Their latest caper is for Lindor and Baez to play like helpless zombies for weeks...for the whole season in Lindor’s case...and then when the fans boo them...as they must in Queens...make rude gestures to the stands.
So Baez doesn’t care because he’s only signed for the rest of this season. Lindor, though, signed on for, what was it, ten years for $341 million? It was a mistake on the Mets’ part, whatever it was. No matter how good a shortstop Francisco is...and he is one of the very best defensively...this was a rash move. You can’t expect Lindor to hit home runs in Citi Field like he hit them in the A.L. in Cleveland. The ball park at Citi is just not that conducive. And Lindor is not a high average hitter. I expect him to hit around .260 with 20 dings and 80 rbis regularly. He is not Mookie Betts at the plate.
So now all the Mets fans are furious at him for failing to produce offensively and seeming to not care very much about it. Great...the Face of the Mets is now in an adversarial relatonship with the city of New York. For the next ten years?
Two words for the Mets front office: Miguel Cabrera. He was worth the money for the first six years of his gigasmic contract but since then it’s been a pain fest. Albert Pujols? He was already a Hall of Famer before he got to the Angels. It’s all been downhill from there. The new law of front office baseball is NO LONG TERM CONTRACTS. The Mets should have known that Lindor had peaked before he even came to New York. They couldn’t remember what happened with Robbie Cano? The Padres gave Tatis the giant contract but he was a rookie of 21 when they signed him up. Lindor is 27. And Lindor can’t hit like Cabrera. He can’t hit like Pujols. He can’t hit like Tatis. Right now he has 17 homers and a .228 average.
But then a funny thing happens. In the midst of the hate-fest controversary, the Mets suddenly wake up and start playing hard. They still lose one run games with alarming frequency and won’t make the playoffs regardless, but they look like a team again, at least. And who were the obvious leaders in this resurgence? Baez and Lindor of course. Lindor even had a three-homer game the other day. All is forgiven. These guys , in the best of all possible baseball worlds, would be the next classic keystone combo. Make everybody forget the Tiger Twins Trammel and Whitaker and play together into a happy old age.
What can you say? It’s the Mets!
WHAT WE KNOW BUT ARE REALLY ONLY GUESSING: The Atlanta Braves are the favorites to win the East?? Maybe?? They’ve shown some spunk rebuilding their offense with Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler, but the real change is Austin Riley providing power behind Freeman after they lost Marcel Ozuna to injury and marital assault and Acuna Jr. to a knee. They also got good years from Dansby Swanson (26 homers) and Ozzie Albeis (28 homers). Their starters are at least four deep and that may be enough to carry them home because…
...the Phillies tried to put on a rush but gagged in the turn. If Wheeler hadn’t gotten hurt, if Arrieta hadn’t lost it, if Nola was more consistent...alas, none of that happened and I think the Phils have settled into the position they have earned ...second in the East. Bryce Harper and Jean Segura had good years and should be acknowledged.
WHAT WE KNOW N.L. CENTRAL: Christian Yelich won the MVP in 2018 and finished second in 2019. Who won it in 2019? Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers. Since then, both of these dynamic, multi-talented superstars have practically disappeared. I’ll get to Cody in a minute.
Yelich has a history of back trouble. It’s very hard to play baseball with a bad back. In his 2019 season, Christian hit .329 (tops in the league) with 44 taters, 30 steals and an OPS of 1.100. One of the best seasons of all time, in fact...and that’s after his MVP season of 2018. In 2019 Yelich struck out 118 times in 580 plate appearances. This year he’s struck out 106 times in 419 PA’s. He’s hit 8 homers and is batting .249 with an OPS of .734. I hope he comes back strong and I hope he has a good playoff run this year, because the Brew crew is...well, cruising.
Everything changed for the Crew when they traded to Tampa for Willie Adames. Once they had Willie at shortstop it gave them an up-the-middle of Omar Narvaez at catcher, Adames at short, Kolton Wong at second and Jackie Bradley (with platooner Lorenzo Cain) in center. All of those guys are Gold Glovers or Gold Glove threats. This focus on defense (and at least four of those guys can hit) backed up by their very strong pitching staff has made the Brewers big winners this year. Burns, Woodruff, Houser and Peralta with Hader and company in the pen. They’ve opened some eyes in the National League.
WHAT WE KNOW: The Reds are even streakier than the Yankees. For one shining moment in July, Joey Votto ruled the world. Nine homers in 7 games? Am I counting right? Talk about carrying a team! But comes the sober dawn and Joey is a mortal once more. I’m not sure what’s missing for this team. They hit plenty and they have several stud pitchers. They just never seem to put it together at one time. Unless they get on another hot streak they don’t make the playoffs.
WHAT WE KNOW...THE CARDINALS ALWAYS SHOW UP: Sooner or later, you have to deal with the St. Louis club. They have that certain something...True Grit or something. They start channeling the Gas House Gang of 1934. Yadier Molina starts beating up the rookie pitchers who dare talk back to him. (Adam Wainwright always has Yadi’s back of course.) Nolan Arenado goes deep a few more times and Goldie starts bashing. The ghost of Dizzy Dean appears in the clubhouse and yells out: “HE SLUD INTO THIRD!!!”
If the Cards are going to contend for the second wild card we’ll know in a week, after they play the Padres and the Brewers back to back. Should be some good baseball. I wouldn’t advise the Milwaukee club to rest their regulars yet. They might load up to try to eliminate the Cardinals if they are smart. Drive a stake through their heart, because St. Looey keeps comin’.
WHAT WE KNOW N.L.WEST IS BEST: All season it’s been the same...the West rules the National League. We all know this. So why are we even playing these games? Because the Dodgers...by far the strongest team on paper going into the stretch...have not been able to put away the Giants and win their tenth title in a row. They are only a game and a half back but they are facing a Wild Card Play In game against San Diego or St. Louis or Cincinnati or somebody like that. And who knows...Joe Musgrove might throw another no hitter in that game and the Padres could advance. Maybe Adam Wainwright and Yadi Molina can pull a rabbit out of the hat and beat L.A. One game playoffs are a crap shoot.
In a seven game series, the Dodgers are really, really hard to beat because they have such good starting pitchers and so many more of them than anybody else. The Padres have an injured Blake Snell and a curiously ineffective Yu Darvish backing up Musgrove. The St. Louis Cards have Wainwright and some spare change.
But the Dodgers have been dealt a Cool Hand, so I expect them to finally “get mad at them damn eggs” and send the rest of the N.L. into the Sweat Box for the next two weeks. They need to spring this joint. After a season of failing to communicate (Trevor Bauer...Where Are You Now?) the Boys in Blue need to steal the truck and put some pepper out for the bloodhounds.
WHAT WE KNOW: The L.A. Dodgers once had a wunderkind in their outfield. His stats in 2019? .305/ 47 home runs/115 rbi’s/ OPS 1.035. He was the MVP. Yep...I mean Cody Bellinger.
Cody has been exceptionally streaky...probably because of his all or nothing lefthanded power swing and his obstinate insistence on TRYING TO PULL glorious bombs into the right field seats all the time. This year Cody hurt and then retweaked his left hammie after suffering a hairline fracture in that leg. He also had shoulder surgery to fix a dislocated socket that he aggravated in the 2020 World Series when he got a brutal high five from his congratulating teammate after hitting a dinger. His timing got off. His swing got off. He changed his stance. He changed it again. Now he’s hitting .161 with an OPS of .536. 9 homers and 86 Ks in 333 plate apearances. Just about the worst stats in baseball for a big star.
I think the Dodgers better look for another hitting coach who can communicate with him.
WHAT WE KNOW: The San Francisco Giants are playing Throwback Ball. Today’s game is dominated by young, fast, power hitters and pitchers who are making their mark at 21,22 years of age. Not the Grizzled Vets of the City by the Bay. They should change their team mascot name to the O.G.R.E.S...(Old Guys Roaming Everywhere, Sonny.)
This season the Giants started quickly and then got better and better. We were waiting for the breakdowns and injuries to occur, and they did. But when the Giants lost a Vet they had another one step up. Donovan Solano goes down, Tommy LaStella comes up. Wilmer Flores plays all over. Longoria gets damaged so they trade for Kris Bryant. Still, at any given time of the season, the Giants would likely have at least 7 guys over 30 in the everyday line up. Everybody contributes on this team. They’ll have 15 players with over 200 at bats by season’s end. The main constants? Buster Posey (34)...the leader...having a terrific year after taking 2020 off for Covid. And Brandon Crawford...a criminally overlooked shortstop who scrapped his way through his very best season at age 34. Props to 33 year old first baseman Brandon Belt also.
The Ogres are for real. I expect them to fight like hell for the pennant, but if the Dodgers catch them, to go out and win the Play In with Gausman pitching in the must-win game. Then we’d surely get what we haven’t had in many a long year...a playoff series between the ancient enemies...the Giants and Dodgers.
Willie and Sandy will be there, I’m sure.