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2018 Mathematical Eliminatory

Discussion in 'MLB Discussion' started by cannonball 1729, Aug 21, 2018.

  1. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    2,527
    For yet another year, it's time to mourn/celebrate/ridicule the fallen. Yet again, I'm never quite sure whether my September schedule will allow me to finish this thread, but there's no harm in at least getting things started:

    [​IMG]



    As a great purveyor of insurance once noted, life comes at you fast. Just two years ago, the Orioles were inventing new ways to save closers for imaginary playoff games. Now, they’re among the worst teams in baseball; in fact, they’re among the worst teams in baseball history.

    It’s hard to understate how little has gone right for the Orioles. There have been young faces of the franchise taking major steps back (Trey Mancini, Jonathan Schoop), stars and stalwarts on the wrong side of their career (Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo), substitutes proving that their time hasn’t arrived (Chance Sisco) or never will (Caleb Joseph, Tim Beckham), and offseason free agent deals flaming out prodigiously (Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb). There’s a whole rotation of sub-90 ERA+ pitchers in Baltimore (they did have one guy with a 95 ERA+, but he plays for Atlanta now), a lineup featuring four sub-80 OPS+es (including three sub 70’s), and an overtaxed bullpen that leads the league in runs allowed per game.

    And then there’s the whole Chris Davis experience. Simply saying that Davis is on pace for the worst batting average in history doesn’t really do justice to the horror that has been Davis’ 2018 season or his descent from a three-true-outcomes hitter to a one-true-outcome hitter. In the last two months (since June 27), Davis has hit .191/.267/.414…and those two months have been, by far, the best two months of his season. Before that, Chris was slugging .236 and had scored exactly 11 runs. So lost was Davis at the plate that in June, a bar just outside of Baltimore started giving out free shots every time Davis got a hit; by that point in the season, Davis had only gotten about 30 hits, so it wasn’t really costing them anything. Not to worry, though….the O’s only owe Mr. Davis $92 million over the next four years!

    Anyway, given the state of the team, the Orioles did the only thing they could really think to do – they sold off everything that had value. (Or tried to, anyway – Adam Jones exercised his 10/5 rights and refused to leave the Orioles.) Manny Machado, the lone bright spot in the lineup, was sent to the Dodgers; Jonathan Schoop went to Milwaukee; Brad Brach, Kevin Gaussman, and Darren O’Day went to Atlanta; and Zach Britton went to the Yankees. What’s left now is a team with no stars, a lagging (but hopefully remade) farm, several terrible contracts, and a certified whiff machine at first base. In short, it’s a team that’s record-setting levels of bad. As of now, it looks like the Orioles are unlikely to catch the ’62 Mets record for losses, but Baltimore’s Aug. 10 elimination from the division was the earliest such elimination in the division era, and it tied the ’62 Mets and ’32 Sox for the earliest elimination from some sort of playoff position. They’ve still got an outside chance at setting the all-time games back record (the modern one – they’re not touching the 1899 Cleveland Spiders), so at least there’s some reason to pay attention to the Orioles. However, there’s an awfully long road back to contention in Baltimore, and the guy in charge doesn’t exactly have a sterling track record of building up a farm system.

    The O’s last made the playoffs in 2016. Their last title was in 1983.
     
  2. E5 Yaz

    E5 Yaz Transcends message boarding Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    The new phone books are here!
    The new phone books are here!
     
  3. santadevil

    santadevil Well-Known Member Silver Supporter SoSH Member

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    One of my favorite threads of the year. I always look forward to CB's writeups on each team

    This Orioles team looks terrible and shall be for a long time
     
    #3 santadevil, Aug 21, 2018
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2018
  4. Green (Tongued) Monster

    Green (Tongued) Monster lurker

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    570
    Maybe it's the start of one of the best annual threads. Maybe it's because it was the Orioles. But that first post absolutely made my day. Well done sir.

    At the time of this post, Chris Davis is 0-3 with 3 K's, lowering his average to .164 on the season. I cannot stop staring at his fangraphs page. This makes me giddy.

    Edit: 0-4 with 4 K's, .163!
     
  5. LogansDad

    LogansDad Member SoSH Member

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    17,017
    YES!!!! It's about time!
     
  6. dcmissle

    dcmissle Deflatigator Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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    27,109
  7. uilnslcoap

    uilnslcoap Member SoSH Member

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    1,543
    It's the moooooooost wonderful time of the yeeeeeeeeear!
     
  8. HowBoutDemSox

    HowBoutDemSox Member SoSH Member

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    I believe the Royals are mathematically out now as well, I wonder what the earliest the second team to get eliminated in a league is.
     
  9. ookami7m

    ookami7m Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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  10. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Indeed - the Royals are toast:

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    There’s an old Seinfeld bit where he describes the difference between restaurant patrons at the beginning of a meal (Drinks! Appetizers! This shall be the greatest meal of our lives!) and the end of a meal when the check arrives (How could this be? Does this look right to you?).

    If there’s any fanbase who understands that bit, it’s that of the Kansas City Royals. Having feasted upon back-to-back pennants and a World Series trophy, the Royals are now staring at the bill for their recent run of success. The core of young players have reached free agency and, in many cases, left the team (Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain); the upper levels of the farm have been ravaged by trades, win-now moves, and a lack of high/good draft picks; and the backloaded contracts of the star players have put the Royals in a no-spend situation. There’s not a whole lot of talent on the team, and there’s little help on the way. 2014 was a magical run, and 2015 played out as the victory lap, but in 2018, the cupboard is bare, the belts are ill-fitting, and the patrons are staring at the bill in a bit of disbelief.

    The problem, though, isn’t just that the Royals’ recent success took a toll; it’s that they doubled down with long contracts for non-elite (or in some cases, non-good) players in hopes of extending the window by a year or two. Currently, Kansas City has Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, and Danny Duffy at a combined cost of $50 million; for that price, they have a .239/.322/.349 hitter and two pitchers with ERA’s around 5. Next year, in addition to having all of those players at similar rates, the fading Salvador Perez will have his deal bump up over $11 million a year, which means that they already have over $60 million on the books for four players who are better-than-average bets to be, well, worse than average. With statements from Dayton Moore that the payroll will “regress,” the Royals have painted themselves into a bit of a corner at the big league level.

    Moreover, the Royals recent draft record has been spotty. Apart from 2013 first-rounder Sean Manea (who was traded to the A’s for a Ben Zobrist rental before ever getting a chance to appear in KC), the Royals have so far gotten less than two wins out of every draft class since 2011. Moreover, Kansas City has had four top-ten draft picks this decade, and they used them to pick Christian Colon (#4 pick), Kyle Zimmer (#5), Bubba Starling (#5), and Hunter Dozier (#8); of the four, one is injured (Zimmer), one is languishing in the minors (Starling), one was waived (Colon), and one is inflicting sub-replacement play on the big-league club (Dozier). Unsurprisingly, then, the Royals system is not good; coming into the season, Bleacher Report had the KC system ranked dead last, and while trades and drafts have bumped that ranking up slightly, the Royals are still a long way from having a farm that can actually supply major league talent to a major league roster.

    Whatever the reasons, the Royals are now a bad team with little prospect of being better in the immediate future. They lack good players, and they tapped out every resource they had in their quest for a world title. Of course, you would be hard-pressed to find Royals fans who think the price wasn't worth the enjoyment - for a fanbase who hadn't seen a home playoff game since A-Ha's last Grammy nomination, the 2014-2015 run was a whole lot of fun, and we all know that flags fly forever....
     
    #10 cannonball 1729, Aug 24, 2018
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2018
  11. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Slowly getting caught up - Wednesday night, we added

    [​IMG]

    The Padres may not be any better than last year, but at least they’ve toned down the soap opera.

    You might remember that last year, the Padres fired President/CEO Mike Dee, who was responsible for a cavalcade of bizarre incidents and unfortunate decisions. Dee was not particularly beloved in San Diego, of course, but he also wasn’t particularly well-liked around the league, either, especially as he was the man in charge while A.J. Preller was circulating fake medical reports to potential trade partners. As such, there were few either inside or outside of San Diego who were sad to see Dee leave.

    Instead of hiring a new president, executive chairman Ron Fowler took over many of the duties himself and gave the rest to incoming COO Erik Greupner. While Fowler’s reputation in San Diego is mixed (his teams haven’t been great under his ownership, after all), his reputation in baseball circles is bulletproof; he was known as Rob Manfred’s right-hand man in the last round of labor negotiations - perhaps the key reason that the agreement was reached in the first place, as well as the impetus behind the new CBA rules that gave the luxury tax actual teeth.

    (For those who miss Mike Dee’s stupid antics, however, don’t worry! Since leaving the Padres for radio management, Dee has managed to turn the Padres’ flagship radio station, 97.3, into a complete tire fire. He began the year by hiring a shock jock who managed to get himself fired before his show ever aired, leading to a frantic rebranding from the general 97.3 The Machine to the sports-centric 97.3 The Fan. If you might think that an all-sports station might be a bad idea in a city that already has two all-sports stations despite having just one professional sports team, well, hang on, because it gets worse: Dee went ahead a hired a lunkhead former linebacker who had been twice been fired for controversial comments to host the morning show….and that show currently has a 0.0 Nielsen rating among men aged 25-54.)

    The bad news is that while removing the excitement off the field was probably a good idea…off-field excitement has generally been the only excitement that the Padres have had. Ever since their end-of-the-season collapse in 2010, the Padres have been a model of subpar consistency; in the seasons from 2011-2017, the Padres won 71, 76, 77, 77, 74, 68, and 71 games. (For the statistics-heads among you, the Padres’ wins-per-season has had the least variance of any team in baseball over that stretch.) If there’s anything new this season, it’s only that the Padres are slightly worse than usual, as their .390 pace puts them on pace for a decade-low 63 wins.

    After their incredibly ill-conceived GFIN year in 2015 in which they emptied the minors, the Padres have spent the last three years restocking the minors, with predictable effects on both the minor and major league teams. Their MLB batting lines, generally meager to begin with thanks to their gigantic park, now look downright sad thanks to their league-last OPS+; their pitching, meanwhile, has posted the fourth-worst ERA in the NL despite playing in said huge park. Their “ace” has a 5.33 ERA and is currently on the 60-day DL; their second starter was DFA’d in August; their starting third baseman (and one of their few decent hitters) has a broken finger. San Diego started the season by losing their first four games, and apart from one decent 19-13 stretch in May and June, most of the rest of the season has been just as uninspired. So desperate for fans are the Padres that in August (for the second year in a row), the Padres introduced their “five-win pass,” which allowed fans to purchase (for $99) a pass that would allow them to come to any and every game until they had seen the Padres win five home games; this promotion, of course, was particularly ironic because the Pads won exactly five games in July.

    The immediate future likely brings more of the same. In 2019, the Padres’ outstanding farm system will start populating the big league team’s roster, filling at least a few of the many, many holes on the parent club. Just like this year, the development of the young Padres will be covered in breathless detail by far too many San Diego sports networks, and just like this year, people will fail to tune in in droves…

    The Padres last made the playoffs in 2006, though they lost a one-game playoff in 2007. They have never won a title.

    [​IMG]

    SLAM! That sound you hear is the Rangers’ window closing with great force. After a walk-off fielder’s choice pushed the Rangers out of the playoffs in 2016, the Rangers spent 2017 trying to expand the window (which might have worked but for the second-half collapse), then spent 2018 with one more last-gasp attempt to make the playoffs with the current core. Though results were mixed last year, the verdict this year was unequivocal: the run is officially over.

    And what a run it was! It began in the late 2000’s when a new ownership group took over the Rangers and started trying to figure out how not to break pitchers, even going so far to install Nolan Ryan as team president. It crested in 2011 with the Rangers just one strike away from a championship (twice!), took a bit of a hiatus after an almost-collapse in 2012, and then resurged after Nolan Ryan and Ron Washington left in 2013 and 2014, respectively. For a franchise who had won exactly one playoff game in its entire history before the current GM arrived, this was truly the golden era of Rangers’ baseball, and it included two pennants, four division titles, one wildcard appearance, one of the craziest innings in postseason history (the Joey Batflip inning), and one of the most crushing defeats in World Series history (2011).

    This year, the plan (well, hope) was that the Rangers’s young offense could spark the team and the pitching would be competent enough to hold the fort down while the offense did their thing. If Adrian Beltre could put together a relatively healthy campaign at third base, if young sluggers like Joey Gallo, Rougie Odor, and Nomar Mazara could put up breakout campaigns, if Cole Hamels could be an ace, and if any of Yovani Gallardo, Matt Moore, Martin Perez, or Bartolo Colon could do reasonable impressions of starting pitchers, the Rangers figured that they had a chance of at least a wildcard berth. It wasn’t the greatest strategy for a winning season, but it was one that allowed for the possibility of winning now without sacrificing the long term goal of developing the next generation of hitting.

    What happened instead was none of those things. On the pitching side, none of the starters have panned out. Cole Hamels completely forgot how to be an ace, although he seemed to remember as soon as he was traded to Chicago. Yovani Gallardo and Matt Moore have pitched like they did last year, which was not good, while Bartolo Colon has pitched like he is 45. Martin Perez’s season was understandably hampered a bit when he was gored by a bull. (But don’t worry – he killed and ate the bull.) While the Rangers’ pitching staff has had decent numbers, that’s mostly been buoyed by the bullpen, as the starters are second-to-last in runs-per-game allowed and last in average game score.

    The bigger concern was what happened to the young hitters. The bats have been ravaged by injuries, not just to Adrian Beltre (which wasn’t really a surprise, since he’s 39), but also to Odor, Elvis Andrus, Other Nomar, and Ronald Guzman. What’s more, the remaining healthy players have spent the whole year demonstrating what old-player skills look like if you remove the power; the Rangers are second in the league in both walks and strikeouts and tied for second-to-last in batting average. Texas currently has five players with 100+ strikeouts – with a sixth just four strikeouts away – and the highest batting average on the team is .275. Now, there’s nothing wrong with high strikeouts and low BA on its own, but it had better come with a lot of power, and the Rangers are middle-of-the-pack on that score. The team is generally still young (half of the lineup is under 26), so there’s time to turn things around, but they’re not going to win a whole lot of games with a bunch of batters who play like powerless old people.

    Unlike most rebuilding teams, the Rangers already had their young nucleus on the field before the old nucleus left, so the restocking process should be much shorter than one would expect for a rebuilding team. In the meantime, there’s always the DVD’s from the ’11 World Series, although they might want to skip that ending of game 6…

    The Rangers have never won a title.
     
    #11 cannonball 1729, Sep 7, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
  12. John Marzano Olympic Hero

    John Marzano Olympic Hero has fancy plans, and pants to match Dope

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    19,789
    I was on vacation when this first came out and didn't see it until now. I feel like a little Italian boy on Epiphany! Look at all the gifts I get to open!
     
  13. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    And last night, we added two more:
    [​IMG]

    It’s probably never a good sign for a team’s fortunes when all of the preseason talk surrounding the ballclub is about the minor league system and the youth of the ballclub, but such is the case with the White Sox. Ever since Rick Hahn officially launched the rebuilding project with the trade of Chris Sale, the Pale Hose have been in “win later, tank now” mode, and it looks like they might finally be getting close to the part where “later” becomes “later, but slightly less later.”

    Building the farm is a new idea for the South Siders, who haven’t had a whole lot of success with the whole farm system concept recently. The White Sox did draft Sale and Carlos Rondon, and they picked up Abreu as a Cuban free agent, but they’ve done little else in recent years. To wit: the last position player the White Sox drafted who actually gave the Sox 10 WAR was….Aaron Rowand, who retired from baseball seven years ago. Given the draft futility, it’s not surprising that Hahn had a whole lot of work to do when he took over, and he decided to restock the farm in the most obvious way possible: by trading away any and all functional major leaguers. The system now appears stocked (most periodicals have it ranked somewhere around #1), and although much of the talent is still in the lower levels of the minors, White Sox fans can now get at least a glimpse of what the future might hold.

    The bad news is that while the farm looks deep and talented….early returns have not been good. Apart from a relatively decent August and a couple of isolated win streaks that seemed to correspond to series against the Royals, the White Sox have been consistently bad all season. Yoan Moncada, the prize from the Sale sale, has struck out 191 times this year, and he’s spent the season locked in a battle with Mario Mendoza and his legendary line - Moncada currently leads that struggle by just 22 points. Avisail Garcia, the centerpiece of the Jake Peavy trade, has had an injury-riddled 2018 after his breakout last year. The three promising young starters (Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carson Fulmer) have delivered little; Fulmer was demoted to Charlotte after posting an 8.07 ERA, Giolito has an ERA north of 6, and Lopez fell apart somewhere around Memorial Day and has posted a 6 ERA ever since. The awful bullpen has driven rookie manager Rick Renteria to overuse his starters; despite a bottom-five-in-the-AL rotation, the White Sox have averaged the third-most pitches per start in the AL, and they’ve led the league in runners bequeathed to relievers. Even Jose Abreu, the mainstay at the center of the lineup, had a pedestrian first half, and just as he was turning things around in the second half, he went on the shelf with a groin injury and is now out indefinitely. Rodon has turned into the pitcher that the White Sox wanted (injuries aside), and Rule 5 steal Omar Navarez appears to have turned into a formidable offensive catcher, but other than him, there’s been little to cheer at Guaranteed Rate Field.

    Undoubtedly, the Sox are in a better position than they were a year ago; after all, a #1 farm system is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But potential is still the dirtiest of words, and while new assistant GM/former farm director Chris Getz deserves a whole lot of credit for turning things around, it remains to be seen if the White Sox can turn potential into wins. These aren’t the best of times to be a White Sox fan – while their brothers and sisters on the North Side are celebrating once-in-100-years successes, they’re stuck in the most unfortunately-named park in the bigs wondering when “then” becomes “now.”

    The White Sox last made the playoffs in 2008. Their last title was in 2005.

    [​IMG]


    It takes a special kind of division where a team in the midst of tanking can still be in a spirited battle for third place because two other teams are attempting to out-tank them, but such is life for the Tigers.

    You might remember the 2017 Tigers as the team that traded Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, AND JD Martinez in their quest to get rid of anyone and anything that wouldn’t help them compete for a World Series title in 2022. Sadly, the Tigers probably began their rebuild about a year too late, or else they could have gotten something for Miguel Cabrera (and probably could have gotten more for Justin Verlander, who had been in decline for a couple of years before the Houston trade). Regardless, by last July, GM Al Avila had finally seen the light, and the “everything must go” sale at Tiger Mart had begun in earnest. By the end of 2017, the Tigers have traded the players above plus Alex Wilson, Cameron Maybin, Ian Kinsler, and Alex Avila for youth and salary relief.

    What’s left of the Tigers now is a team that absolutely, positively, cannot hit. Detroit is, by most metrics, the worst-hitting team in the American League; they’re last in both OBP and SLG (despite playing in a slight hitters’ park), and their league-lagging 86 OPS+ is three points clear of the second-worst AL team. They’ve had a lack of contribution from all around the diamond, with exactly one regular posting an OPS+ above 100. There are several veterans, presumably keystones of the franchise, whose bats have simply collapsed, including Jose Iglesias, who stopped hitting three years ago, and James McCann, who proved that his 2017 leap forward into mediocrity was illusory. There’s 39-year-old DH Victor Martinez, who has had a long and storied career....but 27 extra-base hits and 31 runs scored isn’t exactly what you’re looking for from a full-time DH (especially when you add in the 17 GIDP). The Tigers’ Opening Day second baseman was DFA’d by July 4, and the Tigers are currently rolling out a lineup featuring a CF with a 32 OPS+. The pitching has been surprisingly decent (despite ace-of-the-future Michael Fullmer’s step backward), as Jordan Zimmerman has gone from “total black hole” to “decent, but still not worth $25 million a year,” reclamation project Mike Fiers pitched so well that a good team actually wanted him, and Matthew Boyd has turned into a competent #3 starter…but the bats have been so bad that even the ’73 Orioles’ staff couldn’t have bailed them out.

    So how, you might ask, does a bad team that trades away all of its stars vault all the way from a last-in-the-AL finish to a battle for third in the Central? The answer, of course, is that other teams in the AL have gotten much worse. The Tigers currently have a winning record against just three teams, and all of those teams are absolutely horrible – there’s the equally terrible White Sox, the fading Jays, and, of course, the record-settingly bad Orioles. Amusingly, the Tigers are roughly on pace for the same mid-60’s win season that put them in last place last year – but the competition for last place is far more intense now than it was a year ago.

    The next couple of years look to be more of the same for the Tigers. Detroit is looking at three to five more years until contention, and while their farm system is much improved from the wasteland that Dombrowski left behind, most the big pieces are still several levels away. Between now and contention, the Tigers still have a few more years to spend in the cellar; the good news is that they won't be alone, as the White Sox and Royals will be around to keep them company.

    The Tigers last made the playoffs in 2014. Their last title was in 1984.
     
    #13 cannonball 1729, Sep 7, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2018
  14. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Welcome home! And welcome back to the eliminatory.
     
  15. EdRalphRomero

    EdRalphRomero wooderson SoSH Member

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  16. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    In an attempt to get caught up from the weekend (and with a nod to our friends over at Jays in the House), here's the next round of eliminants:

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    Most of the time, when a new ownership arrives, there’s a honeymoon period. The new owners talk about “doing things the right way” and use well-worn yet still effective corporate-speak phrases like “fan-focused experience.” The fans, meanwhile, have been beaten down by whatever caused the last ownership to sell in the first place and hence willing to give the new guys a chance.

    Now, that’s how it usually works. But then….there’s the Jeter-led Marlins. Somehow, the Jeter group managed to squash any thought of a honeymoon period before fans had even considered the option. Before the sale of the Marlins was even finalized, fans were already hearing rumblings that the new ownership planned to cut the current payroll number in half. Then, once the deal became official, Jeter decided to celebrate by firing Marlin mainstays Jack McKeon, Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, and Billy the Marlin. (Of course, Jeter didn’t do this himself – he made outgoing president David Sampson do it.) Following the predictable fan outcry, Jeter offered to bring back McKeon, Conine, and Dawson, but in lesser roles and at lesser pay; naturally, all three declined.

    After gutting the front office, Jeter and his compatriots turned their attention to gutting their 77-win team, beginning with the shopping of reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. Of course, Stanton wasn’t really interested in leaving (having just signed a major contract in hopes that he could build something in Miami) and blocked trades to most teams, but Jeter nevertheless decided to play his lesser hand and dealt the MVP to his (Jeter’s) previous employer for Starlin Castro and two young prospects who had not yet played full-season pro ball. Jeter followed that up by dealing Christian Yellich for four baby Brewers, Marcell Ozuna for a couple of kiddie Cardinals, and Dee Gordon for cash. The yields weren’t exactly overwhelming, given that the Marlins are still a bottom ten farm, but they cut the payroll significantly, ostensibly pleasing ownership while making fans even more irate. Things came to a head with the fandom at a town hall with season ticket holders in December; one fan broke down in tears, another older fan responded to Jeter’s request for patience with, “I don’t have many seasons left,” and the Marlin Man himself asked why he should continue to pay major league prices to watch a Triple-A team. (Marlin Man would later declare free agency when the team refused to negotiate on season ticket prices.)

    Amid all of this excitement, it was easy to forget that there was still a season to be played, so you can excuse Miami fans for doing exactly that. What little excitement might have been mustered didn’t last long, as Jose Urena gave up the earliest (by calendar) first-pitch home run in Opening Day history, propelling the Marlins to a 5-17 start to the season that set the tone for the rest of the year and encouraged the fans to find other things to do for the summer. Attendance figures have been impressively bad; the Marlins have drawn fewer than 7,000 fans 23 times this season, and on April 11, they were outdrawn by their AA affiliate, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

    Which is not to say that there wasn’t any excitement during the season. For instance, in defending a lawsuit from Miami-Dade County in April, the Miami Marlins of Miami, Florida, a team who changed their name from “Florida” to “Miami” to show just how Miamian they were, attempted to evade payment to the county by claiming that they were actually a corporate citizen of the British Virgin Islands. Later that month, Jeter also had an unusual interview with Bryant Gumbel where Jeter pretended not to know what tanking was and called Gumbel “mentally weak.” And of course, there’s been some beanbrawl fun, as some of the Marlins’ have taken to Lou Piniella's old motto of “if you can’t be good, at least be belligerent;” in particular, Jose Urena has taken to hitting batters for committing the sin of being good.

    Anyway, the Marlins, as now constructed, are awful. They don’t have a single 90 ERA+ starter, their lineup is down to four good starters and five black holes, and the bullpen has the second worst save percentage and the fewest number of saves in the National League. Jeter expressed his distaste for the home run sculpture in center field, and the team appears to have responded supportively, hitting just 116 home runs this year (last in the NL) and sparing Jeter from having to watch the jumping fish. The Fish are currently in that weird, awful state where they’re not particularly young, they don’t have a ton of help on the way, and any player on the team who performs well is considered to be “auditioning to be a trade target.” There’s not a lot of hope in Fishville, where tempers are short, the management seems to need a crash course in public relations, and the attendance figures are down to four digits. For years, it was said that after Loria, there was nowhere to go up; now, Miami fans aren’t so sure…..

    The 2018 Marlins now celebrate the 15th anniversary of the last time they made the playoffs. They are still a perfect 6-0 in postseason series.


    [​IMG]

    This was the second of an indeterminate number of bridge years for the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays are currently transitioning from their 2015-16 core to the next round of potential contributors, most of whom are just one or two levels from the bigs. Heading for the exits are the key parts of the back-to-back ALCS runners-up, including former star Josh Donaldson, former frontline starter Marco Estrada, and the ever-consistent J.A. Happ. Coming in to take their places are a new wave of prospects and young players from their elite farm system, including outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, catcher Danny Jansen, and lots of sons of former ballplayers (Vlad Guerrero, Jr., Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette). In the interim, the Jays are a team in limbo, somewhere between buyers and sellers, talented enough to sell season tickets but not talented enough to keep a team in contention through the summer.

    Unlike many rebuilding teams who choose to punt a season or six while on the downswing, GM Ross Atkins and President Mark Shapiro decided instead to try to slap together a contending team based around his current core, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle before his players found their way to free agency. If the gamble seemed like a longshot (given the lack of success last year and the age of the squad), the reasoning behind it was probably sound. Although there’s a value to trading players for prospects, there’s also a value in convincing fans that you’re willing to spend money on the team every year, since those fans are the ones who will provide said money for you to do so. (This is particularly true after you’ve just raised ticket prices in the offseason.) As such, Atkins refrained from trading Donaldson, Happ, or Justin Smoak in the offseason, choosing instead to roll the dice with largely the same team that finished fourth last year.

    Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), the end result of this gamble was that the Toronto Blue Jays lost a whole bunch of baseball games. For the second year in a row, the Jays came into the season with the oldest team in baseball, which is usually a sign to the karma gods to start handing out injuries around the diamond. Sure enough, the gods did their part, felling Jays players with everything from a suitcase to a security guard’s stool. So far this season, the Jays have spent more than $42 million on salaries for players on the DL, far and away the biggest such tally in the AL. Josh Donaldson, the cornerstone of the franchise and the last remaining member of the fearsome 3-4-5 that took the Blue Jays to back-to-back playoffs, played just 36 games with the club this year; in fact, when Donaldson was eventually traded to the Indians, the Blue Jays had to activate him off of the DL in order to send him to the Indians so that the Indians could immediately put him back on the DL. Elsewhere in the lineup, the Jays have lost Diaz for a month, Randall Grichuk for a month, Kevin Pillar for almost a month, Donaldson replacement Yangervis Solarte for almost a month, Lourdes Gurriel for a month, and Troy Tulowitzki for as long as baseball exists.

    While injuries to old hitters are understandable, the Jays have to be a little concerned with their rotation, which was the strength of their team last year. Ace and 2017 Cy Young candidate Marcus Stroman had an inflammation of his shoulder during spring training, and although he started the season ostensibly healthy, he posted a 7.71 ERA for the first month and half of the season before going on the DL in May. Stroman came back in late June to post a better (4.29) ERA down the stretch, but he would develop a blister on his pitching hand in August and would head to the DL for the season in September. With Stroman on the shelf, it was up to 2 and 3 starters J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez to fill the void; unfortunately, Aaron Sanchez was the recipient of the aforementioned suitcase-related injury, and J.A. Happ had a decent but not fantastic season before being shipped off to the Yankees. In fact, the only Jays pitcher who has taken the ball every fifth day all season has been Marco Estrada, and with his ERA currently hovering in the low-5’s, it’s not clear that Estrada’s consistency has been particularly helpful. Last year, it was decent pitching that buoyed the team while the offense fell apart; this year, the roles are reversed, as the revitalized hitting has been betrayed by a pitching staff that bested only the staffs of the Orioles and Royals.

    Of course, it’s likely that many of the problems with the pitching staff can actually be placed at the feet of the defense. It’s worth noting that of all the pitchers who started at least four games for the Jays this year, every single one had a lower FIP than actual ERA except for Marco Estrada, whose ERA beat his FIP by a whopping 0.03 points. Most notably, Marcus Stroman had a FIP that was over a run-and-a-half better than his actual ERA; if his defense hadn’t let him down to the tune of a .326 BABIP, we might be talking about Stroman’s “decent but injury-riddled” 2018 campaign right now.

    As bad as the season has been for the Jays, they were fortunate in one sense – they’ve so far played 29 games against the Orioles, White Sox, and Royals. Against those three teams, the Jays are 21-8; against all other teams on their schedule, the Jays are just 43-70. With any luck, at least two of those teams should continue to be bad for remainder of Toronto's transition, which should lessen the pain for Jays fans if the transition takes a little longer than expected. Regardless, the future is arriving in Toronto, and soon, the question won't be whether to gamble or punt - it’ll simply be whether the kids can play.

    The Blue Jays last made the playoffs in 2016. Their last World Series title was in 1993.
     
    #16 cannonball 1729, Sep 11, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2018
  17. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

    Messages:
    2,527
    All right - the hurricane has given me some time to sit inside and get some stuff done, so let's get all caught up from the week. On Wednesday, we had:


    [​IMG]


    For as long as the Reds have played in the Great American Ballpark, questions about the team have always revolved around the pitching. During their brief era of GAB success (2010-2013), the team managed to catch a couple of good years of Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mat Latos and supplement them with the permanent league-average presence of Bronson Arroyo. For the rest of their time in the GAP, they’ve struggled to have more than two pitchers be good at the same time. The offense has almost never been the problem, as the Reds have managed to find hitters all over the diamond, but when Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang, and Paul Wilson are taking turns as your ace for a decade or more, it’s not really going to matter who’s in your lineup.


    The current iteration of Reds pitching questions centers on the development of the young Reds pitchers. The previous round has exited stage left, either getting hurt (Cueto), getting traded (Latos, Mike Leake, also Cueto), or getting an extension from the Reds and then forgetting how to pitch (Bailey). In the meantime, the Reds have completely turned over the roster, going so far as to set a record in 2015 when they had a rookie starter in 64 consecutive games. Last year, there were some brief glimmers of hope among what was otherwise a league-worst pitching staff, as players like Luis Castillo and Robert Stephenson turned in credible performances as starting pitchers, albeit in limited action.


    This year, however, the Reds began the season doing absolutely nothing right. They stumbled and pratfell out of the gate, going 3-15 to start the season. As expected, the pitching obviously played a role, giving up a majors-worst 100 runs in the first 18 games. The surprise, though, was that the offense didn’t help, scoring the third-fewest runs (54) in the major to that point, helping the Reds put together an MLB-worst -46 run differential.


    Faced with their worst start since 1931, led by a skipper who hadn’t won 70 games in a season since 2014 (the only team to fail to break the 70 mark in each of the last three years), and with little hope left in the season, the Reds did the most logical thing; they fired manager Bryan Price. Price, who was hired to push the Reds to the next level after Dusty Baker failed to get the Reds past the NL division round in three tries, instead oversaw the collapse of the Reds, who went from wildcard game runner-up to 76-win disappointment in his first year at the helm and hasn’t seen 70 wins since. From Price’s entrance in 2014 to his ouster in April, the Reds had a .419 winning percentage, the worst such mark in baseball. Oh well – at least he secured his place in the annals of Reds lore with that 77 f-bomb tirade!


    After bench coach Jim Riggleman took over for Price, the offense rebounded, and the Reds started to resemble a major league team again. The Reds still aren’t a team that anyone would accuse of being good, but they’ve gotten above-average offense from nearly every position on the diamond, and even those who can’t hit (like Billy Hamilton, who has absolutely no power) have managed to find other ways to contribute (like stealing 50 bases). Sure, their defense is atrocious, but at least the players on the diamond do something right.


    The pitchers, on the other hand, continue to be lost on the mound. Luis Castillo, who last year was good enough to garner Rookie of the Year votes, has been consistenly inconsistent this year; his month-by-month ERA’s have been 7.85/3.48/6.75/2.25/5.57/1.50. Robert Stephenson, who started to look like a major leaguer down the stretch last year, looked awful in spring training and has struggled with shoulder tendonitis all year, posting a 9.26 ERA in the process. Anthony DeSclafani, the prize of the Mat Latos trade, hasn’t been healthy since his breakout year in 2016; the same is true for Brandon Finnegan, the prize of the Johnny Cueto trade. Homer Bailey remains missing in action after signing his big extension, although this year’s 6.09 ERA is his best ERA in three years. The only pitcher who actually beat expectations was Matt Harvey, whom the Mets were so desperate to give up on that they took Devin Mesoraco’s contract off of the Reds hands; he’s essentially been the one consistent Reds pitcher all year. All told, the Reds are first or second in basically every bad defensive category, including runs (1st), earned runs (2nd), home runs (1st – by a lot), fewest strikeouts (2nd), hits (1st), highest WHIP (1st)¸ and even intentional walks (2nd). The starters have been particularly awful, checking in in last in average game score and tied for last in quality starts.


    While the Reds are still young, they are getting progressively less young, and 2019-2020 is when fans and ownership will stop accepting excuses and begin to expect results. If Luis Castillo can find consistency, if the rest of the rotation can find health, and if the Reds can find a manager who can do more than curse, the Reds have something to look forward to in the 2020’s. If not, the Reds might be in for yet another lost decade that would look eerily similar to their lost decade of the early 2000’s – lots of exciting, high scoring games….but no hurlers, few wins, and no fans.

    The Reds last won a World Series in 1990.



    On Thursday, we added:

    [​IMG]


    For years, the concern has been whether the Angels can put a good team around Mike Trout and win him a playoff game before he becomes a free agent after 2020. Sure, the payroll is nearly tapped, the farm is – at best – below average, and the players around him aren’t great, but somehow, the Angels need to figure out this puzzle before the best player of his generation walks away and leaves the Angels with nothing but a comp pick.


    To their credit, the Angels have managed to dig up good players in some unexpected places. They managed to steal Andrelton Simmons from the Braves in the Erick Aybar salary dump; Simmons has turned into one of the most valuable players in all of baseball. They’ve pulled their pitching staff from all sorts of places – their closer was plucked off of waivers, their starters were international free agents or returns from trades of veterans or PTBNLs or untouted prospects who somehow found their way to the bigs. This year, they grabbed Shohei Ohtani from the NPB’s posting process, adding the rare two-way player who could actually do both things well.


    The problem is that while the Angels have a full stable of good players….they’ve not been able to find the mediocre ones that provide ballast to a team. Their lineup has four really good hitters, but it also had four regulars who couldn’t crack a .300 OBP (and a fifth – Ian Kinsler – who just barely did so). Their closer is good, not great….but their second man out of the pen has been Noe Ramirez, who is not and has never been good, and another of their seventh/eighth inning guys (Jim Johnson) has the second-worst WPA in the American League. The rotation is good when healthy, but they also pitch fewer innings per start than any AL team except for the starter-less Rays, and the underbelly of the bullpen has been exposed far too often this year in Anaheim. Take all of these factors, add in a defense that – like the rest of the team – has some great players and some holes, and you have an Angels team that’s thoroughly mediocre. In a year where most of the teams are either good or terrible, the Angels occupy a very lonely and forgotten place in the middle.


    This year, Trout and Ohtani added another by raising the possibility that when the good supporting cast does finally arrive, those two players might not fully be healthy. Trout was in the midst of yet another MVP-caliber campaign when he jammed his wrist in early August, placing him on the shelf for the better part of a month. Ohtani, on the other hand, has battled injuries ever since he signed his contract; he had a platelet-rich injection into his elbow in October, and his 2018 season has been pockmarked by injuries to his thigh, his ankle, and finally his elbow again. The good news is that Trout’s injuries don’t seem to linger; he’s had month-long injuries from awkward plays in each of the last two seasons but has come back hitting like the Mike Trout of old. Ohtani, on the other hand, still has his future very much in question – the Angels might eventually decide that an outfielder with a .940+ OPS is too valuable to risk on the mound. Either way, the real question for the Angels will be the one we’ve been asking since Trout emerged earlier in the decade: can the Angels put a team around Trout before he walks? The deadline is 2020, and the clock is ticking…


    The Angels last made the playoffs in 2014. Their last title was in 2002.


    And finally, yesterday's Cleveland clinch meant the end of:

    [​IMG]


    Few teams have earned the moniker of “luckless” quite like the 2018 Twins. Most of the other teams in the Central are far worse than Minnesota is, but few teams have had the inability to seal the deal quite like the Twin Cities’ ballclub.

    The Twins began the season in galling fashion, losing on a walk-off home run to the awful Orioles on Opening Day in a loss that would prove to be a preview of the season. The Twins would add three more walk-off losses in April and another four in May, and by the end of May they had managed to tie the record for most walk-off losses in the first fifty games of a season. Since that time, they have added five more walk-off losses, putting them within just three of the major league record of 16 in a season. No AL team has blown more saves than Minnesota this season, and only the lowly Orioles and Royals have worse records in one-run games.

    The lack of luck hasn’t merely been limited to walkoffs and blown saves, though; the Twins have also demonstrated a persistent inability to get hits in key at bats. Minnesota batters have been awful in important situations, as they’ve hit .229 in close and late scenarios, and they’ve hit .228 from the seventh inning on. Moreover, Minnesota batters have suffered from an inability to set the table or spark the big inning; they’ve batted .230 to lead off an inning, and they’re batting .200 with the bases loaded and none out.

    Of course, there’s been more to the Twins season than simply bad luck; there are also a couple of really bad seasons by key players. The worst offenders have been Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier, two players who had world-beating campaigns in 2017 but have hit under .230 with limited power this year. (Dozier was dumped at the deadline for a Dodgers’ team who needed a platoon bat, a far cry from the MVP votes he received last year and the year before.) Add in Addison Russell’s amazing propensity to light the eighth inning on fire (six losses plus two additional blown saves), LoMo’s freefall into sub-Mendoza status, and Ervin Santana’s season-long finger injury, and it’s easy to see how a team falls from a second-place finish in the wildcard game to a sub-.470 mark, even without the help of the baseball gods.

    Despite the forgettable season, the future is still bright for the Twins. Jose Berrios is still likely to become the ace that the Twins need; he was terrible in August but still put up a solid season and is just 24. Behind him are Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi, both of whom are good bets to turn in solid seasons, and both of whom are under team control until 2020. On the offensive side, nearly all of the productive players in the lineup are under 27, and while Sano had a disappointing season, he’s only 25. What’s more, former GM Terry Ryan’s revamping of the farm system continues to pay dividends, and the next wave of talent is now approaching; third baseman Nick Gordon and pitchers Stephen Gonzalves and Fernando Romero are likely to be key parts of the big league club in short order. Joe Mauer’s deal finally expires at the end of the year, and while Mauer is beloved in the Twin Cities, his $23 million contract and his sub-100 OPS+ will not be missed. All in all, it’s been a bumpy ride for the Twins, who have won 70, 83, 59, 85, and now 67 wins over the last five years, and while the Twins should expect to contend for the next few years, they clearly need to stop walking under ladders and breaking mirrors....

    The Twins last made the playoffs in 2011. Their last title was in 1991.
     
    #17 cannonball 1729, Sep 16, 2018
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2018
  18. dynomite

    dynomite Member SoSH Member

    Messages:
    6,616
    Until our next entry in the year’s best thread, I suggest others tide themselves over with this incredible NYT Magazine profile of the Mets fabulous broadcast crew (Gary, Keith, and Ron). It’s a well-written and loving tribute by a lifelong Mets fan who also manages to weave in a great narrative of the disasterous 2018 Mets. I believe it is worthy of this thread and Cannonball, and includes one of my favorite lines in any publication this year:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/25/magazine/mets-baseball-gary-keith-ron.html?action=click&module=Editors Picks&pgtype=Homepage
     
  19. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

    Messages:
    2,527
    So...I seem to have fallen a bit behind on the thread (one of my bands has been working to get a CD out this month, so I've been spending 10 hours a week in the recording studio mixing things), so instead of putting all of the eliminations at once, I'll slowly extricate myself from the hole with a couple teams at a time. Let's start with the two teams that were eliminated at the beginning of last week and the one that was eliminated on Saturday:


    [​IMG]

    It looks like the Giants’ even-year thing is finally over. Although they still haven’t made the playoffs in an odd-numbered year since 2003, the Giants have always managed to find success and a whole lot of luck anytime the year was divisible by two, through a combination of low-scoring baseball (or “torture,” as Bruce Bochy used to call it), standout performances by a couple key contributors every year (Lincecum and Posey in 2010, then Cain and Posey in 2012, and finally Bumgarner and Posey after that), and some good old-fashioned luck (like a massive Padres collapse in 2010).

    This year, however, the luck part seems to have deserted them. Giants fans this year weren’t even afforded the luxury of Opening Day optimism; a week before the opener, Madison Bumgarner exited his last spring training start with a broken hand after an unfortunate encounter between his pitching hand and a Whit Merrifield line drive. That same week, Jeff Samardzija strained a pectoral muscle, meaning that the Giants would enter the season with their ace and #3 starter already on the shelf. The pitching staff’s fortunes, then, would depend upon #2 starter Johnny Cueto, and Cueto proved himself up to the task as he went out and dominated opposing hitters…..for about a month, before he was sidelined with an “elbow sprain” that would later (after a brief and ineffective comeback in July) be upgraded to “blown UCL.” In July, major offseason acquisition Evan Longoria would lose a month of the season after a HBP against (who else?) the Marlins, although given the way he’s played so far this year, that may not have been the worst thing for the Giants. Perhaps most damaging, however, has been the balky hips of Buster Posey; he’d been battling the problem for much of the season (even going so far as to skip the All-Star game) before finally undergoing surgery in August.

    If luck is the residue of design, though, the Giants bad luck can be said to be the residue of their unusual team design. The Giants have seemingly always had an unbalanced roster construction, as if one of the facets of their game was always compensating for another one; in 2014, for instance, they had a consistent lineup and an inconsistent rotation, while in 2012 and 2016 they had an inconsistent lineup and a top-heavy rotation. They’ve never been a deep team, and they’ve never been a dominating one, having bested 90 wins in just half of their playoff appearances (and never besting 94), and while that’s a fine strategy when the players are playing as expected, it’s always left them a bit exposed in that one or two key injuries can sink the team. This year, they ended up with far more than “one or two” injuries, and the team’s fortunes have suffered as a result.

    Despite all of their injury issues, the Giants stuck around the playoff hunt for quite a while, trailing the division leaders by just three games in early July and just five in early August. San Francisco, then, was done in not by the bad luck of injuries but instead by the bad luck of unfortunate timing. The Giants, struggling to stay afloat in the playoff race, unfortunately suffered through a 1-6 stretch (mostly against the Mets and Reds) from August 15 to 22….at exactly the same time the D-backs, Rockies, and Cardinals went 5-1, 5-2, and 6-2, respectively. By the end of the disastrous streak, the Giants were 9.5 games out of the division lead and 8.5 games out of the coinflip game, and even though the Giants rallied for a four-game win streak shortly thereafter, the season was already effectively over by that point. Three days after the end of the mini-collapse, Buster Posey elected to get surgery to fix his hips, thereby slamming the door on the 2018 season for good.

    The Giants aren’t in a particularly good place right now. The Giants still owe a whole bunch of money to a pitcher who can’t stay healthy (Samardzija, $40 Million), a pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery (Cueto, $65 million), and a third baseman who hasn’t been a league-average hitter in two years (Longoria, $60 million). Also, they’re stuck in a division with three ascendant teams, their farm system is terrible, and Bruce Bochy’s four-leaf clover farm has apparently run dry. It’s been a long time since the Giants went through an honest-to-goodness rebuild, and with Bumgarner and Posey still on the team, they may still be able to spend their way out of their predicament. However, given the contracts that they already have on the books and the potential for injuries to reoccur, the Giants’ path to success is narrow one, and San Francisco could just as easily see themselves stuck in this same spot for the next couple of years.

    The Giants last won a title in 2014. They last made the playoffs in 2016.


    [​IMG]

    Kurt Vonnegut always used to say that there’s only one place worse than hell…..which is purgatory. While it’s tough to verify Vonnegut’s assertion while we’re here on Earth, the Mets fans who have inhabited baseball purgatory for the last three years might be inclined to nod their heads in rueful agreement. The Mets have been stuck in a holding pattern as a result of their illusory starting rotation featuring Syndergaard, Matz, and de Grom, as well as their equally illusory lineup anchored by Yoenis Cespides. How does a front office throw in the towel with such a talented, if injured, roster? How does one sell off those players when doing so would clearly constitute selling low? Much like the early-in-the-2010’s Rockies with Tulo and CarGo, the stars of the Mets seem to vacillate between leading the team and holding it hostage.

    This year was just like every other year, wherein the Mets were faced with the choice of either starting a rebuild with very few tradeable assets (the Mets’ farm is almost completely barren) or rolling the dice with stars who are unlikely to last an entire season. Sensibly, the Mets decided to pick option B, hoping that this would be the year where their stars stayed on the field for at least most of the season. Unfortunately, the Mets lack any assets that would entice teams to give up talent, so they were forced to fill the holes on their roster with the only asset they had: a gigantic pile of U.S. dollars. Despite a free agent marked that inspired no team to spend money, the Mets took $89 million from their coffers and offered it to six free agents: Jason Vargas, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Reyes, and Anthony Swarzak. The Mets would also add a new manager, which is another thing that teams do when they can’t figure out how else to improve their team. Mostly, though, the 2018 offseason was spent hoping that the team could find a way to stay healthy, which, if you’ve followed the Mets at all, is a pretty bad bet.

    Unsurprisingly, then, 2018 was yet another year of disabled-list purgatory for the Mets. Mets players were felled with everything from back injuries (Cespides) to calcified heels (also Cespides), to hamstring injuries (several players) to hand, foot, and mouth disease (Syndergaard). All told, the Mets have donated roughly 67 million to the disabled list, which is more than the entire Opening Day payroll of the Oakland A’s.

    If there was a surprise, then, it’s that the Mets started out hot. Through the first 12 games, the Mets were an astonishing 11-1, which is another thing that sometimes happens with new managers. Unfortunately, the Mets quickly ran into an opponent known as “reality,” and once the annual injuries arrived, the team was down to Jacob deGrom, who may end up being the rare Cy Young-winning starter not to finish with a winning record. There was a mini-surprise in the middle of the season when Jose Bautista turned out to be slightly less dead than advertised, and there was a surprise when Matt Harvey regained his pitching form (although Mets fans might have appreciated it more had the rejuvenation not occurred in Cincinnati). For the most part, however, the Mets had another Mets year, where the acquisitions didn’t work (Gonzalez was released, Reyes is Reyes, Bruce was injured, Jason Vargas’ ERA jumped two runs, Swarzak collapsed), the stars couldn’t stay healthy, and the team embarked on their usual June swoon (5-21) that put them definitively out of the playoffs for yet another year.

    Now is not a happy time to be a Mets fan. The stars can’t stay healthy, there’s little help on the horizon, and the organizational structure is a mess. The GM had to step away from the team for cancer treatments, a horrifying experience for anyone. The Mets seem to have no acumen for how to spend money; their free agent spending is a disaster, and their financiers are best known as the group who were swindled by Bernie Madoff and who continue to send money to Bobby Bonilla every year. Of course, an organizational hole in major league baseball is never quite as deep as it seems, and the Mets have enough money to paper over a whole lot of ills, but if the Mets want to have any hope in the future, they need to figure out how to stop donating so much money to the DL first.

    The Mets last made the playoffs in 2015. Their last World Series was in 1986.


    [​IMG]

    The Nationals were an exciting team in 2016-2017. In the regular season, they were an absolute powerhouse, winning 95 and 97 games. In the postseason, they seemed wholly out of luck, the loser of some of the crazier postseason games in the last couple of years. Of course, baseball is a playoffs-oriented business, and even a manager who averages 96 wins a year can’t keep his job if his teams keep face-planting in the postseason; naturally, then, skipper Dusty Baker was shown the door in the offseason, marking the third time in Baker’s career that he was fired immediately after a postseason appearance.

    Unfortunately, while fans will remember Baker as the guy who couldn’t win a playoff series (or perhaps the manager who blew the Steve Bartman game by leaving Mark Prior in too long), it’s easy to underestimate how hard it is to win 95+ games, even with a talented team. Certainly, a new manager can push a team over the top, but for every Terry Francona or Joe Torre pushing a playoff team to the next level, there are plenty of Byran Prices who can turn a playoff disappointment into a regular season disappointment.

    Anyway, this offseason, the Nationals went ahead and fired Dusty Baker, a sensible enough decision for a team looking to get over the hump. Equally sensibly, they hired Dave Martinez, a Joe Maddon sidekick and expert in the new statistical wizardry that permeates the league, as their new skipper. Both of these decisions were, on paper, reasonable, and both of them make sense for a normal team. The only problem is that the Nationals are not a normal team. Washington is currently chewing through its fifth manager since 2011, and the Nats have likely had more seasons ruined by clubhouse strife than anyone else over that time frame. In seemingly every year except for the last two, Washington sportswriters have spent their Septembers breathlessly gossiping over the broken clubhouse, over relievers getting into fights with lockers or position players, over players getting into screaming matches with one another, over players calling out other players in public press conferences. The emblem of the team is undoubtedly Bryce Harper, a player who is immensely talented but also carries an immense presence….and it’s up to the manager to make sure that that presence is a good one.

    It was in this score that Martinez would eventually come up lacking. The Nationals had a decent start to the season, as a middling April gave way to a scorching May, and by the middle of June they had closed a six-game gap in the division to grab a small lead in the NL East. Sure, Bryce Harper wasn’t hitting, but he was walking and slugging, and besides – Mark Reynolds and Juan Soto were destroying the ball, and Max Scherzer is Max Scherzer, so it was easy to overlook Harper’s struggles. If anything, Harper’s struggles gave hope for improvement; if Harper could turn things around, and if Anthony Rendon could start driving the ball like he did in 2017 (which he eventually would), the Nationals would be even better in the second half.

    Unfortunately, June is when personalities emerge, and as the weather gets hotter and tempers grow shorter, it’s also when personalities can begin to clash. This June, the team-wide détente that Dusty had negotiated in 2016 began to crumble, and the Nats began to collapse. Washington would encounter its first protracted streak of bad baseball in mid-June, enduring a 5-17 stretch that would drop them from a team with a division lead to one with a losing record. On July 4, Max Scherzer dressed down the team following a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox; in the following game, the team sort of responded, in that they spotted the Marlins a nine-run lead before coming back to win. The Nats would tread water for the rest of July before tensions boiled over publicly at the end of the month; on July 31, reliever Shaun Kelley, angry at having to pitch to the Mets with a 20-run lead, got into an altercation that “almost turned physical” with GM Mike Rizzo, which quickly led to Kelley’s ouster. Add in a feud between the two best starters on the team (Scherzer and Strasburg), some controversial Bryce Harper press conferences, and a litany of anonymous quotes from players openly criticizing the manager’s bullpen treatment and describing the clubhouse as a mess, and it’s not hard to understand how a team with such talent could be eliminated so quickly. Even the rare feel-good stories of the season (like the aforementioned 25-4 win over the Mets) always seemed to come with some sort of feel-bad story in the immediate aftermath.

    This all puts the Nationals in a difficult spot. Sure, some of the stars like Bryce Harper are impending free agents (although Bryce Harper certainly isn’t the Bryce Harper of old), but the team is still a talented one. It’s easier to fire the manager than it is to fire a team, but it’s hard to fire a manager and change directions so quickly after firing another one the previous offseason. So what do you do? Can you bring in a players’ manager like Baker to be the new bench coach? Do you tear down? Do you bite the bullet and fire the manager? The status quo certainly isn’t working, but there’s no clear out for Mike Rizzo and the Lerner family. The next few years will be interesting ones in DC; the Nationals are probably the one team where anything from “Nats win 120 games” to “The entire Nats team gets injured in a team-wide brawl” could happen and nobody would be surprised.

    The Nats have never won a World Series.
     
    #19 cannonball 1729, Sep 26, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2018
  20. richgedman'sghost

    richgedman'sghost Well-Known Member Lifetime Member SoSH Member

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  21. santadevil

    santadevil Well-Known Member Silver Supporter SoSH Member

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    Great write-ups as usual CB. For the teams I didntd follow as closely, like the Nats, it's nice to see some other perspective as to why things went the way they did

    I look forward to you adding to this thread, when you have some free time to do so of course
     
  22. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    2,527
    All right, we'll get the AL finished up and start on NL; since there's still a race for the NL, we'll save the final couple of NL entries for last:

    [​IMG]

    Coming into the season, the prevailing belief was that the Pirates had thrown in the towel on any form of contention. Gerrit Cole, the ace of the staff, was sent to the reigning champions for a package that most described as “not much.” Shortly thereafter, Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 MVP and the face of the Pirates franchise, was sent to San Francisco for two prospects. These trades followed deadline 2017 deals that sent Mark Melancon and several other players to better teams, further cementing the Pirates’ place as an also-ran in the eyes of the baseball intelligentsia. Surely, reasoned the players and writers around the league, a team that trades its top starter, reliever, and position player isn’t serious about winning ballgames, right?

    A closer investigation into GM Neal Huntington’s moves, however, provides a better explanation than simply that the Pirates were waving the white flag. McCutchen, the one-time MVP, was a player clearly on the downslope of his career; his OPS had dropped over 100 points since his MVP days, and his declining defense and expiring contract made it easier to trade away a center fielder on the wrong side of 30. Cole was also trending the wrong way; his ERA had jumped almost two runs in the last two years before the Pirates dealt him away (although the Astros were able to hook him to their Super Pitcher Machine and reverse that trend).

    What’s more, the “Pirates are tanking” mantra overlooks the dumpster-diving prowess of the Pirates. Few GMs are as good at bargain-shopping as Neal Huntington, and, as a result, few GM’s have as much faith in their ability to dumpster dive as does Huntington. It’s easy to forget this now, but the Pirates’ 2013 playoff team wasn’t merely the product of a ripening farm system; Huntington had essentially pieced together a pitching staff with castoffs like AJ Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez, Jason Grilli, and, of course, Mark “The Shark” Melancon. For a team with little money to spend, the Pirates seem to spend an awful lot of time around the .500 mark, and this is in no small part due to Huntington’s ability to find diamonds where others see only dirt.

    As such, while few expected the Pirates to contend (including some of the Pirates themselves, as we found out in pre-season), Huntington maintained – loudly and publicly – that the Pirates planned to win. What surprised both Huntington and the world, however, was that the Pirates did indeed win….but they would be incredibly streaky in the process. While the Pirates have been a .500 team, they have at no point in the season played .500 ball. The Bucs began the season 11-4, then immediately went into a 1-7 skid, then won their next five, then lost their next four, then went 8-2. At one point in July, when the Pirates were eight games under .500 and essentially left for dead, the Bucs inexplicably went on an 11-game winning streak that put them right back into contention. Then, just as quickly, the Pirates stopped being hot, and the rest of the contending NL teams left them in the dust. The Pirates bugaboo this year has been good teams; more than just about anyone else, they’ve taken care of the teams that they were supposed to take care of (41-25 vs. sub-.500 teams, 5th in the NL) but floundered against teams that were good (39-52 vs. above-.500 teams, 11th in the NL).

    All in all, a .500 season from a team that hasn’t had a winning season in three years is a good result, especially from a team that’s getting progressively younger. A more exciting improvement, however, was that the current Bucs are a lot less, shall we say, ridiculous than last year’s version. In 2017, Pittsburgh fans weathered a deported infielder (Jung Ho Kang), a drug-suspended star outfielder (Starling Marte), a reliever accidentally being sent to a rival team (Juan Nicasio), and a disabled list where every injury was listed as some sort of discomfort (for instance, Jameson Taillon’s testicular cancer was listed as “groin discomfort”). This year’s incarnation has more success and the same slapped-together feel…but far less of the absurdist drama. With any luck, next year will be another year where the youngsters will filter in, Huntington will pull another star out of the trash, and the Pirates can break 80 wins again. Who knows….in a league where 90 wins gets a playoff spot, the Pirates may even catch just enough breaks to get back to the promised land….

    The Pirates last made the playoffs in 2015. Their last World Series win was in 1979.

    And the last two eliminants of the AL:

    [​IMG]

    The Mariners are the 2018 AL Mirage Team of the Year. Through the first three months of the season, the M’s were a dominating team, keeping pace with the reigning world champions despite Robbie Cano breaking his hand on a HBP and King Felix continuing his decline. By the beginning of July, the Mariners were 24 games above .500, right on the heels of a dominating Houston team, surprisingly competitive in a year where the AL boasted (at that point) four teams with a winning percentage above .630. The team was clicking, the clubhouse was happy (a marked change from the Jack Zduriencik years), the closer was racking up saves (33 by July 4), and Mariners fans were thinking about playoffs for the first time in years.

    And yet….it was all an illusion. The Mariners were outscoring opponents, but they were only barely doing so. Through July 4, the M’s were 26-11 in one-run games and 11-3 in two-run games. Of course, one-run wins are still wins, but such a record didn’t lend much credence to the idea that the Mariners would be able to sustain their dominance, especially in a division with a juggernaut like the Astros.

    The second half of the season, then, wasn’t so much a collapse as it was a reckoning. No one outside of the most die-hard denizens of Safeco were under any illusion that Seattle’s torrid start was sustainable, and the world would soon learn that their skepticism was warranted. Since their high-water mark in early July, the Mariners have been nine games under .500, largely because their record in one-run games leveled off to 10-10 over this stretch. Cano came back and hit like the old Robbie Cano, and Nelson Cruz continued to pound the ball, but the lineup didn’t pack much punch other than those two, Mitch Haniger, and Jean Segura. Likewise, ace James Paxton had a not-quite-ace year (plus he was hit in the arm with a line drive in August), and no one stepped up to fill the ace role that he had vacated.

    Despite all of this, the Mariners might still have banked enough wins in the first half to limp into the playoffs….except that Oakland found its groove and caught them from behind. While everyone figured that Oakland’s reboot would pay off eventually, few expected this to be the year where things came together on the Bay. The A’s caught fire in July, and while the Mariners gamely tried to chase after their AL compatriots, they simply don’t have the firepower to keep up with four 100-win teams. Oakland met and passed the Mariners at the beginning of August, and by September, the Mariners weren’t even the first runner-up in the playoff chase, as the red-hot Rays had also passed the Pacific Northwesterners.

    It’s said that nothing is as good as it looks during a winning streak or as bad as it looks during a losing streak, and the Mariners have experienced both ends of this particular proverb this year. Obviously, the M’s aren’t as good as their first three months of the season implied, and they probably aren’t even as good as their 87-73 record implies (their Pythagorean record indicates they should probably have about 11 fewer wins). On the other hand, Mariners fans who are despondent at the cutthroat competition in the AL might be well-served to remember that the same adage is true of other teams; it’s very likely that at least one (and perhaps more) of the powerhouses this year are currently playing over their heads, so the contention window may not be quite as closed as it appears. Next year, the Mariners will have to replace Cruz’s bat (unless he re-signs), but with the emergence of a possible staff ace, a staff closer with a Ricky Vaughn haircut (Edwin Diaz), a big bat (Haniger), and a happy clubhouse, it’s easy how this team might contend in the future. Good thing, too – it’s been almost twenty years since the M’s were in the playoffs, so Seattle fans are certainly ready.

    Seattle last made the playoffs in 2001. They have never won a World Series.


    [​IMG]


    At this point, there’s a pretty clear blueprint for 21st century small-market success: spend five to ten years developing prospects and building the team, enjoy a two- to four-year run of success, tear down, repeat. Different teams have different names for this game plan (usually, it’s some variant of “The Process”), but whatever the name, it’s the official, universally-approved strategy for small market clubs. What’s more, it’s a “safe” strategy – no GM is going to get fired for tearing down and rebuilding, even if the rebuild takes a little longer than expected, because everybody seems to agree that this is the correct method of team-building. One of the ultimate ironies of the modern era of parity is that while any team can win a title over the course of a decade, there are a good chunk of teams who are guaranteed to be completely out of contention for seven out of every ten years.

    Now, there’s nothing wrong with this strategy; it has certainly been proven to work. But it’s kind of…unimaginative. It’s the type of strategy that a ten-year-old discovers while playing Baseball Mogul, or the strategy that a major league team falls back on when it runs out of edges to exploit. For a GM to deviate from this strategy, that GM has to believe that he, singularly, can defy baseball gravity, either by discovering something that the rest of baseball has missed (like Moneyball) or by doing something better than the rest of the world (like scouting).

    That’s what makes the Rays so intriguing. They’ve refused to let go of the idea that maybe, just maybe, they can win by doing something different from everyone else. Several years ago, the erstwhile Rays GM/manager combo of Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon decided that they would they would turn the Rays into baseball’s pre-eminent laboratory. They tinkered with everything, shifting defenses all over the park, limiting starting pitchers to 18 batters, using managerial visits to control the pace of the game, and generally testing out whatever hypotheses they thought would give them an edge on the opposition. Friedman and Maddon, of course, have since departed for Los Angeles and Chicago, but their replacements, president Matthew Silverman, GM Erik Neander, and manager Kevin Cash, have been no less interested in innovation.

    This year was perhaps the boldest gambit of all, as the Rays management decided that “starting pitcher” was a concept whose time had passed. Coming out of spring training, the Rays announced that their fifth starter would be “bullpen day,” not in the sense of a “Spahn and Sain and bullpen pain” sort of admission of inadequacy, but in a realization that in an era where everyone comes out of the bullpen throwing 95 for an inning or two, there’s no reason to hand the ball to a mop-up guy and tell him to throw five innings. The Rays would double down in mid-May, when they decided to ditch the idea of a starting rotation altogether; on May 19th, the Rays announced that Sergio Romo would be their “opener,” launching a grand experiment in which the person who began the game wasn’t expected to go more than an inning or two (unless that person was Blake Snell).

    To put it bluntly, this experiment has revolutionized how teams and fans think about starting pitching. Since the beginning of the “opener” experiment, the Rays’ pitchers have been second in the AL in runs allowed – this after a middling beginning to the season. In mid-August, the Rays truly clicked and embarked on a 25-7 stretch in which they won series against Boston, New York, Cleveland (twice), and Oakland. All told, the Rays spent their late summer vaulting from a decent pitch, no-hit team into the hottest team in baseball, and fans of playoff teams undoubtedly breathed a sigh of relief when the Rays were eliminated.

    If their late season surge is for real, the Rays will be a terrifying team to face next year. Their theft of Tommy Pham, a perennial MVP candidate, from the Cardinals was shocking, and it gave the Rays a middle-of-the order presence that they needed. Add in the breakout seasons of Ji-Man Choi, Joey Wendle, and Mallex Smith, as well as Blake Snell’s transformation into Cy Young frontrunner, and you have the makings of a scary 2019 ballclub. Of course, every innovation has a counter-innovation, so we’ll see if teams adjust to the new world of openers; after all, baseball is a ruthless ecosystem, and for every Rip Sewell trying to bend the game in a new direction, there’s always a Ted Williams waiting to bend it back….

    The Rays last made the playoffs in 2013. They have never won a World Series.
     
    #22 cannonball 1729, Sep 29, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2018
  23. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Let's post another one to kick off the afternoon of games:

    [​IMG]

    Expectations are a funny thing. If you told Philly fans at the beginning of the year that they would win about 80 games this season, they would happily have taken it; after all, the Phillies haven’t won more than 73 games in a season since 2012, and they won 66 last year. The Phillies are a young club, and 2018 was supposed to be the year that they transitioned from “glorified Triple-A team” to “glorified Triple-A team, plus a few overpriced free agents that would convince better free agents to sign with the club.” Certainly, the Phillies were playing the part; they’d gone and signed Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta for far too much money, acquisitions that were supposed to lend credence to Philadelphia as a free agent destination. The timing was right, too; the Phils were getting over their growing pains just in time to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado in 2019.

    But then the Phillies started off hot, and fans started to rethink the timeline. Gabe Kapler, originally tasked with the job of “instilling a positive attitude in the players,” was now tasked with coaxing wins out of his ballclub. The pitching staff was no longer developing; it was now to be the pitching staff for a contender. Rhys Hoskins move to left field would now come with a little more pressure than previously expected. Sure, the team wasn’t quite where the management wanted to be before the real contention began, but the Nationals no-show meant that the division was wide open, and the main remaining competition, the Atlanta Braves, were in largely the same boat.

    For most of the year, the Phillies played their part as contenders in the thin NL East. Kapler had some early rookie mistakes (like making a pitching change before anyone had a chance to warm up in the bullpen), but he grew into the role as the season progressed. Aaron Nola pitched like an ace, Jake Arrieta pitched like a reasonable #2 starter, the bullpen sorted itself out after Hector Neris was defrocked as closer, and Phillies hitters swatted a whole bunch of home runs. From spring through the summer, the Phillies were locked in a seesaw battle with the Atlanta Braves for the NL East crown, and while neither team looked terribly impressive (either one would have been – at best – second wild card if they’d been in the Central), they nevertheless both continued to win at a pretty good clip.

    On August 18, the Phillies began to stumble. Beginning with a loss to Jacob de Grom, the Phillies would lose 8 of their next 10, pushing them from a half-game back in the division to 4.5. While the slide seemed troubling, it didn’t (at the time) seem to be much more than a brief skid; in fact, just after this skid, the Phillies would pick up 2.5 games on the Braves in three days, negating most of the ill-effects of the brief stretch of bad play.

    Then, the floodgates opened. Starting on September 1, the Phillies embarked on a 7-20 month that included a 9-game losing streak in the middle – this despite the fact that they played 12 games against the moribund Mets and Marlins. In fact, the Mets/Marlins obscure just how bad the Phillies have been; this month, they are 6-6 against the Mets and Marlins….which means that they are 1-14 against the rest of the league. (That one win came last night against a resting Braves squad.) Even with Mr. Positive as skipper, the Phillies have been unable to rally the troops so as to appear even remotely competent.

    What went wrong? Well, the Philly hitting has never been all that good; Philadelphia has basically been a homer-happy team that doesn’t really do anything else. The problem, then, has been the pitching, or, more likely, the defense. The Phillies have minus defenders all over the diamond; according to Fangraphs, the Phillies' Defensive Runs Saved is the worst they’ve ever seen since they started keeping the stat in 2003. Now, some of it is just the fault of young players regressing (such as Odubel Herrera, whose center field playing is 20 runs worse this year than last), which means that it may be correctible in future seasons. However, the Phillies’ signing of Carlos Santana meant that they would have to take their other below-average first base defender, Rhys Hoskins, and put him in left field; Rhys has responded with all of the defensive prowess that you would expect from a person who fields like a refrigerator with cleats. (More recently, the Phils have tried moving Santana to third instead, which hasn’t gone much better.) Whatever the reason, the pitching staff absolutely blew up in September, and the Phillies have dropped below the .500 mark despite being 15 games over it a month ago.

    So where are the Phillies right now? Well, like I said at the beginning – they’re a young team that won 13 (and counting) more games this year than last. GM Matt Klentak decided not to spend any chips at the deadline, and while that may have contributed to the collapse, it bodes well for the future. There’s still a bit of concern with how the kids have turned out – other than Hoskins and Nola, they have a bunch of youngsters who seem on the cusp of being good big leaguers but haven’t gotten there. There’s probably also some concern about the players they signed last offseason; Carlos Santana had his worst year in several years, is 31, and blocks Rhys Hoskins from playing the only position where he isn’t a black hole, and Jake Arrieta’s been trending downward in nearly every statistical category for four straight years. On the other hand, much of the club is likely to improve, Hoskins has the potential to become an offensive monster, and the division is fairly weak. Plus, there’s always the Machado/Harper sweepstakes – if they win that, the ills of this year will be very quickly forgotten.

    The Phillies last made the playoffs in 2011. Their last title was in 2008.
     
  24. VORP Speed

    VORP Speed Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Great Rays write-up! They last made the playoffs in 2013, though. Every little bit counts for the Rays.
     
  25. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Ha - of course they did! I even almost mentioned the fact that their game 4 starter in the ALDS was Bullpen Day. Whoops!
     
  26. VORP Speed

    VORP Speed Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    4,029
    When future baseball historians write the history of the New Pitching, they will note that while it may have been born on May 19, 2018, it was conceived in Game 4 of the 2013 ALDS
     
  27. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Good way to put it. I remember Maddon did a few bullpen days down the stretch that year because they were a starter short, and I remember being annoyed that it didn't seem to come back to bite them. I didn't realize at the time that bullpen days were a feature, not a bug, until game 4. I think I just chalked it up to Joe Maddon luck, sort of like the time he accidentally put his pitcher 3rd in the batting order and the pitcher hit an RBI double.
     
  28. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    All right, last two - one more collapse, and one that survived until after game 161:

    [​IMG]
    For about 1.8 out of Torey Lovullo’s 2 seasons as Diamondbacks manager, the Diamondbacks have been a playoff-caliber team. The Snakes finished with 93 wins last year, and despite a quick exit in the NLDS, Arizona's 2017 was its most successful season in half a decade. Things were looking up for the D-Backs; after years of Dave Stewart clearly not understanding how a front office works, Arizona management had recalibrated with a new-school strategy that apparently consisted of hiring lots of former Red Sox, and that strategy seemed to be paying dividends.

    Up until late August of this year, the era of good feelings continued in Arizona. The Diamonbacks weren’t a great team by any stretch, but they could certainly keep pace with a disappointing Dodgers team and an upstart Colorado squad. Their pitching was just as good as always, with Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin putting up their typical excellent seasons and old friend Clay Buccholz posting a 2 ERA before being sidelined with yet another injury. Sure, the hitting didn’t have much past Paul Goldschmidt, and closing duties were handled by the worst reliever in the bullpen (Brad Boxberger), but, for the most part the D-Backs were cruising along, playing rock-paper-scissors with the Dodgers and Rockies for the division lead.

    Things began to turn on August 31, when Zack Grienke, just seven outs from completing D-Backs win number 75, gave up a game-tying home run to Enrique Hernandez, followed the next inning by a go-ahead home run to Justin Turner. Thus began a full-on collapse for the Diamondbacks, as the pitching slumped and the hitting, which wasn’t good in the first place, remained not good. Embattled closer Brad Boxberger blew three saves and an tacked on an additional loss in September, and the rest of the bullpen chipped in to post a 5.66 September ERA, while staff ace Zack Greinke’s September ERA ballooned to 4.55. From August 31 to September 24, the D-Backs went 5-17 and were outscored by 42 runs; this coincided with hot stretches for both the Rockies and Dodgers, and the Diamonbacks were quickly erased from the postsesason picture.

    All in all, it’s not been a good year for 2017 Managers of the Year; Lovullo’s ungraceful exit follows that of Paul Molitor’s underperforming Twins. That said, Diamonbacks fans are still enjoying this era more than the Dave Stewart era of ineptitude or the Kevin Towers era of perpetual mediocrity and brawls. They’ve got most of the pieces in place for contention, but they just need to find a couple of bats so that Goldschmidt can stop carrying the offensive load by himself; Nick Ahmed and Ketel Marte may yet be those players, but the jury is still out on their offense. In hindsight, the Diamondbacks might have wanted to make a bigger push to keep the slugger that they had last year; of course, given the fact that the D-Backs got where they were by raiding the Red Sox, it only seems fitting that they were sunk by the Red Sox returning the favor…

    The Diamondbacks last won a World Series in 2001.

    And finally:

    [​IMG]

    Stop me if this story sounds familiar. The Cardinals start the season slow, unload some deadweight in the middle of the year, and this unloading of deadweight helps the Cardinals find their groove….but the Cardinals step on the gas just a little too late for them to make the postseason.


    If you identified this as the story of the 2018 Cardinals season, you would be correct. If you instead identified this as the story of the 2017 season, you would also be correct. You could probably even identify this as the story of the 2016 season, although there wasn’t quite as much unloading of the deadweight in the middle of the season.

    Whatever the season, the Cardinals seem to have playoff-missing down to a science. For the second time in three years, the Cardinals will miss the playoffs by two games or fewer; more importantly, for the third time in three years, the Cardinals will miss the playoffs, which is the first time that the Cards have posted three non-playoff seasons since 1997-1999.

    Other things that always seem to happen in a Cardinals season played out this year as well. The Cardinals always seem to get an MVP-type performance from someone that no one had ever heard of before the season. This year, that players was Miles Mikolas, a former Rangers/Paders farmhand who was last seen pitching for the Yomiuri Giants before the Cards picked him up; Mikolas is currently 18-4 with a 2.83 ERA. The Cardinals also have a habit of throwing some young pitcher out on the mound that should be experiencing growing pains but somehow does not; this year, that pitcher was 22-year-old Jack Flaherty, he of the 3.16 ERA in 27 starts. There’s the obligatory flame-throwing kid in the bullpen (Jordan Hicks, who’s hit 105 MPH this season), and, of course, there’s the obligatory solid season by antediluvian catcher Yadier Molina.

    But other things went a little differently this time. For one thing, the Cardinals finally ended the Mike Matheny experience, as he was fired in midseason after leading the Cardinals to a third-straight disappointing first-half. Of course, there’s nothing remarkable about firing a manager for on-field disappointment, but this year, we found out that Matheny wasn’t any good off the field either, as June and July saw a bevy of stories leak out about Matheny’s awful clubhouse. The most notable story, of course, was that Matheny had decided to give resident terrible person Bud Norris (last seen in San Diego complaining about how “foreigners’ antics” were ruining the game) free rein in the clubhouse; Norris, naturally, used his newfound freedom to rat out pitchers for being late and to relentlessly pick on rookie Jordan Hicks. Another story detailed how Matheny and Dexter Fowler have not been on speaking terms for some time; apparently, Fowler had even gone so far as to block Matheny’s nightly “here’s the lineup and an inspirational thought!” texts. Still, the Cardinals seem to pride themselves on managerial consistency, so it’s a bit of a surprise that Matheny was fired…but fired he was.

    The storm of clubhouse discontent seems to have passed, as new manager Mike Shildt seems to have calmed the waters. Nevertheless, the effects of mismanagement may linger for a while. For one thing, Tommy Pham, fresh of an MVP season, vented in pre-season about his history of being jerked around in the outfield; while cause and effect is difficult to establish, the Cardinals were quick to give up on Pham after he posted a middling first half, and he was sent to the Rays, where he resumed MVP production. Moreover, Fowler still has three years left with the team, and team president John Mozeliak at one point joined with Matheny and the fans in calling out Fowler, saying on the radio that fans “should boo” the underperforming outfielder; it's entirely possible that the bridge between Fowler and the Cards has been irreparably damaged, which is going to be an issue since his contract makes him untradeable. The Cardinals have always prided themselves on being “old-school,” and while they have indeed done old-school scouting better than anyone else, they may, at some point, need to accept that they’re managing players who weren’t born in the fifties. Matheny, when asked about whether Norris’ bullying of Hicks would help the youngster, said, “Probably not. But Bud's going to do continue to do what he thinks is right as a veteran, so you respect that." That sort of sentiment might have flown when Matheny is a rookie, but now, the idea that veterans should haze rookies just because they’re veterans seems silly and antiquated. The Cardinals always seem to have the talent to win; it remains to be seen if they can find the management to match.

    The Cards last won a World Series in 2011.
     
  29. Rooster Crows

    Rooster Crows Well-Known Member Lifetime Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Joining the chorus of thanks, cannonball. These are must-read every year: informative, entertaining and spot-on. THANKS for taking the time, and providing so much value.
     
  30. MakeMineMoxie

    MakeMineMoxie Well-Known Member Bronze Supporter SoSH Member

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    647
    Nothing I can add to this. Thanks, Cannonball. Along this line, Dan Szymborski has a good Elegy for '18 series of columns on Fangraphs.

    https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/author/dszymborski/
     
  31. MakeMineMoxie

    MakeMineMoxie Well-Known Member Bronze Supporter SoSH Member

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    Cannonball, Would you consider doing your postmortem's for the playoff teams once they get eliminated?
     
  32. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Ah - just saw this question. Someone asked me about that last year as well, and I'd generally shied away from it for two reasons:

    1.) Eliminated teams are far more interesting to me because there are so many ways that a season can go wrong but only a few ways a season can go right.

    2.) A mathematical elimination is the culmination of a season's worth of success and failure. There's a full season's worth of reasons that the team was eliminated, and there's a sense that the elimination was earned for some reason. A playoff elimination, on the other hand, often comes at the hands of a fluky performance that looks nothing like what happened in the regular season. Postseasons are full of Mickey Loliches and Gene Tenaces coming out of the woodwork and single-handedly beating someone, or Randy Johnsons and Brad Lidges turning in bad pitching performances at the worst possible times, or Carlos Beltrans striking out in key at-bats, or even David Ortizes and Babe Ruths getting caught stealing in big situations. A postmortem on a playoff team always comes off like the postmortem of a Thanksgiving turkey: "It had a great life and one bad day!"

    Basically, the story of a playoff team is really two stories - the regular season story and the postseason story. It's hard to weave that into one cohesive narrative.
     
  33. MakeMineMoxie

    MakeMineMoxie Well-Known Member Bronze Supporter SoSH Member

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    Thanks for the reply, makes a lot of sense. It's just that we all enjoy your write-ups so much, we want more!
     
  34. cannonball 1729

    cannonball 1729 Well-Known Member Gold Supporter SoSH Member

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    Well, thanks! I appreciate it. I'm always glad that my writings find a receptive audience here.
     
  35. GeorgeThomas

    GeorgeThomas Member SoSH Member

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    If you like math (or even if you don't) get his book, "Trolling Euclid". It reads the same way. Highly recommended.
     
  36. h8mfy

    h8mfy lurker

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    242
    Thanks for the tip, and for all the write ups, I just ordered the book. I hope there are large logos for each of the various mathematicians covered, as these are for some reason, a favorite part of this thread every year
     

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