Angelino in the Outfield (Episode VII: Top of the 1st)

Written by :
Published on : April 17, 2016

 

 

Yeah, yeah. It’s still early. The Orioles have been amazing. The Mets have not. A lot of things are happening in baseball right now that aren’t necessarily supposed to be happening. I get it. There’s also been sub 40 degree weather and even snow flurries in a few games. And you don’t necessarily associate those things with baseball either. So it’s not quite time for most of these teams to freak out about anything just yet. That being said, these games still totally count. And these stats still totally count. Just like everything that happens in the top of the 1st inning of a game still totally counts. And that’s really mathematically how we should think about the first 9 games of the season.

 

I mean, everybody is still trying to find hope and meaning and clues in the smallest of things to see what the rest of the way to October will look like. But it’s still just the top of the 1st. Almost anything can and will happen. The bad news for the Twins and the Braves is that no team to lose their first seven games has ever made it to the postseason in the history of baseball. And I think only one team to ever go 0-8 even had a winning season. The good news for both of them is that they play each other at the end of July in a bizarro 25th anniversary rematch of that epic ’91 World Series and somebody will have to win. Okay! Let’s get started.

 

 

Are the Orioles for real? That was the biggest question this past week when the Orioles were the lone remaining undefeated team. And the obvious answer is probably not. But like, maybe. Hear me out. Before the season started, I listened to Tim Kurkjian of ESPN say that only 8 teams could go to the World Series from the NL. But in the American League, every single team had a shot. Then he added, “Even the Orioles.” Which shocked and dismayed the other baseball analysts who all do their best (but fail miserably) to hide their undying love for the Boston Red Sox.

 

But the Orioles almost make sense. Almost, I said. Baltimore isn’t THIS good. But we already knew they would hit a bunch of home runs. And that they play solid defense. And that they have a good bullpen. And that Manny Machado is awesome. So it makes sense that if their starting pitching could hold it together long enough to keep that offense in the game, they would always have a shot. It’s almost the exact same argument everyone made for the Blue Jays before the season started. The main difference is that Baltimore’s rotation is supposed to be terrible. And it hasn’t been thus far. But we shall see.

 

Speaking of terrible, don’t feel too bad for Pablo Sandoval, his mysterious shoulder injury or his exploding belt. Homeboy is owed $70 million through 2019. And I don’t know if David Ortiz watched Kobe go out with 60 points on Wednesday night, but it looks like he’s trying to do the baseball equivalent of the same thing. You know, overachieve for a team that won’t make the playoffs. I keed the Red Sox. They still have the highest projected playoff percentage in the AL I’m just waiting for somebody to explain to me why.

 

Sandoval

 

The most compelling division in the American League remains the AL Central, which arguably has the three best teams in the league right now. It feels like every single pitcher on the White Sox is amazing. It feels like every single pitcher on the Royals is amazing. The Tigers just took 3 out of 4 from the Pirates. And it looks like this whole Jordan Zimmermann thing is working out for them. The crazy thing is, it’s the Cleveland Indians who are still projected to win that division. None of this bodes well for Minnesota. But you probably already figured that out by now. Miguel Sano is about 60 points south of the Mendoza Line. Byron Buxton isn’t much better. And Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies has more RBI than the Twins do as an entire team. If they don’t drastically improve by next week’s column, I’m declaring them officially dead and over.

 

Do you know who the projected winner in the AL West is? It’s still the Houston Astros, who are currently in dead last place in the division. Actually, if the Twins didn’t exist, I might tell you the Astros had been the worst team in the league so far. Tyler White has been great. Colby Rasmus has been great. Carlos Correa has been good. But that staff ERA is north of 5, which is Boston-level terrible. I keed the Red Sox. The only good news for the Astros is that nobody else in the division wants to win that bad so far either. The fortunes of the Rangers might change with Nomar Mazara in right. But until somebody in the Nolan Ryan Division spends more than a day in first place, I’m not willing to trust anything.

 

Week 2 AL MVP & Rookie of the Year: Tyler White, Houston Astros

 

I still have no idea who this dude is. But the idea of considering Brian McCann the best hitter in the American League makes no sense either.

 

Week 2 AL Cy Young: Edinson Volquez, Kansas City Royals

If that is his real name. I really don’t know. He signed to the Rangers as ‘Julio Reyes’ in 2001. Then he went as Edison (with no extra ‘n’) from 2004-2007. He should have changed his name again after that 50 game suspension for PEDs in 2010, but I’ll try to forget that for now.

 

Now for the NL

Since we last spoke, Kyle Schwarber went down for the season with a torn ACL and LCL. And I love Kyle Schwarber. As my buddy, Mike Burns, said last year during the playoffs, “Kyle Schwarber looks like he eats baseballs.”  So I’m really bummed about his injury. That being said, I’m pretty sure this team is going to be okay. As of now, the Cubs far and away lead the Majors in run differential. There’s no glaring weakness in their batting order. And this has all the makings of a really fun summer for yours truly.

 

In the Cubs home opener at Wrigley, Addison Russell’s go-ahead home run made the fans go so crazy that it shook the press box. Cubs’ announcer, Len Kasper, said he hadn’t experienced that happening since Kerry Wood’s home run in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. Of course, at the time, Kasper was the announcer of the Florida Marlins. And it was the day after the Bartman game. But I remember that home run well. It tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the 2nd. I jumped up and down screaming like a lunatic, watching by myself in my apartment in Chicago. And while the Cubs ended up losing that game 9-6, at that moment the fans truly believed it was going to happen, if only for that brief moment. And that’s what it’s like right now to be a Cubs fan. Let me have this.

 

Russell

 

It’s also got to be fun to be a Nationals fan right now. Bryce Harper is breaking scoreboards. Daniel Murphy is reminding me of why I hate him. And then Jonathan Papelbon is slamming the door. They were playing the lowly Braves, but still. And if the Braves didn’t exist, we’d really have to talk about the last place New York Mets, who apparently hate to score runs. The fact that Noah Syndergaard has pitched the way he has in his first two outings and still somehow has a no decision is borderline criminal. And other than Thor, it’s almost time to put that ‘greatest pitching staff of all time’ shit to bed. Unless Bartolo Colon’s ‘Fattest Willy Mays Ever’ impression counts for something. I think the word I’m looking for is ‘schadenfreude’. Stupid Mets.

 

If the Dodgers don’t want anyone to notice their middle relief sucking, then they shouldn’t blow the game when Ross Stripling is out there in the rain trying to become the first pitcher since Bumpus Jones in 1892 to throw a no-hitter in his Major League debut. Not necessarily the most fun position for Dave Roberts to be in in his fifth game as manager. Also not fun: Zack Greinke is 0-2 with a 9.90 ERA for the Diamondbacks. And Shelby Miller is 0-1 with a 8.18 ERA. Yuck. But let’s talk about who is doing well…

 

Week 2 NL MVP: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

I was actually going to choose Trevor Story just because I hate Murphy so much. But it also makes me happy that the Mets’ anemic offense has to look at the stat sheets and see what it lost. You know, when they’re not buying horses and pigs and tricked out whips and sucking at baseball.

 

Week 2 NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

I think we’d better get used to him in this slot. Greatest one man staff of all time, everybody.

 

Week 2 NL Rookie of the Year: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

Yeah, he’s not done yet. I thought for sure I’d be handing it to Jeremy Hazelbaker of the St. Louis Cardinals this week. But Story leads the Majors in home runs and almost hit two more that would have been gone if the Rockies didn’t raise their fence. Just to be clear, three of the five best hitters in baseball right now are rookies. That’s nuts. The other two are Murphy and McCann. We’ll see how long this lasts.

 

Alright! Tune in next week as we begin the bottom of the 1st.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode I)

Written by :
Published on : February 27, 2016

 

 

Last week on Monday Night Raw, Shane McMahon made a shocking return to the WWE after a six year absence. And it was soon announced that he’d be facing the Undertaker inside ‘Hell in a Cell’ at WrestleMania 32. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Theo Epstein happened to be watching. Because just three days later, Dexter Fowler’s surprise return to the Cubs was as close to a WWE-style swerve as an actual non-scripted sport can get. The only thing it was missing was cued-up entrance music (“My Way” by Fetty Wap, would have been perf) and his Cubs teammates chanting ‘holy shit’ and ‘this is awesome’ (clap clap clap clap clap) after the big reveal.

 

Until that very moment, the consensus foregone conclusion was that Fowler had signed with the Baltimore Orioles. It was speculated and anticipated for weeks by baseball’s talking head community until it evolved into a full-blown fact. Right up until the moment it wasn’t. And after receiving a text that just said “Fowler!” from my ‘Go Cubs’ iPhone message group, I was so confused and skeptical that I didn’t believe the news until I actually saw the video of a 6’5″ dude in street clothes who looked a lot like Dexter Fowler walking onto the field with a guy who looked a lot like Theo Epstein and being greeted by a group of guys in Cubs uniforms who looked exactly like the rest of the Chicago Cubs. It wouldn’t take long for a meme to go out on social media with Steve Harvey holding the Miss Universe card and saying, “DEXTER FOWLER HAS SIGNED WITH THE ORIOLES.”

 

 Fowler will be back with the Cubs.

 

And while I could talk about what the Fowler signing means for the 2016 Cubs (the best team in baseball on paper just got better, Jason Heyward can now move back to right field where he’s won three Gold Gloves and it creates an insanely flexible lineup depth with Fowler, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber in the other outfield slots, etc.), it’s probably best to use this as further proof that conventional wisdom at the start of Spring Training doesn’t necessarily equate to actual regular season results. And everything we think we know about the 2016 season before it starts is probably just as true as the fact that Dexter Fowler is the new leadoff hitter for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

All that being said, I still can’t think of a reason why it won’t be the Cubs’ year in 2016. Yes, I’m still worried about the Cardinals. And I still think the Pirates are probably vastly underrated. And I know that saying, “Anything less than the World Series would be a huge disappointment” is a statement that is probably held equally true for the Mets and the Dodgers. And I know that the Nationals were the team that looked like the hands-down best-on-paper team last year. That is, of course, until they weren’t. But it’s still February as I type this. And hope still springs eternal. So as of right now, I’m a believer.

 

Around the League

 

The more I think about the 2016 Boston Red Sox and their high win projections, the more I have a problem with them. Pablo Sandoval showed up to Fort Myers looking like me after a cake bender. And if you combine that with Hanley Ramirez at first base, I don’t see why every team they face wouldn’t just put on a dead-ball-era bunt clinic until the Red Sox can figure their own shit out? But the good news for the Red Sox is that every team in their division has a really good reason why they won’t win either. The best one is that 5’8″ Marcus Stroman is going to become the the ace of the Blue Jays like he’s pitching’s Jose Altuve. And Jose Bautista’s contract looks like it’s already a distraction. As are the whispers that Troy Tulowitzki can’t hit outside of the thin air of Coors Field. And those two teams are the favorites in the division. If you add to that, the uncertainty of the rotation and age of the position players in New York, a possible 30-40 game suspension of Aroldis Chapman, a Tampa Bay Rays team that doesn’t score runs and an Orioles team that doesn’t prevent runs, it leaves me throwing up my hands and saying, “Let them eat cake.”

 

I’m increasingly curious to see Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios in Minnesota. Not to mention Miguel Sano and Byung-ho Park. That’s too much young talent to not pan out in a division where I’m totally ready to see something new and exciting happen. That could also occur if the White Sox can score runs and if the Indians can play defense. I just don’t want to see a scenario where these Kansas City Royals, who have the 13th-highest payroll in baseball and who will not be sneaking up on anyone this time around, can become the 1998-2001 Yankees or the 1988-1990 Bash Brother A’s. I can only take so many cuts to Happy George Brett in the owner’s box before I get sick of this double-tapered shit.

 

 Can the Royals really do it again?

 

My way-too-early AL MVP pick is going to be Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. Especially now that they created the Chase Utley Slide Rule to protect him. Mike Trout is still probably going to be the best player in the league. But he’s going to get ‘LeBron Ruled’ out of the award until the Angels can put a decent lineup around him. The same probably goes for Josh Donaldson and even a returning Miguel Cabrera because nobody likes repeats. So that probably leaves us with Manny Machado, who probably won’t be in playoff contention and Correa who probably will. And my backup choice is obviously Dexter Fowler, the definite new right fielder for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

And while I haven’t decided on my pre-season NL MVP pick quite yet, I will say that if the Diamondbacks are really going to be in contention, then there’s no reason it won’t be Paul Goldschmidt. But you can’t rule out never-been-picked guys like Giancarlo Stanton (with his zero facial hair and his Barry Bonds) or whichever Cubs player hogs up the most attention in their historic season. Or it could even be whoever this Royce Harper guy is Dusty Baker keeps talking about. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

 

Well, we have actual Spring Training games next week. We’ll get to see Lucas Giolito and Julio Urias and Corey Seager and Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo and start forming actual thoughts about these teams as they move towards the regular season. I’ve given you my picks for World Series champion and AL MVP. And with just a little bit more information, I can form enough of an opinion to the wrong about the rest. Stay tuned.

 

 


Great Expectations: A Spring Training Preview

Written by :
Published on : February 23, 2016

 

Oh no. This is a really weird feeling for a Cubs fan to have. For the first time that I can ever remember, the Lovable Losers on the North Side of Chicago seem to be both the unanimous pick to win their division and also a trendy choice for the 2016 World Series. And on paper it even makes sense. Last year, they proved that their young squad was ahead of their projected timeline, won 97 games and then went deep into the playoffs until they ran into a freakishly overachieving Daniel Murphy and a young Mets pitching staff that seems to remind everyone of the nineties Atlanta Braves. And then they went out in the offseason and got the best healthy pitcher and the best position player from their hated Cardinal rivals, and also added a guy who led the majors in WAR in 2009. Oh, and the rest of their seemingly-all-rookie lineup from last year is back and probably better than ever and still way too young and dumb to comprehend how a jaded, cynical asshole like me can still hesitate to be bullish on the prospects of a Thousand Year Cubs Dynasty.

 

This has to be too good to be true, right? There’s too much pressure. The Cubs never follow up a good season with another good season. Look at 1985, 1990 and every other year since The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And Jake Arrieta has to regress. Because he just has to. And John Lackey is 137 years old. And their bullpen isn’t quite there. And Jason Heyward isn’t a natural center fielder. And because they’re the fucking Cubs. Right? Like, why should I get my hopes up just to have them crushed again and again like I have my whole life? Why? Well… Because of Theo Epstein. And because of Joe Maddon. And because of that offense. Oh, that offense. And Kris Bryant. And Addison Russell. And Kyle Schwarber. And Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward is actually younger than Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward could win a Gold Glove in center. And because Arrieta may have pitched an assload of innings last year, but he famously stays in excellent shape. And because of how great of a story it would be if they actually did do it. And because, on paper, the Cubs just so happen to have the best team in baseball by a decent margin. Oh no, indeed.

 

 

The Rest of the NL Central

The Cubs may have kicked their ass and stolen their girlfriend, but the Cardinals are still the Cardinals. You just kind of assume they’ll be playing in October, no matter what. But even with Adam Wainwright back, the mystique feels like it’s gone, with a bad offseason and Yadier Molina needing to grow another thumb. Maybe their insane luck will finally run out. I also thought that about the Alabama football team back in September. Not that I should talk about football in the same breath I talk about St. Louis. Anyway… Then there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not like they sucked last year either. But nobody likes to talk about them because they’ll probably just get to the Wild Card and lose again, if they do anything at all. And the only fun thing about that is if Sean Rodriguez goes HAM on another water cooler. This division will inevitably be drowned out by the tidal wave of Cubs expectations. And the Reds and Brewers have probably already
drowned in it.

 

The NL East

According to EVERYONE, the Mets have the greatest pitching staff of all time, ever. And, yes, it’s horrifying. Matt Harvey is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom is a floppy-haired pitching monster. Noah Syndergaard actually is Thor. Big fat Bartolo Colon doesn’t age. Steven Matz would be a #1 starter on every other non-Mets team. And Zack Wheeler will be back in July to seal the already-done deal. Plus, all of them except Colon are 19 years old or something. The only problem is that nobody knows what type of hangover these guys will have from all those innings they ate up against Kansas City in the World Series. Or if they’ll even stay healthy. But if they do all bounce back, holy shit. Plus, they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, which all makes for an excellent case for them to go back to the World Series. No matter how much I hate that.

 

 

Overall this division is horrible. But Bryce Harper and the dysfunctional Nationals should contend. Even though Dusty Baker is their new manager. And nobody knows what to make of the Miami Marlins quite yet. Don Mattingly is their new manager. Barry Bonds is their new hitting coach. Giancarlo Stanton will be healthy. So will Jose Fernandez. But we’ll have to see what all that means, if anything. Or if those guys can even stay healthy in the first place. And anyone looking to make a bold prediction on the division a la the 2015 Cubs and Astros might want to keep their eye on the Atlanta Braves, who are building a monster farm team, even though they’ll most likely be just slightly less shitty than the Phillies in 2016.

 

The NL West

I hate to say it, but 2016 is an even year. So we can probably throw all the analytics out the window and just hand the San Francisco Giants their fourth world title seven years. Their pitching staff picked up two possibly-great/possibly-hugely-disappointing acquisitions in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And that could give them an edge in what everybody seems to think will be a three team race with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.

 

The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke. To the Diamondbacks. They also have a rookie manager in Dave Roberts. In a market that wore out Mattingly and sent him to Miami. They also didn’t do anything with their gigantic payroll in the offseason. And any time you need to rely on Yasiel Puig for anything other than drama, it’s a pretty scary predicament. But this is a deep team with a crazy-good farm system. And they’ll probably be in enough contention by the time the trade deadline rolls around to throw money at whatever problems they have (that don’t involve lack of team chemistry). Plus they still have Clayton Kershaw. At the end of the day, as a resident Angelino, I just want to see Vin Scully go out in style. And if that means the Dodgers have to be good for that to happen, I can accept that.

 

 

Yes, Arizona got Greinke. And Shelby Miller. And they still have unrecognizable superstar, Paul Goldschmidt and equally unrecognizable AJ Pollock. But their projections aren’t too high as of now because of a lack of offensive depth (sup, Yasmany Tomas?). And it seems more likely they could be this year’s Padres and/or White Sox. As for the 2016 Padres and Rockies, I’m not wasting my time. It is an even year, after all.

 

The AL East

Every team in the division not named the Baltimore Orioles seem to have a chance this year. But the overall consensus comes down to the rebounding Boston Red Sox and the reigning division champion Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I don’t know how acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel turns a 78-win last place team into a division favorite, but that’s just how the east coast media bias works. But it will be fun to see how fat Pablo Sandoval is. And if Hanley Ramirez can play first base. And it’s also the swan song for Big Papi. Plus, David Price is actually really fucking good. So I don’t know.

 

 

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball. And reigning MVP, Josh Donaldson. And their offense might be even better than last year since Troy Tulowitzki never got comfortable in Toronto in 2015. They’ll just have to stay healthy. And hope somebody on their team can pitch. As for the Yankees, they’re really old. And look how that worked out for them last season. Plus, you never know about that staff. And as good as their bullpen looks right now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Aroldis Chapman’s domestic abuse suspension. And the Rays have Chris Archer and the rest of their great starting five, but they’ll basically need everybody else on the lineup to be awesome to compete. Oh, and also the Orioles are in this division too, I guess.

 

The AL Central

The Royals won the World Series last year, no big deal. And they were one Madison Bumgarner away from being back-to-back World Series champions. Yet for some reason, Baseball Prospectus has them projected to be in last place in the Central in 2016. What gives? Maybe you can’t project things like ‘putting the ball in play and its positive consequences’ or ‘playing with a chip on their shoulder’, but whatever they did the past two seasons worked, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work again. They have the defense. They have the bullpen. It’s just so hard to make a good enough argument for or against a team with relatively zero stars, that’s this mediocre on paper, going to three straight Fall Classics.

 

 

The hot pick in the AL Central continues to be the Cleveland Indians because of an extremely good pitching staff. Add Francisco Lindor’s defense behind them and they could be a powerhouse. Or Michael Brantley could be hurt and their offense could struggle and they won’t have the money to make acquisitions at the trade deadline to compete. And while I have a soft spot for the Detroit Tigers, they’re also getting a little long in the tooth. They got Justin Upton to aid a pretty good, but aging offense. And they picked up Jordan Zimmermann and K-Rod to help out a healthy, but aging Justin Verlander-led group of arms. Health is the key here. And if they have it, they might compete. The White Sox might also compete, even though nobody outside of Bridgeport is talking about them. They got Todd Frazier. They have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a full season from Carlos Rodon. It’s just that everybody is distracted by the heat of a thousand suns ™ on the North Side. And the Twins have Miguel Sano, who is going to hit 40 dongs this year. Even though they were so terrible last year, that even when they were in first place for a while nobody bought it. If that makes any sense. Not that it should. Why would anything in this division make sense? I mean, Royals went to the World Series the past two years.

 

The AL West

Even though the Astros are the unanimous choice to win the division, everybody would rather talk about the Texas Rangers. Their 2015 playoff run was nothing short of a miracle. And now they’ll have full seasons from Cole Hamels and a healthy Yu Darvish. It’s just that nobody really expected the Astros to be where they were last season either. And now nobody expects them to regress. And the former hot choices in the division seem like yesterday’s newspaper. Mike Trout has no talent around him in Anaheim. Nobody wants to get fooled by the Mariners ever again. And the A’s need too much to get anything done.

 

 

So there you have it. Now you’re ready for the baseball season. And now you know why your team probably sucks and why you should switch allegiances to the Chicago Cubs. Or at least that’s how everything looks right now. Spring training, when nothing counts. And before the actual season comes with all its shitty reality to break hearts, launch new stars into the stratosphere and ruin every expectation, rendering long-winded predictions like the one I just spent way too long typing on a nice afternoon completely worthless. But hey, that’s baseball.

 

What else were we gonna talk about, Donald Trump?

 

 

 


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