It's do-or-die time for Yankees in massive Red Sox series


New York Post 14 July, 2021 - 04:50pm 18 views

Who wins MLB All Star Game?

Toronto Blue Jays' Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a 468-foot home run in the third inning, helping push the American League to a 5-2 win over the National League on Tuesday night in the 2021 MLB All-Star Game. The AthleticMLB All-Star Game: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wins MVP; AL beats NL

By Greg Joyce

July 14, 2021 | 5:50pm | Updated July 14, 2021 | 5:50pm

The day after the Yankees were swept by the Red Sox last month for the second time this season, Aaron Boone declared that his team’s season was on the line.

Twelve games of .500 baseball (including three brutal gut-punches for losses) and an All-Star break later, it’s do-or-die time with the Red Sox coming back to town.

There’s no soft opening to the second half of the season for the Yankees, who get back in action Thursday with a four-game series against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. That begins a stretch of 11 of 13 games against the Red Sox and Rays (including eight against AL East-leading Boston), which could ultimately define their season.

“Coming out of the break, it’s a huge deal,” right-hander Jameson Taillon said as the Yankees closed out the first half. “It’s right in front of us. We’ll have eight or 10 games where we can go out and take what’s ours. If we play well, we can put ourselves right back in the mix. If we don’t come out and play well, it’s not going to be good for us.”

The Red Sox have dominated the rivalry with the Yankees so far this season, sweeping a three-game set in The Bronx in early June before doing it again at Fenway Park at the end of the month.

The Yankees have talked plenty about using certain wins or series as springboards to finally get their season moving in the right direction, but thus far have been unable to follow through. They entered the most recent series in Boston having won seven of nine and having cut the Red Sox’s division lead down to four games, only to get swept and enter a tailspin in which they lost seven of eight.

That led to Boone’s season-on-the-line comment and general manager Brian Cashman adding that the Yankees “suck right now.” At that point, Cashman was still planning to be a buyer ahead of the July 30 trade deadline and expected the trade market to open up after the MLB draft, which came to a close Tuesday. Now, this 13-game stretch could decide whether he remains a buyer.

The Yankees appeared to be gaining some momentum heading into the All-Star break, only to let a sweep of the Astros slip through their fingers as they ended the first half with another devastating loss by blowing a five-run lead in the ninth inning.

“That’s going to stick with you and that’s painful, but we also got to move on from it and understand that the stretch we’re about to embark on is too important and too great of an opportunity,” Boone said. “We have to build on the things that we’re doing well.”

While Boone, before Sunday’s meltdown against the Astros, was still working on his rotation order to come out of the break, the Red Sox have theirs set. Eduardo Rodriguez will get the nod to start the series, followed by Martin Perez, Nathan Eovaldi and Nick Pivetta.

“I hope everyone has a good break and physically and mentally resets,” Taillon said. “But at the same time, we need to come out ready for the second half because the Red Sox and Tampa Bay will be ready.”

Read full article at New York Post

Yankees report card: Who's responsible for ugly first half?

New York Post 14 July, 2021 - 07:14pm

By Dan Martin

July 13, 2021 | 7:18pm | Updated July 13, 2021 | 7:18pm

The Yankees have been among MLB’s biggest disappointments in the first half. World Series aspirations have turned into the Yankees trying to get back into the wild-card race in the second half, as the Red Sox and Rays take control of the AL East. And just when they seem ready to turn things around, they suffer a disastrous defeat — like Sunday in Houston. Who’s responsible for the subpar showing in The Bronx? Let’s grade it out:

The lefty hasn’t pitched much, but he’s pitched well and he provided two important outings late in the first half against the Mets and Houston.

Judge has been the lone constant in the Yankees’ lineup, providing power and the ability to get on base. Just as importantly, he’s been able to stay on the field, despite dealing with an unspecified lower-body injury.

The right-hander continues to get better and has been as reliable as any arm in the Yankees’ bullpen. He’s had a pair of brutal outings, but has bounced back and otherwise been dominant, gaining the Yankees’ trust.

Once known as an innings-eater out of the bullpen, Cessa has become a more important weapon the last two years.

The left-hander, who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2015, has emerged as a reliable option.

The Yankees’ $324 million ace looked the part in the early going of the regular season, striking out batters at a record pace and building on a strong start to his Yankees career. Then came MLB’s crackdown on sticky substances and Cole became a different pitcher- someone with an ERA north of 5.00. He rebounded with a brilliant, 129-pitch shutout in Houston before the break. How Cole adapts to this new substance-free reality will play a large role in the fate of the Yankees’ season.

After briefly overtaking Gary Sanchez as the starting catcher, Higashioka has settled back into the backup role. He’s also been behind the plate for Gerrit Cole’s excellent start to the year and ensuing struggles.

Stanton’s numbers are solid, but not what he produced when he was in Miami. He carried the offense when he was the hottest hitter on the planet in late April and early May, but still goes through too many down times and remains locked at DH.

He’s not hitting as well as he did in previous seasons, but Urshela has provided some decent offense and has continued to play a superb third base- as well as a pretty good shortstop, when needed.

The right-hander has been excellent in long relief, but a disappointment when given the opportunity to start.

The left-hander has been fine, but the Yankees are still waiting for him to take the next step to a No. 2 starter.

After a tense return from his suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence protocols, German started slowly, but recovered after a trip to the minors and pitched well. But he’s had a disappointing last month.

The Yankees picked up Odor off the scrap heap and at times, it looks like he’ll never get another hit. But he delivered some big ones in the early going and occasionally shows flashes at the plate.

The streaky Sanchez has lived up to his reputation in the first half. His nightmarish 2020 continued into this season before he broke out in May with a phenomenal stretch. But he finished the first half in a slump. His numbers are OK — especially for a catcher, but the Yankees had higher expectations from a guy that was once one of the premier right-handed hitters in the game.

Other than a stretch in early June when his power briefly returned, it’s been another lost season for Andujar, who doesn’t have a position and can’t stay healthy.

The Yankees brought Gardner back to be a fourth outfielder, but injuries to Aaron Hicks and others have forced the 37-year-old to play center field regularly and it’s taken its toll.

After signing a six-year, $90 million deal in the offseason, LeMahieu looked nothing like the hitter the Yankees saw during his first two seasons in The Bronx. Some believed he was particularly affected by pitchers’ advanced spin rates and he’s hit better since the crackdown on sticky substances began and his defensive versatility has been helpful again.

The lefty was solid after coming over from San Francisco in exchange for Mike Tauchmna, but less effective lately.

Expected to provide a jolt to the rotation, the right-hander has instead had difficulty adjusting to the new approach he developed in coming back from a second Tommy John surgery, but has been good in three of his last four.

Like Cole, it’s been a tale of two seasons for the closer- although the reason for the collapse is a little less clear. Chapman’s spin rate hasn’t been down that much since MLB’s crackdown, but he’s gone from as dominant a regular season stretch by a closer to completely lost, practically overnight. If the Yankees aren’t able to get Chapman and Cole right, it doesn’t matter what else they do.

So what was the fluke? The Yankees were hoping it was last year’s miserable season from Torres, but maybe it was his first two seasons in the majors, when he was an All-Star. His power has vanished and he still makes too many mistakes at shortstop.

He’s been unable to stay healthy and hasn’t found his home run stroke.

Anointed the starting left fielder in the offseason, Frazier lost his job and is now on the IL.

Signed in the offseason, the veteran lefty has been awful.

The injury-prone Hicks is lost for the season again.

The right-hander was pitching well when he went down with another shoulder injury and his no-hitter in Texas was among the Yankees’ only highlights of the first half.

Had up and down results before going down with a rotator cuff injury and then a strained hamstring.

The Yankees insist there is enough talent on the roster to contend, but the fourth-year manager hasn’t been able to tap into it.

An offseason that included signing Kluber, Gardner, O’Day and Wilson and trading for Taillon has, at best, been a disappointment. And bringing back LeMahieu at that price hasn’t looked good so far.

Red Sox Expected To Promote Jarren Duran

MLB Trade Rumors 14 July, 2021 - 07:14pm

The Red Sox are promoting top outfield prospect Jarren Duran to make his major league debut tomorrow night against the Yankees, reports Joe McDonald of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (Twitter link). Boston’s 40-man roster is full, so another move is required to accommodate the formal selection of his contract.

Duran is one of the game’s more promising young talents. While he fell to the seventh round of the 2018 draft coming out Long Beach State, he immediately improved his stock upon entering pro ball. The speedster posted incredible numbers across two levels of A-ball over his first year-plus in the minors before hitting a bit of a bump in the road upon a 2019 promotion to Double-A. He spent all of 2020 at the alternate training site, where reports suggested he’d revamped his swing path to incorporate more loft in an attempt to hit for power.

Evaluators took note of Duran’s changed profile, but last year’s cancelation of the minor league season still left some question whether he’d be able to translate his new mechanics into results. He’s done all he can to answer those doubts this season, hitting a whopping .270/.365/.561 across 219 plate appearances with Triple-A Worcester. Duran has popped fifteen home runs over the year’s first half after hitting a grand total of seven round-trippers over his 880 trips to the plate between 2018-19. A livelier Triple-A baseball could account for some of that production, but there’s little question Duran’s adjustments have had a sizable impact upon his newfound power.

The improved performance has also raised Duran’s stock in the public prospect rankings sphere. Eric Longenhagen and Kevin Goldstein of FanGraphs now slot the left-handed hitting outfielder as the game’s #55 overall prospect. (Entering the season, he wasn’t among FanGraphs’ top 133 farmhands, although he did slot seventh in the site’s rankings of Red Sox minor leaguers).

Importantly, Duran’s uptick in power hasn’t come with much accompanying swing-and-miss. His 23.7% strikeout rate this season is right in line with his 2019 mark in Double-A. That’s a bit higher than his low minors strikeout percentages but not glaringly so, and there’s little question the improved batted ball authority has been worth any small dip in contact rate.

Now that he’s in the big leagues, Duran looks likely to take over center field on a regular basis. Boston has gotten very little out of the position this year, with a cumulative .236/.300/.392 mark from their group of Kiké HernándezAlex VerdugoDanny Santana and Hunter Renfroe. With Duran up, the Sox can rely on Verdugo and Renfroe in the corners on most days while keeping J.D. Martinez at designated hitter. That’ll push Hernández back into the utility role for which he’s best suited. Santana’s currently on the injured list, with Marwin González expected to land on the shelf as well. One of that underperforming duo could find themselves squeezed off the roster upon their return from the IL.

The Red Sox hold a 1.5 game lead over the Rays in the American League East, so Duran’s being thrust right into the thick of a pennant race. Between his combination of Triple-A production and the Sox mediocre center field situation, it had become increasingly apparent Boston should at least give Duran an opportunity to stake a claim to the job. He’ll get that chance beginning tomorrow against their archivals, over whom they have an eight-game advantage in the standings.

Duran won’t earn a full year of major league service in 2021, nor is he expected to accrue enough service time to qualify for early arbitration as a Super Two player. If he remains in the majors from here on out, he’ll be controllable through 2027 and won’t reach arbitration-eligibility until after the 2024 campaign.

To the playoffs, which is somewhere the Indians aren’t going

Back to Worcester when he hits 136 by August 1

I highly doubt that. This kid has rookie of the year talent but he won’t play enough to earn it this year. Hopefully he’s still eligible as a rookie next season and he runs away with it!

Well, at least that would be a better outcome than hitting .186 all year like Frazier and still being on the Yankees roster…

I doubt he’ll be eligible as a rookie next year. He’ll likely surpass 130 at bats or 45 games which would take away his eligibility.

Shout it out, where are we going!

Duran ate his Wheaties in 2021, 15 hrs in 219 PA! Wow, put him in coach, he got the home run bug all of a sudden.

Hah. I love how they usually let rookies debut on the west coast, and with Duran they’re like, New York. That should be a nice easy transition to the big leagues for you. Anyway, if he can play there he can play anywhere. Would love to have him in center hitting leadoff eventually.

It’s interesting, because over the years I’ve noticed the Yankees have debuted a number of their prospects against the Red Sox. Couldn’t tell if it was a coincidence, or by design, or just confirmation bias on my part since the two teams play each other 19 times a year.

It’s an OPS of .926, would be best for 10th in the majors (exactly what JD Martinez is hitting). I’d say it’s pretty dang good at the least.

Yes that is objectively an outstanding slash line. What more do you need to see?

I mean, yes. His ISO is nearly .300. That would be 6th in MLB right now. To claim he’s not absolutely crushing the ball in AAA is delusional.

We will see if he does anything in the Majors, but his minor league stats are definitely “whopping”.

A .926 OPS and a 45 home run, 35 stolen base pace over a full season thus far… I would most certainly call that a “whopping” stat line.

it will be really disappointing if jurran duran doesn’t use a duran duran song as his walkup

Hopefully ‘Hungry like the Wolf’, not ‘Invisible’.

His parents are lame why didn’t they name him Jarren Duran Duran

Yessss!!! Agreed time to take out the trash on the roster. Marwin can haul the garbage can containing Andriese and Brice to the curb with him . Make a play for a starter and give NoGrip Richards his walking papers

All I could think when Franchy Cordero was still starting for the Sox was “Just be patient, it’ll all be over soon. Duran is crushing it more than ever, just hang in there”… So I have definitely been looking forward to this day, as I’m sure every Sox fan has. I’m a believer at this point in Duran. He was all tools for a little while there, but he has made tremendous strides both offensively and defensively the past couple seasons. He always had great speed and athleticism, but his development of power is what has turned him into a truly exciting, potential five-tool prospect. I’m interested to see where they bat him in the lineup, at least to start out. Let’s go Jarren!

Lol, prospects are now having to adjust their approach for a juiced baseball. I wonder which players will suddenly become significantly worse if the MLB ever goes back.

I hope all of the allocades for Duran are spot on but have my doubts.. 3 or 4 weeks from now we will have some idea. of whether he is ready or not.

Duran Duran how is 270 whopping in triple a

Duran does have the earmarks of a player who could step into the majors and be overrated from the start. Big market team; excited fanbase with very lofty expectations craving for his arrival all season; produced his AAA numbers with the 2019-20 MLB rocket ball that is no longer being used; an approach prone to a bit of swing and miss; and while he has a decent prospect ranking, it’s not an exceptionally high one too as many players in this range turn into busts. The negatives out of the way, he’s talented, so looking forward to see what he’s got.

I have to give Boston credit for finding great talent in later rounds including best player in MLB Betts. Yankees definitely lack in player development.

There is no such thing as “over-achieving”. Cora simply has the team. playing at its “collective” best almost every day they play. Some managers just do not have that ability in their makeup but Cora does.

Can a team underachieve? Sure. Then a team, automatically, can overachieve. There’s no up without a down. I don’t believe the Saint Cora singular reasoning.

I agree we’re over-achieving but it’s great. The pitching will come back to earth but there are enough bats in that lineup that we can win some crooked score games. It may not be this year but Bloom has them on the right path

Bye, bye Danny Santana. I’m so excited to see what Duran can do at the MLB level. It’s about time!!!

MLB Trade Rumors is not affiliated with Major League Baseball, MLB or 14 July, 2021 - 07:10pm

Yankees Playoff Chances: 5 things NY must do in second half of 2021 MLB season to make postseason

Yahoo Sports 14 July, 2021 - 02:51pm

Dan Wetzel, Pat Forde, Pete Thamel

The Yankees didn't expect themselves to be 46-43 at this point, but that's where they begin the second half, sitting eight games back of the first-place Boston Red Sox in the AL East.

It's been a real letdown, to put it simply, that New York hasn't been able to find a consistent groove with such a talented roster. And with the MLB trade deadline the next big date on the calendar, it's unknown if the Yanks want to be aggressive to try to rejuvenate the squad for that second-half push, or sell off and think long-term.

There is a championship window for this club, though, and manager Aaron Boone has stated numerous times that he knows his team is capable of much more. They've proven that over the years.

So let's take a look at five things that need to happen for the Yankees to take control of the second half of the season and possibly punch their ticket to play for a World Series:

Hi, Brian Cashman. This one's for you.

The Yankees can't be entirely dependent on Gerrit Cole in the second half to get them over the hump. That's not how a playoff team works. Corey Kluber may not return at all this season, and the likes of Jameson Taillon, Domingo German and Jordan Montgomery just isn't enough.

There's a possibility Luis Severino can give quality innings when he makes his return from Tommy John rehab, but you can't take that to the bank.

Yankees fans aren't asking Cash to get a Jose Berrios (though that would work wonders behind Cole) with his price tag very high. But someone like Cubs' Zach Davies, Pirates' Tyler Anderson and others should be available to provide quality innings that the Yanks can use in a potential run.

Honestly, it's a necessity if the Yanks wish to make it.

An ERA over 11 since May 23, and Boone not being able to use him as the Yanks' closer at the moment.

He may have been in an All-Star uniform in Denver on Tuesday night, but Aroldis Chapman hasn't been pitching like that in the slightest. His velocity is slightly down as he tries to find the strike zone, and players are teeing off on his high-octane fastball because he's getting behind in counts.

Why pick out these two specifically? Well, given their spot in the lineup (usually Top 6), the Yankees need these two to hit like they have in the past.

That doesn't mean we need LeMahieu putting up the best average in baseball again. But slashing .270/.351/.367 isn't the LeMahieu Yankee fans came to love and the one that got things going each night at the top of the lineup. He has been better with a .305 average with 11 RBI, one homer and two doubles in his last 15 games before the break, but numbers like that need to be consistent for the catalyst in this power-heavy group.

As for Torres, his struggles from the shortened 2020 campaign trickled over into this season and they haven't stopped. And the Yanks can't send him down to Triple-A to figure it out and get his confidence yup because, well, they don't have any options to take his place. He's hitting .240/.326/.308 with only three dingers and 29 RBI.

Torres is certainly capable of more and the Yanks need to see it in the second half.

He's battled injuries throughout the season, but since returning, Voit hasn't really gotten going.

It seemed he was going to after the Royals series, where he cranked two homers as well as a long walk-off hit. But he's got just three homers in 29 games and 11 RBI, coming from the league-leader in big flies last season.

Again, Voit is another Yankee at the top of the lineup, normally stationed between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. With those two playing well (Judge has been New York's best offensive player by far), Voit's bat finding itself again in the middle creates a power trifecta that teams hate pitching to.

Voit finding that power stroke consistently again would help this team that sits 20th in runs per game.

The Yankees have 11 of their first 13 games in the second half against the Boston Red Sox (eight games) and Tampa Bay Rays (three games) – the top two teams in the AL East. Both teams have given the Yanks fits thus far, but if there was ever a time to make that push, it would be setting the tone immediately against these two teams.

New York would not only make up ground in the division, but also tell the rest of the league they’re not going away that easy and there’s a lot of baseball left. And if they can do that, it gets easier with the Miami Marlins, Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners and Kansas City Royals before facing the Chicago White Sox and Red Sox again when August rolls around.

Setting the tone will be a major key for New York. If they don’t, the pinstripes could quickly be looking at a double-digit gap in the division instead of just a few games.

Touching moments like this from the new Nationals signing are what make sports so great.

As the second half of the Major League Baseball season approaches, plenty has changed from an odds perspective.

Philadelphia won't just trade Ben Simmons just to trade him. They should still get strong offers for him.

The second half begins with one game when Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and the AL East-leading Red Sox visit Yankee Stadium. Left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez (6-5, 5.52 ERA) starts for Boston, which holds a 1 1/2-game edge over Tampa Bay. New York and Toronto are eight games behind the Red Sox.

It was a nifty night for Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ best player, who showed off his defensive prowess and his patience at the MLB All-Star Game.

As the New York Mets prepare to begin the second half of their 2021 MLB season their starting pitching rotation order is starting to come into focus.

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Mike Trout has helped the Los Angeles Angels score a lot of runs over the years. The Angels became the first club ever to select exclusively pitchers over a full amateur draft this week when they took 20 straight hurlers. The arms race began with Miami (Ohio) right-hander Sam Bachman at No. 9 overall Sunday and ended with TCU righty Marcelo Perez in the 20th round on Tuesday.

“I have no issue with owning up and apologizing from the bottom of my heart for the really hurtful words that I used.”

JPMorgan Chase & Co second-quarter profits jumped 155% as the U.S. economy continued to rebound, but executives warned on Tuesday that the sunny outlook would not make for blockbuster revenues in the short term due to low interest rates, weak loan demand and a slowdown in trading. Despite the stellar profits, JPMorgan's shares fell 2.5% as investors focused on emerging challenges for financial stocks. Analysts pressed executives about competition from digital upstarts, prompting Chief Executive Jamie Dimon to exclaim at one point: "My God, the company is doing quite fine."

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Is Jacob deGrom headed for the record books? Are the Yankees and Braves done? And is there a better long-shot World Series pick than the Giants?

The Mets and Yankees will reportedly be in attendance to watch veteran LHP Cole Hamels throw at his showcase on Friday in Texas.

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Alex Rodriguez: Yankees need ‘radical change’ or they’re done 14 July, 2021 - 10:30am

Alex Rodriguez doesn’t like the Yankees’ odds of a turnaround.

“The way the Rays and the Red Sox are going, I think, unless there’s radical change — and I don’t see one coming — I think the party’s over at least this year for the Yankees,” Rodriguez said while on FOX Sports on Monday night.

Introducing Yankees Insider: Get exclusive news, behind-the-scenes observations and the ability to text message directly with beat writers

Rodriguez decried his former team’s lack of lineup diversity. Eight of their nine regulars are right-handed hitters. Center fielder Brett Gardner has been the lone everyday lefty.

“As a right-handed hitter,” A-Rod said, “I loved having a left-handed guy right behind me like (Ken) Griffey (Jr.), or (Mark) Texieira, or (Hideki) Matsui. What we want as a lineup, we want lefty-righty-lefty-righty. That way, that opposing manager always has a tough decision. Right now, the way that team is architected, there’s eight righties against a righty (pitcher). They’re last in doubles, they’re last in triples, they’re second in double plays. They have made a ton of outs — almost 40 outs on the bases.”

The Yankees’ season might already be on the brink.

Going into the All-Star break, they were just 46-43 and tied with the Blue Jays for third place in the American League East. They were eight games back of the first-place Red Sox and 4 1/2 games behind in the Wild Card race.

They have a chance to make up ground immediately. Starting Thursday at Yankee Stadium, 11 of their next 13 games will be against the Red Sox or Rays.

David Ortiz also identified his concern with manager Aaron Boone’s team: A lack of a guiding voice from the players.

“I always believe in veteran leadership,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been watching the Yankees quite a bit, especially this season. When I watch them in the dugout, I feel like there’s some communication missing between players. When we would compete against these guys (looks at Rodriguez), you could tell they were talking about game situations, what was happening during the game because they mob as a group — four of them over here, four of them over there. You could tell that the communication and the veteran leadership was there. That would probably be the problem right now with the Yankees because the talent is there. They might need a little bit of help with the pitching. Chapman might need to come back. ... At the end of the day, when you have that type of talent, and you’re struggling that much, that means there’s some chemistry that needs to be fixed in that clubhouse to go back to what everybody expects.”

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Will Yankees still be playing in October? Will Jacob deGrom make history? 5 predictions for MLB’s second half

New York Daily News 14 July, 2021 - 06:30am

Top all that off with the labor dispute that seems to be an inevitable iceberg at the end of this season, plus the imagined arrival of the universal DH in 2022, and the second half of 2021 could be the last time that baseball looks like this.

In trying to predict how the rest of the season will play out, the two local teams find themselves at the focal point, while some big picture possibilities are coming into focus. Here’s five predictions for the remainder of the year, one that has 15 of its 30 teams within five games of a playoff spot at the All-Star break.

Yes, it looks unlikely right now. They’re 4.5 games behind Oakland — current holders of the second wild card spot - who have been one of baseball’s most consistent clubs of the past four years.

The real opportunity for the Yankees lies in the 13 games left against the Red Sox. They need to start by winning one of those games — something they haven’t done yet this season — but if the Yankees can take, say, eight of those 13, they’ll be in great shape. So long as they take care of business against the Orioles, Marlins and Rangers of the world (15 remaining meetings with those last-place losers, but also a tall order for a team as infuriatingly unpredictable as the Yankees), they should control their own destiny entering the season’s final weeks.

As things stand right now, Jacob deGrom has a 1.08 ERA in 92 innings. Somehow, it feels like he’s been better than that. Seemingly every trembling hitter who crosses deGrom ends up slinking back to the dugout three strikes later. That’s why it doesn’t seem impossible for him to finish the season with an ERA below 1.12, Gibson’s figure from 1968 that’s the best for any starting pitcher since integration.

If we assume deGrom starts 15 of the Mets’ final 75 games — the same number he started before the All-Star break — that means he’s headed for 90 more innings or so. Ballparking his final season total at 182 innings, deGrom would need to keep his earned run total for the season at 22 or less. He only allowed 11 through his first 15 starts, so if he can match that total in his last 15 starts, he’ll be the new record holder with a 1.09 ERA.

Should deGrom head into September with a shot at the record, spawning a new goal for the hyper-focused pitching robot to fixate on, it’s hard to envision anyone getting a hit off him, let alone scoring a run.

There are only two players who have stolen 20 or more bases this year. Whit Merrifield is the leader in the clubhouse at 24, with Fernando Tatis Jr. pacing the National League at 20. The last time a full season was played without anyone swiping 45 bases was 1963, when Luis Aparicio and Maury Wills led the way at 40 apiece.

Merrifield nabbed 45 in 2018 and is surely the best hope for doing so in 2021. His Royals are better positioned for a top-eight draft pick than a playoff berth, so chasing personal statistics is a non-issue for Kansas City’s speedster. Tatis Jr., on the other hand, has his eyes on a ring. The Padres’ coaching staff obviously do too, and in order to pursue that dream, they might ask Tatis to rein it in and avoid getting hurt on the basepaths before the postseason. That leaves all eyes on Merrifield, including the opposing pitchers and catchers that want to put the brakes on him.

The Dodgers always have a way to improve their team midseason. The weirdness of 2020 limited that, but in 2019 the Dodgers called up then-top prospects Dustin May and Gavin Lux to make their roster even more ridiculous. The year before that they traded for Manny Machado and brought him all the way to a World Series. The same happened in 2017 with Yu Darvish.

This season, the Dodgers are wrestling with the Giants and Padres at the top of the NL West. To win that division and avoid a crapshoot wild card game, the Dodgers should look to add some pieces. Kris Bryant, the upcoming free agent whose Cubs fell below .500 just before the break, would look lovely in left field in Los Angeles.

The city of San Diego is due for a championship. Who better to bring it to them than the most exciting team baseball has seen in years, spearheaded by one of the faces of the game? Flanked by Machado and supported by Joe Musgrove, Jake Cronenworth and a constellation of contributors on the league’s best-constructed roster, Tatis Jr. and the Padres will be parading around Petco Park this winter.

The 2021 Post–All-Star Break MLB Power Rankings

The Ringer 14 July, 2021 - 05:30am

With the second half of the MLB season about to begin and the trade deadline fast approaching, it’s time once again to take stock of the best—and the worst—of the league to this point in the season

That’s not to say we’re doomed to a dull pennant race—with any luck, the clear stratification between buyers and sellers will lead to a brisk trade deadline and some surprises in August and September. But teams currently outside the top 10 are running out of time to make their decisive move.

How can a team that doesn’t lead its own division be the best team in baseball? Turns out it’s a really tough division.

The Dodgers have the best run differential (plus-142), the highest PECOTA playoff odds (99.7 percent), and the best roster in the game, even with the likes of Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw on the IL. And even without Seager, the Dodgers’ lineup boasts seven position players with an OPS+ of 110 or better; the exception is former MVP Cody Bellinger, who’s still playing his way back into peak form after a hamstring injury.

So the better question is this: How is this team still behind the Giants? The obvious answer is that while the Dodgers are the league’s best team on paper, they’ve been the league’s worst team in extra innings—literally, at 1-8—and they’re five games under .500 in one-run games. Ordinarily, teams that underperform that much in close games have bad bullpens. But while the Dodgers’ relief corps ain’t exactly the 1990 Reds, it’s pretty solid overall: ninth in strikeout rate, fifth in opponent batting average, eighth in WPA, fifth in home run rate. Kenley Jansen has a 1.24 ERA, for God’s sake! The past three and a half months have revealed plenty of new information about the NL West’s power structure, but I’d still expect the Dodgers to end up on top by season’s end.

George Springer’s gone. Alex Bregman is hurt. José Urquidy is hurt. Justin Verlander (remember him?) is hurt. Houston got basically nothing from Framber Valdéz and Jake Odorizzi for the first two months of the season. And this team finished under .500 last year and only made the playoffs by virtue of a uniquely inclusive postseason format.

But reports of the Astros’ demise seem to have been exaggerated. It turns out that José Altuve (.278/.361/.498) and Yuli Gurriel (.313/.377/.472) aren’t washed after all. Yordan Álvarez, who barely played in 2020, is back to his Rookie of the Year form. And Carlos Correa, who’d drifted into a contract year after three seasons of inconsistency and injuries, is having his best season since 2017. The conga line offense of the peak Trash Can Astros is back—and it’s as strong as ever.

If you haven’t already, you should make your peace with this Giants team as a serious title contender. Mike Yastrzemski’s shocking emergence as a star in 2019 and 2020 was not an outlier, but merely a harbinger of things to come. Steven Duggar, another unremarkable left-handed college outfield prospect, is all of a sudden hitting like Orlando Cepeda. The last remaining holdouts from the Even Year Bullshit teams have rediscovered their lost youth, so much so that it wouldn’t be a shock to see Peter Thiel banging on the stadium gates demanding to know their secrets.

But once you get past the initial shock of, say, Anthony DeSclafani throwing two complete-game shutouts and having an outside shot at 20 wins, it’s hard to identify a fatal weakness for the Giants. Maybe injuries—Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Tommy La Stella are all on the IL—but the team had been planning for life after those guys anyway. When Posey went down, they could call up Joey Bart. Darin Ruf has hit .271/.387/.542 since returning from Korea a year ago. Their rotation is deep, their bullpen is solid, and their run differential is the second best in the NL. This run doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.

The White Sox have had six starting position players either suffer a long-term injury or play poorly enough to get pushed off the roster. One of their best position players, Yasmani Grandal, was hitting .188 before he got hurt (albeit with ludicrous secondary numbers). Their manager even invited opposing teams to throw at one of his own players following a ridiculous “unwritten rules” controversy. And yet the White Sox have an eight-game lead in the AL Central—a lead that’s twice as big as any other division leader’s—and are on absolute autopilot for October.

There are many reasons for this. First is the Twins’ catastrophic and unexpected collapse. Second is the fact that José Abreu, Tim Anderson, and Yoán Moncada are picking up the slack for their fallen comrades, as is rookie Andrew Vaughn, who is not only hitting well in his first taste of big league action but has managed to play 67 games in the outfield without maiming himself—which would not have been a given in late March. Most of all, though, Chicago’s rotation has been the best in the American League. Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodón have formed a near-unbeatable 1-2 punch, while Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, and Dallas Keuchel have not only been effective, but also healthy. Whatever other rotten injury luck the White Sox have had, it is extremely easy to win baseball games with five healthy, effective, and consistent starting pitchers.

One almost has to feel bad for the Padres. Fernando Tatis Jr. is ascending to hitherto unimaginable heights of baseball excellence, and the bullpen is by far the best in baseball. But injuries have taken Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Dinelson Lamet out of the rotation. The Padres were built to weather such choppy waters—literally in this case, as 21-year-old Ryan Weathers has posted a 2.91 ERA in 58 2/3 innings as a starter and long reliever. But even so, they seem to be headed inexorably for a one-game wild-card playoff, on the road, against either Walker Buehler or Kevin Gausman. Life isn’t always fair.

This is going to sound ridiculous, because it shouldn’t be possible to underrate a three-time All-Star who plays shortstop for the Boston Red Sox and was an everyday player in two World Series. But I think Xander Bogaerts is a little underrated right now.

Sure, he came up to enormous fanfare as a 20-year-old in late 2013, but since then the Red Sox brought up Mookie Betts and Rafael Devers, signed David Price and J.D. Martinez, and traded for Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale. Across the league, Bogaerts’s rising star was swallowed by the likes of fellow shortstops Correa, Seager, Francisco Lindor, and Tatis Jr. He’s not as flashy or as talkative as his contemporaries, and he’s had no injury, trade, or contract drama to keep him in the news. He’s just been quietly good since late 2013—and over the past four years, maybe even great.

Since 2018, Bogaerts is hitting .304/.374/.537 and averaging 31 home runs and 10 stolen bases per 162 games. Maybe we won’t end up talking about Bogaerts’s Hall of Fame case in 15 years’ time, but at the very least he’s on pace for a Miguel Tejada– or Jim Fregosi–type Hall of Very Good career. Even if he’s not underrated per se, I think nationally we’re taking him for granted.

The Rays are playing the hits. After a surprisingly successful year, Tampa Bay got rid of most of the players you’d heard of and replaced them with prospects and platoon guys. At the break, the Rays are on a 95-win pace, ahead of the Yankees in the AL East standings and stocked with more good relief pitchers than the entire NL East put together. See you in October.

It’s not like everything’s gone according to plan for the Brewers, unless the plan somehow involved both Jackie Bradley Jr. and Keston Hiura hitting in the .160s over the first half of the season. But the Willy Adames trade looks like an absolute steal at the moment, which could alter the direction of the franchise. And just as Rodón and Lynn have solved a lot of problems for the White Sox, so has the rotation for the Brewers. Eighty-eight of Milwaukee’s 92 games have been started by Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer, or Brett Anderson. Of those six pitchers, three have an ERA under 2.50 and only one has an ERA over 4.00. It bears repeating: Baseball gets a lot easier when you have good starting pitching.

I was scanning the Mets’ Baseball-Reference page recently, trying to figure out what to focus on for this blurb. Perhaps a joke about the rest of the NL East falling apart, or Taijuan Walker turning out to be one of the best signings of last year’s free-agent class, or even a comment about how one of the coolest college baseball players of the past decade—Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker—fell into the Mets’ lap with the 10th pick in this week’s draft.

Then I saw Jacob deGrom’s name and remembered that he has a 1.08 ERA, and I laughed out loud. Even after all the column inches that have been devoted to deGrom discourse this year, and as blindingly obvious as it is that he’s the best pitcher in the world by far, I don’t think the modern baseball observer’s mind is set up to truly comprehend a 1.08 ERA over the course of a full season. Not to mention the fact that deGrom’s ERA hit 1.08 because he doubled his previous ERA over his past three starts—allowing seven earned runs in 20 innings. That’s a 3.15 ERA, or exactly the same as Rick Porcello’s ERA when he won the Cy Young five years ago. Ridiculous.

On the other end of the spectrum from deGrom is Yusmeiro Petit, the venerable rubber-armed reliever. Petit’s never thrown a pitch harder than 92.9 mph in a big league game, and hasn’t even hit an even 92 since 2017, but he’s been a crucial element of Oakland’s bullpen for the past four seasons. Petit is currently tied for the MLB lead in relief appearances with 45, which is to be expected; since he arrived in Oakland, nobody has thrown more games in relief. And it’s not just bulk mop-up duty, either. Petit has won seven games for Oakland and saved two more, despite striking out just 23 batters. If he keeps that ratio up, he’ll become the first pitcher in 15 years to win at least five games while striking out fewer than 3.5 batters per win. As a predictive bit of analysis, that’s obviously useless, but it’s a fun microcosm for Oakland’s fun collection of slightly odd but undeniably effective players.

The record isn’t great, I’ll concede, and the Jays are 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot in a crowded AL wild-card race. To return to the postseason, the Jays will have to navigate a virtual five-way tie for sixth in the AL, then overhaul Oakland to grab the second wild-card spot. It won’t be easy.

However: Toronto has gotten here while playing a de facto all-road schedule, like Philip Roth’s Ruppert Mundys, and—at the risk of spoiling The Great American Novel—with only slightly better luck for their star center fielder. Even though the Jays could not reasonably have expected more from the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, and rookie right-hander Alek Manoah this season, I still think there’s upside for this team. George Springer isn’t settled in yet, Hyun-Jin Ryu has merely been fine instead of dominant, and I’m still holding out hope—perhaps foolishly—for Nate Pearson to swoop in at the 11th hour and save the day. It’s possible that the AL playoff field is already set, but if I had to pick one team from the wrong side of the bubble to make a run, it’d be this one.

Well, at least we can all agree that Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sánchez—the Yankees’ three top hitters by OPS+—are not the problem this time around, right?

Instead, let’s talk about Aroldis Chapman. Chapman got touched up in three of his last four appearances before the break, which has probably exaggerated his struggles. And while he’s blown four saves, the Yankees came back to win two of those games. One thing to keep an eye on, however, is Chapman’s home run rate. Over the first 10 seasons of his career, he just once allowed a HR/FB% higher than 10, or more than four home runs in a season. This year, he’s already up to five dingers, with a HR/FB rate in the 30s, which is even worse than that one Edwin Díaz year. The Yankees are only 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot at the moment—not all of which can be blamed on Chapman. But if Chapman legitimately struggles to keep the ball in the yard, things could go south very quickly.

As much as we try not to freak out over early-season results, sometimes it’s tough to ignore a disaster unfolding before our eyes. Like when Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo, a perennial dark horse NL Cy Young candidate, got crushed on Opening Day and continued to get crushed through Memorial Day. At the end of May, Castillo had a 7.22 ERA, and considering that opponents were hitting .321/.392/.505 against him at the time, he’s fortunate his ERA wasn’t even worse. Wins are only so informative as a statistical measure, but Castillo had lost seven starts in a row, which carries the kind of face-value shock that advanced metrics don’t really convey.

Fear not: Since June 1, Castillo has held opponents to a .171/.268/.234 batting line and allowed just 11 earned runs in his past 50 1/3 innings, bringing his season-long ERA down to a more palatable 4.65. Plus, he’s made it through at least 5 1/3 innings and 95 pitches in each of his past eight starts. All seems to be well.

The Clevelanders have cheated death for years now thanks to their uncanny ability to develop pitchers, and early returns from their 2021 draft class indicate that the focus on pitching will continue. Cleveland picked 11 times in the first two days of the draft and spent 10 of those picks on college arms, including an exciting assortment of SEC guys: Mississippi’s Doug Nikhazy and the Florida trio of Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwich, and Franco Alemán. Remember those names, because one of them is going to get Cy Young votes in about five years.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the team’s current crop of pitchers hasn’t been healthy enough to keep up with Chicago. Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale are currently on the IL, while Zach Plesac missed about six weeks earlier this year with a broken thumb. Most teams wouldn’t survive that level of attrition, and certainly not a team that hasn’t invested enough in its lineup to cultivate a Plan B. All things considered, they’ve done well to stay this close to the wild-card series, but they probably don’t have the depth to make a late charge.

Well, would you look who’s five games over .500. Seeing the Mariners in the playoff picture this late is like seeing a 15-year-old with a hilariously bad fake ID trying to buy beer. Seattle’s minus-50 run differential is the worst by far among teams that are over .500. In fact, no other team with a run differential that bad is within 10 games of .500. The Mariners are 19-8 in one-run games and an astonishing 10-1 in extra-inning contests, which means they’ve been more lucky than good. Not that it matters how they got here; after all, they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

There’s sometimes a danger that a team as starved for success as Seattle would grab onto an obviously deceptive record and compromise the future with short-term offseason transactions. But that’s not really a worry for this franchise. The Mariners’ projected payroll for 2022 is less than $100 million, which gives them space to make four or five shortsighted free-agent acquisitions and still have money to spare. Their farm system is not only well-stocked, but the bulk of the big names—Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic, Emerson Hancock—are close to big-league ready. None of those guys are getting shipped off for a rental closer.

In the meantime, the Mariners can use this season to build confidence and to get the likes of J.P. Crawford and Logan Gilbert some reps in a pennant race, before bringing in the rest of the cavalry and contending in 2022.

Every so often, a work of literature comes along and truly captures the cultural moment in a permeating, indelible way—The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and so on. For our generation of baseball fans, that work of literature is the “‘Tungsten Arm’ O’Doyle” tweet.

every time I see an Angels highlight it's like "Mike Trout hit three homes runs and raised his average to .528 while Shohei Ohtani did something that hasn't been done since 'Tungsten Arm' O'Doyle of the 1921 Akron Groomsmen, as the Tigers defeated the Angels 8-3"

The 2021 season wasn’t going too well for Atlanta to begin with, and then Mike Soroka reinjured his Achilles tendon, Ronald Acuña Jr. blew out his knee, and now Ian Anderson is having shoulder tightness investigated. There’s really only so much a team can do to build depth—no squad is prepared to lose its two best pitchers and its best position player in the span of a couple of weeks.

The Nats currently sit six games out of the division lead and nine games out of a wild-card race that seems to be locked down by the second- and third-place finishers in the NL West. Trea Turner and Kyle Schwarber are having monster years, and after upsetting Shohei Ohtani in the first round of the Home Run Derby, Juan Soto is back and jauntier than ever.

But Stephen Strasburg is still on the mend, and Jon Lester and Patrick Corbin haven’t picked up the slack. Baseball Prospectus gives Washington just a 5.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. That means—and it feels sacrilegious just to say this—it’s time to start thinking about what it’d take to get certain contenders to drive home today in a certified pre-owned Max Scherzer.

The rottenness that has befallen the Phillies is impossible to blame on one person. For six years, this club has been tethered to the most frustrating .400 to .500 record in the sport, like Prometheus to the rock where eagles eat his liver every day for all eternity. The funk is in the walls and foundations and has lasted through two front-office regimes, three managers, and three nine-figure free-agent signings—all of which, it bears mentioning, have been rousing successes thus far.

The concept of “absolutely fucked vibes” comes up pretty frequently in Philadelphia sports. But there’s the kind of fucked vibes that involve Didi Gregorius getting pseudogout. Then there’s the kind of fucked vibes that involve Didi Gregorious getting pseudogout and—according to a hair-raising article by The Athletic’s Matt Gelb—blaming it on the COVID vaccine as part of a clubhouse-wide anti-vaxxer discourse that leaves the team below the league’s 85 percent vaccine threshold. I don’t think a trade or a managerial shake-up is going to do the trick here. Sell the team, move the team, and turn Citizens Bank Park into a hippodrome and start over.

Also, this is the team PECOTA projects as having the best chance of knocking off one of the current playoff teams.

This roster ought to be winning more games. Plain and simple. But there are a few reasons they aren’t. First, there are some moderate underachievers in the lineup, which leads to an offense with the 25th-best aggregate wRC+ in baseball. Right field has been particularly bad with a collective stat line of .221/.299/.293. Breaking down each team’s offensive production by defensive position, we get 240 positions: 30 teams and eight defensive positions, excluding DH, pitcher, and pinch hitter. The Cardinals’ right fielders have an sOPS+ (OPS+ relative to league production at that position) of 61. That’s seventh from the bottom among those 240 defensive positions. And at the risk of stating the obvious, the Cardinals are missing Jack Flaherty. Without him, St. Louis starters have the dubious distinction of having the worst strikeout rate in baseball and the worst walk rate in baseball. But at least the Cardinals didn’t just scuttle the final season with their beloved championship core by losing 11 games in a row.

The Marlins are on the rise. Jazz Chisholm does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of making this team entertaining, but he’s not alone. Starling Marte is exactly the kind of offensive table-setter-cum–veteran leader this team’s young core needs, and Miami is reportedly taking steps to keep him around past this season. The rotation, headlined by Sandy Alcantara, Pablo López, and Trevor Rogers, is already playoff-caliber. Rogers might be the best pitcher in baseball that nobody’s heard of. And the two most exciting Miami arms—Sixto Sánchez and 2020 no. 3 pick Max Meyer—haven’t even reached the majors yet this year.

A month ago, these guys were 11 games over .500 and tied for first place in the division. But nothing clarifies the buyer-seller question like losing 11 consecutive games by an aggregate score of 83-35.

The Twins’ offense isn’t the record-breaking juggernaut of two seasons ago, but it’s good enough to win games. Minnesota is third in the league in home runs, seventh in wRC+, and 10th in runs scored per game. Unfortunately, there’s a corollary to the axiom about awesome starting pitchers making it easy to win baseball games: Bad pitching makes it very difficult to win baseball games. José Berríos is as consistent as ever: 18 starts, 108 2/3 innings pitched, and 120 ERA+, 9.4 K/9. But the rest of the pitching staff has been a write-off, from reigning Cy Young runner-up Kenta Maeda to the newly extended Randy Dobnak to offseason acquisitions J.A. Happ and Matt Shoemaker, the latter of whom has already been DFA’d.

This pretty good offense has been fettered to the fifth-worst pitching staff in baseball by ERA-, and the sixth-worst bullpen in baseball by WPA—a bullpen with more meltdowns (reliever appearances with a WPA worse than minus-0.06) than any other in the league. So here the Twins find themselves, in fourth place in the AL Central.

After a team makes a series of high draft picks, baseball’s long learning curve to the majors can be frustrating. The top pick in the 2020 draft, Spencer Torkelson, is slugging .606 in Double-A right now and progressing appropriately through the minors, but it’s hard not to be impatient. At least Tigers fans have Casey Mize, who is already in the big leagues. The top pick in the 2018 draft had a troubling debut in the majors last year, with an ERA close to 7.00 in seven starts. But he’s rebounded nicely, if a little quietly, in his sophomore season: 17 starts with an ERA+ of 120. The strikeout numbers—a 19.9K%—aren’t ideal for a top-of-the-rotation starter, but it’s a welcome rebound from what looked like a crisis not too long ago.

Shortstop Trevor Story is the no. 1 position player on the trading block right now, but if I were running a contending team and was trying to relieve the Rockies of a star player, I’d give up a lot for right-handed pitcher Germán Márquez. Márquez, a six-year veteran who’s still somehow only 26 years old, doesn’t have big strikeout numbers, but he throws a ton of innings and is one of the best in the league at preventing hard contact—even in Coors Field. Plus he’s under team control through 2024. Put him on a contender, let him throw a shutout in the playoffs, and watch him turn into a superstar overnight.

On April 29, I published a column feting the first-place Royals’ rebuilding process. They were 15-8 at the time, the best record in the AL, and had a 1 1/2–game lead over their nearest competition in the AL Central. Since then, though, Kansas City has gone 21-45; only the Diamondbacks and Orioles have been worse in the past two and a half months. The Royals, it seems, are a team of contrasts.

It’s going to be a long rebuild, and it’s going to suck for Rangers fans, so this feels like a good time to talk about Jack Leiter. On Sunday, the Rangers spent the no. 2 pick on Al Leiter’s son, who just led NCAA Division I in strikeouts, with 179 in just 18 starts. He recorded a 16-strikeout no-hitter against South Carolina this March, and in the College World Series struck out 15 over eight innings in a 1-0 loss to NC State.

All pitching prospects carry plenty of risk, but if you’re not excited about Leiter, you might be dead.

I kind of love what the Pirates did early in the draft. First, they spent the no. 1 pick on Louisville catcher Henry Davis, a highly regarded prospect, but one who’s probably closer to the consensus fifth-best pick in the class than the first. If I had the no. 1 pick and just wanted to take the best player, I would’ve selected either Leiter or high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer, who went fourth to Boston. But both of those players are expected to demand a much higher signing bonus than Davis, so Pittsburgh went with the cheaper option. Then the team spent its next three picks on high-schoolers: New Jersey prep pitcher Anthony Solometo at no. 37, Pennsylvania high school outfielder Lonnie White Jr. at no. 64, and Georgia high school pitcher Bubba Chandler—a Clemson quarterback recruit—at no. 72.

All three are exciting, high-ceiling prospects with attractive college options who’ll demand the kind of signing bonuses the Pirates wouldn’t have been able to pay had they pursued Leiter or Mayer. So instead of having the best prospect in the draft and playing it straight when they picked again in the 30s, the Pirates have—according to—the fifth-, 17th-, and 21st-best prospects in the draft.

The very first pick in the current bonus-cap era, Carlos Correa, was part of just such a gambit, as the Astros floated expensive high school prospects Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz later in the draft. You can draw a straight line from that decision to the 2017 World Series. That strategy is high-risk and hasn’t been replicated quite as successfully by another team since—even manipulating the draft’s complicated negotiation structures to keep Solometo, White, and Chandler on the board was no small feat. There hasn’t been a lot to celebrate for the Pirates on the field, but they had a very, very good week off it.

Cedric Mullins entered this season with 418 big league plate appearances under his belt, in which he hit .225/.290/.342. As a right-handed batter hitting against left-handed pitching, he hit .147/.250/.189. This year, batting exclusively from the left side, Mullins is hitting .314/.380/.541, including .298/.355/.491 against lefties. Factor in his solid center-field defense and 16 stolen bases and Mullins has been one of the five most valuable position players in the American League this year, according to Baseball-Reference. If not for Ohtani, he’d have a decent MVP case.

I thought about putting the Mississippi State Bulldogs here to commemorate their first national championship in school history. The Bulldogs won 50 games out of the 68 they played this year. The Diamondbacks are on pace to play 162 and win only 46.

The variants made it to the end of their journey, but what they found there will reverberate through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe

The muscular superstar combined superlative conditioning with otherworldly intensity to become a leading antagonist during the golden age of Hulkamania

In The Ringer’s latest podcast, the legacy of two of the most iconic American movie critics is chronicled through family, film, and more

Justin and Micah also discuss how anime such as ‘Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!,’ ‘One Piece,’ and ‘Haruhi Suzumiya’ utilize multiple elements and layers of whimsy that contribute to their success and intrigue

The history of ‘Vogue’ and Madonna’s decade, with an assist from The New York Times’ Caryn Ganz

Blue Jays: Strong start to the second half will go a long way

Jays Journal 14 July, 2021 - 03:00am

Jul 11, 2021; St. Petersburg, Florida, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Teoscar Hernandez (37) and left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (13) and shortstop Bo Bichette (11) and shortstop Marcus Semien (10) celebrate after they beat the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, the Toronto Blue Jays enter the second half of the regular season eight games back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East and 4.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. The Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics currently hold both spots while the Seattle Mariners sit just in front of the Blue Jays.

The season picks up again on Friday, with the club set to start a six-game homestead that will see the Texas Rangers (35-55) and the leading Boston Red Sox (55-36) come to town for a three-game series apiece. The Blue Jays will then hit the road to face the New York Mets (47-40) for a three-game weekend series before facing the Red Sox at their home barn for four more games.

The hope would be the Blue Jays could pick up at least two wins against the Rangers, even though this ballclub can give them hard times regardless of whether or not they are performing well this season.

The bigger tests will be against the Red Sox and Mets, as both teams lead their respective divisions and if the Blue Jays want to regain some ground in the AL East, taking five or six games against the Red Sox over the next few weeks will help with the overall playoff push.

The Blue Jays also sit in a fascinating position in that they could potentially return to the Rogers Centre as early as July 30th, with the organization now waiting for Federal Government approval to head back North of the border.

There is no word yet on what the government plans to do but after seeing the proposal submitted by the Jays, it seems pretty airtight in terms of COVID safety protocols and keeping the players and the public safe. Factor in that Canadians are receiving vaccines at an increasing rate and provinces are starting to loosen restrictions, the Blue Jays should be able to return to their home ballpark sometime this season, whether it is July 30th or sometime later in the campaign.

Returning to the Rogers Centre would be huge for the Blue Jays, especially if fans are allowed back in the venue. Any ballplayer can tell you that playing in front of a home crowd is always a boost, so the quicker the team can get back to Toronto, the better, for both the organization and the fanbase.

It will also be interesting to see if the front office is going to be improving the team on the trade front with the trade deadline fast approaching. Ross Atkins has already made some solid moves to shore up the bullpen in acquiring RHP Trevor Richards and RHP Adam Cimber while adding some outfield depth in Corey Dickerson.

If the Blue Jays are serious about contending this postseason, a few more arms in the bullpen wouldn’t hurt as well as possibly acquiring another established arm in the rotation to go alongside Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Alek Manoah, and a resurging Ross Stripling (sorry Steven Matz, to the bullpen you go).

The lineup has already proven they can hit with the best of them and after the strong All-Star game from Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, and Marcus Semien, you would think that they can carry the momentum from the game and from the strong first half of the season over to the second half of the campaign. Add in a healthy George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and this team should be able to pick up where they left off.

Toronto has had one of the more difficult schedules in the major leagues, fourth on, and the teams they face do not get easier when the season resumes later this week.

Winning the series against the Rangers needs to happen and taking both series against the Red Sox will do wonders for the spot on the standings, with a weaker August schedule hopefully helping the Blue Jays as they push for a spot on the postseason this year.

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Yankees must find their counterpunching ability: Sherman

New York Post 13 July, 2021 - 10:00pm

By Joel Sherman

July 13, 2021 | 11:00pm

But should we include that the Yankees have a glass jaw?

Are the Yankees fake tough guys? Are they bullies who talk the talk, but tend to get walked off in key moments?

Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge said all the punches the Yankees have taken in the first half should make them more resilient in the second half. Those were the right words delivered Monday during a media session 24 hours before the All-Star Game. But what perhaps spoke louder was the empty seat next to them with the placard overhead that read “Aroldis Chapman.”

Chapman was the lone no-show required to attend the media session. He is at least part of the game — as opposed to all four Astros named to the AL team, who begged out for one reason or another. It sure did seem, however, as if those Astros were not at the game because they didn’t want to deal with any questions or lingering resentment from fans and fellow All-Stars over Houston’s involvement with illegal sign stealing in 2017.

But I do wonder if Chapman is representative of the Yankees. Immensely talented, but questionably clutch. Preening in good times, overwhelmed in bad. In the sticky-stuff portion of this season, when he was pumping 100 mph-plus and delivering one devastating slider after another, Chapman was as nearly unhittable as he had been at any point in a largely unhittable career.

In the less glue-y part of the season, however, Chapman’s stuff has regressed, so has his success level and so has his confidence. The defiant, boasting stare has been replaced by bewilderment and despair. During Saturday’s 1-0 win in Houston, Aaron Boone allowed himself to be talked out of going to Chapman, with two out and one on in the ninth inning, by Cole. On Sunday, the manager did not even warm up Chapman as Chad Green was giving away the last of a five-run lead to send the Yankees into the break with what feels like a seven-way tie for their worst loss of 2021.

The final blow was delivered by Jose Altuve, part of the contingent of Astros who shunned the All-Star Game. But against the Yankees, the little Altuve has stood tall. Against them, he has two more walk-off homers — one off Chapman to clinch the 2019 ALCS and one Sunday off Green — than Judge has hit in his whole career.

Altuve’s homer Sunday came a day after Judge homered and tugged at his shirt to troll the Houston second baseman for his refusal to have his jersey removed after that ALCS walk-off. That refusal led to speculation that Altuve was hiding a buzzer that alerted him to what pitch was coming.

Did Mike Brosseau have a buzzer when he homered off Chapman in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the AL Division Series last year, pretty much handing the series to the Rays? Was there ever a better standing-up-to-a-bully move, since the previous month, Chapman had airmailed a fastball over Brosseau’s head and was suspended because it was so blatantly intentional?

There is a theme here. The Astros, Red Sox and Rays are all good at standing up to the Yankees. There is no mystique or aura any longer — perhaps that disappeared when they moved into a new stadium that is more placid mall than gladiatorial hellhole. Maybe it is about the mix of players. Whatever happened to The Savages? The past two years, the Rays’ guerilla style of roster construction and play, for example, has distracted and unnerved the Yankees.

The Yankees begin the second half with four games against the Red Sox at home and they will play eight of their first 10 post-break games against Boston before three at Tampa Bay. Those games will be defining in many ways. The Yankees already are 0-6 against the Red Sox, and if that starts growing toward 0-10 in The Bronx, there will be a toxic level of fury and humiliation.

And the Yankees must contend with a Red Sox squad that, under Alex Cora, plays with an aggression and real confidence that they lack. On Saturday against the Astros, in a 1-0 game, Tim Locastro reached first with one out in the fifth inning and Brett Gardner reached first with two out in the ninth inning with Kyle Higashioka up. Neither time did the Yankees attempt a steal. Speed is pretty much Locastro’s and Gardner’s skill. Why are they even on the team if Boone is not going to demand a steal try in that spot?

You can build a team that sits around and waits for homers. But what you get is a horrible combo of passivity and bullyism — if you land the punch, you win, if not, you absorb all the punches. There are no counters. Can the Yankees summon the fight to get off the ropes of this season or do they really have a glass jaw?

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