Two-thirds of the teams in Major League Baseball won’t play again until 2018. Another two teams will be cruelly defenestrated after a single three-hour game. That means the odds are good that if you’re watching the MLB postseason, you’re watching a bunch of teams that you haven’t paid attention to for most of the season.
The goal here is to give you some reasons to watch every team, then. While there are all sorts of quirky things for you find out if you dig deep enough (Why does Edwin Encarnacion run around the bases with an invisible parrot? Is it possible for Fernando Rodney to kill the invisible parrot with an invisible arrow? Isn’t Rodney 58 years old?), we’ll stick with some of the basics.
The day is coming when there will be a delirious schedule with four different postseason games, which means there will be eight different teams whizzing around the spin cycle. Those are the very best days. What should you watch for with each team?
You don’t need me to tell you to watch Aaron Judge, but I’m going to anyway. He is baseball’s biggest friend, always there for you with a tree pulled out of the ground if you’re in need of a makeshift bridge. If you like long home runs and walks on the beach (to find the baseballs he callously murdered), Judge is your new, temporary favorite player.
There’s a bit of a twist, though. Judge hit .330/.441/.787 against “finesse” pitchers, described by Baseball-Reference as the pitchers with a low strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is more than 400 points of OPS better than the average hitter. He hit .305/.466/.617 against pitchers with an average ratio, which is more than 300 points better than the average hitter.
Against power pitchers, the best of the best, he hit just .186/.337/.386, which is pretty close to the league average (.222/.301/.369) against those pitchers. It’s not that he’ll struggle against the best pitchers compared to other hitters, but that he’ll be an ordinary guy. And guess what kind of pitchers he’ll face in the postseason.
That’s if the Yankees advance against the Twins, of course, but I’m fascinated to see how Judge responds against the Andrew Millers of the world in crucial spots.
The most underrated Yankees player in recent memory? I can’t think of another player who has slipped under the radar quite like him, and I can’t explain it. Severino boosted his strikeouts this year, striking out 29.4 percent of the batters he faced — an 8-percent increase over his career numbers — and he turned into a legitimate ace for a team that desperately needed one.
Severino is important for the story of the Yankees on a couple of levels, though. He can pitch, sure, but he’s also a living testament to just how well the organization functions. He was signed for just $225,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He was developed quickly and efficiently, and when he looked like damaged goods in 2016, the Yankees calmly and effectively fixed him in time for the next season.
The Yankees are here because they’re rich enough to shake off overpaid contracts like the one given to Jacoby Ellsbury, yes, but that’s not the only reason. They’re smart and good at developing baseball men. They don’t get nearly enough credit for that.
The bullpen of hot death
Crikey, this bullpen. Aroldis Chapman hasn’t been the same kind of robotic strikeout machine that he’d been in the past, but he’s still a part of a nasty, talented group that the Yankees have cobbled together. Try not to remember that they had Andrew Miller at some point, too.
After Chapman is Chad Green, who is apparently one of the best relievers in baseball now?
ME: SIRI, FIND OUT WHO THE HELL CHAD GREEN IS FOR ME.
SIRI: Charred Greens is located at 4833 S. Daughtery Road in Plano.
Green struck out 103 batters in 69 innings, taking over for Dellin Betances, who struggled with wildness this year. Adam Warren was mostly fantastic this year, Tommy Kahnle has been superb, and I guess David Robertson is back to his old Yankees form now. This bullpen is absurd.
When you factor in the regular, scheduled rest their bullpen will enjoy, you’re right to fear the Yankees. They’re a team that’s built for the postseason.
So long as they win a single game against the Twins, that is.
In our rush to invent new adjectives for obelisk-man Judge, let us not forget that baseball is often dominated by a pitcher who’s shaped like a life-size IG-88 figure and throws like he’s trying to lasso his own toes. Sale is an absolute marvel, and I would like to share with you a headline I wrote about him in 2014:
Let's not shovel dirt on Chris Sale's brilliant career just yet
It was a hyperbolic headline directed at the people who were just so sure that Sale was going to break down. When he went on the DL with a flexor strain, it was vindication for everyone who thought that — proof that he was a liability, not an asset. Since then, he’s pitched three full seasons, and he’ll likely finish in the top five in Cy Young voting for the fifth season in a row.
Just watch him pitch, though. He’s a strikeout demigod, for one, but he also throws like a pickup truck filled with didgeridoos swerving off the road to avoid a wallaby. It’s a lot of fun.
Kimbrel is less complicated. He’s filthy in a much more straightforward way, using a gnarly fastball/breaking ball combination that hitters can’t touch. He struck out 126 batters in just 69 innings this year, while walking only 14. As a reminder, the Braves brought him up a season after he walked 45 batters in 60 innings, and command/control were always supposed to be a problem.
As it turns out, nope. No problems there. He can throw harder than everyone else, make his breaking ball move more than everyone else, and he can put both of them where he tries to, for the most part.
Look at this nonsense:
You should watch the postseason just for this nonsense.
The outfield defense
The Red Sox didn’t hit as well as they were expecting this year, and part of that had to do with steps back from Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr., as well as good-not-great numbers from Andrew Benintendi. The dynamic troika was led by Betts’ 108 OPS+, and none of them hit like a burgeoning MVP candidate, which is what we expected after last season.
They’re all center fielders, though, which makes them extremely fun to watch, especially when they’re playing in a park that’s a little more spacious than Fenway. They can do things like this ...
... and all of them can throw a bit, too.
Some of them can throw a lot of bit. My only regret is that Tal’s Hill isn’t around to make things a little more interesting, but that’s nitpicking.
The original header was “seriously guys, holy [swear word], Francisco Lindor,” and that probably undersells it. Lindor somehow lasted until the eighth pick of the 2011 draft, and he’s exactly the kind of player every franchise dreams of when they go to sleep at night. He ...
- hits for average
- hits for power
- takes a walk
- runs well
- plays Gold Glove defense at shortstop
- makes people laugh
- makes people smile
- just makes people enjoy life more, you know?
- is he looking at me right now?
- don’t look at him, you idiot, just tell me if he’s looking at me right now
The Indians’ problem is that they didn’t have a Francisco Lindor. Now that’s the problem of every other team. Don’t bother the Indians with your problems. They’re much better now. Seriously, just watch Lindor do everything well and remember that he’s just 23 years old. If he put these numbers up in Triple-A, he would probably be a top-10 prospect in baseball. As is, he’s just a top-10 player in baseball. Allot your postseason attention accordingly.
If Lindor was the consolation prize for an awful Indians season, Kluber is your reminder that sometimes it takes a little luck, too. The Indians knew they were getting something when they traded Jake Westbrook and his 4.65 ERA away, but they had to be thinking “middle reliever” or “fifth starter if everything breaks the right way” instead of perennial Cy Young candidate. His evolution is a reminder that baseball doesn’t always tape Baseball America’s top-100 list to its bathroom mirror.
Kluber somehow had his best season this year, setting a personal best in strikeouts per nine innings, while leading the league in wins, ERA, shutouts, complete games, WHIP, hits per nine innings, and walks per nine innings. He is the answer to the hypothetical question “What happens when a pitcher can throw whatever he wants, moving as much as he wants, wherever he wants to throw it?”
There are pitchers who throw harder. I’m not sure if there are pitchers who throw better. As a bonus, you can watch him to see if he shows the tiniest scintilla of emotion. It’s like a drinking game, but for people who don’t drink.
How Terry Francona manages Andrew Miller
The Indians had one good starter in the postseason last year because of horribly timed injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, but they made the World Series because of Miller. And others! But with a huge assist from Miller, who was used like Terry Francona spent 30 days in a SABR think tank studying the history of the bullpen. The Indians had one of the best living pitchers ready for whatever mess came up, whether it was the fourth inning or the eighth. It was mesmerizing.
This year might be a touch different because Miller’s control hasn’t been otherworldly (3.0 BB/9) and he’s been dealing with injuries, but he’s still just about the perfect reliever, able and willing to pitch multiple innings to get the Indians out of whatever pickle they’re in. I’m not sure if Francona will be as aggressive with him, considering the Indians rotation is in a little bit of an improved spot this postseason, but he’s one of the best October weapons going.
He’s one of the best because of how Francona deploys him. Not all games are lost in the eighth inning, and it took a veteran manager willing to experiment to make us remember that.
Byron Buxton playing center field
OK, so here’s the deal. This is me telling you to watch the Twins because of a position player’s defense, right? It makes sense, but there’s a caveat: You might not see this player make a single outlandish play. The Twins might play nine innings. Eight of them might not mean a damned thing. And Byron Buxton might not catch a single ball.
You just have to hope they do.
Really, this is a proxy for the idea that the Twins are good again with the help of their high-profile youngsters. Miguel Sano should be healthy enough to play in the AL Wild Card Game. Buxton will be in the lineup, firmly entrenched as a two-way contributor. It wasn’t that long ago that ...
Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks told SB Nation that a non-Twins front office executive described Buxton's floor to him as Torii Hunter, and his ceiling as Willie Mays — a Hall of Famer and one of the game's greatest talents and players in its long history.
Before you write Parks off as some internet goofball, remember that he owns a very diamondy ring from his time with the Cubs last year. That’s how talented Buxton can be — he can make people talk about Willie Mays.
Don’t know if he’ll ever hit .300, but watch him make a catch. You’ll get that part, at least.
The Yankees death ray
The Twins are 2-12 against the Yankees in four different postseason series over the last two decades. You’re watching the Twins for two reasons, then.
- You want to see if they can overcome their historical nemesis: the team that has gobbled their souls and fertilized fields with the leavings. You want to see if baseball can sneak in a twist to the story.
- You want to see their souls gobbled.
It’s not necessarily a binary thing, but it kind of is. What’s gonna happen? Dunno! We’ll figure it out in a few hours, but it’s going to be painful for someone.
This is not the same entry as the Yankees’ bullpen entry. The Twins traded away their closer at the trade deadline because their odds of making the postseason were so low. They are the accidental contender, and now they’re looking around, wide-eyed, wondering what in the heck they just did.
So don’t screw it up, bullpen.
Matt Belisle had a 2.55 ERA after the Twins traded closer Brandon Kintzler, with a strong 19-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings. Taylor Rogers was solid for most of the year, and Trevor Hildenberger turned into the high-strikeout, low-walk pitcher the Twins have been missing for too long. It’s not like they’re without hope; they made the postseason for a reason.
But I’m fascinated with the idea that the Twins tried to have their cake (deadline prospects) and eat it too (postseason). I want them to be rewarded, if we’re being honest. I like that kind of double-dipping, and there should be more of it.
The best double-play combo in baseball
There are some of these categories that are a little too cute. This is not one of them. Do you like baseball, friend? Do you like it when the baseball men do good baseball things? Here are some of the best baseball men. They do the best baseball things.
Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve are Whitaker/Trammell, Fox/Aparicio, Utley/Rollins, Robinson/Reese, but with the potential to rack up even more stats. It’s unbelievable that these two talents, occupying positions that are so important, are both on the same team at the same time, ready to conquer the world together. Correa is the prototype: the big, strong shortstop in the Cal Ripken mold; someone with both strength and grace. Altuve is more in the Joe Morgan mold, all calculated twitch and muscle memory, with speed and power beyond what you’re expecting.
They’re basically Ripken and Morgan playing in the same infield, everyone.
The best part might be that Indians fans might want to fight me after that paragraph. I think I would take Correa/Altuve over Lindor/Ramirez, but am I really so sure? I am not. Now imagine them tussling against each other in the ALCS. Either way, you want to watch the Astros. They have a fine double-play combination [whispers] with an outside chance of being the best in history [taps side of nose].
Justin Verlander is a postseason beast ... depending on which team you talk to. The A’s certainly never need to hear his name again. The Yankees don’t have fond memories. The Giants are cool, though, and so are the Rangers. The last time we saw Verlander, he lasted just five innings against the Orioles.
At the same time, Verlander’s second-half splits over the last few years have been bananas.
Justin Verlander, 2014-2017
|Year||First-half ERA||Second-half ERA|
|Year||First-half ERA||Second-half ERA|
Coincidence? Perhaps! But the larger point is that the Astros were an excellent team without Verlander, but they’ve needed someone like him over the last few years. Or someone like his second-half version, at least. They gave up a lot of financial flexibility and some compelling prospects to make this postseason happen. The least we can do is watch.
There are thousands of words in the idea that baseball can heal, that baseball is useless, that baseball is both, and I’m probably going to write them soon. For now, just know that Houston’s heart is heavy, and that most of the country is pulling for it in some capacity, and that’s before you get to the part where the Astros have a strong Puerto Rican presence, too.
Between Correa and Carlos Beltran, the Astros might have two of the greatest Puerto Rican players ever, just at different stages of their careers, and they’re torn between two unfathomable situations in the two different places their souls just happened to land.
Keep this in mind is all. When the crowd is cheering a little longer, a little louder, just keep that in mind. I don’t begrudge Rangers fans for maintaining their divisional and regional rivalries, but the rest of us should be invested in the Astros a little more than usual.
Can they win a freaking series?
The thing about the Nationals is they benefited from a changing system. They finished with the worst record in 2008, which meant that they got the first-overall pick in a draft with a consensus first-overall talent: Stephen Strasburg. They finished with the worst record in 2009, which meant that they got the first-overall pick in a draft with a consensus first-overall talent: Bryce Harper. This might not seem odd to you.
Except the draft used to have an AL-NL-AL order for the first 40-plus years. There were teams that finished with the worst overall record in two consecutive seasons without receiving a single first-overall-pick. But the Nationals happened to be the worst in a year in which they were going to get the first pick anyway, and then baseball changed the rules of the draft to ditch the AL-NL-AL order just in time for them to draft Harper. It’s a stroke of luck the Padres haven’t had in their entire organizational existence.
Now’s the time for the Nationals not to screw it up. The last time they won a postseason series was 1981, when they played in France, give or take. They’re led by Dusty Baker, who has an amazing reverse trilogy of brutal postseason losses in reverse chronology: the 2002 World Series with the Giants, the 2003 NLCS with the Cubs, and the 2012 NLDS with the Reds. Any one of those might be the worst postseason loss of any manager’s given career. With Baker, they’ve come in descending order.
It’s probably a good thing he’s not managing a wild card team. And the Nationals should probably win a postseason series. That’s all I’m saying.
Clayton Kershaw is probably the best pitcher in baseball still? But now I’ve added italics and a question mark to that statement, which is a huge step down. And I’m biased because Kershaw makes 18 starts against the Giants every year, which I have to watch. But the best starter in baseball might be Corey Kluber, yes. Or it might be Max Scherzer.
I’m starting to lean toward Scherzer.
He has a classic repertoire, a hard, darting fastball and an assortment of offspeed pitches that he can control at will. That’s it. That’s the secret. That’s all you have to do if you want to be as talented and rich as Scherzer. Throw that hard, and throw with that kind of command. It’s simple, and you’re wasting your time on the internet reading this crap? Buddy.
Watch Scherzer if you need some tips. I’m old enough to remember when he was an enigma, someone whose ERA didn’t match up with his strikeouts and walks. “Maybe he’s just one of those guy the advanced stats can’t figure out.”
Nah. They’ve figured him out, and he’s remarkable.
I’m not rigging ways to point out that the Padres could have had Kluber and Turner leading the way in an alternate universe. The universe is rigging the ways for me. And Turner is a tremendous talent, albeit one who hasn’t ascended to the same heights as Lindor or Correa. Yet.
Still, let’s appreciate one of the most well-rounded base-stealing threats in the game: a dynamic player who can take second and third if he didn’t hit a triple to lead off the inning. He might not be an MVP just yet, but he’s still the kind of player my eyes are drawn to whenever I watch a game he plays.
Players this fast shouldn’t be able to do anything else well. It’s like the start of an old RPG when you get to spend all your skill points on magic ... and strength. One or the other, pal!
Clayton Kershaw and his ... history
It’s been a common theme around these parts since 2012. Kershaw is already a Hall of Famer, a few months before his 30th birthday, but he’s annually been pantsed on TBS or Fox. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and I’m telling you, it’s not his fault. The Dodgers have taken great pains to build their team around Kershaw on short rest, and it almost worked last year.
Another possible strategy might be something like, oh, not using Kershaw on short rest? Just spitballing.
To that end, the Dodgers got Yu Darvish, who was putting things together in September. Alex Wood was never going to go 20-0, and he stumbled a bit toward the end, but Rich Hill looked even stronger by the end of the year. The Dodgers should be able to use four pitchers, like a normal team, and go to Kershaw on short rest if they absolutely need (or want) to.
That should help him. But you still get to watch one of baseball’s greatest talents skeptically, as if nothing he did in the previous nine years counts. That’s brutally unfair, and it’s probably unreasonable. It’s compelling, though! Super compelling.
The pressure on the Dodgers after their wild rollie coaster of a season
It’s not just Kershaw who’s feeling a little pressure. It’s the entire organization. They haven’t made the World Series since Madden games looked (and sounded) like this:
That was a long time ago.
GAHHH. But, yeah, the Dodgers already had a history to fight against. Then came this season, in which they were the most dominant team in history, depending on where you started and stopped your search. They were going to threaten the 1906 Cubs. They were going to threaten the 2001 Mariners. They were going to obliterate the 1998 Yankees.
And then they lost. A whole bunch. They had the longest losing streak since they moved to Los Angeles, and you wouldn’t believe what Madden games looked like back then.
They won more games than the Indians, but which team would you rather be? The Dodgers stumbled to a 12-23 finish, and it took a little roll at the end to get them that far. I’m not a big momentum guy, but, uh, check out the momentum on these guys. It’s not so hot.
Which means you can watch the Dodgers to either prove that teams don’t give a rip about momentum or to prove your secret theories about how momentum really means everything. There isn’t a team that’s less relaxed than the 2017 Dodgers on several fronts, so check in on them when you get a chance.
Cody Bellinger swinging like he’s trying to send himself back through time to court your mother
I don’t know why he would ... do that, but that’s between you, him, and your god. The point is that he swings hard. So, so hilariously hard. He’s a perfect representation of the new era, the best example of a kid who was told to swing as hard as he could, strikeouts be damned. He’s Joc Pederson after the software upgrade, and it works.
While he didn’t keep up the absurd pace he set earlier in the season, it’s not like he ever slumped dramatically. His lowest OPS by month was .835, in July. His OPS in the second half was lower than the first, but it was still .901. If the advance scouts and wizened old coaches around the league have figured out how to pitch to Bellinger, they haven’t done it consistently enough to show up in the stats.
Bellinger is still just 22 years old, and it’s a young 22, which means his wild-yet-patient approach can be refined to simply patient. And if he starts spitting on the pitches he can’t hit, woof, look out. That freaky-fast swing is going to set records.
Specifically, the transition from desperate to entitled. You want to punch Red Sox and Giants fans now, but you used to want to leave a little saucer of milk out for them, the poor things. The Cubs fans are the same way. They haven’t quite turned on you yet. But they’re planning to.
And until they do, you’ll get to watch how they react to new successes and failures. Are they still stuck in the past, waiting for that third shoe to drop, even though they counted two shoes already? Or are they emboldened by their ability to withstand a devastating blown save in Game 7 of the freaking World Series, on the road, against the only fan base in the world that wanted it as much as them?
I don’t know! From experience, I’m remembering that it’s the second championship that makes you take off your shirt like a drunk guy. So until then, they’ve got feet in both worlds, and it’ll be a delight to watch. As long as you’re not one of them.
Jon Tayler of SI made an important clarification earlier this season, and I’m as guilty as anyone of ignoring this fine point. I spent a few weeks referring to Judge as America’s large adult son, and it seemed to fit. Except that was wrong:
You see, a true Large Adult Son isn't just a young man of oversized proportions. He's also a galoot; a big boy; a bit of a lummox who nonetheless provides joy to all who know him. He's a Hawaiian shirt in human form; he's the kind of guy everyone refers to as "Spud" or "Bubba;" he is, in short, a big fat party animal.
I mean, “fat” is a relative term here, but everything fits, and this is absolutely correct. Kyle Schwarber is America’s large adult son, and it was easy to forget about it after his injury last season. It was especially easy to forget about it when he was hitting like Dave Kingman at his last old-timer’s game and got sent down to the minors, but he’s back. After that absolutely ghastly start to the season, he still finished with a .467 slugging percentage. His defense is still very much “where do we put this large adult son if he isn’t catching?” but he’s still walloping baseballs.
Since August: .888, with plenty of beef. My advice is to pay attention to the beef.
How Joe Maddon will manage a lineup that isn’t as dominant as you remember
If Schwarber is hitting, the lineup is on the right track, but there have been some developments since last year. Ben Zobrist is 36 with a vengeance. Addison Russell is still stuck on the glove-first part of his development. Jason Heyward is apparently Al Kaline with the glove and Michael Tucker with the bat. There are still players who can dominate, like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, but it’s not an unstoppable gauntlet quite like last year’s.
Enter wily Joe Maddon, who has tools to work with. Does Javier Baez start over Zobrist most of the time? What about Tommy La Stella, who was willing to retire last year but is apparently excellent this year? Ian Happ could get some at-bats, as could Jon Jay. Was that Alex Avila at first at the end of the season? I mean, sure, pile it on.
It’s a bench that’s better than the lineup it faced in last year’s NLDS, and a little creativity can go a long way. Not too much creativity, Joe. But a little.
Baseball fan: *through sobs* you can't just say every player is a utility player.... Please....
Maddon: *points at Ian Happ jogging past* utility player
Just a little. It’ll be fascinating to watch Maddon juggle, though.
There is a scenario in which J.D. Martinez reaches the World Series and exacts his revenge against the Astros. It’s half-summer camp movie, half-Tarantino, and it’s just about the worst possible nightmare for them. Be warned.
Until then, Martinez is the quiet, Pacific Time Zone version of Giancarlo Stanton and Judge, and he has a chance to be an October legend. If the Diamondbacks can win one lousy game and advance to the real postseason.
Looking back, it was always absurd that Martinez went for a prospect package that underwhelmed minor-league experts. Which teams right now could use Martinez, other than all of them? I get that Jay Bruce had some big hits for the Indians, but come on. Howie Kendrick was a fine addition for the Nationals, but look at this Martinez freak. Don’t get me started on the Dodgers messing around with Curtis Granderson.
Instead it’s the Diamondbacks that got Martinez, and he fit them perfectly. He hit more home runs in 62 games with his new team than anyone on the Red Sox, Braves, Tigers, Phillies, Pirates, Giants, or Cardinals hit all year. If it sounds absurd, that’s because it is, and he’s every bit the sideshow that Judge is in the American League.
I’m a big fan of the struggling-starting-pitcher-turned-ace-reliever conceit, and it’s always fun when it happens for the team that had the starting pitcher in the first place. Bradley started the season as something like an Andrew Miller-type, pitching two innings or more in several relief appearances, but he settled into a more traditional eighth-inning role quickly. Which is fine. He has electric stuff, and it deserves to be shared with the world.
It’s his potential to be something even more like an Andrew Miller-type that’s making me daydream. He has the stamina of a starter, and the Diamondbacks can use Fernando Rodney in the boring and brainless up-by-three closer’s role. We’ll see if they can use Bradley with the same creativity.
They should, mind you. Provided they get out of Wild Card Thunderdome.
In 2015, I pointed out that Zack Greinke looks like Joaquin Phoenix in Parenthood, and the tweet got four likes and zero retweets. The delivery wasn’t ideal, and I guess it’s admitting that I’ve seen a comedy from 1989 about three dozen times, which is about three dozen more times than most millennials have seen it, but, dammit, pay attention. It works.
The point is that Greinke is an interesting cat, half in the light, and half in the shadows.
Yeah, like that. And he’s a fascinating pitcher to watch; a real artist. He mixes and matches, takes off the fastball and adds to it, and it’s a delight. He was a mess last year, to the point where I wondered if the Diamondbacks should ditch as much of his contract as they could and start over.
The correct answer was nope. He was still good. Everyone’s entitled to an off year or two. He’s back, and he’s as good as he was with the Dodgers. That sure happened at a fortuitous time for his new team.
And looking back on it, I guess he just shares the same morbidly uncomfortable glare with Joaquin Phoenix. That’s what I was going on. The occasionally long hair just seals it.
Except, my god, hold on.
This means something. I need you to deliver a letter for me.
This is the benefit of the imbalanced divisional schedule. This is the curse. I have to watch Arenado play defense and hit in approximately 48 games every year, and it’s the absolute best-worst. Charlie Blackmon might win the MVP, but I don’t check under my bed for him at night.
If it makes any sense, Coors Field might be making Arenado underrated? His .959 OPS (a career high) and gaudy RBI totals can be waved off by observers who are a little too cavalier with how they apply park effects. His career 118 OPS+ is closer to Pablo Sandoval’s golden years than Kris Bryant’s, so you can understand at least a little skepticism.
But it’s underrating his defense, which might be the best I’ve ever seen. I can’t claim to have seen a lot of Brooks Robinson. I’ve watched plenty of Manny Machado and Adrian Beltre, and both of them are outstanding. Arenado is better, and the nerd stats back me up. Watch the Rockies just for Arenado’s defense if you get the chance
Then watch him hit the snot out of the baseball. Because he can do that, too.
The chance that Coors Field will mess with hearts and minds
There’s a chance that the 2017 postseason won’t swing through Coors Field, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because maybe there won’t have to be a game there, and that place is a beautiful hellmouth that lulls you into complacency, and then the bloop hits start falling in front of your outfielders in the 68-acre outfield. Then your pitchers, whom you know so well, start leaving curveballs up, like there’s nothing on them, and then they’re tired sooner than they usually are, that’s odd, huh.
It’s a curse because that’s really, really funny when it isn’t happening to your team and you get to watch from the outside. You think you know how good Strasburg is? Well, here’s some COORS FIELD, SUCKER*.
* 7.20 career ERA at Coors
Oh, awesome, Jake Arrieta found his groove, and he’s back with the All-Star form. He’s rolling, the Cy Young winner you remember, and look out National league. Except here’s some COORS FIELD, SUCKER*.
* 14.54 career ERA at Coors
Everything you think you know about every team will be wrong in the prism of Coors. That’s why it’s a shame that we might not get even one series in this hideous hall of baseball perversions. It’s a lot of fun if you’re not emotionally invested, and I was looking forward to that.
Gray is the prototypical right-handed power arm — the kind of pitcher who gets drafted in the top three picks of a draft. Except that kind of pedigree doesn’t mean a lot when you’re fed into the gaping maw of Coors Field, as the old gods demand. The Rockies have spent 23 first-round picks on pitchers since coming into the league, and the most successful one was probably Jason Jennings. Jeff Francis comes after that, and he’s tied with Jamey Wright at 9.4 career WAR.
The fourth-most valuable homegrown pitcher for the Rockies according to WAR is Gray. He’s thrown 319 innings in his career. It’s not that he hasn’t been excellent, because he has, especially this year. It’s just that Coors Field is where pitchers go to become sad pitchers, and the Rockies haven’t had a lot of success.
Here’s their best chance, then. Gray was outstanding this year, and his peripherals suggest that he’s a freak who can succeed while pitching half of his games at Coors. He allowed four earned runs on July 19, with the Rockies winning 18-4. That was the last time he allowed more than three runs in a start. He made 13 starts after that, with five of them coming at Coors, and he was still immune to the stray disaster start.
He’s that good. And while we don’t know if the Rockies will play more than one postseason game, you’ll at least get a chance to watch Gray pitch one. Take that chance.