It’s been a busy last few weeks for me for a number of reasons, and the fact that I passed from writer’s block to a full-on Slurpee-chugging brain freeze about a week ago hasn’t helped much. But just like with any brain freeze, it’s time to uncurl from the fetal position, apologize to anyone in the area for the string of obscenities that just came out of my mouth, smack my forehead a few times to get the picture clear again, and get back to being a person. Because it’s the trade deadline, and that means baseball is starting to get exciting.
Not the Fun Kind of Road Trip
According to plenty of baseball writers, the Orioles obituary has already been written for this season. Since exploding out of the gates the first two months, the Orioles have slowly been slipping from their peak at 13 games over .500. Handholds become scarcer with every loss, and now the Orioles can see the abyss of mediocrity approaching at only four games over .500.
There’s no doubting the fight of this team, they’ve had plenty of chances to go in the tank, including just two weeks ago on their road trip through the midwest. But after losing one to the Twins, they conjured a five-game winning streak by mining some absolute gems from the bottom of the pitching barrel (5-0, 2.00 ERA sans Jason Hammel is a small miracle) and dusting off Jim Thome’s 1995-era bat (.333, 2 HR on the win streak).
But as you would expect, that black magic didn’t last, and the O’s squandered some major opportunities at home versus two of their closest competitors. Now, Baltimore will face its stiffest test of the young second half, with two divisional powerhouses looking to pry the O’s grip from their hold on relevance.
With the slate lined up as it is, a 3-3 road trip would be a victory, and anything more would be cause for jubilant riots on Eutaw Street. The O’s will first stop in the Bronx to take on the division leading Yankees, freshly pissed off from dropping 2 of 3 to the rival Red Sox. The Orioles will miss Sabathia and Kuroda, which should create some opportunities for runs. Nova has been shaky since the break (Opp. Avg. – .275, ERA – 4.08), Freddy Garcia’s bloated season ERA of 5.16 is only made worse by his hideous splits at home (2-2, 6.75 ERA). The only challenge is surprisingly Phil Hughes who’s making me look awfully stupid by seemingly putting it all together.
What should obviously be a bigger challenge is navigating the Yankees murderous lineup with Gonzalez, Tillman, and Britton. New York has been a waking nightmare for both Tillman (2011: 0-2, 16.50 ERA) and Britton (0-1, 16.88 ERA), and Gonzalez is the least experienced of the three. There are very few good starts against the Yankees that are lucky. That triumvirate will actually need to pitch three superb games to give the O’s a chance. And waiting in the wings on Friday? A matchup against the newly rejuvenated Rays and their three best pitchers (Moore, Hellickson, Price). A 10-game home stand starting with bottom feeders Seattle and Kansas City looms just a week away. But if the O’s can’t keep their heads above .500 through the weekend, they won’t be relevant enough for it to matter.
On the two big trades that have already happened
I’m going to get on the books right now as someone who loves the Hanley trade. Well, everyone loves the Hanley trade because the Dodgers pulled a Jackie Moon (Hanley for Eovaldi/McGough is on par with Monnix for a washing machine). But I think this is more than a steal. No, this was a trade worthy of calling in Clooney, Pitt and Damon.
A lot of people have thrown out that Hanley is a clubhouse cancer, and his reputation definitely gives credence to that. But in a number of test studies, clubhouse cancers have responded positively to a heavy dose of wins, something the Marlins were in short supply of when Hanley was there. I don’t want to excuse his behavior, because some of it has truly been inexcusable. But put yourself in Ramirez’s position.
In your 7 years in Miami, you’ve never once gotten to the playoffs. In fact, you’ve never even been close (only one 2nd place finish, and shockingly it was Hanley’s MVP year). Your managers have ranged from militaristic (Girardi) to geriatric (McKeon) to a Latin Yosemite Sam (Guillen). To make it worse, you play in front of the most apathetic fans in baseball (and maybe in all of sports). I don’t think a pro athlete’s focus should wander, but Hanley’s reasons (mediocrity, out of touch managers, non-existent crowd) are as good as any you can find.
Now out in LA, Hanley will join Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp to make a blockbuster 3,4,5 in Hollywood. He’ll play for the best team he’s ever been a part of in a division bereft of a dominant team that is perennially there for the taking. There’s a thought among people that Hanley may have lost his swing, to which I say anybody who hit as well as he did in May (.322 avg, 20 RBI) hasn’t lost anything except motivation. Hanley’s volatile, he’s occasionally lazy and entitled, but he’s also an exceptional hitter who, when in the right environment, can carry a team.
Although the Dodgers deal for Hanley certainly makes them a more imposing team, I don’t think it makes them a serious World Series contender (a Dempster trade would make me reconsider that statement). On the other hand, the team a few beaches down the coastline made some serious waves in that department with their acquisition of the best pitcher on the market.
Zack Greinke to the Angels has created a definitive World Series favorite in the American League. This was only reinforced yesterday when Greinke introduced himself to the SoCal faithful with a brilliant first performance (7 IP, 2 ER, 8 K and a hard luck L). Adding Greinke to an already top-flight one-two punch of Weaver and Wilson makes the Angels rotation great, and potentially hellacious if Dan Haren can recapture his form down the stretch. They even have the cherry on top with a nasty closer in Frieri.
And I haven’t even mentioned the hitting yet, and oh boy, is the hitting good. Considering Mantle and Maris were M&M, how have I not heard T&T for the two MVP caliber beasts playing in Anaheim? With Hamilton Express coming to a screeching halt, the MVP is firmly in the hands of Trout, a 5-tooler the likes of which I haven’t seen since a young Beltran who just keeps getting better (he leads the A.L. in batting average and slugging in July…he’s not going anywhere).
Then of course there’s Mark Trumbo, who I could throw a bunch of numbers out for, but instead I’ll just say he can do this. And this. And this. Ok, one number. This year, Trumbo has been the bane of New York by absolutely terrorizing the Yankees more than anyone since Manny Ramirez (14/30, 6 HR, 11 RBI in 8 games).
Trumbo may have the easiest power of any player I’ve ever watched, except for maybe one person who – unfortunately for the rest of baseball – is also heating up in July (.306 AVG, 6 HR, 16 RBI). If Albert Pujols plays like only he can the rest of the way (and I’m betting that he will), the Angels have almost every piece you could want on a World Series team and more (I haven’t even mentioned Torii Hunter hitting at .284).
I don’t count Liriano as a big trade. He’s Oliver Perez 2.0, and I’m convinced he’ll never progress past that. I don’t even know that inserting him for Phil Humber will provide a noticeable boost to the White Sox. Combine Liriano’s 5.31 ERA with an obviously tired ace (Chris Sale is experiencing dead arm; probably because his previous major league innings high was 71.0 and he’s now at 124) and you have a team that will not hold off the surging Tigers (now deeper in the rotation with Sanchez and Fister starting to pitch like he did last season) and therefore not make the playoffs.
I do count Ichiro as a big trade. The Yankees added at the very least the best defensive outfielder in baseball and an offensive replacement for Brett Gardner. At the most, Ichiro could regain his hitting stroke and take advantage of the famed short right porch in Yankee Stadium by showcasing his underrated power. I’m just bummed because now there’s a Yankee that I legitimately like. It also means the Yankees won’t have to parade out the decrepit fielding stylings of Raul Ibanez or the formerly great/in shape Andruw Jones. Those two will now be the bench bats they should be instead of the full time players they aren’t.
That felt good. Now that I’ve got that one out of the way, I’ll be posting a full review of all of the trades Wednesday morning after the deadline is done, scouts honor (I’ve never been in any sort of scouts). But seriously, the trading deadline review will happen. See you all when the dust settles Wednesday.