Friday, April 28, 2017

Return of the Pelf

Danville, Kentucky -- A man cannot undo his mistakes. He can only learn to live with them. This is the lesson taught to us when we wake up on a Sunday morning with aching, heavy limbs and a throbbing migraine, with vodka sweats oozing out of our pores after a night of sorrowful drinking alone. This is the lesson taught to us when the dream of NAFTA withdrawal -- the dream of undoing the foolish trade policy mistakes of Clinton and Bush -- recedes further and further into the realm of fanciful and wishful thinking. This is a lesson the Detroit Tigers must learn after foolishly parting ways with Mike Pelfrey, electric right-handed pitcher and ground-ball artist.

The Tigers cannot now undo the mistake of unconditionally releasing Mike Pelfrey; he has been signed by the Chicago White Sox, who will happily throw him out on the mound every fifth day on the Tigers' dime. The Tigers may deeply regret this move. A White Sox rotation anchored by Mike Pelfrey and James Shields would've been quite formidable in 2010. Pelfrey will join a White Sox team that is already off to a surprisingly strong start, thanks to Detroit Tiger turned Tiger-killer Avisail Garcia, a man on a mission to exact revenge against the team that traded him at the 2013 trade deadline. Pelfrey and Avisail will find common cause in their efforts to avenge the team that said they were no good. Fangraphs keeps calling Garcia a major regression candidate, but the eye-test says he has turned a corner. Avi is seeing the ball well; he has confidence at the plate and appears to have changed his swing approach in the off-season. The Tigers dismiss the newly-stacked White Sox at their own peril, especially since they offloaded known clubhouse cancers Chris Sale and Brett Lawrie.

The Tigers must learn to live with their mistake to put Pelfrey in the hands of a hated divisional rival. They have, to a degree. They sport a winning (11-10) record. Yet their bullpen remains a bigger, stinkier, hotter mess than the Creamy Jalapeno Wings at Chili's.

The Tigers bullpen bungles high-leverage situations like Paul Ryan bungles Obamacare repeal-and-replace efforts. They could really use a guy like Pelf right now; who can wiggle his way out of jams by inducing double-plays. Unfortunately, the Tigers will now be paying Pelfrey to turn those double-plays against them.

The circumstances are cruel; Pelfrey will face off against Matthew Boyd, the handsome young man who out-pitched him for the final rotation spot back in spring training. Pelfrey doesn't have Boyd's boyish good looks or disappearing change-up, but he does have pluck born from years of major-league experience.

It won't be easy for Pelfrey to return to Comerica Park, the stadium where he was regularly greeted with groans, hisses, boos, and obscenities. Pelf is a man of steel, and won't let the cool reception he inevitably faces shake him. With ice blood in his veins, Pelfrey will twirl ground-ball after ground-ball, doubling up plodding sluggers like Victor Martinez and Alex Avila with ease. Pelf has pitched well in Comerica Park as a visiting pitcher before. As the ace of the Minnesota Twins in 2015, Pelf turned in some of his finest performances against the Tigers:

That being said, Pelf will have his work cut out for him. The Tigers offense is not at full strength with Miguel Cabrera and JD Martinez missing in action, but Jim Aducci and John Hicks are just as dangerous in their own wily, gritty way. 
When Pelf returns to the Motor City for his first game as an opposing pitcher since his untimely release, I predict a strong effort. Pelf will labor through 5 innings of 2 run ball, the only runs coming off a mistake pitch to the red-hot Tyler Collins. The Tigers have already made the mistake of releasing Pelfrey; the worst mistake they could make now is to underestimate him.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Royal Rematch: The Giants Return to Kansas City

Danville, Kentucky -- There is no feeling more disturbing than the familiar becoming foreign. I think it was the spring of 2009. I was exhausted after a long day of working at the tire factory, and eager to go home and recuperate. But when I got home, the fridge was empty. I had eaten my last pepperoni Hot Pocket® for breakfast. Grudgingly, I went back to my car and headed to a nearby McDonald's.

McDonald's is great because it's familiar. McDonald's is a pillar of stability in a fragmented world torn asunder by the forces of globalization, the decline of the conventional nuclear family, ideological polarization, and forcible secularization. The connective glue that once held society together has disappeared. All the old institutions that once gave a man certainty -- the church, the union, the Blockbuster video store -- are all gone. Yet, a man can find comfort in the knowledge that at McDonald's, you can get the same burger in Danville as you can in Marmet, Flint, Bakersfield, and Deerfield. Or you could, at least.

That evening in the spring of 2009, I walked into McDonald's; but I didn't recognize what I saw. Apple slices. Side salads. Carrots. Parfait. Cucumbers. Sandwich wraps. Oatmeal. It dawned on me how long it had been since I had last been to a McDonald's. In a few short years, McDonald's went from being an unabashed all-American staple, to a weak-kneed Panera-wannabe. McDonald's was great because it had a formula: tasty food served quick for a cheap price. It wasn't healthy, but that wasn't the point. In attempting to cater to health-conscious liberals, McDonald's forgot what made them great.

No thanks, McCommunists.
Folks, for a while it looked like the Royals forgot what made them great as well. I felt a similar sensation -- that disconcerting vibe when something familiar feels foreign -- when I watched the 2017 Kansas City Royals. The 2015 World Champion Royals were great because they played their brand of baseball. They stole bases. They bunted. They played great defense. They made productive outs. They did the little things. They went to third base on a single. They put up runs without hitting dingers. It was Royals baseball, and they were proud of it.

The 2017 Royals had an abysmal 2-6 start because they forgot this formula. They were without Jarrod Dyson, the teams's swaggering id, and one of their primary threats on the base-paths. They uncharacteristically signed Brandon Moss, a lumbering slugger who had previously been their sworn enemy as an Oakland Athletic and Cleveland Indian. They traded elite closer Wade Davis for some kid from the Cubs who hits dingers and can't play defense. Their once invincible bullpen was a shadow of its former self, giving up runs in bunches in the late innings. The Royals looked out of their element, like a fruit salad at a burger joint. Until one man stepped in.

With two dominating starts, Jason Vargas got the Royals back on the winning track and stopped their season from being smothered in the cradle. So far this season Vargas has been the unquestioned ace of the Royals staff, besting even the beastly Danny Duffy. His most recent start -- a 7.2 inning, 8-strikeout, 4-hit performance against the Oakland Athletics -- not only put an end to a horrific losing streak; it put Vargas firmly in the Cy Young conversation. That's no small feat for a man recovering from Tommy John surgery. On a pitching staff that is now full of mercenaries like Ian Kennedy and Chicago Cubs castoffs, Jason Vargas is an anchor of familiarity, a reminder of the glory days when guys like Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen were mainstays of the Royals rotation.

Folks, some familiarity is just what the Royals needed. Thanks to Vargas, the Royals are looking like their old selves, having clawed back to the .500 mark after that awful start. That momentum is a good thing, as the San Francisco Giants -- their rivals from the 2014 World Series -- come to town for some inter-league action. On Wednesday, Mr. Vargas will square off against Madison Bumgarner, the man who single-handedly thwarted the Royals' World Series hopes that autumn. Although Bumgarner's reputation as a postseason God was tarnished this past fall when he ran into the Cubs buzz-saw, nobody in Kansas City has forgotten what he did in 2014: 3 games, 20 innings, 1 run.

Vargas doesn't usually crack baseball's list of dominant lefties: Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, David Price, etc., etc. After a couple more starts and a chance to prove himself against a hated rival, that will change. And when it does, the league better watch out.