MLB Contenders, Pretenders, Not Yet, and Hopeless

Baseball's Flowers and Skunks



More than a third of the baseball season is over. A lot can happen over the next 90+ games and, if you know baseball history, even a big lead like the Yankees possess can evaporate. But, if you think spring games don’t matter, the Yankees suggest otherwise. Now that baseball is almost as bad as the NHL in rewarding playoff spots to mediocre teams, the Yankees are nearly a lock for the postseason. As I type this, they are 50-18! If they merely split their remaining 94 games they will accumulate 97 victories, which would secure them a playoff slot.


How good are they? Hard to know given how many smelly teams are playing. Here’s my capsule analysis of Contenders (C), Pretenders (P), Not Yet teams (NY), and the Hopeless (H) by order of standings on 6/22/22.


American League East:

1. Yankees (C): Starting and relief pitching has been spectacular, Judge is having a historic year, and they hit a ton of home runs. Weaknesses: They don’t win unless they homer, Gallo stinks, like much of the bottom half of the order.


2.  Blue Jays (P): Spent a lot of money and got limited results. Guerrero is a stud but... Weaknesses: Biggio, Springer, and other young players haven’t impressed and their pitching is thin after Manoah.


3. Red Sox (C): Best batting averages in the AL and a strong manager. Weaknesses: They hit but only a few players make anyone quake. They will go as far as their frequently-injured starting pitching takes them. Terrible bullpen. 


4. Rays (C/P): Always steady but... Weaknesses: You can’t dump high-priced talent every year and expect replacements to duplicate them. The league has caught on to the “opener” gimmick. The Rays could surprise, but they won’t go deep into the postseason.


5. Orioles (H/NY): They don’t smell like dead Chesapeake Bay oysters any more, but no way they make the playoffs. Desperately seeking new ownership.


American League Central:


1. Guardians (P): Resource-poor Cleveland has the best manager in MLB (Francona), the wonderful (Jose) Ramirez, and a few good pitchers but every year Francona is like a single mom trying to feed 25 growing boys on a box of mac n’ cheese.


2. Twins (P): Some decent players. Also spent a lot of money and have gotten less than they hoped–I’m looking at you Correa–so I’ll just say this: Never bet on the Twins.


3. White Sox (P): Might be the most disappointing team in MLB. They should walk away with a weak division and still might, but they believed their hype and haven’t bothered to show up very often. Still the odds-on favorite, but won’t get far in October. Weaknesses: Pitching blows hot/cold. Need a manager from this era.


4. Tigers (NY): The rebuild will take time and there are still more holes than a pair of hobo socks. Not good when you best hitter is over 40.


5. Royals (H): Who cares?


American League West:


1. Astros (C): I hate them, but there’s no denying the talent. As they’ve been, so they are: a solid team with good pitching. Weaknesses: No production in center field or catcher. Closer Pressly can be had and Verlander is 39.


2. Rangers (NY): They are rebuilding slowly, as they should.


3. Angels (P): Can we just stop the Trout Hype Wagon for heaven’s sake? He’s great but also injury-prone.  He, Ohtani, and Ward are not enough. The pitching is just as lousy as it always is.


4. Mariners (PP): A team that deserves a double PP. A yawn, yawn roster crafted by inept leadership at all levels.


5. Athletics (H): Simply a shameful tear-apart of a former contender. Move this team. Now!


National League East:


1. Mets (C): Yep, they’re for real and a Subway Series with the Yankees is not out of the question (though probability is another matter). Alonso, McNeil, Lindor are productive. Weaknesses: Starting pitching is so-so with Scherzer on the DL. Not much power beyond Alonso and Lindor.


2. Braves (C): The defending champions have been lethargic but remain formidable. They are like Houston in that they are steady and solid, not spectacular. There is more power in their lineup than the Mets can muster. Weaknesses:  Acuna has been injured, the bullpen and starter Morton are showing their age.


3. Phillies (P): They fired Girardi, went on a small tear, and reverted to their usual around .500 routine. Harper is great though. Weaknesses: They already regret signing Castellanos and at some point must come to grips with a roster that looks better on paper than on the field. Nola and Elfin continue to underwhelm.


4. Marlins (P): Do you care? No one in Miami does. (I'll bet they would in Montreal.)


5. Nationals (H): Time to admit that Corbin was a one-year wonder, dump the always-injured Strasburg, and rebuild around Bell, Soto, and Robles.


National League Central:


1. Brewers (P): It’s them or St. Louis in a lousy division, but unless Yelich wakes up, all they have are guys (Tellez, Adames, Renfroe) punching above their weight class. Hader might be the best reliever in baseball. He needs to be on a ho-hum staff.


2. Cardinals (P): The Cards look great with Goldschmidt, Arenado, and Edman but when they play good teams–witness their trip to Fenway Park–they look very mortal. It’s not good to rely on a 40-year-old ace (Wainwright) or a guy who lives on the DL (Matz).

3. Pirates (NY): They’re not embarrassing anymore, but watch what happens at the trade deadline. If they trade young talent, bury ‘em again. Right now, they are a cut above AAA, but not a big slice above.


4. Cubs (H): What an embarrassment! An inexcusable tear down of a wealthy franchise. Season ticket holders should sue for refunds.


5. Reds (H): Two phrases: Sell ‘em. Move ‘em.


National League West:

1. Dodgers (C): East Coast hoopla aside, they’re probably the best team in the majors. Freeman, Betts, Turner, Gonsolin, Anderson... and Muncy and Bellinger haven’t yet gotten untracked. I vote them the team most likely to throw a monkey wrench into Subway Series dreams. Weaknesses: Not liking Kimbrel as closer and why they signed Heaney is anyone’s guess.


2. Padres (P): Lots of hope, but it’s most hype. This is another team bettors should avoid. Machado, Hosmer, Darvish, Musgrove (IL), and? Yeah, that’s the problem.


3. Giants (C/P): 2021’s 107 wins was a fluke, but this team has good chemistry and enough talent to make it to the postseason. Pederson has finally come into his own and where did (Luis) Gonzalez come from? If Yaztremski, Belt, and Crawford wake up they will make some noise. Rodon, Wood, Webb are a good top three for starters. Weaknesses: Like the Rays, they need all the pieces to fall into place.


4. Diamondbacks (H): When the weather heats up, the D’backs cool down. You probably wouldn’t recognize their starting lineup or any pitcher other than past-his-prime Bumgarner. There’s a reason no one beyond Tucson knows the names.


5. Rockies (H): Would somebody please trade for Blackmon and save him from all of this? MLB should not have a franchise at this altitude.

Rob Weir


June Music: Ike Reilly, Hadley Kennary, Marisa Monte, J.P. Gertler, FlamenGrass


Ike Reilly
has appeared on this blog before. He’s back with Because the Angels, a blue-collar album about blue-collar folks in the vein of Billy Bragg and Bruce Springsteen. His is a combination of raspy protest folk, country rock, blues, and attitude. The album title comes from a song titled “Little Messiahs” and it would be safe to say that Reilly has no time for the hollow promises of politicians. He asks: Who will sing these working blues/for the working poor/whose souls are oozing/solvent as each day it passes on?” When he sings: Because the angels are in the chamber/They’re casting ballots/with made up names/And all the dead men/they’ll vote again friend/And the angels/they’ll take the blame, he’s not talking about Trumpian paranoia or Fox News lies. His sympathies are solidly with those who struggle hard and fail (“Trick of the Light”) and those who try to drown their despair of a closed factory in drink (“The Failure of St. Michael”). And don’t get him started on hope testing negative/false prophets and positives dispatching all those lies (“Healing Side of the Night"” or cops who shot a man in front of his children in the back self-proclaimed Christians who proclaim the shooter a martyr or a saint (“Someday Tonight”). In some form or another, Reilly spends most of the album calling out BS and hypocrites. If you wonder where protest music has gotten to, look no further. What a relief to hear someone call a spade a spade.


If you need something catchy to bring you up from the (needed) medicine Reilly gives you to drink, try a dose of the pop-laced offerings of Hadley Kennary. Crooked Roots is more than balloons and sugar. Think of it as pop-like in places, but not the stuff dipped from the radio play slop bucket. The title song  makes a few things obvious. First, Kennary (rhymes with canary) can really sing. She knows when to let the melody drift and when to open the dam. Second, she makes sure to enunciate the lyrics. About those, they are decidedly a cut above the usual in that they are personal and confessional in ways associated more with folk music than pop: My roots are shallow but they’re many/Hallowed strong and steady, and I know I’ll be fine/With these crooked roots of mine.  I rather wondered why her material is labeled “pop,” and suspect it’s because “folk” doesn’t market well these days. (More’s the pity!) The studio version of “"Orbit” has pop hooks and sheen, but they’d lose little if the latter was stripped away. By the way, I love the little catch in her voice and the off-kilter cadences in the chorus.  She’s been called part pop starlet and part troubadour. Let’s go with the latter, shall we?


I like bold artists who aren’t afraid to put themselves out there no matter what anyone thinks. That fits Marisa Monte like a glove. But I guess it helps one’s self-confidence to be acknowledged as one of Brazil’s greatest vocalists and the recipient of four Latin Grammys. Her latest, Portas, is another rose in the hair of a 30+ year career. The title track video captures her various personae: elegant, sophisticated, quirky, Gothic, sexy. Her repertoire is a combination of pop, Latin soul, and salsa. “Calma” shows that mix  as well as the effortlessness that marks truly great vocalists who save their sweat by not forcing the voice to go outside its range, though Monte’s is considerable. Check out the breath control and exquisite timing in the pop-meets-cool jazz “Medo do Perigo.” Or her smooth-as-silk duet with Seu Jorge e Flor on “Pra Melhoar.”  I get it that some might find her too mainstream for their taste, but watch some of the clips to see a legend in the making.


Jonathan Paull Gertler
is currently based in the Boston area. He’s one of those artists who gets slapped with labels such as folk rock, folk, or Americana. No Fear won’t resolve this, so pick one. “Grasp the Moon” is a sweet song with some nice tumbling guitar runs, but I guess it can’t be pure folk because there’s no pain in it!  It’s about a stable relationship and calls upon him and his main squeeze to Grasp the moon/Shoot the stars, a metaphor for being open to serendipity. He ups the tempo and adds catchy melody lines in “I Wish I Knew”  but its theme is similar. “Just Another Day” has a touch of shuffle, but like most on the album it has an upbeat message of getting up when life tries to slap you down. “Low Lying Sun” has a folk rock vibe, but also a little dash of Spanish-style guitar work. ’m not wild about Gertler’s voice, but his message of perseverance is a needed antidote for our times.    


Thomas Friedman proclaimed that earth is flat. If you doubt him, listen to the Barcelona-based quarter FlamenGrass. Their new recording Alegria (“Joy”) is North Amercian styled bluegrass with a lot of other stuff thrown in. That album-defining song has a grassy feel with hints of Roma and klezmer. As you’ll see right away, the band is anchored by Lluís Gómez on banjo and vocalist/fiddler Carol Durán. (Maribel Rivero is on double bass and Javi Vaquero on acoustic guitar.) As you will see on “Station to YourHeart,” Durán is the sparkplug and Gómez is the quiet virtuoso. But everybody gets do his or her thing on “RumbaGrass,” with its take-your-turn breakout solos. FlamenGrass is fun to hear and watch because their music is at once familiar but not too familiar.




Thursday Murder Club: Seniors Rule



By Richard Osman

Viking Press, 400 pages

★★★★ ½ 




Richard Osman is a game show host in Britain. I assume he’s an amusing one because his novel The Thursday Murder Club is witty, wicked fun. We are told never to judge a book by its cover and the same applies to people. It’s mostly set at Coopers Chase, a rest home filled with folks in their 60s, 70s, and above who gather weekly to discuss murders, be they real or imaginary cases.  


A bunch of old codgers wiling away their days before the Reaper calls? Don’t be so sure. Coopers Chase also has residents who were once smart cookies and haven’t yet gone to crumb. They make sure unwanted interlopers don’t wander into their discussions by reserving a room as a gathering to appreciate Japanese opera! When not debating the fine art of homicide, several of them like to drink gin and tonics—from a can—or discuss the silliness of vegetarianism at a restaurant called Anything with a Pulse. In the best tradition of British eccentrics, they seldom resist whinging or judging. Joyce, a retired nurse, narrates much of the book and wears her opinions on her sleeve. When her Murder Club compatriot Bernard, a former petrochemical professor, is on his way to breakfast, she writes in her diary: “What he has for breakfast I don’t know, but who really knows what anyone has for breakfast? I usually have tea and toast with the local radio. I know some people have fruit, don’t they? I don’t know when that came into being, but it’s not for me.”


You know you’re in for a funny book when a character is more shocked by fruit for breakfast than gory crime. As you might anticipate, the club will get its chance to help solve an actual murder, something that prompts another member, Elizabeth, to remark, “So we were all witnesses to a murder. Which, needless to say, is wonderful.” She’s the most mysterious member of the senior set, one who knows so much about all things dodgy that we suspect she may have worked with British intelligence in her salad days. There’s also Ron, once a tough labor union boss, and Ibrahim, a former psychiatrist. Spouses and children also appear, the latter prone to wondering why their parents can’t act their age. Short answer: When you live in a place where people become senile or die on a regular basis, they are of an enjoy-it-while-you-still-have-it mindset.


They share the belief that the home’s director, Tony, is oily and untrustworthy. None shed a tear when he’s bludgeoned to death, but they thrill to an opportunity to solve the crime. Another delight of the novel is how able-bodied professionals underestimate their elders. This includes local law enforcement, though the geezers find a reluctant ally in Donna DeFreitas, a police officer whom they met when she gave a talk at Coopers Chase.


The novel’s humor is supplemented by a twisty plot in which all manner of suspicious and odd people drop in: a priest (or maybe not), a Polish builder, a reckless SUV driver, an ex-boxer/perhaps violent criminal (Ron’s son), a Cypriot gym owner, a thug-turned-florist, and a land developer so sleazy he makes Tony seem like a saint. (He’s reading a Richard Branson book titled Screw It, Let’s Do It, Lessons in Business and Life. That’s not a real title, but it could be.)


Like most mystery novels, this one has a barrelful of red herrings and long-buried secrets that leak from the barrel’s bottom. Osman strikes a nice balance in presenting his senescent investigators as a charming mix of being well-connected, logical, and perceptive, yet also out of touch with recent developments. When told that some of the answers she seeks might be lurking on the dark web Elizabeth asks, “And how would I go about getting on the dark web?” Ibrahim replies, “Well, I’m guessing, but if it were me, the first thing I would do would be buy a computer. Perhaps go from there.”


Will the elders and the young ‘uns solve the local crime wave? Of course, it’s a mystery novel. But I loved how Osman reminded us not to assume things about seniors, yet also interjected their feelings of loss and mortality. Maybe the only sensible recourse is to laugh your way to life’s final chapter.


Rob Weir