The JPT has been on location in small-town Kansas this week celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of titanic Royals fans Cecil and Judy Keller, and so there hasn’t been too much time to get into the baseball. You should know, though, that wheat is being harvested, the barbecue is glorious, the Dairy Queen still makes one heck of a banana split and that we’re not quite to the point where people ask “Is it hot enough for you.” But it’s coming fast.
In any case, I did write a bit about Scooter Gennett’s crazy day and the disappearing triple along with some scattered thoughts, but there are a bunch of things piling up around here in the JPT’s cluttered mind. We’ll get to some of them next week.
In the meantime, a quick review of our PANCON situation:
As always, our reminder: PANCON is the Panic Condition of teams around baseball. Here are the conditions:
PANCON 5: All is normal, the team is playing about as expected.
PANCON 4: There is a little edginess, a few players talk about how everybody needs to “pick it up,” trade rumors float around, etc.
PANCON 3: There is palpable concern. Players-only meetings are called. The manager starts shifting lineups. Bullpens are shuffled around.
PANCON 2: Trouble — manager is on the hot seat, fans start a FireTheGM.com website, players start anonymously talking about how teammates must play harder, the clubhouse becomes an unhappy place.
PANCON 1: Full-scale panic. Manager gets fired. Players get traded. Fans give up hope.
And here we go:
PANCON 1: Nobody.
PANCON 2: Philadelphia.
The Phillies remain in that special place where stuff is blowing up all around them and it seems only a matter of time before the panic forces get into the fort.
PANCON 3: St. Louis, Pittsburgh, San Diego.
We’d like to welcome the St. Louis Cardinals to PANCON 3. I like to think of PANCON 3 as a tornado watch. That is to say, nobody has actually SEEN a tornado touch down but conditions are favorable for one to form at any time. The Cardinals have been playing goofy up-and-down baseball all year. And they are in a division that shows no sign of taking form. So, things could certainly turn for the better.
BUT right now they’re a mess. Fans seem to have very strong and not especially fond feelings about manager Mike Matheny — and the other day he made one of the more high-profile manager moves of the year when he took a run (and an out) off the board with a challenge and then watched the world fall apart.
I have to say: I think the Cardinals might be in real trouble. They are 13th in the league in runs scored, and I’m not sure that lineup is going to get any better. If not for the wonderful rebound years of Lance Lynn and Mike Leake, the rotation would be in utter disarray. The bullpen isn’t exactly overwhelming anybody. Things certainly could get better, but they could also get worse very fast.
And the Cardinals are simply not conditioned for losing. The Padres, for example, can sort of linger in PANCON 3 for the rest of the year because this is normal for San Diego. But in St. Louis, with its rabid fanbase and remarkable history — one losing record this century — the panic can very quickly become the story. We definitely have favorable conditions for a tornado.
PANCON 4: Detroit, Oakland, Mets, Cubs, Giants.
Same as last week except, on the recommendation of a few brilliant readers, we are adding the Tigers to the list. The Tigers aren’t playing bad baseball … or good baseball. They’re just sort of hovering around .500 in an American League Central that still doesn’t know what it is. They are only two and a half games behind a Minnesota team that most would suggest can’t keep winning more than they lose.
But the brilliant reader point is right — the Tigers lineup is absurdly old, their best player forever Miguel Cabrera seems to be in full decline, their best pitcher forever Justin Verlander looks positively human and they’re messing around with the bullpen because their veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez is pitching disastrously. One quick way to blow up a team is to have a veteran closer who can’t get people out.
The Cubs had another blah week, though it’s good to see manager Joe Maddon sort of snap out of his daze and start moving things around. He changed up the lineup, put Kyle Schwarber in the ninth spot, is tinkering with the top of the lineup, sometimes it’s good just to shake things up.
But it is worth noting that even if the Cubs lineup starts hitting, which you would expect to happen, that aging rotation now looks like a real problem. Jake Arrieta has not been great for more than a year now. John Lackey at 38 might have run out of gas. Kyle Hendricks has been compared to Maddux; he is looking more Mike than Greg at the moment. And even Jon Lester is not pitching all that great. The Cubs are certainly still a major threat in the National League but the magic dust of 2016 seems to have dissipated.