Baseball wins

Is this heaven? No, it's the latest edition of the newsletter. Colby Wilson drops by for his weekly takes, touching on Edward Olivares' travels and Nicky Lopez's ability to get on base.

I have to come clean and admit I was completely agnostic toward MLB’s Field of Dreams game on Thursday. Then, I turned it on and was hooked.

What a production. The field looked amazing. And when I write “field” I mean the diamond and the corn. The camera work was first-rate, including the drone footage that was used liberally through the broadcast. I thought Kevin Costner’s two-minute-long walk from the corn to the edge of the infield was a little overwrought, but seeing that first batch of Yankee and White Sox players emerge from the corn was visually captivating in a way that made me audibly gasp and was worth the wait.

It didn’t hurt that the field was a launching pad. It was impossible to tire watching baseballs get lost in the corn. And the end? What a fantastic finish to a perfect evening.

This reminded me of All-Star Games from decades ago. I watched because, even though this was a regular season game between two teams I don’t particularly care about, this whole production felt unique. Broadcasters love to use the word “special” to describe things we’re watching. On Thursday night in Iowa, it was the perfect adjective.

There’s no doubt MLB will try to recapture this feeling next year. Not that I blame them—this night was a total and complete success for the game—but it will be impossible to have it be this unique, this special, if they do it on an annual basis. But that’s for next year. This year, it was a perfect August night in Iowa that made us all remember what makes baseball so great.

Three Takes: On the road with Edward Olivares, Cal Eldred’s role in the recent success of the young rotation and shuffling the lineup to take advantage of an OBP machine

Good morning. I turned 34 yesterday and I will not be taking questions about it at this time. All athletes my age with the exception of quarterbacks are being readied for a graceful retirement at age-34, but I’m hopeful there’s still some tread on these tires yet. Sorry, let’s not get existential here. Let’s do takes. 

Take One: I’m not sure if Edward Olivares is very good yet or not, but he deserves better than this. 

I have no idea what kind of teammate Edward Olivares is or where he fits into the Kansas City Royals’ Master Plan Under Dayton Moore. He may not be in the plans at all and he’s just here as filler until someone better shows up. 

But this is a pretty wild last few months for Olivares when you see it in one place. 

  • May 30: Olivares called up to Kansas City for Carlos Hernández. To this point in Omaha, he’s hitting .395 with five homers and 16 RBI in less than a month of action. Solid move. 

  • June 3: Olivares sent back to Omaha for Ronald Bolaños. Four hits in 11 at-bats over three days. 

  • June 6: Olivares called up to Kansas City after Adalberto Mondesi hits the IL. He went 0-for-5 with a walk in one game for the Storm Chasers. 

  • June 9: Olivares back to Omaha, this time for Carlos Hernández. One hit in seven at-bats across two games. 

  • June 14: Olivares recalled due to Andrew Benintendi’s cracked rib. During his almost-week in Omaha, he goes 5-for-14 with a homer. 

  • June 17: Olivares back to Omaha. He played in two games during this time and went 1-for-5. 

  • June 30: Olivares returns to Kansas City after Emmanuel Rivera’s hamate break. During an almost-two-week stretch, he hits .353 with a couple of homers and a double in Omaha. 

  • July 4: With Benintendi back in Kansas City, it’s back to Omaha for Olivares. He collected two hits in 10 at-bats during this stint with the parent club. 

  • July 31: It’s back to Kansas City after the Royals trade Jorge Soler and option Lucius Fox. In his longest tenure in any one place since May, he cranks five home runs but hits a paltry .243 after being BABIP’d half to death (.232). 

  • August 10: Olivares is back to Omaha for Joel Payamps.

And look, I understand you probably aren’t doing this to a piece that represents part of your future, and so if Olivares is the spiritual successor to Brett Phillips, Kelvin Gutierrez and every other player who rode the Omaha-to-Kansas City line a baker’s dozen times before being shipped out of town, so be it. It remains an awful inconvenient way to spend a couple of months, and props should be given to Olivares for producing as well as he has during this literal roller coaster. 

Take Two: If we’re gonna criticize when things are bad, we better be prepared to dole out some credit when things are good. Looking at all of us re: Cal Eldred. 

It wasn’t long ago right here in this very newsletter that I was bagging on Eldred because all his pitchers seem to stink, and the guys who are supposed to make it better—Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic, etc.—were not. 

Couple of good weeks can change anyone’s tune a little. Here’s what you’ve gotten from some of the young guns over the last fortnight: 

Or for the visual learner, here he is making good hitters look silly. 

Here’s some of the filthy business Daniel Lynch got up to in his August 5 start against the division-leading White Sox: 

Did Bubic punk out the White Sox in early August as well? Let’s go to the GIFs! 

Does Eldred deserve all the credit? Of course not. Does he deserve any of it? Debatable. But it also was debatable that it was all his fault when Lynch, Jackson Kowar and others were stinking up the joint earlier in the season. 

Take Three: Switch Whit and Nicky for a little bit. 

Whit Merrifield is in a funk. 

He can still swipe all the bags you need, he still has more than his share of hits left in the bat but Whit’s days as a leadoff are numbered. Of the 34 players with at least 150 at-bats in a leadoff role this season, Whit ranks in the bottom-10 in a whole bunch of categories you don’t want your leadoff guy to be at the bottom of—OPS, walk rate, wRC+, strikeouts, on-base percentage, a lot of the stuff you don’t want anyone to be bad at but cannot allow a leadoff hitter to struggle with. 

Since June 1, Nicky Lopez has enjoyed some of the best results of his professional career, slashing .315/.375/.381 and flashing some spectacular leather in the field. Merrifield over that same period is at .282/.313/.395—a slight uptick in power, but down significantly from Lopez in pure terms of getting on base. Yes, he’s stolen 17 bases over that time to just five for Lopez, but I perused the rulebook and I couldn’t find anywhere it said that the leadoff hitter was the only guy allowed to steal bases. 

Recently, Lopez moved into the No. 2 spot behind Merrifield in the order and I think it’s time to at least tinker with the idea of putting the OBP machine first and the stolen base threat second in the order. Merrifield will undoubtedly sacrifice some steals, but slotted between Lopez and a white-hot Salvador Perez should also help him get better pitches to hit and put Two-Hit Whit back in our lives a little more often. 

—Colby Wilson

Central issues

  • Yankees 6, White Sox 7

The Field of Dreams game was certainly dreamy for MLB. After blowing a three-run lead in the top of the ninth courtesy of baseballs in the corn from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the Sox came storming back on one pitch, Tim Anderson with the honors.

What a night for baseball.

  • Athletics 17, Cleveland 0

Imagine purchasing a ticket to this fiasco. I guess it’s only a fiasco if you’re a fan of Cleveland. For the A’s fan, I’m certain this contest was quite enjoyable. The top four batters in Oakland’s lineup combined for 12 runs driven in on six hits. Yet they only hit two pitches out of the yard, both coming off the bat of Mitch Moreland. Every Cleveland pitcher who appeared in this game saw his ERA increase. Hell, some pitchers who didn’t get in the game probably had their ERA increase just watching this contest. Collateral damage!

  • Tigers 6, Orioles 4

Detroit hung a five-spot on the board in the fourth against Baltimore starter John Means. Renato Nuñez and Victor Reyes each contributed with two-run dingers.

Up next

It’s the return leg of the home-and-home against the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s the same starting three for the Royals, who can probably give it up to the baseball gods that they won’t have to face Adam Wainwright again.

  • Friday — Jack Flaherty vs. Mike Minor at 7:10 CDT

  • Saturday — Jon Lester vs. Brad Keller at 6:10 CDT

  • Sunday — J.A. Happ vs Kris Bubic at 1:10 CDT

Since playing the Royals last weekend, the Cardinals enjoyed a three-game romp through Pittsburgh. Fun stretch of the schedule for St. Louis as they play either Kansas City or Pittsburgh 16 times in 21 games.