2 2014 Dec

Toronto and Seattle Make Moves to Win in 2015

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1993 MLB World Series Game 6 Toronto Blue Jays vs. Philadelphia Phillies

The American League East continues to be a hotbed of activity in the off season, as the Toronto Blue Jays made moves to try to keep up with the Red Sox. They signed Russell Martin, the best catcher in this year’s free agent market to a five-year 82 million dollar contract. Then they traded third baseman Brett Lawrie and 3 prospects for Oakland’s All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson. For most teams, it seems strange to trade your top player when you are already a playoff team. But Billy Bean and the Athletics front office are always thinking of maximizing their talent with a tight budget. The key was acquiring Lawrie. Although he was injured last season, he is younger than Donaldson and the A’s expect Lawrie to make a full recovery. They are projecting that when he’s healthy he will have power numbers that make up for much of what they lost by trading Donaldson. Lawrie also has a lower salary and if their scouts did their homework well, the prospects they added will help them to stay competitive in the future. The Blue Jays move indicates they are trying to win now.

The team the Blue Jays and Red Sox are trying to chase down, the Baltimore Orioles, took a hit as Nelson Cruz, who led the Major Leagues with 40 home runs last season, left to sign a four year deal for 57 million dollars to join the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners who came up a game short of making the wild card spot have become big spenders. Last year Robinson Cano signed a huge contract and reports are that Kyle Seager will ink a 7 year 100 million dollar deal soon.

Rumor has it that the Orioles are interested in trading for outfielder, Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, in an effort to make up for the loss of Cruz. Kemp was one of the hottest hitters in the National League during the second half of the season, so

the Dodgers are not about to give him away. The Dodgers are looking for a shortstop to replace Hanley Ramirez, and they’d like to upgrade the catching position and their pitching. If the Orioles can address a couple of those needs, they might have a deal.

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26 2014 Nov

Red Sox Heat Up the Hot Stove League

2013-World-Series-Collectors-Edition DVDThe “Hot Stove League” just got cooking, thanks to the Boston Red Sox. When familiar names start shifting between contending teams, things get interesting. In this case Pablo Sandoval, third baseman and cornerstone of the World Champion San Francisco Giants offense, lured by a 100 million dollar contract, departed the “City by the Bay” for “Bean Town.” It’s a blow to the Giants and their fans, who had lovingly christened Sandoval with the nickname “Kung Fu Panda.” It’ll be interesting to see if Red Sox fans embrace Pablo in a similar way. As we saw in the playoffs, when Sandoval is hot, he’s difficult to keep off the bases, but he’s a streaky hitter and can go through droughts where he’s chasing bad pitches. If he starts off next season on one of those, it’ll be interesting to see how patient Red Sox fans will be.

The Giants arch rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, also surrendered a big name to the Red Sox as Hanley Ramirez signed a 4 year 88 million dollar contract with a 5th year option. In this instance, Dodger fans were not surprised and probably won’t be shedding any tears over this departure. Although a formidable offensive force when healthy, that disclaimer applied too frequently to Hanley. His offensive numbers declined this past season as he was plagued by an assortment of nagging injuries. Defensively, he was a liability at shortstop. His error was the only flaw in Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter. Rumor is the Red Sox are going to try to move him to left field, plus he can be used at DH.

For Red Sox fans who are excited over their new acquisitions, a word of caution: Sandoval is a good player, but not a superstar, and Ramirez is a gamble in terms of his health and his disposition. Expensive free agent signings feel good in the off season, but they don’t guarantee championships. Now, if they get Jon Lester back…

Hey! If you’re an optimistic Red Sox fan, or you know one, check out Baseball Galore and More for some Red Sox gear.

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6 2014 Nov

MLB: Let the Changes Begin!

Major League Baseball will slowly wind down the 2014 season with various award announcements over a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, most fans are thinking about next year and what can be done to put their favorite team in the position that the San Francisco Giants occupy. The focus will be on free agents like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields, although the value of the latter two may have gone down with their post season performances.

But first, the management needs to be in place. The Minnesota Twins named Paul Molitor as their new manager and more notably, acclaimed manager Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and joined the Chicago Cubs. Maddon probably saw the writing on the wall in Tampa Bay with poor attendance, the trade of David Price, and the departure of General Manager Andrew Friedman. People think so much of Maddon that the odds of the Cubs winning their first championship in over a century has dropped from 50 to 1 down to 20 to 1. Maddon took the young talent in Tampa Bay and molded them into a winning team with multiple playoff appearances. Cubs fans are hoping he can take their young talent and similarly shape them into a winning team. With more resources in Chicago, the dream is to win the last game of the season. If they do, Maddon might be regarded as the greatest manager ever.

Probably more important, but far less attention-grabbing are changes to the front office. After all, the key to a winning team is having people who can evaluate and acquire the best talent. Because of “Moneyball,” Billy Beane might be the most famous of a largely unknown club of General Managers in baseball. Despite low revenues and constant turnover of players, Beane keeps the Athletics competitive, though not quite able to advance through the playoffs. Well, some of that brain power left Oakland as Assistant General Manager Farhad Zaidi joined the Los Angeles Dodgers to become their General Manager. Hired by Friedman who recently became President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, you could see the team shifting into phase 2 of rebuilding in the wake of the McCourt ownership. McCourt’s cost-cutting had weakened Dodgers scouting and minor league development. Not willing to go through an extended rebuilding process like the one the Kansas City Royals went through, the Dodgers spent millions acquiring high-priced talent. But, the long-term plan was always to create a pipeline of talent from the farm system and by plucking Friedman from the Rays and Zaidi from the Athletics the Dodgers have added people who know how to do that. The rest of the country may not be paying much attention to these changes now, but don’t be surprised if you see the Dodgers repeating the success that their rival, the Giants, have just achieved.

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30 2014 Oct

Bumgarner Leads the Giants to Another Championship

Congratulation to the San Francisco Giants for their 3rd Championship in the last 5 years! Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals for a valiant effort. Game 7 of the 2014 World Series was similar to Game 3, which also began with starting pitchers Tim Hudson of the Giants and Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals. The games were close and ended with a 3-2 score, except the Giants won this time.

They can thank Madison Bumgarner for this championship. His performance throughout the playoffs ranks up there with Orel Hershiser in 1988 or Sandy Koufax in 1965. First he won the Wild Card Game to begin the Giants postseason run; he picks up a National League MVP award; then seals the whole deal with 5 innings of shutout relief on two days of rest to earn the World Series MVP Award. By the way, Chevrolet needs someone with more media savvy to present that award. Anyway, Bumgarner’s performance trumped the efforts of the Royals relievers, Herrera, Davis and Holland.

The key play of the game came in the third inning when Giants second baseman Joe Panik made a diving stop of a ball hit by Eric Hosmer and using his glove, tossed the ball to Brandon Crawford to begin a double play. Instead of two men on and nobody out, the Royals had no one on base.

You could second-guess whether the Royals should have given away an out when Bumgarner first entered the game in the 5th inning. Alcides Escobar bunted on a 2-0 pitch to move Omar Infante to second, and a weak hitting Nori Aoki batted next. But considering that the Royals hit into double plays the previous two innings, you could empathize with manager Ned Yost’s thinking. Also, there was a question as to whether Alex Gordon should have gambled and tried to score on the error with 2 outs in the 9th inning, But it’s hard to defy years of training that tells you not to go, if a normal throw could easily get you out, in the hope that a bad throw will happen.

Most managerial second guessing has to do with deciding which relief pitcher to use. In the case of the Royals, it was hard for Yost to make a bad choice. His relievers did their jobs.

As for the Giants, they followed their blueprint for success. They are very efficient on offense, as they showed when they drove in their first two runs on sacrifice flys. They may not get many opportunities to score, but they find some way to capitalize when they do. Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are as pesky a pair of hitters as you can find. Even if you throw a ball outside the strike zone, they might hit it. They are also fundamentally solid on defense. You see Pence running down balls and Sandoval picking anything hit his way. Of course Panik’s diving play in the 3rd was a potential game saver. Finally, they have a good bullpen, Although, Bumgarner usually isn’t a part of that.

Which brings up another point. The Giants have had tremendous success winning 9 straight playoff series. But the playoffs really are played differently than the regular season. Obviously, Bumgarner would never come in to save a game in the regular season. Also, Tim Hudson would not have been relieved in the second inning. He’d have to stay in longer and risk giving up a few more runs. In fact, watching the Giants starting pitching outside of Bumgarner, you begin to understand why they were a wild card team.

Are they a dynasty? Does it matter? Shortcomings during the regular season point out that they aren’t a dominant team. But when they make it into the playoffs, they know how to win. I guess we’ll see them again in 2016.

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29 2014 Oct

The 2014 World Series Goes to Game 7

So here we are; Game 7 of the 2014 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants. The Royals, who haven’t appeared in the post season, never mind being in a World Series, since 1985. It took an improbable, dramatic late inning rally and extra innings, for them just to survive the Wild Card game against Oakland. A game some might argue was a sign that the Royals were a team of destiny. Facing them are the Giants, the team that has won two of the last four World Series and is attempting to build a dynasty. Two wild card teams, evenly matched, in a single, winner-take-all game to become champions of Major League Baseball!

It all sounds exciting, right? The fact is, that each individual game leading up to this moment, with the exception of Game 3, has been pretty dull. There are no late inning comebacks. Although, you really don’t expect them since both teams have good bullpens. Plus, the games haven’t been close. The Giants easily win the first game 7-1, the Royals respond the next day by winning 7-2. The Giants blow out the Royals 11-4 in Game 4 and last night the Royals answer with their own lopsided victory 10-0. In Game 5 the Giants led 2-0 for most of the game, before tacking on 3 runs in the 8th inning, but the way Bumgarner was pitching the outcome never seemed in doubt. So none of these games will go down as classics in the history of baseball.

As baseball fans, lets hope tonight’s game will be entertaining.

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28 2014 Oct

Mo’ne Davis and Women in Baseball

Watching the World Series, I couldn’t help noticing the media attention that continues around 13 year old Mo’ne Davis. The girl who demonstrated that she could play with the boys during the Little League World Series. She threw out the first pitch (for a strike) at the beginning of game four and she’s featured in the Chevrolet commercial. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a great story and if she can get the publicity and endorsements without interfering with school or being exploited by shady advertisers, then it’s all good.

Her story does bring up the question of why don’t we have women playing baseball. Anyone who saw the movie “A League of Their Own,” saw that if you had an institution that cultivated women playing baseball, that you could find talent. Unlike more physical sports like football or basketball, where size is a big advantage, although it still helps to be 6’-5” and 250 pounds as far as hitting the ball farther or throwing it harder, we’ve seen a lot of smaller guys succeed in baseball. David Eckstein and Brett Butler had good Major League careers. Among current players, Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon looks like he would be blown over in a stiff wind. Among pitchers, Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer proved that you don’t have to throw hard to get hitters out. So beyond having a culture that simply doesn’t encourage it, there doesn’t seem to be a physical reason why an athletic woman couldn’t play baseball at a very high level.

Whether or not Mo’ne Davis or any other woman ever makes it to the Major Leagues, her story has a more important lesson for us as a society. Never to put limitations on ourselves saying that just because something hasn’t been done before, that it’s not possible. Also, never to judge what a person is capable of based on gender, race, religion, or simply what a person looks like.

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27 2014 Oct

Giants Close to Another Championship

After a 5-0 victory, the San Francisco Giants are one win away from a third World Championship in 5 years. If they achieve it, they’ll owe a lot to the efforts of Madison Bumgarner who pitched a complete game shutout in game 5. It seems like Bumgarner knows how to keep his emotions in check and pitch like it’s just another regular season game.

In contrast, the Kansas City Royals bullpen has shown signs of cracks in the last couple of games. Some credit has to go to the Giants hitters. They’ve been disciplined. They don’t chase many bad pitches and they don’t overswing. Throughout the post season they’ve done a good job of scoring runs without many home runs. Hunter Pence exemplifies their approach to hitting. His swings don’t look pretty, but he manages to make good contact with the baseball and he keeps getting hits.

The bright side for the Royals is that they are coming home, and they won’t have to face Bumgarner as a starting pitcher in anymore games in this series.

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24 2014 Oct

Royals Bullpen Outperforms Giants Bullpen in Game 2

The Kansas City Royals had one of the best bullpens in baseball last year. This year they might be even better. The playoffs are showcasing just how good Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, Greg Holland and company are. They remind me of the “Nasty Boys” from the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and they might achieve the same result. Similar to that Reds team the Royals don’t have a dominant, ace starting pitcher. But what they do have is a group of starters that can provide 5 or 6 quality innings before turning the game over to the relievers. All teams in the post season have quality closers. This year we’re seeing what a difference relief pitchers who enter in the 6th or 7th inning make in the outcome of games.

The other day Giants manager, Bruce Bochy brought in a rookie Hunter Strickland, in the 6th inning of game two in the World Series. Strickland gave up a double to Salvador Perez and a home run to Omar Infante and the game was essentially over.

Rookie pitchers, especially ones brought up late in a season are a gamble. Back in 2002 the Anaheim Angels brought up Francicsco Rodriguez late in the year and he played a big role in the success of the Angels during their run to a Championship. Last year rookie Michael Wacha won NLCS MVP for the Cardinals. But Strickland has surrendered 5 home runs during this post season. Fortunately for the Giants, the rest of their bullpen has been much more effective.

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22 2014 Oct

Bumgarner leads the Giants to Game One Victory

In a post season where so many #1 pitchers have struggled, Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright, Chris Tillman, and now James Shields, one guy who stands out as a #1 starter who performs like one is Madison Bumgarner. He delivered again in the first game of the World Series in Kansas City. When Hunter Pence hit a 2-run home run in the first inning to give the Giants a 3-0 lead, it felt like the game was over. The Royals only opportunity to get back in the game came in the 3rd inning, when Mike Moustakas doubled to put runners on 2nd and 3rd base with no outs. But Bumgarner struck out the next two batters and eventually escaped the inning without a run scoring. He made it to the seventh inning before surrendering a run on a home run to Salvador Perez, but by then the Giants had a 7 run lead and coasted to the 7-1 victory.

Thankfully for the Royals, it doesn’t matter how badly you lose. It only counts as one loss and in baseball momentum depends on who your next starting pitcher is. In this case, hard-throwing rookie Yordando Ventura faces Jake Peavy. Peavy has pitched well lately, but he spent a lot of time in the American League, so the Royal hitters should be familiar with him. If we’re going to see a competitive World Series, the Royals need to find a way to win this one. Otherwise we could witness something similar to 2007 when the Colorado Rockies stormed into the World Series on a hot streak, only to be swept by the Red Sox.

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21 2014 Oct

The Unpredictable MLB Post-Season

Let’s face it, Major League Baseball is the most unpredictable playoff of the major sports in the U.S. Usually, team sports predictions are based on which team has the most all-stars. Let’s face it, all-stars tend to be the most consistent, reliable players, so it makes sense to try to forecast outcomes based on those players.

The NBA is the most predictable. It’s not hard to see why. There are only 5 players on the court at a time, so a superstar player is 20% of the team. They play the majority of the minutes and they contribute on both offense and defense. As long as the all-star basketball player doesn’t get hurt, the teams with the most stars tend to advance the farthest in the playoffs.

Hockey and soccer players are also on the field of play for offense and defense, but their sports are more unpredictable than basketball based on the way the games are played. First, you have someone constantly standing in front of the goal, which makes scoring more challenging. Also controlling the movement of the ball or puck without using your hands is much more difficult. There is an increased chance that a lucky bounce will affect the outcome of a game.

Looking at the National Football League, it’s probably the next most unpredictable of the sports. First, they use the most players. 11 players on offense, 11 for defense plus special teams for kicking and kick returns. A Hall of Fame talent like Dan Marino didn’t win a Super Bowl, not because he wasn’t good enough, but because he was one out of about 40 players and he only plays on offense, so he’s not even playing more than half the time. The rest of his team wasn’t good enough and a quarterback, as important as they are, cannot carry a team with this many players. Another factor working against predicting football is that they only play one game. It’s not the best out of 7 games. You have one bad day and you’re out of the playoffs.

Baseball’s unpredictability is based largely on the minimal influence of a single player. A superstar in baseball probably has less impact than in any other team sport. If you’re a starting pitcher you only work once every 5 games. If you’re a closer you might play in a third of the games, but you usually only get 3 outs out of 27, assuming you don’t play extra innings. The other players play both offense and defense, but as a hitter you only take one out of every 9 at bats. As a fielder, you’re not involved in every play. A quarterback may only play offense, but he participates in every play on offense. The way baseball is played also factors into it’s uncertainty. The pitcher could make a bad pitch and the hitter could hit a screaming line drive, but it might be right at a fielder and they make an out. On the other hand a pitcher could make a great pitch and the batter might hit a dribbler, but it could be in just the right spot where no one can field it, and the batter gets a base hit. No wonder so many baseball players are superstitious.

You might be the eighth hitter in a lineup, but you have the same opportunity to have an at-bat and impact a game, as the clean-up hitter. In this way, baseball might be the most democratic of team sports. No wonder that the Los Angeles teams with their high-priced players and the Tigers with their trio of former Cy Young pitchers are eliminated from the playoffs. There’s only so much a Bryce Harper can do. When Michael Wacha is the guy pitching and Travis Ishikawa is the guy hitting, that is their moment to influence the outcome of a game. Try to predict that.

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