4 2014 Oct

MLB Divisional Playoffs: Good Relievers Needed

After winning 3 consecutive games in extra innings, it’s easy to begin thinking the Kansas City Royals are a team of destiny. But there may be a more logical reason for their success. The Royals bullpen is ASSUME! 9 innings without allowing a run, the Royals relievers have outlasted a good Angels bullpen. In fact, looking around at every Major League Baseball playoff series, the importance of a deep bullpen has become very evident.

The most glaring example is the performance of the Detroit Tigers relievers, which has been the exact opposite of the Royals. The Tigers bullpen is AWFUL! I think their ERA is something like infinity. In the first game they took a close 4-3 ballgame and in a single inning turned it into a blowout for the Orioles. Yesterday, they gave up a 3 run lead in the eighth inning and placed their team on the precipice of elimination.

In the first game of the Dodgers vs. the Cardinals series, the impact of the bullpen was more subtle. In the 7th inning the Dodgers 4 run lead stunningly turned into a 4 run deficit. One thing that was evident was how reluctant Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was to take out his starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw as the Cardinals compiled hit after hit in that critical inning. If you had watched the Dodgers all season, you could understand his thinking, because the Dodgers setup relievers have been so inconsistent. He even turned to rookie Pedro Baez to relieve Kershaw before going to pitchers who had been with the team all year. Unfortunately, that move failed as Baez gave a up a 3 run home run to Matt Holiday that became the difference in the outcome of this game. If it’s any consolation to Dodger fans, the Cardinal bullpen didn’t look bulletproof either, so we may yet have a competitive series here.

In the other National League playoff series, the San Francisco Giants have a good bullpen. Enough said.

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3 2014 Oct

The National League Division Series Begins

When Madison Bumgarner is on his game he’s as good as any starting pitcher in baseball. He demonstrated that the other night as he shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League wild card game. Once Brandon Crawford hit the grand slam that game was over.

The bad news for the San Francisco Giants is that they no longer have their ace available to start the series against the Washington Nationals. Jake Peavy has been good, but after that the consistency of the Giants starting pitching drops off. In contrast the top four Nationals starting pitchers look solid. The Giants have also struggled to generate consistent offense ever since their leadoff man, Angel Pagan went down with an injury.

The Nationals offense led by Denard Span at the top is solid. Look for the Nationals in the League Championship series.

The two teams that met in last year’s National League Championship series the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers face each other in this year’s Divisional round.

However, there are some key differences from last season. Michael Wacha who came out of nowhere to lead the Cardinals the last post season, has struggled so much he won’t even start in this Division series. In 2013 the Cardinals led the National League in runs scored while this season they scored only 4 more runs than the last place Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers started the 2013 post season with Matt Kemp on crutches and when Hanley Ramirez had his rib broken by a pitch in the first game with the Cardinals, the Dodgers offense sputtered. This year the Dodger are second in the League in scoring and with a .300 hitter, Juan Uribe batting seventh in the lineup, the Dodgers offense is deep. The one advantage the Cardinals will have is a better bullpen. But on the days when Clayton Kershaw pitches, the Dodgers might not need that. I expect the Dodgers to change the outcome this year.

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2 2014 Oct

American League Division Playoffs Begin

 

After a dramatic thriller in Kansas City and a complete bore in Pittsburgh, the Major League Baseball playoffs proceed in earnest. Next up for the Royals are the “Los Angeles” Angels of Anaheim. If the Royals are to have a chance against the team with the best record in baseball, they’ll need better pitching than they showed in the wild card game. The Angels score more runs than anyone, led by Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, so if the opposing pitcher isn’t sharp the Angels can put up runs fast. It’ll be important for both teams to grab a lead early in any game, because both teams have excellent bullpens. One weakness for the Angels is that the starting pitching is much weaker after the injury to Garrett Richards. Also, there is some concern with how well Matt Shoemaker will pitch coming off of a rib strain. If Shoemaker is okay, I like the Angels chances.

In the other series the Detroit Tigers are led by a trio of former Cy Young winners, David Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, except Verlander doesn’t seem to have his Cy Young stuff anymore. Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. Especially in a best of 5 series. The young Baltimore Orioles comprised of guys most people don’t know yet like Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen just need to hang in against the Tigers starting pitching to get to the more vulnerable relief pitching. The Tigers with aging veterans like Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez invested a lot to get David Price and win this year, but I don’t think they have enough to get past the Orioles.

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29 2014 Sep

The Last Day of the Regular Season in Major League Baseball

Yesterday, Major League Baseball concluded its’ regular season and it was an eventful last day. The Detroit Tigers shutout the Minnesota Twins to win the American League Central title and hold off the Kansas City Royals. An Oakland A’s shutout of the Rangers gave them the final American League wild card spot and knocked out the Seattle Mariners. A Pittsburgh Pirates loss in Cincinnati relegated them to the National League wildcard and gave the St. Louis Cardinals another Central Division title.

Aside from the races, there was a dramatic finish in the Nations Capitol as Jordan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals pitched a no-hitter. In a brilliant move by manager Matt Williams, rookie Steven Souza Jr. was sent in as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning. The change paid off as Souza made an incredible diving catch in left center field to record the final out and preserve the no-hitter.

In Boston, Derek Jeter ended his career with what else, a base hit.

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29 2014 Sep

A Real “Field of Dreams”

Twenty-five years ago Kevin Costner brought us the movie “Field of Dreams.” It was adapted from the novel “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella. On the surface it can be categorized as a baseball movie. But the story transcends that and touches broader human themes of faith, family, forgiveness, and connection. The classic line, “If you build it, he will come.” Has taken on a life of it’s own.

The field used in the movie was built in the town of Dyersville, Iowa. After the film’s release, Costner persuaded the Lansings and Ameskamps, the landowners of the field to temporarily keep it. The word “temporary” no longer applies. As the movie predicted, they came, from all over the country, for multiple reasons. As many as 70,000 people annually come to play catch with a toddler or an aging loved one. They have weddings and they spread ashes. Like a great cathedral it has become a pilgrimage destination. People leave behind clothing and jewelry like offerings.

It wasn’t all perfect. The Ameskamps allowed organized events on their half of the field, while the Lansings restricted their part of the property to games of catch. Eventually Lansing bought out the Ameskamps, then two years ago “Go the Distance Baseball” purchased the farm. The Lansings still do some of the maintenance and run the gift shop. Thankfully the new owners maintain the no fee admission policy accepting only donations. Every other Sunday a group of former amateur players and some towns people dressed up in throwback uniforms, walk out of the corn field to serve as unofficial curators. It is fantasy turned into reality.

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26 2014 Sep

Derek Jeter’s Final Game at Yankee Stadium

Usually, when your closer blows a three run lead in the ninth inning, it’s a bad thing. Last night, Yankee fans couldn’t have been happier. David Robertson surrendered home runs to Adam Jones and Steve Pearce of the Orioles in the top of the ninth inning of last night’s game in the Bronx. It blew a 5 to 2 Yankees lead and sent the game to the bottom of the ninth in a 5 to 5 tie. By the way, it happened to be Derek Jeter’s final game at Yankee Stadium before his retirement. That extra half inning gave Jeter one more at bat and he delivered a signature base hit to right field to drive in pinch-runner Antoan Richardson with the winning run. Jeter walked off the field a hero one more time. It was another magical moment added to the storybook career of Derek Jeter.

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25 2014 Sep

Los Angeles Dodgers Win the Western Division

Last night the Los Angeles Dodgers beat their arch rivals, the Giants, to clinch the National League Western Division title. The Dodgers won their last three series against the Giants, winning 7 out of 9 games to take control of the division. Manager Don Mattingly lined up his two aces Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw to pitch in each of those series and the move paid off as the Dodgers won every game they started. This points out the challenge facing any team confronting the Dodgers in the playoffs.

The other night Greinke outpitched Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. The Dodgers used a classic formula for beating a quality pitcher. First, score in the first inning before the pitcher has a chance to settle into a rhythm. Second, hit homeruns. Good pitchers don’t make many mistakes, so it’s difficult to put together a rally comprised of multiple hits. On the rare occasions when you get a mistake pitch, hit it out. That and have your own top-notch pitcher to match up.

Last night their other All-Stars Kershaw and Yasiel Puig stepped up. Kershaw not only pitched 8 innings allowing only one run to lower his Major League leading ERA to a microscopic 1.77 with 11 more strikeouts which adds to his National League leading total of 239, but he started the Dodger offense with a triple to drive in their first run. For those who want to argue that a pitcher shouldn’t win an MVP award, consider this; with the Dodgers 23 games over .500 Kershaw has 21 wins. He also throws 7 innings or more almost every time he pitches. Think that day off for the bullpen doesn’t help the Dodgers in games the next day? With regard to Puig he hit the go ahead homerun and over the last two weeks is getting hot along with the rest of the Dodger offense and he made an amazing throw to get Blanco out at third base. The team seems to be peaking in time for the playoffs.

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18 2014 Sep

Major League Baseball’s Pennant Races

The Major League Baseball regular season is winding down. Half the divisions are locked up with the Angels, Orioles and Nationals coasting into the postseason. The other baseball division races are two team affairs with the Royals challenging the Tigers, the Pirates chasing the Cardinals, and the Giants trying to catch the Dodgers.

The story of the Angels and the A’s calls into question the value of adding a “quality” starting pitcher. The A’s had the best record in baseball, but after a collapse that has you wondering if the trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester didn’t ruin the team’s chemistry, will be fighting for a wild card spot along with the second place team from the Central division and the Mariners. The Angels on the other hand, lost arguably their best starting pitcher, Garret Anderson, to an injury and have been playing great.

In the National League the Brewers will be vying for a wild card along with whoever comes second in the West and Central. Several other teams still have mathematical chances, but not very realistic opportunities to play in October.

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17 2014 Sep

Choosing a Baseball Glove

Baseball gloves come in a variety of sizes and shapes. To select an appropriate glove there are some basics to consider. First, you need to know which position in the field you are playing. Pitchers and infielders generally have smaller gloves because they need to be able to quickly transfer the ball out of the glove to make a throw, and can’t afford to have the ball stuck in the pocket of a big glove. The outfielder’s glove is bigger because the priority is to catch a ball. First basemen and catchers have unique gloves in order to handle the specific needs of those positions, which includes a high volume of catches. If you play multiple positions, you might consider a utility glove, which is larger than an infielder’s glove.

The size of gloves is not only dependent on the position it is designed for, but the age of the user. “Pattern size” is the measurement from the heel of the glove to the top of the glove on the side of the palm. Youth gloves start at a small size of 8 inches and they go up to 12 inches. Adult sizes are 12 to 13 inches. Professional gloves are restricted to a maximum of 12 inches by rule, however it is rarely enforced.

A glove can cost anywhere from $15 to over $200. A quality glove costs more but tends to be more durable. If you play a lot of baseball, it might be worth it to spend a little more. On the other hand if you are young, it might make more sense to spend less on a glove you will soon outgrow.

Ultimately, your glove has to feel good. It’s hard to play well if your glove is uncomfortable.

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28 2014 Aug

Choosing a Baseball Bat

Selecting a baseball bat is often a very subjective process. You just have to try out a variety of sizes and weights to determine what feels best. However there are some basic concepts to consider. If you are big and strong you can wield a heavier bat. A smaller player can benefit from an increase in their bat speed with a lighter bat. A longer bat provides greater reach for outside pitches, but it is also heavier, which can slow down your swing. Striking the right balance between power and speed is a matter of trial and error.

Youths 12 years old and younger usually use a bat with a 2 1/4” diameter barrel. This is the standard size for Dixie Youth and Little League baseball. High schools and colleges restrict the barrel diameter to a maximum size of 2 5/8”. All leagues have their own bat requirements, so always check to learn the rules before you buy a bat.

As mentioned earlier, you have to test out a bat to determine if it is going to work well for you, but here are some basic guides for bat length based on age. Most 5-7 year olds use a 24”-26” bat. 8-9 year olds usually use a 26”-28” bat. 10 year olds typically swing a 28”-29” bat. An 11-12 year old generally uses a 30”-31” bat. 13-14 year olds usually wield a 31”-32” bat and 15-16 year olds often use a 32”-33” bat.

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