Category Archives: Travel Day

A look back at the week that was.

Travel Day

C.C. 

To the surprise of very few, C.C. Sabathia will have his left elbow examined by Dr. James Andrew this week after an MRI revealed a bone spur that the Yankees believe has existed since he pitched for the Indians.

Sabathia spent time on the DL this past August due to inflammation and also appeared to struggle with his command and velocity at times during the season.

An examination by Andrews confirming a simple bone spur would be very good news for the Yankees and Sabathia, as prognosis for simple bone spur removal is usually very good.

Sabathia is most likely the last pitcher that will have a chance to win 300 games due to the different ways that pitchers are now handled. Young pitchers are rarely given the opportunity to start by teams these days and those who are allowed to start at an early age are put on innings restrictions for their first few years that limit starts.

Sabathia, who will turn thirty-three in June, currently has 191 wins and would have to average sixteen wins per season for the next seven seasons to pass 300 wins.  Sabathia’s durability and consistency give him a realistic chance of reaching the 300 win milestone.

Jeter

Yankee captain Derek Jeter underwent surgery on Saturday to repair his broken left ankle and is expected to make a complete recovery in 4-5 months, in time for him to report to spring training in Florida.

The Yankees will be holding their breath until Jeter hits the field and displays that he is ready to go.  Jeter, who will turn 39 in June, is currently tenth on the all-time  hits list and should pass Eddie Collins, Paul Molitor, Honus Wagner, and Carl Yastremski next season to get to sixth on the all-time hits list.

Red Sox Trade For A Manager

The Red Sox finally have their man in John Farrell, who they unsuccessfully pursued at the end of last season. Farrell, the former Red Sox pitching coach, returns to the Red Sox after the Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Farrell.

The relentless pursuit of Farrell by the Red Sox is somewhat puzzling. Farrell compiled a 154-170 record the last two seasons in Toronto while guiding the Blue Jays to two fourth place finishes.  The Red Sox have traded away Kevin Youkilis, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford in attempt to focus on rebuilding with younger players.

Let The Offseason Trades Begin

The Miami Marlins continued to dump high salaried players on Saturday by sending reliever Heath Bell to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league infielder Yordy Cabrera, who the Diamondbacks acquired from the Oakland A’s earlier in the day along with infielder Cliff Pennington in an exchange where the A’s got outfielder Chris Young.

The Diamondbacks will assume thirteen million dollars of the twenty-one million dollars that Bell is owed on his contract.

Game Seven

The Cardinals and Giants will meet tonight in San Francisco in game seven of the NLCS.  Matt Cain will take the mound for the Giants while Kyle Lohse will take the mound for the Cardinals.

Two strong outings from pitchers Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong in games five and six helped the Giants force a deciding game seven.  The Giants live to fight another day despite three of their leading hitters going ice-cold in the postseason.  Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, and Buster Posey are a combined 23-132(.174) in the postseason for the Giants.

Game one of the World Series will take place on Wednesday night in either St. Louis or San Francisco.

The Giants would appear to represent a bigger threat to the Tigers than the Cardinals would be.  Should the Giants win game seven tonight, the Tigers would have to fly across the country to play the first two games of the World series in a park that is the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB.

The Tigers would be better served with a shorter trip to St. Louis to a park where their power laden offense would have an easier time of getting the ball over the fence.

Only 160 Days Until Opening Day

For the fans of all but the Giants, Cardinals, and Tigers the start of a new season can’t come soon enough and the countdown to opening day is already on.

I’ll try to provide a ray of hope and perspective for fans each week here in the offseason by counting down the days until the start of the 2013 MLB season.  160 days ago was May 15th and on May 15th the Yankees lost a 5-2 game to the Orioles in which Chen outpitched Sabathia only two days after Andy Pettitte made his return in Yankee Stadium in a loss to the Mariners.

That doesn’t seem that long ago does it?

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Travel Day

A ridiculous format, everything that’s wrong with MLB, a costly error, a costly injury, Tito to the Tribe, and there is no crying or magic in baseball.

Insanity!!

What happened in Atlanta on Friday night was as disgusting as anything I’ve ever witnessed in MLB in my lifetime. After playing 162 games over the course of six months, the Atlanta Braves were forced to host the St. Louis Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would advance to the best-of-five round in the playoffs.  Bud Selig’s brainchild was designed to “increase excitement” in the playoffs.  Since the announcement of the playoff format for 2012 was announced, many of us were concerned with the randomness of a one game playoff, as well as the format under which the best-of-five round would be played.  Many of us have been lamenting the sorry state of umpiring in MLB for quite some time, and this year’s umpiring was a new low.  One of the greatest concerns I had about the one game playoff format was that one bad call could ruin an entire season for a team.  On September 10th, I wrote the following article: http://yankeesfansunite.com/2012/09/10/travel-day-21/

All of those concerns were 100% validated on Friday night.

The Atlanta Braves finished six games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals this year and were clearly the better team.  They may have been the better team on Friday night too, but we’ll never know.

Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning, the Braves had runners on first and second base with one out.  Shortstop Andrelton Simmons came to the plate and hit a high fly ball to left field between Cardinals LF Matt Holliday and SS Pete Kozma.  Kozma back pedaled to the ball, and at the last moment gave up on it, realizing that it was a play that Holliday was better suited to make.  The only problem was that Holliday had given up on the ball already. As the ball fell to the ground with a thud, umpire Sam Holbrook stunned everyone watching and on the field by making the signal for the infield fly rule.

The official definition of the infield fly rule is as follows:

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.”
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.
If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.
Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder—not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.
When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

In layman’s terms, the two criteria for the establishment of an infield fly situation are that the play must be an ordinary one, and that the umpire must make the call immediately. The ball that Simmons hit was not an ordinary play, nor was it called immediately, to say the least.

As the infield fly rule is not a common call seen on a day-to-day basis, I wanted to ask the opinion of a friend before I decided how accurately or inaccurately that Holbrook had acted.  I have a friend who umpires at the collegiate level and who umpires at the prestigious Cape Cod league every summer.  I called him immediately and asked him what he thought of the call and he said that the umpire had blown the call badly in his opinion.  He said that the generally accepted criteria for a play being ordinary and the rule being invoked was when the infielder making the play on the ball stopped moving his feet.  He said that once the fielder stopped moving his feet and was set under the ball, that the infield fly rule must be invoked. The problem on the play in question was that Kozma never, EVER, stopped moving his feet. At no point in time was Kozma ever established under the ball as to make the play and ordinary play.

How would the inning have played out with bases loaded and All-Star catcher Brian McCann coming to the plate with one out? We’ll never know.  While McCann drew a walk from Cardinals reliever Motte, you can’t assume that with bases loaded and only one out that Motte would have pitched McCann in the same fashion that he wound up pitching him.

The players and fans were denied a true and just outcome of this game. Playoff games are too important to be decided by incompetent umpires, and MLB’s insane refusal to join the other major sports in implementing full-scale instant replay never looked dumber than it did on Friday night.

Instead of talking about what should have been exciting baseball, the focus was strictly on everything that is wrong with MLB today, and that is very sad.

Home Sweet Home

The next time you hear from me, the Oakland A’s will probably be eliminated from the playoffs. That will be in no small part due to the insane format instituted by Nutty Buddy this year for the best-of-five series.

When you play 162 games and wind up with the second best record in your league, then wind up playing the first two games of a playoff series at the home of your opponent, who had the seventh best record in the same league, something is very wrong.

The biggest advantage of starting at home in a best-of-five series is facing the opponent’s best two pitchers at your stadium.  This year, for reasons still unknown, MLB tweaked the best-of-five format in a most irrational fashion, forcing the higher seeds to begin on the road.

As roughly 75% of the best-of-five series in MLB playoff history have failed to go the full five games, the higher seed had only about a 25% chance of actually being able to play a deciding game five at home.

When someone can figure out exactly why this change in format was instituted, please drop me a line.  I haven’t heard a single rational explanation yet.

While Coco Crisp‘s error in yesterday’s game in the A’s-Tigers series won’t go down in history in the proportion that Buckner’s error in the 1986 World Series did, it will linger over the Bay for quite some time.

Crisp’s error was the game deciding play yesterday that sent the A’s into an 0-2 deficit but overshadowed horrendous home plate umpiring in both of Oakland’s losses.

Anyone watching the first two games of this series had to be alarmed at the different strike zones for the pitchers of both teams.

Check out the strike zone maps by Brooks Baseball for Saturday’s game

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/zoneTrack.php?month=10&day=6&year=2012&game=gid_2012_10_06_oakmlb_detmlb_1%2F&prevDate=106

The “love” Verlander got from the home plate umpire in this game was truly laughable, as the graphs don’t lie.

Yesterday’s game was even worse.

http://www.brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/zoneTrack.php?month=10&day=7&year=2012&game=gid_2012_10_07_oakmlb_detmlb_1%2F&prevDate=107

The two umpires working home plate in this series have earned NFL replacement ref status.

When will MLB take steps to insure fairly called games that the players decide?

Cleveland Rocks

Terry Francona’s year of rest came to an end this weekend when he was chosen to pilot the Cleveland Indians.

Fans will miss Francona in the broadcast booth, as he quickly gained accolades for speaking frankly and adding insight that was refreshing to listen to in an era of screaming television and radio personalities.

While his decision to accept the job with a team who is coming off of a very bad season may seem puzzling, Francona obviously couldn’t wait to get back in the dugout.

Francona had to deal with nonstop scrutiny and pressure in Boston, pressure that was rumored to have affected his health in an adverse fashion.  Cleveland represents a good opportunity to cultivate a young team that is not totally devoid of talent.  SS Asdrubal Cabrera and  C Carlos Santana were signed to long-term contracts before the 2012 season and are the blocks that the Indians intend to build around.

A less demanding fan base and media market with the opportunity to manage young ballplayers may be exactly what the doctor ordered for Francona.

Sometimes people have to step outside the norm of their lives to find what they are looking for.  Francona deserves thanks for making the game better to listen to while he was in the booth and I hope he finds success and happiness in Cleveland.

Magic THAT!

It is incredibly hard for me to listen to grown adults reciting woefully inaccurate cliches, superstitions, and attributing things they don’t understand to “magic”.

All season long, the Baltimore Orioles operated many standard deviations outside of the statistical norms in regards to their overall record in relation to their run differential vs. opponents, their record in extra inning games, and their record in one run games.  “Magic” was used more times in relation to the Orioles than it was in the Houdini household.

Last night, with the Orioles tied with the Yankees 2-2 in the late innings, the key phrase being uttered and tweeted by irrational beings everywhere was “magic”. The TBS broadcasters bought in as well, seemingly sure that the Orioles would win the game in dramatic fashion.  As a matter of fact, from the 5th inning on it seemed the broadcasters were eagerly awaiting and preparing those watching for what they apparently felt was the inevitable one run win over the Yankees.

In the top of the 9th inning, after Russell Martin homered, the announcers sounded sadder than the Orioles fan in attendance.  By the time Robinson Cano had driven two more runs to blow the game wide open, the announcers sounded sad and dejected and shocked that a guy as talented as Cano could once again crush a pitch the opposite way and drive in two runs.

Earlier in the day in St. Louis, the broadcasters working the Cards-Nats game sounded stunned and suicidal when Tyler Moore‘s pinch-hit two run single in the 8th inning put the Nationals on top of the Cardinals.

All game long, the geniuses in the booth explained to everyone watching about the supposed “magic” that the Cardinals possess in the postseason.

Hopefully the TBS broadcast teams have gotten over the devastating blows to the “magic” they believe in and will be alright to work today’s games.

Travel Day

Here in the great Northeast, the leaves are changing colors and the temperatures are falling.  The MLB playoffs are set, and the last regular season games have been played.  For the first time since 1967 we are celebrating a Triple Crown winner. There are also no MLB games today. The last time there were no MLB games being played was on July 12th and the division leaders were the Yankees, White Sox, Rangers, Nationals, Pirates and Dodgers.  A lot can change in 2 1/2 months can’t it?

The Playoffs

Atlanta and St. Louis will kick off the playoffs at 5:07pm ET on Friday in Atlanta. Atlanta is pitching Kris Medlen and St. Louis will be pitching Kyle Lohse in this one game playoff that will decide who hosts the Nationals.

It will be very unfortunate for baseball if the Cardinals win this game.  The addition of an extra wildcard team was offensive enough, but the way the playoffs are being executed this year is a disgrace and an insult to the intelligence of fans as well as the players who had 162 games to display who the better team was.

Fortunately, I don’t think it’s going to matter in this case.  The Braves are a better team in every facet of the game and should win this game.  The Braves had been assured of a playoff spot for a long time, and have a rested and ready bullpen to back up Medlen, who had a sensational season.  Medlen compiled a 10-1 record while posting a 1.57 ERA and a microscopic 0.91 WHIP.  Converted to a starter at the end of July, Medlen has yet to lose a game in his new role, going 9-0 with the Braves winning all 12 of his starts.  Medlen’s 23 BB’s vs. 120 K’s is startling.   Medlen is on regular rest with the killer bullpen of Venters, O’Flaherty, and Kimbrel rested and ready to go.  I like the Braves to win this game in what should be a very hostile atmosphere for the Cardinals.  Smart move by the Braves organization to hand out 45,000 tomahawks at Friday’s game.  I think that the Braves will advance to play the Nationals and beat them to move on to the NLCS.  I like the Braves in four games over the Nationals if that matchup occurs.

Baltimore will visit Texas for their one game playoff on Friday night that will begin at 8:37pm ET.   Darvish will definitely be on the mound for the Rangers and it looks like Saunders will take the mound for the Orioles, although that is not official yet.

This game would have taken place under the old playoff system in exactly the same fashion, it just wouldn’t have counted as a postseason game.

Whether you call it a postseason game, a play-in game, or a tiebreaker the bottom line is that the Rangers are the more talented of the two squads and are playing at home, which should give them the edge in this game.  I like the Rangers to advance to the next round and host the Yankees, who I think will beat either the Rangers or Orioles in the best-of-five.  I like the Yankees to beat the Rangers in four games if that matchup occurs and the Yankees to beat the Orioles in three games if that matchup occurs.

San Francisco will host the first of two games at home against the Reds on Sunday.  Arroyo will take the mound for the Reds and Bumgarner will get the start for the Giants.  The Reds have been the most complete team in the NL since the beginning of the season and I think they will take care of the Giants and advance to the NLCS to play the Braves.

Last but not least, the Tigers will host the first of two games In Detroit against the A’s on Sunday.  No announcement yet on who will start for the A’s and Verlander will start for the Tigers.  This is a very difficult series to break down but I’m going to go with the A’s to upset the Tigers.  The Tigers do a lot of living on the  long ball and their record this year against the West in pitcher’s parks was a combined 3-7(0-3 in LA, 1-2 in Seattle, 2-2 in Oakland)  With the first two games taking place in Detroit, I think one Oakland win there will enable them to win the series at home where the power of the Tigers could be neutralized to some extent.

I like the A’s to win it in 5 games and advance to face the Yankees in the ALCS.

A Ridiculous Debate

No, I’m not talking about Obama vs. Romney.  I’m talking about Trout vs. Cabrera for AL MVP.

Of all the metrics that currently dominate the discussion of the value of players, I think WAR is the most flawed.  In my opinion, WAR makes too many assumptions and that inflated defensive metrics often affect the overall WAR too much.  The debate on WAR would take a book to fill but it simply isn’t proper for anyone with a brain to vote for Trout over Cabrera for AL MVP.

What Miguel Cabrera just did hasn’t been accomplished since the great Carl Yastremski did it in 1967, before I was born. If winning the Triple Crown isn’t such a big deal, then how come the dozens of hall-of-famers who have taken the field since 1967 haven’t been able to do it even once? What makes it even harder to accomplish in the AL is the presence of the DH, which adds many good bats to the mix.

Here’s one thing that I don’t seem to read much about as far as Cabrera’s “value” is concerned.  Cabrera was willing to move to third base this year so that Prince Fielder could play first base. Is it really fair to value Cabrera’s defense at an unnatural position to him the same as you would Trout’s?

Miguel Cabrera picked up the Tigers and carried them on his back while showing total unselfishness in a position change  and won the Triple Crown for the first time in baseball since 1967.

Please, enough with the WAR.  At the end of the day no player in baseball was even close to as valuable to his team as Cabrera was.

The Three Zombies

Last year during the postseason Brian Sinkoff, a sports radio talk show host in the Maryland area and Albany, NY, was hosting a chat on Facebook during the ALDS between the Tigers and Yankees.  As I was lamenting the pathetic displays at the plate by A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher, Sink coined the phrase “The Three Zombies” in reference to this sorry trio.

The Yankees elimination from the postseason the last two seasons has been blamed on just about everything but global warming.  In reality, the reason for the Yankees early exits in the postseason can be left squarely on the shoulders of these three players(with a big assist from a disgraceful job by home plate umpire Gerry Davis in game 3 of last year’s ALDS).

The combined average of Swisher, Teixeira, and A-Rod in the 2010 ALCS and 2011 ALDS was a dreadful .125 (15-112) with 2 HR’s and 8 RBI’s.

We all know that A-Rod’s 2009 postseason carried the Yankees to a title, but Swisher and Teixeira’s postseason efforts as Yankees have been nothing short of pathetic.

Swisher is 16-100(.160) in the postseason as a Yankee, with 4 home runs and 5 RBI’s.

Teixeira is 18-106(.171) in the postseason as a Yankee, with 3 home runs and 12 RBI’s.

Clearly something has to change with at least one of these guys for the Yankees to advance to a title.

A-Rod has been swinging the bat well and although his power has waned with ball after ball hit to the warning track, his ability to rap out hits is still there.  With Cano and Granderson providing power, A-Rod doesn’t need to hit home runs to be valuable to the Yankees this postseason and I think he can and will have a good postseason.

Swisher has been swinging the bat well also, but needs to overcome an obvious mental block in the postseason. I’m betting on a good postseason from Swisher also.

Teixeira’s average took a plunge starting with the postseason of 2009 and he has never recovered that part of his game since then.  A career .301 hitter when he signed a 180 million dollar contract with the Yankees, Teixeira has followed his great 2009 regular season batting average(.292) with batting averages of .256, .249, and .251 respectively in 2010-2012.

Including his postseason at bats, Teixeira is 431-1747(.247) since the postseason of 2009.

Still possessing power, it would appear that the best Yankee fans can hope for is that Teixeira can add to the feeble 3 home runs he has hit in 118 postseason at-bats as a Yankee.

For the Yankees to make the World Series it doesn’t matter which of three players wakes up and performs in the postseason, so long as one of them does.

Travel Day

Where did the time go? It seems like yesterday that the Yankees had been swept in    their opening series at Tampa Bay and people were calling for Girardi’s head.  While many people are still calling for Girardi’s head, three days remain in the regular season.  At this time next week, four playoff teams will already be eliminated and four more facing one game deficits in the best-of-five series.  On Thursday I’ll give playoff predictions and discuss who I think deserves the individual honors but today it’s all about the playoff races and possible seeds.

If The Playoffs Started Today

In the NL:

The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Nationals.

The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Reds.

In the AL:

The Yankees and Orioles would play a one game playoff in Baltimore to determine the winner of the AL East.  The loser of that playoff game would host the A’s in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

The Tigers would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the winner of the Yankees-Orioles one game playoff.

In the NL things are almost set as far as who is in the playoffs although the seedings may not be decided until the final day of the season.

The Nats, Reds, Giants and Braves are all in the postseason.  The Giants are locked into the three seed. The Braves are locked into the four seed.  The Nationals and Reds are locked into the one and two seeds.  The Nationals own the tiebreaker for the one seed on the Reds due to winning the season series so even though they currently have the same record, the Nationals actually own a one game lead.  The Cardinals own a two game lead on the Dodgers for the wildcard.

There are only three series taking place today through Wednesday that will impact the postseason in the NL.  The Cardinals host three games with Cincinnati and that series will help decide who gets the one seed in the NL as well as whether or not the Cards can make the postseason. Although this year’s playoff format actually penalizes the one and two seeds in the best-of-five series by forcing them to play the first two games of that series on the road, the one seed is still important as the format in the NLCS and ALCS has not changed.  The one seed would host the first two games of  the best-of-seven NLCS and ALCS.

While the Cardinals are in the driver’s seat as far as clinching the last playoff slot, they have the misfortune of having to play a strong team in the Reds who still has something to play for in at least the first two games of the series. The scheduled pitching matchups are Arroyo-Garcia, Latos-Carpenter and Bailey-Wainwright

The only other series taking place this week in the NL that could impact the postseason will take place in Los Angeles as the Dodgers host the Giants are three games behind both the Nationals and Reds and lose the tiebreaker to both teams based on season series losses to both teams, the Giants are locked into the three seed and have absolutely nothing to play for in this series while the Dodgers will issue a call for all hands on deck.  The scheduled pitching matchups are Cain-Harang, Zito-Capuano, and Vogelsong-Kershaw.

A win by the Dodgers tonight and a loss by the Cardinals tonight would make the battle for the last seed very interesting.

In the AL? Where do we even begin. At this point, we know that the Rangers, Yankees and Orioles are all in the postseason.  The Tigers magic number with the White Sox is down to one, so the Tigers are as good as in.

With only three games left in the regular season, no team in the AL has clinched their division yet and no team has clinched so much as a seed.

In the Central, it appears that the Tigers will wrap up the division and once they do, the Tigers will be locked into the three seed.

In the West , the Angels can do no better than the five seed. In order to force a playoff game for the last wildcard slot the Angels would need to sweep the Mariners and have the Rangers sweep the A’s.   The A’s can take the division by sweeping the Rangers.   The A’s can lock up a playoff spot with one win against the Rangers.  The Rangers can lock up the division with one win against the A’s. The Rangers can get the one seed by finishing with the same record as the Orioles if both of those teams win their divisions based on the Rangers winning the season series with the Orioles. The Rangers can get the one seed if they finish with a better record than the Yankees if the Yankees win their division but lose the tiebreaker if they finish with the same record as the Yankees as the Yankees won the season series.

In the East, the Yankees and Orioles can win the division at the end of the regular season if one finishes with a better record than the other. If they finish in a tie at the end of the regular season, a one game playoff would be held in Baltimore to decide the division as Baltimore won the regular season series with the Yankees.  Tampa Bay can force a one game playoff for the 5 seed by sweeping the Orioles and having the Rangers sweep the A’s.

In other words, who the heck knows who will be playing who in the AL playoffs?

Here are the scheduled pitching matchups for the relevant series taking place starting tonight that will affect the AL playoff picture:

Baltimore-Tampa Bay: Chen-Cobb, Gonzalez-Shields, to be named later-Hellickson

Texas-Oakland: Perez-Parker, Harrison-Blackley, Dempster-Griffin

Los Angeles-Seattle: Wilson-Hernandez, Haren-Iwakuma, Weaver-Beavan

Boston-NYY: Bucholz-Sabathia, Lester-Nova, Cook-Kuroda

Travel Day

This week it’s all about the playoff races and Miguel Cabrera on the verge of accomplishing something that hasn’t been done since 1967.

Miggy, Miggy, Miggy

Being a baseball fan these days is tough.  Poor umpiring, increased interleague games looming, a ridiculous addition of a second wildcard team(when many of us didn’t even like the addition of the first wildcard), positive tests for PED’s, etc. have made it challenging for fans to partake in the pure joy that baseball used to offer in its glory days.

Any baseball fan under the age of 45 wasn’t even born the last time a player won baseball’s Triple Crown. Any baseball fan between 45 and 55 probably has a hard time remembering when Carl Yastremski won the Triple Crown in the 1967 MLB season.  Nine days from now, around 11:10 PM EDT, the anointing of the first Triple Crown winner of my lifetime will take place in Kansas City.

Miguel Cabrera has an 8 point lead in the batting title race in the American League.  He also has a 10 RBI lead over Josh Hamilton in the RBI title race, and is currently tied with Hamilton for the home run title race.

With Josh Hamilton being injured and his return unsure, it appears that Miguel Cabrera has done it, he’s going to end the drought.  Bolstering Cabrera’s chances of winning the Triple Crown is the fact that he will be facing 10 games worth of Kansas City and Minnesota pitching.  The Royals and Twins are currently 10th and 13th in the AL in team ERA.

While the playoff races are gathering almost all of the hype, the biggest story of the year is Cabrera.  In the last 45 years some pretty incredible players have graced the game with their presence.  None of those players accomplished what Cabrera is about to do.

Hopefully, MLB and the media who are hyping the playoff races nonstop, will give this accomplishment its proper coverage.

Make sure you mark 8:10 PM EDT on October 3rd on your calendars.  At that time, you can turn on your television and watch the last game of Cabrera’s incredible season and say that you witnessed the coronation of the first Triple Crown winner since 1967.  Whether or not you like Cabrera, this is an event that no baseball fan should miss.  Things you wait a lifetime for are the things that should be most cherished.

If The Playoffs Began Today

In the AL:

The Orioles would host the A’s in a one game playoff in Baltimore to determine who would host the Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

The White Sox would host the Yankees in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

In the NL:

The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff in Atlanta to determine who would host the Nationals in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

The Giants would host the Reds in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

The NL races are down to seedings and who will get the last wildcard.

The Giants have closed to within 3 1/2 games of the Nats and 3 games of the Reds for the first two seeds.  Those three teams can still wind up in any order for the top three seeds.

The Braves are as good as home free with a magic number of 1 to make the playoffs.

The Cards have a two and a half game lead over the Brewers and a three game lead over the Dodgers for the second wildcard position but the Cardinals are far from home as they clearly possess the hardest remaining schedule.

The Cardinals have three road games against the Astros before returning home for a six game home stand against the Nationals and Reds.  With the Reds and Nats battling for the 1 seed, it is very unlikely that either will lay down for the Cards.  It is conceivable that the Cards tough road home could allow the Brewers and/or Dodgers to run them down if they can play 7-3 and 7-2 baseball respectively as they end their seasons.

The AL races for the East and Central are as up in the air as they were last week at this time.

The White Sox are still clinging to a one game lead in the Central despite losing their last five games.  The White Sox have a seven game home stand starting today that consists of three games with the Indians and four games with Tampa Bay before heading to Cleveland to play the Indians again in their final three games.

The Tigers play their final four home games starting today against Kansas City. The Tigers then head to Minnesota to play three games and then to Kansas City to play three games.

The Yankees have a one game lead over the Orioles in the East.  The Yankees head to Minnesota to play three games that will be followed by four games in Toronto before heading home to finish the season with three games against the Red Sox.

The Orioles play four games against Toronto that start today with a doubleheader.  The Orioles then host the Red Sox for three games before ending their season in Tampa with three games against the Rays.  The series with the Rays becomes an obstacle for the Orioles if the Rays can close their gap with the Orioles to three games or less before that series begins.  If the Rays  can do that, they will control their destiny in that last series against the O’s at home.

The A’s rough schedule has gotten to them as of late, but they still hold the second wildcard slot by two and a half games over the Angels and three and a half games over the Rays.  The A’s start a four game series with the Rangers tonight before heading home to finish the season with three games with Seattle and three with Texas.  The last series with Texas becomes easier if Texas already has the one seed wrapped up and rests their starters.  That is unlikely, as the Yankees have closed to within two games of Texas and hold the tiebreaker on Texas for the one seed after taking the regular season series over Texas four games to three games.

The Angels have been playing well but their schedule will make it very hard to close enough ground to garner a spot in the postseason.  The Angels have three games with the Mariners and then head to Texas to play the Rangers in a three game set before finishing their season in Seattle with three more games with the Mariners.  The Angels will face King Felix in both series with Seattle.

Travel Day

With only seventeen days left remaining in the regular season, the only thing on everyone’s mind is the battle to reach the postseason.  The most interesting race in baseball has been taking place in the AL East.

Reports Of The Death Of The Yankees Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Last year at this time, the Red Sox and were in the midst of a stunning collapse that defied all mathematical possibility and left Red Sox Nation devastated.  Red Sox Nation has no such worries this year as the Red Sox are just playing out the string after an awful season.   With their team eliminated already, Red Sox fans needed to find a reason to be interested in baseball at this time of year and found it when their hated rivals frittered away a ten game lead in the AL East.  Just last week, Yankee jokes were the reason for Red Sox fans to get out of bed in the morning.  Predictions of a Yankee collapse to rival the collapse the Red Sox experienced last year were the rage on Twitter last Monday and talk of where that collapse would fit in history raged. Not so fast Yankee haters, they aren’t done yet.

After an awful month of baseball that saw the Yankees fail to win back to back games since August 14th and 15th against the Texas Rangers, the Yankees responded by winning four of six games this past week against AL East division rivals Red Sox and Rays including four of their last five games. The Yankees have a one game lead in the AL East over the Orioles while the Rays have been bounced back to what looks like only a wildcard shot, now trailing the Yankees by five games.  Just as important as the success the Yankees had this week were the return of Ivan Nova off the DL and the reemergence of Eduardo Nunez.

Ivan Nova played a huge role in the success of the Yankees in 2011 and his future looked very bright.  Nova struggled to put together consistency this season, despite a notable increase in the velocity of his fastball.  When Nova hit the 15-day DL after another poor outing on August 21st with an inflamed rotator cuff, there were serious concerns as to whether or not Nova would return in 2012 and if he did, would he be in condition to help them in their playoff push.  Both of these questions were answered with a resounding yes this past Saturday.   Working on low pitch count limitation, Nova was outstanding, striking out eight batters while allowing two runs on four hits.  Nova’s command was outstanding, something that is unexpected when a pitcher hasn’t been out in nearly a month. More importantly, Nova was able to finish off batters when he got ahead in the count, something that he somehow wasn’t managing to do this season consistently.  Nova’s increased velocity looked like it was paying dividends as the Rays waved time after time at his fastball.  Perhaps Nova was pressing too hard earlier this season to be crafty and his layoff gave him time to think about his approach.  Nova attacked the Rays with his fastball in the zone, challenging them to catch up to it while throwing 53 strikes in 85 pitches.  The return of the Ivan Nova that everyone witnessed on Saturday will play a big role in the Yankee pursuit of the AL East.

One of the most ridiculous clichés you will ever read or hear is that “management always knows better than fans” when it comes to players on a team.  This is nonsense. In any profession or sector of business, there are people who are simply not qualified to do what they do or who simply don’t do what they are supposed to do very well.  Time and time again, Yankee GM Brian Cashman and Yankee manager Joe Girardi have displayed an unwillingness to allow young players to develop and a general impatience with them.  Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, and Melky Cabrera are among the most recent young players that this management team decided was not in the Yankee future at a young age. When Eduardo Nunez was sent to the minor leagues earlier this season, it was just another in a long line of mistakes that this particular management team has displayed with young players, and many Yankee fans were frustrated.  Nunez played a huge role for the Yankees in 2011.  Nunez was asked to fill in for the injured Derek Jeter in 2011 and then when Jeter returned Nunez was asked almost immediately to fill in at third base for Alex Rodriguez.   Nunez made errors, as any player being asked to play multiple positions will be prone to do, but displayed great speed on the base paths and the ability to make contact at the plate consistently.  After three errors early in April, Yankee management once again displayed an ill-advised knee jerk response and sent Nunez to the minors, where he was injured soon thereafter.  Returning to the Yankees on September 1st, Nunez went 1-3 with an RBI in a one win over the Orioles.  This return was “rewarded” with a pinch running appearance on September 3rd, another pinch running appearance on September 8th,  one at-bat on September 9th, and another pinch running appearance on September 11th.  Girardi could find consistent at bats for such mediocre players as Pearce, Jones, Ibanez, Ichiro, and Nix but not for Nunez?

On Thursday night against the Red Sox, Girardi finally wrote the name Nunez on his lineup card due to the injury Derek Jeter sustained the previous night while running out a ground ball that will prevent him from playing the field until he is healed.  Nunez went 2-4 with a double.  On Friday night against the Rays Nunez went 1-3.  On Saturday evening Nunez homered and went 1-3 again. On Sunday Nunez went 0-3, but stole 3 bases and scored 2 runs.  It took an injury to Derek Jeter to get Nunez into the lineup but now that he’s there, it would be hard to imagine Girardi not realizing that a speedy contact hitter such as Nunez is exactly what his team needs. In addition to his plate appearances, Nunez made some absolute highlight reel plays at SS this weekend. Did Nunez commit one error? Yes, but when looking at the value a player brings to a team, you have to look at the big picture and not just focus on the negatives. Nunez brings an element to the Yankees that they clearly need. Girardi and Cashman dropped the ball on Nunez earlier this year and anyone who doesn’t think he could have helped this team that has been plagued by station to station limitations is kidding themselves.

Next up for the Yankees is the return of Andy Pettitte, who will pitch on Tuesday night against Toronto.  Petitte was feared lost for the season, but has completed his rehab and has been pronounced fit to return from the broken ankle he suffered in late June on a comeback line drive.  Pettitte will be able to make three starts, and three starts should be enough to have Pettitte ready for playoff action. It has been a long wait for Pettitte’s return but everything seems to be falling into place for the Yankees right now and sometimes bad times make the return of good times more appreciated.

The Yankees still have to deal with the loss of Mark Texeira for what could be the remainder of the regular season as well as C.C. Sabathia’s disappointing outings but the Yankees appear to have weathered the toughest part of the storm and can see some blue sky on the horizon.  With three home games against Toronto this week before three more at home with the A’s, the Yankees have a great opportunity to hold their slim AL East lead.

The Orioles continued their winning ways at home, sweeping the Rays in dramatic fashion. The Orioles then lost of two of three to the A’s and now head to Seattle to face the Mariners, who haven’t played badly as of late. The Orioles will also have to face King Felix on Wednesday night in Seattle, before heading to Boston for a three game series this weekend. Boston may have a poor record and be going through hard times, but they showed up to play the hated rival Yankees hard and will likely play with a purpose against the Orioles, who knocked the Red Sox out of the postseason on the last night of the regular season last year.  One of the most iconic scenes of the 2011 MLB regular season was of the Orioles celebrating that meaningless victory over the Red Sox as if they had won the World Series and the Red Sox would love to return the favor this weekend.

The Orioles have displayed a great determination and the ability to play sound, fundamental baseball but the Orioles face a tougher schedule than the Yankees do the rest of the way home.   It’s been a great battle whose ending will be fun to witness.

If The Playoffs Began Today

In the NL:

The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one-game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five playoff against the Nationals.

The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five playoff against the Reds.

In the AL:

The A’s would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Rangers.

The White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Yankees.

Some notes on the playoff races:

I(and virtually everyone else) have just assumed that at some point that the Tigers would put away the White Sox and win the AL Central.  The Tigers horrible loss yesterday knocked them back to two games behind the White Sox again, and made today’s game between the two teams the most important regular season game of this year to date.  The last of a scheduled four game set between the two teams was rained out last week, forcing the game to be made up today. This will be the last meeting between the two teams in the regular season and even though the Tigers have an easier schedule remaining than the White Sox do, a win by the White Sox would give them a three game lead over the Tigers with only 16 games remaining for each of the two teams.  Game time is 2:10 EDT and the matchup is Fister vs. Quintana.  I believe the winner of this game today will win the Central.

The Phillies managed to close within three games of the 2nd wildcard slot this past week before a disappointing series with the Astros that has knocked them out of serious playoff contention, again.

There will be no collapse this year by the Braves, who won’t catch the Nationals but who are seven games clear of the Cardinals for the first wildcard slot. The Braves have played very well, winning seven of their last ten games, and look like a very dangerous team.

The race for the second wildcard slot in the NL is a perfect example of why MLB’s decision to expand the playoffs is total insanity. The Cards(3-7 in their last 10 games)and the Dodgers(3-7 in their last ten)just concluded a series in Los Angeles and appear to be the favorites to land the last spot in the NL, at seven games and five games over .500 respectively.  Teams who are barely over .500 have no business in the playoffs of a sport that plays 162 regular season games, plenty of time to determine who the best teams are.  It will be a disgrace that one of these teams will make the playoffs and will be even more of a disgrace if they advance into the next round and deny a team who played far above them all season long a spot in the best-of-five.

The race for the second wildcard in the AL appears to be between the loser of the battle between the Orioles and Yankees in the AL East and the Angels.  The A’s now have a better record than both the Yankees and Orioles and remain only three games behind the Rangers in the battle for the West.  It’s hard to see the A’s missing the playoffs and if they run down Texas than the same applies to Texas as far as looking home for the first wildcard slot.  The Yankees lead the Angels by 3 ½ games and the Orioles lead the Angels by 2 ½ games.

Travel Day

A costly call and red-hot playoff races were the big stories this week

A Disgrace

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words.  This picture is worth far more.  As baseball’s television ratings continue their annual decline, falling so far behind football that if it were a fight the ref would step in and stop it, you need only look at this picture from Saturday’s Yankees-Orioles game to find one of the reasons for that decline.

Last evening I was flipping back and forth between the U.S. Open women’s final and the Niners-Packers NFL game.  Separated by only a few minutes were questionable calls in both the NFL game and the women’s final. Serving in the third set down 6 games to 5 games to Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka returned a ball that was called out by the linesman. The ball looked in to me, as it did to many in the crowd in Flushing as well as the announcers working the match on television.  Azarenka challenged the call and those at home and at the match watched with intensity as the incredible technology that professional tennis uses for replays played on the screen.  The ball was indeed out.  Shortly thereafter Serena Williams rightfully won yet another U.S. Open.  A few minutes earlier in the Niners-Packers game, a questionable spotting of the ball after a third down play was challenged by Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh.  The replay confirmed that the referees had indeed spotted the ball correctly and the Niners were forced to punt.  Justice was served and everyone playing and watching knew that the correct calls had been made in these events.  That wasn’t the case Saturday night when what should have been a game tying play was called a game ending out, with Mark Teixeira clearly touching first base when the ball was four feet away from the first baseman’s glove.  This wasn’t just a close call where a mistake was made, this was pure incompetence or chicanery.

MLB’s refusal to move into the 21st century and utilize the amazing technology that exists is not only frustrating, but damning to the sport and its credibility.  Nobody wants to hear “those are the breaks”(there don’t have to be breaks created by crooked and incompetent officials), “the calls even out”(they don’t), or “they had their chances”(yes, both teams or players always have chances but if one has the advantage of crooked or incompetent calls then they obviously have an unfair edge).  When I hear someone start to trot out tired old clichés in response to bad calls, my eyes glaze over and I wonder if they were raised very close to power lines or ate a lot of lead paint chips as a child.

Imagine if Azarenka’s critical shot was actually in, and that the linesman who had called the ball out in that match deciding game had altered the outcome.  Imagine if Mario Manningham’s incredible catch in the Super Bowl had actually been ruled out-of-bounds and the Giants had lost.  Would the fans of tennis and football have accepted those outcomes as valid and meaningful? The answer, of course, is no.  Seemingly everyday MLB asks its fans to accept the outcomes of games with horrendously blown calls as valid.  Even worse is the fact that several umpires are as well-known as the players whose games they call due to their constant poor level of performance.  The umpire who blew the call this weekend, Jerry Meals, was the subject of death threats last year when he blew a call as obvious as the one he blew this weekend in a 19 inning game between the Pirates and Braves.  Take a look at this disgrace from last season:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qtNmee3AKKI

Clearly Jerry Meals has issues with his eyesight or with his integrity and this particular blown call could very well cost the Yankees not only the AL East, but also the postseason.

Athletes should decide the outcome of professional sporting events, not officials or umpires.  It is long past time that Bud Selig and MLB understood that.

Red Hot Playoff Races

If the playoffs began today here is what they would look like:

AL

The Oakland A’s would host the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Texas Rangers in the first two games of a best-of-three series.

The Chicago White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the New York Yankees.

NL

The Atlanta Braves would host the St.Louis Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the Washington Nationals in a best-of-five series.

The San Francisco Giants would host the Cincinnati Reds  in the first two games of a best-of-five series.

AL EAST

The AL East is an absolute war zone.  The Yankees have a one game lead over the Orioles and a two game lead over the Rays.  The Yankees start a three game series in Boston with the Red Sox on Tuesday while the Rays and Orioles battle each other in a three game series that also starts on Tuesday.   The Red Sox have lost nine of their last ten games and this is an ideal time for the Yankees to put some breathing room between themselves and at least one of their two closest pursuers.  The Yankees finish the week with a three game series in Yankee Stadium with the Rays while the Orioles head to Oakland for a three game series with the A’s.

AL CENTRAL

The AL Central could hinge on a four game series between the White Sox and Tigers that begins tonight in Chicago.  The White Sox have refused to yield the lead in the Central to the Tigers, who were very heavily favored to win the AL Central at season’s beginning.  The Tigers trail the White Sox by two games and it is very unlikely that either team will grab a wildcard spot as both teams have gone cold lately with the White Sox having lost seven of their last ten games and the Tigers having lost six of their last ten games. This series will have the feel of a playoff series between the two teams as it the last time they will meet in the regular season unless a one game playoff is necessary to break a tie.

AL WEST

The Rangers suffered another injury to a pitcher this weekend, with the latest one happening to Roy Oswalt. Despite this, the Rangers lead the West by 3 1/2 games over the A’s.  The Angels have finally put it into high gear, having won nine of their last ten games, but still trail the A’s by two and a half games and the Rangers by six games.  The A’s and Angels start a crucial four game showdown tonight in Los Angeles.  It is the last time they will meet in the regular season unless there is a tiebreaker necessary. Texas starts a six game home stand on Tuesday composed of three games apiece with the Indians and Mariners. Texas has a great opportunity to put some more space between themselves and their pursuers this week.

NL EAST

The Nationals appear to be home free with a five and a half game lead with only twenty-two games left on their schedule. Strasburg being shut down shouldn’t affect what looks to be an inevitable division win.  The only drama left in this division appears to be whether or not the Nats can nab the 1 seed in the NL over the Reds.  The Braves don’t appear likely to catch the Nats, but look home free to grab one of the wildcard spots with a five and a half game lead over the Cardinals and a seven game lead over the Dodgers.  In the absolutely unbelievable news category, the Phillies are not dead yet in the wildcard race.  Recent hot play has left the Phillies trailing only the Cards, Dodgers, and Pirates for the last wildcard position.  Although currently trailing the Cardinals by six and a half games,  all three of the teams they trail are struggling mightily and facing tough schedules this week.  Another hot week by the Phillies could make them the story of baseball and land them in striking position.  Three games in Miami and then four games in Houston this week make it very possible for the Phils to continue their hot run.

NL CENTRAL

The Reds are going, going, gone in the Central and the return of Joey Votto has them giddy. Votto has gone 4-10 with five walks since returning to duty for the Reds last week.  Sometimes things just fall into place and things are as good as they look and feel.  That has been the story with the Reds this year, who are having an outstanding season and look to possess a great future as well.  The Cardinals and Pirates continue to struggle in the race for the last wildcard spot, which the Cardinals currently lead by one and a half games over the Dodgers and two and a half games over the Pirates.   Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati to play the Reds in a three game set and then finishes the week with a four game series against the Cubs.  St. Louis starts a seven game West Coast swing this week that begins with three against the Padres and ends with four games against the Dodgers.

NL WEST

No matter how many trades and acquisitions the Dodgers have made, they don’t appear capable of catching the Giants.  The Giants continue to cruise along on a four and a half game lead and are firmly in control of the West.  The Giants play four with the Rockies this week and then three more at home with the Padres. The Giants can deliver the knockout blow this week.  The Dodgers have a brutal road trip this week against the two best teams in the National league.  Three games in Washington are followed by three games in Cincinnati.

Travel Day

The Strasburg decision, individual honors races, and the playoff picture as MLB enters its last month.

Strasburg Shutdown

The Washington Nationals are on top of the NL East and have the best record in MLB.  The Nationals announced this weekend that their young ace, Stephen Strasburg, would make two more starts this season and then be shut down for the year.  While it is understandable that this is not being received well by fans of the Nationals, the Nationals are making the right move and deserve credit for staying their chosen path.

Strasburg had Tommy John surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow September 2010.  Strasburg has been dazzling this season, compiling a 15-6 record with a 2.94 ERA and 195 strikeouts. While it may be frustrating for Strasburg, his teammates, his manager, and fans of the Nationals, it is simply a no-brainer to keep him on the innings limit that was set for him by the Nationals this year. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is now routine, but coming back from a second surgery is a whole different matter. While an innings limit can’t guarantee the health of a pitcher, either long-term or short-term, the odds are definitely tilted in the favor of a pitcher’s health by doing so.

The Nationals look very much on their way to a division title.  Strasburg missing 3-4 starts that he may have made had he been allowed to pitch to season’s end will not make a difference in the Nationals making the playoffs.  It isn’t feasible to shut him down now and then ask him to crank back up for the playoffs, so this was the only logical choice the Nationals could have made.

The Nationals have to consider Strasburg’s long-term future as the face of the franchise. At the age of 24, Strasburg appears set to enter a phase in his career as a dominant pitcher, a phase in which the Nationals hope to be a perennial contender. The Nationals are on the verge of winning their first division title in Washington and this success has brought them attendance and interest increases by fans.  The downside of losing Strasburg to injury again would be a huge blow to the franchise, and the Nationals decision to shut him down is proof that they aren’t just in it for this season. The easy thing to do would be to justify pitching Strasburg into the playoffs and going for a first ever title.  By shutting him down, the Nationals are indicating that they intend to do what is necessary to have a future as well as a now.  That is the best thing a fan can ask for.  As much as people  fret and stress over the now, the best feeling in the world is to have faith and hope for the future.

Individual Honors

With one month to go in the season, the four big individual honors are all up for grabs.  It has been quite a while since there wasn’t a clear leader in either the AL or NL Cy Young race or the AL or NL MVP race but this year’s races are very tight and will likely be decided on what happens in the last month of the season.

AL MVP

At one point in time it appeared that Josh Hamilton was going to be a runaway winner.  A midseason slump combined with the incredible emergence of 19-year-old Mike Trout and another incredible season by Miguel Cabrera has made this a three-horse race.

If I were voting right now I’d vote for Cabrera, who has carried the Tigers to a tie for the division lead.  Cabrera has been more valuable to the Tigers than Trout and Hamilton have been for their teams in my opinion.  I’d have Hamilton second and Trout third, but with an entire month of crucial baseball to be played, this one is really up for grabs.

AL Cy Young

David Price would appear to have the slimmest of edges after another strong outing this weekend, but King Felix, Jered Weaver, Max Scherzer, and even Justin Verlander  have one month to overhaul him.

If I were voting now I would vote for King Felix. Pitching for a team with the fewest runs scored in the AL, King Felix has gone 13-6 with an 2.51 while constantly pitching with no margin for error.

NL MVP

It looks like a two-man battle between last year’s controversial winner Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutcheon. Braun leads the NL in home runs and RBI’s while batting .310 with an awesome .996 OPS.  McCutcheon is on his way to a batting title, hitting .344 with 24 home runs and a .972 OPS.

If I were voting now I’d give the slimmest of margins to McCutcheon, who has been incredibly valuable to the Pirates. Take McCutcheon away from the Pirates and they would be very unlikely to be in playoff contention in September for the first time in over a decade.

NL Cy Young

Wow, what an open race. R.A. Dickey, Cueto, Gio Gonzalez, Strasburg, and even Kershaw could win this.

If I were voting now I’d go with Dickey by the smallest of margins over Cueto. Pitching for a team who is 17 1/2 games out of first place, Dickey has gone 17-4 with a 2.63 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP.

If The Playoffs Began Today

In the American League:

The Athletics would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Rangers.

The Tigers would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Yankees.

In the National League:

The Braves would host the Cardinals in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Nationals.

The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Reds.

Travel Day

The Red Sox get a reprieve, the Yankees have issues, and MLB’s horrible decision to expand the playoffs backfires are the topics of the week.

The Red Sox

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  In the case of the picture above, I’d say it is worth much more than that.

In one of the most stunning trades in history, the Red Sox sent over 270 million dollars in payroll obligations named Beckett, Crawford, Gonzalez and Punto to the Dodgers in return for James Loney, Ivan Dejesus Jr, and prospects.

In reading recent columns and opinion polls it has stunned me that a large number of people think that the Dodgers won this trade.  While the immediate effect of this trade may be to strengthen the Dodgers playoff chances this season, the Red Sox were just given a reprieve like none in history.  Red Sox haters who are reveling in the misery of the franchise would be wise to hold their gloating to a minimum.

In 2013 MLB teams who exceed 178MM will pay a fifty percent luxury tax.  That represents an increase from the forty-two percent luxury tax that was in effect for the 2012 season.  That is a pretty serious penalty for all teams wishing to exceed the 178MM threshold, to say the least.  The luxury tax changes in recent years have made long-term big money contracts the biggest enemy of major league teams.  Flexibility, young performing players inside of five years of MLB service, a good farm system,  and the ability to make moves are now the most valuable assets that a team can have in this day and age.

Before departing for the Cubs, former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made a series of bad trades and signings.  In the process of these bad signings and trades, Epstein crippled the Red Sox with a bloated payroll, a barren farm system, and a bad clubhouse full of disgruntled players.  The Red Sox haven’t won a playoff game since 2008 and if you had asked me a week ago when I could foresee them winning another playoff game I would have answered to check with me after the Presidential Election…..in 2016.

In one fell swoop the Red Sox were able to gain prospects, flexibility, payroll space, and cleanse their clubhouse of three of the unhappiest players on the team in Crawford, Beckett, and Gonzalez.  While Gonzalez is obviously a player that the Red Sox or any team would be lucky to have, the bottom line is that he was a small price to pay to be rid of Beckett and Crawford’s contracts.

I was asked after this trade by a friend if in the theoretical world that the Yankees were out of contention this season and had the chance to trade A-Rod and Texeira as long as they threw in Cano would I have been in favor of that.  My response was a quick and emphatic “ABSOLUTELY!”.  My reasoning in that is that if Yankee fans think A-Rod and Texeira’s contracts look bad now, just wait  three or four years and they’ll look apocalyptic.

In the new age of baseball, shedding overpaid, underperforming long-term contracts is the biggest home run a team can hit in this new era of baseball. The Red Sox just hit a grand slam and while their haters are basking in the glow of a current disaster, the Red Sox and their fans can now look forward to what should be a much brighter future.  While it isn’t always easy to be as excited about the future as it is about the present, it’s much better to have a brighter future than to be stuck in a hopeless situation.

One Hot Run

It is August 27th and the Yankees lead the AL East by four games over the Rays and four and a half games over the Orioles.  In a season that’s seen the loss of: Brett Gardner only nine games into the season, Michael Pineda before he ever threw a regular season pitch in pinstripes, the great Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte for what will be at least two and a half months, and Alex Rodriguez for what will be at least six weeks, and now Ivan Nova for an indefinite period, one would think that a division lead with only thirty-five games left to play would be a stellar achievement.  While the leading the AL East in late August is most assuredly an accomplishment, the fashion in which the Yankees have achieved that late is cause for concern.

The Yankees began this season with a 21-21 record from April 6th through May 21st.  The Yankees have gone 17-19 in their last 36 games between July 19th and August 26th.  The Yankees have looked and played like a below .500 team for the majority of the season and owe their division lead to a blazing run in 49 games  played between May 22nd and July 18th in which they went 36-13.

While it doesn’t matter how you amass a record during the regular season to make the playoffs, the mark of a good team is consistency and the Yankees have displayed little of that through the majority of this season.

The Yankees have been plagued by RISP issues and inconsistent pitching from virtually everyone except Rafael Soriano.  Derek Jeter has turned back the clock with an incredible season and Robinson Cano continues to shine but Mark Texeira, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones Curtis Granderson, and Russell Martin are a combined 404-1743(.232).

Texeira continues to underachieve woefully as a Yankee.  A plus .300 lifetime hitter before being signed to an 8 year, 180MM deal with the Yankees, Texeira hasn’t come close to living up to the expectations that he brought to the Bronx since the end of the 2009 regular season. Including his tragic 18-106 postseason stats, since the start of the 2009 postseason Texeira has gone 429-1730(.250).  His OPS since 2009 to this season has declined from .948 to .846 to .835 to .814. Texeira’s OBP since 2009 to this season has declined from .383 to .365 to .341 to .335.  While his defenders point to his incredible defense and home runs, the fact is that he possessed the same incredible defense and power when he was signed to a monster deal that pays him 23.5 million dollars this season.  Texeira’s is 6-53(.113) with two outs and RISP this season and those aren’t the kind of numbers you want to see from a player batting cleanup while A-Rod heals from his broken hand.

While the possible return of Pettitte would help the Yankees, the key to the Yankees’ playoff chances and success in the postseason may hinge on A-Rod’s return and subsequent performance. Still on track for an early September return, A-Rod’s return would alter the look of the Yankee lineup and strengthen it considerably.  Eric Chavez‘s outstanding bat could replace the Ibanez/Jones DH platoon in the postseason and give the Yankees this look in the postseason:

Jeter SS, Swisher RF, A-Rod 3B, Cano 2B, Texeira 1B, Granderson CF, Chavez DH, Martin C, Ichiro LF

For all of the bashing A-Rod has taken for his postseason failures and sub par regular seasons 2010-2012, he’s never hit below .270 in his career which is 14 points higher than Texeira’s best year from 2010-2012 with the same type of power Texeira has had.  Yankee fans would be wise to note this and refrain from the “who needs A-Rod?” talk that Chavez has inspired.

If The Playoffs Began Today

Before we get into how the playoffs would look if they began today, I’d like to thank Bud Selig for yet another destructive, ill-conceived, moronic decision in his tenure.  The decision to expand the number of playoff teams not only further negates the credibility of a long 162 game season, but also puts the higher seeds in a negative position to advance this season due to the incredulous decision to play the first two games of the best-of-five round on the road. But wait, there could be more disaster!

Not only will this playoff expansion debacle lessen the drama of what looks like could have been a thrilling race if only wildcard team was advancing to the postseason, but could possibly lead to chaos.  With 5 teams separated by only 4 1/2 games in the AL and 4 teams separated by the same 4 1/2 games in the NL for the two wildcard slots, it is very possible that 3 teams could end up tied for the wildcard positions.  The mess that this would create would be both comical and tragic at the same time.  Selig has zigged when he should have zagged from day one of his tenure.

In the AL:

The Orioles and A’s would have a one game playoff in Oakland on Thursday October 4th to determine who would play Tampa in a one game playoff on Friday October 5th to determine who would host the first two games of  the best-of-five series against Texas starting on Sunday October 7th. Got that? So basically if the A’s were to win both one game playoffs, the Rangers would travel to Oakland to play the first two games of the best-of-five on the road against a team they beat by 5 1/2 games in their own division. Pure genius there folks.

The White Sox would host the Yankees in the first two games of the best-of-five series starting on Saturday October 6th. The Yankees’ “reward” for having a 2 1/2 game better record than the White Sox would be a trip to Chicago to start a series. Sheer brilliance there.

In the NL:

The Braves would host a one game playoff against the Cardinals on Friday October 5th to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Nationals on Sunday October 7th. So basically if the Braves won the playoff game against the Cardinals, the Nationals would be on the road for the first two games of a best-of-five series against a team they beat by 4 1/2 games in the same division. Sure makes sense to me.

The Giants would host the first two games of a best-of-five against the Reds, who would have a 5 1/2 game better record than the Giants.  You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Travel Day

Another perfect game, postseason scheduling lunacy, Orioles defying the odds, and more as the 2012 MLB season is now three-quarters of the way home.

Perfection Again

For the first time in MLB history, three perfect games have been hurled in one season.  On Wednesday afternoon Seattle’s Felix Hernandez pitched the 23rd perfect game in MLB history, retiring all 27 Tampa Bay hitters he faced.  Hernandez joined Phil Humber and Matt Cain, who had both previously thrown perfect games in the 2012 MLB season. Hernandez’s perfect game marked the first time that three perfect games had been thrown in one MLB season.

Hernandez’ quote after the game of “The fans deserved this. I deserved this” may have sounded a bit Ricky Henderson-like but in fact was a sentiment shared by many.  The Mariners haven’t been to the postseason in ten years, ironically the year that King Felix was signed as a sixteen-year-old.  Hernandez has been the lone bright spot in the organization for quite some time and his starts still excite his fans in Seattle regardless of where Seattle sits in the division.

Theoretical King Felix trades have almost become a standard part of passing the winter months.  While none has become reality yet, Cole Hamels monster extension(6 years, 144 million dollars) can be viewed as a sign of what is to come when King Felix’s next contract is negotiated for the 2015 season.  It is very unlikely that the Mariners will pony up what could amount to over 200 million dollars to keep Hernandez after the 2014 season and there is no chance that they will just let Hernandez walk away for what amounts to a draft pick.  As popular as Hernandez is in Seattle, he represents the best chance to rebuild the franchise in the form of a massive return from a trade.

One of Hernandez most remarkable statistics lies in the numbers of innings he has already pitched. At the age of only 26, Hernandez has pitched 1568 1/3 innings, good for 41st place among active MLB pitchers. None of the 40 active pitchers currently ahead of Hernandez on the innings pitched list is in his 20′s.  As good as Hernandez has been, 1568 innings is a lot of innings to have on a 26 year-old arm.  It’s prudent to wonder when the Mariners will attempt to convert their star and his drawing power into a multiple prospect deal designed to turn the fortunes of the club around.  The “what would it take to get King Felix” discussions should be alive and well again this coming winter.

This Is Not Supposed To Happen!

Another week has gone by, only 25% of the 2012 MLB season remains and the  Baltimore Orioles are still in wildcard contention. The Orioles would be in possession of the 5th and last playoff slot in the AL if the season were to end today.  For a franchise that has struggled for so long, that in itself is amazing enough.  What’s more incredible is the way that Baltimore has gotten to this point in the season.

There are currently fourteen teams in MLB who have been outscored by their opponents this year.  Thirteen of those fourteen teams who have been outscored by their opponents this year have losing records.  The Royals, Indians, Twins, Mariners, Blue Jays, Mets, Phillies, Marlins, Brewers, Cubs, Astros, Padres, and Rockies are a combined 214 games below .500.  The sixteen teams in MLB who have outscored their rivals this season all have winning records.

The Orioles have been outscored by their opponents 552-509 this season yet incredibly are 11 games over .500.  This past weekend the Orioles went into Detroit and took two of three from the Tigers including a 3-2 victory on Saturday that ran the Orioles MLB leading record in one run games to 23-6.  The Orioles are a walking statistical anomaly but in the end all that matters are wins, not how you get them.

The Orioles are truly a team that doesn’t over think things and understands who and what they are.  They seem to let their games flow, not trying to force an identity upon themselves that doesn’t fit, appreciating every win with passion and joy.

Playoff Scheduling Insanity

To many of us the addition of another wild card in each league by MLB was both irrational and unnecessary.  A 162 game season is more than enough time to determine who the best teams in each league are and who is worthy for a trip to the postseason.  A week and a half ago, MLB announced its postseason schedule and the only way it can accurately be described is insane.

The regular season is scheduled to end on Wednesday, October 3rd.  Thursday, October 4th has been left open on the calendar in case of makeup games cancelled due to weather or playoff games needed to determine who the five postseason teams are in each league.  As tight as the wildcard races are right now, it is VERY conceivable that playoff games will be needed to determine who the wildcard teams will be, and perhaps more than one of those games will be necessary.  The single game eliminations that compose the new first round of the playoffs will be played on Friday October 5th.

Because of the late implementation of the additional wild card team in each league, for the 2012 season only, the best-of-five round will be played in a 2-3 format this year, with the lower seed hosting the first two games.  That’s right, the LOWER SEEDED TEAM will be hosting the first two games.  In addition to that irrational decision, the best-of-five round will start the day after the single game playoffs, on Saturday October 6th.  The implications of this scheduling insanity could be severe.  The best-of-five format was used from 1969-1984 in League Championship Series, the 1981 Division Series (due to that year’s strike that changed the format), and in the Divisional Series since 1995 when the first wildcard team was added.  There have been a total of 104 postseason series played under the best-of-five format.  In those 104 series, the winner of the first game of the series has gone on to win the series 73 times, or about 70 percent of the time.  In those 104 best-of-five series, the winner of game two has gone on to win the series 78 times, or exactly 75 percent of the time.  So the “reward” for being one of the top two teams in each league is a plane ride to another team’s stadium to start a series.

Being mindful of last year’s epic collapses by the Red Sox and Braves, with about 25% of the season left to play, the Yankees and Rangers look to be in very good position to nab the first two seeds in the AL.  In the NL the Nationals and Reds look to be in similar shape as the Yankees and Rangers.  It’s bad enough that these four teams will be underdogs to win their first round series no matter who they play. After all, home winning percentage in the history of MLB is .544(723-605).  Since the lower seeds will be starting their series at home, where 70% and 75% respectively of game one and game two winners of best-of-five series have gone on to win those series, it is going to make it very hard for the higher seed to win those series.

This is the most illogical, irrational, insane idea in the history of the game and absolutely epitomizes the decisions made under the Selig regime that have helped knock MLB’s ratings to new lows and light years behind the NFL.

The three of five itself is a mistake, one that has led to fluke outcomes which make a mockery of playing 162 games over six months to determine playoff teams. A child could see that extending the best of five series to the more legitimate best-of-seven series has been long overdue. MLB’s explanation for its failure to extend these series has been a lack of time.  The addition of the extra playoff teams requires two extra days in scheduling to play these one game eliminations.  Those two days would have been better used in keeping with a four teams in each league format, extending the first round to a best-of-seven.

While every team in MLB playoff contention certainly is well motivated to win their division and avoid the single game elimination round, the three seed obviously will have the best chance to move on to the League Championship series.  Not only will the three seed know its opponent upon completion of the regular season, but will host the first two games of its best-of-five series without any travel whatsoever preceding that series.  Only in MLB under the Selig regime would a three seed be given a clear-cut advantage in the postseason over the first two seeds.

If The Playoffs Started Today

In the American League:

The Tampa Bay Rays would host the Baltimore Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Yankees.

The White Sox would host the first two games of a best-of-five series against the Rangers.

In the National League:

The Atlanta Braves would host the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one game playoff to determine who would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Washington Nationals.

The Los Angeles Dodgers would host the first two games of a best-of-five series with the Cincinnati Reds.

Travel Day

A little over seven weeks remains in the 2012 MLB season and the playoff races are white-hot.  Last week we took a look at the AL playoff races and made some predictions.  This week we’ll take a look at the contenders in the NL playoff battle.

If The Playoffs Started Today

In the American League:

The Tampa Bay Rays would host a one game playoff with the Baltimore Orioles to determine who would advance to play the Texas Rangers in the next round.

The New York Yankees would have home field advantage against the Chicago White Sox in the other series.

In the National League:

The Atlanta Braves would host a one game playoff with the Pittsburgh Pirates to determine who would advance to play the Washington Nationals in the next round.

The Cincinnati Reds would have home field advantage against the San Francisco Giants in the other series.

The National League Playoff Battle

Of the sixteen teams who play in the National League, exactly half still possess realistic chances of making the postseason.

NL East

The Washington Nationals continue to hum along on the lead and look every bit the one seed that they would be now if the playoffs were to start.  The Nats are in the midst of a highly successful road trip (5-1 at Houston and Arizona) that ends with a three game set that begins tonight in San Francisco.  Upon returning home they will find themselves with an incredibly easy schedule with an equal number of home and road games remaining.  If the Nationals look home free to gain a playoff slot and very strong to win the NL East.

The Atlanta Braves continue to play strongly, giving every indication that they will be a playoff team.  While the Braves remaining schedule is similar to the Nationals, the Braves do have five more road games remaining than the Nationals do and only six heads up meetings with the Nationals left to attempt to bridge the 4 1/2 games that they currently trail the Nationals by in the standings..  The summer gutting of the Marlins and Phillies has left both the Braves and Nationals with easier schedules remaining than anyone could possibly have imagined at season’s beginning.

Prediction: The Nationals consistent play and easy remaining schedule land them the NL East title and the one seed in the playoffs.  The Braves continue to do what they’ve done all season and fail to catch the Nationals but easily nail down the first wildcard slot in the playoffs.

NL Central

The Reds have looked less than impressive August.  Still without their star first baseman Joey Votto, the Reds lost five games in a row last week before taking the final three games in Chicago against the Cubs. While it is very likely that things will be stressful for the Reds in attempting to run out the clock on the regular season and hold on to their lead, the Reds have an easier schedule than their closest pursuer and a 4 1/2 game lead to play with.

The Pirates have stunned the baseball world this year with both their play and by reversing a seemingly never-ending trend of being trade deadline sellers by becoming deadline buyers.  Now trailing the Reds by 4 1/2 games, the Pirates only have six remaining heads up games with the Reds in which to attempt to cut into the gap and a slightly harder remaining schedule than the Reds have.  The good news is that the Pirates have a slightly easier schedule remaining than the Cardinals, the team which is pursuing them.

Last year’s champions, the Cardinals, were on a nice run before dropping four of their last six games to the Giants and Phillies.  The Cardinals possess a slightly harder remaining schedule than both the Reds and Pirates and will be hard pressed to contend for the division.

Prediction: The Reds have an easy six game home stand starting tonight with the Mets and Cubs. While still feeling the impact of Votto’s absence, the slightly easier schedule than the two teams chasing them combined with their current 4 1/2 game lead should be enough to get them home in the Central and for the two seed in the playoffs, but not by much.   The Pirates have given no reason to lead anyone to believe that they will play any differently in their last 48 games than they have in their first 114 games.  The Pirates will fall short to the Reds in the Central, but land their first playoff appearance in twenty years.  The Cardinals look to have too much to do to overhaul the Reds or Pirates and a slightly harder remaining schedule than those two rivals do. The Cards should be in contention to the very last week, but will fall short of making the playoffs.

NL West

The San Francisco Giants are currently clinging to a one game lead in the NL West.  Losers of ten of their last eighteen games, the Giants have the feel of a team who isn’t going to play any better than they already have. While the return of Pablo Sandoval will help, the Giants have nine games apiece remaining with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks as well as three games with the Nationals starting tonight and four games with Atlanta.

The Dodgers begin a very tough stretch of schedule road tonight, a stretch that may make or break their season. Four games in Pittsburgh will be followed by three games in Atlanta before coming home to face the Giants in a three game series. The Dodgers have the roughest remaining schedule of the three contenders left in the NL West.  The Dodgers’ additions of Randy Choate, Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton have yet to pay dividends as the Dodgers are only 15-13 since the All-Star break and 6-4 in August.

The Diamondbacks have managed to turn the largest positive run differential of the season in the NL West(+40) into a record that is one game over .500 due to a league worst 8-17 record in one run games.  The Diamondbacks have the easiest remaining schedule of the three contending teams in the NL West and plenty of time to make up the five games they trail the division leader by.

Prediction: The Diamondbacks have an easier schedule, a healthy team, and have outplayed their rivals by more runs than the Dodgers and Giants have. The Diamondbacks can and will rally to win this division.  The Dodgers remaining schedule will narrowly cost them a division title, finishing second and missing the wildcard slots as well.  The Giants have played their best baseball already, and are the least talented team of the three remaining contenders in the NL West. They finish third and miss the playoffs.

Travel Day

With a little over 8 weeks remaining in the 2012 season, exactly half of the teams in MLB are in serious playoff contention.  Of those fifteen teams,ten will advance to the postseason and five will go home.  This week we’ll examine those fifteen contending teams and make some predictions about who will be playing playoff baseball in October.

If The Playoffs Began Today

In the AL:

The Oakland A’s would host the Detroit Tigers in a one game playoff to determine who would face the Texas Rangers in the next round.

The New York Yankees would have home field advantage against the Chicago White Sox in the other series.

In the NL:

The Atlanta Braves would host the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one game playoff to determine would would face the Cincinnati Reds in the next round.

The Washington Nationals would have home field advantage against the San Francisco Giants in the other series.

 AL East

The Yankees currently lead the AL East by 6 1/2 games over the Orioles and by 7 1/2 games over the Tampa Rays.  The Red Sox and Blue Jays are quality clubs but simply don’t appear to have the makeup to get back in the playoff picture.

The Yankees have been dealt severe blows with injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, and Brett Gardner and are 11-11 since the All-Star break.  Playing .500 baseball the rest of the way will not win the AL East for the Yankees, nor will it gather them a playoff spot.  The Yankees begin a brutal seventeen game stretch this evening in Detroit that will probably go a long way towards deciding their playoff fate.  Four games in Detroit are followed by 3 games in Toronto.  Upon returning home the Yankees face the Rangers in a four game series that is followed by a 3 game series with the Red Sox and 3 games on the road with the White Sox.  If the Yankees can post a winning record in this stretch they will be in a strong position to win the AL East.

The Orioles have been outscored by their opponents this season by 57 runs yet have managed to hang around in playoff contention due to their incredible record in both one-run and extra inning games.  The Orioles are 21-6 in one-run games and 11-2 in extra inning games, both MLB bests.   The Orioles have a more favorable home vs. road schedule remaining than both the Yankees and Rays do with 30 home games remaining vs. only 24 road games.    It is time to accept the Orioles as a legitimate contender for not only a playoff slot but also to win the AL East.  While the Yankees play seven difficult road games this week, the Orioles will play seven home games vs the Mariners(where they don’t have to face King Felix) and the Royals.

The Rays are eagerly anticipating the return of Evan Longoria to their lineup and that return may come as early as tomorrow night.  The Rays have had a frustrating season up to this point but Longoria’s return should give a a big boost to the Rays struggling offense. Rookie pitcher Matt Moore is rounding into serious form after a slow start and David Price continues his impressive 2012 season.  The Rays should be able to make yet another late season run this year.

Prediction: This division is likely to wind up very tight when it is all said and done. Despite a 6 1/2 game lead, the Yankees failure to take advantage of an easy schedule run after the All-Star break could really come back to haunt them.  The AL East’s depth could make it difficult for a wildcard team to come out of the division.  The Yankees still have 35 games left with AL East opponents, the Orioles have 31, and the Rays have 28.  I expect this division to come to the final week and give the Yankees the slimmest of edges over the Rays, who get the last wildcard narrowly over the Orioles.

AL Central

While the White Sox have managed to hang on to a slim lead in the Central so far, it really looks like it is just a matter of time until the Tigers put the division away.  The additions of Infante and Sanchez from the Marlins have made the Tigers even more talented than they were already, which was plenty talented.

The Tigers have underachieved very badly so far in 2012, but at some point figure to go on a good run that should blow the Central wide open.

Prediction: The Tigers draw away to win the Central easily and get the 3 seed.  The White Sox hang around in wildcard contention until the final week, but fall short of the playoffs.

AL West

The Texas Rangers have the best lineup in baseball, plain and simple. While losing pitchers Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis were big blows, the additions of Roy Oswalt and Ryan Dempster may offset those injuries to some extent.  The Rangers have also had to deal with a severe slump from Josh Hamilton as well as the most vicious schedule run they will deal with all year long.  Since the All-Star break, 18 of the 21 games that the Rangers have played have either been a road game, a game vs. a playoff contending team, or both.    The Rangers have gone 11-10 in that span.  The Rangers aren’t out of the woods yet, as their next 16 games will also be vs. playoff contending teams, road games, or both.  The six weeks of schedule hell that the Rangers are enduring probably have them waking up tired and are testing their grit.  Easier days await them and they have the makeup to endure what they are going through now.

The Oakland A’s started July with a 16-2 record that launched them into playoff contention before cooling off with a 5-5 record in their last ten games.  A vicious September schedule awaits them, one that will make the playoffs an unlikely event for the A’s.

The Angels continue to underachieve, despite yet another high profile addition of pitcher Zack Greinke before the deadline. A favorable schedule with 29 home games remaining as compared to only 24 road games is also working in their favor.

Prediction:  The Rangers survive the vicious schedule run they are in the midst of right now and win the AL West comfortably and garner the 1 seed in the AL.  The brutal September schedule the A’s face knocks them out of playoff contention.  The Angels nail down the first wildcard slot with a solid September.

Travel Day

The breaking out of the brooms was the story that dominated MLB this week  as the 2012 MLB season passes the 60% threshold.

Sweeps

Tigers-White Sox

There was no bigger favorite in MLB to win their division in 2012 than the Detroit Tigers.  Playing in a division regarded as weak, the Tigers added Prince Fielder to the roster in the offseason and looked as sure as death and taxes to win the AL Central.

The Tigers had been sluggish all year,  but it never felt anything but inevitable to me that eventually they’d pass the Indians and White Sox.  The Tigers sweep of the White Sox finally puts them where virtually every writer and fan thought they’d be when the season began. Miguel Cabrera hit his 300th career home run to lead the way on Sunday.

Though the Tigers’ lead in the AL Central is only 1 1/2 games, the bottom line is that the Tigers are much more likely to pass the Yankees and Rangers for the first or second playoff seed than they are to lose the Central and that’s where their focus is.

Reds-Brewers

Despite losing star first baseman Joey Votto, the Reds swept their division rival to maintain a slim lead on the Pirates while all but ending the Brewers playoff hopes.

Pirates-Marlins

No matter which team you are a fan of, its pretty hard not to like the story of the 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates.  It was exactly 20 years ago that the Pirates last made the playoffs.  After concluding their sweep of the Marlins, the Pirates now have the third best record in the National League with only 68 games left to play.  A.J. Burnett ran his record to 11-3 with another fantastic start.  Burnett looms as a legitimate Cy Young contender, his 2012 performance mocking those foolish enough to have called his trade by the Yankees for two inconsequential minor league prospects  a good one.  Andrew McCutcheon is on fire, now leading MLB with a .372 batting average along with 22 home runs and a 1.070 OPS.  The Pirates are a legitimate team and the time to stop doubting them has arrived.  Sometimes something is as good as it seems, regardless of how unlikely that something is.

As far as the Marlins go, it is very hard to believe that they are now 44-51 when you look at who is on their roster.  Their offseason additions looked to have made them a serious contender, but Marlins fans must feel like a guy at a train station whose looking down the tracks for a train that never left its station.  If it wasn’t already assumed that the Marlins won’t make the playoffs, it is now.

Read the rest of this entry

Travel Day

The Yankees and Angels put on a show, Red Sox soap opera continues,  and more this week.

A Great Show

There’s nothing quite like having a fantastic and memorable weekend.  The Yankees and Angels certainly had one this weekend, in one of the best series played all year by any two teams.

On Friday night Mark Teixeira and Russell Martin bailed out Hiroki Kuroda with 8th inning heroics that lead to a 6-5 Yankee victory.  Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo put on a show for the Angels that continued throughout the weekend. Trumbo homered against the Yankees for the fifth consecutive game and Trout went 2-4 including a double with two stolen bases.

On Saturday afternoon Robinson Cano added an RBI double to a two-run homer and Curtis Granderson hit a two-run blast of his own to lead the Yankees to a 5-3 victory that included yet another stellar performance by Rafael Soriano

. On Sunday afternoon a furious late rally by the Yankees was stopped when Alex Rodriguez popped up to end the game with bases loaded.  Yankee manager Joe Girardi’s bizarre pitching decisions were punished by the Angels in a game that included a rare suicide squeeze that was executed to perfection by Eric Aybar in the 8th inning.

At the end of the three games the Yankees had scored 19 runs on 28 hits to the Angels 18 runs on 31 hits in a series that featured 14 home runs. Trumbo went 5-12 in the series, with 4 RBI’s.  Trout did nothing but cement the notion that he could become the first player since Fred Lynn to win both the Rookie Of The Year and MVP awards in his first season.  Trout went 7-14 and added four stolen bases over the weekend.

Baseball really doesn’t get any better than the way the Yankees and Angels played it this weekend. Power, speed, great fielding plays, a suicide squeeze, this series had it all.  Which is why it’s a shame that Alex Rodriguez’ popup to end Sunday’s game has gotten more hype than the rest of this great series

. By now everyone knows by A-Rod is such an easy target.  The money, the PED admissions, the womanizing, uneasy relationships with teammates and managers,  and the postseason failures have justifiably lead to a high level of scrutiny and criticism for A-Rod.  Yesterday’s failure to produce in a dramatic moment caused a typical A-Rod overreaction from the media and fans.  A-Rod’s two-run home run in the first inning of yesterday’s game was one of the reasons the Yankees were down only 2 runs when he came to the plate in the 9th inning and overall he had a good series, going 4-13.

A-Rod’s decline in power is obvious to everyone, as is the fact that his contract is going to hinder the Yankees for years to come.  It’s just getting a little outrageous for fans and media to blame one popup in a game where he went 2-5 with a two-run home run for a Yankee loss.  Girardi’s decision to send Ivan Nova out to start the 7th inning was absurd.  His decision to send Chad Qualls out for the 8th inning was even more absurd once Boone Logan was used later and was obviously available.  Girardi’s comically sad handling of the pitchers in the later stages of the game allowed the Angels to score five runs in the last three innings.  That loss wasn’t on A-Rod, it was on the entire team and manager.

Mad Genius Or Just Mad?

Very often in life, when people don’t understand something or someone, they label it genius.  Bobby Valentine has often been labeled misunderstood, or a mad genius.  Lots of people are now beginning to think that they’ve understood him all along, he’s just a guy who won’t shut up.

After an early season soap opera with longtime Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis that may have lead to Youkilis’ departure in a trade to the White Sox last month, Valentine still won’t shut up.

On April 15th Valentine said of Youkilis: “‘I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason.”

Yesterday, on the eve of Youkilis’ return to Fenway Park with the White Sox, Valentine said: ”I think the comment I made early, he made a big issue out of, and I don’t think he ever wanted to get over it,”

In Valentine’s short stint as the manager of the Red Sox he has come across as a  petulant child with very severe ADHD. While Youkilis’ was never very popular with fans outside of Boston, it’s likely that he’ll have a lot fans over the next three nights who’d like to see him shut Valentine up, if only temporarily.

If The Playoffs Started Today

In the American League:

The Angels would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would meet the Yankees.

The Rangers would have home field advantage vs the White Sox in the other series.

In the National League:

The Pirates would host the Braves in a one game playoff to determine who would meet the Nationals.

The Reds would have home field advantage against the Giants in the other series.

Tweet Of The Week

-Around this time last year some Yankee fans were calling Rafael Soriano “Sorryano”, I hope they like humble pie.  @NYYankeesFan92

Travel Day

MLB has reached the halfway point and it’s time for that special break in the regular season.  All-Star week is a time to reflect upon what’s done, what’s ahead, and to enjoy the fun. Today we’ll take a look at the all-bust team.

The All-Bust Team

First Base- Justin Smoak(Sea)

Smoak is best known as the key player that the Texas Rangers dealt to the Seattle Mariners for Cliff Lee in 2010. In 2012, Smoak has been anything but a key player. Batting only .203, with a pathetic .265 OBP and a .332 slugging percentage, Smoak hasn’t cost Rangers GM Jon Daniels a wink of sleep over his decision to deal him.

Second Base-Rickie Weeks(Mil)

It’s hard to believe this is the same guy we’ve witnessed the last few seasons. Weeks is batting only .199, with a .314 OBP and a .343 slugging percentage.   Weeks is on pace to strike out 200 times in 2012.

Third Base- Ryan Zimmerman(Wash)

If anyone knows where the real Ryan Zimmerman is, please contact the Washington Nationals immediately.  Zimmerman is currently producing at .243/.308/.386, all about 40 points below his lifetime numbers.

Shortstop- J.J. Hardy(Balt)

In 2011 Hardy gave O’s fans something to cheer about at SS with a breakout season.  In 2012 the only thing Hardy has given O’s fans is indigestion.  Hardy’s line of .224/.262/.380 isn’t exactly conjuring up images of Cal Ripken in Camden Yards

Catcher-Russell Martin(NYY)

To borrow a quote from Gordon Gekko, if this guy owned a funeral parlor no one would die.  It’s hard to believe that Martin was an all-star selection in 2011.  Martin’s line of .179/.300/.348 is a black hole in the Yankee lineup.

Outfielders- Jose Tabata(Pitt), Shane Victorino(Phil), Brennan Boesch(Det)

Tabata makes the list, even though he was sent down to AAA ball this past week.  Not only was Tabata’s line an ugly .230/.295/.341, but he also looked to be giving minimum effort on the field.  The Pirates are hoping a little trip to AAA ball will get the message across to Tabata.

Victorino couldn’t possibly have picked a worse time to have a bad year. A free agent at the end of this season, Victorino’s line of .245/.311/.369 isn’t going to run up his price nor will it run up the possible trade returns for the Phillies should they decide to trade Victorino.

Boesch was a nice spark for the Tigers in 2011 and great things were expected of him this year. Boesch’s line of .243/.277/.365 is a huge disappointment this season in Detroit

The Home Run Derby

Of all of the skills competitions in the major sports that take place before all-star games, the home run derby is the King.  It’s something that baseball has gotten right, helping to build the excitement of all-star game festivities.  Fans love it, and players actually seem to have just the right blend of competitive spirit and fun.

If The Playoffs Started Right Now

In the American League:

The Angels would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would face the Yankees.

The Rangers would have home field advantage against the White Sox in the other series.

In the National League:

The Reds would host the Braves in a one game playoff to determine who would face the Nationals.

The Pirates would have home field advantage against the Dodgers in the other series.

Tweet Of The Week

“Uh-oh, this is going to get bad” @NYYEric after the Yankees and Red Sox had ALREADY scored 10 runs in the first inning of Friday night’s game.  Going to?

Travel Day

It’s Almost All-Star Game time, a midseason look at individual awards leaders, and more as MLB approaches the halfway mark of the season.

Kansas City Here We Come

Next Tuesday, the 84th MLB All-Star Game will take place in Kansas City.   The starting lineups, pitchers, and reserves were announced yesterday by MLB. Other than Pablo Sandoval being voted the NL third base starter over David Wright, which itself isn’t totally outrageous, it appears that the fans sent the most deserving players to the game. The players and managers of the two squads did an outstanding job of filling out the rosters with deserving candidates.  While some deserving players were excluded, only Zack Greinke‘s exclusion from the NL squad was a shocker. For all of the things that Bud Selig has done wrong in his tenure as commissioner of baseball, the All Star game deciding home field advantage in the World Series was a fantastic idea. The MLB All-Star Game stands alone in professional sports as the only game of its kind to have consequences that affect the season of the sport in which it is played.  The intensity of the players has definitely increased since the advent of the home field advantage in the World Series being decided by the game, as has the intensity of fans. Don’t expect AL manager Ron Washington to view this game as an exhibition.  Washington’s Texas Rangers have been on the losing end of the last two World Series.  In both losses, the Rangers have had to start on the road due to the results of the last two All-Star games.  The Rangers are already assured of being represented by at least 7 players in this year’s game. Yu Darvish is a strong candidate in the Final Vote, taking place now, and Washington could have as many as 8 of his own players to manage and use as he wishes next Tuesday night.  It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to see Washington aggressively manage this game and use his own players deeper and longer than players are typically used in this day and age in the All-Star game.

Midseason  Awards

MLB will pass through the halfway point of the 2012 season this week.  Time to take a look at who deserves the first half honors.

AL Most Valuable Player -Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton’s talent was never in question by anyone who’d ever seen him play.  The only things that have ever stopped Hamilton were his own demons or injuries. Before this season began, another writer here and I were debating him and I wondered aloud “Imagine if he could stay healthy for a season?”.   Hamilton has surprised many by staying healthy this year, appearing in 73 of the Rangers first 80 games and avoiding the DL.  Hamilton has put up ridiculous offensive numbers in the first half of the season, hitting .314 with an OBP of .381, an OPS of 1.023, a slugging percentage of  .643, 25 home runs and 73 RBI’s.  Hamilton has been a human highlight reel and the best player in MLB in the first half of 2012.  Mike Trout and Robinson Cano may emerge as contenders for year-end honors in the 2nd half but right now Hamilton is clearly in charge of this spot.

AL Cy Young- Justin Verlander

Verlander’s 2012 season so far has not rivaled his incredible 2011 season, that’s not really a fair basis for comparison.  Verlander is 8-5 with 4 no decisions in 17 starts with an ERA of 2.69 and a WHIP of 0.98 so far in 2012.  Verlander has thrown 4 complete games and possesses a slightly better than 4-1 K to BB ratio to give him a slight nod over Jered Weaver.

AL Rookie Of the Year- Mike Trout

Since being called up by the Angels in late April, the 19-year-old Trout has been nothing short of incredible. In 57 games, Trout has hit .339 with a .395 OBP, .542 slugging percentage, and a .938 OPS to go along with 9 home runs, 33 RBI’s and 22 stolen bases.  Trout is on his way to one of the best rookie seasons in MLB history and has no peers in this category.

AL Manager Of The Year- Buck Showalter

The Baltimore Orioles are the story of the AL so far in 2012.  A perennial doormat for years in the AL East, the Orioles would have a wildcard spot if the season were to end today.  Working without the depth and payroll that many of his rivals in the AL have, Showalter has done some of his best work this season.  The Orioles have the worst run differential in the AL East(-26) yet still cling to second place in the AL East primarily due to their record in 1 run games(14-6) and extra innings games(9-2).  When a manager has a 23-8 record in coin flip games he is definitely doing something right.

NL Most Valuable Player- Joey Votto

Votto has made Reds management look very smart in 2012 by rewarding them with a career season right after a very expensive long-term contract extension.

Votto is batting .350 so far this season, with an unbelievable OBP of .471. Votto  has a slugging percentage of .632 and an OPS of 1.103 to go along with 14 home runs and 47 RBI’s.

NL Cy Young- R.A. Dickey

Dickey is 12-1 with 3 no decisions in 16 starts for the Mets so far in 2012.  Dickey’s ERA is 2.15, third among qualified starters in the NL this season.  Dickey’s WHIP of 0.88 leads all qualified NL starters in 2012 and his K to BB ratio is ridiculous at more than a 4 1/2 to 1 ratio.

NL Rookie Of The Year- Lance Lynn

Lynn has compiled a record of 10-4 with 2 no decisions in 16 starts for the Cardinals. Lynn has been knocked around in his last three starts, which raises concerns for the rest of his season, but to this point has been the best rookie in the NL in a weak crop.

NL Manager Of The Year- Clint Hurdle

If the season were to end today, the Pittsburgh Pirates would be in possession of the last wildcard spot in the NL.  Hurdle has done an outstanding job with the Pirates in outperforming clubs who spend so much more on talent.  The Pirates were one of only 6 NL teams to have a winning record in interleague(10-8) and are 18-14 in 1 run games as well as 3-0 in extra inning games.  Hurdle has turned around a team with a losing culture as deep as any in MLB in the last two decades and deserves a lot of credit for the job he has done in Pittsburgh.

If The Playoffs Started Today……

American League

The Angels would host the Orioles in a one game playoff to determine who would advance to play the Rangers. The Yankees would have home field advantage against the White Sox in the other series.

National League

The Dodgers would host the Mets in a one game playoff to determine who would advance to play the Nationals. The Giants would have home field advantage against the Reds in the other series.

Tweet Of The Week

“Water wet, Fire hot, Dunn strikes out” @NYYEric on Friday night commenting after Adam Dunn struck out again, as he continues on pace to break the strikeout record by a hitter in one season.

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