Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cliff Lee and the Phillies

It's all well and good that the Phils now have locked up Cliff Lee and boast a starting rotation of Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels... but did we forget the reason they were eliminated by the Giants last year in the NLCS?

They stopped hitting.

Here's how their offense has changed from 2010 to 2011 so far:  Exit Jayson Werth, enter Domonic Brown.

How does this solve those offensive woes?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Derek Anderson and LeBron James

Last night, Derek Anderson was caught laughing on the sideline during the 49ers' rout of his Cardinals and then blew up when asked about it in the postgame press conference.

It strikes me as a case of people expecting athletes to act how we want them to act rather than be the real people they are.

We have no idea what kind of person Derek Anderson is, but now we're judging him don't know. We just hate the fact that Derek Anderson would dare to laugh while his team was getting blown out.

The usual sports equation goes like this, however: Great talent = Great person. The two have no correlation to one another, not a bit, and yet has soon as a tremendous talent arrives on the scene, sportswriters fall all over themselves to declare how terrific a person he is.

Here, for example, is Joey Votto's cover, totally framed around what a "nice guy" Joey Votto is.

Then there's LeBron James, whose public persona started to take a hit last summer with "The Decision."

Contrast that with Sports Illustrated's 2003 depiction of a modest James or, more recently, Michael Rosenberg's defense of an earnestly competitive James who deserves our admiration.

Here's Adrian Wojnarowski's latest column.  What do you think of King James now?

Monday, November 29, 2010

On the other hand, I refuse to believe...

...that Derek Jeter is going to sign with a team other than the Yankees.

Unless it suddenly becomes concrete and official, I don't see it happening.  There's no way.

Interesting note:  You know how it's always talked about how you never see a player play for one team for the entirety of his career anymore?

(The people who assert that forget that Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Tris Speaker, Billy Williams, Warren Spahn, etc. all switched teams at the end of their career, as if this was somehow a new occurrence.)

Anyway, your National League All-Star Game starters this past year:

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida
Martin Prado, 2B, Atlanta
Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis
Ryan Howard, DH, Philadelphia
David Wright, 3B, New York
Ryan Braun, LF, Milwaukee
Andre Ethier, CF, Los Angeles
Corey Hart, RF, Milwaukee
Yadier Molina C, St. Louis
Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Colorado

Exactly one of those players -- Ethier -- has switched organizations in his career, and that was before he reached the Majors.  Every single one of them has played each and every game in his career for the same team.  What do you think about that?

As for the American League side, seven of the 10 players (Ichiro, Jeter, Longoria, Mauer, Cano, Crawford, Price) can boast the same, with only Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, and Vlad Guerrero serving as the exceptions.

That's a pretty stable sort of life for a professional sports league's superstars.

This is irrelevant, but Justice John Paul Stevens is mistaken about the "Called Shot."  That's one of those myths, like Abner Doubleday or Plymouth Rock or the idea that corked bats help hit a baseball farther that I think would serve us all a lot better if we forgot we ever heard them in the first place.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I still believe in Boise State

It's the off-season, so I'll be updating this much more often in ensuing days.

I stayed up for the brilliant game between the Boise State Broncos and Nevada Wolf Pack last night.  I'm not ruing my lack of sleep one bit.

Maybe I'll be the first to declare this:  Kyle Brotzman, the Boise kicker who missed a 26-yard field goal at the end of regulation, is the American college football version of Ghana's Asamoah Gyan, who missed a last-second penalty shot at the World Cup against Uruguay.  Heartbreaking.  Both those guys could make their kicks in their sleep, but in the crucial moment they came up lacking.

The rest of the college football season is now anticlimactic.

Ah, what am I saying?  College football always becomes anticlimactic in November and December.

Cam Newton reminds me of Ohio State's Troy Smith, albeit he's bigger, stronger, slower, and with a weaker arm and worse footwork...

I'm sorry, I guess he doesn't remind me at all of Troy Smith.  You know who he reminds me of instead?  Tim Tebow.  Big, strong, loves to run for first downs up the middle on third and short.  Same polarizing cloud of controversy surrounding him, too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Shock the World"

ESPN's front page headline for Jayson Stark's Giants championship column is, bafflingly, "Shock the World," though "Trophy finds home in San Francisco" is the title above Stark's actual article.

Far better.

After all, the 92-70 Giants had a better record than the 90-72 Rangers this season.  In Dave Sheinin's Washington Post preview of the playoffs, he listed the Rangers as the eighth best team in the playoffs and forecasted a first-round elimination at the hands of the Rays.  When Texas outlasted Tampa Bay in a hard-fought series and then dominated the Yankees in the ALCS, heads were turned... much the same way the Rays had seized critical opinion entering the 2008 World Series against a then-underrated Philadelphia team.

The San Francisco Giants, as has often been stated, featured an odd lineup of self-described misfits... but they were placed alongside a talented pitching staff that outclassed Philadelphia's hyped H2O of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.

This was a championship earned, and a fitting titleholder.  No flukes here.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The ZOOperstars were onto something...

Apparently, the ZOOperstars knew a little something about the angelic Derek Jeter, inspiring them to create this punnish character.

Last night, Jeter dramatically reacted to an inside pitch, feigning injury after the ball knocked off the knob of his bat.  Home plate umpire Lance Barksdale bought the act and gave him first base.

Included in the linked article is the following excerpted comment:

"...I really think people are making too much of this. Most importantly 1- It had no effect on the game, 2- Players fake injuries all the time in soccer, the most popular sport in the world, and players fake fouls in another sport played worldwide in basketball."

This person is utterly incorrect on the first point -- after all, Curtis Granderson followed with a home run and Jeter scored the game-tying run.  Really, no effect on the game?  You sure about that one?

As far as the second point is concerned, does the commenter really believe that faking injuries -- flopping in order to draw bogus calls from the referees -- is the reason that soccer and basketball are so globally popular?  Soccer and basketball succeed in spite of flopping.  Flopping stinks.  It stinks when Duke's men's basketball team does it.  It stinks when the Italian soccer team does it, it stinks in general.

On the bright side, good triumphed over evil and the Rays beat the Yankees.  Well...

I'm not naive.  I have no doubt that a random Rays player would have reacted in the exact same way as Jeter.  The exact same way.  Baseball, like basketball, like soccer, like a great deal of other sports and livelihoods, is highly approving of "taking liberties."  Baseball loves its cheaters all the way up until the very moment they get caught, at which point everyone either buries the cheater in question or rushes to their defense with the ol' "Everybody does it."

Politics features much of the same.  Same with college football and college basketball recruiting.  Cheat, cheat, cheat... and then scapegoat or declare "Everybody does it."  It's the American way.

And it's darn globally popular, too, just like soccer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2011 Lugnuts Starting Lineup Forecast

This came about because of a terrific question sent in by a fan on the final LugCast of the regular season.

Here are my predictions for the 2011 Lansing Lugnuts...

C Carlos Perez
1B K.C. Hobson
2B Oliver Dominguez
SS Gustavo Pierre
3B Andy Fermin
LF Marcus Knecht
CF Jake Marisnick
RF Michael Crouse
DH Lance Durham

Key question:  Lance Durham and K.C. Hobson are both left-handed hitting first basemen.  They shouldn't both be here, and yet Hobson is a virtual Lugnut lock while Durham has spent the last two years with Auburn.  Where else would you send him?

C Jack Murphy
OF Stephen McQuail
OF Markus Brisker

Key question:  How many struggling 2010 Lugnuts -- i.e., Ryan Schimpf, Balbino Fuenmayor, Eric Eiland -- return for 2011?

RHP Deck McGuire
RHP Drew Hutchison
RHP Daniel Webb
RHP Casey Lawrence
RHP Asher Wojciechowski

Key questions:  This is a prospect-laden rotation, albeit totally right-handed.  Does Sam Strickland slide into the rotation to give the Lugs a left-handed arm?  Will we see talented 18-year-olds Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard sooner or later?

LHP Sam Strickland
LHP Michael Kelly
RHP Scott Gracey
RHP Danny Barnes
RHP Milciades Santana
RHP Dayton Marze
RHP Drew Permison

Key questions:  Once again, these are all newcomers with the exception of Gracey and late addition Barnes.  Who else returns from the disappointing 2010 bullpen?  A recommitted Brian Slover?  A healthy Dustin Antolin?  Aaron Loup or Matt Wright, just to make sure there are some more lefties in the pen?  By the way, the numbers were just brilliant for Marze, Santana, and Permison last year.  Hopefully they'll keep it up.

Top 10 Lugnuts Games of the Year

Here's my ranking of the Top 10 Lugnuts Games of 2010.


Post Season Assessment

The season is now over, and a strange ride it was.

We began the year believing that the Lugnuts might be one of the best teams in the league.  It didn't quite end up that way, due to promotions, injuries, and inconsistency.

 By the end of the year, the Dunedin Blue Jays featured the following 2010 Lugnuts in their starting lineup -- catcher Yan Gomes, third basemen Kevin Ahrens and Mark Sobolewski, shortstops Ryan Goins and Justin Jackson, second baseman Ryan Schimpf, first baseman Jon Talley, and outfielders Chris Hopkins and Kenny Wilson (and, for a while, Brad McElroy).  Chad Jenkins and Ryan Shopshire anchored the D-Jays starting rotation while lefty Evan Crawford was one of the team's finest relievers.

In other words, aside from the injured A.J. Jimenez, utilityman Kevin Nolan, struggling Balbino Fuenmayor and Eric Eiland, and sluggers Sean Ochinko and Brad Glenn, Dunedin received virtually every Lugnuts starting position player.  That's crazy.

Terrific reliever Dustin Antolin blew out his elbow in June.  Jimenez was dogged by injuries from April till September.  Glenn, in the midst of a brilliant start, destroyed his shoulder on a pair of dives and wasn't the same until July.  Starters Matt Fields, Dave Sever, and Ryan Tepera all lost starts due to time on the DL.  It was a simple formula -- when the Lugnuts were healthy, they won; when they were hurt, they lost.

This wasn't a bad bullpen this year, but it certainly wasn't a reliable bullpen.  There wasn't a single reliever to capably count on, week in, week out.  Everyone had their ugly moments, from Steve Turnbull to Casey Beck to Nestor Molina to Brian Slover to Aaron Loup, etc. etc. etc.  They were great -- at times.  They were simply terrible -- at times.  I have no idea who from that crowd will emerge next year as a quality arm and who will bomb out miserably.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Doomed by the Dragons, but on the other hand...

That Dayton series was devastating, with back to back horrible losses on Monday and Tuesday nights.  Otherwise, this West Michigan series would be terrifically dramatic and we might be looking at a playoff push.

On the other hand...

The initial loss to the Dragons on Saturday convinced a lot of folks, especially among the Blue Jays, that the postseason simply wasn't going to happen this year.  Toronto reacted by moving newly-activated A.J. Jimenez along with Justin Jackson and Kevin Ahrens up to Dunedin.

What did that affect?  An energized Oliver Dominguez and Randy Schwartz are now receiving regular at-bats right to the end of the season, along with the hot-hitting Jon Del Campo (and a terrific Balbino Fuenmayor yesterday), to inject some pep into a listless lineup.

Meanwhile, the pitching corps features newcomers Drew Hutchison, Casey Lawrence, and Daniel Webb all wanting to make positive impressions right down to the very end.  Hutch/Lawrence carried that victory last night against West Michigan.

Today, Dave Sever heads to the hill.  Dave (and fellow Opening Day starter Matt Fields) has been pitching better and better as this year has gone on.

Are the Lugs going to make a last-ditch playoff push?  I humbly doubt it... but look:  the crowds are going to be sensational the next two nights.  A three-game sweep of the Whitecaps would make things awfully interesting during the final weekend of the season.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


HUGE game last night, complete with early offense, a dramatic home run, controversial umpiring, a last-ditch rally, and a near-riot with the Whitecaps surrounding and shouting at the umpires while the Lugnuts celebrated their 7-6 triumph.

Yeah, man.  I loved it.

Today's game looks like a mismatch, pitting Lugnuts right-hander Casey Lawrence in his 2nd MWL start against Whitecaps ace Jared Wesson.  Casey needs to get off to a good start against a Caps lineup that was held mostly at bay yesterday and still managed to score six runs on nine hits.

It's Pink Floyd Night in West Michigan, complete with Pink Floyd jerseys for the Whitecaps and a huge group of Lugnuts front office staffers attending.  I loved the idea of yesterday's Ronald McDonald House game... but let's just say that the jerseys weren't to anyone's liking.

Something I'm worried about:  Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, is on the first day of the playoffs this year.  If the Lugnuts make it in, I won't be your broadcaster for the first two games of the postseason.

But let's cross that bridge when we come to it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Injury Updates

Spoke with Lugnuts Athletic Trainer James Gardiner, Esq., yesterday.  Among the nuggets gleaned:
  • C A.J. Jimenez is done for the year due to a tear in his elbow.  He's back in Florida right now.  Surgery is required.  Cross your fingers.
  • RHP Nestor Molina is going to be just fine and could be back very soon.
  • Ditto RHP Ryan Tepera, who should be back shortly.
  • And, not to be forgotten, 1B/3B Randy Schwartz is able to be activated anytime the Lugnuts decide they require his hitting services.

Cracking Mini-Bats and Schooling Prospects

John Lott of Toronto's National Post was in town over the weekend to see the Lugnuts up close.  Here's his first article, a spotlight piece on Sal Fasano.

Great game last night!... that I didn't see.

It was my annual game re-creation broadcast, a tribute to the way baseball broadcasting used to be done.  Of course, back in those days they didn't use computers to help pass along the information -- and they weren't stymied by internet frustrations (which we had all night long), but hey!  Another year, another game re-creation!

To take you behind the curtain:  I cracked mini-bats together to simulate the crack of the bat, and I slapped a ball into a glove to simulate a pitch hitting the catcher's mitt.  Every year, hopefully, I should be able to get this game re-creation more and more authentic.

It was also a successful and satisfying 10-5 victory for the Lugs, featuring a balanced offense and fine pitching (not including the 1st, 2nd, and 9th innings).

Meanwhile, West Michigan finally lost a game.  12-game winning streak - over!  There's a tie for the playoff race again.  Things look promising for the rest of this series - they're taking on Fort Wayne, and the Lugnuts get two more contests with South Bend.

But then the Nuts have to go to Fort Wayne for four games, and... there's a long way still to go.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Much-Needed Day Off

Yesterday was the final day off of the regular season -- and, thankfully, it was at home.

This is an intriguing Lugnuts team right now.  The lineup is a mix of solid experienced hitters with Ochinko, Glenn, McElroy, and Ahrens, who are going to have mostly solid days; young high-ceiling guys like Marisnick, Crouse, and Hobson, who are going to have some great days and some poor days; and enigmas like Fuenmayor, Jackson, and Eiland, who I have no idea if they're going to be productive or not on a day-to-day basis.

With the starting rotation:  I really enjoy watching Hutchison pitch, I'm interested to see whether Sever can keep up his recent effectiveness (despite not striking anybody out), I'm wary of Shopshire and Field's yo-yo behavior, and I believe Smith really should be pretty good as the year goes on.

The bullpen, frankly, doesn't have a closer.  It's not Steve Turnbull, or at least not at the moment.  It's not Casey Beck, especially not against Fort Wayne.  It's not Brian Slover, who is consistently throwing two schizophrenic innings every outing -- one of those innings is excellent, and one of those innings is the opposite.  Maybe it's Aaron Loup, who's looking terrific recently, or maybe Danny Barnes will step in.

But, no, this isn't a good bullpen right now.  Not compared to the better teams in the division.

And yet... this still might be a playoff team...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Falling Apart

There's no rosy way to put it.

These have been painful games for the Lugnuts.

A six-game losing streak looks bad on paper but the way it has occurred has been even worse, with poor pitching, shaky fielding, shoddy baserunning, and nonexistent hitting (with the exception of Kevin Ahrens and the rare solid day from a Ryan Schimpf or a Brad Glenn).

Time for pride and heart to come to the forefront.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lightning Rods

Brief opinions on divisive/controversial topics:
  • Baseball needs instant replay.  Good riddance to "human error."
  • Pete Rose should be elected to the Hall of Fame.
  • So should Shoeless Joe Jackson.
  • Induct Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame together -- but induct Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker together first.
  • Get rid of the Designated Hitter.
  • Baseball games are only slow to members of the media and umpires... but a game should never start past 7:05 p.m.
  • Michael Lewis' Moneyball is completely overrated.
  • I'm anti-BCS, as any reasonable person should be.
  • ESPN covers Brett Favre, LeBron James, Duke, Yankees/Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys, and Notre Dame football waaaay too much.  (Wait, that's not a controversial opinion at all.)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

It's a Hoodoo

I've decided:  The TinCaps own the Lugnuts, pure and simple.  That's all.

Weird things happen when these teams play each other.

Surprise flash floods leading to game-winning wild pitches.

That sort of thing.

Today, after a resilient Lugnuts offense fought back from 2-0, 3-1, and 4-3 deficits (well done, Kevin Ahrens, A.J. Jimenez, Sean Ochinko, Ryan Schimpf, and Jake Marisnick), it was a seven-run 7th inning featuring a hit parade against Brian Slover and Nestor Molina.

So let's talk about something else instead:

Ryan Schimpf.

Schimpf went 2-for-4 today with a single, a triple, an RBI, and a run scored.  Those base hits raised his batting average... to .229.

He's been, frankly, disappointing.  He would tell you the same.

Schimpf's monthly splits (batting average, on-base pct., slugging pct.):

April - .257, .398, .443
May - .245, .333, .412
June - .145, .299, .242
July - .247, .272, 455

First things first:  Ryan was simply awful in June.  No getting around it.

Wait.  Look at that drop in the on-base percentage in July.  He'd been doing so well at getting on base early in the season despite a sub-par batting average.  In July, however, Ryan Schimpf walked only twice while striking out 26 times.


In April, Ryan had three games with two walks apiece -- and another game where he walked three times (and also had a two-run double).

I think that tells you all you need to know about what happened to him this year.  He's out of whack at the plate and it's entirely in his head, same as the TinCaps are in the Lugnuts' head.

I'm of the opinion, then -- and I've heard this from someone else as well -- that Schimpf is going to be just fine... as soon as the season's over.  He needs to get away from the low batting average, get away from the Midwest, and get back to a comfort zone where he can put back his swing and his confidence back together.  Then, next year, we'll see the real Ryan Schimpf, the one who pounds the ball all over the place.

But maybe... maybe we'll still see hints of the real Schimpf, the LSU star, the scout's delight, before the year's done.

There's time left, after all.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Good Heavens

Are the Lugnuts laughing after that 5-0 defeat?

No, probably not.

I'm in a good mood, though.

There was no Lugnuts offense whatsoever, there was embarrassing umpiring, and there was an awesome tape-measure home run by Fort Wayne's Jason Hagerty.  What can you do after a game like that except laugh, shrug your shoulders, and head to bed?

This wasn't a heartbreaker.  This was a thrashing.  Tip your cap to the TinCaps and come back tomorrow.

Fort Wayne is now 8-4 against the Lugnuts this year, winning seven of the last nine meetings.  Are they a good team?  Hey, they're not bad.  Probably as good as Kane County.  They just own the Lugnuts right now, pure and simple.  Jason Hagerty looks like a superstar.  Nate Freiman is roping line drives all over the place.

Hey, nine more games to go against the Padres farmhands.  We'll see if anything changes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cracks in the Pavement

It's tempting to be unreasonably optimistic after every victory and unreasonably pessimistic after every defeat.


There are a lot of small reasons to be concerned after this loss.

There is one large reason not to be concerned.

The large reason first:  The Lugnuts were tired today.  It was a long busride back from Bowling Green and the team was just going through the motions out there.  Let's see how things go when the squad has a chance to sleep in their own beds for a full night.

Now the small notes of concern:

Ryan Tepera isn't right and neither is Casey Beck.

A winning team needs strong pitching.  The Lugnuts aren't getting strong pitching, at least not from the whole staff.  Egan Smith has had two poor outings in a row, as has Tepera, as has Matt Fields.  I'm not sold on Ryan Shopshire turning the corner.

That leaves Dave Sever (a consistent 6 innings/3 runs sort of guy) and the bullpen.

Who's good in the bullpen right now?

Nestor Molina.
Maybe Aaron Loup.
Brian Slover half the time.
Matt Wright most of the time.
Not Casey Beck right now.
Not Steve Turnbull right now.

The offense is carrying this team.  That can't last, not if this team wants to keep on winning.  They're going to need to win some games 2-1, not 10-9.  They're going to need Turnbull and Beck and Slover, and they're going to need Tepera and Fields and Shopshire.

Monday, August 2, 2010

An August Resolution and a Prediction

It had been entirely too long since a post, and so I'm making a resolution:  at least one post every day this month. Let's see if I can make it happen.

It's going to be a fun pennant race this year with Lansing, Fort Wayne, and Bowling Green vying for the last two playoff spots.  Currently the Nuts and the TinCaps are tied with the Hot Rods two games back.

Who's in the driver's seat?

Well... today is the last game between the Lugnuts and the Hot Rods in the regular season.  The remaining games for each team:

Lansing - 11 games vs. Fort Wayne, 7 games vs. Dayton, 6 games vs. West Michigan, 4 games vs. Great Lakes, 3 games vs. South Bend, 3 games vs. Lake County.

Fort Wayne - 11 games vs. Lansing, 8 games vs. Bowling Green, 6 games vs. West Michigan, 3 games vs. South Bend, 3 games vs. Great Lakes, 3 games vs. Lake County.

Bowling Green - 8 games vs. Fort Wayne, 7 games vs. South Bend, 6 games vs. Great Lakes, 6 games vs. Lake County, 3 games vs. Dayton, 3 games vs. West Michigan.

The clear advantage, looking at that schedule, goes to the Lugnuts.  The two worst teams in the division are Dayton and South Bend; the Lugs get 13 games against them while Fort Wayne and Bowling Green only get six.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Starring Roles

Congratulations to the Lugnuts' 2010 Midwest League All-Stars:
  • Mark Sobolewski, starting at third base
  • A.J. Jimenez, starting at catcher
  • Ryan Schimpf, reserve second baseman
  • Chad Jenkins, pitcher
  • Aaron Loup, pitcher
And congratulations as well to the three members of the 2009 Lugnuts who made the 2010 Florida State League All-Star Game:
  • Tyler Pastornicky, shortstop
  • Matt Daly, pitcher
  • Henderson Alvarez, pitcher

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Today's Lineup

Ryan Schimpf, DH
Ryan Goins, SS
Brad McElroy, LF
Mark Sobolewski, 3B
Sean Ochinko, 1B
A.J. Jimenez, C
Brad Glenn, RF
Chris Hopkins, CF
Oliver Dominguez, 2B
Chad Jenkins, Starting Pitcher

On the bench:  Karim Turkamani, Kenny Wilson, Balbino Fuenmayor, Eric Eiland.
Probable relievers:  Nestor Molina, Dustin Antolin, Steve Turnbull.

Bravo, Evan Pinsonnault!

Enjoy Evan's visit to the ballpark!


I kept on finding the time to blog, but didn't know what to write.  That's not going to stop me today.

The Lugnuts are 28-21, losers of seven of 10 after winning eight in a row.

Frankly, I have no idea if this team is any good.

The starting pitching continues to be erratic.  Evan Crawford, so brilliant in the recent past, is slumping with his control and his confidence.  Ryan Shopshire is all over the place.  Dave Sever is just off the DL and just gave up six runs in one inning his last time on the mound.

Chad Jenkins is good.  I think Ryan Tepera is, too, though not to the extent of Jenkins.

Two solid starters do not make a winning team.

The offense continues to lead the league in batting average, but they're also leading the league in runners left on base.  Even in the games in which they collect nine base hits, like they've done the past two nights, there's still only one or two innings in which they break through and score runs.

Two more games here in South Bend, then back home to take on the best of the West:  Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities.

The sooner this slide is halted, the better.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day from the Lugnuts!

Mother's Day wishes from the Lansing Lugnuts coaching staff and players.

The Interviews Are Up!

Go here for my pre-game interviews thus far this year!

Next step:  getting up the game highlights each day.

Forget About it

Short-term memory, man.  Short-term memory.

Yesterday, featuring a blown four-run lead in the ninth inning and a wet walk-off Casey Beck wild pitch in the midst of a flash cloudburst, needs to be forgotten.  (By the way, remember what I was saying about Ryan Tepera yesterday and how I didn't know what to expect from him?  Five shutout innings works just fine in my book.  He was excellent... and the Lugnuts didn't win.  Man oh man.)

The rubber match against Fort Wayne is coming up in half an hour.

The lineup:

Ryan Schimpf, DH
Ryan Goins, SS
Mark Sobolewski, 3B
Brad Glenn, RF
Brad McElroy, LF
Sean Ochinko, C
Balbino Fuenmayor, 1B
Oliver Dominguez, 2B
Chris Hopkins, CF

Ryan Shopshire, Starting Pitcher

On the bench:  A.J. Jimenez, Kevin Nolan, Karim Turkamani, Eric Eiland.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Almost There

Three straight wins for the Lugnuts, including an impressive 9-4 steamrolling of Fort Wayne yesterday.

The good:  the offense, piling up 16 hits, and Chad Jenkins.
The not-so-good:  the offense, stranding 15 men on base.

Right now, the most uncertain aspect of this Lugnuts team is their starting pitching.  I have no idea what they're going to get out of their starter each day.  Take for example today's starter, Ryan Tepera.  Tep goes seven shutout innings in one start... then gets battered for six runs on nine hits... allows no earned runs in 5 1/3 innings... and then gives up seven runs in six innings.  He's an enigma to me right now, searching for a consistently fine efforts.

If Tepera is outstanding today, the Lugnuts win.  No question in my mind.  If he isn't... we'll see.

The same goes for the rest of the starting rotation.  Consistency is needed if the Lugnuts  wants to compete with Great Lakes and Lake County for the division in the first half.  The rest of the team looks just fine.

Starting lineup today:

Ryan Schimpf, 2B
Ryan Goins, SS
Brad McElroy, LF
Brad Glenn, RF
Sean Ochinko, 3B
A.J. Jimenez, C
Balbino Fuenmayor, 1B
Kevin Nolan, DH
Chris Hopkins, CF

Ryan Tepera, Starting Pitcher

On the bench:  Karim Turkamani, Oliver Dominguez, Mark Sobolewski, Eric Eiland.

Friday, May 7, 2010

May 7, 2010: LugNuggets

Think I enjoy having free time before a game?  Most definitely!

Next items on my agenda:  Getting all the pre-game interviews posted online and updating the highlight soundbytes page on the Lugnuts' website.  We'll see how long it takes me to get everything updated.

Here are today's LugNuggets:
  • Chad Jenkins is making his 6th start this season tonight, his 3rd against Fort Wayne.  Against everyone else in the MWL, he's 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA.  Unfortunately, he's 0-2 with a 5.91 ERA vs. the TinCaps.
  • Jenkins has whiffed 29 batters this year.  27 of those are swinging strikeouts.
  • Brad Glenn has reached base in all 21 games he's played this year.
  • Kenny Wilson may have missed every game in the month of May thus far, but he's still leading the Midwest League with six times hit-by-pitch.
  • Matt Wright faced 12 batters in the South Bend series.  He retired them all.
  • The Lugnuts hitters lead the Midwest League in batting average, at-bats, base hits, doubles, and stolen bases.  The Lugnuts pitchers lead the MWL in fewest walks issued.
  • Yesterday was the first day since April 29 in which the Lugnuts did not steal a base and was the first game since April 22 in which the Nuts did not attempt a steal.

Opener in Fort Wayne

Movie on the bus driving in today:  Van Wilder.

The Lugnuts are going to go with this lineup tonight against TinCaps left-hander Mike Watt (if, fingers crossed, the rain stays away):

Ryan Schimpf, 2B
Ryan Goins, SS
Mark Sobolewski, 3B
Brad Glenn, RF
Sean Ochinko, DH
A.J. Jimenez, C
Balbino Fuenmayor, 1B
Eric Eiland, LF
Chris Hopkins, CF

Chad Jenkins, Starting Pitcher

Notably, left-handed hitting Brad McElroy gets the day off today with the Fort Wayne lefty on the mound.

Also, the Lugnuts made a move today, activating catcher Karim Turkamani from the Disabled List and sending catcher Jack Murphy back to Florida.  Kenny Wilson, Matt Fields, and Dave Sever are still on the DL.  Fields has gone back to Dunedin to rehab.  Sever should be coming off the DL soon.

What can you do in 50 minutes?

If I could choose the games I'd broadcast, it'd go like this:

1)  A walk-off victory in the bottom of the ninth.
2)  A pitcher's duel.  Nothing like a tight 1-1 game into the late innings.
3)  Last night's Lugnuts win.

It was a virtuoso performance last night.  Evan Crawford started and gave up a single and a walk in five shutout innings.  Matt Wright set down six in a row.  Dustin Antolin set down six in a row.  Ballgame.  5-0, Lugnuts win

With everything rounded, the Lugnuts were basically at the plate for 76 minutes while the Silver Hawks' at-bats lasted 50 minutes total.

50 minutes for nine top halves of innings.  Awesome.

Top of the 1st... 5:30
Bottom of the 1st... 3:30
Top 2nd... 4:00
Bot. 2nd... 8:30
Top 3rd... 6:30
Bot. 3rd... 17:00 (Lugnuts scored two runs)
Top 4th... 9:00
Bot. 4th... 4:00
Top 5th... 6:30
Bot. 5th... 18:00 (Lugnuts scored two more runs)
Top 6th... 5:00
Bot 6th... 9:30 (Lugnuts scored one run)
Top 7th... 4:30
Bot. 7th... 5:30
Top 8th... 4:00
Bot. 8th... 10:00
Top 9th... 6:00

Sunday, April 25, 2010

This just in...

The Lansing Lugnuts are the best hitting team in the Midwest League.

I don't know if this is true or not, but the statistics say it's so.

The Lugnuts are first in batting average (.279), first in hits (171, 15 higher than the next best team), first in total bases (255), tied for first in doubles (43), and first in stolen bases (28).

They've already knocked out 18 hits in two separate games, one of them last night's wild 9-8 10-inning win over Dayton.  Even more impressive, they're winning games without Mark Sobolewski or Brad Glenn in the starting lineup, perhaps their two best hitters this year.

The defense still isn't great.  The pitching hasn't been spectacular.  The starters are starting to get hurt -- Matt Fields and Dave Sever were each put on the DL the last two days.

But they're winning games -- seven of their last eight, as a matter of fact.  Win today and it'll be another sweep for the hottest team in the Midwest League.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tis the Season for Sweeps

And here I thought that May and November were sweeps months!

The Lansing Lugnuts have begun their season with four straight series ending in sweeps.  They lost three games to Dayton, won three in Great Lakes, lost three at home to Lake County, and then won three against Bowling Green.  In other words, this Lugnuts team is worse than the Dragons and the Captains and better than the Loons and the Hot Rods...

But they just might be better.

Keep April 19 fresh in your mind, the date that A.J. Jimenez and Brad McElroy arrived in town from Florida.  This team is better with them, especially offensively.  The next step has been shoring up the starting rotation, which went 0-2 in the season's first nine games -- and then earned victories in all three games against Bowling Green.

The team is loose right now, a combination of focused and enjoying themselves.  Brad Glenn is among the league's best hitters.  Mark Sobolewski is swinging a confident bat.  Kenny Wilson is getting on base with regularity.  The bullpen has been pretty good too, with a few vulnerable moments against the Lake County Captains getting in the way of a higher superlative.

Now let's see how they do here in Fort Wayne.

Starting lineup tonight for the Lugnuts:

Kenny Wilson, CF
Oliver Dominguez, 2B
Mark Sobolewski, 3B
Brad Glenn, RF
A.J. Jimenez, C
Kevin Nolan, SS
Sean Ochinko, 1B
Balbino Fuenmayor, DH
Eric Eiland, LF
Dave Sever, RHP

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Sunday

It's a gloriously sunny day in Midland, Michigan, as the Lugnuts and Loons open up the home schedule for Dow Diamond.

Both teams are tired.  The Loons returned from South Bend at 1 a.m. last night.  The Lugnuts pulled in from Dayton at 3:45 a.m.  Me, I finally got to sleep past 5 a.m. -- and then woke up at 10:30 in order to shower, eat breakfast, and catch the noon bus to the ballpark.

Tough series in Dayton, losing each game by a run.  On the bright side, the team competed to the end in each game.  The next step is shoring up that defense.  I've already started to post the highlights from the season.  Check them out here.

Next up:  posting the pre-game interviews.  I've already talked to Sal Fasano, Ryan Schimpf, Brad Glenn, and Eric Eiland (to be aired today), and so I'll get those up on the website for you to enjoy at your leisure.

Chad Jenkins makes his first professional start this afternoon for Lansing.  The #1 pick is an easy-going good-natured guy, but you can tell he's nervous (and rightfully so, right?).

Happy 22nd birthday, Ryan Schimpf!

Finally, three Lugnuts hit safely in each game of the Dayton series.  Any guesses?  Eric Eiland, Sean Ochinko, and Kenny Wilson.  Wilson and Ochinko both get the day off today, along with Balbino Fuenmayor.

The starting lineup this afternoon against Great Lakes right-hander Will Savage:

2B Ryan Schimpf
CF Chris Hopkins
SS Kevin Nolan
RF Brad Glenn
DH Ryan Goins
LF Eric Eiland
3B Mark Sobolewski
1B Jon Talley
C Karim Turkamani
SP Chad Jenkins

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thoughts on Opening Night

1.  Kenny Wilson is becoming a tremendous defensive center fielder.  There were a couple of smoked fly balls by the Dragons that Kenny chased down with relative ease.

2.  Starter Ryan Shopshire (5 innings, 7 hits, 5 runs) looked off for much of the night.

3.  Relievers Nestor Molina and Dustin Antolin were equally masterful.  Two perfect innings with three strikeouts for each of them.  Impressive.

4.  Eric Eiland quietly put forth an excellent evening, supplying three hits and some fine catches in left field.

5.  Ryan Schimpf can hit.  He'll be my pre-game interview today.

Elsewhere on the farm...

2010 Lugnuts Offensive Preview

Let's take the offense in stages, based on what I've heard and seen:

The catchers are Sean Ochinko, Karim Turkamani, and Jon Talley.  Ochinko's the best offensive player of the three, Turkamani's the best defensive player, and Talley's in the middle.  Talley will sometimes play first base or DH to get a left-handed bat in the lineup.  Ochinko is expected to be used at third base as the season goes on in order to diversify his skill set.

The first baseman is Balbino Fuenmayor, with Brad Glenn and Talley backing him up.  I expect Balbino to be deadly at the plate this year.  His bat has looked worlds improved from last season, there's no question.  Glenn is a newcomer, a legit slugger with a good eye for strike zone.  He'll mostly be seen in right field.

Second baseman Ryan Schimpf has a quick bat with plenty of life.  Lugnuts fans will look forward to his at-bats, I guarantee.  Hopefully, he won't be here the whole season.  The shortstop is Ryan Goins, slick in the field and solid at the plate.  Mark Sobolewski is the third baseman, looking to improve upon a subpar 2009 that was marred by injury.

The two back-up infielders are Oliver Dominguez and Kevin Nolan; haven't seen much out of either one yet, but looking forward to seeing if they'll seize the day here.

Besides Glenn in the outfield, there's a trio of speedy go-getters in Kenny Wilson, Eric Eiland, and Chris Hopkins.  None of them possess much in the way of power, but all of them have quickness in spades.  Wilson's the best defensively of the group and maybe the best offensively, too.  The more the three of them can get on base, the easier life will be for Messrs. Schimpf, Ochinko, Fuenmayor, et al.

Is it a terrific lineup?  Wouldn't go that far yet, but these guys are definitely going to score some runs this year.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Early Look at the Lugnuts

I'm going to miss Clayton McCullough, Justin Mashore, and Dan McIntosh from last year, but this looks to be an excellent coaching staff this year.  Burly and amiable Sal Fasano is going to make a fine first-year manager; I'm a fan of a Antonio Caceres, who returns as pitching coach; and I've heard good things about coach John Tamargo, Jr., from my friend Tim Calderwood, who worked with John in Traverse City last year.

Add in a trio of capable hands in Athletic Trainer James Gardiner, Strength & Conditioning Coach Elliott White, and Video Coordinator Coulson Barbiche, and you have yourself a splendid crew.

The team should be good, too.

For one thing, they're an older squad -- the youngest player is outfielder Kenny Wilson, who was here last year.  The majority of the players are collegians, and collegians generally play well in the Midwest League.

The early look at the starting rotation should feature, in alphabetical order:  Matt Fields, Chad Jenkins, Dave Sever, Ryan Shopshire, and Ryan Tepera.  (I say alphabetical order because I fully expect Ryan Shopshire to be at or near the top of the rotation.)

I don't think I'm going out on too far of a limb when I say that much will be expected from these men.  Shopshire's the veteran of the team at just 24 and pitched impressively at the end of last year.  Jenkins was the Blue Jays' 1st round pick last year and #3 prospect in the system.  Fields dominated the Gulf Coast League to the tune of a 1.22 ERA with 54 strikeouts compared to just six walks in 51 2/3 innings.  Tepera was arguably better, limiting GCL batters to a staggering .150 average against him.  Meanwhile, Sever was the ace of the Auburn Doubledays.

Good looking crew on paper, simply put.

The bullpen will feature Steve Turnbull and Brian Slover at the back end, two right-handers with great stuff.  Turnbull's the closer, Slover the set-up man.  We'll see how everything else shakes out before them.  It's up in the air.

Tomorrow, a look at the offense!

National Holiday

Happy Opening Day!

I remember vividly, as a Maryland kid, listening to the radio in school as the Orioles' Mike Mussina battled the Royals' Kevin Appier year after year.

Opening Day brings joy and hope and happiness and no possible ill feelings.  If you lose on Opening Day, no worries -- get 'em the next day and get right back to .500.  If you win, it's glorious!  The lineup feels perfect and the season's possibilities feel endless.

The Lugnuts arrived into town last night -- I was on the bus to pick the team up along with Assistant General Manager Nick Grueser and Clubhouse Manager Joe Eisfelder.  It's a good crew, an older crew, and Athletic Trainer James Gardiner spoke highly of their characters.

Today they pick up their uniforms.  Tomorrow they work out and then get in their first practice on Jackson Field.  Wednesday is the Crosstown Showdown.  Thursday is Opening Day in Dayton, Ohio.

Let it begin.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Names to Know

Lisa Winston over at has created a list of 10 Blue Jays prospects to watch in 2010.  To go over them briefly with a Lugnuttian perspective:

1.  J.P. Arencibia - power-hitting catcher who skipped over Lansing on his way up the ladder, played in Triple-A last year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

2.  Tim Collins - lefty pitched in Lansing in 2008 and put his name squarely on the prospect radar, made it to Double-A last year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

3.  David Cooper - played first base for the Nuts in 2008 after being drafted in the 1st round, played 128 games in Double-A last year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

4.  Travis d'Arnaud - acquired from the Phillies for Roy Halladay, another slugging catcher, was in the Class-A South Atlantic League in 2009.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut unless his career takes a step backward.

5.  Kyle Drabek - the big prize in that Halladay trade, on the cusp of the Major Leagues.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

6.  Chad Jenkins - the Blue Jays' 1st round pick last year out of Kennesaw State, did not pitch professionally in 2009.  In short:  A definite 2010 Lugnut possibility.

7.  Jake Marisnick - the Blue Jays' 2009 supplemental pick, athletic 19-year-old outfielder.  In short:  Sounds like a late-2010 or perhaps a 2011 Lugnut.

8.  Carlos Perez - Gulf Coast League Jays team MVP in 2009, a very promising catcher.  In short:  Sounds like a 2010 Lugnut.

9.  Zach Stewart - picked up in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, talented right-hander who pitched in Triple-A last season and has his eyes on a Major League debut this year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

10.  Brett Wallace - slugging corner infielder received in a trade with Oakland after beginning the year originally with St. Louis, began 2009 in Double-A, finished the season in Triple-A, being groomed for Jays' first base spot.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Signs of the Season

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, tonight is the first Passover seder, and a week from next Wednesday is the fourth annual Crosstown Showdown...

It's still a little cold around these parts, but no worries!  Baseball season is a comin' to Lansing, Michigan.

Outside currently they're getting the new stadium signage installed.  It's a heavy-duty process, you can well imagine.  Good-bye, Oldsmobile Park.  Hello, Cooley Law School Stadium.

On the field, Matt Anderson is pounding the bases into place and preparing the outfield.  In the offices, the season tickets are getting passed out, single game tickets are being sold, and the marketing department is preparing a huge push for Opening Day's Eat-a-Palooza.

Oh, and Big Lug's getting ready, too, for his own reasons.

On the baseball side:  I'm way late on getting around to reading Jays Journal, but I agree with Mat Germain that Sal Fasano will be terrific for Toronto's prospects catchers.  (I enjoy Mat's spotlight on Welinton Ramirez, too, one of my favorite Lugnuts to watch last season.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your Morning Update

To update you on where we are:

In Dunedin, Florida, the 2010 Lugnuts are waking up early, stretching, working hard, and feeling the anticipation rise as they get closer to Opening Day.

In Lansing, Michigan, the 2010 magazine and media guide have gone to press, the tickets have been printed, the pocket schedules have arrived, and the box office opens on Saturday.  Oh, yes, the anticipation is rising here as well.

The Blue Jays lost to the Rays 5-3 yesterday.  Note the presence in the box score of Mike McDade (2008-2009 Lugnuts ) and 2009 Lugnuts Tyler Pastornicky and Kenny Wilson on the Toronto side.

2005 Lugnut Casey Janssen also pitched in relief for the Jays, working a perfect fifth inning.  He's feeling good, too.

New Mariners farmhand Johermyn Chavez (2008-2009) has also had an at-bat this spring; he struck out.  Better days are ahead for Johermyn.

Your NHL game of the week, and possibly of the month.
Your NBA game of the week, and possibly of the month.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Weeks Away

Are you ready?

Two weeks from today, it'll be the fourth annual Crosstown Showdown between the Lugnuts and the Michigan State Spartans, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance.  Remember last year?  It was packed in the stands -- a stadium record crowd of 12,992 -- and ugly on the field -- four Lansing errors -- as the Spartans routed the Nuts 12-2 for their first Crosstown victory.  Pretty well set the tone for Lugnuts' season, too.  Lansing finished the year with a 54-84 record, worst in franchise history.  Everyone around the ballpark and the Blue Jays expects this season to be much more fun, thankfully.

Trivia question:  What has never been hit in a Crosstown Showdown, either by a Spartan or by a Lugnut?  The answer is hidden in the first letter of each sentence in the above paragraph.

Spring Training with the Jays

Being from the Washington, DC, area, I'm slightly concerned about this story.

Moving on...

Former, current, and maybe future (!) Lugnuts playing in Blue Jays spring training with the Major League club:

PLAYER              AVG   G  AB   R   H  TB 2B 3B HR
------              ---   -  --   -   -  -- -- -- -- 
Mike McDade       1.000   1   2   1   2   3  1  0  0   2
Ryan Schimpf       .500   1   2   1   1   1  0  0  0   0
Moises Sierra      .500   1   2   0   1   1  0  0  0   0
Sean Ochinko       .400   2   5   0   2   3  1  0  0   0
Travis Snider      .306  14  36   6  11  22  2  0  3   6
David Cooper       .300   6  10   1   3   4  1  0  0   0
Brian Dopirak      .250  12  28   3   7  10  0  0  1   4
Tyler Pastornicky  .167   3   6   1   1   1  0  0  0   0
Matt Liuzza        .000   1   1   0   0   0  0  0  0   0
Ryan Goins         .000   5   6   0   0   0  0  0  0   1
John Tolisano      .000   3   5   0   0   0  0  0  0   0
PLAYER            W  L  S  ERA   G GS CG SHO    IP   H   R  ER
------            -  -  -  ---   - -- -- ---    --   -   -  --
Casey Janssen     0  0  0  0.00  4  0  0   0   4.0   1   0   0
Danny Farquhar    0  0  0  0.00  1  0  0   0   1.0   1   0   0
Brad Mills        0  0  0  4.50  1  0  0   0   2.0   3   1   1
Chad Jenkins      0  0  0  4.50  1  0  0   0   2.0   1   1   1
Marc Rzepczynski  0  0  0  4.91  3  3  0   0  11.0  13   7   6
Rei Gonzalez      0  0  1  9.00  2  0  0   0   3.0   6   4   3

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Lugnuts and the Big Leagues

In my research for the magazine cover story, I came across Mark Walker's letter to the Lansing State Journal, published on September 14, 1995.

"The description of Lugnut baseball in the Lansing State Journal's Welcome 95 supplement as '...players will have as much chance of making the major leagues as winning the lottery...' is inaccurate on two levels.

"First, about one of every 10 athletes who sign a professional contract make it to the major leagues.  Since not all players even advance to Class A, a realistic projection is that three or four players from each club will make it.

"More importantly, for those who do reach the big leagues, it will be the result of dedication, desire, determination and hard work.  Equating success through effort with 'winning the lottery' should be discouraged.  We should be so lucky."

Mark's mostly right.  Dedication, desire, determination, and hard work have so much to do with it, but a player needs luck on his side, too.  The slightest health issue, for instance, might derail a promising career.  A player also needs the opportunity to open up above him.  If no opportunity opens, he's stuck hoping he'll get traded.

I'd add, too, that baseball history is littered with lazy major leaguers burning paychecks and hardworking minor leaguers who will never get their shot.  The game isn't always cut and dried.  It most definitely isn't always fair.

As far as the Lugnuts' rosters have gone with regard to Major Leaguers, here are the totals so far.

1996 - 7 Major Leaguers
1997 - 8
1998 - 10
1999 - 6
2000 - 7
2001 - 9
2002 - 11
2003 - 11
2004 - 11
2005 - 5
2006 - 0
2007 - 1 (Travis Snider)
2008 - 2 (Marc Rzepczynski, Brad Mills)
2009 - 0

Mark's realistic projection of three or four players?  The Lugnuts regularly doubled and tripled that expectation while a Royals (1996-1998) and Cubs (1999-2004) affiliate.  We'll see what happens with the Blue Jays prospects in the years to come.

Thursdays with Torii

Today's key tasks involve finishing off the magazine cover story and writing an article on the inaugural Lansing Lugnuts Hall of Fame class, inductees to be announced in a pregame on-field ceremony on Opening Day.

The Phillies doubled up the Blue Jays, 4-2, in spring action yesterday.  Not much production from the former Lugnuts, though Travis Snider did provide a single in three at-bats.  The bigger story was Philadelphia's Cody Ransom, who homered in two different cities on the same day.  Joel Youngblood, eat your heart out.

In other news, a full 50% of the Lugnuts' Marketing Department flew down to Dunedin yesterday to get head shots of the new coaching staff.  It was an idea first conceived by Double-A New Hampshire... and who are we to ignore opportunity knocking?

The Torii Hunter story is a potential minefield, but I'm going in anyway.  My guess is that Hunter heard from some folks who had heard that baseball is losing young African Americans and wondered how this could be -- after all, isn't Vladimir Guerrero black?  To which Hunter responded, Vlad's Dominican, not African American.

Fine.  Everyone's right.  The number of African American players is decreasing, the number of Latino players is going up, to an ignorant fan going entirely by skin tone it would seem that there's no difference, and a Latino player and an African American player have different cultural heritages and backgrounds.  End the sentence right there.  But, darn it, Torii, you can't go calling black Latin American players "impostors."  You can't.

Now then, it would seem to me that:
1.  The context has been lost from which Hunter's comments were taken, a superb conversation between people from all over the baseball landscape (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).
2.  Torii has apologized.

Let's move on.

There's something off to me about adding an ex-player into sports media who hated talking to reporters during his playing days.  Key quote:  "'The media part,' says Mr. Shaughnessy, 'was like he was getting a flu shot all the time.'"

An Ozzie Guillen spotlight always contains interesting moments, but Ozzie's going to need many more seasons, many more wins, and at least a couple more World Series rings to merit his Cooperstown dream.  Seems a little early in his career to write such a story.  Then again, certain media-friendly guys get spotlight stories every year.  Expect a slew of Rick Neuheisel and Lane Kiffin profiles come college football season, for instance.

Enjoy your Thursday!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Morning Linkage

The Blue Jays were off yesterday, resuming spring play today.

In this video, Andrew Marchand of ESPN 1050 predicts Toronto will have the worst record in the Majors.  We'll see.  Seems to me that the Nationals, Pirates, Orioles, and Royals all look to be better (worse?) candidates than the Jays, and there's always that one unexpected team that falls flat on its face.  The Rangers, maybe?  The Dodgers?

A quick list of Lugnuts who've played for the Blue Jays this spring training:  Marc Rzepczynski, Casey Janssen, Rei Gonzalez, Danny Farquhar, Moises Sierra, David Cooper, Brian Dopirak, Matt Liuzza, John Tolisano, Travis Snider... and, hey! There's 2009 shortstop Ryan Goins!

This is belated, but here's an ESPN interview with new Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos.  Many more "Meet Alex" links to come, from the looks of things.  He's good-humored, he's knowledgeable, he's a newlywed, and everyone wants an interview with him.

Scott Miller of CBS Sportsline takes a tour of Dunedin and notes "Five Things to Know" about the Blue Jays.  There's no mention of Travis Snider or Adam Lind anywhere to be seen, interestingly.  It's all about Vernon Wells, starting pitching, and the affable Alex Anthopoulos.

Other notes of interests:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Links

Hey, no need to cast aspersions, Josh "Control" Towers has a ring!

There's nothing like a spring debut from a hot rookie pitcher, whether he's a lefty from Cuba or a righty from California.

I'm working on the cover story for the magazine at the moment. "Where are they now?" notes that might not make it into the story:
  • In 2005, the Lugnuts' first general manager, Gillian Zucker, became the first female president of a track that hosts a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.  She currently presides over Auto Club Speedway, located between Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
  • Brian Poldberg, the Lugnuts' first manager, is still in the Kansas City Royals system, skippering the Northwest Arkansas Naturals the past two seasons.
  • Mike Vander Wood, the Lugnuts' first radio broadcaster, is now the voice of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The Transition - Plus the Lugnuts Song Lyrics

This entire winter, this blog has served as an outlet for sporting opinions across the spectrum.  There's been a slight change:  it's now also the official Lugnuts broadcasters blog.

Therefore.... hit it!

You got inhibitions, lose 'em!
You got vocal cords, use 'em!
You got the rhythm
You got the beat
You gotta clap your hands
You gotta stomp your feet

You gotta go nuts, go nuts, go nuts, go nuts!
Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!
Go nuts, Lugnuts!

This is our town, this is our team
If you're up against us, you're gonna get creamed
Just stick around, see what we mean
Get ready to yell, get ready to scream
(Ready to scream, ready to scream, ready to scream
See what we mean)

You gotta go nuts, go nuts, go nuts, go nuts!
Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!
Go nuts, Lugnuts!

You gotta go nuts, go nuts, go nuts, go nuts!
Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!
Go nuts, go nuts, go nuts
Go nuts, Lugnuts!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

No, You're Right, a 2-HR, 6-RBI Game Isn't Newsworthy

You ever read spring training game recaps?

Maybe it's just me...  I love that baseball is back, and I love seeing what sort of wackiness goes on in the spring.  The weather is beautiful, the rookies are promising, and the veterans are all having fun.

But the game recaps are ridiculous.

Take the Phillies/Rays game today.
J.A. Happ and Phillippe Aumont combined for five scoreless innings in the Philadelphia Phillies' 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.  Happ allowed two hits, walked two and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Aumont replaced him in the third and gave up two hits in 2 2/3 innings, bouncing back from a rough outing in an exhibition game against Florida State on Wednesday night.

Yes, those are your first two paragraphs in the story of a Tampa Bay victory, featuring extra innings and 27 combined hits.  Apparently we don't care too much about the Rays perspective though, even though they started All-Star James Shields, who had 2 2/3 scoreless innings.  Since when do J.A. Happ and Phillippe Aumont receive top billing in any circumstance?

Meanwhile, the Twins' 11-0 victory over the Yankees was written entirely from the Twins' perspective.  Fine.

Scott Baker was one of the highlights in a mixed day for the Minnesota Twins' pitching staff.  Baker threw two effective innings, Jason Kubel homered and a Twins split-squad beat the New York Yankees 11-0 on Sunday.

You then have to read 15 more paragraphs -- in fact, all the way to the very last sentence of the article to discover exactly why the Twins were able to trample the Yanks so easily:

Juan Portes hit a grand slam and a two-run homer, and Brock Peterson also went deep for the Twins.

Good Point, John Buccigross

In this mailbag, ESPN's John Buccigross writes the following to a question on Peter Bondra:

As I've said before, Peter Bondra was scoring goals when no one was scoring goals in the late '90s. Bondra had 52 of the Capitals' 219 goals during the 1997-98 season. That's almost 25 percent of the team's goals. If Wayne Gretzky had scored 25 percent of the Oilers' goals in 1981-82, he would have finished with 104. That's what kind of season Bondra had. The second full season after the 1994-95 partial lockout is when the NHL got very defensive.
The NHL's golden era for offense was 1970-96. If you played a bulk of your career during this era, and especially with Bobby Orr, Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, your numbers were skewed. Good news for offensive players, bad news for some goalies. If Frank Brimsek played in that era instead of 1938-50, he would have been "Mr. 3.45" instead of "Mr. Zero." And he would have been Don Beaupre.

It's true and no one disputes it.

In 1996, the Devils' trapping system caught hold and the game of hockey bogged down until the rule changes following the lockout.

Baseball is working to blast through its generational divides, to show that a 3.00 ERA in 1938 is a far cry from a 3.00 ERA in 1968, and that 40 homers in 1980 are greatly different from 40 homers in 2000.

The next step is for other sports to realize this.  Hockey, with its emphasis on goals, assists, and total points, should be foremost among them in understanding that not all 100-point seasons are created equal.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Greatness, Specifics Unnecessary

Let's talk Greivis Vasquez, star of the Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team.

He commits a plethora of turnovers and takes poor shots on a consistent basis.  He's not a pure shooter.  He's not a pinpoint passer.  He's not a shutdown defender.  He's not lightning fast.  He's not a supreme dribbler.  He's not noted for an exceptional vertical leap or dunking ability.  But he's indisputably a college basketball standout, one of the most dynamic players in the country.

Imagine an artist.  Are his brushstrokes great?  No.  Is his use of color great?  No.  Are his ideas great?  No.  How in the world could he be a good artist, let alone the best in his region?

Greivis Vasquez is the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, bar none.

How does one explain this?

Here's how:

"He's a terrific offensive player," said broadcaster Jay Bilas during the Duke/Maryland game on Wednesday.

Basketball is always broken down, at its core, to offense and defense.  Hockey is offense, defense, and goaltending.  Football is offense, defense, and special teams.  Baseball is hitting, fielding, pitching, and baserunning.

Somewhere along the line, specific skills started getting broken away from the group and evaluated by themselves.  Forget being an excellent offensive hockey player, for instance  --  Are you a great skater?  Are you physical?  How's your wristshot?  Can you backcheck?  Can you penalty kill?  How's your ice vision?

And this is all well and good, except for the fact that a player who grades out as excellent in one category and mediocre in the others receives a lot more credit, prestige, and press than the player who can do everything splendidly but nothing top-notch.

As far as I can remember, Bill James broke this down first, describing why Darrell Evans was one of the most unappreciated players in baseball history.  Evans did everything.  He played defense, he hit homers, he got on base, he helped his team win... and he's now fading from memory.

Greivis Vasquez is a better player than a lot of Maryland Terrapins of years gone by, but he doesn't shoot well enough, pass well enough, dribble well enough, and play defense well enough to be considered in the conversation with any of the specialists.  For example, Vasquez or Juan Dixon?  That's ridiculous, right?  Dixon could shoot better than Vasquez with his eyes closed.  End of story.  Vasquez or Steve Blake?  Also ridiculous, right?  Vasquez is nowhere near the passer that Blake was.

Well, yes, but in a way it's like saying that Cal Ripken was no good because he didn't hit homers like Cecil Fielder or hit for average like John Olerud or steal bases like Tony Womack.

Vasquez deserves his due.  It remains to be seen whether he'll be accorded it.

You know, winning some games this March could help his cause.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let Them Hear You

Want to keep the magic of the Olympics alive in the NHL?

Do what the Pittsburgh Penguins fans did.  When the Sabres come to town, cheer Ryan Miller.

Don't stop there.

Cheer Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner of the Devils.  Cheer Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown of the Kings.  Cheer Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers.  Cheer Ryan Kesler of the Canucks, and Paul Stastny of the Avalanche, and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, and Joe Pavelski of the Sharks.  Cheer head coach Ron Wilson of the Maple Leafs.  Cheer everyone who was a part of the team.

They may have brought back the silver, but their effort was golden.


It's a bad college basketball season.

I'm just saying.

The ACC only has one and a half good teams, Duke and sometimes Maryland.  Duke really isn't that good, though, regardless of record.  They're the Los Angeles Dodgers of the men's basketball world.

The Pac-10 has nobody.

The Big 12 has Kansas and a bunch of Sweet 16-worthy squads.

The Big East has Syracuse and championship pretenders.

The Big Ten's best team just lost its best player for the year.  Maybe Michigan State can get hot again?

So it's been a bad season.  Seems to me in a sports landscape where teams haven't distinguished nor separated themselves, it bodes well for a wild March.

Count me in.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Searching for Meaning

Yesterday's men's hockey game between the United States and Canada was almost certainly one of the biggest hockey games of all time.

It came on a grand stage:  the Olympics.
It came for the utmost prize:  a gold medal.
It was played in front of a rabid partisan crowd and an enormous television audience.
It featured a stirring comeback, a dramatic game-tying goal, and sudden death overtime.

But we don't know -- we can't know-- yet how meaningful the game will be.  We don't know its impact yet.

The 1958 NFL Championship and Super Bowl III were meaningful, putting professional football on the map in this country.

The Immaculate Reception was perhaps the greatest play in the NFL's history but it was not meaningful.  The Pittsburgh Steelers never made it to the Super Bowl that year.  Same with the greatest play in baseball's history, Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World."  The Giants lost the World Series while the Dodgers, undaunted, won the National League pennant in four of the next five years.

Cassius Clay's knockout of Sonny Liston was meaningful, launching heavyweight boxing to new heights of popularity.  But not one of boxing's many touted fights in the last decade has proven to be the least bit of meaningful.

Michael Phelps capturing eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics:  meaningful.

Apolo Ohno breaking the career medals record at the 2010 Winter Olympics:  not meaningful.

Brandi Chastain's shootout goal to end the super-dramatic 1999 Women's World Cup was not meaningful.  Women's soccer is not any more popular now than it was in the 1990s.  Men's soccer and MLS were barely impacted for the long run by David Beckham's American excursion.

Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak:  meaningful for the right reasons.

Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds breaking home run records:  meaningful for the wrong reasons.

It's tough to gauge meaning and impact, especially so close to the event, but I guarantee that people all over the continent are already trying to predict the impact on hockey's future... or already trying to pooh-pooh the significance of the game.

In time the impact will be revealed.

But it really was a great game, wasn't it?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

With Regard to the Olympics

There is a tendency for those who denigrate the Olympics to talk about how the athletes are unknown, so why should they care?

Who do they know?  Apolo Ohno.  Shaun White.  Lindsey Jacobellis.  Lindsey Vonn.  Johnny Weir.

Why do they know those names?  They're familiar from past Olympics.

Fine.  No reason to know athletes you've never seen compete yet, but that shouldn't stop a fan of a sport from watching.  A fan of a sport cares because of her or his love for that sport, especially when performed at a high level.  The Olympics doesn't showcase stars as much as it creates stars.

There also seems a feeling that an Olympics fan is different from an NFL fan, who is different from an NBA fan, who is different from a NASCAR fan.

I say, show a fan, a sports fan, a true competitive moment at its most climactic moment, at its pinnacle, and that sports fan will take five minutes and watch.

It's the reason sports fans all pay attention to the Kentucky Derby, regardless of whether they care a thing about horseracing for the rest of the year.  It's about sport at its most meaningful and dramatic.

That's compelling television.

So is a short track speedskating final.

Trust me, if it's good, I'll learn the names I need to know.

Feel it?

Baseball's back.

There's snow on the ground throughout the nation, amidst a winter that has seen the white stuff fall in each and every state.  The groundhog in Pennsylvania saw his shadow.

But baseball, that yearly bringer of hope and warm weather, is back.

Pitchers and catchers have reported to training camp, position players shortly to follow.

It's a wonderful thing.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Big Deal

Yes, I know.  A "huge" sports weekend.

Dayton 500.  Olympics.  NBA All-Star Weekend.  Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  College Hoops.

This wasn't a great sports weekend.  It wasn't even close.

The highlight of Daytona:  A pothole.

The highlight of the NBA weekend:  108,000 fans.  Certainly not anything that took place on the court.

I didn't watch golf or college hoops (not including a disastrous Maryland loss at Duke).

The Olympics is another matter.  After a dud torch-lighting ceremony, the Olympics rocked this opening weekend.  Rocked it.

Top 3 moments already:

1)  Apolo Ohno and 19-year-old J.R. Celski medal after a wild finish on the final lap of the 1500 speedskating.  Korea was set to sweep the medals before a wild passing attempt by Lee Ho-Suk wiped out both himself and Sung Si-Bak and lifted the Americans to the silver and bronze.

2)  Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau seizes his country's first home gold medal in three Olympics in men's moguls, upsetting arrogant defending champ (and Canadian-turned-Australian) Dale Begg-Smith.

3)  20-year-old German Felix Hoch, son of the national team coach, rocks luge with a dominant gold medal performance, blowing away the favorites.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alex Ovechkin "is an Android"

Yes, the Caps had their winning streak stopped.

It doesn't matter.  Not when Alex Ovechkin is doing things like this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Overcoming the Football Hangover

The Super Bowl, against the better wishes of the football-mad members of the population, officially concludes pigskin season until next Autumn.  April does provide a brief revival in the form of the NFL Draft, but that's it.

This is the time of year, therefore, when sports fans brush off the tortilla chips from their laps, get up from their couches, stretch their legs, and then collapse right back down onto the couch to catch up with what's been happening in all of the other sports.

Here's a brief summary:

The Winter Olympics starts on Friday in Vancouver with a geography lesson doubling as a fashion show.

Danica Patrick is now driving in both indy cars and NASCAR.  The Daytona 500 is coming up, thereby climaxing the NASCAR season good and early.

There is only one good team in Women's College Basketball, the Connecticut Huskies.

There are only two good teams in Men's College Basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats and Kansas Jayhawks.  The rest of the contenders are entirely from the Big East and the Big Ten; the ACC and Pac-10 decided not to field teams this year.  Even so, the NCAA is increasing its National Tournament to 96 teams, possibly by allowing every single Big East team to enter.

Major League Baseball is still two months away.  Hopefully it stops snowing by then.

Rectifying last year's uninteresting unfixed Finals, the NBA has figured things out for this year so that LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are on the best teams in the league.

To the NHL's horror, the Maple Leafs, Rangers, Red Wings, and Oilers all stink while teams in San Jose, Washington, and New Jersey reign supreme.  On the bright side, Sidney Crosby is on NBC every Sunday.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The First Classic Game on Sunday

As good as the Super Bowl was -- and it really was an excellent game -- it paled in tension, drama, and atmosphere to the battle between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins from Verizon Center in snow-besieged D.C.

To extend their team-record winning streak to 14 games, the Caps shrugged off two goals by Sidney Crosby in the first ten minutes, erased a 5-on-3 power play to open the third period, wiped out a 4-1 lead, killed a power play in the last few minutes of regulation, and rode Alex Ovechkin's hat trick and overtime assist to a 5-4 sudden-death triumph.

It was phenomenal.

Let it be known that the Caps and Pens have had one of the best rivalries in the NHL since the 1990s when the two teams met in the playoffs in five separate seasons (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996).  The current enmity is miles above what any of Washingtonians felt in the 1990s, and now we've got the folks in Pittsburgh (and their wonderful anti-Ovechkin hate) along for the ride.

In Washington, New Jersey, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, there are four top teams in the Eastern Conference right now, with Ottawa certainly putting on a push to add a fifth.

If the Caps want to make the Stanley Cup Finals, it may very well be the Devils, the Sens, or the Sabres standing in the way.

But it would be all the sweeter if it was the the defending champions in Pittsburgh.

Omar Vizquel is not Luis Aparicio... or Ozzie Smith

The White Sox are unretiring Luis Aparicio's jersey (#11) and giving it to Omar Vizquel.  Both of them are shortstops.  Both are Venezuelan.  It's a terrific gesture.

But there's one thing that Aparicio is that Vizquel is not.

A Hall of Famer.

Read this article by Rich Lederer for a better understanding of why Vizquel doesn't belong in Cooperstown.  (In short, his hitting was poor and his fielding is overrated.  There are many more deserving shortstops.)

Vizquel is going to get major support, I know.  After all, he has 11 Gold Gloves.  (As Rob Neyer once wrote, "He even deserved some of them.")  It will be argued, too, that he was the Ozzie Smith of the National League, except with better stats in every category except stolen bases and walks.

Bill James had it dead-on when he first opined that specialists are overrated and guys who do most everything well are underrated.  Fans and media extol the virtues of a guy who can throw 99 mph without any other quality pitches a lot more than a guy with an 89 mph fastball and three other pitches in his repertoire.  A player who regularly cranks out home runs is given the spotlight even if he can't do anything else; a more well-round batter who hits for both a nice power and average is ignored.

This is why Barry Larkin is not in the Hall of Fame yet despite being in everybody's top ten list for all-time shortstops.  He had so many skills, you couldn't focus on just one and wax poetic about it.  Same with Alan Trammell.

Omar Vizquel, being a much more limited player, has it easier.  When his name is on the ballot, the stories of his magnificent fielding prowess will fill the air.  It's okay to listen, but not if you confuse legend with gospel.

(Hey, anyone want to put Mark Belanger in the Hall of Fame?)

The Top Four Moments of Super Bowl XLIV

#4 - The Colts stopping the Saints' Pierre Thomas on 4th and goal in the second quarter.  The only key defensive play made all night by Indianapolis.

#3 - The Saints' onside kick to open the second half, leading to a wild pileup and the first New Orleans lead of the game.  Awesome, gutsy move by Sean Payton.

#2 - Tracy Porter's interception return, clinching the victory.  I was convinced that Peyton Manning would strike for the game-tying touchdown, followed by a Drew Brees game-winning drive.  It didn't happen because of Porter, causing the only turnover of the game.

#1 - Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees holding his 18-month-old son in his arms in the midst of the riotous joy and celebration.

There were too many commercials for my taste.  With both teams putting together sizable clock-eating drives, there were more than a few moments where way too many ad breaks were taken in a row for the game to gather any momentum.  Consequently, a well-played and dramatic game did not feel like one at all.  I understand why there were so many commercials, but I don't have to like it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Super Bowl Talking Points

Whether we're talking ratings, money, casual conversation, or general popularity, Football owns America right now.  Since Sunday is the pinnacle of the sport, Super Bowl XLIV, this entire week will be spent building to the game.

But a problem has arisen:  There's nothing to talk about.

Okay, that's not exactly true.  There's 1) the New Orleans Saints making the Super Bowl several years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city; 2) Colts quarterback Peyton Manning facing the same team on which his father Archie starred as the most popular player in franchise history; and 3) the torn ligament in the ankle of Colts standout defensive end Dwight Freeney.

That's it.

With the possible exception of Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey, these appear to be two quiet and humble teams.  Classy and humble teams are boring. A lack of humility (demonstrated ably by Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, Joe Namath, and Hollywood Henderson) makes for a much more exciting time leading up to the game.

So what was everyone blathering about today?

Colin Cowherd complained about the weather.

Scott Van Pelt and Ryen Russillo analyzed Freeney's ankle as long as they could before giving up and talking about how there was nothing to talk about.   It was just as fascinating as you'd think. decided that we needed to learn 18 more things about Peyton Manning.  Trust me, don't read it.  Unless, that is, you'd be stunned to learn that Peyton Manning doesn't get sacked and "doesn't hang around riff-raff."

I know, I'm as shocked as you.

Only four more days of this to go.  How will they ever make it?