Monday, December 17, 2012

Baseball columns and changes

I've enjoyed having "The Baseball Thesaurus" on the front page of this blog for a while, but an update was due.

I'm putting up tabs on the front page of this blog that link to the Thesaurus and also to my baseball columns for BallparkDigest.com and TheGoodPoint.com.

--  An interview I did about writing the Thesaurus.

--  My most recent writings:

The Good Point

*  The newest inductees to the Hall of Fame have all long since passed away.  Why are we enshrining them?
*  The Winter Meetings are a time for shmoozing... and job-seeking.
*  The World Series champion Giants owe their success to a blockbuster acquisition.
*  A salute to home run calls.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Baseball Thesaurus

Thanks to Kevin Reichard and August Publications, I am now officially a published author.

Introducing:

"The Baseball Thesaurus"



Sluggers deposit a Ballantine Blast in the nosebleeds. The top of the lineup sets the table for the heart of the order. Corner infielders guard the line. A lumberjack with a bad wheel staggers down the line while a glovesman flashes leather.
Baseball is a sport with its own lingo — a colorful patois that’s developed over the years and millions of games. In The Baseball Thesaurus, a fascinating compendium of baseball terms, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler — broadcaster, storyteller, talker, voice — explains what baseball terms mean and how they came to be. Whether it’s Red Barber talking about the pea patch or Ernie Harwell discussing no-hitters, the language of America’s Pastime is brilliantly captured by Goldberg-Strassler.
The Baseball Thesaurus is the first book published under the Lineup Books imprint from August Publications, publisher of Websites (ballparkdigest.comspringtrainingonline.com) and books.
“Our goal is to establish a solid book brand for sports fans, with regularly scheduled releases throughout the calendar year,” said publisher Kevin Reichard. “We’re really excited that the first book in the Lineup Books lineup is such a strong, readable and fascinating title.”
The Baseball ThesaurusWho should read The Baseball Thesaurus? It’s for the media linguist whose job relies upon baseball jargon, the radio listener, the blog reader, the talk-show caller, the minor-league diehard, the Strat-O-Matic connoisseur, the seventh-inning stretcher, the stereotype breaker, the crank, the postgame fireworks enthusiast, the t-ball coach, the seamhead, the baseball Annie, the hot-stove moper, the bandwagoner, the purist, the casual rooter who enjoys a quick tidbit and has no need to attend both games of a doubleheader, and the fan who takes pride in scoring the game and teaching the tradition to others.
“For fans old and new, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler’s thesaurus is a romp. On first glance, it’s a primer on baseball’s peculiar taxonomy and traditions, but open any page and you’ll find lots more, including amusing anecdotes and witty wordplay from the game’s great characters. Goldberg-Strassler has built a dugout in which Al Capone, James Earl Jones, and George Carlin lounge happily alongside Dizzy Dean, Cool Papa Bell, and Zoilo Versalles. 
A lollygagger’s delight!” – John Lott, baseball writer, National Post, Toronto

“What an incredible resource – I can’t get over the amount of work – and the detail – that went into this book. A great window on baseball’s lexicon from days of yore to the game today. This book won’t be far from my side next season.” – Dan Dickerson, Voice of the Detroit Tigers

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's a Mitzvah

No sports talk here.

With great respect and enthusiasm, I encourage you to take the time to cast your vote today.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Best of the Pre-Integration Ballot

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced its 10 finalists for the Pre-Integration Ballot yesterday, with the decision to be made by a distinguished panel comprising Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Phil Niekro, Don Sutton, Bill DeWitt, Roland Hemond, Gary Hughes, Bob Watson, Jim Henneman, Steve Hirdt, Peter Morris, Phil Pepe, Tom Simon, Claire Smith, T.R. Sullivan, and Mark Whicker.

Not a bad panel.  (I should point out that I am friends with Peter Morris, whom I believe to be one of baseball's foremost researchers.)

Here are my thoughts.

(Further reading:  Rob Neyer wrote a great piece with a verdict on each nominee as well.)

*

Non-Players

Sam Breadon:  St. Louis Cardinals owner, 1920-1947.  The Cards won a ton while Breadon was in charge, thanks mainly to the brilliance of Branch Rickey.  I am utterly disinterested whether we should give credit to Breadon for hiring Rickey.  Should we care if he's a Hall of Famer?  No.  Unless you're a Cardinals fan, not particularly.  Breadon hired the right people and got out of the way.

Col. Jacob Ruppert:  New York Yankees owner, 1915-1939.  He lucked into Babe Ruth, sure, and he benefitted hugely from executive Ed Barrow and managers Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy, all of them Hall of Famers.  Should we care if he gets inducted?  Just like Breadon, not one bit.  The real reasons the Yankees became a powerhouse are already enshrined.

Hank O'Day:  umpire, 1895-1927.  Made the key call in the famous Merkle's Boner.  Umped 10 World Series, including five of first seven.  He was clearly respected.  Here's the weird thing, though:  There've been a ton of umps already inducted, including his contemporaries, so how come they didn't include Hank?  Should we care?  On paper, Hank O'Day looks like an iconic Hall of Fame umpire.  I just wish we knew why he's not already in.  That's a huge mark against him.

Alfred Reach:  From the Hall of Fame's own description - "Established the A.J. Reach company to produce baseball and other sporting equipment, producing the official baseball of the American League.  From 1883-1989, published "Reach's Official Base Ball Guide,"providing readers with statistics and stories, which served as the official publication of both the American Association and American League."  Well, should we care?  They mean 1889, right?  Anyway, cool story.  Would you really complain if they inducted the guy who provided the official baseball of the American League?  Not me.

***

Players  (This will go quicker)

Bill Dahlen and Deacon White:  Dahlen was a superstar shortstop at the turn of the 19th century.  White was a superstar catcher near the game's beginning who played till he was 42.  If you check this out (near the bottom), Dahlen's Top 10 similarity scores match him with seven Hall of Famers plus Omar Vizquel and Dave Concepcion.  He was sensational.  Meanwhile, the aforementioned Peter Morris dedicated the Afterword in his most recent book, "Catcher," to detailing the Hall of Fame case for the remarkable White.  Do they belong?  Heck yes, a million times yes.

Tony Mullane:   "The Apollo of the Box"!  Great stories about Tony abound, from his racism to his handsomeness to his ambidextrousness.  Should he go to Cooperstown?  Nope.

Marty Marion:  The best defensive shortstop of his era!  (The 1940s)  Hall of Famer?  Not a chance.  Couldn't hit, didn't play long.

Wes Ferrell:  The pitcher who could slug!  Batted .280 with 38 homers.  What do you say?  No, sir.  I know, his brother Rick is in Cooperstown with worse hitting numbers -- and Rick was a catcher! -- but Wes wasn't good enough.  If you check his similarity scores, there's no one close to him who's in the Hall.

Bucky Walters:  He... No.  Really?  Bucky Walters?  Had about four really great seasons out of 19 years in the Majors.  Fine ace for the Reds for a little while, but there's nothing Cooperstownian about him.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Memories of Mike Redmond, Lugnuts manager

A brief timeline of events:

-  Catcher Mike Redmond played in 2010 for the Cleveland Indians, his last season in the Major Leagues.  (Visual evidence:  Mike gets thrown out at first base from the outfield.)

-  In 2011, Mike Redmond was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays to manage their Class-A affiliate in Lansing, Michigan.  The Lansing Lugnuts finished the season 77-60 and persevered their way into the Midwest League Championship Series.  Redmond was named the MWL Manager of the Year.

-  In 2012, Mike moved up to manage Class A-Advanced Dunedin.  The Dunedin Blue Jays went 78-55, first place in the Florida State League North Division, before losing in the FSL semifinals.

-  Today, the Miami Marlins hired Mike Redmond as their new manager.

***

I handle the radio broadcasts and the media relations for the aforementioned Lansing Lugnuts, and so I can tell you a little about my experience with Mike Redmond.

1.  Mike is best friends with former Major Leaguer Mike Lowell.  Wherever he goes, chances are that Lowell will stop by.  Mike Lowell is a fantastic guy.

2.  Redmond has a real quick smile, a sly glint in his eye, a great sarcastic wit, a sharp laugh, and he's terrific with the media.  ESPN's Jayson Stark emailed the Lugnuts at one point about something, and it came out that he's a big Redmond fan.  I would say that Stark has a lot of company in that camp.

3.  On the surface, Red's very much a players' manager.  He's quiet, he enjoys a good time and a good joke, and he sticks up for his guys.  This, however, will change in a hurry (behind closed doors) if his players do not play up to his standards.  Absolutely no one's getting buried in front of the media, but guys certainly will get ripped in the clubhouse.  Mike is subtly intense and his temper will boil.

4.  The naked batting practice story is true.  If you don't know it, google it.

5.  My favorite Redmond story, though, was one he told me while we were sitting in the dugout before a game.  Brad Radke's on the mound, Red behind the plate, with the Twins one strike away from a win -- but Radke is finding it increasingly difficult to put away the last hitter.  Mike Redmond heads out to the mound.  "He can't hit a slider," Red says to Radke.  "I don't throw a slider," says Radke.  "I don't care," says Red.  "He can't hit a slider, so I'm calling for a slider."  Back goes Redmond behind the plate.  He puts down the signal for the slider.  Radke sighs, nods, and throws his best attempt at a slider.  Ballgame.

MLB Free Agents, and Fool's Gold

You'd be hard-pressed to find many high-priced free agents who've earned their exorbitant new salaries over the years.  Last season, if I recall rightly, Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes were the plumb free agents on the market, followed by Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson, and Yu Darvish.  How'd that work out?  Pretty good to fair to middling, right?

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors breaks down his Top 50 list of available free agents this year.  Going over some of the standouts:

(Note:  I love using Baseball-Reference.com's ERA+ to judge pitchers and OPS+ to judge hitters.  Basically, 100 is league average.  The closer you are to 100, the more average you are.  A 140 is great, for instance; a 105 is not.  An 85 is awful.)

* #1, 2, and 3 are Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn.  Each is intriguing.  Each could very well be a significant difference maker in 2013.

Now then...

*  Anibal Sanchez is #4, the second-ranked pitcher, behind Zack Greinke (#1).  Sanchez has a career ERA+ of 110, right in line with his 101 with the Marlins and 113 with the Tigers last year.  Postseason standout, maybe, but regular season fool's gold.

*  B.J. Upton is #5.  Career OPS+:  105.  Last year:  109.  Buyer beware.  Outstanding talent, but each year feels like an increasing disappointment to how good he could be.

*  Nick Swisher is #6.  Let's not forget how he bombed with the White Sox in 2008.  Lack of pressure in the New York Yankees' lineup has made him productive (excluding his miserable postseason play:  .169 career batting average in the playoffs).  I'd highly doubt he goes elsewhere and plays better.

*  Edwin Jackson is #7, apparently destined to continue to pick up one-year pay checks, tantalize, and then move on.  Seriously, I understand why a team would be intrigued -- but is he really anything more than a back-of-the-rotation starter longterm?  The Nationals had it right, give him one year and go from there.

There are some more interesting names, such as Hiroki Kuroda, Kyle Lohse, Shane Victorino, and Adam LaRoche from #9 - #15.

*  Rafael Soriano is #17, ready to serve as the 2013 version of Heath Bell, picking up a hefty paycheck, blowing saves, and souring the clubhouse.  Any team that overpays for Soriano deserves what it gets.

*  Melky Cabrera is #18.  Sell that signing to your fans, especially if he starts the season in a slump.

*  Marco "Blockbuster" Scutaro is #23, one spot behind Cody Ross.  Hey, two postseason heroes from the Giants, each one great in the clubhouse, each one able to give you something, neither one deserving of anything more than a complementary salary at this point in his career.

*  #25 is Joe Saunders.  We are halfway through the list of the top free agents and we've reached a pitcher who gritted through two postseason starts... but he's basically a 4.00 ERA sort of pitcher (and over) with a career ERA+ of 103.  Average pitcher.

Average?  At #25?

Yes, the list takes a severe nose dive from here, including Francisco Liriano, Carlos Villanueva. Joe Blanton, a ton of pitchers coming off surgery, the aging Ichiro, professional hitter Jeff Keppinger, the suddenly hittable Jose Valverde, and, at #50, Jeremy Affeldt.

In conclusion...

Seriously, unless your team conducts a series of major trades (there's talk that the Rays' David Price might hit the market), there's not too much going on in the hot stove department.

Best of luck to whomever decides to throw a ton of money at Josh Hamilton.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The NBA is hopeless... and it doesn't care

The NBA season is one day old, and I am already prepared to confidently tell you:  The Washington Wizards will not win the championship this year.  They will not win the championship next year, either, nor the year after that, and so on.

Miami.  Oklahoma City.  L.A. (Lakers, then Clippers).  Denver.  Chicago with a healthy Derrick Rose.  Those are the championship contenders in the NBA right now.  That is all.

I'll grant an admiring honorable mention to San Antonio, Boston, Minnesota, and Memphis, all of them intriguing, all of them with fire and heart, and I love the passionate West Coast fans of Portland, Sacramento, and Golden State.  These are all bridesmaids, though, not true title threats.

All you want as a fan is hope.

I root for the Washington Redskins; Robert Griffin III gives me hope.  I root for the Washington Capitals; when the NHL returns, the Caps perpetually give me hope.  In baseball, I have assorted interests in the Detroit Tigers, the San Francisco Giants, the Washington Nationals, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Tampa Bay Rays; each of those teams gives me great hope, and then some.

I see no hope with the Washington Wizards.  I see no hope in the NBA.

Here's what we just saw in the completed Major League playoffs:
  • The team with the best record in the MLB, the Washington Nationals, came within one strike of knocking out the defending World Series champs, the St. Louis Cardinals, only to have the Cards conduct a heart-wrenching comeback.
  • One loss away from getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round, the gritty San Francisco Giants stormed back to win three straight games on the Cincinnati Reds' home turf -- and then conducted the feat again, winning three straight elimination games to knock out the Cardinals.
  • 40-year-old Raul Ibanez hit three different dramatic home runs, two to tie games in the ninth, one to win a game in the 12th, to shock the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers.
  • The New York Yankees' historically dominant lineup loaded with Hall of Famers was shut down by a remarkable Tigers pitching staff led by one of the all-time greats in Justin Verlander.
  • The underdog Giants roughed up the mighty Verlander and completed a mesmerizing four-game sweep of the Tigers to win the World Series title.

And all of that without mentioning the stirring Oakland Athletics, the most exciting first-round-and-out team ever.

The NBA wishes it could present such drama.

The 2012 Major League Baseball season delivered three different "Where did they come from?" teams in the Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics, and Washington Nationals; two dangerous up and coming powerhouses in the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves; a team that boasted clearly the top position player and pitcher in the majors in the Detroit Tigers; two fading talent-rich juggernauts in the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers; and the eventual champions of them all, the San Francisco Giants.

For the NBA to experience such a bonanza, we'd need the New Orleans Hornets and Charlotte Bobcats to catch fire, the Miami Heat to show vulnerability, the Houston Rockets to take a major step forward, and we'd need several of the highest profiles favorites to fall on their faces and miss the postseason entirely, a la the Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox.

*

Here's why the NBA doesn't care:

1.  The Tigers/Giants World Series received historically low ratings.
2.  A Heat/Lakers NBA Finals would receive massive ratings.

Game, set, match.

As a fan of the doomed-to-fail Washington Wizards, the only power I have is combining with others to convince owner Ted Leonsis (and his fellow owners) that this system doesn't work.  As long as he thinks it does, the league will keep on keepin' on.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Frustrating news from the NHL

ESPN.com:  As NHL lockout drags, Winter Classic to be canceled, source says

I'm sorry -- that's disastrous.  The NHL and the players cannot let this happen.

There have been plenty of distractions for the casual hockey fan; for me, for example, the foremost item on my viewing agenda recently was the MLB playoffs / World Series.

Now baseball season is over and I'm realizing what my hockey-loving friends have been stressing about all along.  This hockey lockout is no joke and things are dire.  The NHL's top players (Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Kane come to mind first) are finding other rinks on which to spend their time; they know as well as anyone that there's no end in sight.  There could very well not be a 2012-2013 NHL season.

I'm not writing to take sides.

I'm simply writing to say that there better be a good reason canceling the Winter Classic.

With the exception of certain diehard cities, provinces, and states, the NHL has no traction in the sports culture outside of two events:  the Winter Classic on New Year's day and the Stanley Cup playoffs in April/May.  That's it.  Blame this upon whatever you'd like -- lack of coverage, ESPN myopia (or a vendetta after not getting the TV deal), a bias toward football -- but no casual fans care about anything else NHL-oriented.

For the sport to be healthy, the NHL's Winter Classic needs to be the equivalent of the NFL on Thanksgiving, the NBA on Christmas, and Major League Baseball on the 4th of July.

Last year, the NBA worked overtime to cut a deal with the players so they could open the season on Christmas.  It worked, and worked big-time.  If the NHL and its players care, it would do the same for January 1st.

But I just don't see the urgency -- and if they don't care, then neither will I.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Well, that was quick

And just like that, the baseball season is now over.

I am sour on two fronts:  I am a Tigers fan, so that was not the result I was hoping for; I am also a baseball fan, and so I dislike the day after the season ends more than any other day on the calendar.  It's a miserable day.

Things are, I'm sure you know, miserable in a different way, too -- I am watching with concern as Hurricane Sandy (the "Frankenstorm") is tormenting the East Coast.  We in Michigan are safe, but I have many friends and family in the storm's path.  They are prepared for power outages, high winds, torrents of rain, and, further north, blizzards.

It is all enough to make a person forget about an insignificant World Series result.

*

Not enough, however, to forget this:  Congratulations to the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants, a worthy title-holder.  The Giants' pitching was top-notch, their defense was remarkable, and their offense came through when they needed it.  This was a team effort of supremely championship quality.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bizarro World Series

Just because it would be the opposite of everything that has happened already:
  • the umpires will make several key correct calls that stand up under scrutiny
  • the Giants will touch up Justin Verlander
  • Buster Posey will outhit Miguel Cabrera -- at least, early on
  • Marco Scutaro's bat will go quiet
  • Hunter Pence's bat will wake up
  • Alex Avila, Omar Infante and Andy Dirks will outproduce Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta
  • Jose Valverde will pitch more effectively than Phil Coke
And lastly,
  • Everything will hang on Anibal Sanchez vs. Ryan Vogelsong
Here we go...

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sprinting toward the title

It's not about the Detroit Tigers winning the ALCS, is it?  It's about the New York Yankees losing.  On the front page of ESPN.com is a full-blown picture of the forlorn Alex Rodriguez, with links aplenty beneath to assorted "What went wrong?" and "What do the Yanks do now?" types of stories.

And you wonder why intelligent sports fans shake their heads in disgust at ESPN?

(There is also a main mediawall item dedicated toward imagining if LeBron James was a Los Angeles Laker, which is a nice convergence of ESPN loves.  In the same vein, imagine if Tim Tebow were quarterbacking Dallas Cowboys...  Except -- yes, that column has already been written.  Way to go, Yahoo Contributor Network.)

*

Here's the important thing:  The Detroit Tigers are in the World Series, the American League standard bearers in 2012.  Meanwhile, the St. Louis Cardinals topped the San Francisco Giants yesterday and are now a win away from the National League pennant.

Let's remember that these two teams finished the regular season with identical 88-74 records, tied for 11th best in the Major Leagues.  The Tigers' record was enough to win the AL Central, the Cards' record enough to grab the second NL wild card.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays went 90-72 and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were 89-73.  Neither one qualified for the postseason.

There's a baseball cliche that says the season is "a marathon, not a sprint."  Well, no.  The regular season most definitely has its marathon aspects, particularly when the dog days of July and August come around and everyone's energy starts to lag.

The postseason, however, is most certainly a sprint.

The initial round now is a one-game elimination between wild cards.  No marathon there.  The next round is a best-of-five; a team with a true ace, like the Tigers' Justin Verlander, merely needs to ride him onward.  The league championship series stretches to a best-of-seven, but it too can end in a flash, to the bitter disappointment of Yankees fans.  A dramatic ninth inning comeback in Game 1 seemed to give the New Yorkers momentum -- yet their season was over before a full week had passed.  The Giants have found themselves in nearly the same straits, splitting two games at home before falling quickly in two straight at St. Louis.  Today their season is on the line.

There is a roar of protest to lengthen things out, perhaps in turning the initial wild card series into a best-of-three or best-of-five, perhaps in turning the divisional series round into a best-of-seven.  Phooey to that.  If you want to hoist the trophy as the best team in baseball:  Win.  Losing only leaves you with the other also-rans.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Rain, rain

In case you ever wanted a taste of what it's like to work in baseball, here you are:  Our reaction to rain season-round is the same as your reaction to rain in the playoffs.  Rain is a Grinch.  It steals the joy of baseball from us.

The MLB postseason is not the NBA postseason.  There are games virtually every day, with the excusable idle 24 hours for travel, causing a rush of emotions all the way up until the World Series.

There's no time to celebrate a fantastic win -- the Nats and Athletics saw the jubilation of a walk-off win turn into elimination a day later; the Orioles and Yankees traded classic, gut-wrenching triumphs, dispelling any thoughts of momentum.

I can clearly remember two rain-hampered events in relatively recent baseball history:

* The 2008 World Series between Tampa Bay and Philadelphia, with the decisive Game 5 begun on October 27th and concluded on October 29th, sapping the Fall Classic of its dramatic momentum

* The one that frustrated me most as a kid, the 1990 Major League All-Star Game, which never gained a rhythm after a 17-minute rain delay held up the first pitch and a further 68-minute delay interrupted the seventh inning.  I was eight years old, watching from my grandparents' house on Long Island, and I remember being highly upset when the network airing the game, CBS, chose to run "Rescue 911" during the latter rain delay.  I'm not sure I ever realized that the game was being resumed.

I bring all of this up because the Tigers and Yankees were rained out last night.  It's not looking all that great in Detroit today, either, but I'm hoping against hope.

People complain about Christmas-creep, stretching in closer and closer, overtaking Thanksgiving...

This is definitely Grinch-like.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One last word on Stephen Strasburg...

It is a simplistic and misleading argument to suggest that a Nationals team with an active Stephen Strasburg triumphs over the Cardinals.

The Washington Nationals lost their playoff series to the St. Louis Cardinals because:

1)  One of their best pitchers during the regular season, Jordan Zimmermann, was blasted in Game 2.  Whether or not Stephen Strasburg was available for the series, Zimmermann was always going to get a start.

2)  Their offense was shut out in Game 3.  (Perhaps Strasburg could have supplied some offense?)

3)  Their bullpen allowed seven runs in five innings in Game 2, four runs in four innings in Game 3, and six runs in four innings in Game 5.  (Note that Strasburg would have likely pitched only six innings in his start at the most, necessitating a relief effort.)

4)  Their closer was on the mound with two outs, two strikes, and a two-run lead -- and this is a place where any team would want to be, one strike away from advancing.  (Besides, it was inexcusable for the Nats to choose not to intentionally walk Pete Kozma with pitcher Jason Motte waiting on deck, thus keeping the score tied 7-7 en route to the bottom of the ninth.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Learning the wrong lesson from Justin Verlander

Last night, Justin Verlander did something that was just wonderful.

The Old Dominion product struck out 11 Oakland Athletics in a four-hit shutout to launch the Detroit Tigers into the American League Championship Series.

There, say all sorts of seamheads (including me), is an honest to goodness ace.  And, yes, Verlander truly was brilliant, virtually eliminating the A's single-handedly.  Here's the problem, however:  This now convinces all sorts of envious folks that their team needs a #1 pitcher like Justin Verlander, too, if ever they're going to be able to compete.

Well, no.

1)  There are very few Justin Verlanders in this world.  He was selected 2nd overall in the 2004 draft (behind Matt Bush - oy).  He's tall and strong and fiercely competitive and he's stayed healthy.  That's a pitching bingo.

2)  In the playoffs, anyone can pitch like an ace.  Witness the following:  Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Joe Saunders -- lesser-known lights who've gobsmacked a highly-paid, highly-decorated New York Yankees lineup, and this while the Yankees' Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, C.C. Sabathia, and Andy Pettitte have also pitched brilliantly.  Others stepping up:  Oakland's Brett Anderson, Washington's Ross Detwiler, Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo.

3)  Depth is far better than a solitary arm.  It's not Justin Verlander alone that makes the Tigers a World Series contender.  It's Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez, the rest of the starting rotation, each one acquired via trade.  Besides, if not for the shakiness of the Tigers' bullpen, Detroit doesn't even need Verlander to carry them past Oakland.  An unreliable reliever (I'm looking at you, Papa Grande) has a way of canceling out a fantastic starter.

This is the way of the world.  Tom Brady won't win every Super Bowl, LeBron James won't win every NBA title, and we won't all marry Laura Vandervoort.  So what?  Seems to me we can all live pretty happy existences as it is, each one of us finding our recipe toward joy, triumph, and success.

I appreciate Justin Verlander and Miguel Gonzalez in entirely different ways, but I appreciate them both all the same.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Yes, you could just give the Giants credit, but...

Have you ever heard the old sports adage "More games are lost than won"?

Whoever came up with that was a pessimistic chump.

Yes, the coiner of the slogan might say, of course I know that exactly as many games are won as are lost... but more often than not, the loser does something specific to lose the game rather than the winner does something great to win it.

I was rooting for the San Francisco Giants to oust the Cincinnati Reds.  Therefore, it seems clear to me, this was a dramatic comeback from a fiery Giants team, overcoming a 2-0 deficit with three straight wins at Cincy.

Or, you know, you could declare that the Reds collapsed under pressure and choked it away.  Whatever floats your glass-half-empty boat.

I don't mind a Reds fan taking this tact.  I'd expect Reds fans are sick to their stomach right now and are looking for a scapegoat.  If, on the other hand, you did not have a rooting interest in either the Giants or the Reds, why pillory a team at the expense of giving credit to the other?

Credit where credit is due:  Raul Ibanez beat the Orioles last night, followed by the A's rallying back to beat Jose Valverde and the Tigers.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals' offense has solved the Nats' bullpen.

Period.

*

Also, Buster Posey is terrific.  That is all.

Alex Rodriguez is no Raul Ibanez

Alex Rodriguez, statistically, is one of the greatest players in the history of baseball.  In fact, when he retires, there is an excellent argument that, statistically, he'll be one of the top five players ever.

It's necessary to include "statistically" in these statements about A-Rod.

You see, purely anecdotally, he stinks.

Consider:
  • He's paid far too much money.
  • He juiced.
  • He's a Yankee.
  • His own fans hate him.
  • He gets way too much tabloid coverage than he has ever deserved.
  • He can't hit when the chips are down.  (To cherry-pick with a measure of bias:  1-for-14 in the 2006 ALDS vs. Detroit; 4-for-21 in the 2010 ALCS vs. Texas; 2-for-18 in the 2011 ALDS vs. Detroit; 1-for-12 in the 2012 ALDS vs. Baltimore so far, including seven strikeouts.)
I blame the convergence of three things:  1) His contract is outlandish, 2) He's handsome, charismatic, narcissistic, and stupid enough to pile up the perfect gossip-friendly love life, and 3) He's a Yankee.  (When he was a Mariner, who cared?)

As an opposing fan, I love seeing A-Rod at the plate in a crucial spot.  Yankee fans know:  He simply isn't going to come through.

Last night, the Yanks beat the Orioles because Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for A-Rod in the 9th and tied the game with a dramatic homer.  Ibanez then homered again in the 12th to win it.  (As someone who was rooting for the Orioles, this was not fun to watch.)  Yes, Alex Rodriguez statistically is far better than Raul Ibanez -- and yet New York's chances of winning went up exponentially the very moment A-Rod was taken out of the game.

There is no way to sensibly rationalize this:  The historically talented Alex Rodriguez is detrimental to his team's success.  He's one of the greatest players ever -- and you'd never want him on your team.

Our grandchildren, pouring over the stats on their new sabermetric-friendly iPhone 25, will never believe us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Money doesn't talk, it swears

If you'd like to see which sports teams and leagues are the most profitable, look to the TV deals.  As for stadiums, well, don't look there.  Read Neil deMause's (unprinted) op-ed on Nationals Park.

Here's my Good Point essay on the same tact, opining why a high-paid ballplayer is a good thing and a high-cost stadium is not.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why is the Triple Crown so damn cool?

by Keaton Cory

Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown has now sunk in to me.  The brodacious t-shirts are printed.  We will see those shirts worn by diehard Tigers fans for years. That is the kind of shirt my future unborn children would be stoked to find in a box that was lost and forgotten in my future basement.

I’ve read a handful of "The Triple Crown is Nonsense" type articles recently. I disagree. There’s so much sense in the Triple Crown. I love it and think it is one of the coolest accomplishments in the game. There is the distinct possibility that we never see this feat happen in our lifetimes again.

Brian Kenny’s “nonsense” article lays out a well-researched and thoughtful argument, though the headline is a bit of a reach because Kenny says he loves the place the Triple Crown has in baseball history. If something has a meaningful place in baseball history, it cannot be nonsense.

One argument is that batting average, home runs and runs batted in are a silly grouping of three stats. Why are these clearly flawed and seemingly random numbers the ones we choose to measure offensive greatness? We have the power to pick three other stats that tell the story better.

Personally, I love these three stats together. AVG, HR and RBI are the headline to a monster offensive season. They grab your attention by screaming “Hey! This guy just had a gargantuan year at the plate!” We will never see a fluky Triple Crown winner. If someone leads the league in those three categories there is no doubt that this guy was one of the best in the league that season.

The Triple Crown is won with help from your teammates, skill and a little luck. When you combine those three ingredients just right during the six-month season, the summer becomes special.

The sabermetrics and more complex stats are the details to the story of Miggy’s 2012. They tell you why he was such a bro king at the plate.

The Triple Crown stats are an effective headline because they cut through all of the bull and tell you about Miggy’s production. Plain and simple, I know that he mashed 44 dingers and I know that Cabrera is directly responsible for 139 of the runs that the Tigers scored this season. I do not care how he drove those runs in. Once you have reached the big leagues, wins jump to your number one priority. When you are climbing the ladder of the minor leagues, winning is cool but priority #1 is player development.

If I am a Tigers fan the most important thing to me is that Detroit scores more runs than the other team. Whether Cabrera hits a tape measure bomb or taps a little swinging bunt that goes 14 feet to drive in Austin Jackson from third, I am going to be up and cheering regardless. I cheer for production.

We celebrate the Triple Crown like we celebrate when someone hits for the cycle, goes 6-for-6 or tosses a perfect game. It is a wonderful accomplishment that feels special.

Unfortunately for Tigers fans, the Triple Crown does not guarantee the MVP award just like throwing a perfect game does not make you a shoe-in for the Cy Young.

When we look back at this year in the history books one of the first talking points of Mike Trout’s 2012 MVP campaign will be… “He was so good that year that he beat out Miggy for the MVP even though Cabrera got the Triple Crown that season.”

Because all Triple Crown discussions lead to AL MVP arguments, I think Mike was the most VALUABLE player this season and I think the voters will see that.

For the record though, the Triple Crown is wayyyy cooler than the MVP and I would, beyond all doubt, trade an MVP for a Triple Crown.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Wide Open

ESPN has a ton of baseball experts.  ESPN asked these baseball  experts to pick the Major League playoffs.  They came back with eight different World Series winners.

That's remarkable.

Usually, you'll hear about eight different potential World Series winners at the start of the season.  Not at the start of the playoffs.  Not when only 10 teams even make the playoffs.

Everyone but the Cardinals was picked in the National League (though Mark Simon did pick them to make the World Series).  Everyone but the Orioles was picked in the American League.

Do you remember when the big criticism with baseball was unbalance?  At the start of the season, it was sneered, we know exactly who's going to make the playoffs and exactly who won't.  Plus, the Yankees were buying every big talent in sight -- it was awful.  Most of the teams simply didn't have a chance to compete.

Boom.  Solved.

(Almost.  There are avenues still to be crossed, but at least they're making inroads.)

Here's the playoff lineup:

The American League
  • The New York Yankees, the traditional powerhouse and bully
  • The Baltimore Orioles, the longtime doormat with newfound magic
  • The Detroit Tigers, possessing the Major Leagues' best pitcher and best hitter
  • The Oakland Athletics, the sizzling, low-salaried, anonymous underdog
  • The Texas Rangers, the back-to-back World Series runner-up


The National League
  • The Washington Nationals, the surprising upstarts built on starting pitching
  • The Atlanta Braves, the 1990s dynasty with a remarkable new group of arms
  • The Cincinnati Reds, all-around excellence with an unhittable young closer
  • The St. Louis Cardinals, the defending World Series champions
  • The San Francisco Giants, the 2010 champs, who simply find ways to win

*

5:07 p.m.:  St. Louis Cardinals at Atlanta Braves
8:07 p.m.:  Baltimore Orioles at Texas Rangers

Let's get it on.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I like Mike

After watching the debate last night, I've come to a decision:

I'm voting Mike Trout for American League MVP.

Well, okay, I'm not really voting.  I don't have a vote.  Still, this seems to me to be an issue that an educated baseball fan should take a side on, much like Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame, steroids and the Hall of Fame, and the Designated Hitter.  Now I've got my side.

Before I give you specific reasons why I support Trout, I'll offer up my first piece written for Ballpark Digest, The Official American League MVP debate.  I think it states both sides pretty succinctly.

(My opinions, in order:  Put him in, but write about the gambling on his plaque.  Bonds - yes, Clemens - yes, Sosa and Palmeiro - no.  Get rid of it.)

*

Following the actual presidential debate, political pundits struck me as disturbingly similar to ESPN's cast of sports analysts, experts, and insiders.  There were a whole lot of words being spoken, but there wasn't a whole lot being said.  Worse, the pundits are immediately gratingly arrogant in the clueless Skip Bayless/Stephen A. mold.  Every word they speak is the gospel truth... so why aren't you taking notes?  (Or, better yet, kissing their feet?)

It does not help that their language is rooted in hyperbole.  Every moment could be crucial.  With a poor performance, Mitt Romney could have lost the Presidency last night.  Instead he remade himself.  (In much the same vein, I think I heard that the next Dallas Cowboys loss may very well prove the end of the franchise's playoff hopes this season -- and perhaps the end of the franchise entirely.)

My vote is locked in -- I know exactly who my chosen candidate is and I greatly doubt anything from this point out will dissuade me.

Still, I watch... because you never know, right?

*

Weird theory:  Allegedly, Abraham Lincoln spoke in a relatively high-pitched voice, far removed from any of the dramatically baritone recitations of the Gettysburg Address you'll hear today.  No wonder Stephen Douglas beat him in 1858.  (I bet the Skip Baylesses of the day went around crowing from local mountaintops while the political sabermetrics people were outraged.  Seriously, who was better at WAR than Abraham Lincoln?)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

King of the Mountain

The last day of the Major League Baseball regular season, not unlike the last day of the school year, carries great relief for some and great excitement for others.

Last year's final day of the regular season was, unanimously, The Greatest Regular Season Day in Baseball History, with the Cardinals leapfrogging the Braves in the National League while the Orioles, Yankees, and Rays conspired to break Red Sox hearts in the American League (and how awesome was that?).

This year, today, we'll have:

3:35 p.m:  Oakland Athletics vs. the Texas Rangers, AL West title to the victor
7:00 p.m.:  Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays / New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox; an Oriole win and a Yankee loss would tie the teams for the AL East title and force a one-game playoff

Bring it, and then bring on the playoffs, starting with a crazy one-game Wild Card matchup on Thursday.

I'm psyched.

*

Baseball is on top of the sports mountain right now.  It's being played at a high quality by a high number of teams unencumbered by salary restrictions or imbalances.  The Yankees and Orioles are even; the Athletics and Rangers are even; the Giants are better than the Dodgers.

This is fantastic.

Consider:
  • The NHL is in lockout.
  • The NBA has several dynamic, star-loaded teams, so it's pretty darn awesome in Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City, and Chicago, to a lesser extent in Denver, San Antonio, and Boston, and maybe Minnesota three years down the line.  Otherwise, feh.
  • The NFL is dealing with scandal after scandal, from bounties to replacement refs, and 99% of its headlines deal with injuries.  That's seriously awful -- forget rooting for a team, root for good health!  The Jets' season has been torpedoed already by injuries to Darrelle Revis, the league's best cornerback, and Santonio Holmes, the team's best receiver.  My Redskins lost their best defensive end, Brian Orakpo, and best defensive tackle, Adam Carriker, for the season - and that was in one game alone.  Injuries crush a sport, and no athletes get injured like NFL athletes.
Consider, too:
  • The NFL has Tim Tebow, a divisive figure who causes football fans to argue over whether he's any good or whether he just stinks.
  • Major League Baseball has Mike Trout, a divisive figure only in that he causes baseball fans to argue, "Yes, he's good -- but is he as good as Miguel Cabrera this year?"
In 2011, even beyond the remarkable last day of the regular season, baseball showcased a tremendous postseason capped with a World Series for the ages between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers.

In 2012, the game has continued its excellence:  seven no-hitters; Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown campaign; outstanding rookie debuts from Trout and Bryce Harper; the heart-warming emergence of 37-year-old knuckleballing R.A. Dickey; the first official at-bat for Adam Greenberg; utterly magnificent catches by Trout and the Pirates' Travis Snider; and playoff invitations for the surprising Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.

It's a fine time to be a fan of the national pastime.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Champagne Showers

From 2006 through 2008, I broadcasted for three consecutive league champions.  In the process, I bathed in six different champagne celebrations, much like the ones the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, and Oakland Athletics all enjoyed last night.

It's a singular experience.  It never gets old.

A champagne shower features the best kind of madness.  Everyone is euphoric, and it's all the more heightened by sharing it with the guys who've shared the past exhausting, taxing, challenging months at your side -- and it's all been worth it.

In the midst of the shower, bear hugs and high praise are given out freely; the compliments you receive in a champaign shower come from that place in the heart only reachable in times of great joy and drunkenness.

Standing 5'7 (or perhaps 5'6 and a half) in the midst of a room filled with six-footers, I have had champagne poured on my head and down my face and back, and since I wasn't wearing goggles, it swept burningly into my eyes.  And so there I stood, my hair and shirt soaked, my arms raised high in the air, laughing and shouting, my eyes tightly closed.  If I wanted to imagine it, I might have been all alone in my exultation.  But no one is alone in a champagne shower -- it's an individual memory that belongs to the team.

Those memories will keep me company for decades to follow.

*

My favorite MLB champagne shower moment belongs to Kenny Rogers, 2006, Detroit Tigers starting pitcher, bringing champagne out and pouring drinks for all of the security guards and police officers at Comerica Park.  A celebration really is about shared joy.

*

I am, mostly, a non-drinker.  (I would love to acquire a taste for wine, but it hasn't happened yet.)  I do not imbibe at a champagne shower anything more than what is poured on my head and finds its way into my mouth.

It is an idle fantasy of mine, following a champagne shower, to be pulled over by a random police check.  Then, smelling alcohol all over me, the officer asks me to step out of the car, breathe into the breathalyzer, walk a straight line, and say the alphabet.  I pass with flying colors, smile from ear to ear, and wish the officer well before driving away.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chokers

Let's talk, briefly, about the Ryder Cup.

Personal outrage has a way of simmering beneath the surface, waiting for days or weeks to boil over and taking a great long while to heal.  Sports outrage is the opposite.  It comes out of nowhere, erupting passionately, and then tends to disappear when you're not paying attention, rather like hiccups.

That was the referee lockout:  We were irate about the replacement refs, and then the lockout ended, the real refs came back, and we've all moved on.

The U.S. choked away the Ryder Cup, blowing a 10-6 lead entering Sunday.  Our reaction, day by day:

Friday - Hey, look, the Ryder Cup's started.  Cool.
Saturday - Who's winning?  The U.S.?  10-6?  Awesome, go U.S.
Sunday - Europe won?!?!?  Chokers!

For a brief moment, we were upset.  What happened?  (I'm listening to the Tony Kornheiser Radio Show right now and he and Michael Wilbon are killing the U.S. team and the state of golfing in the U.S. in general.)

We have been similarly short-term outraged in recent weeks and months by...
  • Stephen Strasburg's shutdown
  • Melky Cabrera possibly winning the NL batting title
  • The Miguel Cabrera/Mike Trout MVP conversation
  • The NFL bounty scandal
  • NBC's tape-delayed Olympics
Eh, we'll all forget about this by Tuesday, and U.S. golf will be just fine.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What now?

The Lugnuts' baseball season is over, which means...

The field is quiet.

The Lugnuts sales staff is leaping into action!  Sales training is in full force, and Ben is busy making promotional sheets for all of the new promos we're going to unveil heading into next year.  (I've seen the plan.  A tease:  there's a certain day of the week that is going to be simply bonkers.)  This is seriously the busiest time of year for the sales department, and they work their hearts out.

Midwest League Manager of the Year John Tamargo, Jr., his coaches, and the Lugs' key young prospects head to the "Instructional League," (or "Instructs") gathering with the other coaches and top prospects in the system in Dunedin, Florida, in order to work on drills and specific skills before everyone returns to their families, tired and accomplished.

The rest of the Lugnuts head back home, where the priorities are 1) sleep, 2) sleep some more, 3) find a job (Shawn Griffith delivered pizzas last year), 4) work towards a Bachelor's degree, 5) work out and get stronger/fitter/faster heading into next season.  Some players, like Aaron Sanchez and Kenny Wilson, work out with fellow players.  Others, like Jason Lebleblijian, have their own private facilities (in Jason's case, a warehouse).

Broadcasters Keaton Gillogly and I are done, though you'll hear us both on the radio from other arenas.  Keaton is the new voice of Michigan State women's basketball and volleyball.  I'll be on 92.1 FM Big Country calling high school football games come October.  This blog will also be converted back into my own general thoughts about sports rather than on specific Lugnuts topics.  (Psst:  I might have a book coming out soon, too.)

And Director of Marketing Lauren Truax is leaving the Lugnuts for Texas, due in part to upcoming nuptials.  We are not happy to see her go, though we are very happy for everything else in her life.  She'll be tremendously missed.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Your guide to the upcoming MWL Postseason

Potential Matchups

*  The Lugnuts are in the playoffs, the 1st half Eastern Division champions.
*  Bowling Green qualified as a wild card in the 1st half.

Bowling Green will therefore face the top 2nd half Eastern Division playoff qualifier, Lansing will face the second qualifier.

To make things clearer:

Current Playoff Standings
(5 games remaining)

1.  Lake County...     36-29

2.  Fort Wayne...      35-30
-   West Michigan...   34-31

As of right now, the 1st round of the playoffs would feature Bowling Green/Lake County and Lansing/Fort Wayne.  (West Michigan, by the way, is currently facing Fort Wayne.  If the Whitecaps take care of business, they'll leapfrog their way into the playoffs.)


Playoff Schedule

The 1st round and 2nd round are best-of-3 series.  The Championship Series is best-of-5.  The schedule of potential games...

Monday, September 3rd:  Final day of the regular season:  Fan Appreciation Day!
Tuesday, September 4th:  Off day.

1st round

Wednesday, September 5th:  Game 1, 1st round, road
     * The Lugnuts will play this game either at Lake County, Fort Wayne, or West Michigan.
Thursday, September 6th:  Game 2, 1st round, home
     *  Thirsty Thursday, with $2 beer/pop and The Verve Pipe postgame concert!
Friday, September 7th:  if necessary, Game 3, 1st round, home

2nd round

Saturday, September 8th:  Game 1, road
Sunday, September 9th:  Game 2, home
Monday, September 10th:  if necessary, Game 3, home

Championship Series

Wednesday, September 12th:  Game 1 at Western Division team.
Thursday, September 13th:  Game 2 at Western Division team.
Saturday, September 15th:  Game 3 at Eastern Division team.
Sunday, September 16th:  if necessary, Game 4 at Eastern Division team.
Monday, September 17th:  if necessary, Game 5 at Eastern Division team.

Any questions?


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Q & A


Q:  What's wrong with Aaron Sanchez?
A:  Adversity amid the season.  Happens to everyone.  Carry on.

Q:  What happened to Carlos Perez and David Rollins?
A:  Traded to Houston and we wish them well.  It came as equally stunning news to all of us.

Q:  Are Shane Opitz and Andy Fermin a better double play duo than Andy Burns and Jon Berti?
A:  Not offensively.  Defensively?  Yes, I think they are.  Consider that Opitz has turned exactly as many double plays (36) as Burns in 12 fewer games, while Fermin is averaging 1.05 double plays per game compared to Berti's 0.57 mark.

Q:  Who hits the longest home runs, Kevin Patterson or anyone else?
A:  Ask a tougher question.

Q:  Are you listening to "Around the Nest"?
A:  Every Friday, 5-6 p.m.!

Q:  Will this Lugnuts team win the 2012 Midwest League Championship?
A:  Tough to tell.  They'll have a shot, but they need to shore up the bullpen first.

Q:  What makes Kipp Schutz so awesome?
A:  Besides "Trickwinkle"?  You'll have to ask him.

Q:  Fill in the blank:  Blake McFarland is ____.
A:  Impossible to bring up around scouts.  They laugh, scoff, snort, and change the subject -- compared to the rave reviews they offer about, say, Great Lakes relievers Jose Dominguez and Juan Rodriguez and Yimi Garcia, who light up the radar guns and also do things like walk seven straight batters and blow leads.  Yes, we understand, Blake's Major League future is much dimmer than a guy who can throw 98 mph.  We simply prefer the guy who grits his way through five more shutout innings and gives his team everything he's got.  Whatever happens from here, we've loved having Blake McFarland on the Lugnuts.

Q:  Who is the Lugnuts' X-Factor?
A:  Michael Crouse.  He hits homers, steals bases, draws walks, makes eye-opening catches, and delivers cannon throws from the outfield.  When he's on, he changes the game.  When he's off, he's a hole in the lineup.

Q:  Is this the final question?
A:  Yes... for now.

Marathon


There were 28 runs scored, 15 by Bowling Green batters.  19 position players took part in the game; only one, Andy Fermin, did not score a run.  Fermin didn't start the game, by the way.

There were 39 hits, 22 by Lansing batters.  19 position players took part in the game; only one, Andy Fermin, went hitless.

There were 24 strikeouts, 13 by Hot Rods pitchers.  There were 13 walks, 12 by Lugnuts pitchers.

There were four blown saves, two by each team.

Here were the sorts of twists and turns we experienced:
  • Two batters into the game, the Hot Rods led 2-0 on a Jake Hager home run off Aaron Sanchez.
  • The Lugnuts immediately countered with two runs in the bottom of the 1st, and then scored six more runs in the 2nd inning, capped by a Kevin Patterson home run.  8-2, hometown heroes.
  • Stymied by Sanchez from the 2nd through the 4th innings, Bowling Green loaded the bases in the 5th on a trio of walks.  Bryan Longpre came in from the bullpen... and allowed all three runs.  8-5, Lugs.
  • Longpre gave up two more runs in the 6th before he was chased in favor of Phil Brua.  8-7, Lugs.
  • A sacrifice fly ties the game in the 7th against Brua.  8-8.
  • A Juniel Querecuto error in the 8th gives Lansing the lead back.  9-8, Lugs.
  • The Hot Rods crush Kramer Champlin in the 9th to the tune of four more runs.  Stunningly, it is now 12-9, Bowling Green.
  • In the bottom of the 9th, K.C. Hobson singles, Michael Crouse singles, and Kevin Patterson whomps a three-run homer way out to right.  12-12.  Seriously?  We play onward.
  • The 10th inning passes uneventfully.
  • With two outs in the 11th, Hobson drops Gustavo Pierre's throw on what should be an inning-ending groundout.  Juniel Querecuto scores.  13-12, Hot Rods.  Surely that must be it.
  • In the bottom of the 11th, Patterson strikes out, Chris Schaeffer grounds out, and Chris Peters grounds to third -- but Querecuto's throw is a poor one, and the Lugnuts still have life.  Shane Opitz promptly drills a game-tying triple to right-center.  Because, you know, why not?  13-13.
  • A scoreless 12th inning.
  • Aleson Escalante runs into trouble in the 13th inning.  A bunt single and walk put two runners on, though left fielder Peters grants Escalante a reprieve by grabbing a single from Querecuto and throwing out Drew Vettleson at the plate.  A walk later, however, and the bases are loaded.  Ryan Brett bloops a fly toward shallow right, Chris Hawkins gets a late break on it, and the ball dies for a fluke two-run double.  15-13, Hot Rods.
  • In the bottom of the 13th, Michael Crouse grounds out, Kevin Patterson strikes out, and Chris Schaeffer flies out.  Ballgame.
There is no momentum in baseball.  There is most certainly a hangover effect.  On the bright side, it was a day game.  Plenty of time for the players to shower and sleep and recharge their batteries for the rest of the series.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Around the Nest

Let me draw your attention here:

"Around the Nest"


Dunedin's Craig Durham and I put together a weekly Blue Jays Minor League Talk Show, featuring the voices of the system.  It airs every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. Eastern, as we take calls, answer Twitter questions, and generally talk Jays prospects.

To learn more, go to jaytalkin.blogspot.com.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Winning now

I am not a scout, and for that I am thankful.

A scout, looking at the Lugnuts' 4-0 shutout victory on Friday, might make a small note about Tyler Ybarra or scrawl a comment with regard to K.C. Hobson, but the game as a whole means nothing.

That game meant something to me.

The Lugnuts' Blake McFarland, Ybarra, and Brandon Berl, received by expert signal-caller Aaron Munoz, stared plainly in the face of the top scoring team in the league, a team that had steamrolled Aaron Sanchez and three relievers for 15 runs the previous day, and held their mighty offense scoreless.

This was a win.

Scouts perpetually ask who I believe are the top Lugnuts prospects; this is not the same at all as asking who are the top Lugnuts players.  They want to know who can impact a Major League roster, who would be worth trading for, and whether the Blue Jays are a team worth considering.

My answer to the scouts:  Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino.

As for the answer to my own question -- Who can the ailing Lugnuts count on if they are going to keep winning? -- I received a quartet of answers last night against Quad Cities, and I do not doubt that more answers will be provided in the upcoming weeks.

The scouts care about next year, two years from now, three years from now.

I care about 2012, and so do these Lugnuts.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ups and Downs

In late June a little more than halfway through your season, you and your team hit the bus for a six-game road trip.

It starts with a bad day -- 0-for-4, two strikeouts
Followed by another poor evening – 0-for-3, three weak groundouts
Followed by a subpar afternoon in the series finale – 0-for-3, one walk
0-for-10 in the three-game series

And the slump has begun.

Remember that comfy .305 batting average? Time to say good-bye to that.
Remember that overflowing confidence? It has run out.
Remember the loose and fun loving demeanor you had before each at-bat? It has tightened up.

The road trip continues with a new three-game series in a different city…
Game one -- 0-for-4, a line out to the shortstop, three groundouts
Game two -- 0-for-3, sacrifice fly, two groundouts, strikeout
Game three -- 0-for-4, three strikeouts, deep fly ball to the centerfield warning track
0-for-11in the three-game series; 0-for-21 on the six-game road trip

Time to return home. You know your batting average has dipped to .282 because you saw it on the 25x50 foot scoreboard in your final at-bat the night before. You think to yourself “Do they have to show that to everyone in the stands?” It is still a respectable number but you know it is trending downward.

Over the last few days you have watched extra tape of your swing with the hitting coach. You see yourself late on the fastball and early on the breaking ball. Your stride and your hands and your hips are all firing at different times. You watch a curve ball drop into the strike zone… strike three. You see yourself go flailing after a fastball out of the zone and tap it weakly back to the pitcher.

Although you are not a self-described superstitious man you have found yourself trying to appease the baseball Gods by changing up a few things… it can’t hurt right? You bought a new pair of batting gloves; no hits in those. You tried a new bat; no hits in there either. You slept with your head at the foot of your hotel bed; didn’t find any hits there either.

On the phone your mother and girlfriend tell you to keep your head up; it’s only a game after all. Your father asks you if you are keeping your hands back.

The homestand begins…

Game one – 0-for-2, walk, hit-by-pitch, two fly outs, run scored
You hit the ball hard today. The left fielder made a diving catch and a line drive to center was knocked down by the wind. “Probably would have gotten out on a different day,” you mumble under your breath while jogging back to the dugout.
0-for-23 this week; .280 batting average

Game two – 0-for-3, walk, strikeout, lineout, groundout
In the eighth inning you hit a fastball right on the screws but directly at the first baseman. Two feet to the left or two feet to the right and you would have driven in the two runners on base at the time.
0-for-26 in the last eight games; .277 batting average

Game three – It’s the rubber match of a three-game series tonight. Your round of batting practice felt strong this afternoon. The ball is really carrying today. You encourage yourself before the game, “Good things are going to happen tonight.”

Your first at-bat comes in the first inning with two-outs and two-runners on. With a 2-and-2 count you get a cutter in on the hands. You make contact and your bat breaks. Running to first your hands are stinging while you watch the flight of the ball the whole way. Is it hit hard enough? Is that pesky little second baseman going to get there? Will you be robbed again?

He dives in shallow right field but he comes up short. The ball finds the grass. Both runs score and your team leads 2-0. You breathe a sigh of relief. A HIT. TWO RBI. Your first base coach comes over and slaps you on the back side accompanied by an “atta baby.”

1-for-1 today.

Final stat line in the series finale: 2-for-4, single, double, three RBI, two runs scored.
2-for-4 tonight;. 283 batting average

You are excited to answer your father’s call after the game. Your jokes are a little funnier that night while eating a surprisingly delicious supreme pizza with a couple of teammates at the local Italian joint in town. That old mattress of yours seems extra cozy that evening.

The slump is over. You have a new series starting tomorrow. You made it through a down. Let’s see how long you can make this up last.