The Boston Red Sox have closed the gap on the New York Yankees in the AL East thanks to a horrid road trip for the Bronx Bombers, but all that hope and expectation coming out of the Red Sox camp must be met with shifty eyes and sweaty palms as they have won, but not really been good in doing so. The Sox have received timely hitting, which has helped with a couple single digit victories over the last stretch, but they’ve needed it as oft-dependable pitchers like Rick Porcello and David Price have had rough season so far (Price’s season has been truncated by a stint on the DL to start it). Just as the hitting has started to come around (despite a black hole at third base…that could have been filled by Brewers All Star Travis Shaw…remember him, he wore red socks last year) one would hope that the pitching follows suit. Chris Sale has been everything one could hope for in a big name trade acquisition, not allowing the bright lights and high level competition of the AL East dampen his dominance, but Rodriguez is hurt and Pomeranz has been okay…much better than he was last year, but just okay so far.
The Yankees are hitting that rough patch that you would expect from a young team that’s playing a lot of meaningful ball together for the first time. They have been frontrunners all season with a lot of hype, both in New York City and beyond, undoubtedly making its way to their eyes and ears. Could some of that be coloring the way the boys in pinstripes see themselves? Especially the youngsters? There’s no doubt that Girardi will get this straightened out, and with Chapman coming off the DL, he’ll have his closer back as well. I fully expect the Yankees and Red Sox to duke it out for AL East supremacy for the rest of the year, like the good old days.
Tampa, an afterthought when the season began, has charged to third place in the East. They are one good run away from first place for a team that many thought would bring up the rear this year. Kevin Cash deserves a lot of credit for turning things around after Joe Maddon left and weathering the storm that brought. While I don’t think Tampa will challenge all year, eventually they’ll fall back a bit, they will make it interesting.
Baltimore was on fire to start the season, making my compatriot Justin look like Nostradamus with his prediction that they would win the AL East. After their scintillating start, however, they have fallen off a cliff. The Orioles are still within spitting distance of first place, and are sitting with a .500 record, showing just how tenuous the grip on first is in the East this year.
That brings us to Toronto, who should have been dead in the water after an abysmal start to the season. Instead of hanging their head and packing it in for next year, they went on a run and are currently hovering right around .500 as well, within a good two week stretch of first place.
A few years ago, the AL East was a beautiful mess, much like it is now. It provides for great baseball (and many ulcers for the fans of the respective teams) and a competitive atmosphere well into the late summer months. This is what good baseball is all about and should be a lot of fun to keep any eye on throughout the rest of the year.
After hitting home run #599, our minds were reminded of Albert Pujols.
Has our view of Pujols’ all-time greatness been diminished over the last several years?
|New York Yankees||21||10|
|Boston Red Sox||17||15|
|Tampa Bay Rays||16||19|
|Toronto Blue Jays||12||21|
This is pretty much how things were supposed to shake out, right? Wrong! Sure, Baltimore was supposed to make a play for the top, but no one expected the Jays to be this bad, the Yankees to be this good, and the Sox to be this…meh.
Look Out For:
Boston’s bats could come alive as the temperature warms and could propel them (along with the return of David Price) into a first place grudge match with the O’s.
|Chicago White Sox||15||16|
|Kansas City Royals||12||20|
After a slow start, Cleveland has taken over the top spot in the Central but the competition is apparently better than ever in that division. Minnesota is surprising everyone at the moment, but can they keep this momentum through a whole season?
Look Out For:
Detroit is always a threat. They may be hovering around .500 right now, but they can get hot quickly and make this a two team divisional race through the dog days of summer.
|Los Angeles Angels||17||18|
Houston is showing that last year’s floundering was a fluke, and look at this, the Angels are playing decent baseball! Don’t bet the farm on the Halos in the postseason, which begs the question, how many more years do they hold on to Trout before turning him into all the prospects?
Look Out For:
Seattle certainly has the star power to make a run, but they haven’t been able to put everything together. Is this the season they finally figure it out?
|New York Mets||16||16|
While the Mets continue to self destruct, the Nationals are cruising. The Marlins were supposed to be better than this and turn this division into a three-team race. I’m sure the Nationals are glad they’re reverting to their traditional Marlin ways.
Look Out For:
It doesn’t look like much will change in this division barring catastrophic injury. Watch the Mets continue to sink as the year goes along. Can the Phillies or Marlins make a push? I doubt it, but crazier things have happened.
|St. Louis Cardinals||18||14|
Cincinnati is holding strong after a blistering start, and the Cardinals are perched right where you would expect them. The Cubs are as underwhelming a defending champion as I can remember.
Look Out For:
I have faith that the Cubs will figure it out and get at least near the top of the division by the end of the season. The Brewers are a great story so far, but they probably don’t have enough to contend yet. Cincinnati is an even better story, but it’s hard to imagine them leapfrogging either St. Louis or Chicago by season’s end.
|Los Angeles Dodgers||19||14|
|San Diego Padres||13||21|
|San Francisco Giants||11||
What the hell happened to the Giants!? I’m sure the Dodgers are glad to see them well in their rearview mirror, but with Colorado flying high (all props to my partner Justin calling that one) it feels like LA just can’t win.
Look Out For:
I’d like to say San Francisco, but they may be too far back already. Arizona could make a late push if they keep it up, but it feels like a two team race between LA and Colorado right now.
When I read the headline that stated that racial slurs and peanuts were hurled at Adam Jones, my first thought was “Pacman Jones? Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.” Was that the correct response to these allegations, even if they were leveled at a horrible person like Pacman? Probably not. Was it even the right Adam Jones? Nope, not at all. Upon actually reading the article and finding out the particulars (Jones, the outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles was verbally, and in the case of the peanuts, physically accosted during the game on Monday night as he was in centerfield) it filled me with disappointment. Disappointment in us as human beings.
First of all, you can hate Adam Jones, or players on opposing teams all you want (especially those in pinstripes) but sports are supposed to bring us together. For three hours on a Monday night, everyone at Fenway Park was able to put aside thoughts of their impending bills, their troubles at work, or the issues their kids are having at school. You can be the biggest asshole in the world, but when you step through the gates of any sports arena in the country, there is a code. Be decent, enjoy the game, realize that if your team wins, there will be thousands of people there to celebrate with and if they lose you will have thousands of people all feeling the same disappointment. There is a certain brotherhood to having a favorite team. You may not know someone, but if you pass that individual in the grocery store and you’re both sporting the same “colors” you’ll most likely get at least a head nod of acknowledgement, if not an actual conversation.
By acting like an asshole, by throwing racial slurs at a guy that’s really just out there trying to do his job, by literally throwing objects at him, you have broken the code. Let’s not even bring into the equation that the Red Sox have two of the more prominent black players in the league in Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. No one was throwing slurs at them, were they? That means that maybe the individuals in question weren’t actually a racist, but their smack talk game is so weak they had to go for the low hanging fruit, like someone’s skin color. As someone that loves a good insult, that offends me.
Let’s also talk about the security situation at Fenway. How was this allowed to happen? I have sat in the center-field bleachers at Fenway Park. I love it out there, actually. But one thing you notice out there is that there are ushers/security individuals patrolling right along the railing, making sure that no one gets too close or goes over onto the field. Obviously, I know that things happen, that even seasoned security guards can miss things, and we’ve seen plenty of examples of fans on the field of many sporting events as proof of that. If Jones could hear multiple people hurling racial epithets at him, I feel like it’s something that security could have heard as well. Yes, it may have been hard to pick out who actually did it, but after hearing it once, that should put the guards on high alert and when it happens again, they should be ready to act appropriately. This was a failure of the security personnel and a failure of humanity.
I did read that the individual that threw the peanuts was ejected, which is a good thing. While I don’t agree with Jones that someone should be fined tens of thousands of dollars for that, I can see where a more appropriate punishment would be appropriate. An arrest for assault, or attempted assault maybe? Something on an individual’s record branding them would be fairer than docking someone an entire year’s salary.
In summary, we can do better, plain and simple, as human beings. I may be a grumpy son of a bitch, but I know when I walk through the gates at Fenway Park, or wherever, that there is a level of public expectation, of human expectation. If you can’t live by the code, you can’t participate, that’s it, no argument, no discussion. If you’re going to come to a ballpark and the best insult you can hurl at the opposing players is based on their skin color, you don’t belong there. Frankly, you don’t belong anywhere.
For every team, in every sport, there is what is called the “window”. This is the time period which the team has to win a championship with its current crop of players, often before blowing the team up and starting over. Some teams can circumvent that window through personnel moves, coaching and exceptional star talent (the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs come to mind). However, most teams have a window that coincides with the prime of their star player. How good do you think the Golden State Warriors will be once the trio of Klay, Steph and Draymond all age out of their prime? Another factor to consider is the talent around your division. The window for the Dallas Cowboys is right now if they want to retain dominance in the NFC East. The other teams are either old (the Giants), young (the Eagles) or the Redskins (the…uh…Redskins).
So the question is have the Washington Nationals missed their window to win a championship? They have been a good team for a few years (after sucking really hard to get where they’re at, a formula that the Houston Astros copied to a “T”) but have never been able to get over the hump to even get to the World Series, much less win a title. Since 2012, when the Nationals really turned things around and started the winning culture we have grown accustomed to, the National league has been represented by the San Francisco Giants (twice), the St. Louis Cardinals, NY Mets and Chicago Cubs in the World Series, while the Nationals have been in the conversation for the playoffs, if not in the playoffs, every year. They have had an MVP, they have had a Cy Young winner; and yet the team hardware is severely lacking.
So let’s look at the factors previously mentioned that contribute to a team’s window. We’ll start with the prime of Washington’s stars. Max Scherzer, the aforementioned Cy Young winner from last year is all of 32 years old, and while that is not necessarily an age that is too troubling, Scherzer has been a workhorse, pitching nearly 200 innings every year since 2010. He’s bound to start breaking down soon, so one would expect that you have another two, maybe three years with Scherzer at the top of the Nationals rotation. Stephen Strasburg, the Nats’ other star pitcher is solid, but not spectacular after arriving with a lot of hype back in 2010. Bryce Harper, after a monster year in 2015 fell back to earth a bit last year, and while he’s only twenty-four years old, and certainly not expected to age out of his prime anytime soon, he may become too expensive for the Nationals to keep around once his next contract hits. Once he hits free agency (if he does) he will automatically be the best player on the market and will create a bidding war unlike any we have ever seen in Major League Baseball. The idea that Harper may be playing in the blue Yankee pinstripes makes my stomach turn, but only because it’s so damn plausible.
The other factor we discussed was the talent around your division when it comes to your window. There will always be a handful of good teams in the National League every year. The Giants are always a threat, the Cardinals are sneaky-good nearly every year and the Dodgers are always right there as well. The problem is that, for a time, that was all the Nationals had to contend with. To get to the World Series, the Nationals would probably have to play two out of those three teams, and there was a good chance, with Scherzer on the mound, they would have a solid opportunity at victory in a seven game series. Enter the NY Mets in 2015. The Mets were able to put together a stellar rotation and a decent lineup that should have them competitive for years to come. Now the NL East, and its automatic playoff spot, are not locks for the Nationals. Enter the Chicago Cubs in 2016. One more team to add to the logjam of good teams in the National League Pennant Race. The National League has in fact become such a glut of good teams at the top, that the Pittsburgh Pirates were (and I’m assuming still are) willing to trade the face of their franchise in Andrew McCutchen while he still has value, probably because they know they aren’t cracking the top anytime soon.
How much longer do the Nationals have to stay competitive before they have to blow it up, much like Pittsburgh is willing to do? Two, three years? Maybe only one if Harper leaves? Time will certainly tell, but their best bet at winning a title has undoubtedly passed them by.
If you follow along with the Just Average Sports Guys, you would already know that I was very high on the Red Sox this year as our “over/under” segment of Faces for Radio had me going with the over on their projected win total of 92.5. I thought that the Sox could get back to the playoffs and challenge for a spot in the World Series because of a rejuvenated Pablo Sandoval, a decent bullpen, and some of the best young outfielders in the game coming into their second full year together.
I also liked the pitching, which was a major step up from last year where it was David Price, Cy Young winning Rick Porcello and everyone else. I thought Eduardo Rodriguez should be able to take a bigger step this year, and saw no problem getting rid of Clay Buchholz, despite the fact that he wound up being a playoff starter last year. I felt like the Sox did enough that they should be able to repeat their success of last year, and maybe even matchup favorably in the playoffs, even if David Price turns into playoff David Price again (hell, he’d make a pretty decent third-game starter if I do say so myself). Then the one name that drives fear into the hearts of pitchers, their agents and fans of their team everywhere was uttered:
Dr. James Andrews.
Price was dealing with some soreness in his elbow, possibly due to the massive number of innings he pitches every year, and went to have a second opinion by the famed surgeon who is often the bearer of bad news for teams looking at a promising season with a quality starting pitcher at their disposal. Now, the news that came back was not bad, all things considered. Price will not need surgery, which would have probably sidelined him for a year. Price won’t even need an injection for the soreness. At this time it’s just rest that is the remedy for this malady. There’s a good chance Price starts the season on the disabled list, but the questions just start to generate from there.
The big question, for me at least, is this something that will linger for most of the year before the Sox eventually shut Price for good down around the All-Star Break? Is this something that we can all see coming a mile away only to wind up taking the wind out of the team’s sails in September as they are pushing for the playoffs? Or, do the Red Sox take it easy with Price in the beginning of the season and try to save him for the playoff push and eventual race in October? Will they be out of it before Price gets fully healthy and contribute? Does a season that started with so much promise get torpedoed early on if one of the key cogs is sidelined for an extended period of time at any point?
All of these questions wouldn’t even be asked if it wasn’t for a trip to see Dr. Andrews.
February 16, 2017
By Justin Lasher
We touched briefly earlier in the week on Major League Baseball’s need to find a way to increase its fan base. After a few days of thought, I believe I have struck an idea, that would allow the MLB to engage fans during its offseason. I believe that the MLB should look into holding an offseason fan fare event that would find ways to allow fans to interact with some of the league’s star players and managers. In the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to breakdown some activities that could be incorporated into this event that would make it a success and help Major League Baseball reach some of the younger fans that it may now be missing out on.
First, I think the offseason would be a great opportunity to engage fans. The NFL is constantly finding things to announce and get its fans excited during the offseason. I think an event like this would be even better. For all the fans in cities where snow is a frequent visitor during baseball’s offseason, they would more than welcome a visit to a warm city state such as Arizona or Florida. The offseason would be perfect because outside the winter meetings, there isn’t much to promote fan excitement between the end of the season and the start of spring training.
There are a series of player challenges that could be incorporated into an event like this that we don’t get to see during the All Star festivities. One such challenge would be a pitchers challenge. While I understand pitchers arms are not in the best of shapes during the offseason, I wouldn’t expect them to be throwing at top speeds or anything like that. I think more of an accuracy challenge would be exciting to watch. This would be something like the shot accuracy challenge that the NHL does during its All Stars skills competition.
The next thing I’d love to see is a base running/speed challenge. We don’t often get to see a player showcase his speed on the base path. There would be a couple of different challenges that could be incorporated here and a winner could be crowned based off the total points accumulated over all the challenges. You could time runners on how long it took them to run from first to second base. You could time runners on how long it took them to run from home plate, around all the bases, and back to home plate. There could be a variety of different things to chose from here.
A third challenge would involve hitters, but wouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with home runs. We get that with the Home Run Derby during the All Star Weekend. I was thinking more along the lines of setting up giant boxes throughout the field with different point values assigned to them. Each batter would have the same number of hits and the batter to collect the most points wins.
After all of these player challenges, I would suggest that this fan fare event would also have a few things where the fans would have opportunities to really interact with the players and managers. One way I believe that would be a sure fire way to engage the young fans (5-18) would be to offer a coaching clinic, where players and managers would work one on one with young players and offer them tips and advice on hitting, pitching, etc.
Video games play a huge role in fan engagement in today’s society. The NBA has been all over trying to find ways to reach their audience through video games. How awesome would it be to give fans an opportunity to beat one of their favorite players one on one in a MLB video game?
In a league that is desperate for increased fans, I believe that offering an event or series of regional events like outlined in this article would go a long ways in reaching younger fans. Major League Baseball must get creative in finding a way to engage a wider audience and keep their excitement throughout the entire year. What do you think of my proposed idea? Do you have any thoughts of your own? Let us know.
February 14, 2017
By Justin Lasher
Major League Baseball used to be able to proclaim and market itself as America’s favorite pastime. I am not so sure it can get away with it nowadays. I know personally, my viewership of the sport I grew up loving has dwindled drastically. I believe that the NFL and NBA has now put the MLB number three of America’s major four sports. In an effort to improve the popularity of its sport, the MLB has been exploring a number of possible rule changes to speed up the game and keep the attention of today’s sports fan. One of the recently discussed proposals and tests is to place a runner on second base at the start of extra innings. Surprisingly, this struck a nerve with me when I heard this story.
My gut reaction to this proposed rule change was complete disagreement. For many reasons, this change would ruin the sport of baseball. Viewership actually increases during extra inning games (both regular season and postseason games). People tune in and want to watch the high pressure situations. How will players respond? What will the managers do? Who will get the big hit? It doesn’t make sense to me to change an area of a game that has so much importance. Extra innings directly impact the outcome of the game, and placing a runner on 2nd base essentially is gifting teams a run. It is not a good idea.
Baseball has traditionally been a game of strategy. Managers get paid good money to be able to effectively manage their bullpen as well as their bench players. They are judged on their decisions of when to bring in a pinch hitter or a pinch runner. This rule change would completely take the strategy out of the game of baseball. It would take some pressure and decision making out of the game. Instead of figuring out when and how many pitchers to use in a given situation or should a pitch hitter be used, managers would essentially be more focused on moving the runner from 2nd to 3rd base and then depending on a sacrifice fly to score the “free” runner. In my opinion this would take the “magic” out of the game. There is something to be said about the element of surprise.
While I am not opposed to trying to shorten game times, I don’t believe changing how extra innings are played is the right decision. What are your thoughts on this proposed change? Are you in favor, or are you more like me, and are a baseball purist, who says leave things alone?
By Dan Drake
So, what does the average sports fan not know about Matt Holliday?
First, last year he posted the 5th best average exit velocity for any batters over 30 at bats. Only behind Nelson Cruz, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Keon Broxton. What makes it more impressive of all of those batters his strikeout percentage is significantly smaller. The other group had 23.8%, 44.2%, 29.8% and 35.6% respectively while Matt came in at 16.7%. That means that Matt Holliday kept a high exit velocity while putting the ball in play over 7% more than any of the names above him. He is a contact hitter with line drive power. The projected average distance of his hits was also less than this group, meaning that his hits didn’t travel as far. The explanation is that he hit more line drive and ground balls. Specifically ground balls which he hit at a 50% clip. You would think that his high exit velocity mixed with the ground balls would produce a decent BABIP or batting average on balls in play. However, he ranked among the leagues worst in BABIP. This signals a bit of bad luck and a likely move back to the norm this year. That is good signs for the Yankees, but that 50% Ground Ball rate is nerve racking. We will see if some adjustments can be made to get more line drives as opposed to ground balls.
When we take a deeper look his spray chart shows us some insight on the above numbers. Matt Holliday uses the whole field and even goes the opposite field more often in the air. This is great news for Holliday as Yankee Stadium will likely cause an uptick in his home run numbers this year. He had 6 home runs to leftfield, 6 to center and 8 to right field in 2016. With most of his fly balls going to right field a large majority of his ground balls go to the left side of the infield. This points to him pulling over on outside pitches often. It can also point to him being out in front of the pitch, and when he stays back he drives the ball to right. These spray chart numbers are consistent over the last 5 years as well, with the exception of more home runs to right field coming in recent years.
So, for the average sports fan what does this mean for Holliday in 2017? Look for him to hit more home runs in Yankee Stadium (my prediction 25). Expect his batting average to get back closer to career norms (my prediction .275). Keep an eye on those ground balls, but we can count on him for a reasonable low strikeout rate for a guy with power and such a strong exit velocity. He is right handed so he helps balance the Yankees lineup against such teams as the Red Sox who throw out between 3 and 4 left handed starters including Price and Sale. Most importantly, just like Gary Sanchez Holliday is a right who hits to right field for power.
The Red Sox are looking this off season for David Ortiz’s replacement at DH. Two things to clear up first. First, we will assume he is retired for good. Obviously rumors can surface but all reality points to he is happily hanging up his cleats, going out on top. Second, is that the Red Sox could get a first baseman and move Hanley Ramirez to DH, but we will assume that will not happen.
So, who are the possible replacements? I will focus on 4 here.