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Kansas City Royals – Contenders Or Pretenders?

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Kansas City Royals – Contenders Or Pretenders?

Posted on 08 May 2013 by Jennifer Gosline

As a baseball fan watching Kansas City suffer for years, I have to wonder if they are actually a good contender this season for the playoffs, or if this is just their 15 minutes of fame.

Kansas-City

There is certainly something for Royals’ fans to get excited about right now. At this point in the year, Kansas City is 17-10, when last season at this time they were only 10-20. A dramatic difference. Pitching, in particular, seems to be carrying most of the team, but their offense is not far behind.

Royal Pitching

Veterans like Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie are having stellar seasons. They have combined for 7 Wins to date, both with having an ERA under 2.50 and WHIP just above 1.00. According to ESPN, while Santana is owned in 97% of fantasy leagues, Guthrie is only owned in 50%. Guthrie brings a commendable work ethic to the team and I think would be a valuable pick-up if he is still available in your league. The right-hander excels at mixing all of his pitches to keep hitters off balance, and he recently threw his first major league shut-out.

The Royals’ starting rotation has been rounded out with the new additions of Wade Davis and James Shields. While Davis is has been struggling since joining Kansas City with a 4.75 ERA, he hopefully can get back down to that 2.43 ERA he finished with in 2012. And Shields may soon become the ace of the team, filling the void that Zack Greinke left. Both Davis and Shields are 2-2 this season.

The Royals’ bullpen has been strengthened with former-starting-pitchers-now-relievers, Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar. Chen has not allowed an earned run yet this year in 5 appearances, and Hochevar has only given up 1 earned run in 7 appearances. Greg Holland is settling in nicely as a solid anchor for the bullpen. He has 7 saves so far this year and only 1 blown.

Royal Batting

Kansas City’s pitching has started off hot, but the fans are still waiting to see the promise the line-up showed during Spring Training this year. There are only three batters with an average above .300 right now, Jarrod Dyson is one of them and he only has 20 plate appearances so far.

The power is not quite there yet from their top hitters. It somehow got lost in the transition between Spring Training and the regular season. If this team can get their bats going and keep the pitching consistent, they can be a force for the entire summer.

Fantasy owners might want to watch players like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Mike Moustakas. They have all been showing signs of improving in their last 15 games, and might just break out of their slumps soon. Moustakas is only 39% owned in fantasy leagues which is obviously due to his struggle at the plate. If he can start making solid contact again, he will prove he deserves a position on your fantasy roster.

Even though the Kansas City line-up is not producing the way they are capable of, they can still be tough to beat in the American League Central. But if history is any indication, this poor team does not have a chance. If someone were to walk into the baseball world right now and not know anything about the Royals’ past, they would never know that they are usually toward the bottom of the AL Central division.

First place Detroit Tigers better take notice that Kansas City is only a half game back. Can they keep this up? Is this just a flash in the pan? If the starting pitching can continue eating up innings, their bullpen will be able to stay fresh for the long season. And if their bats start producing, then I would say that the Royals can shed the pretender branding and will be a contender in 2013.

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Stephen Strasburg – Is he a keeper?

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Stephen Strasburg – Is he a keeper?

Posted on 30 March 2013 by Trish Vignola

Stephen Strasburg – Is he a keeper?

sstrasburg

Well, I guess that’s too late to figure out now. I kept him. He’s now the “ace” of my fantasy baseball team. I know what you might be thinking. Keeping Strasburg? Isn’t that a no-brainer? He’s already been named the Nationals’ Opening Day starter. However, you are talking to the same woman who had Joey Votto on her team last year. The same Joey Votto who missed like a third of the season due to injury.

In fantasy baseball, I’m kind of the kiss of death.

Last Friday, Strasburg yielded 3 runs in 6 innings of pitching to the Tigers. All right that’s pretty average. Actually, that’s pretty good by mid-season standards. He only walked one person and he struck out five, which is even better. Then Strasburg took a comebacker off his thumb. Yes, it was his non-throwing thumb but shades of Joey Votto flooded my nightmares for the next half of week.

Yes, my nightmares are of the fantasy baseball variety.

There are positives though. He’s not Johan Santana and he’s not signed by the Mets. Seriously though, Rotoworld ranks him 5th. Only Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, David Price and Cole Hamels are ranked higher. ESPN ranked him lower but still in the top 20. The key to Strasburg’s success though is pretty obvious. It comes down to two words…

Innings… Count…

Is there one or not? The Nationals ended Strasburg’s season in early September last year at 159 1/3 innings pitched. Their concerns about Strasburg’s health in his first season following Tommy John surgery seemed to trump the importance of their first trip to the playoffs. It seems ludicrous. However, think about the situation with Johan Santana. After throwing the Mets first no-hitter, coming off of a season ending surgery, he’s now headed again towards… you guessed it… season ending surgery.

Based on how the Nationals treated Jordan Zimmerman’s rehabilitation, there will be a watchful eye but no official innings count. I am essentially banking on Strasburg giving me 190 innings, give or take, in order to get me out of the fantasy cellar. (No, that’s not something from “Fifty Shades of Grey.” I’m that bad in fantasy baseball.)

ESPN is projecting that if Strasburg can give me (yes, me personally) about 196 innings, his line would look something like 16 wins, 244 strikeouts, a 2.94 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. That would pretty much keep him in the elite of fantasy statistics amongst starting pitchers. That also gets me out of the proverbial cellar. If he “Joey Votto”’s me, I’m going to start testing for mold because I will be living in the cellar for the rest of the season.

If Strasburg stays healthy, he could be the best keeper you or I could have ever traded for. A healthy Strasburg has tremendous upside. He’s only 24 and has an entire career ahead of him. Regardless of the little knock to his finger, Strasburg is projected to have no issue in completing the season. If that is the case, he might help me out of the cellar to at least the middle of the pack of my head-to-head league.

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Head injuries in football are well documented, but what about baseball?

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Head injuries in football are well documented, but what about baseball?

Posted on 18 February 2013 by Trish Vignola

The one of the more “famous” cases of a head injury in baseball occurred in 1957. Pitching prodigy Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians took a shot off the bat of the New York Yankees’ Gil McDougald to his right eye. His blurred vision would eventually improve, but Score’s budding career was effectively derailed.

DavidHuffHeadInjury

Catchers have masks. Batters are helmets. What about pitchers though?

Boston’s Bryce Florie suffered a similar injury in 2000. It was the result of a ball off of Ryan Thompson‘s line drive that struck Florie in the right eye. Both were bloody. Both had irreversible consequences. Nonetheless, both were rare. Fewer have been seriously injured. Never has such an incident been fatal. Overall, few major league pitchers have been hit in the head by a batted ball.

That was until last season.

Three times in a span of less than two months, batted balls hit pitchers in the head. Three. Spurred by the first of those incidents, discussions within Major League Baseball immediately took on new urgency. League officials and equipment manufacturers began to examined possibilities for protective headgear to lessen the risk.

“MLB is right to do its due diligence,” said neuropsychologist Michael Collins to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” Collins is the Director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “There are missiles coming back at the pitchers, and MLB knows it.” The batters are stronger. In many cases, the pitcher has had to become a stronger athlete. They were taking their lives in their hands.

On Sept. 5, Oakland’s Brandon McCarthy suffered gruesome injuries — a brain contusion, epidural hemorrhage and skull fracture — when a line drive off the bat of the Los Angeles Angels’ Erick Aybar struck him in the head. McCarthy underwent emergency brain surgery, was cleared to return to pitching after a rehabilitation program. His story ends on a positive note as he just signed a two-year deal with Arizona for $15.5 million as a free agent. However, the jury is out on wether or not this injury will haunt him.

A month later, in Game 2 of the World Series, a liner by San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco hit Detroit’s Doug Fister in the head. Fister was able to remain in the game. Upon seeing Fister get struck, longtime Fox TV commentator and former big league catcher Tim McCarver said: “I never thought this before this year, but I think baseball is going to have to resort to helmets for pitchers like catchers wear.”

MLB and the protective equipment manufacturers with which it is consulting have not discussed helmets or masks for pitchers. Major League Baseball senior vice president Dan Halem said that they instead are focusing on padded linings for their caps. The objective, he said, is to find something that achieves a balance between comfort and protection. “If we have a product no one will wear, and pitchers are complaining, that doesn’t get us anywhere.”

McCarthy’s injuries, according to Oakland head athletic trainer Nick Paparesta and Collins — who worked with McCarthy on his rehabilitation — probably wouldn’t have been lessened by a padded cap. The ball struck him beneath the cap line. Halem said MLB doesn’t have long-term data on this issue, yet. Nonetheless in 2012, a total of three pitchers were struck above the shoulders by batted balls. In addition to McCarthy and Fister, on Sept. 12, reliever Mickey Storey of the Houston Astros was hit in the face by a ball hit by the Chicago Cubs’ Dave Sappelt. Storey left the game, but wasn’t seriously hurt and pitched again three days later.

“Outside the Lines” found video of 10 incidents over the past five seasons in which pitchers were hit in the head.

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Knuckleball hits your screens as Dickey hits his 20th.

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Knuckleball hits your screens as Dickey hits his 20th.

Posted on 01 October 2012 by Trish Vignola

Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern didn’t know much about baseball before the 2011 major league season. The co-directors of the documentary “Knuckleball!” had different views of the pitch that would be the centerpiece of their film. “I knew only that it was a disparaged pitch,” Sundberg said to ESPN. “My husband’s old friend from college had nothing good to say about the knuckleball, so that’s all I knew. It has a lot to do with this idea that it’s not a real pitch, that it shouldn’t be held up to the same effect as some of the other pitches like the curveball or fastball.”

“I walked into my kitchen and told my kids about making a film about Tim Wakefield and knuckleball pitchers, and my kids picked up apples and started knuckling them around the kitchen,” Stern said to ESPN. “They were New York City kids who grew up as Red Sox fans and so they had to be very strong in their convictions, and they love Tim Wakefield and the knuckleball, so their reaction was, ‘Woohoo let’s do it!’”

Despite their lack of familiarity with the subject, the two women, best known for their Emmy-nominated documentary films “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” (an amazing piece within itself) and “The Devil Came On Horseback” (about the genocide in Darfur) jumped at the chance to bring the story of the controversial, oft-misunderstood pitch that has baffled batters and catchers for decades to the big screen. “We’re really attracted to the characters — the individuals and people who have obstacles and something to overcome in pursuit of their dreams,” Stern said. “For us, that just makes strong storytelling. The essence of what the symbolic meaning of the knuckleball embodies. These guys are outliers in baseball who struggle against all odds to stay in the game to pursue their dreams. They kind of clawed their way, as they say, with their fingertips — just like one holds the ball with one’s fingertips — back into the major leagues.”

“These guys” refers primarily to Tim Wakefield and R.A. Dickey, the two knuckleball pitchers in the majors during the 2011 season. The documentary also includes retired knuckleballers, Charlie Hough, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti, Wilbur Wood and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who are a handful of the approximately 80 men who have been members of the knuckleball fraternity. “You need the fingertips of a safecracker and the mind of a Zen Buddhist,” longtime major leaguer Bouton says at the top of the film, describing the talents required to master the unpredictable pitch.
With unprecedented access to Wakefield and Dickey, as well as their families, from spring training through the end of the 2011 season, Stern and Sundberg directed an endearing, engaging 90-minute documentary about the knuckleball and the men who have managed to make their careers throwing a baseball that doesn’t spin.

I challenge the idea that critics proclaim “Knuckleball” as an anti-baseball movie. Why? There’s no homerun montage? There’s no Bob Uecker?

Not that I don’t love Bob Uecker.

The film is filled with lots of beautifully shot baseball footage (MLB is a co-producer), a rich soundtrack and intricate discussions of the pitch with former players and baseball beat writers. Not only is it a great baseball movie, it’s easily one of the best baseball movies I’ve seen. This is the movie I wanted “Moneyball” to be.

“Knuckleball” is very SABR, slightly geeky and never takes itself too seriously. Does this make the film commercially friendly? Absolutely not.

Although Charlie Hough is pretty much a matinee model in my eyes.

R.A. Dickey got an ovation from the crowd the first time he appears on screen. Ok. Grant it, I saw it at the Montclair Film Festival the same day Dickey got his 20th win. That’s neither here nor there. In all truthfulness, “Knuckleball” is one of the most satisfying baseball films I’ve seen in years. If it’s not coming to a film festival near you, it’s available on iTunes and on Video On Demand through November.

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Pittsburgh Pirates Working on 20th Year of Futility

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Pittsburgh Pirates Working on 20th Year of Futility

Posted on 25 September 2012 by Dennis Lawson

WC Standings (from ESPN)

The last time the Pittsburgh Pirates finished with a record above .500 Barry Bonds was skinny, George H. W. Bush was the President of the United States, and Miley Cyrus had not yet been spawned.  Jim Leyland was the manager, and the team had reached the NLCS 3 consecutive times without winning a trip to the World Series.  From 1990-92 the Pirates went 289-197 during the regular season and had all the makings of a perennial contender.  Then Barry Bonds hit free agency and ended up taking his toys to play in the San Francisco sandbox.

Since that time, the Pirates have posted 19 straight losing seasons, and they are in danger of making it an even 20.  Unfortunately for the Pirates (and their fans), this year was really supposed to be different from the previous 19.  The team made a serious effort to at least make this season a turning point for the franchise.  Just over 1 month ago, the Pirates looked really, really good.  The team stood 67-54, and it was not a smoke-and-mirrors act, either.  The team had a run differential of +21, and they were in serious contention for a wild card spot.

Then the bottom fell out….or the wheels fell off….or they found themselves stuck in a certain creek without means of propulsion.  Regardless of how it happened or how one chooses to describe the precipitous fall – it happened.  In spite of an opening day payroll of $52M (team’s largest since 2003), the Pirates simply could not handle prosperity.  The team went from 13 games above .500 to 2 games below that mark.  It took an 8-23 stretch, but they managed it.  Now the Pirates need to finish at least 6-4 to avoid the 20th consecutive season with a losing record.

They may need some assistance to reach that record.  The team has 4 games against the Mets starting today in NYC.  After that, the Pirates host the Reds and then the Braves for consecutive  3-game sets to finish the season.  Given that the team does not have a winning record against any of the 3 aforementioned opponents, 6-4 might be a tall order.  As a longtime fan of the Cardinals, I must admit to having some bias where the Pirates are concerned.  Old rivalries fade away slowly.  As a baseball fan, I’m quietly rooting for them to go 7-3 to secure a winning record for the first time in 2 decades.

Despite having what appears to be a significant talent deficit on paper, the Pirates always seem to play really well against the Cardinals and happen to own a 8-7 season series victory this year.  That earns them a certain measure of respect.  Playing hard to be a “spoiler” near the end of the season also warrants some respect.  Finally, the ability to persevere through almost 20 years of futility should give each hardcore fan some kind of “I watched 19 really bad seasons of baseball in Pittsburgh and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” badge on Foursquare.

Instead, the Pittsburgh faithful may be stuck with yet another losing season and exclusion from the MLB postseason yet again.  If nothing else, at least they can look forward to next year when the payroll projection may push the Pirates over the $70M mark.  Of course, the fans have already learned that spending more money does not come with a guarantee of team success.  On the other hand, it usually doesn’t hurt, either.

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