Tag Archive | "World Series"

“Astro”nomical Silver Linings

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“Astro”nomical Silver Linings

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Will Emerson

Spring Training is right around the corner and with the coming of Spring Training, comes hope.

HoustonAstros

Yes, that’s right. Spring Training is where hope springs eternal. Everyone is preparing for the upcoming season. Fans can take a look at new players and old and see how they look going into the upcoming season. Every team is at square one, so to speak, and in theory, everyone has a fighting chance. Well that is what everyone likes to believe. True fans, enjoy the Spring Training and early season because, yeah, their respective teams are still in the race. Now while there is still hope, and in the words of Sayid Jarrah, “Hope is a very dangerous thing to lose.”,  there is that part of everyone’s brain that holds that tiny piece of realism in the back of their respective noggins. That part of the brain that tells you that, while hope is nice, realistically your team is not winning the World Series. Or, at least, realistically they should not have a shot at winning the World Series. But it never stops you from clinging to hope and hey, it worked out for Athletics’ and Orioles’ fans last season, right? I am sure there would have been plenty of reasons for those fan bases to have hope, but also those realistic thoughts that sure their team will probably not be in playoff contention down the stretch. So that right there is a good enough reason to keep your hopes up at the start of each season. At the very least, there is always something to look forward to. A big free-agent signing, a hot young phenom, a returning fan favorite, etc. So sure, every fan can find something to look forward to from their squad in the upcoming season, right?  Well, if you’re an Astros fan, it may just be really, really, really hard to find those ”somethings” . But Astros fans, fear not! I am here to help find those “somethings” for you!

Now, this task is not going to be an easy one, that is for sure. After all the Astros were 55- 107, good for the worst record in baseball, albeit by only 6 games. See, Astros fans, silver linings already!  Six or seven more wins and the ’Stros would not have been the worst! And hey! They finished the season on a torrid .390 pace! Sure, that is not what one would consider a good winning percentage, per se, or, at all, but they were at winning at a .322 clip before that, so that is quite an improvement, right? See, things are looking up in Houston! Now sure Houston’s current payroll is listed as $17.5 million, which is quite easily the lowest payroll in baseball, but with many arbitration cases to go, who knows what to expect? Okay, okay, Astros fans, I realize I have really not given you much to look forward to just yet, but be patient, I’m getting there. I mean you’re Astros fans, you’re gonna to need to get used to being  patient. Sorry. Okay, here we go, let’s get down to it. Some glimmers of hope or silver linings or what-have-yous.

First off, there really is not a lot this 2013 Astros team could do to be disappointing. Well, okay, in the grand scheme of things, sure they will be disappointing, so let me rephrase. It will be difficult for them to play below expectations, let’s put it that way. Think about it, they are 200-1 shots to win the World Series, the longest odds of any team. Basically no one is giving them anything resembling a chance to do anything this season, but be the absolute worst, which is great…in a way. Positive spin? They are expected to be the worst team in baseball, so if they are, okay no big deal. If they are not the worst team in baseball, if they are better than just one other team, boom, a successful season. Plus, if they lose a lot they will get a good draft pick and according to John Sickels their farm system is currently the 11th best in the majors, up from 25th last season. See?! Now we’re cookin’, Astros fans! Develop down on the farm and watch those prospects, like Chris Singleton, blossom! Singleton was a key piece in the deal with Philly for Hunter Pence and there’s a chance he is a late season call-up. That’s exciting! Right, Astros fans? No? Still not seeing something to pump you up about 2013? Okay, well what about Carlos Pena?

That’s right Houston fans, the Astros landed the Haverhill Hammer himself, Carlos Felipe Pena! Sure, he won’t hit for average, ever, but he still manages a high OPS, cause he walks a bit and when he does make contact it goes far most of the time. Not as flashy of a signing as say, Josh Hamilton, but he is a name…of sorts. Plus his career OPS of .822 is higher than every Astros hitter, with more than two plate appearances, had last season. Now sure if you are a pessimist you could point out that the he did have a career low OPS last season, but hey that just means he is due to bounce back, right? Let’s assume it does for the purposes of this post, after all we are trying to give the Astros fans something to look forward to. Early projections have Pena hitting over 20 home runs in 2013. You know how many Astros clubbed more than 20 dingers last season? If you guessed zero, you’d be correct! Just glancing at player projections for some Astro regulars, he is expected to lead the team in home runs and be the only one to top 20 dingers! Get excited, Houston! A real, live, slugger at the Juice Box in 2013! Home runs are fun, Astros fans! I know you are on board now and already super pumped for 2013, but wait, there’s more! Do not forget about that deadly middle of the diamond!

That’s right, Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve! Altuve was an All-Star last season and is a real spark plug! Altuve was at least a top eight  second baseman in the National League last season and if he puts up similar numbers I have no doubt he will be top eight in the American League in 2013! That’s the top half of the league, sports fans! Sure, his odds of being an All-Star in 2013 are not great in a league with Cano, Kinsler, Pedroia and Zobrist, but, well, top half of the league! Huzzah! And Jed Lowrie? Are you kidding me?! He homered once every 21.25 at bats last season! Troy Tulowitzki last season only homered once every 22.63 at bats in 2012. I’m not saying Jed Lowrie is a better hitter than Tulo, because, well, he’s not. Sure, that HR rate is the highest for Jed at any professional level by some margin, and sure, he has yet to play more than 100 games in a major league season, but hey, let’s stay positive Houston! He stays healthy, he and Altuve will be darned fun to watch! I can feel Astros ticket sales skyrocketing at this very moment! But for those of you Houston fans not already online buying tickets, I present the coup de gras! Bud Norris.

You betcha! Bud Norris. You want to venture to the Juice Box to see your beloved Astros play? Try and go when Bud Norris is on the bump! Now there will be a good chance these tickets ys get snatched up first and his starts will quickly sell out, but try Stub Hub or whatever you can to watch the Masterful Mr. Norris work. All Norris did at home last season was post an ERA of 1.71 and a WHIP of .96, while striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings! Do not adjust your monitors, those numbers are correct! Now Bud was only 4-1 at home, but had seven no decisions and went at least six innings in every home start. Dang! Now sure his road numbers were on the other end of the goodness spectrum, but that’s neither here nor there, for our purposes anyways.

Well, there you go, Astros fans! There are at least several, yes several, things to look forward to this year in Houston. Honestly, if you are an Astros fan reading this and are not immediately pumped for the baseball season, then there may be something wrong with you. Seriously. Possible prospect call-up? Chris Singleton, anyone? Carlos Pena rocketing balls out of the Juice Box? An Altuve-Lowrie combo that is borderline, close to, electric, in the middle of your diamond and at the top of your order? Bud Norris dominating visiting hitters? Yep, the 2013 Astros…they have some things you can sort of, possibly, get excited about! Hmmm, I wonder if I can get that to be the team slogan for 2013? I’ll call their PR department right now!

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The 1988 Cleveland Indians And The Greatest Question In Bar Trivia History…Ever

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The 1988 Cleveland Indians And The Greatest Question In Bar Trivia History…Ever

Posted on 08 December 2012 by Trish Vignola

This week at Winter Meetings, Ron Washington got a pop quiz.

“Four other members of your 1988 club are now current Major League managers, just like you. Can you name them?”

The Rangers skipper, approached with this informal test by MLB.com, thought for a moment. “Terry Francona,” he said. Francona, the new leader of the Indians, hit .311 in 62 games that season, primarily as a designated hitter. “John Farrell,” Washington continued. Farrell, who jumped from the Blue Jays to the Red Sox this winter, was a 25-year-old starter who won 14 games that year. “Um,” said Washington, looking momentarily stumped, until the memory clicks. “Charlie Manuel was the hitting coach!” Long before he won a World Series with the Phillies, Manuel was, indeed, the hitting coach on this particular club.

Nonetheless, Washington was still short one.

“Buddy Black!” Washington exclaimed. Black, principal of the Padres, was a midseason rotation acquisition for the 1988 Indians. “See?” said Washington. “I don’t have Alzheimer’s!”

Nope. He does not. What Ron Washington does have is a spot in one of baseball’s trickiest trivia questions. MLB.com challenges you to ask your friends the following… Can they name the five active managers who were on the same squad at one time? Doubtful they’ll immediately guess the 1988 Cleveland Indians.

I couldn’t and when I tried this question with my friends, no one could do it either. I am also pretty sure that at least one person mentioned Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.

He doesn’t count.

“Little did we know,” said Farrell to MLB.com, “that the fertile soil of the shores of Lake Erie was cultivating five future managers.” “That,” said Francona, “was such a bad team.” Francona, never one to mince words, is right. The 1988 Tribe went 78-84, had a minus-65 run differential and finished sixth in the AL East.

That wasn’t even the worst team of that era for the Indians. That honor belongs to the 1987 club touted by Sports Illustrated (which put Cory Snyder and Joe Carter on its cover) as one ready for an “Indian Uprising.” That club proceeded to lose 101 times and finish 37 games out of first. The 1988 club looked like the Yankees of the late 90s in comparison.

To the team’s credit, Carter hit 27 homers and Snyder hit 26. They gave the Indians a legitimately potent middle of the order. Julio Franco, in the final year of his first Cleveland stint, batted .303. Farrell (14-10, 4.24 ERA), a 23-year-old Greg Swindell (18-14, 3.20) and knuckleballer Tom Candiotti (14-8, 3.28) gave them the makings of a solid rotation. And Doug Jones (2.27 ERA, 37 saves) was one of the better closers in the game.
They didn’t have much else. “Other than Jones, we were lacking a bullpen that year,” Manuel said. “Our bullpen was [awful]. Also, we had some injuries in our infield.” The injuries were why Washington, who made the move the previous winter from Baltimore to Cleveland, just like team president Hank Peters, got a little more playing time at age 36 than anticipated. It’s also why Francona got on the Major League radar in Spring Training and was later called up in July.

“I went from, like, Field 11 to Field 1 in Spring Training, because those guys were going down like flies,” Francona recalled. “And [clubhouse manager] Cy Buynak didn’t have any lockers available. Cy put me in a closet. So every morning, I would dress, and the guys would come over to rub up the [baseballs] and be like, ‘Excuse me, can you move over?’”

With a club this bad, you would think the team would have been at each other’s throats. “We were so bad,” said Francona, “that we couldn’t have a whole lot of arrogance. It was a team that genuinely liked each other. We just got beat up.” Lessons must have come from the beatings, though, because quite a few guys on the 1988 Indians went on to leadership roles.

Snyder managed in the independent Golden Baseball League from 2007-09, followed by a stint with Na Koa Ikaika Maui in the North American League. Franco has managed in the Venezuelan Winter League and has often expressed his Major League aspirations. Jay Bell is the new hitting coach of the Pirates and Brook Jacoby is the hitting coach for the Reds. Dave Clark is the first-base coach for the Astros and was the team’s interim manager at the end of 2009. Still, for five members of a single club to wind up in the full-time managerial ranks in the Majors is certainly a quirky coincidence. One that will guarantee you’ll win at bar trivia.

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Dear Yankee Fans … I might have spoken too soon.

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Dear Yankee Fans … I might have spoken too soon.

Posted on 16 October 2012 by Trish Vignola

Remember, when I said “Dear Yankee Fans…. Chill Out”? Maybe, I spoke too quickly.

The 12th inning cast a very different pallor on a relatively young ALCS last night. As the Yankees’ future Hall of Fame shortstop, Derek Jeter, was helped off the field, even the Tigers dugout was hushed.

Most of those players had grown up watching Jeter and the New York Yankees.

“We’re all big Derek Jeter fans since we were younger,” outfielder Delmon Young said. “Watching the World Series and everything from the 1996 one until the recent once. But, you know, we all grew up playing backyard baseball wanting to win the World Series either with the Yankees or having to get through the Yankees to get to the World Series. Especially with Derek Jeter as their catalyst.

“We’d love to see him out playing with us and playing against him, because it is really fun playing the Yankees, especially with Derek Jeter healthy,” Young continued. Doug Fister, last night’s start for Detroit, talked about watching Jeter as he grew up. “To see a fellow ballplayer to go down it definitely is a hit for our game,” Fister said. “Our hearts go out to him.”

Ok. This is not a career ending injury. However, Jeter is out for the rest of the 2012 playoffs. This will be the first October the Yankees have experienced in sixteen years that will be without Derek Jeter.

Grant it. When Mariano Rivera got hurt, the Yankees were left for dead. Jeter’s injury doesn’t preclude an early Yankees exit from the playoffs. The Yankees have come back from far worse.

Except…

Derek Jeter was, at the time of his injury, the strongest Yankee this playoff.

Written off as an aging star after slumping in 2010, Jeter struggled to adapt to a no-stride swing in `11. He wound up on the disabled list for only the fifth time in his seventeen full seasons in the big leagues with a calf injury. He returned revitalized, go his 3,000th hit and finishing strong.

This year Jeter surged. It’s hard to believe, but 38-year-old Jeter posted a remarkable season. He batted .316 with an American League-leading 216 hits. He carried that over to the postseason, hitting .364 against the Orioles.

Earlier Saturday, Jeter became the first player in baseball history to reach 200 hits in the postseason with a single in the second off Doug Fister. He was left stranded, though, a problem for the Yankees these playoffs. If the New York Yankees were a train, they would be pulling into the station missing a couple of wheels and part of the breaks. Sure, they’re showing up on time (i.e. winning), but how long can this keep going? Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are in playoff funks. Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest players in baseball history, is in worse shape. He’s been benched now on more than one occasion in this young playoff season. The Yankees also seem to have a problem lacing more than one win together. Jeter was one of the few constants, along with statistical anomaly and late-game guru, Raul Ibanez, in the Yankees’ lineup.

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The More Things Change…

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The More Things Change…

Posted on 16 October 2012 by Will Emerson

…the more they stay the same. The LCS match-ups are set. Yankees-Tigers, Cardinals-Giants. Ho-hum. Now, while these are not heated rivalries and these teams do not have a ton of recent playoff history against each other, well, they are not exactly new blood. Since 2004, the span of the past eight postseasons, these four teams have combined to make six World Series appearances and ten LCS appearances. In comparison, the four teams they just bounced from the playoffs, well, they have just one appearance in that time span. No, no, not each. Combined! There have been 16 World Series slots, if you would, from 2004- 2011 and this year’s four remaining teams have all been there once and accounted for 37.5% of those slots. This includes the past two World Champions, the Giants and Cardinals who are squaring off against each other for another National League Championship and a chance for another World Championship ring. After this season is done, heck even before it is done, from 2004-2012 these four teams will have been responsible for eight of the 18 World Series slots. That will be 44% of the slots for those not quick with the arithmetic. The real question here, is why these teams have been able to do this? Sure, everyone knows the Yankees open their checkbook and make things happen, and none of these teams are considered as small market as, say, Oakland, but as we’ve seen in the past, money does not always win championships. So what is it, exactly, that brings us the same teams time and again? Well, one thing I always tend to hear is that it is simply because these teams know how to win, especially when it counts. Or, sometimes, once we reach the postseason, it is playoff experience that can take over and is what gets these team past those teams with inexperience. But how much of a factor is that really?

The argument of experience in the playoffs, or simply in big games, will almost always win out over inexperience. Sounds reasonable and in life, that should certainly be the case. If two people are interviewing for the same job, all else being equal, the person with more experience, in theory, will win out. But how much of a factor does experience really play in baseball playoffs? Sure, as mentioned above, these four teams have been in the thick of the pursuit of a World Series Championship, but did the Yankees oust the Orioles because they have more experience, or rings? Is it because they know how to win in October? Well, I do not think you can completely dismiss that point altogether, but maybe there is a bit of an overemphasis on explaining it as easily as that.

Yes, the Yankees have more playoff experience of late, and well, over the history of baseball, than the Orioles. In fact the Yankees have more World Series rings since 2000, than the Orioles have playoff appearances in that time. But this is also kind of my point. Okay, okay, experience yes, got it. But isn’t the reason the Yankees, and the other three teams remaining, have more playoff experience is because they are consistently good enough to get to the post season and win. Isn’t it more that the Yankees are just a better team than the Orioles, regardless of experience? Did anything the Orioles did in their losses count as something that would not have happened if they had experience? They took the Yankees to five games in a best-of-five series and that was more than most people probably expected. Heck, the fact they almost won the division, or even made the playoffs was more than most people expected. As they approached Game 5 the common notion amongst baseball fans, and pundits alike, was that the Yankees would win because they were at home and their experience, and the Yankee aura (yuck), would take over and get them to the ALCS. Or could it be that, generally speaking, they are overall a better team than the Orioles? Now it was an admirable fight by the Os, but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to see that Sabathia versus Hammel is a match-up that favors the Yankees. So, what does postseason experience matter there?

I mean, it is not as if the rules change in the postseason, right? Games are still nine regular innings, are they not?  It is still three outs per half inning, correct? Three strikes and your out, even in the postseason, right? And most importantly the team that has more runs wins and the first team to three or four wins, depending on the series, moves on. Do you think Drew Storen would have not given up the winning run and blown his save opportunity in what ended up being the last inning of the Nationals’ season, had he had more playoff experience? Probably not. Anything to that effect is of course, pointing to mostly psychological factors. The experience is about handling the pressure of the big stage and not succumbing to said pressure or intimidating crowds. But even there, doing it once, twice, or even more times, may never get rid of the jitters a player feels going into or during a playoff game. And as far as the intimidating crowd noise? The Reds, Nats and Athletics all had game fives at home, so it’s not like they ventured into hostile territory or anything. You don’t need playoff experience to know you need to win at home. I guess, this could be the biggest argument for experience playing a large role in the playoffs, since the experienced teams were all ready to go and despite the hostile environment, managed to win big games. It is a decent argument, I will grant you, but I still feel like it may have just been a case of the better team actually winning.

Now as I say that, I am sure there are people saying, “well look at the records, how can you say the better teams won?” Well, that is a kind of flimsy argument. Despite the records, I believe the Tigers are better than the Athletics. In the National League, with the exception of the Cardinals, the teams were, I thought, pretty evenly matched. I do think the Reds are a better team than the Giants and the Nationals are a better team than the Cardinals. However, these could have been two remarkably different series’ had the Reds and Nats had their aces. The Reds lost Johnny Cueto after one batter and, I’m sure we’ve all heard about the Nats’ Steven Strasburg situation plenty at this point. So if they pitch, do their teams win? Well, you can’t say for sure, but that could have been a much bigger factor than experience, who’s to say?

So, does experience play a factor when it comes down to big games and big moments in the postseason? Of course it does, and I am not arguing that or dismissing experience altogether. All I am trying to get across is that it may not be quite as big of a factor as many would like to believe. The reason the teams with experience win, I believe, is because they are generally just better teams, which is why they keep making the playoffs in the first place and gaining said experience. Yeah, if Derek Jeter was released by the Yankees and lands on say, the Indians (an extreme example, I know, but bear with me here), you don’t think that would help them more in postseason play as far as the experience he brings? Sure it would, but matched up against a better team, with equal or less experience, I still say that better team will win out, 80-85% of the time. So let’s hold off on laying so much playoff credit on experience and taking away from the fact that for the most part, the better teams are winning. And as far as experience over inexperience, ask the back-to-back AL Champion Texas Rangers, who fell apart down the stretch and lost their one game playoff, how they feel about it.

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You’ve Done It Again Mr. Selig

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You’ve Done It Again Mr. Selig

Posted on 11 October 2012 by Will Emerson

So we have officially been through Bud Selig’s first ever one-game, Wild Card games and I have to say, as something of a baseball purist, I was a bit iffy going in. But here’s the thing, I actually kind of like it. Now sure, the inaugural games did not go off without a hitch, as they say, but slightly more on that to come since I know you’ve probably heard very little about that already. The natural argument against a one game, winner take all, match-up for a right to head to the LDS is that it is just one game. That is to say that many feel that boiling down a 162 season into one do or die situation, to put it eloquently, sucks.

Well there is no arguing against that point, I guess. Does it suck? Well, yeah. A team works hard through 162 games to get a Wild Card birth only to have their season end just like that. The point of the Wild Card games and adding the extra Wild Card team is to put more emphasis on winning the division. Which you have to admit, makes sense, right? Not only that, it adds a layer of advantage to the team with the best record in each league. The wild card team they face will already have had to fight through a draining game and hopefully have burned their ace or at least their bullpens before facing them. Now Chipper Jones, among others, said it stinks that a season could come down to a blown call or miscue or anything of that sort, so it should be at least a best-of-three series. But this is where we could start down a slippery slope.

From there the LDS could become a best-of-seven series and who knows, we could end up back to the early 20th century with a best-of-nine World Series. Here’s the thing, would it be different if the Braves were down one game to none and the bad call came in game two and it ended the season? The bottom line is, win your division and you don’t have to worry about that at all. Now I’m sure Chipper was just mad that his career, more than his season, could be decided by one game or one call. The thing is, to say that call cost the Braves the game is a bit simplistic. They still loaded the bases after that and failed to plate a run against arguably one of the worst closers in the game. So to have this point to argue against the one-game Wild Card does not quite hold water with me. I mean that could happen in a game seven, but would that make a team feel better about being on the wrong end of the call? I highly doubt it. It was a big game and there was a blown call. We’ve seen it before, but you know what, good, mentally tough teams can overcome this during a game and fight back into the game. If you still have your chances after the bad call then don’t blame the call. Do not use this to argue against the one-game playoff. Move on and let it be. What you should really be mad about is the change Bud Selig slipped into the equation while no one was looking.

You see, when baseball went to three divisions and added a playoff round, the higher seed would actually start the playoffs on the road. A 2-3 format, where the higher seed would play games one and two on the road and the next three at home. Which at the time I found ludicrous. I guess they were trying to lay this out like the best-of-seven series’ as if it stopped at five? I’m not really sure, but I was certainly opposed to it. But then, finally, one of my strongly worded letters must have reached the commissioner or something as the 2-3 format was abolished and more reasonable 2-2-1 format was adopted and all was good with the world. But then lo and behold, what do I notice this season? The gosh darned return of the 2-3 format!

This seems even more ridiculous now then it did in the early 90s. Now, as opposed to then, the Wild Card winner gets to come off a win and host, yes HOST, the first two games of the LDS round. Say what? First off, if you subscribe to that sort of thing, you’ve given a Wild Card team (you know a non-division winner) momentum launched right into a home game to start a series. Now if you are, like me, more of the momentum-shmomentum side, there is also the fact that the two teams who earned home field advantage, are only guaranteed one home playoff game. One? That hardly seems fair.

Of course, a good team should be able to win on the road and beat the lesser team regardless, this is true. But as we have seen time and again, anything can happen in a short series in baseball. So, yeah, the higher seed should still be able to win the series, but it think about the home team fans, concessions, street vendors, etc. Even if the home team sweeps the series, they are losing out on one game they should be guaranteed. Playoff tickets, for instance are sold by series, right? So if you’re team clinches home field advantage, you think, “oh cool, I have tickets to the second LDS game!” Cool, except if there’s a sweep and now you miss out on a playoff game. Is this a bit extreme to argue my point? Sure, but I still stand by the fact that the 2-3 format is rubbish.

So Mr. Selig, I’m okay with the Wild Card games and will have your back should people doubt these new playoff games, but I implore you sir, return to the 2-2-1 format in the LDS! Don’t make a step forward and then step back at the same time, Bud! Give the teams and fans that deserve it, another guaranteed playoff game. It’s one game, I understand, but think about the little people in all this and do it for them. Do it for the little people Bud before my strongly worded letters start hitting your desk again.

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