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Fasten Up Your Seat Belts for A Wild September Esp. In National League

September 5, 2018

Tags: Broadcaster Bob Murphy, Scott Servais, Wade LeBlanc, Dee Gordon, Jean Segura, NL pennant/wild card races, Cole Hamels, Mike Shildt, Mike Matheny

If only legendary Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy were alive to give his signature late-inning close-game call, "Fasten up your seat belts!" Because he could say it every night as eight teams in the National League can stake a chance to make the post-season.

I write mainly about the Orioles and the American League in this blog but given the historically horrible 2018 of my favorite team, they are playing no meaningful games in September this year. Except to be a spoiler now and then.

Like last night (Tues Sept 4) they rallied to beat the Mariners 5-3 in Seattle. Mariners skipper Scott Servais, drenched in the analytics that told him that starter Wade LeBlanc couldn't face the fearsome Orioles hitters three times, yanked his effective southpaw after six shutout innings.

The Orioles then went to town on the struggling Seattle bullpen. Although like every losing team they almost threw away the game on defense. The Mariners evidently showed more fight in the clubhouse before the game when second baseman/center fielder Dee Gordon and shortstop Jean Segura got into a tussle - reportedly over Gordon's sloppy defensive lapses.

Seattle is now a distant third in the race for the two wild cards with the Yankees and surprising Oakland A's. The A's could still catch Houston for the AL West title but there is no real drama in the AL.

Cleveland is running away with the AL Central and the Red Sox have a lead varying from 7-8 games over the Yankees in AL East. They still have two head-to-head series left but it will take a full collapse of Boston to make those games truly dramatic.

Quite the contrary in the NL. The West is really the wild west in 2018 with only a game separating the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the five-time consecutive champion LA Dodgers.

In the East, Atlanta has maintained recently a lead of two to three games over the fading Phillies but they still have two head-to-head series left, too. Their records are not great so they can't count on earning a wild card - one of then must win the title.

In the NL Central, the Cubs seemed to be in control until they went to Milwaukee on Labor Day and lost two in a row to their rivals to the north.

Newly acquired southpaw Cole Hamels - who has solid playoff experience with the Phillies and the Rangers - has pooh-poohed any rivalry because so many Cub fans make the 90-minute trek to Wisconsin.

That, of course, didn't go over well in beer and bratwurst and cheese country. The Brewers have to make one last trek to Wrigley next Monday thru Wed. And their next-to-last series is in St Louis with the revived Redbirds.

Let's not forget the Cardinals who have been on a tear ever since organizational lifer Mike Shildt took over as interim manager for Mike Matheny early in the summer.
After a 26-12 log under the new leadership, management rewarded Shildt with the permanent job (as permanent as anything ever is in "the hired to be fired" world of baseball).

Of course, Cardinals then went on to lose a few in a row before they held on to beat the disappointing Nationals last night 11-8 in a road slugfest in DC. They have a lot of new young faces on both the mound and in everyday roles that make them a very interesting story. As are the Brewers who with St. Louis are right now the two wild card leaders.

One thing about baseball never to forget is that it is a game of trends and peaks and valleys. Never get too high after a win or too low after a loss, one of the great cliches.

Yet all bets are off when it comes to exciting September baseball. So sit back and enjoy it and we'll be back to you later in the month with updates and more stories.

For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!

Thoughts on "Mariners' Cano Apologizes For Failed Drug Test"

July 8, 2018

Tags: Robinson Cano, furosemide drug, Manny Ramirez, Levinson Brothers, Dee Gordon, Melky Cabrera, surge of Seattle Mariners, Mitchell Report, Sammy Sosa, Jason Buckland and Ben Reiter, Luke Heimlich, S. L. (Scott) Price, Manny Machado, Zach Britton

I confess. Many times I read headlines more than stories in both print and on line. The above "hed' was from an AP story, buried in the Sunday July 8 sports section of the World Cup-soccer-obsessed New York Times.

What a perfect example of the relativism of our age! Cano is sorry he failed the test. He claims he used it for a high blood pressure condition but the diuretic drug Furosemide is also known to be a good masking agent for PED use. Maybe he didn't want to use the female hormones that nabbed Manny Ramirez some years ago.

At least Cano spoke to the press when he visited the Seattle clubhouse this weekend. He didn't send his Brooklyn-born agents the Levinson brothers who also represented Cano's former Yankee teammate Melky Cabrera who was suspended a few seasons ago for PED use. (Cabrera is now in the minors, and the Levinsons' assistant who was fired for supplying clean urine for Melky is now reportedly suing the brothers).

Surprisingly, despite Cano's suspension for 80 games (that will end August 14 but keep him out of post-season games), the Mariners have surged into contention in the AL West, challenging the world champion Houston Astros.

If you like ironies, one of the big factors in Seattle's improved play is Cano's replacement at second, Dee Gordon (son of former star reliever Tom Gordon), who himself was suspended for 80 games last season for PED use.

I'm not generally a hanging judge on drug abusers in baseball. The Mitchell Report, released in December 2007, revealed that relief pitchers even more than hitters experimented with chemical enhancement. But collective bargained rules on testing must be upheld. It is a sadness for many Hispanic followers of baseball that a disproportionate number of drug violators have come from the Dominican Republic.

The failure of slugger Sammy Sosa to show any contrition for his enhanced home run total of over 600 homers has played a large role in his virtual banishment from the sport. There was a searching and poignant cover story by Jason Buckland and Ben Reiter about Sosa in the July 2-9 double issue of Sports Illustrated.

Before the College World Series, SI devoted a cover story by the excellent S. L. (Scott) Price to the travails of star Oregon State southpaw Luke Heimlich. While a teenager Heimlich had pleaded guilty to the sexual molesting of his 6-year-old niece.

The story of his plea had become public just before the CWS in 2017 and Heimlich voluntarily withdrew from the team before the Omaha event. He kept out of the public limelight but he privately denied that he violated his niece and only signed the confession to avoid a family-wrenching trial.

This season he was the star pitcher on the top-rated Beavers but he performed poorly on college baseball's largest stage. Oregon State still won the national crown. But for the second year in a row Heimlich went unselected in Major League Baseball's annual June draft.

There are rumors that the Kansas City Royals are in discussions with him but they remain unverified. I'm someone who believes that minors should not have the book thrown at them. In this specific case there is evidence that Heimlich took all steps to follow rehabilitation procedures and is not labeled a recidivist threat.

Saying this is not to make light of the victim's duress. It does remain a story that continues to draw my interest.

That's all for now as the Orioles's descent into the netherworld continues. By the next time I post, their main assets of Manny Machado and reliever Zach Britton may already have been traded. Whether the front office people who got the Birds into this mess have the ability to start the process to restore a respectable franchise remains a huge question. Since I have no answer and have my doubts, I will close: Let us pray.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

And Then There Were Two: Houston-LA Dodgers Get Ready for World Series (revised with Rose Bowl update)

October 22, 2017

Tags: Sports Illustrated's Ben Reiter, Minute Maid Park, Enron Field, Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers, Aaron Judge, Lance McCullers, Jose Altuve, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Rich Hill, Jake Fox, Yu Darvish, Cody Bellinger, Clay Bellinger, Kenley Jensen, Justin Turner, Enrique "Kike' Hernandez, Dee Gordon

"Sports Illustrated," often accused of jinxing players with cover stories, must be feeling vindicated. Three years ago Ben Reiter wrote a cover story predicting the Astros as World Series champions in 2017.

Starting Tuesday Oct 24 the Astros will have a chance to fulfill that prophecy when they meet the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chavez Ravine in Game 1. They triumphed over the Yankees in the seven full games of the AL Championship Series.

They won every home game at Minute Maid Park (which used to be called Enron Field until that corporation fell in disgrace). Houston did play pitifully in the three games in New York, undoubtedly cowed by the loud Yankee Stadium fans and the aura of invincibility they like to project.

Yet the Yankees were equally punchless in their four losses in Houston, scoring a total of only three runs. Justin Verlander’s dominance in his two starts for the Astros was not surprising, and he was the deserved MVP of the ALCS.

Yet the Yankees put up very little fight in the final game against the combined offerings of Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers, two good pitchers when on their game but not exactly aces. Morton got the win for 5 innings of work and McCullers got the very rare 4-inning save.

There was some great defense in the ALCS. Right fielder Aaron Judge stole two home runs from the Astros, one in each park. Center fielder George Springer cemented Houston’s last two victories with similarly outstanding grabs. The Astro double play combination of Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve outplayed their Yankee counterparts Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro.

Not enough can be said about the all-around play and leadership by example of Altuve who listed at 5’ 7” 155 pounds is one of the smallest players in MLB. Yet he has won three out of the last four AL batting titles showing power as well as an ability to spray balls to all fields.

The Dodgers, in what 90-year-old former manager Tommy Lasorda loves to call “The Fall Classic,” will be a formidable opponent. In their first World Series since 1988, they won the most games in baseball in 2017 and will have the home field advantage.

Clayton Kershaw gets the nod in the opener likely against fellow lefty Dallas Keuchel, he of the beard that reminds me of one of the Smith Brothers (cough drop manufacturers for you youngsters reading).

Kershaw, the $32 million a year/three time Cy Young award winner, is at the top of his game. He wants to improve on his over-4 point ERA in post-season play.

Another southpaw 37-year-old Rich Hill gets LA's Game 2 nod.
Hill is a nice story - a journeyman originally signed by the Cubs, he has endured several injuries over the years. He bounced to many teams including the Orioles briefly and the Red Sox and the A’s. He also pitched in Asia trying to keep his dream alive.

The deep-pocketed Dodgers signed him to a three-year $36 million contract last off-season. He has been a consistent pitcher when not bothered by nagging hand blisters.

Hill attended the University of Michigan where one of his roommates was catcher-utility player Jake Fox. Last I heard Fox was still playing in the independent leagues after sipping cups of coffee with the Pirates, A's and O's.

As you probably know, I love acronyms. Fox once scribbled in his glove T.E.W.S.I.C.:
To Everyone Who Said I Couldn't. I wouldn't be surprised if Rich Hill wrote or thought something very similar in his long journey to The Show.

The Dodgers have another rewarding story in utility man in Kike (short for Enrique) Hernandez. A journeyman from Puerto Rico, he was obtained from the Marlins (along with versatile catcher Austin Barnes) in the trade for second baseman Dee Gordon. Hernandez belted three home runs in the Dodgers' clinching 11-1 rout of the Cubs in the NLCS.

Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitcher of Iranian descent picked up from the Texas Rangers late this season, probably gets the nod for Game 3. I know the international wing of MLB was salivating at the thought of Darvish pitching against the Yankees’ Japanese import Masohiro Tanaka. But you can’t always get what you want (to coin a phrase).

At the back of a deep Dodgers pitching staff looms Curacao’s Kenley Jansen, a onetime 6’ 5” 280 pound catcher who has become 2017’s best closer. New Yorkers that can forgive Walter O’Malley for taking the Brooklyn Dodgers to LA in 1957 might find some New York connections of interest on the Dodgers roster.

Justin Turner, a former Mets utility player, has blossomed into a standout third baseman on both sides of the ball. First baseman Cody Bellinger, a shoo-in for NL Rookie of the Year, is the son of Clay Bellinger who earned two World Series rings as a utility player on the Yankees last dynasty of the late 1990s.

No doubt MLB was craving building up a battle between top rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger in the World Series but there should be no absence of drama in this Series. I think the Dodgers will win but I’m hoping for a long and dramatic series. Because once again I say - “The only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.”

That’s all for now - Columbia and Wisconsin football remain undefeated and I am binging on BIRGing - Basking In Reflected Glory. Don’t know how long it will last but nice to enjoy the streaks while they last.

I need to make a correction from my last blog. I said that I'd be satisfied with a Wisconsin win in the Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion. But this year the historic Pasadena CA site is part of the playoff system.

So if the Badgers make the Rose Bowl, they'll have to be part of the four-team championship playoff. That means they'll have to run the table impressively to smell the roses and the ultimate crown.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

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