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April May Be The Cruelest Month But Don't Tell That To The Mariners, Rays, and Plucky Ivy League Nines

There is an old Russian proverb about illusions that heal and illusions that kill.  We have seen too many of the latter in our public life these days from the top down.

 

For baseball fans, there is nothing like a good start to a season to bring hope, however illusory. When I started this post, the Orioles - unanimously picked for last place in 2019 - had won two series on the road, in Toronto and New York. 

 
Improbable dreams of flirting with .500 at least through the spring danced through my head. The Yankees, who have lately treated the cozy confines of Camden Yards like batting practice, quickly dispelled that illusion with a three-game sweep.   

 
Two games were winnable by the O's but there is no reliable arm on the pitching staff, either starter or reliever.  "Without pitching you have nuttin'!" Sparky Anderson once wisely said.

 
Not that the Oriole offense is potent with the media now swooping down on the record-breaking futility of first baseman Chris Davis. He hasn't had a hit since last September but is still bound to the club with four more years left on his seven-year $161 million contract. 

 

He occasionally lines the ball hard to the outfield but they are only outs.  Then he relapses into his alarming pattern of striking out, both looking and swinging. 


Enough of these somber tones. Let me praise for now the surprise team of 2019 so far, the Seattle Mariners off to a 12-2 start including its opening two victories in Japan over the Oakland A's.   

 
They are scoring runs in bunches with uber-streaky shortstop Tim Beckham blasting homers and outfielder Mitch Haniger determined to prove that his excellent 2018 season was not a mirage.  I do wonder if they will have the pitching and defense - are you listening Tim Beckham? - to hold off the defending AL West champion Houston Astros who just swept the Yankees at home and are riding a six-game winning streak.  


The rise of the Tampa Bay Rays to the early AL East lead is not really a surprise. They won 90 games last year and their home-grown players are beginning to mature.  They made a great trade with Pittsburgh to obtain outfielder Austin Meadows and starter Tyler Glasnow - both have contributed mightily to the Rays' fast start. 

 

Alas, no one expects the exciting product on the field to improve home attendance. Rays management is so resigned to the lack of support at Tropicana Field, its indoor mausoleum in St. Petersburg, that the upper deck will be closed.

 

The Rays are following in the footsteps of the Oakland A's, a 97-game winner in 2018 that also sealed off the upper deck because of weak attendance.  New stadiums are nowhere in sight for either franchise, and I wonder if even new facilities will boost attendance.

 
Speaking of lack of fan support, college baseball in the Northeast is usually played in front of friends and family.  That doesn't mean the competition isn't high quality and fiercely contested. 

 
Last weekend, the Penn Quakers and Dartmouth Big Green played a historic 21-inning game in Hanover that set NCAA records for ABs and plate appearances.  Penn won 21-15 and went on to become the first team in 2019 to sweep a three-game series.

 
The Ivy League pennant race is building to a roaring climax in the next four weekends.  Defending champion Columbia, Harvard, and Penn are tied at 6-3 with Yale just a game behind.

 
Hard to beat the drama of the Yale-Harvard series in Cambridge last week.  Harvard pulled off a dramatic comeback by rallying with 9 runs in bottom of the 9th to stun the Bulldogs 10-8 in the first game. Senior slugger Patrick McColl capped the rally with a grand slam.

 

The comeback was so reminiscent of the Crimson's amazing late inning rally last May against Dartmouth that erased a 8-run deficit and enabled Columbia to make the post-season playoff against Yale. (In the 8-team league, the first two finishers qualify for a best-of-three championship series.)

 
Facing a sweep this past Sunday, Yale rallied with 3 in the 9th to salvage one game in the weekend series. Columbia also got stunned by a Princeton 6-run bottom of 8th rally but the Lions rebounded by winning a rubber match 2-1 squeaker between southpaw Ben Wereski with Jim Smiley getting the save. 

 

This weekend Yale hosts Columbia in a big three-game series - a rematch of last year's championship series swept by the Lions. Lots of scouts will attend the likely first game matchup of aces Josh Simpson (Columbia) and Scott Politz (Yale).  

 
More on this and other sizzling events on many levels of baseball next time. Finally weather seems to be getting as warm as the competition.

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

 

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The Plot Thickens as Orioles Gain in the Playoff Race

“Playing meaningful games in September” is all this baseball fan realistically wants.
Which is why the “outrageous sense of entitlement” of too many Yankee fans rubs me the wrong way, to put it mildly.

And lo and behold it’s possible after this weekend’s sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway that the Orioles might have a meaningful September after all. With 32 games to play, they are at back at .500 with a 65-65 mark.

Now carrying the remaining schedule in my wallet wasn’t such a bad idea after all. They return home for a 10-game home stand against Seattle, Toronto and the Yankees, the first and last teams with very realistic hopes for playoffs themselves.

Sunday’s 2-1 victory for O’s at Boston was the proverbial nail-biter. After outscoring Boston 23-3 in the first two games of the series, I expected a pitcher’s battle and got one.

I was happy that Doug Fister pitched well for Boston because he helped knock the Yankees out of the playoffs a few years ago, earning a special plaudit on our Yankee Elimination Day (YED) caps. It is always a special occasion when the Yankees are eliminated because they brag about their 39 post-season appearances but ignore their twice-as-many failures.

This Sunday August 27, the O’s made two runs in the first stand up against a suddenly slumping Boston offense that left 13 men on base.

My O’s still have many holes on offense and in starting pitching. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo are not producing at bat but the slack has been picked up by talented second baseman Jonathan Schoop who just broke Roberto Alomar’s Oriole record for most RBI by a second baseman. And rookie Trey Mancini has been a godsend as a run-producer and near -300 hitter while adjusting quite well to his new position of left field.

Of course, any team with wildly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez in its rotation has mound issues. And last year’s star closer Zach Britton now has knee issues to go with his earlier forearm ailment.

Nonetheless there is hope in Charm City as the Labor Day weekend nears. A most lovely hopeful feeling that makes the foolish illusion of contention seem less foolish.

One final note on the series in Boston. The Red Sox NESN cable feed utilized former catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their color commentator. Though he made an interesting observation about location as a big factor in baserunners stealing signs from second base, he should be forbidden from using the word “great” until the next millennium. He also talked too much and too much of it was trite cheerleading.

Here’s a shout-out to the Milwaukee Brewers who beat the LA Dodgers in a series on the road this past weekend. It was the first series loss for the Dodgers since early June as they have a chance to break a regular season record of 116 wins.

Milwaukee is only two games behind the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. As someone with strong affinity for the Wisconsin Badgers (I got my master’s and doctoral degrees in American History at Madison in the 1960s), it’s nice to see the Brewers get into the hunt for post-season glory.

That’s all for this time. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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