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Fasten Your Seat Belts: Looks Like We're In For A Roller Coaster MLB Season

The immortal Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy – the man who pronounced “line drive” as “li-on” drive and chortled after a victory about a “happy recap”
– loved to use the phrase “fasten your seat belts” to build up the tense late moments in a game.

With the MLB season less than a month old, it looks like the whole year will be a“Fasten Your Seat Belts” kind of year.
I noted in my last post that the one thing any baseball team must avoid in the long long regular season is not to get buried in April.
The booby prize in 2014 must go so far to the Arizona Diamondbacks who are already double-digit games under .500.

It didn’t help that Arizona opened its season in Australia with two losses to the Dodgers.
LA didn’t exactly enjoy that trip because their ace defending-Cy Young award winner
Clayton Kershaw evidently hurt his back on the return flight and hasn’t pitched since (but is due back soon).
It looks like the Dodgers and the SF Giants will engage in a year-long battle for NL West supremacy.
Colorado hovers around the .500 mark after a bad start.

And thanks to the truly woeful Cubs (yet again) Arizona won a couple in Chicago
as the Windy City nine celebrated the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.
How sadly fitting that the Cubs blew a 3-run 9th inning lead on the celebratory day.

Better news in the NL Central comes from baseball’s surprise team, the Milwaukee Brewers who in the early going soared 10 games over .500.
After an unconscionably long road trip, the defending NL champion Cardinals will have some ground to make up.

In the AL West, the Seattle Mariners turned a solid start into a 8-game losing streak and are looking up at division leaders Texas and Oakland.
Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could still be heard from. Every team could contend in this division except the Houston Astros
who are doomed to the basement in another year of rebuilding and falling attendance.

In the division I know the best and obsess about the most, the AL East is off to a predictably bruising start.
Every team, including Toronto whose cagey southpaw Mark Buehrle is already 4-0, could finish first or last.
The Tampa Bay Rays will have to come up with new starters - usually the strength of their team - because
of the season-ending injury to Matt Moore and long layoffs of Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson.

My Orioles managed to split a four-game series in Boston though came close to doing something that even their woeful lineal descendant
St. Louis Browns never accomplished: losing five and six-run leads in back-to-back games.
I know, it is a ridiculous stat but somewhat of an amusing if macabre one.

Fortunately the Birds held on to win the Patriots Day morning clash on Boston Marathon Monday, 7-6. Two things are crystal clear in the early going:
1) Shaky Oriole starters must get into at least the seventh inning more often or the bullpen will be worn out by Memorial Day.
2) The return of Manny Machado to fortify the lineup and the defense must happen soon (early May the target). But I hope and pray
that he and the team are first confident about the condition of his surgically repaired knee.

The Yankees with their $400 million in free agent expenditures - outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, catcher Brian McCann,
and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka all playing well - look like a team to beat. And it will be a pleasure to do that as the year unfolds.

Will be seeing the Orioles in early May in Minnesota, my first trip to the new Target Field. One of the feel-good stories of the young season is
the emergence of Chris Colabello as a huge run producer in the Twins lineup. Have to wish the best (except against the Orioles) for a player
like Colabello who was signed out of an independentleague.

The weekend before I'm heading for the climactic pair of doubleheaders between my alma mater Columbia and Penn.
They are the two best teams in the 2014 Ivy League but only one will qualify for the league championship series
and the right to play in the NCAA tournament that begins in late May.

The prize at the end is the 12-day double-elimination College World Series in Omaha in mid-June.
As a lover of acronyms, let me close today with what Omaha means to eager college players.
Opportunity
Makeup
Attitude
Hustle
Always Put The Team First

That’s all for now. Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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"Check Up From The Neck Up," "If You Hang It They'll Bang It," and Other Morsels Gleaned From Late Season Baseball Watching

It is no longer possible to turn down the sound on a disliked television broadcaster and choose a more informed radio voice. Too many digital delays and other technological innovations have ruined that alternative.

So this year I’ve been listening to TV with the sound on more often. I am glad to report that some of the ex-ballplayers as commentators have contributed some pithy observations. David Cone on a Yankee YES network broadcast the other day used a nifty phrase to describe the pitcher’s worst nightmare, the hanging breaking ball:
“If you hang it, they’ll bang it.”

And Tim McCarver on a recent Fox national broadcast of a Red Sox-Yankee game delivered this beaut about the purpose of catchers going out to the mound to give a break to a struggling pitcher: “It’s a check-up from the neck up.” You don’t talk mechanics in the heat of the game, McCarver advised.

In our age of overwhelming verbosity and even more overwhelming statistical information, it is nice to discover and applaud some terse analysis. It helps to be terse because there can also be “paralysis by analysis.”

AND NOW SOME PEEVES: One of my pet bugaboos is daily rankings of the 30 teams on innumerable websites. After all, what are league standings for but to indicate who is good and not so good?

Maybe more than most sports baseball is truly a game of inches, if not millimeters.
One case in point was the Tampa Bay Rays salvaging a game in a three-game series against the Red Sox in mid-September. The struggling Rays got the lead on a bloop double by
Will Myers that was inches fair down the right field line. In the top of the 9th with a runner on second Will Middlebrooks’ similar blow fell just inches foul and Fernando Rodney ultimately got him out and registered the save.

During their long losing streak, the reverse happened for the Rays. On this night though they caught the breaks and the Bosox didn't.

Streaks are something to watch carefully in baseball. Because for every action there is a reaction. Case in point for teams – The Los Angeles Dodgers 12 games under .500 before the start of summer went on an amazing roll to run away with the NL West this season. But on Friday the 13th of September they got crushed 19-3 by the arch-rival and defending world champion San Francisco Giants. The soon-to-be-dethroned Giants won 3 out of 4 in LA but if the Dodgers get back a healthy Hanley Ramirez at shortstop and Matt Kemp in the outfield they will be a tough matchup in the NL playoffs.

Here's a streak example for players: Bosox closer Koji Uehara had an amazing personal streak going, 37 batters in a row retired. That’s a perfect game plus 10 outs. For the sake of the Red Sox, I wrote a few days ago that they should hope that streak ends before the playoffs because baseball is a game of imperfections and the evil eye of the baseball gods might just have a fall ahead for Uehara. He is, though, a very likable Japanese import who never wanted to leave the Orioles but they traded him to the Texas Rangers for Tommy Hunter and the newest home run king Chris Davis. He wanted to return to the Orioles before this season but the Red Sox outbid them and made a great bargain pickup.

Bulletin: On Tuesday night Sept 17 Uehara’s streak of 37 batters in a row ended, four short of Bobby Jenks’ reliever’s record of 41 and Mark Buehrle’s all-time 45 in a row mark. It was former Red Sox utility player Danny Valencia who tripled in the 9th inning and scored the eventual winning run in the Birds’ 3-2 victory.
The streak is now no longer a topic of conversation and thus not a distraction.

The O’s still have a chance to make the playoffs but they must win the vast majority of their games now. Building the long winning streak that has eluded them all year is of the essence. Not likely but still doable and the reason one becomes a fan and a player.
TO PLAY MEANINGFUL GAMES IN SEPTEMBER.

That’s all for now. Back with a review of the regular season next time. For now - Remember always – Take it easy but take it.  Read More 
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