instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

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.

 

Be the first to comment

On The Inevitable Manny Machado Trade (updated) + In Memory of Ken Ravizza

My take on the now-official trade of Manny Machado to the Dodgers is that I hope he realizes the microscope will now be grinding 24/7. (That's not the best metaphor I know but I never was very good in science classes despite attending Bronx HS of Science.)

Some of his last comments to MASNSports.com reporter Roch Kubatko indicated that the enormity of the change was only now beginning to dawn on him. Players are not robots or simply vessels of stats that can be transferred from one team to another as easily as the click on a computer.

Still, the Dodgers offense will likely get an uptick with him hitting in the middle of the lineup. I am sure Dodgers management will deal with the issue of what happens when incumbent shortstop Corey Seager returns from injury next spring. And what about Justin Turner the incumbent third baseman?

I rarely make predictions since I've always loved the baseball adage - "the farther away from the clubhouse the less you know what you are talking about." (A sanitized version of the adage!)

But I did say that the pre-season injury to Justin Turner would be a big blow to the Dodgers and they indeed got off to an awful start until he returned somewhat to form recently. Turner has been a versatile player in past so they'll find a spot for him.

Whether Machado is shortstop or third baseman of future for LA is an intriguing question. Manny will have many suitors as a free agent come November.

As for my Orioles, it remains to be seen if 21-year-old Cuban-born Double A outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the most heralded of the five minor leaguers received from LA, ultimately becomes a core piece of a rebuilt team. I am also curious to see if homegrown outfielders Cedric Mullins and currently injured Austin Hays can make the grade.

I expect another big trade chip to be sent away shortly when closer Zach Britton finds a new home. I think the Indians want him badly because of health issues and free agency looming for fellow left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. But I also think the Orioles would prefer sending Britton to National League.

I still watch the Orioles out of habit and a love that borders on - who am I kidding? -that actually overflows into addiction. They enter post-All-Star-Game play on a two-game winning streak after a 4-4 home stand that featured splitting four games with the hated Yankees (who trail Boston by 4 1/2 games but only 3 in the A-ILC (All-Important Lost Column).

The lineup without the powerful productive Machado batting third could be even more embarrassing than the one WITH Manny that is 41 games under .500. But call me a cockeyed optimist - I think they will be surpass the Mets 1962 debut of 40-120 and even the Tigers 1999 43-119.

The key always remains in baseball pitching. "Without pitching you got nothin'," Sparky Anderson wisely said. And if they are to become the real Orioles again and not the 2018 version I call sadly Woerioles, the starters must step up and not be Five Jokers and No Aces.

Before I close, I want to say goodbye to someone who left us recently, much too early of a heart attack at age 70. KEN RAVIZZA was a pioneering sports psychologist - born in Connecticut, graduate of the renowned physical education program at Springfield College in Massachusetts. He got his doctorate at USC, studying with among others Howard Slusher, a sports philosophy professor who later became a sports agent.

Ken rose to become both a widely published academic author and an applied sports psychologist in great demand by sports teams like Joe Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs and individual competitors like figure skater Gracie Gold.

Some of Ken's aphorisms that are indelibly etched in my mind include:
"Attitude is a decision."
"Never let the pressure of a situation exceed the pleasure you get from it."
"Learning to be comfortable while being uncomfortable" is a big key to success.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!
 Read More 
1 Comments
Post a comment