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Last-Minute Thoughts on the Baseball Playoffs

As readers of this blog know, I don't bet on sports except once in a blue moon I might make a friendly bet with someone from a rival alma mater.  

 

Don't think I'll be doing even that this season with Wisconsin football off to a horrific start and basketball not likely to be a real contender.  

 

But this year's baseball playoffs are certainly intriguing. What I want to see is a pairing in the World Series of the Braves or Giants with any of the AL teams except the Yankees.  

 

Even before Mick Jagger sang about it, I know that you can't always get what you want. 

So here is what I think may happen but don't necessarily want to happen.  

 

The Red Sox in the wild card game against Yankees will be missing J. D. Martinez who suffered the second most absurd injury on the eve of the playoffs. He tripped over second base and sprained his ankle running into the outfield in the last game of regular season.   

 

So that's advantage Yankees in Wild Card game at Fenway just six hours away as I finish this blog.  They will miss D. J. LeMahieu out with a sports hernia but they may have enough offense with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.

 

Anything can happen in a short series let alone one game, but the Yankees do have a better defense and bullpen than their longtime rivals.   

 

If I have forceast correctly, the Yankees will then take on the Tampa Bay Rays in a best of five series.

 

The Rays amaze everyone in baseball, succeeding with a low payroll invested in winning players throughout the roster.  They are adventurous, experimental, and fun to watch (if you can tolerate all the strikeouts and the endless shifts).  

 

They don't have a traditional starting rotation or one real closer.  The Yankees or Red Sox don't have overwhelming starters either but the Yankees do have a rejuvenated Aroldis Chapman at the back end which could be a deciding factor.  I hope not.

 

In the other division series, two septuagenarians lead the White Sox and Astros into the fray.  As nearly an octogenarian myself. I can't miss in this series.  These guys are living proof that older folks have much to offer.  

 

I'd like to see Dusty Baker go deep into the playoffs despite the stain of chicanery indelibly upon the Astros. The scandal, of course, happened before Baker arrived on the scene. 

 

The White Sox coasted in the second half with no AL Central team mounting any real challenge.  We'll see if Tony LaRussa's lads led by the most consistent of all the Cubans in MLB, dh/1b Jose Abreu, can turn it on when it matters most.

 

In the NL wild card, it would be great if Adam Wainwright, 40, can outpitch the very talented and enormously high-paid Max Scherzer, no youngster himself at 36 or 37.  I am not sure St. Louis has the bullpen to stifle LA once the game goes into late innings.

 

The loss of Max Muncy to an elbow injury in a collision at first base will hurt the Dodgers. But they have another oldster and former Cardinal, Albert Pujols, to replace him. Or perhaps the slumping former MVP Cody Bellinger who could relish a chance to redeem himself in October.  

 

The Dodgers are favored in the wild card game and to go all the way to their second straight World Series championship.  But if they beat the Cardinals, they'll have to go through the Giants who won 107 games this year.

 

No one expected the Giants to soar, including me.  But they have a wonderful mixutre of vets from the world champs last decade, including Buster Posey, Johnny Cueto, and Brandon Belt.  Plus some good youngsters like Lamont Wade Jr. and pitcher Logan Webb, only 26 but he already possesses the visage of a gritty savvy veteran.

 

Belt got hit by a pitch and his broken finger may keep him out of the entire post-season.  But the Giants have always found a way in 2021 and I hope they do so again.

 

Winner of the first NLDS will face either the Braves or the Brewers, both teams with

Milwaukee in their history. Unfortunately, a key Brewers reliever, Devin Williams, suffered the most absurd and stupid injury shortly before the playoffs.  

 

After the NL Central-winning celebration, Williams had too much to drink. He went home and in undisclosed circumstances, he punched a wall in his house and broke his hand.  

 

He is out until at least the World Series if the Brewers get that far.  Since manager Craig Counsell micro-manages his bullpen seemingly more than any other manager, the loss of Williams to set up for closer Josh Hader might be too much to overcome. 

 

The Braves finished strong and I think have an edge over Milwaukee. They have two MVP candidates in the heart of their lineup, Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley.  (They might split the vote which could allow a poseur to win it like Bryce Harper - he always electioneers for the award but usually plays golf in October.)  

 

I am sure the Braves would like to meet the Dodgers in the NLCS and avenge last year's wrenching loss. Their one Achilles heel is closer Will Smith who is shaky far too often.  

 

Well, there you have my analysis for what it is worth.  And the old adage still applies.

"Opinions are like assholes - everyone has them."  

 

Always remember:  Take it easy but take it! 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

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First 2019 YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Blog

“I can imagine a world without baseball, but can’t imagine wanting to live in one.”
The late great sportswriter Leonard Koppett expressed that spot-on feeling in 2002 a year before he died. (Quoted by his son David in the posthumous edition of “Koppett’s Concise History of Major League Baseball," p478.)

In less than a month the greatest words in the English language will ring true again: “The pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training.” Yet I must admit as an Orioles fan I am not too excited. It’s unlikely that a team that lost 115 games in 2018 and has no recognizable strength at any position will improve significantly.

Yes, there is new management that is drenched in the analytic “advanced metric” side of the game. And I have never dismissed out of hand new information about our wonderfully confounding and complicated yet sweet and simple game of baseball.

But I also adamantly believe that you must never lose sight of character issues and aspects of the game that cannot be quantified. So I'll wait and see what happens with the new breed of "decision science" brainiacs led by new gm Mike Elias, a former Yale pitcher, and his right-hand man Sig Megdal (pronounced May-dell), a former NASA specialist who worked on, among other things, models to enhance astronaut sleeping habits.

As I write in mid-January, there are still no new teams for the marquee free agents in this year’s class, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, both only 26. Many in the establishment sports media are wailing about the broken free agency system.

In fact, I think the issue rests more in a player agent rivalry as much as in a broken system. Dan Lozano represents Machado, the same agent that conned Angels owner Arte Moreno into a 10-year deal with now-fading Albert Pujols.

Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated 10 years ago as a 16-year-old and his ego has soared since, is in the stable of Scott Boras. Boras' professed hero is Marvin Miller, the Players Association leader who was always confident some owner would break down and give what the player(s) wanted.

In 2019, however, it is light years from the heyday of Miller and his unheralded chief counsel Dick Moss who shepherded players through legal thickets to free agency.
Players now are far richer and perhaps sated, and managements are getting smarter.

After seeing Machado and Harper play for six years with their former teams (the Orioles and Dodgers for Manny, the Nationals for Bryce), it is clear that while both are great numbers producers, they are not the kind of leaders that make everyone on the team better.

If owners and managements are getting more careful about committing multi-million dollars in long term contracts, I am not complaining. As always, though, it is hard to side with the fat cat owners against players whose skills are extremely perishable.

So with well over a hundred serviceable veterans still unsigned, I hope it isn’t like last year when the Players Association had to hastily put together a spring training base in Florida for those still without contracts.

Turning to another big off-field subject, the Hall of Fame will announce next week the results of the regular voting for the Cooperstown class of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be virtually a unanimous choice.

Three other candidates have strong cases. Former stellar Oriole and Yankee RHP Mike Mussina compiled a 270-153 record with a 3.68 ERA. His walk-strikeout ratio was a superb mere 785 BBs and 2813 K's. His WHIP (combining walks and hits per inning) was an outstanding 1.192.

Even better stats were accumulated by the late outstanding RHP Roy Halladay who lost his life in his private plane accident in 2017. With the Blue Jays and Phillies, Halladay went 203-105, 3.38 ERA, WHIP 1.178, and an impressive BB/K ratio of 592/2117.

The case for the outstanding Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez is also strong but perhaps not as strong because his injuries confined him to a DH role for most of his career. He hit .312 for a career, very impressive in the age of multiple relievers. Slugging average of .309 with 2247 hits, 309 HRs and 2161. Also over his career he drew more walks 1283 than strikeouts 1202.

His stats to me are more favorable than Harold Baines were and Baines was elected
to the shrine last month in a vote by a special Veterans Committee. The former White Sox-Ranger-Oriole hit .289, slugged .465 with 384 HRs and 1628 in a 20-year career, much of it like Edgar M. limited to the DH role because of injury. He also had a negative BB/SO ratio of 1062/1441.

When eligible in the regular vote of the writers, Baines didn't receive even ten per cent of any vote. With his former White Sox manager Tony LaRussa on the veterans committee, it is hard not to see favoritism in his selection. (Longtime closer Lee Smith was also voted in last month, a less controversial choice but not one that I would have chosen.)

Baines' election brought back memories of decades ago when the affable genuine Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch openly and successfully lobbied for several of his former Giant and Cardinal teammates to get selected to Cooperstown.

A Hall of Fame should be for the truly great not the merely good or very good. But since selections almost always are turned into a popularity contest, there is not much that I can do about that.

Before I close, I am distressed to report that my alma mater college basketball teams, Columbia and Wisconsin, have hit hard times. The Badgers looked very good in the pre-Big Ten season, but they have lost their winning touch in league play.
Likely All-American fifth-year senior Ethan Happ can only do so much, especially since he has great trouble at the foul line and never shoots outside the paint.

Columbia lost its best player, gifted if erratic point guard Mike Smith, to a season-ending injury. Unlike the resurgent football team under coach Al Bagnoli that produced a winning season despite multiple injuries, basketball has not yet learned how to win.

Yet the cage season is not even half-over so I try to believe in change for the better, and, of course, I always root, root, root for my team.

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