Thank You Major League Baseball for the Races to the Baseball Playoffs

The Major League Baseball logo.

The Major League Baseball logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I will say this as simply as possible, adding a second wild card spot is the best thing Major League Baseball has done in a long time. When first announced, I believed this was a good idea and so far it proves to be. We have playoff baseball in late August and September. The star players now need to show up. The average players now have an opportunity to rise to the next level. What more could fans want?

The American League East

The AL East is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. Typically this battle involves New York and Boston. This season however, the pesky Orioles under Buck Showalter are proving payroll means nothing. The Orioles don’t seem to care much about run differential either. Baltimore is forcing New York to stay aggressive. Thank you Major League Baseball.

The Oakland Athletics

Sitting only two games behind the Rangers in the AL West and in the lead for the Wild Card is impressive, at least to me. Oakland will be a tough team regardless how they get into the playoffs. With seven games remaining between Texas and Oakland, anything can happen. Thank you Major League Baseball.

The National League

Barring any highly improbable, complete apocalyptic collapses, (I’m not even sure if mathematically they could happen), the division leaders in the National League need not worry about their playoff chances. The Wild Card race is what fans need to watch. Going into Sunday’s games, the Braves, Dodgers, and Cardinals are tied for two wild card slots. My apologies to all the Pittsburgh Pirate fans, not this season.This is baseball at its best. Thank you Major League Baseball.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think!

Advertisements

Baseball All-Stars, Jim Thome, and Robinson Cano’s June: Some Thoughts on the Week In Baseball

English: Jim Thome

English: Jim Thome (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The All-Star selections are nearly complete. There is no surprise the Rangers and Yankees dominated the American League roster. Every season we seem to have issue with some selections. The most conspicuous snub is Matt Wieters. Wieters should be starting behind the plate. Wieters can thank the Rangers growing fan base for the snub. Fans, please select players for their performance, not the team jersey they wear.

The most impressive, Mike Trout of the Angels. The rookie sensation is simply phenomenal. The 20-year-old is batting a cool .339 with 9 homers and 33 RBI. What impresses the most, is his mastery of the lost art of the stolen base. Trout currently leads the American League with 22. Needless to say this rookie earned a well-deserved selection.

Centerfield for the American League is perplexing. Why is Granderson starting? Baltimore’s Adam Jones, and the aforementioned Mike Trout are more deserving of the starting job for the AL.

The question remains, will that other rookie phenom, Bryce Harper join the Mid-Summer Classic? When left to the fans who knows. My pick for the National League vote-in all-star is Chipper Jones. Call me sentimental, but his numbers .292/6/29, warrant the selection in my eyes. Consider this, 2012 is his last go-around. Let’s not discount anything Harper brings to the table, however he has his whole career ahead of him.

As Texas and New York dominated the American League selections; Giants fans exercised their voting power for the National League. That said, the Mets David Wright belongs starting at third base.

One last note about the selections and this goes out to Melky Cabrera. As a Yankee fan this is slightly frustrating. Melky put together an awesome first half. Where was this Melky when you were in Pinstripes? 2006 was the closest you came hitting .280. I digress. Congrats Cabrera.

Jim Thome Moving Down I-95

The Baltimore Orioles acquired power hitter Jim Thome from the Phillies. Thome will provide veteran leadership in the Oriole clubhouse. I’m interested to see what Showalter will do with Thome long-term. As with all players, Thome is not the significant threat he once was. Yet, I get the sense his .227 average is misleading. Batting in the middle of the order may just get the hitting juices going. But, time will tell.

Robinson Cano’s June

As Thome is in the twilight of his career, Robinson Cano is in the prime of his. 11 home runs in the month of June is rather impressive. Did I mention his 34 hits as well? Check out this from ESPN to see who Cano joins in the universe of Yankee history.

Cano will join Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson when the American League takes the field on July 10th. Jeter’s selection is truly deserving. All three will look to lead the Yanks into the post season with another division title.

The week that was in baseball was entertaining to say the least.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think!

All data from espn.com

Baseball: The Beautiful Game

Ripken in the latter part of his career

Ripken in the latter part of his career (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second post in Baseball: The Beautiful Game Series. This post focuses not on a game or series of games, but a career. A baseball career that was iconic. This career belonged to none other than Cal Ripken, Jr.

The beauty of baseball is the history of the game. That history is held dear by casual observers, and students of the game alike. Ripken is an icon who is untarnished. His greatest achievement, the most consecutive games played, is a record I feel will stand for all-time. Ripken’s achievement transcends American sports. Few athletes maintain productive longevity. Ripken’s career spanned a total of 21 seasons. An 18-time all-star, 3,184 hits, and 431 HRs isn’t exactly an average player.

The Iron Man represents the uniqueness of baseball’s star power. Where other sports tend to rely on multiple stars to promote and attract the fan base, baseball can have one individual. Ripken is such an example. Baseball’s beauty comes from names like Ruth, Dimaggio, Jackson, Jeter, and Ripken, Jr. Regardless of whether or not you were an Orioles fan, you rooted for Ripken. We cheered when he surpassed Gehrig’s record. Ripken carried the sport of baseball on his shoulders and still stood up straight.

Historical Perspective

The beauty of the game is nothing without career’s like Ripken’s. To accomplish his achievements in sport today is rare. True, many athletes continue to play long after the spotlight. Few carry the respect, and the ability to keep fans watching. The Iron Man is a testament to the history of the game. He broke the record held by one of the immortals, Lou Gehrig. Let’s place some historical perspective on this. Gehrig is a baseball legend. Cal will forever be linked with Gehrig. Two immortals whose careers are mentioned in the same breath every time.

Players like Ripken are rare. The beautiful game of baseball brings these players into our living rooms,  our tablets, in the newspapers, and into our memories. Thanks Cal.

Buck Showalter, the Baltimore Orioles, and Fundamentals

Buck Showalter

Buck Showalter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Baltimore Orioles organization saw something in Buck Showalter. His emphasis on fundamentals is bearing fruit. The Orioles now sit in first place in the  American League East. Some detractors may say Boston’s implosion from 2011 carried over to this season. The Yankees powerhouse is just not what it used to be. So of course the Orioles have an opportunity to contend. Except the AL East remains a strong division from top to bottom.

Entering Sunday night, only 3.5 games separate the Orioles from last place Boston. Let’s not forget about the Rays. A phenomenal rotation and an offense that isn’t afraid to implement strategy, Tampa Bay is the cream of the crop in the American League. So how is Baltimore showing up the rest of the division?

Buck is being Buck. Showalter has the Orioles playing solid baseball. With Showalter at the helm, the Orioles don’t care which teams comprise the division. They play hard  and focus on the fundamentals. Again, that’s what being Buck is all about. Baltimore is here to stay.

What to Expect From the AL East

Yankee fans beware. Rays fans watch out. Red Sox Nation….nevermind. The Orioles don’t have  many standout players. Yet they appear ready, and able to contend in 2012.  Fans can expect the division to come down to the wire. The season is still young, but teams are making early statements. Let us not forget some Blue Birds from the North. Toronto won’t make the playoffs, but they can play spoiler. As a lifelong supporter of the New York Yankees, I’m concerned as to the success of these upstarts from the southern reaches of the Eastern seaboard. That being said, as a fan of baseball the entertainment factor significantly increased. Winning in the American League East means that much more. Teams know they’ve earned their record. The division as a whole is strong and that makes for great baseball.

As much as it pains me to say it, keep up the fundamentals Buck.

The Balance of Power in the American League No Longer Rises in the East

Move over New York. Excuse me Boston. Sorry Tampa Bay. The 2012 season is still relatively new, but let’s face the truth. The American League East Division, once the dominant, most exciting division in the Major Leagues is, well, stale. High payrolls no longer buy what they apparently used to. New York currently sits at .500. The most significant news out of Boston is the hangover from last season, (sorry, no pun intended).

Tampa Bay is a puzzling club at this point. Most expect more from the Rays considering the rotation they field. Yet, Tampa Bay can’t seem to squeeze past .500. With players like BJ Upton on the DL, manager Joe Maddon has work to do.

The dominance of clubs like the Yankees and Boston is beginning to fade. The season is still young, however the troubles in the Boston clubhouse won’t disappear overnight. The aging Yankees need to establish consistency. The addition of pitcher Hiroki Kuroda sparked some hope for the rotation….until this past Wednesday night against Minnesota. Baltimore sits atop the division. Jake Arrieta’s early showings are impressive. However, if recent history teaches us anything, the 162 game season is full of streaks and slumps. Toronto is lying low while holding the number two spot in the division. In short, the AL East is up for grabs.

What should fans do? Look West my friends. Detroit is an early favorite to represent the American League in the Fall Classic. Justin Verlander continues his dominance. His ability to throw hard in late innings is truly something to watch. The Tigers addition of Prince Fielder only made this team more dangerous. The other team to watch, the Texas Rangers. Regardless of what Pujols and C.J. Wilson may bring to the Angels, the Rangers have their eyes set on the AL West crown. Texas already appears set to run away with the West.

The struggles of AL East teams is bad for their fans. The leveling of the field in the American League is good for baseball. I will insert my usual disclaimer here, the season is a long one. Much can happen between now and September. Stay tuned.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think!

The Importance of Pitching: The 1971 Baltimore Orioles

Pitching. The importance of pitching is never underestimated when it comes to wins and losses. After witnessing the Phillies acquire Cliff Lee, I thought to myself what dominant rotations of years past have there been? The 1971 Baltimore Orioles came to mind. To have one or two 20-game winners on the same staff in the same season is impressive, but to have four seems nearly impossible. However, Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, and Pat Dobson all won 20 games that season. The 1971 Orioles were the last team to have four 20-game winners.

The youngest of the group, Jim Palmer, was 25. He went 20-9 with a 2.68 ERA in ’71. He threw 20 complete games with 3 shutouts. He also struck out 184 batters. 28-year-old Dave McNally went 21-5 to lead the rotation in wins that year. His 2.89 ERA was slightly lower than teammate Pat Dobson at 2.90.  McNally only struck out 91 batters that season, but had a win-loss percentage of .808.

Mike Cuellar was the oldest pitcher in the rotation at 34. He pitched 292.1 innings in 1971, the most in the rotation. With a 3.08 ERA, he had 4 shutouts and sent 124 batters back to the dugout on strikes. Like McNally, he was a lefty.

Pat Dobson ended the 1971 season with 20 wins and 8 losses. He struck out the most batters with 187 strikeouts. He had 18 complete games with 4 shutouts. “The Dobber”  passed away on November 22, 2006.

Of the four men, only Jim Palmer made it to Cooperstown in 1990. Palmer would pitch for 19 seasons with a 2.86 career ERA. He won the AL Cy Young Award in 1973,  1975, and 1976. You can hear Jim calling Oriole games to this day. Dave McNally never won a Cy Young. He passed away in 2002. Mike Cuellar split the 1969 Cy Young voting with Denny McLain. Mike Cuellar died in March 2010.

All statistical and historical data from baseball-reference.com.

A Met, an Oriole, and the Boston Red Sox Walk Into a Bar…

I understand we are three games into the regular season. However, the Mets are 2-1; the Orioles are 4-0, and the Red Sox, yes the Boston Red Sox, are 0-3. I will be the first to say the season is too young. We shouldn’t make any conclusions about the season. However, the almighty, powerful, pre-season AL Champs are win-less.

I may be wrong about the Orioles. Buck Showalter made comments before the season that I thought were premature. You need to win something before you can say something. Well, apparently he and his team took my advice.

The mighty (possibly overrated) Red Sox are struggling. They were swept in their opening series. What’s wrong in Boston? I guess you can have all the talent in the world. That doesn’t mean that group can actually pull it all together. Did I mention Tampa Bay? The Mets, surprisingly, seem to be holding their own. I’ll wait to pass judgement on them after their series with Philadelphia. Oh, and at some point they will go to Atlanta, you may have heard of a team there called the Braves.

The Yankee bats have come alive so far. Congratulations to Mark Texeira for breaking his April slump. In short, this very young season already has some surprises. Stay tuned.

Showalter Is a Bucking Oriole

Buck Showalter, manager of the Baltimore Orioles, slammed Derek Jeter and the Red Sox this week. Seriously?

I’ve never been a fan of trash talking. I understand the importance, sometimes, of getting inside your opponent’s head so to speak. However, try making the playoffs. Better yet, get to .500 for the season before you open your mouth. If Tampa Bay wanted to say a few words, I’m OK with that. But for Buck Showalter to criticize Derek Jeter is misplaced. To imply Theo Epstein’s “genius” is due solely to the number of digits to the left of the decimal point for Boston’s payroll is ludicrous.

Jeter won’t respond verbally, his response will come on the field. The Red Sox will put their payroll to good use beginning April 26-28th. I was a fan of Buck’s. I was happy to see him get the managerial spot in Baltimore last season. I thought, here is one more reason to watch the AL East. However, I expected better from Showalter. As a manager, you don’t say anything. Defend your players when necessary and prove your worth on the field. 

It’s a long season, it just got a whole lot longer for Buck.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think!

Buck is coming to Baltimore!

Buck Showalter will return to the bench next Tuesday as the skipper of the Baltimore Orioles. I believe this is a good choice by the Orioles. Showalter won 882 games in 11 years of managing. He was Manger of the Year twice in the American League.  He helped lay the foundation of what became the latest Yankee dynasty. If the 1995 season wasn’t cut short by the players strike, I think Showalter would have at least one ring. Continue reading