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!

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.

Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes: Who Is the Better Addition?

Yu Darvish begins his pitch.

Yu Darvish begins his pitch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Texas Rangers spent $50 million simply to gain the rights to speak to Yu Darvish. Oakland landed the Cuban standout Yoenis Cespedes. Now that the 2012 season is underway and we’ve seen the beginnings of their respective Major League careers, we are witnessing why the Texas Rangers and the Oakland A’s made smart moves.

Cespedes’ potential is evident. Barring significant injury, Cespedes has the making to live up to the hype. He is only hitting .262. However, his power is evident. His skills will refine themselves. We could be looking at one of the premier players of the future.

Guess Yu?

I’m more impressed with Yu Darvish. He shut down the Yanks lineup with 10k’s. Did I mention his durability? We won’t crown him with the Cy Young….yet. $50 million to simply gain the rights to attempt to negotiate with a player sounded outrageous at the time. Apparently the Rangers were on to something. Granted his first two starts showed some jitters. However, if he settles in, Darvish is going to justify the Rangers decision to spend.

The lineup behind Darvish undoubtedly bolsters his confidence. Are we witnessing the beginnings of a 20-game winner? Possibly. As Darvish adjusts to his new role, he can easily win 15 games this season.

The Better Addition?

Who is the better addition? At this point, that’s a tough question to answer. The Rangers are going to take the West and probably contend for the pennant against Detroit. Darvish came into an ideal situation. He has much to live up to, however he’s already on a winning team. Ironically, Oakland sits in the number two spot in the West behind….Texas. So, to answer my question: with the current state of affairs, Cespedes will impact his team’s chances more than Darvish, if Cespedes truly lives up to his potential. Oakland needs Cespedes more than Texas needs Darvish at this point.

Watching young talent come into the game is truly great from the fan’s perspective. Let’s see where their careers take them.

 

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!

What To Do About Ozzie?

Ozzie Guillén

Ozzie Guillén (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is Ozzie Guillen good for baseball? I guess this depends upon your perspective and what you, as a fan, believe athletes and coaches should and shouldn’t do. Let’s set aside his actual comments and the deep emotions his words evoke. Ozzie Guillen has been, and most likely will continue to be vocal and opinionated. He is controversial, and that is part of who he is. As for baseball, the game as a profession that is, I don’t believe Guillen fits the mold.

What do I mean by mold? I mean the image Major League Baseball wants to create for itself. Just as the NFL created an image that transcends almost all ethnicities and social groups, baseball strives to do the same. After all, this is America’s pastime. What’s more, baseball is a truly global sport. Simply look at the numbers of players from Latin America, Japan, and others countries.

Guillen’s suspension  is dollars and cents. How will his presence on the Marlins bench impact the business model? That remains to be seen. What may get lost in this is baseball’s image. This isn’t the first controversy committed by Ozzie. Some may question why does the sport keep him around? One answer to that question is his ability to attract publicity. Except is this the type of publicity Major League Baseball wants?

Whether or not the Marlins should fire Guillen is a decision only they can make, with some guidance from the Office of the Commissioner I’m sure. Whether or not fans will stray from the Marlins or the game itself, is a choice only we as individuals can make.

Is Votto’s Contract Bad for Business? Maybe.

Joey Votto, spring training 2008.

Joey Votto, spring training 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joey Votto‘s contract with the Cincinnati Reds is in Alex Rodriguez territory. Whether or not any of us agree with the large sums of money professional athletes are paid, is moot at this point. With concern to Votto, is the career .313 hitter worth the money?

Aside from the fact I would encourage my son to become a baseball player instead of a wide receiver, having such contracts is bad business. Unless the market in which your team exists is New York, Boston, or possibly Los Angeles, the financial handicap the Reds management is placing on the organization should be of concern to Red’s fans. What if Votto gets hurt? What if the inevitable deterioration of skills, that affects all players, begins sooner rather than later. Alex Rodriguez provides a good case study. Since 2007, A-Rod’s average steadily declined: 2007-.314; 2008-.302; 2009-.286; 2010-.270. In 2011 his average went up to .276 but he only played in 99 games. I would speculate his average, had he played at least 124 games (A-Rod played in 124 games in 2009. This constituted the fewest games played in his MLB career aside from 2011’s 99 games) would’ve been lower.

Comparing players to A-Rod, can prove to be an inherently unfair comparison. My concern over Votto’s deal is the limitations the Red’s may face in acquiring other talent. Again, few clubs can sustain a potential hit to a player with such a large contract. Cincinnati is not one of those clubs. In the ultimate scheme of professional sports, players and their agents get what they can negotiate. Do I believe Votto is good? Without question. Do I believe he’s worth the $225 million the Red’s are giving him, no. I simply feel the potential for a bad baseball business practice is too great. I hope Votto and the Red’s prove me wrong.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think!

Statistical data from espn.go.com.

Ryan Braun: The Most Valuable Performance Enhancer?

Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball player...

Image via Wikipedia

The National League MVP Ryan Braun reportedly tested positive for a banned substance. This news is disappointing. Braun represents the new generation of baseball stars. He represents the clean slate Major League Baseball is working from. Gone are the McGwire’s, Bonds, and Palmeiro’s. We still live with Alex Rodriguez, but his stature in the game is grossly declining to near irrelevance.

Braun is appealing the test. The most disconcerting issue, and call me old-fashioned, he knew about the results a month prior to winning the MVP. I don’t know what he should or could have done. However, Braun remains a winner as he reportedly will continue to collect on his contract.

Major League Baseball lost credibility during the “Steroid Era.” Braun’s failing this test does nothing for the game. It does nothing for the fans. Should Braun lose his MPV Award? Should his career statistics have the famed asterisk with a footnote: “failed MLB drug testing in 2011?” Each baseball writer, fan, executive, and player will need to decide for themselves.

A rigidly enforced drug policy works great if MLB is serious about the penalties. The irony is Major League baseball reinstated Manny Ramirez this week. To effectively enforce the drug policy, players who fail these drug tests need excommunication from Major League Baseball. Never to return again. Is expulsion from the game effective? The answer to that question lies with some former members of the 1919 White Sox and an all-time hits leader not in the Hall of Fame.

Now is the time to crack down once and for all on PED use. Not all of us fans want inflated numbers. If a player is truly phenomenal, their talent will show without any enhancement.

Major League Baseball Playoff Expansion is a Good Thing!

The Major League Baseball logo.

Image via Wikipedia

Major League Baseball is going to expand the playoffs to include a total of 10 teams. This is a good thing. Baseball needs the drama and excitement of the one-and-done game. The last few seasons we’ve seen this. The owners want it, the players want it, and I would suspect a number of fans want this. Not to mention, this is good for business. Yes, this will eliminate the drama of having a single game to determine who’s in the playoffs and who’s out. But, that drama isn’t guaranteed within the current structure. Expansion to an additional Wild Card round guarantees the excitement.

Play-off expansion gives smaller market teams an additional opportunity. The business of baseball benefits from this. Not to mention, this gives players something to actually play for. Rather than write their season off in mid-August, there is some added motivation. Players play, however we tend to hear rumblings of how some teams and players slack off when their playoff hopes appear to be slim. That second wild card slot will improve competition, especially towards the end of the season. I am not suggesting this is going to be the perfect playoff structure. There is an inherent lack of fairness if an entire 162 game season hinges on one game. However, professional sports need to evolve. The last change in 1994 worked, I think this will too.

Ten teams in the playoffs is enough. The NHL, NBA, and NFL all have similar ratios. The addition of a wild-card slot in baseball indicates another exciting possibility for baseball fans: the Commissioner and the owners are willing to try old and new ideas (insert regular season replay here.) They are willing to embrace some level of change. The players strike of 1994 did significant damage to the sport. Only the enhanced home run chase brought fans back to the game. Now that Major League Baseball’s fan base is watching again, the sport needs to keep current fans interested, and new ones tuning in. The next few seasons of baseball will at least be interesting, if not truly exciting for fans.

A Player Profile: Jim Thome

Jim Thome

Image via Wikipedia

In 1991 a player named Jim Thome began his Major League Career in Cleveland. Since that time, Thome’s career took him to Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and now on the cusp of 600 home runs, Minnesota. Thome’s career spans two decades. In many ways, he is a quiet giant of the game. Let us profile the player by the numbers.

Thome is a career .277 hitter with 2,257 hits. He sits on 598 homers as of the writing of this post. Thome will join the 600 HR Club but will he join the Hall of Fame? As his career statistics currently stand, I say yes, he should go into the Hall.

His career OPS is .961. He’s a five-time all-star. In 2002 he lead the AL in slugging with a .677 percentage. What is most interesting to this blogger: Thome has built a career in a seemingly quiet manner compared to his contemporaries.

To me Thome has consistently maintained an image of the hard-nosed worker. He comes in, he gets his work in, and that’s it. Thome is not loud or over-the-top. He’s a ball player. While Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa were putting on spectacular home run derby’s, Thome was simply doing his job. Example, in 1998 when McGuire broke the single-season home run record, Thome hit 30 of his own. When Bonds surpassed McGuire in 2001, Thome hit 49.

I would like to think the 40-year-old Thome has a few more years left, but we can never know with athletes. Regardless of what he does after 2011, I’m glad to see this giant of the game enter the 600-Club.

There is one problem for Thome. His career primarily spanned the Steroid Era. I do not know how the writers will view Thome’s career within the  scope of this generation. Thome is not one of the names listed in the Mitchell Report.  However, his slugging and home run numbers may give pause to some Hall of Fame voters.

In the end, I believe Thome will be a Hall of Famer. I would suspect his 600-plus homers would make him a first ballot inductee. Good luck Jim, and thanks for the show.

All statistical data compiled from baseball-reference.com.