MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019:
Having had two knee replacements this year, I have had an inordinate amount of time to lie on my butt in my big bed (equipped with one of those remotes that you can raise and lower your head and feet with) watching all kinds of cable TV and movies and baseball games and documentaries and such. I also got addicted to all those animal planet type shows. “Cannibal Lions of the Savannah”, “Killer Baboons of the Southern Veldt”, “What? Giraffe Again?! (a Hyena’s Journey)”...You know the kind.
One of my favorites is called African Murder Mysteries or something like that where it starts with a dead animal lying in the dirt and then makes you guess among four suspects who the killer was. There’s a dead lion cub...he either screwed up on a buffalo hunt, ate porcupine quills by mistake, pissed off a solitary male lion who killed him so as to bring his mother into breeding heat again, (lions are kind of funky fathers) or succumbed to Climate Change. (Everything gets blamed on Climate Change these days. It turns out the cub was helping the pride bring down a cape buffalo and got his head stomped by a buffalo hoof...but the buffalo was driven mad by Climate Change!)
In one episode, they featured a dead male hippo lying in the shallow water of the waterhole (shockingly shallow water because of Climate Change!..okay I’ll stop.) The murderer wasn’t a lion, wasn’t a crocodile, wasn’t a confused elephant in rut...it was ...THE BEACHMASTER!
The Beachmaster is what they call the Alpha Hippo male who runs the herd (a harem of female hippo beauties and their many offspring who are off limits to all other male hippos). The Beachmaster is one big ass hippo with enormous canine tusks about a foot and a half long who can literally chomp a crocodile in half. The dead hippo was trying to put his humongous hippo hingus into one of the girl-hippos (they do it under water) and so the Beachmaster bit his head and drowned him.
Instant metaphor! The BEACHMASTER is the New York Yankees, the dead hippo is the Boston Red Sox and I guess that would make the girl-hippo the American League pennant.
The Yankees are traditionally strong enough every year to at least contend...but this year they have outdone themselves. They have somehow transitioned from a bunch of old players with great last decade resumes but what-have-you-done-for-me-lately recent stats into a young team with 1 to 9 home run threats, batting champs, rookies of the year and multiple MVP candidates. Not to mention the world’s best bullpen. They have been so good that they lost almost their entire starting lineup and half their starting rotation and a couple of phenomenal relievers and GOT BETTER. That’s because they have one of the deepest farm systems in the game and a general manager who knows how to pick players and could give a shit how much money he spends to get whoever he wants to bolster the roster.
Really...when has this ever happened? Within the first few weeks of the season the Yanks had lost their starting shortstop (Gregorius), back up shortstop (Tulowitzki), third baseman (Andujar), first baseman (Bird), catcher (Sanchez), centerfielder (Hicks), right fielder (Judge) and DH (Stanton). Half of those guys were All Stars last year. They also lost their number one starter (Severino), their two and three starters for a month or so (Sabathia and Paxton) and number two reliever (Betances) plus a whole lot of other players. And they’ve won 57 out of 86 games in the first half.
I know I’ve been talking about this a lot lately but it’s really kind of astounding when you stop and think about it. I think the Yankees have exploited the prevailing paradigm...if you have a roster that has...say...three guys in a row hit singles you score one run. If you have three guys come to the plate and two of them strike out but one gets a home run you still score one run...but if anybody else is on base you get two or three. And because everybody in your lineup can hit homers, they also tend to get walked a lot by gun-shy pitchers. That means a lot of guys on base for the frequent home runs.
The Yankees...featuring a lineup of mostly cast-offs (Luke Voit), semi-rookies (Gleyber Torres) and converted journeymen (Gio Ursela) have hit 147 home runs in the first half...that’s on a record-breaking pace. The record was set last year by the Yankees with 267 homers. This year 7 teams have at least 140 home runs already, putting all of them on a pace to break the record. 7 teams! The Minnesota Twins have hit 165 4 baggers, on a pace for about 310-320 for the season. That record for most homers/season/team has gone up by 2 or 5 homers or so whenever it has been reset. Now we’re going to see a jump of 50 in one year? The thirty Major League baseball teams hit an all-time record of 5585 round trippers last season, 2018. That record is probably going to be beat by over 1000 home runs. We’re going to have at least 25-30 men with at least 40 home runs and probably over 50 hit at least 30 home runs for the year.
This is a freakish reinvention of our national game. Just thought you’d like to know.
So here’s the Major League Dangerous Animal rundown:
BEACHMASTER: New York Yankees (Yes, I know...hippos can’t be the very top of the dangerous animal list as long as elephants are still around, but in my opinion no current team is so strong as to qualify for the “Bull Elephant” metaphorical designation. That would be reserved for all time strong teams like the ‘26-’28 Yankees, the ‘29-31 Athletics, the ‘36-’39 Yankees, the ‘54 Indians, the ‘55 Dodgers, the ‘61 Yankees, ‘68 Tigers, ‘70-’72 Athletics, ‘75-’76 Reds, ‘98 Yankees, ‘01 Mariners, and maybe the ‘18 Red Sox.)
APEX PREDATORS: (Lion) Houston Astros. They may even be able to knock off the hippo. Their starting pitching is even better and if Altuve and Springer can stay healthy and Correa come back sometime, we may see the ‘Stros triumphant once again.
(Crocodile) Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ve won 60 games but they seem stronger than they really are because the National League is much weaker than the competition in the AL where the Yanks and Astros operate. The NL West is especially weak this year and that’s where the Dodgers make hay. Still, 5 walkoffs in a row? Bellinger hitting .341 with 30 dings? You’ve got to notice things like that. They need to get some help for Kenley Jansen in their bullpen.
SECOND TIER PREDATORS: (Leopard) Minnesota Twins. They had an awesome first half and will probably break the record for most homers by one team in a season. They are being led by their young stars Buxton in center, Polanco at shortstop and Max Kepler in right. Their pitching staff strikes out 3 times more batters than they walk.
(African Wild Dog) Atlanta Braves. They piddled around early in the season but now they’ve taken over the NL East. Led by Freeman, Acuna and their Keystone Combo of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, the Braves are hitting. Josh Donaldson and Austin Riley are lengthening that lineup and Mike Soroka is the surprise Ace.
LURKERS IN THE BUSH: (Cape Buffalo. Don’t wake them up!) Washington Nationals. They’ve been tearing up the league lately after a miserable start. The main reason to beware of this team? Those three starting pitchers Scherzer, Strassburg and Corbin. Who wants to face that trio in the Playoffs?
(Rhino) Boston Red Sox. Yeah, I know, they got disemboweled by the Beachmaster in London. What a slaughter! They’ve exhausted their bullpen. The starters are only good for 5 innings...even Sale and Price. If they’re serious about contending this year, they have to do something radical...like trade for help. They have the offense clicking again, but you can’t win if your offense has to come up with 8 runs every game just to stay in it.
(Cheetah) Oakland A’s. Once they get started, they’re fast enough to run anybody down. And every year about this time, the A’s wake up and start bashing the ball all over the creaky old Coliseum and moving up the standings. They seem to make the Wild Card every year. They might win that play-in game one of these seasons.
A BITE IN THE NIGHT: (Black Mamba) Tampa Rays. You don’t see them in the tall grass, but you step on them at your peril. They’ve got the best rotation in the AL East and they keep winning at a good clip. If one of the powerful teams slumps, the Rays will slip in there and do their thing.
(Honey Badger) Cleveland Indians. No matter how many times you beat them down, they’re always ready to fight. Honey Badger don’t care! The strength of their team was their pitching staff and this year it’s been hit hard by injuries. Kluber, Carrasco and Clevinger have all had health concerns. Their offensive leader has been Carlos Santana. He’s an All Star! Who would have guessed? Lindor is playing well after his early season stint on the IL, but Jose Ramirez has been in a slump all year. He’s hitting .217 at the break. That’s a phenomenal drop in production. And still, the Indians have won 50 games and are a solid second in the AL Central. They are ahead of the A’s, Rangers and Red Sox for a Wild Card.
SCAVENGERS: (Hyenas, Jackals, Vultures, Storks etc.) Philadelphia Phillies. The Harper Hype has been embarrassing. This player is talented and hustles, but he can’t seem to learn that he’s not going to get fastballs in the zone, so he invariably gets two strikes on him and then swings at some funky slider two feet outside. Who is the batting coach on the Phillies?
Arizona Diamondbacks. Another team living on scraps that the real killers leave lying around. Most of us are surprised they’ve been doing as well as they have, with a winning record and all, but to what can they reasonably aspire this season? I would say keeping their fan base, and that’s more than a lot of these rebuilding teams are doing.
The entire NL Central. You know when the lions leave the dead carcass of the zebra lying there and go lie under an acacia tree with distended bellies and all the scavengers start ripping at the zebra and each other? That’s what’s happening in the Central. It’s really interesting in a baseball sense because one of these teams has to win the division and go to the Playoffs. We used to think the Cubs were the class of this division until the Brewers embarrassed them last year. This club has had strong offense from Rizzo, Bryant, Baez and Contreras, but their pitching has cratered. They’re hoping that picking up Craig Kimbrel will have a positive ripple effect, but without Cole Hamels and an effective John Lester and , the Cubs are just chewing the bones.
The St. Louis Cardinals were supposed to come back strong after a few wretched seasons but it looks like they’ve got a long term problem with the pitching staff. Constant injuries have worn down their famous depth and they just don’t have the horses any more. Their closer, Jordan Hicks...he of the 105 mph fastball...has succumbed to the same fate of so many other young fireballers...the dreaded Tommy John elbow. Goldschmidt, Ozuna and Carpenter were supposed to carry the offense, but even though the first two started well, Goldy has gone cold and Ozuna is out for a long spell with two broken fingers. (He was their only player with an .800 plus OPS.) Their future Hall of Fame catcher Yadier Molina has a bad thumb. And now Carpenter has a bad back. It’s really very sad.
Carpenter was responsible for one of my favorite moments of the season so far. Facing a heavy shift against his lefty bat, Matt...who is only batting .216 this year...bunted for a double down the third base line. It wasn’t even a close play! They should beam that replay into every locker room in baseball.
Milwaukee Brewers. The offense is Grandal, Moustakas and Yelich. Period. Nobody else is functioning and former worthies Jesus Aguilar and Cain have been ineffective for long stretches. Travis Shaw, who has been a dependable 30 homer/100 rbi bat and good infielder for them, has hit .164 for the Brewskies this year and has been banished to the minors. And the pitching? It’s Woodruff, Hader...and Later!
Pittsburgh Pirates. Wouldn’t it be unexpected and marvelous if the much-despised Pirates rose up and took control of this division? Well it could happen. They’re in fourth place but only 2.5 games back. They’ve had more than their share of major injuries to starters...Polanco, Cervelli, Taillon...and the starting staff, which was supposed to be their strength, has under-performed by quite a lot. So how have they stayed in the hunt? Offense! This team leads the NL with a .270 average...that includes all those feeble pitchers who have to hit in the senior circuit. And Josh Bell. He’s having an epic season (27 homers/87 rbi’s!) and with a little help from young hitters like LF Bryan Reynolds (.339), SS Kevin Newman (.324), and 3B Colin Moran (.290), Bell is launching this team into the race like one of his long blasts into the Allegheny River. Willie Stargell….where are you Pops?
Cincinnati Reds. Wouldn’t it be unexpected and marvelous if the much-despised Reds...Oh. Wait a minute while I come up with a new line...The Redlegs are only 4.5 games back despite hitting .236 this season. They have the best starters in this division. What if they start to hit? Well Dietrich has 18 dings, Suarez and Puig have 20 each and Votto is up to .271 after enduring the worst slump of his life. What if?…
GAME ANIMALS: (Kudu, Eland, Sable ) Chicago White Sox, Texas, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies. They can run a little bit and they have big horns but unless you’re in the NL Central a .500 record won’t get it done this year.
MEAT ON THE HOOF: (Zebra, Wildebeest, Warthogs) Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Seattle, New York Mets, Miami, San Francisco. Basically, they’re just running around waiting to get eaten.
A BASEBALL STORY:
If you want to make some money, bet your Baseball Pals on this question: Who was the only player ever to hit a walk-off home run to win a pennant in the regular season? (Bobby Thompson, Chris Chambliss, Aaron Boone and Maglio Ordonez did it in the Playoffs,)
Here’s THE ANSWER: (borrowed from Baseball Egg)
Milwaukee is a great baseball city, their fans love the game even though their Brewers have never won a World Series and only once have advanced to the Fall Classic. But there was a great team in “Suds City” long before the Brewers ever took the field, a team that would have made “The Fonz” proud. The golden era of big league baseball in Milwaukee was the 1950s, a decade that many experts feel is the best in baseball history. Milwaukee boasted the Braves, one of the NL’s most exciting teams with sluggers Henry Aaron and Eddie Mathews, not to mention Joe Adcock, one of the strongest players in the game.
Even though the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants got most of the headlines (and pennants) in the NL in the ’50s, the Braves gave them a run for their money. With their formidable offense and great pitching staff led by Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, and Johnny Sain, Milwaukee finished in second place in 1953, 1955, and again in 1956, each time losing out to the Dodgers. In ’56 they blew a 3 1/2 game September lead and were eliminated on the final day of the season. They were determined to win the flag in 1957. On September 23, the Braves had a five-game lead with less than a week left in the season and were at home facing the Cardinals. A victory would clinch the pennant. The teams battled to a tie into extra innings, Burdette tossing 10 innings and allowing just a pair of runs. It was 2-2 in the bottom of the 11th and Billy Muffett was on the mound for St. Louis. After getting an out, Muffett surrendered a single to Johnny Logan. Mathews followed with a fly ball to center for the second out. That brought up Aaron who had hit 42 homers already and was on his way to winning his first MVP award. Aaron swung at a Muffett fastball and belted it to center field, deep beyond the wall. The crowd of more than 40,000 erupted as Hammerin’ Hank circled the bases for a 4-2, game-ending home run. The Braves had clinched their first pennant in Milwaukee in just their fifth season in the city. Aaron’s homer remains the only walkoff homer to clinch a pennant in a regular season game, as opposed to a postseason contest.