Monday, July 8, 2019

MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: THE BEACHMASTER


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019:

THE BEACHMASTER

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.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: QUARTER POLE


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: QUARTER POLE

Hello intrepid Warriors of Baseball Fandom. After 40 some games of the 2019 season you might need an explanation. This I shall attempt.

1/COME ON BABY LET’S GO DOWNTOWN: Stat of the First Quarter… we have 32...that’s right, thirty two...players in the Bigs who are already double figures in home runs. (*as of May 16) That means if they repeat their success in the First Quarter of this season in the next 3 quarters we’ll have over 30 players who hit 40+ home runs this season! That’s a shocking number...way higher than anything we’ve seen before.

For instance, in 2001, the year when Barry Bonds hit his 73 tainted taters, the Majors had 11 players go over 40 in the four bagger department. That was in the days of Chemical Enhancement. (31 players hit at least 34 bombs). Now the players are mostly (I think) just strong. They’ve all learned how to hit drives to all fields and all the pitches are coming in at 93-98 mph and when they connect, the baseball just flies out of all these small ballparks. The batters get a crisp new baseball to hit every time a pitch even touches the dirt. The pattern is: strike out 3 or 4 times a game but hit a homer, bat .240 and go collect your check. Baseball wanted offense and this is what we get.

So the trend of ever more strikeouts, walks and homers (the so-called 3 “natural outcomes”) shows no sign of ebbing.

2/GREAT EXPECTATIONS: I keep picking the Washington Nationals to surprise everybody and play like the team they look like on paper but once they get on the field it’s Les Miserables. This year they can’t score. The usual guys got hurt...Trea Turner, Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon...add Juan Soto this season. Only Anthony Rendon, catcher Kurt Suzuki and Howie Kendricks have an OPS over .800. Gerrardo Parra has been the only bright spot lately with game-winning hits. The young heroes Soto and Robles are pressing and underachieving at the plate.

Brian Dozier has been a free agent disaster offensively. As recently as 2016 the Dozer hit .268/42 homers/99 rbi’s/.886 OPS for the Twinkies. Right now he’s at .187/5/7/.606 with 44 strike outs already. This after he was offensively non-existent for the Dodgers in half a season last year. I think Brian misses the American League. Hope he comes back ‘cause he’s been a scrappy, interesting player and he’s only 32. I wonder how much longer the Nats can go with him at second base?

You should expect mass firings for the Washington Nationals if this horrible losing keeps up. What a waste of good starting pitching. Scherzer, Strassburg and Corbin starting games for them and the Nats are way under .500? Cursed are the Damned!

Actually, all the contenders in the NL East turn out to be flawed. Harper has proved that he can go into just as deep a slump in Philadelphia as he used to in DC. Even though the Phils are in first place in the division, they don’t look that strong. Atlanta has good hitting but not enough pitching. The Mets look like the Mets usually look...teasing with dramatic come- from- behind wins and then falling flatter than cow patties.

3/ PARITY IN THE NL CENTRAL: Wow! Hold on there! The expected 3-way race for a division title among Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis in the NL Central is under attack from Pittsburgh! The much-maligned Piraticals (especially by me because their owner is a cheapskate who has ruined the reputation of one of the original stalwarts of the league by refusing to pay his stars and trading them off incessantly before the team can ever win something) have come to life and, even though they’re only at .500, are pounding the opposition with young pitchers and their new hitting star, Josh Bell. The big first baseman has switch-hit the pill at a .325/12/35/1.070 rate. He’s getting a little help from Melky Cabrera and Gregory Polanco (for a change!) and even though they are hardly a juggernaut, the Buccos are respectable and dangerous. SOGA! (that’s new-age tech speak for Sound of Grateful Applause)

And even the ever-irrelevant Reds have won 20 games! Their infielders Suarez (3B), Dietrich (2B) and Jose Iglesisias (SS) have been stellar and if Joey Votto and Yasiel Puig ever get going they might be almost average offensively! Meanwhile Ace Luis Castillo has an ERA of 1.90 and is on pace for about 250 Ks with a 3 to 1 K/BB ratio. He may be the best pitcher in the National League!

Arise from the Dead, Red!

Meanwhile, my pick to click, the St. Louis Cardinals, haven’t. Bad starting pitching! Unless Carlos Martinez comes back from the IL with a healthy shoulder, things look grim. The offense has a few bright spots...Ozuna has 38 ribs and Goldschmidt has been steady. Matt Carpenter is in another early season slump but when he rallies, he rallies big. (Last year’s hot streak was amazing!)

But as currently constituted, the Redbirds are not a Playoff team.

The Brewers are, even with an undergunned pitching staff now consisting of Zach Davies, Josh Hader and some spare change. The Crew is being carried offensively by Mike Moustakis, Ryan Braun, Yasmani Grandal and especially Christian Yelich (aka Ichabod!) who has this line: .342/18/40/1.218!

In first place, the Cubbies Abide. The Adorables have finally crystallized around 4 scary hitters...Baez, Bryant, Rizzo and Contreras...all well over .900 in OPS. These guys are the guts of that lineup. They have some good help from the supporting cast as well.

The Ursines are so much stronger than the rest of the division in starting pitching (except for maybe Pittsburgh!) that I expect them to pull away eventually. Quintana, Hendricks, Lester, Hamels. Nuff said. Veteran pros at or near the peak of their games. If Yu Darvish ever rediscovers his control you’ve got a Blue Chip rotation.

At this point Hoyer and Epstein need to go out and get some relief pitchers to help that bad bullpen, but the Cubs are going to be OKAY.

4/CARE AND FEEDING OF THE UNICORN: For just the second time in all of history, a player has arisen who can potentially dominate the league by being an “A” player both as a pitcher and as a hitter. I’m speaking of course about Shohei Ohtani-san of the Los Angeles Angels.

Ohtani just came off the IL after Tommy John-ing his elbow. He’s good to go as a hitter but won’t try pitching again until next season. But he is a quality hitter with tremendous power and is already a huge star who fascinates the public. But every time the guy hustles for an extra base or slides into home (feet first at least) I hear the Faint of Heart in the baseball media groaning that the Angels shouldn’t be risking the future Ace of their pitching staff by letting him run bases and other scary, dangerous, wreckless behavior like that. What if some other mean old pitcher hit him in the finger? What if he Stwained his Wittle Hamstwing Wunning down to first base? (On a Gwounder!)

Ohtani is the Long Promised, Newly Arisen, Hero of Heroes, ‘Last of the Dragons’. Baseball has NEVER had a two way player like him... except for Babe Ruth. And Babe Ruth was like the Atom Bomb for baseball. He changed the game for all time and cemented its popularity for generations.

From 1915 to 1918 when he played for his original team, the Boston Red Sox, Ruth was the top left-handed pitcher in the league. He won 23 games in 1916 and led the league with an ERA of 1.75. The Babe threw 9 shutouts. If there had been a Cy Young Award back then, Ruth would have won it.

But by 1919, Ruth was only starting 15 games. He was just as good a pitcher, but his hitting had taken off to unprecedented levels. Ruth led the league with a record homer total of 29 and led the league in RBIs, Runs, Slugging, On-Base, and OPS (1.114), all while playing the outfield on days he wasn’t pitching. He was only in 130 games and a lot of those were as a pinch hitter.

Back then there was no such thing as a DH slot. It was imperative that Ruth play everyday so they could get his bat into the lineup more. Even back then they knew they had to give pitchers a little time to rest their arms after all the complete game pitching they had to do. But Ruth was reinventing the whole game of baseball with his power. The fans were filling ballparks just to watch him hit balls into the fens. The Babe himself wanted to hit more than he wanted to pitch.

So they traded him to the Yankees (O Foul and Bitter Day!) and Ruth became a full-time outfielder and the greatest baseball attraction of all time. But for a few tantalizing seasons he was close to being the unimaginable UNICORN...THE BEST PITCHER AND THE BEST HITTER IN BASEBALL SIMULTANEOUSLY! I mean...God Loves Baseball and he sent the Babe.

Nowadays the American League has the DH (controversial as that may be for purists) and Ohtani doesn’t have to play the field when he doesn’t pitch. The Angels were pitching him every sixth day just to protect him. He doesn’t even DH the day before or the day after his starts except maybe for a pinch hit or two. Before he got hurt he was pitching on a high level (ERA 3.31 plus a 3-1 K/BB rate) and hitting much better than expected. He had 22 homers, 61 RBIs and an OPS of .925 in only 367 plate appearances!

Mind you, this in his first year in MLB and his first year out of Japan and in the hot spotlight of LA media at the tender age of 23. He was instantly popular with the fans and especially with his teammates. He gets to learn from Trout and Pujols how to cope with Super Stardom.

My point? LET THE KID PLAY BALL! Let’s see what the Unicorn can do! Hell, he could have gone to the National League and have to bat when he pitches anyway! You mean he can’t get hurt that way just as easily? But here he is in the DH friendly American League in the Show Biz capital of America with a team that can’t win anything anytime soon, especially if Ohtani doesn’t play.

DH it this year...work on your timing. Come back nice and slow as a pitcher next year. Be conservative for 2020. Ease into a routine. Grow that beautiful spiral horn out of your handsome head and bring glory to your Ancestors! Then you’ll be Shohei “Shogun” Ohtani! The One and Only UNICORN!

5/QUICK FLASHES:
The Houston Astros are the best team in baseball and are trying to become the first team ever to achieve a .500 + slugging average for an entire team over an entire season.

The Yankees current savior is third baseman Gio Urshela who is hitting .353. In about 500 previous major league plate appearances he was hitting in the .220s. So it probably can’t last but I’m glad to see the kid get his day in the sun.

The Red Sox have a phenom too...Michael Chavis who has hit some balls out of sight including a truly memorable high fly that cleared the foul pole and the Monster and landed out on the Massachusetts turnpike somewhere. (Against Colorado.) He’s the Baby Beast from Georgia and he’s really saved Boston at second base while Holt and Pedroia are out. I like his aggression but he has a lot to learn.
He didn’t catch up with two 98 mph fastballs from the Astros’ Garrett Cole the other night and you could see Mike ruffle his feathers in determination to catch up with the heat on the next pitch. 90 mph slider in the dirt...swing and miss by a yard. Ooops...this lesson brought to you by Major League Baseball!

6/LOWEST ERA IN A SEASON: A CAUTIONARY TALE BROUGHT TO YOU BY WALTER JOHNSON AND BOB GIBSON
(from BASEBALL EGG...a real good website )

When he retired in the late 1920s, Johnson thought his 1.09 ERA in 1913 was the lowest ever recorded. It was, but the mark shouldn't have been 1.09, it should have been higher.

In the final game of the 1913 season, the Senators played a meaningless contest against the Red Sox. As was the custom of the day, the teams treated the game as a farce. A coach went into the game to catch, the manager pitched an inning, and others played out of position. Johnson started the game in center field, having recorded his 36th victory a few days earlier. But in the ninth, Johnson trotted in from center and pitched to two batters with a seven-run lead. The move was a stunt, it was designed to give the fans something to cheer about. Johnson "lobbed" his pitches to the plate and allowed a pair of singles, then he retreated to center field. A Washington D.C. newspaper reported that Johnson was "laughing and pointing to the crowd" as he delivered his pitches. A relief pitcher allowed both of the runners to score, runs that should have been charged to Johnson. But they weren't. The official scorer witnessed the mockery and didn't count the performance against Johnson in his final totals. That decision went unnoticed for decades.

In 1968, Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA in one of the greatest seasons ever by a hurler. But, his 1.12 ERA was just a smidge too high to be the lowest in history. Gibson's was second to Johnson. Or so everyone thought. About fifteen years later, a researcher came across the scoring decision from 1913 and notified the league about it. The figures were changed and Johnson's official 1913 earned run average was raised from 1.09 to 1.14, second behind Gibson.’

Friday, April 26, 2019

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2019: WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE


1/ TRENDING...TRENDING...TRENDING…”THE 80% PREDICTION”
*By 2030 80% of all major league pitchers will be able to throw a fastball at least 95mph.
*By 2030 80% of major league clubs will have at least 7 players who hit 20 or more homers in a season.
*By 2030 80% of players with at least 500 plate appearances will strike out over 100 times a season.
*By 2030 80% of major league teams will have a roster made up of 80% players of Hispanic descent.
And...
*By 2030 at least one pitcher will have struck out 300+ batters while pitching less than 200 innings.

2/ CATFISH HUNTER ONCE SAID…
The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass all the time.”
Those words were of course written about the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees of 2019.

The Red Sox are the starkest example. Management very sagely decided to save the weary arms of their starting staff after the grueling marathon of the 2018 playoffs where all hands were on deck and all arms were pushed to the Tommy John-ing point. So Sale, Price, Eovaldi, Petrocelli and Rodriguez pitched 18,24,21,17,and 20 innings respectively and called it a Spring. Rest is good. But so is practice. Especially to get your control zeroed in.

The Sox are now the proud owners of the worst ERA in baseball. After almost a full month, they are 7 games back of the Rays and pretty much recent dogmeat for several modest clubs, including the Orioles and the Tigers. The Yanks carved them up pretty good too. If they hadn’t swept the Rays we’d be hearing sirens.

What happened was a perfect storm of dampening factors:
1/ World Championship Hangover...(yes, it’s a real thing...hard to get it up again after you’ve had the ultimate orgasm)
2/ an 11 game season opening road trip out West, where the Sox never do very good anyway.
3/ the loss of comfort-animal Sandy Leon to settle the pitching staff. Like I said last month, Sandy hits .175 but is a great receiver and somehow soothes those high strung thoroughbred pitchers. He comes out to the mound and hugs them and he’s so warm and cuddly they get all sentimental and start throwing nasty sliders in the dirt so they can watch Sandy block them and record another whiff. They love the Big Goof. Sometimes you just need your Mommy. Like Yogi Berra before him and David Ross most recently, Sandy is a Bell Cow- catcher. The Sox starters just pitch better to Sandy Leon.

Well, this Spring young catcher Blake Swihart, who’s been waiting for his chance all these years, finally stayed healthy and started hitting in the clutch and management thought they’d keep him on the roster and farm Sandy out to the minors. Instant Disaster. The Slaughter in Seattle, The Outrage in Oakland, the Agony in Arizona etc. Hello 2019...how do you like 3-8 to start your championship defense? Back from the minors comes Leon...pitching instantly improves.

4/ Mookie Betts stops twitching. The Mookster is the straw that stirs the drink up in Bo-town. If he’s hitting, his smile lights up the team and morale is high. Well last year Mook won the MVP with his fast hands. He was constantly rocking the bat back and forth on his shoulder and twitching all over to stay loose and triggered and READY for those pitches. This year he’s already won everything in sight and is looking forward to a $400 million free agent payday and he got relaxed and was just standing there with the bat motionless on his shoulder while pitchers busted inside fastballs right by him. He looked bad. And Except for J.D.Martinez, Xander- Bear Bogaerts and one or two others, the rest of the Sox hitters followed Mookie into the Tank.

The Yankee’s disaster really hasn’t been of their own making. The sun went behind a Big Cloud and their little Doggy Ass got really chilly. Injuries. Freaky, constant, weekly horrors of an indescribable nature. It’s no use going over who got hurt how and when, it’s pretty much the whole roster. 12 or 15 guys on the IL all the time. A whole team of stars...gone! The thing is….this surfeit of pain may have ultimately helped the New York club!

What insanity is this, you ask?

The Yankees have had to bring up every minor league player of any quality that they have just to fill up the bench. The 2nd line heroes (LeMahieu, Gardner, Frazier, Voit) and “Who Dat?” rookies
have come through in a big way and saved the Yankee season so far. New York has a winning record and is only just behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the lead in the AL East. It remains to be seen if the “C” team can keep on keeping on, especially in the pitching department, while Stanton, Judge, Tulowitzki, Andujar, Bird, Sanchez, Severino, Betances etc.etc.etc. heal up.

The Yanks have shown inspiring character and all those young players will be the better for it. Congratulations Yankees, I doff my admittedly partisan Red Sox hat to you.

3/ KNOW YOUR SANTANAS
We are suddenly inundated with Santanas. We used to have Johann from Venezuela who won the AL Cy Young in 2004 and 2006. Great pitcher. Terry Collins left him in to finish off a no hitter for the Mets in 2012 and he threw 134 pitches on a cold, wet night. He got his no-no over the Cardinals but never had a good arm again. We also had Andres, Edgar, Julio, Marino, Pedro and Rafael in and out of baseball from the 90’s on into this century. All from Dominican Republic.

Now the Dominican Dandies have Santana-ed all of baseball. Let me help you keep them straight:

Carlos Santana is the switch hitter who played first for Cleveland until he went to Philly last year. While in Philly he distinguished himself with 24 homers and 86 rbis in 2018 and got famous for destroying a television set in the locker room where the young tech-heads of the team were addicted to ‘FORTNIGHT’ while in the midst of a 6-20 slump. Now Carlos is back in Cleveland hitting .338. They should play ‘Evil Ways’ when he comes to the plate.

Ervin Santana is the quirky pitcher of the Angels, Royals, Twins, Braves and White Sox who is so emotional. He also got suspended for 80 games for PED use in 2015 and threw a no hitter for the Angels. (Have any brothers with the same surname both thrown no-hitters? Yes...the Forsch Brothers Bob and Ken for St. Louis and Houston respectively back in 78 and 83 for Bob... yep...two of ‘em... and 1979 for Ken.)

Ever heard of Dennis Santana? Neither had I but he’s a relief pitcher for the Dodgers. Weighs 160 pounds and they hope he’s another Pedro Martinez. (He’s not.)

Danny Santana is a utility player for the Rangers. Hit .319 for the Twins in 2014 but had 98 K’s in 430 plate appearances. Yikes. Hitting .325 this season and playing a lot of second base.

Having a big year playing for the Seattle Mariners is right fielder Domingo Santana.
He’s hitting .306 with a league leading 27 ribbies. He used to play for the Brewers and hit 30 bombs for them in 2017.

So now you know your Santanas. I’m not sure why, but it seemed important somehow.

4/ AHEAD OF RUTH’S PACE! (MARIS’ PACE, MCGWIRE’S PACE, BOND’S PACE etc.)
I always laugh when pundits trumpet …
‘so and so is ahead of Ruth’s home run pace!...
Christian Yelich has 13 home runs in April...on pace for 84 this season!’ …
Cody Bellinger’s 12 home runs this month give him a shot at Bonds’ record!’

It’s hardly relevant when you get hot...it’s how long you stay hot, and how much hotness you generate when the fire is glowing.

Ruth only had 16 homers at the end of May in 1927. But in September he sizzled for 17 dingers and that gave him that magical 60 for the season. (That 154 game season lest we forget!)

Roger Maris had only 12 4-baggers through May 31, 1961 but rallied for 15 in June, 13 in July, 11 in August and 9 in September. He hit 1 on Oct. 1 to break the tie with Ruth.

Mark McGwire had 37 homers through June and hit another 33 the rest of the way. Of course, McGwire was essentially playing with a Transformer physique thanks to his PED intake (he insisted it was just for health reasons. Yep ...everybody needs 25 inch biceps to be truly healthy.)

In 2003 Barry Bonds blasted 11 taters in April, 17 in May, 11 in June, only 6 in July but 12 in August and 12 in September. 4 more in October gave him that fantastic, chemically enhanced 73 homers which will probably besmirch the record books for many a long year.

So, for instance, if Christian Yelich were to hit 10 homers a month from here on out...a great, great performance by any measure, he would still ‘only’ have 63. Christian would essentially have to repeat his April for five more months...at least 12 a month for the rest of the year...to tie Bonds.

But I give him points for predicting he’d hit 50 in that commercial. If he stays healthy he just might.
As far as punditry goes...the pace at which you hit your homers is pretty meaningless.

5/ WHERE DID YOU GO ELLIS VALENTINE?

Take a minute and paste this youtuber into your browser and watch this guy throw. (coincidence: you’ll even get a glimpse of previously mentioned Ken Forsch!)

Expert Baseball Witnesses Say: list all the greatest outfield arms in baseball history...Mays, Furillo, Clemente, Dave Parker, Dwight Evans, Vlad Guerrero, Bo Jackson, Jesse Barfield, Larry Walker, Rick Ankiel, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes... and then there’s Ellis Valentine. Ellis played right field for the Montreal Expos way back when. In 1978 he won the gold glove with 25 outfield assists.

Ellis was famous for throwing the ball waist high from the greatest depths of right field to any base on a laser line in the air. Watch him gun that ball to catcher Gary Carter ... in the air...to get Davey Conception (an extremely fast runner expecting to score from second on a double to the extreme corner of the right field warning track...maybe 315 feet away where Ellis had to dig it out from the base of the wall) at the plate.

All those other great players listed above could get it to the plate from great distance, but they used an arc on their throws. Look at these…
Just about the only throw that can compare with Valentine’s in my opinion is Jose Guillen’s so-called mutant throw from the warning track in Colorado’s Coors right field to nail the runner at third during a game between the Rocks and Guillen’s Pirates. 335 feet in 3 seconds. But even that throw had a little arc on it. Look here…

This season a newcomer has shown up to give these guys a run for their guns. I’m speaking of Oakland’s center fielder Ramon Laureano. He just made 3 incredible plays to throw out 3 Red Sox baserunners, crushing the spirits of the early season Bostonians. But none of those were his best throw. Watch this…

From the warning track 321 feet away to first base to double up the runner after a fine catch? You got to be kidding me. Arc or no arc, that’s some throw, and Ramon has made about ten more startling rifle throws this season already.
A great throw from the outfield is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. Laureano’s throws are thrilling, and it reminds me of Ellis Valentine...’The Human Howitzer’.

6/ WELCOME TO THE NEW AGE
I grit my teeth when I hear the shameless hype surrounding Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s major league debut.
Give the kid a break why don’t you? What’s he supposed to do to live up to all this? It’s not fair, man.
Trout got to sneak up on us as a 25th draft pick or whatever it was. Harper had to endure impossibly inflated expectations and it made him testy and reckless, leading to ejections and injuries. I appreciate that MLB is trying to pump up the volume on its new stars...and they are exciting. But let them have some breathing room to make the inevitable mistakes and golden sombrero performances that all young players must endure. We got some pretty good pitchers up here in the Bigs, and they can let the air out of your bubble damn effectively.

I hope Vladdy hits .379 like he did in the minors. I mean, God he looks good. But how good will be good enough if he doesn’t quite make the stadium spontaneously combust? I hope he keeps a level head like Aaron Judge did when he started tearing it up two years ago. Aaron still wears shoes with his rookie batting average (.179) written on them to maintain his humility.

Willie Mays was batting .477 (100 points higher than anybody in the league) when the Giants brought him up from AAA Minneapolis in 1951. He was 20 years old and a shy kid from Alabama. The buzz on Willie was justifiably insane. He promptly went 1 for 26 and manager Leo Durocher found him crying in the dugout after a fruitless performance. Leo very wisely told him this: “Willie, I don’ t care if you don’t get a hit all year...you’re still my centerfielder.”

That was the right medicine for Mays. He homered off Warren Spahn and started scorching the ball. Spahnny always joked that it was his fault...”If I hadn’t given up that homer to him, we wouldn’t have had to deal with Willie all these years.” Leo also had another legendary quote about his star which I’ve mentioned before in these essays:
I don’t care if Jesus Christ came down from heaven to play center field, I’d still look you in the eye and tell you Willie Mays was better.” That’s kind of a compliment, wouldn’t you say?

Mickey Mantle got sent down to Kansas City from the Yankees in his rookie year, also 1951. He was slumping so bad he called his Dad and said he was quitting. Father Mutt Mantle drove up from Oklahoma and started packing Mickey’s suitcase. He told Mick, “I thought I raised a man. I see now I raised a coward. Come on back to Oklahoma and work in the mines with me.”

Mickey batted .361 for the rest of his minor league stay and soon was back in New York.

I hope that some wise old Geezer will have the right thing to say to Vladdy if he doesn’t live up to the hype right away.

Vlad Guerrero Jr. , Ronald Acuna Jr. , Juan Soto, Andrew Benintendi, Victor Robles, Fernando Tatis Jr., Eloy Jimenez, Yordan Alvarez, Shohei Ohtani… ...baseball needs these young stars to shine if the game is going to continue to prosper. I hope these guys are the new Willies, Mickeys, Henrys, Robertos, Franks and Sandys.
And then maybe a New Golden Age of Baseball will be upon us.

7/ Google-Free Challenge
Before you click answer me this: 18 players have hit 4 home runs in one game. The first one to do it was second baseman Bobby Lowe of the National League Boston Beaneaters in 1894. The most recent was right fielder J.D.Martinez of the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017.

Only 5 of these 18 heroes are in the Hall of Fame. Can you name them? (Hints: 2 first basemen, 2 outfielders, 1 third baseman. 3 Phillies)

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more baseball talk coming soon!
--Marco

Friday, March 29, 2019

Marco's Baseball blog-O-Roonie 2019: THE GYPSY WILL SEE YOU NOW


MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: THE GYPSY WILL SEE YOU NOW

Happy Opening Day! Just in case you were thinking of sitting this season out and coming back on line when the Playoffs start, here's what's going to happen:

AL EAST:

1/Red Sox
2/Yankees
3/Rays
4/Blue Jays
5/Orioles

The Red Sox and the Yankees will be entertaining us with their latest death struggle. All “Bird” teams will be plucked frequently. The Rays will pitch great, play defense great, run great and not draw a lick of a crowd. No one will ever know how good they are. They will be about two players short of true contention as usual.

Most people figure the Yanks will take the division, but I have to pick the Sox. My evaluation and justifications:

PITCHING: The Yankees bullpen is so much better than the Boston pen that's its ridiculous. You know the names...Chapman, Britten, Ottavino and more. Even with Betances hurt they have five guys better than ANYONE in the Boston pen.

Dave Dombrowski (Boston GM) is famous for under-stocking his bullpens. He just can't bring himself to spend money on relievers. This year he let his closer, Craig Kimbrel, leave as a free agent. Craig was hallucinating that he was worth a 5 year $100 mil plus contract and he wasn't. That's okay. But Joe Kelly, the second best arm out there, went to L.A. No replacement. Then the knuckle ball pitcher Steven Wright, who at least can eat up innings with that no-stress knucksie, got busted for impurities in the blood. (Dumbshit! Now your name must forever remain un-bold typefaced!!) Still, no replacement. The only thing the Red Sox say is that leftie Tyler Thornburg should be back. (He's been hurt for, like, two years). They don't even have another leftie with any kind of name recognition. Brian Johnson? Bobby Pointer?

I get that the Sox are saving money to give to Mookie Betts. They gave a big extension to Chris Sale. They re-signed their World Series heroes Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce. They want to keep Xander Bogaerts at short. So they won't go over the luxury tax penalty threshold this year.

But this year the crown is there for the taking. That thriftiness may cost them another world title.
The good news is the Red Sox' rotation. Chris Sale is re-signed and extended and his arm should be fresh (for the first 5 months anyway). David Price rediscovered the cut on his cutter messing around in the bullpen during the World Series. If he keeps it cutting it's a whole new problem for hitters. Rick Porcello bends but never seems to break. A great Number 3. Nathan Eovaldi...you remember his moment of epic gutsiness and tenacity in WS Game 3. That has to help his confidence. Everybody on the team knows that his stuff is simply the best. If his arm hangs on he could dominate as a starter or a multi-inning reliever if they need him more in the pen. Number 5 is Eduardo Rodriguez...another leftie with great stuff who has yet to get it all together. What if he finally figures it out? A hell of a Number 5, that's what.

Now look at the Yankee's starters. Severino, the presumed Numero Uno, is hurt. So is C.C. Sabathia. That leaves them with Masahiro Tanaka as the Ace to start the season with. He gave up 27 homers last year. James Paxton, over from Seattle, has to be good, and despite throwing a no-hitter last year, he really isn't. He also gives up a lot of homers and had the third highest hard hit rate in baseball, right behind Matt Moore and Homer Bailey. J.A.Happ is their best bet, but he was slotted for Number 4. He's a leftie who should do well at the stadium but may not be your first choice to pitch a big game at Fenway.

So going into the season they have to fill two spots. Domingo German is picked for one. His ERA last year was 5.57. They have some good prospects coming up, but it's a lot to ask for rookies to carry that load.

Anyway, I think the Boston starters are close to being as far above the New Yorker rotation as the Yank bullpen is above the Bosox' pitiful bullpen. Would you rather have starters dominating the first six innings or the relievers dominating the last 3 innings? Yeah, me too.

CATCHING: Another problem for the Pinstripers. They play Gary Sanchez even though he is a real boxer trying to catch pitches in the dirt. His defensive flaws are supposed to be forgiven because of his big bat, but he hit .186 last year. (He hit 18 homers in an injury shortened season. But everybody on the Yankees hits homers.)

Baseball tradition says that a catcher's prime value to the team is defense and handling pitchers. That's why you see so many weak hitting catchers still starting for so many teams. They don't care if their catcher hits or not, they need him to be a defender who can give a staff confidence first-est and most-est. If you do get lucky and find a catcher like Yogi Berra or Roy Campanella who can contribute with the bat as well...you have a 3-time MVP award winner.

The Red Sox catchers are Christian Vasquez (.207/.540 ops) and Sandy Leon (.177/.511 ops). How on earth can they keep jobs with those kind of stats? (8 homers between them so don't think it's power hitting!) It's because they are exceptional receivers and the pitching staff absolutely loves them. Porcello calls Sandy Leon “the best catcher I've ever thrown to” and the “heartbeat” of the pitching staff. Vasquez is great at blocking balls and throwing out runners (something that in all fairness, Gary Sanchez is exceptional at as well).

These two catchers are so good that the Sox can't find a spot for Blake Swihart even though he looks like a consistent .300 hitter from the left side who also runs well and can play outfield or first base.

I see catching as a big advantage for the Bostonians.

Just watch the body language of a Yankee pitcher next time Sanchez Oles one of his sliders.

Defense: The Sox have the best defensive outfield in baseball.

The Yankees have Aaron Judge (pretty good) in right, Giancarlo (slow but with a good arm) in left and Brett Gardner (old but game) in center until Aaron Hicks (hurt) gets back. They had to trade for a backup outfielder.

In the infield the Yankees have a hurt shortstop in Didi Gregorius, who was also the team leader and locker room clown. They made a gutsy pickup in Troy Tulowitzki to fill in at short, but after all those leg surgeries Troy has lost a lot of range. (By the way, I'm rooting for Troy to be Comeback Player of the Year...the baseball Gods owe him a year like that after all that he has had to endure). The third baseman Andujar is really bad. Gleyber Torres is pretty good at second and could move to short if Troy gets hurt again. Then they could play Gold Glover D.J.LeMahieu at second. First base is a platoon amongst Voit (big bopper late last season), Greg Bird (didn't hit last year, looked good in Spring Training), and occasionally LeMahieu.
Except for perhaps the latter, they're all merely adequate defenders at first.

The Sox have Devers at third who is better than Andujar but still sloppy. Bogaerts is at short...a middle of the pack type defensive shortstop but top five offensively. If Pedroia was 100% you'd have a Gold Glove quality second baseman but Pedey starts the year on the injured list. Brock and Nunez are valuable backups but no Robby Alomars. Moreland and Steve Pearce platoon at first...Moreland is very good.

Let's be generous and call it a push in the infield but a huge advantage for the Sox at catching and in the outfield defensively speaking.

OFFENSE: The Yankees have the power. They'll probably break the homer record this year. But since power is the main thing people see, it gives the illusion that the Yankees are way stronger than the Sox. But the Yankees also don't have anybody who hit .300 last year except Luke Voit (.333 in 143 at bats). Their first five look like this: Gardner (.236/12 home runs/.690 ops) Judge (.278/27/.919 112 games)
Stanton (.266/38/.852) Sanchez (.186/18/.697 89 games) Bird/Voit (.199/11/.672 82 games)/ (.333/14/1.085 39 games)

The Red Sox first five? Benintendi (.290/21/ops .830), Betts (.346/32/ops 1.079), Devers (.240/21/.731), Martinez (.330/43/1.031), and Bogaerts (.288/23/.883)

The Boston lineup is close to New York in power and quite superior in hitting. The Sox as a team had a better on base percentage and OPS than the Yanks and led in steals as well.

CONCLUSION: With injuries as a major variable, all things considered I think the Red Sox are a superior team to the Yankees. That's why I'm picking them to finish first in the East.

AL CENTRAL:

1/Indians
2/Twins
3/White Sox
4/Royals
5/Tigers

Cleveland is the soundest of five severely flawed teams in the Central. That's because the Cleaver's starting rotation is the one “A” group in the division.

The Ohio Politically Incorrects spent the winter bleeding players with no money-sponge to staunch the wounds. It's very sad because they came so close to beating the Cubs in '16 and have made the playoffs several years in a row. But small market teams are doomed to losing all their good players sooner or later. Frankie Lindor is hurt for the early season and Jose Ramirez has also been limping. The pitching has to be awfully good if those guys can't play.
The Hanley Ramirez DH pickup was desperate but could be a season saver if he hits.

The Twinks have a few good players but not enough pitchers. They are not coordinated to peak as a team with Joe Mauer now retired and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano still not dependable.

The Chicago Southsiders are getting a potential superstar in Eloy Jimenez but their young pitchers are still at least a year away from producing at a Playoff-competitive level.
At least they tried to get Machado or Harper but wound up with only Machado's uncle or something.

The Royals have speed in their lineup and they may win some with the running game, but they only won 58 games last year and they lost catcher Sal Perez for the season. Again...not enough pitching and no money to go get it.

The Tigres lost their Number One starter Michael Fulmer to TJ surgery. Miguel Cabrera is 35 and still can hit .300, but good fastballs get passed him now and the shadows are lengthening. Salute him...he's one of the great hitters of all time.

AL WEST:

1/Astros
2/A's
3/Angels
4/Mariners
5/Rangers

The surest of sure things...the 'Stros will win the West. I know they lost pitching but they still have Verlander and Cole one-two and Brad Peacock (13 K's per 9 innings) and Colin McHugh (almost 12 K's per 9) have been pretty good starters in past years. They picked up Wade Miley to add a leftie to the rotation and he was pretty ok for the Brewers last year. For backup they have Josh James (a Bob Gibson lookalike who throws true Gas!) and Number One minor league pitching prospect Forest Whitley.

The 'Stros had an effective offense last year even with Altuve and Correa hurting. They've added a .300 leftie hitter in Michael Brantley and if little Jose and Carlos can stay limber they will be scary once again.

I'll tell you right now, it's Houston or New York or Boston in the Series for the AL.

Oakland's big boppers will probably get them another Wild Card.

The Angels and Mike Trout will have to wait for a new generation of young players to get them back to the Playoffs. Pujols, Upton, Calhoun, Cozart and Lucroy are all declining. Pitching is only average.

Seattle has chucked it in for a rebuild. Will the fans still come out during it?

The Rangers have fallen into the pit. If they win 60 games I'll be surprised.

AL MVP: Alex Bregman (will lead in hits and runs scored and maybe doubles as well)
AL CY YOUNG: Nathan Eovaldi (a sentimental pick)
AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Vlad Guerrero Jr. (if he diets)
AL BATTING CHAMP: Andrew Benintendi (leads off in front of Mookie)
AL HOME RUN CHAMP: Aaron Judge (bombs away Dream Baby!)
AL RBI CHAMP: J.D. Martinez
AL STEALS: Billy Hamilton

NATIONAL LEAGUE:

NL WEST:

1/Dodgers
2/Rockies
3/Diamondbacks
4/Padres
5/Giants

This is the only easy division winner in the NL to pick. The Angelinos have maintained while all the others have fallen far. Only the Rockies may seriously contend.

The Dodgers for some reason are pinching pennies these days. They passed on Harper, who was practically begging to go to their team (as long as they came up with $300 million of course!) They picked up A.J. Pollack from Arizona to play center field. Kershaw is hurt again and is no longer the Bomb. What a great career he's had. I hope he still has something left. The Dodgers have a seemingly endless supply of pitchers lined up so don't worry about them too much.

The core of the Rockies' offense ...Arenado, Story and Blackmon...is still there and they've added Daniel Murphy, who should hit well in the Coors doubles machine. They need Ian Desmond and David Dahl to help out more.

Starters German Marquez and Kyle Freeland pitched well in Coors last year...a rare phenomenon for Colorado pitchers. But the staff still lacks depth and I thought the Rocks looked completely befuddled against the Brewers in the Playoffs last year. They've got to show up in the clutch.

The Diamondhumps are another sad tale of a middling team that has spent all their money on big contracts and couldn't win the Big One. When Paul Goldschmidt went to St. Louis and signed a long term you could feel them wince all the way from Phoenix.

Things are looking up for the Padrinos. Manny Machado opted to stay warm and unobsequious in San Diego rather than go to a pennant contender. San Diego MAY be on the way to competing soon, though. They seem to have a bunch of good young arms in the minors and now have an offensive and defensive core of everydays in Machado, Hosmer, and rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. to go with Will Myers. At least I don't think they'll finish last this year because of…

San Francisco. Oh Boy, does it hurt to say this. The Giants look like a last place club. Their core is too old. Period.
Goodbye Old Paint, I'm a leavin' Cheyenne.” It was a good run. See you on the rebound.

NL CENTRAL:

1/Cardinals
2/Cubs
3/Brewers
4/Pirates
5/Reds

This should be a battle all year to win the division. The Cubs or the Brewers are the popular choice, but the Brewers did nothing to help themselves in the off season and neither did the Cubs. The Cardinals tapped into the Loyal Cardinal Fan Money Machine and came up with Goldschmidt to bat cleanup. The help he'll bring to Ozuna, Carpenter, DeJong and the rest of the St. Louis lineup should be a multiplier effect.

They also got Andrew Miller to compliment Jordan Hicks, John Brebbia and Dakota Hudson in the bullpen. Now, if Carlos Martinez can get healthy and Wainwright and Wacha produce…???

The Cubbies won 95 games last year but looked lost and confused at the end of the season when Milwaukee sent an endless parade of relievers out to torment them. The Cubs are strapped for cash because they owe too much to non-producers like Yu Darvish and Justin Heyward. When your big off season pickup is Daniel Descalso (who is actually a great little scrappy player) you know you're in trouble. But the Cubs still have the solidest rotation in the division. But Hamels, Lester et all are getting along now. They really, really need Darvish to come through.

The Bad Bad Brewers were standing pat this winter, watching the rest of the league play catch-up. They assume Yelich and Co. are going to have another red letter season. I think that's a great big Maybe. And despite their insane bullpen work last year, bullpens have a way of folding up overnight when they get too much use. And I didn't like the way Craig Counsell managed the team. And you all know what I think of Ryan (never again Bold Faced) Braun.

I could live to eat these words but I see a fall coming. Fortune Favors the Bold. Those Who Stand Pat Will Soon Lie Flat.

I'm picking the Pirates to finish ahead of the Reds for after thought awards in the Central not because they're good, but because they at least have pitchers that can help them stay in games. Taillon, Archer, Williams, Musgrove and Keller are all pretty darn good as starters and Taillon is a Cy Young threat. Vasquez, Tela and Rodriguez are all stellar in the pen.

As far as the offense goes, Francisco Cervelli...that's right, the catcher...THAT Cervelli...bats cleanup. And their big off season pick up was Lonnie Chisenhall. That's probably all you need to know. I will admit that the outfield of Corey Dickensen, Starling Marte (whoops! No bold face for you either, Cheater!) and Greg Polanco (if he recovers fully from shoulder surgery) is one of the best in the League.

And oh how I wish that I could tell you that Cincinnati is back. But if wishes were Grandmas we'd all have cookies and hot chocolate.

I look forward to the first time Madison Bumgarner of the Giants faces new Cincy outfielder Yasiel Puig. It was a fight almost every time those two faced off when Puig was a Dodger. Once Bumgarner gets a load of Yasiel tossing bats in that Red uniform... Aye! Toro!

NL EAST:

1/Nationals
2/Braves
3/Phillies
4/Mets
5/Marlins

Should be the most interesting division in baseball. Any of the top four could win. Atlanta won it last year, but the Nationals were closing fast and have improved. The Mets made myriad moves and want to play. And the Phillies got shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder and former Pirate icon Andrew McCutcheon and top catcher J.T.Realmuto. Oh yeah...and some guy named Harper. Still, the only sure thing in this division is the Marlins losing 110 games.

I know I'm guessing but I like four things about the Nationals. First, they have great starters 1-3 in Scherzer, Strasburg and new leftie Patrick Corbin. Second, they have two young outfielders, Juan Soto and Victor Robles, who should be fixtures for years. Third they got two plus catchers to handle their pitching staff...Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. Good catching is such a necessity for a team and catcher was the Nat's weakest position.

And fourth, they lost Bryce Harper. That's right, they LOST HIM. Everybody now looks at the Nats like “It's over Dog! Your Star is gone and you never won the Big One!”

I think that may screw their courage to the sticking place so to speak and the Nats may come barking back. They still have Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and Ryan Zimmerman (and picked up gamer Brian Dozier to replace Danny Murphy at second base) to augment those new kids and the catchers.

What does Redemption smell like? Doggie Poots, maybe?

Atlanta caught the rest of the National League with their pants down last year. This year teams will be readier for them. But they have great young players with more young pitchers on the way, an excited fan base and plenty of money to add help when they need it.

They missed out on J.T.Realmuto but picked up Brian McCann to help Tyler Flowers catch and Josh Donaldson to see if he can rekindle that MVP flame at third base. If Josh does, and if Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. stay healthy, The Bravos will be dangerous. If Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte produce like they did last year Atlanta could smoke the East.

Pitching is iffier, but the Braves have 3 of the top 50 prospects in baseball farmed out: Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka...all big, right handed studs and potential Number 1's or 2's who are ready to move up. They also have Haitian Touki Toussaint, who made the rotation this year and is a very interesting young pitcher.

The Atlanta Braves are going to be contenders now and in the foreseeable future.

So will the Phillies be if they can add some pitchers to their now formidable everyday lineup. I had the Phillies finishing second last year but they quit early and slumped to third as the Nationals punished them down the stretch.

There was a lot of sloth and mirth and video games in the Phillie locker room last year as the youngsters enjoyed life and phoned in a pennant race. Where was manager Gabe Kapler while all this crap was going on? Somebody needed to kick some ass. Maybe the addition of Andrew McCutcheon, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper and especially catcher J.T.Realmuto will change that culture. These are all pros who have never won and they know how hard you have to work to compete in the majors. As far as I'm concerned, the manager and his coaches should be on notice.

I have the Phils third because of that and the lack of a solid 1 through 5 starting rotation. After Nola there are a lot of questions. Can Jake Arrieta get some of his mojo back? Can I believe in Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez? I really don't know. I think J.T. is going to help a whole lot behind the plate.

I hear you Mets fans screaming at me. “You're picking us Fourth!! You're daft you Bum, your Mother squeezed your head!!”

My reply: You poor deluded fools. Don't you know that you are rooting for a team of thoracic syndromes waiting to happen? Right now, you have the best rotation in the division with the possible exception of Washington. But when's the last time the top four have all pitched a full season before last year? Like...never! DeGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Matz (Matz and Thor pitched 154 innings each last year) have all gone down with various horrors over the last four years. But you Mets fans probably have convinced yourselves that “This is the year, Baby”. You also think that Robbie Cano is Jesus even though he's 36 and newly steroid-denied. And when Yoanis Cespedes (33) comes back from a permanent hamstring pull you'll ride with the Valkyries into Valhalla.

I have learned not to hold my breath waiting for the Mets. They'll have to prove it to me.

Let's not waste any more time discussing the Florida Marlins. Happy Draft Choices, Derek Jeter.

NL MVP: Ronald Acuna Jr. (the young Henry Aaron?)
NL CY YOUNG: Max Scherzer (He'll outlast DeGrom)
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Victor Robles (speed and defense)
NL BATTING CHAMP: Freddie Freeman
NL HR CHAMP: Rhys Hoskins (Phillies...the lineup favors him, batting after Bryce)
NL RBI CHAMP: Rhys Hoskins (ditto)
NL STEALS: Trea Turner (won it last year and has studied the pitchers now)

THE GYPSY SPEAKS!:

AL Division Winners: Boston, Cleveland, Houston
NL Division Winners: Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles

AL Wild Cards: New York, Oakland
NL Wild Cards: Atlanta, Chicago

ALL Pennant: New York over Oakland, Boston over New York, Houston over Cleveland, Houston over Boston.

NL Pennant: Chicago over Atlanta, Washington over Chicago,
Los Angeles over St. Louis, Washington over Los Angeles

World Series: Houston over Washington.

You Fellows have a Splendid Season, Now, Ya hear me? Here's a story to inspire and sustain you as you peruse your box scores…

Babe Ruth was known for living large off of the baseball diamond and enjoyed many late night activities. His roommate, Ping Bodie has been attributed as saying, “I don’t room with Ruth, I room with his suitcase."
"Yankee teammate Bob Meusel was fond of telling a story about the night he shared a hotel suite with Babe. The Bambino made love to one woman after another, contemplatively smoking a cigar after each dalliance. In the morning, Meusel asked Babe how many girls he had been with the previous night. Ruth glanced at the ashtray, and so did Meusel. There were seven butts in the tray. “Count the cigars,” said Babe.