Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2020:" Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" and "The Wages of Sin"


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2020: BROTHER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?


The bills are all due and the baby needs shoes and I’m busted...”
(Ray Charles)

The Boston Red Sox had a magical season in 2018 when they won 119 games or some such on the way to a smashing victory over the Los Angeles Underachievos in the World Series of that bygone year. Since then they’ve been in Karmic Meltdown. You may remember that they brought in Dave Dombrowski to win them another championship and Dave did just that. He did what he always does with every team he’s been with: he spent all the money available on front line pitchers like David Price and Chris Sale and ignored the depleted farm system and presented a winner to the fickle owners and public. Then when those same players didn’t produce in 2019 they fired him.

Now you hear whining all over New England...”We went over the salary cap (whine) our team is too expensive (whine) ‘SNOT FAAAAIIIIRRRRR! (a big Germanic whine from the Big Lebowski nihilists)

So presto chango the team fires DD and hires Chaim Bloom from Tampa Bay who is used to running teams on a shoestring. His mission? Get the payroll under the luxury cap of $208 million so the Sox can reset the Cap Clock and avoid millions in penalties. And oh by the way, compete with the Yankees and go to the playoffs or else we’ll fire your ass too!

Is this any way to run a team?

I got two names for you O Whining Sox-Natics!”Rusney Castillo” and “Yoan Moncada”.

While you are complaining about the expensive players you had to pay to get you that championship in 2018 and keep you relevant in the American League East, just remember you gave $72.5 million freaking dollars to Rusney Castillo to come over from Cuba at age 27 and be a star. Whoops. And then you promised Yoan Moncada $63 million. Rusney never got out of the minors and Moncada played for about a week in Boston before being the sacrificial prospect piece in the Chris Sale trade. Moncada is hitting (when he’s not striking out 200 times a season) for the White Sox but he’s not going to be the combo of Tim Raines and Robbie Cano that was hoped for.

The point is, you risked that kind of money on two “what-if” kind of players and now you’re unwilling to pay Mookie Betts what he has proven he’s worth? You should be offering Mook the $35 million a year he wants and keep the Face of your Freaking Franchise who is essential to keeping you in the hunt with the Yankees. There’re just not that many players like Betts.

Very rarely does baseball produce that special player who is just a joy to watch and an inspiration to the game...a guy with all the tools who can also warm the hearts of the withered with just a smile. Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Junior type players. Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams...they are all baseball Gods. But they don’t smile their way into our hearts...they batter the doors down. And that’s wonderful in its own way. Mookie does that with his bat, his speed, his arm and his smile. I can only think of 4 other players right now who have that quality: Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., Vlad Guerrero Jr., and Francisco Lindor. Smiling Baseball Adonises. (Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa of the Astros might have made that list if not for an unfortunate incident with a trash can. Keep smiling boys. Maybe we’ll forget.)

The Cleveland Indians are about to lose Lindor and that’s tragic for them. But the Indians are a small market team who can’t pay their stars...never could. The Red Sox have money...lots of it. They should keep Mookie. If they don’t they’ll regret it.

Sale and Price and Eovaldi? The trouble there is you can’t get enough back for them seeing as how they are each injured for about a third of every season. And the other starter, Eduardo Rodriguez, is also hurt every year. The Sox have to hope that at least two of those guys come up with their A game this season and next so they can make a run before they have to go out and scrounge for starters again.

The Sox actually got big seasons last year from unlikely sources...their catcher Vasquez hit plenty and Rafael Devers was a huge surprise at third. He was a top five MVP candidate! So if those guys, along with Bogaerts, Betts and J.D.Martinez are still boppin’ in 2020 the Beantowners could surprise...if only their pitching holds up.
But if you trade Betts and Price for young talent they may finish back of Toronto and Tampa...not to mention the Yankees. (New York is so deep that Miguel Andujar hit 27 homers and 47 doubles in 2018 and can’t even get on the field now! )

THE WAGES OF SIN
Now I must speak once again...briefly...about the Current Debacle of the Great Techno Cheat.

The penalties came down about like I figured. But the Astros owner tried to regain the public trust and moral high ground by going ahead and firing his already suspended general manager and bench manager. I don’ t think those guys will ever again have those positions with a major league team. Baseball is going to run away and try to forget this sorry episode.

The joke is that every player and every coach on that Astros 2017 team had to know about the cheating… and they get to keep playing and coaching because MLB can’t afford to give a whole team the death penalty. But does one of those coaches get to move up to manager? That seems unfair.

Also, how the heck did the Astros ever think they could keep this kind of cheating hidden? I mean, the year after they win in 2017 several players move on to other teams. Did the Astros think that these players would now keep quiet while the Astros continued to beat their new teams by stealing signs electronically? Especially pitchers! What would happen to the Pitching Fraternity if hurlers just kept accepting getting killed by a cheating system that they knew was happening?

Well, Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora moved to other teams in 2018 so the Astros had to stop cheating (at least with the system that those two guys helped devise). And now the Astros want the fans and the rest of baseball to forgive and forget? Fat chance! The players may have escaped this round of penalties, but what they will get in 2020 may be worse than suspension and heavy fines. They will get the excoriating contempt of every rival player and fan. They will hear boos. They will feel beanballs. They will have rival fans beating on trash cans when they come to the plate.

The Wages of Sin, Astros.

The Boston Red Sox story is slightly different. Yes, Cora has to go. He was warned to keep it clean and he still sponsored TV’s next to the dugout so stolen signs could be communicated quicker. But he didn’t put a camera in centerfield this time. MLB left free chips on the table and then was shocked, shocked I say, to find that gambling was going on!

I’m talking about the replay rooms now universal in baseball where there is a full time monitor in the clubhouse where coaches can run down and see a replay and tell the manager whether to challenge an umpire’s call on the field. If you ever watch baseball on TV, you might have noticed that MLB uses something called a “center field camera” to home in on the plate so we fans can watch the catcher flash signs to the pitcher. What baseball genius had the idea first? “Hey! I can see that catcher’s fingers real good on this here television set! I bet I can figure out his signs! Let’s see...one finger means fastball, two mean curve, three mean change up! I got it! Hey Lefty, go out to the on deck and tell Pedro that a curveball is coming!”

For over a hundred years, runners on base (and sometimes base coaches) have tried to peer in to pick up signs from catchers so they can relay that information to the batter. Totally legal. (When the Giants sent Coach Herman Franks out to centerfield at the Polo Grounds to steal signs with his telescope in 1951...that’s illegal.) Sometimes teams try to dampen the enthusiasm for sign stealing by drilling a few perpetrators next time they come up to the plate. Self policing they call it.

But the main defense against sign stealing has always been changing the catcher’s signs when a runner gets on and changing signs frequently to keep the opposition from homing in. If you don’t change the signs up, the other team can spot your tendencies and get an edge. It’s all based on getting a good look at the catcher’s fingers.

So now MLB is letting TVs show the whole game in a private room next to the dugout and telling baseball personnel that it’s fine to study replays but don’t look at close ups of those signs that the catcher is flashing. That’s like telling a Labrador not to pay attention to a pork chop.

Anyway, that’s what the Red Sox were doing in 2018, using the TV to see the catcher’s fingers better. One techno step away from the permitted tradition of using eyeballs on the field only. Still cheating, but not camera- in- centerfield- cheating. And I guarantee you that many other clubs in baseball were doing the same thing, and will continue to do it unless MLB bans tech from the clubhouse during the games.

What must be done? Once the game starts, no team-run or player- owned tech in the clubhouse or on the field. No TV on, no cell phones, no laptops for the duration of the game. And all replay calls made by the umpire watching from above or in New York or wherever. The manager can still challenge, but only on his own...no waiting for TV confirmation before he protests. Should make the games go quicker too.

One last question must be addressed:

SHOULD THE HOUSTON ASTROS HAVE THEIR WORLD SERIES TITLE OF 2017 OVERTURNED IN FAVOR OF THE LOS ANGELES DODGERS?

I say “No.”

Because the Stros also cheated against the American League teams they beat in the playoffs and maybe one of those teams could have beaten the Dodgers. Impossible to account for all that. Should we go back and vacate the 1951 New York Giants tainted victory? Maybe we should take the title away from some of the Steroid Champs of the 90’s?

But, in the minds of baseball fans everywhere, there will always be an asterisk next to the 2017 Astros name in the record books. But MLB should make it official.

WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS:

2017: HOUSTON ASTROS * over Los Angeles Dodgers.
(*the Houston team was later found to have used technological assistance to steal signs during the 2017 season, including the Playoffs and World Series)

Just put it in the same section with the other great Black Eyes of Baseball History.

--Marco Perella 1/20/2020

Friday, December 6, 2019

MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: THE BIG TECHNO CHEAT!


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: THE BIG TECHNO CHEAT!

You’ve heard about it, but you just haven’t heard about it MUCH. The biggest scandal in baseball since the massive steroid abuse era has reared its ugly head and then...has strangely gone silent. What gives?

According to ex-Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, the Houston Astros had a camera in the centerfield bleachers at Minute Maid Park in 2017 (and maybe beyond), picking up the opposing catcher’s signs (at maximum zoom setting, of course!) and hard-wiring the picture into the dugout hallway monitor where sign stealing experts identified the coming pitch and had somebody in the dugout bang on a garbage can to signal “breaking pitch coming.” Remember Dodger starter Yu Darvish getting lit up like a Roman candle in the 2017 series? It looks like some teams started noticing the peculiar garbage can symphony emanating from the Houston dugout and the ‘Stros started using signals from the bullpen in right field at Minute Maid instead. Isn’t that a relief pitcher all by himself on the far side of the the pen, jacket on, jacket off, jacket hanging over arm, standing, sitting every other pitch? Hmmm...curious. Isn’t that George Springer’s eyes darting toward right just before the pitch was delivered? Hey...I thought hitters needed laser-like focus on the pitcher’s delivery to succeed. Not these Astros...they just need to get the signal so they can sit on the fastball.

I like the Astros. When the Red Sox aren’t playing them I root for them. But I can’t ignore the evidence. “Say it ain’t so, ‘Stro!”

In case you forgot, the Astros won the World Series in 2017. Fiers apparently thought the system was still being used against his new teams (He was with the Tigers most recently) and thought it a good idea to blow the whistle on his formers. He said young pitchers were getting blown up against the Astros hitters and hurting their careers because of the cheating. He’s right.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow gave a clubhouse impromptu to reporters and said “I’m not dodging the question, I’m just not going to answer it right now” which is of course, a TOTAL DODGE. And of course that set the tone for the response to this revelation throughout the game. Nobody is talking. Not even when other news began to trickle out...Astros execs actually ordered their scouts to come up with a system to steal signs. Bench coach Alex Cora (in 2017) and Astros manager A.J. Hinch are implicated, along with former player and sign stealing expert Carlos Beltran. (Who denies it.) I mean, this is a big time scandal.

You might remember that it took fifty years for the truth to come out about the New York Giants in 1951. They had a coach (Herman Franks) with a telescope and a buzzer stationed in the centerfield clubhouse to pick up the catcher’s signs and relay them to an injured player in the bullpen who would simply stand or sit depending on the pitch to come. This is how they went 23-5 to finish off the season and make up a 13.5 game deficit to the Dodgers. Then they won the 3 game playoff with the Brooklyns when Bobby Thompson hit a walk off homer off pitcher Ralph Branca in the third game...the famous “Shot Heard Round the World” that is one of baseball’s most iconic moments. Thompson always denied he got the sign but why would the Giants have stopped cheating in the Playoffs so close to the climax of their nefarious scheme? Right when they needed it most? Branca had to live with the infamy the rest of his life. He died embittered after a life of wearing the goat horns for that one epic failure. A failure now exposed as a probable BIG CHEAT.

This latest techno outrage just happened, and it’s a hell of a lot more of an issue than just “boys will be boys”.

Silence from Commissioner Manfred. This despite the fact that the Red Sox and Yankees were caught using tech to steal signs in 2017 themselves. On the Red Sox part, they were using Apple watches to communicate the pitch to come. I don’t know what the Yankees were accused of since nobody wants to talk about techno sign stealing in baseball. Manfred issued a warning that if anybody was caught in the future, it could be a big deal...but nothing happened to the Sox or Yanks.

It’s like if somebody saw a bunch of little lizards run under a rock and said…”Okay, I saw some little lizards but if there’s a Gila Monster under that rock I might do something... but I’m not going to lift the rock to look right now.”

Well, if Astros execs, scouts, bench coaches, managers and... I assume... all their hitters are involved, that’s a pretty damn big Gila Monster.

But if you watch the MLB network or listen to baseball talk radio you’ll barely hear this story mentioned. Baseball keeps putting out all their flak about the winter meetings and free agents and the usual hype and avoiding the whole subject of cheating on a massive scale by one team...a now tainted World Series Champ….and perhaps who knows how many other organizations.

In my opinion, covering up the severity of this situation is the absolute worst thing baseball can do. They need to get on top of it immediately. To wit:

You can’t suspend all the hitters who profited from the cheating...that would destroy the Astros as a team and leave a hole in the league schedule. The punishment has to be mainly organizational, similar to what the penalities were for the St. Louis Cardinals when they hacked the Astro’s computer scouting reports to get a leg up in trade deals a few years ago. So…

1/ suspend and fine any team exec or staff member who participated... for one year without pay. If they could do it to Steinbrenner they can do it to these guys.
2/suspend and fine any coach who was involved... one year. They did it to Dodger skipper Leo Durocher in the 40’s when he hung out with gamblers.
3/suspend and fine any player or staff member who lies to the investigators.
4/take away ALL of the Astros draft choices next season. Also curtail international signings.
5/fine the Astros organization something like $20 million.
6/put a big fat asterisk next to the Astros name in the list of World Series Champs. Teams need a permanent reminder of the Wages of Sin. You can’t take away the rings and give them to the Dodgers. That would cause a riot in Las Vegas when everybody tried to get their betting money back. Just intentionally besmirch the memory of a questionable victory.
7/hire tech spies to circulate throughout the ball parks looking for cheats from now on.

The Astros were widely suspected of being sign stealing cheats for years. Now we know just how out of control they really were. This is not traditional sign stealing...the first base coach or the runner on second sees the catcher’s fingers and relays the info to the batter. That’s been part of the game for years. Teams can change signs and cover their fingers better to control it. But it’s personnel on the field and dugout who are involved with purely human resources. But a camera in the outfield? Relaying what to expect on every pitch to every batter?

Sorry Jose Altuve, but you’re going to have to lead the league in hitting on your own. George Springer will have to get his record number of Playoff homers the old fashioned way. And the Astros should have to live in the cheating hole they’ve dug for themselves for quite a while.

Marco Perella
12/5/2019

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2019: World Series Lam-Bas-Ta-Thon


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: WORLD SERIES LAM-BAS-TA-THON

...in which heroes are born and baseball dreams go puff in the night

1/ It wasn’t a great series, but a fascinating one. The first game was a one run contest but the last six were blow outs. Yes, of course it was notable for the visiting team winning every game, but most of the games were only close for a while, and then one team or another would have a late rally and leave the other bleeding beside the road.

Both the Astros and the Nats had modest stats...11 homers apiece and 30 or so rbi’s each. The Nats only batted .241 while the Astros managed .272 but the Nats had the knack of getting two-out hits with runners on in the late innings. That was the diff.

Defensively, the Nats starting pitchers did a better job of holding down the other team’s scoring, even though the Houston team had a better ERA at 3.66 to 4.27 and struck out more hitters. All the pre-series hype was how on earth the poor Nats would contend with Verlander and Cole and Greinke. Those three gave up key hits and a few homers that ultimately won 2 games over Verlander and 1 over Cole. Only Greinke pitched fairly well for the Stros.

Scherzer and Strassburg dominated. You can’t say enough about their ability and their desire to win.

The Nats were just better in the clutch...with their starters and their hitters. They also became the team with the worst start to a season (19-31) ever to come back and win the series.

2/The fun thing about a World Series is that we get saturated with constant exposure to the players and really get to know their strengths and weaknesses. New heroes make their bones. Guys like…

Anthony Rendon, the obvious leader of the Nats. He was a quiet assassin collecting big hit after big hit for 8 vital ribbies. He homered in the last three elimination games his team played. His defense was also superb.

Juan Soto hit .333 with big-moment-hits for 7 ribs. His beautiful swing and hyped up dancing in the batters box amped his team and bothered the Astros, who couldn’t seem to pitch around him and had no lefties in the pen to deal with him. (I wonder what Madison Bumgarner, the Big North Carolina Goober thinks about that rumba routine in the box that Soto does every time up. I imagine Madbum don’t like…)
Alex Bregman. He’s young but already carrying a huge rep with his extra base hits, home run power and great defense. One of the quickest bats in the majors, just short of Mookie Betts, another little guy who powers up. Alex only hit .207 in this series but that included 3 taters and 8 ribbies to lead the team.
Favorite moment of the series was when Breg hit that homer and started running the bases still holding the bat. That was a social blunder and Breg wound up apologizing later. Too late! Soto homered later in the game and repeated Bregman’s routine as he ran the bases. Every time Bregman gets too big for his britches it winds up costing his team attitude points.



Of course, the Nats are hardly Bastions of Baseball Sportsmanship when Howie Kendrick and Adam Eaton do the car thing in the dugout after Howie home runs. I mean, first Howie runs the bases and thanks God with hands to the Sky when he touches the plate...nothing new there. Then he goes into the dugout and runs the gauntlet of adoring teammates and they all dance the Baby Shark or Funky Chicken or whatever that is. Then he sits on the bench beside Eaton and they shift gears on their hot rod and huff and puff and go “vroom vroom”. All this when they’re already up by 8 runs or something! A bit much, Guys!



Jose Altuve. How can you not love this guy? What a player! And he’s actually humble. Seems to hit the ball on the sweet spot every time up. Only guy in the majors who can really handle that 95mph fastball at the top of the zone that they all love to pitch these days. Aside from a tendency to swing at everything he can reach, Altuve is just some kind of Superstar.



Yuli Gurriel. New respect for the Cuban. Boy, can he handle the bat! The way he can bring his hands in and take those inside pitches down the line for doubles! Hardly ever strikes out. Hits it hard all the time, even when it’s right at somebody. An artist.



3/All-time Eccentric Series:
2019: all games won by visitors.
1905: every win a shutout including 3 by Christy Mathewson as Giants beat Athletics, 4 games to 1.
1920: a series under the microscope after the Black Sox were exposed for throwing the Series the previous year. Tris Speaker leads the Cleveland Indians to 5 victories (best of 8 that year) over the Brooklyn Robins. Game 5 features first grand slam in Series history (Elmer Smith Cleveland), first homer by a pitcher (Jim Bagby Cleveland) and first and only triple play in Series history (Bill Wambsganss Cleveland unassisted).

1960: Yankees got Mazeroskied by the Pirates...most of you remember that. The Yankees won three games...16-3, 10-0, and 12-0... and batted .338 for the series with 11 homers while the Pirates hit .256 with 4 home runs. But the Pirates won 4 games, including one of the all-time most exciting games, that 10-9 triumph in the 7th game at Forbes Field.

My family was driving through western Pennsylvania listening to that seventh game on the radio. I was 11 and I had attended my very first major league game that summer at old Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The radio reception got bad and I was suffering the agonies of a frustrated fan so my Dad pulled off and we went into a scruffy bar and sat at the bar watching the end of the game. I’ll never forget the explosion of jubilation in that bar when the Pirates came back and won that one. Thanks Dad!

The added eccentricity? The seventh game of that series featured an anomaly...neither team struck out even once! The last time that happened in a major league game of any kind was 1985. That’s how common that one is.

4/All-Time All Star World Series Team

(based on World Series performance only, minimum 3 series)

CATCHER: Yogi Berra...14 series, 75 games .274/.359/.452. When Yogi hung it up, he had played in 23 % of all World Series ever played.

FIRST BASE: Lou Gehrig...another Yankee legend (more coming!) But with a stat line of .361/.483/.731 how do you keep him off the team?

SECOND BASE: Eddie Collins...played in 6 Series for the Philadelphia Athletics (1910,11,13,14) and the Chicago White Sox (1917 and in 1919 he didn’t cheat while all around him did) and batted over .400 in 3 of them. .328/.381/.414 with 14 steals. Not yet, Jose Altuve!

THIRD BASE: Pepper Martin...”The Wild Horse of the Osage” they called him in honor of his Oklahoma roots and because he ran wild in the 1931 series and won games with his bat, his glove and his legs while leading the Cardinals to victory over the much favored Athletics as a ROOKIE...he qualifies here only because of a pinch running appearance in the 1928 Series, but in 15 total games he went .418/.467/.676. He played third in the 1934 series and center field in 1931. Honorable mention for Pablo Sandoval...3 series, 12 games .426/.460/.702.

SHORTSTOP: Edgar Renteria….333/.381/.414.

OUTFIELD: Babe Ruth...big surprise. In 10 Series he went .326/.470/.744 with 15 homers including a called shot in 1932. And... as a pitcher Ruth won 3 games, lost 0 and had an 0.87 ERA.

OUTFIELD: Reggie Jackson...good old Mr. October! .357/.457/.755 in 5 Series. 10 home runs.

OUTFIELD: Lou Brock….391/.424/.655 with 14 steals... for the Cardinals in 1964,67 and 68.

DESIGNATED HITTER: David Ortiz...3 series….455/.576/.795

RIGHT HANDED STARTER: Bob Gibson...1.89 ERA in 9 games/ 92 Ks/WHIP of 0.889 (PS: that’s real real good)

LEFT HANDED STARTER: Madison Bumgarner...4 wins and a save in 5 career World Series games...0.25 ERA/ WHIP of 0.528.

CLOSER: Mariano Rivera...0.79/0.963 WHIP


An Old time Baseball Story:

St. Louis Cardinals back in the Gas House Gang days...St. Louis is in a tough pennant chase and manager Frankie Frisch decides to institute a midnight curfew on his team of fun loving fellows.

Come twelve o’clock and 4 frequent offenders are not back at the hotel. Frankie waits up for them and when they drag-ass back in at something in the AM he’s waiting for them. One of the players is, of course, the perpetual Dizzy Dean. So Frisch fines the other three players $200 each (a huge amount in Depression era baseball) and hits Diz up for $400.

Brooding about the injustice of it all, Dizzy goes to his manager the next day and complains: “After all, it ain’t like I was doin’ anything different than those other three guys, but you fined them $200 and threw a $400 fine at me! It just ain’t right!”

Frisch throws an arm around his star pitcher’s shoulders and says, “Why Diz, you’re the star of this ballteam. You’re the Great Dizzy Dean. Everything about you has got to be bigger and better than anybody else. And that goes for the fines, too.”

Dizzy hesitates for a moment and then his face lights up. “Well, danged if you ain’t right, Frank!” Totally convinced, Dizzy goes off beaming.

Happy Holidays to you all!

--Marco

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: POST SEASON ALMANAC


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: Post Season Almanac

Check it out:

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.

This was my March prediction and as you can see, I had a lot wrong. But I have the right two clubs in the Series! I still pick the Astros to win in 6 but the Nationals have parlayed their strong starting pitchers into a nice playoff run.

A brief recap: In the AL Wild Card Game the Tampa Rays skwushed the Oakland Athletics like the proverbial grape. All those Oakland strong boys were flailing helplessly at Charlie Morton’s curve balls and it was little old Tampa that hit all the homers...4 of them...to take the game 5-1. They advanced to face Houston and were of course heavily UN-favored.

The first match up in the division was Twinkies vs. Yanks. No big surprise….the Twinks lay down and died for the pinstripes like they always do in the playoffs. The Twinks are 2-15 in the playoffs vs. the Yankees since 2003 and have lost 16 straight playoff games overall. After setting the new home run record for a season (the Yanks broke it too) the Minnesotans looked pretty damn pitiful in this series.

Tampa surprised the Astros with good pitching, timely hitting and a game attitude that took the ‘Stros to the brink until game 5 when they rolled away 6-1 behind Brantley and Altuve home runs.

So ...the matchup in the ALCS was the one everybody predicted….New York vs. Houston 2017 redux.
That was an epic series as you may recall….and this one wasn’t that great until game 6. But first…
Game 1: Gleyber Torres ... single, double homer and rbi grounder for total of 5 ribbies after mashing in the sweep of Minnesota. Youngblood! And not the first to make himself heard in the 2019 Post Season.

Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela also homered and right fielder Aaron Judge caught a line drive and doubled Alex Bregman off first base. Tanaka shut them out for 6 innings and the bullpen finished off the 7-0 blanking in Houston.



Game 2: The Carlos Correa game. Carlos almost hit one out to dead center early. Perhaps if MLB hadn’t introduced the new “playoff” balls it would have gone. Semi-embarrassed by the cheapness of home runs this season, MLB came up with a batch of “older” baseballs to take some of the oomph out. That and the cold weather seemed to have an effect on carry. Carlos made a truly great play on a ball that bounced off Altuve in the late innings. He picked up the carom and twisted himself into position to make a bullseye throw to nail LeMahieu at home.



Verlander and Paxton were starters but both were gone early. The Houston bullpen surprised by matching the Yankees vaunted pen...keeping the game tied until Correa hit a walk off in the eleventh.

Game 3: Back in Yankee Stadium the Bronx Bombers send Luis Severino out to face Gerrit Cole, who looks just like Blake Shelton when the country singer had a mullet. Everybody expects Cole to dominate, as he has since May. (18 straight decisions for the team when he’s started!) Surprisingly, Cole struggles in this outing, walking 5 in 7 innings and fanning 7. But he holds the Manhattan Dandies to 1 run and Houston wins it 4-1.

So far, watching this series is a massive strike out fest. 4 hours worth every game. With all these power pitchers working on both clubs, the K’s are out of control. High fastball, high fastball...slider in the dirt. Fastball, curve out of the zone, change up in the dirt. Swing and miss, foul ball, swing and miss. In the playoffs through the ALCS Sanchez has fanned 16 times, Judge 11, Gardner 15 and Encarnacion 13. Edwin can’t seem to see the breaking pitch at all. It’s an unholy banquet of K’s going on.

The Astros are just as bad, and they’re supposed to be the best in baseball at not striking out. Brantley with 10, Bregman 12, Springer 19, Yordan Alvarez 21 and Correa 23! That’s the best contact team in the majors? That’s with an average of only 45-60 plate appearances. Springer and Correa look like the same hitter to me. They are both well built athletic guys who keep the bat flat on their shoulders and take all or nothing, horrendously violent swings at the ball. They totally sell out every time. Once in awhile they run into one. So you get 1 or 2 homers in the whole Post Season and watch them fan the rest of the time. Correa hit .171 and Springer .152 in this series.

And poor Yonder Alvarez (.171)! They pitch him fastballs just high out of the zone and he dutifully swings and misses or fouls these pitches off. Then they throw him a breaking pitch in the dirt...I mean every time! And he swings at it every time and misses it. What is he thinking? “Okay...it’s full count... I wonder what they’re going to throw me this time? A fastball right down the middle...Yeah! That’s it for sure!” WHIFF!!!

Game 4: Astros win it 8-3. Correa and Springer both hit 3-run homers, thus insuring that they will each strike out 5 times in the next two games trying to repeat the singular sensation.

Game 5: Verlander continues his trend of giving up first inning runs. LeMahieu and Hicks both homer and top the ‘Stros 4-1 in a game that takes...Oh My God!...LESS THAN THREE HOURS!
It’s the first game in post season history where each team score in the first and never score again in the rest of the game. Curious and Trivial but True.

Game 6: Back to Houston for a Bullpen game...that’s where the manager pitches each and every member of the relief core about an inning and a half til the exhaustion of it all renders them feeble-armed and helpless. God forbid you should ask your starter to go out there without the minimum four days rest. Each team uses 7 pitchers. The game lasts 4 hours and 9 minutes and Jose Altuve hits a clutch walk off four-bagger to win it. A thing of beauty really. In defeat, LeMahieu is also clutch...delivering a two run bomb to tie it in the top of the ninth. This was the most interesting game in the series.

Over in the Senior Circuit (what a monikor!) the Wild Card game was won 4-3 by the Washington Nats when they scored 3 against the fearsome sidewinder Josh Hader while their own Stephen Strasburg came in in relief of starter Mad Max Scherzer and shut the Brewers down for 3 innings.

The Nationals are a compelling team. As you remember, they sucked a gigantic lemon-flavored Big One for the first 50 games of the season going a horrible 19-31. Then they picked up Gerardo Parra who had been dumped by San Francisco. Parra promptly hit a walk off homer, talked to all the Latin players and got them to loosen up in the clubhouse, taught everybody to do the Baby Shark dance in the dugout after home runs and in general provided just the kick in the ass that this uptight club needed. Now the Nats are in the Series and I don’t think they would have made it without the strange chemistry experiment that General Manager Mike Rizzo concocted with the help of the little Venezuelan. Leadership comes in many forms...but this little guy Parra, like the Astros little guy Jose Altuve...has that certain something that creates a winning attitude.

The Nationals started the playoffs with an offense that consisted of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto (the 20 year old wunderkind) and slowly got hot. Rendon is a sort of silent assassin...calm and cool all the time. Soto is just the opposite. He dances around in the box like he’s doing the rumba. After each pitch he either nods his head as if to sanction it’s excellence or weakness...sometimes honoring the pitch, sometimes dismissing it and the fact he didn’t hit it as shear random luck. When he takes a close pitch that is called a ball he squares off and stares down the pitcher like a martial artist ready to plant a side kick on his head. Very entertaining.

Starting late in the Dodger series, other guys started warming up: Howie Kendrick beat the Dodgers with a grand salami and a bunch of doubles. Then guys like Trea Turner, catcher Kurt Suzuki and Adam Eaton started producing. Ryan Zimmerman, the old man of the team, bashed a few long balls and suddenly the Nats won 8 straight playoff games. Their starting pitching was superb and disguised the lack of arms in the bullpen. Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Anibel Sanchez all looked pretty good (except for a wobbly appearance in relief by Corbin against the Dodgers.)

The Nats, running counter to almost every trend in the game...are an old team, averaging over 31 years per man. But they have been lethal in the clutch, racking up two out hits with runners in scoring position and even bunting!
NLDS St. Louis vs. Atlanta

Game 1: The Cardinales come from behind and crush 6 runs off the Bravos weak bullpen and steal this one. Goldschmidt starts his Playoff experience with a double and a homer and this give away is the deciding factor in Atlanta’s flop in this year’s playoffs.

Game 2: Atlanta 3-0 as Foltynewicz outpitches Flaherty. Adam Duval hits a big pinch tater for the home town Tomahawks.

Game 3: Wainwright turns back the clock to dominate the Braves until his bullpen coughs up furballs in the ninth. Soroka keeps the Bravos in the game until they score 3 in the ninth. Duval gets another pinch hit to win it but it is shortstop Dansby Swanson whose double and great defense makes it possible for the Georgians to come back.

Game 4: Yadier Molina’s sacrifice fly wins it for St. Louis in the tenth. Goldy and Ozuna homer. Atlanta wastes a 4-hit game by Acuna and lose another one run game.

Game 5: A laugher as the Cards tie a record (most runs in a post season game inning) as they score 10 in the first. Foltynewicz is El Foldy in this one. The Braves sure found a variety of ways to lose in this series. Offensively, the Cardinals are carried by Goldy and Ozuna , who each hit .429 with 2 homers for the series. I hope they enjoyed it because here come the Nationals.

The Cards struck out 47 times and homered 4 times. The Braves K’d 46 times and hit 5 homers. Both teams had 16 walks. Pretty evenly matched teams... so it was situational hitting that won it for St. Louis.

NLDS Nationals vs. Dodgers:

The Dodgers were one of the Big Three in MLB this year. Most people rated them just under the Houstononians and pretty even with the Yanksters. The Dodgers were expected to crunch the bones of the the Nats in this series but people kept forgetting that the Nats’ starting pitching is actually deeper and better than the Dodgers now that Kershaw is showing some age.

Game 1: The Nats look overmatched as they get only 2 hits against Walker Buehler and the L.A. bullpen, striking out 13 times. 6-0 no contest.

Game 2: Strasburg and the Nats’ bullpen strike out 17 Boys in Blue as the top of the Nats’ order gets on base 7 times and scores 3 off Kershaw. Washington 4-2.

Game 3: In our nation’s capitol, Dave Martinez, the Nats’ manager, gets cute and brings in his leftie starter Patrick Corbin to shut down the Dodgeheads in the the 6th. 7 runs later the Nats are behind in the series 1-2 losing 10-4.

Game 4: Scherzer guts it out for 7 innings and gives up only a run as the Nats win 6-1. Ryan Zimmerman hits a sentimental old person 3- run home run off Pedro Baez to give the Washington fans a golden memory.

Game 5: A day that will live in Dodger infamy. Buehler and Strasburg duel for 6 innings and the Blues enter the 8th with a 3-1 lead. Dave Roberts , who announced to all the world that Clayton Kershaw was going to come back to pitch out of the pen to help close out the Nats, delivered on his promise by bringing in the Big Guy to get the leftie hitting Eaton to close down the 7th. But then, for some sentimental reason Davey leaves Kershaw in to pitch to the one guy he shouldn’t have faced: Anthony Rendon. Rendon had gotten used to a steady diet of 98 mph fastballs from Buehler so Kershaw’s 90 mph leftie stuff looks good to him and he jacks one out to left. Then, with Kershaw still in there, Juan Soto puts a beautiful swing on a weak pitch and the Nats are tied. That was the spirit-crusher for the Dodgers. After a scoreless ninth, the Nats work the bases full against Joe Kelly and watch him give up a grand slam jack to ex-Dodger Howie Kendrick. The ‘Heads go down meekly in the bottom of the tenth. Game, set, match.

NLCS Nationals vs. Cardinals:

Slash and burn. Game 1 Anibel Sanchez pitches 6 2/3 innings of no hit ball for the best start of the playoffs. St. Louis gets beat 2-0 with only 1 hit. Game 2 the Cardinals lose 3-1 and get only 3 hits off Scherzer and company. Game 3 more Strasburg….8-1 Nationals. The Cardinals are striking out in bunches. Paul Goldschmidt has K’d in 9 of last 11 at bats including a stinking 7 in a row. Game 4 the Nats score 7 in the 1st inning so the Cardinals know how Atlanta felt when they got boxed for 10 by St. Louis. This series was a huge, mismatched anti-climax. Now the Nationals have to sit around for a week waiting for the Astros and Yankees to finish up. This has been a bugaboo for many teams who win their league series too quickly.

I complete this on the eve of Game 6 of the World Series. Yes, the Nats were rusty after their week off. They only pestered the Astros for two wins in Houston to start the series! That’s 8 games in a row that the Washington team has won. But then, in a switch, the ‘Stros hammered back for 3 road wins in D.C.

It’s Verlander vs. Strasburg in Game 6. I have a feeling it’ll be a good one tonight.

...and I’ll be back to discuss it in my next edition.

God Bless Baseball!

--Marco

Monday, September 23, 2019

Marco's Baseball Blog-O-Roonie 2019: Law of Averages


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: LAW OF AVERAGES

It always happens sooner or later. A freak hurricane stalls over one place for 2 days, dumping rain by the yard on one cursed spot until inundation is complete.

Remember that damned Hurricane Harvey that clobbered Houston a couple of years ago? 50 some odd inches it deposited upon the freeways and reservoirs of the Bayou City over a few days...and it’s happening again as I write this.

But that wasn’t even the worst deluge in this state’s history. No, that would be the famous rainstorm in Thrall, Texas, just north of Austin, in 1921, when a hurricane parked over Williamson county and proceeded to obliterate the little farming town under a record 38 inch waterfall in one 24 hour period, still the all-time record rainfall for one day in the history of the continental United States. (It supposedly rained almost 50 inches in one 24 hour period on the island of Kauai in the state of Hawaii in 2018.) Drowned 215 people when there weren’t that many people available to drown. Wiped out everything...houses, stores, livestock, roads...almost erased that little town from the Earth. Estimated damage of 19 million in 1921 dollars...don’t even ask me how much that would be today.

I was reminded of Thrall when I saw the pictures of the Bahamas on TV during the attack of Hurricane Dorian. Appalling, frightening devastation. But the Bahamas took the punch that was aimed at Florida and milked the life out of that Category 5 until it finally meandered away to the north, hopefully sparing the southern U.S. from the worst of its weapons.

I hope our country offers some help to the ruined islands that absorbed that punishment. It would be a good way to honor Roberto Clemente (his Day...Sept. 20) who died trying to bring emergency supplies to earthquake victims in Central America.

COMEBACKS: Baseball seems like a slightly unseemly sideshow compared to the suffering of a whole nation, but that’s the way of the world. There’s always a disaster somewhere and humanity needs something exciting and epic to remind us that we must celebrate when and whatever we can in the interludes between apocalypses.

And so I give thanks that I can occasionally turn to my favorite sport to give me surcease. So thank you Washington Nationals for coming back from a 6 run deficit in the ninth inning of your game with the Mets and winning, 11-10, overcoming such a margin for the first time in 275 baseball games played in the major leagues this year.
It’s especially notable because the Nats gave up 5 runs in the top of the ninth when their shortstop, the normally excellent Trea Turner, forgot how many outs there were in the inning and didn’t feed his second baseman for a made to order double play that would have ended the frame. Something you almost never see from a major league shortstop.

Usually when a team makes a boner like that, psychological paralysis occurs and the offending Bozos lie down and die. But not the Nats. They got collectively Smoking Hot and rattled off 7 hits, culminating in a mythic 3 run homer by Kurt Suzuki that flushed the Mets. The New Yorkers themselves have had quite a few walk-off moments this second half of the season, as they have come back from total irrelevancy, but none like this.

PHENOMS: Perhaps the most compelling event in baseball the last couple of years is the sudden arrival of the young adult ball players who look like future superstars… if they’re not superstars already. I’m talking about the under-21 set: Ronald Acuna, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis in the National League and Vlad Guerrero, Raphael Devers and Gleyber Torres in the American. This is not including some more youngsters who are definite stars in the making. Players like Yordan Alvarez in Houston (22 years old) and Bo Bichette in Toronto (21) and a whole bunch of players aged from 20-22 who are looking awfully good. And that’s just the everyday players! Not even counting the young pitchers!

So what’s going on? In the history of baseball, there have always been stars who made it to the bigs early. Mickey Mantle was 19 but it still took him about 3 years to get hot. Same with Willie Mays, who came up as a 20-year old in 1951 and didn’t really get it going until he had spent a year and a half in the army and came back to lead the league in several hitting categories in 1954.

The ultimate teenage Hall of Famer was Mel Ott of the old New York Giants. Manager John McGraw saw him as a 16 year old and kept him on the major league roster so some minor league hitting instructor wouldn’t try to change his batting style... which was revolutionary at the time.

I’m talking about the timing step that Ott developed on his own where he balanced on his back leg (he hit leftie) as the pitch was delivered and raised his right leg in the air before launching himself at the pitch. Saduhara Oh had a very similar style. It’s something you see everyday in the majors these days but Ott was the first to do it, and by the time he was 20 he was a triple crown threat and went on to lead the league in home runs 6 times as a 170 pounder!

So teenage Phenoms have always been with us, but this new crop is not only impressive….they are already leading the league in hitting categories! Kind of extraordinary, but there’s a reason.

The reason is that scouting in the information age has gotten really good at identifying future stars. The reason is that coaching at every level is taking advantage of major league norms like pitching machines, weight training and nutrition. High School teams have whirlpools and video. Players aren’t taking 5 or 6 years to learn the game and they are becoming major league ready at an earlier age.

Also, there is room for them on major league rosters with the new trend of moving middle-grade veterans off of rosters and out of the game as soon as they hit the edge of their decline phase and are earning more money. There’s a constant vacuum on 40 man rosters that can be filled with young and hungry ball players from the Caribbean, Japan, Central America and other baseball crazy cultures.
These players are well-trained and fresh and healthy and play the game well enough to insert them into starting roles right away. No more waiting til they’re seasoned 25 year olds before moving them up.

And it’s going to stay that way. MLB teams are going to keep young, controllable players on their rosters and get rid of the old Pros. Pay super stars like Torres and Guerrero the minimum as they start leading the league in various stats. When they are eligible for arbitration and free agency, let them go and pick up the draft choices and draft some more Wunderkinds. Churn the roster. Turn it over to a new generation of players every five years. Don’t wind up with a 42 year old former hero like Albert Pujols that’s collecting 30 million a year. Just keep paying Ronald Acuna $560,000 to become a 40-40 man at age 21.

Of course Acuna is pretty good so maybe dangle a long-term contract in front of him like the Braves just did...and the new Willie Mays will be a Brave until he’s 30 at least (with team options to buy him out or get rid of him if he gets hurt). What’s Ronald going to be making at age 30? 17 million a year folks. Yes, I know... sounds good. Not exactly a pitiful amount. But 17 million is chicken feed compared to the contracts older stars have regularly commanded...stars that have never come close to Acuna’s performance.

It’s the new paradigm.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION: 11 MLB franchises have set their all time record for most homers in a season this year. SO FAR!
Of the 138 MLB players who qualify for batting awards based on 3.1 plate appearances per team game...98 of them have 20 homers or more. SO FAR! That’s 2/3 of the the regular players in all of the major leagues! 28 guys have hit at least 35 taters. SO FAR!

I never thought I’d see a season where somebody who hits 25 homers would be considered anemic.



This will go down with the 1930 NL rabbit ball year and a couple of the big steroid eras seasons as the most out of the norm years in baseball history. (See last blog on the rabbit ball currently being used now that MLB owns Rawlings.)

PENNANT RACES: The Cubbies just got flatten-ated by the Cardinals in four straight 1-run defeats at Wrigley Field. First time St. Louis has swept a four game series at Wrigley since 1921. And these were ugly, bitter losses. In the game Saturday closer Craig Kimbrel came in for the Adorables and gave up two consecutive dingers. Then, on Sunday, with the relief squad depleted, Joe Maddon let Yu Darivsh start the ninth inning after throwing 100 pitches and giving up only one run. Guess who lost?

That means the Brewers are tied with Washington for the wild cards even after losing their MVP Yelich. I don’t think anybody will catch the Cardinals but baseball is whacky this year.

Look out for the Nationals in the Playoffs. Those three starters they have...all Aces...look pretty formidable in a short series. Of course their bullpen is filled with the ghosts of relievers past. But Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin are all firing the ball. That’s one more Ace than any other team has. I guess the Dodgers are close with Kershaw, Buehler and Ryu.

The Braves are fun to watch with all those great everyday players but I don’t think their starters are in the same class as the Dodgers or the Nationals.

Over in the American League the Astros have Verlander, Cole and Greinke. Those first two are the most dominant pitchers in baseball right now. That makes the Astros sort of a better hitting version of a two-headed starter- monster rotation than the Arizona Diamondbacks of 2001 had with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.

The Yankees are super in the bullpen. Good thing because none of their starters except perhaps james Paxton can seem to pitch more than 5 innings per start. If it comes down to the Yanks vs. the Stros for the AL pennant I pick the Astros... but I’m watching that series!

And don’t forget about the Twins and the Oakland Athletics. Very similar teams made up of .250 hitting power boys who mash the long ball. Short on pitching, both of them...but they can crush in a short series.

October is just around the corner. It’s been a long summer and I’m ready for autumn baseball.

Best to you all!

Marco


Thursday, August 8, 2019

MARCO'S BASEBAL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: THE SMOKING BASEBALL GUN


MARCO’S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: THE SMOKING BASEBALL GUN

1/ Pardon me while I rant.

The Cubs were playing somebody at Wrigley...the only place the Cubs can seem to win a game. This is a big game for Kyle Schwarber, an affable, popular player for the Cubs who has settled in as perhaps the prototypical 21st century ball player. He’s a six footer playing at a stocky 235 pounds and is plenty strong. He has a beautiful leftie uppercut swing. He’s had 420 plate appearances this year and has 24 round trippers. Good...right? Baseball doesn’t want you to focus on anything other than that...look at all those glorious, photogenic home runs sailing over the ballyard fences of our national game!

Screw you MLB...I’m looking at more than taters.

Don’t get me wrong...I like Kyle Schwarber. But he’s struck out 108 times in those 420 plate appearances, batted at a sizzling .229 clip and has an OPS+ (that’s on base plus slugging tweaked to reflect and normalize ballpark effects and general hitting climate) of exactly 100, which means he’s perfectly balanced as the absolute average hitter in baseball today.

In this game left-handed hitter Kyle gets hold of one in an early at bat and blasts it about 450 feet to right center for a long, long home run. A true no-doubter. Credit where credit is due. But in a later at bat, Kyle gets badly fooled on a slider outside. And I mean badly fooled...flailing one handed in a pathetic attempt just to foul it off and save the at bat fooled. His back hand is totally off the bat and he stabs at the pitch with no stride, no follow through, no nothing...and the ball flies out of the ballpark to left field. He hits a 350 foot homer with a mistake swing to the opposite field.

Either Kyle is loading his bat with silly putty or there is something up with the baseballs.

MLB just recently purchased the Rawlings Company, which makes major league baseballs. And this year, for the first time, they also make the baseballs used in Triple A baseball. MLB has wanted to uniformalize(?) the baseballs used in the various levels of professional ball...Rookie, A-ball, Double A, Triple A and the majors...for a while now, but the lower leagues haven’t been able to afford the top brand. This year is the first year that Triple A leagues have gone with Rawlings. The lower leagues are still using cheaper baseballs like “Franklin” and other not so resplendent brands made in the Caribbean or Taiwan or God knows where.

So what you ask? Well, home run totals are about the same or a little bit lower this year than the last few years in the lower levels (A and Double A) of pro ball. (Those leagues that are still using the same balls they used in recent years.) Triple A is where the new balls can be statistically evaluated and in Triple A, 2019, there have already been some 700 MORE home runs hit than in all of 2018, when they still used different baseballs. That’s a new home run record in only two thirds of a season! That’s got to be absolute proof that Rawlings baseballs are juiced compared to what used to be standard in our game.

It’s also proof that Rob Manfred and all the other mealy mouthed apologists for the freakish boom in long ball hitting are lying pieces of excrement. Whether it be tighter lacing on the seams, slippery cow hide, more tightly wrapped cores inside the ball or whatever, these baseballs are JUICED! And that’s why we’re setting new home run records every season and why the major leagues are on track to shatter the record just set in 2018.

Yes, I’ve been the first to point out that other factors, like weight training and recruitment of beefy hitters and the uppercut swing and fresh baseballs constantly being put into the games so the hitters are smacking a brand new baseball on every lousy foul ball they touch and better lighting and shorter fences and warmer weather throughout the continent and blah blah blah are all major factors in the increase of power hitting, but Hey!...the majors are going to break the all time home run record by about 600-800 this year!

No wonder hitting coaches are preaching the uppercut swing! We’re in the golden days of the pop-up tater. Fly ball pitchers are getting creamed. Justin Verlander of the Astros leads the league in ERA and WHIP and led the league in strikeouts last year (290). Well, he’s still leading the league in ERA and WHIP but he’s given up 29 home runs. His previous all time high was 30 surrendered over a whole season for Detroit in 2016. He’s headed for about 40 four baggers surrendered this season. That’s a lot. Justin is absolutely sure that the balls are juiced, by the way. And who can argue with him?

But you can understand it if you realize that fly balls are going about 10% farther on average. So a routine 300 foot fly ball is now going an extra 30 feet, and that gets you to the wall and over it down the lines in most parks.

They’re turning this sport into a video game.

2/ Yet another Pirates/Reds beanball war. Pittsburgh has been teaching their pitchers to throw inside for years now, so they wind up in these blood feuds with a bunch of teams. The thing I object to is throwing head high fastballs at the hitters. Any pitcher who throws a pitch head high on purpose (in the opinion of the umpires because who else have we got who can decide?) should be ejected, suspended and fined. Not for a week or two weeks but for a month or so and for $50,000 or ten per cent of their salary or something. If they hurt somebody make them stay out until that injured batter gets well. I’m not talking about a breaking pitch that gets away a little high. I’m talking about a bullet behind the head. People can get killed or injured for life. If you think you have to “stand up for your hitters”, hit somebody in the butt and then have your fun when they charge the mound. But don’t throw head high. It’s a life and death proposition.

However, there was one moment of sportsmanship and de-escalation in the ongoing Tit for Tat beanball debate.

Jake Marisnick of the Humpin Houstonians came barreling into the plate trying to score on a sac fly to right against the Lost Angels of Anaheim the other day. Being a bearded Hustle-Meister, Jake was going full out and as he approached the plate, right fielder Cole Calhoun’s strong throw was coming into catcher Jonathon Lucroy. What transpired next is debatable in its intention but only too stark in its reality. Lucroy was straddling the line and made a sudden move toward the inside to catch the ball just as Marisnick seemed to swerve inside also...resulting in a train wreck which Lucroy definitely got the worst of. (Every body knows that MLB changed the rules a few years ago after Golden Boy catcher Buster Posey got Laid Out and Leg Broke in a similar turkey shoot at home. No more lost careers for expensive catchers who are sitting turkeys for runners coming home hard and itching to score, ala Pete Rose and the famous All Star Debacle where he launched himself like a cruise missile at Ray Fosse and ended his career. (By the way, they were great friends and had just had dinner together the previous night! But that was Pete Rose!)

Lucroy got his bell rung and broke his nose. Marisnick was declared out for not avoiding the collision when there was a clear path to the base. (Lucroy’s inside move DID clear a path to home on the outside, but I really think Marisnick was going too fast to make that last minute adjustment after committing to his inside path. After all, Lucroy was blocking the outside of the plate just before he made that inside stab for the throw and Jake Marisnick was right on top of him by then. The League didn’t buy it and suspended Marisnick for two games. Lucroy went to the hospital and is probably out for awhile with a concussion along with that busted nose.

My Sportsmanship commendation was Marisnick’s reaction after the play. After touching the plate, he immediately knelt by Lucroy and tried to check him for damage. (Which is why I don’t think he was trying to run over the catcher, it was just a freak play. ) But all the Angels came running in and the manager (Ausmus) berated the umps and got the call of out on Marisnick.

But Marisnick has to have another at bat later in the game. The Angels pitcher of course nails him to even the score on behalf of his wounded catcher. And this was a dangerous, high fastball in that clipped Marisnick on the shoulder and came close to his face. To his credit, Jake never even glances at the Angel pitcher...he just trots down to first. He knows what’s going on but he never complained about that pitch. The Astros dugout makes some squawk about it though, and first baseman Albert Pujols makes his mean face and walks over to their first base dugout to see if anybody wants to continue the conversation. (No takers from the Astros’ bench...very little back talking when you’re dealing with Albert Pujols!) the bullpens spill out of the outfield and come running into the infield for the usual melee but who is that out there being the number one peacemaker? Jake Marisnick! He gets between Pujols and the rest of his teammates and waves his ‘Stros back into their dugout and defuses the escalation right away. He accepts that he was bound to get hit after laying the catcher out like that so why continue the fight? Classy move Jake...and I hope Lucroy recovers quickly.

3/ Big surprises. The Dodgers and the Yankees didn’t make any moves to bolster their pitching staffs for the stretch run. The Dodgers are going to cruise into the playoffs and why should they give up their young talent when they can just bring them up in late August and qualify them for the playoffs ?
They’ve got right-handers Dustin May and Dennis Santana ready and Tony Gonsolin coming next year. Pay the rookies the minimum and forget signing a high-priced free agent- to- be for one season. The rookies are going to be almost as good usually anyway.

The Yankees are probably going to get Betances and Severino back in September. And who are they worried about ? Tampa? Hah! Boston? Double Hah-Hah!

The Yankees are making the Red Sox pitching staff do a good impression of a hog strung up by its back feet with its throat cut, being quickly bled out in preparation for butchering. Only in Fenway can the poor Soxies survive their arsonist pitching staff and score enough runs to beat down the Yanks. Anywhere else, they’re toast.

4/ Remember the Giants? Used to win the World Series every other year. Got a great clutch pitcher Madison Bumgarner, the North Carolina Mountain MadBum? Ready to fight any hitter who admires a home run hit off of him​? Or ready to fight Yasiel Puig anytime Puig steps out of the dugout? They went on a winning streak recently and actually got to second place in the division. Then they lost a few games, but they are still at .500 only 3.5 games out of a wild card spot. (Along with...gulp...seven more teams) they’re only 17.5 games in back of the Dodgers for the division title! Cancel all trades for younger players! Cancel retirement plans for Longoria, Posey and the Panda! We’re 21-9 in our last 30 games! Start printing those World Series tickets!

The Giants are like the cancer patient who temporarily rallies three days before he drops in his tracks. But it’s still nice to watch Yaz’s grandson Mike play well.

5/ For Numero Cinco let’s acknowledge that the previously chronicled Houston Astros have dynamited the levees down in Petrochemical Paradise and have flooded their roster with fresh talent. They picked up Zack Greinke for some top prospects and acquired former ERA champ Aaron Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini from the Blue Jays. They got catcher Martin Maldonado as well.

The Petros are going for it this year. They want to win another Series before the inevitable free agent losses and player decline sets in with this bunch of Jefes. Springer, Altuve, Correa and Bregman are in their primes. Verlander is having a late career epiphany and Gerrit Cole is under contract for the rest of this year. Yuli Gurriel has turned into a power hitting monster. Michael Brantley is having a career year after leaving Cleveland and rookie Yordan Alvarez has an OPS+ (remember that?) of 189 over his first 41 games. That’s Willie McCovey territory.

Houston has the best record in the game (along with the Dodgers) and has to be the favorite to go all the way in the AL this year and maybe more. Hell, I even picked them to win it this year, and that’s before they got Greinke and Alvarez.

6/ Pennant races to watch:

NL East because Atlanta is looking solid as a Division winner but the Nats and Phils are shaky and somehow the Mets have come alive after NOT trading Syndergaard and are steamrolling the competition.

NL Central because nobody is playing better than anybody else. Pittsburgh appears out of it now but Cincinnati is still fighting and the Cubs, Cards and Brewers are just beating each other up. I keep waiting for one Cubs hitter and one Cubs pitcher (Darvish?) to get real hot and get them over the finish line. Or one Cards hitter and one Cardinal pitcher. So far no takers even though Goldschmidt is stirring. The only guy looking to play Jedai with the Force is Yellich. But do the Brewers have a stopper on that weak pitching staff? To be determined…

In the AL it’s looking doubtful that the Red Sox can catch Cleveland, Tampa Bay or even Oakland for a wild card. The mystery is how the Boston pitching staff has gotten so mediocre so fast. Sale (ERA 4.68), Price, Porcello (ERA 5.64), and Cashner (ERA 7.53 and I hope you didn’t purchase a Boston residence just yet) are all coughing up hairballs every start. Only Eduardo Rodriguez has pitched at all well and his WHIP is a very bad 1.340. their bullpen gets lit up every night in the late innings so the hitters don’t feel like they can ever score enough runs to win. It’s a crappy situation.

My money is now on Oakland to win the second wild card and face Cleveland in the play-in game. But I expect Houston to make the Series.

Happy August...stay frosty.

Marco