Memorial Day Memory

May 25, 2015

We all know that today is a day for remembering those who died in the service of our country. You may not know that the occasion has been observed since as far back as 1861 when flowers and ribbons were used to decorate the graves of honored Civil War dead. Hence the occasion became generally known as “Decoration Day” but was also called “Memorial Day” by many. Both names were used for nearly a century until the situation was finally decided by Congress in 1967 with the formal adoption of “Memorial Day” as a national holiday. That was about the time of my first Memorial Day memory.

I can’t say for certain, but it would have been either 1968 or 1969 when I marched in my hometown’s Memorial Day parade. I know it had to be one of those two years because I remember wearing my first Little League uniform, heavy grey cotton with dark navy piping and dark navy block letters spelling out “BRAVES” across the front. (I still have the team photo hanging in the hallway of my home.) On the back in block letters was the name of our team sponsor – “CHEROKEE LIONS” – “Cherokee” for the region of East Tennessee where I grew up that was originally inhabited by that brave group of Native Americans, and “Lions” for the international service club. Through the power of the internet, I found that this organization still operates today, nearly 50 years later ( Unfortunately, I was not able to learn whether the organization still sponsors a Little League ball club, and even more unfortunately, I did learn that the Braves no longer exist.

Yet, perhaps this fact makes my memory even more compelling, since I am remembering a team and perhaps a time as well that no longer exists other than in memory. I recall vividly marching through the streets of my hometown behind a color guard carrying a waving Stars and Stripes and the red, white and blue of the Tennessee State Flag (bearing 3 stars for the three diverse regions of the state rather 50 for our country or one for the memory of its former republic like my adopted home state of Texas).

I remember marching between crowds of waving citizens on each side. It would be the only time I ever wore a uniform to a public event and the closest I would ever come to feeling like a hero, although the idea of a “returning hero” was not common in those days. I recall a distinct sense of pride in my country even though by this time the nation surely understood that the Vietnam War was not something that all Americans were proud to be part of.

As a Little League ball player, however, those complex feelings were far from my mind. I was occupied with much clearer pursuits. I loved baseball. I loved winning, and I loved being noticed. Truthfully, I haven’t changed much in the past half-century. I still love baseball and winning. I no longer care much for recognition, however, and will gladly forfeit it in exchange for a collective victory. I also have a greater awareness of the world around me and the incredible debt I owe to the men and women who have worn the uniform of America’s armed forces. As a resident of one of the nation’s military hubs (San Antonio is the home of the United States Southern Command), many of these men and women are now my neighbors and some are my friends. I am grateful for their sacrifices that have preserved this nation and that will allow me to watch several baseball games today in a free country and safe environment.

You may think it trivial to associate Memorial Day with baseball, but the connection is most assuredly there. I am also constantly reminded of the relationship between the sense of pride in American freedom and the beauty of America’s invention in baseball. This happened again just hours ago while I was watching the ESPN Sunday Night Game of the Week. Bernie Williams, NYY’s centerfielder from 1991-2006, was at Yankee Stadium to have his #51 retired when he was asked by Curt Schilling if any one moment stood out in his long career that included four world championships. I was stunned to hear Williams say that among his 2,076 games played his greatest memory was of President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch for the resumption of baseball after the attacks of 9/11. I have posted this video before, but how can I not honor Bernie’s greatest memory on his special occasion and on this Memorial Day? The nation preserves the freedom to play baseball, and those who love baseball never stop saying thanks.

The nation has seen many difficult days during its 239 years and lost many brave soldiers that are worthy of lasting memory. Baseball has marked over half of those years and honored many of those who have served during this time and even employed a few. Indeed, today a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy will be on active duty on a MLB roster for the first holiday in nearly a century. What do you think are the chances that Mike Matheny finds a place for him to pitch in today’s game in St. Louis? As certain as the Star-Spangled Banner still waving over Busch Stadium?

My Little League Cherokee Lions Braves team may no longer exist after 50 years, but the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave most assuredly does. Here’s to the next 50 years. Play ball!

© JSR 2015

We Interrupt This Marriage…

To Bring You Baseball Season!

Those are the words emblazoned on a plaque my wife gave me for my birthday, which occurs each year two weeks before Opening Day.  Our marriage has survived 27 such interruptions and I don’t expect the 28th to be the exception. However, I do expect this to be an exceptional baseball season.

There are simply too many potentially exciting story lines to consider this a routine season, starting with the changing of the guard in MLB’s elite.  My brother Carl expressed this change perfectly when he said he has had a recurring dream that LAD, NYY, SFO, DET and BOS all miss the post-season.  I don’t expect that much change this year, but it is at least possible.

In contrast, almost all of the excitement surrounding this Opening Night is the revitalization of the Cubs and the seemingly unstoppable remaking of the Padres.  The SDO storyline wrote another amazing chapter just today as the team acquired Craig Kimbrel from ATL.  Adding the best closer in MLB to an already strong bullpen, a very competitive rotation and an exciting outfield just keeps the intrigue growing in California.  Who could have imagined that the most talked about team in  that state would be the Padres rather than the Dodgers, Giants or Angels? A. J. Preller has made a historic debut as a GM, regardless of how his team performs on the field.

My excitement for this season, however, is for a prediction of something more historic.  There are only two franchises in MLB that have not played in a World Series.  Can you name them?  If not, just read on because they are my picks for the NL and AL champions.  That would guarantee a first time World Series champion.  That hasn’t happened since 1906 when the Cubs and White Sox played the first intra-city series in just the third year of the Fall Classic.  So I am predicting something that hasn’t happened in over 100 years, but it does not involve the Cubs.  That prediction will have to wait till next year.

My picks:

NL: East – WAS; Cen – STL; West – LAD; Wild – PIT; MIA; NLCS – WAS

AL: East – TOR; Cen – DET; West – LAA; Wild – SEA; CLE; ALCS – SEA

World Series – WAS

NL: MVP – Stanton; Cy Young – Strasburg; Batting – McCutchen

AL: MVP – Cano; Cy Young – Hernandez; Batting – Altuve

For the archives, I have pasted in below all of my commentary from the off-season.  I intend to review at the end of the year not just the accuracy of my predictions for winners, but also my forecast for each team’s win total.

April 4, 2015

Pick a Team, Any Team.

I have written many times about parity in baseball and how more teams have a legitimate shot at the World Series than perhaps ever before.  I wrote that before lowly KCR came within one swing of winning the championship last year, though admittedly I was not thinking of the Royals when I made that observation.  We have seen several teams make surprise returns to the post-season and several unlikely champions, including recent winners SFO and BOS.  They are winning franchises, of course, but each has won titles in years when it was unexpected.  The wildcard, now wildcards, obviously improves the chances for unexpected winners even with the adjustment in 2013 creating the wildcard play-in game.  I believe there are as many as 15 teams that could win the World Series this year, and perhaps 5 of them are in the AL East.

Many of you may scoff at that assertion about the AL East and perhaps I should modify the comment to state only that any of those five teams could win the division.  Either way, perhaps the more surprising aspect of the study is that the least likely of the five AL East teams to win either the division or the World Series is NYY.  They may finish ahead of TBR, but not if the Rays’ pitching staff performs up to its ability, and especially not if NYY’s injury situation does not improve.  NYY should not finish ahead of any of the other division teams, with BAL and TOR clearly better on paper and BOS having made more off-season moves.  BOS’s pitching staff, however, is as fragile and questionable as is NYY’s.

BAL deserves much credit for the their performance last year and they can expect to contend again this year. Buck will make it happen even without Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.  However, I believe this is the year that another of the longest post-season droughts ends – the one north of the border.  TOR has not been in the post-season since 1993 when Joe Carter skipped around the bases after one of only 2 walk-off World Series-winning home runs.  I don’t see a return to the Series this year, but I do believe this teams wins the AL and returns to the post-season.  Go Canada!

Predicted AL East finish and win totals

TOR – 89

BAL – 85

BOS – 84

NYY – 79

TBR – 77

April 3, 2015

Blood feud returning?

Of the many interesting anticipated story lines this season, the one with perhaps the most tension is the effect the revitalization of the Cubs will have on its long-standing rivalry with the Cardinals.  The teams have never gotten along, but with the Cubs having been so bad for so many years some of the edge has worn off.  Now that the Cubs may be competitive again, with a true number one starter in Jon Lester and any number of potential phenoms in the field, STL will have to take them seriously again.  Cardinal is the color of a red bird, but it is also the color of blood, and we could see some of it on Opening Night when the Cardinals open the season at Wrigley.

Some tense games at least are likely as everyone assumes that the Cubs will be greatly improved.  Personally, I have a suspicion that STL is declining.  Mastery over Clayton Kershaw has made the past two seasons look better than they might have actually been. Excellent pitching has masked a weak offense, and the stellar STL front office showed a bit of desperation in my opinion when they traded Shelby Miller for Jason Heyward.  Perhaps Heyward will come through on his own and also enable Matt Holiday and Matt Carpenter to return to better form.  However, I seriously question whether his offensive contribution will be as important as the potential 12-15 wins Wacha might have contributed.  It is not often that STL’s management makes a mistake, so I will withhold ultimate judgment on that deal.  Either way, I see this team struggling all season but still prevailing in a division that is declining top to bottom.

STL predicted win total – 88

Backstop is an important concept

The Pirates backed up their 2013 return to the post-season with a reappearance last year.  Unfortunately they got white-washed by SFO as the Giants began another World Series run with a 8-0 shutout.  There were still some very positive developments for PIT, starting with Josh Harrison coming out of nowhere to contend for the MVP award.  The outfield already had an MVP centerfielder (McCutchen) and has now added two potential MVP’s (Marte and Polanco). This outfield may be the best in all of baseball, which is saying something in an era when the biggest stars seem to be in the outfield.  The pitching staff is questionable but the biggest problem is the loss of catcher Russell Martin to the Blue Jays.  Do not underestimate his influence in getting the Pirates back in the post-season both seasons he wore black and gold.  It will be interesting to see if they can accomplish that without him as backstop.

PIT predicted win total 86

No Juice

Long-time readers of this site know how critical I was of Ryan Braun when he finally admitting he had been cheating after years of aggressive denial. I still assign him a significant position of dishonor among sport’s most discredited stars (he’s baseball’s Lance Armstrong).  His statistics have dropped considerably since he served his suspension for PED’s and this year is not likely to be any different.  Without his illegally inflated numbers in the middle of the lineup, MIL has dropped back to a second tier team in the NL and a very unlikely post-season candidate.  Trading Yordani Gallardo to the Rangers (who will now be TEX’s Opening Day starter) made about as much sense as DET trading Doug Fister to WAS, and DET had much more to work with than do the Brewers.  I don’t expect much excitement from Miller Park this season beyond the unveiling of a statue of Bud Selig.

MIL predicted win total 80

Wrigley Rebuilding

In all the uproar about the Cubs sending Kris Bryant to the minors to start the season, few people seemed to notice that there are other, more established icons who will have to wait until May to make an appearance at Wrigley Field this year.  Due to all of the work on the ancient ballpark, there are currently no bleachers in either left or fight field.  No bleachers? No Bleacher Bums!  According to reports, the left field bleachers should be open by May 1 and the right field section available by the end of May.  What a perfect way to welcome Bryant to the Show – a revamped outfield structure for the next 100 years of Cub lore.  It will be interesting to see if the results of century enables the Cubs’ fans to forget the past century.  I doubt that his year will be the actual turning point.

CHI predicted win total 76

Queen City Sinking

Cincinnati is the birthplace of professional baseball and the home of some of the greatest teams in MLB history. It is a proud city with a history of ballparks along the Ohio River.  Unfortunately for Reds fans, The Great American Ballpark is not even close to PIT’s PNC Park in beauty.  Even more unfortunate is the fact that the Reds’ talent is also inferior to that of its division rival to the northeast. Indeed, this year could be see CIN sink to the bottom of the Central division.  Joey Votto, Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce have all under-performed since signing big contracts.  Bailey will actually start the 2015 season on the DL, which is bad news for the pitching staff.  Most experts consider Johnny Cueto to be the most-likely staff ace to be traded, and the Reds have been shopping second baseman Brandon Phillips for over a year.  That tells you what the experts and the team management think of the team’s chances this year.

CIN predicted win total – 75

Embarrassment of Riches

I know LA is the land of the beautiful people and even more rich people, and that it has been home to some dominant sports teams, as well.  The Dodgers have not succeeded in LA like the Lakers have – I guess a move from Minneapolis is better than a move from Brooklyn – but no one can argue which franchise is in better shape today and perhaps for the next five years to come (will the Lakers ever climb out of this hole?).  LAD has two of the best pitchers and so many weapons on offense (although still too many outfielders).  I know SFO is a dynasty of sorts and that the Padres are likely to be the most improved team in baseball, but I still can’t pick against the Dodgers.  I felt that way before I watched them hit nine home runs in two games against the Rangers at the Alamodome in my hometown of San Antonio.

Predicted LAD win total 90

March 27, 2015

Hitting the Ground Sprinting

The biggest surprise of the off-season was the amazing overhaul of the San Diego Padres accomplished by first year general manager A. J. Preller. How does a first-year, first-time GM acquire James, Shields, Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers in two off-season months?  It was an impressive debut by any standards and has gained Preller great respect in front offices around the league.  Of course, he hasn’t won a single game yet, and he doesn’t wear a uniform.

In that regard, one of the best moves Preller made was perhaps the move he did not make – changing managers. Bud Black is entering his 9th season as Padres’ manager and has averaged 77 wins.  In his first eight seasons as Padres manager Bruce Bochy averaged 78 wins.  He is now a lock to make the Hall of Fame.  Could this be the year Bud becomes even ore like the other BB and posts some major W’s?

Projected SAN win total – 81

World Series Off-Year

It is a rare feat when a team wins three World Series titles in five years or fewer.  Only NYY, BOS and the A’s (as both PHI and OAK) have done it in addition to reigning champs SFO, who as we all know have won in the previous three odd-numbered years.  Winning championships is hard to explain, but not winning them can be even harder.  In the championship years they have averaged 91 wins; in the three other years they have averaged 83.  Those are not extraordinary differences. So why do they win some years?  I have no answer to the mystery, but I am following the calendar and expecting this to be another non-championship year.  I would give a longer explanation, but instead I will just point to the calendar.

Predicted SFO win total 78

Speaking of off years…

My perception of the Arizona Diamondbacks is that of a winning franchise.  They won 100 games in the second year of existence.  They have won the NL West Division five times and won perhaps the most exciting World Series in history (over NYY, which also makes it one of my favorites).  That is an impressive history for a franchise that is only played 17 seasons.

But now for the bad news: they have had 9 non-winning seasons, they have had multiple double-digit declines in wins and once finished with only 51 wins.  The last four seasons are a historical representation:  a shocking 94-win division championship in 2011, followed by two enigmatic 81-win pushes and last year’s 98 losses that got Kirk Gibson fired.

Kirk Gibson is associated with one of the most famous home runs in MLB history. They now have a manager named Chip Hale who is associated with one of the biggest bloopers in minor league baseball history.  Which result do we expect this year?

Projected ARI win total – 72

Rockies Relationship to Winning

It its 22 seasons, COL has averaged only 74.5 wins.  That is the second lowest team winning percentage, only .005 above the Padres.  The Rockies have won over 90 games only twice (never more than 92) and over 80 only 4 seasons. They have made the post-season 3 times, including the miracle run to the World Series in 2009 when they won 7 consecutive post-season games.   Unfortunately, they got swept in the Series and have won only one other post-season game.  Don’t expect them to add to total this year.  They will be fortunate to add one win to last year’s win total of 66.

Predicted COL win total – 62

March 19, 2015

Nationals champions

I predicted it last year and I’m predicting it again this year. I wrote last year that this team seems to have no weaknesses, and now they have added Max Scherzer to the rotation (not a weakness).  Of course, as everyone knows winning a championship requires so many things to go right. For two of the past three seasons the Nationals have endured misfortune in the postseason, but I attribute that to lack of experience (and the lack of Stephen Strasburg in 2011).  They have it now and I still feel this is a World Series team, which would be a first in franchise history.  It would be interesting if the Nationals and the Mariners win the NL and AL pennants, thus eliminating the last two teams that have yet to make an appearance in the World Series.  I think the Nationals have the better chance.

Predicted WAS win total  – 90

Marlins jumping

By now it should be no surprise to anyone that the team in Miami is on the rise. They have one of the best players in all of baseball (Stanton) – with the biggest contract – as well as many exciting position players (Yellich, Ozuna). They have a pitcher who is a superstar in the making (Fernandez) who should be young enough to return quickly from Tommy John surgery. They have a bright young manager (Redmond) who seems to get the best from his players. They had enough success last year that they should have confidence in their ability to compete with the Nationals.

All of this combines to make a very positive vibe around the Marlins team.  I felt it when I saw them last week in Spring training against the Nationals. They jumped on Gio Gonzales for three runs in the first three hitters.  He was still joking with the fans while the Marlins came for business.   Personally I would love to see the Marlins make the postseason to support my defense of their owner Jeff Loria. For all the abuse he receives, he should be the one to get the credit for this positive revitalization.

Predicted MIA win total  – 86

Congestion ahead

Anyone who has ever driven in Atlanta knows that its traffic per capita is worse than even LA. The worst of the worst occurs in North Atlanta around I 75 and Loop 285. So where does the team decide to build its new stadium? Right at the intersection of 75 and 285. Incredibly, the Braves front office proclaims that this location will be more convenient and accessible to their fan base.  I know the Fulton County fans who will have to drive to north Atlanta disagree and perhaps so do even the Cobb County fans who will drive shorter distances but in even greater traffic.

Perhaps an even greater deterrent to fans will be the dominance of the Washington Nationals (they won the division by 17 games last year) and the rise of the Miami Marlins. I don’t see the Braves finishing ahead of either of those teams this year or any year in the near future, including 2017 when SunTrust Field is supposed to open.

Predicted ATL win total – 80

New York State of mind? Losers.

Any frequent reader of the site knows that I am not a Yankees fan.  However, my animosity has been directed at the franchise and not the city.  My dislike mostly stems from the way NYY has constructed its roster in years past – unfairly.  However, clearly not all of the Big Apple sports teams have had the success the Yankees have, no matter how they try.

The Knicks are one of the worst teams in the NBA and the Jets are not much better in the NFL. The Rangers have fallen on hard times in the NHL, and even the Yankees have missed the playoffs two years in a row and are not expected to make it this year.

The most damning thing I can say about the Mets is that no one even thinks about them anymore. They do have two world championships to their credit but the last one was almost 30 years ago. The championship in 1986 is remembered mostly for the Red Sox collapse. Of course the 1969 title is one of the most unlikely in baseball history. If they were to somehow win the World Series this October it would, in my opinion, be no less Amazin’ then that first championship season.

Predicted NYM when the total – 75

Nothing to see here, move along now

I could write hundreds of words about the lessons to be learned from the construction of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup over the last decade – and most of them would be unflattering.  It is best to just move on past the scene of the accident.  Of course, we always have an on-looker slow-down.

The team did win a World Series which was the first in almost a half century, so that is some measure of success. However failing to realize the inevitable decline of superstars and holding on to pitching stars before that decline were serious mistakes for which the franchise is paying a steep price both in terms of dollars and losses.  No improvement is in sight this year and the train wreck just got worse with Cliff Lee being placed on the 60-day disabled list.  His career may even be over.  Cole Hamels will be surely be traded but not for enough to make the fans expect another World Series title anytime soon.

Predicted PHI win total – 68

March 19, 2015

How do you import from DET?

Perhaps you have noticed the service mark used for the past year by the Chrysler auto company – “imported from Detroit.”  I assume the slogan attempts to associate Chrysler’s products with the luxury brands that wealthier American car owners prefer – BMW, Lexus, Infiniti, Audi, etc. However, the emphasis just doesn’t sound right to me.  Isn’t that slogan really expressing that Detroit is a foreign territory?  And in addition to slighting Detroit, how does that inference encourage American buyers to purchase the product?  I thought advertising these days was based on “buy American!” It is a mystery to me, even though I do own a Chrysler product (a Jeep, which is not featured in this ad campaign).

Another mystery to me is how DET has failed to win the World Series in the past five years with the best pitching staff and the best player in MLB during that period.  They have come close but it appears to me that the window of opportunity is closing.  With the loss of Max Scherzer and the decline of Justin Verlander how can we consider this team to be better than last year’s which only one the division by one game over KCR?  (Or the team the year before that which only finished one game ahead of CLE?) Considering how bad DET looked in getting swept by BAL in last year’s division series, I am inclined to predict a total collapse this year.  However, I will be kind to my apparently foreign neighbors and predict only a modest decline in W’s. I will also still give them the division title in a very crowded race.

Predicted DET win total – 87

Southside Surprise – 10 years later

I went to an Astros Spring training game last week in Florida and received a free pennant marking the 10th anniversary of the team’s surprising NL pennant in 2005.  Unfortunately for me and other Astros fans, the surprise AL pennant winner, CWS, became the surprise WS winner in what had to be the closest sweep in Series history.  Truthfully, the Astros could have won all four games that they lost, but excellent pitching and timely hitting by CWS turned each game in its favor.

Those traits are exactly what White Sox fans are looking for this year with the off-season additions of Jeff Samardzija, David Phelps, Melky Cabrera and Adam Laroche.  Assuming Chris Sale’s injury is not serious, CWS should be much-improved, but a World Series title would still be as much of a surprise as it was 10 seasons ago.

Predicted CSW win total – 85

A team with no names

Quick now, tell me who is the ace of the CLE pitching staff.  Can’t answer that, then just tell me who was the 2014 AL Cy Young winner.  The surprising answer to both questions is Corey Kluber.  Personally, I feel the award was stolen from Felix Hernandez, but it wasn’t Kluber’s doing.  By all accounts he is quality individual who has worked hard to emerge as a quality pitcher fairly late in life (he’ll be 29 in April).  Because of his limited service time he’ll only make $610k this year.  (That is a very interesting stat – the NL Cy Young winner makes $22 million/year.)

Anyway, we can all hope Corey gets a nice contract before his 4 more pre-arbitration years expire.  Perhaps by then his and a few other names on the CLE roster will be recognizable.  Nick Swisher has retired and Michael Bourne is hurt.  Can we name any other starter? But they do have than manager named Francona.  He’s pretty good at winning games no matter what name is on the front or the back of the jersey.  Therefore, CLE should compete for the AL Central division title in a year when there is no dominant team.

Predicted CLE win total – 85

March 11, 2015

Royals Renaissance?

Is it just me or do you also find it hard to believe that KCR came within one swing of winning the World Series last year? If Salvador Perez had homered with Alex Gordon on third rather than fouling out to Pablo Sandoval we would be talking about a miraculous rebirth of baseball in the heartland rather than an alternating year Dynasty by the Bay. We also would not have seen Madison Bumgarner as SI’s Sportsman of the Year.  But close does not count in baseball – just ask the Texas Rangers – and therefore the 2014 post-season success of the Royals is remembered mostly just in Kansas City.

The off-season did not do much to recreate the dream-like atmosphere.  The team lost James Shields, Billy Butler and Nori Aoki to free agency, and signed Edinson Volquez, Kris Medlin and Alex Rios.  That seems like a push at best and probably a net loss.  Also, no one knows whether the post-season awakening of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas was an October fluke or whether each of these potential stars has truly turned a corner.  Even if the latter is the case, the team still has several holes to fill.  I hate to be a nay-sayer because it was great to see Royal (baby) blue back in the post-season, but I just don’t see it happening again (like I didn’t see it coming last year).

Predicted KCR win total 84.

March 10, 2015

MLB Player Managers

There has been an increase recently in the number of managers who were not only former players, but very good players and who had no prior managerial experience.  Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus have already gotten their teams to the World Series and LCS, respectively.  Walt Weiss has struggled with a COL team whose stars can’t stay healthy.  Ryne Sandberg managed several years in the minors and may want to go back there by the time he is finished with his second year as PHI’s manager.

This year we will be watching a Hall of Fame player with no prior managerial experience.  Paul Molitor takes over from Ron Gardenhire as just the third manager for the Minnesota Twins since 1986.  Unfortunately for him, he is the biggest story for the team this year.  More unfortunate is the fact that the last time a Hall of Fame player managed a World Series champion was 1935 – Mickey Cochrane for the Detroit Tigers.  Before that it was Frank Chance for the Chicago Cubs.  When you are talking about a record based on the Cubs winning a World Series, you know it is a very rare feat indeed.  Good luck, Paul.

Predicted MIN win total 71.

March 3, 2015

California Dreamin’

Although this site is devoted to baseball, even I have to acknowledge the recent acceleration in the race among NFL owners to place their team in LA .(Can it really be considered a race when it has been going on for 20 years?)  Perhaps it has something to do with the Dodgers and Clippers both having sold for over $2 billion, but the owners of the Raiders, Chargers and Rams all seem to have discovered that there is a large untapped market for their sport.  The fact that two of those teams were once residents in LA and decided operations were more lucrative elsewhere seems to have been lost on them, but these are not the 1990’s.  Large markets generate large television revenues which build large sports team valuations. Personally, I don’t care if the NFL ever returns to LA, but I do recognize that the revenue generated in that market has attributed to the return to prominence of its two MLB teams – LAD and LAA.  Large revenue supports large payrolls which can – sometimes – support championship teams.

Over the weekend I watched MLB Network’s countdown of the top 100 players in baseball.  To no one’s surprise, the top two both play for teams with the initials “LA” – Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout (also two of the highest paid players in MLB).  Both stars flamed out in the post-season last year, but they did earn their respective league MVP awards and have to be considered leading candidates to win again.  I am sure that both would gladly forgo repeat individual awards if it means winning a pennant or perhaps even the World Series.  Can either (or both) lead his team to that height?  That’s what the fans in Southern California are dreaming about, but I feel certain that at least the Anaheim version of “LA” will fall short.

LAA won 98 games in 2014 and Trout finally won the AL MVP after finishing second to Miguel Cabrera in his rookie and sophomore seasons.  His first three full seasons in the league have been remarkable, but his first post-season appearance was remarkably forgettable (.083/.267/.333).  In prose, those numbers mean: one hit in twelve at bats.  That one hit was a home run, but doesn’t that just underscore what was missing in the other 11 at bats?  It may be unfair to single-out Trout for the loss to KCR, but truthfully everything about the Angels revolves around him.  The $260 million man, Albert Pujols, can’t carry the team, and the $125 million man, Josh Hamilton, may not even be on the team this year.  Garret Richards might not be back from injury until the All-Star Break and second baseman Howie Kendrick was traded.  Quick, can you name his replacement, or even any other starter?

LAA should still be good enough to win a division that it won last year by 12 games over a team that has been completely overhauled.  However, I don’t think they will win 97 games again and they could actually fall behind SEA or even OAK if Trout does not have even a “normal” year by his standards.  That’s a lot of pressure on a guy who won’t turn 24 years old until August 7, and who already has a $144 million contract.

Predicted LAA win total: 90

March 1, 2015

Killer Kuh’s?

King Felix, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager may not roll off the tough like Biggio, Bagwell, Bell and Berkman, but like those four core players of the Astros’ rise out of mediocrity, this group could help SEA finally make it back to the post-season after 14 seasons.  Few expected the team that won 116 games in 2001 to lose in 5 games to a 95-win Yankees team.  Even fewer would have guessed that the Mariners would not return to the post-season for at least the next 15 years.  Only TOR has a longer drought (21 years), and they at least have those back-to-back World Series titles to remember.

The Mariners are one of 8 remaining teams to have never won a World Series, and are one of only two franchises that have never even played in the World Series (MON/WAS).  Changing either of those dismal facts in 2015 seems unlikely, but breaking the post-season shut-out streak is possible. Felix Hernandez remains one of the three best pitchers in MLB.  The rest of the rotation could be very strong with Iwakuma (another Kuh!), James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and others.  Nelson Cruz should aid Robinson Cano, but I’m guessing Kyle Seager sinks under the weight of his $100 million contract. That’s right, a guy with 3.5 years MLB service and a career .757 OPS signed a 7-year $100 million deal. (And we thought Cano’s deal was hard to justify!  The team is improving, but too may questions remain to invest so heavily, if you know what I mean.

Predicted SEA win total: 86

February 28, 2015

Can Billy Beane be right again?  If so, just how right?

Several teams underwent severe makeovers this off-season, and most of them needed it (more about the Padres later). The most intriguing rebuilding job was by the league’s acknowledged genius, Billy Beane, now entering his 18th season at OAK’s GM.  During his 14-year tenure, OAK has made the post-season eight times, but won only one series, a 3-game sweep of MIN in the 2006 Division Series.  Perhaps the dismissive words of Joe Morgan near the end of the movie “Moneyball” are gaining credibility – “you can’t build a winning post-season baseball team with a computer.”

Of course, Joe Morgan is out of the baseball picture and Billy Beane very much retains his reputation for brilliance. However, it appears that Beane himself recognized some truth to Morgan’s criticism when he completely dismantled last year’s post-season roster.  Will this be the year that he hits on the perfect combination of bargain players to get OAK to the ALCS and perhaps the World Series?  That seems unlikely with LAA having finished 10 games ahead of them in the standings last year and SEA continuing to rise.  TEX and HOU should be better, too.  Just making the post-season will be a challenge, as will – perhaps – maintaining Beane’s sterling reputation.

Predicted OAK win total 85.

February 21, 2015

Daniels in the lion’s den

When the Texas Rangers won consecutive AL Pennants and shed their 50-year old image as hapless losers, the management team of Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels were hailed as geniuses.  Of course, the Rangers lost both World Series and then started to decline.  When Nolan Ryan was unceremoniously demoted in 2013 in favor of Daniels, I was surprised and wondered what ownership knew that I did not.  Well, I am still wondering.

2014 was a year of unprecedented injuries for many teams, but no one experienced what happened to the Rangers – Profar, Fielder, Harrison, Holland, Darvish, Perez, Ogando, Choo, Feliz and others all went down with serious injuries.  The DL looked like the 40-man roster.  Although other players just had down years, the injuries appeared to be the real reason TEX went from division favorite to last place.  They lost more games than the Astros!  You just never know.

So Daniels gets a pass for last year’s disaster (even his manager let him down).  Some of those players will be back at full strength – except Profar, who may never play again – and some will not return until the middle of the season.  However, I still believe the team that Jon Daniels assembled can challenge the Angels if the majority of the pieces can stay healthy.  If not, the progress this franchise made early in this decade could be totally lost and the team once again will be thought of as the Strangers.   Ownership may wish they had kept Nolan and demoted Daniels.  Of course, Nolan now works for the Astros, alongside his son, Ryan, the team president.

Given all the uncertainty, I don’t expect a division title, or even a post-season appearance, but TEX should win more games than HOU, and more than it loses.

Predicted TEX win total:  80

February 19, 2015

It’s Spring! (Training)

I know the equinox is still four weeks away, but in my book it is already Spring.  Eighteen of the thirty MLB teams have opened camp and begun preparations for the 2015 season.  I have purchased tickets for ATL @HOU, March 9, Section 111, Row 8, seats 1 and 2, at Kissimmee, FL, and my daughter and I are already debating whether the Astros really can contend in the AL West.

That seems like a silly question since LAA won 97 games last year and could be better this year if Garret Richards is healthy for the entire season.  But in the post-season KCR made the Angels look very ordinary.  Could that happen again, even over the course of a long season?  The Astros and the Angels were the most improved teams last year.  Of course the Astros had the most room for improvement, and many expect them to be even better this year with the return of future star George Springer from injury and the addition of some veterans – Colby Rasmus, Evan Gattis and Jed Lowrie.  Compete for the post-season?  Very unlikely.  A .500 season?  Very possible.  That’s news in Houston and cause for an early Spring fever.

Predicted HOU win total – 73.

Twenty-nine more teams to ponder between now and Opening Night on April 5.

January 9, 2015

Halls of Fame Calling

Congratulations to each of the MLB greats honored this week with election to a Hall of Fame.  The election sanctioned by the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (IBWAA) named five new members:  Randy Johnson (98.24%), Pedro Martinez (95.15%), John Smoltz (82.82%), Jeff Bagwell (81.94%) and Tim Raines (79.30%).

Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza were elected previously in 2013 and 2012, respectively.  The balance of voting can be reviewed at the IBWAA site,  My personal ballot this year included all those elected except Raines, but also included Barry Bonds.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), in the vote associated with the museum in Cooperstown, NY, elected Johnson, Martinez, Smoltz and Biggio.  Piazza, Raines and Bagwell continue to wait for election by that body.

January 4, 2015

A belated Happy New Year to all Society members.  I celebrated the start of the 2015 season on the beautiful white beaches of North Florida.  Not quite Spring Training territory, but not bad for the an off-season hang-out and a very nice place to watch New Year’s fireworks.

Seaside fireworks

There are sure to be more fireworks in FL this season given all that has transpired in Miami and St. Petersburg in the off-season.  The fortunes, and the reputations, of the two FL MLB franchises are undergoing another reversal.  The Marlins have won two World Series but have never completely earned the respect of the league or the fans.  The seemingly constant pendulum swinging has once again swung upward and the Marlins will be a trendy pick for the 2015 NL East Division crown. The Rays changed their name and their image during Joe Maddon’s tenure, but he his now in CHI and this year’s TBR squad may more closely resemble the hapless old “Devil” Rays.  As I predicted last month, the events of this off-season and the likely results of this coming season may hasten the demise of MLB on the Gulf Coast.

Jeffrey Loria on the rise and Stu Sternberg on the decline?  Is there any better evidence that everything in life is cyclical? I even thought I saw Loria in church at Seaside Chapel. I was mistaken but that could have been an omen.

Many more states and teams to discuss in the days ahead.