The Warning Track: Week Five

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Awards Watch

With this year’s contenders, for both the postseason and individual awards at the end of the season, starting to becoming clear, it’s a good time to look back and see how off The Warning Track was with its preseason predictions, as far as the five-week old season is concerned.

 

American League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Mike Trout, with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu on deck

Trout and Cabrera are in the top ten in homers (seven and six, respectively), with Abreu close on their heels with five. Their among the leaders of their respective teams in most offensive categories, and have certainly performed as expected.

But two key things: The Angels and White Sox are playing sub-.500 ball, so Trout and Abreu are susceptible, just susceptible, to getting knocked out of the conversation in the early going. Cabrera’s Tigers are 19-12  in the early going, but players like Jose Iglesias, Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez are contributing just as much on a team that has averaged four and a half runs a game.

And, secondly, other players have simply been more incredible as of early May, dominating the opposition consistently and unabashedly.

As such, we have a couple new contenders, including one who would be named MVP of both leagues should the season end today.

1. Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

MLB-leading 14 home runs and .748 slugging percentage, AL-leading 1.130 OPS, third in AL in hits (39)

Hey, I said Trout and Abreu were susceptible to getting knocked out of the early MVP discussion due to their teams losing more games than they’ve won. Nelson Cruz’s Mariners are currently hanging out in the basement of the AL West, but no player in baseball has been more intimidating than Cruz through five weeks. If it wasn’t for Cruz (and probably King Felix), Seattle might not even be at five wins. He leads the team in average, home runs, RBI, runs, OBP, SLG, OPS, hits and walks.

As of now, there is one Seattle Mariner with his eye on October, and it’s Nelson Cruz.

2. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees (19-12)

Top five in AL in home runs (10), RBI (23), walks (19), fifth in AL in SLG (.584)

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels (14-16)

Top ten in AL in home runs (7), runs (24), stolen bases (7), SLG (.570), OPS (.959), walks (16)  

 

National League Most Valuable Player

Who I said: Giancarlo Stanton, followed by Jason Heyward and Kris Bryant

Jason Heyward has been eclipsed by another Cardinal, and Kris Bryant isn’t even the top contender for NL Rookie of the Year (yet). But Stanton has surely been tearing up the league, right?

Well, yes. After a slow first couple weeks, he’s turned it on to lead the majors in RBI (29) and lingering at the top of other major offensive categories.

But the National League has had its own Nelson Cruz, another veteran slugger who makes even the most potent National League pitcher drip sweat when he comes to the plate.

Here are my updated NL MVP standings.

1. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

MLB-leading 1.166 OPS, NL-leading .727 slugging percentage, top five in NL in home runs (9), batting average (.373), RBI (25), runs (23), OBP (.439), hits (41), doubles (12)

A-Gone came out swinging right out of the gate, becoming the first player in major league history to hit five homers in his team’s first three games, and refused to cool down. He’s led his team to a hot start, along with youngster Joc Pederson, and has wholeheartedly hoisted the Dodgers on his shoulders in the absence of Yasiel Puig. 

2. Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals (22-7)

MLB-leading 14 doubles, top five in NL runs (23), SLG (.620), top ten in NL in RBI (20), average (.333), hits (36), OPS (1.024)

3. Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Top five in NL in home runs (9), SLG (.632), OPS (1.057) , walks (24), top ten in NL in RBI (19), runs (21), OBP (.425)

 

American League Cy Young

Who I said: Felix Hernandez, followed by Chris Sale and Corey Kluber

In a league inhabited by very few consistently powerful aces, my preseason pick, the King, has had another astounding start to the season, with a 1.73 ERA and sterling 5-0 record, a bright spot on an underperforming Mariners squad. But someone on an overperforming American League club has taken the reigns in the early going of what has been a very tight race for best pitcher in a batter-friendly league.

As far as the other guys, Chris Sale is serving a five-game suspension, and reigning AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has given up at least four earned runs in four of seven starts. Sooooo……

Updated AL Cy Young standings

  1. Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (19-11)

MLB-leading .80 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, fifth-in-MLB 45.0 innings pitched, AL-leading .139 batting average against 

The Astros are leading their division one week into May. Woah.

For the first time in over a decade, they are proving to be a fundamentally complete team. Woah.

And they have a player leading an awards race. WOAH!!!!!

Woah, indeed.

Woah, indeed.

Keuchel has been incredible so far for an Astros squad that is third in team ERA in the AL at 3.40. He’s given up only four earned runs in six starts this season, and in all but one he went at least seven innings. He’s the pitcher Houston needs and the one it deserves right now.

Heck, their fans have been deserving for ten years.

2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners (12-17)

AL-leading five wins, top ten in AL in ERA (1.73), strikeouts (44), WHIP (.084), innings pitched (41.2), one complete game along with four other AL pitchers

3. Chris Archers, Tampa Bay Rays (16-14)

AL-leading 50 strikeouts, top ten in AL in ERA (2.59), WHIP (1.01), batting average against (.185)

 

National League Cy Young

Who I said: Max Scherzer beating out Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright

Scherzer has performed okay, Clayton Kershaw hasn’t at all, and the baseball world was rocked when Wainwright went down for the season two weeks ago. That’ll cause some changes.

Updated NL Cy Young standings

1. Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers (19-10)

Tied-for-MLB-lead five wins, NL-leading 0.84 WHIP,  ERA (1.56), top ten in NL in batting average (.174), innings pitched (40.1)

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been himself this season. He is 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA through six starts, numbers he has no right to own. He’s gone at least seven innings his last two times on the mound, after failing to do so the previous four starts, but he has yet to not allow a run in a game.

In the meantime, Greinke has made up for it with, filling his role as co-ace admirably for a team that might that’ll make a huge jump once Kershaw is his old self once again.

Oh he’s raking at the plate, too, and he wants the world to know.

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates (13-16)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.27), wins (4), strikeouts (39)

3. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (16-15)

Top ten in NL in ERA (2.11), strikeouts (49), WHIP (0.94), batting average (.216), innings pitched (42.2)    

 

An Ovation With An Asterisk

When Alex Rodriguez hit his 661st career home run on Thursday, passing Willie Mays to solely occupy fourth place on the all-time career list, there was excitement among those in the Yankees fandom who had forgiven A-Rod, accepted A-Rod, and now cheered on A-Rod.

But outside New York, there seemed to be little ovation to be had. As for me, I got an alert on my phone form my favorite sports app, followed quickly by a brief twitter takeover by various sports media bringing attention to the historic moment, and then nothing.

With a sigh, I went back to my day.

It’s unusual, and a little bit frightening, to think about what could have been, would have been, should have been. It’s no secret that the Yankees organization was planning a huge marketing campaign to be centered around A-Rod’s journey to 660.

We’re talking a big, season-long campaign. Creative slogans. Countless billboards in the Big Apple. Nike-endorsed commercials. Merchandise upon merchandise upon merchandise. A-Rod everywhere, the prodigy, the champion, the modern day Babe Ruth, just as it was meant to be.

And now, we’re left wondering whether it would have ever even been considered if A-Rod hadn’t used PEDs. Would he even have gotten close?

There would have been grandeur, lights, fireworks, spectacle. Every baseball fan form Yankee Stadium to AT&T Stadium in San Fran, whether they loved him or loathed him, would have at least given him a tip of the cap for what he accomplished.

I’ll give him a golf clap. 661 is still an astounding number, and hitting a baseball in general is still one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tasks in sports. But a golf clap is all I’m willing to do before contemplating how magnificent the event could have been, would have been…perhaps may never have been.

His name would have been written in the history books of baseball in sharpie with a flourish and an exclamation point, as someone who, in the Golden Age of Pitching, would have dominated the competition.

Instead, a miniscule “Alex Rodriguez: 661 and counting” is inscribed rather feebly into the margins between Willie Mays Babe Ruth. With pencil and an enormous asterisk, etched in such a way that perhaps the name might be someday be erased or otherwise wiped away, with no one noticing.

 

Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez sits at 2,963 hits, setting up another uncomfortable celebration for the near future as he looks to become the 29th player in history to garner 3,000 hits.

 

 

The Minority Report

In 2009, ten of major league baseball’s 30 managers belonged to a minority.

At the start of last season, that number was whittled down to five.

Now, only two major league managers – Lloyd McClendon of the Mariners, an African American, and Fredi Gonzalez, a Latino, in Atlanta – are not white.

Those interesting facts once you consider that the same figures aren’t reflected on the diamond. According to a 2014 report by Dr. Richard Lapchick, director of The Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), 60.9 percent of players on 2014 Opening Day rosters were white, compared to 93.4 percent of managers.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

Manager trends over the last five seasons concerning race.

The game is more diverse than ever, with major league clubs looking more and more at big-time prospects from Cuba, Japan and other countries who could make an impact on their squads.

So why isn’t that commonplace when it comes to the ultimate leader of the clubhouse?

Major League Baseball is also seemingly concerned about the trend, issuing a memo to its 30 clubs reminding them of a protocol that was installed in the Bud Selig era. The rule calls for teams to at least consider those of minority descent when looking to fill the roles of general manager, assistant general manager, field manager, director of player development and director of scouting positions.”

It’s a good move on their part, because how would it look to have a game that is becoming more global being represented by 30 managers who are all white?

It’s as big as issue as is the dropping levels of black players on the field. According to the TIDES study, only 8.2 percent of players were black, a sharp decrease from 13 percent at the start of the millennium.

It isn’t necessarily a new problem when it comes to managers, either. In every years 1991, at least 76 percent (about 23) of major league baseball’s managers where white. The one outlier came in 2002, when there were eight black and two Latino managers in the league.

While the problem is an enduring one, the trends are disturbing, seeing as baseball is on track to have all-white managers sooner rather than later.

There are obviously facts we don’t know. Perhaps there aren’t people of ethnic descent interviewing for the position. Maybe teams are only relaying information about job openings to a certain group of people, though that is unlikely.

But it’s something to keep an eye on – and major league baseball is, rightfully so – in a game that is becoming more globalized.

The TIDES report at the start of 2014, when there were five minority managers in the bigs, gave major league baseball an A when it came to hiring practices. It would be interesting to see what grade the league would get a little over a year later.

 

 

Other baseball thoughts from the week

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

The Warning Track: Week 2

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

The Cog Who Set It All In Motion

8 years before Rosa Parks said “No”, Jackie Robinson played.

15 years before James Meredith was admitted, Jackie Robinson played.

18 years before Marin Luther King, Jr. marched, Jackie Robinson played.

This past Wednesday, as it have done on every April 15 for 11 years, America’s pastime celebrated a historic moment for American society.

A lot of people make the misconception that the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who signed Robinson, Branch Rickey, was looking to him as the man who would break the color barrier for baseball that had been in place for over half a century.

While Robinson would obviously go on to do so, becoming an icon not just for baseball but for American sports, Rickey saw Robinson as a player who could make an impact for the Dodgers. For him, it was never about forging his place in history, but putting his talents on deck.

Rickey wasn’t colorblind – he knew that Robinson on the same playing field as whites would incite both the league and fans. And it did. Major league teams even threatened to strike should Robinson play. Some of his teammates refused to play alongside him.

Branch Rickey made clear to Robinson the dangers he’d face, and Robinson decided to play anyway.

On April 15, 1947, Robinson took the field on Opening Day, and he endured. He endured the hate, the insults, the ridicule, and he never fought back when urged to do so by his critics. He never gave in.

He stood at the plate, bat in hand, head held high, a monument in his own right.

As a result, early 70 years later, the game is as diverse as it has ever been. His image endures, because he did.

Robinson played for ten seasons, and played well. He won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award, was an All-Star for six straight seasons, and was the first black player to win MVP honors.

He played and unified the game when it couldn’t be more broken.

He became the first American professional athlete to have his number retired across the league in 1997, and remains only one of two to have the honor to this day.

In a society that had been so cemented by lines of segregation , Robinson made the first cracks towards unity.

Robinson was 28 when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, shattering baseball's unwritten but universal color barrier.

Robinson was 28 when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, shattering baseball’s unwritten but universal color barrier.

The game as we know it would never be the same. Make no mistake, American history as we know it would never be the same. Without Robinson’s resilience, there might be no Rosa Parks. Without Robinson’s nonviolent approach to combatting a society so unable to comprehend a colored man among whites, there might be no Martin Luther King, Jr. Without his fearlessness, there might be no James Meredith.

Number 42 didn’t just play baseball. He epitomized the spirit of the sport, a spirit that would only become stronger as the Negro Leagues ceased to exist and major league baseball destroyed segregation player by player.

That’s why we have a day for 42, as important as any in the season. That’s why we remember 42, as much as any social activist anywhere in the world, at any point time over the course of history.

That’s why the legacy of 42 endures.

 

How vital is offense, really?

The Washington Nationals are the heaviest of favorites to win the World Series this year, due to their potentially historic rotation that has yet to live up to its full potential.

Their collective 3.14 ERA rank eighth in the bigs, and their .245 opponent batting average is 18th. They’ll pull it together sooner rather than later, they’re too good.

But at 5-7 through their first 12 games of the season, another aspect of the Nationals’ game must be examined as something that could contribute to long-term struggles as the season continues – their offense.

First things first, the offense isn’t in trouble. In 2014 they ranked ninth in the MLB in runs, and in the early going of 2015 they are 13th, albeit with Anthony Rendon and Denard Span on the 15-day DL to begin the year.

As a result and as expected, Bryce Harper has been the catalyst for his team’s offense, with three home runs, nine runs scored, and six RBI. Wilson Ramos, Michael Taylor and Ryan Zimmerman have also chipped in with eight RBIs each.

Harper doesn’t seem to mind sharing the load.

As much as their offense will no doubt get a lift when their lineup is back to full strength, it’s worth asking the question of how high important it is for this team’s bats and arms to get hot.

When looking at the World Series participants the last two years, there isn’t a consistent answer as to how important scoring runs during the regular season really is. Let’s look as some figures.

  • In 2011, the two World Series participants, the Rangers and Cardinals, ranked third and fifth in runs scored, respectively, in the regular season.
  • In 2012, it was the Tigers and Giants, who weren’t in the top 10.
  • In 2013, the Red Sox and Cardinals were in the top three in runs scored during the year.
  • In 2014, the Royals, all about pitching and defense, ranked 14th in runs scored, and the eventual World Series champion Giants were 12th.

Interesting, to say the least, and especially when considering the popular sports mantra that “defense wins championships”.

We can see that the importance of offense when figuring out who will make it deep in October is like figuring out whether it’s the Giants year to win it all or not. If that trend continues, then that means the Royals, Jays and Athletics – the top three clubs in runs scored so far in 2015 – are good bets to make it to the Series, right? The Nationals aren’t quite in that mix with their 13th-ranked offense.

Before we can cement that conclusion, let’s look at some other numbers from World Series teams since 2011, this time concerning pitching.

  • In 2011, pitching for Texas and St. Louis wasn’t as hot as their bats, as their team ERAs ranked 12th and 13th, respectively. Their bats carried them to the World Series.
  • In 2012, the Giants and Tigers, not as strong offensively as the 2011 Rangers and Redbirds, ranked 7th and 9th in team ERA. Contrasting the year before, their pitching was the key factor.
  • In 2013, we finally see a break in the pattern. While the Red Sox led the majors in run scored, they were very average in pitching with a 3.79 ERA. However, the Cardinals were a top-five team in both categories – third in runs scored and fifth in ERA. Even though they were the most complete team in the World Series in at least a few years, they still lost out to the Red Sox.
  • The pattern again doesn’t prove consistent when it comes to last year’s World Series. The Royals – who were 90 feet away from becoming the team of destiny last fall – ranked 12th in regular season ERA. The Giants were a bit better, ranking 10th.

What do we take away from that? If the strongest trends continue, this year’s World Series will be all about offense, but judging from the last couple years, some teams whose strength lies in their arms will make it through October.

In other words…the Nationals might just be right on track, with their offense that will no doubt become stronger with the return of Rendon and Span, who combined for 205 runs scored in 2014. Their starting pitching will also certainly improve after shaking off some common early-season overexcitement.

How important is Scherzer's role as Nationals ace given recent World Series trends?

How important is Scherzer’s role as Nationals ace given recent World Series trends?

There isn’t a clear trend when it comes to predicting postseason contender by looking at the team stats. Such is the nature of baseball, where nothing is predictable. But if we at least look the pattern when it comes to offense, a category in which Washingotn jumped from 15th to 10th over the last two years, oddsmakers might have hit a home run.

We’ll examine how the Nationals do with both their arms and bats later in the season, and see how they stack up with these trends.

 

Power Rankings

It’s been quite a fun first two weeks of the 2015 major league season. We’ve had home run barrages, triumphant returns and, at the time this is being written, only one complete game shutout in an age of dominant pitching.

Without further ado, here are my rankings for the top five and bottom five teams, which I will try to present every other week.

Note: I do not take preseason rankings/predictions into account. This is purely how they’ve fared up until this point in the regular season.

The Fab Five

1. Detroit Tigers (9-2)

Owners of the best record in baseball in the early going, the Tigers have proven to be as unfazed on the road (5-1) as they are in front of their home crowd (4-1). They own a +25 run differential, second in the MLB. Their ace, David Price, has been as David Price as we can expect him to be, giving up only one earned run through three starts (0.40 ERA). Most importantly, Miguel Cabrera has been as hot to start the season as anyone, ranking in the top ten in OBP, hits, doubles, runs and lingering among the top tier in most of the other major offensive categories.

2. Kansas City Royals (8-2)

The Royals would like to get back to the Fall Classic, and their MLB-best +31 run differential alone proves that. They rank in the top 10 in both team ERA and runs scored, showing that this is a more complete team than last year’s club. And they’ve done it against good teams, going 6-0 against the White Sox and Angels while outscoring them 40 to 15.

No James Shields? No problem. KC is dominating the league.

No James Shields? No problem. KC is dominating the league.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (7-3)

So far, the perennial World Series contenders have played as we’d expect them to – damn good. Their team ERA of 2.00 is only the best in baseball, and their bats, which were incredibly inconsistent last year, have been on fire in the early going, scoring at least four runs in eight straight games, in which they’ve gone 6-2. Oh and they’ve allowed the lowest number of runs in baseball – only 23 through ten games.

4. Colorado Rockies (7-3)

The Rockies are playing better baseball than anyone else on the road, going 6-1 away from Coors Field. Their collective team ERA early on has also been a pleasant surprise at 2.90. And, obviously, Tulo’s gonna Tulo, to the tune of at least one hit in nine of his last ten games, and at least two in four of those. The Rockies have been apt to start off hot out of the gate in recent years. Their consistency in 2015, especially when it comes to facing contending division rivals in the Padres and Dodgers, might just depend on the health of their star shortstop, who played only 91 games last year due to injury.

5. New York Mets (8-3)

Raise your hand if you thought the Mets – and not the Nationals – would be leading the NL East two weeks into the season. *doesn’t see hands* Yeah, me either. The Mets, like the Rockies, would a pleasant surprise except for the fact that they are actually expected to contend for at least a wild card spot this year. Theey are the only team yet to lose at home (5-0).Matt Harvey, who sat out all of last year, has been great in two starts (2.25 ERA, 3 earned runs), but 41-year old Bartolo Colon continues to defy Father Time, sporting a sterling 3-0 record through three starts, going at least 6 innings in each start and giving up only five runs. Also…

 

The Futile Five

1. Milwaukee Brewers (2-8)

Owners of both the worst run differential (-28) and words record in baseball, the Brewers who held their ground at the top of NL Central for most of 2014 have done anything but this year. They’ve committed the third most errors in the MLB (10) and they’re practically grooving their pitches to opposing batters, allowing them to hit an astounding .295 on the season.

2. Seattle Mariners (3-7)

This isn’t supposed to be happening, Seattle. You’re supposed to dominate this year. 10 ESPN experts picked you to represent the American League in the World Series damnit! Instead, you’re hanging out in the basement of the AL West….below Houston. We’re concerned, Seattle.

3. San Francisco Giants (3-9)

The whole “Well, it’s an odd year” thing is almost becoming old. But it’s frighteningly appropriate for the 2015 Giants, who have yet to recover from yet another World Series hangover. They’re winless in front of their home crowd, and the October innings might be catching up to Madison Bumgarner, who has an uncharacteristic 5.29 ERA through three starts early on.

 

The defending champion Giants lose 9-0 to the Diamondbacks on Friday. Let that sink in.

The defending champion Giants lose 9-0 to the Diamondbacks on Friday. Let that sink in.

4. Minnesota Twins (4-6)

Bottom five in both runs scored and runs allowed, the Twins have performed…as expected? Yes they’ve have a tough stretch to start the season – Boston, Detroit, Chicago White Sox – but someone’s got to step up when your team’s batting a scary .216. Can’t expect the prodigal son Torii Hunter to do it all. Wait…never mind he’s not hitting either.

5. Miami Marlins (3-8)

You know it’s bad when your superstar is talking down about his own team.

https://twitter.com/BBTN/status/589489284857618432

 

There’s truth to Stanton’s remarks. The Marlins, expected to contend with the busy offseason they had, were hoping that acquiring SP Mat Latos would help their rotation hold over until Jose Fernandez’s eventual return.

Yeah, it hasn’t. Latos has a 17.36 ERA through two starts. No one else is pitching much better – they have a 4.82 team ERA. And they’re offense isn’tmaking up for it – they rank 16th with only 40 runs scored.

 

Final thoughts

  • Mike Trout, fastest to 100 home runs and 100 steals. The legend grows. Can he even have his own legacy at the age of 23?
  • Kris Bryant, remarkably going two MLB games without hitting his first big-league dinger.
  • Welp. Alex Rodriguez is the Yankees’ MVP thus far. Awkward, much?
  • Kershaw is not Kershaw, and in such a way that even though it’s early in the season, it’s concerning.
  • As a Cardinals fan, love love love seeing Carpenter churning out doubles like he did in 2013. Already at over one-fifth the number of doubles (7) that he hit all of last year (33).
  • Thank you, 42.

 

Have a great weekend and week, everybody.

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

The Warning Track: Opening Week

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

The Longball Takes Center Stage

It’s a common philosophy with sports, however tough it is to follow at time, not to overreact to anything….especially at the end of Opening Week in baseball, with 155-plus games still to be played.

But it would be unwise not to at least take a look at how the homerun ball dominated the first week of the 2015 season.

Exhibit A: Adrian Gonzalez, who after homering three times in one game earlier in the week, is being affectionately dubbed A-Gone by the baseball world. Gonzalez became the first player to hit five home runs in his team’s first three games of a season, and in the process has early MVP stamped all over him (yes, it’s week 1, but this is what I meant by overreacting).

A-Gone hasn’t hit forty home runs since a career year in 2009, but if he keeps it up he’ll smash that personal record, as well as help break a bigger one that I predicted will happen this year.

Gonzalez isn’t the only one who put on a power display this week. In an Opening Day that was dominated by pitching, the Boston Red Sox unveiled their revamped lineup in style, hitting five moonshots in an 8-0 victory over the Phillies.

Just as impressive? Four of them were hit off of Cole Hamels, who is trying to impress other teams as he will almost surely be wearing a different uniform by the trade deadline this summer.

I’ve got to admit…I thought Boston came into this season a little overrated. When you acquire the big-name talent they did in the offseason – Pablo Sandoval, who pretty much becomes Babe Ruth in October, as well as ex-Dodger Hanley Ramirez – people are either going to label you as automatic postseason contenders…or see the club as one that may have trouble developing a homogeneous identity.

I belong to the latter. I just got the sense that this team would have a tough time gelling together, spending too much of the season trying to form a clubhouse dynamic that once they did it would be too late.

Then again, when you have the pure power that the BoSox showed off on Monday, that doesn’t matter as much. Homers score runs, and scoring runs wins games.

Another home run display to note, although just a single longball…A-Rod’s first since September of 2013.

Although that alone will add drama to the hit, the real story – now that we know supposedly-steroid-free-Alex-Rodriguez can still hit ‘em far and hit ‘em deep – is what happens if he when he hits five more and passes Willie Mays for fourth all time on the career homer list.

When he does, the Yankees, per the contract they gave him in 2007, are obligated to pay him a $6 million bonus…something they said in the offseason they will no longer do.

It’s a shame, really, to see what once was a journey toward making epic major league history become a cheating-fueled soap opera of undeserved greatness.

However.

As polarizing as A-Rod and his legacy has become – to this writer especially – the Yankees should do their due diligence once he gets to that mark, and you know he will. Aside from the fact that the Yankees already popped up to shallow left by putting the bonus in a signed contract…his home runs will be helping the Yanks win games, and they should thank him as they are contractually obligated to do so.

He’s still Alex Rodriguez, which means he puts the Jeter-less Yankees on an entirely other tier, maybe not in terms of competition but in recognition. Paying his bonus is the least they can do to compensate for his services.

Home runs provided plenty of storylines and drama in Opening Week. In what has become the Golden Age of Pitching, let’s hope it stays that way.

 

On the Cusp of Going to Infinity and Beyond in Houston

The Houston Astros, perennial cellar dwellers for the better part of the last decade, are making their way to the stairs.

Slowly. But ever so surely.

Much like the position the Cubs occupied in recent years, Houston is full-on retooling, rearming, and reenergizing their fanbase with a team that should only be a year or two away from playing .500 baseball.

Their youngsters, high picks resulting from last-place regular season finishes, are the Kris Bryants and Jose Fernandez’s of tomorrow. Players like George Springer and Dallas Keuchel are on the cusp of breaking into their own and leading this team.

The Astros, like the Cubs were a couple years back, are on the brink of relevance. And general manager Jeff Luhnow knows it, which is why he manufactured one of the busiest offseasons the Astros have had in recent memory, however much it was shaded by the offseason lusting spending of other teams (looking at you, San Diego, Boston).

Beyond acquiring new manager A.J. Hinch, Luhnow went out and nabbed All-Star relief pitcher Pat Neshek as well as Jed Lowrie and basher Evan Gattis.

And don’t forget about star Jose Altuve, who led the league in hits in 2014 with an astounding 225. When a guy puts in this kind of effort, opposing pitchers know he’s never going to be an easy out.

The Astros have a healthy dose of young – very young – guys and experienced players. They’re 2-2 on the young season (as of the time I am writing this) and were already very nearly held hitless in a 5-1 loss to the Indians on Thursday. Needless to say, it was the kind of game that we’ve come to expect from Houston’s club.

At a time when the National League is experiencing a wealth of young talent, Springer hopes to make the same kind of impact in the American League

At a time when the National League is experiencing a wealth of young talent, Springer hopes to make the same kind of impact in the American League

But they’ve also had victories that have showcased their potential, like a 5-1 score going in their favor against the lowly Rangers on Friday, in which Lowrie and newcomer Colby Rasmus both homered and Collin McHugh gave a sterling first start of the season after delighting fans with a 7-0 record and 1.77 ERA in ten starts as a rookie last season.

But if Houston is going to entice their fans with any kind of major  jump this season, it’s going to have to be on George Springer, their budding face of the franchise who hit 20 home runs and drove in 51 in 78 games in 2014, his rookie season. With Major League Baseball abuzz over the arrivals of Joc Pederson, Jorge Soler and soon-to-be-big league superstar Kris Bryant, the baseball world isn’t paying too much attention to Springer.

They’ll regret that.

So keep your heads high, Astros fans. The torment is almost over.

astros fail

 

 

I See Your Pace-of-Play Rules and Raise You A Marathon

How ironic is it that soon after major pace-of-play rules meant to shorten game length are introduced to regular season baseball, we get an epic 19-inning battle as part of the fiercest rivalry in American sports?

The Red Sox and Yankees battled for the length of two baseball games, and then added another inning for good measure before Boston finally pulled out a 6-5 victory 6 hours and 49 minutes after first pitch. It came close to being the first 20-inning game since 2013, and only the fifth this millennia.

Oh and the game set some records for two already historic franchises.

Take that, pace of play rules. Even you can’t take away one of the most unique aspects of baseball – it ain’t over till it’s over.

Truthfully, we should thank the Red Sox and Yankees for giving us a game like this at a time when Commissioner Rob Manfred is working so hard to quicken the game to supposedly appeal to a younger crowd of sports fans.

The means are worth experimenting but in my opinion that motivation driving the initiative is going to hurt the sport.

Just let ‘em play. True baseball fans won’t leave the game as the clock ticks closer and closer until morning just because it goes on for a little longer. When are extra innings not tense? Every base hit has added drama, every defensive play more weight, every inning a chance for walk-off victory for the home crowd.

If baseball fans can’t see the fun in that, whether young or old, then they probably don’t appreciate the game like some people would say it’s meant to be experienced – as naturally as possible.

Sometimes the nature of baseball takes a game twice as long as it is meant to go, and by the baseball gods….let ‘em play. And allow what makes the sport so special to be on display for the true baseball fan, the kind who doesn’t care if it takes nine innings or 19 to decide an outcome.

So thank you, Red Sox and Yankees. For giving us a nailbiter. For giving spectators two games for the price of one. For reminding us why we love your sport.

bosox

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

The Warning Track: Welcome to 2015

The Warning Track is a brand new blog that will cover all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Miami’s 300 Million Dollar Man

It simply wouldn’t do to discuss the rollercoaster ride that was the MLB offseason without talking about the most lucrative contract conjured up in American sports history.

Anyone who has paid attention to major league baseball even just a little bit over the past couple years knows the name Giancarlo Stanton. But not all of them might be able to immediately associate him with the Marlins…which is something that the organization hopes their contract with Stanton will fix.

Let’s be clear: the obvious reasons for paying Stanton the amount of money equivalent to buying about 1,300 Ferraris are pretty clear.

  • The guy can hit, and hit consistently.
  • He can drive in runs, and drive in runs consistently.
  • He has the ability to carry the Marlins to the playoff, and be able to do so consistently.

If it weren’t for a Mike Fiers fastball (and, let’s be honest, Clayton Kershaw season-long impersonation of Sandy Koufax), Stanton would have been a lock for NL Most Valuable Player.

But he’s also the face of the franchise. He has almost single-handedly (a guy by the name of Jose Fernandez had a small part to play as well) put the Marlins back on the map, at least in terms of a free agent destination.

With Stanton’s big payday – or paydecade, as the $325 million will be shelled out over the course of 13 seasons with the Marlins – the Marlins made an announcement that they intend to stay on the baseball map, as a consistent winner and contender, led by a hitter and pitcher who already are considered amongst the elite in their craft.

Stanton has hit at least 22 moonshots every season he's been in the league.

Stanton has hit at least 22 moonshots every season he’s been in the league.

Maybe Stanton will live up to his contract, becoming the modern day Babe Ruth. In his first five seasons he has hit 154 longballs, meaning he has serious potential as far as all-time numbers go, considering he most likely hasn’t hit his prime (that sound you hear is NL pitchers shaking in their shoes).

It’s very possible that Stanton will continue a recent trend of big-name players signing lucrative contracts seemingly forgetting what it takes to be elite. For whatever reason that same mysterious force might just come down unto Stanton causing him to experience a remarkable dropoff that lasts years, becoming the biggest “what if” in baseball history.

He also could set an major league record for career homers.

But one thing is for sure. The Marling did not only provide security for Stanton – they made a gamble to fortify their franchise’s rising position through the tiers of major league baseball, creating another immortal number for not only baseball but sports history….325 million.

In 13 years, we’ll see what good it has done.

 

Way-Too-Early-Awards-Predictions

There’s never a better time than to think about who has the ability and the bat to embark on an MVP-caliber season, who will try upend the Kershaws and Bumgarner’s of the league with their arms, and which teams will have the resolve to play deep into October. Here is my preseason Awards Watch that probably will prove to be a laughable list by season’s end.

American League MVP

  1. Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels

Simply because you know and I know and pretty much all of baseball knows by this point that Mikey Mike is for real. The guy truly awes in every level of his play, whether it be at the plate, on the field, on base, in the dugout….seriously, wherever. He’s just fun to watch and you know he’ll be pretty angry about where his first postseason trip ended. It’ll be fun to see him take it out on opposing pitchers.

mike trout

2. Miguel Cabrera – Detroit Tigers

Let’s take a look at Miguel’s 2014 numbers….25 homers, 109 RBI, a .313 average. Those are all pretty numbers and all but the most amazing thing? They were all substantial drops from 2013, when he registered 44 longballs, 137 RBI, and an insane .348 average that makes one reminisce of Honus Wagner. Expect those kinds of numbers to return as Cabrera looks to lead the Tigers to the postseason once more.

3. Jose Abreu – Chicago White Sox

With all the incredible numbers that the Cuban put up in his rookie season last year – 36 homers and 107 RBI to go along with a .317 average – he seemed to go under the radar. There’s good reason to believe he’ll put up even more monstrous number in his sophomore year while leading a revamped White Sox team into the postseason.

 

National League MVP

  1. Giancarlo Stanton – Miami Marlins

This is the only prediction I would consider putting serious money on at this point in time. The slugger is going to win multiple MVP’s in the near future, and his potential to hit 50 homers this season will have him on lock for the honor virtually all season long.

2. Jason Heyward – St. Louis Cardinals

Why predict that Heyward, who’s best season was also his rookie season, will be in contention for MVP? Not only does he have a welcome change of scenery from consistently underperforming Atlanta, but he joins a team where he should have a great chance in a majority of his at-bats to drive in runs. The Cardinals are hoping he is the catalyst to exploit their offensive potential, and in a season which will end with him hitting free agency, he has a reason to want to fill that role.

3. Kris Bryant – Chicago Cubs

Why not him? I although I don’t agree with the Cub’s decision to keep The One destined to end the Cubs’ 108-year World Series drought off the Opening Day roster, the wait should only amp him up even more. Bryant has the potential to be the National League version of what Jose Abreu was last year. He’s a sure bet for NL Rookie of the Year, but if the Cubs make serious noise in October, you can bet it will be because of an MVP-worthy year from Bryant.

Bryant hit nearly .500 with 9 homers over 44 plate appearances in the Spring. That translates to about 75 homers over a full MLB season.

Bryant hit nearly .500 with 9 homers over 44 plate appearances in the Spring. That translates to about 75 homers over a full MLB season.

 

American League Cy Young

  1. Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners

There’s a reason they call him King Felix. It’s one thing to do what Clayton Kershaw has done in his career, shutting down opposing teams and players….in a league that isn’t known for hitting. Hernandez has been as consistently majestic as his name suggests while pitching to players like Trout, Cabrera, Ortiz, Longoria….he’s a nasty dude. Don’t be surprised if another strong season ends with him winning his second Cy Young.

2. Chris Sale – Chicago White Sox

He allowed only 42 earned runs in 174 innings of work in 2014, and has gotten closer to winning the Cy Young in each of the last three seasons.

3. Corey Kluber – Cleveland Indians

The 2014 winner looks to be even more dominant as the Tribe readies for what should be their first serious postseason run in a while.

 

National League Cy Young

  1. Max Scherzer – Washington Nationals

Someone needs to give Kershaw a run for his money. Scherzer has the best chance of anyone in the last few years to take Kershaw’s throne as the best pitcher in a league of elite pitchers. Moving to the National League should give him his first sub-3.00 ERA season. Seeing him duel Kershaw all season long for the lead in the Cy Young race will be a treat to watch.

2. Clayton Kershaw – Los Angeles Dodgers

What’s the safer bet: that Koufax-reincarnated wins his fourth Cy Young in five years, or that he turns in another ERA under 2?

3. Adam Wainwright – St. Louis Cardinals

He may have problems staying healthy, but when he is, he’s among the top three pitchers in the league.

 

10 Kind-of-Bold Predictions for the 2015 Season

  1. The Cubs don’t make the postseason….

Sorry, Vegas betters. Back to the Future may have been right about a lot of things, but the Cubbies winning only their second postseason series since 1908 won’t happen in 2015, let alone even appear in October.

Everyone just needs to calmmmmm down about Chicago’s potential because that is just what is it at this point in time – potential.

Their core is still relatively young, even their establish superstars in Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are still in their mid-20s, and their rotation behind Lester and Jake Arrieta just doesn’t look imposing. Add to all that the fact that the Cubs play in the same division that could easily see three other teams make the playoffs in the Cardinals, Pirates and Brewers, and it’s easy to see why the Joe Maddon-helmed Cubs will need to wait just a little while longer to contend.

Joe Maddon is one of the best managers in the game, but even he can't turn around the Cubs in just a year.

Joe Maddon is one of the best managers in the game, but even he can’t turn around the Cubs in just a year.

 

  1. ….but the Marlins do.

On the other hand, it’s time for Miami to make a deep run in October. Now that they’ve added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Ichiro Suzuki and extended breakout candidate Christian Yelich, they don’t have to rely on Giancarlo Stanton for all of their offense anymore. They should be getting superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez back in June, and when they do, they’ll be a force to contend with as they make their way to October baseball.

 

  1. Lance Lynn contends for the NL Cy Young.

Whenever it was Lynn’s turn to pitch in 2012 and 2013, Cardinals fans were elated because due to #CardinalsDevilMagic (most likely) the lineup tended to give him 5, 6, 7 runs or more, leading to respectable 18-7 and 15-10 records.

In 2014, St. Louis tended looked forward to Lynn’s pitching for a different reason – the guy was really pitching. To the tune of 2.74 ERA, a career-best by more than a full run. Lynn’s durable, he’s consistent, and he’s been the rock for St. Louis whenever they’ve needed one.

Don’t be surprised if he turns it up another couple of notches in 2015, enough to make the NL Cy Young race interesting for a while

 

  1. Mike Trout wins the AL Triple Crown.

He’s gotten close. In 2014 Trout ranked third in the AL in homers, first in RBI…but wasn’t even in the top ten in batting average, hitting .287. I think that number skyrockets for him this year, and he’ll have to do battle with guys like Altuve, Martinez and Beltre…but if anyone can do it why not the best player in baseball?

 

  1. The Padres come close – real close – to winning 100 games.

People don’t realize how complete of a team San Diego is following a furious and aggressive offseason. After finishing a 2014 campaign with the fourth best team ERA in baseball and dead last in runs scored, General Manager A.J. Preller had one priority: offense, offense, offense. Offense here, offense there, offense and offense and offense, oh my! Such a dramatic upgrade in offense that the very word would start to become offensive. So all he did was go out and get Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton and Will Middlebrooks.

Get excited, Padres fans

Get excited, Padres fans

I guess those guys are okay. Just for good measure to shore up the already astute pitching staff, Preller went out and picked up James Shields.

So yes, the Padres got a complete makeover, made up of many pieces that were in dire need of a change of scenery. If they can gel together and establish a chemistry….this group has the potential to finish top five in major pitching and hitting categories, and consistently so.

 

  1. One new pace-of-play rule will set off a firestorm.

The new pitching clock implemented between half-innings was received fairly well over the course of Spring Training. It didn’t seem to rock pitchers’ routines too much and, more importantly, you really could feel the clock doing what it was meant to do – it speeds up a part of the game that more often than not goes on for far longer than fans want. And the clubs like it – commissioner Rob Manfred recently said that he has gotten “uniformly positive” feedback from various organizations.

The other rule that keeps the batter confined to his box is a different story.

The rule, which forbids a batter from leaving the box between pitches – a common routine so that hitters can “reset” for the next pitch – is pretty much being taken seriously by almost nobody. David Ortiz ripped the rule as doing more harm than good for the players, although he recently said he’d do his best to follow it.

It just seems too natural for hitters to leave the box, and having to be constantly reminded not to do so will undoubtedly get on some players’ nerves. Words will be said. The rule will be criticized. And the league might have to find a way to amend it.

 

  1. The 3,000 hit club grows by 2

Two players who could not be on more opposite sides of the spectrum in regards to their standing with the sport will become members 29 and 30 of the exclusive 3,000 Hit Club.

A-Rod, who is only 61 hits away, might do it by the All-Star Break. He’s played well enough in the Spring to assure an everyday spot on the roster, and although he also has a seemingly insurmountable task of rehabilitating his image, you can bet achieving 3,000 hits is also on his mind.

Ichiro Suzuki has a longer road to trod if he wants his 3,000. One of the most respected and beloved stars of the game, Ichiro has 156 to go. That wouldn’t seem to be a problem for the future Hall of Famer, except for the fact that he hasn’t hit that many in one season since 2012. On top of that, his new team, the Marlins, plan on utilizing him in a bench role.

So while 3,000 seem inevitable for Suzuki, it might not happen this year….but I’m thinking the Marlins use him more than they currently plan to. The guy is too good, and if anyone deserves to get to 3,000 it’s him……*coughandnotalexrodriguezcough*.

 

 

  1. A record for most 50-home run players is set.

Who said offense is dead? Major league baseball boasts a bevy of bashers who could feasibly hit for fifty homers in 2015 – both young and old.

Twice in major league history, 1998 and 2001, four players hit 50 longballs.

I can think of five players who can hit that downright insane benchmark this year. Stanton, Trout, Cruz, Abreu and Bautista have the power and the consistency to do it, although the majority of them will be demolishing previous career bests.

Abreu hit 36 homers as a rookie. His power is here to stay.

Abreu hit 36 homers as a rookie. His power is here to stay.

Only Jose Bautista and Nelson Cruz have hit for 40, but they’re all primed for career-best seasons after being on an upward trajectory the next few seasons. And it’s pretty common to see individual players destroy their previous career bests for longballs hit in one season.

I’m betting all the aforementioned players do just that, and in a historic way.

 

 

  1. The Nationals pitch as advertised.

Speaking of history, the Nationals rotation seems hell-bent on making it.

Essentially boasting a rotation made up of aces, Washington’s group of starting pitchers puts the underachieving 2011 Phillies – with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt – to shame. At least in this point in time.

Scherzer. Strasburg. Zimmerman. Fister. Gonzalez. Look down on your works, ye National League, and despair.

Those five combined for 72 wins last year, but the baseball world shouldn’t be surprised if that number swells to at least 85 with what should be a more potent offense.

This group has the potential to rival the Braves of the early 90s, the Dodgers of the 60s. They give Washington a chance to win every game, which is why most have the club as a sure bet to get to the World Series, not to mention eclipse 100 wins.

And if any of them go down for a period of time, no big deal. Tanner Roark, who sported a 15-win season in 2014 with a 2.85 ERA, is just waiting in the wings, a “sixth man” to be envied.

The Nationals rotation will set the bar. It could feasibly set major league records for wins and earned run average, and that’s due in large part to their overall youth. They have yet to hit their prime, except for the veteran Scherzer, who is right in it. And they’ll take Washington on a wild ride through the season and into October.

But they won’t win the Fall Classic. The team to do that will be….

 

 

  1. The Dodgers win the World Series.

Clayton Kershaw has had enough. After being knocked out yet again by the Cardinals, it would be nothing short of astounding if whatever force that has plagued Kershaw the last two Octobers returns again this year. He won’t duplicate the legendary October that Madison Bumgarner had, but he’ll be who we expect him to be.

Yasiel Puig is ready to make the leap into elite status, if he can keep himself from making potentially season-ending crashes into the outfield wall every other game, that is. He’ll lead a team that added the potent Jimmy Rollins and Darwin Barney, and you better believe all the hype that is surrounding rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson. He’s for real and thus far the only reason we can’t lock in Chicago’s Kris Bryant as NL Rooike of the Year.

The Dodgers have been in contender status for a few years without yet reaching the World Series. They’ll make that leap this year – led by Kershaw’s arm and Puig’s bat – whether they meet the Cardinals in the postseason again or not, and they’ll beat the Seattle Mariners to win their first Fall Classic since 1988.

Expect to see this many time in October, and maybe even in early November.

Expect to see this many time in October, and maybe even in early November.

Enjoy Opening Night, Opening Day and Opening Week, everybody.

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico.