The Warning Track: Predicting October’s squads in March

The weather is getting warmer, the grass is getting greener and Major League Baseball marches towards Opening Day on Monday, with a triple-header preceding on Sunday.

The business of predicting who will reign supreme in their respective division is always an obstensively exciting and enticing one, like waiting for 3-0 pitch and being confident that you’ll take it for ball one,, only to swing away and hit an infield popup.

Because for most of us columnists, barring some rare mercy from the baseball gods (sportswriting gods?), most of our predictions are destroyed by the time the All-Star Break rolls around.

Exhibit A: My World Series prediction around this time last year. 

There will be injuries, there will be unforeseen breakouts, there will be hypothetical apologies to fans for leading them in the wrong direction.

Most likely.

But before that time comes around, us columnists can revel in the glory of the return of regular season baseball, and with it the false feeling that we have more say in what the 2016 season is fated to become than the baseball gods do.

We begin by predicting the postseason field, with MVP, Cy Young, and other predictions to come later in the week.

American League East 

It’s easy to be enticed by the image of David Price leading Boston to the division crown, until you remember there is a huge possibility that last year’s costly acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval perform poorly for a second consecutive year.

It’s easy to fall in love with the home-run happy group in Baltimore, until you remember that they’re a strikeout-happy core as well.

It’s easy to conclude a 30 game suspension for Aroldis Chapman might not mean much to the Yankees’ already top-three bullpen in the long run, until you remember the average age of their core is high enough for them to be considered the senior citizens of Major League Baseball.

It would also be easy to buy into the Toronto Blue Jays and the steamroller of a squad they were in the second half of the season last year, led by eventual AL MVP Josh Donaldson…and it’d be easy to think that even if they were to regress a little bit, they’d still be the favorite for the division.

Which is why I’m going with Toronto, the club that has unfinished business in returning the Fall Classic to Canada for the first time in almost a quarter of a century, as well as a stable enough rotation that should do well to weather the absence of Price.

Pick: Toronto Blue Jays

1704050871_4558663698001_jose-bautista-home-run

American League Central

The AL Central has the potential to be very much like its counterpart in the Senior Circuit – extremely competitive, with tight races and tighter storylines.

It will be interesting to see how the White Sox move on from the Adam LaRoche controversy that dominated headlines for a time during Spring Training. But even if they do, and even if Jose Abreu fulfills his MVP potential, it’s tough to think they did enough in the offseason to improve on last years’ ballclub.

In Detroit, Miguel Cabrera will be Miguel Cabrera, but it will be acquisitions like Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmerman and, perhaps most importantly, a revived, down to business Justin Verlander that will decide the fate of the 2016 Tigers. There should be some fantastic showdowns between Detroit and the defending champions in Kansas City, with a grossly underrated Indians club lurking in the shadows.

And who knows? Sports Illustrated took care not to spotlight Cleveland, so that just might be enough to get them into October.

Pick: Kansas City Royals, somewhat hesitantly

royals

 

American League West

If he can shoulder the incredible weight of expectations placed upon him, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (.279 avg., 22 home runs, 68 RBI in 99 games in 2015) could be the second best player in the American League by the end of the season, only looking up to division co-superstar Mike Trout.

There’s reason to believe the 21-year-old Correa could play a major part in ensuring the rest of the baseball landscape that 2015 was no fluke and Houston is here to stay in contention, not to mention Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Evan Gattis…the list of impact players goes on and on…

…as it does for in-state rival Texas, which is looking to stay relevant over the course of a full season again behind Prince Fielder, veteran Adrian Beltre and 2015 trade deadline acquisition Cole Hamels.

The Rangers will look to give Houston a run for their money, and they’ve got high-end prospects waiting in the wings looking to assist if need be.

It’ll be a two-horse race between that pair of Lone Star State squads as they feast on the work-in-progress A’s, the consistently underachieving Mariners (no, I won’t be making that mistake again) and the mind-boggling Angels, who might have had the most dissapointingly quiet offseason in baseball.

Trout can do a lot, some would say he can even do it all. But expecting him to be the player to step up every day is just too much for the young star, and Albert Pujols isn’t getting any younger.

Pick: Houston Astros 

astros

American League Wild Cards

1) Cleveland Indians 

The offense has the potential to impress, but even if it doesn’t, the starting rotation in Cleveland is one to be feared. That town deserves one adequate sports team, right?

2) Texas Rangers 

While the Astros’ youth may prevail for the division, the Rangers’ experience will lead them back to October. A healthy Yu Darvish – which would mean a terrifyingly dominant Yu Darvish – is the key for Texas.

 

National League East

The Phillies and Braves are still a few years away from returning to the status of contender, and the Marlins’ success depends largely on full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, a much-awaited phenomenon that has to happen.

Will Bryce Harper make sure the 2016 Nationals live up to the expectations of yesteryear? How quickly will the Mets rotation – essentially made up of four aces – make the baseball landscape think that the 2015 Cardinals’ staff was nothing compared to the arms they have in New York?

Those will be the dominant storylines in what should be a tight NL East all season long in the top two spots.

But Yoenis Cespedes’ decision to return to New York long-term should be what pushes the Mets over the bump. If he can lead the offense to even a semblance of what it was in the 2015 home stretch (1st in the NL after the All-Star Break in runs, home runs, and doubles), New York will withstand Harper and an overall stronger Washington club to come out on top.

Pick: New York Mets 

cespedes

National League Central

What may be the best division in all of the four major sports associations is also the easiest to predict and call it a day.

Whether the Cubs will end their curse in October remains to be seen, but it would be mind-boggling if this group doesn’t at least improve on their 98 wins from last season. Taking the two most productive players away from their rivals in St. Louis is enough to sharpie them in for the NLDS.

It will be fascinating to see how the relatively young group in Chicago – which still has a healthy dose of experienced players –  deals with the monstrous amount of expectations thrust upon them, but if any manager in the game can keep the young Cubbies’ focus on their ultimate goal, it’s Joe Maddon.

The tougher question with the NL Central is whether it will again produce three postseason teams as it did a season ago.

Pick: Chicago Cubs  

maddon

National League West

Contrary to most sportswriters, I’m pretty sold on what the Diamondbacks have cooking in Arizona.

Already armed with an offense that has been top five in the NL in four of the past five seasons, the D-Backs went out a nabbed a legitimate ace who still has something to prove in Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA in 2015 with L.A.).

That move simultaneously set off questions marks for every starter behind Clayton Kershaw in L.A., who have been plagued by injuries this spring. Meanwhile, while it is an even year and they still have what it is by far the best battery mates in the game in Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey, San Francisco will need formidable comebacks from offseason additions Jeff Samardzija (4.96 ERA in 2015) and Johnny Cueto (4.76 ERA in 13 starts with the Royals in 2015) to be competitive.

And, let’s be honest, it’s time to see what Paul Goldschmidt (.321 avg., 33 home runs, 110 RBI in 2015) can do in October.

Pick: Arizona Diamondbacks 

Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin (46) prepare to hit during a spring training baseball practice, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Scottsdale, Ariz.  (AP Photo/Matt York)

National League Wild Cards

1) Washington Nationals

Harper will mash, Scherzer will break hearts, and Dusty Baker might just have his best season yet as a Major League Baseball manager.

2) San Francisco Giants

What? It is an even year.

giants gif

Thanks for reading.

 

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent 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 hot button topics like MLB’s expansion mission, which players could be headed to new homes, and the latest clubhouse chemistry conundrum. 

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.

Advertisements

The Warning Track: An Oddly Annual Celebration By The Bay

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 conundrum. 

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. 

 

A couple weeks after Shelby Miller of the Braves came one out away from pitching the first no-hitter of the 2015 season, Giants hurler Chris Heston indulged baseball fans with (finally) the first no-no of the year, becoming the first rookie to do so since Clay Buchholz in 2007.

But the more astounding feat? It’s the fourth year in a row that the Giants have thrown a no-hitter, following Matt Cain in 2012 and Tim Lincecum the last two years. That’s more than 7 MLB franchises have in their respective histories, with the San Diego Padres being the lone club yet to throw a no-no.

If there’s one thing the Giants of this decade are known for, too an almost comical extent, it is their consistent inconsistency. Everyone knows about the whole odd-year, even-year dichotomy, with the Giants winning the Fall Classic in 2010, 2012 and 2014 while failing to make the playoffs in the sandwiched seasons of 2011 and 2013.

They’ve even been difficult to figure out this season alone. After going 9-13 in April, the return of Hunter Pence spurred the defending champs to a spirited 15-4 run in late May, enough to propel them to the division’s summit for a short time. But they’ve slid back to a game behind the Dodgers after going 4-6 in their last 10 while giving up five or more runs six times in that span.

Nothing like a no-hitter to halt that streak, huh? By your rookie starter who has given up 16 runs over his last four starts entering the day, no less. Baseball has come to expect the unexpected from the Giants – fulfilling that unwritten mantra of the sport – whether in June or October, so perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised at all by the caliber of Heston’s performance, or even its odd nature.

No-hitters do tend to be completely unexpected, coming at the most unusual points and, at times, for teams not known for their pitching. Exhibit A: the Giants themselves. Over the last three seasons of their no-hitter streak they’ve ranked 10th (3.50), 21st (4.00), and 7th (3.68) in the bigs in team ERA. They’re currently 13th for the 2015 campaign with a 3.78 mark.

And a pitcher can be destined to throw a no-hitter on any given day, or any given season. Tim Lincecum was among the league’s best from 2008 through 2011. It wasn’t until 2013 and 2014, when he had ERAs of 4.37 and 4.74, respectively, that he decided, seemingly out of the blue, to remind the baseball world what made him so good in years prior.

 

So no-no’s in four consecutive seasons? That hasn’t happened for one team since Sandy Koufax – who else? – took it upon himself to do it for the Dodgers every season from 1962 -1965. In fact, that’s the only other time it’s happened in major league history, making the feat all the more fascinating and strange.

But perhaps it isn’t as strange as it sounds for the oddball, consistently inconstent Giants, as much as it is a treat for a loyal fanbase that has ranked in the top 4 in ballpark attendance each year since their remarkable run of championships began in October of 2010. But the fact that every other year a no-hitter might be the highlight of the season when they celebrated a World Series win the fall before must take some getting used to.

It’s looking like that might be the case this season. It is an odd-year after all. But until we know for sure, Giants fans can celebrate – once again – a dominant performance by their pitcher, one of such a caliber that many teams haven’t seen from their own arms in years or decades.

But then again, they might be getting tired of it four years running. World Series championships and no-hitters. What more can a fan ask for?

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He is the assistant news editor at The Daily Lobo, the independent student newspaper at the University of New Mexico, and can be reached at lynchdavid695@unm.edu or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

The Warning Track: A Year of Resurgence

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 conundrum. 

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 2015 major league baseball campaign has been, thus far, dominated by surprising individual performances. Bryce Harper is finally doing what everyone in Washington expected him to do. Shelby Miller has pitched his way into the Cy Young discussion. A-Rod is etching his name into more pages of the records books. And Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw thus far.

With all the fanfare surrounding individual players, whether for better or for worse, it’s easy to overlook the status of whole ballclubs, some of which are giving their fans new faith after years of holding the position as cellar-dwellar, lending a whole new dimension to a sport that prides itself on parity in the process.

 

Houston Astros

The Astros – who have averaged a 69-93 regular season record since they got swept in the 2005 World Series – have the best record in the American League at 30-18, second-best in the bigs only to St. Louis.

Read that sentence again. Take a deep breath, maybe two. It’s okay, everyone else it just as shocked as you are. Led by AL Cy Young contender Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 1.98 ERA) and hit machine Jose Altuve (.299 batting average, AL-leading 15 swiped bags), the Astros are coming into their own as a team that is completely defying all expectations – which, admittedly, were minimal – and becoming legitimate threats for the AL West crown.

It’s one thing to have brushed the 2015 Astros off as a team that is simply hot for the time being, but it’s nearing the end of May, and they have yet to lose more than three games in a row.

They embarked on a ten-game winning streak from late April to early May to make a statement, and so far they have justified it, as they are one of only five ballclubs in the major leagues (and only one of two in the American League) to have a winning record both on the road (15-8) and at home (15-10).

That being said, it’s time to take the Astros seriously, something I thought was still a couple years away from happening. They’re proving me and many others wrong, and the sport is all the better for it.

And when you take into account the youth that is energizing the team – Altuve is 25, George Springer 25, Luis Valbuena 29, Keuchel 27 – as well as the fact that Carlos Correa and Mark Appel (the 2nd- and 28th-ranked MLB prospects, according to minor league baseball’s Prospect Watch) have yet to arrive, maybe it’s time we settle in and enjoy this team, because their time might just be right now, and it might just last for the better part of the next decade.

 

 

Minnesota Twins

The Twins haven’t won more than 70 games in a season since 2010, when they were swept in the division series for the second consecutive year. They have’t advanced passed that round since 2002, where they lost in the ALCS 4 games to 1.

They’ve set a benchmark for futility and irrelevance for baseball, but lately they’ve been looking like a team ready to forget all of that history, to the tune of an 8-2 record in their last ten games and a 28-18 mark overall.

That’s good enough to tie them for first in an ultra-competitive AL Central division, where the Royals, Twins and Tigers are all separated by just 1.5 games.

But the Twins are the hottest of those three, as well as one of the hottest clubs in all of baseball, having not lost a series in over two weeks and outscoring opponents 27-11 on a current five-game winning streak.

These are the Twins, mind you. It’s been a long long time since they’ve been this intimidating. But they are, and the return of Torii Hunter, who spent his first ten big league season in Minnesota, is a big reason why. He’s 29 RBI and 7 dingers to go along with a .280/.333/.457 line. In addition, their pitching has improved by leaps and bounds this season. An AL-worst 4.57 team ERA from 2014 has undergone a seemingly impossible evolution in 2015, where they now sport a 3.94 team ERA.

They’ve also already won half as many extra-inning games this seasons as they did in all of 2014 (3-1 versus 6-7), showing that they have a newfound resilience to churning out victories.

Time will tell if the Twins can live up to the new expectations they’ve set for themselves, expectations they know they’re capable of. It isn’t the most common thing in baseball for a team to go from worst to first as the Twins are gunning to do this season, but at the very least, for the time being, it makes for a good story, and one that might be worth revisiting in the coming weeks and months.

 

Chicago Cubs

Unlike the Astros and Twins, the Cubs entered 2015 with expectations as high as a ball hit off the bat of Nelson Cruz, looking to end over a century of disappointment.

Although they’ve been inconsistent at time, they will have a record over .500 once the calendar flips to June – they are 25-21 entering play today – which for the Cubs is reason enough to get excited, especially seeing as they would be only one game back of a wild card spot if the season ended today.

Much of what the Cubs are expected to do this season and in the coming years is dependent on the performances of their stars – experienced ace Jon Lester, inexperienced phenom Kris Bryant, and budding MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo. So far the potential has not only been warranted, but fulfilled.

After struggling in April to begin his National League career, Lester (has pitched his way back into his starring role as rotation leader, giving up two earned runs or less in 5 of his last 6 starts. He hasn’t quite performed at the plate, but Rizzo, the undisputed face of the franchise at just 25 years old, has more than made up for it, batting his way to a .315 average to go along with 9 homers and 29 RBI.

But the star of the show, and the storyline of the season on the North Side, has been the arrival of basher Kris Bryant. After taking a couple weeks to adjust to the big leagues upon his advent, the third baseman began to hit like we all knew he would. He leads the team in RBI (31) and also has hit 7 longballs and crossed home plate 26 times, all top three for the Cubs.

Although a struggling bullpen (4.07 ERA) has caused them to drop some games in the late innings, the Cubs so far have been making their fans happy.

There’s excitement in the air on the North Side of the Windy City, and if the Cardinals ever cool off on their historic start, the NL Central race should be a fun one to watch down the stretch, especially with the Pirates winning their last seven and making a move toward the front of the pack.

 

 

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.

The Warning Track: A Near No-No and the Fallout

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. 

 

A Star in the Making

Last Saturday, against the Miami Marlins, Braves pitcher Shelby Miller came an out away from a no-hitter for the second time in his young career. It was, incredibly, not even the most eye-opening linescore of his time in the bigs.

Acquired in an offseason trade with the Cardinals, Miller has done more than finally give us a taste of his full potential; he’s taking over the position of Braves ace, the guy who can be counted on to put in gem after gem, from Julio Teheran. But last weekend’s performance put him on a whole other tier, one which puts the rest of the National League on notice.

Miller sits first in major league baseball in ERA (1.33), ahead of established superstars like A.J. Burnett (1.38), Zack Greinke (1.48) and Max Scherzer (1,67). He also leads baseball in WHIP (0.83), batting average against (.156) and complete games (2) and is a bona fide Cy Young contender in the early going, a discussion that many foresaw when he was with the Cardinals.

Miller spent his first two big league seasons in St. Louis, where he garnered a 3.40 ERA and 25-18 record in 62 starts. That’s not bad for a young hurler getting his first taste of The Show, but issues with St. Louis brass, as well as the need for an upgrade in right field in The Gateway City, led Miller to Atlanta while Jason Heyward was shipped to the Cardinals.

Now, without the chip on his shoulder and on a club working to rebuild, Miller is dominating the opposition in a way that was seemingly inevitable.

And it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Atlanta Braves and their fans, who have had to settle for only one division title in the last 9 seasons after being crowned NL East champions every year from 1991 through 2005, with the exception of 1994.

For the better part of the past decade, the core group of Justin and Melvin Upton, Freddie Freeman, and Dan Uggla couldn’t translate 80-plus win seasons into postsesaon success, leading to the exporting of most of those players and the start of a new rebuild.

Freeman has helped lead the Braves to three postseason appearances since 2010, but the team has yet to advance to advance to the League Championship Series for the first time since 2001.

Freeman has helped lead the Braves to three postseason appearances since 2010, but the team has yet to advance to advance to the League Championship Series for the first time since 2001.

But as the organization develops young talent for the big leagues – their farm was ranked 15th before the season began by Baseball America – Miller is giving them some hope for the future of their franchise every fifth day. He is the only Braves starter with an ERA under 3.00, and has at least 6 innings in every one of his starts but two. He has yet to give up more than earned runs in a start, and even then he has only given up that many earned runs thrice.

In addition, Miller is dominant no matter what the situation is. His home and road ERAs are virtually identical – 1.29 versus 1.36, respectively – and he has a 1.20 ERA in day games compared to a 1.38 mark in night games.

Miller is the future of the Braves franchise, that much as been made clear through the first seven weeks of the 2015 campaign. He’s flown under the radar for much of that time, but with his nearly-flawless performance last weekend, the rest of major league baseball has been put on notice.

 

A Fishy Move

While we’re on the topic of Shelby Miller’s excellent outing against the Marlins, let’s talk about the aftermath: the unsurprising dismissal of manager Mike Redmond immediately following the game.

His seat has definitely been scorching for a while. Two years ago he had been expected to help lead the resurgence of the franchise, and this year was when everything was supposed to come together, what with the established superstar status of 300 million dollar man Giancarlo Stanton as well as supporting players like Christian Yelich and Dee Gordon.

But his 155-207 record in Miami hasn’t amounted to much other than disappointment, and unfortunately home runs hit out of the stadium alone won’t amount to much success.

So while many wondered who would succeed Redmond, some in the media were getting tips that Bartolo Colon would hit a home run before guessing who would take over as Marlins manager.

Ultimately, the baseball world was left incredulous at the announcement that General Manager Dan Jennings would take over managing duties.

Jennings has never coached in the big leagues, nor in the minors. His experience amounts to four years of coaching at Davidson High School in the ‘80s. He has also never played in a major league game.

In a sense, this is an extremely Marlins-esque move. The organization hasn’t exactly had a stable, successful manager for some time, and this is as perplexing a move as we’ve ever seen them make.

One manager in the last 22 seasons has had a winning tenure in Miami.

One manager in the last 22 seasons has had a winning tenure in Miami.

It’s tough to see the pros of this move from owner Jeffrey Loria, and certain figures around the sport haven’t exactly endorsed the move. The only thing I can think of is that Loria and Marlins brass believe Jennings has the ability to instill an enduring culture in the Marlins clubhouse, one set on winning at all cost and utilizing the talent that the club knows they have.

jennings

Jennings certainly knows they have it. After all, he crafted this team. Maybe he knows them better than they know themselves. And if not, if the experiment turns out to be a bust, then it isn’t like the Marlins’ championship window is closing.

Heck, it hasn’t even fully opened. Maybe Jennings will be able to show his squad how beautiful it can be outside their ongoing nightmare of underperforming, because right now it’s a storm.

 

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.

 

 

The Warning Track – Week 6

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. 

 

A Blockbuster in the Making?

For a couple years the Colorado Rockies have tempted 29 other clubs by dangling their star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki like a carrot for one or two or ten young guys (because let’s face it, Tulo is worth it), only to snatch it back in the hopes that their team might one year get out of the basement of the NL West.

Well, in 2015 Tulowitzki is 30 years old and the Rockies continue to be unforgiving to their fans, already nine and a half games back of the Dodgers in their division and losers of 9 of their last 10. .

So, naturally, Tulowitzki came close to taking matters into his own hands and getting the rumor train a-chugging with reports that he was considering asking the organization he has been with his whole career for a trade, only to forego/delay the move.

It all seems pretty inevitable. Tulowitzki is one of the premier shortshops in the majors, and even with his susceptibility to injury – he failed to play in 100 games in two of the last three seasons – he is still a considerable upgrade at the position for several contenders, including the Mets and Mariners, as someone who averages 29 home runs and 101 RBI over a full season.

But all that production in Colorado has been made moot by Rockie pitching, among the league’s worst in recenty years. It’s no different this year with their 5.30 team ERA, the worst in baseball by over half a run. It would be a win-win situation for Colorado and a potential trade partner if they got Tulo’s worth in young pitching with potential as part of a complete rebuild.

And Colorado wouldn’t be surrendering all of its offensive firepower. Player like Nolan Arenado (.291 avg., six home runs, 17 RBI), Charlie Blackmon (.298 average, five home runs, 14 RBI), and Corey Dickerson (.315 average, five home runs, 15 RBI), all aged 28 or under, have done just as much, if not more, than Tulowitzki (.284 average, 2 home runs, 11 RBI) this season.

As a result, for the price of someone hungry to play in October, the Rockies would ask for pitching, pitching, and more pitching, especially when their top two prospects, Jon Gray (7.75 ERA in 33.2 innings) and Eddie Butler (4.24 ERA in 34.0 innings), aren’t exactly tearing it up in the minors.

If another organization was willing to pay that price, Tulo could play this October – something every baseball fans wants to see – and the Rockies could be two or three years away from (finally) winning games on a consistent basis.

Wouldn’t that be a sight to see?

 

Power Rankings

The Cardinals stay strong despite losing their ace, and the Dodgers are giving them a run for their money as the best team in the National League. The AL Central is becoming a fun race to watch, with the Royals, Tigers and surprising Twins all within three games of each other. And a couple of teams make their Fab Five debut thanks to some offensive firepower.

 

Fab Five

1. St. Louis Cardinals (24-12, 1st in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 1

An NL-best bullpen (1.71 ERA) and rising offensive attack (5.3 runs over the last ten games) have helped the Redbirds overcome some shaky starts by Adam Wainwright’s (temporary?) replacement Tyler Lyons and Carlos Martinez, who after giving up five earned runs through his first five starts to the season, has given up seven in each of his last two start to inflate his ERA.

The Cards are owners of the second best run differential in baseball at +51, and a weekend series with the Detroit Tigers (21-14) will play a big part in legitimizing them as the best all-around team in baseball, or a club whose easy early schedule plays into their MLB-best record.

 

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (23-12, 1st in the NL West)

Ranking two weeks ago: 5

A 15-4 home record and MLB-best +61 run differential has helped to compensate for a 7-8 road record, as well as an offense that has scored the most runs in baseball (178), along with leading the bigs in home runs (53), on –base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.485), on-plus-slugging percentage (.837) and walks (138).

Upcoming series’ with the Padres, Braves and Cardinals should test a Dodgers club that hasn’t yet reached its full potential with a subpar Kershaw (1-2, 4.26 ERA through seven starts).

 

3. Kansas City Royals (23-13, 1st in the AL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: 2

One of only two teams in baseball (St. Louis) whose longest losing streak was two, the Royals took two of three from Detroit, hot on their heels in the Central, to whom they lost an earlier series. They then went on to split a 4-game series with the Rangers. KC is top five in runs scored as well as team ERA, and they’ve shown that they can win without getting physical with their opponents.

 

4. Washington Nationals (20-17, 2nd in the NL East)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

The team most everyone has pegged to win the World Series has gotten hot as of late, winning 5 of their last 7 and going 7-3 in their last 10 overall. And they’re doing it not with their pitching, which has allowed at least 6 runs four times in the last week, but by the leadership of Bryce Harper, who has burst into the MVP discussion, hitting seven homers in 9 games, with five of those being multi-hit performances. He’s raised his average from .256 to .303 over the last two weeks.

 

5. Chicago Cubs (21-15, 2nd in the NL Central)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

Welcome to relative consistency, Cubbies.

After losing two of three to the white flag-waving Brewers last weekend, Chicago came back home and cooled off a hot New York Mets team by sweeping all four games, all but one of them being one-run affairs. That’s important if Chicago wants to make any noise in September in October; games like Wednesday’s comeback from being down 5-1 early to win 6-5 will give some experience to Chicago’s youngsters who have yet to experience October.

And speaking of youngsters, Kris Bryant has officially arrived. After a couple weeks of homer-less baseball, he’s hit four in seven games, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

Ace Jon Lester has also settled in, giving up only four runs over his last three starts (15 in his first four) to drop his ERA to just over 4.

 

Flawed Five

1. Milwaukee Brewers (13-23, last in the NL Central)

Telling statistics: 27th team ERA in MLB (4.49), NL-worst .228 team batting average, NL-worst 262 hits (7.5/game)1 dismissed manager

2. Colorado Rockies (12-20, last in NL West)

Telling statistics: 27th in MLB in runs scored (121, 3.9/game), MLB-worst 61 walks (1.9/game), MLB-worst 5.29 ERA, MLB-worst .287 batting average against, NL-worst 26 runs scored in 7-8-9th innings

3. Oakland Athletics (13-24, last in the AL West)

Telling stats: MLB-worst 36 errors (1/game), AL-worst 4.98 bullpen ERA, 27th in MLB in batting average against left-handers (.206)

4. Cleveland Indians (13-21, last in AL Central)

Telling stats: 13th in AL in team ERA (4.49), 13th in AL in batting average against (.267), 13th in AL in runs scored in 7-8-9th innings (38)

5. Philadelphia Phillies (14-23, last in NL East)

Telling stats: MLB-worst 103 runs scored, MLB-worst 19 home runs, 26th in MLB in batting average (.232), 14th in NL in starter ERA (4.85), NL-worst 11.89 ERA with runners in scoring position and two outs, 

 

 

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.

 

 

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 3

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. 

 

Why ya gotta be so rude?

Early in the week, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price continued a recent trend by sports figures of questioning media methods and the overall importance of sports journalists.

He didn’t exactly take the Marshawn Lynch route, either. Price went on a red-hot (ha) profanity laden rant in which he used “f***” 77 times during a cringeworthy criticism of a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer who was just doing his job, reporting that catcher Devin Mesoraco was unavailable for last Sunday’s game due to injury.

But Price didn’t see it that way. Apparently he’s stuck in the 60s because he confronts the reporter, C. Trent Rosecrans, as if he were a Cold War spy trying to infiltrate the Reds organization for his own nefarious means.

It made for sensational, if not entertaining, news on Monday; a byproduct no doubt of the Reds’ early season struggles – they were coming off a sweep at the hands of St. Louis at the time of the all-time classic rant. It seemed like it was going to follow a familiar script – Price goes off on a victim unjustly and unjustifiably, it makes the rounds on social media, late-night shows crack jokes about it, and Price apologizes the next morning, saying he didn’t mean a word.

It pretty much went that way on Tuesday, except for one thing.

So even after taking a full day to cool off, Price takes us deep into the inner workings of his mind to reveal that he doesn’t understand the basic duty of journalism and its primary loyalties: the truth and the public.

And yes, Mr. Price, that includes “sniff[ing] out every f***ing thing about the Reds and f***ing put[ting] it out there for every other f***ing guy to hear.” Lesson one: that is essence of a journalist’s job.

You’re right; it may not benefit your team, but you’ve got to understand that you’re not the only ones suffering at the torment and unspeakably evil methods of local journalism. Every other professional sports team goes through the exact same thing, and members of those teams understand – I hope – their relationship with reporters and how it must be conducted.

And no, as a matter of fact, whatever Mr. Rosecrans chooses to write and publish does not have to benefit the Reds as you so passionately believe it should. That is not real journalism, that is censorship.

This is baseball, not warfare (well okay, maybe, of a much different kind). Your argument questioning the media’s decision-making on what and what not to write is like Mr. Rosecrans demanding why the Reds aren’t playing during a rain delay because he’d have no story to write.

 

Bryan Price has a couple things to learn when it comes to contributing to local journalism.

Bryan Price has a couple things to learn when it comes to contributing to local journalism.

I’ll cut you the smallest sliver of slack since this is your first year as a manager and, thus, you are in a fairly unfamiliar role. But I suggest you get used to reporters “f***ing blowing it all over the f***ing place” because, win or loss, Spring Training or World Series, that is precisely what they make a living off of.

So be clear on your role, Mr. Price, and the role of reporters like Mr. Rosecrans. He was doing his job just like he was supposed to. You work in a fairly public industry that yields news on a daily basis. Refusing to contribute to it would be neglecting your job as leader of a major league ballclub.

This isn’t “f***ing b*******”, Mr. Price. This is 2015. Get with it.

 

The Kansas City Brawlers

Something interesting has been happening with the Royals lately.

They’ve shown a keen interest in not only winning games this year – they are RECORD – but also making sure they don’t complete nine innings without confronting the opponent in some ways more physical than the unwritten but universal law of baseball dictates.

After getting through a tense series with the Athletics last weekend that feature a couple of ejections and hit batters, the Royals, “led” by Yordano Ventura, once again set off some fireworks against the White Sox this week, leading to some big name players being booted out.

Maybe the MLB’s newfound fastidiousness is getting to them.

This is every baseball fan’s guilty pleasure. In a sport that has been termed “limited-contact” as opposed to rough-and-tumble games in football and basketball, most fans secretly welcome the chance to see some extracurricular activity out of the diamond. I’ll admit it, I do.

C’mon, when have you ever missed a baseball bout and were sorry that you weren’t there to witness it?

But the Royals are taking that to a whole other level, seemingly taking their frustration over a World Series loss out on other teams. Just two weeks into the season they have a culture surrounding them, like a fight between the Royals and their opponent is something to be expected.

And why shouldn’t they be labeled that way? So what if they get on the league’s bad side for having a fire more brightly lit than some other teams? It never leads to any travesty, apart from some bruises on hitters and a couple of ejections and slaps on the wrist.

Whatever motivates the Royals, even if that means the bullpens come rushing in as umpires try to break up a scuffle, I say go for it. Because I’ll be damned if these Kansas City Brawlers and their methods of conducting themselves on the field don’t intimidate future opponents at least a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong. Baseball as a sport shouldn’t become more prone or tolerant of fights occurring regularly. That would ruin the nature of the sport itself.

But i’ll be damned if I don’t respect the Royals a little more than I did two weeks ago. They’ve got the best record in the American League. Why change that culture?

I mean, unless this kind of stuff happens as a result.

 

 

 

Slow Starts or Scarred Seasons?

It’s still the beginning of the season, which means pitcher’s arms are fresh and they’re dominating the competition.

At least, some pitchers are.

Some hurlers that have started out 2015 as expected – Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Sonny Gray and virtually the entire St. Louis Cardinals staff – are tearing up the league, a somewhat traditional way to kick off the baseball calendar. They’re on a level all their own.

Then there’s a middle tier of pitchers who have uncharacteristically been jumped on by opposing batters in major ways, digging holes for their clubs early in games.

That group includes the likes of CC Sabathia, Madison Bumgarner, and reigning Best Player On The Face Of The Planet Clayton Kershaw, who has been almost anything but this season. Their ERAs – between 4.00 and teetering on 6.00 – aren’t quite inflated to disaster but they are scary statistics nonetheless.

Those three players in particular raise different levels of concern.

Sabathia, who actually dropped his ERA by more than a full run with a good last outing against the hot-hitting Tigers, has been prone to struggle recently. He hasn’t been a consistent ace since 2011, when he was a Cy Young candidate, and most of his starts are an extreme hit or miss. So maybe his 14 years in the bigs have finally caught up to him, and his age – 34 – is a telling sign that he may be done.

Note: As i’m editing The Warning Track, Girardi is taking out Sabathia after giving up six runs and nine hits (three homers) against the Mets. Ouch. 

Bumgarner’s a different story – the guy’s ten years younger for starters. He’s pitching to the tune of a 4.63 ERA thus far, way below what we’ve come to expect after consecutive season of sub-3.00, and even more so when you take into account his worst season ERA is an average 3.37 from 2012.

bumgarner sads

However, Bumgarner’s slow start may be more cause for concern than with other pitchers. His struggles thus far are coming at the cost of the Giant’s World Series run last October, in which Bumgarner reached legendary status, due to his pitching an astronomical 52.2 innings, the most in any single postseason in history. There were concerns in the offseason about if his usage in October amounted to overusage, resulting in a down year this season. Thus far, it looks like that may just be the case.

Kershaw presents the most puzzling circumstance of all. He’s young, he barely pitched in October when St. Louis knocked out the Dodgers, and, most importantly, he’s Clayton f***ing Kershaw, to use Brian Price’s language.

Maybe it’s tough for Kershaw to keep improving after having sub-2.00 ERAs each of the last two seasons, but Kershaw simply has not resembled the person immortal deity who has won three of the last four National League Cy Youngs.

He’s failed to get through 7 innings in each of his starts this year, and though his strikeout numbers are there – 9, 5, 12, and 9 through four starts – he also has yet to not allow an earned run. As picky as that is, we know Kershaw is capable of it.

But the most telling stat from Kershaw’s early-season sluggishness? In an April 12th game against the Diamondbacks, he gave up ten hits. He never gave up ten hits at any point last season.

Now we get to the bottom tier, the established veterans and supposed aces who have resembled anything but in the early going. This group includes the likes of Jon Lester and Kyle Lohse, off to some of the most disappointing starts of any player in baseball.

Lester, signed by the Cubs in the offseason to be their ace as they began their long-awaited crusade to October, boasts sports an inflated 6.23 ERA through four starts, giving up at least three runs in each start. He has his moss Lester-esque game in his last start against the Reds on Friday, in which he set a season high in strikeouts (10) and looking fairly comfortable for the first time this season.

Plus, who can argue with how awesome this was?

And maybe the tides really are changing for the new Cubbie. Lester’s Spring Training was cut short due to his experiencing some dead arm, so perhaps his first couple starts were just an extension of getting fully ready for the the rest of the season. One thing’s for sure: If the Cubs want any chance of reaching the postseason in 2015, they’re going to need Lester to be at his best.

Journeyman Kyle Lohse has had a similar script through his first four games. After three straight starts of giving up at least four runs in a less-than-mediocre start to 2015, he finally broke through on Thursday, allowing only two earned runs in seven innings of work to bring his ERA under 10.00 and snap a prolonged losing streak for the Brew Crew. Only time will tell if the consistent Lohse is here to stay.

In an era of pitching dominance, it’s unusual to see so many superstar hurlers struggle against offenses, especially in the National League. Seeing when they break out of their slumps – if they break out of their slumps – will be an interesting storyline to examine over the next few weeks.

 

 

Reunited, but will it feel so good?

In the latest chapter of one of the more fascinating off-field stories of 2015 – albeit for all the wrong reasons – the Angels and Rangers, two teams trending in opposite directions, have agreed on a deal that would send troubled outfielder Josh Hamilton back to Texas, his home from 2008 to 2012.

Getting back with your ex is rarely a great idea, especially when the breakup wasn’t so smooth.

But once in a while, you realize that your life has become so dull that you need to inject yourself with some excitement that has the potential to turn into a better relationship than you had before.

And that’s what the Rangers are betting on. They’re in some bumpy waters for the second straight year, due in no small part to being seemingly cursed with endless injuries. There really isn’t very much team chemistry or momentum that Hamilton, whose past ghosts came back to haunt him in the form of a drug relapse in the offseason, could distort.

Even better for Texas: of the five-year, $125 million that the Angels singed him for in 2012, the Rangers will only be expected to pay around $7 million. Not bad for a former MVP who averages 32 homers a season. It’s virtually a steal for the Rangers, should Hamilton get his life back on track, and his former teammates have said they will do all they can to help him do so. 

This deal is about as win-win as deals go. The Angels, who had a productive but relatively average season from Hamilton in 2013 (he missed half of 2014 with injury), are gunning for the World Series, and they can’t have Hamilton, a walking distraction, taking their mind off of October for one second.

They wouldn’t have made the move if they weren’t content with his replacements, and they already have a couple of in-house options for left field. Matt Joyce, acquired in the offseason, is no doubt a dropoff from what Hamilton provided – his career year in 2011 yielded 19 longballs and 75 RBI to go along with a .277 average – but they also have Grant Green, a career .309 hitter in the minor leagues, waiting in the wings.

As far as what Hamilton brings (back) to the Rangers, he is an astronomical upgrade over Jake Smolinski and Carlos Peguero, who have combined for one home run and four RBI. And once the team gets healthy – because they have to, eventually – and a couple of their stars like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre get things rolling and playing like the stars that all of major league baseball knows they are, the Rangers might just find that Hamilton is, ironically, the piece they’ve been missing since he left.

As far as reconciling with your ex? Well, we’ll just have to see the kind of reception the fans give him.

 

Other thoughts from the week

  • A pretty cool thing happened this week
  • https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/590995607315226627
  • The Cardinals rotation, so far, is everything the Nationals were supposed to be, and might still be at some point. But between St. Louis staff and bullpen, they’re on a historic pace.
  • The NL West is already contentious, with the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies all at ten wins. With a potentially surprising club in the Diamondbacks looming at 8-8, that division might just be the most exciting in baseball.
  • The Cubs are hanging in there early in the season, 9-7 and in second place in the NL Central. How long can they keep it up?
  • And WHEN will Kris Bryant hit his first home run??
  • Dusty Baker, last with the Reds, is reportedly yearning to manage again. The Miami Marlins’ Mike Redmond is reportedly on the hot seat. Good timing?
  • Snow in a regular season baseball game? Climate change is real, people.

Have a great week, baseball fans. Let’s see if A-Rod can hit two more.

 

 

 

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.