October 2012

Does a Great 2012 Clear Ryan Braun’s Name?

The biggest offseason story last year not involving trades or free agency was clearly the controversy surrounding the positive test for performance-enhancing drugs of National League MVP Ryan Braun.  The Milwaukee Brewers star was immediately suspended 50 games and he quickly appealed the punishment.   The test that nailed the slugger showed a very high amount of testosterone although the substance detected was not from a steroid or a drug but was indeed prohibited.  A second test later revealed normal levels of testosterone.  Confusion reigned for the remainder of the Winter.  Finally, in February 2012 an arbitration panel (by a 2-1 vote) overruled the suspension and allowed Braun to play in the regular season starting from Opening Day.  It seemed as though Braun got off on a technicality as the panel found the process by which the sample was handled was wrong.  The test was taken on a Saturday and instead of being stored in a refrigerator, it was left in a Tupperware box for two days before being sent in for testing.

Ryan Braun hopes to smile more this offseason than the previous one. Image: plushdamentals.mlblogs.com

With all of this out in the public, how would Braun fare in 2012?  Would he be given a pass due to the overturned suspension?  Were his numbers legitimate?  Was he really an MVP?  How would he do with no Prince Fielder protecting him?  As far as the on field production goes, his 2012 numbers were strikingly similar to his 2011 output.  After a slow start in which he clearly was pressing, Braun went on to have a tremendous season.  He hit 41 home runs this season, eight more than 2011 and drove in 112; in 2011 he knocked in 111 runs.  Slugging (.595 in 2012, .597 in 2011) and OPS (.987 in 2012 and .994 in 2011) were identical and the batting average (.319 this year, .332 last year) was off slightly.  Aramis Ramirez was also able to pick up the slack upon Fielder’s departure clubbing 27 homers and driving in 105.  The Brewers also were down as a team although a furious finish allowed them to post back-to-back winning seasons for only the second time in 20 years.

Off the field, the jury is still out on getting his reputation back.  According this article in the New York Times, fans heckle Braun in every ballpark.  I am sure even if there was no question of his innocence, he still would be subjected to some sort of derogatory treatment.  Clearly, if all of Braun’s tests since last year have come back negative then there are fewer doubts about his ability on the field.  Will he be able to vindicate himself as times goes on?  It is tough to tell since he is the only player to successfully challenge a positive test.  Fairly or unfairly, there will always be a stigma attached to Ryan Braun.  Maybe after he retires, he will open up about what really happened.  Until then, it would be reasonable to harbor a small amount of suspicion while enjoying his tremendous feats on the field.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Expect Big Things in 2013 From the San Diego Padres

So the Major League Baseball season ended about 48 hours ago. Big Deal. It is never too early to look ahead. For baseball fans like you and me, the offseason wheeling and dealing is just as fun as watching the games and their highlights.  So here goes the first prediction for the 2013 season.

Watch out for the San Diego Padres.

Expect Chase Headley to repeat this scene many times in 2013. Image: http://www.cbssports.com

OK, so you look at the final 2012 standings and see the team finished 76-86, fourth place in the National League West.  Plus, you know that this team has not won a playoff series since 1998.  You would be missing some important details about the Friars.  Their record was 17-35 on May 31st; from that point on they were 59-51, including 18-10 in August.  As a blogger for the Arizona Diamondbacks, they were more than a nuisance; the Pads have some really good young players.  San Diego will need all of them as their division boasts the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, the big money Los Angeles Dodger$ and the aforementioned D’Backs.

If you haven’t heard the name Chase Headley get used to hearing about him.  All he did was establish himself as one of the best if not the best third basemen in the National League batting .286 and leading all NL 3B’s in home runs with 31 and RBI’s with 115.  All of these numbers came with him playing in notoriously pitcher-friendly Petco Park, which is scheduled to have its fences moved in next year.  First baseman Yonder Alonso excelled during his first full season in San Diego and will be helped by the shorter dimensions.  Turning 26 in April, expect him to put up more than the nine homers he hit in 2012.  Catcher will belong to Nick Hundley or Yasmani Grandal, a rookie last year who homered four times in his first six at-bats, including both sides of the plate in the same game.  Two-thirds of the outfield is set with Carlos Quentin in left field and Cameron Maybin in center.  Quinten, when healthy, is a force as he proved with 16 HR’s in only 284 at-bats.  Maybin is a highlight reel every night and he too, will benefit from the move of the fences.  He also hit one of the longest home runs in 2012.

As for the pitching,  I kept telling friends that play fantasy baseball that if Clayton Richard was available, they should grab him.  Vastly underrated because of where he plays, he has registered two 14 win seasons on teams that have finished below .500.  Last season, the ERA was a little on the high side at 3.99 but he did throw almost 220 innings.  He is not a bona fide ace but that does not mean he will not be a consistent 15 game winner the next five years or so.  People forget that Edinson Volquez started the All Star Game for the National League in 2008 mainly because an arm injury derailed his career shortly after that season.  He won 11 games last season and may not reach the heights that seemed possible five years ago.  Still he has good stuff as his 176 strikeouts in 188 inning can attest.  The bullpen will be anchored by Huston Street who saved 23 games in 24 opportunities last season with a tidy 1.85 ERA.  Injury is always a concern for Street who did notch his 200th career save on September 23rd.  Fortuantely, the Padres also have Luke Gregerson coming back in case Street falters.  The righty pitched in 77 games and had nine saves in Street’s absence to ago along with a 2.39 ERA.

These will not be the same old Padres.  The nucleus is promosing and unlike in the past, they seem willing to spend money.  Extensions last season were given to Qunetin, Maybin and Street.  Headley is arbitration-eligible so don’t be surprised if the team does try to avoid that by giving him a long-term deal.  Starting pitching is a must and there aren’t many pitching parks better than Petco.  I am not prediciting a division title for the team, just a vast improvement over their 76 wins a year ago.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Bruce Bochy is on the Doorstep of the Hall of Fame

Last night, the San Francisco Giants wrapped up their second World Series title in the last three seasons by taking Game 4 4-3 in 10 innings, sweeping the Detroit Tigers.  This was Manger Bruce Bochy’s  third Series appearance having piloted the Giants in 2010 to victory and also taking the San Diego Padres in 1998 where they were swept by the record-setting New York Yankees.  Bochy joins a handful of managers who have either won multiple World Series or taken two different clubs to the Fall Classic.  All of which leads me to believe that Bochy is pretty close to entering the Hall of Fame for his managerial accomplishments.

Another World Series win would turn that frown upside down. Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Now how could I say this about a guy whose lifetime mark is 10 games over .500?  Easily.  Just consider some of the circumstances surrounding his success.  Before Bochy became manager of the Padres in 1995, that team made the playoffs exactly once in their 26-year history.  Bochy quadrupled that number by winning division titles in 1996, 1998, 2005 and 2006, with the team’s second pennant in history coming in ’98.  In 2007, Bochy headed up the coast to San Francisco to a team that had not won it all since moving West in 1958.  All he has done is win two titles and with the way General Manager Brian Sabean (himself a future candidate for Cooperstown) makes personnel decisions, there will be ample opportunities for more.  He is the 22nd manager to win more than one title; 13 of them made it to the Hall of Fame with Joe Torre and Tony LaRussa sure to be enshrined as well.   Bochy is also one of only 13 managers to have led two different clubs to World Series appearances.

One more World Series victory would punch Bruce Bochy’s ticket to Cooperstown.  Short of that, if he reaches the 2,000 win plateau (he has 1,454) that would make a strong case for induction.  At 57, Bochy could easily manages another 7-10 years if he so chooses.  For now, he should be recognized as one of the best, if not the best Field Boss in the game.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

3 Memorable But Overlooked Plays from Past World Series

The 107th World Series opened tonight in San Francisco as the Giants take on the Detroit Tigers.   Whether this series is done in a flash in four games or stretches out to a seven game classic, there will be some plays that will be memorable for quite some time.  There will be others that are just as important but may get overlooked particularly if we have a Game 6 like last year.  Here are highlights that may be well-known but are not considered the high point of either the game or the Series in which it took place.

George Foster‘s catch and throw-Game 6 1975

This will always be known as the game in which Carlton Fisk ended the game in the 12th inning with a memorable home run giving Boston a 7-6 victory over the Reds to force a Game 7.  One of the subplots was Bernie Carbo‘s 8th inning pinch hit, three-run homer to tie the game at 6.   However, it was Foster’s catch in left field that added to the legend of this contest.  The Sox loaded the bases in the bottom of the 9th and no one out.  Fred Lynn lifted a flyball, not deep but toward the wall in foul territory.  Foster made the catch and then gunned down Denny Doyle trying to tag up and win the game.  Cincy’s Will McEnaney then retired Rico Petrocelli and it was off to extra innings.  You can see the play at about the 2.45 mark.

Joe Ferguson‘s catch and throw-Game 1 1974

About the only memorable moment from this World Series is that the Oakland A’s beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 games to 1 to win their third consecutive title.  This clip is from Game 1 of that series in which the A’s won 3-2 and took place in the top of the 8th inning.  In fact, the runner Sal Bando, plated the deciding run by reaching on throwing error and advancing to third.  Ferguson made the catch in right field and threw a missile to catcher Steve Yeager.

Eric Davis‘s home run-Game 1 1990

The A’s had advanced to their third straight AL Championship against the upstart Reds and their “Nasty Boys” bullpen.  Cincinnati pulled off one of the biggest shockers in baseball history by sweeping the mighty A’s.  This two run home run by Eric Davis in the first inning set the tone for the Reds’ romp.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

In a Land of Tigers and Giants, I’ll Take San Francisco

The 2012 World Series is finally here. Glad that we get to see the best two teams fight it out to determine a champion but sad that the time is short in the Major League Baseball season. We get the San Francisco Giants, 2010 World Champions against the Detroit Tigers who last won it all in 1984.  Two historic franchises, one big battle for diamond supremacy.  Stars and MVP candidates on both sides, past Cy Young winners hoping for one or two final big outings in 2012.  One last hurrah before the action on the field hibernates for the Winter.

The San Francisco Giants celebrate winning the 2010 World Series.
Expect a similar picture in 2012. Image: http://www.katu.com

Who has the edge in this year’s Fall Classic?  Well, the Tigers come in having not played since last Thursday so their pitching staff is lined up exactly how they want it.  Then again, almost a week off this late in the season can make a hot team go cold and rusty.  The Giants have certainly made their fans sweat by being down 2-0 and 3-1 in both of their series only to come roaring back from the brink of elimination.   Some might say the team may have already played their best baseball and is spent.  Detroit has the best player in Miguel Cabrera and the best pitcher in Justin Verlander.  San Francisco returns many of the same important players that won it two years ago.

So who wins?  My prediction in March and then at the beginning of this postseason was the Texas Rangers.  I also said if it was not Texas, it would be whomever won the National League pennant.  I firmly believe that the best four or five teams in the National League are better as a whole than the four or five best American League teams.  Clubs like the Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds are better and mentally tougher than their AL counterparts.  In case you haven’t noticed, the National League has won three of the last four World Series and the last three All-Star Games.  It is commendable that the Tigers, who played below expectations for most of the season got hot late and found themselves at destiny’s doorstep.  However, the Giants have overcome so much more including the suspension of Melky Cabrera, coming back in round one against the 96 win Reds and ending the reigning champion Cardinals’ dream of a repeat.   San Fran will win this with much less drama.  Giants in 6.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Why Everyone Needs to Relax About the New York Yankees

Did I miss something?

Weren’t the New York Yankees one of the final four teams playing this year in Major League Baseball?   I’m not so sure, the so-called smartest fans in baseball (along with the media) seem to be leading me astray.  To be in New York the last five days you would think the Yanks lost 122 games and tied the other 40.  I get it, the hitting was historically bad against the Detroit Tigers.  To rehash the numbers that have been spouted endlessly recently would be a waste of my time and yours.  So now that everyone has started to exhale and maybe taken a couple of sedatives, here are some helpful insights from your favorite baseball blogger to help bring you back to reality.

The Yankees actually went farther in 2012 than they did in 2011.

Is this the logo of the New York Yankees or the Washington Generals? New York fans have me confused. Image: http://www.90feetofperfection.com

OOHH, I know, such groundbreaking stuff.  But it’s true.  You can look it up.  They lost the ALDS in 2011 to those (almost) same Tigers in five games.  So the Bronx Bombers had a more successful season this year than last and all I hear about is that they just lost 9 out of 10 to the Bridgeport Bluefish.    So once all of the fans around baseball (except those from Detroit, St. Louis and San Francisco) quit their snickering and glee from the Yanks’ dreadful ending, there is this cold, hard fact:  they would have traded places with Yankee fans in a second.  They would have loved to seen their own teams in that exact same spot because that would have meant a successful season.  Which brings me to the next point.

The Yankees had the best record in the American League, winning 95 games despite an array of injuries.  So now, people want this team dismantled by cutting and trading players as if this was a bad week of Fantasy Football.  Folks, you have to maintain excellence over the course of a 162 game regular season just to make it to the postseason.  So when you ask not to re-sign Nick Swisher, not pick up Curtis Granderson’s option and trade Alex Rodriguez (because hey that hasn’t been proposed 10,001 times) do you really have an idea what that means?  It means that while the playoffs are not a lock if you maintain the status quo, they may become even more remote by blowing up the team because now you are dealing with the unknown.  Do you suppose you snap your fingers, and BAM, here comes 100 wins?  So you want to dump Russell Martin and his .211 batting average?  Find a catcher who has experience handling almost 20 different pitchers in one season and is a rock behind the plate.  Go scan the waiver wire and let me know how that works out. Make all those changes and if the team goes .500, then what?  Fire Joe Girardi?  Trade Derek Jeter?  Exhume George Steinbrenner’s body?

2013 is not the year to make whole sale changes to the Yankees.  That will happen in 2014 when the self-imposed $189 million dollar cap will begin to take effect.  It makes sense to give this group one more shot at getting to the World Series.  It won’t be nearly as bad next postseason.  Logically speaking,  in 2011 it was the ALDS, in 2012, it was the ALCS.  So that means in 2013 it will be the World Series.  Then again, logic is not a word we would associate with most New York baseball fans.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Rays’ Rodney, Giants’ Posey Win Comeback Player of the Year Awards

Major League Baseball announced Friday that Tampa Bay Rays’ Closer Fernando Rodney and San Francisco Giants Catcher Buster Posey won their respective league’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.  The two took extremely different paths to the accolade that is bestowed upon them.

Fernando Rodney shot many imaginary arrows on his way to winning the AL Comeback Player of the Year. Image: hardballtalk.nbcsports.com

Rodney had a throughly mediocre 2011 with the Los Angeles Angels.  He appeared in only 39 games to the tune of a 4.50 ERA.  That’s not the ugly portion of his line.  In 32 innings, the righty walked an astounding 28 batters and allowed 26 hits.  Although he finished with 37 saves in 2009 for the Detroit Tigers, he compiled an ERA of 4.40.  In fact, the previous five seasons before 2012, his lowest ERA was 4.24.  And then like most downtrodden players that go to Tampa, Rodney’s career rebounded in a big way.  The 48 saves, second in the AL told only part of the story.  He appeared in 76 games, finishing 65 of them with get this, an ERA of 0.60. That is the lowest ERA in baseball history by a reliever.  About the only not-so-great thing about his year was his arrow shooting after recording the last out of each of his games.  One of those shots will come back to bite him.

Posey, the National League winner, was the 2010 Rookie of the Year as the Giants won the World Series.  On May 25th, 2011 he suffered a broken ankle during one of the most horrific collisions at home plate you will see.  There were questions about whether or not he would be the same player, let alone handle the demanding position of Catcher.  Well, all the third-year player did was capture the batting title by hitting .336 to go along with 24 home runs and 103 RBI’s and is considered the front-runner for the MVP Award.  In the deciding game of this year’s NLDS vs. the Cincinnati Reds, Posey clubbed a grand slam to lead the Giants to the NLCS.  This 25-year-old star caught an amazing 114 games behind the dish, much more than anyone could possibly expect.  There is one other thing you should know about him.  He will have a career that mirrors that of Derek Jeter’s.  He may not play as long because of his position but he will be every bit the performer.   Posey is already a leader and he is every bit as clutch as the long-time New York Yankee.  Too soon to make such a strong statement?  A .300 World Series average, a ROY Award and a possible league MVP says differently.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondback at http://venomstrikes.com

Dave Stewart: October Fixture

Since we are knee-deep in postseason play, it is time for us to celebrate a player who stood out during Major League Baseball’s biggest stages.  At face value, his  career numbers are a little underwhelming. A 168-129 overall regular season record with a 3.95 ERA is not the stuff of legends. However, it was a seven year span from 1987-1993 that Dave Stewart dominated and no more so than when the calendar turned to October.  Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as a catcher in the 1975 draft, Stewart finally stuck with the Dodgers in 1981, pitching in 32 games and registering six saves during LA’s 1981 World Series Championship.  It wasn’t until 1986 when “Smoke” arrived with the Oakland A’s that his dominant period began.

Dave Stewart, one of the best big game pitchers ever. Image: http://www.90feetofperfection.com

When he came to the A’s, Stew was transformed from reliever to starter.  He went 9-5 to close out the ’86 season and went to work on the forkball which would become his signature pitch.  Remarkably, Stewart would win at least 20 games per season over the next four years.  Sicne then, only a handful of pitchers have had even back-to-back 20 win seasons.  It was the playoffs where Dave Stewart excelled, establishing himself as one of the best big game hurlers.  He owns a lifetime 10-6 mark with an excellent 2.77 ERA.  Capturing two LCS MVP awards, one with Oakland in 1990 and the other with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993, Stewart’s lifetime ALCS record is an outstanding 8-0 with a 2.03 ERA.  However, his excellence was not limited to the ALCS.  Smoke was named the 1989 World Series MVP as the A’s won their first Championship in 16 years.  Overall in Fall Classic play, the record is a below average 2-4 but the ERA is a respectable 3.32.   Perhaps the biggest testament to Stew’s toughness and competitiveness, is that in 18 postseason starts, he averaged almost 7 2/3 innings per outing.

They don’t make pitchers like Dave Stewart any more.  He is one of the few and perhaps the only player to win World Series titles with three different teams (1981 Dodgers, 1989 A’s and 1993 Blue Jays).  One other little note about him:  he was 9-1 lifetime against Roger Clemens.  Don’t be deceived by the record.  Dave Stewart is one of the winningest pitchers in our lifetime.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Cincinnati Reds Give Manager Dusty Baker a Two Year Extension

Unfinished business. That is the feeling inside the Cincinnati Reds‘ organization after it was announced the team had given Manager Dusty Baker a two-year extension through the 2014 season.  After leading the Reds to a 97-65 season, second best in baseball, Baker’s club squandered a two games to none lead in the National League Division Series and lost in five games to the San Francisco Giants.  Cincy has won two out of the last three National League Central Division titles but did not advance past the NLDS in either season.  Baker’s extension signals continuity within Management as GM Walt Jocketty’s contract also runs through 2014 and all coaches and trainers expect to be back as well.  Expect some tinkering but no major overhauls as the Reds will enter 2013 as legitimate World Series contenders.

Dusty Baker will be managing the Reds through 2014. Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

The Reds as an organization have unfinished business.  On a personal level, so does Dusty Baker.   His 1,581 victories is second (behind Jim Leyland) for career wins by an active manager, spanning 19 seasons.  The one thing that has eluded Baker is a World Series title as a manager.  He was five outs away in 2002 as the Giants could not hold a three games to two advantage to the Los Angles Angels, losing in seven games.  His fine playing career consisted of eight seasons with the Los Angels Dodgers earning a World Series title in three appearances.  He drove in over 1,000 runs and made two All-star teams.  A Championship as a skipper would cap an outstanding baseball life for one of the game’s best persons.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Derek Jeter’s Injury Dampens the Postseason Mood

This was supposed to be a post about how great both the American and NationaLeague Championship Series will be leading up up to the World Series. The history of the four participants speaks for itself; they have combined for a total of 48 World Series Championships.  Everything was going to resemble the 2003 and 2004 LCS’s from both leagues, all four of them seven game classics.

The next time we see Derek Jeter in uniform, it will be 2013. Image: http://www.coolchaser.com

Derek Jeter’s injury changes all of that.

This is not to say the New York Yankees-Detroit Tigers series won’t be competitve.  It certainly won’t diminish the showdown between the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.  However, it won’t be the same looking at the Yankees and for that matter the rest of this postseason without Jeter.  Think about it, he has played almost as many post season games (158) as there are actual games in the regular season.  Since 1996, the Yankees have made the playoffs every season except for the 2008 campaign.  Derek Jeter has played in every single one of those postgseason games.  It is sort of like Mickey Mantle in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The Yankees were in the World Series just about every year and there was Mantle, the best and most recognized player on the premier team in the sport showing off his game in front of the entire country.  Like Mantle, Jeter has excelled hitting .308 over his playoff career including a robust .321 in Fall Classic play.

So what happens to the Yankees without the Captain?  It will obviously be very difficult for this team to advance particularly since they are down two games to none at the moment.  However, to say they have no chance is not fair to the rest of the guys in that locker room.  This team has overcome numerous injuries to register the best record in the American League.  Stranger things have happened.  But none stranger than not seeing Derek Jeter at Shortstop for the Yankees in the ALCS.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

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