Archive for the ‘ Major League Baseball ’ Category

Carlos Beltran and Other MLB Playoff Thoughts

Sorry for being away for so long.  I was writing for another blog, gradingonthecurve.com previewing the Arizona Fall League players for the ten Western Division teams.  The playoffs are in full swing and we are already down to the final four teams.  Here are some of my observations of what we have seen so far.

Carlos Beltran should go to the Hall of Fame.  Image:  espn.com

Carlos Beltran should go to the Hall of Fame. Image: espn.com

-Last week I had posted on Facebook that Carlos Beltran was on his way to the Hall of Fame. This was before Game 1 of the NLCS in which he drove in all three runs and gunned down A.J. Ellis in the Cardinals’ 3-2, 13 inning victory over the Dodgers.  Including this year’s playoffs, Beltran has 156 postseason at-bats with 16 HR’s, 34 RBI’s 11 steals and a slash line of .327/.442/.712.  But does that guarantee a ticket to Cooperstown?

For his career, Beltran was the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year with the Royals.  He is an eight-time All Star with only one top five finish in the MVP race (2006 with the Mets).  100 RBI seasons are usually a good indicator of production; Beltran has eight of them, the last coming in 2008 although he drove in 97 in 2012.  His career numbers after 16 seasons read like this:  358 HR’s, 1,327 RBI’s, 308 stolen bases and a line of .283/.359/.496.

Personally, I think Beltran deserves to get in.  He has had eight dominant seasons even if the results didn’t show up in the MVP race.  Although his career was cut short due to an injury, the reason why Kirby Puckett is in the Hall of Fame is because he has two World series rings and was the best player on those teams.  Beltran has better overall numbers with no title.  If Beltran gets to the Fall Classic, he knocks on the door; if the Cardinals win, the door swings open.

-Since Billy Beane became the general manager in 1998, the Oakland A’s have made six playoff appearances (five division titles and one wild card) and have gotten to the ALCS only once.   Some may consider this a knock on his record.  I do not.  Getting to the playoffs in baseball is the hardest road to travel in any professional sport.  They should be celebrated for their tremendous success over 162 games not maligned for a failure to advance after five games.   What has made the last two seasons hurt is having the Tigers win the decisive Game 5 in both years at Oakland.  They can thank Justin Verlander for shutting them out two straight seasons in the clinchers.

-Speaking of Verlander and the Tigers, there was no way I would have taken him out after eight innings with a 3-0 lead.  He had allowed only two hits and one walk with ten strikeouts on 111 pitches.  That is domination and to me, you allow your star pitcher to finish the game.  It worked out for Jim Leyland but one could only imagine if the A’s rallied.  I am a firm believer of letting your best starting pitcher close out a tight series, like the Cards did with Adam Wainwright in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Pirates.

-I really don’t have too much of a rooting interest but if I had to pick a team, it would be the Dodgers.  Don Mattingly was my favorite player and I want to see him do well after being almost fired earlier this season.  It is hard to root for them given how I write a blog about the Diamondbacks.   However, I can put personal feelings aside in the hopes that Donnie Baseball, who just missed out on a title as player with the Yankees, can get one as a manager.

-Had Torii Hunter made this catch, he would have become a legend.

My Starting Lineup in 2016

There are so many talented, young players today in Major League Baseball that it is hard to keep track of all of them.  These players are already a lot of fun to watch and rank among the best at their positions at such an early age.  As always, there are many guys at the Minor League level that we will be saying the same thing about in a year or two.  With that in mind, here is my what “dream” Opening Day lineup would be in the year 2016, with the requirement that all of them are 27 and younger that April.  Of course, you come back around that time and laugh at me as I am sure some of these gentlemen will prove me wrong.

What can't Mike Trout do on a baseball field?  Image:  si.com

What can’t Mike Trout do on a baseball field? Image: si.com

1B-Anthony Rizzo-This guy can hit.  The batting average does not reflect it, but there is no doubt that Rizzo’s bat is Major League caliber.  It has been a rough year at times for Rizzo and most of the time for the Chicago Cubs.  He leads the team in home runs and RBI’s and he just turned 24.  Rizzo’s play around the bag at first is not spectacular and I am sure he will address that come Spring Training as there will be no World Baseball Classic.  Although he is hitting .230, you could attribute that to the fact that he is still young and that he plays on a bad team.  I am confident that in three years, he will be among the best players at his position.

2B-Kolten Wong-When evaluating top prospects, it is usually a safe bet that someone from the St. Louis Cardinals will find their way onto any list.  Wong was called up to the Cards in mid-August and has received semi-regular playing time.  Matt Carpenter has had a great season at second for St. Louis but can play in different spots on the field.  Wong, a first round choice in 2011, is clearly the future at that position.  He has good extra base power and does not strike out much.  Wong is a smart defender and has tremendous instincts.  When you draw up the blueprint for a typical Cardinals player, Wong fits the mold perfectly.

3B-Manny Machado-It is amazing that Machado is only 21 and yet feels as though has been with the Baltimore Orioles forever instead of this being his first full season in the Majors.  Machado is living up to the hype that has him being compared to O’s legend Brooks Robinson.  He leads the American League in doubles with 46 and is on pace to hit about .300 with roughly 17 home runs and 80 RBI’s.  His defense is already in another world with his cannon arm and endless range that reminds many people of Brooks’s gems in the 1970 World Series.

SS-Jean Segura-The 22-year old Segura is a shining light in an otherwise dark season for the Milwaukee Brewers.  He leads the National League in stolen bases with 39 and has other solid offensive numbers across the board.  His average has been over .300 all season long and is in the top ten in all of baseball in hits with 165 and triples with 9.  Segura’s game at short is equally outstanding with soft hands and a rifle for an arm.  It is a shame the Brewers have had a lousy year, hindering any chance at serious national recognition for him.  July’s All Star appearance will be the first of many for Segura.

LF-Mike Trout-What accolade hasn’t the 22-year old Trout received in his brief, electric career?  He is simply the most exciting player in the game today, a ridiculous blend of speed, power and defense that, if he stays healthy, will allow him to become one of the game’s all-time greats.  The dreadful season of the Los Angeles Angels has not overshadowed Trout’s spectacular sophomore campaign.  He leads the American League in runs, triples and walks, the latter a sign that he is starting to get the Barry Bonds treatment.  The only question about Trout in this lineup is does he hit first, third or fourth?

CF-Bryce Harper-The production of Harper hasn’t quite lived up to the hype yet.  The people who are disappointed in his Major League career need to remember that he will not turn 21 until October.  His numbers pale in comparison to Trout’s right now but there is no denying that Harper will be a huge star for the next 15 years.  41 home runs and 108 RBI’s before the legal drinking age is quite an accomplishment.  Washington Nationals fans hope his physical style does not force endless trips to the disabled list.  Look for Harper to have an MVP-type season in 2014.

RF-Yasiel Puig-About the only thing that can hold Puig back is himself.  He is a bit of a hothead and moody but one has to understand he just came to this country less than a year ago from Communist Cuba.  Some players adjust here right away, others take time.  Once Puig harnesses his emotions, the Los Angeles Dodgers will have paid a bargain for him.  LA’s season turned around the instant Puig showed up and while he has cooled, he is still batting over .350.  Wait until Hollywood makes a movie about him.

C-Salvador Perez-If you want to see what a leader behind the plate is, look no further than Perez, already a leader on the Kansas City Royals.  He is one of the building blocks in which KC is hoping to build their team around.  Perez made his first All Star appearance this season.   He is almost peerless behind the plate and he has good offensive numbers which will see him finish around .280 with 12 home runs and 70 RBI’s.  These are excellent numbers for a catcher who turned 23 in May.

SP-Matt Moore-This is easily the hardest position to gauge with so many pitchers for just one spot.  I go with Moore, who in his fourth Major League appearance, pitched seven shutout innings for the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the 2011 American League Division Series.  Tampa thought so much of him that he is under their control through 2019.  This season, Moore is 15-3 with a 3.27 ERA.  If David Price leaves as a free agent, Moore will be designated the staff ace.  He appears up to the challenge.

That’s my lineup.  Sorry, no DH’s on this list.

Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @ltj41

I also cover the Arizona Diamondbacks at venomstrikes.com

Don Mattingly Is An Excellent Manager

As you may know, Don Mattingly is my favorite player of all time. When he and Joe Girardi were the two candidates competing to become Joe Torre‘s successor as the manager of the New York Yankees, I had hoped he wouldn’t get the job simply because there would come a time when some front-running, loud-mouthed Yankee fans would complain about the job he was doing if the team was losing. I wouldn’t be able to stomach that fact he would be booed in Yankee Stadium, something that never happened to him during his playing days.

Don Mattingly may get his World Series ring as a manager.  Image:  si.com

Don Mattingly may get his World Series ring as a manager. Image: si.com

Today, Donnie Baseball is the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that has undergone a ridiculous amount of change and emotion since he was named manager in 2011, finally succeeding Torre.  Los Angeles was owned by Frank McCourt at the time, who was embroiled in a  bitter divorce and later filed for bankruptcy.  As you could imagine,  this was not the best of circumstances for a guy in his first year of his first managerial gig.  Somehow, Donnie was able to get LA to finish with a winning record of 82-79.  The following season, the Dodgers started out red-hot and stayed in first place until June 27th, by which time the wheels had fallen off as the team suffered numerous injuries including one to Matt Kemp who was having an all-time Dodger season up to that point.  Still, the team finished 86-76 and with new ownership in the form of Magic Johnson and a gut-busing payroll, 2013 was expected to be the year of Dodger Blue.

It did not start off that way.  The team was beset by injuries early and honestly, looked totally lost.  I saw them play the Arizona Diamondbacks in May and they looked like a Little League team, making silly errors and countless mental mistakes.  They sank to last place, 10 1/2 games off the National League West lead.  It appeared that Donnie was going to be fired by season’s end.  However, the arrival of Yasiel Puig and the return of Hanley Ramirez gave the Dodgers a jolt.  Led by Mattingly’s even-keeled nature the Dodgers roared back, powered by a 42-8 stretch vaulted the Dodgers to first place with a sizeable 10 game lead.  Much of the credit has to be given to Mattingly, who while not fiery, will bench people if they do not play to his standards as Puig and Andre Either have found out.  He also earned much praise from Kemp and Clayton Kershaw the team’s two biggest stars.

As much as I have a dislike for the Dodgers, I feel great for Don Mattingly.  I am not sure I could root for him in the World Series but I would sure love to see him get there.

Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @ltj41 

I also cover the Arizona Diamondbacks at venomstrikes.com

August 26th: What a Date in New York Baseball History

From time to time I enjoy getting material for this blog by looking up what happened in baseball history on a particular date.   Although August 26th only has about two hours left in the day, there are lots of goodies that took place on this date particularly those pertaining to the two New York baseball clubs.  The timing may seem particularly cruel for Mets’ fans considering today’s news regarding Matt Harvey but some of these items are too good not to be mentioned.  So here is a rundown of what took place on this date over the years.  A big thanks goes out to http://www.nationalpastime.com

Classic Bobby V.  Image:  usatoday.com

Classic Bobby V. Image: usatoday.com

 

1962-The Yankees were swept in a five game series by the Baltimore Orioles as Robin Roberts outdueled Whitey Ford 2-1 in a battle of future Hall of Famers.  The Yanks would go on to win the World Series later that season but whoever heard of a team dropping all five games of the rare five game series?

1991-Brien Taylor signed a record-setting $1.55 million contract with the Yankees as the number one pick in the June draft.  Taylor, a 19-year old pitcher from East Carteret High School in Beaufort, North Carolina had his price driven up thanks to suspended owner George Steinbrenner who said earlier, “If they (Yankee management) let him go, they ought to be shot”.  Taylor never pitched a game in the Major Leagues as his career was derailed by a shoulder injury suffered in 1993 while defending his brother in a bar fight.

1993-Vince Coleman was placed on administrative leave by the Mets following his admission that he tossed an M-100 firecracker at fans in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.  As result of Coleman’s recklessness, three people were injured in the July 24th.  It was just the latest in a string of embarrassments for a Mets squad that lost 103 games that season.  The atmosphere around the team was so toxic that the organization decided to enlist several eager college students (including yours truly) to create so a more fan-friendly vibe around Shea Stadium.

1996-The Mets replace Dallas Green as manager with Bobby Valentine.  Bobby V becomes one of the most successful managers in team has had and led the club to back-to-back playoff appearances for the only time in franchise history.  The 2000 team advanced to their fourth World Series in its history where it lost 4 games to 1 to the Yankees.  Valentine had many memorable moments as the skipper, perhaps none more so than the glasses and mustache “outfit” he wore in the dugout following an ejection.

2002-Two Yankees made history in the team’s 10-3 victory over the Texas RangersAlfonso Soriano hit is 31st home run of the season, setting a new club record for second basemen.  He surpassed Joe Gordon‘s mark which was set in 1940.  Derek Jeter became only the third player to score 100 or more runs in his first seven seasons.  He joined Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Earle Combs and will join them one day in Cooperstown.  Also noted about this game:  it was the first one where video was streamed over the Internet and was viewed by 30,000 fans.

2003-It was future Mets trade day as Oliver Perez and Jason Bay were traded by the San Diego Padres to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Brian Giles.  The deal worked out in the Bucs’ favor as Bay would have several productive seasons in Pittsburgh including winning the 2004 National League Rookie of the Year Award.  Perez finished 2004 in the top five in ERA with a nice 2.98 mark.  Unfortunately, this kind of excellence was missing during the duo’s time in New York.

2008-David Wright becomes the first player in Mets’ history to have four 100 RBI seasons.  The euphoria doesn’t last as the Amazins’ blow a 7-0 lead and lose to the Philadelphia Phillies 8-7 in 13 innings.  The victory sent Philly into first place, a half game in front of New York.

Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @ltj41 

I also cover the Arizona Diamondbacks at venomstrikes.com

An Appreciation of Bronson Arroyo

Bronson Arroyo is an accomplished musician.  But that’s not why you are reading this.  You are reading because you must like me and also because this writer has a certain affection for Bronson Arroyo, the pitcher.  Now, he won’t be remembered as one of the all-time greats nor as one of the best hurlers of his generation.  However, while his overall numbers may not jump out at you (130 wins, 120 losses, 4.19 ERA) there is no understating his value for the two teams he has pitched for during the bulk of his Major League career, the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds.

arroyo

For instance, how many pitchers do you know that have thrown 200 innings or more seven out the past eight seasons?  I don’t know the exact number off the top of my head but I would venture to say it is not many.  The one year he didn’t hit the 200 inning mark was 2011 when he “only” threw 199.  In that span, Arroyo started 30 games or more in each of those seasons.  It could have been nine but he fell one short in 2004, the season the Red Sox won the World Series and  the year which he began to prove his worth as a pitcher both starting and relieving.  He has recorded double-digit victories in a season seven times.  As we continue through 2013, Arroyo is on pace for another 30 start, 200 inning, double-digit victory season.  With Cincinnati gunning for another postseason berth, it is worth noting that in his two starts for the Reds in the playoffs (2010 and 2012), he has given up only one earned run 12 1/3 innings.  He may not be on anyone’s list of top-flight pitchers but there is no mistaking the value and durability of Bronson Arroyo.

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This past Tuesday featured a serious brawl between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers.  If you want to see a video of it, click here.  Anyway, after all was said and done, LA’s Zack Greinke who was hit by the pitch in question was seen at first base chatting it up and even smiling with AZ first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.  Some may wonder why the two of them were so friendly such a short time after their respective teams became so heated.  Fans of these teams may also not like the fact that one of their guys is speaking or joking with the “enemy”.

Truthfully, I don’t have a problem with the fraternization of players on the field.  I know that many fans and older players have an issue with it but I find it refreshing that guys that can compete so hard against one another and then are able to turn off the intensity when the time is right.  We see enough fighting in our daily lives from politicians duking it out on issues both locally and nationally as well as the day-to-day reports of shootings, muggings and every other crime that fills up a police blotter.  We always tell kids that sports are just games and attending sporting events is a way to get away from any problems that we may have.  It is nice to see that professional athletes who earn their living trying to beat their opponents into submission can also show a softer side on their field of play.   Talking or joking with the opposition doesn’t make them any less intense or passionate about winning.  It just make them realistic and human. 

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At 23-44, the Houston Astros are headed for another long season.  However, there have been some glimpses of what promises to be better days for the young squad led by first year manager Bo Porter.  Recently, the club swept four games from the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim.  Catcher Jason Castro has put together a nice season with 8 HR’s, 20 RBI’s and a .266 batting average.  Jose Altuve has once again been playing a solid second base and is hitting nearly .300.  1B/DH Chris Carter, despite his high strikeout total has 13 home runs.   Porter has been doing a tremendous job with a club that basically has been ticketed for its third straight 100-loss season. 

The pitching is what has caught my attention.  For such a bad team and playing in hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, two starters have ERA’s under 4.00.  Bud Norris leads the team with 5 wins and a 3.47 ERA and tops out at 95 on the gun.  Jordan Lyles has a 3.48 ERA and dominated the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, fanning 10 over seven innings while not allowing a run.  Lucas Harrell has struggled at times but he still is one of my favorite pitchers because he doesn’t fool around on the mound.  He has given up only one earned run over his last two starts covering a span of 14 innings.   Hopefully, the organization can get number one overall pick Mark Appel signed quickly and possibly see him in Houston by 2014.

The Astros will give some contenders fits as the playoff push begins.  Their goal will be not to lose 100 games and have their young talent to mature at the big league level.  This is a franchise that is heading in the right direction.

  Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

An Appreciation of Baseball Broadcasters

The New York Islanders were eliminated from the NHL playoffs this past weekend.  Now, I realize most of you reading this don’t care or may not even know who the Isles are.  However, their elimination  also marked the end of the hockey season for Howie Rose, their TV play-by-play guy who will now go back full-time to doing play-by-play on the radio for the New York Mets.  To me, Rose is one of the best broadcasters in the business and his call of the game winning goal in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils ranks as one of my favorite  broadcasting moments of my life.  I didn’t listen to it live and even though I am not a Rangers fan at all, there was something about it that will stick with me forever.  Perhaps it was the unbridled joy in Rose’s voice or the simplicity of it (“Matteau!  Matteau!”) that never allows me to get tired of it.

Howie Rose, one of the best in the business.  Image:  nypost.com

Howie Rose, one of the best in the business. Image: nypost.com

In the world of baseball, there are many calls where all I need to hear is one word and I can tell you all there is to know about that particular game and what exactly the call was about.  For instance, when I hear a high-pitched scream of “Safe!”,  I know right away it is Sean McDonough on the last play of the 1992 National League Championship Series.  Sid Bream barely beat Barry Bonds‘s throw home as the Atlanta Braves , trailing 2-0 entering the bottom of the ninth inning, rallied to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 and punch their ticket to a second consecutive World Series. The following year, right after the Toronto Blue Jays’  Joe Carter ended the 1993 World Series with a three-run home run , McDonough’s line, “Touch ‘em all Joe, you’ll never hit a bigger home run in your life” is another one that stands the test of time for me.

There is the legendary Jack Buck who had so many great moments both in baseball and football over a long and distinguished career.  Who could forget his “I don’t believe what I just saw” line after the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run to end Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.  Then there was the “We’ll see you… tomorrow night” after Kirby Puckett‘s 11th inning home run for the Minnesota Twins sent the 1991 World Series to a 7th game.  This line was used by his son Joe as David Freese also sent the 2011 World Series to a 7th game with an 11th inning home run for the St. Louis Cardinals.   However, the three words that did it for me were, “Go crazy folks”! as Ozzie Smith ended Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS with a solo home run as the Cards defeated the Dodgers 3-2 in a series St. Louis won in six game.

One that took place slightly before my time was the call made by Russ Hodges on October 3, 1951.   If you don’t know what I am referring to, perhaps the shout, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!  The Giants win the pennant!” will ring a bell.  It was Bobby Thomson‘s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”  as his New York Giants rallied from 13 1/2 games down in the regular season and then a 4-1 deficit in the 9th inning of a sudden death playoff game to defeat the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-4 to earn a trip to the World Series.  It may possibly be the greatest call in the history of sports broadcasting and over 60 years after the fact, the most recognizable one.

No list of baseball announcers would be complete without the mention of Vin Scully.  Now in his 62nd year of calling Dodger games, Scully’s is a true living legend, a connection to the great baseball names of the past and possessing a vast reservoir of story-telling second to none.  No hysterics, no “signature call”, just a an easy listen focusing on the game and not himself.  He is the best broadcaster in baseball history, followed closely by long time Detroit Tigers man, the late Ernie Harwell.  These two gentlemen have called games for a combined 100 years with memories of their greatness lasting another 100 more.  More of today’s broadcasters should be like these two men and the others on this list.  No rehearsing, no silliness.  They should just call a game without becoming a sideshow.

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

Happy Birthday Rick Langford and Chris Hoiles!

March 20th is supposed to be the first day of Spring.  I guess the Northeast division of Mother Nature did not get the message.  With Opening Day less than two weeks away, the temperature outside does not remind anyone of baseball.  So in order to get in the mood for green grass, dirt and a diamond, I decided to look up who in Major League Baseball has a birthday today.  There were over 50 names, past and present, living and deceased including one Hall of Famer (“Iron” Joe McGinnity).  You can view the entire list by clicking here.  I would like to wish all of these guys a Happy Birthday with a special shout out to Rick Langford and Chris Hoiles.

Rick Langford completed 28 games in 1980.  Image:  setcelebs.com

Rick Langford completed 28 games in 1980. Image: setcelebs.com

Langford pitched for 11 seasons from 1976 through 1986 and all except his rookie year were spent with the Oakland A’s.   His two best years by far came in 1980 and 1981 pitching under Billy Martin.  In 1980, the right-hander went 19-12 with an astonishing 28 complete games, the highest total in almost 40 years and a number that will surely never be equaled again.  He also led the American League in innings pitched with 290.  The following year was more of the same as during the strike-shortned 1981 season, Langford again led baseball in complete games with 18 and finished with a 12-10 record.  Unfortunately, his career became derailed by injury after 1982 as he appeared in only 49 games over the final four seasons of his career.  Langford finished with an overall record of 73 wins and 106 losses with a 4.01 ERA.  I will always remember him for that workhorse 1980 season.

Hoiles was a power-hitting catcher who played his entire 10 year career (1989-1998) with the Baltimore OriolesHis best season was 1993 as he clubbed 29 home runs and knocked in 82 runs to go along with a .310 batting average.  Hoiles had a career-high 503 at-bats and finished 16th in the MVP balloting that season.  He was a key member of those 1996 and 1997 Baltimore teams that went to back-to-back American League Championship Series.  The rigors of catching caught up to him at age 33 his last season in the Majors.  He enjoyed a productive year with 15 homers and 56 RBI’s in 318 at-bats and entered the record books on August 14th when he became the first catcher ever to hit two grand slams in one game.  Hoiles’s overall numbers are pretty good by catching standards, 151 home runs, 449 RBI’s and a .262 batting average and he also owns a small place in the vast history of baseball.

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

USA’s WBC Showing

The World Baseball Classic is wrapping up its third extravaganza this week. For the third straight time, the United States will not be playing for the championship. It does seem kind of odd that the sport that has been dubbed “The National Pastime”, the sport we brought to countries around the world and yet we can’t win its international Cup, for lack of a better term.  However, I do hesitate to draw any kind of conclusion about this turn of events or what it means to us and to other nations about our status as a baseball powerhouse.

I am still proud of Heath Bell and all of the members of Team USA.  Image:  yahoo.com

I am still proud of Heath Bell and all of the members of Team USA. Image: yahoo.com

You know the old axiom, “good pitching beats good hitting”.   That certainly was the case as the United States scored a grand total of four runs during its losses to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.  Perhaps Team USA had cold bats or the pitching of the other two countries were throwing darts or it was a combination of both.  I saw most of both games and it was more of a case of the pitchers throwing the ball where they wanted to.  The pitchers themselves don’t have to have sparkling resumes or even br very good but in a one game, take-all , situation any pitcher can get hot.  In the game with the DR,  Samuel Deduno and Kelvin Herrera combined for six innings allowing only one run to the Americans.  Deduno, who will turn 30 in July, finally made it to the Majors last year with the Minnesota Twins going 6-5 with a 4.44 ERA in 15 starts.  Herrera, age 23, was a good reliever last year for the Kansas City Royals posting a 2.35 ERA in 76 games.  Decent seasons from the pair, but nothing spectacular.  And then there was the starting pitcher for PR, Nelson Figueroa who surrendered only two hits over six shutout innings to eliminate the USA.  This is the same Nelson Figueroa  who has bounced around through different organizations, will turn 39 in May and has a grand total of 20 Major League wins.  Now, before you say that the U.S. should have pounded those pitchers into oblivion, think of Don Larsen.  Larsen pitched perhaps the greatest game in baseball history, tossing a perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.  Just two years prior to that one magical day, he sported a 3-21 record.  He finished his 14-year career with a mark of 81 wins, 91 losses and a 3.78 ERA.  Any pitcher can turn in an exceptional performance on any given day.

Then there is the feeling that the fans of other countries are more passionate about the WBC that we are here and that translates to those respective countries’ players taking it more seriously.  While I agree that the fan interest is much lower here, I don’t think our guys are any less intense or any less prideful.  You should have seen the dugout for the Americans after they scored a couple of late runs as they tried to rally against Puerto Rico.  I don’t think Team USA’s players are any less excited about playing in the WBC than their counterparts.  Consequently, I believe the guys from other nations like the DR , PR and Cuba don’t play any harder now than they do for their regular Major League teams.  They might be a little more excited winning these WBC games because they win for their countries but that doesn’t mean their level of intensity or their thrill of victory is any less in Major League Baseball.  Just take a look at Yadier Molina celebrating World Series victories for the St. Louis Cardinals.  The only players in other lands that may be playing “harder” are those that are looking for a Major League team or, as in the case of Robinson Cano, looking to get a springboard to a big payday.

It is very disappointing that the United States will once again not be crowned champions of the World Baseball Classic.  However, that does not make me any less proud of the team for representing our country on the international stage.  It also does not make me think that American baseball players are any less skilliful than their international peers.  We will see what happens in four years as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, barring injury, will help Team USA get over the WBC hump and generate an American level of excitement that has been missing the first three times.

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

Italy vs. the Dominican Republic: What Could Have Been

The matchup on Tuesday during the World Baseball Classic looked lopsided on paper.  Here was the powerful Dominican Republic led by Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano looking to cruise past Italy, perhaps its best known figure being hitting coach Mike Piazza.  Yet, there was this team of virtual unknowns, jumping out to a 4-0 first inning lead and throwing a huge scare into the heavy favorites until the 7th inning when the DR scored three runs on their way to a 5-4 victory.  Although I am for Team USA all the way, I was itching to see a major upset.  Plus, it hurt that fellow Yonkers native Brian Sweeney was the pitcher who surrendered the game-tying sacrifice fly and the go-ahead hit after entering the game with the bases loaded and one out holding a 4-3 lead.  With the game tied at 4, Sweeney made a good pitch to Nelson Cruz who broke his bat on contact.   The ball trickled through to right field scoring the final run of the game.  After getting squeezed on a call Saturday night against Giancarlo Stanton, Sweeney deserved a better fate.  Had the Italians prevailed, I wonder what kind legacy this game would have.

Italy did some celebrating at the WBC making it to the second round.  Image:  ctpost.com

Italy did some celebrating at the WBC making it to the second round. Image: ctpost.com

I am not one to give to hyperbole with so much of it out there on the Internet, on TV and on the radio.  However, one could reasonably argue that it would have been one of, if not the biggest upset in international baseball competition.  I don’t want to take anything away from Italy as while we don’t think of them as a baseball powerhouse, they do play well on the world stage.   The National team has won back-to-back European Championships and qualified for each Olympics from 1992 through 2004.  There are several capable Major League players on their roster including Anthony Rizzo, Nick Punto and Jason Grilli.  However, the Dominicans boast some of the finest players in the world with Edwin Encarnacion, Fernando Rodney and Carlos Santana in addition to Cano and Reyes dotting their roster.  With a matchup like that, one could see why most people though the DR would cruise.  Now, would that have been an upset on par with the 1969 World Series when the New York Mets shocked the baseball universe by beating the Baltimore Orioles in five game?  No, simply because yesterday was only one game while the Mets, even if they took seven games to defeat the Birds still would have been considered a major upset.  Same goes for the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays  who stunned all of us by going to the World Series after so many seasons of 95-plus losses.  It is very hard to quantify where this game could have ranked in baseball history given that the sport lends itself to the length of its regular season and playoffs as opposed to football where legacies can be made in one game.

As I write this, Italy has just been eliminated from the WBC by Puerto Rico, losing another late game lead, this time surrendering three runs in the eighth inning and going down in defeat by the score of 4-3.  I feel badly for the team and its fans, having two stronger teams reeling only to come up short.  However, the sport of baseball should only get more popular in Italy and perhaps when the next Classic rolls around in four years they will be considered a contender instead of a spoiler.  The stronger the teams are in non-traditional baseball countries, the more better it is for all of us fans.

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

Baseball’s Good Guys

This is going to be one of the those different posts. Too often, both in sports and in life, we read and hear about negativity. Whether it’s an athlete getting arrested for drunk driving or the daily carnage exhibited by regular folks, there has to be more out there has to be more in the news than just the same depressing stories, only with different faces. That is what this entry will be about; in fact I hope to make this a regular feature. It will focus on certain baseball players that do an enormous amount of good work, mainly done under the radar. Here are the first set of guys you should follow instead of the egomaniacs and criminals we read about every day.

Derek Jeter, ultimate winner, better role model.  Image:  sikids.com

Derek Jeter, ultimate winner, better role model. Image: sikids.com

Derek Jeter:   That’s right, we start this with not only baseball’s ultimate winner but perhaps its best role model.  There are legions of Jeter-haters out there waiting for the Captain to have an embarrassing public slip-up.  That in of itself says volumes  about today’s society.  The fact is Jeter is a Hall of Fame player as well as a Hall of Fame person.  His Turn 2 Foundation was started in 1996 when he was a rookie and is now one of baseball most recognized charities.  The foundation contains numerous programs designed to promote healthy lifestyles among young people.  Since its inception, Turn 2 has been awarded over $16 million dollars in grants for its three chapters.  New York, Western Michigan and Tampa.  In 2012 Siena College awarded him a Doctorate of Humane Letters for his charitable endeavors.  As far as personal conduct goes, what parent (like me) wouldn’t like their child to emulate DJ?  You don’t hear a whiff of trouble surrounding him in the media and he also conducts himself in an exemplary manner in public.  He donates an enormous amount much of his time, money and energy into his foundation.  In short, there is no better role model right now in baseball than Derek Jeter.

Jim ThomeThe 42-year old future Hall of Famer is looking for a team at the moment.  He still has a little bit of life left in his bat as he stroked eight home runs in 161 at-bats in 2012.  There is always someone who can use a left-handed bat off the bench so I expect the slugger to find work before May 1st.  If he can’t find work as a player, perhaps he can focus on his second career as a professional charity spokesperson.  There are so many organizations Thome has either lent his time, money name or all of the above that it is almost impossible to keep track of.  this link to an archived Chicago White Sox page may be able to guide you.   2005 was an exceptionally banner year for Thome’s work as he was honored by The Sporting News as Major League Baseball’s Number One Good Guy and the Lou Gehrig Award given to the player who exemplifies tremendous character.  He has raised over $1 million dollars for the Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.  At each one of his extended stays (Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago) during his playing career, he has involved himself in numerous charities in those communities.  One would be hard-pressed to find an athlete who is as generous with his time and money as Jim Thome.

Torii Hunter:  There aren’t many players in baseball who smile more than the Gold Glove center fielder.  Kids all over the country smile because Hunter both on and off the field.  His Torii Hunter Project  has outreach programs in four cities dedicated to helping kids with character education.  Hunter has personally contributed over $1 million dollars to the cause and his partnered with another giving athlete, tennis great Andre Agassi.  The Project began in Los Angeles while a member of the Angels just as he and his wife Katrina started the Torii and Katrina Hunter Foundation while he was playing for the Minnesota Twins.  In 2007, he was awarded the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, given to one player for his outstanding on-field performance and off-field contributions to the community.  In 2009, he received the Branch Rickey Award which rewards excellence in charity work.  On March 4th, Hunter donated $100,000 to the University of Arkansas for the purposes of constructing an indoor baseball and track and field facility.   His personality and tireless efforts on behalf of those less fortunate makes Torii Hunter one of baseball’s finest role models.

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

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