The Opening of the Baseball Season

The last regular seaon NFL games are pver and there will be a Super Bowl sometime in the future, but this is really the beginning of the baseball season. This fact is marked by the Winter Meetings that ended two weeks ago and caused some commotion with a numbe or teams making dramatic moves to add players. The two that stick out in my mind, at least, were the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. The Cubs also added talent.
Without getting into names and stats, it is my obsevation that teams add winter meeting free agent and traded for talent and that this talent is very expensive and seldom helps all that much. .
The cost of free agent talent is pure cash and, usually multiyear deals. That means a team has a burden to carry for sometime, It will consider the new player, who is usually older and declining in skills, a major asset, but he will be a major liability soon. The players who are traded for are also expensive, but in a different way. To acquire Jock Donaldson from the A’s (OK, I’ll mention one player!!), the Blue Jays gave up a number of young players. I don’t know who they are, but I doubt if Billy Beane would take chopped liver. So the Jays have a great third base man, but have been diminished, probably, by a like amount of talent elsewhere.  
The Padres took Matt Kemp.  (OK second player) from the Dodgers in exchange for some players and the Dodgers are paying SD like $25million to pay Kemp’s salary. I look askanse at teams that give away an old star and pay his salary to get rid of him. They know more about Kemp than SD, so what’s up with that.
The whole point here is that there was a lot of action this month, and the season is now on. I don’t think however, that much has been changed as baseball is the ultimate team sport and it takes a whole team to win a pennant. For example, the last place added free agents Torii Hunter, a 39 year old outfielder and Erivn Santana, (OK, Players 3 and 4 and that’s it) a 33 year old starting pitcher. Now, if the Twins can outbid Detroit and Atlanta for these guys, they are going to help a little, maybe, But even with these additions, the Twins will be last in the AL Central again. It pains me to say that, by the way, I am a huge fan, but that’s the reality of it.

So we are off to the MLB Season, opening day is looming in just over 90 days. Stay tuned. 

Ron Gardenhire Returns Victorious

Twins manager, Ron Gardenhire, will return with a two year contract along with all of his coaches. This means Gardenhire has prevailed in his discussions with the Twins. I assume he has obtained promises that the Twins will add players in the off season. How specific these promises are is not known, but the fact is that Gardenhire has done his job well and is not responsible for the three year 90 plus loss seasons the Twins have endured.

I think Gardenhire kept this team together this year and without his leadership a total collapse would have occured.  When Tom Kelly decided to retire, I remember telling a high place Twins executive that they had no choice but to hire Gardenhire. That was and still is the right move.

By the way, the Cubs just fired Dale Sveum as manager, and Gardenhire could have moved there.

Ignominy and the MLB Cellar Dweller

As August dwindles and the last month of the MLB season promises an exciting race to the pennant or wild card birth for the playoffs, another race is underway. This is the effort by several teams to avoid the ignominy of finishing last, or in the cellar, as it is called. For some, this motivation is as strong as the passion to win the pennant.

In the AL Central, the suddenly resurgent White Sox, eight wins in the last ten recently, are now pressing the Twins and are three games behind them. The White Sox have been miserable this year, but they have been playing better. However, the schedule maker has them playing against contenders the rest of the way.  Where they play Houston this week, and Houston is trying to avoid setting a record for futility, they then play Boston, New York, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Minnesota and finish against Kansas City. The three with Minnesota will be critical. The edge Chicago may have is that these teams will be tense and the Sox may be able to pick them off. That, after all, is the role of the spoiler, that team with no chance of winning a pennant, that can have an impact by beating those who do.   

The Twins have a slight schedule advantage by playing Toronto three times, but play contenders most of the time. The last eleven are with Oakland, Detroit and Cleveland, all of these teams need to win at the end. 

In the NL Central, Milwaukee and the Cubs are two games apart, with the Cubs in the cellar. Both teams play contenders, but the Cubs get the Marlins for three and the Brewers finish with the Mets. The critical games are the seven they play against each other. To not finish behind the Cubs should be sufficient incentive motivation to keep the Brewers motivated.

The most interesting race to avoid ignominy is in the NL West, Colorado, 61-71, San Diego, 59-71, and San Francisco, 58-72 are within in two games of each other with San Francisco last.   

San Francisco will play the other members of this trio twelve times in the remaining thirty-two, San Diego plays Colorado and SF nine times, but gets the floundering Phillies three times, and Colorado plays SF and SD nine times, but finish against Boston and the Dodgers. This is a race to watch on a daily basis.

Now that you see the match ups, remember that this is late season baseball and top teams are often “playing with their hands around their throats,”  Hands on Throat Reference and those trying to avoid the ignominy of the cellar can determine the actual pennant and live vicariously during the Winter knowing they were not the worst and helped determine who was the best.  

August 17, A Review

I was thinking about the date today and that it means there are two weeks of August left, but that only two weeks of August and then a serious month, September, arrives, when the NFL starts and MLB finishes the regular season.  As the Vikings have lost two pre-season games, I will join my fellow fans by ignoring that fact. Denial is big around here.

The Twins have been playing well since the All-Star Game, but are still well out of the race. However, the Division is competitive, if having Kansas City 6.5 games out in third, makes it competitive. The Royals won a double header in Detroit yesterday with pitching, and that is how to beat the Tigers. Kansas City Royals Emerge was posted on June 18 and discusses how this team is rapidly learning how to win. I think it is good enough now to beat the Tigers and that will be the best baseball story of the season. That is, unless you look at the Dodgers, who were in last place in June and have won 41 of 49 games since.  This is the triumph of baseball culture as this team played horribly, but the long season allows for a rebound and what a rebound it has been!

I mentioned the difference between baseball and the games that watch a clock in MLB, Where You Have to Give the Other Guy a Chance that quotes Earl Weaver.

This is the year that I became fixated with the Miami Marlins. Yes, the team that is 28 games behind the Braves. I have watched it play close games and lose and it is now playing close games and winning its share. When young, poorly performing teams show a habit of tenacity and relentless pursuit of wins, it often becomes a habit of winning. Not this year or maybe next, but keep your eyes on these players in Miami. This style of play indicates good management at all levels and that augurs well for the future.

Remember that there are two weeks left of August, but then it is September and it becomes serious. Stay tuned.

The AL Central Is Hot

I recently wrote about the race between the Detroit TIgers and Cleveland Indians for the AL Central Pennant. Now I add the Kansas City Royals to that race. In the earlier articles, I mentioned that tension and focus would be important even mentioning that “playing with your hands around your throat” is difficult.  The Indians had just blown two games with the Twins at that time with costly errors.
This last week has seen the Indians win six in a row, the Tigers win four in a row, and the Kansas City Royals win seven in a row.
Clearly, the Indians have their goove back. I saw the Royals beat the Twins 7-2 last night and was impressed by this very balanced team. Furthermore, seven of the Royals are batting over  .260 and Eric Hosmer and David Lough are moving towards  .300. I have been very impressed by these two players for some time and have been waiting for them to emerge as stars.
The point here is that Detroit is still playing well, and Cleveland has removed the “hands of the throat” play of a week ago. The Royals have arrived as a contender and believe, if I can properly interpret the way the game was played last night, that they can also win. If Detroit falters, either the Indians or Royals can move up. Both of these teams are also in the Wild Card race, but it is a little early to focus on that and the new Wild Card playoff that occurs this year. Stay tuned, folks, this will be interesting.
The Boston/Tampa Bay race in the AL East is very tight. I will be watching that as well going forward, but the AL Central has the most potential for drama as the teams involved can either flourish or flounder in the next two months. Right now they are all flourishing.

MLB, “Where You Have to Give the Other Guy a Chance.”

Last night at dinner, a friend asked me about the Twins record this year and would they do better.  I told him that in the Major Leagues, every player was a league leader at some point in his career and all had the ability to do what was necessary to win a game from time to time. Last night in Seattle, this rule was proven in spades where the Twins won 3-2 in 13 innings.

The game was won by a fellow named Chris Colabello. This player played seven seasons of independent league baseball, was at AA before being called up to the Majors. He was batting  .132 when he entered this game in the 8th inning and promptly hit into a double play, later he stuck out. In the 13th, however, he hit Yoervis Medina’s first pitch for a two run homerun to win the game. Medina was probably trying a first pitch fastball to get an early strike, it was a mistake. Seattle starter, Felix Hernandez, had pitched 32 scoreless innings against the Twins until the ninth in a 1-0 game, when he threw a 0-2 fastball to Trevor Plouffe, a pinch hitter who was 0-9  in previous at-bats, who singled to center to score Pedro Florimon, who had singled and been bunted to second to lead off the inning. An 0-2 fastball is always a mistake if it is over the plate.  So two mistakes to two average to poor players resutled in a 3-2 extra-inning loss for Seattle. Such is life in the big leagues.

The difference between batters is stated in batting average percentages with the leading hitter in the AL, Miguel Cabrera, batting  .365. The average batter in the league is at about  .261. The difference is one hit in ten at-bats or one hit every two games.  Where that is significant, it also means that a player with few credentials, like Chris Colabello, can beat you with the one hit he gets each six
at bats.

Where the difference in batters is usually slight in actual number.  .300 to  .260, for example, when multiplied by the 162 game schedule or 500 at bats, the difference is winning or loosing that fifth game that readers of this blog are familiar with.  It also means that anyone with a bat can win the game and that is something Yoervis Medina and Felix Hernandez did not focus on last night.  They both threw fastballs over the plate to a Major League player and that was the problem.

As the legendary manager, Earl Weaver, said, in distinguishing baseball from other games, “we can’t just run out the clock or take a knee, we have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance.”  Such is the game of baseball.

Indians Choking Again, Maybe the Tigers, too.

Major League Baseball pennant races are a psychological as well as physical test. For the last two days I have written about the race to the pennant and the pressures felt by the division leaders. I have focused on the Tigers and Indians and how it is hard to play with your hands on your throat. On Friday, the Indians gave away a game to Minnesota by errors that lead to two unearned runs and a tainted run that could have, had the players Chisenhall and Swisher caught baseballs, resulted in an Indian’s victory. Last night the Indians lost by the same 3-2 score and gave that one away as well.

In the top of the sixth, Jason Kipnis, the Indians best hitter, homered to give them a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, however, the Indians gave it back. After Mauer had singled and moved to third on a Morneau single, a grounder to Chisenhall at third was fielded cleanly, but Chisenhall, trying to put Mauer out at home, threw the ball into the Twins’s first base dugout. Now think about this play. With no one out and Morneau on first, Mauer, not a fast runner, was running to avoid a double play by forcing Chisenhall to throw home rather than to second to start the double play. Mauer’s hope was that by sacrificing himself, the Twins would have two runners on and only one out rather than one on and two out.  Chisenhall, who booted the ball Friday night, threw the ball past the catcher.

How hard is it for a major league player to throw a ball ninety feet so errantly so as to fly past the catcher and end up in the dugout? Well, it may happen once a season for some and never in a career for most. These are the plays that are made a thousand times in practice and games by those who make it to the major leagues. It seldom happens in highschool because the throw has to be horrible and the recipient of the throw has demonstrated ability to catch everything, even moderately errant tosses. The “hands on the throat” factor is why this happened and it infects the entire team.

This infection got to  second baseman Jason Kipnis, who, after the score was tied on a bloop to right, dropped a double play ball and only made one out as the winning run scored. Hand on his throat, I think so!

The Twins played perfect defense, by the way, with right fielder Ryan Doumit making a spectaclular play to throw Asdrubal Cabrera out at second. Cabrera represented the tying run.

In Kansas CIty the Tigers lost 6-5 as Justin Verlander lost to KC for the first time since 2009. A little tense, Justin, maybe?

The results of Friday’s and Saturday’s games, is that the 1 1/2 game Tiger lead is still there, but KC is now 6 behind. Almost close enough.

Keep watching this race, as nerves are already taking a toll and either team may collapse. For the Indians, they have Justin Masterson pitching today and he is their best. If he wins, they may get their groove back. In Kansas City, James Shields is pitching for KC; they may be five behind after today. 

By the way, Aviles is playing 3rd for the Indians today as Terry Francona is keeping Chisenhall on the bench for his, Francona’s, benefit.

For further reading see “Fifth Game Theory” in the archives for June 19, 2013 and “Kansas City Royals Emerge” in the archives for June 18, 2013.