Category Archives: MLB

The President That Never Could

It was a mysterious phenomenon slowly becoming buried in conspiracy cries and stale reruns.

Neither the fans, or the players, or even the president of the United States, could quite understand it.

533 straight losses.

To the 2008 Detroit Lions, who lost 16 straight games: Quit your whining.

To the Charlotte Bobcats, who lost 23 straight games to end the 2011-12 season: It could be worse… 

Up until last Wednesday, Teddy had lost all 533 President’s Races.

What Can’t George Washington Do?

For those who haven’t heard, the President’s Race, featured at every Washington Nationals home game in the fourth inning, is a race between four famous presidents – George “George” Washington, Thomas “Tom” Jefferson, Abraham “Abe” Jefferson, and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt – dressed in 10-ft foam costumes.

Cheesy? Probably.

Entertaining to drunk baseball fans? You bet.

But the promotional event slowly evolved into one that drew almost as much interest as the Nationals’ baseball home games themselves.

All the Presidents, except Teddy, were winning.

At first, Teddy’s losses were blamed on his lack of speed, or inability to balance himself inside the heavy, unevenly distributed costume.

Then Teddy started losing, even when it seemed like wins were so close he could literally touch the finish line tape.

In a race on June 28, 2008, Teddy was primed for victory when Orioles mascot, “The Bird”, stepped in in the waning moments to tackle him short of the finish line and his first win.

On June 4, 2012, in a SportsNation special “President’s Race”, Teddy built a sizeable lead over the other Presidents, but stopped short of the finish line to celebrate. In the middle of the celebration, George rode by on a van, clubbed Teddy with a baseball bat, and rolled into another victory.

Teddy who used a motor scooter on July 26, 2009 to finish in first place, was disqualified in that race for gaining an advantage.

Meanwhile the losses for Teddy, typical and bizarre alike, were mounting.

Teddy’s Brilliance…Denied

Like Teddy, the Nationals, the “Clippers” of baseball, kept losing. Going back to their Montreal Expos days, the Washington Nationals hadn’t made the playoffs since 1933.

2012 though proved to be different. An upstart Nationals team won 98 games, the division and the best record in baseball.

Like the Nationals, Teddy too turned it around. On the last day of the 2012 regular season, Teddy won his first race. The Phillies Mascot, “Phillie Phanatic”, tackled the other three presidents, as Teddy secured his first victory to the standing ovation of the crowd.

Also, the next Nationals hitter after Teddy won hit a home run.

But did Teddy’s losing streak end then?

Was it a symbolic feat of the Nationals’ turnaround as a franchise? The start of something new?

Was it the sign of something greater to come?

That “greater” though will need to come right now as the Nationals face a 2-1 deficit to the Cardinals, and elimination tomorrow.

Like Teddy, who’s now 1-533, the Nationals are heading in the right direction, even if loss 534 is just around the corner.

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The A’s Contend for a World Series Title Without Breaking the Bank

If money could buy everything, then the Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox would be popping champagne in preparation for postseason play.

As this wild 2012 Major League Baseball season has shown, however, general managers around the league should be tossing out their checkbooks and looking for young talent capable of carrying a team through the dog days of August into the pennant races of September.

Unfortunately for MLB scouts, heart doesn’t appear in box scores.  Instead it is usually read in the eyes of a few newbies who had been told by baseball pundits that they didn’t have a chance of making the playoffs with intra-division superpowers Texas and Los Angeles to contend with.

The Phillies, Angels, Red Sox, Marlins and Brewers all rank in the top ten for total payroll for the 2012 season.  None of these teams clinched a playoff berth and only the Angels and Brewers came remotely close down the stretch.

The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, defied all odds, clinching a playoff berth despite doling out the least money of any team in the big leagues in 2012 at $49,137,500.  The New York Yankees also will be seeing postseason action, but have a payroll nearly four times that of Oakland’s at $195,998,004.

After a slow start to the season, the A’s were the MLB’s hottest second half team, earning a huge role in the playoff discussion as the result of posting a 19-5 record in July.

Headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006 in which they lost to the Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS, Oakland now finds itself tied with the Texas Rangers atop the AL West standings.  A win by rookie phenom A.J. Griffin on Wednesday means the A’s will forgo having to play in the one-game Wild Card round, which will be against the second-place finisher in the dangerous AL East.

Many wonder why Oakland, a team that sticks to a strict system of sabermetrics, an intricate series of statistical algorithms used to evaluate on-field performance and player values, to dictate personnel decisions and keep costs down, is even close to playoff caliber.

What has benefited Oakland so much this season has been a lack of funds to overpay free agents; in other words, the A’s have been blessed to be without a prima donna for the 2012 season.

Hitting .289 with 23 homers, Cespedes has proved to be one of the best free-agent pickups of the year.

No player on the team currently makes more than $8 million and the biggest “splurge” of theirs this past offseason was a contract for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who has been well worth the $6,500,000 paycheck he has earned this season, garnering a decent amount the AL Rookie of the Year talk behind Mike Trout’s lion’s share.

There are even 11 players on the 25-man roster who make under a million dollars.  Would these players like to play for more money?  Certainly–they are human after all.  But the lack of big names and big bucks to assemble the 2012 squad left the A’s with a very important advantage: the ability to have a talented team that can win games in the shadow of big-spending teams that take a great deal of criticism for underperforming.

Even watching a ballgame in Oakland makes it perfectly clear that the A’s have never been about playing big-money baseball.  The O.co Coliseum is arguably the least flashy stadium in the MLB, consisting mostly of concrete and chalk lines for Raiders games.  Despite increases in attendance during their impressive year, much of the upper-deck has remained covered in tarps.

Humble abodes aside, the A’s showed the rest of the majors this season that the phrase “on paper” means relatively little compared to things like a strong farm system and player compatibility.

As the Athletics now look to compete for their first World Series title since the McGwire era, Brad Pitt will still be asking Jonah Hill, “Can these guys get on base?”

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The Depressing Futures of Baseball’s Worst Teams

The MLB playoffs are nigh on hand, and while it is a time where several teams are celebrating their clinched spots or fighting vigorously to earn a spot in their final games, many others haven’t seen the spotlight for months. Here’s a look at how bright or dull a future some of baseball’s worst teams have.

Houston Astros

Houston wins the honor of worst team in baseball for the second straight year and it was their fourth straight season below .500. A lot will be different next season in Houston, but wins may not be part of that. The Astros will be switching to the American League in 2013, and after trading some of their best players (Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, Carlos Lee) over the past two season, there isn’t a lot left in Houston to build around. Jose Altuve is the lone bright spot on the team and he’s basically nothing more than a solid leadoff hitter. He’s also not tall enough to go on half the rides at Disneyland. Unless the Astros dig up some savior prospect from their farm system, it could be a while until this team is relevant.

These uniforms are worse than the Astros themselves.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have a bit more reason for optimism than the Astros. With some decent young pieces in Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo, Chicago has some flexibility to trade for some big name players. And if they choose to keep that young core, the trio may develop into a strong group. But the Cubs still have a long way to go. Their pitching staff is beyond lackluster and their best power hitter, Alfonso Soriano, is getting up there in years.

Colorado Rockies

Playing the majority of their season without their best player, Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies’ season was basically over the moment he was injured. But if he is able to return to form next season, this team may not be all that bad. Carlos Gonzalez continues to hit well and the emergence of Dexter Fowler and Jordan Pecheco gave Colorado three players who hit above .300. Pitching remains a problem, however. The Rockies tried to work with a four man rotation and a strict 75 pitch limit for their starters. This caused them to burn through their bullpen pretty quickly and pretty clearly did not work at all. If they can figure out how to give up less than 5 runs every game, the Rockies have the offense to be a decent club.

Miami Marlins

The beautiful mug of the man riding the Marlins into the ground.

All the hype the Marlins built with their offseason spending pretty much disappeared the moment the season started. How Ozzie Guillen still has his job is beyond me. Within the first week of the season, he mentioned his support for Fidel Castro. For a team whose fan base consists of a large number of Cubans, that’s kind of a stupid thing to say, especially since it has nothing to do with baseball whatsoever. Furthermore, he has bashed his players continually, most recently Heath Bell, saying he doesn’t respect him. His players have quit on him and its shown, as most of the Marlins are having some of the worst years of their careers. With Hanley Ramirez traded and a significant portion of the salary cap invested in their offseason signings, Miami doesn’t have a lot of tradeable assets or flexibility to rebuild. Their first step should be finding a new manager.

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MLB Award Predictions

The MLB regular season is less than a week from its conclusion and the races for the various awards are even closer than than that of the final playoff spots. With such a close competition between these top players, a strong last few games from any of them could put them ahead in the final stretch. Here’s a look at how the awards might pan out.

Nice shirt Miguel. Sadly, you’d probably be the best player on the Pistons. But Mike Trout is still better than you.

AL MVP: Mike Trout

The decision between Trout and Miguel Cabrera is the toughest one on this list. Cabrera is a currently a home run away from the Triple Crown and has bigger numbers in the power categories. Yet Trout’s all-around impact on the game, from his hitting to his base stealing to his incredible robbed home runs give him the edge here. And for a leadoff hitter, 29 homers and 78 RBI are pretty darn impressive power numbers.

NL MVP: Buster Posey

This race was close for a while, with Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen in the mix, but Posey has pulled away over the last month. Braun still has had an impressive season, leading the NL in home runs and RBI, yet the Brewers are unlikely to make the playoffs, which hurts Braun’s chances. Posey, meanwhile, is leading the majors in batting average (excluding Melky Cabrera of course) and on base percentage, and is also in the top three in slugging percentage and on base percentage. And he’s done all this while playing the most grueling position in the game.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander

As boring as it is to have a repeat winner, there’s no way around the fact that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball right now. He had another great season, leading the league in strikeouts and being among the leaders in WHIP and ERA while also pitching the most innings.

NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey

At age 37, Dickey’s success this season is fairly amazing. He’s pitched the best year of his career, mastering the art of the knuckleball while leading the league in strikeouts (as of now) and amongst the leaders in ERA, WHIP, and wins. Clayton Kershaw, Gio Gonzalez and Matt Cain could all give Dickey some competition in this award.

Trout’s rookie campaign has been nothing short of spectacular.

AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout

This is far and away the easiest decision of the bunch. Mike Trout’s rookie season has been one of the best in history. His arrival in the league was overshadowed by that of Bryce Harper, but all that attention has shifted to him since then. Yoenis Cespedes also had a nice year, but for a player touted for his power, Trout out-homered him.

NL Rookie of the Year: Todd Frazier

Frazier played in 41 games last year, but in his first full season this year he was a major reason for Cincinnati’s success. While Harper had more hype and attention throughout the season, Frazier simply did more, putting up bigger numbers than Harper and doing so in less at bats.

AL Manager of the Year: Buck Showalter

Looking at Baltimore’s lineup, it comes as a bit of a shock how successful they have been. After finishing with the fourth worst record in the MLB a year ago, the Orioles now hold the seventh best. Despite their shortcomings as a team, Showalter has shown them how to win and they’ve learned well.

NL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen

Just kidding. Dusty Baker gets the nod here. Baker did another great job with the Reds this year. Cincinnati clinched an NL Central division with two worthy competitors in the Brewers and Cardinals and currently have a 10 game lead in the division. And to do this while missing key players Joey Votto, Scott Rolen and Ryan Ludwick missing significant time with injuries.

Buster Posey has shown that if you strike him down, he will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Adam Dunn

Dunn was arguably the worst player in the league last year, hitting an abysmal .159 and just 11 home runs. He’s marginally better in batting average this year (up to .207), but his power numbers are back. He’s blasted 41 home runs, driven in 94 runs and his ability to take walks (he leads the AL with 104) has given him a respectable OBP which is pretty impressive given how terrible his batting average is.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Buster Posey

Another obvious choice. Posey’s injury last season looked like it could be career threatening, or at the very least put his ability to play catcher in jeopardy. Instead, Posey returned better than ever, catching one of the league’s best pitching staffs while also handling the brunt of the offensive workload for the Giants. An incredible season for Posey.

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Miguel Cabrera Sets His Sights on the Triple Crown

1967 was an interesting time for America—the Rolling Stones made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? was the talk of cinema fans everywhere and Super Bowl I ended with a 35-10 victory for the Green Bay Packers over the Kansas City Chiefs.

It was also the last MLB season in which all three categories of the American League batting Triple Crown (batting average, home runs and runs batted in) were won by the same individual.

45 years ago, Hall of Fame inductee Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox dominated his American League competition, finishing with a .326 batting average, 44 homers and 121 runs batted in.

The Tigers slugger is closing in on a feat that has not been accomplished since 1967.

2012 provides baseball fans everywhere with yet another opportunity to witness a feat more rare than a perfect game.

With yet another home run in the fourth inning of the Detroit Tigers’ Saturday afternoon game against the Minnesota Twins, Miguel Cabrera moved into a tie for a league-leading 42 four-baggers, giving him at least a share of the AL lead in batting average (.332), homers (42) and RBI (131).

Since 1878, there have been 23 perfect games but only 15 Triple Crowns (to only 13 different players) won in Major League Baseball.

The Triple Crown was won twice by both Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams, but both thrived in eras (1920’s for Hornsby, 1950’s for Williams) in which opposing pitchers and potential competition for batting titles were not as muscular, physically fit or well-versed in film study.

The Detroit Tigers third baseman has quietly found himself knocking on the door of history, however.  Rookie phenom Mike Trout of the Angels received a great deal of attention when he had an AL-leading .350-plus batting average in late July and Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton was setting an unprecedented home run pace during the first two months of the season with 21 homers as of May 29.

Hamilton put up Home Run Derby-like totals for the first two months of the 2012 season.

Though Hamilton currently sits at an impressive 42 home runs and Trout should be a unanimous AL Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove choice, the two have cooled in later months, Trout due to the fact that he is a rookie who is not used to a 162-game schedule and Hamilton because he’s, well…human.

After a somewhat slow start, Cabrera has been wielding a hot bat of late, hitting .357 over the last two months.

Detroit has 12 games remaining on its schedule, and it’s certain that Cabrera won’t be spending those final matchups thinking about the Triple Crown but instead about the heated division race his team now finds itself in.

As of Saturday night, the Tigers (80-70) trailed the Chicago White Sox by .5 games in the AL Central.  The two teams will not play head-to-head in the season’s final two weeks, but intra-division matchups with the Royals and Twins will make for an interesting sprint to the finish.

For these last 12 games, much of the Tigers’ success will depend directly on the personal offensive success of Cabrera.

Though it won’t be his primary focus, contending for a Triple Crown is nothing to be taken lightly.

Considering the company Cabrera would join and the length of time the Crown has been without a home (nearly half a century), Tigers box scores will certainly be worth peeking at in the coming days.

 

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AL MVP: Mike Trout vs. Miguel Cabrera

The AL MVP race is suiting up to be sports’ tightest MVP race this year. It is a two-man race between the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera.

Mike Trout, the 21-year-old rookie phenom, has been a key figure in the Angels’ turnaround. Before calling up Trout, the Angels were a disappointing 6-14. Since Trout’s arrival, the team is 75-54, a winning percentage good enough for the first wild card in the AL.

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Only two rookies have won the MVP award: Ichiro (2001), and Fred Lynn (1975). Will Trout join this elite class?

Trout is batting .327, second in the American league, with 27 HR and 77 RBI. Aside from being one of the game’s best hitters, he has game-changing speed and gold-glove defense in Center Field.

Trout has an AL-leading 46 steals, while only having been caught four times. Also, 63% of the time, he has taken the extra base on a hit. (advancing two bases on a hit, three bases on a double) That track-like speed has propelled Trout to the top of the runs scored category in the AL with 118, 18 ahead of the next closest player even though he missed the first 20 games of the season.

Defensively, Trout has been no stranger to Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems or SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He has taken away a league-leading four home runs this year.

Perhaps the most telling statistic of Trout’s case is his WAR (Wins Above Replacement), which calculates the total number of wins that any player adds to his team over the course of a season. Trout is the AL-leader in WAR with 10.3, while the next-closest player only has 6.6.

On the other side of the AL MVP argument is baseball’s best hitter this season, Miguel Cabrera.

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Hard to believe the Marlins traded Cabrera to the Tigers in 2007 because they didn’t want to pay him. Dear Miami: He’s worth it.

Cabrera is making a strong push for baseball’s first Triple Crown since 1967. He leads the AL in hitting (.333), RBIs (130) and is second in HR with 41, one behind league-leader Josh Hamiliton.

The Triple Crown is leading the league in batting average, HR, and RBIs in the same season and is one of baseball’s great statistical achievements. Because of more teams, more players and a higher development of those players, a Triple Crown in this age could be baseball’s greatest statistical achievement in one season ever.

If Cabrera does accomplish the rare feat, it will hard to deny him the hardware in a sport where statistics have the final say.

His other statistics are also MVP-worthy: first in slugging (.612), second in hits (189) and runs scored (100) and third in WAR (6.3).

While both candidates’ teams are in the playoff hunt, neither team would be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today. The Angels are 3.5 games back of the Oakland A’s for the second wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Tigers are 2 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the AL Central.

Whosever team makes the playoffs will probably win the MVP award. If neither the Angels nor the Tigers make the playoffs, this could be an MVP race that comes down to a handful of votes.

Regardless, either candidate is fully deserving of the award.

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Wild Card Within Reach for the Angels

In 2002, no one expected the Angels to come back.

It was the seventh inning of Game Six of the 2002 World Series and the San Francisco Giants had champagne on ice, leading 5-0 and 3-2 in the series.

Up to the plate stepped Scott Spiezio, a lifetime .255 hitter.  Sporting his trademark soul patch and the same can’t-lose attitude that has made him a postseason legend, Spiezio locked in and knocked a Felix Rodriguez pitch into the right field stands to narrow the margin to 5-3.

The now-retired Spiezio has had heroic efforts in his only two World Series, one with the Angels and the other in 2006 with the Cardinals.

The Angels would go on to win Game Six and then the World Series in Game Seven, their first and only title in franchise history.  And it all came down to that one moment.

Though the remainder of the 2012 regular season provides the Angels with a bit more time for heroics, gutsiness a la Speizio may be needed to vault them past either the Yankees, Orioles or Athletics for one of two Wild Card spots.

7.5 games back of the Rangers with 15 games to play, winning the AL West is all but impossible.  The Tigers recent woes have taken them out of the Wild Card race and into a dogfight with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central title and the Tampa Bay Rays are now gasping for air after losing five of six against the Yankees and Orioles last week.

Now the AL Wild Card picture figures to be an odd-man-out three-team battle between the A’s, who are comfortably into the first Wild Card slot, the second-place finisher in the AL East and the Angels.

In Anaheim, the last mile of the season-long marathon will prove to be difficult.  9 of their remaining 15 games will be against division leaders (White Sox and Rangers) and the remaining six are face-offs with the Seattle Mariners, a team that is far better than many expected at 70-77.

The M’s have relied on solid pitching to compensate for an offense that fares no better than 29th in the MLB in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage and now look forward to an opportunity to spoil any postseason plans the Angels may have.

In order to avoid a possible media circus this offseason, heart is a must down the stretch for the MLB’s third most highly-paid team at $154,940,524.

A 7-year, $126 million contract owed to Vernon Wells has many Angels fans shaking their heads.

With the second-best batting average in the MLB, one would think the playoffs would be a foregone conclusion, but for the latter part of the second half hitting hasn’t been an issue.

Instead, bullpen pitching has acted as their Achilles heel.  In a ten game road-trip in early August that made a tremendous comeback even necessary for the Angels, the team’s bullpen ERA was an atrocious 10.54.

Numbers aside, the “clutch” factor has at times been absent.  Last Sunday, the Angels had an opportunity to at least draw a tie with the A’s in a crucial four game set, trailing 6-5 with runners on first and third with no one out in the ninth.

Needing a mere sac fly to tie the game, the Angels buckled.  Kendrys Morales struck out and Howie Kendrick grounded into a game-ending double play.

While that is probably the most dramatic example of failing to deliver the Angels have had all season, it should serve as a reminder of what not to do in the coming two weeks.

They have the offense, they have the pitching, now it’s just a matter of clutching up as the season draws to a close.

Besides, growing a soul patch never hurt anyone, did it?

 

 

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