Opening and Closing Time

If the New York Mets had a team motto for the 2017 season it would something like, “Finishing what you started and start what you want to finish.” 47 games, almost 30% of the season, could determine if the other 115 games matter in Queens.

The Mets schedule has them playing against only National League East opponents until May 8th when the Giants come to Flushing. The NL East can be shaped by how well the Mets come out of the gate. A great start to the season would mean the rest of the East has to beat up on each other while the Mets sit back and watch. It is hard to catch up with a team when you are not playing them. A terrible start could mean it is the Mets who are struggling to play catch up all summer.

Mets
A good start and finish could see Queens celebrating late into October. (NewsDay/ Thomas A. Ferrara)

Even if the Mets are unable to run away with the East with a successful beginning of the season, so long as they remain close they will have the opportunity to catch up at the end of the season. The final 15 games of the Mets’ season is against only NL East opponents. If the Nationals, the expected winner, have not clinched the Division, the 3 game series in Queens starting on September 22nd could decide who wins the National League East in 2017.

In 2016, the Mets began the 2016 season 20-12 (0.625) through their first 32 games and finished the season 9-6 (0.600) in their last 15 games. The Nationals also began the 2016 season 20-12 through the first 32 games, but finished 7-8 (0.467) over their last 15 games. This 2 game difference could be reduced to 8 season games that eventually led to the Nationals winning the East. Washington went 7-3 in the last 10 games before they clinched the division and began resting players for the playoffs. The Nationals were playing well when they secured their playoff spot, and then let off the game and coasted through the finish line.

Chicago Cubs v New York Mets
The Mets could be the smacked in the face by their own play by the end of the season. (www.mlb.com)

Injuries happen to every team, so it is hard to justify a team coming up short based solely on an injury to a single player or a select group of players. The easiest way for the Mets to win the East is to play better against the Nationals and the Braves. In 2016 the Mets were 7-12 against Washington and 9-10 against the Braves. The Mets should have a winning record against the Braves and at least play .500 against the Nationals. This is a three game swing in the wins column, reducing the Nationals lead down to five games. New York went 12-7 against both the Phillies and the Marlins and needs to do so again this season. Good teams beat up on the teams they are better than in an effort to stockpile victories.

The Mets are off to an 8-11 start, wins and loses through 19 games this season. Their first 32 games and their last 15 games, roughly 30% of the season will loom large as to the success or failure of the 2017 season in Flushings. The Mets can put pressure on the National League East from the beginning or dig themselves into a whole that could be nearly impossible to get out of. If the Mets hope to finish what they start this season, they must start what they want to finish at the beginning of the season.

DJ

 

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 4.0

Let’s try this again. For the fourth year in a row The Winning Run will try in vain to accurately predict what will happen during the 2017 Major League Baseball season. We do this knowing that we are terrible at this, yet it is still fun to try. The only thing that we can guarantee about our predictions are that they are wrong and the actual season will be better than the season we predicted. Thanks to Bernie for his commentary on each team. 

We realize that the season has already begun and that we are late to the party. There is a good reason for this. We were all attending Derek’s wedding with Jesse as the Best Man, Bernie as a groomsman, and John as an usher. Sorry about the delay, life got busy. And so, here are our predictions for the 2017 season.

National League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Washington Nationals New York Muttz Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
2nd New York Mets* Washington Gnats Atlanta Braves New York Mets
3rd Miami Marlins Atlanta Bravos New York Mets Miami Marlins
4th Atlanta Braves Miami Fish Miami Marlins Atlanta Braves
5th Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Follies Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies

Washington Nationals – These guys are like Peyton Manning. Great in the regular season but can’t seem to navigate the playoffs. Will they capture hardware this year? I won’t hold my breath. Bryce Harper is pretty much a force of nature in the game but more like a tornado in that the damage is only done if you get in the way.

New York Mets – I’m torn about putting them further down the list. Why? Because of another f-ing football player – Tim Tebow. With arguably the best rotation in the league and young bats that are finding their stride, these guys only get in their own way. If they could borrow some of the “No F@#$s Given” attitude of their crosstown rivals, I’d put them in the NLCS without hesitation. If there’s even a whisper of Tebow getting called up after the All-Star Break, write these guys off.

Miami Marlins – Stanton looked good in the WBC. The team met with considerable tragedies last season. Even if they get it together and settled this year, they’re a couple seasons away from elbowing out the Mets and the Nationals.

Atlanta Braves – The Braves are rebuilding with some interesting young talent. Dansby Swanson is really just the icing on the cake. Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon, is just fun to watch as he continues trucking along as if he were decades younger. Hopefully, he’ll share his experience in a way that keeps the young guys on track and out of trouble. It’s still a long way from seeing them place higher in the division.

Philadelphia Phillies – There are few franchises that I can think of that are more poorly managed from the front office on down. Did I bother to look up anything on their off-season? Why bother?

Colon
Bartolo Colon brings his power bat and arm to Atlanta, can Big Sexy hit career home run #2 for the Braves. (www.mlb.com)
Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Chicago Cubs Chicago Harry Caray’s Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2nd Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Buckos* St. Louis Cardinals* St. Louis Cardinals*
3rd St. Louis Cardinals Cincinnati Fighting Vottos Pittsburgh Pirates Milwaukee Brewers
4th Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Dreadbirds Milwaukee Brewers Pittsburgh Pirates
5th Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewniversity Cincinnati Reds Cincinnati Reds

Chicago Cubs – The Cubs have to get the nod for being the World Series Champs but especially so because the win came on the backs of a core group of young talent in Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell. Javier Baez continues to amaze with his acrobatic defense and it’s getting more refined. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks are the only guys on the rotation I’d trust to finish the season strong but that may be all they need to go deep in the playoffs.

St. Louis Cardinals – I’m now more convinced than ever that Yadier Molina is a cyborg. I keep thinking they’re too old to keep up and I’m looking like a fool as they pull out wins. What’s also got me intrigued this season is the new roster of incoming talent with guys like Alex Reyes (before he needed Tommy John surgery) and Luke Weaver. They’re rebuilding while still competing for the playoffs. That deserves a lot of respect.

Milwaukee Brewers –  I think they’re trying to follow the Cardinals’ example of rebuilding without demolishing. For some odd reason, I have a feeling Junior Guerra will have a great season. I don’t put a lot of stock into spring training except to see how individuals spent their offseason getting ready but they’re looking pretty good.

Pittsburgh Pirates – I’ve been high on them in the past. I think I need to sober up. Aside from their all-star outfield, I’m not sure there’s a lot else to be hopeful about.

Cincinnati Reds – They’re rebuilding. I don’t think they’ll be the worst but this division may be the overall best division in all of MLB. Finishing last in the Central but maybe 10th in the National League.

West Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Los Angeles Dodgers Colorado Silver Bullets Los Angeles Dodgers San Francisco Giants
2nd San Francisco Giants* Los Angeles Vin Scullys* Colorado Rockies* Los Angeles Dodgers*
3rd Colorado Rockies San Padres Big Macs San Francisco Giants Colorado Rockies
4th Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Trouser Snakes Arizona Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks
5th San Diego Padres San Francisco Gigantors San Diego Padres San Diego Padres

San Francisco Giants – Cueto and Samardzija still have enough in the tank which makes this the best rotation in this division. Melancon is a solid closer addition to anchor a bullpen. The talent on this roster is well-experienced but not fighting the twilight of their careers.

Los Angeles Dodgers – These guys caught lightning in a bottle. Seager is my pick to take MVP this season. But there’s some age on this team that’s probably going to show. It’s not just tarnish, it might be rust. I’m not sold on Joc Pederson. Though he’s shown some moments of pure brilliance, it’s too streaky.

Colorado Rockies – If Trevor Story stays healthy this team may be knocking on the Dodgers door…wait, no pitching. Nevermind. Arizona might catch them by surprise.

Arizona Diamondbacks – It’s a team game. Goldschmidt and Greinke can’t do it all themselves. What I don’t get is why this team can’t seem to get it together when it seems to be there on paper.

San Diego Padres – This team may have better luck if they spent some time with the real life versions of their mascot.

Goldy
The Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt could be a surprise in the NL West. (Ezra Shaw)

American League

East Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Boston Red Sox Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox
2nd Toronto Blue Jays* New York Spankees New York Yankees* New York Yankees*
3rd New York Yankees Baltimore Riots Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles*
4th Baltimore Orioles Steve Irwin Killers Tampa Bay Rays Toronto Blue Jays
5th Tampa Bay Rays Boston Dead Sux Baltimore Orioles Tampa Bay Rays

Boston Red Sox – Getting Chris Sale indicates the Boston Red Sox want to win now. With Price in the pipeline, they might have a slow start to the season but this is probably the most formidable American League rotation this season. There’s plenty of hitting available in the lineup without Benintendi. So he’s just icing on the cake. Blech.

New York Yankees – I think it’s safe to say that Tanaka is a bonafide ace. I’ve heard that Sabathia may have finally perfected another pitch and developed the sort of patience necessary for an arm that’s lost some heat. They got some bats to hopefully keep them in games late so that they can show off what may be one of the top 5 bullpens in the league.

Baltimore Orioles – Manny Machado is a man amongst boys and it’s often forgotten how young he is. Adam Jones is still a force to be reckoned with. This is a roster that’s really good up and down but what I think puts them in third place is that there’s more potential firepower in the rotation and lineup than…

Toronto Blue Jays – Probably the most balanced team in all of major league baseball. Yet, the underachieving in the playoffs is problematic for me. I think this is the year where it’s going to catch up to them this season.

Tampa Bay Rays – Evan Longoria amazes me that he’s still producing the way he does. Chris Archer is an ace on almost any team. What else do they have? Yeah….

Sale
Chris Sale changed his sox and could make Boston untouchable in the East. (www.si.com)
Central Derek Jesse John Bernie
1st Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians Cleveland Indians
2nd Detroit Tigers Cleveland Up Three Games To None* Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
3rd Kansas City Royals Chicago Black Sox Minnesota Twins Detroit Tigers
4th Minnesota Twins Minnesota Twinkies Kansas City Royals Minnesota Twins
5th Chicago White Sox Detroit Militarized Zone Chicago White Sox Chicago White Sox

Cleveland Indians – These guys didn’t get into the World Series because they were built on foundation of well-experienced and stalwart veteran stars. This is a dynamic team with a creative manager. 2017 is a reloading, not refurbishing, year.

Kansas City Royals – Something didn’t click in 2016 but this is a well-balanced team. The departure of Wade Davis and Edinson Volquez is troublesome but they added some bats to increase their hitting production. Danny Duffy is an exciting talent that is screaming elite ace but let’s hold judgement until we see how he navigates the season.

Detroit Tigers – A veteran team with the closest thing to Murderers’ Row in the AL. If Verlander bounces back quickly they should be considered higher but, aside from Zimmermann, the rotation is unexciting. K-Rod had a great 2016 season but this doesn’t seem to be a bullpen that can truly shorten games.  It’s feast or famine with the Tigers this year.

Minnesota Twins – They circled the wagons a bit with their lineup but it’s a solid core group. There’s an interesting variety in the rotation but that’s all that can be said about their pitching.

Chicago White Sox – New manager and a great prospect. But at what cost? Sorry, but the departure of Sale and Eaton leaves a lot to be desired.

West Derek Jesse John

Bernie

1st Houston Astros The Acute Angles of Anaheim Seattle Mariners Houston Astros
2nd Seattle Mariners* Houston Colt 45s* Houston Astros* Seattle Mariners
3rd Texas Rangers Oakland White Elephants Texas Rangers Texas Rangers
4th Los Angeles Angels Texas Dangers Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Angels
5th Oakland Athletics Seattle Seamen Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

Houston Astros – Reddick, Aoki, and Beltran…the Astros built up one of the more enviable lineups in the American League. This should take the pressure off an ERA heavy rotation that can usually pitch deep into games. Gregerson and Giles is a great 1-2 punch in the bullpen.

Seattle Mariners – This remodeling seems to be going along well. Edwin Diaz looked good in the World Baseball Classic with some nasty late movement in his off-speed pitches. But still not sure the Mariners pitching can consistently give the lineup 8 innings to get to him. This lineup looks good though so opposing pitchers may have trouble getting around Cruz and Cano.

Texas Rangers – These guys finished first last season and are getting what should be a healthy Yu Darvish. But I’m not sold that the departure of Desmond, Beltran, and Moreland was properly accounted for in their hitting lineup.

Los Angeles Angels – Having the best player in baseball shouldn’t make a team complacent. But that’s what we have here. The addition of Cameron Maybin brings some good lumber to the yard but the rotation is iffy and the bullpen is in shambles.

Oakland Athletics – These guys may need a new training staff. To say the pitching staff is a stone’s throw away from triage belies the fact that it’s a stone thrown by my four year-old godson.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros
Robinson Cano and the Mariners should be tough to handle with solid pitching and hitting. (Troy Taormina- USA TODAY Sports)

The Playoffs

My season picks were more serious than these. This is more about what I would like to see happen and what I think would make a great storyline for the game. (The number following indicates games won in the series)

NL Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Los Angeles Dodgers
Loser New York Mets Los Angeles Vin Scullys St. Louis Cardinals St. Louis Cardinals

 

Al Wild Card (previously indicated by a * in the season ranking predictions)

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros New York Yankees
Loser Toronto Blue Jays Houston Colt 45s New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles

 

NLDS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner (1-4) Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals Los Angeles Dodgers – 3
Loser (1-4) San Francisco Giants Pittsburgh Buckos Colorado Rockies Chicago Cubs – 2
Winner (2-3) Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants – 3
Loser (2-3) Los Angeles Dodgers Chicago Harry Caray’s Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals – 1

 

ALDS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner (1-4) Boston Red Sox Kansas City Monarchs Cleveland Indians New York Yankees – 3
Loser (1-4) Seattle Mariners Cleveland Up Three Games To None Houston Astros Cleveland Indians – 2
Winner (2-3) Cleveland Indians The Acute Angles of Anaheim Seattle Marines Boston Red Sox – 3
Loser (2-3) Houston Astros Toronto Canucks Boston Red Sox Houston Astros – 2

 

NLCS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Washington Nationals Colorado Silver Bullets Washington Nationals San Francisco Giants – 4
Loser Chicago Cubs New York Muttz Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers – 3

 

ALCS

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Cleveland Indians Kansas City Monarchs Seattle Mariners New York Yankees – 4
Loser Boston Red Sox The Acute Angles of Anaheim Boston Red Sox Boston Red Sox – 2

 

celebrate
Who will celebrate in October in 2017? (Brian Cassella/ Chicago Tribune)

World Series

Derek Jesse John Bernie
Winner Washington Nationals – 4 Colorado Silver Bullets – 4 Seattle Mariners – 4 New York Yankees – 4
Loser Boston Red Sox – 3 Kansas City Monarchs – 2 Washington Nationals – 2 San Francisco Giants – 3

 

Time will tell if any of our predictions are correct. This is our fourth year doing this and we still are horrible at making predictions. So don’t blame us if we are wrong, we warned you. Just remember, baseball makes it better.

DJ, JJ, JB, and BL

Predictions That Did Go Wrong 3.0

Before predicting what will happen during the 2017 Major League season, let’s take a look back at The Winning Run’s predictions for the 2016 season. Once again we did a terrible job of guessing the final standings and playoffs. We are terrible at predictions, but we are consistent at our terribleness. So without further ado, a look back at our sad attempt at predicting the 2016 Major League season.

National League East

Prediction Reality
1 New York Mets Washington Nationals
2 Washington Nationals New York Mets
3 Miami Marlins Miami Marlins
4 Atlanta Braves Philadelphia Phillies
5 Philadelphia Phillies Atlanta Braves
160925_SNUT_fernandez2.png.CROP.promo-xlarge2.png
The death of Jose Fernandez was a shocking reminder that baseball is just a game. (Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

National League Central

Prediction Reality
1 Chicago Cubs Chicago Cubs
2 Pittsburgh Pirates St. Louis Cardinals
3 St. Louis Cardinals Pittsburgh Pirates
4 Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers
5 Milwaukee Brewers Cincinnati Reds

 

National League West

Prediction Reality
1 Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers
2 San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants
3 Arizona Diamondbacks Colorado Rockies
4 San Diego Padres Arizona Diamondbacks
5 Colorado Rockies San Diego Padres

 

American League East

Prediction Reality
1 Toronto Blue Jays Boston Red Sox
2 New York Yankees Baltimore Orioles
3 Boston Red Sox Toronto Blue Jays
4 Baltimore Orioles New York Yankees
5 Tampa Bay Rays Tampa Bay Rays

 

American League Central

Prediction Reality
1 Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians
2 Cleveland Indians Detroit Tigers
3 Detroit Tigers Kansas City Royals
4 Minnesota Twins Chicago White Sox
5 Chicago White Sox Minnesota Twins
i
In 2016, not every team could take a punch from the competition. (AP Photo/CSM/Albert Pena)

American League West

Prediction Reality
1 Houston Astros Texas Rangers
2 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Seattle Mariners
3 Texas Rangers Houston Astros
4 Seattle Mariners Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
5 Oakland Athletics Oakland Athletics

 

Playoffs

Wild Card

American League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Cleveland Indians Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Toronto Blue Jays Baltimore Orioles

 

National League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Pittsburgh Pirates San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants New York Mets
gettyimages-613008844-1
Francisco Lindor and the Indians came so close to a World Series Championship, but Cleveland will have to wait at least one more season. (Jason Miller/ Getty Images)

Divisional Series

American League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Toronto Blue Jays Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Texas Rangers
Houston Astros Kansas City Royals Cleveland Indians Boston Red Sox

 

National League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Chicago Cubs Pittsburgh Pirates Chicago Cubs San Francisco Giants
New York Mets Los Angeles Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers Washington Nationals

 

Championship Series

American League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Toronto Blue Jays Houston Astros Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays

 

National League

Predicted Winner Predicted Loser Actual Winner Actual Loser
Chicago Cubs New York Mets Chicago Cubs Los Angeles Dodgers

 

World Series

Games Won Prediction Games Won Actual
4 Games Houston Astros 4 Games Chicago Cubs
2 Games Chicago Cubs 3 Games Cleveland Indians

We did not get much right, but we did correctly predict six teams in their final standings, five playoff teams, and two Divisional Series Winners, and the National League Championship winner. Our predictions were not as accurate as in the 2015 final standings, but we found greater success in the playoffs. The playoffs are where it really matters, right?

GTY-World-Series-game7-end-25-jrl-161102_16x9_992
The Cubs are World Series Champions. (Ezra Shaw/ Getty Images)

Predicting the final standings for the regular season is not an easy task. Our predictions in 2015 (11 of 30 correct) were much higher than our average, so it came as no surprise that in 2016 our predictions fell back to earth. We were correct that the Miami Marlins would finish third in the National League East, ahead of the rebuilding Braves and Phillies but well behind the Nationals and Mets. The Cubs were the easy pick to win the National League Central, far outpacing the rest of the division.The National League West was a two team race from the beginning, but we were correct that the Dodgers would out last the Giants over the course of the season. Finally we were correct in predicting the American League East would leave the Rays behind and the American League West would leave the Athletics behind as both teams finished last in their division.

Our predictions in the playoffs were much better in 2016. There are ten playoff spots, we selected half the teams before the season began. The Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants all made the playoffs, but despite having half the teams in the playoffs correct, we did not do a great job of predicting what they would do once they made it to October. We were correct in predicting the Toronto Blue Jays would win the American League Divisional Series. We correctly predicted the Chicago Cubs would win the National League pennant, although we felt they were not yet ready to break the Curse of the Billy Goat. Opps.

The 2016 Major League season was not what we predicted it would be; it was better. No matter how careful we are in making our predictions, we will be wrong more often than we are right; such is baseball. Every season has its memories, for the Cubs it was finally winning the World Series after waiting more than a century. The Reds, Braves, Twins, Athletics, and other continued to rebuild. Every team is trying to get better, but not matter what baseball is unpredictable. We hope we are better at predicting the 2017 season than we were the 2016 season. However, there are only three guarantees that we can make: 1) baseball is unpredictable, 2) our predictions will turn out to be horribly wrong, 3) baseball makes everything better.

DJ, JJ, JB, and BL

The Green Fields of the Mind

Baseball has the same romance, drama, and finality as life. There is no preselected destination; an at bat, a game, a season, a career can turn on a single pitch. Life can turn on a small, seemingly inconsequential decision. Future Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s The Green Fields of the Mind eloquently recalls the end of the 1977 Boston Red Sox’s season and the intersection of life and baseball.

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”

Giamatti ropes you in from the beginning, forcefully reminding you that for all the love we have for baseball, the game itself is fleeting. The once youthful rookie is now the wily veteran. The games slip by day after day, each meaning so much, yet many are forgotten before the season ends. The season begins when the world is coming alive and ends when the natural world around us is starting to ready itself from the forthcoming winter. The sudden end of the baseball season, for every team, is dramatic. There is no clock to countdown but, as the leaves change and the cooler temperatures settle in, baseball fans know their time is running short.

426759_691727011938_1027395097_n
The grass is always green at Fenway Park. (The Winning Run)

The cold of winter compounds the sadness and the void left by the end of the baseball season. Coats and scarves appear in an effort to conserve the spirit of the waning, warm sunshine. Baseball demands an outdoor space with the horizon for a backdrop. It cannot be appreciated like a wintry landscape from the warm comfort behind a window to watch the snow fall. Winter weather traps people inside, unable to find the space and comfort required to play the game. The sudden end of summer shocks the system and the dwindling daylight slows our daily routines to a crawl.

Bart Giamatti understood the love of baseball is tied to the love shown in rooting for your team, not in rooting against your opponent. No matter the ferocity of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Boston wants to win more than it wants to see New York lose. Love is the driving force in baseball and in life. We all continually search for the joy of victory while knowing the sting of defeat will last longer and cut deeper. The highs are few and the lows are many, but the love of the game is the one constant that brings us all back every spring and breaks our hearts every winter.

The Green Fields of the Mind is among the greatest pieces of baseball literature. Forty years have passed since a cold, rainy day in Boston inspired Giamatti to write. The forty summers of Giamatti’s life and the forty summers since have continued the thrill and pain the moment the baseball season ends. Red Sox fans know the season has ended when Joe Castiglione begins to recite Giamatti’s words. The love, passion, fragility, and fleeting nature of baseball is what makes the game great as season after season fans return back to their radios, TVs, and ball parks. For forty seasons baseball loved and tortured Bart Giamatti. The 2017 season will mark forty seasons since that love and despair inspired a man to write what all baseball fans knows in their heart. The game on the field slowly begins in the Spring and suddenly stops in the Fall, but in our minds the season lasts forever.  

DJ

High Five

Five years ago, Jesse and I were discussing the upcoming baseball season. He was in Georgia and I was in the frigid cold of New Jersey working my way through graduate school. As our conversations often are during the winter, we were both impatiently waiting for the beginning of Spring Training. Baseball has always been a major part of our relationship. Playing baseball in the street just the two of us, one pitching and one hitting. It was not batting practice, it was baseball. A wooden bat and a tennis ball, so we didn’t break any windows. One of us would pitch, the other would hit. We would swing at almost anything because we had one ball and we did not want to chase the ball, instead we wanted the other one chase it while we ran around the bases. Ghost runners were abundant as we both would throw the pitch and quickly begin backing up to field the ball. You learn to move quickly if you want to win. Baseball in the street never had innings, we just played until we were called inside for dinner or until we could not see the ball anymore.

During that cold February I was discussing my graduate school work and the job search, and of course baseball. Jesse suggested I start writing a baseball blog as something to keep my writing skills up post graduation. I had never thought about doing that before, but the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. The idea quickly turned into The Winning Run.

Pirates

The Winning Run: Jesse Derek, and John at a Pirates game after a long road trip to get there. Bernie has since joined the group. (The Winning Run)

Researching and writing for The Winning Run has taught me so much about the game I love. It was an early lesson, which I am relearning now with umpiring, that the more you think you know about baseball the less you actually know. Five years have flown by in life and in baseball. I am continuously thankful Jesse convinced me to start writing about this wonderful game. I have gained new friendships and traveled to cities I never thought I would visit, simply to watch a game. Baseball is beautiful and wonderful; baseball makes it better.

I hope the next five years are just as amazing as the first five.

DJ

Mundane Greatness

There are several ways to define greatness. No single definition will satisfy everyone’s understanding of the word. One definition of greatness in baseball, and in life, is doing the unthinkable while also doing the basic things extremely well. There are several super star players in baseball at the moment, but Mike Trout rises above the others for his greatness and his ability to do the basic things well.

Greatness in a career, not just a singular moment, requires the ability to continually place yourself among other great players. In his first five full seasons in the Majors, Mike Trout has established himself as a consistent and reliable player for the Angels. There have not been any wild swings, up or down, in his statistics. He has scored more than 100 runs, collected at least 172 hits, hit 27 home runs, and hit 27 doubles in every full season. He has played in at least 157 games every season over the last four seasons. His consistency looks like this:

Career (2011-2016)

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB HBP SF IBB
811 3558 2997 600 917 175 37 168 497 143 28 477 784 .306 .405 .557 .963 1670 48 36 46


Average Season

G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB HBP SF IBB
154 685 575 116 178 34 7 33 96 28 6 94 151 .310 .410 .564 .975 173 324 9 7 9

 

APTOPIX_Mariners_Angels_Baseball-1020x1449.jpg
Mike Trout makes the extraordinary seem commonplace. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)

This consistency, season after season, has led Trout to never finish lower than second in the American League MVP voting. He has received a vote on 148 MVP ballots in his first five seasons, out of a possible 148. Trout won the MVP Award in 2014 and 2016. He finished second to Miguel Cabrera in both 2012 and 2013, and to Josh Donaldson in 2015. In his rookie season, Trout received all 28 first place votes for the 2012 AL Rookie of Year Award, far outdistancing runner up Yoenis Cespedes.

The Rookie of the Year Award, two AL MVP Awards, and five Silver Slugger Awards are quickly filling up Trout’s awards case. In some ways, the awards mask Trout’s dominance. He has drawn at least 83 walks in each of the last four seasons, twice leading the league with 110 in 2013 and 116 in 2016. This while sharing the Angels lineup with Albert Pujols. Trout’s discipline at the plate has meant a .405 career OBP. Yes, Trout does strikeout more than he probably should (136 times or more in every season), there are two things to remember. First, his walk rate is increasing while his strikeout rate is decreasing, so he is still learning. Second, Mike Trout is 25 years old. He is still a young ball player.  

Despite all his ability on the field, Trout does not receive the appropriate fanfare he should. He is one of the most visible players in the sport, yet he could be so much more. There are three things that have dampened his rise to supreme super stardom. Above all baseball is a team sport. No individual can truly carry an entire team for a season like a player can in basketball or football. If Mike Trout were to get hurt, the Angels could replace him and still remain competitive. If LeBron James or Tom Brady were injured their team’s season is probably over. This understood, Trout has played on an Angels team that has not consistently competed in the American League West. In his first five full seasons, the Angels have finished as follows: 2012 89-73 (3rd AL West), 2013 78-84 (3rd AL West), 2014 98-64 (1st AL West, swept in ALDS), 2015 85-77 (3rd AL West), and 2016 74-88 (4th AL West). In baseball, great players need to be on competitive teams if they are to achieve the recognition their talents deserve.

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The most common comparison for Mike Trout is to Mickey Mantle, and it is easy to see why. (www.nydailynews.com)

The second issue is that Trout plays on the West Coast. East coast bias is a real thing, and here is one of the main reasons why. Night games in California during the week start too late for people living on the East Coast or in the Midwest to stay up and watch. It is tough to watch a three hour game that starts at 10pm, when you have to be at work by 8am the next morning. Unfortunately, Friday and Saturday nights are really the only time for players like Trout to shine at home before the national audience. Trout and the Angels are also fighting for an audience in Los Angeles. After the eastern half of the country has gone to bed, there are still plenty of baseball fans awake to watch Trout, if they so chose. The Dodgers’ return to competing for a World Series title has meant less attention on the Angels as they seek their own return to consistently competing for the post season. Anaheim will always be the second team in Los Angeles, in part because Angels Stadium is 25 miles from downtown and Dodgers Stadium is two miles from downtown. Anyone who has ever tried to travel 25 miles in Los Angeles traffic can tell you that reaching Anaheim in time for an Angels game often requires divine intervention.

Trout’s greatness is one of a remarkable craftsman. His play makes him a superstar, yet his consistency year after year has him steadily climbing closer to the all time greats. Players like Hank Aaron and Derek Jeter are craftsmen. Aaron hit 25 home runs in all but one season from 1955 to 1973, yet never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. Jeter averaged 191 hits for 18 of his 20 seasons in the Majors, leading the league in hits twice (1999 and 2012). It is not always easy to see the greatness of these compilers early on in their careers, it is the consistency over an entire career that raises these players from great to legendary. Predicting the future of any player is impossible because the game of baseball is unpredictable. Injuries are the hardest thing to predict. What sort of career would Mickey Mantle have had if he could have stayed healthy? Mantle is already a legendary player, but did he reach his potential? We will never know.

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Mike Trout’s talent should help him rise to the top in baseball and in Los Angeles. (Mark J. Terrill/ Associated Press)

The greatness of Mike Trout cannot be ignored but it is only occasionally celebrated. He is a superstar, yet few people understand the company Trout is in through his first five full seasons in the Majors. Comparing Trout by age has meant comparisons at age 20 to Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson at age 21, and Mickey Mantle from age 22 through 24. The top ten similar batters through their age 24 season are Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mel Ott, Miguel Cabrera, Orlando Cepeda, Vada Pinson, Al Kaline, and Jimmie Foxx. Every comparison except for Vada Pinson is a Hall of Fame player, without question. Mickey Mantle is the most common comparison, and the longer these comparisons continue the higher Trout rises in baseball’s pantheon.

Mike Trout’s greatness is known throughout baseball, yet he remains undervalued. A talent like Trout may only appear on the diamond once in a generation. Barring injury or some other unforeseen issue we have many more seasons to enjoy Trout and his greatness. Make sure you take time to watch Trout play, even if it means staying up late or fighting through Los Angeles traffic. Greatness should be appreciated, and looking back you will not remember how tired you were the next morning or sitting in traffic forever but that you were able to watch one of the legends of the game in action.

DJ

Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away. Time to start planning those romantic dinners, flowers, and cards. Oh also remember your glove and bat. Half of Major League teams have Valentine’s Day as the official report date for their pitchers and catchers. February 15th will see 13 other teams report on February 15th. The Dodgers and Nationals are the last two teams to require their pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training, their report date is February 16th. The path to the World Series begins with the most anticlimactic event in sports. There is nothing to see when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, it is simply players showing up to the facility. Baseball usually ends with a bang in the World Series, but it begins with a bit of a whimper. Players playing catch, running, fielding, laughing, and smiling. It is a scene that every player at every level, no matter their ability, can duplicate.

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Love John McClane (Twentieth Century Fox)

Love is in the air on Valentine’s Day this year. The warm sunshine, the green grass, and the sound of baseballs popping the catcher’s mitt. Hearts and candy are nice, but the sights and sounds of baseball are the most beautiful of all. This year for Valentine’s Day I will celebrate the beginning of baseball without actually seeing anything occur on the field. My heart will just know that the season is beginning. Personally, I will enjoy my traditional Valentine’s Day dinner with my fiancée by eating hamburgers and watching Die Hard. Love is in the air, and it is less than two weeks away.

DJ