The romanticized version of baseball has the players as the boys of summer. Playing a children’s game on an immaculate diamond in perfect weather. In reality, those boys of summer are sweating under the hot midday sun. The umpires are feeling the heat even more than the players, literally and figuratively. Amateur baseball is almost never played in a stadium, usually it is just a diamond, some fencing, and not much else. Once summer hits in earnest, the sun begins to cook the diamond and those on it.
Umpiring during the summer can be exhausting. The games begin to blur together, especially if you work a weekend tournament. Three, four, five, or even six games in a day takes a mental tole on you in the best conditions. Switching out with a partner to break up working games behind the plate or in the field does help maintain your mental focus, but regardless of position the time on the field wears on you. Adding to the stress and strain are parents and coaches who sometimes forget baseball is just a game. One of the first things you learn when you begin umpiring is if you take everything people say about a call you made to heart you will not make it as an umpire. Studying the rule book, proper mechanics, proper angles, and hustle are an umpires best friend. Taking all of these challenges then adding 100 degree heat can make the best umpires question themselves.
On almost every close call umpires are making at least half the people ate a game unhappy. (Alan Mothner /Associated Press)
It is a hot summer day, then put on plate shoes, pants, ball bags, a chest protector, and a mask. This is a recipe to make it look like you went swimming. Personally I wear the hockey mask which gives me better protection around my entire head, but what I gain in protection I lose in air flow. The hockey masks breathes fairly well, but at a certain point sweat begins to pour down your face. My chest protector has a band across the chest, which pushes it away from my body slightly. This allows better airflow, and keeps me cooler. While the band helps prevent heat rash, it does not mean I am cool, only I am cooking not being broiled. My shin guards and plate shoes fit snugly against my legs and feet. As you would imagine what I gain in protection I lose in coolness. I also wear a cup, I will never step on a baseball field without on. Getting hit in the cup is painful enough, I have no desire to experience what it is like getting hit there without a cup. Every piece of equipment is necessary to protect me. I would never work behind the plate without all of it on. A single missed pitch by the catcher or foul ball are not worth the extra coolness.
Umpires move on every pitch. This constant motion, especially in the heat, wears you down. Squatting behind the plate and in the field to watch the pitch. Moving from behind the plate, down the first base line to watch for a pulled foot at first, or moving out to gain a better angle on a fly ball to the outfield. Running with the runner around the bases to ensure they touch each base and to be in a good position to make an accurate call regardless of the base. Umpires are constantly moving and they do not retreat to a dugout between innings. Finding any amount of shade, no matter how small is an oasis on a desert diamond. The fight to stay hydrated and eat enough to maintain your physical health is vital if an umpire is going to survive a long hot weekend.
Night games can be a saving grace. Jesse might still be hot, but at least the sun is no longer beating down on him. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Umpiring in the heat is no joke. If you do not take care of yourself before and during the games, you can quickly find yourself in big trouble. Dehydration and sunburn are painful reminders that you were not prepared for the conditions. Any endeavor which requires long stretches of focus and physical exertion quickly teach you to take care of yourself. You did not get enough sleep last night? Great, you will be missing pitches and hearing about it from coaches and fans. You have been eating a garbage diet? You probably will not withstand the physical toll multiple games in a day takes on you. You were not hydrated to start the day and/or you have not continued to hydrate in the heat? Your muscles will cry for mercy, your mental focus will escape you, and once you have dug yourself a hole it is nearly impossible to get out while on the field.
Few people begin umpiring for the money. It is a nice side job, but doing it for the money will quickly show, as money is not always the best motivator to improve. Every baseball game has three teams; the home team, the visiting team, and the umpires. I do not mean the umpires are trying to win or make calls against a team. Each team has a job to do; the home and visiting team are trying to score the most runs before the end of the game, the umpires are working to ensure the game is played according to the rules of baseball. When an umpire does not properly prepare for a game they are letting their partner down. Yes, the heat can get to anyone, no matter how well prepared they are. This does happen. However, everyone should do their best to be ready for what awaits them on the diamond. The pressure cooker that is umpiring only gets more intense as the temperature rises.
People naturally try to avoid things they know will cause them pain. You only touch a hot stove once to understand it is not something you want to experience again. Getting hit by a baseball is not something people enjoy, it hurts. Baseballs can leave nasty bruises and broken bones if they hit a person just so. A batter’s natural reaction is to jump out of the way of the baseball when they believe the pitch is going to hit them. This is part of the reason most people have difficulty hitting a curveball. Your mind is telling you of the impending danger, yet you also know you need to hit the ball. The vast majority of people are never able to conquer this fear, stay in the box, and drive a curveball.
Baseball is a hard game played by hard people. It takes a toll on your body. Among those who are able to withstand the fear induced by curveballs is an even more select group, these players are those who turn getting hit by a pitch into an art form and a weapon. A run counts the same if you hit a home run or if you get hit by a pitch and then come around to score. These brave souls sacrifice their bodies to get on base. They are sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.
The official rule governing the hit by pitch (HBP), 5.05(b)(2), states:
“(b) The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when:
(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball.”
It is the second part of the rule, “The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball”, which often leads to heated debates about whether a batter attempted to avoid being hit by the pitch. Ultimately it is a judgement call by the umpire. This has lead to some players becoming creative in an attempt to be hit by the pitch. Some players are not afraid to be hit by a pitch and will subtly go out of their way to get hit.
The hit by pitch king is Hughie Jennings. He was hit by a pitch 287 times during his career. Jennings led the National League in HBP five consecutive seasons, 1894-1898. He was hit 51 times during the 1896 season, which remains the single season record. Jennings followed up his record setting season by being hit 46 times in 1897 and 1898, which are still the third and fourth highest single season HBP totals. Career record require longevity, Jennings played in the majors in 18 seasons, his last was in 1918 at the age of 49. However, he appeared in six or fewer games during his final six seasons, during which he had only one HBP. Jennings averaged 36 HBP per 162 games. All those bruises from being hit raised Jennings’ career OBP from .357 to .391. Was it all worth it? It is hard to judge but Jennings is forever enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. You be the judge.
The art of the HBP was not a weapon only during the dead ball era, it is alive and well today. Baseball could be in its Golden Age of the HBP. Eight of the top 20 in the career HBP rankings have played in Major League Baseball since 2002. The art and weaponization of the HBP was championed by Craig Biggio and today continues to be carried on by Chase Utley and Anthony Rizzo.
Chase Utley will take a pitch to the shoulder if it means getting on base. (Jenny Goldstick and Gemma Kaneko/ MLB.com)
Craig Biggio made a career out of doing whatever was necessary to win a baseball game. He willingness to transition from catching to the outfield to second base to help the team with his defense skills wherever they were needed on the diamond. When it came to the offensive side of Biggio’s game he understood his job was to get on base ahead of teammates like Jeff Bagwell. Driving the ball and hustling out of the box or using his elbow guard, and the rest of his body, to reach first base did not matter to Biggio. During his 20 year Major League career, Biggio was hit 285 times, just two behind the all time record. He led the National League five times in HBP. He was hit by a pitch 16 times per every 162 games played during his career. This durability and toughness are what helped Biggio be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The same sort of durability and toughness Biggio displayed throughout his Hall of Fame career is seen in Chase Utley. Utley is playing his 16th Major League season and has been hit by a pitch 200 times. He is the active leader in HBP, he ranks eighth all time, and first all time among left handed batters. Utley’s willingness to use hit body to get on base has seen him lead the National League three times in this painful category. Averaging 17 hit by pitches per 162 games played, Utley has put together a career that will get him some serious consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
It hurts, but Anthony Rizzo uses hit body to get on base. (www.sportsonearth.com)
The old guard of players like Biggio and Utley have shown the younger generation of players the value of using their body to reach first base. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is positioning himself to make a legitimate run at the upper echelons of the record book. In his eighth Major League season, Rizzo has already been hit by 106 pitches, which ties him with Barry Bonds for 74th all time. He is currently ranked 22nd all time for left handed batters. Rizzo could threaten to break into the top 50 all time by the end of this season. He is averaging 18 hit by pitches per 162 games played, and as he enters his prime Rizzo is demonstrating his durability and toughness. Rizzo will turn 29 in August, he should have many more seasons of practicing this painful art ahead of him.
There is an art to getting hit by a pitch. Sometimes it is unavoidable, other times a batter attempts to avoid a fastball to the head. Some players willingly stick a leg or shoulder out on a hanging curveball to reach first base. No one enjoys unnecessary pain. However, baseball is a hard game played by hard people, at every levels. The willingness to endure pain to help the team win is a skill few possess. There are a select few who are willing and able be hit by a pitch if it means helping the team. Rizzo and the next generation of HBP artists need to remember one thing. Whatever you do, do not rub it.
Baseball is a global game so it makes sense for The Winning Run to have a global reach, sort of. Kevin has officially joined us as the head of our international bureau. He is currently living in the baseball hot bed of New Zealand. Kevin has long debated baseball with Bernie and myself dating back to graduate school, and now with Jesse and John. We collectively agree on only one thing, the Mets are always good for a laugh.
Bernie, Derek, and Kevin in Pittsburgh last year watching the Pirates play the Mets and the Diamondbacks. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Here is how Kevin describes himself:
“I’m the forgotten stepchild of the blog. Partly because I love baseball so much, I thought I’d bring it to the world only to find out they call it “cricket” and play with it with funny bats and accents. I add a third Yankees fan to the blog, and take every opportunity to remind the founders of their superiority over the Braves. I have no patience for small ball and want to see dingers, taters, and mashes.”
Welcome to The Winning Run Kevin. Play ball!
As we approach the end of May it’s the perfect time to canonize the one of the rarest feats in baseball — the pitcher bat flip. Even with the increase in bat flips around the game, pitchers rarely flip even refusing to make the most of the few times they do get a hit, let alone a home run.
To encourage more of this glorious celebration of triumph, below is a definitive ranking of all pitcher bat flips found during an exhausting 40 minutes of googling. Each bat flip is ranked on a Joey Bats Scale, with a maximum of 19 points overall and 3.8 points in each category:
Tom Lawless Meter – Game situations matter
Bill Butler F@ck You Meter –
The lead up to the bat flip
The bat flip
James Shields – Spring training Bat Flip
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Full Dinger (3.8)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Flamboyant (3)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: KBO-esque (2.8)
Tom Lawless Meter: Spring training (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Angry at the ball (.5)
Joey Bats Score: Disqualified
In the highlight of their season, then Padres pitcher James Shields uncorked an impressive bat flip, but it’s immediately disqualified for coming in spring training batting practice. Kudos for being the only highlight real I’ve seen from the 2016 Padres.
Matt Harvey Game 1 2015 NLCS
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Sac bunt (0)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: None (0)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Bat fling (.25)
Tom Lawless Meter: During the NLCS but a sac bunt in the NL (.2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Extremely boring play(0)
Joey Bats Score: .45 or 0 Batmans
During a standard NL small ball play, Matt Harvey pulled out a bat flip halfway up the first base line. Given he is a worse base runner than Bartolo Colon (confirmed by in-person scouting), it’s possible that he forgot the bat was in his hand and was desperately flinging it away. His Dark Knight moniker should have been revoked after this flip.
Zack Greinke – 2015 versus Brewers
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Frozen Rope-esque Double (1)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Robotic (1)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Solid bat flip (2)
Tom Lawless Meter: Midseason against Da Brew Crew (.2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Sighing on 2nd base (0)
Joey Bats Score: 3
A bat flip is acceptable on any decent hit by a pitcher, but the low-stakes combined with the lack of intensity from Greinke and the crowd makes this unmemorable to anyone but the MLB intern who posted it on YouTube. Loses additional points for not having Vin Scully call the play.
Zack Greinke – Dodgers vs Reds, 2015
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Dinger (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Peyton Manning-esque (.75)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Less Solid bat flip (1.70)
Tom Lawless Meter: Reds won at most 2 games that year (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: No sigh! (.5)
Joey Bats Score: 5.55
Greinke here looks like a Peyton Manning robot doing his best imitation of Puig. Despite hitting a home run, even the MLB intern passed over this one. It also came during in an August game against the Reds, who, I am sure, were awful outside of Votto in 2015 (I refuse to look this up).
Jeff Samardzija – 2017
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Solid Double (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Alright, Alright, Alright (1.7)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Nut seeking (2)
Tom Lawless Meter: 2017 Giants (0)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: The facial always says f’ you (1)
Joey Bats Score: 6.7
I am amazed he didn’t hit himself in the nuts with this bat flip. That’s some impressive spin, but next time he may want to flip it a little further out to avoid any issues on the bounce back. Pretty impressive, with the ‘70s creeper vibe adding to the cockiness of bat flipping on a double.
Hyun-jin Ryu – 2014 Bat Flip
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Double (1.8)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Standard (1.2)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Great rotation (2.9)
Tom Lawless Meter: Summer game against the Rockies (1)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Low-pressure (1)
Joey Bats Score: 7.9
I am now thinking that the Dodgers (and Puig) must encourage their pitchers to flip bats. Still only the 2nd best bat flip by a Dodger pitcher, though.
Hung-Chih Kuo – 2007
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: First Home Run in MLB Dinger! (3.1)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Vin Scully Admired the Flip (3.7)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Great range, great rotation (3)
Tom Lawless Meter: 3rd of 3 dingers (2)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: That flip screamed hell yeah! (2)
Joey Bats Score: 13.8
Easily, the best bat flip by a Dodger pitcher, even got Vin Scully to admire it.
Some Kid – 2016
Frozen Rope – Dinger Scale: Dinger (3)
Yasiel Puig Hit Admiration Ranking: Puig and then some (3.8)
Bat Drop – KBO Bat Flip Scale: Sharp shooting, full KBO (3.7)
Tom Lawless Meter: 5-year old playing wiffle ball? Full Lawless in his mind (3)
Billy Butler F@ck You Meter: Surprised he didn’t flip the bird (3.8)
Joey Bats Score: 17.3
This is a bat flip. I have no idea if he is a pitcher or not, I am assuming yes, but MLB pitchers could learn from this kid. Hope to see him in the show in 17 years.
The bat flip that will never be
The best pitcher bat flip is the one we can only dream of, the one that broke our hearts when its chance at life was squashed this offseason. The one from the sexist pitcher playing today – the Big Sexy bat flip.
The man who gave us one of the most improbable home runs, followed by what has to be the longest home run trot done in earnest, and the only reason for watching the Mets from 2014-2016 selfishly signed with an AL team this offseason. At 45, it’s likely he will never bat again, but we can dream.
Just picture this man, who once carried his bat to 1st base after nearly losing his helmet and the most memorable home run by a Met ever flipping a bat. Watch those video again, there is no doubt in my mind that this would be the bat flip we need. The sheer sexiness of it would result in Colon having at least 3 more families to feed.
We’ll update as the rankings as more pitchers flip more bats in 2018.
Every umpire, regardless how long they have been calling games, wants every call to be correct. Perfection is the unattainable goal. Knowing the rules is only half the battle, umpires must enforce the rules, often quickly, otherwise a baseball game can descend into a night at the fights. Hall of Fame umpire Doug Harvey might be as close to a perfect umpire that baseball has ever seen. He quoted rules by verse like a theologian. It is little wonder he earned the nickname God. In his book, They Called Me God, written with Peter Golenbock, Harvey recounts his path to and his long tenure in the major leagues. The ups and downs along the way, both on and off the field.
Doug Harvey was born to be an umpire, no one ever doubted that. (The Doug Harvey Collection)
Harvey, like so many umpires, fell in love with the game and umpiring was a way to stay in the sport long after his playing abilities ran out. His ability to call baseball, and basketball, games at the highest level left no doubt about his abilities. The Called Me God reads like a best practices handbook for all umpires, but especially those early in their careers that are working hard to improve. Harvey not only talks about making the time to study the rule book, but he also shows how those long hours of studying the rule book over and over again makes you a better umpire. The ability to cite rules, such as the balk rule or the legality of the third to first move enabled Harvey to handle a manager who was trying to argue that Harvey made a mistake. Once Harvey turned the tables on the manager few ever questioned his authority again. Harvey’s dedication to his craft meant players and managers had little choice but to give him the respect he demanded. Doug Harvey also expected professionalism from everyone on the field and he exuded professionalism. Harvey earned the nickname God from his near infallible judgement on the field, his mastery of the rule book, which caused few people to question his calls; plus the draining of a flooded dugout essentially parting the waters helped too.
The Called Me God is an easy read for everyone. There is excellent information and insight for those who umpire, yet the information is accessible to everyone who loves the game of baseball. Reading the rule book is necessary to understand how to properly umpire a game, but Harvey wrote a case book that takes you out of the rule book and onto the field for real life application. It is this honest story telling that engages the reader and draws them in, leaving them wanting to know more. Harvey tells the good with the bad, he does not sugar coat the toll umpiring takes on the individual physically and emotionally, as well as their family. The long hours at the ball field, the late nights followed by the early mornings push people to exhaustion before they even step onto the field to be judge and jury. Umpiring is demanding, and for those who dedicate themselves to the craft the game of baseball will provide them with love and memories for a lifetime. If umpiring has taught me anything it is how little I know about the game of baseball. So who better to learn about calling the game than God himself?
It has been 20 years since the dawn of the 1998 baseball season. The season would see one of the great teams of all time as the Yankees marched towards the World Series, meanwhile Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing the single season home run record. Knowing what we know now about many of the players who helped revive baseball that summer does diminish some of the fondness. However as Mark McGwire famously said before Congress, “I am not here to talk about the past.”
The 1994 players strike severely damaged baseball. The cancellation of the World Series and the delayed start of the 1995 season saw fans turn their backs on the game. Arguing who is blame, the players or the owners, for this dark time in baseball is for another day, what mattered then was how would the game win back the fans it lost. Some fans still see 1994 as the death of baseball, don’t believe me check out this Facebook group which has more than 22,000 members. Right or wrong baseball needed a season to get its fans back.
Cal Ripken Jr. gave baseball a moment it needed to draw fans back to the game. (REUTERS/ Gary Hershorn/Files)
Baseball got a much needed boost when Cal Ripken Jr. played his 2,131st consecutive game, passing Lou Gehrig for most consecutive games played on September 6, 1995. This was a moment baseball desperately needed showing the good of the game. It was however, a moment. Baseball needed more than one night of glory, it needed a season of suspense and wonderment.
The 1998 New York Yankees are one of the greatest teams ever assembled. The Boston Red Sox won 92 games, yet finished 22 games behind the Yankees in the division. The Yankees finished the season 114-48. The Bronx Bombers had eight players with at least 17 home runs, five players with at least 84 RBI, and eight players with 21 or more doubles. The Yankees hit .288 as a team. On the mound, all five Yankee starters had at least 12 wins, a team ERA of 3.82, with the starters averaging 6 ⅔ inning per start, plus Mariano Rivera nailing down 36 saves out of the bullpen. In the Playoffs, the Yankees swept the Texas Rangers in the American League Divisional Series three games to none, allowing only one run. In the American League Championship Series, the Yankees dispatched the Cleveland Indians in six games. In the World Series, New York swept the San Diego Padres in four games. The 98 win Padres were no match for the Yankees. The biggest team in baseball helped put the game back into people’s lives as they rolled through the season and playoffs. Yankee dominance helped, but the primary attraction was in the National League.
There was little drama as the Yankees swept the World Series. (Jeff Haynes/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa later became the poster children for what was wrong with baseball, but in the summer of 1998 they were what made baseball relevant again for much of the country. Divisional rivals on two of the most prominent teams in the sport, McGwire and Sosa embarked on a home run race that captured the attention of the country. When Roger Maris broke the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth, there was backlash. People felt Ruth’s record should be left alone. When Maris ultimately hit home run number 61 in 1961 he did it in game 162, which many believe meant his record deserved an asterisk as he took more games than Ruth’s 154 game schedule in 1927. If McGwire, Sosa, or some other slugger could hit 60 home runs fewer than 154 games they would hold the record.
McGwire hit 11 home runs by the end of April, only to hit 16 in May to bring his season total to 27 as the calendar turned to June. On May 22nd, Sosa had only 9 home runs against McGwire’s 24. Over the next six weeks Sosa got red hot, hitting 24 home runs. Heading into the All Star Break, McGwire lead Sosa 37 home runs to 33. The race for 62 was on. McGwire hit his 50th home run of the season on August 20th, Sosa followed with his 50th three days later on August 23rd. However in between a whirlwind began on August 22nd regarding McGwire’s use of Androstenedione. McGwire maintained his use of Andro was legal and it did not give him any added benefits on the field. This is perhaps the clearest beginning of the steroid era entering public knowledge. The use of Andro did little to distract the public from the frenzy of the home run chase. September 8th saw McGwire hit his shortest home run of the season, 341 feet, just clearing the left field wall in Busch Stadium. McGwire and the Cardinals were hosting Sosa and the Cubs that night. After initially missing first base in the midst of his joy, quickly retreating to touch the missed base, McGwire rounded the bases to officially set the new single season home run mark at 62. Sosa would tie McGwire at 62 home runs on September 13th. As the 1998 season wound down the question turned to how high McGwire and Sosa would push the home run record. For the only time all season Sosa took the lead on September 25th, when he hit his 66th and final home run of the season. McGwire would finish with a flurry, hitting five home runs in the last three games of the season to finish with 70 home runs.
The home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped revive baseball one home run at a time. (AP Photo/ Beth A. Keiser)
There was no doubt both McGwire and Sosa broke the single season home run record, Ruth’s and Maris’. Sosa would be named the National League Most Valuable Player, while McGwire got his name in the record books. The summer of chasing Ruth and Maris brought baseball the excitement back it lost in the 1994 players strike. The chase between McGwire and Sosa, coupled with the total dominance of the Yankees gave baseball the season it needed to win back fans and rebuild trust.
20 years have passed since the summer of 1998. We have learned so much about the men who played that summer. Far too many had their abilities aided by steroids and other performance enhancers. The steroid era was on full display, we just did not know it yet. The revival of baseball was both helped and hurt by the steroid era, many players have since fallen from grace. The game continues to grow and much of the magic I remember as a kid has returned. The summer of 1998 helped revive baseball, and yet my most vivid memory from that summer is having no interest in any of it. 1998 was my last season playing organized baseball. I had a coach who took the fun out of the game. He would scream and yell when the players, myself included, did not get a hit. He changed my batting stance over and over again. I came to dread going to baseball practice and games. The joy of playing baseball was gone. A year or so later I wanted to play for a travel team, but I was late to the tryout we did not get out of the car. This is how my baseball career ended. I am under no illusion I was good enough to play professionally, maybe not even in high school. However, one person ruined baseball, it took years for my love of the game to return. I hope he still remembers how great those handful of victories were for our Spring 11/12U rec league team 20 years ago.
A new season is here and despite a lukewarm stove during the offseason, there are some interesting changes that should make our predictions even more misguided than before. Here’s a breakdown of how we see the final standings and playoffs going down. Bernie’s providing a “scouting report” based on our averaged predictions this time around.
|NL East||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Washington Nationals
The Nationals seem to be suffering from the curse of most Washington sports teams with their inability to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. After last season, this led to a hasty change in management. Any moron with a working foot and hands can drive a Ferrari fast. That’s what this team is and why they’ll win the division.
2nd Place- Philadelphia Phillies
We rag on them a lot. It’s been ten head-scratching years since they won the World Series looking like they could have been contenders for several years. So it’s well-deserved. This time, they cleaned house a bit with a lot of cash-in-hand to build a team on the fly.
3rd Place- Atlanta Braves
They’re rebuilding too but the rebuild has had some setbacks. Shelby Miller and Alex Wood floundered. Wood may not have been comfortable in Atlanta but Miller was left out to dry without run support far too often. The front office traded away the pitching staff (giving up Kimbrel for what!?) to get hitters but also gave up one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors – Andrelton Simmons. Nothing has worked yet but they’re still not the head case that are the Mets.
4th Place- New York Mets
They still have formidable pitching if they can stay healthy. Their lineup isn’t drastically different than the one that made a World Series appearance in 2015. In some ways, this lineup has some serious slugging potential. But they’re the Mets. As long as there’s a lurking sideshow like Tim Tebow, you can bet these guys can’t stay out of their own heads long enough to hold it together for a season.
5th Place- Miami Marlins
Part of me would like to call this karmic retribution for ruining perfectly good World Series championship teams from the past. That part is because I don’t want to disparage Jeter but, to be fair, this also feels like certain teams flexing some influence to manufacture winners and losers. Or this could be a genius move to truly build from the ground up…I’m not holding my breath.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Chicago Cubs
Yu Darvish and Jose Quintana are in. Jake Arrieta is out. Kyle Schwarber looks like he was stranded on a desert island during the off-season but in a good way. There’s far too much young hitting and defensive talent on this roster to think that turnover in the rotation is going to do much of anything. Heck, if Schwarber can run down a fly ball better, Cubs fans should be rejoicing because he showed in Spring Training that he can hit for power just from his shoulder rotation.
2nd Place- Milwaukee Brewers
3rd Place- St. Louis Cardinals
These guys are like the San Antonio Spurs. They capitalize on their experience and reload. However, the reloading hasn’t quite been adapting to the rapid changes going on in other places. Molina is still a machine but that’s relative to his age. Same goes for Carpenter, Fowler, and Wainwright (who’s currently hurt). Tommy Pham has a lot of hustle and if Wacha, Gyorko, Wong, and DeJong can find an extra gear to raise their game, third place is going to be off.
4th Place- Cincinnati Reds
One guy north of 30 on the top of their depth chart for fielding but a whole lot of questions about their rotation. If this team could gel together this season, the NL Central will probably be the most exciting division to watch this season.
5th Place- Pittsburgh Pirates
Heart doesn’t win games if you can’t keep them close. There isn’t enough depth here to contend with the rest of the division. Doubt they’ll come in last in the National League but they rest of the Central provides a big obstacle to move forward.
|NL West||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
1st Place- Los Angeles Dodgers
Let’s give the 2017 National League Pennant winners their due. There’s little else to that’s necessary to mention.
2nd Place- Arizona Diamondbacks
I think Zack Greinke is ready to crush it this season. Taijuan Walker is a solid pick up to round out the rotation. Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb are a powerful one-two punch in a pretty formidable lineup. A healthy A.J. Pollock and an added bat with Steven Souza Jr. gives them a credible threat to unseat the Dodgers this year.
3rd Place- Colorado Rockies
The Rockies didn’t do a whole lot to solidify the impressive season they had last year. Blackmon has been on a steady increase over the last four seasons so he may regress this season. Their rotation is really well balanced without an elite ace.
4th Place- San Francisco Giants
The Giants added Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to the lineup. Two guys whom many would have expected to be one-team guys for their HoF contending careers. Not sure if that’s a solution or snake oil for their woes that now include an injured (again) Madison Bumgarner.
5th Place- San Diego Padres
Paul Goldschmidt and the Diamondbacks have been waiting in the wings, could 2018 be there time to win the National League West. (Justin K. Aller/ Getty Images)
|AL East||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
|2||Yankees*||Jays*||Blue Jays||Red Sox*||Red Sox*||Red Sox*|
|3||Blue Jays||Orioles||Red Sox||Orioles||Jays||Blue Jays|
1st Place- New York Yankees
Luis Severino made the case for being an elite ace to lead the Yankees’ rotation. They had one of most formidable bullpens in the Majors and they didn’t lose it. They dropped a Todd Frazier and picked up a Giancarlo Stanton. Can Aaron Boone lose with this team? It’s New York and odd things happen when you have that kind of pressure.
2nd Place- Boston Red Sox
Chris Sale is probably grinding his teeth a little bit about Corey Kluber getting the Cy Young. There’s also a healthy David Price. Rick Porcello is an enviable 3rd man in the rotation. Mookie Betts might be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors. They won the division last year and lost to the eventual World Series Champs.
3rd Place- Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays retooled their lineup a bit but they’ll have to do a lot in order to take any attention away from the Yankees or the Red Sox.
4th Place- Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles are losing depth on both sides of the ball as Chris Davis and Adam Jones have become the elder statesmen of the team. Having one of the best closers in the game being stuck on the DL again shouldn’t be a concern if they’re going to struggle to keep games close going into the later innings. Manager Buck Showalter is a crafty guy though and somehow gets his teams through a lot more than expected. But this is a pretty stacked division.
5th Place- Tampa Bay Rays
Carlos Gomez was a surprisingly good pickup to replace Steven Souza Jr (especially since Souza’s starting the season on the DL). The Rays have a solid rotation with Archer, Snell, Faria, and Eovaldi but there’s an extreme of old journeyman and hopeful prospect talent on the other side that doesn’t bode well for a good season.
|AL Central||Derek||Jesse||John||Bernie||Kevin||The Winning Run|
|3||White Sox||White Sox||Royals||Royals||White Sox||Royals|
|4||Royals||Tigers||Tigers||White Sox||Royals||White Sox|
1st Place- Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians were a game and a series away from being right back in the action everyone thought they were going to coast into. They were stopped a team on an ascendant run while battling some tough late season injuries. 2017 Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, leads a strong rotation that should hold things down for a bevy of young talent in Francisco Lindor, Tyler Naquin, and Bradley Zimmer to really break out while hustlers like Jason Kipnis and Yonder Alonso keep the wheels on track.
2nd Place- Minnesota Twins
Paul Molitor managed the Minnesota Twins like a Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn shore up a strong rotation with Ervin Santana looking more like he did eight years ago and a young firestarter in Jose Berrios who just needs to bring his home game focus on the road. Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano have some devastating bats that will keep the pressure on opposing pitchers.
3rd Place- Kansas City Royals
This team is rebuilding and it seems like they’ve got a plan. They’ve got some cash to pull in some talent later but only if they think they can make a run. It’s unlikely so third is an optimistic place that’s based more on their divisional opponents’ savvy and struggle.
4th Place- Chicago White Sox
5th Place- Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers are at least trying to hold it together and present some semblance of a team. I’m still sore about the way they let go of Dave Dombrowski and I hope they’re kicking themselves repeatedly for it.
The Winning Run
1st Place- Houston Astros
They’re the champs. Let’s give them their due. They reloaded this offseason because there really wasn’t anything to rebuild.
2nd Place- Los Angeles Angels
The Angels probably aren’t putting all of their eggs into the Shohei Ohtani basket. They got Zack Cozart and Ian Kinsler to add some firepower to the lineup. The rotation looks awful to me but maybe they think Garrett Richards is finally due to bounce back into his 2014 form. They’ll still need to tweak that bullpen.
3rd Place- Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners resigned Ichiro Suzuki. I really hope he can mentor some of their young talent. What I would love to see is that they ask him to start hitting for the fences instead of leading off so we can see some of his fabled home run hitting ability. There are some solid elements in Jean Segura and Robinson Cano, speed in the outfield with Dee Gordon, and if they can keep things close an excited closer in Edwin Diaz.
4th Place- Oakland Athletics
Moneyball doesn’t work when everyone else has the analytics you have now.
5th Place- Texas Rangers
The Rangers sold the farm and now they’re using some of their prize bulls to till the field for the next team to come in.
Will one of the best right handed hitters of all time, Miguel Cabrera, play for a last place Tigers team in 2018? (AP Photo/ Carlos Osorio)
|NL WC Winner||Rockies||Cubbies||Rockies||Dodgers||Dbacks||Brewers|
|NL WC Loser||Brewers||D-backs||Cardinals||Brewers||Marlins||D-backs|
|AL WC Winner||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Red Sox||Angels|
|AL WC Loser||Angels||Jays||Angels||Indians||Twins||Red Sox|
|NLDS 1-4 Winner||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers|
|NLDS 1-4 Loser||Rockies||Cubbies||Rockies||Nationals||Dbacks||Brewers|
|NLDS 2-3 Winner||Nationals||Follies||Cubs||D-backs||Cubs||Cubs|
|NLDS 2-3 Loser||Cubs||Reds||Nationals||Cardinals||Nats||Nationals|
|ALDS 1-4 Winner||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Astros|
|ALDS 1-4 Loser||Yankees||Royals||Twins||Red Sox||Astros||Angels|
|ALDS 2-3 Winner||Astros||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|ALDS 2-3 Winner||Red Sox||Yankees||Indians||Twins||Cleveland||Indians|
|ALCS Loser||Indians||Indians||Astros||Astros||Red Sox||Astros|
Red Sox fans should be excited. The Winning Run picked the Yankees to win the World Series. We all know that means the Yankees have no chance for another ring. (AP Photo)
|World Series Champ||Nationals||Astros||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|World Series Runner Up||Astros||Dodgers||Cubs||Dodgers||Dodgers||Dodgers|
Sorry in advance to the New York Yankees because this means they’re probably not going to win the World Series this year.
BL, DJ, JJ, & JB