Tagged: Andrelton Simmons

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 5.0

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.

National League

NL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Nationals* Follies* Nationals* Nationals* Nats* Nationals *
2 Braves Gnats Phillies Phillies Marlins* Phillies
3 Mets Braves Braves Marlins Braves Braves
4 Phillies Mets Mets Braves Mets Mets
5 Marlins Fish Marlins Mets Phillies Marlins

 

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.

 

NL Central

Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Cubs* Reds* Cubs* Cardinals* Cubbies* Cubs*
2 Brewers* Cubbies* Cardinals* Brewers* Brewers Brewers*
3 Cardinals Brewers Brewers Cubs Reds Cardinals
4 Reds Pirates Reds Reds Cardinals Reds
5 Pirates Cardinals Pirates Pirates Pirates Pirates

 

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

These guys were knocking on the door to the playoffs. I think they added some solid improvements to both sides of the ball with Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jhoulys Chacin.

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
1 Dodgers* Dodgers* Dodgers* D-backs* Dodgers* Dodgers*
2 Rockies* D-backs* Rockies* Dodgers* D-backs* D-backs*
3 Giants Giants D-backs Rockies Rockies Rockies
4 D-backs Padres Giants Giants Giants Giants
5 Padres Rockies Padres Padres Padres Padres

 

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

There are some shining examples of talent on this team with Brad Hand, Dinelson Lamet, Eric Hosmer, and Hunter Renfroe. Yeah…that’s about it.

paul-goldschmidt-arizona-tri.jpg
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)

American League

 

AL East Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin The Winning Run
1 Red Sox* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees* Yankees*
2 Yankees* Jays* Blue Jays Red Sox* Red Sox* Red Sox*
3 Blue Jays Orioles Red Sox Orioles Jays Blue Jays
4 Orioles Sox Orioles Blue Jays Orioles Orioles
5 Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays Rays

 

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
1 Indians* Indians* Indians* Twins* Cleveland* Indians*
2 Twins Royals* Twins* Indians* Twins* Twins
3 White Sox White Sox Royals Royals White Sox Royals
4 Royals Tigers Tigers White Sox Royals White Sox
5 Tigers Twins White Sox Tigers Tigers Tigers

 

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

Yoan Moncada has a lot of promise but it hasn’t been cashed in yet. Jose Abreu is either stuck or coasting. The White Sox rotation is patchier than a 12-year old’s security blanket.

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.

AL West Derek Jesse John Bernie Kevin

The Winning Run

1 Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros* Astros*
2 Angels* Angels Angels* Mariners Angels Angels*
3 Mariners A’s Mariners Angels Mariners Mariners
4 Athletics Rangers Rangers Athletics Rangers Athletics
5 Rangers Mariners Athletics Rangers A’s Rangers

 

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.

miguel-cabrera-d778d3f66afa5458.jpg
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)

Wild Card

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

 

Divisional Series

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

 

Championship Series

NLCS Winner Nationals Dodgers Cubs Dodgers Dodgers Dodgers
NLCS Loser Dodgers Follies Dodgers D-backs Cubs Cubs
ALCS Winner Astros Astros Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
ALCS Loser Indians Indians Astros Astros Red Sox Astros
01Sox1.jpg
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

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

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The Glove

Ozzie Smith was a wizard with the glove, he could do everything on the field defensively. The same could be said for Omar Vizquel. If it was possible defensively, one or both of these men could do it on a baseball diamond. The impossible dive, catch, or throw; they could do it all. Andrelton Simmons seems to have taken up their torch. Simmons is only in his sixth season, yet he is already drawing comparisons to these legendary players.

Omar Vizquel played for six teams during his 24 year career, all in the American League except a four year stint with the Giants. A magician with the glove, Vizquel ranks first in career games played at shortstop, fourth in career dWAR, appeared in three All Star games, and won 11 Gold Gloves. Beginning in 1993, Vizquel won the American League Gold Glove for shortstop every year until 2001. His defensive dominance continued late into his career, as he won his 11th and final Gold Glove as a 39 year old shortstop for the Giants in 2006.

1982-Ozzie-Smith-079116006
Ozzie Smith was fearless with a glove in his hand. (www.si.com)

Ozzie Smith played for the Padres and the Cardinals during his 19 year career. The Wizard ranks fourth in career games at shortstop, first in career dWAR, appeared in 15 All Star games, and won consecutive 13 Gold Gloves. He is the only player to win a National League Gold Glove at shortstop in the 1980s, winning every year from 1980 until 1992.

Vizquel and Smith were the premier defensive shortstops from 1989 to 1996; collectively winning eight of the 16 Gold Gloves awarded by Major League Baseball. Two men, two leagues, winning half of all Gold Gloves.

Vizquel_16hs5wny
Omar Vizquel could do it all with the glove.  (www.mlb.com/indians)

The absurd defensive capabilities of both Vizquel and Smith did not translate into hitting prowess. They each hit .300 or better only once in their careers. Vizquel and Smith were the traditional light hitting shortstop that rarely exists in baseball today. Every player is expected to help the team offensively, even defensive legends. The offensive ability of Andrelton Simmons could be what separates him from the two legends he resembles defensively.

Watching Simmons play shortstop is like watching an unscripted ballet. Every night he does something amazing. A throw that catches a sleeping runner. A dive to stop a ball getting to the outfield, thus stopping a runner from grabbing another bag. A catch that normally would fall in for a base hit. Every batter knows they have to hustle on any ball in the infield because Simmons can appear out of nowhere to field the ball and unleash his cannon arm to take another hit away. If Omar Vizquel was a magician and Ozzie Smith was the Wizard, let’s call Andrelton Simmons a sorcerer.

Simmons
Andrelton Simmons will leave you speechless with his glove every night, and could become the greatest shortstop ever. (AP/ Mark J. Terrill)

Simmons is only 27 years old, his peak years should be ahead of him. This season he is breaking out offensively, as he is on pace to set career highs in Plate Appearances, Home Runs, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, On-Base Plus Slugging, Total Bases, Defensive Innings and Errors. (Defensive errors can be a sign of greater range or instincts, thus reaching more balls and creating more chances to make a play. The more chances the more opportunity for mistakes. More aggressive defense does have ceiling however.) He has already set career highs in Hits, Doubles, Walks, RBI, Stolen Bases, and Sacrifice Flies, and we have a few more weeks left in the season.

No one is under any illusion that Simmons is the next slugging shortstop, like Alex Rodriguez or Cal Ripken Jr. He is rather a once in a generation defensive player. If he continues to improve offensively, while retaining his defensive skills, he should enjoy a long career. He has the skills with the glove to become the greatest shortstop to ever field the position. Improving his ability with the bat could put Andrelton Simmons in the conversation for the greatest shortstop ever.

DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolution for the NL East

At the beginning of the 2015 season, it looked like the Washington Nationals put together a true World Series contender, if not overall favorite to win it all. The rest of the NL East did not seem like they would even be in the running for a Wild Card spot. Instead, the favorite has a late season collapse and a young rotation tears it up to make a World Series contender out of a dark horse. The NL East doesn’t lack talent but during this offseason many teams gave up a lot of talent, acting like wildebeest carcasses on the Serengeti getting picked apart by vultures.

Don-Mattingly
Don Mattingly should have a longer leash in Miami than he did in Los Angeles. (www.yougabsports.com)

The Moves

The Marlins resigning Giancarlo Stanton didn’t happen in the offseason but picking up new coaching in Don Mattingly and Barry Bonds did. Frankly, it’s a big thing. Mattingly had a good thing going in LA but the Dodgers’ ownership got impatient (You know what I think about impatience for the jackpot while creating excellence. If not, go here – BL). Say what you will about Bonds but he knows how to hit with the sort of patience that got him on base…a lot. Stanton’s contract gave him options in case the Marlins ownership decide to wrench hearts of the fanbase again. However, this move might be a signal for good things to come. If they win another championship, let’s hope the third time’s the charm that things keep going instead of seeing another fire sale. Otherwise that’s strike three and Marlins fans should try to get a high speed train built to Tampa to see baseball.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates
Neil Walker should give the Mets a boost on defense up the middle of the diamond. (Charles LeClaire- US PRESSWIRE)

The Mets had some interior defense and consistent hitting problems during the playoffs. This was still an issue even when they had Ruben Tejada. So picking up Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera brings some depth to the roster so they won’t be caught flat-footed in the future. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard all seemed to get blown up through the heart of the infield by the Royals. Walker and Cabrera also bring some steady batting to the lineup. This move addressed the Mets’ biggest weaknesses from the playoffs. It just didn’t do it in particularly spectacular fashion.

The Advice

Washington Nationals

BL – From preseason favorite to dysfunctional mess, the Washington Nationals made the right move in dropping manager Matt Williams who may have gotten a swollen head from being awarded 2014 NL Manager of the Year. This is team oozing talent but unable to tie it together. I don’t think a manager who is taciturn and uncommunicative with the media is a bad thing. The players getting similar treatment and being unable to fathom Williams’s grand strategy is terrible though. Not sure Dusty Baker is the right fit for a city full of political analysts (armchair and professional) either. What we’re probably going to see next season from the Nats is the baseball equivalent of Britney Spears’s recovery from a mental breakdown – lots of WTF moments and hope that things will be put back together again.

Drew Storen
Drew Storen was pushed aside by the Nationals in favor of Jonathan Papelbon, which was part of Washington’s self destruction in 2015. (www.washingtonpost.com)

DJ – Bryce Harper has finally arrived. All the hype and fanfare finally was finally shown to be worth it. The Nationals have the talent but their biggest obstacles to success was team unity. The fracas between Bryce Harper and Jonathan Papelbon is just the most public visual example of the breakdown inside the locker room. The acquisition of Papelbon from the Phillies solidified a position the Nationals already had set with Drew Storen. The arrival of Papelbon was to shorten the game with Storen in the 8th inning and Papelbon in the 9th inning. However, the trade did little other than anger Storen and cause issues in the bullpen. Making unnecessary trades hurt the Nationals in 2015. Storen has been traded to the Blue Jays for Ben Revere, which ends the closer debate and helps to solidify the outfield with the departure of Denard Span. The Nationals need to focus on making trades that make sense toward enabling a stronger sense of the team, not showcase individual talents. I thought we all learned this in little league, I guess not.

Atlanta Braves

BL – No more Shelby Miller. Goodbye to Andrelton Simmons. The Atlanta Braves are cleaning house. This might be the best time for them to do this. The NL East will probably have a rocky 2016 season as the Marlins and Nationals get adjusted to new management and the Mets try not to Mets their season. The Braves need some hitting and I hope they get it.

Shelby Miller frustration
Shelby Miller pitched great in 2015 but got little run support from the Braves offense. (www.abcnews.go.com)

DJ – Shelby Miller was great for the Braves last season, however he rarely got any run support to backup his great pitching. The only major offensive statistic Atlanta was better than their opponents was they struck out fewer times. Atlanta is fully rebuilding. They have traded Adrelton Simmons and Shelby Miller among others in exchange for lots of minor league pitching prospects. Atlanta is trying to regain the magic of their run in the 1990’s and early 2000’s as a factory for producing homegrown pitching. New General Manager John Coppolella has signed players like Kelly Johnson and Jim Johnson to one year contracts, which come the trade deadline they could potentially be used to trade for even more prospects. Atlanta cannot afford to spend big on free agents, they tried this before and it led them to having to completely rebuild. Stockpiling prospects and draft picks is their ticket back to the playoffs.

Philadelphia Phillies

BL – Honestly, the Phillies didn’t need Ken Giles because there’s no point in having a standout closer when you can keep yourself in games to warrant one. Odubel Herrera seems to have some intangible quality that could be dangerous if he could make it more consistent. Ryan Howard doesn’t seem to have much left and I have doubts about Cliff Lee coming back strong from injury. If Lee stays, it would be nice if he and Howard leave a better legacy by helping the younger guys develop into major league caliber players. Surprisingly, there’s a good balance of youth and experience on this team but the pieces aren’t fitting together well. I think it’s an indication of bad locker room leadership but can that really be the only thing they need?

Ryan Howard
2016 could be Ryan Howard’s last season in Philadelphia, his leadership on the field and in the clubhouse could cement his legacy as a Phillie. (www.thegoodphight.com)

DJ – The Phillies did not finish dead last in the standings for all of MLB in 2015 by accident. They did manage to avoid losing 100 games, finishing with a 63-99 record. This however was most likely due to their playing in the NL East, arguably the worst division in baseball. Improving the Phillies is fairly simple, they need to field the ball when it is put into play.  Phillies pitchers allowed the most hits (1,592) and finished second in MLB in both WHIP (1.448) and ERA (4.69). Allowing the opposition to continuously get on base is not a recipe for success. Not all the blame can be attributed to the pitching staff. Philadelphia defensively finished with the second worst fielding percentage in MLB (.981) and committed the fourth most errors (117). This led the Phillies to finishing second in average runs allowed per game (4.99). A team cannot expect to win many games when they are allowing nearly five runs per game. The Phillies are rebuilding, but an easy way to start the climb is simply catch the ball when it is put into play. Building on the fundamentals is always a smart choice.

BL & DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolutions for the AL West

In our second installment, we are staying out west but flipping over to the AL. It’s like an earthquake hit the western divisions in MLB with the moves and uncertainty in the aftermath. For the AL West though, only one of the moves appeared to fall in line with the problems we think the teams need to address.

Ken Giles.jpg

Ken Giles could push the Astros over the edge towards a World Series. (www.todaysknuckleball.com)

The Moves

The Astros took some huge strides in the second half of the 2015 season to become playoff contenders. The ALDS series against the Royals would have been a much different affair if Houston could have shortened the game with a lights out bullpen. The addition of Ken Giles gives them, with Luke Gregerson, the setup man and closer combination to do just that in crucial moments.

Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive SS in MLB and grabbing Yunel Escobar and Ji-Man Choi to round out the infield might seem like a big deal for the Angels. However, the Halos struggled in generating offense last season and none of these guys seem to address that problem. Mike Trout needs a lineup that can keep opposing pitchers honest with him. Maybe the Angels lost out to some other teams for getting the hitting and outfielding talent they need.

Andrelton Simmons1.jpg
Andrelton Simmons and his glove could be the solution to the Angels problems. (www.rantsports.com)

The Advice

The 2015 AL playoff picture was a bit of a mess with the Yankees stumbling backwards and just managing to hold onto a Wild Card spot. Otherwise, we could have seen both Wild Cards come out of the AL West; the only division that couldn’t produce a team with 90+ wins. Really though, the AL West was a promising division that collectively opened an umbrella indoors then walked outside under a ladder to find a black cat crossing their path only to step and trip on a crack in the sidewalk then break a mirror while trying to catch their balance.

Texas Rangers

BL – So what do the Rangers need to do? Recover. Make a sacrifice to the baseball gods that Yu Darvish comes back and has a 2016 season like Matt Harvey did in 2015. Will Josh Hamilton’s knee be okay? Will Cole Hamels make it through the entire 2016 season?  The Rangers won the division despite being pummeled with injuries. If they can stay healthy, they’ll be in the playoff discussion in 2016.

Yu Darvish pitching.jpg
The Rangers need to see plenty of this and not Yu Darvish sitting on the bench. (www.bleacherreport.com)

DJ – The Rangers need someone to help Prince Fielder. He led the Rangers in hits, Batting Average, HR, RBI, OBP, was second in games played, and fourth in doubles. Texas cannot be a one man show. Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland had solid years, but without solid pitching it is doubtful the Rangers can repeat what they did in 2015. Success in 2016 comes down to having a healthy pitching staff. The health and success on the mound of Yu Darvish (Tommy John), Cole Hamels, Derek Holland (shoulder), and Martin Perez (Tommy John) will decide the Rangers fate.

Seattle Mariners

BL – The Mariners played a little Jekyll and Hyde last season. When they signed Robinson Cano before the 2014 season, it seemed like Seattle was moving towards becoming a big hit sort of team. More characteristically AL than NL. But the acquisitions of big hitting talent seemed to stall after getting Mark Trumbo, and then the focus shifted to pitching but that didn’t pan out well. It’s more apparent than ever that successful playoff teams can’t be made overnight. If GM Jerry Dipoto is really committed to creating a contender, then the Mariners need to establish an identity to build from. I suggest putting an intimidating rotation around Felix Hernandez and shoring up the defense. Mariners fans, if they’re like Seahawks fans, will learn quickly that stifling defense can be a joy to watch.

Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker’s development should be on full display in 2016. (www.bleacherreport.com)

DJ – The King needs a Prince or two. Felix Hernandez is the undisputed ace in Seattle. While it is difficult to have two aces on a pitching staff, the Mariners would be smart to seek out pitchers who can be true #2 and #3 starters. Saving the bullpen early in the season can pay huge dividends  beginning in August and carrying over deep into the playoffs. Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma could be those starters. The continued development of Walker along with Iwakuma having something to prove after a failed physical with the Dodgers could mean low scoring, NL style games in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners have the pitching staff built for the playoffs, they just need Hernandez, Walker, and Iwakuma to all stay healthy and make at least 30 starts each in 2016.

Oakland Athletics

BL – I’m a big fan of Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written and subscribe to Vanity Fair mostly because he’s a regular contributor. Billy Beane did something revolutionary with Sabermetrics in that he and Paul DePodesta reexamined the statistical analysis of the game and saw what the larger baseball community was missing. This was the only way to win on a budget, which was a necessity demanded from ownership. But now everyone is savvy to the Moneyball method of Sabermetrics. Moneyball worked because there was information asymmetry, like being able to count cards in a casino. Beane and Co. need find that new information asymmetry to get back on top or start spending the money necessary to become contenders.

Billy Burns.jpg
Billy Burns is the model for how the Athletics can return to their winning ways. (www.athleticsnation.com)

DJ-

“Singles hitters drive Fords, home run hitters drive Cadillacs.” ~ Ralph Kiner

The players’ parking lot in Oakland needs to look like a Ford dealership. Oakland’s big ballpark and low budget forces it to play NL style baseball. The Athletics need players who get on base early and often. A team on a budget needs a few players to hit above .300. Billy Burns led the A’s  with a  .294 batting average, and stole plenty of bases. However, only three players stole 10 or more bases (Burns was the only player to have more than 11 steals). Oakland has to get inventive to create sustainable offense. The rest of baseball has caught up to Moneyball, but Oakland must show that the original is still the best.  Putting the ball in play, taking the extra base, and forcing the opposing pitchers to pitch in high stress situations is key for Oakland to manufacture a successful 2016 season.  

BL & DJ

Dad

September 30th is a special day every year.  It is the final day of the real “regular season” before the beginning of crazy October baseball.  It is in my mind the true beginning of cooler weather being here to stay, which never makes me happy.  It is my Dad’s birthday.

My Dad, more than anyone else, instilled the love of baseball in me.  Growing up outside of Atlanta there was always a rhythm to life.  During the baseball season we watched the Braves games on television almost every night, if we were driving somewhere we would turn on the radio and listen to the game, if the Braves were out west we would check the newspaper for the score the next morning.  Skip Caray, Pete van Wieren, Joe Simpson, and Don Sutton were the voices of this rhythm and our bond.  While others lionized the Braves announcers for their openly cheering for the Braves and for some of the offbeat and strange things they would say, it was just part of it for us.  We laughed at and with them, scratched our heads, and cheered like mad regardless.

The whole gang cheering for the Gwinnett Braves. (The Winning Run)

The whole gang cheering for the Gwinnett Braves. (The Winning Run)

The conversation was and always is how are the Braves doing?  My Dad suffered through the terrible years of the Braves once they moved to Atlanta in 1966.  It is only in the past few years that I have had to grow to understand what it is like to cheer for a team that does not have a chance to make the playoffs.  We rode the highest highs together of the Braves dominance through the 1990’s together.  There are few better feelings in my life than watching a full Braves game with my Dad and once they win, him turning off the television and saying “…and time for me to go to bed.”  There is nothing magical about those words, but at the same time, there is.  It is as if the day is complete and all is right in the world.

My Dad grew up in Stone Mountain, Georgia and played on his high school team, the Stone Mountain High School Pirates.  I do not know much about my Dad’s high school baseball career, beyond that he was on the team.  I think I remember him telling once that the doctor always told him to be careful because of a heart condition he was born with.  I should have asked him years ago, but I never have.  Time to change that.

A few years ago, my brother, Jesse, was looking through the attic and found an old team picture of my Dad when he was on the Stone Mountain Pirates.  He framed it and gave it to my Dad as a gift.  The picture now proudly hangs on the wall in the living room at my parents’ house.  We cropped my Dad from that picture and have him in full uniform as the profile picture for The Winning Run’s twitter page.  It is a little grainy, but it does not matter, it is perfect.  My Dad, the baseball player.

My Dad, Stone Mountain Pirates baseball player. (The Winning Run)

My Dad, Stone Mountain Pirates baseball player. (The Winning Run)

Growing up I wanted to play baseball non-stop, still do.  If anyone would pitch to me great, if not I would figure out a way to play even if it was just me.  Swinging a bat, throwing a ball.  I could and still do spend hours doing these most fundamental baseball activities.  Both my parents would pitch to me in the backyard, usually tennis balls so we did not break a window, or at the local school with its field, always baseballs to really launch the balls, and I would hit and hit and hit until their arms gave out, it got dark, or it was time to eat.  Rarely if ever was it my decision to stop.  I have always been more of a line drive or slap hitter than a slugger.  I have more speed than muscle so you adapt your skills to the field and make the most of them.  These backyard baseball games were amazing.  My Dad, for whatever reason, always seemed to be a ball magnet when he pitched to me.  Yes, he would catch some comebackers, but more often than not, they would hit him and bounce off.  Again, there was a reason we used tennis balls.  Even now, as I sit seven hours away from him I can hear the noise he would make when the ball would hit him.  Every time I would ask if he was ok and he usually was, and I would get back in the batter’s box and we would do it all over again.

I did not learn how to play baseball from a local coach, I learned from playing with my parents and brother.  I learned from watching the Braves games with my Dad.  I had already graduated with my Master’s degree before I ever hit a baseball off a tee.  I have no memory of learning to hit, or throw, or field a ground ball, or catch a fly ball.  These are basic life skills that I was seemingly born knowing how to do, although most likely taught but I have no memory of learning.  I did not begin to play organized baseball until late elementary school.  Even then, playing was just for fun.  Baseball was and is a game, take what you do seriously but if you make a mistake no worries it is a game.  My Dad worked hard in those years, supporting the family, working six days a week.  He always came to my games when he could.  My baseball games that he was not able to come to always ended with a phone call to him once we got home.  Every call was about how was the game, how did I play, did we win, did I have fun.  I know he wanted to be at my games, but I also understand that he was doing what he had to do.  I have grown to appreciate this more and more as I have grown older.

Me, Jesse, our Dad, and our girlfriends at our cousins wedding last year. (The Winning Run)

Me, Jesse, our girlfriends, and our Dad at our cousins wedding last year. (The Winning Run)

Wearing my emotions on my sleeve is something I inherited from my Dad.  If we see something that we think is dumb or if someone tells us to do something we do not agree with, odds are we will let them know it.  This has definitely led to some interesting stories over the years, and plenty of laughs.  During the Braves run of dominance, and especially at the end of it, I can always remember my Dad mumbling under his breath about how bad they were playing, the worse the game, the more the mumbling.  It always annoyed me.  I had never had to live and cheer through the rough times for the Braves.  I lived and died with each game, but now that the Braves are no longer the dominant team they once were, I am beginning to understand those mumbles.  I still watch the Braves play almost nightly, but when the game gets late and they are just unable to play fundamentally sound baseball I find myself wandering to other games.  I change the channel to another more interesting game; my Dad did not have another game to change to when I was growing up.  It was the Braves game or nothing, and with a baseball crazy son like myself he had no choice but to sit through the misery of a terrible game while also spending time with me.  My faith in the Braves could be torturous.

My Dad has always been one of my biggest cheerleaders in life.  Rarely has he told me what to do.  He has always told me to do what makes me happy and to do my best at it.  When I was in school, my parents expected the best from me, but if a B was the best I could do, then they were fine with that so long as I had done my best.  When I got the crazy idea to start traveling to Sub-Saharan Africa nearly every summer, my Dad always asked what he could do to help make it happen.  It was never a vacation for me, I went to intern and work in places that were often only in the news because of the terrible things that happened there.  I do not know if my Dad or my Mom will ever grasp what has called me to that part of the world, but they never stopped me, rather they always encouraged me to do what made me happy and to do my best.

There is nothing better than watching a baseball game on television or in person with my Dad, aside from playing baseball with him.  Watching a game with him means examining almost every pitch.  Complaining about certain umpires and borderline strike calls.  Lamenting having to watch the game with national announcers when the local broadcast is blacked out.  Marveling at the amazing plays, lately usually it is Andrelton Simmons but when I was growing up it was Andruw Jones.  Above all, it means simply being with my Dad.

My Dad, undiscovered switch hitter. (The Winning Run)

My Dad, undiscovered switch hitter. (The Winning Run)

A month or so ago when I was last home, my girlfriend and I had gone for a walk at the local park and were going to hit a few baseballs on the field to help break in her new glove.  My Dad met us after he got off work.  August in Georgia is never friendly to anyone who is not accustomed to the heat and humidity turning the air into something bordering on soup.  After a while, my girlfriend retreated to the shade and it was just my Dad and me on a small little league field pitching tennis balls to one another.  In what seemed like a few seconds and several hours all at the same time, we just played baseball.  He pitched, I hit.  I pitched, he hit.  I felt like a kid again, especially proud when I launched an old tennis ball well beyond the outfield fence into the woods, never to be seen again despite trying to go find it.  I tried to hit a home run batting left-handed, but even more so than from the right side I am a pure line drive and slap hitter.  My Dad pulled nearly everything I threw to him and clumped them all together ever so nicely.  Then my Dad decided to try to hit from the left side, something he had never tried before.  Suddenly, he turned into Chipper Jones or Mickey Mantle.  He started to spray the ball more and will a little more power.  We were both baffled and with every hit we got a little more giggly.

Happy Birthday Dad. I love you.

DJ

Acceptance

Late August can be one of the most exciting times on the baseball calendar.  The Playoff race is getting red hot, teams are looking to make a charge towards the Division lead, or to grab one of the Wild Card spots.  The hope to reach October is still alive and well, because anything can happen in baseball.  If your team or teams are still in the hunt, August baseball is the beginning of the magic that happens in October.  What about August baseball when your team or teams are without a prayer?  When the team is so far back in the standings that the wins and losses are almost meaningless.  How do you view August baseball then?

The best is to accept the inevitable.  Accept that you will be watching October baseball filled with the teams that normally you only see as competition.  Accept that this is just not the year for your team to bask in the glow of October glory.  Accept also that you can still watch your team play meaningful games.  They can play spoiler for keeping the big favorites out of the playoffs, like the Washington Nationals, or just to frustrate other teams and their fan bases.

Watching Andrelton Simmons play defense is worth the cost of admission even if the Braves won't be playing in October. (www.espn.go.com)

Watching Andrelton Simmons play defense is worth the cost of admission even if the Braves won’t be playing in October. (www.espn.go.com)

Aside from living by the code of misery loves company, you can also start looking critically at the team you love.  As the season gets away, you lament what your team does not have.  The lack of a strong starting rotation or bull pen, the inability of a team to get runners in who are in scoring position with less than two outs, does the team have some young players who just need some more seasoning before their defense and/or offense comes around, etc.  Now that it is clear, you will not have to worry about your teams’ shortcomings in October, start looking at what your team does have.  Is the starting rotation really that bad, or does it have a couple middle to back of the rotation guys who have been pressed into acting like the ace or the number two starter?  Are there some diamonds in the rough in that rotation, but they just need to be placed in the right position to be successful?  The same goes for the bullpen.  Do you have a legitimate closer or would your current closer be better off as a setup man in the 7th or 8th inning?  Closing games is important, but you have to make it to the 9th inning with the lead before your closer will get a chance to do their job.  Is your team able to consistently get runners in scoring position with less than two outs, or do the scoring threats come with two outs?  Are the batters hitting the ball hard, but right at the defense or are the not getting a runner over or in because they are striking out too much?  Does your team need to have some patience with a potential cornerstone, as the player works out some of the struggles either at the plate or in the field, but at the Major League level?

August baseball offers plenty of good games to watch.  Some games are good because they are helping to shape the race for the Division Crown or for the Wild Card.  Some games are good for finding out what is right about your team.  Teams are playing for playoff positioning or pride and jobs, regardless August baseball can be fun and exciting regardless what the standings tell you.  There is no shame is watching those teams headed for October.  Getting a feel for who you can cheer for even if they are not your preferred team, or deciding which team you are rooting against.  Late August is scoreboard watching season and trying to figure out how the playoff races will shape up.  However, even if a team is done for the year and is playing for pride and trying to spoil the fun for other teams, do not forget that the future of those teams is in part already visible.  Accept the reality of the season, but watch the teams who have no chance of playing in October, as they can give you a glimpse of future Octobers.

DJ