After an off season of scandal, on again off again blockbuster trades, gigantic free agent signings, possible Minor League Baseball contraction, and the Mets being the Mets it is time to return to the diamond. Pitchers and Catchers report to Spring Training, the journey to October begins.
Expectations are high in the Bronx after signing Gerrit Cole. Houston is out to prove they can win without stealing signs, while the rest of baseball is out for revenge. The on again off again trade of Mookie Betts to the Dodgers showed how far Boston has fallen while searching for financial flexibility. The Red Sox continue searching for a permanent manager to replace Alex Cora after he was swept up in the fallout from Houston. Major League Baseball proposed eliminating 42 minor league teams, which immediately angered the communities potentially impacted, baseball fans, and even Congress.
The Mets once again managed to stay in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Yoenis Cespedes reworked his contract after the revelation that his injury was the result of a run in with a wild boar. The Amazin’s General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen, Cespedes’ former agent, now had to alter the contract he negotiated, but from the other side of the table. Carlos Beltran never made it to his first workout of Spring Training as Mets Manager. His involvement in the Astros scandal followed him to Queens. The Wilpons were unable to sell the Mets because they wanted to continue making team decisions once they no longer wrote the checks.
The Cincinnati Reds are poised to climb out of the cellar and into contention after an active Winter. (Kareem Elgazzar)
Anthony Rendon got paid by leaving Washington, Stephen Strasburg got paid to stay with the Nationals. Zack Wheeler left Queens for Philadelphia for a chance to win and a large paycheck. Madison Bumgarner left the Bay for the desert, while Hyun-Jin Ryu left sunny Southern California and moved north of the border. Josh Donaldson added his name to the slugging Twins lineup, a new age Murderers’ Row. The White Sox and Reds loaded up on free agents, vaulting themselves into contention. Hundreds of other moves happened. Time will tell which moves helped teams, and which teams will come to regret.
Baseball lost the legendary writer Roger Kahn. Few, if any, possess his ability to write about the game. He was baseball’s writer. His ability to put the passion and beauty of the game into print will be missed.
It was an odd and harrowing off season, but now Pitchers and Catchers are reporting to Spring Training. The world is a little more perfect because we are getting back to baseball.
The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.
MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.
Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same.
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)
No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying.
Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.
Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
Every year The Winning Run attempts to predict the upcoming baseball season. We are comically wrong every time. This year in our baseball group text we tried predicting each World Series game. The winning team and the score. This was purely for fun with no real research, just our gut feelings on which team had the best chance to win each World Series game. We were terrible at predicting single games. The more predictions we make the better, one would assume, we became at them. However, we do not have the budget or resources of the Las Vegas sports betting books, and it shows. The World Series is fading away, so is a good time to revisit our sad game by game World Series predictions.
Derek- Astros 4-2
Jesse- Astros 4-0
John- Nationals 2-0
Bernie- Astros no score offered
Derek- Astros 7-4
Jesse- Nationals 6-3
John- Praying to Saint Ruth
Bernie- Astros 6-3
Kevin- Tanning on the beach
Derek- Astros 6-5
Jesse- Nationals 7-2
John- Nationals 5-3
Bernie- Nationals 7-4
Kevin- Nationals 4-3
Derek- Astros 3-1
Jesse- Astros 3-2
John- Nationals 5-3
Bernie- Nationals 8-5
Kevin- Nationals 6-3
Derek- Astros 7-3
Jesse- Astros 7-2
John- Nationals 6-4
Bernie- Astros 3-1
Kevin- Building sand castles
Derek- Nationals 6-3
Jesse- Astros 6-1
John- Nationals 7-2 The only perfect prediction
Bernie- Nationals 5-2
Kevin- Watching the sunset
Game 7 with MVP
Derek- Astros 7-4, Jose Altuve
Jesse- Nationals 9-7, Juan Soto
John- Nationals 8-3, Anthony Rendon
Bernie- Nationals 6-1, Juan Soto
Kevin- Nationals 5-3, Stephen Strasburg
Correctly predicting the winning team, game by game:
Game 1: John
Game 2: Jesse
Game 3: Derek
Game 4: Derek, Jesse
Game 5: Derek, Jesse, Bernie
Game 6: Derek, John, Bernie
Game 7: Jesse, John, Bernie, Kevin
Number of winning teams correctly predicted:
Predicting the outcome of a single baseball game is difficult. The World Series is even more challenging. The outcome of a Yankees-Orioles game in July is much easier to foresee. New York was a juggernaut during the Regular Season and Baltimore was looking towards next season during Spring Training. New York won 17 of 19 games in 2019, the outcome was rarely in doubt. Predicting a single game with two good teams is much more difficult.
The joys of baseball turns grown men into little boys. (David J. Phillip/ AP)
Derek was the only one to believe in Houston in Game 3. He correctly predicted the outcome of Games 3 through 6, but his faith in the Astros led his astray in Game 7. Jesse was the only one to believe in the Nationals in Game 2. His winning ways returned in Games 4 and 5. After missing Game 6, Jesse predicted Washington would win Game 7. John began his predictions on fire, as the only one to predict Washington’s Game 1 victory. However he went cold until crunch time when he predicted Games 6 and 7. His Game 6 prediction was the only perfect prediction as the Nationals won 7-2. Bernie came on late, predicting the final three games correctly. Houston pushing Washington to the brink of elimination in Game 5 and the Nationals responded by winning Games 6 and 7. Kevin was on a three hour delay with his predictions from California, but he nailed his Game 7 prediction and Stephen Strasburg winning the MVP.
Looking at our inability to predict each game of the World Series should leave little doubt in the accuracy of our 2019 Regular Season predictions. We will revisit those predictions closer to Spring Training. Predicting baseball is hard, but we have fun in our futile attempts.
Congratulations to the World Series Champion Washington Nationals. If someone claims they knew the Nationals would win the World Series in late May they are one of two things. They are a delusional Nationals fan and a liar. Probably both. This is the beauty of baseball, undying faith in a hopeless cause. The other 29 teams and their fans know next year is their year.
Elite pitching was supposed to rule the World Series, someone forgot to tell the batters they were overmatched. Stephen Strasburg pitched like many believed he would as the first overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. Justin Verlander continued to struggle in the World Series, continuing the search for that first World Series victory. George Springer and Anthony Rendon sparked their teams at critical moments, while Jose Altuve continued collecting hit after hit as he chased the record for most hits in a single Postseason. Jose Urquidy rose to the moment, providing the Astros with five shutout innings. The Astros took advantage of Max Scherzer’s back injury before Game 5 and sent the World Series back to Houston with a 3-2 lead. Strasburg worked through a tough first inning, throwing 8 ⅓ masterful innings to force Game 7. Dave Martinez lost his mind and was rightly ejected for his over the top argument after Sam Holbrook called Trea Turner out for baseline interference.
The baseball season is long, winning the World Series is the result of months of hard work. (Cooper Neill/ MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Nationals and Astros gave baseball fans an exciting World Series with plenty of twists and turns. Not every World Series is exciting. Teams do not always create exciting games, however the 2019 World Series did. Congratulations to the Washington Nationals on winning their first World Series and thank you to both teams for giving baseball fans an exciting end to the season.
The beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. Any player in any game can achieve the impossible. Teams can also surprise. Regardless how knowledgeable you are about the game, even experts are not always able to predict baseball.
Ozzie Smith was never a power hitter, he hit 28 home runs in 19 seasons. No one predicted Smith would hit the game winning home run in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship series. Jack Buck’s memorable call of “Go Crazy Folks” sealed the home run in baseball history. Smith did not hit another home run until May 31, 1988. Unpredictable.
Phillip Humber’s 16-23 record and 5.31 ERA are unremarkable, yet on April 21, 2012 he was perfect. Perfect Games are unpredictable, but Humber’s was almost impossible. Ineffectiveness after perfection forced Humber out of the Majors in 2013.
Prior to each season experts, and The Winning Run, predict which teams will make the Postseason and win the World Series. This season 18 of MLB Radio’s experts made predictions. As expected some were right and some wildly wrong. However, their mixed prediction results have a glaring hole in one particular Division.
Some predictions are easy, some are not. (MLB Radio)
The experts loved the Yankees, good call, and the Red Sox, not so much, in the American League East. New York has won the Division, but once again Tampa and their 92 wins got no love. Tampa’s low budget machine produced another winning teams while Fenway’s big budget will sit at home in October. The American League Central was predictably a two team race between Cleveland and Minnesota. The rest of the Central will finish at least 25 games back, the experts picked the wrong team as the Twins lead the Indians by four games. They knew the contenders, but picked them in the wrong order. The American League West was easy, 18 of 18 picked the Astros. Good Call.
The National League Central was a toss up between the Brewers, 2 of 18 experts, Cardinals, 5 of 18, and Cubs, 11 of 18. These teams have battled all season with the Cardinals taking control as Milwaukee continues fights on without Christian Yelich and the Cubs fade away. 10 of 18 picked the Dodgers in the National League West. Oddly the other eight picked the Rockies, who are heading for a last place finish. Ouch.
The shocking ineptitude of the experts is the National League East. All 18 experts whiffed on the Division, as none predicted the reigning Division champion Braves would repeat. The Marlins predictably struggled, leaving just four teams. The favorite in the East was the Nationals. A rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin should deliver a Division title. The Phillies added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. This firepower in the Philadelphia lineup should have made them at least competitive. The rebuilding Mets got one vote from Rob Bender. No love for Atlanta.
Ronald Acuña has emerged as a potential superstar in Atlanta. (FOX Sports Florida)
The Braves did not lose or add a superstar, they tinkered. Atlanta’s biggest move was signing Josh Donaldson for one year. A full season from Ronald Acuña also helped. Predicting baseball is hard, but one would think at least one expert would believe in the defending Division champions. The team steadily improved before winning the East by 8 games over Washington. The Nationals can win 90 games and look poised to return to October as a Wild Card.
Ultimately teams simply want to make the Postseason. Every team has a chance to reign supreme in October baseball. Winning the Division as easily as Atlanta has in 2019 should give experts pause about their predictions in the future. Teams can have surprisingly good seasons, but Atlanta simply improved on their 2018 season. Baseball is unpredictable, but give credit where credit is due. The experts did not believe the Braves were real in 2018 and predicted their demise in 2019. Experts may understand the game better than most, but baseball always follows its own unpredictable path. This is what makes it the greatest game.
All Star voting is over and the starters for the Mid-Summer Classic are set. On July 9th, Cleveland hosts the 90th MLB All Star Game with the best players taking the field, in theory. Baseball altered the election process this year for All Star starters. It is an important step towards ensuring the best players are All Stars each season.
MLB continues the mass voting fans are accustomed to, giving every player the opportunity to be elected. This year however the top three vote getters at each position faced a runoff for the right to start the All Star Game. This extra layer of voting helps guard against a pure popularity contest, forcing voters to reexamine players a second time. While it is not a perfect system, it is a step in the right direction. Players still need fan support, but the second round of voting helps prevent players like Aaron Judge from starting the All Star Game with just 32 games played for the Yankees this season. Judge is talented, but he is not an All Star this season; he finished fourth, just missing an undeserved All Star Game. Houston’s Carlos Correa finished third among American League Shortstops. He has placed 50 games this season, more than Judge, but not enough to earn the honor of starting the All Star Game. MLB ought to establish a minimum games played threshold for All Star voting eligibility.
Judge and Correa should play in many future All Star Games, just not this season. If the idea of the All Star Game is to have the best players on the field, some high priced talent will miss out. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were not voted into the All Star Game by the fans. Big free agent contracts do not guarantee All Star Games. The fans elect who they want to play, but even this idea has been an issue in the past.
Tommy Pham raised a good point that All Star voting is unfair. MLB changed the voting process this season, but more may need to be done. (www.calltothepen.com)
Before the Big Red Machine began dominating baseball, it was the Cincinnati fans causing havoc. In 1957, Cincinnati fans so over stuffed the ballot box that seven Reds were elected to the All Star Game in St. Louis. Stan Musial was the only non-Reds starter. The farce forced Commissioner Ford Frick to step in, replacing two Reds players, Wally Post and Gus Bell, with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Frick went further, revoking the fan All Star vote until 1970.
Ballot stuffing continued in the computer age. In 1999 a computer programmer electronically stuffed the ballot for Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra. When discovered, Garciaparra lost 25,259 ill gotten votes, though he still started the All Star Game at Fenway Park over Derek Jeter.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals brought back memories of the 1957 Reds. Leading up to the All Star Game, fittingly played in Cincinnati. Eight Royals led at their respective positions. There was not a repeat of 1957, as Kansas City ultimately had four All Star starters. A single team having a stranglehold on the All Star Game may not be in the best interest of baseball, even if they win the World Series like the Royals in 2015.
The Mid-Summer Classic returns to Cleveland for the first time since 1997 and to an American League ballpark for the first time since Minnesota hosted in 2014. The All Star Game is an exhibition. Yes the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series, but this only impacts two teams. I doubt the Orioles and Marlins representatives will fight with extra vigor to secure home field advantage should their team have a miraculous second half turn around. The All Star Game is about seeing the best in the game play together one night a year. Interleague play has somewhat diluted the intrigue of the All Star Game. National League fans can see Mike Trout and American League fans can see Nolan Arenado more than one night a year. Despite the waning of the All Star Game’s novelty, the game is still important for growing the game and the enjoyment of the fans.
MLB is right to tweak the All Star Game voting process. It will never be perfect. Some deserving players are snubbed each year, but this is better than a return to fans are having no vote. Baseball must keep the fans involved, but there are limits. A small portion of fans in the past ruined the fun of voting. MLB should continue to tweak the process from year to year. There will never be a perfect All Star Game, but the change to two rounds of voting is a good first step.