Tagged: Houston Astros

Collision Course

Hunter Pence’s retirement closes an incredible career with the Astros, Phillies, Rangers, and Giants. Pence had many amazing hits, catches, and throws in his own unique style. He did not move like other players on the diamond. There are more beautiful swings and throws, but it would be difficult to find someone who brought more passion and love to the ballpark every day.

On occasion I have had brief encounters with players. My encounter with Hunter Pence was brief, had nothing to do with baseball, and was thankfully not painful. My wife and I were in the middle of our honeymoon, a three week cross country road trip in 2017. We were staying on a sailboat just outside of AT&T Park in San Francisco. We watched the Giants lose to Cleveland on a cold San Francisco summer night. The game was messy, but the stadium was beautiful. The game also ended the 530 consecutive sellout streak for the Giants, a National League record. After the game we were walking around the outside the park, slowly making our way back to the sailboat. Suddenly a guy on a segway whips around a corner heading down The Embarcadero. We literally jumped out of the way to avoid a collision. The guy turns his head and apologizes as he rides away. The street light caught his face just right. It was Hunter Pence. We almost got run over by Hunter Pence on a segway during our honeymoon. 

Hunter Pence brought passion and joy to the ballpark everyday. (Getty Images)

This encounter with Hunter Pence was a singular moment. No photos, no hellos, no autograph, just an apology. I have had more enjoyable experiences with professional athletes, however the image of Hunter Pence riding off into the San Francisco night on his segway after nearly running us over will forever be etched in my memory. We went from WATCH OUT to that’s ok to Hey that was Hunter Pence, in the blink of an eye. Pence was hitless in four trips to the plate with three strikeouts that night. It would be understandable if he was distracted after a tough day at the office, but the simple apology was greatly appreciated.

Thank you for sharing your passion for the game with everyone who saw you play. Enjoy your retirement and thank you for not running us down on our honeymoon.

DJ

Back to Baseball

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. 

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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. 

DJ

Crime and Punishment

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. 

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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.

DJ

Sacrificing

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.

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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. 

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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. 

San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinals
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.

DJ

Predicting the World Series

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. 

Game 1

Derek- Astros 4-2

Jesse- Astros 4-0

John- Nationals 2-0

Bernie- Astros no score offered

Kevin- Surfing

Real- Nationals 5-4

Game 2

Derek- Astros 7-4

Jesse- Nationals 6-3

John- Praying to Saint Ruth

Bernie- Astros 6-3 

Kevin- Tanning on the beach 

Real- Nationals 12-3

Game 3

Derek- Astros 6-5

Jesse- Nationals 7-2

John- Nationals 5-3

Bernie- Nationals 7-4

Kevin- Nationals 4-3

Real- Astros 4-1

Game 4

Derek- Astros 3-1

Jesse- Astros 3-2

John- Nationals 5-3

Bernie- Nationals 8-5

Kevin- Nationals 6-3

Real- Astros 8-1

Game 5

Derek- Astros 7-3

Jesse- Astros 7-2

John- Nationals 6-4

Bernie- Astros 3-1 

Kevin- Building sand castles

Real- Astros 7-1

Game 6

Derek- Nationals 6-3

Jesse- Astros 6-1

John- Nationals 7-2 The only perfect prediction

Bernie- Nationals 5-2

Kevin- Watching the sunset

Real- Nationals 7-2

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

Real- Nationals 6-2, 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:

Derek: 4

Jesse: 4

John: 3

Bernie: 3

Kevin: 1

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.

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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.

DJ

Road Warriors

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.

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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.

DJ

Unpredictable

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.

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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. 

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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.

DJ

The Best of the Best?

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
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.  

DJ

Sleepy Little Girl

I became a Dad on Tuesday. My wife and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl to the world. She has been flipped my world upside down in the best possible way. Every parent knows how life changes when your first child is born. You do not sleep. Everything she does is the absolute best. The sighs, the burps, the crying, the dirty diapers are all wonderful. I have never been so happy to be so tired.

Wednesday was her first full day in this world, and part of the day was spent with Dad and Daughter watching baseball. Mostly just Dad watching and Daughter sleeping. We will work on her staying awake during games a little later. The Reds tied the game in the bottom of the 9th on a Nick Senzel single to Left, driving in Jose Peraza. Senzel took second on a throwing error by Michael Brantley. The next batter, Jesse Winker walked it off against Houston and Roberto Osuna with a single to Right, scoring Senzel. Cincinnati wins 3 to 2.

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It’s important to read to your children. Why not read to them about baseball. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

We will spend countless hours watching baseball together in the coming years. I hope you learn to love baseball as much as I do, but if not it does not matter. My love is not connected to a game, as the game is not important. Spending time with you, watching you grow and learn is what matters. You made me a Dad on Tuesday sleepy little girl. I will not always be the perfect Dad, I will commit errors. I will learn from those errors  to be the best Dad for you I can. Sweet dreams sleepy little girl, your Dad needs some sleep. You will want your 3:30 A.M. feeding in less than an hour. The time is already going by too fast.

DJ

Predictions Sure to Go Wrong 6.0

Here we go into a new season where anything can happen. We had a lackluster off-season with a sputtering hot stove that saw some record-breaking contracts but weeks of “Will he or won’t he” that belongs on the Lifetime Channel rather than the MLB news wire. Teams seem willing to bet big on prospects but undervalue proven commodities. This is the same spirit we’re taking when we peer into our cracked crystal ball to make predictions about the 2019 season. We’re going to switch things up starting with the American League and Bernie is going to report on why they will or won’t do what we think they’ll do.

American League

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
AL East Yankees Rojo Sox (yeah I said it) Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
Red Sox* Bandwagoners* Red Sux* Red Sox* Tea Partiers* Red Sox
Rays Canadians Rays Rays* Rays Rays
Blue Jays Devil Rays Blue Jays Blue Jays Pajaritos Blue Jays
Orioles Cal Ripkens hOribles Crush Davis Express Blue Jays Orioles

 

New York Yankees

One hundred wins last season and they end up a Wild Card. They blasted more home runs in a season than any team before. The rotation didn’t quite hold up and the bats went a bit cold in the Postseason. They shored up their pitching rotation in the off-season by trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Masahiro Tanaka may have developed a pitch that could keep him from getting blown up every five games. Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar had a season in the Bronx to settle in and help recreate a new Murderers’ Row.

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Giancarlo Stanton will be flipping his bat and trotting around the bases plenty in 2019. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Boston Red Sox

They’re the reigning champs and they did it with a collective play that didn’t focus on one player’s excellence. Mookie Betts may be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors and Chris Sale wouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes another case to win the Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel hanging out in free agency does not help shorten games. We have to give the defending champs their due but they also didn’t do much in the off-season. Resting on your laurels while everyone else is re-configuring to beat the champs may not be the most sound strategy.

Tampa Bay Rays

Blake Snell threw the kind of fire that could have started the California wildfires last year. The Rays got him to bite on a 5 year, $50 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. While it’s a big jump for him, it’s not elite ace money. The Rays are trying to win on a budget but that only works when you’ve got an analytical or strategic edge over your competition. You can’t Moneyball when everyone else is reading the statistics the same way. Then again, they probably would run away with the AL Central…

Toronto Blue Jays

There have been a lot of near misses with the Blue Jays’ recent signings. Randal Grichuk, Ken Giles, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz…these are all (or were) solid role players to support a more elite group of players. *cough*Vladimir Guerrero Jr.*cough*

Baltimore Orioles

Mark Trumbo’s knee is looking better. Crush Davis is still their best option a first base? No left-handed pitching? Is Trey Mancini the only glimmer of hope on this roster? What happens is Jonathan Villar stays healthy and hits?

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
AL Central Spiders Twinkletits sTinkies Cleveland Twins Twins
Twins Wahoos Native Americans* Twinkies Wahoos Cleveland
White Sox Tigers Sox ChiSox White Sox White Sox
Royals Black Sox Tigers Tigers Royals Tigers
Tigers Monarchs Royals Royals Tigers Royals

 

Minnesota Twins

The firing of Paul Molitor shows the Twins front office is getting impatient for wins. Rocco Baldelli coached the Rays for a few seasons so he knows how to work with a budget and talent, however Molitor was really the best sort of balance between analytics and gut feeling for the game. Derek and I saw Miguel Sano hit a laser in Detroit during BP that rocked the brick wall beyond the centerfield fence. We agree it would have carried over 500 ft. Perhaps Nelson Cruz can help guide Sano towards his All Star potential. Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Ronald Torreyes are solid pick ups to shore up the infield that’s covered by a great outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. They’ve got the talent to compete but only in their division.

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Will Miguel Sano become the star Minnesota is hoping for? (Bruce Kluckhohn-Associated Press)

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland’s lineup is looking a bit battered but they truly do their damage through hustle and pitching. Well, the hustle seems to be worn out. What’s worse is the arms seem to have cooled. A few years ago facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer would have seemed like swinging at ghosts. Now it seems that the only trouble with the rotation is staying alert enough to make contact. There’s still a deep well of talent here, it’s just worn down and needs a refresh.

Chicago White Sox

Eloy Jimenez is not the second coming but that’s because the White Sox’ front office had thought that about Yoan Moncada. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, and Ivan Nova make up a serviceable rotation but let’s be honest, the ChiSox are only getting third because of their divisional competition.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are pretty much the White Sox without the prospects.

Kansas City Royals

Danny Duffy has a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder. Salvador Perez is out, getting Tommy John surgery…as a catcher. I have more faith in Bartolo Colon being able to pitch through 9 innings than this team to win more than 50 games.

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
AL West Astros Colt .45’s Stros Astros Athletics Astros
Athletics* White Elephants* Ohtanis Oakland Astros* Athletics
Angels Trouts Athletics Angels Angels Angels
Mariners Walker Texas Rangers Mariners Seattle Mariners Mariners
Rangers Mariners Rangers Rangers Rangers Rangers

 

Houston Astros

These guys are a team of superstars that play like a team. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman deliver on such a regular basis that support from guys like Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick coming into a hot streak is just overwhelming for most teams. There’s a certain level of excellence that you have to bring to beat these guys. Few teams have it and fewer can do it as consistently.

Oakland Athletics

This is a team that makes you go “Who is that?” and they consistently outperform the expectations of the “experts”. Just bear in mind that the A’s outperformed Houston in OPS, BA, and HRs last season. Sean Manaea threw a no-no last season and he’s leading a rotation that doesn’t have the same regression potential that Houston has.

Los Angeles Angels

Shohei Ohtani isn’t throwing this season. Mike Trout signed a landmark contract that’s prompting players to question the utility of free agency (but really, without Bryce Harper and Manny Machado doing what they did, Trout wouldn’t have gotten his deal). This is team that’s signaling that they want to win but really not showing people that they know how to win. They may end up like the Yankees of the early 2000’s with enormous salaries, big names, cracked lumber…but no hardware to show for it.

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Mike Trout got paid, but can the Angels ever put together a winning team? (FTW-USA TODAY Sports)

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are a lot like a superb AAA with some hot prospects just waiting for a call up. It’s not a rotation but a one-two punch in Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi and I wouldn’t want to go into a boxing match with that combo. King Felix might have a few good games in him this season but that’s not a lot to float by on. The high point of their season is already over, Ichiro played in Japan and then retired.

Texas Rangers

This is a team full of redemption stories in the making. I’m not holding my breath. New stadium for 2020 might be the most exciting off-season move.

National League

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
NL East Nationals Follies Braves Phillies Phillies Phillies
Phillies* Bravos* Harpers* Marlins* (yeah Jeets!) Braves* Braves
Braves Gnats Nationals Nationals Mets Nationals
Mets Amazins Yets Braves Nationals Mets
Marlins Fish Minor Lg Team Mets Marlins Marlins

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies picked up some good talent in Andrew McCutchen who had a bit of a refresh by the Bay and in the Bronx, Jean Segura who’s production and defense are constantly overlooked, and J.T. Realmuto, who’s on-base and slugging continue tracking better every year in the majors. We also saw Aaron Nola turn the corner and take over the mound like an elite ace. Jake Arrieta may not find the stride he had in Chicago but an improved lineup may make his job easier and bolster his confidence to hold things down. Let’s not forget that they also picked up a certain free agent that could amplify all of those previous moves by a huge leap – Bryce Harper.

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Bryce Harper moved to Philadelphia, can he win in October? (Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images)

Atlanta Braves

The Braves sort of caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of young prospects in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The signing of Josh Donaldson blocks Johan Camargo from the everyday lineup and puts him into a super utility role. When a young star like Freddie Freeman is one of your elder statesmen and you win the division, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the Braves probably had the largest range of predictions among The Winning Run’s team with first and fourth place finishes.

Washington Nationals

There’s a lot of killer talent on this team. They might actually be better without Bryce Harper in their outfield. But just like the city they play for, there are a lot of management and clubhouse synergy issues to overcome.

New York Mets

Speaking of management issues…there is still an enviable amount of pitching talent in Queens. The Mets need to stop trying to be the Yankees and embrace the chaos and circus of the New York sports media. Less bro, more fun would go a long way into turning this team into winners. Oh and either fire the entire medical staff or protect their positions and salaries from the front office. Either way, there are too many injuries for this to be anything but incompetence or interference, neither is good.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins will not do what the Phillies did last year. Kevin’s just doubling down because when it doesn’t work out, he can brush it off as a joke. Derek Jeter may be on track to becoming to baseball ownership/front office management what Michael Jordan has been to basketball.

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
NL Central Cardinals Cards Brewers Brew Crew Cardinals Cardinals
Cubs Harray Carays Cards* Cardinals* Brewers* Brewers
Brewers Brewtus Maximus Reds Reds Reds Cubs
Reds Better Dead than Red Cubs Cubbies Cubs Reds
Pirates Bucs Privates Pirates Pirates Pirates

 

St. Louis Cardinals

I feel like a broken record. This team just reloads. Unlike last year, I think they won the off-season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. They have great players in the rest of their positions or a deep bench to platoon. Yadier Molina is a cyborg because getting into that crouch in your late 30’s is just crazy, or I’m just jealous. Hopefully Molina is wearing a bulletproof cup this year. Regardless, the Cardinals seem to have a range and depth that provides them an edge over the regressing Cubs and volatile Brewers teams.

Milwaukee Brewers

There’s a lot of hitting potential on this team and they will probably be in the top 5 for HRs by the end of the season. The Brewers outperformed expectations on pitching last year but I think it can be done again. Corey Knebel being hurt is manageable since the bullpen seems infinitely interchangeable.

Chicago Cubs

Yu Darvish was a bust last year. Maybe he’ll turn it around this year. Jon Lester is a #2 guy who’s turning into a #3. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are all a step away from brilliance but it is a risky bet that this is the season they take that step. They’re dangerous on the other side of the ball but something isn’t gelling for them and it’s not likely to fix itself this year.

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Yasiel Puig brings his energy to the Reds, can he bring more wins? (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)

Cincinnati Reds

While Yasiel Puig brings a whole lot of fun energy to southwest Ohio, the bigger story is the pitching rotation. Sonny Gray has mean stuff but the lights in New York were too bright. Alex Wood is an underrated pitcher who keeps his lineups in the game with a 3.29 ERA over six seasons. Puig bringing extra run support could mean good things by the Ohio River.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The NL Central may be the polar opposite of the AL Central in competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is fielding a team that’s contributing to that image.

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie The Winning Run
NL West Dodgers Coors Dem Bums Dodgers Rockies Dodgers
Rockies* The Choking Kershaws* Rockies Rockies Dodgers Rockies
Padres Sneks Padres Padres Diamondbacks Padres
Diamondbacks Padres Giants D-backs Padres Diamondbacks
Giants Goliaths Diamondbacks Giants Giants Giants

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have won the division every season since 2013. It doesn’t seem likely to change but they didn’t do a lot in the off-season. The biggest move was to sign A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Much like the Red Sox, this doesn’t portend well. However, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the NL West made the sort of moves that would make them legitimate challengers to that crown.

Colorado Rockies

Nolan Arenado got a big contract and remains one of the most exciting players in the Majors. The departure of DJ LeMahieu was softened by signing Daniel Murphy. So they have the firepower to run up scores on their opponents, but playing in Denver is simply a difficult balance for pitching. Jon Gray seems to be one of the few pitchers that’s unfazed pitching at home or away from that elevation. It’s just hard to develop a rotation and bullpen around that. Especially when you let a guy like Adam Ottavino go to the Yankees.

San Diego Padres

Seriously? How did this happen? Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks sold the house. Hey look Manny Machado.

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How long until the Padres are relevant again? Ralph (Freso/ Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks

They sold the house. Zack Greinke cannot be happy that his departure from the Dodgers has left him with the team he has now. Goldschmidt is in St. Louis and Steven Souza Jr. went down with a terrible knee injury and is gone for the season. Can Jake Lamb stay healthy and will Adam Jones find a new home in the desert. They have a good rotation so if the hitting is good, they’re a dangerous team to play spoiler.

San Francisco Giants

How the mighty have fallen. Let’s not forget that the Giants have won three of the last ten World Series titles. But really, that’s all that’s going for them right now. One last trip around the Majors for Bruce Bochy.

Wild Card

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
AL Wild Card Red Sox Bandwagoners Red Sux Red Sux Tea Partiers Red Sox
Athletics White Elephants Indians Rays Astros Athletics
NL Wild Card Phillies Bravos Cards Cardinals Brewers Rockies
Rockies The Choking Kershaws Phillies Marlins Braves Brewers

 

Divisional Series

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
ALDS 1-4 Red Sox Rojo Sox Yankees Astros Yankees Yankees
Astros White Elephants Red Sux Red Sux Tea Partiers Red Sox
NLDS 1-4 Dodgers Follies Dodgers Dodgers Rockies Dodgers
Phillies Bravos Cards Cardinals Brewers Rockies
ALDS 2-3 Yankees Colt .45’s Astros Yankees Athletics Astros
Indians Twinkletits Twins Cleveland Twins Twins
NLDS 2-3 Cardinals Coors Brewers Brewers Cardinals Cardinals
Nationals Cards Braves Phillies Phillies Phillies

 

Championship Series

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
ALCS Yankees Rojo Sox Yankees Yankees Yankees Yankees
Red Sox Colt .45’s Astros Astros Athletics Astros
NLCS Cardinals Bravos Dodgers Brewers Rockies Cardinals
Dodgers Coors Brewers Cardinals Cardinals Dodgers

 

World Series

Derek Jesse John Kevin Bernie Winning Run
World Series Red Sox Coors Dodgers Brewers Yankees Cardinals
Cardinals Colt .45’s Yankees Yankees Cardinals Yankees

 

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Sorry CC Sabathia it is not looking good for you to end your career with a World Series victory. This one’s for you CC. (Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports)

Our apologies to the New York Yankees because our prediction means they’re probably not going to win this year. We have been wrong the last five years, why change now.

BL with DJ, JJ, JB, & KB