Tagged: Rays

Game 6- Tampa Bay Rays

Game 6 was a day game in Tampa with the Rays hosting the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. The 12:10 start made for an early morning. We have driven 2,687 miles so far. The dome meant for once we did not have to worry about the weather as we watched our first American League game of the trip. It was also the first game with just Kevin and I. 30 Games in 30 Days continues.

DJ

The 30 in 30 Schedule

The baseball schedule is a grind. Day after day, game after game. 162 games is no easy feat. Neither is 30 games in 30 days. We have our schedule for seeing all 30 teams in 30 days. It is not for the faint of heart. 

After much time and research, here is the schedule we will follow for our 30 in 30 baseball road trip. 

SundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday
July 16July 17
St. Louis
Cardinals
Cincinnati
Reds
July 18July 19July 20July 21July 22July 23July 24
Philadelphia PhilliesWashington NationalsAtlanta
Braves
Tampa Bay RaysMiami
Marlins
Houston
Astros
Kansas City Royals
July 25July 26July 27July 28July 29July 30July 31
Minnesota
Twins
Chicago
Cubs
Cleveland SpidersBaltimore OriolesBoston
Red Sox
Buffalo
Blue Jays
Pittsburgh
Pirates
August 1August 2August 3August 4August 5August 6August 7
New York
Mets
New York YankeesDetroit
Tigers
Milwaukee BrewersChicago White SoxColorado
Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
August 8August 9August 10August 11August 12August 13August 14
Oakland AthleticsSan Diego
Padres
Los Angeles AngelsSeattle
Mariners
San Francisco GiantsArizona DiamondbacksTexas
Rangers

In 30 days we will drive 15,611 miles and roughly 237 hours. We have 11 drives over 500 miles. This includes three drives over 500 miles, three over 700 miles, and five over 1,000 miles. We will be driving a rental car, no sense destroying our own cars. There will be long days where we do not want to drive. However, it will be worth it in the end. 

This is one of the truly great baseball road trips. The most common reaction from people has been shock at the enormity of the trip and the amount of driving. Kevin and I both understand and are thankful Bernie will be joining us later in the trip to be our third driver. Hopefully knowing the end is in sight energizes us. 

There are two types of challenging drives. Difficulty because of game start time and distance. The two drives that are difficult because of start times are early in the journey. Our third game is the Phillies with a 1:05 PM start time. It is 576 miles and almost 9 hours from Cincinnati and Philadelphia. The easy solution would be to drive some after the Reds game. However, I live in Cincinnati so it makes more sense to sleep in my own bed before leaving. This means we will hit the road around 3 AM. Rise and drive. The second challenging start time is in Tampa. We will be coming from Atlanta, 493 miles and almost 8 hours away. The Rays game starts at 12:10 PM. Again the easy solution is to start driving the night before, but finances play a role. I am from Atlanta so we will stay with my family, plus hang out with Jesse and John. You cannot pass up free lodging. Kevin and I will have another 3 AM departure. Great for beating traffic, but no one wants to wake up that early. 

We are hoping for nothing but blue skies, green grass, and baseball. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The second category of difficult drives is the distance between teams. Try as we might, some teams are isolated or at dead ends. The Marlins and Rays present a problem. The Braves are the only close team so we knew there would be a long drive to or from Florida. We will have a mostly free day in Miami, and free lodging thanks to our friend Jason, so we should be rested for the drive to Houston. The Astros are 1,186 miles and 17 hours away. Unfortunately Miami has a night game, so another short night before setting off around 2 AM. The change from Eastern to Central Time helps, but a 17 hour drive is tough. Miami to Houston is our longest drive of the trip. 

The West Coast could make or break the trip. Our limited window and the schedule gave us limited options. The trip west begins after seeing the White Sox. We will drive 1,004 miles and 14 and a half hours to Denver. The time zones again help. After the Rockies game we have to keep moving, our next game is in Los Angeles. Dodger Stadium is 1,022 miles and almost 15 hours away. Back to back 1,000 mile days will be brutal, but our baseball guardian angel, Bernie, joins us at the perfect time. After a few days driving up and down California we face a drive from Anaheim to Seattle. The Mariners are 1,163 miles and 18 hours north. While it is a few miles shorter than Miami to Houston, California traffic can be a nightmare. The key is simply getting out of Los Angeles.  The final long drive is to our final game. We head 1,047 miles and 15 hours east from Phoenix to Arlington for the Rangers game. The time zones will work against us. The final leg will either have us completely spent or we will be hyped as we complete the most ridiculous trip of our lives. The only thing that will matter is watching our 30th game in 30 days. 

There will be plenty of difficult drives along the way, but we know these are the ones that will test our commitment to completing 30 in 30. Having an off day in Miami and New York should reenergize us. The short drives between Milwaukee and Chicago as well as San Diego and Los Angeles will give one of us a day off. This is our schedule to see 30 games in 30 days. Hopefully we hit minimal traffic and avoid rain delays and rain outs. 

DJ

United States of Baseball- Kansas

Fly over states may not have the large cities that attract Major League teams, but they play plenty of baseball. Kansas does not lack for baseball talent with 218 MLB players born in the Sunflower State. The best Kansas born pitcher is one of the greatest of all time. Walter Johnson has the most career WAR, 164.54, for a pitcher born in Kansas. He has the second highest WAR for any state and territory pitching leader. Johnny Damon is the greatest position player born in the Sunflower State. His 56.33 career WAR ranks 35th among state and territory leaders. Johnson and Damon give Kansas 220.87 WAR, 8th highest among all states and territories. 

Walter Johnson is on the Mount Rushmore of Major League pitchers. Few pitchers can compare to the Humboldt native. The Right Hander pitched 21 seasons for the Washington Senators. In 802 career Games, Johnson made 666 Starts, threw 531 Complete Games, including 110 Shutouts, pitched 5,914.1 Innings, allowed 4,913 Hits, 1,902 Runs, 1,424 Earned Runs, 97 Home Runs, 1,363 Walks, 3,509 Strikeouts, posted a 417-279 record, 2.17 ERA, 1.061 WHIP, and 147 ERA+. On July 1, 1920 against the Red Sox Johnson threw his only career No Hitter. Four years later, he helped propel the Senators to their only World Series victory. The Big Train holds the record for most career 1-0 Wins (38) and Losses (26). He is likely the permanent all time leader in Shutouts.

Walter Johnson is possibly the greatest pitcher in baseball history. (Baseball In Color)

Johnson dominated. He had 10 consecutive 20 Win seasons. He led the American League in Strikeouts 12 times, Shutouts seven times, Wins, Complete Games, WHIP, and ERA+ six times, and Innings Pitched five times. The Big Train struck out 300 batters twice and 200 batters seven times. He posted a WHIP below 1.000 nine times. His ERA+ was over 200 four times and 150 eight times. Johnson’s domination included an ERA under 2.00 11 times and winning five ERA Titles. He won the Pitching Triple Crown three times (1913, 1918, 1924) and the American League MVP twice (1913 and 1924). In 1936 Johnson was elected to the Hall of Fame as part of the inaugural class. 

Johnson’s best season was 1913. He pitched in 48 Games, made 36 Starts, threw 29 Complete Games, including 11 Shutouts, pitched 346 Innings, allowed 232 Hits, 56 Runs, 44 Earned Runs, 9 Home Runs, 38 Walks, 243 Strikeouts, posted a 36-7 record, 1.14 ERA, 0.780 WHIP, and 259 ERA+. Johnson won the MVP award while leading the league in Wins, Winning %, Complete Games, Shutouts, Innings Pitched, Home Runs, Strikeouts, ERA, WHIP, and ERA+. Total control on the mound as the Senators won 90 games to finish second for the pennant. 

“We’re idiots.” Boston’s Johnny Damon as the Red Sox marched to their 2004 World Series title. The Fort Riley native was a veteran leader that helped return Boston to baseball glory. The sometimes caveman looking Centerfielder played 18 seasons for seven teams: Kansas City Royals (1995-2000), Oakland Athletics (2001), Boston Red Sox (2002-2005), New York Yankees (2006-2009), Detroit Tigers (2010), Tampa Bay Rays (2011), and Cleveland Indians (2012). In 2,490 career Games, Damon collected 2,769 Hits, 522 Doubles, 109 Triples, 235 Home Runs, 1,139 RBI, scored 1,668 Runs, 408 Stolen Bases, 1,003 Walks, 1,257 Strikeouts, .284 BA, .352 OBP, .433 SLG, .785 OPS, and 104 OPS+. He scored at least 100 Runs 10 times. He was twice an All Star (2002 and 2005) and World Series champion (2004 and 2009). Damon appeared on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, receiving 1.8% of votes. He is best remembered for his departure in Oakland helping to usher in the Moneyball era and ending the Curse of the Bambino

Johnny Damon is best remembered for helping break the Curse of the Bambino. (The Eagle Tribune)

Damon’s best season was in 2000 for the Royals. He played in 159 Games, collected 214 Hits, 42 Doubles, 10 Triples, 16 Home Runs, 88 RBI, scored 136 Runs, 46 Stolen Bases, 65 Walks, 60 Strikeouts, .327 BA, .382 OBP, .495 SLG, .877 OPS, and 118 OPS+. He led the Junior Circuit in Runs scored and Stolen Bases. Damon set career highs in Plate Appearances, At Bats, Runs scored, Hits, Doubles, Stolen Bases, BA, OBP, SLG, and Total Bases. He was the July Player of the Month as he posted a 6.2 WAR season. Damon finished 19th in MVP voting. The Royals tried to resign him, but the constant losing took its toll. Kansas City traded him to Oakland instead of losing him in Free Agency. 

Kansas has sent two players to Cooperstown, Walter Johnson and Joe Tinker. Damon was a good player, but not quite Hall of Fame worthy. Kansas continues to wait for a third member in Cooperstown. Next week the United States of Baseball heads to the land of horse racing and basketball. The Bluegrass State is next, Kentucky. 

DJ

30 Teams in 30 Days

There will be moments where we question why we are doing this. Why would two people subject themselves to endless hours of driving just to watch baseball? The goal is simple, see all 30 MLB teams, in their home ballparks, in 30 days. All done by driving, no flying. It is crazy and I have wanted to do it for years. Others have done the ultimate baseball road trip, but I wanted my own adventure. 

The first task was to find someone to go with me. It is physically impossible to do this trip solo. Everyone needs a break from driving. If I could not convince someone to join me, the trip was over before it began. I began talking about the trip with friends. Most were shocked by the idea and several wanted to join, but could not take 30 days off work. I am a teacher, so my summers are relatively free, other than umpiring baseball. Success came when I talked to Kevin. He has the ability to work from the road and can take some time off. Copilot secured, now the real nightmare begins. 

Pulling off 30 teams in 30 days is a logistical nightmare. First you have to figure out the schedule so you can hit every team within a 30 day window. If one team is not at home or has an off day the entire schedule is ruined. The east coast is fairly easy, teams are close enough together to skip around and still hit every stadium without too much hassle. Florida presents a challenge as Atlanta is the only team close enough to reach Tampa or Miami without a long drive. The west coast is the most difficult portion of the trip to plan. Seattle is off by itself and Colorado is in a no man’s land between teams. The trip requires the ability to string together isolated cities. If one team is not home on a certain day, the chain is broken and the entire schedule must be reworked.

Bernie will be joining Kevin and Derek for different sections of their journey to all 30 ball parks in 30 days. (The Winning Run/ BL)

Connecting teams creates the second challenge of the trip. What teams can you feasibly drive to each day and still arrive in time for first pitch? The grind of a month on the road will wear down even the most excited baseball fan. Planning has to account for the realities of exhaustion and the desire to not drive all day, every day. Connecting two teams with a short drive is critical for maintaining energy and sanity. Even better is if both teams in Los Angeles, Chicago, and/or New York are home at the same time. A glorious day out of the car. Your body and mind will thank you. 

The logistical nightmares are not confined to the baseball schedule. You have to plan where you will sleep each night. Always staying in a hotel is financially impossible. Creativity and personal relationships are key. We will stay in a hotel some nights. However, the majority of the nights will be spent crashing with friends and family or camping under the stars. Sleep is critical to safely pulling this off. 

Doing 30 in 30 this year is made a little more difficult because of limited tickets due to Covid protocols. Normally we would have bought tickets to every game by now. Instead we are left waiting. Everything is falling into place, yet so far we only have tickets to the Cincinnati Reds. We have also had to create two routes as it is unclear where the Blue Jays’s home will be during our trip. 

There are many moving parts to this trip. The logistical nightmares will continue throughout the trip. The best plans rarely hold up once they meet reality. Traffic, weather, exhaustion, and other unknown factors could derail or alter the trip. Time will tell how 30 in 30 comes together. We have already put months of work into the trip. We will start the trip the Friday after the All Star game. The summer heat will follow us around the country as we watch baseball in all 30 MLB ballparks. I have long dreamed of this trip. There is still work to be done. At times I question why I ever wanted to do this, but in the end it will be something that will always bring a smile to my face. 

DJ

Predictions Sure To Go Wrong 7.0

Baseball is back. The 162 game Regular Season grind is back. So too is the unpredictability of the season. No single player can dominate so completely that they carry their team to a World Series title. Baseball is different, the best player does not always come to bat with the game on the line. The Angels would love to send Mike Trout to the plate in every big moment, but that is not how baseball works. The game is back to normal and if we know anything our predictions will foretell what will not happen this season. Your guess is as good as ours for the 2021 season.

American League East

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
YankeesGod’s Waiting RoomYankeesYankeesYankeesYankees
RaysSpankiesDudein JaysRaysPoutineRays
Snow BirdsSorrysDevil RaysFlorida BirdsRaysBlue Jays
Red SoxBaltimoreSad BirdsRed SuxRacistsRed Sox
Dead BirdSoxFenwaysBmoreOh DearOrioles

The American League East is the Yankees to lose. Gerrit Cole makes any team better, but New York signed him to be the workhorse in October. If the training staff can keep the pinstripes healthy the rest of the division is in trouble. The Tampa Bay Rays seemed to get worse by trading away Blake Snell. However, it is hard to count the Rays out as they seem to find underrated players who exceed expectations and put Tampa in the thick of the Postseason race. The biggest question for Tampa is will they have a World Series hangover. The Toronto Blue Jays could be snow birds for the entire season. There has been no official word on when the team can return to Canada. They will play their home games in Dunedin, Florida for the foreseeable future. Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will provide plenty of excitement wherever they play. The Red Sox traded away Andrew Benintendi and lost Jackie Bradley Jr. to the Brewers in free agency to complete the teardown of one of the most exciting outfields in recent memory. Boston fans are still excited about the financial flexibility the Mookie Betts trade gave them. Baltimore is a great baseball town. The Orioles are in the middle of a painful rebuild. They will not contend this season, but Baltimore is on the rise…finally.

American League Central

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
Black SoxTwinkiesChiSoxChiSoxTwinsWhite Sox
TwinkiesSouth SidersTwinkletittesTwinklesWhite SoxTwins
MonarchsTeam to be named laterQuarter PoundersClevelandRoyalsRoyals
SpidersTigersCleveland Footbal teamRoyalsSpidersSpiders
Motor City KittiesMonarchsDetroit Why Am I HeresTigersTigersTigers

The South Side of Chicago will have plenty of fireworks. The reigning American League MVP in Jose Abreu. The always exciting Tim Anderson. A pitching staff that can compete with any team in baseball. Can Tony La Russa harness Chicago’s potential or will a clash between old school and new school derail the White Sox. The Minnesota Twins continue to be a great Regular Season team. Their signing of Andrelton Simmons might be the most underrated free agent move of the offseason. Can they figure out a winning formula in October? Kansas City has quietly built a solid team on a budget. Signing and trading for Mike Minor, Andrew Benintendi, and Carlos Santana with Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez already on the roster will create plenty of wins for the Royals. Is it enough to compete with the White Sox and Twins for the division? Cleveland could be a very good team, but in a tough division good is not good enough. They still have Jose Ramirez and Shane Bieber, but the team needs more if they want to contend. The Detroit Tigers continue rebuilding. Miguel Cabrera’s continued ascent up the record books will draw fans. Wins will be difficult to come by, but the Tigers have a bright future ahead, but Detroit should not expect a trip to the Postseason in 2021.

Tim Anderson is never boring on the diamond. (www.si.com)

American League West

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
MoneyballWhite ElephantsLA’s other teamA’sBeane BallersAthletics
TroutHouston Astr-hosMoneyballTrash CansAngelsAngels
Trash CansAngelsCheatersAngelsCheatersAstros
Ranger DangerNolan Ryan Hot DogsSea hagsStarbucksMarinersMariners
MarinersGriffey Used to Play HereAgent ZerosChuck NorrisRangersRangers

Could this be the year the Astros lose their grip on the division? George Springer is gone and Justin Verlander is out with Tommy John surgery. Houston is still a competitive team, but the division is catching up. Bang the trash can slowly. Oakland has a dynamic duo in Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. The young and hungry A’s are built to compete and the team is posed to deliver. Mike Trout deserves better. The best player in baseball for almost a decade has been stuck in Los Angeles as the Angels keep turning potential into disappointment. Shohei Ohtani is healthy and Albert Pujols can still hit. The Angels owe it to Mike Trout to finally deliver him to the Postseason, but he cannot do it alone. This was not the offseason Seattle wanted. The ire of an entire sport focused on the stupidity spewed by their now former President and CEO about the team’s young talent has not set the team up for success. The Mariners have not played in October since 2001. Seattle has drafted and signed prospects that appear set to be the future stars for the Mariners. The Robinson Cano signing told Seattle it cannot rely on a single player with a monster contract. Lesson learned, they are a few seasons away from winning. It will be a long hot summer in Texas. The Rangers have some good pieces, but not enough to matter. At least their new stadium has a roof so the players and fans do not cook in the Texas heat. 

National League East

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
BravesBravosAtlanta BallclubBravesBravosBravos
MetsGnatsCohensMarlinsMetsMets
NatsFishFlorida FishMetsMarlinsMarlins
MarlinsAmazins2019 ChampsNatsNationalsNats
PhanaticsPholliesSad HarpersPhilliesPhilliesPhillies

The National League East is the toughest division in baseball. Atlanta was 1 game away from the World Series last year. Instead of hoping for better results the Braves got better by signing Charlie Morton and will get Mike Soroka back from his torn Achilles. Their offense is led by reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman and future MVP Ronald Acuna Jr. The Amazin’s are a force to reckon with, especially after adding Francisco Lindor, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker. The question is can the Mets win enough. The Marlins have finally built a team internally. Miami bought two World Series championships but those were short term successes followed by fire sales and long rebuilds. The young Marlins will be fun to watch and are building towards October. The Nationals may have the best rotation in baseball. The keys for Washington are keeping everyone healthy and can the offense, besides Juan Soto, keep up with the pitching. Philadelphia has Bryce Harper, but one player cannot put an entire team on his back. The Phillies will be good, but in a deep division they could be the best last place team in baseball. 

National League Central

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
Red BirdsCincy…..why not?ArenadosMiller TimeCardinalsCardinals
Red LegsCardsDrink pretty goodCardinalsBrewersBrewers
Brew CrewBrewcroodsShitcagoRedsCubsReds
Teddy BearsBuccarooniesCincincincin…..CubbiesRedsCubs
Burn the ShipsNorthsidersNice stadiumsBonds’ ex-gfJack SparrowsPirates

Yadier Molina is an ageless wonder. 17 seasons behind the plate for the Cardinals and he is still among the best catchers in baseball. St. Louis is set at the corners with Paul Goldschmidt and the nearly acquired Nolan Arenado. The Central crown runs through St. Louis. Milwaukee got better by signing Kolten Wong away from their divisional rival Cardinals. The Brewers are one of the more underrated teams in baseball and have a real chance at the Postseason in an already tight division. Cincinnati made it back to the Postseason in the shortened 2020 season. The Reds have the pitching and offense to return this season. The division may be too difficult to win, but the Wild Card is within reach. This could be the final season of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez at Wrigley. Looming free agency makes it nearly impossible for Chicago to retain all three players long term. The Cubs will be good, but change is coming. The Pirates are barely a Major League team. It was a little surprising MLB did not cull them with the other Minor League teams this winter. They have a projected team payroll of $46 million, with nearly a quarter of it tied to Gregory Polanco. Ke’Bryan Hayes provides hope for the future but the Postseason is out of the question.

Traded to St. Louis with $50 million, Nolan Arenado will finally play for a winning team. (Getty Images)

National League West

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
DodgersYou want a hot apple pie with that?BettsDodgersPadresDodgers
DaddyThe over hyped LA teamPadresPadresScullysPadres
SnakesSILVER BULLET!!!!!!!!GentsGiantsRattlersGiants
Jolly GreensScam Fram BricsoQuarterbacksDbacksGiantsDiamonbacks
Rockie Mt HighI’m a snakeIt Smoke Pretty GoodRockiesRock BottomsRockies

The reigning and defending World Series champions will return to October, but can they fend off the Padres. The championship team is back and will continue racking up wins. Clayton Kershaw is no longer the only pitcher Los Angeles can depend on in the Postseason, the Dodgers should make a deep run to defend their crown. San Diego is built for success now and in the future. Fernando Tatis Jr., Eric Hosmer, Manny Machado, and Chris Paddack are tough to beat every time they take the field. The race for the West will be fun to watch. The gap between the top and bottom of the division is huge. Few teams were as high as the Giants a decade ago, but that is the past now. The rebuild continues in the back end of Buster Posey’s career. How long will he continue playing is unknown, but he is already a San Francisco legend. Arizona is not a bad team, but can they compete with the titans on the coast? The Diamondbacks have plenty of good players, including an underrated Ketel Marte, but they lack a superstar to compete in October. The Rockies managed to enrage their entire fanbase with a single move, trading away Nolan Arenado. Every team makes tough roster decisions, but Colorado decided it was best to rid themselves of the best Third Baseman in baseball and keep a General Manager that has not shown any ability to put a winning team on the field. Yes Trevor Story is still on the team, but his impending free agency will see him shipped out before the season is over. Once Story is gone what is left to build around? Get ready for a long and brutal rebuild Colorado fans.  

Postseason

The Poseseason is a roll of the dice. A team can come in hot and suddenly turn cold and be gone. A team struggling can suddenly find their footing and go on a tear. The beauty of October baseball is that it is more unpredictable than the Regular Season.

American League Wild Card

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
AL Wild CardRaysYankeesJaysRaysWhite SoxTwins
TwinsSouthsidersRaysTwinklesBlue JaysRays

National League Wild Card

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MetsGnatsPadresMarlinsDodgersPadres
PadresThe over hyped LA teamMetsPadresMetsBrewers

American League Divisional Series 

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
RaysWhite ElephantsYankeesYankeesAthleticsYankees
Black SoxSouthsidersSoxRaysWhite SoxRays
YankeesTwinkiesAsA’sYankeesA’s
MoneyballGod’s Waiting RoomJaysChiSoxTwinsWhite Sox

National League Divisional Series

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
DodgersBravosDodgersDodgersBravosDodgers
PadresGnatsCincyPadresDodgersPadres
BravesCincy…..why not?PadresBravesCardinalsBraves
CardinalsYou want a hot apple pie with that?CardsMiller TimePadresCardinals

American League Championship Series

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
Black SoxWhite ElephantsYankeesYankeesYankeesYankees
RaysTwinkiesChiSoxChiSoxWhite SoxWhite Sox

National League Championship Series

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
BravesBravosDodgersBravesCardinalsBraves
PadresYou want a hot apple pie with that?PadresPadresBravesPadres

World Series

DerekJesseJohn Moving Co.KevinBernieThe Winning Run
Black SoxBravosYankeesYankeesCardinalsBraves
BravesTwinkiesDodgersBravesYankeesYankees
BravesBravosYankeesYankeesCardinalsBraves

Congratulations to the 2021 World Series Champions, the Atlanta Braves. We will find out just how wrong our predictions were in October. None of us have high hopes that we were right. Happy Opening Day!

Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies will lead the Braves to the World Series. (New York Times)

DJ, JJ, JB, BL, and KB

Unsteady Hands

2020 has been a long year for baseball. Covid nearly canceled the MLB season, as did the disagreement between MLB and the Players Association about player salary and the number of games. Minor League Baseball was canceled and now MLB has gutted the game from many cities. There have been plenty of issues surrounding the game, but once games began the attention was on the field. 

Bad years are made up of bad days. Rafael Devers has long been regarded as part of the Red Sox future core. His bat has delivered for Boston, posting a career .279 BA, with .332 OBP, .498 SLG, .830 OPS, and 115 OPS+. The damage done is 443 Hits, 108 Doubles, 5 Triples, 74 Home Runs, 254 RBI, 254 Runs scored, 16 Stolen Bases, 117 Walks, and 364 Strikeouts in just four seasons. In 2019, Devers led the American League with 54 Doubles, while slugging 32 Home Runs to finish 12th in MVP voting

There are bad days, and then there was Rafael Devers’ day in the field on August 13th at Fenway Park against the Tampa Bay Rays. He was productive at the plate, going 1 for 5, with an RBI Single and Run Scored in the 1st. Devers’ day went downhill from there. In the top of the 4th with no outs, Red Sox Pitcher Phillips Valdez induced a soft bouncing ball to Third from Hunter Renfroe. Devers easily gloved the ball and turned to start a 5-4-3 Double Play. Devers never had a solid grip on the ball after transferring the ball from his glove to his hand. His throw was wide of Second Baseman Jonathan Arauz and into Right Field. The errant throw allowed Yandy Diaz to go from First to Third. The next batter, Brandon Lowe, Singled up the middle scoring Diaz, unearned, and moved Renfroe to Second. Tampa led 8-4. 

Rafael Devers needs to improve his defense to help the Red Sox return to competitive baseball. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Unearned runs are the price a team pays for committing Errors. The Rays’ next batter, Willy Adames, struckout. Boston could limit the damage with a Double Play. Valdez induced Manuel Margot to hit an even softer bouncer to Third, which Devers charged, bareheaded, and fired to First. Everyone knows the feeling when they release the ball and it does not go where they intended. The moment Devers released the ball, everyone knew it was a bad throw. Red Sox First Baseman Mitch Moreland unsuccessfully dove for the throw. The ball rattled around in foul territory allowing Renfroe to score, unearned, Lowe to go First to Third, and Margot to reach Second. Devers had two Errors on two Chances in the inning, both plays a Major League Third Basemen should make. His throwing Errors allowed three unearned runs to score; Diaz, Renfroe, and eventually Lowe. Boston trailed 10-4. 

Devers’ was not over. In the 7th, Tampa led 16-5. Renfroe led off against Josh Osich. He hit a hard ground ball a step towards the line. Devers fielded the ball cleanly with plenty of time to throw across the diamond. However, the throw sailed high and new Red Sox First Baseman Michael Chavis jumped to catch the throw and attempted a tag. The bad throw allowed Renfroe to reach. Luckily, Devers’ third Error did not hurt Boston further as Renfroe was stranded at Third.

Rafael Devers had a day every baseball player wants to forget. His 3 Errors helped him lead baseball with 14 in the shortened season. Devers struggled in 2020, posting the lowest Fld% of any player with at least 100 innings in the field. His defense is a liability and 2020 was a continuation of his career at the hot corner. In 1,034 career Chances, Devers has 232 Putouts, 728 Assists, and 74 Errors for a .891 FLD%. The average MLB Third Baseman had a .959 Fld% in 2020, a -.068 difference. The difference of 27 successful plays made in 400 Chances, literally an entire game worth of outs. Devers’ bat is his calling card, but it is not good to have as many career Errors as Home Runs.

The Errors are coming as quickly as the Home Runs for Rafael Devers. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Errors and Fld% do not show the full picture of a player’s defense. Range and Runs Saved help show a player’s impact with their glove and arm. Devers is not the next Brooks Robinson. Both his RF/9 (Range Factor per 9 Innings) and RF/G (Range Factor per Game) are below league average. In 2020, Devers made 2.16 plays per 9 innings and 2.00 per game, while the league averaged 2.57 and 2.48. He made 0.41 and 0.48 fewer players, roughly 25 fewer plays made in his 57 games played. His lack of range hurts the Red Sox by being involved in and converts fewer plays at a critical position. 

It was not just a tough season for Devers. His defense has been below average since arriving in the Majors. His career RF/9 (2.58 vs 2.64), RF/G (2.52 vs 2.60), and Fld% (.928 vs .958) are all below average. His rTOT (the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made) was -13 in 2020 and -44 in his career. There is no evidence suggesting Devers will ever become a league average Third Baseman. 

Devers’ bat got him to the Majors at 20, but his glove needs a new home where it is less damaging to Boston’s opportunity to win. He has a career 9.3 oWAR, but a -2.4 career dWAR. The simple solution is to DH him, but JD Martinez, and his own lack of defense, occupies that role. The Red Sox need to keep Devers in the lineup, but how long can his bat compensate for his glove. 

Watching a player struggle is never fun and without question Devers is trying to get better. He is still young, just 24 years old. He is still learning, after rocketing through the Minors. Devers has time to learn the hot corner as the Red Sox rebuild. However, when the Boston faithful return to Fenway they expect him to contribute with his bat AND glove.

DJ

Awards Season

The 2020 season was undoubtedly the most unusual in MLB history. The regular season was played in empty stadiums. Several teams had games postponed due to positive Covid tests, forcing them to play numerous makeup doubleheaders. The sense that games could be postponed at any moment always lurked around the corner. Even the Dodgers celebrating their World Series victory was not seamless, as Justin Turner returned to the field despite a positive Covid test. Despite all of these hurdles, plus the usual injury issues, the 2020 season was a success. 

Completing the season and entering the offseason means recognizing the season’s best players. The awards voters are not always right, however this season the best players won. The condensed season allowed the elite players, enjoying long hot streaks to rise to the top. These players have built solid careers and are reaching their peaks.

Manager of the Year

The Manager of the Year award often goes to the managers who make deep runs in October. Despite Dave Roberts leading the Dodgers to their first World Series title since 1988, he did not win his second Manager of the Year award (2016). Instead, Don Mattingly won the 2020 National League Manager of the Year award after guiding the Marlins to the National League Divisional Series. Coming off back to back 98+ lose seasons Mattingly guided Miami to a 31-29 record. The Marlins dealt with a Covid outbreak, which required them to play multiple double headers. Despite the challenges, Mattingly guided his young team through trials and tribulations no other team has faced before.

Don Mattingly has seen it all as the Marlins manager. From the death of Jose Fernandez to Covid Mattingly has led Miami through the storms (Jeff Roberson/ AP)

Kevin Cash led the Tampa Bay Rays to the American League pennant and the best record in the Junior Circuit, 40-20. Tampa easily won the American League East by seven games over the Yankees with baseball’s fourth lowest payroll. People will focus on Cash’s handling of Blake Snell in the World Series, but he pushed all the right buttons to set Tampa up for October success. The Rays responded to Cash and excelled throughout the shortened 2020 season.

Rookie of the Year

Devin Williams won the National League Rookie of the Year award. He is the first pitcher to win the award without making a start or recording a save. Williams appeared in 22 Games for the Brewers, 4-1 record, pitched 27 innings, allowed 8 Hits, 1 Earned Run (solo Home Run to Colin Moran), 9 Walks, 53 Strikeouts, 0.33 ERA, 0.630 WHIP, and 1,375 ERA+ (not a typo). He allowed more than one hit in an appearance once, his last appearance of the season. Williams pitched two innings and both hits were erased by double plays. Devin Williams was simply dominated. 

Devin Williams was nearly unhittable out of the Brewers bullpen all season. (Jeff Haynes/ Associated Press)

Kyle Lewis was the unanimous American League Rookie of the Year. He hit .262, .364 OBP, .437 SLG, .801 OPS, and 126 OPS+. Lewis had 54 Hits, 3 Doubles, 11 Home Runs, 28 RBI, scored 37 Runs, 5 Stolen Bases, 34 Walks, and 71 Strikeouts. He skipped AAA going straight to Seattle in 2019, appearing in 18 Games for the Mariners. In 2020, Lewis saw 4.06 pitches per plate appearance, higher than the 3.94 league average. Lewis’ talent will show through at the plate as he sees more pitches and he solidifies Centerfield in Seattle for the foreseeable future. 

Cy Young Award

Trevor Bauer is not afraid to operate outside the box. He only cares about being the best pitcher he can possibly be, as chronicled in The MVP Machine. Bauer enters free agency winning his first Cy Young Award (27 of 30 first place votes). He went 5-4 with a league leading 1.73 ERA. In 11 starts, Bauer threw 2 Complete Games, 2 Shutouts in 73 innings, allowing 41 Hits, 14 Earned Runs, 9 Home Runs, 17 Walks, 100 Strikeouts, 0.795 WHIP (led league), and 276 ERA+. Bauer helped propel the Reds back to the Postseason for the first time since 2013. Trevor Bauer was going to command a king’s ransom in free agency, winning the Cy Young Award only raises his price.

Shane Bieber dominated on his way to winning the Pitching Triple Crown. (Paul Sancya/ Associated Press)

Shane Bieber was the unanimous American League Cy Young Award winner. No other American League pitcher could have won the award. Bieber led the league in Wins, Strikeouts, and ERA to win the pitching Triple Crown. Overall in 12 starts he went 8-1, throwing 77.1 innings, allowing 46 Hits, 14 Earned Runs, 7 Home Runs, 21 Walks, 122 Strikeouts, a 0.866 WHIP, and a 281 ERA+. He dominated opposing hitters, striking out at least 10 batters 8 times. Bieber pitched masterfully despite the constant uncertainty throughout the season.

Most Valuable Player

Freddie Freeman has been in the Most Valuable Player conversation for several seasons, finishing in the top 10 three times. He finished second to teammate Craig Kimbrel for the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year. Freeman is a two time Silver Slugger and has a Gold Glove on his resume. In 2020, Freeman collected 73 hits 23 Doubles (led league), 1 Triple, 13 Home Runs, 53 RBI, scored 51 Runs (led league), 45 Walks, 37 Strikeouts, hit .341, .462 OBP, .640 SLG, 1.102 OPS, and a 186 OPS+. He is the clear leader of the Braves. Freeman’s elite bat often overshadows his elite defense. He is arguably the best first baseman in baseball, a career .995 Fld%, making just one Error in 460 Chances in 2020. Freeman now has the hardware to prove he is among baseball’s elite.

Freddie Freeman is now officially recognized as among the elite players in baseball. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Jose Abreu is a three time All Star, three time Silver Slugger, and 2014 American League Rookie of the Year. His talent was never questioned, as his rise to stardom has been long and steady. Abreu displayed his talents in 2020 winning the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Playing in all 60 games, Abreu was the clear choice. He collected 76 Hits (led league), 15 Doubles, 19 Home Runs, 60 RBI (led league), scored 43 Runs, 18 Walks, 59 Strikeouts, hit .317, .370 OBP, .617 SLG (led league), .987 OPS, and a 166 OPS+. He is the leader of the White Sox need to contend every season for the American League Pennant. Abreu is only 33 years old, he has several more peak seasons ahead. 

The 2020 season was wild. Covid, no fans, divisional schedules. MLB managed to successfully navigate the season when many, including myself, thought they would fail. Recognizing the best in the game shines a light on the players and managers who rose to the top because of their skill and drive to be their best. Hopefully Covid is under control when baseball returns in the Spring and 2021 is closer to normal. Despite all the challenges, 2020 was a season to remember, especially for these winners. 

DJ

High Holy Week

Religion is serious business for many people. I am far from convinced I have all the answers so I will pass on the religious debate and enjoy the waning moments of High Holy Week. Yes the week of the World Series is High Holy Week for The Winning Run. Baseball is a game that some treat as a religion, although it is not yet universally recognized. 

The World Series each year means late nights watching games as today turns into tomorrow. We pick one team to support, often for arbitrary reasons, as the team we devote our fandom to is usually watching from home. Cheering for the small market team (2015 Mets vs Royals), a 7 game series to stave off winter (2016 Cubs vs Spiders), a meteor strike (2018 Red Sox vs Dodgers), any reason will do. There is screaming, yelling, jumping around, high fiving, a bombardment of texts, phone calls, heavy eyelids, and the undying anger associated with Joe Buck announcing a baseball game. 

Randy Arozarena’s sprint around the bases gave the Rays life after Kenley Jansen failed to back up the throw. (Wally Skalij/ Los Angeles Times)

The World Series is everything great about baseball, even when it does not end how you want. 2020 is no exception. The Dodgers and Rays are polar opposites. Big market vs small market, huge fan base vs minimalist fanbase, giant payroll vs tiny payroll. Despite their differences they produced a memorable World Series. Baseball is not always equal, but there is usually chaos. Look no further than the final pitch of Game 4. Brett Phillips came to the plate with two on and two out; the Dodgers had a 81% chance to win the game. Los Angeles was one pitch away from taking a 3 games to 1 lead. 34 teams have taken a 3 to 1 World Series lead, 29 became champions. The odds of winning 3 straight World Series games is not in anyone’s favor. Kenley Jansen’s 1-2 pitch was hit to Right-Center. Kevin Kiermaier raced home from Second to tie the game. Chris Taylor bobbled the ball then fired home. Randy Arozarena was heading for a play at the plate when the turf monster tripped him. As the television camera followed the ball home everyone saw Arozarena was toast. However Will Smith took his eyes off the ball a split second too soon. The ball skipped off his mit; Jansen had not properly backed up the play. Seeing the ball get away, Arozarena halted his retreat to third and dove for home, having just enough steam to score. The World Series was tied 2 games a piece. 

Baseball is a fickle game. The more you learn the less you know. Studying the game only lures people further into its grip. Even without Covid and the delayed, no fan season few could have imagined this World Series. Los Angeles is celebrating, while Tampa is wondering what if. Baseball is a religion of sorts. You ponder it, spend time in quiet reflection, share the good news, encourage others when they are down, seek to achieve perfection, all while surrounded by fellow believers. In a world surrounded by chaos, fear, and anger baseball provides a refuge for joy, happiness, and love. High Holy Week is the culmination of a year’s worth of work for players and the fading season for fans. The game steps away during the winter, but it is never far from the thoughts, and even prayers, of the faithful. 

The Dodgers won the World Series, but in the most 2020 twist of the series Justin Turner was removed from the game because of a positive Covid test only to return to celebrate instead of following medical advice to isolate. (Fox Sports)

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers, World Series champions. Remember to get tested after hanging out with Justin Turner and to thank Kevin Cash.

DJ

East Meets West

MLB expanded the Postseason from 10 to 16 teams this season. Gone, temporarily, is the one game Wild Card Playoff. Winning the World Series in 2020 requires teams to win four series, 14 games total. The longer Postseason is beginning to mimic the playoffs for the NBA and NHL, which seem to last as long as their regular seasons. October this season feels like a tournament not a playoff. March Madness has come to the Fall. 

After a protracted fight over how and if to play the 2020 season, MLB had no choice but to change the Postseason. Separating the pretenders from the contenders in just 60 games is nearly impossible. In a normal 162 game schedule every team expects to win 40 games and lose 40 games. What happens in the other 82 games separates the pretenders from the contenders. 

The Tampa Bay Rays once again are defying all expectations in October. (Mary Holt, USA TODAY Sports)

The Wild Card and Divisional rounds of the Postseason should allow the best rise to the top. MLB does not need a repeat of 2006 when the St. Louis Cardinals squeaked into October with a 83-78 record. The National League Central was a truly terrible division, as the Cardinals and Astros, 82-80, were the only teams above .500. Only division winners and one Wild Card team made the Postseason in 2006, meaning the 85 win Philadelphia Phillies watched October from home because the 88 win Dodgers won the Wild Card. The 2006 Cardinals have the worst Regular Season record for a World Series Champion in the Expansion Era. No one wants a terrible team to squeak into the Postseason, get hot, and win the World Series. The Houston Astros and their below .500 record would fit the bill this season, not to mention their lack of humility in the aftermath of their cheating scandal and avoidance of any punishment, but I digress. 

The divide between the haves and have nots in baseball can be monumental. On paper the National League Central looked strong in 2020, sending four teams to the Postseason. However, reality soon set in as the Cubs, Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds were all knocked out in the Wild Card round. Likewise, the American League Central saw all three of its teams head home early after the White Sox, Twins, and Spiders all lost. 2020 is a battle for baseball supremacy between the coasts. The love affair with teams on either coast is another iteration of coastal bias in America, yet this year there is no bias as there is no other option. Eight teams remain in the hunt for the World Series. The crowning achievement will happen at a neutral site in Texas to conclude a historically strange season. Hopefully we can return to normal in 2021.

DJ

What Could Have Been

In 2008 the Tampa Bay Devil Rays dropped the Devil, becoming the Tampa Bay Rays. Changing their name also changed their fortunes. The Rays have a .535 winning percentage, much better than the Devil Rays, .399. Tampa is winning roughly 22 more games a season since the switch. In 12 seasons as the Rays, Tampa Bay has won at least 90 games seven times, made the Postseason five times, won the American League East twice, and reached one World Series. The Rays success has come while averaging 27th in team payroll. 

Tropicana Field was not always home to success. The Devil Rays began play in 1998 and struggled through the 2007 season, their last as the Devil Rays. They averaged 25th in payroll, including ranking 10th in 2000. The 2004 season was the Devil Rays best, winning 70 games and did not finish last. Tampa Bay finished 4th, three games ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Every expansion team has growing pains as they build a competitive team. Tampa Bay received no breaks in the Expansion Draft. None of their first five draft picks played more than three seasons in Tampa Bay. Teams need players to build around and the Devil Rays did not find a franchise player in the Expansion Draft.

The Devil Rays held the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. Tampa Bay selected Florida Marlins pitcher Tony Saunders. In 1997, the 23 year old lefty started 21 games for the Florida Marlins, going 4-6 with a 4.61 ERA and 1.464 WHIP in 111.1 Innings, allowing 57 Earned Runs, 12 Home Runs, 64 Walks, and 102 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched in the Marlins Postseason run to their World Series victory. Saunders, a young lefty with Postseason experience, was a logical first pick. 

Tony Saunders
The Devil Rays took Tony Saunders with the first overall pick in the 1997 Expansion Draft. (Jonathan Kirn/Allsport/ Getty Images)

The 1998 Tampa Bay Devil Rays struggled, finishing 63-99, 16 games behind the fourth place Baltimore Orioles. In 31 starts, Tony Saunders went 6-15 with a 4.12 ERA and 1.570 WHIP in 192.1 Innings, allowing 88 Earned Runs, 15 Home Runs, 111 Walks (league leader), and 172 Strikeouts. Saunders pitched 7+ innings in 10 starts, allowing 3 runs or less in nine of those starts. He won twice. In four of those starts, Saunders pitched 8 innings, allowing three runs or less, yet he lost all four starts. Saunders received 3.37 in run support, while Major League teams averaged 4.79 runs per game. Tony Saunders pitched well for the expansion Devil Rays, despite his record.

Tampa Bay and Tony Saunders entered the 1999 season full of hope. The Devil Rays sought to play more competitive baseball and Saunders looked to build upon his success. Entering play on May 26th, the Devil Rays were 22-24. An expansion team hovering around .500 a quarter of the way through the season had many hoping the Devil Rays would soon contend. The Texas Rangers were visiting Tropicana Field facing the surprising Devil Rays. In the Top of the Third Inning, the Rangers had runners on first and third with two outs, trailing 3-2. Tony Saunders had a full count on reigning American League MVP Juan Gonzalez. Saunders took the sign from John Flaherty and uncorked a Wild Pitch. Gonzalez trotted to first, Rusty Greer moved to second, and Luis Alicea scampered home to tie the game. 

Tropicana Field fell silent except for Tony Saunders screaming, writhing in pain on the ground. The pitch broke the humerus bone, the bone connecting the shoulder and elbow, in Saunders’ left arm. Training staff tried helping Saunders up, but the pain was too much. He was carted off the field and taken to the hospital. His season was finished and his career was in doubt. 

Professional baseball players are tough. They play through pain and injury throughout the long season. A year after breaking his arm Tony Saunders was pitching again. His rehab assignment began with the Charleston RiverDogs, Tampa Bay’s Single A team. Saunders pitched in two games, throwing 5 Innings, with a 1.80 ERA and 0.800 WHIP, allowing 2 Hits, 1 Earned Run, 2 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. He was promoted to the St. Petersburg Devil Rays, Tampa Bay’s Advanced A team. Entering the Third Inning of his second game, Saunders had pitched 7 Innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.429 WHIP, allowed 7 Hits, 3 Earned Runs, 3 Walks, and 3 Strikeouts. Then it happened again, Saunders broke his arm throwing a pitch. His Major League career was over. 

Tony-Saunders-arm
Tony Saunders broke his arm throwing a baseball. The Devil Rays future rested on his left arm. (www.mlb.com)

The Devil Rays retained their rights to Saunders through 2004, when they released him. Less than a month later the Orioles signed Saunders. He pitched in Spring Training for the Orioles, but spent the 2005 season pitching for the Mesa Miners of the independent Golden Baseball League. He pitched 9 Games in relief, going 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.600 WHIP. He threw 10 Innings, allowed 9 Hits, 2 Earned Runs, 7 Walks, and 8 Strikeouts.

There are no guarantees in baseball. Tony Saunders is not alone in having his career cut short by injuries. However his injuries were particularly gruesome. The future of the Devil Rays rested on his left arm, it took years for Tampa Bay to recover. Tony Saunders’ efforts to continue his baseball career did not go unnoticed. He received the 2000 Tony Conigliaro Award from the Boston Chapter of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America. The annual award is given to a Major League player who best overcomes an obstacle and adversity through the attributes of spirit, determination, and courage. While the award cannot replace his career, it is important to recognize Saunders’ perseverance in his comeback attempts.

Tony Saunders’ final career statistics: 3 Seasons, 61 Games Started, 2 Complete Games, 13 Wins, 24 Losses, 4.56 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, 345.2 Innings Pitched, 343 Hits, 175 Earned Runs, 33 Home Runs, 204 Walks, and 304 Strikeouts.

Oh, what could have been in Tampa Bay.

DJ