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MLB18 Octoberfest: Royals Flush, Tribe’s Charming, Wild-Card Waterdown & Brewers Oleo Run?

29 Sep

The more the merrier.

Typically, it’s an idiom I can get behind, for things like wedding parties, do-gooder rallies, pizza toppings, potato-chip flavors, yard-sale stuff, etcetera. But when it comes to baseball’s post-season, more is becoming less.

In 2012, major league baseball added a second wild-card team to the playoff picture in each League, further diluting an already watered-down competition pool. In truth, the problem probably begins with the fact there may be too many teams in baseball, period, thirty (30) in all.

It only stands to reason, that as the sport grew in the late 1800s from 6 to 8 to 10 to two Leagues (1901) to 24 to .. you get the idea, and batters feasted on the diluted, less skilled pitching pools with each increase in arms, that the same result likely happens on a team level and explains the so-so playoff quality we see in most given post-seasons where regular season stalwarts suddenly flop.

The quality quotient in any of the four major USA prof’l sport leagues (MLB NFL NHL NBA) probably ranges from 24 or 28 teams. But what city would refuse?

Expanding the franchise has become common business practice: Sport, Halls of Fame, movie genres (noir). Such is the privilage of monopoly, even as quality may suffer. And with a consumership that would only complain if their daily sugar allotment were cut in half, who’s gonna’ stop ‘em?

The junior circuit looks to be very competitive this October with the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees and defending champion Astros all serious contenders. But if the Beaneaters don‘t make to the Classic, think Wild-Card waterdown.

When the Houston Astros won their 1st World Series last November, it left just seven (7) ball-clubs who’ve yet to bag the MLB championship. And with the Giants (2010, 12, 14), Pale Hose (2005) and Northsiders (2016) all parched for decades and having recently quenched their thirst, the sense of urgency grows for those teams and loyal fandoms still without (gulp).

Enter, the Milwaukee Brewers (b.1969), still a dry state.

They got close to quench in 1982, taking the Cards to a seventh game when St.Louis’ split-fingered fastball specialist Bruce Sutter proved the difference in relief. It was one of the last Series to hold day games, one of which this writer attended, a 7-5 come-from-behind Brewers win at old, wide-open, chilly but sun-drenched County Stadium.

As those memories fade, Milwaukee faithful have had to satisfy themselves on meager servings, just two playoff appearances (08 / 11) and a new stadium (Miller Park 2001) in 35 seasons, funded in largest part by Wisconsin taxpayers in a $290,000,000 payout ($400M) and a 20-year (+/-) 0.1% sales tax. All prompting this writer to ask, ‘When does the real, serious, committed-to-winning-a-World-Series type investment in the ball-club come, owner Mark Attanasio?’ And by the way, happy birthday, Mark (9.29.57 NYC).

Both the Brewers and NL Central rival Chicago have locked up post-season spots with this weekend’s final slate set to determine the division champ and the NL’s best record, good for home-field advantage throughout the Pennant fight. At this posting, the Bruins stand one full game up on Milwaukee.

But while Cubbies have the aura of a champion (2016), it’s the Brew Crew who can boast the more imposing bat lineup and greater fielding finesse.

Milwaukee rosters the senior circuit’s two top 2018 MVP candidates in outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, an All-Star member of KC’s 2015 Series winner (AL: J.Martinez or B.Snell) (Winners: Yelich – Martinez). They also sport one of finest closing units in the majors in Jeremy Jeffress (1.33), flame-thrower Josh Hader (2.28) who made the Cubs look downright silly two weeks ago and team save leader Corey Knebel (16 / 3.78).

With the glove, the Beermeisters rank near the NL top in fewest errors (105) and favored fielding percentage (.982), attributable, no doubt, to their manager Craig Counsell who in his 16 MLB seasons, all in the National, was considered an infielder who took his job seriously (79e / .985).

The Brewers Achilles’ heel: Depth, a lack thereof (a common complaint around both leagues), and in particular, starting pitching.

No C.C. Sabathia (08) or Zack Greinke (11) late-season pick-ups this time around to bolster Brewers’ brawn (R.Braun: .254 / 61rbi / 20hr / 51r / 122g), not even for that rare Wisconsin baseball championship run, Attanasio choosing instead to sit tight on his ample wallet or having GM David Stearns do it for him.

The 2018 market wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams but, cmon, brother!

Besides Venezuela-born right-hander Jhoulys Chacin (15-8), no pitcher with 10 or more decisions is more than two games above .500. And while relievers can seal the deal (See: Sutter above (82)), quality innings that a solid starting staff can provide in the do-or-die post-season gauntlet are invaluable.

One more pitch: He might just be the only Brewers employee remaining from that 1982 season, that being fabled announcer Bob Uecker (b.1.26.34) who began his radio run, long after his Illinois “ole-run (b.126.34),” way back in 1971. And I’ve gotta’ believe, everyone in the organization and America’s Dairyland would like to get it back to the World Series in small part for “Mr.Baseball.”

My two favorite Uecker quips:
“Sporting goods companies would pay me NOT to endorse their products.”
“I always thought (my) home run would keep Koufax outta’ the Hall of Fame.”

Third time’s a charm.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians reminded of that maxim that the playoffs are a second season when records mean little and opportunism means much.

As last season’s post-play began, the Indians were the American League favorite to grab their second Pennant in as many years when they played at a sizzling 55-20 (102-60) pace after the Home Run Derby & Family Fun Jamboree had completed in July (All-Star exhibition).

But as Cleveland’s baseball luck would have it, they flamed out in their first series by losing the Divisional to the Yankees (91-71) who did take the eventual champion Astros to seven games in the ALCS.

This year the Indians are closing out the regular campaign in more modest fashion (38-26 / 90-70 (9.29.18)) yet have coasted to their third consecutive American League Central division title, not exactly champagne-worthy when then the 2d place club (Twins) will finish with less than 80 wins.

As the Tribe holds the 3rd best mark of the AL division winners, Francona’s bunch will face the 2d best record-holder in Houston in the divisional. Home field does have real value but can prove ephemeral with one poor outing, flipping the advantage. So with expectations lower this time around, maybe Cleveland can pull off the upset themselves and find their way back to the fall Classic.

— — —

What in tarnation has happened to the Kansas City Royals?

It seems like only yesterday when, in 2015, KC grabbed its 2d consecutive AL Pennant on way to winning its 2d World Series title in franchise history (85 STL) when Ned Yost’s men easily toppled Senior Circuit foes, the New York Mets, 4-1. But since then, it’s been all .. down .. hill.

This 2018 version of Royals bears little resemblence to those champions.

They’re not quite as troubled as the Baltimore Orioles (45-112) but it’s gotten so bad that in a sad stretch from June 1st – July 10th, the Royals went a depressing 6-29, with losing streaks of 6, 9 and 10 games, respectively (oy).

The small ray of sunshine to break through the bleakness is that KC has actually been playing some of the best ball in the Majors these past few weeks. Since the end of August (24th) they’ve gone a respectable 19-13 to this posting date (9.29).

Why the tumble in the standings? Not eating their Wheaties®?

KC wasn’t exactly filled to the gills with talent when they were winning, so when the purse strings got a good tug from owner David Glass post-2015 (Wouldn’t want to build a dynasty, heavens no!), the talent level dropped down to the tail. Yost’s a fine manager but he can’t spin straw into gold.

But the Royals are still in Kansas City, so for that their fans are thankful (oy).

StevenKeys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: Terry-Francona, wc.cca, 12.9.15, Winter-Meet, A.Pardavila; Bob-Uecker, wc, 1977, AP-ABC; Yelich-Christian, wc, Sgt-J-Cervenka, 7.2.16, Ft-Bragg, NC, 1.67m, USArmy; T.Francona, 10.8.16, wc, Boston, A.Pardavila; can-of-corn
Posted: 9.29.18 @ 5:42pE; Copyright © 2018

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MLB17 Chin Music: With Cubs Ascendancy, Baseball’s Spotlight Swings Midwest

4 Jan

Now that the Chicago Cubs have rediscovered their long dormant championship flair, a find expedited by an ownership (Ricketts) that acquired top managerial (Theo Epstein & Joe Maddon) and player talent, the 2017 MLB spotlight swings Midwest, back to the region where major league baseball was first imagined (Hulbert), empowered (NL – 1876) and then came to thrive.

Champions for the 9th time (Cap Anson (6), Frank Chance (2) & Maddon (1)), the new & improved Northsiders seem to have a vision, egos largely in check, are still wearing their classic blue-pinstripes and still lovable even as ticket prices climb. All of it is, of course, a friggin’ nightmare for Cubs regional rivals (Pale Hose, Redbirds, etc.). But then teams of substance love a challenge, right? Right.

cubs-wc-18k-1957-78-sportslogoThe toast of that “toddling town,” the “big shoulder(ed)” Bruins who last November won their first World Series since 1908, that being the 2d in a back-to-back (1907), making it the first dynasty in the World Series era, the same year “Take Me Out To The Ball-Game” made the stadium scene, currently hold the biggest championship sandwich in all of sport. Chomp!

Cubbies (you can still call ’em that) took MLB’s first title in 1876 when the great Al Spalding (Byron, IL) was a top moundsman precedent to launch of his sporting goods empire, and have sandwiched in that 140 years all the good & bad included therein, by way of their 2016 triumph over the hearty Cleveland Indians.

Baseball may not’ve been invented in the old Northwest Territory but its people and their passions certainly played the major role in turning the game, and its entertainment value, into America’s great national pastime.

While the White Stockings (Cubs), led by legendary men like Spalding, Fred Goldsmith, Ross Barnes, Deacon White, Anson, King Kelly, Larry Corcoran, George Gore and John Clarkson, were dominating the new National League in taking 6 of its first 11 championships, including 3-straight (1880-82), 250 miles southwest, German immigrant made-good-in-beer, owner Chris von der Ahe was building his St. Louis Brown Stockings of the rival American Association, a team featuring Charles Comiskey and Bob Caruthers, into an equally titanesque team, one that dominated their fraternity in fashioning their own early dynasty in winning four-straight AA titles (1885-88).

cubs-wc-bpl-1906-196kLook at the line: Harry & George Wright’s Cincinnati Red Stockings (1869), Chicago wheeler-dealer William Hulbert who first conceived of the major league and then worked to keep it alive (1875-6), acting with iron-fist as defacto Commissioner, the White (Cubs) and the Brown Stockings (Cardinals): Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Providence, they all had their glory, some of it sustained, but until Babe Ruth suited up for the majors (Red Sox / Yankees), regardless of what John McGraw might say, west of the Appalachians was where the game’s ‘main office’ would remain until the 1920s.

Since the Yanks gave up their World Series monopoly (1963), the joy of winning has spread from coast-to-coast. Good for baseball, good for fans, worldwide.

Today, it’s the Cubs who stoke Midwestern pride. And as the Bruins are the most popular sport franchise in the nation, even before they raised their latest championship banner, or will come April, that state means plenty.

Their biggest off-season news, exit of table-setter Dexter Fowler to St. Louis. Cubs will miss his run production (84 – 125g) and playoff pop. What they won’t miss of the 30-year old are his SOs (124) and low OBP% (.393).

cubscelebrate-wc-11-3-16-a-pardavilaiii-7mCardinals: Though the Yanks had rebirths in more recent times (70s / the Joes), from 1926 to the present it’s been the Cardinals who, while never fashioning back-to-backs, have been the consistent standard of excellence in the major league game on par with the Highlanders.

Tigers: It’s been 30+ since Michigan’s pride won a WS in that transcendent 1984 when Sparky Anderson & Co. jumped out early and never looked back (.614). Two flags and a half dozen playoffs under Jim Leyland left the franchise hopeful yet frustrated. Aces remain in the aging Verlander and Cabrera, purse-strings tighten on big payroll and Tigers’ ownership seem content to lick their wounds for now.

Indians: Like Detroit, after Mike Hargrove’s two pennants and two WS losses, Tribe lowered expectations for a time. Now back on a mission with the same man who helped quench Red Sox championship drought (x2), hoping Terry Francona can get his club back to another Series, up 3-1 and able to close the deal.

Royals: Cast-off from Milwaukee, Ned Yost has managed KC to two flags in three years and a World Series win (‘15), Royals first since 1985 when Dick Howser skipped, Brett hit, Saberhagen won and Quisenberry closed. Stumbled a bit in 2016 but kept heads above water (81-81) and expect to contend again.

arrieta-wsg6-11-2-16-a-pardavilaiii-3-2mBrewers: Kick themselves for thinking Yost the wrong man (fired 2008, 83-67). For a club priding itself on thrift, even if it means one flag in 47 years (‘82), they should kick themselves, hard. Good call on Fielder but at 5’11” and near 300 lbs., how long could it last? Wisconsin taxpayers still waiting for a return (WS) on their Miller Park investment (2001). Patience is a virtue, until it’s not…Mark.

White Sox: Cubs southside rival (1901), Sox play in a park (Guaranteed Rate) whose name changes for dollars, making it occupant’s poor play seem of lesser importance. Champs in 2008, Pale Hose now remind Chicagoans of ‘85 Bears whose single SB win stands as both a testament to excellence and unfulfillment.

Reds: Last pennant, 1990 (win).

Twins: Last pennant, 1991 (win).

Pirates: Last pennant, 1979 (win).

canned-cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: RizzoCelebrates, wc.cca, 11.3.16, A.PardavilaIII; Cubs-logo, wc, 1957-78, sportslogo; CubsTeam, 1906, Boston-Public-Library, wc; Cubs-Celebrate, wc, 11.3.16, A.PardavilaIII; J.Arrieta, wc, 11.2.16, WS-G6, A.PardavilaIII; can-of-corn
Posted: 1.4.17 @ 11:17am, edit 3:06 EST; Copyright © 2017

MLB16 Chin Music: Cubs Win Is Just More Cloudburst For Rainmaker Epstein

6 Nov

Those Sporting Gods are a funny bunch of deities. Not funny like a “clown,” oh no, but curious, like that monkey on PBS (“George”).

sportingmeetinggods-wc-1630-cv-poelenburgh-3mAt times they seem asleep at the wheel, having no interest whatsoever in the goings-on of sport, letting just about any Whosit on a hot-streak hoist the Title hardware (‘86 Mets, ‘06 Heat, ‘15 GSW, ’14 Seahawks), then, at other times, the Sporting Gods just can’t keep their all-guiding hands off of the controls.

It’s the latter practice that looks to’ve been in operation for major league baseball’s World Series 2016 that pitted two Title-starved opponents in the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs.

The Gods must’ve had themselves a good long laugh.

Not with the winning Bruins (4-3), the team most pre-season prognosticators pegged to take the title, but in affecting the crazy course by which the Cubbies finally navigated their way, once again (‘07-08), back to the champion’s podium.

As for the Indians, Mgr Terry Francona and Cleveland brass will have ’em back.

chancemcgraw-5-2-1911-gg-bain-loc-wc-66kEmphasis on the adverb ‘again’ as most people, even the raucous revelers on State Street, have no idea (interest) that there were times, like in the 1880s (Cap Anson, King “Hook-Slide” Kelly, John Clarkson) and then early 1900s (Chance, Evers, Tinker, Brown, Kling, Overall, Steinfeldt, Reulbach) when the name Chicago Cubs struck fear into the hearts of men, even the likes of Cobb, Wagner, McGinnity & McGraw.

First, the Gods put the Tribe out front (3-1), building hope for their frustrated fans who hadn‘t had a championship since Red River was in the theaters (“Yeeee-ha!” (‘48)), then they set the Cubs, who hadn’t even taken a pennant since that heart-wrenching year of 1945 (FDR – WW2), storming back to even it up at three, most of their wins coming on the road, no less, at Progressive Field.

And if that weren’t enough to trigger the PVCs, then the deciding game seven (7) goes extra innings (Zzzzz), has a rain-delay and had baseball writers pulling their hair out not knowing which title they were gonna’ post (’Cleveland, City of Champs!’ or ‘Cubs Win, Cubs Win, Cubs Win!’).

james-wc-4-27-8-k-allison-3-8mEven a kingly presence in the crowd (LeBron James) couldn’t turn the trick for the Tribe.

But if there are any fans in sportdom who can fully appreciate both the lows of losing the big match (Indians) and then the cathartic joy that comes with winning the Chalice of a Champion (Cavaliers), it would be those who reside in and around the Forest City, Ohio.

So after all their fun n’ games, why’d the Gods tab Chicago the winner?

If there’s one thing the Divinities will not tolerate, something they simply abhor, it is the haphazard stewardship of baseball records.

If you write about rounders often you will come to rely on the wealth of statistics made available on the web at baseball-reference.com. The same sort of repository exists for many of the major American merriments. When you cut through all the sabrmetric snooze (WAR, OPS, etc.), the site’s smorgasbord of stats is a tremendous baseball resource for which this user is grateful.

gold-medieval-ring-wc-sonofthesands-britain-146kBut when the boys who run the site brazenly decided in-Series to award championship rings to the Indians (appearing as a gold icon next to the relevant year in the “Postseason” section (all now removed)), as early as the close of game three (3) with Tribe up 2-1, the Sporting Gods decided on a winner: The Cubs. There’s that, and the fact that the Northsider’s dry-spell for a World Series winner (1908), whether based at West Side Grounds or Weeghman – Wrigley Field, had Cleveland’s beat by 40 years. Plenty parched.

— — —

He was near demigod status in his role shaping the Francona Red Sox teams that ended their own championship drought in 2004 and reigned again in 2007. But in doing the same for the parched pin-strippers on Chicago’s Northside (See Also; GM Jed Hoyer), Theo Nathaniel Epstein (b.12.29.73 (NY)) left behind the wunderkind tag and joined a select group of baseball executives (GM – PBO), builders who, when funded ($), create dream seasons and dynasties. It’s a membership that includes Branch Rickey (OH) and Ed Barrow (“born in a covered wagon in Springfield (Ill.)(Wikipedia)).” Big stuff.

inherit-tracy-wc-1960-ua-54kBut with progress comes a cost, a quid pro quo. You gain something, you give something up. For the Cubs and their followers that price may be the ‘lovable’ they’ve been serving up since 1945.

Spencer Tracy (“Henry Drummond”) spoke to this yin-yang thing in Stanley Kramer’s highly acclaimed Scopes Monkey Trial movie, Inherit the Wind (‘60):

Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.
Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have a telephone but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.
Madam, you may vote but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder puff or your petticoat. And Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”

The faithful, Cubs ownership in the Ricketts family and Manager Joe Maddon, both deserving of the Rainmaker tag themselves, the sports media, all have failed to consider what it will really mean to the Cozy World of Confine now that the Cubs have won their 3rd World Series championship.

epstein-wc-slingsby-9-8-10-688kThe red, white & blue Bruins have built so much out of “nothing” it became the most beloved brand in all of sports. Everybody likes the Cubs, even before 2016. The undying love they engender in their fans nationwide is admired on par with Yankees’ prowess in play.

Winning changes everything. Fenway fans in their 40s understand that. There’s a new expectation, standard in Bean Town and Chicago, too. Anything short of a World Series title gets an incomplete grade. Tension rises, especially amongst the fair-weather fan who jumped the bandwagon and has wherewithal of a wet peanut.

Finally breaking that championship drought (’04 (1918 v Cubs)) can be cathartic for those who still hold the pain from chances that got away (‘67, ‘75, ‘86). But it’s a different mood in Boston these days. Success is sweet but it can be a pretty girl with a fickle heart: Warm when in clover, cold when the chips are down.

And that’s half hyperbole.

The victory parade down Michigan Avenue in November, so thick with confetti The Fugitive could’ve eluded police for days, was a beautiful sight to behold.

chicago-mi-ave-wc-4-9-11-l-fuss-2-8mA man who knew a thing or two about progress was at the Allied controls when the Cubs were in spring training and about to embark on a season that would take them to what was to be their last NL pennant and fall classic prior to 2016 (1945). That man was U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 – April 12, 1945 (d. Warm Springs, GA)):

This is what 4-termer FDR, the standard by which all Presidents are measured, had to say about progress: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much (Yankees & Cardinals), but whether we provide enough for those who have too little (Royals (2015) and Cubs (2016)).”

Hooray for progress!

.....canned cornSteven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credit: T.Epstein, wc.cca, 10.22.16, A.PardavilaIII; Sporting(MeetingGods), wc, 1630, CV.Poelenburgh; J.McGraw-F.Chance, wc, 5.2.1911, GG.Bain, LoC; L.James, wc, K.Allison, 4.27.8; gold-medieval-ring, wc, Britain, Sonofthesands; Inherit-the-wind, S.Tracy, UA, 1960; Epstein, wc, 9.8.10, S.Slingsby; MichiganAve., wc, Chicago, L.Fuss, 4.9.11, Canned-corn
Posted: 11.5.16 @ 9:57pm EST; Copyright © 2016