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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).

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


MLB-WS2017: Sabrmetrics, the Rush to Forgive & Ensconced In Anaheim..of Greater Los Angeles

19 Nov

Hail the Houston Astros, MLB17’s World Series champion.

Last year it was the Chicago Cubs ending the drought of all baseball droughts (1908) in taking the title which’d seemed pretty well in the Cleveland Indians’ grasp (4-3). This year it was a first-time winner, the Astros, who joined the Major club back in 1962 as the Colt .45s and having failed in their one prior Series opportunity in falling to the White Sox in 2005 (4-0), those Pale Hose nabbing their first WS in quite a spell (1917).

The opinion amongst media is that this Astros team is a template for the future MLB. Meaning, a steady, snoozy diet of numbers and more numbers (Zzzzz).

Why the Cubs (2016), Royals (2015), Red Sox (2013) and Giants (2014, 2012, 2010) weren’t touted as such, who knows? It probably has something to do with the fact these present champions are what some are calling a sabrmetric special, aka, analytics. There’s an apropos pun if there ever was one.

Houston operators in manager A.J. Hinch (formerly of the Athletics (See; Moneyball)), GM Jeff Luhnow and club PBO Reid Ryan all relied heavily on statistics, aka, “data,” to shape, guide their roster to the promised land, making the Astros the first sabrheaded organization to grab-hold of that brass ring.

But don’t bet the farm on Houston just yet, no matter how the numbers crunch.

Astros team ERA in WS17, a whopping 4.64.

Astros team BA: .230; OB%: .297; and SLG: .467. Those #s mean the Houston dudes hit poorly throughout but slugged for go-ahead runs in key moments as the Dodgers’ slightly better pitching faltered at the worst possible times (4.45).

Those numbers, the trophy, they suggest one word: Opportunistc. That’s a good trait but not one that’ll bedrock for a dynasty.

— — —

Not too surprising to know that winning a World Series is no guarantee for lifetime employment in the Major League baseball ranks as both former skippers of note, Joe Girardi (NYY 09) and John Farrell (BOS 2013) discovered in being fired post-playoff runs by their respective ball-clubs. John was canned after the Red Sox fell to the Astros in the 2017 ALDS, 3-1, Joe pink-slipped when his Yankees lost to the same Houston club in the ALCS, 4-3.

Not every owner accords that achievement (a WS title) with such an ephemeral appreciation. Some hold it close to their hearts, or so it would appear.

Case in point, billboard billionaire (OutdoorSystems) and Angels’ owner since 2003, Tuscon native Arturo Moreno. The wheeler-dealer seems to hold the view that such achievement should afford a manager his job as long as he wants to continue in the position. Bully for him.

Mike Scioscia completed his 18th year at the helm of the Halos at conclusion of 2017. It was his 2d consecutive sub-.500 finish, in a total of six. In all, Scioscia has compiled a 1570-1346 record (.538), managed seven post-season appearances, one 100-win year (08) and one World Series in 2002, the Angels only Pennant that resulted in a championship win over the Giants, 4-3.

♪♫ And the beat goes on ♪♫.

— — —

Consider how World Series 2017 will NOT be best remembered:

The Astros first MLB title.

It’s fan-friendly watchability: G5 (Astros 13-12) ended at 1:17 AM – EST.

Cries of foul for what appeared an official ball juiced to the threads.

Clay Kershaw finally performing, for one start (G1), anyway, like the pitching great his regular season stats have predicted for years.

No, it won’t be remembered best for any of those.

What World Series 2017 WILL be best remembered for is racism, it’s knowing expression through the Astros’ Yuli Gurriel and its appeasement by Major League baseball’s Cufflink-in-Chief, Commissioner Rob Manfred.

You could say, prejudice got a pass, until spring. Sigh.

The setting: G3 in Houston with the Series knotted-up at 1-1. It’s bottom of the 2d, the Astros’ Gurriel, a 33-year old Cuban in his first full major league season, hit’s a solo shot off of Dodgers’ starter and Japanese native, Yu Darvish (b.1986) who’d been a Texas Ranger (13) through the first-half of 2017.

After all the celebrating, taking his dugout seat and of course seeming in good spirits, Gurriel threw a racist brick at Darvish (Because Yu was thoughtless enough to toss a homer pitch?) in putting fingers to his eyes in childish Western-mimick of an Asian appearance, laughing and thinking himself cute. Not done, he also was overheard spewing the word chinito, meaning Chinese boy.

In Bugs Bunny speak, Yuli is a “maroon.” But he claims to understand this mental state, at least its wrong, so MLB, his ‘mates, Astros’ fans, major and junior media have all rushed to forgive the offender. How wonderful (ugh).

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not suspend YG, not even for one contest in a Series that went seven (I‘d have banned him from entering either stadium for two (2) games). Instead, Rob gave Gurriel a 5-game delayed supension to commence at the start of the 2018 season, assuming he’s still on the team. He turns 34 in June, per his birth certificate.

And with that deferred susp’n which presently amounts to no punishment at all, an awful message was sent to the public: In the rush to forgive and return to calm waters (Darvish took the high road but was in no good position to protest), racism will be tolerated by MLB if the offender “understands” his wrong, claims non-intent and an immediate susp’n in penalty might upset the balance of play when TV ratings ($) are at stake.

And what DIDN’T Baseball’s response do?

It didn’t help Baseball, domestically or internationally. That it was the Dodgers on the receiving end of Gurriel’s racist buffoonery works double damage to the national pastime’s image, the team that in Brooklyn under the Walter O’Malley, Branch Rickey, Mulvey & Smith ownership, rostered Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier (47) and has since been a leader in making the game a showcase of diversity for all races including Hispanic Central America (Fernandomania) and throughout much of the Orient (Nomomania).

It didn’t aid in the fight against racism.

It didn’t help Rob Manfred who is now a symbol of weak leadership, defined forever by his failure to take the bull by the horns.

And it didn’t really help the Astros whose title is now tainted, reminiscent of the Italian national soccer team’s World Cup win in 2006 (Germany).

When deadlocked in the championship match, Marco Materazzi hurled a harsh, family insult to France’s superstar Zinedine Zidane who head butted the offender to the ground. ZZ of course received the red-card (expelled), Italy received the advantage in OT and went on to win the Cup yet left their pride on the field.

Astros won the Series. I don’t know how much Gurriel’s presence shaped the result. He did contribute. Exactly how much of a factor his presence in all games 4 thru 7 had is neither here nor there, for justice, doing the right thing, shouldn’t balance on whether the wrongdoer is a star player or off-the-bench reserve.

But as disturbing as Gurriel’s goof and Manfred’s knee-buckle was how the Astros rallied around their teammate, acting as if his friendly clubhouse persona absolved each of them from holding the Cuban to a standard of decency and he to any sort of symbolic sacrifice in Series time lost.

So much progress yet still a ways to go. I’m hopeful Yuri helps us get there.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: can-of-corn; YuriGurriel, wc.cca, 7.23.17, Baltimore, K.Allison, 1.8m; MikeScioscia, 12.9.15, A.PardavilaIII, wc.cca, MLB-WinterMeet, 5.2m; RobManfred, wc.cca, 7.15.14, wc.cca, fanfest, A.PardavilaIII, 3.5m; Y.Gurriel, 7.23.17, wc.cca, Baltimore, K.Allison, 1.2m;
Posted: 11.18.17 @ 8:28pE, edit 11.19; Copyright © 2017

MLB17 Chin-Music: Dodgers Drought Ends As Cubs Quench-Quest Begins Anew

24 Oct

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs NLCS proved something beyond the fact the best National League ball-club in MLB17 calls Chavez Ravine their home. It also proved that the post-season is a whole ‘nother ball-game where ANYTHING can happen and often does.

— — —

The post-script on the defending champ Chicago Cubs 2017 has seen them take the first step in starting another Championship drought, one they surely hope won’t come close to their last (1908 – 2016) which spanned five wars, nineteen Presidents and fifteen Ken Burns PBS series. Monopoly’s definitely in vogue.

If you exclude the Bruins first six (6) MLB championships in the calculation (1876, 80-2, 85-6), termed ‘pennants’ by the sabrheaded scribbler set who are about as sporting as a DMV clerk late for lunch, and start figuring from the World Series opener in 1903, the Northsiders averaged about one fall classic every two years the first decade (1906-08, 10), every four (4) up to the end of WW2 (1918, 29, 32, 35, 38, 45).

It is post-War when the Cubs really began to thirst for a Series return, about seventy (70) years having elapsed before last season’s true pennant (When a team goes as far as it can go in the competition (1876 – 1902, pre-playoff League titles), THAT’S a championship!).

— — —

Ironic now in that NLCS opponents Chicago and Los Angeles played the series almost in complete opposite of their late season forms.

The Dodgers are playing like champions now, yet crawled to the regular season finish line, winning their West division by going 17-24 (1-16 from 8.16 – 9.11) down the stretch and bobbling a good opportunity post-Home Run Derby (87 – 34) to best the Bruins 1906 wins mark of 116 (104).

The Cubs meanwhile had been playing like anything but defending champs, standing under .500 on July 9th (43 – 45). But they found their rhythm and played with seriousness the rest of the way, finishing a respectable 92 – 70 to take the Central division flag and hold out good hope of winning the franchise their second set of back-to-back World Series championships (1907-08).

All of it pointing to the fact that once the playoffs begin, anything can happen and pre-playoff predictions are mostly filler for the 15,000 corporate junior journalist sport blogs that monopolize the intenet landscape.

The post-season is an Athletes in Wonderland where expections are like that grinning Cheshire cat, here one day, gone the next. The best clubs give kitty the boot to take charge and make destiny their own.

The Cubs future still looks to be a bright one, having most of the players, the manager and Cufflink crew to contend again. And even were the Dodgers to take this Series, there’s no National League club that looks all that imposing. Junior Circuit’s not exactly bursting at the seams with juggernauts, either.

Los Angeles ended their own World Series drought in making it back to the fall classic for the first time since 1988. And as so often happens, the topsy turvy nature of post-season play had Tommy Lasorda’s underdog team up-ending the muscle-bound Bash Brothers from Oakland, 4-1, emotionally spurred by legendary limping pinch-hitter Kirk Gibson who seemed to hold Roy Hobbs “Wonderboy” in his hands in homering late to win G1 and set the title tone.

— — —

The Dodgers ended their Pennant drought by easily dispatching with Chicago, 4-1, but can Los Angeles quench their thirst for another cup o’ championship bubbly (10), or will the spirited American League flag-wavers the Astros bring home their first World Series trophy that opens Tuesday nite in Houston “♫ where you better walk right (H.D. Stanton) ♫?”

Both clubs are spirited and driven by sense of community.

The Astros are “Houston Strong,” bearing a uniform patch in honor of the vicitms and devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, while the Dodgers have recently retired, long-time broadcaster Vin Scully, the above mentioned Kirk Gibson and the mission to reclaim the hearts of America’s largest metropolis (See; Angels, Rams & Chargers) as their mindful motivations.

Both managers in Dave Roberts (LAD) and A.J. Hinch (HOU) are fairly new at their respective helms, in their mid-40s and of like player pedigree. Hinch, however, has been indoctrinated into the sabrmetric school of thought (uniformed in Oakland for three seasons) while Roberts is more out of the baseball academy mold, i.e., enough with the numbers already, oy vey.

Both teams hit, field and pitch on most occasions, hence, the Pennants, but it is stalwart moundsmen in the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and Astros wily veteran Verlander who will set the tone, be the bellwethers and ultimately decide the outcome, each likely to get two (2) starts if it goes seven.

Both Cy-clones have had their 2d season struggles and hope to etch better legacy onto all the hardware they’ve accumulated by-way of this October classic.

Verlander’s presently pitching in another stratosphere this post-season but in his two WS appearances, versus St.Louis (06) and then SF (12), he’s a combined 0-3 and an ERA (8.49) about as high as that aforementioned atmospheric layer.

Kershaw, though 2-0 this PS, still posts a 4.40 ERA on 17 game starts with a 6-7 W-L mark, both in opposite of stellar regular stats in .692 W%, 2.36 ERA and what managers-fans-&-mates always love, a spiffy 4-to-1 S/O-to-BB ratio.

Another player I plan to watch is Dodgers’ late-season pickup from the Metropolitans, veteran and former Verlander teammate in Detroit (WS 06), fleet of foot outfielder Curtis Granderson. Curtis has seen his best days as a Tiger and then Bronx Bomber but still plays strong, like a late-career Kenny Loften.

In his two World Series, the first with Justin versus the Cards in 2006, 2d with the Mets versus Kansas City, he, like Verlander, showed his youth in the earlier Classic (.095 / 1r) but had impact in the later, knocking in five (5) RBI, three (3) and six (6) runs (.250) in the losing effort against the champion Royals.

On that basis, and because I want to wrap this up, I’m tabbing LA in seven.

Steven Keys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: LA-Dodgers-logo, wc.cca; C.Kershaw, wc, ArturoPardavilaIII, 5.20.15; C.Bellinger, wc, 9.21.17, Peetlesnumber1; Cheshire-Cat, AliceInWonderland, JohnTenniel, 1889, wc; D.Roberts, wc, 12.7.15, A.PardavilaIII; Canned-corn
Posted: 10.24.17 @ 1:13aE, edit @ 4:15p; Copyright © 2017