Now it is getting serious. During the past two weeks there has been some separation.
Here are the odds on the teams in contention making the playoffs:
Houston Astros 100.0%
Cleveland Indians 100.0%
Boston Red Sox 100.0%
New York Yankees 87.8%
Minnesota Twins 51.5%
Los Angeles Angels 20.5%
Texas Rangers 9.9%
Seattle Mariners 8.1%
Kansas City Royals 7.5%
Baltimore Orioles 5.9%
Tampa Bay Rays 3.3%
LA Dodgers 100.0%
Washington Nats 100.0%
Arizona D’Backs 99.8%
Chicago Cubs 89.3%
Colorado Rockies 76.8%
St. Louis Cardinals 11.4%
Milwaukee Brewers 7.2%
Miami Marlins 0.1%
The Central Divisions in MLB have taken a big turn in the past two weeks. In the American League, Cleveland, with a remarkable 17 game winning streak through Saturday, broke out of a close situation and now has a 100% chance of making the playoffs. The Yankees and Twins appear to be the two other teams that will make the wild card. In the National League, the D’Back’s have virtually secured a spot in the playoffs. And while it appears the Rockies at this point are the favorite for the final spot, the Cards and Brewers are technically still in the hunt. And the reason is that the Brewers still play the Cubs 5 more games and the Cards in a season final three game series. And, the Cards still have seven games against the Cubs plus that final 3 games series against the Brewers.
If, and that is a huge word, the Cards and Brewers sweep the Cubs, the last series of the season will be one for the ages.
What is the worst team to make the playoffs?
There is little question that the Los Angeles Dodgers are one awful, painstaking mental drop, losing 16 out of the past 17 games. They are losing to everybody as the Brewers began the slide and the D’Backs and Rockies continued the slide. Can this team regroup mentally? Or will that spook of a thought, (are we good enough to do this?), sneak into their brains. Frankly, it does not appear as though they have either the pitching or the hitting to go far in the playoffs.
Now there are only 20 to go. How will you team fare?
‘He’s a comic book hero with a prep school education.’ That is what Adam Karen, Eric Thames agent was told by the Korean representatives as they were in pursuit of Thames for the NC Dinos in the Korean League. A graduate from Bellarmine Prep, a private Jesuit school in San Jose, California, then majored in Integrated Marketing at Pepperdine University, Mr Thames was drafted in the 7th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. In 2011 and 2012 he was a platoon player while appearing in 141 games and batting .257 with 15 HRs and 48 RBI. On July 30, 2012, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Steve Delebar. In Seattle, he appeared in 40 games during batting .220 with 6 HRs and 15 RBI. On June 30, 2013, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Ty Kelly and did not appear in a single game. Then on September 5, 2013, he was selected off Waivers by the Houston Astros. In the field, he only had 5 errors. Disappointed, but not discouraged, he went and played in the Venezuelan Winter Ball league in December 2013.
By this time, the Dinos understood a couple of things: Eric Thames was covered in tattoos and had a big personality while in 633 at bats in the major leagues, he had hit 21 HRs and driven in 54 RBI, had an on base percentage of .296 and a slugging percentage of .431. He was not afraid to travel to other countries to play ball. They understood what this would translate for their fans in Southeastern Korea.
According to Jerry Crasnick, ESPN Senior writer (11/29/16), ‘After signing with the Dinos, Thames bought the Rosetta Stone Korean program and dove head-first into learning the language. “When you look at this as just a paycheck, that’s when you struggle,” Thames said. “The key is to enjoy the ride. Fully embrace the experience. [The] Hangul [alphabet] is pretty easy to learn, so I was able to pick it up easily. I am not fluent by any means, but speaking like a baby is better than not knowing any at all.”
As Thames immersed himself in the Korean culture and began clearing fences with regularity, he developed an ardent following. He patiently signed autographs for long lines of fans at Masan Stadium, and he grew accustomed to having meals interrupted by fans in search of selfies. “Going anywhere with him is insane in that country,” Karon said. “It’s like going out with the Beatles. Girls are crying and people are trying to touch him and get pictures. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In Korea he put up cartoon numbers. In 2015, Thames won the MVP award and a Gold Glove at first base, became the first KBO player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season, logged a .391/.497/.790 slash line and became the first player in Korean baseball to hit for the cycle twice in the same season. In 2016, Thames regressed slightly, but he still hit 40 homers and logged an OPS of 1.101 for the Dinos, who lost to the Doosan Bears in the KBO final, known as the Korean Series.
According to Crasnick, ‘Thames showed a strong work ethic in Korea and was popular with his teammates. The natural question was how his skills would translate to the majors. Could he adjust to higher level of competition and bigger ballparks in the majors? Thames has more of a line-drive swing than loft power. Could he catch up to 94-95 mph fastballs after feasting on 89-91 mph heaters in the KBO? “He’s very aggressive at the plate and on the field, too, for that matter,” a scout said. “He’s a first-ball fastball hacker, boy. He’s trying to hit the ball hard. Sometime you see guys who are happy to make contact and put the ball in play. That’s not him. He’s gonna hurt somebody someday.”
Thames’ defense in the outfield was considered below-average in Toronto. He moved to first base in Korea and would most likely be viewed by MLB teams as a combination first baseman-corner outfield-DH candidate. A National League front office man said he wouldn’t be surprised if teams were willing to give Thames a multiyear deal to return to the States. “You have an element that’s going to be skeptical,” the executive said. “He’s already played over here, and he wasn’t a tremendous success the first time. But you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this guy a late bloomer?’ “Look at some of the money that Cuban players have gotten. What’s the difference here? I think somebody is going to bite, and he’ll get a contract for two years and $12 million, or three years and $15-18 million.”‘
So far, through Saturday, he has appeared in 23 games, hit 11 HRs, driven in 19 RBI while batting .350 with an OPS of 1.312.
We now have three weeks under our belts and some of the divisions are upside down. But what we see through the crystal ball is that the creme will always rise to the top.
Eastern Division Baltimore Orioles
They have an excellent manager and it is time for Buck to win a pennant, divisional, but a pennant none the less. The best third baseman in the American League, plus JJ and one of the three best outfielders in the AL today in Jones, make this the team to beat in the East.
Central Division Cleveland Indians
They have an excellent manager and based off of last year’s performance, they are hungry and talented, plus great starting pitching. Oh ya, they have a sensational second baseman.
Western Division Texas Rangers
They have a battery of All-Stars and Vu. If they can find solid relief, they could win it all.
Wild Cards Detroit Tigers
While they lead the league in day games in the first two weeks, their pitching has been solid and they have Miggy.
Chicago White Sox
For four years, I have suggested this is the team to watch. Now, without their star pitcher, they have a chance to succeed.
What’s the matter with the rest?
Tampa Bay just doesn’t have the pitching.
New York Yankees have tradition, an excellent manager and a couple of dopes for owners.
Boston lost their soul to retirement.
Toronto needs a change in managers. Their team is not performing up to their high level of competency.
Minnesota is breathing rarified air. That bubble will burst but be much better than last season.
Kansas City is wandering in a wilderness of ‘what happened?’ with a lack of pitching and timely hitting.
Houston was a flash in the pan. Too many trades with Milwaukee will do that to a team.
Oakland has become the biggest thing in the East Bay and for good reason. They have an exciting team that can win if they have Khris in left. He has no arm.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will never win with Socscia. He has a penchant for making everyone mad. No pitching. But they have the star-of-stars on their team in center. Hello, Mr. Trout.
Seattle is all talk and Cano. If the King dominates, they still need a lot of help.
Eastern Division Washington Nationals
They have an excellent old-school manager, a brilliant pitching staff and a guy in right, one of the three great outfielders in the National League.
Central Division Chicago Cubs
They have an over-imaginative manager, and a batting line-up to die for. If you are an opposing pitcher, this is a nightmare to face. They can outhit everybody to win regardless how their pitching holds up this season. Unless they get complacent or suffer a batch full of injuries, they will be in the October Classic.
Western Division Los Angeles Dodgers
In a division that all of a sudden got weak, they have Clayton and some guys who can hit.
Wild Cards New York Mets
They are the talk of New York City…the belle of the ball…with a great pitching staff.
The only problem this team has is that it plays in thin air. It has all the hitting in the world and a shockingly good relief corps to go along with it. Plus they have Cargo and the human vacuum cleaner at third.
What’s the matter with the rest?
Miami lost their star pitcher. Yet have one of the most exciting players in the game, Giancarlo Stanton, one of the three great outfielders in the NL today.
Atlanta is a couple of years away as they are rebuilding.
Philadelphia just doesn’t have the guns yet as they are rebuilding.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have a great manager nor the purse strings to finally make it happen. Now they are beginning to fall out of contention … early.
Cincinnati is yet in another rebuilding program. If they hang their hopes on Scooter to take them to the top, they are in for a shocking surprise.
Milwaukee is a AAA team, with a great young manager, a more than tight owner, a kid GM and one of the three great outfielders in the National League as Ryan Braun is the only All-Star on the team today.
St. Louis became blind to what a great team is all about. Too many star players walked away because they want more money. Yet they have the best catcher in baseball behind the plate.
Arizona loves to over perform with the craziest owner in the game today, outside of Miami. But pitching will do them in. But they have the best first baseman in the game today. Goldy gives the D’Backs hope. But not that much.
San Diego. Nope.
San Francisco has a great manager but has not figured out how to secure a starting pitcher to replace a fading group, a relief pitcher who can shut the other team down nor a left fielder of dominant abilities. Unless they fix this right now, they are on a long slide out of grace.
During the past two weeks, while most sports fans were watching college basketball’s conference tournaments, the NCAA first round of March Madness, the first night of the second round of March madness, golf from Florida, NASCAR, motorcycle racing, boxing, WWE, the Premiere League, NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey, there was something that was exceptional happening in the world of sport. Some of the best players in the world were playing baseball for their home nations or for nations someone in their family might have a hereditary line, were playing baseball behind a flag. The WBC this year is exceptional.
For those who have been watching these games, from Korea, Japan, Mexico, Miami and San Diego, the game progressed to mid-season form in a hurry.
Last night in San Diego, with everything on the line for the defending champion, Dominican Republic and the United States, baseball was reborn. In front of a packed stadium at Petco Park, the feeling was electric. Could the USA come back and beat the team who had defeated them in Miami after giving up a big lead last week? Could anyone get the tremendous players from DR out? There were 23 All-Stars on both teams for one game. And something happened.
This was big time, Major League Baseball at its very best. The crowd was in it. In fact, the crowd was one of the loudest one could imagine. But, three plays stood out to make this one of the most amazing games you could ever want to see. And perhaps that was the point. You go to a game in hopes that you see something you can talk about for a long time to come. Then it happens. Not once. Not twice. But three times.
The first was the incredible pressure the Dominican team puts on its opponents. There is one basher after another. There is not space to take a breath. And in the first inning, as the home team, they began pounding the ball. But as it again happened in the second inning and the fifth inning, somehow the USA team stopped what could have ended the game as it had in Miami a week before. Solid pitching and solid defense stopped the DR in its tracks. Danny Duffey’s great pitching and a terrific tag of Nelson Cruz at home by catcher Jonathon Lucroy with a fine throw to him by Brandon Crawford, kept DR at bay in Mission Bay.
The second was an unbelievable force of one Giancarlo Stanton. The ‘Adonis of Miami’ absolutely crushed a baseball which took off faster than one could imagine to give the USA a huge lift and the lead. An unbelievable speed of a ball being hit into the warehouse in left field went out faster than Staton could complete his swing. If in all the time you spend watching baseball, here is a memory nugget you can keep forever. Wow!
Then the third made this game an important turning point for the game. This WBC showed off big time baseball at its very best. And this is a memory nugget you will never forget. The incomparable Manuel Arturo ‘Manny’ Machada hit a blast to deep center field and as if time stood still in the marine layer, Adam Jones, the centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, raced to the fence and leaped way over the wall to make one of the best catches in the history of the game. Electric. Unbelievable. Fantastic. The Golden Memory Nugget. The pitcher mouthing ‘Oh My God’. But it is what happened a moment later that made this the great game and gave rebirth to the new era of baseball. Muchada while rounding first acknowledged Jones great athletic feat by his regular season teammate by doffing his cap to him as he headed back to the dugout on third base. In return, silently while a tumultuous roar of the crowd, tipped his hat in return to his teammate for saluting him.
This is when baseball was reborn in the hearts of the old who love the game, in the hearts of the fathers who take their sons and daughters to the game and to the young people who packed the stadium and watched on television what a great game can be as a fabric of their lives today and into the future.
There is a promise in the air which begins with hope. The air in the morning is warmer than what you would expect at this time of the year. The same traffic one would expect from snow birds filling up the roads and freeways are the norm. But there is a different sound in the air.
It is not a ping from the golf courses, nor the sound of another automobile crash as that snow bird didn’t go right on read (its the law down here) as a local citizen banged into snow coast driver. No. It is the sound of a ‘pop’ as the ball hits the glove…not a ‘wack’ yet….just a mild ‘pop’ with the milling sounds of baseball language muffled in the air of conversations. ‘Hey, baby. Hey, baby.’ ‘That’s it. Get it in there.’ ‘My glove is tight. Got to get it flexed out.’ ‘Hum baby hum.’ Grunts and groans are customary as the kinks are beginning to work out. Laughter is heard as the players are back home…in their spring homes…on a practice field at a spring training camp.
This is not only a rite of spring, this maybe the right for spring as attention turns away from all of the political wrangling as the sounds and sights of delight present it self once again in Florida. The Major League teams have their pitchers and catchers reporting this week. And that brings us to that great word ‘hope’. There are smiles on faces, young and old. It is a time for, as ESPN anchors might say, ‘positivity’.
For many, living in San Diego or Oakland, Seattle or Phoenix, in Denver or Minneapolis, in Milwaukee and the South side of Chicago, in Cincinnati or Pittsburgh or even Philadelphia, in Atlanta or Tampa, in Miami or in Orange County California, hope is eternal. There is promise, promise from all of those cities owners that this year the rebuilding is going according to plan, or that this is the year that there will be a breakthrough, but in reality, most of the citizenry in these great areas hang onto hope. Let’s face it, Las Vegas odds are 100-1 that the Reds, Braves, Padres or Brewers will win the NL Pennant. For some reason, the D’Backs and Phillies are only 50-1. Go figure. Over in the AL, the White Sox are 100-1 while the Athletics, Rays and Twins are 50 to 1 to win their Pennant.
Now believe it or not, they say the Angels are 25-1 and that Mariners are 15-1.
On the other hand, the Red Sox are expected to win the AL Pennant as 5-2 odds are placed in their camp. In the NL, the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (almost an oxymoron) have 7-4 odds with the Dodgers 7-2.
So you can see what an important day this will be during the coming week as Spring Training arrives.