20 To Go

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:

    American League

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%

    National League

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?


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Magnification Of Blunders

With the wind whirling all around us, the center of the storm is often calm. We are in the center of baseball’s annual storm. The playoffs, where pitchers dominate and star hitters rarely come through in the clutch, was best described in Ernest Thayer’s legendary poem written in 1888 “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888”, first published in The San Francisco Examiner on June 3rd in that year. While we no longer have the Mudville Nine to worry about, today’s game during the baseball’s playoffs, still are dominated by good pitching.

Take for example game #1 of the NLCS: The visiting Dodgers put multi millionaire, Zach Greinke on the mound. With a 1-2 post-season record, his only career win coming against St. Louis for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2011 NLCS, he responded with ten strikeouts and only one walk. However, that one walk would come back to haunt him as the runner scored on a double that should have been caught in centerfield. You might question, ‘should have caught’ statement because it was a ball, high off the wall, which would have been a good catch. But it was a catch that was possible to make. It was simply misjudged by Andre Ethier. Yet little is said about that play. Rather, the emphasis for pointing fingers is that Dodger manager, Don Mattingly, pulled his star first baseman and one of its best hitters, Adrian  Gonzalez, who had singled to put the lead run on first while the game was tied 2-2 and was hitting .333 in post season. No one knew that this game was going to go 13 innings and this was only the eighth inning. Dee Gordon came in to run and was quickly retired by a weak ground ball by rookie sensation, Yasiel Puig. One of the Dodgers star hitters was now out of the game. The point here is that he was ONE of the star hitters, not the only one.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;                                                           It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;                                                                         It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,                                                         For Casey, might Casey, was advancing to the bat.”

There were other hitters in the Dodger lineup to do what Gonzalez had done so well. There was Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Puig, Uribe, Ethier and Mark Ellis to deliver. But this game, during this time of the season is not about the hitters. It’s about the pitching.

The Dodgers were no longer calm in the center of the storm.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;                                       He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.                                                           And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.                                                       And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

On the St. Louis side, steeped in tradition with one of their greatest marked by a symbol on their sleeves with the number 6 set in a circle, and legendary pitcher, Bob Gibson in the dugout before the game, did what every winning team has done from time in memoriam in the post season…they won the game with tremendous pitching.

You can’t forget the work of Joe Kelly, a Los Angeles area native, beginning the game with six solid innings coming off a 7-2 record since August 11th with a 2.32 ERA. Don’t forget, he struck out all of the Dodgers in the first inning and then struck out Gonzalez with runners on in the second and Puig with runners on in the third. It’s not the time to forget Randy Choate and Seth Maness for their combined shutout inning of work. Carlos Martinez had a good inning and then came Trevor Rosenthal, who struck out two in his great couple of innings.

But the shock of shocks, was John Axford’s second lifetime entrance into post-season play. The boy from Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, was traded by the Brewers to St. Louis (that’s another story for another day) after being counted on to be able to loose more TV viewers than NBC. When he came into a Brewer game this season, fans would change channels just to miss the predictable debacle that would surely follow. But here he was, banging his fastball and making an inning interesting. Giving up a hit and walking another, he came in with a fastball of old to strike out the not so mighty Casey of the Dodger Nine, former Cardinal Nick Punto, to allow the game to continue. This game didn’t end suddenly as most had previously when ‘Ax’ entered a Brewer’s game. It left many in Milwaukee wondering where was this performance a few months ago for The Crew? There’s ‘beer pride’ here. This moment of past glory now resided on the hill at Busch and not at Miller.

To put the exclamation point on this note of post season pitching importance, Lance Lynn’s work for two innings wrapping up the game and the win cannot be over looked nor over stated.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;                                                The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,                                              And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children should,                                         But there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

It’s not the magnification of blunders that decided this game. It wasn’t Ethier’s late start and misplay in center or a managerial decision that would do in the Dodgers on this long, long evening in St. Louis. It was pitching, namely for ‘Dizzy’ and ‘Daffy’s’ and ‘Bullet Bob’s’ legacies that brought victory to the team that plays under the Arch. And that was Friday. Same goes for Saturday’s games in both St. Louis and Boston.

Play Ball.

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Now I Lay Me Down To Lie

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked. The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on. There are no white lies, there are only blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of them all.” Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Ryan Braun will never be admitted to the Hall Of Fame. The reason is simple: he is stained forever by the lie. As Buster Olney of ESPN The Magazine stated, “He is the Lance Armstrong of baseball”.

In a town that adores their local sport heroes, Milwaukee is tied to those who perform in an honest, workman like manner. Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer, Reggie White, Johnny Mac, Johnny Logan, Del Crandall, Andy Pafko, Henry Aaron, Robin Yount…need we say more?

It is a town that does not take kindly to those who misrepresent themselves. See how long Braun’s restaurant stays in business with him as the face of the business.

Looking back, the guy who reminds many of Joe DiMaggio on the field is now nothing more than Oscar ‘Happy’ Felsch.

When asked if he would be back next season as a Brewer, Milwaukee General Manager, Doug Melvin, said, “That’s a long time away”. Now don’t most Brewer fans wish the team should have signed Prince Fielder to a long-term contract rather than Braun?

Many have brought up ideas  on how he can turn positive favor back his way. One of my best friends suggested that he go to Miller Park, go to the middle of the field and take questions from every fan who has a question and answer every one of them in all honesty. No press allowed.

Another thought would be to have him go, during his separation from the game over the next six months, to Haiti and work with those who need a helping hand. His agents at CAA must have Sean Penn’s number. While he works with the poor, with no press, he will give an exclusive to Bryant Gumble in February 2014 where he answers every question. Then he should shock the baseball world by telling Gumble that he will ask the Brewers for a one year sabbatical as he has found his real calling in helping others and wishes to become a monk, doing good work for those who need help the most. Brother Braun will become, once again, the center of discussion but this time it will be all about how he can come back to baseball after missing the better part of a year and one-half. You can hear talk radio now.

But reality must set in. If there is an Oakland Raiders of baseball, he should be traded there. He would be a perfect fit in the Yankees lineup. Or better yet, the Dodgers. It’s his hometown and they relish celeb garbage better than most. After all, it is LaLa land. They believe Kim Kardashian…no matter what she says.

On October 2, 1919, The Philadelphia Bulletin published a poem which would quickly prove to be ironic:                                                                                                                            “Still it really doesn’t matter, After all, who wins the flag.                                                          Good clean sport is what we’re after, And we aim to make our brag.                                        To each near or distant nation Wherein shines the sporting sun                                              That of all our games gymnastic Baseball is the cleanest one!”

It is 2013 AB, After Braun.

Brewer fans…get use to it.

Now, let’s Play Ball!

The Brewer Clipper

There is a hint of anticipation on any day at the ballpark when he comes out of the dugout and onto the on-deck circle and begins his familiar routine to get ready to take his turn at bat. With the weighted led ring up the barrel of his bat, he swings it back and forth to loosen up the muscles that have been at rest as he has. Grabbing the barrel of the bat, the Sam Bat RB8, and tapping the end of it against the rubber on-deck circle mat freeing the weighed ring, he glides to the plate, ready to take on all comers. Stepping back from the box with his right foot while adjusting, and then readjusting, his batting gloves, he finally steps into the batters box with his right hand raised up indicating to the umpire that he is still getting ready and then grabs his bat, while digging in his right foot deep against the back line of the box, swinging his 35″ maple bat slowly back and forth, like a golfer would in preparing for his tee shot. He is ready for the surprise that is about to come. He stands deep in the batter’s box with a bat larger than most use. With all of this, he appears remarkably similar to one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, Joe DiMaggio.

Since the first days he entered the league in 2007, Ryan Braun has done everything with great consistency, much like The Yankee Clipper of old. This past Saturday morning, following a long rain delay, at sometime after 1AM along the Mississippi River, Braun hit his 38th home run of the season to give the resurging Brewers a victory over their arch rivals, St. Louis Cardinals in Busch Stadium. This season, he has carried the team on his back after winning the National League MVP the year previous.

To compare a current player with a legend of the past is nearly impossible. However, here are some fascinating statistics that push the case that Braun is today’s version of the great DiMaggio. In DiMaggio’s case we use his records from 1936-1941, his great pre-war years. For Braun we use his records from May 2007-September 7, 2012.

DiMaggio was 6’2″ 193 lbs. Braun is 6’1″ 200 lbs.

In games played during their first six seasons, DiMaggio played in 825 games; Braun 859.

In home runs during their first six seasons, DiMaggio hit 198 while Braun has hit 199.

In doubles during their first six seasons, DiMaggio hit 214 while Braun has hit 216.

In hits during their first six seasons, DiMaggio hit 1163 while Braun has hit 1056.

Only in RBIs, where DiMaggio drove in 816 vs Braun’s 631 is there a big difference.

In fielding, DiMaggio had 70 errors in his first six seasons while Braun had 38 errors, 26 of which occurred during his rookie season when he played 3B.

Both batted right-handed. Both primarily played the outfield position.

DiMaggio led his league in home runs only once (1937 with 46) during his first five seasons. Braun is leading his league in home runs this season with 38 at present.                                DiMaggio won the MVP twice during this span in 1939 & 1941. Braun was named MVP once (2011).

If you never saw, Joe DiMaggio play in person, and many of us never did, the reflection of that past is in evidence when one looks at Ryan Braun. As Joe D was in his day, Ryan B is one of the top players in the game today. Both could run like the wind. Both had great throwing arms. Both could hit with consistency and power.

Yankee Clipper, meet The Brewer Clipper.

Play Ball!

D’Backs vs Brewers: Destined To Be Tied Forever

Last year’s season brought the improbable Arizona Diamondbacks into the National League elite once again. Their season was a wonder to watch. Guided by the impossibly relentless Kirk Gibson, the former major league star who in a little over one year has become a major league star manager, deftly handled a young and talented pitching staff and got every ounce of talent from his players as they won the National League Western Division. They were a running, gunning bunch who were relentless and never gave up.

Opposite them in the Central Division, the winner by six games over the St. Louis Cardinals, stood the Milwaukee Brewers. They built their ballclub in one of the smallest baseball markets in America, through solid drafting and superb trades for major pitching talent. In all, the fun-loving Brew Crew had an unusual collection of hero’s and anti-hero’s. They had a MVP All-Star left fielder (Ryan Braun), a thunderously powerful All-Star first baseman (Prince Fielder), an All-Star second baseman (Rickie Weeks), an All-Star right fielder (Cory Hart), an All-Star closer (John Axford), an All-Star pitching staff (Yovani Gallardo & Zach Greinke), great set up man (Francisco Rodriguez or K-Rod for short) and one of the craziest characters in all of baseball (Nyjer Morgan aka Tony Plush, T-Plush among the cast of characters).

These two teams played a fantastic playoff series in 2011. The Brewers beat the D’Backs in a thrilling finish.

So it wasn’t too strange to see these two teams face off for the first time since the past October at Salt River Flats @ Talking Stick in Scottsdale, AZ, on Tuesday. In this magnificent setting on a gorgeous spring day, the two battled each other to a scoreless tie. Granted they were different from last season. No Fielder (signed as a free agent with Detroit) or Braun (tight groin kept him out), no Hart (recovering from knee surgery) or Justin Upton for the ‘Zona team.  But, there was Daniel Hudson pitching a great game for the D’Backs and Yovani Gallardo doing the same for the Crew.

Unsatisfying you say? Not really. The real story in this game was the extended effort all the players put forward throughout the contest. Tough pitching on both sides produced little hitting. There were wonderful fielding plays all over the place. Adam Eaton, starting in right field for Arizona, made a terrific sliding catch in foul territory early in the game ending up against he cement foundation for the right field box seats. A.J. Pollack, who moved over to center field later in the game, did like wise, into a glaring sun, reaching down, back handed, around his knees going to his left.

Point was, this was high level baseball in front of a packed house, in a meaningless spring training game. To back that up, in the bottom of the second, Hudson drew a walk off of Gallardo who never walks an opposing pitcher. He tried in vain to get Hudson to swing at a couple of high hard fast balls. But this was more like playoff baseball rather than spring training.

12,579 patrons watch the game on another glorious day of spring. They can attest to the high level of play between these two clubs on this day. Perhaps this is a view of another October to remember. Wish it to be. Wish it to be.