The Big 14

Every boy’s dream it to make it into the highest echelon of sports. Some youngsters dream about that big day when they actually walk onto their field of dreams. In baseball, every time you took to a diamond in the sand lots around your neighborhood with bat, ball and glove in hand, the dream became more real. Soon, that dream will come true for a couple of Major Leaguers when the Rookie Of the Year will be named. It is the hope of the winners that they will not become a Joe Charboneau, who became better known for opening a beer bottle with his eye socket than his long term batting prowess. Let’s not forget Walt Dropo.

His dream will be one of The Big 14. These are the men who became both Rookie Of the Year and a Hall Of Famer. They are the few…the greats of the game.

It began with Jackie, the ROY in 1947 as a Dodger and HOF in 1962. He is the only Dodger ever to accomplish this fantastic feat. Then there was Willie (’51 & ’79) as a Giant. Frank Robinson was the Cincinnati Red who became ROY in 1956 and Hall Of Famer in 1982. Then Luis Aparicio became the first American Leaguer to have become the ROY (’56 with the White Sox, the only member of the Pale Hose ever to do so) and HOF (’84). Orlando Cepeda (ROY ’58 with the Giants & HOF ’99); Willie McCovey (ROY ’59  as a Giant & HOF ’86) and Billy Williams (ROY ’61 as the first Cub to do so & HOF ’87). Tom Seaver was the only pitcher to ever accomplish this masterful feat by winning the ROY in 1967 as a Met and Hall Of Fame in 1992. He remains the only Met to do so. Then there was Rod Carew (ROY ’67 as a Twin & HOF ’91). Think for a moment of all the great Twin ROY’s who have not been elected into the Hall. Johnny Bench became the first catcher to win this double tribute (ROY ’68 as a Red & HOF ’89); Carlton Fisk (ROY ’72 with the Red Sox & HOF in 2000); Eddie Murray (ROY ’77 as an Oriole & HOF in 2003); Andre Dawson was the one and only Montreal Expo to win (ROY ’77 & HOF in 2010) and finally the last of The Big 14, Cal Ripken, baseball’s ironman who gained ROY in 1982 with the Orioles and entered into the Hall Of Fame in 2007. Eight from the National League. Six from the American League. Jackie did it when there was only one chosen in all of baseball.

Will two of the six up for the Rookie Of The Year award this year achieve the greatness of these great players? Or will they become the Jerome Walton or Dwight Smith like so many before them?

Play Ball!

EBL. The Key To Success.

The battle in baseball is centered around pitching, especially relief pitching. It is a treasured position. Just as the Milwaukee Brewers found out this past season by having their relief pitchers fail with 28 blown saves, the most in the entire major leagues, it is all about that guy coming in out of the bullpen late in the game to preserve the lead and save the game. These guys are a different breed. They think differently. Hall of Fame relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, probably said it best. “I focus on making that one pitch. That’s what I tell myself, “One pitch.” You can’t worry about the next one. Even with a good hitter, he’ll get out seven times out of ten. I want to make sure that this is one of those seven.”

This off-season, especially in the Western Division of the National League, it is completely about that…finding the guy who can concentrate on that one pitch that will make a difference and take their team to the World Series and win it. Of import is the knowledge that in order to win the World Series, teams first have to defeat the San Francisco Giants and their amazing bullpen which will only improve with the return of one Brian Patrick Wilson. With his four-seam fastball, slider and cutter, teamed with Sergio Romo’s slider, two-seamer, change-up and three World Series saves against Detroit this past season, the team that resides in The City is once again the team to chase.

Arizona Diamondbacks made the first move to beef up their bullpen by signing closer Heath Bell. GM Kevin Towers was able to release him from Miami Marlins hell and bring him into the world of Gibson, which is much different from the world of Ozzie. Gibby will grunt where as Guillen simply blows his top with expletives. Look for Bell to reclaim his old form that was his calling card in San Diego two years ago.

The Dodgers made their big move in strengthening their bullpen by re-signing their top reliever this past season, Brandon League. General Manager Ned Colletti understood League’s importance to his team’s rise to the top of the NL West was resting on the guy he traded for last July 30th from Seattle. League went 6 for 6 in closes after succeeding Kenley Jansen who went on the disabled list with an irregular heartbeat.

In San Diego, they are set through 2015 with their closer, Houston Street. With an excellent ERA of 1.85, Street, the former Rookie of the Year in 2005 for Oakland, finished last season with 23 saves in the 40 games in which he appeared. He earned All-Star status for the first time in his career last season.

For those who live in the East, you may be in a bit of a time-warp. Not everything in baseball revolves around New York and Boston. What may appear to be a little late for many in the Eastern time zone to see, fabulous play has been going on this decade West of the Rockies. It’s understood that you can’t read about it in your morning newspapers anymore (but who reads the newspaper anymore for news?). In those early Eastern slumber hours, when head hits the pillow, they are playing baseball out West, good solid baseball. In fact, the last three champions have come out of the National League and in two of those years, the Western Division champion became the champion in all of baseball.

The key this coming season will be to find out which team in the NL West can come up with the bullpen that can deliver the save, especially on the road. Tom House, the former Atlanta Braves reliever stated, “When I’m on the road, my greatest ambition is to get a standing boo.” That’s what the rest of this division is hoping they have on their staff…the ‘on-the-road boo leader. Look for it this coming season as the newest stat in baseball, the EBL, Earned Boo Leader.

No. Don’t look for that stat in your newspaper. This is the season to look for it on your mobile. It’s under “E” as in Earned Boo Leader.

Play Ball!

Romo-Them’s In The Land of Lombardi

It was to be a great series, the Philadelphia Phillies against the Milwaukee Brewers. At least that’s what most thought would happen in the City of Brotherly Love at the beginning of the season. Here were two teams loaded with pitching talent, ready to take on the world as a preliminary face-off of the National League Championships in October. That was not to be the case. The Brewers limped into Philadelphia fresh from a three game losing sweep by Cincinnati and trailed the Reds by 10 games in the loss column at the time. They were only moments away from unloading a bunch of talent because they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them to make a run for the pennant.

There are some fundamental flaws in the team structure this year. The first baseman, Cory Hart, a right fielder who is just learning to play the position because the regular first baseman is on the DL for the season. The second baseman, Week’s, is not fielding nor hitting, two vital flaws in anyone’s game. The current shortstop-of-the-moment is playing because the starting shortstop is on the DL for the season. The third baseman, Aramis Ramirez is a doubles machine. He has 35 doubles this season and is one of the bright spots on the team. The left fielder (we call him Mr. Braun in the land of beer and sausage and, yes John…cheese curds), after a very difficult off-season, is playing better than he did last year when he won the league MVP. The center fielder (whoever plays that position) is missing in action. The right fielder, Aoki, is a huge surprise and playing above what anyone expected. The catcher, Maldonado, is also a wonderful surprise but he had to move over for the starting catcher (Lucroy) who came back Thursday from the DL (he had broken his hand when his wife dropped a suitcase on it during the Dodger series way back in June). And that leaves the pitching.

Want a migraine? Strangely, starting pitching has been fairly good of late for the Brewers (forgetting last night’s Wolf-mare). Now that may all change. So you want relief pitching? So do the Brew Crew. The relief pitching has been a disaster. They have lost at least 19 blown saves in games that were in the bag. Only Philadelphia in the National League have a worst blown save percentage (comparing this year to last year) than the Brewers. While the Phillies are -23.0 vs last year, Milwaukee is -18.3 in save percentage in 2011/save percentage in 2012 difference. Both Philadelphia and Milwaukee were playoff teams last year. The Phillies have a save percentage of 62.5% this season. Milwaukee has a miserable 52.9%. The major league average save percentage is 69% this season. You get the picture.

Then there is the hitting, or lack thereof. Only Braun is hitting above .300 (with a .313 batting average, a league leading 28 home runs and the second best RBI total with 70 and an OPS of 1.002. Aoki, who could win the Rookie of the Year honors, is hitting .280. The starting catcher, Maldonado, who came up from AAA Nashville after Lucroy went on the DL is hitting a respectable .272 while Ramirez is hitting .286 and an OPS of .845. That’s it. They are the only batters above .270. Hart is hitting a disappointing .260; Gomez who alternates in center field is hitting .244 while Morgan the other center fielder is at .228; the shortstop Izturis is at .220 while Rickie Weeks, former All-Star second baseman last season is struggling at .209. When your middle can’t hit, you will loose.

As for the ‘Fightn’s’, they were 15 games in the loss column behind the Eastern Division leading Washington Nationals. In order to get to the playoffs, they have to jump over four teams in their division. Only the Cubs, Padres, Rockies and Astros have lost more games this season. And these are the fearsome Philadelphia Phillies. These guys won the entire thing just a couple of seasons ago. So what happened? Milwaukee was swept again.

The twisting in the wind began after that last loss in Philly and before you could spell Greinke, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for three minor leaguers quicker than you could spell Greinke’s wife’s former profession, that of a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

Of all that is holy, that just isn’t right. No, not that the Brewers got nothing in return for a front line pitcher but because his wife was one of Romo-them’s in the land of Lombardi. That would make any cheese head spit out a perfectly good bratwurst.

It’s been that kind of week. That kind of year. Only 62 regular season games left, boys and girls. Fourteen and one-half games out, ten under .500. Only six teams have lost more games in the National League this season.

There is a hint of a breeze beginning to blow from the North this year across Pigsville and Miller Valley, earlier than anticipated. Green is replacing Blue in the jerseys. What a horrible thought. And it isn’t even August yet.

If baseball is a game built upon hope and prayers, it is time to hit the kneelers, bring out the beads and say after me, “Hail Mary full of grace”.

Play Ball!

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