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Archive for October 2009

How to lose the American League Championship in two easy steps.

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1) Challenge Alex Rodriguez when you don’t have to.

2) Play horrible, non-fundamental defense.

Wow. How badly did the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim botch the last few innings of their 13 inning, 5-hour barn burner against the New York Yankees last night?

Idiot.First, Angel’s closer Brian Fuentes served a fastball on the outer half of the plate to Alex Rodriguez in the 11th. A-Rod ripped it to deep right field, just out of the reach of Bobby Abreu to tie the game. Why did he try to get a third consecutive fastball by Rodriguez when a pure waste pitch was the most desirable? He was lucky to have A-Rod at 0-2 and should have thrown a slider in the dirt or something above his head or something further out of the strikezone.

Fuentes doesn’t throw an eephus pitch, but I would have rather seen him try one of those than a no-movement fastball against one the game’s greatest hitters.

I will never understand the logic behind that pitch.

On that note, catcher Mike Napoli deserves some of the credit for the Angel’s loss. From the video, it was apparent that he and Fuentes were in agreement on the location and pitch selection.

Second, what was Maicer Izturis thinking when he tried to turn that grounder up the rightfield side into a double play? Sure, completing the double play gets the Angels out of the inning, but that’s not a double play ball. Especially when it’s put into the context of the American League Championship Series. The Angels get all kinds of attention for their fundamental baseball, but these last two games (5 errors) have been absolutely disastrous.

If Izturis gets just one out there, Ervin Santana would have faced the Yankee’s number nine hitter, Jorge Posada. Nothing but a clean hit gets him on base and considering the Yankee’s 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position last night, that’s a chance the Angels could have afforded to take.

And that brings me to my final point. Can we please, pretty please, start ignoring the value of the win-loss record?

Ervin Santana suffered the loss last night. Did he deserve it, though? Through 1.1 innings, he gave up three hits, all of them singles. His only mistake, truthfully, was inducing that fateful groundball to Izturis, by way of Melky Cabrera.

If anyone should have been credited with the Angels loss last night, it should be a combination of Brian Fuentes and Maicer Izturis.

Is there a way we can make that happen?

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barry-bonds-in-dragJudging like Paula,

Your charity contest sucked.

You are no Idol.

Written by dylansharek

October 17, 2009 at 2:08 pm

How to watch postseason baseball (when you don’t really care).

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Is this you during the 2009 postseason?When I completed yesterday’s article on baseball’s lack of parity, I slipped into a coma of jaded baseball indifference. Despite having the opportunity to finally watch a live playoff baseball game, I didn’t. I popped in a library-rented copy of Ghost Town starring Ricky Gervais and sat there on the futon and stared blankly into our tiny television screen.

Now that’s fun!

As the movie droned on, I had an epiphany. I popped up and turned the movie off and immediately tuned into the Angels/Yankees game on Fox Network.

How did it get this bad? How did I become so uninterested in the sport I love so much? Was I burnt out from the 500 or so games I’d taken in during the regular season? Or did I just not care about any of the teams still involved in this year’s World Series race?

Choosing Ghost Town over October baseball left me incredibly shaken; wrestling with that questionable and hasty decision left me sleepless and anxious.

But this morning I woke up feeling revived. Despite four 2008 playoff teams making appearances in this postseason and the inherent been-there-seen-that feelings, I have decided I’m going to finish this season strong: like Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox, I’m going to take two out of three in the season’s last series. I’m going to watch as much as I can and I’m going to cheer when someone hoists that World Championship Trophy.

But once your favorite team has been eliminated and the pool is narrowed to the usual suspects, what do you do to stay interested? Here are some ways I’ve started to make the postseason a little more interesting (even if you’re not interested).

  • Root for players, not teams. Despite genuinely disliking most of the players on the New York Yankees because of their association with Alex Rodriguez, I get a little satisfaction cheering on Johnny Damon who, despite his baby-like arm, has put together quite a string of solid, yet unspectacular, offensive seasons. The Angel’s Torii Hunter is, perhaps, the game’s most exciting centerfielder and this is a chance to witness his fleet-feet on the big stage (forget about the misplay in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series) on East Coast time. Choose a few of your personal favorites and follow their game, not the team’s.
  • Admire Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Jim Thome, Joe Torre, Vladimir Guerrero, Bobby Abreu, and Pedro Martinez. In a few years, these guys will be gone and a generation of baseball will end. One has to respect all of their accomplishments and the successes they’ve had on the ball field. No matter who they play or manage for, these are guys who you should watch and revere and appreciate.
  • Learn about the next generation of superstars. Most every team in this year’s postseason has a few budding stars, players that any real baseball fan should have an interest in. The Angel’s Kendry Morales, the Dodger’s Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw, and the Phillie’s Jayson Werth are among the game’s youngest and most exciting players. They are going to be household names in a few years, so watch them mature before your eyes.
  • Follow the stories instead of the games. This is just the second postseason for the Phillie’s 37-year-old Raul Ibanez in his illustrious and, up-until-2008, underappreciated 14-season career. Could this be his last chance at a ring? Will one of these next starts be the last for 15-year veteran Andy Pettitte? Could Joe Torre and his Dodgers face his long-time team, the Yankees, in the World Series? Even if the same old song and dance doesn’t seem exciting, there really is some interesting storylines.

If that seems like a lot of work, it is. But tonight I’ll weather the storm along with the Angels and Yankees and endure what it sure to be a four hour affair. And if I’m too tired at the end, my girlfriend rented Vicky Christina Barcelona. Two words: Scarlett Johansson. Unlike Ghost Town, that IS better than October baseball.

MLB’s parity problem never more present than in playoffs.

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Par-i-ty

  • n. pl. par·i·ties
  • 1. Equality, as in amount, status, or value.

When a casual baseball fan can determine who is going to make the playoffs before the season even begins, you know there’s a problem.

But according to commissioner Bud Selig, there’s nothing wrong: “People sometimes equate spending money with success. I still think we have enormous competitive balance.”

Really, Bud?

When Bud Selig’s reign as commissioner of Major League Baseball comes to an end, it will be characterized by one word: naivete. Thinking the All-Star game ending in a tie would be a good thing for baseball is one example. The rampant steroid use under his stead is another. The ever-expanding gap between baseball’s richest and poorest teams, and the inherent success directly related, is just Selig’s most recent guffaw.

All four of the remaining playoff teams are among Major League Baseball’s top 10 clubs in payroll. The Yankees, and I know this information has been regurgitated thousands of times before, spent over $201 million on player pay checks in 2009, by far the most of any club. The Angels coughed up $113 million for the sixth highest payroll, just a bit higher than the reigning World Champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers spent the least (but still ninth highest in the game) with $100 million.

The Boston Red Sox, fourth most on that list at $121 million, were ousted in the second leg of the playoffs by the Angels. The Detroit Tigers, fifth most on the list at $115 million, were shanghaied from the playoff picture by the upstart, low-market Minnesota Twins on the last day of the season.

That puts six of the highest payroll teams in the playoff picture.

That’s telling. That’s the highest batting average baseball’s seen since Ted Williams in 1941.

Sure, some teams with low payrolls make it; the Twins, Rockies, and Cardinals all fall on the lower half of the expenditure’s list. But more often than not, that success is directly related to everything coming together at the right time: the Twins getting Joe Mauer and developing a crop of talented starting pitchers; the Rockies having a serious surge following the firing of Clint Hurdle and subsequent management of Jim Tracy; the Cardinals drafting baseball’s best player, Albert Pujols, and augmenting that with free agents.

Simply put, they didn’t buy their success. They developed it and aided it while doing some needed spending.

Don’t even get me started on the Tampa Bay Rays. Their 2008 achievements were a direct product of years of getting the last pick in the draft and those players developing at the same time. Their eventually demise at the hands of the big spending Phillies should have come as no surprise.

So when does baseball take a serious look at this problem? When the Pirates lock down their 20th consecutive losing season? When the Marlins or Royals don’t get enough bodies into the seats to be a money making team?

If baseball won’t institute a salary cap (as I suspect it never will), then some changes must be enacted to ensure some, really any kind, of parity.

Limit the number and type of free agents a team can bring on. And certainly limit the amount of money they can spend on those rent-a-players. That way, we won’t have another Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia debacle.

At the same time, make the front offices of lackluster teams do some kind of spending during the offseason. Many of the least successful teams have owners who are satisfied with finishing last, getting the first pick, and earning money from the revenue distribution system currently in place. While baseball is a game, it’s unfair to the fans and players to play this kind of baseball.

Without considering a salary cap, what measures would you take to increase baseball competition?

Written by dylansharek

October 16, 2009 at 1:27 pm

After Cardinal’s elimination, a new battle begins.

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The Cardinals have been eliminated.Now that my beloved St. Louis Cardinals have made their not-so dramatic exit from the postseason, a new battle begins. The Battle of the Remote.

I watch baseball, any baseball, whenever I can. When the MLB Network shows classic World Series games, I’m there. When the College World Series runs on ESPN, my eyes are glued to the television. I’ll even watch the Little League World Series.

But not my husband. He’ll watch the Cardinals with me, but often he flips the channel if I walk out of the room for a mere second. Any other team, he could care less. And he certainly doesn’t want to hear about the Dodgers right now, no matter how brilliant my analysis might be.

With the American League and National League set to crown their respective champions, I’m totally captivated by the remaining teams.

The Angels and the Yankees could be an exciting series; or not. It’s really going to depend on how the Angels play and if they let the mighty Yankees just steamroll over them. The Dodgers and Phillies could be a classic National League battle. Joe Torre is a master strategist, but the Phillies certainly don’t want to end their reign as champions.

As for my allegiance, I’m almost unbiased this year.

Almost.

As a die-hard Cardinals fan, I don’t want to see the Angels win. Closer Brian Fuentes snubbed his nose at my team this past offseason when the Cardinals offered him a pretty sweet salary.

The Yankees are the reason that Major League Baseball needs a salary cap. Small market teams can’t compete for well-known free agents, especially if the Yankees are interested. The Bronx Bombers outprice everyone else and jolt ordinary, average players’ paychecks way too high.

And the Dodgers, well…two words: Manny Ramirez. Regardless of their ousting of the Cardinals, I don’t want Manny to get another ring. He disrespected the game. And himself.

That leaves the Phillies. I have nothing against them. And the bonus is slugger Ryan Howard. When in doubt, I’ll cheer on a hometown hero. It’s the closest St. Louis will get to the World Series this year anyway.

As for the Battle of the Remote, no problem. My husband can regulate himself to the small, non-HD television while I lounge on the couch shouting at the umpires as they continue to blow obvious calls.

That is a win-win situation.

Written by LS Murphy. Mrs. Murphy is an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan and is a consistent contributor to Cardinal’s Mix. She can also be followed on Twitter.

Sugar revives baseball from film purgatory.

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Sugar, sugar.
You are my candy girl,
And you got me wanting you.

I just can’t believe the loveliness
Of loving you.
(I just can’t believe it’s true).

-The Archies

In the twenty years since the release of Field of Dreams, no baseball film has done as good a job capturing the reason why we, a nation raised on baseball and apple pie, love the sport so much.

The best baseball flick since Field of Dreams and Bull Durham.1999’s For Love of the Game almost did it, but we could have certainly done without all those romantic interludes. 2002’s The Rookie also came close, but ultimately fell short of the mark because it was aimed at a younger audience.

But with Sugar, the gut punching, this-is-why-a-pitch-means-everything baseball movie is back.

Sugar is not your typical baseball film. It’s unapologetically honest, without a Hollywood ending or a scene that leaves you gasping for breath. It’s painstakingly intricate and real, the primary aspects of the baseball movie genre that have been missing for a decade.

Chronicling the fictional life of Dominican Republic-born pitcher Miguel “Sugar” Santos and his rise through the fictional Kansas City Knights organization, Sugar depicts the seldom thought about side of baseball: the hardships and obstacles facing a gifted, foreign-born young man trying to free himself and his family from poverty while simultaneously pursuing a storybook career.

The scenes where Sugar is on the mound often take a backseat to the unseen, less public, moments. When he’s talking to his mother on the phone while she’s in the Dominican, unable to see his newfound American way of life. Or when his control wanders and he’s forced to haphazardly journey to the darkside of today’s pharmacological brand of baseball.

Even the most poignant, heart wrenching scene takes place as far from the mound as possible: in a diner a waitress explains the difference between “sunny-side up” and “scrambled” eggs. It may not seem like the right moment to shed a tear, but in that one moment, there’s so much hope and so much goodwill.

When one considers that roughly 10 percent of major and minor league players are born in the Dominican Republic, the film takes on a whole new life. The players that now sport designer suits and big salaries worked hard to get where they are, often sacrificing parts of themselves and relationships to do so.

Sugar will open eyes, cause them to quiver, and then shut them as viewers think about another small aspect of this game we all love.

Trading baseball’s second best closer should not be on anyone’s “to-do” list.

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Joe Nathan struggled down the stretch.The high-profile implosion of the Minnesota Twin’s Joe Nathan have many calling for a changing of the guard in one of Major League Baseball’s premier bullpens.

I, however, don’t plan on anything drastic happening during the Twin’s offseason.

Over the course of the last six seasons as Twin’s closer, Nathan has compiled 246 saves without posting an earned run average above 2.70. He’s failed to lock down just 24 saves over that same time frame for a success rate somewhere right around 90 percent. I’m hesitant to say “lights out” when describing a closer other than the Yankee’s Mariano Rivera, but Nathan’s as close to that standard as possible.

Some cite Nathan’s advanced age (35) as why the remainder of his hefty two-year, $22.5 million contract should be moved this offseason. Others believe, despite contradictory statistical evidence, that his stuff is waning and that he may be headed towards his twilight years.

In 2009, Nathan posted the highest K/9 of his last three seasons. His WHIP hovered at its career norm and so did his innings pitched. He appeared in a few more games than normal, but other than that, the only anomaly in his otherwise spectacular year is his HR/9. Nathan gave up seven homeruns in 2009, the most since his insertion into the Twin’s closer role.

Sure, Nathan struggled down the stretch, but one must keep in mind that he’s never been a great postseason pitcher: in eight postseason outings with the San Francisco Giants and the Twins, he’s posted an ERA approaching 8.00.

The fact that he blew a save against the Detroit Tigers in front of one of baseball’s highest rated television audiences and then during a postseason game against the Yankees makes his 2009 seem more like an outlier than it actually was.

And despite his shortcomings, Nathan is certainly far from an “expendable asset,” a sentiment I’m sure General Manager Bill Smith shares.

Moving into the new Target Field, the Twin’s front office is going to need to sell tickets. The best way to do that is to put a consistent, winning product on the field. Most of the team’s expenditures this offseason will revolve around core players like Most Valuable Player Joe Mauer and fan favorite Michael Cuddyer.

Nathan, his history with the team and year-after-year success, needs to be a part of that equation.

The Twins do not have a reliable source of saves in their bullpen. Jon Rauch, the 6’11” righty and former National’s closer, is the most viable option. Aside from him, the team would likely turn to unproven arms like lefty Jose Mijares or righties Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. Ailing submariner Pat Neshek is not an option.

There’s plenty of big name free agent closers on the market (highlighted by Atlanta’s Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Detroit’s Fernando Rodney and Houston’s Jose Valverde), but they are sure to command similar contracts, give or take $2 million, as Nathan.

After that, the Twins would have to delve into the junk pile littered with the likes of Kevin Gregg, Brandon Lyon, and Octavio Dotel.

The Twins don’t want an adventure when they move into Target Field. Fans want a winning product and keping Joe Nathan is one way to ensure that.