Archive for the ‘MLB’ Category

I’m Back!

Posted: November 9, 2011 in MLB

I’m Back! After a long layoff of opinions, ideas and sometimes outright insanity, Presononsports makes its triumphant return. I can’t even count the number of stories that I have missed since the last time I made a contribution to the literary world. We had the melt down of the Boston Red Sox in the American League divisional race. We had the never ending talk about the NBA lockout and if we will miss a season, some wonder if we will miss two. We had the great story in the NFL of the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills, although the Lions are still a great story and are set towards their first playoff birth since 1999. The NHL has started another campaign with the Boston Bruins still feeding off the energy of their incredible cup win last season.

For my first article back I am choosing the most recent championship and the St. Louis Cardinals winning their second World Series title in 6 years, the previous being in 2006. This incredible story needs to be talked about because it is truly incredible. There were so many story lines that surrounded not only this World Series, the champions, the players, the roads taken to get here and what I considered great playoffs all around.

This year we had some great triumphs and failures on the way to the playoffs, but all around it was pure greatness we saw from the 2011 Major League Baseball season. People will complain about the season being too long, divisions needing to be re-aligned, or some other problem with baseball but this season was great.

I would go as far back as the all-star game where we had a resurgence of the homerun derby. The Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano came up with a mystifying performance that reminded us why chicks dig the long ball. Robinson, with the help of his father pitching to him, took the title of Homerun King on all-star weekend and let everyone know why he’s the leagues most powerful second baseman.

Then we had the playoff race down the stretch as the dog days of summer survived July and August and we came into September with the challengers laid out and the winners more or less in place. What we did not see however, was the other-worldly surge that came from the Cardinals in the National League wild card race that combated the collapse of the Atlanta Braves.

All season the Phillies were the favourite if not to win the World Series, then at least the hands on favourite to come out of the National League. Atlanta knowing this, played strong enough to establish themselves as a strong wild card candidate and going into September having almost a 10 game lead on everyone else. Like we’re always told though, never say never, and as we’re always reminded this is why we play the games.

St. Louis was well behind a strong Milwaukee squad for the division lead but they never said never when it came to the wild card. How well did St. Louis play? They were an outstanding 18-8 in September, 23-9 since late August. Those are dominating numbers in any month, but to come up with a stretch like that at the time it matters most is unthinkable.

Getting into the playoffs Michael Wilbon made a great point on his weekly sports talk show Pardon the Interruption, the Cardinals would be dangerous in the playoffs if they made it. They had all the pieces you need, a strong ace (Chris Carpenter), strong closer (Jason Motte), the best player in the game and maybe of all time (Albert Pujols) and a Hall of Fame bound skipper in Tony La Russa. Don’t forget they also had an incredible bullpen to get from their starter to their closer, as some would regard as the best pen in the league.

Skipping through the playoffs to the championship round, St. Louis always did what it needed to get a win. When I thought about the Cardinals as serous title contenders going into the playoffs I thought “Could this team really do it? I mean I know they’re the Cardinals but who do they have after Pujols?”

Apparently they had everybody as it turned out, or at least just the right people they needed to put it all together. David Freese, who I thought would be a solid pre-season fantasy stud, proved his worth and then some in this series taking home the title of WS MVP. If you were smart enough to watch these amazing games, you would have seen how he came through time and time again in both the late stages of game 6 with the two-run triple and the game winning HR in the 11th, as well as RBI’s in game 7.

The beautiful thing about this World Series was that it pinned two opposites against each other on the surface. We saw last year’s runner up in the Texas Rangers get back to the ship, which many people had them making if not winning from the start. At the very least almost everyone had them going to the World Series to face the Philadelphia Phillies, who were the other World Series champion favourites.

St. Louis was a dark horse in that they needed every one of their 162 games to get into the playoffs, but any smart baseball fan knows that this team was the farthest thing from a pushover. Tony La Russa, a respected and tenured baseball manager was looking to get his third championship, and second in the past 6 seasons after his first in St. Louis came in 2006. Albert Pujols was starring on a team of amazing roll players and rejuvenated careers.

So there you have it, the Cardinals were not really an underdog because their franchise is so rich in history and tradition winning is what they do. They know what player’s they need to have combined on their roster to make wins happen. In baseball there are so many components to the team and to a win that you are able to bring in numerous roll players. Pinch hitters, pinch runners, substitute fielders, and let’s not forget the bullpen. The almighty bullpen, have you ever seen two teams use them to such lengths as we did in this year’s World Series? I haven’t.

Well that should do it for the first article back, a little rusty? I apologize, my brain is still recovering from the daily workouts I put it through over the last 3 months but I am happy to be back where I belong, writing, complaining, and sharing my opinions with anyone who wants to waste their time reading them.

Most Valuable…Pitcher?

Posted: September 19, 2011 in MLB

Most valuable pitcher, that is a term that has not been thrown around that much this year. The thought that Detroit’s Justin Verlander could become the first pitcher since Roger Clemens to win both a Cy Young award as well as a Most Valuable Player award in the same season however, has been.

Justin Verlander has been dominating major league hitters this entire season and I would argue that he secured the Cy Young victory about six wins ago, when he was only 18-5. Yes I said it, ONLY 18-5, as he is now an impressive 24-5 and will probably finish an astounding 25-5, according to ESPN predictions.

After looking at the statistics in the last 10 years or so, Justin Verlander is having a year unlike any other, except perhaps Randy Johnson in 2002 when we had a ridiculous year of 24 wins, 334 strikeouts and a 2.32 ERA.

What makes Verlander’s year so incredible is that he also has four complete games and two shutouts to boot, as well as a no-hitter. Now I am well aware that Cliff Lee has had several moments of unbelievable brilliance, with six complete game shutouts, but his wins and other measurable statistics are not nearly as good.

There is also the ever elusive triple-crown that is in play this year, which many would believe is near impossible to get. Well start believing in the impossible dream sceptics, as Verlander leads all of major league baseball in the following categories as this posting: wins (24), innings pitched (244), striekouts (244), ERA (2.29), WHIP (0.91).

All Verlander needs to do is maintain this pace and hope that young guns like Clayton Kershaw blow-up in their next few starts and we could see the first triple-crown pitcher since Johan Santana did it in 2006. Note that Jake Peavy got a National League triple crown, whereas Santana led all of the majors in wins, strikeouts and ERA in 2006.

I thought that this accomplishment was going to be amazing, but I didn’t realize it was done so recently. The hitting triple-crown is the elusive mark of excellence that is so tough to achieve. Although I still think leading the majors in those three big categories for pitching is insane, and anyone that does it with the classic stats of wins-strikeouts-era, forget WHIP and WAR, deserves serious MVP consideration.

Back to the MVP talk, the most common argument against Verlander receiving both the CY as well as the MVP is that the CY is the pitcher MVP, and the MVP award should be given to an everyday player. I think we can make arguments both for and against this issue.

AGAINST
The Cy Young is the award given to the best pitcher in each league and that is their recognition for being the most valuable pitcher. They are recognized as the best within their respective league, however there is no award saying which pitcher is the best amongst all the teams. Perhaps that is a flaw in the award system, maybe we need to have a piece of hardware that clearly identifies the best pitcher in the game that year so that we don’t have two best pitcher winners when there could clearly be one better than the other.

It also brings into question, why do we have a best pitcher award if there is not a clearly defined best hitter/field player award? Then we have the combined efforts wrapped into the MVP discussion? It would seem unfair to me to award pitchers separately and then combine then with the batters to determine which player is most valuable to his team in a given season.

You are increasing the chances of pitchers receiving recognition for their efforts while at the same time potentially decreasing the chances of batters. In a year like this where raw power statistics like HRs, RBIs and hits are down there is no clear winner amongst the everyday players in either league.

Also, let’s not forget that pitchers go out there once every about five games to compete for their team whereas the fielders/batters are out there almost every single game of the 162 game season. How can you compare durability of a player that plays even 150 games versus a pitcher who takes the field maybe about 35 games in a year. There is no comparison when a player can contribute to every single win of that team’s season.

FOR
Now for the pro argument, a pitcher you could argue can be the difference between a winning season and a losing season. Let’s look at the team records this year for example and see where a pitcher is the difference between a winning record and a losing record. I understand that the flaw here is that I am assuming if the pitcher didn’t win these games, the team would have lost those games no matter who else was pitching, but just go with me on this.
The Tigers clinched their division with just over a 12 game lead on second place Cleveland. No other team except Philadelphia (which also clinched their division) has even secured themselves a playoff birth yet. That alone speaks to the value of Justin Verlander on that team. Even if you only took away half of his wins, the Tigers would then be only .5 games ahead of second, if not in second place or even third as Verlander has three wins against Cleveland already this year.

I know that wins are not a guaranteed loss against a team if you switch the pitchers, but let’s remember the effect that Verlander can have on a team. If you see the scorecard for that day and you know you’re going to be facing 100mph fastballs from start to finish you’re not going to be very optimistic.

Verlander has improved everything, his endurance, his speed, his control, and has taken over as the most dominant pitcher in the majors. Roy Halladay may be the best pitcher in the game overall, but this year it is by far Justin Verlander. He is the most valuable player on the Detroit Tigers, and that’s taking into consideration the great year Cabrera has had, once again.

So to sum up, as I always do, there are two strong arguments to give the MVP to a Cy Young winner in the same year. You can say that the Cy Young is the MVP for pitchers and that they can’t hog all the hardware in a given season. Or you can argue that if one is this dominant, they deserve to take home all the recognition for their consistent efforts. Either way this decision is ultimately left up to the selection committee, one club that I can say I’m happy not to be a member of.

Free Hugs

Posted: May 12, 2011 in MLB

I was doing my morning read of ESPN today, getting my updates and reads of the previous nights events, when a rather startling article was headlining the main page. It was reported that the Chicago Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry exchanged hugs with St. Louis Cardinals slugger, and soon to be free agent of a lifetime, Albert Pujols. Yes you heard me, the now acclaimed “hug heard round the world” is breaking news this morning.

Let’s start off with small background information here as from what I have read. Hendry has a connection to Pujols supposedly stemming from connections he made during his time at Creighton University. There, as the head coach from 1984-1991, he made connections around the baseball community, one of those being Alan Benes who pitched for him as a player at the time. Later Benes went on to pitch in the majors including stints with the Cubs and the Cardinals and is now currently an instructor with the Cardinals. This explains the connection, Hendry knows Benes, who knows Pujols, connection established.

What is not established now however is how they’re friends, does an old instructor randomly invite the biggest player in baseball over for a Sunday barbeque and a rival GM just happens to be attending as a friend and now Hendry and Pujols are friends for life? Do they Skype when Pujols is on the road because he’s lonely and needs some advice from someone who’s been around the game longer?

The history of their friendship matters because Pujols will become the most sought after free agent in sports history this off season and most likely will receive a record breaking deal, either in total dollar figures or in average annual salary. This ties in with the hug because the Cardinals and Cubs are supposed to be very strong, and very intense rivals, both on and off the diamond. Yet for some reason one team’s GM and the other’s soon to be ex-player, and face of the game/franchise, are seen hugging each other as long lost brothers before their game last night.

This is a free agency issue because now other teams that were hoping to be in the running to sign Pujols will be screaming “tampering!” from the hill tops. It has been an issue in the past, both recent and distant, with friendships, family relationships, etc. leading to unfair advantages is the free agency game. However many of these relationships cannot be helped, as most of them are hidden from the viewing public. PDA like this though raises questions both from fans and media alike, don’t worry I’m not considering myself media, I’m just another armchair quarterback…WITH A BLOG.

While watching a segment on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight Minute (BBTM) co-panellists made the point that I have been sharing all along about athletes as competitors. Rich Sutcliffe made the point that when he was playing against Barry Larkin, there were no hugs, minimal handshakes, especially on game day. They have no desire to cross the field and hug each other saying good luck buddy, they were playing to beat the other. That is what sports used to be and I fear for the future if things keep going along this path. These signs of affection are fine and dandy in the off season, or at a kid’s birthday party. These are the Cub’s, a storied franchise, in the same breath as Red Sox, Yankees, and their GM is hugging their rivals’ star player hours before game time.

What I want to know now is what happened? Why are athletes all of a sudden friends with each other and how can we expect games to have the same intensity and passion if they’re all buddy buddy?

A close to home example would be when the New England Patriots are in Indianapolis to play the Colts. On several occasions I’ve heard that Peyton Manning has played host and taken Tom Brady out for dinner, c’mon man. In the case of Manning, you are the captain, highest paid player in the league, and you’re sleeping with the enemy? As a fan these incidents bother me because to many fans, including myself, it says that you don’t care about this rivalry nearly as much we do, and you should. It sends the wrong message to fans that you’re taking what is supposed to be a personal position-rival, as well as team rival, out to dinner in your team’s city! Did Ali take Frazer out for drinks after their fights? Did the Steinbrenner’s open their homes to the Red Sox when they came to town?

I’m not saying you have to hate your rival to the point of ill wishing, but have some respect for the fans that pay your cheques and keep your leagues afloat. This is their past time, their passion, and many of them one of the most meaningful things to them and you’re ignoring all of it with these unnecessary pleasantries. You may have been friends with players in college and still might be, but doesn’t the competition and will to win trump that? Don’t you care that they’re probably being told to take it to you by their teammates, show no remorse and you’re going to forget all that?

Perhaps I’m just a dreamer of sports past, and wish that the competitive fire still burned in all of us like it still does in some athletes like Kevin Garnett. Think what you will about his on court antics but his teammates say it best, he’s the best teammate to have on your team, and worst competitor to play against. He looks at every opponent as if they’re trying to take everything away from him, and he does everything he can to stop them. Hugs are between friends, hand shakes are between competitors, and I don’t ever plan on hugging someone when protocol calls for only a game ending hand shake.

Oh Captain, My Captain?

Posted: May 6, 2011 in MLB

Mr. New York, better known as Derek Jeter, was supposed to be coming off just a bad year in which his swing was changing, it wasn’t a big deal. His contract was supposed to be a no brainer, even though the whole ordeal was dragged through the mud and ended with the Yankees caving. Jeter and his team still felt, no they knew, that he was destined to have a comeback year and be back to a .300 hitting leadoff batter and starting short stop. The Yankees must have thought this too, after a long and nasty and sometimes public negotiation process they signed him to a 3 year $51 million contract with an $8 million player option in 2014.

Now some argued that the Yankees “owed” it to Jeter to sign him to big bucks, however the New England Patriots prove that nothing is “owed” in sports and that everything has its price. I for one said that Jeter was not “owed” this new deal and that he had given the Yankees his best years and in return the Yankees had given him 5 rings, over $180 million in salary and the opportunity to enjoy enormous Nike/Jordan and Gatorade contracts to pad his overflowing bank account. However the argument can be made in favour of Jeter as he brought a new image to the team. His squeaky clean persona and smile gave the Yankees a new brand that could help sell them to fans old and young.

Through his first 16 seasons with the club, Jeter averaged 13.8HR, 67 RBI and a .313 BA, which to anyone would be considered exceptional averages for a SS who could have several highlights DVDs just of himself. The running jump throw to first is a Jeter trademark and everyone remembers the backwards toss to home as he ran past the firstbase line into foul territory. But at what point do you tell a team legend, a Yankee all time great none the less, it’s time to pack up your cleats? Last night Yankee manager Joe Girardi sat a self proclaimed “healthy” Jeter claiming “You can’t play him every day, you just can’t do it. I think the fresher our players are, the more productive they’re going to be” (Wallace, ESPN). The fresher they’re going to be? One game over a 162 game season won’t make Jeter fresher unless you’re suggesting that he will sit at least one game a week. To me this points to a turning of the tide in which Girardi, a former teammate, wants to ease Jeter into retirement. It’s a tough spot for Joe because he’s been there, he’s worn the pinstripes and knows the feeling to be in Yankee stadium with the love and adoration that is bestowed upon a Yankee. He’s seen Jeter in the press room, work the crowd with his smile and charm, be cheered and worshipped in the house that Ruth built (before the move).

But now it seems that those times may be over, past the point of fading and officially in the rear view mirror of Jeter’s fairly easy drive through baseball. After being drafted as an 18yr old phenom and playing full time in 1996, he has posted great numbers year after year, dated high profile women all over New York and now engaged to one of the bright young actresses on TV. But to an athlete of Jeter’s stature and pedigree, being told your time is done before your heart and mind are ready to accept it is much tougher than we can imagine. His body may not be telling him that it’s done but the numbers are showing something is still not fixed from last years forgettable season.

Regardless after last season I like many other baseball fans, came to a realization that Derek Jeter is at the end of his illustrious and first ballot hall of fame career. Many Yankee fans will be quick to assign him the tag of “best Yankee of all time” as they probably only grew up watching the Steinbrenner Yankees of the 90’s and their winning ways. This could be a suitable title to give as he chases down the illusive mark of 3000 hits to put on his resume. One thing is for sure, the Yankees championship parades will keep on coming but sooner rather than later, much like the lineup from last night, Jeter won’t be here to lead them.

BASEBALL IS BACK!

Posted: April 27, 2011 in MLB

NOTE: This was to be posted prior to the start of the season, technical issues postponed its release.

Well it’s that magical time of year again when Opening Day has come and gone and countless story lines are beginning to play out in what should be an exciting and entertaining 2011 MLB season. Just what exactly should fans be looking out for this year?

R2C2

The newest nickname in baseball is used to describe the superpower that is the Philadelphia Phillies pitching rotation. This past summer like every off season we were overwhelmed with the coverage of where coveted, and perennial playoff monster, Cliff Lee was going to sign his bank breaking free agent contract. The Rangers made several trips in a personal appeal to hisArkansashome to charm him into returning to the reigning American League champion Texas Rangers to build on a strong youthful core of outfield talent and young pitchers (C.J. Wilson and reliever Neftali Feliz). What ended up counting the most in the end was what I always hope to see as the mitigating factor and that is personal fit and enjoyment when choosing a team. Cliff Lee stated in several interviews after signing with the Phillies that he never really wanted to leave in 2009 when he was traded toSeattleto make room for Roy Halladay. Not many people thought about this last year as the Yankees made several huge offers that many of us would have thought would take a mad man to refuse. Now that Lee is set and contract signed, we get to witness a rotation that features Cy Young winners Roy Halladay (2003,2010), Roy Oswalt (2005 NLCS MVP), Cole Hamels (2008 NLCS & World Series MVP) and of course Cliff Lee (2008 Cy young). To not want to see only greatness and perhaps history from this lineup would be petty. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Phillies and their continued greatness the past few years the potential of this rotation is limitless and if they live up to even half of their potential they’ll all have another award to add to their resumes, diamond encrusted rings with their names and a World Series title.

Giants Version 2.0

 Last year we were treated to a great underdog story of a storied franchise finally getting itself out from under the shadows of one of the most dominant and at the same time controversial players in professional sports. The 2010 San Francisco Giants gave us a spectacular story to watch unfold into an incredibly unlikely story of individual and team success. On the last day of the 2010 playoffs the Giants played their way into the playoffs and never looked back. Behind the out of this world pitching from two-time CY Young winner Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and spectacular field play, the Giants shed their wild card label for a shiny new champions one. What made this championship great was that they won with close games (7 of their 11 playoff wins were by 1 run) from superb defense behind their pitching as well as a clubhouse that bonded over their new identity.

They were finally their own Giants, not Bonds’ giants. They played to their own beat, joked the way they wanted to knowing that almost nothing was safe from public mockery and that everyone would take it only the right way. Brian Wilson was established as a club house leader/joker and his ability to keep the atmosphere light while saving 6 post seasons games all helped write this new chapter.

Now as 2011 begins with a new champion we watch on to see if last year was a stroke of good luck or if they’re really a team to be feared when on the mound. I for one hope to see this team back in the post season as their games although low scoring, provided for great TV drama as 1 run is never safe in major league baseball, unless you find yourself in the batters box with a Giant staring right down the heart of plate.

Cardinals Conundrum

Now anyone who has not been under a rock for the past 6 months knows that this year is Albert Pujols’ final year on contract with the St.Louis Cardinals. I don’t even think I need to explain how important this is to the sport but I will anyways for those of you who don’t already know his mind boggling career averages:

Seasons: 10      HR Avg: 40.8   RBI: 123          Avg: .331         Runs: 118         Hits: 190

A fantasy and real life owners dream, Pujols has stayed true so far to his deadline of not talking contract after spring training. Although a short extension was given now that the season has started Pujols refuses to allow his monster contract in waiting to take away from this season. What makes this harder on the Cardinals is that Adam Wainright, a CY Young contender the last few seasons, is now out for the rest of the year. So if the Cardinals contend or even win the NL Central it will surely make Pujols look even more invaluable. The Cardinals have made offers as large as just under $30million per year however no specifics have ever been released based on either length or value of the contract. Everyone knows that Alex Rodriguez and his average salary of $27.5 million per year is highly bloated and over priced and the Yankees must regret that deal everyday. A-rod being a fantastic ballplayer certainly does not warrant $27.5million especially when Mark Teixeira across the infield is making $13 million less in 2011 (A-Rod is being paid $33 million for 2011) and puts up bigger numbers. This is relevant because many believe that Pujols as well as his team will use the A-Rod deal as a measuring stick of both value and contract length when negotiating a structure for their deal. Some writers have come out and said that if he gave the Cardinals a big home-town discount that it would make the union look weak, but I say who cares?! Pujols has no responsibility to the union if he wants to play for less. It is his choice and his money. No one knows whether Pujols intends to walk or really wants to stay and is just trying to defend both the union’s position as well as his own. I would love to see him work out a deal that works for both parties equally, but after the discount he gave them the last several years it might be time for Albert to run for the bank.

Yankees Pitching Woes

The New York Yankees shelled out serious cash for aces CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett two years ago but that’s about all they have. Burnett has still not fully lived up to his billing after his 18 win season in Toronto, Jaba Chamberlin continues to be a mystery in how to use him best, and their ace in the hole Phil Hughes is not panning out at al to what they expected. Pitching never used to be an issue as the Yankees line-up is so potent it can score runs at will. However after last season’s “Year of the Pitcher” you can no longer trust an offense to backup and so-so pitcher. You need to have aces on your staff and reliability through your number 3-5 starters, which they just don’t seem to have. This could be another disappointing (yet always profitable) year for theBronxbombers as we embark on another exciting year on the clay and grass.

All in all this season has more story lines than the ones listed above; I just felt these were 4 of the big ones. We get to see how Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzales perform after steady years and finally getting huge new contracts. We get to see if the Orioles continue their success from the end of last year, if the Dodgers ownership issues will figure themselves out and whether or not the Texas Rangers can return to the World Series after losing the highly touted (and probably overpaid) Cliff Lee. Enjoy the season everyone! I know I will be.