The Blue Jays Are…

Despite Type 1 diabetes, Brandon Morrow's stuff is electric.

With the Mets fading it’s time to take a look at what the really good teams in the AL East are doing. It’s time to check in on those Damn Yankees.

It’s also about time I put a reverse jinx on my most hated baseball team. A few months ago I wrote that the Yankees were in trouble both short term and long term but mostly long term, and the Bronx Bombers responded by being the best team in baseball for a few months. You’re welcome. They’ve looked bad the first couple of games after the break in Toronto and their less than inspired play has got me doing little dances, which make my cats stare at me with derision. Maybe A-Rod will break down and Nate Silver’s prediction that he won’t break the home run record will come to pass. Dance, boy, dance! Maybe Jeter sans heroics is really kinda sorta done. Maybe the oft ignored fact that all star Russell Martin is hitting .220 means that he sucks. Maybe Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia are running low on their supply of both smoke and mirrors. If I keep dancing…

The Yankees are only four games ahead of the Rays in the loss column, which means they’re only 4 losses away from missing the playoffs. A lot has gone right this season for the Yanks to be that close to relative futility.

In the time it took me to write the last two paragraphs the Yankees scored four times against Ricky Romero. With ace C.C. Sabathia on the hill, their Saturday afternoon three run lead looks insurmountable. How about C.C.? If he opts out of that contract, he’s going to get a nice chunk of change. Watching the Yankees’ struggles has made me take note of the team they’ve been playing, the Blue Jays.

Ahem. I just cleared my throat. Or cracked my knuckles as it were. The Blue Jays have been good the last couple of years, and if you consider that they have to play the Yanks, Sox, and Rays 54 times a year, they’ve been really, really good. Jose Bautista is not only not a one year wonder, he’s the best player in baseball. Brandon Morrow has underachieved, and will compete for Cy Youngs. I guess you could say I’m high on Brandon Morrow. Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil have been disappointing, but Cecil has turned his season around. The same could be said for blue chipper Travis Snider, if just recently. So there’s hope for young Drabek. Ricky Romero is a top of the rotation young lefty, and Brett Lawrie is going to be a franchise player. Adam Lind is the real deal and seems well-suited for first base. The Jays had something like 8 of the first 60 picks in June’s draft. Escobar is a nice player and Encarnacion and Hill are serviceable. The Jays GM, Alex Acropolipouspopogous, has made a couple of decisions that I really like including locking up Bautista and unloading Vernon Wells and his 22.5 million per.

So what am I saying? The Yankees are bad and the Blue Jays are good. Not exactly. Ahem. Stretch. Knuckle crack. More feline mockery.

If you put the Astros in the AL West and you play one Interleague series at a time…the Orioles are still screwed. If radical realignment takes place and you put the Blue Jays with the Buffalo Bisons and the Montreal Canadians…that won’t work.

Arencibia’s ok. Put Gose in center and you’ve got Bautista, Snider, and Gose in the outfield, Lawrie at 3rd, Lind at 1st, Escobar, Hill and J.P…

If Morrow and Lawrie develop the way I think they will, and Cecil or Drabek turn into a #3…

The Blue Jays will be…

The Blue Jays are…

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A Little Wedding Music

Ah, youth.

Growing up, it was easy to revere my older sister. She was after all 4 years older and quick to tell me about the huge, complex world all around us, of which I knew very little, and she knew so very much. In my toddler years, I even took a break from speaking actual words and only Diana could translate my grunts and squeals to my dumbfounded parents. That secret language morphed into somewhat cohesive English, and the spirit of our sibling pact was fortified. We would face this crazy life together.

As she grew up, Diana’s brilliance in acting and then cooking consistently astonished those around her. It was very intimidating to look up at my closest relative and see such a force of nature. But no matter the accomplishment, it was always Diana’s warmth and generosity of spirit and sense of humor that left its indelible mark. To this day, it’s a mistake for us to sit near one another at a formal function as a knowing smirk might send us over the edge. When I laugh with my sister the better part of the decade we’ve spent living on opposite ends of the country melts away, and we are children again. Laughing at the foolishness of the adults around us.

The first time I met Marcus he seemed too good to be true. Surely his mother ship would need to return him to the planet that produces such strapping, considerate, kind hearted bachelors. My initial elation has only grown in the months and years I’ve known Marcus. He is a mensch, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be officially welcoming him to our family.

Spending time with Marcus and Diana together, it’s apparent that they are one another’s intended, that they are very much in love. Their union is a healthy one, filled with mutual respect and shared responsibility. She has a new partner in crime.

Marcus, Diana, I love you both. I know you will be very happy together as you giggle your way through all the foolishness.

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The Friar’s Club

Even I get sanctimonious when I consider Johnny Damon's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Sanctimonious sports writers experience a bunching in their panties often, but nothing chafes the crotchal region quite like discussions regarding induction to Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Purists like Bob Costas get fanatical when certain ball players are mentioned as candidates. I must be missing something. Who cares? You get a bust in upstate New York. You get to spend a weekend talking about Napa with Tom Seaver, and talking about his date with Liz Taylor with Ralph Kiner. Seems like a club you wouldn’t want to be a member of. Kind of like Facebook for really good ball players from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. 

I went to the Hall of Fame when I was a kid. It was fun. Bert Blyleven in or out doesn’t really concern me too much.

It’s very difficult and often downright foolish to compare players from different generations. Arguments for or against a player’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame are often based on whether the player dominated his era and for how long. Again, Kirby Puckett for 12 years vs. Jim Rice for 18, not that interesting to me. Purists believe if even for the briefest moment you have to think about whether or not a player belongs, he doesn’t. Others talk about statistical benchmarks like 3,000 hits or 300 wins or 400 home runs. By the way, Paul Konerko has 382 career home runs, and the best pitcher in baseball last year won 13 games.

I was watching ESPN last night. Sorry. ESPN is a sports station based out of Bristol, Connecticut. You should be seeing more and more of it. Like I was saying, someone asked Doug Glanville whether Johnny Damon was a Hall of Famer. And I threw up a little in my mouth. It seems Johnny Damon is one of 11 or 12 players in baseball history with some odd combination of stats like 500 doubles, 100 triples, 2,500 hits, and a partridge in a pear tree. All the others with those numbers are in the Hall. A conversation ensued about Damon being a compiler, and never finishing in the top 10 in an MVP vote.

If Johnny Damon is a Hall of Famer, then I’m the Queen of England. That guy was a dynamic player for a few years. He was mostly above average, and he’s been solid throughout. He never gets hurt so some of his numbers are bafflingly impressive. His defense was more bad than good.

Again, I really don’t understand why people get so crazed about the Hall of Fame. It’s the same with steroids. Baseball writers seem to think that Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Mickey Mantle were cast members on Little House on the Prairie. Part of the beauty of baseball is scratching and clawing and cheating to win. And then going out and behaving like a stunted child. These guys are ball players. They don’t always behave the way a broadcast journalism major from Syracuse would prefer them to.

Maybe that’s why I can’t commit to writing my blog. I’m sanctimonious and self-hating. That may remind an older generation of Groucho Marx, but I’m reminded of Woody Allen quoting Groucho. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.

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Harpthrob’s Heroics

Having fun as a Sun.

Get used to seeing scenes like this.

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One Year of Mike Stanton

In 2011, pitchers seem less eager to challenge Mike Stanton.

For years, I’ve considered Ichiro Suzuki my favorite player. He embodies so many of the things about baseball that I find beautiful and poetic and whimsical. At the moment, however, I only have eyes for Mike Stanton. He’s new and he’s big and he’s glossy. There’s nothing poetic or whimsical about him. He’s a little like America. He’s big and he’s new and he’s not carrying a ton of baggage. Well, maybe he’s like America was a little while ago. 

That reminds me, if only there were some sort of tournament pitting countries against one another, it would be a fantastic opportunity to see differing styles of play. The American team would have a bunch of big dudes who strike out a ton and hit the ball a country mile. Oh right, I already wrote about this.

As we approach the one year anniversary of Stanton’s Major League debut, I thought I’d get a jump on the other baseball authorities and take a look at Mike’s first 150 games on the sport’s largest stage.

Keep in mind, Stanton’s rep has always been that he’s a raw athlete. Not a polished hitter like Jason Heyward, Stanton was a multiple sport star in high school, and was receiving overtures from Pete Carroll to play football at USC.

In 151 games, all shy of his 22nd birthday, Stanton has 34 home runs and 91 RBI. His .262/.333/.527 doesn’t wow as much as the fact that he’s improved in every category from last year to this. And I mean every category. His batting average is up, his walks are up, his slugging is up, his strikeouts are down. He showed the same ability to improve in the Minors, cutting down on his swing and miss %, thought to be his achilles heel, every year.

People who know the guy rave about Stanton’s work ethic and his demeanor in general.

What could Stanton’s ceiling possibly be? If Harpthrob is baseball’s LeBron, Stanton might be LeBron’s way more physically gifted older brother. I think it’s easy to look at him and say he’s going to hit a ton of homers and top out at about .280. Well, he’s hitting .270 now and he’s 21. For such a large individual, his swing is actually pretty darn compact. I think he might hit 3,000 home runs.

It will be interesting to see how the new Miami Marlins stadium will play, and how that will ultimately affect Stanton’s production. 4,000 home runs?

With Posey and Heyward grabbing the majority of the headlines last year and battling injuries and unmet expectations in their sophomore seasons, my eyes are trained on Mike Stanton. My wife knows.

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Strike This Motherf**ker Out

Mets fans are all too familiar with this expression on Mike Pelfrey's face.

At the beginning of the season, Gary Cohen posed the question to his broadcast partners, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, can Mike Pelfrey be an elite pitcher if he doesn’t raise his strikeout numbers? It was a proficient moment for Cohen, and I couldn’t help but smile at the objectivity of the lifelong Mets fan. Then either Keith or Ron chimed in, “absolutely,” and I fell off my chair.

The guy at Wichita State throwing 99 mph, the guy Rick Peterson once called a formula-one race car is Major League Baseball’s equivalent of a Toyota Camry. Pelfrey has had two or three excellent stretches of 10 or so starts where he was forcing consistently weak contact and getting lucky with balls put in play finding a lot of leather. But his inability to put hitters away has kept him from being anywhere near an elite pitcher.

Pelfrey has given up more hits than innings pitched in every season of his career. Elite pitchers don’t do that. Pelfrey adds pedestrian walk totals to all those hits allowed leading to a 1.46 career WHIP. He’s consistent. His 2011 WHIP is also 1.46. Or it was before he faced the vaunted Pirates lineup this afternoon. So we’re not talking about a Mark Buehrle who gives up a lot of hits because he’s a strike throwing machine. Pelfrey gives up hits and walks. And when he’s got all those baserunners on, and he really needs a strikeout, he better hope the ball finds a defender because, more often than not, he’s not getting out of the jam with a strikeout. Pelfrey’s 422 k’s in 746 career innings is his most telling stat.

Broadcasters can’t call Texas leaguers or Baltimore chops unlucky when they occur against Pelfrey. Balls put in play will find holes in the defense. All the great pitchers strikeout enough batters to make weak contact a marginal factor in the statistical likelihood that they’ll get beat. 

Not creating swings and misses isn’t just a problem when balls are put in play. It’s a problem when at bats that should be over are prolonged by foul balls. Pitch counts are driven up, and if well executed pitches aren’t finishing a hitter off, the next one thrown may not be so well executed.

On Opening Day, Pelfrey made it to the 4th without being scored upon. The crucial at bat of the game was against Marlins catcher John Buck, a free swinger. Two outs, bases loaded, and Pelfrey can’t put Buck away. The Toyota Camry repertoire wasn’t good enough, and finally the clutch jams. I’m a little in over my head with this car analogy. Buck finally deposits a grand slam over the right center field fence.

We all know baseball is a game of inches, and more accurately fractions of an inch. The time when Mike Pelfrey threw in the upper-90s is a thing of the past, and really a thing of legend as far as Mets fans are concerned.

About a month ago, my buddy, Greg, asked me if I could think of any reason why Dillon Gee doesn’t have more promise than Pelfrey. I told Greg that Gee is younger, he has better command, he has better mound presence, and here’s the shocker: Gee has better stuff. Mike Pelfrey has a fastball that sometimes hits the mid-90s. When she’s warmed up, my wife throws in the mid-90s. Every other pitch in Gee’s arsenal is superior, and even his fastball is superior because he can locate it.  

Every time I look up, the Pirates have scored again off of Pelfrey. He’s pitched 3 innings and given up 10 hits and 7 earned runs. As my father would say, “not exactly fooling them.”

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Show the Game!

Who's the genius who thought this one up?

Does this drive anyone else crazy, or am I the only one? Right up there with the center field camera angle being 10 degrees off center, the way TV networks cover the start of quarters in NBA games with coaches interviews and logos taking up 50% of the screen makes 0% sense. I don’t need to see Erik Spoelstra’s face as he talks about how this game is going to be a grind for the Heat. Keep the audio of the interview rolling and show the darn game!

In the visual I’ve provided, you can see that 50% of the screen is taken up with a really sweet bank of lights graphic. If they need to show us the coach’s face as he talks, can’t they just split the screen down the middle so there isn’t any wasted space? Clearly some executive thought that just showing the two things side by side wouldn’t look expensive enough. Much better to layer the thing, and really make it pop with a snazzy background. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the designer of this template and this whole concept…not a big sports fan.

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