Checking In At the Break

Well, here we are at the end of the All-Star break, with regular season play resuming tomorrow. With this pause in the daily action, let’s take a look at how things stack up now vs. where I predicted them at the end of Spring Training.  Some prognostications were spot on, while others turned out to be polar opposite. You just never know what is going to happen in a given baseball game, much less a whole season.

American League East 

  1. Baltimore: I dropped the ball here. Picked them fifth, but they are in first. Their offense has been as good as expected, and some surprising bullpen work has helped a lot.
  2. Boston: Picked them second, and here they sit. Solid team. Division title still possible.
  3. Toronto: Picked them third, they are in third. See Boston. Tight race here.
  4. New York: Thought they’d be much better. Picked them first, but they had a disastrous start that has been hard to recover from.
  5. Tampa Bay: Picked fourth, they will finish last. Bad start and little consistency.

American League Central (completely opposite of what I predicted! Knew this division would be a crapshoot.)

  1. Cleveland: Picked fifth, they sit in first. Great arms and potent offense.
  2. Detroit: Picked fourth, but this resilient bunch is squarely in the WC Race.
  3. Chicago: Picked third, and that’s where they are. Red hot start through April and May, but very streaky since. Still solidly in WC contention.
  4. Kansas City: Picked second, but injuries have decimated this group. Still, they sit above .500 and are in the WC hunt themselves.
  5. Minnesota: Picked first. What a disaster. Total 180 from 2015.

American League West

  1. Texas: Picked them first and that’s where they are. Very solid club.
  2. Houston: Awful April, bounced back strong since. Picked second.
  3. Seattle: Good start, dangerous team. WC still possible? Picked fourth.
  4. Oakland. Picked fifth, but they’ll finish better. Mediocre overall.
  5. Los Angeles: Colossal trainwreck despite talent. Worse yet, they still have to pay Albert Pujols for five more years, and Josh Hamilton another year to play elsewhere.

National League East

  1. Washington: The Baker Effect has worked and it looks like they’re headed for a division title. Picked second.
  2. New York: Picked first, but some key injuries have hindered them. Still in WC race.
  3. Miami: Picked third, they are in third. Solid team in the WC race and headed for a strong finish.
  4. Philadelphia: Picked fourth. Real good start, improvement across the board but the Phils are still a year or two away from contending.
  5. Atlanta: Picked fifth. They’re bad.

National League Central

  1. Chicago: Picked second. Historical start, but some injuries plus a rough stretch in the last few weeks before the break brought the northsiders back to earth. Still a sizeable lead in the division.
  2. St. Louis: Picked first. Squarely in the WC race, but overall not as strong as they were in 2015.
  3. Pittsburgh: Picked third. Solid overall club, another WC contender.
  4. Milwaukee: Picked fourth. Below average team, will avoid the cellar.
  5. Cincinnati: Picked fifth. They waived the white flag over the winter.

National League West

  1. San Francisco: Picked first. Even better than expected, impressive having the best record in baseball at the break considering the run the Cubs had been on.
  2. Los Angeles: Still in the hunt for the WC, strong team, but having Kershaw on the DL doesn’t help. Picked second.
  3. Colorado: Picked fifth. Potent offense is giving this club a shot at a .500 season.
  4. San Diego: Picked fourth. They are a fourth place team, not sure what else to say.
  5. Arizona: Picked third. Was expecting more from this club. Injuries have not helped at all.

There you have it, folks. Once again, baseball proves to be the craziest sport to predict. The second half of the season is set to get underway and who knows what’ll happen…

Fast Rise and Faster Fade: The Yde Mystery

Every generation has them: The flash-in-the-pan players who are highly touted, or sometimes coming from nowhere, to create an instant impression only to quickly fade into nothingness again. Emil Yde was one of these types. A potential ace in the early days of the Live Ball Era, Yde would fall as quickly as he rose, but not before enjoying some team and individual successes both on the mound and at the plate.

Pitchers that can hit can be a deadly weapon. Ah, in the classic style of baseball, before the Designated Hitter came about, and still (thankfully) the rule in the National League where pitchers bat for themselves, occasionally there’s a gem waiting to be mined. Although usually the weakest hitter in a given lineup, there is an opportunity for a threat to the opposition: If the pitcher can hit, it’s a formidable advantage.

Such was the case with Yde, and particularly in one game at Forbes Field, on June 25, 1924.

Rookie left-hander Emil Yde entered the game against the Cubs in the 4th inning, facing a 6-1 deficit. Yde would hold the Cubs in check the rest of the way, and at the plate he capped off an improbable comeback in the bottom of the 9th with a game-tying double. Continuing on the bump, Yde would add an RBI triple in the bottom of the 14th to give his Pirates an 8-7 win. The left-handed slinger would end the day having pitched 10 1/3 innings in relief for the victory, and add 5 RBI’s on two extra base hits.

Yde would have a brilliant season in 1924, finishing 16-3 with a 2.83 ERA and 14 complete games while leading the league in shutouts. He was highly effective the following year as well, going 17-9 with a 4.13 ERA and helping the Pirates win the World Series. An inexplicable decline in performance thereafter forced Yde to spend much of the late ’20’s racking up a ton of innings in the minors, and save for a brief stint with the Tigers in 1929, his life in the major leagues had ended. His final major league record of 49-25 was strong overall but ended up being unsustainable, and his career batting average of .233 was nothing to scoff at for a pitcher, either. He remained in the minors for a few more years, fading into obscurity before retiring at the age of 33 in 1933, having never been given another shot. His short, but notable career was a clear case of here one minute/gone the next.

For a brief moment however, Yde was the hero of the day.

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/PIT/PIT192406250.shtml

Gehrig Owns Comiskey For a Day

On this day in 1928, the Bronx Bombers visited Comiskey Park, which just a year before had undergone massive renovations largely to accommodate all the extra fans who wanted to witness the spectacle that was Babe Ruth.

Today however, it was the Iron Horse who put on the real show.

As if on cue, Ruth would belt out his 23rd home run of the season this day, but it paled in comparison to the 14 total bases and five runs collected by Lou Gehrig. His singular onslaught included two triples and two home runs while driving in five in the Yankees’ 15-7 thumping of the Pale Hose.

For good measure, Gehrig also added seven putouts and two assists on the day.

The Sox would add 13 hits of their own but a late surge would fall well short as the incendiary crusade led by Gehrig was too much to overcome. It was certainly not the only time the Iron Horse was the iron fist in a ballgame.

Source: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CHA/CHA192806120.shtml

Milestone for Gramps Is Just Another Contribution

In the fourth inning of yesterday’s 6-2  win over the visiting Phillies, veteran catcher David Ross blasted his 100th career homer, a 3-run, 417 foot rocket out of Wrigley Field, sending the home dugout and 38,000-plus fans into a frenzy.

 “The boys were excited, I was excited,” Ross said. “My favorite part while this has been going on is rounding second base and looking in the dugout. It makes me smile every time seeing everybody so happy for me and counting down for me. They’re as happy as I am. That makes me feel good.”

The new milestone was one of three 2016 Bucket List items for Ross, affectionately known as “Gramps” by his teammates and fans, in his final season before retirement.

As a journeyman backup catcher who’s long been known as an outstanding defensive player but not the greatest hitter, reaching the century mark in homers is a sizable accomplishment. For Ross is a throwback type to the old days when catchers were regarded as the field generals, defense-first players who called great games, mentally and spiritually guided the pitching staffs and terrorized opposing baserunners. 100 homers is nothing to scoff at from such a player. But nor is it a fluke.

“He brings so much more to us and to the game than just being a backup catcher,” says Jon Lester. “He makes our clubhouse better, he makes our guys better. He knows how to go about pushing buttons with certain guys and getting the best out of them. I know that’s true for myself. He knows how to say the right things without going too far.”

Ross’ swan song season has been nothing short of terrific to this point. In just 25 games so far, he sits among the league leaders in Defensive WAR, Assists, Stolen Base percentage and Range Factor, all categories that effectively measure a catcher’s performance. His bat isn’t too shabby either, as he’s hitting a solid .254 with 4 homers and 17 runs batted in. A noticeable increase in walks, long at-bats and sacrifices have rounded out his endless contributions to the Cubs’ early success. In addition, the extremely likable, always humble, team-first Ross provides immense value to this Cubs team both on and off the field, and has developed into a fan and league favorite.

“I’m proud to contribute to a good team,” Ross said. “None of us like to fail. Failing is not fun. I had a lot of failure at the plate last year. You’ve just got to keep working and you never know what’s going to happen the next at-bat, the next month or the next year. You have to keep working hard and trying your best. That’s what I’ve learned over my 14 years is, you know what, I’m going to go out there and put my best foot forward and play hard for my teammates.”

Catch a no-hitter? Check. Hit that 100th home run? Check.

We all know what that third Bucket List item for this season is.

Sources: http://www.cubs.mlb.com

Johnson vs. Williams: The Forgotten Clash

On this date in 1918, with World War I the focal point of the globe, baseball continued on with less attention than usual. Somewhat hidden in that season was a game on May 15 where the Washington Senators beat the Chicago White Sox 1-0 in an 18-inning contest at Griffith Stadium. The drawn-out duel took less than three hours to complete.

In this often overlooked contest, young Sox starter Claude “Lefty” Williams (later banned from baseball for his involvement in the infamous Black Sox scandal,) battled Hall of Famer Walter “Big Train” Johnson for the entire game, as both hurlers went the distance. Williams was extremely efficient, scattering just 8 hits through 18 innings. Johnson, conversely, turned in his typical stellar performance, striking out nine of the potent Sox lineup (who were without big sluggers Shoeless Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch due to their wartime duties,) and even added a single in the bottom of the 18th to move the winning run into scoring position. The Senators then grabbed the win, ironically on a wild pitch, by Williams.

18 innings. 18 hits. Two pitchers. One run. 2 hours, 50 minutes. You’ll never see that again.

Sources:

http://www.baseball-reference.org

http://www.retrosheet.org

Yet Another Historical Parallel for the 2016 Cubs

It’s been a rather magical start to the 2016 season for the Chicago Cubs, with many eerie historical parallels that I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Tonight, another notch in the history gunbelt was created, as the Cubs now have the best run differential since the 1905 New York Giants.

2005-06-29-moonlight

Why is this particularly significant? Well, one of the players on that Giants team was none other than Archibald “Moonight” Graham, of Field of Dreams fame. In the movie, it was stated Graham played for the Giants in 1922, when in reality, he played in one game, minus an at-bat, in 1905.

History in the making continues…

 

96 Years and 664 Home Runs Ago

On this date in 1920, Babe Ruth hit his 50th career home run, and his first in a Yankee uniform, in a 6-0 win over the rival Red Sox.

Babe Ruth crushing one at the Polo Grounds, 1920.

The Sultan of Swat would also rap out a double in the contest against his former team in a game played at the Polo Grounds in New York, three full years before Yankee Stadium opened. Ruth’s roundtripper that day was one of a historic 54 he would belt that year, aiding him in collecting 135 RBI’s and an astonishing .847 slugging percentage. For good measure, he also drew 150 walks and hit a cool .376 on the season.

In a small but noteworthy pinprick of irony, the Yankees and Red Sox play again today. 96 years later, the Great Bambino and all those fellas from that era are long gone, but some rivalries never die.

This time the game is in Boston.

 

Source(s): http://www.nationalpastime.com 

Those Baseball Gods, They’re Funny Guys

Baseball is the weirdest of all games, that much we know. It also provokes intense amounts of superstition, sometimes to ridiculous levels, in players, coaches and fans alike. At times like these, or when any sort of streak is apparent, it’s difficult for some of us not to stop and wonder, “hmm…”

With the red hot starts for both the White Sox (15-6 and the best record in the AL) and the Cubs (15-5 and the best record in the NL), naturally much “what if” chatter, often of the absurd variety, has begun. But certain situations have arisen during the course of this otherwise normal business day, however, that are likely pure coincidence, but peculiar nonetheless. For me personally, those who know me understand that my superstitions and awkward OCD routines are borderline lunacy. I may reach far in connecting my illogical-logical dots, but when sequences like this happen, I skypoint to the Baseball Gods with a knowing “I hear ya, fellas!” Take today for example:

  • Several callers, texters and tweeters to AM 670 The Score this morning were posing questions like “Are these Sox for real?,” “What if the Cubs and Sox were to meet in the World Series? Would the city survive?,” “Could we have a repeat of 1906?” and so on. Nothing unusual there, but keep reading…
  • At a routine meeting, it became known that my client is the great-niece of former White Sox catcher Billy Sullivan, who played in the 1906 World Series as part of the infamous “Hitless Wonders” against the Cubs. I’ve known this client for years and never knew this amazing fact. Billy’s son, Bill Jr., also had a long MLB career and played in the 1940 World Series, becoming the first father/son duo to play in the Fall Classic. The rest of her family are Cubs fans and recently posed the question, “what if they play each other in the…” oh stop me, you get the idea.
  • At a quick glance, there are downright eerie comparisons between Sullivan’s career and that of current Cubs veteran catcher David Ross. Eerie as in, they’re virtually the same player. (More on this in an upcoming article.)
  • After my meeting, the managing editor in my office (and a huge Mets fan), asked me if I think the Sox are for real and would the city survive if there ever was a Cubs/Sox World Series? He did not pay attention to the radio station chatter that I did this morning, or knew of my meeting. It was a random conversation. By this time I was literally laughing.
  • The Cubs currently are on pace to match or exceed the 1906 Cubs .763 winning percentage, while the White Sox current team batting average is right on pace with their 1906 counterparts, hence the nickname “Hitless Wonders.” Neither of these is likely to happen, but it’s a fun comparison nonetheless.

Am I suggesting that the stars are aligned, that “this is the year” (a battle cry that this Cubs fan has grown to completely despise), or that both teams are destined for a 1906 rematch in the 2016 World Series? Of course not. It’s only April after all. But in the here and now, both teams are playing strong, inspired baseball and winning, at the same time, and at a pace not seen in decades.

Granted, these little situations are hardly connected, except for their coincidental nature amid much excitement for both teams. But with my acknowledgement of the sheer bizarre, and belief that some driving, external, ethereal force contributes to the strangeness of our pastime, I wonder, a little bit, if the Baseball Powers-That-Be are smirking.

Just a little.

Rivalry Renewed

Strap in, folks.

Tonight marks the first Cubs/Cardinals series of the season, and the first time these two foes will square off since the Cubs eliminated the Cardinals from the 2015 NLDS.

What’s different this time?

The blood. It’s gotten even more bad between these two teams. Fueled not only by the Cubs’ much heralded playoff series win, but it was then compounded when Cardinals free agents John Lackey and Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs during the offseason. The latter player has drawn particular ire from Cardinals fans, as he accepted less money than what the Cardinals offered to play for the rival Cubs.

What to expect?

Good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed baseball, that’s what. In a twist of irony, it also just happens to be John Lackey’s turn in the rotation tonight. He will take the bump against his former team, in his former home ballpark. Heyward too, makes his return to the ‘Lou, and if various online publications and social media posts are any indication, he could receive a less-than-welcome reception from the Cardinals faithful. Misdirected though such disdain may be, considering Heyward played in St. Louis for just one season, it’s still going to be a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Baseball’s best rivalry begins an exciting new chapter tonight.

A Monumental Date In Baseball History

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

– Jackie Robinson

Today we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day across the country. On this day in 1947, Robinson made his MLB debut on Opening Day at Ebbets Field, helping the Dodgers to a 5-3 win over the visiting Braves. And history was made.