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Would you pitch to Aaron Judge with first base open during a late-inning tie?

Most of the time, you can only laugh when a Joe Fan screams that they could do a better job than their favorite team’s head coach or manager. It’s an irrational stance.

Most of the time. Because there are those moments when a manager does something which leaves everyone watching convinced that, yep, any Joe could do better.

One of those moments occurred Monday night when Angels manager Mike Scioscia had to consider the title question. Tie game. Eighth inning. Man on second. First base open. Aaron Judge up.

Well, would you?

Scioscia said “Sure” and Judge said “Thanks.”

The Yankees would go on to win by the margin provided by Judge’s blast, 5-3.

After spending a few minutes repeating “Why?” to myself, I tried to look at things from Scioscia’s point of view. He must be aware that Judge is hitting baseballs harder and farther than anyone this season. With Mike Trout on the shelf, Judge is the game’s best (healthy) batter right now. Of course, Scioscia is aware. And he intentionally walked Didi Gregorius a few innings earlier — a decision that backfired when Chase Headley followed with a two-out RBI single that scored Judge from second — so it’s not like he is against the practice. 

But after Aaron Hicks’ one-out double, you knew something strange was afoot as Scioscia went to his closer, Bud Norris, to face Judge. Why bring in a new pitcher if you’re just going to inten–wait.

They’re gonna pitch to him?!

It seemed like my bewilderment was overblown after the first two pitches from Norris: a couple of cutters that were in the left-handed batter’s box.

Norris’ third pitch, another cutter, was, uh, not located well. Something like that.

Judge AB

Give credit to Judge for actually smashing that pitch — I wouldn’t be writing here and many Angels fans wouldn’t be calling for Scioscia’s job if the mammoth rookie simply popped out. But this was an easily avoidable result.

After the game, Scioscia admitted that the pitch was not in the right location. The fact that it was even in the home plate circle was an oversight, really. However, Scioscia continued his postgame presser with this response when asked if he gave any thought to walking the MVP candidate.

“Yeah, definitely there is, yeah. But I think with a base open and with Bud being able to move the ball and spin it, you hope that you can get him to expand a little bit, and he never really, never got there and left the one pitch over the plate.”

With a base open, we thought we could get him to expand his zone? My brain needs to be rebooted.

By the way, Judge has swung at 24.8 percent of pitches outside the zone this season, a very respectable rate for a slugger who was swinging at more than a third of all such pitches just last year. But given that Scioscia is still a big proponent of the bunt, I know he’s not aware of those numbers.

Walk Judge, take your chances with Matt Holliday. He is having a better-than-expected season, but Judge is having a better-than-everybody-else season. Heck, Holliday even has a higher O-swing percentage (26.0). 

Alas, Scioscia decided to chance it and hope that his pitcher wouldn’t make a mistake pitch. He did. But it’s not Norris’ mistake that decided Monday’s game. It was made possible only because of a greater mistake from his manager, one that I don’t think Joe Fan out there would have committed. For one moment, anyone could have been a better manager for the L.A. Angels than Mike Scioscia.

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Pace of play? The Diamondbacks and Rockies hold the longest 9-inning game in National League history

3dclocksYou don’t hear about pace of play this season as much as you did when the new rules to speed up baseball games were instituted in 2015. But don’t be mistaken; it remains one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s top initiatives.  And frankly, he’s fighting a losing battle right now.

Game times are up in 2016, surpassing the dreaded three-hour mark as of mid-May. The biggest culprit? There’s just more of stuff. More pitches, more walks, more strikeouts and more balls staying out of play. Those add up, and you had the perfect storm Friday night when the Rockies hosted the Diamondbacks.

It took 4 fours and 30 minutes for the D’Backs to pull off the 10-9 comeback victory. The game time bested a 15-year National League record for longest nine-inning game by 3 minutes. The previous record-holder was a Dodgers-Giants tilt from 2001.

This one had all the ingredients for a extraordinarily long game: 19 runs; 30 hits; 13 walks; 16 strikeouts (eh, that’s not too bad); six mid-inning pitching changes (serenity now!).

As pointed out by the Rockies’ SB Nation blog, Purple Row, the teams combined for 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That is pretty amazing to fathom but easy to understand when you see that there were 12 doubles (tied for the most in a game this year), six stolen bases, five errors, three wild pitches, two balks and all of those damn walks. There were actually 60 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and imagine how much longer this game would have lasted if the teams had hit better than .196 in those RISP situations.

I never want to complain about game times; my life is always better at the ballpark. But it’s games like this one that make Manfred tear out what’s remaining of his hair. Moreover, there’s really nothing he can do to stop these types of games from occurring. For all of his rules and suggestions, he can’t force pitchers to throw strikes. He can’t stop fielders from booting balls. He can’t stop hitters from taking so many pitches. Like the fans, he just has to sit there and wait for the game to, at some point, end.

Most Los Angelenos will spend yet another year without Vin Scully on their TVs

The Los Angeles Dodgers have a lot of things going for them right now. A viable championship roster. A forward-thinking front office that knows how to properly construct said roster. A glut of resources with which to improve the team. An incredibly deep farm system. Clayton Kershaw. Corey Seager. Yasiel Puig. A stadium with history but one that doesn’t feel archaic. Some new food items that, unlike abominable creations at other parks, won’t kill you just by looking at them. And, given the home city, aforementioned payroll, on-field product and the good sight lines, tickets to a Dodgers game remain generally affordable. 

The Dodgers also have Vin Scully. Unfortunately, most television-watching Southern Californians can’t say the same thing. The latest chapter in this depressing tome about the Dodgers’ maladroit and expensive TV deal with Time Warner Cable came Thursday. Following another failed attempt to strike an agreement wherein pay-TV providers such as DirecTV and Cox Communications would carry the Dodgers’ flagship station, SportsNet LA, a TWC spokesman said this:

“[Outstanding TV providers] rejected every offer we’ve made. … We’ve offered short-term deals and long-term deals, we’ve lowered the price by 30%, we’ve asked for arbitration, we’ve offered … the same thing they charge for their regional sports networks, we’ve told them we’d meet them any time, anywhere to negotiate and nothing has worked.”

And with that, more than half of the people living in the Los Angeles area will be without the Dodgers on TV for the third consecutive season.

I assume many locals in this predicament have grown accustomed to not seeing the Dodgers on TV. I know I have. Yet it sure doesn’t make this situation — which is mostly about corporate greed — any less frustrating.

I understand why those providers have not agreed to TWC’s terms. Many people in Los Angeles don’t care to watch the Dodgers. Some others care, but not enough to see their cable bills go up another $3-5 per month. In a world with so many ways to consume TV programming and where Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are producing their own original content, DirecTV, Cox and other carriers fear that throwing another channel onto the heap that many of their subscribers don’t want but have to pay for will cause them to cut the cord, as millions have done already.

This stalemate could be solved if TWC agreed to make SportsNet LA a premium channel that would give those who want the channel the option to pay for it and give those who don’t want it the option to bypass it. However, TWC is having none of that. After paying out $8.35 billion for the rights to the Dodgers for a quarter-century and after losing $100 million on the channel in 2014 and 2015, Time Warner isn’t looking to cover more losses.

But this isn’t just another season for the Dodgers. It’s Scully’s 67th and final one as the voice of the team. That fact has unfortunately led to some narrow-minded guilt-tripping from the MLB Commissioner’s office regarding the Time Warner fiasco. Said Rob Manfred a couple of weeks ago:

“The distribution dispute involving DirecTV, AT&T, COX and Verizon has gone on too long. The Dodgers’ massive fan base deserves to be able to watch Dodger games regardless of their choice of provider. The situation is particularly acute given that this is Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully’s final season.”

Yes, if only there was a way for fans to watch more of their home team’s games. Major League Baseball wouldn’t know how to make that happen through MLB.TV, would they? No, of course they wouldn’t.

For local Dodgers fans still without SportsNet LA, there are a few routes you can go if you want to listen to Scully:

  1. Dust off that radio. Vin, even at age 88, does simulcasts for the first three innings on AM 570.
  2. Try something a little underhanded. Bypass MLB.tv’s blackout rules by obtaining a VPN or DNS server, make it look like you are actually watching from Mexico, connect your computer to your TV — like these guys did — and enjoy. 
  3. Cave in and go get yourself some Time Warner, Charter, Brighthouse or Champion cable.

Or you can come on out to the ballgame. You won’t hear Scully unless you are sitting directly underneath the press box that bears his name, but just for those who want to see the Dodgers more often, a ticket for a view like the one below will run you somewhere between $15-$35 depending on that game’s opponent and promotion. That’s not too bad. You know that a franchise with MLB’s highest-payroll, second-highest value and three consecutive division titles could demand more.IMG_1009.JPG

At least the drive of avarice at the center of the Dodgers’ TV dispute hasn’t reached the prices of tickets on some levels. Yet.

Happy 2016 MLB Opening Days!

It’s just one game. But over the next two days, it’s one game that fans of each Major League Baseball team have been waiting five months to see. There is nothing like Opening Day. It’s the day when my parents let me skip school as a kid. It’s the day with results which people will overrate, clearly ignorant to the fact that this day represents 0.62 percent of the marathon to come.

Today and tomorrow are important because they are first. There are no grand narratives to craft yet. We can all enjoy the spectacle without stressing about unmet expectations, playoff positioning, momentum, tired legs, etc. So savor it. Get excited about it. Don’t make too much of it, because every team will be doing this 161 more times through the next six months. But there is nothing like the first one.

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Here’s a glass-half-full thought for fans of bad MLB teams

hang_in_there_baby_cat_motivational_posterOne of the reasons why I’m hyped for the 2016 MLB season — other than the fact that baseball is awesome at all times — is the wealth of seemingly competitive teams in the league. They won’t all be competitive by the end, of course. But put another way, there is a very small number of teams I think we can safely rule out of the playoffs right now. That’s exciting.

In the American League, I’m pretty certain the Athletics will be missing out on October. I feel similarly about the Angels and White Sox, but one of those teams has Mike Trout. The other has the duo of Jose Abreu and Chris Sale. With those talents in tow, anything can happen. So, perhaps the entire AL has only one team that seems probable to miss the playoffs.

In the National League, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is wide and crystal clear. The Marlins are the NL’s purgatory team, somewhere between heaven and hell. Beneath them are six that are simply looking toward the future right now. And then everyone else, all eight other teams in the NL, have legitimate World Series aspirations. Not only do they believe they can make it that far (most every team believes that or wants to believe that right now), those guys have the pieces to get there. 

I am simply fascinated by the National League this year. The American League has a lot of potentially good teams, but would you be shocked if a specific one of them didn’t make the postseason? Perhaps it would be surprising if the Blue Jays or the Astros were left out, but there seems to be a fine line between division winner and third-place finisher throughout the AL.

However, in the National League, I see eight teams that are not just good; if everything goes right, they can be overwhelmingly great. Between the Dodgers, Giants, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Mets and Nationals, it’s difficult for me to comprehend just how at least three of those squads are going to be left on the outside looking in when the regular season closes. Yet, that’s going to happen, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

While those teams are vying for their spot atop the mountain, a handful will be left at the base. 

Well, no matter how bleak it looks, you can never rule out a ’69 Mets or ’14 Royals-esque turnaround. But the odds are that the Athletics, Phillies, Braves, Padres, Rockies, Brewers and Reds will be bad this season. At times, embarrassingly so.

Instead of dwelling on that high failure rate to come, think this way if you pull for one of those also-rans: 

Your favorite team may win only 60 games this year. Maybe 65. You know what that means? That means there will be 60-65 days over the next six months where you will have something to smile about. At least 60-65 days where you will be happy. Maybe for no more than a fleeting moment, but happy nonetheless. And no matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of happy days

In sheer numbers, no other major team sport comes close to offering as much joy for the hapless. The worst teams in the NFL may win two or three times over a four-month span. The Philadelphia 76ers have won nine games since late October and just twice since Groundhog Day. The NHL’s downtrodden could win only 25-30 games in a full season.

In Major League Baseball, you get double that. And that’s only if your team is exceptionally awful. Your boys make work their way up to 70 or even 75 victories. So. many. smiles. 

Just something to keep in mind as the season officially begins this Sunday. Only 10 teams can make the playoffs, and some teams have no realistic postseason hopes. But baseball still gives rooters of the most inept plenty of occasions to feel good from now through Oct. 2. All you’ve got to do is make sure you don’t take them for granted. Then find your own way to make those other 90-100 days enjoyable. 

2016 MLB predictions: divisions, awards, the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle

March 30, 2016 Leave a comment

joshdonaldsonmlb16-1024x578

Now that I’ve published what I consider to be the possible high and low points for every team, let’s keep the guessing game going with a look into what will happen by the end of this season.

Because you know how good I am with predictions.

American League East

1. Toronto Blue Jays (No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs)
2. Boston Red Sox (4)
3. New York Yankees
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. Baltimore Orioles

Toronto’s offense is unmatched. But with Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and a strong bullpen, the Jays are much more than a bunch of bats. The Red Sox so desperately want to make up for last year’s failure, and they will to a point. David Price cures a lot of ails, but how far that team goes really hinges on the well-being of Clay Buchholz and their aged stalwarts.

American League Central

1. Cleveland Indians (3)
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Chicago White Sox

I’m assuming Michael Brantley has no further problems with his repaired shoulder. That pitching staff should be the best in the division. Detroit should hit a ton, and its new bullpen looks nice. I have them just below Cleveland because I don’t trust Anibal Sanchez to stay healthy, and the starters behind him in the rotation are a mystery. And no, I will never learn my lesson about doubting the Royals. I’m a stubborn person, OK?

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Best-case/worst-case scenarios for every MLB team in 2016

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment

question-marks-300x300You know the adage that is hammered into every team preview column at this time of year: Hope springs eternal. That hope is then extinguished pretty early for some teams. Really, really early for others. But we should all be optimists in March.  So, here’s what I consider to be the best-case scenario for each team on the field this season.

However, I’m also a realist. “Winning the World Series” isn’t a down-to-earth possibility for everyone. Conversely, there is no chance that the Cubs — even the Cubs — will lose 100-plus games. Consider this list a sensible results spectrum for each team. “Sensible results spectrum” just doesn’t sound catchy as a title.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Best Case: All that action in December pays off as Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller head a staff with a good amount of complementary talent. Patrick Corbin more closely resembles his 2013 form. The offense remains potent, and 36-year-old Brad Ziegler follows up a solid 2015 by continuing to make hitters pound the ball into the dirt. A division crown is very possible, and a trip to the NLCS isn’t out of the question.

Worst Case: This is basically a repeat of the 2015 Padres: Winning the offseason doesn’t promise success over the summer. Miller has an understandable regression, turning the rotation into Greinke followed by a bunch of guys. The offense will still be productive, but the likes of David Peralta and Yasmany Tomas don’t do enough to support Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Who knows if this will all mesh? If it doesn’t, third place is where they will land

Atlanta Braves

Best Case: For some teams, winning right now isn’t really what’s best for the club. The Braves are one such team. What’s best for them is seeing some of their young players (Ender Inciarte, Julio Teheran, Matt Wisler, Aaron Blair, etc.) provide hope for the future, a healthy Freddie Freeman, and a lot of losses so they can maximize their draft pool and couple Dansby Swanson with another No. 1 overall pick.

Worst Case: Freeman battles more injuries. Atlanta’s green pitchers get thoroughly battered around the league. Coming out to Turner Field only serves to remind fans how the Braves are technically deserting Atlanta and a relatively young ballpark to get their hands on some more sweet, sweet public money where a lot of rich white folks live. No hope.

Baltimore Orioles

Best Case: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Matt Weiters, J.J. Hardy, Jonathan Schoop, Mark Trumbo, Pedro Alvarez. This team should lead the sport in home runs, so that’s cool. If the starting rotation can be league average collectively, the O’s can slide their way into a Wild Card spot.

Worst Case: The starting rotation is as much of a tire fire as many expect. That unit lost Wei-Yin Chen and basically replaced him with a Yovani Gallardo who is becoming more hittable. Weiters still can’t shake the injury bug. In the game’s deepest division and bereft of an arm they can depend on to stop a losing streak when the strikeout-happy bats are slumping, Baltimore could find itself in last place comfortably

Boston Red Sox

Best Case: What was supposed to be in 2015 comes to fruition in 2016. All of the vets are able to stay healthy. Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez endear themselves to Red Sox Nation. David Ortiz gets one more shot at October magic. The duo of David Price and Clay Buchholz dominate, and the back end of the bullpen with Craig Kimbrel is no longer a point of great consternation for the Sawx. This squad has World Series potential

Worst Case: Another huge letdown. Price remains great, but the rotation otherwise is a mess. Buchholz hardly makes it past 100 innings again. Carson Smith’s elbow injury subtracts a critical late-inning weapon. First base becomes Ramirez’s latest comical defensive venture. With Sandoval, people talk more about his fat than his bat. Father Time continues to wear on Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia. Fourth place and another finish behind the Yankees.

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