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The new ‘Killer Bs.’ And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

e8ec8ab8a39705da6c6bcb54c7e664ccIf you are a baseball fan and were born before, say, 1990, the nickname “Killer Bs” should create a distinct image in your mind.

Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and a revolving door of players made up Houston Astros’ trio of “Killer Bs” from the late-90s and early 2000s. I’m not sure why everyone felt the need to always group Biggio and Bagwell with a third alliterative surname, but that’s how it was done. I guess three bees are so much more intimidating than a measly duo of bees. I can’t say since one actual bee is enough to send this phobic man into a catatonic state.

In the ’90s, Derek Bell or Sean Berry played the role of the third man. (I think Bill Spires even snuck in there for a bit too). At the turn of the millennium, Lance Berkman fit right in. Carlos Beltran was part of the band for a few incredible weeks in 2004. But Chris Burke was never included. I don’t know what the makers of that poster were thinking. Also, the nickname shouldn’t have an apostrophe. But I digress.

Together, Biggio, Bagwell and the other guy were the “Killer Bs.”

That time has passed, and the nickname’s legacy remains pretty much in tact, at least in baseball. The Pittsburgh Steelers are using it to describe Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and, when he’s not suspended, Martavis Bryant. Honestly, the usage there makes more sense on the surface considering the Steelers’ uniform color scheme.

But it’s time for baseball to dust it off and get it to catch on across the country en masse with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. 

Too soon? Yeah. Collectively, they have fewer than 4,000 MLB at-bats between them. Bradley looked like an overrated prospect prior to 2016, and Betts has just one full season under his belt. Biggio is a Hall of Famer, Bagwell should be one, and both were established studs by the time they were tagged with the moniker 20 years ago.

But baseball should be doing whatever it can to market its young stars — Bradley Jr. is the elder at 26; Betts and Bogaerts are 23 — and three all-around quality ballplayers in a big, diehard baseball market seems like a perfect opportunity. I know baseball is strongest at the local level; its low national ratings are commonly overrated when discussing the sport’s well-being. That doesn’t mean baseball should just ignore attempts to get fans everywhere interested in particular players. Why not make Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. poster children?

Bradley Jr. was already a spotlight player in May as his hitting streak was the top story around the league — whenever Clayton Kershaw wasn’t pitching. And when Bradley’s streak stopped at 29 games, Betts took over the lead by hitting basically every ball he saw out of the park. In the span of seven at-bats on Tuesday and Wednesday, Betts hit five home runs. Meanwhile, Bogaerts entered tonight leading Major League Baseball in hits and batting average. That’s all.

Sell that burgeoning talent, that youth, and the excitement those three create on the diamond, package it with a gimmick that ties eras together and see what happens. And yes, the fact that all three are not white should make this an even more important matter to the powers that be.

At the very least, wait a year, let David Ortiz have the going-away party he deserves and then plaster these guys all over any media outlet you have. I trust that none of them fall into a horrendous slump that sees them benched or flown back to the minors. In the near future, they may even be batting back-t0-back-to-back in the Red Sox’s order. Plus, Boston is their baseball home, so the “Killer Bs” will be playing in the “B-hive?” OK, that’s a little ridiculous. Or a lot ridiculous.

I think a committed, multi-player nationwide campaign would be fun. I’m a Yankees fan, and I have loved watching Betts, Bogaerts and Bradley Jr. this year. I think everyone outside of Boston and who doesn’t pay for the MLB Extra Innings package would love them as well. Baseball should expose them to the hilt and keep alive the charm of the “Killer Bs” nickname.

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Sunday was all about crazy comebacks in baseball

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment
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Movie, good. Baseball, better.

I saw “The Jungle Book” today. Very entertaining. Even with so many of today’s movies being overwhelmed by computer graphics, the CGI in this movie is outstanding. If there is a criticism, it’s that, other than the wolf pack and a couple others in the forest, there seems to be only one of each animal. One panther. One tiger. One snake. One bear. Forget about the one human boy among the wild; someone needs to investigate what befell so many of the species in this ecosystem.

But that’s all I did Sunday. Otherwise, I relaxed and watched some baseball. However, it’s difficult to relax when you are on the edge of your seat, and that’s where a handful of games put me. There were some wholeheartedly “good” games — Mets-Braves, Cardinals-Padres and Marlins-Giants were all tense late — but four games specifically turned this lazy Sunday into a crazy one.

Let’s start chronologically and with perhaps the wildest game of the bunch: Twins-Nationals. Stephen Strasburg was the story for the first seven innings. But in the eighth, he challenged Brian Dozier with one too many fastballs, and Dozier sent Strasburg’s 114th and final pitch way out for a three-run homer that gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead.

The Nats got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth. Then in the ninth, Dusty Baker made a brilliant managerial move: He sent Bryce Harper to the plate. What a strategy.

Harper had been given the day off, but in a one-run game, it was time for him to get involved.

Harper took a couple of hacks that made it known he wants to hit this ball into the Atlantic. I’m not sure why Kevin Jepsen gave him the chance — so what if you walk Bryce Harper? Throw it out of the zone, for goodness sake — but his low fastball wasn’t low enough. Unless you’re a Twins fan, click here to feel all the chills.

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Recapping some of baseball’s weird, wild (and slightly testy) opening week

April 11, 2016 Leave a comment

The 2016 MLB season is eight days old, and take a gander at just some of the crazy things that have happened so far:

— The player of the week was Trevor Story, a rookie barely included inside Baseball America’s or Baseball Prospectus’ preseason top 10 rankings of Rockies prospects who leads the world in home runs. I’m not sure which is the greater: the number of rookie, team, league and start-of-season records Story set this past week or the number of “Story” puns used by headline writers across the nation.

— Two games ended due to a violation by a runner coming into second base. One incident had everything to do with the new “Chase Utley rule.” One incident had nothing to do with Chase Utley and everything to do with a previously unenforced rule.

— Those replay reviews led to some understandably upset ballplayers and managers. But it seemed like an inordinate number of people were feeling crusty during the opening week. John Gibbons, in response to the Blue Jays’ loss following Jose Bautista’s interference, suggested that his team would wear dresses for their next game. Mariners manager Scott Servais and Rangers manager Jeff Banister exchanged some heated words. Thom Brennaman didn’t hide his disdain for Odubel Herrera’s home plate routine. If people are this ornery in April, what are we going to have when the summer heat starts aggravating everyone?

— The Dodgers didn’t allow a run in their season-opening series against the Padres. In a related story, the Padres didn’t score a run in their season-opening series against the Dodgers. It was the first three-game shutout series to begin a season since 1963.  The Dodgers then allowed 12 runs in their next game, and the Padres scored 29 run in their next two games.

— It was a big week for pitchers hitting homers, because chicks dig the long ball. Madison Bumgarner homered off of Clayton Kershaw for the second time in his career. Kenta Maeda sent one deep in his first MLB game. And none of Trevor Story’s seven home runs traveled as far as this 440-foot shot from Jake Arrieta.

— More fun with pitchers batting: Francisco Liriano picked up the season’s first RBI.

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

March 30, 2016 Leave a comment

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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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Who Let Larry Bernandez pitch for the Seattle Mariners tonight?

I thought I read this morning that Felix Hernandez would be taking the mound in Houston tonight. I mean, that’s what the Internet told me. I trusted it.

But as the bottom of the first inning between the Mariners and Astros transpired, I felt as if I had been lied to. That couldn’t have been Felix. It just couldn’t have been.

Hernandez made it through all of one-third of an inning, allowing eight runs on five hits, two walks and an error of his own doing. With that performance, Hernandez became just the second Cy Young Award winner to permit that many runs in 0.1 innings, joining Fergie Jenkins’ abomination from 1980.

Eight earned runs matches a career high for Felix that dates back to Aug. 28, 2013 versus the Rangers. Because he gave up six more hits in that outing, his career-low game score of four is safe. Tonight’s game score? Eight. But no one would say Felix pitched “better;” he was just put out of his misery sooner.

The length of the start is noteworthy for its rarity as well. Hernandez lasting just a third of an inning has happened only once before: He recorded one out in a 2007 start before departing due to a right forearm injury. Perhaps a physical ailment can be blamed for what happened in Houston?

It’s not like this was Felix’s first poor start of the season or even of this month. He got shelled for seven runs at home against the Yankees on June 1, and after issuing 13 walks through his first 70.2 innings, Felix has handed out 10 walks in his last 12 innings. His strikeout rate has been OK — his only out in Houston came by way of the K — and there doesn’t seem to be anything worrisome going on with his velocity. The best-case scenario is that this was just a really, really, really bad night for “The King.”

A Bunch Of Notes On Matt Cain And His Perfect Game

I said last night, after they hit their first homer in their past 16 home games, that the San Francisco Giants’ offense would bust out for something historic, probably, on Wednesday. Well, the offense did hit three more home runs tonight, but real history came from the mound.

Matt Cain threw the 22nd perfect game in MLB history against the Houston Astros. He did so with 125 pitches, the most thrown during a perfect game in recorded history. He also struck out 14 batters, tied for the most in a perfecto with Sandy Koufax’s flawless gem from Sept. 9, 1965. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

  • Matt Cain’s game score from tonight was 101. Obviously, it’s tied with Koufax as the highest score in a perfect game.
  • That 101 is the second-best score for any pitcher in any nine-inning game. Only Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout performance in 1998 was better — 105. There are certainly higher game scores, but most of those were registered back in the time of and before World War II, when men were men and starting pitchers were just getting warmed up once the 12th inning rolled around.
  • That is certainly the highest game score of this season. But before it, Philip Humber’s perfect game and another Matt Cain outing were tied at the top with a score of 96.
  • Cain joins Humber as the second duo of perfect pitchers to throw their special game in the same season. Dallas Braden and Roy Halladay both turned the trick in 2009, meaning that in the first 133 years of universally recognized major league baseball, there were 18 perfect games. There have now been four in the past three years. And we know it should have been five.
  • This was the first perfect game in the 130-season history of the New York Gothams/New York Giants/San Francisco Giants.