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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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The Angels were *this close* to having a Rally Cat

mlbf_688810883_th_45I am a cat person. Not to be confused with a crazy cat person, but cats are better than dogs. I grew up with a few of each, and cats, while obviously being more independent and self-sufficient, can be just as loving. If you disagree with that last sentence, you haven’t found the right cat for you, but they are out there and are absolutely the best.

On Thursday night, two of my greatest loves, cats and baseball, collided and almost formed a beautiful long-term relationship.

In the bottom of the fourth inning at Angel Stadium, a cat — I’ll call it an orange tabby, although I’m sure a true feline aficionado can correct me — dashed across the middle of the infield during the Cardinals-Angels game. And this being a 2016 Angels game, a cat on the field is the usually the most exciting non-Trout play of the night.

051216_laa_cat_onthe_field_medres_rok8epvs.gif

But this was no ordinary night. The Cards and Angels slugged it out until a nearly four-hour affair ended in St. Louis’ favor, 12-10. The Angels’ TV broadcasters said repeatedly during the game that if the Angels were able to win this one, that cat had to become the franchise’s unofficial mascot. Which would have been fine by everyone, since the Rally Monkey’s best days occurred when “Gettin Jiggy Wit It” was nesting in your brain.

Alas, Los Angeles’ comeback attempt in the ninth fell short, and I assume this will be forgotten shortly. Maybe some PR intern will come up with a funny campaign using the cat, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The cat, which is apparently one of a few strays that live in and around the park, seems to be getting its chance at a happy ending:

I would take it in if I could, especially because you know what happens to those animals if they don’t find a home soon, right? Actually, let’s not think about that.

Viva the Cat-lifornia Angels!

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. 

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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Finally, The 2013 MLB Season Is Here. Picks and Predictions Abound

March 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Four years ago, the World Baseball Classic served as a welcome distraction during a long spring training. With the WBC’s help, February and March flew by. Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast became real; he must not have seen his shadow in 2009, because spring arrived mighty early. It was MLB Opening Day after a couple of blinks.

Or maybe that was all a dream? I don’t know. Maybe the fact that I spent all of March 2009 attending spring training and WBC games in Florida made the days pass quickly. I don’t have a good explanation, because this spring dragged on like a filibuster, and the World Baseball Classic actually made it seem even longer. It’s been torturous. However, the Rangers and Astros played a game that actually mattered tonight, and we are now mere hours outside of baseball salvation known as Opening Day. So, it’s time to roll out everybody’s favorite dart-throwing contest: season predictions.

I usually put a lot of thought into this exercise, but now I view it much like composing a March Madness bracket: You can do all the research you want, but you are still going to be very, very wrong. So with zero abandon for what lies ahead, I closed my eyes and jotted down season standings, award winners and postseason results. Let’s see what my idle hands came up with.

 

American League East

1. Toronto Blue Jays

Yes, this division could go a thousand different ways (Actually, it could go 120 ways, mathematically speaking. But let’s not get caught up in the details). I’m not worried about chemistry or “learning how to win” or playing in a historically stout division. This team is loaded. When you have Josh Johnson as your fourth starter, you’ve got a pretty damn good squad.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

Here is my first Wild Card winner. I’m expecting a big step forward from Seth MacFarlane, errrrr, I mean, Matt Moore. News flash: It would really help if Evan Longoria could stay healthy.

3.  Boston Red Sox:

You know the AL East is crazy when the Blue Jays and the Rays are the steadiest teams in the division, without question. There are a whole lot more questions than answers after those two. The Red Sox may have the  most issues of any team in this division as they are filled with injury-prone hitters, and pitchers looking to rebound. But if everything breaks right, they’ll be good enough to barely miss the playoffs. 

4. New York Yankees

It’s a long season, but how many bad omens and big injuries can one franchise stand? If Robinson Cano gets hurt … mother of God.

5. Baltimore Orioles

I picked the O’s to finish fifth last year. Look at how well that turned out. Seriously, there is no way that pitching staff, especially the relievers, can be that good again. 

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Zack Greinke Pitches 5 Innings, Gets 13 Guys To Strike Out. Do The Math

September 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Dealing (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

I had a little Facebook conversation with a couple of friends a few days ago about who we think are the “ace” pitchers in baseball. My list includes a bunch of obvious choices — Kershaw, Verlander, Weaver, Felix, Lee and others. They are pitchers who have been consistently dominant for a series of years.

Where does Zack Greinke fit in? There’s no doubt that Greinke was flat-out transcendent in 2009. Since then, it just feels like he’s been good and not much more. Sometimes special, sometimes rocky. He has just been uneven since winning the Cy Young. His home/road splits have been fairly drastic for the past couple of years. So no, while it’s difficult for me to say it, I don’t think Greinke is a true ace.

….

Yeeeeaaaaaaah, about that ….

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Mike Trout: The First 162 Games

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

On Friday night, the Angels beat the Royals tonight, 9-7. Mike Trout helped out with a couple of hits in six at-bats with a run scored.

It marked a small milestone for Trout as he has now played in a full season’s worth of games. Much like how everyone critiques what a president does during his first 100 days in office, here’s just a handful of things “The Supernatural” has done during his first 162 days on the field.

First, the basic slash line: .309/.374/.531.

In words, really, really good. Even better when you consider that includes Trout’s 40-game stint from 2010 during which he hit. 200  and OPS’ed less than .700. It just shows you how ridiculous he has been this season.

It’s the ultimate in random endpoints, and we have no idea where Trout will go from here; he may have a degenerative leg condition for all we know, like Bo Jackson. But Trout is one of just 34 players with at least 600 career plate appearances to post a career .300/.370/.530 line.

Surely some have reached those marks before only to fall back, but level with me here. Twenty-two of the players on that list are retired and 17 of them are in the Hall of Fame. Mike Piazza will be in time. Of the 11 other active players, I would put eight in the Hall right now, steroids controversies aside.

Drawing a line from Point A to Point B … get Mike Trout to Cooperstown, N.Y. right now!

OK, whatever … put him on standby.

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