Checking out Jeremy White's twitter feed. Considering just quitting.
What a busy week it has been at DGWU Sports! Between news of the NHL Lockout and our battles with the various personalities at WGR for refusing, as is their custom, to engage with viewpoints other than (a) their own, or (b) those of the mouthbreathers who call into WGR and make it their mission to express their vehement disdain for everything in the world, there was a LOT to discuss when we gathered Wednesday night. More shots were fired and kindling put onto the world of Buffalo sports media so that we can continue to watch it burn. Heh. Sports.
Oh, and there are those Buffalo Bills, too, which is actually where we started in segment one as we recapped the shit show that was Sunday with the Deeg. Bills @ Cardinals was by no means an enjoyable time, but recapping the fun times we had and the trainwreck of a game ended up being pretty fun/depressing/rage-inducing.
In segment two we welcomed Colin Bruckel, one of the founders of TheHosers.com
, a site we have linked to for a while and which provides stellar insight about the legal issues surrounding professional hockey and, in particular, the CBA. Colin's assessment of the current CBA negotiations was as interesting and well-presented as any I've heard, and it is an understatement to say that we were lucky to have him on. I would note, however, that since our discussion took place before the NHLPA presented its own offers to the league (and before Bettman rejected them immediately), you'll want to keep an eye on his site for more hot legal takes. Or you could continue being ignorant and just keep listening to the superficialities of sports talk radio.
Segment three brings it back to our wheelhouse of inappropriateness and ill-conceived sports takes as we talk the USMNT's win on Tuesday, the NBA's new policy restricting pre-game celebrations, Apologist's suicidal ideations following the Orioles' elimination from the playoffs, and our predictions for the Bills/Titans game this weekend. I must add that we had intended to talk more about (read: make fun of) Shawne Merriman's return to Buffalo, but had to toss that to the back burner so we'd have time to talk about the more pressing issues of gloating about our intellectual superiority over talk radio hosts. It's a burden, really. In any event, I'm hopeful that Merriman's second tenure in the 716 will give us plenty of opportunities to point and laugh.
Musical interludes this week are provided by Broken Bells, Gov't Mule & REO Speedwagon, as well as - of course - The Jambrones.
Download here and stream below, or check out our Libsyn
page or iTunes button below where you can get all of our archived podcasts and subscribe for future hot, aural takes.
Are you fucking serious?
Lost in the haze of last night's epic USMNT win at the Azteca was the circus, clown shoes shenanigans of Dusty Baker, as the Reds manager chose gamesmanship over common sense, and gave Mets fans another reason to hate his stupid, fat face.
Up 1-0 in the second inning against my lowly Mets, Baker successfully prodded the umpire to instruct RA Dickey to remove two bracelets from his wrist. Two bracelets that had been given to him by his daughters before he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro last winter, and which he has worn in every one of his magical starts this season - not to mention his All Star Game innings earlier this summer. Dickey complied - how couldn't he - later conceding that, well, rules are rules. Dickey would go on to give up three homers and the Mets lost 6-1.
Advantage DB, I guess.
One of the many things I missed while I was out.
Cue the milquetoast opener:
Well gosh darnit, fans of the Deeg, I know you've been eagerly awaiting content from the Kings of Fresh Takes and like the degenerates we are, we've opted to tend to our real world lives instead of bloviating about the latest in bread and circus sports entertainment. Why the lull? Well, personally, my answer to that question has three parts: (1) it's July and I've been getting viciously hamzoed more often than I should admit (hooray anonymous internet monikers!!); (2) I've been traveling a lot over the past 10 days, aforementionedly (not a word?) drunk for 70% of it (not true... not not true either), and I've simply been too drunk and/or hungover and/or distracted to sit down for a little chat; and (3) the only bright spots in my sports world are a surging team in a still ignored league (for now) and an utterly unproven team in the best league in America (for now). Forgive me if I don't jump for joy at the prospect of dwelling on shit that makes me contemplate a swift union between my fist and Fred Wilpon's balls.
But more on those Mets in a few. I can't lead of this trainwreck with that much heartache.
Can't you tell this is going to be FUN??? I'm bored and drunk on a train and you all get the fruits of my labor!
Wait... we need music.
A day removed from taking LeBron to task for being a gigantic shit burger (despite also being an incredible player), it seems fitting that I'd get to stay up for a late, west coast Mets game and watch the antithesis of that on the mound. In a league with no cap, there's this guy who makes $3.9 million a year - less than Derek "Tossed Salad Roy" and Ville "The Finnish Rusty Trombone" Leino - and who is, inexplicably, right now, the best at what he does. He's so dominant that hitters laugh when they swing at his stuff. Laughing, somehow, an appropriate response because the only other logical reaction would be a temper tantrum. And no one really wants that.
I kind of fell out of love with baseball during the steroids era, as many did, and when I got brought back in to watch my family rejoice at the 2004 Red Sox win, only to find some of its heroes - Curt Schilling, for example - to be humongous dicks, I grew wary again. Sure, the Mets have been an exception, but even that has been a marriage of convenience in a sense, offset by their awful play, sometimes tough to take fan base and felonious ownership.
I was tempted to title this post "The Hero Baseball Needed?" but thought against it because it probably would have shown my ignorance to many great stars across the league - ones who perform at a high level while also being eminently likeable. Dickey, though, is certainly the hero I needed in baseball. I said it earlier this season, and it's only becoming more true - this Mets team has got me going all in.
And Robert Allen Dickey is reason #1.
He's 12-1, his ERA is 2.15, he averages just under 9 strikeouts a game, and four years ago, few of us had ever heard of him.
Unlike some stars who get pulled into the hype machine of the Network, almost forcing us to despise the guy at the center of it all out of principle, there's nothing to not like about what we're getting out of R.A. He's, comparably, vastly underpaid, he's well-liked by anyone and everyone, and he licensed his image to be on one of the best tshirts ever made.
So, if you're on the fence about baseball and need a reason to watch and have, apparently, been living under a rock during his recent dominance, start watching the Mets every five games and see the best hitters in the game get straight up befuddled at what this 37 year old knuckler does.
Last Sunday I was lying on my couch, generally incapacitated from the type of Sunday hangover that comes but a few times a year ... or whenever your girlfriend leaves town for a weekend to visit family and you suddenly become indifferent to the amount of vodka you’re consuming during pre-gaming. My credit card was at the bar so my attempts to order pizza had failed, and my car was still at a bar from Friday so until after dinner I was stranded in the house. Luckily the Red Sox game was on, so I stared at it in the way negligent parents will throw on a Pixar movie to keep their kids quiet and distracted for a couple hours. From the start, something was different. On his first at-bat Youkilis got a standing ovation, which the TBS broadcast team referred to as “bizarre,” but I found completely logical in the context of trade talks heating up and Will Middlebrooks’ emergence at third base, and the resulting possibility that any game could be Youk’s last in a Sox uniform.
That David Wells passes for a television broadcaster in today’s pathetic media landscape is bizarre. The crowd reactions on Sunday were not. But I digress.
After a couple more standing ovations and a triple that could easily have been scored an error, Bobby Valentine lifted the former all-star to give him a chance to enter the dugout with all the Fenway cheers for himself, punctuated with a couple of curtain calls for good measure. While the broadcasters once again could muster nothing more than confusion, any reasonable fan could discern that Youk either had been traded or was about to be traded, but was nevertheless done in Boston. I knew I was supposed to feel something for a player that had been one of the best hitters in the league for so many consecutive years; certainly I knew my friends that rooted for the Yankees were happy to see him go after I spent years hearing how much they hated his “stupid face” in the way I hate Teixieira’s stupid horseface. But really all I could muster as he sank into the dugout and disappeared down the tunnel was one thought: It’s over already?
Don’t get me wrong, I loved his intensity, I loved his hustle and believe me, when you cheer for someone nicknamed the “Greek God of Walks,” you gain a certain affinity for watching four pitches land outside the strike zone. Sure there were injuries, yet he was dependable despite them in a way, where you knew if he was in the lineup, you would be getting his best. Maybe he was cursed by the era he played for the Sox, arriving just as the fan base started expecting a dynasty, just as anything short of a World Series championship became a massive disappointment for a city that was already beyond spoiled. He was clutch in his own way, coming alive in the final three games of the 2007 ALCS, hitting a bomb off CC Sabathia in game five, but still, those three games are remembered by me for JD Drew’s only big hit as a Red Sox and the Indians’ collapse. Sure, he played seventy-some games in 2004 but I think few fans would think of him as a member of that team. Which again leads to my bewilderment at how fast the time went.
In the movie High Fidelity
, John Cusack’s character "Rob" is left by his long time girlfriend for another man. After a period of soul searching they get back together and while there is no longer that excitement, that crazy head-over-heels feeling, he describes things as “just…good.” In the end, for Rob, that was enough.
To me that was Youkilis. He never did anything that left me in awe, he never made me feel like the team couldn’t survive without him, but he got the hits, sparked the clubhouse, and - mercifully - never drove me to such frustration that I wanted to drive my car over a cliff. He was just…good. There’s nothing wrong with good. I loved Manny Ramirez, for instance, as he would do things that I still think about to this day. But I can also picture him having two errors in one inning of Game One of the 2004 World Series, leading me to unleash a torrent of obscenities from my mouth that gets me angry typing this eight years later. Now that - that’s love, with its highs and its lows. Youk, on the other hand, was dependable. Never flashy and never had moments that endeared me to him in that same, intense way, but I’ll always be thankful that he was on my team during that time. That - that’s comfort, complacency. But after being in that place with crazy highest-highs and lowest-lows love, one can really appreciate comfort and complacency. One can really appreciate just…good.
In a way, maybe he got screwed by 2004. If Dave Roberts gets tagged out in Game Four, the Yankees complete the sweep and, assuming the Red Sox get it done in 2007 as they did, Youk is remembered as one of the heroes of the organization, the guy with the clubhouse intensity that pushed the team over the Indians to reverse the curse after 89 years.
Instead you’ll have fans unable to remember his name 20 years from now, while at the same time will roll off “Mark Bellhorn” without difficulty. That sucks for him. And it's what sucks about feeling that feeling I had on Sunday about the time passing too quickly. I still wanted him to be able to do more, to get another ring, to hit that walk-off in the playoffs. To have that twilight, legacy-cementing moment that would ensure he wouldn’t be forgotten. Instead he’s in a White Sox uniform and now I’m left to define his career around one World Series and a myriad of relative disappointment, especially 2008 and 2011, years when those around him should have put the finishing touches on a dynasty and instead faltered against teams that never approached them in terms of talent.
Is that unfair to Youk? Of course it is. Fans, especially those who root for Buffalo teams, should appreciate great talent even when it comes on a team that doesn’t win it all.
Fair or not, watching him walk off the field on Sunday left me wishing, for a moment, that there was more time for Youk. There's no question he deserved it, but eventually time decided for him, assisted by a young third baseman hitting the ball all over the place and demanding a spot on the field, just like he did eight short years ago. And even if I never loved this player with the kind of passion - both highs and lows - with which I have loved the Red Sox greats of the past decade, part of me wanted Youk to have a chance to bring me there. A chance to prove that "just... good" can sometimes be more than enough.Follow me on Twitter @MattyRenn
This is going to be a fun night.
I can't claim to have anything major to say these days. I'm not inclined to get too worked up about the endless conversations about what blogging means and what it means in the Buffalo sports universe in particular. Shit, most of what I've written here in the past few months is far from relevant to the Buffalo sports scene, what with my general disdain for speculating about drafts and free agents and teams that are a few months away from playing games that count. By the time the Sabres season comes around, I'll have a baby boy to dote on and, I imagine, far less time to dwell on these bizarre loves of mine. So, needless to say, I'm having my fun now.
And that fun, right now, is New York Mets baseball.
Last night, the DGWU Sports crew hit Citi Field for game two in this series against the Orioles. Game one, if you happened to be under a rock yesterday, was RA Dickey's second straight one-hitter. The former Buffalo Bison is pitching as good as anybody in the league right now, and better than the team's "ace," Johan Santana. As for Johan, he followed suit with a gem of his own last night, leading the Mets to their second straight shutout against Baltimore. Santana was in complete control through his six innings last night, and it was good to see following two less-than-inspiring outings which, in turn, followed his epic no hitter on June 1st
The Deeg had an absurdly fun time last night as we were thoroughly over-served and unsurprisingly giddy to have a chance to hang out again. Yachtsman stepped on a homeless guy on the subway, Scizz threatened the same guy with a round of old-timey boxing, and Apologist got over the loss of his Orioles by watching Lebron "Pool Boy" James pull off some heroics of his own. And me? I pretended to not know any of those clowns while barely containing my laughter.
We're really good at this.
Needless to say, live-blogging tonight seems to be an appropriate follow-up to those shenanigans since I'm probably still drunk and since these live blogs usually end up being an excuse for me to find infantile pictures on the internet and giggle like a moron.
Again, we're good at this.
Click through "read more" for the fantastic voyage.
I believe that bear was part of Jeter's gift basket.
If I'm being honest, my feelings on the Subway Series typically fall on the "hate it" side of the fence. A twice annual reminder of why my team isn't as good as their team is usually not my idea of fun, and even those seasons where the Mets have come out victorious against their cross-town rivals, it's usually set against the overaching reality that the Yankees have a shot at playoffs and beyond, and the Mets just don't. Like in 2008, when the Mets won the season series 4-2, including a sweep at Yankee Stadium...and the Mets were eliminated from wild card contention on the last day of the season by the Marlins. Again. Or 2004, when they swept at Shea and won the series, only to go 71-91 that year.
Living in New York, the Mets are the team you root for if you don't really mind a dark cloud over your head. They're who you root for if sports don't have to be easy for you, if you want to feel a sense of fulfillment by earning success through years of despair. That is, if you think your being a fan has anything to do with anything, which - as it happens - I narcissistically do. Being a Met fan means that, even when you win, you gotta be ready to hear it from the Yankee fans in the room when they remind you of their many titles and how Jeter is God and how they don't even like A-Rod, as if that lends them more credibility (it does).
This season smells a little different, though. The teams step up the Subway Series in remarkably similar circumstances - the Yankees in third place in the AL East, a half game back of the surprising Orioles; the Mets in third, back a game and a half from the surprising Nationals. They each also sit in divisions with powerhouse teams in last place, further complicating their own prospects at an eventual postseason berth with the chance that the Red Sox and Phillies could suddenly remember how to play baseball again.
And, lest I forget, they each have teams owned by rich men who made money by swindling middle-class investors.
What's that? Only the Mets are owned by dirty crooks? Oh. Bummer.
/cries in corner over Wilpon crimes
/considers argument that all sports team owners are crooks who swindle the middle-class
Despite the similarities of circumstances, the Yankees and Mets of 2012 are still very different teams. The Yankees are squeaking by despite fielding a team of proven winners and more than their fair share of perennial All Stars, while the Mets are exceeding expectations with a team of nobodies and top guys on the DL, leaving a roster seemingly held together with duct tape, naive ambition and the magical, high-pitched tone of Terry Collins' voice. Add in a guy coming off the franchise's first no-hitter, and suddenly this series doesn't just seem like an opportunity to show up the big brother club from the Bronx, but a chance for the Mets to establish themselves - in the context of a very strong season - as the NYC team to watch this summer.
No matter what happens this weekend, I'm optimistic about the Mets this season, insofar as I had previously expected to give up on them in May and now actually think there will be meaningful games come August and September. But, if I have to walk into work on Monday to find a gaggle of cocky Yankee fans gloating about beating up on the Mets this weekend, things may get violent. You may disagree, but I don't think I'd do well in Manhattan Central Booking or Rikers Island ... so, if only for that, Let's Go Mets!
I'm the cute one on the left.
Maybe in the end, it won't matter much - as most Inter-League play most certainly does not - since the Yankee fans will still have those rings to point to with a disgusting level of arrogance and hair grease, and since the Yankees themselves will likely remain the darling of the NYC sports world until the Mets make an actual run at World Series again (and that, despite my optimism, is a long way off). But, for these few days, just maybe the Amazins can put together some solid wins and shut the knuckle-dragging front-runners up for a little while. In a City that seems to live and breathe baseball for the summer months, and is overflowing with Yankee fans falling over each other to pat themselves on the back for the good sense at following one the most successful teams in all of sports, that's certainly a nice thought.
I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the New York Yankees. Deep down, in our heart of hearts, I think we all do. Whether you’re a true fan or an eternal enemy, part of you doesn’t totally commit one way or the other.
For people that hate the Yankees, part of you loves them (or at least loves hating them). You want to see them succeed, if only so that you can laugh at them when they fall from grace. Face it, if the Yankees weren’t any good, who would really care? It’s only when they’re making their 16th playoff trip in 17 years that we all have enough fuel to hate them properly. And the season is made better for everyone when the Yankees are there to be hated in all their successful glory.
And if they don’t succeed (a.k.a. anything less than a World Series trophy)? Well, then fans of the Yankees will turn their love to hate in a heartbeat. Their players & owners have built a level of expectation that’s only met by the most unrealistic of EPL clubs. Only in New York, it’s reasonable to expect it. When your team spends three-quarters of a billion dollars in a single off-season, you expect to see some return on that investment.
For me, my hatred of the Yankees only goes so deep. As an Oriole fan, obviously there are nights when I curse every last one of them (and you too, Jeffrey-fucking-Maier
). But as I’ve said before, I watch sports for entertainment and inspiration. And few teams have been more entertaining in my lifetime, for better or worse, than the New York Yankees.
Love them or hate them, there’s a certain level of respect you have to maintain for the Bronx Bombers. For the all-time greats who wore the uniform, their greatness didn’t appear out of thin air. They seized it. And one Yankee proved again this week why he's among them. I’m speaking, of course, about the man who passed Trevor Hoffman for the most games saved in a career with 602: Mariano Rivera.
There have been many up’s & down’s for baseball over the last decade. But one thing that has been as consistent as anything in the sport is this: If you’re the away team playing baseball in the Bronx and you hear “Enter Sandman” come over the loud speakers… you’re probably not winning today.
(Admit it. Even the most rabid Yankee-hater knows that Mo's entrance is one of the badass moments in baseball.)
For 16 years, the man known as the Hammer of God has been overpowering some of the best hitters in the game. Plenty of pitchers, from starters to relievers, have had careers build up and fall apart in the same time it’s taken him to amass one of the most consistent and historic careers in the sport’s long history.
While Mo got a few opportunities as a starter in ’95, his journey truly began in 1996, when the Yankees decided to make him their set-up man to then-closer, John Wetteland. With that combination in place, the Yankees were 70-3 when leading after 6 innings and Rivera finished 3rd in the Cy Young vote. (Oh, and Yankees won the World Series... and three of the next four... damnit.)
From that season on, he has been as dominant as any single player in sports. In over 1,200 innings, he’s only given up 65 home runs while striking out 1,108. In his 16-year career, he holds an ERA and WHIP (for my money, still the only pitching stats that matter … sorry sabermetricians) of 2.22 and 0.999. And when he enters the postseason, it doesn't get better. It gets absurd. In 139 innings of playoff baseball, Mo has a 0.71 ERA, a WHIP of 0.766, 109 strikeouts, and has given up only 2 (TWO!) home runs. This has all lead to a trophy case that holds 12 All-Star appearances, 5 World Series rings and a World Series MVP trophy.
And of course, he’s done all of this with just one pitch.
Think of the closers who have come and gone in the 16 years that Mo has been dominating with one cut-fastball. Just in the last few seasons, I can think of four off the top of my head that have risen quickly and flamed out just as fast. Jonathan Papelbon was supposed to be the next Mariano Rivera. Now he’s part of a bullpen that’s gagging away the Sawx’s postseason hopes. Joel Nathan has been dominant during the regular season for years, but injuries and lackluster postseason success leaves him well below Mo’s otherworldly level. Brian Wilson and Brad Lidge both had perfect postseasons in their respective World Series-winning years. And both men quickly wound up on the DL the following season.
Oh and did I mention during these last few seasons, Mo has been right there with all of them among the league-leaders in saves during the regular season? Did I also mention he’s 41-years-old? Imagine someone slightly younger than your father closing playoff games at Yankee Stadium. That’s Mariano Rivera.
Every year since 2004, the year ‘the curse’ was broken, sports writers have been leaping on any bad stretch in a season of Mo’s so they can be the first to declare his downfall. But since that year, in 30 postseason innings, he’s given up two earned runs. Two. Name another closer who can hang with that and I’ll buy you a house in the Bahamas.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. And yes, part of the reason Mariano has these unbelievable numbers is because he plays for the Yankees. No other closer in baseball has had as many opportunities as he has to reach these levels of greatness.
But the reason I find this argument to be a bit hollow is because it’s also an argument for calling him one of the greatest pitchers ever. Yankee Stadium, old and new, is a bandbox. Their fans are as callous and fickle as it gets. The pressure to win never leaves for one moment. The expectations are higher than for any other team in any other American sport. (I’ll give a slight nod to European soccer fans. Those dudes are crazy.) And Mariano has met and exceeded those expectations time after time after time. Yes, he has gotten many chances to be great because he plays for New York, but he has capitalized on those opportunities like no player before him.
Not to mention that a big part of the reason the Yankees have been so successful over the last 15 years is because they’ve had the Sandman. How much comfort has the team taken from knowing that Mariano is waiting in the bullpen? How many managers besides Torre & Girardi have had the luxury of knowing as long as they can hold a lead for 8 innings, the 9th one will probably be a matter of routine? And think for a moment about how much the Yankees have struggled to develop the rest of the bullpen. Of all the needs the team has had over the years (as much as a team that's missed the playoffs once in 17 years has needs), the one area GM Brian Cashman has struggled to maintain most is the relief corp in front of Rivera. To be fair, every team struggles in that department, but that’s exactly my point. Year after year, game after game, the only position the Yankees haven’t had to worry about in the last 15 seasons is the one many teams start from scratch on every year: their closer.
Look, I know plenty of people reading this are saying to themselves, “Dear Lord, Aps, stop jerking off Yankee fans and give me a reason to care.” And that’s fair. It’s hard for most Yankee-haters to allow themselves to root for or respect anyone in pinstripes. I don’t expect many of you to climb on board this Mariano love train. But I do believe greatness should be recognized and appreciated. A player of Mariano’s caliber doesn’t come along very often. And when they do, only those who are fooling themselves can believe that what they’re witnessing is anything less than incredible.
So if you must hate, go ahead and hate. But at the very least admit that seeing one man with one pitch playing for one team for sixteen seasons and amassing a career such as this is a special thing.
You don’t have to like it. But you’re only cheating yourself to ignore it.
Once again I find myself somewhat at a loss in trying to find inspiration to write. There’s no good reason for this. I shouldn’t have a shortage of things to say.
Today, the USA women came within minutes of raising the World Cup in a fittingly dramatic finish to their wild run. It’s disappointing that they didn’t win, but when you consider the year Japan has had, any solace a win could bring them is the true storybook ending. But I’m far from a soccer fan and in a week or two, I guarantee I won’t remember how to spell Abbe Wambach’s last name. (Another reason why Japan deserves a win more than we do.)
Meanwhile, another man from Northern Ireland won a PGA Tour major this season, as Darren Clarke took the British Open. Phil Mickelson once again led a late charge for the finish that came up in vain, but I didn’t care enough to watch, so how could I care enough to write.
And of course, the sports world is abuzz with the news trickling out that the NFL is close to a labor agreement that will end the lockout. And just in time to sell tickets for meaningless preseason games! Blech.
Obviously I’m excited for the potential return of our boys in the red, white and blue, but I try to delay my interest level in football for as long as possible. As the Yachtsman and I discussed a little while back, the overload of NFL news that is soon to follow when camps open back up is more than I’m ready for.
It’s with all that swirling in my mind that I find myself wondering why the only thing I’m interested in writing about is baseball.
There's no reason to put this here. Course there's also no reason not to.
I mean, how many people come to this site to read about baseball? Then again, how many people come to this site to read about CM Punk and Ron Artest?
But I just can’t help it. We’ve passed my personal benchmark for meaningfulness in a season, the All-Star Game. The game that rounds up all the great players who couldn’t get out of participating and pits them against each other in an exhibition game. Oh and it decides home-field advantage in the World Series. What, what? Bud Selig still hasn’t fixed that yet? What an idiot.
In my defense, being any kind of sports fan in NYC means keeping your finger on baseball’s pulse at all times. As the Barrister has attested to before, this city is a baseball town first and foremost. So you can imagine the frenzy it worked itself into as Jeter approached the 3,000 mark. So with that and the passing of the All-Star break, my mind has locked it’s attention on the diamonds and here are, in no particular order, my most intriguing storylines for the second half of the season…
The Philadelphia Phillies – Will they be champs or chokers?
Clearly, the biggest storyline and heaviest favorite entering the 2011 season were the Philadelphia Phillies with their eye-popping rotation. And while the expectations were set high, they have delivered as well as could be expected. As of today, they have the best record in the league, thanks in large part to their incredible pitching staff. They lead the league in team ERA while giving up the fewest runs and walks. Aces Halladay, Lee and Hamels are 3, 4 and 5 in strikeouts. And even when Roy Oswalt went down with a bulging disc in his back, 2008 3rd round pick Vance Worley has stepped in and gone 5-1 with a 2.15 ERA.
A staff like that can protect a lineup that’s just 10th in the NL in average and hits. (And yet somehow 4th, in walks.) Still, they are the favorites to win it all and rightfully so. But with those expectations comes added pressure. Surely by September and October the spotlight will only get brighter on this group and they won’t be considered underdogs to anybody. It will be interesting to see if they’re up to the challenge.
The AL East Division Race
Ok, so obviously I’m a little biased on this one. Have grown up an Orioles fan, I’ve watched the ebb and flow of this division more than any other. And these days, all bias aside, it is by far the most difficult division in baseball. The Red Sox are clearly a favorite to represent the AL in the World Series and the Yankees and Rays aren’t far behind. And with the right pitcher and Jose Bautista in the lineup, the Blue Jays are a tough squad by most standards. Just not by this division’s standards.
As of today, the Red Sox lead the division, while the Yankees and Rays lead the AL Wild-Card race and the safe money says the same will be true in September. Still, the Tigers and Angels are within striking distance for a wild card spot and in their favor is the fact they don’t have to play the Yanks, Sawx and Rays as often as those teams have to play each other. So it should be exciting to see who of these three dangerous teams will be on the outside looking in when October rolls around.
The Rise of the Pittsburgh Pirates
Seeing as how we at DGWUS are clearly fans of the underdog, I can’t go without mentioning the underdog team of the season. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who hadn’t been above .500 at the All-Star in 19 years, may finally be climbing out of one of the worst holes in recent sports history.
For years, the Pirates have seemed to operate almost in spite of their fans, botching draft after draft and shipping anyone remotely talented they happen to stumble upon. But this year, they enter the second half of the season vying for first place in their division.
Entering the season, the popular choice for NL Central division winner were the Cardinals and Brewers. I thought Cincinnati would be in the mix as well, but nobody expected the Pirates to be where they are. The Pirates’ pitching staff is largely to thank. With Jeff Karstens & Paul Maholm leading the rotation and closer Joel Hanrahan converting all 26 of his save opportunities, the Pirates find themselves at the trade deadline actually thinking about acquiring talent rather than watching it walk out the door.
Needless to say, we here at DGWUS are rooting for the Pirates on their quest for their first trip to the playoffs since 1992.
Free Agents To Be: Albert Pujols & Prince Fielder
To find my next favorite storyline to watch, we don’t even need to leave the division.
Clearly, the two top free agents next off-season will be the two best hitters in the NL Central: Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. With both men wrapping up the last year on their respective contracts, they’ll be looking to make their presence felt in the second half of the season.
Pujols has already shown what this season means to him. After doctors said he would be out 6-8 weeks with a wrist injury, Albert was back on the field in 2. Pujols got annoyed when a reporter asked if his next contract was on his mind when he first got hurt. The question went unanswered that day, but A-Pu’s quick rehab shows how badly he wants to play.
Fielder meanwhile is easily as intriguing a prospective signing as Pujols. While he’s clearly not as a good a hitter right now, he has the advantage of still only being 27 years old. If he and the Brewers have a strong finish to the season, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for him to expect a 9-figure, 10-year contract.
Adding to the excitement is how tight the division and wild-card races are right now. Granted there’s still a long way to go, but as of today a half a game separates the top three teams in the Central and there’s only 6 games of difference between the top four teams for the wild-card spot.
So with their teams needing everything they’ve got and their future employers keeping a close eye, I expect both of these players to rise to the occasion and finish out their seasons on a high note.
Predictions - An Exercise In Futility
Now I generally shy away from predictions when it comes to sports, but I find it hard to wrap this up without speaking a little about where I think we’re headed. Some teams I expect to stay exactly where they are into and through September, such as Boston, Texas, Philly and San Fran. Other teams I wish would stay on top, but will most likely slide out of contention, like the aforementioned Pirates and the Cleveland Indians.
Ultimately, I think it’ll be Boston, Texas, Detroit and New York in the East, while Philly, Milwaukee, San Fran and St. Louis will square off in the West. While I’d love to see Detroit go on a run and San Fran try to repeat, I believe we’ll see the Boston-Philadelphia match-up most pundits have expected since Day 1. Quite a few people would hate to see that happen (after the Yankees, are there two more disliked teams than the Phillies & Red Sox?), but both teams just have too much pitching to expect any other result at this point. In the end, I expect the Phillies to win it in 6. It’s hard to imagine a team whose 3-man rotation could be a World Series MVP and two Cy Young winners going down to anyone.
And now, George Costanza to bring it all home. George...
I know one guy who's excited for the season to start.
Hello again, guys and dolls. So here I am, late again, and attempting to write a baseball preview when my blogging counterpart has already expressed his disinterest in this baseball season
. But for me, when April rolls around, I'm always excited for a new baseball season. Baseball is the only sport where you can pay little to no attention to the game and not miss a single thing. That might sound like a reason not to like baseball, but for me, it's quite the opposite. Every other sport we watch can be such a blur that I inevitably feel refreshed to watch the one sport that doesn't run on a clock's time. It's particularly refreshing after the heart attack inducing adrenaline ride that is the Sabres playoff run.
(Seriously, how do you lose to the Maple Leafs one night and then shut out the Rangers the next? Oh right, you're the Sabres and you're maddeningly inconsistent.)
For weeks now, I've been wanting to do a baseball preview, but the closer I get to completing it the harder it gets to finish. There were a few things I realized once I started to write it and I feel I should get two of them out of the way right off the bat.
1) World Series winner predictions are dumb - Everyone knows who the favorites are in April. You don't need to read this blog post to know that the Red Sox and the Phillies are the two best teams in baseball right now, so obviously they're the favorites to meet in the World Series. This goes for really every sport. The percentage for how often writers get championship predictions right has to hover somewhere around 10%. And the times that people get it right are usually when it's the most obvious. But with in baseball, it seems particularly foolish to try and predict the winner when the playoffs are still six months away.
2) Mentioning injuries is worthless - Injuries can trip up any team at any time. The Yankees, theorhetically, shouldn't have a team that can make it from start to finish without breaking down constantly, but two years ago they won the whole thing with an average age of 42. Conversely, we all know there's at least one team out there that is going to lose one of it's best players when he accidently gets his hand slammed in a door or pull's a muscle playing with his kids. Baseball has some of the weirdest injury stories out there. So there's no point in saying X team needs to stay/get healthy to win, because they all do.
So now that I've told you predictions are useless, let me go ahead and tell you what I think is worth watching for this season...
Favorite: Boston Red Sox
This is an easy one. With the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, the offense should not be a problem. And with Lackey, Bucholz, Lester and Beckett ready to toe the slab, the starters should have no trouble keeping them in games. The only area anyone could forsee being an issue is the remodeled bullpen. On paper, it's one of the strongest in the league. But anyone who follows baseball knows that just because you were successful with one team in a certain role does not necessarily mean that success will transfer smoothly to another team. Still, as long as someone - Bard, Jenks or Papelbon - can figure out how to close games, they're a favorite to win the World Series.
Best Storyline: "Idiots" Reunion Tour in Tampa
Some people might find this stupid, but I've always enjoyed following the careers of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, albeit for very different reasons. Following Damon in recent years has been out of spite. If you had to listen to obnoxious Yankee fans talk up a guy who until a year or two before they had hated with every fiber of their being, you'd look for reasons to knock the guy down a peg too. But to his credit, he's been incredibly consistent throughout his career. And as for Manny, well, he's Manny. Now you'd think neither of these guys would have anything left to prove after careers that include 5 World Series rings, but somehow they've found themselves in Tampa feeling like they have to show the league they've got something left. Combine that with the Rays' uncanny luck and you might just have a recipe for a surprising season. I'm not saying I'd bet on it, but with the Yankees' rotation problems and no other clear favorite for the Wild Card spot, I wouldn't be stunned if the Rays made a run for it, spearheaded by their hungry new vets.
Favorite: Minnesota Twins
In the words of one of my all-time favorite pro-wrestlers, Ric Flair, "to be the man, you have to beat the man". And for the last three seasons, the Minnesota Twins have quietly dominated the AL Central. After Mauer and Morneau, most people probably can't name two players on their team, Plus, no rotation led by Carl Pavano is going to strike fear into anyone. But until I see another team make it to the end of the regular season in the 1-spot, I'm fitting the Twins for the Central Crown.
Of course, the race will probably neck and neck right up until the closing weeks like it always is. As long as the Tigers have Justin Verlander in their rotation, they'll be competitive and the White Sox's upgrades of Adam Dunn & Jake Peavy should also make them a legit threat.
Best Storyline: Ozzie Guillen
Until he's forced to hand in his lineup cards, Ozzie Guillen will be my favorite manager in baseball. Year after year, he's the most honest, colorful man in the league. As a fan of sports, we're all forced to swallow cliches, deflections and vague responses from athletes, managers and GMs, so it's always refreshing when you find someone who's willing to be open. And if they just happen to be Ozzie's kind of open, then it's all the more entertaining. For example...
"I'm not a quitter. When I want to quit, I'll do a lot of stupid things and make sure they fire me and get paid."
"That kid (Dustin Pedroia) should be in the circus and I have to walk him to face someone else. He should be riding some horses and I have to walk that kid. It’s very weird when you walk a guy who is 4-foot-11."
"(Showalter) never even smelled a jock in the big leagues. Mr. Baseball never even got a hit in Triple-A. I was a better player than him, I have more money than him, and I'm better looking than him."
Here's hoping he's got plenty more where that came from.
Favorite: Texas Rangers
This is a tough one to call. While the Rangers are obviously the returning champs, they've also lost the ace of their rotation and may have created a rift in the locker room with Michael Young. Still, it's hard to look at the Oakland A's or Los Angeles Angels and see a huge threat to their chance at repeating as division winner. Both the A's and Angels have a lot of potential, but neither team has a real great player in any category. And speaking of the exact opposite, the Mariners have two potential Hall of Famers in Felix Hernandez and Ichiro Suzuki surrounded by a whole lot of nothing. Ultimately this division will come down to pitching and my money is on the group that got themselves into the championship round last season.
Best Storyline: Felix Hernandez
To me, if you don't like pitching, then there's no point in you paying attention to baseball these days. This post-steroids era we're entering is a golden age for pitching and pitching enthusiasts. And coming off of last year, no one is throwing better than King Felix. He's got a high-90s fastball late into games that he can put wherever he wants to go with a breaking pitches that buckle the best ankles in the game. Plus he plays for a team that needs him to pitch a scoreless game to have a chance to win and he can handle it. If they can scrap together some sort of offense around Ichiro to win him some games, Hernandez will definitely be in the Cy Young conversation for a second season.
Ok, so this subplot doesn't exactly sizzle, but c'mon... it's the AL West. Name one exciting player from any of those teams. I'll wait...
Favorite: Philadelphia Phillies
This will be the biggest "duh, winning!" prediction of the entire post. With the best rotation in baseball by a mile and a lineup filled with good hitters, the Phillies are the clear favorite to make it to the World Series this season. The only thing I could possibly see getting to them are the heightened expectations. This team has a higher expectation of making the World Series than the team that tried to defend as champs in 2009. It'll be up to Charlie Manuel to keep them focused. But baring any major injuries, this team will be a disappointment if they don't at least make the NLCS.
Best Storyline: New York Mets
How low can they go? You would've thought the Mets had reached rock bottom last season when they found out that their best pitcher would miss at least the first half of this season and their closer injured himself punching his baby mama's father in the jaw. But that was before the Wilpons started getting sued by some of the families ripped off by Bernie Madoff. There's some solace to be taken in the fact that new manager Sandy Alderson was smart enough to come in and immediately cut loose Oliver Perez & Luis Castillo. But this is going to get worse before it gets better for the New York Metropolitans and I'm looking forward to seeing what other crazy hijinks this team can get itself into.
Favorite: St. Louis Cardinals
This is another "duh" pick, considering the Cardinals are pretty much the team to beat in the NL Central every year. In the offseason, they added Lance Berkman to their already potent lineup and every year, resident pitching guru Dave Duncan seems to mold a top-5 staff out of whatever clay the Cardinals give him to work with. The one element that might make them a bit unpredictable is the impending free agency of Albert Pujols. Teams can waver when faced with the constant storyline of "will he or won't he" for an entire season. And if they do stumble, the Cincinnatti Reds might be right there to pass them.
The Reds came out of nowhere last season and turned a lot of heads on their way to winning the NL Central. With a stable of young pitchers and hitters who all seemingly came into their own simuletaneously, they earned their first trip to the postseason in 15 years. But with a team that's still so young and unproven, it's hard to say they'll be able to take their division two years in a row.
Best Storyline: Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols is about 9 months removed from becoming one of the wealthiest people to ever pick up a baseball bat. He's hands-down the best hitter in baseball and after this season the free agency feeding frenzy will begin. So it goes without saying that this season's storyline in the NL Central will be "where's he going to go?" Usually these kinds of storylines drive me crazy, but only because the team handling the player usually bungles the problem enormously. But the Cardinals are one of the few organizations in the league with the balls to trade one of the best players in the league. Obviously they might opt to keep him on the roster and take their chances in the offseason, but I honestly believe that if they don't feel they can resign him and don't see themselves as a World Series contender, they'll trade him before the deadline. And it goes without saying that adding Pujols to any lineup in the league would make that team infinitely better offensively. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but if it does, I'll say I did.
Favorite: San Francisco Giants
I know, I know. I'm going way out on a limb picking the defending champs to retake their division. But this could be the toughest division to predict. It's easy to forget that the Giants were fighting tooth and nail just to make the playoffs in September. It was the San Diego Padres that practically led the division from start to finish until they fell apart near the finish line. Plus, the Dodgers are sure to make another run for it themselves under new manager Don Mattingly. And that still doesn't include the Rockies and Diamondbacks, both of which have been known to make surprising runs. Still, the Giants have the best rotation by far and a lineup full of streaky hitters full of World Series swagger. So if you're asking who I'd bet the rent on, I'd put it all on the G-men of San Fran.
Best Storyline: Division Race
Ok, so this is probably the lamest storyline by far, but it really is the most intriguing thing to watch for. For the last few seasons, this division inevitably comes down to the last few weeks of the season. Last year, the Giants took it in the closing weeks. The year before that, the Dodgers stormed past the field when they picked up Manny Ramirez on the hottest, steroid-fueled streak of his career. Before that, the Rockies won their trip to the playoffs on a play-in game. And since there's no breakout team besides the defending champs, it would seem this season should be no different. Look for two or three teams to be battling it out right down to the end.
So... who's gonna take it? As I said, it's foolish to predict a winner with 161 games to go. But I can tell you there will be one team that will break out and surprise everyone like the Reds last year or the Rays a couple years before that. And at least one player will go ballistic in his bullpen and break his hand taking apart the water cooler. Also, there's a very good chance that a player you really like on your team will wind up getting traded to the Yankees. That's baseball, slow, predictable and better with booze. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Or ignore it until August and then shock me with your prediction that the Phillies are gonna win the whole thing. Either way, I'll see you at the ballpark.
A little slice of heaven.