August 2013

Story Lines Worth Watching In the Final Month

It’s hard to believe but the 2013 MLB regular season is almost over. (Today marks exactly one month until the final games of the season, on September 29th.) Teams are making their final push for the post season, and every player is doing their best to finish out the season strong. With all of this going on, I thought I’d post an entry on the five main story lines I plan to keep an eye on throughout the final stretch.

American League Home Run Race

Davis_Cabrera_6jrfjauv_n0whcjqfIt’s a two-man race, between the Orioles’ Chris Davis and the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, for who will receive the title of 2013 home run champion. But more importantly for Cabrera, he’s not just chasing down Davis for that title alone; Cabrera is trying to do what no one in the history of the game has ever been able to do: Win back-to-back Triple Crowns.

Davis currently holds a four home run lead over Cabrera (who is day-to-day, after suffering an injury in Thursday’s game) — Cabrera leads all of baseball in batting average and RBI’s — and with a mere month left of the season, it’s going to take a real display of power for Cabrera to overtake Davis. But if anyone can do it, Miguel Cabrera can.

Candidates for Rookie of the Year Award

puig_original_original_crop_exactThe Rookie of the Year award is going to be a difficult award to decide, for both the American League and National League. Both leagues have several players that have strong cases, so it’s going to be interesting to see which player will have a great final month to move themselves above the rest.

Currently, top candidates from the American League, for the R.O.Y. award, include Wil Myers, Chris Archer and David Lough, while the National League has quite a few more top candidates, in Yasiel Puig, Matt Adams, Nolan Arenado, Jedd Gyorko, Evan Gattis, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller, among others. Making this a story line well worth watching.

National League Central Division

imagesCAQNTVO6The National League Central is currently the closest of all the divisions in Major League Baseball. Less than four games separate the top three teams, being the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. (This is the first season in 21 years that the Pirates will finish with a winning record.) With the Diamondback’s slowly falling out of the race to catch up — though there’s still a slight chance they could — it would appear to be between these three teams for who will win the division.

No matter which team is able to hold on in the final month of the season, to win the division, all three are likely to make the post season, with the extra Wild Card spot, that was added last season.

Max Scherzer’s Cy Young Quest

untitledOf all of the great pitchers in the American League none have been as dominant throughout the entire season as Max Scherzer. Having gone 19-1 — only the third pitcher to ever start a season winning 19 out of their first 20 decisions — with a 2.90 ERA, Scherzer is well on his way to winning the Cy Young award, if he can keep up the great performance.

Though I think Yu Darvish will get a lot of consideration for the award — rightfully so, currently sitting at 12-5, with a 2.68 ERA, leading all of baseball in strikeouts — the award is currently Scherzer’s to lose, in the minds of many around the baseball world.

Houston Astros’ Loss Record

afbe15b4-c329-4994-8d21-cec9680d2991news_ap_org_r620x349With 30 games left to play, the Houston Astros hold a win-loss record of 44-88 — the worst record in all of baseball. They currently sit 33.5 games out of first place in their division, and look to have a losing record for the fifth straight season. Having lost 107 games in 2012, and 106 in 2011, it will be interesting to see if the Astros can finish with fewer than 100 losses this season.

They’ll have to go 19-11, in their final 30 games, which isn’t impossible, but with it being the Astros, it’s not all that likely. It should be interesting to see if the Astros can at least finish out the year on a high note, after yet another disappointing season.

What’re you looking forward to? Leave a comment below.

Miguel Cabrera Heating Up; Matt Harvey Shut Down

Miguel Cabrera has been on fire all season long, but lately he’s been producing at an absurd rate. In his last 10 games, Cabrera has gone 15-41 (.366 average), with three home runs and thirteen RBI’s. An incredible performance, without question, but even with all of 628x471this recent success, in his chase for a second straight Triple Crown Cabrera is still short in one major category: Home Runs.

The one person standing in Cabrera’s way of doing something that has never been done in MLB history — winning back-to-back Triple Crowns — is the Orioles’ Chris Davis, who currently holds a four homer lead over Cabrera.

But there’s still a month of baseball left to be played, in which Cabrera could easily catch up.

Leading all of baseball in RBI’s, with 128, and batting average, at .360, Cabrera is well on his way to winning yet another Triple Crown award, if he can harness his power in the coming weeks.

Regardless of whether or not the hot-hitting Cabrera can win back-to-back Triple Crowns, it’s still very likely that he’ll do something nearly as impressive: Win back-to-back MVP awards.

But just as one of baseball’s biggest stars is heating up, another has had his season stopped in its tracks.

Mets Ace, Matt Harvey, received the unfortunate news on Monday afternoon that he has a partially torn UCL in his right elbow, after undergoing an MRI. While there’s still the chance that Harvey won’t need surgery, the Mets are taking a great deal of caution by shutting down Harvey for the remainder of the season.

“There is some swelling in the forearm; may be some in the elbow”, said Mets’ general manager, Sandy Alderson, in a news conference. Matt Harvey“He’s had forearm issues for some time that have been treated….[Harvey's been] getting preventive elbow treatment since Spring Training.”

“[We're] not going to do anything to jeopardize Matt’s future with the Mets. [We] wouldn’t expect him to pitch the rest of the season….By no means is this a career ending injury.”

According to Matt Harvey, who has gone 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA this season, the arm soreness has been going on for some time, however, it was at its worst after his most recent start on Saturday, when he gave up a career high thirteen hits–prompting Harvey to get an MRI.

“It was something I felt like I could pitch through and schedule treatment on”, said Harvey. “When I heard the news, I was pretty shocked….I’m still very optimistic. I’m going to do everything I can so I don’t have to get surgery….I’m going to do whatever I can to prepare for next year.”

While Harvey was scheduled to be shut down later this season anyway, once he hit his innings limit, this is still a major disappointment for both Harvey and the Mets. Though they were out of things, playoff wise, Harvey is the type of guy fans love to come out to watch pitch.

But more importantly, this injury doesn’t just end Harvey’s season, it also ends his case for 2013 National League Cy Young. A true shame after the great season Harvey has been able to put together.

Ichiro Suzuki Records His 4,000th Hit

After 22 seasons as a professional baseball player, Ichiro Suzuki accomplished a feat on Wednesday night that only two other players in the history of the game have been able to do: record 4,000 career hits — Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,191) being the other two. imageGiven, 1,278 of these hits came while playing in Japan, it’s still an amazing accomplishment.

“It’s a testament to how hard he’s worked, how long he’s been in the game, how he stays healthy, the way he goes about his business”, said Yankees manager, Joe Girardi. “He’s a great player, and he’s been a great player for a long time.”

Coming on a sharply hit ground ball to left field, Ichiro’s milestone hit put him past Hall of Famer, Lou Gehrig, on the all-time hit list, with 2,722 hits in the Major Leagues. Suzuki also holds the record for most career hits between the ages of 30 and 39, with 2,060; topping Pete Rose, who posted 2,025, and Sam Rice, who notched 2,008, both over the same length of time.

But it’s not just the number of hits — ten straight seasons with 200+ hits — that makes Ichiro such a remarkable player. A 10-time All-Star, Ichiro has also collected ten gold glove awards, three silver sluggers, and the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in his very first season in the Major Leagues. Not many players can come close to a résumé like that.

Upon recording his 4,000th hit, in his first at-bat of the game, Ichiro received a standing ovation from the crowd, along with a congratulations from each player on the Yankees. Later saying, “When my teammates came out to first base, that was very special. The fans, I wasn’t expecting so much joy and happiness from them. That’s what made it very special tonight; not just the number, but all the things that came with it were very special.”

“Obviously having the 4,000th hit was important, but what is going to make it a more special moment was the fact that my teammates came out. When I look back on this, that’s what is going to make this very special.”

A very special night indeed, for Ichiro, as well as every fan around the baseball world. It’s not too often that a player does something so noteworthy as reaching the 4,000 hit club.

Now that Ichiro has reached the 4,000 hit mark, there’s only one question remaining: Can Ichiro, who is currently 278 hits shy, reach 3,000 hits for his Major League career? Only time will tell, but it will certainly be fun to watch.

8/20/13 Bulls Game: Chipper Jones Number Retirement

I wasn’t originally planning to attend this game, as I had already gotten most of the Bulls players autographs that I wanted, and the opposing team, the Charlotte Knights, didn’t really have any players that were worth a trip out to the ballpark. But when it was announced back in June that the Bulls were going to retire Chipper Jones’ uniform number in August, and that Chipper himself was going to be there, of course I had to go.

As with any game I go to, I showed up (along with my dad) to the ballpark around thirty minutes before the gates were set to open. With the large crowd expected, due to Jones being there, the gates opened up an extra thirty minutes earlier than usual, which was nice, as when I headed down to my normal spot beside the Bulls dugout, I was able to witness batting practice for the first time at the DBAP:

DSCN6894Taking in batting practice at this particular ballpark is something I’ve always wanted to do — it’s usually over by the time the gates open — ,however, after seeing it, I can honestly say that it wasn’t any grander than any other BP I’ve seen at major league parks. (I guess that makes sense; I don’t know what I was expecting, really.)

But getting back to Chipper Jones; I stuck around by the dugout for nearly an hour, at which point the ushers cleared out the aisles. I made my way to an empty nearby seat, and shortly thereafter, Chipper entered the ballpark, in a Porsche (as to be expected), to make a “parade lap” around the warning track:

DSCN6901It was great to see Chipper again, for what will likely be the last time. The crowd was electric upon his entrance, and it truly was an amazing moment to be apart of.

After making his way around the park, and back to the infield, Jones headed up onto the stage that had been set up for the ceremony, where he was given a piece of the old ‘Hit Bull, Win Steak’ sign…:

DSCN6912….shown a brief highlight video of his career….:

DSCN6914….and presented his number 10 retirement plaque….:

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….before taking to the podium, for his speech:

DSCN6921Jones didn’t speak terribly long, but he didn’t have to. People know what he did here, and what he went on to do. A no doubt Hall of Famer, Chipper Jones is one of those few players that comes along and just does everything right, both on and off the field. Calling Durham “the greatest place to play Minor League Baseball in the country”, the fans still, and always will, admire Jones as one of the best to ever come through Durham, on the way to a successful Major League career.

After throwing out the first pitch of the game, Chipper quickly exited the ballpark. Although I didn’t get an autograph like I was hoping, it was still one of the greatest times I’ve ever had out at a Minor League Baseball game. It was an incredible night.

But the night didn’t end when Chipper Jones left. There was still a game to be played.

Bulls’ starting pitcher, Mike Montgomery, started off the night great, as he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning. After the one hit, however, the wheels fell off. Giving up three runs in the fourth, the Bulls quickly found themselves down 3-1. But they didn’t waste any time answering back, posting three runs of their own in the bottom half of the same inning.

Both teams would score a run in the fifth, putting the score at 5-4, Bulls. And that’s how things would end. (An appropriate ending to the night, in my book.)

I stopped by the Bulls’ retired numbers wall on the way out of the ballpark, where Jones’ number had already been added:

DSCN6935I have no doubt I’ll stop to glance at the wall every time I head out to the ballpark from now on; recalling the night of August 20, 2013 — one of the most special nights I’ve ever experienced at the DBAP.

Durham Bulls to Retire Chipper Jones’ Number

Twenty-one years since playing for the Bulls, Chipper Jones is returning to Durham.

Jones is set to join Crash Davis, Joe Morgan and Bill Evers as the only players to ever have their number retired by the Bulls, in a chipper28retirement ceremony on Tuesday. Morgan currently holds the distinction of being the only Bull to go on to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but that’s likely to change, once Chipper becomes eligible a few years down the road.

Jones played with the Bulls for a total of 70 games during the 1992 season, in which he batted .277 with four home runs and 31 RBIs. This coming back when the Bulls were the Class-A affiliate of the Braves, Jones would go on to become an eight-time All-Star, playing for the Braves his entire career.

Jones’ career MLB stats of 468 home runs and 1,623 RBI’s, coming over 2,726 hits, will go down as one of the best careers of anyone to ever don a Bulls uniform.

The uniform number retirement ceremony for Chipper Jones is set to take place at around 7:00, before tomorrow night’s Bulls game. And I’m planning to be there.

Gates are set to open at 5:30, and I’m hoping to be one of the first inside. This will more than likely be my last time seeing Chipper, and I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get his autograph. (I’m going to try to get it on a 2012 All-Star baseball, that I won last year in a Twitter contest.) But no matter what happens, it’s sure to be an exciting night, and I’ll be sure to blog about it all on Wednesday.

But as if that’s not enough baseball excitement for one week, I’m also planning to attend Saturday’s Bulls game, versus the Norfolk Tides (AAA affiliate of the Orioles).

The Tides are loaded with great players and prospects, with the most notable being Orioles number one and number five prospects, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop, who have both been having great seasons. I’m hoping to pick up an autograph from both. (Eric Thames, Zach Britton, Danny Valencia and Freddy Garcia being the other players I’m after for an auto.)

I haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll be blogging about Saturday’s game, but you never know. It really depends on if anything out of the ordinary occurs, and how much else is going on around the rest of the baseball world. So, stay tuned….

MLB Instant Replay to Expand In 2014

Major League Baseball announced its plan to expand instant replay, beginning next season, on Thursday afternoon, leaving baseball fans around the country with a mix of emotions. Some like the idea of further replay, while others prefer the way the game has always been, with the human element. (As I’ve stated in the past, I’m somewhere in between.) But no matter which side you fall on, you have to take the time to appreciate the fact that Thursday will forever go down as a historic day in baseball history.

But the news of further replay in 2014 shouldn’t come as a major surprise, as there has been a vast amount of debate recently, regarding a replay system for Major League Baseball that would enable the right calls to be made the majority of the time, without increasing the length of games–game time being the major concern among fans.

However, according to Braves’ President, John Schuerholz, the change in replay policy would decrease replay time, from a current 520d34702020e_preview-300average of three minutes and four seconds all the way down to one minute and fifteen seconds. That doesn’t seem like much, but when you combine multiple replays per game with the time saved by managers not arguing with the umpires over close calls–perhaps reducing the number of manager ejections, in the long run–it really does add up.

With advancing technology, many question why something hasn’t been done sooner–the NBA, NHL and NFL all have replay systems in place–however, it’s taken awhile, and a lot of convincing, for many people to get onboard with the idea; and of course, an agreeable plan had to be formed, over which plays will be reviewable and which won’t.

“Reviewable plays will cover 89 percent of those incorrect calls that were made in the past”, Schuerholz said on Thursday. “The 11 percent remaining are in the non-reviewable [category], which can still be argued by the manager. And the manager can still request that the umpires get together and discuss it to see if anybody else on the crew saw it differently. But it’s not reviewable.”

Here’s how the expanded replay is set to work:

Every game, each manager will get three challenges–one challenge from the start of game time through the sixth inning, with the other two challenges being available from the seventh inning on. If a manager elects to challenge a play, and the replay results in an overturned call, the manager receives his challenge back, which he can issue again, however, if the call stands, the manager loses his challenge, up until the seventh inning, when he will get another two to use, if needed. (If a manger doesn’t use, or lose, his one challenge in the first six innings, it doesn’t carry over.)

While this might seem a bit complicated, I actually find it rather appealing. It’ll keep managers from challenging a play unless they’re absolutely sure–in their mind, at least–that a call was blown. People seem to be complaining that managers will be challenging close plays right and left, but I disagree. I feel the managers will be less likely to attempt to challenge a non-crucial play. But only time will tell for sure.

how-adding-15-more-umpires-would-solve-baseballs-replay-crisis“You should know that the umpires are very, very receptive to this”, said Schuerholz Thursday. “They have spent enough time being abused or being the butt of bad comments about what’s happened or what’s been viewed on replays. And with the advanced technology that we have on replays, they understand that it can be a valuable tool for them. And we intend to use it as that.”

The only flaw in the replay plan that I could see taking place is the fact that there’s still the chance of human error by the official play reviewer, at MLB.com headquarters, up in New York, that ultimately decides whether or not a call should stand.

Every once and awhile, even with replay, it can be difficult to determine for sure what the correct call should be. If the official gets the call wrong, one way or another, it could cost the manager his one challenge in the first part of the game, that he otherwise would’ve been able to use again, had the correct call had been made. And ultimately, it could cost the team the game.

Therefore, as with anything, it’s not completely perfect.

“It is a phasing plan”, as Schuerholz put it. “At the end of ’14, we’ll go back and look at what we’ve done well–what’s worked, what hasn’t worked–and make adjustments….It’s going to take some time.”

While it will indeed take some time, one thing is for sure: The game of baseball will never be the same, ever again. While some despise that, with the available technology, if you can work out a way to get the calls right the majority of the time, is a permanent change to the game really such a bad thing?

July 26th Mariners Vs. Twins Game

After not blogging for nearly a month, I needed a way to jump back into things, and I figured this was the best way to do so. I went back and forth on whether or not to do a recap of this game–after all, it was over two weeks ago–but I decided to, nonetheless.

If you remember back to my last blog post, I discussed the 24 day road trip I was going on around the country, and stated that I wouldn’t be blogging for awhile. It certainly has been awhile, but I’m finally back. I’ll resume blogging about the latest baseball news and such sometime in the next few days, but for now, here’s a recap of the Mariners game I attended during my recent trip:

My grandpa accompanied me to this game, and as has a tendency to happen before I visit a ballpark for the first time, we got all turned around, and ended up going by the ballpark, on the interstate, several times, before finally making it down onto the correct street. It took nearly an hour to go from our hotel, a mere 8 miles away, to Safeco Field–part of that was due to horrible traffic–so when we finally arrived, I made my way as fast as I could to the closest gate, and into the ballpark:

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Our tickets for this game were on the first base side, but I didn’t head immediately to my seat. Instead, I darted for the front row just beyond the Twins’ dugout. Unlike the last MLB game I attended up in Baltimore, in June, I wasn’t as focused on getting autographs as I was on meeting up with Kyle Gibson, who I’ve gotten to know through fairly regular twitter conversations and emails, over the past couple of years.

While I was looking forward to meeting Gibson at the game, for the first time, it didn’t happen. The delay to the ballpark caused me to miss Gibson, and he didn’t return back out of the clubhouse until too late. (Maybe next time.)

But my temporary front row seat wasn’t all bad. I had a great view of the long haul bombers; a group of guys who tour around to different ballparks during the season, putting on spectacular softball home run derby-style shows for the fans:

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They certainly didn’t disappoint, as two of their swings sent the ball sailing out of the entire ballpark. Truly an incredible thing to witness.

Shortly after they finished showing off for those in attendance, the Mariners’ starting pitcher for the game, Felix Hernandez, emerged from the dugout, and headed out towards the bullpen. I hadn’t known he was going to be pitching until a few days before, and I was thrilled to get to see a former Cy Young and perfect game pitcher in action.

I stuck around in the same spot until after the National Anthem, when I headed to my ticketed seat. But I didn’t stay there long. I had been wanting to take a self guided tour, of sorts, around the ballpark, so, after watching NBA Hall of Famer, Gary Payton, throw out the first pitch….:

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….that’s exactly what I did. I began by heading all the way up to the last row in the upper level, behind the Mariners’ dugout:

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It sure was a long way up there, but it was worth it.

I spent a bit of time there, admiring the view, before heading down to the next level and making my way over to left field. But I quickly found myself in some kind of club section, so I had to go all the way down to the lower level. I ended up, somehow, behind the King’s Court (a special cheering section for Felix Hernandez):

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But that was okay. I wanted to get there eventually, anyway.

The atmosphere was incredible on this particular night, with Hernandez pitching. And being in the vicinity of the King’s Court–a section of fans that show up every time Hernandez is pitching, decked out in yellow shirts, carrying yellow ‘K’ signs–for an inning made it even better.

But even with the amazing buzz in the air, I got bored standing there (I get bored easily) and ended up moving to nearly straight away center for a few at-bats:

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However, while there, I recalled one of my main goals of the night: to get some garlic fries. (I had heard they were fantastic, and I was looking forward to trying some.) So, after searching for a bit, I got a basket and headed back to my seat:

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I can honestly say the fries were good, but not great; especially not six-dollar-great. But I got my money’s worth, at least. Can’t say that too often.

The view, from my seat, remained the same up until the ninth inning, when I moved to the third base side:

DSCN6334

I expected the Mariners to hold their one run lead, with Hernandez still on the mound (he had eleven strikeouts on the night), but as my luck would have it, he gave up a run to the Twins to tie things up.

The Mariners proceeded to not do much of anything in the bottom half of the inning, so for the first time in my life I was able to witness an extra inning game. (Kind of surprising with all of the games I’ve gone to lately, I think.)

My grandpa and I stuck around for the tenth and eleventh innings, but left as the twelfth was starting. Who knew how long the game would go, and the next day was going to be a busy one, that started early, so it wasn’t practical to stick around.

The Twins ended up winning the game, 3-2, in thirteen innings. So Hernandez received a no decision, despite the gem of a game. But you know, that happens sometimes.

I had a great time at the ballgame, and an overall great time on the entire 24 day trip. I saw some amazing things, but it’s good to be back home where I can easily keep up with what’s going on around the baseball world, once again. Being away for so long truly makes you appreciate how great of a sport baseball is.

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