Phillies fans have no shortage of reasons to gripe. The offense has ranked somewhere between non-existent and spotty, only ahead of other disappointments like the Nationals, Dodgers, White Sox and Marlins. The pitching has been almost as bad, ranking 22nd of the 30 MLB teams. So it’s not surprising that the Phillies are under .500 and 5 1/2 games back.And while Cliff Lee and Kyle Kendrick have been dominating, the loss of Roy Halladay to shoulder injury and the struggles of Cole Hamels (who has actually been much better than his numbers suggest) have undermined what looked to to be...
Toronto Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ took his sign, came set and checked the Tampa Bay runners on second and third on May 7. He then delivered the pitch, and almost instantly, a collective gasp could be heard not only at Tropicana Field but also on television sets nationwide.Desmond Jennings lined the pitch off the side of Happ’s head, and Happ went down hard. He had to be carted off the field in a stretcher and suffered a skull fracture that has landed him on the disabled list.In watching the gruesome incident over and over again, it raises the question:...
It was easy to look at the Texas Rangers before the season started and wonder if their glory days were already behind them. They were stunned in the wild card playoff by Baltimore last year, and the departure of Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli looked to weaken their lineup considerably.
Age was certainly becoming a factor. Too many of their key players were on the wrong side of 30 and the team's answer to the loss of Hamilton was the signing of 37-year-old Lance Berkman.
Yu Darvish leads an impressive Rangers staff.
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative commons license.
The team didn't...
No matter who is on their roster, the St. Louis Cardinals always field a relevant team.
Success in the playoffs usually involves a team that gets hot at the right time, but just to be there consistently like the Cardinals have been is a testament to the baseball factory that St. Louis produces.
There's a tradition of winning, and whenever a new player dons the Cardinal red, it seems that he just automatically gets it. The team may not have a bona fide superstar, but whatever Mike Matheny is doing is working.
The heart of the Cardinals offense.
Photo by Keith Allison, used under creative...
The Baltimore Orioles were one of the feel-good stories of 2012. They hadn’t reached the postseason since 1996 but defeated the heavily favored Texas Rangers in the new one-game playoff and put up an impressive showing in the ALDS, which they ultimately lost to the New York Yankees in five games.But let’s be realistic: Despite their success from a year ago, no one really considered them a threat to be legitimate playoff contenders this season.Baltimore plays in arguably the toughest division in baseball, and everyone jumped on the Toronto Blue Jays bandwagon this offseason.However, Buck Showalter has his team playing...
Book Review: Black Sox in the Courtroom: the Grand Jury, Criminal Trial and Civil LitigationAuthor: William LambPages: 222Like many baseball fans, I’ve always been intensely interested in the Black Sox. I’ve read at least a dozen books, written articles on them and even defended one or two of the players based on what I’ve learned. This book takes it a lot further -- clearing up some points, debunking others -- based not upon the media hype or artistic license taken by many writers on the topic, but by examining nothing other than the legal battles fought in both criminal and...
Bryce Harper seems to run at one speed: all out, whether he’s hitting, fielding or running full tilt into walls. And while manager Davey Johnson was capable of joking “I feel kind of sorry for the wall if he keeps running into them,” there is plenty of reason to be concerned for the 20-year-old who has twice now required stitches in his head, precautionary x-rays and concussion fears.But that’s the way that Harper plays. He plays to win. Watching him play he reminds you of Pete Rose. Do whatever it takes, play to win and let the consequences of the...
Last week will not be regarded among the finest hours for umpires. There were the usual gaffes and miscalls that come with having to make split-second judgments, most of which can easily be written off as minor, but there were issues that simply left the fans, not to mention the sports media, scratching their heads or screaming for robot umpires.The first issue was a big one: when is a home run not a home run? Well when Robin Ventura hits it and never makes it around the bases is one scenario. A miscalled foul ball might be another. But never...
Yu Darvish burst onto the scene last season for the Texas Rangers as the prized import of the offseason. He baffled hitters with a variety of pitches and arm slots en route to an impressive first season.But Major League hitters these days have access to so much video footage that they’re able to study an opposing pitcher’s tendencies incessantly. That being said, it was almost a given that Darvish would not experience that same level of success as his rookie season.Darvish, though, has had other plans. His early body of work has brought him into the conversation as the AL’s...
It’s hard to call the Red Sox the surprise of 2013. They were dreadful last year, finishing last in the East with just 69 wins, three more than the Twins and one more than the Indians. But over the past decade we’ve gotten so used to seeing a level of excellence from the Boston nine that their resurgence doesn’t seem unnatural. Well not until you realize that this worst to first transformation seemed to involve gutting the team and dumping salary.The fact is that the front office deceived us. We thought they were rebuilding and that they’d have a number...
Tampa Bay optioned superstar prospect David Price to Class AAA on Wednesday. Critics label the move as a way to start Price's arbitration clock later, thus saving the Rays a boatload of money. There's probably some truth in that.
There are, however, four very good reasons the Rays were right in doing this.
1) Jason Hammel and Jeff Niemann, two highly regarded pitchers in the Rays system, are out of options. In other words, if Tampa Bay sends them to the minor leagues, they have to pass through waivers. And trust me, there are many, many teams that would claim them. The Rays need to keep both of these guys, since both can at least help their major league ballclub in 2009.
2) Price needs to watch his innings pitched. Young pitchers, especially those with ceilings as high as Price's, need to steadily build themselves up. It's not like the Rays -- sporting Kazmir, Garza and Shields -- need any more starters lying around. They do, however, need someone like Price to be healthy. And that means increasing his innings slowly -- to about 150-160 in 2009. The kid gloves should come off in 2010.
3) The Rays would like Price to limit the number of pitches he throws per inning, said Rays' pitching coach Jim Hickey in an interview with ESPN.com. Minor league seasoning is a wonderful way for Price to gain confidence in the defense behind him and allow hitters to put balls into play.
4) And finally, Price would be well served working on his off-speed stuff, especially his changeup. It's not like he only can throw the fastball, but Price could use a little more instruction, a little more seasoning, before he becomes The Next Great Thing.
In last week's Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard presents a good idea on how to handle this steroid mess: amnesty for everyone who comes forward. Here's how his idea would work.
We could call it APE (Amnesty for the Performance Enhanced) and hold an enormous press conference. The guilty athletes could line up at the side of the stage, like at graduation, only without the sense of optimism or hope. Each jock would approach the podium and read from a handy one-mea-culpa-serves-all: "I, [insert name], willingly took [steroids/HGH/experimental Russian opiates disguised as Skittles] that I got from [my trainer/some guy in Queens/eBay] because I thought it would make me [more successful/wealthier/better than Sammy Sosa], and now look at me. I developed [chronic elbow injuries/ terrible bacne/barely visible testicles] and am ashamed of myself. Kids, believe me, you don't want to be me. I don't even want to be me right now."
And that would be it. They would get on with their lives so that we, as sports fans, could get on with ours. There would be no book deals for the guilty, no flak-managed press conferences, no making up stories about reporters hiding in their carry-on luggage. Rather, each guilty jock would have to stand up, spill the beans and take it like a man; hey, they should be used to it now after all those needles.
This is a good idea in theory. Athletes who have been forward about their steroid abuse have been vilified in the media before the story blew over. See: Giambi, Jason or Pettitte, Andy. The athletes who continue to insist their innocence in the face of enormous evidence to the opposite -- like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens -- are facing an uphill battle.
Coming forward would also present athletes in a more believable light. After Alex Rodriguez's multiple PR-infused press conferences, fans disliked him more, not less. This amnesty plan would force athletes to present the entire truth (i.e. following the script Ballard mentioned).
What check would we have they would tell the truth? Just imagine the backlash once a media report is done that so-and-so didn't perfectly dot their I's and cross their T's. The pressure to tell the complete truth during the press conference would be too much.
Another positive for athletes: it beats waiting for the next investigative piece where one of those 103 other positives from MLB's 2005 testing is revealed. It's only a matter of time before those names are made public. Baseball players might as well be proactive.
Team USA was eliminated by Japan 9-4 from the WBC on Sunday. The blame rests on multiple shoulders.
Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt, the U.S.'s supposed two-headed monster, fizzled out. They didn't have the arm strength to dominate. Peavy looked like he was suffering through a bit of dead arm in his second start, while Oswalt was gassed after three innings against Japan.
If these pitchers want to dominate -- and why bother showing up if they didn't want to -- they needed to start throwing earlier so they would be in shape for this. The same goes for the multitude of hitters who were injured. Start taking swings earlier.
The players who declined to participate should be held accountable, too. Few major league stars skipped for other countries. Why did it take, according to some sources, about 70 phone calls to fill the U.S. team out? Where were CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay? Where were Mark Teixeira, Josh Hamilton and Ryan Howard? The list of missing superstars continues.
Fans, where were you? Attendance at these games was sparse, even though the U.S. got to hold the event. Several U.S. players complained they hadn't played a home game through the second round. Fans were showing up for meaningless spring training games in Mesa, Ariz., but not meaningful games in Los Angeles or Miami. The U.S. fans were outdone by fans cheering for their opponents.
There really is no reason for the U.S. to have lost so many times, so badly. The U.S. hosts the last two rounds of the event and has the weakest first-round pool play. Let's just hope the U.S. is ready to avoid another embarrassment in 2013.
And there's also no agreement behind what "a manager's moves" even means. Managers moves could be pregame moves (setting the lineup, arranging the bullpen, etc.), or it could mean in-game moves (to hit-and-run, to pull a pitcher, to sacrifice, etc.), or it could mean subtle moves (telling a pitcher who is struggling that he has confidence in him, resting a struggling hitter for a day to get his head on straight), or it could mean preemptive moves (having the team work extra on pitchers covering first, instituting a fine for any player who does not run out a ground ball, giving the take sign on 3-0), or it could mean big picture move (naming a player a captain, having a young player's locker set up next to a veteran player's), or it could mean a public relations move (calling out a player in the paper, giving a player a vote of confidence on the radio), or about 12 million other things.
And here I was thinking anyone could manage a big league team. Then Joe gets into more detail on in game moves:
A good manager has an uncanny way of consistently putting his players in positions where they can succeed. There are no perfect players, but more than that, there are very, very few players who do not have serious and easy-to-define weaknesses in their game. Some hit but don't field, some field but don't hit, some cannot catch up to hot fastballs, some cannot lay off the outside slider, some throw too many pitches, some cannot get lefties out, some do not walk, some are not aggressive enough, on and on and on and on forever. Seems to me that the part of managing that matters most -- and maybe this is where Bobby Cox shines -- is setting up game after game after game so that more of your players get to play to their strengths.
There is a lot of truth in what he says (about 100%), but it's much easier said than done. You can't always pinch-hit for your lefty, can't always bring your mop-up guy when the score is 12-0. Still, if you are managing, and if it's your children's little league team, "putting your players in positions where they can succeed" is probably the best guideline you can have - except maybe "have fun".
With the World Baseball Classic down to its final four, ESPN's Eric Young evaluates each team chances to win it all.
BTW: Why does ESPN have no permalinks like every other site in the world wide web?
UNITED STATES ...Sadly, injuries have decimated this team's hitting, and while they are able to plug some impressive players in to take the spots of guys like Chipper Jones, they are nonetheless plugging in inexperienced guys.While it's true that no one on this team has a ton of international experience, it's tough to lose veterans like Jones and Kevin Youkilis, both of whom have been in pressure situations and come through. That's not a knock on a guy like Evan Longoria, who I believe will be a superstar and a stalwart on Team USA, but it's just not the perfect situation.
Only that Chipper was 0 for 10 in the tournament. And Longoria hit six home runs last postseason (although admittingly, his average was way down).
This team is going to have to be carried by its pitching staff. They need Jake Peavy to step up and show why he's thought of as one of the best pitchers in the world. More importantly, the U.S. needs a big effort from the bullpen If that doesn't happen, this team could be in trouble in a hurry.
Ok, if the pitching is bad, the team is in trouble. Where do journalists get this kind of insight?
JAPAN The defending champions clearly know what it takes to win here. They have an excellent mix of pitching, defense and timely hitting.
I guess the logic here is if something like untimely slumping excists, the opposite - timely hitting - has to excist, too. Fair enough, I just doubt that it is a repeatable skill.
Yes, they have the goods to repeat as champions. Coming into this tournament, I deemed them my favorite because they don't make the little mistakes that eat away at team's chances. This isn't a team built around power, as evidenced by the three home runs they have as a team. But they get on base.
Finally, valid points. Japan only has allowed only one unearned run so far. But then again, they have only allowed nine runs overall in seven games. Their OBP is .366, their SLG barely higher at .385. So I say the key for team USA: Throw strikes.
KOREA Of the four teams left, Korea is probably the biggest surprise because not a whole lot is known about this squad.
So far, Korea has faced China, Taiwan, Mexico and Japan (four times). They beat Japan at the semifinals of the Olympics, too. So Korea knows how to play Japan, but other (good) teams? This, in my opinion, is one of the big shortcomings of the WBC. Why does Korea get to play Japan four times?
They had a great showing in the 2006 tournament. This year they are being led pitcher Jung Keun Bong and infielder Tae Kyun Kim. ... Kim has looked great, showing a great ability to get on base. I don't see him slowing down in the semifinals.
Kim has some pop, too. His WBC line so far:.364/.500/.682. His career OPS in the Korean league is .936, so he really can hit.
My only problem with this team is I don't quite trust this bullpen. They've had some blowups, and I'm not sure it can hold a lead in a tight game against some of these impressive lineups.
Good point here. I have been too harsh on Mr. Young, I apologize.
VENEZUELA This squad could walk away with this championship just by sheer power. It seems like everyone on this team is absolutely mashing.... To be honest, despite my stated belief that pitching and defense is the absolute key to winning this, I think the Venezuela's bats are hot enough to carry it through. But if those bats go cold, then they'll get bounced out extremely quickly.
So basically, the team that pitches well and/or hits well is going to win the tournament because by definition, it will face the team that hits badly and/or pitches badly. Same old, same old.
There are only best-of-one series left, so everything can happen. Even the Royals win one out of three against the Yankees.Call it luck, focus, fate or whatever (I choose luck). And that is - I am sorry I am repeating myself - one of the big shortcomings of the WBC: Too much luck involved.
Of course, critizing is one thing, coming up with a better solution is the other. So here is my proposal: Form two groups with 8 teams and make it a robin round. Seven games for each team. Then, let the two group winners face off in a best of three final. What are you saying? Too many games that don't count make it boring? I doubt that. Puerto Rico vs. the D.R. should be intense no matter the standings. The Netherland will be motivated against the USA on every day. At least, each matchup should be more exciting than the fourth coming of Korea vs. Japan.