Giants Shrink and Pirates Sink

It has been rather nice for the past few seasons to have my two favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates, contend for their respective division titles and participate in the post season. The Pirates had an especially long drought period before emerging as contenders in 2013 and many of us who have been around since J. Fred Muggs had as many viewers as the Kardashians recall the woeful days of Kiner’s Korner and perennial last place finishes before the happy World Champion days of 1960, 1971, and 1979. The Giants have been, for the most part, flourishing ever since they moved to the Phone Booth in 2000 but there were many years of suffering prior to that in the Bay Area because even when they were winning one had to endure Candlestick Park to see them in person and they almost moved to Florida.

It was good while it lasted but this year it looks like neither team has what it takes to make the playoffs. Oh, sure, the Giants are in second place and there are still many games to play but they have played at a .323 winning percentage since the All Star break after boasting a surprising 57-33 record that had many of us fooled. The Pirates have perked up lately, on the other hand, going 28-17 since June 24. The Cubs faltered a bit over a month ago, but that has been followed by another winning surge that has just about clinched the division title already. The Cardinals and Pirates still have decent teams but will probably wear themselves out just trying to be wild card entries.

The Pirates shot themselves in the foot in the off season. Whether or not they were deliberately conceding to Chicago, the winter additions of David Freese and Matt Joyce did not scare people around the league. The trade of Neil Walker was only going to make sense if Jon Niese became an 18 game winner, but he was 8-6 with a 4.91 ERA for the Bucs. Francisco Liriano went from being a good five inning pitcher to being a mediocre at best one, going 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA. Juan Nicasio has seldom been good. Starting pitching is really all that Pittsburgh needs and there is hope for the future. Jameson Taillon has looked good and others with promise appear on the horizon. The outfield remains perhaps the overall best in baseball, especially defensively. McCutchen obviously needs his dreads back but seems to be snapping out of a year long batting funk. Marte and Polanco both strike out a lot but are otherwise superb. The Bucs were hurt badly by the loss to injury of so many games by Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart and catcher is, after all, a vitally important position. The infield defense is not terrible but does not rate with the best either. Jaso and Freese were not acquired for their gold glove potential.

Meanwhile, the Giants’ sterling infield defense took a hit with the late July trade of third baseman Matt Duffy to Tampa Bay, where he is evidently going back to playing shortstop. The Giants received a mediocre left handed starter, Matt Moore, in return and acquired a lefty reliever, Will Smith, from Milwaukee as well in an attempt to shore up a wobbly pitching staff. Smith gets the mediocre tag as well and San Francisco will have to hope that Eduardo Nunez, a journeyman infielder who reminds no one of Brooks Robinson or Omar Vizquel, is highly productive offensively. He was an All Star for the Twins, but every team gets an All Star.

Don’t get me wrong, either or both of these teams could end up in the 2016 playoffs somehow and I’ll be happy if they do. There are proven veteran winners on both squads. As for the World Series, that would be a bit of a reach. For the future, a fresh injection of youthful enthusiasm may be needed if the Giants and Pirates are to regain badass status.

August Is the Cruelest Month

I’m not going to call them the dog days because I like dogs too much. Our hounds are smarter than most people. When it’s hot, they sleep. They don’t grill. They don’t drive to the beach. If the furniture isn’t cool enough, they lie on the floor. Outside, if the ground isn’t cool enough, they dig themselves a cooler bed. Most people aren’t so smart.

For instance, even though it’s hot, some people put on pads and helmets and try to send each other to the hospital. Why can’t the NFL and its goofy fans wait for foul weather, as in ice and wind and rain and snow, at least? In that kind of weather, football almost makes sense. Real futbol, or soccer, players have the intelligence and the courage to play in what is essentially their underwear, but even so they tend to wait for cooler temperatures.

Last week there was no Sunday night baseball on ESPN. Why? Apparently football is so damned popular that they thought more people would watch an NFL exhibition game than an actual summer game that is enjoyable. Life was better before the media all consolidated. Life was also better before education became devalued to the point that so many people were so ignorant that they thought Donald Trump was smart. Ronald Reagan, Rupert Murdoch and various other thugs led us into a dark alley and sapped us silly.

I realize that I’m not with the majority here. I grew up in western Pennsylvania, where if people found out that you didn’t love football you might have been reported to the House Un-American Activities Committee and banned from the bars. Gosh darn it, though, we have already ceded September through February to the football crowd, so why do we have to give them August as well? It wouldn’t hurt nearly as much if there was still competition and one network could show football and another baseball and perhaps another badminton or whatever but no, we all have to watch the same thing or else the ads, which been repeated hundreds of times already, won’t have any effect. Do people really buy Viagra or that Flex Seal stuff because they see it on television? I guess they do.

The melancholy is deeper this August because, as if the political conventions weren’t enough, we also are distracted by the Olympics and the televising thereof. Look, I like many sports, especially badminton, but there are two rather big things wrong with the Olympics. First, the extremely corrupt “organizing committee” that goads various dictators and their minions into destroying entire neighborhoods to build temporary structures while they “clean up” the streets from natives who don’t look so much like they want a new Lexus as they do a place to sleep and something to eat. It’s “good for the economy” the same way that sending the Mafia your grocery money would be “good for the economy”. Second, the revered athletic contests have been reduced to just another television show. That show as presented to us in the USA! USA! feels as though it was produced by Leni Riefenstahl and company with its schmaltzy music and USA centered themes. Thus, as with those political conventions, every four years that pass makes them less and less attractive.

There could be a merger of it all in four years, though, if Curt Schilling keeps his promise to run for president. As the last few weeks of the pennant races wear down, the best one can do is pay as much attention as possible to the drama that is being nudged aside like an overripe apple. Ichiro Suzuki makes us smile as he passes the famed Roberto Clemente on the all time hits list. Can the Cleveland Caucasians hold on in the American League Central? Will the Dodgers continue to track the Giants down, even without Clayton Kershaw? Will Baltimore, with Manny Machado attaining super stardom, beat back those other birds from Canada? Ah! I’m starting to feel better already.

 

Rolling the Dice

If the 2016 major league baseball season continues as it has been going, sixty five per cent of the players involved in the trades made just prior to the August 1 deadline will soon be on the disabled list with many due for surgery. At least that’s how it seems to be going. Traders in horseflesh always know, however, that it is a bit of a gamble and yet the dice were rolling this late July ¬†almost as frequently as they do for an old Strat-O-Matic player such as myself.

Questions, as always, abound. What, for instance, will the Mets do with Curtis Granderson now that Jay Bruce, a lifelong right fielder, is aboard? Yoenis Cespedes seems to be the center fielder, Michael Conforto has been hyped as the left fielder/superstar of the future, Juan Lagares is hurt but still around, and Justin Ruggiano has been recently acquired as well. Perhaps the brain trust realizes that injuries are bound to persist so it’s good to keep their options open.

Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirate must be a bit confused. Last winter the erstwhile contenders in the National Central traded hometown favorite Neil Walker to the Mets in exchange for left handed starting pitcher Jon Niese. It seemed to be justifiable at the time because everyone was running out of patience with Jeff Locke  and Niese seemed to be the type of guy whose career could be rejuvenated in the land where folks drink Iron. Hurlers such as A.J. Burnett, Vance Worley, and Francisco Liriano had revived themselves under pitching coach Ray Searage and manager Clint Hurdle with the help of some really fast outfielders. It did not work out well for Niese as a Pirate and so they shipped him to the Mets in exchange for Antonio Bastardo, a lefty reliever they had lost through free agency over the winter to New York. So now the Buccos have about the same team they had last year except for no Neil Walker.

The Bucs say they haven’t thrown in the towel, but they also sent closer Mark Melancon to Washington. That gives Dusty Baker a good excuse to ignore Jonathan Papelbon. Of course, there is always the chance that Melancon will get injured, or perhaps Papelbon can go to the Old Closers’ Home in Atlanta.

I wouldn’t wish Texas on anyone not named Bush but it’s good to see Carlos Beltran out of the Yankees pinstripes. The catcher Jonathan Lucroy from Milwaukee and Beltran may be all that the Rangers need to win the American West but I would still not count out the Astros.

The Dodgers probably gained the most from all of the dice rolling. They now have a superb right fielder in Josh Reddick who knows how to play the game and another pitcher who is good when he’s healthy (Rich Hill) to add to their list of sometimes available hurlers. How will the Yasiel Puig drama play out? The Dodgers don’t have to care now. Unless, of course, Reddick gets hurt.

The Cleveland Caucasians will be happy to have excellent lefty Andrew Miller in the bullpen down the stretch, and here’s hoping all goes well for Terry Francona & Co. the rest of the way. They may regret cutting loose Juan Uribe, however.

The San Francisco Giants may have taken the prize for the most risky roll of the season. Matt Moore has been a five inning starter when healthy but that hasn’t been a whole lot of time. To get Moore, the Giants parted ways with a very good third baseman with great baseball smarts in Matt Duffy, who will now, unfortunately, have to play in the K-Mart of baseball palaces, Tampa Bay. They acquired speedy Eduardo Nunez from the Twins a week previously as a supposed backup. In that role, Nunez would have been fine. Defensively compared to Duffy, it’s a big step backwards whether Nunez or Conor Gillaspie plays third. Then again, Duffy is on the DL now and they all might join him by next Monday. Roll the dice.

 

The Cuban Comet

If you mention the 1951 baseball season to anyone old enough to remember visors on automobile windshields,without variance they will begin to talk about the miracle of Coogan’s Bluff. That is the story of the New York Giants, who trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by thirteen and a half games on August 12 that season but won 39 of their last 47 games to catch the Dodgers and force a three game playoff for the National League pennant. In the third game of that playoff at the Polo Grounds, Bobby Thomson hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history with rookie Willie Mays on deck to snatch the pennant away from the Brooklyn Bums and the great comeback was complete.

That enabled the Giants to participate in the World Series, which they lost to Casey Stengal’s Yankees four games to two after winning two of the first three. The Yanks made it three pennants in a row in ’51 and would go on to win again the next year and the next in what seemed at the time to be inevitable domination. In retrospect, however, it seems to me that a strange, three team trade made on April 30 of that season might have kept Cleveland from advancing to the World Series instead of New York. That trade brought Lou Brissie, a left handed relief pitcher, to a Cleveland team that featured a big four of starting pitchers that started 130 games among them and completed 69 of those. The four–Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon, were all right handed, so no doubt there was the need, at least occasionally, for a good lefty. Two other leftys, Johnny Vander Meer and Dick Rozek, were on the roster but saw very little action so Brissie in his 54 appearances showed value with an earned run average of 3.20 including four spot starts. The Chicago White Sox sent hard hitting but immobile outfielders Dave Philley and Gus Zernial to the Philadelphia A’s where they could help new manager Jimmy Dykes draw fans if not win games. Zernial would lead the league in home runs that year. Brissie went to Cleveland from Philadelphia and Cleveland sent backup catcher Ray Murray and lefty Sam Zoldak to Philadelphia, where he pitched about as well as Brissie. The A’s sent backup outfielder Paul Lehner to Chicago, where he didn’t play much. That might have been because the White Sox, as part of this complicated deal, obtained from Cleveland Saturnino Orestes Armas Minoso. In other words, they made out like bandits.

After a month of playing sporadically at first base for Cleveland, Minoso, given the condescending nickname Minnie in the states,played 138 games for the Pale Hose as their first Black Face. He was the opposite of Zernial and Philley as a fast, talented outfielder with a strong throwing arm. He also played 68 games at third base. He finished first in the American League in stolen bases with 31 and in triples with 14 as he helped Chicago become the GO GO Sox. He was third in OPS at .922, sixth in total bases with 265,fourth in doubles (34), fifth in on base percentage (.422), fifth in slugging percentage (.500), and second in batting average (.326). He was also probably first in fan appreciation.

Cleveland won 93 games that year and it has been speculated that the emergence of Al Rosen as their third baseman could have been part of the reason Minoso was deemed expendable. Rosen had a fine season himself with 24 homers and 102 runs batted in. There are other things to speculate about when this trade is considered, however. While it is true that Orestes Minoso was technically a rookie, there is little doubt that the baseball world knew of his exploits playing in Cuba, Mexico, and the Negro leagues and also little doubt that the quality of play in those leagues was comparable to the so called big leagues, more so perhaps than anyone was willing to admit. It had only been four years since integration of the major leagues had begun and teams like the Yankees and Red Sox were still years away from accepting reality. Cleveland already had Larry Doby and Luke Easter. Was there, as many believe, a quota? It’s the only thing that makes sense to me. I grew up about 80 miles from Cleveland and about 50 miles from Pittsburgh and I will always remember one of my elders saying , when he visited us after church one Sunday in the mid 50s,that Cleveland and the Pirates “…have too many niggers ..” on their teams.

The Yankees won 98 games that year, which will always be remembered as Joe DiMaggio‘s last and Mickey Mantle‘s first. Their team earned run average was 3.56 while Cleveland’s was 3.38. New York scored 798 runs to Cleveland’s 696. Both teams hit 140 home runs. The Yankees stole more bases, 78 to 52, had an equal number of doubles (208) and more triples by 13 (48 to 35). Is it becoming more clear how Minoso may have helped close the gap offensively? The Yankees had become known as the Bronx Bombers, but in reality their big weapon was defense, especially up the middle with DiMaggio and Phil Rizzuto at shortstop and Jerry Coleman or Gil McDougald at second base. The defense in Cleveland was spotty. Jim Hegan was great at catcher and Doby superb in center field but the infield with Ray Boone at short, Bobby Avila at second, and Rosen did not compare favorably at all. Doby patrolled center well but had two statues, Bob Kennedy and Dale Mitchell, on either side of him. So Orestes could have been a big help there as well.

We weren’t that far from Brooklyn vs. Cleveland World Series in 1951 and I suppose all seasons are that way somewhat and that social factors are always involved, even in the games we play and watch with each other.

Orestes Minoso went on to have a career that should have been capped with selection to the Hall of Fame. He played in nine all star games. He won three gold gloves. His lifetime batting average was .298, his on base percentage was .389, his slugging percentage was .459. He tallied 205 stolen bases in an era where they were not considered important to many teams (White Sox not included). He hit 336 doubles, 186 home runs, and 83 triples. He was frequently hit by pitches. The man from La Habana accumulated all those great numbers but also, more importantly, was damned fun to watch. Minnie Minoso was maximum ballplayer.

First Half Awards You Missed

Despite the preponderance of statistics these days in major league baseball, the general math skills seem to be a bit off. When they pause to play the all star game, everyone seems to want to call it the first half when, for most teams, it was actually the first 56 per cent. I sure hope people are more careful when they calculate all the metrics that go into determining Wins Against Replacement which, like quantum physics, I realize is extremely important even if I don’t understand it.

Anyway,we’ll go along with the first half business since it contains much more of the first half than it does the second half in order to present to you a Baseball Anarchy exclusive, the first half awards that you probably missed. Keep your slide rules at the ready.

D.B. COOPER AWARD: Josh Hamilton Runner Up: Dee Gordon

DORIAN GRAY AWARD: David Ortiz Runner Up: Ichiro Suzuki Second Runner Up: Bartolo Colon

MISSING CONGENIALITY AWARD: (tie) Rougned Odor and Yorvano Ventura

CHRIS BERMAN FEIGNED EXCITEMENT AWARD: Joe Buck

CONUNDRUM WITHIN ENIGMA AWARD: Clay Buchholz

PENTHOUSE TO OUTHOUSE PRIZE: the paper necklace goes to the Alhambra Angels

BEST NEW FACE: Francisco Lindor

WORST OLD FACE: Alex Rodriguez

BATTERY WE NEED TO SEE: Marc Rzepczynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia

SPENDING OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY AWARD: (tie) all of the contract memorizing pundits at ESPN and FOX

Here’s hoping that the second 44 per cent has lots of thrills and chills for you. Actually, if we add on the post season, maybe….

Just When You Thought

Just when you thought that no, this time it’s different, this time the Chicago Cubs are for real, they appear to have hit the skids. Will it continue or will they snap out of it and resume domination of the National League Central? A lot will depend on whether or not Jake Arrieta has really returned to being just an ordinary pitcher. The lineup still is solid, with Justin Heyward joining the youth corps of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell in continuing to wreak havoc. However, the pitching has now become suspect, with starters Jon Lester and John Lackey looking less than stellar lately and the bullpen showing strain. The first few games after the All Star break will be worth observing.

Just when you thought that injuries and a wobbly bullpen were going to cause the San Francisco Giants to be reduced to a .500 team they rip off 40 wins in 55 games to hit the break with the best record in the major leagues. Can they continue, or will the imminent return of right fielder Hunter Pence, second baseman Joe Panik and third baseman Matt Duffy as well as one time ace pitcher Matt Cain throw a wrench in the works and cause them to sputter? We shall see.

Just when you thought that Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and the rest of the Toronto Blue Jays were going to slump their way through the entire season they came alive and looked hot as the break approached, winning 8 out of ten. Baltimore and Boston have strength but it’s starting to look again like it did in the second half of 2015, that is, the Blue Jays have more.

There are, as always, many other interesting stories to consider as the television cools in preparation for the rest of the season. Dusty Baker‘s rejuvenated Nationals, thought in this corner to be over rated as the season began, look like a good balance of young and old as well as pitching and power. Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa have been key ingredients there. The Phillies, hot early, faltered but now seem to have found a second wind and threaten to become contenders by the time 2017 rolls around. The Marlins, with a suddenly awakened Giancarlo Stanton and their bald hitting coach, seemed geared up for winning. The Dodgers, despite an apparent plague on their pitching staff and the continuing flop of Yasiel Puig, are not going away. The Texas Rangers stumbled a bit coming into the break while Houston got back into the race, so it looks like a battle in the Land That Time Forgot. Oddly, the hosts of the All Star game, the Padres, are not nearly as awful as we thought they might be back in April. It’s good to see Melvin Upton performing up to the old expectations. They’re not good, but not awful either. I hope it has nothing to do with the Steinbrennerisms of their owner.

Finally, there are two guys having just the kind of season we wanted them to have as they head for baseball’s version of social security: Ichiro and A-Rod.

Suddenly This Summer

Here it is July already and I still haven’t decided whether to feed the grass or kill the weeds. Is there a petroleum product available that slows the passage of time? We really are at the halfway point of the major league baseball season and the big question this year is: what the hell is going on?

Clayton Kershaw has joined the legions on the disabled list so the question is raised: Will we have a repeat of the 1994 fiasco with the season ending in August, this time because there are no players left healthy enough to perform?

The San Francisco Giants are on pace for exactly 100 wins despite having player after player fall to serious injury, which is very similar to what happened last season with the St. Louis Cardinals. No team seems to be able to count on any pitcher lasting more than a month without needing surgery. Maybe steroids weren’t such a bad idea. Some people think that athletes today are weaker due to poor nutrition early in life as a result of processed foods, empty calories, sugary soft drinks, and any number of other results of the food supply being controlled by giant corporations that can afford to spend millions advertising on television for junk food that costs a buck. Other folks suspect that today’s athletes may over train, especially with weights, and that over developed muscles are causing problems with hamstrings and tendons and perhaps brittle bones. Another angle is that because even .219 batters and 5.78 ERA pitchers are now multi-millionaires, aches, pains, and injuries are not ignored or trivialized the way they were in the past since a precious investment must be protected and jocks aren’t a dime a dozen anymore.

There are other items of interest as the All Star Game approaches. One is the relative ease with which the Texas Rangers pulled away from the rest of the A.L. West teams despite little help so far from Prince Fielder. It looks like the only challenge they will be getting will come from the Houston Astros, who have recently come out of the ether and played well. Newly minted outfielder Ian Desmond has been a difference maker there. And whoa, daddy, Cleveland! Terry Francona‘s club is threatening to never lose another game and where did that come from? I say that it’s the oldest of reasons–solid pitching, along with Francona’s contagious good attitude. It helps them that Kansas City has been sorely missing Mike Moustakas and Alex Gordon but Gordon is back now and the Royals still have that great defense although whoops! There goes Lorenzo Cain to the disabled list.

The Baltimore Orioles are so much different than the Orioles of my youth. That team would beat you 1-0 if they couldn’t beat you 2-1, but these are the Orioles of the incessant long ball in that homer happy yard. If Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy can stay on the field together for a while they are a good bet to stay in contention.

Over in the superior league, the Cubs’ dominant pitching is beginning to be tested as hot weather takes over so things could get more competitive. Chicago should clinch that division by Labor Day although there is still some hope that St. Louis will get hot. No such expectation for Pittsburgh, however. It is sad indeed to see the Pirates become a .500 team at best after three good years. They have what is probably the best outfield in baseball but you have to have solid infield defense and consistent pitching if you’re going to avoid losing streaks and the Bucs just don’t.

Hats off to Dusty Baker and his Washington Nationals, who seem to be winning more than they should. The Mets have health issues, but as we said, who doesn’t? The Dodgers seem to have a lineup that compares favorably with the Giants, who have been playing their “B” team for quite a while now, but Los Angeles lacks pitching, and when is the last time you could say that? Well, they have Kenley Jansen.

Finally, welcome back to the show Tim Lincecum. The El Segundo Angels were desperate and you were available and here is hoping that it all works out.