Entries by: Mike Bridenstine

The Undertaker’s 11 Greatest Matches

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Published on : April 9, 2017

 

Last Sunday, I watched live on the WWE Network as the Undertaker seemingly wrestled his last match at WrestleMania 33 in Orlando. And that seemed weirdly appropriate to me, since I was also watching live on pay-per-view in 1990 as an elementary school kid when Taker made his WWF debut at Survivor Series. I was also there live with my wife when Taker lost to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX. And I thought, wow, this guy has been a part of my life for 27 years.

 

So I wanted to take the time to share with you what I think are the 11 best matches Taker ever took part in, in chronological order. I don’t really know how else to thank him. I hope you enjoy.

 

1. October 5, 1997. In Your House: Badd Blood. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. Hell in a Cell Match.

 

This seems like a good place to start. In 1997, the World Wrestling Federation was evolving and with it, so was the Undertaker. Seven years after debuting in the WWF, Taker had seen his fair share of cartoonish gimmick matches with the likes of Giant Gonzalez, Yokozuna and even with another version of himself (now infamously known as the Underfaker). He’d seen his character transform from the Western mortician to the classic Deadman to the Lord of Darkness. And with one match at Badd Blood, the Undertaker was about to see two of the biggest mainstays of his career introduced to the world.

 

First and foremost was the ‘Hell in a Cell’ match concept, which was invented by Jim Cornette and named by Vince Russo. It was a departure from the blue steel bars the WWF had employed in their cage matches over the previous decade. There was room around the ring for participants to inflict extra punishment on each other, and probably most importantly, the cage had a roof. Just in case anyone wanted to get creative. The Undertaker’s character was already perfect for a wide array of gimmick matches. But the Hell in a Cell match would come to signify something different to the fans. It meant Taker was dead serious. And it meant they were about to see a spectacle. It was the perfect gimmick match for the perfect gimmick character. At Badd Blood, everyone was also seeing it for the first time.


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The Undertaker’s opponent, Shawn Michaels, had also evolved with the times. He’d long since ditched his Rockers teammate, Marty Janetty, by kicking him through the “Barbershop” window, become the Heartbreak Kid, and had classic matches with Razor Ramon and Bret “the Hitman” Hart. The guy could flat-out work. Nobody had any questions about that. In 1997, Michaels was entrenched in a backstage feud with Hart that would culminate soon enough. But he’d also seen two of his best friends, Scott Hall (the aforementioned Ramon) and Kevin Nash, head off to the WCW and transform professional wresting with the advent of the nWo. The WWF’s answer to the nWo faction would end up being Degeneration-X. But at the time of this match, DX hadn’t even been named yet. And it included the female bodyguard, Chyna, a much more boring version of “Ravishing” Rick Rude, and Triple H, still morphing out of his original ‘Connecticut Blueblood’ persona. And oh, the places he’d go!

 

Historically speaking, the reason for the Taker-Michaels feud was pretty forgettable. The consequences, however, were legendary. When refereeing the main event match between the Undertaker and Hart at SummerSlam, Michaels accidentally hit Taker over the head with a chair (when that was still a thing), costing him the title. So the winner of the Hell in a Cell match was to go on to face Hart for the title at Survivor Series the next month in Montreal. Perhaps you’ve heard of that match.

 

I should also probably mention that on the morning of the Badd Blood pay-per-view, wrestler Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room. He was scheduled to face Dude Love (Mick Foley) on the card that night, but news didn’t reach the WWF until moments before the show was supposed to start. So there was some palpable weirdness in the air. And it would probably take an epic main event to save the understandably lackluster show. What the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels did was put on one of the most iconic cage matches of all time.

 

Early on, Michaels took a spectacular beating. Selling was one of the things Michaels was best at. He bumped all over the ring, off the side of the cage, the top of the cage and everywhere in between. The guy’s a goddamned artist. Generally, the story of the match was that the greatly outsized Michaels was going to do what he needed to do to survive. Things really picked up when an injured cameraman (obviously kayfabe, but he seemed to legitimately piss Michaels off) needed to exit the cage. The door got opened, both men inevitably spilled outside and Michaels’ forehead ended up getting busted wide open. And that’s when both men started climbing to the top of the cage.

 

At the time (and even now in a much tamer era) the two men battling on top of the 15-foot cage was quite a sight to behold. And that was before Michaels fell from the side of the cage through the Spanish announce table, turning his already bloody face into a fucking nightmare. There’d never really been a spectacle like that in WWF history to that point. That was all before Michaels went back into the ring to take more gruesome punishment. And then the lights went out.

 

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Now is probably a good time to tell you that the Undertaker was involved in another ongoing storyline at the time with his former manager, Paul Bearer. For weeks Bearer had warned that he would reveal the Undertaker’s deepest, darkest secret. As a child, young Taker had seemingly burnt down the family funeral home, killing his parents and his younger brother, Kane. But Bearer assured Taker that Kane was still alive and hellbent on revenge. The plot is pure insanity in hindsight. But this was 1997 and we were entering the Attitude Era.

 

Kane’s now-iconic entrance music played as he entered from the back for the first time with Bearer. Announcer Vince McMahon crowed, “That’s gotta be Kane!” as Kane lumbered to the ring, ripped the cage door off the hinges and delivered a devastating tombstone piledriver to the Undertaker. Michaels rose from a pool of his own blood on the mat and, with little he had left, covered Taker for the three-count.

 

2. June 28, 1998. King of the Ring. The Undertaker vs. Mankind. Hell in a Cell match.

 

How do you top the brutality of the first Hell in a Cell match? Well, Terry Funk gave Mick Foley an idea. As the two were brainstorming, Funk (the former NWA champion and current hardcore legend) joked that Foley (as the Mankind character) could get tossed off the top of the cage. That’s not the type of thing you joked with Foley about lightly.

 

Mick Foley came into wrestling worshipping “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, who he’d seen leap off the top of a steel cage onto Don Muraco at Madison Square Garden in 1983. And he wanted his own iconic, career defining moment. His career up to that point had been defined by brutality. He’d been powerbombed onto concrete floors. He lost half of his right ear in a match with Big Van Vader in Germany. He wrestled (with Funk) in ECW and in the King of the Death Match tournament in Japan, complete with barbed wire bats and C4 explosions. If you tell a guy like that he could get tossed off the top of a steel cage, he’s probably going to do it. It’s just that nobody – not Terry Funk, or the Undertaker or Vince McMahon or even Mick Foley knew everything that was about to transpire at King of the Ring 1998.

 

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When Mankind’s music hit, he entered with a steel chair in hand and commentators, Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler ran down a brief history of his derangement. Fans knew his real name. And they’d seen him go back and forth between different characters, like Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind. Earlier that year, he entered the Royal Rumble as all three characters. But when Foley approached the cage, he surprised everyone by tossing the chair up to the roof and then proceeding to climb up after it.

 

This is how the match with Michaels ended, more or less. So when Taker came out, he climbed to the top as well. The fans went nuts as J.R. sold the fact that the Undertaker was a changed man and that he’d been acting more Satanic lately. I don’t know the exact storyline for that, but Taker was shoved in a coffin by Kane and then lit it on fire at one point. But I digress. The two men exchanged fists at the top of the cage when one section of the mesh chainlink started to give. And then, less than two minutes into the second-ever Hell in a Cell singles match, the most iconic moment in the history of professional wrestling happened. It would go on to define the way Mick Foley’s career would be remembered. And it would basically scare the shit out of everyone who’s ever seen it without knowing it was coming.

 

The more-Satanic Undertaker tossed Foley off of the 16-foot cage and through the ever-destroyed Spanish announce table. J.R. began screaming, “Good God Almighty! That killed him! As God as my witness, he’s broken in half!” It’s absolutely incredible to watch, an almost beautiful fall. The WWF medical staff, along with Terry Funk and a concerned-looking WWF owner, Vince McMahon, rushed out to check on him, while Taker ominously loomed from overhead.

 

Oddly, to get Foley out of there in a stretcher, the cage had to be raised. Even while the Undertaker remained on top of it. You can add that to a long list of things that could have gone horribly wrong in this match. The biggest of which was about to happen. But Foley heroically or insanely got off the stretcher with (at least) a dislocated shoulder and proceeded to climb to the top of the cage again. What happened next is still hard for me to watch.

 

The Undertaker choke slammed Foley on the top of the cage. And the mesh couldn’t hold all 280-something pounds of him, so he crashed all the way through the cage down to the mat with a sickening thud. That was not supposed to happen. The steel chair, which was still on top of the cage, fell with Foley’s body and landed on his face, dislocating his jaw. Needless to say, the fall had already knocked him unconscious. The Undertaker initially thought Foley was dead. He probably would have been if he’d taken the choke slam properly. All of that was before the thumbtacks.

 

Backstage, everyone knew that the Undertaker was wrestling with a broken foot or bone chips in his ankle. And you could see him wince in pain when he climbed through the top of the cage back to the ring. That meant that Foley was probably going to have to carry the match. But this was beyond insane for anyone to attempt. Jim Ross was shouting about somebody stopping the damn match, while Funk ran in to buy time for the medical staff so they could figure out whether or not Foley was alive. Now that we know Foley was alive and that this match basically made his career (well, that and a sock), I think it’s okay to laugh when Funk gets choke slammed out of his dad shoes by the Undertaker. It’s the tooth that still bothers me.

 

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Somewhere in one of those falls, a tooth wound up in Foley’s nose. He also bit a hole in his lip big enough to stick his tongue through, but since his beard covered most of that, when the camera gets a closeup of a now-conscious Foley, it looks like he’s smiling and enjoying the pain while a tooth is jammed in his nostril. I mean, holy fuck.

 

At this point, Foley says he doesn’t remember anything else from the match. But the fact that he was with-it enough to get up and continue is amazing. The match didn’t even need blading by Taker or thumb tack spots by Foley, but they had them. And after a fallaway slam into a pile of those tacks, followed by a tombstone, the Undertaker got the three count. And with that, his signature match was elevated to even more legendary status.

 

Apparently after the match, Foley, still groggy backstage, asked Taker if he’d remembered to use the thumb tacks. “Look at your arm, Mick!” was his response, as dozens of tacks were still protruding from his body. I’ve also read that Vince made Foley promise to never do anything like that ever again. But what’s usually forgotten is that A) there was still a title match between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kane after this. And B) Mankind had to do a fucking run-in during that match. Mick Foley obviously deserves every bit of fame he solidified from this match.

 

3. December 10, 2000. Armageddon. The Undertaker vs. Kurt Angle vs. Rikishi vs. Triple H vs. The Rock vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Hell in a Cell match.

 

By 2000, the Hell in the Cell matches with the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels and especially with Mick Foley had reached a legendary status within the company. And for good reason. By the time the Armageddon version rolled around, the reason for the match is somewhat convoluted. But the basic gist is that Vince McMahon, as owner of the WWF, feared that his top stars would be risking injury if they entered the match. But Foley, now acting as Commissioner, scheduled the match anyway. And he said he would resign if any of the competitors were seriously injured.

 

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A lot had happened with McMahon and Foley since we’d last seen them on this list, to say the least. The Montreal Screwjob turned Vince from a babyface announcer into Mr. McMahon, the biggest heel in the company. And his feud with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin will probably go down in history as the greatest of all time. Foley, with is newfound post-Taker-match status, as well as the Mr. Socko gimmick would become WWF champion, in a TV match that forever turned the tides in the Monday Night Wars against WCW. And the WWF was forever trying to figure out ways to replicate his 1998 Hell in a Cell bump without killing someone in the process.

 

Triple H was the first to make his entrance to the ring. And he looked absolutely huge. He’d obviously changed a lot since 1997, as well. He’d already completed his first DX run and had morphed into the Cerebral Assassin, complete with his new water bottle entrance. Around this time, we found out that Trips had paid Rikishi to run Austin over in a car. And Rikishi would be the one to enter next. As part of the famous Anoa’i wrestling family, the WWF powers that be tried every angle on him that had ever worked for other members of his family (the Wild Samoans, Yokozuna). But what eventually seemed to work for him was actually dancing with the goofball tag team, Too Cool, as well as highlighting his giant fat ass with a move called the Stink Face.

 

Kurt Angle, the WWF champion at the time, came out next. Angle won a gold medal at heavyweight in the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta. And he’d been trained by Foxcatcher coach, Dave Schultz. At this point in his WWF run, he was a pretty nondescript American hero type. The fans weren’t even chanting “You suck!” along with his music yet. The next man to be announced was an almost unrecognizable version of the Undertaker, complete with Limp Bizkit’s hit, “Rollin’” as his soundtrack.

 

While I’ve never been a fan of Taker’s American Badass gimmick, there were only so many places his character could go after the Ministry of Darkness had basically attempted to crucify Austin and Stephanie McMahon. Also, there’s some indication that Taker was considering losing a lot of the mystical aspects of his persona so he could more easily transition to WCW under his given name. But that thankfully never happened. In this match, with heavy references to his match with Foley, Taker had promised to make someone famous.

 

The next two men to enter were already famous in the wrestling world. The Rock, a third generation star, had overcome the terrible Rocky Maivia gimmick with his microphone skills and it’s obvious the fans absolutely loved him. And finally, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (complete with the shitty version of his theme song by the band, Disturbed) had been one of the biggest stars in the industry for a few years. However, I’d say at this point, the Rock was a little more over with the fans.

 

The match was fast and chaotic from the start with lots of near falls. Trips was the first to draw blood, as Austin raked his face all over the cage. And he started taking bumps reminiscent of HBK in the first Hell in a Cell match. And much like that first Hell in a Cell match, we’d need an excuse to get the door to the cage open. Enter Vince McMahon.

 

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Vince appeared from the back, along with a truck, preparing to demolish the entire cage to prevent the match from happening. The sabotage was stopped by Foley, who had security remove McMahon from ringside. But the door was already open. And a group of demolition cars decorating the entry way were about to become fantastic props for a bloody six-way brawl outside the ring. The best spot in the car portion of the match was Austin catapulting Triple H onto the hood of one of the beaters, and man did Trips get air on that bump. The next logical progression in the match was getting as many people as possible on top of the cage.

 

425 pounds of Rikishi would end up being the one Taker made famous that night. From the top of the cage, once again, the Undertaker choke slammed Rikishi onto the truck bed below. Granted, the bed of the truck was covered in mulch and what appeared to be mattresses. But it was quite a spot, nonetheless. With Rikishi dead and Taker on top of the cage, the remaining four men battled it out in the ring until Austin hit a stunner on the Rock, Triple H broke up the pin, and a laid-out Angle managed to cover the Rock for the win. It wasn’t as memorable as the first two classic Cell singles matches, but it was certainly a spectacle.

 

4. November 18, 2001. Survivor Series. Team WWF (The Rock, the Big Show, the Undertaker, Kane and Chris Jericho) vs. The Alliance (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle, Booker T and Rob Van Dam). Elimination match.

 

In 2001, Vince McMahon bought his two biggest rivals, the WCW and ECW in real life. And that worked itself out on television as the Invasion angle. WCW was kayfabe purchased by Vince’s daredevil-ish son, Shane. And Shane’s goal (along with his sister, Stephanie) was to put the WWF out of business once and for all. The culmination of the angle was the Survivor Series in a winner-take-all match, where the losers would be fired.

 

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Backstage before the match, Vince gave his team a pep talk of sorts. And it’s clear that the Rock (who was just beginning his movie career) was a huge star. But the big tease was that Austin would jump sides to the WWF. For whatever reason, the WWF had decided to turn Austin heel, but by this point he had also started to do his What? routine, which is still done in arenas all over the world to this day.

 

The Alliance, which was the name of the team of former WCW and ECW wrestlers, entered first. The only real former WCW and ECW stars on the team (recent ones, anyway) were Booker T (WCW) and Rob Van Dam (ECW), but whatever. The idea that Austin and Angle joined with them made them traitors.

 

Besides Taker, who was in full biker mode, Team WWF had the 7’0” 500 lbs Big Show (who came up in WCW as an attempt to recreate Andre the Giant), Kane (who’s character had evolved enough that DX got him to say “suck it” with a voice box), Chris Jericho (the former WCW cruiserweight star), as well as the Rock.

 

As the match began, the pesky Shane kept breaking up pins until the standard eliminations started happening and everyone got their spots in. Taker was eliminated 4th, after he took a stunner from Austin and was covered by Angle. Admittedly, this is not a ‘Taker’ match per se, but it’s still good and he was involved so I’m keeping it on the list.

 

With both backstage rosters watching on the edge of their seats and the announcing team of Jim Ross and Paul Heyman bickering over who would win the match, things really picked up when everything came down to the Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who was bleeding from the mouth. Jericho turned heel by double-crossing the Rock with a breakdown, but the Rock managed to kick out of Austin’s cover much to Jericho’s surprise.

 

The Rock eventually nailed Austin with a stunner, but Alliance referee, Nick Patrick, pulled Earl Hebner out of the ring to stop the count. Then Austin performed a rock bottom on the Rock. And he kicked out, so Austin attacked Patrick. With no referee, Kurt Angle ran back to the ring and hit Austin with his own championship belt, double-crossing him. The Rock executed a rock bottom on Austin and a revived Hebner made the three-count. A Victorious Vince emerged from the back, while Stephanie was seen backstage screaming in agony and disbelief.

 

5.  July 21, 2002. Vengeance. The Undertaker vs. the Rock vs. Kurt Angle. Triple-threat match.

 

By this time, Taker was the Undisputed champion. And he was going by his Big Evil persona, which dropped the Limp Bizkit song, kept the motorcycle and added MMA gloves and short red hair. The gist of the match at Vengeance was that the Rock interfered with one of Taker’s recent matches, so they had beef. But that also, Kurt Angle (sporting a shaved head and the “You suck” chant, thanks to Edge) made the Undertaker tap out simultaneously while Angle was getting pinned. As the Rock would say, it doesn’t matter. The match is dope.

 

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In a crazy sequence that can only really be done in triple threat matches, everyone did each other’s signature moves, only to be broken up by a recovering third man. Angle got bloody. Taker took a wicked fucking chair shot from Angle. There were MMA moves and near falls all over the place until the Rock hit Angle for the rock bottom to win the title.

 

6. August 17, 2008. SummerSlam. The Undertaker vs. Edge. Hell in a Cell match.

 

By 2008, Edge had earned his right to be in the pantheon of WWE performers worthy of a Hell in a Cell match. He’d been in the Brood, the Ministry of Darkness and comedy duo with Christian. He’d taken part in classic TLC matches with the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz, basically defining that match itself. He’d shaved Kurt Angle’s head, won the first ever Money in the Bank ladder match, speared Mick Foley through a flaming table and attempted to have sex with Lita live on Monday Night Raw.

 

In this particular angle, Edge was married to a wheelchair-bound Vickie Guerrero (thanks to a tombstone from the Undertaker), who also happened to be the general manager of SmackDown. But before the wedding, it was revealed that Edge had cheated on Vickie with the wedding planner, Alicia Fox. Oh boy. Long story short, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Vickie reinstated the previously-suspended Undertaker and set up this Hell in a Cell match.

 

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The general idea was that, through the encouragement of Mick Foley, Edge was embracing his psychotic, violent side. And he wasn’t intimidated by the Undertaker. The Undertaker, by the way, was back to his Deadman persona, thank god. The entrance spectacle and ‘new’ look he was sporting are fucking badass.

 

As a TLC match specialist, Edge basically went for all of the toys surrounding or under the ring (steps, chairs, tables, ladders) and if this match had taken place in the Attitude Era, both Edge and Taker would have bladed all over the place. A big spot came when Edge speared Taker through the cage, but there would be no climbing the 20ft structure this time around.

 

When Edge attempted to replicate Taker’s ‘old school’ rope walk later in the match, the Deadman took exception and choke slammed him through a stack of two tables. And then Taker finished him off with a spear, a whack to the noggin with a TV camera, a con-chair-to and finally, a tombstone piledriver.

 

As Taker left, he noticed Edge was still moving, which I guess didn’t suffice. Taker went back to the ring, set up two ladders (while an evil spirit or something took over the pay-per-view feed) and then he choke slammed Edge through the fucking mat, causing a hole in the ring that also burst into flames. J.R. began screaming about how the Undertaker had just sent Edge to hell.

 

7. April 5, 2009. WrestleMania XXV. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels.

 

Ah, the Streak. It feels strange that we’ve come so far without mentioning it yet. But the importance of the Streak was taken to an entirely new level with this one single match. The Undertaker had never been beaten at WrestleMania before. On the grandest stage of them all, Taker had defeated “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Giant Gonzalez, King Kong Bundy, Diesel, Sycho Sid, Kane, The Big Bossman, Triple H, Ric Flair, the Big Show and A-Train, Kane again, Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Batista and Edge. And while some of those matches were pretty good (especially against Batista and Edge the previous two years), Taker had never really blown the roof off the place.

 

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On the other hand, Michaels was Mr. WrestleMania. His Mania matches with Razor Ramon, Diesel,  Bret Hart, Triple H, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Vince McMahon and Ric Flair had all won Match of the Year in various esteemed fan polls. And like the Undertaker, he was considered an icon by this point in his career.

 

Since his last mention on this list, Michaels had taken part in the Montreal Screwjob, passed the torch to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (and gotten knocked out by Mike Tyson in the process), had a tag match with God, reunited DX and retired Ric Flair from wrestling (in WWE, anyway). Seemingly the only thing he hadn’t done is end the Undertaker’s WrestleMania winning streak.

 

The ring entrances that night were epic. Michaels, a Born Again Christian, floated down to the entrance ramp in white lights, like bizarro version of Taker’s own legendary entrance, which truly has no equal. It was lightness vs. darkness, with the tag line that it was going to be hell trying to get to heaven. Oh, and the fact that Taker had never beaten Michaels one-on-one ever before in his career.

 

The match really became special starting when Michaels attempted a moonsault from the top rope to the outside. Taker not only dodged the move, but actually swatted Michaels down to the ground with a sickening thud, as Jim Ross so eloquently stated. That was followed by a running suicide dive to the outside by the 6’10”, 300-pound Undertaker, where his fall was supposed to be broken by another kayfabe cameraman (Jimmy Snuka’s son), but the spot was botched and Taker basically landed on top of his own head.

 

That lead to a most-dramatic count-out attempt, before both men were back in the ring for an absolutely incredible series of near falls. Michaels went for sweet chin music, but was caught and choke slammed by Taker for a two-count. Then Michaels nailed his super kick for a two-count. Another two-count after a last ride was stirring the crowd into a frenzy. But when Michaels was caught upside down in the ropes after skinning the cat, tombstoned by the Undertaker and then STILL kicked out at two, Taker’s facial expression and the crowd’s reaction were all time classic.

 

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My favorite point in a match like this is when all of your expectations are out the window and you really have no idea what’s going to happen. Professional wrestling is pavlovian and can feel predictable. But this match was an entire break in expectations. When Taker kicked out of another perfect-looking super kick from Michaels, we got to that point. Finally, Michaels was caught in a moonsault, tombstoned and we got the three-count. Taker was 17-0, J.R. said, “I feel like we’ve just seen heaven.” And nothing on the card could follow it. For the first time in Taker’s career, he’d win Match of the Year for a WrestleMania match. But it wouldn’t be his last.

 

8. March 28, 2010. WrestleMania XXVI. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. No DQ, Career vs. Streak match.

 

The story of the epic rematch was that Michaels had been obsessed with the loss over the previous year and wanted another crack at the Streak. The Undertaker refused initially, until Michaels cost him the WWE championship at Elimination Chamber. And he’d only accept if Michaels put his career on the line. Michaels agreed to the stipulation, saying that if he couldn’t end the Streak, there was no reason for him to continue.

 

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The WWE knew it had something special the year before. And the rematch was being billed as the most anticipated match in the history of WrestleMania. The 2009 match was being called the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. And all those things might be true. It’s just that it’s always a bit of a turnoff for me when something is hyped that way by the WWE. So with no Jim Ross to call this particular match, it’s a bit heavy on the hyperbole with Michael Cole and (especially) Matt Stryker doing the naval gazing. If you can get past that, this is a classic.

 

The actual pace of the wrestling and technical aspects were better the year before, but the psychology and emotions are what put this in the same category of greatness. The Undertaker (kayfabe) injured his leg early in the match and that would be a factor the rest of the way, another layer to the drama. The big spot of the match came when Michaels super kicked Taker onto the announce table on the outside of the ring and then executed a top-rope moonsault through the table. And back in the ring, then everyone started going really crazy as both icons started kicking out of each others’ finishers once again.

 

At the exact moment everyone watching thought Taker was gonna finish Michaels off, he abruptly stopped. And he looked down at Michaels with pity and told him to stay down. This could have been an allusion to Michaels’ WrestleMania match with Ric Flair, knowing it was the end of his illustrious in-ring career. But the effect was as jarring as it was emotional. The Undertaker, an evil piece of Satanic shit (more or less) somehow had respect and empathy for the great career of the Heartbreak Kid. He didn’t want to afflict any more punishment on a man this worthy of that respect.

 

In a weird way, that’s powerful. But at the same time, you know that Michaels, as the departing hero, had to go out fighting. And so he refused to give up, slapping the Undertaker hard in the face so he wouldn’t let up. In the end, the Undertaker hit a jumping tombstone for the three-count. He was 18-0. But he showed his respect to Shawn as he left and let him take his tearful goodbye to end the show.

 

9. April 3, 2011. WrestleMania XXVII. The Undertaker vs. Triple H. No holds barred match.

 

After two all-time classic matches in a row with Shawn Michaels, the WrestleMania Streak basically became THE thing with the Undertaker. And that sort of storyline can almost write itself. By 2011, the WWE didn’t even need to tell the fans that’s what it was doing. Which makes me kind of love the set-up for the Mania XXVII match between Taker and Triple H.

 

Full story & photo & result - April 3, 2011 The Undertaker vs. Triple H - No Holds Barred Match WWE WrestleMania XXVII 27 - 3-4-2011 - 13

 

For weeks, the WWE had been running mysterious vignettes that just said, “2.21.11.” And on the 2/21 addition of Raw, the Undertaker appeared on the show after a hiatus, only to be interrupted by Triple H. They simply stared each other down in the ring, until Trips glanced up at the WrestleMania sign at the top of the arena. Taker scoffed and then did the cut-throat sign to Trips, which was answered with a DX crotch chop. Nobody said one fucking word and everyone knew Trips vs. Taker was happening at the biggest pay-per-view of the year.

 

The Streak was sold as the only challenge Triple H had left in his career. Which was essentially true. Since Triple H was last on this list, he’d incorporated sledgehammers into the act, done the hilariously infamous Katie Vick angle, formed and broke up the Evolution stable with Ric Flair, Batista and Randy Orton and reformed DX. He was also married to the boss’s daughter in real life (and on TV), so it seemed like if anyone was given the honor of ending the Steak, it actually might go to Trips.

 

Triple H’s entrance was awesome, by the way. He did the whole Skull King thing a full two weeks before Game of Thrones even debuted on HBO. There was a big fight feel to say the least. And the match started off hot, with both icons battling on the outside of the ring, destroying the Cole Mine (in a Michael Cole angle from that year that was so stupid I honestly don’t feel like talking about it), until Taker gave Triple H a back body drop off of an announce table and then proceeded to replicate the suicide dive from two years prior, complete with another botch and Trips basically landing on his head once again. Except this time, Triple H answered with a huge spine buster through another announce table. Just in case you didn’t think this one was gonna be brutal.

 

Back in the ring, Trips and Taker exchanged finishers for two-counts yet again (including three pedigrees from Triple H), until Triple H grabbed a chair and whacked the Undertaker about 10 times in the back. And one controversial shot to the head (for which they were both fined), just for old times sake. This time it was Triple H telling the Undertaker to stay down.

 

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The announcers sold it like something was wrong with the Undertaker. And Triple H was conflicted about how much damage he was doing. And yet, just like Shawn the year before, the Undertaker wouldn’t quit. So Triple H decided to finish him off with a tombstone. And when Taker kicked out at two, the whole place went bananas as Triple H reacted like he’d just seen a ghost and Jerry Lawler screamed, “What did we just see?”

 

Triple H retrieved his sledge hammer, apparently to murder Taker for good, but just then, Taker locked Trips in his Hell’s Gate submission hold for the longest tapout segment in professional wrestling history. Taker was 19-0. But he was an absolute mess. And while an empathetic Triple H left on his own accord, Taker (selling bigly) had to be taken out on a stretcher.

 

10. April 1, 2012. WrestleMania XXVIII. The Undertaker vs. Triple H. Hell in a Cell. Shawn Michaels as special guest referee.

 

The match was billed as the end of an era. And it would be the completion of the Taker-Trips-HBK four-part saga. Except this time around in the build-up it was Triple H who was refusing to give the Undertaker the rematch.

 

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Triple H was now playing a WWE executive and he said the Streak was too important to the company for him to end it and thus, tarnish its legacy. But Taker, who had become obsessed with the match from the previous year, goaded Trips into the match by saying he was a coward who lived in Shawn Michaels’ shadow. So Triple H accepted. But only if the match was inside Hell in a Cell, where Trips has won more than any other wrestler. And Michaels wound up as the referee, another scenario where Triple H has never lost.

 

If you’re wondering whether or not the Cell got its own intro music, it did (“The Memory Remains” by Metallica). And Taker was sporting a short mohawk, which made the crowd gasp. Because cutting his hair was part of the obsession with the match, for some reason.

 

The match was way more brutal than the year before. Like, the Undertaker took so many chair shots that his back was disgusting by the end of this thing. With the Undertaker brutalized, Triple H started yelling at Shawn to end the match or he would. And he apparently meant he was going to straight-up murder the Undertaker with a sledgehammer. But Taker persisted.

 

The high point of the match was when the Undertaker, dazed by a sledgehammer shot, had locked Triple H and then Michaels in the Hells Gate submission out of desperation, before collapsing in pain. All three icons were laid out on the mat when referee, Charles Robinson, ran in from the back. And he got choke slammed by the Undertaker for his efforts. That’s when Michaels, perhaps out of mercy, nailed Taker with his sweet chin music and Triple H completed the move with a pedigree.

 

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When the Undertaker kicked out at two, the whole place lost their collective minds. The Undertaker did his patented sit-up and the two legends exchanged finishing moves until the match felt like it was gonna go on forever. Bear in mind that Daniel Bryan lost the World Heavyweight title in 18 seconds earlier in the night (which would piss fans off enough to start the Yes! chants in protest the following night on Raw).

 

With his eye grotesquely swollen, it was Triple H’s turn to be the recipient of chair shots and a sledgehammer. In the end, he got hit with the tombstone and this one was in the books. Taker was 20-0 and all three men embraced on the entrance stage to massive applause. It was the end of an era, indeed. Nobody knew if they’d see the Undertaker again after this match. But he had one great match left in the tank.

 

11. April 7, 2013. WrestleMania 29. The Undertaker vs. CM Punk (with Paul Heyman).

 

The ascension of CM Punk in the WWE is one of my favorite things I’ve witnessed as a fan of professional wrestling. He started as an indy darling and had all-time great matches with Samoa Joe in Ring of Honor before coming to the WWE. And he might not have gone anywhere in the company if not for the fact that the guy could cut a promo. He cut the famous ‘pipe bomb’ promo in 2011, before having one of my favorite matches ever with John Cena at Money in the Bank in Chicago. So I’d say his shot at immortality against the Undertaker at Mania 29 was well earned.

 

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A month before the show, Taker’s former manager, Paul Bearer (William Moody) died of a heart attack in real life at age 58. And the WWE decided to run with it. Early in Taker’s run in the WWF, Bearer would hold an urn that seemed to give the Undertaker mystical powers. So while Taker and his storyline half-brother, Kane, paid tribute to Bearer’s life on Monday Night Raw, CM Punk interrupted the proceedings and stole the symbolic urn. And that level of disrespect for Taker, Bearer and the urn would continue leading up to the match. For Taker, shit was personal.

 

Punk entered to a live version of “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour, accompanied by his advocate, Paul Heyman, who would hold the urn during the match. Heyman was already a legend in his own right. Starting as the loud-mouthed, cellphone-wielding manager, Paul E. Dangerously, in WCW (where he actually managed “Mean” Mark Callous, who you may recognize), he went on to found the cult hardcore wrestling promotion, ECW. Punk had name-checked Heyman in his pipe bomb promo in 2011. And Heyman had come back to be the mouthpiece for Brock Lesnar in 2012.

 

When Taker’s bell tolled for his intro, the camera caught Punk (who was wearing Taker’s original Deadman colors) screaming in excitement and anticipation. I know that Lesnar was facing Triple H after this. And the Rock was facing Cena in a rematch of their “Once in a Lifetime” bout from the year before. But by this point, any Undertaker Mania match was going to be the de facto main event no matter what. The Streak was bigger than any title could ever be. It was basically the only pay-per-view Taker showed up to any more. So the Undertaker was the star of the show whenever he wanted to be. Like, if you watch his intro from Mania 29 (with the hands of what appear to be ghouls from hell reaching up), you have to wonder why anyone would ever want to have to follow his act. It was just a matter of what age and injuries would allow him to do.

 

The only problem with a Taker Mania match is that fans had learned not to fall for near-falls. They knew Taker and whoever he was facing would kick out of each other’s finishers until all the marks in the crowd, as well as the announcers, were frothing at the mouth. That’s part of the reason Lesnar shocked the world the following year. It broke the formula in two separate ways. So while Punk and Taker were putting on an absolute show for a hot crowd, nobody was buying any fishers until they saw something crazy.

 

That something crazy came when Punk executed a flying Macho Man elbow on Taker while he was laid out on the announce table and it still didn’t break. Fucking ouch. In the run-up to the match, Punk actually sold that he could win via countout, so when Taker crawled back in at 9 1/2, I’m sure a lot of people bought it.

 

Back in the ring, the sequence of near falls that came next was every bit as good as the best of the Michaels and Triple H matches. And when Punk hit Taker with the urn during a last ride, the crowd absolutely shat itself when Taker still managed to kick out at two. After reversing a GTS into a tombstone, Taker finally got the three-count to become 21-0. He’d leave with the urn.

 

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They always said that when the Streak died, the Undertaker died. And that was partially true. Following the Lesnar loss the following year, the matches with Bray Wyatt and Shane McMahon and Roman Reigns at other WrestleManias didn’t really feel the same. It was Jordan on the Wizards, which I guess makes American Badass Taker Jordan in the minors. But to me, the comparison is apt. In many ways the Undertaker was the greatest of all time. His tongue might even be as iconic as Jordan’s. And I’ll be appreciative I lived to see him perform until the day that I too rest in peace.

 

This weekend, my wife and I are getting our first puppy. She wants to name him Taker.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXXIII: Finally!)

Written by :
Published on : November 5, 2016

 

 

Pardon my tardiness, dear reader. It took me a full day to recover. The longest championship drought in the history of North American sports is finally over. And as the Cubs doggy-piled on the infield grass in Cleveland on Tuesday, I fell to the floor alternately weeping and laughing maniacally. It still doesn’t necessarily feel real. But I want to take you on the journey one last time. So here are my reactions to Games 3-7, directly after they were over. I hope you enjoy it. I know I did.

 

Friday, October 28th. The Indians beat the Cubs 1-0. They lead the Series 2-1.

“Sure as God made green apples, some day the Chicago Cubs are gonna be in the World Series. And maybe sooner than we think.” That was Harry Caray on the final day of the 1991 regular season. And on Friday, fans laid green apples at the base of Harry Caray’s statue at Wrigley Field, because the Cubs played their first World Series game there since 1945. Tickets weren’t cheap. And man,  I really felt like the Cubs were supposed to win this one. I wanted it. Wrigley Field definitely wanted it. But I guess the Indians’ bullpen wanted it more.

 

With the wind blowing out, Carlos Santana in left field and Josh Tomlin pitching, the Cubs still couldn’t score a run. It was the Indians’ 5th shutout of the postseason, which is a record. And it was the 4th time in 8 games that the Cubs have failed to score. Runners were on second and third in the bottom of the 9th with Javy Baez, the star of the NLDS and NLCS up to bat. And he was struck out by Cody Allen to end the game. The Indians moved to 63% to win the Series. The good news is that Corey Kluber is pitching on short rest and the Cubs are favored in Games 4, 5 and 6. The bad news is that the Cubs can’t win the World Series at Wrigley. Now I just hope they can get back to Cleveland.

 

 

Saturday, October 29th. The Indians beat the Cubs 7-2. They lead the Series 3-1.

That was fucking brutal. Corey Kluber strikes again. Goddamnit. The Indians were underdogs against the Red Sox. They were underdogs against the Blue Jays. They were underdogs against the Cubs. Now they’re 10-2 in the postseason and one win away (and 85%) from winning the whole thing. And Kluber would go again in a potential Game 7. I don’t know what to say at this point. LeBron James was down 3-1 in the NBA Finals this year? The Cubs have won three games in a row or more 16 times during the regular season? 18 times, if you count the postseason, including in the last round against the Dodgers? Andrew Miller finally allowed a run? The Cubs handled Drone Finger in Game 2? The Indians have yet to have a long series? Seriously, what??? The Indians have looked like the superior team through four games. I think it’s time for the Cubs to remember who they are. Maybe this wasn’t supposed to be easy. But I’m just not ready for it to be over.

 

Sunday, October 30th. The Cubs beat the Indians 3-2. The Indians lead the Series 3-2.

We’re going back to Cleveland! Aroldis Chapman came on in the 7th inning and got an 8-out save. And I could barely take it. In hindsight, the Cubs made some amazing defensive plays. Everyone is saying that the goofball foul ball that glanced off David Ross’ glove that Anthony Rizzo caught in the 2nd inning looks like the Bob Boone/Pete Rose catch in Game 6 of the 1980 World Series. Jason Heyward made a leaping grab down the right field foul line in the 3rd on Trevor Bauer that even Bauer had to applaud. And then the Cubs’ bats finally came alive in the 4th.

 

Just when John Smoltz was saying the Cubs absolutely had to score in the inning, Kris Bryant homered on the next pitch to tie the game 1-1. Anthony Rizzo doubled on the next pitch and the crowd finally had a reason to go crazy. Then a Ben Zobrist single, an Addison Russell RBI single and a Ross RBI sac fly made it 3-1 Cubs, which is thankfully all they needed. Maybe now the Cubs can get that Josh Tomlin game back that they needed and Short Rest Kluber will finally be brought to justice. Man. Cleveland will be loud in Game 6. They’re down to 76% to win the Series. Kyle Schwarber will be back at DH. And the Cubs are 52% favorites to win Game 6. I still believe. Let’s go.

 

Tuesday, November 1st. The Cubs beat the Indians 9-3. The Series is tied 3-3.

 

With two outs and an 0-2 count in the top of the 1st, NL MVP-in-waiting, Kris Bryant, launched a 433 foot home run into the left field bleachers to make it 1-0 Cubs. Then Anthony Rizzo singled. Then Ben Zobrist singled. And then Addison Russell reached out and poked a fly ball that landed softly at the feet of Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall, who badly miscommunicated on what would have been an easy third out. Rizzo scored. Zobrist bowled over Roberto Perez at home and the Cubs were up 3-0.

 

In the 4th, Kyle Schwarber walked to lead off the inning. After Bryant flew out, Rizzo singled again. Then Zobrist singled again. And since Schwarber has the bum knee, he was held at third. Bases loaded. One out. Josh Tomlin yanked. Dan Otero in to pitch. Addison Russell at the plate. Here’s Pat Hughes on the call.

 

“Russell drives one in the air. Deep left center. That’s back near the wall. It’s got a chance! Grand slam! Grand slam, Addison Russell! Cubs lead seven nothing!”

 

My call was just going, “YEAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” in my apartment all by myself, before my wife came home to find me five beers deep and pacing. At 22, Russell was the second-youngest person to ever hit a grand slam in the World Series. The youngest happened to be a 21-year-old Mickey Mantle in 1953. And his 6 RBI tied a single-game record set by Bobby Richardson in 1960, Hideki Matsui in 2009 and Albert Pujols in 2011.

 

Those seven runs would be all the Cubs needed. But Joe Maddon brought Aroldis Chapman on in the 7th once again. Maybe it seemed desperate or like Joe doesn’t trust his bullpen. Maybe Joe remembered Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS, when his Rays were up 7-0 and ended up losing to the Red Sox 8-7. But Rizzo homered in the 9th, the Cubs won 9-3 and we’re going to Game 7. A day that so many Cubs fans have waited their whole lives to see is just one day and 27 outs away.

 

 

The same could obviously be said for Indians fans. And everyone seems to think they have a huge advantage going in to the game. Or 54%, accruing to FiveThirtyEight. Corey Kluber was dominant in Games 1 and 4. They have a well-rested Andrew Miller and Cody Allen coming out of the pen if anything should happen. And Cubs doubters think Chapman’s arm might fall off at some point during the game.

 

But like I said last week when it was Clayton Kershaw, of course it has to be fucking Kluber. And fucking Miller. And fucking Allen. It’s almost too perfect not to be them. Maybe they’re going to the well once too often. Maybe this is just the sort of insurmountable odds the Cubs need to complete the most perfect ending to the least perfect of all 108-year droughts. Maybe. Just maybe. Holy shit.

 

Wednesday, November 2nd. The Cubs beat the Indians 8-7. They win the World Series 4-3.

On October 14, 1908 at Bennett Park in Detroit, Tigers’ catcher, Boss Schmidt, apparently hit a bunt or a dribbler in front of the plate, it was picked up by Cubs’ catcher, Johnny Kling, who threw Schmidt out at first. Orval Overall completed a three-hit shutout and the Cubs were back-to-back World Series champions. That was a really long fucking time ago.

 

I guess everyone has noticed the metaphor already, but what better way to end a 108-year drought than with a little rain. “It was the best rain delay of all time,” according to Anthony Rizzo. And it will forever go down in Cubs lore until the end of time. Or until the Cubs win so much that everyone is sick of hearing about it. Either way. But during the 17-minute delay, the Cubs’ struggling right fielder, Jason Heyward, called a team meeting to remind everybody on the team of who they were and what they’d already overcome to get to this point. And what could have gone down as another chapter in a century-long team misery ended much differently in the bottom of the 10th in Cleveland. A smiling, collapsing Kris Bryant firing Michael Martinez’ infield roller to Rizzo at first. And the curse, the drought, the black cat, Steve Bartman, Leon Durham, that goddamned goat story and 108 years of waiting ’til next year were finally over.

 

 

The Cubs started right away, with Dexter Fowler leading off with a solo shot off of Corey Kluber to make it 1-0 in the 1st. He almost ran backwards all the way to second base. But Cleveland tied the score in the 3rd when Carlos Santana singled in Coco Crisp. In the top of the 4th, with Bryant on third, Addison Russell yelled, “Goddamnit!” when he popped up to shallow center. But Bryant tagged up and slid under the tag of Roberto Perez at home, making it 2-1 Cubs. The next batter, Wilson Contreras, doubled off the wall in right center, scoring Ben Zobrist to make it 3-1. The last batter Kluber faced was Javy Baez, who homered in the top of the 5th, making it 4-1 Cubs. One unhittable pitcher down. Two to go.

 

Andrew Miller was the next pitcher in the game. He was the MVP of the ALCS, the guy critics were saying the Cubs should have given up Kyle Schwarber to acquire from the Yankees at the trade deadline. And he would be the next pitcher who couldn’t stop the Cubs. Rizzo came through with an RBI single to make it 5-1. Everything was looking great. Then Joe Maddon took Kyle Hendricks out of the game in the bottom of the 5th.

 

I didn’t understand the move at the time at all. Hendricks had been dealing. And he was one blown strike call away from striking out Santana and ending the inning. Instead they were bringing in Jon Lester and his throwing yips with a runner on first and removing Contreras from the game for Lester’s 39-year-old personal catcher, soon to be retiring due to issues with concussions. Lester immediately gave up an infield single to Jason Kipnis, which David Ross, that aforementioned 39-year-old catcher, had to field because of Lester’s aforementioned yips. And he sailed the ball high over Rizzo’s head at first. Santana went to third and Kipnis would wind up on second. The next batter was Francisco Lindor. And Lester bounced a pitch into the dirt that bounded off of Ross’ mask and knocked him to the ground. Santana and Kipnis both scored on the wild pitch and the Cubs’ lead was down to 5-3. I turned to my buddy Brendan and said, “Ross is concussed.”

 

 

In the top of the 6th, with Miller still on the mound for Cleveland, Ross got one of those runs back with a solo homer to center, making it 6-3. I was wrong about the concussion. In hindsight, that homer was absolutely huge. And Lester would end up working until Ramirez reached on a two-out infield single in the bottom of the 8th. And that’s when Maddon brought in an overworked Aroldis Chapman from the bullpen. Nothing was making any sense.

 

The Cubs were four outs away from their first world title in over a century. And in the back of my mind, I knew if this lead was going to be blown, there was no better candidate than Chapman. He’d been taxed by the previous two games. Acquired at the trade deadline from the Yankees, he came with 105-mph heat, off-the-field baggage aplenty and the attitude of a pampered diva. He was a rental and never a real Cub, anyway. That’s what they’d all say. His face would be plastered on memes and signs held up by Cardinal fans alongside Billy Sianis’ goat, Ron Santo’s black cat, Leon Durham and Steve Bartman. Another symbol of martyrdom, another scapegoat and another year of fucking waiting.

 

The first batter Chapman faced was Brandon Guyer, who doubled to right center, scoring Ramirez and making it 6-4 Cubs. The next batter was Rajai Davis. Ugh. It still gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach thinking about that at-bat. Rajai Davis wasn’t even supposed to be playing in the game. If it wasn’t for the worst game in Tyler Naquin’s life the night before, he would have been in center and Davis wouldn’t even be standing up there choked up a foot on his bat and screaming a line drive over the left field wall to tie the game at 6. Progressive Field understandably lost it. The first home run Chapman had given up as a Cub couldn’t have come at a worse time. And the camera cut to LeBron James who was scream-flexing in his personal king booth. Why did it have to be like this? Thankfully, after the 9th, the score was still tied. And that’s when the rain came.

 

 

The Cubs had already gotten through Cody Allen in the 7th and 8th. And Terry Francona called for Bryan Shaw to get the final two outs of the 9th. After the 17-minute delay, he’d go back out and pitch the 10th. But that was after the emotional speech from Heyward. That was after the Cubs remembered who they were. Kyle Schwarber led off with a single, and was replaced by pinch-runner, Albert Almora Jr. A 22-year-old replacing a 23-year-old. He’d move to second on Bryant’s deep sac fly. Then Rizzo was intentionally walked. Fox’s cameras had caught Rizzo talking to Ross during the game on Ross’ mic. “I’m an emotional wreck,” Rizzo told him. “I’m in a glass case of emotions.” And when Ben Zobrist doubled to left scoring Almora, Rizzo was holding his head on third in amazement. Then Miguel Montero, the third catcher of the game, singled in Rizzo to make it 8-6. They ended up needing that run desperately, and the hero of Game 1 of the NLCS came through once again. I was really loud in my apartment.

 

Chapman, who was seen openly weeping in the clubhouse during the delay, did not come out for the 10th. It was rookie, Carl Edwards Jr., who got two outs before walking Guyer and giving up an RBI single to Rajai Davis, yet again. Stupid Davis wasn’t even supposed to be playing! And then Maddon brought in Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez. And I’ll give you Joe Buck one last time.

 

“This is gonna be a tough play. Bryant. The Cubs…. WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!! Bryant makes the play! It’s over! And the Cubs have finally won it all! 8-7 in 10!”

 

 

Maybe now I can take the time to mention how spooky all those 108-year coincidences are. They’ve been widely reported everywhere already, but it takes 108 outs to win the NLCS and another 108 to win the World Series. The ball itself has 108 stitches. And that’s because the Cubs’ first manager, A.G. Spalding insisted upon it. And his offices were at 108 W. Madison. The Willis Tower in Chicago is 108 stories high. The Cubs’ owner, Tom Ricketts, has his business on 108th street. The Cubs win the World Series in Taking Care of Business and Back to the Future II, which are both 108 minutes long. The trophy is made of silver, which has an atomic weight of 108. The Cubs won in 10 innings. They scored 8 runs. I’ve probably shed 108 tears since.

 

Now I’ve wasted away two straight days of re-watching Cubs highlights and listening to Pat Hughes radio calls and sporadically crying during viewings of the championship parade. What a Series. What a send-off for David Ross, who was carried off the field by his teammates after Game 7. What a legacy for Theo Epstein. And Joe Maddon. And the rest of these young Cubs, who I said all year were like 13-year-old Chinese gymnasts who weren’t old enough to understand the 108-years of pressure.

 

This changes the entire culture surrounding the Cubs, as an organization. It almost changes the game of baseball, itself. It is the last great American sports story. And I’m just glad that I was one of the millions of Cubs fans out there who got to witness history. To finally get to see the end of something and the beginning of another. Man, I love this team. It happened. It really happened. And I mean, I totally believed. But I still can’t fucking believe it. Magic number: 0.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXXII: The Cubs are in the World Series)

Written by :
Published on : October 27, 2016

 

This has been quite a week for me and my fragile emotions. When I posted last week, I was preparing to head off to Dodger Stadium, get interviewed by WGN and then watch Game 5 of the NLCS. Since then, I’ve cried joyous tears, I’ve gotten champagne-drunk and then had to dust myself off and mentally prepare for one last nervous go-round. And once again I decided to write my reactions after every game, so you could take that ride with me. Enjoy.

 

Thursday, October 20th. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4. They lead the series 3-2.

The Dodgers can take their huge leads off of first and pretend to steal and dance around the base paths all they want. They can bunt all they want too. Jon Lester’s postseason ERA is still 0.86 over 21 innings. The Cubs’ bats also stayed woke (thanks to Matt Szczur’s bats and underwear, apparently), Addison Russell homered for his second night in a row and a bases-clearing double by Javy Baez put the game out of reach yet again. The Cubs have scored 18 runs in their past two games. And now they’re *takes deep breath* one win away from playing the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Ohmyfuckinggod.

 

 Addison with the homer!

 

As a franchise, the Cubs have infamously been here before. Everybody knows that. And I was at Game 5 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium when I noticed what a wonderful coincidence it was that Steve Garvey and Eric Karros were chosen to throw out the first pitches before the game. Yes, Garvey played most of his career with L.A. and so did Karros. But the dig, which was probably lost on the Dodger fans who don’t show up until the 4th inning, anyway, wasn’t so subtle to Cubs fans like me.

 

In 1984, the Cubs played the San Diego Padres in the NLCS and took a 2-0 lead in the last best-of-five series the LCS has ever had. The first two games were at Wrigley Field, and the Cubs killed the Padres 13-0 in Game 1. Even pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe, homered in the game. By Game 4 in San Diego, the series was at 2-1. And in the 3rd inning, Garvey doubled, making it 2-0 Padres. Cubs’ catcher, Jody Davis, tied the game in the 4th with a two-run homer. And then the Cubs immediately took a 3-2 lead on Leon Durham’s home run, which was back-to-back. I would have gone insane, if I wasn’t a pre-schooler and completely unaware. But Garvey tied the game again in the 5th with a single. And then he put the Padres ahead 4-3 with another single in the 7th. The Padres were up 5-4 in the 8th, when Davis tied the game yet again with a double to center. But Garvey ended the game in the 9th with a two-run walk-off. The series was tied at 2 and Garvey’s teammates carried him off the field in celebration.

 

The deciding Game 5 would see the Cubs go up 3-0 in the 2nd, before the Padres started chipping away at the lead. In the bottom of the 7th, Leon Durham made his infamous fielding error at first, which would tie the game at 3. Garvey added another RBI in the inning, and the Padres would go on to win the game 6-3 and the series 3-2. Garvey was named NLCS MVP. The first Cubs game I ever went to in my life was the following year. It was Cubs-Padres at Wrigley Field. And one of the only things I remember from the game was how much everybody booed Steve Garvey.

 

 Garvey and Karros. Real clever, Dodgers.

 

2003 is a little bit fresher in everyone’s memory. There was another Cubs NLCS in between 1984 and 2003. But the only real lasting memory of the 1989 NLCS to most baseball fans is that Will Clark’s grand slam off of Greg Maddux in the 4th inning of Game 1. And his lip reading of Maddux prior to the at-bat, is the reason pitchers and catchers cover their mouths with their gloves when they talk to each other to this day. But 2003 is just… ugh. I don’t even want to talk about it. Nor do I want to even have to think about the fact that Game 6 is essentially the exact same scenario as Saturday night’s game. Well, there are some major momentum differences, if that’s even a real thing, but just know that in Game 6 of the NLCS, in that god forsaken 8th inning, Eric Karros was playing 1st base for the Chicago Cubs.

 

For Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS, L.A. has to rely on Clayton Kershaw yet again. Of course it has to be fucking Kershaw. It’s almost too perfect not to be him. And then a potential Game 7 would be Rich Hill. I probably don’t need to remind you that the Cubs have scored 8 runs or more in all three of their wins. And they’ve scored ZERO in their two losses. And I probably don’t need to remind you of who was pitching in both of those zero-run games. Right now, FiveThirtyEight is giving the Cubs a 54% chance of winning the game. They’re at 81% to win the NLCS. And they’re at 51% to win the World Series. So, as they pointed out, the curse is more likely to end than to continue. I have to assume these are not the same flailing bats that got blanked in Games 2 and 3. And I’m hoping for more of the ‘5.84 ERA in the NLDS’ Kershaw and less of the ‘0.00 ERA in the NLCS’ Kershaw. I’m not ready for his postseason reputation to be repaired. And I’m also hoping for the ‘1.32 ERA at home’ Kyle Hendricks and ‘103-mph lights out ‘Aroldis Chapman. And right now I don’t even want to consider the alternatives. 1984 and 2003 still hover out there. But, really, this team just feels different.

 

Saturday, October 22. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 5-0. They win the series 4-2.

It’s still surreal. When Addison Russell cleanly fielded Yasiel Puig’s grounder in the 9th, tossed the ball to Javier Baez for the force out at second and then Baez fired to Anthony Rizzo at first to complete the double play, the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945. And Wrigleyville looked like pandemonium.

 

Really, it couldn’t have gone any better. It was like a bizarro alternate reality version of the 2003 game. A world in which Alex Gonzalez fields Miguel Cabrera’s grounder cleanly, tosses to Mark Grudzielanek at second, who fires to Eric Karros at first. The Cubs get out of that 8th inning leading 3-1. Joe Borowski gets the save and the Cubs go on to play the Yankees (or the long suffering Red Sox, if you want to go there) in the World Series. And nobody ever finds out the name of the doofus fan who tried to catch Luis Castillo’s foul ball.

 

 Celebrate good times.

 

I hate to bring up all of the failings of the past, but Saturday’s game was the first step in wiping the slate clean for a franchise and a fan base who probably always wondered what winning a game like that would actually look like in real life. To not win the World Series since 1948 is one thing. To not even be there since 1945 is another, entirely. But Billy Sianis died on October 22nd, 1970. And exactly 46 years later, his curse is on life support.

 

Kyle Hendricks pitched a phenomenal game. He gave up a leadoff single to Andrew Toles. But then Baez tagged him out on a double play the very next pitch. And after Baez committed a (thankfully) harmless error in the 2nd, Hendricks sat down 17 Dodger batters in a row. He and Aroldis Chapman faced the 9-inning minimum of 27 batters, the first time that had been accomplished in a postseason since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956.

 

Clayton Kershaw was not as good. The scoring started for the Cubs in the 1st, when Dexter Fowler doubled to lead off the game and then Kris Bryant singled him home. Ben Zobrist’s sac fly would make it 2-0. In the second, Russell opened with a double and was then knocked in by Fowler. And Wilson Contreras’ leadoff home run in the 4th made it 4-0 Cubs, which was a great relief for me, since that 3-0 score had doomed the Cubs too many times in the past. Anthony Rizzo homered in the 5th to make it 5-0 and then Bad Postseason Kershaw was lifted, ending the Cubs’ onslaught.

 

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Cubs have a 63% chance to win the World Series, although Corey Kluber and the Indians are given a 52% chance of winning Game 1. Then again, the Indians were pretty heavy underdogs in both of their previous series. And everyone seems to think the Indians are going to run all over Jon Lester. Rajai Davis led the American League in stolen bases. Jose Ramirez is also a threat. Then there’s Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Coco Crisp. But that also assumes anybody can get on base. Other than Lindor and maybe Lonnie Chisenhall, nobody on that team is hitting. And this is all before we even mention that Ohio-native Kyle Schwarber might actually DH in Game 1.

 

 Wrigleyville getting it in.

 

The Cubs-Indians World Series is a story so good that it doesn’t even need Schwarber’s inclusion. You have the two longest droughts in baseball. Any World Series featuring the Cubs would have massive interest, anyway. But the Indians also have Andrew Miller, the guy the Cubs couldn’t get at the trade deadline because they were unwilling to part ways with Schwarber. I don’t know how this is going to end. And so much of the playoffs is a crapshoot. But what we have is the best team in baseball from the beginning against a team that has benefitted from short series with a depleted staff and an excellent bullpen. I’ve never been here, to this point, before. But I gotta say, I feel pretty good about it.

 

Tuesday, October 25th. The Indians beat the Cubs 6-0. They lead the series 1-0.

Well, add the Chicago Cubs to the list of postseason teams that can’t hit a well-rested Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller or Cody Allen. Kluber (with a little help from the framing of Roberto Perez and the trigger-happy calls from Larry fucking Vanover) struck out eight Cubs in the first three innings. Five of them were called strike threes. The Indians are now 8-1 in the postseason. Terry Francona is 9-0 in the World Series. It was the Indians’ 4th shutout in 9 games. It looked almost exactly like all their other previous ALDS and ALCS wins. And they are now 55% favorites (accruing to FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight) to win the World Series. Goddamnit.

 

 Game 1 goes to Kluber.

 

There are other ways to look at it. The Indians got 2 runs out of a fluke 1st inning. The Jose Ramirez swinging bunt. The Brandon Guyer bases-loaded HBP. All of the generous calls from Larry fucking Vanover. The wind stopping Kyle Schwarber (he is risen) from homering in the 4th. Andrew Miller escaping from a no-outs, bases loaded jam in the 7th and escaping again in the 8th against Schwarber. But that would probably sound like sour grapes when the reality is the Indians were the first postseason team to take advantage of Jon Lester’s throwing yips, Justin Grimm isn’t very good, the Indians’ pitchers are and Perez (3 HR, .183 AVG in the regular season) happened to play the game of his life. And it’s not like the score was close. I sound like a Dodgers fan.

 

The Cubs’ bats rebounded from that awful Game 3 in Los Angeles, so I’m hoping they can do the same in Game 2 against Drone Finger. Kluber is the best pitcher currently playing in the World Series, but other than Francisco Lindor at short, the Indians really have no other advantages, give or take the heavily-worked Miller. I know that anything can happen in the series. I know that the Indians can equally steal off of Jake Arrieta. I know that the bad Arrieta could show up. But Maddon says his team is fine. FiveThirtyEight has the Cubs at 54% to take Game 2. The Indians were expected to win the first Kluber game, anyway. Drone Finger isn’t that good. And it’s time to finally make Cleveland pay when Kluber’s not pitching on that sweet, sweet full rest.

 

Wednesday, October 26th. The Cubs beat the Indians 5-1. The series is tied 1-1.

So I guess you could say that this two-game Kyle Schwarber DH experiment worked out pretty well. Schwarber had two RBI singles in Game 2, looks like he’s just about ready to unleash some sort of goddamned fury every time he comes to the plate and has everybody wondering how they can keep his bat in the lineup in Games 3, 4 and 5 in Chicago. On top of that, Jake Arrieta took a no-hitter into the 6th. Ben Zobrist stayed red-hot. And the Cubs handed Cleveland their first home loss in the 2016 postseason, as well as Terry Francona’s first career loss in the World Series. All in front of famed Yankees fan, LeBron James.

 

 Schwarber!

 

Okay. This story concludes next week. And I’ll either be making the best out of coming so close and falling short yet again, or on another level of euphoria with a blown-world view and decisions to make on how much 2016 Cubs merchandise one person should own. The Decision, indeed. I hope to be taking my talents to MLBShop.com.

 

If you need more baseball from me, check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on the podcast things. And until then, the Cubs Magic Number is 3.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXXI: The ALCS and NLCS)

Written by :
Published on : October 21, 2016

 

 

We’ve come a long way. And it’s been an emotional roller coaster of a week. I’ve sat in silence in the nosebleed section of Dodger Stadium, while my beloved juggernaut of a team forgot how to hit. I’ve had a full-on doggypile in my living room. Somewhere in there, the Cleveland Indians won the American League pennant. For this week’s episode, I’m going to give you all of the games from the past week, and my reaction to them immediately after. You get to ride in the roller coaster with me for the ups and the downs. And then feel assured that we still have a long way to go.

 

Thursday, October 13th. NLDS Game 5. The Dodgers beat the Nationals 4-3. They take the series 3-2.

Wow. It’s pretty rare that a Division Series game would be considered an instant classic. But this year, we’d already had Games 1, 3 and 4 of the Cubs-Giants series vie for that title. And now we have what might go down as “The Clayton Kershaw Game” if it weren’t for the fact that that one-hour-and-six-minute 7th inning was one of the most bizarre/unique innings in the history of baseball. I could listen to people dissect every decision by managers, Dusty Baker and Dave Roberts, in that inning, forever. And luckily for me, baseball nerds are going to be talking about this one for a long time.

 

Prior to that 7th inning, the game already had its fair share of pivotal moments. The Nationals went up 1-0 in the 2nd, but also stranded runners on first and third. They also had runners on second and third in the 3rd inning, when Roberts brought in Joe Blanton (his set-up guy!) to replace Rich Hill. Blanton got Anthony Rendon to fly out and the Nats squandered another scoring opportunity. In the 4th, Max Scherzer still hadn’t allowed a hit. And he’d end up striking out the side, but it was his 13-pitch walk to Justin Turner in the inning that would be consequential deeper into the game. Yeah. A two-out walk in the top of the 4th, where the runner was stranded. It mattered. And that was all before third base coach, Bob Henley, waved Jayson Werth home in the 6th.

 

 That 13-pitch walk to Justin Turner would come back to haunt Max.

 

That was quite possibly the worst ‘send’ I have ever seen in my life. I know you’re supposed to be aggressive with two outs. I know the bottom of the order was coming up. And I know the Nats had already stranded two guys at third. But even the Dodgers seemed to be going, “What are you thinking???” when the ball was relayed home. I’ve re-watched that play ten times now. And my eyes tell me that Werth had already rounded third when Corey Seager got the relay throw. But in my head, I’ll always remember it comically, like the slowest, most awkward runner on earth was midway between second and third and just kept a-scootin’ on home. Maybe Henley lost the ball in the corner. Maybe Andrew Toles just played it perfectly. Maybe Julio Urias’ pickoff of Bryce Harper in the previous inning cost Werth valuable lead distance from first. Maybe it was just a perfect storm of suck. The juke attempt at the end and defeated facial expression from Werth did not help. The only thing that could have made that worse is if they only lost by one run or something.

 

The very next pitch of the game, in the top of the 7th, was bashed over the wall by Joc Pederson, tying the score at 1. Nobody thinks it was a bad pitch. There was no sign of fatigue or a loss in velocity in Scherzer. It was just a great piece of hitting by Pederson. And Baker still yanked Scherzer after 99 pitches. It might be the first time in history people were complaining for Baker NOT leaving someone in. But why even bring Scherzer out for the 7th if you were just gonna yank him after one ‘mistake’? And now how consequential does that 13-pitch walk to Turner look? Because if he’s at 80-something pitches, he probably gets left in the game. He’d only given up 1 run on 5 hits to that point. This is a guy who will probably win the Cy Young this year. He’s getting paid $15 million. Isn’t this exactly what you’re paying him to be? Instead, the Nats opted to send in the clowns.

 

Ah, the 7th. The Dodgers scored four runs off six pitchers in one inning. Scherzer, Marc Rzepczynski, Blake Treinen, Sammy Solis, Shawn Kelley and Oliver Perez. Roberts countered with three pinch hitters and a pinch runner. Harold Reynolds said his scorecard looked like a Jackson Pollock painting. You gotta love National League baseball. The chess match continued in the bottom of the 7th, when Baker called on Chris Heisey to pinch-hit off of Grant Dayton. And Heisey launched a two-run bomb to left, making it 4-3. With one man on and the top of the Nationals’ order coming up, Roberts called for his closer, Kenley Jansen, to make a 9-out save. And Jansen loaded the bases, before striking out Rendon to stave off any further damage. As if that inning couldn’t have gotten any crazier, it was also about the time in the game that Clayton Kershaw got an idea.

 

Before the game started, a reporter asked Roberts if Kershaw would be available to come out of the pen. “Absolutely not,” was the curt response. That reporter was a fucking idiot. Kershaw had thrown 110 pitches two days prior. And THAT was only on three days rest. It would be crazy to ask Kershaw to even consider pitching. But what if it’s his idea? When Jansen came on in the 7th, Kershaw started doing the math in his head and realized that Jansen was going to run out of gas before he got that 9th out. And after the 8th inning, the TV broadcast cut to images Kershaw making his way to the bullpen. It was all the announcers could do to stop from shouting, “No fucking way!” My phone started blowing up with texts.

 

 The Legend of Kershaw grows.

 

Jansen struck out Turner to start the bottom of the 9th. Then he walked Harper. At this point, Jansen was past his career high in pitches and looked like Ali at the end of the fight in Manila. But he stayed in to face Werth. That could have something to do with Werth’s .313/.389/.500 slash line against Kershaw. But Jansen walked Werth as well. And then Daniel Murphy was up next. That’s when Roberts called for Kershaw.

 

I mean, holy shit.

 

Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. But he had a reputation for choking in October. Murphy plucked himself from obscurity last October and then proved it wasn’t a fluke over the course of the 2016 regular season, with one of the best hitting performances in the National League. He hit .438 in this series, for Chrissakes. Plus, Kershaw and Murphy have a history. It was Murphy’s home run in Game 1 of the NLDS last year that started his legend and simultaneously contributed to another Kershaw postseason loss. Then Murphy homered off Kershaw again in Game 4 of that series, exactly a year removed from when he’d be called to the mound with two on, one out and the season on the line.

 

Murphy popped out to second.

 

The next batter was Wilmer Difo, a Dominican pinch hitter whose name, when typed, looks way too much like Willem Dafoe. And Kershaw would strike him out to end the game. The Nationals have still never advanced past the NLDS. According to Sarah Langs, Kershaw’s last professional save was in the Gulf Coast League in 2006. His catcher was current Dodgers closer, Kenley Jansen. The team he was facing was the GCL Nationals. And that team’s manager was current Nats third base coach, Bob Henley.

 

 Live it up boys.

 

Add this game to the postseason legend of Dave Roberts. This guy isn’t going to just be defined by one stolen base in 2004. And mark this game as Exhibit A in the postseason narrative shift for Kershaw, who pitched in every game the Dodgers won in the series. Remember, Randy Johnson lost seven playoff games in a row with the Mariners, Astros and Diamondbacks between 1995 and 2001 before his dominance in the 2001 NLCS and World Series made him synonymous with postseason excellence. I feel like Kershaw could do the same. I’m a Cubs fan and I don’t want him to do that. But its not like it’s up to me. Congrats Dodgers. I’ll see you at Games 3, 4 and 5.

 

Friday, October 14th. ALCS Game 1. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 2-0. They lead the series 1-0.

“If this is what October is like, I want to do this every year.” That’s what Francisco Lindor said after Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Lindor’s two run homer off of Marco Estrada was all the Indians needed after Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen silenced a Blue Jays offense that scored 22 runs in three games against Texas. Kluber is now at 13 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. Miller struck out five of the six batters he faced. Allen had a 1-2-3 9th.

 

Game 1 was probably a must-win for the Indians, since Kluber is really their only reliable starter. Especially now that Trevor Bauer has sliced his pinkie finger repairing a drone. You read that correctly. Dude is 25 and makes $2 million a year. He fixes drones, apparently. The positive for Cleveland is that this is their 4th win in a row. And current  projections still favor them over Toronto (FanGraphs gives the Dodgers a slight edge over the Cubs in the NLCS). And even the East-loving pundits, who still aren’t really sure what to make of Terry Francona’s bullpen usage are saying things like, “This is a team that swept a very good Boston Red Sox lineup.” Still mostly just a Red Sox compliment, but baby steps.

 

Saturday, October 15th. ALCS Game 2. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 2-1. They lead the series 2-0.

I’m sensing a pattern here. Indians pitcher keeps a formerly-unstoppable offense silent. Indians’ offense scores a couple of runs. Andrew Miller comes in strikes everybody out for two innings. Cody Allen slams the door. It was the exact same game as Game 1. Why would you change anything?

 

 ANDREW. MILLER.

 

For two games in a row, I thought the Toronto bats looked poised to explode. I was wrong both times. But we’re heading to Toronto, where things could change. If not, Francisco Lindor (who wasn’t even alive when Joe Carter hit that walk-off in 1993) is about to be really famous. And Andrew Miller (plus Buck Showalter) could change the entire way bullpens are designed going forward.

 

Saturday, October 15th. NLCS Game 1. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 8-4. They lead the series 1-0.   

Holy shit, that was beautiful. An 8th-inning gamble by Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, backfired so epically and in such a shockingly unexpected fashion, that I doubt, years from now, many people remember all of the other Cubs awesomeness that happened in this game, prior to that 8th.

 

I doubt they remember Ben Zobrist throwing Adrian Gonzalez out at the plate in the top of the 2nd. I doubt they remember Javier Baez’ heads-up bloop double that put the Cubs up 2-0 in the bottom of the inning. They might not even remember Baez stealing home after he got caught off third base on a safety squeeze. And Dexter Fowler, who had a better game than anyone, made two diving catches, one of which was fucking spectacular. If you mention it at a bar years from now, you might mention that he broke his belt on the play, just to jog a memory or two. Even Joe Buck, who I’d spent years dogging, had a superb night in the announce booth. When Pedro Baez’ molasses pace was sucking the life out of the entire game in the 5th or 6th, he blurted out, “This Pedro Baez is really tough to watch.” But all of that is dust in the wind.

 

The only thing people will probably be talking about years from now (and they will be talking about it), was that 8th inning. Adrian Gonzalez’ two-out, bases-loaded single off Aroldis Chapman tied the game at 3 in the top of the inning. And then the Cubs came to the plate needing the same type of late-inning heroics that won them the Division Series in San Francisco. Joe Blanton was on the hill for Los Angeles. Oh man.

 

Zobrist led off with a double. Then the ice-cold Addison Russell grounded out and couldn’t advance Zobrist to third. Why Joe Maddon didn’t have Russell bunt there is pretty confusing, but I’m already over it. Then the Dodgers intentionally walked Jason Heyward to get to Javy Baez. At the time, everyone I was watching with said, “Uh… thank you.” But Baez flew out. Two down. This is when Roberts started doing his chess match shit that won him the NLDS in D.C. And Blanton intentionally walked Chris Coughlan, since Chapman was next in the batting order. Joe Maddon’s hand was forced. He sent Miguel Montero (a lefty) to the plate to face Blanton (a righty). In theory, Roberts was going to pull Blanton and bring in Grant Dayton (lefty) and then Maddon would burn Montero and counter with the hot-hitting Wilson Contreras (righty). But Blanton stayed in and went up on Montero 0-2. Oh man. Lemme quote Joe Buck one more time.

 

“Here comes the 0-2. Line drive into right, back at the wall, it is GONE!!! GRAND SLAM, MONTERO! Game 1 HERO!”

 

And here’s Pat Hughes on 670 The Score.

 

“Blanton ahead of Montero nothing and two. The windup and the pitch… Montero drives one in the air! Deep right field! It’s got a chaaaaaaaaaance! GRAND SLAM!!! GRAND SLAM, MIGUEL MONTERO!!! CUBS LEAD 7-3!” Then Ron Coomer added, “WRIGLEY FIELD IS SHAKING RIGHT NOW AFTER THE BLAST THAT MONTERO – UNBELIEVABLE!”

 

 

I completely lost it. A hugging, jumping, screaming fit in the middle of my living room that went on for so long that I barely noticed that Fowler hit a solo shot, back-to-back on the very next pitch. I honestly don’t even care how the game ended. I think Anthony Rizzo made a sick defensive play to double off Andrew Toles. Whatever. Nobody will remember. It was another dramatic victory for the Cubs. And their first in the NLCS since 2003. I promptly found a photo of Montero’s shot (the one where Fowler is tossing his bat into the air in the on deck circle) and made it my background photo on Facebook. One win down. And now we face Kershaw.

 

Sunday, October 16th. NLCS Game 2. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0. The series is tied 1-1.

I think we can officially put the whole ‘Clayton Kershaw sucks in October’ narrative to bed. He was dominant through seven innings of a virtual must-win game, limiting the Cubs to two hits in a shutout. And Kenley Jansen struck out four in two perfect innings of relief. Kyle Hendricks made one mistake to Adrian Gonzalez in the 2nd. And that’s the ballgame. I was stuck complaining about Eric Cooper’s bullshit strike zone and occasionally popping out of my seat, like when Anthony Rizzo cranked that massive foul ball or when Javy Baez made a great play at second to force out Josh Reddick and then catch Gonzalez in a run-down. Or when I was convinced Baez hit a two-run bomb in the 7th. According to Statcast, 67% of balls like the one he hit have been home runs at Wrigley this year. Even Kershaw thought it was gone. And Dave Roberts’ annoyingly maniacal laughter after the fact leads me to believe he did too.

 

Kershaw is the greatest pitcher on Planet Earth. But (other than Baez and Kris Bryant) the Cubs just aren’t hitting in the postseason. Like, at fucking all. Ben Zobrist is hitting .182. Dexter Fowler is .167. Jason Heyward is .111. Addison Russell is .045. And Anthony Rizzo – their three hitter – is batting .043. They’ve gotten contributions from the pitchers at the plate. And they went off on Jeff Samardzija for two innings in Game 2 of the NLDS and then the Giants’ garbage bullpen in Game 4. Those bats need to wake up. And hopefully they do. Because I want to be sitting in a silent Dodger Stadium when the Cubs doggypile after Game 5.

 

I still think it might happen. In the last four games, Kershaw and Jansen have pitched more innings than everyone else on the team, combined. They’re 3-1 in those games, which were all one-run wins. But Rich Hill has a 6.43 postseason ERA. He also has blister problems. Kenta Maeda’s postseason ERA is 9.00. It’s like they either get shelled or Kershaw/Jansen save the day. This team just doesn’t have a rotation. If the Cubs can find their bats at all in Los Angeles, we should be moving on. I think.

 

Monday, October 17th. ALCS Game 3. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 4-2. The Indians lead 3-0.

Trevor Bauer’s finger is fucking disgusting. But so is the Cleveland bullpen. I think everybody thought the story of this game was gonna be Jose Bautista’s comments about the mysterious “circumstances” that inhibited the Jays in the first two games of the series (read: strike zone). Especially when his game started with Mike Napoli’s fly ball bouncing out of his glove for an RBI double. And then he led off the bottom of the first taking a called strike three. But it wasn’t too long after that Bauer started gushing.

 

I love that Bauer almost looked like he was trying to hide his pinky from the umpire. It’s still making me laugh picturing some old timer like Joe Niekro pretending it’s not his blood and then using his own wound like a sneaky emery board. But Bauer was out after only facing four batters and Terry Francona would have to rely on his bullpen for the remainder of the game. And I had to assume the Blue Jays would finally decide to hit and the Indians would be drone-fucked.

 

Michael Saunders tied the game in the bottom of the 2nd with a solo shot off Dan Otero. But it was answered in the 4th when Napoli hit a solo shot of his own. Ezekiel Carrera tripled in the 5th and was singled in by Josh Donaldson, tying the game again. But the Indians answered in the 6th with a homer by Jason Kipnis and some great base running by Napoli after he was walked. All the Indians had to do was get to Bryan Shaw, put in Cody Allen in the 7th and let Andrew Miller get the final four outs. Francona looks like a genius. But then again, any manager who has a guy with the ability to strike out 20 batters in 9 innings of postseason work is gonna end up looking pretty good.

 

Corey Kluber is being called on for Game 4 on three days rest. If they win (53% according to FiveThirtyEight), it’s the Indians’ first pennant since 1997. It’s also their 10th win in a row. And everyone will rightfully heap praise upon Miller and the rest of the Indians’ staff. But the longer this team goes into October, the more evident it will be that they’re severely shorthanded. They’ve only started Bauer, Kluber and Josh Tomlin in their 6 postseason games. Now Bauer is drone-fucked. And they’d have to use Ryan Merritt for a potential Game 5. I don’t really know who he is either. The Red Sox and Blue Jays vanished in the first six games (seriously, the Blue Jays have scored three runs and have never had a lead), but I gotta think Cleveland is vulnerable for whoever they face (Cubs???) in the World Series.

 

Tuesday, October 18th. The Blue Jays beat the Indians 5-1. The Indians lead the series 3-1.

Well, the Blue Jays finally found their bats. And it started with Josh Donaldson, who also flashed a little leather at third to save a run. I don’t know how much to read in to the fact that Corey Kluber has never pitched on three days rest before. But with Ryan Merritt going in Game 5 for Cleveland and possibly no one (or probz Kluber again) available for them if it goes all the way to Game 7, this thing could have just gotten interesting.

 

 Hey Blue Jays, you got one!

 

Tuesday, October 18th. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 6-0. The Dodgers lead 2-1.

What a shitty time to go to my first Cubs postseason game. And good thing I also have tickets for Games 4 and 5. Ugh. I know Rich Hill pitched well this season. I know he pitched well enough in the game. I know Clayton Kershaw was good the game before. But that’s 18 innings in a row for the Cubs without a run. That’s not something that usually happens. The analysis prior to the game, at least by Jess Mendoza of ESPN, was that if the Cubs were going to bust out their slumps in the series, Hill wasn’t gonna be the guy they did it against. She also said the Cubs were gonna play better with their backs against the wall, and unfortunately, I’m probably gonna have to see if she’s right on that front too. I’ve watched the Cubs lose big games before, but never surrounded by so many people so happy about my misery. Fuckin’ Dodgers fans. Being down 2-1 would feel a lot less insurmountable if anyone on this goddamn team felt like hitting. 103 wins just to all collectively slump in October? So grumpy.

 

Wednesday, October 19th. The Indians beat the Blue Jays 3-0. They win the series 4-1. 

Prior to Game 5, Jose Bautista, who is not everyone’s favorite player, said that Indians’ starter, Ryan Merritt, would be “shaking in his boots” thinking about facing the Blue Jays’ hitters. Merritt is 24-years-old. He was a 16th-round pick out of a community college in Waco. He has an 83-mile-per-hour fastball. Prior to the game, he had one career start and 11 career innings pitched. Keep in mind that, if not for a freak drone accident, he probably wouldn’t be getting his second career start in a potential pennant-clincher. The kid’s from Texas, so he might own boots. But he was certainly not shaking in a goddamn thing.

 

 Believeland again?

 

Merrit pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings. He retired the first 10 batters of the game. By that point the Indians were up 3-0 off of a double from Mike Napoli and homers from Carlos Santana and Coco Crisp. And then that bullpen came in. Series over. Andrew Miller got MVP honors. The Indians had a little bit of fun with the whole boots comment in the clubhouse and on social media during their celebration. Jason Kipnis told reporters, “That’s why you don’t say dumb shit.” Now is as good a time as any to mention it was also Bautista’s 36th birthday. He batted .167 in what will probably be his last series with Toronto. You’re going to be hearing a lot about 1948, 1997 and the Cleveland Caviliers in the next week. I’ll be worried about what happens if the Indians have a lead on the Cubs after the 5th inning in any of the World Series games. But that thought will have to be tabled for the time being.

 

Wednesday, October 19th. The Cubs beat the Dodgers 10-2. The series is tied 2-2.

Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo were a combined 3-for-50 in the postseason heading in to Game 4. Regression to the mean is a motherfucker. They each went 3-for-5 with home runs and the Cubs’ bats finally came alive after 21 scoreless innings. Maybe everything was a bit overblown since this is the Cubs we’re talking about. The ’98 Yankees were down 2-1 in the ALCS, for crying out loud. It happens all the time. Cubs fans may even remember the ’84 Padres being down 2-1. Or the 2003 Marlins. This is a fairly normal thing. But the Cubs hadn’t been in this sort of trouble all season long. Yeah, Dodger fans will cry about Adrian Gonzalez being thrown out at home in the 2nd (his hand looked like it was hovering to me). But the Dodgers gave up 10 runs and committed 4 errors. And if it wasn’t for Justin Turner’s grounder taking a bad hop off of Mike Montgomery’s glove in the 5th, the score would have been 10-0. I’d rather be Anthony Rizzo apologizing to Angel Hernandez for trotting to first on a called strike (and homering on the next pitch) than Adrian Gonzalez doing his best Jose Bautista whine impression in the clubhouse after the game. I just hope these bats can stay hot against Kenta Maeda in Game 5 before this series heads back to Wrigley Field.

 

 

Alright. That’s it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on the podcast things. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 6. Ohmygod.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXX: The ALDS and NLDS)

Written by :
Published on : October 14, 2016

 

Did you think there would be NO drama? Come on. It’s October! We had five-hour games and extra-innings walk-offs. We had tears. We had celebrations. We had sweeps. We have one series that’s not even done yet. Let’s talk about all of it.

 

The Blue Jays swept the Rangers 3-0

Well, add Game 3 of the ALDS in Toronto to the growing annals of Blue Jays playoff history. In the bottom of the 11th, Rougned Odor (of all fucking people) botched a throw to first base on a double play (of all fucking things), allowing Josh Donaldson to race home with a head-first slide, winning the game 7-6 and the series 3-0. As the Rogers Center lost its collective mind, the broadcast cut to a homemade sign that read, “WOULD RATHER GET PUNCHED IN MAY THAN GET KNOCKED OUT IN OCTOBER.”

 

The Rangers pitching in this series was awful. Of the three starters they used, Yu Darvish actually did the “best.” And his 2016 postseason ERA is 9.00. Josh Donaldson, who looked worn down at the end of the regular season, is the hottest hitter in the American League, once again. Edwin Encarnacion isn’t far behind. Either are Ezequiel Carrera or Troy Tulowitzki, for that matter. And Marco Estrada also pitched a gem in Game 1, for a staff that I still think is underrated.

 

 

Oh, and I know that everyone hates Jose Bautista or whatever, but the way he gently sat down his bat when he hit a home run in Game 1 is being grossly overlooked by everyone. First of all, I’m impressed he even had the wherewithal in the moment to think of that. And secondly, that’s so much more shade than any actual bat flip. And it’s dog-whistle enough that dum-dums like Goose Gossage won’t call him “an embarrassment to all Latin players” or whatever garbage shit will come out of his mouth next. I kinda hope gentle bat placements become a thing.

 

Odor’s punch won the early-season battle. Bautista, the Jays and meme generators all over North America won the war.

 

The Indians beat the Red Sox 3-0

It seems like the entirety of the national sports media decided the story of the series was the tearful goodbye of David Ortiz at Fenway Park after Game 3. Not the fact that the team with the best offense in all of baseball was shut down by a team thought to be decimated by pitching injuries. Not even Cleveland’s own beat writers gave the Tribe a fighting chance to make it out of the first round alive. But let’s make sure we focus on the guy we’ve already said goodbye to a thousand times over the course of the six month season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rob Manfred personally wheels Papi out in every game of the ALCS, NLCS and World Series just so we can keep making sure everyone on the goddamn planet has properly bid this man adieu. He is the 4th-greatest DH of all time, after all.

 

 

Maybe I’m just frustrated by all the old story lines the writers and talking heads try to trot out every October, but if I was an Indians fan, this would annoy the shit out of me. The Indians held the Red Sox to seven total runs in the series. The Sox hadn’t been held to seven runs in a three game series all season long. The Indians also won Game 2 by a score of 6-0 and all anybody really cared about was that LeBron James was there. Or, I guess, that David Price is now 0-8 in 9 playoff starts with a 5.53 ERA. But that was it. Seriously, nobody wants to talk about the team doing any of the actual winning?

 

So what should we talk about? How about Terry Francona’s bullpen usage in Game 1. With Buck Showalter’s non-use of Zach Britton in the Wild Card Game still fresh on everyone’s mind, Tito brought in Andrew Miller in the 5th inning. Miller pitched two scoreless innings and then Cody Allen was brought in to get the final five outs, including Dustin Pedroia’s check swing to end the game. Nerd boners could be seen in the proverbial pants of stat heads across the country. You can dismiss the prospects of Cleveland’s staff in a seven-game series all you want (and I am too). But Miller is the real x-factor coming out of the pen. And you gotta look at a lineup that is averaging 5 runs per game this postseason and wonder what Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis or Lonnie Chisenhall can do against that Jays staff.

 

Or, you know, we could just talk about how wonderful it was that Boston gave Ortiz such a nice send-off (again). The designated hitter position has been around since 1973. And it’s only in the American League. And, again, it’s not every day we say goodbye to the 4th-best one of those of all-time. Jim Thome was better. In Ortiz’ prime, Travis Hafner of the Indians was better. And as he exits, the 2016 Indians’ team was better. I think it’s best we finally turn the page. Speaking of which…

 

The Cubs beat the Giants 3-1

 

God bless my patient wife. She put up with a lot over the course of four games. That includes a room full of screaming thirty-something men when Javier Baez hit the home run off Johnny Cueto in Game 1. The five-hour, blue-balls-inducing marathon of Game 3. The emotional roller coaster comeback of Game 4. And God bless her for whatever horrors lie ahead.

 

This series had everything I love about baseball and everything I hate about baseball all at once. And just when the idiotic narrative had switched back to the magical, never-say-die, Even Year Giants, the Cubs (supposedly feeling 108 years of pressure) completed the biggest 9th-inning comeback in a series clincher in the history of postseason baseball. Madison Bumgarner’s postseason scoreless innings streak also ended at 24 (thanks, Jake Arrieta!). The Giants’ winning streak in elimination games ended at 10. Bruce Bochy has finally lost a playoff series while wearing a Giants uniform. And even if the Even Year mystique of the Giants isn’t quite dead, at least I have two more years before I have to look at people with a straight face while they talk about this shit.

 

That Baez home run came in the 8th inning of an all-out pitchers duel between Cueto and Jon Lester. On a normal day, that ball lands on Waveland. But the wind made sure it was the farthest home run to ever land in the left field basket. David Ross also picked off two runners as the Cubs went on to win their first meaningful game in weeks, 1-0. Game 2 had a solo home run from Cubs’ reliever, Travis Wood. And a two-run single from starter, Kyle Hendricks. When Arrieta hit that three-run shot off of Bumgarner in Game 3, the Cubs’ pitchers had six runs batted in and the whole Giants’ team only had two. Unfortunately for me, my wife, my stress level and hearts and livers across Chicago, the series got a little more interesting from there.

 

 

Conor Gillaspie wasn’t even supposed to be playing. He was replacing the injured Eduardo Nunez when he hit that three-run homer in the 9th off Jeurys Familia in the Wild Card Game. And in Game 3, he launched an improbable two-run triple off of Aroldis Chapman’s 102-mph fastball to give the Giants their first lead in the series. Everyone in TV Land was ready to anoint Gillaspie the New Magical Even Year Giant.

 

In the 9th, Kris Bryant hit a two-run shot off of Sergio Romo, which careened off the cartoon Chevron sign and into the left field bleachers to tie the game. You could probably hear my nutball reaction from blocks away. The same goes for Albert Almora Jr’s game-saving catch in the bottom of the inning. Yeah, Joe Panik mercifully ended the 5-hour epic in the bottom of the 13th. But the fact that the Cubs fought back at the end and didn’t just roll over would be a bit of positive foreshadowing for the following night.

 

I know it’s being sold as a bullpen meltdown, but the ineptitude of the Giants’ pen is something that was right under everyone’s nose, if they hadn’t been distracted by all the magical thinking and hopes and dreams of Gillaspie, and seeing Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field in Game 5. The 2012 San Francisco Giants came back down 0-2 to the Reds in the NLDS and won the whole thing. But this isn’t 2012. Or 2010. Or 2014. Or 1908. Or any other Cubs meltdown year. It’s 2016. Matt Moore pitched a gem. Bochy happened to take him out, leading 5-2.

 

 

He tried Derek Law. Law gave up a single to Bryant. He tried Javier Lopez. Lopez walked Anthony Rizzo. He tried Romo again. Romo gave up a two-run double to Ben Zobrist making it 5-4. He tried Will Smith. Smith gave up a two-run single to Wilson Contreras, tying the game at 5. He tried Hunter Strickland. Strickland gave up an RBI single to Baez, putting the Cubs ahead for good, 6-5. Chapman totally redeemed himself. The Cubs are a better team. And they were the ones chanting “we don’t quit” on the opposing team’s pitching mound for another group photo as they move on to the next round. As much as I love Bill Murray, I was sure glad I didn’t have to see him again until the NLCS.

 

The Dodgers and Nationals are tied 2-2

Like David Price, Clayton Kershaw also has a rep for sucking in the postseason. But who would you rather be right now- Noah Syndergaard, Johnny Cueto and Matt Moore? Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw. But the Dodgers have won both of the games he’s pitched. Max Scherzer is going in Game 5 for Washington. And he did give up a Major League-leading 31 home runs this season. But beating him twice in five games is almost too much to ask.

 

 

I’ve learned not to weigh in on who I want the Cubs to face in the NLCS (boy did I want the Mets last year). But Daniel Murphy is hot once again. So is Jayson Werth. Trea Turner could be a nightmare for Jon Lester. I think that’s who we’re gonna get. If it’s the Dodgers, they have a red-hot Justin Turner. They have that bullpen. They have Corey Seager, who is loving the first inning. And they have whatever version of Kershaw exists in October. But I’ll just quote Jake Arrieta, when Cubs’ beat writer, Patrick Mooney, asked him if he wanted the Mets or the Giants in the first round. “Who gives a shit?”

 

The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. They haven’t even been there since 1945. The Indians haven’t won since 1948. The Dodgers haven’t won since 1988. The Blue Jays haven’t won since 1993. The Nationals have never won. But the Even Year Giants are done. The Big Papi Red Sox are done. Two old story lines have been killed off. And before we end this thing, somebody else’s storied drought will be over too.

 

Okay. That’s it for this week. If you want more baseball from me, check out Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 8.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXIX: Bumgarner, Britton, MY Final Awards and LDS)

Written by :
Published on : October 7, 2016

 

 

For this cautiously optimistic Cubs fan, there was something oddly poetic and metaphorical about watching Madison Bumgarner walk back to the dugout after pitching yet another October gem for a team that has been there so many times before. By now you should know the long and torturous history of the Cubs, the 107 years of futility and heartbreak, the billy goats, black cats, Leon Durhams and Steve Bartmans. This version of the team needs just 11 more wins on a season where they’ve already won 103. But in the process of chasing the championship, they’re also surrounded by ghosts, whether they be real or imagined. And so in a year where Cubs fans have never been more hopeful that the wait is over, that this is ‘Next Year’, that they can finally break a curse, of course the first obstacle in their way is a magical team with magical powers in even years, with a magical pitcher whose powers are heightened when they need him the most.

 

To me, Bumgarner symbolizes more than just a star pitcher on the San Francisco Giants. He’s also the poster boy for that magical thinking, superstition and all the other illogical nonsense that will be managed and tamed the further the Cubs get into the postseason. I’ve already seen multiple posts about how Bumgarner now has 23-consecutive scoreless innings in winner-take-all games. Before the Wild Card game, picking Noah Syndergaard to be the ‘winner’ was almost seen as contrarian, even though his numbers strongly suggest he’s the better pitcher. None of that mattered. MadBum was already at legend status. And by the time this is posted, it will have snowballed to godlike proportions. Meanwhile, I’m going to venture to guess that nobody, in their analysis of the Bumgarner vs. the Mets, is going to mention that the Mets were tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for 25th in the Majors in runs scored on the season. And that his next round opponent certainly ain’t that.

 

 

As God as my witness, the Chicago Cubs will eventually go the World Series and win the whole damn thing. It will happen before the sun swells up and swallows the earth or Donald Trump nukes Lakeview. So if a curse was actually a real thing, which I assure you it is not, the Cubs would probably have to break an ‘even year’ spell or whatever else is thrown in their way in the process. Good eventually has to defeat evil. You have to go to Mordor to get rid of the Precious. The 2004 Red Sox had to go through the Yankees to break a curse of their own. Because of course they did. Curses are fiction and fiction should have insurmountable odds right before a happy ending. If this were written by Hollywood, the 2016 Cubs’ storybook ending would go ‘Even Year’ Giants, Daniel Murphy, Boston Red Sox. And all of that can happen. So what better place than here? What better time than now? Who’s ready for some playoffs?

 

The AL Wild Card Game
The Blue Jays defeat the Orioles 5-2 in 11 innings

Oh man. I’d feel bad for Ubaldo Jimenez if I thought anybody was actually focusing on him and not on Buck Showalter’s decision to not use Zach Britton in the game. Jimenez, of course, had that infamous 7.38 ERA in the first half, which basically made him the worst starting pitcher in the Majors. But he’d been better lately, I swear. He had a 2.31 ERA in September. There were real people writing actual articles on ESPN.com saying Ubaldo should be starting the game over Chris Tillman. It’s just that Britton had a 0.54 ERA on the season. He hadn’t given up an earned run since August 24th. And that was the only once since April 30th. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

In the bottom of the 11th, after Jimenez came on in relief with the score tied at 2, he gave up singles to Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson, before Edwin Encarnacion hit a 3-run walk-off to send Toronto in to the next round. Jimenez threw a grand total of five pitches. Showalter used a grand total of six different relievers after Tillman exited in the 5th. None of them were Britton. Showalter was managing for the save, a made-up statistic for a made-up position that logic should have killed off years ago. And it probably took the strategic failing of a renowned baseball strategist for change to happen. I just hope Joe Maddon and Aroldis Chapman took notice.

 

The NL Wild Card Game
The Giants defeated the Mets 3-0

 

The pitchers duel lived up to the hype, all right. Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the 6th and looked dominant before his pitch count reached its limit at the end of 7. He was aided by a fantastic catch by Curtis Granderson in center. But the slumping Yoenis Cespedes and the mediocre bats of the Mets could get nothing going against Racist Legend Boy and a team that tanked the entire second half and had to sweep the Dodgers to hold off the Cardinals at the end of the season didn’t have to use their garbage bullpen. The game was scoreless until the top of the 9th, when Conor Gillaspie, who had six home runs all season, hit a three-run shot off of Jeurys Familia, who’d only given up one all year. Racist Legend Boy’s 4-hit shutout on 119 pitches and the fact that the year ends in a 6 means something very important to people who get paid money to talk about baseball for a living. Seriously, fuck this team.

 

ALDS Preview: The Rangers vs. The Blue Jays

Well this could be horrifyingly dangerous. The epic rematch that everyone outside of Baltimore should have wanted is actually going to happen. And if drunken Canadians are willing to throw Labatt Blue cans at Hyun-soo Kim, imagine what they want to do to Rougned Odor.

 

I actually think the Jays will take the series. While both teams can definitely score, I like the Jays’ pitching depth a lot more. That Rangers +10 run differential still doesn’t make sense. But why would we talk about any of that? Jose Bautista and Roogie could square off again, you guys!

 

ALDS Preview: The Indians vs. The Red Sox

I don’t think anybody has Cleveland winning this. Boston has the best offense in the Majors. Six of their hitters are at least pretty good. And the Indians’ staff is duct-taped together. Plus, Papi is the Madison Bumgarner of hitting. David Price does have a 5.12 postseason ERA. But Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin haven’t beaten the Red Sox this season. And Corey Kluber can’t match up with Price every game. But mostly, Joey Bats might fight Rougned Odor in that other series, you guys!

 

NLDS Preview: The Cubs vs. The Giants

 

The best pitching in the Major Leagues. The best defense in the Major Leagues. The best offense in the National League, outside of Colorado. The year 1908. The years 2010, 2012 and 2014.
This is the hottest the Giants have been since the All-Star Game, which isn’t saying much. The staff is pretty formidable, especially with Jeff Samardzija pitching well lately. But the team has trouble scoring. So if the Cubs’ deep lineup can heat up, that staff should hold the Giants off.

 

Should and will are two different things, obviously. The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season last year, before getting swept in the NLCS. But the Cubs are the story here. The sports media may be chasing after the Even Year Miracle Hillbilly like a dumb dog chasing a mail carrier. But the Cubs are the best team in baseball. And they’re the favorite until proven otherwise.

 

NLDS Preview: The Nationals vs. The Dodgers

No Stephen Strasburg. No Wilson Ramos. A banged-up Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. And Dusty Baker managing them. This all bodes well for the finally-healthy Dodgers. The only thing is, the Dodgers have pretty mediocre hitting after Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Especially against lefties. And Clayton Kershaw has been pretty un-Kershaw-like in Octobers past. He’s getting matched up with Max Scherzer, who doesn’t quite suck either. I’ll take Washington. Really. I need them for my Daniel Murphy curse storyline and I don’t want to get jumped in Echo Park during the presumed NLCS while forgetting I’m wearing a Cubs hat.

 

Let’s give out some awards.

 

AL MVP FINAL ANSWER: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

 

As the Major League leader in WAR, by a pretty decent margin, Trout proved once again that he’s the best player in the game. It’s arguable that David Ortiz was a better hitter this year. But there’s really no other metric to suggest the A.L. MVP could possibly be anyone else.

 

I’ve already talked about this at length. Trout has led the league in WAR his first five seasons in the Majors and has one MVP award to show for it. Willie Mays led the National League in WAR ten times from 1954-1966. And he only has two MVP awards to show for it. Those voters look stupid to us now. And, unless Trout brings home some more hardware, they’re on their way to looking stupid again.

 

Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Adrian Beltre

 

AL CY YOUNG FINAL ANSWER: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

I was surprised too. For me, this came down to the numbers. The narrative of everyone assuming Verlander was done is nice and everything. But that has nothing to do with who was the best pitcher in the league this year. And the numbers pointed to Verlander, Rick Porcello and Corey Kluber.

 

—————————WAR   FIP      ERA

Justin Verlander      5.2      3.48      3.04
Rick Porcello           5.2      3.40      3.15
Corey Kluber           5.1      3.26      3.14

 

That’s about as close as you can get. But it’s that ERA – actual results – that settled it for me. I’d hand Verlander his second Cy. Or his third, since I probably would have given it to him in 2012 too. Just saying.

 

Honorable Mention: Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Masahiro Tanaka, Chris Sale, Aaron Sanchez

 

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINAL ANSWER: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

 

I’d love to be able to give you a great reason. But this came down to Sanchez, Michael Fulmer and Christopher Devenski. Their WARS were essentially the same, regardless of if anybody had Devenski in the conversation or not. And Devenski’s Win Probability Added (WPA) was better than Fulmer’s, as were his FIP and ERA. That’s pitching 2-3 innings at a time, instead of six. But still, that’s a good argument for why Fulmer wasn’t the even best rookie pitcher in his own league. On the other hand, no other American League position player is touching Sanchez. He hit 20 home runs in 53 games, which is a 61 pace. Holy shit.

 

Honorable Mention: Michael Fulmer, Christopher Devenski, Tyler Naquin, Tim Anderson

 

NL MVP FINAL ANSWER: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Like Trout, Bryant led the league in WAR by a decent margin. Unlike Trout, his play contributed to a winning team. Joey Votto, Daniel Murphy and Freddie Freeman were all better hitters. But they can’t hold a candle to Bryant, defensively. The title of best player in the National League has a new claimant.

 

Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman, Daniel Murphy, Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo

 

NL CY YOUNG FINAL ANSWER: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

I’m taking Clayton Kershaw out of the equation, since he pitched in 10 fewer games with 34 fewer innings than Thor. But with a full season, Syndergaard led the league in WAR and FIP, while finishing third in ERA. I love Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester (who finished 1-2 in ERA), but they also had that Cubs defense behind them. And I highly doubt Jose Fernandez would want the award handed to him (although he was right up there). Oh, and Max Scherzer is getting hype as a 20-game winner. But this isn’t 1986 and we have better ways of evaluating value.

 

Honorable Mention: Jose Fernandez, Kyle Hendricks, Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester    

 

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINAL ANSWER: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s really not even close. Seager is the best rookie position player since Trout in 2012. And I thought he’d be the best National League rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001 or Mike Piazza in 1993, but it’s actually Dick Allen in 1964. That’s not like, bad company.

 

Honorable Mention: Jon Gray, Kenta Maeda, Trea Turner, Trevor Story, Steven Matz, Zach Davies

 

Okay. That’s it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check me out on ‘Comedians Talking Sports‘ with Joe Kilgallon on the podcast things. In the meantime, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 11. So nervous!

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXVIII: Jose Fernandez, Vin Scully and the Emotional Week That Was )

Written by :
Published on : September 30, 2016

 

I cried twice this week watching baseball games. Big blubbering tears that I didn’t even try to choke down. Neither time had anything to do with the team I support or much to do with an outcome of an actual game. The first was the culmination of a 67-year career, a beloved grandfather figure saying a heartfelt goodbye to a city and a stadium that has never seen baseball without him. And the second was because of a grieving friend circling the bases in tears after hitting his only home run of the year (an upper deck shot) and then subsequently being consoled by a dugout full of equally-bereaving teammates – a fitting tribute to a young superstar taken too soon by a tragic accident.

 

On Sunday, we all found out about the boating accident death of Jose Fernandez. But the life of Jose Fernandez made the news even harder to accept. Yes, he was the ace of the Marlins’ staff, an elite pitcher in the league. And yes, at 24, his future was unquestionably bright. But it was the passion and the childlike enthusiasm he exuded while playing and his overall love of the game for which he’ll be remembered.

 


Have you seen the GIF of Fernandez snagging Troy Tulowitzki’s lined shot up the middle from 2013? It almost perfectly encapsulates guy’s combination of dominance in performance and personality. Tulo looks on dumbfoundedly before mouthing, “Did you catch that?” And Fernandez (at that point a rookie, all Cheshire grins and swag) replies, “Yes. Yes, I did.” Baseball has seen its fair share of stoic, scowling aces over the years. There was only one Jose.

 

The Marlins understandably cancelled Sunday’s game against the Braves. But the tragic news had reverberated around the league. And tributes sprang up everywhere in dugouts around the country. On Monday, the visiting Mets players greeted the Marlins on the field (all of whom were wearing black ‘Fernandez 16’ jerseys) with hugs and watery eyes before the game. Not too long after, Dee Gordon led off the bottom of the 1st.

 

Some of you may recall the on-court death of Loyola Marymount All-American, Hank Gathers, in 1990. When the team played in that year’s NCAA Tournament, his good friend and teammate, Bo Kimble, who was right-handed, would shoot his first free-throws left-handed in memory of Gathers. Perhaps channeling his best Kimble, Dee Gordon (who bats left-handed) took the first pitch from Bartolo Colon right handed (a la Fernandez) before switching helmets and moving over to the left side of the plate. His first swing resulted in an upper deck shot to right. To that point, Gordon had 8 home runs in his career. He hadn’t hit one since October 4th of last year. And he said he’s never hit a ball that far in his life, even in batting practice.

 

 

The moment Gordon touched home, he pounded his chest and pointed to the sky, overcome with emotion. By the time he reached the dugout and was greeted with a bear hug from hitting coach, Barry Bonds, I was RUINED. It’s a moment that will go down in Marlins’ lore forever. And it was easily the moment of the year for the 2016 season.

 

Earlier this season, when talking about retired baseball numbers, I tagged the Marlins for having two World Series titles and absolutely no history. Jose Fernandez has changed all that. As a Cuban defector, his story already resonated with the fan base in Miami. His last outing against the Nationals was arguably his career best (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K) and his joy in life can serve as an inspiration to a city rich in Cuban-American culture and to a sport so often bogged down by old school thinking and unwritten rules. For one day we were all Marlins fans. And going forward, that means so much more than it ever did before.

 

The other time I cried was for Vin.

 

I was going to watch Sunday’s Dodgers-Rockies game anyway. It was Vin Scully’s final home game, in a career with the Dodgers that began in 1950. That’s a Bill Murray’s lifetime worth of games. The Dodgers were also looking to clinch the division. And so I knew the game would end in memorable fashion, regardless of the outcome. On top of all that, in lieu of the Fernandez news, I knew turning on the game would give me the audio comfort food I needed to hear.

 

Listening to the greatest announcer in history has been a taken-for-granted pleasure of my entire sports-watching life. And it’s been increasingly more appreciated and pleasurable since I moved to Los Angeles in 2007. That’s when I knew what we had. So watching Sunday’s home finale (the Corey Seager game-tying home run in the 9th, the walk-off division-clincher by Charlie Culberson in the 10th) was one last chance for me to soak it all in. I mean, of course the guy’s final game at home ended like that. Vin Scully’s entire career was surrounded by these types of moments. This guy called perfect games by Don Larsen and Sandy Koufax, the Kirk Gibson home run in the 1988 World Series, Game 6 of the ’86 World Series and almost everything else in between. You can’t just let him walk away with a snoozefest. And then he gave his public farewell to the stadium. And I LOST it.

 

 

Scully, who had been saluted by Dodger batters throughout the game, and who was now being saluted by the Dodgers as a team, played a rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings” that he’d sung himself. And, holy shit, there was not a dry eye in my house. The team had just clinched the NL West title, mind you. And the team waited respectfully for the song to be over before they sprayed champagne. I mean, only the scummiest of dirtbag Dodger fans could call that corny. And hopefully they were already trying to beat traffic back to Scumville when that happened. The song was motherfucking beautiful. And so is Vin. I’m really gonna miss him.

 

Instead of doing a career retrospective or trying to put his impact on the game or the culture of Dodgers baseball into worlds, I’ll just give you this. Here’s my All-Vin Scully Dodgers Team, 1950-2016. I think it speaks to his tenure and legacy, loud and clear.

 

C    1997    Mike Piazza
Roy Campanella may be the greatest Dodgers catcher of all-time (and he has 3 MVP awards to show for it), but in ’97, Piazza had a 9.1 WAR, he led the league in OPS+, he hit a ball all the way out of Dodger Stadium and set multiple offensive records for a catcher. Pretty good for a 62nd round pick.

 

1B    1954    Gil Hodges
In 1954, Hodges set the Dodger record for home runs in a season (42), and was also excellent defensively. It’s part of the reason Hodges might have been the only Dodger to never get booed at Ebbets Field. He’s the greatest Dodger first baseman of all time. And, yes, I see you, Steve Garvey.

 

2B    1951    Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson is obviously an American icon and 1951 wasn’t even his best season with the Dodgers. But Vin didn’t start with Brooklyn until 1950, okay? Robinson was great in every aspect of the game in ’51 and his 9.0 WAR led the Majors. He also happens to be the greatest Dodger second baseman of all time.

 

 It was always you, Jackie.

 

3B    2004    Adrian Beltre
Shoutout to Ron Cey, but nobody is topping Beltre’s 9.7 WAR and Major-League-leading 48 bombs in his 2004 breakout season.

 

SS    2016    Corey Seager
Seriously. This kid is good. In all 67 years of Scully’s tenure, nobody at short had a 7.5 WAR like Seager has had in his rookie season. Not Pee Wee Reese. Not Maury Wills. Nobody.

 

LF    1985    Pedro Guerrero
For greatest moment, it would have to be Gibson in ’88. And for multiple seasons, it might actually go to Dusty Baker (1976-1983). But in 1985, Guerrero led the league in OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, WAR and wOBA. He finished 3rd in MVP voting, but he really should have won it.

 

CF    1953    Duke Snider
The greatest center fielder in Dodgers’ history had his greatest overall season in 1953, leading the league in SLG, OPS and WAR. He also finished 3rd in MVP voting. Like Guerrero, he also should have won it.

 

RF    2001    Shawn Green
He’d hit four home runs in a game the following year, but in 2001, Green set the single-season Dodger record with 49. You just might not remember it because some other dude hit 73. If you’re not the steroid-era type (and Green might not have actually done any), we could go with 2011 Matt Kemp. Or just whatever-year Andre Ethier. Just know that if I had to do a list like this for my Len Kasper Cubs, the right fielder would be 2009 Kosuke Fukudome, so stop complaining.

 

SP    1965 Sandy Koufax
It’s hard to pin down exactly which Sandy Koufax season to choose, but in 1965, he won the pitchers’ Triple Crown, was the unanimous Cy Young winner, threw a perfect game (his 4th no-hitter) and won the World Series. All while dealing with tremendous pain. And not pitching on Yom Kippur. I love saying that Clayton Kershaw is better than Koufax, but he’s certainly never done all those things. Well, maybe he’s pitched on Yom Kippur.

 

 Sandy being Sandy.

 

Honorable mention to 1963 Koufax, 1966 Koufax, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 Clayton Kershaw. Probably 2016 too, if he didn’t get hurt. 1999 Kevin Brown could be in there. 1971 Don Sutton. Shoutout to Don Drysdale. Shoutout to Fernando Valenzuela. Shoutout to Orel Hershiser. Jesus, Vin has seen some pitching. Of all the Dodger greats, I think he only missed Dazzy Vance (1922-1932). And Dazzy’s famous old-timey fastball probably topped out at 84.

 

RP    2003    Eric Gagne
In 2003, Gagne had 55 saves in 55 chances. That was good enough to tie the single-season NL record. Not that I care about saves. He also got more than half of his outs with K’s, with 100 more (137) than hits allowed (37). It won him the National League Cy Young. Even though I hate when relievers win and it should have gone to Mark Prior of the Cubs instead, that’s still pretty impressive.

 

Let’s go around the league.

 

 

The American League

 

The Rangers, Indians and Red Sox all won their divisions this week. But the Indians suffered another potentially fatal blow with the groin injury of Corey Kluber. They’re already down Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, not to mention Michael Brantley. And now their ace? You almost have to feel bad for them. There probably shouldn’t even be an almost in that last sentence.

 

 The Indians may be celebrating but they’re hurting big time right now.

 

Home field advantage in the American League is probably going to come down between the Rangers (94-65) and the Red Sox (92-66). And after the Red Sox won their 11th game in a row this week, how much do you think Fox and MLB were salivating over the possibilities of a Cubs-Red Sox World Series? Count me in for that one too.

 

The Wild Card is where stuff gets fun. The Blue Jays (89.9%, Magic Number: 3 ) look to be in great position. As long as nobody else gets hurt in their dumb brawls. Pffff, Canadians. The Orioles are next at 66.6% (the percentage of the Beast), and then the Tigers (35.4%) and Mariners (8.0%), with the Astros and Yankees assumed to be done. And with the Royals officially eliminated, that makes it four straight years that a team has won the World Series and then failed to make it in to the postseason the following year.

 

The best arguments this week are over the AL Rookie of the Year and whether or not Zach Britton should be the Cy Young. And you’re probably wondering if I have some opinions. To quote the late, great Jose Fernandez, Yes. Yes, I do.

 

First of all, Zach Britton should not be the AL Cy Young winner. I know his 0.55 ERA is amazing. But I don’t give a shit about saves and he’s only pitched 65.1 innings this season. If Clayton Kershaw isn’t eligible in the National League at 142 innings, then you just have to admit you worship the stupid save stat because you’ve been taught to worship Mariano Rivera. Ugh. Relievers are guys who aren’t good enough to start. They pitch one inning a game. We shouldn’t even be having this conversation.

 

 Sorry Zach, but it shouldn’t be you.

 

Kershaw’s WAR is 6.5. Britton’s is 2.4. Also, you can’t really prove to me that Britton (although he’s very good in his role) is better than Andrew Miller. Miller has a higher WAR (2.8), a lower FIP (1.74 to 1.99) and his 1.50 ERA is a full run higher than Britton’s, but it’s still a 1.50 ERA. There’s also a pretty decent-sized list of relievers over the years with a 2.4 WAR, 1.99 FIP and an ERA under 2. Nobody tried to award them with anything. The only reason you hear Britton’s name get brought up so much in the Cy conversation is because there’s no obvious leader amongst the starters and nobody wants to do any actual work (I do. I like it. And right now I’d actually give it to Rick Porcello).

 

Another reason I know that nobody wants to do any work is because absolutely nobody is putting Christopher Devenski of the Astros in to the AL Rookie of the Year conversation. If the arguments for Britton make him so awesome, then Devenski, as the third best reliever in the league after Miller and Britton (2.2 WAR, 2.13 FIP, 1.61 ERA), should be right up there with Gary Sanchez and Michael Fulmer. But he’s not. Sanchez has a 3.2 WAR. Fulmer has a 3.0 WAR. Devenski has a 2.9 WAR. I feel like people just pick a guy or a ‘story’ and then find stats to support their guy or their story, instead of doing the opposite. And that makes Baby grouchy.

 

 

The National League

 

I already told you that the Dodgers clinched this week, but so did the Nationals. And the Cubs secured home field advantage. And just like the Indians in the American League, the National League also has its fair share of injury-decimated teams heading in to October.

 

This week, the Nationals lost Wilson Ramos for the season with a torn ACL, which is a major loss. They also found out Stephen Strasburg will not be ready for the NLDS against the Dodgers. And any start he would potentially make after that would essentially be the playoff version of a rehab start, anyway. Bryce Harper, who was probably already playing hurt, also injured his thumb on a fake tag play by Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates. And Daniel Murphy has been out of the starting lineup with a strained left buttock. I should probably censor myself from posting any ironic glee that I feel about the last one. I mean, I could have just posted, “Nats’ injuries: Murphy’s butt and Harper’s thumb. You figure out how that sort of thing could happen.” But I would never do that.

 

 This is Jayson Werth but it’s probably how the whole Harper’s thumb, Murphy’s butt thing looked.

 

Then there are the Mets, who just found out that Steven Matz is also done for the season. They may have the best shot at clinching a Wild Card (98.6%, Magic Number: 2), but who can say for sure whether or not Noah Syndergaard will be in line for the Wild Card game. Or if they’ll have to go with Bartolo Colon or someone from their entirely made-up pitching staff. Or if they should just pick somebody out of the stands in Queens who looks like they might not have elbow problems, bone spurs or thoracic outlet syndrome.

 

Assuming the Mets limp in the Wild Card, that leaves the Giants (67.6%) and Cardinals (33.7%) to battle it out for the second slot. The Cardinals have a game left with the Reds and then three with the Pirates. And the Giants have one more with the Rockies and then three with the Dodgers, who you have to assume would love to play spoiler against their arch nemesis. As a baseball fan, I should be rooting for a three-way tie and embracing the chaos. As a Cubs fan, I don’t know how thrilled I am about the possibilities of a Cardinals NLDS upset.

 

Finally, I want to mention the sendoff David Ross got on Sunday night. It could have been the third thing I cried about this week. I thought it was a classy move all the way around, by Joe Maddon, by Jon Lester, by the Cubs’ fans and even by Yadier Molina of the Cardinals who got Grandpa Rossy his own little moment at the plate. And then Grandpa Rossy, himself, for hitting that home run. Just in case the game of baseball didn’t have enough Hollywood-worthy moments this week.

 

 So long old man.

 

Well, that’s it for this week. By the next time we talk, we’ll be in the playoffs. If you need more baseball from me, you can check out “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes or the podcast things. Go Cubs.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXVII: The Cubs Clinch and I Heavily Insinuate That Madison Bumgarner is a Racist)

Written by :
Published on : September 23, 2016

 

The Cubs were going to celebrate at Wrigley last Friday, no matter what happened. After dominating the NL Central for the entire season, the Cubs became the first team in the Majors to clinch their division last Thursday. But it happened in pretty anticlimactic fashion, following a 5-4 loss to the Brewers and having to wait for the Cardinals to also lose in San Francisco later that night. So Miguel Montero’s 10th inning walk-off homer on Friday was just icing on the cake. Now the celebration could look organic. And they could destroy their new, state-of-the-art clubhouse with champagne, knowing they’d earned it.

 

But there were still 15 regular-season games left to play. And unlike in years past, just making it to the playoffs isn’t going to cut it this time around. This time, the Cubs have expectations.

 

You did it guys!

 

Maybe Saturday’s 11-3 loss to Milwaukee was just a bad hangover. But losing 3-of-4 to the shit-ass Brewers initially made me wonder if it’s better to rest and relax the rest of the way or to stay sharp, even at the risk of injury. If you look over at Boston, the Red Sox started September two games back of the Blue Jays in the AL East. And since then, they’ve braved the Clusterfuck Death Match, going 14-5 so far this month and 10-3 against division rivals. And now they look like THE team to beat coming out of the American League. The Red Sox took the ‘stay sharp’ route and it’s worked out pretty well for them. Not that they had any choice.

 

Joe Maddon says he still wants 100 wins and home field advantage against the rest of the National League (going 3-7 would accomplish both). But you also have to remember that this is a team whose worst stretch was going 9-15 in that grueling 24-games-in-24-days run before the All-Star break. And their best run was probably going 17-5 in April, following a lazy 11-18 Spring Training. I prefer the latter. And so does Joe. So rest up, boys. Let’s pretend it’s springtime. This goddamned curse isn’t gonna reverse itself.

 

The AL East

The Red Sox have won seven games in a row, which hardly seems fair. That 4-game sweep of the Yankees effectively murdered the Baby Bombers’ season. And it looks like they might do the same thing to the Orioles before they leave Baltimore. Hanley Ramirez is the hottest hitter in the American League. David Ortiz is the the third-hottest hitter in the league. And almost everything is clicking for them as a team right now. They’re doing so well, that seemly every bone-headed sportswriter in America wants to throw postseason awards at every player on the team. All week long I heard that Mookie Betts was the front runner for the MVP and that Rick Porcello was leading the pack for the the AL Cy Young. At least that means they’re shutting the fuck up about Zach Britton winning the Cy for the time being, but still. How MVP-y and Cy Young-ish are Betts and Porcello right now? First, let’s look at the MVP race’s most-probables.

 

AL MVP           WAR    wOBA
Mike Trout              8.7    .418
Josh Donaldson     6.9    .402
Jose Altuve            6.5    .392
Mookie Betts          7.3    .379

 

Since the award is for the entire year, I’m giving you their stats for the entire year. And based off of those stats, alone, you can clearly see that Trout has had the best season. But Mike Trout happens to play for the Los Angeles Angels, who are tied for last place in the AL West. And that hurts everyone’s brains because they don’t understand how baseball works.

 

 Sorry, but it should be Trout.

 

You: But how can Trout be the best player if his team stinks?

 

Me: A) I’m showing you actual concrete stats that should already answer that, but B) It’s not Mike Trout’s fault the Angels are bad. They’d be much, much worse without him in the lineup. Just like any team would be better with him. But there are 8 other guys on the field with him at all times, 8 other guys in the batting order and 24 other guys were on the roster the whole year. There’s plenty of opportunities for everyone else on the Angels (not named ‘Mike Trout’) to suck.

 

If you look at the Red Sox, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedoria are also top 10 overall players in the league this season. David Ortiz has also been the best hitter in the league. Hanley has been top 15 in hitting. Xander Bogaerts has had a good season too. On the other hand, the Angels’ next best player after Trout is Kole Calhoun. That’s not Ruth-Gehrig as much as it is Ruth-Kole Calhoun. And since I also know that you’re about to argue that Rick Porcello should be the Cy Young winner, it makes even less sense that Betts would be more valuable to his team than the three gentlemen actually having better seasons.

 

You: But Trout is playing meaningless games. Mookie Betts is in a pennant race and his games mean more.

 

Me: Mike Trout does this in pennant races too. Because this is what Mike Trout does every single year. And are the Mariners, Rangers and Blue Jays still in contention? Because that’s who the Angels have played in 16 of their 19 games in September. Trout’s hitting .310/.446/.500 in the month. Betts is hitting .289/.337/.382. Thank you for sharing. Now go put your head down.

 

AL Cy Young     WAR  FIP    ERA
Corey Kluber            5.2    3.19    3.11
Rick Porcello            4.7    3.44    3.08
Masahiro Tanaka      4.7    3.50    3.07
Chris Sale                 5.2    3.38    3.23

 

The Porcello argument looks a lot more legit than the Betts one. But it just bothers me that people are looking at Porcello’s 21-4 record as some sort of a tie-breaker against Kluber’s 18-9. But I can clearly look at those numbers I actually care about and say, with zero controversy, that Kluber has had a better season than Chris Sale. I cannot do the same as easily for Porcello.

 

 It should probably be Kluber too.

 

Roger Clemens won the MVP and Cy Young for the Red Sox in 1986. Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg both took home the hardware in 1967. And Betts and Porcello may repeat the feat this year. Even though they shouldn’t. Also, Wade Boggs should have won the MVP in ’86. And Dean Chance should have won the CY in ’67. Wait. That Boggs line defeats my purpose, doesn’t it? Anyway, right now I’d give it to Trout and Kluber.

 

The AL Central

With a broken right hand for Carlos Carrasco and a flexor strain for Danny Salazar, the Cleveland Indians went from being dubbed, “This Year’s Mets” to actually resembling this year’s Mets (so maybe we could call them, “This Year’s This Year’s Mets”?). Salazar could come out of the bullpen for Cleveland in October, but their own beat writers think this thing won’t go past the ALDS.

 

There’s still time for a few more disappointments.

 

I keep looking at the Wild Card standings and see the Tigers a game back of Toronto for the second spot. But every time I believe in the Tigers, they let me down. Maybe it’s lucky for Detroit that the Jays have only taken one series in September and all of their remaining games are against the Yankees, Orioles and Red Sox. The Tigers actually beat the Indians on Sunday (2-13, baby!) so maybe they can make something of their four remaining games against the Tribe with three of them NOT facing Kluber.

 

The AL West

The Rangers are going to clinch the division any day now. And they’re hitting, so who needs pitching, right? Right? Cole Hamels has a 9.88 in September. Yu Darvish hasn’t been much better (7.47). And actually, Martin Perez is their only starting pitcher with an ERA under 5 this month. Yuck.

 

The NL Wild Card

Jacob deGrom is done for the season. So that ‘easy’ Mets schedule going forward (7 against the Phillies, 3 against the Marlins) is a little deceiving. Especially since they’ve cooled off (swept by the Braves?) and Ender Inciarte is robbing their walk-offs. At this point in the season, the Mets’ rotation was supposed to be Syndergaard-deGrom-Harvey-Matz-Wheeler with Big Sexy coming out of the pen. Now Thor is the only one left standing, with everyone waiting on pins and needles to see if Steven Matz actually starts on Friday.

 

 It’s on you, Thor.

 

The Cardinals’ remaining games are with the Cubs, the Reds and the Pirates (who are back above .500). And those Reds and Pirates games are in St. Louis, where the Cardinals hate winning.

 

The fun part about the third team in the equation, the Giants, is that they have no reason to be optimistic either. Their bullpen still sucks. Johnny Cueto and Brandon Crawford just got hurt. They finish their season with three against the Dodgers (Kershaw-Hill-Maeda). And by that time, Madison Bumgarner could be in jail in San Diego because some Latino made eye contact with him while he was grouchy.

 

Yeah, I went there. I know MadBum and Yasiel Puig have a bit of a history. But this ‘Protector of the Game’ shit has gotten really old. Madison Bumgarner is a hillbilly from Hickory, North Carolina. He has a history of losing his derpy redneck cool whenever a black or brown player does, well, anything. And I’m pretty sure there’s a basket of deplorables he can go climb in to after the Giants’ epic collapse is complete. Stop looking at me, swan!

 


Okay. That’s gonna do it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check out “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes. The Cubs’ Magic Number for home field is 3.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXVI: Rich Hill’s Spoiled Perfection and Kyle Hendricks’ Greg Maddux Impression)

Written by :
Published on : September 16, 2016

 

 

In a week that included the return of Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers’ pitching performance that everybody wants to keep talking about was actually the following night, when Rich Hill went 7 perfect innings against the Marlins, before being yanked by manager, Dave Roberts. I don’t understand the problem. Granted, there’s only been 23 official perfect games in the history of baseball. And that includes Lee Richmond’s perfecto in 1880 that featured three outs made on ‘foul bounds’ catches. Because apparently, you could catch balls in foul territory on one hop for an out until 1883 for whatever reason. My point is, a perfect game is a real rarity. But if you’re a Dodgers fan, you should absolutely agree with Roberts’ call.

 

First of all, the Dodgers are still in a pennant race. And they need Hill ready to go, not only down the stretch, but also into the postseason. Second, Hill didn’t pitch for over a month this summer because of blister problems. And those blisters haven’t healed 100%. Third, between Hill and Kershaw and the record-tying 25 other players the Dodgers have had on the DL this year, it seems like far too great of a risk to sacrifice a playoff rotation slot just so the fans get to care about something neat for 24 hours. Also, the fact that the Dodgers are somehow in first place with all of that happening is more of a case for Roberts to be the NL Manager of the Year than for any complaining on the part of the shitty fans.

 

Fourth of all (is that a thing?), Hill had six outs to go. That’s still not easy. 13 would-be perfect games have been broken up with two outs in the 9th inning. And 13 no-hitters have been broken up this season, alone, after the 7th.  One was broken up by Corey Seager with two outs in the 9th less than three weeks ago. Not that Dodger fans remember, since they think games end in the 7th inning, anyway.

 

 

Rich Hill and the unwashed masses of dumb baseball fans out there can be pissed all they want. Hill has gone 19 innings in LA without giving up a run. Yasiel Puig still made that circus catch in left. And Hill doesn’t have to walk around with a bloody shirt and missing fingertips, like he’s the killer from Se7en.

 

Speaking of near-no-hitters, Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs took one into the 9th inning at Busch Stadium on Monday. And man, I wanted that one. Stupid Jeremy Hazelbaker with his James-Hetfield-on-meth face and his eight seasons in the minors. But nonetheless, the performance catapulted Hendricks from a semi-anonymous ERA leader into the heart of the National League Cy Young conversation. Before the season started, I remember seeing that Hendricks finished 2015 in the top 15 in the league in WAR and FIP and thinking, “He might be the most underrated pitcher in the Majors.” What I didn’t expect to say was, “By September, he’ll be getting compared to Greg Maddux on the regular.”

 

For the record, I don’t think Kyle Hendricks should be the Cy Young winner. If we exclude Kershaw for the time being, right now, my top 5 looks like this…

 

ERA    FIP    WAR
1. Noah Syndergaard         Mets           2.43    2.25    6.2
2. Jose Fernandez             Marlins        2.99    2.39    5.7
3. Max Scherzer                 Nationals    2.78    3.13    5.3
4. Madison Bumgarner     Giants          2.66    3.19    4.6
5. Johnny Cueto                Giants          2.90    3.11    4.5

 

However, 6-8 would look like this…

 

6. Kyle Hendricks             Cubs                2.03    3.37    3.7
7. Jon Lester                    Cubs                2.40    3.45    3.9
8. Jake Arrieta                  Cubs                2.91    3.48    3.5

 

So the main debate Cubs fans should be having right now is who starts Game 1 of the NLDS.

 

Let’s go around the league.

 

The AL East

Eliminated This Week: The Rays.

 

The Blue Jays got cold at the exact wrong time. They’re 3-9 in September. They look tired. Josh Donaldson is hurt. And manager, John Gibbons, said they’d hit rock bottom. As of now, they still have a slim lead over the Tigers, Mariners, Yankees and Astros for that second Wild Card. So I’m guessing real rock bottom happens when only one of the AL East teams makes it to the postseason. Sure, the Jays (63.1%) and Orioles (66.1%) still have better projections than the other contenders, but here’s a little update on the remaining AL East Clusterfuck Death Match.

 

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays. 3 Games.
Red Sox vs. Orioles. 4 Games.
Red Sox vs. Yankees. 7 Games.
Blue Jays vs. Yankees. 4 Games.
Blue Jays vs. Orioles. 3 Games.
Orioles vs. Yankees. 3 Games.

 

The Red Sox (91.1%) may look like the favorites right now. But this is just a friendly reminder that 10 of their 17 remaining games are on the road. And seven games (Se7en!) against the red-hot Baby Bombers (9.4%) looks spoiler-tastic, if you ask me.

 

The AL Central

Since the Indians look like a lock in the division (Magic Number: 12), maybe we should talk about how Danny Salazar might be done for the season. Nah, let’s argue about who should win the AL Rookie of the Year. Here are the top 5 in WAR.

 

Michael Fulmer               Tigers         2.6
Gary Sanchez                 Yankees      2.4
Christopher Devenski     Astros         2.4
Tyler Naquin                    Indians       2.0
Tim Anderson                 White Sox   1.7

 

 

Fulmer doesn’t quite qualify for the ERA title just yet, but he does lead all AL pitchers with 20 or more starts. So he’s still the guy. That being said, what Gary Sanchez has done in 37 games is amazing. People keep bringing up how, in 1959, Willie McCovey won the NL Rookie of the Year after only playing 52 games. Well, he probably shouldn’t have.

 

Vada Pinson              Redlegs       5.3
Jim Owens                Phillies         4.5
Willie McCovey         Giants          3.1
Joe Koppe                Phillies         2.5
Ernie Broglio             Cardinals     2.3

 

Hey, this Broglio looks like he’s gonna be great! The Cubs should totally trade him for Lou Brock in five years! Anyway, it’s Fulmer unless Sanchez keeps becoming Pudge Rodriguez times Manny Ramirez over the final 17 games of the season. Which he might.

 

The AL West

Eliminated This Week: The Athletics, the Angels.
Should the Rangers worry about their pitching? Right now, they’re 21st in the Majors (4.41) in ERA. That’s worse than the Orioles (4.38), who have an excellent bullpen, but always get criticized for their starters. No other contender has an ERA that high. It’s also hard for me to understand why a team with a +19 run differential has the best record in the American League. If you took away their 15-3 record against the Astros this year, the Astros would actually have a slightly better winning percentage. Too bad for the Astros that those games actually did happen. I’m this close to declaring them dead.

 

 

The hottest team in the Majors happens to be the Seattle Mariners. And they also happen to have what is being declared a soft schedule going forward. 6 against the Stros, 3 against the cold-ass Blue Jays, 3 against the awful Twins and 4 against the almost-as-awful A’s. And most of those are at home. So maybe Kyle isn’t the only Seager who will get MVP votes this year. And maybe they’ll cool off as soon as I post this, just like every other sleeper team has the past few weeks and we’ll go right back to the Red Sox, Orioles and Blue Jays coming out of the East.

 

The NL East

Eliminated This Week: The Phillies, the Braves (Wild Card).
Not even Stephen Strasburg knows if he’s gonna pitch again this season. And while that might put extra pressure on all the other Nats starters, the team has stayed hot and will probably win the division by the next time we talk. That is, of course, unless the Mets stay hot. And with a schedule like theirs going forward, they probably will. Their upcoming opponents have a combined winning percentage of .424 and a run differential of -449.

 

Maybe now is a good time to mention that Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz will probably be back soon. And with the best chance (75.1%) to win a Wild Card slot and Thor going in that game against the Giants (70.9%) or Cardinals (52.1%), Mets fans are eager to point out that their team is 5-2 against the Cubs this year. Keep looking past everybody, Mets. The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season last year. You all saw how well that went. Also, yes I’m worried. And I’ll explain why in one second.

 

The NL Central

Eliminated This Week: The Pirates.

 

While the Cubs will have to clinch the division at Wrigley Field (oh, how I wanted them doggy-piling at Busch Stadium), they currently have 93 wins, which makes it the first back-to-back 90-win seasons they’ve had since the 1928-1930 Cubs did it in three straight. Their defense is far and away the best in the Majors. Kris Bryant is still the NL MVP. I already talked about their pitching. My only major cause for concern is that they haven’t actually played that well against the remaining contenders.

 

Nationals    5-2
Mets           2-5
Cardinals    8-8
Dodgers     4-3
Giants        4-4

 

The postseason is obviously a crapshoot and I already mentioned the 7-0 record against the Mets last season, but the overall 23-22 record against contenders with a 70-30 record against the bad teams in the haves-and-have-nots league is going to give me tidal waves of anxiety for the next month or so. It’s a problem I’m not used to having. But I guess I’d probably prefer this over eking out another Wild Card slot and having to pitch Arrieta 9 innings against Pittsburgh. Actually, the Pirates hate being in that Wild Card Game so much that they opted out of being good this year just to avoid it.

 

 

The Cardinals are the only team above .500 with a losing record at home. And that’s why they’re probably glad they’re playing this four-game series with the Giants in San Francisco. And in case you were wondering, yes, the Giants still have the worst record in baseball since the All-Star break. Maybe after the series we’ll have a better idea if it’ll be Thor vs. Carlos Martinez or Thor vs. MadBum on October 5th. I’d call Martinez “Tsunami” if I felt like anyone knew that was his nickname. And if it’s Adam Wainwright, I’m gonna have to give him a nickname. Loki?

 

The NL West
Eliminated this Week: The Diamondbacks, the Padres.
Kershaw keeps shaking off the rust. And he didn’t pull a Strasburg, so those are all positive signs for L.A. The only major concern for the Dodgers is how they hit lefties. Or is it? That’s the thing that everybody keeps harping on, but if you look at their potential NL opponents in the postseason, who are we talking about? Gio Gonzalez? The Cubs have Jon Lester, but I kinda doubt they’d start Mike Montgomery in October. And if we look at the Wild Cards, it’s Jaime Garcia, Bumgarner (who they hit) and Matt Moore (who they don’t). It looks to me like they’re gonna be fine.

 

We’re coming down to the wire. If you need more baseball, catch me on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes. Until then, the Cubs’ magic number is 1.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXV: The Miracle Mets and Embracing the Clusterf*ck)

Written by :
Published on : September 9, 2016

 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there are only six teams in the National League with winning records. Just as a comparison, the American League East, alone, has four. Depending how you look at it, that’s some historic disparity and/or some historic tanking in the senior circuit. That’s probably aided by the fact that a team that has gone an MLB-worst 17-32 since the All-Star break is still currently in possession of the first NL wild card slot. It could also explain why a team that’s 15 1/2 games back in their own division is in a tie for possession of the second. And it could even explain why a team decimated by injuries (they’re missing their first baseman, second baseman and third baseman and one of their two healthy starting pitchers is 43-years-old and 285 pounds) is the other team tied for the second wild card. Welcome to the National League Wild Card race, a battle in which mediocre teams will try to upset the Cubs in the first round.

 

 With Clayton Kershaw coming back, the Dodgers could be scary.

 

No team has ever gone in to the break with the best record in baseball and then followed it up with the worst record in the second half. So you have to assume the Giants will stop unraveling at some point. But they’re not hitting, their bullpen sucks and they also have six remaining games against the Dodgers, who are actually getting Clayton Kershaw back this week and also have an atoning Yasiel Puig, who is very, very sorry. He promises. The Cardinals, who are almost done in the Central, may have hit home runs in 25 straight games. And they also may have effectively ended the 2016 Pittsburg Pirates’ season with three homers in the 9th on Tuesday. But they also have six games remaining against the Cubs. I’d mention their four games with San Francisco, but that’s probably a good thing. Nevertheless, of the three remaining Wild Card contenders, the team with the easiest schedule going forward is actually the New York Mets.

 

With 22 games to play, the Mets have 7 against the Phillies, 6 against the Braves, 3 against the Twins and 3 against the Marlins. As of now, only their three-game series in D.C. will be against a team with a winning record. And I’ll get to why that just got a whole lot less intimidating in a minute. The Mets also have what is known in the business as zero pressure. Sure, their fans probably didn’t expect to be talking about 26-year-old rookie, Seth Lugo, at this point in the season. But he’s 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his first four starts. They probably didn’t expect to be talking about the postseason a month or so ago when they were trailing the Marlins in their own division. But here we are. Twenty-some games to go before the postseason. And two of these teams will have to make it in, however improbable that sounds.

 

 

The AL East

 Go Yankees?

 

Just when I told you that the Blue Jays were the best bet to win the division and that the rest of the division would eat itself, they got swept by the Yankees and everything is back to being a giant clusterfuck. The Red Sox currently lead the division by a game. David Price is 6-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his last six starts. And every single one of their remaining games will be against teams in the division. The only real disappointment for them this past week is that they called up Yoan Moncada too soon. At one point, he struck out seven times in a row. I could do that! Nobody’s calling me the top prospect in baseball.

 

Of course everything that happens in the East also has huge implications for the AL Wild Card and this weekend’s series between the Orioles and Tigers should be very interesting. Especially Chris Tillman returning on Sunday to face Justin Verlander. Everyone, including me, has been waiting for the Orioles to drop out of contention. But then someone like Ubaldo Jimenez (6-11, 6.19 ERA) will throw a complete game two-hitter, as he did against the Rays on Monday. I give up on trying to out-think this team. I’m ready to embrace the clusterfuck.

 

That also means that I need to give up on my smarty-pants predictions from the first week of the season and actually consider rooting for the New York Yankees the rest of the way. Yeah, that’s like rooting for Darth Vader. But this is like in Jedi when his helmet comes off and you see that he’s just old British stage actor, Sebastian Shaw. In the made-for-TV movie that will be written about the 2016 Yankees, this is the part where they dump A-Rod and Carlos Beltran and their two star relievers and then Ace Frehley kicks in singing, “I’m back in the New York grooooove” over a montage of rookies winning games. Deep-cut pop-culture references aside, some men just want to watch the world burn. Or something.

 

 

The AL Central

The Twins are toast, but Brian Dozier is on fire.

 

Eliminated This Week: The Twins.
Just don’t tell that to Brian Dozier. He’s got 25 home runs and leads the Majors in WAR in the second half.

 

 

The AL West

The Astros remain 2 games back in the Wild Card. Even though they’re only half way done with a 13-game stint against first place teams. If only they weren’t 3-13 against the Rangers this season. The Tigers (1 game out of the Wild Card, 1-11 against the Indians) know what I’m talking about.

 

 

The NL East

 

Eliminated This Week: The Braves.
Uh oh. Wednesday night’s game between the Nationals and Braves was supposed to be a catapult to launch Washington deep in to the postseason. Stephen Strasburg was returning from injury. And with Max Scherzer pitching as well as he has, that would give the Nats a 1-2 punch reminiscent of the 2001 Diamondbacks with Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Then in the 3rd inning, all those plans got kicked in the dick. Yeah, the Nationals ended up winning the game in the 11th inning. But the Nationals’ worst nightmares came fruition when Strasburg left early with an elbow injury yet again. At the time I write this, nobody knows the extent of Strasburg’s injury or whether or not he’ll pitch again in the regular season. Or if he’s done, period. But this is awful news for a coasting team that’s essentially gone .500 without him. There’s a bit of a drop off in that rotation after Scherzer and Tanner Roark. So unless someone like Joe Ross or (I don’t know) Lucas Giolito can step up, the once-scary Nationals look like they’re gonna be underdogs in that first-round matchup with the Dodgers.

 

(Update: Strasburg has a strained flexor mass (whatever that is), but doesn’t need Tommy John surgery. There is, however, no timetable for his return. Sounds very Strasburg-y.)

 

Oh, and the Mets signed Tim Tebow to a minor league contract. To quote my friend, Brendan McGowan, from my ‘Go Cubs!’ text message group, “It makes sense bc owners got Ponzied,” and “They’re giving Tebow a $100k signing bonus because talks broke down with Eddie Gaedel.”

 

 

The NL Central

 Now imagine if he does it more than once a season.

 

Eliminated This Week: The Reds, The Brewers.
Every now and then I fantasize about what this Cubs team would look like with Kyle Schwarber in the lineup and/or Jason Heyward actually earning his $184 million contract. And while I can only speculate about the former, I got a glimpse of the latter on Sunday when Heyward tied the game in the 9th against the Giants and then won it in the 13th. Oh well, he’s still hitting .154 in September.

 

 

The NL West

The most beleaguered rotation in the big leagues might have finally glued itself back together again. As I said earlier, Kershaw comes back this weekend. On top of that, Kenta Maeda has quietly had a great season. And Rich Hill has yet to allow an earned run in his 12 innings of work since joining the Dodgers. Earlier this week, the team started four straight rookies (Jose De Leon, Maeda, Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart) and they managed to go 4-0 with a 2.82 ERA. De Leon was their 15th starter this season and 7th in 7 days. All that’s probably about to change.  Oh, and remember when they were 14-2 on days Kershaw pitched and 27-34 when he didn’t? They’ve gone 37-24 since he went down, which is the second-best record in the Majors over that period. Add Puig’s .444 average and 1.650 OPS since returning from the time out corner and this team just got really fucking dangerous.

 

 

Okay. That’s it for this week. I’m sure there’ll be more eliminations next week. The A’s, the Padres, the Angels, the Diamondbacks, the Phillies, the Pirates, the Rays and (dare I say) the Cardinals will probably be done in their respective divisions by the next time we talk. If you need more baseball, be sure to check me out on “Comedians Talking Baseball” with Joe Kilgallon on all the iTunes things. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 9.

 

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXIV: Wake Me Up When September Ends)

Written by :
Published on : September 2, 2016

 

 

The Royals might be going back the World Series again this year, after all.

 

 

At the beginning of the week, the Blue Jays, the Red Sox and the Orioles were all postseason-bound teams coming out of the AL East. Unfortunately for one or (probably) two of them, there’s still a month left of baseball. And in that month, all three of those teams (plus rookie phenom, Gary Sanchez, and the Yankees) will play each other enough times and beat up on each other enough times that it will leave the door wide open for a team or two from the Central (the Tigers and/or the Royals) or the West (the Astros and maybe even the Mariners) to sneak into October. Let’s just take a look at how many times the Eastern contenders play each other the rest of the way.

 

– Blue Jays vs. Orioles. 3 games.
– Blue Jays vs. Yankees. 7 games.
– Blue Jays vs. Red Sox. 6 games.
– Red Sox vs. Orioles. 7 games.
– Red Sox vs. Yankees. 7 games.
– Orioles vs. Yankees. 6 games.

 

And that’s not even taking into consideration that the AL East doormat Rays have the best ERA in the league since the All-Star break. They’re also good for 6-7 games against the Blue Jays, Orioles and Yankees (and three more with the Red Sox). It’s going to be brutal. On the other hand, that amount of intra-divisional games that will take place for the Royals and Tigers with the mediocre White Sox and the lowly Twins, who have lost 13 straight. And the Astros and Mariners get to play the A’s and the Angels, who also suck. The East is going to fade. And it’s already starting to happen, as the Tigers have tied the Orioles for the second Wild Card slot after the O’s lost two-out-of-three to the Jays.

 

 

The only difference between the other Wild Card contenders and the Royals is that the Royals happen to be the hottest team in the American League over the past month. Since we last spoke, the World Champs rattled off 9 wins in a row, took two-out-of-three from the Red Sox and have won 18 of their last 24 games. And I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but they’ve managed to go to the World Series the past two years. They know how to get there. And they just won’t die. They are Grigori Rasputin holding a plate of slow-cooked ribs, Steven Seagal bebopping to Charlie Parker. I hate to tell you this, but the Royals will probably be back, projections be damned. And we’re just gonna have to get used to it. We’re gonna have to get used to that stupid rally mantis too.

 

Let’s go around the league.

 

The AL East

So who’s in and who’s out? Well, I think  the Blue Jays are going to win this division. Jose Bautista is back. Aaron Sanchez is rested. And Josh Donaldson is red hot. If you’re betting on anybody in the AL East, that’s your pick. The easiest team to dismiss has always been the Orioles. All along we’ve wondered how long their home run hitting offense could outpace their pitching problems. And that was before Chris Tillman went down with a shoulder injury. They’ve been proving people wrong all year, but I think they’re done. Not that anybody shows up at Camden Yards to care.

 

So the biggest question mark in the East is Boston. People talk about their bullpen like the sky is falling. 70% of their September schedule is on the road. Steven Wright has given up 9 runs his last 10 innings. And Adam Benintendi’s season might be over. On the bright side, Dustin Pedroia is healthy for the first time in years and got 11 hits in a row at one point last week. Mookie Betts is probably the 4th-best player in the league and also became the third player in Red Sox history to hit 30 home runs in a season before his 24th birthday (after Ted Williams and Tony Conigliaro). And David Price has a 2.14 ERA in his last four starts. Not to mention that he’s actually 6th in the league in WAR and also 6th in FIP. Your guess is as good as mine. That road schedule though…

 

The AL Central

 

With the Tigers and Royals hot on their heels, the only consistency for the Indians has been Corey Kluber. Their lauded starting rotation had a 5.68 ERA in August, which is second-worst to the Twins in the American League. Kluber’s August ERA was 2.43 and has been 2.04 since the break. On the season, he leads the league in FIP is (barely) second in WAR and is 5th in ERA. That’s your Cy Young, folks. I don’t know why it’s so hard for people. Here’s you: “The American League Cy Young race is a jumble!” Here’s me: “Why don’t you just look at the stats and pick the best guy?” It’s Kluber.

 

Also, I’d be remiss not to mention GUARANTEED RATE FIELD coming soon to the South Side of Chicago. “Hey, youz guys wanna catch a Sox game over at GUARANTEED RATE FIELD?” Just rolls right off the tongue, you know?

 

The AL West

I just want to remind everyone that the first week of the season, I picked the Blue Jays, Royals and Rangers to win their divisions and took the Indians and Astros in the Wild Card. And right now I feel pretty good about my picks, give or take the Tigers. The Rangers just took three-out-of-four from the Indians and swept the Mariners, effectively ending Seattle’s playoff hopes yet again. The Rangers also have a surprisingly-good record against teams above .500, which bodes well for them in October. Because I’m also going to will that Rangers-Jays rematch series to happen. Come on!

 

The NL East

Want to know who my opening week NL picks were? I took the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers in the divisions. And I took the Mets and Giants in the Wild Card. And maybe since the Royals decided to get back in to the discussion, the Mets decided to get hot too. I know Jacob deGrom’s last two starts have been awful. And Steven Matz might get shut down for the season. But nobody should want to face Thor in the Wild Card. That team’s best-case-scenario staff is still horrifying.

 

 

And just in case any Nationals fans starts to freak out about Stephen Strasburg’s elbow, they should just direct their attention to what Max Scherzer has done his past two outings (5 hits, 1 walk, 21 K’s, 0.12 ERA over 16 innings) and feel a little better. Also, unless last year was a freakish anomaly, don’t we have to assume Bryce Harper is a sleeping giant right now? Just don’t look at his career stat line. Because this year looks pretty similar to the Harper of 2012-2014. And not at all like 2015.

 

The NL Central

Kris Bryant is the NL MVP. He leads the Majors in WAR. And he leads the league in wOBA. Plus, that home run in the 10th inning at Dodger Stadium led the Cubs to another win in a month where they went 22-6. Kyle Hendricks also leads the Majors in ERA with a 2.09. It’s been 1.34 in the second half, 1.28 in August and 1.21 at home on the year. This is a guy that throws 87 miles-per-hour. He’s a pleasant surprise on a staff that also includes Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, who have also been top 10 pitchers in the league. Oh, and did you see Addison Russell’s catch against the Pirates on Wednesday? Wow. The Cubs are gonna shore this division up in the next week or two.

 

The Cardinals still hold the second Wild Card slot, which I hate. But they also don’t win at home (30-37) and don’t have a clear starter for the Wild Card game (I’d go with Carlos Martinez, but I’d guess Mike Matheny picks the struggling Adam Wainwright). Sure, they’re high up on rookies Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver. And Jedd Gyorko leads the league in home runs since the All-Star break. Actually, the Cardinals are tied with the Orioles for the most home runs in the Majors since the break. We’ll just have to wait and see if that’ll be good enough to hold off the Mets, Pirates and Marlins over the last month.

 

 The NL West

 

Well, the Dodgers have stayed in first place, despite every pitcher on their team (including the best pitcher on the planet) being hurt. If you’re counting at home, they’ve had 27 guys on the DL this year, which ties a Major League record set by the last place Boston Red Sox in 2012. But I’m guessing they lost a lot of sympathy when they traded away Clayton Kershaw’s personal catcher, A.J. Ellis (and his .194 batting average) for Carlos Ruiz. Why they would you create any drama or make Kershaw cry when their team is playing well is beyond me. I don’t care how much they struggle against lefties. You keep Kershaw happy. Or however happy a guy can be watching from the sidelines with a herniated disc.

 

Believe it or not, the Giants still have the worst record in baseball since the break. The Twins have lost 13 in a row and the Giants would still be a game back in the loss column since July 12th. They’re not scoring runs. They have problems at the back of their rotation. And Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto had ERA’s in the 4’s in the month of August. Matt Moore (and his 133 pitches) came within a Corey Seager bloop of no-hitting the Dodgers last week, and holy shit was that a pleasure to watch with Vin Scully making the call. But they’d better hope MadBum and Cueto can figure this out. Or that Kershaw stays on the sideline. Or that they also don’t get passed by one of the other Wild Card hopefuls in the league. Maybe they only win in even years that end in 0, 2 or 4. You ever think of that?

 

Okay. That’ll do it for this week. Next week, I’m sure we’ll have some mathematical eliminations from the standings (looking at you, Braves, Twins, Brewers and Reds). And if you need more baseball, you can always check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on all the podcast things. Until then, the Cubs’ magic number is 16.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXIII: The 3/4ths Awards)

Written by :
Published on : August 19, 2016

 

 

When fragile china doll, Giancarlo Stanton, went down with a groin strain, you have no idea how much I wanted the Marlins to go after Alex Rodriguez. If nothing else, just to keep the Yankees’ drama going. But since that’s not going to happen, this week has mostly been a discussion of who’s in position for postseason awards. Good timing. The season is about exactly 3/4ths done. And since I haven’t done this for a while, let’s get back in to it.

 

AL MVP

 
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

 

Listen, Trout is not going to win this thing. The Angels are 21 games back of the Rangers, losing 11 in a row at one point this past week. But the fact that a player of Trout’s caliber has only won one MVP award is almost criminal. Here’s how I retroactively would have voted the previous four years.

 

2012                        WAR    wOBA

1. Mike Trout          10.3    .409
2. Miguel Cabrera    6.4    .417
3. Robinson Cano    7.6    .394
4. Adrian Beltre        6.5    .388
5. Prince Fielder       4.8    .398

 

Trout finished second to Cabrera because of the Triple Crown. That’s right, only four years ago, we still cared about RBIs. We were wrong.

 

 

2013                          WAR   wOBA

1. Mike Trout            10.5   .423
2. Miguel Cabrera      7.5    .455
3. Chris Davis            7.0    .421
4. Josh Donaldson    7.6    .384
5. Robinson Cano      5.8    .384

 

Trout finished second to Cabrera again. At this point everybody was saying, “Well, Trout’s a better player. But Cabrera’s a better hitter.” And I was all, “But not by much though. And also, WHAT???”

 

2014                             WAR    wOBA

1. Mike Trout                8.0    .402
2. Jose Bautista           6.4    .402
3. Michael Brantley       6.1    .389
4. Jose Abreu               5.3    .411
5. Adrian Beltre            5.7    .380

 

Trout’s ‘worst’ season is also his only MVP season. Also, this would be an excellent time to remind you that Adrian Beltre is the 5th greatest 3rd baseman of all time.

 

2015                                   WAR  wOBA

1. Mike Trout                    9.0    .415
2. Josh Donaldson           8.7    .398
3. Chris Davis                   5.6    .390
4. Manny Machado          6.8    .370
5. Nelson Cruz                 4.8    .396

 

Trout finished second to Donaldson, who he was clearly better than. But Donaldson won because the Blue Jays were clearly better than the Angels. Unless there is also a stat for ‘most annoying hillbilly voice of all time’, in which case Donaldson would clean up.

 

So…

 

 

This year it looks like this.

 

2016                          WAR   wOBA

1. Mike Trout                6.9    .412
2. Jose Altuve              6.3     .420
3. Josh Donaldson      6.2     .402
4. Mookie Betts           6.1     .390
5. Manny Machado     5.4     .377

 

So my guess is Altuve. No matter how bad ESPN wants to hand it to Betts. He’s also good at bowling!!!!!!!!! Unless there is also a stat for most annoying hillbilly voice of all time, in which case… Donaldson.

 

AL Cy Young

 

Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

 

I’d give the Klubot a slight edge over Aaron Sanchez, Jose Quintana, Danny Duffy and Steven Wright. But I don’t understand why this so so hard for people. Zach Britton has only pitched 50 innings this year and has a 1.8 WAR. So can we stop pretending closers should even be in the conversation? Thanks. Also, the Indians’ overall staff is a tad bit overrated. Their team has scored 600 runs this season. That’s actually a bigger part of why they win. The best staff in the AL belongs to Toronto. You heard me correctly.

 

AL Rookie of the Year

Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

 

I’d go so far as to say he’s 7th or 8th in the AL Cy Young conversation. And that’s ahead of Justin Verlander, who apparently decided he was still Justin Verlander.

 

NL MVP

 

Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

 

I WANT it to be one of the MVP Brothers (Bryzzo). But it’s still the fluke homophobe in our nation’s capital. But since we’re talking about the MVP Brothers (I coined something!), did all of you see Anthony Rizzo’s balance beam catch in foul territory this week? Or the fact that the Cubs have a +209 run differential and haven’t had a +200 since 1945? They’re actually under-performing, folks. I blame the bullpen. And yes, I’m horrified of the Cardinals/Pirates winning the Wild Card and doing to the Cubs what the Cubs did to the Cardinals (and Pirates) last year.

 

NL Cy Young

 

I’ll let you decide. Because it’s probably still Kershaw. Like, you can say whatever you want. It’s still Kershaw.

 

2016                                 WAR   FIP   ERA

Clayton Kershaw            5.5    1.66    1.79
Noah Syndergaard         5.0    2.22    2.76
Jose Fernandez              4.8    2.21    2.81
Madison Bumgarner       3.9    3.14    2.11
Jacob deGrom                3.5    3.00    2.30

 

Kershaw is gonna fall off eventually. But that means the Mets have two of the four best pitchers in the league and still can’t win (maybe since one of them doesn’t capitalize his last name like an American person). Also, Clayton Kershaw has a 5.5 WAR and he hasn’t even pitched since June 26. I’m just saying. And the Dodgers have the second-best record (to my beloved Cubs) in the National League since then for some reason. The Giants have the second-worst in all of baseball since then. It must really suck to be the Giants right now. Even year, baby!

 

NL Rookie of the Year

 

Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Just so we’re clear, the Giants have a 9-21 record since the All-Star break. I mean, holy fucking shit. Both are odd numbers.

 

Okay! That’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll be in New York City, in a place that has no outfields. If you need more baseball from me you can check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon on the podcast stuff. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 30. Which is an even number. That’s an important thing!

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXII: Tex, Prince and A-Rod)

Written by :
Published on : August 12, 2016

 

 

 

This week Ichiro got his 3,000th career hit. Manny Machado hit three home runs in the first three innings of a game. Brandon Crawford had seven hits in a game. Yasiel Puig Snapchatted a sausage party in Des Moines. And Tim Tebow idiotically thinks he can play professional baseball. But I think the week will best be remembered for the emotional departures of Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder. Well, we’ll just see about A-Rod being done.

 

Of the three, Teixeira was the first to announce his retirement. He leaves the game with 404 career home runs. He won a ring in 2009 with the Yankees. He was an excellent fielding switch-hitter. But the injuries kept piling on and Teixeira had to end a career that would fall pretty far short of Hall of Fame caliber. Not that that’s all that matters. But since the question has been asked this week in the media, Tex’s career numbers look less like Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera (1-2 in his era) and more like Tino Martinez, Norm Cash and Gil Hodges. He’s even behind Keith Hernandez, John Olerud and Will Clark in his JAWS ranking (which averages career WAR and seven-year peak WAR). That and the fact that he endorsed Marco Rubio for President makes me say no. But I guess since Rubio finished a distant third, it’s only appropriate.

 

 So long, boys.

 

I could pour over the controversial and illustrious career of A-Rod. But with a guy that competitive and that historically self-important, you have to assume sitting on 696 career home runs will drive him even more insane and he’ll wind up on a Major League roster next year. If a Miami or a Tampa Bay will take him. If this is indeed the end for Alex (and his .203 batting average suggests it actually could be), then he retires as the second-greatest shortstop of all-time to Honus Wagner. He won three MVP awards. He was the first overall pick in the 1993 Draft. He’s the all-time leader in grand slams. He’s got over 3,000 hits. He’s a member of the 40/40 club. The youngest player to 300, 400, 500 and 600 home runs. Seven All-Star Games at short. And seven All-Star Games at 3rd.

 

But mostly I’ll remember his career for the huge contracts, the lying about PEDs and the stories of general personal shitty-ness that made Brian Cashman publicly tell him to shut the fuck up, even though he’s one of the inner-circle greatest players of all time. Didn’t he sue his own team and then not pay his lawyers? Doesn’t he have a painting of himself as a centaur over his bed? This fuckin’ guy. A-Rod plays his last game with the Yankees today. But whenever he’s actually done, he’s banished to Bonds-Clemens Island. Or more likely a fancy strip club/whorehouse made of cocaine and HGH.

 

 Prince doesn’t deserve this.

 

Let’s move on to Prince Fielder, who was easily the most likable of the three, but also happened to have the weakest career. Which isn’t really a knock when you’re being compared to Centaur Steroid Monster and the guy selling vanilla ice cream at the Hall of Very Good. Fielder has been a batting practice legend since he was 12-years-old when he hit one into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium. And he won the Home Run Derby twice. As an adult, not when he was 12. But his lousy defense probably knocked him down a few pegs and he’s retiring as the 94th-best first baseman of all-time (according to JAWS), behind guys like Kevin Youkilis, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena. The eerie thing is, he’s also retiring with the exact same number of career home runs (319) as his estranged father – the one he didn’t like being compared to. Of the three players, I’ll miss Fielder the most. And we’ve lost too many Princes in 2016.

 

Let’s go around the league.

 

The AL East

I don’t understand why the Yankees are pretending they can still go to the postseason this year. They’re 7 back in the division. They’re 4.5 back in the Wild Card. And three other teams in their own division are ahead of them. They have a 2.9% chance of making the playoffs. Also, they kinda traded away Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran. That’s waving the white flag on 2016. So all that being said, why is Joe Girardi being such a bitch about A-Rod?

 

 Why are you being such a dick, Joe?

 

I know I said all of the things I said about A-Rod earlier. But there is such a thing as taking the high road and not creating a pity party soap opera so dramatic that it makes someone like me who doesn’t even like the guy actually consider him a victim. Even Fenway Park chanted his name, Joe. You’re a dick.

 

If pitcher Wins are your thing, Wade Miley is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA since being acquired by the Orioles. But that’s somehow still an upgrade for the club. That’s how bad Ubaldo Jimenez (6.83 ERA) has been this season. Also, if pitcher Wins are your thing (and we have to talk about this because they really shouldn’t be), J.A. Happ leads the Majors with 16. I’m feeling pretty good about the Blue Jays.

 

I know I’ve bashed the Red Sox a lot this season. But I think that racist David Ortiz bobble head might end up being their own Brady Bunch bad luck tiki. They’ve had injury scares with Steven Wright, Mookie Betts and Big Papi, himself, after that hideous mini-statue was made public. And they like, can’t lose any of those guys. Not that the Tigers and/or Mariners would mind. But the bobblehead also kind of reminds me of something famed character actor, Chelcie Ross, would look at and say, “Up yer butt, Jobu,” before getting hit in the head with a flying bat. Just putting that out there. I feel like this entire paragraph was totally reasonable and valid.

 

The AL Central

Think being a manager isn’t stressful? This week, Indians’ manager, Terry Francona, as well as Giants’ skipper, Bruce Bochy, had to miss games with chest pain and/or rumored chest pain. That being said, Joe Girardi is still a dick.

 

 Terry needs to relax.

 

The AL West

I think this Jonathan Lucroy thing is working out in Texas. So is Beltran, for that matter. And they’d be the hottest team in the league (and 11-2 against the Astros this season) if not for the Seattle Mariners playing peek-a-boo with relevance once again. And I’m not going to say that Mike Trout could end up being the greatest player of all time. But he turned 25 this week and just look at some fun numbers of players Trout’s age.

 

 ABSOLUTE BEAST.

 

All-Time WAR Through Age 21

1. Mike Trout               21.5
2. Mel Ott                    19.3
3. Ty Cobb                   16.1
4. Al Kaline                  15.0
5. Rogers Hornsby      14.6

 

All-Time WAR Through Age 22

1. Mike Trout        29.5
2. Ty Cobb           25.9
3. Mel Ott             25.1
4. Ted Williams     24.8
5. Jimmie Foxx     21.0

 

All-Time WAR Through Age 23

1. Mike Trout            38.5
2. Ted Williams        36.4
3. Ty Cobb               36.2
4. Mel Ott                33.2
5. Mickey Mantle    29.5

 

All-Time WAR Through Age 24

1. Ty Cobb            47.2
2. Mike Trout        45.0
3. Mickey Mantle  41.1
4. Mel Ott              38.6
5. Jimmie Foxx     37.4

 

The NL East

Why would Bryce Harper need a working bat or neck when you have that rotation? This thing is turning in to a bloodbath. And I mentioned Ichiro becoming the 30th member of the 3,000 hit club earlier. But the best part about it is that he told ESPN he plans on playing until he’s 50. So I guess that first ballot induction in Cooperstown is gonna have to wait a while.

 

 3,000 is a big number.

 

The NL Central

The Cubs are in first place on my birthday? Why, that’s only happened in 1984, 1989, 2001 and 2008. Cubs with the best record in baseball on my birthday? This is a first. And since they’ve won 9 in a row and are up 12 games on the Cardinals, I almost don’t care that Tommy La Stella is embarrassing himself by not reporting to Des Moines. I’m sure the Puig videos didn’t make it any more enticing, but still.

 

 It’s a happy birthday for Brido.

 

The NL West

When Clayton Kershaw went down on June 26, the Dodgers were 8 games back of the Giants. So I can’t really downplay how amazing and improbable it is that they climbed back within a game of first place. And that’s why you might actually see Corey Seager walk away with the Rookie of the Year and the NL MVP this year. Right now, I’d give it to Kris Bryant or Daniel Murphy. But enough people are bringing his name up to make me think he’d actually win if the voting was held today.

 

Give Seager all the awards.

 

I will say that I’m not sure whether or not Puig will play for the Dodgers ever again. Even though Josh Reddick has hit .125 since joining the team. Puig may be lighting up the PCL, but apparently everybody hates him about as much as Joe Girardi hates A-Rod.

 

Oh, and the Giants are still the worst team in the Majors since the All-Star break. Jeff Samardzija has come back to Earth. So has Johnny Cueto. And Will Smith has a fucking 13.50 ERA since being dealt from Milwaukee. And that’s without me even mentioning that only one team (Pittsburgh) has scored fewer runs in the second half.

 

And since the Rockies have fallen off their wasn’t-gonna-happen-anyway Wild Card run, it’s only really worth mentioning David Dahl, who is their new Trevor Story. I almost wish his last name was ‘Chapter’ or some shit, so idiots on TV could stumble all over themselves to make that fuck-awful joke again. But Dahl has yet to go O-fer in his young career, starting with a 17-game hitting streak, while hitting .365 with a 1.013 OPS. Looks like the STORY has a new CHAPTER!

 

 How I looked when I heard Tim Tebow wanted to play baseball.

 

Okay. Should I even waste my time on Tebow? Because he played high school baseball and looked muscle-y in a cage? Just know that he didn’t get drafted. Even Michael Vick got drafted. And he hadn’t played baseball since 8th grade. Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Dan Marino, John Elway, Daunte Culpepper… all drafted. And it’s not like there weren’t baseball scouts in Florida. He also hasn’t played baseball in 11 years. Michael Jordan hadn’t played in 13 years, was a much better athlete and only hit .202 in the minors. Plus, Tebow is 29. You know who else is 29? Andrew McCutchen. That guy is usually awesome. This year he’s hitting 50 points below his career average. Because baseball is hard. And Tebow has absolutely no chance.

 

That’ll do it for this week. If you need more baseball, check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” with Joe Kilgallon in all the podcast places. Until then, Adrian Beltre needs 117 hits. And the Cubs’ Magic Number is 38.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXI: Crazy Trade Deadline. Crazier Cubs Game)

Written by :
Published on : August 5, 2016

 

 

Well, the trade deadline has come and gone. And it was a wild one. Maybe the craziest one ever. Since we last spoke, the Rangers got Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Beltran. The Indians got Andrew Miller. And they didn’t get Lucroy. The Giants got Matt Moore and Will Smith. The Dodgers got Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. And they couldn’t unload Yasiel Puig. The Nationals got Mark Melancon. The Mets got Jay Bruce. The Marlins got Andrew Cashner. Chris Sale’s scissors stayed in Chicago. And now we can finally talk about what’s actually going on on the field. Yay!

 

On Sunday, the Cubs and Mariners played in one of the wackiest, most amazing games I’ve ever seen in my life. First of all, it’s best that we don’t speak Brian Matusz’ name ever again. The first three innings were essentially batting practice for Seattle and they went up 6-0 on homers before Theo Epstein shipped Matusz off to Siberia, or wherever starters with 14.00 ERAs go to repent. Maybe Baltimore?

 

Anyway, Carl Edwards Jr. came in in the 4th and 5th to stop the bleeding for the Cubs, striking out five of the six batters he faced. At this point, I was getting text messages from my brother-in-law as if the Cubs were somehow back in the game. I’d already received multiple texts on the disaster Siberia Boy had caused. But now I started hearing some optimism from my multiple Cubs text messaging groups. You read that correctly. Anyway, the Cubs did manage to get on the board in the bottom of the 5th when Felix Hernandez walked Ben Zobrist with the bases loaded and then plunked Addison Russell while they were still loaded, making it 6-2.

 

 

In the 6th, it looked like the Mariners were going to tack on to their lead after Joe Nathan came in and decided he was too old to be of any use. So Travis Wood replaced him on the mound and, after walking Seth Smith to load the bases, he promptly struck out Shawn O’Malley and Leonys Martin and got Robinson Cano to pop out. It was still 6-2 and Wood was out of a jam. The fun part was, in the 7th, Pedro Strop came in to relieve Wood, but Joe Maddon didn’t take Wood out of the game. He sent him out to play left field. And that same inning, he happened to make a spectacular catch into the ivy on a Franklin Gutierrez line drive. And that’s when Wrigley Field went nuts and my phone started to blow up. Oh, and apparently, when Wood came back to the dugout, Cubs’ catcher, David Ross, jokingly gave Wood some guff for not hitting the cutoff man after his catch. To which Wood just replied, “Fuck you.” Amazing.

 

In the bottom of the 7th, Zobrist tripled in Dexter Fowler, making it 6-3. And then in the 8th, Wood came back in from left to pitch. Because Maddon is apparently a tortured artistic genius. And was just getting started. Wood then picked off O’Malley as he tried to steal second for the 3rd out in the inning. Out of left field, indeed. Fuck you, indeed.

 

In the bottom of the 9th, with one out, the Cubs rallied with a double by Anthony Rizzo and singles by Zobrist and Russell, making it 6-4. Jason Heyward was then hit by a pitch, loading the bases. And then Wilson Contreras beat a throw to first on a bases-loaded double play attempt, making it 6-5. At this point, my wife did not want to watch the game. But when Seattle reliever, Steve Cishek, unloaded a wild pitch to the backstop, scoring Russell to tie the game, even she was like, “Oh my god!” as Wrigley, my phone and my mouth started screaming in unison. I guess Seattle was screaming too, since Cishek has since lost his job as closer. But that’s not my problem.

 

 

Fast forward to the bottom of the 12th, still tied 6-6. And say what you want about Jason Heyward’s season at the plate. He’s still the best defensive outfielder in the National League this year (and probably 3rd overall, after Kevin Pillar and Adam Eaton). And yes, he’s hitting .231, with an OPS+ of 73 (jesus). But he still has a 1.4 WAR and he was about to show some offensive value. With an 0-2 count, Heyward cranked a double off the top of the wall in right-center that came about a foot away from ending the game. Then he made his way to 3rd on a Contreras sac fly. And I don’t think a majority of Major Leaguers are beating that throw.

 

What happened next was full-on bizarre. With Hector Rondon’s spot in the order up next, the only pinch hitter Maddon could use was a starting pitcher. And instead of going with Jake Arrieta (who is hitting .279 with 2 home runs, but also strikes out half of the time), Maddon went with Jon Lester, who has a whopping seven career hits, but also only strikes out 30% of the time. I really don’t know. I just stopped questioning Maddon.

 

 

With two strikes on him, Lester actually laid down a perfect safety squeeze, scoring Heyward with the perfect head-first slide and the winning run. And nothing will ever be the same again. Lester got mobbed. Maddon kept doing his Beautiful Mind baseball math equations in the dugout. Everybody else lost their own minds. And it’s probably going to be a game I revisit for years to come.

 

Hey, you might not like the Cubs as much as I do. But at least that’s not trade talk. Let’s go around the league.

 

The AL East

Dylan Bundy might be the savior of the pitching-starved Orioles this season, as well as the most exciting American League rookie not born in Germany. And with the addition of Wade Miley, they might actually have a real 5th starter for the first time. I still think the Blue Jays are going to win the division. Especially if Troy Tulowitzki’s thumb doesn’t fall off. Aaron Sanchez is a legit Cy Young candidate. And it turns out they’re not moving him to the pen, after all. The Red Sox are waiting for any of Dave Dombrowski’s moves to pay off. And just when you thought we could finally stop talking about the Yankees now that they dealt Miller and Beltran and Aroldis Chapman, they have to figure out how to break up with Alex Rodriguez.

 

The AL Central 

One of the most interesting playoff scenarios (besides Texas-Toronto) is probably going to be between Cleveland and Texas, since Lucroy shut down the trade that would have made him battery mates with Miller and Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco and Jeff Tomlin and Trevor Bauer and whatever other awesome arm he didn’t feel like catching. Until he went to Texas, I just assumed that Lucroy was an idiot. Either that or he saw the RNC and pictured Cleveland as a dystopian wasteland. But as of now, he might be getting the last laugh because Salazar is on the DL and Cleveland might not even win their division.

 

 

That’s because the Tigers are creeping. They’ve won eight of their last ten and are only 3 back of the Indians. Because while the Indians are 26-8 against the rest of their division (including 11-1 against the Tigers), they just cannot beat the Twins. So maybe if the Eastern teams beat up on each other down the stretch and Cleveland goes on another cold streak, the Motor City Kitties can slide in to the playoffs. 1908 World Series rematch, baby!

 

The AL West

A few weeks ago I was SURE the Astros were going to overtake the Rangers in the standings or at least move in to a Wild Card slot. But they got swept by the Tigers and now it looks like the Rangers are running away with this thing once again. I know AJ Griffin and Cole Hamels were their only starters to win in July. But with Lucroy and Beltran and a returning Shin-Soo Choo, that lineup is sick. The baseball pundits keep trying to sell me on the Mariners as a team to watch. And I’ll buy it as long as every game is as good as Sunday’s against the Cubs.

 

The NL East

The Nationals are viewed as trade deadline losers because they couldn’t land Chapman or Miller, but if that’s the case, why aren’t 27 other teams deadline losers? Mark Melancon is still a strong reliever. And they didn’t have to give up Lucas Giolito to get him. Then again, I’ve waited all season for Daniel Murphy to cool off. And now it’s August and he’s still hitting .358. The second best batting average in the league belongs to Wilson Ramos at .331. All that has to make them feel better about Bryce Harper hitting .234. What happened, breh?

 

The NL Central

 

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t pitched since June 26th, so he’s about to fall off all the NL leader boards due to inactivity. When that happens, Kyle Hendricks might actually have the best ERA of any starter in baseball. We can hold off with any Hendricks Cy Young talk for the time being. But these are the types of things I can talk about while the Cubs are hot. The Cubs were 11-17 without Fowler in the lineup. Now he’s back. The bullpen is upgraded. And John Lackey didn’t come here for a haircut. He came here for jewelry.

 

The NL West

The Giants have only won 5 games since the All-Star break. But with Hunter Pence and Joe Panik back in the lineup, as well as the additions of Eduardo Nunez, Moore and Smith, they might start to look like that Even Year team everyone seems to want. I don’t want it. But like, people who say words on TV seem to. But man, the Dodgers really need to take advantage of the Giants’ skid. I know they went 15-9 in July. And that they scored a lot of runs during that stretch. But only the Dodgers, who have seemingly had every single one of their starters on the DL this year, would actually go out to acquire another injured starter. But mostly everybody wants to talk about Yasiel Puig’s demotion from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Oklahoma City Dodgers. And then if he’s not careful, to the Tulsa Drillers, the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and then the Great Lake Loons. Then maybe on a flight back to Cienfuegos. Remember 2013? Sigh.

 

The Rockies also got hot and were creeping up the division standings, as well as the Wild Card, but then Trevor Story went out for the season, destroying the worldview of every baseball fan who also loves shit-awful puns. I’m just thankful Jose Reyes went to the Mets and not Story, because of all the new lows the New York Post‘s headlines haven’t had to sink to yet.

 

 

Okay! That does it for this week. If you need more baseball, be sure to check me out on “Comedians Talking Sports” MLB recaps with Joe Kilgallon, available at all the podcast places. Until then, Ichiro needs 2 hits and the Cubs’ magic number is 46.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XX: Aroldis Chapman Arrives and Chris Sale Destroys)

Written by :
Published on : July 29, 2016

 

 

Man, I thought that with the trade deadline still a few days away, this week would end up being a snooze. But Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were officially inducted into the Hall of Fame, Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Chicago Cubs and Chris Sale joined the fashion police and went all Mark Fuhrman on some throwbacks. So let’s get in to it.

 

The first major shoe to drop before this year’s trade deadline was Aroldis Chapman going to the Cubs for Gleyber Torres (the #26 prospect in the Majors), Adam Warren, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford. And it may be giving up a lot, but it looks like Theo Epstein believes this is the year and is going all in. And Addison Russell also exists, is only 22 and doesn’t leave a lot of room for any potential shortstops in the Cubs’ farm system.

 

Chapman does come with some baggage, to say the least. Last December, he allegedly choked his girlfriend and then shot up his garage, although no charges were filed and he already served a 30-game suspension earlier in the year. And those allegations are horrible. But honestly, the better he does in Chicago, the more the Cubs’ fan base will be willing to let them slide and give the flamethrower a second chance to be a better person.

 

 

All of that aside, Chapman was the biggest name in the deadline talks. The Cubs acquiring him also means that the Nationals and Giants didn’t. And they didn’t have to give up Kyle Schwarber in the process of addressing their most glaring weakness. Chapman debuted at Wrigley Field on Wednesday and threw 103 mph, so I’m guessing most of the critics on the North Side will be willing to move foreword. It’s not ideal for me either, but I know that sometimes shitty people are great at baseball.

 

As far as Chris Sale goes, wow. He didn’t want to wear the infamously hideous 1976 collared throwbacks because he said they were uncomfortable so he took a pair of scissors and destroyed them. Those are the same jerseys, mind you, that the White Sox wore with fucking SHORTS for the first game of a doubleheader that same year. I’d guess they’re on every short list for the ugliest jerseys in baseball history. Although it’s amazing that it happened, Sale’s antics earned him a five-game internal suspension and sparked a sea of trade rumors with the Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers, Blue Jays and virtually every other potential playoff team. And I’ll go ahead and say that it’s probably not even the weirdest clubhouse incident to happen to the White Sox in 2016. But this is the type of awesome scumbag baseball lore that will stick around for a long time.

 

chicago-white-sox 1976

 

Over the weekend, Griffey and Piazza were formally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And that led a lot of baseball pundits to ask the yearly question of, “Which current players could retire and make the Hall of Fame right now?” And I always shake my head when guys like Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Buster Posey are even brought into the conversation. You have to play 10 years in the Majors to even be considered for the Hall of Fame, everybody. So that rules all of them out.

 

Then you have to assume that anybody with a PED suspension is also eliminated, which takes care of Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, whether or not they would have made it in otherwise. David Ortiz also tested positive in 2003. So unless views on steroid use softens in the next decade, those guys aren’t getting in either.

 

So, who would get in? Good question. Here are the 10 most-likely if everyone’s careers were over right now.

 

1. Albert Pujols

579 career Home Runs. 3 MVP Awards. I can just stop talking there. But I’ll also tell you that JAWS ranks him as the second-best first baseman of all-time. Definite.

 

2. Miguel Cabrera
2 MVP Awards. 2 HR titles. 4 batting titles. A triple crown. JAWS has him as the 11th best first-baseman of all time. Definite.

 

3. Ichiro Suzuki
He’s closing in on 3000 hits. An MVP Award. 2 batting titles. 10 Gold Gloves. Definite.

 

4. Adrian Beltre
427 HR. 2862 hits. JAWS ranks him as the 5th best third baseman of all time. Very Probable.

 

5. Carlos Beltran

I talked about him earlier this year. But 412 HR. 2554 hits. JAWS says he’s the 8th best center fielder of all time. Probable.

 

6. Joe Mauer
3 batting titles. An MVP award. JAWS ranks him as the 9th best catcher of all time. Maybe.

 

7. Robinson Cano
261 HR for a second-baseman. That’s 6th all-time. He’s also 20th in hits. And JAWS says he’s the 14th-best second baseman of all time. Probably Not.

 

8. Chase Utley
242 HR at second. That’s good for 10th all time. JAWS says he’s 11th-best at second base. Probably Not.

 

9. Joe Nathan
He’s 8th all-time in saves. JAWS says he’s the 18th-best reliever of all time. No.

 

10. Dustin Pedroia

He’s got an MVP award and 2 rings. JAWS says he’s the 21st-best second baseman of all time. No.

 

Okay. As you can see it’s pretty bleak. So I’ll give you the next 10 guys on my list, based on Bill James’ Hall of Fame Standards Ranking. And just note that a 50 is the average for a Hall of Famer.

 

CC Sabathia (42), Matt Holliday (42), Jimmy Rollins (42), Victor Martinez (38), David Wright (36), Troy Tulowitzki (36), Hanley Ramirez (36), Joey Votto (34), Jose Reyes (34), Brian McCann (33). By the way, Yadier Molina has a 26. So everyone can shut up about him.

 

Okay. Let’s go around the league.

 

The American League

It looks like the Blue Jays and Red Sox are going to make some more moves. And that the Rays will be unloading some pitching. But even with Chapman gone, the Yankees are still in the best position to benefit before the deadline. You could still argue that they’re not dead yet (6.5 back in the division, 4 back in the Wild Card), but Andrew Miller’s trade value went up even higher. And he’s the new #1 on everyone’s list. Well, except for the Cubs.

 

Miller

 

I think it’s funny that on Tuesday, Chris Tillman, Steven Wright and Danny Salazar all had bad outings, so people started asking who the AL Cy Young should be and if anyone even wanted it. ESPN’s Cy Young Predictor has Zach Britton, Tillman, Sale, Cole Hamels and Salazar in their top 5. Here’s mine.

 

1. Masahiro Tanaka    3.3 WAR    3.25 FIP    3.00 ERA
2. Aaron Sanchez       3.0 WAR    3.36 FIP    2.72 ERA
3. Corey Kluber          3.7 WAR    2.91 FIP    3.44 ERA
4. Jose Quintana        3.1 WAR    3.46 FIP    2.97 ERA
5. Danny Salazar        2.7 WAR    3.31 FIP    2.89 ERA

 

Also, Prince Fielder is out for the year. But I’m sure we’ll know a lot more about the state of teams like the Rangers and Indians and whoever else after Monday’s deadline. Saying anything else would just be wild speculation. Let’s move on.

 

The National League

It looks like the Nationals are losing faith in Jonathan Papelbon, so if Andrew Miller lands anywhere, Washington is just as good of a guess as any. The other main names still on the market in the NL are Jeremy Hellickson, Jonathan Lucroy, Jay Bruce, Carlos Gonzalez, Will Smith and Andrew Cashner. The Cubs could still go after a veteran bat. And the Dodgers want the entire Rays’ pitching staff, since they don’t have one of their own. Who’s ready for Monday?

 

Okay. That does it for this week. If you need more baseball, check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon on iTunes. And in the meantime, Ichiro needs 3 hits and the Cubs’ Magic Number is 56.

 

 


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