Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XVII: All-Star Selections)

Written by :
Published on : July 8, 2016

 

With the All-Star Game approaching, the big talk this week was who got snubbed (which is probably unfair to Ned Yost and Terry Collins, since every team, no matter how awful they are, has to be represented) and also who should actually be starting. So let’s take a look at that. First up, the American League.

 

AL Starting Pitcher: ????

Should Start: Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians

 Will it be Salazar?

 

I think it should go to Salazar, especially since Jose Quintana didn’t even make the team. And neither did Masahiro Tanaka, who I honestly haven’t heard one person talk about all year, despite some fantastic stats. Anyway, Salazar is the AL leader in ERA. His FIP is better than Chris Sale’s and Steven Wright’s. And I’d guess those two are his only real competition for the start. Sale does have 14 wins and leads in ESPN’s Cy Young predictor. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he was given the nod. But with all the injuries to the Rangers’ rotation, Cleveland is probably the best team in the American League right now. And the main reason they’re so good is because of their staff. They had a 1.83 ERA during their franchise-best 14-game winning streak and Salazar has been the best of all of them. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re up 7.5 games on Sale and the White Sox.

 

AL Starting Catcher: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

Should Start: Perez

 

Good job, fans. It’s not a strong pool, but Perez leads AL catchers in WAR and wOBA.

 

AL Starting First Baseman: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

Should Start: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

 It should be Miggy.

 

You would think that with all these AL Central players I’ve mentioned so far, the division would be a little more competitive. And it probably would be if the Tigers weren’t 1-11 against the Indians. But I digress. If we go ahead and say that Edwin Encarnacion is a DH (which he is), then Cabrera edges out Chris Davis of the Orioles (who didn’t make the team) with slightly better hitting.

 

AL Starting Second Baseman: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

Should Start: Altuve

 

After a horrible start, the Astros actually look like they’re gonna make a run at the postseason, after all. And Altuve is a legit MVP candidate. Too bad he can’t also pitch for them.

 

AL Starting Third Baseman: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

Should Start: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

 There’s no doubt Manny should be in the game, but maybe not at third base.

 

This race is about as close as it gets (as is the AL East, itself) and Machado and Donaldson are also both MVP candidates. As good as Machado has been so far, Donaldson has been even better. But don’t worry, I have a way to fix this.

 

AL Starting Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Should Start: Machado

 

Machado has actually played eight more games at short than at third this season. So that technically makes him the best shortstop in the league. And don’t cry, Red Sox fans. There’s plenty more room on the roster for your offense. And also, you’re a third place team with 6 All-Stars.

 

AL Starting Outfield: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Should Start: Trout. Bradley. Ian Desmond, Texas Rangers

 

Trout is still the best player in the league. Bradley and Desmond are right up there. But that starting lineup isn’t bad for a Boston team that has fed-up fans calling for their manager to be fired. It’s not like adding David Price (who didn’t make the All-Star team) and Craig Kimbrel (who somehow did) were going to fix the rest of the team’s pitching woes, even if they weren’t both underperforming.

 

AL DH Selection: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

Should DH: Ortiz

Papi should continue to praise whichever gods are giving him such power at such an age.

 

We don’t have to talk about the Red Sox pitching for the time being. Ortiz just passed Ted Williams on the all-time home run list. And since Williams died the year before Ortiz got to Boston, we can assume that all of his frozen powers were transferred over to Big Papi in 2003. Just kidding, he totally did ‘roids.

 

Okay, here are the Top 5 AL snubs this year, according to WAR.

 

1. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox. (3.1)
2. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees. (3.0)
3. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays. (2.9)
4. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners. (2.9)
5. Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers. (2.8)

 

Let’s move on to the National League.

 

NL Starting Pitcher: ????

Should Start: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 They say with great hair comes great pitching.

 

With Clayton Kershaw on the DL (and from this point forward, nobody can complain about pitching injuries unless they’re the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers), Collins needs to go with his ace. I can see the argument for starting San Diego native, Stephen Strasburg, but unless the Mets are freaked out about potentially losing Matt Harvey for the season, the clear #2 choice (and the best available pitcher) is still Thor.

 

NL Starting Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Should Start: Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

 

This one is close, but Ramos edges Posey out with slightly better hitting. I suppose that since the Giants now have the best record in baseball (RIP Cubs SuperTeam), they should have somebody in the starting lineup. But since they also denied Madison Bumgarner a slot in the Home Run Derby, they also deserve nothing.

 

NL Starting First Baseman: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Rizzo

 Rizzo deserves this one.

 

Maybe with the Cubs sucking so bad the past two weeks, their entire infield shouldn’t be starting the All-Star Game. These guys need rest, not more games. But Rizzo is actually deserving of this, edging out Wil Myers and Paul Goldschmidt by a hair. And since I always seem to make fun of the Red Sox pitching on here, let me just cop to the fact that the Cubs arms are no longer setting the world on fire. Yeah, yeah. They had to regress at some point. But “The Body Issue” of ESPN the Magazine isn’t the only place the Cubs’ pitching has been showing their asses lately.

 

NL Starting Second Baseman: Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

Zobrist was great in like, May. But Murphy has been great the entire first half. Plus, I consider the recently-injured Matt Carpenter a third baseman.

 

NL Starting Third Baseman: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

 Bryant may be getting the start but it’s Lamb who deserves it.

 

Lost in this whole Bryant vs. Nolan Arenado debate is that fact that nobody in the National League has had a better season than Jake Lamb and/or Matt Carpenter thus far. You know, other than the Carpenter injury. And for all of the complaining I hear from Team Arenado, they need to realize that he’s 4th among NL 3rd basemen in WAR and also 4th in wOBA. And Jake Lamb didn’t even make the team. But I guess since Bryant has already equaled his home run total from all of last season, I’ll figure out a way to get him on the starting lineup.

 

NL Starting Shortstop: Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

If the Dodgers are going to survive without Kershaw this season, it’s going to be because of Seager. He’s got the longest hitting streak in the National League so far. He’s 1st in WAR and second in wOBA among NL shortstops. And I’d actually say, at this point at least, that Seager, Brandon Crawford, Danny Espinosa, Zack Cozart, Aledmys Diaz, Jonathan Villar and Trevor Story would actually be more deserving of a start than Russell. Ouch, Mike.

 

NL Starting Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals. Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets. Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Bryant. Cespedes. Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins

 Ozuna should be out there for the NL.

 

Listen, Bryant plays a lot of outfield. And he’d actually lead in WAR and be second in wOBA among all NL outfielders. He could replace Fowler, who I don’t want to play if he’s not healthy. And it might not even screw up the All-Theo Epstein Game (9 of the 17 starters are Theo acquisitions) too badly. Also, Marcell Ozuna is a sleeper choice for the NL MVP this year. Especially if mounting injuries can move the Marlins past the Mets in the standings. You know by now I’m rooting for that.

 

Okay. Finally, here are the Top 5 NL Snubs, according to WAR.

 

1. Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks. (3.5)
2. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants. (3.3)
3. Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates. (2.8)
4. Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals. (2.5)
5. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds. (2.4)
5. Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals. (2.4)

 

Okay. See you next week, where I will give a recap of the first half of the season. If you need more baseball, you can check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, Ichiro needs 10 hits and the Cubs’ magic number is 70.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XII)

Written by :
Published on : May 20, 2016

 

 

To paraphrase Bernie Sanders, I was sick and tired of hearing about the damn bat flip. Seven long months had passed. And since then, that damn bat flip had become a meme, a tattoo, a reason for Goose Gossage to want his country back and everything else in between. But on Sunday, with one overhand right landing square on the very-punchable jaw of Jose Bautista, Rougned Odor (pronounced Roog Ned O’Door, like some kind of old-timey Irish criminal) has thrust last year’s ALDS between the Rangers and the Blue Jays back into the forefront of baseball once again.

 

So let’s talk about last year’s series for a second. So far, I’ve only really heard people talk about Game 5 in Toronto. And that’s fine since it was probably the wildest game in baseball playoff history, with a 53-minute 7th inning that stands right up there with the Billy Buckner 9th inning in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series and the Steve Bartman 8th inning of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, as one the most epic innings of all time. It had the little-known Rule 6.03(a)(3), with Russell Martin’s throw back to the mound hitting the bat of Shin-Soo Choo, allowing a runner to score and putting the Rangers up 3-2. That’s also the play where the umpire originally ruled the ball dead, but after the call was overturned, Jays fans spent the next 18 minutes pelting the field with Canadian garbage. Then the whole episode was rendered moot when the Rangers made three errors on consecutive plays in the bottom half of the inning (all somehow involving Elvis Andrus), before Bautista hit his infamous home run and launched his infamous bat skyward, prompting two bench-clearing brawls and the Canadian police being called in to control the mayhem.

 

 

Lest we forget, the Blue Jays had not been in the postseason since Joe Carter’s walk-off in the 1993 World Series. So Bautista’s homer was the second-biggest in their franchise history. And everybody at the Rogers Center went understandably crazy. It won the game and the series for Toronto, all after the heavily-favored Blue Jays had been down 0-2 in the best of five series. And the funny thing is, if not for that historic 7th inning, or at least the bottom half of that historic 7th inning, the star of the series was actually the 21-year-old Rougned Odor of the Texas Rangers. Who is Venezuelan, but sounds like a shitty peripheral character on season 3 of Sons of Anarchy.

 

In Game One, Odor got plunked twice by Jays’ ace, David Price. He also homered off of Price later in the game, made some fantastic plays in the field and also happened to knee Josh Donaldson in the head as he tried to break up a double play, forcing Donaldson to leave the game. Hey, that stuff sounds vaguely relevant. In Game Two, Odor was involved in another controversial play, as a throw from Bautista to second base probably caught Odor off the bag. But he was called safe after a review, allowing rookie back-up, Hanser Alberto, to knock him in with the go-ahead run in the 14th inning. By the way, benches also cleared in the 13th, when the not-at-all-concussed Donaldson was displeased with a quick-pitch from Keone Kela. And of course, in Game Five, it was actually Odor who scored on the aforementioned bizarre play between Russell and Choo. Because of course it was Odor. He was everywhere at once throughout the series. And yet we only remember Bautista and his damn bat flip. Maybe this was Roog Ned’s way of reminding the world what he could do. You know, besides fixing the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy or something.

 

 Shit got real.

 

The funny thing is, the Rangers and Blue Jays had already played six games in 2016 without an incident. Sunday’s game was actually the final time they’ll play this year. And with the Blue Jays sitting 7 back of the Orioles and Red Sox and four games under .500, not to mention the fact that both the Jays and the Rangers got swept in their next series, they’re also squandering a real chance for me to see the most-anticipated postseason rematch since the Red Sox and Yankees in 2004. But hey, the 2015 Rangers were just as improbable as this year’s Jays currently seem to be, sitting two games under .500 and 8 games back of the Houston Astros on August 2nd. So there’s still hope for me yet. Come on, guys!

 

If you missed Sunday’s game and only get your baseball news from this blog (which I admit I would be okay with), allow me to fill you in. In his final at-bat in the season series, Bautista got drilled by a 97-mph first-pitch fastball thrown by Matt Bush. Bush, a 30-year-old rookie who wasn’t even on the Rangers last year, was not ejected for the pitch. Not that Bush is a stranger to getting kicked out of establishments that serve alcohol. The former first overall pick in the 2004 draft, has been arrested for fighting a security guard who kicked him out of a bar just weeks after that draft, he’s also allegedly thrown a baseball at a woman’s head and banged on her car window because she drew on his face after he passed out at a party in 2009.

 

He also allegedly got drunk in 2009 and beat up a high school lacrosse player with a golf club while screaming, “I’m Matt fucking Bush!” as the whole thing was being filmed. And in 2012, he got kicked out of strip club for drunkenly trying to climb onto the stage, not knowing ‘Matt Bush’ is a horrible name for a stripper. Then he got in a friend’s SUV, ran over the head of a 72-year-old motorcyclist (he lived) and fled the scene. That landed Bush in prison for 51 months, although he’s still a suspect in two other hit-and-run accidents from earlier in the day. Dude is pretty bad at drinking. The fact that Matt Fucking Bush is finally in the Majors to begin with is an amazing story. Although the fact that a rookie with a zero-tolerance policy from his new club was the one presumably asked to do the deed against Bautista is way more interesting to me.

 

Anyway, next Bautista (angered by the HBP and the non-ejection of Bush) attempted to break up a double play with a newly-illegal slide aimed at Odor’s legs. Knowing that Bautista would be called out because of his slide anyway, Odor basically submarined his throw directly at Bautista’s still-unpunched face. And that’s when both guys squared off and Odor dazed Bautista with a solid punch that became the talk of baseball for the next week. Not detracting from all the talk was the fact that, after the game, seemingly everyone on both teams cut WWE-style promos on each other to the press, leaving the seven-month-old blood feud unfinished for the time being.

Marcus Stroman, who wasn’t even in Texas for the game because he was graduating from Duke, tweeted that he’s never respected Odor and never will. Erudito et Religio, Marcus! Bautista, who may actually have a strong chin, but also may have been saved from a knockout by good Samaritan, Adrian Beltre, said it takes a bigger man than Odor to knock him down. He also said he could have injured Odor with the slide if he wanted to, but chose not to. And he also criticized the Rangers for not going after him until his last at bat in the series. Jays’ skipper, John Gibbons, who ran back onto the field after an ejection (which is becoming a real thing this year), echoed Bautista with a similar statement and added that the Rangers were ‘gutless’. The thing is, Bautista was probably anticipating retaliation in the first four games of the series. And it’s possible that those delayed retaliation mind games held him to going 1-for-15 in those games. I’m just saying.

 

Either way, nobody outside of Toronto and the commissioner’s office really seems to be blaming Odor for the punch. Even though an old video has surfaced of him going all Bruce Lee on an entire infield during a minor league game. And even though footage also shows that he also tried to punch the spastic redneck Viking, Donaldson, on Sunday, after Donaldson came flying at him from the Toronto dugout like the spastic redneck Viking he is. And, even though it will be forgotten, everyone especially loved Prince Fielder’s reaction to getting plunked by Jesse Chavez later in the game. The whole episode has brought comparisons to the 1993 best-brawl-of-all-time between Nolan Ryan and the twenty-years-younger Robin Ventura. I guess because it was also in Texas. But the fun thing about that particular brawl (other than the classic Ryan noogies) was that Ryan stayed in the game and pitched hitless ball the rest of the way.

 

And that concludes the first and only time we should ever compare the Ryan Express to Roog Ned O’Door, who sounds like he was second in command to Bugs Moran and/or killed in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. Okay. Let’s finally move on.

 

 

AL MVP: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

 

The shortest man in baseball leads in WAR, wOBA, OBP and OPS. I’ve been told that the Astros are turning things around. I’d rather talk about someone else until they do.

 

I could easily give this week’s AL MVP to the entirety of the Red Sox’ offense. That team is fun. They lead the Majors in runs, hits, doubles, runs batted in, batting average, slugging and OPS. Jackie Bradley Jr’s hitting streak is at 24 games. Xander Bogaerts leads the league in hits. Travis Shaw is making everyone forget about whoever was supposed to play third before him. And then there’s Big Papi. The scary thing is, if you set aside Altuve, Manny Machado and Mike Trout, David Ortiz would have been my choice for the best player in the American League thus far. The dude is 40-years-old! I don’t know if some sort of weight was lifted off of him after he decided to retire or what, but over the weekend at Fenway, he had a game-tying triple and a walk-off double (his 600th) before getting doused with baby powder or cocaine or something. After the game, he had to rush off to a family function, so he told reporters, “Just say I’m a bad motherfucker.” He really is. So much so that I’ll avoid talking about that 4.22 team ERA or the first place Orioles for the time being.

 

 Can’t stop, won’t stop.

 

Carlos Beltran hit his 400th home run this week, making it harder for me to say he’s not a Hall of Famer. Once he gets his 2500th hit, he’ll be one of only four current Major Leaguers (with Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre) in the 400/2500 club. Which is not a bad group to be a part of. Beltran was the best player on the Royals from 1999-2003 and the best player on the Mets from 2006-2008. And from 2002-2008, only Pujols, A-Rod and Barry Bonds had a higher WAR. That makes him a close second to Bonds as the best outfielder in the big leagues over that period. His career numbers are similar to Billy Williams, Andre Dawson and Jim Rice. He has three Gold Gloves. And although the highest he’s ever finished in MVP voting is 4th, and despite not having won a World Series ring, Beltran has been a monster in the postseason. It was actually his playoff home run record that Daniel Murphy broke last season. Oh, and he’s also the best center fielder not currently enshrined in Coopserstown. I’d say that’s a pretty good case.

 

AL Cy Young: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

 

Chris Sale and Danny Salazar are right there, but I’m still going with Quintana, who leads in FIP and WAR. Brad Ausmus and the potential job opening in Detroit may have eaten up all the news in the AL Central this week. And Ausmus may have eaten up all the sunflower seeds (seriously, I’ve never seen a guy neatly fold his hoodie on home plate after an ejection), but with the White Sox cooling off a bit, this division remains wide open for everyone not named the Twins.

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Byung-ho Park, Minnesota Twins

 Congrats, you’re the only interesting thing involving the Twins!

 

Hey, prior to the season I said at least one of the Twins new hot-shots had to pan out. And while Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios need more time in the minors, the 29-year-old two-time former MVP of the Korean Baseball Organization is here to stay. So there. I finally said something nice about them.

 

NL MVP: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

I have to give props to the Mets fans, who gave Murphy a standing ovation prior to their first game with the Nationals, a standing ovation for his first at-bat and then promptly booed him the rest of the way.

 

For a brief moment on Wednesday, the Philadelphia Phillies were tied with the Nationals for first place in the NL East. And I love it. That’s with 58% of their wins coming from one-run games (shout out to Cameron Rupp for hanging on to that ball!). I mean, they’re seven games above .500 with a -28 run differential. That’s unprecedented. But nobody in the division outside of Murphy, Bryce Harper or Yoenis Cespedes has played as well as Odubel Herrera. And nobody in the division outside of Noah Syndergaard has pitched as well as Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez. That includes Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez. I’m just as skeptical as anybody, but I have to love a team that I thought coming in to the season was actually going to be worse than the Atlanta Braves (as I pour one out for Fredi Gonzalez).

 

Gerrit Cole doesn’t think the Cubs are the best team in baseball. That’s fine. They looked like shit in Milwaukee. Other than the 13-inning ‘Travis Wood Game’ where Joe Maddon became a mad scientist, Kris Bryant used three different gloves in one inning and Wood got out of the most improbable jam of all time. Oh, and then Wood walked with the bases loaded in the 13th, which would win the game. That’s why he gets a game named after him. Other than that it wasn’t great. And Bartolo Colon hit a home run before Jason Heyward and his .225 batting average did. So Cole might be right. But it’s just kind of strange criticism coming from a guy who’s team isn’t even the best in Pennsylvania (Pirates burn!).

 

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

 Best ever? Maybe.

 

Just so we’re clear, Kershaw’s strikeouts-to-walks ratio (K/BB) is currently sitting at 22.00. That’s 88 strikeouts and only four walks, almost doubling the single-season record. His career ERA + (which adjusts an ERA based on ballparks and eras) is also the best ever for a starter with Pedro Martinez at #2. His adjusted career FIP is the best ever too. And just look at this career stat line for a second.

 

                                ERA     FIP     WAR    IP
Sandy Koufax         2.76     2.78     54.5    2324.1
Clayton Kershaw    2.40     2.57     50.5    1681.0

 

Now I know that Koufax threw four no-hitters, a perfect game and won three World Series rings in 12 seasons with the Dodgers. In 1965, he also pitched what was the greatest game of all time until Kerry Wood came along in 1998. But Kershaw is only 28-years-old and wouldn’t even be eligible for the Hall of Fame until after next season. He has just as many Cy Youngs (3) as Koufax won. And Kershaw’s best game ever is slightly better than Koufax’s best game ever.

 

Koufax        9/9/65        9 IP    0 H    0 BB    0 R    14 K    101 GSc
Kershaw    6/18/14        9 IP    0 H    0 BB    0 R    15 K    102 GSc

 

Only Wood (Kerry, not Travis) and Max Scherzer (the 17 K, 0 BB no-no from last October) have ever pitched games better than either of those. But I’m basically laying out an argument for you with cold hard facts as to why Kershaw is actually better than Koufax was. The fun part is, we might also be currently witnessing the greatest pitcher of all time. I guess I could check in with Gerrit Cole to see what he thinks.

 

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

 He does more than just sniff butts.

 

I’m finally giving it to Seager this week over Aledmys Diaz because, while Diaz keeps raking, Seager’s WAR is higher because he’s a much better defensive shortstop. Plus, I’m sick of typing ‘Aledmys’ and ‘Cardinals’.

 

You would think that since I just listed two Dodgers stars for Cy Young and Rookie of the Year that the team would also be doing awesome. Nah. They’re 8-1 when Kershaw pitches and 13-20 when he doesn’t. And it’s actually the Giants who separated themselves from the pack this week, winning seven in a row. And now they face the Cubs, who beat good teams and then lost to the Brewers and/or Padres. So I guess the Cubs will take 2/3 and the NL West will go right back to being a shitshow.

 

 

Alright. I’ll see you next week in the outfield. Remember to check out the MLB Recaps on ‘Comedians Talking Sports‘ with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 117.

 

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode IX)

Written by :
Published on : April 30, 2016

 

 

This week has been all about the resurgent Mets, the historic disparity of the National League, as well as the semi-real possibility of an October Red Line Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. But it was mostly me going down an internet rabbit hole of Japanese baseball information. Because as I was looking up Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers, the deeper I dug, the more immersed I was into a world of Jewish spies and evil judo masters and the actual Heisenberg. You know, regular baseball stuff. Allow me to ease you in with some basic info…

 

Did you know that Maeda wears #18 because it’s a tradition in Japan for the ace of the staff to wear that number? I didn’t. But you might notice that Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners wears #18. And it’s been worn by Daiske Matsuzaka and Hiroki Kuroda and a number of other pitchers from Japan – the same way #10 is usually worn by the best player on a soccer team. Maybe it is a bit presumptuous for a guy on the same staff as Clayton Kershaw to sport the ace’s number, but whatever. We don’t have that tradition. And it’s not like anybody is crying about Matt Cain wearing #18 in San Francisco.

 

 

Maeda actually earned his #18 in Japan as the two time winner of the Eiji Sawamura Award, which actually predates, but is the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young. I’m simplifying things here, but they have a checklist of sorts that a pitcher needs to meet to qualify (25 starts, 15 wins, 10 complete games, a .600 winning percentage, 200 innings pitched, a 2.50 or lower ERA and 150 K’s). And just to give you an idea, if we had those qualifiers here (because of those 10 complete games), nobody would have won the Cy Young since Randy Johnson in 1999. Nevertheless, the Sawamura Award has also been won by Matsuzaka, Iwakuma and other guys who eventually came to the big leagues like Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.

 

Also, the story of Eiji Sawamura, himself, and the 1934 American barnstorming tour that inspired his legend (as well as professional baseball in Japan) is so good that it’s worth retelling briefly here. In 1934, a group of American league all-stars (including future Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Earl Averill and Lefty Gomez) came to Japan to play a group of Japanese amateurs. During one of the games, the 17-year-old Sawamura struck out Gehringer, Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx in succession, impressing American manager, Connie Mack, so much that he offered him a contract with his Philadelphia Athletics. The only issue was that, while the American baseball players were greeted as heroes everywhere they went in Japan, relations between the two countries was at a very low point, since, at the time, America was opposing Japan’s expansionist policies in Asia. And Sawamura turned down the contract saying, “My problem is I hate America and I can’t make myself like America.”

 

And this is where it really gets interesting. Because also on that American team was Moe Berg, known around the league as the brainiest guy in baseball. Berg was educated at Princeton, the Sorbonne in Paris, as well as Columbia Law. He is said to have read 10 papers a day and spoke seven languages, although teammates used to joke he couldn’t hit in any of them. The fact that Berg was such a mediocre catcher, and the fact that he later worked for the CIA (with a license to kill Werner Heisenberg if Berg suspected the Germans were close to developing an atomic bomb), has led to documentary shorts like 30 for 30‘s Spyball (I watched it) and books like, Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan (I’m thinking about it). I’m beginning to suspect Berg’s entire reason for being in Japan was to spy on the country. And that sounds to me like the most amazing movie that’s never been made. It’s Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own meets Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies. I mean, holy shit.

 

Sawamura

 

On the Japanese side, the team was formed by media mogul and (I’m not kidding) judo master, Matsutaro Shoriki. And besides Sawamura, their other star pitcher was Victor Starrfin, “The Blue-Eyed Japanese.” Starrfin was born in Russia, but his family fled to Japan during the Revolution. Anyway, in 1934, his father was in jail on involuntary manslaughter charges and the family was being threatened with deportation back to the Soviet Union. So Shoriki actually blackmailed Starrfin to force him on to the team or else he’d cause a scandal in his newspapers. So Starrfin agreed, Shoriki eventually turned his team professional and they’d become the Yoriumi Tokyo Giants, the New York Yankees of Japan.

 

Starrfin would go on to become the first player in Japan to win 300 games. All with the added pressure of xenophobia surrounding his life and career there. In fact, during World War II, Starrfin was placed in a Japanese detention camp and years later, he eventually committed suicide. Meanwhile, Sawamura went on to pitch the first no-hitter in Japanese baseball history, as well as two more before, in a strange twist of fate, he was killed by American forces in combat during the war. And while Ruth’s playing days were numbered by 1934, the tour made him legendary in Japan and his name became an anti-American rallying cry for the Japanese who would yell, “To hell with Babe Ruth” during battles.

 

That whole tour sounds insane to me. And that story doesn’t even include Masaichi Kaneda (aka “The Emperor”), who won 400 games in Japan between 1950 and 1969, even though he played for the Kokutetsu Swallows, who were name-appropriately horrible. Kaneda is said to have thrown so hard that a game he played in his rookie season was stopped so that the umpires could make sure the pitchers’ mound was at the appropriate distance away from home plate. And towards the end of his career, his arm caused him so much pain that he actually developed an underhand change up. Like I said, rabbit hole. But I think it was worth it. Okay. Let’s get to this week’s stuff.

 

AL MVP: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

 

Well, the Astros might be playing like total garbage right now, but you certainly can’t blame Altuve. Actually, you can’t blame Colby Rasmus either. But Altuve leads the league in WAR, wOBA, slugging and OPS. He’s also the shortest man in baseball. And he’s the only guy to be selected to an All-Star game in both leagues for the same team. I guess I’m trying to put a positive spin on things. The Astros are in big trouble.

 

AL Cy Young: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

 

I love the national attention that Chris Sale is getting all of a sudden. The White Sox have the best record in the American League. Sale is 5-0 and therefore we must assume he’s the early front-runner for this year’s AL Cy Young Award. And he was also my pre-season pick for the award, so I’m almost fine with it. However, if you look at advanced stats, Sale hasn’t even necessarily been the best pitcher on his own team so far this season. And I only say that because Sale’s FIP is a full run ahead of Jose Quintana’s, even though Quintana is merely 3-1. And despite Sale’s undoubtable greatness (and also the fact that I would put him neck-and-neck with David Price as the best overall pitcher in the American League), I’d say his current stats also rank behind Taijuan Walker, Price and Rich Hill as my #5 pick for the early Cy. I still think Sale will win it. But right now he’s already this year’s Zack Greinke.

 

The White Sox, by the way, are still projected to finish behind the Indians in the Central, which is kind of crazy considering Carlos Carrasco is out 4-6 weeks and nobody knows how healthy Michael Brantley is yet. But the White Sox swept the Rangers this week. And then they swept the Blue Jays, shutting out that offense for the first time this season. They also had that wacky 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play. And they have the best team ERA in baseball. And they moved up to 19th in runs scored. All because of the loving memory of Drake LaRoche bonding them together or something. Even better for the White Sox, I don’t really know what’s going on in the rest of that division at this point, other than the Twins doing nice things for Prince (RIP) and Tyler Collins flipping everyone off in Detroit. Hey, maybe he’ll run in to Byron Buxton somewhere in the minors.

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers

 

So… apparently Shin-Soo Choo is feeling better. And everyone still has huge expectations for Mazara.

 

NL MVP/Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals

 

I told you about this guy last week, but now he’s the NL leader in wOBA, batting average, on base percentage, slugging and OPS. So I gotta give it to him over Dexter Fowler and Bryce Harper. I understand that Fowler had been getting overlooked by everybody, but between all the talk about Harper and even Trevor Story and Maeda, I haven’t even heard anybody taking about Diaz yet. Sports Illustrated just did an article on all the young shortstops taking over baseball and didn’t even mention the 25-year-old Diaz once. So few people have talked about him that I don’t even really know how to say his name. Ah-Led-Mees? Uh-Led-Mee? I guess we could all be learning it real soon.

 

NL Cy Young Award: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

It’s been Thor every week so far this season. Except this time, the Mets are hot as shit and somehow knocking on the Nationals’ door for first place. After Tanner Roark struck out 15 Twins this week, Nationals fans were going apeshit about how good they were because he’s only their #4 starter. They were being declared the hyperbolic juggernaut we thought they would be last season. Bryce Harper was going to break Hack Wilson’s single-season RBI record from 1930. Dusty Baker was a goddamn tooth-picked genius. And nobody seemed to mind that the Nationals had only played shit teams so far. Now Neil Walker is the most-talked-about second baseman in Mets history (with apologies to only Edgardo Alfonzo). And Yoenis Cespedes is doing impressions of Kirk Gibson in 1988 out there. The Nats also just got swept by the Phillies. They haven’t scored in 22 consecutive innings. And by the time we talk next week, the New York Mets could have actually crawled out of their early season hole and back into the driver’s seat in the NL East.

 

All that being said, the Cubs are still the best team in baseball. This week, their run differential climbed to +74, which is so insane that fans of opposing teams are starting to claim that Pilates is a PED. Even when Jake Arrieta has an off night, he only gives up one run. And Arrieta doppelgänger, Jason Hammel, might have even better stats than Arrieta at this very moment. And next up the Cubs play the Atlanta Braves, who are truly terrible. As a Cubs fan, I think I can even wear my ‘Try Not to Suck’ t-shirt around L.A. under the radar without some hoodlum Dodger fan knowing what it is and wanting to stab me.

 

Brido cubs

 

Speaking of which…

 

I went to the Marlins-Dodgers game this week. And, for the most part, it was nice. I didn’t get to see any Yasiel Puig circus throws or catches. But I got to see Kershaw pitch. I got to see Ichiro’s 2,944th Major League hit. And I also had a pretty good view of the left field bleachers, where fans were getting into drunken fist fights and aggressively screaming at other fans in opposing baseball caps, indiscriminate of whether that team was in the same division or even the same league as their beloved Dodgers. This was a Tuesday night, mind you. In fucking April. All of which reminded me that this is Vin Scully’s last season in the broadcast booth after 67 seasons. The Dodgers just honored him by renaming Elysian Park Avenue ‘Vin Scully Avenue’. And he’s a man of unequivocal class and greatness. But to see that juxtaposed with the Mad Max/Idiocracy scene in left field is truly bizarre to me and completely unworthy of the man’s legacy or his final season.

 

Plus, it doesn’t even make sense. Most of those dipshit fans were gone by the 7th inning, anyway, with L.A. only down by 3 runs. So you’re telling me you’re willing to fight people and cause physical harm to anyone opposing your favorite baseball team, just as long as you don’t have to hit any traffic? That’s so stupid. And while I used to chalk up the drunkenness at Wrigley Field to the drunken culture surrounding Harry Caray. This just proves that I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is Vin Scully we’re talking about. The only way for my theory to work with Dodger Stadium is if Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad was announcing the games (had to throw in Tuco since we already had a Heisenberg). Which, on some level would be pretty entertaining. But it’s not necessarily a place you want to bring your family.

 

Okay. Check back in with me next week. And feel free to listen to me talk baseball on the MLB weekly recap of Joe Kilgallon’s podcast, “Comedians Talking Sports” on iTunes, Soundcloud or www.joekilgallon.com.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode I)

Written by :
Published on : February 27, 2016

 

 

Last week on Monday Night Raw, Shane McMahon made a shocking return to the WWE after a six year absence. And it was soon announced that he’d be facing the Undertaker inside ‘Hell in a Cell’ at WrestleMania 32. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Theo Epstein happened to be watching. Because just three days later, Dexter Fowler’s surprise return to the Cubs was as close to a WWE-style swerve as an actual non-scripted sport can get. The only thing it was missing was cued-up entrance music (“My Way” by Fetty Wap, would have been perf) and his Cubs teammates chanting ‘holy shit’ and ‘this is awesome’ (clap clap clap clap clap) after the big reveal.

 

Until that very moment, the consensus foregone conclusion was that Fowler had signed with the Baltimore Orioles. It was speculated and anticipated for weeks by baseball’s talking head community until it evolved into a full-blown fact. Right up until the moment it wasn’t. And after receiving a text that just said “Fowler!” from my ‘Go Cubs’ iPhone message group, I was so confused and skeptical that I didn’t believe the news until I actually saw the video of a 6’5″ dude in street clothes who looked a lot like Dexter Fowler walking onto the field with a guy who looked a lot like Theo Epstein and being greeted by a group of guys in Cubs uniforms who looked exactly like the rest of the Chicago Cubs. It wouldn’t take long for a meme to go out on social media with Steve Harvey holding the Miss Universe card and saying, “DEXTER FOWLER HAS SIGNED WITH THE ORIOLES.”

 

 Fowler will be back with the Cubs.

 

And while I could talk about what the Fowler signing means for the 2016 Cubs (the best team in baseball on paper just got better, Jason Heyward can now move back to right field where he’s won three Gold Gloves and it creates an insanely flexible lineup depth with Fowler, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber in the other outfield slots, etc.), it’s probably best to use this as further proof that conventional wisdom at the start of Spring Training doesn’t necessarily equate to actual regular season results. And everything we think we know about the 2016 season before it starts is probably just as true as the fact that Dexter Fowler is the new leadoff hitter for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

All that being said, I still can’t think of a reason why it won’t be the Cubs’ year in 2016. Yes, I’m still worried about the Cardinals. And I still think the Pirates are probably vastly underrated. And I know that saying, “Anything less than the World Series would be a huge disappointment” is a statement that is probably held equally true for the Mets and the Dodgers. And I know that the Nationals were the team that looked like the hands-down best-on-paper team last year. That is, of course, until they weren’t. But it’s still February as I type this. And hope still springs eternal. So as of right now, I’m a believer.

 

Around the League

 

The more I think about the 2016 Boston Red Sox and their high win projections, the more I have a problem with them. Pablo Sandoval showed up to Fort Myers looking like me after a cake bender. And if you combine that with Hanley Ramirez at first base, I don’t see why every team they face wouldn’t just put on a dead-ball-era bunt clinic until the Red Sox can figure their own shit out? But the good news for the Red Sox is that every team in their division has a really good reason why they won’t win either. The best one is that 5’8″ Marcus Stroman is going to become the the ace of the Blue Jays like he’s pitching’s Jose Altuve. And Jose Bautista’s contract looks like it’s already a distraction. As are the whispers that Troy Tulowitzki can’t hit outside of the thin air of Coors Field. And those two teams are the favorites in the division. If you add to that, the uncertainty of the rotation and age of the position players in New York, a possible 30-40 game suspension of Aroldis Chapman, a Tampa Bay Rays team that doesn’t score runs and an Orioles team that doesn’t prevent runs, it leaves me throwing up my hands and saying, “Let them eat cake.”

 

I’m increasingly curious to see Byron Buxton and Jose Berrios in Minnesota. Not to mention Miguel Sano and Byung-ho Park. That’s too much young talent to not pan out in a division where I’m totally ready to see something new and exciting happen. That could also occur if the White Sox can score runs and if the Indians can play defense. I just don’t want to see a scenario where these Kansas City Royals, who have the 13th-highest payroll in baseball and who will not be sneaking up on anyone this time around, can become the 1998-2001 Yankees or the 1988-1990 Bash Brother A’s. I can only take so many cuts to Happy George Brett in the owner’s box before I get sick of this double-tapered shit.

 

 Can the Royals really do it again?

 

My way-too-early AL MVP pick is going to be Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. Especially now that they created the Chase Utley Slide Rule to protect him. Mike Trout is still probably going to be the best player in the league. But he’s going to get ‘LeBron Ruled’ out of the award until the Angels can put a decent lineup around him. The same probably goes for Josh Donaldson and even a returning Miguel Cabrera because nobody likes repeats. So that probably leaves us with Manny Machado, who probably won’t be in playoff contention and Correa who probably will. And my backup choice is obviously Dexter Fowler, the definite new right fielder for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

And while I haven’t decided on my pre-season NL MVP pick quite yet, I will say that if the Diamondbacks are really going to be in contention, then there’s no reason it won’t be Paul Goldschmidt. But you can’t rule out never-been-picked guys like Giancarlo Stanton (with his zero facial hair and his Barry Bonds) or whichever Cubs player hogs up the most attention in their historic season. Or it could even be whoever this Royce Harper guy is Dusty Baker keeps talking about. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

 

Well, we have actual Spring Training games next week. We’ll get to see Lucas Giolito and Julio Urias and Corey Seager and Byron Buxton and Joey Gallo and start forming actual thoughts about these teams as they move towards the regular season. I’ve given you my picks for World Series champion and AL MVP. And with just a little bit more information, I can form enough of an opinion to the wrong about the rest. Stay tuned.

 

 


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