A Man, a Knife, and a Throwback Jersey

“What if I told you the most intriguing story of the entire 2016 MLB season was about a man, a throwback uniform, and a knife?”

This is how I imagine ESPN’s next 30 for 30 documentary will start. (BTW, I will totally direct that documentary if anyone from ESPN happens to be reading this)

For those who do not read the news, Twitter feeds, or crappy baseball blogs, I will catch you up on the events that transpired Saturday afternoon…

The White Sox put out a statement saying that starting pitcher Chris Sale would not be making his start that afternoon and had been sent home for a “non-physical” clubhouse incident. When this came out, everyone assumed it was because he was traded and no one was supposed to be in the know yet. However, details slowly began leaking out that what happened was far more preposterous than a trade… *cue dramatic music*

In what has already been a roller coaster of a season for the Chicago White Sox, “The Chris Sale Incident” on Saturday was really not what the team needed. The southpaw ace has been in the news recently because of growing trade speculation, and his cause has not been helped by the White Sox’s record, which has been mired in mediocrity since their hot start in April and May. Sale has been long considered off the table in terms of potential trades, however, it is looking more and more likely that the Sox will have to trade him in order to get good enough prospects to continue their unofficial rebuild. As you can imagine, tension was probably rising between Sale and the White Sox before Saturday’s events even occurred.

Anyway! Not long after the White Sox put out that statement, baseball writer Tommy Stokke tweeted out that a source said Chris Sale had a blowup in the locker room over a jersey dispute.

Yes, Chris Sale threw a temper tantrum over a uniform dispute.

And much like all ridiculous baseball stories, the details of what happened only got more epic from there:

Turns out, not only did Sale have a meltdown, he actually took a knife and sliced enough of the team’s uniforms so they could not be worn for the game. The White Sox were wearing special 1976 throwback uniforms to coincide with a promotional giveaway and according to Sale and others, they are difficult and uncomfortable to pitch in. White Sox starting pitchers have generally been able to pick what uniform they wear depending on what is most comfortable (something that has been this way all season), but Sale did not get that choice because his start fell on a designated uniform day no one on the team had control over.

I personally found this blow-up to be hilarious and not entirely unexpected. The relationship between Sale and the front office has not been good this year to say the least. Sale was one of the players who was most outspoken over the whole Adam and Drake LaRoche saga in spring training, even going so far as to hang Drake LaRoche’s jersey in his locker. After LaRoche opted to retire instead of keeping his son away from spring training, Sale openly criticized the front office, VP Ken Williams in particular, and made it clear that he was not happy with how the front office handled the situation.With tensions already high between Sale and the higher ups in the organization, it is of no surprise to me that Sale had a nuclear blow-up over an event he could not change, especially given that his name has been mentioned in trade rumors.

One can only imagine how frustrating it must be for a pitcher of Sale’s caliber to hear his name come up in trade rumors. All players will tell you that they generally ignore those rumors, but when you have as contentious a relationship with your front office as Sale does, it can only fuel self-doubt about how badly your team wants and values you. I firmly believe that Sale’s uniform cutting outburst was much deeper than just having to wear uncomfortable jerseys. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted that “Sale cut up throwbacks during batting practice. Upset that, in his view, PR and jersey sales were more important than winning”. This speaks directly to my point, which is that Sale is more angry at the front office than anyone else. It could also suggest that in Sale’s mind, the front office did not care about him or his comfort while he pitched. It’s a very puerile way to view things, but when you are on a spiraling team with leadership you don’t like, it is almost understandable to see why Sale acted the way he did. Almost.

However you slice it, though (pun 100% intended), it is not a good look for Sale, but it will probably not give teams interested in him any reason to reconsider a trade. The rumors are rampant that the Sox want 5-7 very good prospects for Sale, and for a price that high, most teams won’t care if they are getting an emotional pitcher who can be outspoken and prone to outbursts. All these teams will want is an ace who can help them win a championship and Sale is just the man to do it (and he has a very favorable contract as well, which really sweetens the pot for potential suitors). But with all that being said, Chris Sale needs to come out and apologize for going all Edward Scissorhands on the uniforms and apologize to his team for putting them in a tough spot. Fences will need mending, but he a respected leader in the clubhouse, so it should not be too difficult to get back in his team’s good graces.

One of the things I love most about watching Chris Sale pitch is seeing not just how great he is at his craft, but how emotionally charged he is on the mound. You know exactly what he is thinking and he is not afraid to jaw at batters and umpires. His emotion is wonderful and to be a contender, you need a bulldog on the mound every five days.

However, you don’t want the bulldog to chew up your jerseys.

Advertisements

Mid-Season Grades!

Lord have mercy, is the 2016 baseball season half-over already?? Ugh, working a full-time job and trying to be an adult really makes the time go by too quickly! Add in a few trips to the shore and wandering around New Jersey, I haven’t had as much time to soak in the 2016 season as I’d like. However!! I am still keeping up with all of the teams as best as I can, and I will make an attempt to give every team a mid-season grade. This could be a steaming, hot mess, but let’s try our best!

AL East

Baltimore Orioles: A-. This team is actually a very good offensive team! They are hitting home runs like crazy. The only downside is their rotation leaves little to be desired, and a high-powered offense with a poor pitching staff is a hard formula for success. They’ve pretty much had a stranglehold on the division all season and if they keep hitting like this, you will definitely see them in October.

Boston Red Sox: B+. Much to my chagrin, the Sox don’t suck nuts this year. David Ortiz is having a phenomenal final year and their offense is picking up. Sure, their pitching, save for Steven Wright, is iffy at best, but if Papi hits, like, 10 home runs a game, who needs good pitching?

New York Yankees: C-. Ugh. Ugh ugh UGH. This team is so frustrating that I want to punch a hole in the wall. The pitching has been average, the offense has been average, but the defense has actually been pretty good. Except for CC Sabathia and Didi Gregorious, this team has been boring and average. Bleck. HERE’S HOPING FOR A SECOND-HALF REBOUND.

Tampa Bay Rays: D. Did anyone else forget that the Rays were a thing this year? No? Just me? Okay.

Toronto Blue Jays: B-. As scary as this team was in the second-half of last season, they really haven’t inspired the same fear this year. They haven’t truly been a contender for the division and the most notable thing that happened this year was Jose Bautista getting punched in the face. Yes, I laughed because him getting punched was glorious. Not because I condone violence, but because I really love baseball brawls.

AL Central

Chicago White Sox: B-. Had they not been sputtering so suddenly, I’d give them a higher grade. They came into April and May totally dominating the game and making people like me, who said they would not be too good, eat their words. However, as of late, they are the mediocre team we all thought they’d be. It’s a shame because it was fun having both Chicago teams rocking and rolling at the same time.

Cleveland Indians: A-. What if I told you one of the best teams in baseball was the Indians? I know, it sounds cray-cray. BUT they didn’t lose a home game in June. It was, of course, no coincidence that they were having this crazy run as the Cavs were having their crazy run. It’s good to be a Cleveland sports fan! Well, it’ll be good until football season. Good luck with the Browns, y’all…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Detroit Tigers: C+. I mean, except for Justin Verlander getting engaged to Kate Upton, I feel like the Tigers haven’t had much to talk about. Sure, they are 6 games above .500, but it doesn’t feel like it. Manager Brad Ausmus is on the hot seat and the Tigers are quite possibly going to miss the post-season. But hey, at least Verlander has a hot model to compensate for playing on an average team.

Kansas City Royals: C+. Hello? World Series Champs? Are you there? No? Okay, cool. Riding the middle of the division has been a surprising down-turn for the team that owned the game last year. Injuries have been a burden and Yordano Ventura still hasn’t figured out how to keep his anger in check. They can still very well make the post-season, but they need to stay healthy and stop beaning batters.

Minnesota Twins: F. I feel bad for all of my family in Minnesota because they have to watch this dumpster fire of a team every night. Congrats Minnesota, you have the worst team in the American League.

AL West

Houston Astros: B-. After sucking eggs during the first two months of the season, the Astros finally pulled it together in June and are now 5 games over .500. Not bad, but let’s be real: I expected a lot more from them this year. Who knows, maybe they will have a great second half of the season!

Los Angeles Angels: D-. The only reason they aren’t getting a “F” is because they signed Big Time Timmy Jim AKA Tim Lincecum and they have Mike Trout. Other than that, it’s a sad time to be a fan of the Halos. Maybe they need some real angels in the outfield to help them (I’ve always wanted to use that reference. I’ll show myself the door now).

Oakland A’s: D+. Congrats on being not completely awful! Also, congrats on not trading your entire roster yet! It’s still early, so you still have time to trade everyone, but maybe you could try not doing that this year and see what happens.

Seattle Mariners: B-. They haven’t been a sparkly, pretty team, but Robinson Cano is finally living up to his contract and making all of us Yankee fans irked that we didn’t sign him. But, I’m cool not paying him a butt-ton of money six years from now when he stops being good.

Texas Rangers: A +. The Rangers get a big, fat gold star for the first-half of the season. They have proven to be one of the best teams in baseball, and they’ve been doing it all without a ton of hoopla. It’s almost a shame that most people only know about the Rangers because Odor punched Jose Bautista in the face. But hey, if you’re going to be known for the one thing, what a great thing that is.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: F. I knew they were gonna be hot trash this year, but I didn’t think they’d be this bad. Yowza.

Miami Marlins: B-. After a horribly disappointing year last year, the Marlins actually have a formidable squad. They have intriguing story lines (Ichiro, Barry Bonds, youth out the wazoo). The only problem is that they are in the same division as the Mets and the Nationals.

New York Mets: B. The Mets have some lingering health problems with their young pitching and some other injury problems throughout their roster. They still have a winning percentage of .542, but you can’t help but wonder if this squad is fatigued from last year’s World Series run…

Philadelphia Phillies: C-. No team surprised us more than the Phillies during the first two months of the season. They were actually good! But, alas, during a full-on rebuild, all good things must come to an end sometime. The Phillies have plummeted back down to earth in a most unspectacular fashion. It was fun while it lasted, boys.

Washington Nationals: A. This team is really good. Like, really really good. Bringing in Daniel Murphy and Dusty Baker were the best (and luckiest) decisions the Nats made in the off-season. Everything is looking rosy in DC, but only if you’re looking at the baseball team. Everything else in DC is, well, ick.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: A+. Boy oh boy have the cubbies been fun to watch this year! Their team is so good and their off-the-field style might be even better. Theme flights on road trips? Yes please! I didn’t know I needed to see Jon Lester in a Miami Vice-themed outfit or the whole team wearing Rocky-style track outfits, but Joe Maddon clearly knew this was something that everyone needed to see.

Cincinnati Reds: F. Yeah…it ain’t looking so hot in the other O-H-I-O town. The Reds are just simply a terrible team who is in the thick of a rebuild. Rebuilding is never fun, but it’s especially never fun when you also have to live in Ohio. Sorry to the people who live in Ohio, but it seems like a bummer. Unless you are an Indians fan.

Milwaukee Brewers: D-. Much like the Rays, I forgot this team was playing this year. The only news you hear is about Ryan Braun, and even then, it’s fleeting news that passes you by quickly without much notice. Alas…

Pittsburg Pirates: C+/B-. I like the Pirates. They seem like good dudes and I love the way they play (except when they continuously throw at my man Paul Goldschmidt). The problem is that they have been a stunningly average team this year. You see flashes of how good they could be, but it is nowhere near enough to push them past the Almighty Cubs.

St. Louis Cardinals: B-. Somehow, the Cardinals are also a very average team this year. They are 9 games behind the Cubs in the standings and things aren’t looking normal for this perennial contender. But fear not, because they have magic voodoo Cardinal powers and will still make it to the post-season because that is just what they do. They could not even qualify for a Wild Card berth and they would somehow still make the cut.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: D+. I HATE THIS SO MUCH. Injuries, subpar performances, and overall suckitude has made for a very disappointing first half. Even when Zack Greinke started throwing like an ace, he got hurt. That seems to sum up the first half of the D-Backs season pretty well. The only true bright spot has been Jake Lamb, the young third baseman who is turning into a phenomenal player.

Colorado Rockies: C-. The only reason they are also not getting a D+ is because they have more wins than the D-Backs. They have a dreadful rotation and only a few bright spots on their roster. It’s a shame because the people of Colorado need a good baseball team to cheer for. I mean, they get to enjoy the Broncos, which is great, but you can’t play NFL football all year.

Los Angeles Dodgers: B. Considering the Dodgers pitching (aside from Clayton Kershaw) has been the equivalent of a dog turd, this team is still 10 games over .500. Their offense has been spotty, but just good enough to win games. But, sadly for the highest payroll in baseball, they must contend with the Giants in a very weak division.

San Diego Padres: D-. What’s a fun way to spend the year? Trading off every single one of your players! Hooray for a roster overhaul! But seriously, the Padres still suck and the only good thing they have going for them is that they are hosting the All-Star Game.

San Francisco Giants: A-. I hate this team so much. Honestly. I hate them more than any other team in baseball and I can’t even give them a fair shake. They’ve been really good this season and I hate that so much. It’s an even year, too, so they could lose every single remaining game and still somehow win the World Series. Gosh I hate them so much.

 

There you have it. My ill-informed, rather crap-tastic mid-season grades for every team.

 

 

 

The Dark Knight Falls

Remember last November when Matt Harvey was plowing through the Kansas City Royals in New York during the 2015 World Series? He was pitching on his biggest stage and having arguably one of the better starts of his young career. The fans in New York were rocking, Citi Field was loud, and the entire baseball community was in awe of the greatness that Matt Harvey was showcasing. As the 8th inning came to a close, there was uncertainty if Harvey would come back to pitch the 9th. Everyone, except his manager, wanted him to finish his brilliant game. After all, this was HIS night. This was HIS game. He’s NYC’s Dark Knight. For eight innings, he was the hero the Mets needed but didn’t deserve. You could see him arguing with Terry Collins during the bottom of the 8th, clearly begging to pitch the 9th inning. Collins didn’t want him to – he wanted to use his closer instead. But, against his better judgement, he let Harvey finish the game. When Harvey emerged from the dugout in the 9th inning, every fan in New York yelled and cheered at deafening decibels that perfectly encapsulated the grandiosity of the moment. Then, like how every Hollywood movie seems to end, the Royals shellacked him in the 9th, effectively erasing one of the most important and impressive starts we had ever seen from Matt Harvey. He stayed one pitch too long, pitching just long enough to see himself become the villain.

If there has ever been a game that could summarize Harvey’s short career, it would be that game. Harvey, to put it simply, is capable of being an ace, yet he has somehow never gotten there. He was the highly-touted pitcher who was supposed to save the Mets, the man who was supposed to lead a rotation. He was deemed the ace before he had a chance to prove himself worthy of the title. He was gifted with the spoils of being a superstar player in NYC before he had the chance to earn them. He got the girls (okay, the models), the best tables at the best restaurants, the fame, the glory, the most badass nickname…He had it all before he established himself as a proven ace.

But what happens when a burgeoning superstar has to struggle to earn the adulation? That’s exactly what Matt Harvey is trying to figure out right now. After posting yet another abysmal start (if you can even call 2 & 2/3 innings  a “start”) last night, every sports writer worth his/her salt is wondering what is happening to Harvey. The Nationals spanked him for 9 hits and 6 earned runs, and almost all of the balls where hit hard. Yes, there were some serious defensive miscues (the Mets defense is a hot mess this year), but the bottom line is that Matt Harvey made terrible pitches, chose terrible pitches to throw, and missed his spots. Even Nats slugger Bryce Harper expressed that he felt bad for Harvey last night (you know it’s bad when the opposing team’s superstar feels bad for you).

Except it wasn’t just a problem last night: his whole season has been one long stretch of miserable starts. Barring injury, Matt Harvey has nothing and no one but Matt Harvey to blame for his shortcomings this year.

So is Harvey’s poor performance psychosomatic? Could it be all in his head? Is this a residual effect of him pitching over his 200 inning limit last year? Is there something wrong with him physically?  He has been accused of being more out of shape this year, and perhaps that is part of the problem, but is it something more?

I personally think this stretch of bad starts is good for Harvey. To be blunt, he is a guy who needed to be humbled. I have to admit that I was always annoyed by Harvey because his attitude and behavior never matched the product he was putting on the field. He is a guy who’s reputation has always outpaced the results, and he certainly hasn’t made it easier on himself. He has been late for practice because he “lost track of time”. He has ignored his team’s and doctor’s orders about limiting his innings post-Tommy John. He has openly lived a lavish lifestyle while basking in the glory of the biggest media market in the country. Harvey has built himself up to be a baseball titan, and perhaps now the baseball gods are doing everything they can to humble him.

Now, Harvey will have to rely on his skill-set and pitching weapons instead of his reputation to prove he can be an ace pitcher. Hell, at this point, he should be gunning for the title of “second-best” pitcher on the team (Noah Syndergaard has claimed the title of “Best Pitcher” for the Mets and it’s not even close). Harvey will need to spend that extra time in the gym to prepare his body for the rigors of a full season. He will need to spend that extra time with the coaching staff to figure out what he can do to improve. Maybe he just needs to skip a start so he can get his head right. Regardless, Harvey is going to have to rely on more than his reputation to become to the hero New York needs. But, maybe this skid is the best thing that could happen to a man who acts like a superstar without the credentials, a man who acts like a superhero without a cape.

Baseball is humbling game and his manager stated it perfectly – “There are two kinds of people in this game: those who have been humbled and those who will be.”

Harvey needed to be humbled and, boy, is he getting a big piece of humble pie. But, hopefully he can take his pie, eat it, and get his groove back. When Matt Harvey is on, he is ON and a lot of fun to watch. Even the petty haters like me can’t hate on that.

I Like Philadelphia

It’s been almost a month since my last blog post, but I have a really good reason why: I moved.

Yep.

I packed up my belongs and threw them in my car, Jeet (named after Derek Jeter), and then drove north until I got to New Jersey. I have family up here, so I figured this would be a good place to figure out my life without having to pay rent.

I’ve been here a week and so far, I really like it here. I’m a short train ride away from NYC and an hour away from Philadelphia. It’s great, it really is! So what’s a baseball nerd like me to do on a rainy Sunday? Go to a game, of course! My dad and I drove to Philly and had the chance to take in beautiful Citizens Bank Park. In the pouring rain. Because I’m just that lucky.

Actually, even though it was cold and rainy, I had an amazing time. Let me just say that Citizens Bank Park is probably my favorite ballpark that I have ever been to. Granted, I have only been to a handful of parks, but this ballpark takes the cake. It’s beautifully designed – the concourse is wide, the food selection is bueno (Chickie Fries, anyone?!?), and there isn’t a bad view in the house. Even the team shop is well designed!

Coming into the game, I knew the Phillies were quietly surpassing expectations (mine included) and I was excited at the idea of seeing them potentially sweep the Cleveland Indians! Not only that, but I was really excited to watch Vince Velasquez pitch (since I live in Jersey now, I should probably just call him “Vinny”). This guy has the potential to be a very good starting pitcher, and not only that, but he has some pretty sweet tats up and down his arm. I was also stoked to watch Danny Salazar pitch for Cleveland, since he has been their best pitcher so far this season. It was a pitchers duel the entire game and I loved it.

The fans in Philly really helped make the game special, too. These fans are hard-core sports fans. Even though it was rainy, they didn’t leave early and they stayed focused on the game. They booed their own players, cheered for simple pop flies, and talked intelligently about the game. I’ve always heard that Philly fans across all sports spectrums are ruthless, and I think that’s true. But “ruthless” doesn’t mean “bad” – it just means that they are passionate about their sports teams. It’s a great environment to be in.

In short, I just wanted to say thank you to the Phillies for introducing me to the sports scene in Philadelphia. I’m so excited to get to know the teams better! But, just remember, if my D-Backs or Yankees come to town, I’m rooting for them. I’m prepared to face the wrath of you Phillies fans.

“The Season’s Over!” – Me

Over-reaction Tuesday! My least favorite day of the baseball year!

I really don’t like over-reaction Tuesday because everyone’s fan base is either devastated or so overly confident that I want to smack them in the face. Really. There’s very little grey area in terms of over-reaction, err, reactions.

So, let’s get MY over-reactions out of the way, because everyone has them and I am not immune – don’t judge me!

1) ZACK GREINKE GAVE UP MANY HOME RUNS SO THE SEASON IS OVER

Here was my thought process last night watching the D-Backs game:

  • #GreinkeDay is in full-force! D-BACKS 4EVA
  • Daaaaaaaaaaaaamn Zack! Killin’ it in the first inning! This season is gonna be fiiiire.
  • GREINKE RBI! WE ARE GOING TO GO 162-0 THIS YEAR.
  • Greinke gave up a homer. Oh God. It’s happening again. The D-backs are destroying yet another free agent. Oh God. Oh God. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no no no no no no no.
  • Greinke gave up a double. OH GOD OH GOD.
  • Greinke gave up a second homer. THE SEASON IS OVER AND WE GOING TO GO 0-162 AND BE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE ENTIRE LEAGUE. WHY DOES GOD HATE THE D-BACKS SO MUCH?!
  • Greinke gives up a third homer. *Throws laptop across the room and focuses solely on the NCAA Men’s Championship game. Proceeds to cry softly into my brand new Greinke shirsey* 

2) The Giants and Dodgers will both somehow win the World Series

I mean, both teams were playing really bad teams (the Brewers and the Padres, respectively) and both teams had their ace on the mound (Bumgarner (AKA “Snot-Rocket”, seeing as he pitched with the flu yesterday) and Kershaw). But the Giants offense rolled over the Brewers, hitting back-to-back-to-back homers and the Dodgers shut out the Padres 15-0. Even though it is not technically possible, I remain convinced that both of them will play in the World Series and both will somehow win.

3) Mother Nature will ruin everything we love

Not only did the Yankees and Astros have to postpone their Opening Day game, but so did the Indians and Red Sox. It was raining and icy in NYC and it was snowing in Cleveland. So, yeah, Mother Nature clearly has it out for these four teams. I fully expect every game to be rained/snowed out, so by default the Yankees, Astros, Red Sox, and Indians will all go 0-162.

4) The Cubs will be amazing

This is something we already knew.

5) The Cardinals will actually suck this year

No, they won’t. They just lost the first game of the season. Get a grip, Hannah. *smacks self in the face*

6) Matt Harvey will digress so badly that he will be released by the Mets, be shunned by almost every other team, and be forced to sign with a dumpster fire team at a rock-bottom price. He will then have a career resurgence, yet he will still be unsatisfied, detailing what could have been in a lengthly Player’s Tribune post.

Okay, maybe not. He didn’t pitch awful against Kansas City on Sunday night, but he was not great, either. Is he still off because of his medical issues this spring, or did he just have an off-night in an environment in which is is difficult to pitch? I would NOT want to pitch in KC anyway, let alone in front of the crowd they had rocking and rolling on Sunday. The World Series banner was raised and the Mets were cruelly reminded of their post-season failure. I guess I would not have pitched well if I was Matt Harvey, either.

7) The Rockies will not be a dumpster fire!

Shut up Hannah, yes they will be. Get it together!

8) By the end of the season, Madison Bumgarner’s jersey will be 90% boogers and 10% horse-riding/wood-chopping sweat.

This is actually plausible. He wiped his nose on his jersey so many times on Monday that I truly believe his sleeve was mostly snot by the end of the game. If he keeps that up this year, he will have a uniquely disgusting jersey for the locker room attendants to deal with.

 

So there are a few of my over-reactions from yesterday. I am still licking my wounds from the D-Backs’ shellacking (at the hands of the Rockies, no less!), but at least I have some Yankees baseball to look forward to today. You know, unless Mother Nature rears her ugly head again. Which she probably will. Because she hates me.

2016 Season Picks!!

It’s that time of year again!! Spring Training is almost over (thank God) and it is now the time when sports writers, pundits, and 23-year-old baseball bloggers are making their picks. Last year, I did really really really really bad with my picks. I’m still embarrassed by them (Red Sox winning the AL East?!? What was I thinking?!), so hopefully this year I will do better. Of course, none of these picks will matter because it’s an even year, which means the Giants are going to win the World Series no matter what. Hell, they will probably find some way to win the World Series even if they miss the postseason.

Okay, let’s so this!

AL East: Toronto Blue Jays

I’m going with the Jays because they have a lot of momentum from last year and their line-up is full of assassins who can launch a baseball. The trick will be their rotation, because it will certainly not be the best in the AL East. They lost David Price to free agency, but they have a great young pitcher in Marcus Stroman who is poised for a big year. A lot of people are picking the Red Sox to win the division, but there are too many questions in my mind: What will the rotation look like behind David Price? Will Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez produce like they are supposed to, and those two be sound defensively? The Sox have amazing young talent on their team, but I wonder if they can collectively win games. The Yankees will be good this year, but I don’t think they can out-slug the Jays for the division title. They will be great defensively and I am salivating just thinking about Luis Severino taking the mound every fifth day. Let’s just hope Masahiro Tanaka’s arm doesn’t fall off! And, we cannot forget about the three-headed monster of a shut-down bullpen the Yanks have… As far as the Tampa Bay Rays are concerned, I don’t see them as a huge threat, but this is a team that will absolutely play spoiler. Their ace, Chris Archer, is one of the coolest guys in MLB and definitely someone his team can rally behind. The Orioles are a team I just can’t figure out. Very few free agents went to Baltimore this off-season and they gave Chris Davis a massive contract to stay with the team (which was WAY too big if you ask me). They can hit and they can pitch, but I can’t see them prying the division title away from the Jays, Yankees, or even the Red Sox.

AL Central: Kansas City Royals

Shocker! Nah, not really. The Royals are still the darlings of the American League and that should not change going into 2016. They kept their core group of guys together and the only big losses they took were Even Longoria and Johnny Cueto, the latter of whom did not live up to expectations in KC anyway. They have an emerging ace in Yordano Ventura, and if he can just keep his temper, it will be awesome to watch him this year. The Tigers should be better than last year. Justin Verlander looked great during the last half of 2015 and I expect him to have a more Verlander-y season than he did last year. Their offense is good and they have one of the best players on the planet in Miguel Cabrera, but I don’t think they will be good enough to best the Royals and snatch the division. Another team that is interesting to me is the Cleveland Indians. They have silently built one of the best rotations in baseball, led by Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, and they have a decent line-up. The White Sox may have had the loudest Spring Training, but not for the reasons they would like. After the Adam LaRoche dispute, the Sox clubhouse is clearly not happy with the front office and probably not happy with each other. Will they fracture or unite? They have the talent and an ace pitcher in Chris Sale, so if they can come together, they might have something cooking. Lastly, we have the Twins who were a lot better last year than anyone was really expecting. Can they defy expectations again this year? Sure, why not? They have a bright future in the Twin Cities, but will this year kick start that? I don’t think so, but they proved me wrong last year.

AL West: Texas Rangers

This could really go either way –  the Rangers or the Houston Astros. In my mind, those are the only two teams who have a real shot at winning this division. The Rangers are going to get Yu Darvish back later this year (he was out last year because of the dreaded Tommy John surgery) and they have a stud pitcher in Cole Hammels. They also have the bats to carry them on the days when the pitching wavers. The Astros have so much young talent that it is almost mind-boggling. They made some productive moves in the off-season that will only improve upon everything they accomplished last year. The other three teams in the division just have no viable way to win the division. The Seattle Mariners were the sexy pick last year (for me included!), but they vastly under-whelmed. Yes they have Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez, but that probably won’t be enough to win the division, even though they made a lot of positive moves in the off-season. The Angels are more or less hosed because Mike Trout can’t play all nine positions. They rotation is decent, but not great, and the offense is streaky. They seem to always be in contention until the end of the season, though, so I can’t rule them out 100%. Lastly, you have the Oakland A’s, who also under-performed lasted year. Billy Bean has a way of making things happen in Oakland, but I can’t see them doing as well as the Rangers or Astros. It’s not that these teams are all bad, it’s just that they are nowhere near as complete as the teams from Texas.

NL East: New York Mets

The reason they will win the division is simple: they have Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard in their starting rotation. With those three, plus everyone’s favorite roley-poley pitcher Bartolo Colon, they are going to be hard to play against. If they can hit, they will win the division no problem. Their defense could be a little suspect, but it’s nothing I would worry about. After all, you don’t use the defense much if your pitchers are just striking everyone out. The Washington Nationals are an interesting team because they have more talent than you can shake a bat at, but it just never seems to click. Reining NL MVP Bryce Harper is bring the swagger into baseball and it’s amazing, but will swagger (and many many homeruns) win ballgames? The Marlins big splash this winter was hiring Barry Bonds as a hitting coach, which was f-ing brilliant if you ask me. Hopefully, this team will start to mash and hopefully Giancarlo Stanton can stay healthy all year. They also have Jose Fernandez leading their rotation, so they are sure to be better than last year. Good enough to win the division? No. The Atlanta Braves are still in rebuild-mode, so there is not a ton of reason to be optimistic this season, but we are starting to see their young talent coming to the big leagues and that is really exciting. Plus, the Braves have Nick Swisher, who is basically a one-man bro party. He’s not super helpful to the team most days, but I guess he’s entertaining…The Phillies are gonna Phillie, which in this case means they are playing for fun because they have no real reason to play for a spot in the postseason. I say this with love, though, because my dad lives less than hour from Philly and I have met a lot of sad Phillies fans during my visits. I get it. I can relate to their pain – remember, I’ve been a long-struggling D-Backs fan since I can remember. The struggle is real. It will get better! Just not this year. Sorry Phillies fans.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs

I AM NOT PICKING THE CARDINALS TO WIN THIS DIVISION SURELY THIS MEANS THE END OF TIMES IS NEAR. Nah, the Cubbies are just better this year. I am officially on the Cub Bus because I think they could go to the World Series in 2016. Up and down the roster, the Cubs just have a better team than the Cardinals. Both teams have extraordinary depth, but with the Cubs swiping Jason Heyward and John Lackey from the Cards, the scales tip in their favor. The Cardinals will still use their voodoo magic and find a way to make it to the postseason because that’s just what they do. It’s the Cardinal Way. The Pittsburg Pirates will probably be very good this year, and it’s really unfair that they are in the same division as the always good Cardinals and now the really good Cubs. The Pirates have a solid rotation, good defense, and good offense. They keep drawing the short straw with their division and it’s just not fair. The three aforementioned teams will be very good, but the other two teams in the division will not be good. Those poor Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds! Both teams are in full rebuild-mode and it’s going to be a rough season for the fans (might I recommend Bud Light Lime to sooth your souls?). Both teams have bright futures, but it will take a few years to get there.

NL West: San Francisco Giants

This was the hardest division to pick. Ultimately, I have to go with Giants (UUUGGGHHH) because it’s an even-numbered year and they made some good improvements this past offseason. However, their rotation behind Madison Bumgardner is looking a bit suspect coming out of Spring Training – Jeff Samardjiza is having a horrible spring and coming off a down year with the White Sox, and Johnny Cueto is having some injury concerns. The good news for the Giants is their defense is superb and they have the offense needed to carry them into the postseason. Most people will pick the Dodgers to win the division, which is fair, but I have too many questions about them. Injuries are decimating their rotation and the pitchers they do have, aside from Clayton Kershaw, are iffy. They have amazing talent coming up from the farm, but will it be enough to win the division? The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to be really good this year. Really, really good. Last year, they had one of the best offenses and one of the best defenses, and now this year, they have one of the best rotations. Stealing Zack Greinke from the Dodgers was huge, as was the trade for Shelby Miller. However, I am most excited to watch Patrick Corbin, whose 2014 and half of 2015 was lost to Tommy John. He’s such a dynamic Southpaw who is due for a huge season. The D-Backs also have sweet new uniforms – I like their “home” pants the best because it looks like they’ve been walking through the blood of their enemies. The San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies will probably be awful again. The Padres grand experiment from last year failed miserably and they will still be picking up the pieces from the fallout this year. Colorado is always predictably bad, but fans can always take comfort in their consistency. And they can take comfort in Colorado’s pot, you know, ’cause that’s legal there.

AL Wild Cards: Houston Astros and New York Yankees

I think both of these teams are going to be good this year. The Astros are going to have another great year, no doubt about it. The Yankees are also going to have a good year, so long as their offense isn’t as streaky as it was last year and their rotation stays healthy.

NL Wild Cards: St. Louis Cardinals and Arizona Diamondbacks

I am picking the D-Backs over the Dodgers for this spot because I think the D-Backs are going to defy the odds and have a better season, and I am picking the Cardinals because if I don’t, they will probably use their voodoo on me and something bad will happen. But for real, can you just imagine how great of Wild Card game this would be? Greinke vs. Adam Wainwright…oh yeah. That’s the stuff.

 

So there you have it! My picks for the 2016 season are in and I regret them already.

MLB in Cuba

Sometimes, a baseball game comes along that reminds you of why you love the game so much.

Today, watching the exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban baseball team, reminded me of not just why I love baseball, but why I love sports.

Yes, the baseball game was almost like a prop in a larger political scheme, but let’s not undermine the magnitude of this game. For the first time since 1998, Major League Baseball played a game in Cuba, a country with whom the USA has not had a great relationship (to put it lightly). After the travel ban to Cuba was lifted, MLB made the decision to play a spring training against the Cuban National team.

Sitting side-by-side for the first part of the game was President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Seeing these two leaders laugh and cheer on their country’s respective teams was a sight for sore eyes. Slowly but surely barriers are being broken down and relationships are being mended (and two presidents actually did The Wave). Regardless of your political affiliations, you have to admit that it is pretty cool that Obama got to watch a baseball game in Cuba. Yes, the Cuban government needs to change, and there is understandable trepidation over reaching out to Cuba. I don’t want to get political with this post, because that will just piss people off, but it was encouraging to see these two countries building bridges, even if it was over something as simple as a game of baseball.

Sports are wonderful because they are one of the best ways to unite people. During the Olympics, athletes from all over world are united and the entire world watches. We don’t look at athletes from different countries and think about how much America is supposed to hate them – we marvel at how fast they can run, swim, ski, or skate. In a way, sports bring out the best in humanity because it allows us to bridge the divides in our everyday life. It can be a small gesture, like talking about the Yankees with the man sitting next to you with whom you would never normally speak, or it can be as important as playing a baseball game in Cuba.

No matter what horrific things are happening in the world, no matter what stresses we are facing, no matter how hard life can get, we have sports to momentarily take all of that away. For three hours, fans are united in cheering for their teams, their favorite players, and coming together for a wonderfully unique experience unlike any other.

Man, thank God for sports.