The Great Second-Half Collapses

If I told you in May that the Oakland Athletics would not have clinched the AL West title, that the Atlanta Braves were not going to make the post-season, or that the hot-hot-hot Brewers would be all but forgotten, would you believe me? The answer is no, you probably wouldn’t. Back in May, everyone was picking Oakland to make it to the World Series, myself included. I would’ve guessed that Atlanta would have gotten a Wild Card spot, along with the Brewers. But, alas, this is not going to happen. These three teams have had the most unprecedented collapses this year and everyone is surprised.

Let’s start with Oakland. This is the one team everyone was sure, at the very least, would clinch their division. The talent on this team was undeniable and it’s still there, but something is off. This is not the Oakland team we knew and loved. Yoenis Cespedes is gone, traded to Boston for the still-brilliant Jon Lester and the problems seem to be stemming from that. The offense has been substantially quieter since they traded away their Home Run Derby champ, which has been problematic. Every starting pitcher they have had or have brought in have been fantastic, but the offense can’t get things going. Yes, the A’s are still in the Wild Card hunt, but they need to finish this season on a VERY strong note. Not only that, but they are going to need to win the one-and-done wild-card deciding game. Then, if they make it that far, they will STILL have to play some pretty killer teams. With the Angels meteoric rise to clinch the AL West, the division I had pegged as “weak-ish” at the beginning of the year suddenly became stellar. If the A’s can make it to the ALDS, I think they will be fine. But, then again, I said that last year, too.

Besides the Cardinals, the Braves have been a post-season staple (ok, a NLDS staple since they can’t seem to actually get further than that) for the last number of years. Atlanta is a team that has always been good, and for the first half the year, that held true. But then, the Nationals hog the NL East spotlight. The Nats were the team I picked to win the division because they are the overall best team in baseball, but I could not have foreseen the Braves just crumbling. Their offense has been near last in just about every category you can think of since the All-Star break. This is a team who has so much super-star potential, yet there some serious disconnect happening. Today they fired their GM and more cuts are likely to happen. How crazy is that?

Lastly, the Brewers were a team that surprised us constantly this season. They surprised us early on by being so good and they are surprising us now by scrambling for a Wild Card position. They held the lead in the NL Central for most of the season and looked like the team to the beat in the post-season, but they are currently shadows of their former selves. Their “average” pitching has finally pooped out and they cannot seem to hold leads for very long. If I were them, I would harness the power of Hank the Ballpark Dog. Hell, let Hank pitch! He might do better than some of their current staff, and gosh he is ten-times cuter.

What does all this mean? Well, this gives us some optimism that the Brewers could be quite good next year if they get some pitching. It means the Atlanta is in a time of transition, which could take a few years to figure out. They will always be good, but as long as you have the Nats in your division, good luck. As for Oakland? Well, let’s hope they go far this post-season or people will be second-guessing Billy Beane more than they already are. Remember: the players Beane got are basically rentals. I can’t see Lester staying after this year (Lester! Hey, Lester! You should maybe consider coming to the Bronx. Pretty please? Maybe? Please?) and it is tough to figure out who else will stay. These teams have disappointed plenty during the second half of this season, but I have faith that Oakland will at least make it to the post-season. I hope they do. Oakland still has time to turn it around, but time is something they don’t have much of.

For the Love of Brawls

I love bench-clearing brawls. 

I really do. They are probably one of my favorite things on planet earth and I make no apologies for it. One of my favorite past times is pointing out the stupidity in others and bench-clearing brawls make for some prime target practice. Very rarely have I seen a brawl that did not emerge from something stupid and unavoidable. After today’s skirmish between Carlos Gomez of the Brewers and the Pittsburg Pirates, I figured I should explain why I get so excited when something like this happens. But first, let’s look at some of my favorite brawls (in no particular order):

Dodgers v. Diamondbacks, June 2013: This brawl was insane. Benches cleared twice. TWICE. Multiple fines were issued and the #FreeHinske movement got underway (if you live in AZ, you totally get that reference). After six (SIX!!) hit batters, the dam broke when Ian Kennedy (AZ), plunked Zack Greinke (LA). Cue flying fists and Mark McGwire’s neck vein! This battle didn’t seem to end, no matter how ridiculous it was. People were getting thrown into camera wells, Puig was exploding all over the place, and no “adults” were present. I went to bed too steamed to sleep, which is actually really embarrassing to admit. As it turns out, the brawl was the tipping point for the Dodgers and they went on a tear for the rest of the season. Bum deal, bro.

Brewers v. Braves, 2013: Hark! Carlos Gomez at the heart of another brawl! Gee, I’m sensing a pattern…Anyway, CarGo admired a homer for WAY too long and then proceeded to stare down the pitcher as he trotted around the bases. Braves catcher Brian McCann (who is quickly becoming my new favorite Yankee, BTW), took great exception to that, and by that I mean he never even let CarGo get to home plate. I would not want to run into a McCann-wall. I don’t know anyone who would. Yes, he seems like a super nice guy and a really great ballplayer, but dear God, do not piss him off.

That time Jason Varitek glove-smooshed A-Rod in the Face, 2004: Out of principal, I had to include this. I mean, c’mon. I HAD to (I love A-Rod, I can’t help it: He’s better than the best soap opera and cooler than a cucumber wearing Ray Bans). Let’s face facts: it was a Kodak moment. Literally. I just checked and you can buy a framed photo of the glove-shoving moment on Amazon for $40. Not only that, it was a GREAT fight and cranked up the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry. The rivalry has actually cooled off considerably this year in the small sampling of games I’ve seen. Where’s A-Rod when you need him to spice things up?!?

Here’s the thing: Brawls are usually caused by egos. Duh. If you admire a long home run (or what you perceive to be one), you should expect to get some jawing from the pitcher. Don’t get all butt-hurt when he starts chirping at you! If you don’t want chirping, don’t grandstand. I mean, seriously. Get with the program.

So what if the brawl is caused by getting hit by pitches? Well, the unwritten rule of the game is that the team who did not get hit receives a “free plunk”. Basically, you hit my batter, I get to hit yours. There. Even Steven. All balance is restored and the only thing that happens is the benches get warned. When it escalates from there, that’s when you have a problem. Hitting batters isn’t always avoidable, but anytime there is a whiff of purposeful plunking, watch out. Don’t retaliate after your one allotted revenge hit.

There are plenty more reasons why brawls start, but I would say 97.32% of brawls are totally avoidable. Brawls are bad for baseball! I know, I love them, but I love the game more. Baseball is a gentleman’s game, not a hockey game. Mind your manners. Remember, the person who just gave up a homer to you is feeling pretty crappy, so don’t make it worse. And if you do make it worse, don’t be surprised when they let you know.  

Yes, I will enjoy watching fights when they happen, but I never root for them to occur. I’ll take a civil game over a brawl any day.

Unless A-Rod is involved. All bets are off when A-Rod is involved, and I mean that in a totally good way. Love ya, Alex… 

 

More Spring Training Shenanigans!

There is so much to talk about!

For my purposes, I’m only gonna talk about some of the stuff I’ve seen, mostly because I do not feel like writing a novel at this point in time. Short and sweet, right? Let’s do this…

Ryan Braun: With more than everything to prove, Braun has come back swinging. Literally. The dude is batting about .800 in his spring training games so far and that is pretty spectacular. The Brewers really REALLY need him to produce this year so they can have a top-notch offense. If spring training is any indication, they should not be worried. Yeah, he’s been booed copious amounts, but those boos are starting to go away. If he can prove that he is just as good without the juice, he’s golden and can be mostly forgiven. Okay, I have forgiven him, but not everyone might. 

Yankees late game issues: Well, the Yankees’ offense is having no troubles early on in the games. In most of the games I have seen, they take the lead early and keep it that way until about the fifth or sixth inning. That’s when it gets sticky. I know, I know, the rookies and minor-leaguers are coming into the games around this time and that’s probably why, but it begs the question. Not sure what the question is, but it needs begging. 

OriolesNow here is a team with the potential to be awesome. Potentially. See, here’s the thing: they look really good on paper and the stats of the individual players are pretty good, but they got stuck in the hardest division in baseball. Because of this, I wouldn’t count on a post-season run, but who knows. Maybe they will hard-core tap into their potential. Potentially.

Detroit: Good news, Tiger fans! Max Scherzer still looks sharp this spring! Woohoo! Honestly, this team will probably make it into the post season again. It’s just their thing right now. And let’s face it: people like this team, if only because you really want to see them win for their city’s sake. If my teams don’t make it into the postseason, I will most definitely be rooting for the tigers, even if Justin Verlander is still dating that silly girl…Who is about my age…Life is so not fair. Wait, where was I?

Once I get a chance to watch more, I will probably write some more. Or not. It will be spring break soon. The beach + a pina colada + a good book = my kind of vacation.