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.

Shock the World, Arizona

About 24 hours ago, it was seemingly a two-team race to sign the most coveted prize on the free-agent market: Zack Greinke. The Los Angeles Dodgers were the favorite to re-sign their right-handed ace and keep the knock-out 1-2 punch of him and fellow (multiple) Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. There were also talks in San Francisco that the Giants were trying to sign the ace. The two NL West powerhouse teams were battling over Greinke and no one was surprised.

Then the Arizona Diamondbacks came in and shocked the world.

As first reported by Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal, the D-Backs were offering Zack Greinke a monster deal to come pitch in the desert. Just how monster? Well, Greinke is going to make $206.5 million dollars over the next six years, which can pay for: my college loan debt 14,750 times, 1,894,495 Zack Greinke jerseys, 8,641 2016 Ford Mustangs, and 24,294,117 churro dogs.

But why would he want to sign with the D-Backs? After all, they have been viewed as one of the three doormats of the NL West, along with the San Diego Padres and the Colorado Rockies. Perhaps it was the lure of the fresh new uniforms the D-backs rolled out a few days ago. Perhaps it was the lure of being able to eat a churro dog anytime he wants.

Or, perhaps, he sees what a great team the Diamondbacks are becoming.

In 2015, the D-backs ranked in the top eight in the majors in runs, slugging percentage, OBP, stolen bases, and extra-base hits (thanks to ESPN.com for the stats). In the National League, only the Rockies scored more runs. ESPN’s Aaron Boone commented last night that the D-Backs defense is on-par with the Kansas City Royals, which is a big compliment. Truly, the weak area of the team was the rotation. They did not have a number one pitcher, or number two for that matter. Adding Greinke gives the D-Backs a lot of reassurance in their rotation.

Of course, getting paid $206.5 million dollars doesn’t hurt either.

It’s kind of a surprising move for the D-Backs to offer such a high contract. They were not a team known for breaking the bank for any reason. But, signs that they were wanting to spend big money came along a few days ago when they supposedly offered free-agent Johnny Cueto a 6-year $120 million deal, which he ultimately turned down. This is a team that, for most of its young existence, has done a great job of relying on their own player development to get the job done. The problem, though, is that for the last three or so years, the players in their farm system were not ready for the big leagues until this past year. 2015 was a special year for the D-Backs because they got to see how good their farm system was. The position players were trickling into the locker room and making a big impact. With several top-ranked pitching prospects on the cusp of being big-league ready, the D-Backs are looking good for years to come. Over the last few years, they have also been shedding pay roll so they could financially make a big move like this. Now, armed with a new 20-year TV deal worth nearly $2 billion dollars, this small-market team is sending a strong message: our time to win is now and we will spend money to make that happen.

Aside from vaulting the team into the post-season conversation, the signing of Zack Greinke does so much more. This signing sends a jolt through the fan-base, showing them that sticking with the team through the lean years and the continuous rebuilding could be well worth their recent suffering. When I got that news alert on my phone last night, I got chills. I was sure I might throw up from excitement. I also began to wonder how long it will be before I can buy a Greinke shirsey. Now, maybe Chase Field will start filling up again. Now, maybe more free agents will want to sign in Arizona. As a D-Backs fan and native Arizonan, I would find myself frustrated with the constant “rebuilding” process and I questioned why the D-Backs operated with such financial frugality, even though they had money to spend. The last few years have been tough, but signings like this make me feel optimistic. That feeling I had last night was a feeling I haven’t felt about the D-Backs in a long time.

I finally felt tangible optimism.

Sure, I’ve been optimistic about this team before, but this is different. This is a feeling that the organization as a whole is turning a corner and that the next few years are going to be really fun to watch.Will they regret his contract five so or years down the road? Probably. I’ve said before it’s stupid to give pitchers over thirty more than a five year deal, but I am a post-season craving D-Backs fan. I’ll deal with it.

So, pending a physical, Zack Greinke will be a Diamondback and I can’t wait.

*****

FYI, Buster Olney of ESPN gave a pretty interesting take on LA’s position in his Insiders column today. Here’s a snippet since not everyone pays for a subscription to the Insiders columns…

“…what is odd about the Dodgers’ parting with Greinke is that, besides their monster deal with Clayton Kershaw, they don’t owe a lot of money to other players beyond 2017. In 2018, they’re on the hook for about $42 million, toAdrian Gonzalez, Yasiel Puig and Brandon McCarthy, and in 2017, they’re set to be in the last season of deals with Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Alex Guerrero.

The Dodgers, however, would not give Greinke a sixth year in their offer, sticking to a reported $155 million over five years, and when the details of the Arizona deferrals are completed, it could turn out to be that they were outbid by about $35 million to $40 million by a division rival.

The Dodgers’ front office has signaled for weeks that it wanted to go young, but now the Dodgers have to live out that vision, which will be difficult. George Steinbrenner’s Yankees learned three decades ago that a team cannot be the financial bully in the room, with fans expecting an annual shot at championship, and step away from the table for a year or two at a time. Any rebuilding effort must be made on the fly, in concert with an effort to win, and that is the challenge.

And while you can debate the merits of a giving a 32-year-old pitcher a sixth year on top of a five-year offer and walking away from a deal over the difference of $30 million, there is no debating this: Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw propped up the Dodgers last year. When either of those pitchers started, L.A. was 43-22, and when anybody else started, they were 49-48.

The Dodgers might sign a cheaper alternative to Greinke, someone like Johnny Cueto or Scott Kazmir, but now the pressure on Kershaw will be even greater, and the same will be true for first-year manager and front man Dave Roberts, whose coaching staff was already in place when he was hired. They will be the first to feel the brunt of the fans’ frustration if the Dodgers drift backward in the standings and fall behind the Diamondbacks and Giants.

But that unhappiness would trickle upward, quickly, and the politics of failure would manifest, with a course change inevitable, despite the best-laid plans of December 2015. Former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington knows all about that.

A storied franchise sold for $2 billion just lost one of the three best pitchers in baseball over the sake of $30 million or so five years from now.” 

espn.go.com/blog/buster-olney/insider/post?id=11788

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball is Over and I am Sad

We have officially entered the saddest, most horrible part of the year.

The off-season.

If you are anything like me, you are probably in serious baseball withdrawals. I mean, I went from watching 2-3 games a day to watching none and I honestly have no idea how to fill my time. What am I supposed to do now, watch basketball? I only care about basketball during the playoffs or when the local team wins so I can get half-price pizza from Papa Johns. Anyway, I would like to talk about the World Series. I’m a week late, I know, but I’ve been busy nursing a sick cat back to health and sulking through a two-week long rainstorm. Neither one of those are made up excuses. Sadly.

Okay, first of all, I am sooooooooooo happy the Mets and the Royals were the two teams in the World Series. It was weird not having the Cardinals or the Giants as a major player, but if we are being honest, I was glad they were not there. It was nice to see some fresh teams coming out of the National League! BTW, how amazing was it to see the Cubbies in the postseason? For the first time a while, I had no rooting interest in what team won the World Series. I would have loved the outcome either way.

Even though it only went five games, this was one of the more entertaining World Series I have seen in quite some time. It was dramatic, energetic, unpredictable, and fun. The crowds at Citi Field and at the K were incredible. The pitching was incredible. The offense was incredible. And, even more than that, the story lines in this World Series were incredible:

  • Daniel Murphy going from en fuego in the NLCS to el cabra (a goat. And yes, I did Google translate that) in the WS
  • Matt Harvey pitching like the hero NYC deserved in Game 5, but pitching long enough to see himself become the villain
  • Eric Hosmer half-stealing home plate in Game 5, after the Royals came up 90 ft short in Game 7 last year
  • Edinson Volquez pitching, unaware of his father’s death, then pitching a gem in Game 5

And that’s not even all of them! Also, can we just talk about how the Royals scored most of their runs late in games? Like, they are the biggest procrastinators ever. Well, either that, or the Mets have a really sucky bullpen.

This series had everything we as baseball fans love and adore. Actually, the entire postseason was one of the best I can remember. The drama was there. The high caliber of play was there. The passion was there. The underdogs were there. The fallen giants were there.

Looking back and reflecting on all of it, I gotta say, we were very spoiled with the 2015 postseason. It was magical, plain and simple. I can only hope that 2016 will give us another amazing season!

But, for now, I will have to settle for watching football and hoping that A-Rod tweets more so I can get my Bae-Rod fix until Spring Training.

…and in Other News, the Sky is Blue

Today on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, it was revealed that they had obtained notebooks alleging that Pete Rose, baseball’s all-time hits leader and recipient of a lifetime ban, was betting on baseball games while he was still a player in 1986. Yeah, Rose bet on baseball, grass is green, and I should work out more. All of the above are facts that no one is disputing. Rose has long denied that he never bet on games while he was playing, only managing, but these notebooks are saying otherwise. Is anyone surprised?

I’m not surprised. I’m over it.

Really. Call me ignorant or flippant, whatever you want, but I really don’t care. Is that bad? Is it bad that I don’t view betting on baseball as a terribly egregious offense? Rule 21, which reads “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible”, is why Rose is banned from baseball. Yeah, Rose really shouldn’t have done this, but he didn’t fix the World Series, like the Chicago White Sox did in 1919. And, as far as we know, he never bet on his team to lose, therefore showing that he would never try to throw away a game for the sake of winning money.

I think one thing that has formed my thinking about this is that I grew up the steroid era of Major League Baseball. I watched in awe as sluggers like Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire hit baseballs with little regard. I saw the competitive advantages players have gotten through PEDs. To me, those are far more damaging offenses than betting on baseball. I know what you’re thinking, “But Hannah! You love Alex Rodriguez! How can you say this?”. True, I love that man, but I don’t love that he cheated. I stand up for Bae-Rod because I was disgusted with how MLB treated him and the tactics they had used. But, my feelings about PEDs are a whole other blogpost waiting to happen…

Look, gambling has not been a problem for baseball BECAUSE of Pete Rose’s lifetime ban. We really haven’t seen any betting from anyone since MLB brought the hammer down on Rose. Really, Rose has done MLB a great service. But, now that we are no longer seeing gambling happening, does anyone really care about what Pete Rose did 30 years ago? This news OTL broke today didn’t really phase me. Watching Monday Night Baseball on ESPN, former player/current broadcaster Mark Mulder shared similar sentiments that I feel: he’s over the whole gambling thing and views PEDs as a much bigger problem. Coming from a former player, that says a lot. Besides, people like Pete Rose. They respect how he played the game and they recognize how big of an ambassador he has been for the game. It’s been a joy watching him as an analyst on Fox and it’s been great to see him continue to contribute to and promote the sport he is banned from.

With the 2015 All-Star Game being held in Cincinnati, I was really hoping that MLB was going to be able to let Pete Rose participate in some capacity. As a player who meant so much to his team, to Cincinnati, heck, to the whole sport, it’s a shame that he probably will have to watch the game and festivities from his couch. As a fan of baseball, that sucks. I’m over everyone talking about Rose through the lens of his punishment. Can we please talk about the great player that he was and the great ambassador he is currently?

Let’s move past 1986 and let’s start tackling the problems affecting baseball today. Like PEDs. Or the lack of Yankee mustaches. Or still having SEVEN Royals starting the All-Star game.

http://espn.go.com/espn/otl/story/_/id/13114874/notebook-obtained-lines-shows-pete-rose-bet-baseball-player-1986

A Royal Issue with the 2015 AL All-Star Voting

If the MLB All-Star game were to be played today, it would be the NL vs. the Kansas City Royals plus Mike Trout. Yup. I’m not kidding at all, isn’t that crazy?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Royals and how spunky they are. They are a super fun team to watch (and a super fun team to sweep! Sorry…the Yankee fan in me had to inject that in there!) and I like how they play the game (you know, when they aren’t starting brawls). Really, I’m not doggin’ the Royals at all. After all, I was rooting so hard for them in the post-season last year that I thought my hair would turn blue.

However, I have a problem with them basically all starting in the All-Star game. Some of them do deserve to start to game, but not all of them. C’mon. Really? I get that the All-Star is basically one big popularity contest, but this is also the game decides home field advantage in the World Series! With such an important factor in the World Series being decided, wouldn’t you want your best team on the field? Wouldn’t you want to showcase the best players in baseball by putting them in the starting line-up? Let’s go position-by-position and see who is playing on the AL team and who SHOULD be playing:

Catcher: 

Starting: Salvador Perez

Should be starting: Salvador Perez. This is one position where I think all the voters have it right. He is probably the best catcher in the American League, and he has been great offensively, too. Good job, voters!

First Base:

Starting: Eric Hosmer

Should be starting: Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder. At this tally, Cabrera is about 470,000 votes behind Hosmer, so he is within striking distance. BUT COME ON! Hosmer is a great player and super talented, but you want him over Miggy? Puh-lease.

Second Base:

Starting: Omar Infante

Should be starting: Jose Altuve or Jason Kipnis. Okay, this one really has me scratching my head because Infante is basically the most useless second baseman in the AL. He doesn’t have a single home run and his production has gone way down this year. Altuve, my pint-sized favorite second baseman is far more deserving, as is Kipnis, who has quietly been one of the best second basemen in the AL.

Third Base:

Starting: Mike Moustakas

Should be starting: Josh Donaldson. The Blue Jays’ Donaldson is having a great year at third base and is more deserving than Moose. He’s currently hitting .315 and major league best 52 runs scored. He also has 17 homers to Moose’s 5. I’d start Moose behind him, though, so the voting at this position hasn’t been a total travesty.

Shortstop: 

Starting: Alcides Escobar

Should be starting: Jose Iglesias. Escobar may be the slicker shortstop, but Iglesias is the better all around player and far more deserving. He is batting .335 and has racked up 59 hits, and Escobar is hitting about .255.

Outfield:

Starting: Lorenzo Cain, Mike Trout, and Alex Gordon.

Should be Starting: Mike Trout, Adam Jones, and Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain. Trout starting the game doesn’t even warrant an explanation, but I am wondering why Adam Jones isn’t higher up in the voting than the #5 spot. His offense has been great with 72 hits, 33 RBIs, and a .305 BA. Not only that, but he seems to be a Web Gem contender nightly. I agree that one of the Royals should be in the outfield, but only one. Y’all can pick. But only pick one. I mean it, guys.

DH:

Starting: Kendrys Morales

Should be starting: Nelson Cruz. I’m sorry, the AL home run leader isn’t your DH? WTF? Cruz is batting .323, has 18 homers (while playing at the spacious Safeco Field to boot), and has a .591 slugging percentage. Morales has been pretty good this year, too, but he is batting .281 with 7 homers and SLG of .457. No matter how hard I am trying, my pinstripe-clad home-slice Alex Rodriguez will probably not be in the All-Star game. For shame, voters, for shame.

See my problem here? I am trying to understand how this is possible. I’m super stoked that the people in KC are voting and excited about baseball, but this is a little silly, don’t’cha think? Now this updated list released by MLB earlier today is just an update and not final, so there is plenty of time for people to vote in the BEST players. So far, the NL is actually looking pretty on par, so the AL voters need to get it together.

Stop being silly. Vote for the best players! Also, vote for A-Rod. This All-Star game needs some Rod action, for real.

One, two, three strikes, you’re ejected.

I don’t know about you, but I have been noticing an interesting trend occurring in baseball this year. More and more players and managers are complaining about the strike zones. And, subsequently, more and more players and managers are getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

Last night, during a game against the Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins outfielder Torii Hunter had a magnificent ejection after arguing balls are strikes. Watching the video, it’s pretty funny. Not only is he yelling, but he strips off his jersey, gloves, and pads and throws them across the field. It’s quite a spectacle considering how mild-mannered Hunter usually is. Because he is so mild-mannered, that’s what makes his ejection so interesting and makes the issue of balls and strikes more pressing. If calm players like Hunter are getting worked up, maybe the problem is bigger than we realize.

A few days ago, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia, another usually cool and calm player, got ejected for the same thing. He was upset because the Yankees batters kept getting rung up on a low pitch, but the Angels were not. He was ejected after jawing with the ump and his manager Joe Girardi was also tossed (after completing what might be the smoothest jump over a dugout railing I have ever seen). It’s quite a sight to see. And, in an earlier series against the Mariners, their manager Lloyd McClendon was ejected after defending his catcher, who thought my homie A-Rod took a checked-swing a little too far. A-Rod was awarded first base instead of getting called out on strikes. McClendon got his money’s worth, though. And even the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday was ejected for arguing pitches.

One thing I have noticed is that players are becoming more aware of the strike zone and the inconsistencies that go along with it. If I had to guess, it’s probably because of all the video that is available to players now. Every single pitch can be looked at and every single call can be questioned. With replay now in effect, you can review almost any call…except balls and strikes. I agree with this because can you imagine how ridiculous it would be having to pause the game every time a player disagreed with a call?

Not only can you review video after the games, but a lot of the TV broadcasts are now showing the strike zones during the broadcast. You can see exactly where the ball hit in the strike zone. Of course, it’s the networks that create the strike zone, but it’s still a good way to gauge consistency in the umpire’s calls. It’s a situation that needs to be resolved, but that’s tricky thing to do. I have a feeling new commissioner Rob Manfred will take a look at this, since he has proven to be a man who will take action on issues quickly.

I don’t know how we can change the strike zone since we have so many different umpires, but I do think we can work on consistency throughout the game. If you’re going to call a low pitch a strike, call it that throughout the whole game. If you’re going to have a wide strike zone, keep it wide. It’s hard being an umpire behind the dish, but making small improvements like this during the game could be really beneficial.

Overreaction Tuesday…err…week.

How would you feel if I told you the Yankees were 1-4, the Rockies were 4-0, the Braves were 5-0, and the Pirates were 1-4? It would probably surprise you and if you are a fan of those teams, you are probably freaking out a little bit. Or a lot. I’m freaking out a lot. As a Yankees fan, I am totally losing my marbles over the team’s horrible start, even though I have no need to. “It is not the time to panic,” Bae-Rod reminds me. Okay, if Alex Rodriguez tells me not to panic, I’m still probably going to panic anyway, even though I have no need to.

Welcome to Overreaction Week, the week where everyone assumes their team should just give up on the season or that their team will win the World Series. It’s a stressful week for the former because no one wants to see their team spinning out of control at any point during the season. But really, how am I supposed to react when my team’s best player is A-Rod?? Take a deep breath and remember that there are still 157 games left on the season. Cool, I feel a little better, but not really.

Sometimes, it takes a little bit for teams to start clicking and for nature to take order once again. I mean, c’mon, at the rate this is going A-Rod will be the AL MVP and the Rockies will be duking it out with the Braves for a World Series spot against the Royals. Does ANY of that seem plausible? Except for the Royals, not at all. Natural order will take place once again, but we have to give it a few weeks, even a few months for teams to get their stuff together. In the mean time, fans can freak out all they want but it won’t change anything.

So, to all the broadcasters out there: STOP SAYING TEAMS ARE IN THE CRAPPER FIVE GAMES IN. I’m looking at you Joe Buck, Harold Reynolds, and Tom Verducci. You guys called the Yanks/Sox game earlier today and it was a 3-hour Yankees bash-fest. Stop it. It’s been five games. Calm down. Yes, my pinstriped boys are not great right now, but for crying out loud! Don’t say they suck until a little further in the season. If it’s the end of June and they still suck eggs, then we’ll talk.

And to all the fans: CHILL-AX. We have a nice, long season ahead of us, so let’s not freak out yet. Baseball is a funny sport and we should let it take its course before we lose our minds.

As Bae-Rod says, “It is not the time to panic”.