Damn my team sucks!

So it’s the fourth week of fantasy baseball and I’m losing – AGAIN!  apparently it’s 7-run week for my pitchers – every single one that has thrown so far has given up 7 runs!  Aghhh!  Last year I helped a friend move from dead last in week 11 to 2nd place and eventually into the championship game – so I know there’s still hope…but this is frustrating!

It started with a not-so-good draft.  It was entirely my fault, but I also blame a shortage of time – as I was told that I was being allowed into the league only a couple of weeks before the draft.  (And I was on vacation for almost a week of that time.)  Of course I ran out and picked up a couple of fantasy baseball magazines – and started checking out the scoop on sleepers, potential comebackers, overrated and underrated players, etc.  I somehow forgot about those veteran guys who have already proven themselves to be solid and, in many cases, have become household names.  Mostly I got wrapped up in rookies with tons of potential – ie. Pedro Alvarez, Corey Luebke, Madison Bumgarner, and the underrated guys who could surprise everyone – ie. Angel Pagan, Mike Pelfrey, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  Unfortunately – none of these guys panned out – AT ALL – and so none of them remain on my team today.

In all reality – I should have done more research and snagged just a few of these guys as fillers and back-ups, instead of stacking my roster full of them, but, well, hindsight is 20/20.  And it’s not like I drafted them in the first few rounds or anything.  Actually – my early rounders are worse if you can believe that.  Since they have proven pasts I’ve talked myself off of several ledges, where I’d have dropped them – not myself, and decided to stick with them a little longer.

My top 3 picks were A. Gonzalez/BOS, M. Kemp/LAD, and Ian Kinsler/TEX.   Gonzalez and Kinsler are a combined 44/175 – a batting average of .251 – with 23 walks and 27 strike outs.  They’re struggling, at best – Gonzalez has only hit 1 homer in 93 at-bats for crying out loud!  Being in a contract year is historically good for players – they tend to have stellar years so they can get the big bucks at the end, but seeing as he just signed a gazillion dollar contract extension I don’t think he’s too worried about showcasing his potential net worth.  All I can say is THANK GOD FOR MATT KEMP!  He is my glimmer of hope on an otherwise dismal team.  He’s cooled off a bit from his incredible start where over the first dozen or so games he was batting somewhere around .999 and stole like 26 bases!  (Ok – maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but he did get off to a ridiculous start and I’m ever so grateful.)

Sooooo, I’ve been searching the free agency pool – and honestly – I’ve just been picking up and dropping players left and right.  In fact I’ve actually circled around and added back some of the players that I originally drafted, had no patience for as they slumped, and dropped in the second week.  Now that their performances have leveled – I’ve taken them back.  What’s really driving me crazy – is I’ll pick up a pitcher who has had a few stellar starts, is maybe 3-0 with an ERA around 2.50, and once I put him in he’ll go out and give up 7 runs in 2.1 innings.  SEVEN RUNS!  I’ve had 4 pitchers in 3 days give up SEVEN RUNS!  EACH!!!


Seriously – if you’re reading this please send good vibes my way.  I’m currently in 11th place out of 12 – and sinking.  Maybe I can hire Vladimir Shpunt, the Russian “healer” that former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt paid to send positive energy to the team during the 2008 playoffs, although I believe he charges upwards of 6-figures.  )Hmmmm…and you wonder how their finances are in such shambles.  But that’s a whole other blog for another day.)  For now – I just need my boys to step it up – BIGTIME!  Good grief!


Brandon Phillips is a good sport

In St. Louis (or at least in Busch Stadium) Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips is public enemy number one.  Last Aug – as many of you remember – Phillips was quoted by the media saying some not-so-nice things about the Cardinals.  It was printed on the first day of a 3 game series between the two teams at Great American Ballpark.

“I’d play against these guys with one leg. We have to beat these guys. I hate the Cardinals. All they do is bitch and moan about everything, all of them, they’re little bitches, all of  ’em. I really hate the Cardinals. Compared to the Cardinals, I love the Chicago Cubs. Let me make this clear: I hate the Cardinals.”

The Cards chose higher ground, and took the field to play as if nothing had happened.  That is, until Phillips stirred the pot.  In his first at bat of the 2nd game, he gave catcher Yadier Molina a ‘love tap’ with his bat.  Yadi was not happy and words were exchanged.  Before you know it, benches cleared, bullpens emptied and a full out brawl was underway.

A local tee-shirt company in St. Louis called Rina Wear, known for their comical and sometimes not-so-nice verbiage, made a shirt I couldn’t resist.  It has the Reds logo with Phillips’ name in it, and underneath it said “St. Louis’ Bitch”.  I folded it to hide the bottom half, and was able to get Phillips to sign it.  He never saw what it really said, but I rather enjoyed it.  (I was even offered $100 for my shirt later that night)

This year – Phillips gave me more to work with.  When he got to St. Louis he tweeted that his teammates were asking him about a good place to eat here.  He told them he’d take them to the store to get lunchables.  (I gotta say – this guy is kinda funny)  Sunday during batting practice (wearing my signed, anti-Phillip’s shirt but folding my arms to hide the bottom) I called him over, showing him that I had a gift for him.  He came out – then doubled back to grab one of his bats – and walked right to me.  We exchanged his bat for the red and black gift bag I had put together earlier in the day, and my mom took this pic.  He seemed excited to be receiving a gift; he even asked me for a hug.

I wasn’t expecting the bat – and I actually felt a little bad as he walked off into the clubhouse having not yet opened his gift.  I’m sure when he did – finding a lunchable inside – he got a good laugh out of it.  I also slid a picture of my shirt in the bag – with a note thanking him for signing it!  He must have been thinking “Damn!  That bitch got me TWICE!”  (The next time CIN came to STL, he did come out to sign my bat, so he couldn’t have been too mad lol.)

Brandon Phillips – I hope you enjoyed your fine complimentary dinner last night.  Thanks for the bat, and thanks for being a good sport!

12 wins to be World Champs?

Every April (or very, very late March) 30 teams embark on a journey with high hopes of being one of only 8 of those teams to stretch their season beyond 162 games.  To be exact – they want to win 11 more.  That’s how many playoff wins it takes to win it all: 3 wins in the best of 5 Division Series + 4 wins in the best of 7 League Series + 4 wins in the best of 7 World Series = 11 playoff wins; aka a World Series Championship Title.  But that could all be changing for the 2012 season and beyond.

Bud Selig has been exploring the idea of expanding the  playoff teams from 8 to 10 for some time, and it looks as though it’s going to happen.  The current format is this:  The first place team from each division and two wild card teams – the team with the best record of all the remaining teams in each league.  The new format moves to 10 teams by allowing TWO wild card teams to qualify from each league and having them play each other in a new wild card round to determine who moves on.  The playoffs would then continue with the LDS, LCS and WS remaining as is.

The details of the wild card round are undecided as of now.  The players want a 3 game series but the owners prefer a 1 game play-in.  The latter means that the four wild card teams will have their playoffs decided by only 9 innings.  No player wants that.  Now a 3 game series means that you have to make room for that many additional games in an already tight schedule – without running a potential WS game 7 into November.  No one wants to shorten the 162 game season, and players are opposed to a handful of scheduled double headers each year.  It also means that the 6 division champions teams will have to spend 4 or 5 or even 6 days sitting around waiting to get started, which can be detrimental to momentum, not to mention – these guys are gonna get impatient!  That 1 game play-in is starting to sound a little better huh?

So we know which side the owners will be on and which side the Players Association is taking…so what about the fans?  Tell me what you think!

Does anyone actually understand balks?

A balk is a funny thing.  It doesn’t happen too often and when it does it often leaves fans – and sometimes even players, managers and umps – confused.  This season we have already seen several balks, the most notably from Justin Verlander.  His balk was incredibly unusual and it took both teams’ coaches and all 4 umps to figure it out!  He was going to throw to first base but didnt turn his body enough, so in hopes of slipping his mistake past the umps, he lobbed it towards home, bouncing it and hitting the batter.

The batter went to first base assuming he’d been “hit-by-pitch”.  Unfortunately for him it was (after several lengthy on field conversations) ruled a balk – meaning the ball is dead, the pitch is neither ball nor strike, the at bat continues, and any base runners advance one base.  (Last year I believe there was a bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, tie-game balk….aka a “walk-off balk”)  At any rate, a balk can even be ignored if there are no runners, because calling the balk effects nothing and no one.

So what makes a balk a balk?  Well outside of the guys on Baseball Tonight and a collaboration of umpires on any given diamond….I’m guessing no one really knows.  It has something to do with the specific motions a pitcher can and cannot make before he commits to throw either to home plate or to a base.  Check out the wikipedia on balks – every last confusing detail is there.  And if you can manage to make sense of it all, do you think you can explain it to me?

Rick’s still got love for the Lou

Cardinals fans know the story and know it well.  It’s the Cinderella story of one-time pitching phenom turned center fielder and hitting phenom Rick Ankiel.  Eleven years ago the 21 year old rookie left hander came to the Major Leagues and won 11 games as a starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, helping the team into the playoffs.  But the pressure of October baseball, or perhaps being the Game 1 starter, proved to be too much to handle as he sailed wild pitch after wild pitch to the backstop.  He was sent back to the minor leagues to try and work out his problems in hopes that he could one day return to the stellar form of an ace in the making.

Now when a young pitcher is trying to get signed, he typically throws a few sessions for management to show them what he’s got.  But after Ankiel showcased his talents from the mound – he refused to let the decision makers leave until they also watched him hit.  Wait – that’s right.  He made them watch him – a pitching prospect – hit.  This kid knew he could hit and wanted to make sure they knew it, too.

After spending several years in the minors, unsuccessfully able to recover from his pitching meltdown, he decided to give up.  He made a decision to walk away from what he thought was his best God-given talent – the ability to pitch a breaking ball that drops off a shelf and win games for his team by dominating from the mound.  Though he was done with pitching, he wasn’t done with baseball.  He spent 2-1/2 more years in the minors – this time working on his hitting and fielding skills – so he could try to make it back to the show as an outfielder.  Throughout all of this – he remained in the Cardinals organization, a club that refused to give up on him.  Eventually he did make it back, and he even hit a home run in his Major League Re-debut in front of a packed Busch Stadium.  I was there, and it truly was a touching moment.  (Even Tony LaRussa, who is rarely seen smiling, was grinning ear to ear as Ankiel made his trot around the bases.)

Rick is now a member of the Washington Nationals, who are currently in town to play the Cardinals.  To show his deep appreciation for the fans of St. Louis and how much their willingness to stand by him meant as he worked his way back, he took out a half page add in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The quote reads:

“Many Thanks to Cardinals’ fans and the City of St. Louis for your support and cheers over the years.  It was a privilege and an honor.” 

Ankiel may not wear a Cardinal uniform anymore and he may sit in the 3rd base dugout now when he plays at Busch Stadium, but I have a feeling that in reference to his baseball career – he considers St. Louis to be his home.  We raised him, broke him down and built him back up, all the while refusing to give up on him, just as he refused to give up on baseball.

Rick – I think I speak for Cardinal fans everywhere when I say congratulations and good luck to you – even when your playing against us.

Is it still considered “early”?

On my fantasy team I have Adrian Gonzalez, BOS as my primary first baseman and Ian Kinsler, TEX at second.  I drafted them both early, really early, and they are absolutely KILLING ME.  Kinsler started off decent in his first few games but has been atrocious since.  Gonzalez, well I think he just never got started (and yet has somehow been declining).  There are guys in the free agency who are playing way better than these 2 and could be earning me way more points.  I know it’s still early but it’s not that early.  So my question is this – At what point do I give up on these guys?

A baseball season is a funny thing.  In other sports like football a couple games can make or break your season.  You can have a run of luck – good or bad – and that will determine if you schedule playoffs or tee times.  But in baseball you can start slow, struggle, slump – and still manage to come out on top.  Why?  Because the season consists of 162 games and winning 90 or so of those is usually enough.  Baseball is more about endurance and consistency.  Luck might win a game or 2, but it won’t win a season.  So what can the first dozen or so games really say about a team’s or player’s ability?  Unfortunately…not much.  You have to wait it out a bit longer to see.

Baseball can often get started uncharacteristically.  Great teams will lose and terrible teams will win.  Gazillion dollar sluggers will go 0-for and gold glovers will make errors.  Guys you’ve never heard of before will clobber the ball and show up on web gems.  The first couple weeks is always fun, watching the oddities unfold and slowly shape into more realistic outcomes.  But sometimes these unusual situations linger, making you wonder if it’s a fluke start or if a particular team or player is going to maintain this level of play.

Look at Boston.  Before Opening day – many had picked them to go to the world series this year – some even to win it.  Yet they have been creeping around in baseball’s cellar from day one.  Their starting pitching is miserable.  They score runs – more than 4 per game on average, they just keep offering up meatballs at the dish and letting the other team score more.  And there isn’t much sign of improvement.  (Which keeps me wondering how Gonzalez is going to heat up with no real sparks around him)

How about those Royals?  They tore out of the gate and have been playing their hearts out and are currently 5 games over .500.  Sitting just above them atop the AL Central is – the Indians?  And they’re doing it without 2 of their best guys!

The best team in all of baseball right now isn’t as much of a surprise – it’s the Colorado Rockies.  We knew they’d be good, but they’re rolling like a well oiled machine.  Troy Tulowitzki is ridiculous right now, and with 7 home runs already he’s on pace to hit 75!  DAANNMMM!  I’m curious to see how long they can stay afloat up there in the #1 spot! 

Now – about my Cardinals.  Sheesh.  We struggled at first but just finished up a 10 game road trip where we went 6-4, which is pretty good.  But it could have been much better if we hadn’t blown 3 saves (4 total on the season).  All of them came from the arm of the now former closer, Ryan Franklin.  YIKES.  Honestly – I feel sorry for the guy.  Am I frustrated?  Hell yeah!  I doubt there are too many people in the Cardinal’s family – immediate or extended – who aren’t, including Franklin himself.  But he’s human.  Baseball is his job.  It’s not like he goes to the mound and says “Eh, I’m not feelin it today, I’ll just lob them in there for now.”   He’s struggling.  He’s frustrated.  He’s thinking too much, trying too hard.  We’ve all been there.  No matter what job you’re in you have days or weeks where you just can’t seem to get things right.  And the harder it is, the harder it gets.  I’m thrilled we’re not going to use him for saves right now – partly for the sake of the team and actually winning games when we’re up, but also so Franklin can feel a load of pressure off his shoulders while he works out whatever isn’t working.  And when he gets his groove back, I’ll be glad to see him in the 9th again.  One thing I can tell you though – is that when you’re having a hard time, being crucified for it by thousands of people certainly isn’t helping.  He’s off to a slow start, but I’m betting he’ll be back. (On a better note – the Cardinals rank first in the National League in batting average (.298), hits (164) and runs scored (87).  So that can give us something to smile about!)

So as we look around the league in this, the 3rd week of baseball – which teams/players are showing their true colors and which teams still have to morph back into themselves?  Who is playing on a sustainable level and who is yet to bounce back to reality?  How much more time do I wait on Kinsler and Gonzalez to start hitting like I know they can, when there are more stable guys available to take their place?

Give me your feedback, baseball fans!

Everyone wears 42

Yesterday – April 15 – marked the 64th anniversary of the day Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by making his debut into Major League Baseball.  An infielder for the Brooklyn Dodgers, he stood up for his rights and the rights of all people of color despite the difficulties he would face for it.

When he came up to bat catchers would spit on his cleats.  Pitchers often threw at his head or his legs.  He received countless hate mail and even death threats.  Some of the death threats were very specific.  A man once wrote to Jackie that he was going to shoot him during the game on a certain day.  Jackie told his teammates before the game that he understood if they didn’t want to sit near him in the dugout for fear of a bad shot hitting them by mistake.  Regardless of all of these things – Jackie played ball.  And he played it well.

Jackie’s father, not a man of fidelity, split when he was an infant, leaving his mother to single-handedly raise her four kids.  He excelled as an adolescent in football, basketball and track in addition to baseball.  He spent some time in the army and was court martialed for refusing to sit in the back of the bus.  (Charges were eventually dropped and he was honorably discharged.)  He then went on to play in the Negro League and eventually – for the Dodgers.

 Jackie was named Rookie of the Year and later won MVP awards as well.  Martin Luther King, Jr. has credited Jackie Robinson with starting the civil rights movement as his debut in baseball marked the first major integration of blacks and whites.  He accomplished so much and has earned the undying respect of people nationwide for decades, and that respect will likely carry forward for who knows how long.

Yesterday every player in baseball wore number 42 on their backs to pay tribute to the great Jackie Robinson.  His number has been retired league wide (Mariano Rivera was grandfathered in and still wears 42 today) and every year we celebrate the many things that one brave man accomplished.

Thank you Jackie Robinson.  Your courage and talents changed baseball, and America, forever.