A Look Back: Jim Abbott’s Second Greatest Feat

June 15th just passed, marking the 17th anniversary of a strangely inspiring play. Yes, I’m talking about just one play in a life of countless games.

A left-handed starting pitcher from the University of Michigan, Jim Abbott had a relatively successful first 7 years in the Major Leagues. He compiled a 78-82 record with a 3.77 ERA while finishing 3rd in the AL Cy Young voting in 1991, going 18-11 with a 2.91 ERA in 243 innings.

After playing for the California Angels in his first 4 seasons, Abbott was traded to the New York Yankees after the ‘92 season. On September 4th of 1993, he etched his name in the history books, tossing a no-hitter on the hallowed grounds of Yankee Stadium.

Associated Press

Associated Press

Abbott was coming off his worst outing of the season 5 days earlier when he allowed 7 earned runs on 10 hits in just 3.2 innings against the Cleveland Indians. Amazingly, in true baseball fashion, Cleveland was again the opponent as Abbott held them hitless with the aid of some terrific defense.

Of course, thus far I’ve left out the most astounding part: As I’m sure most of you know, Jim Abbott did all of this playing with one hand. Born with a right arm that ends about where his wrist would be, Abbott only had a stub where his right hand should exist. An inspiration to all who say, “I can’t.”

By deftly sliding his glove onto his left hand after each pitch – and a ton of work perfecting the move – Abbott silenced every doubter from Little League through MLB. His left arm fired bullets and his athleticism made him a strong defender, as he continually proved he had the skill to not only play, but excel.

While his accomplishments in the big leagues were somewhat surprising (after all, these are the best of the best), Abbott had been collecting accolades for years – more than most “two-handed” baseball players.

At the age of 11, Abbott threw a no-hitter in his very first Little League game. In his senior year of high school, he had a ridiculous 0.76 ERA, won 10 games, and struck out more than two hitters per inning.

Abbott beat out Basketball Hall-of-Famer David Robinson as the country’s top amateur athlete, becoming the first baseball player to win the AAU’s Sullivan Award, an award that has been handed out longer than the Heisman.

Abbott then earned baseball’s top amateur honor – the Golden Spikes Award – winning over another future Hall of Famer, Ken Griffey, Jr.

The following year, Abbott won the Big Ten Male Athlete of the Year award – the first baseball player ever to take home that honor. Later in 1988, the southpaw continued to impress by hurling a complete game in the Olympics to give Team USA a 5-3 victory over Japan to win the Gold Medal.

 

JimAbbott_USA_JohnWMcDonough_SportsIllustrated

John W. McDonough, Sports Illustrated

Despite all of these amazing feats, the one thing Abbott had never done was collect a base hit in Major League Baseball – the toughest thing to do in all of sports. He played in the American League from ’91-’96 where the designated hitter stood in his way.

In 1997, MLB started Interleague play where AL teams would play in some NL ballparks, requiring the pitchers to hit. Unfortunately for Abbott, he went 2-18 with a 7.48 ERA the year before and struggled in the spring of ’97, prompting the Angels to release the 29-year-old before Opening Day.

He sat out all of 1997, but fought his way back to the Chicago White Sox in ’98 where he only got 5 starts, all against AL teams in September. However, he did go 5-0 with a 4.55 ERA, which led him to look for another starting gig in 1999.

Cue the 1999 Milwaukee Brewers, who just so happened to switch from the AL Central into the NL Central one year earlier.

Coming off their 6th straight losing season (out of 12), they needed a left-handed starter and Abbott needed a new club. Both player and team saw a fit and had no worries about Abbott’s ability to bat in the NL.

After a solid Spring Training on the mound, Abbott was awful in his first 3 starts, going 0-3 with an 11.20 ERA (17 ER in 13.2 IP). He actually pitched some in relief, but went back to starting full time and picked up his 1st win on May 30, “improving” his record to 1-5.

Offensively, Abbott started the year 0-for-12 with 7 strikeouts through June 4th, though he did get down 3 sacrifice bunts. Considering his poor pitching performances as well, you started to get the sense he’d never get that 1st MLB hit.

That’s one of the ways baseball is such a great game. On June 15, it seemed like just another game in the middle of the daily rhythms of baseball, though the unsuspecting crowd would bear witness to another fascinating athletic display that also speaks to the strength of the human spirit.

It was a normal evening for baseball at rundown Milwaukee County Stadium. Thanks to the fans of the visiting Chicago Cubs, nearly 41,000 fans were on hand to see Jon Lieber square off against Jim Abbott between the new NL Central rivals.

There were some interesting items related to the game. Geoff Jenkins, playing in his first full season with the Brewers, was batting 8th. It’s not often you see a player with a 1.050 OPS hitting in front of the pitcher nearly 3 months into the season.

For the Cubs, Sammy Sosa started in center field. Strange until you realize his fellow outfielders were Henry Rodriguez and Glenallen Hill. At shortstop, it was future Brewers’ strikeout king Jose Hernandez who would join Milwaukee the following year.

Otherwise, it seemed like an uneventful evening until the bottom of the 4th inning. With the game tied at 1, the Brewers had Sean Berry at 2nd with 2 outs and Jenkins due to bat. Despite being early in the contest, the Cubs elected to walk Jenkins to pitch to Abbott.

As fate would have it, I was in the stands that night. As the veteran hurler walked to the plate, a noticeable buzz went through the crowd. Whispers of “he’s gonna do it here” echoed throughout the old wooden seats. Of course, every time he batted fans spoke of a similar fate.

Abbott stepped into the box, wrapped his left hand around his right “stub” and the handle of the bat, and taunted Lieber with a pair of faux swings toward the mound.

On the first offering, Abbott ripped a frozen rope toward short – the crowd cheered, then went briefly silent, then roared again – as Hernandez came within inches of snagging the line drive. Berry rumbled around to score the go-ahead run, though Jenkins was gunned down at 3rd by Sosa.

 

But it didn’t matter, the damage was done. Another notch on the belt of a man who accomplished so much in baseball. With or without the hit, 1999 would be the last of his 10 seasons – and he left having proved he could even hit.

(He would actually get a 2nd hit later that year – also against Jon Lieber, because baseball is funny like that. That time it was at Wrigley Field to drive in a pair of runs, including Jenkins.)

The best part was, he did it all while countless others doubted him, either out of ignorance, envy or a simple lack of faith in the drive and ability of someone who loved the game.

Abbott’s first Major League hit wasn’t his greatest feat and it’s just a footnote in the history of the game; however, his lone season in Milwaukee – while mostly forgettable – should be remembered for one of the many terrific nuances of America’s Pastime.

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Lincecum To Make Angels Debut Saturday

After three minor league starts, via the Los Angeles Angels Triple-A affiliate Salt Lake Bees, longtime Halo’s skipper Mike Scioscia says Tim Lincecum is “definitely ready” to join the team this weekend against the Oakland Athletics.

Linceum, the former two-time Cy Young award winner and three-time World Series champion, is fully recovered from a hip surgery he underwent last September and signed a one year $2 million contract with the Angels back in May.

In those three previously mentioned minor league outings, Lincecum posted a 2.65 ERA, 19 SO, and six walks in 17 innings of work.

His best performance came this past Sunday against the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate whom Lincecum pitched with before being called up to the San Francisco Giants back in 2007. “The Freak” took a no-hitter bid into the seventh inning, struck out eight Grizzlies, needed only 89 pitches to get 21 outs, and finished the day with a one-hitter performance. Fresno, however, still managed to win the contest with a final score of 1-0.

After Sundays game Lincecum had the following to say: (quotes courtesy of MiLB.com’s Michael Avallone)

 

These fans have been always good to me,” Lincecum said. “I try to return that. I don’t take it for granted. It’s pretty crazy. The baseball community is big here. There’s a lot of following obviously for San Francisco. It’s pretty great. It’s just fun to have that kind of support out here when I’m trying to remake myself.”

“It’s a little different,” he said. “I’m in a different place. I’m not trying to make my path anymore, I’m trying to re-create it. I feel like the three starts I had definitely got me ready.”

“I just need to throw more strikes,” he said after his first start on June 2. “My stuff showed that I can play and I can get outs in the zone. As long as I stay there, that’s going to benefit me the most. I know you get in trouble when you get behind in counts, you put guys on base. I know I’ve been able to get out of situations like that, but you try to limit those situations so you can go deeper into games. That’s what I’m looking for.

 

Lincecum is understandably eager to make his first start on a major league mound in almost a year ( last start was June 27th, 2015 with San-Fran), and the Angels are equally excited to have a healthy hurler for a change.

Los Angeles, more than any other team in the majors this season, has dealt with a multitude of injuries and ailments to its pitching staff.

To date, the Halos have Ace Garrett Richards (right elbow, UCL) and lefty Andrew Heaney (left elbow, UCL) on the 60-day disabled list (both may not return this season), Nick Tropeano (right shoulder) on the 15-day disabled list, and both C.J. Wilson (left shoulder) and Joe Smith (left hamstring) listed as TBD for possible return this season.

The Angels current starters are composed of longtime staff member Jered Weaver, followed by Matt Shoemaker, Hector Santiago, and Jhoulys Chacin (with Lincecum becoming the fifth starter to round out the rotation).

Per Y! Sports and MLB.com, Lincecum is scheduled to start this Saturday afternoon at 4:05 p.m. EST (1:05  p.m. PDT), in the middle of a three game series with the A’s (as mentioned at the top of this post), opposite Oakland starter Sean Manaea (2-4/6.02 ERA/40 SO) at the Coliseum.

 

Finals Thoughts:

Prior to his hip surgery that brought last season, and his time with the Giants, to a close, Lincecum had been declining. From 2012-2015 he posted a win loss record of 39-42 with an average ERA of 4.60.

Nevertheless, it would appear “The Freak” is ready to try and “re-create himself” as a Halo starting this weekend.

Given last year’s resurgence of Bartolo Colon (New York Mets) and Scott Kazmir (Los Angeles Dodgers), Lincecum could become this seasons feel good story, and provide the kind of stability the Angels so desperately need.

Of course, as with most things, only time will tell.

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Chase Utley Gets the Last Laugh Against the Mets…. For Now

Perhaps no player in all of baseball is hated more by the fan base of a team than Chase Utley is loathed by the New York Mets fans. On Saturday night, the hatred was out in full force when the Los Angeles Dodgers were at Citi Field taking on the Mets.

Utley has been a thorn in the Mets side for years. Ever since his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, the 37-year old second baseman has always put up good numbers against them. In his career, Utley has hit 38 home runs against the Mets, the most he’s hit against any team. Especially when he was in Philadelphia, he had a knack for getting big hits when he played the Mets. However, this is only part of the reason that their fans dislike him so much.

In mid-August of last season, the Phillies traded Utley to the Dodgers in exchange for Darnell Sweeney and John Richy. This marked the end of his 13-year career in Philadelphia, but it certainly didn’t mean that his rivalry with the Mets was over. Sure enough, the Dodgers and Mets both won their respective divisions and ended up playing each other in the 2015 NLDS. Utley only had three at-bats in the entire series, which included one hit. His most memorable moment in the series came during the seventh inning of Game 2, following that hit. In an attempt to break up what possibly could have been an inning-ending double play, Utley slid into Mets shortstop Rubén Tejada. Not only was he ruled safe at second base after a video review, but Tejada had to leave the game due to a fractured right fibula. The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the game at that point, but they rallied and went on to win 5-2. Utley was originally suspended two games by Major League Baseball for the slide, but because he appealed the suspension, he was allowed to play the remainder of the NLDS.  The  Mets were able to win the series in five games, but Tejada did not return. He missed the remainder of the postseason, and the Mets eventually lost in the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.

It was assumed that the Mets were going to try and get revenge on Utley sometime during the 2016 season. Major League Baseball officially dropped his suspension on March 6, meaning there would be no punishment at all for the slide. Unsurprisingly, Mets fans were not happy. Although Tejada was released by the team on March 16, fans still expected the Mets to try and do something to send a message to Utley when they played the Dodgers. The two teams played a four-game series at Dodger Stadium in early May, but nothing happened. Last weekend, the Dodgers came to Citi Field for three games. This time, plenty happened.

As expected, Utley was booed vigorously by the Mets fans every time he came to bat. He was not thrown at on Friday night. Instead, he had a huge hit in the top of the ninth inning. Facing Mets closer Jeurys Familia with the bases loaded and two outs and his team trailing 5-2, Utley hit a game-tying three-run double. The Mets went on to win the game in the bottom of the inning after Curtis Granderson hit a walk-off home run.

When Utley’s name was announced during Saturday night’s game, he was booed even louder than the night before. With Mets ace Noah Syndergaard on the mound, he struck out looking during his first at-bat. He next came to bat in the top of the third inning. With one out and nobody on base, Syndergaard threw a fastball behind Utley. It didn’t him, but Syndergaard was ejected by home plate umpire Adam Hamari. This led to Mets manager Terry Collins getting thrown out of the game as well. Collins was clearly upset because no warnings were issued before the game. Clearly, Hamari knew Utley’s history with the Mets. He was not hesitant at all to eject Syndergaard for trying to send a message to Utley.

The Mets fans were more outraged than ever. Not only did Utley not even get hit by the pitch, but Syndergaard had been tossed from the game for trying to send a message to him. To make matters even worse for them, Utley hit a solo home run off of Logan Verrett in the top of the sixth inning. But he wasn’t finished yet. Just when you thought he couldn’t become any more villainous to Mets fans, Utley hit a grand slam off of Hansel Robles the next inning. This put the Dodgers ahead 6-0. They went on to win the game 9-1.  

For Utley, it was a very successful weekend in Flushing. The Mets failed to adequately get revenge on him for the slide into Tejada. He hit two big home runs to help the Dodgers crush the Mets. It seems as though Utley has gotten the last laugh against the Mets and their fans. The two teams do not play each other for the remainder of the season. However, there’s always the chance that they meet in the postseason again. If that happens, the series will definitely be must-watch television. The Mets would then have one last chance to get the last laugh against Chase Utley.

New York Bans Smokeless Tobacco at Yankees Stadium & Citi Field

When the Houston Astros and New York Yankees took the field on Wednesday night they were the first players to be prohibited by law from using smokeless tobacco for a regular-season game, a ban covers every person (not just players) in the ballpark as well. New York mayor Bill de Blasio signed the ban into law just before 5:00 pm, a ban that immediately went into effect as soon as the ink was dried.

The new law applies to all sports and recreational areas that issue tickets. New York joins San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles in enacting such laws but the Yankees became the first team to exercise it as they were the first team to have a home game among the group.

“We don’t want our young people to think smokeless tobacco is a cool thing,” de Blasio said.

A ban approved by Chicago’s City Council is expected to take effect by midseason while California has enacted a ban effective in 2017. By that time, 10 of 30 MLB stadiums and teams will have the bans in place. Legislators in Washington and Toronto are also considering the same.

“The bill sends a clear message: Tobacco has no place in New York City professional sports” said New York bill’s sponsor, Councilman Corey Johnson.

The MLB Players Association has resisted a league-wide ban despite an estimated 30% of MLB players using, an issue that will certainly be a major debate topic during negotiations with owners over a new collective bargaining agreement.

Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids,  said his expectation is that MLB players and others will voluntarily comply with the regulations, as have most people when smoking bans have become law at athletic venues.

Johnson, who chairs the New York City Council’s Committee on Health, cited the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and former All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling as prime examples of the dangers of smokeless tobacco and the long-term effects it can have. Gwynn and Schilling attributed their cases of oral cancer to smokeless tobacco.

Major League Baseball and the teams in cities with the new laws have expressed support for the legislation.

 

Bat Flip Crazy

 

In baseball, as with most sports, there are unwritten rules of the game.

 

For instance, you should never talk to a pitcher when he is throwing a no-hitter, or don’t hit-and-run when the count is 0-2. When it comes to sportsmanship, there are debates galore on what is considered to be appropriate or inappropriate. One in particular that seems to have current and former players buzzing is the art, or disgrace for some, of bat flipping.

 

While bat flipping is not new to the sport, it has become more prominent in recent years among some of the sports rising stars à la outfielder Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

 

In case you are not familiar with the action of which I’m referencing, allow me to provide you with a clip of Puig and one of his signature bat flips:

 

 

 

 (video courtesy of TBS Sports/YouTube User “LilCee354”)

As you can see in the video above, fans for the most part seem to enjoy it, as usually a bat flip follows when a batter knows the hit is a home run. But as fun as bat flipping can be, there have been instances where the action has caused quite the opposite effect.

A perfect example of this would be Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista’s “Bat Flip Heard ‘Round the World”. I’ll set the stage for you.

It was game five of the American League Divisional Series between the Jays and the Texas Rangers last year. With the score tied in the seventh inning at 3-3, Bautitsta launched a three-run rocket to take the lead, and the rest is, as they say, is history.

 

 

 

(Full clip of Bautista’s bat flip, and the craziness that followed. Video Courtesy of Fox Sports/YouTube User “Captain Canada”)

Flipping Out

Since then, there has been somewhat of a line in the sand drawn between players.

Speaking out against Bautista’s bat flip, Hall of Fame and former New York Yankees relief pitcher “Goose” Gossage was quoted by ESPN’s Andrew Marchand as saying:

Bautista is a —-ing disgrace to the game,” Gossage told ESPN. “He’s embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. [Yoenis] Cespedes , same thing.

Bautista took the higher road in response to Gossage’ criticism:

He’s a great ambassador for the game,” Bautista told ESPN after being informed of Gossage’s comments. “I don’t agree with him. I’m disappointed that he made those comments, but I’m not going to get into it with him. I would never say anything about him, no matter what he said about me. I have too much good stuff to worry about his comments. Today is my first game [of the spring], getting ready for a new season; hopefully, we will whoop some more a**.

Gossage was later quoted as stating

Everything is good,” Gossage told reporters. “I lost my mind for a minute.

Goose isn’t the only Hall of Famer who has an issue with this “new fangled” celebration. Per Mike Axisa of MLB.com, former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench spoke out earlier this spring in regards to Bryce Harper flipping his bat, as well as Harper’s comments on how baseball has become a “tired sport”.

Below is a transcript courtesy of Randy Miller (NJ.com) and the Rich Eisen Show where Bench made the following statements:

You can flip your bat. We had guys do that … and the next time up there was chin music. And if you want to play that way, that’s fine.

“Bring back the excitement? OK, we’ll bring back the brushback pitch, the knockdown pitch. That’s all part of the excitement.”

“I know a lot of the old-timers and a lot of people who watched baseball forever would love to see somebody have a little chin music (as retaliation),” Bench said. “If you want to do that, fine. Flip the bat, run around any way you want, but just expect the next time you come up to the plate, you better watching how much you dig into that batter’s box.

 

It is not just players from the past who are commenting, though, as Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout was recently qouted saying “you will never catch him flipping his bat”.

 

This of course, is not to assume that Trout agrees with either Gossage or Bench, though the Halo’s outfielder is probably the poster boy for baseball purists.

 

On the other side of that previously mentioned line in the sand are veteran sluggers like Boston Red Sox designated hitter David “Big Papi” Oritz. In a recent interview with the Boston Globe’s own Alex Speier, Papi had this to say on the matter:

 

People want to talk about old school. I am old school,” said Ortiz. “How many [expletives] are in the game right now who played in 1997 in the big leagues?

“This game is competition. This ain’t no baby-sitting. There ain’t no crying. When somebody strikes me out, I’m not up there crying, like, ‘Boo-hoo . . . this guy’ . . . No, no, no. There’s none of that. There’s no babysitting in baseball. There’s no babysitting. If you’re going to take it like a baby, I’m going to take [you] deep again. How about that? Take it like a man and make better, quality pitches the next time I face you, and then you get [me] out, and then you do whatever the h— you want. This is competition.”

“Respect? Respect my [expletive]. I don’t have to respect nobody when I’m between those two lines. I’m trying to beat everybody when I’m between those two lines. This ain’t no crying. There’s no, ‘Let me be concerned about taking you deep.’ No.

 

As you can see, there are two schools of thought when it comes to bat flipping. This is certainly something worth keeping track of in 2016, as it will be intriguing to see who does or does not flip their bat.

 

Final Thoughts:

I personally have no issues with athletes celebrating such things as home runs, slam dunks, slap shots, or touch downs. Of course, practicing humility every once and a while is good too.

That being said, I could not resist closing this post with a walk-off bat flip clip…Korean style:

 

(Video courtesy of YouTube User “mybonet”/www.mykbo.net)

 

 

 

 

http://SportsRants.com

Opening Day 2016: What To Watch For

Ah, Opening Day. The field grass is trimmed up just right, fans from all over the country pack stadiums to see the MLB’s best perform, and another season of America’s favorite past time is underway.

With just over 40 days left until the MLB regular seasons first pitch is thrown on Sunday April 3rd, 2016, anticipation is mounting for baseball fans everywhere. A total of eight teams will start the season off on that Sunday, 20 more teams will begin play on Monday April 4th. 2016, and the Miami Marlins host the Detroit Tigers in their home opener on Tuesday April 5th.

That’s three days set to be chock-full of home runs, outstanding pitching, “web gems”, and will feature all 10 of last years playoff teams. So, with the regular season right around the corner, I’ll provide you with a rundown of five must see matchups, and some key players to keep an eye on:

 

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (PNC Park on Sunday April 3rd at 1:05 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Adam Wainwright (STL) vs. Gerrit Cole (PIT)

Players to Watch: Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Matt Carpenter (STL), Josh Harrison (PIT), and Matt Holiday (STL)

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Angels (Angel Stadium of Anaheim on Sunday April 3rd at 3:05 p.m. EST on FSW)

Probable Pitchers- Jon Lester (CHC) vs. Garrett Richards (LAA)

Players to Watch: Mike Trout (LAA), Anthony Rizzo (CHC), Andrelton Simmons (LAA), and Kris Bryant (CHC)

New York Mets vs. Kansas City Royals (Kaufmann Stadium on Sunday April 3rd at 8:37 p.m. EST on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Jacob DeGrom (NYM) vs. Edison Volquez (KC)

Players to Watch: Yoenis Cespedes (NYM), Alex Gordon (KC), Neil Walker (NYM), and Lorenzo Cain (KC)

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees (Yankee Stadium on Monday April 4th at 1:05 p.m. on ESPN)

Probable Pitchers- Dallas Kuechel (HOU) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (NYY)

Players to Watch: Jose Altuve (HOU), Jacoby Ellsbury (NYY), Carlos Correa (HOU), and Starlin Castro (NYY)

Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians (Progressive Field on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. on Sports Time Ohio)

Probable Pitchers- David Price (BOS) vs. Corey Kluber (CLE)

Players to Watch: Michael Brantley* (CLE), Xander Bogaerts (BOS), Francisco Lindor (CLE), Mookie Betts (BOS)

 

Honorable Mention: Philadelphia Phillies vs. Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ball Park on Monday April 4th at 4:10 p.m. EST)

The Phils and Red Legs game may not be a “must watch”, but growing up 30 miles east of Cincinnati, I felt compelled to recognize the rich history of Opening Day in Cincy.

 

Other Opening Series Players to Watch:

Jason Heyward- After switching National League Central teams this off-season from the Cards to the Cubs, posting a .293/.359./.797 slash line in 2015 with 79 runs, 13 home runs, and 60 RBI, Chicago will hope to see Heyward improve on those stats for 2016 in pursuit of the teams first World Series title since 1908.

Zack Greinke- Posting a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, and 200 strikeouts with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015, Greinke begins 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Greinke will likely be the D-Backs Opening Day starter against the Colorado Rockies on Monday April 4th.

Daniel Murphy- Despite losing his post-season magic in last years Fall Classic with the Mets, Daniel Murphy still posted a solid .288/.322/.770 slash line with 56 runs, 14 home runs, and 73 RBI  for 2015. Murphy begins 2016 anew with the Washington Nationals, and it will certainly be interesting to see how he affects a clubhouse that could use his positive attitude.

Johnny Cueto- The reunion of former Reds pitchers Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez in last years post-season and World Series with KC was only temporary. After an 11-13 record with 176 strikeouts and a 3.44 ERA in 2015 (split between the Reds and Royals), Cueto will try to better those numbers with his new team, the San Francisco Giants in 2016.

 

(All probable pitchers are based solely off of team depth charts as of February 22nd,2016, and may be subject to change after Spring Training results)

(* Brantley may not be available to the Indians until April or May, as he is still recovering from a right shoulder injury)

(For a complete 2016 regular season schedule, visit MLB.com)

Final Thought:

I’ll simply end with a fitting quote from one of the games all-time greats:

You always get a special kick on Opening Day, no matter how many you go through. You look forward to it like a birthday party when you’re a kid. You think something wonderful is going to happen.- Joe DiMaggio

 

 

Which Team Will Finally Decide to Sign Yoenis Cespedes?

When Justin Upton signed a six-year, $132.75 contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday, many people were stunned about how much money he got. The deal also got everyone around baseball wondering about which team will eventually sign Yoenis Cespedes and how much money they’re willing to pay him.

Realistically at this point, the Cespedes sweepstakes is down to five teams. The Baltimore Orioles recently took themselves out of the hunt for the slugging outfielder when they re-signed power-hitting first baseman/outfielder Chris Davis. Baltimore had been interested in Cespedes, but only as a backup option in case Davis decided to go elsewhere.

Here are the five teams that still have a chance to sign Cespedes.

1. New York Mets

The New York Mets are still one of the teams interested in signing Cespedes. It’s no secret that he had a lot of success in New York during the latter portion of last season. He was the team’s offensive catalyst, and one of the main reasons that they overtook the Washington Nationals in the NL East. Since the Mets are currently lacking a dynamic hitter in the middle of their lineup, re-signing Cespedes would appear to be a smart move. However, they’re not interested in giving him the six-year deal he desires. If no team is willing to give him this type of long-term contract, the Mets could be a fallback option. Cespedes himself has stated that he loves New York and would like to return to the Mets. He’s not going to give the Mets a discount though. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to whether or not Cespedes is willing to accept a short-term contract with the Mets. After the Upton deal however, it’s unlikely that no team decides to give him a long-term, lucrative contract.

2. Washington Nationals 

Another team that has recently expressed interest in Cespedes is the Washington Nationals. The team has already signed a former Met this offseason, second baseman Daniel Murphy. It isn’t really that surprising that it looks like they’ve decided to go all-in on Cespedes. The team has reportedly offered him a five-year, $100 million contract. Ben Revere is currently the Nationals’ starting center fielder. Revere was traded to them from the Toronto Blue Jays just a few weeks ago in exchange for Drew Storen. If they were to sign Cespedes, he would start  in center field over Revere. The reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper is the team’s starting right fielder, while Jason Werth is the starting left fielder. Signing Cespedes would give the Nationals three good outfield power bats. Not to mention that it would really irk the Mets and their fans.

3. Houston Astros 

The Houston Astros are also reportedly interested in Cespedes. Like the Mets, Houston is probably a long shot to sign him. It’s not that they’re not willing to spend money, it’s that the team really doesn’t have room for him. Between Colby RasmusCarlos Gomez, and George Springer, they already have three talented outfielders. Rasmus accepted the Astros’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer back in November. Clearly, they think very highly of him. Gomez was acquired by the team back in July. He still has another year left on his contract. Springer is one of the better up-and-coming young outfielders in all of baseball. The only way it would make sense for the Astros to sign Cespedes would be if they traded one of these three players shortly after signing him. However, the team doesn’t really need him. They have three good outfielders, and Cespedes would surely cost them a lot of money. For them, he’s just not worth it.

4. Chicago White Sox 

Another team that has been linked to the Cuban-born slugger is the Chicago White Sox. They’ve been active this offseason, and evidently have interest in Cespedes. The team already traded for power-hitting third baseman and two-time All-Star Todd Frazier back in December. They also acquired second baseman Brett Lawrie from the Oakland Athletics. The White Sox don’t exactly have the outfield that the Astros have. Melky Cabrera is really their best offensive outfielder. They could definitely use Cespedes. The team’s first baseman Jose Abreu is also Cuban-born, and is reportedly very excited over the possibility of the White Sox signing him.

5. Los Angeles Angels 

The Los Angeles Angels are the final team in the Cespedes sweepstakes. For a team that is known for spending a lot of money, they’ve been surprisingly quiet this offseason. The team’s made a few small trades, but haven’t made any big splashes in free-agency. Cespedes would certainly be a major splash. If the Angels had him to go along with Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun, they’d have one very talented outfield, offensively and defensively. Although the Angels have yet to express serious interest in signing Cespedes to a long-term deal, that doesn’t that they won’t. There’s still plenty of time until Spring Training. We don’t know how long the talks with him will drag on for. A lot can change.

Whichever team ends up signing Yoenis Cespedes, they’re getting a very talented player who has a lot of power and a great arm. Eventually, someone’s going to give in and give him the contract he wants. In all likelihood, that team will probably be either the Nationals or the White Sox. Let’s see what happens.

 

 

Yoenis Céspedes Market Heating Up, Deal Possibly Coming Soon

It appears the market for free agent outfielder Yoenis Céspedes is intensifying, according to numerous reports. If a deal comes to fruition, it means that one team is going to be getting a late Christmas gift.

ESPN’s Jim Bowden reports that Cespedes may be close to signing a contract for 2016, but the question remains which team is in the hunt? Teams like the New York Mets, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox have all been linked to the slugger. Cespedes is hoping get paid based off his excellent 2015 campaign, but teams are evaluating Cespedes based on his career totals which is likely driving down his offer prices.

The Mets remain a likely destination and there has been talk of a 1-2 year short term contract, which may be appealing to Cespedes since the market has not played out the way he would have imagined. Signing such a deal would allow Cespedes to build on his terrific finish to 2015 and prove that his performance is more of his “norm” as opposed to a fluke.

Reports indicate that the White Sox  have capped their offer at three years and the Baltimore Orioles reportedly had an offer of $90 million in play for Cespedes, but their re-signing of Chris Davis likely takes the O’s out of the race.

One team to watch is the Houston Astros, who many are speculating could swoop in an snatch up Cespedes. The Astros being in play is a bit odd, since they are rather rich in the outfield and don’t have a glaring need for another.

Jon Heyman reports that a short-term deal is not likely for Cespedes, which adds another layer of intrigue in how the market is shaping up.

Then there is always the New York Yankees, who have been trying to unload outfielder Brett Gardner and could use an outfielder to replace his possible departure. Signing Cespedes would also mean the Yankees could sit aging, oft-injured Carlos Beltran who has been streaky at best during his stint in the Bronx.

Regardless of where Cespedes lands, it appears that a resolution is on the horizon but that a clear-cut destination is still a mystery.

 

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Where Will Daniel Murphy End Up In 2016?

He had a historic postseason for the New York Mets this past October. Now Daniel Murphy is ready to the test the market.

The 30-year old second baseman is now officially a free-agent. The one-time All-Star is coming off a postseason in which he batted .328 with seven home runs and 11 RBIs. Murphy also set a new MLB Postseason record by homering in six straight games. He was named the 2015 NLCS MVP for his performance against the Chicago Cubs. He definitely boosted his value in the past month. It’s unclear right now where Murphy will be playing in 2016. There are some teams that have expressed interest in him already. Realistically, there are a handful of teams that would really be a good fit for him.

Murphy’s already shown he can fit in on the Mets. Last Friday, the team gave him a one-year, $15.8 qualifying offer. He has until 5 p.m. ET today to choose to accept the offer or not. Murphy’s played with the Mets his entire career. He’s been one of their most consistent hitters over the past five years. Bringing him back make sense. The only problem with Murphy returning to the Mets is where he would play. His best position is third base, but the Mets now have David Wright back after missing the majority of last season. Murphy played second base for the entire postseason, but made a few key errors in the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. He can also play first base. However, Lucas Duda occupies that position for the Mets. If Murphy does accept the Mets’ offer, he would probably play second base. They would just have to sacrifice average defense for good offense.

If Murphy rejects the Mets’ qualifying offer, another team that would make sense for him is the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have shown in the past that they have no problem paying a lot of money for free-agents. Because he’s not the best defensive player, signing with an American League team could benefit Murphy. That way, he could serve as the designated hitter. If the Angels needed him to, he could play somewhere in the infield. Especially with slugging first baseman Albert Pujols in danger of missing the start of the 2016 season after undergoing foot surgery this week, the Angels could use a player like Murphy. He could start the season as the team’s first baseman if Pujols misses any time. The Angels lineup already includes 2014 AL MVP Mike Trout as well as Pujols. Adding Murphy would help give them one of the best lineups in all of baseball.

The Colorado Rockies have reportedly expressed interest in signing Murphy. As reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports this past Saturday, the Rockies have discussed internally the possibility of trying to sign him. However, they’d want him to play first base. Veteran Justin Morneau played first base for Colorado last year, but the team declined his $9 million option for 2016. Murphy has 171 career starts at first base. The only position he has more starts at is second base. In his career, he’s committed 86 errors. Only 17 of those errors have come while playing first base. Murphy actually makes sense for the Rockies. He’d be playing a position that he wouldn’t make as many errors at. Also, he’d probably hit at least 20 home runs a year at hitter-friendly Coors Field. A career .288 hitter, Murphy would thrive in this park.

It’ll be interesting to see who Daniel Murphy ends up signing. His main value is as a good offense player who is thought of as a utility player. However, his mediocre defense will limit what position a team can realistically play him at. Whether he accepts the Mets’ qualifying offer or decides to go someplace else, he’ll definitely be making more money than he’s ever made in his career. After a tremendous postseason, Murphy’s ready to cash in. We’ll see which team pays up.

 

 

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Cardinals vs Pirates and more to watch this week.

Who: Cardinals at Pirates

When: Monday through Wednesday

Why watch the Cardinals?

Their defense had four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns against San Francisco on Sunday, but then Trevor Rosenthal took a 3-1 lead in the 9th and imploded by putting three guys on base and serving up a grand slam to Brewers’ pinch hitter Jason Rogers. It was part of 7-run 9th inning for the Brewers as they beat the Cardinals 8-4.

Sticking with the baseball Cardinals, we find they have a 3-game lead over the Pirates in the NL Central heading into a key series against Pittsburgh to start the week. It begins with Lynn-Happ and then Wacha-Morton. Carlos Martinez (14-7, 3.01 ERA) has been shutdown for the rest of the regular and postseason with a strained right shoulder. Tyler Lyons will be called upon to start the final game of the Pirates series against Gerrit Cole.

The Cardinals finish the season this weekend with three games at the Braves.

Why watch the Pirates?

The Pirates only managed a 7th inning Gregory Polanco single on Sunday night in their 4-0 loss to the Cubs Jake Arrieta, whose Cy Young candidacy is full steam ahead like a locomotive. Pittsburgh had won their previous 8-games and because of that they have a chance to catch the Cardinals at the top of the NL Central with a sweep.

The Pirates finish the season this weekend with three game home series against the Reds

Who: The Cubs

When: During that perfect game Jake Arrieta (21-6, 1.82 ERA) had going until the 7th inning last night.

Why watch the Cubs?

To see Arrieta pitch and hit. He homered on Sunday night. The Cubs can’t win the NL Central being 7.5 games back with 7 to play, but they could host the NL Wild Card game. It’s a longshot as they trail the Pirates by 4.5 games. The Cubs have a make-up home game against the Royals on Monday and then a three game series in Cincinnati and in Milwaukee to end the regular season.

Who: Dodgers at Giants

When: On Monday when they can clinch the NL West.

Why watch the Dodgers?

Los Angeles enters the week with a six-game lead over San Francisco, but the Dodgers just lost all three games of a weekend series against the Rockies. Barring a collapse, the Dodgers will take care of business against the Giants on either Monday, Tuesday,  Wednesday or Thursday. If not, then the Dodgers postgame call-in show on Thursday will feature mayhem and chaos and just a 2-game lead with a home series against the Padres meaning something on the final weekend.

Why watch the Giants?

To see if Jarrett Parker can hit three homers in a game again. He did it on Saturday and has 6 career homers in 30 at bats. Also, it will be interesting to see if the Giants are simply out of this world at avoiding the stroke of midnight in the NL West.

Who: Red Sox at Yankees

When: Monday through Thursday

Why watch the Yankees?

The Yankees magic number to clinch an AL wild card spot is 3 after rookie sensation Luis Severino pitched 6-scoreless innings in his win against the White Sox on Sunday. New York has a 4.5 game lead over the Astros as it concerns the top wild card spot. Flags were at half-staff at The Stadium this weekend to honor the late Yogi Berra. Their hall of fame catcher passed away on Wednesday night. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”, but luckily for the Yankees that logic may by more appropriate to the situation developing in the AL West.

Why watch the Red Sox?

Rich Hill (2-0, 1.17) has been awesome in his three starts with the Red Sox this September. Last week the 35-year old former Cub, Oriole, Red Sox, Indian won his first game as a starter since 2009. Rick Porcello has also been pretty good since late August. 23-year old Henry Owens, won’t face the Yankees, but he won on Sunday against the Orioles and figures to be a key part of the Red Sox future.

Who: The Blue Jays

When: Any time they are in the batter’s box.

Why watch the Blue Jays?

They have a 4-game lead on the Yankees in the AL West and look a team ready to clinch the division before this weekend. The Blue Jays magic number is 4 following Josh Donaldson’s walk-off homer on Sunday that swept the Rays out of Toronto. The Blue Jays have four games in Baltimore and three games in Tampa to end the season.

Who: Any game involving the Rangers, Astros or Angels

When: All week

Why watch the Astros?

It’s always a good idea to check out Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Sunday, Dallas Keuchel improved to 15-0 at home with a win against the first place Rangers. The struggling Astros won the final two games against Texas and trail the Rangers by 2.5 games in the AL West. Houston plays three at Seattle and then three at Arizona to end the season.

Why watch the Angels?

Because Mike Trout may climb a wall and rob a home run again or maybe Albert’s foot will explode as he guts it out. Somehow the “disappointing” Angels are just 0.5 games behind the Astros for the 2nd AL Wild Card spot. Heck, the Twins are just 1.5 games behind the Astros too. The Angels host the Athletics on Monday through Wednesday. Angels’ closer Huston Street ruined his groin in Saturday’s game so Mike Scioscia gets to play bullpen roulette for as long as the Angels still have chips to gamble.

Why watch the Rangers?

To see how badly they beat down the Tigers who have mailed it in. However, Texas didn’t exactly take care of business against Houston this weekend. A 3-0 first inning lead on Saturday was a 4-4 tie after three innings and ultimately a 9-7 loss. They lost to Keuchel on Sunday, but JV, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd are not Dallas Keuchel. Shin-Soo Choo and Mitch Moreland are under the radar performers who are hidden behind the giant shadow cast by Prince Fielder.

Oh by the way. The AL West champ and that 2nd AL wild card probably won’t be decided until this weekend. The Angels and Rangers meet in Anaheim this Thursday through Sunday.

Clinch Update:

The Kansas City Royals and New York Mets have clinched division titles so they get a small note here.

The defending AL Champion Royals proved the prognosticators wrong by actually getting better and winning the AL Central for the first time.

The Mets started strong at 13-3 and held strong to win the NL East and make the postseason for the first time since 2006. Meanwhile, Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper’s neck put a wrap on what wasn’t for the Nationals in 2015.

The Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs and Blue Jays have clinched playoff berths. Wild Card is the best the Cubs can do at this point.

The Cardinals have clinched home-field advantage in a potential NL Wild Card Game or NLDS.

 

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