2016 All-Star Preview

In the coming weeks baseballs brightest stars will descend upon Petco Park in San Diego for this year’s All-Star Week.

So, here’s an update of the top All-Star Game vote leaders and possible Home Run Derby candidates.

(All voting information is accurate per MLB.com as of June,27th,2016.)

American League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Salvador Perez (KC): 3,754,594
  2. Matt Wieters (BAL): 1,033,217
  3. Russell Martin (TOR) 981,618
  4. Brian McCann (NYY) 578,013
  5. Robinson Chirinos (TEX) 511,308

First Base

  1. Eric Hosmer (KC): 2,638,022
  2. Miguel Cabrera (DET): 2,088,920
  3. Chris Davis (BAL): 952,053
  4. Justin Smoak (TOR): 772,948
  5. Hanley Ramirez (BOS): 769,385

Second Base

  1. Jose Altuve (HOU): 2,186,949
  2. Robinson Cano (SEA): 1,276,010
  3. Dustin Pedroia (BOS): 1,081,667
  4. Omar Infante (KC): 949,308
  5. Ryan Goins (TOR): 757,923

Third Base

  1. Manny Machado (BAL): 2,196,732
  2. Josh Donaldson (TOR): 1,590,183
  3. Mike Moustakas (KC): 1,135,431
  4. Adrian Beltre (TEX): 1,099,086
  5. Nick Castellanos (DET): 789,144

Short Stop

  1. Xander Bogaerts (BOS): 2,825,025
  2. Alcides Escobar (KC): 1,478.645
  3. Troy Tulowitzki (TOR): 1,136,479
  4. Elvis Andrus (TEX): 917,112
  5. Carlos Correa (HOU): 694,103

Outfield

  1. Mike Trout (LAA): 2,972,582
  2. Jackie Bradley Jr. (BOS): 2,184,884
  3. Mookie Betts (BOS): 1,915,637
  4. Lorenzo Cain (KC): 1,821,746
  5. Mark Trumbo (BAL): 1,801,969
  6. Jose Bautista (TOR): 1,707,134
  7. Alex Gordon (KC): 1,165,980
  8. Ian Desmond (TEX): 1,133,422
  9. Paulo Orlando (KC): 1,065,647
  10. Carlos Beltran (NYY): 964,473
  11. Kevin Pillar (TOR): 934,982
  12. Michael Saunders (TOR): 903,050
  13. Adam Jones (BAL): 726,916
  14. Melky Cabrera (CWS): 518,476
  15. J.D. Martinez (DET): 497,102

Designated Hitter

  1. David Ortiz (BOS): 3,400,200
  2. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR): 1,131,827
  3. Kendrys Morales (KC): 1,102,349
  4. Victor Martinez (DET): 865,194
  5. Nelson Cruz (SEA): 799,967

As you can see above, certain AL starting positons like catcher (Perez), second (Altuve), and designated hitter (Ortiz) appear to be locked in. But, first base and the last outfield spot could see tight finishes when the final votes are tallied this Thursday.

Betts currently has a slight edge over Cain and Trumbo, meanwhile Cabrera could see his current (tied for the majors longest active streak with Bautista) six game All-Star selection come to end should Hosmer hold his lead.

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by AL All-Star manager Ned Yost of the Kansas City Royals)

 

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

(Photo Courtesy of SportsLogos.net)

 

National League All-Star Ballot Leaders by Position:

Catcher

  1. Yadier Molina (STL): 1,568,930
  2. Buster Posey (SF): 1,563,800
  3. Wilson Ramos (WSH): 1,282,287
  4. Miguel Montero (CHC): 854,629
  5. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL): 846,380

First Base

  1. Anthony Rizzo (CHC): 2,630,049
  2. Brandon Belt (SF): 1,233,499
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI): 977,889
  4. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD): 734,448
  5. Brandon Moss (STL): 522,808

Second Base

  1. Ben Zobrist (CHC): 2,474,852
  2. Daniel Murphy (WSH): 2,167,918
  3. Joe Panik (SF): 768,312
  4. Neil Walker (NYM): 500,384
  5. Chase Utley (LAD): 488,170

Third Base

  1. Kris Bryant (CHC): 2,459,852
  2. Nolan Arenado (COL): 2,108,503
  3. Matt Carpenter (STL): 882,135
  4. Matt Duffy (SF): 665,802
  5. Martin Prado (MIA): 396,859

Short Stop

  1. Addison Russell (CHC): 1,741,182
  2. Trevor Story (COL): 1,423,547
  3. Corey Seager (LAD): 1,082,434
  4. Brandon Crawford (SF): 1,002,201
  5. Zack Cozart (CIN): 528,785

Outfield

  1. 1. Dexter Fowler (CHC): 2,230,877
  2. Bryce Harper (WSH): 2,253,083
  3. Yoenis Cespedes (NYM): 2,249,489
  4. Jason Heyward (CHC): 1,485,679
  5. Ryan Braun (MIL): 1,327,209
  6. Carlos Gonzalez (COL): 1,155,982
  7. Jorge Soler (CHC): 992,174
  8. Starling Marte (PIT): 893,952
  9. Andrew McCutchen (PIT): 816,079
  10. Stephen Piscotty (STL): 793,912
  11. Hunter Pence (SF): 764,004
  12. Matt Holiday (STL): 680,416
  13. Charlie Blackmon (COL): 644,191
  14. Marcell Ozuna (MIA): 578,015
  15. Angel Pagan (SF): 561,677

 

(Starting pitching, bullpen, and backups will be chosen by NL All-Star manager Terry Collins of the New York Mets)

 

You might have noticed a slew of Cubs players are currently projected to be All-Star starters this year. Granted at a few of those positions the vote separation margin is thin. As it stands today, though, fans could see Chicago accounting for more than half of NL-All-Stars starters (which would include the ENTIRE infield).

Fans will also want to keep an eye on who is chosen at catcher as it’s neck and neck between Molina and Posey. Meanwhile, those aforementioned cubbies infielders, Rizzo aside, could all be replaced (see Murphy, Arenado, Story/Seager) by the time it’s all said and done.

 

Home Run Derby Contestants (based on current HR leaders in the majors)

The derby has no doubt seen its share of rules and total contestant numbers change since 2013. Nevertheless, the 2016 Home Run Derby should feature eight players competing in a bracketed format with the NL and AL winner squaring off for the championship crown.

Rounds are likely to be timed rather than allotting players “x” number of outs as in years past. For a further history on the derby, and to see past winners, you can check out this link .

Below is a list of likely candidates for this year’s contest:

Mark Trumbo (BAL)-22HR**

Nolan Arendado (COL)-21HR**

Kris Bryant (CHC)-21HR**

Edwin Encarnacion (TOR)-21HR**

Adam Duvall (CIN)-21HR**

Todd Frazier (CWS)-21HR**

Robinson Cano (SEA)-19-HR**

Carlos Beltran (NYY)-19-HR

Nelson Cruz (SEA)-19HR

Trevor Story (COL)-19HR**

Chris Carter (MIL)-19HR

David Ortiz (BOS)-18HR**

Manny Machado (BAL)-18HR

Yoenis Cespedes (NYM)-18HR

Anthony Rizzo (CHC)-18HR**

Evan Longoria (TB)-18HR

Khris Davis (OAK)-18HR

Chris Davis (BAL)-18HR

Carlos Gonzalez (COL)-17HR

Mike Trout (LAA)-17HR

Josh Donaldson (TOR)-17HR

(** indicates a player I believe will likely be selected as a HR Derby participant)

 

Final Thoughts:

In the event you missed it above at any point, All-Star voting will conclude at midnight this Thursday June 30th. Fans can vote at MLB.com or anyone of the 30 MLB team websites and can do so up to 35 times.

This year’s All-Star game could be one of the more memorable ones, it’s Ortiz’s 10th and final outing, Story or Seager might be making a first time appearance, and getting to see Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale pitch on the same night is about as good as it gets.

Also, and this is an understatement, the Home Run Derby (July 11th) will be nothing short of a fireworks show, but with baseballs instead of roman candles.

The All-Star game will be played on July 12 at 8:00pm (EST).

Cubs Lose Jake Arrieta’s Start

The Chicago Cubs finished their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 2nd. The Cubs won three out of the four games against the Dodgers, but failed to take advantage of a Jake Arietta start in their one loss. Arrieta went seven innings giving up no runs.

The Cubs lost the game in the last two innings. After seven innings, the game was scoreless, but two runs were scored off pitcher Clayton Richard in the eighth and three runs were scored off pitcher Adam Warren in the ninth.  The Cubs lost 5-0.

The last time the Cubs lost a game when Jake Arrieta started a game was in July of 2015. The game was officially a no-decision for Arrieta so it didn’t affect his win-loss record.

On June 5th, however, The Arizona Diamondbacks managed to put up three runs on Arrieta. The Cubs offense only managed to put up two runs in that game. The final score was 3-2, giving Arrieta his first loss in eleven months.

Best Rotation in the MLB?

As of June 4th, the five starters of the Cubs rotation all have an ERA under three. John Lackey has a 2.88 ERA, which is the best among starters. The average ERA of the five starters is 2.55, the best statistically in the MLB as of June 4th.

Hot Streak

The Cubs have won ten of their last twelve games as of June 5th. This comes after the Cubs had lost eight of twelve at one point in May. The Cubs are hitting especially well in their current stretch.

The home run ball has especially helped the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo hit one out to right field on the on June 4th and Kris Bryant has hit 400-foot home runs on consecutive days this past week. Dexter Fowler recently hit his 3rd leadoff home run.

Fowler has been especially good against opposing fastballs. According to an infographic posted on Inside Edge’s twitter account, Fowler has a .405 batting average when a fastball is thrown to him. Five of his home runs have also come off fastballs.

Looking for Relievers?

According an article published by ESPN’s MLB Rumor Central, the Cubs are possibly looking for a lefty reliever on the trade market. The news come in the wake of Clayton Richard’s struggles. Richard has an 8.00 ERA in sixteen appearances as of June 3rd.

The article specifically mentions Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller of the New York Yankees as trade targets for the Cubs. The Cubs have recently done business with the Yankees, trading Starlin Castro this past winter. The Cubs got Adam Warren in return, who has a 2.75 ERA as of June 5th.

Will the Yankees will be willing to trade one of their relievers? It is not guaranteed. The Yankees are currently six games back of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East, but could improve their standing as the summer goes on. It is too early in the year for the Yankees to give up hope on the postseason.

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.

Chicago Cubs Pull Out of Recent Slump

 

The Chicago Cubs have won three straight games as of May 27th. The Cubs beat their NL Central rivals the St. Louis Cardinals in the last two games of that series and won the series opener of against the Philadelphia Phillies on the 27th.

In their series opening win against the Phillies, the Cubs rested Anthony Rizzo and put Kris Bryant in his spot at first base. It was an unusual sight, as Bryant usually plays third base. This is the first time all season that Anthony Rizzo has not played a game for the Cubs.

The Cubs were also beneficiaries of well-timed home runs. Jorge Soler hit a 461-foot bomb that bounced off the Cubs Video Board in left field during the 4th inning. David Ross also hit a home run in the fourth inning. The home run hit by Ross was his 100th career homer.

Also helping the Cubs in their last few games was the return of outfielder Jason Heyward. He was injured during the series against the San Francisco Giants. He was only out for a few days and managed to return in time to play the Cardinals, his former team.

Prior to their current win streak, the Cubs had lost eight of their last twelve games. In that stretch, the Cubs lost games to teams that rank in the bottom half of the league. The Cubs dropped two games to the San Diego Padres and two games to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Despite that rough patch, the Cubs are still listed first in the weekly ESPN power rankings. The Cubs also still have the best record in the MLB. Every team has its slumps and the Cubs seem to have pulled out of theirs.

Going Forward

After their series with the Phillies, the Cubs will start the month of June at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers are 25-24 as of May 27th. After that, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks on June 3rd before traveling on Philadelphia to play the Phillies again on June 6th.

The Cubs a very favorable stretch of games coming up in the next week and a half. The Dodgers are their most difficult opponents and the Cubs will play at home until June 6th.  The Cubs should be able to take most of their games in that stretch.

Starting June 13th, however, the competition heats up. The Cubs travel to Washington D.C. to play the Nationals and then come home to play the Pittsburg Pirates on June 17th and the St. Louis Cardinals on June 20th.

The Cubs have a 4.5 game lead over the Pirates after their series opening win against the Phillies on May 27th. Prior to their slump, the Cubs had an even bigger lead in the NL Central. Depending on how the Cubs do over the next few series, the division could have a new leader by the time the Pirates and Cubs meet.

The Pirates are no joke and despite the recent dominance the Cubs have had over them, it is still early in the season. Anyone could come out on top of the division. No one expects the Cubs to tank, not with all the talent they have on their roster, but it is still possible.

 

 

 

Maeda’s Early Dominance A Good Sign for the Dodgers

Some players have trouble adjusting to the MLB when they come over from Japan. So far, this hasn’t been the case for Kenta Maeda.

The 28-year old Japanese-born pitcher is having early success with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Maeda pitched for the Hiroshima Toy Carp of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball for eight seasons before being posted back in December. This made him available to Major League Baseball teams. The Dodgers signed him to a eight-year, $25 million contract in January. The team lost Zack Greinke to the Arizona Diamondbacks in December, so it was assumed that Maeda was basically going to replace Greinke in the Dodgers rotation. Obviously, no one expected him to come in right away and pitch as well as Greinke did. However, Maeda has been able to do just that.

It’s a very small sample size, but Maeda has been simply dominant thus far. Over the course of his three starts, he’s 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA. In 19 innings pitched, he’s only allowed one earned run. That run was given up in his most recent start vs the San Francisco Giants on Sunday night when Joe Panik took him deep in the top of third inning. Maeda went seven innings in that start and struck out seven while allowing only four hits. The Dodgers won the game 3-1.

His first start came back on April 6 on the road against the San Diego Padres. He didn’t allow a run, and only gave up five hits while striking out four. Maeda was take out after six innings, with his pitch count only at 84. Clearly, the Dodgers were being careful with him. They wanted to ease him into the MLB. Not only did Maeda pitch well in his first career start, he also impressed with the bat. In the top of the fourth inning, he hit a solo home run off Andrew Cashner extend the Dodgers lead to 5-0. It was only his second career at-bat. LA would go on to win 7-0. Dodger fans really couldn’t have asked for anything more out of Maeda.

His second start was equally as impressive, a game that was also the Dodgers home opener. Maeda looked very confident in his first Dodger Stadium start. He went six inning against the Diamondbacks, allowing no runs on five hits while recording four strikeouts. The Diamondbacks scored four runs off the Dodgers bullpen however, and Arizona won the game 4-2.

Maeda will have a tough test up next. On Saturday night, he’ll face the Colorado Rockies on the road. This is a team that has scored a lot of runs so far this season. Led by young shortstop Trevor Story, their offense has been very dangerous. Additionally, Coors Field is considered one of the best hitter-friendly parks in all of baseball. Maeda is going to need to have his best stuff on Saturday.

It’s still very early, but Kenta Maeda has shown us that he’s a very good pitcher. If he can keep it up, Zack Greinke might just become a distant memory in Los Angeles.

Rookie Watch 2.0

 

Before the season began, you might recall, I offered a glimpse at possible rookie of the year candidates. Since then, a few relatively unknown rookies have burst onto the MLB scene. One has already made MLB history and the others have some fans asking “Who the heck is (insert player name here)?”.

So, without further ado, allow me to provide you with an updated ROY candidate list:

 

 

5. Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers P)

Prior to this season, Maeda spent eight years pitching in the Japanese Central League for the Hiroshima Carp. Nevertheless, this being his first season in the majors with the Dodgers, Maeda is ROY eligible per MLB ruling, and has began his rookie campaign rather nicely.

In his first two starts this season, Maeda has thrown a total of 12 scoreless innings with a 1-0 record and eight strikeouts. Maeda also managed to hit a solo-shot home run in his major league debut, adding to his early success out west. Maeda will be someone to keep your eye on as the season unfolds.

 

4. Corey Seager (Los Angeles Dodgers SS)

In just 27 games and 98 at bats last season with the Dodgers, Seager hit four home runs, 17RBI, and slashed an impressive .337/.425/.561. In 11 games this season the 21-year-old shortstop is off to a solid start with one home run, six RBI, and is slashing .267/.292/.714.

Seager appears to be Los Angeles’ shortstop of the future and will likely be battling with a few of these candidates for the National League ROY award at seasons end.

 

3. Jeremy Hazelbaker (St. Louis Cardinals OF)

Called up by the Cardinals on April 2nd, Hazelbaker has been on a tear to begin the season. In 11 games Hazelbaker is 13 of 32 hitting with three home runs, seven RBI, and a nasty slash line of .406/.432/.844.

If the 28-year-old can keep this pace up, or even produce at half of his current hitting rate, St. Louis will have one of the stronger outfields in the majors this year.

 

2. Tyler White (Houston Astros 1B)

Just when you thought the ‘Stros had all of their young talent on the field and they couldn’t possibly have room for more, enter first baseman Tyler White.

White has hit four home runs with 11RBI, and is slashing .395/.467/.789 through 12 games this season. White appears poised to become the Astros everyday first baseman for 2016, barring any type of major setback.

White may also run away with the American League ROY award as well, unless Minnesota Twins rookie center fielder Bryce Buxton can climb out of his current hitting slump.

 

1. Trevor Story (Colorado Rockies SS)

Story has been nothing short of sensational so far this season. The young Rockies shortstop made MLB history by becoming the only player to hit at least one home run in each of his first four career games, as well as hitting the most home runs in a teams first six games with seven.

Along with his seven dingers, Story has 13RBI and has posted a respectable .292/.314/.833 slash line in 11 games.

Story has undoubtedly caused some Colorado fans to forget about former shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and will likely edge Jose Reyes for playing time if and when Reyes returns to baseball this season.

 

Honorable Mention: Trea Turner (Washington Nationals SS/2B), Joey Gallo (Texas Rangers 3B/OF), Stephen Matz (New York Mets P),  and Jose Berrios (Minnesota Twins P).

 

Final Thoughts:

Sure most, if not all, of these players will regress at some point this season.  But until then, enjoy the highlights while they’re still hot.

I’ll have another rookie revision coming your way once the calendar flips to July, and the season reaches its half way mark at the All-Star Break.

 

San Diego Padres Set New Record For Ineptitude

These are not the kind of records you want to be associated with, but the San Diego Padres have set a new record for ineptitude. No MLB squard has ever been as futile in its first three games as the Sand Diego Padres have been.

In fact, with the 7-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, the Padres set the MLB mark with 27 consecutive scoreless innings to open a season. The old mark was 26 by the 1943 St. Louis Browns, according to Stats LLC.

On the flip side the Dodgers became the first team since the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals to post three consecutive shutouts to open a season, outscoring San Diego 25-0 in the series.

“There is still perspective here, not to be lost,” rookie Padres manager Andy Green said. “We still do have 159 games left, and we will score runs this year. And we will win series this year.”

San Diego may have a legit bone to pick with the umps. In the 6th inning, San Diego’s Cory Spangenberg was called out trying to score on a grounder to first which would have scored a run. A replay appeared to show Spangenberg got his foot across the plate before being tagged by Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, but after a 3-minute review the call was upheld.

“The reality is this: We had ample opportunities to score runs, and I’m not going to cry about a call that is made in New York,” Green said, referring to MLB’s replay center in New York. “We had two chances with a guy on third base, and we hit two soft ground balls. That is our opportunity.”

“These guys, to a man, have prepared, and that’s what we talked about in spring training is taking ownership,” Dodgers’ manager Roberts said. “I think that once you start with Clayton Kershaw and setting the tone for the pitching staff, then these guys feed off each other. This is where it gets really fun.”

Los Angeles has benefited from dominant pitching. Kershaw allowed one hit over seven innings on  Monday, Scott Kazmir gave up one hit over six innings on Tuesday and Kenta Maeda made his major league debut Wednesday with five hits allowed over six more scoreless innings while also hitting a homerun.

When asked if his pitching performance or the homerun was more special, Maeda responded by saying:

“That’s a tough one, “I’m just very happy that I got a W in my major league debut.”

“I’m happy for him, and he’s been great all spring training,” Kershaw said of Maeda. “He’s an awesome guy. I know that it probably feels good to get that first one out of the way. He looked great. He did everything we thought he could do and even hit a homer, so that’s going to be tough to match.”

“It was a great moment for him, a great moment for a club and one of those things that can bring a ballclub together,” Ellis said regarding Maeda’s home run. “A lot of us were excited for him, but a lot of us were upset that he hit a home run before us.”

“It will come. It was just three games, three bad games,” Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner said. “But I believe in these guys in the locker room and I believe in myself, and there’s no doubt we will come out of it. It’s tough any time you lose but especially to those guys. I mean, we play 162 games, and it’s one bad series. We just got to play better from here on out.”

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)

 

 

 

 

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Spring Training Storylines

Spring Training games are being played this week, meaning the regular season is right around the corner. While games in the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues don’t actually count, it’s still important for teams to make assessments and players to prepare for the upcoming 162 games that do matter. With that being said and without further adieu, here’s a quick rundown of a some players and team situations worth monitoring this month.

 

Leading Off

The Baltimore Orioles were recent recipients of bad news before entering Spring Training this year. Just when the O’s thought they had a true lead-off hitter for the first time since Brian Roberts’ last full MLB season in 2009, Dexter Fowler switched gears last minute and decided to return to the Chicago Cubs. With Fowler out of picture, Baltimore will have to use these Spring games wisely to determine who is best suited to be their lead guy.

Possible lead-off candidates include O’s third baseman Manny Machado (.359 OBP in 2015), outfielder Nolan Reimold (.327 OBP in 2015), and Hyun-Soo Kim (who boasts an average OBP of .406 in 10 seasons of Korean Baseball Organization play). While Machado can certainly be a top of the order batter for Baltimore, if Kim can impress in these Grapefruit league games, it would be more ideal to have Machado hitting second or fifth.

In theory, Kim and Machado could get on base with Adam Jones and Chris Davis bringing them in to score (or Machado could be used as an RBI machine if he bats fifth, he had 86RBI in 2015).

 

Maeda in America (see what I did there)

Speaking of international players like Hyun-Soo Kim above, former Japan Central League ace Kenta Maeda, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, should be a lot of fun to watch this Spring. Maeda spent eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp compiling a total win loss record of 97-67 with a 2.39 ERA, over 1,500 innings pitched, over 1,200 strikeouts, and a 1.04 WHIP.

Maeda is currently listed as fourth on LA’s depth chart behind seasoned veterans Brett Anderson (listed as third) and Scott Kazmir (listed as second). If his transition to major league play  mirrors that of his JPCL performances, I believe Maeda could become the Dodgers number two man in the rotation by the second half of the season.

 

Debut with Detroit

Making his debut with the Tigers, Detroit’s new left fielder Justin Upton has gone oh-for-four in the teams first two Spring Training contests. This is to be expected, though, as it will take Upton time to get acclimated to American League pitchers and Motown fans needn’t worry. Upton has hit 25 or more home runs in five of his nine major league seasons, including last year when he hit 26 to go along with 81 RBI and a sustainable .250/.336/.454 slash line.

Given that Upton  had to deal with the notoriously deep dimensions of  Petco Park in San Diego for most of 2015, I look for him to improve his stats and add some more power to Detroit’s lineup this season.

 

Who’s on First?

After seeing Hanley Ramirez struggle mightily in left field last season, the Boston Red Sox made the decision this off-season to move the former star shortstop to first base. The switch to first makes this the fourth position Ramirez has played in his 11 year career (he has also played third base). Whether or not Ramirez will have success at the position remains to be seen, and this will definitely be something to keep an eye on as Grapefruit League play continues.

Ramirez will likely also split time this year with David Ortiz at designated hitter, as this will be Ortiz’ final season. In the event Ramirez underperforms defensively at first base this season, the Sox may choose him as a short-term replacement at DH in 2017, since he is under contract with Boston until 2020.

 

Out in Left Field

The Texas Rangers recent signing of free agent and former Washington Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, was somewhat surprising considering the Rangers already have an everyday SS in Elvis Andrus. Texas, however, will not be shifting the infield around in 2016 to make room for Desmond. Instead, the Rangers have decided to play him in the outfield according to multiple reports. Similarly to the aforementioned Ramirez, Desmond has primarily played at shortstop in his seven year MLB career.

The Rangers current depth chart shows Desmond starting in left field, with Josh Hamilton right behind him. Hamilton is also shown as being second on the DH depth chart, behind Prince Fielder. This will no doubt be an interesting development to watch as the season progresses for Texas.

 

(All depth chart information is per MLB.com, while all players statistics are from either ESPN.com or BaseballReference.com. Contractual info is from Spotrac.com)

 

Final Thoughts:

 

Spring Training, much like the Pre-Season in the NFL, is a time for all 30 MLB teams to make evaluations, get a clearer picture of what the 40-man roster will look like, and experiment with different lineups or rotations.

For fans, it’s a perfectly good excuse to take a paid vacation and enjoy all of the festivities it has to offer.

Welcome back baseball, we have missed you.