Saturday, May 31, 2014

Tanaka Time Is Party Time In The Bronx

For nearly 20 years, we Yankee Fans have been spoiled: We've nearly always had a starting rotation full of guys who would be aces or #2 starters on any staff.

Now that we've been hit by the injury bug -- CC Sabathia out until July, Ivan Nova out for the season, and today we found out Michael Pineda has had a setback and we don't know when he's coming back -- we are realizing, possibly for the first time since Ron Guidry was dealing in the mid-1980s, just how valuable an ace can be.

Today, Masahiro Tanaka is that man. He has made a grand total of 11 major league appearances since signing with the Pinstripes, and we've gone 9-2 in those games.

In the 2 losses, we've scored a total of 5 runs, so the losses are hardly all his fault. Then again, in 2 of the wins, we only scored 3 runs each. A lesser pitcher would have had us not nearly as well off.

Today, Tanaka started for the Yankees against the Minnesota Twins. He allowed a run in the 1st inning, but cruised after that: 8 innings, 1 run, 4 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts. Again: The strikeouts are exciting, but they don't mean any more than any other kind of out.

In the bottom of the 4th, Yangervis Solarte hit a home run to tie the game. It was his 6th of the season -- or 3 times as many as Robinson Cano has hit for the Seattle Mariners. (Cano does have more RBIs, but not by much: 31 to 26. Also, his direct replacement at 2nd base, Brian Roberts, while only having 11 RBIs, also has 2 homers.)

With 1 out in the bottom of the 8th, Jacoby Ellsbury singled, stole 2nd, and advanced to 3rd on a bad throw by Twins catcher Josmil Pinto. (Joe Mauer is recovering from an injury, and was their designated hitter.) Roberts drew a walk. Brian McCann sent a rocket to right field, scoring Ellsbury easily. Roberts got to 3rd, McCann to 2nd. Alfonso Soriano was intentionally walked to load the bases. The Twins made a pitching change.

And then there was a rain delay. If the game was then called, under the rules, the score would revert to what it was at the start of the inning: 1-1. Meaning the game would have to be replayed in its entirety.

Fortunately, play resumed. Solarte popped up for the 2nd out. But Kelly Johnson beat out an infield single, and Roberts scored to make it 3-1.

Solarte made an error in the 9th, but, other than that, David Robertson channeled his inner Goose Gossage and struck out the side.

WP: Tanaka (8-1). SV: Robertson (12). LP: Brian Duensing (1-2).

The series concludes tomorrow afternoon. Rookie Chase Whitley goes for the Yankees. And who goes for the Twins? Why none other than the man we refused to trade, 6 years ago, for The Great Johan Santana, a man who helped us reach the Playoffs 5 times, including the 2009 World Championship: Phil Hughes.

How is Hughes doing in Minnesota? Pretty good, actually: He's 5-1 with a 3.23 ERA, and a 1.19 WHIP. Think we could use him now? Well, there's not a whole lot of pressure in Minnesota (it's a hockey State first, a football State second), so we don't know how well he'd be faring in New York now.

I'm happy for him. I just don't want him to do well tomorrow.

Nolasco's Pitching, Gardner's Baserunning (Believe It) Doom Yanks

The Yankees opened a 6-game homestand last night, facing the Minnesota Twins. Being back home? Good news.

Vidal Nuno was the starting pitcher? Bad news.

Nuno wasn't horrible, getting into the 7th inning, but allowing 4 runs on 7 hits, and no walks. The no walks is a great sign, but he's still not Yankee-quality.

Even if he had been Yankee-quality last night, he wouldn't have won, because the bats didn't get it done. Ricky Nolasco started for the Twins, and he got the job done: 6 innings, 1 run. Every Yankee starter except Mark Teixeira got a hit, but we couldn't string them together. The only Yankee run came in the 3rd inning, when John Ryan Murphy led off with a single, Brett Gardner grounded into a force play, he stole 2nd, Derek Jeter grounded out to send him to 3rd, and Jacoby Ellsbury doubled him home.

Men on 1st & 2nd in the 1st -- nobody got to 3rd. Leadoff single by Gardner in the 2nd -- and the man best known for his baserunning was subsequently picked off. Bottom of the 5th, Gardner walked and stole 2nd, but when Jeter singled, Gardner -- again, best known for his baserunning -- was thrown out at the plate. Men on 1st & 2nd in the 6th -- nobody got to 3rd. Yangervis Solarte doubled in the 9th -- stayed on 2nd. Yankee RISPfail at its finest.

Twins 6, Yankees 1. WP: Nolasco (3-5). No save. LP: Nuno (1-2).

The series continues, a few minutes after I post this. Masahiro Tanaka, this year's losing streak-stopper, starts against Kevin Correia.

Come on you Pinstripes!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Who Will Be the Next "Face of Baseball"?

Last year, it was Mariano Rivera’s turn to have a “farewell tour,” with every opposing team essentially giving him a “day” in his last appearance in that ballpark. This year, it’s Derek Jeter’s turn.

This is not generally done. Cal Ripken got it in 2001, but Tony Gwynn didn’t. But even such legends as Hank Aaron (1976), Willie Mays (1973), Mickey Mantle (1968), Stan Musial (1963), Ted Williams (1960) and Joe DiMaggio (1951) didn’t get such honors.

This is mainly because an athlete usually doesn’t announce before a season that he’s playing only one more year. Indeed, Mantle didn’t announce it until spring training of the following year. But even when Lou Gehrig was forced to retire early in the 1939 season, he didn’t get such honors, except at Yankee Stadium.

In the cases of Jeter and Ripken, it’s because each, in his time, had essentially become “The Face of Baseball.” These were era-defining men who had announced beforehand that they were retiring.

It could be said that, for better and for worse, Pete Rose and Barry Bonds were each the Face of Baseball in their respective times, but neither ever really announced their retirements. Rose, by then a player-manager (the last one in the major leagues to date), just sort of stopped playing. Bonds, in contrast, didn’t have his contract renewed, and was essentially blackballed (if not outright banned), shut out of a game he could, through whatever chemical assistance, still play.

With Jeter gone, who becomes the Face of Baseball? If he had a serious competitor for that title these last few years, it’s been David Ortiz. He fits the role for positive reasons: He’s won, he’s got a winning personality, and he plays in a big market. (And, let’s face it, Big Papi’s slobbering acolytes on ESPN and Fox Sports make New England an even bigger market than it already is.)

He also fits the role for negative reasons: He used performance-enhancing drugs, lied about it, got caught, and still lies about it. If Jeter is (as far as we know) the symbol of “clean” baseball, Ortiz is the symbol of the dark side of baseball, 2003 to the present: We know the truth, but we choose to remain in denial.

Bonds’ fans, Sammy Sosa’s, and, to a lesser extent, Mark McGwire’s were more or less limited to their team’s metropolitan areas; because of the Boston club’s exposure, Ortiz is a national figure in a way that even McGwire was not, though Jeter is and Ripken was. And, of course, while Alex Rodriguez (regardless of whether he ever plays again) has his defenders, he’ll always have more haters, and with his personality, he’s done himself no favors in that regard.

To be “The Face of Baseball,” you need talent, results, a winning personality, and a big platform – i.e. either you play in a big market or, in spite of not doing so, ESPN and Fox Sports love you (as was the case with Ken Griffey Jr. while he was in Seattle). It also helps to be an everyday player: Pitchers just don’t generate the kind of admiration that big sluggers do. After all, as great as Greg Maddux was, he was never as popular as Ripken, Jeter or Ortiz; even in Atlanta, he wasn’t as popular as Chipper Jones. In other words, sorry, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg and Masahiro Tanaka, but you’re not eligible.

Here are my top five candidates for Face of Baseball, late 2010s edition:
 
5. David Wright, New York Mets. He has the market. He seems to be a nice guy. He seems to be clean. He is, along with Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza, one of the three best offensive players the Mets have ever had. What he doesn’t have is the results: He was one run away from a pennant in 2006, but that’s his only trip to the postseason so far.
 
The Mets, desperate for fans as the Yankees dominate the market (one source even showed the Yankees more popular even in the Mets’ home Borough of Queens), are unlikely to let him go to a contender; so unless the Mets can get it together sometime in the next seven years, he may never play in a World Series. But unless Yangervis Solarte really builds on his good start to capture Yankee fans’ imagination, Wright will, at least, be the biggest baseball star in the New York Tri-State Area for a while. (If Solarte does build on it, soon, Wright won’t even be the best third baseman in New York.)

4. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers. Market? Check. Nice? Check. Clean? Check, we think. Postseason success? Not yet. And he has not fully come back from his injury a year ago.
 
He does have the advantage over his teammate Yasiel Puig in that he’s an English-speaker in an English-speaking country. If Roberto Clemente were still alive, you could ask him how difficult it is to be a baseball icon whose first language is not English.
 
3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Nice? Check. Clean? Check, we think. Market? Sort of: The Angels can change their name to whatever they want, they’ll still be second in Southern California behind the Dodgers. Postseason success? Not yet, but the Angels are well-positioned for that.
 
At 22 the youngest of these candidates, Trout might be in the best position to be the Face of Baseball in the long term.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox. Market? Check. Nice? People who aren’t Yankee fans think so. Clean? As far as we know. Postseason success? Yes. And he’s only 30, so, barring a medical or ethical calamity, he will replace Ortiz as the “face” of the Red Sox.

1. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Market? Check, sort of; having played for the St. Louis Cardinals, who have inflated their “market,” raised his profile. Nice? Apparently, although some in the Cardinal organization have suggested otherwise. Clean? We think so. Postseason success? Two rings in seven appearances.

Presuming A-Rod is done, Phat Albert is the active leader in home runs, with 506 to Adam Dunn’s second-place 448. That’s a huge plus. While he had an off-year (by his standards) last year, he’s hitting again this season. And he’s only 34, so he should have a few more good years left.

The fact that Pujols has veteran status and isn’t “baseball old” puts him in a great position to be the kind of player who gets honored with a farewell tour. If he helps the Angels win a World Series, it’s almost assured that he’ll be considered The Face of Baseball after that.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Which Teams Are "Big Clubs"?

Note: Despite 2 new championships having since been decided in the NBA and the NHL, and 1 each in MLB and the NFL, no significant changes have been made to this list. The Golden State Warriors' previous championship may have been 40 years earlier, but they had won one. They remain an "intermediate club."

Soccer fans, especially in England (where they get really pissy if you call their sport "soccer" instead of "football"), like to talk about how their favorite team is a "big club," while their arch-rival is a "small club."

But how is such a thing measured? Or is it completely subjective?

I decided to took at the 122 teams in North American major league sports, to see which ones were "big clubs," "intermediate clubs" and "small clubs."

I measured it three ways: The size of their market, the achievements in their history, and the apparent (thus keeping it partly subjective) size of their following -- local, regional, national. I judged each of these catgeories on a scale of 1 to 5, and totaled it up.

Here's what I came up with:

MLB:

RANKTEAMMarketHistoryFollowingTOTAL
1New York Yankees55515
2Los Angeles Dodgers54514
3Boston Red Sox44513
4Chicago Cubs53513
5St. Louis Cardinals44412
6San Francisco Giants53311
7Atlanta Braves43411
8New York Mets52411
9Baltimore Orioles43310
10Detroit Tigers43310
11Philadelphia Phillies42410
12Chicago White Sox5229
13Cincinnati Reds3339
14Colorado Rockies4239
15Minnesota Twins4239
16Pittsburgh Pirates3339
17Seattle Mariners4239
18Toronto Blue Jays4239
19Oakland Athletics3328
20Arizona Diamondbacks4228
21Houston Astros4228
22San Diego Padres4228
23Texas Rangers4228
24Los Angeles Angels3227
25Miami Marlins4217
26Tampa Bay Rays4217
27Cleveland Indians3227
28Kansas City Royals3227
29Washington Nationals4116
30Milwaukee Brewers2215

NFL:

RANKTEAMMarketHistoryFollowingTOTAL
1New York Giants54514
2Chicago Bears54514
3Dallas Cowboys44513
4New York Jets52512
5San Francisco 49ers54312
6Washington Redskins43512
7Pittsburgh Steelers34512
8Green Bay Packers34512
9Miami Dolphins43411
10Denver Broncos43411
11Oakland Raiders33410
12New England Patriots43310
13Philadelphia Eagles4239
14Cleveland Browns3339
15Atlanta Falcons4228
16San Diego Chargers4228
17Detroit Lions4228
18Seattle Seahawks 4228
19Minnesota Vikings4228
20St. Louis Rams4228
21Tampa Bay Buccaneers4228
22Baltimore Ravens4228
23Kansas City Chiefs3238
24New Orleans Saints3238
25Buffalo Bills3238
26Cincinnati Bengals3227
27Indianapolis Colts3227
28Houston Texans4116
29Arizona Cardinals4116
30Tennessee Titans3126
31Carolina Panthers3115
32Jacksonville Jaguars3115

NBA:

RANKTEAMMarketHistoryFollowingTOTAL
1Los Angeles Lakers55515
2Boston Celtics45413
3Chicago Bulls53513
4New York Knicks53412
5Miami Heat43411
6Philadelphia 76ers43310
7Detroit Pistons43310
8Dallas Mavericks4228
9Houston Rockets4228
10San Antonio Spurs3328
11Golden State Warriors5117
12Los Angeles Clippers5117
13Phoenix Suns4217
14Toronto Raptors4127
15Washington Wizards4127
16Atlanta Hawks4127
17Brooklyn Nets3126
18Minnesota Timberwolves4116
19Denver Nuggets4116
20Portland Trail Blazers3216
21Orlando Magic3216
22Indiana Pacers2226
23Utah Jazz2226
24Charlotte Hornets3115
25Sacramento Kings3115
26Cleveland Cavaliers3115
27Milwaukee Bucks2215
28Oklahoma City Thunder2125
29Memphis Grizzlies2114
30New Orleans Pelicans2114

NHL:

RANKTEAMMarketHistoryFollowingTOTAL
1Montreal Canadiens45514
2Boston Bruins44513
3Detroit Red Wings44513
4New York Rangers53412
5Chicago Blackhawks53412
6Toronto Maple Leafs43512
7Los Angeles Kings52310
8Philadelphia Flyers43310
9San Jose Sharks5139
10Pittsburgh Penguins3339
11Vancouver Canucks3249
12Edmonton Oilers2349
13New Jersey Devils4228
14St. Louis Blues4228
15Colorado Avalanche4228
16New York Islanders3328
17Calgary Flames2248
18Tampa Bay Lightning4217
19Dallas Stars4127
20Washington Capitals4127
21Anaheim Ducks3227
22Ottawa Senators2147
23Florida Panthers4116
24Arizona Coyotes4116
25Minnesota Wild4116
26Buffalo Sabres2226
27Winnipeg Jets1146
28Carolina Hurricanes2215
29Columbus Blue Jackets2125
30Nashville Predators2114

So it can be said that a "big club" scored from 10 to 15 points, an "intermediate club" from 7 to 9, and a "small club" from 0 to 6.

So here's my judgments. These are arranged first by sport, then in alphabetical order:

Big Clubs: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants; Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins; Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers; Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings (newly-promoted), Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs.

Intermediate Clubs: Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Miami Marlins, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays; Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Atlanta Hawks; Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards; Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals.

Small Clubs: Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals; Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans; Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Memphis Grizzlies, Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Orlando Magic, Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings, Utah Jazz; Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets.

Only the Yankees and the Lakers got a perfect score of 15, while the Dodgers, football Giants, Bears and Canadiens just missed at 14.

This much is clear: The New York Mets, Jets, and Rangers; the Chicago Cubs, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Los Angeles Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs are Big Clubs only because of the size of their markets. Ditto at Intermediate level for the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels (possibly) and Clippers (definitely), Miami Marlins, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.

Yet even the Nets (we're only counting Brooklyn in their market, not the entire Tri-State Area) and Washington Nationals can't ride what appear to be big markets out of Small Club status: Hype aside, the Nets are the smallest club in the Tri-State Area, and not just because they're the only one of the Tri-State Nine to have never won a World Championship. (Their 2 ABA titles don't count.)

In case you're wondering: While the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder are both in the NBA's Conference Finals, reaching the NBA Finals would not lift them out of Small Club status. Winning the NBA title would move them in with the Intermediate Clubs, but not into the Big Clubs.

Among teams that ceased to exist within the last 30 years (all of them having moved), this is where they were at the time:

Big Clubs: Baltimore Colts, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle SuperSonics.

Intermediate Clubs: Montreal Expos, Houston Oilers, Hartford Whalers.

Small Clubs: St. Louis Cardinals (football edition), San Diego Clippers, Vancouver Grizzlies, Atlanta Thrashers, Quebec Nordiques. No, being a Canadian team in Canada's sport wouldn't have boosted the Nords much.

As for WNBA and MLS teams, sorry, but even the biggest of their teams -- the New York Liberty and Red Bulls, the Los Angeles Sparks and Galaxy, the Detroit Shock, the Seattle Sounders and D.C. United -- would only be Intermediate Clubs.