Boston Strong

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Boston Strong! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at home was in 1918. Babe Ruth was pitching on that team. He was later traded, and created the Curse of the Bambino. This all changed after the 2013 World Series. Boston had many things to be happy about. When the World Series began, I believed that the Red Sox had the better players and the Cardinals had the better team. I was wrong. It wasn’t the prettiest World Series or the most exciting, but the storyline was poignant and fitting. After April’s Boston Marathon bombing, the Red Sox devoted the rest of the season to overcoming this disaster.  And the Red Sox overcame adversity in this World Series as well to come back and win three consecutive games to bring a championship title back to Boston.

Going into this matchup, the Red Sox were slight favorites to win it all, but everyone knew how capable the Cardinals team was. Both teams boasted clutch hitting and solid pitching all year, and this set up to be a pretty even and contested series. The pitchers were lined up, hitters rested and coaches prepared. The Cardinals and Red Sox had each won two World Series in the past  Decade. But Tony La Russa was not coaching against Terry Francona. A new generational rivalry was born with Mike Matheny and John Farrell as managers.

Game 1 ended shortly after it started. Adam Wainwright faced off against Jon Lester, a battle of aces.. This was supposed to be the tasty appetizer for an amazing entrée. However, the Cardinals came out flat and seemed scared. They committed two errors in the first two innings, including  botching a potential double play. This allowed the Red Sox to take a 5-0 lead after two innings and they cruised to a 8-1 victory. Mike Napoli had the big three-run double in the first and the tasty appetizer did not even make it around the table to serve everyone. It was a disappointing start from a competitive standpoint but a good omen for Boston supporters.

Game 2 featured Michael Wacha, Big Papi and some unusual plays. These three things would end up playing a huge role for the rest of the series.  Wacha was dealing like a used car salesman. Up 1-0 in the sixth, Big Papi David Ortiz belted a two-run homer to give the Sox the lead. However, the lead would evaporate in the next inning on a sacrifice fly. This bases loaded, one out sacrifice fly had the ball flying from right field, to the catcher and then into the stands past third base. Two runs scored on the play and one more came across when clutch Carlos Beltran singled in the next at-bat to make it 4-2 Cardinals. This was the final score.  An ugly series of events to give the Cardinals the game, but as they say, a win is a win is a win. The series all tied up like boy scout knot. Heading back to St. Louis for three games, the Cardinals seemed to have momentum.

The unusual plays did not stop there. In Game 3, the Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead against Jake Peavy in the first. The game was on cruise control until the fifth. The Red Sox tied the game with one run in the fifth and sixth. The see-saw battle continued when the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead on Matt Holliday’s double in the seventh..  However, the Red Sox quickly answered with clutch hitting by Xander Bogaerts to tie it at 4 in the eighth. Whew! I just felt my heart palpitate thinking about that game again. And I have not even got to the climax yet. Or the anticlimax.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out. Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder to second, but Dustin Pedroia alertly threw out Yadier Molina at home for the second out of the inning. This is where normal leaves the ballpark and drama dons a whole new wardrobe, or more appropriate, uniform. After Molina made the out, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to throw out Allen Craig who went from second to third on the play. And similar to Game 2, the throw went wide and into the outfield. Craig broke for home like Forrest Gump in Vietnam while Daniel Nava fielded the ball in the outfield. Nava threw a bullet and Craig was tagged out at home. Extra innings, right? Wrong. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled obstruction on third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig was awarded home and the game ended in one of the most bizarre endings in World Series history. Both teams stormed home plate. The Red Sox were yelling at the umpire crew. The Cardinals were reluctant to embrace victory. The crowd was confused. The television audience waited for an explanation. Utter chaos. All in all, the correct call was made by the letter of the law, and the Cardinals had a 2-1 edge in the Series.

After an unusual ending to Game 3, the Red Sox found themselves with their backs against the wall in a pretty much must-win situation. The Red Sox had grown out their beards the entire season and a bearded man came to the rescue for Game 4. Jonny Gomes blasted a three-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth and that was all she wrote. The Red Sox won 4-2 and another abnormal play occurred to end the game. Kolten Wong was pinch-running in the bottom of the ninth and Beltran was up representing the tying run with two outs. However before he could get a crack at a good pitch, Koji Uehara picked off Wong at first to end the game. Wong made his appearance one to forget, and the theme of errors, great pitching and bizarre plays continued.  World Series tied 2-2. The plot was thickening. Announcers John Buck and Tim McCarver had clever stories to tell.

Game 5 was the most crucial game in the Series. Typically, the winner of this game takes it all and this trend did not disappoint. The aces were back on the mound and Lester continued where he left off. After Big Papi doubled in Pedroia in the first, Lester dominated on the mound. His only mistake was a mammoth of a home run surrendered to Matt Holliday in the fourth. He hit it so far that Bud Selig was able to grow a full beard before the ball landed. Knotted at one, the Sox had something brewing in the seventh. With Saltalamacchia’s throwing woes, veteran David Ross had gotten the nod as catcher in games four, five and six. And he and his beard delivered a game-winning double in the top of the seventh. The Sox tacked on one more on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. With Lester and Uehara baffling the Cardinals’ bats, the Red Sox won 3-1 and the usually energetic St. Louis fans were dead silent. Those fans are baseball smart, and they knew that their Cardinal team had blown two huge opportunities to take control in the series.

Heading back to Boston, Wacha was due to take the mound in Game 6. Despite Wainwright being the team’s ace, it was Wacha who had been the Cardinals’ best pitcher in the playoffs. John Lackey was the starter for the Sox, the same Lackey that started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. The weather was cold and the Bostonians were anxious to win. The game creeped into the bottom of the third scoreless with 2 outs, when Shane Victorino came to bat with the bases loaded. The “Flying Hawaiian” proved Wacha’s mortality by lacing a double off the Green Monster in left to clear the bases. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead and never looked back. They never had to. Stephen Drew smacked a home run and the Cardinals for the third consecutive game could not deliver the clutch hits. They continually set the table, but nobody wanted to eat. Lackey gave up only run and Uehara fittingly recorded the final out as the Red Sox won 6-1 and became the 2013 World Series champions. Babe Ruth somewhere smoked a cigar in tribute. Boston won in more ways than one.

The St. Louis Cardinals led the major leagues with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position during the year but batted just a puny .214 during the World Series. Some would say it was because of great Boston pitching. Some would say the Cardinals bats picked a bad time to go into hibernation. Who knows  the real reason. Ortiz won the World Series MVP boasting a videogame-like .688 batting average. Given the events of the bombing during the Boston Marathon, this World Series had much more meaning than baseball for the city of Boston. Especially the way the Red Sox overcame a deficit, unprecedented events and an intimidating opposing ballpark. Just like their city during the crisis, the Red Sox were resilient, galvanized and determined.

This World Series might not be as celebrated as the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, but its importance to the city is invaluable. The St. Louis Cardinals are young and will be back for many years to come. They ran into the beards of the Sox. Was it inopportune hitting? Great pitching? Or could it be fate?  Maybe it just was not in the Cards. I do know that this World Series was an amazing one to cap off one of the best baseball playoffs I can remember. The better teams won. In the end, the best team won. Congratulations Red Sox. Boston has a lot to be proud of.

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Pitching Reigns in October

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Pitching Reigns in October! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The World Series matchup is set. The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Two storied franchises competing against each other. The ratings will be high, well higher than usual.  It’s a rematch of the 2004 World Series where the Red Sox swept and broke the Curse of the Bambino. Truth be told, this World Series is a real treat, and on paper one of the best ones in recent memory. Both teams have big-time hitters, but it was the pitchers that dominated the League Championship Series. The adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” came to fruition and showed who reigns supreme on a baseball diamond.

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We had two phenomenal matchups in the League Championship Series with the Dodgers-Cardinals and Red Sox-Tigers. At a glance, many experts agreed that the Dodgers had a better pitching staff than the Cards with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke against Adam Wainwright and a bevy of young pitchers. Many experts picked the Tigers to win it all with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez over veterans Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Well the experts were right that the better pitching staff won, but it just was not the ones they thought were better.

Game 1 in the Cardinals-Dodgers series shaped the tone for the entire series. Greinke faced rookie Joe Kelly in one of many pitchers duels in the LCS. The Dodgers and Cardinals each scored twice in the third inning. Zeroes hung on the scoreboard the rest of the way like Christmas tree ornaments. The Dodgers did what they did for many parts of the season. They got runners on, they got them over, but could not get them in. They even had a runner thrown out at home in the top of the 10th by Carlos Beltran, whose big two-run double tied the game at 2. And to seal the deal, Beltran roped a double down the line for the game-winning hit to win 3-2 and commence a great set of LCS games. The lead in the series was up for grabs and the Cardinals took it and never looked back.

In Game 2, the Dodgers put out their best pitcher, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, but it was another pitcher who made a name for himself. Michael Wacha, another rookie for the Cardinals, outpitched Kershaw in a 1-0 ballgame. This was not a soccer game, but it felt like it when the Cardinals scored their only goal, I mean run. The Cardinals had all the momentum heading to Los Angeles, but they got blanked by the rookie this time for Game 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched beautifully and beat the Cardinals 3-0. Are you sensing a theme with these recaps yet?

Michael-Wacha

A big hit actually took place in Game 4 when Matt Holliday hit a mammoth two-run homer to help the Cardinals beat the Dodgers 4-2. A two-run lead felt like a blowout given the circumstances. The Cardinals’ World Series berth was put on hold when Greinke dealt and the Dodgers finally got some big hits, taking Game 5, 6-4. Going back to St. Louis with the Cardinals up 3-2, everyone felt Game 7 was inevitable with Kershaw on the mound again. However, people forgot about the real ace of this series, Wacha.

Yes, his last name sounds like a Russian’s favorite liquor, but the only thing strong about Wacha is his arm and his pitches. He continued to dominate the Dodger lineup while Kershaw had an inning to forget. The Cardinals batted around in the fourth, tallying four runs, and in essence, punching their ticket to the 2013 World Series. They won 9-0. In six games, the Dodgers scored 13 runs and pretty much half of them came in Game 5. Not even the antics and over-the-top emotions of Yasiel Puig could carry the Dodgers. His flaws were exposed by a gritty Cardinals team, and so were the rest of the Dodgers. Wacha, a pitcher, was named NLCS MVP, and we might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg with this young stud.

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The Dodgers made one of the most amazing turnarounds during the regular season and brought baseball excitement back to L.A. However, in the end, the Cardinals reminded us that baseball is a team sport and the team that spends the most money is not usually the one who wins. The Cardinals proved to have the best pitching, and consequently, they are now in great position to win the 2013 World Series.

In the ALCS, The Tigers and Red Sox boasted two of the most potent offenses in baseball. What a joke! The only crooked numbers seen in this series were strikeouts and number of beards, and there were many of them on both sides. There were two 1-0 games. This is mind boggling to a guy who has watched the Tigers and Red Sox score at will like an Oregon football team playing Arkansas State all year. But it still happened.  Good pitching happened. The Red Sox lost Game 1 1-0. Enough said. Those are the highlights. In all seriousness,  Sanchez pitched effectively wild and did not allow a hit in six innings pitched. In fact, the Red Sox got their first hit in the bottom of the 9th to break up the no hitter.

Game 2 will go down as one of the gems of this postseason. Down 5-0 in the bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox again got their first hit late in the ballgame  when Shane Victorino broke up Scherzer’s no hit bid. This led to their first run of the series. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the 8th, the Red Sox loaded the bases for David Ortiz. And the Red Sox version of Beltran did it again. On the first pitch, he cracked a line drive over the right field wall to dramatically tie the game with a grand slam. Torii Hunter missed the catch and flipped over the short wall like a gymnast. It was electric. Even Stephen King got scared in attendance with the eeriness in the air. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th to win 6-5 and in hindsight, win the series for the Red Sox.

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Returning to Detroit, momentum was up in the air, but the Tigers felt confident throwing their ace Verlander out on the bump. The Red Sox countered with Lackey. Verlander was dominant, surrendering only one mistake to Mike Napoli in the 7th. a home run that barely cleared the fence in left. And that led to another 1-0 game. Lackey ousted the ace, like Wacha did. The Tigers could not deliver the clutch hits, like the Dodgers. The Tigers did tie up the series by roughing up Peavy in Game 4. They won 7-3, the only non-competitive game in the series, and it led to a pivotal Game 5. The Red Sox jumped to an early 4-0 lead and grinded out a 4-3 win. Closer Koji Uehara got five outs for the save and halted any chances of a Tiger comeback.

Down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, the Tigers still felt optimistic with Scherzer and Verlander lined up to pitch. Game 6 featured another grand performance from an unlikely hero. Pitching dominated again.  Through six innings, the Tigers led 2-1. In the bottom of the 7th, the Red Sox fans found the bases juiced with Victorino up to bat and then the unthinkable happened.  No he did not shave his beard before his at bat, but he smacked another Red Sox grand slam, this time over the Green Monster in left. Uehara closed the deal again for his third save in the series. Not to mention, he won the other game when the Red Sox walked off in Game 2. The Red Sox won in 6 games advancing to the World Series and Uehara, a closer, yet alone a pitcher, was named MVP of the ALCS.

Jon Lester

The Red Sox and the Cardinals batted poorly throughout the LCS, but they got the hits when they counted. It was their pitching that carried them to the World Series. Each team featured emerging stars winning MVPs. Wacha on the front end. He beat Kershaw and shutout the Dodgers twice.  Those two feats alone in one series are reason enough to retire. And Uehara impacted every single game the Red Sox won against the Tigers, winning one and saving three games. The entire country of Japan has new requested membership to Red Sox Nation.

It is usually the hitters that get the awards. Hitters get the highlights. The home runs and game-winning hits. Hitters are the ones that play every game and provide the most impact. However, the only thing the bats have been touching these playoffs are the racks after recording outs, and lots of them. The final four teams had the best pitchers in baseball. The Cardinals and Red Sox might not have better pitchers than the Tigers or Dodgers, but they pitched better in the LCS, when it mattered most. Their bullpens were better. Their closers were better. And now we, as fans, are better off with this fantastic matchup for this year’s World Series. Two respected and admirable teams facing off in late October.  What could be better than this? Seven games would be a nice early Christmas gift. Will the pitching dominance continue to trend or will the hitters get the last laugh? This baseball fan is eager to watch and see. Stay tuned.

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Paul Culley
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Figuring out the Final Four

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Figuring out the Final Four! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Well, it looks like Major League Baseball is in for a treat. For the longest time in a while, baseball has a final four that is box office gold. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Red Sox. West Coast to East Coast, we have four storied franchises that are filled with superstars. Maybe MLB thought they would give Bud Selig a nice going away present, since he’s retiring following the 2014 season.  If that’s the case, I am super excited about next season. Let me curb my enthusiasm about the two championship series and take a look at how we got there. The Braves, Pirates, Rays and A’s all fell in the Division Series. Can anybody sense a theme? All squads are small to mid-market teams, lacking big names, with very little postseason experience.

Matt-Kemp-NL-West-ChampsCould this just be a coincidence? It might be. Maybe the other teams were just better. Three out of the four teams with home field advantage won out, with the Tigers being the only team that outlasted this disadvantage. No real shocker there. So maybe we can just chalk it up to the best teams are left, which is the way it should be. Let’s break down the series.

The Dodgers’ return to the postseason matched them up against the Braves and Clayton Kershaw reminded us why he is the best pitcher in baseball. He dealt in Game 1 in Atlanta and the Dodgers got timely hitting from the usual suspects in Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig to cruise to a victory. The Braves responded in Game 2 by getting some clutch two-out hitting from Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson to squeak out a 4-3 victory over Zack Greinke. Heading back to Los Angeles, the series still seemed up in the air.

​The Dodgers quickly reminded us that this team can not just pitch, but they are capable of putting on an offensive display. In a matchup of two international rookie starting pitchers, the slugfest finished with a football score as Juan Uribe struck the big two-run homer in the fourth inning. The game was out of reach after that. The Braves scored a late safety to make the final score 13-6. Game 4 was the best game in he series. The Dodgers opted to move Kerhsaw up a day to pitch against Freddy Garcia. Yes I said Sweaty Freddy Garcia. How can the Braves be serious about winning by doing this? I laughed when I saw this matchup. And the Braves almost had the last laugh.

After trailing 2-0, the Braves answered by taking a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th. Puig led off the inning with a double and shortly thereafter, Uribe did it again. Just like he did for the Giants when he was the unsung hero of the 2010 playoffs, Uribe belted another two-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead and the series. Sorry Braves, another great regular season and division title were all for not. For the Dodgers, there are a lot of things to be excited about moving forward. Hearing Vin Scully announce on the road brought tears to my eyes.

a916f1fa16b6fc213e0f6a706700a437The other matchup in the National League showcased the new NL Central rivals in the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing in the playoffs for their first time since 1992, the Buccos definitely held their own. They forced the full five game series. After getting shelled in Game 1, the Bucs returned the favor in Game 2 to winning convincingly behind rookie sensation Gerrit Cole. They split the two close games back in Pittsburgh. In a predictable sudden death Game 5, the Cardinals, behind ace Adam Wainwright, glided to a 6-1 victory over Cole and the proud Pirates.

You have to give the city of Pittsburgh credit; their fans are electric. The crowd reminded me of the 12th man that the Seahawks have in Seattle. Waving those black flags, the Pirates and their fans have a lot to be excited about in the future. Pedro Alvarez set a record by recording an RBI in his first six career playoff games. Andrew McCutchen is a viable MVP candidate every year and a model citizen on and off the field. In the end, they were facing the Cardinals. Enough said. All they do is advance in the playoffs. They moved on to their eighth league championship series in 14 years. Simply remarkable. No Albert Pujols. No Tony La Russa. No problem. The Cards are the best run franchise in baseball, filled with a great blend of young talent and skilled veterans. They will play the Dodgers as truly he best two teams in the National League. I can’t complain.

th (1)In the American League, there were two solid matchups. The Red Sox were back in the postseason and even without Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, they are still a heck of a team to watch. “Fear the beard?” Yes I do.  The Red Sox sported many beards on their squad making them fun and cool to admire this hard-nosed team. The first two games at Fenway Park had two great pitching matchups, on paper. However, this is why games are played not on paper, but on the field. Matt Moore got crushed in Game 1 and David Price was clobbered and the Red Sox won both games easily. The only series that went 2-0, it did not look bright for the Rays.

After a road trip consisting of a playoff clinching series in Toronto, a Wild Card play-in game in Texas, a Wild Card playoff game in Cleveland, and the first two ALDS games in Boston, the Rays finally were back home in their illustrious Tropicana Field. And they actually had some fans attend Game 3 and 4. Trailing 3-0, a sweep seemed inevitable until Evan Longoria tied it up with a three run knock. After wild closer Fernando Rodney blew a save in the ninth, new hero Jose Lobatob cranked a walkoff home run to give the Rays their only win in the series. Game 4 consisted of very few runs. Joe Maddon used every pitcher in his bullpen, but it was not enough as the Red Sox scratched two runs in the 7th and one in the 9th to win 3-1 and the series. The Rays once again fell short in the playoffs, but still did not disappoint since making the playoffs for a team with this payroll is a victory in itself. The Red Sox continue to grow their beards and look as if they are the hottest team going right now.

The Tigers-A’s series closes out our bracket and this one did not disappoint. Games 1 and 2 were both one run games. In Game 1, Max Scherzer was given a 3-0 lead early and made it stand all the way home. Just barely.Yoenis Cespedes rocked a majestic homer in the 7th to make it 3-2, but this ended up being the final score.  Rookie Sonny Gray took on Tigers superstar ace Justin Verlander in a pitchers duel in Game 2.  A walkoff single by Stephen Vogt capped off a very exciting 1-0 win for the Atheletics. Moving to Detroit, the series was also a toss up.

thAnibal Sanchez has quietly been the MVP of the pitching staff for the Tigers this year, but got roughed up as the A’s came out swinging. The A’s came out victorious 6-3, but the highlight of the game took place in the 9th inning when A’s closer Grant Balfour and Tigers slugger Victor Martinez got in a screaming match. Martinez fouled off a Balfour pitch and the two proceeded to stare at each other, use bleeped verbiage, causing both benches to clear. A mere shouting match. Nothing really came out of this except that some athletes take themselves way too seriously. The Tigers rallied in Game 4 behind home runs from Jhonny Peralta and Martinez to win 8-6. Scherzer came in out of the bullpen highlighting one of my favorite elements of postseason baseball in do-or-die situations.

In a rematch of Game 2, Verlander showed everyone he can be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He had everything working and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer, giving him all the run support he needed. The Tigers advanced to the ALCS against the Red Sox, leaving the A’s and Billy Beane still one win away from their Moneyball dream. It is hard not to be optimistic about the A’s future, but one can not question if this style of baseball will ever carry them over the top. For the Tigers, they are definitely not playing their best, but they still have the best hitter in baseball in Cabrera and a pitching staff full of studs. Just like the NLCS, the Red Sox and Tigers are indeed the best two teams in the American League. The Tigers look to get back to the World Series and they don’t care who stands in their way. The Red Sox will be ready.

mlb-champsOverall, baseball had four competitive and compelling division series. All four series had some great games and great heroics. The best teams won and coincidently, the four teams left have the most superstar power and should draw the best ratings. In a time where sports fans choose football and basketball over baseball, this is just what the doctor ordered. Baseball is now in position to recapture the hearts of its fans. They have the most stars, pitching and hitting, and geographically, the entire country is represented with these four teams. The Dodgers look to establish themselves as the new mainstay in the National League and how fitting to do it against the classic and respected Cardinals. The Red Sox are back and better than ever. They take on the Tigers who are looking for some revenge after getting swept in the World Series last year. This sports fan is very pleased and excited for the rest of these playoffs. Baseball should be too. These next couple of weeks  could be crucial for the revival of baseball and its fandom. Ratings will be up, and hopefully up for a long time to come.

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Paul Culley
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MLB Playoffs:One and Done

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the MLB Playoffs:One and Done! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The Wild in the WIldCard

The purpose of the playoffs is to provide a forum to establish the best team of the best teams over a course of a year.  As in most sports, there is a regular season to weed out the poor teams and isolate the good teams. In football, they play once a week in a 16 game season. In the NBA, they play three or four times a week in an 82 game season. In baseball, teams play six or seven times a week in a 162 game season. Why do they play that many games? Maybe it is less grueling on the body so they can afford to play almost every day, unlike basketball and especially football. So, if that many games are laid out to determine the best teams over such a large sample size, you would think baseball would have the largest and longest size for their playoffs amongst the main sports. Right? Nope.  It’s laughable. And for the Rangers, Reds, and the Indians, they receive the short end of the stick.

With baseball’s new Wild Card format, they have baseball teams competing in a one, yes I repeat, ONE game playoff to determine who moves on and who is gone. After six long moths of regular season games traveling around the country, they the new format dictates that their postseason fate is determined by one game. Last time I checked my math, this ratio of regular season games to playoff games here is preposterous, and it has me burning more than a summer in Death Valley.

world-series-trophy-rangers-cardinals-baseballBaseball, and Bud Selig especially, thought they would make baseball more meaningful in September by adding an extra playoff spot for a competing team. Instead of three division winners and a wildcard in each league, the new format as of last season includes the three division winners and two wildcard spots. The two wildcard teams however, who have experienced all the twists and turns of a 162 game season, then compete in one solitary game to determine who will play the division winner with the best record in baseball as the true wildcard representative. Give me a break! And I’m not talking about a Kit Kat. How can baseball think this is fair? No wonder Bud Selig recently announced his retirement at the end of next season. No wonder the ratings are down.

In a sport where one pitcher can determine the whole outcome of a game, to have one sudden death game be played is ludicrous. Baseball has the least amount of teams make the playoffs compared to hockey, basketball, and football. How can they truly justify the existence of such a short element in their post-season. A broken clock is right twice a day, but it does not mean that this is the best clock in a clock store. This is the World Series we are talking about, not March Madness, or a clock store.

In basketball, they have 16 teams make the playoffs and every series is best 4 out of 7. Even hockey partakes in this same format. They play half the games baseball does. And in basketball, sure winning game 1 is a good start to winning a series, but not every team that wins game 1 wins the series. This year and last year’s NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Miami Heat lost game 1 both times before moving on to win the series. If it was the baseball wildcard playoff, LeBron would still be known as the “Ringless King.” The reason this does not happen in basketball is because in a competitive sport where parody exists everywhere, the better team is determined over a larger sample sizes. It is not football, and you cannot fairly outline a system where one game determines who wins and goes home after such a long quantitative regular season.

NASCAR races do not determine the winner after 5 laps. Tennis matches do not play best 3 out of 5 games in a set to see who wins the whole match. Majors in Golf are not determined by two round tournaments or 9 hole matches. Soccer matches do not play twenty-minute games in the World Cup. I can go on and one with examples to illustrate my point, but it will not change the format that exists in baseball.  Otherwise, this article would have only been one paragraph long.

Going into the final weekend of the regular season, the National League Wildcard matchup was clear-cut and the American League Wildcard reminded me of the BCS System. The Cardinals, Pirates, and Reds had an exciting battle throughout the final months of the season. The Cardinals, class personified, took the NL Central Crown and the Reds and Pirates battled off for the Wild Card Spot. The Pirates with the better record held the home field and predictably defended their turf, winning 6-2 the re-emerging of Francisco Liriano. Pittsburgh postseason baseball has not taken place since 1992, and this victory against the Reds was a fantastic emotional watch. However, if I am a Reds advocate, I played 82 home games during the regular season to prepare me for the playoffs, qualified for the playoffs, and I do not get even one home playoff game? This is blatantly out of bounds, unnecessary, and insulting. Make it two out of three. Do something Bud. Even the WNBA plays two out of three throughout the playoffs. You cannot justify playing that many regular season games to only have one game determine a team’s fate. Not to this baseball fan. Sorry Reds fans, looks like you had to walk the plank.

In the American League, the Wild Card Playoff berths resembled a hybrid of a Presidential Election Race and the BCS Bowl system. Chaotic, confusing, and most importantly, unfair. If two teams are supposed to play in a one-game playoff for the final wildcard spot, what happens when there is a tie for these final two spots? Well, I guess you can say baseball got its wish. The Rangers and the Rays tied for the second Wild Card spot, while the Indians finished first for the top spot. There were ten different cluttered scenarios that could have happened on the final day of the season. Hypothetically if this happens; then this is the result. In the end, there was a one-game playoff for the one-game playoff, furthering the ridiculousness of this new system.

8811b8d4321303213f0f6a7067001791The Tampa Bay Rays threw their ace David Price against the Texas Rangers in Arlington. And the Rangers pitcher was Yu Darvish, their best pitcher, naturally right? No, incorrect. Martin Perez who? Why, because Yu pitched on the final day of the season to secure their playoff “berth.” Baseball features a dynamic where a pitcher can impact a game more than any player on the field. This is why they typically pitch once every five games. The format did not even allow a team to have their best pitcher throw one pitch. How can this format truly determine the best team? It is very unfair and cruel. Sorry Rangers, you just got stung. By the Rays and more importantly, baseball’s misconception of balance. And what the playoffs represent.

The Rays got to throw their ace against the Rangers and they won. Then they advanced to the real wildcard playoff against the Indians, where they showcased Alex Cobb. Their number two starter Matt Moore could not pitch because he pitched on the final day of the regular season, but is scheduled to start Game 1 against the Red Sox on Friday in the ALDS. And the Indians were unable to throw their hottest pitcher in Ubaldo Jimenez. They had to pitch rookie Danny Salazar. He gave up a couple runs, but the story of the game was that the Indians stranded baserunners left and right. The Indians outhit the Rays but lost 4-0. In a long series, they could have won 4-1 and outhit them every game. We will never know. Neither will the Indians nor their fans. Cleveland sports will have to continue to suffer because of this stupid format. One off-night after a ten game winning streak sends a team home with no second, third or fourth chance.

In the end, the best team is determined in the League Championship Series and World Series. Why? Because it is a best-out-of-seven series. All pitchers can be used, and all assets and liabilities can be used and exposed. But in getting to these final four teams, injustice is incurred along the way. Basketball playoffs take almost two months, where baseball’s takes place in one month, and Baseball plays twice as many games in the regular season. Now I’m no math teacher, but something does not add up. Here is a quick solution: Cut out the final month of the regular season and make the playoffs longer. Simple, make it a 130 game season and make more playoff games.

Yasiel-PuigC’mon baseball! Show us you can adapt. Football adopted its new overtime system because its previous format created a scenario where one team potentially did not get a fair chance. They realized a problem existed and rectified it. Baseball is moving slowly with updates in instant replay because baseball is America’s pastime. Change is hard for them, and the changes they do make are also unfair. They have the All-Star Game winner’s league get home-field advantage in the World Series. There are so many elements of this sport that I love that are broken. Baseball needs to strongly look at itself in the mirror, put on the eye black, and re-evaluate its playoff system, especially the Wild Card format. They are not only robbing the teams, but the fans as well. We all want you to succeed baseball, but you are making it very hard on yourself.

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Eye of the Tigers

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With the playoffs around the corner, the top teams of Major League Baseball are preparing for a World Series run. September is the month where the best of the best can rest a little bit. They have compiled such good records throughout the course of the season that they can line up their pitching for the postseason. People who have minor injuries can rest them because they can afford to. Teams contending for those wild card spots do not have this luxury. Teams like the Red Sox, Tigers, Dodgers and Braves are in position where they can visit the pit stop for some good maintenance.  All four teams represent the No. 1 seeds if this were a bracket. However, the team with the best chance to win it all this year is the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit-Tigers-Miguel-CabreraMiguel Cabrera. Need I say more? They have the best hitter in baseball and he is having another phenomenal season, chasing the Triple Crown. He may have off-the-field issues, but who cares?  He is becoming one of the best hitters of all-time in terms of power, clutchness and batting average. It does not matter what pitchers he faces. You know the adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” Not with Cabrera. He reminds me of the Dos Equis Guy, aka the “Most Interesting Man in the World,” except Cabrera advertises hitting. They have invented a new pitching category for pitchers who start against the Tigers when he does not get a hit. A Complete Miguel Cabrera Shutout. Pitchers are relieved when he hits a double because they prevented him from scoring on his own hit. “Miggy Pop,” as his teammates call him, could outhit most of the league using a tennis racket. Slight exaggeration, but he is truly that good. With another Triple Crown in sight, Cabrera will be sharp once October comes around and lead this potent Tigers offense.

In addition to the best hitter, the pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers is second to none. The scariest part is that their ace can easily be outdone at any time by their No. 4 starter. Normally, this would be an awful thing on a team. Not for the Tigers. Justin Verlander has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for a long time. With two no-hitters on his resume, his electric fastball and breaking pitches is a devastating combo. Now, he has had a subpar year by his standards, but all experts know that on any given day another no-hitter can be thrown. He will surely start Game 1 in every series as the leader of this staff

Detroit Tigers v Tampa Bay RaysMax Scherzer is having a breakout season. Very simply, he is 19-3 with a 3.01 ERA as of September 12. His team seems to always give him run support and Scherzer looks like he will be the Game 3 starter. That’s like having to drive the Porsche third because you had to drive the Bentley and Aston Martin first. His last name may be tough to look at, but his pitching this has been anything but. Anibal Sanchez might be the most consistent starter out of the group, proving he is worth every penny that he was signed for in the offseason. Doug Fister is that crafty veteran of the group and could be a No. 1 or 2 starter for most teams. He would have to wait until Game 4 to pitch, if there is a Game 4. From top to bottom, the Tigers’ big four is lethal, all capable of shutting out any team on any given night. Good luck hitters. You are going to need it.

Now let’s take a peek at the supporting cast. The Tigers spent a lot of money landing free agent Prince Fielder and he is doing a great job playing Robin to Batman. First of all, the only reason Cabrera is able to not get pitched around is because Fielder is licking his chops in the on-deck circle. If anything, Fielder has it tougher because he is the one in position to get pitched around in a tight spot. He has remained under the radar a lot, but don’t be surprised if he ended up being the MVP of the team in the postseason. He is posting very solid numbers this year and combined with Cabrera, represent the most formidable 1-2 punch in baseball. It’s a right-handed and a left-handed punch that Canelo Alvarez could have sure used against Floyd Mayweather.

Torii Hunter joined the ball club this year and has rejuvenated his career. After some underachieving seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Hunter is killing it this year. Just like his name, his two eyes help form his identity. And this year, he is seeing the ball brilliantly, hovering around a .300 batting average with a chance at 90 RBI this year. Austin Jackson, like Fielder, is having a respectable year leading the way at the top. The main reason Cabrera has a shot at the Triple Crown is because Jackson and Hunter are always on base. They set the table. A good running back cannot excel without a good offensive line. A good eater cannot eat if there is no food on the table. Maybe that’s why Cabrera has gotten so plump in recent years. This supporting cast around Cabrera makes so many of his at-bats meaningful. They all are patient and know their roles. This lineup is going to be very tough to beat.

Torii+Hunter+Atlanta+Braves+v+Detroit+Tigers+vVruMJbOmsMxSince the Biogenesis suspensions were handed out, the Tigers have reached somewhat of a lull in their season. They lost Jhonny Peralta to this steroid suspension, and some have said that this has gone hand in hand with their plateau in their performance. I think not. Jim Leyland would not let this happen. Let’s cut the Tigers a break. They played in the World Series last year and are eager for it to be October again. Every “championship or bust” team goes through this. The regular season can be boring at times, especially when you play 162 games in a season. They know how good they are and how little meaning the regular season has once a playoff spot has been secured. Leyland, the second oldest manager in the big leagues, has seen a lot of baseball in his day and knows how to manage teams through this phase. Experience is something that the Tigers have on their side all throughout their roster and Leyland is the brains of the operation. He is the jockey and is keeping the reins on his thoroughbred until the final sprint of the race.

The Tigers have comfortably led the AL Central throughout the entire season. Sure, the Indians and Royals have been feel good stories and given Detroit a little reason to cause to pause, as they say, but let’s be honest, it’s the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals. Kansas City fans have moved on to supporting the Chiefs and Cleveland fans are already looking toward the NFL Draft. They have better hitting than the Dodgers and Braves, subjectively and statistically speaking. And compared to a similar offense in the Red Sox, their pitching staff trumps Red Sox hands down.

The Tigers are equipped with the most powerful offense in baseball, led by Cabrera, the best hitter in baseball. With guys like Fielder, Hunter and Jackson surrounding him in the lineup, crooked numbers can happen in any given inning. Role players in Andy Dirks, Alex Avila and Omar Infante will be crucial as well. Look for many calls to the bullpen by opposing managers. If by some chance the offense has an off night, the hurlers will be waiting to show the team’s true stripes. Pitching is vital in October and the Tigers, led by Verlander and Scherzer, have plenty of it. Throughout the playoffs, the Tigers will have a top pitcher on the bump, and the opposing offenses will have an uphill battle, literally. Throw Leyland into the mix with leadership and experience, the ingredients are in line for a World Series title. You heard it here. Detroit Tigers will be champions at the end of October.

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A Pirates Life for me

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I called my dad after it happened. It was his birthday coincidentally, and we had a special father-son bonding moment that we have been longing to have for more than 20 years. I breathed a sigh of relief into the phone and all I said was “82.” I couldn’t see it, but I knew he was grinning ear to ear, just like I was when I said that number. It is an emotional feeling that I just can’t properly put into words and a single word would not do justice to the years of suffering Pirate fans and myself have felt. Eighty-two wins is just a number. But for us fans that number means so much more. There was no special celebration among the coaches and players after the win, but they surely understood what it meant to the fanbase. There was plenty of celebrating to be had back home.

No one knew just how bad the losing would get after that 1992 season. The story has been told countless times in a variety of ways since then, but it always came back to the same thing every time; losing. If there was one constant throughout all of those years, it was the people who ask some variation of these questions:

“Why are you still a fan? The Pirates suck,” or “How do you support a team who does nothing but trade away their best players and never wants to win?”

hi-res-152771322_crop_650x440Each time I would have to produce an answer, and each time I would receive the same blank and confused stare, as if your answer for supporting this team was never going to be right. I had put too much time and effort into this team, and I was never going to turn my back on them. I can think of one time, and one time only I was about ready to give up on this team — the second half of 2010. You had a few core of players ready for a breakout and passable Major League talent (by Pirate standards at the time), but were only able to manage 57 wins. I barely watched any of the second half of that season, I just needed a break. I was worn out. But I knew would be back, because you had players like Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez in the lineup. What I had waited all those years for, the core face of franchise players, had just let me down at the worst possible time but were ready to help this ballclub now. There was an excitement that just didn’t exist over previous years.

It’s a day, quite frankly, many of us didn’t think we would ever see, but knew was going happen at some point. We just didn’t know how we were supposed to feel or act when it actually happened. You just had to celebrate in your own way.  Along the way many fans have became attached to players who were the face of a franchise during its worse times. Players who would love nothing more than to suit up for this current team and be a part of the winning that they were never able to experience here. Players like Jason Kendall, Jack Wilson, Jason Bay and Brian Giles were all fan favorites, each bringing their own passion and love for the city. You could tell they wanted to win here, witnessing first hand their enthusiasm and energy they gave on a nightly basis.

7034648There have been too many ugly moments to talk about and too many forgetful players. I found myself in a four-hour car trip with a friend playing the game “name a former Pirate” (rules being they had to be from the losing era). After about an hour-and-a-half and close to what might be 150 some players, I only realized just how bad some of those teams were based on names alone (Abraham Nunez, Mike Benjamin and Chris Stynes were some of my favorites).  I was rooting for the Pirates and trying to care for players who I barely cared about. This team has players that are likeable, none more so than McCutchen, who shows up every night. It starts from the top with Clint Hurdle who brings something former manager John Russell would never show, passion. It has worn off on the players and even the fans have warmed up to Hurdle and his positive sayings. There are two former two managers I can think of who had staying power and the ability to win over the fans, Chuck Tanner and Jim Leyland. They were true leaders and likeable guys. The closest the Pirates might have had to that in those losing years was Lloyd McClendon, and that’s not saying much because  he was remembered more for his outburst and stealing of first base. Enjoy and appreciate what Hurdle has done and what he means for this franchise.

The 82nd win was gratifying, but with this team in the heat of a division race for first place, it’s hard to appreciate it because there is so much more on the line right now. But the players who were involved for 82, it feels like a symbolic passing of the touch to what the future holds. A future ace in Gerrit Cole, whose pitching ceiling looks to be unlike any other to ever wear the black and gold, taking the mound and stepping up. An MVP candidate, who is locked up for another five years, playing centerfield just crushing baseballs right now. Alvarez, who has finally come into his own this year, delivering the winning hit and the local kid Neil Walker delivering the final out to end the streak. Every one of those seems too perfect for this franchise

This losing streak has consumed more than half of my life, but I’m ready to move on.  A chapter has been closed and a new one is ready to begin for the Pirates and for their fans. The 82nd win will be a memory that soon fades, but one that will not be forgotten for a long time.

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Chris Dazen
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The New Red Sox Nation

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The Curse of the Bambino? That’s old news. The Red Sox now are the cream of the crop these days in the Major Leagues, which is a long way since their days of misery and woe. With the Sox finally breaking through and winning the World Series in  2004 and repeating in 2007, they began a new era in New England. Winning, however, leads to higher standards and expectations. If not handled correctly, you can lose your identity in this transitional process.

Look at the Chicago Cubs. They are nicknamed the lovable losers because losing is the expectation on the North Side of Chicago. Cubs fans accept the fact that the Cubs are not supposed to be good, and it is OK. When you go to a cheap horror film these days, you still enjoy the movie even though you know chances are you are not really going to get scared. Mistakes and bad breaks are supposed to happen at Wrigley Field, and this is the culture that has existed there since 1908. This same ideology existed for the people of Fenway Park, but not anymore for the Red Sox after breaking through in October. They had created a new standard of winning and could finally give the New York Yankees a run for their money, literally. However this new winning environment comes with dangerous territory.

The staple of the Red Sox teams that won  two World Series was grittiness, toughness and hustle. Nicknamed the idiots, led by caveman-looking Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, this group of guys represented all hard-working class people. They were not pretty boys like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. They sported beards, probably didn’t brush their teeth and grinded everything out like it was their last day on Earth. Instead of dating celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Jordana Brewster, most Red Sox players preferred bromances and men’s stags. You could tell. They had fun. They fought until the very end. And they won.

This hard-nosed persona however seemed to change over time. With winning comes fame and media attention. The phrase sell-out comes to mind when I think of the non-famous getting famous. Led by Terry Francona, the Red Sox became lazy and strayed away from the ways that brought them success. Those beards were being shaved making us realize why they weren’t dating those aforementioned. The inmates started to realize that they were good, and bought too much into their own hype. They lost their identity and started to run the asylum themselves.

They “shed their beard” when they lost Damon and Millar to free agency. Ironically Damon went to the Yankees, definitely not selling out (sarcasm intended). David Ortiz was still there, but steroid rumors were circling around his name like vultures to a desert carcass. Jonathan Papelbon was becoming more known for his media outrages on social topics than closing games. Josh Beckett and John Lackey had VIP access to the disabled list, finally showing the treads on their tires. Rumor had it that some of players would be drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during the games. Even for the idiots, that was dumb given this era of social media. From the naked eye, winning wasn’t as important as it used to be.

The Red Sox tried signing big free agents like Carl Crawford in a Yankee-like move, but this proved to be unsuccessful. They even invested in the Japanese phenom pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Sure he showed flashes of brilliance, but injuries and declining stuff yielded a poor return on investment. Injuries and blowing leads seemed to be the new theme for the Sox. The team chemistry was falling apart and it was plain for every fan to see. The team eventually fired Francona, who found a new home in broadcasting before landing another manager gig in Cleveland this year.

dustin

In an effort to bring in a new voice for this team, the Red Sox hired former Mets manager Bobby Valentine last year. But despite his last name, there was very little love shared amongst the team. Valentine is a candid fellow, and openly criticized his players to the media often, which rubbed a lot of them the wrong way. And when he went after the heart and soul of the team in Dustin Pedroia, the fans started to turn against the new leader of the pack. Combined with more losing, the Valentine experiment was aborted after only one year. He has been rumored to attend some Red Sox games this year, but wears a fake moustache and glasses to disguise himself. However, the real disguise was looming over the Red Sox organization. Their new era of a winning expectation was not working, and the machine needed to be tweaked.

The Red Sox went back to the basics. Out with the old and in with the new. They shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett to the Dodgers. Papelbon signed with the Phillies. The got less flashy and started to revamp their team to resemble more of those idiots. They signed Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino as undervalued free agents and they have been a perfect fit in Boston. They went from having one Drew brother in J.D. to another one in Stephen. They went within the division to hire their new manager.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

The new sheriff in town was John Farrell. Farrell is a strong silent type who leads by example, and is now a leading candidate for Manager of the Year. Big Papi is back, crushing home runs (and telephones), leading this team to a playoff berth with co-captain Pedoria. They have homegrown prospects in Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, and Felix Doubront, contributing to the cause. Their pitching is led by ace Jon Lester, who is pitching like Sandy Koufax. Lackey must have gone on the Subway diet because he is thin, healthy and throwing cheese to the hitters. Their bullpen is comprised of a bunch of no-namers who just come in, gets outs and do their job. They acquired veteran Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, a common staple of any contending team. More symbolically, the beards are back. Johnny Gomes and Napoli are the new cavemen for the team, illustrating that tough and gritty mentality of the team is back in full force.

The Boston Red Sox have one of the best records in baseball this year. They are running away with the AL East and set up for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and another World Series title. They are playing fundamental baseball. Working the count, hustling, cheering for teammates and most importantly, having fun doing it. The players are no longer bigger than the game, but vice versa. The Red Sox are resembling those teams that broke the Curse of the Bambino. They dropped the tuxedos and Gucci sunglasses and put on their cargo jeans and working boots. They lost their identity and tried to be a group of people they were definitely not. Leave those shenanigans to the Yankees boys. They might not be the idiots we fell in love with in years past, but they are on their way to re-branding a new version of hard work, team play and scrappiness for Red Sox Nation.

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When Harvey Met Sally

Matt Harvey

Meet the Mets. The other New York Baseball team. New York’s version of the Clippers.The Mets have won two World Series over their tenure as a franchise, but their brand name has mostly been synonymous with mediocrity, losing and misfortune. When you think of the Yankees, the names Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and Jeter roll off the tongue with honor and fame. When you start your list of famous Mets players, the task becomes as hard as finding words that rhyme with the word hungry. The Mets finally have a superstar in Matt Harvey, who this year has emerged as one of baseball’s best pitchers. However, once again, it looks like this cursed team has been hit with another curveball from which they might not recover.

Harvey has taken Major League Baseball by storm. After being called up from the minors last year, he showed signs of greatness at the end of the season. He represented the Mets best prospect since Sidd Finch (See Sports Illustrated’s 1985 April Fools Day hoax). Just like Finch, hitters feel like Harvey throws the ball 168 miles per hour. His off-speed stuff is devastating and breaking pitches make batters want to crawl back to their dugout like Lindsay Lohan after a night on the town. He has taken the torch from David Wright as the face of the Mets franchise, but with this torch comes some intangible misfortune, and it looks like it is taking place.

Matt Harvey has recently been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his right elbow and we all know what famous pitching surgery is to follow. Yes, you add another pitcher to the Tommy John Club. Now some pitchers have underwent Tommy John surgery and come back for the better. Stephen Strasberg experienced this same process and has returned successfully to the big leagues. Whether or not he can now live up to his hype remains to be seen. Bottom Line, surgery is never a good thing or something that players look forward to. This sad stroke of bad luck to this young phenom is nothing knew to the Mets and their fans. They are used to injuries, missed opportunities, and misery.

You would think in the New York market, the Mets would have the finances to bolster a roster worthy of an annual contender. Sure the Yankees might get the big fish, but there are truly plenty of fish in the sea. The problem is that the fish the Mets have gone after have been poor ones. Players like Bobby Bonilla, Mo Vaughn, Oliver Perez are prime examples of free agents who were hot that never panned out. We cannot forget about Carlos Delgado, Livan Hernandez, Tom Glavine or Kaz Matsui. The two biggest ones recently were Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran.

Let’s look at Beltran. Beltran had one of the best playoff runs in baseball history to score himself one of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history, and the Mets were supposed to be the winners. I think not. Beltran played out his contract with mediocre season after mediocre season, with the Mets losing season after season. The ironic part is that during the past two years Beltran is playing some of his best baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals as they contend for the World Series. Maybe it’s just the Cardinals and their winning aura. I propose it is just as much the Cubs-like atmosphere that exists in the heart of Queens. After being freed from the Mets, Beltran is playing like that guy we saw in the playoffs for the Astros.

Santana was the pitching version of Beltran. After many successful seasons playing for the small-market Minnesota Twins, Santana was traded to the Mets and eventually signed a 6-year, $137 million contract. Just like Beltran, he has pitched okay in his regime with the Mets, but nowhere near his form in Minnesota where he earned himself two Cy Young awards. Injuries have been a part of his Mets story, too. He missed the entire 2011 season with shoulder problems. However, last year, Santana became the first Mets pitcher to ever throw a no-hitter. The lack of a no-hitter had been hanging over the franchise for years like a World Series win for those Cubs. He threw a career-high 134 pitches, and some would say that this became the indirect cause of re-injuring his shoulder. He missed the end of last season and all of this season with that shoulder problem, and now Harvey looks to join this infamous club.

Here are some other fun facts about the Mets to add to their infamous list of accomplishments. Most historians are privy to the 1962 Mets. They are the team that a team is compared to when they are having an amazingly poor season. They finished a whopping 40-120, which to this day is the worst every record by a baseball team. Most people are not aware that the New York Mets opted to take Steve Chilcott instead of Reggie Jackson in the 1966 amateur draft. Chilcott never made it to the majors and Jackson, well, he has a month nicknamed after him. Sure there were the Miracle Mets and the 1986 Mets that made Bill Buckner infamous, but this is not commonplace knowledge to the modern-day baseball fan. Most fans associate the New York Mets with injuries, poor choices and apathy.

Just like Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, the New York Mets have had their money stolen by players who have not panned out. And like the Ponzi scheme, it has had a lingering effect on the franchise. A successful baseball season seems to be the exception, not the rule these days. There is no more Mike Piazza. Shea Stadium is gone and has been replaced by Citi Field, but it is too easy to say what that sponsor’s name really sounds like. The Braves-Mets rivalry is no more. Wright is good, but always hurt. Harvey was supposed to take the organization back to the top. He even started the All-Star game this year, which took play at Citi Field presenting some optimism for Mets fans. Unfortunately, with Harvey’s injury, it looks like Mets have once again fallen victim to their own puddle of bad luck. It is sad, but this sports fan accepts it as ordinary for the New York Mets franchise. Change is hard, but for the Mets sake, I hope it happens soon. Best of luck, I guess.

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22: The New Face of Baseball – Andrew McCutchen

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In an era in where steroids and PEDs have tarnished the image of baseball and its players, there are very few pure American stars — yet alone any stars — left.

Ryan Braun has suffered a disgraceful fall. Alex Rodriguez is an afterthought. Barry Bonds was forced out of baseball six years ago. If you ask the uninformed fan who the next face of baseball is, I’m sure that there would be a lot of pauses before he answers. Well, I have a simple suggestion for you. You take the best player on one of the the best teams in baseball. How about the Pittsburgh Pirates?

Yes, those Pirates. For Pittsburgh sports fans, many are used to boasting about Ben Roethlisberger or Sidney Crosby, but they have a new superstar to talk about, Andrew McCutchen.

”Cutch” has steadily progressed since making his debut in June 2009. The right-handed hitting center fielder is the total package. He has speed like a gazelle. He shows his power by hitting it to all over the field, including over the fence. He covers ground like a sumo wrestler. Most importantly, he plays the game the right way, free from off-the-field temptations and PED use.

In January, McCutchen was announced as the cover athlete of the baseball video game MLB 2013: The Show, where he beat out CC Sabathia in fan voting. After making the All-Star team for three consecutive years, Cutch is slowly starting to be the face that baseball desperately needs to carry its torch. Just like the Pirates, he is walking the walk with style and class. They don’t the need the media attention that the other teams get to prove their greatness.

Social media is a new tool that players like Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth never experienced. Typically, the media helps create these superstars who play in big markets such as New York or Los Angeles. And given the fact that the Pirates have played in a playoff game since two days before Bryce Harper was born, they have not received much attention from the fans, and especially the people who just tune in to watch during the playoffs. McCutchen is putting Pittsburgh on the map. This Wednesday, ESPN televised the Pirates playing on the road against St. Louis, a game in which the Pirates won easily. It was very symbolic for Cutch and his Buccos.

Given the state of the game rife with scandal and steroids, baseball must utilize their superstars to get fans interested again in watching the game. It starts with finding the right players who epitomize the perfect balance of excellence on and off the field. And Cutch hits a home run in regards to those statistics. He is very proud of who he is, where he came from, and what he is on his way to doing. Young kids learning the game need a role model like this to learn how to play the game the right way, with hard work and dedication. He was drafted out of high school, worked his way up, paid his dues and is now thriving as the cornerstone of the Pirates organization.

Meanwhile, he is leading his team to their best season in ages, and given a terrible collapse, we will be seeing the Pirates playing ball in October for the first time in a long time. Cutch has been there through thick and thin, and did not choose to abandon ship to cash in on a bigger paycheck. He signed a 6-year, $51.5 million extension with the Bucs, showing that he plans to play in Pittsburgh for a very long time. His loyalty to his team and city is commendable and another positive character trait that kids growing up can follow. Very few superstars in any sport these days play with one team their entire career.

McCutchen is a rising star for a rising franchise. He has made Pittsburgh a baseball city again and has the rest of Major League Baseball buzzing as well. Steroids and PED use has given the sport a major black eye, especially with the Braun scandal. Now, Cutch emerges as the new face of a sport that needs a face lift. His skills are elite, his team is playing like it belongs in the World Series and he does this with class personified. He never promotes himself as a superstar, and these days, he does not have to. The Pittsburgh Pirates are back and Cutch is here to stay. Baseball has a new golden boy, and they look to Buc the trend of scandal and negativity into a new era of excellence done in the right way, on and off the diamond.

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Paul Culley
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Dodger That: Los Angeles setting the MLB on Fire

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers

In Los Angeles, most sports fans only bleed one color, purple and gold. The Lakers have won the most championships and attracted the most media attention. The celebrities want to be seen at StaplesCenter. People sometimes ask the Laker fans for autographs. However, times are changing in La La Land. The Los Angeles Dodgers are taking LA and the rest of Major League Baseball by storm. After a slow start, they are flaming hot and seem to be winning almost every game they play.

The Dodgers are not only really good, but they are very fun and exciting to watch. They are even making Vin Scully feel young again. Since June 22, they are 46-10 and an outstanding 26-5 since the All-Star break (as of August 24). Those numbers are remarkable when you realize a team plays 162 games in a season. All they do is win. You cannot pinpoint one reason, but let’s examine a couple why the Dodgers have been playing like the 1920s New York Yankees.

Fresh Blood. If you had to pick one player for this turnaround, the choice is easy – it’s Yasiel Puig. He was called up in June, and soon thereafter, the Dodgers began their unprecedented streak. Puig, an electric player from Cuba, has more spark than a road flare on the field. He has speed, power and charisma. His attitude seems to carry the team like Ray Lewis did for the Ravens. His presence rejuvenated the team and gave it a shot to the heart for a team that looked poised for an underachieving season (See the Los Angeles Angels). Puig has the “juice,” the pizzazz that motivates his players and inspires the fans.

For years, Clayton Kershaw has been the bonafide ace of the Dodgers, and arguably the best pitcher in baseball. This year, he finally has some help. Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu has made an international splash to the team similar to what Hideo Nomo did in the mid-‘90s. Zack Greinke, who slightly underachieved in Milwaukee, has regained his form and is pitching like he did when he was a perennial Cy Young candidate in Kansas City. Greinke also brings some fire to the club. Earlier in the year, he ignited a brawl with Carlos Quentin and the Padres, and as a result, suffered a broken collarbone. He missed six weeks, but it looks like it has taken a positive effect on the time in the long haul. They traded for Miami’s Ricky Nolasco, who on any given night can pitch a shutout. And left-hander Chris Capuano is a legitimate No. 5 starter for this squad.

They start the game with studs and end the game with studs. The bullpen is relentless, collecting many strikeouts and broken bats. Kenley Jansen is emerging as the next Eric Gagne, minus the goofy goggles. Bottom line is they have the best pitching in baseball and their staff seems very similar to the Phillies and Giants teams that won three of the last five World Series. Their hitting is potent, but in October, good pitching beats good hitting. If they run into an ace, the Dodgers are more than capable of winning a 2-1 ballgame. It would not surprise me if you see Kershaw as the World Series MVP when it’s all said and done.

Every great team has a player that is a having a comeback season. Well the Dodgers have two, Juan Uribe and Hanley Ramirez. These two are hitting like champs and clutching up through this entire hot streak. People forget Uribe helped the Giants win a World Series in 2010, and now he is positioning himself to provide the same accolades this postseason. Sure, his effort might be up for debate and he is susceptible to the hidden ball trick, but thankfully for him, this is not The Rookie of the Year. I pray for his sake that he does not fall for that again. Ramirez might be runner-up to Puig as most important Dodger during this run. He is hitting for average and power, and loves turning a sharp double play. He has that swagger that like Puig. In fact, maybe he was the one that taught Puig some of his antics. Hanleywood is making the Dodgers front office look very intelligent. He had some subpar years with the Marlins, and the Dodgers bought low. Now his stock is sky high, and the only thing the Dodgers are selling now are season tickets.

Lost in the mix has been Matt Kemp. Kemp has been Kershaw’s counterpart on the offensive end for the Dodgers. While Kemp has spent a large part of the season on the disabled list, it hasn’t mattered. The Dodgers lineup still features Puig, Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.       It is scary to think of a lineup with Kemp sandwiched in it. I pity all opposing pitchers. You throw in role players like A.J. and Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker, the only breather comes when the pitcher is up at the plate. Oh wait, all Dodger pitchers can hit. Yikes. This is starting to make sense now.

When the Dodgers struggled in the early season, people in Los Angeles were calling for Don Mattingly’s job. The perception was that the inmates were running the asylum and Donny Baseball was not a good fit for this team. He stayed the course and weathered the storm (these clichés are truly applicable here). No one really knows what impact he has had on this team during this hot streak, but credit must be given to the manager of a comeback of this nature. His moustache may be gone, but his job as Dodgers skipper is very much still there.

Overall, the Dodgers are clearly the best team in baseball right now. They have the pitching, the hitting and the winning attitude. After working out the early chinks in the armor, they are playing on a level now that is hard to fathom in this modern age. They just win, plain and simple. If they can stay healthy and carry this momentum into October, they will be tough to beat once, yet alone in a series.

The people in Los Angeles are buzzing about their new favorite toy. And with the Lakers looking prime for another disappointing season, the Dodgers might be here to stay. Even Magic Johnson has shifted his loyalties now that he is one of the owners of the team. Maybe Kobe will come in and pinch hit. He will probably want to soon enough. We might never see a winning streak and run like this ever in our lifetime. It’s time for all of us to appreciate this Dodger team and Think Blue.

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