Tag Archives: #mlb

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-OBSERVATIONS APPROACHING MEMORIAL DAY

As we approach the Memorial Day weekend, and the two month benchmark of the Major League season, there have been some interesting developments in Major League Baseball.

In New York, the boys from Queens were supposed to be the story this year. This proved to be just the opposite in the early going.  The Yankees find themselves atop the American League East with a two game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.  The Mets however are in third place and currently five games under .500.  By the way, they find themselves behind the Atlanta Braves who are surprisingly in second (albeit with a 20-23 mark),

The Washington Nationals appear to be running away with the National League East.  They currently hold a 6 1/2 game lead over the Braves.

 

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Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals lead the National League East by 6 1/2 games.

 

The Nationals first place position was expected when the season began.  The other two divisions in the National League have surprising leaders.  The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs currently find themselves in third place, one percentage point behind the second place St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.  The team on top as of this writing are the Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brew Crew leads the Cards and Cubs by 1 game.

While the Brewers are the surprise in the Central Division, the leaders in the West is a total shock to this writer.  Where did the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks come from?  The Rockies currently own the best record in the National League at 30-17, the Diamondbacks sit two games behind them.  The disappointment in the NL West has to be the San Francisco Giants.  The Giants, who were supposed to battle the Los Angeles Dodgers for western supremacy are currently in fourth place, 10 games off the pace.

The Houston Astros were favored to win the American League Western Division by most predictors prior to the season.  At 31-15, Houston currently owns the best mark in all of Major League Baseball.

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The Houston Astros are off to the best start in baseball.

 

The other division leaders in the American League are both surprises.  The aforementioned Yankees were supposed to be buried behind Baltimore, Toronto, and Boston, yet they lead the East.  The Blue Jays currently reside in the AL East cellar with a 21-26 mark on the heals of a horrible April.

In the American League Central the surprising Minnesota Twins are currently on top.  What’s even more crazy is the fall of the Kansas City Royals.  The 2014 American League Champions, as well as the 2015 World Series Champs currently own the worst record in the Junior Circuit.  My projected World Series Champs, the Cleveland Indians are a game and a half behind the Twins.

Yes, I know it’s not quite Memorial Day, and it’s a long way to October, but it has been an interesting start to the 2017 season.

My questions at this juncture are:

Will the Rockies, Brewers, and Twins keep it up?

Will the Cubs rebound before it’s too late?

Are the Boys from The Bronx on a mission to regain New York?

Only time will tell!  Next progress report will be on Wednesday July 5.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-WHY CHANGE WHAT WORKS?

For over 160, or so, years baseball had a fairly uniform set of rules.  The game’s popularity steadily rose from the infant days when Abner Doubleday invented America’s Pastime.  The rules hadn’t changed much until recent years and everyone was fine with that set of rules.

The latest controversy took place this past Saturday in St. Louis.  Late in the contest between the Cardinals and Cubs, with Ian Happ on first, Anthony Rizzo hit a ground ball to the infield.  With a shot at a double play the St. Louis infield looked to force Happ at second.  Happ over-slid second with no intent to take out the Cardinals infielder.  The result appeared at first to be a fielder’s choice with Rizzo safe at first.

Let’s flash back for a moment to Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS between the Mets and Dodgers.  Los Angeles’ base-runner Chase Utley was in a similar position that Happ was on Saturday.  Also playing hard-nosed baseball Utley ran into Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.  The play resulted in Tejada leaving the field on a stretcher with a broken leg.

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Dodgers’ Chase Utley over-slides second base to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series.

 

In Little League and other levels of baseball, kids are taught to play hard and play classy. It is the responsibility of the base-runner to try to keep the infield from turning a double play in this situation.  That was how everyone was taught, that was the way the game was played. Until Ruben Tejada was an unfortunate casualty of hard-nose baseball on a national post-season stage.

Fast forward to this past Saturday.  If Happ, who was safe at second before the slide is allowed to play the way he was taught, the Cubs would have had runners on first and second.  The Cardinals lead at the time 5-3.  But alas, we are in a baseball world today where you cannot bump anyone and we need to play a handshake version of the game. Both Happ and Rizzo were called out on the play due to the new rule set in place as a result of the collision between Utley and Tejada.  St. Louis would hold on to the two run lead and win the game.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon and starting pitcher Jon Lester were very critical of the call after the game.  ” I’m over it. I mean there was nothing malicious about that slide. He slid three inches past the bag, and we got a double play. But I’m over the rule” said Lester.  “The rule was meant for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There was nothing wrong with that slide, whatsoever. We got a double play for it, cost us a run. … I’m over it. This game was meant to be played a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with that slide that Happ did. I told him in the dugout, Next time you do the exact same thing.” Lester continued.

Maddon commented,”when you’re sliding on dirt, and you have momentum, you just keep going. You keep going,” Maddon said. “The rule does not belong in the game. … I could not disagree more with the spirit of this rule. … They (the umpires) know that the game was not intended to be manipulated in a sense where you lose based on a fabrication.”

In 2011 a controversy along the same lines happened when Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins ran into San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey while Posey was blocking home plate.  Posey was doing what he was taught to do, so was Cousins.  Posey also suffered a broken leg as a result of the play.

Why is baseball at such a juncture where the rules are changed due to unfortunate injuries?  Injuries are part of the game!  Collisions are part of the game!  Lets leave what has worked for over 160 years alone!

GREAT TIME OF YEAR TO BE A SPORTS FAN

This past Thursday night my wife and I joined a bunch of friends at a local sports bar to watch the first round of the NFL draft.  Amid the anticipation of what the Cleveland Browns would do with the first overall pick, there were other sports to concentrate on.

As I sat down and looked at the many television screens I felt like I was at a sports buffet.  The bigger screens were tuned to ESPN and their pre-draft coverage,while other screens were tuned into so much more. There were the two Stanley Cup Eastern Conference Semi-Final match-ups (Game 1 between the Rangers and Senators, Game 1 between the Capitals and Penguins).  There was Game 6 of the NBA first round series between the Raptors and Bucks on another one. Finally the latest meeting between the Yankees and Red Sox aired around the bar.

I thought to myself, what a great time of year!  It’s one of two times a year when all four major professional sports come together.  As Roger Goodell approached the podium in Philadelphia to the usual draft night chorus of boos, there was a tight hockey game going on in Canada’s nation’s capital.  At Fenway Park in Boston, Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Sale were locked up in a pitcher’s duel.  The Milwaukee Bucks were playing for survival on their home court against the Toronto Raptors.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces Cleveland’s selection of DE Myles Garrett in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

 

My two favorite NFL teams, the Dolphins and Giants wouldn’t pick until 22 and 23 respectively.  The Fins would pick DE Charles Harris, and Big Blue would shake things up with the questionable selection of TE Evan Engram.

In between the beginning of the draft and where my teams picked, so much else was going on.  Tanaka would pitch a complete game in front of the dreaded Fenway faithful, as the Yankees defeated the Sox 3-0.    Erik Karlsson would score from a fluke goal from an odd angle with 4:11 left in regulation to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  The two teams followed that game up with a double overtime thriller yesterday afternoon in which the Senators took a 2-0 series lead.

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Penguins Marc-Andre Fleury closes the door on the Washington Capitals.

In our nation’s capital, there was a back and forth tilt between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.  Sidney Crosby scored twice in 52 seconds for the Pens, and the game ended with the Capitals buzzing around the Pittsburgh net.  Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was amazing in preserving the victory.

The Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks from the NBA playoffs on Thursday.  The San Antonio Spurs also advanced by dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies.

What a night it was!  It happens in late October and late April.  In the fall, baseball has the World Series coming to a climax, the NFL and NHL are in full swing and the NBA opens its season.  In April the NHL and NBA are in playoff mode, baseball is in full swing, and the NFL has its annual choose-up fest.  So great when all four major sports are grabbing headlines at the same time!

Time for a program note.  Both my Sunday blog and Wednesday Night Baseball blog will be on hiatus until Wednesday May 17.  The Sunday blog will resume on May 21.  This will allow me some family time.  I can’t wait to see my daughter, son-in-law, and meet my brand new granddaughter!

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-THE NIGHT OF THE CYCLE AND THE LEAP

The game of baseball is unique compared to other professional sports given the fact that there aren’t many breaks in the schedule.  This would mean that on any given day anyone can beat anyone despite their record or place in the standings.  It also means that on any given night something historic or unusual can happen.  Last night we had a piece of history in the lore of the Washington Nationals, and something unusual courtesy of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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Nationals’ Trea Turner slides into third for a triple to complete the third cycle in team history.

Last night was an interesting evening at baseball’s version of the Frozen Tundra.  Gametime temperatures were in the low 40’s at Coors Field in Denver, with wind gusts making it feel much colder.  There was a threat of snow and a frozen rain delay during the game between the home standing Colorado Rockies and the Washington Nationals.

The frigid air made for some interesting baseball.  “Coors Field at it’s finest” Nats manager Dusty Baker told the Washington Post.  Washington would score the first seven runs of the game, the Rockies would score the last seven.  The result was a Nationals 15-12 victory.

But the score and the conditions weren’t what made last night historic.  Nationals shortstop Trea Turner drove in seven runs, Daniel Murphy knocked in five.  Turner’s RBI total placed him in a second place tie  for the most in a single game in Washington’s history.  That still isn’t the historic significance of this night.  In addition to his RBI explosion, Turner hit for the cycle.  He becomes the third player in the team’s history to accomplish the feat, Cristian Guzman and Brad Wilkerson are the other two.  Bench coach Chris Speier also hit for the cycle as a member of the Montreal Expos who are the current day Nats.

Now let’s move on to the unusual.

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Blue Jays Chris Coghlan leaps over Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina to give Toronto a 3-2 lead.

In a 2-2 ballgame at Busch Stadium in St. Louis last night, Toronto Blue Jays center-fielder Kevin Pillar hit a screaming fly ball into right field.  Chris Coghlan, who entered the game as a pinch hitter was on first.  Coghlan came all the way around on the play and was heading for a collision with Cards catcher Yadier Molina.  What happened next was absolutely amazing!  Rather than try to jar the ball loose from Molina, Coghlin went airborne!  He leaped over the St. Louis catcher and flipped his way onto home plate to give the Jays a 3-2 lead.

The game would go eleven innings, resulting in a 6-5 Toronto victory.  Without a doubt, Chris Coghlan gets this week’s play of the week, and could be a finalist for play of the year!

Finally, I need to be old school for a moment.  On the heels of Trea Turner’s cycle last night I have to turn my attention to another exciting rarity, the no-hitter.  To me there is nothing more exciting in baseball than watching a pitcher go deep in a game without either allowing a baserunner or giving up a hit.

With the focus on pitch counts in today’s game I’m really concerned that a complete no hit ballgame may be on its way to extinction.  Locally I have seen this happen twice. Marlins pitchers Dan Straily and Wei Yin Chen both had no-no’s in progress when they were taken out because they had reached their pitching limit.  C’mon, really??? What would have happened if Turner was pulled because he had too many at-bats last night?  If a pitcher has something special going, let him try to finish it!

Time for a program note.  After tonight’s blog, Wednesday Night Baseball will be on hiatus and will return on Wednesday night May 17.  This will allow me some time to spend with my new granddaughter as well as my daughter and son-in-law.  The Sunday blog will publish as usual this weekend.

 

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO PROFESSIONAL SPORTS?

On Friday night, during Game 5 of the opening round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals there was a scary moment.  Late in the first period a hard submarine check by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri left Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin motionless on the ice for a brief moment.  Ovechkin would be helped off the ice and would return to the game at the start of the second period.

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Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin being helped off the ice following a hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri.

 

Kadri was given a two-minute minor penalty for what was deemed “tripping” as a result of the play.  As the call was made, I thought to myself, what was illegal about it? Ovechkin had recent possession  of the puck, and Kadri hit him low and hard.  It was textbook, hard nosed hockey in my old school mind.  It was unfortunate, and scary, that one of hockey’s brightest stars laid motionless on the Verizon Center ice as a result, but it is part of a very physical sport.  The panel of experts on NBCSN tended to agree with me during their intermission show following the first period.  Everyone in the hockey world was relieved and happy to see Ovechkin return to the ice and continue to play.  He’s fine and ready to go in tonight’s Game 6.

This incident made me think of where sports has gone in general.  I grew up in an era where hockey and football were hard-hitting, bone jarring sports.  I grew up in an era where starting pitchers in baseball finished what they started, the bullpen only got involved if the starter was having trouble, or was lifted for a pinch-hitter.  The one on one play at home plate between runner and catcher was also part of the game.  I also come from an era where professional basketball players weren’t rested because of the “grueling” 82 game schedule.

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The new baseball in between innings clock.

 

Baseball was always the game that surpassed time.  When did a day at the ballpark where you can have a hot dog, sip on a beverage, and pass the time with your friends and family turn into a race against time?  Last year MLB in its infinite wisdom, rolled out the “in between innings timer.”  I cringe every time I see this ridiculous clock pop out of the scoreboard.

To continue to speed up the pace of a ballgame they added a new rule this year, the automatic walk!  Automatic walk??? For over a hundred years, four balls equaled a walk, intentional or not.  Anything from a wild pitch or the batter actually making contact with the purposely thrown ball can still happen.  Many of us who were around in the early 1970’s can even remember the Oakland A’s faking an intentional walk during the 1972 World Series.  The fakeout resulted in a strikeout of Reds star Johnny Bench.

If you want to speed things up in baseball, tone down the pitching changes!  Starting pitchers are on such strict pitch counts these days that they are being pulled regardless of how they are performing.  Meanwhile Tommy John surgeries have skyrocketed.  For generations baseball was played without counting pitches.  For generations from Walter Johnson to Nolan Ryan starting pitchers were on the mound until either they were in trouble or were removed because the team was behind and pinch hit for him in order to generate some offense.

Most of us hard-core football fans have seen the sport decline too.  Over the years the quarterback has been a little over protected.  Last I checked, wasn’t it the offensive line’s job to protect the quarterback?  The modification of the intentional grounding rule has also softened things in this writer’s opinion.  Why does it matter if a quarterback is in the pocket or not if he throws the ball to nobody to avoid a sack?

Finally let’s look at basketball.  Multiple times this year the Cleveland Cavaliers rested Lebron James and fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.  Excuse my ignorance, but when did an 82 game NBA season become so grueling that players needed to be rested?  In baseball I can understand resting players, whether or not they are stars.  You are playing day in and day out, sometimes twice a day.  Your team plays at 1:00 after ending a game at 11:00 the night before.  In basketball you play an occasional back to back in successive nights.  I have never seen this before.  I seriously don’t get it.

Maybe I’m too old school.

 

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-ON THURSDAY!

I would like to begin tonight’s blog with an explanation of why Wednesday Night Baseball is being published on Thursday this week.

At 4:57 Eastern Time yesterday afternoon my daughter gave birth to a 7 pound 8 ounce baby girl!  I am pleased, and thrilled, to announce the arrival of Madeline Grace Beauchamp into this world!  She is the first-born to my daughter and son and law.  She is also our first grandchild!  Mom, dad, grandparents, great grandparents and baby are all doing fine!

Now on to some baseball.

I want to start out by discussing the suspension of Pittsburgh Pirates star Starling Marte.   The Buccos star outfielder was given an 80 game suspension for testing positive for PED use.  The Pirates were planning on holding a Marte jersey giveaway on July 2nd, but have canceled it due to the suspension.  The jerseys were supposed to be given to kids.

Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is the latest player to be suspended for half the year over PED use.

 

First off, when will players learn that they will eventually be caught?  Look at the long line of stars that have been  caught over the years.  We all know that Barry Bonds, despite hitting more home runs than any other player in MLB history has been essentially black-balled from the Hall of Fame because of his steroid use.  Same is true for Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.  It remains to be seen what will happen when Alex Rodriguez is eligible in 2021.  Is it really worth losing half a season and have that black mark on your career?

Secondly, if you are a Pirates fan, and you have a son that idolizes Marte, how do you break the news to him?  How do you tell your son, who might be playing Little League ball that your star idol was caught cheating?  We went through this here in South Florida with Dee Gordon’s 80 game suspension last year.  I honestly don’t know the answer, but it puts the game in such a bad light.

Besides the Marte suspension, the story of the week has to be the New York Yankees.  After beginning the season on a road trip that took them to Tampa Bay and Baltimore the Bombers were 2-4.  The Yankees won the finale in Baltimore, and opened up for business in the Bronx on Monday afternoon.  The Yankees won their first six home games by sweeping three game series’ against the Rays and the Cardinals.  They also won the opener of a weekend series with the White Sox on Friday, before losing on Saturday.  With the road win in Baltimore, the Yanks won eight straight, seven of them at home and finished the homestand 9-1.

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The New York Yankees go 9-1 on their opening homestand.

 

Following the dramatic turnaround, the boys from the Bronx  are in second place in the American League East.  They trail the first place Orioles by 25 percentage points.

Here’s hoping for an eventful upcoming week in the Majors.  Barring any more births, this proud Grandpa will see you Wednesday!

 

IT’S BASEBALL SEASON! PART II

Since I last left you, all thirty Major League teams have opened their season.  Yes, the rite of every April has come to pass for half the league.  Over the next week and a half those who began play on the road will celebrate their home openers.  Then we will have the grand old game every day until October, and then most nights until early November.

Sunday was the American League’s preview, tonight it’s the Senior Circuit’s turn.

Pitching is going to be the theme in the National League East.  The Washington Nationals boast arguably two of the best individual arms in the game with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.  The Mets might have the best starting rotation in Majors.  Noah Syndergaard leads the rotation, followed by fellow long-haired stud Jacob deGrom.  Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler follow behind the long blonde tandem.  The big question mark in Flushing is the elbow injury to Steven Matz.  For now, Robert Gsellman will take Matz’s spot in the rotation.

The Mets biggest off-season moves are the players they kept.  Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker were both re-signed.  As for the Nats, Adam Eaton was the big addition, Wilson Ramos, the most notable loss.

In Miami the biggest and most stinging loss has to be Jose Fernandez.  Not only the devastating loss of a player, but the loss of an energetic leader and the face of the franchise.  The big question in Little Havana is will this team, and franchise for that matter, rebound after the tragedy at the end of last year?

The Marlins decided to fill the void left by Fernandez’ death by building a communal pitching staff.  Edinson Volquez, who was acquired as a free agent was the Opening Day starter.

The sleeper in this division could very well be the Philadelphia Phillies.  The Phils are stocked with a lot of young talent that might not know they’re supposed to lose.  The only attraction in Atlanta this year will be its new billion dollar ballpark.

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After 108 long years the ultimate “W” flag will fly over Wrigley Field!

In the Central Division, the big question is can the Cubs, fresh off their first championship in 108 years, repeat as champs?  Two main pieces of the championship puzzle have gone elsewhere.  Closer Aldoris Chapman decided to return to the Bronx, and centerfielder (and leadoff man) Dexter Fowler went to the dark side in St. Louis.  Former Royal Wade Davis joins the pitching staff, and former rival John Jay looks to replace Fowler in center.

The Cardinals’ pickup of Dexter Fowler and the loss of Matt Holliday were their two most significant changes.  There weren’t any major moves in Pittsburgh or Milwaukee. In Cincinnati, The Reds continue to be in full-out rebuilding mode.

Out west last year the Dodgers and Giants battled into the final days of the season.  The Dodgers really didn’t make any major moves.  The Giants added closer Mark Melancon, and parted ways with Angel Pagan.

The rest of the division, is just that.  The rest.  It’s going to be a two-horse race in the National League West.  The Padres, Rockies, and Diamondbacks are all in rebuilding mode.

So now it’s prediction time!

Eastern Division:

New York Mets

Washington

Miami

Philadelphia

Atlanta

 

Central Division:

Chicago Cubs

St. Louis

Pittsburgh

Milwaukee

Cincinnati

 

Western Division:

Los Angeles Dodgers

San Francisco

San Diego

Colorado

Arizona

 

Wild Cards will go to Washington and San Francisco.

National League Champions:  Los Angeles Dodgers

World Series Champions:  Cleveland Indians!

Yes, folks I’m putting it on the line.  Another drought will end!

See you next Wednesday for a wrap up of the opening week of Major League Baseball!

 

 

 

IT’S BASEBALL SEASON!

As a sports fan there is no opening of a season that is more of an event than in baseball.  It’s upon us folks!  At 1:00 this afternoon when the Yankees and Rays take the field in St. Petersburg, Florida it will signal newness not seen since New Year’s.

Today, and Wednesday I will preview the upcoming season.  Today I start with the American League.

Let me begin with the American League East and the aforementioned Yankees and Rays.  In 2016, the Boston Red Sox won this division after a last place finish the year before.  Was 2015 an aberration?  Did the real Sox show up last year?  The big hole to fill in Fenway Park this year will be the absence of David Ortiz.

The Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles followed the Red Sox into the post-season, taking home both American League Wild Cards.  The Blue Jays lost Edwin Encarnacion and R.A Dickey, while the Orioles picked up Seth Smith.

The New York Yankees could be playing second fiddle once again in the Big Apple this year.  Off-season pickups were Aldoris Chapman (who was only gone long enough to win a World Series in Chicago), Matt Holliday, and former Met Ruben Tejada.  The Yankees biggest subtraction had to be the retirement of Mark Texiera.  Rising star Gary Sanchez seems to be taking over as the leader in the Bronx.

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Cleveland Indians win the 2016 American League championship.

 

The Cleveland Indians seemingly came out of nowhere last year to win the American League Central.  Little did we know how far the Tribe could go.  If anything this team got even stronger in the off-season.  Can the team who now holds baseball’s longest championship drought (68 years) get the monkey off of their backs?.

Toronto’s loss was Cleveland’s gain.  Edwin Encarnacion signed with the Indians in the off-season.  He will replace Mike Napoli at first base.  Also gone was “almost World Series hero” Rajai Davis (who’s home run sent Game 7 into extras).

As for the 2015 champs, the Kansas City Royals lost pitcher Edinson Volquez while picking up Brandon Moss.  The Tigers, White Sox, and Twins are all long shots in making the post-season.

Out west it seems that the Mariners, Astros, and Rangers all played “can you top this?”  The Rangers re-signed Carlos Gomez, brought in Dillon Gee and James Loney.  Yovano Gallardo headlined a bunch of new players in Seattle.  A pair of former Yankees head to Houston as Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran join the Astros.

As for the two teams in California it could be a long season.  The Angels continue to get older and the Athletics are still in rebuilding mode.

So, now I give you my predictions.  Baseball is a long season, with many twists and turns.  Everyone has a shot beginning this week!

Eastern Division

Boston

Baltimore

Toronto

NY Yankees

Tampa Bay

 

Central Division

Cleveland

Kansas City

Detroit

Chicago White Sox

Minnesota

 

Western Division

Houston

Seattle

Texas

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Oakland

 

I am picking the Royals and Orioles to win the Wild Cards.  My pick for the American League championship…..The Cleveland Indians!  Can this be the year to end another drought????  Stay tuned.

Wednesday night I tackle the National League and my pick for the 2017 World Series champion.

Pull up a chair and enjoy the openers!

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-BREAKING CAMP

Unlike any other professional sport, baseball always seems to have times during the season that triggers hope in the eyes of a fan.  One of those times are upon us.

In the middle of February the excitement began when the 30 Major League franchises headed for Arizona and Florida.  If you are like me the turning point of Spring Training occurs somewhere around St. Patrick’s Day.  At that point you are either tired of games that don’t count and are played mostly by minor league prospects, or you want to see where teams make their final cuts.

This leads me to my point.  Here we are on March 29th.  Teams are starting to wrap up competition in both the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.  The exodus from Arizona and Florida has begun in advance of Sunday’s national openers.

What is always intriguing to me about this weekend is the scheduling.  This is the weekend when the Blue Jays test the market in Montreal to see if there will eventually be a return of baseball to French Canada.  This year’s opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The US Army and Naval academies will be playing host to pre-season action this weekend.  The Mets visit West Point on Friday afternoon to play a game against Army.  The Red Sox and Nationals will break camp together after tomorrow’s game in Ft. Myers.  Next stop is the Nation’s Capital for a game at Nationals Park, and then it’s off to Annapolis and the Naval Academy on Saturday.

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The United States Naval Academy will host the Red Sox and Nationals this Saturday.  West Point will host the Mets on Friday.

The American League Champion Indians will visit Chase Field in Phoenix for a two game series with the Diamondbacks.  It only took 108 years for me to say this, but the defending World Series Champion Chicago Cubs broke camp today!  Next stop on the way back to the Friendly Confines will be Houston. The Astros wrapped up their inaugural stint in West Palm Beach this afternoon with a 5-5 tie with the Marlins.  The Astros host the defending champs for a two game series at Minute Maid Park tomorrow and Friday.  Starting Sunday, the Marlins and Rays have Florida all to themselves again (same goes for the Diamondbacks in Arizona).

And finally, this is traditionally the weekend to “soft open” a new ballpark.  The Yankees will head to suburban Atlanta to test out Sun Trust Park, the new home of the Braves.

Hope springs eternal after these final exhibition matchups.  The Yankees and Rays open things for real on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Giants and D-Backs.  Sunday night the Cubs, yes the Cubs open the defense of their crown in, of all places, St. Louis against their arch rivals!

Just a program note, my next blog will be a two-part preview of the Major League 2017 season. Part 1 will be my Sunday blog and it will conclude on Wednesday.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASEBALL-WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC FINALS

When the United States and Puerto Rico take the field at Dodger Stadium it will be a classic in the making.  Besides the fact that this game is a rematch of an earlier nail biter, the story lines go deeper than the game of baseball.

The USA is the Mother Ship, Puerto Rico is the Territory.  Puerto Rico has representation in the US House of Representatives, yet it has its own flag.  And here is the biggest political kicker, a referendum is scheduled for June of this year to decide what direction the island will take.  The two choices are either apply for statehood, which will possibly make this the last competition between the two entities, or declare its independence as a nation.

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman will take the mound for Team USA this evening and will be opposed by Seth Lugo of the New York Mets.  Stroman could have been part of Team Puerto Rico, but opted to play for the Americans.  As a result, Stroman’s mother has been the subject of harassment on social media by many Puerto Ricans.  This will make for an emotional start for Stroman.  This again, could go way beyond the game of baseball.

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Marcus Stroman will start for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic Finals.

Seth Lugo will return to the Mets camp in Pt. St. Lucie, Florida following the WBC to finish competing for the fifth spot in their rotation.  Tonight, he takes the pride of the territory that either wants to join Big Brother or break away from it on his shoulders.  Yes, this is the biggest start of Lugo’s career, notwithstanding a start on the World Series stage at Citi Field.

Who will be the Classic’s MVP?  Yadier Molina has been arguably the driving force in Puerto Rico’s 7-0 record and a place in the Finals.  Adam Jones and possibly Christian Yelich are candidates from the United States.

So the grand old ballpark set in Southern California’s Chevez Ravine could see another chapter written in its hallowed halls.  Perhaps a ballpark that has been home to Sandy Koufax, Tommy LaSorda, Don Sutton, and Don Drysdale to name a few, can add one of the all time biggest international games to its resume tonight.  Too bad old Vin won’t be in the Dodger Stadium press box to tell everyone in the USA and its extended family in the Caribbean to pull up a chair this evening.  Enjoy the game wherever you may be!