Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Midsummer Meanderings - TWTW's Review of the 2015 MLB Season thus far


Danville, Kentucky – How will the world remember Will Hart when I die? After I go down in a blaze of Limearita-fueled glory, I imagine my family will search through my belongings. As they rummage through the mountainous stacks of divorce papers and subpoenas, they’ll discover my baseball card collection. After all my years of enjoying baseball, divorcing, eating appetizers and drinking Kentucky Deluxe, my only legacy will be this collection and its centerpiece: my 1960 Jimmy Maloney rookie card. Existence, cold and uncaring as it is, will proceed unhindered by the loss of one individual from Danville. My family might throw out my cards, or sell them to some nerd on EBay. Time reduces mountains to dust, and eventually lays claim to even the most glorious human accomplishments – one day, the pyramids of Egypt will be torn asunder while my cherished ’75 Topps Pete Rose card lays in the bottom of a landfill or behind the glass showcase display of a collector. Given this reality, many human aspirations appear futile.

Yet here I am, emotionally invested in a bunch of strangers I will never meet who get paid billions of dollars playing a children’s game. And I do it, because the game brings me happiness. Part of the enjoyment of the game is its unpredictability – baseball makes a fool out of those who attempt to understand it via formulas and math. This season, baseball has been particularly cruel to those who attempt to reduce it to a series of integers on a heat map. Let’s check back in on a few plotlines I’ve been writing about so far this season.

CINCINNATI REDS

Walter Jocketty and his cronies in Cincinnati’s front office have broken the heart of this Danville native. This team had unbounded potential – how many franchises can claim to have high-end talents such as Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, Billy Hamilton, Brandon Phillips, and sometimes Joey Votto when he decides to actually swing at a pitch? Not many franchises can. This team was perfectly fixable. Yet, Jocketty pulled a Barry Sanders, or a King Edward VIII, electing to be a quitter rather than attempting to triumph in the face of adversity. He’s already traded Cueto and it looks like more pieces are being shipped as I type this. Jocketty broke my heart. And he broke Brayan Pena's too.
Will this affect my relationship with the Redlegs? No. I will watch them while eating the same appetizer in the same smoking section of the same Chilis in the same great state that I always do. I believe in this team. If the front office is intelligent enough to extend the ebullient Brayan Pena, he will steward young talents like Eugenio Suarez and the World Series-proven Brandon Finnegan to greatness in 2016 and beyond.

CLEVELAND INDIANS


Stuff is looking better for the Reds than it is for that other team in Ohio – the one that plays in a footb—erm, basketball city. To the bitter disappointment of the nerds who prematurely crowned them World Series champions, the Cleveland Indians have underperformed like a foreign-made automobile. It would be easy to attribute their failure to the loss of Jason Giambi’s veteran leadership in the clubhouse, but it goes deeper than that.

"We've been playing like shit. There's no way around it. It's embarrassing. There's no fight. [We're] giving up early. We've got people worrying about their own things. Nobody is held accountable. It's just not the way we're going to do business here. So, we held a team meeting today to rein the guys back in, get us back to where we need to be, get our heads straight, get our heads out of our butts and start playing like a better baseball team."
It’s a team that has never shown the desire to fulfill their mammoth expectations. A team that’s not clutch.
 All season, they’ve had the exact wrong mental approach. The Indians go up to the plate swinging for the fences, rather than trying to lay down a bunt or advance the runner. They don’t play team baseball. They don’t catch the baseball. They look like a team that checks their fangraphs playoff probability percentage before taking the field. It isn’t a recipe for success. It’s a recipe for the type of perennial disappointment that only Cleveland fans can understand.

The Indians have all but thrown in the towel, trading David Murphy to Angels. It was a perfect trade match because the Angels are desperate for outfield bats in the wake of Trout’s documented post-season ineptitude. When the dust settles, the Indians look primed for a last-place finish, just like I predicted.

RICK PORCELLO


Rick’s struggles have been just as disheartening. I’ve written about them semi-extensively – in a character study of Rick and a preview of a recent Red Sox series. After taking the time to watch some Porcello game-tape, I can see why he’s struggled. When Ricky pitched for Detroit under the guidance of ace-whisperer Jeff Jones, he worked down in the zone, trusting his stuff and using his sinker to induce groundballs. It was a democratic way to pitch – giving his teammates an opportunity to participate and have fun, even if those teammates were sometimes iron gloves/traffic cones like Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta. Using this formula, Rick threw 3 complete game shutouts and had a breakout season in 2014. Boston’s pitching coaches have broken him by attempting to convert him into a strikeout pitcher that only cares about FIP and relies on high cheddar to induce flashy K’s. So what if advanced metrics thought Porcello didn’t have a good enough K/9 or was too reliant on BABIP luck? Rick had a good thing going. And now, Boston has turned Rick into a pitcher I don’t even recognize anymore. It’s more heartbreaking than the time my second wife literally didn’t recognize me anymore after an accident with a malfunctioning electric razor at the Danville barbershop and several months of Southwestern Eggroll-accelerated weight gain.

MINNESOTA TWINS

The Minnesota Twins, consensus last place pick for the AL Central, have turned into playoff contenders. This took a lot of folks by surprise, but not me, who was bold enough to tell it like it is: you could only doubt the Twins if you’re ignorant enough to analyze baseball without even bothering to watch the games on the field. The return of Ervin Santana had exactly the effect I predicted it would – it’s solidified a fierce-some rotation that already included the two-headed monster of Mike Pelfrey and Kyle Gibson. Their future remains cloudy, but don’t count them out no matter what ZIPs rest-of-season projections say.

DETROIT TIGERS


Folks, I haven’t said it out loud, but for me, this Tigers team has looked finished since July 10th, when the scrappy Twins mounted a spine-cracking rally in the 9th inning.

Earlier that evening, the long-anticipated Tigers turnaround seemed to be in motion. They won the previous night’s game when David Price improbably outdueled Pelfrey’s wicked arsenal, allowing the Tigers to inch closer to the Twins in the standings and position themselves for a run at a Wild Card spot. Justin Verlander pitched into the 8th inning, surrendering only 1 run, heralding the long-awaited return of Detroit’s Autumnal savior. His swing-and-miss stuff was back, and so was his swaggering superhero confidence. Like many Tigers games before it and many Tigers games after it, Verlander’s return-to-form gem was wasted by a bullpen that’s worse at putting out fires than a flamethrower. It was the same “Tigers bullpen implosion loss” that is doomed to be eternally repeated into the abyss, like game 2 of the 2013 ALCS or game 2 of the 2014 ALDS, etcetera, etcetera. A team can only take so many crushing losses before its spirit breaks like a wayward tortilla chip caught underneath the unassailable pressure of an overweight man’s barstool. Throw in Miguel Cabrera’s injury, and it might be enough to break any team. Sometimes it’s just not your year. Sometimes, things aren’t meant to be, like my second wife’s ill-conceived unlicensed nail salon. In those situations, it’s best to just cut your losses and move on.

For several more weeks, this Tigers team will lack the greatest hitter of a generation, Miguel Cabrera. It will soon lack its ace David Price and its electrifying leftfielder, Yoenis Cespedes. Even 8 magnificent innings of 1-run, 10-K ball from Justin Verlander vs. the Tampa Bay Rays were not enough to convince Dave Dombrowski to salvage the team’s season.

So far, I appear to have gotten the Tigers wrong. I predicted that they’d get at least get a Wild Card spot. I still think this Tigers roster would’ve been good enough to achieve that, if they could only all stay healthy at the same time. Maybe I underestimated the effect losing Torii Hunter’s veteran presence would have on this team. Sometimes, baseball makes a fool out of the best of us – folks like me who actually watch the games. Meanwhile, as Dave Dombrowksi announces the Tigers are "re-booting," the sun sets on a great era of baseball in the Motor City – one that included four straight division titles, no-hitters, triple-crowns, MVPs, and Cy Youngs, even as the dream of a World Series remained as elusive as the dream of President Goldwater. The sun sets, but it is not quite nightfall; the Tigers are not yet the Phillies.

I’m normally one to think Buster is a nerd, but he has a point. Hope for 2016 remains as long as Jose Iglesias remains a defender extraordinaire, and as long as J.D. Martinez continues to defiantly put up MVP numbers in spite of the nerds who label him a regression candidate. Yoenis Cespedes will be traded now, but La Potencia’s sense of belongingness in the Detroit clubhouse may lead him back to the Motor City in the offseason. As the orange sun recedes in the West, Miguel Cabrera will stare longingly onto the horizon. “There’s always next year” may be a tired refrain, but in baseball it rings true.


KANSAS CITY ROYALS


A lot of things have gone wrong for teams like my Reds, Cleveland and Detroit this year. For the Kansas City Royals, it’s been a year of things going right, of wise decisions paying off. Some call it luck – others call it destiny. The Royals have been a team of underdogs that believed in each other – even when nerds pointed out the canyon-like disparity between the unhittable Chris Young’s ERA and FIP, and scratched their heads at the inexplicable dominance of ex-Phillies Joe Blanton and Ryan Madson. Dayton Moore’s faith in Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas was rewarded as both have turned in the breakout seasons they were supposed to have all along. The end-product is a Royals team running away with the American League in a way that nobody thought was possible. Did Kansas City give up when PECOTA projections said they would lose 90 games? No. They’ve played like a team that believes they’re unstoppable – sitting at a monumental 23 games over .500 before their deadline acquisitions Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist have even taken the field, and in spite of the loss of Alex Gordon. This is a resilient Royals team. They are not weighed down by the years of disappointment and bullpen implosions like their counterparts in Detroit. 

The acquisition of Johnny Cueto should make the Royals favorites in the AL. The idea of having to beat both Cueto and Jeremy Guthrie in a seven-game set should be enough to make any potential playoff opponent quiver like Lyndon B. Johnson at a Warren Commission hearing.

I was less enthusiastic about the Ben Zobrist acquisition for several reasons. First, Zobrist and his shiny OBP have the potential to cut into the gritty Omar Infante’s playing time – something that should give many Royals fans pause. Second, the clubhouse chemistry impact of the deal remains uncertain. Zobrist is a member of the Oakland A’s team that tried to murder Alcides Escobar, triggering a brawl more violent than the Mexican cartels which Donald Trump has vowed to defeat. Nonetheless, I don’t expect the trade to negatively affect Kansas City. Zobrist has the Billy Butler seal of approval. The vets in the KC house will make the transition smooth. The team will persevere, powered by their own unshakeable bonds of friendship. They have all the makings of a team of destiny – just as I predicted.

CONCLUSION

Baseball is unpredictable, but also predictable. My Reds are certainly done for. So are the Indians. But my love of baseball isn’t done for. I’ll continue to root for former Reds like Shin-Soo Choo, Alfredo Simon and Johnny Cueto, as they chase glory on their new teams. I can only hope that when I’m dead and buried, my contributions to baseball – my card collection, my blog – aren’t lost and forgotten. One day, when he’s old enough to understand why I would drunkenly holler at other parents at his little league games, my nephew might discover my card collection and form a dangerously obsessive relationship with baseball just like his old man. Then, my life might’ve served a higher purpose that could truly stand the test of time.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pre-Deadline Date With Destiny: TWTW's Tigers @ Red Sox Preview -- 7-24-15


Danville, Kentucky -- It was a day of reckoning Rick didn’t think would ever come: pitching in Fenway against his mentor and friend Justin Verlander, donning the home whites of the Boston Red Sox. Both teams are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive as the Tigers come to Boston struggling to play above .500 while the Red Sox have yet to win a game since the All Star break.

Rick Porcello in a Boston uniform is not the only thing that will feel incongruous about this series; David Ortiz will continue to look like a hollow shell of his former self thanks to proliferation of game-busting defensive shifts, Marc Krauss will man first-base rather than the wounded Miguel Cabrera, while both former AL titans enter play struggling to remain playoff relevant. Past games between the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox might’ve featured marquee pitching matchups like Max Scherzer v. John Lester. No more. This series will have all the pitching prowess of a poorly-tossed beer-league softball game.


As somebody who is a believes in and defends both Justin and Rick, it pains my soul to say this. But I can’t see either of them figuring it out this year. Not with the stabilizing veteran presence of Miguel Cabrera absent from the Detroit lineup, and the specter of an impending fire-sale casting an ominous pall over the team. Meanwhile, the 2015 Red Sox are a cautionary tale for those who believe in rebuilding on-the-fly via trade deadline fire sales. Boston’s decade-long experiment with sabermetrics has created a team of overpaid strangers who have formed no bonds of fellowship. Rick is adrift in a sea of uncertainty, in a clubhouse with more Instagram toilet incidents than leaders. It’s a terrible environment if you’re trying to turn around a season.

Both of these teams could still be fixed in the long term. Dartmouth nerd Brad Ausmus could be fired and replaced with some combination of Omar Vizquel and player-manager Victor Martinez, with Don Kelly brought on as first base coach. Miguel Cabrera and crustacean sensation Kyle Lobstein could return from injury and contribute to a postseason push in the dog days of summer. The terrible contracts of Hanley Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval could be dealt for a starting pitcher whose performances don’t evoke the fire-bombing of Dresden.
Fenway Park after a Joe Kelly start
But by gametime on Friday, none of these needed adjustments will have been made. Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, former teammates, will kick off a 3 game set in Beantown to determine which team’s pitching staff is more broken. When Rick left Justin he was but the learner. Now, he’s the master, but only a master of getting shelled. Rick Porcello’s sinker will not sink, and Yoenis Cespedes will hit a revenge gapper against the team foolish enough to deal him – the team that La Potencia said “treated me like I was a rookie.” Good things don’t happen when you trade Yoenis Cespedes.


Justin will not be sharp either. He will reach back for a 100 mile per hour fastball that the cruel passage of time has stolen from him. Hanley will uncork a staggering swing, his helmet flying off his head as he admires his shot.


Fly balls will sail over the short-porch all weekend long, leading the enigmatic Al Albuquerque to reminisce about Joaquin Benoit’s hung pitch to David Ortiz that sent Torii Hunter’s flipping headfirst over the bullpen fence in the 2013 ALCS. Both offenses will feast like they're too drunk to drive home from Chili's on half-price appetizer night. It will be a shootout unlike any before seen in the Wild, Wild, AL East.

The rest of the pitchers in this series will fare no better. The athleticism and speed of Mookie Betts and Anthony Gose will will be on display as they frantically chase after blistering line drives hit over their heads, as though they are demonstrating some sort of perverse fitness program. Eduardo Rodriguez, who had previously been the lone bright spot of a morbidly bad rotation, will continue his precipitous decline and deflate the spirits of Boston fans like a Foxboro football. Alfredo Simon’s nickname, Big Pasta, will seem especially unfortunate as he lobs meatball after meatball at hungry Red Sox batters. Andrew Romine will look on in horror from the Tigers dugout as pitch after pitch from Shane Greene thumps crudely off the giant wall in Fenway’s leftfield, giving whole new meaning to “Greene Monster.” Andrew will avert his eyes, as a sinking feeling of existential despair grows in the pit of his stomach, like a case of indigestion following a round of Towering Onion Rings at Red Robin.


Everyday Andrew will contemplate the futility, absurdity, and pointlessness of this whole enterprise and wonder if his team really has become the Phillies. The Tigers bullpen will fare no better – leaving fans longing for the days of stability under Joba Chamberlain and Tom Gorzelanny.

When all is said and done, both pitching staffs will have been torched like the 1814 conflagration of Washington. After their game, Justin Verlander will take a cab to downtown Boston, where he will socialize with Rick Porcello at the kid’s favorite high-end drinking hole in his new stomping grounds. They will commiserate, both being products of the same Tigers farm system which is now more barren than the Mexican desert that Donald Trump rightfully wants to build a wall upon. The no-hitters and Madduxes of yester-year will seem farther away than ever, as they sip bitter drinks and think bitter thoughts. 


Back at the hotel, David Price will reluctantly text his agent about apartment hunting in Los Angeles, the North side of Chicago, and to the chagrin of Tigers fans, Kansas City. David Price knows that baseball is a business, but the idea of parting from this team hurts him. My last divorce ended with a screaming match in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut, but Price will greet whatever fate awaits him with class and professionalism.

Life will go on, and the world will continue to spin. The fire burning in the hearts of young talents like Jose Iglesias and Xander Bogaerts – the futures of their respective franchises – will burn ever brighter. 

Jose & Xander, once upon a time.
With his body broken but his spirit yearning to fight, a frustrated and hobbled Miguel Cabrera will watch the proceedings of this series from afar like Bruce Wayne watched helplessly from a prison cell as Gotham was destroyed. The Triple Crown winner will slowly recover his strength, biding his time for one more push at Autumnal glory.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

TWTW's Second-Half AL East Predictions


Danville, Kentucky – Every now and then, you see something you can’t take your eyes off of; like the film Alley Cats Strike! or a attractive young waitress with a hot plate of fried pickles.


Folks, the American League East is going to be that captivating as we head into the home stretch of the season. I’m a little bit surprised about that to be honest. The East Coast has none of the blue collar grit of the Mid West, making it my least favorite region of the country. My travels across America have generally avoided the Eastern reaches of our great country, which I find to be a detestable hive of liberal elitism, full of people who talk condescending towards you just because you’re from Kentucky and you like eating at Applebee’s. Seafood-eating, Ivy-league educated East Coast nerds are the folks who brought us deflate-gate, Kennedy over Nixon in ’60, Fort Sumter, and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. It pains me to say this, but despite my hatred of the East Coast, I can’t help but watch what is shaping up to be a compelling division race. Here are my 2nd half predictions for the American League East:

1st place - Toronto Blue Jays



I vowed never to travel to Canada or befriend a Canadian after learning about the War of 1812 at Hogsett Elementary School, but there’s a lot to like about this Blue Jays team. They hit dingers and their pitchers get wins. The “Josh Donaldson for MVP” crowd is a bit loud and WAR-friendly (especially after his embarrassing defensive performance in the All Star Game) for my old-fashioned tastes, but even I can respect Mr. Donaldson’s 21 blasts. It goes without saying that the nerd number-cruncher in the Oakland Athletics front office who suggested trading Josh should be like me: unemployed. But Josh Donaldson and his bWAR aren’t even the most exciting thing about this Blue Jays team.

Two men are going to lead Toronto to their first AL East pennant since 1993, a magical year marked by the debut of the WWF’s Monday Night Raw; a time before Pitch F/X and a time before NAFTA. Those two men are Jose Bautista and Mark Buehrle.

Joey Bats needs no introduction. He’s a man of the people, and probably follows you on twitter. He has dinger-fever, and it’s contagious. Despite playing for a country with no military to speak of, Bautista has taught the Bluebirds how fire bombs, providing all the firepower our neighbors to the North will ever need. Thanks to Jose and his veteran leadership, all sorts of Blue Jays like Chris Colabello and Ezequiel Carrera have improbably gone yard. More importantly, Jose is a great teammate. He knows when to send a message. The first step to being a winner is self-respect; and Bautista tolerates disrespect from no one. I admire his willingness to stand up for his teammates and himself. You need that type of mentality to win a division.




There’s a lot to like about the Blue Jays rotation as well. I don’t see the urgency to sell the farm for a rental pitcher when Toronto’s staff boasts 10-game winner (and thrower of a perfect game) Mark Buehrle and 8-game winner Drew Hutchison. Not to mention the formidable R.A. Dickey. Although Dickey has only 3 wins, that number is as deceptive as one of his knuckleballs. Dickey is a former Cy Young winner, a hardened veteran who has seen it all. Expect Toronto to coast into the playoffs as Dickey delivers a strong 2nd half and Buehrle continues be the anchor of Toronto’s rotation. There’s simply too much track record on this pitching staff for any other outcome to occur. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Canada is going to finish in 1st place.

2nd place – New York Yankees


I’m nearly just as excited about the Bronx Bombers. Like their Canadian counterparts, they hit bombs. Alex Rodriguez is a guy you can’t help wanting to root for. He’s having a magical season, writing history and crossing out the asterisks that the holier-than-thou choir-boys try to put next to his well-deserved accomplishments. New York’s bullpen is lights out, and full of guys like Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller who have the ice-blood needed to nail down the game in a save situation.

For me, the difference between the division-winning Toronto Blue Jays and the Wild Card Yankees is starting pitching. Whereas Toronto will be able to lean on proven winners like Buehrle and Dickey down the stretch, New York’s rotation is C.C. Sabathia and a bunch of question marks. Masahiro Tanaka is injury prone and inconsistent. Michael Pineda is liable to get caught cheating and spend August and September on his couch watching the Food Network (that’s what I’d be watching anyway). Adam Warren and Nathan Eovaldi are unproven youngsters that only xFIP-lovers can get excited about. While I expect C.C. to eat a lot of innings and carry the team down the stretch, this rotation just can’t compete with Toronto’s. 

3rd place – Baltimore Orioles


Baltimore missed their last best shot at a World Series last season when they got swept by the Kansas City Royals. A post-season run isn’t out of the question for these boys, especially if Chris Davis gets a hold of whatever illicit drugs he was taking in 2013. However, the front office has made some moves that make me scratch my head. It started with letting Nelson Cruz walk in the offseason. It continued with the puzzling decision to release 2012 ALCS MVP and 2014 ALDS hero Delmon Young. Delmon is exactly the guy I’d want holding the bat with the game on the line in October, but the Orioles released him for reasons that are mysterious to me. Was his BABIP against left-handed pitchers in day games not high enough? Was his swinging strike rate vs. cutters not up to snuff? Nerds find all types of ways to discredit great players these days.

Fortunately, Baltimore still has a decent shot of playing baseball in October. Adam Jones is fantastic both on the field and off the field, where he is the face of baseball in the troubled city of Baltimore. With a rock solid bullpen led by Darren O’Day and Zach Britton, the Orioles have made their living winning 1-run games, despite the insistence of nerds that this trend is unsustainable and statistically improbable. Playoffs or not, Baltimore will help keep this division interesting.

4th place – Boston Red Sox



In the 1st half, Boston was more disappointing than Bob Dole’s failed campaign in 1996. But to keen eyes, this team was an obvious train-wreck from the get-go. In the offseason the Red Sox front office traded away proven winner Yoenis Cespedes, signed a bunch of free agents with known character issues, assembled a rotation of guys who would get shelled by my beer-league softball team and hoped for the best, somehow expecting the finished product to be a cohesive, playoff contending team.

Sorry. I don’t care what Hanley Ramirez’s WRC+ is, this team is a chemistry disaster and it’s obvious that the manager has lost control of the team. I still have them finishing 4th in the division, which is an improvement from their current last-place position. I expect the GM to acquire another competent stating pitcher at the deadline, but it’s hard to see this team putting it all together. I also expect Rick Porcello to pitch to his potential as he gets accustomed to his new surroundings and develops a stronger rapport with his new teammates – a process that would be accelerated if the front office packages clubhouse-chemistry nightmares Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval in any deal they make at the trade deadline. Maybe next year, Beantown.

5th place – Tampa Bay Rays


It shocks me that Tampa has been as successful as they have this season given the suicidal sabermetric tendencies of their front office. The fact that Jonah Keri, known nerd and prediction-fail extraordinaire, called Tampa “the smartest team in baseball” really tells you all you need to know. This is a team built to win games on paper, which is about as helpful as having a dentist who’s really a podiatrist, given that baseball is not a game that is won or lost on paper. I expected a slight boost to this team’s playoff fortunes when I heard the Rays parted ways with the bespectacled basement-dweller and sabermetric-lover Joe Maddon, but that has yet to materialize. What do you get when you take a roster assembled by a computer program and throw in injuries to key pieces like Drew Smyly? A last place team. Even with several players set to return from injuries later in the season, including the exciting young lefty Drew Smyly, it’s hard to see this team going places in 2015. At least nobody will be at Tropicana Field watching this team when they implode in the second half.

Conclusion

It should be a fun couple of months, folks. Each fanbase in the AL East will appreciate this wonderful game in their own unique way. Boston fans will mourn this forsaken season over a bowl of Lobster bisque, I assume. Fans of Tampa will look on in horror as the true Rays team reveals itself, from the comfort of their nice retirement communities. Toronto fans will find happiness in their 1st place team, despite living in a Kafkaesque bureaucratic hell-hole with a healthcare system more ruthlessly invasive than Nazi Germany’s. I’ll be savoring the beauty of all of it, with my trusty companions Jim Bean and Jack Daniels. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Trump for President: Trump Trumps the Chumps




Danville, Kentucky- Sometimes it takes the most established man to fight the establishment. Sometimes, it's that time. This time is the time for Trump. But before we can endorse Trump, it's time to dispel the chumps.



Donald Trump says what needs to be said. While the Governor of New Jersey proclaims to be, "telling it like it is," the truth is we don't need a candidate that was trying to get to third base with Obama after Hurricane Sandy. Instead, we need a candidate that has made home-run deals his entire life. We need Trump.



Jeb Bush made too many risky economic deals to be President. Bush helped Florida's economy grow, but on the back of terrible housing deals. We need a President that understands the art of the deal, not bankrupting a state. Furthmore, Bush is only where he is because of his father and brother's legacy. Trump is only living off his father's legacy. Checkmate: Trump.

Scott Walker is too soft on immigration. Walker lies to the people about what he'd actually do on immigration. Trump merely lies to the people about what Mexico would do on immigration. A small man lies to others, a real man lies for his friends. What a candidate, what a President he could.



Rubio is too inexperienced. Sure, Rubio is well on the path to bankruptcy, but only one candidate has the experience of bankruptcy, after bankruptcy, after bankruptcy, after bankruptcy. In a few cycles, Rubio may understand that experience. Yet, by 2016 Rubio won't. Only Trump will, and only Trump should be President.

Then there's John "free money" Kasich. Kasich foolishly expanded Medicaid in his state. Trump understands you can't pass out Obamacare at your companies to grow your state/business. If Kasich gets elected, he'll bankrupt our country, which as mentioned previously, only Trump would understand how to get out of because of his experience with bankruptcy.



Bobby Jindal might as well appear now, since he won't appear at the Republican debates. Jindal thought he could use his Ivy league power. Jindal focused too much on what he learned hitting the books at Brown, and not enough on what his state needed. In contrast, Donald Trump disregarded what they told him at Wharton and focused on getting to know people and training his apprentice.


Dr. Ben Carson is a great man, but sadly he doesn't have any relevant experience to being President. If I needed surgery, I'd go see Ben Carson. Yet, what does being a surgeon have to do with being President. We need someone with relevant experience, and not someone with a totally unrelated job.

Image result for ted cruz
Ted Cruz  is trampling the Constitution. Sure, he renounced his Canadian citizenship, but Trump and I have read the constitution. Sorry, but I can't vote for someone that's first act would be to deliberately disobey the constitution by being a non-American born person, what some have called a Canadian.

Image result for hewlett packard laptop
Carly Fiorina ran a computer company that my son used to look up material he shouldn't have been. That's right, my son looked up random number generators and Nate Silver articles late at night. I'll never forgive Ms. Fiorina, and I'll never vote for her.

I looked at a sheet of candidates, and I remembered Lindsey Graham is running for President. He wants to escalate the war on coal with a cap and tax. Sure, he refuses to call Iraq a mistake, but if I wanted to lose my job at the coal plant again, I'd vote for Graham. But I don't. I want to work again, and Donald was the only candidate to generate jobs with his announcement.


Mike Huckabee is too good of a T.V. show host to lose. He spent the last several years blaring the guitar and providing great entertainment. Fox said he couldn't do both. We need him back on Fox while Mr. Trump manages our nation and holds down the fort hosting "the Apprentice."

George Pataki. According to Bing, he was once the Governor of New York. Folks, I really don't have time to research someone to see if they have a qualification to be President. I need someone I know. I need Trump.


Rand Paul supported Mitch McConell's re-election. Mitch McConell hit on my 3rd wife at a Lexington Chili's. Anyone that would hit on my 3rd wife has terrible judgment. Anyone that would support someone that would hit on my 3rd wife can't be trusted. Trump can be trusted. Trust Trump.


Rick Perry was a fine candidate in 2012. He didn't care to remember stupid agencies. Now, he wears hipster glasses and probably gathers at Starbucks to do God knows what. 

Rick Santorum is too good for me. Sure, he's got all the right views now and really always has. Yet, I need someone that was making a ton of mistakes recently. Jut a few years ago, Trump was pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-Iraq, pro tax increases, and supported Hillary Clinton. Folks, I need someone that has been redeemed. I'll redeem my vote for Trump.

Trump beats everyone head-to-head. The media will never give Trump a comparison against the other candidates because they know his record is too great. It's time for us to speak out on his superior comparison. It's time for Trump.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Divorce Joey Votto: Why the 2015 Reds Can Be Fixed


Danville, Kentucky – Folks, I’ll be up front. Throwing a no-hitter has its benefits. After my no-no clinched the state championship semi-finals for the Danville Admirals back in ’72, I had my pick of the finest dolls Northern Kentucky had to offer. My fastball was hot, but to these girls, I was even hotter. They couldn’t get enough of me. One young woman in particular put a stranglehold on my heart tighter than my fastball grip. I was head over heels. The advanced metrics would’ve said two High School juniors weren’t financially or emotionally ready for a commitment as solemn as marriage, but I’ve never been one to listen to the nay-sayers. At the age of 17, I began my first and most passionate marriage. It was a flame hotter than an Aroldis Chapman four-seamer.


But like everything else in this world besides endless appetizers at TGI Friday’s, it couldn’t last. Three years into the relationship that would come to define my adult life, my marriage took a downturn more precipitous than America’s decline following the election of Lyndon B. Johnson. I grew restless. I was haunted by dreams of the baseball diamond and the unfinished work that remained after we failed to bring home the state championship to Danville High. I couldn’t settle down now, not with my heater still touching 87 miles per hour, and my future still full of unfulfilled potential and unaccomplished exploits.

The Cincinnati Reds are reaching a similar turning point. They can settle down and get comfortable with a flickering flame that the inevitable passage of time has all but extinguished, or keep reaching for more. Lots of folks are saying the Reds should sell. Sell Johnny Cueto, sell Todd Frazier, sell Aroldis Chapman, sell their soul. Throw in the towel, they say, and declare 2015 a cause more lost than the WTO protests in Seattle back in the ‘90s. I’m not ready to do that. I see a team with potential, with people who have won in the past and can still win in the future. Nerds are correct that parts of this team must be revamped and retooled. But not for the reasons Jonah Keri would tell you. This team is primed for a second half resurgence if the right moves are made. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to turn the Reds into contenders for the dog days of summer:

1)      Divorce Joey Votto. 

Like 17 year old Will Hart back in ’72, the Reds made a long-term promise that doesn’t look good retrospectively. Back in 2012, my Redlegs signed Votto to a deal that won’t expire until the end of President Trump’s 2nd term. We’re on the hook for him until 2024. It was hard to dislike the deal at the time. I remember the Glory Days. I watched every game of his MVP campaign from the smoking section of Chili’s. But like my first marriage, there comes a time to cut your losses. 2015 Joey Votto is a shell of his former self. Nerds might tell you he’s earned 3 WAR already, but I see a shell-shocked guy too afraid to take the bat off of his shoulder, a Carlos Santana type-player prematurely extended and handcuffed to the team for all eternity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching Joey Votto dingers. But baseball is a business. We’re paying Albert Pujols money for a guy who is allergic to RBIs lately. I’m tired of seeing these boys come up short with runners in scoring position. We need someone who isn’t scared to drive in runs. We need Evan Gattis. If the Reds front office has any brains, they’ll pick up the phone and call Billy Beane and Jeff Luhnow. Whatever you do, don't email either of them unless you are comfortable with the Cardinals finding out our secrets as well.

A three team deal: Joey Votto goes to the Oakland Athletics – the type of irrelevant nerd team that appreciates guys who care about their OBP and WRC+ but not winning ball games or driving in runs. Billy Butler to the Houston Astro’s, a young team that needs veteran leadership to guide them to October. Evan Gattis and prospects to the Reds. Evan Gattis doesn’t care about taking pitches. He cares about crushing them. He walks 3.7% of the time and has 53 RBIs compared to Votto’s measly 42. If landing Gattis costs us Jumbo Diaz, so be it. That’s the cost of doing business if you’re serious about contending and not pulling a Sam Hinkie.

This trade would unload an albatross contract and ensure Reds fans don’t have to watch scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity be squandered by a man frightened of swinging. The elephant in the room is that Joey Votto is Canadian. A maple-syrup slurper like him isn’t worthy of playing in the Great American Ballpark.

2)      Don’t have a firesale


Being 7 games out of a Wild Card spot is not equivalent of being eliminated. Letting playoff probabilities dictate roster-building strategy would be a disaster – why even bother to play the games on the field if some computer says we’re doomed? According to this logic the Reds should have been sellers back in April after fangraphs projected their Pythagorean win total to be lower than St. Louis, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. 7 games can be made up in the span of a couple of weeks if these boys get a good hot streak. When that hot streak hits, the Reds will need Cueto to help make a second-half push at a playoff spot. If I have to pick between a half-season of Cueto that might make or break our playoff hopes and the lottery ticket prospects a Cueto rental trade will bring back, it’s an easy choice.

3)      Bring back Dusty Baker


I admire Bryan Price’s honesty, candor, and foul-mouth, but it’s time to cut ties. It’s clear he isn’t getting the most out of this roster, or motivating them to perform. Price has a 114-131 win/loss record to his name since coming to Cincinnati. When Dusty left this team, they were still playoff relevant and contending. Since Dusty’s departure the Cincinnati clubhouse is now a circus, thanks to Price’s antics. In an interview with Ken Rosenthal, Mat Latos confirmed my worst fears about Price’s stewardship of the clubhouse:
You look at the Reds after we lost Bronson (Arroyo, after the 2013 season). Everything went to s---. You look at it after we lost Scott Rolen (after 2012). Everything went to s---. When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.
 After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our (clubhouse attendants), like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a guy with a year-and-a-half in the big leagues wandering around the clubhouse, hanging out. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that’s what happens. You can’t have that ... it turns into a circus.
For the love of cheese fries, please bring back Dusty, I beg of you, Castellini and Jocketty.

4)      Move Billy Hamilton up in the order


There’s no reason to squander one of our most talented players by not letting him bat leadoff. How is Billy supposed to restore his confidence batting next to the pitcher? The coaching staff needs to move him to the top of the lineup and fix his mechanics so that he hits the ball on the ground, allowing him to take advantage of his greatest asset: his speed.

5)      Put Brandon Phillips back in the 2 spot


Without Votto clogging up the bases by drawing meaningless walks while subsequently refusing to drive runners in, Phillips should be able to thrive in a role that he once held down so well. Dusty once had the wisdom to bat Phillips 2nd, a move which paid off when Brandon drove in 100+ runs in 2013. The manager needs to stop creating lineups like he’s a nerd beat-writer and start trying to create runs. Divorcing Votto and hooking up with Phillips would not only create runs, it would allow Phillips to reclaim his rightful spot as clubhouse leader and improve team chemistry. It’s time to turn the club over to Brandon.

6)      Free Pete Rose


If I’m Castellini and Jocketty, I’m not sleeping until Rose is rightfully reinstated, and allowed to have a hands-on, in-the-dugout role with Reds, mentoring the next generation of hitters.

Conclusion

If the front office can’t pull the trigger on these moves, the GM deserves to be fired. I refuse to give up on this team, and I have a feeling that deep down the front office knows a fire-sale is not the correct strategy, or they would’ve already pulled the trigger on one of the many offers they have undoubtedly heard for Cueto. Men from Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky don’t give up. They don’t settle down, not with their first wife and not with Joey Votto. They keep chasing their dreams, if it breaks their souls and their bodies in the process. The fans of the Cincinnati Reds deserve a front office willing to go all-in. So do players like Brayan Pena who hustle day in and day out.



My first divorce back in ’75 didn’t turn my life around or help me reach my potential. I’ve been divorced three times since then. But I couldn’t live with myself if I gave up, got complacent and settled down with my first no-hitter groupie wife instead of chasing my dreams. Having a fire sale and hoping for the best next year would be the easy way out. But Danville men don’t take the easy way out.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Everyday Andrew: Why Romine is the Key to the Tigers in 2015


Danville, Kentucky – I consider my time working the assembly line at the GM Plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to be some of the best years of my life. It’s natural to get romantic about throwing a no-hitter or your third honeymoon, but I hold nothing but profound nostalgia for my days assembling the cars that folks would make treasured memories in. The best part about the GM plant is that there were no superstars. Every man in that factory put their head down and turned in a hard day’s work, laboring on behalf of their families with no fanfare or recognition. 
The Bowling Green GM Plant, Pre-NAFTA
At that industrial hell-pit in Bowling Green, a man worked, and provided, regardless of whether or not their efforts were celebrated or rewarded with love and affection. For my co-workers and I, the grim pleasure of wiping dirt and sweat off your face once you got home brought all the satisfaction a man needed.

Baseball is nothing like that GM plant. Baseball has always been a game of heroes – like Pete Rose, Jimmy Maloney, Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, and Omar Infante. In the cat-and-mouse game that unfolds at least three times per half-inning between a pitcher and batter, baseball is a game of individual accomplishment or individual failure. When a man strikes out or hits a dinger, the shame or glory belongs to him alone, despite the best efforts of nerds who want their statistics to control for external variables like team defense and park factors. 

Nonetheless, baseball is a game where the contributions of every-man utility players like Mike Aviles or Eric Sogard can make a difference come October. Fans of the Detroit Tigers (a team I have admired since my Uncle Bert from Flint taught me about the ’68 champions) know this fact all too well. Fans of the Tigers remember the times when everyday unsung heroes like Don Kelly played whatever position they were ordered to without asking questions and without trying to be flashy. Like my companions at the GM plant, guys like Don Kelly come to work and do their jobs with competence and grace. Sometimes, these men play hero; like when Mr. Kelly hit a dinger in game 5 of the 2011 ALCS, or his walk-off sac-fly in the 2012 ALDS. But at the end of the day, blue-collar guys like Don Kelly go home, kiss their wives and tuck their kids into bed without the expectation that they will ever be immortalized with bronze statues or Hall of Fame plaques. They play for something bigger: the team.


If the 2015 Detroit Tigers are going to have a season that ends in Autumnal glory and not a bitter Winter of discontent, they’ll need contributions from the guys who don’t have multi-billion dollar contracts or super-model girlfriends. For proof of this, the Tigers need only look up in the standings at the small-market Kansas City Royals, a team of guys allergic to flashy rally-killing extra-base hits, but who are All-Stars in their own right because of their quiet excellence with the glove and their ability to advance the runner. Lots of commentators and nerds look at the Tigers and proclaim them doomed now that the larger-than-life slugger Miguel Cabrera is injured. Old-timers like myself know that a team like the Tigers can weather the storm if the rest of the team holds true to each other.

You can gauge the intelligence of a baseball fan by asking them how they feel about their team’s 25th man. The sports-talk radio listeners and angry twitter types will rave and curse the GM for allowing the 25th man to be on the team’s roster in the first place.

The flip-side of the irate twitter ranter is the know-it-all fangraphs-following fan. These ignorant spreadsheet-gazers will look at the lack of plate appearances, pedestrian bWAR scores, and unexciting ISO numbers and dismiss guys like Andrew as “replacement-level” players. Those of us who actually watch the games can see that Andrew is already building a resume of Donnie-like selfless deeds. Back in April, he got on base to set up Jose Iglesias’s walk-off hit vs. the Chicago White Sox.


He’s quickly endeared himself to the true fans by reliably playing a variety of infield positions, with the occasional sneaky-dinger.


Yet, the value of guys like Andrew doesn’t show up in the box-score or on a fangraphs chart. When bench players like Romine or Josh Wilson pitch in a blow-out game, they quietly save the bullpen and keep their team in a position to win for the long-term. When they selflessly lay down sac bunts, they’re not fretting about their OPS+ or WRC, they’re thinking only about helping their team in whatever way they can. They don’t always swing for the fences and know when to shorten their swing, and when to work the count and take some pitches. They humbly take their base and give bigger bats the opportunity to drive them in. In the clubhouse, they help ensure that the team is focused, but loose.
Championship teams are often loaded with big-name players, but for every superstar there’s an unassuming role-player behind him. It’s easy to forget this, but MVPs like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera need guys like Don Kelly in the same way that Frodo needed Sam. Frodo wouldn’t have gotten very far without Sam. Without Donnie Deeds and his clutch sacrifice flies, Justin and Miguel wouldn't have gotten very far either.

It’s easy to be pessimistic about a team like the Tigers at a time like this – when 2011 Justin Verlander seems like a distant memory and Miggy’s sole contribution to the team is his endearing live-tweets. These are times that would drive uneducated fans to despair or panic. But those of us who watch the games and not ZIPs projections know that baseball is a marathon, not a race. Baseball is a game that rewards the patience of fans who stick by their team in times of trouble and in times of triumph, calmly sipping Kentucky Deluxe and stroking the bristly fur of their loyal Basset Hounds on their favorite chair on their favorite patio in their favorite city. These days, I find that patience increasingly tested as my Cincinnati Reds wallow in mediocrity, but I still make my daily pilgrimage to the Lexington Chili's to drink margaritas and watch their games all the same.

Gene Lamont knows the virtue of patience all too well. In spite of the hot-headed basement-dwellers on twitter calling for Brad Ausmus to be fired and for the roster to be blown up and rebuilt, Gene will look out pensively from the Tigers dugout as Andrew Romine takes the field to dutifully play whatever position Mr. Ausmus asks him to. As he gives Andrew a friendly pat on his behind, Gene will smile wryly in spite of himself, secure in his faith that these boys will play to their potential come Autumn.

Jim & Gene, dugout guardians.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Save the Save


Danville, Kentucky – Sometimes, life gets in the way of your carefully made plans. I've wanted to write a post giving a full-throated defense of Saves for a while, but with the nerds ruining the game in so many ways, sometimes its hard to find the time. I’ve written before about how traditional metrics like Wins and Losses have unjustifiably come under fire. I’m writing here to defend another way of ranking pitchers that nerds are hoping goes the way of Joe Nathan’s arm or Joba Chamberlain’s job. I’m talking about the save – which is how we separate ice-blooded executioners like Mariano Rivera, Aroldis Chapman, Greg Holland, and Fernando Rodney from your garden-variety relief-pitcher. Nerds hate the save for the same reason they hate the W – because they can’t stand the individualist element of baseball. They think all outs are created equal, and that any old pitcher can pitch in any old inning. A good pitcher will pitch well in any inning, they insist, making relief pitchers as interchangeable as French fries or onion rings at your favorite chain restaurant. FIP and WHIP are what matters, they’ll whine, as they look up from their spreadsheet at you with the same blank stare they gave the cool kids as they were picked last for dodgeball in middle school.

But pitchers are more than just a few digits on their fangraphs page. They’re mortal men, with human shortcomings. They get frightened. They get overexcited. They need stability. At the GM plant we had positions, and we had roles. We signed contracts with the understanding that we would work from 9 AM to 5 PM, and then complain about our ex-wives at the nearest Golden Corral until we got kicked out or they ran out of breaded catfish at their magisterial buffet. Men need certainty. They need to know what their job is. I have no idea how me and the other boys at the GM plant would’ve been able to eat as much catfish if you mixed up our routine on a day-to-day basis. Can you imagine how chaotic and confusing the GM plant would be if on certain days the plant manager told us to go to Golden Corral first, then work on the assembly line, then complain about our lives and then eat catfish? Not many cars would get built, which is all that America needs now that Obama has taken up the job-killing legacy of NAFTA by pushing for a new round of union-busting, China-coddling, outsourcing round of free trade agreements. What is my point here? My point is that men need to know what their job is and when they are supposed to do it. This is a concept that escapes your average fangraphs writer, who write articles utilizing advanced analytics about a children’s game precisely because they’ve never held a job. 
The Best Lunch an Assembly-Line Man Can Buy
The save is great because it encourages managers to use their toughest guys in the toughest situations. It exists for a simple reason. Because not all outs are created equal. Getting outs in the 1st through 8th inning is not the same as getting outs in the 9th inning. Being a closer requires a special presence of mind, and a special mentality. Managers have long recognized this. It’s why the 8th inning belongs to Wade Davis while the 9th inning belongs to Greg Holland, despite Wade’s superior peripherals. Davis has admirably filled in for Holland at times, just as the GM plant was full of blue-collar guys who were willing to pick each-other up in their time of need. But if Ned Yost were to sub Davis into the 9th inning role for the long term, he might not like what he sees. Baseball history is replete with examples of otherwise competent pitchers wilting under the pressure of taking the mound in the most important inning. Baseball history is also replete with examples of great closers pitching like John Danks when used outside of the 9th inning or a non-save situation. Saves are a great stat precisely because they recognize this distinction between those with the chops to pitch when the game is on the line, and those who rack up empty FIP points and K’s pitching in garbage time. Any man with nerves steely enough to rack up 20 saves is obviously cut from a different cloth. As baseball's future may be taken over by instant replay robots replacing the umpire and MLB communists who discount the democratically elected all-stars, the closer's role seems certain to remain. The only question is will we save it.