Behind the Mic: MLB – Expected – Unexpected

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I ended last week’s blog with a “Go, Phillies!” sign-off. Well, they are indeed playing well. As teams approach the completion of the first quarter of the season, they are, unexpectedly, rising in both the standings and in admiration.

But, I digress. The team that was really expected to do very well was the Yankees and they have not disappointed. They are tied with the Red Sox for the best record in baseball. They have won 19 of their last 22 games; average six runs per game and are carrying a team ERA of 2.88 which happens to be the third best in baseball. With those stats, they win most games by three runs!

Everyone expected them to have one of the best, if not the best, offenses in baseball, but I do not think fans expected their pitching staff to be this good. If the pitching and the bats continue as they have, they can certainly claim to be one of the best teams in baseball history.

The Phillies, on the other hand, were not expected to be one game out of first place and winning 60% of their games at this point or at any point in the season. They still trail the Braves by a game, but have been winning 73% of their home games and have won seven of the last 10.

Odubel Herrera is batting .360 and leading the National League in hitting. And that is a shock! The last Phillie to lead the NL in hitting was Richie Ashburn 60 years ago! Manager Gabe Kapler seems to be pushing the right buttons (the three-run homer by pinch-hitter Nick Williams in the sixth inning on Sunday to beat the Mets is a good example).

Last year, they were 6-22 in May and ended up losing 96 games. With the additions of Rhys Hoskins for a full season, Scott Kingery from the minors, Carlos Santana, and Jake Arrieta via the trade route, they are greatly improved. Aaron Nola’s ERA is 1.99. It is a team with good starting pitching and an adequate offense. Their bullpen remains suspect with two saves blown last week.

Talent-wise, the Nationals and the Braves could stand in the way of the Phillies making the playoffs. The Nationals look like the best team in the division and are making their climb to the top. The Braves are obviously in first place as I write this. But the Phillies ARE sandwiched between the two.

The Yankees, on the other hand, appear to be, as expected, the best team in baseball. However, it is always exciting to look forward to the unexpected – Go, Phillies!

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. New York Giants QB Eli Manning will be in court this week defending himself against a lawsuit that says he sold fake helmets to collectors. The plaintiff wanted “game-used” helmets and claims the ones he received were “bogus” and Manning knew they were. Interesting case. Stay tuned.
  2. This might make Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but some sportswriters are claiming that the NFL Cleveland Browns may have improved the most through the draft. Of course, if the Browns win three games, the writers can claim that they were right. The bar is not set very high here.
  3. It was obvious the Yankees were probably going to have the best offensive team in baseball. They have not disappointed. For the first time in their exulted history, they had four players hit 10 or more home runs by the 40th game. They had never had that distinction in 50 games before! By the way, the Texas Rangers did it in 2003.
  4. The Celtics crushed the Cavs by 25 points in the first game of the NBA Eastern Finals and held LeBron James to just 15 points. Despite not receiving one Coach of the Year vote from his peers, Brad Stevens has shown in the playoffs that he is already one of the top coaches in the league. It was his formula that stopped Ben Simmons and the Sixers in the Eastern semifinals.
  5. Speaking of the NBA, I unexpectedly have really enjoyed the playoffs. There is plenty of defense, intensity, and some spectacular offense. I have become a fan!

Behind the Mic: Play Ball!

Play ball!!  Those are the words that baseball fans heard this week when the 2016 season began on Sunday.  Hopes are always high as the new season begins.  Fans from Toronto, Texas, Kansas City, St. Louis, LA, and New York hope their teams can repeat as Divisional champions.  Royals’ fans are hoping for a two-peat as Kansas City defends their World Series championship.  And Phillies fans are hoping for great improvement and a possible miracle on Broad Street.  This is how I think the divisions will go:

American League
West

  1. Houston – Wild card entry last year; lost to Kansas City in the playoffs; needed a closer and got the Phillies Ken Giles; will win division this year.
  2. Texas Rangers – Weak in the outfield and at starting pitching; could finish lower, but not higher.
  3. Seattle – Rookie manager; weak pitching rotation; almost a whole new roster.
  4. LA Angels – With Trout and Pujols, you would think they would be better, but pitching makes them “not so good”.
  5. Oakland – Play poor defense and bullpen is weak; lost 35 games by one run last year – turn those around and…

Central

  1. Kansas City – Defending champs; fundamentally they are terrific; offense and bullpen overcome an average starting rotation; will win division easily.
  2. Cleveland – Excellent rotation; little offense; no attendance = no money to get even better.
  3. Chicago – Poor offense; poor bullpen; poor rotation = poor season.
  4. Detroit – 74-87 last year, horrible bullpen, but team is better than last year with off-season deals.
  5. Minnesota – Manager Paul Molitor is their greatest asset; performed miracles with this team last year; not again.

East

  1. Toronto – First place last year; first place this year; best offensive unit in the AL overcomes any other weaknesses.
  2. Boston – “Big Papi’s” last year; might drive the Sox to emotional title, but pitching staff as a whole is very questionable.
  3. New York Yankees – Great bullpen (I mean “Great!”); aging lineup; this team could finish first or last depending on starters.
  4. Tampa Bay – No fan support, no money, no bullpen; starting rotation is pretty good and makes them better than the Orioles.
  5. Baltimore – Can score (hit 129 HR’s last year), but can’t keep other team from outscoring them.

Kansas City will win the American League pennant.

National League
West

  1. San Francisco – The Giants win in even-numbered years (what? – I read it somewhere); upgraded their pitching staff; need to upgrade their batting stats.
  2. LA Dodgers – Clayton Kershaw will win almost every five days and this team is solid in every way, but team chemistry is a problem (ask fired manager Don Mattingly).
  3. Arizona – Could win the division after acquiring two very good starters; bullpen is suspect for sure.
  4. San Diego – Will not contend; rebuilding after trying their best with deals last year.
  5. Colorado – Stadium helps them offensively, but seems to help the opponents even more. Among the worst teams in baseball.

Central

  1. Chicago – Joe Madden! Joe Madden!  No real weaknesses except their own history.  Last title in 1908.
  2. St. Louis – Great manager in Matheny; not as strong as last year when they won 100 games, but they always seem to be at or near the top.
  3. Pittsburgh – outstanding outfield both offensively and defensively; Melancon led majors in saves; happen to be in a very tough division.
  4. Milwaukee – While being weak to begin with, they got weaker in spring training when they lost their closer; pitching was bad anyway.
  5. Cincinnati – Had an all-rookie starting lineup for the last third of the 2015 season; still rebuilding; not good.

East

  1. NY Mets – Great pitching; same lineup as last year, except for Daniel Murphy; should win it again.
  2. Washington – With Bryce Harper and their pitching, they still find a way to lose (injuries); maybe first-year manager Dusty Baker can finally get them over the hump.
  3. Miami – Eighth manager (Don Mattingly) in last seven years and Barry Bonds as hitting coach makes one go “hmmm”; and still they will be better than the Phillies and the Braves.
  4. Philadelphia – Pete Mackanin will have the team playing hard, but the talent level is low ( except for Franco).
  5. Atlanta – Worst team last year in runs scored; won four more games than the Phillies last season; four less this year?

Chicago will beat the Mets for the N L pennant.
Cubs win it all!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. As bad as my bracketing was this year, I did manage to pick the correct winners in the semifinals in last week’s blog – North Carolina and Villanova. As I write this on the National Championship morning and if “defense wins championships” then Villanova will win the 2016 NCAA Championship.
  2.  With North Carolina in the title game, it brought back memories of Catasauqua’s Larry Miller who I played against in the 1963 District championship game at the Harrisburg Farm Show Arena. He scored 42 points and we lost the game.  The following year, Larry scored 46 of his team’s 66 points while beating Steelton in the 1964 state playoffs.  He went on to play for Dean Smith and North Carolina and was the ACC’s Men’s Basketball Player of the Year in both 1967 and 1968 and was named as one of the fifty greatest players in ACC history.
  3.  I also remember back to April 1, 1985, when Villanova, under Rollie Massimino, beat Georgetown 66-64 in a big upset to win the NCAA National Championship. They were led by Ed Pinckney.  By the way, they beat North Carolina that year in the Southeast Regional final 56-44.
  4.  Bourjos, Hernandez, Herrera, Franco, Howard, Galvis, Rupp, and Goedel will be the Phillies position players to start the season. Bring a scorecard – remember, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard”.  This has never been more appropriate.
  5.  And, finally, the UConn women won their 74th consecutive game on Sunday destroying Oregon State 80-51 and will play Syracuse on Tuesday for the Women’s National Championship. A UConn win for Coach Geno Auriemma would be his 11th national championship and move him past UCLA’s John Wooden for the most all-time.  The two teams are meeting for the first time this year or last year and no team who hasn’t played them in the last two years has beaten them in the last decade!  No need to go out on a limb – UConn wins their 4th straight championship and their 75th straight game!!