Won and Done

Our English language-our vocabulary of words, if you will, is limited when it comes to describing the Wild Card game we watched last night. The Royals and Athletics are as different as two teams can be. One can pound the ball out of the park, as the Athletics did last night. One can bunt, run, and do the little things that put pressure on the defense. That’s exactly what the Royals did last night.

Before we totally destroy the managing ability of the Royals Ned Yost, we have to remind ourselves that it was likely a joint decision to bring Yordano Ventura into the game. Yes, Ventura had just started Sunday. No, he was not used to working out of the pen. Yes, the Royals have a deep group of pitchers who have worked in relief all year. But pitching coach Dave Eiland probably had a hand in the decision. The ultimate call was made by Ned Yost. He’ll live with that forever. But he lives with it as the winning manager of the 2014 American League Wild Card game.

As bad as that decision was, consider some of his the other decisions. Putting on sacrifice bunts at the right time. Attempting seven successful stolen bases. Putting the correct runner in at the correct time to steal those crucial bases. Inserting rookie Brandon Finnegan in a pressure situation and getting tremendous results. Sending Josh Willingham up as a pinch hitter with successful results. We need to credit Ned Yost for those moves as much as we criticize him for throwing Ventura at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Last night’s game showed how important a running game can be. As those who have read my work in the past know, one of my pet phrases is “speed kills.” It does. Speed puts pressure on the defense. Five defensive plays have to be made on a stolen base attempt: 1) the pitcher has to get the ball to the plate quickly, 2) the catcher has to transfer the ball from glove to hand, 3) the catcher has to pop up from his crouch correctly and in a timely manner, 4) the catcher has to make an accurate throw to the base in a timely manner and 5) the infielder has to put the tag on the runner. Five plays with only two outcomes. Safe or out. The Royals were safe seven times. In crucial situations.

Bunting is a lost art and for many, a lost and wasted out. However, with a team that doesn’t have great power and has to rely on playing more situational ball to score runs, the bunt is a major tool. Having guys who know how to bunt saved the bacon. Having guys that can run made all the difference in the game. Know much about Terrance Gore? Not many people did until last night. He’s so fast he can turn off a radio and get out of the room before the music stops. Speed kills. Jarrod Dyson? Stealing third in a pressure situation? Who called that play? I doubt he did it on his own. Maybe he did. He can really motor, no doubt about it.

So now the Athletics are home watching the postseason. They’ll enter next season without Yoenis Cespedes and perhaps without Jon Lester. They won’t be able to turn to Addison Russell to play shortstop. He’s with the Cubs. I think he’ll be one of the finest hitting shortstops in the game in three or four years. He’s young and has multiple tools that just need refinement. It was a gamble by the Oakland brass. If they had won, Lester would have been in a position to bring home a World Championship. But they lost.

I think Bob Melvin is one of the finest managers in the game. I still don’t know why he was dismissed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. But he was. Even as good as he is, Melvin raised a question or two for me. Where was Adam Dunn? Couldn’t he have provided a long ball threat somewhere and at some time in 12 innings? Did he leave Lester in too long? I said on twitter I thought he was tiring. He lost the edge. The sharp cutter turned dull. Pitches were nowhere near the strike zone far earlier than his ultimate exit from the game. But a manager knows his pitcher. His pitcher tells him how he feels. The manager trusts and believes or he doesn’t.

When the Royals ran at will against Derek Norris it showed that Melvin made the right call by starting catcher Geovany Soto. He must have had a sense of what was coming. But Soto got hurt. Can’t fault Melvin for having to go to Norris.

Other plays had impact. Shortstop Jed Lowrie displayed little to no range. It’s an issue and a position that the Athletics will have to address. Could Josh Donaldson have stopped the game winning bash by Salvador Perez? I’m just asking. Maybe.

The Royals ran themselves out of an inning when Billy Butler got too anxious and took off too early on a double steal plan. It killed a rally.

The game was terrific. The announcers were outstanding-especially Ron Darling. He was right on the money all night long.

Tonight we see the second chapter of the Wild Card showdown. Pittsburgh and San Francisco square off. We have no idea what to expect. I do know this-both Madison Bumgarner and Edinson Volquez will give everything they have to get their club to the next level of play. We have to fight ourselves and not compare tonight to last night. Each game is its own work of art. Each game is as unique as our fingerprints. We have to enjoy tonight and be thankful we witnessed one of the great games the sport has ever offered. Thank you small ball. Thank you big bombs by Brandon Moss. Thank you stolen bases. Thank you for a pitching decision that will have us wondering and talking about it for years to come. Thank you Royals and Athletics. You proved why baseball is such a great, great sport. Anything can happen in any game. One won. One is done.

And thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com

That’s it. I’m don.

The Lights Get Brighter-National League Postseason

I admit I was surprised when the Pirates elected to start Gerrit Cole in Sunday’s final game against the Reds. While that was a crucial game, I thought for sure he would start the Wild Card game. That won’t happen now. It is likely veteran right-hander Edinson Volquez will get the start in the game that determines the final playoff spot. That’s a great deal of pressure for the improving Volquez. While I like what he has done lately, I don’t think he can match the dominance of the Giants Madison Bumgarner. Bumgarner has a way of getting in rhythm and mowing down the opposition. The key is rhythm. I have seen times when he has struggled to find that flow. taking an inning or two to find the command of all his pitches. Bumgarner will likely use his fastball/cutter combination to keep the Pirates hitters off balance. He has a complete repertoire, and those two pitches help set up the curve and change up. Volquez has relied upon his sinking two-seam fastball as well as his compete arsenal of a four-seamer, a curve and a change up to improve his overall results. He’s using the change up a bit more and changing the balance and eye levels of hitters is the focal point of his outings. I think Francisco Liriano would have been an excellent starter for the game against the Giants. If he does start, I think the game is far more even. Maybe more of a tossup. But it does look like Volquez in one of the biggest assignments of his career.

For me, the Pirates key rests in slowing the bats of Hunter Pence (rather cold lately) and Pablo Sandoval. I think it is almost a given that Buster Posey is in a groove and has the ability to inflict some damage. But managing to control Pence and Sandoval will go a long way to raising the Jolly Roger. The Giants will miss Angel Pagan, their spark. They just play so much better when Pagan is in the lineup. But he’s hurt. Guys like Brandon Belt will have to be at their best.

Facing the Pirates offense won’t be a walk in the park for Bumgarner. While he’s an elite pitcher, he still has to try to contain Andrew McCutchen, and that’s no easy task. He’s just a great, great player. The lineup is well balanced with Neil Walker being the type of hitter that can surprise with some unexpected pop. The Pirates are very dangerous and are a serious threat to play well into the postseason. Josh Harrison is an underrated player with an ability to get on base and make things happen. Starling Marte has some speed and can hit the gaps. Things may look a bit brighter If they didn’t have to face Bumgarner in a “must win” game.

The winner of the Wild Card game gets to travel to Washington to play the Nationals. For me, they have the most well-rounded, well-balanced club in the postseason. They can pitch, hit, run and play defense. For some, Jordan Zimmerman (Sunday’s no-hitter) and Stephen Strasburg are co-aces. They are both capable of being in control on the mound and taking over a game. Then, Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark round out a solid rotation without any real weaknesses. Their bullpen is very solid with Drew Storen, and Rafael Soriano among many high powered arms with good control and command.

I’m a huge fan and believer in Anthony Rendon. I think he remains underrated as a complete player with a big bat and superb defensive ability. Add the likes of Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman along with the rest of the starting eight and the opposing pitcher has a tough task in navigating through such a complete and solid lineup. Catcher Wilson Ramos could surprise. He can hit.

The St. Louis Cardinals are not to be taken lightly. Ever. If it’s September/October, look in the standings and you’ll find the Cardinals involved in the postseason. That isn’t due to an accident. It comes as a result of preparation. Planning. Institutional goal setting and teaching the Cardinals way of playing baseball. They don’t make many mistakes.
Everything on the mound will begin with the poise, confidence and incredible arsenal of Adam Wainwright. Four-seam fastball, sinking two-seamer, change up, cutter, slider and an amazing curveball. It’s among the best. He’s among the best. What’s coming next? And he can throw any of those pitches at any count. For strikes. He induces ground balls with great sink on the ball and stays out of the big inning. The rest of the rotation pales in comparison to Wainwright. Where pitching was always a strength of the Cardinals, there has to be some concern about Michael Wacha following his return from injury. Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and John Lackey are solid. They’re good, but perhaps not what we have come to expect. Trevor Rosenthal has had some hiccups as the closer. The Cardinals pitching is just not as dominant as in the past.

Offensively, the team needs big efforts from Matt Holliday and Matt Adams. Last World Series against the Red Sox, the Cardinals offense was dormant. Matt Carpenter has to start things off by getting on base. Then clutch hitters like Jhonny Peralta and Yadier Molina have to come through along with Holliday and Adams. Runs will be hard to come by against the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching. I look for some small ball from the Cards in the first series. Anything to score.

Then we come to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And Clayton Kershaw. And Zack Greinke. And if healthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu. If needed, Dan Haren can pitch in big games. I think the Cardinals will have trouble with the very strong top of the Dodgers rotation. I love seeing Wainwright face Kershaw. Low scoring. Every hit will count. The game will be won on someone’s mistake or mistakes. It could be classic.

The Dodgers lineup can hurt any pitcher, even the best. If they are in sync and on their games, think of having to face Adrian Gonzalez, a hot Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig. And without a doubt, Juan Uribe can come up huge in big games. The offense would give nightmares to Cy Young himself. So, even if Wainwright can beat Kershaw, the other starters get the pleasure of facing mayhem in the other games. And it does seem like some of those Dodgers hitters are just waiting for this stage.

I’m not crazy about either the Cardinals or the Dodgers bullpens. I see some opportunity in the late innings before either Kenley Jansen (Dodgers) or Trevor Rosenthal (Cardinals) enter the game.

When it’s all said and done, even with Kershaw and Greinke, I like the Nationals to represent the National League in the World Series. I really can’t find a flaw in their roster. And that’s rare. I really admire manager Matt Williams and I think Mike Rizzo has done a masterful job putting together depth at every position. Especially on the mound, where it counts most in a short series.

Here’s my quick analysis of the playoff clubs:

Pirates-Volquez, Liriano and Cole are solid starters, mediocre offense, very good pen
Giants-mediocre rotation behind Bumgarner, mediocre offense, good bullpen
Nationals-great rotation with Strasburg, Zimmerman, Fister and more, excellent offense, excellent bullpen
Dodgers-superb rotation with Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu, superb offense, adequate bullpen
Cardinals-mediocre rotation behind Wainwright, mediocre offense, good bullpen

Tigers and Nationals in a classic World Series.

Please follow my next blogs during the postseason. And we’ll take a look at things as the games progress.

Thanks for following me @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com.

That’s it. I’m done.

 

Now The Fun Begins-American League

The postseason. What a beautiful time of year. We watched our teams for six months, hoping they would be playing baseball in October. Thanks to expanded playoffs, a couple more cities are involved in baseball when the leaves turn colors. There really isn’t anything more exciting than watching your favorite team battle in the playoffs.

I feel sorry for the fans of the Brewers and Mariners in particular. Each club gave more than hints of being solid enough to make it to the end. But, it wasn’t meant to be. The Brewers never really got a full season from Ryan Braun (.266). What’s his future? Much depends upon his ability to swing the bat without pain and keep the rest of his body in shape. He didn’t drive the ball as he has in the past. That can be traced to injury. Jean Segura went into the tank until the very end of the season (.246) But Braun wasn’t the only problem. The pitching faltered. Matt Garza and Yovani Gallardo didn’t pitch as expected. But they had great years from Jonathan Lucroy (.301) and guys like Scooter Gennett, and Carlos Gomez. Aramis Ramirez hit only 15 homers in hitter-friendly Miller Park. I looked for more. Look for big changes in the Brewers organization over the next couple months.

The Mariners had a very good year. They hit a bit better than the past, thanks to Robbie Cano (.314). But they still need that knock out punch in the middle of the order. One more bat. The pitching was fine with King Felix winning 15 games and throwing to a 2.14 ERA. I’m a huge believer in Hisashi Iwakuma (15 wins, 1.05 WHIP.) Frankly, I’ve never been on the James Paxton bandwagon, but he had a fine year and will likely get even better. The future has to rest in those pitching arms and the addition of Taijuan Walker as a permanent addition to the rotation. I like his stuff. One more bat and the full time deployment of Walker should help.

And now on to some thoughts about those teams that did succeed and are ready to move to the postseason. I’ll elaborate more in other blogs as the tourney continues.

I am writing this before Jon Lester takes the mound for the Athletics against James Shields. But in all reality, this one game (the play-in game) between Oakland and Kansas City is what the Lester and Shields trades were all about. Both teams gave up plenty to get to this point. Now-what happens? Can Jon Lester justify losing Yoenis Cespedes? Can James Shields compensate for the loss of Wil Myers? Frankly, the resurgence of Wade Davis certainly skews that deal in favor of the Royals up to this point. Davis has made a tremendous difference in the Royals pen-helping to make it one of the best in baseball. Myers got hurt this year and hasn’t shown the type of upside many feel he has. Time will tell. For now-advantage Kansas City in that deal.

But the pressure rests on the shoulders of Jon Lester. Most of the pressure, really. More than on Kansas City. Sure, the Royals have a good team and were expected to do better this season. But it may have been more acceptable for them not to have made the playoffs. it would simply not have been acceptable for the Athletics to be on the outside looking in. And they almost were. Oakland’s bats went in to the deep freeze. It happened almost at the same time Cespedes left the lineup. I am a huge believer in lineup protection. It was the way I was taught and I still believe that lengthening a lineup and protecting the heart of the order with strong hitters is the key to an offense. Without good hitters, the best hitter may not see more than one pitch to hit an at-bat, if that. The loss of Cespedes takes that potential power hitter out of the equation. Big loss. But guys other than Lester and Shields have to do their part for their team to win. It isn’t all on them. Hitters like Hosmer and Butler have to hit. Same for Donaldson and Reddick, etc. Score quick and get Lester or Shields out of the game. Then take your chances with the bullpens. But both pens are solid. Especially the Royals in my opinion.
Nothing against the A’s pen, but that Royals pen can be the difference.

True, the Orioles just don’t have the same type of panache, pizzazz, or pedigree as the Tigers in their first round. But as I’ve been saying since I was a scout with the Mariners, I’ll take Chris Tillman any time. He’s a darn good pitcher. Is he an ace? Probably not. But very close to it. And that’s where the problem occurs. Can he beat David Price or Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander? Everything will have to break right for him. That includes umpire calls, good defense and some timely hitting from robust bats like Adams Jones and Nelson Cruz. If the Orioles can jump out to an early lead, it will help. The key will be getting in to the Tigers bullpen as early as possible. That will be a must. While the past postseason hasn’t been the best for Tigers hitters, the Orioles pitching will have to at least slow down Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Hard to do. But the rest of the lineup is tough as well. Great matchup, but the Tigers have the three best pitchers. While I like Tillman, the Orioles rotation thins out with Gausman, Chen, Norris and Gonzalez in whatever order they are used. But make no mistake-they are far from chopped liver. I like them. Not as much as Scherzer, Price and Verlander.

The winner of Kansas City-Oakland gets to take on the Los Angeles Angels.
I wish it would have been the Angels with Garrett Richards and even Tyler Skaggs. I wish Matt Shoemaker was 100% healthy. Ditto for Josh Hamilton. I feel like the Angels task is similar to a prizefighter entering the ring with one arm behind his back. Yes, injuries are part of the game. Every team has injuries. Anibal Sanchez has been hurt for the Tigers, true. Same for Jarrod Parker and A J Griffin for the Athletics. But Garrett Richards is special. He can dominate a game. Watching him perform against the best Kansas City or Oakland can throw at the Angels would have been a treat. But it isn’t meant to be. The Angels have hung tough without him. Can Jered Weaver, C. J. Wilson and Hector Santiago carry the series? The Angels will have to score runs with Mike Trout, Howie Kendrick, and Albert Pujols leading the charge. The offense is built with complimentary parts. Each partner has to show up, from Eric Aybar to Kole Calhoun.
The Angels can win if their starters can go five or six and then turn it over to the high quality, revamped bullpen for which general manager Jerry Dipoto gets my accolades. He did a fabulous job realizing his weak starting pitching depth can be augmented with a solid and reliable pen. But those starters have to keep the Angels in the game.

So, what we have are flawed teams. Each of them. But they are darn good.
Here’s what I see:

Oakland-deep and quality rotation, weak offense, solid, solid bullpen
Kansas City-shallow but effective rotation, mediocre offense, tremendous bullpen
Detroit-the best top 3 starters, power in the middle, weak bullpen
Baltimore-mediocre starting pitching, good offensive balance, solid enough bullpen
Anaheim-weak starting pitching, solid offense, very good bullpen

Ultimately, I feel the Detroit Tigers will come out of the American League and enter the World Series. That prediction is based on five names; Price, Scherzer, Verlander, Cabrera and Martinez. They would have been even stronger in my opinion with Doug Fister and a more reliable bullpen. But I think they have enough to fend off the rest of the pack. And that’s saying something. If you’ve been following me, you know I have loved the Orioles since I saw them in Spring Training. But for me, the addition of David Price makes this Detroit’s year.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com. Tomorrow-my thoughts on the National League playoffs.

That’s it. I’m done.

 

“Don’t Look Back-Something Might Be Gaining On You”

“Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.” The great Satchel Paige said that among a number of other poignant words of wisdom from the man with the ageless arm. Man, is that quotation true today.

If you are a general manager in the game of baseball, you can’t look back. It would be easy to say, “what if.” What if the Tigers had not traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Ian Krol, Steve Lombardozzi and Robbie Ray in early December? That was a trade I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now. Fister was a reliable starter for the Tigers since he came over from the Seattle Mariners. He fit nicely among the rotation of Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. As a five-man rotation, they were tough to beat. They pitched their hearts out in last year’s postseason but didn’t get any offensive help. As a result, they were on the outside looking in. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was born in 1929. He wants to win a championship with his beloved Tigers. He has made resources available and has been a fantastic owner in a city that loves the sports teams Ilitch owns. General manager Dave Dombrowski has a reputation as one of the best in the game. He wants to deliver that championship to Mr. Ilitch.

Pressure. General managers are under pressure to do what it takes to win. The Seattle Mariners thought they were a pitcher away from a title in 2008. I was a scout for the Mariners at the time when general manager Billy Bavasi made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for starting lefty Erik Bedard. The cost for Bedard? Pitchers Kam Mickolio, George Sherrill and Tony Butler along with a promising prospect outfielder named Adam Jones and a fresh prospect right-handed pitcher named Chris Tillman. Don’t look back. But. Bedard was hurt for most of his tenure in Seattle. Tillman and Jones are helping to lead the Orioles to the postseason as core fixtures of the team’s present and future. Pressure. The Mariners brass felt Bedard could take the team over the top. He didn’t. The rest is history.

In Dombrowski’s trade with Washington, Detroit received two young left-handed pitchers still in development. Krol is only 23. He is pitching out of the Tigers bullpen where he has a 4.96 ERA as I write this. He has yielded six home runs and 13 walks in 32 2/3 innings. Those numbers jump out at me. He carries a 1.66 WHIP. But he’s still very young, has a strong arm and upside remains. But he really isn’t a fully developed pitcher, in my opinion. Not yet, anyway.

Robbie Ray is only 22. He has thrown 27 2/3 innings for Detroit so far this year with a 7.16 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP. He’s scuffled against big league pitching, no doubt about it. He needs more seasoning and like Krol, has work to do on command and control. He, too, has upside.

The Tigers have turned to another lefty, 25-year old Kyle Lobstein to help get them to the postseason as part of their rotation. Maybe that was designed to be a role for Ray when the season began.

Pressure. The Tigers were reeling when Dombrowski made every effort to shore up a leaking late inning bullpen by bringing Joakim Soria over from the Texas Rangers in a deal for pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Both Thompson and Knebel are solid pitchers for the future. However, the key word is future. The Tigers needed to strengthen the bullpen now. Soria, who had an injury filled past couple years, was injured again this year and returned to the club on September 9. He hasn’t provided the magic potion the team was seeking. But time remains and he may yet provide a needed spark for the pen.

Realizing his pitching options were getting thin, Dombrowski struck again. This time he may just have saved his team’s season. He may be able to deliver a Championship trophy to Mr. Illich after all. He made a huge stealth strike to get prized lefty David Price from the Rays. The cost? His starting center fielder Austin Jackson, starting pitcher Drew Smiley and “under the radar” infield prospect Willy Adames.

Dombrowski didn’t look back. Sure, he probably would have loved to have Doug Fister in the rotation somewhere along the line. But Price fills a huge hole. With an injured Sanchez and inconsistent performances from his rotation, Dombrowski can sleep at night knowing that David Price is available to take the ball in the playoffs. The bullpen? Soria has returned and could help.

Dombrowski made a huge move by trading Price Fielder early in the off-season. It was a surprise to most of the baseball world. The Tigers can still hit-even without Fielder. Ian Kinsler has provided some good and not so good moments for the Tigers. Fielder has been hurt all year for the Rangers, the team he was supposed to put on his back and carry to the promised land. But that’s another story. It’ll have to wait. Along with my thoughts on the Oakland Athletics. I’ll be discussing both those teams later this week in my next blog.

For now-if you’re Dave Dombrowski you can’t look back. You did what you had to do to fulfill a dream of everyone associated with the Tigers franchise—the fans, the players, the front office, the working staff, and most of all, the owner.

Thanks for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff and for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com. Much appreciated.
I’ll return later this week with thoughts on the Rangers and A’s. Thanks for your support.

That’s it. I’m Done.

“Ozzie & Harriet Days”

I’m often asked the same question: Were the guys “back then” better than they are today? I’ll try to answer that.

Take away the fame and fortune. Take away the television show and the hit records. What remains is a family that was very much like the Nelson’s on the 1950’s. My dad was of similar age to Ozzie, the rather quiet patriarch. My mom didn’t dress like Harriet, but she was always kind and supportive, just like Mrs. Nelson. My older brother seemed to be the same age as David -and had little to do with his younger brother. That would be me. Ricky was older than me, but I somehow related to his life. In our own way, we were the Nelson’s. Without the hair, looks, fame and fortune.

When I was strong enough and big enough, I mowed lawns and shoveled snow to earn money. I spent it all on baseball cards, “Sport” magazine and “The Sporting News.” I “flipped” baseball cards day and night. But I never put a baseball card in my bicycle wheels.

The focal point of my young life as baseball. I went to my first games with my parents on a Sunday afternoon when I was eight years old. I shut my eyes and vision it today. Cleveland Stadium was packed. There were more people there than I had ever seen in my life. It was a doubleheader. Indians vs. the Orioles. I’ll never forget the impact on my senses. The smell of cigars. The unbelievably green grass. The size and noise of the place was overwhelming. It was enormous. I had an orange drink in a carton that looked like a funnel. I tried peanuts for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, I loved them. The hot dogs had brown mustard on them and were wrapped in the thinest paper I had ever seen. And they were fantastic. They were made by Warsaw. I remember that. No longer in business. They were so good, I ate two.

Were the players better? They were different. There were only eight teams in each league. That’s a huge difference. Roster spots were treasured. There were six Minor League classifications. It began with Class D. Players were promoted to C, B, A, AA, and then AAA. Of course, the great players skipped levels.

Were the players better then? Some were bigger than life itself. Ted Kluszewski had arms like Popeye in his short-sleeved shirts. He could probably tear the seams apart on a baseball when he hit the sweet spot. Frank Howard was so big I thought the bat looked like a toothpick in his hands. Were they better? They were really good. But guys today are really good. Things are just different now.

Were the players better? I was a huge Cleveland Indians fan. I was so excited in 1954 I could hardly breathe. My Indians were in the World Series against the Giants. And then it happened. Dusty Rhodes and Willie Mays. Two names from my past. Dusty Rhodes hit .667 in the three games he played (there were only four) and Willie Mays made the best catch I’ve ever seen in my life. You’ve seen it. The catch and the throw. It was amazing. He was amazing. Clearly, Willie Mays is the best player I ever saw.

My memories of the teams of the 50’s include a vision of second baseman Nellie Fox with a huge chew of tobacco in his jaw bunting for a single. I still have the only baseball glove I ever owned. A Nellie Fox model. It’s still in great shape and game ready.

I remember waiting outside Cleveland Stadium on Sunday afternoons to get autographs. Guys like Elston Howard and Andy Carey of the Yankees and even Ted Williams stopped to sign for me. I was 12 years old and I had a Sunday/Holiday pass to the Indians. I rode the Rapid Transit to the games by myself and followed the players as they walked back to their Public Square hotel.

Were they better then? I saw Mickey Mantle hobble on bad wheels but destroy my Indians hitting from both sides of the plate. I saw the big four of Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and Bob Feller dominate teams. Don’t dig in on Early Wynn. You’ll find yourself on the ground. Kind of like Bob Gibson. No warnings to the benches. No warnings to the pitcher. Are you kidding me? They were pitching inside the hitter’s baseball caps. No helmets then. And nobody complained. But they had such great control they could throw a ball into a tin cup if it was placed on home plate. Were they better? They had command and control, that’s for sure. Billy Pearce, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, Allie Reynolds, Whtey Ford, Juan Marichal. Every staff had two or three aces. Some, even more. And an ace was an ace.

I got to see Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparacio, two amazing Venezuelan shortstops that probably set the standard for the off the chart defensive wizards we see today. And I got to watch the Yankees Scooter Rizzuto, one of the spark plugs of the ever-winning Yankees. I hated the Yankees. Hated them! I don’t anymore. In my old age I have learned to admire what they’ve accomplished. The past. It was just prologue. I tip my cap to them and what the franchise has done.

I got to take my little transistor radio to school during each World Series every year and hit it, so I thought, as I listened to Gillette razor commercials during the games. It was usually the Yankees and the Dodgers. Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella , Gil Hodges. Billy Martin and Hank Bauer. Micky, Whitey and the Moose. And Yogi. Were they better then? Wow, they were awfully good. But along with my friends, were were watching through young and very impressionable eyes.

Were they better then? I had six years to recover from the World Series loss to the Giants when on April 17, 1960 total disaster struck. My world ended. The Indians traded my beloved Rocky Colavito to the Detroit Tigers for good hitting Harvey Kuenn. I was devastated. There was only one Rocky Colavito. A big, strong hitter with charisma. On June 6, 1959 he hit four home runs in a game. Of course, I didn’t know what charisma was then. But I know it now. That’s what he had. Charisma. And a loud bat. I promise you, I never knocked the Rock. Even when he struck out four times a game.

I got to watch Larry Doby, Jim Hegan and Al Rosen. My heroes. I got to listen to Jimmy Dudley on the radio calling games. I was fortunate to see Al Kaline play for the Tigers. And i actually saw the great Roberto Clemente play baseball. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. I got to see Harmon Killebrew and Jim Lemon. Willie McCovey and Stan Musial. Wow, could they murder a baseball.

Were they better then? Some were. There were fewer players. They each got more attention. They changed teams far less often. Fans were able to bond more quickly and for longer periods with their favorites. They weren’t all so big and strong. They had their vices then, too. They had their contract issues then, too. They had their clubhouse conflicts then, too. People are people. They were then and they are now.

Were they better then? There are players today with equal ability and charisma. Every era has its guys. We’re getting to see Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Altuve, Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw, Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Felix Hernandez, Jose’ Abreu, Chris Sale,, Adam Wainwright, Paul Goldschmidt and on and on. Soon we will marvel at Kris Bryant, Byron Buxton, and Kevin Correa. We’ve started to see the world of Javier Baez, Oscar Taveras and Gregory Polanco. They’ll be joined by countless other future stars currently waiting in the development wings.

Were they better then? It’s all in the eye of the beholder. I am grateful for today’s new, bright, shining stars. The game is healthy. It’s thriving. It’s creating memories for eight year olds who are living in homes just like I did with the Nelson’s. Only now they are like those on “Modern Family” or “The Middle.” Has anything changed? Not really.

As always, thank you for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done.

 

Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You

I have aging kidneys. No, in true disclosure I have to admit I have old kidneys. I watch lots of live baseball every year; from spring, to summer, to fall. That’s lots of trips to the bathroom. And, of course, I love to eat. So that’s getting up for food late in games as well. But there are times when my kidneys have to be put in a holding pattern. There are times I just have to let my stomach grumble. Those times are when these guys come to the plate. I am glued to my seat. I don’t want to miss an at-bat.

Keep in mind, I have countless other guys that I love to watch. Guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Sal Perez. Guys like Michael Brantley, Hunter Pence and Christian Yelich, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber. My guys are special to me. I talk about them on the radio and in the podcast because they’re special players-their my guys.

But the guys I list below-well, I can’t miss an at-bat, a pitch or a defensive play. They have an electricity about them that makes me marvel at their talent. I can’t take my eyes off them. So here they are, in no particular order of importance or talent.

Andrew McCutchen- Every time I watch him in person he does something special. He barrels the bat and hits the ball over the wall or he motors from first to third in a flash. Or he makes a fantastic play in the field. But his at-bats are special. He has a knack for hitting a baseball to the right place at the right time. And he isn’t bothered by pressure.

Jose Altuve-Just to watch him play is a treat. Small in physicality but huge in heart and talent, Altuve is the engine that can spark any team. He just makes contact at the plate at-bat after at-bat, gets base hits and steals bases. He’s electric. Uniform? Dirty.

David Ortiz-I just think something special will happen every time he gets into the box. I don’t want to miss it. The shift has hurt him, but the long bombs still beat the shift. He hits in the clutch and I’ve seen him carry his team-like in the 2013 World Series. The ball makes that “special sound” coming off his bat. He’s huge.

Mike Trout- Is there anything this guy can’t do? I love to watch him hit a ball to the gap and take off running. I saw him very early in his career and I’ve seen the progress. He’s special because he hits for average and power, runs and plays amazing defense. His eye-hand coordination and his instincts are off the charts. I hope he can stay healthy.

Pablo Sandoval- He blows me away every at-bat with his lack of plate discipline and the fact that he can hit a ball in the dirt or over his head. He’s a tremendous hitter. I want him to get in better shape, but he can do it all now. He’s a much better fielder and runner than people think. He has power and hits line drive darts. He’s the Panda.

Yasiel Puig-Say what you will about his antics, Puig is some kind of special player. He can hit a ball over the wall, hit the ball to the gaps or swing and miss while screwing himself into the ground. I don’t want to miss a moment. His arm is huge. His speed is real and he plays bigger than life. He’s reckless and fearless. He’s one of a kind now.

Gregory Polanco- My newest “can’t take my eyes off you” guy. Long legs, long arms. Loping strides. Gap hits. Sweet swing (although a little long). I see a star in the making. He’s a tremendous player to watch. He’s still learning. I hope he keeps the hustle. The at-bats from the 2 hole let him show off his speed. He made my list very quickly.

Billy Hamilton- Woosh-there he goes. He’s a blur out of the batter’s box. He’s a blur on the bases. Watching him hit a triple is poetry. I’ve seen two. And seeing him close on a ball in center field is something special. He’s made himself into a fine outfielder. The speed is beyond special. Seeing him bunt for a hit is a thrill for me. Love to watch him.

Dee Gordon- I’ve seen him steal second base on the throw back to the pitcher from the catcher. He gives 100% every at-bat. He wants to contribute to his team. And he does it with his legs. He gets some dink and dunk hits, but they’re still hits. He’s getting better at every phase of the game. He’s found a home as an All Star second baseman.

Bryce Harper- I know he’s scuffled. I know he’s been hurt. But watch him play. Watch him run into the fence. Or swing from his shoes. This guy is just in the beginning stages of what I think will be a great career. He can hit for average and for power. The way he does it is what is so neat. I don’t want to miss an at-bat because something special is going to happen. He’s never boring. Never average.

—–a couple pitchers—–
There are pitchers I can’t keep my eyes off, too. I want to see every pitch. Sure, I love to watch Kershaw and Ryu. Anibal Sanchez and Wainwright. But these two guys have me mesmerized each and every pitch.

Aroldis Chapman- I enjoy watching the 100 mph to 104 mph fastball. But I like watching the slider after the fastballs even more. See ya. The guy has an amazing arm. It’s much more electric in person than on television. The anticipation is tremendous.

Yu Darvish- Everything moves. Every pitch. He can get a hitter with a fastball or any pitch ever invented. He doesn’t look tired on the mound. He doesn’t look like he’s in trouble, even if he’s in trouble. He has ice water in his veins. And I never know what I’m going to see. That’s why I don’t like to miss it.

—–three infielders—–
There are three infielders that make me sit up in my seat and marvel at their talent. I don’t quite know how they do it play after play. I know there are many, many more infielders with fantastic talent, but these guys make it look so easy. The ball just disappears in their gloves. And they throw bullets to first base-even off balance.

Didi Gregorius-One of the most athletic players in the game today. He floats to the ball. He has a cannon for an arm. His footwork and soft hands are lightning quick.

Alcides Escobar- I saw him when he played his very first game in the Fall League. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Skinny and raw, he flashed range that I hadn’t seen since Omar Vizquel in his prime. He has a great arm with tremendous instincts. Super.

Andrelton Simmons- Another magician at shortstop. He makes impossible plays and he has to be seen to be appreciated. I will never take him for granted. I’m jus thankful I’ve gotten to see him play shortstop. It really is poetry in motion.

—–On The Cusp—–
Here are guys that I may not be able to take my eyes off real, real soon:
Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor, Oscar Taveras, Jose’ Abreu, George Springer and Masahiro Tanaka.

—–Not Anymore—–
My old kidneys don’t have to wait while these guys are at the plate anymore. But-I admit that I find it very, very hard to get out of my seat when they come to the plate:
Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera.

That’s my list. Those are guys I can’t keep my eyes off. I’m sure you have your guys that are “electric” to you. I hold auditions all the time for new players to emerge and a I encourage a few existing players to add a few volts of juice to their game.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @Bernie Pleskoff. As always, your support is greatly appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done.

Rearranging The Deck Chairs

I’m exhausted. After yesterday’s non-stop non-waiver trade deadline ended I was kind of dizzy. I’ve been around for lots and lots of trade deadlines, but this one was amazing.
So many times the anticipation of the final hours far exceeds the reality. It often reminds me of the years when my neighbor set off firecrackers on the 4th of July—lots of excitement before the event and then…duds! Not yesterday. There was sizzle and very little fizzle. Unless your club sat on the sidelines and watched. Is there anything worse? “Hey, didn’t we get invited to the party?” I’ve been there…waiting and waiting for your team to make a trade and then… nothing.

Here are some of my thoughts about the deals that went down. I will skip much of the obvious and try to put my own spin on things:

David Price to the Tigers-I think the Tigers brass felt the heat of ownership in the past month or so. Mr. Ilitch was born in 1929. He’s one of the great owners in sports. He wants to win. Now. Dave Dombrowski is one of the fine general managers in the game. He wants to help deliver that winner. After his attempt to shore up a leaky bullpen with the acquisition of Joakim Soria he won the David Price sweepstakes. Frankly, the price wasn’t that steep. Keep your eye on shortstop Willy Adames. He may be the key to what the Rays were all about. For me, he’s more than a “throw in.” Only 18, he has gap power and patience at the plate beyond his years. From the Dominican, Adames can also play third base. The Tigers rotation is now even more lethal–they swapped Drew Smyly for David Price. Smyly will likely come up big for the Rays in the future, as he’s still ironing out some kinks. The Mariners came away with a nice bat and a fine glove in Austin Jackson-giving up a nice bat in infielder Nick Franklin. Nice deal for everyone. But I think the Rays “settled” at the end and may have been offered even more earlier in the entire process, prior to being under the gun late in the day. We’ll never know. But they probably got more yesterday than had they waited until the off season.

Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox and Jon Lester and Jon Gomes to the Athletics- I’m not ready to declare the Athletics the World Champions. I admire the intestinal fortitude of Billy Beane. However, what if they lay an egg? No more Cespedes to break up a game and Lester can fly the coop as a “free” agent. I think Cespedes is a game changing bat. I don’t think you’ll trip over that type of player walking around your garden. They’re as rare as vegetables on my dinner plate. Think of the damage he can do in Fenway. I’m sure the Red Sox are thinking of that and sleeping peacefully. Lester’s usually good. But I’ve seen Lester bad. Cespedes can be bad three times a week and be good three times a week and really, really help the Red Sox. If Lester is bad once a week for the Athletics—watch out. Lester has gone more to the curveball as opposed to the cutter. That’s good. His new park is huge and very pitcher friendly. That’s good. Lots of good. But remember—one bad start or two in the next two months and it’ll really hurt.

John Lackey and lefty Corey Littrell to the Cardinals for Joe Kelly and Allen Craig-This one is a bit risky for the Red Sox. Who is Allen Craig? Is he the old Allen Craig or the newer model? Can he use the Green Monstah to his advantage? If yes, he and Cespedes will help in the middle of the order, no doubt about it. But who pitches for the Red Sox? They’ll figure it out. Lackey could be the guy that puts the Cardinals back in the postseason. He’s a winner. He’s a tough cookie who pitches and doesn’t just throw. He’s perfect to pair with Adam Wainwright and the rest of the rotation. Great trade for St. Louis and maybe for Boston, but I’m less inclined to like their end of this one. Kelly has been sporadic, but he’s still got upside and he could make this deal really work for Boston.

Martin Prado to the Yankees for catcher Peter O’Brien. I saw O’Brien at the Futures Game. This guy has powwwwwer. And quick hands through the ball. He has to learn the mechanics of catching and the Dbacks are sending Bill Plummer to work with him. But Prado wasn’t helping in Arizona. They Yankees are picking up his tab. It’s a great move for Arizona. I’ve heard New York will be playing Prado in right field. I think he’s adequate at third base-I’ve never seen him in right. I’ve seen him in left. He’s adequate at third base. I do think Prado will take some balls into the right field seats at Yankee Stadium as his swing is geared that way—and slower than it’s been in the past. It turns out the Dbacks traded Justin Upton and Chris Johnson for Peter O’Brien, Randall Delgado and Nick Ahmed.

Gerardo Parra to the Brewers for Mitch Haniger and lefty pitcher Anthony Banda- I think Parra will help the Crew because they have few left-handed hitters. He has lost a step or two of speed, has declined at the plate and isn’t the same player he was. But he will help the Brewers as a solid outfielder. Haniger has some power. I can’t wait to see him hit in Chase Field. I really liked him in the Fall League. He’ll surprise some people. Banda is supposedly a projectable lefty mid-rotation starter. I haven’t scouted him. I think the Dbacks will be very happy with this deal, but I don’t think the trade puts the Brewers over the top in the Central. But it may help.

Asdrubal Cabrera to the Nationals for Zach Walters. I really like Walters. He has some pop in his bat (switch hitter) and can play shortstop and second base. He’s a good fielder and is almost Major League ready. Cabrera is in his walk year. His game has declined for two consecutive years. I think he’ll be playing 2B in Washington. That’s good, because his range had slipped in Cleveland. He’s a streaky hitter. The Nats have to hope he finds his stroke. If not, it isn’t pretty to watch. Cabrera’ slip is showing.

Red Sox trade Andrew Miller to the Orioles for Eduardo Rodriguez- Well, one of the future starters for the Red Sox could very well be Rodriguez. He has an outstanding arm but hasn’t put the command and control together yet. He’s a lefty and he was probably the best lefty in the Orioles system. I think he could give up some bombs off the Monstah, but he’ll be fine. Miller has begun to find command and control and was probably the biggest prize of the available left-handed relievers. He will really help the Orioles. I like the deal for both clubs. But I think the O’s still need to go get a starter.

Tommy Milone goes to Minnesota for Sam Fuld- The Athletics bring back Fuld in a deal that will set up a future platoon with Jonny Gomes in left field. Fuld will play center until Craig Gentry returns from injury. I love Fuld. He gets his uniform dirty and his on-base percentage is always off the charts (.370) for a man of such slight build at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds. He’s a winner. Milone wanted out of Oakland and got his wish. The Twins get a legitimate lefty starter, and one that can be there a long time.

Padres trade Chris Denorfia to Seattle for switch-hitting OF Abraham Almonte and RHP Stephen Kohischeen- I’m a huge Denorfia fan. He’s a superb 4th outfielder. He can hit, hit with some pop and play solid defense. If needed, he can fill in for a long period of time as opposed to just being a guy off the bench. The Mariners upgraded with both Austin Jackson and Denorfia. I don’t know what more Almonte brings than Denorfia. More speed and youth probably. Almonte can fly. Kohischeen is a righty reliever. I haven’t seen him.

Stephen Drew goes to the Yankees for…Kelly Johnson-Are you kidding me? That was a steal for the Yankees, I believe. Drew was beyond rusty for Boston. I think he adds to the Yanks infield depth with a bat that will play well in Yankee Stadium. But be aware that he isn’t a pull hitter. I’ve seen him hit tons of fly balls to the left/center warning track. That may frustrate some fans if he still does that. I do think he’s an upgrade over Kelly Johnson. Can he play 2B? Can he play 3B? Derek Jeter plays shortstop, right?
Drew’s value will be greater next year if he stays with the Yankees.

Emilio Bonifacio and lefty James Russell go to the Braves for catcher Victor Caratini? Remember the name Victor Caratini. He’s a line-drive switch-hitter with a background as a 3B-catcher. He has some pop in his bat. He’s a work in progress behind the plate. But if he can hit, as many think he will, the Cubs may have a future catcher for two players that didn’t have long-term roles with the big league team.

Jarred Cosart, Enrique Hernandez and Austin Wates go to Miami for OF Jake Marisnick, 3B Colin Moran and RHP Francis Martes-Didn’t the Astros just trade for Cosart recently, or am I dreaming? He was coming along very nicely as a member of their rotation. What am I missing here? Hernandez is a plus player as well. What am I missing here? Or did I say that already? Marisnick has shown me a slow bat every time I’ve seen him play. And that’s a lot. Moran was a first round draft pick, but I didn’t see much from him last fall, at all. I think the Astros will have to be patient with him. Especially with any potential power he may have. Patient? I love this deal for the Marlins. They just keep adding good pitching in every deal they make.

Remember-teams can still make deals, but waivers have to be acquired on the player. I look for some expensive players like Alex Rios to change teams. So, if your team was on the sidelines yesterday and this past month, they may awaken and want to rearrange some deck chairs. Just hope they aren’t like my neighbor and start shooting off some duds.

Some of the deadline deals may come out as flat as my three day old soda pop sitting on the kitchen counter without a lid. There is no guarantee in a trade. But this year, more Major League players were moved. Fewer prospects were included in the blockbusters. That was exciting. There are teams that are shouting we want to win NOW. We love that-as long as it’s our team doing the shouting.

Thanks for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Your support is always appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done.

Where’s The Beef?

Does it concern you that we are seeing a reduction in scoring by a number of teams in baseball? I think fans really like offense more than a great pitcher’s dual or stellar defense. Maybe not the diehard fans like us, but the people that might see one or two games a year on television or at the closest ball park. They want offense. No doubt, I think the triple is the most exciting play in baseball. But offense seems to be taking a back seat. There are some calling for an elimination of the defensive shift as a way to increase offense. I disagree. I think the offense has to adapt to what they see. Bunt if you have to. How about lowering the pitcher’s mound back to where it was in the 60’s? Not bad. I can like that reversal to the past. I don’t think that’ll happen. But I still love to watch two great pitchers go head to head and frustrate the opposition. Where’s the beef? The beef is gone. But some guys are still hitting tremendous home runs. We haven’t lost that.

The beef I’m really missing is the good ol’ fashioned nose to nose, throw dirt on the umpires shoes argument. It’s gone. Replaced by instant replay. That’s a part of the game I think fans miss. The vein popping, raise the hair on your neck beef. Earl Weaver, Billy Martin type beefs. The best. But gone.

I think the Rangers made a fantastic deal for Joakim Soria. The two young arms going back to the Rangers from Detroit are both solid pitchers with upside. Maybe not now, but in the future. Jake Thompson is a starter with sink on his fastball and a good repertoire. Thompson is 6-4 and 235 pounds. Huge. Corey Knebel is an able reliever with some big league experience. For his part, Soria is slated to pitch the 7th inning for the Tigers. We’ll see how long that lasts. He could easily slip into the 8th or 9th inning in a mix or match scenario with Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan.
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Jake Peavy to the Giants? That’s a big, big home park. It fits him nicely. And he likely slots as the #5 starter behind Bumgarner, Hudson, Lincecum, and Vogelsong. He probably won’t have to work the playoffs from the rotation. The need was great for San Francisco and I don’t think the price was that high. I do think Heath Hembree has a big arm for the bullpen and maybe Edwin Escobar can help the Red Sox as a starter from the left side. But they aren’t proven. Peavy has some quality starts left in his right arm.

Trades and free agent signings are risky. I give you the Cleveland Indians. I know, you don’t want them. Anyway, I give you their situation. The franchise was in the dumper in 2012. Fans were staying away in droves. They had to do something in the off-season to perk up interest. So—they gave the moon, the sun to Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. They ended up with no stars. The rest is history. Financially, the team’s hands are tied. They have to find inexpensive, controllable right-handed hitters and pitchers to fill gaps.
Good luck with that. Everybody wants those type players. Swisher and Bourn are signed thru…2017.

Once he gets some protection in the lineup, I think Anthony Rizzo can be the next big star in the National League.

What happened to Nelson Cruz? Who’s the real guy? The first half slugger with a great batting average or the hitter scuffling now? Hope he comes back. The Orioles need his big bat.

Miguel Cabrera still looks hurt to me. He can’t open his hips and use his lower body as he has in the past. Run? Fuget abow did.
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What happens to the Royals after this season if they don’t make the playoffs? What does the team do with Hosmer, Moustakas, Butler and Gordon? I’m just askin.

I think the Giants would have been better off with the defense of Darwin Barney than the ??? of Dan Uggla. I’m just sayin.

OK-I get it with the Astros thinking Brady Aiken has injury issues. What the team does with their first round draft selection is up to them. However, they had a deal on the table with Jacob Nix, a right-handed pitcher from Los Alamitos, Texas. He was an innocent victim in the entire process. He is now without a contract to chase his dream. He couldn’t be signed due to the bonus money tied to Aiken. It’s a sad situation.

The Rays are proving how critical pitching is to winning baseball. They’ve come from nowhere to be somewhere. I still think they’ll fall short, but their surge has put the brakes on any movement of David Price in trade. Healthy pitchers=they’re winning.

I guess any team can have Ryan Howard if they agree to pay the rest of his $25MM salary this year and the same amount for 2015 and 2016. But there’s good news. The price drops to $23MM in 2017-a bargain. Of course, the Phillies could pick up some of the money for a team to obtain the contract. Yikes!

Did any of us ever think the Texas Rangers would have the worst record in baseball at the end of July? That they would have won only 41 games? By the way- I still like the Orioles to win the East. I haven’t wavered.

If you haven’t seen David Peralta of the DBacks play, make it a point to watch a game if you can. He’s an exciting left-handed hitter nobody talks about. I think he’s a legit Rookie Of The Year candidate. And I like Jose Abreu for that honor in the AL.

Time to look at some mid-season numbers that strike me as fascinating:

As of today, B J Upton has struck out 127 times. He leads Marlon Byrd-the subject of many trade rumors, by two. Upton is hitting .217. Byrd .266. Upton is having to get by this year on $14MM. 2015 $15MM, 2016 $16MM, 2017 $17MM and then….in 2018 he becomes a free agent. It’s actually more each year, but I rounded it down.

Carlos Santana has walked 72 times. Jose Bautista is next at 69.

Jose Altuve has 148 hits. Dee Gordon has ten triples.

If you would have told me Stephen Strasburg would have more losses (eight) than wins (seven) at this point of the season I wouldn’t believe you. But he does. And Scott Kazmir has a 12-3 record.

Thank you for reading my work on MLBPipeline.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s It. I’m Done.

Reflections From Minneapolis-All Star Game

There’s something about seeing so much talent on one baseball field that is electrifying. Last night’s game just made me love the game of baseball even more-and I don’t know how that’s possible. I’ll tell you why a bit later.

The day began with the red carpet parade of players right outside my hotel door. There was excitement in the air. The hotel had set up a charcoal barbecue station with hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. right outside the revolving doors. The smell of charcoal provided a fantastic backdrop to the parade. The crowd was about eight people deep lining the sidewalks for as far as my four eyes could see. Minnesota has these fantastic walkways (with shopping malls and restaurants) above the streets for pedestrian traffic during inclement weather. The walkways were packed with people-their noses pressed to the window if they were in the front row. It was great to see and be part of.

Right down from my hotel is a statue to Mary Tyler Moore-star of the bygone days sitcom about a Minneapolis news room. The statue is wonderful and I’m glad I got to see it.

The All Star Game was really Derek Jeter Night, and he didn’t disappoint. I know there are people who don’t like him or anything Yankees. However, don’t count me among them. He’s a great player-a team player. He’s a gentleman. Classy. Intelligent.
His play on Andrew McCutchen’s first inning grounder set the tone for his overall game.

It was more than fitting that Jeter and Mike Trout hit one and two in the AL lineup. Because if Jeter is No. 1 now, at the end of the season, Trout will take that honor. And he deserves it. And he deserved his MVP Award last night. Imagine what he’ll be like when he’s in his prime at 27. Or if he plays until he’s 40, like Jeter.

I missed seeing Big Papi and Albert Pujols. They belong on the biggest stage of stars.

Chris Sale didn’t seem comfortable coming in during a game as opposed to starting.

I don’t know if anyone will ever hit a home run further in Target Field than Giancarlo Stanton hit during the Home Run Derby-just had to get that in. Sorry about that.

Jonathan Lucroy may now be a household name and not a secret anymore. The man is a double’s machine. He can hit, plays great defense and his game is coming to its peak.
He could help the Brewers into the playoffs if he keeps swinging like I think he can.

Dee Gordon was a blurrrr circling the bases faster than I could swallow a swig of water on Lucroy’s double. And he made a fine defensive play on Michael Brantley.

Yasiel Puig may have gone back to Los Angeles with a bit of humility. All Star Week saw him take a donut in the Derby and strike out three times in three plate appearances at the ASG.

I would have started Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the NL, but nobody asked me.

How cool was it that Glen Perkins of the Twins finished the game throwing to Kurt Suzuki of the Twins.

American League gets home field advantage in the World Series. Think it isn’t important? Ask the Dbacks and Yankees.

Next year the ASG will be in Cincinnati. The following years have not been announced. Here are my guesses-two of these three: Washington and either Los Angeles Dodgers or Oakland. I have no inside information. Just my hunches.

There was an ASG first yesterday-no pitcher went more than one inning.

Aroldis Chapman hit 101 mph twice.

Broadway singer Idina Menzel did a spectacular job with the National Anthem. It was stirring. Don’t know if they showed it on television, but if they didn’t, you missed a beautiful moment. F-16’s buzzed the field as she concluded.

I would like to hear God Bless America sung at every park in every 7th inning or before every game. It’s a beautiful song and it reminds us who we are, what we have and where we are.

I heard that Adam Wainwright said he threw Jeter a pitch in the first inning he knew Jeter could hit. Um…I’m not buying. I think Adam Wainwright threw Jeter a mistake Jeter could hit in the first inning.

Did you like the greeeeen shoes and the orange laces and trim? I’m just wondering.
I’d love some greeeeen shoes, but I can’t find any in my size. I wear a wiiiiide. Did you like the caps? I think I did. I had to think about it for a while, but I decided I liked them.

I walked back from the park last night. It was the most peaceful, happy, non-threating crowd I’ve seen in years. Folks were having a great time. I didn’t see one drunk.

Derek Jeter’s was the first car in the Red Carpet parade yesterday.

I really got a laugh seeing 6-foot-5 Jose Abreu standing next to 5-foot-5 Jose Altuve.

Isn’t it time for Fernando Rodney to put his cap on straight? I’m just asking. Or maybe he can just have a head tilt operation. I think the tilted cap is so…what’s the word….yesterday. So…… last decade.

Name the pitcher: 1 inning, 3 hits, 3 earned runs, 0 walks and 2 strikeouts. Does that sound like Adam Wainwright? Remember when Justin Verlander blew up in Kansas City? And how about Jon Lester?…1 inning, 3 hits, 2 earned runs. He let the NL back in the game. And one more. Pat Neshek. 1/3 of an inning, 3 hits, 2 earned runs and a closing ERA of…54.00. I’m sure each of them wanted the ground to open so they could crawl in.

So now I return to Phoenix. All Star Game activities are over for another year. It was great. Thank you Minneapolis. Thank you Twins, MLB and MLB.com. This was a wonderful week. And thank you for reading my Reflections From Minneapolis.

I hope you will keep up with my work on MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com and follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. I have the best followers in the world and you can become one yourself.

That’s it. I’m done.

Reflections From Minneapolis-Home Run Derby

My seat last night during the Home Run Derby was directly behind 3B in the Auxiliary Press Box. Usually the auxiliary box is in the outfield. These seats were outstanding. I’m hoping to claim the same seat tonight for the All Star Game.

The rain came and went three different times. Fans were getting restless and wondering if the Derby would ever begin. But the end result was worth the wait.
Mother Nature made a cameo appearance to make up for the rain delays. The rainbow was spectacular. Full arc. I’ve seen lots of those in Arizona, but this was very fitting as sort of a “consolation prize” for the long wait.

I did a poll on twitter asking who would win each league and who would win the overall competition. I had tons of entries, but only one was correct. The fly in the ointment was Todd Frazier. Surprisingly, several people picked him to win the NL. But two people had him winning the entire competition.

Be honest with me here-were you among those that cheered when Yasiel Puig took a donut? The crowd in the stands was kind of pleased.

The ovations for Justin Morneau were spectacular. I expect to hear similar volume tonight for Derek Jeter.

I’m not sure the new format helps the first round winner. They didn’t remain in a groove and both seemed to cool off with the time off.

Lots of people on twitter told me they were bored watching the lengthy Derby. I was only bored during the rain delay. However, I wish they had an umpire and that a called strike would count as an out. That’s how it was in the 1960’s original Home Run Derby television show. It would speed the process tremendously. Lots of pitches are taken that are down the middle of the plate. But then again, all the sponsors and network wouldn’t have the time to get their needed revenue.

I wish we could have seen Big Papi, Mike Trout, Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera just to name four big boppers. Then I think it would have been a much more competitive and exciting event. A truer Home Run Derby.

Most everyone in the contest looked exhausted at the end of the first round. Not just from the physical standpoint, but from the mental wear and tear as well.

Did you like the new format?

I want to see a “Baseball’s Fastest Player” contest replace the Home Run Derby. For example, imagine seeing Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon settle the issue from home to first. Each club would get to send one player. Elimination rounds would go quickly.
Injury worries? Maybe. But these guys are in great shape. I don’t think there would be more injury potential than in the Home Run Derby. We could settle the speed questions once and for all. is Mike Trout faster than Peter Bourjos? I like it. I really do.

I would like to see the All Star Game players wear their regular uniforms during the week’s activities. Whites for the home club, grey for the visitors. Simple. Clean. Many fans in attendance never get to see those uniforms. Even if there are duplicate numbers, the uniforms would be different.

I thought Jose Bautista would win it all.

Cespedes hit the longest shot at 452 feet. Cespedes was also second at 447 feet. And um, he was third at 446 feet. Giancarlo Stanton went 430 feet in the first round.

Stanton and Cespedes are the two guys I try not to miss during batting practice. At Chase Field, Stanton hit the restaurant at the top of the left field bleachers this month.

In my twitter contest, not one person picked Troy Tulowitzki to even win his league. Imagine, Frazier was picked several times. Not Tulo.

The infield wasn’t covered with a tarp during any of the downpours. I thought that was odd. Maybe they wanted the rain to soak into the ground and soften the infield. Anyway, during the Derby puddles were evident.

The Derby was a sellout.

Yasiel Puig not only has a form of a mohawk, he has a star cut in as well.

Tomorrow I’ll provide my reflections of tonight’s All Star Game. I feel very fortunate to be here for Derek Jeter’s last All Star Game. As usual, he is handling this event with calm and cool. Almost like it’s just another game. The players, the media and especially the fans know it’s different. By the way-he’s the only guy to come to the media interviews in a suit and tie. I’m just sayin. He’s just different. In a positive, special kind of way. Some people dislike Jeter because he plays for the Yankees. I think that’s silly.

With Ken Griffey, Jr. being the last guy to win back-to-back Home Run Derby contests before Cespedes, people are wondering if Cespedes can be the first to win three in a row? I wouldn’t put it past him.

I didn’t have time to visit the candy store yesterday. I could almost feel the lack of carmel corn with nuts ruining my entire day. I’ll try to make up for that today.

Thanks for reading my articles on MLBPipeline.com and MLB.com and for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff. Your support is always appreciated.

That’s it. I’m done. For today.

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