THE USB Baseball Report: Thirteenth Edition

Hi, hello & welcome to THE USB Baseball Report! I’m Steve Cook, and I hope you’re all having a happy 4th of July!

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It’s the day America was born, and what better way to celebrate America than by reading a little bit about America’s Pastime? We’re just over the halfway point of the baseball season and heading towards the All-Star Break. Let’s be honest, a lot of teams out there are looking like they could use a break. A trip to San Diego could do us all some good. The All-Star rosters will be revealed tomorrow, so next week we’ll break those down and talk about what the voters got wrong. We’ve got plenty to discuss before then, so let’s get it started!

Mad Bum At The Bat

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San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy is a National League guy. He played for the Astros, Mets & Padres, all in the National League. He’s managed the Padres & the Giants, both in the National League. He’s never spent a minute associated with the American League. And like most of us NL Guys, Bochy looks down on certain aspects of the AL. He finds the idea of a “designated hitter” to be sissified & obnoxious. He feels the pitcher should take the bat just like everybody else has to.

Now, Bochy has had to use the DH when his teams were forced to play in American League parks by the silly rules of the American League that allow pitchers to wear dresses and sashay themselves around the ballpark like they’re the belles of the ball. But on Thursday, Bochy decided “enough of this nonsense”. He has an ace pitcher named Madison Bumgarner that can actually hit the ball on occasion. He has thirteen career home runs, which puts him twelve ahead of pitching/hitting icon Bartolo Colon. More importantly, the Giants are a bit banged up right now and don’t have a lot of options. So Mad Bum got to be the first pitcher to hit in a game where the DH was available for usage since 2009, when the Rays screwed up their lineup card & Andy Sonnastine had to take an at-bat. (Joe Maddon’s some kind of baseball genius, and he was the only manager in over forty years to make this mistake? Doesn’t take much to be a genius these days.) The last time a pitcher was actually meant to bat was in 1976, when Ken Brett stepped up to the plate for the Chicago White Sox.

Bumgarner did all right for himself, going 1-4 with a double and a run scored. He’s been making some noise about wanting to participate in the Home Run Derby, but Bochy doesn’t want him to do that. Who wants their ace pitcher trying to kill himself hitting home runs in an exhibition? As a fan I’d like to see it, and it could be interesting to see what kind of an effect participating in a Home Run Derby would have on a pitcher’s performance. Would their performance diminish like some position players in the past have? I think the Reds or another team out of contention for the next couple of years should enter one of their less important pitchers in the Derby so we can find out.

And in case you’re wondering, Bumgarner did win the game on Thursday.

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Preds Update

The highlight of Wednesday afternoon’s Reds game, a typical beatdown at the hands of the Chicago Cubs, was the walk back to my car after the game. And not just because of the stellar company I had for much of it. Upon sitting down in the driver seat, I checked my phone & saw that I had some notifications from my two top sources for hockey news: Jeremy Lambert & the Smashville app. I wasn’t expecting any hockey news that day, and I sure wasn’t expecting to read what I read via those notifications.

Shea Weber was no longer a Nashville Predator.

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As a still fairly new Preds fan, I haven’t known the team without its Captain. Weber was an oasis of stability that was always there while I was still learning about the players around him. The strong, silent type, Weber led by example & was a fierce competitor with the fastest shot in the NHL. He was easy to like and easy to remember, which is important when you’re a new hockey fan. From the time he debuted with Nashville in 2006, he was the face of the Predator franchise. If the casual NHL fan could name one Nashville Predator, it was Shea Weber.

So my first reaction, for about five minutes or so, was sadness. It probably would have lasted longer if he hadn’t been traded to the Montreal Canadiens for P.K. Subban.

P.K. Subban

I was already familiar with Subban because he was on my fantasy team last year, but more research seemed necessary. So I went on YouTube & watched some of his highlights and interviews. Guys, this dude is a rock star. The Preds are a fun bunch but some of them are lacking in charisma. Subban has enough charisma for an entire team. Apparently that rubbed some people in Montreal the wrong way, but I’ve learned to ignore those types of reports because everybody that changes teams gets them. All these locker room cancers move on to other organizations and end up thriving. Funny how that works.

The main thing I like about this trade for Nashville is it reflects the direction the NHL is going in: speed. The Preds have gotten faster under the coaching of Peter Laviolette, but still aren’t quick enough to keep up with the top teams in the league. They beat Anaheim in the first & took San Jose to 7 games, but both Pacific Division teams out-skated the Preds for the majority of their playoff games. Weber, unfortunately, isn’t the quickest skater, and the Sharks exposed him in Game 7. Subban is a lot faster than Weber & a much better fit for the direction of the NHL and the system Laviolette has implemented.

Weber was perfect for the Barry Trotz Preds, and he did the best he could with the Peter Laviolette Preds, but Subban is a better fit now. And Weber will fit in better with what Montreal is doing, even if their fans are going to be slow to accept it. Subban was beloved in Montreal, by far the most popular Canadien of the past several years. Thing is, you could say the same thing about Weber with the Preds, but while Nashville can take solace in the fact that their organization has been heading in the right direction and making good decisions lately, Montreal fans have seen their illustrious franchise fall on hard times of late. Montreal fans are known for holding grudges anyway…they’re still mad at Shawn Michaels over the whole Bret Hart thing. So who knows when they’ll accept Weber.

I’d seen people online from time to time suggest trading Weber because of his large contract & age, but I gave these suggestions the same amount of credence that I gave Reds fans suggesting that they trade Joey Votto. Part of that was having more familiarity with how baseball trades usually work than hockey. In baseball, stars never get traded for stars. It’ll be one star for a bevy of prospects. That makes trades tough to judge and gives front offices more leeway in their decision making. The impatient fans complain about the star leaving, the team & their apologists talk about how great the prospects will be. They might be great. They might stink. Nobody knows.

The Preds trades have been more fun because they involve known commodities. Oddly enough, they usually involve people I’ve had on fantasy teams. I loved Seth Jones, but trading him for Ryan Johansen was cool because I had Ryan on my fantasy team. I also knew him from last year’s All Star Game in Columbus where he was one of the captains. I first read about Subban when Boston fans were mad at him during a playoff series and tweeted racist nonsense because that’s what Boston fans do. I had him on my fantasy team last year because I’d heard of him. And now he’s a Pred.

Contrary to popular belief, fantasy sports enhances fandom.

The one downside of this trade is if Weber retires before his contract expires, Nashville gets stuck with a ton of money going against their salary cap for the years left in the contract. Apparently the NHL did this because they got tired of front-loaded contracts like the one Weber got when the Philadelphia Flyers made him an offer and Nashville matched it. (If I had been a Predator fan in 2012, I probably wouldn’t care for Weber all that much because of that contract. Not only did it screw the Preds, but he signed it and wanted to go to the Flyers. Some captain, right? I never really looked into the details so it never bothered me, but I feel like that would have irritated me immensely. Also, fuck the Flyers for that shit.)

I don’t know about you, but I got a lot more enjoyment out of this than another recap of a baseball team on pace to finish 54-108.

My MLB Prediction Mid-Term Report Card

Everybody makes predictions at the beginning of the season. Most people forget about them. Here at THE Ultimate Sports Blog, we live & die by our predictions. Dustin James always recaps his predictions at the end of the football season to see how right or wrong he was. Since we’ve reached the halfway point of the baseball season, I thought it would be interesting to see how my predictions were doing. Consider this a mid-term report…nothing binding, but a checkup to see how we’re doing.

AL East

1. Toronto Blue Jays (94-68 predicted, 44-39 on Sunday)
2. New York Yankees (91-71, 39-41))
3. Boston Red Sox (90-72. 43-37)
4. Baltimore Orioles (78-84, 47-33)
5. Tampa Bay Rays (68-94, 33-47)

Mid-Term Grade: D

If I had the Yanks & O’s switched around this would be looking a lot better, but my faith in the Yankee bullpen has been outweighed by their lack of anything else. (And that bullpen ain’t exactly setting the world on fire either) Everybody sold the Orioles short so I don’t feel too bad about that, and I still like the Blue Jays to win the division when it’s all said and done. Sawx are still in line for a playoff berth even if their manager’s on the hot seat. The Rays stink, so that was a good pick.

AL Central

1. Kansas City Royals (95-67 predicted, 43-37 on Sunday)
2. Cleveland Indians (88-74, 49-31)
3. Detroit Tigers (86-76, 43-38)
4. Minnesota Twins (81-81, 26-54)
5. Chicago White Sox (75-87, 41-40)

Mid-Term Grade: B

The Indians have gone on a tear & top the division right now, and I expect them to get a wild card slot. The Royals haven’t gotten as much hype this year, but still look good and will probably win the division. Tigers are right where I figured they would be, the White Sox are heading down the standings, my error here was thinking the Twins would be somewhat decent when they’re actually terrible.

AL West

1. Houston Astros (98-64 predicted, 43-38 on Sunday)
2. Los Angeles Angels (89-73, 33-48)
3. Texas Rangers (83-79, 52-30)
4. Seattle Mariners (71-91, 42-39)
5. Oakland Athletics (65-97, 35-46)

Mid-Term Grade: D

I thought the Rangers would regress this season but so far I’ve been wrong. The Astros won’t get 98 wins due to their terrible start, but a wild card slot looks probable. The Angels have been a total bust, the Mariners have been better than expected, and the A’s are where we thought they would be.

NL East

1. New York Mets (97-65 predicted, 43-37 on Sunday)
2. Washington Nationals (91-71, 49-33)
3. Miami Marlins (82-80, 42-39)
4. Atlanta Braves (67-95, 28-53)
5. Philadelphia Phillies (62-100, 36-46)

Mid-Term Grade: B+

I think this grade will get better, as the Mets are trending upward while the Nationals were struggling until they got to play the Reds the last few games. The Marlins are right where I expected. The Phillies had a really good start but are sinking towards the bottom of the division like a rock, and I undersold how bad the Braves would be.

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs (99-63 predicted, 51-29 on Sunday)
2. St. Louis Cardinals (95-67, 42-38)
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (89-73, 40-41)
4. Cincinnati Reds (71-91, 30-52)
5. Milwaukee Brewers (69-93, 35-45)

Mid-Term Grade: B

The Cubs won’t win 116, but 99 seems like a solid bet even if they’ve been struggling lately. I oversold the Cardinals due to reputation, but I still won’t count them out for a wild card slot. The Pirates are worse than I expected and they won’t get to 89 wins. Picking the Reds for 4th place was nothing but optimism on my part. The Brewers aren’t much better than I thought they would be.

NL West

1. San Francisco Giants (87-75 predicted, 51-32 on Sunday)
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (83-79, 37-46)
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-80, 46-37)
4. San Diego Padres (74-88, 35-46)
5. Colorado Rockies (72-90, 37-43)

Mid-Term Grade: C-

My main mistake here was buying into the D-Back hype. Zack Greinke can’t help that team win when he’s not pitching. The Giants & Dodgers are the top two teams and better than I expected, playing those bottom three teams has helped with that. Padres & Rockies are right where I expected.

And here’s a reminder of what we’ve got for the postseason…

AL Wild Card Game: Yankees over Red Sox
AL DS: Astros over Yankees, Blue Jays over Royals
ALCS: Astros over Blue Jays

NL Wild Card Game: Cardinals over Nationals
NLDS: Cubs over Cardinals, Giants over Mets
NLCS: Giants over Cubs

World Series: Astros over Giants

Tell ya what, I’m not giving up on Astros/Giants yet. Let’s see what happens there.

Three Series To Watch This Week

1. Nationals at Mets (Thursday-Sunday): I liked the idea of divisional teams playing each other more often when MLB decided to make unbalanced schedules some years ago, but I’ve been having some second thoughts ever since. It feels like the Nats & Mets have had a series listed in this section at least half of the editions of this column. It’s good baseball, but man, we need some variety up in here. Scherzer vs. Harvey on Saturday looks like the matchup of the week.

2. Rangers at Red Sox (Monday-Wednesday): The Sawx, along with the rest of the AL East besides Baltimore, are scuffling their way towards the All-Star Break & hoping the rest does them good. Before that, they have to host the current best team in the American League. Some wins here would get Boston some momentum heading into the break, while some wins for Texas would put more distance between them and the rest of the league.

3. Mariners at Astros (Monday-Wednesday): The Astros’ hot streak continued through last week. They’ve won nine out of ten games and are starting to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division not named the Texas Rangers. Seattle needs to get some wins here or they risk becoming what we thought they were at the start of the season: an also-ran.

Welp, that’s all we have time for this week. Join us next time for more baseball fun!

 

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