Tag Archives: World Series

Royals Offseason Update

Major League Baseball’s off season has heated up this week during the winter meetings in Nashville. There have been multiple signings and a couple big trades with money changing hands like it’s a game of Monopoly. Despite all the moves and noise being made, it’s been nothing but crickets coming from the Kansas City Royals.

For the first time in a generation the Royals enter the off season as the World Champions. There is no discussion of how to build a winner or what one or two players do they need to get over the hump. The Royals won the World Series, and this off season seems to be all about celebrating the win and just hanging on to that moment as long as we can.

That time of celebrating appears to be coming to an end however as the harsh reality of a new season has begun to creep in thanks to off season moves. The first big loss came last night when Ben Zobrist signed a 4 year $56 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. In his short time with the Royals, Zobrist had become a fan favorite. He was a great player that was a major reason the Royals were able to win the WS and he seemed to genuinely enjoy Kansas City. Even his wife became a fan favorite for not having their baby until after the WS and then giving the baby girl the middle name of Royal. So there was hope that a love of the city would outweigh the pull of a big contract.

That hope was shattered when the Cubs were willing to give the 34 year old Zobrist a four year deal. I believe the Royals would have been happy to pay the $14 million price tag per year, but I think they only wanted to be locked into that for two years. They can’t risk paying an old declining player $14 million after two years when they are trying to resign young stars like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas.

Unfortunately for Royals fans, the heartbreak will not stop with Zobrist departure. Royals fans cover your eyes for this part, but Gordon is not resigning with Kansas City. Alex Gordon will be 32 years old in February and is expected to sign a five or six year deal for around $100 million or more. Not only can the Royals not afford a deal like that, I don’t believe they should do it even if they could. While I am a Gordon fan as much as the next guy, he’s really not worth that much to a team like the Royals. Gordon is the one of the best defensive left fielders in baseball and is good (not great) at the plate. The problem for the Royals is that he is good enough to carry the team. Gordon is a great complimentary player, when you have a top to bottom lineup the way the Royals had this year, he’s a beast at the backend. But if you pay Gordon that much money than more than likely you will be losing two or three of those young stars and it would then be up to Gordon to lead the team in the middle of the lineup. A career .270 hitter who averages 19 homeruns a season just isn’t going to be able to put up the kind of numbers on his own that it would take to sustain the loss of that young talent. This would be especially true for the last two or three years of his deal when his age will cause his production to drop.

If the Royals would like to increase their payroll to $200 million a year, then by all means let’s throw money at Gordon like crazy and then get to work signing Hosmer, Cain and Moustakas to long term deals. I don’t see the payroll going that way thought, which means while it will hurt and not be fun to see our favorites leave, we as fans need to understand that it is what is best for the team. So far in the 2016 MLB offseason the Royals have stuck to their plan that got them into back-to-back World Series. They have let the high priced older free agents walk. It was Billy Butler in 2015 and this year it was Zobrist and will be Gordon. But they have resigned veteran pitcher Chris Young who was a key to the rotation and bullpen last season. They have brought back former closer Joakim Soria to build up a bullpen after Ryan Madson signed with the Dodgers and Greg Holland will miss the entire season due to Tommy John surgery.

The rumor mill is still swirling around with news that the Royals are interested in acquiring a corner outfielder as well as a starting pitcher. Will these be big time names like Johnny Cueto or BJ Upton? No, they probably won’t be. As Royals fans that’ve seen what the Royals have done over the last couple years should that matter to us, no it shouldn’t! The Royals will likely never win the off season the way the White Sox did in 2015 or the Dodgers did in 2014. While that looks flashy and always seems like a great way to go and excites fans, it’s not the Royal way. The Royal way took a long time to work and many of us (myself included) were ready for a new way in 2014. I was wrong. The Royal way clearly works and we as Royals fans need to embrace that fact and think accordingly. They don’t give rings, have parades or raise banners for winning the off season. So while a team like the Cubs or Dodgers will get all the praise going into the 2016 season and fans will be talking smack about the Royals minor moves, I’ll just simply point to the new banner flying and simply say……scoreboard!

Why The NFL Has No Respect For The World Series

The NFL has done something over the past few years to prove to the world that they feel they are the only professional sports league that matters. We all know that the NFL is the top dog when it comes to professional sports, but now they seem to be laughing in the face of America’s former National Pastime.

There was a time when the National Football League actually respected Major League Baseball enough to not schedule a Sunday night game that would be played opposite the World Series. That time is over. Football is so popular in America that a Week 8 regular season NFL game gets more viewers than a possibly decisive Game 5 of the World Series.

nfl-wallpaper

 

NBC’s Sunday Night Football game between the undefeated Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos drew about 23 million viewers, while the World Series between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets managed to bring in about 17.2 million viewers. Some will point to the fact that the baseball game ran late due to extra innings. The numbers actually show that many viewers flipped over to watch baseball after the football game ended. Game 5 of the World Series actually hit a 12 year high for ratings, but it still wasn’t enough to beat the NFL.

The marquee matchup between the undefeated teams of Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers was a little disappointing, while the World Series game was a nail-biter for 12 innings. Fantasy football can also be partially blamed because many people likely had key players in the Sunday night game. After the ratings came out, this was the most watched Week 8 NFL prime time game in 22 years! Obviously the NFL’s schedule makers didn’t know that both teams would be undefeated, but they knew that this would be a marquee matchup that would draw ratings against the World Series.

During its first four seasons on NBC, Sunday Night Football had the decency to take one week off as to not conflict with the World Series. Since deciding not to take a Sunday night off, the NFL’s schedule makers have featured either the Green Bay Packers or New Orleans Saints in the game opposite the World Series every year since 2010. The thought process is supposedly that neither New Orleans nor Green Bay has a MLB team so there should be no conflicts of interest.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Rob Carr/Getty Images

It seems that the NFL is not going to back down and wants high ratings no matter what it goes up against. If this trend keeps up, it may be baseball that is forced to change its postseason schedule to avoid the NFL. With the NFL now playing prime time games on Sundays, Mondays, and Thursdays, that doesn’t leave much for MLB to work with. The World Series might have to be played on Tuesday and Wednesday with a travel day on Thursday. They could play the next two games on Friday and Saturday, although that would not allow for the current 2-3-2 format.

Even Pete Rose decided to do something else for Game 5 of the World Series. He had a contract already signed to appear for a private dinner, speech, and autograph session and was not able to be featured as an analyst on the Fox broadcast. It would be nice for the NFL and MLB to work together even if it’s just to schedule one week in October, but that seems unlikely. The NFL regards itself so highly that it will never budge and just wants to keep gaining money and popularity.

How Will You Feel If The Royals Win?

How do you react to one of your lifelong favorite sports franchises winning a championship? I always hear people say “act like you’ve been there before”. Well, I’ve never been here before.

I‘ve been a Royals, Kansas City Chiefs and Missouri Tigers fan my whole life. The Tigers have never won a National Championship in the main sports or football and basketball. The Chiefs haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1969, shoot they haven’t even won a playoff game since 1993. The last time the Royals won the World Series was in 1985, when as a three year old, the only I remember is my dad jumping up and down on our coffee table.

My wife has been asking me what I would do and how I would feel if the Royals won since last year’s playoff run. My wife was not raised to be a sports fanatic the way I was. She knew what the World Series and the big events were, and could name all the big teams and local teams, but that was about it for her sports knowledge. Trying to explain to her what myself fan and a lot of other Royals fans are going through is hard.

It isn’t just the fact that the one of my teams is winning a championship, which in Kansas City is shocking enough. It’s the added fact that this is last of those teams you would have said would win it. The Royals have been the laughing stock of baseball for twenty years. Not only did they not win, they lost in the most miserable fashions imaginable. It was so bad that people got to the point where they referred to bad plays as a “Royals-type play”.

Now not only is that team one game away from winning the World Series, but baseball men like Joe Buck are referring to them as the best World Series team in the last eighteen years. How are you supposed to act and feel when something you never thought would happen for thirty years has happened?

I finally figured out the best way to describe it to my wife was to say it’s like winning the lottery. You’ve played your numbers every week for thirty years. You never thought you’d win, but at the same time, you can’t win if you don’t play. Then one day, your numbers are called and you win the big jackpot. It’s so rare and unthinkable you can’t plan how to react to that.

So, the Royals are one game from a World Series victory that may close down the entire Kansas City metro area the next day. It would be great if that was tonight in New York; just win it and let’s party. If not, than you have Tuesday and Wednesday (if necessary) to in the friendly confines of the K. Either way I don’t have the funds or free time to be anywhere but my living room couch surrounded by family. If the Royals win, I just hope they do not hold whatever I do against me. I may cry, I may run down the street screaming at the top of my lungs, or I may just sit shocked. I may throw on some goggles and let the champagne fly or I may not waste a drop and drink the night away. One thing I know for sure, whatever happens that night if the Royals do clinch, I won’t regret it one bit. No matter how I feel the next morning or what I have to clean up, knowing the Kansas City Royals won the World Series will make any celebration something to remember the rest of my life. Thirty years later, I still remember my dad jumping up and down like a mad man on the coffee table. What will be your celebration story be if the Royals win one more game?

Royals Are Hollywood’s Dream

It’s been nine hours since game one of the World Series and to quote the great Jack Buck “I don’t believe what I just saw”. I don’t know if there is anyone in Hollywood paying attention to this Kansas City Royals team, but if there isn’t they should get here immediately. I’m starting to think the Angels in the Outfield has a more believable plot than this Royals team. Last night’s game was enough for a full summer blockbuster.

It all started with Royals shortstop Alcedes Escobar in the bottom of the first inning. It’s almost a joke at this point at how Escobar always swings at the first pitch. I think Fox announcer Joe Buck might fall out of his press box if Escobar didn’t swing at the first pitch of the game. Lucky for Buck he was safe, as Escobar swung at first pitch fastball down the middle of the plate and hit a deep fly ball to left center field. The two Mets outfielders had some miscommunication allowing the ball to not only drop between them, but bouncing off Yoenis Cespedes leg shooting into left field. Escobar, running the whole way, scored easily for the first inside the park homerun since Mule Haas in 1929. It was the first ever inside the park homerun to leadoff game one of a World Series and only the second leadoff inside the parker in WS history in any game. Just like any great movie, the Royals started fast to suck you in and put you on the edge of your seat early.

The game then settled down for a few innings, good time to get some popcorn. Then the bad guy showed up in the movie as the Mets scored a run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Down 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth the Royals do what they do and made a comeback. A couple hits, stolen base and sacrifice fly later the Royals tied the game 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth. The Royals coming back in the late innings is becoming as predictable as a hero defeating fifty people by himself.

Then came the twist and surprise plot turn that you never saw coming. In the top of the 8th with two outs and a runner on second, an easy grounder bounced over the glove of Eric Hosmer into right field scoring the runner from second. Hosmer is a two time Gold Glove Award winner who makes that play 99 out of a 100, but unfortunately that one time happened to be in the World Series. The crowd was shocked into silence, not that we were losing but just the fact that Hosmer missed it. Of course last night just happened to be the 29th anniversary of the Bill Buckner play against the Mets in the 1986 World Series. I don’t think Steven Spielberg could make this stuff up.

So we head to the bottom of 9th with the Royals down 4-3. With one out and the Mets dominant closer Jeurys Familia on the mound, Alex Gordon walks to the plate. While the Royals haven’t named an official Team Captain since Mike Sweeney, everyone knows Gordon is the unofficial Captain of this team. Drafted number two in the 2005 draft, Gordon was projected to be the next George Brett. Being blunt, he was a major bust before the 2011 season. That year he was moved to the outfield in one last ditch effort to get something out of him. What they got was a four time gold glover outfielder with a consistent bat and leader of the team. So the old man of the team steps to the plate and crushes a ball 438 feet over the center field wall to tie the game at 4. It was the first time a player hit a homerun to tie or take the lead in the 9th inning of game one of the World Series since Kirk Gibson hit his walk off against the Oakland Athletics.

The stadium is in a frenzy as the Royals once again come back from what looked like certain doom. The game went into extra innings as bullpen battled bullpen. It all came down to a pitchers’ duel between starters turned relievers; Chris Young for the Royals versus Bartolo Colon of the Mets. They dueled until the bottom of the 14th inning. The man who started it all, Escobar, hit a hard grounder to third which was bobbled by the Mets team Captain David Wright causing a wide throw allowing Escobar to reach first. A single by Ben Zobrist and intentional walk to Lorenzo Cain loaded the bases with no outs as Hosmer came to the plate. After being just two outs away from being the new Buckner he would have his chance to be the hero. He didn’t disappoint as he hit a long fly ball to right field plenty deep enough to score Escobar from third for a walk off win. The fourteen innings tied the record for longest WS game played by inning and the over five hours of game time was good enough for the second longest game in WS game history by time.

The stadium erupted as fans high fived everyone within reach and hugged people they’d never met. Fireworks were going off, the W sign was being hung on the Royals Hall of Fame and Salvador Perez was dumping a Gatorade bucket of water on Hosmer during an interview. Is there a better ending to a movie than a crazy walk off turning the hitter from goat to hero in one of the longest games in WS history?

This isn’t just a one game series though; there are at least three more to go, maybe as many as six. So we all knows what that means; sequels! The sequel to this amazing movie that was game one was set in motion when the news broke that the Royals starter Edison Volquez father had passed away just hours before the game started. The family however told the Royals to not tell Eddie because they wanted him to pitch. The Royals agreed to the family’s wishes and only told coaches and pitcher Chris Young so he could be prepared to come in for relief if Eddie found out and wanted to leave early. The news however did make its way to social media and by the second inning the only people who didn’t know was Eddie and the rest of the players. Fox and the Royals radio team did a great job of not talking about it on air just in case Eddie was in the clubhouse and hear the news that way.  When he came out of the game after the sixth inning he spoke with his wife and got the devastating news. He left almost immediately to fly to the Dominican Republic to be with his family. Manager Ned Yost told the rest of the team after the game turning a great celebration to a more subdued affair. Despite winning one of the greatest WS games in history, the players first thought in every interview was on Eddie and his family. The Royals family has had a tough year with now the third parent passing away joining Mike Moustakas’s mother and Chris Young’s father who both passed away in August.

This series was already going to be a fight with every game sure to be close; now you mix in the heavy hearts of the Royals players wanting to win for their brother and something special is building. Game one was a summer blockbuster for the ages that had everything a good movie needs. There was drama, heart break, redemption, good versus evil and an emotional roller coaster from the highest of highs to the absolute lowest of lows. Fans are screaming for a sequel because they want more of this amazing theatre. Unlike the movies, you won’t have to wait a year or two for the sequel; game two starts in just a few hours. So get your popcorn ready, get in that comfortable seat and sit back and enjoy the show.

 

Track Tech: Verizon Wireless' Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet

We may be in the off-season, technically speaking, but my Verizon Wireless Track Tech features do not take a break. This past month I’ve been working with the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet. This device is available exclusively through Verizon Wireless and it runs on the Android OS. While I may not have visited any actual racetracks during this review period, I did attend more than a couple sporting events in October including a Pacers game which wrapped up an unforgettable Verizon IndyCar Series presser & announcement with none other than the Mayor of Hinchtown, James Hinchcliffe himself. Racing is ALWAYS a part of my world, whether the burning rubber and ethanol fumes are present or not… all of this was captured and shared thanks to the efficient design and seamless functions of the Xperia.

Kicking off with a Kickoff

DSC_0057The month started out with a visit to my Alma Mater, Bowling Green State University for their Homecoming Weekend. We attended the Falcon Hockey & Football games. Photos of the games were not as detailed as I had hoped. The 8.1 MP camera takes really nice shots when in full view mode in really good lighting – but dim or softly lit subjects as well as trying to take a zoomed in shot produce very grainy pictures and leave much to be desired. One thing that was really nice though, was that we were able to get real time updates on the football game thanks to “OK Google” capability, once we left the game due to the freezing cold weather. The game came down to the last few minutes but the Falcons ended up victorious and then we headed back home in our nice warm SUV complete with navigation features on the tablet!

IndyCar Off-Season Fun

Three days later and in the middle of a work week, I found myself in Indianapolis. I had been invited to take part in a very memorable press event. Verizon IndyCar Series driver, James Hinchcliffe was making his 2015 team announcement, in true Hinch-style. All the details are available in my recap of the evening here on MTAF: Wheels. One of the cool things that happened, strangely enough, was the literal rain-on-our-HandleBarIndy-parade, because it gave me the opportunity to test one of the features of the Xperia! DSC_0120We were all waiting outside Banker’s Life Fieldhouse prior to the Pacers pre-season game when Hinchcliffe commented on me standing there with my tablet and working in the middle of the rain. He asked if I was at all worried about my tablet getting wet, which gave me the chance to explain how it was actually waterproof and I was purposely standing in the rain to test it. He & his girlfriend, Kirsten, both sounded surprised and commented on what a cool feature that was. I was just as surprised and impressed by how the water did not affect the touch screen sensitivity or SWYPE typing at all. It not only resisted damage with the water cascading all over it (as long as all the outlets are properly sealed with the attached coverings), but it carried on with regular processes uninterrupted. I was even able to take photos in the rain without the lens being distorted or blurred by water droplets! Pretty awesome!

Back To School

I attended the Ohio University Homecoming later that week. I am not an Alum, but my cousin is finishing up his senior year there and my aunt is forever a Bobcat! We attended the parade in the morning and I just had to capture all the fun we were having on the beautiful Autumn morning – thanks to the huge 10.1 inch full HD display, I was able to take a “group selfie” of the whole family!DSC_0177 Unfortunately, even though I had the tablet plugged in all night and the whole drive down while using the Google Maps navigation app, the usually very long battery life was drained and I ended up having a dead tablet by the time the football game came around. I was pretty bummed about that because I wanted to post some videos of the Marching 110 on Vine. I was honestly surprised by this, considering that there were times I would leave the tablet not-plugged-in purposely for DAYS, just to see how long I could use it before it died. In one instance, it took from Friday morning until Monday evening before the warning came on to connect the tablet to a power source. I was using it those four days as normal – not holding back on data usage or doing anything outside the ordinary. I still hold that the instance at Ohio University was a fluke – it just seemed very strange, for a tablet with such impressive battery life, to die before noon in one day. There had to have been some other reason(s) the battery died, but I never figured it out.

The Comforts of Home

I rarely get to spend an entire day at home – and the few times I do, it’s usually spent cleaning! This time around, I decided to have some fun with it! First, I set my tablet upright in each room as I cleaned – I did this by using the Incipio Hard Shell Folio Case, made specifically for the Xperia and available at Verizon Wireless stores and online. I then listened to music on YouTube & Vevo while cleaning my house! That simple! The two surround-sound speakers on the Sony Xperia made it sound like I had an actual stereo blasting – not a quarter-inch thick tablet! I have to say I even stopped to watch some of the videos because of the quality of the images. The display on the Sony Xperia Z2 tablet is trademarked as “Full HD Triluminos” – it is the latest in Sony Bravia TV technology and the incredibly vast array of colors captivates the viewer when watching videos, playing games (it can be integrated with your PlayStation 4) or checking out TV shows  & movies through the Redbox Instant & Play apps.

Local Fun & National Headlines

As you all know by now, those days at home as mentioned above are not my preferred way to spend a weekend – I would much rather be out and about, even in my own neck of the woods. Thankfully, with durable features like scratch resistant glass on the Sony Xperia, plus the fact that it weighs in just under a pound, make it incredibly easy to handle, simple to travel with and a breeze to stow away at a moment’s notice without the worry that you’re going to drop or damage it. I propped it up at the table while grabbing lunch to catch up on things, slid it into my purse and headed into a film where I was able to easily silence it and not worry about distracting anyone in the theater, and then enjoyed a hike afterwards, taking it in and out of my bag multiple times but never feeling like it was a nuisance because of how easy it was to handle and how quick I could swipe it on and get to the apps that I used most. The customized home and “neighbor” pages made this possible. Of course, the Xperia being an Android tablet made the set up of those custom pages even easier, automatically downloading my preferred apps and syncing accounts as soon as I logged into Google upon receiving the device.

DSC_0012Another feature I appreciated was that the device battery was not drained due to trying to find coverage in crowded events. I attended a Cleveland Cavaliers Exhibition game at Quicken Loans Arena and I was connected to the Verizon 4G XLTE network, so I didn’t have to fight for Wi-Fi coverage or deal with lag times when posting and replying on social media about the game. I have to reiterate my comments about the camera quality however – I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a clear action shot during the game or even a quality zoomed in image when the players were close to us and shooting foul shots. The shot shown here was the best I could manage, utilizing the tablet’s post-editing features.

Exclusive Feature Spotlight: When texting or typing, you may need to go back to a particular word and correct the spelling and capitalization. Regardless of your reason why, sometimes getting the cursor exactly where you want it on a touchscreen can be frustrating… but not with the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet! When you touch where you want your cursor to show up, a small magnifying glass appears, to help you place it between the right letters or words. You can keep your finger on the screen and drag the cursor to the particular place it’s needed. Accuracy is key when composing a long email to a client or even trying to shoot off an urgent text to a family member – the Xperia helps you reach that precision in a timelier and less exasperating manner.

The two big things that occurred (and continue to occur) repetitively throughout the month of October were postseason Major League Baseball games and Cedar Point Halloweekends. Everyone knows I love sports and adrenaline – and who says they IMG_20141024_231129have to end before Labor Day? Well… okay, I won’t even go there right now. Wink wink. But anyways, sometimes the two things are separate as in this instance and yet, I still don’t want to miss either one. Multi-tasking my interests was made possible this month by the Sony Xperia Z2. Being able to walk through the Amusement Park ranked Best in the World for 16 years (most recently in 2013), snap shots of the hauntingly perfect Halloweekends décor & share them on social media while also being able to keep tabs on the score of Game 3 of the World Series (Go Royals!), made my night that much more enjoyable. I hate having to pick and choose between doing the things that I love – but with the Xperia, I didn’t have to choose – I was able to have the best of both worlds and not feel like I was missing out on anything!

Device & Network: Access & Responsibility

I guess when it comes down to it, that’s what we are all looking for in mobile technology. It’s a portal to connect us to the people and things that we might not be able to have direct contact with at any given moment. Personally, I get tired of listening to the negative commentary from particular individuals or syndicates on how technology disconnects us, creating walls between individuals and groups, producing misunderstandings due to lack of tone or emotion. I don’t see this as true. Not universally, at least. Yes, it is a possibility and it does happen; as with anything, it’s all in how you choose to utilize what you have. You can make the best of the technology available, allow it to enhance your life and bring you closer to those that are far away – or you can use it as a shield or mask with intent to deceive, hurt or misinform others for your own benefit.

Sony_Xperia_Z2_Tablet

I honestly didn’t intend for this conclusion to get so serious, but I sincerely appreciate having this platform and getting to discuss technology with all of you. And with that voice… “Can you hear me now?”… I find it necessary to touch on the responsible use of this technology & this network, the “internet etiquette” we should all practice, if you will. We have access to absolutely incredible technology and devices from a company like Verizon Wireless – which aims to better our quality of life and connect us to everyone and everything possible. Let that remind us of how this access to technology makes our World very small nowadays, and incredibly interconnected – and let’s use that knowledge to promote good & practice kindness. Verizon’s slogan is “That’s Powerful”… so let’s remember that, respect it, and consciously use it for the right reasons.

Are you connecting with us on social media? Follow the links below to like & follow!

MTAF Wheels: Twitter & Facebook
Shay Hazen: Twitter & Facebook
Verizon Wireless: Twitter & Facebook

* * * * *

Getting ready for a “Wild” World Series

Every sport has that time of year where its fans get excited about the action on the court, on the field or on the ice. For the NBA fan it is June. For the NFL fan it is late January/early February. For the hockey fan it is every April/May/June. For College Basketball fans it is the month of March and for College Football fans late December/early January. For track and field fans it only comes once every four years, but when it does, it is worth waiting for.

It is the same for baseball fans. Whether you live in a major league city, a minor league city/town or you are just a baseball fan; the World Series is that time of year. If you happen to be a fan of one of the two teams that have reached the Fall Classic, then that’s a bonus. But regardless of your team loyalty, the World Series is the Big Stage.

For only the second time in history we are going to see two Wild Card teams vying for the World Series Trophy (Angels-Giants in 2002 was the only previous occurrence). The road to the Series has been exciting, surprising, entertaining and much, much more. In the four Divisional Series and the two Championship Series, we have seen three sweeps and three series which went one game over the minimum. That is a sharp contrast to the last few years where we have seen a few five game Divisional Series and several six-seven Championship Series. Even though no series went the limit, there was no shortage of excitement. There were few blow outs. There were clutch homers, often late in games, often game tying or game winning homers. We saw great base running to win games (especially Kansas City). We saw great pitching both in winning (Yusmeiro Petit) and losing (Adam Wainwright). We saw aces fall apart (Clayton Kershaw, twice) and we saw staff leaders continue to dominate games (Madison Bumgarner). And still, we have the World Series to come.

Both of these teams are on a roll, both on the field and emotionally. Both had to win a “play-in” game, just to get into the Divisional Series. Both were underdogs in at least one of the series in which they have participated. The Giants are on a five year run where they are going to the World Series for the third time. Nine players on their roster (if you include injured pitcher Matt Cain) have been on all three of those World Series teams. They know how to win and they are used to winning. The Royals have been in the wilderness for almost 30 years. They haven’t made the post season since 1985, when they came back from 3-1 deficits in both the ALCS (Toronto) and the World Series (St. Louis).

The Royals tore it down and rebuilt it; more than once. This time they appear to have got it right. For a small/mid-market team, you can’t rebuild simply by writing cheques with lots of zeros behind a number. You have to be patient, drafting well, developing well and learning how to use those assets. Some of them develop over time and help you win (14 of the 25 Royals are “home-grown”). Some of them become chips in the trading game. Zack Greinke and Wil Myers, both top class major leaguers were dealt to obtain four other key members of the Royals post-season roster in Lorenzo Cain, Alicedes Escobar, Wade Davis and James Shields. Dayton Moore has done a great job and ownership supported him in his plan to restore the franchise to its winning ways of the 1970’s and 1980’s. The high draft picks are the easy ones, but those mid-late round draft picks (Greg Holland was a 10th round pick in 2007, Jarrod Dyson was a 50th round pick in 2006 and Terrence Gore was a 20th round pick in 2011) are a huge bonus. Add to that some astute Latin American signings in Yordano Ventura as a 17 year old, Salvador Perez as a 16 year old and Kelvin Herrera as a 16 year old and you have a roster built carefully through several avenues. Many ownership groups would have jettisoned their GM long before he had a chance to see his plan through.

The Giants have built their team slightly differently, also drafting and developing well, but adding some key pieces in trades over the years. In Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval, they have three players who have been the core of this team over their five year run. Hunter Pence (2012) and Jake Peavy (2014) have been key acquisitions late in a season that have added veteran leadership and filled key roles. Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik have worked their way into the team and played key roles. Converted first baseman Travis Ishikawa has become the regular left fielder and contributed with the key home run against the Cardinals in the deciding fifth game.

Both teams have their strengths. The Giants starting rotation is clearly better than the Royals’, but the Royals bullpen has been more consistent and is deeper than the Giants. The Giants have the edge in power, but the Royals have a better running game. Both teams are good defensively, each playing in big parks where defense is a must. The Royals bench likely gets the edge only because it is more versatile.

There will be some keys to the series that we need to watch out for. If the Royals can get into the Giants bullpen they have a better chance to win the series. How the Royals use DH Billy Butler for the games in San Francisco will be interesting. Butler’s only defensive position is first base, a position capably manned by Eric Hosmer. We might see Butler pinch hit for Hosmer if the Giants bring in Javier Lopez to pitch to Hosmer when the Royals are behind late in the game and/or have a chance to blow it open. We might see Butler pinch hit for one of the middle infielders or right fielder Nori Aoki, but that would mean only one at-bat for Butler as Christian Colon would come in to play a middle infield position or one of the speedsters (Dyson or Gore) would come in to play right field. Royals’ manager Ned Yost may only have one chance to use Butler’s bat in each game in San Francisco, so he needs to think through his options carefully before he inserts Butler into the game.

Winning this series is important to both teams, but for different reasons. For the Royals it is a chance to make it back all the way. For the Giants, it is a chance to win the World Series for the third time in five years and create a mini-dynasty. The Royals don’t have to win the Series to be considered a success this season, they have already achieved that. What they have to be careful of is that they are not embarrassed; lose by big scores and lose in four or five games.

Everyone loves an underdog, which leads us to think that the Royals would be the sentimental pick. However on the weekend before the series starts, the Royals are slight favourites, most likely because they have the extra home game if the series goes seven games.

Whoever wins, baseball fans will be happy. We will see a great series and one that doesn’t include some of the sport’s heavyweights and big spenders. That alone should help us enjoy the series.

The Cleveland Indians, Optimism, and Me

Baseball is finally here. The crack of the bat carries with it the promise of spring, patio day drinking, and unadulterated optimism that my team – the Cleveland Indians – will win enough to be a contender.

Truthfully, I have no idea what it is about baseball that makes me feel like things are going to finally turn our way. I even get caught writing sentences that refer to the Indians like I’m part of the team. We, our, and us aren’t words that are to be used in an age when biased fandom is so often scoffed at by baseball purists and number-crunchers alike. Objectivity and analysis should be the goal, skepticism the icing on the cake.

I was asked by a sports professional what I thought about the Indians’ chances this year, and my answer was 90-ish wins and the playoffs. I felt good about my prediction, at least for the six seconds it took my antagonist to ask, “Why?”

I had no idea. The brass tacks of the Indians situation to start the 2014 season are strewn along the roadway, and the fans can’t help themselves but to drive this route, all the while hoping that one of those tacks won’t stick in the tire and leave them sitting on the berm to watch all the other teams pass them by. During last week’s More Than a Fan Podcast with Jeff, he teased an idea that the Indians would win the World Series. I, quite literally, choked at the thought.

RELATED: The 216: Your 2014 World Champion Cleveland Indians

Carlos Santana as an everyday third baseman scares the Hell out of me. I could not imagine a platoon with Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall working out, and that was before manager Terry Francona snuck in a comment that there would be no platoon at third, anyway. Yan Gomes likely won’t hit .294 and be the surprise catalyst of the order again. Michael Bourn seems like he’ll be battling a leg issue to start the season, and bad wheels are bad things for guys who rely on speed and quickness. Nick Swisher has never hit .300 and only been an All-Star once, yet he’s entrenched as one of the key members of the lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera has never met a first pitch in a clutch situation he didn’t ground weakly to second base… You get the point.

All these things ran through my head – and even more, considering I haven’t even addressed the pitching staff, or the American League competition – and I still looked my questioner in the eye and said, “I think the Indians will win 90 games and make the playoffs.”

Maybe it’s spring, not baseball, that breeds all this hope. Maybe Indians fans see fresh seasons through a prism we bought from the Nature Company back in 1995. Maybe it’s as simple as knowing the only way to justify this lifelong fan journey, is for Cleveland to come together on a warm summer night and enjoy the Tribe beating the snot out of the Tigers to maintain control of the American League Central.

I don’t think I’ll ever know why baseball has this power over me. Frankly, I don’t think I want to ask too many questions. Alas, baseball isn’t all sunflower seeds and bro hugs. You see, that unmistakable sound of solid contact, the one that can only come from a bat hitting a baseball, is more often than not, followed by the pop of that same ball getting swallowed up by a flash of leather and turning all that hope and optimism into nothing more than a long out.

Right now, the ball is in the air. As long as the ball is in the air, we have a chance.

The 216: Your 2014 World Champion Cleveland Indians

Even when I feel pretty good about Cleveland, I don’t generally allow myself to dream.  You see, it’s hope that tears us down the most; it’s hope that helps general levels of disappointment manifest itself into an “Only in Cleveland” (OIC) level stomach punch.  It’s being three outs away from a World Series win or four wins from being NBA Champions that sets us all up for devastating heartbreak when it inevitably crumbles before our very eyes.  It’s so much easier to expect the disappointment, then be surprised when it’s all over and destiny has run out of ways to take it away from us; of course, for most of us, the Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians have managed to astonish us like that.

 

Maybe, none of them ever will.  Maybe, it’s not in the cards.  Maybe, real life needs an unscripted version of the Washington Generals and a region of loyal fans that literally expects nothing good to ever come their way.  But, maybe it doesn’t have to be like that.  Maybe, someday we’ll have exhausted all of the excuses, run out of ways to lose in such calamitous ways, and our great city can be defined by its winning ways, even if it’s just one team for one season.  Like the 1908 Cubs or 1964 Cleveland Browns, the joy of celebrating a World Champion has a shelf life, and soon enough it doesn’t add up to a hill beans in the long run, but as Frank Drebin said, “This is our hill, and these are our beans.”

The truth is, this team isn’t going to be the favorite of many, if any, to win the American League Central Division, let alone the World Series, as they break camp this weekend.  On paper, there are holes all over the Indians prospects to defeat a pretty good National League team four times in October, and I’m sure the fine people in the state of Nevada will happily take money from anyone who thinks the Tribe is worth taking a flyer on this season.  Kenny Lofton doesn’t even believe this was a playoff team last year; we haven’t received Kenny’s dissertation on the validity of the moon landing or the reality of the blaze on the Cuyahoga River, but stand by for any developments.  A lot of people do believe the 2013 Indians were a playoff team, but still remain hesitant to reveal any optimism about “Unfinished Business” when they consider what’s been subtracted from a team that needed to win 10 straight just to get on the dance floor.

 

The easiest way to address the questions about what constitutes a “playoff team” in this day and age, is just to follow the advice of Jake Taylor and “Win the whole fucking thing.”  Wouldn’t that force Lofton and fellow naysayer of the 1-game playoff teams, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo to admit the Indians made the playoffs, regardless of how they qualified?  I imagine we wouldn’t have any concern with splitting hairs over such nonsense if this team can make the 1948 Indians a little less relevant in the grand scheme, but the OIC factor leads me to believe there’s going to be some type of ridiculous string attached.

 

Had they managed to win one more game against Boston in 2007 and bested Colorado in a best-of-seven, how much do you want to bet that “they” wouldn’t let us enjoy it?  It would have been because of the bug game or because Schilling’s sock wasn’t bloody enough.  It would have been because the National League stunk or any other variety reason the wet blankets could discourage those who are “Happy In Cleveland” (#HappyInCLE).  For those who took a liking to Ohio State football circa 2002-2003, you have an intimate familiarity with the wet blankets not letting you have that title, and “they” will never let you have that one under any circumstances.

 

Here’s to 2014 and a title for our city to have and to hold, until we all grow old.

Two Things About 2014

They Have to Win Now

 

It’s not because they’re due, and it’s not because we’re so desperate for it to happen.  It’s not because the stars are aligned so perfectly, but I don’t think it would hurt if they did so, coincidentally.  It’s because the window is wide open at the moment.  This is the last year this group is going to be together, and while they don’t need to be great, they need to be good or they will cease to exist as a group made up of its current parts.  Mark Shapiro would never fire Terry Francona, but how long do you think Tito is going stick around if it turns to garbage?  At that point, doesn’t the Dolan family realize they’ve opened the checkbook and brought in the best personnel, on and off the field, and that this regime couldn’t make it work, then find themselves forced to do a thorough house-cleaning?

 

Photo credit: Cleveland.com

 

I think those are both difficult questions to ask, let alone answer, if you’re really asking them.  They were meant to be rhetorical, but Francona has too many miles on him to start from scratch the way Eric Wedge and Manny Acta had to.  Maybe Shapiro would tell Tito, ‘Thanks for the memories, but we want to go in a different direction,’ but I’m almost positive that Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, and Francona’s last day with the Indians will coincide.  That would be the logical conclusion, but that’s just me caught up in the mindset that things will end badly.  Of course, as was the case in Boston, things can end badly, even after they go incredibly well.

 

The manager is just one piece of the puzzle, albeit a large piece, and one piece that might raise some questions about how much of a role the Tigers change at the helm is going to affect this quest.  It comes down to who you can get on the field and what you can do with them.  Nick Swisher might have a few more 20-25 home run seasons in him, and we saw at least one season like that, though most would say he had a discouraging year in 2013.  My guess is that he’ll be better in 2014, but may be approaching the back nine of his career, so that’s a plus that opens the window of opportunity up in the present tense, but leaves you to wonder exactly how long it’s going to stay like that.

 

If Nick Swisher was the #1 free agent that Francona was able to help reign in to Cleveland, Michael Bourn was arguably #1a, but certainly no lower than #2.  Like the energetic  Swisher, Bourn’s first season at Carnegie and Ontario was probably more bust than boom.  Bourn is an above average outfielder (at the very least) and a good base-runner, but wasn’t very efficient stealing bases last year.  I might say he was adjusting to American League pitchers and catchers, but this might be a developing problem that I’ve chosen to ignore, because it starts unraveling this tight spool of thread that is this prediction.

 

Forgive me for blowing that off as a minor cog in this whole thing, and suggest that it gets better for Michael Bourn.  He’s going to have a better year at the plate and on the base paths; as good as I think the chemistry is with this roster, I think it took Bourn some time to adapt to the craziness.  I haven’t spent a lot of time with Bourn, but I just always got the vibe that the energy level wasn’t quite his cup of tea, but winning heals most wounds.  Believe it or not, this team won.  Yes, it was due in large part to a couple of part-timers, who used the Indians to audition for the real jobs that they began this year, but with the subtracted assets, we should also consider the subtracted liabilities.

 

As briefly as possible, I’d like to remind everyone that Chris Perez was a problem.  Forget his dealings with the United States Postal Service, we know that’s a tough crowd, and just look at what happened on the field and in the clubhouse.  It’s worth noting, when he had his stuff moving, he was fierce, but we’re left with too many memories of things either not going well or not going as well as the should have in the ninth inning of too many games last season.  If not for that, it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal that Chris refused to talk to the media because of Paul Hoynes and Sheldon Oecker, but his teammates had to speak to his mistakes.  In other words, he left hung them out to dry.

 

As far as shunning the beat is concerned, that’s pathetic.  Neither one of those veteran writers had any interest in unnecessarily smearing Perez, but they had to ask the right questions, and they also had to write the truth.  If Perez wanted a better truth, he should have helped write more uplifting coverage of himself, with a better performance on the field.  Maybe that’s unfair; my ERA would be in the high 40’s if you asked me to do what Perez did well part of the time.  Anyway, no hard feelings toward Perez, but a mutual parting of ways between the now-Dodger reliever and the Tribe seemed appropriate to the advancement of the best interest of both parties.

 

Because All Else is So Uncertain

 

We alluded to the departures of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who pretty much wrote the thesis on what to do in a walk year to get paid.  Maybe it’s real, and maybe Mickey Callaway is the Jesus of pitching coaches.  Either way, it speaks well to the way the Indians evaluate talent, going back to prospects for Jimenez deal in 2011 and even the low-risk deal they gave Kazmir a year ago, after he’d been out of Major League Baseball for a season, the Indians are got something out of these former top-of-the-rotation guys that they hadn’t been able to get from the likes of Jeremy Sowers or David Huff, a couple of their first-round picks.  Even those dismissed via that questionable deal at the time haven’t offered much of anything at the big league level yet, and the clock is starting to tick.

 

Of course, the clock is ticking for everyone.  The Indians have to be well aware of it, as they’ll likely head to Oakland with no new deals in place for Justin Masterson and Jason Kipnis, meaning this will be Masterson’s season with the Tribe, whether there’s a parade or not, and Kipnis could very well play himself out of the Dolan’s price range.  There’s a lot of Indians middle-infield talent in the minor league pipeline, but the timing may not coincide properly, so you could be looking at Jack Hannahan type of place-holder in Kipnis’s place, but that’s not an immediate concern in the next year or two, though locking him up would be wise, if affordable.  Affordable is something that Masterson, far and away the ace of this staff, if not a legitimate ace on a more universal plane, will not be.  Chances are, regardless of whatever was leaked from the negotiations, he probably wasn’t affordable during the talks this month.

 

I’m not sure Years 3 and 4 of Swisher and Bourn are necessarily in the budget if things don’t come together in 2014.  If you need precedent, see what happens to the Indians in 2006 and 2008 after some serious flirtation with success in prior years.  I could recap, but I would just make myself sad.  In fact, I’m probably making everyone sad in mentioning it.  I’m not saying they can’t win without those two, but Cleveland lacks the proper curb appeal to bring free agents of their caliber to town without some extenuating circumstances.  I have a hard time believing they’ll hit the lottery with another Terry Francona type as the skipper, but through my half-full glass, I see Sandy Alomar Jr. in a legitimate protégé-becomes-the-master scenario, a la Mike Matheny.

 

Still, it’s a stretch to say this isn’t as good as it gets.  Tomorrow is a giant question mark for Indians baseball, if they even continue to be the Indians or reside in Northeast Ohio for the long term.  Both issues are probably can of worms that we need not open in this particular space.

 

One World Champion

 

Photo credit: AP

I don’t know how everyone looks at Terry Francona, which is to say I don’t how anyone looks at the Tribe’s current manager and thinks any alternative would have been better.  I know, especially after the disaster that was Mike Holmgren in Berea, that fans had their reasons for being skeptical about Tito’s World Championship pedigree, but I think it’s been obvious that Francona has nothing in common with anyone that’s been associated with the expansion outfit the NFL awarded Cleveland in 1999.  I mean, Terry Francona is obviously not Bill Cowher, but the commonality ends there.

 

He’s helped this team build its core off the field, with his name alone, and also a lunch with some Columbus-types.  He’s put together an outstanding staff to carry out his mission, and never underestimate the value of a general’s ability to identify the best lieutenants.  On a side note, think about Mike Scioscia’s staff that included eventual Major League managers Bud Black, Ron Roenicke, and Joe Maddon.  Think about Alomar’s plan with Lou Marson, Carlos Santana, and a player whose success has opened the door for the season’s biggest subplot, Yan Gomes.  They traded an above-average reliever for the services of Gomes and utility infielder Mike Avilies, by far the best deal Chris Antonetti has to his name, considering Gomes was good enough to become the everyday catcher, giving them a little bit of Marson’s defense and a bat good enough to allow for Santana to shed the catcher’s gear, at least on a regular basis.

 

Look, it’s not like the man doesn’t come with his own question marks.  Considering his demise in Boston with a fun team and few rules, you have to wonder if his reliance on veteran leadership might back-fire.  How about his loyalty to certain veterans, which is a major sticking point for those of us who can’t justify Jason Giabmi’s spot on the roster for the sake of his clubhouse presence?  He insists these guys go hard every step of the way, which I question, but it proves they’ll eat lima beans if he asks them to eat lima beans.

 

Nick Swisher has a World Series ring, but Francona has two; I know it’s easy to dismiss the individual’s value on Goliath-like teams, but you can’t tell anyone that neither played a significant part in bringing home a winner, nine-digit payrolls or not.  When the speculation of the hire began, Ryan Isley wrote a good piece about how Francona’s past relationship with the powers-that-be would continue to be a crutch, and that had to be legitimate concern.  Call it shell-shock from the broken promises that came from the Holmgren Era, but I believe 2013 should have annihilated that concept, virtually upon arrival.

 

Winning it all with two different clubs is something that no active manager has done, now that Tony LaRussa has moved on, so it’s a tall order for Francona to get back there, but you would be foolish that anything short of that is the goal.  Bruce Bochy got the Padres there in 1998, before winning two recently with San Francisco.  Jim Leyland won one in the late-90s and has gotten Detroit there twice, but has chosen a life of smoking Pall Mall non-filters and yelling at small children over chasing another ring.  Francona’s quest for a third ring is a journey to some uncharted waters, but I’d consider it far from something that can’t be done.

 

Six Buzz Killington-isms

Detroit

 

At least we’re not Detroit, right?  To keep it on the diamond, we’ll forget about the Red Wings, Pistons, and the endless collection of championship trophies the Motor City has to their name in the winter sports.  For some balance, we’ll spare our friends in Michigan mention of their equally inept NFL franchise.  Here’s the thing, unless you remember 1984, is there much of a difference between the Indians and Tigers from a macro view?  Think about it; both had dominant runs and a couple of legitimate chances to win it all, only to come up short when you would have classified them as favorites.

 

That would matter if we were talking about history, not current events.  Currently, Detroit may have reached their peak, so let’s see if they find a plateau at the top or slide down the back side of the hill.  Numbers can be deceiving sometimes, but you really can take the Tigers’ dominance over the Tribe last season at face value.  They beat the Indians in every way imaginable; it was de-moralizing, and I’m saying that from the couch.  It took a couple of at-bats, but Miguel Cabrera went from looking positively lost against Danny Salazar to taking the Cleveland phenom and his team out of the win column with an opposite field home run.

 

Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez took their whacks at Indians pitching too, but the worst part was getting beat by the likes of Don Kelly and Alex Avila.  It never mattered; Detroit just had an answer for masterful pitching and an abundance of offense.  For the third year in a row, the Tigers refused to run away with the division, and the Indians stuck around a little bit longer than Manny Acta could ever motivate them to do, but one number is deceiving, the one game that separated first and second place in the American League Central Division.

 

Even Tito would tell you that Detroit shut it down in the regular season as soon as they had it locked up.  Kudos to the Indians for winning ten in a row to keep it interesting, but Leyland and his team had little interest in winning any of the games in the team’s final series in Miami to end the season.  They’ll have plenty of interest in feasting on the Indians and anyone else on the slate early, but the wins may not come so easy at Comerica this season.

 

Max Scherzer has two different color eyes and a Cy Young Award, which he’ll have plenty of time to shine on Opening Day since Brad Ausmus has decided Justin Verlander gets the ball.  In reality, he’s earned it, and the fact that the reigning Cy Young winner is deferring his Opening Day start suggests just how good the Tigers are at the top of the rotation.  Is there real depth there, considering Rick Smith decided it was time to gamble on Drew Smyly to replace Doug Fister, and you never know what type of Rick Porcello you’re going to get, no matter how well Anibal Sanchez pitches.

 

There’s no question there’s a “Spahn and Sain, and pray for rain” element to the pitching staff, but Detroit is built for a slug-fest.  Fortunately, you’re not going to see Ian Kinsler replace Fielder’s power, and you lose something in the batting order with Jose Iglesias replacing Jhonny Peralta.

 

That said, they’re still the best team on paper, and no one should expect them to lie down and die, but they are beatable.  The Tribe doesn’t stand a chance against this team on paper, but if they can get it done on the field more often than not, as they did in 2012, it could be the difference.  In any event, you wouldn’t bet your life against the team’s first Central Division title since 2007, even if you wouldn’t bet your life on it actually happening.

 

Kansas City

 

It would probably be borderline disrespectful to call the Central Division a two-horse race, and I’m not prepared to give the Royals any “nobody believes in us” motivation.  The Royals have arguably been better than the Tribe in recent years, and we’ve just been waiting for the young pitching to come up.  You might say Royals management jumped the cycle last year in offering Wil Myers for James Shields to be their ace, a short term solution.

 

You might say I’ve believed the hype, but I’ve been holding my breath for so long, waiting on this team to surge, that I’m ready to exhale.  The Royals are relevant, but there may not be much more they can do with Ned Yost.  But, just because I’d classify the Royals as more pretender than contender, that doesn’t mean the Indians can sleep on these guys, who are fully capable of playing spoilers.  However, if this team preaches “Unfinished Business” and then comes out lackadaisical against a lesser opponent, they don’t deserve to watch the World Series, let alone play in it.

 

The AL Beasts

 

While I don’t love having the eastern seaboard shoved down my throat by ESPN, I can’t deny that division in the east plays some of the best American League baseball there is.   Toronto has made a lot of noise, but I’m not sure they’ve really said anything.  The Orioles made a statement in 2012, but played themselves out of the October fun last September, so they cut the check this winter to give Buck Showalter a better crack at keeping up with the Joneses, or at least the Farrels and Maddons.

 

Speaking of cutting the check, the team that has the reputation for it no longer boasts the game’s highest payroll.  That shifted over to the left coast and belongs to the Dodgers, but the Yankees aren’t exactly on what you’d call a “fixed income”, though they are cutting back from money not being an object.  The next generation of Steinbrenner is a little more frugal and they haven’t demonstrated the baseball know-how, to boot.  Frankly, they aren’t the player they once were, but Tampa Bay has picked up the slack for that.

 

Indians fans learned all too well just what the Rays have brought to the table since dropping the “Devil” from their name.  If you throw out the attendance issues they have on Florida’s Gulf Coast, outside of Tampa-proper, Joe Maddon’s team is everything we want the Indians to be, a system full of homegrown assets netted by good drafting and selling high on young talent.  It’s probably worth mentioning that they’ve yet to win a title, but they’ve managed to stay consistent, despite noticeable roster turnover.  Someone that looks at the Indians and Rays in a vacuum would tell you the Rays “deserve” to get back to the Fall Classic more; the Indians can only overcome that by being better when the games are actually played.  That means beating Tampa head-to-head, something they were obviously unable to do it at home when it counted most; don’t think anyone on last year’s roster will soon forget that.

 

California, Here We Come

 

With Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields, the Tribe is done in Arizona, and on to California, they will play games that count, beginning Monday after a pair of exhibition games with the Padres at the University of San Diego.  The Friars will visit them at Progressive Field in a few weeks, but the Tribe won’t be playing any games at PETCO Park this summer.  They will return to the Golden State later in April to play the Angels and Giants, but after a three-game set at Dodger Stadium as we turn the calendar from June to July will be the last time the schedule dictates the Tribe goes California dreamin’ this year.

 

However, if October is in the cards for this team, and I obviously believe it is, you can be fairly sure that they will be going (going) back (back) to Cali (Cali).  The Padres figure to be better in the National League West this season, but I won’t waste anyone’s time entertaining a Padres-Indians World Series.  On the other hand, the Giants and Dodgers figure to merit a reasonable wager to win the National League West, and perhaps the entire National League.

 

Dodger Stadium and AT&T Park haven’t been too kind to the Sons of Geronimo, but Asdrubal Cabrera is the only one that remains from the team’s last trip to Chavez Ravine in 2008.  So, those inter-league games might be a solid preview for the World Series games the Tribe would have to play on the road.

 

Obviously, it’s putting the cart in front of the horse to talk about the World Series without talking about everything that stands in the way of it, especially in California, where it’s do or die time for Jerry DiPoto in Anaheim after shelling out the cash to give Scioscia a chance to bring Orange County its first World Series since 2002.  The Angels are another one of those teams that should be better, maybe even better than the Tribe, on paper, but have underachieved for one reason or another.  That’s going to fall on Scioscia, and likely DiPoto too, if they can’t get it done, whether that’s fair or not.

 

Back to the wet blankets for a moment, I can pinpoint the moment “they” would have used to take it all away from us, if they somehow would have made it happen in 2013.  How about that home run at home that would have given the A’s a chance to avoid the sweep last May?  Adam Rosales home run-turned-double off Chris Perez survived a replay challenge in a game the Indians won 4-3, instead of being prolonged had Rosales’ blast tied the game.  Considering the Indians had to win ten straight to make the post-season without having to play a 163rd or 164th regular season game, anyone has anything to say about a single game in a 162-game season actually has a leg to stand on.

 

As it turns out, Bob Melvin’s squad didn’t need that win anyway.  They won the West for the second straight year, despite what Texas was supposed to be, coming off consecutive American League pennants in 2010 and 2011.  Oakland’s problem during Billy Beane’s tenure in the front office has always been the challenge of winning a 5-game series, and it plagued them against last year, despite having the Tigers on the ropes, they lost in 5 game to Detroit in the American League Division Series.  While I have an enormous amount of respect for Boston, Tampa, and Detroit, it’s not out of line to suggest the American League’s two best teams might be showcased at O.co Coliseum in the season’s opening series.

 

The Ghosts of October’s Past

 

It’s that time of year that you’ll hear the term “chalk”, usually in reference to the most obvious picks on our NCAA Basketball brackets, but the term is universal, and in this context I’d say a St. Louis-Boston World Series re-match is possible, while certainly not inevitable.  Besides, Boston can’t be in the World Series if Cleveland is winning it.  But, both of these teams present themselves as a tough out.  You could say the Cardinals outplayed everyone on the Red Sox roster except for David Ortiz last year, but I’d consider it the Red Sox finding a way to win.

 

I could preach day and night about the emotional high the Red Sox rode all year after the Patriots Day Tragedy, but the bottom line is they were better than the Indians last year.  They were better than everyone.  I will say this though; Terry Francona will forever be connected to those Red Sox, but he won’t stand for having his former team dominating him year in and year out.  There’s nothing scientific to back that up, just speculation that a desire not to lose will result in wins and a championship.

 

If there’s any team I’d prefer the Indians avoid from the Senior Circuit, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals, the National League Champion in 2004, 2006, 2011, and 2013.  Since 1992, the Redbirds are undefeated in the World Series when they don’t play Boston.  They’re a classy organization that figures out how to win, even when they lose big money talent.

 

One thing is for sure, if the Indians encounter a team they can’t beat, they probably would strive to be like that team.  I know we would all enjoy some solid structure in all ranks of the organization.  However, none of it would serve as any type of consolation for not getting it done.

 

Luck

 

It plays a factor, no question.  Luck puts you on the right side of that bad call on May 8th.  Luck means quick healing for Michael Bourn, a level head on Nyjer Morgan in his understudy role, and for overwhelming Spring Training success to translate to regular season prowess for Justin Masterson and Michael Brantley.  It means motivated play in walk years for Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera, the aforementioned need for bounce-back years from Bourn and Swisher, Carlos Santana transitioning smoothly to third base defensively, minimal regression from Yan Gomes and Jason Kipnis after solid 2013 seasons, and good work from this bullpen full of new faces.

 

You never want to root for injury, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Max Scherzer and/or Justin Verlander spent some time on the Disabled List.  The same goes for any of the big bats in the American League Central Division, starting with Miguel Cabrera and Billy Butler.  We’re all excited for Danny Salazar, but it’s going to take some luck for him to survive the growing pains of not being quite so over-powering once opposing hitters get a few looks at him in person as the film on him builds up.

 

We want Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister to grow into their roles as regulars in the rotation.  Carlos Carrasco needs to keep his head on straight, and if not, Josh Tomlin will be thrown into the fire.  My high expectations for the team aside, the bar has to be set low for Tomlin who hasn’t pitched in a Major League in some time.  If Trevor Bauer can figure it out to be an effective spot starter at worst, or the second coming of 1997 Jaret Wright at best, we can be very happy in the cold as the floats travel down Euclid Avenue this November.

 

 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week.  In fact, this is going to be my last Sunday column on the site for a while.  More Than A Fan: Cleveland is in very capable hands with the other writers on the site.  Continue to enjoy their brilliance as they take you on the ride to glory with the Tribe while giving you the very best takes on the Cleveland Browns, Cavaliers, and Lake Erie Monsters.

 

Enjoy the time you have to kill between now and next weekend.  Thanks for reading and stay well.

 

 

 

 

Reflecting On 2013 Tigers And Theorizing Where To Go From Here

It’s been over for nearly two weeks.

dt.common.streams.StreamServerThe Detroit Tigers’ latest assault on that elusive fifth World Series title fell short last Sunday, as Shane Victorino’s Game 6 grand slam (which is still airborne) catapulted the Boston Red Sox into the World Series (which they are expected to win within the next two days). The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees made four in a row between 1998 and 2001. The Yankees won the World Series in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and were one win from another championship in 2001. The Tigers have won the pennant once out of these three appearances and won exactly zero games in the ensuing World Series. Pretty stark contrast.

Going so far as to call the 2013 season a “failure” appears at first glance to be a bit harsh, but consider that the organization’s brain trust has stated time and time again (especially over the past two seasons) that the goal of the Detroit Tigers is to win the World Series. They were very active at the trade deadline this season and last. They spent MORE THAN $500 MILLION DOLLARS to tie up three players: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Justin Verlander. The Tigers have had three good teams over the past three seasons, but they all had the same fatal flaw: a failure to score in the postseason. The Tigers averaged only 3.2 runs per game in the 2013 postseason, and have averaged 3.4 runs per game over the past three Octobers. The 2013 edition was extra-special because of their abysmal bullpen; the bullpen that cost Max Scherzer two wins in the ALCS and blew three wins for Detroit overall. The team appeared to be constructed well enough, yet there’s no championship. And when the franchise credo is “World Series or bust” and the franchise doesn’t win the World Series, then yeah, there’s a mildly compelling argument that 2013 was a failure, despite the third consecutive division title, despite the likely Cy Young Award for Scherzer, and despite the very strong possibility of another MVP award for Cabrera.

The Tigers’ latest postseason power outage cost them their manager, as Jim Leyland elected to step down after eight seasons on the job. As much vitriolic crap as Leyland frequently got from scores of angry Detroit fans, there’s no denying the impact he had on the club. When he arrived in 2006, the Tigers were irrelevant. They lost 119 games in 2003, their last winning season was 1993, and their last playoff appearance was in 1987. Since 2006, the Tigers have recorded the following: six winning seasons, four playoff appearances (three times as division champion), and two pennants. What that means: Jim Leyland is the second-best manager in Tigers history, right behind Sparky Anderson.

Now, regarding this team’s future. The way this writer sees it, there are two feasible routes the Tigers can go (no, neither of them involve hiring Dusty Baker and spending $250 million on Robinson Cano):

1) hire a younger manager from outside the organization (Brad Ausmus, Torey Lovullo, Tim Wallach), trade potential 2014 free agent Scherzer, and begin to utilize younger/unproven players on the major league roster (whether it be from the Scherzer trade or to fill voids left by the departures of free agents Joaquin Benoit, Omar Infante, and Jhonny Peralta). At the end of 2014, let Torii Hunter and Victor Martinez walk as free agents, and *consider* moving 2015 free agent Cabrera (unless he takes a discount), In other words, lay the miguel-cabrera-icon2foundation for a rebuild.

2) hire from within (Tommy Brookens, Jeff Jones, Lloyd McClendon), keep the band together (perhaps add an impact free agent because #MikeIlitchPizzaMoney), and give it another go in 2014. Extend Cabrera and/or Scherzer to keep a semblance of a championship window open for the next few years.

The rumors of the Tigers shopping Scherzer won’t go away, and with three guys making $20 million per year already on the payroll, general manager Dave Dombrowski may have to consider how to cut costs and get maximum value back for some of his assets. The Tigers’ farm system is one of the worst in baseball now, and it must be replenished eventually. Going route #1 would be disappointing to many fans, but no one really knows how much more 84 year-old owner Mike Ilitch can or will spend to rope in a title. And the current “win now” approach hasn’t paid all the dividends it was expected to.

MLB: Detroit Tigers-Prince Fielder Press Conference

Route #2 would appease hungry fans and likely keep the Tigers in that upper echelon in MLB. However, the farm system would still be in tatters and the Tigers would be paying at least $20 million per season to FOUR players for the next several years. Close to half the payroll would be tied up in two pitchers and two hitters, and at least three will be getting paid well into their late-30’s, unless a Marlins-esque salary dump occurs. This payroll constriction will be a problem in the years to come if the Tigers develop any top-flight prospects in the next year or so, or if secondary guys on the roster need a raise.

The Tigers are definitely a team to watch this offseason because of all the questions they have to answer. They’ve blown two golden opportunities to win a World Series for Mr. Ilitch and a rabid fanbase over the last two Octobers, and 2013 could very well prove to be the swan song for this era of Tigers baseball. Only time will tell.

Roll Tribe! The Time is Now!

What a great day at work it was today.  It has been a long time since I have been staring at my watch all day, just waiting for first pitch.  The Tribe did it, they pulled it off.  They made the playoffs.  They did what we asked them to do.  But now we want more.

We want more than just one home playoff game.  We want a series, we want Boston.  Then we want Detroit or Oakland.  That is the state of today’s sports fan, always wanting more.  We all want a dynasty.  We can admit how great the ride was this season, but now that we are here and we don’t want it to end.

If the season does end before raising the World Series trophy, there will no doubt be disappointment.  There is always a letdown if the season ends in a loss.  But after a couple days or maybe a few weeks, we will begin to reflect on what a great year it was.

We’ll worry about that later.  Today we are focused on one thing, beating Tampa Bay.  I would do anything to make it to the Jake tonight.  If I lived locally, there is no doubt that I would be there.  I took part in Game 1 in Baltimore last year.  What a scene it was.  A city starving for baseball success, thrilled to be a part of the postseason.  That will be Cleveland tonight.  That place is going to be out of control.

I hope the Tribe scores early and often (obviously).  An early lead will keep the stadium hyped all night.   The city has been starving for a winner for many years now; we deserve something to be excited for.  We have paid our dues, we have been patient.  We have taken the beating from other fan bases.  We have seen teams like San Francisco and St. Louis who were built the right way, from within with calculated trades to help the team win.  Great managers and General Managers who brought it all together.  That can be the Indians.

We are the hottest team in baseball right now; there is no reason to think that can’t continue.  A lot of fans left this team in August when things were tough and the offense wasn’t clicking.  Shame on you!  To those of us who stuck it through, the Tribe is getting ready to repay that loyalty.  It’s almost game time.  There is no way the Rays are coming in the C-Town and winning.  The Jake is going to be rocking and I for one cannot wait one more minute.  #RollTribe!!