Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fox Hits Home Run with All-Star Game Telecast/Cubs, Sox outlook

This one didn't count, but count the 2017 Baseball All-Star game among those that were very enjoyable to watch.   Fox was able to do things this year it couldn't in the past because the game counted.

In the past (since the 2002 tie in Milwaukee) the winning league took home field advantage in the World Series.  Ludicrous on so many levels. Enter new commissioner Rob Manfred and order was restored and the game went back to its original roots as an exhibition game. 

With so many young "faces of the game" on display, Fox was able to take us into their livelihoods while actually on the field.  Play-by-play man Joe Buck and analyst John Smoltz conducted interviews with Astros outfielder George Springer while he played left field and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper while he patrolled right in separate innings.  What followed was awesome. 

While interviewing Springer, normally a centerfielder for the Astros, the crew asked him about the difference between CF and LF.  Then with Giancarlo Stanton at the plate Buck deadpanned, "You better back up," to Springer who followed with “That’s my plan."  Buck then asked Springer if he gets amped up when a power hitter comes up to bat, "Yeah, and I'm about 200, 300 feet away." 

The Harper interview was even better.  Harper has been portrayed by some as a "spoiled brat" type player, but he embraced the time and showed well for himself.  He had a fun time with the "imposition" during the game.  Buck said something to the effect of "I'll bet you're good at multi-tasking", then the conversation shifted from baseball to the NFL.  Of course Buck is the lead voice of the NFL on Fox, so Harper said he felt like he was "commentating on the NFL Network" and shifted the talk to his team, the Dallas Cowboys.  "Hey Joe how's Dak (Prescott) going to be this year?", Buck then waxed poetic on the Cowboys quarterback and team. A pretty cool moment during a baseball game.
Bryce Harper interviewed on Fox in game (Courtesy Fox Sports)

Getting into this decade, the folks at Fox with MLB's blessing took to Facebook Live for an inning. Buck and Smoltz were on camera in the booth during the 5th inning.  Not sure if the casual fan enjoyed the look in, but I found it very interesting as a veteran of MLB booths.  The announce team was informed by their associate in the booth that after the inning they would be on camera on Fox.  Smoltz asked if they needed to wear their sport coats, and I think Buck said he 'had to" because his tie was so short. 

Fox tried to force a couple of things that maybe they should re-think for next year.  The interviews with the lead-off hitters for each team, Charlie Blackmon for the NL and Jose Altuve for the AL were uninformative and just not worth the effort to me.  Also the whole A-Rod on the field interviewing the National League infield seemed forced and didn't give me much.
Rodriguez interviews Arenado
(Courtesy Fox Sports)

There was a strange moment in the game.  Nelson Cruz came to the plate and took out his cellphone and asked National League catcher Yadier Molina to take a picture of the Mariners DH and home plate umpire Joe West.  Why? Because he could, "(MLB) didn't say I can't have a cell phone on the field so," Cruz said on Fox. "I'm a big fan of Joe West. He's been around for a while. I was like, I have to do this." West wouldn't have been my first choice for a photo op but oh well.
Cruz and West pose for picture in 6th inning (Courtesy Fox Sports)

Speaking of West, he had to be going out of his mind during this game.  The "inning breaks" seemed like they were double what a normal MLB game would be.  West has notoriously been a vocal critic of how long games take, yet he does nothing about it when umpiring a game.  Hmm.

Other quick thoughts about the game:
- What the heck was Yadier Molina thinking? I agree with Buck, it looked like he ripped off C3PO before the game.
Yadier Molina (Courtesy USA Today)

- The tribute to the Latin Hall of Fame baseball players was very cool.

- Is it me, or does Fox always seem to have too much "crowd noise" when doing interviews? Was very hard to hear some of the in game interviews handled from the booth.

- Glad to see that Commissioner Manfred is not opposed to bringing the game into this century and agreed to all the things Fox wanted to do and made sure this game was an exhibition as intended.

Why are the ratings so poor for the All-Star Game?
Ratings were a little better than last year's telecast but not by a whole lot.  Baseball has really harmed itself in the All-Star game ratings game and popularity.  What I mean by that is with the advent of Inter-league Play it's no longer a "novelty" to see teams from the opposite league in which you root for. Accessibility has also hurt the popularity of the game. It's not over saturation, but now you can subscribe to "Extra innings" or "" and see pretty much every game played in a baseball season.  That wasn't the case obviously when the All-Star game was a highly rated, must watch option.

Cubs/White Sox 2nd half outlook
It's been a strange first half for the Chicago baseball teams this year.  The Cubs have not been able to put anything together consistently and find themselves 5 and a half games back in the awful NL Central Division at the break.  The White Sox have an awful record, but the rebuild is continuing with some flashes of hope for the future.

For those that thought this year would be a "cake walk", you're finding out how wrong you were now. Last season was magical, this has been, well interesting.  The Cubs haven't won back-to-back games since winning 3 in a row June 18-20 at Wrigley Field.  The combination of a lack of starting pitching and consistent offense has spelled doom over the course of the first half.

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle here and the law of averages would tell you that things will brighten a bit in the 2nd half especially for the starters with the return of Kyle Hendricks.  For me, I'd like to see Joe Maddon figure out a way to let the young players like Ian Happ, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Javier Baez more regular playing time.  The platoon system with Baez and Russell isn't working.  Albert Almora Jr also needs to play a lot more than he is.

Cubs will make a deadline deal to try and acquire a controllable starting pitcher, the price will likely be Schwarber.

Stay the course.  Things are going well with the rebuild. Fans are getting a chance to see the future of the club and it looks good.  Yoan Moncada hasn't even been up yet and there's some good arms in the farm system that will be along sooner rather than later.   38-49 sounds bad and it is, but in this case, the intensity the team plays with and the never surrender attitude instilled by Ricky Renteria makes it easier to take.

The Sox youngsters are being given the chance to succeed and fail at the big league level, both are critically important for their development as they move along.   Matt Davidson is showing power, Yolmer Sanchez is playing 2B well and providing some offense, and Carlos Rodon has looked better each time out after starting the year on the disabled list.

Next for the Sox is making a good deal for Jose Quintana.  He may wind up with the Astros after all is said and done and would bring back a nice bounty of young talent. 

Andy Masur is a veteran MLB play-by-play announcer, having worked with the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs broadcast teams. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

MLB Power Rankings April 30, 2017

Week four’s power rankings have the first change of the season at the top spot.   Washington takes over after a good week, while the Cubs slip to #2 for the first time. Cubs still among the elite but the Nationals great week can’t be over looked.  Here’s the rest of the field…

1.  Washington Nationals                 LW      4
There’s a new number one this week.  The Nationals scored 23 runs Sunday, with Anthony Rendon driving in 10.  Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper are staying hot for DC. 

2.  Chicago Cubs                                LW      1
Still leading Central Division, still a top tier team and finding more consistency with offense.  Starting staff not going deep into games yet.

3.   Houston Astros                            LW      3
Dallas is flourishing in Houston…Keuchel giving Astros flashbacks of Cy Young season in 2015.

4.   Colorado Rockies                         LW      5
Fun times in the Mile High City…Rockies getting the pitching under Bud Black. Nolan Arenado hitting, Reynolds hitting, Desmond now back from injury.

5.  Baltimore Orioles                         LW      2
Ends Arpil in 1st place tie with Yankees after extra inning win Sunday.  Still have one of the best power lineups in the American League.

6.  New York Yankees                       LW      6
Aaron Judge making everyone rise with 10 HR’s in April…Joe Girardi getting the most out of a young lineup.
99 - Aaron Judge - NYY

7. Cleveland Indians                         LW      7
Happy to have Michael Brantley back from injury…has 5 home runs in first month of the season.  Francsico Lindor has 7 homers in April.

8.  Boston Red Sox                             LW      10
Hanley Ramirez heating up for Boston…Benintendi continuing to thrive as rookie in this lineup. 

9.   Arizona Diamondbacks               LW      9
Shelby Miller shut down for season and will undergo Tommy John surgery.  Jake Lamb with a monster home run for D-Backs.

10.   Los Angeles Dodgers                LW      12
Starting to put it back together…Dodgers end April on a four game winning streak.  Have series v. struggling Giants coming up…

11.  Miami Marlins                            LW      11
Marlins hanging around, but already 5 games back of red hot Nationals.  Ended April one game under .500.

12.   Chicago White Sox                    LW      23
One of the surprise teams of the first month.  Rebuild going well to this point.  Sox finish April 3 games over .500.

13.   Milwaukee Brewers                  LW      14
Riding hot bat of Eric Thames…to .500 after 1st month of regular season…

14.  St Louis Cardinals                      LW      19
Bouncing back from early struggles…still have bullpen issues…at 12-12 right now…

15.  Los Angeles Angels                    LW      25
Starters giving Angels a chance…team is a game over 500 after first month of season…

16.    Minnesota Twins                     LW      24
Phil Hughes has 4 wins…Miguel Sano continues to rake for the 12-11 Twins…

17.   Detroit Tigers                            LW      8
Hoping to get Miguel Cabrera and Jacoby Jones back soon…

18.   Cincinnati Reds                         LW      17
After early season success…the Reds have come back to Earth a bit...

19.  Pittsburgh Pirates                       LW      13
Scuffling a bit since Marte suspension…

20.  Tampa Bay Rays                        LW      21
Chris Archer gives the Rays a chance every 5th day…only 2 games under 500…

21.  Texas Rangers                            LW      15
Still trying to find some offense…on a consistent basis…

22.  Oakland A’s                                LW      22
Having issues scoring runs…ran into hot Dallas Keuchel Sunday.

23.  Philadelphia Phillies                  LW      16
Have dropped 3 in a row, to fall under 500 by one game..

24.   New York Mets                        LW      18
Injuries are absolutely killing the Metropolitans.   Syndergaard leaves start Sunday, Cespedes and others out of action for New York. 
Noah Syndergaard

25.  Atlanta Braves                          LW      29
Freddie Freeman is worth the price of admission…

26.  San Diego Padres                      LW      27
Wil Myers doing it all for 4th place San Diego…

27.   Seattle Mariners                        LW      26
First month did not treat Mariners well…end up 11-15…

28.   San Francisco Giants                 LW      20
No Bumgarner equaling no wins recently for struggling San Francisco…

29.   Toronto Blue Jays                      LW      30
.320 win percentage for a playoff team…not sitting well in Toronto…

30.   Kansas City Royals                    LW      28

2015 World Series champs falling on hard times…7 wins in April.    

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Day Rick Monday Saved the American Flag

It was a normal Sunday afternoon of baseball on the West Coast.  The Cubs were playing the Dodgers in a day game at Dodger Stadium on a sunny April 25, 1976.  Rick Monday was playing centerfield for the Cubs, when he noticed two protesters kneeling down, with an American Flag on the ground.
Associated Press Photo
Associated Press Photo
He wasn't sure what to make of it, but knew he had to do something about it.  This is an excerpt from an interview I did with Monday, know in his 24th season behind the microphone for the Dodgers about the incident in Los Angeles...

Yes that is a young Vin Scully on the play-by-play, describing the two protesters and the heroics of Monday. Ironically until this year, Monday and Scully shared the microphone on Dodgers broadcasts.

Monday was presented with the flag in a ceremony at Wrigley Field by Dodgers executive Al Campanis later in 1976. The flag hung in his home for a while, but after some hurricane damage to his property, Monday put it in a safety deposit box. Monday was traded by the Cubs the following offseason after hitting a career best 32 home runs. He was dealt for Bill Buckner and Ivan DeJesus.
Baseball Hall of Fame photo

He was always one of my favorite Cubs and have had the pleasure of getting to know him when I was with the Padres. Monday wore #7 and had that unique way of taking practice swings, with the barrel of the bat pointed right at the pitcher.

One thing you may not know about him, he was the very first player ever selected in Baseball's Amateur Draft. Monday was selected #1 out of Arizona State by the Kansas City Athletics. Rick Monday saved the flag and became an American Hero.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

MLB Power Rankings April 23, 2017

After 3 weeks of the Major League Baseball season and what have we learned?  We know that the Cubs are starting to hit the ball with regularity.  We still think the Rockies, Orioles and Yankees are for real. The Astros are staying hot, and we aren’t only talking about Houston in the summer. Washington is heating up too, and it has nothing to do with politics. Here’s this week’s power rankings, enjoy!

1  1.     Chicago Cubs                                                 LW:     1
         The Cubs bats are warming up and getting more consistent. Had several come from behind wins    last week, and the pen is righting its ship. Still the best team in the majors.

2  2.     Baltimore Orioles                                          LW:     4
A 4-2 week and two series wins for the Birds who stay on top of the AL East. Doing it with Manny Machado hitting only .206.  Dylan Bundy has a 1.37 ERA.

3  3.     Houston Astros                                              LW:     2
Astros went 5-2 last week and remain affixed atop the AL West.  Jose Altuve is doing his thing, hitting .324, while Dallas Keuchel is healthy (3-0, 0.96).

4  4.     Washington Nationals                                  LW:     3
Nationals have won 6 in a row. The middle of the order is hot too, B. Harper has 7 homers, R. Zimmerman has 5.  Shawn Kelley has 3 saves as new closer.

5  5.     Colorado Rockies                                           LW:     6
Fresh off a sweep of the Giants, the Rockies are still in 1st place in the NL West.  Nolan Arenado continues to rake and Mark Reynolds has 5 HR’s.

6  6.     New York Yankees                                        LW:     7
Joe Girardi has his young guys playing well and the Yanks are only 1.5 games behind the Orioles in the AL East.  Aaron Judge is a freak show at the plate.
Joe Girardi

    7.     Cleveland Indians                                         LW:     8
A 5-1 week has the Tribe back in a first place tie with Detroit.  Cleveland swept Minnesota and took 2 of three against the White Sox.

    8.     Detroit Tigers                                                LW:     12
Staying in first place without Miguel Cabrera who’s on the DL with a groin strain.  Tigers are getting help from some minor league call-ups these days.

    9.     Arizona Diamondbacks                                 LW:     11
Knocking on door of 1st place, while Goldschmidt slumps and now Shelby Miller leaves a game early. Yasmani Tomas had a 2 HR game v. LA.

   10.    Boston Red Sox                                              LW:     10
Rookie Benenintendi has 5-for-5 game.  Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez help Boston to a win at Baltimore.

1  11. Miami Marlins                                               LW:     13
The power has been turned on, though it was against SD. Stanton with 2 more HR.  Miami is only 2.5 back of Nationals.

1  12. Los Angeles Dodgers                                     LW:     5
Rough times for the Dodgers, with Rich Hill being bothered by blisters. Joc Pederson left a game with groin tightness.  Kenta Maeda struggling too.

1  13. Pittsburgh Pirates                                         LW:     14
Big blow suffered with the suspension of Starling Marte. Polanco and McCutchen try to hold outfield together.
Starling Marte (Sports Illustrated)

1  14. Milwaukee Brewers                                      LW:     24
Brewers may have found diamond in the rough with hot hitting Eric Thames and catcher Jett Bandy.  Love that name.

1  15. Texas Rangers                                               LW:     22
Rangers sweep Royals with help from Yu Darvish. Rangers have won 4 in a row and are only 4 games out of first.

1  16. Philadelphia Phillies                                     LW:     25
Coming off sweep of the Braves, the Phillies are at .500 for the season.  2B Cesar Hernandez is rolling, has 4 homers and 10 RBI over his last 19 games.

1  17. Cincinnati Reds                                             LW:     19
Reds are hanging around with the Cubs, and avoided a sweep with a win today. Bronson Arroyo pitched like it was 2004.

1  18. New York Mets                                              LW:     9
Fallen below .500 with tough stretch of 7 losses in 8 games.  Bruce and Cespedes lead with 6 HR’s. 

1  19. St Louis Cardinals                                         LW:     30
Moved up after falling to #30 last week. Fattened up against the Brewers this week, getting some good pitching from Mike Leake and Adam Wainwright.

2  20. San Francisco Giants                                     LW:     16
Giants are hurting, losing Madison Bumgarner for an extended time will not help them in the NL West. Shut out by the Rockies Sunday.
Madison Bumgarner
(SF Gate)

   21. Tampa Bay Rays                                            LW:     21
Swept Tigers mid week, but lost two of three to the Astros.

   22. Oakland A’s                                                    LW:     27
2nd place team in the AL West, but 3 games back and losing 5 of last 10 games.

   23. Chicago White Sox                                        LW:     18
Bats warmed up in finale against the Indians. Derek Holland throwing well for the Sox.

2  24. Minnesota Twins                                           LW:     15
Lost two in a row and have dropped 7 of their last 10 games.

2  25. Los Angeles Angels                                        LW:     26
Angels having a tough time of late, losing 8 of their last 10 games.

2  26. Seattle Mariners                                            LW:     23
Team struggling away from Safeco Field, only 2-9 on the road. Start series at Detroit this week.

2  27. San Diego Padres                                          LW:     29
2 straight losses, and 7 of the last 10 have been dropped by the Padres. Already 5.5 games out of first.

2  28. Kansas City Royals                                        LW:     17
Lost four straight games.

2  29. Atlanta Braves                                               LW:     20
After winning first four games in new home, lost the last 3 there, and 6 straight overall.

3  30. Toronto Blue Jays                                          LW:     28
Jays continue to scuffle in last place in AL East, already 7.5 out of 1st.