Thursday, March 30, 2017

Masur's Musings: The Podcast. Season 2, Episode 1

Hey All,

In addition to blogging here, I'm also reviving my podcast, Masur's Musings (clever name huh?). It is available on iTunes, where you can subscribe to catch all the new episodes.  The podcast is also available at my website: www.andy-masur.com and I will try to get into the habit of posting it here at my blog as well.

This new episode features, Scott Miller who is the national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Scott has covered Major League Baseball for many years and has terrific insight into the game and teams.  He is also an avid music lover, especially Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  We discuss the division races and preview the 2017 season and talk music toward the end of our conversation.

Hope you enjoy the podcast and please subscribe at iTunes!

Andy




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Major League Baseball Preview 2017

These are the days I really miss doing baseball play-by-play.  The lead up to a brand new season, the hope, the dreams and the energy around a ball club and its fan base is palpable. Every team starts 0-0 and then it starts for real.

I usually don't make predictions, because the baseball season is so long and you can never account for injury, so consider the following information more of a preview than something to take to the bank. In other words, before a game is played, this is how I see things shaking out.  Use this information at your own risk, and for entertainment purposes only!!

I'll go division by division, then to the playoffs and then to the World Series...

National League Central (Projected order of finish) * = playoffs

1. Chicago Cubs *
2. St. Louis Cardinals *
3. Pittsburgh Pirates
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Cincinnati Reds


CUBS:
The outlook: The Cubs return one of the most potent lineups in all of baseball. They were in the top 5 in most offensive categories last season, and that was without Kyle Schwarber. Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant (NL MVP), Addison Russell and whoever plays 2B (Zobrist, Baez) is a pretty formidable offensive and defensive threat.  Albert Almora Jr will get the first crack at replacing last year's lead off man Dexter Fowler in CF.  Almora will be backed Jon Jay. Schwarber, Heyward and Zobrist will form the rest of the outfield.  The rotation returns it's top four pitchers: Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Brett Anderson will start in the rotation, with Mike Montgomery becoming a "swing" guy in the pen. The Cubs made it through 2016 relatively healthy and injuries are always a concern.  Jason Heyward. Will his new swing result in better production this season? Will Wade Davis remain a viable closer after he was acquired from Kansas City in the off season.

CARDINALS:
The outlook:  I'm sure it just killed Cardinals fans to see the Cubs hoist the World Series Trophy. How will they try to contend this season?  They added a Cubs weapon in Dexter Fowler in CF.  Fowler agreed to a free-agent deal to play in St Louis.  He'll be surrounded by Randall Grichuk in LF, and Stephen Piscotty in RF.  The Cardinals don't stack up offensively on the infield, with Jhonny Peralta at 3B, Aledmys Diaz at SS, Kolton Wong at 2B, and Matt Carpenter patrolling 1B. The Cardinals will lean on Yadier Molina not only to provide offense, but to guide the pitching staff through the season.  Health was a major issue for the rotation last season and before this one begins, the Cardinals will be without fastball specialist Alex Reyes, out for the season with an elbow injury.

PIRATES:
The outlook: The Pirates are switching things up in the outfield, moving Gregory Polanco to LF, Starling Marte to CF and former NL MVP Andrew McCutchen to right.  The move may have a wrench thrown in it, with Polanco suffering a shoulder injury.  The Pirates will also be without 3B Jung Ho Kang. He has been suspended and could be out until May 1. Josh Harrison may fill in there for the first month.  Garrett Cole anchors a rather inexperienced rotation, and Tony Watson will close for the Pirates in 2017.

BREWERS, REDS:
Milwaukee is a young team.  The only big name still on the roster is Ryan Braun and one has to wonder if he'll be with this team in June.   Cincinnati, will start former Cubs pitcher Scott Feldman on Opening Day, that tells you what you need to know about the state of the Reds rotation.  They still have Joey Votto and Billy Hamilton but not a whole lot else.

National League East (Projected order of finish) * = playoffs
1. Washington Nationals *
2. New York Mets
3. Miami Marlins
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Atlanta Braves


NATIONALS:
The outlook: Pitching, pitching and more pitching. That will be the Nationals calling card again this season.  Dusty Baker's rotation is loaded: Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Joe Ross could make life rough for the rest of the NL East. Add in Bryce Harper, Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy, and the Nats look like they could be poised to make a run to the playoffs. Jayson Werth will take over in LF, after the team acquired Adam Eaton from the White Sox in the off-season. Ryan Zimmerman is not the best defensive 1B in the league, but should provide his share of offense for Washington.  The Nationals are deciding between a few closers, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley and Blake Treinen will compete for that spot over the next few days of Spring Training.

METS:
The outlook: While pitching is the strong point of the Nationals, it could be that way for the Mets again this season, if and only if the starters can stay healthy.  Steven Matz is the latest to come down with an injury in Spring Training. Matz suffered an elbow injury putting the start of the season in jeopardy for the lefty.  Matt Harvey returns to the rotation, but may be skipped a start to build up his stamina. He's touched 96 in some games.  Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard round out the rotation.  The Mets were able to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes after a 31 homer season last year. Jeurys Familia will miss some time after being suspended for violating the MLB domestic violence policy. David Wright could return, but probably not until after May 1.

MARLINS:
The outlook: The Marlins had a very tough end to last season, losing pitching sensation Jose Fernandez to a tragic boating accident.  The Marlins rotation will suffer as a result.  Edinson Volquez was signed as a free-agent to anchor the staff, after that, it's a major question mark.  Miami will rely heavily on Giancarlo Stanton offensively, the main problem with the talented right fielder has been health. He has 91 homers of the last 3 seasons but has been limited to an average of 113 games/year over that period. Christian Yelich is also expected to be an offensive contributor, fresh off a great WBC run for Team USA, he hit 21 homers and drove in 98 for Miami last year.

PHILLIES, BRAVES:
Two young teams looking for an identity. The Braves do have a potential Rookie of the Year candidate in Dansby Swanson.  He has some big league experience from last season with Atlanta.

National League West (Projected order of finish) * = playoffs
1. Los Angeles Dodgers *
2. San Francisco Giants *
3. Arizona Diamondbacks
4. Colorado Rockies
5. San Diego Padres

DODGERS:
The outlook:  The Dodgers everyday lineup may be the best in the division.  Justin Turner, 3B, Corey Seager (Rookie of Year) SS, Adrian Gonzalez, 1B and added Logan Forsythe to play 2B. Yasmani Grandal is coming off a career year behind the plate and is getting better at handling the pitching staff. Outfield consists of Joc Pedersen, Andrew Toles, and Yasiel Puig. Which Puig will the Dodgers get this season? That is anyone's guess, but when he's right, he's really good. Clayton Kershaw will lead the rotation again, and be followed by Rich Hill, who re-signed in Los Angeles after being dealt there last season. Kenley Jansen is also back in the fold, and will close games again. Health will tell the story, especially in the rotation with Kershaw and Hill.

GIANTS:
The outlook: Have been the model of consistency over the last several years.  Their even numbered year championship streak ended, when they were eliminated from the postseason by the Cubs last year. Not sure their everyday lineup can contend with the Dodgers, not to offend Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Hunter Pence, but they can't.  The Giants can contend in the front end of the rotation with Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and a full season of Matt Moore.  San Francisco went out and got a closer in free agency, Mark Melancon will be the man at the back end of the pen. Derek Law will set up.

DIAMONDBACKS:
The outlook:  If any team needed a bounce back from a disappointing year, its Arizona.  Zack Greinke is one guy they are looking for a rebound year from, his big money contract looked like it would bust after one season.  Shelby Miller (who cost them Dansby Swanson) spent some time in the minors a season ago.  Fernando Rodney will be the Diamondback's closer this year. Paul Goldschmidt is the type of hitter that any team would be happy to have on its roster.  AJ Pollock was hurt most of last season, so a injury free year from him would be a welcomed addition.  New manager Torey Lovullo might be the new voice needed in Arizona.

ROCKIES, PADRES:
Colorado has a new manager as well, he's Buddy Black, who probably should still be in San Diego. Will Black be able to get a handle on the Rockies pitching staff which is young and pitches at altitude? If anyone can, its Black.  His former team, the Padres are a long way from contenting and feature a team made up of mainly inexperienced players.  Hey you have to start somewhere right?


American League Central (Projected order of finish) * = playoffs
1. Cleveland Indians *
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Kansas City Royals
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins

INDIANS:
The outlook: After getting to Game 7 of the World Series last year, only to lose to the Cubs, the Indians didn't lose much and added a key piece to the offense.  Edwin Encarnacion joins the club from the Blue Jays, after hitting 42 homers and driving in 127 runs last year. He will be the team's DH.  The infield is still strong, with Franciso Lindor at SS, Jason Kipnis at 2B and Carlos Santana at 1B.  Cleveland needed an offseason to get healthy. Left fielder Michael Brantley played only 11 games last year after a shoulder injury that required surgery.  The team is taking it slowly with him in Spring Training.  The rotation behind Corey Kluber is healthier as well. Carlos Carrasco was limited to 25 starts, and no appearances in the postseason.  Danny Salazar also made just 25 starts, but was able to make only 2 appearances in the playoffs.  Terry Francona is one of the game's best managers and should have the Indians in contention again.

TIGERS:
The outlook: Justin Verlander is getting a bit long in the tooth, but still was able to win 16 games last season for an 86 win team. Even with a more suspect rotation, the Tigers can contend based on offense. Miguel Cabrera comes in off a .316/.393/.563 slash line with 38 homers. He's 34, but still one of the best hitters in baseball. Victor Martinez will serve as the DH, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler should contribute offensively as well for Brad Ausmus' team. Francisco Rodriguez will be the Tigers closer this season.

ROYALS:
The outlook: The Royals are a team still trying to cope with the death of Yordano Ventura and will have a hard time replacing him in the rotation.  Danny Duffy is scheduled to open up, with Ian Kennedy and Jason Hammel to follow.  The pen lost Wade Davis to the Cubs for Jorge Soler and Greg Holland to free agency.  Kansas City still has Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas in the lineup. The latter is trying to bounce back from injury.  Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez will also be counted on to make offensive contributions.  Perez is one of the best catchers in the game, and will have his work cut out for him with this pitching staff. 

WHITE SOX, TWINS:
The White Sox rebuild is underway, gone are Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, sent packing for prospects. Jose Quintana could be next.  Manager Rick Renteria will get to manage some young players like he did in his one season for the Cubs.  The Twins are still the Twins. 

American League East (Projected order of finish) * = playoffs
1. Boston Red Sox *
2. Toronto Blue Jays *
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. New York Yankees
5. Tampa Bay Rays


RED SOX:
The outlook: Boston bolstered the starting rotation with the addition of Chris Sale from the White Sox.  Rick Porcello and David Price will provide a potent top 3.  Price should be ready to go despite some injury issues in Spring Training.  The Red Sox core group is young.  Mookie Betts is a serious MVP candidate and Andrew Benintendi is a legit Rookie of the Year prospect as well.  The rest of the lineup is pretty good too...Xander Bogaerts at SS, Dustin Pedroia at 2B, Mitch Moreland will play 1B, and Pablo Sandoval after a less than productive first year in Boston is slated to play 3B. Hanley Ramirez will DH and Jackie Bradley Jr will be in CF.  An underrated part of last year's success was that of Sandy Leon behind the plate, he's the #1 guy this season.  Craig Kimbrel will try to bounce back from a rough 2016 and close for the Red Sox.

BLUE JAYS:
The outlook: The Jays offense was second only to the Cubs in efficiency last season and produced a ton of home runs. Toronto lost Edwin Encarnacion and his 42 homers, but have Jose Bautista back in the fold.  The Jays added Kendrys Morales from Kansas City, and he could make up at least some of the numbers produced. Defensively, the left side of the infield is tough, former MVP Josh Donaldson at third and Troy Tulowitzki at SS will help the pitching staff.  Marcus Stroman anchors the rotation and appears to be in good shape after a nice run in the WBC for Team USA.  Marco Estrada, JA Happ and Francisco Liriano will help fill out the rotation for Toronto. 

ORIOLES:
The outlook:  Baltimore still has a young nucleus and it's a powerful one. Adam Jones, teamed with Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo should equal a bunch of runs for the Orioles. The team added former Cubs catcher Wellington Castillo to the fold to replace Matt Weiters (Nationals) behind the plate. Chris Tillman anchors the rotation and Zach Britton should be fresh (ha ha) and return as one of the best closers in baseball. 

YANKEES, RAYS:
New York could be a sleeper team in the division. Manager Joe Girardi will have some youngsters at his disposal this season.  Gary Sanchez made quite a splash at the Major League level last season and will get the chance to be the everyday catcher. Matt Holliday was added to DH, and Aroldis Chapman returns to close.   Tampa is a work in progress for sure, the Rays are basically Chris Archer and Evan Longoria. 

American League West (Projected order of finish) * = playoffs 
1. Houston Astros *
2. Texas Rangers *
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Los Angeles Angels
5. Oakland Athletics


ASTROS:
The outlook: Youthful exuberance all over the diamond in Houston...Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman contribute in the infield, while George Springer patrols CF.  Altuve is always an MVP candidate, and could contend for the batting title again. The Astros added Carlos Beltran to DH and Josh Reddick to play the outfield. The key will be pitching.  Dallas Keuchel a former Cy Young winner will need to bounce back from a tough season to regain his form. Lance McCullers, Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers round out the rotation.  Ken Giles is set to close again for the Astros. Luke Gregerson with or without the Bald Eagle carving along with Willie Harris will set up for manager AJ Hinch. 

RANGERS:
The outlook:  Texas has an everyday lineup that could contend with the Astros.  Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus are three quality hitters.  Texas added Mike Napoli to play 1B after spending last season in Cleveland.  Rangers will get a full season of Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gonzalez which will help both their offense and defense.  Cole Hamels is the number one starter, Yu Darvish is the number two starter and needs to remain healthy.  Rangers should be a wild card team. 

MARINERS:
The outlook: Everyday starting lineup not as good as the Astros or Rangers, but they do have some talented players.  Kyle Seager at third, Jean Segura at short and Robinson Cano playing 2B is a pretty good trio.  Dan Vogelbach the former Cubs minor leaguer who was turned into Mike Montgomery at the deadline last year, is slated to start at 1B.  Nelson Cruz provides a big bat at DH. Pitching will be a question mark after King Felix Hernandez. 

ANGELS, ATHLETICS:
Angels are getting old in some key spots including DH, with Albert Pujols.  Added Cameron Maybin to play LF beside Mike Trout in CF. Andrelton Simmons is an exciting young player at shortstop.  Luis Valbuena will play first.  Will Mike Scioscia be the first manager fired this year?   Athletics are just not very good. 


PLAYOFFS:
National League
Central:  Cubs
East: Nationals
West: Dodgers
Wildcards: Cardinals, Giants

NLCS: Cubs v. Nationals

American League 
Central: Indians
East: Red Sox
West: Astros
Wildcards: Rangers, Blue Jays

ALCS: Indians v. Red Sox

World Series:  Cubs v. Red Sox 

Winner: Cubs in 7 games

There's my take on things.  Can't wait for the season to finally get here!

Cheers!

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Good Ole Days Are Now For the Blackhawks

I can remember it as if it happened yesterday.  My dad bringing me to my first Chicago Blackhawks game.  It was 1971.  I was a wide eyed 4 year old going to see his favorite hockey team play in the most iconic old building in the NHL, the Chicago Stadium.  After careful review (using hockey-reference.com) I believe it was November 10, 1971, the Hawks were playing the Bruins, winding up in a 3-1 win for Chicago.  We sat first row, first balcony right behind the net the Hawks shot at twice in the game. Immediately I was hooked. My dad looked at me after the Hawks scored their first goal, (for purposes of writer's embellishment lets say it was Mikita to Hull to the back of the net) the organ blaring, sell-out crowd on its feet and the guys in the white home jerseys celebrating. I was in hockey heaven.
Bobby Hull
Courtesy: Chicago Tribune

It was a different time, the home games weren't on TV, I had to hope the NBC game of the week would show me a Blackhawks/Rangers game on a Sunday afternoon to get my fix. Plus I loved watching for Peter Puck, the cartoon hockey puck that taught your rules and things about the game. Being a self proclaimed "radio geek" I would listen to the games on a clock radio in my bedroom. Whatever station the Hawks happened to be on, whether it was "a shot and a goal" from the great Lloyd Pettit, or a "Baaaaaaaaaaaaaanerman!" from Pat Foley, I was tuned in.  Needed to hear how some of my favorites were doing.  Bobby Hull (who I actually invited to my birthday party as a kid), Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Al Secord, Troy Murray, Eddie Olczyk, Doug Wilson, Dirk Graham and Pit Martin, I loved them all.

I was lucky, my dad's company had season tickets, so we'd go to a few games a year.  It wasn't easy being a Blackhawks fan back then. I didn't think it could get any better. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Forget about everything that went on in the mid 90s and early 00s, it wound up being a means to an end.  Futility to finally flourish. Last place finishes, resulting in high draft choices and immediate impact players.  The passing of the team's owner and his forward thinking son taking over.  That new owner thinking back to those days of popularity, reaching out to strengthen his front office and marketing, and putting home games on television where they belonged, to regrow a fallen fan base. Hired a VP, GM who had tons of hockey pedigree and is versed at working around the stingy salary cap. Plus Rocky Wirtz made an effort to reach out to those stars of yesterday that felt alienated by the team.  Blackhawks ambassadors were welcomed back with open arms and helped bring some fans back as well. Brilliant.

As good as it was before, as many talented players that wore the Indian Head sweater, and as much as we loved Chicago Stadium, these in fact are "The Good Ole Days" for the Chicago Blackhawks. I hope you're paying attention and enjoying what this franchise is doing.

Think of how much tougher it is to win a Stanley Cup in today's NHL.  No longer are there only 6 teams.  No longer is it a quick run through the playoffs.  No longer do your favorite players stay in one spot for their entire careers. It's infinitely more difficult to win in today's NHL than in yesteryear.

The salary cap itself is a huge burden and hurdle to jump.  If you don't believe me, just remember what happened after the Blackhawks won their 1st of 3 recent Stanley Cup's.  Trades. There was significant roster upheaval and some uncertainty for 2011. But this organization once left for dead, won the Cup again 3 years later and oh, won it again 2 years later.

Chicago became a place free agents wanted to be. Playing with drafted stars, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane gave older players hope of reaching the top of the mountain in hockey.  This was in direct contrast to earlier days, when stars like Bobby Hull, Jeremy Roenick and Tony Amonte fled because they wouldn't get their fair market value to stay.  Or because they didn't feel there was a commitment to winning and sustaining the franchise.
Kane and Toews

No move showed that any clearer than the hiring of Joel Quenneville in the early stages of the 2008-09 season, after Savard was let go just 4 games into his 3rd season behind the bench. Quenneville had a track record.  In his 11 seasons before coming to the Hawks he'd already won over 400 games in the NHL. Coach Q had the "Chicago temperament" the steely eyed no nonsense coach that could get the most out of some budding superstars and take them to the next level.  That turned out to be a pretty good call.

How fortunate do you feel that you are able to watch/listen to what this team is accomplishing? The success of the franchise has led to now numerous appearances in outdoor games, and the 2017 NHL Draft coming to Chicago. Do you realize that players like Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are those "once in a lifetime" type of players?  Like faces on the Mt. Rushmore of recent vintage Blackhawks players.

NHL.com
I'm not sure that in the time I've been a Blackhawks fan, going on 40+ years, I've seen a forward like Toews.  He was named Captain at the age of 20 and earned the monicker of "Captain Serious" because of his determined play and less than flashy demeanor off ice. The way he plays both ends of the ice and refuses to lose is so fun to watch.  He truly has rubbed off on this team, with his quiet confidence and matter of fact play, even though he's a Winnipeg kid, he's Chicago's kind of player.

The Blackhawks clinched a playoff berth for the 9th straight season.  This "Original 6" is watching other teams try to duplicate their success, which is the ultimate compliment.

These in fact are the 'good ole days' of Blackhawks hockey.