Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My Baseball Year

Beware, this blog entry may contain some serious spazzing out due to serious angst. Please be aware that most of it was written whilst under the influence of heavy sedatives due to various sports injuries and any responsibility for the content of this article is down to the pixies in my head.

I know it’s a little early to be writing some kind of memorandum on the year but I have been really slack on my entries of late so I feel like I owe some kind of explanation to the one or two people who still read this blog.

Its been a funny time. My first year playing in Richmond has been a real mixed bag with steady glove work (at least I think so) except for one foray at short on one of the many days when the side has been let down by guys not showing up. Its generally been a nightmare at the plate and I’m sure going into the season having mysteriously lost a stone didn’t help.

Thank God I’m still running the bases well and my Ty Cobb homerun (a single and then three steals) against Bournemouth was probably the highlight of my year but a gruelling schedule has taken its toll. All our home games were in the first half of the season and all our road games were in the second with only nine or ten players and me carrying my usual plethora of injuries (right knee won‘t bend, right ankle is the size of a softball, the left knee is always sore, the left shoulder has just died). All in all my usual enthusiastic psyche has taken a hit and I barely said a word to the oppositions third base coach last weekend (believe me, that’s a rarity as I talk to everyone down there).

I suppose I should have seen this coming. Life as a baseball fan in Britain has really gone downhill for me since the heady days of a few years back. In fact its never been the same since ‘The Ghetto’ closed (MSN’s baseball chat room). Back then there were endless barnies and general irreverence to be had with baseball fans of all nationalities and ages. Things could get irrational, violent and sometimes just silly and from time to time it would be truly enlightening and fascinating like the time someone came up with the truly original answer to the question of the second best first baseman of all time as Stan Musial).

Thanks to changes of job and a life of odd hours and general running around, I’ve managed to lose track of the Hatr’s (AKA Soxy) and Metzy’s of this world but at least I had the Five forums and, subsequently, the Baseballfan site. Alas, the more and more people have gotten involved in that, the more the opportunity for the masses to brainwash the few. Now the forums are full of likeminded people who agree on everything and the only time an argument or loosely based debate, is allowed to take place is when the Yankee and BoSox fans take over and do the whole ‘my team is better than yours’ type frivolities. At least the Five forums.

I used to love the endless debates and rhetoric of baseball banter but we are descending into a world of white noise furore about nothing.

Even the fantasy leagues are becoming a chore including the league that I’m the commish of. I tried to do something a tad different and it all ended up with people bitching about how it wasn’t the same old thing (I’m paraphrasing of course). I set up this site and called it ‘Spurious Baseball’ which tells you all you need to know about my feelings on toeing the line and maintaining status quo.

Scott Podsednik should have been AL MVP last year but no one would seriously contend my point of view because it was so obvious it should have been A-Rod or Ortiz because that’s what everyone else said it should be…oh and it also lands ourselves back into the comfy world of BoSox and Yankees which of course is what’s really important.

So I write this as a bit of a fed up baseball fan (I still consider myself a baseball nut) but I’m forced to ask why I bother nowadays? I’ve been involved in practically every attempt anyone’s ever had to start a British baseball fanzine and have willingly put up with the megalomaniacs who start them up. I always wrote things I believed in and I always conceded that I wasn’t always rational and certainly wasn’t always right and whenever possible I tried to be contentious, not take things for granted and try to have fun with it (I am most proud of my piece about Rick Ankiel for Strike UK, even if the guy whose site it was wrote a condescending and unnecessary intro to it).

So what is there in this environment for me? I’m the sort of person who will wear a black hat if everyone else is wearing white and I’m dismissed because I try to do things differently and no one seems willing to fight as a true fan of the game rather than just a fan of team.

We exist in a world that wants to know it’s right rather than looking away from black and white and seeing the multi-tonal grey area in between where it has nothing to do with right and wrong. Perception and interpretation are wonderful things to mess around with and if no one wants to challenge what most people take for granted then irrational nutcases like myself can’t help to find new truths or determine that the old ones were right all along. At least all angles would be covered and we might have some fun along the way and above all else this is supposed to be fun. That’s why they call it a game. Can’t we play again? It could be fun. It could be interesting. It could be grey. It could be just about anything.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Down The Stretch : NL

Its taken me a while to post this but here are my thoughts on who the movers and shakers in the NL are.


New York Mets

Well, I doubt anyone thinks they won't make the playoffs or win the East. The line-up has been superb with Jose Reyes looking the business at the top of the order, David Wright coming of age and my pick for NL MVP, Carlos Beltran, just looking like the most complete player in the game, but then we knew that anyway.

The problem for the Mets have almost come out of nowhere and its the rotation where Pedro has suddenly taken his customary sabatical to the DL and Tom Glavine's season (and career) looking under threat with a possible blood clot in his pitching arm.

The pen looks solid but would you be happy going into the playoffs with Steve Trachsel as your ace? If Pedro and Glavine are good for the playoffs then this lot are a good bet to go to the Series but without them they could get consumed by the likes of LA and St Lou.

Philadelphia Phillies

The line-up is still great, even without Abreu, and you can be sure Ryan Howard will get the odd vote on MVP ballots but the pitching is still Brett 'the wife beater' Myers and a bunch of guys held together by old chewing gum and damp twigs. It says a lot about the depth of the NL this year that this team is playing to the form of a .500 team but could still make the playoffs.

The Rest

Even the great John Schuerholtz and Bobby Cox have been able to keep the Braves in the race this year. The pen has been awful most of the year but has improved with Wickman and Baez coming in but even they can't help the rotation which has been Smoltz and a bunch of so-so guys. Chuck James has been ok in his rookie year but how disappointed am I in Tim Hudson? A 4.77 ERA is not good enough for a player of his ability.

Joe Girardi should easily be the NL manager of the year after his efforts with the best AAA club in the country. Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez look like being a very productive middle infield for years to come and both will be in voters minds for Rookie of the Year and what does it say about Scott Olsen, Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson that they've been able to keep the Fish close to .500 in their rookie seasons with Dontrelle Willis having a down year?

Poor Frank Robinson has had a tough year in Washington with almost all his set-up guys in the pen injured most of the year. With even a few of the likes of Ayala and Eischen available things might have been different and lets not even talk about John Patterson and how his absense has effected the rotation.

Alfonso Soriano has had an amazing year and if he were A-Rod he might have a chance at winning the MVP this year (wink wink) but Ryan Zimmerman was my pick for the RoY before the year started and he still gets my nod now. He's up there in most offensive catergories amongst rookies and there are few players who can compare to him defensively at third base. If it weren't for Scott Rolen, Zimmerman would be a lock to win Gold Gloves for the next decade.


St Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols was on pace to shatter every record in the book until he got injured and while he was on the DL no one could claw the Cards back so its hard to see anyone doing that now. There are still issues with regards to the rotation with only Carpenter really showing anything. Anthony Reyes is doing well but they need their veterans to start producing.

Trust me, the pen is getting better after a horrible start to the year for Izzy.

Cincinatti Reds

Props to rookie GM Wayne Krivsky who has found himself inexplicably at the front of the Wild Card race and has made a whole bunch of great pick ups to boost the bullpen and hasn't really given up much (lets face it, they didn't have much to give away anyway). And as for picking up Brandon Phillips...

Even with Bronson Arroyo coming back down to Earth, he and Harang look a very good one-two punch in the rotation and you know exactly what you're going to get with Junior and Dunn in your line-up. This team could well have more surprises in them.

The Rest

Yes, I am writing off Houston. Yes, even with Jason Hirsh joining an already great rotation and the addition of Aubrey Huff and the red hot Luke Scott and the incredible mediocrity in the Wild Card race. I just don't see who is going to step up and be the guy who takes them to the next level.

The Brewers still seem to have the guys to actually make the push and finally being able to call on Ben Sheets every fifth day should help (once he gets into the swing of things) but with Weeks done for the year and J.J. Hardy on the DL it takes much of the dynamic of the line-up and they probably have too much to do.

Hey everyone, guess what? Thats right Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have been injured most of the year and Juan Pierre has been a disappointment and the Cubs are nowhere me once again!! Who'd have seen that coming?

The Pirates pitching hasn't been that bad this year with Zach Duke and Ian Snell doing well and Paul Maholm rebounding from a truly wretched start to the year and its a shame that the D has been very bad and even Jason Bay hasn't been able to kick start an anaemic offence.


Los Angeles Dodgers

I thought this team were a year away but right now they are my favourites to go all the way to the Series in the NL.

The depth is incredible with the vast array of strong veterans and talented youngsters throughout and even Nomar and J.D. Drew actually healthy. Andre Ethier is a good shout as RoY and I've said for a couple of years that Russell Martin is the future of this organisation.

What a pick up Greg Maddux is looking too. You know he'll be of tremendous benefit to Chad Billingsley.

The only possible weakness could be the bullpen which has suffered some injuries to key guys but thats not to say they aren't a solid group.

Arizona Diamondbacks

There is no more compelling team in baseball right now for me than Arizona as they have set loose a whole bunch of their blue chippers. Carlos Quentin has FINALLY got the call up and along with Stephen Drew and Alberto Callapso who could be THE double play combo in the NL for a while (I apologise for liberal use of capital letters).

Alas I don't think they will make the playoffs with Brandon Webb a good bet right now for the NL Cy and he's all alone, more or less, in that pitching staff. Livan Hernandez seems to be looking more like himself of late but the bullpen is less than inspiring.

San Diego Padres

What has happened to Jake Peavy this year? He and his chums in the rotation have looked very average this year, even with the Petco effect in place. Of course Linebrink and Hoffman continue to nail it down in the pen but you'd expect more from the front end of that staff.

Offence? We no need no stinking offence. Of course Mike Piazza has had a bit of a renaisance offensively and Josh Barfield has really added a spark but they are never going to light it up with half the games in that cavernous park of theirs.

Colorado Rockies

At the beginning of the year I said there was a lot of pitching talent on this team but because of the Coors effect it would all come to nought. Right now Colorado has given up fewer earned runs than any team in the NL and even with sub-.500 records, both Jeff Francis and Jason Jennings deserve Cy Young considerations for what they've done in that uniform as they both have ERA's easily under 4.00. Now if only they could get some consistent offence...

San Francisco Giants

The defence and pitching has been solid but the only reason you can really say they are still in contention is because you never can tell if Barry Bonds will explode or not. Admittedly he looks a shadow of his former self this year and has a whole lotta stuff hanging over him off the field but he's still one of the few guys who can win games by himself. Right now there are plenty better teams than San Francisco.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Graphics, Pages, and Contact Form!

... just in case any of you notice any missing graphics, etc. Some of the extra pages and logos, etc, from the blog have been moved to a new server, so if you spot anything missing that should be here, please let us know ..... i aint perfect after all :)

Also, thanks to my hosting service, there have been problems with the contact form too, so if you have been trying to get us, please try again ... it was a problem beyond our control, and we would love to hear from anyone out there who wishes to comment or get involved with the blog

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Down the Stretch : The AL

Well, we’re heading into crunch time so now seems like a good time to see who’s ready to make the move.

AL East

Boston Red Sox

Boston didn’t really make any big moves at the deadline but sit in pole position in the east.

The duo of Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett have stayed healthy and allows the team to avoid big losing streaks and coupled with the great infield D and another MVP type season from Big Papi the Sox have to feel good about their chances.

New York Yankees

They got Abreu at the deadline which should make their already potent offence even better whether he regains his power stroke or not. Elsewhere the pitching remains unconvincing with Randy Johnson still not clicking and Mike Mussina doing well but not great. Chin Ming Wang has been the most consistent of the starters but he’s far from being a guy you fear facing.

The Yankees probably have more latent talent than any club in the Majors right now and you can’t help but be impressed by how well they’ve done with all the injuries to key personnel. They could easily bring it all together and win it all but they could also play .500 ball and see the other contenders get away from them in a tough AL.

The Rest

The injury to Alex Rios couldn’t have come at a worse time for Toronto and the apparent unrest in the club house also doesn’t bode well. They’ve had a strong year and Halladay and BJ Ryan will likely both get attention on the Cy Young ballot but its tough keeping up with Boston and New York.

Baltimore are blooding some young pitchers and should be an interesting team to watch but they are way out of it…where has Nick Markakis’ power gone?

E6 Upton is up in Tampa and playing third now so that‘ll be an adventure. As per usual it’ll be interesting to see who gets called up for a cup of coffee (Delmon is restless). It also wouldn’t surprise me to see Evan Longoria get some time with the way he’s ploughing through the system.

AL Central

Detroit Tigers

I still think Detroit will hit a wall soon as their young guys run out of steam but they have just played so well and their pitching staff has been so awesome that if they do hit the skids they’ll be so far ahead they’ll make the playoffs anyway.

You have to feel sorry for Justin Verlander as the season he is having would usually see him as a shoo in as the Rookie of the Year in the AL but Papelbon and Liriano are going to make the competition tough.

Chicago White Sox

As with the Yankees all the parts are here to win it all but whereas the Yankees have been hit by injuries, the ChiSox, particularly the rotation, have just looked hung over from last year. Mark Buerhle in particular has been well under par and right now doesn’t look like one of the best pitchers in the game…which he actually is (no, really he is).

The line-up still is plenty potent enough to see them through to the playoffs with Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye as good a 3-4-5 combo as anywhere in baseball and Joe Crede is also hitting the ball well which might see him get the Gold Glove he has deserved the last couple of years (hitting shouldn’t count for that but it does).

Minnesota Twins

Up until recently I was really liking the Twins chances of winning the Wild Card and getting to the World Series but with Liriano going on the DL with elbow problems things don’t look quite so rosy.

Of course they still have Johan Santana who is still as dominant as ever and they are also getting steady performances from the back end with Carlos Silva and Brad Radke. Then they have Justin Morneau having a breakout year and providing the club with the big bopper they’ve been missing the last couple of years. Then you bring in Joe Mauer who is looking for a batting title and Luis Castillo setting the table and you know they are still in the hunt…although having Liriano back would definitely help.

The Rest

Cleveland have been a huge disappointment (I’m so understated) as they have missed a lot of the guys who made their pen so good last year and have generally been sloppy in their play. It is good to see Kelly Shoppach, Andy Marte, Jeremy Sowers and newly acquired Shin-Soo Choo getting playing time as they could all fill big holes on that line-up for next season.

I know this sounds weird but I would say that things have gone quite well for the Royals. Of course they are in last place and we all knew that would happen but Billy Butler has looked excellent in Wichita, Zack Greinke seems to be getting his head back in gear in Omaha, they’ve shed some high priced drift wood and they managed to sign #1 draft pick Luke Hochevar so what more could they really have asked for?

AL West

Oakland A’s

Even without Rich Harden the pitching has been superb all year for Oakland but it’s the age old problem of scoring runs that has stopped them leaving everyone out west eating their dust. You just have to look at the corners where Eric Chavez and Nick Swisher are the only barely passable bats for their positions and Bobby Crosby just hasn’t produced either. In summary, they score fewer runs than the Royals.

Their pitching will definitely keep them in the race but they need their hitters to step up or the Angels to implode to win the division because the Wild Card isn’t coming from this division.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of The United States of America of the Earth in the Solar System

Hey everyone, its John Lackey and he’s wondering if it would be OK if people voted for him for the Cy?

Bartolo Colon, Jered Weaver (for now) and the rest of the rotation are finally chipping in and the bullpen is looking solid but the Angels have just been so sloppy this year. In the field they are making easy plays look difficult and are just making terrible decisions and that’s also evident in their base running (even though they lead the league in stolen bases I don't want to know how many times they've made stupid outs trying to advance) and those are not typical characteristics of a Mike Scioscia team. If they can start playing smart ball then the division is theirs.

Texas Rangers

They needed pitching at the deadline so they went out and got Carlos Lee…it’s a plan I guess. What that move does is give the Rangers a great offence (well maybe I should say more great or greater), even with Mark Teixeira not quite showing the thunder we know he has.

The bullpen had problems early on but have come around with Akinori Otsuka closing but questions are still there with the rotation and picking up Kip Wells is either going to be an insane work of genius or just insane. He has shown promise in his young career…just not in the last two years. Maybe it’s a sign of the confidence they have in the first of the DVD boys to be promoted (Edinson Volquez)?

The Rest (well that’s Seattle then)

Seattle aren’t far out but they just have too many good teams already ahead of them.
Ichiro has been his usual superb self and Felix Hernandez has had a fine rookie campaign (can you believe I heard someone go off on one about how much of a let down Felix has been? HE’S ONLY 20!!).