BOB’S QUARTERLY REPORT: MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
OAKLAND A’S BEST TEAM…TULOWITZKI TOP PLAYER
The 2014 Major League Baseball season has hit the one-quarter mark and It has been an interesting start, with major story lines including:
Expanded use of replay (overall, it has been a big plus).
The proliferation of defensive shifts, particularly against left-handed pull hitters…Why did it take so long to do this? And why have players been slow to bunt for hits to combat the shifts?
The epidemic of season-ending Tommy John surgeries on pitchers.
The final year for Commissioner Bud Selig. Who will succeed him? What will his legacy be? I believe he is a cinch future Hall of Famer. I know many of you disagree.
I think the biggest problem for baseball continues to be all but ignored: the slow pace of games. The major problems: the time between pitches and constantly adjusting batting gloves.
Here are my picks for some of the best and worst teams and players (records and stats entering Monday, May 19):
Best team – Oakland A’s…second-best record in the majors (28-16 to Detroit’s 27-12)…16-6 on the road…MLB-best +95 run differential (No. 2 Detroit is +55)…235 runs second only to Colorado (249)…2.92 ERA second in MLB and No. 1 in American League… MLB-best .217 opposing batting average…underrated lineup keyed by Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes…Rotation starters Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez…Deep bullpen…Not bad for the 25th-ranked player payroll on Opening Day ($83.4 million).
Honorable mention – Detroit, San Francisco.
Worst team – Houston (16-28…minus-53 run differential. No surprise. Lowest Opening Day payroll ($44.5 million) and playing like it.
Most disappointing team – Arizona (18-28 including 6-18 at home…minus-60 run differential).
Most disappointing team with highest player payroll in MLB – Dodgers (23-22 record, outscored by 3 runs)…Opening Day payroll was $235 million. No. 2 Yankees $204 million.
Most underrated “bad team” – Cubs…15-27 record with a run differential of only minus-3...The Cubbies aren’t a good team, but they should be better than their record.
Best player – Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado shortstop)...He leads MLB with a .393 batting average (55-for-140), with 11 doubles, 1 triple, 13 HRs, 35 RBI and 42 runs in 42 games. Excellent fielder and team leader.
Honorable mention – Jose Abreu (White Sox; MLB-most 15 HRs, AL-most 42 RBI), Giancarlo Stanton (Miami; MLB-most 43 RBI).
Best pitcher – Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati)…4-2 record; MLB-best 1.25 ERA; 72 innings, 33 hits allowed, 18 walks, 76 strikeouts.
Honorable mention – Jeff Samardzija (Cubs; most underrated starter in MLB), Max Scherzer (Detroit), Sonny Gray (Oakland).
Worst player – Jedd Gyorko (San Diego)…The 25-year-old second baseman signed a 5-year, $35-million extension prior to this season. He is expected to be the team’s nucleus and sparkplug…He’s hitting .154 (24-for-156) and isn’t in the lineup for his defense or speed.
Most exciting newcomers – Jose Abreu (White Sox) from Cuba…Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees; 6-0, 2.17 ERA) from Japan…Yangervis Solarte (Yankees; “filling in” for suspended Alex Rodriguez; .313, 5 HRs, 24 RBI) from minor-league exile. He spent his first six pro seasons in Minnesota’s farm system, never reaching Rochester.
Most improved player – Dee Gordon (Dodgers 2B)…He’s been the team MVP so far (.304 batting average, 26 runs, MLB-most 25 stolen bases). He’s already cooling off but he’s been a big plus.
Most disappointing player – Mike Trout (Angels). Baseball’s best all-around player hasn’t performed to expectations. He’s hitting .263 (44-for-167) with 8 HRs, 28 RBI, 55 strikeouts and 5 stolen bases.
Top comeback – Justin Morneau (Colorado). The 2006 AL MVP is back in form after concussions contributed to Minnesota and Pittsburgh giving up on him. He’s hitting .327 (52-for-159) with 12 doubles, 9 HRs and 32 RBI.
Best lineup – Colorado. Sure, playing home games at Coors Field is a big help, but top-to-bottom, the Rockies are loaded. They lead MLB in batting average (.299), runs (249) and slugging percentage (.494). And that’s with 2013 NL batting champion Michael Cuddyer missing considerable time on the DL.
KNIGHTHAWKS BID FOR THREE-PEAT…HOW RARE ARE THEY?
The Rochester Knighthawks last Saturday night by virtue of a sudden-death overtime home victory over the Buffalo Bandits earned a chance to become the first National Lacrosse League team to win three straight championships.
According to my research, no Rochester pro sports team has registered a three-peat. A few have come close:
The baseball Red Wings won the International League Governors’ Cup playoffs in 1955 and 1956 (with manager Dixie Walker).
The hockey Amerks won two straight American Hockey League Calder Cups in 1965 and 1966 (and again in 1958 – all with coach Joe Crozier).
The soccer Rhinos won A-League championships in 2000 and 2001 (they also won the title in 1998 and lost in the finals in 1999, the same year they won the U.S. Open Cup).
The basketball RazorSharks have won five championships in their nine-year history, but won two straight titles only once (2008 and 2009).
How rare are three-peats in the major sports?:
Major League Baseball – Yankees 1936-37-38-39 (four-peat)…Yankees 1949-50-51-52-53 (five-peat)…Oakland 1972-73-74…Yankees 1998-99-2000.
NBA – Minneapolis Lakers 1952-53-54 (after losing to the Rochester Royals in the 1951 Finals)…Boson Celtics 1959 through 1966 (eight-peat)…Chicago Bulls 1991-92-93…Chicago Bulls 1996-97-98…Los Angeles Lakers 2000-01-02.
NFL – Green Bay Packers 1929-30-31 (no playoffs; best record was champion)…Green Bay Packers 1965-66-67 (including Super Bowls I-II)…A team won two straight Super Bowls seven times but there has not been a three-peat.
NHL – Toronto Maple Leafs (yes, they once were really good) in 1947-48-49…Montreal Canadiens 1956 through 1960 (five-peat)…Toronto Maple Leafs 1962-63-64…Montreal Canadiens 1976-77-78079 (four-peat)…New York Islanders 1980-81-82-83 (four-peat).
International League – Columbus Clippers 1979-80-81 (with three different managers: Gene Michael, Joe Altobelli and Frank Verdi)…Teams have won two straight Governors’ Cups 10 times, including the 1955-56 Rochester Red Wings (with manager Dixie Walker).
American Hockey League – Springfield Indians 1960-61-62.
National Lacrosse League – No three-peats…A team won two straight titles six times (including the Knighthawks in 2012 and 2013).
Major League Soccer – No three-peats…A team won two straight championships three times.
The Rochester Zeniths had a three-peat near miss in the CBA (Continental Basketball Association). They won the championship in 1980, lost to the Anchorage Northern Knights in Game 7 of the Finals in 1981 and won the championship in 1982…The Eastern League/CBA began in 1946-47 and folded after the 2008-09 season. Many teams won two straight championships but none had a three-peat.
CALIFORNIA CHROME: CAN HE WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN?
Kentucky Derby champion California Chrome easily won last Saturday’s Preakness Stakes to set the stake to become only the 12th thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown.
No one was happier with California Chrome’s win in Baltimore than officials at Belmont Race Track, site of the Belmont Stakes Saturday, June 7. Whenever a horse enters the starting gate with a chance to win the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, it is the biggest event on that day’s national sports menu. That doesn’t happen very often to horse racing – a once hugely popular sport that, sadly, appears to be fading away.
California Chrome is the 34th horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. All but two ran in the Belmont Stakes in pursuit of the Triple Crown. Only 11 of the 31 horses that attempted to win the Triple Crown over the 1 ½-mile Belmont racing strip were successful.
Here’s how the past 10 Kentucky Derby/Preakness Stakes winners fared in the Belmont Stakes:
I’ll Have Another (2012) – Scratched the day before the Belmont Stakes with a tendon injury are retired to stud…The only other Derby/Preakness winners to fail to run in the Belmont Stakes were Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936).
Big Brown (2008) – Eased and finished ninth and last.
Smarty Jones (2004) – Set the pace but finished second to Birdstone.
Funny Cide (2003) – Tried hard but finished third in the mud. Empire Maker won and Ten Most Wanted. Both skipped the Preakness and were fresher horses.
War Emblem (2002) – Had brief speed but faded to eighth. Sarava won.
Charismatic (1999) – Finished third. Lemon Drop Kid won.
Real Quiet (1998) – Finished second by a nose to Victory Gallop.
Silver Charm (1997) – Finished second to Touch Gold.
Sunday Silence (1989) – Finished second to Easy Goer.
Alysheba (1987) – Finished fourth. Bet Twice won.
It won’t be easy for California Chrome to win the Belmont Stakes, even after New York Racing Association officials saw the light and will allow the colt to run with the nasal strip he is accustomed to. At least six challengers are expected to start, including Commanding Curve, who finished fast to finish second in the Kentucky Derby, lightly-raced but talented Danza, who won the Arkansas Derby at 40-to-1 and then finished third in the Derby in his fourth career start, and Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, who finished fourth in the Derby. Othes relatively fresh horses expected to challenge California Chrome are Peter Pan Stakes winner Tonalist and Samraat, a talented New York-bred that finished fifth in the Derby.
The field for the Belmont Stakes likely will be stronger than California Chrome faced in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes.
NHL PLAYOFFS ARE PREDICTABLY UNPREDICTABLE
The four teams in the conference finals finished 7th ,tied for 9th, tied for 9thth and 12th in points in the regular-season standings. (Chicago, Montreal, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers)
The Boston Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the NHL’s best record in the regular season. They were eliminated in the conference semifinals. The Presidents’ Trophy has been awarded a total of 28 times to 15 different teams. The Presidents’ Trophy winner went on to win the Stanley Cup only eight times.
Stanley Cups won by this season’s four playoff survivors: Montreal 24 (lost in Finals 10 times)…Chicago 5 (lost in Finals 7 times)…New York Rangers 4 (lost in Finals 6 times)…Los Angeles 1.
A nation is rooting for the Canadiens. The last Canadian-based team to win the Stanley Cup was Montreal in 1993.
Six of the 30 current NHL teams have yet to win a Stanley Cup: St. Louis (lost in the Finals 3 times), Vancouver (3), Buffalo (2), Florida, Ottawa and Washington.
Wise Dan, the 2012 and 2013 Eclipse Award Horse of the Year, is recovering from emergency colic surgery on Friday. The seven-year-old gelding has won 21 of 29 career races (including 12 of his last 13) and is 2-for-2 this year. He is expected to run again. He has won more than $6.6 million and 10 assorted Eclipse Awards in his brilliant career.
Cheers to the selection committee for making legendary Buffalo Bills play-by-play announcer Van Miller the latest member of the Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Wilson would be pleased. Now maybe the committee can right the long overdue slight and elect two-time AFC champion coach Lou Saban next year. Wilson would not be pleased.
The National Lacrosse League MVP will be announced soon. League scoring champion Cody Jamieson of the Rochester Knighthawks deserves to win. He was MVP of the championship game the past two seasons. The only player to earn league MVP honors as a Knighthawk was John Grant Jr. in 2007. Former or current Knighthawks who’ve been selected league MVP while playing for other teams: Gary Gait (7 times with 4 teams)…Steve Dietrich (Buffal 2006)…Dan Dawson (Boston 2009)…Casey Powell (Or lando 2010)…John Grant Jr. (Colorado 2012)…Shawn Evans (Calgary 2013).
Clever New York tabloid headline after the Rangers clobbered the Canadiens 7-2 Saturday afternoon in Montreal : FRENCH TOAST.
The Olympic gold medal earned by 1980 “Miracle On Ice” U.S. hockey player Mark Pavelich was recently auctioned online for $263,000. Sort of sad.
Among the 1,000 sports memorabilia items sold for a total of $4.5 million at an auction Sunday in Southern California: A gold pocket watch presented to Babe Ruth at the 25th anniversary celebration of Yankee Stadium ($650,108)…a Sandy Koufax 1965 autographed Los Angeles Dodgers uniform ($268,664)…Satchel Paige’s 1971 National League Hall of Fame induction ring ($259,842).
The Miami Heat, favored by 2 points Sunday at Indiana, lost to the Pacers 107-96. Las Vegas favorites are an expensive 23-47-3 in the NBA playoffs so far this season…San Antonio is favored by 5 ½ points at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night.
Latest odds from Bovada.net to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup: Brazil 3-to-1…Argentina 9-to-2…Germany 11-to-2…Spain 13-to-2…Belgium 14-to-1…France 20-to-1…Italy, Uruguay each 22-to-1…Colombia, Netherlands each 25-to-1…England, Portugal each 28-to-1…Chile 40-to-1…Russia 66-to-1…Mexico, Switzerland, USA each 100-to-1…Ecuador, Ivory Coast each 125-to-1…Croatia, Japan each 150-to-1….Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ghana, Greece each 200-to-1…Nigeria 250-to-1…South Korea 300-to-1…Australia, Cameroon 500-to-1…Algeria, Costa Rica each 1,000-to-1…Honduras, Iran each 1,500-to-1….The host country has won 6 of the 19 World Cups (Uruguay 1930, Italy 1934, England 1966, West Germany 1974, Argentina 1978, France 1998).