No matter which team wins the World Series, one thing is sure: it will be an “old” team, by baseball standards. That’s because the average age of the Washington Nationals is oldest of any MLB team – their players average 30.1 years old. The Houston Astros are third among the 30 rosters, averaging 29.8 years of age. In between them was Oakland, their players averaging 29.9. Following them, Atlanta and the New York Yankees, each 29.5 years old.
On the other hand, we have the Blue Jays. Their average age is 26.8 years old, 27th oldest out of the 30 teams, ahead of only Detroit, San Diego and Baltimore. Does anyone else see a trend there?
The five oldest teams in the game all made the post-season. They averaged 103 wins this season. Of the four youngest, none were better than 4th in their division, and they averaged 59.5 wins a piece. It should put an end to the theory that youth is what wins in baseball these days. Likewise it should make it clear what Toronto needs to do for next season … and it’s not bring in plenty more kids to make their major league debut!
Club president Mark Shapiro recently had a Q&A session with Toronto reporters and he advocated a baseball philosophy that I completely agree with. He told At the Letters that he wants a team with a good mix of players. He said he is “a big believer in looking at different segments of the player population. You need young players…talented young players that give you upside, tons of energy. You need players in their prime…you can bank on (them.) Then you need veteran players. Volatile, they get hurt a lot but they’re the guys that want to win, can handle the pressure better and they’re the guys who make the younger players better.”
Well said, Mark. Houston and Washington both prove those statements out this year as did the Blue Jays World Series teams all those years ago. (Anyone remember Dave Winfield, already in his 40s, and his contribution to the ’92 team?) The path for Toronto this off-season is clear. They already have the young talent, a lot of it in fact. Now is the time to bring in a star pushing 30 years old, or three; and perhaps find a savvy “gray beard” to add maturity to the dugout.
Make sure Ross Atkins is on the same page, Mr. Shapiro, of find someone who is that will do the job.
Speaking of front office types being replaced, what to make of the Astros? As you likely know they fired their Assistant General Manager Kevin Taubman while the GM, Jeff Luhnow, apologized for his behavior about a week after Taubman drew scorn for statements he made. Apparently after the Astros won the AL Championship over New York, during the clubhouse celebration Taubman repeatedly yelled “Thank God we got Osuna!” and added a few profanities. Roberto Osuna had given up a couple of runs in the final game but locked down the save, his third of the post-season to that point. The comments were apparently in the faces of three female reporters present and seemingly were mocking them and concerns over Osuna’s past.
Roberto Osuna, should you somehow have forgotten, is the star reliever who’s career in Toronto was derailed when he was charged with domestic violence early in the 2018 season. The Blue Jays knew a hot potato when they saw one, and dealt him to Houston (for another reliever, Ken Giles) while he was serving a suspension. Former MLB catcher Gregg Zaun told me (during Osuna’s suspension) that he figured fans would rake Osuna over the coals for a long time before forgiving him and that we’d not see him back on the mound during 2018.
Turns out Gregg was wrong about the season. Osuna was activated as soon as possible by the Astros, and actually pitched 23 games for them before season’s end. Zaun might have been more on the money when it comes to fan reactions and memories though. Although a few Astros players initially complained about the trade and Osuna’s presence, they apparently put differences aside and welcomed him in. He had a stellar 2019 season, being nominated for the “Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year” award. (It’s no proud moment that another of the nominees, Aroldis Chapman also had a suspension for a similar charge.)
It raises a number of questions for the game. First off, Osuna was suspended for 75 games although eventually criminal charges against him were dropped. The story suggests his girlfriend wouldn’t testify against him and actually wasn’t going to return to Canada to appear, leaving the “Crown” without much of a case. Baseball on the other hand, apparently did their own investigation talking to police and the victim and decided he was guilty by which they based their penalty, as they’d done before in similar cases including Chapman’s.
I’m a little uncomfortable with that but not entirely. They talked to appropriate people and felt there was an overwhelming suggestion of proof even if a criminal charge couldn’t be won in court. Lawyers will tell you the burden of proof is higher for a criminal case than a civil case so it seems reasonable that baseball should be able to discipline separately from court proceedings, just as they do with players found guilty of drug offences.
Then there’s Taubman. Exuberance and perhaps a bit of beverage-fueled silliness is to be expected in the clubhouse after a team clinches a championship, and an exec singing the praises of a star is a given. However, all present seem to suggest the context in this case was absolutely wrong and taunting the women present, perhaps even applauding Osuna’s violence in a backhanded way. I’m not sure if that moment alone should be enough to cost him his career, when the actual offense itself didn’t cost Osuna his. But I won’t shed any tears for him and am pretty sure should the Nationals pull off their long shot World Series win over Osuna’s Astros, “karma” is going to be a word we hear a lot!
Good pitching beats good hitting, so the old adage goes, and this year it seems especially true…although neither the Astros or Nationals are lacking in hitting, they’ve pitched their way into the World Series.
Sports Illustrated report that Houston are the biggest favorites, based on Las Vegas odds, since Boston in 2004. That was the year the Sox broke the “Curse of the Bambino” and swept Colorado to win their first championship in living memory.
We have to agree. Washington, in the Series for the first time ever, have been something of an underdog sensation making it into the playoffs at the last moment after putting together an 8-game winning streak at year’s end… not bad for a team who won just 19 of their first 50 and were below .500 still on June 26. All while supposedly lamenting the departure of their alleged best player, Bryce Harper. Thankfully Anthony Rendon stepped up and led the league in RBI, last year’s rookie phenom Juan Soto elevated his game and of course, the pitching… Stephen Strasburg had a career year, the type people had been waiting for him to have ever since he first appeared in the majors back in 2010 while Max Scherzer battled a few aches and pains but was dominant when healthy. In the post-season, they’ve already turned heads, beating the heavily favored Dodgers before sweeping St. Louis in the NLCS. Rendon has been hitting .375with 8 runs scored in 10 games and a heady 1.059 OPS; the duo of Strasburg and Scherzer have combined to go 5-0 in 8 appearances (6 starts, each has made an uncharacteristic bullpen appearance too, testimony to their willingness to go all in to win) and have 60 strikeouts through 43 innings. Anabel Sanchez chipped in carrying a no-hitter into the 8th inning of one of his starts too. Patrick Corbin however, their off-season high-profile signing, has struggled with a 7.43 ERA over 5 appearances.
The Astros big trade deadline acquisition, Zac Greinke, has likewise not looked all that sharp, going just 14 innings through 3 starts with a 6.43 ERA, thanks in part to giving up 5 longballs. But it hasn’t slowed Houston down much as they return to the Big show for the second time in three years. Although Justin verlander has looked surprisingly human at times, he deserves his reputation as a “big game pitcher” and Gerritt Cole is as good as any pitcher going. Most of the time, the Astros’ hitting doesn’t need a ton of help anyway as they do what they did through the regular season – put a lot of runs on the board. As always in the post-season, little Jose Altuve comes up big. Not only did he end the ALCS with a walk off homer on Friday, in all this October, he’s hitting .349 with a 1.184 OPS due in no small part to 5 home runs already. Not that atypical for little Jose. Thus far in his career, he’s hit .287 in the post-season ( a little below his career average) but has a .906 OPS, better than his regular season numbers, and has clipped 13 homers in 43 games.
Back in early April, we picked Houston to win 104 games and then win the World Series over St. Louis. Well, the Cards didn’t quite get there (although they irked Cubs fans no small bit by overtaking Chicago in the lategoing days of September to make the post-season) but the Astros won 104, then 3 more and are representing the AL in the World Series. Given their home advantage (and their 60-21 record in Houston this regular season), their pitching, their playoff experience and the “big game” attitudes of Altuve and Verlander, we stick by the April call and say Houston over Washington in 6 games.
It’s said that good pitching trumps good hitting. I don’t always subscribe to that theory but this year, it works for me. So with the Division Series done with, we’re left with 4 very good teams, any of whom could advance to the World Series. But I’ll go with the teams with the “Aces” and pick Houston and their home advantage over New York in 5 and the surprising Washington Nationals over St. Louis in 7.
In the AL, both teams have pretty solid, comparable hitting but you have to give the nod to the team with home advantage (where they won 60 games this season) and have Gerritt Cole (25 K, only 3 walks, 6 hits in 15 2/3 innings over his two starts vs Minnesota) and Justin Verlander (1 win, 1 loss in his two starts but still… Justin Verlander!) not to mention Zac Greinke.
In the NL, the Cards showed they can hit with the best of them (I had for several months thought Ozuna was under-rated and a good player for Toronto to target this off-season to upgrade their OF hitting and defense; alas, with 6 runs, 9 hits and an .857 slugging percentage in that first series, one must expect his cost just jumped) but then, so can Washington. The Cards don’t have Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer, so even with the home advantage, look for those two durable super tossers to tip the scales in the Nats favor.
The Nationals were the last team to relocate in MLB, as we remember, moving south from Montreal in 2005. But commissioner Rob Manfred suggested we might see another move soon. He issued a veiled threat to Oakland politicians that the Athletics could be moved to Las Vegas.
The issue is about the stadium the A’s use – now called Oakland Coliseum, previously MacAfee Coliseum, previously Oakland Alameda Coliseum – and fans and players alike abhor. It’s been in use right back to the green-and-yellows West Coast start, over 50 years back. The structure was never ideal, and now is disliked for its old look, uncomfortable seating, small clubhouses and frequent issues with sewage overflowing. The A’s obviously want a new stadium, but they don’t have the finances to come up with a new state-of-the-art facililty themselves and the city, and Alameda Co. haven’t been too warm to the idea of them picking up the tab. To make matters worse, both the city and county co-own the field and the lot it sits on, and right now the city is suing the county over a plan the county liked to sell the stadium to the team, which could redevelop it.
Manfred referenced the NFL Radiers move out of Oakland and said “unless things change, Bay Area fans may be going to Las Vegas or elsewhere to watch the Athletics as well.” He later back-tracked on it, but the Oakland mayor is adamant that he suggested it to the council and specifically referenced “Las Vegas.”
To me, it would be a move which could make sense. Oakland’s stadium is apparently very outdated, and with sewage issues, not a desireable spot for a nice Sunday out. But even if they could get a new stadium, one wonders if that would be enough. While the Bay Area is a large metro area, baseball’s never been king there and the A’s always – always – seem to play second fiddle to the San Francisco Giants across the bay.
To whit, the Giants drew 2 708 000 fans this year, while winning 77 and coming in third in the NL West. The A’s, on the other hand, won 97, made it to the post-season via the Wild Card for the second year in a row, and brought in 1 662 000. that left them 18% below the AL average attendance.
Nor was that a “blip”. For Oakland, the attendance did rise a bit over 2018, and 2017 when their 1 476 000 left them 36% under league average, but still wasn’t good. A team with underdog personality makes the playoffs twice in a row and still draws about 5000 fewer fans a game than an “average” team. The last time they exceeded the league average was 2003. The Giants, on the other hand, have topped 3 million attendance 17 out of the 20 seasons this century, and winning or losing seems almost irrelevent to their fans. Granted a nice, new comfy stadium with plenty of boxes would probably appeal and help them draw more, but one has to question whether there is ever going to be enough interest in the team to bring out numbers, or enough interest in baseball to support two major league teams.
Las Vegas seems overdue, with a city population nearing 700 000 and a fast-growing metro area of 2 227 000, comparing decently at least to places like Kansas City and Minnesota. With its growing population and huge tourist trade, it would seem like a good spot for a team. And being in the far West, it wouldn’t require any shake up of the divsional structure. The A’s would still be a natural fit for the west.
The solution isn’t without problems though. Namely, no one seems to have come forward from Vegas to suggest they’d finance a team and its roster. More importantly, there isn’t a suitable stadium in the city. The AAA team, the 51s (or Aviators as they apparently have been renamed) play at Las Vegas Ballpark, a decent minor league facility with capacity of 10 000. Adequate for minors, not even close to major league ready. The move would necessitate a new stadium, and I dare say, with an average high of 100-degrees or more through most of the summer, a roofed one too (an opening roof would be ideal for those nice summer evenings or 75-degree desert April days). Who’s going to pony up for that, and how long would it take? Clark County isn’t likely to be much more accomodating than California’s Alameda County if they get asked to perhaps throw in half a billion dollars to help bring baseball to the city.
Bottom line. Baseball teams can move, and be successful. On the other hand, new owners and a new stadium can sometimes perform miracles for an existing one. Either way, I hope the A’s find a resolution soon. It’s too bad a team that has over-performed so much of late has so few fans and dollars to show for it.
Ronald Acuna Jr. – hero or goat? Last year’s Rookie of the Year has all of Atlanta on his back today after he took it easy and hot-dogged watching a well hit fly that he assumed was a homer end up bouncing back in and be deftly played by Dexter Fowler of the Cards. Acuna’s slow jog after standing to watch the ball kept him to a single, whereas he could easily have been on second with a stand up double. He was doubled off by the next batter. Mistakes like that loom big in the playoffs, very big in a game that ends up being a one-run loss.
Fans, and the rest of his team, let him hear it. Especially the one other legitimate superstar on roster, Freddie Freeman. “It’s kind of frustrating,” the first baseman said, “I think you have that conversation once. Kind of beat the dead horse if you keep having the same conversation,” a not-too-veiled reference to previous times Acuna has been criticized for not hustling or giving it his all. Catcher Brian McCann agreed, saying “that can’t happen.” The manager, Brian Snitzker said Acuna should have been on second, but “we’re kind of shorthanded to do anything about it,” referring to the idea he should have pulled Acuna and benched him.
To be fair, Acuna hit a home run in his next at bat to keep his Braves in the game. And let’s not forget that he had a potentially-MVP season for the NL East winners, hitting .280 but with 41 homers, 37 stolen bases and a WAR over 5. Without that, Atlanta might have been looking up at Washington in the standings, not winning the division. But still, talent will get you only so far. It takes effort and dedication to go that final mile to become a “superstar”. Let’s hope Atlanta don’t have to keep beating that dead horse anymore with Acuna.
With that, the ALDS is just about to kick off right now. We don’t have time for detailed analyses but here’s a brief look at the four playoff series as I see them:
Houston over Tampa Bay, in 3. Yes, the Rays are the darlings of many, being the feisty small market, small budget team that somehow kept on winning and kept last year’s champions (Boston) out of the post-season. But just as talent will only get you so far, as said with Acuna, so too will a good attitude. Houston – especially that 1-2-3- of Verlander, Cole and Greinke on the mound – is far too talented to be knocked off this early. The Rays’ 48 road wins and +113 runs on the season look great… until compared to the Astros, with home advantage, and their 60 home wins an +280 runs.
New York over Minnesota in 4. Gotta give the Twins credit, for so dominating most of the year and well exceeding expectations. But the Yanks have been even better, and better with a largely improvised roster for much of the year. Now they have Judge, Stanton and Encarnacion back and healthy, and Game 1 starter has settled into the ace they expected when they first signed him. With over 600 home runs between the two, expect to see some longballs… although now that cool air has settled over the northern states, pehaps not as many as some think.
LA over Washington in 4. If young Walker Buehler could shut them down like he did last night, how will the Nats rise up to crush Kershaw or Ryu? Dodgers shut out Washington twice in seven regular season games (they took 4 out of the 7.) Washington now needs to win 3 of 4 … too tough a path to hike.
St. Louis over Atlanta in 5. Ok, I flipped on this one. Before the series, I thought Atlanta would win a close series. After last night’s game, and the clubhouse furor, I think the Cardinals can win it, especially with Paul Goldschmidt starting to hit like Paul Goldschmidt again.
The regular season is done, the “second season” kicks off tonight. There’s lots to talk about now here, the disappointing Blue Jays season to review, a look ahead to 2020, an overview of the whole season and predictions for this month’s series… whew! For today, I’ll start with a brief look at the NL playoffs.
The wildcard takes place tonight in Washington with the Nationals hosting Milwuakee. Both teams finished strong. Washington dug themselves a big hole early on, being 15-23 on May 10, but played .628 ball after that and went 11-3 down the line. Milwaukee started where they left off last year, winning 8 of their first 10 but then sank into the doldrums, being just 47-44 at the All Star break. When superstar Christian Yelich, of back-to-back batting titles fame, went down for the year with a busted-up knee on Sep. 10, it would’ve been easy for them to fall down and let Chicago and St. Louis run away with the division. Instead, they went 17-5 through the last three weeks.
As much as I’d like the Brew crew to win, I think they might find the deck stacked against them too badly. First off, the Nats are good in their hometown (50-31 at home), the Brewers are weak on the road (40-41.) Milwaukee actually won 4 of 6 against Washington on the year, but only 1 of 3 in Washington (though they swept them in Wisconsin.)
The big difference though comes down to starting pitchers; a Nationals strength and Brewers achilles heel. Max Scherzer goes for the home team, Brandon Woodruff for Milwaukee. Scherzer had a somewhat frustrating year by his standards, battling a sore shoulder and finishing 11-7, 2.92 with 172 innings pitched – his lowest since 2009. However, he struck out 243 while walking only 33, a 7:1 ratio best in the league. And that 2.92 ERA, while not head-turning, is still 57% better than league average. In his one outing against Milwaukee this year, his team lost. But he had a no-decision, pitching 6 innings, striking out 10 and giving up just one earned run.
Woodruff on the other hand, posted decent numbers too. The Brewers won 18 of 22 games he was in and his record, 11-3, 3.63, was fine. However, he’s had injury issues too and hasn’t gone more than two innings since July 16. Look for Scherzer to shut down the Brewers offence quickly through seven while the Brewers go to the ‘pen by the third.
The pick – Washington, 5-2.
A quick peak at tomorrow’s AL Wild Card shows two similar teams facing off. Tampa Bay travel to Oakland. Perhaps more than any others, these two teams are perfect examples of Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” theory working. Two teams with low budgets, bad ballparks, limited fan interest and a lack of “brand name” stars that manage to succeed despite all odds. (which include the one “star” on each team having a mediocre year. Tampa’s Blake Snell followed up his Cy Young, 21 win, 1.89 campaign by going 6-8, 4.29. Oakland basher Khris Davis had a negative WAR this season, his first in 4 that he didn’t hit 40 homers and drive in 100.)
Tampa won 7 of their last 10, and were surprisingly good on the road (48-33) but Oakland were better still at home (52-29) and had a better run differential, so we’ll pick Oakland in a close one.