Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Camden Yards Is MLB's Best Ballpark Experience Again

As we conclude this MLB season with the World Series, my friend Paul Swaney over at Stadium Journey has posted his end-of-season rankings of all the 30 MLB stadiums.

Paul puts together what he calls the "FANFARE" scale, and it is based on the following criteria:

Overall experience
Food and beverage
The fans
Neighborhood the park is located in
Access to the ballpark (which includes parking traffic, restrooms, handicapped access, etc.)
Overall return on investment

Readers also have their say and leave their ratings on how good MLB ballyards are.

This year's winner is no big surprise:  Oriole Park at Camden Yards, getting a perfect 5.0 rating.

Fenway Park finished fourth overall, and PNC Park in Pittsburgh was the highest ranked National League venue.

The AL Champion Kansas City Royals' Kauffman Stadium finished in the middle of the pack at 16th, while Citi Field, home of the NL Champion Mets, was ranked near the bottom, at 27th.

Here is the complete rankings of all 30 ballparks.

My thanks to Paul for an interesting article. Check out his site for all kinds of articles about experiences at all kinds of pro and college sports teams.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

11 Years Ago Tonight

Where in the world has 11 years gone?

Does this ever get old?

Hell no.

Thanks always, 2004 World Series champions.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Amazing, Amazing, Amazing...

I never, ever would have predicted this.

Before the playoffs began, I picked the Mets to go to the World Series. I thought it would be a tough road, but if their pitching held up, I thought they'd have a good shot at making it to the Fall Classic.

I just didn't think they'd do it so dominantly.

The old Connie Mack adage certainly applies here: good pitching stops good hitting. And boy were the Mets pitchers throwing lights out. They allowed a terrific Cubs lineup just eight total runs in the four-game sweep. The young dynamic trio of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom were simply spectacular, living up to the hype that has surrounded them. The Cubs lineup simply destroyed the Cardinals in the NLDS, blasting 12 home runs against the team with the best record in baseball in a 3-1 series win. They hit just four home runs in the NLCS.

And what can you say about Daniel Murphy? A home run in six straight postseason games, a new record. Seven overall. Easily the NLCS MVP. He hit just 14 home runs in the regular season, but is becoming otherwordly in these playoffs, just when his team (and bank balance) will benefit most. He is a free agent after the season and will be high in demand when the World Series is over.

This Mets team reminds me so much of two other teams: the 2004 Red Sox and the 1969 Mets. Both teams won the World Series with incredible starting pitching, shutting down arguably the two best lineups in MLB in those years. And like in the 2004 World Series, the Mets were never trailing once in the four-game sweep.

Cubs fans are naturally depressed after seeing their team go down so meekly in a sweep (and not fulfilling the "Back to the Future II" prophecy). But take heart, fans of the North Side. This is an awesome Cubs team that won 97 games in the regular season. They are young and vibrant, and with some more pitching help, they could dominate in the NL for years to come. It's now been 107 years since the last Cubs title, but you may not have to wait much longer.

Back to the Mets. Game 6 of the ALCS between the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays is tonight, and I still like KC to win it. But if you are in the Mets position, I think they'd rather face the Blue Jays. Both teams have awesome lineups, but the Royals' pitching is much better, especially the back end of their bullpen. If the Mets keep pitching the way they have, there will simply be no stopping them, no matter which team takes the AL pennant.

I'll leave the last words to the late, great Casey Stengel:

(With thanks to the good folks at The 7 Line Army for the photo.)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Good News About The Manager & RemDawg

The Red Sox revealed today that manager John Farrell's lymphoma has gone into remission, and he will likely return as manager in good health for the 2016 season.

The club had revealed on the final day of the 2015 season that Farrell would be back and that interim manager Torey Lovullo would return to his position of bench coach with a new two-year deal.

Farrell under went chemotherapy for two months after the diagnosis was made last August. Fortunately it was caught while in stage 1, and his chances for a complete recovery was excellent.

And the Red Sox also announced that Jerry Remy will return for his 29th season in the Red Sox TV booth. It will be his first season with Dave O'Brien, and he will work about 100 games.

Dennis Eckersley and Steve Lyons will work more games, and for some select games, there will be a three-man booth. Here's more from WEEI.

Glad to see the RemDawg returning for the 2016 season. After all the controversy about Don Orsillo's departure, and I'm happy to see Remy isn't being forced out either. And I'm also happy to see Eck getting more scheduled time in the NESN booth.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mets and Cubs & Jays and Royals

It's been a pretty entertaining postseason so far, even if the Red Sox are all currently home on the golf course.

It was nice to see the Yankees be the first team to go out in the postseason, losing to a scrappy Houston Astros team led by the all-but-certain 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel.

The Astros went on to play an entertaining five-game series with the Kansas City Royals. They were just six outs from wrapping up a four-game ALDS series win. The Royals got off the deck from a 6-2 deficit with seven unanswered runs and a 9-6 win. I knew from then the Astros were finished, as KC won the finals, 7-2. They are back in the ALCS for the first time in back-to-back years since 1985.

Did any of you catch Game 5 of the ALDS between Toronto and Texas? And specifically the wild and wacky seventh inning? Like nothing I've ever seen before. Texas breaking a 2-2 tie with a run scoring from third on a return throw from catcher Russell Martin striking Shin-Soo Choo's bat and rolling out to third. That caused lots of consternation among the Blue Jays faithful, and lots of thrown objects on the field. A really dangerous situation.

I had a feeling that would rile up the Jays. The Rangers fell apart, committing three straight errors (haven't seen that in a long time), and the Jays capitalized on that, ending with Jose Bautista's three-run bomb and bat flip everyone ended up talking about. And if that wasn't enough, both benches emptied twice.

I'm betting most of the country is pulling for the Cubs, seeking their first title in 107 years. And they put on a power show against archrival St. Louis, dispatching the team with MLB's best record in just 4 games. The Cubs blasted 12 home runs, including a postseason record six in Game 3 alone.

And speaking of the Cubs and the 2015 postseason, this movie clip from Back to the Future Part II is getting lots of attention:

And as many of you know, the Mets are my favorite team in the NL, and they pulled out a gritty 3-2 win over Los Angeles to take their series in five-games. It featured reckless baserunning from Chase Utley (he'll see justice next season), but more importantly, it featured the clutch hitting of Daniel Murphy, who hit home runs off Clayton Kershaw (twice) and Zack Greinke. And he practically stole the Game 5 win all by himself, taking third base as it was left unattended after a walk to Lucas Duda with him on first.

Both League Championship Series are excellent matchups. The Blue Jays and Royals played for it in 1985, with KC moving on to win their only World Series. The Mets and Cubs have plenty of history together, the most famous being the Mets charging past them in 1969 to win the NL East and the World Series title that year. Both teams have excellent starting pitching, and the team that pitches will take it.

All four teams have gone a long time without a title: The Blue Jays since 1993, Mets since 1986, Royals 1985, and the Cubs famously (or infamously depending on your worldview) since 1908. If the Mets don't make it to the Series, we'll see history with the Cubs in for the first time since 1945.

I'm predicting it will be the Mets and Royals in this year's World Series. Enjoy the games, everyone.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Another Season Comes To a Close

The Red Sox 2015 season came to a close this past Sunday, and I thought I would take a few days before recording my impressions on this campaign.

It was a terrible disappointment. No other way to describe it. The AL East was not a strong division, and I thought 90 wins was not out of the question. I was only off by 12.

The two major free agent signings, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, were monumental busts. I was actually in favor of bringing in Sandoval, but I didn't want anything to do with Ramirez. A talented player for sure, but his reputation for being a dog in Miami and Los Angeles should have sworn the Sox away from him.

It was also another season when a bad early season losing skid sent the season spiraling. The high water mark was on April 21 when the Sox had a two-game lead, and fell under .500 to stay on May 3 at 12-13. The Red Sox didn't have an ace on their staff, a stopper to head off bad streaks. They paid the price for not getting Jon Lester back.

The bullpen was not a source of strength. Koji Uehara was terrific back in the closer role, but his wrist injury in August ended his season. Junichi Tazawa was overused and shut down in mid-September. Robbie Ross was up and down most of the year, but Alexi Ogando and Craig Breslow were terrible and probably won't be back in 2016.

It was a year of change. John Farrell was diagnosed with lymphoma in mid-August, and left the team for treatment. Bench coach Torey Lovullo took over and went 28-20 to complete the season. The Sox announced that Farrell and Lovullo will be back in their old roles. They gave Lovullo a new two-year deal so that he wouldn't leave to another club, and also for insurance should Farrell have a relapse and have to leave again.

GM Ben Cherington will not return as Dave Dombrowski was named president of baseball operations in mid-August, and will be calling the shots from now on. Cherington departs with a 2013 World Series championship on resume, surrounded by last place finishes as well.

David Ortiz had his best season since 2006, hitting 37 home runs, 107 RBI, and belting his 500th home run against Tampa Bay on September 12th, and assuring him a Hall of Fame plaque after he retires.

As disappointing a season as this was, there is plenty of hope. The Sox look like they have a dynamic outfield for the future in Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo. Betts showed he's a five tool player right now, and an emerging superstar. Bradley is a Gold Glove outfielder right now, and went on a tear in August after being brought back up. He cooled off in September but should get an opportunity to win a starting job next season. Castillo also was red hot in August, and showed signs he's ready to play full time. He's had injury problems, but like Bradley, will get a chance to be a regular in 2016.

Xander Bogaerts had a simply marvelous turnaround from his shaky 2014 first-full year. He has established himself as one of the premier shortstops in the American League, finishing second in the AL batting race at .320 and getting 196 hits. He played a confident shortstop, making just 11 errors all season. (He made 10 at short in 2014, playing in just 44 games there.) He is clearly one of the club's franchise players going forth.

Going into 2016, it is clear the Sox will need a top-of-the-rotation starter. David Price and Johnny Cueto will both be free agents and will garner plenty of attention, as both will be starting in the 2015 postseason. Eduardo Rodriguez was impressive since he was called up in mid-season, going 10-6, and figures to have a spot in the staff next year. Henry Owens went 4-4 and showed some great promise. Rick Porcello and Wade Miley had up and down campaigns, as did Joe Kelly. Miley was most consistent of the three, and Porcello and Kelly both benefited from trips to the disabled list and the minors, respectively. Kelly and Miley could be part of a deal over the winter, but Porcello, who signed a long term deal prior to 2015, figures to be back and would greatly benefit from a move down the rotation.

So, for 2016, I'm betting that Dave Dombrowski will have three priorities this winter:
1. Acquire a number one starter, either by trade or free agency.
2. Get two power arms for the bullpen to set up Koji Uehara.
3. Find a new home for Hanley Ramirez.

It won't be easy moving Hanley, but Dombrowski is the master of the three-team deal, and with the right trading partner (or partners), something might be worked out. The Sox will have to eat a good part of the three years still owed Ramirez, and probably won't get much back. But I think this is one of those "addition by subtraction" moves the Sox will try to make. He'll never play the outfield again, and trying him at first smells like another disaster, so trading him to an AL team looking for a DH might happen.

Anyway, that wraps up another Red Sox season. It was disappointing for all of us. But I am optimistic about this club going forward. Lots of young talent still in the minors, and at the MLB level.

Keep the faith, everyone. Our boys will be back better next year.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Don Orsillo Exits With Class

Don Orsillo did his final game for the Red Sox after 15 years yesterday. It's hard to believe he is moving on to the San Diego Padres now.

I wish I had gotten see the NESN broadcast on Sunday, but the MLB Extra Innings package gave us here in New York the Cleveland Indians feed of the finale instead. Very disappointing.

But there is a terrific 15-minute recap of the highlights of Don's goodbye to the fans, which includes 15 years worth of clips of him and Jerry Remy at their very best. Here it is, courtesy of Jared Carrabis and Barstool Sports. 

Allan at The Joy of Sox has a post of the Twitter clips of Sox players saluting Don, and a few others from yesterday's game.

Don was all class and professionalism to the very end. Thanks for 15 years, and it was such a pleasure to hear him call a game. Good luck on the Left Coast, Mr. Orsillo.