Tag Archives: Baseball

A Brave Take Over in the All-Star Game?

For discussion purposes, which Braves do you think deserve to be in Kansas City, and which ones should be starting?

Honestly, I think only one Brave truly deserves to start, and that’s Michael Bourn. I absolutely believe he deserves to be the starting center fielder for the National League. I’ll argue that Ryan Braun and Melky Cabrera should probably be flanking him.

Bourn has been everything we were hoping for when we traded for him last season. He’s been nothing short of outstanding with the glove, being arguably the best defensive outfielder in the league. Offensively he’s also more than held his own, being a top 15 player in the league with the bat. His value would probably even be increased were it not for a handful of shoddy calls on stolen base attempts during the course of the season.

While his numbers don’t have the sexiness of a Braun, or Joey Votto, his defense coupled with his offense make Bourn one of the league’s most valuable players and should have his name in the MVP discussion. It will be interesting to see what happens if this team does wind up contending for the division in September and how the voters treat Bourn.

Bourn however is just part of a phenomenal outfield, quite possibly the best outfield this franchise has ever fielded. It may not have the brute power and the pure offensive greatness of the 2003 unit, but defensively this trio of Bourn, Jason Heyward and Martin Prado may more than make up for that. Not to mention, offensively, they aren’t exactly chop liver. The question is, are the other two going to be all-stars?

I feel that Jason Heyward, with the run he’s gone on lately, has played himself into the All-Star game. Outfield in the National League is exceptionally crowded though, so it will be interesting to see if he gets in. What separates Heyward from the others isn’t necessarily something that usually gets a player into the All-Star game. Heyward’s exceptional on the base paths and in the field. While he trails guys like Carlos Beltran, Andrew McCutcheon and Matt Holiday in offensive production, he run circles around them defensively. Will it matter? It should. Especially now that the offensive numbers are coming around to the defense.

Heyward’s arguably the closest thing this team has to a national superstar outside of Chipper Jones, so if he keeps his performance up, and the team stays in contention, he may very well also have his name thrown into the MVP discussion.

Of course, many Braves fans will tell you Martin Prado is the team’s MVP, and his versatility might make them correct. Personally, I wouldn’t mind him playing some second base to give Uggla a spell some. But the love Braves fans have for one of the ultimate glue guys in the game isn’t enough to be an all-star.

However, with the game somewhat meaning something, though not necessarily to manager Tony LaRussa this year, Prado’s ability to play several positions might make it impossible to leave him off the squad. Of course, that’s not the only case Prado makes for being an all-star. He’s one of the better defensive outfielders in the league, in addition to his stellar .838 OPS. Overall, he, like the other two outfielders, is one of the more valuable players in the entire league. Throw in the versatility, and if all things are equal, the entire Atlanta Braves outfield will be in Kansas City.

What’s somewhat interesting is that with Melky Cabrera on his way, that’s four people who have manned the outfield for the Braves in the past 2 1/2 seasons that will be on the all-star team.

Dan Uggla is likely going to start at second base for the National League thanks to the fan vote. But, should he? I say no. Brandon Phillips, in my opinion SHOULD be the starting second basemen for the National League as I feel he is the most complete second basemen in the league. In fact, if Prado makes the team, it’s possible Uggla wouldn’t even be on the roster, and the National League would go with just the one second basemen and then use Prado as the backup.

That said, if you’re taking two second basemen, a strong case can be made for Uggla, as in the National League there are really only three all-star caliber second basemen in the league. Yes, Uggla strikes out a ton, and no his average that pops up on the screen isn’t exactly nice to look at, but looking deeper into things, he’s still a very good offensive player with his on base percentage thanks to newfound patience at the plate and his power. And at a position like 2nd base, that’s a nice, nice bonus to have. Defensively, he’s also not exactly been a problem, though it would be nice if he had more range to help offset Freddie Freeman’s lack of it.

Darwin Barney is phenomenal defensively, but his offensive game is still too lacking to be an all-star. Not only that, you gotta think Cardinal fans would be none too pleased if LaRussa decorated this all-star team with members of the Chicago Cubs.

However, there is one player out in the desert that makes a very, very good case for Aaron Hill, who since coming over from Toronto last year has been nothing but outstanding at the plate. Actually, now that I think about it, if Uggla weren’t to win the fan vote, I honestly don’t know that I’d put him on the squad. But that’s not something we have to worry about, as the fan vote will land him on the team, and starting.

Freddie Freeman currently sits second among first basemen in the fan voting, and that’s as close as he’ll get to the All-Star game. For some reason Fredi Gonzalez continues to bat him 3rd, despite the fact that right now he’s definitely not a three hitter. The power is nice, and when Freeman gets hot, he gets really hot. But he still makes way too many outs to be an all-star.

For what it’s worth, Andrelton Simmons and David Ross both have better oWAR numbers than Freeman does, and Randall Delgado is right there with him. That’s what happens when you make a lot of outs. He has 100 more plate appearances than Chipper Jones, yet he has the same number of walks. Until that changes, Freeman’s not going to be playing in any all-star games. Plus, Joey Votto plays his position, so the starting spot should be anchored down for years to come.

However, on the flip side of this coin is a dearth of big name guys to go. Consider that Lance Berkman has played in all of 13 games this year, yet he’s second in voting at first base. So who goes as Votto’s backup? Bryan LaHair probably should, but again, that whole Cubs thing may get in the way. Brandon Belt has quietly put together a solid year, but Freeman’s power numbers and RBIs might tilt the scales in his favor. However, when it comes to putting the sexy power numbers with a solid offensive game all around, former Brave Adam LaRoche may make his first appearance in the mid-summer classic.

At shortstop, Andrelton Simmons hasn’t played enough games to warrant all-star consideration, but, had he, one would think he’d be in the discussion. The National League isn’t exactly a hot bed for shortstops this year. When you think of the position, does anyone in the National League jump out at you as a sure-fire all-star game starter? Didn’t think so.

The race itself is a close one between Rafael Furcal and Troy Tulowitzki to get the fan vote, though Tulowitzki obviously is injured and won’t be playing in the game. Even if Furcal doesn’t get the vote, I expect LaRussa to nab his former shortstop and have him start. Starlin Castro has done enough offensively to go with his superior defensive skills to make his way on to the team as well, though Jed Lowrie certainly has done enough with the bat this year to keep his name in the conversation as well.

Brian McCann’s run of six straight all-star games will certainly come to an end this season. In fact, it can be argued McCann hasn’t been even a top five catcher in the National League this season. I expect LaRussa to take two backup catchers, and the three it should be are pretty clear-cut, in my opinion. Yadir Molina and Buster Posey are locked in a tight battle for the starting nod, and Carlos Ruiz should also be secure as an all-star.

Now comes the controversial topic of Chipper Jones. He’s made a late run, and is closing the gap on David Wright and Pablo Sandoval for a chance to start an all-star game in his swan song season. Performance wise, does he deserve to? Of course not. But sometimes the all-star game, and the selection process isn’t about performance, it’s about names, and sentimental favorites. Two things Chipper has going for him.

Another thing Chipper has going for him is, who else you gonna take? David Wright is the unquestionable rightful starter. In fact, as long as the Mets stay in contention, you have to consider him a heavy favorite to be the league’s MVP with the way he’s played thus far. But after him?

Yes, Pablo Sandoval has put together some solid numbers, but he really hasn’t been ALL that better than Chipper. If Chipper were marginally healthier in fact, the two would be much closer I believe in terms of production. In a surprise development, Chipper actually hasn’t been atrocious at third base defensively this year, he’s been solid. Sandoval though on the other hand has been absolutely pitiful. His terrible defense pretty much negates everything he does with the bat. So, you factor in the nostalgia, feel good, retirement aspect of Chipper, he’s probably got a spot reserved in Kansas City. And he may actually be deserving of it too.

Now, to the pitchers…

Going into the season we all thought this was a strength. Now, with the injury to Brandon Beachy, it’s pretty much all but assured only one Braves hurler will be in the all-star game.

Craig Kimbrel is as close to a lock as there is in the league, no sense even really discussing him. He’s become one of the most dominant closers in the entire league. The National League will do well to have him pitching the bottom of the 9th inning in Kansas City.

So, do any starters even warrant consideration? Maybe. Tim Hudson likely would if he’d been healthy to start the year and had more than five starts under his belt. He’s had his rough spots, but he’s been for the most part the typical Tim Hudson. Unfortunately, those bone spurs in his ankle aren’t going anywhere, so he’s somewhat of a question mark the rest of the year. He’s going to be a wildcard as we may have no idea what we’ll get out of him every time he takes the hill.

Tommy Hanson might get some consideration, but the National League is so deep in pitching, I just don’t see where there’s a spot for him. I can only see it if the rotations of other teams prevent some guys from playing in the game that otherwise would. Hanson hasn’t been bad this year at all, but he’s not been as good as we all expected when he first got called up. We were expecting an ace. What we have is a good number two, and very solid number three pitcher. That’s typically not an all-star. If Hanson could just learn to keep the ball in the park, it would help immensely. Consider he’s only allowed four fewer home runs than Mike Minor has. Ouch.

So there you have my evaluation of the chances of Braves players to make the all-star game. If I were betting, I’d say the locks are going to be Bourn, Uggla, Jones and Kimbrel, while Prado and Heyward SHOULD be joining them with Freddie Freeman having an outside chance to join them. If those who I think should make it, indeed do, that’s six all-stars, not bad.

However, what would make those six even more intriguing, consider the number of former Braves likely going. Adam LaRoche is a possibility at first base, while Rafael Furcal and Melky Cabrera are absolute locks. It’s conceivable that at any given time during the all-star game, every position but catcher will be manned by a Brave, or former Brave. Now wouldn’t that be wild?

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The Braves Are Like A Woman

The Braves are the girl who you know is bad news. They’re the relationship you need to get out of, but for whatever reason, just can’t. You won’t. You are intent on seeing it through till the end, the always, always, bitter end.

They consume your every thought, and have way too much control over your emotions. They drive you to drink.

The good moments, oh, they’re good, they’re so good.

But the bad? They’re terrible.

With a woman, the good nights are full of alcohol and celebration and end with smiles on your faces.

With a woman, the bad nights, well, they’re also full of alcohol and lamenting, only the don’t end with a smile on your face.

Sound familiar? Yeah, thought so.

You know better than to care. You know better than to let yourself be so wrapped up in them. Yet you do it anyway. You do it every year, and will for every year to come.

What you know doesn’t matter. What you feel does. The heart is deceitful. Your head knows the love affair you have isn’t good, it isn’t right, it’s not best for you. Your heart insists that you can make it work, that this time it will be THE time. The heart’s not right.

Every single season you think this could be THE season. It’s OUR year. Just like every new woman could be THE one.

We know how this works out.

Just when you think that you’ve had enough, and are ready to throw in the towel, Dan Uggla hits a home run in the first inning to reignite hope.

At the moment you’re ready to walk away, they always know just what to say to make you stop, to make you stay, to remind you why you cared to start with. They won’t let you leave.

And for what? So they can end it on THEIR terms of course. No, you don’t get to give up on the Braves. The Braves get to give up on you.

Oh, sure, with the Braves there’s “wait till next year”. With a woman it’s, “there are other fish in the sea”.

The problem is though, it’s difficult to get excited about the other fish in the sea, or next year. Not when you’re sure from the outset, having learned from history, that it’s going to end in heartbreak.

Do you want to invest six months time into a woman when you know at the end of the sixth month she’s going to break your heart? No, probably not.

Just the same, it’s hard to get excited and stoked about investing another six months into the Braves right now, knowing it will eventually be for naught.

But ya know what? Just like with a woman, we will.

 

 

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Baseball Is Still a Game Played by Humans

I’m a fan of sabermetrics. I’m a fan of anything that can provide me more insight into something I love and am passionate about, so let’s get that out of the way first. But my God some people take these things a bit far, and in doing so, completely lose sight of the fact that human beings actually are playing the game that takes place on the field. It’s not a computer simulation that just prints out numbers and that’s the only story you need to know.

I came across a blog arguing that Jair Jurrjens is due for a regression, which as you will see, I believe is coming as well, just not nearly to the effect that it seems other people are intent on insisting, and as the responses and comments came in on this particular blog, the blatant disregard for the human element became more and more prevalent.

Here is the original piece that I responded to.

And here is my response:

What you’re doing, and what others have pointed out, is comparing his numbers in many aspects to what his “career” numbers are. He’s pitched two healthy years to this point. That’s hardly enough to really formulate just what the ceiling is for a 25 year old who clearly has a knack for not allowing the opposing team to score runs. You completely throw out the possibility that maybe, just MAYBE, he’s gotten better as a pitcher. MAYBE, just MAYBE those numbers you’re basing these comparisons against aren’t indicative of what he’s completely capable of (seeing how in 1 of those years he was a rookie, and in another he was injured and ineffective). I mean, let’s not possibly consider THAT when trying to figure out what to make of Jurjens.

When comparing this year to his 2009 season, the only other non-rookie, non injury plagued year with which to compare, the numbers aren’t that different. They don’t look quite so “unsustainable”.

His walks are down significantly. It couldn’t help matters, at all, could it, that perhaps he’s garnered better control and command of his pitches? Nah. And of course, that wouldn’t also help explain why the homerun rate is down either, would it? You don’t give guys free passes, and you keep the ball in the ball park, you’re on the way to success.

You keep expecting regression, but clearly he’s in better command of his pitches. His strikeout to walk rate is significantly better this year than it was in 2009. Of course, I’m sure that stat only matters if it’s making your argument for you.

BABIP? Not that much lower this year than in 2009. The difference in FIP and xFIP, about the same as it was in 2009. Hmmmm, so maybe when he’s at his best, the numbers that you seek out so much don’t exactly tell the whole story.

You know, there’s that pitch to contact thing, that for some guys, it works. Jurrjens is showing himself to be one of those guys.

You’re ignoring that this year he’s been able to get hitters to chase more pitches out of the strike zone. Why. And then the notion that a new pitch that sinks is brought up, you dismiss it as irrelevant. Why?

Would a pitch with movement not lead to more swings by hitters at pitches that dive out of the zone? Seems to me it would. What’s happening though, those guys are swinging at those pitches out of the zone, and making contact. So no, he’s not getting the sexy strikeouts you think he needs to get to show he can keep this pace up, but he’s getting weak contact that is turning these batted balls into outs.

Now, perhaps suddenly, hitters catch on to this, and perhaps the percentage of pitches hacked at out of the zone decreases, and he’s in the zone more often, and he starts seeing a BABIP that comes back towards the pack.

Or, his stuff, and his approach on the mound, continues to work as it has, and he continues to induce weak contact.

Don’t just pick and choose which advanced stats you want to look at and use here.

But of course, I know better than to suggest you’d dare overlook anything that might actually present a differing point to your original case.

Because as we know, we shouldn’t consider his being a 22 year old rookie in 2008, or being injured throughout 2010 at all when looking at those stats.

I’m all for advanced statistics and what they can tell us, but they don’t excuse you from still using a little common sense, and from including in an analysis of a player things you don’t see on paper, i.e. inexperience, injuries, a new pitch, gradual improvement as you expect from young athletes.

Sure, if you wanna stare at a piece of paper and that’s it and form conclusions, go right ahead. But you’re being just as ignorantly blind and stubborn as the traditionalists who also completely refuse to recognize sabermetrics.

There’s still a human element to the game being played on a field. This is not some computer simulation being run where all you need to look at are the numbers and numbers alone. Ignoring some of what you’re ignoring is just as stupid as people blatantly ignoring some of the advanced numbers that exist. An inability to incorporate both makes for weak and uneducated analysis.

Do I expect him to finish with a sub 2.00 ERA? No, I don’t. But do I expect it to be around 2.50, and for him to be right in the middle of the Cy Young talks? Absolutely.

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Just What Is A “Real” Sport?

It’s a question, that while I find usually out of place, and absurd, that seems to come up all too often. In this time of year particularly, with NASCAR having just gotten its season rolling, and baseball getting into the swing of things, the question seems to be posed more and more frequently. Truth be told though, it is usually not as much a question asked as an insulting statement.

Those with a disdain for NASCAR, or baseball, seem to take great joy around this time of year insulting those two sports, and often their entire fan bases, as their years open up.

Perhaps it is the joy with which ardent fans eagerly await and enjoy the start of the season of these particular sports that rubs people the wrong way, or stirs feelings of envy within themselves.

NASCAR and baseball obviously aren’t the only sports subjected to this absurd questioning, soccer, for some ridiculous reason that I can never fathom, seems to be the most often questioned and insulted.

Perhaps it just comes back to that age-old adage that people are afraid, for a lack of a better word, of what they don’t know. After all, isn’t it much easier just to insult what you know nothing about than it is to educate yourself properly on a subject and form a more appropriate, intelligent, less ignorant opinion? It seems to be the case with a great many things in life, so surely this is no different.

This misconception runs rampant with NASCAR, sometimes to the point that it’s downright comical, if not a little frustrating, hearing the uneducated opinions spouted forth by people who simply don’t know any better (but have no qualms with speaking like they do) and would apparently prefer to stay in the dark.

It all generally starts with people simply saying NASCAR isn’t a sport, which, still blows my mind.

A sport can be defined as a “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”

Let me ask you this, have you ever tried driving a car 500 laps at Bristol at the speeds they do? Until you have, hold off on saying there is no physical exertion required. Try it, once.

I mean, clearly it doesn’t take any stamina whatsoever, or anything of the sort, to withstand 125 degree and higher temperatures for three and a half hours, losing upwards of ten pounds or more each race.

All the while participating in an event where one mistake could ultimately have the chance to be fatal.

One simple mistake could lead to this

Something else to ponder, go grab five or six of your friends, see if you can put 22 gallons of gas in a car and change four tires in about 15 seconds. I’m betting you can’t. You run around carrying two 5o pound tires, or an 80 pound gas can, see how well you hold up to that. Never mind the pressure to do this all as fast as you can with the difference in 1st place and 14th being the matter of just a second or two.

Yeah, nothing physically exerting about that at all.

And we all know there is nothing competitive about racing cars, right? I mean, it’s not like racing, in some form, isn’t one of, if not the, oldest forms of competition in the world.

Ever since people had objects that could move, they’ve been racing them. The idea of finishing something first is the penultimate form of competition.

Then of course you get the typical, “well all they do is turn left” retort. This one is the one that really makes me laugh.

Again, can you do it? No, you can’t.

Driving at 75 mph on 285 where everyone has turn signals and break lights and generally keeps themselves separated by feet at a time is nerve-racking enough for the normal human.

But you think it’s just a walk in the park to drive 200 mph where there are no turn signals, no break lights, and the distance between the car in front of you, behind, and to either side of you totals about two feet, if that? Yeah, sure, and there’s beach front property in Wyoming too, right?

And you think driving on the local interstate at 75 mph is harrowing?

People on the road get flustered when someone is within just a couple of feet behind them tailgating them on a country road. These guys literally push each other around the track at 200 mph, but I’m sure you could do that without any problems, right? Of course you can.

There’s also the matter of trying to make a 3500 pound racecar turn left at a high speed. Speed limits are what they are because that’s the determined safest speed with which to navigate the roadway. Try taking some of the typical turns you encounter in your daily drive at 150 mph. Actually, don’t. You won’t be able to, and you know it.

But again, all these guys do is turn left.

Actually, sometimes they do turn right

Of course, when all else fails, we get the last resort comment inferring that NASCAR is just a sport full of dumb rednecks, right?

Yeah, I don’t know about you, but simply put, you can’t be stupid and put these race cars together. Perhaps if people made themselves more aware of what actually went into building these cars, and engines, they would hesitate before making such asinine comments.

When you’re dealing with trying to find one extra horsepower, or gain one tenth of a second in a lap, even the most minuscule edge can make a drastic difference. Stupid people aren’t the ones working with the aerodynamics of the body of the car spending hour upon hour in the wind tunnel seeking out these slight advantages, and it sure isn’t a collection of stupid people engineering these chassis to find the slightest improvements possible.

Warning, dumb rednecks at work, just throwing some junk together, right?

Another thought, in regards to these “dumb rednecks”, has anyone tried calculating your fuel mileage without the aid of a gas gauge? And when I say calculate fuel mileage I don’t mean stop and fill up every time you think you might be halfway empty, I’m talking calculating it to the very last drop of fuel without the aid of any type of gauge. Yeah, just “some dumb rednecks” at work, clearly.

Beyond that, these “dumb rednecks” sure have managed to find their way into the white collar Fortune 500 companies of the world as well. Somehow these uneducated hillbillies managed to somehow turn their little sport into the largest spectator sport in the country while raking in one of the more lucrative television deals in sports. Stupid rednecks, clearly, no business sense whatsoever either.

That of course leads me to baseball, another favorite of others to ridicule and pick at.

You get it all with baseball too. You hear that these guys aren’t athletes.

Okay, granted, there are a few on the diamond who don’t appear to be overly athletic. However, if you think hitting a baseball 400 feet is simply the matter of luck thanks to good hand and eye coordination, you try taking some 150 pound string bean to the ballpark and see how many he hits out of the yard. I don’t care if his swing is the most perfect, beautiful, technically sound swing in the history of the game, the ball isn’t leaving the yard.

Many will contend that sprinting is a more difficult, and more physically taxing exercise than distance running. Yes, distance running requires more stamina, but when it comes to physical exertion, effort, and strain, short sprints are more demanding of the body.

No, baseball players do not run a 5k out there, and no, they don’t cover 80 yards at time. But they do run, well, if they’re good enough to get on base, several short sprints over the course of a game, short sprints where they are going absolutely as fast as they physically are capable of.

No, not every situation where a runner is running the bases are they at full speed, but it isn’t like these guys simply get to walk everywhere they go. Much like people will say starting a car and driving short distances is ultimately bad on an engine, so to is starting and stopping the human body in this fashion.

And I’ll be damned if people can call quarterbacks athletes, but try to pretend that pitchers aren’t. The overhand throwing of a baseball is not a natural act. It’s a series of unnatural movements with the shoulder and elbow that causes a great deal of strain on the joints and ligaments.

Again, it goes back to that question, can the typical layperson do this? No, absolutely not. I’d like to think most people are aware that they cannot accurately throw a baseball 90 mph into a small designated target area time and time again. Nor can they make a baseball move inches, if not feet at a time at a high rate of speed while still hitting the desired target.

Let alone can they do this 90 to 125 times in one afternoon (non maximum effort warm up pitches aside), and then do it again 5 days later.

But of course, we wouldn’t want something like that to obscure their belief that baseball players aren’t athletes.

Sure, baseball is indeed largely putting to use great hand/eye coordination, there is no disputing that. But ultimately, what more is shooting a basketball, or a hockey puck, or catching a football, or striking a tennis ball than hand/eye coordination?

In order for the hand/eye coordination part of the game to work, one must first put themselves in position to make use of these skills. Last I checked, not every ball hit is hit right at someone on the baseball field, generally speaking, there involves a quick reflex, and some sort of athletic ability to put one in position to catch a batted ball. They aren’t magnetically drawn to a fielder’s glove.

We're all capable of doing this, right?

Beyond the physical side of a sport, you hear it all the time, in every sport, even the ones that apparently are “more of a sport” than others, 90% of the game is mental. So if 90% of the game is mental, then how important really is the 10% of it that’s physical when it comes to determining what is and is not a sport?

Take baseball, it’s as pressure filled and mentally demanding as any sport there is (though I would argue when it comes to the mental aspect, golf and driving a racecar are atop the list). In basketball if you fail to block out, or don’t properly set a screen, it’s likely masked by the other action on the court. If you miss a jump shot, or a free throw, it’s just simply part of the game. In football, a missed assignment usually only gets noticed by those select few with keen eyes, and/or in the meeting room the following week.

In baseball, all eyes, at all times, are on the people involved in the play at hand, and nobody else. You can’t mask a mistake in baseball. It’s the ultimate one on one battle, and the ultimate version of self-competition.

The pitcher versus hitter duel is one of the greatest things about sports. You can’t get much more direct, one on one competition than that. A refusal to see, and understand this can only be due to one simply not wanting to accept it.

As mano a mano as it gets

When a ball is hit, at this point, it’s competition with one’s self. You have to make the play. If you don’t, the whole world sees it, they see your mistake (ask Brooks Conrad how that feels). It’s about being perfect in what you do. Each play in a baseball game is about an individual doing their job to the best of their abilities, each and every opportunity, with little room for error.

Each time the onus is placed upon one individual at a time, all of it. But I wouldn’t call that pressure, not at all. There’s nothing mentally draining or taxing involved there at all, right? Again, ask Brooks Conrad. Ask Mark Wohlers.

Obviously, baseball has no business claiming itself as a sport, none whatsoever.

And soccer, well I refuse to address soccer, because anyone who can sit with a straight face and argue that soccer isn’t a sport, or is simply a sport for sissies, is someone I really no longer have much desire to converse with.

Now one can absolutely argue that either of these sports is boring. While I would vehemently disagree with that statement, it comes down to a matter of preference. I could go on and on further about why each of these sports is indeed anything but boring, but that’s not really relevant.

Then again, the question itself of what is and isn’t a sport, ultimately is irrelevant, isn’t it? In the vast majority of cases a “sport” is played or watched for the entertainment value in it. It is watched in order to provide entertainment for the viewer.

Obviously this isn’t aimed at everyone who simply doesn’t like NASCAR or baseball. Just as foolish as it is to insult others, or insinuate a lack of intelligence, or lack of taste in their choice of entertainment for enjoying one of these sports, it’s equally as foolish to demean someone for not liking them as well.

However, there is a big difference in simply not enjoying something and acting as though those that do are somehow less intelligent, or inferior in any way because they do.

Just who the hell is anyone to tell anyone else what is appropriate, or acceptable, or “good enough” forms of entertainment? We don’t all like the same music and movies, do we ? (Granted, just as there are the “sports snobs” of the world, Lord knows there are “music snobs” and “movie snobs” too, so perhaps not the best way to illustrate my point). We don’t all like the same food, or read the same magazines, or like the same clothes?

As with most things, it ultimately does indeed come down to a matter of respect, and quite frankly, too many people simply refuse to accept and respect the opinions of others. When given a chance to feel superior to another individual, one will take it, in a hurry.

When it comes to liking baseball or NASCAR, apparently that’s the green light for others to jump on their pedestal and look down upon someone.

You know what I’ll gladly let you do that. I can’t really hear you over the roar of the engines, nor will I let your ignorant rants bother me while enjoying a beautiful day outside at the ballpark.

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Atlanta’s 10 Most Heartbreaking Sports Moments #8

2010 NLDS Game 3– The 2010 Atlanta Braves were actually a collection of three teams.

There was the team that began the season 18-20, falling into last place, 6.5 games out of first by mid-May.

Then came the squad that went 38-20 thru July 22, building up a lead of 7 full games in the division, a remarkable 13.5 game swing in little over two months.

And lastly, we have the team that took the field in game three of the National League divisional series playoffs against the San Francisco Giants. It was a team that consisted of just two of the eight everyday players remaining from the opening day lineup. Seven positions from opening day had a new name on the lineup card for what ultimately became one of the most heartbreaking games in Atlanta Braves annals.

At catcher All-Star game MVP Brian McCann was still there, and was beginning to take claim to a new roll as the unquestioned leader and face of the Braves.

The other player remaining in the lineup? Just that rookie Jason Heyward, who himself had battled through injury throughout the second half, hurting his production, but not enough to prevent him from finishing second in rookie of the year voting and being the best offensive player on the team.

First basemen Troy Glaus, he off the ridiculous hot streak through May and early June that carried the Braves out of the slump? Age, injury, and ineffectiveness had taken him out of the lineup. Insert Derek Lee, another injured first basemen, seemingly a shell of the player he once was, but still, an uprgade over what Glaus had become at the plate, and a massive upgrade in the field.

At shortstop, the club had seen enough of the enigmatic Yunel Escobar and traded the super talented, but temperamental youngster to Toronto for veteran Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez provided a more stabling presence in the infield, and perhaps more sound overall defense (though he made some crucial errors down the stretch), though without the potential flair that Escobar was supposed to offer.

Future hall of famer, and Mr. Brave Chipper Jones may have started slowly, but his bat began coming around in the second half of the year. Then, making one of the finest defensive plays he’s made in years, Jones season ended with an ACL tear. Initially all-star second basemen Martin Prado had been penciled in to play third, but after his season ending injury Omar Infante took over. All Infante did was, after making the All-Star team has a reserve, go on to contend for the National League batting title.

In left field, Melky Cabrera proved to be one of the worst off-season acquisitions in recent memory for the Braves, and when the playoffs rolled around, it was Matt Diaz making the start in the most important Braves game in half a decade.

In center, Nate McClouth got off to a start that was so bad nobody would have believed it without actually seeing it first hand. While McClouth seemed to recover after a stint in the minors and at least be serviceable, it wasn’t McClouth starting in center field on this night, instead it was late season pick-up, and ironically enough game two hero, Rick Ankiel.

And now we get to second base, yes, second base. It was manned at first by Prado, en route to selection to an all-star game. However, following the Chipper Jones injury, Prado was moved to third base, and Omar Infante took his spot at second. However, with just merely five games left in the season, Prado was lost for the year. Infante was moved from second to third, and in came Brooks Conrad at second. Conrad had become a folk hero of sort for the Braves, delivering some clutch hits off the bench in some huge wins for the club over the course of the year. However, his clutch at bats off the bench over shadowed his biggest weakness, he was a huge liability in the field. There’s a reason he was 30 years old and a rookie in the big leagues at such an age.

The team entered the season think Jair Jurrjens would be their ace, after his outstanding 2009 season, marred by poor run support. Jurrjens however couldn’t stay healthy throughout the year, and wasn’t even on the post-season roster.

Yet, here the Braves were, at home, playing game three against the National League West division champion San Francisco Giants, with the series knotted at one apiece.

The fact that the Braves were in such a spot was a testament to what the team had displayed all year, a fighting, never say die, it’s never over spirit. After dropping the first game in a nail biting 1-0 pitchers duel, the Braves faced a must win in game two.

Trailing 3-0 in the 8th, with for all intents and purposes the season seemingly pretty much over, Atlanta did what it had done all year. It picked itself up off the deck and scored three runs, the big blow coming from Alex Gonzalez’s two run double.

Into extra innings the games went, and there, another in season pick-up, Ankiel, would pick up the slack, turning a 2-2 pitch with one out in the top of the 11th into a moon shot that landed in McCovey Cove, well beyond the right field wall for a one run lead the Braves would not surrender.

However, to get into the 11th, the Braves had to pitch their way out of a jam in the bottom of the 10th. And while they accomplished that feat, closer extraordinaire Billy Wagner had to make a difficult defensive play on a ball out in front of the mound on a throw to second base. On the throw, Wagner injured an abdominal muscle and would no longer be available for the Braves in the playoffs.

So, yes, as the Braves entered game three of this division series, tied, with a chance to go up 2-1, wit Cy Young candidate Tim Hudson pitching, they were doing so with 6 of 8 regulars different from opening day, and their ace pitcher and their closer also both being someone different from who was expected from the opening pitch.

So as Braves fans, expecting a serious run to the World Series was just too much to expect, right? Well, no. Not with this team, not with the fight they’d shown all year. Not with the comeback against the Reds earlier in the year, not with they way they fought and clawed with an undermanned squad to get themselves into the playoffs, not with this being Bobby Cox’s last year and the team doing everything it could to send him out the best way they knew possible. No, it wasn’t too much to expect.

These are the dream seasons and magical story lines that seem to happen all the time, well, all the time in cities besides Atlanta.

Remember when I mentioned that Brooks Conrad had become the teams second baseman? He reminded us all with an error in the first inning.

In the second inning, he just reaffirmed it. Conrad, attempting to take a pop fly away from first basemen Derek Lee, misplayed the ball, allowing the Giants first run to score, giving the Giants a 1-0 lead.

It was a 1-0 lead that held all the way into the 8th inning. Then the Braves did what the Braves have done, again.

Alex Gonzalez singled to lead off the inning. Up next, Conrad, with a chance to atone for the damage done earlier in providing the Giants their only run. Asked to bunt, he couldn’t do it. He popped the bunt up, wasting an out.

One out, man still on first. Up to the plate stepped Eric Hinske. Sergio Romo’s 0-1 pitch didn’t go where he wanted it, and it landed exactly where he did not want it. The left handed Hinske turned on it, at once the crowd at Turner Field rose, fans in their living rooms all across Georgia rose to their feet. And then they all screamed and yelled and cheered in ways they’d not screamed and yelled and cheered in years.

Eric Hinske celebrates what should have been the game winning home run in game three of the NLDS

2-1, the Braves led. The stadium shook. It was good.

The Braves entered the 9th however without Wagner, who was going to close things out. Rookie Craig Kimbrel, the closer of the future, found out the future was now. At a time like this, you ask that the guys behind the pitcher help the youngster out.

And then here came that Conrad guy again. The Giants picked themselves up off the deck, rallying with two outs, with the Braves one out away from having two chances to close the Giants out, one of which would come at home, to score the tying run and put two more on base.

They tied the game at two, but there were still two outs, the Braves would be batting again, all was good. Then Giants catcher Buster Posey did the very best thing he could do. He hit the ball right at Brooks Conrad. Through the wicket it went, in came the go-ahead run, and with it went the Braves playoff hopes.

Nobody hurt more than Brooks Conrad after committing three errors in one playoff game, two leading to Giants runs.

Three errors in one game. Most players can’t try to do that. Brooks Conrad did it in the biggest game of his life. Conrad was the target of critics all over the country, but particularly so in the state of Georgia.

Forgotten was that without Conrad’s contributions during the year, the Braves wouldn’t even be in the playoffs. Forgotten was that Conrad was the teams THIRD choice at second base, only playing because guys like Martin Prado and Chipper Jones weren’t available. Forgotten was the decision by Bobby Cox to take out the hard throwing strike out machine Kimbrel for fellow rookie Mike Dunn, who’d offered very little value during the regular season. Forgotten was that the Braves team, really, wasn’t at this point good enough to be a playoff team, let alone one actually contending to win a series.

None of  that really mattered. What was remembered was that the Braves lost 3-2 in a game where two of the Giants runs came directly off of errors by Conrad. What was remembered was that a routine ground ball was hit to a major league baseball player, and he couldn’t make the play, again.

Even the “Nutty Nutcracker” at the Fox Theater took the liberty to get their shot in at Conrad.

Who is to say the Braves would have gone on to win that game, and if they had, who is to say they would have finished off the series? Who’s to say they advance past the Phillies and capture that World Series? We can’t know, but we never will, and it’s because Brooks Conrad couldn’t field one lousy ground ball.

The Giants, as we know, went on to win the World Series. Their toughest playoff series en route to doing so? You got it, the one where Brooks Conrad gave them game three. The Braves may not have gone on to equal the Giants run in the playoffs. But with the pitching the Braves had, and the way the team kept fighting back, one would have liked a chance.

Alas, as happens so often in Atlanta, that chance slipped between our legs, in excruciating fashion, again.

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Games Like Today…

…Make you wonder why you put up with this.

The excitement felt for this team matched any team since 1991, and the crowd at the Ted today reflected that. It did seem that those years of no post season baseball helped erase the apathy that had come from this town in playoff games. Also, having home games that weren’t daytime midweek games didn’t hurt. But this was such a different feel surrounding this team. We’re all resigned that this team, right now, really isn’t very good. And yet, here they were with a chance to, at home, take a 2-1 series lead and be one game away from playing for the pennant.

The offense, predictably, did what it’s been doing, or not doing. It looked bleak, we were all resigned that this was coming to an end. We knew it. It was watching the same story repeat itself in the post season for our Braves.

Then they did what, predictably, they’ve been doing all year. They got up off the deck. They rallied. They again it appeared, had snatched victory from defeat. Suddenly we began thinking that perhaps this wasn’t the same story. That even as over matched as this team is, their might be something to that “fate”, and “destiny” crap. It was okay to believe.

And then…………………….

You know, you can only lose so many all-stars and keep winning. You can’t keep winning in the regular season, let alone the playoffs if all your best players are on the bench.

Finally, the lack of Chipper, Prado and Wagner caught up with us. People were in positions that they ordinarily wouldn’t have been in, and it caught up with us. We lost this game because we just aren’t that good. Our best players can’t play. There’s a reason they were starters. There’s a reason they were all-stars. And there’s a reason Brooks Conrad is a 30 year old rookie. There is a reason Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been asked to close just yet. Those reasons beat us today.

And now all hope does indeed look lost. The fact is we just aren’t very good. Sure, wait till next year. But of those guys we’re missing, there’s a chance that only one of them is in our lineup next season. So this feels empty. Very empty. These guys, including Brooks Conrad are all so easy to pull for. Rooting for this team feels right, it feels good. We want them to win more than we’ve probably wanted any single team to ever win. These guys have been ridiculous to watch, and now we’re probably done watching them. Their shot is done. This is the 2nd most heart breaking baseball loss I ever have experienced, and not even a win tomorrow will fix that.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we pull ourselves back up tomorrow. I think Bochy is doing us a favor throwing Bumgardner. Throw Lincecum while you’ve got us down, end the series now. Don’t not use your big dog right here. I understand how well he’s pitched down the stretch, BUT, do you really want to run the risk of a Game 5? Do you want to run the risk that perhaps we get our bats going a bit and build some confidence for a possible game 5? Don’t you want to have Lincecum available as early as possible in the Phillies series?

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All Star Games, Really?

The Major League Baseball All-Star game is upon us, and?

Yawn.

That’s the noise you hear from the collective sports viewing public. The All-Star game is no longer fashionable, it’s an over-hyped, inconvenient, charade of people who don’t want to be in a place they are forced to be, doing something they don’t really want to do, for approximately 37 people who actually care.

The All-Star game was cool, and hip, and relevant up through the 80s. No longer does it hold such meaning.

Blame it on interleague play, blame it on the fall of baseball as the nation’s most popular sport, or blame it on the massive media coverage at everyone’s disposal. Blame it on Bud Selig for cheapening it with his ill-conceived plan to have “This one count”.

Regardless of where the blame gets placed, the All-Star game has been rendered an afterthought in the American sports culture.

The All-Star game used to be a chance for fans of the National League to see the stars of the American League take the field, and vice versa. Thanks to interleague play, the expanded post-season, the difference in the haves and have-nots of baseball, and free agency, that’s not such a novelty anymore.

Whereas once upon a time, the only time you ever really saw anyone from another team playing baseball, or had much coverage paid to them, was when they were playing against your home team. American League teams didn’t play National League teams aside from the World Series. In turn, stars from opposing leagues might as well have been foreign stars playing across the ocean. Interleague play brought those players to everyone’s city.

The dearth of free agency and player movement also contributed to the excitement around the All-Star game. As mentioned, players from the American League and National League rarely crossed paths. The All-Star game was the only way to see some of these superstars take the field.

With player movement at such an all-time high, (see Cliff Lee, arguably the best pitcher in baseball now pitching for his 4th team in two years), players are constantly crossing over leagues. An American Leaguer one day, a Chicago Cub the next. It happens all the time.

The player movement also contributed to taking away from one of the other great allures of the All-Star game. The love affair between fan and player is no longer what it once was. Players change teams constantly, owners and players alike seem to have lost a sense of loyalty. As a result, fans aren’t so enamored with their particular players, as they recognize that as soon as the end of that month, that player could be wearing a different uniform.

Where once fans took great pride in watching the All-Star game to see “their guy” play, to see him on a field with other stars. In today’s climate, that pride is non-existent, and for good reason.

Do you really think Royals and Pirates fans are overly excited about seeing their guy for his couple at-bats, or their pitcher pitch one inning? It’s imply a reminder that he’s pretty much the only good player their miserable franchise has at its disposal. Worse, they are fully aware that that particular player will more than likely be traded away within the next couple of weeks, or in the very least, the coming off-season. So, yeah, that pride in your players thing, eh, not so much.

There was once a time the All-Star game was the only game outside of World Series games that really seemed to matter. There were no LCS, there were no wildcard series. Baseball came down to two things, the Mid-Summer Classic, and the Fall Classic. That was it. You didn’t miss either.

Now the post-season lasts an entire month. Not coincidentally, the vast majority of players who comprise the All-Star teams will also be those still playing baseball in October. So what’s special about seeing them all on the field now? You can see them all together for an entire month in October.

The biggest contributor however to the lack of interest in the All-Star game is the endless coverage afforded to baseball fans 24/7. All the reasons mentioned previously refer to the same basic concept, that the stars from the “other” league were like hidden secrets that only got exposed on a very infrequent basis.

No longer is that the case. Fans can watch any player take every single at-bat of their season if they so wish. There’s nothing secretive, or alluring for a Dodgers fan to watch Derek Jeter bat. They can watch every single inning of every single game that Jeter participates in. So what now is so special of watching him take two meaningless at-bats in an All-Star me.

The fact that this game actually counts for something, and determines home field advantage in the World Series is nothing more than a joke, and all that joke does is take even further away from what once was a spectacle of superstars.

Now it’s a collection of baseball players who wished they had three days off instead of trotting around for a nation that doesn’t really care anymore.

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