Saturday, January 30, 2016

L.A. Traffic Still Sucks, But Vin Scully Avenue Rules!

Vinny, you are the best!
No caption necessary.
The best Dodger news this winter came across my computer yesterday: The city of Los Angeles will be honoring longtime Dodger broadcaster, Vin Scully, by re-naming the street that leads to Dodger Stadium, Vin Scully Avenue! No true baseball fan can deny that Scully is arguably the best baseball broadcaster of all time. Who else has the nerve to sit in the booth alone; these days, every MLB broadcasting booth has wall-to-wall talking heads vying for their airtime blather. Not Vinny's booth: As he has for the better part of his 66 years with the team, Scully sits solo, delicately guiding listeners and viewers through the intricacies of the game. The man is now 88 years old and still never misses a moment on the field and has a fascinating tale to tell at just the right time. Every time.

I got to hang in Vinny's office last summer.
One of my favorite parts of listening to a Scully game is when he isn't talking--he understands when to let the sounds of the game tell the story, which is beautiful. I still get chills watching re-plays of Kirk Gibson's game-winning World Series homer against the Oakland A's in 1988, not just from the huge victory it sealed or the drama of watching Gibson hobble to the plate, but from Vinny's non-call of the moment. He went on radio-silence, and let the roar of the crowd fill the airwaves and complete the picture. 

Word is that Vinny plans to call the final game of his illustrious career at San Francisco's AT&T Park on October 2. He won't be traveling much during the season, mostly working home games, but it sounds like he wants to end it presiding over the rivalry he has witnessed from Day 1. Perfect swan song for sure. To no surprise, the L.A. City Council voted 12 - 0, in favor of giving Scully his due leading up to his "so-long" season. I, for one, can't wait to drive along Vin Scully Avenue to Dodger Stadium this summer. I won't even mind the traffic.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Will The Mighty Bulls Lose Bragging Rights?

Hey baseball fans, with the big winter trades and free agent signings pretty much behind us, I thought we might push through some of the bitter winter blues with a little NBA talk. The Golden State Warriors are doing something remarkable this season that can't be denied--even by this L.A. sports fan. So while we are waiting for the tarp to roll back on Spring Training, let's chat about whether or not the Warriors can do the unimaginable, and steal the all-time NBA season record for most wins from the high-and-mighty, Michael Jordan-led 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

I still can't stand these guys.
Let's just start with the fact that I am not a Jordan fan. Never was and never will be. I don't deny his greatness and what he accomplished. I just never liked him as a person, much the way most non-Laker fans hate Kobe Bryant. He was brilliant on the court, but a complete jerk off of it. He was brutal with his teammates in practice and in interviews ("my supporting cast"), he was one of the more boring interviewees, he's a big-time gambler, a wife-cheater, and maybe even worse for baseball fans, his hubris made him believe he could play professional baseball!

Is Steph Curry pointing the way to the record?
But I digress...Can the Warriors, currently sitting at a crazy 42-4 (more than halfway through the season), break the Bulls' record of 72 wins? It looks like a "yes" for many people. But you know there are some major "if's" to be considered first.

And The If's Are:

Freaky things like this happen. They do.
    Injuries. This is always the biggest of intangibles. The team is racking up wins with smart coaching, team chemistry money can't buy (it pains me greatly that Laker great, Jerry West, is one of the architects), and talent at every position, with MVP Steph Curry leading the way. But we all know that they are just one major injury to a key player away from the record being in serious jeopardy. Curry's ankles were a problem early in his career, and he slices up defenses designed to throttle him with the slimmest of builds for protection. If Curry goes down, the Warriors aren't the same; ditto if something happens to power forward Draymond Green. 

    The Schedule: Look at the Warriors's second-half schedule, and you know that Coach Steve Kerr--who probably has photos of the black eye Jordan gave him in a fight at practice to prove that he was on the Bulls that fateful year--has circled two of the last four games of the season as the potential record-killer. If Kerr is to coach his team to the record and the bragging rights to owning it as both a player and a coach (take that, Jordan!), they may have to beat the San Antonio Spurs twice in their last four games. Sure, you say, the Warriors just annihilated the Spurs the other day, but that was at home, with Tim Duncan on the bench, and LaMarcus Aldridge still looking lost on his new team. The Greg Popovich-coached and experienced Spurs won't slip like that again; these two games will be tough, especially since they will most likely be a preview of the Western Conference playoff between them. And they play an additional game against the Spurs on March 19th in San Antonio.  

    Chris Paul is a master of head games.
    Competitive Star Teams: Tack on seven more games against very good teams that will be jockeying for playoff position led by veteran stars who HATE losing (OKC Thunder's Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook; Chris Paul of the L.A. Clippers, and Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks), and you have at least ten potential games where the Warriors could falter. Also, you can't overlook the fact that some crappy teams are also lying in the weeds, ready to snake a win from last year's champs when they are low on desire or sleep one night.

    Pressure Cooker: If the Warriors get within sniffing distance of the record, the pressure could be what kills them. This is a young team, and they will feel the weight of breaking this hallowed record. However, they are the defending World Champs, and they performed just fine under huge pressure during last year's playoffs. And they have Kerr, who helped SET the record, to lead them through the fire.

    Stop stressing, MJ, your record is safe.
    So, Will They Or Won't They?
    They didn't break the Lakers consecutive wins streak of 33 to start a season (I was seriously sweating this one out), topping out at 24 victories, and I don't think they will break the 72-game-winning season, either. Many signs point to them getting it done, and I believe they will come close (70 is my guess, still incredible), but I think something (injuries, burnout, pressure, etc.) or someone who doesn't want to see it happen against them (Aldridge, Durant, Paul, Notwitzki, etc.) will get in their way of taking down Jordan and the Bulls. 

    That's my two cents. Sound off in the comment's section, and let me know if you think the Warriors will break the record and become the NBA's single season game-winning champs. That last sentence was really hard for me to type. 

    Let's go Dodgers! Seriously, I need Spring Training right now.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2016

    Winter Moves: Giants vs Dodgers, Part 2

    The days between the World Series and when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training are long, especially if you hate the NFL (and don't want to watch Tom Brady win another Super Bowl), and don't pay attention to the NBA as much since Magic, Bird, and MJ left us. Let's continue to help pass the time by talking about what the greatest rivalry in baseball has been up to this winter. On Monday, we talked about the winter moves the Dodgers and Giants have made so far with their starting pitching staffs. Today, it's all about the bullpens and the position players. Let's hit it!


    Kenley Jansen
    Thank God they didn't sign Chapman!
    This is an easy one to call since neither team has really made any moves bullpen-wise. Hard to believe since they both had their troubles in this area last season. The Dodgers signed journeyman pitcher, Joe Blanton, to a 1-year deal, to be used primarily in a right handed, long-relief role in an effort to balance their lefty-dominant rotation; not exactly a sexy move, but he did post 2.84 era in 76 appearances last season. I still feel like the Dodgers will find somebody to count on for the 7th inning beyond what lurks there now. The only solid pieces are closer, Kenley Jansen, (who will be playing pissed off since they nearly replaced his 9th inning with Adrolis Chapman) and setup man, Chris Hatcher. Super high-octane young fast-ballers, Pedro Baez and Yimi Garcia both showed promise last year, but neither one could produce when it really counted. I'm sure they will be in the mix, and they deserve to be, but please just get us something reliable for the big moments. Begging. Not a pretty sight, I know.

    Hunter Strickland
    You want me to throw what? I don't think so!
    As of today, the Giants seem to be relying on last year's guys (minus Jeremy Affeldt, who retired) and their farm system to stock their bullpen. They will also probably make a small move or two, but they already blew their wad of cash on Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija (yes, I spelled his name correctly, I checked it three times), and Denard Span. They may run into some problems because, though young guys like righty Hunter Strickland and lefty Josh Osich look solid, old standbys Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, and Javier Lopez just look...old. Very old. 

    Winter Bullpens Acquisition Advantage: Even (since both teams essentially held pat, apologies to Joe Blanton).

    Position Players

    Chase Utley's infamous take-out.
    This one is an easy call because Dodger management has basically done nothing this winter in terms of position players. I don't call re-signing second baseman dinosaur Chase Utley to a 1-year deal a "move." It is said that he is "good in the clubhouse," but on the field most would just describe him as "not good." I really miss Dee Gordon--the Dodgers will lack a true leadoff hitter once again unless Dave Roberts laces his cleats and becomes player/manager. It doesn't look like any major position player moves are coming, but you never know. I think the hope is that Yasiel Puig gets his act together (last year had to be a humbling experience, right?), bonds with Roberts (Puig and former manager Don Mattingly didn't seem like buddies), and has a bounce-back year. Management also must be praying that Carl Crawford and every strained muscle fiber in his body finally plays more than 40 games to somewhat justify the ridiculous contract that is squashing them. We'll see.

    Denard Span
    Angel may need to pray for playing time.
    Up in NorCal, the Giants picked up speedy leadoff hitter/outfielder Denard Span from Washington, and IF he stays healthy (this has been a problem) he could be a great addition since Angel Pagan's days of patrolling ATT Park's expansive centerfield are numbered. Or should be. 

    Winter Position Players Acquisition Advantage: Giants (sort of by default, in a way, but I gotta give it to them since they did something).

    Sound off in the comments section below! I will be back next week with more winter happenings from the only two teams in MLB that really matter. :)

    Monday, January 18, 2016

    Winter Moves: Giants vs Dodgers

    Hey there--welcome back! I have finally been able to transfer my Behind Enemy Lines baseball newsletter into a full-fledged blog! I am so excited to be able to bring my take on major league baseball--specifically my view as a Dodger fan living in S.F. Giants enemy territory--to you through a forum that allows readers to get involved in the conversation. So, let's hit it!

    Who is making the best winter moves?
    Winter Moves: Dodgers vs Giants--Who Is Winning So Far?

    With 4ish weeks to go until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, I thought it would be a good time to check in on the moves the Dodgers and Giants have made so far this winter. Today, I will discuss starting pitching. Later this week, I will bring you my thoughts about the bullpens and position players the two teams have acquired so far.

    Starting Pitching

    Hell, yes, I'm on the Dodgers now!
    How does hair even do this?
    Both teams filled glaring holes in their starting rotations, to be sure. For the Giants, Tim Hudson retired, the team let go of Ryan Volgelsong, and they landed definite upgrades in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. Both of these guys come with some question marks, though. Samardzija had a pretty sub-par season with the Chicago White Sox last season (ERA was just a hair under 5.00), but he did pitch a robust 214 innings. Cueto is a stud, no doubt; however, his second-half last year was abysmal, and his body mechanics are so crazy-weird that upper management is going to cringe every time he releases the ball for fear of injury, not to mention never being in position to field a ball hit his way. Star left-hander, Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and his innings-weary-and-worn-out arm, plus 2015 second-half shaky starter, Chris Heston, finish off the starting five.
    Don't say a word about my funky leg kick.
    This is my sexy look.

    The Dodgers started the winter with two pitching losses. Well, sort of. Of course, we all know Zack Greinke bolted for the big bucks in Arizona (what a lame choice he made, they will NEVER win a World Series), leaving a huge hole in the starting rotation. Then the Adrolis Chapman free agent signing went sideways (backing out of this deal was a smart move by the Dodgers, as they don't need another potential distraction and malcontent on the team), keeping the team from adding a major piece to the backend of the bullpen. But the braintrust rebounded in the winter market by signing Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda to a primarily incentive-based, team-friendly contract; he very nicely fills the number 2 slot in the rotation with a resume that includes the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young award last year. Solid free agent lefty, Scott Kazmir, will slide perfectly into the 3 slot. Hold-overs Brett Anderson and Alex Wood will round out the rotation with the reliable Hyun-Jin Ryu probably taking over one of their spots when he returns from surgery rehab in May or June. Fingers crossed on Ryu because he gives the team the solid fourth starter they were missing in last year's playoffs.

    Winter Acquisition Starting Pitching Advantage

    I give the slight edge to the Dodgers. Cueto and Maeda will bring about the same value to both teams, as will Samardzija and Kazmir. However, Kazmir has something to play for, giving the Dodgers the advantage. This is a walk-year for Kazmir because he can opt out of his 2-year deal and enter a weak free agent market in 2017, and hit the jackpot if he has a big 2016 season; whereas, Samardzija, just got his big payday from the Giants (5 years, $90 million). Money motivation is everything in today's MLB, no two ways about it.

    Up later this week: How each team has fared so far in the winter market with bullpens and position players. Until then, I hope to hear from you in the comment section, and please share the link to my blog with your baseball friends!