The Nub

The Nub

"If you don't think life imitates sports, you're not reading The Nub”
                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

“Politics and baseball.  Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on perfectpitcher.org.”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

The Shielding-Names Game in the Off-Field Media

“Haven’t we seen this collapse around the All-Star game before?” a Mets fan e-mailed the other day. His memory is right on. For the last few years, the Mets have been building up hope in the spring, only to fade as summer takes hold. The team’s light-hitting and shallow bench wear down in the warm weather. “Meaningful games” in late July are a pipe-dream. On the day of the message, MLB Now devoted a segment to the tailspinning Mets; former pitcher and team broadcaster Bobby Ojeda was a guest panel member. We were struck by how carefully fingers were pointed at injuries and ill-timed strategic moves, but not at individuals. We know MLB-TV’s role is to promote Baseball. We didn’t appreciate its additional tendency to serve as protective lobby for owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and, to a lesser extent, GM Sandy Alderson. Fans know ownership’s unwillingness to spend to upgrade the roster is the big-market team’s basic problem. A policy of “leave the owners alone” destroys media credibility.

Similarly, the New York Times and much of the mainstream media hurts their reputation for objectivity by avoiding mention of those behind the last-minute victory of the Trans-Pacfic trade deal, which, in the words of Elizabeth Warren, makes it nearly impossible to enforce rules that protect hard-working families, but very easy to enforce rules that favor multinational corporations.” The Center for Responsive Politics lists more than 300 pro-business lobbying groups, including familiar names like Coca Cola, JP Morgan Chase, Wal-Mart, etc, that have gone to bat for anything but what Skipper Obama calls a “level playing field.”

And how about the seldom-mentioned names of the 13 Senate Democrats who voted with the pro-business side: Michael Bennet (CO), Maria Cantwell (WA), Tom Carper (DE), Chris Coons (DE), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Bill Nelson (FL),Tim Kaine (VA), Claire McCaskill (MO) Patty Murray, (WA), Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Mark Warner (VA), Ron Wyden (OR) If it is true – and it is – that “names make news,”, those 13 should be identified; they may be in for trouble with attentive constituents.

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Fallback Plan: We expected to hear less talk in Mets-land about the need to conserve the innings of starters so there’ll be rested for the playoffs. But no, addition of another superfluous young arm – this belonging to Steven Matz – indicates Sandy Alderson, et al, are going to continue to play the six-man so-what? game. As if there’s a remote chance the team can return to playoff-competitive status. “Remote” as in “won’t happen.”

The Yankees’ Shaky Would-be Aces: Along with Mashiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, the team now have a third less-than-predictable ace in Ivan Nova. If nothing else, the trio’s marginal reliability could permit Adam Warren to take over the seventh-inning relief slot. Many, including John Flaherty on YES, believe, overall, that would be an upgrade.

Rookie Worth Watching: “Maikel Franco (.303/10/29) is already the Phillies best hitter, and, depending on the uniform Cole Hamels wears in another month, he might soon be the team’s best player. He trails Joc Pederson (.249/19/47) and Kris Bryant (277/10/43) for Rookie of the Year, but he is younger than both players and his rookie season should not be overlooked amidst a poor season in Philadelphia. Franco’s (walk-averse) approach is not one that a lot of players have success with in the majors, but Adrian Beltre and Adam Jones have shown that players can be very productive offensively with an impatient power bat as long as they can make contact.” – Craig Edwards, FanGraphs

Streakers: Natkionals + 7, Rangers – 6, Marlins – 5

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) (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Handicapping the Playoffs on Both Fields

Dodgers, Cardinals, Nationals, Giants, Pirates: as of late June, they are good bets to make the NL playoffs. In the AL, bets are off for the moment. KC has lost key starter Yordano Ventura, disabled with numbness in his pitching hand. The Tigers are the only other team in the league with what can be considered a good playoff shot. Leadership in both the AL’s East and West divisions is up for grabs, as are possible post-season berths. Scoreboard shows an interesting summer ahead.

Much of the confusion can be traced to the surprisingly sputtering Indians, White Sox and Mariners. And we can’t overlook the out-of-nowhere surge of the Astros and Twins. Confusion reigns also in the GOP’ league’s playoff of presidential contenders. More than a dozen have been accounted for – too many to keep track of. Bloomberg View’s political birddog Albert Hunt – who earned his scouting stripes at the Wall Street Journal – is helping with the job. He sees eight serious candidates -(some still unannounced) – just two fewer than the top MLB playoff teams scrambling toward October. His list: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Mark Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker.

Hunt’s early line on those he sees as the five favorites:

(1) Walker, a 3-1 shot. “He is the frontrunner in the Iowa caucuses and he polls well in a range of states from Pennsylvania to North Carolina…a favorite of Charles and David Koch.”

(2) Rubio, 4-1. “The Florida Senator has been gaining ground. With youth, good looks and charm, he’s the 21st century Republican answer to John F. Kennedy.”  

(3) Jeb Bush, 5-1. “Bush has had a bad year so far, marked by his inability to clear the crowded Republican field or to shake the tarnish of his brother’s presidency. He has the time and resources to bounce back but faces big tactical decisions: Should he compete in Iowa, where he could finish fifth? And does he then have to win New Hampshire?”

(4) John Kasich, 7-1. “This assumes the Ohio Governor’s charm and knowledge will trump his flakiness; it’ll be a close call. He is suspect to many conservatives — he expanded Medicaid for the poor under Obamacare — but Kasich has first-rate strategists and the former chairman of the House Budget Committee is better versed in national and global issues than Walker.”

(5) Ted Cruz, 8-1. “He’s tough, although anathema to more mainstream Republicans. If he scores an early upset in Iowa he will become a contender. If he waits for later contests, it won’t happen.”

Whether the one favorite in the Dem team league stays unchallenged in that role remains to be seen.

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Remember the Name: During Tigers-Yankees Sunday, Paul O’Neill on YES, came across a surprise as he riffled through a stat sheet: Oakland’s Stephen Vogt was co-leading the AL with 51 RBIs, tied with Miguel Cabrera. “Where did he come from?” said O’Neill. Vogt, a 30-year-old journeyman, in only his fourth MLB year, is one of the A’s few bright spots. He also has 13 HRs and a .294 BA.

A Moribund Weekend…for NYC area fans: The visiting Tigers, who lost two of three to the Yankees, were accurately described as “lifeless” by one media onlooker. A stat sheet showed that Alfredo Simon, pitching for Detroit Saturday, takes an endless 24 seconds between deliveries. Teammate David Price holds the slowness record, 26 seconds. The Mets, meanwhile, being swept in Atlanta were – again accurately – called the “Walking Dead” by the NY Post.

We Laughed…last January, when the Pecota projections of Baseball Prospectus predicted Tampa Bay would finish second in the AL East, a game behind the Red Sox. The Sox, we know, aren’t doing too well, but, look at the Rays, at the top of the division.

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An Edgy Game Under Federal Scrutiny

There’s a late addition to the handful of Baseball’s mega-stars, like Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, etc: Who is it? Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, of course; Luhnow, the player-development guru linked to the Cardinals’ World Series championship in 2011. The Astros snapped him up as their GM that year in hopes \he’d bring a magic touch to their scouting operation. Some Cardinals staffers decided, perhaps, to continue to share Luhnow’s strategic gifts secretly by hacking into his scouting book. The Feds, we know, are looking into the matter.

SI’s Tom Verducci quotes a source as saying that, behind the apparent skullduggery, was a desire to embarrass Luhnow. Why? Because Cardinal “rogues” felt he took too much credit for the Redbirds’ success. We prefer a more persuasive explanation: a simple case of a franchise doing what businesses, and many of us, do: seek an edge in life’s competitive game. It’s the American way; even if lawbreaking comes into play. The record book of cases like Watergate tells us that edge-seeking is basic to the game of politics. Some say that effort is embodied today in TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal championed by business interests and Skipper Obama. It features a requirement that balks both houses from tinkering with the terms of the deal. An up-or-down vote must be cast by Congressional players on whether TPP deal should be approved, as is. So far, they’ve swung out against.”

Huff Post’s Robert Kuttner’s offers this background, pitching from the left side of the mound:

“TPP is part of a (program) that reflects corporate dominance of the agenda…(Such) ‘trade’ deals have been used to…weaken financial regulation and create corporate hegemony sponsored by presidents from both parties. TPP is emblematic of the political domination by the one percent…The real story here is a deep and principled split between the Congressional wing of the Democratic Party, most of whose members are still fairly progressive, and a presidential wing that has been in bed with Wall Street at least since Bill Clinton.”

The White House and Wall Street: a troublingly effective edge-seeking team.

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Diplomacy: MLB-TV broadcaster Jim Katt, asked by Brian Kenny if there wouldn’t be a taint on Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000-hit milestone: “What he’s done on the field won’t be affected; it’s his reputation that’s been hurt.” On YES, John Flaherty and Paul O’Neill, said they were “confused” as to how to respond to A-Rod’s latest achievement. Flaherty noted that, unlike the standing acclaim Derek Jeter received from the Tampa Bay players when he hit his 3000th in 2011, no one left the Tigers dugout to cheer Rodriguez last night.

Sweepers: Kansas City and Houston were the only teams to take all four games of their home-and-home intra-league series. KC beat Milwaukee, the Astros climbed over the Rockies.

Stat City: The secret (so far) to Tampa Bay’s success atop the AL East – the best road record (20-11) in either league. The Cardinals have the best home record, 26-7, but are only 18-16 away from St.Louis. The Mets, 10-22, have the worst road record after the woeful 7-28 Phillies.

Streakers: White Sox – 8, Rockies – 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Anti-Security Rally in the National Ballpark

Which type of “security” would ballplayers, and all of us, prefer – protection against enemies, or against struggling to survive late in life? Answer: both types. Chances are that question never occurred to the 1,200 players chosen in the MLB draft. Yet, hundreds of them will never make it to the bigs. At some point, members of that group will have to consider what kind of financial sacrifice will be entailed if they keep at it, and fail to get to the show. Baseball, to its credit, upgraded an outmoded minor league pension plan in 2008, insuring that ex-players will receive retirement benefits as of age 65. The plan pays a pittance compared to its major league counterpart, which provides $34,000 annual coverage after just 43 days in the majors. Minor league pensions rise from $14 monthly at Class A or lower; the amount is multiplied by years of service to $18 in Double-A, and $22 monthly in Triple-A. Not a lot, but not bad, considering that pensions are becoming a thing of the past in the business world.

We know that in recent years financial security plans – publicly and privately funded – have come under siege. The record book shows the turning point occurred in 1993, when the Clinton health plan was the target of political debate; the same type Obamacare would face two decades later. Righthanders , at first willing to compromise, finally refused to give the plan a pass. Why? A rally mobilized by hardliners to stop dependence upon publicly funded security plans.

Vox’s Ezra Klein quotes a game-changing memo from Team GOP strategist William Kristol that triggered the rally: Passage of the Clinton health care plan, in any form, (Kristol wrote) would guarantee and likely make permanent an unprecedented federal intrusion into and disruption of the American economy — and the establishment of the largest federal entitlement program since Social Security.”

If Republicans let any version of Clinton’s bill pass, Kristol said (as summarized by Klein), the political consequences would be grim. “It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.”

Team GOP’s successful resistance to progressive programs since that rally can be traced, in part, to erosion of the middle class and to the diminished clout of liberal Dems. That resistance is now dedicated to weakening late-life survival programs while reinforcing acceptance of militancy as the primary meaning of “security”. .

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Hot Seat to Fire: We suspect it was the success of five start-of-season new managers – Jeff Bannister (Rangers), Kevin Cash (Rays), Chip Hale (Diamondbacks), A.J. Hinch (Astros), Paul Molitor (Twins) – that figured into the decision to fire Padres manager Bud Black from his job yesterday. The team’s new GM A.J. Preller had expressed impatience with the performance of his made-over team, which has lingered around the .500 mark (current record 32-34). Four of the five above-noted teams have winning records. Black’s successor Dave Roberts joins two other in-season replacement skippers – the Marlins’ Dan Jennings and the Brewers’ Craig Counsell.

What’s Been Going on With…James Shields? He’s been having a (barely noted in the East) good season with his new club, the Padres: 7-0, 3.60, a striking 104 Ks in 87+ innings. And how about…Billy Hamilton? He has a stolen base for every seven AB’s – 31 (of 35)//210. He’s flunked the on-base test, however, and been relegated to the bottom of the Reds’ lineup. Filched five Sunday night in a game the Cubs’ Jon Lester started. Batting only .224.

Troy Tulowitzki’s Got Company: Time for an overdue shout-out for two emerging infield stars with the Rockies – third baseman Nolan Arenado, 24, and 26-year-old second baseman DJ LeMahieu. Tim Healy of Sports on Earth does the honors: “Arenado, who was the Rockies’ second-round Draft pick in 2009, made it to the majors two years ago and has since won two Gold Gloves… He’s come around with the bat, too…rank(ing) third among Major League third baseman in home runs and slugging percentage.   The Cubs selected LeMahieu in the same round of that ’09 Draft, then traded him to Colorado in December 2011. Since establishing himself as the Rockies’ starting second baseman 25 months ago, LeMahieu, too, has become one of the best defenders at his position…winning a Gold Glove last season. LeMahieu’s… level of (hitting) production (seems) real…If the season ended today he’d be third to only Dee Gordon and Paul Goldschmidt for the National League batting title.”

Streakers: , Pirates + 5, Phillies – 7, Red Sox – 7, Giants – 5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Hype-Free Game: Connecting With Fans and Voters

Of the dozen or so teams that either flirted with, or owned division leads as the season entered its midterm this week– Yankees, Rays, Royals, Twins, Astros, Rangers, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Dodgers, Giants – we know one that can be ruled out of playoff contention. You won’t hear a concession speech from the team’s GM, or read in the local media that it has next to no chance. Attentive Mets fans know the reality: after starting the home season with an 11-game winning streak (14-4 overall), the team’s record since then, as of this morning, is a woeful 19-25. Those same observant fans also know that owners of the big-market franchise, still reeling from Madoff investments, have been content to spend like paupers. The story of the team’s over-reliance on starting pitching at the expense of hitting depth is bemoaned throughout Mets-land. In a hype-free universe, GM Sandy Alderson could connect with fans by being honest. Things haven’t gone as he had hoped, he could say, the prolonged absence of David Wright has been particularly hurtful. But the team’s future r remains bright. And there’s always the chance of a miracle – the possibility, however remote, that the Nationals will experience prolonged problems of their own.

Precarious Love: On the presidential electoral field, Hillary Clinton is to her Dem team opponents what the Nationals (with the MLB’s sixth richest payroll) are to the rest of the NL East. She has to make a greater effort of her own to connect with voters, to – in the words of National Journal’s Charlie Cook – come across as more open and approachable, and to stop giving journalists so many easy shots to make her look bad. Contrary to what most conservatives believe, the vast majority of reporters have not been in the tank for the Clintons since the mid-1990’s, and many rather enjoy taking shots at them. A certain amount of that is inevitable, but why invite bad stories and encourage hostility? Right now, Democrats seem mostly OK with putting all of their eggs in the Clinton basket, though concerns are growing as to the durability of the basket. But the Clintons should not mistake Democrats getting in line for them falling in love.”

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Friday Night in Boston: “(John) Farrell was remarkably calm after (the Sox blew an 8-1 lead in losing 13-10 to Toronto) and found a silver lining in his team’s positive mood in the dugout during the collapse. ‘The life is there, there’s energy, there’s a lot of pulling for one another,’ he said. They will need more than that if the 27-35 Red Sox are to be heard from in October.” – Boston Herald

Frustrated No More: Josh Donaldson has already hit 17 HRS for the Blue Jays; he hit 29 all of 2014 while playing for the A’s. He told SI’s Albert Chen about the difference between playing in the Oakland and Toronto ballparks: “One of the toughest things to deal with as a hitter, especially if you’re a guy who drives the ball out of the ballpark, is when you feel like you hit one on the screws and it has a chance to go out and it doesn’t go out. When it happens more times than it should, then you start talking about confidence and start talking about start changing things, and without a doubt, depending on the score of the game and what you wanted to do, you start changing things. There are just a lot of factors that go into it. Here, you take a lot of those factors out because I know for the most part that if I hit a ball well, it’s going to go out.”

Stat City: The current top three elite pitchers: Gerrit Cole, Pirates, Sonny Gray, Athletics, Chris Archer, Tampa Bay. Cole is 9-2, with a 1.73 ERA, and 86 K’s in 78 innings; Gray, 7-3, 1.74, 79 K’s in 88; Archer, 7-4, 1.84; 108 K’s in 83.

Streakers: Blue Jays +9, Orioles +5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Birddogging the Elite on Baseball and Political Fields

Post-Draft Day Thoughts: Which are the elite baseball colleges, the ones whose players are considered products of the game’s Ivy League? Arizona State comes to mind, but the Sun Devils haven’t qualified for the College World Series since 1998. For the moment, they can be classified formerly elite. If we base our more current listing on the teams that have competed in the Series since the turn of the century, four schools stand out. The University of South Carolina played in four title games, winning two (2010 and 2011) and losing two (2002, 2012). Texas and Stanford played in three, the Longhorns winning twice (2002, 2005), losing once (2009), Stanford losing three times ( 2000, 2001, 2003). Louisiana State gets special mention for winning the Series six times between 1991 and 2009, while a nod must go to Vanderbilt, the most recent (2014) winner, and a first-timer, which could – insiders say – be embarking on a dynasty. Reinforcing that sentiment: two of the first seven players chosen in last night’s draft – the top pick, shortstop Dansby Swanson, and pitcher Carson Fullmer – are from Vanderbilt.

Competing at schools with elite status clearly pays off for many players on draft day the way plum job slots materialize for more staid Ivy college graduates. We know that similar prime openings attract a large percentage of that group into politics, a trend especially topical on the eve of a presidential year. Thanks to National Journal, we have a list of the alma maters of nearly all the presidential contenders. We reacted as a closet elitist when some of the candidates were linked to top-rated schools. One example: Team GOP’s Dr.Ben Carson, identified as a Yalie. “Oh?,” we said, almost audibly. Here’s the rest of the list, which surely contains a surprise or two for most of us:

Hillary Clinton – Wellesley; Ted Cruz – Princeton; Carly Fiorina – Stanford; Rand Paul – Duke; Marco Rubio – Florida; Mike Huckabee – Ouachita Baptist; Rick Santorum – Penn State; George Pataki – Yale; Bernie Sanders – U. of Chicago; Martin O’Malley – Catholic U; Lindsey Graham – South Carolina; .Chris Christie – Delaware; Jeb Bush – Texas; Bobby Jindal – Brown; Rick Perry – Texas Christian; John Kasich – Ohio State; Scott Walker – Marquette (left early); Lincoln Chafee – Brown  

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Guess-timation: Wouldn’t dare predict AL teams that’ll be scrambling for wild cards in late September (much less division champions), but we foresee Giants, Pirates and Cubs battling to join the Dodgers, Cardinals and Nationals in the NL playoffs.

Devaluation: “That the Sox originally signed (Hanley) Ramirez and were familiar with him appeared to trump other concerns. General manager Ben Cherington and his staff too readily bought into the prodigal son narrative. They made the same mistake with Justin Masterson.” - Peter Abraham, Boston Globe

Eyeballer: “I saw that Pedro Alvarez ranked third in all of baseball in AEV, which measures the speed at which a ball leaves a hitter’s bat. It’s supposed to be a predictor of hitting success. The harder a ball is hit, the harder it is to defend. Pedro Alvarez is not a good hitter. He’s not even average. I don’t care if the next ball he hits leaves his bat at the speed of sound. He’s marginal. Being a Pirates fan, I have the misfortune of watching Alvarez. The notion that he ranks very high in Average Exit Velocity means less than nothing to any Buccos fan with eyeballs.” – Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati Enquirer

 

Streakers: Yankees + 6, Blue Jays + 6

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Looking Ahead to Playoffs on Both Fields

Early June, and the season is more than a third over. A reasonable time to see which 10 teams might be playing if the post-season began today. AL: Yankees/Rays , Royals/Twins, Astros; NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers. AL WCs: Tigers, Angels/Rangers; NL WCs: Giants, Cubs/Pirates. With close playoff races in all but the NL East (sorry, Mets, etc.), we can expect changes – two, three? – between now and October.

Because all five AL East teams have a shot at their division, just over half the 30 MLB teams look to be playoff-competitive. In the other field, there are 10 officially announced competitors in the Team GOP presidential playoffs, and a half-dozen more expected to join the roster of hopefuls. We’ll put off examining that race until the field sorts itself out. The Dem team, with only four players vying to qualify for the ultimate presidential playoff, lends itself to immediate assessment. Hillary Clinton is the party playoff’s well-known runaway favorite. Her opponents, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee, are generally acknowledged as the longest of long shots.

Chafee, who announced just last Wednesday, said foreign policy would be the centerpiece of his campaign. He says Clinton disqualified herself from becoming commander-in-chief in 2002, when she voted in the Senate to authorize action against Iraq. Chafee, then a Republican, was the only member of his party to vote against the authorization. Chafee and O’Malley are both left of center while Sanders is an outspoken progressive who has brushed back Clinton for her centrism. “I know where I have been on trade agreements (like the Trans-Pacific Partnership),” he said, for example, on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I know where I have been on Wall Street. I know where I have been on the Keystone pipeline. And Secretary Clinton will obviously explain her position to the American people.”  

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy says the key political test for Clinton “will come in the area of  economic policy, where Sanders has put out a comprehensive and, by American standards, quite radical manifesto.”   We think that, since polls say most Americans oppose our wars, justifying her militarism will be Clinton’s main challenge.

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Body Language: Midweek afternoon games on TV of the Mariners and Red Sox, in particular – can be revealing. To these eyes, Robinson Cano looks to be more than in a funk; he seems depressed, going through the motions at the plate, where he is batting .243 with two HRs. Then there is the case of Pablo Sandoval, who has lost focus defensively; he’s playing as sloppily at third base as we knew Hanley Ramirez would, looking lost in his new left field position at Fenway.

Voice of Experience: Former Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani (now a high school coach) on the revived 2015 team: “They’re very fundamentally sound. They run balls out. They do a lot of things right. [The] pitching is solid. They’re in every game.” (quoted by Mike Kaszuba, Star Tribune)

Streakers: Mariners – 7, Tigers – 8

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Near-Parity Myth Playing in the National Ballpark

The subject of Baseball’s touted near-parity was raised on MLB Now, and shot down right away. Panelists noted that the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Nationals – all well-heeled franchises – were pre-season favorites to, at least, make the playoffs. Lo and behold, they agreed, the four teams are vindicating the predictions. The Tigers, Royals, Cubs and Pirates will likely be in the mix as well, but securing a post-season slot is clearer for the big four than for them. Add the Angels, Mariners, Indians and White Sox to the group, yes, and the Astros and Rangers plus one AL East team, and half the 30 teams can be labelled competitive. That means half are going nowhere…along with any valid claim to parity.

The No-Parity Political Game: On day after a second candidate, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, joined Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to make the Clinton-dominated Dem presidential playoff a three-team race, the NY Times front-page headline talked of the party tapping a “Richer Roster to Rival the G.O.P.” Baseball fans in the left field stands noted with approval the play the usually centrist paper gave to news so cheering to progressives. That is, they cheered until reading further, to the point of the article: “Donors Are Pushed to Give More Than Ever for Clinton Race.”

The National Journal reported that O’Malley “took his first shot at Clinton in his announcement speech, tying her and GOP candidate Jeb Bush to Wall Street CEOs and saying the presidency shouldn’t be controlled by political dynasties ‘Recently, the CEO of Goldman Sachs let his employees know that he’d be just fine with either Bush or Clinton—I bet he would,’  O’Malley said.Well, I’ve got news for the bullies of Wall Street: The presidency is not a crown to be passed back and forth by you between two royal families’.”

O’Malley, considered a centrist as a mayor, then governor in his home state, thinks a left-of-center message will score in Iowa, which, as of now, is batting lead-off when the primaries take the field next February. Sanders will surely swing away with a more lefty stance. No doubt about the way the playoff will be trending. The combined O’Malley-Sanders voting totals could signal a competitive race into the spring.

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Grudge-Free: Bobby Valentine surfaced in a TV discussion the other day, of, among other things, the woeful AL East race. Remembering that the Red Sox gave new Skipper Bobby the bum’s rush after one disastrous (2012) season, we imagined the persistence of hard feelings. Wrong: Valentine assured fellow panelists that the Sox would win the division!

Pure Gold: If the just-under .500 Arizona D’backs remain a factor in NL West playoff race, it will be because of their gem at first base. Paul Goldshmidt is the NL’s third best hitter, with a .351 BA and the MLB’s third best HR rate (fractionally ahead of Josh Donaldson) – 15 in 50 games, behind Nelson Cruz and Bryce Harper (18 each). On Sunday, Goldschmidt reinforced the gleam on his value: in a 17-inning game against the Brewers, he became the first player in MLB history to register three hits and receive three intentional passes in the same contest. Goldschmidt also became the first member of his team to reach base safely seven times in the same game.

Kemp Coup? Yes, it’s still early in the season, and, perhaps unfair to note that Dodger baseball ops President Andrew Friedman pulled off one of the best MLB deals so far when he traded Matt Kemp to the Padres. In the five-player trade, the Dodgers received catcher Yasmani Grandal. Kemp is batting .246, with a single HR in 53 games. Grandal’s stats: .284, five HRs in 36 games, and he has thrown out just under a respectable quarter of would-be base stealers.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

‘Fearless’ Journalism vs. the Self-Promotion Game

On MLB Now the other day, the subject was Josh Hamilton and his return to the Rangers: how would he do, back with the team he said it was a “mistake” to leave? Guest panelist Steve Wulf, of ESPN, thought the better story was Angels owner Arte Moreno. “I like that Moreno considered Hamilton a bad influence,” Wulf said, “ and was willing to eat some of the millions he owed Josh to get him off the team.” Moreno deserves credit for his principles, Wulf added. What followed was a strained silence until Dan Plesac went back to Hamilton’s “new beginning,” something host Dan Kenny and Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal were only too happy to discuss.

On the broadcast of the Royals-Yankees game that night, WFAN play-by-play man John Sterling took Alex Rodriguez’s side in the cheating scandal: “There were 750 major league players when A-Rod was suspended for using PEDs,” Sterling said. “Maybe 250, 300 were doing the same thing but weren’t caught.”

We were struck by the back-to-back non-controversial spin on the game and its players. It was a double reminder of what we know and willingly accept. Baseball is a private business enterprise dedicated to self-promotion and a valuable advertising source for newspapers, magazines, various forms of electronic media. Accentuating the positive is the financial name of the game.

Less noted is a similar predictability on a field that desperately needs a new beginning of its own, that of journalism. Owing to cuts in budget and staff, the news media have cut back drastically on first-hand reporting. The game now is to rewrite accounts from freelancers and other part-timers on the scene who are considered reliable. When first-hand reportages is in short supply, opinion or analysis pieces , often based on government handouts – serve as pinch-hitters. Predictablility comes into play when stories – mostly negative – are about China, Russia, Venezuela, etc., foreign national teams not playing ball with Team Obama.

“Democracy needs (diligent) journalists,” Bill Moyers reminded us in a recent speech at an event honoring several of the craft’s prize-winners, “but it takes money to support them.” Journalism has become (like Baseball) a private promotional enterprise. If the “fearless” variety is to survive, Moyers warns, “it will require a steady stream of independent income.” Either that, or less likely, perhaps, a miraculous national reawakening. Something that, for the moment, we believe only a long-shot Bernie Sanders can make happen.

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Changeovers: Giants, with a 4-2 win over the Braves, replace the Dodgers, 3-0 losers to Cardinals, atop the NL West (by a half-game); Royals retake sole possession of AL Central lead, beating Cubs 8-4, while Twins lose 6-4 to Blue Jays, falling a game behind KC.

Dividing Up the Losses: “Everybody’s losing,” said Yankees’ radio color announcer Suzyn Waldman, while updating the AL scoreboard for listeners the other night. The Yanks’ division, the AL East has had a remarkable run the first two months of the season. On the brink of June, it boasts, on the one hand, just one winning team – the NYYs – and on the other, the closest race by far of the six divisions: three games separating the first-place Yankees and last- place Red Sox.. Chances of a wild card team emerging from the division – from not good to nil.

Streakers: Cardinals +5, Giants +5, Tampa Bay -6, Brewers -6, Phillies -5

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(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)

The Fuel Activating Games on Two Fields: Fear

Measuring the Post-Memorial Day Milestone: “We’re not even out of May,” said Mets Skipper Terry Collins, when reminded the other day how his team was sagging after a fast start in April. GM Sandy Alderson said on MLB Now that he ”thought” the Wilpons would finance reinforcements, if the team needed a playoff push., We can trace the hints of tension in these comments to this numerical reality: while the Nationals are a shoo-in to win the NL East (see below), teams in the NL Central and West are better situated than the Mets to earn the league’s two wild cards. The Giants or the Dodgers seem likely, as of now, to be one of the two. The superior-balanced Cubs or Pirates figure to get the other card, while the Cardinals can be expected to win the division.

The Yankees are in almost the same bind as the Mets: only one still-to-assert-itself AL East team looks strong enough to make the post-season through a first-place division finish. Two wild card spots should land among the Angels, Mariners, Royals, Tigers, and we can’t forget the Astros.. The pat outlook would have a rock-solid basis were it not for one imponderable: a key mid-season deal that changes the equation.

Managers, and GMs like Alderson can be expected to campaign for what they hope will be a job-saving transaction, especially, if, as in the case of Collins, their future with the team is almost certainly on the line. The dynamic is different in the corporate-political league, although fear is a common catalyst. The baseball skipper/or GM is afraid of losing his employment; the defense contractor and his pro-military teammates are afraid the public will lose its fear of jihadists and terrorism in general. Thus, every few days, we see NY Times articles headed “Iraqi Forces Are Blamed in ISIS Rout” and “Calm Down, ISIS Isn’t Winning.” The underlying messages: U.S. boots on the ground are inevitable, and our troops and weaponry will wear the jihadist enemies down. Reinforced by cautionary pieces in the media about the threat of terrorism, the messages act to fortifiy both the armed forces and a productive arms industry fueled by endless investment in our endless series of wars.

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Quarter-Pole Chatter: On MLB-TV last night, a panel of Brian Kenny, Joe Magrane, and John Smoltz closed down the NL East division race. “The Nationals will remain in first place the rest of the season,” they agreed. Do we hear any disagreement? We doubt it. Dubious prize for greatest distance from first in their division goes to the Brewers: 13-and-a-half games out; runners-up, Oakland, 12-and-a-half.. The surprising Astros own the largest division margin between first and second: five-and-a-half games ahead of the Angels. Narrowest margin separates first (Tampa Bay) and last (Toronto) in the closely matched struggle of AL East teams: three-and-a-half games.

Super-Surprise…is a fair description of the Twins, a game ahead of Detroit and just two games behind Kansas City in the AL Central. Since going 1-6 at the opening of the season, Minnesota has recorded a 25-12 W-L record, best post-mid-April mark in either league.

Productivity: The Rockies may be last in the NL West, but they are comfortably ahead of all MLB teams in RISP – hitting home runners in scoring position. Colorado has a .318 average; KC, the only other team above .300 in RISP, is at .307. The Cardinals and the Royals have the best run differentials – St.Louis plus 56, KC plus 52. The Phillies and Brewers, – 56 and -55 – are at the bottom of the differential list.

Streakers: Texas + 6, Cincinnati – 9

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(More of The Nub, a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey, can be found at perfectpitcher.org)