The Nub

Has Team Obama Found a Power Pitcher to be its Closer?

During Skipper Obama’s inaugural pitch last Monday, seek we thought of him as a closer, ed coming on to relieve the starter – his first-term self – who wore himself down through many contentious innings.  Former relief pitcher Dan Plesac and onetime baseball GM John Hart ticked off on MLB-TV the gifts it takes to be an effective closer: high velocity, an out pitch, fearlessness, and durability.  Hart summed up the discussion, saying, overall, the closer should be a “power pitcher.”

The skipper displayed his heater persuasively enough to indicate he was up to the power role.  Indeed, righty Times-man David Brooks felt Obama’s brush-back effectiveness.  His liberalism was “unapologetic,” said Brooks, adding that opposing players like himself would “now have to raise our game.”

How successful the new closer will be in blowing away opponents of “collective action” will become clear as he’s called upon to take them on at climactic moments.  Those moments will come as he sets about to win broad support for advancing gay rights, making life easier for illegal immigrants, preserving the social safety net, and stemming global warming.  Those save opportunities are lined up, but securing them against Team GOP won’t be easy.  Why?  Because Obama’s game is based on an expansive view of the much-contested role of government.

New York magazine’s Frank Rich, on what the skipper can possibly close on sooner rather than later: “Any progress on climate change and on gun control may well depend on whatever Obama can accomplish through executive actions.  On immigration reform, the president has the leverage to achieve more.  Even the present-day GOP isn’t enough of a suicide cult to keep antagonizing and demonizing the fast-growing Hispanic electorate that threatens its very existence..(On gay rights), I doubt (Chief Justice John)Roberts wants to go down in history as the jurist who blocked equality for gay Americans, particularly since full equality increasingly looks inevitable. Obama’s formulation crystallized the crossroads at which Roberts finds himself: He can be the Earl Warren of Brown v. Board of Education or Roger Taney, whose court delivered the infamous Dred Scott decision before the Civil War.”

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King Kimbrel: The MLB-TV consensus on the closer who comes closest to meeting the velocity-out pitch-fearlessness-durability standard:  Craig Kimbrel of the Braves, who had a breakthough year in 2012, striking out 116 in 62.2 innings and closing 42 of 45 save opportunities.  Though not a power pitcher (and not durable last season), Mariano Rivera came in second. The Rays’ Fernando Rodney was third.  The Reds’ Aroldis Chapman did not figure in the competition.  “We accepted the report that the Reds were making Chapman a starter,” the network, said, explaining his absence from the list.

Having Their Phil?  Who won the seven-player trade that sent the D-backs’ Justin Upton to the Braves for infielder Martin Prado and three prospects?  The immediate beneficiary is Atlanta; in the long run it might be Arizona. The identity of the deal’s big loser is clear: it’s the Phillies and their fans, who in the last few days saw their two main NL East adversaries grow stronger.  First, the defending league champion Nationals signed Rafael Soriano to be their closer, then the runner-up Braves caused more Phillie consternation by adding their second Upton; they had already signed B.J., Justin’s older brother.  The best the Phils could do to answer was sign former Tiger Delmon Young, a deal devoid of the potentially decisive impact of the two others.

The ‘Why?’ of the Upton Trade:  “The problem is that (Justin) didn’t play with a high level of energy,” said (a) former teammate…“Justin doesn’t have that kind of attitude; he has a quiet intensity that doesn’t fit the mold of what (they) seem to want.  He plays hard, but has to look suave doing it.  Slamming into walls isn’t his thing, and they will accept nothing short of all-out sacrifice for the team.”  – quoted by Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports.
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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments
to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed
by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

USA Teams Following Separate Game Plans on Different Fields

(Posted: 1/19/13)

Here’s a look at the teams R.A. Dickey, buy Joe Mauer, Ryan Braun, David Wright, Jimmy Rollins, Mark Teixeira, Giancarlo Stanton, et al, may play in the World Baseball Congress (WBC):  Japan, South Korea, Taipei, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico. 

On the other field, here are the clubs Team USA and its European affiliates have already engaged in one-sided offensive matchups – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, the Phillipines, and, lately, Mali. Where the WBC field is culturally varied, the eight opponents of Team USA and its farmhands have one overriding identity: they are all Islamic.  

No need to overstate the reasons for cheering the baseball tournament: Talent-blessed Team USA will be tested by dedicated teams – Mexico, Italy and Canada in the first round – teams determined to defeat the game’s inventors. The contests will offer us and fans around the world the chance to see sometime political adversaries come together in friendly competition.  The consequences of the militaristic game on the political field are just as obvious, as the UK Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald explains:

“The rhetoric that the west is not at war with the Islamic world grows increasingly hollow with each new expansion of this militarism….To believe that the US and its allies can just continue to go around the world, in country after country, and bomb and kill innocent people – Muslims – and not be targeted with ‘terrorist’ attacks is…lunacy…Whatever hopes that may exist for an end to the ‘war on terror’ are systematically destroyed by ongoing aggression.”

Greenwald’s sentiments are seconded on a broader basis by the International Herald Trib’s Paris-based columnist William Pfaff: 

“It has become axiomatic that despite defeat in Vietnam, withdrawal from Iraq, and an impending ignominious departure from Afghanistan, the United States intends to remain the ’global security provider.’ As this now includes destroying with drones, in disregard of the laws of war and national sovereignties, individuals targeted by American intelligence, critics say the U.S. is the provider of global insecurity — as well as inspiring hatred of the United States and the West.”

These oft-repeated pitches raise a pointed question:  Is anyone listening in Washington?

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Lone Star:   Mark Texieira, a member of the Rangers then, played in the first WBC Classic seven years ago.  Teixeira must have warmed Bud Selig’s heart when he said he was “excited” to be back in the tournament.  Here’s how he put it : “In 2006, I was just a kid. I was 25 years old…looking at guys like Roger Clemens and Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez — some of the greats of the game. I was actually in awe my first time around. Now I’m coming back. I’m the only guy left from the 2006 team. I’m one of the veterans now.”

Caution Advisory:  John Smoltz isn’t sure MLB pitchers who choose to play in the WBC have made the right decision.  On MLB-TV the other day, he cited stats that suggested there were more regular-season injuries than usual in the two post-WBC seasons so far (2006, 2009).  “I know there are pitch-count limits to protect against injury.  But when you’ve just begun to get your work in and you’re representing your country against teams that have been playing all along, you’re not going to watch yourself.  You’re going to amp-up despite the danger of overdoing it when you’re not ready.”  Says team pitching coach Greg Maddux: “Avoiding injury is our first priority; next is winning.”

In D.C., the Soriano Signing is BIG:  Now, who are the biggest winners of the offseason? Maybe the Blue Jays or the Angels.  Maybe the Dodgers, with ex-Nats president Stan Kasten looming as a deepest-pocket Washington rival.  But, now, with the addition of (Rafael) Soriano, right-hander Dan Haren ($13 million for ’13), center fielder Denard Span (in trade for a prospect) and the return of Adam LaRoche, the big winner might also be the Nats.  After all, none of those other clubs are building off a 98-win base.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

For Veteran Players, Seniors in General: Reasons to Cheer

(Posted: 1/15/13)

Stats Seldom Lie:  They show that three of the top-echelon major league hitters last season were veterans in their mid- to late 30s: Derek Jeter, store 38, ailment Torii Hunter, hospital 37, and Marco Scutaro, almost 37.  Jeter hit .316, with 15 HRs and 58 RBIs; Hunter 313, 16 HRs, 92 RBIs; Scutaro .306, 7, 37.  The performances earned Hunter a two-year deal with the Tigers, Scutaro a three-year contract with the Giants.  Jeter, we know will be back with the Yankees as he turns 39 in June (and he’ll likely be with them when he reaches 40, on an option year of his contract in 2014). Among pitchers, we can’t forget the 38-year-old Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey, given a two-year, $20 million extension by his new team, the Blue Jays.   

Prompting these seniorly thoughts is something that shouldn’t be surprising – the results of a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine.  It compares the U.S. health system with that of 16 similar countries.  We finish dead last (that is, highest) in such categories as infant mortality, obesity and teen-age pregnancy. In mortality, we also do badly among our younger and middle-aged (20-40-60) group.  Their close-to-the-highest death rate compared to that in equivalent nations prevails until we reach the 70-80-90 league.  Then – and here’s the stunner – our rank jumps from the worst to nearly the best in comparison to the others.    

Why should this be?  The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman points to our unmatched levels of poverty, income equality and violence as possible factors in the earlier death rate. Their perniciousness (including normal levels of disease) would mean a large percentage of age-70-or-above survivors were healthy. But,” he adds, “the factor that likely makes the greatest contribution is simple: Medicare. Americans over 65 have the benefit of guaranteed, affordable health coverage, which Americans under 65 don’t have.  Once you get on Medicare, you go from having no health security to having as much health security as someone who lives in one of the other countries.”

Something for fans to remember as Team GOP prepares to renew its offensive against both Medicare and Social Security.

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Stats Seldom Lie (2):  The 2012 team stats, which placed them last in key categories, put the Mariners, Padres and Rockies on notice that they need to upgrade in hitting (Seattle), fielding (San Diego) and pitching (Colorado).  The Mariners finished with an anemic .234 team BA, the Padres with an underwhelming .980 fielding pct., the Rockies with a glaringly bad 5.22 ERA.  The M’s, we know, tried to address their weakness by trading  for Arizona’s Justin Upton.  But he had the right to reject the deal, and he did.  The far-fetched report now: he’s being targeted by the Mets.

Silver Linings?  Help may be on the way for two of the three of last year’s low-achieving teams.  Baseball America reports that, based on five years of cumulative results, Colorado finished second and Seattle fourth in farm-system standings.  The San Diego system didn’t perform nearly as well, finishing 28th among the 30 teams.  The Houston program was first, the Yankees third. 

Ranger-Ready?  Prospects Justin Grimm, Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar are three reasons the Rangers should not be counted out of the AL West race, the defection of Josh Hamilton to the Angels, notwithstanding.  Grimm is a starter who went 9-3, with a gaudy 1.72 ERA.  Olt, a third baseman, hit .288 with 28 HRs. Shortstop Profar, the most highly touted of the three, hit .281, with 14 homers, and dazzled defensively.  The trio made the Double-A All-Star team while playing for Frisco, which finished second in the Texas League last season. One or more of the three should be on the Rangers’ opening-day roster, if not traded away for an established major leaguer. 

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Changing ‘Dynasty’ and ‘Mainstream’ Games

(Posted: 1/13/13)

“Dynasty” is a hopeful word these days among followers of the Angels, canada drugstore Dodgers, Giants, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and even here on the east coast among fans in Washington and Toronto. Strong farm systems and solid amounts of on-hand personnel and money inspire such optimism. A check of playoff teams since baseball’s strike year 1994 shows that only two of 30 teams qualify as current dynasties: the Yankees, who played in 17 of 18 playoffs, and won five World Series, and the Braves, participants in 12 of 18, with one world title.

From 2003 through 2009, the Red Sox gained six playoff spots and two Series titles; in New England they were using the “d”-word. The last three non-playoff years have made the word disappear. Yankee fans may have noticed that less is said this pre-season about their team’s presumed dominance: the dynasty game can change quickly in baseball.

Not so in politics, where game plans become embedded and take on a dynastic-like changelessness. The making of policies is an inside game, however, often unconnected with how fans in the national ballpark would like to see it played. Nevertheless, political players consider their stances on most issues “mainstream.” That’s been the case with support of our military plays abroad before and after 9/11. Until now, Team Obama has followed that game plan heedless of its widespread unpopularity. The Daily Beast’s Peter Beinart suggests that, if Chuck Hagel is added to the lineup as Defense Secretary, the stay-the-course stance may at last be changing:

Barack Obama has been commander in chief for nearly four years, but in important ways, the Obama era in American foreign policy has not yet begun. It will begin when Democrats express their foreign-policy views as fearlessly as do their Republican counterparts and when those Republican counterparts can no longer impose their historical amnesia about the catastrophes of the last 10 years on public debate. It will begin when the American right can no longer marginalize public officials with whom it disagrees about Iran by hurling charges of anti-Semitism with a promiscuity that would make Al Sharpton blush. It will begin when Obama surrounds himself with advisers more interested in shifting the foreign-policy ’mainstream’ than parroting it. It will begin when Obama declares independence from the Bush-era assumptions that have so far constrained his foreign policy. And with luck, we will one day look back upon Chuck Hagel’s nomination as the day it did.”

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Playoff Footnotes: Only three teams failed to make the playoffs in the almost two decades since 1994: the Pirates in the NL, and KC and Toronto in the AL. The Marlins, who reached the post-season only twice – in ’97 and ’03 – made and won the World Series each time. The Red Sox, Cardinals and Indians were third, fourth and fifth on the playoff list in question – the Sox with nine appearances, the Cardinals eight, the Indians seven.

Getting Tested’: Here’s a change of pace from the marked lack of enthusiasm press box regulars seem to feel about the quadrennial World Baseball Congress (WBC). The international tournament, scheduled to run concurrently with spring training in early March, competes for attention with what many players and scribes consider the collective main event of the month – exhibition games in which nothing, beyond making an impression and getting into shape, is at stake. In contrast, the WBC games count, as teams vie for what is truly a world championship. That suits the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki: “Spring training you only so go hard,” he told the Denver Post’s Troy Renck. “I really like the idea of getting tested right off the bat.” Tulowitzki, recovering from a season-ending injury last May, is expected to have at least two elite players as teammates: Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen. Joe Torre will manage the U.S. squad.

Stay-at-Home’ Jimmy? Tulowitzki’s likely appearance on Team USA – he’s also said he’s looking forward to “playing nine innings” – may prompt fellow shortstop Jimmy Rollins to sit out the WBC tournament this time around. Rollins played on the 2009 U.S. team along with, among others, Derek Jeter and Brian McCann. The Phillies are hopeful, but not certain, that Rollins will be around for all of spring training.

 Bud Selig, You Have a (WBC) Problem: Here is a typical beat-writer approach to the WBC, from the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber: “Because the WBC is a showcase for Major League Baseball, teams are ordered not to dissuade players from competing unless there is a health concern from the previous season. In all likelihood, the Red Sox will use that injury clause with regard to the availability of Dustin Pedroia and Will Middlebrooks to Team USA, David Ortiz to the Dominican Republic, and lefty Franklin Morales to Venezuela.” 

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 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Muddled Wars on Player Drug Use and on Terror

(Posted: 1/8/13)

Some years ago, sale cure on a political trip, discount see we overnighted in the home city of baseball’s shrine, Cooperstown, NY. Early the next morning we made for the shrine itself, the Hall of Fame. There, as a non-museum fan, we experienced a familiar letdown while viewing the displays, relics, mounted celebrations of our favorite sport’s legends. It was just another artifact mausoleum. We thought the time wasted until, on exiting, we noticed an unobtrusive scoreboard on the front lawn. It showed results of the previous day’s games, bringing travelers like us up to date. Pondering how worthwhile the visit had become, we concluded that baseball is, first of all, a living game – a compelling activity now. Its past-time aspect is important, but of lesser moment than what’s happening today.

That less-than-sacred respect for the past may be one reason the current debate over which former players should be admitted to the Hall is such a bore. The doping issue muddles the discussions; there are reasonable arguments for either forgiveness or never forgetting. For how many extra innings will this debate drag on? For another decade? Forever? Reference to such an open-ended scoreboard is relevant to our anti-terror political game. An item in the NY Times Saturday reminded us of the game’s human cost: “The Department of Defense has identified 2,155 American service members who have died as part of the Afghan war and related activities. It confirmed the death… recently (of) SIMS, Markie T., 20, Pfc, Citra, Fla.”

Two days earlier, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reflected on the deadlock we find ourselves in: “When does this thing we are in now end? And if it does not have an end — and I’m not speaking as a lawyer here, I am just speaking as a citizen who feels morally accountable for my country’s actions — if it does not have an end, then morally speaking it does not seem like it is a war. And then, our country is killing people and locking them up outside the traditional judicial system in a way I think we maybe cannot be forgiven for.”

“Few are guilty, but all are responsible” – words of the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel – apply in the case of this lethal endlessness. UK Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald sees the particular role of Team USA and its corporate-military players in the deadly game: “If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It’s that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.”

Watching that top-heavy offense in action., there’s good cause for grumbling, if not civic protest, in the national grandstand.

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The Waiting Game and Why: SI’s Cliff Corcoran, with insightful takes on two still-available top free agents: Kyle Lohse: “Lohse has been too good over the last two seasons (30-11, 3.11 ERA, 122 ERA+, 1.13 WHIP, 3.18 K/BB, 399 1/3 innings in 63 starts) not to land a job, but given his age (34), the 4.82 ERA he posted over his first seven major league seasons and the draft pick compensation signing him would require, he seems to have landed in free agent limbo.” Rafael Soriano: “Soriano has (good) projection for 2013, but th(e) draft pick (compensation) and his distaste for set-up work have all but silenced the market for his services.”

An A.J. P.S: We talked last time of the puzzlement surrounding A.J. Pierzynski’s inability to get a better deal than one-year, $7.5 mil from the Rangers. ChiTrib’s Phil Rogers reinforces the feeling: Adding Pierzynski to play in front of Geovany Soto is a good move by the Rangers… Allowing him to walk away without even an offer is a dangerous one for Rick Hahn, the new White Sox general manager, and I think he’s going to regret it.”  Rogers indicates that, although the Sox expect much less offensively from A.J.’s heir-apparent Tyler Flowers, the pitching staff will welcome throwing to someone other than the often-abrasive Pierzynski.

Listing West: In what categories do the top clubs figure to dominate this season? ESPN’s Buster Olney has compiled this listing: bullpens, Braves; rotations, Tigers; infield, Rangers; outfield, Angels; lineup, Angels; team, Giants.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

The Peril of Speaking One’s Mind in Either Field

(Posted: 1/5/13)

Are looks deceiving?  Or did many of baseball’s GMs gang up on White Sox free agent A.J Pierzynski this winter?  Not only could A.J. not get a two-year deal, usa discount he could do no better than persuade the Rangers to pay him $7.5 million for the single upcoming season.  The Yankees passed on him despite the loss of Russell Martin, who received a two-year, $17 million deal from the Pirates.  Furthermore, as we know, Joe Girardi is an A.J. fan.  White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf paid tribute to Pierzynski’s “major role” and “toughness” and “passion” during his eight years with the Sox, but he never explained why his team let him go.  Nearly every team could use a .278, 27 HR. 77 RBI catcher, with a better-than-average arm.

But this one seems to have a gift for riling people:  Former Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen said of Pierzynski “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”  An anonymous teammate put his problem with A.J. this way: “He treats you like a peasant if you haven’t had at least five years in the big leagues.” That Pierzynski is not an easy teammate – or competitor – to be around, is hardly reason to treat him like he has a contagious disease.  More likely it’s his habit of speaking his mind, no matter how unpleasant his pitch: “He keeps saying stuff,” says current Sox skipper Robin Ventura, a hint, perhaps, as to why he won’t be sorry to see A.J. gone.

 Pierzynski’s controversial counterpart in the political field, Chuck Hagel, may be denied even a short-term contract with Skipper Obama’s Defense Department team because of the “stuff” he’s been saying.  Hagel, former Team GOP senator from Nebraska, hurt his chances of nomination to be DOD Secretary by making disparaging remarks about homosexuality (for which he apologized) and the influence of what he called the “Jewish lobby” on our stance toward Israel.  The badly executed double play rallied both lefty gay rights and righty pro-Israel teams against him. 

Eying the rally participation of Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), a gay group, the UK Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald sees a suspicious game unfolding:  “Since when does LCR – which endorsed McCain/Palin in 2008 and Mitt Romney with his abundant anti-gay advocacy in 2012 –  oppose GOP officials on the ground that they have some anti-gay aspects to their record?…Another (suspicious) fact: a favorite tactic of neocons – who have led the smear campaign against Hagel – is to cynically exploit liberal causes to generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda. They suddenly develop an interest in the plight of gay people when seeking to demonize Iran, or… attempting to sustain endless war in Afghanistan…(or) justify their latest desired invasion.”

Greenwald says when he inquired of LCR who funded their costly full-page anti-Hagel ad in the NY Times last week, he was told (in the spirit of Citizens United), “anonymous donors.”

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The Still-Waiting Game:  His fans can say quite properly to A.J. Pierzynski that things could be worse:  aside from best still-available free agents Michael Bourn, Kyle Lohse and Adam LaRoche, here are some onetime stars still looking to be signed:  Daisuke Matsuzaka, Grady Sizemore, Lance Berkman, Delmon Young, Scott Rolen, Jason Giambi, Carlos Lee, Bobby Abreu. Many will have to accept minor-league contracts to make a team.

Power Shortage Ahead:  Brian Cashman clearly knew that, in letting Eric Chavez (16), Raul Ibanez (19), Russell Martin (21) and Nick Swisher (24) get away this post-season, the Yankees gave up nearly a third of the home-run potential.  Those four accounted for a total of 80 of the team’s 245 HRs in 2012.  Kevin Youklis, who hit a 2012 total of 19 for the Sox in Boston and Chicago, can be expected to get 20 of the 80 back, but the Yanks must be ready to struggle to come close to last season’s big-fly numbers.  As Cashman put it this week: “Those people (who think HRs are bad) are going to get a chance to see what it looks like.”

West Coast Math: “Even though they buzz louder than the Giants, the ( Dodgers) don’t necessarily look better. Then again, all they have to be is the second-best NL runner-up. Magic (Johnson) is basing his win-now assumptions on basketball, a sport where a collection of superstars will eventually deliver, if healthy. But LeBron James will play about 80 percent of Miami’s minutes. Albert Pujols will come to the plate 11 percent of the time for the Angels, and Greinke will start roughly 20 percent of the Dodgers’ games. Baseball teams don’t win because of five or even 25 guys. It takes a 40-man village, at least….Perhaps Johnson should understand Winter World Series history. The Mariners, Red Sox and Angels wrote big checks at the end of ’09, ’10 and ’11. And their combined playoff record, the next season, is spotless: 0-0.”  – Mark Whicker, Orange County (CA) Register.

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 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Looking Ahead on Both Fields: the Prediction Game

(Posted: 1/1/13)

The other night, tadalafil treat a panel of MLB-TV press box pros offered predictions of which teams would finish no worse than deep in the coming season’s playoffs. Four teams were mentioned most frequently: the Angels, discount Blue Jays, thumb Dodgers and Tigers. The consensus settled on the Giants, Nationals, Reds and Yankees as also-rans. Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Mike Trout were three main reasons the group felt strongly about the Angels; the panelists invoked the names of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke to make the talent-laden Dodgers’ case. Predictably, the new star-studded array of Jays – headed by R.A. Dickey and Jose Reyes, along with returnee Jose Bautista – gave Toronto credibility. Panelists agreed that the Tigers, with newcomer Torii Hunter abetting Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Justin Verlander, will be hard to stop, especially if owner Mike Ilitch takes the plunge and signs Rafael Soriano as closer.

Plausible? Maybe. Former Times-man Maurice (Mickey) Carroll once said this to us about predictions: they’re “like saying ‘it’s going to rain tomorrow; maybe it will, maybe it won’t.” Prognosticating has the fringe benefit for predictors of providing time off: one can look ahead, expending minimal effort. In that extended-holiday spirit, permit us to offer what we see on the 2016 political horizon in the Democratic presidential league. We do it with an assist from The Nation’s John Nichols, who put together a Progressive Honor Roll for the past year.

Our lineup, of whom we think – and hope – will be among Dems in the next nominating playoff for national skipper (in alphabetical order): Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall, Elizabeth Warren. Biden will be 74 at playoff time, but he makes noise with a career-extending knuckler that can keep opponents off-balance. Clinton, likely to be the perceived as the front-runner, will be 69 at crunch time; her polarizing play, rather than age, could bring her back to the field. Cuomo has comparative youth – he’ll be 59 when it counts – and undisputed smarts. His potential handicap is a label inherited from one critics hung on his dad: “Mario,” they said, “is too clever by half.” Merkley, a first-term senator from Oregon, is described by Nichols as unequalled in his “determin(ation) to forge progressive solutions.” Merkley and his first-term Senate teammate New Mexico’s Udall – also pitched by Nichols – are leading the fight to end Team GOP’s “fake filibusters.” Udall, son of JFK’s Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, will be 68, Merkley 60, when the playoffs heat up. Warren, now a raw Senate rookie, will be a savvy 67-year-old, and, if she hits her consumerist stride, could be the most formidable player of the bunch.

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Questions Red Sox Nation May be Asking: Is Shane Victorino any better than a healthy Carl Crawford? Is Ryan Dempster a better bet for the rotation than Josh Beckett? Is Stephen Drew a meaningful upgrade on Mike Aviles? Is having John Lackey back in the rotation a good thing? Can Adrian Gonzalez be replaced via platoons and job-shares?…The Red Sox made some nice upgrades to the back of their bullpen and their bench, but their offseason has been defined by half-measures such as those.” – Cliff Corcoran, SI

Stat City re: Arms: Catchers’ caught-stealing rate (2012) – 1) Ryan Hanigan, Reds, 32 of 66, 48.5 success pct. 2) Yadier Molina, Cardinals, 35 of 73, 47.9 success pct. Outfield assists – 1) Jeff Francoeur, KC, 19 in 146 games. 2) Alex Gordon, also KC, 17 in 160.

Conundrum re Hall of Fame Vote and Baseball’s Drug-Taking Scandal: “’Ban them all’ makes no sense to me, unless you’re going to retroactively apply that standard to generations of amphetamine users who had the benefit of being able to dope before the public mood shifted… The argument hits a serious roadblock (then). Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and countless others have admitted they used amphetamines during their careers. If they used today and were caught, they would be suspended under baseball’s rules. I don’t know anyone who wants to think about pulling those beloved players out of the Hall, even though one of the few studies ever done on (drug) use showed that amphetamines clearly enhance athletic performance.” – T.J. Quinn, former Mets and White Sox beat reporter, for ESPN Sports

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 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to dickstar@aol.com are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)