The Nub

The Gap-Filling Game on Two Fields

(Posted 5/31/14)

The end of May: when teams with glaring roster holes recognize this competitive reality – if they hope to be playing “meaningful” games beyond June, sale order they must find a way to fill those holes.  The Astros, advice the only team near the bottom in MLB hitting and pitching categories, diagnosis have no pretensions (their current streak notwithstanding) of competing close to the top in what for them is a rebuilding season.  But the Rockies, Rangers and White Sox – all marginally competitive and bottom-fishing (22, 26 and 29) in pitching, know that they must find new arms to retain playoff hopes. The Braves, 26th in hitting, are spared any urgency to reinforce by a general weakness in the NL East (albeit, for the moment it is the tightest of the six divisions).  The Mets, treading water in that division, will need a miraculous infusion of batsmen to avoid meaninglessness by early July.  

A similar filling of holes is under way on the political field.  Just as ball teams seek a lefty-righty balance in their lineups, major office-holding prospects act to make their stance more acceptable to a wider range of fans.  The Dem team’s prime candidate for national skipper, Hillary Clinton, put such an adjustment on display in a rhetorical batting practice early this month.  Having preferred hitting to center rather than to left in the economic inequality game, Hillary led off with a new approach at the speech-making plate:   

“Canadian middle-class incomes are now higher than in the United States, “she told a gathering of progressive fans. “They are working fewer hours for more pay than Americans are, enjoying a stronger safety net, living longer on average, and facing less income inequality.”

An unfamiliar expression of shared views with populist fans  it’s one centrist-Dem game plan.  NY Skipper Andrew Cuomo, lined up behind Clinton as a White House prospect, has another. Cuomo, booed by progressives for cutting taxes that mainly affect the wealthy, hopes to win liberals’ support for his re-election this year. How?  By going to bat for campaign finance reform, an issue he’s pitched before, but without heat.  Cuomo can win without left-of-center fans, but he needs their backing to win big and thus enhance his reputation nationally.

The New Yorker’s economic columnist John Cassidy spoke for many conflicted pressbox observers when he wrote this about Cuomo’s status in a key progressive endorsement vote scheduled for today: My bet is that the governor, who has already persuaded almost the entirety of the Democratic establishment… to endorse him publicly, will somehow convince the Working Families Party to go along with him, too.  But I have to admit part of me is hoping he doesn’t manage it.”

If Hillary doesn’t manage to hold on to her no-contest lead in 2016 Dem presidential contest, the Washington Post may have provided a clue as to why that can happen: the paper chose her and three other prominent Democrats as hypothetic dinner guests.  It asked 11 party activists in Iowa which of the four they would invite to the imaginary gathering.  Only one named Clinton. An obvious explanation: Many fans are “all-Hillary-ed out” and would welcome an alternative.

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Popular Cubs: The Cubs’ Jeff Samardzjia is considered the most available top-line pitcher almost certain to be traded to a contender.  Yankee fans are hearing their team will do what it takes to get him. But the Orioles, latest team said to have an inside track, may beat them to Samardzjia. Jason Hammel, another talented Cubs righthander, is expected to be some team’s consolation prize acquisition.  Meanwhile, the resurgent Red Sox have become the first AL East team to fill a perceived hole, with the re-hiring of shortstop Stephen Drew.  

Unquiet in Queens: It’s an old story, and a predictable one:  when it’s offense is sputtering and a team sinking, the hitting instructor is fired.  It happened  this week to the Mets’ Dave Hudgens.  The move has serious implications for key personnel but especially for what’s left of the fan base.  The boss’s son Jeff Wilpon reportedly ordered GM Sandy Alderson to fire his friend Hudgens (something Alderson felt constrained to deny).  Alderson is in the last year of his contract.  Jeff Wilpon has already expressed impatience publicly with the team’s level of play in this, Alderson’s fourth season.  Now this happens.  If owner Fred Wilpon approves of his son’s muscle-flexing, fans know possible changes ahead could make the team’s long dark stretch longer and darker.

Streakers: Astros +7, Red Sox +5

Late Friday Scores:  Pirates 2, Dodgers 1; Oakland 9, Angels 5; Tigers 6, Seattle 3; Reds 6, Arizona 4; Astros 2, Orioles 1                                                              -o-

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

Blue Jays and Canada Earning Belated Respect

(Posted  5/24/14)

Look who has won nine of 11 and risen to first place in the AL East: the Toronto Blue Jays.  Yes, the same Blue Jays whose trade for star players two off-seasons ago made them the division’s 2013 pre-season favorites.  We know that instead of dominating, diagnosis with roster newcomers Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and R.A. Dickey, the Jays floundered, finishing last.

Many fans this side of the border got an extra kick out of the penalty in additional taxes the players had to pay in Canada – an estimated $600,000 for the highest salaried members of the group.  The plight of the exiles up north was enough to make some us feel smug here at home. A closer look at the quality of life in Canada compared to ours would reveal how misguided was that viewpoint.  NY Times-man Nick Kristof clarifies the situation now, in the context of income inequality and what once was “the American dream”:

“The American dream (seems to have) swapped citizenship, for now it is more likely to be found in Canada or Europe…Canadians (with a better- off middle class) receive essentially free health care while Americans pay for part of (theirs).  Meanwhile, the American worker toils , on average, 4.6 percent more hours than a Canadian worker…Canadians and Europeans also live longer, on average, than Americans do…American women are twice as likely to die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth as Canadian women…”

Kristof goes on to note that, despite the superior quality of our universities, Canadian children “get a better education than ours.”  The price we pay for the top-heavy amount of wealth owned by 1 percent of our population – more than that held by the entire bottom 90 percent. 

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R.A. the Would-Be Rainmaker: R.A.Dickey will try to keep the Blue Jays surge intact today against Oakland. He’s hoping for bad weather.  Why? R.A.’s  winning percentage is twice as high in a closed dome than when the Rogers Centre ceiling is open.

Like It Is:  Highly regarded Brian McCann had an off-night defensively catching for the Yankees against the White Sox last night.  And YES straight-talking color man John Flaherty called him on it. McCann let two successive balls get by him in the second inning with men on base.  “He should have blocked them,” said Flaherty, “instead of trying to stop them with his mitt. The Yankees have to hope they’re going to get greater effort from him.”

Choice Rookies: Mashiro Tanaka is SI’s Cliff Corcoran’s unsurprising early pick for rookie of the year in the AL.  His second choice is something of a surprise, however: it’s Tanaka’s Yankee teammate Yangervis Solarte, coming off a minor league career that saw him spend time as property of the Twins and Rangers.   Here’s part of Corcoran’s take on Solarte:  “Solarte is…not a product of  hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium —  he has performed better on the road than at home – and he’s been even better in May (with four of his five home runs) than he was in what looked like a fluky April. Mix in his ability to play second base, third base and shortstop and his 82-point advantage in on-base percentage, and he’d rank ahead of (Chicago’s) Jose Abreu, even if the latter hadn’t gotten injured.”

Streaker: Red Sox – 8.

Late Scores:  Giants 6, Twins 2;  Angels 6, KC 1; Seattle 6, Houston 1; San Diego 11, Cubs                                                                                

                                                                        -o-

 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Blame Game: Involving Red Sox Nation and Our Team Abroad

(Posted 5/20/14)

Red Sox Nation can’t be satisfied that the 2013 champions are still struggling to stay around .500.   It’s late May, buy illness after all, sales sale and precedent set only two seasons ago suggests  it’s a crucial time for the home team.  On May 1, 2012, the Sox were at .500 after a rocky April under new manager Bobby Valentine.  They promptly lost seven of eight, and, by the end of the month, it was clear they wouldn’t see .500 again.

It took awhile, but team President Larry Lucchino acknowledged what everyone suspected from the start: it was he and owner John Henry who pushed new GM Ben Cherington into hiring Valentine. To say that Bobby’s bumptious leadership was not embraced by the team is an old story.  What what we know in retrospect is that Lucchino and Henry deserve the brunt of the blame for what happened.

There’s been a comparable problem plaguing Team Obama as it skirts a far-off  playing field. In this case, however, it’s the man with Lucchino/Henry-type power – that is, the Skipper himself – who bears responsibility for a series of disastrous misjudgments.  Paris-based birddog William Pfaff describes the problem in the context of Team USA’s series of “dubious wars” launched against Vietnam and Iraq, among others:

“Now we have a threat of war with Russia to save an American-sponsored coup d’etat in Ukraine.  This seems the work of officials closely associated with the right-wing Project for a New American Century…It seems odd that they have found a home in the Obama administration, customarily attacked as liberal. In foreign policy the administration is not…The Project for a New American Century was founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, well-known right-wing luminaries…(It constitutes) probably the most important and influential policy bloc in the American foreign policy debate… Now they have given us a crisis with Russia, via an American-incited coup d’etat in Ukraine that has run aground. It would appear (because of clownish security failures the night of the coup itself) to have been run out of the U.S. State Department’s Office of European and Eurasian Affairs, directed by Mr. Kagan’s wife, Assistant Secretary of State for these regions. (Why not the CIA, which at least is competent in such affairs, which Mrs. Kagan – otherwise Victoria Nuland — demonstrably is not. Did the CIA decline so foolish an adventure?)…

“It is hard to imagine how Barack Obama’s radical-conservative advisors convinced him to throw the United States once more into the battle to acquire Ukraine for Team West, at a moment when success would humiliate Vladimir Putin at the moment when he had carried off a triumphal Winter Olympics, and when the Russian president was being unprecedentedly cooperative with the U.S. in searching for solutions to the Iran nuclear issue, and to the appearance of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war.  Vladimir Putin’s reply to the Kiev coup was, of course, to seize Crimea. No one at the Project for a New American Century, or in Ms Nuland’s office, seems to have thought of that.”  – International Herald Tribune                                                                                   

(Note that the International Herald Tribune is published by the NY Times, which continually omits making Pfaff’s provocative reports available to stateside readers.)

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Blame Game Extra: The Lucchino-Henry debacle may have been instructive to once-meddling owners like Miami’s Jeffrey ay Loria and Baltimore’s Peter Angelos..  Both have given their baseball people more autonomy in recent years, a practice most other owners have been wise enough to follow.

It May Be Early, But…

What’s Happened to the Red Sox? (One man’s view):  “They don’t have the electricity they did a year ago.” – John Kruk (on ESPN)

What’s Happened to the Pirates? (One man’s view):  “They’re losing games this season they used to win a year ago.” – Paul O’Neill (on YES)

Snaking Back to Life: The Diamondbacks, fresh from their first home series win – over the Dodgers – have won 10 of 16, and buoyed by the addition of Tony La Russa to the front office, are now within hailing distance of the NL West pack.  Of course, some observers, including Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, think a shakeup is coming, with GM Kevin Towers and Skipper Kirk Gibson the targets.  If true, the pair is on notice that a prolonged turnaround could be their only  job-saving play.

                                                                                 -o-

  (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Team Obama and the ‘Small Ball’ Pitfall

(Posted 5/17/14)

 

Stephen Drew made $9.5 million with the Red Sox last year; Kendry Morales $5.25 million with the Mariners. So, tadalafil tadalafil when neither was signed this season after turning down qualifying $14.1million offers to return to their teams for a year, sildenafil they weren’t going on food stamps. Still, considering they chose to risk seeking a long-term free agency deal, they’ve received a fair amount of sympathy. The kind words have come either directly or through media boos of the draft-pick arrangement that’s part of the qualifying offer system.

Both Drew, a reliable shortstop, and Morales, a power-hitting first baseman, are expected to be signed next month after the amateur draft, when the signing team will no longer have to yield a draft pick. But the persistent rumbling over their current inactivity seems to contain a political lesson: that, no matter what the circumstances, the presence of people out of work rankles, not only the unemployed, but the public in general. We know Team GOP is betting on that behavior as the midterm electoral playoffs approach. We’ve noted before that the hit-to-right club is basing its offense on one four-letter word: jobs.

Here’s the GOP’s Ohio Skipper John Kasich, a possible 2016 presidential candidate: “We work every day to be business-friendly. We’re up a quarter-million jobs.” The jobs pitch gets cheers in the national ballpark both from pro-business and working class fans. The Dems have been left to go to bat for a raise in the minimum wage and to focus on easing the plight of the middle class through job-training and more-affordable college programs. That game plan might be effective were it not for the sluggish, station-to-station progress of the economy.

WashPost birddog E.J. Dionne flagged Skipper Obama’s own restraint the other night in pitching his team’s successful rally in jobs and investment: “What we’ve accomplished together as a country over the last five years has been significant: 9.2 million new jobs, an auto industry that has come roaring back, a financial system that’s stabilized, trillions of dollars of wealth recovered and restored because housing came back and people’s 401 pensions bounced back. What we also know is that the American public is anxious…(The economy’s improvement)hasn’t translated into greater financial security.”

Dionne contrasts the aggressive GOP approach to that of the Dems as the teams go head-to-head in the 2014 campaign: “Republicans rail against everything Obama has done. Their agenda may look like a catalog of Fox News obsessions — last month it was Obamacare, currently it’s Benghazi. But they will not stop blaming Obama and his party for all the country’s shortcomings. Democrats, by contrast, (seem averse to) offering a sunny rebuttal.”

In Baseball, we know, managers who prefer to play small ball rather than go for the fences, lose at least as often as their caution pays off.. The time for Team Obama to change its approach is running out.

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Hold Those Tigers: Only one of six divisions has a single team above .500, the AL Central. It’s only mid-May, but Detroit is threatening to run away from their four division opponents: the Tigers are now six-and-half games ahead of second-place Minnesota. Meanwhile, Texas, with its injury-depleted rotation, has fallen six games behind pace-setting Oakland in the AL West.

Tanak-accolades: “He’s never in a count where you can look for something.” – Mets manager Terry Collins (after Mashiro Tanaka’s Wednesday night shutout). “I knew what was coming, but I just couldn’t hit it.” – Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy. As the Mets were being baffled by Yankee pitching a second night in a row, Gary Cohen on SNY did not mince words about a missing member of the team’s lineup: “I’d hate to think the $7 million dollars they’re paying Chris Young is the reason (center fielder) Juan Lagares is not playing.”

How to Spot a Comer Who Will Not Be Going Soon: (1) Watch him hit a line-drive home run to right in CitiField’s Death Valley. (2) Read in Gammons Daily that he’s among the top 15 players with more hits than strikeouts. (3) Check his BA and find it’s a more-than-solid .325. Who is it? 27-year-old Yankee rookie Yangervis Solarte.

Late Scores: Dodgers 7, Arizona 0; Marlins 7, Giants 5; Tampa Bay 3, Angels 0; Minnesota 5, Mariners 4; Toronto 2, Texas 0; White Sox 7, Houston 2; Colorado 3, Padres 1.

 -o-

 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

‘Dark Contours’ in Pittsburgh and the Ukraine

(Posted 5/13/14)

Baseball’s counterpart to a hockey “enforcer” has kept a low profile.  He’s Pirates righthander Charlie Morton, whose brush-back pitches that go slightly awry have made him a protector to teammates, a provocateur to opponents.  Morton, described locally as having learned “to negotiate the darker contours of what it takes to play (in) the major(s)”, put his education to work with these MLB-leading stats: eight batters hit in eight games so far; 16 hit in 20 games last season.  Morton mostly manages to time his suspected retaliation until long after a teammate is plunked to avoid ejection.

To provoke without penalty is likewise a Team Obama achievement in the violence game now unfolding in the Ukraine.  Late last month, the Skipper pitched what the NY Times called “an updated version of the Cold War strategy of containment” aimed at Russia. The surprise head-hunting delivery was greeted with either yawns or cheers by political players, left and right, and by the mainstream media.  The O-team’s hidden-ball play on the cause of the deepening Ukraine crisis worked: Vladimir Putin was out-ed as the game’s prime head-hunter.  He would do whatever it takes to recreate the old Soviet empire.

But suppose, says The Nation this week, that we check out the game from Team Moscow’s side of the diamond:  “That 20 years of NATO’s eastward expansion has caused Russia to feel cornered.  That the Ukraine crisis was instigated by the West’s attempt, last November, to smuggle the former Soviet republic into NATO.  That the West’s (complicity) brought to power in Kiev an unelected (anti-Russian) regime…uncritically embraced by Washington.”  Under those circumstances, Putin’s “aggressive” reaction should be understandable.

Possible reasons for Team Obama’s belligerence and the lack of U.S. media balance: It is an election year, and toughness attracts more votes than tempered responses; the defense industry, which thrives on international turmoil, has big-money clout in Washington.

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Stat City:  The Rockies remain in an RISP league by themselves, delivering runners in scoring position at a .313 clip.  The Orioles, Tigers and White Sox are bunched more than 30 points behind.  The Brewers are roughly 20 points further down the line.

Missing Clutch: With the Cardinals close to 100 points lower in RISP than they were when they hit .330 last season, ESPN’s John Kruk said Sunday, “You know that after losing close games, they’re saying in the clubhouse, “It wouldn’t be like this if Carlos Beltran were still here.”  Beltran, on his and the Yankees’ sluggish hitting so far, “We’ll be okay.”

Sombre Status Report: With Michael Pineda injured in the (maybe not so) short term, Ivan Nova injured in the long term and Hiroki Kuroda looking every one of his 39 years – the (Yankees) appear to have exactly one dependable starter, Masahiro Tanaka… For the Yankees to contend, they will need (the now on DL) C.C. Sabathia to pitch like some version of his former self.  His return to Milwaukee Saturday night (four runs, eight hits, including three HRs, in 5.1 innings) suggested that there might be no turning back the clock.

Hail to the Keith:  Four HRs propelled the Mets to a rare comeback win last night against the Yankees.  But two defensive plays by first baseman Lucas Duda may have been the most significant part of the victory.  He started two key double plays, described by YES color man Ron Darling as “Hernandez-esque”.  That was a nod to his co-broadcaster Keith Hernandez.

Late Scores: Nationals 6, Arizona 5; Texas 4, Houston 0; Oakland 5, White Sox 4; Dodgers 6, Marlins 5; Seattle 12, Tampa Bay 5; Giants 4, Braves 2.

                                                                                                 -o-

  (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Rating Farm-System Clout, and School Systems Too

(Posted 5/10/14)

If recent farm-system performance tells us which teams to watch each season – and the record book indicates it does – the club with the most cred to follow this year is already showing its strength. The NL West-leading San Francisco Giants have finished in the top 10 of Baseball America’s annual system ratings in six of the seven past seasons. They finished second in the 2013 rankings, sick and, buy since SF is on a modest even-year title streak (having won the World Series in 2010 and 2012), the team karma in 2014 looks to be in place.

The flip side of the predictive thesis suggests that fans of two currently competitive NL Central teams have reason to be concerned.  The Reds and Brewers both made the bottom five in Baseball America’s annual system ratings for 2013: the Brewers finished 28th of 30, the Reds dead last.  More troubling for people connected with those clubs is the consistency of their low rankings.  The Reds have been in the cellar area four of the last five seasons, the Brewers three of the past four.

The Reds, now two games under .500, have lost Jay Bruce to knee surgery for at least the next month; the Brewers, atop the division, are not the same without offensive catalyst Ryan Braun – oblique muscle strain; he will be missing from their lineup for a few more days.  Rather than embrace an ominous stance with regard to either team, we note only that the Baseball America rundown provides fair warning about both.

An economic equivalent of the farm system ratings is one – product of an international study – that measures the comparative effectiveness of schooling in developed countries. The study, gauging the learned skills of adult workers in 23 national systems, exposed glaring shortcomings in the way ours works.  The stats tell how far down in the standings we finished: Team USA was 14th in problem-solving, 16th in reading, and 21st in math.

Behind the poor numbers was what the study identified as our “particularly large” education inequality gap.  National Journal’s Ron Brownstein describes the gap in detail:

The spread between the performance of adults with college degrees and adults with only high school degrees was larger in the U.S. than anywhere else. The gap between the performance of adults whose parents had obtained a college degree and those who had not also ranked among the largest…These findings send a (familiar) message: While the U.S. continues to nurture islands of spectacular achievement, it is less committed than its competitors to maximizing the potential of all of its people.  The flagship U.S. colleges and universities, which still recruit disproportionately from affluent white families, spend at least twice as much per student…than the less-selective public four- and two-year institutions that enroll most of the growing numbers of minority students.”

Brownstein quoted a Georgetown U. expert on the subject who summarized the situation this way: “We invest only in people who do well.  Every new dollar in the American system only goes toward the winners.”

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Not Quite Forgotten: It’s easy from here to overlook or dismiss the Colorado Rockies: they play in hit-friendly Coors Field and are usually out-glamorized in the NL West by the Giants and Dodgers.  Not for the moment: the Rockies’ 23-year-old third baseman Nolan Arenado hit in 28 straight games until his streak ended last night.  Then there is the Rockies’ all-world shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is flirting with a season BA of .400.   Tulo’s stats so far this week: .518 BA, two HRs, nine RBIs, 10 runs.  The Rox, two games behind the Giants, have won 13 of 18 home games and are just uner.500 on the road, a pace that demands attention.   

Eying Joey Bats:  Eye on Baseball’s Matt Snyder noticed a streak ignored by all but a few obeservers: Jose Bautista’s consecutive on-base mark; Joey Bats has reached in all the Blue Jays’ 36 games this season.  Albert Pujols was the last to excel in that category: 41 games in 2008.    

Late Scores: Giants 3, Dodgers 1; Rangers 8, Red Sox 0; Oakland 8, Nationals 0; KC 6, Seattle 1; San Diego 10, Marlin

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 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com.  Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Varying Impact of Strikeouts on Hitters and a Political Player

(Posted 4/6/14)

Snap Quiz: Which three big-name hitters are among the current major league strikeout leaders? Answer(s): Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins, look 42 Ks in 32 games (tied for lead with Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte); Mike Trout of the Angels, sildenafil 39 Ks in 31 games, the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez, 39 Ks in 33. We know all three are at least on the verge of being considered truly great. Which explains why so little attention is paid to the wild-swinging imperfection in their games. 

Skipper Obama, with the handicap of having eluded potential greatness, has been a lot less fortunate than those three. Maureen Dowd who called him a “whiffer” in the Times last week, is one of many press box observers focusing on the strikeouts piling up during this second year of Obama’s four-year contract extension. Bloomberg.com’s Al Hunt and International Herald Trib’s William Pfaff have kept count of both strikeouts and errors: “…Obama envisioned building a foreign-policy legacy in his second term: a nuclear deal with sanction-strapped Iran, an end to U.S. involvement in conflicts overseas, and a successful pivot to Asia, including a trans-Pacific trade pact. Fifteen months after his second inaugural, those goals look more problematic, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have created new crisesAssad is getting stronger, even as the administration says he must leave power. (Meanwhile)…the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is barely on life support.” (Hunt)

 “Mr. Obama permitted the neo-conservatives in his (or Hillary Clinton’s?) Department of State, together with the Congressionally-sponsored ’democratization’ NGOs dispatched to the former member-states of the Soviet Union, to become NATO recruiting agents… In Ukraine, opponents of President Victor Yanukovych were convinced that…Putin would accept (or be intimidated into tolerating) a pro-NATO coup d’état. He has not. It is another very serious reason Washington’s European allies as well as those in Asia have lost their confidence in the Obama administration. It will be a struggle to deal with the consequences.” (Pfaff)

His fans in the national ballpark thought the Skipper would be a player-manager. Instead, he has been content to hit – and singles, at that – in rhetorical batting practices. Dashed, too, was his supporters’ hope that, at least, he would be a take-charge dugout leader. Obama, we know, has delegated to his coaches the sensitive roles of watching the national security and economic baselines. The strategic damage they have caused will be difficult to undo between now and November. After the electoral playoff then, a Dem defeat can consign the Skipper to what seems to be a comfort zone – hunkering down as the final innings play out. Given the consistency of his laid-back leadership, the hope that Team Obama can mount a late rally seems as realistic as a two-out-in-the-ninth, bases-empty comeback while behind by several runs. For the moment, the Dems must believe in miracles.

While not miraculous, the other-than-whiffing play of Stanton, Gomez and Trout has been heaven-sent for their teams and fans. The BA-HR-RBI numbers: Stanton, .283-10-37 (first overall in HRs, RBIs); Gomez, .291-8-20; Trout, .293-6-19.

– – –

An ‘Only’Look at the Leagues: As of today, only one, the AL Central, has a single team (Detroit) above .500. Only the NL East boasts four of five teams above .500. The AL East has the smallest disparity – one-and-a-half games between first and last place. NL West the largest disparity, 10-and-a-half.

Late Results: Six walks in an inning, the first such Yankee debacle since 1990, handed the Angels a 4-1 win in Anaheim last night. Other late scores: Seattle 4, Oakland 2; Colorado 8, Texas 2; San Diego 6, Kansas City 5

Streakers: Giants +6, Braves -7, KC -5

Not So Fast, Bud: Bud Selig has every right to publicly celebrate the positive steps he’s taken to improve Baseball. But there are times he should be embarrassed for some of his statements. Last Friday, in Denver, for example, he high-fived himself for helping the Wilpons retain control of the Mets when their economic survival was at stake. He said – just before the Mets lost three of four to the Rockies – that he still had a “lot of faith in” the Wilpons, as well as in Sandy Alderson (whom he pushed for team GM). We’ve suggested often that many – if not most – Mets fans consider Fred Wilpon a disaster. Former co-owner Nelson Doubleday warned that Wilpon would give unqualified son Jeff player-transaction power, to the detriment of the team. One of Alderson’s best moves has been to keep the son under wraps. But Jeff, whose occasional public visibility leaves fans twitching, is heir to ownership of the team. The future is therefore cloudy at best…and Selig is ultimately responsible. 

 P.S. Also, pre-the weekend series at Coors Field – before the near-sweep in Denver and the loss last night to the Marlins – SI’s Cliff Corcoran gave this tough assessment of the team Alderson has put together in this, his fourth season as Mets GM: “A lousy, overachieving Mets team wandering into the lion’s den.”

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 (The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

‘R’-Words Plaguing Baseball and Vote-Seeking Teams

(Posted 5/3/14)

Let’s play a Baseball word game: There’s no doubt about the one word fans do not want to hear to describe their team. It begins with an “r” and ends with “rebuilding”: an unwelcome word to fans of every sport.. The Cubs and Mets have undertaken r-word programs guided by Theo Epstein and Sandy Alderson. Started by Theo three-plus years ago in Chicago and by Sandy four-plus in New York, capsule both execs tried to persuade the public that competitiveness would not be sacrificed under their new player-development approach. From what they saw on the field, store neither team’s fans was buying. Hopeful fresh starts launched in Miami and Houston more recently elicited similar responses; fans in those cities did not believe in the hype. The Marlins and Astros registered close to lowest attendances in 2013, both attracting just over a million-and-a-half spectators. The Cubs and Mets, in larger markets, drew 2.6m and 2.1m, respectively. But both were down from 2012 – the Cubs by 200,000 , the Mets by 100,000 ticket-buyers.

Attendance figures at polling places this November preoccupy the two major political teams. The challenge: to devise a pitch that will attract fans to vote for their team in sufficient numbers. The effectiveness of one delivery over the other could be decisive. For the moment, the Dem team is playing catch-up. How do we know? A team brain trust headed by pollster Stan Greenberg and strategist James Carville discovered that a Dem pitch wasn’t working when matched against one thrown on behalf of the GOP opposition. Here is the pre-season match-up they designed to be fair to both teams:

Dem: “The economy is recovering, but not for regular hardworking people. Incomes of CEOs and the top 1 percent are soaring, but in the real economy, people are working harder at jobs that don’t pay enough to live on. We have got to do something. We must raise the minimum wage, help people afford job training and college, build a 21st-century infrastructure, and stop unfair trade agreements that wipe out American jobs.”

GOP: The Obama administration has had six years to get this economy going and its policies haven’t worked. Monthly wages are going down, and there are not enough good-paying jobs to create opportunities for struggling families. We need to start making things in America again, and stop excessive regulations that are hurting the economy. It’s time to produce more energy here at home, and educate people for the jobs of the 21st century.”

The brain trust traced their team’s loss to another “r”- word, “recovery”, a fact confirmed by an NPR poll. “Recovery,” Greenberg and Carville concluded, suggests that their team doesn’t appreciate how much trouble people are in,(or) really understand…the problems they continue to face.”

 Thus, the Dem team has received a sign it should acknowledge: to hope to rally, it must pitch higher and harder on the economy. And send “recovery” to the showers.

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The RISP Recipe: One sometimes-overlooked reason the Orioles, Giants and Tigers are doing well a month-plus into the season: the team-efficiency in getting hits with runs in scoring position (RISP). Going into last night’s games, the Orioles lead both leagues with a .315 BA in that department. The Giants, with a .307, lead in scoring runners with two outs. The Tigers are impressively efficient with bases loaded; their RISP in that category is .471. The Cardinals, who finished last season with a remarkable .330 RISP BA, are struggling with a .226 this year. (Yahoo Sports)

New Leader: Baltimore, with a 3-0 win over Minnesota, while the Yankees were losing to Tampa Bay, has moved into first in the AL East by a half-game.

Bush League Time at Stadium: “Distaste” was the understated word the Daily News’ Mark Feinsand used to describe Yankee-fan reaction to the return of Robinson Cano Tuesday night. He could have said “ugly”; the booing caused embarrassment to some of Cano’s former teammates and many of us watching on YES. We saw the boos as an extension of the lack of class expressed during the infamous “roll call” in which some bleacherites demand acknowledgement from players on the field they target. Cringe-time.

Four Tool-er: Among the most frequently heard misstatements by baseball broadcasters is this: “Mike Trout is a five-tool player.” Wrong. At least one media person who covers the Angels said some time ago that Trout’s outfield arm was “average-to-above-average” but far from strong. And, earlier in the season, Trout himself mentioned that he had to improve his arm strength to raise his poor outfield-assist numbers. As promised, he’s working on it. All that said, Trout is, inarguably a great player.

Late Scores: Rockies 10, Mets 3; Astros 5, Mariners 4; Arizona 2, San Diego 0

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome when addressed to the skipper at dickstar@aol.com. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)