The Nub

Desperation’s Fear-Producing Turn at Bat

How desperate is the Baseball media for genuine news this cold-stove season? Robinson Cano’s alleged unhappiness – believe it or not – is under straight-faced discussion.   On MLB-TV’s morning show, best Daily News scout Anthony McCarron said speculation about Cano possibly returning to the Yankees was a “non-story.” (Yet on the afternoon show, MLB Now, the talk was of the Yanks perhaps taking Cano back on a discount basis). McCarron was worth listening to, to wit: “(Team Principal Owner) Hal Steinbrenner is not like his father George. He’s not interested in being on the back pages. He runs the team like a business; that’s why the Yankees are going with young talent and staying away from contracts like the ones for A-Rod, (Mark) Teixeira and (Carlos) Beltran.”

The mainstream media is on a holiday similar to their sporting teammates. Except they can do minimal digging as they cover a single story – terrorism and its consequences – to the virtual exclusion of whatever else is happening. The terrorism story, you may have noticed, includes breathless bits of military build-up as well as anti-immigrant talk. Whether more fear-producing than enlightening, the ratcheting-up subject matter seems to be – there it is again – good for business.

Advice from an Honoree: We naturally have a tendency in this country to turn to the gun first because the American military is so impressive, so dominant. And the military’s part of any equation is hugely important, but it’s not sufficient. And so we have to look at the diplomatic and… economic aspects of the problem and not let our focus on the military dominate to the point that we do not use the other tools of American power.” – Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton on NPR last Tuesday after being awarded – with Willie Mays and Yogi Berra – a Presidential Medal of Freedom

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Nostalgia on a Quiet, Cold-Stove Weekend

“Each day was a pair of heavy canvas gloves hoisting garbage cans… but each night was the feeling of a bat coming alive in your hands, it was lining the first good pitch for a sharp single. That summer I learned to steal second base by getting the jump on right-handed pitchers and then sliding head-first into the bag. I learned to drive my father’s stick shift and to park with my girlfriend at the beach,…”

American Summer, Edward Hirsch, from “On Love.”(Alfred A. Kopf)


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


‘Tanking’: When Teams on Both Fields Stop Trying

Have you noticed the frequency of the word “tanking” in Baseball conversations this hot stove season? In its current appearance the word is connected to the apparent player-recruitment strategy of the Houston Astros. The word – denoting a strong suspicion – could have been applied to the KC Royals some years ago, best no rx to the Tampa Bay Devil-Rays early in the last decade. They were suspected by some observers of deliberately not trying to finish higher than at the bottom of the season’s standings. The idea (allegedly) was to take advantage of the MLB draft procedure whereby teams chose prospects in reverse order of their finish the previous year. Whether they “tanked” or not, those teams accumulated enough high draft choices to reach playoff-caliber – even World Series – level.

The Stats: Tampa Bay – World Series 2008, playoffs 2010, 2011, 2013; KC – World Series 2014, 2015; Houston – playoffs 2015.

There are not-trying signals of tanking on the political field as it affects as many as 17 million struggling fans in the national ballpark. Those fans are living within 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Medicaid expansion money is available to help them cover health costs. But states are not required to accept the money; they can choose to tank – not to try to make life easier for their residents in need. Nineteen refused to offer at the government’s pitch. The lineup: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine , Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin. Three state teams – Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming – are on deck, and may decide to step to the plate. Also, Louisiana, with a newly elected Dem team Skipper, will begin accepting the Medicaid expansion money next year.

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All About Connections: (Dave)Roberts was recommended to the Dodgers by Josh Byrnes, a Dodgers vice president who worked with him in San Diego. He was a longshot candidate behind front-runner Gabe Kapler, the Dodgers’ innovative minor league director, but he became the co-leader after an outstanding first interview. Roberts later won the(manager’s) job in ensuing interviews with Dodgers ownership, who liked the idea that he could lead the team with a combination of Andrew Friedman’s numbers and old-school baseball senses.” – Bill Plaschke, LA Times

An Appreciative Plug: Bartolo Colon will turn 43 next May, an age at which most players, especially pitchers, have retired or are planning to do so. Colon, who just finished a two-year, $20 million stint with the Mets, has given no indication he thinks he’s finished. Averaging 200 innings per his two Mets seasons, Colon went 29-26, and was injury-free. Teams looking for a workhorse, take note.


(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 Game of Eliminating the Negative

We’ve talked about the effective job Baseball does to promote the sport, usa doctor by, for sale to quote an old song, there “accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative.” A recent example of what could have been embarrassing media coverage: a scarcely reported development in a lawsuit filed by a group of former minor league players. They’re suing MLB for imposing a lid on farm-system salaries in violation of federal and state labor laws. A court in San Francisco has granted the group of 32 ex-players the right to add to their number as the suit goes forward.

The salary levels that triggered the case range from $1,100 to $2,150 a month paid for a maximum of only five months. The ex-players say they’ve been denied overtime pay as well as, in some cases, paid below the minimum wage. MLB argues that playing in the minor leagues is not career work, but rather an intern-like position. Baseball is petitioning Congress to include ballplayers among the list of 35 occupations not required to receive overtime pay or a minimum wage.

The separate issue of 35 corporate and other private money-makers dispensed by government from paying living wages is one that could – and should – be addressed as the Baseball lawsuit proceeds. NY Times birddog Edwardo Porter pointed out this week that both Team GOP and the Dem team have focused on helping the middle class while neglecting to go to bat for “the deeply, persistently poor.” He notes that 16 million of those poor– all living under 50 percent of the poverty line – struggle to survive in the national ballpark on $8.60 per person per day for a family of four.

Since Bill Clinton’s welfare reform of 1996, the Team USA game plan, says Porter, “realigned the distribution of help, favoring the employed, those who are married and have children, leaving out the childless, and either those who had no or very low earnings from work…This choice, to target most of our help only to those who can help themselves…serves (this) purpose: By believing the poor are not exerting enough effort, we allow ourselves not to care.”

If fans nationally would like to see a return to America’s once-widely felt concern for the poor, they’ll need to rally for an unlikely walkoff.. That would come through election of the only presidential candidate calling for a “revolution” to level the steep tilt in our economic playing field. The long-shot clutch hitter likes to be called “Bernie.”

Hearing of the ex-players’ lawsuit is scheduled to resume early next year. Watch for coverage in the mainstream media.. Chances are you’ll have to look hard.

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The Big LA Blunder of 2015:“(Dee) Gordon has emerged as the great fail in the first year of the Dodgers’ new front office….You may need a calculator to keep track of the honors and awards Gordon has been hauling in. Thus far, for the 2015 season, he has been the National League batting champion and stolen base leader, and has led the league in hits, won a Silver Slugger (and) a Gold Glove…Also, he’s 27 years old and can’t become a free agent until 2019. Meanwhile, you may have heard the Dodgers are short on speed and a second baseman, and want to get younger. Hmmm, wonder if they’d like to have a do-over on that trade? ..(But) now here he is, a bright, young star for Don Mattingly in Miami.” – Steve Dilbeck, LA Times

Literary Note: Yesterday (11/20) was the birthday of a double Pulitzer Prize winner (“Mao II”, “Underworld”) and baseball fan Dom DeLillo. He wasn’t interested in being a writer when he was growing up in the Bronx; he mostly played billiards, cards, and baseball, which he still follows obsessively. He took his friend, the novelist Salman Rushdie, to a baseball game once; Rushdie was touched that DeLillo brought a mitt to catch fly balls.” (The Writer’s Almanac)


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


Two Compelling Pre-Winter Games About to Unfold

If “Follow the Money” is advice most of us heed, discount sildenafil watching the $300 million-payroll Dodgers and $200 million-backed Yankees this winter warrants close attention. As of now, usa store the Dodgers need back-of-rotation pitching (as well as a new manager), sale the Yanks starting pitching, period. Autumnal chatter has LA ready to outbid everyone for David Price while holding on to free agent Zack Greinke and entrenched co-ace Clayton Kershaw. On a more modest level, the Yankees are said to be eying the Mariners’ still-young starter James Paxton, even if the cost is Brett Gardner.

Two other well-heeled teams, the Red Sox and Angels, have used money and prospects to get the hot stove season off to a toasty start. The Sox obtained the Padres’ Craig Kimbrel, considered by many the best closer in the bigs, while the Angels added the MLB’s premier shortstop, Andrelton Simmons, from the Braves. Despite strides toward increased parity, Baseball is still a sport where its wealthiest teams go to the playoffs on a consistent basis: since their sale four years ago brought an infusion of big money, the Dodgers have made it to the post-season three straight times, one fewer than the big-ticket Tigers did before this year.

Electoral Game-Playing: Following the money leads more often than not to which party will dominate the political playing field at presidential election time. This year, its rowdy primary notwithstanding, Team GOP holds a statistical (as well as financial)advantage over its Dem opponents, thanks to what voters see as a precarious economy. The edge, based on 52 percent disapproval ratings of Skipper Obama’s overall performance, and 64 percent booing him on economy-focused grounds, amounts to a changeable cautionary tale.

Nevertheless, the Dems must take the trend seriously. Republican analyst Eric Fehrnstrom warns in the Boston Globe that, should the Skipper’s numbers “stay inverted, it’s going to be difficult for a Democrat to win no matter what.” The Dems, perhaps shortsightedly, are banking, at worst, on help from an unexpected quarter: Team GOP’s disarray lingering deep into 2016. The game, involving both teams, will become increasingly compelling between now and the Iowa caucuses February 1.

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Regrets I: Every once in awhile, a GM talks about a prospect newly traded away with regret that you know is genuine. Rangers GM Jon Daniels spoke that way about righthander Jerad Eickhoff one of five prospects he sent to the Phillies in the Cole Hamels deal. Eickhoff bore out Daniels’ effusive praise, registering a 2.65 ERA in eight late-season games with the Phils. He had a 3-3 W-L record, and struck out three times as many batters as he walked.

Regrets II: Then there is the Angels’ new GM Billy Eppler, who said this about lefty Sean Newcomb, one of three prospects plus shortstop Erick Aybar dealt to Atlanta for top-of-the-line shortstop Andrelton Simmons: “Every trade has a lot of pain to it. When you are including a young, left-handed starter with a great body, great delivery and great arm action that can throw 98 miles an hour…It gives you a lot of pause. It makes your stomach hurt…a lot, actually.” (quoted by Tyler Kepner, NY Times)

Regrets III: “When I turn on the TV now, I expect to see an empty ballpark.” – Red Sox fan and musicologist Jonathan Schwartz


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


Why Fans Are Skeptical of the Prediction Game

The 2015 season has barely departed, best sildenafil but, before we know it, prediction time will have arrived; experts claiming long-range vision will prophecy how teams will do in 2016. The sabermetrics projection system known as PECOTA deserves respect for fearlessness. It will weigh in early, triggering a mix of fan approval and skepticism. The PECOTA people earned more boos than cheers last year; they correctly picked only one of six league winners, the Cardinals. Counting the Cards, they predicted just four of the 10 playoff teams, all from the NL – the Mets, Cubs and Dodgers were the other three.

PECOTA made some embarrassingly bad AL predictions, anticipating a 72-90 record for the world champion Royals, who finished the regular season first in the AL Central at 95-67. Another whopper was its take on the Red Sox, picking them to finish first in the AL East at 87-75, instead of last, at 78-84.

The moral of the PECOTA experience is familiar on the political field. Years of misjudgments have taught competing teams to believe that their adversaries “know less than we think they do.” That skepticism grows every year, both as to the accuracy of such polling, and the original belief that it gives us all a turn at bat. New Yorker mag’s Jill Lepore did some official scoring on the validity of the challenges.:

“Election pollsters sample only a miniscule portion of the electorate…commonly …a couple of thousand people out of more than two hundred million eligible voters. The promise is that the sample is exquisitely representative. But the lower the response rate, the harder…it becomes to realize that promise…Today, with a response rate in the single digits, (pollsters) defend their work by pointing out that people who do answer are most likely to vote. But…surveying only likely voters…means that the reason for measuring public opinion…has been abandoned. (It) isn’t enhancing public participation. Instead, it’s a form of disenfranchisement.”


Tradition Breakers: Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus started the trend, becoming the first player ever to accept a qualifying (single-season) offer from his team early yesterday. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters followed Rasmus’s lead, electing to stay with the Orioles for the $15, 800 one-year money. Dodger pitcher Brett Anderson made it three, agreeing to return to LA next season. Two players – the Mets’ Daniel Murphy and Padres pitcher Ian Kennedy – rejected the offers, choosing to become free agents. They thus followed a tradition established by 34 others over three previous seasons.

What Teams (and Local Media) Say About Players They’ve Traded: One day after Andrelton Simmons was named the best overall defensive player in the majors, he was traded to the Angels…for a package of players including veteran shorststop Erick Aybar and the Angels’ top two pitching prospects, left-hander Sean Newcomb, 22, and Chris Ellis, 23…“Andrelton is a very special player, one of my favorite players. He’s a pure joy to watch play, and he’s a great person, too. But with where we’re at, with a team that lost (95) games, we need more talent. And sometimes you can’t get that talent right here, right now. But we think that all three players in this trade will have an impact on our major league team in the 2016 season.” – Braves GM John Coppolella + David O’Brien, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

On New Yankee Hicks: “A two-way threat is what (Aaron) Hicks finally became in the second half of 2015, after two disappointing seasons in 2013 and 2014 which he failed to hold the Twins’ starting center field job. The Twins’ first-round pick in 2007 is a career .225 hitter in the majors, but batted .346 in July after being recalled from Class AAA Rochester. Hicks, who finished the season with 11 homers and a .266 average, was voted the Twins’ most improved player.” – Phil Miller, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“(John Ryan) Murphy performed capably as (Brian) McCann’s backup the last two seasons. He figures to get a chance to start for Minnesota.” – Ken Davidoff, NY Post

Bosox Mean Business: New Prez Dave Dombrowski gave up four prospects to obtain elite closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres. San Diego GM A.J. Preller has saved a bundle (and possibly his job) by peddling Kimbrel to the Sox and set-up man Joaquin Benoit to the Mariners.


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


Self-Inflicted Damage on Both Fields

Who can argue with what Yoenis Cespedes accomplished while playing with the Mets in August and September? The 17 HRs and 44 RBIs he compiled in 57 games helped propel the Mets from two games behind the Nationals on August 1 to a comfortable first-place finish in October. Those stats suggest something more – that it’s no great stretch to credit Cespedes with rescuing a franchise whose home attendance numbers fell by almost 50 percent between 2008 and 2014.

Both Cespedes and the Mets’ most productive hitter throughout the season, generic Daniel Murphy, generic capsule are likely to be gone in 2016 (especially if Murphy declines the team’s $15.8 million qualifying offer). So, the team will be tempted to depend on a touted rotation headed by Jacob deGram and Matt Harvey plus Noah Syndergaard, Zach Wheeler and Steven Matz. An uh, oh strategy if carried out.

These days Team GOP is experiencing a Mets-like downward spiral that shows little sign of changing trajectory. In addition to a crowded, complex presidential primary devoid of a stay-the-course front-runner, which neither Ben Carson nor Donald Trump are expected to become, there is this potential pitfall: the Dem team is seen to have a good chance of reclaiming at least four Senate seats. That would put the chamber in a 50-50 deadlock, to be broken by whichever party wins the presidency.

National Journal election expert Charlie Cook discussed these trends on C-Span’s “Road to the White House” last week. The one GOP player he suggested was in the game, other than Carson and Trump: Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cook ruled out a Bernie Sanders challenge to Hillary Clinton: “liberals are his base; that’s not enough.” Should Clinton falter, Cook said Martin O’Malley, two decades younger than Sanders, would he the more likely Dem choice.

Some additional Cook observations: surveys in 2012 showed that, as between voters who identified themselves either as “moderates” or “independents”, the mods tended to vote for Barack Obama, the indies for Mitt Romney. Voters favored Romney by a few points when asked about the importance of “vision,” executive experience, etc. But on the question of “caring about people like me,” Obama had a 63-point edge. The overall message of this 2016 presidential play-in: Team GOP (like the ’08-’14 Mets), says Cook, is “damaging the franchise.”

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Will Greinke Remain Great? Grant Brisbee, of SB Nation predicts the Dodgers will re-sign Zack Greinke, a no-news prophecy. What is new (to us, anyway) concerns Greinke’s age, 32: “Thirty-two (is) an age where even the greats start to pooter out. Roy Oswalt shows up as a comp on Greinke’s Baseball-Reference page, and 32 was the beginning of his end. Bret Saberhagen is another comp, and he didn’t pitch his age-32 season. It’s the age where John Smoltz became a reliever because of injuries and the mileage on his arm. It’s when a lot of the best pitchers move from great to pretty good, except Greinke will be paid to be great.”

Vegas Odds for 2016: Dodgers 8-I; Cubs, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals 10-1; defending champion Royals 18-1. A consensus reported on MLB-TV has the Cubs replacing KC as World Series champions. Pepsi-Cola must take the Cubs seriously. The company has announced it’s ending its “Pepsi Porch” relationship with the Mets and reinvesting the money at Wrigley Field.

What’s Happened to Allen Craig? Red Sox have outrighted him to Pawtucket. But we don’t have to sympathize: the onetime Cardinals star will make $9 million, if he accepts the assignment.


(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 Media’s Non-Negativity Game in Both Fields

In the previous Nub, recipe we quoted Bobby Ojeda saying Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud had a weak arm. D’Arnaud failed to catch seven of KC base-stealers in the World Series, sovaldi his throws inevitably sailing wide of second base. We’ve also quoted Mike Trout, doubting he could be considered a five-tool player. Why? He concedes that he has a less-than-superior arm: seven outfield assists in 156 games compared to AL outfield assist leader Avisail Garcia of the White Sox – 17 throw-outs in 130 games.

We thought about the media’s unwillingness to say anything negative about player shortcomings beyond the fact that they’re “struggling.” Why beat writers and broadcasters are averse to criticizing is easy to understand: the jobs of most of them depend on promoting the sport they cover. It’s worth noting that Ojeda lost his job as a Mets studio analyst after the 2014 season. Keith Hernandez, a rare holdout from the non-negativity team, keeps his gig as Mets color broadcaster because of his engaging manner and icon status.

A similar reluctance to go against players who have positioned themselves as organizational favorites exists in the political field. Take the case – which Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi did – of would-be presidential candidate Bernie Sanders:

“Sanders is just the latest in a long line of candidates – Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, to name a few – whom my media colleagues decided in advance were not electable, and covered accordingly, with a sneer…When we reporters are introduced to a politician, the first thing we ask ourselves is if he or she is acceptable to the political establishment. We don’t admit that we ask this as a prerequisite, but we do… Ultimately, what we’re looking for is someone who’s enough of a morally flexible gasbag to get over with the money people, and then also charming enough on some politically irrelevant level to attract voters. (‘I’m a war hero, and Sharon Stone’s cousin,’ was Chris Rock’s take on acceptable presidential self-salesmanship).

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Wish List of Sorts:  Let’s disregard the elite free agents – David Price, Johnny Cueto, Chris Davis, Zack Greinke, etc., here are eight – mostly mid-level players (with one or two exceptions), we would choose at first glance were we a GM: in alphabetical order – Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle; Ian Kennedy, San Diego; John Lackey, St.Louis; Darren O’Day, Baltimore; A.J. Pierzynski, Atlanta; Colby Rasmus, Houston; Denard Span, Washington; Ben Zobrist, Kansas City. Yes, and Daniel Murphy, Mets.

More on Reluctant Critiques: Panelists on MLB-TV, including Al Leiter and Eric Byrnes, were reluctant to say players like Price and Cueto have lost market value during the playoffs. With one exception: they agreed Yoenis Cespedes had diminished his earning power after “kicking the ball around” in the outfield and not hitting during the Series. Whom were they highest on? Zobrist, “just a good ballplayer” who labored in comparative obscurity at Tampa Bay.

A Positive “No”: Brian Kenny, host of MLB Now took issue Thursday with three panelists, including Al Leiter and NY Postman Joel Sherman. Under discussion: was the Nationals’ decision to name Dusty Baker manager after first choice Bud Black rejected terms of the team’s offer. Contrary to his colleagues, Kenny said hiring Baker was a bad move. Why? He had demonstrated twice in playoff situations as Reds Skipper that he couldn’t meet the challenge of making the right decision when a series was on the line.


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


Hail to the Royals. Can Voters Find Players of Their Stature

“Gallant, best then abysmal”: the great Roger Angell’s words in the New Yorker to describe the Mets’ World Series performance. They were as much of an embarassement to their fans as the Kansas City Royals were a source of pride to theirs. Cinderellas in reverse, buy the Mets performed a miraculous dance through the regular season’s homestretch and the first two playoff rounds. Then they reverted to shabby pretenders.

But – again in Angell’s words – “Baseball…allows us to put a better face on things, which is to say that this Kansas City Royals batting order, top to bottom, is the hardest row of outs we have seen in our time. “Watching them come up to bat again—Escobar, Zobrist, and Cain up top; Hosmer, Moustakas, and Perez in the middle; Gordon and Rios waiting down below—has made for a permanent Uh-oh! behind my breastbone this week, and the perverse passing wish that I had no stake in this series. I fell in love with these Royals in their near-thing début in the World Series last fall, and will find pleasure and pride in them as champions.”

 Stat City: Will a player of Royals stature emerge in our presidential electoral playoffs? The response from fans of both Team GOP and the Dem team are not encouraging. Latest national polls (surveyed by Real Clear Politics) show that, among the eight most prominent players – six on the GOP, two on Dem side – no one has reached 50 percent support. The GOP breakdown has Donald Trump maintaining a lead with 28 percent, Ben Carson is second with 23 percent Four others score like this: Marco Rubio 11, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush 6, and Carly Fiorina 3. The numbers in the (so far) two-player Dem race: Hillary Clinton 48, Bernie Sanders 33.

Chances are that none – not even Sanders – will light the kind of vote-getting fire Barack Obama did in 2008. On progressive vs. conservative issues, fans seem split. That backdrop suggests we’re in for a “Trust” election, one in which a revelation like the unconfirmed report that almost sunk George W. Bush in 2004 – concerning his delinquent military service – could be decisive. The appeal of Ben Carson to conservatives is intriguing; as unlikely as it may sound, many Republican voters might gravitate toward him, theorizing that, if Dems could win with an African-American in 2008, their side might, too, in 2016.

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Series Stat City:

Come Down: The Mets’ Daniel Murphy, who hit three HR and batted .333 against the Dodgers in four games, and hit four HR and batted .529 against the Cubs, also in four games, hit only .150 with zero HR against the Royals in five games.

The Late Scoring Game: The Royals are the first team to win three games in which they trailed in the eighth inning or later in a single World Series.

The Running Game: Former Mets pitcher and studio broadcaster Bobby Ojeda said early in the season that the team’s number one catcher Travis d’Arnaud had a weak arm: “He can’t come close to second base.” The Royals took liberties with d’Arnaud’s arm, stealing seven bases in seven attempts.


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