The Nub

The Playing Fields: Starting to Get More Even

For most teams, canada medicine the loss for up to 14 weeks of a player like Andre Ethier would be a serious setback. For the Dodgers, the wealthiest MLB club by far, Ethier’s absence will hardly be missed. The Dodgers seem to represent a return to the unbalanced days when the Yankees dominated through their financial clout. A look (thanks to Tracker) at current 2016 team payrolls, however, demonstrate that the wealth lineup isn’t nearly as top-heavy as it was when the Yanks were the game’s well-heeled kings. The Yankees are still among the rich, with a $222 million payroll, $26 million below the $248 million Dodgers. The Red Sox and Tigers, $198 and 192 million, complete the cash-laden top four. Seventeen of the game’s 30 teams have payrolls above $100 million. Only the Rays ($60 mil) and Brewers ($50 mil) are on strikingly short rations.

Clearly, although it has a ways to go, Baseball is moving toward greater parity. In the other ballpark, it’s possible that the back-to-back pitches of Occupy Wall Street and Bernie Sanders have given the U.S. at least a start toward evening its economic playing field. New Yorker mag birddog Nicholas Lemann describes why progress, real as it might be, has been slow.

“Our campaign-finance laws allow big businesses to buy a great deal of influence in Washington. The sociology of the American élite means that the people at the higher rungs of government and the people at the higher rungs of business often went to school together, live in the same neighborhoods, and move back and forth between the two sides during their careers. That dulls the edge of their putative opposition… The odds are that, a year from now, Bernie Sanders won’t be in the White House pushing the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act. Still, the 2016 Presidential campaign has demonstrated that many Americans don’t feel that the system—the dominant institutions in government and in business—is working for them… At times, (the feeling) seems dormant; at times, it comes heatedly to the fore. But the conflict is as elemental as anything can be in American political culture; it isn’t ever going away.”

                                                                         

Fret-Time: Sure, the games don’t count, but fans of the Orioles (7-14), Pirates (7-15) and Mets (7-13) should begin to worry about how badly their teams are doing in exhibition games. The results may not say much about team regulars, but they do suggest all three will be going into the season 10 days from now with weak benches, including shaky bottom-of-staff relievers. Look for them to seek help as better-stocked teams make late cuts.

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

 

Contests That Count: Impatience in One Field, Tumult in Another

Who’s ahead in the Spring Training standings with two weeks to go before the season starts? The Diamondbacks, discount online Natikonals and Phillies among NL teams, usa tadalafil the Blue Jays, Tigers and Astros on the AL side. Five of those six teams are considered competitive in their divisions and seem to be vindicating that assessment. If there’s a problem, and there is, it’s this: the results don’t matter. They don’t matter because the games don’t count. Unless you are vying for a spot on the regular-season roster, or a warm-weather resident looking for diversion at the ballpark, the exhibition games are a bore. Some managers come close to dozing off while being interviewed on TV.

The point is the sport only becomes worthwhile to true fans when – repeat after us: “games count.” The complaints about the all-star game stake – which league wins home-team status for the World Series – or the intrusion of the World Baseball Classic every four years, are not thought out. We’re confident the slow-wittedness will pass. Soon, everyone will accept the obvious and limit their embrace to games that matter.

We know that on the political field, the playoff contests leading to the presidency are crucial. The immediate problem for fans in the national ballpark is to figure out what the final standings are going to look like. The votes between now and convention time truly count. Or maybe not. Team GOP’s House Speaker Paul Ryan has suggested that his club could find a way to keep front-runner Donald Trump from winning the party’s nomination: “The perception that this is likely to become an open convention,” he said last week, “could…become a reality.” Ryan denies any interest in becoming his team’s alternative-to-Trump candidate. But a Ryan-Clinton presidential match-up may well be in the offing. If that happens, we know Trump would not go quietly. We know, too, that if Team GOP got Donald to the showers, Clinton could face a bumpy basepath toward the ultimate win that counts.

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Tough Transition: Red Sox Skipper John Farrell thinks Hanley Ramirez is more comfortable coming back to the infield to play first base. Talking to Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown, Farrell said he detected a much more positive mindset in Ramirez now that left field is behind him, On the other hand, there is this that Alex Rodriguez told Brown about the switch to first base: For me it was the most challenging thing I ever – I’m not going to say did, I’m going to say tried to do. I couldn’t even catch the ball. The game was backwards for me…” Chances are, no matter how Ramirez performs at first this season, he will be the Sox’s DH in 2017.

Angelic Attention-Grabbers: “It’s not just the $150 million guys and nothing else,” said new LA Angels GM Billy Eppler (to NY Times’s Tyler Kepner). “There are other moves that don’t grab the attention.” As of yesterday, two of those Eppler moves, adding Yunel Escobar, who shone at third base with the Nationals last season, and Daniel Nava, let go by the Rays after the Red Sox gave up on him in 2015, are grabbing attention on the West Coast. Escobar got an eighth straight hit, finishing the day with .486 average for the spring; Nava, having hit safely in 13 straight games, ended with a .517 BA.

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

The Presidential World Series Could Be a Big Problem

The Phillies and Reds are two most prominent examples of teams that stuck with reliable veterans, tadalafil here and watched as they reliably grew old. Both teams put off responding to an obvious need – to blend in younger players. We can add Milwaukee , buy Atlanta and Colorado; and , if we stretch a little to include San Diego, it makes the NL a league with 40 percent failure-to upgrade- teams. The mismanagement is overlookable during this month of eternal hope. But, on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of fans facing a lost season, we can call the situation what it is – a disgrace.

And if we look over at the two major political leagues we can find similar bad management. In these cases, the consequences are potentially catastrophic. First, rather than inviting impressive prospects to the pre-season look at potential young playoff material, the Dem team tried to put a single player into the primary race. Hillary Clinton would have gone to the presidential world series without a contest had not veteran Bernie Sanders forced his way into the should-be competition. (Three other aspirants – Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb – left the field early). Clinton will almost certainly make the Series, despite resentment over her policies as well as the way she was chosen.

In the adjoining ballpark, Team GOP went to the other extreme, allowing more than a dozen-and-a half competitors clutter the playoff field. That gave Donald Trump, target of widespread bench-jockeying from opponents, the chance to speak out in his own defense far more often than other candidates. He has done so outrageously and entertainingly, reasons he’s attracted enough fan support to qualify to face Clinton in the Presidential Series. That he is a hater does not seem to bother his supporters. Clinton’s favoring of the war in Iraq and military aggression general, on the one hand, and her close ties with Wall Street, on the other, could keep progressive voters at home, The match-up, therefore, could shape up as catastrophically too close to call.

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A Boost for the Big Gamer: David Price did a rare thing the other day. Asked during a Red Sox-Yankees game if anyone in his life inspired him to reach his potential, he named an active opposing player: “James Shields,” he said. He and Shields were teammates on the Tampa Bay Rays from 2008 until Shields was traded to Kansas City in 2013. “He was always putting in the time, working to improve,” Price said. “Watching him made me try my best to do the same.” Shields had a typical “Big Game” first season with San Diego in 2015, leading the team’s starters with a 13-7, 3.91 ERA record on a club that went 74-88.

More Than Middlin’: Speaking of KC, the World Champion Royals have been undervalued in projections over three recent, including two Series-achieving, seasons. Sporting News’ Jesse Spector thinks he’s spotted what’s happened: “It’s…the men in the middle who have been strong for Kansas City. The Royals had a .940 winning percentage in games last year where they led after four innings, compared to .795 for the average major league team. Leading after five innings, Kansas City had a .943 winning percentage, compared to .830 for the average team… So when you talk about the dominance of the Kansas City bullpen, it’s important to remember those guys in the middle of the games. The most-used non-closers for the Royals last year were Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales….The Royals were eight games better than the average team when tied after five innings. These four pitchers had a lot to do with that. If something the Royals are doing is being undervalued by statistics, and thus by projections, it might be the middle relievers.”

The Why of LaRoche’s Retirement? The talk on YES during the Yankees-Orioles game last night was what happened to the agreement whereby the White Sox would allow Adam LaRoche’s 14-year-old son Drake to hang out with the team, in the clubhouse and on the field. The team’s exec VP Kenny Williams told LaRoche he couldn’t bring Drake to the ballpark every day any longer. LaRoche responded by quitting the team and sacrificing his $13 million salary. The theory of Kenny Singleton and fellow YES broadcasters is that someone on the team complained about Drake’s constant presence, prompting Williams to act as he did. The Sox front office has been instructed not to comment on the matter; LaRoche’s teammates have, in support of him and his son.

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

Performers in Both Fields Known for Playing With Fire

(Posted 3/15/16)

Who are the tinder-box players we can expect to add some off-field fire to the 2016 season? Yasiel Puig comes to mind first; his flare-ups, health part of an ongoing adjustment to the U.S., case are almost excusable as inevitable. Jonathan Papelbon’s periodic outbursts are so fairly predictable that it’s fair to count him. Who else? A.J. Pierzynski, who has been on good behavior (but you never can tell), Carlos Gomez, a sure-fire stirrer-upper.

These thoughts spring from bird-dogging some of the players on the presidential political field. Marco Rubio slimed himself by injecting bathroom humor on to the swings he took at Donald Trump. Ted Cruz doused his anti-Trump pitches with vitriol. Neither was a match for Trump himself. Atlantic’s James Fallows digs into the reasons why:

“Trump has a dramatic range no other candidate can begin to match. Everyone else in the race, regardless of party, has a single dominant tone and style of presentation, or at best a range of two to choose from. Ted Cruz is always angry/smarmy. John Kasich has his recurring ’can’t we just stop the nuttiness!’ sitcom-dad approach. No matter the question, Bernie Sanders brings the answer back to economic injustice… I can think of two distinct modes from Marco Rubio (earnest-scripted, and playful-jokey) and Hillary Clinton (earnest-exhortative, and ’I’m not a natural at this like my husband’).

“With Trump, you never have the sense that it’s a one-or-the-other choice…Trump’s background that really matters is his years as a reality TV star. All politicians need to be actors. But by nature or by experience, Trump is just far better at it than anyone else in the field. The magic is that every one of these roles and tones seems ’authentic’ to him. That is a large part of why he’s gotten this far, and why the Democrats have to take him seriously.”

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Worthwhile Price: Good news for Red Sox fans worried whether prize acquisition David Price still has it after setting a record with Toronto last fall for most playoff starts without a win. Scott Stinson of The National Post dug up this reassurance: “In the dark moments of the Toronto Blue Jays playoff run, otherwise known as the games David Price started, the tall lefty, after another loss, would stand in the clubhouse, face his inquisitors…(with) a note of defiance… Price, even as he was setting the mark for most playoff starts without a win, was resolute that he wasn’t throwing poorly. Objectively speaking, he was correct. Price was throwing good pitches. According to a new metric called Quality of Pitch, Price threw just fine, best among Jays pitchers in the post-season, even if his results were far from ideal.”

                                                                        

Dodger Gold Strike: On a par with Corey Seager being acknowledged, near-unanimously as the best prospect in Baseball, is this tribute from then-manager Don Mattingly overheard late last season: “This is the closest I’ve seen to (Derek) Jeter since Jeter was that young (21).” Then there’s this testament to Corey’s potential provided by older brother Kyle, the Seattle Mariners’ prized third baseman: “We’re both left-handed hitters and right-handed throwers. But from a talent standpoint, he’s definitely got a lot more to offer.” – quoted by Tyler Kepner, NY Times

 

Centralized Anticipation: If asked to choose one of the six divisions on which to focus exclusively, a fan could answer “Central” and be content with either league choice: the NLC offers Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, all three of whom could make the playoffs; the ALC has the makings of an all-in, five-team race. A bet on any of the five – the Indians, Royals, Tigers, Twins or White Sox – could pay off. And won’t it be fun watching the scramble into October?

                                                              

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

 

A Rare Baseball-Related Political Pitch

Stop the presses! Paul O’Neill, generic seek former Yankee and Reds outfielder, sovaldi sale and current part-time Yankee broadcaster, has endorsed Donald Trump. O’Neill is a popular guy in New York, where Trump isn’t terribly popular. But, good for Paul, going public with that political view. People connected with Baseball – especially the active players – stay out of politics, either because they don’t want to risk alienating fans with opposing views, or because they take no interest in the pol-game. The last occasion we can remember when ballplayers appeared in public at a political rally was in Tampa on October 20, 2008. A group of Tampa Bay teammates, including David Price, Edwin Jackson, Cliff Floyd and Jonny Gomes, pitched their support for presidential candidate Barack Obama.

O’Neill, obviously genial and witty, could have verbally enhanced the Trump gathering in Jupiter, Florida the other night. He opted instead to maintain a low, and seemingly slightly embarrassed, profile. That’s similar to the approach of an unlikely future opponent of Trump in the presidential playoff, Dem Senator Bernie Sanders. New Yorker mag writer Margaret Talbot, who’s been covering Sanders, describes that approach:

“After speeches, Sanders spars about issues with voters or reporters. Garrison Nelson, a political scientist at the University of Vermont, who has known him for decades, says that if Sanders is walking down the street in Burlington “and somebody yells at him Bernie will talk to him…(but)…does not excel…at… casual, friendly conversation. He has no gift for anecdote. When talking to voters, Hillary Clinton has perfected the head-cocked semblance of keen interest; it’s clear when Sanders becomes bored. Nelson told me,’Bernie’s the last person you’d want to be stuck on a desert island with. Two weeks of lectures about health care, and you’d look for a shark and dive in.’.”

 

The System: Work It, or Take It On? After a Clinton-Sanders debate Thursday night, NY Times columnist Gail Collins talked of a sense among some Dems “that voting for (Hillary) against Bernie Sanders is like rewarding Washington for its worst behavior.” She added that, although Clinton may be “the one who knows how to make the system work,” it’s not clear whether “she can work against the system.”

 

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Dawn of a Shifty Offense? The Yankees’ Brian McCann was the first regular we saw last season, bunting toward an empty third base to foil a hit-to-right shift. “Why don’t more players do it,” wondered YES broadcaster Michael Kay. Now, word from Cincinnati that Joey Votto and Drew Stubbs are practicing the shift-foiler, suggests this may be the season teams will be forced to modify their extreme defensive alignments. Cautions Stubbs, however: developing an effective shift-avoiding swing is “harder than it looks.”

 

Well-Armed Secret:“There might not be a more exciting moment in baseball than a charging outfielder uncorking a bullet to the catcher, and the balletic explosion of converging activity — the sliding runner, the arriving ball, the sweeping tag, all punctuated by the umpire’s call…And now the Mariners have one of the leading practitioners in the art of outfield artillery. Leonys Martin…is (arguably)the best-throwing center fielder in the business; almost all the renowned throwers reside on the corners…” Seattle Skipper Scott Servais on what makes Martin (and other well-armed outfielders like him effective): ‘He’s a very athletic player. It’s in and out of his glove rather quickly, and it is on line where it’s intended to go. It’s impressive’.” – Larry Stone, Seattle Times

 

The Spring Sked: A Modest Proposal – “The Giants play 35 exhibitions in 32 days. The A’s play 32 in 31 days. That’s a fifth of a regular season… Ask most hitters or relievers, and they’ll say six weeks of training camp is unnecessary.   Long training camps are for starting pitchers. It gives them six starts before the season… They could be fine with five starts…Knock a week off. Nobody would complain, except for the towns in Arizona and Florida that built pretty parks and make a financial killing…‘You could definitely shorten it,’ said Buster Posey, echoing thoughts throughout baseball and noting the Giants have just one off day in spring training. ‘It really doesn’t make sense. We’re trying to be in the best shape possible for Opening Day.’…More spring games can mean more injuries.” – John Shea, San Francisco Chronicle.

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

 

Scouting Players of the Year in Both Fields

Discrimination in Baseball? You bet. Let’s get the heavy stuff out of the way: We know preferential treatment exists by watching the number of international players in the Bigs grow while the percentage of African-Americans declines. Why that’s happening connects, best rx in large part, usa buy to the easy exploitation of prospects in Latin America, and the focus on signings in Southeast Asia. Still, only two of the 11 Player of the Year honors have gone to Latinos – Albert Pujols and Johan Santana (in 2005 and 2006), and one to an African-American, Matt Kemp (2011). Meanwhile, two acknowledged greats from abroad – Miguel Cabrera and Ichiro Suzuki – have never been honored.

In seven of the 11 POY selections to date, position players have been the choice. Bryce Harper won it last year, with his 42 HRs, .330 BA, and .460 on-base pct. Our choice would have been Zack Greinke, with his 19-3 W-L, 1.66 ERA,, his 200 K’s, and more than respectable .224 BA. And, oh, yes, his Dodger team made the playoffs, Harper’s Nationals didn’t.

Greinke’s all-around skills and his stats came to mind while we were thinking of Donald Trump. Despite the media low bridges he’s had to duck from the last few days, he remains a threat to become political player of the year, that is, National Skipper. What do Trump’s stats look like? Here is what New Yorker mag’s birddog John Cassidy sees:

“In talking about safeguarding Social Security, forcing pharmaceutical companies to lower their prices, preventing people who don’t have health insurance from dying in the streets, and eliminating tax breaks that favor hedge-fund and private-equity managers (such as Romney), Trump is using the language of economic populism in a manner that none of his Republican rivals can match. Beholden to their campaigns backers, they are forced to confine themselves to the standard guff about cutting taxes, loosening regulations, and encouraging enterprise. At this late stage, many none-too-affluent G.O.P. voters appear to be smelling a rat.”  

Cassidy reinforces that message by quoting Reihan Salam, exec editor of the conservative National Review, who said this in Slate::

 

“More than anything else, Trump has demonstrated that white working-class voters have minds of their own.  Why wouldn’t they be furious? The Republican failure to defend the interests of working-class voters, and to speak to their hopes and fears, has made Trump’s authoritarianism dangerously alluring…There is only one way forward in the post-Trump era. The GOP can no longer survive as the party of tax cuts for the rich. It must reinvent itself as the champion of America’s working- and middle-class families.”

An almost implausible strategy that only underlines the accuracy of a headline in this week’s progressive mag, The Nation: “DONALD TRUMP IS DANGEROUS.”

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Winged Birds: The Cardinals, expected to be challenged keeping pace with the Cubs in the NL Central, now are under a key handicap: shortstop Jhonny Peralta has hurt his left thumb and is likely to miss the first two months of the season. That, and the fact Yadier Molina must rest his surgically repaired left thumb, gives the Redbirds a double-hurt.

Economy Game in NY: “We have a lot of money coming off the payroll in the next two years, $100 million from four guys,” he said, in reference to the expiring contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, ,Carlos Beltran and CC Sabathia. “And we’re going to put a lot of it back in. But that doesn’t mean I need a $240 million payroll.” – Yankees Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner to ESPN’s Wallace Matthews

Tex’s Warrior: Mark Teixeira to Michael Kay of YES, on with whom, in war, he would want to share his foxhole: “Brett Gardner, he’s always ready for a fight.”

A Little After It All Began: “On this date in 1857 (yesterday, 3/6, to be exact) it was wisely decided that a baseball game would be made up of nine innings instead of 21 ’aces’ or runs. The National Association of Baseball Players decided this. They were a group of men in New York and Brooklyn baseball clubs playing under what was known as the ‘Knickerbocker Rules,’ and they had just gotten together formally for the first time in January…They (did) away with the practice of hitting the runner with a thrown ball to get him out…They knew that spectators were coming to baseball games, and under the Knickerbocker Rules a game could be over very quickly. So they changed the rules so as not to disappoint the sport’s new fans, which might pay money to see them.”(Writer’s Almanac)

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

 

The Resort to ‘Regime Change’ on Both Fields

Snap Quiz: What do Dusty Baker, ailment Craig Counsell, drugstore Andy Green, Pete Mackanen, Don Mattingly, Dave Roberts and Scott Servais have in common? Answer: None was a skipper of his team at spring training-time a year ago. Donnie Baseball, we know, was managing the Dodgers then, and Counsell and Mackanen inherited the Brewers and Phillies during 2015. Still, it’s a rare season when almost a fourth r of MLB teams have changed field leadership from the previous year. Baker with the Nationals and Roberts of the Dodgers lead the most obvious competitive teams, but Mattingly’s Marlins could surprise. Green (Padres), Mackanen (Phillies) and Servais (Mariners) are in long-shot situations (sorry, Seattle fans).

The instability in Baseball clearly stems from ownership impatience for, if not on-field success, but a sense that the team is on the move, seeking to improve; managerial shuffles convey that feeling. Team USA has felt a similar impatience since 9/11, aggressively seeking regime change where opposing clubs would not play ball: Venezuela, Afghanistan, Iraq,, Honduras, Yemen, Ukraine, Libya, and now, Syria, are a few adversaries that have felt our impatience, directly or subversively. The likely Dem presidential nominee has gone to bat for change in several of those interventions.

That would-be national Skipper, Hillary Clinton, could be facing a Team GOP opponent – Donald Trump – who, as New Yorker’s official scorer John Cassidy describes him, “is skeptical of free trade (about which Hillary vacillates)… and military interventionism.”. Trump, therefore, might not be a pushover. Boston U. author and prof. Andrew Bacevich has this added take on why the Trump threat must be taken seriously:

“That a considerable number of Americans appear to welcome (a Trump presidency) may seem inexplicable. Yet reason enough exists for their disenchantment. American democracy has been decaying for decades. The people know that they are no longer truly sovereign. They know that the apparatus of power, both public and private, does not promote the common good, itself a concept that has become obsolete. They have had their fill of irresponsibility, lack of accountability, incompetence, and the bad times that increasingly seem to go with them. So in disturbingly large numbers they have turned to Trump to strip bare the body politic, willing to take a chance that he will come up with something that, if not better, will at least be more entertaining.” (Common Dreams)

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Could Rays Be for Real? This may be one of those years when everyone in the A.L. East truly believes it will contend, and that’s not foolhardy. Tampa Bay’s pitching (led by Chris Archer) is going to be good and…( Kevin) Kiermaier is the only post-World War II player to post a Defensive WAR as high as his 5.0. He easily led the majors in Defensive Runs Saved (42)…’He’s a superstar,’ says Archer.”   Daily Gammons

 Tribal Sighs: The Indians, expected to vie for first in the AL Central, have no center fielder, but five starters – Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin – that are the envy of division rivals. Much will depend, however, on a key position player, catcher Yan Gomes. A sprained knee limited his 2015 season to 95 games. When he avoided injury on a play at the plate against Cincinnati this week, the Plain Dealer’s Zack Meisel filed this note: “Those in the Indians’ dugout likely exhaled. Gomes was then plunked in his second at-bat of the afternoon. He proceeded to first without issue, which probably prompted another collective sigh of relief from the Tribe brass.”                            

 

An Absence Regretted: “Anthony Rendon was cheerful and smiling talking about being healthy and looking forward to ’16. Then somebody brought up (Ian) Desmond and he got genuinely sad…Then he went on and on about how much Desmond’s personality and leadership was already missed in the locker room, how it was quieter this year. All infields have a leader. ‘He was ours,’ said Rendon. Who replaces him in that function? ‘I don’t know,’ said Rendon. ‘I guess all of us together.’ I’ve never seen ‘all of us’ work out too well.” – Tom Boswell, Washington Post

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

What Fans Want, but Don’t Always Get: to Watch a Winning Effort

How should fans feel about the near-unanimous choice of the Cubs to win the 2016 World Championship? Under ordinary circumstances – if we shared in the Chi-town excitement – we’d be bracing for disappointment. Dodger and Blue Jay fans remember that feeling from last season, generic when their touted teams fell short of Series slots, losing out to the Mets and Royals. The Dodgers’ failure, we know, cost Don Mattingly his job, and the Jays’ John Gibbons is certainly vulnerable this time around.

Matttingly’s successor Dave Roberts addressed an obvious team shortcoming last season when he emphasized the need this season for unity. Gibbons has already heard no-home-discount salary rumblings from power-duo Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, both of whom can become free agents next fall. Cub fans can be confident they’ll be spared similar static from their Wrigley Warriors because of the man in immediate charge: Skipper Joe Maddon. At Tampa Bay, on short payroll rations, and in Chicago last year, Maddon demonstrated his gift for guiding a tight but happy ship..

Would-be Team USA Skipper Bernie Sanders, his exciting support notwithstanding, has come up short so far, in part, because his squad has not persevered in the task of getting fans to voting venues. Mainly, however, Bernie’s call for a “revolution” was problematic from the start. Why? Because in the political game, as in sports, fans prefer being spectators to active participants. We foresaw that reality some time ago while running the campaign of a candidate for city-wide office in NYC. Our aspirant called for locals in one part of the city to organize a protest over insufficient safe-crossing measures on a main boulevard in their area. We questioned the strategy because, as Sanders is doing on a national basis, our candidate (who eventually lost) was asking political fans to mobilize – that is, get to work, rather than just remain attentive and vote.

There is still time for Bernie’s strategy to catch mobilizing fire, but blatant Trumpian showmanship has distracted fans and the media from the hard-core issue of economic inequality. And the vote-numbers game is making a Sanders comeback harder and harder to envisage..

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New Home on the Range: Ex-Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond, now a Texas Ranger? Where does that leave Elvis Andrus? Desmond, who signed with Texas yesterday for $8 million, will NOT be replacing Andrus. The Rangers want him to play left field (obviously nervous about Josh Hamilton’s immediate future). If it works out, Desmond could follow the route blazed by Ben Zobrist, and become an invaluable versatile player. Desmond is 30, five years younger than Zobrist.

Here We Go Again: Remember in the pre-season last year, Pecota projections had the defending AL champion KC Royals finishing last in the league’s Central Division. Now, Fox Sports’ respected editor Rob Neyer is picking the 2015 World Champion Royals to finish this season around .500. We’d bet, if nothing else, KC will finish, at worst, with a winning record.

Best Deal of the Off-Season? John Smoltz says it’s Houston’s trade for Phillie closer Ken Giles; Fox’s Ken Rosenthal says, no, it’s D-backs grabbing Dodger co-ace Zack Greinke. Say we: Could turn out to be one or the other.

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