The Nub

The Challenge of Competing Without Enough Help

A scan of rosters of playoff-competitive teams suggests that – after the World Champion Royals, bereft of studs Alex Gordon for awhile and Mike Moustakas for the season, sildenafil – two of the most injury-plagued clubs are matched this weekend in New York. The Dodgers and Mets are scuffling to keep pace with division front-runners, the Giants and Nationals, while key players linger on each squad’s disabled list. The Dodgers have lost right fielder Andre Ethier and a passel of starting pitchers, including – Ryu, Hyun-Jin, Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. The Mets are playing without their regular first baseman Lucas Duda and first-string catcher Travis d’Arnaud, as well as a full-time third baseman, owing to David Wright’s debilitating back problem.

And we know about the coincidental problem of key political player Bernie Sanders: he was a wild card in the presidential playoffs without a strong, supportive bench who now refuses to acknowledge he’s failed to make the Series match-up. Of the many explanations why a long-shot player with so many enthusiastic fans came up short, the inadequate, almost invisible bench may be the most persuasive. The absence of a strong back-up team to provide detail, the “beef”, to buttress his policies – as his opponent could hers, certainly undercut Bernie’s appeal to many voters. Two observers in the Vox press box put part of the case this way:

“Sanders’s problem is that he was not successful in co-opting elites or in persuading a majority of the party’s rank and file to turn against them…Sanders hasn’t even been a member of the Democratic Party for most of his tenure in Congress. His campaign was, in essence, an attempted hostile takeover of a major political party. That’s not impossible (see Trump), but it’s difficult (without the bench his opponent recruited)..and Sanders…was disadvantaged by a process that meant he was fighting an (under-equipped) uphill battle the whole way.” (Matthew Yglesias and Jeff Stein)

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Sprinters: The Giants, who have won 13 of 14, and sprinted four games ahead of the Dodgers, aren’t doing it with mirrors. But Matt Cain (1-5) and Jake Peavy (0-4) haven’t been much help (although Peavy turned in a one-run, no-decision gem against the Padres on Wednesday). If one or both get straightened out, SF will have a scary rotation, headed by Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and Sam Samarzdja. Together, the three are 20-5. Overall, the Giants are 30-19, the MLB’s best record at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.

Snap Quiz: Which of the six divisions is the most broadly competitive as the season reaches the one-third point? The AL East: Only seven games separating teams at the top (Red Sox) and bottom (Rays).

Streakers: Giants + 5

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Why Yanqui Fans Should Be Cheering Venezuela

Seventy-five players born in Venezuela – that is, best enough to fill three MLB rosters by themselves – are active this season, according to Baseball Almanac. The list is dotted with stars – Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez (Tigers), Felix Hernandez (Mariners), Jose Altuve (Astros), Carlos Gonzales (Rockies), Elvis Andrus (Rangers), Francisco Cervelli (Pirates), Martin Prado (Marlins), to name a few.

Pablo Sandoval would be on the list, had injury not sidelined him early, for the balance of the year. Pablo, then with the Giants, won the World Series MVP honor in 2012; he then went home and duplicated the feat in the Venezuelan World Series. When asked which achievement gave him the bigger thrill, he said nothing could match earning the award in the land of his birth. Several years earlier, in 2005, Ozzie Guillen, skipper of the newly crowned champion White Sox, hailed the triumph on network TV. An expression of national pride -“Viva Venezuela”- was one of the first things he said.

Ozzie’s patriotic shout-out caused a stir in our national ballpark because Hugo Chavez, then Venezuela’s democratically elected leader was no friend of our Skipper George W. Bush. Team Bush supported, and allegedly collaborated in the overthrow of President Chavez three years earlier. The coup was short-lived. Venezuelans, backed by the army (and the people), released Chavez from prison, returning him to power. In the interim, however, the U.S. welcomed the wealthy puppet who had replaced sot Hugo, with our obvious blessing.

For some political fans, much of this may sound familiar. Our corporate media, united then in attacking Chavez, is similarly unanimous now in seeking to rid Venezuela of Hugo’s democratically elected successor (in 2013), Nicolas Maduro. The steep decline in oil prices that coincided with Maduro’s taking office has hurt the economy and given the country’s business-led opposition an opening to seek his recall. The NY Times and other U.S. media describe a national “collapse” and “chaos” in making the case for a change in leadership. Maduro sees Team USA behind the rally to remove him, just as he believes it was behind the short-lived ouster of Chavez.

Little has appeared in our press about the unwavering support for Maduro of most of the poorer Venezuelans who backed Chavez and benefited from his policies aimed at giving them a modest share of the country’s wealth. Drexel University author George Ciccariello-Maher (“We Created Chavez”) says the effort to unseat Maduro could destroy the democratic system that brought the country greater fairness.

That Skipper Obama declines to ease the tension, as he has done admirably in opening ties with Cuba, is a reminder of how he and his Secretary of State turned away from another democratically elected leader, Honduras’ President Manuel Zelaya. In 2009, when a right-wing coup forced Zelaya from office, Team Obama reneged on support it originally expressed for him. The Skipper does not reach out to teams like Bolivia, Ecuador, or Venezuela, that, although democratic, don’t play the Yanqui brand of ball. It’s hard to reckon such a distancing game with what, just a few days ago, Filipino President Benigno Aquino described as America’s “moral ascendancy.”

Meanwhile, most, if not all, Venezuelan players happily return home at the end of the season. Given the hostile press coverage it receives from our media, they rarely talk about love of country. When they do, it’s hard for them to hide their loyalty to the land of their birth. What often seeps through is affection expressed through an unspoken sensibility, whose message is “Viva Venezuela.”

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By the Way: The Tigers’ prize Venezuelans Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez went a combined six-for-seven in a 5-4 victory over the Phillies last night. Two of Miggy’s hits were HRs (10 and 11).Martinez raised his RBI total to 25, three behind Cabrera.

The Competitor: After Madison Bumgarner led the Giants to a 1-0 win over his Cubs Sunday night, Joe Maddon summed up the reason for Bumgarner’s consistent big-game success in two words: “He competes.”

Batting Order Conundrum: Why is Jackie Bradley’s 27-game hitting streak particularly noteworthy? To MLB-TV’s Eric Bynes, the reason is obvious: “John Farrell has him batting ninth. He should be hitting first to get as many at-bats as possible.” NY Post’s Joel Sherman, on the same panel, disagreed: “Why mess with a good thing?”

Another Phillies Plus-Sign: If success in one-run games is significant, it may truly be time to take the Phillies seriously. The Phils have so far won 14 of 18 close ones (including a tough one-run loss to Detroit last night).

Notable Late Monday Scores: Cardinals 4, Cubs 3; Giants 1, Padres 0; Dodgers 1, Reds 0; Angels 2, Rangers 0; A’s 5, Mariners 0.

Streakers: Yankees + 5, Reds – 8.

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

 

Time to Tell Teams That Have It Together, or Not

The other day, on MLB-TV, buy former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd was asked how many games it takes for a team to let fans know what its season will look like. “Usually 40 games are enough,” O’Dowd said. “You can tell if a team has meshed by then.” Nearly all 30 teams will have reached the 40-signpost this week. Of the 28 teams still under consideration – the Braves and Twins outliers already – there is one club that has come together surprisingly well: the Phillies. Supposedly doormats, Joe Mackanin’s young outfit sits – at 42-games in – near the top of the NL East.

Of the dozen or so other seen-as-likely contenders, three look to be in trouble: the Astros, who got off to a counter-intuitively sluggish start, and the Diamondbacks and Tigers, whose pitching has been letting them down. The Mets have a particular lack-of-jelling problem. Although not-quite-so-solid pitching keeps them still afloat, their porous hitting could sink them long before the homestretch.

In the other field, neither side can feel “well-meshed” as the presidential stretch-run approaches. The aura of tawdriness surrounding the Trump campaign should prevent him from bringing his team together, and therefore eliminate him from contention. Why “should” and not “will?” Even avid Clinton fans can’t help but fear the almost-equalizing effect of the intense “hatred for Hillary” sentiment abroad in the national ballpark. With the Trump team planning to keep that intensity aflame, Hillary faces a challenge, complicated by the resistance of Dem teammate Bernie Sanders to capitulate sooner rather than later.

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Time for a Shout-Out to the Mariners: They’re dominating the AL, Cubs-like, in one impressive category – Seattle hasn’t lost a road series so far this season, going 16-7, as of last night in Cincinnati. The one near-blemish – noted by Seattle Times beat reporter Ryan Divish: a split of four games in Houston..

Cause for Concern: Will the Mets’ stud starter a season ago wind up this year on the scrap heap? That’s the worry Matt Harvey is causing fans of the defending NL champions, and everyone connected with the team. Harvey, now 3-6, has lost velocity, command, and the aggressive quality so effective in 2015. “Should he try harder or try to relax?” former pitcher Joe Magrane was asked on MLB Now yesterday. “The problem,” Magrane said, “is usually above the shoulders. It’s psychological.”

Notable Late Friday Results: Cubs 8, Giants 1; Padres 7, Dodgers 6; Yankees 8, A’s 3; Rangers 2, Astros 1; Orioles 9, Angels 4

Streakers: Indians + 5, Twins – 5

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

 

How ‘Data’ and ‘Facts’ Are Viewed in Both Fields

The other day on MLB Now, buy host Brian Kenny scoffed at the significance of pitchers’ won-lost records: “They don’t mean anything, ” he said, pointing out that run support, record-wise, can transform a mediocre pitcher into an ace. Kenny is a vigorous supporter of analytics, the monitoring of ballplayer performance through data collection. It’s easy for baseball traditionalists to become impatient with the trend – the belief that scientific measurement of player effectiveness has greater value than the evidence of eyeballs and conventional hit-pitch-and-error stats.

In a rookie effort to learn more about the new approach, we can report this sabermetric fact: Seattle’s Robinson Cano leads both leagues with 12 HRs, but Houston’s Jose Altuve, who has nine homers, is the analytic hero; why? because he has contrived to score 12 more runs (34-22) than Cano. And runs – scored separately or at the end of an HR – are the coin of the analytics realm. It’s for the runs-related reason that batting averages also get short shrift from sabermetricians. Since runs win ballgames – goes the analytics reasoning – a player’s worth is directly linked to his generating more runs for his team than that of opponents..

We describe the data, cited above, as “fact” because they’ve been confirmed before thousands of onlookers in attendance or watching broadcasts at home. Parallel data-collection on the political field has spawned a different kind of game, one in which the sameness of “data” and “fact” is seldom acknowledged. Indeed, there’s a widespread refusal to accept the measurement of what’s happening on the field linked to the man at the game’s center, Donald Trump. Possibly our next Skipper, Trump inspires both avid support from fans, and profound fear from skeptics. Both sides have developed ever- stronger adversarial views stemming from what WashPost’s Chris Cilizza calls a ‘‘post-fact world’’:

Trump and his supporters are simply not interested in the facts. Their distrust of the ‘mainstream’ media is such that anything the media calls a ’fact’ is assumed to be a lie…The blame for our post-fact political world…lies in lots of places. The fragmentation of the media over the past decade has spawned dozens of ideologically driven news sites, radio stations and cable TV outlets. That leads to a silo-ing effect in which a conservative only consumes information that affirms their point of view. Ditto a liberal. You can go through each day as a well(-ish)-informed person without ever hearing a sliver of news that contradicts what you already believe…

“(If you are troubled by) a lack of changed minds…that (represents) not a failure of fact checking. It is the death of belief in fact.”

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Fast Start: White Sox ace Chris Sale, now 8-0 after beating the Yankees last night, is winning without wasting time. On YES, Yanks broadcaster Michael Kay noted that the time Sale delivers pitches averages 17 seconds. The overall AL average is 22 seconds.

Slow Start: Diamondback fans can hardly be blamed for impatience with their $206 million ace Zack Greinke so far. Greinke, so dominant with the Dodgers – 51-15 over three years – has been slightly above mediocre with his new team. After losing to the Giants, 4-2, Thursday night, Greinke was 3-3, with a 5.26 ERA. Shelby Miller, the team’s other prize off-season addition, is 1-4, 6.94, after losing last night.

Enduring Bond: “I make sure(Yadier)knows I’m pulling for him and pulling for the Cardinals. Just because I’m playing out here (with the Angels), all those guys I played with, you have great memories with. You wish them the best, except when we [play each other].” – Albert Pujols, on his friendship with Yadier Molina, and his attitude toward his ex-team in St.Louis. (quoted in the Post-Dispatch)

Streakers: Orioles + 6, Twins – 8

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

 

Of Injury and Betrayal – the Sagas of Lincecum and Hersh

After his showcase performance last Friday in front of onlookers from 20 interested teams, Tim Lincecum, now 31, stands an excellent chance of being invited back to the majors. That’s the consensus of reporters and scouts on hand in Scottsdale, AZ to watch him throw 41 pitches that demonstrated his impressive velocity (reaching 91) and breaking pitches. After nine-years with the team that originally signed him, the Giants, Lincecum was let go. He had been disabled since June with a hip injury and found himself out in the cold in the fall. The Giants are among pitching-short teams that now are expressing an interest in re-signing him.

That’s not the case in his field with veteran journalistic ace Seymour Hersh. His teammates in the media appear to have collaborated with Skipper Obama’s people to sideline him here as punishment for exposing the seeming duplicity of the White House on the matter of the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Team Obama claimed bin Laden was killed during a firefight with Navy Seals in his protected quarters in Pakistan. Hersh learned through various contacts with the military in Pakistan and the U.S. that such was not the case. He reported his findings in the London Review of Books in May 2015:

“A former Seal commander… assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive…’By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that…when we do these missions, (we know) we’re going to commit a murder.’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination program. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.”

Hersh initially hoped to get the story published in the New Yorker. Editor-in-chief David Remnick offered him a spot on the magazine’s blog, but would not consider it for the print edition. That was the beginning of what amounted to Hersh being sent to the minors, an exile coordinated – formally or informally – by the government and corporate media. The accuracy of Hersh’s reportage has been questioned, a challenge that, in itself, is questionable, given Hersh’s long record of prize-winning journalism.

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Who’s Carrying the Cubs? Different players emerge each day to spur the 24-6 Cubs, who are already threatening to run away with the NL Central title. But their top three starters are certainly a heavy-lifting core: Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel are second, fifth and eighth on the MLB’s pitching leaderboard. They have a combined record of 13-1, and all three have ERAs well under 2. Among hitters, only Dexter Fowler – at .340 – is in the top 10. The Cubs have been ordinary in fielding – 14th among the 30 teams.

Second City’s Second Team: The Cubs have crosstown company in effective team pitching. Joe Maddon’s team is number one atop both leagues; the White Sox lead the AL, third to the Cubs overall (the Mets are second)..

He May Not Be a Great Fielder, But…When the chatter on TV is of “a hitting machine”, there’s little doubt about whom they’re talking: it’s former Met, now a National, Daniel Murphy. He leads both leagues in batting at .398. One of Murph’s much observed secrets: he seldom swings at bad pitches.

Streakers: Cubs + 5, Twins – 5

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

‘Dark Knight’ and a ‘Showman’ in Focus on Both Fields

Non-New Yorkers may not be aware that these are dark times for the Mets’ “Dark Knight.” The team’s then-ace Matt Harvey embraced the description after a 2013 Sports Illustrated cover showed him in a Batman-like pose. Harvey, a natural attention-grabber, had “Dark Night” inscribed on his bats, and resumed his role successfully after being sidelined for a year-and-a-half, recovering from Tommy John surgery. Harvey is now 2-4, with a 4.76 ERA, diminished velocity and wobbly command. He has moved from top to bottom of the Mets’ talented young four-man rotation. The once-complicit media no longer hails Harvey’s potential, embarrassed instead by the way Harvey’s self-promotion so captivated them.

New York has another instructive saga about a much-hyped “showman”, this in the field of law enforcement. The media are justifiably hailing U.S, Attorney Preet Bahara for overseeing conviction of corrupt leaders of both houses of the state Legislature. They are giving him a pass, however, on some aspects of his oversight of Wall Street. Mentored by Senator Chuck (“Where’s Charlie?) Schumer, a master of both banker and media-friendliness, Bahara plays that cozying game well. Jeffrey Toobin notes in the New Yorker mag that “(Bahara’s) personality reflects his dual life in New York’s political and legal firmament…He sometimes acts like a budding pol.” Like his cautious mentor, Bahara has learned respect for Wall Street players with the clout that comes from access to big money. As to why his probes into such individuals involved in the 2009 mortgage crisis didn’t lead to prosecutions of a single leading executive, Bahara gave this politic-sounding explanation to Toobin:

“You see a building go up in flames, you have to wonder if there’s arson…(and) if there’s anybody prosecuting…sometimes it is arson, and you can’t prove it.” Speaking about Team Obama’s performance in general, Bernie Sanders has said: “The failure to prosecute the crooks on Wall Street…is a clear indictment of our broken criminal-justice system.” Given such a reminder, Bahara’s enduring popularity – and that of other federal prosecutors – may hinge on finally exposing executive corruption in the tightly defended,, too-big-to-fail bastions of his bailiwick.

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Cubbernaut: It’s five weeks into the season, with the Cubs demonstrating each day that they are the class of the entire MLB. Consider that, after 27 games,- of which they’ve won 21 – they have not lost two straight. They did drop two of three to the Rockies in the middle of last month. Their other single losses came in games with the D-backs, Cardinals, Reds and Braves. What Theo Epstein has wrought.

One-Sided, So Far: The Nationals have dropped the first two of four games with the Cubs, but Daniel Murphy has used the series thus far to move to the top of MLB hitters. He’s gone eight-for-eight over games so far. His BA now: .406..

Streakers: Cubs + 5

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

The Inside Game of Caring for Well-Off Players

One major league ballplayer spoke out when Dee Gordon was suspended last week for drug use: Justin Verlander said the news was “killing me.” It remains to be seen if there are enough players union members who feel as pained about the still-prevalent cheating problem as the erstwhile Tigers ace. Enough, generic that is, to succeed in demanding tougher punishment of offenders. Gordon will be sidelined without pay for 80 games. Panelists on MLB Now Friday scoffed at what they considered a tap on Gordon’s wrist. On SNY during the Giants-Mets game that night, ex-pitcher Ron Darling said the suspension should be season-long and the offending player’s contract voided. “When the player returns after a year, he’s paid the minimum salary until he and the club agree on a new contract.”

It will be a surprise if the players take any remedial action, much less the tough kind Darling recommends. There is so much predictable talk of “love” for the offenders on the part of front offices and even teammates. “Let’s not upset a good thing,” seems to be the attitude, just as it is in non-Baseball life. Thomas Frank, who said in his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” that the Dem team had embraced the wealthy and deserted the working class, now says the problem has gotten worse. In his most recent book, “Listen, Liberal”, Frank suggests that former Treasury Secretary (under Bill Clinton) Larry Summers typifies how Dems have lost touch with their struggling teammates. He quotes Summers, early in Obama’s Skipperdom, saying “inequality has probably gone up (because) people are being treated closer to the way they’re supposed to be treated.”

Summers was speaking around the time the new president had installed NY Fed chief Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary and Summers himself as head of the National Economic Council. Obama’s economic team was dominated by people – including Geithner and Summers – who had ties to Goldman Sachs’ former co-chair Bob Rubin. It was a Democratic roster of major Wall Street-connected players.

The question now is whether Hillary Clinton, if she becomes next Skipper, will follow Obama’s lead and recruit from a similar roster? Or will she heed the concerns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and, in Warren’s words, acknowledge that “personnel is policy.” And that it’s time for her Dem team to swing hard in a different direction.

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Syndergaard’s ‘Sin’: It didn’t take long for the opposition to find a chink the arm-or of Mets fireballer Noah Syndergaard: 12 of 13 runners have stolen bases, exposing his weakness in holding them on. Reds runners went five-for-five against him last week; and, on Sunday, the Giants went three-for-three. Syndergaard is reluctant to develop a slide step lest it disrupt his delivery. Madison Baumgarner, who shut out the Mets for six innings Sunday, sees the adjustment as a necessity: “You’ve got to do it,” he says. “It’s no fun when you’re giving guys 90 feet.”

Who Is This Guy? The one unfamiliar name among the nine on MLB’s early season Fantasy team belongs to a journeyman catcher on the Diamondbacks. He’s Wellington Castillo, who has bounced around the majors for parts of seven seasons, with the Cubs and Mariners, before landing last year with the D-backs. So far this season, the 29-year-old Castillo has hit six HRs in 20 games and is batting a respectable .282. The rest of the Fantasy lineup: Mark Trumbo, 1B, Jose Altuve, 2B, Nolan Arenado, 3B, Trevor Story, SS, Bryce Harper, Starling Marte and Mookie Betts, outfielders, and Chris Sale, pitcher.

Streakers: Tigers + 5, Yankees – 5

Slow Start: As of this morning, only 13 of 30 teams have winning records. Cubs, at 18-6, have best mark, Braves, 6-19, the worst.

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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.)