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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Are They Baseball Players, or Cows?

When I finished graduate school, I was determined to go on to law school with hopes of becoming a sports agent.  Jerry Maguire was going to have nothin’ on me – I was going to represent high-profile athletes and I was going to negotiate contracts that were worth millions of dollars, including the contract of my millionaire baseball player husband.  Well, things didn’t quite go that way – I was burned out from so much studying, and at the age of 24 I was in a hurry to be a grown-up, so instead of going to law school I bought a house.

I don’t believe in regrets, so I am perfectly happy with my engineer husband, two great kids, a crazy dog, and a little house in the heart of a great city.  When I stop to think about what my life would have been like as a big-time high-powered sports agent, I conclude that I would have been miserable.  Rich, but miserable.  It is the sports agents (and the team owners and General Managers) who make the business of professional baseball such a turn-off for so many fans like me.  When you ask a baseball fan why they like the game, they might mention the excitement of visiting a ballpark to catch a game between two rival teams; following a young player’s career from the minors through retirement; the thrill of a well-executed double play or a nasty fastball.  No one says “I like baseball because I enjoy watching overpaid athletes being traded around like cattle at an auction” or “I just love when my favorite player is traded to another team and I can no longer watch him day in and day out on local broadcasts.”  And surely no one says “I love baseball because the players give it their all despite being underpaid.”  Baseball is a business, and its rich players are the chess pieces that get wheeled and dealt no matter what the price or the team loyalty (or lack thereof).

One of the toughest things for me as a fan has been trying to explain the business of baseball to my ten-year-old son, who fervently follows the Washington Nationals and feels like he knows the players like if they were close relatives.  When I told him last week that reliever Tyler Clippard was traded to the Oakland A’s for Yunel Escobar, he was heartbroken.  “The Nationals don’t need another shortstop!” he said (Escobar is being moved to second base, which he hasn’t regularly played).  And when the Nationals signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer for a gazillion dollars earlier this week, he said “That makes six starting pitchers!”  I had to explain to him that both Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann would become free agents at the end of the 2015 season, and if they were going to sign with other teams after this season anyway, they might as well get traded so the Nationals could get some players in return.  He was not happy.  Why would they get rid of last year’s best starter – the guy who pitched a no-hitter on the last game of the season (Zimmermann)?  No idea.  Why would they get rid of such an excellent-fielding and consistent pitcher (Fister)?  I wish I knew.  But now my son thinks that the Nationals’ General Manager, Mike Rizzo, is a heartless Grinch who doesn’t care about the fans.  Well, that’s what the business of baseball is all about, son; no one said it was pretty and happy and full of Koom Bah Yah.

I, the practical one, always think about the effects of a trade on a player’s family.  Do they pack up and move to a new city, or do they stay put in their off-season home?  And it’s not just the wife and kids who are impacted – when the Nationals announced the Clippard trade on Facebook, Tyler’s grandmother posted her appreciation to the Washington fans and said “I guess I’ll have to get used to green and gold!”  I Facebook-stalked her (that’s what she gets for not making her profile private!) and her wall is filled with pictures of different family members decked out in red, white, and blue Nationals garb at different games throughout the past few years.  They all looked so happy watching and supporting Tyler – now they have to send their patriotic-colored fan wear to Goodwill and buy all new jerseys and foam fingers.  That’s a pain.  And unless you live in San Francisco, Oakland is not exactly close to anything, so I don’t know how often Grandma Clippard will be able to watch her grandson pitch.


On the bright side, Spring Training is less than a month away.  I know; hard to believe, right?  Plus we still have the Super Bowl to look forward to as well as March Madness (this year I will be filling out my brackets based solely on school mascots).  And my husband and I are going to this year’s annual meeting of our local SABR chapter (Society for American Baseball Research) in Alexandria, Virginia, so that should be interesting.   Hang in there with me, friends; opening day will be here before we know it!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Four Class Acts

Happy New Year, my friends!  So much has happened since I last blogged - the San Francisco Giants won the World Series (even though I was rooting for the Royals), the Washington Nationals' Denard Span did not win a Gold Glove in center field even though he deserved it way more than the Mets' Juan Lagares, I was not chosen as baseball's next Commissioner (I know; I was shocked as well), and the National Baseball Hall of Fame chose its inductees for the class of 2015.  Whoever said the off-season was uneventful clearly doesn't know that Nick Markakis is no longer an Oriole, Jimmy Rollins is no longer a Philly, and Jayson Werth has to spend 5 days in jail for driving way too fast (110mph on a 65mph highway).  So yeah, there's no baseball being played, but there has certainly been a lot going on.




With regards to the Hall of Fame, I must say I'm happy with this year's selections.  I can't kick and scream and say that my guy was unfairly left out, because frankly, I was never a big Mike Piazza fan.  This is the first time in the "modern voting era" when four players were selected; last year they had three with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas.  This year's class includes pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz, as well as the Astros' Craig Biggio, who started his career as a catcher and moved to second base after playing some in the outfield.


This year's Hall of Fame class makes me happy because these are the guys I grew up watching.  I remember buying a Craig Biggio rookie card back in the 80s because I thought he was cute.  I followed his career closely (because he was cute) and was ecstatic when he reached the 3,000-hit milestone (because he was cute, and because he joined Roberto Clemente on the hits list).  He still looks like he's in his twenties, and yes, he's still cute.


Randy Johnson, also known as "The Big Unit" was the most intimidating pitcher a batter could face (other than Oakland's Dave Stewart, who looked way meaner than Johnson ever could).  At 6'10, Randy towered over everyone and let his arm speak for him.  He and Diamondbacks teammate Curt Schilling (yes, the "bloody sock" guy - I will reference him again later) were such dominating pitchers that you just had to root for the Diamondbacks during the 2001 World Series.  I almost didn't even mind when Randy went to the Yankees - which turned out to not be such a good fit for him or for the team.


Pedro Ramirez was one of those pitchers you loved to hate.  I couldn't help but love him during the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox took the nation by storm and all of us clung to every pitch, whether it was thrown by the long-haired, confident/cocky Martinez or by the guy with the bloody sock (yes, Curt Schilling can now say that he was teammates with two members of the 2015 Hall of Fame class).  Pedro Martinez joins Juan Marichal as the only Dominican pitchers in the Hall, and I hope there will be a big and loud representation of Hispanics at the induction ceremonies in July.


As far as John Smoltz goes, they should have made an exception to the five-year retirement rule and inducted him in the Hall with his two teammates last year.  It would have been so sickeningly picture-perfect!  Along with Glavine and Maddux, Smoltz was part of the powerhouse that made the Braves such a dominant force in the 1990s.  Whether as a starter, a closer, or anywhere in between, Smoltz was a class act.


So mow what?  Well, we have 44 days until spring training begins, but the Baltimore Ravens are still alive in the NFL playoffs, and the Washington Wizards are playing some really good basketball (and "How to get Away With Murder" returns to Thursday nights later this month).  So don't fret, baseball fans - until we smell the grass and hear the crack of the bat, we still have plenty to keep us busy.  Think warm thoughts, sign your kid up for another season of Little League (I just did that yesterday), and reconnect with your friends and relatives who are ignored during the baseball season.  Stay warm, my friends, and stay tuned! :-)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Orange With Envy

As you probably know by now, the Washington Nationals were eliminated in the first round of this year's baseball playoffs.  Yes, just like in 2012, the team that led the National League in wins was defeated by the Wild Card team, in this case the San Francisco Giants.  All the talk of a "Beltway World Series" between the Nationals and Orioles quickly faded away and is now a distant memory.


So what happened?  Well the games weren't really that exciting.  In game 1, which my husband and 10-year-old son attended, Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera hit home runs, but they were the only runs scored by the Nationals in the 3-2 loss.  Don't get me wrong - we had a great time at the game.  My main purpose in going was to create some unforgettable memories for my baseball-loving son, and I'm pretty sure we achieved that.  He got his curly "W" pretzel, we bought a post-season program, and we were given free rally towels, which we can bring to future games (those rally towels, I might add, are very hard to spin.  I mean, I can do the "Macarena," I can jump a mean double-dutch jump rope, but for the life of me I could not spin that thing without wrapping it around my hand or swatting my husband with it across his face).  My son enjoyed the pre-game military fly-over and was able to experience one of the hardest-hit home runs at Nationals Park.  For us, it was a good day.


The second game was a disappointing one.  The Nationals were leading 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning with two outs, and Jordan Zimmermann (who had pitched the entire game) was removed after walking his first batter.  That is the move - not the wild pitch in game 4 - that cost the Nationals the game, the series, and a lot of sleep (you see, that game ended up going 18 innings, ending in a 2-1 loss).


Game 3 was a little better, since the Nationals won it 4-1 in San Francisco.  But they lost the next game (and the series) again by a score of 3-2.  So in four games, the Nats were only able to muster 11 runs.  The pitching was fine - all four starters pitched respectably - but no one was hitting.  I shouldn't say no one - Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendón's bats were somewhat hot - but leadoff hitter Denard Span, who ended the regular season with a team-record 184 hits, failed to get on base much during the playoffs.  Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, the heart of the Nationals' batting order, went 2 for 35.  2 for 35!  I don't have an explanation for their lack of offense - they just plain did not hit.


So what does it feel like when your team is eliminated so early after showing so much promise during the regular season and after being picked by many to win the World Series?  Well it just sucks - plain and simple.  You spend six months following these guys - 162 games day in and day out.  You memorize their statistics and batting stances.  You start calling them by their first names or nicknames as if they're your buddies or neighbors (in my case, my younger brothers).  You get totally consumed in all things Nationals, wearing your red "W" lanyard at work and helping your son pick between his Werth jersey or his Harper one.  And then all of a sudden the last out of the last game is made, and it's all over.  Just like that.  Change out your lanyard, put the jerseys away, and forget about bidding for a Jayson Werth garden gnome on eBay.


What makes it more frustrating is that baseball is not over.  There are still plenty of games to be played this postseason, with 4 teams still vying to make it to the World Series.  The Orioles and Royals are playing in the ALCS, and the Giants and Cardinals (again!) are at it in the NLCS.  But the Nationals - their players, managers, massage therapists and athletic trainers - are all back home licking their wounds.  They were not the underdogs, like the Royals - they were the top contenders and they lost.  This fan, at least, is disappointed and feels let down. :-(  I did watch game 1 of the ALCS (and will continue to watch until the last out of the last game of the World Series), but it just wasn't the same.  I was watching as a casual fan, rooting for the hometown Orioles but not disappointed when the Royals (whose players are cuter) scored some runs of their own.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards, only an hour away, was packed with fans - some of whom I knew - in their orange sweatshirts waving their orange rally towels, smiling and cheering and rooting for their birds while I sat on my couch wanting to get excited but just not able to.


But hey, wait a minute!  This is actually way less stressful!  I have nothing invested in any of these teams; I don't own any jerseys or t-shirts for any of these clubs and I don't have to wait for a commercial to go use the bathroom!  I can go to bed at a decent time before a game is over if I want to!  I can root for Yadier Molina and Buster Posey at the same time!  I can make fun of the color commentators instead of getting upset at how little they actually know about the Nationals!  I can like both Markakis and Moustakas and any other player with a Greek last name who happens to come along!  I can side with the umpires during a play challenge and laugh at the fans who get upset when a call in their team's favor is overturned!  Hey, I can enjoy these last 2 weeks of baseball - and guess what?  I WILL!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Goodbye to #2

In case you've been living under a rock and didn't know that Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees is retiring at the end of this season, let me be the first to tell you (of course, if you've been living under a rock for over 20 years, you may not even know who Derek Jeter is, so stop reading this now and go take a shower!).  Jeter has had a storybook career full of personal and team accomplishments and free from scandal, gossip, or inappropriate tweets.  Look up "All-American boy" in the dictionary, and there is a picture of Derek Jeter.




Much has been hyped about Derek Jeter's retirement; not only because he announced it about six months ago and has had a whole season to milk it wherever he goes (he has received numerous retirement gifts at each city the Yankees have visited), but because Derek Jeter is pretty great.  Yankees fans idolize him, and even us Yankees dis-likers who have followed his career ("hate" is too strong a word, reserved for liver and onions, dental work, and my first marriage) have to admit that he's a pretty cool dude.
 


Born in New Jersey and raised in Michigan by a substance-abuse counselor father and accountant mother, Derek was drafted by the Yankees in 1992 and has exclusively worn pinstripes ever since.  Among his accomplishments (I can't include all seven hundred of them) are 14 All-Star game appearances, five World Series championships, the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1996, and over 3,460 career hits (sixth in the all-time hits list).  He has had many "storybook" moments, like when he hit his 3000th hit for a home run and had a walk-off single in his last game at Yankee Stadium.  He is also very philanthropic, starting the Turn 2 Foundation to help teens with substance abuse.  His jersey number, 2, will most likely be retired by the Yankees in the near future, leaving no more single-digit numbers for future Yankees players to use.



Off the field, this "golden boy" had cameo appearances in a handful of TV shows and movies (my favorite was in the movie "The Other Guys"), and he endorsed many different products from the typical ones like Gatorade and Nike to more interesting ones like his own "Driven"cologne by AVON.  And I'm sure he's not done - we will surely be seeing Derek Jeter's pretty face on TV for decades to come.  I'm OK with that, as long as he has a self-deprecating sense of humor and doesn't come across as having no personality.



How "great" is Jeter's legacy?  It depends on whom you ask.  Some say he's better than Babe Ruth, while others say he was just an OK shortstop who happened to play for a long time.  While Omar Vizquel will always be my favorite defensive shortstop, I will always admire Derek Jeter for his offensive talent, his leadership as the Yankees' captain, and for his ability to keep his nose clean and scandal-free in New York, which can be a tough city to live and work in if you're a celebrity.



So now that Derek Jeter has played his final game at Yankee Stadium ("the house that Derek built"), let's get excited about playoff baseball - WITHOUT the Yankees! :-)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rip Van-Me Finally Woke Up!

So much has happened in baseball since I last posted on my blog!  The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw notched his Major League-leading nineteenth win on his way to yet another Cy Young award (remember my previous post about being "bad-ass?"  Kershaw is definitely one of those!); the Houston Astros fired second-year manager Bo Porter; team owners elected a new Commissioner who will take over after Bud Selig retires in January (and they didn't pick me!); the Kansas City Royals inched their way closer to a playoff spot; and did you hear that Derek Jeter is retiring?  I know; I had no idea either!


Let's take a peek at the division standings and how things look playoff-wise now that I'm back to the grind (by the way, my husband and I went to two games at Nationals Park during my hiatus, so I was definitely paying attention!).  In the AL West, the Los Angeles Angels (which in Spanish means "the angels angels") became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and have the best record in the Majors.  People will watch them because of Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, but they should also pay attention to Matt Shoemaker, Howie Kendrick, and Erick Aybar.  They're surely going to have the AL West clinched by the end of the week, and people better start paying attention to these guys.


In the AL Central, things aren't so cut-and-dry.  The Detroit Tigers are only a game and-a-half above the Royals, who refuse to give up and are hungry for a playoff birth.  Some people are tired of the Cabrera-Verlander-Scherzer Tigers and want to see the Royals have a go at a pennant (they haven't amounted to much since the days of George Brett.  Pine tar, anyone?).  I would be happy with either team.  The Tigers are always fun to watch since they have such collective talent, but the underdog Royals would be a breath of fresh air.  And they have some cute guys on the team too!


As far as the AL East, it's Baltimore all the way.  They hope to clinch their playoff spot tonight (or may already have, depending on when you read this), and they've played some really good baseball despite injuries to key players.  Last year's home run leader, Chris Davis, has to serve a 25-game suspension for not submitting the appropriate paperwork to allow him to take his ADHD medication, but it's not like he was hitting anywhere close to last year, so the Orioles will be fine without him. 


On to the National League, where my mighty Nationals are also hoping to clinch a playoff spot tonight (if they can beat those annoying Braves).  Their lineup is solid, their starting rotation is strong (with Geo Gonzalez as the weakest link - who would've thought that would be the case this season?), and their bullpen is decent.  They fired Rafael Soriano as their closer and replaced him with Drew Storen, who was the closer when the Nationals lost to the Cardinals in the 2012 playoffs, but Storen has matured a lot and is better able to handle stressful situations.  Now if only I could afford to attend a playoff game...


In the NL Central, those darn Cardinals are in first place AGAIN.  Aren't we all sick of the Cards?  Really; give those Pirates a chance, will ya?  The Bucs are only 3 1/2 games out, and are technically still "in it."  Plus they have Andrew McCutchen, whom everyone loves, and a nicer ballpark and better fans.  Plus the "pirate" was my high school mascot, so there's that.  A lot depends on how the San Francisco Giants do (that whole Wild Card thing is a whole other story).


Lastly, the NL West belongs to the Dodgers, who have excellent pitching, a great manager in Don Mattingly, and an enigma named Yasiel Puig.  While an all-LA World Series would be boring to most casual fans, I would find it interesting and would actually root for one if the Nationals and Orioles are eliminated in the playoffs.  I could easily live vicariously through the LA fans but would have a hard time picking a favorite team (while I usually root for the National League team in the World Series, I like the Angels a little more than the Dodgers, so I would definitely be torn).  Yes, a "Beltway Series" would be super-exciting for those of us here in the mid-Atlantic, but a west-coast series would suffice.


So as you can see, there is still a LOT of baseball to be played and most playoff teams to be decided.  As for me, I promise to blog more, because I really missed writing while my life was busily filling up with family obligations, kids' activities, and the demands of my "real" (paying) job.  I'll be back soon with more predictions and more shallow commentary (sorry!), but in the meantime, keep rooting for those Nationals, Orioles, and Pirates! 

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Trade-Trade Here and a Trade-Trade There (with a peek at our next Commissioner?)

Every year, the end of July brings with it a lot of wheeling and dealing between Major League baseball teams.  With a deadline of July 31st, teams in contention do whatever they can to strengthen their rosters, and loser teams give up some good players with hopes of getting some prospects or cash in return.  Many of these players being traded are going to be free agents at the end of the season, so they're being traded solely for the purpose of helping a team get to the World Series and sometimes don't return with that team the following season.  It makes things exciting, because most teams wait until the last minute to make their trades, leaving us nerdy fans at the edge of our seats until 3:59 pm (after 4:00 on July 31st, no more trades can be made).


This year was no exception.  The day started with the Oakland A's surprisingly getting rid of slugger (and two-time Home Run Derby champ) Yoenis Céspedes in exchange for starting pitcher John Lester and older-than-dirt Jonny Gomes, who has played for more teams than I can count (he's actually only 33, but he has played for 7 different teams, so it seems like he's been around forever).  This trade left me going "Huh???" because it doesn't seem to make much sense.  While I normally don't question anything that A's General Manager Billy Beane does, I think renting Lester for 2 months (he will be a free agent at the end of the season) at the expense of losing Céspedes was very risky.  But Beane has made it very clear that he wants to make it to the World Series this year, so I guess he has the off-season to worry about restructuring his ball club.  In the meantime, the Red Sox are going to be hitting home runs left and right with Céspedes and David Ortiz, but will sadly remain in the basement of the AL East.


Another trade worth mentioning involved three teams.  Former Cy Young Award winner David Price went to Detroit (a team that now has three Cy Young winners in its rotation), the Tigers' Austin Jackson went to Seattle, and Drew Smyly and Nick Franklin went to Tampa Bay (Smyly was with the Tigers and Franklin was with the Mariners).  I know; very confusing!  What killed me was that Austin Jackson was removed in the middle of the Tigers' game against the White Sox - manager Brad Ausmus went out to the home plate umpire in the middle of the seventh inning to let him know that Jackson was being removed because he had just been traded.  Couldn't they wait for the inning to finish?  Poor Jackson looked a little confused, and when he reached the dugout, all his teammates were giving him good-bye hugs.  That's when I feel like these guys are treated like cattle, but then I remind myself how much money they're making, and I stop feeling badly.  Still - were they going to give Jackson a few minutes to go to his apartment and get his things? 


And of course my Washington Nationals couldn't sit there and watch everyone else get traded; they had to get in the game as well, acquiring infielder Asdrubal Cabrera from the Cleveland Indians for Zach Walters and some cash.  Cabrera will be a welcome addition to the Nats' infield, since third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has a Type 3 hamstring strain that has him on the Disabled List for a long time (in case you were wondering, "Type 3" means his hamstring is so messed up that it's practically hanging by a dental-floss-thin muscle fiber and can roll up like a cheap window shade at the slightest movement).  Ryan's absence has me so sad, because he's the quintessential clutch hitter who always came through in the bottom of the ninth inning.  The Nationals are trying to fill that void by moving Anthony Rendón from second base to third (his natural position) and putting newly-acquired Cabrera at second base.  Problem is, Cabrera is a natural shortstop and hasn't played second base since 2009.  Is that an issue?  I don't know; I haven't made the transition from shortstop to second base myself, so I can't speak from experience.  


Something else that is noteworthy from this past week's baseball action was the appearance of former President George W. Bush when the Texas Rangers hosted the New York Yankees.  Bush was there as part of a pre-game ceremony in honor of Derek Jeter (have you heard that he's retiring?  I KNOW - I had NO IDEA!)  And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Ivan Rodriguez was there too.  Anyway, I have always thought that "W" would make a good baseball Commissioner.  No, I'm not high; hear me out for a minute.  He's a former team owner like current Commissioner Bud Selig was (I'm OK with former owners being Commissioners as long as they know a baseball from a softball), he is a genuine fan, and regardless of my political views, I can admit that he has charisma.  He definitely seems more personable than Selig, and he would do a better job at throwing out a first pitch than most people who make that attempt.  So if they're not going to offer me the job, the next-best person may just be POTUS #43.  Again, my observation has NOTHING to do with my political views!


Alrighty, friends - two more months of regular-season baseball left and two more games for my husband and I to attend.  Keep cheering for the Nationals and Orioles (or at least cheer against the Phillies, Braves, and Yankees), and keep an eye on José Abreu of the White Sox, who currently has a 20-game hitting streak going.  Gosh, I hope I didn't jinx him by mentioning it!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Halfway Over Already???


Happy All-Star break, my friends!  As we look back on the first half of the 2014 baseball season, we Washington Nationals fans should be pretty pleased with our team.  Not only are the Nationals in first place in the NL East (percentage points above the Atlanta Braves); the Nats have won 10 of their last 14 games, their bats have come alive, and their pitching continues to be solid.  And I have to mention the Baltimore Orioles too - just because Chris Davis isn't hitting doesn't mean the team doesn't deserve to be in first place in the AL East - go Os!

While some ESPN critics claim that the Nationals have “under-performed” during the first half of the season, I have to say that these people are idiots and are only looking at statistics on paper.   The Nationals are tenth in the National League in batting with a team average of .246, and their best average is held by cutie Anthony Rendón, who is batting .287 (number 22 on the NL list).  But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  The Nationals lead the NL in pitching, with a 3.08 team ERA, starter Stephen Strasburg leads the league with 149 strikeouts, and closer Rafael Soriano has 22 saves with a 0.97 ERA.

And how about all those guys on the Disabled List?  Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Wilson Ramos all spent most of the first half of the season on the DL, and as far as pitchers, Doug Fister and Gio Gonzalez also had short stints on the List.  So chill out, critics; the Nationals are right where they need to be at the halfway point of the season.

But what do the Nationals need to do to remain on top?  First, Bryce Harper needs to do some hitting.  Since his return from the DL, Harper has gone 6-40 with one home run.  Bryce is a talented kid – I know he can hit!  Hopefully he can analyze his swing during the break (isn't that what they all do - "review the tapes?"), take some pitches from his dad, and come back ready to do some damage.  Just think about your parents, Bryce; you're embarrassing them!

The Nationals also need to get rid of Danny Espinosa.  Don’t send him down to the Minors – trade him for some prospects or some cash or for a nice hand-made Amish quilt.  He calls himself a switch hitter but can’t hit from either side, and just being a good fielder is not enough if you can’t hit.  Danny has to go - he plain old sucks.

Finally, the Nationals HAVE to beat the Braves.  They have nine games left to play against the Braves this season, and they need to win at least 5 of them.  The Braves aren’t all that – their hitting has been up and down and their pitchers aren’t as dominant (except for that Craig Kimbrel guy with his weird pitching stance) – so there’s really no reason why the Nationals can’t win most of their remaining games against the Braves.  If anything, they need to win the games in Atlanta so I don’t have to hear that annoying “Tomahawk Chop” that their fans do when their team is winning. 
How about the rest of the teams in the Majors - any surprises during the first half?  Well I'm glad you asked!  I'm surprised to see the World Champion Red Sox on the bottom of the AL East; I'm a little surprised that the Oakland A's have the best record in baseball; and I'm saddened that the Cardinals' Yadier Molina is going to be out for a while with a torn thumb ligament.  Ouch!  I was even sad to see a Yankee go down (and that's rare for me!) when rookie pitcher Masahiro Tanaka suffered a partial tear of the ulnar ligament in his pitching arm.  He had my vote for Rookie of the Year, but now he has to undergo all sorts of aggressive rehab which will sideline him for a while.  Luckily, he may be able to avoid Tommy John surgery because he had platelet-rich plasma injected into his elbow, and that's supposed to make the tear heal itself.  Let's hope it works, but not if the Yankees make it to the post-season. :-)

So, my friends, the second half of the season should be a good one.  Enjoy tonight's Home Run Derby (I'm rooting for Giancarlo Stanton) and tomorrow's All-Star Game (National League fan, obviously!), and may the second half bring good health and many home runs to the Nationals and Orioles.  I, for one, would love to see a "Battle of the Beltways" World Series-style!