2015 MLB Predictions

Congratulations, baseball fans. You did it. You successfully navigated the miserable winter months. Spring has arrived. And, save for a flurry of offseason moves and meaningless spring training games, you’ve been deprived of the game you love. But the wait is over.

Thankfully, for those of us in Kansas City, the offseason went by much faster this year due to it being one month shorter than it has been the previous 29 years. Still, it’s good to have baseball back.

Before I make my predictions for the 2015 season, let me quickly point out how wildly successful my 2014 predictions were. I, along with everyone else who predicted these things, whiffed on the AL East. I missed on the Pirates too, and made the mistake of picking against the A’s. But 7/10 ain’t bad.

So here we go. Let’s look into the future together. Postseason picks in italics. I’ve added ALCS/NLCS/WS/MVP/Cy Young winners this year too.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Baltimore Orioles
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Tampa Bay Rays

Another year of uncertainty in the AL East. The Red Sox reloaded adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees did nothing and appear fragile. The Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson but are young and lack a rotation. The Orioles were predicted to stink it up last year but ran away with the division and are likely under projected in 2015. The Rays are a dark horse as always.

Typically I refuse to buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their teams. I think it takes a year to gel as a unit and establish an identity. However, the Red Sox rotation is already strong and on paper this is the best team in the division. Look for Mookie Betts to break out this year too.

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

Another wide open division, and one where I am obviously biased. The Indians return basically the same team but their defense is terrible. The Tigers added Yoenis Cespedes but lost Max Scherzer, and now Verlander is injured. The Royals are defending AL Champs and have lots of swagger, lost Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki but added Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen. The White Sox had perhaps the best offseason of any AL team. The Twins will not contend.

But I’m picking my hometown boys. People keep saying the Royals got worse in the offseason but I just don’t see it. Morales and Rios are both upgrades. Shields is gone, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both have the potential to match his production. Plus they have three of the most sustainable strengths to their advantage: bullpen, defense and speed. I believe in this team, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indians and Royals swap spots. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers absolutely tank and finish 4th.

AL West

  1. Seattle Mariners
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

I’m not going to make the mistake of picking against Oakland two years in a row. The A’s blew up their entire team and look like they’re probably going to win the Cactus League this year too, whatever that’s good for (absolutely nothing). The Angels and Mariners are both really good though and it’s hard to pick one of the three to miss. The Mariners just missed the playoffs last year. If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll run away with this division in 2015. The Angels will likely regress slightly and should still contend, but I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Houston will continue to improve – they appear to be trying out the Royals model of success in bolstering up their bullpen. The Rangers are going to be bad.

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Miami Marlins
  3. New York Mets
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

While the American League has all sorts of intrigue, the National League is a joke. Washington is going to run away with this division. They were already the best, and then they added Max Scherzer. The Marlins and Mets are both no slouch, but the Nats could win 100 games this year. The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Mat Latos. They extended Giancarlos Stanton and get Jose Fernandez back from injury. The Mets get their ace back too in Matt Harvey. Plus both teams get 18 games against the Phillies and the Braves which ought to inflate their records a bit. They’ll be in the mix come September.

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

As has become the norm, this division race will be good, but the Cardinals will eventually pull away and the Pirates will separate themselves form the rest. The Cubs obviously got much better with the acquisition of Jon Lester, and if they can get their prospect trio – Kris Bryant, Jorge Solar and Javier Baez – into the majors sooner than later, they could manage to make a push in the second half. But I do think 2016 is their year to return to the playoffs.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Diego Padres
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers are only going to be better from last year. They added Jimmy Rollins and dropped Matt Kemp. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher and best player in baseball, in my opinion. You can talk about Trout all you want, but Kershaw has the power to completely dominate a game. The Padres added Justin Upton, Kemp, and former Royal and Ray, Wil Myers. Their biggest addition is James Shields. Their bullpen is dominant too. They could do some damage, but I see them finishing as the first team out. The Giants got much worse this offseason with the loss of Panda, and with the injury to Pence. Plus, Madison Bumgarner is super overrated. The Rockies and D-Backs are…not great.

So my postseason looks like this:

AL: Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Indians, Athletics
NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Marlins

ALCS: Mariners over Athletics
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals

WS: Dodgers over Mariners

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Yasiel Puig

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Here’s to a great 2015 MLB season! As always, I’ll be rooting for a 1985 rematch. (Which nearly happened last year. So close.)

-apc.

The Royals sign RHP Edinson Volquez for $20M over 2 years.

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And there it is.

The final piece of the roster puzzle is righty starter Edinson Volquez, who signed a 2-year, $20M contract with the Royals this afternoon. He joins Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios, who both signed earlier this week, as the trifecta called upon to fill in the gaps left by Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki.

I have a lot of thoughts as it pertains to this signing, and I want to rifle through them so I can get to the second half of this post which is a look at the complete roster as it stands right this minute.

First a little bit about Edinson Volquez.

Volquez is a veteran starter who has played with 5 different teams since 2008. He’s had two terrific seasons. Most recently, he posted a 3.04 ERA over 192.2 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the best pitching performance of his career. His other terrific year was back in 2008 for the Cincinnati Reds: 3.21 ERA, 196 innings and he was elected to his only All Star Game.

Unfortunately, all the years in between 2008 and 2014 are borderline stinkers. Volquez’s career 4.44 ERA is ripe. He strikes out quite a few – 8.1 K/9 – but he also walks a ton – 4.5 BB/9. In 2012, he led the league with 105 walks. In 2013, led the league with 108 earned runs. In 2008, he led the league in hit batters with 14, and he matched that number again last year. None of these are great categories to lead the league in. He’s kind of a wild thing out there, apparently. Effectively wild, we might say.

His 2009 season was cut short due to Tommy John surgery, and his 2010 season was segmented by a 50 game suspension due to PED use coming off his injury.

I should also mention that Edinson Volquez started the Pirates NL Wild Card game and he got shelled by the Giants: 5 innings, 5 hits, 5 runs. (Before you go throwing stones at the guy, remember James Shields line from the AL Wild Card game: 5 innings, 5 hits, 4 runs.)

But still, I know what you’re thinking…not great. And if you were actually thinking that (which I’m sure you were), you’d be right.

Edinson Volquez isn’t great.

But, just like Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios before him, I think he is good enough to get this team back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season. There’s just a little more pressure on him than those other two to pan out.

Edinson Volquez likely slots in as our 3rd or 4th pitcher in the rotation (depending how high you are on Jason Vargas). If you thought the Royals were actually going to replace James Shields with another #1 starter out of free agency, you’re crazy. The replacement for James Shields is Yordano Ventura. It always has been. He is our best pitcher, and Danny Duffy is not far behind him as our #2. The Royals are looking to them to take another step in 2015.

So my first thought following the Volquez deal is it puts an immense amount of pressure on Duffy and Ventura to carry this team next year. Are they going to be up to the task? We’ll have to wait and see.

What we need out of Edinson Volquez is about 180 innings with an ERA in the 3’s. If he can do that, this signing is absolutely worth the $10M/year we’re paying him. Signing proven veteran guys is never cheap.

Oh, and the other thing you get from signing Volquez? You get to keep your prospects and your draft picks and your future.

The Royals signed three players to semi-expensive deals without having to surrender any other pieces, and none of their contracts extend beyond two years. It’s going to stretch the pocketbook (and you have to applaud David Glass for being willing to extend the payroll into the $110-115M range, by far the highest in team history), but it’s not going to restrict the future of this team even if none of these guys work out.

Which feels unlikely…doesn’t it seem like at least one these three will be a big hit? Alex Rios is the surest thing of the three. He has hit around .280 his entire career, and we can anticipate him doing it again in 2015. Morales and Volquez are slightly bigger risks with Morales’s curious contract situation in 2014 and Volquez coming off his only good season since finishing 4th in the 2008 Rookie of the Year vote.

By the way, for those of you who hated the Morales deal because he had a terrible 2014, you are basically required to like the Volquez deal because he had an awesome 2014. Just saying. You can’t flip-flop your opinion on how much one season matters versus an entire career.

The Royals are paying $48M over the next two years to these three guys. The obvious rebuttal is the same as it was after Rios signed on Monday: why couldn’t they add two cheaper pieces at DH and RF and funnel all those funds into one big name top starter?!

The reason is in the length of the contracts. If we were going to sign a monster name, we’d have to commit to that individual over 5+ years (not to mention the loss of a draft pick). We simply cannot pay a guy $20M/year for that long. Even if we allocated that much dough to swing it, we shouldn’t commit that much money to a single player for that long. If anything were to go wrong – injury or suspension or a major slump – our team tanks because we have too much money invested in one place. This team needs to spread the money over all 25 guys, not just one or two major pieces.

Did anyone really expect us to add Jon Lester? Or Max Scherzer? Or James Shields? Heck, even Melky Cabrera and Yasmany Tomas as right field options seemed far fetched when their names were making the rounds. This team was never going to add a monster piece. It was always going to be three good-not-great players…in fact, I’m a bit surprised we even ended up with those pieces solved. If they hadn’t signed Volquez (supposedly the Twins were after him too) they probably would’ve been stuck with Jake Peavy instead, and that would’ve been way way worse. (Although, Peavy has been on the last two World Series teams – 2013 Red Sox and 2014 Giants – maybe we missed our chance. Psssh, as if he won’t be available at the trade deadline again this year.)

So there it is.

Kendrys Morales. Alex Rios. Edinson Volquez.

We knew the three pieces they needed to add, and Dayton Moore went out and added all three of them without having to sacrifice the future of this club (speaking of, if you don’t know yet, Will Myers was just traded to the Padres in a three team deal and the Rays got squat in return).

A few reminders before we look at the full roster…

  1. We have the best relief pitching in all of baseball and our starters only need to go 6 innings.
  2. We have the best defense in baseball, a giant, pitcher-friendly ballpark, and lots of speed. Those three aspects of the game are sustainable no matter how the offense and pitching performs.
  3. The core of this team – the guys who won us 89 regular season games, won 8 straight postseason games and took us to within 90 feet of a World Series championship – are still here. The success or failure of this team will be because of them. Just like last year.
  4. That said, this is not the same team because they ought to have all matured following the success and excitement of last season. We can expect a slight bump in production from all our young guys.
  5. Final caveat, and this is one I don’t like to think about…our payroll at $110-115M, which feels higher than it should be. Maybe they’re putting the postseason revenue directly back into the roster, but it’s possible that we might still trade Wade Davis or Greg Holland for prospects.

Okay, that’s enough reminders. Let’s look at the roster as it stands right now…

Rotation

  • Yordano Ventura
  • Danny Duffy
  • Jason Vargas
  • Edinson Volquez
  • Jeremy Guthrie

Bullpen

  • Greg Holland
  • Wade Davis
  • Kelvin Herrera
  • Luke Hochevar
  • Jason Frasor
  • Tim Collins
  • Louis Coleman
  • Brandon Finnegan (?)

Lineup

  • Alcides Escobar
  • Lorenzo Cain
  • Eric Hosmer
  • Kendrys Morales
  • Alex Gordon
  • Salvador Perez
  • Alex Rios
  • Mike Moustakas
  • Omar Infante

Reserves

  • Jarrod Dyson
  • Christian Colon
  • Erik Kratz

That’s a complete 25-man roster right there. It’s probably more likely that Brandon Finnegan starts in AAA and we add some depth to our reserves list somehow. Teams typically don’t have 13 pitchers and 12 hitters. Usually it’s the other way around, but who knows – why not double down on our bullpen arms?

Overall, I’m perfectly comfortable with this offseason.  I’m not completely over the moon, but it’s not like the Royals were going to suddenly have a $150M budget. But again, we may need to check ourselves the next time we try to cast the blame on David “Malt-o-Meal” Glass*. The budget is up by nearly 20%.

* – Tasty O’s and Fruity Dyno-Bites are cheaper for a reason…c’mon.

We had needs, we addressed them. Nothing flashy or extravagant, but with good enough pieces to put us back in a position to contend for the AL Central without sacrificing our future by giving up draft picks and prospects.

Barring anything crazy, that’s your 2015 Kansas City Royals.

-apc.

Photo cred: Getty Images – WPXI.

APC’s MLB Ballpark Rankings

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After touring all 30 MLB ballparks this summer, I get asked almost daily which one was my favorite, and it’s always so difficult to say. I loved them all in one way or another. Even the ones at the bottom of the list had bright spots that I appreciated about them. Even Tampa.

Besides, how am I supposed to pick ONE favorite park? That’s like asking me to pick a favorite fruit or Jeff Goldblum* movie.

How does one compare Fenway Park and PNC Park? Or Safeco Field and Dodger Stadium? Or Marlins Park and US Cellular Field? These pairings have very little in common, but yet they each appear right next to one another on my initial rankings. Do I favor Boston’s history over Pittsburgh’s downtown vista? Do I favor Seattle’ retractable roof over LA’s classic 50’s flare? And how does one even attempt to compare Marlins Park to any other ballpark in the game, let alone perhaps the most basic concrete cookie-cutter park in existence?

Some gorgeous ballparks have terrible teams (San Diego or Colorado, for example) or lousy fans (New York or Los Angeles) while some really ugly ballparks field a championship contending team and have great fans (Oakland, for example).

It’s not an easy ranking to do, and the “right” answer isn’t immediately clear.

What was clear was that I was going to need to put together some sort of algorithm in order to effectively rank these ballparks. I needed to land on some systematic approach to ranking various categories from 1-30 and assign point values for each. I was also going to need to give certain categories more weight than others.

This is still all completely subjective, but it gives me a little bit more to lean on besides a purely arbitrary ranking. Here are the initial 5 categories that I’ve utilized to rank. I should add that this is NOT my “official” list – just a first attempt mock up. Here we go…

  • Ballpark Design (BD): 65% – This category should obviously hold the most weight, so I’ve given it nearly 2/3 of the score. This category includes architecture, views, features, and history. If you push me hard enough, I may pull out the history and re-rank with that as a separate category. We’ll see.
  • Surrounding Area (SA): 15% – If I learned one thing about ballparks this summer it’s this: the best ballparks are usually downtown, and they’re usually surrounded by some spectacular spots to hang out and grab some local food and a beer before or after the game. If it’s nothing but parking lot – the experience isn’t nearly as great. This category also includes transportation to and from the ballpark.
  • Gameplay (GP): 10% – I also acknowledge that my rankings are going to be based primarily on how much fun the single game I attended was. Rather than try to ignore this and eliminate the bias, I’m choosing to include it in my rankings. It’s not a significant percentage, but it’s enough to bump Oakland as high as #26.
  • Fan Rank (FR): 8% – Every city has diehard fans, but not all of them enhance the experience at the ballpark. This is probably the category that will get me the most flack.
  • Beer Rank (BR): 2% – The Washington Post did a survey on which ballparks had the best micro-brewery beer selection and ranked them 1-30. I haven’t tweaked these numbers at all, they’re directly from the article linked above. I’m not sure if 2% was enough to influence any one ballpark over another, but it’s a crucial part of the stadium experience.

I need to probably add a history, city, and food category, but this will suffice for now. Let me know what other ideas you have. For now, here’s what I ended up with for my initial results. First place received 30 points in each category. Last place received 1 point. I’ve broken it down into 7 tiers…

Tier 7: I Don’t Care If I Ever Get Back

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30. Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay Rays – 2.55 (BD 1, SA 8, FR 2, GP 4, BR 7)

The only thing I liked about Tampa was the old man I kept score with during the last two innings who kept dropping f-bombs. He’s the only reason they didn’t finish dead last in Fan Rank.

29. Globe Life Park at Arlington, Texas Rangers – 3.91 (BD 3, SA 6, GP 1, FR 9, BR 12)

Freezing cold game. Rangers got pounded. No views. Like playing ball in an ugly castle courtyard.

28. Marlins Park, Miami Marlins – 5.97 (BD 6, SA 7, GP 3, FR 7, BR 8)

Modern design, unlike any others, but it just didn’t feel like baseball. The game was so boring that I left my seat to go find a TV with the K-State/Auburn game on it.

Tier 6: The Bronx Bummers

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27. US Cellular Field, Chicago White Sox – 7.25 (BD 4, SA 13, GP 14, FR 11, BR 21)

The last ballpark built in the concrete cookie-cutter era of park design. Very basic and unexciting. Good beer selection though and you can’t beat the L train dropping you off right by the park.

26. O.Co Coliseum, Oakland Athletics – 7.33 (BD 2, SA, 3, GP 30, FR 29, BR 13)

One of the ugliest ballparks in the game, and the only one that can really give The Trop a run for its money. This was the best game on the tour though – walk off double and on field fireworks after the game. Impressive tailgating and dedicated fans too.

25. Angels Stadium, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – 8.28 (BD 11, SA 1, GP 2, FR 6, BR 15)

Right around the corner from Disneyland, this ballpark felt like an amusement park. Took 2 hours to drive there in LA traffic. The parking lots surrounding it aren’t lit well at all. All that, and they got torched by the Athletics.

24. Yankee Stadium, New York Yankees – 9.27 (BD 7, SA 20, GP 13, FR 5, BR 1)

Impressive? Sure. The monuments and history are certainly something. Otherwise, Yankees Stadium wasn’t all I had expected it to be. It’s too big for baseball. Big fan of the neverending popcorn bucket. Worst beer selection in baseball.

Tier 5: The Forgettables

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23. Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks – 10.21 (BD 9, SA 18, GP 5, FR 14, BR 2)

Cavernous interior space. Swimming pool beyond centerfield. Downtown Phoenix is pretty cool, and the fans seem pretty committed for such a young franchise. This might rank higher if the roof was open.

22. Nationals Park, Washington Natinoals – 10.75 (BD 8, SA 15, GP 19, FR 13, BR 18)

Humid. Woof. Fans were making up new chants – even if those chants were basically the J-E-T-S chant with 50% different letters. Stephen Strasburg pitched a gem while I was there. Is there a time of year when D.C. isn’t ultra sweaty?

21. Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians – 10.91 (BD 5, SA 26, GP 16, FR 20, BR 28)

Awkward interior dimensions, distinct 90s ballpark vibe, and not in a good way. Passionate fans. Downtown Cleveland is super cool.

20. Rogers Centre, Toronto Blue Jays – 11.36 (BD 10, SA 16, GP 17, FR 8, BR 6)

Toronto is basically Canadian Chicago, and that’s a good thing. Another “wish the roof had been open” ballpark. This game was in the middle of the pennant race against Seattle, so it was extra rewarding to watch the Jays pile on the runs.

19. Comerica Park, Detroit Tigers – 13.08 (BD 13, SA 9, GP 15, FR 16, BR 25)

Conflicting game watching the Tigers win and move one step closer to clinching the AL Central over the Royals. Downtown Detriot is not great, but Comerica itself was a very nice space. Curmudgeony upper deck vendors too.

18. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies – 13.46 (BD 14, SA 4, GP 24, FR 12, BR 20)

Awesome game. Fourteen inning Chase Utley walkoff. Beautiful ballpark. Delicious hot dog. Ivy covered batters eye was my favorite part.

Tier 4: Middle of the Packers

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17. Turner Field, Atlanta Braves – 14.80 (BD 15, SA 11, GP 18, FR 19, BR 4)

How do you not love Hammerin’ Hank Aaron? Turner Field is on the way out, not sure why they need to do away with it. Also, they have a Waffle House out in left field. Overall, Atlanta was extra average.

16. Citi Field, New York Mets – 14.82 (BD 16, SA 12, GP 11, FR 15, BR 16)

AKA Not Ebbets Field. It’s a great ballpark, can’t beat taking the subway to the game. Felt generic. More stuff about the Brooklyn Dodgers than the Mets though.

15. Minute Maid Park, Houston Astros – 15.35 (BD 19, SA 10, GP 6, FR 10, BR 5)

Gorgeous ballpark. Roof was open. I stood with two of my best friends beyond the outfield wall and celebrated the Royals winning on the road. Yordano and Lorenzo both wore #42 on Jackie Robinson Day.

14. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds – 15.79 (BD 12, SA 21, GP 21, FR 27, BR 29)

Opening Day festivities skyrocket this ballpark very high on the list. Great fans lined the streets for the parade. Cardinals spoiled the game 1-0 for the Redlegs.

Tier 3: The Butter Fans

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13. Coors Field, Colorado Rockies – 16.13 (BD 17, SA 22, GP 12, FR 3, BR 17)

Sat 600 feet from home plate with my youth group. Gorgeous views of the mountains. Unfortunately, the fans don’t care much about baseball, they just like being outside on a beautiful night in the city. Fair enough.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers – 17.36 (BD 24, SA 2, GP 9, FR 1, BR 24)

Fans arrive late and leave early to beat traffic. Can’t blame them, LA traffic is rough. Otherwise this ballpark is easily in the top 10, borderline top 5. Also, Vin Scully is the best.

11. Safeco Field, Seattle Mariners – 18.12 (BD 21, SA 19, GP 7 FR 4, BR 30)

See: Houston and Colorado. (Except Seattle is perhaps the most gorgeous city on the planet.) And, like these other two, she’s a beautiful ballpark…butter fans…

Tier 2: Great Venues and Great Fans

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10. Target Field, Minnesota Twins – 19.74 (BD 18, SA 24, GP 20, FR 25, BR 22)

That limestone is terrific. Minnie and Paul shaking hands out in centerfield symbolizes a city united over baseball. Twins fans are baseball fans and a quality bunch. Downtown Minneapolis is legit too.

9. Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals – 20.31 (BD 20, SA 17, GP 27, FR 23, BR 11)

Best Fans in Baseball? Eh, but 8th place ain’t bad. Love this ballpark, brick everywhere, arch out beyond centerfield. Opening Day at Busch was rainy, but still a victory.

8. Miller Park, Milwaukee Brewers – 20.90 (BD 22, SA 14, GP 22, FR 24, BR 19)

The ballpark is a retractable roof but all throwback Fenway Green in color. Best old school logo in baseball. Quality fans. Delicious Bloody Mary’s.

7. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City Royals – 21.24 (BD 25, SA 5, GP 26, FR 18, BR 10)

This might look like a homer pick, but it’s not. Very underrated ballpark. If it was downtown it’d be right at the top. Was there from Opening Day to Game 7. Home sweet home.

6. PETCO Park, San Diego Padres – 21.77 (BD 23, SA 28, GP 8, FR 17, BR 23)

The green space beyond centerfield is the most unique space around the league. Repurposed Western Metal Supply Co. Building is beautiful. Too bad the game was awful.

Tier 1: Heaven on Earth

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5. PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates – 26.03 (BD 26, SA 27, GP 23, FR 28, BR 27)

Incredible view of downtown. Right on the water. Clemente. Mazeroski, Stargell. Wagner. Yellow bridges. Yellow everything. Completely packed. Last home game of the year.

4. Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox – 26.26 (BD 27, SA 29, GP 25, FR 21, BR 9)

Hard to believe that three ballparks beat out Fenway. The oldest ballpark still standing. The Green Monster is gorgeous and Yawkey Way is probably the greatest baseball stroll in America.

3. Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs – 26.84 (BD 30, SA 30, GP 10, FR 22, BR 4)

Wrigleyville, man – 100 year anniversary season of “The Friendly Confines.” #1 ballpark, #1 surroundings. Only thing the North Side lacks is a winning team, and it’s been a long long time. Maybe Joe Maddon is the difference…

2. AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants – 27.21 (BD 28, SA 25, GP 29, FR 26, BR 14)

The Bay Area treated me well. Oakland and San Francisco were the two best games I saw. Won a $50 Levi’s gift card when rookie Tyler Colvin launched a homer into McCovey Cove. If you go to AT&T Park, I highly recommend the Arcade seats.

And the winner is…

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1. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles – 28.02 (BD 29, SA 23, GP 28, FR 30, BR 26)

Congratulations, Orioles fans. You’ve made it big. The ballpark that changed the architecture game. Since 1992 retro parks have been the name of design game. B&O Railroad building is the perfect homerun target that no one has ever hit outside of Ken Griffey Jr. in the All Star Game. Down to the open air press box, every single cranny is modelled after ballparks from the past.

There you go. Feel free to tell me where I got it right but more likely where I got it wrong. Again, this is just my first stab at these rankings, you never know how things might change between now and my book release.

-apc.

* – Okay, obviously Independence Day is the right answer. Jurassic Park is a distant second. Maybe Tom Hanks would’ve been a better option here.

Game 27: PNC Park, Pittsburgh

Welcome to the Steel City.

I once took a buzzfeed quiz titled, “What Color Lightsaber Would You Weld?” I got Orange. According to BuzzFeed, I’m a “conflicted” individual who “gravitates toward the light side” albeit “begrudgingly,” and despite being “morally good” I probably will have a “brush” with the dark side of the Force at some point. And while those quizzes can sound strangely accurate…what a bunch of malarkey, really.

What I know for a fact: the City of Pittsburgh would weld a yellow lightsaber.

The first thing you see the moment you emerge from the Fort Pitt Tunnel: yellow bridges everywhere. Not sure what the exact count is, but there’s somewhere in the vicinity of 8 million yellow bridges surrounding The ‘Burgh.

Okay, so technically the bridges are “Aztec Gold” but I wasn’t fortunate enough to have the 64-pack of Crayons as a kid. Proud member of the 24-pack here. The City of Bridges’ official colors are black and gold.

Pittsburgh is the only city to have three professional sports teams wear the same colors. The Pirates, Steelers and Penguins all rock the black/yellow.

Sunday marked the final home game of the Pirates regular season, and the Pittsburgh faithful came our strong to support the Buccos. PNC Park was packed with black and yellow fans – 38,650 of them – ready for their team to make a final push toward their second consecutive playoff appearance. It’s all but certain at this point thanks to collapses by Milwaukee and Atlanta. The National League playoff teams are nearly certain: Dodgers, Nationals, Cardinals, Pirates* and Giants. It’s just a matter of seeding at this point.

* – I picked the Reds instead of the Pirates in the preseason. Otherwise, my NL Picks were correct. *Throws down controller. Thumps chest.

Pittsburgh era are loving the team’s recent success under Clint Hurdle. It’s been a while (22 years and 40 lbs of Barry Bonds ago) since the Pirates have had success of any kind, let alone two seasons in a row.

The Pirates were established in 1882 and won seven championships: two in the National League in 1901 and 1902, and five World Series titles in 1909, 1925, 1960, 1971 and 1979.

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Four of the five World Series teams feature a star player who is now immortalized as statues out side of PNC Park.

IMG_9894.JPGHonus Wagner (top-left) – The Flying Dutchman. Probably the greatest shortstop of all time, he was the best player on the 1909 World Series team. He’s also the face on the most expensive baseball card of all time: the 1909 T206. Won 8 batting titles and was one of the original six Hall of Fame inductees.

Bill Masoroski (top-right) – Maz hit the only Game 7 walk off home run of in baseball history (Joe Carter’s for Toronto was in Game 6, but was a walk off HR, just not in an elimination game, by the way). In 1960, at home at Forbes Field, he launched a solo shot over the 406′ sign in left-centerfield. The outfield wall remains where Forbes used to be on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The Cathedral of Learning, a gorgeous skyscraper on campus, used to loom over the ballpark behind the left field corner.IMG_9798.JPG

Roberto Clemente (bottom-left) – According to my dad, Clemente collected his 3,000th career hit on the last day of the 1972 season. He passed away in a plane crash off the coast of Puerto Rico that winter en route to bring relief supplies to Nicaragua. The main bridge utilized walking to and from the ballpark is now named after him.

Willie Stargell (bottom-right) – Pops. Stargell was a big hulking guy who hit 475 home runs in his career. He was apart of the 1979 “We Are Family” a World Series winning Pirates. Once, in Montreal. Stargell hit a homerun that cleared the fence in right field left the yard at Jarry Park and landed in a public pool.

The day Pops died was the day PNC Park opened: April 1, 2001. Prior to PNC, the Pirates played at Three Rivers Stadium, which as the name suggests, was positioned at the point where the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet downtown. The days at Three Rivers are likely considered the glory days around Pittsburgh. Those 1970s were good times with the Pirates winning two championships and Terry Bradshaw’s Steelers – who shared the space – winning three Super Bowls. Today, Heinz Field and PNC Park sit on both sides of the parking lot where Three Rivers Stadium used to sit.

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PNC Park is breathtaking. The park sits on the river-walk of the Allegheny right across the Clemente Bridge from downtown. It has a distinct old ballpark feel after decades of cookie-cutter multipurpose life at Three Rivers. Old Forbes Field can be seen in the details – the nook in centerfield, the old-style vertical lighting system, and the blue seats are all Forbes-inspired. the scoreboard is modeled off Forbes as well with it’s red/green/blue lights signifying outs, base runners and top/bottom of the inning. It’s a fun flare that’s somewhere in between the manual Wrigley/Fenway scoreboards and the high-tech video scoreboards in newer parks.

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With the pennant race in full swing, I spent a lot of time watching that scoreboard update. Royals won, by the way.

I had really high expectations for PNC Park and it entirely lived up. You’ll find it near the top of my rankings when this whole journey is over.

The Pirates sure don’t like the Brewers, whom they played yesterday. The two are division rivals. They especially hate Ryan Braun, the Brewers’ right fielder.

Braun got caught using performance enhancing drugs last year ago, but his offense was especially egregious because of what had happened the year prior. A test had come back positive, and he got off on a technicality and ripped the MLB for accusing him falsely. He was made out to be a victim of a mistake by the league.

So then when he turned out to be guilty a year later, he fell doubly hard. He cheated, lied about it, got away with it, kept cheating, got caught again, and really looked like a dummy.

Something interesting about baseball is the amount of discipline involved in the game. It takes hours and hours of training to become great and stay great at the game. In fact, discipline is such a part of the game that seemingly anyone who works hard enough at getting better can play professionally. There’s no toleration for cheating the discipline of the game.

I wonder if there’s a conversation to be had here about the role of spiritual disciplines and baseball. How do we make connecting with God apart of our daily/weekly/annual rhythms?

Maybe a better example would be Barry Bonds, since he began his career in Pittsburgh.

Just like baseball, there are no shortcuts in our dialogue with God. You can’t just check a box. It’s an ongoing commitment that requires regular disciplines. It’s not a finish line as much a new start.

Okay. Gotta wrap this up it I’mm be late for my next game tonight at the Rogers Centre. To the game notes!

Game Notes

Yesterday’s game was all about Pirate’s starter, Vance Worley, who spun an absolute gem. He threw 82 pitches in eight innings of shut out ball. He threw first pitch strikes to 21 of the 27 batters he faced.

The only run of the game came in the 7th. Andrew McCutchen, the undisputed star of this team, and one of the best players in baseball – hit an infield single. Two past balls later and he was standing on third base. Russell Martin singled scored McCutchen. That’s all the Pirates needed.

Hurdle called on Tony Watson in the 9th who got his first save of the season. I would’ve stuck with Worley personally, but he was pulled for a pinch hitter in the 8th.

Watson made things interesting giving up a leadoff single, but thanks to a baserunning blunder by Carlos Gomez, he got out of it clean and shut the door.

Bucs win 1-0. Raise the Jolly Roger.

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Twenty-seven games down. Three to go.

Up next: Toronto Blue Jays.

-apc.

the pirates are back in the playoffs…but go cardinals.

sid-bream.bravesTuesday night the Pirates won the NL wild card game to move on to the NLDS against the Cardinals. It’s their first time in the playoffs since 1992 – 20 straight losing seasons. As a Royals fan, I know (almost) exactly how that feels.

In 1992, the Braves were up 3 games to 1 when the Pirates stormed back to force a game 7. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th, two outs and the pitchers spot coming up, Braves manager Bobby Cox pinch hit with Francisco Cabrera. Cabrera had only 10 plate appearances all season, three of them hits.

Pirates fans will tell you that they shouldn’t have even been in this position. Whoever it was the was two batters prior, had just walked, two of the pitches seemingly strikes but called balls instead. The next batter hit a cute little flare behind second base which was caught with no advancing runners. It would’ve been the third out, Pirates fans will argue.

Francisco Cabrera at the plate. “The unlikeliest of heroes,” Tim McCarver kept saying on the broadcast. McCarver clearly had no faith that Cabrera would do anything of value in this position. After Cabrera took the first pitch – a ball – McCarver began droning on about how if the count goes to 2-0, Cabrera should just keep taking becuase it was more likely that he would walk in the tying run than actually get a hit.

But when the count went to 2-0, Francisco Cabrera, the unlikeliest of heroes, had the green light. the next pitch was right down the pipe and Cabrera turned on it and the ball caught the meat of the bat. A frozen rope down the third base line that would easily plate David Justice from third base if it wasn’t caught.

But it hooked foul. The Pirates had dodged a major bullet. Cabrera had just missed his moment as a NLCS hero – had he just waited a fraction of a second longer to swing, that ball was over Barry Bonds’ head in LF and off the wall, plating two. Game over.

But instead it’s a 2-1 count. And Cabrera, after swearing to himself a bit at the plate, digs in for the fourth pitch of the at bat. And this time he isn’t in front of it at all.

Cabrera laces a single in front and to the left of a charging Barry Bonds. Just moments earlier, Andy Van Slyke had told Bonds to scoot in a little bit. Bonds flipped Van Slyke the bird in return. David Justice scored easily, but the winning run had just rounded third and was bolting for home.

Whenever I watch a play at the plate, it seems like it’s happening in slow motion. The runner has a huge head start, but it doesn’t matter when the ball is traveling at 80 mph while the runner is pushing 12 mph. The ball gets there quickly, and the baserunner ends up looking surprisingly slow no matter if it’s Billy Butler or Billy Hamilton rounding third.

In this instance it was Sid Bream, the Pirates old first baseman who was in his second year with the Braves. Bream, wearing number twelve and a Magnum PI mustache, was a shockingly slow runner, and was still a few steps up the basepath when catcher Mike Lavilliere got the ball. But Bonds’ toss was a full reach toward first base – the product of having to field it to his left and throw across his body. Lavilliere picked it and spun back across his body to catch Bream’s foot sliding across the plate.

But it was too late. By a matter of inches, Bream’s foot had beat Lavilliere’s tag.

Braves win, 3-2.

David Justice mobbed Bream on top of home plate in what appeared to be a wrestling move of some sort just before the rest of the Braves team piled on top. The hero, Fransico Cabrera, is never even shown during the ensuing celebration. All the focus is on Bream, Justice and manager Bobby Cox.

Meanwhile, Pirates center fielder Andy Van Slyke is sitting on the grass with his cap down over his eyes. Heartbreak for Pittsburgh for the third consecutive year: 1990, 1991 and 1992 had all brought NL East regular season crowns. All three seasons had ended in NLCS losses, and this was the second consecutive Game 7 loss to these Atlanta Braves. The World Series had eluded the Pirates again, and suddenly the future wasn’t looking very bright.

That errant throw was Barry Bonds’ last time touching the ball in a Pirates uniform. He would sign with the Giants next season. Starting pitcher Don Drabek, who had pitched in three different games in the NLCS – all of them against John Smoltz – wouldn’t be back either. 1993 would bring the first of 20 consecutive losing seasons.

Fast forward to 2013: the first Pirates winning season since that devistating string of NLCS losses. First postseason game since Barry Bonds’ airmail. Is there a redemptive storyline in the making? Due to the playoffs being expanded following the 1995 season, the Pirates have a tougher road then years past. They have to get through the NL Central winning St. Louis Cardinals** before they get a shot at another NLCS where they would meet the winner of the Dodgers and the – holy smokes could this storyline be happening? – Atlanta Braves. There’s a storyline for you.

Stay posted folks. This could (is guaranteed to) be really fun.

** – For the record, I will NOT be rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates against the St. Louis Cardinals. Just thought I’d make that clear. However, if the Pirates get past St. Louis, I’m pretty certain I’ll be cheering hard for the Bucs. Plus they have John Buck on their team now, so…

-apc.

photo source: http://i.cdn.turner.com/si/multimedia/photo_gallery/1009/mlb.best.playoff.moments-/images/sid-bream.braves.jpg