The 9th Inning Column: MLB Draft Week, Jose Ramirez’ struggles, and RIP Bill Buckner

Welcome back to the 9th Inning. This is the second edition of this in the 2019 MLB season. This is a monthly column on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the month’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I’ll discuss what teams are hot and what teams are not. I will also give my personal thoughts on a few notable baseball-related events as well as giving out monthly awards for team of the month, players of the month, and rookies of the month. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that happens near the end of every month. This is the second article of this season and I hope for some immense success with this column. If you’d like, be sure to share with your friends, social media, and family! I’d love my column to reach as big a global outreach as possible.

I’m going to start the 9th Inning Column for May with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of the biggest stories recently, both on the field and off.

It is almost time for the MLB Draft!

We are less than a week away from the 2019 MLB Draft and there’s a lot of speculation swirling about the first few rounds. Firstly, nearly everybody in the business believes that the Orioles have to take Adley Rutschman with the top pick. Rutschman, a catcher for Oregon State, is a switch-hitter with solid power and great defensive skills behind the plate. Secondly, a lot of people believe that the Royals will take Bobby Witt Jr. with the second pick. Witt Jr. is a five-tool shortstop coming out of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, and he’s the son of a former big league starter. Overall, we are looking at a draft class that is somewhat weak on quality arms but more than makes it up for it with high potential position players.

What is wrong with Jose Ramirez?

In the past few seasons, Jose Ramirez gave the Cleveland Indians another budding star to put alongside Francisco Lindor. Yet in 2019, Ramírez looks to be well off his game. He doesn’t look like he’ll achieve a three peat of third place AL MVP finishes. In 55 games, the 26 year old third baseman is batting a mere .211 with only 4 home runs and 17 RBIs. He’s striking out more, walking less, and seems to have lost his touch at the plate. A good thing for Ramirez is that he’s been playing well lately, batting .357 in his last three games. Still though, the Indians are struggling as a team and falling way back in the race for the AL Central, and they’ll need Ramírez to start putting up the numbers that he’s capable of if they want to get back in it.

Former batting champ Bill Buckner passes away

An MLB legend passed away on Monday after a battle with dementia. Bill Buckner played in the big leagues for 22 seasons and totaled 2,715 hits on a career .289 batting average. Buckner was a great teammate and was highly valued as a utility player during his time in the MLB. In 1980, he batted .324 and was the National League Batting Champion. In 1981, he made his only All-Star team. Buckner deserves respect across the league for his great career. Rest In Peace, Bill Buckner.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

The New York Yankees were the best team in baseball throughout the month of May and I’ll discuss them later, because they won one of the column’s awards.

The Minnesota Twins were certainly in the mix for the team of the month award in May, but they were just edged out by the Yanks. They’re pulling away from the Indians in the AL Central, as they currently have a 9.5 game cushion. Newfound ace Jake Odorizzi was phenomenal in May, pitching his way to a 0.94 ERA in five starts. First baseman C.J. Cron led the high powered Twins offensive attack in May as he hit eight home runs, batted .301, and tallied 21 RBIs. The Twins continue to surprise folks and they are seriously one of the top five teams in baseball right now, without any doubt.

The Oakland Athletics have recently gotten themselves firmly back in the hunt for the AL West crown with a 10-game winning streak and an 8-2 stretch over their past ten games. They are alone in second place in their division and sit 7.5 games back of the Houston Astros. The Athletics were led by Frankie Montas strong pitching (2.64 ERA in 30.2 IP) and the offense was helped a lot by Josh Phegley (4 HRs and 20 RBI). With franchise cornerstone Matt Chapman and a solid pitching staff, last year’s second AL Wildcard team could be well on their way to another postseason appearance.

If you haven’t heard about Cody Bellinger’s stellar start of a 2019 campaign, then you’ve been living under a rock. Combine that with a dominating pitching staff and you can see why the Los Angeles Dodgers are continuing to build a sizeable lead in the NL West Standings. They either won or split every series in the month of May, proving that they can compete in every single game. Sitting at a 38-19 record, the Dodgers look to be well on their way to another NL West crown.

The St. Louis Cardinals were very good in the first month or so of 2019, but they’ve fallen off to a below .500 record as we turn the calendar to June. They are 4-6 in their last ten games and now sit 4.5 games back of the first place Cubs in the NL Central. The Cardinals play in perhaps the toughest division in all of Major League Baseball, so they’ll need to stop skidding before they find themselves in too big of a hole.

Remember when the Seattle Mariners were hitting all sorts of bombs every day and were in first place in the AL West? Yeah, I do too, and those days are long gone as the Mariners have the worst record in all of Major League Baseball in the month of May at 6-21. They’ve struggled as a pitching staff and had tough offensive nights, leading to their fall to dead last in the AL West standings. It looks like the Mariners have run out of magic.

In last month’s column, I talked extensively about what the San Francisco Giants should do if they didn’t start winning soon. Well, the Giants haven’t done any better and are still in last place in their division as they’ve been extremely cold as of late. They’re in the midst of a 2-8 stretch in their last ten games and they are on their way to being an early seller on the summer trade market.

The Monthly Awards:

Team of the Month is…

The New York Yankees (19-7)

The New York Yankees have surged to the top of the American League East recently due to a continued stretch of dominance. They’ve gone 12-3 since May 12th and that includes series victory over the Tampa Bay Rays (twice) and the San Diego Padres. Masahiro Tanaka had been dominant in May until his start on Tuesday, having a 2.80 earned run average in 35.1 innings of work. Gleyber Torres (.308 AVG and 9 HRs) and Gary Sanchez (.288 AVG and 9 HRs) have carried the load offensively for the Yanks throughout the month. The bullpen is starting to round into form as well, proving it is as good as advertised with Chapman, Britton, Kahnle, and Ottavino all in peak form right now. With so many injuries, the Yankees performance has simply been impressive.

The Hitter of the Month is…

Pittsburgh Pirates 1B Josh Bell

One of the best hitters in all of the majors through the season thus far, Pirates first baseman Josh Bell has been absolutely smoking baseballs left and right. He is undoubtedly the hitter of the month of May, as he hit at a .389 batting average with a .444 on-base percentage and an .814 slugging percentage. He also has hit 12 homers in the month and has racked up 30 RBIs. He’s shown considerable improvements in the 2019 campaign so far, as he’s close to reaching previously career high numbers already. Bell is the unquestioned leader in Pittsburgh and if he continues hitting like this, he will be in Cleveland as an All-Star this summer.

The Starter of the Month is…

Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu

Garnering praise as a “left handed Greg Maddux”, the 32-year old veteran Ryu is off to a Cy Young-esque start in 2019. In May, he was nearly unhittable, going 5-0 and pitching his way to a 0.59 ERA in 45.2 innings on the mound. Opposing hitters had just a .177 batting average against him in his six starts and he continues to provide great outings for the dominating LA Dodgers club. If Ryu continues to control the strike zone and limit walks, I could easily see him being named the Cy Young award winner for the National League in the fall.

The Reliever of the Month is…

New York Yankees RHP Adam Ottavino

Adam Ottavino has started off his 2019 campaign still right in his dominant 2018 form. The veteran reliever was superb in May, appearing in 13 games and not giving up any runs. Since April 21st, Ottavino has not given up a run. Thus far in 2019, the former Rockie has a 2-1 record with 12 holds and a 1.37 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched. He’s been exactly the guy that the Yankees wanted him to be when they signed him in the offseason. He undoubtedly deserves the reliever of the month award for his performance in May.

Rookie Hitter of the Month:

Boston Red Sox 2B Michael Chavis

The third best prospect in the Boston farm system, Chavis has immediately come up into the big leagues and helped provide a stable bat in the lineup. In May, he batted .255 with seven home runs and he’s showing off his advanced hitting tool. With other rookies struggling, Chavis has climbed his way up near the top of the American League Rookie of the Year award race.

Rookie Pitcher of the Month:

Atlanta Braves RHP Mike Soroka

Mike Soroka has been more than just a valuable contributor for the Braves rotation this season. He’s been dominant and looks to be firmly in the mix for the NL Rookie of the Year award. If the award was won in May, Soroka may have just clinched it. He pitched his way to a 0.79 ERA in 34 innings during the month. He only gave up three earned runs and opponents hit just .145 against him in the month. Soroka has been just as good as his prospect evaluation hyped him up to be, and he’s on his way to becoming the ace of the Braves already.

Thanks for reading the May edition of the 9th Inning column! I hope you enjoyed! Don’t forget to share with your friends, family, and on social media! Feel free to contact me on my Twitter @TBeckmann24 if you have any questions! I’ll be back next month! Peace!

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The 9th Inning (April): Vlad Jr’s debut, Mize’s Double-A gem, and what’s wrong with the Red Sox?

Welcome to the 9th Inning. This is the first edition of this in the 2019 MLB season. This is going to be a monthly column on Pro Sports Fandom in which I roundup the month’s biggest happenings in the baseball realm. I’ll discuss what teams are hot and what teams are not. I will also give my personal thoughts on a few notable baseball-related events as well as giving out monthly awards for team of the month, players of the month, and rookies of the month. It’s basically a baseball podcast squeezed into an article that will happen near the end of every month. This is the debut article of this season and I hope for some immense success with this column. If you’d like, be sure to share with your friends, social media, and family! I’d love my column to reach as big a global outreach as possible.

I’m going to start the 9th Inning Column for April with a few rounded-up thoughts in recap of the biggest stories recently, both on the field and off.

Vlad Jr’s debut

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his highly anticipated MLB debut this past weekend for the Toronto Blue Jays. MLB Pipeline’s number one prospect may have been the most hyped up debut since Bryce Harper. Guerrero is only batting .250 after his first series is in the books, but part of that is due to him not getting great pitches to hit. MLB.com says that Guerrero had a 37.3% zone rate over his first few games. The Blue Jays are set to take on the Angels in Anaheim in their weekday series, and it’ll be a great series to watch!

2018 top draft pick dominates in first AA Start

Not often will I talk about a player in the Double-A levels of minor league ball in this column, but I feel that this one is well deserved. Casey Mize, the number one overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, made his AA debut with the Detroit Tigers on Monday. The Auburn product dominated and sent a message to the scouts, throwing a nine inning no-hitter in a win for the Erie Seawolves. It was an impressive performance that caught the eyes of many, as Mize only walked one batter and hit another. If he continues to pitch like this, Detroit may soon have a bonafide ace on their big league roster.

What’s wrong with the Red Sox?

The defending champion Boston Red Sox are off to a sour start in the 2019 season, having a 12-17 record to show for it just one month in. They’ve cleaned it up as of late, but there’s still cause for concern with the Beantown squad. Jackie Bradley Jr. has been horrible with the bat, 2018 World Series MVP Steve Pearce is struggling, and Eduardo Rodriguez/Chris Sale both have ERAs over 6. If the pitching staff doesn’t get going soon, Boston may find itself in a hole too big to overcome, but there’s certainly reason to believe in this team. I mean heck, they are the defending World Series Champs after all!

Where do the Giants go from here?

A lot of talk has circulated about how the San Francisco Giants will attack the summer trade deadline. It’s the final season for manager Bruce Bochy, and it is perhaps the final year for longtime franchise ace Madison Bumgarner in the Bay Area. The Giants have built a team of veterans in hopes of competing in 2019, but it’s gone very badly thus far. They are 12-17 in the NL West, which is last in the division. They are not doing well at the plate, and Jeff Samardzija is their only qualified starting pitcher with an ERA below four. As we near June, the Giants are creeping closer and closer to being the first team to sell off their top veterans to buyers.

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

The banged-up New York Yankees are the hottest team in baseball right now, as they’ve gone 11-2 since losing a home series to the Chicago White Sox on April 14th. Luke Voit was dominant for the Bronx Bombers last week on their West Coast road trip, winning AL Player of the Week Honors by going 13 for 30 with four home runs and 10 RBIs. In doing so, Voit has continued a ridiculous 39-game on base streak into the Yankees two game series against the Diamondbacks.

The Minnesota Twins have won 8 of their last 10 games and have taken 2.5 game lead in the AL Central over the Cleveland Indians. Eddie Rosario (11 HRs) and Jorge Polanco (.948 OPS) have lead the scorching hot Twins offensive attack and Jose Berrios continues to grow into an ace, leaving the Twins in great position to make a run at the postseason in 2019.

The St. Louis Cardinals have won 8 of their last 10 games as well, en route to taking a three game lead over the Cubs and Brewers in the NL Central Division. Paul DeJong (.342 AVG, 5 HRs) and Marcell Ozuna (.271 AVG, 10 HRs) are leading a Redbirds offense that is still awaiting an inevitable annual hot stretch from All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

After a rough start to the 2019 campaign, the Chicago Cubs have gotten back near the top of the NL Central with a recent hot stretch. They are winners of 7 of their last 10 games, climbing into a tie for second in the division with the Milwaukee Brewers. Javier Baez has been otherworldly thus far, hitting .315 with 9 home runs and 22 RBIs. The Cubs are also getting great contribution from catcher Willson Contreras (1.033 OPS). They can certainly push for the NL Central, and I fully expect them to do so.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were 12-6 after a win over the San Francisco Giants on Saturday, April 20th. Since then? They’ve been one of the worst teams in baseball, losing eight straight and falling to fourth place in the NL Central Division. With competition like the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals, the Pirates cannot have losing streaks like this and expect to stay atop the division. If they don’t figure it out soon, Pittsburgh could be in serious hot water.

The Washington Nationals have also caught a case of the cold as we flip the calendar to May. They’ve lost three series in a row to teams that I’m just not quite sure they should be losing to. On paper, the Nats have one of the best complete rosters in all of Major League Baseball, but they haven’t been able to put it together just yet in 2019. Let’s see what this team does in May before we press the panic button!

The Oakland Athletics are in serious danger of not getting back to the postseason already in 2019, and that’s not because I don’t have faith in their ability to turn it around after a rough start. The AL West is more competitive this year, and the A’s have struggled as of late, getting swept by Toronto twice in two weeks and losing 7 of their last 10. Will Khris Davis and the Oakland crew figure it out before it’s too late?

The Monthly Awards:

Team of the Month is…

The Tampa Bay Rays (19-9)

The Rays definitely were not a lot of experts picks to lead the AL East through one month, but here we are. Tampa Bay holds a 1.5 game lead on the Yankees as we speak, and they’ve had a terrific first month of baseball. A big reason for their success is the pitching staff, as Tyler Glasgow (5 wins, 1.75 ERA), 2018 AL Cy Young award winner Blake Snell (2 wins, 2.54 ERA), and free agent acquisition Charlie Morton (3 wins, 2.76 ERA) lead the MLB’s top pitching staff thus far. Jose Alvarado has been one of baseball’s best relievers (we’ll discuss him later) and the Rays are much deeper than this, but there’s too many people to name. Austin Meadows was absolutely raking before he got injured (.351, 6 HRs, 19 RBIs), and he should be back rather soon. Yandy Diaz (.298, 7 HRs, 18 RBIs) is having a breakout season at the hot corner for Tampa Bay and veteran outfielder Tommy Pham continues to put up productive numbers (.294, 4 HRs, 12 RBIs). They should be taken seriously as one of the premier World Series contenders.

The Hitter of the Month is …

Los Angeles Dodgers OF/1B Cody Bellinger

Cody Bellinger has played at both right field and first base this year, so I’m not sure what to call him with such a small sample size. But I can call him something, and that is an absolutely on-fire baseball player. The third-year superstar has been nothing short of spectacular in 2019, batting .434 with 14 homers and 37 RBIs. His on-base percentage is over .500 and his slugging percentage sits firmly at .906. What’s even more impressive is that Bellinger has increased his base on balls percentage from 10.9% to 14.1%, while also cutting down his strikeout percentage from 23.9% in 2018 to 11.7% through one month of 2019. If he continues to play like this, he will shatter records, and with this hot start, he’s certainly the favorite to win NL MVP!

Starter of the Month is …

Cincinnati Reds RHP Luis Castillo

When called up to the bigs in 2017, Luis Castillo was the tenth best prospect in the Reds farm system. With a lot of patience by Cincinnati’s staff, Castillo looks to be turning the corner into one of the best pitchers in the National League. His first month of 2019 certainly proved such, as the 26 year old rising phenom has made six starts, going 3-1 with a 1.23 ERA in 36.1 innings of work. He’s striking out more batters than he has at any point in his young career, and has reduced his home runs per nine innings rate from a sour 1.49 in 2018 to an impressive 0.25 thus far in 2019. His HR/FB rate sits at a solid 4.5%, showing that Castillo has been stingy in terms of preventing the longball. At this point, batters just haven’t been able to hit his stuff, as hitters are hitting just .165 against him. If he continues to pitch like this, he may just deliver the NL Cy Young Award to Great American Ball Park.

The Reliever of the Month is …

Tampa Bay Rays LHP Jose Alvarado

Dating back to 2018, the 23 year old Alvarado has been one of the best relievers in all of Major League Baseball, and that trend has continued to pick up steam as we turn the calendar to May. Thrust into a big late-inning role in 2019, the lefty has been nothing short of excellent thus far. He’s made four saves in 14 appearances, pitching his way to a 1.38 ERA and a 1.82 FIP, proving his performance is no fluke. Alvarado has not surrendered a home run yet this season, and he’s striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings. The only negative in 2019 is that Alvarado’s walks per nine innings rate has increased a bit from 4.08 to 4.85, but it’s not too severe of a jump.

The Rookie Hitter of the Month is …

New York Mets 1B Peter Alonso

A second round selection by the Mets in the 2016 MLB Draft, Peter Alonso has made a quick transition to the pros. He is a phenomenal hitter and subpar defender at first base, and he showed that in the minor leagues all the way up until earning the Mets starting first baseman job in 2019. Since he earned the job, Alonso has proven why he was one of the Mets untradeable chips as they rebuilt last year. He’s an early frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year award, as he’s batting .304 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 2019. He will have to continue to work on balancing his approach and limiting strikeouts, but right now, Alonso is hot and off to the races, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

The Rookie Pitcher of the Month is …

San Diego Padres RHP Chris Paddack

Paddack is the 31st best prospect in all of Major League Baseball according to MLB Pipeline, but after one month of him in the bigs, I think he may deserve a huge boost before he loses his eligibility on such lists. He’s 23 years old and has been firing on all cylinders to start his MLB career. He’s made five starts, going 1-1 and pitching 27 innings with a 1.67 ERA, ranking third amongst all National League pitchers with 25 or more innings pitched. He’s just been purely unhittable, as opposing hitters have a .111 batting average against him. He’s striking out 10 batters per nine innings, only walking about 2.6 per nine, and only surrenders 0.6 home runs per nine. If he continues to pitch like this, he’ll be right in the thick of the battle for NL Rookie of the Year with his teammate Fernando Tatis Jr. and Mets slugger Pete Alonso (mentioned above).

Thanks for reading the season debut of the 9th Inning column! I hope you enjoyed! Don’t forget to share with your friends, family, and on social media! Feel free to contact me on my Twitter @TBeckmann24 if you have any questions! I’ll be back next month! Peace!

The Obstructed AL Central Preview

The AL Central from the mid-90’s through the early part of the 2000’s was dubbed the Comedy Central for having some bad teams in that time period. Cleveland dominated while the rest could never seem to get it together. Yes, you had years where teams would go up and down in the standings, but nothing in the way of being a major legit.

So we fast forward to the last couple of seasons. The Indians once again dominate and the other teams are just a mess. Minnesota has shown hope and promise but last year the Twins disappointed as some had them to be a threat for the Wild Card. The Tigers are deep in their rebuild. The Royals are as well. The White Sox however, are trying to show their rebuild is near an end.

So will the Indians thrive? Will the Twins off-season moves give Cleveland a fight within the division? Will Chicago contend? Will the rebuilding process of Detroit and Kansas City continue to progress into maybe something quicker?

Kluber was subject to trade rumors this off-season but the Indians did the right thing

(1) CLEVELAND INDIANS

Last year: 91-71 (Lost to Houston in ALDS)

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Jake Bauers (Trade-Tampa Bay), 1B-Carlos Santana (Trade), DH-Hanley Ramirez (FA-Boston), 2B-Brad Miller (FA-Los Angeles Dodgers), C-Kevin Plawecki (Trade-New York Mets), IF-Max Moroff (Trade-Pittsburgh), OF-Jordan Luplow (Trade Pittsburgh), OF-Carlos Gonzalez (FA-Colorado)

KEY LOSSES: DH-Edwin Encarnacion (Trade-Seattle), IF-Yandy Diaz (Trade-Tampa Bay), C-Yan Gomes (Trade-Washington), IF-Erik Gonzalez (Trade-Pittsburgh), 3B-Josh Donaldson (FA-Atlanta), IF-Adam Rosales (FA-Minnesota), OF-Michael Brantley (FA-Houston), OF-Melky Cabrera (FA-Pittsburgh), OF-Lonnie Chisenhall (FA-Pittsburgh), OF-Rajai Davis (FA-New York Mets), P-Josh Tomlin (FA-Atlanta), P-Cody Allen (FA-Los Angeles Angels), 1B-Yonder Alonso (Trade-Chicago White Sox), P-Andrew Miller (FA-St. Louis)

The Indians still have a load of talent on their roster that is really unmatched in the AL Central. There is no better left side of an infield than Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez in all of baseball. The rotation headed by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer is stout and when you throw in Mike Clevinger, yikes. Cleveland also brings back former Tribe star Carlos Santana who had a bit of a disappointing year in Philadelphia. However, it feels like the window to win a World Series is starting to close a bit. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are gone. Cleveland also said goodbye to Michael Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion as well. There had been talk that Cleveland would ship out ace Kluber in the off-season but it didn’t happen. They brought in Carlos Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. Had this been 2009, these would be great pickups. With that said, the Tribe knows how to get the best of veterans on the downswing. But Cleveland from an October standpoint are somewhat lagging behind the AL’s big boys in depth. Should the Indians win the AL Central? Yes. But it doesn’t feel like the same team we’ve seen in 2016-2018. MY PREDICTION: 88-74

IF Berrios is a little more consistent he can be the Twins ace without question.

(2) MINNESOTA TWINS

Last year: 78-84

KEY ADDITIONS: DH-Nelson Cruz (FA-Seattle), 1B-CJ Cron (Waivers-Tampa Bay), 2B-Jonathan Schoop (FA-Milwaukee), 3B-Marwin Gonzalez (FA-Houston), P-Blake Parker (FA-Los Angeles Angels), P-Ryne Harper (FA-Seattle), P-Martin Perez (FA-Texas)

KEY LOSSES: C-Chris Gimenez (Retired), 1B-Joe Mauer (Retired), 1B-Logan Morrison (FA), 2B-Logan Forsythe (FA-Texas), P-Robbie Grossman (FA-Oakland), P-Ervin Santana (FA-Chicago White Sox), P-Matt Belisle (FA)

The Twins a few years ago hoped that another run that was similar to the Mauer/Morneau/Cuddyer/Santana days would have happened by now with the likes of Miguel Sano/Byron Buxton/Eddie Rosario/Jose Berrios. It hasn’t happened. After a run in 2015 and one in 2017, the Twins have failed to garner that run as Sano has been all-or-nothing after his torrid start and Byron Buxton hasn’t found his groove yet. And Berrios has shown flashes, but nothing consistent as of yet. It is probably why Minnesota invested heavy into veterans such as slugger Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, and making a cople of good under-the-radar moves in CJ Cron (how’d the Rays let this guy go?) and Marwin Gonzalez. Of course, what may decide how well they do is their starting pitching. Berrios showed great signs of taking that next step and Kyle Gibson was reliable, but Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda will have to make those next steps to really put Minnesota in the mix of a Wild Card, perhaps a division title spot. They have the talent all around but can they put it all together and make that needed run? MY PREDICTION: 83-79

Eloy Jimenez is one of two young stars that will be must-see TV for MLB

(3) CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Last year: 62-100

KEY ADDITIONS: OF-Jon Jay (FA-Arizona), 1B-Yonder Alonso (Trade-Cleveland), C-James McCann (FA-Detroit), P-Ivan Nova (Trade-Pittsburgh), P-Alex Colome (Trade-Seattle), P-Kelvin Herrera (FA-Washington), P-Manny Banuelos (Trade-Los Angeles Dodgers)

KEY LOSSES: C-Omar Navarez (Trade-Seattle), IF-Matt Davidson (FA-Texas), OF-Avisail Garcia (FA-Tampa Bay), P-Jeanmar Gomez (FA-Texas), P-Hector Santiago (FA-New York Mets), P-James Shields (FA), P-Miguel Gonzalez (FA)

It’s hard to think what the White Sox had was a disappointment in the off-season after striking out on the big-name free agents of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper. But the good news is that the White Sox rebuild seems to be winding down and the South Side will get back into the swing of things in 2019. Of course, there will be some hiccups, but many hope to see the farm system really shoot up, notably with Eloy Jimenez who I am very high on. Add him with Jose Abreu and you have a nice punch there. If Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada can figure things out, keep an eye on this team at the All-Star Break. They may make a move to improve their rotation which is pretty anemic (surprised they didn’t go after Dallas Keuchel more), but it is also what may keep the White Sox from getting over that hump form being a threat for an October spot. But they will make strides this year and 2020, watch out! MY PREDICTION: 74-88

Merrifield was a nice surprise for the Royals in 2018

(4) KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Last year: 58-104

KEY ADDITIONS: DH-Lucas Duda (FA), C-Martin Maldonado (FA-Houston), OF-Billy Hamilton (FA-Cincinnati), OF-Chris Owings (FA-Arizona), OF-Terrance Gore (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Homer Bailey (FA), P-Brad Boxberger (FA-Arizona), P-Jake Diekman (FA-Arizona), P-Chris Ellis (Rule 5-Texas),

KEY LOSSES: P-Jason Hammel (FA-Texas), IF-Alcides Escobar (FA)

IF you want to know the payment charge of winning a world championship, look at what has gone on in Kansas City. The Royals are 4 years removed from being the true kings of baseball, and with the moves of trading prospects for Johnny Cueto and others, while unable to compete to keep their key contributors (Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas), dark ages reign supreme in Kansas City. This year, Salvador Perez is injured and likely out for the season as he was the last of the championship players. The Royals are in the early stages of the rebuild but if things go well, and make a good draft, keep an eye out for this group down the road. But again, for this year, not as much. The hopes of Lucas Duda, Chris Owings, and Billy Hamilton of getting the Royals into contention will not scare anybody. And Homer Bailey leading the way? Well, at least he is out of the Great American Smallpark. Just don’t expect a Cy Young run out of him. MY PREDICTION: 63-99

It will be a long year for Cabrera and the Tigers in the Motor City

(5) DETROIT TIGERS

Last year: 64-98

KEY ADDITIONS: IF-Josh Harrison (FA-Pittsburgh), SS-Jordy Mercer (FA-Pittsburgh), IF-Gordon Beckham (FA-Seattle), P-Tyson Ross (FA-St. Louis), P-Matt Moore (FA-Texas), P-Reed Garrett (Rule 5-Texas)

KEY LOSSES: C-James McCann (FA-Chicago White Sox), DH-Victor Martinez (Retired), SS-Jose Iglesias (FA-Cincinnati), P-Francisco Liriano (FA-Pittsburgh)

I’m going to quote the musician Mary Hopkin and say “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.” Double meaning for me. First off, any run the Tigers had from 2006-2014 was a nice run (2008 excluded) and those were some good teams that *could* have netted a world championship at some point, but never did. And the other meaning of the Detroit Tigers from 1995-2003 where they were just downright awful and you never thought Detroit would ever revert back to contention. Well, the latter has arrived in full swing since 2017. Now, there is slight hope as the once-depleted farm system has some arms to keep an eye on for the next few years (Alex Faedo, Matt Manning, Beau Burrows, Casey Mize), but as for 2019, uh, yikes. The Tigers are relying on Jordan Zimmermann, the injured and inconsistent Jordan Zimmermann. Supporting staff will include Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, and Matt Boyd (who did pitch pretty well at times), but this isn’t the rotation of Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal, Porcello, and Fister we are talking about…..or 1/5th of that. The bullpen has a good setup punch of Joe Jimenez for Shane Greene assuming the Tigers will have a lead in 2019. The offense, if they are to win will have to send Miguel Cabrera to the Fountain of Youth while making him become the Bionic Man as they look very thin outside of him and Nicholas Castellanos (who could be trade bait in July). Now if Jeimer Candelario makes strides after his first season in Detroit where he started fine but fell apart down the stretch, the Tigers will be somewhat formidable especially if their big off-season move of Josh Harrison has a good year and he has something to prove honestly so that part may help the Tigers out a bit and be somewhat competitive under Ron Gardenhire. But that rotation currently isn’t one to get hopes up for a Cinderella season. MY PREDICTION: 60-102

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Cursed Sports Cities in America: Twin Cities

Minnesota is known for its cold weather in what feels like from October through early May.  However, its sports teams have had a long cold streak and had numerous heart-breaking moments in most of their sports teams.  Coupled in with the fact they lost a team, had another be constantly talked about moving, and a third team nearly fold, fans in Minnesota really believe they are a snakebit city.  And you know what?  There may be onto something.

The last world championship won by the Twin Cities was in 1991 when the Twins done it.  Of course, some people poo-poo on that given that the Twins were playing in a loudhouse in the Metrodome and at times some accused Minnesota in pumping more sound, but I highly doubt it.  The problem is, 91 and 1987 are the only years Minnesota has tasted glory in the modern times.  The Vikings have enough heartbreak for the city alone all throughout their times.  The Timberwolves have been predominantly irrelevant in the NBA and the North Stars split for Dallas after 1993, but in 2000, the city landed the Wild, who have generated moderate success, but nothing in the way of Stanley Cups or really coming close.

Let’s look closer.

Vikings Eagles Football

MINNEAPOLIS: MINNESOTA TWINS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS, MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES, MINNESOTA WILD, MINNESOTA NORTH STARS (PREVIOUS)

RESUME: 2 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (TWINS, 1987, 1991), 4 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES (VIKINGS-1969, 1973, 1974, 1976), 1 STANLEY CUP APPEARANCE (NORTH STARS-1991); CHAMPIONSHIP DROUGHT OF 27 YEARS

Minnesota

MINNESOTA TWINS: The Twins are definitely the successful Minnesota franchise in this time period, though people knock the Twins two world championships because of holding homefield advantage in all of the series (though they were 13 back of their ALCS counterpart Detroit and 10 back of their World Series foe St. Louis) and underhand tactics notably by 1st baseman Kent Hrbek in 1991 and rumors of putting the fans on inside the dome for the visiting team while the home team had it off would have given them more of a homefield advantage.  However, unless you’re in those towns, you don’t remember any of that.  Just the end result.

After the Twins won in 1991, they remained competitive in 1992, but fell backwards starting in 1993, as the economics in baseball were changing.  Minnesota, due to revenue and attendance issues, wouldn’t be able to keep their players around for any long period of time and they would fall further and further in baseball’s cellar for really 8 years.  Keeping the likes of Scott Erickson and Chuck Knoblauch was not really an option.

However, the Twins pulled it around with a good farm system and things were looking more on the upswing starting in 2001.  However, as baseball was having financial problems (as was the nation) after the 2001 season there was talk of contraction.  It would have eliminated the Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins as the teams were not drawing well and losing a wide range of money.

However, Minnesota did not contract as the court forced the Twins to play out their lease at the Metrodome.  Carl Pohlad tried to relocate the Twins after as he pushed the city into a deal for a new ballpark.  He would get it later on by 2010.

The on-field product grew for Minnesota as the Twins won the AL Central four out of five seasons from 2002-2006 despite being a small-market team.  They had plenty of home grown products that really made a major impact such as Johan Santana, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau, and Joe Mauer.  However, Minnesota failed to win the ALDS three of those four seasons, two of which was to the big market Yankee teams.  Of course as Minnesota remained a small market, they would be unable to keep their stars around.  Hunter was the first to go.  Santana left right after. Minnesota kept the M & M boys of Mauer and Morneau after the Twins left the Metrodome in 2009 for new Target Field.  The Twins offense sputtered in the new park as the the dimensions didn’t favor the left-handed hitters as much.  Minnesota fell down fast after the 2010 season wouldn’t again be competitive until 2015 when the farm replenished.  Even now, the Twins struggle to remain a consistent contending franchise and the other thing of all the argument of Minnesota needing a new park to compete, well, that hasn’t really been the case.

CURSED MOVE: Releasing David Ortiz after the 2002 season.  Minnesota, still trying to pinch pennies and having Carl Pohlad say that the team can’t afford players and such, released Ortiz who was due for a raise of $2 million after the 2002 season.  Minnesota said they couldn’t afford him so the Twins let him walk.  We know the rest of the story with Ortiz who is pretty much Boston’s god for giving them 3 world championships in 04, 07, 13.  I honestly think they could have kept Ortiz and Pohlad was just using it as a ploy.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: I can’t think of one for the Twins in all honesty.  I have to look at the 2004 Twins team actually and their ALDS series agianst the Yankees.  They beat New York in the Bronx in Game 1 and lost in extras in Game 2 after Joe Nathan couldn’t close it out.  They lost in the Metrodome in Game 3, and blew a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning after Santana spotted them a 4 run lead.  I think the game-tying 3-run HR by Ruben Sierra sticks out and it just seemed like regardless of whatever the Twins did, it would always not be enough.  And it has shown.  Since that series, Minnesota is 0-7 in postseason play and their albatross is the New York Yankees.

CURSED RATING: 2/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED): If Minnesota was really cursed here, the Twins would have been gone after the 2001 season.  But the playoff failures especially to the Yankees stung.

Minnesota

MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Fran Tarkenton, Purple People Eaters, etc. dominating the NFC in the 70’s.  And 4 Super Bowl appearances.  And no Super Bowl wins.  So that’s the first black eye.  As the 70’s turned to the 80’s, the Vikings fell backwards until the late part of the decade.  When the 90’s arrived the Vikings returned to being a threat in the NFC Central and an offensive power with the likes of Anthony Carter, Cris Carter, Robert Smith, and Jake Reed with Warren Moon at QB.  Minnesota would make the playoffs in seven of eight seasons, but the first four years the Vikes went one and done including having two years of a homefield advantage.

In 1998 Minnesota struck gold by drafting wide receiver Randy Moss in the first round. To go along with Carter and Reed, the Vikings added another massive dimension to the offensive attack and terrorized defenses in the 1998 season.  They also added a gem in the rough with Randall Cunningham at quarterback and was considered an MVP candidate for the season.  The Vikings went 15-1 and were all but a lock for not just their first Super Bowl appearance since 1976, but their first ever Super Bowl championship as nobody really came close to beating them.  The Vikings went against Atlanta in the NFC Championship game that year and almost ran the Falcons out of the door early, but a turnover right before halftime changed the feel of a blowout.  And with a late 7-point lead for the Vikings, their reliable kicker Gary Anderson, who hadn’t missed a field goal in 2 years, missed a relatively easy field goal from 38 yards.  Atlanta drove down the field right after and the Falcons tied the game with 57 seconds left, thus sucking all the life out of the Minnesota fans.  After couple of possession switches, the Falcons drove down the field to kick the game-winning FG in overtime, ending Minnesota’s dream season.

The Vikings returned to the playoffs in 1999, but not having the same vibe as the year before.  Cunningham was hurt and the Vikings brought in Jeff George, who maintained success for the team, but after a 1st round win over Dallas, the Vikings ran through a buzzsaw in the Rams who had a stronger offense than Minnesota.  Minnesota lost 49-37 to the future Super Bowl champion Rams.

The Vikings put in Daunte Culpepper to run things at quarterback to give a strong, physical QB and relatively a mobile guy.  Culpepper had an MVP caliber season and the Vikings started 7-0.  However, Minnesota slipped up near the end, losing 4 of 5 and losing a chance of homefield throughout the playoffs.  But they rebounded in the playoffs, crushing New Orleans but they then get obliterated by the Giants in the NFC Championship game 41-0.  After the season, tragedy occurred as their All-Pro offensive lineman Korey Stringer died of heat stroke and left a huge void on the field and in the locker room.  Minnesota fell back badly in 2001 while Culpepper’s stock dipped.  Another year of struggles occurred in 2002 for the Vikings.

ear, but lost 7 of their final 10, including the last game of the season where they went to lowly 3-12 Arizona and blew a 17-6 lead with under 7 minutes left.  The game ended with a Nate Poole touchdown reception from Josh McCown (yes, THAT Josh McCown who is still ticking in the NFL).  Minnesota’s offense remained stout in 2004, but the defense was giving up a lot of points as they went 8-8 but won a playoff spot and a Wild Card game before losing to eventual NFC champion Eagles.  After the season, the Vikings traded Moss, who was becoming unhappy with things, to Oakland.

Culpepper’s days were done after the 2005 season as he was injured after the Vikings Week 7 loss to Carolina and were 2-5.  Brad Johnson took over and the Vikings turned things around and pushed the Vikes to a 9-7 record.  But the season was marred by a scandal on a boat where Vikings players flew in prostitutes to perform graphic acts on the players.  It pretty much ended Mike Tice’s tenure in Minnesota as it pretty much was on his watch.

The Vikings got new ownership with Zigi Wilf taking over in 2006.  They also traded Culpepper to Miami as he was unhappy with how things went in his final year with the Vikings as they were committed to Brad Johnson.  Minnesota started out hot (again), in 2006, but fell badly to go to 6-10.  However, one bright spot of the outcome was the Vikings drafted a running back from Oklahoma in Adrian Peterson.  The landscape for Minnesota changed with Peterson.  After one season at 8-8, the Vikings made the playoffs in 2008, despite the struggles at quarterback from Tarvaris Jackson who replaced an injured Gus Frerotte late in the season.  Minnesota lost in the Wild Card round to Philadelphia, at home.

In 2009, the Vikings made the biggest of splashes, getting Brett Favre, who un-retired for a second time.  Favre’s wish to play football and his desire to stick it to his former Packers drove Minnesota to the top of the NFL that year and had an excellent offense to go with a solid defense.  Minnesota went 12-4 thanks to Favre’s MVP-caliber play and got a first round bye.  They waxed Dallas in the Divisional round, but had to go to New Orleans.  The game was back-and-forth all the way (though Minnesota dominated all the stats, but committed 4 turnovers), but Minnesota ended up with the ball late in the 4th and were driving.  Favre, who was showing a limp from a questionable hit on a Saints player (see BountyGate), had a chance to give the ever-reliable Ryan Longwell to kick a field goal in his range.  But an inexplicable 12-men penalty knocked the Vikings back to the Saints 38, and then Favre rolled out to his right, and flung it across his body to the other side of the field, where it was easily picked off by Tracy Porter with 19 seconds left.  Many questioned Favre’s play as it was an ultimate no-no for any QB throwing it across his body like that AND Favre had a lot of field to work with that could have netted those yards lost and maybe some more despite the leg injury.  It was probably the closest chance at Minnesota to get back to the Super Bowl, moreso than the 1998 year.

2010 was an epic disaster for Minnesota, Favre’s injuries finally came up on him as well as the players were tired of “will he or won’t he” return before the season.  It also seemed like Favre wasn’t really into it like the 2009 season.  The Vikings went 6-10 and dead last in the division despite Minnesota bringing back Randy Moss.  However, the reunion was short as Moss ripped coach Brad Childress after 4 games into his return and Childress waived Moss right after.  And he was fired after Favre’s team and hated rival Green Bay thumped the Vikings in the Metrodome.  As for the Metrodome, late in the year, the roof tore off the place and the Vikings had to move their home game to Detroit to play the Giants and then they came back to play their home finale at the Golden Gophers stadium against Chicago.  Worse, their rival Packers won the Super Bowl that same season.

After an abysmal 2011 season where Peterson was injured early on, the Vikings recovered in 2012, winning a playoff spot on the final day of the year as Adrian Peterson came back and hit the 2,000 yard rushing milestone against Green Bay.  However, in the playoffs the Vikings lost to their rivals a week after in Green Bay.

However, it was a short-lived run as Minnesota in 2013 fell backwards with poor play and 2014 wasn’t much better as Peterson only played one game with suspension due to child abuse.  Minnesota came back in 2015 winning the North at 11-5 with new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to go with a strong defense and Peterson played all 16 games.  Their first round match-up was against Seattle at the Golden Gophers stadium, which was outdoors.  The temperature was -6 degrees and the wind chill made it -25.  By all accounts, Minnesota outplayed the Seahawks for the first three quarters on 3 field goals by Blair Walsh, but Seattle was able to put 10 points up in the 4th.  Minnesota drove the field late and with 26 seconds on Seattle’s 9, Walsh missed a chip shot by a wide margin giving the Vikings another playoff nightmare loss.

In the off-season Bridgewater was lost for the whole year as he tore pretty much everything in his knee.  The Vikings opted to trade their first round pick to Philadelphia before the season started to get Sam Bradford.  And again, as like other years, Minnesota started off red hot in 2016, going 5-0 to christen their new US Bank Stadium as Bradford held his own, completing 70% of his passes and having 20 TD’s to only 5 INT’s.  But it fell apart as the Vikings lost 8 of their final 11.

Minnesota rolled last year, going 13-3 with a physical defense and quality play from their quarterbacks, first Bradford, and then Case Keenum.  They netted a first round bye and faced an old playoff foe with the Saints.  The Vikings jumped on New Orleans early, but the 4th quarter they were starting to get gashed by Brees & Co.  After back-and-forth scores, the Saints took a 24-23 lead with over 40 seconds left.  Another heartbreak was avoided by a Keenum pass to Stefon Diggs for 61 yards to end it with no time left to avoid one more heartbreaking moment for Minnesota fans.  Many felt it was the turning point as despite going on the road to Philadelphia for the NFC Championship they would have the momentum and the Eagles were without their starting QB Carson Wentz.

And……………nope.  Philadelphia did anything and everything they wanted to on the Vikings en route to a 38-7 blowout, thus keeping Minnesota as quite possibly the most cursed franchise in the NFL.

CURSED MOVE:  I didn’t mention it with the late 80’s, but the Vikings traded 5 players to get Herschel Walker from Dallas, plus 3 draft picks, plus 5 conditional draft picks if Dallas kept the players in the deal, to which the Cowboys did.  Dallas in essence got Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Kevin Smith, and Darren Woodson.  All of them played huge roles on Dallas’s dominance in the 90’s.  Now, Dallas technically made other trades to move up to get them, but obviously they wouldn’t have gotten those guys had it not been for the Walker trade.  Walker at the time was one of the best running backs around, but he didn’t gain 1,000 yards in his time at Minnesota and while never a flop, never lived up to that hope he would be the guy to get the Vikings over the hump.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT:  I will lean towards the Gary Anderson field goal miss before I go with the Favre interception in the NFC Championship games.  Anderson was money all year.  The Vikings were money on offense all year.  They had solid guys on defense that year too.  I think I lean more towards this game was that the Vikings fans were already plotting their Super Bowl victory parade even before the NFC Championship, thinking they’d stomp the Falcons and then beat either the Jets or Broncos with ease.  And rumors of Vikings owner Red McCombs showing off the Super Bowl champion Vikings t-shirts were going around inside the Metrodome.  How true that was, I have no idea.  And according to Falcon fans who made the trek up there, when Anderson went out to kick and give the Vikings a 10-point lead late in that game, they were boasting that it was over and were already celebrating.  Then, “no good.”  The air inside was sucked out.  And the rest they say is history.

CURSED RATING: 5/5 (SUPER CURSED):  I can’t think of another team in the NFL that has come so close so many times and have it ruined in some manner like the Vikings have.

Minnesota.jpg

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (0 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS)

I REALLY should put the Lakers here, but they did win 5 championships while they were in Minneapolis and they last played in 1960, so were are talking nearly 60 years since the Lakers called Minneapolis home.

However, I guess the gut-punch is the Lakers have been the NBA’s constant over the years, winning championships and getting the greats like Wilt, Kareem, Magic, Worthy, Kobe, Shaq, etc.

And Minneapolis had to wait until 1989 until getting a new basketball team.  And the early seasons were of disaster.  The first seven seasons Minnesota had 50+ losses (5 of them 60+ losses).  Draft picks didn’t pan out as while the likes of Pooh Richardson and Felton Spencer were quality players, they weren’t cornerstones to build around.  And in the 1992 and 1993 drafts, they hoped that the picks of Christian Laettner and Isaiah “JR” Rider would work.  And, no.  Laettner hated his stint in Minnesota and Rider while talented, was troubled that really lingered all through his career.  Minnesota kept on losing with them.

But they got one right as the Timberwolves drafted Kevin Garnett in 1995.  Minnesota shipped Laettner to Atlanta in Garnett’s first season and Rider to Portland after the season.  They also drafted Ray Allen, but was flipped to Milwaukee for Stephon Marbury.  The team hoped the tandem of Garnett & Marbury would be a force for the Wolves for a long time and Tom Gugliotta, who was acquired in a trade, became their third star as Minnesota was a rising team despite being eliminated from the first round in its first two seasons

However, the rise had a speedbump.  Marbury wanted out of Minnesota in the lockout shortened season in 1999.  Reasons have been unclear as some pointed to family, others pointed to not being the star after the Wolves broke the bank for Garnett, others say he wanted what was best for business, and others said he was homesick and wasn’t fond of the Minneapolis area.  Could have been all of the above.  Minnesota got Terrell Brandon, but wasn’t as dynamic as was Marbury.  Minnesota once again made the playoffs but were eliminated.  Eliminations of the first round were a trend in 2000, 01, 02, and 03 despite having 50 wins in 3 of the 4 years, and the Wolves also tragically lost key contributor Malik Sealy who died after the 2000 season.  It stung the team badly and really didn’t advance the franchise in this time.

Sensing they needed to get better, Minnesota traded for Sam Cassell, who had won two world championships with Houston and the controversial Latrell Sprewell.  The move paid dividends and the Wolves had the best record in the Western Conference in 2004.  They made it to the Western Conference Finals where they were bounced by Shaq & Kobe and the Lakers in 6 games.  Many thought the year would be a learning experience.

And nope.  The next year, Minnesota had to deal with unhappy campers such as Cassell and Sprewell, both of whom when unhappy, nobody was happy.  Flip Saunders, who had oversaw the Timberwolves rise, was dismissed and the Wolves failed to make the playoffs.  It would be the start of a 13-year playoff drought and never finished over .500.  Garnett, unhappy with losing, asked for a trade and got it to the Celtics for 5 players including Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, and Theo Ratliff while getting their original first round pick back when the Wolves traded Wally Szczerbiak for Ricky Davis.  Garnett got his ring in Boston when coupled with Wolves draft day pick of Ray Allen a year after the trade and Minnesota finished 22-60.

Despite having players who played well, notably Kevin Love, the Wolves were never able to win a lot.  Ricky Rubio, a top European player, was drafted by the Wolves, but sat out a year because he was unable to get out of his contract with Spain.  So the Wolves had to wait 2 more years to see their pick join them, so it may have also set back the Wolves.

The Wolves traded Kevin Love after the 2014 season to Cleveland and in return, they got Andrew Wigigns.  Minnesota put out their first contending team this past season thanks to a trade to get Chicago star Jimmy Butler to go along with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.  They won 47 games, the highest since their run in 2004, but were bounced in the first round to top seed Houston.  Hopes are high Minnesota’s trend keeps moving upwards.

CURSED MOVE:  Trading Allen for Marbury on draft night in 1996.  While not a complete disaster, Minnesota would have probably benefited from Allen more as Marbury was just an unhappy camper and gone after 3 years.  Had he stayed I think the Wolves would have been a fierce team in the West for years to come.  Allen became one of the best shooters in NBA history while Marbury did achieve success with the Nets and then the Suns, but it just seemed like his wish to be away from Garnett stung him as well.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: There really isn’t one that goes “yep, Minnesota was doomed.”  Maybe it was the Marbury trade.

CURSED RATING: 2/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED):  Minnesota hasn’t been put in too many spots unlike their football brothers to have gut-punch after gut-punch.  Maybe the curse is when the Lakers left.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars

MINNESOTA WILD (0 STANLEY CUPS) & MINNESOTA NORTH STARS (0 STANLEY CUPS, 2 STANLEY CUP APPEARANCES)

I’ll start with the original team in Minnesota, the North Stars.  One of the first expansion groups, the North Stars were about as what you expected as an expansion squad.  Rough years early on, but had a few years where they did well.  Of course, the NHL wasn’t what it is today so really the only way you COULDN’T make a playoff spot then was be the worst team in the NHL, which they had that going for them in the mid-to-late-70’s (missed playoffs in 5 of 6 seasons).  However in the early 80’s the North Stars were VERY good, getting to the conference finals in 1980 and then a Stanley Cup appearance in 1981 with the likes of Neal Broten and Dino Ciccarelli leading the way before bowing out to the Islanders Dynasty.   The North Stars were competitive all through the mid-80’s but nothing like 81 and by the late 80’s the bottom fell out once more.  However, they landed a Hall of Famer in the 1988 draft in Mike Modano.  While they did see the playoffs in the the years following, Minnesota ended up being an under .500 squad that got in because the top 4 from each division would go and the Norris Division was relatively bad enough outside of Chicago and St. Louis (Detroit hadn’t hit Hockeytown stage yet) and the Maple Leafs were brutal.

But they went to another Cup Final in 1991 as a major Cinderella, taking down the heavily favored Blackhawks and Blues and then the defending champion Oilers before bowing to Pittsburgh where the North Stars took a 2-1 lead, but would ultimately give up 19 goals in the last 3 games for the Penguins first Stanley Cup with Lemieux and Jagr.  In 1992 Minnesota tried to do the same thing again, taking a 3-1 series lead on Detroit in the opening round, but Detroit came back, including a 1-0 win as Sergei Fedorov roofed one so fast they had to go back to replay to see if he did and it was confirmed as it was the first use of video replay in the playoffs.

Norm Green became the majority owner of the North Stars in the early 90’s and citing poor play, poor attendance among other things, moved the team to Dallas as he tried to get the North Stars out to Anaheim, but the Ducks became an expansion squad so he moved the North Stars to Dallas, where overall they have enjoyed plenty of success in Big D including a Stanley Cup in 1999.

The NHL granted Minnesota a second go at it with the Wild, who opened play in 2000-2001.  Like other expansion teams, Minnesota started off slow, but had pieces in place, notably Manny Fernandez at goalie and Marian Gaborik to get the team going.  By the third year, the Wild made it to the Western Conference Finals before being swept by the Ducks who had a Cinderella run in their own right.  However, it has been a struggle since as the Wild would not make it to the postseason 6 of the next 8 years after that and have been mostly first-round casualties since.  Minnesota has not made it to the Western Conference Finals despite having one the most talented rosters the last few years (and what feels like a constant run-in with Chicago in the playoffs).  So the Wild just haven’t gotten over that hump in the playoffs and it may be a time where they got to capitalize on that “window.”

CURSED MOVE:  Not as shrewd with my Wild history or Stars history, but I think when the North Stars left for Dallas made it cursed as Dallas has gotten a lot of success since moving including that Stanley Cup.

DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: This also sounds odd but I go back to the Fedorov goal in OT when the North Stars were still around.  Everything was going for them.  It makes me wonder had Minnesota won that game if they would have stayed.

CURSED RATING: 3/5 (CURSED).  The Wild haven’t had that gut-punch to the point as it really has come from the old North Stars squads.  But the gut-punch to me has been the Stars and what they’ve done in Dallas.

Minneapolis has had its share of struggles with their teams.  However, the heartbreaks really reside with the Vikings as they’ve come close so many times only to have something unexpected happen.  The Wolves haven’t been overly competitive in their years in the NBA while the Twins are considered small-market and have an inability to keep their players for any long period of time which hurts a major run (though from 02-10 was a nice stretch) but their October woes have been documented in that time.  And the Wild haven’t garnered a lot of playoff success to this point.  It’s pretty cursed as a whole.  The Vikings alone would be the one taking that on the chin mostly.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Did Chance Sisco REALLY Violate an Unwritten Rule of Baseball?

The first few games of the MLB season has been interesting to say at the very least.  We’ve seen some great moments already.  We’ve seen some great performances by pitchers, hitters, etc.  And of course, we’ve seen some controversies.

Look no further than Sunday with the Twins and Orioles with it.

The Twins were throttling Baltimore 7-0 thanks to Minnesota lighting up Kevin Gausman (who hasn’t?) and then Jose Berrios just mowing the O’s down allowing 1 hit over 8 innings.  Then rookie Chance Sisco came up with Minnesota in the shift, leaving the whole left side of the infield open, and bunted.  Sisco got on, and the Orioles nearly staged a rally off of it, but unable to do so leaving the bases loaded in the 9th.

Of course, the Twins, despite the W, cried foul on Sisco’s move, notably coming from 2nd baseman Brian Dozier:

“When they didn’t hold our runner on, they conceded to the fact they didn’t want us to steal, so we didn’t steal,” Dozier said. “We could have very easily stolen and put up more runs, so therefore in return you don’t bunt. That’s what everybody is missing in this whole thing.”

Dozier continued.

“We all have our opinions on the shift and whether it’s then OK to do that,” he said. “My personal opinion is I think this is a perfect scenario: They weren’t holding us on, so therefore don’t bunt. That’s where it starts. Other than that, you try to find a way to help your team win.”

Dozier even called out the Orioles players in a manner where he “tried” to show respect for them at the same time.

“I could’ve said something, but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there, with Chris Davis, Adam Jones and those guys,” Dozier told reporters. “I’m sure they’ll address it and move forward.”

Jose Berrios, the pitcher, chimed in.

 “I don’t care if he’s bunting. I just know it’s not good for baseball in that situation. That’s it.”

Baltimore’s players aside from Sisco, defended Sisco’s bunt.

“The problem is the unwritten rules are written differently by 30 different teams and applied differently by 30 different teams,” Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph said. “When they’re not jointly seen eye-to-eye, you’re going to have issues. One of my unwritten rules would be, don’t shift a guy in the ninth inning.”

Chris Davis, one of the leaders Dozier talked about said this:

“For whatever reason, it’s been OK and really accepted these last few years to win the game without hurting the other team’s feelings. If it’s acceptable to shift with a seven-run lead in the ninth inning, it’s acceptable to bunt. There are certain things I don’t agree with when you talk about the unwritten rules, but I definitely think that what Chance did was warranted.”

Buck Showalter chimed in too (of course)

“I just wonder where some of the bunting thing is going to end. Are you like not allowed to throw changeups when you are up 6-0? Like where does it stop?”

Sorry for all the excerpts, but I wanted to just get a vibe on both sides.

I lean towards what Caleb Joseph said.  If you’re shifting and you think the game is over, then maybe you SHOULDN’T shift.  And also, different people have different takes of what the “unwritten rules” of baseball should be.  And to me, Minnesota’s argument, notably Dozier’s and Berrios’s statements show they are invalid.  If you’re playing a shift and a hitter sees a spot to his advantage, that is on YOU.  I heard Dozier saying that well, we could have stolen a base late in the game.  Okay.  If you really thought that the game wasn’t over, then go for it.

But here’s something a friend of mine pointed out (though I am using a different example): let’s say if the Baltimore Ravens are going up against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL and you opted to triple-team Antonio Brown so he couldn’t catch the ball and Ben Roethlisberger decided to throw to a wide open JuJu Smith-Schuster for a touchdown, should I hear John Harbaugh scream foul at Roethlisberger for not throwing it to Brown?

Or in the NBA if the Boston Celtics opt to triple-team LeBron James most of the game and he keeps feeding it to an open Kevin Love who in turn scores 40 and beats the Celtics, should Boston cry about how James wasn’t taking any shots?

It is childish.

This also reminds me of 4 years ago when the Rangers and Blue Jays played and Toronto’s Colby Rasmus bunted against the shift during the middle innings off of the Rangers Colby Lewis.  The situation was different in the sense of Toronto was up 2-0 and then Lewis screamed at Rasmus for his actions while afterwards commenting saying it wasn’t “right.”  And Lewis looked silly in front of everybody for his comments.

To me, if you put the shift on, you are creating “an unwritten rule” that if you leave a spot open for a hitter to hit it, he can take it if he wants.  He doesn’t have to hit where you want to hit him.  That is not how the game is played.  And to quote Herman Edwards: “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!”

“But but but….we were up 7-0 in the 9th!” Dozier or any Twins player might say.  To that I say, “I’ve seen teams come back from 7 runs in the 9th inning before.”  Heck, I still remember 2001 when the Mariners were up 14-2 over the Indians and lost.  So before Dozier, or anybody tells us that Sisco or Colby Rasmus before him violated “unwritten rules,” he may need to 1. Brush up on history.  And 2. Know that his team may have violated an “unwritten rule” of shifting on a guy in the 9th inning with a 7-run lead.

To me, Chance Sisco violated NO unwritten rule with what he did.  And Minnesota needs to understand that.  He did what the Twins actually gave him to do: hit it where they ain’t.  The people that need to learn the lesson here isn’t Chance Sisco, but Jose Berrios, Brian Dozier, and any other Twins player that took exception to “the unwritten rule.”

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed Preview of the AL Central-2018

The American League Central on paper seems to go back to a vintage time when the Cleveland Indians ran the show.  The Tribe has fielded a far more balanced team than the ones in the 90’s that were dominated by Lofton, Belle, Manny, and Thome, but they are just as deadly thanks to a top-notch rotation.  Which means the rest of the division is well, fighting over who will come in second.

Or will it?

The Twins made some moves of going more in with key pickups and may surprise as a Wild Card contender and perhaps an outside shot at upending Cleveland for the division.  It’s not overly probable, but it is possible.

As for the rest of the division, it is in practical rebuild modes.  The White Sox seem to have all the pieces in play in the farm system to really make some noise maybe in the 2nd half of this season but really 2019 may be the year for Chicago.  The Royals and Tigers are really fighting it out to see which one can avoid last place as both are in early rebuilds.  So it is definitely not going to be an interesting division from top to bottom, nor the most competitive one for sure (perhaps the worst in baseball right now?), but there could be some surprises especially if Minnesota and Chicago can make some noise.

Previews are in order of where I project them to be.

1ST PLACE: CLEVELAND INDIANS:

Cleveland

2017: 102-60, 1st place (lost to New York Yankees in ALDS)

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: 1B-Yonder Alonso (FA-Seattle), OF-Rajai Davis (FA-Boston), P-Matt Belisle (FA-Minnesota), 1B-Mike Napoli (FA-Texas); SUBTRACTS: 1B-Carlos Santana (FA-Philadelphia), OF-Jay Bruce (FA-New York Mets), OF-Austin Jackson (FA-San Francisco), P-Craig Breslow (FA-Toronto), P-Boone Logan (FA-Milwaukee), P-Bryan Shaw (FA-Colorado), P-Joe Smith (FA-Houston)

Outlook:  The Indians possess a stellar lineup and one of the top rotations in all of baseball.  Corey Kluber is a true ace and when healthy, the likes of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are also great front-end guys.  The lineup with Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Edwin Encarnacion is very potent, while the Tribe added Yonder Alonso to replace Carlos Santana.  IF there is a question, it will have to be the outfield again with the group of the oft-injured Michael Brantley, Rajai Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer, and Rajai Davis.  The good news is, the Indians are in a division where they can get to the deadline near the top or at the top and make a key trade to get another hitter like they did with Jay Bruce last year.  That is if the Indians are struggling for a power bat in the outfield.  But everything else is clicking, especially in the bullpen.  But again, while the roster is definitely good enough to win the AL Central, will there be enough offense in the outfield to get past the Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros?

MY PROJECTION: 100-62.  Indians will be just fine and should get a lot of W’s within the division, but they still need to get an outfield bat at some point.

 

2ND PLACE: MINNESOTA TWINS

Buxton.jpg

2017: 85-77, 2nd place (lost to New York Yankees in Wild Card Game)

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: 1B/DH-Logan Morrison (FA-Tampa Bay), OF-Ryan LaMarre (FA-Oakland), P-Lance Lynn (FA-St. Louis), P-Jake Odorizzi (Trade-Tampa Bay), P-Fernando Rodney (FA-Arizona) P-Addison Reed (FA-Boston), FA-Zach Duke (FA-St. Louis), P-Tyler Kinley (Rule 5-Miami); SUBTRACTS: P-Bartolo Colon (FA-Texas), P-Hector Santiago (FA-Chicago White Sox), P-Matt Belisle (FA-Cleveland), P-Dillon Gee (FA-overseas), P-Glen Perkins (Retired)

Outlook: After a rebound year from the disastrous 2016 season, the Twins sneaked into the Wild Card game.  With a good farm system and a youth push in Minnesota, the time to win is now for the Twins.  And they made key moves that you probably have to consider as bargains around with getting home run leader Logan Morrison from Tampa Bay and then Cardinals front-end starter Lance Lynn while trading for the Rays front-end guy in Jake Odorizzi.  The Twins starting lineup is pretty potent from top to bottom with the likes of Morrison, Brian Dozier, Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, etc.  The rotation needed the key upgrades and they got them.  Lynn and Odorizzi will help a rotation that will see Ervin Santana miss the first month of the season, but if Jose Berrios continues his upward trend as does Kyle Gibson, Minnesota will be barking on the Indians door.  The only question will be despite the moves in the bullpen is can the Twins win with Fernando Rodney as their closer?  He keeps getting jobs and the saves are up anywhere he goes, but he is very ugly in doing so.  But the adds of Addison Reed (in case Rodney fails would be the closer) and Zach Duke really helps out the Twins for the season.

MY PROJECTION:  92-70.  Minnesota could be a team nobody in the AL wants to see, especially in October.

 

3RD PLACE: CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Chicago.jpg

2017:  67-95, 4th place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: C-Wellington Castillo (FA-Baltimore), P-Miguel Gonzalez (FA-Texas), P-Joakim Soria (Trade-Kansas City), P-Luis Avilan (P-Los Angeles Dodgers), P-Hector Santiago (FA-Minnesota); SUBTRACTS:  C-Geovany Soto (FA), P-Mike Pelfrey (Retired)

Outlook: Right now in Chicago it is more of the waiting game for the prospects the White Sox gained over the trades they made for the likes of Todd Frazier, Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, and Adam Eaton.  The White Sox will be primed more for the next season than this as the prospects get that experience.  But if they have to they can add more prospects as rumors abound that Avisail Garcia may be a trading chip as may be the White Sox acquisition of Wellington Castillo by the deadline if they are out of it.  But they will be a fun team, especially after the deadline and the roster expansion to see some of these top prospects get their feet wet in Chicago.  But right now, it is really about patience if you’re a fan of the Pale Hose.

MY PROJECTION: 73-89.  ChiSox will be a team to spoil somebody’s season in the last months with their young group.

 

4TH PLACE: DETROIT TIGERS

Detroit

2017: 64-98, 5th place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Leonys Martin (FA-Chicago Cubs), OF-Niko Goodrum (FA-Minnesota), OF-Victor Reyes (Rule 5-Arizona), P-Francisco Liriano (FA-Houston), P-Mike Fiers (FA-Houston), P-Johnny Barbato (Waivers-Pittsburgh), SUBTRACTS: 2B-Ian Kinsler (Trade-Los Angeles Angels), P-Anibal Sanchez (FA-Atlanta), P-Bruce Rondon (non-tendered)

Outlook: Oiy.  Despite the moves last year of freeing up payroll of the heavy contracts of Justin Verlander and Justin Upton (and then this off-season with Ian Kinsler) and also improving the farm system, the Tigers still remain a gigantic mess.  I still believe GM Al Avila squandered the JD Martinez trade which he practically netted 3 light-hitting third basemen who only one has a legit shot at having any impact on an MLB roster and many other Tiger fans believe he squandered the moves of Verlander (Houston) and Justin Wilson (Cubs).  But there is talk of moving the ace of the Tigers, Michael Fulmer, to get MORE high ranked prospects and such.  But I guess it really doesn’t matter where I put Detroit and Kansas City as it can be interchanged at this point.  I guess my bias thinks that the likes of Miguel Cabrera won’t be as bad as 2017 where he hit only .245 and Ron Gardenhire will be better than Brad Ausmus as manager.  So there is some talent still on Detroit that can keep them from completely sinking (Castellanos, who also can be a huge trade chip), but still.  The rebuild is still in its early stages, and I don’t think Avila is the man to right the ship in Detroit.

MY PROJECTION: 67-95.  Detroit could logically move Castellanos (though it may be a bad year to do so given if the Jays and Orioles are out of it, Donaldson and Machado may be also on the block) and perhaps James McCann with perhaps Shane Greene.

 

5th PLACE: KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Duffy

2017: 80-82, 3rd place

OFF-SEASON: ADDS: OF-Jon Jay (FA-Chicago Cubs), 1B-Lucas Duda (FA-Tampa Bay), C-Ryan Goins (FA-Toronto), P-Wily Peralta (FA-Milwaukee), P-Justin Grimm (FA-Chicago Cubs), P-Blaine Boyer (FA-Boston), P-Burch Smith (Trade-New York Mets), P-Brad Keller (Trade Cincinnati), P-Jesse Hahn (Trade-Oakland); SUBTRACTS: 1B-Eric Hosmer (FA-San Diego), OF-Lorenzo Cain (FA-Milwaukee), P-Trevor Cahill (FA-Oakland), P-Jason Vargas (FA-New York Mets), P-Mike Minor (FA-Texas), P-Peter Moylan (P-Atlanta)

Outlook:  It could have been worse for the Royals this off-season had Mike Moustakas and Alicedes Escobar had also left Kansas City, but the damage was plenty done, seeing World Series heroes of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain move on.  And then Kansas City’s best pitcher in 2017, Jason Vargas, is gone.  So you have a quality starter in Danny Duffy, but after him, there are questions abound, especially on that back end.  Worse, the bullpen of the Royals who looked to be as one of the best in their October runs, may be one of the worst in the Majors now outside Kelvim Herrera.  So, much like the Tigers, Kansas City will have to start replenish their farm as the moves they made in their October runs in 2014 and 2015 took a hit.  The question will be can they get a lot in return for a guy like Duffy, if the Royals were to offer him, as well as Herrera.  So there are plenty of questions if the Royals can do it through trades, especially if 3B is going to be a high-supply and low demand for teams come July.

MY PROJECTION: 66-96.  The Royals will have a run similar to Detroit in struggling for the next few years.  The farm system has to be improved.

One more week and one more division to cover!

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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