Author Archive

A Change in the Wind: Wichita Faces Blowback Over Wind Surge

Wichita’s windy season is said to last from early February to late May, when the gusts change from frigid blasts to hot breaths. The windiest day of the year is historically April 4; a day when hairdos and stacks of loose papers must stand strong against gales blustering at an average of 13 mph.

Occasionally, there will be a spike in velocity that knocks out the power or rolls back a tin roof or tries to tear the awning off of the Valero gas station on Caulfield and Kemp. A fire inspector once cast a wary eye on the 1916 Wichita Fair and Exposition, concerned, per the The Wichita Daily Eagle on October 22, that the flammable structures of the event created a great risk of conflagration due to the “high, dry winds we have in the fall,” his fears rooted in both science and the fact that this very thing had happened the previous year.

So in Wichita, they are aware of the wind. They know that it blows, that it carries the cold and the heat of the plains, and that it occasionally bends a gas station in half. They do not all understand why it is the name of the town’s new Triple-A franchise, the Wichita Wind Surge, an affiliate of the Miami Marlins.

“I guess it’s windy here,” says Wichita resident Eric Pierce, “but… wind’s kind of everywhere.” Read the rest of this entry »

Justin Upton Has an Interesting Season Ahead of Him

Kole Calhoun stood at his locker near the close of the 2019 season and talked about appreciating every moment of his eight seasons in Anaheim, knowing that any day could have been his last day. A few months later, the Angels declined his $14 million contract option. He departs Los Angeles having played a little bit of left and a smidgen of center, but mostly the Angels kept Kalhoun sequestered to right field, where in 2019 he hacked fiendishly amid frequent swing adjustments. His final season with the Angels produced inconsistency in his monthly outputs, as well as a new career high in strikeout rate (25.6 percent) and a modest 108 wRC+.

Calhoun is a member of the Fraternity of Less Effective Outfielders the Angels Have Put Next to Mike Trout. There have been many others over the years, placed out there in the corners beside the reigning AL MVP: Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Josh Hamilton, Ben Revere. And in 2019, Trout’s partners in the grass were Kole Calhoun and Justin Upton. Calhoun is gone, but Upton, another veteran who is not as good as Mike Trout, will remain. He doesn’t need to be as good as Trout to be of use, something that has to be true for him, since it’s true for every other player in the league. The question is, can Upton still be good, despite the obstacles ahead of him, and the comparisons to the outfielders around him?

Upton, at 32 years old, is a once fearsome slugger from the National League whose turf toe, wonky knee, and brief, passionate encounter with an outfield wall left him hurt and unproductive for most of 2019. Upton will be baseball’s active leader in errors among outfielders in 2020, and he may be entering the part of his career in which expectations are lowered, especially given how he got beat up so much and only made it into 63 games last season — the first time he’s played in fewer than 100 since 2008.

His durability has been one of his strengths; that, and his ability to do this. At 30 years old, he was worth 3.8 WAR for the Angels before baseball sent him into a wall this past season, so it’s not foolhardy to think Upton could be one of the Angels’ “new” contributors moving forward, or at least play a key role, even though he ended 2019 with a shot in the knee and a pair of crutches. Read the rest of this entry »

Is No One Else Going to Write About Martín Prado?

Not a lot of people know this, but every baseball diamond is carefully balanced on a fulcrum and tilts in the direction of chaos. A ball is misplayed, a runner trips over a base, a swarm of wasps is unleashed from within a rolled-up tarp. A cat or squirrel runs onto the field in a precocious moment of levity that only later do we realize is the start of an ancient curse (this happens quite often in baseball). Whatever occurs in the game slants the playing field in a new direction, which is why baseball, a very normal, very boring activity, is always quietly teetering on the verge of going quite wild.

Your toughest opponent isn’t an eerily calm Mike Trout or a possibly rabid Max Scherzer; it’s the sheer volume of variables that can scatter even the most strategic and well-laid plans. You can stare at a spreadsheet until your brain melts before yelling “Aha!” with an index finger in the air, believing you’ve uncovered the formula to prevent strained hamstrings, but there’s no accounting for the back-up catcher tapping into some as-yet untapped power, or one of the teams recreating the musical “Stomp” only for it to be revealed that this is actually a highly technical form of cheating.

To possess the agility to evade poor luck and the skill to barrel through outside factors to achieve a moment of perfect balance in this silly game is the rarest of accomplishments. But on September 13, 2007, Martín Prado would do so.

I don’t know enough about how science works to say whether what happened during his at-bat was in line with or against physics. But what we do know is that what happened never happened again, and after a casual amount of research, we can say that it probably never happened before, either. And in baseball, that alone makes it an exceptional anomaly. This is a sport that loves to repeat itself, and having existed for so long, everything we see appears to be a repetition to the last time it happened.

Not this one. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Davis and the Brutal Life of a Late-Career Slugger

The Orioles will not be hosting a FanFest this year; the team has indicated it will be “looking into other ways of connecting with fans,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

Perhaps there’s just isn’t really much to say right now. Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Buck Showalter, and all the team’s other recognizable names have been shipped out or moved on. But Chris Davis remains, and he found a big way to connect with Baltimore this offseason, as he and his wife, Jill, recently donated $3 million to the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. While talking to reporters, Davis said that the Orioles’ reshaping their franchise in the front office and the dugout had already made him feel more “hopeful.” Where in previous winters, he’d set about his workouts with motivation but no direction, there now seems to be a plan, devised by him and manager Brandon Hyde to keep him moving toward a goal.

And yet, it seems like we’re looking at a winter of hard truths for the Orioles slugger. Davis will turn 34 years old in the middle of spring training. He’s on a well-known and oft-despised seven-year deal worth $161 million that is scheduled to end in 2022. Even better-known are his struggles, which have seen him drop from an All-Star and Silver Slugger in 2013 to asking for the game ball after breaking an 0-for-54 hitless streak this past April.

At this stage in his development, he’s developed. The swing either works or it doesn’t. Once a hitter gets some experience and establishes his mechanics, his later years are the work of mental tweaks rather than physical ones. Sure, older players can make adjustments, but Davis is apparently not going to do that: Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Ejected From the World Series Has Always Taken a Lot of Screaming

Nationals manager Dave Martinez was ejected from Game 6 of the World Series last night. According to Jayson Stark, his simmering rage was set aflame by third-base umpire Gary Cederstrom telling him to “control your dugout,” which had come alive with criticism of the events of the evening, chiefly the squabble that erupted in regards to Trea Turner being called out at first for interference in the seventh inning.

Normally, a manager getting ejected isn’t incredible news, but everything with “World Series” in front of it becomes more distinct and historic, including the screaming.

To learn how Martinez’s ejection measures up with his equally ejected World Series predecessors, we can find plenty of singular instances dotting history. The first occurred in 1907, when Tigers manager Hughie Jennings was “shooed” away by the umpire for “back talk” regarding a play at second base, according to the St. Louis Dispatch. This characterized the majority of the disputes that ended in aggressive thumb-movements by the umpires over the next two decades in the Fall Classic, except in the case of “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was ejected from a World Series game in 1909 for talking to his third base coach for too long. But to be a part of the golden age of World Series ejections, there’s no question that we have to go back to the 1930s. Read the rest of this entry »

Joe Girardi Gets a Fresh Start in a Shifting NL East

The NL East: A division that, if it had ever been noble, would be referred to here as “once noble” now.

That’s a bit unfair; there was some nobility to Atlanta wailing on this Senior Circuit subset for a decade and a half. But these days, it’s been a harbor for a few disappointing Nationals squads (this year’s a notable exception), a weird Mets run, and some airtight regular season Braves teams. Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, Pete Alonso; some of the game’s most prolific young hitters are bedeviling pitching in the East, and now the division’s newest manager, Joe Girardi, will be strategizing against them.

Announced as the Phillies’ 55th manager last Thursday, Girardi takes over for his beaten-down and very tan predecessor, Gabe Kapler, inheriting team the closest it has been to a winner since 2011 but also one that has continuously found ways to not win. As stories have squeaked out about the team’s 2019 season, it has become apparent that a little structure and a little experience might go a long way in straightening things out in South Philly. There’s star power in Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, as well as promise in Scott Kingery and Adam Haseley, and Aaron Nola can still be expected to anchor the rotation. And though there are plenty of spots to fill in the months ahead, the Phillies nabbed one of the most popular names on the managerial market, one who is already impacting the division just by accepting the job.

The ebb and flow of managerial hires across baseball is always apparent, if not obvious. There are trends. There are trials. Sometimes everybody’s starting over at once. Sometimes, Bobby Valentine sounds like a great idea. Right now, everybody wants one of those early-40s ex-players ready to be dazzled by a spreadsheet. The Phillies just tried one of those in 2017. Now they’re ready to try something else. Read the rest of this entry »

A Pair of World Series Homers Puts the Nationals on the Right Track

In 1911, the city of Houston finished construction on a $5 million train station that overshot its original budget by $4 million. The city had been so jacked up to build this thing that they had swatted the home of a former Houston mayor and a prominent synagogue out of the way to get it up.

When people had grown bored and disgusted by trains in the mid-70s, Union Station was abandoned for a shiny new Amtrak facility. But instead of knocking it down or blowing it up, as the city had done with the buildings that had been in Union Station’s way initially, it was granted immortality by the National Park Service on the National Register of Historic Places.

When the Astros started muttering about getting a new stadium in 1995, and were actually threatening to leave Houston and become the new Washington franchise against which they are currently playing in the World Series, it was eventually determined that Union Station would make the perfect starting point for construction of their new facility.

Given the historic choo-choo depot that now serves as its main concourse, it makes sense that Minute Maid Park would incorporate a train into the ballpark’s home run celebrations. The train is piloted at 2.5 mph but still has an emergency brake, just in case of a horrifying accident occurring at a speed that many doctors consider an ideal pace for walking.

Juan Soto, who you may have heard is only 20 years old and already has three home runs in the postseason, went up to meet that train last night, bashing a home run to a part of Minute Maid Park where baseballs aren’t supposed to go. In the top of the fourth inning, he sent a Gerrit Cole fastball onto the unlit track of the silent Astros train, and the two inanimate objects became a pair of unwitting companions for the remainder of the game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Howie Kendrick Is the Kind of NLCS MVP You Want to See

This could be the story of a kid with an awkward swing getting cut from his junior college ball team and never playing again, but it isn’t.

This could be the story of a rookie who debuted with the Angels by starting a slick double play, but never learned to hit, got sent back to the minors, and lived out the rest of his baseball days eating peanut butter and jelly and not hearing the phone ring.

But it’s not that either.

This could be the story of a young player who got spread too thin as his team experimented with playing him all over in the infield. “Things happen everyday in baseball,” Howie Kendrick told the L.A. Times in 2006. “One day I might be an outfielder. I’m open to moving anywhere.” And he did. He’s played 190 games in the outfield, so far.

This could be the story of a talented hitter trapped behind a middle infield logjam at the top of the Angels’ farm system. Or buried in their lineup under 700 pounds of struggling sluggers named Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo.

Or a debatable starter who became the smiling face on the poster for “Batting Average Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story.” Or a veteran infielder relegated to the corners, sideswiped by strained hamstrings and a sore abdomen.

But it’s not any of things. Not entirely, anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Like a Team Possessed: It’s the Nationals’ Turn Now

In the first ever NLCS game at Nationals Park, it took Stephen Strasburg four minutes to get through the top of the first.

This was not news. This postseason, the Nationals’ pitching staff has functioned like a predator perfected by nature, having adapted to years of playoff experience as the prey, maybe sporting a few scars, maybe missing an eye, but understanding at this point that the only way to win is to tear the other team’s heart out before they even start reaching for yours.

The next inning, another crucial component of the Nationals was on display. Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty got buzzed by a Trea Turner comebacker that Kolten Wong managed to snare and, going the other way, successfully bounce-passed to Paul Goldschmidt at first. Adam Eaton punched a casual liner to left, where it hung up just enough for Marcell Ozuna to get a glove under it. It was one of the few times on the evening Ozuna looked like he knew how to use it.

Already down 2-0 in the series, it was apparent after only two batters that the Cardinals could only hope to throw themselves on the Nationals, praying a heaping mass of nine men would be enough to smother the crackling Washington lineup, since their own offense was apparently only ever four minutes away from being off the field. It would take every defensive instinct the Cardinals had to stand up against the forces guiding the Nationals, as even getting their first two outs of the game had been a pair of adventures. Read the rest of this entry »

“That Was a Fair Ball, by the Way”: A Tale of Twins Tragedy

Ah, another Yankees-Twins playoff series. A retelling of a familiar tale. A classic first-round matchup simmering with revenge narratives. A chance for the Twins to change the course of — oh.

It’s over already.

While both NLDS series proceeded to white-knuckle Game 5’s, and the Rays forced the Astros to contemplate elimination, over in Minnesota, the Twins were quietly dispatched by the Yankees in exactly the way pretty much everyone feared that they would be.

This was a brutal tradition of the 2000s, in which the little-guy Twins would arrive, fresh from contention, and the Yankees, cementing their legacy as the underdog-kicking playoff behemoths, would squash them with elite talent and the favor of some twisted gods. Yet another Twins postseason defeat is behind us, and we’re left with more questions than answers. These games have historically been comprised of bummers, boners, and brims pulled low. Today is the anniversary of one of them, and we’re going to examine it.

For Twins fans, this story needs no retelling, but unfortunately, we must relate the tragic set dressing: The Twins dropped Game 1 of the 2009 ALDS 7-2, but had singled together a 3-1 lead late in Game 2. Alex Rodriguez shattered the delicate balance with a two-run shot off All-Star Twins closer Joe Nathan to tie it up. The game went into extras, and in the top of the 11th, Joe Mauer led off, and this happened:

On the one hand, this is baseball: It is nothing without its X-factors. Its chaos. Its precious human element. On the other, you can tell this is a conspiracy because of how grainy the footage is, or at least reasonably speculate. Read the rest of this entry »