Cubs-Mets Preview

MLB: Chicago Cubs at New York MetsIf someone told you on Opening Day that either the Cubs or Mets would represent the National League in the 2015 World Series, you probably would have looked at them like they were crazy. Here we are though, just hours before the first pitch to Game 1 of the NLCS between the Cubs and Mets. Last year, neither team even won 80 games. This season, both won at least 90, with the Cubs winning 97. Needless to say, this was quite a turnaround season for both franchises.

Back in the ’60s and ’80s (both were bad in the ’70s), the Cubs and Mets were pretty big rivals with one another as they both played in the National League East division. When the Cubs moved to the NL Central, the rivalry dissipated as the number of games played between the two teams each season was significantly cut back.

Now, the rivalry will likely be making a comeback.

The Cubs got to this point by drafting and trading for the top hitting prospects available to them. They stockpiled top youngsters such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber to go along with players they already had like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. The hope was that these guys would all reach the majors by the end of 2016 and then theoretically become everyday players in the Cubs lineup. No one anticipated the whole group of them to arrive this early to be this good so fast. The Cubs now have themselves one of the best offensive lineups in the game and are loaded with power from top to bottom. Signing Jon Lester and having Jake Arrieta pitch a Cy Young-worthy season solidified this ball club as one of the best by early August.

As for the Mets, they followed the same formula as the Cubs, only they went after the best arms available. Guys like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGromm, and Noah Syndergaard were once just “big name prospects,” but now they’re three of the game’s best pitchers. To go along with that three-headed pitching monster, the Mets traded for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline to bolster their offense. Since that point, the Mets have had the best offense in baseball.

What this series will ultimately come down to is the Cubs’ hitting versus the Mets’ pitching. Here are my keys to a Cubs’ series victory:

  1. Do not let the pressure affect performance. That the Cubs have reached this point of the season is a huge deal for this city and is making national headlines. There is bound to be enormous pressure from the fans and media for the Cubs to win this thing, but they have to ignore all of that and focus on playing baseball.
  2. Be patient at the plate. The Mets know that the Cubs’ hitters led the league in strikeouts this year, and they will no doubt try and get the Cubs to chase pitches out of the zone. It is imperative that the Cubs be patient in the box, see as many pitches as possible, and ultimately drive up the Mets’ pitch counts. The Cubs did a great job at this during the second half of the season, and they need to keep it up.
  3. Javier Baez. Addison Russell quickly became one of baseball’s best defensive shortstops since moving over there from second base. Now, he’s sidelined for at least the whole NLCS with a hamstring injury. Enter Javy Baez. When Baez replaced Russell at shortstop midway through Game 3 against the Cardinals, he made a couple of bad errors that nearly cost the Cubs. He has always been an elite defender, but it looked like the nerves got to him in Game 3 of the NLDS. He needs to put that behind him and get back to his old ways at short. We know what he can do offensively, but he has to be good defensively as well.
  4. Lester and Arrieta. Kind of an obvious one here, but it can’t be overlooked. If these two do not pitch well this series, the Cubs will likely lose. Lester will get Game 1, Arrieta Game 2. Having them both pitch well right off the bat and giving the Cubs a chance to steal one or both of the first two games would be big. Arrieta did not have his best game in Game 2 against St. Louis, yet the Cubs still won. He needs to get back to dominating the opposition like he did the entire second half of the season. Getting first pitch strikes will be huge for each pitcher.
  5. Hendricks and Hammel. After Lester and Arrieta, the Cubs’ starting rotating takes a hit. Both Hendricks and Hammel were able to pitch just well enough in the NLDS to get the Cubs two wins against a tough Cardinals offense. They’ll need to provide more quality innings against the Mets and get at least one win between them.
  6. Lastly, the bullpen. Again, pretty obvious here, but it needs to be discussed. The Cubs’ pen was very good against St. Louis and a huge reason why they are now in the NLCS. To win the World Series, you need a stellar bullpen. Guys like Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill, Clayton Richard, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon will inevitably be called upon to pitch in tough spots this series. Their ability to pitch out of those jams could determine the series winner.

These are two opposite teams in terms of how they win games, making it tough to predict who will win. That being said, the Cubs are my favorite to advance. Their one-two punch of Lester and Arrieta, along with their powerhouse offense should overcome the Mets’ pitching. Add in that the Cubs have arguably the best bench in the league, and they’re hard to pick against.

This should be a fantastic series.

-Cubs in six, maybe even five.

Regardless of Tonight’s Outcome, Cubs’ Future is Promising

10-171460575-smallIn 24 hours from now, the game will have been played, a team will have won, and a memorable moment or two will be etched in our minds for the foreseeable future. Either we’ll (hopefully) be talking about a Cubs-Cardinals showdown in the NLDS, or once again next year. But in all honesty, regardless of what happens in tonight’s Wild Card game between the Cubs and Pirates, there’s reason to be optimistic about this Cubs team for years to come.

This was supposed to be a “stepping stone” season for the Cubs, meaning they would hopefully win around 84 games and begin their push towards sustained success with their mostly homegrown talent. Instead, the train arrived a bit early on the north side, and we witnessed this team reel off 97 wins; good for third best in Major League Baseball.

This massive turnaround from last season to this season started last October when the Cubs announced that they had hired Joe Maddon to be their next manager. Then a couple months later, Jon Lester signed on to become what we thought would be the Cubs’ newest ace. The pieces were all coming together.

In spring training we saw Kris Bryant display his full offensive potential while lighting up the Cactus League and becoming the talk of baseball. Lost in his publicity was the performance of other top Cubs prospects such as Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and even Javier Baez who knew he had to turn his game around after a disappointing late summer last season.

None of those guys made the Opening Day roster other than Soler.

After just a couple weeks of the regular season had passed, we finally got the much anticipated arrival of Kris Bryant in the big leagues. Not long after, Addison Russell followed him. Then in mid-summer, Kyle Schwarber arrived way ahead of schedule and turned heads instantly. These guys surrounded Anthony Rizzo in the lineup to create what has to be one of the most feared rosters in baseball.

Following the All Star break, Jake Arrieta started to take over all of baseball en route to what was a Cy Young-worthy season, and one for the record books.

The rest is history.

That this Cubs team won 97 games with such little MLB experience from most of their key offensive contributors is mind blowing. The confidence that these guys have displayed all season long and even heading into tonight’s Wild Card game has been incredible. This new wave of Cubs players may only be in their early 20’s with limited big league experience, but you would never know it. And a lot of that has to do with the leadership of Anthony Rizzo taking these rookies under his wing and instilling in them the right kind of attitude.

After watching this team do what they did this year while taking into account their youth and the fact that they are all under club control for a number of years to come, one can’t help but wonder just how good the Cubs could be in a few years down the road when these “kids” hit their prime. It’s almost scary…

So regardless of what happens tonight, just remember this is only the beginning of what should be many years of success for the Cubs. For what may be the first time ever, we finally have a team that seems destined for a title before too long.

The Problem With MLB’s Current Playoff Format

635651689308727878-GTY-470483912-72482586Now that the 2015 Major League Baseball regular season has come and gone, we can shift our focus to the playoffs, which begin Tuesday night in New York when the Yankees host the Astros for the AL Wild Card game. While this is always one of the best times of the year in sports, there is a glaring problem with the current MLB playoff format; one that hasn’t been quite as noticeable as it is now.

This year the Cardinals finished with the best record in baseball at 100-62. The Pirates came in at second with a record of 98-64, and the Cubs third at 97-65. All three teams come from the National League Central Division. Because the Pirates and Cubs finished with the second and third best records in the National League, they are this year’s two NL Wild Card teams, and they’ll square off in their one-game playoff on Wednesday night. The winner of that game will face the Cardinals in the NLDS.

Here’s the problem.

Of the three best teams in baseball this year (St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago), only one will make it to the NLCS, and one won’t even make it past the Wild Card game. If either Pittsburgh or Chicago happen to eliminate St. Louis in the NLDS, they won’t have home field advantage against the winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers-New York Mets series. Why? Because they will be the Wild Card team.

Essentially, finishing as the second and third best teams in all of baseball this year will yield the Pirates and Cubs zero advantages in the postseason. Despite both of their records being better than those of the Dodgers and Mets, both Pittsburgh and/or Chicago will have to begin the NLCS on the road, if either team makes it that far. And if either team happens to win the NLCS, guess what? They won’t have home field advantage in the World Series either thanks to the ridiculous All Star Game rule (winning team/league gets home field for the World Series).

So here’s my proposal to Major League Baseball:

Do it like the NBA is now doing it. The team with the best regular season record gets home field advantage in each series. Period. Plain and simple. This would mean eliminating the All Star Game shenanigans that no one seems to like anyways. As it is right now, a team like Pittsburgh or Chicago gets no reward for their incredible season other than a berth into an instant elimination game.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees this as a problem, and hopefully the MLB will catch on soon as well.

Keys for the Cubs down the stretch

Colorado Rockies v Chicago CubsThe Cubs are coming into this week fresh off of a 9-game winning streak that was snapped by their crosstown rivals this past Sunday. It was their longest winning streak since 2008, which was also the last time the Cubs made the postseason. For the season, the Cubs are currently the proud owners of a 67-49 record; good for fourth best in Major League Baseball. The only problem is that two of the three teams with a better record than the Cubs are the Cardinals and Pirates, both of whom are also in the Central Division.

For the most part, the Cubs have been winning this year thanks to their starting pitching. Jake Arrieta is 14-6 on the year (those 14 wins are tied for the most in baseball) with a 2.39 earned run average and 0.99 WHIP. If he isn’t considered a Cy Young candidate, then something is wrong. Jon Lester is 8-8 on the season, but don’t let that record fool you. His 3.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP are very respectable numbers. He has pitched much better the second half of the season after getting off to a slow start in April and May, and is now looking like the ace that the Cubs thought they were getting when they signed him.

Jason Hammel has been one of the team’s more consistent pitchers all year despite a couple of rough outings as of late following his stint on the DL, and Kyle Hendricks has been up and down on the season but still owns an ERA under 4.00. Add in the acquisition of Dan Haren at the trade deadline, and you’ve got yourself a very respectable starting rotation with arguably the best one-two punch in the league.

If the Cubs want to continue their winning ways as the calendar turns over to September, that starting pitching will need to keep doing what they have been doing. However, not everything falls on their shoulders.

For the better half of this season, the Cubs’ offense has been underwhelming. Sure they have Anthony Rizzo whose stat line (.296 AVG, 23 HR, 68 RBI, .407 OBP) is among the best in baseball, but guys like Castro, Bryant, Soler, Fowler, and Russell have gone through some prolonged slumps that really hurt the Cubs at times. Some of that was to be expected, especially with the rookies who are still getting used to big league pitching and need to learn to adjust to it just like the pitchers have adjusted to them. But if the Cubs really want to be serious about making a run in October, the offense needs to stay clicking like it has of late.

Since the All Star break, the Cubs have seen their team on-base percentage, batting average, and OPS (on-base plus slugging) all rise by a fair amount. Guys like Dexter Fowler are getting on base much more often, and the addition of rookie Kyle Schwarber has been huge. One noticeable difference lately with the Cubs’ offense has been their tendency to see as many pitches at the plate as possible. They are not a free-swinging team like we’ve seen in recent years. They’ll have the opposing starter’s pitch count up into the 30’s or 40’s by the end of the second inning on a regular basis, which is extremely important.

Right now, the Cubs currently own a 4-game lead over the Giants for the second Wild Card spot in the NL, and sit just 2 games behind the Pirates for the top Wild Card spot. If the Cubs want to end the season as at least a Wild Card team, their offense needs to keep on rolling. The pitching has been there for them all season, but now that the offense has started to figure things out at the plate, we are seeing a big increase in win percentage. If they continue to play the way they have as of late, this will be a tough team to beat down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Here are my five keys to a strong finish to the regular season:

  1. Starting pitching. It seems obvious, but it’s undeniable. Without above average starting pitching, you have no shot. Arrieta and Lester need to continue leading the staff while the other three deliver quality outings more often than not. Getting six strong innings from Haren every fifth game would be huge.
  2. Keep getting on base. Everyone wants to look at batting average, home runs, RBI’s, etc. On-base percentage, however, is arguably the most important offensive statistic there is. If you’re not getting on base, you’re not scoring. Over the past month and a half, the Cubs have improved greatly in this category, and they need to keep that rolling.
  3. Bullpen. There are still some big questions regarding the Cubs’ pen. They have been using a “closer by committee” approach recently with guys such as Rondon, Motte, and Grimm all getting save opportunities. Rondon figures to be the best bet to be the closer, but even he still needs to find more control with his pitches right now. The bullpen has been better the second half for the most part, and it’ll need to be strong from here on out.
  4. Run prevention. The average fan does not think of defense when looking at what makes a team so good, but run prevention has become a prominent factor in deciding who the really good teams are in recent years. As a team, the Cubs have seen better defense this season than in previous seasons, and it is a big reason why their record is what it is. There is still room for improvement, though, and it will need to get even better starting now.
  5. Get some hot streaks. Rizzo has had some incredible streaks at the plate this year, and the Cubs will need other guys to follow suit over the last month and a half. If Soler can finally find his power and start putting baseballs into the outfield stands, and if Kris Bryant can somewhat close up that huge hole in his swing and string together a few solid weeks at the plate, this team will be in good shape.

Some of those keys may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less important. This is a good Cubs team and the best one we’ve seen in seven years. Getting home field advantage for the Wild Card one-game playoff would be huge, and it is within their grasp.

Hamels or Price? Who the Cubs should target

cole-hamels-69fa5e2efff24ca4The MLB trade deadline is now less than a week away, meaning trade rumors are popping up left and right around the league. In the case of the Cubs, they’ve made it known that they would idealy like to add another arm to their starting rotation. Their starting pitching has been quite good this season with guys like Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel leading the way. Second year starter Kyle Hendricks has also performed well up to this point, but the Cubs would still like to add another solid starter to the rotation. Enter the names Hamels and Price.

It is no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies are looking to trade away Cole Hamels in return for some high end prospects as they move forward with their rebuilding process. And with the Cubs seeking another top arm, along with the fact that they possess multiple appealing trade pieces (Baez, Castro, etc.), the two teams seem like a nice fit to become trade partners.

cole-hamels-69fa5e2efff24ca4More recently, David Price’s name has started showing up in the league-wide trade winds. With Miguel Cabrera out until at least late August, if not longer, and with the Tigers currently five games back of the second wild card spot in the American League, GM Dave Dombrowski is contemplating whether to raise the white flag on the season and trade away some valuable pieces in exchange for young talent. Given the fact that David Price is set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, he seems like a prime candidate to get dealt if the Tigers do in fact make the decision to give up on this season. The Cubs have naturally been one of the teams said to be interested in Price should he become available due to their desire to acquire more pitching.

So if it were to come down to picking one pitcher over the other for the Cubs, who should they make their top priority?

While on the surface most might disagree with this, the answer is Cole Hamels.

Sure, David Price is is 9-3 with a 2.31 ERA this year and Cole Hamels is 5-7 with a 3.91 ERA. Statistically, Price is the better fit for the Cubs, or any team for that matter. However, when looking at the statistics of both Price and Hamels, you should take into account the team that each one currently plays for. Hamels earned run average is higher than most would like it to be, but he’s pitching for the worst team in baseball.

The reason Hamels is the better option for the Cubs is this: He won’t be a rental player. He’s currently under contract through the 2018 season with a club option for 2019. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer has made it clear that the team is not willing to part ways with any of their top prospects in exchange for a guy like Price who could potentially sign with a different team next offseason. With Hamels, he’s guaranteed to return to the Cubs for at least three more seasons should they acquire him.

While Hamels’ ERA is slightly concerning, many believe it would improve if traded for two reasons. 1) All of this trade talk has gotten into his head and is playing a role in his performance on the field. Once traded, he’ll feel more comfortable and his statistics could/should improve. 2) If traded to the Cubs, he’ll be working with one of the game’s best pitching coaches in Chris Bosio.

With the Phillies in Chicago this weekend for a three game series at Wrigley Field, it is entirely possible that a deal between the two teams could get done by Sunday night or shortly thereafter. If the Phillies are simply asking for too much in return for Hamels, I would not expect the Cubs to overpay. They may then instead turn their attention towards a reliever and depth starter.

As for the David Price situation, I don’t think the Cubs will agressively pursue him unless they can work out a sign and trade with Detroit. If Price agrees to such a deal, he’d be the better pickup between him and Hamels. Keep in mind, however, that Price has hinted in the past at wanting to play for the Cubs and Joe Maddon (his manager in Tampa Bay). If the Cubs don’t get him at the trade deadline, they will definitely be players for him in the offseason. One benefit to signing him after the season is that they would not have to give anything up to get him like they would in a trade.

The next six days should be interesting on the North Side. The fact that we’re discussing the Cubs as potential big buyers at the deadline rather than sellers is a great feeling.

It’s here: Cubs’ future is now

10-171460575-smallAs is the case every so often, I’ll take a quick break from writing about hockey on here and shift the focus to baseball. Particularly, Cubs baseball. After promoting baseball’s top prospect, Kris Bryant, to the big league’s last Thursday, the Cubs made another big announcement late Monday night by recalling the game’s number four prospect: Addison Russell. It was widely known or assumed that Bryant would be on the Cubs’ roster by May, but things didn’t seem to be as sure for Russell.

With Mike Olt getting injured just a few games into the season, the Cubs were all of a sudden left with a gaping hole at the third base position. They got by for a handful of games with what they already had on the big league roster until enough games had passed where they could bring up Bryant without losing a year off his contract. So that problem was quickly and not surprisingly solved.

The other glaring problem with the Cubs’ lineup has been second base. Arismendy Alcantara was supposed to be the guy to hold down that position for the time being, but his early season struggles have led the Cubs to their next big call-up. Addison Russell, who figures to be a shortstop in the long run, had started putting some work in at second base recently, which raised some eyebrows and some questions regarding his immediate future with the organization. Are the Cubs just trying to get him used to another position, or do they want him coming up to Chicago sometime soon to play second base? As it turns out, the front office wants him starting tonight at second base for the big league club.

I think most people, myself included, expected Russell to see his first big league action somewhere between June and July. However, most people weren’t really expecting the Cubs to have such a dire need at second base either.

Everyone knew Kris Bryant would be making his first start for the Cubs somewhere around the 10-12 game mark of the season. As I already hinted at, not many expected Russell to be doing the same. What his promotion tells me is two things:

  1. The Cubs feel he is ready to make the leap from Triple A to the big leagues. In eleven games with Iowa this year, he hit .318 with 1 home run, 9 runs batted in, and an .803 OPS. His fielding has never been a concern.
  2. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are going for it and feel that this team and its young players are ready to compete for a playoff spot. If they didn’t believe that the playoffs were a real possibility, my guess is Russell would still be in Iowa.

The Cubs have gotten off to a 7-5 start to the season, which is by far their best start in many years. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have proven that they are good MLB players, with Rizzo looking like a perennial All Star and a cornerstone piece of the franchise, and Castro continuing to hit while improving defensively. Jorge Soler, who debuted with the Cubs last summer, has adjusted extremely well to the big league game and is off to a great start to the year. Many “experts” have him pegged as this year’s NL 10-171460575-smallRookie of the Year. Then you have recent addition Kris Bryant, labeled by many as the savior of the Cubs franchise. He has played in four games with the Cubs while hitting .429 with 2 doubles and 4 runs batted in. Oh, and his early OPS is 1.150.

Now that you add Addison Russell into the equation and take into account his potential, the Cubs’ lineup is suddenly loaded, and all with young talent. The average age of their infield is just 23 years old.

And don’t forget about the Cubs’ pitching staff. Jon Lester, while off to a forgettable start to the season, is a true ace and figures to turn his game around sooner than later. Jake Arrieta is coming off his best season a a pro in 2014, and is already 2-1 with a 1.74 ERA this year. Then you have Jason Hammel, Travis Wood, and Kyle Hendricks who have all pitched well and provided reason for optimism. Also, the Cubs’ bullpen is no pushover. Prior to Neil Ramirez getting hurt, they had the best bullpen ERA in the National League. I see no reason for their ‘pen to become a weakness.

Most people would say that this team’s weakness is their inexperience and starting rotation. Well I have a response to each.

The Cubs may be young, but they don’t play like it, and they don’t think like it. Epstein, Hoyer, and Jason McLeod draft players who not only possess great talent, but possess great maturity for their age. It doesn’t take a fool to see that while watching the likes of Rizzo, Soler, and Bryant, just to name a few. Secondly, the starting pitching of the Cubs wasn’t bad last year, and only got better this year. If the team continues winning games and is in a competitive position in the standings at the trade deadline, I would expect Epstein to deal for another top of the line starter in exchange for any combination of current (available) Cubs prospects. Starlin Castro and Javier Baez could be potential pieces to any such trade.

Obviously there is still A LOT of season left, but there is more reason for optimism with this team than we’ve seen in a long, long time. If the first twelve games are any indication as to how the rest of the season will play out, it’s going to be one hell of a fun summer on Chicago’s north side.

Joe Maddon to the Cubs?

940-couture-loganLet’s take a break from hockey for a minute and focus on another Chicago team: the Cubs. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports just reported that Joe Maddon has agreed to become the next manager of the Cubs, which if true, is huge. Maddon is a 2-time AL Manager of the Year winner with the Tampa Bay Rays, and is known for really creating a good clubhouse atmosphere and for knowing how to handle young players.

Before we get any further, let me just say that there are numerous reports out there right now that are saying no deal is in place between Maddon and the Cubs, but that there is still a very good chance Maddon ends up in Chicago. During the World Series, Major League Baseball enforces a “news blackout” which prevents any teams, players, etc. from announcing anything that might take focus away from the World Series, which might be why some reporters are denying that a Maddon deal is done. There is a very solid chance that the two sides have in fact agreed to a contract, but they won’t make anything official until Thursday or Friday (once the World Series is over).

So now let’s look at what this would mean to the Cubs if Maddon is next year’s skipper.

Like I already said, he’s a 2-time Manager of the Year recipient while in Tampa, he’s been to the World Series once (and lost), and he’s somehow kept the Rays in the thick of things in the AL East for the past 6-7 years despite having a low payroll. He knows how to manage young players, which the Cubs are stocked with, and he creates a very good atmosphere in the clubhouse. He’s been known to dye his hair after win streaks and have his players dress up in weird costumes on travel days. Aside from being a smart manager, he’s a player’s manager, and that is a good thing.

What this potential signing does is send a message to all of baseball that the Cubs are getting real serious about winning in the very near future. It’s no secret that they’ll be in the market for at least one, if not two high end pitchers this winter, and signing Joe Maddon will only increase a free agent’s desire to join the team. Look for the Cubs to target guys like Jon Lester and now James Shields, who both have connections (potentially) to the Cubs. Lester played with the Red Sox in Boston while Epstein was still in control there, and the two sides won the 2007 World Series together. James Shields played with the Rays from 2008-2012 and had Joe Maddon as his manager each of those years. If the Cubs could sign both of those guys to go along with Jake Arrieta, they would have a very potent top 3 in their starting rotation to go along with what should be a dangerous offense. If you really think about it, there aren’t too many players in the Major League’s that won’t want to be a part of the Cubs over the next few years. Everyone is going to want their name to be on the Cubs’ roster that one day wins the World Series, and it’s looking like the possibility of that actually happening is better now than ever before.

Clearly the Joe Maddon signing is not official, but in all likelihood he’ll be the Cubs manager come Opening Day. It kind of makes you feel bad for Rick Renteria who gained a lot of confidence from the Cubs’ front office this past year. He’ll be out of a job if Maddon comes to town, but it’s a move that the Cubs essentially have to make in this situation. It’s not every day that you get the chance to sign one of the game’s best managers.

MLB stadiums I have not visited

I have now been to 22 different MLB stadiums (20 still active), and I often think about which ones I would put at the top of my “to-do” list that I have not yet been to. Obviously, I’d go to any MLB stadium on any given day if I had the chance, but there are those that I’d rather visit than certain others. So, I put together my list of the 10 remaining stadiums that I have not been to, and ranked them from worst (I’d least like to visit) to best (I’d most like to visit).

10. OAKLAND COLISEUM: A’S

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It’s old, hasn’t really been touched up, and also plays host to NFL games. Enough said.

9. TROPICANA FIELD: RAYS

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I hate indoor stadiums, I hate artificial turf, and I highly dislike the fact that Tampa Bay even has a team, considering their fans don’t exist.

8. TURNER FIELD: BRAVES

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First of all, I’ve heard multiple times that this park is located in a bad area of town. Second of all, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of uniqueness to Turner other than the fact it hosted the Olympics. To put the whipped cream on top, Atlanta fans are some of the worst in sports.

7. MARLINS PARK: MARLINS

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For being such a new stadium, one would think it would be more attractive than it is. However, I’m sure there is some cool, modern stuff to it. Too bad this thing was built for a team that has zero fan support.

6. COMERICA PARK: TIGERS

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Honestly, I’ve heard a lot of good things about Comerica. I just don’t exactly have the burning desire to go to Detroit.

5. GLOBE LIFE PARK IN ARLINGTON: RANGERS

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(They need to quit re-naming this place) The park looks really interesting, and I love the way the exterior of the park looks in pictures. This is a stadium I would really like to see.

4. KAUFFMAN STADIUM: ROYALS

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After being renovated in 2009, Kauffman Stadium appears to be one of the more attractive parks in baseball. It has many unique features and would make a good road trip.

3. CITIZENS BANK PARK: PHILLIES

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Built in 2004, this is a relatively new stadium and it seems to be quite an attractive one as well. I’m sure there are many good vantage points to watch the game around this park.

2. CITI FIELD: METS

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Again, one of baseball’s newer parks, which instantly makes it intriguing. Add in the fact that it’s in New York City, and there’s really no reason to not want to go here.

1. SAFECO FIELD: MARINERS

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I’ve heard nothing but great things about this park and the city of Seattle. Can’t say that about the rest of the stadiums on this list. If only the Mariners drew a bit better…

So there it is. Hopefully I’ll be writing my reviews about these parks before too long.

Yankee Stadium review

DSC00638“The Cathedral” as it’s often called, is baseball’s mecca. It seems that every baseball player wants to one day play a game at Yankee Stadium. While the old stadium that watched Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and many other legends take its field no longer exists, the new and current Yankee Stadium still possesses that certain “aura.” Recently, I was able to take in a Red Sox-Yankees game at the new stadium, and while there’s no doubt it is a nice stadium, nothing about it really stood out to me.

DSC00610The outside of the stadium is all white/tan cement, similar to the old park. It is very “neat” looking and has somewhat of an old-fashioned feel to it. As for the area surrounding the park, don’t go touring it. I spoke with a New York City police officer outside the stadium before the game and was told to not hang around the “immediate” ares following the game. That’s not always the most pleasing thing to hear when attending a ballgame.

Depending on which entrance you go through to get into the park, you may enter into the “Great Hall.” This is somewhat of an exterior concourse to the stadium. There are different DSC00645souvenir and food stands set up in the hall, as well as massive banners displaying the legends that once called Yankee Stadium their home. Definitely worth checking out. The only downside to this is that the “Great Hall” is completely blocked of the field of play.

The actual concourses at Yankee Stadium were very clean, but could probably have been made a bit wider. Near the ceiling in certain areas, there are pictures of some of the great players that once played for the Yankees, as well as some of the better events to take place in Yankees history. This was a a nice touch.

If you’re a food lover, you’ll probably enjoy Yankee Stadium. There is a wide variety of food available at the park. Everything from burgers and hot dogs, to cheesesteaks and Brother Jimmy’s BBQ (a local favorite) are available around the park, along with other items.

DSC00622One of the stadium’s best and most famous features is Monument Park. This is an area just beyond the center field wall that fans can walk through and look at the plaques of the Yankees’ greatest players in history. I would have loved to have seen this, however I was unaware that the park closes 45 minutes prior to the start of the game. Something to make note of if you plan on going to a Yankee game. The Yankees also have a museum at the stadium, which is sort of like a Yankees Hall of Fame.

As for the playing field itself and its surroundings, there’s nothing too unique about it. They tried to build this stadium similarly to the old one, and I have to admit the two do look a little alike. The outfield consists of a back drop of big advertisements and a couple of video boards. That’s about it. In centerfield, there is a big party room or restaurant that people and corporations can rent out each game. However, that leads me to my biggest complaint about this stadium.

DSC00629The big party room/restaurant that I just mentioned was built in such a way that it prevents fans sitting in left and right field from seeing half the field. If you’re sitting in the right field bleachers, you cannot see the entire left side of the field. If you’re in left field, you cannot see the right side of the field. How on earth a brand new, billion dollar stadium could be built with a major flaw like this just blows my mind. This really lost Yankee Stadium some points in my book.

Other than the outfield bleachers, there’s not a bad seat in the house. The upper deck is way the heck up there, but none of its views are obstructed. I will say this though. Yankee Stadium is huge, so the seats are not real close to the field like they are in some other new DSC00640parks. I’d say that of the parks I’ve been to, Yankee Stadium and Busch Stadium in St. Louis are the two biggest. The seats at both stadiums are ways away from the field, especially the higher up you get. I’m not criticizing either stadium for that, I’m just pointing it out.

All in all, Yankee Stadium is a very nice and modern stadium. They did a good job of preserving a lot of the Yankee history in this new park, which I was hoping would be the case. There’s a lot at Yankee Stadium that you simply just have to see. Writing about it here won’t do a whole lot of good.

For my MLB stadium rankings, click here.

Cubs’ managerial options

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                          Theo Epstein

After managing the Cubs for just two seasons, Dale Sveum was fired by the team a few weeks back for his lack of player development. While that was an issue with Sveum, I don’t know that I totally agree with the Cubs’ decision to fire him after just two seasons in which he was given two crap teams to work with. I guess in the minds of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, the regression shown by Castro and Rizzo this season was enough to let Sveum go. So that leaves the Cubs without a manager right now, and many, myself included, are speculating as to who might be the team’s next skipper.

It was no secret that if Epstein had his way, he was going to hire Joe Girardi to manage the Cubs. Unfortunately, Giriardi decided to re-sign with the Yankees for four more years due to family reasons. With that, we can take him off the list of potential managers. The candidates left on that list are, and in my opinion should be (in no particular order):

  • A.J. Hinch
  • Manny Acta
  • Rick Renteria
  • Tony Pena
  • Dave Martinez
  • Mike Maddux
  • Brad Ausmus

Personally, I would like to see either Tony Pena, Mike Maddux, or Manny Acta hired as the Cubs’ new manager. Dave Martinez, currently the Rays bench coach, is not a bad option either, but honestly I don’t know enough about him.

Some may be surprised by the name Tony Pena. Here’s why I like him:

  • He has managerial experience. From 2002-2005, he was the manager in Kansas City. He won the 2003 AL Manager of the Year award.
  • He has been Joe Girardi’s bench coach in New York since 2009 (Yankees won the World Series that year).
  • He is a former catcher.
  • He is Dominican/Hispanic.

The Cubs want someone who has experience managing at the Major League level. If they hire a rookie manager, then they’d be going down the same road they went with Dale Sveum and his firing would seem pointless. Pena has that experience, and while his tony-pena-540x362record in Kansas City wasn’t great, he proved he can do the job by turning that team around in 2003 and winning AL Manager of the Year. I think being on Girardi’s staff in New York and winning the World Series there is a good credential as well. Also, the fact that he is a former Major League catcher (and a very good one) is a bonus in my eyes. Catchers have always been looked at as being the smartest baseball players because of their responsibilities behind the plate every single game. Add in the fact that Pena won four Gold Gloves as a catcher, and you have yourself a premier catcher who knows the game inside and out. My point about him being Hispanic is a very valid point. The Cubs are developing a number of top baseball prospects at the moment. Two of their top minor league prospects, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler, as well as current Major Leaguer Starlin Castro, are all Hispanic (granted, Almora was born here in the U.S., but he is still Hispanic). Plus the fact that more and more Hispanic players are entering the MLB and are becoming the league’s best players gives even more reason to hire a Hispanic manager. I feel Pena might be able to connect better with Hispanic players and prospects more than some other managers.

1306350614Manny Acta is another candidate that I wouldn’t mind seeing hired as the Cubs’ manager. He has managed the Nationals and Indians in the past, and won the 2007 NL Manager of the Year award, as well as the 2011 AL Manager of the Year Award. Like Tony Pena, Acta is from the Dominican Republic and would have that instant connection with Hispanic players.

A wild card shot here, and a very intriguing candidate is Mike Maddux, the current pitching coach of the Texas Rangers. Maddux was a candidate back mike-madduxbefore the 2012 season after the Cubs fired Mike Quade as well. He is a former pitcher and has ties to the Cubs organization as his younger brother, Greg, was a pretty good pitcher for the North Siders back in the early 90’s and then again from 2004-2006. Some believe that if Mike is hired as the Cubs’ manager, he may bring on Greg to be part of his coaching staff. I would be perfectly fine with that scenario. The one major drawback to hiring Mike Maddux would be the fact that he has zero managing experience at any professional level.

Clearly, there are a number of ways the Cubs could go here in addition to the possibilities that I just mentioned. One question I have, however, is this: Are the Cubs looking to hire the manager that will be here when they “go for it” and try to win the World Series, or are they looking for another temporary manager like Dale Sveum who will run the team until they feel they can compete? The answer to that question lies within the amount of confidence Epstein and Hoyer have in their current prospects. If they feel it may be another three years before the top dogs are ready to be brought up to the Major League level, then they may go the “Dale Sveum route.” If Epstein and Hoyer believe the Cubs are just another year or two away from competing, then we’ll see them hire a more proven manager.

I’m looking forward to this decision.