Tuesday, April 25, 2017

L.I. Ducks: Talking Quack; 2017 Season Preview

From the desk of:  THE WEBBED SPIKES NINE


2004    2012    2013

Liberty Division Champs

After falling behind the Somerset Patriots 0-2 in last year's Liberty Division playoff series, Long Island stormed back with three straight victories to win the division flag, and advance to their fifth ever Atlantic League championship series.  However, the Ducks were denied their bid for a fourth trophy by the Sugar Land Skeeters, whom swept Long Island in three games to capture the 2016 Atlantic League title.

After a previously failed bid in 2014, Sugar Land gained their first championship in their short five year existence, and became the Atlantic League's ninth different champion in its 19-year history.  

The 20th Season of Atlantic League Baseball is Underway!

Long Island's reigning all-time pitching ace, John Brownell, returns for his sixth season with the Ducks. He is the organization's all-time leader in starts, innings pitched, wins, and strikeouts, and likewise holds Ducks single season records for starts, innings pitched, complete games, and strikeouts.  

John posted a 10-8 mark last season with a 3.30 ERA and 1.260 WHiP.  He averaged 7.8 K/9 with 147 strikeouts and 2.0 W/9 after issuing just 38 walks through 169 innings pitched.  After which, Brownell, 33, made his annual return to Puerto Rico where he pitches winter league baseball for the Caguas Criollos.  There, he made seven appearances for this year's LBPRC champions, posting a 2.91 ERA for Caguas through 34 innings pitched, with 17 strikeouts.

John Brownell will be pitching with a revamped stable of mates this season featuring Rafael Perez, Matt Larkin, Keith Couch, and Tim Melville.

  • Rafael Perez, 34, is a southpaw and former major league relief pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.  He posted a 21-12 record with a 3.64 ERA through 329 innings pitched, with 268 strikeouts during his seven seasons with the Tribe.  He spent the last two seasons pitching in the triple-A Mexican League and in the Dominican Republic's professional circuit.
  • Right-hander Matt Larkins, 28, was acquired from the Lincoln Saltdogs of the American Association last year, and squeezed in three appearances for the Ducks before season's end.  He was 7-7 with a 3.69 ERA in 21 appearances for Lincoln.
  • Newcomer to the Ducks, right-hander Keith Couch, 27, is a Mineola, Long Island kid, and former Boston Red Sox minor league farm product, with 157 innings pitched at the triple-A level.
  • Another newcomer, right-hander Tim Melville is an eight year veteran of the Kansas City Royals and Cincinnati Reds respective systems.  Through 161 appearances mostly as a starter, Melville owns a 34-59 record with a 4.83 ERA and 578 strikeouts over 726 career innings pitched.

When right-hander Rob Rogers was signed on April 19, southpaw Jack Snodgrass was placed on the inactive list.  Rogers, a 26-year old New York native hailing from Bayshore is a Los Angeles Dodgers product whom gained limited experience at double-A, and enjoyed a very brief sip of Gatorade at triple-A.  Snodgrass made 14 starts last season for the Ducks, posting a par 6-6 record with a 3.79 ERA and 85 strikeouts through 78.1 innings pitched.

Rejoining the bullpen from last season will be Eury de la Rosa, Patrick Crider, and Zac Treece.   They'll be joined by newcomers Jim Fuller, Dennis O'Grady, Chin Hui Tsao, and major league veteran David Aardsma.  For now, Amalio Diaz will open the season as the Ducks closer.  But should Diaz falter, I would argue newcomer Tyler Wilson could step into that role.

  • Tyler Wilson was acquired from the Ottawa Champions of the CanAm League.  He made 42 appearances last season, posting a 3-4 record with a 2.07 ERA and 14 saves over 47.2 innings pitched with 60 strikeouts.
  • Jim Fuller comes to the Ducks via the Pirates organization.  He was originally drafted by the Mets, and played for the Brooklyn Cyclones in 2009.
  • Dennis O'Grady is another local kid from Floral Park, N.Y., who attended Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens.  After five seasons in the San Diego Padres organization, he missed all of 2016.
  • Chin-Hui Tsao is a six year major league veteran with the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers.  But similar to Dennis O'Grady, he missed all of the 2006 and 2008 seasons.
  • David Aardsma is a nine year MLB veteran, whom pitched for the Mets in 2013, and as the Seattle Mariners closer saved 69 games between 2009-2010.

The Ducks will sport two fresh faces behind the plate: right swinging Alex Burg and lefty swinging Dominic Blanco.

  • Alex Burg is a potential power hitting backstop who spent the last two seasons toiling in the Texas Rangers system.
  • Drafted out of high school by the Seattle Mariners, Dominic Blanco is still young at 21-years old.  He enters the season with just 63 professional games under his belt, mostly at the rookie league level.  He's noted for having a strong arm.

The infield once again features popular shortstop Dan Lyons who returns for his seventh season with the Ducks, and third baseman Cody Puckett, entering his fourth straight season with Long Island.  

  • The team is anticipating a full season and lots of slugging from first baseman Nate Freiman, who hit two home runs in just six games last season for Long Island after being acquired as a free agent.  In 2012 for the San Diego Padres double-A affiliate, Freiman slashed .298/.370/.502 through 137 games and 516 at-bats, with 24 home runs and 105 RBI.  He went on to play in 116 MLB games and slugged .408 for the Oakland A's during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
  • Infielder Elmer Reyes first played for the Ducks in 2015, and in just 18 games and 71 at-bats, slashed .380/.389/.746, with six home runs and 15 RBI.  Talk about catching lighting in a bottle.  He spent last season playing for the Nicaraguan National team.  Still only 26-years old, there's a very good chance for lightning striking twice.
  • Marc Krauss, 29, is a three year MLB veteran.  He played 85 games and hit 14 home runs last season for the triple-A Las Vegas 51s.
  • Giovanny Alfonzo, 24, is a Miami Marlins product, with 126 games played split between the New York-Penn League and South Atlantic League.

In the outfield, the ageless Fehlandt Lentini is back for his fourth season with the Ducks.  A long time independent league veteran, Lentini turns the big four-zero this summer.  He is also coming off a career year for Long Island.  In 140 games and 571 at-bats last season, Fehlandt slashed .313/.364/.455, with 42 doubles, six triples, nine home runs, 75 RBI, 108 runs scored, and 51 stolen bases.

Delta Cleary Jr. returns for his third season.  He finished third in the Atlantic League last season with a .321 batting average, and placed fifth with 32 stolen bases.

  • Newcomer to the Ducks, corner outfielder Nolan Reimold, 33, is a nine year MLB veteran mostly spent with the Baltimore Orioles.
  • Angelo Songco, 28, is a Los Angeles Dodgers product.  He averaged .298, with 15 home runs and 64 RBI during his three previous seasons playing for the St. Paul Saints.

Monday, April 24, 2017

N.Y. Rangers: Broadway Bullies Oust Habs in Six


Rangers defeat Canadiens, 4-2
I - NYR 2; MON 0
II - MON 4; NYR 3*
III - MON 3; NYR 2
IV - NYR 2; MON 1
V - NYR 3; MON 2*
VI - NYR 3; MON 1

NEW YORK RANGERS: MatsZuccs!  Smallest Blueshirt Bearing Heaviest Load.

Tex's Rangers Prove Too Tough for Montreal Canadiens

I've used many an unkind adjective in describing these Rangers throughout Alain Vigneault's tenure in New York, with soft, cute, and smurfy, topping the list.

But in truth, the Rangers played the Montreal Canadiens tough ... real tough ... astonishingly tough ... impressively tough.

I didn't think they had it in them, and was certain they would suffer a first round elimination.  In light of Saturday's series clinching victory over the Canadiens, I'm therefore only too happy being wrong.   It's only a first round victory, and well, the Rangers have been there and done that.  But this was nevertheless the grittiest, most physical performance they've ever put forth under this head coach.

Eliminating the Habs in such fashion still does not prevent me from pondering how Alain Vigneault called off the dogs in Game Seven against the Tampa Bay Lightning (Eastern Conf. Final).
With regards to his style, I've always said you can pirouette your way through the regular season playing the mean competition, but you can't do that in a short playoff series.  This series against Montreal only confirms that (for me).  After falling in the first round last year to the Penguins, maybe, just maybe, Vigneault has finally learned his lesson.

Stubborn as I am, I can't help but wonder if the Rangers overt physicality was inspired by Vigneault himself, or was born of the players' own collective and respective personal resolve.

In any event, they got it done.

Montreal mounted 206 shots on goal against Henrik Lundqvist, and scored 11 times in six games.   Meanwhile, the Rangers took 25 less shots on goal (181), yet tallied 14 goals against Carey Price.

More importantly, they answered any and all questions regarding their ability to compete against a bigger, and seemingly more physically oppressive opponent.

The Rangers and Canadiens combined for 533 recognized hits, for an average of 88 body checks per game.  While Montreal registered 50+ hits in games One, Two, and Five, the Rangers levied a series high 74 hits in Game Two, and out-hit the Habs overall by a 285-248 margin.

Into the Void

If Max Pacioretty scores just one timely goal at any time during games three through six, perhaps the series takes on a completely different complexion.  The Habs top forward and regular season scoring leader led all skaters in the series with 29 shots on goal, yet managed just one assist and finished with a minus-one.

That being said, Rangers blueliners Nick Holden, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei, Brendan Smith, and Dan Girardi in particular, are the primary reasons why Pacioretty was rendered ineffective.

Enter Jeff Beukeboom, whom was added to Alain Vigneault's staff after last season's disappointing first round playoff loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins.  As a former defenseman for the Oilers and Rangers, he brings Stanley Cup playoff experience and first hand knowledge in the stay-home tradition - minimizing traffic in the crease, keeping shooting lanes clear, with less attention on stick work and more emphasis on initiating and exerting a physical presence, and above all keeping Henrik Lundqvist safe.

For the first five periods of the series, the Rangers played with speed, while matching Montreal's all out physical blitz hit for hit.  I was indeed proud how they answered the opening bell in Game One and through the second period of Game Two.  Despite overall numbers finishing overwhelmingly in Montreal's favor, those were nevertheless five periods of hockey they should be commended for.

But because the Blueshirts hadn't spent any sustained stretches during the regular season playing at such an intense and relentless level, the Canadiens overall physicality was seemingly already wearing down, and slowing down the Rangers by the third period of Game Two.  It's not so much that Montreal scored the tying goal with just 0:17 left in regulation.  That was inevitable as Montreal dictated much of the period.  In turn, the Rangers were routinely denied timely line changes.  The Rangers obviously went on to lose Game Two in overtime, then got outplayed again in Game Three at Madison Square Garden.

All the King's Horses

The Rangers then reeled off three straight victories led by Mats Zuccarello and Henrik Lundqvist to earn a second round match-up against the Ottawa Senators.

They doubled Montreal's output through the final three games, outscoring the Habs by an 8-4 mark.

Unlike Montreal captain Max Pacioretty's playoff disappearance, Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers in points during the regular season, then led them with three goals against the Habs.  The Canadiens were clearly targeting MatsZucs throughout the series.  But Mighty Mats fought right back every step of the way, even proving himself toughest of all with a pair of in-your-face second period goals in Game Six.

Rick Nash played very well.  He was second among all skaters and led the Rangers with 23 shots on goal.  He was one of the few Rangers forwards truly guilty of crashing and disrupting Carey Price's safe space with any consistency.  Good job!

Otherwise, Henrik Lundqvist saved the Rangers from their overall lack of forward line production yet again.

Center Mika Zibanejad had a fine series.  But Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, and Oscar Lindberg, are becoming real issues up the middle.  Meanwhile, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes are becoming mirror images of ineffectiveness.  In fact, all Kreider did was prove he is still a head case.  And generally speaking, the Rangers fore-check was somewhat appalling.

Before getting into special teams, how about a round of applause for the men in stripes, whom did a superb job of swallowing their whistles and letting play, and the players regulate themselves.  Suffice it to say both teams got away with various and seemingly innumerable infractions.

Montreal went 3 for 20 on the power play.  Two of those led to Montreal's Game Three victory at MSG.  The Rangers went just 1 for 15 on the power play.  On the bright side, it means the Rangers outscored Montreal 13-8 during even strength.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy Birthday Brooklyn Base Ball Legend, Jim Creighton

Jim Creighton
Born: April 15, 1841, Manhattan
Died: October 18, 1862, Brooklyn

Before there ever existed a Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, there was GreenWood Cemetery in Brooklyn - a national landmark - where the fathers of baseball (Henry Chadwick, Duncan Curry) along with many of base ball's earliest players from the mid-to-late 19th century rest eternally.

Among the era's most celebrated players was New York City native Jim Creighton Jr. - better described as the best player of his time.  In fact, he is historically considered to be base ball's first superstar.

A distinguished striker (batter) by age 16, Creighton initially played second base for the 1859 Niagaras of Brooklyn.  After the Niagara club folded later that season, Creighton switched to the Brooklyn Stars.

Over the winter, Jim Creighton joined the Excelsior Base Ball Club of Brooklyn (also known as the Jolly Young Bachelors Base Ball Club), for whom he pitched from 1860 through the 1862 season.   En route to leading the Excelsiors to a national championship during his first season with the club, he also set about revolutionizing the game itself.

  • "...something new was seen in base ball - a low, swift delivery, the ball rising from the ground past the shoulder to the catcher."

Other sources are quoted, saying:
  • "Why that man was not bowling, he is throwing underhand.  It the best disguised underhand throwing I ever saw, and might readily be taken as a fair delivery."
  • "...his pitch "as if it was shot out of a cannon." 
  • "...had wonderful speed, and, with it, splendid command.  He was fairly unhittable."

Outcries abounded regarding illegal pitches and unsportsmanlike conduct.  Accused of failing to keep a stiff arm on the back swing of his delivery then snapping his wrist, Jim was generally cleared of such transgressions when a Brooklyn Eagles reporter determined Creighton threw a fair square pitch, rather than a jerk, or an illegal underhand throw.

Jim Creighton was injured on October, 14, 1862, during a game against Bronx competitors, Union BBC of Morrisania.  Four days later, he died suddenly in his home due to internal hemorrhaging.  Jim was just 21-years/six months of age.

  • His death was not only a loss to his club but to the whole base ball community.  Which needed such as he as a standard of honorable play and ability.

Jim Creighton is credited for being among the very first players to be paid (professionally); credited for throwing a speed ball - a precursor of the fastball; is said to have invented the curveball; and above all else, is believed to have been first to propagate the pitcher batter confrontation.

In his honor, members of the Excelsiors Base Ball Club of Brooklyn erected this monument at his grave sight in GreenWood cemetery.  It is believed to be the very first baseball monument ever erected.

In its original condition, the monument featured a baseball adorning the very top which through the past century had been compromised by erosion.

In 2014, the monument was restored to its original state thanks to the efforts of Tom Gilbert and Richard Moylan, along with help from baseball historian Eric Miklich of 19cBaseball.com ...   otherwise known as, Express, pitcher for the present day Eckfords vintage BBC of Brooklyn (featured here wearing Brooklyn Excelsior attire).

133 Clinton Street

Former Home of the Brooklyn Excelsiors Base Ball Club
Champions of the United States - 1860

Club Founded 1854
Last Season     1870

Home Field
Carroll Park (Carroll St. at Court St.) 1854-1859
Red Hook Grounds (Court St. at Bay St.) 1859-1870

!!.Happy 176th Birthday.!!

Jackie Robinson Day: 1947-2017

Montague Street and Court Street

Modell's Display, Caesar's Bay

MCU Park, Coney Island

Brooklyn Historical Society Exhibit

Jack Roosevelt Robinson
1919 - 1972

April 15, 1947
Jackie Robinson starts at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  
The event effectively marks the end of baseball's racial segregation.

1947 - Rookie of the Year
1949 - N.L. Most Valuable Player
1955 - World Champion
1956 - Last Game With Dodgers, Oct. 10
1962 - Hall of Fame
1997 - Jackie's #42 Retired Throughout Baseball

First Player Honored with Statue 
at Dodger Stadium

Jackie Robinson Rotunda
Citi Field

Thursday, April 13, 2017

N.Y. Rangers: Smooth as Glass; Blueshirts Take Game One


Eastern Conference; Round One

Rangers      2
Canadiens  0

NEW YORK RANGERS: Rough and Tough Tanner Lends Blueshirts a Touch of Glass.

Calling all Forwards ... That's One Win for Henrik ... You Owe Him.

As expected, Montreal tried imposing their physicality upon the Rangers.  Artturi Lehkonen, Paul Byron, Steve Ott, and the rest of the Habs threw their bodies around quite liberally, out-hitting the Rangers for the game by a 53-45 margin.  In turn, those hits created a lot of takeaways.  Those takeaways in turn led to quality scoring chances.

That said, the Habs opened with a furious first period onslaught, peppering Henrik Lundqvist with 16 shots on goal.  It was a very disconcerting first 20-minutes to say the least.  But the Rangers responded with a strong second period, then put twice as many shots on goal in the third period than did Montreal.  By game's end, each team finished with 31 shots on goal apiece.

It was clear to me, the Habs were targeting Mats Zuccarello.  But to the Rangers credit, they leveled some big hits as well.  Brady Skjei and Dan Girardi come to mind.  And I also credit Alain Vigneault for starting Tanner Glass.  I thought it was a smart move, if only because he added toughness.

As it turns out, Glass scored the only meaningful goal of the game on a great backhand shot off the face-off.  Dare I say brilliant even ... because he didn't get cute and just put the damn puck on net!

Speaking of brilliant, Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves en route to recording his tenth career playoff shutout.  And simply put, the Rangers do not escape the first period unscathed without his old school King-like performance.  Throughout the game, and particularly during that first period, our liege made several outstanding saves in heavy traffic against second chance opportunities.

Off Side:

Montreal played an undisciplined game.  After the Rangers withstood their best shot in the first session, the Habs clearly became frustrated.  However, numerous and obvious Canadien infractions went uncalled.  Lets see how the stripes potentially let this bleed into Game Two - or not.

But Montreal losing their cool didn't necessarily lead to Tanner Glass' goal.  In fact, Glass only played eight even strength minutes all night thanks to four Rangers power plays and another six minutes spent on the penalty kill.

The Rangers went 0 for 4 on the PP by the way.  But the fact Tanner Glass scored and some other forward didn't, makes me wonder...

  • Five Rangers defensemen (Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden, Brady Skjei) together mustered 13 shots on goal.  
  • Now take away each of Rick Nash's and Mika Zibanejad's 3 SOG, and Michael Granber's shot on an empty net, and the rest of the Rangers forwards (Kevin Hayse, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, JT Miller, Derek Stepan, Jimmy Vesey, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast) only totaled nine shots on goal.
Just saying ...

The NHL's best road team this past season came through.  For the moment, home ice advantage shifts into Rangers hands.

Well done boys.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

N.Y. Rangers: Eye of the Paper Tiger; Game One


Stanley Cup Playoffs


The Slides of March
You can pirouette your way through the regular season against the NHL's mean competition,
but you can't do that in a short playoff series.  Yes, AV, I'm talking to you.

New York Rangers: What 102 Points Gets You at the Metropolitan Division Exchange Rate.

Mike ... why are you so down on the Rangers?

Go back and read the Slides of March.  The upcoming series will either prove me right, or dead wrong.  That remains to be seen.

Otherwise, my answer is because all was never as pretty as it seemed to begin with.

Let's start with the competition ... shall we?

There's no coincidence in the fact that Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Montreal all finished ahead of the Rangers in this year's Eastern Conference standings.  During the regular season, the Rangers posted a sub par 6-10 record against them.

The Rangers additionally sputtered to an 8-11 record through the Slides of March (and four games in April).  Three of those games were against the Habs, Penguins, and Capitals.  The Rangers lost them all by an overall 10-4 margin of disparity.

Tex's Rangers were once again winter marvels, though, posting a regular season record of 48-28-6 (102 points), scoring the fourth most goals in the league, and recording best road record in the NHL.   Despite their proficiency, they only placed fourth in the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the conference.

So, let me know when this all starts sounding familiar to you ...

In the mean time, the Rangers are just 11-19 in their last 30 games at home, and generally do not play well in Montreal.

That being said, it's north of the border we go for Game One.

Montreal jettisoned some smaller players and got bigger, stronger, and tougher at the trade deadline. They swept all three games of the season series against the Rangers, and enter this series arguably boasting the better goalie, the best defenseman, and the best forward poised to take the ice.

  • LW - Max Pacioretty: 35 goals, 32 assists (67 points), +15.
  • D - Shea Weber: 17 goals, 25 assists (42 points), +20.
  • G -  Carey Price: 37-20-5, 2.23 GAA, .923 SV%
Just saying ...

In Mats Zuccarello We Trust; Think About That for a Moment

  • LW - Rick Nash: 23 goals, 15 assists (38 points), +9
  • RW - Mats Zuccarello: 15 goals, 44 assists (59 points), +15
  • LW - Chris Kreider: 28 goals, 25 assists (53 points), +6

I don't want to be overly disparaging, but, Rick Nash should be ashamed of himself.  Thirty-eight points?  A guy with his size and speed - it's ponderous, I know.  I can't help but recall how Columbus fans told us we'd soon regret the trade.  Did we fans expect way too much of Nash?  I doubt it.

His failures create systemic problems.  Very simply, a team featuring Rick Nash should not be led in any offensive category by Mats Zuccarello.  Yet, MatZuccs did just that ... again!  He can not continue being the Rangers best forward ... if you know what I mean.  He's great.  I love MatZuccs.   He plays smart, and will skate into tougher areas of the ice.  But if he's the best Blueshirt forward on the ice, it means other forward-liners aren't doing nearly enough.

Therefore, Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider must seize the day.  Kreider had a good season, but now he must lead.  I'm not saying Kreider needs to knock Carey Price into the twilight zone again.  But I am saying Kreider, Hayes, Nash, JT Miller, and Jimmy Vesey, must all get their 200+pound bodies in front of net.

Outside of Shea Weber, they should be able to push their way through, but only if they want to.  This is where I demand more from Alain Vigneault.  I need for him to pull the curtain on his meticulously choreographed ballet, and order his bigger bodies on search and destroy missions seeking out second and third opportunities.  As they say, if Price can see the puck, he'll stop it.  Therefore, chaos in the crease is key.

I've always made size and toughness on the forward lines, or lack thereof, a major point of contention.  But do the Rangers have the blueliners to get this done?

  • D - Ryan McDonagh: 6 goals, 36 assists (42 points), +20

No issues with the guy wearing the C on his jersey.  My biggest concern is whether Dan Girardi has one more good run in him?  He's a worn and torn 32-years old.

Next, watch out for trade deadline acquisition Brendan Smith.  I do not like this match-up at all.   When these teams last played, Smith was repeatedly knocked off the puck, and squashed by Montreal's newly acquired beefcake forwards.

And as a unit, the blueliners won't exactly be crunching any Montreal forwards in the corners either.

  • G - Henrik Lundqvist: 31-20-4, 2.74 GAA, .910 SV%

The Rangers are asking more of Henrik Lundqvist than ever.  But our liege is 35-years old now, and may not be able to cover all the defensive shortcomings occurring in front of him, and around the net. They do such a deplorable job, and it's because they lack size and toughness needed to push bodies around.  Henrik and Price are essentially the same - if they see it, they'll stop it.  But where the Rangers must alter their style in order to create second and third opportunities, they routinely give them up in the defensive other end.

Please, Henrik, do everything for us ... is no longer an option.  Just like last season, and the one before that, and the one before that, etc., it's incumbent upon the skaters in front of Henrik to do more.  Not the other way around.


I tried very hard not to batter you with my prolonged Alain Vigneault rantings, and my lack of size and toughness ravings.  Very simply, I don't like Alain Vigneault.  I don't like his policy of turn the other cheek, and generally speaking, I think he's just plain soft.  I still say he gave away Game Seven against Tampa Bay because he went with cute, instead of tough.

I digress ...

With regard to the lack of toughness on this team ... those old enough to remember the Smurfs (not the TV cartoon, but the smallish Rangers of the 1980s in the years prior to Brian Leetch's rookie season), know exactly what I mean.

I'll do one better:  If Nick Fotiu (pre-Smurfs) played for these Rangers, we'd win the Cup!

Circling back to Vigneault, did I mention the Rangers downward trending since he took over?

But, Mike, the Rangers just posted three straight 100 point seasons.

Yeah, I know.

But I also know they made the 2013-2014 Stanley Cup finals during his first season, gave away(!) the 2014-2015 Eastern Conference finals the following season, then bowed out four games to one during last year's first round against Pittsburgh.

What will it be this season, getting swept by Montreal?

That's not entirely out of the question.

Ryan McDonagh says throw all that regular season stuff out the window.  The Rangers are playoff tested.  They know what it takes.

But can they get it done?

I'm not so sure.



Monday, April 03, 2017

N.Y. Mets: Thor Lowers Opening Day Hammer on Braves

From the desk of:  HEAD-BUTTING MR. MET


Braves  0
METS   6

NEW YORK METS: Noah Syndergaard Lowers Opening Day Hammer On Overmatched Atlanta Braves.

Noah Syndergaard wasted no time lowing his hammer upon the opposition, earning his first victory of the 2017 season in a 6-0 whitewashing of the Braves during Monday's Opening Day game at Citi Field.

Thor faced 23 batters, throwing 86 pitches with 55 going for strikes.  He surrendered just five hits over six scoreless innings pitched, issued no walks and fanned seven before leaving the game with a blister on his middle finger.

Better soak that thing in pickle juice!

I'm not concerned with a blister, per se, but Syndergaard's off-season conditioning did generate some anxiety and cause for pause.  Noah gained roughly fifteen pounds of muscle during the off-season in a self-described effort to sustain velocity through late innings, and for sustaining strength late in the season.

Above all, Thor said he wants to throw harder.  He touched 100 mph early in spring training, and I wasn't too pleased about it.  On Monday, his slider clocked in at 94-mph.  So after earning a win and going 1 for 2 at the plate, I'm sure he's feeling invincible right about now.

I just don't want him over-doing it.

Up until very recently, weight lifting was always considered taboo.  Obviously that's no longer the case.  Building muscle inhibits arm flexibility, elasticity, and I believe is counter productive to establishing muscle memory.  Pitchers arms need to be loose; elastic; they require flexibility and full range of motion.  They shouldn't be bulking up.  I believe pitchers are best served by throwing more, running, and concentrating on their core.

  • Freddie Freeman saw ten pitches from Syndergaard, and went 3 for 4, with a triple and no strikeouts
  • R.A. Dickey received a very warm Citi Field welcome, but Bartolo Colon's was warmer.
  • With the bases loaded in the 7th, Lucas Duda connected on a bases clearing double to deep center.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

N.Y. Cosmos: Futbol by the Boardwalk Opens for Business

From the desk of:  CONEY ISLAND FC

Futbol by the Boardwalk

Cosmos     0
MiamiFC   3

NEW YORK COSMOS: Miami FC Spoils BKFC's Coney Island Home Opener.

Despite Miami FC's convincing three/nil victory, the lively atmosphere at MCU Park Saturday evening otherwise suggested the New York Cosmos first ever Brooklyn home opener went very well.

The game wasn't a complete sellout, but it was a full house nonetheless (considering the rather raw chilly weather along the beach).

The famous fanatical Five Points federation (La Banda, Cross Island Crew, Borough Boys) wasted no time planting their respective flags.  In short time commenced the lesson demonstrating exactly how extreme rooting in Cosmos Country gets done.  With their signature green smoke billowing from the bleachers, the chorus - replete with drums, a brass section, and spirits - broke into their evening long anthems.

Coney Island FC and Miami ended Saturday's first half tied at nil.  Unfortunately, the second half was no April Fool's joke.  There's just no real way of escaping their defensive zone negligence which repeatedly kept placing goal keeper Jimmy Maurer in very uncompromising positions.

The Cosmos are now scoreless through their first two games.

Defensive substitution Jimmy Mulligan drew an incontrovertible red in the second half after a pair of swift and misguided yellow card infractions.

Rechristened in 2010, the neo New York Cosmos captured the NASL championship during their initial return to action in 2013, and are presently the reigning back-to-back Soccer Bowl champions.

After previously playing their home games at Hofstra University from 2013 through 2016, the Cosmos are making Coney Island their new home sweet home.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

USA Baseball: Team Eagle has Finally Landed

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL

2 0 1 7

United States   8
Puerto Rico     0

Stars and Stripes Stumble Out of Starting Block, But Finish With a Flourish; Claim First Ever World Baseball Classic Title.

Just think - one lapse in concentration, a bad hop, a wild pitch, just one misplay, and The Eagle might have never landed on the pitcher's mound at Dodger Stadium.

Had USA fallen to Colombia in their very first match of the World Baseball Classic - against which they needed ten innings before finally emerging victorious - we might not even be having this discussion.

That's because America's Nine suffered a demoralizing loss during their very next game against Dominican Republic in which they blew a sixth inning, 5-0 lead, en route to a 7-5 loss.  However, Stars-n-Stripes rebounded smartly, closing out Round One with an 8-0 trouncing of Canada.

The Dominican Republic posted a 3-0 record in Pool-C play, whereas Team USA with a 2-1 record might have arguably benefited from a weak field.

Team USA easily handled Venezuela's all-star line-up opening Round Two of pool play.  But then suffered their second (and final) setback of the Classic, losing a hotly contested match against Puerto Rico by a 6-5 final, in which they stranded the tying run in the top of the ninth on third base.

USA continued forward, though, gaining a measure of revenge during their rematch against the defending WBC champions with a 6-3 victory over Dominican Republic, and thus securing themselves a Third Round appearance among the WBC's final four.

The highly anticipated semi-final game against undefeated Japan featured a classic pitchers duel - with every pun intended. Starting for USA, Tanner Roark threw four innings of scoreless baseball, allowing but two hits.  Six relievers followed, combining to limit Japan's potent line-up to a lone run on just two more hits.

Giving credit where it's due, Japan starter was no less up to the task, pitching six strong innings, while allowing USA one run on three hits and a walk, with six strikeouts.

With one out in the top of the eighth, Adam Jones' fielder's choice scored shortstop Brandon Crawford from third giving USA their slim, but final 2-1 margin of victory.

What USA then accomplished in the WBC final game against formidable and likewise undefeated Puerto Rico went far beyond expectations.  Team Borinquen entered Wednesday's final having pounded their opposition into submission, easily leading the tournament in runs scored.  But they say good pitching trumps good hitting, and that's exactly what happened.

Team USA starting pitchers performed superbly throughout the entire WBC tournament.  And Wednesday's championship game proved no different.  Making his second appearance of the games, Marcus Stroman whitewashed Puerto Rico through six innings, allowing but one hit and a walk, while fanning three.  In facing 19 batters he threw 77 pitches with 44 going for strikes, while inducing 11 ground balls, and just one fly.

Jim Leyland handed the ball off to relievers Sam Dyson, Pat Neshek, in the seventh and eighth respectively, then to David Robertson for the ninth.  The trio combined for three scoreless innings of two hit ball, with a walk and three more strikeouts.

Offensively, USA saved their best for last, pounding out eight runs, and hitting safely against each of Puerto Rico's eight pitchers.  Puerto Rico previously limited USA to seven hits during their Second Round encounter.  This time around, America's Nine stroked a team high 13 hits, topping their previous high of eleven set against Canada and matched against Venezuela.

Ian Kinsler opened the scoring in the third inning off starter Seth Lugo with a two-run knock to center.  After which USA never looked back, continuing to pile on six more unanswered runs.  USA got two more RBI each from Andrew McCutchen and Brandon Crawford, and single runs batted in from Christian Yelich and (Miami team mate) Giancarlo Stanton.

In all aspects of play, this was by far their finest performance of the tournament.

So now that USA has won one of these, how will this affect local and national fan interest levels moving forward?  And how, if at all, can winning a WBC title help sway America's more elite ball players into participating?

On a Related Note:  Extra! Extra! Forget All About It!

With regard to my particular local tabloids, their coverage of the 2017 World Baseball Classic flat out sucked.  The 2006 and 2009 Classics were treated with back page covers, and full multi page spreads featuring game photography, in depth summaries, accompanying articles, and just about every boxscore of tournament play.  Coverage was dialed back somewhat during the 2013 Classic, but this scrapbook maker nonetheless found the content at least satisfactory.  But no, the effort put forth was not as extensive as that of the previous two Classics.

This year's coverage was virtually non existent.  Not a single back page was given. Most mentions of the Classic were treated as mere afterthoughts.  The championship game only received one lone quarter panel lost among the ads from one tabloid, with no mention anywhere on the back page that a baseball game even took place.

The NYT did a better job.  And the Asian papers did even better prior to Korea's, Taiwan's, and China's respective elimination.  The Oggi Italia was good for two half panels, and the local Mexican tabloid was useful too.  I could always count on USAToday for good coverage.  They started okay, sputtered, then finished strongly.  Lastly, El Diario always does a superior job covering not just the WBC, but the Winter Leagues as well.

But I must say I was once again counting on USAToday for quality scrapbook content, 

Overall, though, the American papers left much for me to be desired.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

2017 World Baseball Classic: Final Four Madness II

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Semi-Final #1
Puerto Rico def. Netherlands

United States
Los Angeles

Team USA finally earns opportunity to avenge their 2009 WBC Semi-Final Loss Against Japan.

In three previous World Baseball Classics, Team USA has yet to advance into the championship round.   

They bowed out of the first ever WBC in the second round.  Despite posting a controversial victory over Japan, USA was eliminated after consecutive losses to South Korea and Mexico.  They reached the final four in 2009, but this time were eliminated by Japan whom went on to capture their second straight WBC championship.  In 2013, USA scored a second round victory over Puerto Rico, but lost against eventual champion Dominican Republic, and then were eliminated from the tourney after a lost rematch against Puerto Rico.

For the moment, USA has merely matched their previous best showing with their second ever semi-finals appearance.  Tonight, they'll seek to change that.

Overcoming undefeated Japan, however, poses a daunting task.

After six games, some would argue USA's 4-2 record is a little suspect.  In truth, Team USA has offered up some good, a little bad, but nothing too ugly to speak of.

In Round One, USA barely defeated upstart Colombia in extra innings.  They followed up surrendering a 5-0 lead to Dominican Republic en rout to a ponderous 7-5 loss, then soundly defeated an outclassed Canadian squad in the Pool-C finale.

They opened Round Two defeating Venezuela (whom wound up being one of the most disappointing teams of this tournament).  USA unfortunately ended up on the wrong side of a 6-5 thriller against Puerto Rico in Game Two, but avenged their previous loss against defending champion Dominican Republic with a 6-3 victory to gain their second ever final four appearance.

Former 2003 first round draft pick, Baltimore Orioles outfielder, and San Diego native, Adam Jones continues playing like Captain America.  I don't care that he's presently under the Mendoza Line, batting .154 through six games.  He drove in the winning run during USA's extra-inning Pool-C opener against Colombia, hit the game tying home run against Venezuela opening Round Two, then homered against Puerto Rico, and most recently made a game saving catch in the seventh inning against Dominican Republic, reaching over the right/center field wall robbing Manny Machado of a home run.

Trust me ... I'm okay with that.

Daniel Murphy, however, has had six at-bats all tournament.  He started at DH and went 0 for 4 in USA's very first game against Colombia.  He then went 0 for 2 in USA's fifth game versus Venezuela, and that's it - that's been the full extent of his participation through six games.

Jim Leyland has tasked (Washington) Tanner Roark with starting Tuesday evening's showdown against Japan.  His lone appearance to date came in USA's second game of Pool-C play against Dominican Republic.  That was the game which started out so brilliantly with Marcus Stroman on the mound, and USA leading 5-0 through 5 1/2 innings of play.  

Then the roof caved in.

In relief of Stroman, Tanner Roark faced nine batters, throwing 41 pitches, but only 24 (58%) going for strikes.  He was tagged for three earned runs on three hits, two walks, with no strikeouts in just 1.1 innings of work.  Yet, he still somehow managed getting credited with a hold.

That doesn't exactly inspire confidence with regards to this evening's game.  But a look at his 2016 season totals should.  Roark appeared in 34 games and made 33 starts.  He pitched 210 innings, posting a 16-10 record with a 2.83 ERA/1.171 WHiP/.379 FIP, and a 7.4 K/9 average.

I will say this, though: Jim Leyland's handling of the bullpen, his selections, and negotiating match-ups, has left much to be desired.  I said it after game one against Colombia, and maintain that same opinion today.

Jim Leyland is faced with another dilemma in the outfield awaiting a decision: who to start between Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Jones.  And who to DH for that matter.

USA needs power!  They have hit seven home runs through six games, and none during the first two games of Pool-C.  Giancarlo Stanton finally came around during USA's most recent win over D.R. with his first knock of the tourney.

This is a revamped Japan team that has homered in every game they've played.  They have hit multiple home runs in four of their six games, and have hit ten overall.

Monday, March 20, 2017

2017 Wrold Baseball Classic: Final Four Madness

From the desk of:  PLANET BASEBALL


Netherlands * Puerto Rico * United States * Japan

Puerto Rico

The Netherlands entered the 2017 World Baseball Classic with expectations of reaching the Second Round.  Congratulations to them on a job well done.  

Didi Gregorius has Netherlands in the semi finals, and must now somehow lead them against impressive Puerto Rico.

Netherlands enters the semi-finals with a 4-2 tournament record, having registered victories over Korea, Taiwan, a rematch win over Israel, and a commanding victory over Cuba.  They we upset by Israel in the first round, and lost to (still undefeated) Japan opening Round Two.

To date, Netherlands has outscored their opponents by an 45-20 margin.  Much of that can be explained by their most recent victories: a 12-2 romp over Israel, followed by a 14-1 dismantling of Cuba.  Said another way, Netherlands enters Monday's showdown against Puerto Rico on a roll.

Didi Gregorius, Andrelton Simmons, Xander Bogaerts, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, and Wladimir Balentien, are capable of providing Netherlands with sufficient slugging potential against Puerto Rico.

Team Borinquen enters the semi-final undefeated, registering victories over Mexico, Italy, Dominican Republic, United States, and a pair of victories over Venezuela.  They've outscored their opponents by a 52-15 margin.

They played a thriller against Team USA last Friday.  Puerto Rico led 6-3 through the eighth.  USA rallied for a pair of runs on Brandon Crawford's triple in the top of the ninth.  But with two and the game tying run on third, reliever Edwin Diaz struck out Josh Harrison swinging to end the game.

Puerto Rico roughed up USA starter Marcus Stroman right away, scoring four earned runs in the first inning.  Stroman allowed eight hits, walked one, and fanned a pair through 4.2 innings pitched.