Sports From The Korndog Stand

Just another WordPress.com site

Posts Tagged ‘MLB

A Championship Caliber Lineup

with one comment

The last time the Cleveland Indians were anywhere near the level of the New York Yankees was in 2007. That year was the Tribe’s last winning season, let alone postseason berth. They had just defeated the Yankees 3-1 in the American League Divisional Series.

Since then the Indians have gone down the complete opposite path as their counterpart. They began a rebuilding project while the Yankees spent millions of dollars on Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett en route to their first World Series victory since 2000.

So why am I talking about the Indians and the Yankees in the same writing? Because with the Indians’ rebuilding project and latest array of moves to build a new lineup for the upcoming season, I am reminded of the last time the New York Yankees had something that resembled a true dynasty.

As I mentioned, 2009 was the first time the Yankees won a World Series in nine years. What I did not mention was 2000 was the last of three straight World championships and fourth in five years for the Bronx Bombers. The ironic part is those three championship teams were hardly bombers.

Many teams aspire to have at least two “bash brothers,” the term the late 80s Oakland A’s coined for Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. These are players with extreme power, capable of hitting 30 or more homers each season. Some teams even try to litter their lineups with them. But as the Texas Rangers have proven in the last three seasons, lineups filled with power hitters do not necessarily win championships.

The New York Yankees, on the other hand, won their four World Series titles in the 90s and 2000 with a different strategy.

None of those four teams had a hitter in its lineup eclipse 30 home runs. Bernie Williams had the highest home run total in that span with exactly 30 in 2000.

Furthermore, none of those four championship teams had a player steal more than 31 bases, accomplished by Chuck Knoblauch in 1998.

So how did the Yankees win four World Series titles in a five year span without a monster basher or someone with blinding speed? A healthy balance would be the answer.

For starters, at least half of the players in every lineup hit for high average. In 1996, all but one player in the Yankees’ lineup hit .292 or higher.

Secondly, while those lineups were not littered with power hitters, almost every single player hit at least ten homers. In 1998 and ‘99 seven every day hitters totaled more than 17 round trippers. In 2000, six players hit 15 or more.

Finally, each of those teams had at least two players steal 14 or more bases. The ’98 championship team had five players do so. However, the highest total on the ’96 team was 17 by Bernie Williams.

What do the Cleveland Indians have to do with this New York Yankees World Series dynasty? In 2007, the last time the team was a contender, the lineup resembled those Yankees.

First of all, six of the nine regular batters hit for a respectable .270 average or higher. Victor Martinez was the leading hitter on the team with a .301 average.

Secondly, six of the regulars hit at least 18 home runs. Five hit 21 or more. However, again Victor Martinez was the leader with 25.

Finally, only one person in the lineup stole more than 14 bases. Grady Sizemore topped out at 33.

That Indians team was one win away from the World Series, in which it would have been a heavy favorite to win it all. While heavy blame is placed on Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia for laying eggs in their final playoff outings, equal blame could be placed on the lineup for not doing its part. I know the phrase “pitching wins championships” very well. In fact I am a firm believer in it. But it also helps to have a strong, balanced lineup to counteract opposing pitching.

While that lineup resembled the Yankees’ four championship teams, it was not nearly the caliber of it. What was missing from the Indians? A strong, experienced core. The four Yankee teams all had the same core in Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, and Paul O’Neill. They were also managed by Joe Torre.

The core of the 2007 Indians team, comprised of Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, Travis Hafner, and Jhonny Peralta had not played together as long as the Yankee counterparts. Furthermore, manager Eric Wedge was also very inexperienced.

Which brings me to the present. The Cleveland Indians have the youngest team in the Major Leagues. But with its youth it also appears to be building a strong core. Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, and until Francisco Lindor arrives, Asdrubal Cabrera make up that core. This postseason the front office has added veterans Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, and Mike Aviles to the team along with new, experienced manager Terry Francona to help the core.

In this new and improved Indians lineup I see the potential to resemble the New York Yankee lineups that won four World Series titles in five years. There is no visible extreme power to date. Mark Reynolds is capable of hitting more than 40 homers, but has not done so in four years. Nick Swisher’s career high is 35 seven years ago. Since then he has not hit 30, even playing with a short porch at Yankee Stadium. However, each of the regulars in the lineup, mainly the core I mentioned, are capable of hitting at least 10 homers.

The Indians teams of late have also not been known for their blinding speed. The fastest player on this new team is clearly recently added Drew Stubbs, who has stolen at least 30 bases in the last three seasons. It is well known in those seasons he has had issues reaching base. But perhaps a change of scenery will do him good and he will improve his play at the plate. Jason Kipnis stole 31 bases to lead the team this past season. Though his career high is only 12, I firmly believe Michael Brantley, with his ability to get on base, has the potential to swipe at least 30 bases himself each season. Mike Aviles has also stolen at least 10 bases in a season four times in his career.

The problem with the lineup that I will now mention is the ability to hit for a consistently high average. In recent years Asdrubal Cabrera has been an all-star caliber hitting shortstop to start the season, then tailed in the second half due to poor conditioning.

Carlos Santana, in his first two full seasons, struggled at the beginning but caught fire late. This past season his struggle could be attributed to a concussion he suffered early in the year.

Jason Kipnis, like Cabrera, was an all-star caliber hitter for much of the first half but also slumped badly for most of the second half. He has all the tools to make an excellent three hitter, though much of his success was found in the two hole.

The Indians appear to be full speed ahead with Lonnie Chisenhall as the full-time third baseman. He has not set the world on fire in his short stints in the Major League. But the talent and potential is there. Now it seems we will finally get to see what he is capable of with consistent plate appearances.

Michael Brantley, other than Shin-Soo Choo, who was dealt to Cincinnati, was the team’s most consistent hitter. Despite his struggles in this spot, I truly feel like Brantley has finally gained the confidence to be the team’s leadoff hitter.

What I am saying is when I look at the young core plus the newly added pieces, I see enormous potential. Like the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s, it does not appear to boast explosive power or mind blowing speed. It does suggest that it has the capability of producing high batting averages, on-base percentages, and runs; all statistics it has sorely lacked the last few years.

With Terry Francona, a manager with two World Series rings, at the helm, he can mold this young squad together with the veterans that were added into something special.

I am not saying it will happen this coming season. In fact, I would be pleasantly surprised if it did. I am saying with experience and an opportunity to gel under a new, highly esteemed manager, a bright future lies ahead for the Cleveland Indians team.

How does this new lineup look for Opening Day?

2013 Indians lineup

Advertisements

Written by apokorny

January 4, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Kent State University: A Baseball Dynasty

with one comment

Yes friends, I have been away for quite a while. The reasons why aren’t important. So rather than bore you with mundane details, I’ll cut right to the song and dance as “Sports From the Korndog Stand” returns!

If I haven’t said so before, I’ll say this now. Baseball has been my favorite sport since childhood. I love everything about the game. As a child I aspired to one day be a professional baseball player, until I realized despite my vast knowledge of the game, I had no talent for playing it. This week a member of family did realize such a dream, which I will get into later on.

I carry my love of baseball wherever I go. So naturally when I began college at Kent State University, I just had to see a game from the college perspective. Once I took my seat for my first Golden Flashes ball game, I took one look at Gene Michael Field and was immediately hooked. Watching the game I knew it would be something I’d enjoy for the rest of my time at the school. Watching the games, chatting with the pitchers who were video taping them from the stands, and learning all about the history and mystique of “Spring Break Dennis” was an experience I knew I’d never forget.

The team was amazing. They produced winning records, division or conference championships, as well as NCAA tournament berths. Then after that, they produced something bigger: professional baseball players. Each year the Flashes had a few players picked during the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Because of this tradition, I rarely ever missed a game in that five year span.

After graduating I was not able to return to Kent and see the baseball team play as often as I wanted to. However, I did continue to follow its progress on the internet. The team’s success continued while I was away, during that time period, due to such success, head coach Rick Rembielak left the school to become the coach at Wake Forest. He was replaced by Kent State alumnus Scott Stricklin.

I finally set foot back on the hollowed grounds of Kent State’s campus in the spring of 2008 when my cousin, outfielder Ben Klafczynski, began playing for the team. The sight was different. The renovations of the field and the area surrounding it which began my senior year at the school were completed. Gene Michael Field became Olga Mural Field at Schoonover Stadium. The bleachers were moved back and a set of ground level seats were inserted behind the backstop. A brick building which housed restrooms, a concession stand, and a clubhouse was built as an attachment to the home dugout. What already was a beautiful sight to my eyes became immortal.

Over the next three years, again I hardly ever missed a game as I supported my family and got to know the new players in person all over again. The game had not changed one bit for me. This was the Kent State baseball I remembered seeing when I was a student. The players may have changed, but the winning continued. The championships continued. The draft picks continued. Tradition continued. And yes, “Spring Break Dennis” was still there.

For some reason I thought this past season would be different than the previous years, however. Coming off a second straight Mid-American Conference tournament championship and NCAA tournament berth, the Golden Flashes lost a number of key players to graduation as well as early departure for Major League Baseball. The returning pitchers were coming off good, but not great seasons. Half of the lineup was comprised
of young, inexperienced players with hardly any college experience. Though the team was in fact picked to win its division, I was somewhat skeptical. What a surprise I was in for.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to listen to many internet broadcasts of Kent State baseball games this season, let alone attend games at Schoonover Stadium. This fact hit harder to me than ever before due to it being my cousin’s senior season with the team. As the season embarked, I was shocked at what I was seeing. The lineup produced as I expected. The veterans were hitting as they should while the inexperienced ones struggled. But the pitching staff was incredible. Led by redshirt sophomore Andrew Chafin, who was returning from Tommy John surgery, the Flashes’ pitching kept them in games while Scott Stricklin toggled through different lineups to form a winning combination.

Once conference play began, the hitters found their strokes while the pitchers continued to dominate. By the time I finally got out to Schoonover Stadium for a game a few revelations dawned on me. For starters, the impressiveness of the pitching staff was not an out-of-nowhere surprise. Starters Kyle Hallock, David Starn, and Ryan Mace and key relievers Justin Gill and Kyle McMillen put up star performances in the previous season’s Mid-American Conference tournament. Given their play at that point this season, it appeared they never looked back either. Other younger pitchers on the roster stepped up their games as well.

Secondly, in the days leading up to my first game of the season I found an article highlighting the new composite bats college baseball was using this season. The new aluminum bats have less bounce effect off the barrel, slowing the speed of the baseball after contact, making it safer for the fielders. It also is keeping the baseball in the ballparks. So not only was pitching quality higher this season, but the change in bats also aided in defensive performance.

Finally, when I took my seat at Schoonover Stadium, I observed all of the banners that were now displayed across the outfield fence. Though I followed the team for the last ten years, I failed to realize it had won a division, conference, or tournament title, or a combination of the three each of those ten years. It was then that I came to realize for all of those years I was witnessing a dynasty.

As the 2011 season continued, so did the Flashes’ dominance. While the pitching staff posted one impressive performance after another, the lineup fed off them. As a result, Kent State won yet another Mid-American Conference title, posting a 45-17 record and a national ranking. The team posted an amazing 2.66 earned run average as well as a stellar .292 batting average. Scott Stricklin and Kyle Hallock were named coach and pitcher of the year respectively. Other players were named to the all-conference team.

After a spectacular regular season, it was no surprise when, despite losing one game, the Flashes went on to win their third consecutive conference tournament and earn a third consecutive automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Golden Flashes were named a number three seed for the first time in program history as one of the four teams in the Austin regional of the NCAA tournament’s opening round. The team was named by one preview as a “dark horse” to win, citing its incredible pitching staff as the X-factor.

The team performed as advertised. First by pulling off an extra-inning upset over the second-seeded Texas State Bobcats in a pitcher’s duel, then an even more astounding upset over the top-seeded host Texas Longhorns in a battle between Andrew Chafin and Taylor Jungmann, the teams’ aces respectively and all but guaranteed first round picks in this year’s draft. However, time eventually caught up to the Flashes as Texas survived three straight elimination games with its pitching depth to win the region after defeating the Flashes in two consecutive games to end Kent State’s season.

The remarkable 2011 Kent State season reached its pinnacle over the past few days when the Golden Flashes baseball team produced five more draft picks by Major League Baseball. As expected, Chafin was picked in the first supplemental round on the first night by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Fellow pitchers Kyle McMillen (Chicago White Sox) and Kyle Hallock (Houston Astros) were chosen in the fourth and 10th rounds
respectively. Junior third baseman Travis Shaw was selected by the Boston Red Sox, who initially drafted him out of high school, in the ninth round. Finally, my cousin, Ben Klafczynski, was picked by the Chicago Cubs in the 20th round. He will join former Kent State teammates Chris Carpenter and Greg Rohan in the Cubs farm system.

As an interesting side note, my grandfather was once asked to try out for the Cubs in his youth but had to pass on such an opportunity due to family matters. Now many years later, in somewhat of a divine intervention, the son of his only son gets that opportunity with the same team.

Over the course of the last decade I have witnessed something special in the Kent State baseball program. Many teams have come and gone, but one thing has remained in tact: a winning tradition. As a proud alumnus of the school, I will continue to watch on as the team looks to build on an already strong dynasty.

Written by apokorny

June 10, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Pitchers Taking Back Prominence

leave a comment »

Matt Garza threw the first no-hitter in Tampa Bay Rays history.

Baseball seasons of years past have had some pretty exciting moments. Who could forget the summer of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris’ single season homerun record, which McGwire ended up breaking? Or how about three years later when Barry Bonds topped McGwire? Then there was the summer of 2007 when Bonds eventually broke Hank Aaron’s record for career homers.

What do these events have in common? They were all focused on the batting aspect of baseball and all took place during the infamous steroid era.

This season it is clear that pitching is taking back the limelight in Major League Baseball. Matt Garza of the Tampa Bay Rays supported that fact last night by throwing the league’s fifth no-hitter of the season, the most since 1991, when seven were tossed.

Before this year, three was the highest no-hitter total in a season. More astounding is there are still two months left to this season, so there is still the possibility of ‘91’s total being surpassed. There is definitely a good chance of that, as many pitchers this season have taken no-hitters and even perfect games into the late stages of games. I remember one game in particular between the Cubs and White Sox on ESPN Sunday night baseball when both teams’ starting pitchers took no-hitters into the eighth inning.

Until last night, only three teams have not had a pitcher throw a no-hitter: the New York Mets, San Diego Padres, and Tampa Bay Rays. Now the Rays can take their names off that list. To see them on the list is not surprising since they have only been in existence for twelve years. However, to come down off that list must feel really good. Especially since Rays have been on the wrong end of such a game so often lately.

Since they changed their names from the Devil Rays in 2008, Tampa Bay has been one of the best teams in baseball. Some superstitious people believe it was the name change that turned the team into a winner. That once Rays dropped the word “devil” from the name, it was like an overnight transformation. Others believe it was just a heap of young talent on the team jelling and reaching its peak at the same time.

Strangely though, over the last two years since they became such a good team, the Rays have been victims of the no-hitter three times, twice just this season alone. To make matters worse, two of those no-hitters were perfect games. During the franchise’s bad or formative years, depending on the perspective, Tampa Bay was only no-hit once in 2002. After being on the losing side of no-hitters four times in less than a decade, the team and its fans now owe a debt of gratitude to Matt Garza for finally tossing a winning one for them.

While many fans watch baseball for the big hits and high scores, I have always had a profound respect for pitching. I love watching a good pitcher’s duel. So after over a decade of watching the never ending parade of 50 homerun hitters, some of which had no business doing so, this season is a refreshing change of pace. The game of baseball appears to be “returning to normal.” I barely remember the 1991 season, so to see something similar happening right in front of my eyes, I’m happy to be a witness.

Credit for image: news.yahoo.com

Written by apokorny

July 27, 2010 at 3:42 pm

State of the Indians Address

with 2 comments

Despite their current state, I believe the Cleveland Indians can win.

Lately, all anyone in sports can think and talk about is the circus the NBA free agency period has become. All eyes and ears are on the news surrounding the top prize, Lebron James. More so now since James scheduled his announcement to be broadcasted live on ESPN. After the Cleveland Cavaliers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs, many Clevelanders became cynical and even despondent with the belief that James will leave the city for a bigger market or to team with fellow free agents Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I, on the other hand, prefer not to become too involved with that mess and would rather spend my time focusing on my favorite sport, baseball, a sport which currently has a season in play. For those of you frustrated or on the verge of tears with the Lebron James saga, allow me to deter your attention.

The first half of the 2010 Major League Baseball season ends this weekend. It has been a wild first half, to say the least. Some of the brightest stars of the future have made their Major League debuts while stars from the past are stepping down from their pedestals. There has been much evidence to support the declaration that the steroid era, while not forgotten in baseball lore, is long gone.

I could talk at great length about my thoughts regarding the 2010 MLB season thus far, but that would take days. So I will just go over some points about my favorite team, the hometown Cleveland Indians. Yes, the Indians are one of the worst teams in baseball. But trust me, this entry will not be as depressing as it may seem at first.

Going into this season, nobody expected the Indians to be anywhere near contention, and to this point they haven’t even come close to surprising anybody. However, there were definitely plenty of questions, some of which still have not been answered.

The biggest question on the minds of many diehard Tribe fans like myself was, after a disastrous 2009 season, could the organization form a pitching staff that could keep the team in games? The rotation was sketchy as can be with Jake Westbrook finally returning from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Fausto Carmona coming off a horrible season in which he was sent all the way back to A ball, and the remaining three spots up for grabs in a competition between at least five guys.

The rotation looked very strong early on during the season. Westbrook bounced back from a rough opening day start to show that he has fully recovered from his year-and-a-half long layoff. His 4.59 earned run average is deceiving as when Westbrook had his off-games, he was destroyed in them. He has also had his share of quality starts this season. Carmona’s performance is a testament to all of the hard work he put in over the off-season. With an ERA of 3.68 and only 37 walks in 103 innings, he turned in quality start after quality start to earn his first all-star selection. Part of his turnaround seems to be the abandoning of his 97 mile-per-hour fastball. This season Carmona has relied more on a sinker that tops out at 93 along with off-speed breaking balls, which he appears to have more control over. The big surprise so far this season has been Mitch Talbot. As a rookie who got beat up during his only other Major League opportunity, nobody was expecting him to perform the way he has. Like Jake Westbrook, when Talbot was beaten, he was beaten hard. But like Carmona, the majority of his starts have been quality, with an ERA of 3.86.

Westbrook, Carmona, and Talbot made up the good of the Tribe rotation so far this season. Now to discuss the bad part of it. After winning a team high eleven games last season as a rookie and winning the fifth spot in the rotation, I expected David Huff to continue improving. He appeared as such in his first two starts, but then spiraled downhill. Huff fell into the dreaded “sophomore jinx” and was sent back to Triple-A Columbus with a 2-9 record and 6.04 ERA. Justin Masterson was handed a spot in the rotation as an experiment to see if he can be transformed into a starter. So far, the results have been very negative. He lost his first five starts, struggles against left-handed hitters, and has control issues. With Aaron Laffey pitching well since being called back to Cleveland after Huff was demoted, I would expect Masterson to move into the bullpen once Carlos Carrasco gets the call back to the Indians.

While the rotation has its ups and downs, the Indians bullpen has been Jekyll and Hyde on seemingly a nightly basis. Like last season, the Indians have been calling up and demoting pitchers like a revolving door for the better part of the season. Joe Smith and Jensen Lewis have both been sent back to Columbus this season to figure out their issues with mixed results. Rafael Perez appeared to have the same issues which plagued him for most of last season, but has since calmed down and may be playing back to form. Hector Ambriz has been solid. As a Rule 5 draft pick, he must remain with the Indians all season long. With this season in the basement, the Tribe might as well keep him on, even if he falters, just to get a better look at him. Closer Kerry Wood is one issue that baffles my mind. His last season with the Chicago Cubs, his first as a closer, he saved 34 games with a 2.95 earned run average. The Indians signed him to a two-year contract and his career has rapidly declined. His issues could be explained by a lack of work. Since the Indians are a losing team, Wood has not had many save situations and rarely gets into ballgames for mop up duty. Interestingly though, the month of June has been very good for Wood. In ten appearances, he converted six of eight save opportunities, including three in a row in dominant fashion to close out the month. The one consistent bright spot for the Tribe bullpen has been Chris Perez. He started out as the closer when Kerry Wood began on the disabled list. After struggling the first few weeks, Perez has settled into a very stable setup role.

While preseason questions about the rotation loomed, the Cleveland Indians lineup looked like it could actually be productive. Anchored by veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Jhonny Peralta, and a finally healthy Travis Hafner, this team was expected to hit. Until recently though, this team has not done anything of the like. With the exception of Cabrera and, at times, Choo, the Cleveland Indians struggled consistently to score runs or even get on base. Peralta continued his string of early season struggles. Sizemore, coming off surgery, showed he was not at 100 percent. To make matters worse, Luis Valbuena and rookies Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley, expected to produce as the crown jewels of the C.C. Sabathia trade, also struggled against Major League pitching and were sent back to Columbus. Matters were made worse when Cabrera and Sizemore were lost for extended periods of time with injuries. As a result, the lineup fell completely out of sync. Many times opposing pitchers flirted with no-hitters and one even came within one out of a perfect game. Remaining Indians fans were praying for Carlos Santana to get the call, as he was tearing up the minor league system. It was only a matter of time as the season was quickly being lost and neither of the Indians’ catchers were producing at the plate.

Lately, however, something seems to be happening with this Cleveland Indians team. Jason Donald, making his Major League debut after Asdrubal Cabrera was hurt, is making the most of his opportunities. He plays every game with fire and adrenaline. I really like the hustle and effort he puts forth. He won me over when he hustled down the line at the end of the would-be perfect game when he could have easily dogged it and let the perfect game stand. Russell Branyan, who was signed during the off-season to my surprise and even displeasure, was traded back to Seattle and LaPorta was called back. Since then, LaPorta has been on a tear and is finally showing the potential fans expected of him. Carlos Santana finally got the call in early June and has never looked back. He was immediately given the third spot in the lineup and continued hitting a ton at the Major League level. The biggest surprise may be Jayson Nix. After the Indians claimed him off waivers, he’s hitting over .300 with four homers and seven RBIs in 11 games. While the youngsters are now producing, the veterans have seemed to finally catch on. Hafner and Peralta could always do better than they are now, but when they struggle, the younger players seem to pick up the slack. The one man who has never stopped hitting after an excellent start is Shin-Soo Choo. He has been such a highlight that he was heavily believed to be the Tribe’s only all-star this season. However, his crazy train was derailed late last week when he sprained his wrist diving for a fly ball. Like Cabrera and Sizemore, Choo will be out for an extended period of time and has given way back to Brantley, who was brought back to replace him.

Yes, like most of the Cleveland Indians season, most of this entry is filled with lowlights. However, unlike many people, I have not stopped following or enjoying Indians baseball. Maybe I just enjoy rooting for the underdogs. Whatever the case may be, the Cleveland Indians are now a team of young players who are hungry. I believe they can and will make the most of their opportunities. We have seen it happen with many other franchises in baseball. Not all World Series teams are bought like the New York Yankees. I have faith in my Cleveland Indians. They can win with the talent they have. Their recent five game win-streak is proof. It may take a few years, but the Indians will be back.

Credit for photo: http://www.nydailynews.com/img/2007/03/08/amd_wahoo.jpg