Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Phillies Fans, It's Even Worse Than You Think

Non-development of Brown has been a Phillies death blow
There is a lot of talk surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies as this year's Major League Baseball trading deadline approaches next week.

Unlike many recent years, when the Fightin' Phils were "buyers" and that talked centered on who they might acquire, this year it is clear that the team is a seller.

The speculation now revolves around which players, if any, will be dealt away before the trading deadline. It is also possible that some could successfully pass through waivers, and be dealt away in August. A couple more could go in the off-season as well. One thing is certain, the years of contending are over.

From 2001-2011, the Phillies were legitimate playoff contenders nearly every single year. That's more than a decade of consecutive excellence from a franchise whose history prior to the mid-1970's was overwhelmingly horrendous. But the players who formed the core of the 2008 World Series champions, the five consecutive N.L. East Division crowns, are pretty much finished now.

Over the last two years, Phils' fans have slowly, grudgingly come to grips with the reality. The glory of the record-setting 2011 team evaporated short of the goal for that "Four Aces" paced club, thanks mainly to Chris Carpenter, the pitcher who barely out-aced Doc Halladay by 1-0 in an NLDS Game 5 pitching gem for the ages. And when Ryan Howard crumpled to the ground in agony as that game ended, it was more of a watershed moment than any of us could possibly realize at the time.

Howard was the big bopper for those contending clubs. He was the 2005 NL Rookie of the Year and then the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player. From 2006-09 he hit more than 40 homeruns and drove in more than 130 runs every single year. Even through 2010-11, he continued to be a 30+ homer, 100+ rbi threat in the middle of the order. But Ryan Howard is now 35 years old, and while he still has power, he is a shell of the hitter who once terrorized opposition pitching staffs.

All across the diamond, the Phillies have aged. Joining Howard in the 35-year old club are fellow 2000's heroes Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Carlos Ruiz. Returnee Marlon Byrd is 36 years old. Newcomer Grady Sizemore is 31 years old and was out of MLB for all of 2012 and 2013 with injuries. Even John Mayberry Jr is now 30 years old.

On the mound, A.J. Burnett is 37, Cliff Lee is 35, Roberto Hernandez is 33 in the rotation. Cole Hamels is now 30 years old, and Kyle Kendrick turns 30 next month. Jonathan Papelbon is 33, and his perpetually injured erstwhile setup man Mike Adams is now 35.

Being in your 30's for most of us is still pretty young. I remember my own 30's as years where I felt and looked pretty much as I had for most of my 20's. But things are different for a professional athlete. For any athlete at any level, the 30's are when you begin to lose your effectiveness. It happens slowly for some, rapidly for others, but it is inevitable.

The aging problem is only one problem for the Phillies. Another is that they simply do not have enough young talent coming up from their minor league organization to help ease a transition to a new era of contending, and the younger players in the lineup right now have been largely ineffective, to put it mildly.

Domonic Brown is 26 years old. He was supposed to be the key player, the impact bat that would take over in the middle of the lineup by now and keep the team contending. As time passes it becomes more and more clear to anyone who knows anything about this game: Dom Brown is awful at baseball. He is a terrible outfielder, an undisciplined hitter, and repeatedly makes bone-headed plays in the field and on the bases.

I am not totally giving up on centerfielder Ben Revere. He has no arm whatsoever, but he does have speed that could play on a regular basis. He could very well be in the midst of a .290+ hitting, 50 stolen base season. The next 3-4 years will be his prime. With the right players around him, he wouldn't be a weak link.

Darin Ruf is now 27 years old. He has not been able to take a regular role with the big league club and run with it. He definitely has shown some right-handed pop, but may be a man without a position, not quite good enough for the outfield, and stuck behind the untradeable Howard at 1st base. Even if he did get regular at-bats, he might be nothing more than a poor man's Pat Burrell type.

Cody Asche is just 24, and he is a generally heady player who makes occasional tremendous plays at 3rd base. But he also has very little power, and is a below-average hitter overall. That, and he is going to have to move eventually, either to 2nd base or the outfield. If he can handle the position defensively, his bat might actually play at 2nd. As an outfielder, his type of offensive production would make for a 4th or 5th guy at best.

Perhaps the one area where the team may turn out to have some young, impact talent is in the bullpen. 23-year old Ken Giles looks like he could be the closer-of-the-future. Jake Diekman (27) and Justin De Fratus (26) seem like they can be effective out of the pen over the next few years. Jonathan Pettibone (23), Ethan Martin (25), and even Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez (27) may also be able to provide productive innings there.

Asche is going to have to move due to the looming presence of the Phillies top hitting prospect right now, 3rd baseman Maikel Franco. Coming off a tremendous season in 2013, the soon-to-be 22-year old has had a disappointing season with AAA Lehigh Valley. In ideal circumstances, he could probably use another full AAA season to really get himself ready. These are not ideal circumstances, and odds are that he gets rushed into an early callup.

Among the other top prospects for the team with the most potential impact, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who could be the JRoll heir apparent, is just 19 years old and playing in 'A' ball. If not rushed himself, he is probably at least 2-3 years away. Starting pitcher Aaron Nola was just drafted last month out of LSU, and at 21 years old he could reach Philly by 2016. It is hoped that he eventually teams with 22-year old Jesse Biddle in the longterm rotation. Biddle suffered a setback this year, and may also not reach the big club until 2016.

Every other prospect in the Phillies system has major questions to answer, either health-wise or developmentally, before they can even be in a discussion as potential help for the team in the next couple of years. Cesar Hernandez? Roman Quinn? Tommy Joseph? Aaron Altherr? Carlos Tocci? Severino Gonzalez? Will any of these guys be impact major leaguers?

It is possible that in two years, Cole Hamels is fronting a competitive rotation that features some starting pitcher(s) acquired by the team, supplemented by Nola and Biddle emerging for the future. The bullpen could have jelled into a formidable group. But that's only half the game. In the field, it's hard to imagine a productive infield with Howard, Utley & Rollins at 37 years of age. Maybe Franco is here playing well, maybe Revere is a solid centerfielder.

Of course, there is the possibility that Hamels may not even be here by then himself. Multiple reports as the 2014 trade deadline approach are saying that the team would deal Hamels away, if they could get 3 top prospects in return. That might actually not be a bad move, but would be completely dependent upon who those prospects were. Hamels is the one elite, in-his-prime piece. If the club deals him, it must get it right over the long term.

There appears to be only one way for the Phillies to get good again in a hurry: spend money and acquire young free agent talent. The team will indeed have plenty of money to spend, thanks to their new TV contract with Comcast. But other teams are locking up their best young position players with longterm deals. Dream boy Mike Trout is not a free agent until 2021.

Perhaps as much of a key as anything will be the individual making the decisions as the team attempts to re-tool or rebuild. I have seen nothing whatsoever from Ruben Amaro Jr. as a General Manager that leads me to believe with any confidence that he is capable of making the best decisions. But it appears that, at least for now, he has the support of ownership. In the end, that fact may be what finally sinks this once majestic ship.

With the former champions aging rapidly, no prospects appearing that they will be fully ready in 2015, the likelihood that even if traded, none of the aging players will yield many good, young players in return, and the fact that the person making all of the decisions appears incapable of doing so successfully, the situation with this team is likely even worse than many people realized.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MLB July 2014 Power Ranking

You don't know them, but KC is baseball's best team
We're officially halfway through the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season, and while some teams are getting hot, such as the new team atop the rankings, others are collapsing, such as my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.

Thanks go out to the folks at the Fangraphs website, whose statistical rankings and breakdowns for each team on offense, defense, and pitching form the core of the statistical evaluation and analysis that make up my own monthly MLB rankings. Below are the top teams at this halfway mark. If your team is not on this list, you have no shot at post-season baseball in 2014. None. Your team should likely be a seller as the trade deadline approaches.

POWER RANKING - JULY

1. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Are you as surprised as I was when I added it all up, and the top team in baseball turned out to be the Midwestern boys from KC? The Royals haven't been to the post-season since George Brett led the 1985 team to it's lone World Series victory, the 7-game controversial victory over Saint Louis that likely would never happen had replay been a part of the game back then. In 2014, the Royals were shutout on June 1st to fall into last place in the A.L. Central Division, 4 games below the .500 mark, 6 1/2 games out of first place. They proceeded to go 17-9 the rest of the month, including a 10-game win streak. The Royals are baseball's top defensive team, rank 8th on offense, and rank 9th in pitching. This has become a well-rounded team that must be taken much more seriously. A month ago, I highlighted the June Power Ranking article with this statement: "...if you're not mentioned...you're not going to the playoffs. Period." The Royals were not mentioned. Too soon to say if I was right, but the odds say they still will have a tough road to the post-season.

2. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The top team in the rankings a month ago remain right there a month later. The A's are the only team in baseball sitting 20 games over the .500 mark, and they hold a 5 game lead in the A.L. West. The team is tied with the division-rival Angels as the best offensive club in the game, they rank 8th on defense, and their pitching is 10th rated. The Athletics also gained some stability by signing a new lease that will surprisingly keep them in Oakland for at least another decade. The stats say they are pretty much dead even with the other top four teams on this list, and they should remain a top contender all season long.

3. ATLANTA BRAVES
A month ago, the Braves were among the 'Best of the Rest' category, not having made my Top 10 in the June rankings. And based on the N.L. East standings, they have actually regressed. The club was 6 games over .500 and owned a 3-game lead after action on June 1st, and now they are 7 games over .500, but own just a half game lead on Washington. But statistically, the Braves are improving. Their offense is fringe-contender at #10, but they are the 5th ranked pitching team, and their defense is rated 4th in the game. They will need to hit better as the summer moves along if they want to hold off the Nationals for the top spot in the division, but there is no reason that they shouldn't continue to contend both there and in the Wildcard race.

4. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cards have moved up slightly from their #6 slot a month ago, and remain one of the top contenders in the National League. The loss of Michael Wacha may test their rotation, but they seem to have a knack for overcoming those types of losses, plugging in from a deep, talented minor league system (Phillies take notice.) They are basically dead even with the Braves in the NL ranks, and with the A's & Royals overall, so right now the Cardinals have as good a shot as anyone to win it all this year. They are 9th in offense, 7th in pitching, and 3rd in defense overall in Major League Baseball. In short, the Cards are a team without much of a weakness.

5. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The #3 overall team a month ago, the Halos began June in 2nd place, 4 games over .500, 4 1/2 games behind the Athletics. They ended the month 10 games over that .500 mark, but were still in 2nd place, and had slipped to 5 1/2 games back. In short, they are playing as well as anyone in the American League, but they are trying to run down a talented Oakland club, and not making much headway to this stage. The Angels are tied with the A's as the top offensive teams in all of baseball, and they are 6th in defense. But their 20th-ranked pitching staff is keeping them from making a big move. This is a team screaming for trade to add a more consistent, veteran option to the rotation, and a truly reliable closer.

6. BOSTON RED SOX

7. CINCINNATI REDS

8. SEATTLE MARINERS

9. WASHINGTON NATIONALS

10. TAMPA BAY RAYS

Best of the rest: 
Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees,
Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates

My call:
Despite KC's big improvement this month, the Tigers remain the class of the A.L. Central, and it will be difficult to catch them barring major health issues for Detroit. Ditto with the A's in Oakland. The A.L. East remains up in the air completely. In the N.L., the East will clearly be a battle between the Nats and Braves. In the Central, the Brewers hold baseball's biggest lead. I still believe that the Cards and Reds will make runs at them, possibly the Bucs as well. In the West, the Dodgers are the best team, but the Giants may be able to battle them tight all year.

Monday, June 30, 2014

For Phils, It Has Gotten Late Early

Just a dozen days ago, I was writing speculatively about what appeared to be the growing possibility that the Phillies 2014 season might be more than many had thought.

Those 12 days seem like a month or more now, and what appeared to be a possible turnaround has evaporated into the disappointing campaign that those most negative of Fightins fans had predicted.

The Phillies have now lost 8 of their last 10 games to fall a season-high 10 games under the .500 mark, and a season-high 8 games out in the National League East division race. Just 10 days ago, they won their 5th straight to pull within 3 1/2 games of the top of the division. The good will that was beginning to develop back then is completely gone.

There are 162 games in a normal Major League Baseball regular season. The Phils have now played 82 games, or just more than half the season. The MLB All-Star Game break, not the actual halfway point but the spiritual halfway point of the season, is just two weeks away. There are no signs that this team can go on the type of lengthy winning streaks needed to get back into the race.

My speculation of a dozen days ago, that perhaps the Phils could continue to win and become pennant race "buyers" rather than the "sellers" that most were calling for them to become, has been answered by the team's on-field play. The Phillies have earned their last place status in the division. They have earned every one of those 10 games below the break-even mark.

It is still relatively early in the season, at least for teams with legitimate hopes of contending for division crowns, even one of the two Wildcard playoff spots. The Philadelphia Phillies are neither. For our Phillies, it has indeed become late very early. For our Phillies, the time is now, or very soon, to make some major changes.

One of the best trade chips that the Phils possess is, unfortunately, injured. Starting pitcher Cliff Lee has been a trade deadline trade chip a couple of times already in his career. The veteran is still considered one of the game's best starting pitchers. But other clubs are going to want to see him return healthy and productive before they will be willing to part with decent prospects in return.

Lee is aiming for a return sometime around the All-Star Game. The team needs to get him back, and have him make a handful of starts during the 2nd half of July. Assuming he holds up and performs to his capabilities, they will have a major chip to deal just as the trade deadline approaches at the end of the month.

But before that point arrives, the team needs to consider dealing, even actively try to trade away, a number of other players who have no hope of being around in a few years when, hopefully, the Phillies are again ready to contend. The problem is that their best chips all have warts, either due to age or salary or injury history, or some combination of those negatives.

Jonathan Papelbon is having a good year as the closer, and would be valuable in that role to many contending teams. He has allowed just 21 hits in 32.1 innings with a 28/9 strikeout/walk rate and 18 saves. At 33 he is not too old, and in fact has tremendous experience in major markets, including closing out a World Series victory for the Boston Red Sox.

The problem? Papelbon has a $13 million contract for 2015. So a contender would be on the hook for the balance of his $13 million this year, and then own the highest-paid closer in the game next year as well. The Phillies would almost certainly have to agree to take on a significant portion of that salary in order to get a good prospect in return.

Ryan Howard still has pop, as evidenced by his team-leading 14 homeruns and 51 rbi. He has a legitimate shot at a 30 homer-100 rbi season for the first time since his last healthy year of 2011. But Howard is locked in as a 1st baseman, is already 34 years old, and is guaranteed $25 million in salary in each of 2015 & 2016. Could the Phils find an A.L. contender who could use Howard as a DH/1B? Sure. But again, taking on that salary will be a major stumbling block.

Marlon Byrd was brought in with the hope that he could help push the team to contending status, and if not might perhaps make himself into a viable trade commodity come deadline time. Well, here we go. Byrd has played well in right field, and has shown an effective middle-of-the-order bat as well. He is on close to a 30-homer, 100-rbi pace himself and is owed an affordable $8 million next year when he will be 37 years old. A number of teams could use a veteran bat at that price.

A.J. Burnett was brought in to be the veteran, reliable 3rd starter when it became obvious that Roy Halladay was finished. Burnett has largely filled the role well, and in fact with the Lee injury has been forced into a #2 role much of the season. He has responded with 111 innings pitched across 17 starts, allowing just 102 hits with a 3.89 ERA. He has already gone on record as saying that he would have interest in returning to Pittsburgh, and the Pirates are looking for arms. Perhaps an ideal match?

The most wrenching deals would likely involve moving both or either of Jimmy Rollins and/or Chase Utley. Both players are beloved on some level. Both players are iconic pieces of the success of the last decade. They will be rightly remembered fondly, and feted at 2008 World Series champion reunions and old-timer's games, for decades around these parts. Both also have the ability to shoot down any trade.

But both Rollins and Utley remain attractive players for other teams. They still play their positions well, positions that are valued highly and where a number of contenders have need of a player with their experience and skill levels. Rollins will be owed $11 million next season when he will be 36 years old. Utley is owed just $10 million next year, but has a $15 million vesting option for 2016 when he will be 37 years old. Those contracts for players at those ages may be problematic for many clubs.

About the only veteran piece that the Phillies should not deal is starting pitcher Cole Hamels. The lefty is 30 years old, in the prime of his career, and has a contract that takes the club through the 2019 season. There is no reason that he cannot be around as the leader of the rotation in the next phase of winning. Unless the Phils are completely blown away with some major pieces, Hamels must be kept and used as the linchpin around which the new rotation is grown and built.

This will not be an easy, painless rebuilding process by any means. The Phillies minor league system is widely acknowledged as one of the overall worst in the game, having fallen into complete disrepair on the watch of General Manager Ruben Amaro. Perhaps the most unfortunate element here is that Amara has shown little to give the fan base confidence that he is the man to undertake the rebuild. And yet that is what is likely to happen.

What the Philadelphia Phillies really need is a complete change in organizational philosophy and direction. They need to fire Ruben Amaro, replace him with a respected, experienced GM, and give that GM the authority to hire across the organization. That GM needs to emphasize building up those minors, while also smartly spending money on free agents.

Thanks to the assets of their television contract, a beautiful ballpark, and a passionate fan base willing to come out when inspired, this does not have to be some 5-year plan rebuild. It should take a year or two to shed the current salaries and say goodbye to most of the 2008 hero remnants. There would be another year or two of building through the draft at the same time. Come 2016 at the latest, the team should be able to begin adding key free agent pieces.

What is important for the Phillies ownership is that they begin to show that fan base that they acknowledge it is time to move on from 2008, from top to bottom, and begin to show that they are prepared to move towards a bright future. For the 2014 campaign, it is too late. It has gotten late early. But it gives the team ownership a chance to change direction with that fan base squarely in their corner.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Goodbye, Mr. Padre

It was the summer of 1982, and I was a still young 21-year old baseball fan who was beginning to take notice of something happening within the game that I had followed for about a dozen years.

The heroes of the game in my childhood were beginning to age, and some were even retiring. For example, Reggie Jackson and Jim Palmer were 37 years old. Johnny Bench was 35, playing in his final season.

Even my own beloved Philadelphia Phillies, strong contenders for the last 7-8 years, and World Series champions just 2 years earlier were aging with core veterans like Pete Rose (41), Steve Carlton (37), and Tug McGraw (37) getting long in the tooth. Even Mike Schmidt was then 33 years old. Still a strong MVP candidate, but even Schmitty was sliding inevitably towards the back end of his own career.

But as I was coming to adulthood, and that generation of ballplayers from my childhood was fading away, I was also noticing that in those early-mid 1980's a new, younger generation of ballplayers was coming along, all of them my own age or just a couple years older. Over the next decade and more, these players such as Cal Ripken Jr, Kirby Puckett, Daryl Strawberry, Ryne Sandberg, and Wade Boggs among others would provide many memorable moments to the game.

Among those new, emerging players was a sweet-swinging, athletic outfielder with the Padres out in San Diego by the name of Tony Gwynn who had begun his career with a mid-summer callup on July 19th, 1982. In that first game, Gwynn went 2-4, scoring one run and driving in another in a 7-6 loss to the Phillies, who were led by homeruns from Schmidt and catcher Bo Diaz.

Hitting 5th in the Padres batting order that night, Gwynn provided a 1st inning sacrifice fly in his first big league plate appearance against Phils' starter Mike Krukow that scored Tim Flannery and gave San Diego an early 2-0 lead. His two hits later that evening were the first of 3,141 in his career. It would be the first of many successful moments and games for Tony Gwynn in what would prove to be a 20-year Hall of Fame career.

After that break-in campaign in 1982 during which he hit a more than respectable .289, Gwynn would never again hit less than .309 in a season. He would hit more than .330 in nine different seasons, over .350 in seven of those seasons, winning 8 National League batting titles. He would lead the league in hits 7 times, and was a 14-time NL All-Star. Though he never won an MVP award, he finished in the Top 10 of the voting 7 times. Gwynn also won 5 Gold Gloves for his excellent play in right field.

Tony Gwynn was remarkably consistent, hitting and producing under virtually any set of circumstances. He hit .343 at home and .334 on the road. He hit .340 at night and .334 in day games. He hit .337 outdoors and .351 inside in domed stadiums. He hit .339 on grass, and .334 on artificial turf surfaces. Gwynn was especially strong in the clutch, hitting .354 in the 9th inning of games, and .393 in extra innings. He hit .326 in tie game situations, .321 with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, and .353 in situations where it was late in games and the score was close.

Over those 20 seasons in Major League Baseball, Tony Gwynn played in 180 games against the Phillies, starting 168 times, and had 768 plate appearances against them. Gwynn hit .346 with a .400 on-base percentage, figures just a little above his overall career averages. He wore out Phillies pitching the way he wore out everyone. He hit over .300 against every single team that he faced more than 100x in his career, over .330 against all but two teams.

He was nicknamed "Mr. Padre" for spending his entire 2-decades career in San Diego and leading them to the franchise's only two World Series appearances following the 1984 and 1998 seasons. The Padres lost both of those Series to the Tigers 4-1 and the Yankees 4-0 respectively. Gwynn made the final out of that 1984 Series. He also homered off David Wells in the 1998 Series opener, a moment that he called the greatest hit and highlight of his career.

He was also nicknamed "Captain Video" as a nod to his relentless watching of videos of his own at-bats, as well as videos of opposing pitchers. Gwynn was one of the first to actively embrace video, becoming almost obsessive in trying to obtain any slight advantage, advance his skills, and improve his performance and results. He bought his own video equipment, his wife would tape his at-bats, and he would bring the equipment with him throughout his baseball travels.

Tony Gwynn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2007, but that didn't end Gwynn's contributions to the game. He became the head coach at his college alma mater, San Diego State University, where he compiled a 363-363 career record and guided the school to three Mountain West Conference championships and three NCAA tourney appearances, only endearing him more to the folks in his adopted hometown.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Gwynn attended high school in Long Beach, attended college in San Diego, and of course played in MLB with San Diego. He was a California kid all the way through. His was a baseball family, with brother Chris Gwynn also playing in MLB, and the two brothers even briefly played together with the Padres. Tony's only son Tony Gwynn Jr is a Major Leaguer today, currently playing with the Phillies. Gwynn also had a daughter and 3 granddaughters.

In 2010, Tony Gwynn was first diagnosed with cancer of the salivary gland, and he had lymph nodes and tumors from the gland removed. This began a battle over the next four years through radiation, chemotherapy, and surgeries with varying degrees of success. Three days ago, on June 16th, 2014, Tony Gwynn died from complications of his cancer. He was just 54 years old. Gwynn himself attributed his cancer to his lifelong addiction to chewing tobacco. His cancer and death should be a warning call to stay away from this awful, addictive, and dangerous product.

Tony Gwynn was one of the greatest "pure hitters" that I have personally ever seen in the game of baseball. That term "pure hitter" is generally reserved for those players who maintain an abnormally high batting average, but with little power. Gwynn was at the elite end of the scale in that regard, rivaled only during my lifetime by Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, and Pete Rose.

Over the past couple of days, and no doubt continuing over the next few and through this season, the fans of the San Diego Padres as well as baseball fans across America and around the world will be remembering and memorializing one of the greats of the game. For me, Tony Gwynn was my age. He is one of the first of my contemporaries to pass, and thus is particularly special to me. RIP, Mr. Padre, and enjoy the next life with your heavenly Father. You will not be forgotten as long as people who love the game of baseball as much as I do are left in this life.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Could Phillies Be Buyers?

So, are there any of my fellow fans of the Philadelphia Phillies out there who might still be reluctant to throw in the towel on the team's 2014 chances? Let's try on a pair of rose-colored, or would that be red-pinstriped, glasses and see what we might see.

Following last night's 2nd consecutive road victory over the Atlanta Braves, who were in first place when this series began, the Phillies are now just 5 games behind the division leading Washington Nationals, just 6 behind the 2nd Wildcard playoff spot.

There has been speculation for weeks that the team would be sellers towards the end of July as Major League Baseball's 2014 trade deadline approached. Such a scenario, it was said, could involve a complete fire sale that would finally blowup the great 2007-2011 division-winning teams, with Cliff Lee, Jonathan Papelbon, and even the iconic trio of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and new all-time franchise Hits king Jimmy Rollins being dealt away.

What has not been considered by many, at least not discussed much publicly to this point, is the exact opposite scenario: could the Phillies somehow become buyers at the deadline, or even sooner, instead of being sellers? Does this thing really need to be blown up, or could a little retooling, a little health, and a couple additions push them back towards the top?

While that might still be a longshot, and while most would be skeptical, it is still not entirely implausible that a month from now, when the traditional "2nd half" begins following the break for the MLB All-Star Game festivities, the Fightin' Phils might still be very much alive in the race to the post-season. If the Phils are within 2-3-4 games at the All-Star break, what then?

There is a great chance that we will have a much better handle on the team's ultimate chances by that point, and it says here that, barring a sudden, complete collapse in the next couple of weeks, the team should absolutely not undertake any type of sell-off until that point at the earliest. If they are out of contention, or it appears very unlikely they will contend, there will still be plenty of time to make deals in mid-late July and even into August.

Key over the next four weeks of play will be the schedule, which will find the Phillies taking on the three teams currently ahead of them in the National League East Division 13 times in the 20 games following this current week. 10 of those 13 divisional games will be played at home at Citizens Bank Park.

If the Phillies are back at, or even above, the .500 mark at the All Star break and within those handful of games of the division lead, management must at least consider adding to the roster and taking a run. Having won 5 of their last 7 games, should they finish off a road sweep this afternoon in Atlanta, such a scenario is not as far-fetched as it would have seemed even two weeks ago.

If the Phillies are indeed transformed into buyers, where would they be best served to buy? At what positions are they likely to need, and possibly find, the kind of help that would make a difference? First of all, much of the help might already be on their roster, if they can get it a couple of key players healthy, and make the right decisions on a couple of others.

The health part would come from Cliff Lee on the mound and Cody Asche at 3rd base. Asche is closer, already on a minor league rehab assignment where he has looked solid. Getting him back up and manning the hot corner would lengthen the lineup and strengthen the bench. Lee has been slow in testing his arm, but just threw off a mound, had no issues, and is eyeing a July return.

Another part of the equation would have to come from the old, reliable, veteran core group of players getting excited about the possibilities, and upping their own production. Chase Utley got off to a sizzling start, one that has vaulted him far into the lead in NL All-Star balloting at 2nd base. Jimmy Rollins set the franchise career Hits record and is showing signs of life, and Ryan Howard has homered in back-to-back games and may himself be ready to go on a tear.

The "right decisions" part of the equation would come from manager Ryne Sandberg finally going to a total platoon situation in leftfield. John Mayberry Jr is hitting .300 with a .404 on-base percentage and 3 homers vs lefty pitching. I would platoon Mayberry in left with...someone new.

Frankly, Domonic Brown is not a Major League starting caliber outfielder. He is mediocre at best on defense. He is a terrible, horrible, awful, whatever negative adjective you want to hang on him, hitter. In fact, to call him any kind of hitter whatsoever is too kind. He can catch up to a pitch and hit it out once in awhile. Sounds like a bench player with some pop to me, the kind of guy you bring off the bench to pinch-hit for the pitcher when you need a game-tying late homerun chance.

The best place that the Phillies could improve themselves right now is leftfield. Two players could fit the mold. One is San Diego Padres lefty hitting Seth Smith. Put Smith into a platoon with John Mayberry Jr, and you have a potentially productive tandem. Another option would be Minnesota's Josh Willingham, though he would be more of a full-time starter, keeping Mayberry coming off the bench. I would vote for Smith, and the Fightin's would have to try to find a trade match. Smith makes just $4.5 million, the Phils would only pay about half of that, and there is no obligation beyond 2014.

The Phillies young bullpen arms have really stepped up in recent weeks, and the club now has a pair of young fireballers in lefty Jake Diekman and righty Ken Giles joining the revitalized Antonio Bastardo in paving the way to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has been extremely reliable since Opening Day. With Lee back, the rotation with he and Cole Hamels, who has been pitching at an All-Star level himself for weeks, would have an enviable 1-2 punch at the top.

This was the most optimistic scenario when the season opened: a fountain-of-youth type year from the Howard/Utley/Rollins trio, strong starting pitching from Hamels/Lee/Burnett, effective contributions from the back-end rotation guys Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez, the young bullpen fortifying things, Papelbon reliably closing out games, and young position players like Ben Revere and Cody Asche producing in the lineup.

That optimistic scenario is very close to coming together right now. Now is the time for this Phillies team to begin stringing wins together more consistently, the way that it appears they have over the last 10 days or so. If they put together a solid stretch of play over the next three weeks, the odds that they will be contenders, and thus buyers, become stronger. It may be an optimistic scenario, but it sure beats the alternative in a long summer that is just beginning for fans of the team.


Friday, June 13, 2014

The Greatest Sporting Event on Earth

The 2014 FIFA World Cup opened yesterday with host Brazil coming away victorious with a 3-1 result over Croatia.

Every four years, national teams from around the world meet in what has become by far the world's most-watched and followed sporting event.

While American football and baseball are king here in the sports-crazed USA, it is "football", or what we here call "soccer", that is king most everywhere else on Earth. It is estimated that 48% of the globe's population watched some portion of the 2010 World Cup, won that year by Spain in South Africa.

The host nation, Brazil in this year's case, receives an automatic invitation to the tournament. But to reach the World Cup, the 206 other national teams play a series of qualifying matches in their geographical section of the world, known as "federations" in soccer-speak, during the preceding couple of years.

The results of these regional federation qualifying tournaments enable another 31 nations to qualify for the actual World Cup tournament. The whole system is run under the FIFA umbrella, the world's ruling and governing body for the sport.

After decades of lagging behind the rest of the planet, the U.S. has finally begun to take the sport more seriously. Over the last couple of decades the American men have become a legitimate force in "the beautiful game", with the women already a dominating presence.

The U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) competes in the federation known as CONCACAF, short for the Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association Football. They have qualified now for 6 straight World Cups, hosted the 1994 edition, and are currently ranked 14th in the world.

There have been a handful of great results for the team. In the 1930 World Cup, they reached the semi-finals and finished in 3rd place, the best-ever finish for the USMNT. The next great moment came in 1950, when they defeated heavily favored England 1-0 in a group match. It would be 40 more years before the men again qualified, but have been regular participants since 1990.

In more recent World Cup appearances, the 2002 USMNT reached the quarter-finals, finally falling to a powerful and experienced Germany, the eventual tourney runners-up, by just 1-0. In 2010, they finished with a 1-1-2 record, but were eliminated in the round-of-16 by Ghana in a frustrating 2-1 defeat.

The World Cup tournament begins by dividing the 32 qualifiers into 8 groups of 4 teams each. The top 8 teams in the world are placed in separate Groups, and the others all randomly drawn. In this 'Group' stage, the teams play each of the others in their Group, with the top 2 finishers advancing to the round-of-16.

Those top 2 finishers in each Group now qualify for what is known as the "Knockout" stage, where you either win, or you get knocked out of the tournament. Teams cannot play others from their previous Group stage unless they meet in the Final.

The national teams seeded 1-8 as the top seeds in each Group this time around, are: Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, and Switzerland. The U.S. was drawn into 'Group G', a particularly tough one that includes Germany, Portugal, and Ghana.

Three clear patterns have emerged in World Cup history. First, no team from outside of South America has ever won a World Cup held in the Americas. Second, the beaten team in the Final in each of those American tourneys has been from Europe. Finally, in 19 tourneys, any "top-tier" host country has finished among the final three on 11 occasions, boding well for top-tier hosts Brazil.

The current favorites among odds-makers to emerge from the 8 Groups are: Group A - Brazil & Croatia, Group B - Spain & Netherlands, Group C - Colombia & Ivory Coast, Group D - Italy & Uruguay, Group E - Switzerland & France, Group F - Argentina & Bosnia, Group G - Germany & Portugal, Group H - Belgium & Russia.

You may have noticed a pair of notable omissions from the odds-makers favorites to advance from the Group stage. The United States is not there, and neither is England, where the game is the national past time and passion, and home to the Premier League, the top-rated professional league in the world.

The USMNT is picked to finish 3rd in their Group G, behind both Germany and Portugal. The Germans are obvious favorites for the Group as the #2-rated team in the world. But despite being ranked 13th and Portugal ranked just behind at 14th, the odds-makers have made the Portuguese, led by one of the world's top players in Cristiano Ronaldo, slight favorites to slip past the Americans and out of the Group stage.

If all goes according to form in Group G, the Germans will advance without too much trouble. The 2nd team to move on will come from a scrum between the USA, Portugal, and Ghana. The results of games among those teams will be pivotal. Ghana has become an American nemesis, eliminating the USMNT with 2-1 victories in both the 2006 Group stage and the 2010 round-of-16.

Between now and the 2014 World Cup Final to be held in Rio de Janeiro on July 13th, the drama will unfold, first in those Group stages, and then through the three Knockout stages, until one nation is left standing, it's players holding aloft the gold World Cup Trophy as the citizens and fans of that nation party in the streets.

And also between now and the Final, approximately half of the population on the planet will tune in to the matches on television. From the frozen tundra of Antarctica to the African desert, from the war-ravaged Middle East to the Far East of Japan. From pubs in England and Ireland to American homes across our own country, support will come for the national teams, and even if eliminated, interest will continue all the way through.

The soccer World Cup is simply the greatest sporting even on Earth. As much as I personally love baseball and as big an event as the World Series is here in America, and even recognizing the growing global interest in the Super Bowl, perhaps the planet's most-hyped single day sporting event, the scope and impact of the World Cup cannot be denied.

If you are a soccer fan, you don't need me to sell you on this tournament. If you are just a casual sports fan, try to tune in at some point. Many of the games will be covered on TV here in the United States by the ESPN and ABC networks. Here is the schedule for Group stage matches involving the USMNT:

Monday, June 16th, 6pm: Ghana
Sunday, June 22nd, 6pm: Portugal
Thursday, June 26th, 12pm: Germany


Monday, June 2, 2014

MLB June 2014 Power Ranking

Josh Donaldson and the A's atop first Power Ranking
We are now two full months into the 2014 Major League Baseball season, and teams have had more than ample time to separate themselves based on their results and ability to overcome adversity, such as debilitating injuries.

So now is the time that a relevant Power Ranking of the game's top clubs can begin to sort out the contenders from the pretenders. There are 16 teams in MLB with .500 or better records. If your favorite is not one of them, your favorite is not likely going to the post-season.


POWER RANKING - JUNE

1. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The 2-time defending A.L. West champion A's not only have the top record in the American League at 35-22 for a .614 win percentage, they are also ranked 1st in all of MLB in Pitching and Hitting. Their 20th-rated Defense is currently their only weakness, but at least at this stage it is not a separator that is hurting their results on the field. Manager Bob Melvin is using his entire roster. A full dozen players have more than 100 plate appearances. Three players are in double-digits for homeruns, led by the MLB leader in oWAR, Josh Donaldson. On the mound, the A's have four starters who have been extremely effective, led by young ace Sonny Gray. Now they appear to have found a legit longterm closer option in Sean Doolittle. The staff overall ERA is below 3, incredible for an A.L. team. If they stay healthy, they are again both A.L. West and World Series contenders.

2. MILWAUKEE BREWERS
There is perhaps no bigger surprise team in all of baseball than the Brew Crew. Though they possess just the National League's 2nd best record, they may be MLB's most complete team to this stage of the season. Milwaukee is 11th in Hitting, 7th in Pitching, and 8th in Defense. Not at the top of any category, but they have so far demonstrated no major weakness. Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez are both legit NL MVP candidates right now, and may be the league's top 1-2 punch at the plate.

3. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The scary thing about the Halos is that they just might be about to get measurably better as Josh Hamilton comes off the DL this week. He will join Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in giving LA's "other team" a true 3-headed monster on offense, where they are already the game's 4th-ranked club. With the 7th-ranked Defense, it is only the Angels 15th-ranked Pitching that keeps them from making a big run at Oakland in the A.L. West right now. Young starters Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs are keys, but this is a "buy" team for a veteran arm.

4. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
The top team in the National League standings is also baseball's overall #3 in Pitching and #7 in Hitting. Much like Oakland, they have a weakness on 'D', where they are ranked down at #21, just below the A's. But like their by-the-bay cousins, it isn't hurting them at this point. Tim Hudson has easily been the best off-season free agent signing in the sport, and he teams with Madison Bumgarner to give the G-Men a dynamic 1-2 punch atop their rotation. Outfielder Mike Morse may be the 2nd best off-season signing, giving them a true impact power bat to this point.

5. TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Rounding out the Top 5 to this point in the season, this is about where everyone thought the Jays would be a year ago. That disappointing season is being quickly forgotten in a barrage of homeruns being launched  by the game's #2 Offense. A half-dozen players have at least 8 longballs, led by the dynamic 1-2 punch of Edwin Encarnacion (19) and Jose Bautista (14), but they are not one dimensional. The Jays are fundamentally sound, with baseball's 6th-ranked Defense. Only their 22nd-rated mediocre pitching keeps them from the top, that despite a Cy Young-caliber season from 10-win veteran Mark Buehrle.

6. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS

7. DETROIT TIGERS

8. BALTIMORE ORIOLES

9. SEATTLE MARINERS

10. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Best of the rest: 
Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox,
Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies

My call: 
Too soon for Divisional, Wildcard, Pennant, or World Series picks. But here is the first call - if you're not mentioned somewhere in the above, you're not going to the playoffs. Period. Take that to the bank. Tell your team to start selling now.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Remembering Doc's No-No on Anniversary of Perfection

For Phillies fans, it was not that long ago that our team was at the top of the National League, with the best starting rotation in baseball leading the way.

Three years ago on this date the Fightins were in the midst of a franchise record-setting 101-win season, and that vaunted pitching rotation included four pitchers who had been collectively nicknamed "The Four Aces" by fans and media.

Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and arguably the Ace among Aces, Roy 'Doc' Halladay. It all seems to be drifting further and further into the rearview mirror now. Oswalt has been gone for a couple of years. Lee is on the Disabled List, and heavily rumored in trade discussion. Only Hamels remains, and is likely to remain, for the foreseeable future.

Halladay finally retired following the 2013 season, one that was frustrating and painful for himself and for fans of both the team and the man whom we had all come to love over the final four years of a brilliant career that spanned parts of 16 seasons, mostly with the Toronto Blue Jays. In what was his 2nd consecutive ineffective season cut short by injuries, Doc Halladay's gifted right arm finally was spent.

But Halladay left behind a tremendous legacy in just those brief closing seasons here in Philly. There was the Cy Young Award that he won following his first season here in 2010, a 21-win campaign that included that 'Perfect Game' on May 29th. There was that magical 2011 season in which he was the Cy Young runner-up for the record-setting Phillies who won their 5th straight NL East title. And there was that 'Perfect Game' against the Florida Marlins on this night, four years ago now.

For my wife and I, there was also a special night with Doc. It came on a cool, damp night at Citizens Bank Park in the 2010 playoffs, in what was the very first playoff game of Roy Halladay's illustrious career. It was what he had come to Philly for in the first place, a chance to win a World Series, in front of a ballpark packed to the rafters with rabid, knowledgeable fans. It was Roy Halladay's dream.

We are 'Sunday Plan' season ticket holders with the Phillies, and back in 2010 our seats were in section 208, row 6. On that night of October 6th, 2010, however, because it was a playoff game, we had been given tickets in section 313. So we were seated up above left field in foul territory, a little ways beyond first base. They were good seats, as are most at the gorgeous ballpark.

The Phillies were up by 1-0 in the series, and as this game unfolded the team staked Halladay to an early lead, scoring a run in the 1st and then 3 more in the 2nd to go up 4-0. Halladay himself had knocked in the 2nd run, and then scored the 4th. It was now up to him to hold that lead, and put the Phillies up 2-0 in the series, within one of advancing to the National League Championship Series.

On this night, there was nothing to worry about. Not only would Halladay hold that lead, he would make history. Somewhere around the 6th inning my father called my cellphone from his home in Florida, asking if I knew what was happening. Did he really think that we were not all aware that Doc Halladay was tossing a no-hitter? I told him brusquely: "Yes, and don't say anything!"

A lifelong baseball fan, as my Dad well knew, I was not going to be the one to jinx our hero.

So the game continued into the 9th inning with Halladay just three outs away from Major League Baseball's first post-season no-hitter since Don Larsen's legendary 'Perfect Game' in the 1956 World Series. That Larsen perfect effort was the only no-hitter in MLB playoff history up to that point. Halladay was going for history here, and we were there to see it.

I had been attending Phillies games since Veteran's Stadium opened back in 1971 in my old South Philly neighborhood. I had attended hundreds of games between the years at 'The Vet' and then at Citizens Bank Park once it opened in 2004. I had never, ever been this close to experiencing a no-hitter 'live' as a spectator. It was thrilling to feel the electricity in the air, and to be experiencing it with my best friend, my wife Deb.

The first two batters of that 9th and final inning went down fairly easily, both popping out. So there was just one batter between Doc, we Phils fans, and the no-hitter, the Cincinnati Reds tough and talented 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips. Doc got the first two strikes, and the fans, already on our feet the entire inning, roared for that final strike to end it.

But Halladay did not get a strikeout. Instead, Phillips barely got a piece of the 0-2 offering, and the ball dribbled out in front of home plate. You could see the entire sequence with perfect clarity from our seats, and a baseball fan who was once a catcher himself could see that this was trouble. Phillips was a speedy runner, the bat had been dropped right on top of the ball, and catcher Carlos Ruiz would need to pounce out and find a grip on that ball quickly, keep from tripping on that bat, and make a difficult-angled throw to get him.

The man known lovingly in Philly as "Chooch", one of our remaining heroes from the 2008 World Series championship team, did just that. Ruiz pounced quickly from behind the plate, barehanded the ball, and fired just over Phillips left shoulder to 1st baseman Ryan Howard, getting Phillips by a stride. No-hitter! History!

As my wife and I hugged and high-fived both each other and everyone around us, the entire ballpark was in bedlam. Fans roared and rocked the place, and the Phillies players streamed out to mob Halladay and Ruiz, who had met in a joyful embrace in front of the mound.

I will never forget that night at the ballpark for so many reasons. It was the first playoff win that I had gotten to experience at Citizens Bank Park, only the 2nd playoff game that I had ever been to there. But mostly I will remember the gift that Doc Halladay gave to Debbie and I, the gift of true baseball history.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There's An MLB Draft Too?

There is always a great deal of publicity and conversation in the sports world regarding the NFL Draft and even the NBA Draft process each year.

But outside of it's most die-hard fans, few others may realize that Major League Baseball also conducts it's own draft process each year.

One of the main reasons that the NFL/NBA Drafts get more publicity is the nature of those professional sports and how they break in new players. The very best, the top draftees, and even many not at the very top of the selection process, become starters or key contributors for their pro teams in their first season of play, or shortly thereafter. So a player taken 1st overall in the NFL or NBA may start and even become a star right away.

In the MLB First-Year-Player Draft, the honor of being selected, even for those in the first round at the very top of the Draft board, is just the beginning of a process of professional development through the minor league systems that frequently takes years to unfold. Most fans of a Major League team have no clue what the player taken by their favorite team in last year's Draft even looks like. In fact, many have no clue of even the name of those players.

In MLB, even the best, such as Mike Trout shown in the picture above after being selected in the 2009 MLB Draft, will take at least a couple of years to play at the Major League Baseball level. That is, assuming they make it at all. There is no more difficult task in all of sport than to hit a baseball thrown by a pro pitcher. And for those pitchers, remaining healthy is a growing challenge and concern.

A look back at four decades of MLB Draft history gives you a good picture of just how unpredictable even the very top pick, the #1 overall selection, will be as far as eventually enjoying success at the highest level. Since going to the current system in 1965, only two of those top draftees are sure-fire Hall of Famers: Ken Griffey Jr (1987) and Chipper Jones (1990), with Alex Rodriguez (1993) to be a most interesting such case one day.

Among the top draftees, a number had strong careers, making an impact on the game for a number of years, though none to that Hall-worthy level. These players include the likes of Rick Monday (65), Harold Baines (77), Darryl Strawberry (80), and a handful of others.

In more recent years, only Joe Mauer (01) is likely to even be in the Hall of Fame conversation at this point. For players such as David Price (07), Stephen Strasburg (09), and Bryce Harper (10), all former top overall selections of recent vintage, it is way too early to even speculate on their talents translating into the longterm success needed to reach the Hall of Fame.

On the flip side, there have been many more notable "busts" selected with the #1 pick than there have been even eventual All-Star selections. Among those forgettable players selected first overall are Steve Chilcott (66), Dave Roberts (72), David Clyde (73), Al Chambers (79), Shawn Abner (84), Paul Wilson (94), Matt Anderson (97), Bryan Bullington (02), Matt Bush (04), and Tim Beckham (08), none of whom made their mark.

Perhaps the best example of the #1 bust potential was catcher Danny Goodwin, selected #1 overall twice, in both 1971 out of high school by the White Sox, and again in 1974 out of college by the California Angels. Goodwin reached the Majors, and played in parts of 7 seasons. But with just a .236 career batting average and 13 career homeruns, he was never a starter.

One week from tomorrow, on Thursday evening, June 5th, the MLB Network will televise the first two rounds of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft. The process was first televised for that 2009 Draft in which Trout was selected, and has grown in popularity among fans ever since. It is an extremely watchable show, presented exceptionally well by the MLB folks.

Among the top prospects this year are high school pitchers Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek, college pitchers Carlos Rodon, Sean Newcomb, and Aaron Nola, high school shortstop Nick Gordon, college shortstop Trea Turner, high school catcher Alex Jackson, and college outfielder Michael Conforto. There is a high probability that, in some order, these prospects will be among the top 10-12 players selected.

Whomever is picked first overall, history says that the odds are good that they will eventually reach the Big Leagues. They most certainly will get a big payday on signing their first professional contract, which will be for anywhere from $2-7 million dollars. So it will be a happy day full of promise for these players and their families.

However, history also says that the odds of whomever is picked with the #1 overall selection having longterm success at the Major League level are long, and that the odds of their becoming a Hall of Famer are only at about 5% at best. The excitement for the teams and players involved will be just the beginning of a long process that will yield mixed results.

If you are even a marginal fan of our National Pastime, make plans to sit down and enjoy the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft with coverage beginning at 6pm next Thursday on the MLB Network with an hour-long preview show, followed by hours of coverage on the network of those first couple of rounds. It will be a night filled with interesting information on the possible stars of tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day Baseball Vital to Game's Popularity

The picture to the left comes from the 1984 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres. It shows Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell taking a lead, with Padres 1st baseman Steve Garvey holding him close.

In Game #4 of that World Series, Trammell, a borderline Hall of Famer whose case will continue to correctly be argued moving forward, hit a pair of homeruns to lead the Tigers to a 4-2 victory and a 3-1 lead in the series that they would win a day later. Well, actually they would win it a night later. And that would be end end of World Series day baseball.

That Game #4 in which Trammell homered twice had a starting time of 1:30pm EDT. It would be the last World Series game played completely in natural daylight. The following day's Game #5 had a start time of 4:30pm EDT, but by the time the Tigers were celebrating their victory it would be dark. That would be the last World Series game played in natural daylight at all.

I say "in natural daylight" because Game #6 of the 1987 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Saint Louis Cardinals was played during daytime, but the game was indoors at the Metrodome, and thus was not the beneficiary of a natural daylight atmosphere. Still, at least that game was played at a time when most kids could stay up and watch the entirety.

So it has been 30 years since baseball fans have enjoyed the beauty of the game in a championship setting played when it was most meant to be played, in daylight on a beautiful afternoon under a sun-soaked sky. It has been almost those same 30 since most kids have been able to stay up and watch on TV as a World Series victory celebration takes place.

These days, thanks to more playoff rounds, the World Series is generally played during the last week of October. The average daytime high temperature for that week in Detroit and Boston is in the upper-50's, in Saint Louis it is the low-60's, even in climate-friendly Los Angeles the average daytime high is around 70 degrees.

However, the night temperatures at the normal game time for each of those location is about 20 degrees cooler. As anyone who has ever played the game, or sat outside to watch a game, can attest, baseball was most certainly not meant to be ideally played in temperatures in the 30's and 40's. But because of television network contracts, that is what we usually get - the championship of our national pastime decided in conditions not normally seen all during the rest of the playing season.

Not only is the quality of the experience diminished for the fans in attendance, and the game itself often made more of a challenge for the players in these conditions, but that aspect of growing the game by allowing young fans to experience the thrill of watching a full World Series game has been lost to at least a couple of generations. Who let's their 10-year old stay up until midnight to watch the World Series, unless perhaps it's their hometown team playing?

There is nothing like the experience of sitting outside on a nice, sunny afternoon watching baseball. That experience would certainly be better on a Saturday afternoon in Detroit or Boston or Philadelphia than it would on a Saturday night during the last week of October. It is time for baseball to recognize this vital aspect of their game, and build it into the next television contract, if not amend the current deal.

There should always be at least one World Series game played during full daylight hours. A 2:30pm EDT start time for all World Series games played on Saturday should be the norm, built into those TV deals. There should also be an effort by MLB to ensure that during the regular season, there are at least a handful of weekday games played during daylight hours, ideally with at least one such game every single day.

Day baseball is when many young fans get introduced to the game. There are also many MLB fans who have shift work, and who cannot watch and follow games during night hours. Opening up more opportunities for these fans, even on a limited basis, should be a priority for the folks running the game.

There are billions of dollars involved in these television contracts these days. Having a few dozen of the involved games played during daylight hours by contract would certainly not affect those big deals in any truly measurable way. Meanwhile, the accompanying good will and outreach would be appreciated by many fans currently restricted.

Baseball was meant to be played during the daylight hours, under cloudless skies with the sun shining brightly, on a green grass. The realities of television, and fans ability to follow the majority of the season after work hours during evening and nights is the new reality. That is understandable. But MLB should always be looking for opportunities to embrace more that ideal of the day baseball experience for it's fans.