The first priority of coach DJ Durkin and Bronco Mendenhall have been taken care of…for now.  Maryland and Virginia both name their starting quarterbacks.  How long their newly tabbed first stringers remain first stringers will go a long way towards how successful the first season will be in College Park and Charlottesville.

Maryland names Perry Hills the team’s starting quarterback ten days before the 2016 season begins.  Hills was competing with fellow fifth-year senior Caleb Rowe for the first string nod;  both saw extensive action last season.  Hills played in 8 games last year, completing 50% of his passes for 1001 yards and 8 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.

The Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School product was thrust into the starting role as a true freshman when CJ Brown went down with a torn ACL.  Before suffering a torn ACL of his own against NC State, Hills led the Terrapins to a 4-2 record while completing 57% of his passes for 1336 yards and 8 touchdowns with 7 interceptions.

Maryland begins he 2016 season September 3rd when they host Howard.

 

Virginia taps transfer Kurt Benkert as its #1 QB .  The junior was named the starter last year at East Carolina before a knee injury ended his 2015 season before the opener.  Benkert saw action in three games in 2014, completing 8 of 10 passes for the Pirates.

The Cavaliers kick off their campaign September 3rd when they entertain Richmond.

It’s finally here.  The Washington-Baltimore Parkway showdown.  Ben’s Chili Bowl vs. Old Bay.  Port City Optimal Wit vs. Natty Bo.  West Wing vs. The Wire.  Sonny vs. Johnny U.  You know the drill.  The upstart Nationals face the establishment Orioles (who rightfully still have more than a few fans on the left bank of the Potomac) in what just one week ago looked like it was going to be a duel of division leaders.  Bring on your area angst. 

The Nationals enter this week’s two-city, four-game showdown eight and a half games ahead of the pack in the NL East while the Orioles are staring up the standings at Boston and Toronto.  Two and a half games separate the three teams and with the Red Sox pitching taking personal days from time to time the order of the three teams could very well change by the end of this sentence.  Both the Blue Jays and Sox boast run differentials (TOR +95, BOS +116) far superior to the Orioles (+18).  With the Birds’ lack of solid starting pitching (26th in ERA and that is with Chris Tillman factored in) is it only a matter of time before they fade?

Comparing the two teams 123 games into the season, the Nats have actually scored more runs (600 to 579) than the O’s despite hitting .255 to the Birds’ .262.  Pitching shows more separation, with the Nationals ERA ranking 2nd for starters, relievers and overall.  The Orioles?  Twenty-sixth for starters, 6th for relievers and 21st overall.  Thank goodness for Orioles Magic.

Sayonara Saturn- while driving home from the Nationals’ 8-5 loss to Atlanta August 12th, my Saturn Ion suddenly lost the “hitch in its giddyup”.  After 13+ years and 240,000 miles the vehicle finally met its end on Fairfax Drive in Arlington.  Thankfully I was able to push the vehicle the necessary 3/10 of a mile with help from a few bros getting out of Ballston bars at the time.  Evidently the motor is a very important and crucial part of driving.  And unfortunately even if said motor was reconstructed the mechanic notified me, “Your car has a lot of other issues too.”  Akin to telling the heart patient that there isn’t just ventricle damage, but they’re missing one kidney and the liver is where one of their lungs should be.  Sadly my Moody Blues CD “To Our Children’s Children’s Children” remains stuck in the CD player.

Last Week’s Heroes- all Bryce Harper needed was five games off…the cleanup hitter cleaning up by hitting .407 with 2 HR and 10 RBI.  Anthony Rendon hit .370 while scoring 7 runs and driving in 3.  Ryan Zimmerman comes off the DL to go 4-8 with a home run.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez posts the best start of the rotation by striking out 11 over 7 innings.  Mark Melancon tallies 3 saves in 3 opportunities.

Last Week’s Humbled-  Ben Revere hit .182 while Danny Espinosa hit .136 with 10 strikeouts.  Both present great defensive value but the lineup can’t simply give away outs.  With Zimmerman healthy and Daniel Murphy moving back to second base, Trea Turner (still a sparkplug atop the order) gets pushed to centerfield or shortstop.  Despite his error Sunday, Turner looks to be a centerfield fit for this season.  Stephen Strasburg had a rough hiccup last Wednesday, coughing up 9 earned runs over an inning and two thirds.  Do we view that as an isolated incident or part of a bigger picture this August (1-3, 10.19 ERA)?

Game to Watch- Thursday in DC the series finale pits Max Scherzer (13-7, 3.05 ERA) against Chris Tillman (15-5, 3.76).  While both have staggered as of late (Scherzer has a 6.97 ERA over his last two starts while Tillman over his last five outings is 1-3 with a 6.66 ERA), I’m thinking both revert to form on the big stage.

Game to Miss- after all of this inter-city angst, I’ll be exhaling Friday evening when Colorado comes to town. Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.30 ERA) pitches against Rockies rookie Jeff Hoffman (0-1, 13.50) who will be making his second career start.  Your perfect opportunity to enjoy one last summer Friday night at Tony & Joes on the Georgetown Waterfront.

Previously appearing on Preston’s Perspective’s Blogspot Site in 2009…

 

The donning of the jacket. The acceptance speech. The cheers…there’s nothing quite like a Hall of Fame Enshrinement. And this summer Jim Ed Rice received his rightful moment– and took his appropriate place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I know many in the Boston era have voiced the famed “what if”?  What if Rice hadn’t attended Nebraska to play wide receiver and become an All-American safety/punt returner? What if the Red Sox had been able to sign their number one pick? But it just wasn’t meant to be and Jim Rice as a Boston Red Sox is merely the flight of fantasy.

Although he did not play in the Game of the Century (freshmen were ineligible in 1971), Rice watched and learned from one of the most electrifying players ever in college football–and when 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers graduated, Rice took over the punt return duties with flair–although he didn’t outrun tacklers, the South Carolina born mack truck bulled through them. A position switch to strong safety after his sophomore season gave the born hitter his stage.

Who could forget how Rice took the NFL by storm in 1975 with fellow rookie Fred Lynn? As ironic as this sounds, Lynn was also a Red Sox draft pick (he played both football and baseball at USC)–could you imagine the two playing side by side at Fenway instead of Foxboro? Manning the two safety positions in the Patriots defense the duo was dubbed the “Gold Dust Twins”— while Lynn played free safety like an all-star centerfielder (truth be told Lynn probably had better HOF credentials until his infamous 1981 holdout caused the Pats to trade him to the Los Angeles Rams-where he was never the same at Anaheim Stadium) Rice punished tight ends, running backs and wide receivers alike. He was titled the “most-feared hitter of his generation in the American Conference”…and was an instrumental part of the Patriots rise to dominance in the late 70’s.

Rice’s fumble causing hit of Ken Stabler in the 1976 AFC Divisional Playoff game held off a Raiders rally made possible when “Sugar Bear” Hamilton was whistled for roughing the passer a few plays earlier on the drive. Stabler and Oakland coach John Madden (who resigned after the year to become an executive for Greyhound–go figure)both maintain Stabler was tucking the ball away as Rice applied the hit…to no avail.

After disposing of the injury-ravaged Pittsburgh Steelers (Rocky Bleier’s broken toe and Franco Harris’ bruised ribs prevented the 1,000 yard rushers from taking the field) the Pats completed their miracle run by upsetting Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. Rice’s late-game interception return for a touchdown is a fixture of NFL Films…and for those taking a closer look one can see a cast on Rice’s wrist. Forgotten by most is that Rice broke his wrist in the Pats’ final regular season game- and instead of taking the postseason off, played with a heavily buffered and taped cast at risk of the rest of his career. One can only surmise they wouldn’t allow that in baseball.

Fresh off a Celtics NBA Championship (and Stanley Cups from the Bruins earlier in the decade), the Hub was soon dubbed the “City of Champions”. Rice threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park the following April–and told Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk “they were next”.

We all know what happened next–the Red Sox responded by winning the 1977 World Series…fans can recount the rest of the championship lineup in their sleep–starting with an outfield based on speed and defense– Dwight Evans, Rick Miller and Andre Dawson (picked up in the steal of the century for Juan Beniquez and Bob Stanley the previous winter) all won gold gloves…power on the corners with 3b Butch Hobson and 1b Cecil Cooper (thankfully wiser heads prevailed and he wasn’t dealt for George Scott and Bernie Carbo in the offseason)… the middle infield of Denny Doyle and Rick Burleson…and veteran Carl Yastrzemski in his final season playing DH (Yaz’s decision to retire on top may have hampered his Hall of Fame chances–instead of DHing into his early forties and finishing with 3000+ hits and 400+ homers, Captain Carl left the game with 366 homers and 2,724 hits that made him wait until his final year of eligibility for Cooperstown in 1998).

The Patriots dynasty would be short-lived; holdouts by Leon Gray and John Hannah would torpedo the 1977 campaign; 1978 would be marred by Rice’s brief switch to wide receiver…put to rest when he knocked Oakland receiver Jack Tatum unconscious in a preseason game–ending the Raider safety’s career with a massive concussion. Rice caught some heat for not visiting Tatum in the hospital, sending wide receiver Darryl Stingley instead. Pats fans recall that was the year coach Chuck Fairbanks almost left the team to for the University of Colorado.  Rice made one of his best defensive plays ever— as the Nebraska alum took the ex-Oklahoma coach aside and told Fairbanks the folly of a move to a school that had no prayer in the Big Eight.

A return to the Super Bowl after the 1980 season would bring heartbreak; Steve Grogan’s late interception by Herman Edwards sealing the Patriots loss to Philadelphia. While trips to the Pro Bowl and the playoffs would await Rice during the latter part of his career–his dream of one final shot at the title would come short in 1986–as the Patriots were routed by Chicago in Super Bowl XX (although Rice’s return of a Walter Payton fumble for a touchdown on the game’s first drive gave fans hope). Three injury marred seasons robbed Rice of much of his greatness that had been celebrated and he finally called it quits during the summer of 1989.

Rice’s trip to Canton was rather intriguing–as a safety he was more of a run-stopper than an interception-collector…in fact when he played with Fred Lynn he never had more INT’s than his teammate.Stat compilers that had taken over the process kept Rice at bay for years until cooler heads finally prevailed this past winter.

The waiting ends and the celebration begins…although one still wonders what may have happened had he chosen the diamond instead of the gridiron–Lynn too, for that matter. But that’s for another day…like what would have happened had Butch Hobson stayed at Alabama and played QB for Bear Bryant.

The Nationals wrapped up a 5-3 homestand with back to back wins over Atlanta.  The weekend was also notable for the release of polarizing reliever Jonathan Papelbon a little over a year after they traded for the closer…and a little less than a eleven months after the reliever choked Bryce Harper in the dugout at Nats Park.  The 35-year old had saved 19 games but had the worst ERA (4.37) of his career while also having his highest WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) since his rookie season.  Clearly he is at the point of his career where he has the closer mindset…and taking a setup role with the trade for Mark Melancon was not going to work long-term for this team.  He’ll be remembered as a bad pickup that blew up in the Nats’ faces as they careened out of contention…despite the fact he saved 26 of 31 opportunities in DC.  General Manager Mike Rizzo can be thankful that this will be viewed as a blip on the radar of his building a contender…while the team now has one less excuse if they don’t win it all.  Not that there’s any pressure now…

Dissecting the Division- the Nats lead in the NL East is now 8.5 games over Miami.  The Marlins’ hopes took a major hit over the weekend with Giancarlo Stanton’s groin injury- and now he’s done for 2016.  Even though he’s hitting a career-low .244, Stanton leads the team in homers and RBI.  The ARod to South Beach rumors are already percolating.  The New York Mets are 10.5 games back and are still in the Wildcard race…trailing St. Louis by 2.5 games.  But they’ve lost 12 of their last 18.  Philadelphia (14.5 GB) and Atlanta (26 GB) remain mildly entertaining sub-500 teams that remain in contention in name only.

The Wild, Wild, West- don’t the Dodgers know this is an even year?  LA trails San Francisco by one game (we won’t recognize the candidacies of Colorado, San Diego and Arizona) as the Giants have stumbled to a 9-18 mark since the All Star Break.  In Dave Roberts’ first season in the dugout, the Dodgers have cobbled together the 3rd best fielding team in the bigs while LA’s bullpen has the 2nd best ERA in the Majors.  The two teams tangle 9 times between now and the end of the season- with six of those nine taking place in Los Angeles.  Perhaps Vin Scully perhaps will get to call one final fantastic finish in this rivalry.

Last Week’s Heroes- Jayson Werth hits .333 while notching 2 HR and 5 RBI and scoring 5 runs.  Trea Turner and Ben Revere each score 7 runs and Anthony Rendon drives in 8.  Rookie Reynaldo Lopez scatters 5 hits over 7 innings to post his first Major League win.  Outfielder Brian Goodwin tallies his first ML hit and RBI.  Most importantly, Goodwin made sure that his mother received the ball from his first hit.

Last Week’s Humbled- Stephen Strasburg allowed 6 runs over 5.1 innings to Atlanta- coughing up homers to Jace Peterson and Freddie Freeman (who would go 5-9 with 4 walks against Nats pitching).  Gio Gonzalez staggered to 5+ innings en route to victory.  Danny Espinosa hit .133 with 5 strikeouts.  And the heat in the DC Metro area is beyond unbearable.

Game to Watch- Friday the Nats are in Atlanta and under-the-radar Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.81 ERA) tries to win his 5th straight start.  He doesn’t have the presence of Scherzer or command the attention of Strasburg, but Roark has been money since Memorial Day (10-2 with an ERA of 2.90).  Julio Teheran (3-9 but owning an ERA of 2.81 as well) is slated to pitch for the Braves (according to ESPN.COM’s schedule).

Game to Miss- Gio Gonzalez (8-9, 4.24 ERA) matches up against Joel De La Cruz (0-5, 4.09) in the series finale.  It’s the final game before the four games in two cities battle of the Beltways with the Orioles…so if you’re going to clear your throat here is your prime chance.

August means many things:  I had better be finishing my summer reading (the Neil Armstrong bio won’t read itself) and the Redskins are back and better than ever!  And I mean better than ever!  Since 2010 they’ve made August their little fiefdom, going 18-6 entering last night’s preseason (don’t you dare call it an exhibition) game in Atlanta.  Thursday’s 23-17 was the team’s second consecutive defeat in “games that do not count towards playoff contention”.

Time for the return of the weekly look back at the game that was…with mind-numbing research, dubious conclusions and snarky thoughts.  First there is some offseason housecleaning as several features that were prominent in previous years no longer fit:

RG3VER- the former face of the franchise is now in Cleveland.  Last year’s best one-liner was that the Skins QB carousel resembled “Star Trek”: Kirk, McCoy and a guy in a red shirt who’s gone by the first commercial.  Good luck with the Browns…

Saved by the Ball- no more Mr. Morris to make the running game bell ding anymore.  One hopes that Matt Jones can at least go to the Max protect, or there will be multiple screeches in the backfield.

Cobra Kai Forbath- we got WAY too much mileage out of this one, from comparing the Skins kicker to everyone’s favorite movie bully.  We ranked the culpability of the other Cobra Kai during Mr. Miyagi’s famed “takedown of the skeletons”.  One likes think that after the disappointment of losing Ali (with an I) to Daniel LaRusso and coming in second during the Valley Tournament, Johnny turned things around (just like he said he was going to at the beach scene) and made us proud.  Dr. John Lawrence has been practicing thoracic surgery with the best of them and is celebrating his 50th birthday this month with his wife and four kids.  Daniel LaRusso still lives in his mother’s basement.  No mercy, indeed…

 

On to 2016–

The preseason loss to Atlanta?  Doesn’t matter!  The first dress rehearsal tells coaches and fans a few things but the regular season won’t begin for another month.  Please get off the ledge and worry about other things, like the Washington Kastles perilous playoff chances.

Captain Kirk-  beam this guy up after a 5-5 for 39 yard performance.  Number 8 converted 1 of 2 third down opportunities and looked solid in his lone drive with the team.  In his limited time on the field he was able to get passes out to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.  Best thing-unlike previous first string QB’s there were no injuries or massive miscommunications.

The Real McCoy- he’s a backup, not a miracle worker!  After leading the Skins to a field goal on his first possession, Colt directed three drives that gained 26 yards on 12 plays.  He converted 2 of 6 third down chances, but four of the six were 3rd & 10+.  He likely won’t win a second straight Babe Laufenberg Trophy (his 72% completion and 115.2 passer rating still boggle the mind), but he was able to get some good work in…

The New Guy- do we even have to learn Nate Sudfeld’s name and number?  How did he get #7- was Joe Theismann properly approached?  The rookie from Indiana (where previous preseason hero Babe Laufenberg went as well) completed 10-15 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.  His 8.9 yards per completion is right in line with Cousins & McCoy.  The three sacks are less than ideal, but for his first NFL game-like experience this was not bad.

Runningback Rotation- Matt Jones gained 1 yard on 2 carries and had a third attempt (12 yard gain) wiped out with a holding penalty.  Will he be the guy this fall?  There are those who are Robert Kelley fans…and he definitely didn’t disappoint with 40 yards and a touchdown rushing plus two receptions.

The Stars of August- receivers Rashad Ross (4 catches for 49 yards) and Ryan Grant (3 grabs for 31 yards) made their impact against Atlanta…setting up the stage for when they’ll be special teamers who get limited looks on offense during the regular season.

Third and…hey, it’s August- the Skins converted 5-15 third downs…with 8 of those 15 attempts coming from 10 yards or more.  Every one of their 15 plays (even the 4 from third and 3 or fewer) was a called pass.  No turnovers and just one sack.  Again, it’s only August.

Grading the D- last year’s unit was ranked in the lower half of the league and many were saying, “once we get Junior Galette back-we’ll be set”.  As many learned in July, Galette’s not coming back thanks to another Achilles injury.  The defense held Atlanta to under 3 yards per carry and under 50% completion percentage…while also getting off the field on 8 of 10 third downs.  But they failed to notch a sack and allowed backbreaking completions of 48 and 68 yards.  It’s August and one thinks they’ll get it all figured out…but the seeds of confidence and concern both show up here.

Flying Flags- 14 penalties for 123 yards!  I give you Exhibit A for why the preseason lasts 4 games.  One looks with a little more concern towards Morgan Moses’ hold in the first half (turned what would have been a 1st & 10 at the 47 into a 1st & 20 at the 25) as well as Preston Smith’s offsides (turned a 4th & goal from the 11 into a 3rd & goal from the 6) at this time…but there’s a lot to be cleaned up in week one of the preseason.  Atlanta had 11 penalties.  And that’s why we watched the Olympics…

 

 

With Boston hosting the New York Yankees in the final week of Alex Rodriguez’ career, instead of another look at a Yankee who was almost a Red Sox let’s go back to a 2009 piece that looked at “A true Sox-Yanks allstar team”…

Leave it to ESPN to lazily start something potentially great…but not finish the job. Due to the New York Yankees – Boston series this weekend, the network decided to announce an “all-time” Yanks-Sox squad…gee whiz– such a tough task to realize Yogi Berra, Ted Williams and Derek Jeter are among the best ever at their respective positions! After filling the requisite 15-20 minutes and wasting the time of everyone from Peter Gammons to Dave Winfield.

I’ll go one better…can you come up with a team of all time players who spent time at Fenway and in Pinstripes? Here’s my all-time Soxyank squad:

FIRST BASE: Bob Watson came to Boston in a 1979 mid-season trade…after hitting .337 and driving in 53 runs over 84 games the ex-Astro signed with the Yankees in the offseason as a free agent and had a decent (.307, 13, 68) first year in the Bronx… plus, he had the pivotal role in Bad News Bears Breaking Training (“Let them play! Let them play!”).

SECOND BASE: a very thin position has Mark Bellhorn the only crossover I could think of: the starter for the 2004 champs was waived the following summer only to be picked up by the Yanks…where he didn’t fare much better (.118 in the Bronx after hitting .216 with the Sox).

SHORTSTOP: Spike Owen leads another weak field… although he hit .366 in the 1986 postseason. The switch-hitting contact specialist was one of three former Texas Longhorns on the ’86 team (Clemens, Schiraldi). His 1993 campaign in the Bronx was nondescript.

THIRD BASE: Wade Boggs won four straight batting crowns in the 80’s and was pantsed in an episode of Cheers…the 90’s brought a guest appearance on The Simpsons and four straight years hitting .300 with the Yankees.

RIGHT FIELD: Babe Ruth ties it all together–he was on three World Championship teams in Beantown and the Yankees first four title squads…

CENTERFIELD: Johnny Damon gave Red Sox fans one of the best lines ever--“looks like Jesus, acts like Judas, throws like Mary”… but nobody questioned his bat.

LEFTFIELD: Rickey Henderson spent time with nine major league teams–it’s only fitting the Yankees were his second stop and the Red Sox were his second to last employer at the big league level.

CATCHER: for a rivalry defined by dueling catchers in the 70’s…there have been plenty of crossovers in this position–Jim Leyritz, Rick Cerone and even Elston Howard take a back seat to Mike Stanley…who much like Kelly Taylor on 90210 was seemingly passed around the AL East for the better part of a decade: he spent 1992 through 95 in pinstripes, the next season and a half near the Citgo sign before joining the NYY as a late-season pickup…and after fitting Toronto in Steve Sanders-like in 1998 went back for a second term with Boston in ’99.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Don Baylor for Mike Easler was the first trade between the two teams since the Danny Cater for Sparky Lyle fiasco…and paid big dividends in the 1986 AL Championship run despite George Steinbrenner saying “his bat will die by August”.  Along with Easler there were two other big bats to consider– Jose Canseco and Jack Clark… who came to Boston as “Jack the Ripper”only to become “Jack the Whiffer” and leave not with a bang but as“Jack with a Whimper”.

Easler, Clark, Howard, Canseco, Leyritz and Cerone comprise the reserves…not a lot of variety, but there’s not a lot to choose from.

STARTING PITCHING: I’ll hold Babe Ruth out of the rotation because I want him as my everyday rightfielder:

1–Luis Tiant…the heart and soul of the Boston contending teams from 1972 through ’78… his offseason signing with the Yanks effectively the first domino to fall in the three year run that saw the dismantling of a near-champion…and he also smoked cigars in the shower… I still don’t know how the Sox let him go to the Bronx in ’79.

2–Red Ruffing…sign of the times in the 20’s and 30’s–a decent pitcher who was 57 games under five hundred for the Sox who became a Hall of Fame hurler (107 wins over break-even) for six world championship Yankee squads.

3–Roger Clemens…pitches third in the rotation because before, um, his “late-career surge”… he was ever so disappointing in the postseason.

4–Mike Torrez…helped deliver the Yanks their first world title in 15 years by winning two World Series games in 1977…helped the Yanks repeat as champion by allowing a home run to Bucky Dent in the playoff game for the AL East.

5–David Wells/David Cone… a lefty-righty combination with the non-starter on the short list for long-relief: each enjoyed a stellar Yankee career punctuated by perfect games… before going on to moderately successful but brief stops in Boston (Cone: 9-7 in one season; Wells: 17-10 over a year and a half) … and both spent the bulk of their careers with other teams (3 for Cone, 7 for Wells) … collecting rings with the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays.

SETUP MAN: Ramiro Mendoza… along with Ruth I believe the only man to win world titles with both teams–could spot-start as well as come out of the pen.

WASHED UP EX-CLOSERS: Lee Smith and Jeff Reardon both bounced around after
being the man in Boston before finding safe harbor in the Bronx; while Smith this was Reardon’s final stop.

CLOSER: Sparky Lyle…despite going from Cy Young to Sayonara when the Pinstripes signed Rich Gossage– the man who sat naked on birthday cakes was one of the games first dominant firemen.

MANAGER: Joe McCarthy…led the Yanks to 7 world titles before guiding the Red Sox to a pair of second place finishes over three years plus a 94 win season.

COACHES: Ralph Houk and Don Zimmer… Houk was at the helm of consecutive World Series Champs in 1961 and 62–before wrapping up his career in the Red Sox dugout in the 80’s. Zimmer turned into a wise sage as Joe Torre’s key advisor after a managerial career that included three straight 90+ win seasons in Boston.

Welcome to Bizarro World in the Bronx.  The New York Yankees weren’t just sellers at the trading deadline, they’re dumping everything as they reboot for the first time since the early 1990’s.  It’s been a great run- and when you have the nucleus they did from 1996-2009 you’re going to mortgage the future to add the necessary piece.  Two of the later pieces to the puzzle will be making their exits in 2016…as Mark Teixeira announced his retirement effective at the end of the year and Alex Rodriguez announced the end of his career effective at the end of the week.  Both are hitting under .210 and are the vestiges of earlier times when the Yanks would tack on an expensive bat.  Both produced for the Pinstripes and were key cogs in the 2009 World Series title.  A-Rod leaves the game as a lightning rod:  Seattle fans dislike him because he bolted for Texas and Ranger die-hards curse his contract that hamstring the team.  Boston fans remember his fight with Varitek and slap of the ball from Bronson Arroyo.  The rest of baseball recalls Rodriguez’s dance with PED’s and pop culture recalls Cameron Diaz feeding him popcorn.  Others remember the legend of the centaur self-portrait hanging above his bed.  For years Rodriguez coexisted with Derek Jeter…and for many Yankee fans A-Rod symbolizes the anti-Yankee as much as Jeter symbolized the true Yankee.  Meanwhile the club looks forward to 2017…and the rest of baseball gets a brief reprieve before the Bombers come back reloaded and ready to wreak havoc on the AL East.

Dissecting the Division- the Nats own a seven game lead over Miami and a nine game advantage over the New York Mets;  they have two series (and six games) against each team over the last two months.  They also have seven games remaining against fourth place Philadelphia and 13 against last place Atlanta.  Lost in the fog of the Braves cratering has been the season of Julio Teheran:  the righthander may be 3-9 but owns a 2.81 ERA, averages 7.95 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and has a WHIP (walks + hits per innings pitched) of 0.97.  Similarly the Phillies fade from a fast start has obscured the year Odubel Herrera has posted:  the second-year centerfielder has already surpassed his rookie totals in homers and stolen bases while needing two more RBI to set a career high.

All in on the AL East- the best division race in baseball resides just up I-95 as the Orioles, Toronto and Boston refuse to blink.  Baltimore owns a one game lead over the Blue Jays while the Red Sox are three games off the pace set by Buck Showalter’s bunch.  While the O’s are by the bay this week visiting AL West cellar-dweller Oakland and NL West leader San Francisco, the Red Sox get the white flag-waving Yankees and last place Arizona.  We continue not to sleep on defending division champ Toronto, who face last place Tampa Bay and on the fringe of contention Houston (Astros falling to earth with 8 losses in their last 10 games).  While Sunday’s hit parade in Chicago against the White Sox by Manny Machado is on everybody’s mind (3 HR and 7 RBI), quality starts thrown by Dylan Bundy & Kevin Gausman have to give the Birds confidence.  If those two can string together solid outings in support of staff ace Chris Tillman, October could be in the offing.

 

Last Week’s Heroes- Wilson Ramos hit .526 with 3 HR and 8 RBI while calling solid games at the plate.  Trea Turner scored 6 runs while homering twice and Daniel Murphy continues to produce (6 runs scored and 5 RBI).  Jayson Werth?  The over-the-hill outfielder simply gets on base game after game after game.  If we could only be over the hill Werth is currently over.  Tanner Roark went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA while Mark Melancon tossed four scoreless innings of relief (notching one save).

Last Week’s Humbled- Ben Revere hit .154 as his nightmare season at the plate continues…but you still need and want his glove in CF (see Sunday’s stab in deep center).  Bryce Harper hit .200 with one RBI.  He hasn’t been himself since getting walked an unlucky 13 times in Chicago a few months ago.

Game to Watch- another duel of division leaders in the district?  Max Scherzer has been red-hot this summer–posting a 7-2 record with an ERA of 1.83 since Memorial Day.  The 12-game winner is matched up against Trevor Bauer (who hasn’t won a decision since Independence Day).  Nats fans hope they won’t see the reliever that got away (ex-Yankees closer Andrew Miller).

Game to Miss- with two off days this week we already have opportunities to be well-rounded.  I hope you’ll take advantage and perhaps go to Politics & Prose for an author’s reading Monday or Thursday.  Saturday night Tanner Roark (12-6, 2.88 ERA) pitches against 22-year old rookie Rob Whalen (1-0, 7.20 in one career start).  Even though it’s a 7:05 start, enjoy the day at the pool and perhaps a barbecue at your friend’s house.  Because college football will wipe out free Saturdays before you know it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,532 other followers