Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

It’s good to have people talking about baseball again.

Normally at this time of year, 100% of the Canadian sports fan focus is shifted towards the debut of the new National Hockey League season. Games are underway, and it typically seems as though all other sports fall by the wayside once the puck drops each fall.

As a massive baseball fan, it is the time of year where I find the small group of people to talk ball with, with those few others that watch my favourite sport right through to the end of the World Series.

There aren’t many of us, especially in the desolate outpost of Edmonton.

But not this year.

This year, there are the Toronto Blue Jays, giving us something to cheer about once again.

bj3After their massive trade deadline deals and rise to the top of the American League East, and then a great comeback to dispatch the Texas Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, the Jays are back, and have created excitement across the country.

People are Jays fans now. And they are talking baseball once again.

Many people would argue that it is a bad thing that there are so many bandwagon jumpers at this point in the year. People who had ignored the Jays for the past 20 years are now back, glued to their TVs with every pitch, and talking about the team non-stop. But it’s not a bad thing. It is creating a buzz, an excitement for the game that has been absent in Canada for a long time. This Jays run is creating a new generation of baseball fans, who are learning the game, and loving watching our nation’s only team win. The Jays, simply put, are making new baseball fans, and while there is no chance that all of them will stick around if the team is lackluster next season, there is a good number that will enjoy the thrills of the sport, and be hooked on baseball for life.

bj4Even out here in Edmonton, thousands of kilometers away from Toronto, perhaps the most despised sporting city in Canada, people are all in on the Jays. Car flags, men dressed in blue unitards on the streets with signs asking for honks to support the team, packed bars in the afternoon to cheer on every big play, and seemingly everybody willing to talk baseball for the first time in a long time, it’s a great thing to see. The country has rallied around the team. There are even concerns that our federal election will be affected by the Blue Jays Game 3 on Tuesday. That is some powerful drawing power.

It doesn’t hurt that the 2015 Blue Jays are filled with fun players with big personalities. They are an exciting team to watch, and have provided some thrills along the way already. The cheers ringing to the rafters of the local pub I was at during that magical 7th inning in Game 5 against Texas reminded me of other nation-unifying events, like Canada’s run to Olympic gold medals.

The Jays games are being watched in schools, on in the background, or as a centerpiece to the lesson of the day. It reminds me of being a teenager in 1992 and 1993, when the Jays were winning their World Series titles, and us students being loaded into the library to watch the game on a painfully small tube television, the only place in the school where cable TV was available. It was a great time, back then, watching them win it all in epic fashion.

And it has started off being fun again.

While they are in really tough with the Kansas City Royals- the one team I feel they match up poorly against- it should be an exciting ride as they try to win the American League pennant for the first time in over two decades.

Edmonton, as well as the rest of Canada, is on board.

Up, Up, and Away (Book Review)

Up, Up, and Away (Book Review)

The history of the Montreal Expos is not a happy one.

This is pretty easy to assume, considering that they have been gone for over a decade now, leaving Montreal for Washington, DC, and now call themselves the Nationals.

expo3It can be debated as to whether Major League Baseball in Montreal was a success or a failure, in the end. Those who saw the final days of the Expos, with laughably minuscule crowds in the grotesquely expansive Big O (Olympic Stadium), perhaps the worst ballpark in the majors, may assume that the city was always neglectful of their team, and that they deserved to have them pull up camp and head for Washington.

Carter, Dawson, Rogers, Raines, OliverBut there is more to it than that.

Montreal loved the Expos. Passionately. There were the good times, when the team was consistently competitive (even getting a game away from a World Series appearance), and the Big O was packed. Players became local legends, and there was even a time where it could be argued that the Expos surpassed the legendary Canadiens as the most popular team in town.

But there were too many failings that forced the team to leave.

Following the tragedy of the players strike in 1994, which wiped out the Expos best chance at winning it all (the team was the best in the MLB at the time of the strike, and they were absolutely an incredible team, just look at that roster!), new owners decided that they needed money, and completely stripped the team in a Florida Marlins-esque fashion. It truly was the death knell for the team. Cheap owners, the abandonment from corporate Montreal, and some questionable decisions by the league made it impossible for them to stay.

expo4But there were definitely plenty of good times.

In Up, Up and Away, we are provided with the complete history of the team, from their hilariously thrown together inception in to the league, to their final days before leaving. It is a story of ups and downs, of a city falling for a bunch of underdogs, and finally rejoicing when they were good for real (that ’94 team remains possibly the greatest “what if” team in baseball history), readers are provided with a much clearer understanding of the last franchise that was forced to relocate, and the first one who had to do so in the previous four-plus decades.

There are plenty of great stories in here provided by author Jonah Keri, a die-hard fan of the team. He brings to life the characters that put on the baby blue uniforms and questionable caps of the Expos. He talks about the great players that went through, and the minor ones that are barely remembered. He discusses the fever that the city would get whipped into when the Expos would be challengers for a pennant, and we are taken to a time when they really were Canada’s team, before the Blue Jays came around and stole most of the coverage the Expos received.

While the book is not perfectly written, and often takes us into too many details of trades, it does a good job of helping us remember the scrappy team that ended up being abandoned by everybody in Montreal. The stories of the terrible ballpark and the failed attempts to get a new one. It is easy to tell that Keri writes with passion, on occasion bringing us into his personal experiences of fandom. Personally, I felt that parts of the book could have used a more personal touch, but as it stands, Up, Up and Away will stand as the most definitive history of the team that we have in book form.

expo5For fans of baseball, this is a good read. For those of us who remember the Expos, it is incredibly interesting to read about, and remember, the plethora of great players that went through that city on their way to massive, Hall of Fame careers.

And it makes us sad, because what could have been in Montreal. With only a couple of breaks here and there, either on the field or off of it, we could be looking at a completely different history of the team, one who could still possible reside in La Belle Province.

And that is what makes the Expos such a tragic team.

What could have been.

Up, Up and Away is a good read, and belongs in the pantheon of the many great baseball books out there.

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

What’s wrong with my beloved Boston Red Sox?

Coming off an improbably World Series victory last year, even the most feverish of fan had a tough time believing this group would be able to pull off the feat again. Because one of the key things about last season’s win was that it was improbable. Going from worst-to-first and erasing the stink of the Bobby Valentine era was something incredible, and they were a scrappy team that managed to get the big hits and clutch pitching exactly when they needed it.

Boston_Red_SoxThis season, after falling to 20-27 on the year, and last place in tough AL East, they are not getting the big hits when they need them most, and they seem to be falling behind early in games frequently. Not a good way to play the game. Despite some pretty bad numbers over the past month, I don’t think that the pitching is the real issue here. Sure, there are major question marks in their rotation: why can’t the team score runs when Jon Lester is pitching, or who knows what you are going to get when Jake Peavy is on the mound (answer: at least one home run against and a bunch of walks, it seems), what is wrong with Clay Buchholz this year (he is healthy, but not good), is John Lackey actually their best pitcher (nope, but sometimes he looks that way), and is Felix Doubrount actually good enough to be a No. 5 in the rotation?

This group is good on paper, but has been doing things that they didn’t last year. They are giving up early leads, walking too many batters, and giving up too many dingers. It is tough to play from behind all the time, especially when the hitting is struggling to push runs across the plate, as the Sox are this year. Being behind 2-0 is not a big deal. Being behind 2-0 seemingly every game is much more of a struggle.

Too many times this year, I will watch the Sox get runners on base, and then completely flounder. There are inning-ending double plays, weak fly balls, poor strikeouts, and they are all coming at the wrong time. There is nobody in the lineup at this point that is mashing, and nobody is there to get that key hit that can keep them in these games.

The 2014 Red Sox do not have a stellar offensive lineup, and the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be more stinging with every loss. But they aren’t getting him back, so they need to adapt. The Sox need to go back to being a patient team, working the pitchers, being patient at the plate, and taking their bases in any way that they can get them. Also, they are not a speedy team, which hurts, because with a stagnant offense like they have now, they need to try and manufacture some runs. Somehow, some way.

One of the many beautiful things about baseball is that the season is a marathon, and an 8 game losing streak does not eliminate them from the playoff chase. In fact, despite their recent slide, they are still only 6 games behind Toronto in the division.

But the time is now to get things going. Hoping for a miracle run will leave them with nothing but that empty hope. The Sox need to play with some urgency. 2013 is over. It was amazing, but it’s over, and they need to realize that to even have a sniff of a chance to play for the title again, they need to start making moves up the standings.

This team needs to start playing its heart out. And soon.

Lester K’s 15

Lester K’s 15

For years now, I have predicted that Jon Lester would win the American League Cy Young award as the best pitcher. Sure, he hasn’t really come close, but he has always been so full of promise, that it seemed like he was always ready to take another step in his development, from being a big, strong staff ace to one of the best in baseball.

He has had some really good years, and some forgettable ones (like most things from the Bobby Valentine era in Boston).

lester2On Saturday, Lester put together one of his best ever outings, by striking out 15 Oakland A’s. I was lucky enough to be watching the game on MLB.tv, and it was impressive. It is exciting to see any pitcher hit double digits in K’s in a game, but 15 is almost unheard of. Sure, there were the days of Roger Clemens fanning 20, but even in today’s pitcher dominance, this many strikeouts is unheard of.

Over the course of 8 innings, Lester fanned 15 and allowed only 1 hit. Of course, the Red Sox bullpen made it interesting by almost letting things fall apart in the ninth, but the Sox won 6-3.

This is the type of game that I always knew Lester was capable of, and that is able to do every time he takes the mound. His stuff was almost unhittable, and he demonstrated tons of movement on all of his pitches. Throughout the game, he was focused on working hitters both outside and inside, painting the corners of the plate to the endless frustration of the A’s. And this included many borderline calls that didn’t go in Lester’s favour. He probably could have had more strikeouts than he did.

So far this season, Lester has been the victim of a low-performing offense when he is on the mound, but his strong stats cannot be ignored, despite his 3-4 record. In only one game has he had an ERA above 3.00, and he has had at least 6 strikeouts in every start. His season ERA sits at an impressive 2.59, with 58 K’s in 48 innings and a pretty good 1.09 WHIP. And don’t forget, he pitches in the tough AL East, where he has already faced the Orioles, Yankees (twice), and Blue Jays. Throw in the MLB-leading Brewers, and division leading A’s, and the competition he has to face is pretty solid.

Maybe it is no surprise that Lester is in a contract year, and only received a lowball $70 million dollar offer from the Sox in the offseason. Lester is pitching for his $100 million+ contract, and it is tough to argue that he doesn’t deserve it, especially when you see the other 9-figure extensions less comparable pitchers have been receiving.

For now, Red Sox fans should be pleased with the fire Lester has pitched with this year, and rejoice in the 15 K gem he tossed on Saturday. It was something to behold.

2014 MLB Predictions

2014 MLB Predictions

Even though I will surely regret trying to pick the standings for the upcoming season, I might as well give it a shot. Last year, I was way off in my bold prediction of a Washington Nationals vs. Kansas City Royals World Series. I guess there is no harm in trying again! Except for my inevitable hurt pride in being so wrong about things.

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. New York Yankees
  • raysAlways the most difficult division to pick, because there are three very good teams in here, and two others that have great teams on paper but have yet to deliver it on the field. It’s hard to argue with the Rays’ success over the past years.
  • So much went right for the Red Sox last year, it will be difficult to duplicate that. But, they made some smart, low-cost moves over the summer, and should very much be in contention again. I like these guys, because they are tough and scrappy.
  • Yes, I’m picking the Yankees for last place. That rotation is just a huge question mark for me, and that starting infield is brutal. One injury to their old men roaming the shale, and they’re done. Their outfield is definitely improved, but that is only three of nine positions. Brian McCann is an upgrade at catcher, however.
  • I thought about going with the Orioles to win this division, but they are always such a tease. Third is where they belong.
  • Those poor Jays. Even if they put together a year that is injury-free, they will have too tough a time getting past the other monsters in the division. Too many questions in the rotation, as well.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
  • tigersHard to pick against the pitching of the Tigers. They can basically roll out three aces in a row, and the rest of the rotation is pretty solid, as well. I think their bullpen is improved.
  • This year, the Royals start to put it together. After a few seasons of expectations, they started to get it together in the second half of last year. They keep it going. Definitely a team trending upwards.
  • The Indians put together something special last year, making it to the one-game playoff. I don’t think they can do it again, but they are another fun, scrappy team. Love what Francona has done there.

 

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. LA Angels
  5. Houston Astros
  • a'sNot much changing at the top. The Rangers have still more firepower, but there is something about this team that is lacking over the past couple of years, and doesn’t seem to be fixed. It’s finish. They lack finish. Prince Fielder could have a huge year there, if he doesn’t wilt in the Texas sun.
  • The A’s are just consistent. They are a good team, even if they seem to lack good players.
  • Finally, an off-season where the Angles don’t overpay someone. Trout is incredible, but the aging lineup around him won’t do much to help him out.

 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. NY Mets
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Miami Marlins
  • natsThe Mets will actually probably be the bottom of this division, because there is a lot to like about the young Marlins.
  • I feel that last year was a season-long mistake by the Nats. They are better than what they showed last year, after their success the year before. They pull it back together this year.
  • Is it just me, or does the Phillies just seem like a collection of dinosaurs at this point?

 

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
  • cardsShould be the most interesting division race again this year.
  • Impossible to bet against the always-consistent Cardinals. That rotation is excellent, arguably the best in the NL.
  • I think the Pirates contend again. They had players last year, on their miracle run, that had off-years. If they get it going as well, they can be good. Exciting team to watch, as well.
  • The Reds just kind of stay the same. Pretty good. Not excellent.

 

NL West

  1. LA Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
  • dodgersThat LA payroll is crazy. As is their roster. Even with the inevitable injuries, they have bought the depth to stay competitive. Another very good stable of pitchers. Seems like they have a dozen starters to choose from.
  • Arizona is building, and this division always seems to have tons of movement in it.
  • The Giants are usually good every second year, and this would be their year again. Don’t count them out, but I feel there are a few too many gaps to oust the Dodgers here.

 

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Royals

NL Wild Cards: Braves, Pirates

AL Champion: A’s

NL Champion: Nationals

World Series Champion: Nationals

 

Review: MLB.tv Premium

Review: MLB.tv Premium

I love baseball. During the season, it seems I can’t get enough of it. I’ll have days where I want to watch an inning or two, days when I want to see a whole game, and days where I will watch three straight games. I crave it. This time of year, I will watch a bunch of rookies and far-less talented guys play spring training games. I need to see baseball.

mlb-choosing-a-gameThis was one of my biggest things when I decided to no longer pay for cable. I would be losing baseball. Rogers Sportsnet broadcasts every Blue Jays game (our de facto home team, since they are in Canada, even if Toronto is thousands of kilometers from Edmonton), WGN Chicago gave me some Cubs games, there was the occasional national broadcast on Fox, and of course, Sunday night baseball, which was shown on TSN in Canada. All of this would be gone.

For the past three seasons, I have subscribed to MLB.tv, and last year was the first one I made a massive use out of it.

And I absolutely loved it.

Some of the benefits I found from the subscription, which cost $129.99 per year:

  • You get every game. Like, every single one. You want to watch all the Marlins games? You can.
  • For each game, you have the choice between the home or away feed. This was more important than I thought, because there are some truly awesome broadcast teams out there, and some that are far less engaging. You can be truly into an Orioles game, and snooze through the same game watching the Twins broadcast.
  • Highlights. I didn’t use this as much, since I was watching so many games, but you can get condensed games and highlights of every one.
  • The playoffs. I actually didn’t know that I would get to see the playoffs on MLB.tv. But I didn’t miss a single pitch of the Red Sox run to the World Series last year (they are my team).
  • Seeing teams you won’t usually see. I became a fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates over the past few years, and even more so since I had the chance to visit their stadium and see a game at the incredible PNC Park. It’s not like many others were paying attention to the Pirates to start the year, so it was nice to watch about 30 of their games, and really get to know the team.
  • Increase in knowledge. If there is a team you cheer for, this is the way to know them inside and out. Seeing all of their games, you can see that new rookie, that old veteran, or the highly-touted injury replacement. You become far more knowledgeable about the team that you love.
  • HD. All of the games are shown in HD, which is great. There is the occasional lapse into standard definition, but I noticed last year that the whole thing lagged a lot less than in previous years.
  • Viewing on devices. I think a lot of people don’t get MLB.tv because they think they will be stuck watching games on their phone. But by buying the package, I have watched games on my phone, iPad, laptop, and most frequently, on my TV, by running it through my PlayStation 3. This was my favorite option, because I am not tethered to a device. It is on TV, the way it should be. On the PS3, it is easy to use, as the menus and schedules are very user-friendly.
  • Even though the cost seems high, I watched about 100 ball games last season. For me, that was well worth it. I would watch tons of Red Sox and Pirates, but now and then, I would scroll around and take a look at some teams that I wasn’t too familiar with, or other teams that I have a soft spot for.
  • Radio broadcasts. This was something I would use more on my phone. Sometimes on a hot summer day, there is not much better than listening to a ball game on the radio.
  • Viewing modes. You can watch a single game, or multiple games at the same time. You can call up in-game stats if you like, or have a scoreboard from around the league. There are tons and tons of options.

There is little to complain about this service. I would call it a must-have for any big baseball fan. Get it, it will be worth it in the end. Once you figure out how much baseball you can devour, you will understand how useful this can be.