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Wednesday, 05 May 2021 10:44

Red Sox Report Card – April 2021

It’s a well-known fact that despite my insistence on doing it every year, my predictions with regard to professional sports outcomes are pretty hit or miss. Sometimes I do well, sometimes I miss horribly.

This year, as far as the Boston Red Sox are concerned, it has very much been the latter.

I genuinely thought that I was resisting the tug of my little homer heart when I downplayed Boston’s chances in the 2021 season. As always, I hope for the best from this squad, but my eyes told me that this was not going to be a great year for this team. The numbers said much the same.

And yet, here we are. The Red Sox led the American League in wins in the month of April, going 17-10 and sitting atop the American League East, a division in which I didn’t think they would even contend. And yes, there’s plenty of time for them to come back down to Earth, but for at least the first month, they are one of the teams to beat. It’s never great to be wrong, but this time certainly stings less than most.

On to the Report Card.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 27 April 2021 10:58

New rules lead to no-hitter nonsense

When is a no-hitter not a no-hitter?

That’s the existential question raised by Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Madison Bumgarner’s performance on April 25. In the second half of a scheduled doubleheader against Atlanta, Bumgarner pitched a complete game shutout and didn’t allow a single hit to a Braves batter.

Exciting, right? Bumgarner joins Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres and Carlos Rodon of the Chicago White Sox this season in pitching a complete game and shutting down the opposition without allowing a single hit.

But in the eyes of Major League Baseball, it’s not a no-hitter. Not officially.

See, MLB has had a rule in place since 1991 that states that for a no-hitter to be officially recognized, the pitcher must complete at least nine innings. Games in which the pitcher does not reach that benchmark are not counted as no-hitters in the eyes of the league. MLB’s current rules, in effect since last season, state that doubleheader games are now scheduled for seven innings. This means that Bumgarner’s gem, while a complete game, doesn’t count as an official no-hitter.

But should it?

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 30 March 2021 22:16

MLB’s possible milestones for 2021

Among the many secondary and tertiary benefits of a regular-length baseball season is the fact that fans might get more of a chance to see some historic accomplishments from players, numbers that place them among the best of their generation.

Baseball is a game that has always held its own history in high regard. And one of the best ways to keep track of that history has been through statistical milestones, numbers that have come to act as a sort of distillation of greatness. Round numbers that represent on-field brilliance in an easy-to-understand way.

Granted, changes in the game are in turn changing these milestones. The way the game is played and the meaning of the numbers being tallied isn’t what it once was; the sabermetric revolution has altered how we look at these statistics. Still, there’s something undeniably special about those iconic career marks. While their relevance may fade someday, we’re not there yet.

Published in Sports

Believe it or not, Opening Day is almost upon us.

In just a few days, Major League Baseball will hit the field for the start of the 2021 season. It remains to be seen how teams will respond this year, after the truncated season of 2020. And this year will be plenty different as well. Teams will be playing before a limited or no audience. COVID issues may (and almost certainly will) still arise. There’s even talk of some change in the physical makeup of the ball itself.

It will be different. And yet … the bat will still crack. The glove will still pop. Familiar faces will display their usual excellence and unknowns will display unexpected transcendence. And for the more data-driven – the numbers will continue to tell you the truth. The joy of that part of baseball is that there will ALWAYS be more numbers.

We all love it for different reasons.

So we’ll see if the Los Angeles Dodgers can become the first back-to-back MLB champs in a generation. We’ll see if MVPs Jose Abreu and Freddie Freeman can follow up on their award-winning seasons. We’ll see if Cy Young winners Shane Bieber and Trevor Bauer can manage a second straight great year. We’ll find out which young phenoms are the real deal and which are fool’s gold, which long-timers are out of gas or still have a little left in the tank.

It’s a complicated time in the world, and sports fandom is not exempt. Whether you think these games could be happening more safely (or not happening at all), the reality is that the 2021 season is going to take place, for better or worse. Here are one man’s thoughts on how that season might play out.

Play ball!

(Division winners = x; Wild Card winners = y)

Published in Cover Story

Of all American professional sports, baseball is the one that is most enamored of its own history. Celebrating the past is a big part of the game, looking back at the legends and comparing the players of today with those from previous generations.

The thing with history, however, is that it isn’t always good. And baseball isn’t immune from that reality; there are plenty of unfortunate truths scattered throughout the misty fictions of the game’s rose-colored retrospect.

Among the most scandalous of the pastime’s past times is the throwing of the 1919 World Series by the Chicago White Sox. Dubbed the Black Sox scandal, this was the story of eight players from the White Sox conspiring with gamblers to fix the Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. But despite rumors and whispers about the fix that began before that Series even reached a conclusion, it wasn’t until the fall of 1920 that the wheels of justice truly began to turn.

Eight players – first baseman Chick Gandil, third baseman Buck Weaver, shortstop Swede Risberg, utility infielder Fred McMullin, pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams and outfielders Happy Felsch and Joe Jackson – would ultimately be banned from the game for life for their actions, though they took varying degrees of responsibility; some confessed, some recanted and some professed their innocence until their dying day.

Baseball historian Don Zminda’s “Double Plays and Double Crosses: The Black Sox and Baseball in 1920” (Rowman & Littlefield, $36) offers an in-depth look at the White Sox during that 1920 season, digging into the details in an effort to illustrate how the looming shadow of the scandal may have impacted the team – both on the field and off – all while also addressing the other historic happenings of that season, from the cultural explosion of Babe Ruth’s record-breaking bat to the tragic death of Ray Chapman, the last MLB player to die from being struck by a pitched ball.

It’s also a look into the convoluted path that justice took, with backbiting and infighting among the game’s supposed guardians leading to sham investigations and other CYA behaviors that would ultimately result in the powers that be deciding that baseball needed an arbiter, thus leading to the creation of the office of the Commissioner, first occupied by Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis, whose lengthy tenure would create ripple effects of its own.

Published in Sports

Dustin Pedroia has been a part of our lives for a long time. But I think we all knew that the inevitable was coming. On Monday, he confirmed that his retirement from the Boston Red Sox, bringing to an end a stellar career, albeit one that ended far too soon due to unfortunate injury.

His comeback effort spanned years, and even a year ago, he was still pushing toward that goal. But the inevitable reality of his injury led him to finally – officially – say goodbye.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 17 November 2020 17:20

Who’s heading to the Hall in 2021?

Hall of Fame season is in full swing once again.

The 2020 ballot has landed, with the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) preparing to cast their votes for the players who will join the immortals of the game with plaques hanging in Cooperstown.

We’ve seen an explosion of inclusivity on recent ballots, with the writers voting in 22 players over the past seven years (and 12 in the last three). This has eased the glut of qualified candidates considerably, though there remain a number of problematic names that still clog the list.

This year, however, may change the calculus considerably. It’s a year without a clear first-ballot candidate; this year’s newcomers are a collection of very-good-but-not-quite-great players. This means that, for the first time in recent memory, the ballot has opened up. This means that 2021 might be the year that sees an extended holdover or two make the leap.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 28 October 2020 11:45

The fastest of them all – ‘Dalko’

Baseball is a sport of legends. The game’s devotion to and celebration of its long history means that titanic figures from the past remain important to the ongoing conversation. Men who haven’t played in a century or more are still vital parts of baseball’s narrative fabric.

And while the majority of those legends are recognized as titans of the game – accomplished hitters and pitchers, deft with the glove or on the basepaths – not all of baseball’s folk heroes show up in the major league record books. Indeed, there are players who, while never appearing in a big league box score, nevertheless became nigh-mythic figures.

Players like Steve Dalkowski.

The new book “Dalko” (Influence Publishers, $26.95) – co-authored by William A. Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikander – tells the story of Dalkowski, a career minor leaguer whose lightning bolt of an arm could never be properly be tamed. A figure whose career was wreathed in myth and whose subsequent life was one of struggle and strife, many claimed to have never seen his like before or since.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 20 October 2020 11:18

Dodgers-Rays: A 2020 World Series preview

An unprecedented baseball season is on the verge of concluding.

After a truncated regular season and an expanded postseason structure, all in the face of an ongoing pandemic, the World Series is set to begin. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays will be facing off for the 2020 MLB championship.

Even now, things will be different than ever before. Due to safety protocols and restrictions, the World Series will be played in a bubble, with all games taking place at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas – the Dodgers are ostensibly the “home” team due to a better record. Obviously, this isn’t how these players anticipated their season playing out, but at the end of the day, a ring is a ring.

And these guys want that ring.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 23 September 2020 12:17

MLB award races in 2020’s home stretch

Hard to believe that the 2020 MLB season has reached its end. As of press time, there are just a scant handful of games left in the strangest season we’ve ever seen. But before we reach the 60(ish) game mark and the season’s conclusion – and before we venture into the also-unprecedented 16-game playoff field – I thought it might be fun to check in with our season awards predictor.

Those who follow our baseball coverage here at The Maine Edge are aware of our usual Clubhouse Leaders feature, where we do quarterly predictions regarding the various MLB season awards – Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP. However, given this year’s circumstances, we mixed it up a little (a quarterly breakdown would have meant a story every 15 games or so – a bit much, right?).

We made our predictions at the start of the season and now, as we approach its end, we’re going to revisit and revise those picks. Let’s see how close I got, shall we? And how close I will get?

(Note: All statistics current as of Sept. 20)

Published in Sports
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