March 30, 2023

G1: Orioles 10, Red Sox 9

Orioles - 100 430 200 - 10 15  2
Red Sox - 100 102 032 - 9 11 1
The Red Sox trailed 5-1, 8-2, and 10-4 . . . and still nearly pulled off what would have been a stunning Opening Day victory on a chilly (38 degrees at the start of the contest) March afternoon.

The Orioles blew the chance at a game-ending double play; the error on the relay to first put the potential tying run for Boston at second and the winning run on first. But Orioles closer Félix Bautista fanned Adam Duvall on three pitches . . . giving Alex Cora an 0-5 record on Opening Day as the Red Sox manager.

The game featured 19 runs, 26 hits, 11 walks, three errors, two hit batsmen and was played in 3:10.

Baltimore's Adley Rutschman became the first catcher in major league history (!) to go 5-for-5 on Opening Day; he homered and drove in four runs (and walked). Adam Frazier scored three runs.

The top three hitters in Boston's lineup – Alex Verdugo, Rafael Devers, Justin Turner – each had two hits and two runs scored. Masataka Yoshida also had two hits and Triston Casas and Christian Arroyo each drive in two runs.

Corey Kluber (3.1-6-5-4-4, 80) surrendered a solo home run to his second batter of the game and a two-run dong in the fourth. After a double, single, stolen base, and a walk, Kluber departed with the bases loaded. Zack Kelly allowed two of the runners to score, on a wild pitch and a bases-loaded walk.

In the fifth, Ryan Brasier hit a batter and got a double play. And then . . . walk, stolen base, single, stolen base, wild pitch, walk, stolen base, single . . . and the third out. The Orioles led 8-2. They stole a total of five bases in the game.

The Red Sox tied the game off Kyle Gibson (5-6-4-1-3, 79) in the first when Verdugo tripled to left-center. Cedric Mullins may have lost the ball in the sun at the base of the wall; he tentatively stuck out his glove and the ball hit off the wall. Verdugo scored three pitches later on Devers's grounder to first.

Devers doubled to start the fourth, went to third on a groundout, and scored on Duvall's single to left. After Casas walked, Boston had the bases loaded, but Arroyo GIDP. Devers and Turner singled to start the sixth. Facing Keegan Akin, Masataka Yoshida singled to center for one run and Casas's grounder to first brought homer Turner. Baltimore scored two in the seventh and was up 10-4 at the stretch.

Bryan Baker was credited with a strikeout of Devers (on a pitch clock violation on 1-2). Turner walked, Yoshida singled, and Duvall was hit by a pitch. Casas lifted a sac fly to center and Arroyo doubled over Anthony Santander's head, as he stumbled back to the wall in left, to score two – and it was 10-7.

Raimel Tapia walked against Bautista to open the ninth. Verdugo singled to center and an error by Mullins allowed the runners to advance to third and second. Devers struck out, but Turner reached on an infield hit to third, scoring Tapia. Rob Refsynder ran for Turner. Yoshida showed a great eye before grounding to shortstop. Jorge Mateo's relay to first was low and Ryan Mountcastle made an unsuccessful backhand swipe at it. Verdugo scored, cutting the Orioles' lead to 10-9. Duvall was next and his K closed the book on the game.

Work took me away from the game in the middle of the third. I discovered that, in addition to the players, I will also have to get used to the faster pace when keeping scoring and posting in the game thread. (The threading community is a shadow of what it once was (aren't we all?); feel free to join.) The new rules require pitchers to begin their delivery within 15 seconds of getting the ball if the bases are empty and 20 seconds with runner(s) on base. In the first two innings, I noticed Kluber often began his motion with five or six seconds left on the clock. In the third, with a runner on second, he threw two pitches with eight seconds remaining. He did not seem in any danger of letting the clock run out.

Dave O'Brien and Kevin Youkilis called the game for NESN. I had no issues with either of them for the 2.5 innings I watched – which might qualify as a minor miracle. However, I did smirk in the top of the first when OB noted that Red Sox spring training games were completed in an average of 2:38 – "about 20 minutes faster than last year". He did not correct himself and Yook stayed silent.

Kyle Gibson / Corey Kluber
Alex Verdugo, RF
Rafael Devers, 3B
Justin Turner, DH
Masataka Yoshida, LF
Adam Duvall, CF
Triston Casas, 1B
Christian Arroyo, 2B
Reese McGuire, C
Kiké Hernández, SS

All 30 teams will play their first game of the season today, the first time since 1968 that Opening Day has involved every team (there was only 20 teams then). Also, this is the first season ever in which every team will play at least one series against every other team

This is the American League's 123rd season and the National League's 147th campaign.

As you may know, I have been displeased with most, if not all, of the changes Commissioner Shithead has made to fucking demolish and make a mockery of the game in recent years, but I'm planning to watch games over the next few weeks with an open mind (until they go into extras, that is).

I'm confident I'll like the pitch clock (spring training games were, on average, 26 minutes shorter), although there was already a rule covering this issue and C. Shithead could have simply told all of the umpires: "Hey, enforce 5.07(c)". But that would not have been simple because – judging from the continued employment of several umpires whose headache-inducing and blood-pressure-rising incompetence has lasted for years – it appears that Commander Shithead is afraid to give orders to the umpires and possibly annoy their union. 

I was kind of planning on writing something (or gathering opinions) about the different rules and whatnot, but I never got around to it. Maybe I'll do some of that when I report on seeing all this new stuff in action.

The 2022 Orioles finished 83-79 – their first season above .500 since 2016 – which was five games better than the Red Sox. That hurts. . . . Uh-oh.


This is the third time in four seasons that the Orioles and Red Sox have opened the season at Fenway Park. In 2020, the Red Sox won 13-2. In 2021, Baltimore chicagoed Boston 3-0.

Manager Alex Cora has not enjoyed an Opening Day win as manager of the Red Sox. This will be his fifth attempt.

Who Left, Who Arrived:

Gone: Xander Bogaerts (SS), J.D. Martinez (DH), Eric Hosmer (1B), Tommy Pham (OF), and pitchers Nate Eovaldi, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill, Matt Barnes, Matt Strahm

Hello: Justin Turner (DH), Masataka Yoshida (OF), Adam Duvall (OF), Adalberto Mondesi (SS), and pitchers Kenley Jansen, Corey Kluber, Chris Martin, Joely Rodríguez, Richard Bleier

Ian Browne (, on the lineup, Corey Kluber, the bullpen, and various injuries:

Boston is quietly excited about its lineup. Manager Alex Cora believes this combination of hitters will get back to grinding out at-bats and mainly just swinging at strikes. The Sox have been trying to fill the leadoff spot since Mookie Betts was traded. Alex Verdugo will get a shot against righties. Rafael Devers is one of the most feared hitters in the game, and the Red Sox are hoping a rejuvenated Turner can give him the protection he needs. Yoshida, fresh off 13 RBIs in the World Baseball Classic, adds intrigue. . . . 

Kluber, the veteran right-hander and two-time Cy Young Award winner, isn't the elite pitcher he once was, but Kluber has done a nice job reinventing himself by going with a more craftsman approach. Last season, Kluber threw his cutter 34.2 percent of the time and his curve 27.3 percent. He also used his sinker a lot and threw just 36 four-seam fastballs all season. Kluber isn’t going to light up a radar gun. He typically tops out in the tops out at 88-89-mph at this point of his career. . . .

They have a new closer in Jansen, and that's not a new name to baseball fans. Jansen has 391 career saves, which ranks eighth all-time. The setup crew will be led by another former Dodger in righty Chris Martin, a strike-throwing machine. John Schreiber broke out to become a force last year. . . . Ryan Brasier, the longest-tenured member of the bullpen, is out to prove he can still pitch after an erratic 2022 season. Richard Bleier opens the season as Boston's lead lefty with Joely Rodriguez on the injured list. . . .

Shortstop/second baseman Trevor Story will miss at least half the season as he recovers from an internal bracing procedure on his right elbow. Adalberto Mondesi, one of the players brought into fill Story's void, is still recovering from a torn left ACL he sustained last season, and won't be back until at least May. Three starting pitchers – Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello and James Paxton – are all beginning the season on the injured list. Whitlock should be back by around April 11. Bello is about a week behind that schedule. Paxton won't return before May. Rodriguez's timetable is unclear as he recovers from a Grade 2 strain of his right oblique.

Chris Sale believes this team could surprise people in the way the 2021 club did, winning 92 games and  getting two wins away from the World Series.

I think more so than anything, the talent is obviously there, but the excitement is there. The drive, the focus [are there]. We're very disciplined. . . . [Alex Cora] holds people accountable, and people respect him. As much as people want to go out there and do well for us, we don't want to let him down either.

Matthew Kory (Sox Outsider; subscribe, it's free) also thinks a 2021 uprising is possible . . . or not:

This is the first time in a while where it feels like the team could make the playoffs and go on a 2021-type run, or they could bottom out by June, and we could be looking at full scale organizational turnover by August.

Will Aaron Judge Stay Hot With Homers In 2023?

Sure . . . as long as MLB continues its questionable practice of sending special baseballs (juiced baseballs, to be clear (yes, you heard right)) to Yankee games . . . which happened last year, especially as Judge closed in on Roger Maris's American League single-season record of 61 dongs.

To paraphrase the Bard, when you think that your hatred and disgust for Rob Manfred is as strong as possible, you find out you can always hate him a little more.

Regardless, 2023 will see the much-anticipated return of Perennially-Injured Judge.

(I admit to enjoying Arson Judge. A great nickname, borne from a typo!)

March 29, 2023

Entries For 2023 W-L Contest

It's Opening Day!

Here are the entries for the 2023 W-L contest. The picks:
1. 2023 W-L Record
2. Tiebreaker: Time of Boston's Quickest Nine-Inning Game
3. Tiebreakest: Masataka Yoshida's On-Base Percentage
             W-L     Time     OBP
Beans 100-62 Jacob L. 96-66 1:23 .393 Jeff M. 94-68 2:17 .421 Paul H. 91-71 2:26 .448 Elliot S. 88-74 2:02 .387 Rich G. 87-75 2:19 .368 Jere S. 87-75 2:03 .399 Michael G. 86-76 2:23 .434 Ben B. 86-76 2:12 .377 Allan W. 85-77 2:12 .350 Warren S. 85-77 2:33 .358 Brett H. 84-78 2:02 .325 Ray P. 83-79 2:01 .365 John G. 80-82 2:40 .380 David F. 79-83 2:37 .406
Note: I hope no one feels the choose-your-own-prize-(within-a-price-limit) idea is lame. I looked at some baseball books coming out this spring (including one by Joe Kelly; a sample I read was okay, but). Nothing really grabbed my attention.

2023 Predictions: ESPN, The Sporting News, The Athletic, CBS, Yahoo,, USAToday, FiveThirtyEight

Gathering 2023 predictions from around the web:


According to 28 ESPN writers, analysts and editors:

AL East: Yankees (16 votes), Blue Jays (11), Rays (1)

AL Central: Guardians (15), White Sox (7), Twins (6)

AL West: Astros (26), Mariners (2)

AL Wild Cards: Mariners (20), Rays (17), Jays (16), Yankees (13), Angels (10), Texas (3), Astros (2), Twins (2), White Sox (1)

AL Champion: Astros (11), Yankees (8), Jays (6), Mariners (3)

NL East: Atlanta (21), Mets (6), Phillies (1)

NL Central: Cardinals (25), Brewers (3)

NL West: Padres (16), Dodgers (12)

NL Wild Cards: Phillies (22), Mets (21), Dodgers (16), Padres (11), Atlanta (7), Brewers (5), Cardinals (1), Giants (1)

NL Champion: Padres (11), Atlanta (10), Mets (5), Dodgers (1), Phillies (1)

World Series Champion: Padres (7), Atlanta (7), Yankees (5), Astros (4), Mets (2), Dodgers (1), Phillies (1), Blue Jays (1)

AL MVP: Shohei Ohtani (25), Yordan Alvarez (1), Julio Rodriguez (1), Vladimir Guerrero (1)

NL MVP: Ronald Acuña (8), Juan Soto (6), Trea Turner (5), Manny Machado (4), Freddie Freeman (2), Mookie Betts (1), Nolan Arenado (1), Matt Olson (1)

AL Rookie of the Year: Gunnar Henderson (11), Masataka Yoshida (11), Anthony Volpe (6), Hunter Brown (1)

NL Rookie of the Year: Corbin Carroll (18), Miguel Vargas (5), Jordan Walker (4), Kodai Senga (1)

AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole (6), Kevin Gausman (3), Shohei Ohtani (3), Jacob deGrom (3), Alek Manoah (3), Cristian Javier (3), Dylan Cease (2), Shane Bieber (2), Shane McClanahan (1), Framber Valdez (1), Michael King (1)

NL Cy Young: Corbin Burnes (6), Julio Urias (4), Spencer Strider (4), Sandy Alcantara (3), Max Fried (3), Justin Verlander (2), Max Scherzer (2), Joe Musgrove (1), Aaron Nola (1), Logan Webb (1)

The Sporting News

The Sporting News projection model:

works by using player projections from Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA and Fangraphs' Depth Charts, along with data on past team performances [and] uses that data, along with park factors, to simulate the 2023 season 20,000 times and logs each team's record and postseason performance. The results of the simulations are used to determine most likely records, division standings, playoff performances and World Series winners. The predicted standings shown in the article are the average wins and losses from the simulations.

AL East

Yankees      90-72
Blue Jays 90-72
Rays 81-81
Orioles 80-82
Red Sox 80-82

There are some who might look at the Red Sox and be surprised by the number of projected wins. After all, this is a team that won just 78 games last year, and will now move forward without Xander Bogaerts. But bear in mind, last year's biggest issue for Boston was its pitching staff. In 2023, the Red Sox will have ace Chris Sale back and added veteran Corey Kluber to help provide some stability to what was a shaky rotation last year. Rafael Devers is one of the league's biggest stars and Masataka Yoshida is expected to have a productive first year in MLB. If Adalberto Mondesi can stay healthy — he has played in just 109 games since 2019 and has never played in more than 102 contests in a season — he could help reduce the blows of losing Bogaerts in free agency and Trevor Story to a long-term injury.

Team        Win division  Make playoffs  First-round bye
Yankees 43.3% 82.3% 37.5%
Blue Jays 40.2% 79.4% 37.2%
Rays 6.7% 34.1% 5.2%
Orioles 5.1% 26.7% 3.8%
Red Sox 4.8% 26.1% 3.3%

AL Central: Guardians (84-78), Twins (82-80), White Sox (81-81), Royals (75-87), Tigers (67-95)

AL West: Astros (90-72), Mariners (84-78), Angels (84-78), Texas (80-82), Athletics (63-99)

NL East: Atlanta (90-72), Mets (89-73), Phillies (87-75), Marlins (74-88), Nationals (71-91)

NL Central: Cardinals (87-75), Brewers (83-79), Cubs (78-84), Pirates (73-89), Reds (73-89)

NL West: Dodgers (89-73), Padres (88-74), Giants (80-82), Diamondbacks (79-83), Rockies (77-85)

AL Playoff Predictions

First-round byes: Yankees, Astros
Remaining playoff teams: Guardians, Blue Jays, Mariners, Angels
Team         Win pennant
Yankees 19.4%
Astros 19.2%
Blue Jays 18.9%
Guardians 7.6%
Mariners 7.2%
Angels 6.7%
Twins 4.9%
Rays 4.1%
White Sox 3.4%
Orioles 2.8%
Red Sox 2.7%
Texas 2.6%
Royals 0.7%
Tigers 0.0%
Athletics 0.0%

NL Playoff Predictions

First-round byes: Atlanta, Dodgers
Remaining playoff teams: Cardinals, Mets, Padres, Phillies

Team         Win Pennant
Atlanta 17.4%
Dodgers 15.1%
Padres 14.6%
Mets 13.8%
Cardinals 11.7%
Phillies 11.3%
Brewers 6.2%
Giants 3.1%
Diamondbacks 2.1%
Cubs 1.8%
Rockies 1.4%
Marlins 0.6%
Reds 0.3%
Pirates 0.3%
Nationals 0.2%
World Series Prediction

Team Win World Series
Yankees 10.5%
Astros 10.1%
Blue Jays 10.0%
Atlanta 9.3%
Dodgers 8.1%
Padres 7.6%
Mets 7.3%
Phillies 5.9%
Cardinals 5.8%
Guardians 3.4%
Mariners 3.2%
Angels 3.0%
Brewers 2.9%
Twins 2.0%
Rays 1.8%
Giants 1.3%
White Sox 1.3%
Orioles 1.2%
Red Sox 1.2%
Texas 1.1%
Diamondbacks 0.9%
Cubs 0.8%
Rockies 0.5%
Marlins 0.2%
Royals 0.2%
Reds 0.1%
Pirates 0.1%
Nationals 0.1%
Tigers 0.0%
Athletics 0.0%

The Athletic

World Series winner?

Padres 19.40%
Atlanta 16.10%
Blue Jays 16.10%
Astros 12.90%
Mariners 9.70%

Also receiving multiple votes: New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals

Jim Bowden: I am a strong believer that you can't buy a championship. However, the Padres . . . They have three strong starters at the top of their rotation with Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. They have two impact closers with Josh Hader and Robert Suarez. And, most importantly, they have four special hitters — Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts — stacked in their lineup . . . all four can hit the elite pitching they’ll face in October.

Jayson Stark: Maybe it's because I've seen a lot of the Blue Jays this spring, but they have a lineup that keeps coming at you. They have better left-right balance in the lineup than in the past and the ability to use their legs to exploit the new rules. . . . Easily one of the five most talented teams in the game.

Katie Woo: It's incredibly hard to win back-to-back titles, and it hasn't been done in over two decades. Still, the Astros look poised to repeat. . . . Houston retained the majority of its World Series-winning roster from last season. . . . [T]he Astros are, once again, a team built for the long run.

Sam Blum: For the Mariners, it comes down to the starting rotation. It's a deep rotation with proven pitchers. Luis Castillo, Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales and George Kirby make up arguably the best rotation in the game. The Mariners also have a superstar in Julio Rodríguez, and a generally decent offense.

Most Overrated Team?

Yankees       25.80%
Mets 19.40%
Dodgers 9.70%
Phillies 9.70%
Padres 9.70%
Cardinals 9.70%
Blue Jays 9.70%
Andrew Baggarly: The Yankees' lineup . . . looks brittle without much depth. And the pitching is already leaking oil in spring training. A team with Aaron Judge plus a healthy Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón will contend, but that's a pretty low bar for a franchise that hasn't won an AL pennant in 14 years.

Sahadev Sharma: The injuries during spring have me legitimately concerned for their starting pitching group, which could derail their chances this year.

Who will win each division?

AL East
Blue Jays      45.2%
Yankees 32.3%
Rays 12.9%
Orioles 9.7%
Red Sox 0.0%
Chad Jennings: There's a real chance four teams in this division make the playoffs.

Jim Bowden: I think the Blue Jays will win the AL East if they stay healthy. Their starting pitching is now deeper than the Yankees' (due to injuries to the Yankees' rotation), and they're now better defensively at most spots.
AL Central
Guardians      54.8%
Twins 29.0%
White Sox 16.1%
Tigers 0.0%
Royals 0.0%
AL West
Astros         83.9%
Mariners 12.9%
Angels 3.2%
Texas 0.0%
Athletics 0.0%
NL East
Atlanta        74.2%
Mets 12.9%
Phillies 12.9%
Marlins 0.0%
Nationals 0.0%
NL Central
Cardinals      87.1%
Brewers 9.7%
Cubs 3.2%
Reds 0.0%
Pirates 0.0%
NL West
Padres         61.3%
Dodgers 38.7%
Diamondbacks 0.0%
Rockies 0.0%
Giants 0.0%
Shohei Ohtani      58.1%
Julio Rodríguez 9.7%
Mike Trout 9.7%
Aaron Judge 6.5%
Juan Soto          25.8%
Trea Turner 22.6%
Nolan Arenado 12.9%
Manny Machado 12.9%
Ronald Acuña 9.7%
Mookie Betts 9.7%
AL Cy Young
Shane McClanahan   19.4%
Luis Castillo 12.9%
Jacob deGrom 12.9%
Dylan Cease 9.7%
Alek Manoah 9.7%
Shohei Ohtani 9.7%
NL Cy Young
Corbin Burnes      41.9%
Spencer Strider 12.9%
Sandy Alcantara 9.7%
AL Rookie of the Year
Gunnar Henderson   61.3%
Masataka Yoshida 22.6%
Anthony Volpe 12.9%
Triston Casas 3.2%
Chad Jennings: Masataka Yoshida looked good in spring training. Looked great in the World Baseball Classic. The Red Sox believe in his power enough to hit him cleanup.

NL Rookie of the Year
Corbin Carroll 58.1%
Jordan Walker 29.0%
Garrett Mitchell 6.5%
CBS Sports

RJ Anderson: As always, my goal is to not look stupid rather than to look smart. . . . [T]his is as wide open a field in the National League as we've had in some time, and I'm excited to watch that three-team race in the East play out. . . . I went with the Padres over the Astros in the end, but I can foresee any number of other teams making it to and winning the Fall Classic.

Mike Axisa: I think the Astros are the best team in the AL but, honestly, I'm bored of picking them to go to the World Series every year, so I'm going with Toronto. . . . I like the way they're built for a short postseason series and believe this is the year they break through and advance in October. . . . [Atlanta has] so much youth and upside, plus they're great already. They're the best team in the league . . . I'm expecting and looking forward to a[n Atlanta]-Padres NLCS, and then Atlanta besting Toronto in a 1992 World Series rematch.

Kate Feldman: I have no intention of looking at these predictions again . . . so I'm winging it. I'm also going all in on the Angels. . . . [T]he NL East is by far the most interesting division and I think it's going to come down to the wire again . . .
Dayn Perry: I still default to the Astros being the best team in the AL in absence of additional major injuries. The Padres have the most loaded lineup in baseball once Tatis returns, and . . . they'll be aggressive in fortifying the rotation leading up to the trade deadline. Ohtani will set the tone for his upcoming free agency by topping 40 home runs at the plate and 200 strikeouts on the mound. 

Stephen Pianovich: Is picking the Angels to make the playoffs so we get to watch Shohei Ohtani play meaningful high-stakes baseball again after his thunderous World Baseball Classic wishful thinking?  . . . Probably.

Matt Snyder: So many of these were very close . . . and yes, I'm a sucker for picking the Angels to make the playoffs. I'm aware. They always fail me, but I'm going back to the well. . . . I think the Astros are the number one team in baseball, but it's a bit boring to pick a repeat champ and I have the Padres as number two. 


Hannah Keyser, Zach Crizer, Jack Baer, Chris Cwik and Liz Roscher:

World Series

Hannah Keyser:  Astros over Mets
Zach Crizer: Atlanta over Yankees
Jack Baer: Mets over Astros
Chris Cwik: Blue Jays over Cardinals
Liz Roscher: Astros over Mets


Hannah Keyser:  Wander Franco, Trea Turner
Zach Crizer: Jose Ramirez, Ronald Acuña
Jack Baer: Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts
Chris Cwik: Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuña
Liz Roscher: Shohei Ohtani, Trea Turner
Cy Youngs

Hannah Keyser:  Cristian Javier, Aaron Nola
Zach Crizer: Luis Castillo, Zac Gallen
Jack Baer: Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer
Chris Cwik: Shane Bieber, Aaron Nola
Liz Roscher: Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola

Ohtani HR and ERA

Hannah Keyser:  40 / 2.80
Zach Crizer: 36 / 3.17
Jack Baer: 43 / 3.30
Chris Cwik: 38 / 2.25
Liz Roscher: 35 / 2.60


Masataka Yoshida: AL Rookie of Year (Zach Crizer, Chris Cwik)

Brayan Bello: AL Breakout Pitcher (Keyser, Baer)

"87 voters . . . weigh in on which teams they foresee winning the divisions, the Wild Card spots, the league pennants and, ultimately, which club will emerge as the World Series champion":

AL Divisions: Yankees, Guardians, Astros
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Blue Jays and Rays

Although he'll start the season on the injured list due to a left elbow strain, the addition of Carlos Rodón to a starting rotation already featuring Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes makes the Yankees even more of a force to be reckoned with . . . It's World Series or bust in the Bronx, with the Yanks not having reached the Fall Classic since 2009 – the 14 years since then is the second-longest period between World Series appearances in franchise history (1981-96 is the longest). They'll have to weather injuries early . . .

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Dodgers, Phillies, Mets

World Series: Padres over Astros



AL: Shohei Ohtani

If not for a historic Aaron Judge season, Ohtani would already have multiple MVP Awards, with a chance for a three-peat this year. . . . Ohtani has been incredible the past two seasons, combining the production of an elite slugger (80 homers, 151 OPS+) and an ace pitcher (156 ERA+, 11.4 K/9) while putting up 9+ WAR in each year. And it's possible we haven't even seen his peak yet. . . . Ohtani was the overwhelming favorite in our poll.

NL: Juan Soto, Padres

Entering his age-24 season, Soto has two Top 5 MVP finishes on his résumé, placing fifth in 2020 and second in 2021. . . . In what was a "down" year for Soto, he still produced a 149 OPS+ with 27 homers and an MLB-leading 135 walks in 2022.


AL: Shohei Ohtani, Angels

If's expert predictions come to fruition, Ohtani would be just the 12th player to win the MVP and Cy Young Awards in the same season, though none of the previous 11 were pulling double duty as a full-time hitter and pitcher. Ohtani made major strides on the mound last season, recording a 2.33 ERA with 219 strikeouts and a 1.01 WHIP over 166 innings. The performance, which included a 1.67 ERA over his final 19 starts, earned him a fourth-place finish in the AL Cy Young voting.

NL: Corbin Burnes, Brewers

Burnes won the NL Cy Young Award in 2021 and has earned votes in each of the past three years, including a seventh-place finish last season. The right-hander reached the 200-inning plateau for the first time in 2022, recording a 2.94 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP with an NL-leading 243 K's.. . . Our voters see this as a close race – Burnes, Max Fried, Sandy Alcantara and Spencer Strider all received at least 10 votes, while Urías and Verlander got eight apiece.


AL: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles

MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect, Henderson fared well after making his MLB debut late last season, showing a discerning eye at the plate and demonstrating the ability to consistently produce hard contact. He recorded a 123 OPS+ over 34 games for the O's and is set to hold an everyday role in 2023. With Pipeline's No. 5 prospect Anthony Volpe set to be on the Yankees' Opening Day roster and Japanese star Masataka Yoshida joining the Red Sox, the AL Rookie of the Year race should be competitive, but the majority of our voters like the 21-year-old Henderson to win it.

NL: Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

A potential five-tool star, Carroll lived up to the hype in his first taste of MLB action after debuting last August. In addition to recording the fastest average sprint speed (30.7 ft/sec) in the Majors, Carroll (MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect) produced 15 extra-base hits (four homers) in 104 at-bats and posted a 133 OPS+. The D-backs were evidently so impressed by his performance that they signed him to an eight-year, $111 million extension.

League Leaders

Batting Average

AL: Yordan Alvarez, Astros

NL: Freddie Freeman, Dodgers

Freeman has hit .300 or better in six of the past seven seasons . . . Freeman came up just short of the NL lead last season, finishing at .325 while Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil led the league with a .326 average. Freeman's constant production at the plate – he led the National League in runs and the Majors in hits last season – was why our voters chose him to top the NL in batting average in 2023.

Home Runs

AL: Aaron Judge, Yankees

NL: Pete Alonso, Mets

Stolen Bases

AL: Bobby Witt, Royals

Witt was the fastest player in the AL last season – tied with [Texas'] Bubba Thompson and the Rays' Jose Siri – with a recorded sprint speed of 30.4 ft/sec. The Royals ran more than most clubs, stealing 104 bases, third most in the league. . . .

NL: Trea Turner, Phillies and Ronald Acuña, Atlanta (tie)


AL: Shohei Ohtani, Angels

Ohtani posted a sparkling 2.33 ERA as part of another outstanding 2022 campaign, but competition for the AL's ERA title was fierce, and it was ultimately Justin Verlander (1.75) who won out. Ohtani's likely to face a similar battle this season as the pool of AL Cy Young hopefuls continues to grow (and now includes Jacob deGrom).

NL: Sandy Alcantara, Marlins

Alcantara pitched a Major League-leading 228 2/3 innings and captured the 2022 NL Cy Young Award, but his ERA (2.28) was second in the league to that of the Dodgers' Julio Urías (2.16). Our panel projected Alcantara, whose 2022 ERA was below 2.00 as late as Aug. 21, to claim the NL ERA crown this season. The last eight seasons have seen eight different pitchers lead the NL in ERA; Clayton Kershaw (2011-14) was the last to repeat.

USA Today

Bob Nightengale

AL Divisions: Blue Jays, Guardians, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Rays, Yankees

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Phillies, Mets, Dodgers

World Series: Guardians over Phillies

AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL MVP: Trea Turner, Phillies

AL Cy Young: Emmanuel Clase, Guardians
NL Cy Young: Zac Gallen, Diamondbacks

AL Rookie: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
NL Rookie: Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

Gabe Lacques

AL Divisions: Yankees, Guardians, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Blue Jays, Mariners

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Dodgers, Phillies, Mets

World Series: Padres over Yankees

AL MVP: Kyle Tucker, Astros
NL MVP: Juan Soto, Padres

AL Cy Young: Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays
NL Cy Young: Spencer Strider, Atlanta

AL Rookie:Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles
NL Rookie: Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

Steve Gardner

AL Divisions: Blue Jays, Guardians, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Yankees, Mariners, Angels

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Dodgers, Phillies, Mets

World Series: Atlanta over Blue Jays

MVPs: Shohei Ohtani, Angels / Juan Soto, Padres
Cy Youngs: Shohei Ohtani, Angels / Aaron Nola, Phillies
Rookies: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles / NL Rookie: Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

Bobby Nightengale

AL Divisions: Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Mariners, Yankees, Texas

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Dodgers, Phillies, Mets

World Series: Mariners over Atlanta

MVPs: Shohei Ohtani, Angels / Freddie Freeman, Dodgers
Cy Youngs: Luis Castillo, Mariners / Aaron Nola, Phillies
Rookies: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles / Garrett Mitchell, Brewers

Stephen Borelli

AL Divisions: Yankees, Guardians, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Blue Jays, Rays, Mariners

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Padres, Mets, Phillies

World Series: Padres over Astros

MVPs: Jose Ramirez, Guardians / Ronald Acuña, Atlanta
Cy Youngs: Gerrit Cole, Yankees / Yu Darvish, Padres
Rookies: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles / Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

Scott Boeck

AL Divisions: Yankees, White Sox, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Blue Jays, Angels, Guardians

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres
NL Wild Cards: Dodgers, Mets, Phillies

World Series: Padres over Astros

MVPs: Shohei Ohtani, Angels / Manny Machado, Padres
Cy Youngs: Framber Valdez, Astros / Spencer Strider, Atlanta
Rookies: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles / Miguel Vargas, Dodgers

Jesse Yomtov

AL Divisions: Yankees, Guardians, Astros 
AL Wild Cards: Rays, Mariners, Twins

NL Divisions: Atlanta, Cardinals, Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: Padres, Mets, Phillies

World Series: Astros over Padres

MVPs: Julio Rodriguez, Mariners / Trea Turner, Phillies
Cy Youngs: Framber Valdez, Astros / Julio Urias, Dodgers
Rookies: Josh Jung, Texas / Garrett Mitchell, Brewers


March 23, 2023

Lindy's Sports Baseball 2023 Preview

If anyone out there is considering starting a Yankee Schandenfreude blog, posting bits of the Red Sox's 2023 preview from Lindy's Sports' baseball annual would not be the worst way to kick things off.

In other words, these editors do not like the Red Sox's chances this season. In fact, they are picking Boston to finish sixth in the five-team American League East. Brutal. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but they certainly have a glass half-empty outlook (or the glass shattered and the liquid soaked into the ground). Here is how it begins:

What exactly are the Red Sox doing?

I read that question and instantly thought of Greil Marcus's infamous Rolling Stone review of Bob Dylan's 1970 Self Portrait album. Marcus started his 7,000-word screed with these four words:

What is this shit?

Things get steadily worse from there.

That was one of the big baseball questions of the offseason, as Boston spent the winter making offers to seemingly every free agent on the market, but routinely coming up short; let its franchise shortstop leave after underbidding him the entire time; and enters 2023 with a roster that feels half-finished. Last year's Red Sox squad was an injury-riddled mess that barely made it to the season's end, limping into last place. After such a disappointing offseason, it's hard to see how exactly this year's edition is supposed to be much better.

Great seats are available NOW!

[NOTE: I was expecting to see what Athlon and Street & Smith had to say during a trip to Oregon earlier this month, but I could not find either magazine. If anyone feels like napping some cellphone pics of the relevant pages and emailing them to me, I'll devote a post to them.]

This shitty situation is directly connected to the "self-inflicted wound" of trading Mookie Betts, according to Lindy's, a bad decision at the time and one that "has only gotten worse". The current roster is "woefully short of depth, especially pitching-wise and in high-end talent". (Yeah, but those aren't really important concerns, right?)

Chaim Bloom's on-the-fly rebuild has been bumpy, messy, often confusing, and ocasionally blundered. . . . [T]he driving impulse seems to be to slash costs wherever and whenever possible. Boston won't contend with this team, and it's an open question as to when Red Sox fans can expect that to happen again.

Some scouts say: "How did it get away from them so quickly? . . . They could be sitting in last place for a long time."

Here is Lindy's prediction for the AL East and the various awards:
Blue Jays
Red Sox
Other division winners: Guardians, Astros / Atlanta, Cardinals, Padres

Wild Cards: Blue Jays, Rays, Texas, White Sox / Mets, Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers

Pennant winners: Yankees / Atlanta

MVPs: Kyle Tucker, Astros / Manny Machado, Padres

Cy Youngs: Dylan Cease, White Sox / Corbin Burnes, Brewers

Managers of the Year: Bruce Bochy, Texas / Bob Melvin, Padres

Rookies of the Year: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles / Corbin Carroll, Diamondbacks

Rookies Pitchers of the Year: Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles / Andrew Painter, Phillies

Let's take a closer look:

Starting Pitching

Despite barely pitching the last two seasons due to injury, Chris Sale is penciled into the rotation atop it. . . . Nick Pivetta is a lock to finish every season with about a 4.50 ERA. . . . [H]e struggles to command [his stuff] and he's far too hittable when he's in the strike zone . . . Corey Kluber couldn't overcome his fastball falling below 90 mph last season . . . he couldn't draw enough swings-and-misses to offset an increase in hard contact. . . . Garrett Whitlock didn't take fully to being a starter last year . . . Boston will try again this year, and with good reason, given Whitlock's above-average arsenal and high strikeout potential. Lefty James Paxton hasn't appeared in a major-league game since 2020. . . .


After a year of constant blown saves and late-inning meltdowns, Boston imported Kenley Jansen to add stability. [Jensen] los[t] velocity last season and has seen his control slip . . . All Chris Martin does is throw strikes . . . He misses bats with fastballs up, cutters away, and splitters and sliders down. John Schreiber broke out last season as Boston's most reliable reliever. Shoulder problems have diminished Matt Barnes' effectiveness. He's lost velocity . . . and has a tendency to lose control . . . Joely Rodriguez takes over as the primary lefty in the bullpen. Too many walks sunk him with the Mets, but he's good at avoiding homers and getting whiffs . . .


After trading Christian Vazquez last summer, the Red Sox opted to hand the catcher position to the tandem of Reese McGuire and Connor Wong, and then decided to let that duo hold onto the spot through the winter. That says more about Boston's unwillingness to spend than anything positive about either guy. McGuire is a glove-first catcher who rode an inflated BABIP to a nice second half, but he's a below-average hitter with little to no pop. Wong is a contact-first hitter with minimal thump and a glove that's probably average at best.


Triston Casas . . . arrived in Boston down the stretch and showed excellent power and patience. . . . [H]e has a great eye at the plate and a lot of thunder in his big left-handed stroke. . . . Trevor Story [moves] from second base to shortstop . . . Arm troubles and the presence of [Xander] Bogaerts forced Story off the position last year and over to second, where he was excellent. Offensively, Story was a mess, too aggressive and streaky . . . Christian Arroyo [at second base] . . . is best deployed as a platoon bat against lefties, and he grades out as a below-average defender. . . . Rafael Devers is easily the best hitter on the team, marrying top-of-the-charts bat speed with plus-plus power and a freakish ability to cover the plate. He's improving defensively, too, making fewer mistakes and curbing his rushed throws. Considering Devers is just 27 years old, Boston made a wise decision in keeping him around for the long term.


Alex Verdugo keeps going backward . . . Verdugo's ceiling looks to be a 2-WAR outfielder with inconsistent offense, not enough power, deer-in-the-headlights defense, and a propensity for boneheaded base running. Verdugo has plenty of tools, but seems at a loss as to how to develop or use them. Back problems kept Enrique Hernandez off the field most of last year, turning center field into a black hole for Boston. . . . Most of Hernandez's value comes with his glove. As a hitter . . . he can't handle right-handed pitching on a regular basis . . . Masataka Yoshida is coming from Japan as essentially the foreign version of Andrew Benintendi. Yoshida is a contact hitter with a gap-to-gap style and a power tool that grades out at 15-20 homers a season. Helping Yoshida along is his potential 70-grade plate discipline, as evidenced by low strikeout and huge walk rates in Japan. He is limited defensively . . .

Designated Hitter

Justin Turner is getting close to the finish line, but the Red Sox hope he has one or two more good years left in his bat. Being a regular DH should keep him healthier. . . .


Alex Cora can't escape the inconsistency that has plagued the franchise the last decade. Two wins away from the World Series in 2021, he oversaw a last-place team in 2022 . . . Boston had a dozen players serve time on the IL in July, and went 8-19 for the month. Not that Cora helped much. His frantic bullpen management and hyper-aggressive style tend to exacerbate mistakes and shallow rosters. . . . [T]his team is unlikely to win [Chaim Bloom] much praise. That's in large part Bloom's own fault. . . . Bloom's trades have not yielded much fruit. The farm system has improved, albeit slowly . . .
On the plus side, the games will be over quicker.

March 22, 2023

Manfred Has A New Excuse For Long Games: Slow Bat Boys & Bat Girls

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, in his tiredless and thankless crusade to make watching professional baseball as enjoyable as possible for fans of all ages, has identified another reason why the length of games have been steadily increasing over recent decades: the bat boys and bat girls are too fucking slow.

Well, Manfred is putting the brakes on that gravy train. He's going to make these teenagers being paid minimum wage (of course) perform like disposable Amazon employees with full bladders, who are  regularly forced to work at an inhumane pace or be fired on the spot. Remember: You can't spell Manfred without "fan".

A clarification memo from MLB states, in part:

• New standards will be enforced for bat boys and bat girls, whose ability to quickly retrieve equipment will help efforts to speed up the game, according to the memo. The league will evaluate the performances of bat boys and bat girls and could ask teams to replace them if their performance is considered substandard.

Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if Manfred decided that other people doing stuff during a major league game, like, oh, I don't know, umpires, were judged by similar performance evaluations and replaced "if their performance is considered substandard"?

At the moment, blown ball-strike calls by plate umpires are so regular you could set your watch by them. The outcome of every major league game is likely affected by the constant errors committed by these incompetent assclowns, but there's apparently nothing that can be done about it. 

However, those kids aren't part of a union, so Manfred'll happily bust their balls.

March 21, 2023

WBC Final: Japan 3, United States 2

United States - 010 000 010 - 2  9  0
Japan - 020 100 00x - 3 5 0

Shohei Ohtani came out of the bullpen for the top of the ninth, determined to preserve Japan's 3-2 lead in the 2023 World Baseball Classic championship game and give his home country its third title in five tournaments.

Ohtani fell behind Jeff McNeil 3-1, but got him to foul two pitches off. His full count offering was too low and the United States had its leadoff man on as the potential tying run. Mookie Betts, who had singled in the fifth and seventh, took a 98-mph fastball just off the heart of the plate before hitting into a 4-6-3 double play. 

With the US down to its final out, the baseball world was given the match-up so many people were hoping to see and one that could not be scripted. Ohtani vs. Mike Trout, two teammates who are also two of the best baseball players on the planet. Trout doubled in the first inning, but had struck out twice and lined to right since then. Ohtani started him off with a slider at 88 for ball one. It's a pitch that is also referred to as a "sweeper" because of its significant horizontal movement. The next pitch was a fastball at 100. Trout swung and missed. Then another fastball, also at 100, but a little too far outside. Ohtani's 2-1 was yet another heater at 100 – and thrown defiantly right down the heart of the plate. Holy shit! Trout tried to hit it, but could not. 2-2 – Ohtani and Japan were one strike away. A 102-mph fastball was well outside and catcher Yuhei Nakamura let it go to the backstop. Full count. Ohtani came back with a sweeper at 87 that made a distinct swerve away from the zone and away from the batter. Trout had no chance. He had committed himself to swinging, but could not reach Ohtani's 14th and final pitch of the inning. 

Japan's 3-2 victory gave it a perfect 7-0 record in this tournament and a 30-8 all-time record in WBC games.

Ohtani was named the tourament's Most Valuable Player. He finished with a batting line of .435/.606/.739, with four doubles, one home run, nine runs scored, and nine RBI. In addition to his inning of relief, he started two games (one of which was against Italy in the quarterfinals) and allowed only two runs in 8.2 innings and struck out 10.

The game was tight and well-played, with almost all of the runs coming on long balls. Trea Turner gave the United States its only lead of the game with a solo blast to left with one out in the second. It was his fifth home run of the tournament. Shota Imanaga (2-4-1-0-2, 30) then allowed a single to J.P. Realmuto and a two-out hit to Tim Anderson. Any trouble that might have been brewing was dissipated when Betts flied to left.

Munetaka Murakami must have slept peacefully after his game-winning, two-run double against Cuba on Monday night. He walked to plate to lead off the second, saw one pitch from Merrill Kelly, and crushed it 432 feet into the second deck in right-center. The ball leapt off his bat at a remarkable 115.1 mph. Kazuma Okamoto carved a single into right and, after an out, Sosuke Genda singled to left and Nakamura walked. The US went to the bullpen, replacing Kelly (1.1-3-2-2-1, 36) with Aaron Loup. Lars Nootbaar's first-to-pitcher groundout brought in Okamoto for a 2-1 lead.

Shosei Togo was the first man out of Japan's pen. He fanned Trout with a splitter in the dirt and got Paul Goldschmidt on a fly to left. But then he walked both Nolan Arenado and Kyle Schwarber and faced Turner with two men on. Togo struck out Turner with a changeup that darted down and in. Togo faced the bottom third of the US lineup in the third and got them in order.

Hiroto Takahashi gave up an infield single to Betts to start the fourth. John Tumpane had called Betts out, but the US challenged that call. The replays showed clearly that Mookie was safe. Takahaski struck out Trout swinging (at another low splitter) and Goldschmidt looking at a low fastball. Arenado lined a single to left, but Schwarber flied to center on a 3-0 pitch to end the threat.

Okamoto homered to left-center to start Kyle Freeland's second inning of work. It increased Japan's lead to 3-1 – a significant insurance run – and its win expectancy to 79.3%. 

Jason Adam dug himself a large hole in the sixth, but managed to wriggle away unscathed. Adam started off by striking out Murakami and Okamoto. But then he walked Tetsuto Yamada, who promptly stole second on the next pitch. And then he walked Genda. And then he walked Nakamura. A bases loaded situation earned him a visit at the mound. Adam went to 2-2 on Nootbaar before getting the third out on the only ball of the inning put into play, a fly to short right.

The US threatened in the seventh against Taisei Ota, who made the serious mistake of walking pinch-hitter Jeff McNeil with the top of the lineup coming up. Betts lined a single into left and the US had the potential tying runs on. Ota's first pitch to Trout was inside and hit the knob at the end of his bat. It could have just as easily hit his hand, which would have loaded the bases. But Trout lined the next pitch to right and Kensuke Kondoh made the catch. Goldschmidt swung and missed at two pitches and then rapped into a double play. That lowered the US's win expectancy to 10.7%.

In the eighth, as Schwarber batted against Yu Darvish with one out, Ohtani began casually tossing a ball in the bullpen. With a 1-2 count, Schwarber proceeded to foul off six pitches, seeing everything Darvish had to offer: cutter, 4-seam fastball, slider, splitter, 4-seamer, curve. The tenth pitch of Schwarber's impressive at-bat was belted to deep right-center for a home run that cut Japan's lead to 3-2 (and upped the US's win expectancy to 19.3%).

Turner followed with a looping single to right-center, but Darvish got Realmuto to pop to short and Cedric Mullins to fly to center. (As I wrote the "8" on my scorecard, I realized Trout would be the third man up in the ninth and could face Ohtani with two outs.) When the bottom of the eighth began, Ohtani was alone in the pen. Yamada walked with two outs and stole second (his second steal of the game), but was stranded when Genda grounded to third (and the call was upheld after a challenge).

And then Ohtani walked in from the bullpen to pitch the top of the ninth. He has not pitched in relief in the major leagues (63 starts). His last relief appearance was seven years ago, when he faced three batters to help the Nippon-Ham Fighters advance to the 2016 Japan Series.

Merrill Kelly / Shōta Imanaga

The United States and Japan have won three of the four previous WBC championships.

2006: Japan 10, Cuba 6
2009: Japan 5, South Korea 3
2013: Dominican Republic 3, Puerto Rico 0
2017: United States 8, Puerto Rico 0

Shohei Ohtani might pitch in relief, which means he could face his teammate Mike Trout in the later innings.

Three ESPN writers offer some comments and predictions:

Alden Gonzalez: USA 6, Japan 4. MVP: Mike Trout
Jeff Passan: Japan 2, USA 1. MVP: Shohei Ohtani
Jesse Rogers: USA 8, Japan 6. MVP: Mookie Betts

My pick: Japan 7, USA 5. MVP: Masataka Yoshida. And Shohei out of the bullpen for the save.

March 20, 2023

WBC Semifinal: Japan 6, Mexico 5

Mexico - 000 300 020 - 5  9  0  
Japan  - 000 000 312 - 6 10 0
As Munetaka Murakami walked to the plate in the bottom of the ninth, with the tying run at second and the winning run on first, Japan's 22-year-old third baseman likely wanted to consider this moment his first at-bat of the game. Banish from his mind all thoughts of his four previous trips to the plate: three strikeouts and a foul popup, a heavy 0-for-4 collar that dropped his WBC average down to .190.

But here was a final chance for redemption – and an opportunity to send his team to the WBC championship game for the third time in five tournaments. Mexico held the slimmest of leads, 5-4, and Giovanny Gallegos needed only three outs to put the finishing touches on what would be a very surprising upset. But Gallegos's first pitch was hammered to the wall in right-center by Shohei Ohtani  for a double and Masataka Yoshida (the Red Sox's big winter acquisition who kickstarted Japan's stagnant offense with a game-tying three-run dinger in the seventh) walked on five pitches.

Murakami (more about his 2022 season below) fouled off the first pitch and took a ball before launching a drive to deep left-center. I thought it had a chance to go out, but I was likely truped by my excitement. The ball hit off the wall about halfway up. Ohtani scored and when pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto came sliding across the plate with the winning run . . . it was pandemonium. (The Tokyo Broadcasting Systems announcers were certainly upbeat.'s hot take: This was the greatest game in World Baseball Classic history.)

Japan will play the United States in the WBC championship game on Tuesday evening. The six runs scored on Monday is the lowest total for Japan's offense in the tournament and the five runs allowed the highest number of opponents runs. They have won 8-1, 13-4, 10-2, 7-1, 9-3, and 6-5.

Both starters – Mexico's Patrick Sandoval (4.1-4-0-1-6, 66) and Japan's Roki Sasaki (4-5-3-0-3, 64) – look sharp through three innings. The hard-throwing Sasaki began the game with a 101 mph pea to Randy Arozarena and put him away with a 102 heater. Sandoval couldn't match that velocity, but he struck out the side in the first, walking off the hill after getting Ohtani to look at a strike-three slider.

Sasaki relied more heavily on off-speed stuff in the second inning, but after giving up a pair of one-out singles, he went back to the gas and got Alan Trejo to hit into a double play. Both pitchers turned in clean third innings.

Sasaki retired the first two batters in the fourth on six pitches and was ahead of Rowdy Tellez 0-2 when Tellez poked an opposite-field single to left against the shift (which remains legal in the WBC). Isaac Paredes reached base when his popup into short left fell out of the reach of Murakami's glove. Then Luis Urías clubbed a 403-foot home run to left, giving Mexico a 3-0 lead.

Japan's first ten batters did not hit the ball out of the infield (five of them didn't hit the ball at all), but on the second time through the lineup, they started showing some life. Kensuke Kondoh singled to right with one out and Yoshida lined a single to left with two down. Murakami came up with a chance to bop a three-run dong of his own, but he was schooled by Sandoval with four sliders and was called out on strikes.

Kazuma Okamoto opened the fifth with a long drive to left. It certainly had home run distance. Arozarena drifted back onto the warning track, felt for the wall, and then leapt, his glove reaching over and beyond the wall. When he came down, it was unclear whether the play was an out or a home run. And Arozarena wasn't helping to clear things up. He was standing at the base of the wall, facing the infield, as still and emotionless as a statute. His face gave nothing away. 

Should Okamoto start his home run trot or go back to his dugout? Arozarena did not move a muscle for more than five seconds – a long time, considering the context – before finally pulling the baseball out of his glove and chucking it back to the infield.

The robbery did not phase Japan, however. Tetsuto Yamada lined a first-pitch single to right and Sosuke Genda worked an eight-pitch walk. That was the end of Sandoval's night and José Urquidy took over. (During the pitching change, Arozarena signed at least one autograph at the wall.) Pinch-hitter Shugo Maki grounded to short and Lars Nootbaar walked (after falling behind 0-2). The bases were loaded for Kondoh, who jumped on the first pitch and sent it to deep left. This fly ball was much less dramatic. It carried to the track and Arozarena recorded the third out.

The sixth inning offered more of the same, multiple baserunners but no payoff. Ohtani led off with a single and was forced at second by Yoshida. Murakami fanned on an 87-mph changeup down the middle. But then Urquidy got wild, walking Okamoto and (after a mound meeting) Yamada. Bases loaded once again. Genda lifted a fly down the left field line. Arozarena sprinted over and made another inning-ending catch. Japan had left eight men on base in the last three innings.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto had relieved Sasaki in the fifth and cruised through three innings, allowing only two walks and not letting the ball out of the infield. He was aided by an overturned call that ended the seventh. Trejo walked with one out and took off for second as Alek Thomas struck out. The throw from catcher Takuya Kai* was on target, but the umpire (Jong Chui Park) called the runner safe. Japan asked for a review and during the lengthy deliberation, all of the various television replays, from six or seven angles, were inconclusive, each one failing to show some key part of the slide and tag. It was impossible to tell if the call was correct, but if forced to rule, I would have said safe. The lack of a clear angle made this a textbook example of inconclusive or unavailable evidence leading to a decision to go with the original call. So, of course, the call was overturned. The runner was out and the inning was over.

*: I asked my dog (napping next to the couch) if this guy was her favourite player, but she barely opened her eyes to look at me.

Was Japan energized by the caught stealing call that kept the score at 3-0? It was hard to tell as Kai was overmatched on a high 1-2 fastball and Nootbaar lined out to Arozarena in left-center. The Rays star was zipping around everywhere; it was his fourth nice catch in three innings which prompted announcer Yonder Alonso to proclaim that Arozarena "had hit a grand slam on defense, basically". Which, I should not have to tell you, is not a thing and has never been a thing in all of baseball history, basically.

One thing I forgot to mention in my rant after Sunday's US-Cuba game: Both Alonso and play-by-play guy Dave Flemming were blatantly and obnoxiously pro-US during the entire game. I would not have expected any different, but these guys were employed as the announcers for the WBC's international feed. Thus, they are being broadcast everywhere in the entire world EXCEPT the United States. Considering the low opinion of the US (the country) in many parts of the world, I can't imagine too many international viewers enjoyed those cheerleading antics.

Anyhoo, two outs for Japan in the bottom of the seventh and no one on base. But wait! Kondoh lined a single over the second baseman into right. Mexico made a pitching change, bringing in JoJo Romero (At Chez Sock, we asked, "Shouldn't his name be pronounced HoHo?") Romero pitched around Ohtani, walking him on five pitches (he threw a strike on 3-0). He then went to 2-2 on Yoshida and threw a pitch down and in. Yoshida golfed it high and deep to right. The ball stayed fair – and the game was tied at 3-3. Yoshida's 13 RBI set a new single-tournament WBC record.

That home run began a flurry of action and runs that extended to the end of the game. In the top of the eighth, facing Yamamoto, Arozarena doubled over Kondoh's head to the wall in right. Alex Verdugo knocked Yamamoto's next pitch into the left-center field gap for another two-bagger, giving Mexico a 4-3 lead. Joey Meneses followed with a grounder to shallow left. Pinch-runner Jarren Duran (the third Boston player in this game) stopped at third. Atsuki Yuasa came in from the pen and struck out Tellez with a changeup in the dirt. Paredes singled to left. Duran scored, but Meneses was gunned down at the plate on a strong throw from Yoshida in left. Only a few minutes after erasing a three-run deficit, Japan found themselves down by two.

Facing Japan in the bottom of the eighth, Jesus Cruz hit Okamoto with his first pitch. Takumu Nakano pinch-ran and took second on Yamada's hit to left. Genda bunted foul twice before laying down a successful sacrifice, putting runners at second and third. Hotaka Yamakawa lifted a fly ball to left. Arozarena caught it, but Nakano scored, cutting Mexico's lead to 5-4. New pitcher Gerardo Reyes walked Nootbaar before striking out Kondoh with an 0-2 fastball at the knees.

Mexico went quietly against Taisei Ota in the top of the ninth. Urias flied to right. Trejo popped to short left and Genda, the shortstop, made an excellent over the shoulder grab as he was sinking to his knees. Thomas was hit by a pitch, but Austin Barnes struck out.

Down to their last three outs, trailing by a single run, Japan faced Gallegos in the last of the ninth. Ohtani doubled and was extremely fired up at second, screaming encouragement at his dugout. Gallegos's first three pitches to Yoshida were up, inside, and low. I was hoping he'd go away on the fourth offering – what I like to call a grand slam of non-strike pitches – but he got the 3-0 over before missing up again. He might have been pitching around Yoshida, but putting the potential game-losing run on first base seems like a risky plan. Either way, Japan had two on and Murakami wasted little time in bringing them home.

When Murakami first batted in the second inning, an on-screen graphic showed him leading the Japan Central League in five or six batting stats last year. 56 home runs (breaking Sadaharu Oh's 1964 single-season record of 55). 134 RBI. 1.168 OPS. It was impressive.

After the game, I took a closer look at his 2022 numbers and holy shit he absolutely defuckingstroyed the league by a margin that immediately reminded me of how Babe Ruth outpaced both leagues in the early 1920s like he had arrived from outer space. Check this out:

He was #1 with 56 home runs. The #2 guy hit 30.

He was #1 with 114 runs scored. The #2 guy had 83.

He was #1 with 134 RBI. The #2 guys had 87.

He was #1 with 118 walks. The #2 guy had 80. The #3 guy had 60.

He was #1 with 346 total bases. The #2 guys had 258.

He was #1 with 25 intentional walks. The #2 guy had 9.

He was #1 with a .318 batting average. This was close, with other guys hitting .315, .314, and .312.

He was #1 with a .458 on-base average. The #2 guy was at .378.

He was #1 with a .771 slugging average. The #2 guy was at .550. Only five batters were over .500.

He was #1 with a 1.168 OPS. The #2 guy was at .904. The #3 guy was at .861.

He was also #4 in hits and #8 in stolen bases.

That. Is. Completely. Nuts.

Comments on the Announcers: I made only one note about Dave Flemming; see below. Yonder Alonso was a problem, unable to shut his yap and let the game breathe, especially the last two innings. This game is tense, right? I don't fuckin know, because you won't stop chattering away, cramming pointless babble into every possible moment of quiet. Alonso spoke so loudly during the early innings, I wondered if he thought he was in danger of being drowned out by the crowd, even though his microphone was three inches from his mouth. He has a bad habit of beginning many of his sentences with "Look . . ." or "I mean, look . . ." I don't think it's peculiar to him.

He also talked about how a pitcher should "go soft" or "go hard", meaning rely on his fastball or his off-speed stuff. To wit: "Sasaki has been soft this inning, but he might want to consider going hard here." The first few times Alonso said a pitcher should "get hard" or "I'd stay hard with him [the batter]", I wondered what his producer was saying in his ear.

Alonso claimed (twice) that "rallies usually start at the bottom of the order". I'm skeptical of this claim  – it sounds too much like McCarverian idiocy ("all leadoff walks score" and "a leadoff walk scores more often than a leadoff single", both of which are not true) – and I'm certain Alonso has no evidence to back him up.

But how would a curious fan go about finding what batting order # most often starts a rally. First of all, how many runs constitutes a "rally"? Three? Four? You might be able to learn which batting spot began the most innings with 4+ runs, but the leadoff guy might make an out before the rally actually begins. Also, can you rally when you are already leading in the game? And if most rallies actually do start at the bottom of the order, shouldn't managers put their worst hitters at the top of the lineup so they have the most chances to start those rallies?

In the bottom of the ninth, after Ohtani led off with a first-pitch double, Alonso said Ohtani had a "pre-set determined swing" in that at-bat, meaning (I guess) he thought Ohtani would have swung at anything. Doubtful. When Murakami came up, Flemming pointed out that "he's looking very hitterish". What the fuck does that mean? He was holding a bat, but if that was the give-away, then every batter in the game looked "hitterish".

Baseball is full of mysteries.

If Japan wins tonight, it will advance to its third WBC championship game in five touraments and meet the United States on Tuesday. Japan won the first two touraments in 2006 and 2009 before finishing third in 2013 and 2017.

In this tournament, Japan is 5-0 and has outscored its opponents 47-11. If we plug those numbers into the most basic form of ye olde Pythagorean expectation, we learn that with those runs scored and runs allowed, a team would be expected to win 94.8% of its games, which works out (over 162 games) to a record of 154-8!

Rōki Sasaki, Japan's 21-year-old fireballer, will be tonight's starter. ESPN called him "potentially the best pitcher in the world who's not in the major leagues" and The Sporting News placed atop its list of "the best non-MLB players in the world".

You might remember Sasaki from two JoS posts from last April:

Japanese Pitcher Roki Sasaki, 20, Throws Perfect Game, Striking Out 19 (Including 13 In A Row)
April 11, 2022

Rōki Sasaki's Streak Of 52 Consecutive Batters Retired Ends On First Pitch Of April 24 Start
April 28, 2022

Sasaki threw 3.2 innings against the Czech Republic, striking out eight. He threw 66 pitches, 21 of which topped 100+ mph. One heater, clocked at 101.9, drilled Willie Escala in the leg. Sasaki presented him with two bags of candy the following day as part of an apology.

I assumed Shohei Ohtani would start on Tuesday if Japan meets the US in the championship game, but it sounds like he will not. There is the possibility of Ohtani coming out of the bullpen. But Japan has to first push past Mexico, which is making its first appearance in the WBC semifinals. The Angels' Patrick Sandoval will be the first man on the mound for Mexico. He is not related to Pablo.

March 19, 2023

WBC Semifinal: United States 14, Cuba 2

Cuba - 100 010 000 -  2 12  0
USA - 212 224 01x - 14 14  1

Well, this was not the game I was hoping to watch.

Cuba had advanced to the semifinals for the first time in five tournaments, the US (the baseball team) is the defending WBC champion, and the US (the country) has a looooooong history of acting like Cuba – which is roughly the size of Tennessee – is the biggest, baddest, most dangerous meanest threat in the world. With its stupid restrictions on its citizens travelling to Cuba, the US reminds me of this squirrel-phobic guy.

Trea Turner, whose grand slam against Venezuela on Saturday (the biggest hit of his career, he said after the game) propelled the US team to the semifinals, hit two more home runs on Sunday, driving in four runs from his #9 spot in the batting order. Adam Wainwright (4-5-1-1-1, 64) and Miles Mikolas (4-6-1-0-3, 77) each pitched four innings and kept Cuba from making solid contact and capitalizing on its steady flow of baserunners.

On Tuesday, the US – winners of the last WBC tournament, in 2017 – will play the winner of Monday's Japan-Mexico game.

Paul Goldschmidt also drove in four runs, with a two-run dong in the first and a two-run single in the fifth. Mookie Betts went 3-for-5 and scored twice, Nolan Arenado tripled and singled and scored two runs, and Jeff McNeil, who pinch-hit in the fifth, ended up walking twice and scoring twice.

As Cuba faced Wainwright in the first inning, it looked like the game might go a different way. Roel Santos reached on an infield single that second baseman Tim Anderson gloved to his left but his seated throw pulled Goldschmidt off the bag. Yoán Moncada's high chopper along the first base line was gloved by Wainwright after letting the ball bounce and the pitcher had no play. Luis Robert reached on a third straight infield single, grounding a ball past Wainwright that died on the infield grass. After Alfredo Despaigne drew a full-count walk to bring in a run, it was time for a mound visit.

That was also (sadly) when Cuba peaked in the game. Wainwright escaped further trouble by getting a force at the plate, a popup to second and a grounder to short. Betts began the bottom half with a double into the left field corner and Goldschmidt blasted a two-run homer off Roenis Elías, giving the US a lead it continued to pad as the innings rolled by.

Wainwright gave up a leadoff single in the second, committed a one-out error in the third, and allowed a two-out single in the fourth, but was never in any trouble. Meanwhile, his teammates turned the game into a rout. Turner hit a solo shot in the second, Pete Alsonso knocked a bases-loaded single in the third, and Arenado tripled in a run in the fourth and scored on a wild pitch.

Cubs scored a run off Mikolas in his first inning of relief. Moncada doubled, went to third on a two-out single to left by Erisbel Arruebarruena, and scored on Andy Ibáñez's single up the middle.

The US loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth, thanks to another hit batter, a walk and a single. Elian Leyva walked into that fine mess to face Betts, Mike Trout, and Goldschmidt. And he nearly Houdinied his way out of the inning. Betts lined to short and Trout struck out looking on a slider pinned to the outside black, but Goldschmidt poked a two-run single to right, boosting the US's lead to 9-2.

The US batted around in the sixth, a four-run inning highlighted by Turner's three-run dong and Trout's run-scoring double. Cedric Mullins, who pinch-ran for Trout in the sixth, homered in the eighth.

Moncada, Robert, and Arruebarruena each had two hits for Cuba. Yoelkis Guibert had three singles in four trips, but never advanced beyond first base.

It wouldn't be a proper game recap without some bitching about the announcers. I watched the international feed via Sportsnet which meant my ears were tortured by Dave Flemming and Yonder Alonso when not putting the mute button to good use. (Fun (?) Fact I Learned A Minute Ago: Manny Machado married Alonso's younger sister Yainee in 2014.) 

Flemming was a decent play-by-play man most of the time. I'll give him a 6.5 rating. I chuckled when he said that it was difficult to put into words how amazing the WBC crowds have been, so "we're letting the pictures do the describing". And I genuinely enjoyed his flat, deadpan "Huh" when Miguel Romero's well-spotted strike to US catcher Will Smith was called a ball by plate umpire John Tumpane. (But he called the previous pitch (which was a strike) a ball, so it all evened out.)

Both Flemming and Alonso behaved like obnoxious, proud fathers when Goldschmidt went deep in the first, verbally strutting around and referring to some US players by nicknames they likely made up on the spot. Flemming later referred to US manager Mark DeRosa as "Dee-Ro". I was hoping one of them might refer to Goldschmidt as "P-Gold", but the only person doing that was me, on my couch.

When Turner went boom in the first, Alonso actually yelled out "U-S-A!" with the baritone inflection of a drunken frat bro trying to be hip. He got giddy in the third and expressed what I think was serious amazement at how far Romero walked from the mound after fanning Goldschmidt. As if he might need to call a cab to get back for the next batter. Soon, Alonso was yelling encouragement to the US players. You're in a booth in the sky and there are almost 36,000 fans below you yelling their fuckin heads off. The guy on second base cannot you!

The game also provided me with a preview of what the uniforms will look like once MLB starts allowing advertising with the gusto it has exhibited for its other ruin-the-game-to-grab-every-goddamn-dollar-we-can schemes. In addition to the now-obligatory Nike swoosh on the right chest, the US players' shirts featured a DirectTV ad on the left sleeve and a backwards (why?) American flag on the right. The batting helmets had T-Mobile stenciled on the side that faced the camera on the opposite side of the field, so the name of the client was clearly visible no matter on which side of the plate the batter stood. Gotta focus on the important things.

March 18, 2023

Sunday's WBC Semifinal: Cuba vs. United States

World Baseball Classic Semifinals

Cuba / USA — March 19, 7 PM ET

Roenis Elías will be Cuba's starting pitcher, with Adam Wainwright getting the ball for the United States.

Cuba (3-2 overall) has won its last three games, outscoring opponents 24-8.
The US (4-1 overall) has won its last three games, outscoring opponents 24-10.

The US needed a dramatic come-from-behind win on Saturday to advance to the semifinals. After seven innings, Venezuela led 7-5, thanks in part to US manager Mark DeRosa sending Daniel Bard to the mound in the fifth. Entrusted with a three-run lead, Bard went: walk, single, wild pitch, HBP (fracturing Jose Altuve's right thumb), wild pitch, walk; he was eventually charged with four runs, putting his WBC ERA at 43.20 in three appearances.

Venezuela reliever José Quijada dug himself a hole against the US in the top of the eighth. He walked Tim Anderson, gave up a single to Pete Alonso, and hit J.T. Realmuto with a pitch, loading the bases with no outs. Silvino Bracho came in to face Trea Turner, with Mookie Betts and Mike Trout behind him.

Turner ended up being the toughest out of the three, falling behind 0-2 before crushing an 86-mph changeup to deep left. His grand slam gave the US a 9-7 lead. Venezuela, suddenly trailing by two with six outs left, got a leadoff double from Ronald Acuna in the bottom of the eighth. He stole third with two outs, but was stranded. Venezuela went in order in the ninth.

Mexico / Japan, March 20 — 7 PM ET

Three Red Sox outfielders will be in uniform for Monday's semifinal game: Masataka Yoshida (Japan), Alex Verdugo (Mexico), and Jarren Duran (Mexico).