MLB Second Half has begun

With a full slate of games tonight, the second half of the MLB season has truly begun.

The first certainly produced a few surprises.  The slump of David Ortiz, the scuffles of the Tampa Bay Rays, the never ending soap opera that is the NY Mets, the surprising start of the SF Giants, the mess that are the Central divisions in both leagues, A-Roid, and Manny-gate.  You just never know what’s going to happen in Baseball.

I’d like to give my condolences to Manny Acta, the recently let go manager of the Washington Nationals.  I really feel bad for him.  He was handed a bad situation, exacerbated by injuries, and was expected to perfrom a miracle.  So, when Washington performed to expectations, ok, maybe a little below expectations, he got the axe.  Maybe if the brain trust in DC would have given him more pitching, particularly in the bull pen, the Nat’s wouldn’t be so awful.  they’d still be bad, but not awful.  And the nagging injuried to guys like Ryan Zimmerman don’t help either.

Now for some 1st half “awards:”

Al Cy Young- Roy Halladay (TOR).  Josh Beckett (BOS) is a close second, but Roy takes it.  He should win it at the end of the year, as long as he stays in the AL.

NL Cy Young- Tim Lincecum (SF).  Matt Cain (SF) his teammate can give Tim a run for it, but I think that Lincecum is the odds on favorite to win his second consecutive award.

AL MVP- This is a tough one, with so many good candidates.  Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) are solid contenders, as is A-Roid (NYY), Nelson Cruz (TEX), and even Torii Hunter (LAA).  For myself, it would come down between Bay and A-Roid.  I’d give the edge to Bay mainly for his complete lack of controversy, and how he carried the Red Sox while Ortiz struggled.

NL MVP- Albert Pujols (STL).  Is there any doubt?  I can’t think of anyone else in the NL who even comes close to meaning what Puljols does to the Cardinals.

AL Manager of the Year- Mike Sciosia (LAA).  Jim Leyland (DET), Ron Gardenhire (MIN), and Terry Francona (BOS) deserve some notice, but none of them have faced the adversities that Scioscia and the Angels have this year.  Don Wakamatsu of Seattle should finish a close second.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (SFG).  Joe Torre (LAD) will get some votes, being Joe Torre and managing in LA, but Bochy should win this.

Looking forward, I expect to see a few things happen.  Texas will fade in the AL West.  They just do not have the pitching, in the rotation or the pen, to compete with the Angels and Mariners.  If the Mariners get a big bat to help their offense, they can give the Angels a serious challenge for the division, and the Yankees for the Wild Card.

The AL Central will come down to the Twins and Tigers.  The White Sox are just too inconsistent to pose a real threat.  The Twins have a terrific 1-2 punch with Mauer and Morneau, a top notch closer in Joe Nathan, and enough pitching to compete in the division.  The Tigers have an issue in the bullpen with no clear closer, but their rotation is by far the strongest in the division.  Expect the Indians to sell of a few players before the trade dead line, like Jamey Carroll and Rafael Betancourt.  Don;t believe the rumors surrounding Victor Martinez.

The AL East is going to continue to be a slugfest.  The Red Sox should win the division by 4-5 games.  The Yankees are something of an enigma, and what actions they take may be dictated not by baseball reasoning, but by the sports writers and vocal fans.  Brian Cashman may be forced to amek a deal he doesn’t want to, with Toronto’s Roy Halladay the main target.  The problem with the Yankees is that they are one injury away from being dead in the water.  The loss of an OF, A-Roid, or another SP will kill their season, trade or no trade.  Toronto is in a tough position, especially with Halladay.  He’s owed a lot of money for next year, and Toronto is 2-3 years away from being truly competetive.  They could get a lot for him, if they deal him.  He’s the prize of this years trade sweepstakes.  Tampa Bay could be surprising in the 2nd half, potentially passing the Yankees in the standings.  Despite the loss of Aki Iwamura, they have a solid offense, defense, and pitching staff.  You cna just write Baltimore off now.

Over in the senior circuit, the NL East is one ugly division.  It seems like half the time no one wants to win it.  The NY Mets are wracked with injuries (Reyes, Delgado, Beltran), and guys like David Wright are under performing.  The Phillies are so streaky, just like the Marlins, that one week they’re hot, the next they’re cold.  I’m not sure adding Pedro Martinez will do much for the Phils, given that Pedro likely won’t go more than 5 innings in any given start.

The Central division is far more competetive, probably the most competetive in Baseball.  The Cards, the Cubs, the Brewers, and Astros are all in it.  Only Pittsburgh is out.  The top teams are so evenly matched, which surprising given that an ace like the Astro’s Roy Oswalt is having an off year.  These will be the teams most active in acquiring a player before the dead line.  Look for the Brewers to get a pitcher, the Cubs a hitter, and the Cards for the best player they can get(a pitcher most likely).  I would offer that who ever makes the best deal by the trade dead line will win this division.

The NL West is a run away for the LA Dodgers so far.  San Francisco is off to a somewhat unexpected start, and could nail down the Wild Card for the NL by the end of August.  The Diamondbacks season was lost when Brandon Webb went down to inury.  Sand Diego, who had one of the more coveted SP in Baseball, lost out on a chance to make a big deal when Peavy went down to an ankle injury.

The Red Sox and Julio Lugo are about to part company.  This is far from unexpected.  The only question is if he will be traded or released, as I don’t expect he will accept assigment to the minors.  Likely suitors for Lugo will be Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Chicago Cubs.  If a deal is made, the Sox will have to pick up most, if not all of his salary, and will only get a medium level of value in return.

Expect eric Wedge to be fired in Cleveland.  He may last the season, depending on how the Tribe’s 2nd half goes, but he won’t be back next year.  Joe Girardi may be on the hot seat as well, more so if Cashman makes a deal and the Yankees don’t make the play offs.

Manny who?

Manny, Manny, Manny.  We always knew you were an idiot, but this?

By now, everyone in the Baseball, heck the whole sports world, knows that Manny Ramirez, the highly paid outfielder for the LA Dodgers, has been suspended, without pay, for 50 games for failing a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) test.  He becomes the biggest name to have been suspended since active testing began.  It’s a first time failure, hence the “mere” 50 game ban.  Bet the McCourt’s and Dodger’s brain trust are loving this.  Especially after all the hoopla in the offseason before he resigned with Los Angeles.

Now, for those of us who have watched Manny since he came up with the Indians way back when, we knew he was mercurial at best, and down right looney at worst.  While he never went to such strangeness in Cleveland as he did in Boston, he still had those “Manny being Manny” moments.  He’s always been one to just be in his own world, be it on or off the field.  He just did his own thing, and never a care for who thought what of him.

Even so, this PED test failure comes as a bit of a shock.  Unlike many others who have been linked to various PEDs, Manny was not one of them.  Even with his strange behaviors, no one ever made any sort of even vaguely sustainable links between Ramirez and PEDs.  Now, one could argue now that PED’s are the cause of much of Manny’s behavior quirks.  But IMO that’s just hind sight.  No, I think this is just as Manny said in his statement, he was an idiot.  He should have done more checking on what he was being given, and if it would fall under the banned substance rules of MLB.  He admits to this in his statement, and accepts “responsibility” for his actions, and will not challenge the suspension.  Oh, and he does have a point, in that he has passed some 15 previous PED tests administered by MLB.  So, in the absence of any further information, I will take Manny at his word (such that it is).  He’s taking his lumps, and that should be that.

I found it unsurprising that the media rather than talking primarily to the Dodgers, instead went to Boston.  After all the drama that surrounded Manny and his exit from the Red Sox, it was obviously where reporters thought they’d get some sort of sallacious details.  Unfortunately for them, the Sox weren’t so obliging.  Yes, Dustin Pedroia talked a bit, as did David Ortiz, and Terry Francona.  Yet in each case, they weren’t all that interested in giving scandalous details to reporters, even if they had any.  The general gist of the comments can be summed up as: “Manny’s in LA, not in Boston.  He’s not here, so why should we talk about him?”

This leads me to the man who “replaced” Manny Ramirez in Left Field for the Sox, one Jason Bay.  While Bay did not put up those lights out kind of numbers Manny could after he came over from Pittsburgh, he did more than enough to cement himself as an important part of the Red Sox team.  But his start this year has been outstanding.  He’s produced in the clutch (take that Mariano Rivera!), has been getting on base consistently (tied for the MLB lead in walks), driving in runs, and swiping the occasional bag with ease.  Further more, he’s as far removed from Manny personality wise as one could possibly get.  Not to mention a better defensive Left Fielder.  Bay is a fairly quiet (but not reclusive) player, who prefers to let his efforts on the field speak for themselves.  He’s much more a team player than Manny, and not one to seek, or even be found on the tabloid pages.  Basically, he’s the ideal Red Sox player.

So, like many in Red Sox nation, I’ll keep saying “Manny who” anytime he gets mentioned.

PS3 Game Review: MLB09 The Show

With the regular Baseball season in full swing now, it’s past time to put up my review of this latest entry.

There is good and bad to be had in MLB09.  I’ve had the game for a few weeks now, and wanted to get in a good deal of play time in various modes before putting everything down in writing.  Baseball fans will still enjoy this title immensely, and there is plenty of enjoyment to be found in the various game play modes.

The main strength of MLB09 is their propietary Road to the Show (RttS) mode.  In this mode you create your own player, and try to build a MLB career with them.  You start by customizing your player.  The degree of customization available is impressive.  While most people won’t be spending that much time adjusting chin size, it’s there for those that do.  You can set just about everything for your new player.  Age, vital statistics, skills, position, uniform number, and so on.

You then have a choice.  You can either enter the draft, and take whatever team team drafts you, or go the free agent route and try to sign on with the team of your choice.  I took the draft option with my 1B player, ending up with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  At this point, it’s on to spring training.  It’s tough to make the team as an 18 year old rookie.  I didn’t do it.  Instead I was sent to AA for my first pro season.  Due to some injuries at the ML level, I was promoted to AAA after about 6 games.

You must take advantage of your opportunities, just like in real life.  I made the most of my promotion, and stuck at the AAA level.  I didn’t make the 40 man roster at the end of the season, and began my second year in AAA.  Spent the entire year in AAA, no try out for the majors.  End of contract, and the Angels offered me a 6 year deal to be the major league starter.  Cut it back to 5, as I did want to be able to “move on.”

If you are on your teams 40 man roster, you get to go through spring training.  This is unlike previous versions where if you were on the MLB roster, you just fast forwarded to the regular season.  This gives you more chances to improve your player in a more balanced way, so you don’t skew one way then another during your career.  The other great feature to be had, both in spring training and in the regular season are coach called for training sessions.  This could be extra batting practice, featuring specific pitches, or base running training.  These allow you to put your generated skill points into other areas, and give you a better over all skill set.  I haven’t played as a pitcher yet, so I don’t know what training sessions they get as yet.  I’ve also heard that there is fielding sessions, but I haven’t had one of those as yet.

Your progression is tied more intimately to your skills.  Yes, your stats matter, but your skill levels are more important.  Much like the actual majors, they won’t rush you to a higher level if they feel you aren’t ready for it.  This can be a bit frustrating for a player “languishing” in AAA, but if you meet the majority of your in season goals, and improve your skills across the board, you can still rise quickly.  Case in point, in my 3rd pro year, I was the starting 1B for the Angels.

So far, I’ve found the balance in playing to much improved over previous versions.  In MLB07, it was just too easy to hit 60 HR with a .400+ average.  In MLB08, getting stolen bases was ridiculously easy.  I had over 200 SB in one season.  In MLB09, the balance has been quite refreshing.  The statistics and what you can generate are far more linked to your skill levels than ever before.  A player with only say a 40 in power isn’t going to hit many home runs, no matter how well you hit.

I’m sure that as I progress to higher skill levels, the ridiculous numbers will follow, but so far, they’ve been more than reasonable, and reflect the skill progression I’ve made in game.  In my second MLB campaign, I’ve started off rather well, with very reasonable statistics.

The other modes can be just as fun.  Manager mode can be real frustrating, just like real life.  Having to sit and watch your players choke is just awful.  But managing your bull pen, giving signals is as much fun in game.  Franchise mode is for the budding GM in every baseball fan.  Take a team, and to your best Theo Epstein impression.  It’s not always as easy as you think.  Injuries and problem players will tax your patience at every turn.  Then add inn budget concerns, from revenue to spending allocations, and you see why these guys make the money they do.  It’s not all just player management.  Season mode is pretty straight forward.  You play out the season.  Some player movement happens, but you pretty much just use the stock rosters.

However, while there has been some great additions and improvements, there has been a bit of a back slide in some areas.  Mainly these are graphix issues.  The camera can be a pain in the ass, with players disappearing, odd angles that don’t allow you to make plays, or views of peoples feet in the stands (this happens a lot in Minnesota).  There is also an issue of players running through walls to make catches (really annoying), the ball disappearing as it comes at you while hitting, and the usual “super fielding” ability of the AI.  There is also an issue with the announcers saying the wrong name for a player.  This only happens with computer generated players, but it can be disconcerting.  It also happens with pinch hitters, where the hitter is not who is announced.

The AI itself still sucks badly.  It makes very strange decisions all the time.  David Ortiz bunting with the bases loaded and no outs.  A-Rod batting lead off.  Sending players for an extra base too often with the wrong base runners on.  The AI bunts far too often, and in all the wrong situations.  The defensive AI also makes odd choices at times, going to the wrong base, or just always taking the easy out.  Take for example a situation where you are up by a run, there’s a runner on third and 1 out.  The batter bunts, the pitcher fields it.  Instead of going home, where the runner would be out, he goes to first, allowing the run to score and tie the game.

The in season manager interactions could also stand to be tweaked.  In my current RttS season, I’m second in the AL in RBI’s, and Mike Scioscia is whinging about my “lack of RBI production.”  Say what?  Only Dan Uggla has more RBI than I do, and I have 31 RBI in 25 games.  What lack of production?  So I haven’t had an RBI in 2 games.  That’s a bit touchy, more so as the team won those two games.

The music provided with the game is OK.  Nothing special, and at least you can turn off anything that annoys you.  Same with the voice announcers Matt Vasgersian, Dave Campbell, and the god-awful Rex Hudler.  Hudler has to go.  Get anyone else.  Well, maybe not Ken Harrelson, but someone else for sure.  The commentary beyond Vasgersian is lame at best, and pathetically awful at worst.  Far too often, the commentary is off by a wide margin, inappropriate to the situation.  But, like with the music, it’s easy enough to turn off, and you don’t really miss anything.

On the whole, this is a mixed bag of terrific improvements, and awful backslides.  If you like the franchise, and are into the whole create a player thing, the bugs and such are little more than annoyances.  Otherwise, you may find some of the frustration to be more than it’s worth.

7.5/10