The Earliest Predictions You’ll See Anywhere!

With the Giants defeating the Royals in the 2014 World Series thanks to the historic efforts of Madison Bumgarner, all teams will now turn their attention to 2015 and so will I by offering the earliest predictions for the upcoming season that you will see anywhere. Being this early makes them pointless, but it does make them first.

Kansas City should win the AL Central as they are a team on the rise and the Tigers are a team on the decline, especially with the potential loss of Max Scherzer, and Miguel Cabrera’s more-serious-than-expected foot injury.

The Dodgers had the clear edge in the NL West last year, but they have some things to fix over the winter (i.e. shortstop) and the Giants are a team on the rise. Too close to call right now.

The Orioles and Nationals should repeat in their divisions. The Red Sox restocked with some excellent trades this year, and with money to spend on free agents, they could pose a problem. The Mets, while on the rise, aren’t on the Nationals’ level yet.

The AL West is a total toss up. Oakland, Los Angeles, and Seattle are all in the mix and neither Texas nor Houston will be as bad as they were this year.

Look for the Pirates to take the NL Central. It’s dangerous picking against the Cardinals, but I think St. Louis is on a down turn. Some fools will pick the Cubs to go from worst to first. They will be wrong, but before April gets here, everyone outside of Chicago will be sick of hearing how they are a good young team on the rise. Even though they are.

Okay, these are half predictions and half observations and if I get them half right, I will be wholly happy!

APPEARANCE NOTE: I will be discussing Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser with the Baltimore/Washington SABR chapter this Saturday at 9:00 a.m. at Brighton Gardens, 7110 Minstrel Way, Columbia, MD. It’s free and open to the public, so if you can make it, come on out!

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Orioles Lose; Royals Disappoint

Wow! The Kansas City Royals are on one of the greatest post-season runs ever, and maybe the greatest ever. Playing flawless baseball, they swept the Orioles in four straight. Let there be no mistake: It’s not that the Orioles kicked the ball around and lost, it’s that KC played flawlessly and won, which really is an even more impressive feat.

What was not impressive was the juvenile manner in which the Royals handled their success. Such behavior crystallized for me when in Game 3, Eric Hosmer, broke his bat in the first inning, scoring two runs, taking second on the throw home. After sliding in, he promptly got up and patted himself on the back. There was Jeremy Guthrie’s tee-shirt and Jarrod Dyson’s stream of cocky comments. Fortunately, for Dyson especially, not Early Wynn, Don Drysdale, nor Bob Gibson pitched for the Birds, or Dyson’s ankles would have had bull’s-eyes on them whenever he came to bat. To the Orioles credit, they didn’t gripe about a lack of breaks and they didn’t drill anyone. The only way to respond was to win and since they didn’t, they kept their mouths shut and took it like men. That would be a good example for Kansas City to follow just in case things go badly against San Francisco. After all, the Giants are on an impressive run themselves.

MASN columnist, Roch Kubatko, rightly pointed out that the Royals went from the easiest team to root for to the most difficult. Read his excellent column here.

My Bird Lovers World Series prediction flew south for the winter. Instead, we have a match up of wild card winners. Did anyone out there predict THAT one?! I believe it’s a first, but my pick is the Giants for a couple of reasons. KC has a slightly longer layoff, but they have home field advantage which counts for a little bit. The Giants, however, have Bruce Bochy who will most likely out-maneuver Ned Yost, but who at least had the good sense to stay out of his players’ way against the Orioles. (Although even then, a couple of moves he made were more than questionable, but they happened to work.) And mixing a bit of probability with superstition, it’s in the Giants favor that they’ve already lost two games along the way. They are not on one of those streaks as are the Royals that makes you start to think, “Uh-oh; this has to end some time!”

Two teams, both on a cosmic-sized roll. As has been amply demonstrated, anything can happen and it probably will.

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Bird Lovers World Series

My Divisional Series predictions did about as well as Detroit’s bullpen or Washington’s offense, but since the one I did get right was the Orioles, I’m happy. At this point, I’m predicting a bird lover’s World Series and here’s why:

Baltimore versus Kansas City Both teams are coming off sweeps and both divisional series were closer than first appears. The Royals were taken to extra innings in the first two games by the Angels, while the Tigers lost by only a run in Game 3 and had an 8th inning lead in Game 2. Despite the sweep, Kansas City put up some truly anemic numbers against Los Angeles, batting just .198 with a .275 on-base percentage (OBP) against a struggling Angels’ staff. They managed to win by posting a stellar 1.74 ERA.

The Orioles, on the other hand, batted .263 with a .330 OBP against three Cy Young Award winners (and a horrendous Tiger bullpen.) For the season, the Orioles’ team OBP was .311, but the Royals were only three points higher. Meanwhile, KC’s .376 slugging percentage was 48 points below the Orioles’ .422.

These numbers suggest that Baltimore is actually the hotter club right now and possesses a better offense overall. They also possess a healthy and productive pitching staff unlike the one the Royals just faced. The Birds have home field advantage, and since both teams are built for their respective parks, this gives an edge to the Orioles. Furthermore, Buck Showalter should be the Manager of the Year, while Ned Yost consistently employs strategies that make you go, “What?”

Key to the Series If Baltimore can get early leads and negate the impact of KC’s excellent bullpen, then the Royals offense can play for one run at a time all they want. As Earl Weaver used to say, when you play for one run, most of the time that’s all you’ll get.

Prediction: Orioles

Bonus Predictions: At least one announcer will use the phrase “small ball” 142 times before the first four innings of Game 1 are over, singing the praises of the bunt and the hit and run, both of which should have been abandoned as serious strategy in 1920. The Royals do those things because they have to; they would gladly trade their stolen bases for the Orioles home runs.

You’ll also hear some know-nothing blabber on about Camden Yards being a hitters’ paradise. It is not. According to baseball-reference.com OPACY actually favors the pitchers by a very slight margin. You can look it up. Here.

San Francisco versus St. Louis It seems foolish to pick against these two teams; no matter their faults and flaws they manage to get where they need to be. The Giants and Cardinals have passed the National League pennant back and forth since 2010. Neither team pounded the ball with the exception of the ten runs that the Cardinals put up in Game 1 against the Dodgers. In fact, you could dress up as the Giants offense for Halloween because their series .275 OBP and .278 slugging percentage are downright scary. Four games is no sample size at all, but I do think St. Louis has a better offense and since the pitching matches up pretty evenly and since the Cardinals have home field advantage, I’m going with the Cardinals.

Prediction: Cardinals

Bonus Prediction: Some announcer will talk about how exciting National League baseball is because of the double switch. No one, as in not a single person, comes to a game to watch a manager employ a strategy that any 13 year old with a Strat-o-matic table top baseball game can figure out. In fact, watching most pitchers wave a bat around while trying not to hurt themselves is far LESS exciting than watching Nelson Cruz swing the bat.

World Series Prediction: Orioles over the Cardinals. By the way, the New York Times picked these two teams to meet in the World Series before the season began.

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Home at Third

2014-10-04_15-42-16_447A big thank you to Ed Cave and the gang at the Third Base Tavern here in Williamsport for their wonderful hospitality this past Saturday. Ed asked me to do a Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser book signing at the tavern and it proved to be very successful. It also proved to be a great deal of fun and I hung around talking to folks for most of the afternoon.

Third Base was one of Boots’ favorite hang outs going back to the time when it was known as Ern’s Tavern. About the first person I met, “Big Bill” Suddueth, tended bar when Boots was a regular and we shared some stories about The Baron. Bill was actually seated in Boots’ favorite spot when I arrived, but soon Bill decided that “it was only right” that I sit there instead. Bill’s gracious gesture was an honor that I won’t soon forget.

Big Bill and I raise a bottle to Boots.

Big Bill and I raise a bottle to Boots.

Naturally, Bill and I discussed baseball, but we covered a multitude of subjects, from researching a book to the Common Core standards for education. Bill’s wife Cindi joined in the conversation as well.

Sarah and a couple of her friends stopped by to offer their support, which was very much appreciated. Once all the bikers left to continue their afternoon fund-raising ride, they actually had a place to sit down.

Unlike Boots, I did go home after a couple of beers (and drinking only a couple was very un-Boots like, but that’s a good thing in this case.) I was touched that staff and patrons alike expressed the hope that it wouldn’t be the last time that I slide in to Third Base. Thanks to the great folks I met there, it certainly won’t be.

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2014 Playoff Predictions

Baseball’s post-season is officially underway and now that the wild card winners have been decided, I can get down to some serious playoff predictions. Predicting the winners in a 162 game schedule is part science and part alchemy; predicting the winners in a five or seven game series is 80% luck, and predicting the winner of a single play-in game is 95% luck. (For the record, I had KC and Pittsburgh, by the way.) If you re-read my predictions from March 30, you’ll see that I didn’t do too badly, predicting five out of six division winners and nine out of ten playoff teams. I hope the alchemy and the 80% luck holds:

Detroit versus Baltimore—Neither team played particularly well the last two weeks, but the Orioles could afford to rest and recover as they had already clinched the Eastern Division flag. For the third year in a row, the Tigers have under-performed during the regular season. This series is a dilemma because Baltimore is the better team, but I have trouble envisioning the combination of Justin Verlander, Max Sherzer, Rick Porcello, and David Price losing three times in five tries.

The Orioles will win if the starters can hand off a close game to the Bird bullpen and if the big bats can get a crack at the Tigers’ bullpen. The Orioles have to get some kind of production out of catcher, second, and third of which there has been precious little in September.

The Tigers will win if the starters pitch deep into the games and Miguel Cabrera remains as hot as he’s been in September.

Prediction: The Orioles, but I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed. No outcome in this series would surprise me, but I suspect that the Orioles’ defense will save a run or two while the Tigers defense will give up a run or two and that just might be the difference.

Kansas City versus Los Angeles—The Royals are probably the weakest team in the field, but the Angels may have peaked too soon even if they did go 15-11 in September.

The Royals will win if their hitters pass the baton and they keep the base paths a merry-go-round of Royals. Like the Orioles, if KC can hand a close game to its bullpen, it has more than a chance.

The Angels will win if they simply bludgeon KC into submission and they get solid performances from their starters. Jered Weaver can’t start three times.

Prediction: Angels

AL Champions: Baltimore, who beat Los Angeles four out of six times this season.

Los Angeles versus St. Louis—The Dodgers are a better team, but they can be inconsistent. Talented, but enigmatic outfielder Yasiel Puig could single-handedly win the series for Los Angeles or commit a series of boneheaded plays that cost his team a chance to advance.

The Dodgers will win if Kershaw and Greinke pitch the way their capable and the supporting cast does its part.

St. Louis will win if Matt Holliday catches fire and Adam Wainwright can outduel Clayton Kershaw in the first game. It could happen.

Prediction: Dodgers

Washington versus San Francisco—The Nationals are the better team; in fact, they are the best team in the National League, but San Francisco is better perhaps than their 88-74 record indicates.

Washington will win if they get the starting pitching that everyone expects them to get and their hitters take what’s given and don’t try to hit six-run homers, especially if the Nats fall behind.

San Francisco will win if Jake Peavy, along with the middle of the Giants lineup have stellar series.

Prediction: Nationals

NL Championship Series: Nationals

And the World Champion is Baltimore! C’mon, do you think I would pick against them if they get this far?!

                                                                                                                          –

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Upcoming Events

The first two Saturdays in October will see me at two very interesting places. On October 4th from 1:00 p.m.-3:00 pm., I will be signing copies of Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser at the Third Base Tavern here in Williamsport. The Third Base Tavern, “Last Stop Before Home” as the sign says, is the former Ern’s Tavern, which was one of Boots’ favorite hangouts. I’ve never done a book signing in a bar before, but I am certainly looking forward to this one. I bet that I come away with a few more stories about Boots! Special thanks to owner Ed Cave for inviting me.

Boots at Ern's Tavern. The table is still there.

Boots at Ern’s Tavern. The table is still there.

On the 11th at 11:00 a.m., I will be giving an illustrated presentation entitled, “Boots, Baseball, & World War II” as part of Williamsport’s World War II Days. The talk will focus on how the war affected baseball and I’ll use Boots’ experience in the Marines as a specific example. It will last 20 minutes or so (unless I get carried away by this very interesting topic!)

I hope to see at least some of you at one event or the other; or perhaps even both!

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“Did you ever hear about the time . . .”

One of the most rewarding aspects of the book signings held so far for Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser is having folks share the fond memories of their youth, and of Boots. There are still so many stories about Boots floating around out there that I may eventually have a sequel! Here are two of my favorites so far and I plan to write about others in the future.

Jack Phillips, whose father published the newspapers in Hagerstown for a quarter of a century told me this story at the Winchester Book Gallery: His dad had season tickets right beside the Hagerstown Owls’ dugout and one Sunday afternoon during the first game of a doubleheader, the manager of the Owls looked up and down the bench for Boots who had pitched the night before.

“Where’s Boots?” he asked.

“Last we saw him, he was on the floor of the Funkstown American Legion,” replied one of the players.

“Go get him; he’s got to pitch the second game.”

Some of his teammates left the ballpark, fetched Boots, stuck him in the shower, and he pitched the second game.

***

During Williamsport’s Canal Days signing, Gary Weaver who had a cabin next to Boots’ along the Potomac, told me this tale:

Boots was at his cabin along the river one night when he summoned Gary and told him to call the ambulance because he was sure that he was experiencing appendicitis.

“Do me a favor, Gary and wait down here at the end of the lane so as to flag down the ambulance. They’ll never find the entrance to this place in the dark,” Boots instructed.

Gary, of course, was rather flustered and asked Boots if he wanted to be driven straight to the hospital. Boots replied, “Nah, I’m just going to go up to the house and lie down.”

The ambulance arrived and carted Boots to the hospital where his appendix was safely removed with no complications. Two days later, however, Boots’ wife, Hanna, called Gary on the telephone liberally cursing him.

“For two days, I’ve been looking in every bar in Washington County only to find out that he’s been in the hospital! And you knew it all along!”

“I just assumed that Boots would have told her he was in the hospital, but he didn’t!” laughs Gary.

As Boots’ step-son Jerry Knode once told me, quite often if you wanted to know what was going on with Boots, you had to read it in the paper.

***

Did I mention that Boots was a real character?

Did I mention that Boots was a real character?

I’ll be doing a book signing soon at one of Boots’ old haunts here in Williamsport, formerly Ern’s Tavern, now known as the Third Base Tavern. “Last stop before home,” as it says beneath the name on the sign out front. I can’t wait to hear the stories that I will hear in there!

 

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