We've seen more hot stove action to this point than in any other season in recent memory. Still, plenty of questions remain as baseball's annual winter meetings begin today. Short-handed teams will look to fill their roster holes before the pool of quality players dries and test the trade market as the free-agent crop dwindles; contenders will aim to shore up their squads; and the handful of remaining impact free agents will try to snag big deals before the money train grinds to a halt.
Here are five story lines to watch as baseball's executives gather in Orlando.
1. Are the Dodgers Going to Trade Matt Kemp?
My hunch: Yes. It just makes too much sense to not happen. For starters, the Dodgers have a positional logjam. Kemp is one of four outfielders on the major league roster who should be starting, and it's not as though the Dodgers can DH Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, or Yasiel Puig. There's also the health factor, as Kemp's injuries have transformed him from an MVP-caliber star in 2011 to a replacement-level player just two years later. There are concerns over Kemp's ability to play a passable center field even if he can stay in the lineup. There are rumors of a rift between Kemp and upper management. And then there's the fact that the Dodgers' goal from the get-go was to make a splash early on, then settle into a saner business model in which scouting and player development matter, the roster includes both high-priced stars and young up-and-comers, and there's at least a shred of fiscal prudence, even if the payroll remains high.
In case you were busy waiting for some good news in the world of football, seriously, any good news, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
In a chippy Western Conference matchup that saw Matt Barnes and Serge Ibaka get ejected, Blake Griffin's double-double proved the difference as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-103. "It's not fair!" Ibaka yelled in the Thunder locker room after the game. "It doesn't make sense! Barnes pushed me. Why do I get ejected?" Thunder head coach Scott Brooks sat down next to his furious center, put his hand on Ibaka's back, and said, "Hey bud, sit down. Why do you think they ejected you?" But Ibaka snapped back, "Don't talk to me like that. I'm not a kid anymore, Scott! We're not kids anymore. We're grown men, and it's time you started treating us that way." Brooks smiled and said, "I know, Serge, come on," but Ibaka continued on, saying, "No! You don't know. They say you're a bad coach. They say you've always been a bad coach. Our offense is a joke. Griffin was laughing at our offense. They all were laughing. They all were laughing!" Ibaka balled up his fists and clenched his eyelids shut. Brooks looked at him and said, "Hey, bud. I get it. No one likes to be laughed at. But you don't fight my fights. We're all grown-ups here, Serge. Hey, Serge, look at me." Tears were visible in the corners of Ibaka's eyes as he shook his head, unable to look his coach in the eyes. "Sorry, Scott," Ibaka managed. "I just got carried away." Brooks touched Ibaka's head, told him, "No need to apologize," and started to walk away before turning back and adding, "You got ejected because they caught you fighting back. If you want to fight, you have to start it. That's part of being a man. Time to grow up, ace. Time to grow up."
In case you were out giving the ol' trick-or-treat route a dry run, much to the chagrin of everyone on Greenleaf Street, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Jon Lester and the Boston Red Sox opened the World Series in dominant fashion, beating a sloppy St. Louis Cardinals team 8-1. "We may have played sloppy tonight," said freshly shaven Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma after the game, "but at least we didn't look sloppy. I mean, seriously the Red Sox looked, whoops—" Kozma then fumbled the microphone he was speaking into and bent over to try to pick it up, only to somehow trip over his own shoes, leading to an awkward three-quarters front flip. Writhing in visible pain on the ground, Kozma then added, "As I was saying, seriously, they looked terrible. I could smell sneeze off of Jacoby Ellsbury's beard from the dugout. Have some dignity. Also, I think I just threw my back out."
More bad news for Cardinals fans: Outfielder Carlos Beltran, who was playing in his first career World Series game, was diagnosed with bruised ribs suffered while he was making a grand slam–saving catch. Beltran's injury, however, was good news for fans of correcting people who refer to things as being ironic, when what they mean is coincidental and tragic.
In case you were busy pouring one out for the Dawgfather, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
After a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty call went against New England, Jets kicker Nick Folk hit a 42-yard field goal in overtime to give New York a come-from-behind 30-27 win. Jets head coach Rex Ryan defended the officials when asked about the penalty after the game, saying, "Look, it was a new rule, and besides, we all got to see some more kicking out there as a result. So how is that not a win for everybody? I know I just love the kicking game; it's absolutely at the core of why I love football. Gotta love the kicking of the football." Ryan then adjusted himself and added, "Now if ya'll excuse me, I have to contrive a reason to leave right now."
Kicking the Momentum Fairy in the ass, the Dodgers and Tigers shrugged off tough losses, hoisting themselves back into their respective series with convincing wins Wednesday.
Here's what went down.
The Dodgers showed that spending a quarter-billion dollars can have some advantages after all.
Absorbing $260 million worth of salary and surrendering multiple quality prospects for three veteran players of varying health and skill level was never going to win the Dodgers any WAR-per-dollar championships. Delving into the details, in many ways, makes last summer's blockbuster deal with the Red Sox look even worse.
In case you were busy preparing to take back a national park from the bears, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Jim Leyland's decision to move Austin Jackson down in the batting order could not have worked out better, as the Tigers outfielder broke out of his slump, reaching base in all four of his plate appearances in Detroit's ALCS-equalizing 7-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. Or could it have worked better? See, Jackson's suddenly hot bat raises this question: Why did Leyland demote his best hitter, costing him a valuable fifth plate appearance? Leyland clearly must now rectify his obvious mistake and move Jackson back up to the top of the order. However, because the outcome of every at-bat is at least somewhat dependent on the context in which it occurred, the question arises as to whether Jackson would have been able to succeed were he given a different set of at-bats. Which means that it's quite clear Leyland should bench Jackson for the remainder of the series lest he make another huge managerial blunder. But doesn't that theory apply to every offensive player on the Tigers' roster? Who is to say any of them can be expected to simply slot into a batting order and play baseball effectively? Which leaves Leyland with only one rational choice as manager: forfeit the remaining games of the series and resign in disgrace. So I think it's fair to say Leyland's decision to move Jackson down in the batting order could have worked out better.
Adrian Gonzalez hit two home runs and Zack Greinke threw seven strong innings as the Los Angeles Dodgers staved off elimination in the NLCS by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4. "How dare they?" asked Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after the game, as his lip quivered with rage. "We go to their stadium and we expect to be hosted with a little bit of decency. But no. Instead we're treated to home runs and fast pitching and no winning! Don't they know we deserve to win? Isn't that a thing they know? How much winning we deserve? We deserve it. Because we care and we're better and we're the best and honor and America!" Matheny then balled his hands into fists and exclaimed, "Ri-ooo! Poon-toe! Puuu-eeg!" as if swearing in short high-pitched bursts.
The 2013 MLB playoffs are in full swing. Are you keeping up? Michael Baumann is here to help by telling you which guys you need to know. And amid a lockdown postseason showing from the St. Louis bullpen, you need to know about the kid taking the mound in the ninth.
Who Is He? St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Trevor Rosenthal.
Where Is He From? Lee’s Summit, Missouri, by way of Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City, Kansas. If he were on Missouri’s other MLB team, he’d have played in Arkansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, which proves that the folks who settled the Great Plains in covered wagons had no idea what they were doing.
Two more close, low-scoring battles, two games closer to the World Series. And a few thoughts on a tense Tuesday doubleheader:
There's a belief in some corners that teams must do the little things well to survive in the postseason. The Tigers do them terribly.
Detroit led the majors this season in batting average (.283), finished seventh in home runs (176), and was second in overall park-adjusted offense. The Tigers also ranked last in stolen bases and Baserunning Runs, making them the kind of homer-dependent team that doesn't manufacture runs and hence could run into trouble in the lower-scoring environment of October. They do have a stupendous starting rotation, of course, one that has generated 35 strikeouts in 21 innings over the first three games of the American League Championship Series. But when opponents do put balls in play, Tigers pitchers get very little help, with the team ranked just 24th in Ultimate Zone Rating.
In case you were busy remembering when Kirk Gibson made the impossible happen in the year of the improbable, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Matt Holliday and Shane Robinson hit the first two home runs of the NLCS and the St. Louis Cardinals are one game away from the World Series after their 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. "Man, what a thrill to be a part of that slugfest," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny after the game. "For fans who love offense, tonight was your night. It was just fireworks and explosions." Matheny then chuckled and added, "I mean six runs? In regulation? What game were we even playing? Hockey?"
Mike Napoli's solo home run off Justin Verlander was all the offense Boston would need, as John Lackey and the Red Sox bullpen led their team to a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers and a 2-1 series lead in the ALCS. The game was notably interrupted by a 17-minute power outage in the second inning, a time that Lackey referred to as "one of those things where my stuff was bad before the thing, then the power outage happens, and boom, my stuff gets good again. It's like some sort of small version of my last few years." When asked if he was saying the power outage was perhaps microcosmic of his career in Boston, Lackey replied, "Nah, I'm just talking about like how things can be going badly, and then they can change and be good again, and like, this moment was like a tiny version of that feeling, which I know all too well." When told that's what a microcosm is, an angry Lackey responded, "I'm not an idiot, OK? I'm not talking about some sort of tiny universe where Neil deGrasse Tyson is a wizard. I'm talking about a small version of a big thing! Like this conversation, and how it's like all my relationships with the Boston media, but in a small amount of time." Lackey then shook his head and said, "There's gotta be a word for that."
With four teams left in the MLB playoffs, we wanted to cover all the bases on the Jonah Keri Podcast.
First, St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Derrick Goold discusses the Cardinals' wildly productive farm system, the Albert Pujols decision, and the secrets to the Cards' success. Then MLB.com'sJason Beck shares his thoughts on Miguel Cabrera's lingering injuries, Jim Leyland's decision-making, and the Tigers bullpen. Providence Journal writer Tim Britton breaks down a wild ALCS Game 2 and how the Red Sox might fare the rest of this series. Finally, on the 25th anniversary of one of baseball's most indelible moments, Jon Weisman of Dodger Thoughts walks us through the puzzling thought process behind Don Mattingly's moves, then looks ahead to the rest of the series.
Like every playoff battle, Game 3 of the National League Championship Series featured its share of moments worth dissecting. But in the end, the story of this game, and the reason the Dodgers trimmed their series deficit to 2-1, can be boiled down to a simple happening: Hyun-Jin Ryu blasted the Cardinals.
The Korean rookie left-hander plowed through the Cards lineup, twirling seven shutout innings and allowing just three singles and one walk while striking out four. In a way, that outcome qualified as a major surprise. In his previous start, Ryu pitched terribly, ceding four runs on six hits and getting knocked out against the Braves after just three innings. More than just the numbers, Ryu struggled to locate his pitches throughout his short outing. The combination of that poor performance, a back injury that knocked him out for one start in September, and something prompted whispers that Ryu might not be completely healthy.
In case you were busy bringing the ol' Rally Bear out of hibernation, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Philip Rivers and a surprisingly effective San Diego rushing attack led the Chargers to a 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts. "Oh, I hope Ryan Mathews is still on waivers," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson after seeing that the perpetually inconsistent Chargers running back had his first 100-yard rushing game of the year. Pittson, who was checking his fantasy league from the cab of a tow truck after his Datsun 120Y finally gave out on him halfway home from his new job as the late-night fry cook at the Hardee's in Dover, then muttered to himself, "I knew I shouldn't have cut him after one bad game." The good news for Pittson was that Mathews was still available as a free agent in his league. The bad news for Pittson was that his cell phone was about to die, and Clem the tow truck driver had no intention of stopping his truck to let Pittson retrieve his charger. The worse news for Pittson is that in the time it would take him and Clem to reach his auto repair shop in Wilmington, where they would finally notice that the Datsun was actually on fire, world-class bassist and league commissioner Teddy Jackson would both pick up Mathews and offer him to Pittson in exchange for his first pick in next year's draft.
Rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu threw seven scoreless innings and Yasiel Puig broke out of a slump with a huge RBI triple as the Los Angeles Dodgers closed the gap in the NLCS with a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "You know I'd K'd five times in a row before that triple," Puig said after the game as he hung out with his entourage at the Chateau Marmont. "That's L.A., baby," said Puig's second cousin, Terry "Tortoise" Puig. "Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Rourke in The Wrestler, NPH in Starship Troopers. This town loves a comeback." Just then, a hand reached out from the darkness and tapped Puig on the shoulder. "You boys talking comebacks?" asked a deep voice from the darkness, "because I know something about coming back." Puig turned and looked up: the distinctive red hair, the pale face, the black suit. "Holy shit, David Caruso!" exclaimed Puig. "I'm a huge fan. CSI: Miami, Jade, NYPD Blue um, CSI: Miami." Caruso smiled, nodded, and said, "I've always been a fan of the Dodgers," before putting on a pair of sunglasses and adding, "but now it seems the Dodgers are a fan of me," while walking away. "Where else does something like that happen?" asked a starstruck Puig before exclaiming, "I love this town!"
In case you were busy cheering Matt Schaub's ankle injury because that's the only way to fill the pit of sadness that lives in your chest, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
New England handed New Orleans its first loss of the season as Tom Brady's last-minute heroics gave the Patriots a stunning 30-27 comeback victory. "Well, that's the best comeback this city will see for a long time," Brady said after the game. "I mean, I hate to use the word untoppable, because I don't think it's a real word, but I'm positive this win will prove to be the most untoppable win this city has ever seen. Everyone might as well just take the rest of the day off from caring about Boston sports, because it cannot possibly get better than this — hold on, let me just flip over to the Sox game, and yeah, see? They're down four in the eighth inning. As I was saying, untop— whoa "
David Ortiz's eighth-inning grand slam set the table for another miraculous Sunday night comeback in Boston as the Red Sox evened up the ALCS at a game apiece with a 6-5 walk-off win over the Detroit Tigers. Ortiz's fifth go-ahead or game-tying hit in the final two innings of a playoff game tied him for third all time on the list with former teammate Manny Ramirez Jason Varitek Johnny Damon Kevin Millar Dave Roberts Kevin Youkilis? Who is it? Um Trot Nixon? No? Gosh. Dustin Pedroia is still on the team, so it can't be him. Oh, duh, Nomar. No? OK, long-shot guess: Curt Schilling? Obviously not. Well it can't be J.D. Oh, you have to be kidding me. Really? J.D.? No, I won't do it. I won't type his whole name. The only people ahead of him on this list are Bernie Williams and Pete Rose? It's too weird, though I guess he has an unfairly bad reputation given his contributions to the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Red Sox. Plus, it was such a big weekend for all three of those teams you know what, fine: J.D. Drew. Ortiz and J.D. Drew are now statistical equals when it comes to clutch postseason performances.
"Hey, basketball's back. The Hawks played tonight."
A friend said this to me, but I didn't look up to see who it was. I was sitting on the floor of a bar, hat partially over face, watching texts from lifelong friends fly in, most echoing the same sentiment: "What did we do to deserve this?" It's the only thing left to think at this point. It can't just be the athletes who are at fault. Somehow, the real fans — the diehards who are sprinkled about throughout the transplant-riddled Southern metropolis — have begun to believe this is simply our fate. The "selling our soul for the '96 Olympics" theory? That's one. There are others. But ultimately, no one knows.
Still on the floor, I searched for the Hawks score just to look for something positive and found the answer that I expected.
We're only seven days into this year's MLB playoffs, and it's hard to figure out how things can get any better. Monday's events were so scintillating, so maddening, so ludicrous, that a dozen attempts at narratives have been tossed in the trash. Instead, we present 19 key moments from a quadrupleheader for the ages.
19. The Rays' defense has been terrible.
A Ben Zobrist throwing error led to the first Red Sox run of the game. It was Zobrist's second consecutive game with an error, after making four in 554 chances all year. Officially, that was the third error in three ALDS games for the Rays, after making just 59 in 163 regular-season games, the second-lowest total in the majors. Between those three miscues, multiple Green Monster adventures by Rays left fielders, and a handful of other mistakes that included a passed ball and a couple of errors in judgment, this ranks as one of the worst stretches for the Rays' normally solid defense in their entire six-year run of success. The Red Sox outplayed the Rays in every way over the first two games of this series. But Tampa Bay's shoddy defense made things worse, and threatened to push the Rays right out of the playoffs.