July 28, 2010

Stealing Home: Deeper into the heart of Texas

Stealing Home returns!!!1 I know, it's been a while. I was on vacation from my vacation.

Next stop: Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, which is most definitely Major League Baseball's finest suburban stop.

Read all about my foray deeper into the heart of Texas -- from my stay at one sketchy hotel, to my conversations with Rangers fans, ending with my appreciation of the incredible Nolan Ryan -- at globesports.com.

Only a few ballparks to go. We're going to finish this puppy. Thanks for reading, and for your patience.

July 10, 2010

End of an era

The Sports And The City banner was born four years ago; the stunning Toronto skyline melded with photos of the city's finest: Mats Sundin, Roy Halladay, and Chris Bosh.

Sundin was the first to leave us, walking away after years of remarkable service. Tomas Kaberle, his replacement, may never play for the Toronto Maple Leafs again.

Roy Halladay followed Sundin out of town, asking to be traded by refusing -- rightfully so, really -- to sign a contract extension. Doc's replacement, Aaron Hill, is today batting below the Mendoza Line today; his - 0.2 WAR keeping me up at night.

The final punch to Toronto's sporting gut? Chris Bosh's decision to bid us adieu, and head for South Beach. The man who it has been argued is more a 1A type player is not 1, 1A, or 1B in Miami. He's the third option down there. But, hey, he's happy, rich beyond his wildest dreams, and he played his tail off for the Raptors. To each his own. The bottom line: Toronto has lost its franchise's all-time leading scorer, and he's only 26-years-old.

By now, you know the drill: it's up to you and I to decide who replaces Bosh in the banner. My vote is with Hedo Turkoglu. Because he is about to have the type of redeeming season the likes of which this town hasn't seen since, well, this year. See Wells, Vernon. (All-Star!!!1)

The options are slim: Jose Calderon, in his now famous three-point pose? (Or getting shredded on defence?) Amir Johnson? (Who I saw leaving Real Sports Bar and Grill holding his own Raptors jersey. Awkward.) Andrea Bargnani, who's most famous for not being Brandon Roy, or LaMarcus Aldridge? DeMar DeRozan? Perhaps. He has come out and told us not to worry; that he's "got us." And a little confidence is a good thing right now. Bryan Colangelo? He may have screwed this Raptors team, but he's always too well dressed to not consider. The Raptor? Sonny Weems? A trade exception? (The hell might that look like -- a big dollar sign?) Yeah: it's bleak.

Or is it time to open the floor to TFC; Dwayne DeRosario?

The poll's above, on your right. Have at it.

And thanks, as always, for reading Sports And The City. Toronto 'til we die.

July 09, 2010

July 07, 2010

Stealing Home: Deep in the heart of Texas

Houston. Where the Astros suck, but where the ballpark doesn't.

Minute Maid Park: she's downtown, and, on my visit, the weather was fantastic, the roof open, and the seats free. What else can you ask for?

Read all 2,323 words from my trip to H-Town, deep in the heart of Texas, including what makes the Juice Box a unique and pleasant ballpark, at GlobeSports.com.

And, as always, thanks for following along on my baseball road trip of a lifetime.

One day it'll all make sense

Exactly one year ago today, on the morning of July 7th, 2009, Adam Lind was hitting .310/.384/.560/.944. He had 18 home runs to his name, along with 57 RsBI. Lind's wOBA in April, May, and June (with .330-.335 commonly used as the MLB average): .404, .333, and .457. There's more: his wRC+ -- wOBA's version of OPS+, with 100 being average -- in April, May, and June: 151, 103, 185.

Lind's comrade, Aaron Hill, woke up that same Tuesday a year ago with a batting line that read: .295/.334/.496/.830. He had even more home runs: 20. And even more RsBI: 59. Hill's wOBA through the first three baseball months of 2009: .419, .352, .337. His wRC+: 161, 116, 106.

Last year, the two of them were off to the proverbial races. Today: they're in reverse.

Adam Lind, 365 days later: .206/.266/.350/.615. A wOBA of .273, and a wRC+ of only 66. Ten home runs, and 37 RsBI. Eighty-three strikeouts compared to only 57 at this point in 2009. Left-handed pitching has absolutely toyed with Lind, like that dude in the Ally Canada commercials, who messes with those cute, innocent children. A .107 batting average against southpaws is laughable, but a wRC+ of -32 against them makes me want to do nothing but get drunk on cheap scotch.

It's not all bleak. There is hope in Lind's line-drive percentage:

April 2009: 23.2%
May 2009: 22.1%
June 2009: 24.4%

April 2010: 21.5%
May 2010: 14.9%
June 2010: 22.6%

Aside from May, Lind is mostly still hitting the ball hard. He just happens to be a Toronto Blue Jay. Which means he's unlucky. But it's reached the point where I've become concerned, so all I'll say is this: Cito better fix Lind before he leaves.

Aaron Hill. Jesus, where to begin? For consistency's sake, his deplorable line of .189/.276/.355/.631. His .284 wOBA is slightly better than Lind's, as is his 73 wRC+.

The bottom line: Toronto's two best hitters in 2009 have spent the first half of 2010 as impostors; as below-average Major League Baseball hitters.

To make matters worse, Lyle Overbay has decided to join Lind and Hill in the Suck Brigade. But before we get to Overbay's struggles, let's get one thing straight: if you hated on Overbay last season, you're probably going to hell. You had no reason to. He finished 2009 with a wRC+ of 123. Just because he's not a traditional first baseman doesn't mean he doesn't get the job done.

That job in 2010 is a whole other matter, though, because it's been a nightmare first half for Overbay. Once again, Lyle can't hit left-handed pitching; a .189 average, it's all but a lost cause. But he's improving. After posting a 62 wRC+ in April, he got it up to 97 in May, 111 in June, and now Overbay's off to a scorching July. Perhaps, with free agency pending, he's playing for a new contract. I would be.

It all just makes me sit back and wonder: what if Hill and Lind were having career years in 2010 instead of 2009, joining Jose Bautista, Alex Gonzalez, and John Buck who are doing the same. What if the two young stars were able to build on 2009, and play with with a rejuvenated, healthy, and Anaheim-bound Vernon Wells? What if Chicago passed on Alex Rios? What if Travis Snider was ready? What if Edwin Encarnacion wasn't a disgrace to third basemen the world over? (Especially Scott Rolen.) What if, what if, what if. How different might things be? Because the perfect season is what it's going to take for the Toronto Blue Jays to get back to the post-season; to the Playoffs!!!1

That's the beauty of baseball. In Toronto, at least. Where we wait for that season where it all comes together; for the seven months where baseball once again makes complete sense. The many peaks and valleys in each and every summer long season; they're why I love baseball. For me, watching Vernon Wells rise, then fall, then rise, fall again, and now be selected back to the All-Star game has been one incredible ride. I've fallen and risen with him, with every pop up to second base, and with every home run to left field.

The pitching so far this campaign has been more than adequate. Toronto's top four starters have 25 wins between them, and all find themselves in the top 25 in xFIP in the American League: Ricky Romero: 3.50 (6th); Brandon Morrow: 3.87 (11th); Shaun Marcum 4.01 (17th); and Brett Cecil: 4.15 (25th).

Could it be better, the pitching? Of course. It could always be better. Especially the fifth spot in the rotation, which I wouldn't mind seeing David Purcey audition for one more time. Why not? (And would someone please get Jesse Litsch on a treadmill?) But at the end of the day, the Blue Jays have now allowed three more runs -- 379 -- than they've scored -- 376. And that's on the bats.

So, we wait. For Lind and Hill to turn it around. For a peek at J.P. Arencibia, and perhaps Kyle Drabek, in a six-man September Toronto starting rotation. But most of all, we wait for the summer where it all comes together. And make no mistake: it will come. It has to. And that'll be a good summer. A very good summer. Probably the best summer of all.

Until then, though, all I want is my Silver Sluggers back.