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Seattle Mariners – Homerism and All-Star voting

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Seattle Mariners – Homerism and All-Star voting

BY BRIAN HIGHT 

This happens in every American city with a Major League Baseball team (and one Canadian). It’s not just Seattle. The pleas of the local broadcasting team to vote for the hometown boys is echoed across four time zones almost nightly in June and intensify in the run up to the voting deadline, which is mercifully the day after the national fireworks holiday – July 5th.

Viewers of ROOT Sports in the Pacific Northwest have been subject to the nightly urgings of Angie Mentink or Jen Mueller to vote for Seattle Mariners, most often Mitch Haniger or Jean Segura, but occasionally Nelson Cruz. After all, they have been the M’s best offensive players in 2018, so naturally they must be all-stars, right?

Don’t’ get me wrong, Haniger and Segura, and Cruz have been really good. So, it says a lot about the young talent in the American League and across baseball that they not only aren’t leading in the all-star voting, they aren’t even close, and it’s not a slight by any means.


The Case for (or against) Mitch Haniger

Mitch Haniger, once considered a throw-in in the Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade two off-seasons ago, has been awesome in right field and leads the Mariners in fWAR with 2.6. The glossary at Fangraphs describes a 4-5 WAR player, the pace Haniger is on, as an all-star caliber player. Only in 2018, it’s not.

While Mitch Haniger is slashing .272/.355/.497 with 17 HR, 62 RBI, and putting up a 135 wRC+, that pales in comparison to possibly the greatest single season in the history of baseball – Mike Trout’s 2018 campaign, a rebound season that traditionalists love because it invokes the “triple crown” – the one Mookie Betts is having, and one very large human being – All Rise Aaron Judge.

Trout, who is working on his third MVP although it probably should be his fifth, currently has 6.3 of Fangraphs’ version of WAR. But if you prefer Baseball Reference’s version, he has 6.8 WAR. With 86 games this season under his belt, a little over half way, Trout is on pace to put up the second most WAR by a position player in the history of the game. Five of the seven best seasons in baseball history are claimed by one George Herman “Babe” Ruth. The 12.9 rWAR recorded by Ruth in 1921 seems likely to tumble, barring an injury to Trout, and the 14.1 rWAR crushed by the Babe in 1923 is in serious jeopardy.

To see what that kind of production looks like, in 1923 Ruth hit .393/.545/.764 with 41 HR, 130 RBI, and 151 R. That led the league in OBP, SLG, OPS (1,309), HR, RBI, R, and OPS+ (239). Oh, and he led the league in walks with 170 and remarkably didn’t lead the league in BA. That distinction is owed to an often-overlooked star of the time, Harry Heilmann of the Detroit Tigers who in 1923 hit .403. And don’t worry, he’s not that overlooked. He was a four-time batting champion and is in the Hall of Fame.

By comparison, Trout currently leads the AL in walks with 74 and OBP .456. Considering the huge difference in eras, Trout is demonstrating similar patience to Ruth and is garnering similar respect from opposing pitchers. The Angel’s outfielder is slashing .313/.456/.633 with 24 HR, 49 RBI, 66 R, and 13 SB. At Baseball Reference, 6.0 of his WAR is attributable to offense, while 0.9 of his WAR is because of his glove, a skill that it’s hard to know if Ruth had beyond the crude box scores of the day. The old Yankees Stadium didn’t have Statcast. Trout’s OPS+ is 201, or roughly twice as good as a league average hitter. Twice. Absolutely Ruthian.

But as great as Trout has been this season, he has some serious competition clear across the country in Bean Town. Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox currently leads the AL in BA, SLG, and OPS with a .339/.430/.673 slash line and 20 homers of his own to go along with 15 SB. Hitting at the top of the Red Sox lineup to prove that rookie manager Alex Cora is “stat savvy,” Betts only has 41 RBI but has scored 64 runs. Fangraphs has Betts with 5.0 WAR, while Baseball Reference has him with 4.8.

And, finally in third place on the leaderboard in AL OF voting is the New York Yankees giant – Aaron Judge. Judge with 4.4 rWAR and 4.2 fWAR, is currently hitting .279/.396/.565 with 22 HR, 55 RBI, and 57 R through 79 games. Early rainouts leave the Yankees having played four or five fewer games than the rest of the league. Oh, and never fear, while not leading the league, Judge is on pace to break his league leading strike out total from last season’s 208 with 109 so far. And did I mention that Joe DiMaggio struck out an average of 36 times per 162 games in his 13-year career and the seasons only lasted 154 games back then? It was a much different game in the 30’s and 40’s.

So, yea. Mitch Haniger is having a really good season. But, Trout, Betts, and Judge deserve to start the All-Star Game for the AL. And, as a testament to the power of large market voting blocks, the man from Boston leads with 2,337,514 votes. The man who loves to talk about the weather and is ever underrated, Trout, is second with 1,989,649 votes. And the slackers in the Bronx could only get their boy to 1,557,109 votes. No other outfielder in the AL has a million votes. While the coffee drinkers and IPA lovers of the Emerald City have Haniger is 9th place with 487.150 votes, a few spots lower than he probably deserves, but in line to represent the team in the nation’s capital.


What About the Jean Segura Argument?

Man, has Jean Segura had a great season? As of July 2nd, he’s hitting .335/.363/.474 with 59 runs and 14 stolen bases. After a career high 20 HR in 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the shortstop that was the centerpiece of the Taijuan Walker trade has regressed a bit in the power department, knocking 11 out in 125 games last season with the Mariners and another 6 so far this season in 78 games. But, traditionally power from the center of the infield has been a bonus.

Segura currently has 3.1 fWAR and projects to accumulate another 1.0 to 1.3 depending on the projections system. At Baseball Reference, his WAR total is slightly higher at 3.2. As with Haniger, a solid 4 to 5-win player, worthy of all-star consideration most years. Unfortunately for Segura, we are living in the second golden age of shortstops. Not since Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejeda patrolled the center of the diamond in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s has there been so many quality shortstops as now.

Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles (for now), is currently leading the voting with 960,628 ballots cast, leading over Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros at 793,087 and Didi Gregorius of the Yankees with 639,630. The player who probably should be the starter but won’t be, Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, is in fourth place with 619,112, followed by Segura in fifth with 504,985.

On the SS WAR leaderboard in the AL, Fangraphs has Lindor first with 4.9, Andrelton Simmons of the Los Angeles Angles second with 3.5, Segura third at 3.1, Machado fourth with 2.9, and Correa fifth at 2.4. It’s worth noting that Machado’s insistence on moving from third to short has actually decreased his value as Machado was a very good 3B in the field but is below average at SS. Conversely, Simmons derives almost half his value in the field, as he is arguably the second coming of Ozzie Smith.

Any one of these choices is defensible. Lindor is hitting .296/.372/.564 with 21 HR and 10 SB, a wRC+ of 153 and 9 defensive runs saved for just half a season. Simmons, while a defensive wiz, is no slouch at the plate these days. He’s hitting .319/.380/.440 with a 4.6% K rate, unheard of these days, and a 130 wRC+. Last season Simmons had 38 DRS, which is worth about 4 wins. This season, he has 10 through the half way mark. Machado is the offensive monster at the position and let’s face it, all-star voting is mostly about the bat. The trade deadline super-prize is hitting .310/.377/.564 with 21 HR, 59 RBI, and a wRC+ of 153.

The offensive numbers between Lindor and Machado are almost identical. The superior glove of Lindor places him higher on the WAR leaderboard, but the media hype over Machado and the trade deadline and impending free agency is the difference in the all-star voting. Again, Jean Segura is really good. He’s just not this season’s all-star at shortstop.


A Word About Nelson Cruz and the DH

As with his teammates, Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura, Nelson Cruz is having a spectacular season. Somewhat surprisingly, the four-year deal the Mariners signed Cruz to in 2015 at age 34 has been worth every penny of the $54MM, even into his age 38 season. You could even argue that $13+ mil per is a bargain in today’s market. Cruz is currently hitting .288/.375/.549 with 21 HR, 51 RBI, and a wRC+ of 152. Even without any contribution in the field as the DH, Cruz has provided the Mariners with 1.9 fWAR and an identical 1.9 rWAR. The only problem? Yet another ridiculous DH in Fenway.

In his first season with the Red Sox, J.D. Martinez is hitting .324/.391/.634 while leading the majors in HR with 25 and in RBI with 67. Atop the HR and RBI leaderboard, and within .015 points of his teammate, Betts, in BA, old school announcers are drooling at the possibility of the mythical Triple Crown. For the more sabermetrically minded, Martinez’s 3.4 rWAR as just a hitter is proof enough that he is the rightful starting DH for the AL.

The voting bears that out as well.  J.D. Martinez has 1,675,492 votes, as of the last public update, and is almost a million votes clear of the not really a DH, Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees. Cruz sits in fifth in voting and could overcome the 30,000 or so vote deficit behind Shohei Ohtani, who awed fans with his pitching and hitting prowess before he went on the DL. Cruz probably deserves to be a little higher, but Martinez is clearly the right choice for 2018.


No Disrespect Intended

Nothing here was intended as a slight to this really exciting and surprising Mariners team. Barring an epic collapse of almost biblical proportions, the 2018 Seattle Mariners are set to relinquish the crown of most futile major sports teams and coronate the Cleveland Browns with that dubious honor. And there are many good to great players on this year’s team, Haniger, Segura, and Cruz among them. One of them, or possibly their exquisite pitching comrade, James Paxton, will be in D.C. on the 17th of this month representing the M’s, as every team gets a representative. They have played great baseball. Just not historically great baseball.

The Storm bring home the WNBA Championship

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The Storm bring home the WNBA Championship

A 16-year veteran. A 2018 WNBA MVP. And passionate city ready for another championship. The Seattle Storm, lead by all-star veteran Sue Bird and 2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart, sweep the Washington Mystics in three games to take home the team's third WNBA championship. 

What started as a blowout Seattle victory in game one, turned into a different story in game two. The Mystics made adjustments and nearly pulled out a tough road win. But Seattle flew east for game three already up two wins with just one more to go. The rest is history and the parade is on for Sunday.

Many NBA players took the moment to congratulate the Storm on their championship:

Let's quickly look at the career of young 24-year-old Breanna Stewart. Since winning her first college national championship with dominant UCONN basketball, Stewart has known knothing but winning and winning big. She went on to claim four national titles at UCONN before being drafted No. 1 to Seattle in the 2016 WNBA draft. Two years later, she can now add 2018 WNBA champion as well as 2018 WNBA MVP and 2018 WNBA Finals MVP to her already very impressive resume.

What a career, so far, for one of the most creative passers, deadly shooters, and influential basketball players in Sue Bird. She is the all-time WNBA career assist leader, a 16-year veteran in the league, and now a three-time WNBA champion. Bird scored 14 points in the fourth quarter in just five minutes to round out a win in game one. A miraculous three-point shot with the shot clock winding down in game two to swing the momentum back in the Storm's favor. And one heck of a shoe game partnered with Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving. And she's not done yet.

What a tremendous season and congrats to the Seattle Storm on another WNBA Championship!

 

 

 

 

Seattle Storm start WNBA Finals defending home turf

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Seattle Storm start WNBA Finals defending home turf

BY SEBASTIAN PYCIOR

Last week, I’d posted the Storm would go on to sweep… and that didn’t exactly happen, but in a way, thank goodness. We’d never get the chance to be graced by Sue Bird’s utter distaste for womankind in game 5.

No Bird’s not mean, but her jumper was absolutely filthy. Mask adorned, Bird made everything. From flopping and complaining to the refs (probably to buy some time for her team to break) to proceeding to nail timely threes, confirming the veteran’s dominance of the moment. We all like to admit that basketball is “all about the team game” but, Bird reminded us that teamwork is lamesometimes.

The Phoenix Mercury played solid defense, with Brian January chasing Bird down and contesting most of her shots. The Seattle Storm offense got a little stagnant at times in the second half, devolving to stressed out over-dribbling by Bird looking for half of a good screen from a tired Breanna Stewart. Besides Bird’s makes, it was definitely messy.

The Storm obviously won’t be able to replicate a quarter like that in the future, and I’m sure the Storm coaching staff will be back with a brand new attack against the Washington Mystics, opponents heading into tonight’s first game of the WNBA Finals.

The biggest thing to watch on both sides of the ball will be the stars. League MVP Breanna Stewart is playing great so far, and Elena Delle Donne of the Mystics looks to keep the Mystic offensive machine rolling. Here’s how each has been faring in the playoffs thus far:

  Totals Percentages Per Game
  G 3P 3PA FT FTA TRB AST STL BLK TOV FG% 3P% FT% PPG RPG APG
Breanna Stewart 5 9 25 21 24 37 9 5 7 10 0.446 0.36 0.875 24 7.4 1.8
Elena Delle Donne 5 8 21 23 23 60 18 4 4 9 0.458 0.381 1 21.4 12 3.6

*per basketball-reference.com

Elena has been snaring boards and it’ll take all of Stewart’s and Natasha Howard’s will to keeping her out of the paint. The Storm had trouble keeping Brittney Griner out of the box, so it’ll be something to keep an eye on.

In my opinion, the worst is over for the Storm. The Mercury are led by one of the greatest basketball players of all time in Diana Taurasi, and the force aka Brittney Griner. The Mystics are good, but shouldn’t halt the Storm’s grind.

In their last series, the Washington Mystics finished with a scoring differential of 2.8 against an arguably weaker team in the Atlanta Dream. The Storm, facing the Mercury, maintained a scoring differential of -.08.

I’m still holding out for a good ol’ Storm blowout, and I think they hang at least 90 on the Mystics and win by at least 15.

Sue Bird lit up Phoenix, then she lit up Twitter

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Sue Bird lit up Phoenix, then she lit up Twitter

It was an impressive 4th quarter performance from Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird on Tuesday night as she helped her team advance to the WNBA Finals. Bird scored 14 of her 22 points in the final quarter and Seattle rallied back to beat the Phoenix Mercury, 94-84.

Bird suffered a broken nose in Game 4 and she struggled with her shot for the first three quarters of Game 5 of the Conference Finals on Tuesday. But in the fourth, she took over and then she took over twitter.  

After the game, Bird told the media, “I don’t know that I’ve had a fourth quarter like this in a big game in my life, to be honest.”

This will be the Storm’s third appearance in the Finals.

WNBA MVP and forward Breanna Stewart led Seattle with 28 points and carried the scoring load through the first three quarters for Seattle before Bird took over down the stretch.

Several NBA stars took to twitter to give props to Bird on her incredible performance.




The Washington Mystics now await the Storm in the 2018 WNBA Finals. Seattle and Washington will tip-off Game One on Friday.

Washington is playing in its first WNBA Finals in franchise history. The Mystics survived a late push from the Atlanta Dream in Game 5 on Tuesday night to beat the Dream 86-81. Mystics star Elena Delle Donne returned from injury for the final two games of the WNBA semifinals series against Atlanta.

The Storm went 2-1 against the Mystics during the regular season. Seattle won a pair of close games at home, but then lost in Washington 100-77 late in the season.

Storm take a 2-0 series lead in WNBA semifinals

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Seattle Storm

Storm take a 2-0 series lead in WNBA semifinals

It took overtime, but Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm took down the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday, 91-87, to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in the WNBA Semifinals.

Seattle led by as many as 17-points before the Mercury clawed back. Diana Taurisi hit a fade-away three from the corner with 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 79, but Seattle would regain composure in overtime to walk away with the victory. 

Breanna Stewart led the Storm with 27 points, while Sue Bird chipped in 19 points and six assists. (FULL BOX SCORE)

The series now shifts to Phoenix where it is do or die for the Mercury. The WNBA Semifinals are a best of five series, so the Strom just need one win to advance.

Game Three is scheduled for Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena, tipoff is set for 7:00 pm. You can watch all the action live on ESPNews & NBA TV.

Dempsey hangs his cleats up

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USA Today

Dempsey hangs his cleats up

One of the greatest American soccer players in the history of the game is calling it a career. Clint Dempsey announced his retirement early Wednesday. Dempsey has been a thorn in the side of soccer fans here in Portland since 2013 when he joined Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders, adding fuel to the fire of one of the best rivalries in MLS

Dempsey played in 136 matches with the Sounders, scoring 57 career goals and helping the club win its first MLS Cup in 2016. For as good as Dempsey was in MLS, he really made his name on the international stage and abroad. Dempsey had 141 caps with the USMNT, is tied with Landon Donovan for the most goals scored in USMNT history (57), is the only American to score in three World Cups, and was voted U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year in 2007, 2011, and 2012.

Dempsey also played abroad in the English Premier League (EPL) with Fulham (2006-2012) and Tottenham (2012-2013). He played in 263 matches and scored 72 goals, setting the record for goals scored by an American player in the EPL. Between MLS and EPL he scored 155 goals for his career. 

Soccer clubs from MLS and the EPL showed their love for Dempsey on social media.

MLB Ballpark improvement disputes may provide more targets for Portland Diamond Project

MLB Ballpark improvement disputes may provide more targets for Portland Diamond Project

As the Portland Diamond Project continues to close in on a location for a site for its mixed-use development that would include a major-league ballpark as its centerpiece, the list of potential targets for a team in Portland may be growing.

Two existing major-league cities are in the process of attempting to get government funding for ballpark improvements. Part of negotiations for such things almost always comes down to teams threatening to leave their stadiums for something better.

And as the PDP gains increasing credibility as a future destination for a team, expect this city to be used as leverage in negotiations in other cities with stadium issues. It's beyond the control of the Diamond Project and simply the way these things tend to play out.

And that may not be a bad thing for Portland. Not all those teams will get what they want and at a certain point, they may have their bluff called – and decide to move. And at the same time, any city providing leverage for existing teams would be looked upon favorably by Major League Baseball as a future expansion site.

To date, it was presumed that Portland has four opportunities for procuring a team – the two potential expansion franchises and the troubled franchises in Oakland and Tampa.

But don’t be surprised to hear this city mentioned as a possible relocation site for the Arizona Diamondbacks and – what? – the Seattle Mariners.

There are serious stadium-improvement issues with the latter teams.

In Seattle, the team’s lease at Safeco Field expires at the end of this season and the Mariners are asking King County for a substantial sum for ballpark improvements.

The Seattle Mariners have issued an ultimatum: Give them $180 million in taxpayer money for their 19-year-old stadium, or they won’t sign a long-term lease.

And in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks have already negotiated their way out of  longer-term lease to one that expires in 2022 – coincidentally a year when it’s figured the Portland ballpark would be ready for occupancy.

The Arizona Diamondbacks can leave Chase Field and end the team's 20-year residence at the downtown Phoenix stadium as early as 2022, Maricopa County leaders decided Wednesday.

The expectation is that both disputes will be settled without relocation of the franchises... but faced with a lucrative option in a fresh city, it would be difficult to know what to expect from ownership of those teams.

PDP leaders have promised that they will use no public money for stadium construction other than what has already been set aside by the Oregon state legislature.

The ballpark in Portland is expected to include a large-scale mixed-use development that includes housing, entertainment and dining options and hotels. The Diamond Peoject is still looking at multiple sites but is expected to make a decision on a location soon.

 

 

Draftsville: A Friday Night Lights Parody Season 2

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NBC Sports

Draftsville: A Friday Night Lights Parody Season 2

What happens when dramatic change comes to the town where fantasy football is king? Find out in season two of this Friday Night Lights parody. Episodes 1 and 2 debut Thursday, August 30 on NBCSports.com.

 

Girardi, Reynolds advocate for baseball in Portland

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Girardi, Reynolds advocate for baseball in Portland

Harold Reynolds and Joe Girardi were on MLB TV Wednesday and they both think Portland is a viable option for MLB expansion. Girardi first lays out a plan to make baseball into a new western and eastern conference alignment but then adds that he could see the league adding two teams to make divisions more balanced. One of those two teams could be Portland. 

"I think we need another team in the Northwest, so, Portland"

Check out the full segment in the video below (Girardi mentions Portland around the 1:40 mark).

The Portland Diamond project, of course, took notice.

 

The Oakland A's have a ballpark problem and Portland might be able to solve it

The Oakland A's have a ballpark problem and Portland might be able to solve it

As the Portland Diamond Project studies potential sites for a new ballpark in this town, there's a big worry in the back of my mind:

How easy is it going to be to find a site in this town that doesn't end up mired in controversy and red tape?

In Oakland, where the A's have been searching for a potential location for a new ballpark (and a way to pay for it) for quite a while, a problem has popped up in regard to a possible prime location. The waterfront Howard Terminal site has been identified as a possible place for the ballpark but a mysterious group has emerged to attempt to block such a move:

However, with Howard Terminal still under consideration, a group that bills itself as Protect Oakland’s Shoreline Economy is stating its opposition to idea of a new ballpark at that location. It is unknown exactly who is behind the group, but this comes after the A’s saw a previous proposal–one to build at a site near Laney College–collapse late last year in the midst of neighborhood opposition.

And the reasons for the opposition, outlined in a mailer, sound eerily like some of the same ideas that could be brought forth in Portland:

The mailer ticks off a list of drawbacks to the proposed move, including “severe traffic impacts” to nearby warehouses and neighborhoods and the “hundreds of millions of dollars” in taxpayer-funded infrastructure that will be needed.

The flyer even argues that an A’s waterfront ballpark would force the homeless to move their street camps to make room for fan parking and describes the team’s plan for an overhead gondola to ferry fans over the nearby railroad tracks as “silly.”

In a place like Portland, a waterfront location would be attractive in so many ways and there are locations being studied that would be a big improvement to the site and its economy. But I worry that various groups in this city would attempt to block it, if for no other reason than it's kind of what happens in Portland. You are going to find somebody against everything -- no matter how beneficial it could be to the city.

I have a solution, by the way, for Oakland's stadium problem and it's a little unconventional. That city just doesn't seem able to come up with financing or an ownership group willing to finance, a new ballpark. I'm afraid the only way to get something done down there is for the town to lose its team. But stay with me here, it would lose its team but gain one, too. For years, franchises have used the threat of moving to another city to push municipalities into financing a new stadium.

Why not take that one natural step further?

The A's ought to sell to a group in Portland but stay in Oakland as a lame duck franchise until a ballpark is built here. Major League Baseball should then promise Oakland an expansion franchise as soon as a new ballpark is constructed in that area. Oakland would still have baseball, Portland would, too -- and MLB would have solved its "Oakland problem" as well as be on its way to a successful expansion plan.

For a city that is soon to lose the Warriors and Raiders, this could likely provide the impetus to build a new ballpark. I mean, you can't suddenly be stripped of all your big-league franchises.

Boom! It would be a win-win-win for Oakland, Portland and Major League Baseball..