Sunday, June 16, 2019

Stealing History - Leonys Martin


Don't get carried away folks, but the Indians have been playing some solid baseball of late. They've gone 8-4 since the start of the month, including series wins over the Twins, Yankees and Tigers.

Both Jake Bauers and Leonys Martin have enjoyed historic success during this winning run, most notably in Detroit; Bauers and Martin etched their names into Indians history on back-to-back nights, when Bauers hit for the cycle in Friday night's 13-4 rout, and then Martin stole home in Saturday's 4-2 victory.

Today I'm going to pay special attention to Martin's ridiculous display of athleticism in the eighth inning of last night's win. For me, there's nothing in sport quite like a guy stealing home.

With the Indians holding onto a slim 3-2 lead, Martin led off the inning with a line drive into the right field corner and jogged into second base for an easy double. Francisco Lindor could only fly out to left field in the next at-bat but Martin had the presence of mind and raw speed to tag and take third base with surprising ease, no slide necessary.

Tigers reliever Victor Alcantara had only been in the game for a moment but had managed to recover and get two outs, after Cleveland rookie Oscar Mercado could only ground out. With Carlos Santana at the plate, easily Cleveland's most dangerous hitter in 2019, Alcantara had a lot on his mind as he started into his windup.


Alcantara bent down as he started his motion and Martin, alert and with a huge lead off third base, was watching the pitcher's every move. The veteran instantly spotted his opportunity. With Alcantara still staring at his feet, Martin broke for home and was hurtling down the line before the reliever was aware of what was going on.

Tigers catcher John Hicks was screaming for his pitcher to look up but it was too late, Martin was in full flow and already diving towards Hicks. Finally awake, Alcantara stepped off the mound and threw home but Martin’s hand got beneath the catcher's glove to touch home plate, and the ball rolled harmlessly away.

Martin was safe and the Indians led 4-2. It was a moment of pure inspiration from the Cuban center fielder.

Against all odds, Martin had pulled off a play rarely seen in the modern game, especially against a right-handed pitcher, who should theoretically see it developing every step of the way. That is, if they aren't staring at their feet.

Martin's historic play secured the Indians' first straight steal of home in 14 years, not since Grady Sizemore performed the feat in Toronto on 26th August 2005.

Many of us would consider stealing home a lost art. Some of the best baserunners in the game will go their entire career without ever doing it. Some don't feel comfortable and most won't risk it, not the chance of killing a rally or killing themselves - the chance of injury is significantly higher diving headfirst into an opposition catcher.


When I think of stealing home, my mind instantly conjures the image of Jackie Robinson, a master of the art, who famously stole home in the 1955 World Series against the Yankees' Yogi Berra. It is one of baseball's iconic moments - it should not be physically possible for a man to make up that much ground and succeed. For most, it isn't; the success rate for stealing home is extraordinarily low, between 20-30% this millennium.

Once upon a time, in the days of Ty Cobb, stealing home was a more common practice. The legendary Cobb set the single season record in 1912 with eight steals of home. These days it's unlikely the yearly total for all of major league baseball will surpass eight. Somehow even the husky Babe Ruth achieved it ten times in his career - it was certainly a different time! Nowadays though the game has changed; pitchers are not so elaborate in their delivery, third basemen hold would-be thieves closer to the bag, and the entire pace of the game is different, among other factors.

Thus, when you witness a steal of home in the twenty-first century, it is magic made real.

Leonys Martin, for one night at least, transported fans back in time and created history in the process. After everything Martin experienced in 2018, it's amazing for him to be playing at all, so we should rightly celebrate his historic achievement.

"How about that?!" called Indians radio broadcaster Tom Hamilton, as Martin picked himself up and celebrated with his teammates.

How indeed Tom.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Carlos Santana - Mr Consistent


As we enter the month of June, the Indians have experienced their fair share of uncertainty in 2019, which has left the fanbase feeling rather demoralized and underwhelmed.

Who could have foreseen the Twins owning the best record in the entire league? Who could have envisioned Jose Ramirez declining so drastically?

Thankfully Cleveland have at least one pillar of consistency to rely upon, in the shape of Carlos Santana.

The 33 year-old made his major league debut with the Tribe in 2010 and spent 8 successful years with the Indians before joining the Phillies as a free agent in December 2017. After a year away in the National League and a brief 10-day tenure with the Mariners, Santana returned to Cleveland almost a year to the day he departed, part of a three-team trade with Seattle and Tampa Bay.

It's safe to say that his homecoming has been a huge success thus far, and Indians fans have welcomed him back with open arms.

It's like he never left, like 2018 never happened.

To date, Santana has posted an impressive slashline of .286/.405/.510. The veteran's .915 OPS, 11 home runs, 11 doubles, 37 RBIs, 40 walks, and 34 runs scored all lead the club. With the majority of his teammates under-performing, Santana has been the only reliable bat in Terry Francona's arsenal.

His patient approach at the plate always made him a difficult out for opposition pitchers but Santana has tweaked his approach in 2019 to raise his offensive contribution significantly. A combination of aggressiveness (when he previously would be happy to take a walk) and his ability to spread the ball to all-fields has helped counter those pesky defensive shifts his opponents would usually deploy. Santana has begun to take advantage of the gaps willingly offered to him, and the Indians have benefited enormously. It's a scary proposition to think where this team would be without Santana this year.


With Cleveland hosting the All-Star Game, is Santana on track to represent the Tribe on 9th July?

Despite his history of consistency, the veteran has never featured in the Midsummer Classic, but perhaps this could finally be his year. His competition at first base includes:

  • Miguel Cabrera - .284 AVG, 2 HR, 22 RBI, .712 OPS
  • Jose Abreu - .246 AVG, 15 HR, 50 RBI, .797 OPS
  • C.J. Cron - .275 AVG, 13 HR, 38 RBI, .873 OPS
  • Edwin Encarnacion - .245, 15 HR, 37 RBI, .849 OPS
  • Luke Voit - .268 AVG, 15 HR, 39 RBI, .901 OPS
  • Mitch Moreland - .228 AVG, 13 HR, 34 RBI, .870 OPS

Glancing at that group, Santana should warrant serious consideration to be the starting first baseman for the American League. At the time of writing there doesn't appear to be an overwhelming choice so if Santana can maintain his current form until the end of the month, he will put himself in a strong position to feature in his first All-Star Game.

And where better to make your All-Star debut than Cleveland, the city he's called home for close to a decade?

I can think of no finer representative, and will be voting for Santana as often as MLB lets me.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Women In Baseball Day - May 30th


In honour of this year's Women In Baseball Day, I am highlighting some of the women in my life and their passion for the game.

After many years of following baseball almost completely alone (offline at least), the last few years have seen my enthusiasm for America's national pastime spread to my family and friends. In fact, it has been the women closest to me that have really embraced the sport and become active followers of their chosen teams.

Today I talk to four of these ladies about their teams, their favourite players, and a lot more.

Amber

Amber, let's kick things off with the basics; who's your team and how did you choose them?

My team is the New York Yankees, and I chose them because they're the first team I saw in person (on our honeymoon). I'm a true fan because I stuck with them despite seeing them lose!

They only just lost that day, it was a close one. What was that experience like?

It was a beautiful sunny day and I got swept away in the whole experience, like all the food and singing the seventh-inning stretch. All the fans around us were so friendly as well.

We did have a great time with the Yankees. Who is your favourite player in the Bronx? 

That's a tough one. So, it's between Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius. Didi was the first Yankee I saw hit a home run, but when we were in New York I loved the theatrics and hype surrounding Judge, like the fans wearing robes in the "Judge's Chambers." It has to be Judge for me.


Judge is a dude, it's such a shame he's been hurt this year. What has been your favourite baseball food so far?

Garlic fries! Hands down, they were the best. I had heard about them before I went to San Francisco, that they were a specialty at the Giants' stadium. So I had to get them and they didn't disappoint.

Between New York and San Francisco, which was your favourite stadium?

Despite being a Yankee fan, I loved San Francisco's Oracle Park.

At both games I've been to I was really lucky with the weather, but San Francisco had the amazing panoramic view of the bay, the splash hits counter, and the giant Coca Cola bottle slide. I really liked how people could watch innings for free through the right field fence as well. I just wish adults were allowed down the Coca Cola slide!

We did have an amazing time in San Francisco! Together we've watched quite a few baseball films - what has been your favorite? 

A League of Their Own is my favourite. There are so many famous one-liners from that movie. When we took the tour of Oracle Park, I even saw "There's no crying in baseball!" on one of their walls full of famous baseball quotes. I love how the film focused on the women in baseball and that whole era.

I also really enjoyed The Perfect Catch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon.

The Perfect Catch is a guilty pleasure, I'll admit. If you played baseball, what position would you play?

First base! I'd like to be the one catching the ball to put everybody out - if I'm in the game, I want to be involved as often as possible. I would also love to hit home runs!

Ellie

Hey Ellie! Who are your team and how did you come to choose them?  

My team is the Los Angeles Dodgers! I chose them mostly for their awesome fireball logo because who wouldn't support a team who can throw balls of fire?!

A great choice, a historic organization too. Do you have a favourite Dodger?

I'm not sure I have a specific favourite player as such but it would probably be Justin Turner. It's likely the orange beard (it really is orange, there is no getting around it) that has ensured he stuck in my mind. But having only followed the Dodgers for just over a year, I remember that he fractured his wrist just before last season began and I feel like that put a downer on their start (which was pretty horrendous...) From what I gather he is a pretty good all-rounder so they really missed him in the beginning there. I was super glad they made a comeback though, given how far behind they were late in the season.

Turner is one of their main guys and a huge part of their success these last few years. After falling short of winning it all the past two years, do you think the Dodgers can finally win the World Series this season?

Hmm, well they have gotten off to a better start this year than 2018, so I think they stand a better chance. Hopefully they have the extra drive this year!

When you finally attend your first game, what do you think will be your favorite food at the stadium?

As a vegetarian I think it is unlikely that veggie hot dogs are on offer in America (which would be my first choice) so I'd have to go with PIZZA SLICE!!!!!!!!!!!


I've subjected you to a number of baseball movies, which one has been your favorite? Are there any you haven't seen yet that you want to?

I think I've enjoyed them all but A League of Their Own is probably my favourite because it has the glorious Tom Hanks (although not in a very glorious role!) and it's an alternative view of baseball. Given baseball is such a male-centric game, it's nice to see women playing and playing really well (albeit in a fantasy plot line). Their uniforms could be a bit less revealing though. Trousers and classic baseball shirts would have been muuuuch cooler.

As for films I haven't seen, I came across one on Amazon Prime that I've yet to try. It's called Mr Baseball and it's got Tom Selleck in it and it's very early 90s, about a baseball player whose career is starting to come to an end and he gets traded to a Japanese team - UMM HELLO?! THIS SOUNDS AMAZING.

Sounds like your perfect movie! Finally, if you played baseball, what position do you think you'd play?

I would be a bench warmer because clearly, I cannot play baseball. In an ideal world though, I'd be a pitcher with a Popeye-strong arm that tears the bat to pieces!

Jasmine

Hi Jasmine, who are your team and why did you choose them?  

Hi Ash, my team are the Toronto Blue Jays. I support them because they are the outsiders. As the first and only team outside the US to appear in and win a World Series, they're the team I proudly follow. I like an unexpected winner and their underdog spirit makes for captivating viewing! While they've been out of the spotlight for a while they seem keen to return to form, and I enjoyed their postseason run in recent years.

Canada's only MLB team - they also have one of the greatest logos on their hats, a good choice! Do you have a favourite player?

Randal Grichuk. A fantastic end to 2018 hints at an even better 2019 (I hope), so it'll be interesting to see how his season goes. He's also really cute, which helps!

What about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - how do the feel about the star rookie?

I was very excited for him to join the team and I think he will do his father proud. I know it's only his first season but he's definitely making his mark already.

When you attend your first game, what sort of food at the ballpark will be on your agenda?

In my mind you can't beat a good hot dog. Timeless, tasty, and fairly easy to eat. That being said I've seen pictures of the glazed donut burgers floating around and I wouldn't mind trying one of those.

Ketchup or mustard on the hot dog?

Both!


Of the baseball movies I've subjected you to so far, what has been your favorite? Are there any you haven't seen yet that you want to?

It's gotta be A League of Their Own. Geena Davies and Tom Hanks in a feminist movie about some of the greatest unsung women of sport? Yes please!

I feel like I should watch Moneyball. In fact, I'm a bit embarrassed I haven't seen such a classic but I promise I will get round to it... eventually.

It's okay, I'll make you watch Moneyball soon enough. Final question: if you played baseball, what position would you want to be?

I think I'd like to play catcher. Calling the shots and bringing the team together sounds like a lot of fun, and a good chance to use some strategy. Whether I'd be any good at it is another question entirely ;)

Libby

Hi Libs, who are your team and how did you come to choose them?

Hi Ash, my team are the Oakland A's. The reason why they're my team is simple: I love an underdog. Plus, I like their style. I really dig the green and yellow combo, and their badass elephant mascot.

Excellent choice, I also love that green and yellow combo. Who is your favourite player on the A's? 

Matt Chapman! Or as Matt (Libby's boyfriend and Brewers fan) and I call him, Chap Mattman, which was taken from a baseball podcast Matt listens to (Absolute Bunts). He's just so good and seems like a really nice guy, which is important, and humble.

Chapman is a great choice, the face of the franchise in Oakland. As a British fan, we don't get to regularly enjoy the ballpark experience like our American cousins. When you go to your first game this year, what food are you targeting? Are you going for the classics like hot dogs, peanuts and crackerjack, or something more modern and exotic?

I love the traditional favourites, but will branch out as we're going to Citi Field, which has more options than I can count. I will probably be up and down a lot to grab everything in sight! Fuku by David Chang is there serving fried chicken, so I definitely have my eye on that.

I'm very jealous of your upcoming trip and all the fried chicken. We've watched a few a baseball films together now, what has been your favorite? 


I'd have to say A League of Their Own, just for sheer quality. But the first one I ever watched was Moneyball which was pretty intriguing. I don't know what cracked me up about Field of Dreams, but I just remember shaking in fits of laughter at a key emotional scene with Jasmine. I blame the sugary popcorn!

Ash's note: For context, both Jasmine and Libby got the giggles during the scene when Ray meets his Father. Most people cry - they laughed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Final question: if you played baseball, what position would you play?

Okay, I'll be honest here as I'm still learning all the positions, but I would love to be the center fielder, really far away in the field, who manages to throw themselves into the padded wall for an epic catch. That seems pretty fun to me! 

------------------------------

A huge thank you to Amber, Ellie, Jasmine and Libby for taking the time to speak with me about their teams and love for the game.

Now go and watch A League of Their Own. We all love it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Oscar Mercado Called Up


Despite the team delaying the announcement, news finally broke that the long awaited outfield prospect Oscar Mercado is joining the Indians to make his MLB debut. His call-up will hopefully make an impact on this struggling Cleveland club and bring some energy to their lackluster lineup.

The 24 year-old is due to meet his new teammates today in Chicago, likely replacing Tyler Naquin, who has battled a calf issue in recent days (what is it with this team and calf problems?)

Mercado was a revelation in Spring Training, so much so that the team considered having him break camp with the 25-man roster. Terry Francona chose to have the young outfielder enjoy everyday at-bats with the Triple-A Clippers instead and Mercado made the most of his opportunity in the minors, showing the higher-ups exactly what they've been missing.

In Columbus, Mercado featured in 30 games and 140 plate appearances, hitting an impressive .294/.396/.496 with 4 home runs and 15 RBI, plus 14 stolen bases. Predominantly a center fielder, he does have the ability to play all outfield positions and this versatility will be very valuable for the Indians in the coming months.

I've been high on Mercado since the Indians acquired him during last year's trade deadline, and have been eager to see him reach the big club ever since. His Spring Training performances only served to reinforce my optimism.


The atmosphere surrounding the 2019 Indians thus far has been overwhelmingly negative, but the addition of an exciting, dynamic young prospect like Mercado could be just the breath of fresh air this team needs.

Despite never featuring as a consensus top prospect, Mercado's promotion has generated a level of anticipation that hasn't been felt in some time, for me at least. With the current outfield production so low, expectations are substantial for Mercado to have an impact, even though he's a rookie facing major league pitching for the first time. The learning curve will be steep but all signs point to Mercado being prepared for it.

To please this hungry fanbase and be an effective contributor, the young Colombian-American needs to display earnest effort and a level of stability not yet seen among his outfield peers. If Mercado can manage that, he'll quickly earn the respect and admiration of the fans.

I'll certainly be rooting for him and will be tune in later today to catch his debut against the White Sox - so long as Francona is sensible and starts him