About Aaron May

This is a short biography

Old School – Analyzing the MLB Trade Deadline (National League)

With the MLB trade deadline fastly approaching (July 31, 4 p.m. EST), I thought it would be a good time to take a look at every team in baseball and see if they should be buyers or sellers and figure out what each team should do. Today, we’re going with the National League. We will take a look at the American League tomorrow.

Arizona Diamondbacks (49-48) 3rd NL West, 4.0 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Rational

What should they do?

Stay rational. The Diamondbacks are a year removed from winning the NL West with a young, talented core of players. They are in decent position to make a run at the Wild Card and should not be looking to trade 24-year-old outfielder Justin Upton, just because he’s having a down year, which has been rumored.

Atlanta Braves (53-44) 2nd NL East, 2nd NL Wild Card

Mode: Go for Broke

What should they do?

Chipper Jones is in his last season in his legendary Braves career, center fielder Michael Borne is in his last year of his contract and will probably command more money than they can spend next season, and perennial All-Star catcher Brian McCann has a team option for next season. Those are all pretty big pieces that will/could be gone next season, so they need to win now. The Braves need a solid arm to add to their disappointing rotation, and after Ryan Dempster exercised his no-trade clause, they should try to get a guy like Zack Grienke or Matt Garza.

Chicago Cubs (40-56) 5th NL Central, 12.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Sellers

What should they do?

The Cubs need to sell off any of their veterans. They are trying to with Ryan Dempster, but he seems deadset on getting dealt to the Dodgers, even though the Cubs preferred a trade they worked out with Atlanta, which he declined. It also means they probably can’t get as much back from the Dodgers now that they know they are the only suitors. Matt Garza should also be available, and if any team is desperate, the Cubs would love to move Alfonso Soriano and his hefty contract.

Cincinnati Reds (57-40) 1st NL Central

Mode: Keep Winning

What should they do?

The Reds are sitting in a good position, first in the NL Central. I’m not sure what move they should make. The bullpen is anchored by flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, the offense led by Joey Votto, and their pitching rotation has done quite well this season. Jonny Cueto is looking like an ace (12-5, 2.23 ERA), and Homer Bailey and Bronson Arroyo are also pitching pretty well with ERA’s under 4. If they just keep doing what they are doing, they have no reason to think they won’t be in the playoffs.

Colorado Rockies (36-60) Last NL West, 16.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Back to the Future

What should they do?

The Rockies should go back in time to the day they traded Ubaldo Jimenez around last year’s trade deadline. It was then that they decided that clubhouse chemistry was the most important way to build a ball club. They took that mentality into the offseason and promptly built one of the worst teams in the big leagues. We are far away from having another Rocktober.

Houston Astros (34-64) Last NL Central, 19.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Daydream

What should they do?

The Astros should daydream about the days of Bagwell, Biggio and Bell, because they are a long way off from competing. The Astros have already traded off every available veteran. Carlos Lee went to the Marlins, Wandy Rodriguez to the Pirates, Brett Myers to the White Sox and J.A. Happ to the Blue Jays. At least they can look forward to next season when they will compete in the American League, which should at least bring in new opponents for the fans to see beat their beloved team.

Los Angeles Dodgers (53-45) 2nd NL West, 0.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Showtime

What should they do?

Magic Johnson is now an owner of the Dodgers, and the new regime seems pretty determined on competing and doing it now. Los Angeles has battled some injuries to their main offensive players in Andre Eithier and Matt Kemp, so the trade to get Hanley Ramirez will really help their tea score runs. The Dodgers are also the favorites to land Ryan Dempster, since it’s the only team he really wants to play for.

Miami Marlins (45-52) 4th NL East, 9.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Fire Sale

What should they do?

The Marlins spent a lot of money in the offseason in anticipation of competing in the NL East, but it just hasn’t worked out. They’ve already traded Hanley Ramirez, and could get some good prospects back by dealing Josh Johnson. Closer Heath Bell has been so awful (6 blown saves), he’s no longer the closer, so if anyone wants to take a chance on him, the Marlins will gladly send him packing.

New York Mets (47-50) 3rd NL East, 6 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Find Pitching

What should they do?

If the Mets want to make a run at the Wild Card, they could use a closer. Frank Francisco and Bobby Parnelln have both been slated as closers and neither has seen success. In addition, Johan Santana was just added to the DL and will miss a few starts. The Mets have only won one game since the All-Star break. They shouldn’t waste any prospects on a season that is fading fast, so I think they should take a chance on a few guys who are currently sitting at home, like closer Brad Lidge, and super-veteran Jamie Moyer to plug into their rotation.

Philadelphia Phillies (44-54) Last NL East, 9.5 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Rehab

What should they do?

Get healthy and look to the next season. This year has been a disaster, and it’s because of major injuries to major players. Guys like Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee just need to finish this season strong, finish healthy, and get ready to be a contender again next season.

Pittsburgh Pirates (54-42) 2nd NL East, 1st NL Wild Card

Mode: Swashbuckling

What should they do?

The Pirates are where they aren’t supposed to be, competing for a division title. They haven’t won in 19 seasons, and that streak will be put to rest. They just traded for the Astros Wandy Rodriguez and should give their rotation another veteran presence to go with AJ Burnett. The Pirates are dangerous with the team they have now. They shouldn’t sacrifice any future talent considering this organization should compete for division titles for the foreseeable future.

San Diego Padres (41-58) 4th NL West, 13 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Development

What should they do?

The Padres locked up one of their only trade pieces in Carlos Quentin to a long-term extension, and are reportedly doing the same with Huston Street. San Diego needs to keep playing the young guys and hope they develop and get better. Third baseman Chase Headley might be available, but he gives quality production at a decent price, so they will need some decent prospects back in a deal for him.

San Francisco Giants (55-42) 1st NL West

Mode: Find an Offense

What should they do?

Los Gigantes don’t win with a ton of offense. It’s all about pitching and defense, but if they can find another bat to add to their offense, it would be a welcome sight for Giants fans. I wonder if they could pry Todd Helton off the Rockies hands. He’s always been a Rockie and it would be weird to see him go, but considering Ichiro just left the Mariners for the Yankees, you never know. Helton is scheduled to come off of the DL right before the trade deadline.

St. Louis Cardinals (51-46) 3rd NL Central, 2 games back of a Wild Card spot

Mode: Go for Broke

What should they do?

The Cardinals have a bunch of veterans in the core of their lineup, Carlos Beltran, Rafael Furcal, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman, so they are definitely in a buyers position. The Redbirds are really missing Chris Carpenter in their rotation this season, so if they could make a good offer to the Marlins for Josh Johnson, that theat could help them make another great stretch run at the postseason.

Washington Nationals (57-39) 1st NL East

Mode: Waiting on Rizzo

What should they do?

Could you imagine the Chicago Bulls playing next season with Derrick Rose after his knee injury in the regular season, yet forcing him to sit in the playoffs for fear of losing him for future years? I couldn’t either, but that is what the Nationals say they will do with Stephen Strasburg. The GM of the team, Mike Rizzo, will apparently shut him down at a predetermined number of innings pitched (reportedly around 160 IP), and Strasburg will not pitch the rest of the season. My advice? Play the kid! Who knows what the future holds?!? He could get hurt carrying a rack of meat up the stairs like Clint Barmes did one season. He could also blow out his arm on the 14th pitch of the 159th inning. Play him! Try to win a World Series in a year you are a contender. Look at the Phillies this season, you never know when it will all fall apart!

Old School – Reviewing our predictions and taking a second chance

Since we just had the All-Star game, I thought it would be a great time to review our predictions from Sports Spectrum’s MLB Preview issue, which is a digital-only issue that you can view here.

Sports Spectrum Managing Editor Brett Honeycutt and I collaborated on all of the predictions in the magazine, and I fully expect to be right about every single prediction. I guess you can read the sarcasm in that sentence. Let’s see how we did.

AL East

What we predicted Actual Standings
Yankees (99-63) Yankees (52-33)
Red Sox (95-67) Wild Card Orioles (45-40)
Rays (93-69) Rays (45-41)
Blue Jays (83-79) Blue Jays (43-43)
Orioles (65-97) Red Sox (43-43)

The Yankees have done even better than expected and having Andy Pettitte back in the rotation has really helped (3.22 ERA, 58.2 IP). The Yankees are also getting production out of their bench; Andruw Jones has hit 11 home runs as the fourth outfielder.

As of now, it appears we, as well as most prognosticators, missed pretty badly on the Orioles. But to be fair, the O’s only won 69 games last season and they didn’t bring in a lot of new players. What has made them so successful is getting players to improve and develop, and for some to return to their 2010 form.

The Blue Jays and Rays are hanging around in the division, but much more likely to compete for the AL Wild Card. Jose Bautista leads the AL in home runs, yet again, with 27, and the Rays have found another success story in the closer’s role with Fernando Rodney (0.93 ERA, 25 saves).

The Red Sox have dealt with injuries and seem to be headed toward a youth movement. Youngster Will Middlebrooks played so well in the first half that it forced the Sox to trade long-time third baseman Kevin Youkilous to the White Sox.

AL Central

What we predicted Actual Standings
Tigers (94-68) White Sox (47-38)
White Sox (87-75) Indians (44-41)
Indians (85-77) Tigers (44-42)
Royals (80-82) Royals (37-47)
Twins (77-85) Twins (36-49)

The Tigers were pegged to run away with this division, but it simply hasn’t happened. Except for Justin Verlander (9-5, 2.58 ERA), the pitching rotation has been a complete mess. No other starter in the rotation has an ERA below 4.00.

New manager Robin Ventura has done a great job with the “Good Guys” from the South Side of Chicago and Adam Dunn (25 HR) and Jake Peavy (7-5, 2.85 ERA) are one and two in the comeback player of the year race.

The Indians are hanging around the the Central race in large part because of the consistency of All-Star closer Chris Perez (24 saves).

Unfortunately, the highlight of the Royals year likely just happened, as they hosted the All-Star game and booed Robinson Cano out of the Home Run Derby.

And the Twins are having another down year, but management has to be happy that Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are healthy. Trevor Plouffe (19 HRs) has also been a nice surprise.

AL West

What we predicted Actual Standings
Angels (95-67) Rangers (52-34)
Rangers (94-68) Wild Card Angels (48-38)
Mariners (76-86) A’s (43-43)
A’s (72-90) Mariners (36-51)

The Angels started slow, as did new slugger Albert Pujols, but they have fought their way back into contention in the AL West race. For a while it looked like Texas would coast to its third straight crown, but the Rangers are only up by four games at the All-Star break.

In typical Billy Beane fashion the A’s have come together as a team pretty well, despite having a team that seemingly lacked the stars to be able to play winning baseball. Oakland worked their record back to .500 the last game before the All-Star break.

The Mariners have fielded another team with a terrible offense. The’ve been no-hit (Philip Humber) once this year, and are the only team in the American League with an on-base percentage lower than .300. I bet Seattle fans really miss the offensive barrages of the 90′s when they had Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar and Tino Martinez, Bret Boone, and the most home runs in all of baseball every season.

NL East

What we predicted Actual Standings
Phillies (97-59) Nationals (49-34)
Braves (91-71) Wild Card Braves (46-39)
Marlins (90-68) Wild Card Mets (46-40)
Nationals (82-80) Marlins (41-44)
Mets (81-81) Phillies (37-50)

We thought this division would be very strong and would win three playoff spots. That could still happen, as the NL East has proven to be the deepest division in the National League and possibly all of Major League Baseball. The Nationals pitching staff has been outstanding behind Stephen Strasburg and offseason acquisition Gio Gonzalez. Rookie Bryce Harper has wowed everyone and become the youngest to ever play in the All-Star game.

The Phillies have not been able to overcome some pretty serious injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay. They are still a dangerous team, as Howard and Utley are now back in action, but you have to wonder if they dug themselves too big a hole to make a run at a wild card spot.

Atlanta has had trouble with their pitching rotation, which was supposed to be the strongest part of their team coming out of spring training. Jair Jurrjens spent a long stint in the minors, Brandon Beachy had Tommy John surgery after leading the majors in ERA the first two and a half months, and the youngsters in the rotation, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado, have struggled to find consistency throughout an entire ballgame.

The New York Mets have been led by a strong 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation in Johan Santana (who threw the Mets first no-hitter in team history) and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (NL leading 12 wins). And David Wright has led a better-than-advertised offense.

The Miami Marlins have a hideous home run sculpture out in center field, but their baseball team has been worth watching. They could be close to a winning record if it wasn’t for the struggles of closer Heath Bell, who has already blown six chances this season.

NL Central

What we predicted Actual Standings
Cardinals (93-69) Pirates (48-37)
Brewers (89-73) Wild Card Reds (46-39)
Reds (85-77) Wild Card Cardinals (46-40)
Pirates (80-82) Brewers (40-45)
Cubs (70-92) Cubs (33-52)
Astros (63-99) Astros (33-53)

We predicted Pittsburgh would fall short of the .500 mark with an 80-82 record and clinch its 20th straight losing season. But Pirates fans will likely see their first winning season since the Braves beat them in the 1992 NLCS when Sid Bream slid in safely to home plate. Andrew McCutchen is typically thought of as a speed and doubles guy, but he’s been launching the bombs (18 HRs) all season and is a big reason for the Pirates success.

Joey Votto (.348, 14 HRs, 65 BB) is putting up more monster numbers in Cincinnati, and Johnny Cueto has pitched like an ace in the first half of the season. Cueto posted a 2.39 ERA, notching 10 wins, and was shafted out of the All-Star game by Tony La Russa.

The Cardinals offense hasn’t slacked off too much in Albert Pujols’ absence, and they can thank Carlos Beltran for it. The switch-hitting slugger has 20 homers, 65 RBIs and eight stolen bases.

The Brewers are far from the team that won the Central last season. Not having Prince Fielder hasn’t affected Ryan Braun’s numbers, or even the team’s offense, as the Brewers are fifth in the NL in runs scored, but the pitching has been a lot worse. Milwaukee posted a 3.63 ERA in 2011 but has posted 4.24 ERA so far this season.

The Cubs and Astros have been bad, as expected. These guys should maybe take a baseball lesson from Goofy:


NL West

What we predicted Actual Standings
Giants (90-72) Dodgers (47-40)
Diamondbacks (88-74) Giants (46-40)
Dodgers (82-80) Diamondbacks (42-43)
Rockies (79-83) Padres (34-53)
Padres (67-95) Rockies (33-52)

The Dodgers started strong, but only lead the division by a half game at the break. Matt Kemp’s injury has been a brutal blow to the offense. At one point in the past few weeks, Jerry Hairston Jr., a career utility man until this season, was batting third in LA’s order.

The Giants pitching has been great as expected, except for the puzzling decline of Tim Lincecum (6.42 ERA). The offseason signing of Melky Cabrera has proven to be a big one, as he leads the team in hitting (.353) and earned a start in the All-Star game.

The D-Backs have seen a decline from last year’s division-winning season. Ian Kennedy, a Cy Young award candidate last season, has fallen off tremendously, going 6-7 with a 4.26 ERA. A lot of guys had career years last season, so maybe this is just everyone coming back down to earth.

The Padres and Rockies could also watch a little of “How to Play Baseball.” The Rockies have baseball’s worst ERA at 5.26, which is .40 points worse than the 29th-place team, Minnesota. San Diego is actually doing okay in that category (12th) but can’t hit their way out of a paper bag (they are dead last in all of baseball in runs scored).

Oops! Our Mistake

We called Brad Lidge a top five acquisition. Lidge was signed by the Nationals to be their closer. He started out the season on the DL, but he made us look bad once he pitched. He gave up 10 runs in 9.1 innings and Washington cut him. He is currently out of baseball and plans to stay away until next season.

We said Jonny Venters was the second best reliever in the big leagues. In Venters’ first two seasons, he only gave up three home runs. This season, he’s already given up six (double his career total), and there is still half the season left. Venters is currently sitting out for at least 15 days with elbow soreness, so, fortunately, he can’t give up any long balls there.

We said that Brian Wilson was baseball’s most interesting person. Wilson has been injured since April and has been out of sight and mind.

We said that Cliff Lee was the fourth best starting pitcher and Tim Lincecum was the eight best – Lee just won his first game last week. And I just mentioned how bad of a season “Big Time Timmy Jim” is having.

We left Mike Trout out of our top 10 youngsters - Oops.

Tooting our own horn

We called Yoenis Cespedes a top 10 acquisition – Cespedes has done pretty well for a rookie from Cuba, hitting 9 homers for the A’s mostly powerless team, and is second on the team with 36 RBIs.

We said Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen were among the top 10 most interesting people in baseball - And they were, especially in the first month of the season when both had their own controversies.

A Second Chance

At least we’re not doctors. So far, it appears we missed more than we made (though three out of ten is usually pretty good in baseball and we do have half the season remaining). But now that I’ve had half a season to make a more educated guess, here’s some predictions for the rest of the season. Hopefully these will be a little closer…

American League National League
Yankees AL East Braves NL East
White Sox AL Central Cardinals NL Central
Rangers AL West Giants NL West
Angels AL Wild Card #1 Nationals NL Wild Card #1
Tigers AL Wild Card #2 Mets NL Wild Card #2

The AL seems pretty cut and dry to me at this point. The Yankees and Rangers are too good not to win their divisions, and the Tigers can’t match the White Sox pitching to overtake them in the Central. I see Detroit doing enough to get in, though, and with the way rookie Mike Trout has propelled the Angels, they should also earn a Wild Card spot.

I’m sticking with the NL East getting three teams in, but I think the Braves will find a way to win that division in Chipper’s last season. I think the Giants are going to create distance from the Dodgers and the D-Backs in the NL West. There’s no way Lincecum will struggle all season, and once he figures out what’s been going wrong, he’ll pitch like the ace he is. And unfortunately for Brett Honeycutt’s favorite team, I see them slipping out of playoff contention just at the end. Sorry Pirates fans, Sid Bream has, and always will be, safe. They’ve even made it into a bobble head.

Here’s how I see all of the major awards shaking out:

American League National League
Josh Hamilton MVP David Wright MVP
Jared Weaver Cy Young R.A. Dickey CY Young
Mike Trout Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper Rookie of the Year
Fernando Rodney Reliever of the Year Craig Kimbrel Reliever of the Year

Old School — Review: Wherever I Wind Up

R. A. Dickey has done a lot in his life; he’s been a top collegiate pitcher for the University of Tennessee, he’s pitched for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics, he’s played for four different major league ballclubs, he’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and now he’s written a book.

Wherever I Wind Up is a story of overcoming obstacles, persevering and trusting God. Through all of his struggles, R.A. has found redemption and healing through Christ.

Athletes write books all the time. But this one is different. Instead of only seeing the surface level that most athletes give us, we get into the mind of Robert Allen Dickey. He shares the thoughts, the worries, the doubts, and occasionally, the triumphs.

“I’d trusted myself and pitched with conviction during my warm up…I was fully in the moment. And when I started, I hid…As I let each pitch go that night, I had voices in my head saying, ‘Please let it be a strike,’ and ‘Please don’t let them hit it.’”

“It is no way to pitch, no way to live.”

In Wherever I Wind Up, you are on the journey with R.A. as he provides memories in precise detail, reliving his thoughts and actions throughout the book. His photographic memory provides a picture of his life as a child and certain moments in his adult life and baseball career.

He vividly recalls the games he would play with other boys at the minor league ballpark in Nashville, and what his thoughts were while meeting with Texas manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Orel Hershiser about becoming a full-time knuckleballer. He even recounts the layout of bars he was taken to as a child with his once-alcoholic mother. R.A. is a great wordsmith, and Wherever I Wind Up makes it really easy to put yourself in R.A.’s shoes.

Dickey has always been a fighter. He writes about getting into plenty of fights as a kid, and often he was the one starting them. It explains his persistence in trying to make it to the big leagues after many others typically give up.

He spent seven years in AAA at Oklahoma City and didn’t play a full season in the big leagues, without a stint in the minors, until last season. As you might expect, the journey was filled with ups and downs, much like his signature pitch, the knuckleball.

Dickey isn’t a knuckleballer by choice; it was a pitch he turned to as a last ditch effort to save his career. In 2005, Dickey had lost the velocity on his fastball, dipping below 90 mph, and the Rangers coaching staff told him he would not make it back to the big leagues if he continued to be a conventional pitcher. Thus began Dickey’s journey to become a full-time knuckleballer.

At first, he writes, he was a little resistant, but he decided he would give it a try. He wrote, “Who cares about throwing 90 miles per hour? I’m tired of being average or worse. Tired of being lost, hiding on the margins of life and the Texas Rangers’ roster.”

I think it’s really cool to hear the thoughts of a baseball player in this book. So often we get such calculated statements from guys in interviews after games. When guys go through slumps, they insist they have not lost any confidence, or have no worries about tomorrow’s performance. Yet, everyone knows those answers are a bunch of baloney.

R.A.’s honesty is the key ingredient that makes this book such a good read. Dickey often talks about how he would doubt himself while standing on the mound or waiting in the bullpen. It lets you know that professional baseball players are indeed human while on the diamond.

R.A.’s journey has not been alone. God has been with him. Throughout the book, R.A. writes about his prayers to God. When R.A. was in seventh grade, after attending a few weeks of FCA meetings with his friend Bo (whose sister, Anne, R.A. would later marry), R.A. decided, “I want a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

He lets us in on his salvation experience: “… I get on my knees with Bo and his mom, and ask Christ to come into my life. I tell Him that I believe He is the Son of God, and I want to trust Him with my life. I secretly ask for forgiveness for what seems like a galaxy of sins and guilt and shame.

“When I am done speaking, the room is completely still. I feel relief. A lightness. It’s not the sky opening up, or angels singing, or lightning bolts striking the big magnolia in the front yard. Nothing grand or God-like. It’s much more subtle, like the best deep breath you could ever take.”

It’s refreshing to see an athlete be open and honest about his life, revealing his sins and struggles, and a secret no one would want to have, because even with God on his side, R.A. has lived through much conflict and pain.

His willingness to share all of this makes his redemption story even more amazing. His parents separated when he was young. His mother became a bad alcoholic, and R.A. moved out to live with his mostly absent father, breaking his mother’s heart. He spent many nights in high school living in abandoned houses. He lost more than $800,000 in bonus money from the Texas Rangers after a physical revealed he did not have an ulnar collateral ligament, which is the ligament people get Tommy John surgery on. He toiled away in the minor leagues. He cheated on his wife while on the road. He almost drowned trying to swim across the Missouri River. But most shocking, and the root of a lot of mental anguish throughout his life, was the revelation that he had been sexually abused as a child by his female babysitter and later by a 17-year-old boy.

I think it’s really courageous that R.A. could tell his deep, dark secrets to the world. Hopefully, Wherever I Wind Up can be encouraging to others who have been abused and need to seek help/counseling, and to others who try to hide their sins instead of asking for forgiveness and repenting.

It’s really fitting that the knuckleball became his pitch of choice. A pitch that is wildly unpredictable and hard to control. A pitch that is best thrown when you trust that it will move and do the things you need to get Major League hitters out. As R.A. finally began to trust his knuckleball, he also finally put complete trust in God for His plan for his life.

Now R.A. has a full-time spot in the New York Mets rotation. No more stints in the minors, and stability with one team, one city, and with his family and finances. God had His hand in delivering him through the darkness, personally, and in his career, and R.A. wants people to know that.

I hate to give you any more spoilers here (though I’m really not, since to really understand his words here you’ll need to take the journey with him), but here are the last couple lines from the book:

“I know my journey is nowhere near complete. The point isn’t to arrive. The point is to seek, to walk humbly with God, to keep walking, keep believing even though you know there will be times when you make mistakes and feel lost. You keep seeking the path, and He will show you the way.

“Thank you, merciful God for all these blessings and more, for giving me the courage to stop hiding, and the courage to find a new way.

“I turn out the light. I close my eyes. I have hope.”

Wherever I Wind Up is one of the most insightful, inspiring books that you will probably ever read about a professional athlete.

Do yourself a favor and read it!

By Aaron May

Aaron May is a staff writer is a staff writer and videographer for Sports Spectrum. You can catch his weekly columns on college football, college basketball, and Major League Baseball, depending on the season, each week at SportsSpectrum.com. This column was published in the Sports Spectrum Summer 2012 DigiMag. Follow Aaron on Twitter-@pplcallmeblue.

Old School – 1/3 Season Review

One-third of the MLB season is complete and I thought it would be a good time to look back at what’s happened so far in the 2012 season.

Pleasant Surprises

1. Baltimore Orioles

Back in my season-opening column I said that “Orioles fans probably still believe Cal Ripken Jr. could help their terrible team.” I also said, “Orioles fans probably think that even Tim Tebow could help their terrible team.” Oops. They’ve been great. The Orioles are in first, and we’ve played a third of the season. I still think they could fade, but they are defintely not the same team that only won 69 games last season.

2. Washington Nationals

The Orioles’ neighbors are also doing quite well. I think many people thought that the Nats were a season away from competing in the NL East, but here they are. Rookie phenom Bryce Harper made his debut, and he is worth the hype. He gives the Nationals a centerpiece to the lineup that they sorely needed. Washington’s pitching has been great, and closer Brad Lidge is now back from injury.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates

Going on 19 straight losing seasons, the Pittsburgh Pirates are on pace to finsh above .500.

4. Chicago White Sox

The guys from the south side might be the comeback team of the year. Adam Dunn has rebounded from his putrid 2011 season, where he got six hits off of lefties, and Jake Peavy has found his San Diego Padre form, where he won a Cy Young award and seemingly struck out everyone. The “Good Guys,” as Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson calls them, are currently in first place in the AL Central. (Say hello to da bad guy).

5. The New York Mets get a no-hitter

Seriously, who saw that coming? I was pretty sure the Mets were cursed by some billy goat or pig, or lizard, or something and would never get one. The Mets have been in existence since 1962! It took 50 years!

Disappointing Disappointments

1. Albert Pujols

It took Albert five weeks to hit his first homer. He’s batting just .244 with eight home runs  and 31 runs batted in. Though it seems like he’s heating up, I doubt anyone will label him a disappointment by the end of the year.

2. Jair Jurrjens

Jurrjens had the NL’s leading ERA at the All-Star break last year. This year, he’s been demoted to AAA. They always say that baseball is a humbling game. No kidding.

3. Detroit Tigers

The Tigers signed Prince Fielder in the offseason, and everyone pegged them, myself included, to easily win the AL Central. Unfortunately, the offense hasn’t gelled as a whole yet, and the starting pitching is atrocious after Justin Verlander. The Tigers are just 26-31 and third in the AL Central.

4. Philadelphia Phillies

The Fightin’ Phils can blame their slow start on injuries. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard have not yet played an inning this season and their ace, Roy Halladay, will likely be out until after the All-Star break. After signing Cliff Lee last season to join Hamels and Holliday, and signing Papelbon this season, it has to be frustrating for Phillies management as they are likely staring at another season that will end in disappointment.

5. Matt Kemp’s injury

Kemp was setting the baseball world on fire until he injured his hamstring. He has 12 homers and 28 runs batted in in just 36 games played. He’s currently serving his second stint on the DL with that injured hamstring.

Expected Expecteds (Or something or other)

1. The Chicago Cubs are terrible (19-38)

Everyone everywhere expected this.

Batting Leaders 

National League

1. Melky Cabrera SF (.364)

You might have guessed David Wright could have a season at the top of the National League, but Melky Cabrera? The Melkman arrived in the big leagues pretty young at age 20 for the Yankees, but he’s finally coming into his own at age 27. He hit .305 last season for Kansas City after never hitting above .274, and this year, if he keeps it up, he’s on pace for 243 hits, which would put him 10th on the all-time single season hits list.

2. David Wright NYM (.362)

David Wright has done well with the shortened fences at Citi Field. He’s already hit four home runs at home just a third of the way through the season. He hit just five at home in all of last season.

3.Carlos Ruiz PHI (.356)

Chooch has carried the Phillies offense this season while the team has dealt with injuries to Ryan Howard, Jim Thome and Chase Utley. The Fightin’ Phils are hanging around in the standings, and Ruiz is a big reason why. Once they get their roster healthy, the rest of the NL East may have wished they kicked the Phils a little harder while they were down.

American League

1. Paul Konerko CHW (.371)

Konerko has never won the batting title. The closest he’s come was in 2010, batting .312, finishing 8th overall.

2. Josh Hamilton TEX (.341)

Hamilton has cooled off a little since his home run outburst a few weeks ago in Baltimore, but he’s still second in the league.

3. Mark Trumbo LAA (.337)

Trumbo didn’t even have a position when the season started, yet he’s been the best Angels hitter all season, better than the man with the $240 million contract. Trumbo has made multiple starts at 1st, 3rd, LF and RF this season.

Power Leaders

National League

1. Carlos Beltran (STL) 16 HRs, 44 RBIs

Who needs Albert Pujols?

2. Carlos Gonzalez (COL) 14 HRs, 45 RBIs

CarGo seems to be back in his 2010 form, when he placed third in MVP voting and came close to winning the Triple Crown.

3. Giancarlo Stanton (MIA) 13 HRs, 41 RBIs

The artist formerly known as Mike has been hitting some long bombs. One even broke some of the panels on the Marlins scoreboard.


American League

1. Josh Hamilton (TEX) 21 HRs, 58 RBIs

Hamilton is on pace to hit 59 home runs, which Babe Ruth once did in 1921.

2. Adam Dunn (CHW) 18 HR, 39 RBIs

Dunn is the AL Comeback Player of the Year, no question. He’s already hit seven more homers than all of last season.

3. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR) 17 HRs, 43 RBIs

Encarnacion is putting up career numbers this season. It has to help hitting in the same lineup as Jose Bautista.

Pitching Leaders

National League

1. Brandon Beachy (ATL) 5-4, 1.87 ERA

Beachy has had some tough luck in the wins and losses category, but there’s been no doubt he’s been the NL’s best with a 1.87 ERA, .4 points below the next closest guy.

2. James McDonald (PIT) 5-2, 2.14 ERA

A Pirate is in this list, can you believe it?

3. Gio Gonzalez (WAS) 7-2, 2.31 ERA

Gonzalez leads the league in strikeouts with 84. Trading for Gonzo in the offseason looks like a brilliant move. He also does motorcycle jumps.

4. Stephen Strasburg (WAS) 6-1, 2.35 ERA

Strasburg is fourth in the league in strikeouts (79), but he’s also only got 100 innings left in his team imposed 160 inning limit this season. You have to wonder what the Nationals will do if they are in a playoff race in September and Strasburg has met his limit.

5. R.A. Dickey (NYM) 9-1, 2.44 ERA

The knuckleballer is having an outstanding season, one that started with a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro and a book release.

6. Johan Santana (NYM) 3-2, 2.38 ERA

Can’t leave him out, Santana brought the Mets their first no-hitter in their history.

American League

1. David Price (TB) 8-3, 2.40 ERA

Price has been outstanding, and he’s doing it in the league’s toughest division to pitch in.

2. Chris Sale (CHW) 7-2, 2.30 ERA

Sale has had no problem being the young ace of the White Sox. Just 23, Sale has been virtually unhittable. Opposing teams are batting just .193 against him this season.

3. Brandon Morrow (TOR) 7-3, 2.90 ERA

Morrow has anchored a Blue Jays squad that has a potent offense, but might win more often if they could stop people from scoring.

4. Jared Weaver (LAA) 6-1, 2.61 ERA

Weaver is currently on the DL, but threw a no-hitter early in the season and helped the Angels win some games while they were really struggling and in last place (in 2nd place now).

5. Justin Verlander (DET) 5-4, 2.67 ERA

Verlander came oh-so-close to his third no-hitter against Pittsburgh on May 18, surrendering a hit with one out in the ninth, but he’s still having another great season.


National League

1. Craig Kimbrel (ATL) 17 Saves, 1.71 ERA

Kimbrel has been unhittable, literally. He has not given up a hit in his last eight appearances. Kimbrel last gave up a hit on May 11 against St. Louis.

2. Aroldis Chapman (CIN) 6 Saves, 0.30 ERA

Yes, that is Chapman’s correct ERA. He had not given up an earned run this season until last night against the Pirates. He only has six saves, but he’s just been given the closer’s role. Given the fact that no one can score on him, and he throws 101 MPH, expect Chapman to start racking those up.

By the way, I’m glad we don’t have to clock pitch speed with these things anymore:

3. Brett Myers (HOU) 14 Saves, 2.25 ERA

Myers, who seems to go back and forth from the staring rotation to the closer’s role every other year, is doing well as Houston’s closer. Maybe the Astros will finally keep him in the role he does best in.

American League

1. Fernando Rodney (TB) 17 Saves, 1.01 ERA

Rodney is a big reason why the Rays will be in contention to win the AL East this season. He’s only given up three earned runs all season, and has only blown one save. He’s as close as you can get to automatic.

2. Jim Johnson (BAL) 18 Saves, 1.38 ERA

Johnson is the other closer in the AL East that’s been almost automatic. Teams only seem to score on him when they go yard. He’s given up three home runs but just four earned runs this season.

3. Chris Perez (CLE) 19 Saves, 2.70 ERA

Perez called out Cleveland fans for not coming out to Jacobs Field. The Indians are in first, and if Perez gets the ball late in the game, you can assume he won’t be the one to blame if they ever fall out of first.

Old School – The Best and Worst in Baseball Music

This week, in the Sports Spectrum offices, Bryce Johnson, host of Sports Yapp, brought up a rant that Jim Rome did a while back about the Florida Marlins theme song by Creed. The song is atrocious. But that got us thinking about the best and worst baseball songs out there, and it made me decide that my next column should be the top 5 best and top 5 worst baseball songs ever. Let’s start with the slop.

#5 – “Meet the Mets”

This song was written in 1962, the first year the Mets had a ballclub. I’m guessing it was written as an introduction to New York’s new baseball team. I was tempted to put “Homerun” by Geoff Moore and the Distance here, but this Mets song beats it out.

#4 – “Centerfield” by John Fogerty

“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today.” I used to hear this song on gameday during my high school playing days. I couldn’t stand it then and can’t stand it now. I don’t know what is worse, the fact that the lyrics sound like an eight-year-old should be singing it, not a grown man, or the synthesized hand clapping.

#3 – “Go Cubs Go” – Chicago Cubs Winning Theme

This song is just so cheesy, I can’t take it. I’m sure Cubs fans love it, but if they could ever look beyond the fact that it’s a Cubs song, they will see there is only pure evil in this song.

#2 – Florida Marlins Theme Song by Creed

Words can not describe how miserable this song will make you feel after listening to it.

#1 – Current Miami Marlins Theme

Somehow, the replacement of Creed’s song is even worse. Plus, I have no bigger pet peeve in music than spelling out words in your songs. I think they intended on having Gloria Estefan write this song, but got these knock-offs instead.

If you are still reading and your’e ears aren’t bleeding, here are my top 5 baseball songs:

#5 – “Load up the Bases (The Baseball Song)” by Whiskey Falls

This song isn’t completely terrible, and considering the above list, that counts for a lot.

#4 – “Right Field” by Peter, Paul, and Mary

About a hapless ballplayer who gets stuck playing right field. Pretty funny ending.

#3 – “Joltin’ Joe Dimagio by Les Brown and His Orchestra

You can’t beat big band music.

#2 – “Tessie” by Dropkick Murphys

I have no idea what the guys are saying in this song other than Tessie, but the song is apparently about another song called “Tessie,” which Boston fans sung during the 1903 World Series as a rallying cry for the team after being down 3-1 in the series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. A song about a song. Pretty crazy, huh? The crazy thing about the 2004 song called Tessie, is that the Red Sox won the World Series that year.

#1 – “Tomahawk Chop” – Atlanta Braves

There is nothing cooler that seeing 40-50,000 people at Turner Field all doing the Tomahawk chop. And since they were once (and maybe still) America’s team due to their days on TBS, you’ll even hear the Tomahawk Chop being sung in opposing fans ballparks. Yes, I know they stole this from Florida State, but I don’t care.

Of course “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is probably the best baseball song that will ever be written, so it’s getting its own special place in this column. Just think, it’s sung during every seventh inning stretch all throughout the summer in hundreds of games a night throughout the majors and minors. Here are a few different renditions, including the original recording:

Old School – A Tale of Two Hitters

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the winter of hope, it was the spring of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.

There is a king with a large pocketbook, on the throne of Arlington; there is a king with a large pocketbook, on the throne of Los Angeles.

It was the year of Our Lord two thousand and twelve. Spiritual revelations were conceded to Arlington at that favoured period, as at this. Mr. Hamilton had recently attained his eighteenth home run, of whom a prophetic private on the West Coast had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of Oakland and Seattle.

Los Angeles, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to play centerfield.

In Arlington, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night.

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and twelve. Those two of the large pocketbooks, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year two thousand and twelve conduct their Greatnesses.

—End of Chapter 1

If you’re confused, I’m talking about the Angels and Rangers. And more specifically, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, who’s starts to the baseball season couldn’t be more polar opposite. (Here’s a link to the first chapter of A Tale of Two Cities if you need to make sense of what’s above)

“The Machine,” Albert Pujols, has been very un-machine-like. He’s hit just .212 with only three home runs and 18 RBIs.

Compare that to “The Natural,” Josh Hamilton, who’s hit 18 (1st in the AL) over the fence (four in one game) with a league-leading .379 average and league-leading 47 RBIs.

Pujols’ team is last in the AL West; Hamilton’s team is in first.

This year, Pujols signed a 10-year deal worth $240 million.

At the end of this year, Hamilton will be a free agent.

Pujols’ on-the-field struggles have been well-publicized, with Baseball Tonight and the MLB Network doing live updates every night on whether or not Pujols had hit his first home run for the Angels – five weeks into the season.

The Angels line-up has been in disarray all year long, and I think that has put more pressure on Pujols to live up to that monster contract. Vernon Wells is out for 8-10 weeks, Torii Hunter went home to deal with his son’s legal situation, and the guy with the best batting average on the team is a 20-year-old rookie, Mike Trout, who is batting .350 in 21 games. So protection in the lineup has certainly been an issue.

But I’m positive that Pujols has not yet lost it, and will continue to regain his form as one of the top hitters in baseball. Just last week, he hit two of his three home runs; he seems to be slowly coming around.

David Ortiz, who had a really slow start like Pujols in 2010, had this to say about his friend:

“Let me tell you, Albert is a great friend of mine and sometimes it’s good that [slumps] like that happen, so people understand that it’s not as easy as it looks,” Ortiz says. “Even the best players in the game struggle. He’ll be out of it. I know Pujols so much, and I know that he’s not taking anything for granted right now that things are really bad. He’s working hard. He’s trying his best. He’s trying not to show any emotion. He’s a good teammate and he’s not blaming nobody but himself about the way things are going right now. He’s taking it like a man. (ESPN Boston)

I’m also positive that Hamilton has a great chance in his chase for the Triple Crown (AVG, HRs, RBIs). First of all, his Rangers teammates make it hard to pitch around Hamilton. Beltre has eight HRs, Napoli has seven, and Michael Young and Nelson Cruz have driven in more than 20 runs.

Former teammate, and current Angels starting pitcher had this to say about Hamilton:

Secondly, he’s starting to lap the competition. He’s 12 RBIs ahead of Edwin Encarnacion, who’s second in the AL, and he’s up four home runs to Adam Jones (whose history shows he won’t keep that pace) and Adam Dunn (who’s coming off a career-worst season, batting under .200). His main homer competition should come from Curtis Granderson (13) and the AL’s home run champ the past two seasons, Jose Bautista (11). In the average department, some power hitters are close, like David Ortiz (.333) and Paul Konerko (.367), and a rookie is close, Mike Trout (.350). Hamilton’s best batting average foe could be the legendary Derek Jeter, who is batting .343 and has finished in the top three in average four times in his career.

“I’m not up there trying to hit home runs,” Hamilton said. “I’m trying to hit the ball hard, on the barrel. What we all battle as hitters — you don’t have to try to hit it a mile. The pitcher’s supplying the power.

“If you make solid contact, it might leave, it might go for a double or a single or whatever. I don’t get wrapped up in trying to do it.” (NY Times)

It’s just interesting to see two hitters, both with incredible Hall-of-Fame talent, both on teams with a lot of good players, and both are men of faith, who have been in the pages of Sports Spectrum many times. One is struggling, and one is prospering (personally, and collectively as a team).

Of course, the question that always pops up with Christians in sports is whether or not God cares about wins and losses, birdies and bogies, touchdowns and interceptions, home runs and strikeouts, or Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols and their on-field performance?

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

Of course God cares. Whether you’re slumping, or hitting at a torrid pace. If His children are involved, He cares.

And then there’s this question: Does He have enough time to worry about sports in the first place?

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8

He seems to have no problem finding enough time.

Plus there’s that other verse as well…

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20

Which at least happens every time the Rangers and Angels step on the field. Besides, aren’t there already angels in the outfield?

Old School – 9 Things we’ll remember about April 2012

We’ve completed an entire month of Major League Baseball and from Ozzie Guillen angering his entire fan base and Bryce Harper’s debut, to a perfect game and many walk-off homers, April certainly had its memorable moments. Here are nine things we will remember from the first month of the big league season.

1. Manager’s mouths

In the American League, Bobby Valentine publicly questioned Kevin Youkilis’ emotional and physical commitment, which only stirred up a hornet’s nest in Boston’s clubhouse. The Red Sox players have been resistant to embrace Valentine since he was hired, and this situation did not help. Dustin Pedroia immediately jumped to Youkilis’ defense and said this about Valentine: “That’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”

The Red Sox players are definitely having trouble adjusting to their new authority and it has coincided with a slow start (just 11-11 and last in the AL East). Valentine should temper his criticism in the media concerning his player’s work ethic, especially this early in the season. That’s definitely something that can be kept behind closed doors.

But if there is anyone to blame for Boston’s slow start, the players need to look at themselves. Boston is not losing games because of questionable managerial decisions, they are losing because they have played poorly. And the main culprit has been their pitching, which has produced a 5.54 ERA (13th of 14 in the American League). With pitching like that, the Red Sox would need to average more than six runs a game to have the chance to win. And really, can a manager who is willing to disguise himself so that he can re-enter the dugout after being ejected be that hard to play for?

And in the National League, Ozzie Guillen decided that he would find a way to insult the very fan base that the Marlins are trying to fill their new stadium with when he said, “I love Fidel Castro.” You are certainly within your constitutional rights to voice your opinion on politics, but that doesn’t mean you always should. Especially when it’s in favor of a man who all Cubans collectively hate. Many Cubans risked their lives just to reach America and have freedom from the tyrannic dictator, and many of them live in Miami. Guillen caused unnecessary PR damage to the Marlins and it may be costing them at the turnstiles.

I hope something positive comes out of this situation, though, and that it brings awareness to the plight of many people in a country just to the south of us. And I hope that Ozzie can learn from his ignorance or arrogance, whichever it is, and that the community in Miami will forgive him.

Hopefully, both Valentine and Guillen can learn from their mistakes and be successful in their positions. And it wouldn’t hurt them to read James 3 once or twice…

2. Pujols’ slump

Another Pujols "EL HOMBRE" billboard has gone up ne... on Twitpic Albert Pujols signed a $250 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels, and he did not hit a home run in the entire month of April. Say it ain’t so Albert! Maybe that’s why he did not want to be called “El Hombre.”

I’m sure the main reason for Pujols’ slump is mental. He’s probably putting a lot of pressure on himself to perform after signing a big deal. Couple that with playing for a new team, a new owner, new manager, and breaking in a new hitting coach, and it has to be tough for him to have a clear head right now. Even though that big contract doesn’t look so good from the Angels perspective right now, I bet by the end of May or June Pujols will be back to the power-hitting machine he is.

3. Bryce Harper’s debut

This month could be remembered for watching the debut of a once-in-a-generation-type player, or it could be remembered for one of the most overhyped players in history. Bryce Harper certainly has all of the physical tools to be a great player like Ken Griffey Jr. or Willie Mays, but, assuming Harper remains healthy, it will be the mental side of his game that will make or break his career. Can he make adjustments throughout a game and season? Can he hit major league off-speed pitches? Can he transition to the outfield (he was a catcher in high school)? Can he deal with the constant media attention?

Time will tell on whether or not the 19-year-old phenom will be a Hall of Fame talent, but one thing is for sure, he may be the first player to get mooned while recording his first career hit. (Not going to link to that here, but it’s out there somewhere.)

4. The old guys still have it

Jamie Moyer's rookie card from 1987

Jamie Moyer (49) – After missing last season because of Tommy John surgery, Moyer made history by becoming baseball’s oldest man to win a game. He pitched quite well in April, recording a 3.14 ERA.

Chipper Jones (40) – Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. announced in spring training that this will be his final year, and it looks like he will be going out strong. Despite missing the first week and a half of the season and getting scheduled days of rest a couple of games each week, Jones has driven in 12 runs, and hit three homers in just 15 games.

Todd Helton (38) – Helton has hit four home runs and driven in 16 runs, and he’s already had some clutch hits this season, with a walk-off homer and a game-tying grand slam (with former Vols teammate Peyton Manning in attendance).

Also, two more veterans (Andy Pettitte and Johnny Damon) are poised to make impacts in the coming weeks.

Pettitte, 39, is working his way back to the Yankees after a year of retirement. Given the state of the Yankees rotation, he will be leaned on as an ace. And Damon, 38, will join the struggling Cleveland Indians lineup (the team hasn’t hit a home run in 11 games) on May 1st.

5. Brian Wilson out for season

Sports Spectrum’s most interesting man in baseball will be out for the season and have Tommy John surgery. The entertainment value of Giants baseball fell down a notch.

6. Matt Kemp’s hot start

Kemp turned a lot of heads in spring training by saying he wanted to be the first 50-50 (HRs-steals) player in baseball. Given his torrid start (.417, 12 HRs, 25 RBIs) he has a chance to get to 50 home runs, but he’s hitting so many extra base hits, it’s hard to see him getting enough chances to steal bases (only 2 steals this month).

7. David Wright is back

The New York Mets moved Citi Field’s fences in this offseason and David Wright is benefitting big time. Since the Mets new ballpark opened in 2009, Wright has not been the .300 hitter that he was at Shea Stadium. The past two seasons, Wright has seen his average dip below .300, bottoming out at .254 last season. With the shorter field, Wright seems much more comfortable at the plate and is second in the National League in hitting, with a .389 average.

8. D.C. Area in first place

On April 30, both Baltimore and Washington were in first place in their divisions. Fans should remember April 2012 well, because it’s hard to see either team being there at the end of September.

9. Perfection

Baseball had its first perfect game of the season, and its 21st in Major League Baseball history, when the White Sox’ Philip Humber retired all 27 Seattle Mariners hitters. And considering that this is Humber’s fourth major league team since 2007, this may be the only thing he will ever be known for.

Here’s a tweet from Mr. Perfect about perfection:


Uncommon Challenge