Freshness of September by Bob Ryan

January 1 is still the newest month of the year but….September brings in some “newness” as well as some “fresh” looks…the summer weather fades as the new freshness of autumn arrives; school starts in earnest in September with full activities; September sees one major sports season fade and another arrive with new players, new coaches, etc.  Taking a look @ some of those  “new” arrivals….

…..the MLB pennant race fever arrives in September….sure there’s the 5 month march but in September, each game seems more relevant, more important….some thoughts…hurting the pennant race fever is the current use of the roster expansion to 40 players…what a joke…the contending teams still play each game with energy & ferver AND use their regulars as much as possible to win games. The also-rans send out their prospects for a “look see”…gee…that’s great for the fans …It’s the A team vs the B Team! Thank goodness this is the last year of this fiasco. Next year the roster expansion crawls up to only 28 players.

…while there are many, many  new arrivals in the MLB in September….only a couple that merit our close attention. In a case of …the rich get richer….the LA Dodgers are practically drooling over their up & coming 2b Gavin Lux. When he had a slash line of .342/.421/.607 in Double A baseball,  he was promoted to Triple-A. There he actually hit better!  He banged out a .392 average in 49 games. He may/may not actually get called up since Dodgers may choose not to “start the clock” on him towards his free agency  days. Brendan McKay (Tampa) …on the other hand…has already been “up” this year. Like Ohtani of Angels, he is a pitcher AND a field player. Apparently he was firm in signing with TB that he be given the opportunity in both areas…(actually, I wonder why more players don’t do the same thing…..from my experience, my pitchers were usually my best hitters….hmmm). He has pitched brilliantly for TB and when he was returned to the minors. Now…with Tampa Bay’s staff struggling, he COULD be the one to “plug up the hole” and sneak the Rays into the post-season.

…when fresh blood arrives….. it’s also a time to wish some former great players “good-bye”. They won’t want to accept the news…they’ll say that they’ll work harder in the winter….that this was an off-year…or something of the sort. Two players that I’ve really admired for many years need to look in the mirror. The first player in this category is Albert Pujols. The 10x All-Star, and 3x NL MVP seems to be a sure HOF’er. He’s a shell of his former great self in the batters box. He did hit 21 HR but also a .253 average, OB% of only .314, slug% of .451. He doesn’t need to play any longer just to “hang on”. Quit Albert…buy yourself out of the Angel “service” contract and don that Cardinal hat for your HOF day . Another favorite of mine….another 1b…Joey Votto…dropped off significantly this year. The 6x All Start, 2010 NL MVP is turning 36 on Sept 30. He holds a .262 average and a career low .767 OPS. He’ll probably hang on…darn…I like to remember his as he was for some many years….a tremendous 1b who could hit for power and average. He also did a lot of the “little things” that winning players do. There are several others but I don’t have the same strong feelings about their careers like these 2.

…The fresh, new face @ WR in Oakland was Antonio Brown. After signing a 2 year, $29mi contract ($1milfor signing, $14m for 2018 and $14m for 2019 in the summer.  A 2019 payment of $500,000 hinged upon Brown attending 85% of 2019 off-season workouts. He did not soo…..no payment there. Brown missed 2 practices early in season so got fined by $53000+ by Oakland. Brown then  went into a hissy-fit…..yelled, cursed at GM Mike Mayock, called him a “cracker” and was in short…just a huge jerk about his fine over his missing practices. After even more incidents….Oakland invoked their right to suspend him for game 1. That meant that his “guaranteed” contract could be completely nullified. The guarantee only applies if you are on the roster for game 1. One outrageous thing led to another outrageous statement or two & Brown was separated from Oakland. And….of all things, the NE Patriots, who demand absolute discipline on the field, have taken a flyer on Browns. Clearly, this is a complete bust or a tremendous boom for them since their receiving corp didn’t have a deep threat.

….staying in football…..many men think back about all the enjoyment that they experienced while playing high school and/or college football. It elicits life-time memories for many of us. For me…it was scoring the only touchdown of my 2 year high school football career….somehow, my 120 pounds got turned around by the 1st player attempting to tackle me around the 5 yards from the  goal line…so I was half turned and was running backwards for a couple yards as another player tackled me—driving  me INTO the end zone. It was a key score… it added to our lead…..making it 49-7 in the 4th quarter. But I DO remember it….if you have similar thoughts…there is a way that you can “stay in touch” with football. In their 28th year, The St Louis-Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation gives out over $25000 a year in awards to high school players. A sizable part of that money comes from the memberships . It is just $40/year to join. Either send a check to NFF-STL at Bob Bunton, 848 Courtwood Ln, Ballwin, Mo  63011 or sign up on-line@ nffstl.com. Members are needed to continue to carry on this worthwhile mission. I am a proud member of this charitable organization. Keep the memories alive for you AND the next generation! Btw…I was NOT given the game ball for that game despite this one-of-a-kind touchdown.

….the fresh team on the playoff picture is the Arizona D-Backs. Having won 10 of their last 11 games, AZ is now …Sunday morning…just 1.5 games out of Wild Card spot. It’s tough to gain ground on these playoff teams. Despite their 10-1 record, AZ had only gained 3 games in the standings on their competitors. This team is very well-rounded. They have the 4th best run differential in NL (+81) and are the only team to rank in the TOP 10 in both runs scored and runs allowed. In addition, they run the bases well. According Fan graphs are #1 in MLB in baserunning value and #2 in Defensive runs saved. Ketel Marte is the leader offensively. His slash line (avg/OB%/slug%) is .331, .390, .598) with 31 HR. Eduardo Escobar has 33 HR and 110 rbi’s as the “power” hitter in the lineup. The Goldschmidt trade has been a real plus for D-Backs. Christian Walker , who was the emerging 1B in their system has replaced Goldschmidt @1b. Walker holds batting marks of .262, .347, .474, 25 HR. Carson Kelly, hailed by some of one of the best emerging stars in MLB, has broken out this year. He’s batting .256, 18 HR, OPS .877. btw…Walker’s numbers compare very favorably to Goldschmidt…..259, .340, .462, 29 HR. So basically AZ changed names at 1B, got the same production and then picked up a young, every-day catcher who’s already better than most in the league! Soo…they kept the same numbers @1b, added a good catcher and reduced their payroll. That’s not to say that it was a one-sided trade. The Cards added a legitimate #4 hitter (plenty of power) and a tremendous 1B. I believe that Goldschmidt alone, with his many scoops, range and soft hands, has been the primary reason of the elevation of the Cardinals defense and their fielding percentage. It really was a win-win trade.

…..the early, fresh part of the NCAA-F season provided some great entertainment in week 2. As we all know, these “big-time” teams buy many of their pre-conference wins. They pay their opponents to play them. Army received $1.5mil to travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan. None the less, I was mesmerized by the Army-Michigan game. The unique Army ground game, which chews up yardage in small bites and the clock in huge chunks, controlled much of the first half. Michigan’s talented, athletic team struggled to move the ball..when they had it…in the 1st half.  The game was a 2-OT, thrilling 24-21 victory for Michigan. Army had the chance to win the game in regulation but missed a 50 yard FG attempt that went just wide. I felt badly for Army’s Freshman kicker when he missed that kick. N pressure, heh? Eventually, the Wolverines far superior athleticism led them to some success in the pass game, stopping some of the Army drives and ultimately the victory.

…the best college game of the day between two very talented teams was the LSU-Texas game. The game began slowly….like 2 prize fighters sizing up each other in the early rounds. It was 3-0 LSU after the 1st Quarter. Then the teams began unloading on each other. There was over 1000 total yards in this contest. LSU Coach Ed Orgeron, who had been questioned in the past over his run-first philosophy seemingly of the ol’ school 60’s approach, went out and revised his offensive staff in the off season.  Orgeron committed himself …and his team…to an entirely different offensive approach. He Hired Joe Brady from New Orleans Saints staff. He became the passing game coordinator. Also brought in was Steve Ensminger as O-Coordinator who completely discarded the LSU “we’ll bang you hard for the whole game, wear you down with our superior athletes and win the game approach’. QB Joe Burrow became the final piece…and whatta piece he is!  This game saw LSU grab a 20-7 lead after 1st qtr. Texas rallied to outscore the Tigers 14-3 in 2nd quarter.  Texas was led by QB Sam Ehlinger. He can pass…I don’t think that he quite has the arm strength of Burrow…but he also runs and runs hard..not just fast. He likes to run more of a power game than most college QB!  He actually works hard in the weight room on his strength! Most QB don’t take THAT approach. Back to this great game…Texas held LSU to a FG in the 3rd qtr…still trailed 23-21. The 4th qtr saw LSU score TD, Texas a TD, LSU another TD, Texas a FG, LSU a TD and finally Texas a TD. Final score of 45-38 LSU kept fans on both sides..and casual fans… engaged in a game that saw the momentum going back and forth continually.

…In our first look @ Clemson in their game against Texas A&M. The Tigers just had too much athleticism on both sides of the ball and their QB Trevor Lawrence is a really a sharp-shooter. He seemingly loves that deep ball.  He also seems to have an edge. Showing an attribute that has already been noticed in practice, Lawrence was “horse Colllared” in a tackle. He bounced up, yelled at the guy and urged his crowd “on” to jeer him. On the other hand, A&M Isn’t a bad team…..or even a good team…that are very good…but not quite in the highest echelon of the NCAA. Don’t know if they can beat Bama in the SEC WEST, but for Clemson…that may have been their toughest game until post-season.

….finally, my freshest rankings…..remember….its based on who’ve you’ve beaten thus far. Even Dabo Swinney agrees with me. He said recently, “They’ve got us ranked No. 1 and who knows what we are. We haven’t earned that. That’s just what people have nominated us” Swinney’s point makes sense. This is a new season, so the accomplishments of last year’s team do not carry over.  I only choose 4 teams because only 4 teams make the final tournament. Listing teams beyond that level is strictly for promotional purposes of the school and the television networks. Basically, these top 25 come from… almost exclusively.. the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, 3 major independent schools).  The other D-1 conferences –Conf USA, American Athletic, Sun Belt, Mid-America and Mountain West haven’t had a national contender in football for years…maybe decades. The Top 25 listed by many places really is actually coming from a grand total of 67 schools. Soooo  37% of these power 5 conference schools comprise the Top 25 each week. I’m sticking with my top 4.

#1) LSU (they have the biggest win of season thus far with Texas win)   2) Clemson   (win over Texas A&M)   3) Auburn (has that good win over Oregon)  4) Michigan has a nice win over a good Army team. Where’s Bama you ask….the Tide beat Duke(1-1-their win over a D-2 team) and New Mexico State a D-II team.  The get a 1-1 S.Carolina team next week in their conference opener.

…well…the freshness of my blog has worn off…..time to go.

Comments

  1. Kevin Niewoehner says:

    Bob,

    Enjoy your articles.
    I agree wholeheartedly that Sept roster expansion to 40 is ridiculous. When I pay good money for seats and parking, I want to see major leaguers, not class AAA or, in some cases, class AA ball.

  2. Couple comments says:

    At this writing, the Cards have a 4 1/2 game lead in the NL Central Division. The emergence of Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, a better than expected Adam Wainwright, with Mikolas & Wacha eating some innings, has made the rotation very competitive. Bullpen mgmt will be key the final 20 plus games.

    No matter how the season ends, I want to recognize the growth of Mgr Schildt. He is exhibiting “ performance will dictate playing time” philosophy. Took guts to bench Carpenter, send Bader out for jumpstart and give Tommy Edman his shot. How bout Kolten Wong learning to hit the opposite field! Goldy’ s average not what we expected, but power, RBI and Gold Glove defense has made a difference!
    DeJong has turned in a solid season at SS and continues his power contribution. Ozuna’s power cannot be overlooked. Fowler has returned to form, Yadi is Yadi. How bout the job of back up Matt Weiters at catch! He managed the pitching staff, provided some key hits and threw out a fair # of runners!

    I don’t predict a long playoff run, but finishing strong has been exciting!

    Antonio Brown…. talent or not, his behavior does not deserve the chance he has received.
    Pittsburgh had enough, as did Oakland. Belechik & Brady… one stunt and he will be gone from NE.JP1
    —————————————————————————————————————
    Good morning Bob,
    Once again, a great read… I agree, this is the time of year, when baseball gets interesting, and college football starts.. Thank you, CM

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