Monday, October 21, 2013

A sweet World Series prediction and a sweeter victory

I didn't know Mike Matheny during his playing days, but I respected the intensity, leadership and game-calling skills he brought to the Cardinals. When he left as a free agent after helping the Cardinals get to the 2004 World Series, I columnized that they would miss him terribly.

And they did.

For about a year.

Yadier Molina has become a much better hitter than most thought he would be. Add in those amazing defensive skills, and he is the best all-around catcher of the new millennium. He was a vital part of St. Louis teams that won titles in 2006 and 2011.

Now both Molina and Matheny are back in the World Series with the Cardinals. The former is still as great as ever, and the latter is showing that Tony La Russa isn't the only recent manager who can guide the Cards to greatness.

Logic says to pick the Red Sox to win the World Series, but there's just something about these Cardinals. 

Whether it's some young kid (talkin' 'bout you, Michael Wacha) pitching out of his mind at just the right time ... an important offensive contributor (Allen Craig this time) coming back from injury ... a veteran who has been great forever (Carlos Beltran) finally getting a chance to bask in the Fall Classic glow ... or the reunion of the Molina-Matheny tandem ... I just find the Cardinals' story so compelling.

Unlike 2004, when the Red Sox finally got past the Yankees and then steamrolled the Cardinals to win their first championship of the post-Babe era, this looks to be a crazy-good series.

Cardinals in 7.


Say what you want about Ozzie Guillen. In 2005, he had the guts to do what no other manager has done for a couple of decades now -- stick with his starting pitchers when the you-know-what hits the fan.

In that year's ALCS, Guillen's pitchers threw four consecutive complete games and the White Sox won that series and then the World Series. If he had failed, he would have been ripped mercilessly. But he didn't.

Fast-forward to this year's ALCS. As good a manager as Jim Leyland has been, he falls right in line with every other skipper today. No matter how dominant his starter has been, he can't resist going to the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings.

Well, like Guillen in 2005, Leyland didn't have a proven, reliable closer. Unlike Guillen in 2005, Leyland kept taking out the likes of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander ... to tragic results.

The Red Sox deserved to win the series, but one wonders what would have happened if Leyland had the Guillen-like guts to let his aces finish what they started. 

The good news for the Tigers: Scherzer and Verlander will be well-rested for next April!


Jay Cutler just got even more valuable.

I'm not a big fan of the Bears' whiny, inconsistent QB -- you know, the one with one career playoff victory in eight seasons -- but I'd rather have him than a host of others. Including new QB-by-default Josh McCown.

Cutler looked awfully good standing there in street clothes while Caleb Hanie played in his place a couple of years ago, and McCown will make him look good in absentia, too.

Given that this is a contract year and that the Bears probably weren't going anywhere anyway -- I mean, have you seen what's left of that defense? -- this could end up having been quite a fortuitous injury for Cutler.


Football ... baseball ... hockey ... basketball ... golf ... auto racing ... there were all kinds of contests over the weekend.

The biggest, of course, was the Best Dessert Competition in the Matthews Plantation subdivision. Won by ...

Is there any wonder why I keep my wife around?

Also, is there any wonder why my belly is round?

Congrats to my Sugar Mama!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What? You were expecting Brayan Pena to put the Tigers in the ALCS?



That's why they get paid the big bucks, folks.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bunting sucks, so good thing Uribe sucked at bunting

If I were a big-league manager, I'd be Earl Weaver (only with less scratchin' and spittin' and smokin').

No, I'm not saying I'd be as good as the former Orioles skipper. What I'm saying is that I'd have his same philosophy for winning baseball games:

Pitching. Defense. And three-run homers.

I hate bunting and would just about never ask any non-pitcher to do it. Unlike Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, I wouldn't have told Juan Uribe to bunt in the eighth inning of last night's NLDS game with my team trailing the Braves 3-2.

Yasiel Puig had led off with a hustle double. He already was in scoring position. Why take the bat out of the hands of a proven postseason performer such as Uribe, a former World Series hero for both the White Sox and Giants? Why give away an out? Why settle for just trying to tie the game after Puig's hit created the potential for so much more? If Mattingly really wanted Puig on third with less than two outs, why not let one of the fastest guys in baseball steal the base? It's not as if Donnie Baseball is unwilling to gamble; earlier in the day, he decided to start Clayton Kershaw on three days' rest. Going with your ace on short rest used to be a routine postseason decision, but now it's a move that elicits oohs and aahs and hours of debate.

Fortunately for Mattingly and the Dodgers, Uribe tried to bunt and fouled off the pitch. Then he tried to bunt again and fouled it off again.

Then, with the bunt sign removed and the manager no longer impeding him, Uribe hit a no-doubt, two-run, series-winning bomb into the left-field seats.

Somewhere, The Earl of Baltimore was smiling.


I just looked up Uribe's bio and was surprised to see he's only 34 years old. It seems like he's been around forever.

Uribe has never been a high OBP guy, but he has had a knack for delivering clutch hits and making big plays. It's no accident that winning seems to follow him around. He's the kind of player I'd want on my team. When I covered the White Sox, his teammates and manager loved him, both for his winning style and his clubhouse demeanor.

Uribe homered in the White Sox's first playoff game during their incredible 2005 run, doubled to drive in a tone-setting run off Roger Clemens in Game 1 of that year's World Series, singled during the 5-run fifth inning that led Chicago's rally from an early 4-0 deficit in Game 3, and hit a three-run, tiebreaking homer in Game 1 of the 2010 World Series for San Fran.

The shortstop also made two great defensive plays to close out the Astros in the '05 Series. First, he ranged far to his right and dived into the stands to grab a foul pop. Then, just moments after catching his breath, he made a nice pickup and throw of a tough grounder to end the game and give the city of Chicago its first baseball championship in 88 years.

Had Derek Jeter made the catch on that foul pop, it would be remembered as one of the great plays in World Series history. Then again, when Jeter passes gas, it's an occasion for the national media to genuflect.

I bet Mattingly's mentor, Joe Torre, wouldn't have asked Jeter to sacrifice in the same situation that Mattingly faced with Uribe.

I know Earl Weaver wouldn't have.

And while we're talking about great baseball minds here, I wouldn't have, either.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Baldy's back, and just in time for my favorite month

10. My Internet buddy (and faithful reader back when my columns appeared in the Springfield, Ill., newspaper), Doug Nicodemus, has been asking me repeatedly why I haven't been blogging much lately. On Monday, after checking TBT regularly the last 5 weeks but finding no new entries, he posted this on my Facebook page:

"no blog for awhile ... are we all done ... maybe ..."

No, I'm not all done. But as I have explained to Doug -- and as I explained earlier Monday to my softball buddy Johnny, whom I saw at a local golf course -- the little bit of writing I'm doing these days has involved me getting paid. Crazy concept, I know.

Not that money is the end-all and be-all, but it buys more things than bupkis. Which is what I get paid for posting here on The Baldest Truth.

So to my tens and tens of regular readers, I thank you for your loyalty but I make no promises other than to say that I'll continue to blog when something strikes me as relevant or when I have some spare time to write pro bono.

9. As much as I'd like to see the Pirates or Rays or A's win for the small markets or the Indians or Reds win for underdogs everywhere, I can't bring myself to predict multiple champagne showers for those teams this October.

I'm thinking the Tigers, with their fine starting pitching and powerful middle of the order, will meet the talented, high-priced Red Sox, for the AL pennant. And the Dodgers, with their incredible pitching, will take on the Cardinals, who always seem to rise to the occasion, for the NL crown. 

If the Tigers had a stud reliever, I'd pick them to beat the Red Sox. But they don't. So I won't. 

I'd like to see the Cardinals do it with Mike Matheny managing, because I always appreciated him as a player, but the Dodgers remind me of recent Giants teams that won championships despite mediocre hitting.

So I'm saying Red Sox vs. Dodgers in the World Series.

The champion? I'm leaning Dodgers, but I'll hold off with an "official" prediction until we get to the Series.

There. I've committed to another blog post later in October. That should make Doug and Johnny delirious with joy!

8. Folks keep trying to find all kinds of reasons that somebody other than Miguel Cabrera should win the AL MVP. Please. This is one of those it's-so-obvious-there-must-be-another-choice situations, like when NBA MVP voters used to try to find somebody not named Michael Jordan to win the award.

Mike Trout had a fine season for a sub-.500 Angels team that finished 18 games out -- a team that started poorly in part because Trout started poorly. And yet Cabrera still had better stats almost across the board, almost won a second straight Triple Crown, and did it all for a team he led to another division title.

This is the no-brainer of all no-brainers. Sabermetricians and other misguided souls need to stop trying to make this "race" something it isn't. 

Cabrera should be the unanimous MVP choice.

7. Meanwhile, if I had an NL MVP vote, I'd be going with Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, the single biggest reason Atlanta led its division from wire-to-wire.

When a team blows a late-inning lead, it's bad. When that happens repeatedly, it's catastrophic -- not only in the standings but in the psyche of every player on that team.

What a great joy and comfort it must have been all season for manager Fredi Gonzalez and all the Atlanta players to know their team pretty much was never going to blow a ninth-inning lead.

6. My "hometown" NFL team, the Panthers, better not have spent their bye week patting themselves on their backs for their blowout victory over the Giants. 

Everybody blows out the Giants!

The only team worse than the Giants right now is Jacksonville. And yes, I said "right now" for a reason. The Giants might still be able to find a new low.

5. I have started umpiring youth baseball, something I hadn't done for at least two decades. My first game was supposed to be this coming Wednesday but the umpiring coordinator was in a pinch and asked me call the bases for three games last Sunday involving 9-year-olds.

The first game began at noon. It went so long -- walks, physical errors, more walks, mental mistakes, still more walks; these are 9-year-olds, after all -- that the second game started 45 minutes late. That game also went long, so the third game started more than an hour late, and didn't end until 6:58 p.m.

So I spent 7 hours standing on a hot, dusty field. I tried to stay hydrated but almost surely didn't drink enough. I ate only an apple. By the time I drove home, I had one of the worst headaches of my life.

Next time I have to work more than one game, I will make sure I sit down between innings, will find some shade between games and will force myself to consume several gallons of water. Oh, and I'll take some Advil before the first pitch of the first game!

4. Because I umped all day Sunday, I watched zero football. Just saw a few highlights on ESPN; I couldn't watch it with the volume on because my head was pounding. 

I couldn't help but notice that Jay Cutler was back to his old give-the-ball-away tricks, playing a huge role in the Bears falling to the Lions.

That team will go only as far as its QB takes it, and I wouldn't want to bet my life savings -- or even one-billionth of my billion-dollar portfolio -- on that guy.

3. October is my favorite month.

The World Series (and the playoffs that precede the Series). The NFL in full swing. College football conference games (rather than the creampuff schedules that permeate September). The start of the NHL and NBA seasons. The start of college basketball practice. Wonderful weather here in Charlotte. 

October also is my birthday month. And given that my immaturity prevents me from getting old, what's not to love about that?!?!?!

2. In Monday's least-surprising sports story, the Cubbies fired manager Dale Sveum.

No matter who is running the show, including current Pooh-bah Theo Epstein, firing managers is what the Cubbies do best. 

They're not so hot at pitching or hitting or fielding or running the bases. Firing managers? They are championship-caliber in that domain!

The hot speculation is that Joe Girardi will be the next sucker. Girardi is a Peoria native, a Northwestern grad and a former Cubs catcher, and his contract with the Yankees expires in one month.

Even if he decided to leave New York, why he would want to manage in Cubbieland? Wouldn't several other organizations that have a chance to win before 2020 be more interesting to him? If he doesn't like the scrutiny in New York, why would he like it in Chicago, where Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker each went from genius to dolt (in the fans' eyes) in the space of less than one season? 

Then again, there does seem to be this amazing allure to the Cubs. Everybody wants to be The Guy to fix them. Piniella and Baker are recent examples of proven winners who went to Cubbieland, made an early splash and soon learned the hard way what all the trappings of Cubdom really mean.

If I'm Girardi, I stay with the Yankees. Or I go to just about any other team where winning actually happens. Or I chillax for a couple of years being a TV yakker.

I do just about anything but sign on to be part of Championship-Free Years No. 106, 107, 108 and 109. 

1. I'd come up with a memorable, spectacular, sensational conclusion to this blog post except I'm so excited about the Republicans in the House voting for the gazillionth time to either repeal or defund Obamacare that it's hard to think!

Never mind that repealing Obamacare was the No. 1 Republican goal of the 2012 election ... which they lost ... handily. Also never mind that the GOP also questioned the constitutionality of Obamacare in front of the Supreme Court ... and lost that, too.

This time, they're willing to shut down the entire government and possibly willing to refuse to pay the bills the country already has due. All for a fight they can't win, all to please the tea-partying extremists, all to avoid being "primaried."

What a country.