Stroman’s Six Shutout Innings Leads Mets to 4-0 Victory Over Phillies

New York Yankees, New York Mets, Marcus Stroman

The New York Mets carried over the momentum from their walk-off win in game one to a 4-0 victory and a doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies. Marcus Stroman was a man on a mission after his nine-pitch, rain ruined cameo on Sunday against the Miami Marlins. Stroman pitched six shutout innings but did not get the opportunity to finish the game after spending an extended period of time on the bases.

Stroman did not record as many groundouts as he did in his first start but barely allowed any hard contact. He struck out just three but did a tremendous job of pinpointing his sinker on the inside corner to right-handed hitters. Stroman also had impeccable control with no walks, and only two three-ball counts. In 12 innings to start the season, Stroman has allowed just one run equaling a 0.75 ERA.

Nola? No Problem

The Mets offense gave Phillies starter Aaron Nola fits again but this time managed to drive in the runners they put on base. All the scoring against Nola came in the fourth inning from Jonathan Villar‘s two-run double and Brandon Nimmo‘s first of two RBI singles. Nimmo recorded another two hits in the game to push his average above .400 and his on-base percentage over .500. On the other hand, Nola did strike out seven in five innings but allowed seven hits. His velocity also dipped from 91-92 to 89-90 during his second time through the order.

Believe it or not, the doubleheader sweep pushes the Mets into a first-place tie in the NL East. It certainly is a change in the feeling over the last 48 hours for Mets fans. It is a lesson to the pessimistic Mets fans who were already flailing in disappointment before they even put a digit in the tens column for games played. The Mets also went 3-for-11 with runners in scoring position, moving their average in those situations to a respectable number.

The Mets face a familiar foe in Zack Wheeler for the third game of their four-game series. David Peterson looked to rebound from an awful first start of the season against the Phillies, where he allowed six runs in a losing effort. The first pitch from Citi Field is the usual 7:10 p.m. ET start.

New York Yankees: Jordan Montgomery on the hill in an important series finale with the Tampa Bay Rays

New York Yankees, Jordan Montgomery

After losing the first two contests with the Tampa Bay Rays 10-5 and 4-0, the New York Yankees look to salvage the series on Sunday at Tropicana Field. The Yankees plan to start Jordan Montgomery in the finale after coming off one of his best career starts as the team looks to build some early season momentum.

On Monday against the Orioles, Montgomery pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just four hits and striking out seven. With exception to Gerrit Cole’s start against the Orioles, Montgomery’s outing was the best of all pitchers through the Yankees’ first eight games.

New York could very much use another strong outing from Montgomery on Sunday. The Yankees have used their bullpen for 9.2 innings through two games against the Rays, and could use a lengthy start from their lefty to rest relievers for the impending Blue Jays series.

Another good start from Montgomery could be what gets the Yankees finally firing on all cylinders. The team looks lost through eight games as they’ve struggled to get consistent hitting and timely pitching. A win could build momentum for the Yankees in the midst of their six game road trip.

However, a loss for New York would put the team at 3-6 on the season. It’s certainly very early in the season and the team will have plenty of time to recover, but you never want to fall into an early hole. Also, a win on Sunday turns the rotation over to Gerrit Cole for Monday’s opener against the Blue Jays. Pitching to a win the day before your ace pitches is often a big booster for team morale.

With a sweep looming, Sunday’s game is an important one for the Yankees. The team could use a strong start from Montgomery to gain momentum and turn their early season misfortunes around.

Mets, Steve Cohen excited for tonight’s season opener

Days after the team was supposed to open their season in Washington, the New York Mets are finally set to hit the field against the Phillies. The series in Philidephia will mark the beginning of a season in which the team has some fairly high expectations.

Newly acquired shortstop Francisco Lindor recently signed a 10-year, $341 million contract extension with the team, keeping him in town for the next decade. The Mets’ owner, Steve Cohen, spoke Monday during a video conference about the possible extension of Michael Conforto as well, among other players.

Cohen was more focused on the team’s goals and expectations for this season, however.

“I’m not going to predict a World Series out of the gate,” Cohen said. “But what I do think is we’re going to be really competitive. I do believe we’re going to make the playoffs, and then once you get into the playoffs, anything can happen, right?”

Fans are excited about this season, and Cohen’s choice of words certainly added to that.

“Everyone’s excited about the Mets this year,” he said. “The outpouring of people – friends, acquaintances and fans – has been extraordinary and they’re all excited. So, that gets me excited too.”

Along with being the first game of the season, the game will also mark Steve Cohen’s first as the owner of the Mets. He acknowledged that he, along with the players, is ready to go.

“I know the players are probably raring to go,” Cohen said. “I’m sure they’re pretty excited to get going… so, let’s get going already. I’m looking forward to tonight.”

New York Yankees: Corey Kluber set to make highly anticipated first start on Saturday

New York Yankees, Corey Kluber

It’s finally happening. On Saturday, Corey Kluber makes his highly anticipated debut for the New York Yankees.

After a few seasons of up-and-down performances from the starting rotation, the Yankees needed to find a way to bolster their pitching staff over the winter. They decided to take a flyer on Kluber, a former Cy Young Award winner despite making just eight starts since the beginning of the 2019 season.

His velocity isn’t what it once was, now topping off around 90 mph, but scouts believe his stuff is as good as ever. The Yankees needed experience in their young rotation — a veteran to fill the void of the departing Masahiro Tanaka. And that’s exactly what they got, but the question is, will Kluber pan out the way the team hopes?

We’ll get our first taste of Kluber on Saturday afternoon against a talented Blue Jays squad. Toronto knocked off the Yankees in game one of the season on Thursday, and now it’ll be up to Kluber to put New York in the win column for the first time in 2021.

Kluber pitched relatively well in Spring Training, but his stats are taken with a grain of salt. In four starts, Kluber gave up four earned runs across 13 innings. Not bad, but again, it’s Spring Training. Pitchers are often working on different parts of their game in spring starts, so it’s hard to translate what Kluber did in March to what he’ll do when he climbs the Yankee Stadium mound on Saturday afternoon.

With Deivi Garcia waiting in the wings, 2021 will likely be Kluber’s only in pinstripes. His goal for this season is to stay healthy and give the team quality starts. However, a Cy Young Award caliber season could keep the almost 35-year-old around longer. Kluber’s comeback campaign begins Saturday, and Yankee fans are expecting big things from their No. 2 pitcher.

 

Religion of Sports New “Crushed” Podcast on Baseball’s Steroid Era

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is set for April 1st, and Religion of Sports has baseball fans covered with a brand new podcast. “Crushed” takes a deep dive into the controversial steroid ERA, the infamous 1998 home run chase, and the lasting legacy.

Longtime sportswriter Joan Niesen hosts the seven-part narrative series. She was one of many people who became enamored with baseball as she watched Mark McGwire break records in her home city of St. Louis. Niesen’s experiences and expertise in baseball brings a very unique voice to a compelling topic. Niesen brings to life the high and lows of a period that changed the game forever.

“It’s been fascinating to dig in deeper to the steroid era and its enduring legacy,” Niesen said. “I’ve learned a lot, and I
think this podcast will help listeners separate the truth of that time from the myths.”

“Crushed” features plenty of notable guests and illustrious names from the era. Former MLB All-Stars Rick Honeycutt and Royce Clayton provide the unique perspective of players who live competed during this period. The chairman of the 2005 Congressional steroid hearings and former U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich joins the series. Roger Maris Jr., of course, the son of former single-season home run record holder Roger Maris, are just a few of the tremendous guests for the series.

“Crushed” is free and available to all listeners on April 1st. Fans can stream all episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and Stitcher. You can listen to a the trailer for the series here!

New York Yankees: Kyle Higashioka dealing “side soreness”

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka

New York Yankees backup catcher Kyle Higashioka was scratched from Tuesday’s Spring Training game with what the team labeled “side soreness”.

“We didn’t want to mess with anything too much,” Yankees skipper Aaron Boone said.

Although this seems to be nothing serious, this could potentially be an interesting test of the Yankees catching depth. Higashioka has had some oblique issues in the past, so it’s definitely something to watch for.

Robinson Chirinos, who was expected to contend for the back-up catcher spot, is headed to the IL with a wrist injury. Chirinos fractured his wrist when he was hit by a pitch and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

Along with Higashioka and Chirinos, Adam Warren (shoulder), Miguel Andujar (hand/wrist), Zack Britton (elbow), and Clarke Schmidt (elbow) are all dealing with injuries.

If Higashioka were to head to the IL, it would take him out of contention for a spot on the Opening Day roster. In that case, the Yankees would likely turn to Rob Brantly, who’s put together a nice Spring Training. He’s gotten hits in three of seven at-bats; two of which were home runs. Brantley has driven in five and has an OPS of 1.786.

Right now, Higashioka doesn’t have a return timeline, but Aaron Boone said that he felt fine. If for some reason Higashioka isn’t okay by Opening Day, the Yankees have Brantly and starting catcher Gary Sanchez to fill the void. Fortunately, things don’t seem to be too serious for Higashioka, and he should be back in the Spring Training lineup soon.

 

MLB must read analysis: Minor changes could have a major impact on the game

Like it or not, MLB is evolving in many ways. A hardcore group of baseball fans wants baseball to remain just the way it has for the last 130 years or more. They say that changes and analytics are ruining the game they grew up with. Therein lies the problem that MLB faces. The fan base is getting older and older and dying off, shrinking America’s summer pastime viewership. Over the last twenty-some years, baseball has gone from the most-watched sport to last behind football and basketball.

The simple answer to why this has happened is that the younger population finds baseball boring, slow, with too much dead time. Society has changed to a culture that wants immediate satisfaction, and they want it right now. Baseball is not satisfying those needs. This brings us to why baseball viewership and thus revenues are shrinking. The average TV baseball viewer is now 55 years old. Football and basketball viewers are at least ten years younger on average.

MLB wants to change this. Now that MLB has taken over control of the minor leagues, they have a new playground to experiment with what changes in the game can make it more engaging to younger viewers. In the past few years, they have implemented some rules to shorten game length with is one of the complaints most expressed by viewers. For the most part, those changes have had little effect on shortening games.

New and even more dramatic changes are on the way if MLB and the MLBPA (players union) have anything to say about it, and they do. MLB released some big rule changes for the minors this past Thursday. Some of the most dramatic experiments will be tried at different levels of affiliated clubs. Here is just a few: No more Andy Pettitte; the Pettitte move is now a balk. No more multiple pickoff attempts. No more tiny bases; we are going to make them huge. No more umpire; the strike zone is now computerized, umpires will be reduced to referees. I wonder if robots will throw out a player if he kicks dust in its face? No more infielders in the outfield. These are just a few of the changes that will be implemented in the minors this season.

We have to be reminded that these at just experiments, but if many or any are permanently put in place at the Major League level; it could dramatically change the game. A group of MLB executives, team owners, the players, and even ex-Cubs GM Theo Epstein have put their heads together to come with plans to make the game more viewable. Here is the goal:

• A game with more action, more balls in play, and less dead time.

• A game with better pace and rhythm.

• A game with more base stealing and more chances for world-class athletes to show off their athleticism in the field and on the bases.

• A game with less swinging and missing, fewer pitching changes, and less time between balls in play.

Let’s take a look at each one of these changes and how it could affect the game of baseball as we know it.

The Andy Pettitte move is dead in the water.

Andy Pettitte was one of the most successful pick off pitchers of his or any other time. Many felt that it bordered on a balk. Under the new rules, it will be a balk. It won’t be allowed in the High-A leagues, at least. This rule will require all pitchers to step off the rubber before throwing to first (or any) base. The penalty is (what else?) a balk, and runners get to advance a base.

No, no, no, you have already tried to pick off twice!

Nothing is any more annoying and interrupts the game’s rhythm than a pitcher throwing 8 consecutive pick-off attempts. It usually incites loud boos from fans in the stands.   Well, no more, pitchers will be limited to two pick-off attempts. That is not to say the pitcher can’t try again, but he must get the player out if he does. If he doesn’t, it’s an automatic balk, and the player advances.

We are going to make the bases big, really big!

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but even the small changes in base size could significantly impact how the game is played. Presently the bases are 15″x15″; the new size to be experimented with is 18″x18″. You may say that’s not that big a deal, but yes, it is. How many base stealers have you seen called out just inches from the plate.  The base’s size will shorten the path by 4 1/2 inches, encouraging more base stealing and a more exciting game. For the New York Yankees Brett Gardner and Tyler Wade, this is a dream come true.

Move over, Ump; the robots are here!

Okay, they won’t look like a Roomba or the tin man from the Wizard of Oz, but they are coming in the form of a computerized strike zone. The biggest challenge will be making that strike zone look like what pitchers, players, and fans can agree it should look like. This change will not be in all minor league parks, but Baseball has experimented with the electronic strike zone in the Atlantic League and the Arizona Fall League. But now, it will move to the minors and maybe later to the majors.

The low A Southeast League will employ the ABS (Automated Ball-Strike System) at most of its parks as baseball continues to explore the future feasibility of sending in the big leagues’ robots. When the Atlantic League used the rulebook strike zone in 2019, the robots called strikes on pitches that no single human in the park thought was a strike. That has to change for this system to work in the big leagues.

There are several problems to get ironed out before you will ever see a robot calling strike and balls at Yankee Stadium or any other MLB park. Robots read strikes differently than those nasty human umpires. It is presently questionable if an ump considers the player’s size as to where the strike zone is. There is a huge difference in the size of Jose Altuve and the Yankees Aaron Judge. How will a robot handle this?

Also, in the test, the previous version of the ABS was sweeping breaking balls called strikes but didn’t look like strikes to anyone but the robots; players were furious with truly unhittable balls. Some would say a robot can not replace the human eye, and they might be correct; only time will tell. As much as umpires are mostly held in low esteem, how do you take your aggression out on a computer program?

None of these experiments may make it to the majors, or maybe all of them over time will become part of the game. MLB is in a race to make the game shorter and more exciting to increase the fan base as basketball and football try to do the same. Huge stars like Mike Trout and the Yankee’s Aaron Judge bring out the fans, but a better game is even more important.

Besides these changes, sources say other changes are on the way as well.

• A 15-second pitch clock, down from 20 seconds at the upper levels of the minors. Pitchers have 15 seconds to begin their windup or come to a set position from the stretch. Otherwise, the umpire can call an automatic ball.

• The batter will be required to be “attentive” to the pitcher with 8 seconds left on the clock. Otherwise, it’s an automatic strike.

• There will now be a 30-second clock between batters in mid-inning, and the time between innings will shrink from 2 minutes, 15 seconds to exactly 2 minutes.

And these may not be the only changes being experimented with. the independent Atlantic League doesn’t start their season until May 27th, so there is still plenty of time to try out additional changes. You won’t see any of these changes in the majors, but if you visit your local minor league park to take in a game, you may see many of these changes first hand. But make no mistake, the successful ones will be showing up at Yankee Stadium and other MLB parks before you know it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stroman Pitches Well Again in Mets 4-2 Loss Against Marlins

New York Yankees, New York Mets, Marcus Stroman

The New York Mets were back on television on Friday after only a couple thousand fans watched Jacob deGrom‘s dominance on Thursday. While not as dominant, Marcus Stroman put together a strong start against the Miami Marlins. Stroman became the first Mets starter to pitch into the fourth innings this spring in the 4-2 loss.

Stroman needed 58 pitches to get through 3.1 innings. He allowed a run in the first inning on a Jesus Aguilar single but settled in after that. Stroman recorded four strikeouts and lowered his spring training ERA to 3.24. Dellin Betances also pitched a scoreless inning with his fastball in the 89-93 mph range. The jury is still out on if Betances will sit at that speed all season, but he will need the best control of his career if he does.

Trevor May and Tommy Hunter struggled in their outings. May allowed three straight singles to load the bases, but a double play helped him escape with only one run allowed. Hunter’s inning was littered with hard contact. Monte Harrison broke the 2-2- tie with his RBI double, and Joe Dunand blooped a single to make it 4-2.

It is hard to find a hotter hitter than Brandon Nimmo this spring. His second double of the spring kept his average at a tremendous .444. Pete Alonso also remained hot with a line-drive RBI double to right-center field. Brandon Drury drove in the first Mets run with an RBI single in the fourth.

Jordan Yamamoto (0-1, 0.00) takes the mound against the Washington Nationals on Saturday. The first pitch is at 6:05 p.m. ET from West Palm Beach.

New York Mets: Three Fringe Players With a Chance to Make Roster

New York Mets, Luis Rojas

The New York Mets made their first round of cuts in spring training, but it only eliminated three players on the 40-man roster. Pitchers Franklyn Kilome, Sean Reid-Foley, and Thomas Szapucki became the first casualties of spring. With 37 players from the 40-man roster left in major league camp, who are three who could sneak their way onto the roster?

1. Drew Smith

Smith deserves to be on a major league roster, but it becomes a matter of the Mets making room for him. At the moment, he is more reliable than Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia, but both will make the Opening Day roster. Last season Smith found success with a cutter that had a 66.7 whiff rate. Smith has not allowed a base runner in his two outings this spring.

2. Jordan Yamamoto

Yamamoto may have lucked himself into a roster spot with the injury news on Carlos Carrasco. Joey Lucchesi would usually be ahead of Yamamoto for a rotation spot, but he has not pitched in a game yet. Yamamoto has started his spring training strong but allowing two runs in five innings pitched. His next outing should require him to pitch four innings and should determine if he is ready for a rotation spot if Carrasco has to miss time.

3. Albert Almora 

Almora’s minor league option made him a candidate to being the year in Triple-A with Jose Martinez as an offensive option off the bench. Martinez’s knee injury makes Almora a lock to make the roster for Opening Day. Almora has flashed his great defense in multiple outfield positions and also displayed a new leg kick at the plate. He will make a good pairing with Kevin Pillar as the backup group of outfielders.

MLB details changes in the 2021 Minor League season

New York Yankees

During the 2020 MLB and New York Yankee season, it was announced that there would be no minor league games. This was due to the coronavirus and was blow to many minor league players that were hoping to be given a chance to advance to the majors during the season. Back in February, the Triple-A teams announced that regular-season games would start on April 6 just a few days after the Major League season started, but two weeks later MLB moved that date to May 4th, the same dates as the lower level teams.

Although there will be a 2021 minor league season, it will not look comparable to the 2019 season. The main cause of the delay in the start of the season is due to changes in the coronavirus vaccine distribution. The Biden administration now says that there will be enough vaccine for all American adults by the end of May.

The New York Yankees have been given guidance from MLB that the minor league roster size will be 28 players for double and triple-A teams. High A, low A, and Rookie levels will be allowed 30 man rosters.  Last year MLB allowed a three players taxi squad to travel with Major League teams, this season that will be expanded to five players. Taxi squad players are not on the Major League roster but are allowed to participate in workouts to be ready to play in case of injuries, however, they must not be uniformed in the dugout. Taxi squad players do not accrue Major League playing time unless used. If not used they receive a $110 payment per day in the taxi squad. After the team returns from road trips, the taxi squad will return to the alternate site.

Minor league health protocols are more stringent. Players must spend as little time inside as possible. Players will arrive at the park suited up and are to spend as little time in the locker rooms and showers after games. Also, teams will only play teams within driving distance. In spring training players will be encouraged to spend as much time away from the field when possible and not playing or working out.