Archive for the ‘ Other Stuff ’ Category

Chris Sale, Master In Effect

After a slow start to the 2015 campaign, White Sox ace Chris Sale is finally pitching at the level we all expected

Sale, a former first-round pick of the White Sox in 2010, had fourteen strikeouts across eight shutout innings against the Rangers on Friday (Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

When you’re a starting pitcher in the big leagues, there’s dominant, and then there’s ridiculously dominant. The difference, you ask? When you’re ridiculously dominant, you’re falling into the same sentence as Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Nolan Ryan.

With the groove that he’s been in lately, White Sox ace Chris Sale has been not just ridiculously dominant, but he’s been putting up numbers that would be unrealistic even in a video game. Sale, the former Florida Gulf Coast star that quickly ascended to the big leagues in 2010 just months after being drafted, struck out fourteen men — the sixth straight outing he’s punched out men in double digits — in a loss to the Texas Rangers.

“What did he punch out? Fourteen, 15, something like that?” Texas starter Colby Lewis said of Sale, the man he dueled against on Friday night. “He definitely had it going on. I just tried to go out there and match. If he’s doing it, then I try to go out there and have quick innings, too.”

Now, here’s where the numbers start getting crazy: Sale, over his last six starts, has a 1.19 ERA with a 75/7 K/BB ratio over 45 1/3 innings and that’s despite only being 3-2 in those games. After a loss to the Minnesota Twins on May 23 that saw Sale’s ERA sit at 4.23, the lefty ace has lowered his ERA all the way down to 2.74, the first time since April 23 it’s been below 3.00.

In the loss, Sale also extended a franchise record for double-digit strikeout games to 25, and he has struck out at least one in 35 straight innings. And, as mentioned earlier, Sale has now struck out double-digit batters in six consecutive starts, which puts him in the same conversation as Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Nolan Ryan, all Hall of Fame starting pitchers.

Martinez did it on three occasions (two with the Red Sox and one with the Expos from 1997-2000) and has the longest streak at 10 starts, while Johnson struck out 10 or more batters in six or more consecutive starts five times from 1998-2002 (split across the Mariners and Diamondbacks). Nolan Ryan, who did it in 1972 and 1977, had both a seven-game streak and a six-game streak with the California Angels.

“It’s an honor to get my name mentioned with them, but it’s something more for you guys and friends and family. I’m here for one reason, and that’s winning ballgames,” Sale told reporters following the team’s 2-1 loss. “All the other stuff is more of a distraction than anything, really.”

Unfortunately for Sale, though, things aren’t going so well for the rest of the White Sox. For the second consecutive game started by Sale, the White Sox lost 2-1, this time blowing the lead in the ninth inning when big-money closer David Robertson crumbled under the pressure.

“I feel awful because of how well Sale pitched tonight,” Robertson, a former All-Star with the New York Yankees, admitted after the game. “I went out there and blew it.”

White Sox manager Robin Ventura wasn’t pleased either, telling reporters, “You have to stay disciplined in the game and come in here with a positive attitude and ready to go. It’s easier said than done on some points, but you’re pros and you come in here and you expect to turn around and have a good effort. That’s required of everybody. There’s no exception to that.”

With the loss, Chicago fell to 28-38 in what’s been yet another dismal season for the White Sox, but Sale hasn’t lost all hope yet.

“We’re definitely pulling from the same rope, on the same side,” Sale said. “There’s no doubt. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you can’t stop pulling.”

Do you think Chris Sale will keep up this hot streak? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Ratings Are Back, Will They Stay

After a disappointing past few years with regards to TV ratings, are the numbers from the first month of the season a good sign for baseball?

Alex Gordon and the Kansas City Royals, after a World Series run last year, have been one of several teams to see dramatic TV rating boosts in 2015 (John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

It’s no secret that baseball’s been in a bit of a dry spell with regards to buzz and excitement in recent years. It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about how new commissioner Rob Manfred should try getting the youth back into baseball, and as it stands right now, more and more hype may be starting to come back to the game. It’s not perfect — yet — but it seems like Major League Baseball is starting to get the attention again. People like the pace of play rules, they like that games aren’t taking as long, and they like that small-market teams like the Astros and Twins have been playing extremely well as of late.

With excitement and hype comes the desire to watch these games, and with that desire means better TV ratings. You’d think that despite baseball slowly losing interest over the past few year that the big time networks — Fox and ESPN — would still have decent MLB ratings, right? Well…not really, as they’ve in fact been in a decline.

As Business Journalism pointed out in an article published last month, this decline isn’t something that just suddenly happened one day; rather, there’s been a slow — but steady — decrease in ratings since 2001, as the following pictures will demonstrate.

(Sports Business Journal)

I’ve pointed this out before, but part of that may be because we see the same teams — New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals — on it seemingly every single week, and part of it might also be that there’s more entertaining things on. But we were at a point last year where only one million viewers tuned into a Sunday Night game during the pennant race, featuring the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers.

But, this season has seen baseball ratings increase, and in a big way. First, let’s look at Opening Day. According to a press release put out last month, ESPN’s 2015 Major League Baseball season-opening viewership went up 48 percent from 2014, those stats coming via Nielsen. Through five games – MLB Opening Night (Cardinals-Cubs) and a MLB Opening Day quadruple-header (that included the return of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez from suspension) – ESPN averaged 1,370,000 viewers compared to 926,000 in 2014. ESPN also went up 50 percent in U.S. household rating (0.9 versus 0.6) compared to last year.

That Opening Night game, the Cardinals-Cubs one that ended in a victory for the Redbirds, that had 3,354,000 viewers, which is way up (47 percent, in fact) from 2014’s 2,279,000 viewers for 2014’s Dodgers-Padres opening game. Granted, that game was going up against the season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a series that beat the NFL and Sunday Night Football five out of eight times this past season, so that’s understandable. That particular episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘A’, did 15.67 million viewers, so ESPN shouldn’t take any offense.

But, back to baseball and those stats from the press release. Though the amount of views are definitely important, just look at the demographics and the improvements across the board there. We’re talking about 17 percent in the male 18-34 demographic (0.7 versus 0.6); 17 percent in males 18-49 (0.7 versus 0.6); 40 percent in M25-54 (0.7 versus 0.5); 67 percent in P18-34 (0.5 versus 0.3); 67 percent in P18-49 (0.5 versus 0.3); and 67 percent in P25-54 (0.5 versus 0.3). In short, younger people took time out of their Monday to not watch Netflix, but instead watch a baseball game.

Fox Sports also has done very well in the first month of baseball, as Awful Announcing reported earlier this week. After a very poor 2014 with regards to ratings, things look to be going in the upwards direction, with the average viewership for Major League Baseball on Fox rising by 26 percent over the first three Saturdays of the season, which was good for an average of 597,000 viewers per game.

If I’m Fox Sports, I’m also taking pride in the fact that a game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers did 817,000 viewers in an exclusive window. Now, that may sound weird that I’d be suggesting that it’s something to be proud of, but Fox Sports nearly did a million viewers in a game between two, non-major market teams. When you think of teams that would do 817,000 viewers on a Fox game, you’d think it’d be something like Yankees-Red Sox or Cardinals-Cubs, but Indians-Tigers.

Oh, and they happened to do more views than the game that followed it, Mets-Yankees that saw Matt Harvey pitch for the Metropolitans; that game did a still-good 647,000 viewers, which is still nearly 200,000 less than the Indians-Tigers game.

Oh, and it’s not just the big Fox Sports that’s doing well with regards to ratings. In fact, eight Fox Regional Sports Networks (think of Fox Sports Detroit, for example) rank either first or second in their local market in primetime ratings, those teams being the Indians, Tigers, Royals, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Rays. The Royals, most notably, are up a staggering 129% on Fox Sports Kansas City after making the World Series in 2014.

Now, are these ratings a fluke? Maybe, and let’s not forget that this was just for the first month of the season. But, this is progress, definite progress that I’m sure is exactly what Rob Manfred was hoping for when he took over as commissioner. For so long, Manfred has been talking about his desire to get people back into baseball, and if the ratings are anything to go off, then this is a great start.

Joe Lucia of Awful Announcing put it best: any positive signs are a good thing.

Do you think that these increased ratings are here to stay, or are they just a fluke? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Welcome Back, Ron Gardenhire

After being fired by the Twins following last season, Ron Gardenhire made a surprise visit at Minnesota camp today

Cigar and all, Ron Gardenhire made his return to the Twins organization today...as a visitor (Star Tribune Sports)

Cigar and all, Ron Gardenhire made his return to the Twins organization today…as a visitor, complete with cigars (Star Tribune Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

In the footsteps of Bon Jovi, Kanye West, and Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy/Sergio Roma/whatever he’s calling himself today, former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made a return home on Tuesday. But, by home, we’re not talking about Germany.

This is the first spring since 2001 that Gardenhire isn’t managing the Minnesota Twins, as the one-time Mets shortstop was let go following his fourth straight sub .500 season in 2011; now, former Twins star Paul Molitor is in charge in Minnesota, trying to bring the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2010. Things were stressful and rough in Gardenhire’s last few seasons, but if today was anything to go by, then things between him and the Twins organization are still good.

Dressed in a W-Stout Blue Devils Dad shirt, golf hat, sunglasses, the watch and what look like cargo shorts with a water bottle in his pocket, the 2010 AL Manager of the Year made a visit to Twins camp in Fort Myers, Florida on Tuesday. Complete with a cigar in his mouth and another cigar in a ziploc bag, Gardenhire was actually down in Florida watching his son, Toby, coach the University of Wisconsin-Stout against the Twins Gulf Coast League team, and then decided to make the short journey over to Twins camp.

“I’ve missed a lot of these guys,” Gardenhire, who managed thirteen years with the Twins from 2002-2014, told the Star Tribune on Tuesday. “It’s great to say hello and see how everyone is doing.”

Spring training visits by former players and coaches are routine, tradition even, but it’s interesting to see the manager who was fired not even six full months ago return to his former team’s camp. There’s often feelings of awkwardness, maybe even a bit of resentment or anger, that can last for years between both the manager and the former employer.

Gardenhire, who has admitted to staying in the background as to not be a distraction for Molitor and the Twins, seems not to have gotten that memo…and all is good. In fact, all’s been good since Gardenhire was fired following the season, as he even attended the press conference that announced his dismissal.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan, a longtime friend of Gardenhire, said at the start of camp that he had a wide range of positions for his former manager would he be interested.

“If he wanted to do something, I’m in. What do you want to do, Gardy? You want to talk to the minor league players? You want to visit the [minor league] affiliates? You want to go out and teach some infield? You want to help this guy with his hitting? He can do a lot of things,” Ryan said a month ago, and it’s hard to find any problem with that. This is one of the most successful managers in franchise history, and they want to keep him in the fold any way that they can.

Good on the Minnesota Twins for maintaining such a good relationship with their former manager, and the same goes for Gardenhire and his former organization. Even if the Twins struggle this year in what appears to be yet another rebuilding year, they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done when it comes to their relationship with the man who managed them for nearly a decade and a half.

If you want to talk baseball, you can tweet me at @JakeElman.