Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Real Beginning of Spring

Sure it's been a snowy March, but spring comes early this year - today! March 29! Opening Day! All is well.

Let's just get to it, shall we?

American League East

1. Boston Red Sox - yeah, yeah, I know everyone is anointing the Yankees already - that is a very strange. It's true they have rather awesome power in that lineup, and good players throughout, and a decent starting rotation - but they are going against a team that beat them last year, sometime, it seems, with one hand tied behind their back. The Sox have been half dismissed, but for what? for winning 93 games with a third of a year from David Price? Porcello reverting to Bad Porcello? And most of their offense regressing significantly from the year before? Betts, Bogaerts, Ramirez, Bradley, Pedroia - all dropped significantly (or missed a bunch of time) - you have to expect some reversion to the mean, and now you have JD Martinez and Devers for a whole year and the continued progress of Andrew Benintendi? Compare the down years for the Sox to the number of Yankees coming off career years, and it starts to look good in the Fens... And almost all of the players on the field for the Sox will be defensive contributors (maybe not Devers or Hanley when he's out there, but the rest, including one of the best defensive outfields int he game), not something I'd say for the Yanks. With Sale and Price both looking healthy and happy? adding Stanton got the Yankees to the Sox level last year: how are they not still playing catchup?

2. New York Yankees - yeah yeah; if the shaky parts of the pitching stay healthy and effective, the good parts of the pitching get better - yeah, they're going to be good. On the other hand - can Stanton stay healthy? is Judge the real thing (I suspect so, but still...)? who gets displaced when they have to move Gary Sanchez? (He is one hell of a hitter, but his work behind the plate is not what I would recommend.) None of that is likely to hurt them that much, though - even the pitching, it's what Severino, Gray and Montgomery do that will decide it the most, and they are as likely to be good as not. If both teams show up and stay healthy, it promises a good race.

3. Toronto Blue Jays - I don't have any reason to think they will be even respectable, but why not? I like the Blue Jays. They have some pitchers who could come back - Sanchez, Estrada, Stroman - still have Donaldson - they could be respectable. Probably not playoff respectable, which might be the worst possible result in this day and age - everyone wants to contend for the post-season or bottom out and rebuild, and they are hanging in the middle.

4. Baltimore Orioles - another team in the middle. Bland to ineffective pitching, lots of power, but most of it in decline - they could cause trouble, they could wash out. They could win 83 games and be forgotten, unless they beat the sox or Yankees 3 out of 4 in some September series.

5. Tampa Bay Rays - they've had the weird ability to hang around through years of decay, but that can't last forever. Whither Chris Archer? I keep expecting them to disappear - this is probably when it happens.

AL Central:

1. Cleveland Indians - they have taken over the old role of the Rays, the cheapskates who thrive by developing and acquiring the best players, surrounding them with solid support, and having a management team that runs it all at peak efficiency. They have the luxury of doing it in the central, with no Big Teams around to buy their way into contention - so they should be able to keep inhabiting the post-season for a while to come.

2. Minnesota Twins - they've been on a yo yo the last three years, contending, putrifying, getting to the post-season, but they have a nice young squad, that ought to hang around contention. The AL is wildly stratified, and very thin in the middle - the Twins are in there and should be in a position to contend for the wild card again. If the Indians have some injuries, they might chase the division, as well.

3. Kansas City Royals - they aren't very good, but they have some hitters and if they get any pitching, they might make it to .500 or so. Or not. Probably not.

4. Detroit Tigers - they were awful last year. Time has caught up to Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, and no one else is better than a good squad player. I cant see them getting past the 70s in wins - more likely to lose 90 than win 80 I think.

5. Chicago White Sox - got some ball players, and young guys coming through, and maybe sometime they might get good again. Now, they have James Shields as their top starter.

AL West:

1. Houston Astros - one of those mortal locks who are all set up for an epic fall. Though it's hard to see happening. t's true - Keuchel and McCullers could be hurt again; Verlander might find a calendar; Gerritt Cole might go the way of many NL hurlers coming to the AL before him - they'll still score tons of runs and - would need to lose about 4 guys to not be in contention. Altuve, Correa, Bregman, Springer are studs; Reddick and Gonzalez and the catchers and Gurriel are all solid pros - they are too good. A bad year in 91 wins and the wild card. That kind of stuff happens - look at the Cubs last year - but that's usually the result: 91 wins instead of 108.

2. Los Angeles Angels - (is that what they call themselves these days?). Pitching is thin on the ground out there,but they have some offense - on paper anyway. They were horrible last year... But Trout, Upton, Simmons,Kinsler, etc - there's hope. The west is odd this year - I don't know what to make of any of them, except the Astros - they all look like they could get into the wild card race if things went well; there could be three 90 loss teams if things don't go well. Who knows.

3. Seattle Mariners - I should just keep picking Seattle to win every year until they do. How could they win this year? King Felix does what Verlander did the last couple years? gets healthy, rethinks his approach, and finds his old form - why not? he's 31 - he wouldn't be the first pitcher to have a sag in the middle of his career, and come back. That and good offensive years from their real talent - Cruz and Cano and Seager and Segura and Gordon - why not? It would take many acts of god to get them past the Astros, but they could get the second wild card spot easy enough.

4. Texas Rangers - if they could occasionally hit a ball fair in inside the park, they might do all right. Power abounds; baserunners are in short supply. The pitching is shaky, but not impossible - Hamels and Fister and so on - they are another team that, a couple things go right, they're fighting for the second wild card spot. (The first one is going to be up to Boston/New York to lose, I think.)

5. Oakland A's - they were shockingly not horrible last year. They could be shockingly not horrible this year. Better than that might be s stretch, but it's something.

National League East:

1. Washington Nationals - they are gifted with a very weak division. They have a very good team. It's hard to see them not taking the division, if they stay healthy. Maybe they'll win a playoff series one of these years! It's been a good millennium for breaking droughts - California, Boston, Chicago and Chicago, Houston all won their first, or their first in a Hell of a Long Time - why not the Expos?

2. New York Mets - they have some ballplayers out there; they have real pitching, if it stays on the field. They have been very snake bit lately - will that continue? Probably. They make their own bad luck.

3.Philadelphia Phillies - are they in fact good enough to get in the race for something? Who knows, but points for ambition! They have been working some starting pitchers toward effectiveness; they have some interesting young position players - now they add Arrieta and Santana - an interesting strategy, to bolster a young roster with a couple veterans, who don't have to carry the team, but can guide it to competence - why not? Root for them anyway.

4. Atlanta Braves - I have to keep writing something about all these teams? I want to know what's the big deal with Ronald Acuna - the rest? At least they aren't the Marlins.

5. Miami Marlins - It's easy to mock and abuse,and trash Derek Jeter for continuing to work for the Yankees, but - I don't know. How many times has this team been sold off? I'll give Jeter and company a few years to see if they keep up the old patterns or if they're willing to work to build a team and keep it when they do - right now, enjoy those 100 losses, boys.

NL Central:

1. Chicago Cubs - this might be the tightest, most open division in baseball. Cubs are loaded, to be sure, but the pitching staff, though superb on paper, shows signs of being made of paper... Maybe. They should get all they can out of what they have, and they have plenty, so they are not going to be out of contention for anything. But they have competition in this division, and it could be interesting again.

2. St. Louis Cardinals - this is not a bad looking team, not with Marcel Ozuna in the outfield, not if the pitching stays healthy. They probably need some breaks to beat the Cubs, but they should be in the hunt for the post season.

3. Milwaukee Brewers - an interesting team, with more outfielders and first basemen than they have places to play them. They could be very good - pitching, of course, is the question. It usually is, for everyone. They should score runs, but they probably don't have the margin of error that the Cubs and Cards have.

4. Cincinatti Reds - they were bad last year, worse than the bad Pirates, but they haven't gutted their roster in the offseason, so I'd guess they switch places with the Buccos. There are some nice young players hanging around here - they might get somewhere in the vicinity of respectability one of these years, though it might be a stretch this year.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates - goodbye to Gerritt Cole and Andrew McCutcheon and probably more to come. They do have some talent hanging around - it will be interesting to see if people like Taillon can pick up their games. They may linger in the 70s, though I think it's more likely they sell off the remaining talent - Bell and Harrison and Marte could be laboring for contenders come August...

NL West:

1. Los Angeles Dodgers - any reason to pick against them? Kershaw has been physically vulnerable; Rich Hill is a young Jamie Moyer - they might end up having pitching problems, of all things. The team on the field looks good and deep, though probably not Houston/Cubs quality. But they should win well into the 90s, and be in the post-season.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks - they lost JD Martinez, but they were decent without him; a full year of AJ Pollack might cover most of that - otherwise - there's a lot to like. Pitching, hitting - it's a good team. If the Dodgers have health problems, the snakes could take a run at the division. Even without it, I'd guess they will be in the wild card hunt.

3. Colorado Rockies - a playoff team, mostly because they found a bunch of effective starters somehow. They've piled up the relievers - they still have some prime offensive players - they should be good. I don't think they're likely to challenge for the division, but they are a strong playoff contender.

4. San Francisco Giants - the best team of the 2010s has started ot come apart - can they come back together? Bringing in again stars like Longoria and McCutcheon might not be the most promising means to that end but they're better than anything they had before. They were looking like an interesting dark horse for a while, but them Bumgarner broke his finger and Samardzija hurt himself as well - that's 2 months plus without the one, and a month without the other - that's plenty of time to get 10+ games down on the Dodgers and 6-7 on the other two teams and maybe even a couple down on the Pads....

5. San Diego Padres - there's some talent out there, much of it young, plus a couple nice veterans to stabilize the team - if only they had some ready starters. They seem like a team likely to be getting better through the next few years, but not a team likely to play past September for a while yet. Or even get out of the basement (though Giants' injuries could help there, like they did last year.)

So to add it all up?

AL Post season? Sox - Indians - Astros + Yankees and Twins (same as last year.) Any of the big four could get through,but theAstros are the one team with a clear edge - they look like the best team in baseball by a clear distance. Like the Cubs last year! ha ha ha. Right. Best dark horse? Seattle.

NL Postseason: Nats - Cubs - Dodgers (boring, huh?) + Arizona and St Louis. The rest is a better fight - any of those teams could get through, and none of them seem like strong favorites now. Dodgers have Kershaw, who can swing things; but dominant starters aren't the world beaters they used to be. I'd guess, now? Cubbies get back. Lost to the Astros, or whoever else comes from the AL. Best dark horse? Philly - that's a huge stretch, but hey,it would be fun!

Awards: AL MVP - as always, Trout's to lose. A good collection of runner up candidates, if something weird happens - Altuve and Correa, Betts, Judge, Stanton, Lindor and Ramirez, Machado - but Trout has to miss two months to give them a shot.
Cy Young: Kluber is always a good bet. Sale, Verlander, etc. are real contenders. Maybe David Price bounces back.
Rookie: Willie Calhoun, in Texas, looks like he has a major league job now (of the big prospects) - could be. I'm not as up on these as I could be (or as I am on the NL rookies, for some reason.)
MVP = I'd have to say Harper is the favorite; he's less consistent than Trout (though usually very good), and there's less separation between him and the other stars- so Bryant or Rizzo, Bellinger, Seager, Goldschmidt, Votto, Blackmun, Arenado, Ozuna, maybe even some out of nowhere types like AJ Pollack or the ghost of some forgotten giant (Posey or McCutcheon or Longoria) might win. Bryant and Seager probably have the inside track,along with Harper, though.
Cy Young: Kershaw if he is healthy, Scherzer if Kershaw misses some time, Strasburg or someone weird if both of them slip. Various Mets, say. But there's a gap there.
Rookie: from the sound of it, once he's done enough time in the minors to stretch out arbitration for a year, Ronald Acuna is ready and raring to go. Sounds good to me.

That's it then. Play Ball!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

1918 Spring Offensive

Hello! I know I have become a very lazy blogger, and a big casualty of that has been my complete neglect of history blogging. It's a bad time to get so lazy, especially with anniversaries - 100 years ago was the climax of the Great War, the Revolution in Russia - 150 years ago, Reconstruction was in full swing.... I should be doing this. What can I say.

What I can do is come in quickly to get a post up today - 100 years ago, March 21, 1918, the German army launched a huge offensive on the western front, designed to end the war. I am not going to wrte too much about that - I will point instead fo Robert Farley's post at Lawyers, Guns and Money, complete with links about the strategic and tactical elements of the offensive.

So just a quick summary. By the spring of 1918, the Russians were out of the war - the Bolsheviks had sued for peace, and by March, signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, ending Russian participation in the war. Even before that, the Germans had been moving men from the Eastern Front to the Western Front - it gave them a numerical advantage in 1918 in France. However, the Americans were coming - eventually - so the Germans felt they had to move fast. They hoped to defeat the British, particularly, in France, causing them to break with the French. Not sure how like that would have been even if they had been more successful, but that's a topic for another day.

The Germans attacked. They used new tactics, developed through the war - powerful, concentrated, surprise artillery barrages; infiltration tactics by the infantry - moving in squad sized units as deep into the enemy lines as they could go, to avoid presenting the kinds of targets machine guns and artillery could decimate, and to consolidate their gains before the enemy could counterattack or build a new line of defenses. It worked. They broke through the British lines, and drove deep into allied territory - 40 miles in some cases, on a front that hadn't moved more than 4 or 5 miles in 4 years. But it failed. The Germans used up to many resources; the British and French did not break; Americans started to trickle in and take a part in the fighting, and the lines held. And when it was done, the Germans were too spent to resist - in late summer and fall the Allies counterattacked, using their own new tactics and technology (tanks, for instance) to drive the Germans back, and eventually end the war.

Why did the Germans fail? Farley links to a number of articles about WWI tactics - it's important to remember that the war was not as static as it is sometimes portrayed. Everyone tried new methods for breaking trenches, tactical or technological, and they were more successful, sometimes, then we tend to give them credit. New artillery tactics usually did work, the first time they were used; gas worked, the first time it was used, and was terrifying and effective afterwards; infantry tactics worked. Armies found ways to break enemy trenches - they never found ways to do anything about it. Operation Michael was the most successful - but it bogged down as completely as any other battle. My pet theory holds up - that the problem was always that while the technology of killing (guns and bullets and explosives and gas and flamethrowers and all the rest) had advanced unthinkably before the war, and continued to advance throughout the war; and the sheer industrial power of the main forces had advanced to the point that it could sustain this murder for years - transportation technology had not kept pace. It wasn't until tanks started to appear that anyone had any means of moving across the battlefield fast enough to prevent the other side from creating a new impenetrable fortress on the other side. Tanks let you move firepower fast enough to stop the other side from reforming. Tracks let you move across torn up battlefields. As armies became more motorized generally - as air support became decisive - it was possible to move men around on the field, and take advantage of the holes you could make.

That and, in the end, the Germans ran out of men and material before the allies did.