Category Archives: Baseball

Fear The Blue

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan describes his show as being ” a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.” For those of you who haven’t seen Breaking Bad (what is wrong with you? Watch it now!) it is the story of a meek and mild mannered chemistry teacher named Walter White who, after being diagnosed with lung cancer, decides to use his science knowledge to cook meth.

Somewhere between the beginning and the end, Walter White becomes bad. Like really, really, bad. All at once you realize this sad sack of a man, this humble school teacher is the main villain of the show and you’re not quite sure when that happened.

Enter the Los Angeles Dodgers. They started the season in average fashion. Literally. They were a .500 ball club during the month of April winning 13 games and losing 13 games. They were worse the next month posting 10-17 record, which is on par with the Houston Astros. The awful, awful Astros. They were also average in the month of June. A smidgen better but still basically average.

But July? July was the month they put it all together. The Los Angeles Dodgers achieved a National League best 19-7 record. It looked like Mr. Chips was becoming Scarface right before our eyes.  There was no stopping them now. The Dodgers were (and still are) on a roll. They have won, wait for it…41 of their last 50 games. That is so ridiculous and incredible I’m nearly prompted to invent a word but I have too much respect for both myself and the english language.

This start, as it always does and should in baseball, with pitching.

Pitching 

I hope that it’s no secret at this point that Dodger’s ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. It’s not even close to debatable. Kershaw’s ERA (earned run average) is an astoundingly low 1.80, which is the lowest in the MLB. This year he’s making a strong case for a second Cy Young award to add to his trophy case. His low ERA combined with his league best WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) 0.85, is solid proof that if you are a batter facing Clayton Kershaw, the odds are very greatly against you hitting the ball, much less getting on base. Clayton’s 4-seam fastball is the nail in the coffin for most batters.

Zack Greinke is my favorite pitcher, and not just because he’s a top 15 pitcher. He’s my favorite because he’s tough. Zack Greinke will never back down from a fight.  Which he clearly demonstrated when a pitch got a way from him and hit Carlos Quentin of the Padres earlier this season. An enraged Quentin, charged the mound, and in the ensuing tangle caused Greinke’s collar bone to fracture. Zack Greinke did not back down. Which wasn’t great for the team at the time since they missed they way he retired batters and dominated games with his  fastball. However, the Dodgers have back their 2.81 ERA man , and he’s got 12 wins for the team.

How do you spell underrated? You spell it Hyun-Jin Ryu. How do you pronounce it? Don’t ask me that. What I do know is that the young pitcher from Korea, Hyun-Jin has a 95 mph fastball that has location to back up it’s speed. That 2.85 ERA is no joke either.  The man can pitch and when he does, the Dodgers roll.

Batting

There’s nothing scarier than a well rounded team thus, the scariest thing about the Dodgers is that they can pitch and hit. The Dodger’s team batting average is .268 and their on base percentage is .331, making them top 5 in both statistical categories. They are also 15th in the MLB in RBIs (runs batted in) with 496 so far this season. This makes them a nightmare to pitch against despite the fact that they don’t hit a lot of home runs,  because they are always generating points.

If the Dodgers could be reduced down to one man on the team, that man would be Andre Ethier. He’s the prototypical 2013 Dodger. He’s got 45 RBIs this season, gets on base pretty frequently with an OBS of .361 (which is a Dodger season high) and he’s batting .288, so by all accounts a good season. Ethier is extremely consistent. He’s as rock solid as they come and in fact, has been his entire career.

Adrian Gonzalez celebrates the winning run. (Associated Press/Mark J. Terrill)

Adrian Gonzalez in his first season as a Dodger has been the team’s most reliable offensive threat. He’s batting .299, making him one of the best hitters in the league right now. His patience at the plate is on of the key reasons for this. Gonzalez, to be blunt, just knows when to swing. He’s used his knack for making contact with the ball to get players in scoring position home. He’s got 78 RBIs tying him for 16th in the league. The Dodgers received Gonzalez last year in a trade with the Red Sox in an attempt to win right away. I’d say it worked out just fine.

There are rookies and then there are super rookies. You know the guys; RG3, Lebron James, and Mike Trout. Athletic freaks of nature that are incredibly good at what they do. So, I present for you consideration, Yasiel Puig.  On June 2nd the Dodgers called up their 22 year old rookie from their double-A team, the Chattanooga Lookouts. In just 70 games Puig is looking like a star. He’s already got 12 home runs this season, he bats .346 and is a quality outfielder. Already. Very rarely does this guy look like a rookie.

Matt Kemp deserves a mention. He got injured July 21st and should return sometime in September according to Manager Don Mattingly. Kemp was having another solid season for the Dodgers. Matt Kemp’s return may complicate a few things for the Dodgers though. With Kemp they have to find a way for 4 outfielders to play, but there are only 3 outfield positions. With Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford playing at the level that they are, Don Mattingly will have to figure out what to do with this team.

Are the Dodgers the best team? The Braves might have something to say about that. There’s no denying it though. The Dodgers are baseball’s hottest team. Los Angeles can hit with the best of them and, pitch better than the best of them. They’re dangerous title contenders, and are not to be taken lightly. Watch your back Atlanta. Scarface has arrived.

 

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The Mighty Braves

The Atlanta Braves are a tough team to beat right now and it’s got nothing to do with the Waffle House. The Waffle House in question opened at Turner field and coincided with Atlanta’s extremely recent 14 game winning streak.

It does have everything to do with their dominant hitting and pitching. The Braves have a league best 72-46 record. They are absolutely man-handling the NL East. I don’t want to say they’re the team to beat but, c’mon, are you blind? They are absolutely the team to beat (despite some very good baseball coming from the Dodgers as of late). This team is peaking at the right time and there’s no argument against it, they’re playing playoff baseball right now.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor works in the second inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Atlanta, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Pitching The only team pitching better than the Atlanta Braves are the Pittsburgh Pirates (in terms of team ERA anyway). The Braves boast a team ERA of 3.20, allowing only 372 runs all year long. What’s more at 1.18 they have the best WHIP(walks and hits per innings pitched) in the major leagues. They are led by Mike Minor and Julio Teheran who are both pitching out of their minds. They both rank among the top 20 in the MLB in ERA.

Minor has a 12-5 record this season with a 2.87 ERA. He’s been pitching like a stud. He’s got a great fastball and does a great job of dominating the corners of the strike zone. He may have just filled the role as the team’s ace.

Julio Teheran is just 22 years old but he’s certainly trending upward. With a 2.96 ERA, Julio is pitching with the best of them. He also has a great fastball. He’s got quite a bit of savvy for his age and is capable of dominating a game when he gets going.

Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman, right, gets a hugs from teammate B.J. Upton after hitting three-run home run in the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins in Atlanta, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Hitting The Braves can hit. They’ve scored 525 runs this year which is 7th in the Majors and as a team they’ve hit 141 home runs which makes them 3rd in the MLB. The Braves have offensive fire power and are capable of jumping up to sizable leads very quickly. Their pitchers protect these leads, which is yet another reason why they’re are hard to beat. Oh by the way, Atlanta is 9th in On Base Percentage.

The Braves are led by first baseman Freddie Freeman. He’s batting .313 this season with an OBP of .393, putting him at 7th in the MLB and he’s got 74 RBIs.

Chris Johnson has got the best batting average on the team. His average is .336 and he’s got 121 hits which is pretty good.

I think Justin Upton is the key because he is so solid. He’s bats a solid .267,  he’s got 22 home runs which is really good and he’s scored 74 runs which is ridiculously good. In short, Justin Upton is good at his job.

When all of these pieces are put together they make a team that is capable of getting players in scoring position, and then getting them home. If you recall, the Braves have scored 525 runs this year. That’s a lot of runs. There’s a reason why they can do that. They have players who put them in positions to score frequently. Even a guy like Dan Uggla, who doesn’t hit particularly well has 21 home runs this season. When he does make contact with the ball, it’s leaving the park. Period.

So here are the ingredients. Lethal pitching, consistent hitting and scoring, followed by an enviable home record of 40-16 (you read that correctly, the Braves have won 71% of their home games). It only makes one thing. A recipe of disaster for any opposing team.

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A Look at the MLB’s One Game Playoff

“I think it’s stupid, to be honest with you, But Major Lague Baseball wants a bunch of teams in the playoffs. There’s nothing like cut-throat baseball for the fans. And people love that 163rd regular-season game. They’ve loved it in the past. I’m sure that’s probably what’s promoted a second wild-card team. I wish they would’ve done it a year earlier so we would have had a chance last year. but it is what it is.” -Chipper Jones

Love it or hate it, the Major League Baseball’s one game wild card round in the playoffs is here to say. Even if you agree with Chipper Jones, and think it’s stupid.

Chipper Jones opinion on this matter is particularly relevant because his Atlanta Braves will most likely be in that playoff game. Ironically this game could be against the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that slid into the playoffs last season while the Braves imploded and missed the playoffs entirely. Chipper acknowledged this as well.

“I wish they would’ve done it a year earlier so we would have had a chance last year. But it is what it is.” Jones said.

Chipper Jones is far from the only player and manager who disagrees with the one game playoff.

However, as a fan of the game, I think there’s a lot to love. While this does feel like an attempt on the part of the MLB to expand the playoffs in an attempt to gain more revenue, there is also a lot of good that can come from this.

It makes the last games of the season a bit more meaningful. This is basic math. An extra playoff spot means that more teams are in contention. This of course means that their games near the end of the season have more value as they attempt to grab that last spot.

Another thing this does is add that 163rd game that everybody loves. I understand that part of the 163rd game’s novelty is that it doesn’t happen very often but, the wild card is a very meaningful game. This creates an air of appointment television. This will be the only game that is not a game seven, that is actually like a game seven.

I think the wild card game is a way to add meaning to the regular season and start October off with a bang with an elimination game. If you don’t want to be in the elimination game, you do have the other 162 games of the regular season to avoid it.

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Is There An End to the Steroid Era?

Melky Cabrera is suspended for 50 games after testing positive for high amounts of testosterone. Cabrera, the anchor of the Giants line-up, is a valuable piece to a team in playoff contention. Cabrera was supposed to add another dimension to the Giants. He was supposed to make the team that could pitch dangerous because they could hit. Trailing the Dodgers in the NL West, the Giants are going to need to lean on their pitching more than ever before. At least they got Hunter Pence, right?

This is an after shock of the steroid era. Proof that the doping will never really go away. How do you end that?

Gone are the days of the brazen use of steroids. Guys that looked like the incredible hulk and acted like nothing was wrong. Those days are past us. Cabrera doesn’t look bigger than he did before. In fact, if you didn’t know any better, you could attribute Melky’s spike in production to the fact that he was taking care of his body and eating better. What is a real way to hold guys accountable?

Melky Cabrera stood to make millions of dollars after this season. It’s the final year of his contract and he was having a career year, with 11 homeruns and 60 RBIs. Compared to a possible 50 game suspension it seemed well worth the risk. Even if the steroids weren’t making him bigger they were helping in some way, possibly recovery. The reason doesn’t matter. An edge is an edge.

The real way to hold players responsible is to have them hold each other responsible.

This idea proposed by Dale Murphy on the Jim Rome show is absolutely correct. Take away wins from the team. Despite the length of the season each victory matters and taking away wins would be devastating. Guys would definitely not allow their teammates to take steroids then. This is a use of peer pressure that would be beneficial.

If victories are voided using the Wins Above Replacement stat, which is the number of victories a player adds to to a team above what a replacement player would add, then the Giants would be in third place in the NL West. Not second. Cabrera, statistically speaking, adds about 5 wins to the Giants above what a replacement player would. The Giants got passed for the division lead by the Dodgers yesterday and now trail them by .5 of a game. If the five games were taken away the Giants would now be tied with the Diamondbacks and would trail the Dodgers by 5.5 games.

This makes much more sense than taking away all the games that Melky Cabrera was involved in but, it puts enough pressure on the team to make sure he was clean. That’s what a steroid punishment should be about. Helping to completely clean up the sport from the inside.

Not only do steroids give an unfair advantage to others, it’s not good for people. It may have come a long way from being as deadly as it was but, just like concussion rules in football, this should be about protecting athletes from themselves. Possibly shortening their lives is not worth the short term gain they’re getting. Until this happens the game won’t be completely clean.

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Felix Hernandez, Perfection and The Golden Era of Pitching

Felix Hernandez celebrates on the mound after pitching his perfect game.

Felix Hernandez became the first Seattle Mariner to pitch a perfect game, yesterday. He’s pitched the third perfect game this season and the second perfect game in his own building. If you could have gone to that game and didn’t go, shame on you, going to watch baseball is fun and doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Felix Hernandez put on a clinic yesterday. His breaking ball had some real movement. I didn’t catch the whole game but, from what I saw it was pretty evident. Nobody was hitting King Felix yesterday.

While this is a testament to how talented Hernandez is, it means a whole lot more than one pitcher. Enjoy what you’re looking at now. This is the golden era of pitching in baseball.

This is literally the best it has ever been.

Felix Hernandez’s perfect game is the twenty-third in the history of the game. It’s the eleventh since 1991 and the sixth since 2009. As mentioned before, it’s the third this season. Earlier this season the Cubs Philip Humber pitched a perfect game against Felix’s Mariners and the Giants Matt Cain pitched a perfect game against the Astros. It’s always hard to define an era while it’s happening but, do this one thing.

Pay attention.

Pitching a perfect game is one of the most difficult things to do in all of sports. Even people who don’t enjoy baseball can’t help but be awed by the accomplishment. One day we might tell our kids about what we saw.

Maybe pitching a perfect game becomes common place in the future. If this is the case then we’re seeing something special. We’re seeing the beginning of a trend that started here (though I hope not).

Maybe though, hitters rise again and it’s years before we see another perfect game. Then we lived through a truly unprecedented time in sports history. That’s the best part about being a sports fan. Any given day or night sports history could happen right before your eyes. I’m paying attention.

Are you?

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Not Playing Hard Ball.

Since the last CBA the NHL has had seven different Stanley Cup Champions in as many years. Los Angeles won their first title this year.

The current NHL collective bargaining agreement expires September 15th. At first it looked like a lockout was looming. The owners attempted to play some hard ball. They put their foot down with an outrageous CBA proposal obviously in the hopes that the NHLPA would give a strong reaction.

In the owners proposal, the players would take a 24% income cut. The owners, like in the previous NBA and NFL lockouts cite rising costs as a reason for a reconstructed CBA. This time however asking the players for such a sharp pay cut puts the responsibility of those heavy losses on the heads of the players. A thesis that is both flawed and unfair.

That’s why the NHLPA’s counter proposal is so surprising.

The players’ proposal by comparison sounds level-headed and open to compromise. Instead of looking to join the hard ball game, the players association offered to take pay cut, by reducing their share of hockey related revenue from 57% to 43%, and they decided not propose a softened or removed salary cap. A softened salary cap would be to the players’ advantage.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, has hinted on a couple of occasions that he would like the two sides to be able to negotiate through the season. The owners have made it abundantly clear that their stance is immovable. They will not start the season with the current CBA. This of course also puts the players in the lead of the public relations battle. As they should be.

If hockey is played, it will be due to the flexibility of the players.

If it isn’t it is the rigidity of the owners at work.

Less hockey means that the fans get screwed no matter what. Fan support has been up in the sport. Lockouts like this are always stupid. Since the last CBA was agreed upon the NHL has experienced an amazing $3.3 billion of growth. Fans always have to wonder, where’s the money? Can’t they split it and get along with their business?

They can. They won’t, but they can.

The players, owners, and fans want hockey. The fans don’t deserve this.

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National Treasure: Stephen Strasburg’s Arm

Stephen Strasburg is almost there. And not in a good way. At the beginning of the season manager, Mike Rizzo, revealed the team’s plans to limit Strasburg’s season pitch count to 160 innings. Right now Strasburg has pitched a total of 127.1 innings. Would the Nationals really stop Strasburg from pitching after a 160 innings?

They’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

On one hand, the Nationals are winning the NL east. Strasburg is the ace of a team with a great pitching rotation that includes Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman. Strasburg has a 2.97 ERA and a 12-5 record in the 22 games he’s started this season. When the season began I don’t believe the Nationals thought that they would be doing this well. However, the possibility of the playoffs are in the cards for Washington and if they limit their ace to 160 innings he’s not going to be able to pitch for them in the postseason.

On the other hand, Stephen Strasburg is two seasons removed from Ulnar Collateral Ligament reconstruction, known as Tommy John surgery to us normal people. If Strasburg goes out and pitches beyond his 160 inning count, he begins to put his surgically repaired arm in danger. There is a possibility that Stephen’s career is at stake. Nobody wants to lose a player that could be one of the cornerstones of that organization for years to come.

I don’t think the Nationals will stick to the count. They can’t

What Washington might do is start to space Stephen’s start out some more but, there’s no way a team enters the post season without it’s ace. The further into playoffs Washington can go the bigger disadvantage that not having Strasburg will mean.

Would you push Strasburg in the short term or preserve him in the long term? Comment below and give me your opinion.

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It’s Great To Be The A’s

Once upon a time, after the Los Angeles Raiders beat the Washington Redskins in Superbowl XVIII 38-9, a reporter asked Raiders owner Al Davis how his team was able to be so successful with all the distractions they had. Al Davis smiled and said, “When you’ve got great coaches, and after you’ve got great coaches you get great players, you have a great organization and, you tell them one thing, just win baby!” These iconic words of Al Davis are the law that all team sports abide by.

Winning is something the Oakland A’s have been doing a lot of lately. Only time will tell if any of these players are great but, they are consistent. They’ve got a great coach in manager Bob Melvin. His team came out of nowhere and has pulled off some stunning victories. The A’s lead the league with 12 walk-off wins after all. The organization is great, the general manager Billy Beane still runs the ship and he’s still finding great prospects and other under the radar assets to his team. All that’s left to do with all of these people is to win, and do they ever win.

The Athletics are second in the AL West behind the Texas Rangers with a record of 57-48. They finished off the month of July hotter than any A’s team ever with a 19-4 record. If Oakland is anywhere near winning a game in the waning moments of a game the find a way to pull out a victory. Even Tim Tebow thinks 12 walk-off wins is a lot. There aren’t many big name guys on the roster, if any at all, so just how is Oakland winning?

Let’s first look at pitching. For the Athletics it’s very solid. Their team ERA is 3.44, which is fourth best in baseball right now. The A’s have also had a combined 9 shutouts which is fifth best in the majors. Yesterday Bartolo Colon pitched 8 scoreless inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. Tonight Oakland will call up right-handed pitching prospect Dan Straily to start against the Blue Jays. Straily has a whopping 175 strikeouts in 138 1/3 innings in the time he has spent pitching in double-A and triple-A. According to foxsports.com that is 21 more strikeouts than Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg. The A’s have good pitching and an abundance of it.

What makes the Athletics special is their hitting. It’s underwhelming in every category. They’re 24th in runs scored, 27th in on base percentage, 25th in OPS, second to last in hits, and dead last in the league in batting average. Their team batting average is .229, which is flat out awful for those of you keeping count. Where are the A’s going with smelly numbers like this? Nowhere but up. The key to the A’s victories is timeliness they get the hits they need when they need it. They score just when it is absolutely necessary.

Timely hitting is a shaky place to build a home but, when you combine that with great pitching (in the American League no less), then it become a very stable combination. The pitching keeps Oakland in games that a batting lineup like that should be nowhere near and then late in games the clutch gene takes over and Oakland soars. If the they keep up their success don’t think for a second that they couldn’t wreak havoc in the playoffs.

It’s great to be the A’s. Wouldn’t you say?

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MLB Contenders Reach For Stars As Trade Deadline Passes

The Major League Baseball trade deadline came and went, ending at 4:00pm E.T. At the trade deadline the Phillies, Marlins, and Cubs became major sellers and the Rangers, Reds, and Dodgers became buyers. Many teams were able to meet their needs.

The Texas Rangers

What They Needed: Pitching.

What They Got: The Rangers came away from the trade deadline feeling they addressed their area of need and then some. In a trade with the Cubs they acquired Ryan Dempster the right-handed pitcher for a couple of prospects. Dempster bolsters a Rangers rotation that contains the likes of Yu Darvish and Derek Holland. Dempster was a key piece for the Cubs to move. Originally Atlanta had some interest in him but Dempster didn’t really like Atlanta. The deal with the Rangers seems to mutually beneficial for all parties involved.

On top of getting Ryan Dempster from the Cubs, the Rangers also got catcher Geovany Soto from Chicago. Soto adds depth to the catcher position and it provides insurance for Mike Napoli should he decide to leave Texas at the end of this season through free agency.

The San Francisco Giants

What They Needed: Hitting/Outfield

What They Got: The Giants got what they wanted. Sort of. They got Hunter Pence from the Phillies. Pence has been a very solid ball player. He’s been hitting the ball okay batting .271 on the season. As it was pointed out on the ESPN Baseball Today podcast, Pence will be playing right field in AT&T park, one of the bigger right fields in the league. Playing in a ballpark of that size a lot of balls are going to be hit over Hunter’s head. His numbers on play like those have been awful. I don’t know that Giants really got what they needed. Pence’s numbers have been on the decline since 2010 and he’s now in a ballpark that doesn’t quite suit him.

The Los Angeles Dodgers

What They Needed: Pitching, Hitting

What They Got: To add to Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers were able to get Shane Victorino who is batting .261 this season adds yet another bat to what is a much more powerful Dodgers lineup than it was just a couple of weeks ago. Los Angeles also got Brandon League to be a reliever and closer if it’s necessary. League had 37 saves last season and Los Angeles is hoping he can do it again. It’s pretty obvious that the Dodgers are building a team that they believe can beat the Giants.

The Cincinnati Reds

 What They Needed: Hitting

What They Got: The Reds are a very good baseball team already. They’ve got a solid rotation and bullpen. They can hit well and when Joey Votto comes back they’ll hit even better. What could they possibly want? Jonathan Broxton. After having a 2.27 ERA with Kansas City he will solidify a bullpen in Cincinnati that is already one of the best in baseball.

The most perplexing thing about this pickup is that the top of the batting lineup could use some serious help but it remained unaddressed. Increasing an area of strength while ignoring an area of particular need just seems silly. Jonathan Broxton is a good pick up all the same.

These are just some teams that reached out for stars at the deadline. The Dodgers and the Rangers got what they really needed. The Reds and Giants? Not so much.

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How good of a fit is Hanley Ramirez anyway?

If anything the Los Angeles Dodgers have been resilient. They have managed hold a 53-47 record thus far despite the losses of Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp. The Dodgers acquired 3rd baseman Hanley Ramirez in a trade from the Florida Marlins. Is it a good fit?

Hanley has a reputation that’s not exactly admirable. He’s not the most stable element in any locker room, his batting is down from when he was in his prime (which wasn’t all that long), and he’s a barely passable excuse of a 3rd baseman. In the two games that Ramirez  has been a Dodger he has hit the ball well with 3 hits in 6 at bats. His fielding however is . . . let’s just say he’s still Hanley. In Hanley’s first game in blue almost had an error but it was covered by the quick thinking of short stop Luis Cruz, saving Ramirez’s ass.

Ramirez has an opportunity to provide the Dodgers with crucial offense and a chance to rejuvenate his career. I don’t think there is any debate that Hanley Ramirez had a lot of potential once upon a time and isn’t the player he could have been. For the Dodgers who have managed to be surprisingly strong all season long Ramirez gives them a good case to be in the playoffs, which in turn would give them a shot at winning a title. That’s if Hanley can keep himself together to do any of this. He’s only been batting .251 this season.

To Hanley’s credit the Dodgers play in a smaller park than the Marlins, albeit not that much smaller. Still Ramirez did tell ESPN that it would make him feel more loose at the plate. If this proves true Los Angeles might be a great home for Hanley after all.

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