March 29, 2013

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Welcoming the Houston Astros to the AL West

By: Matt Bowen

Opening Day is only a few days away and Major League Baseball will have a slightly new look this year for the first time since 1998, when the Milwaukee Brewers switched from the American League to the National league because of expansion teams Tampa Bay and Arizona.

The Astros will be moving from the NL Central to the AL West in 2013.

Now, for the first time in league history, each league will have 15 teams. Also, each division will have five teams. The Astros are set to join the AL West amongst the likes of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners and their in-state and now divisional rival Texas Rangers.

Baseball is so excited for the move that the MLB decided that the very first game of 2013 will be the Astros hosting the Rangers. Houston righty Bud Norris gets the Opening Day nod against Texas lefty Matt Harrison.

One man to keep your eye on during the broadcast is Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan, who spent some of his best days of his Hall of Fame career in an Astros uniform, which will look strikingly familiar.

The Astros needed a new look, so they turned back the clock and mimicked their jerseys first introduced in 1975. Sure, they’re not quite as vibrant as the multiple shades of orange, but they definitely have that vibe. Don’t be surprised when the team goes full throwback a few times this season.

After all, the Astros have a new lease on their baseball life in the AL West. Yes, they lost 107 games last season, but a new chapter in their history is about to commence. Thanks to swapping leagues and the new look, Astros fans should have a new outlook.

The organization may have a ways to go before they reach glory, but they are beginning to put the right pieces in place. New manager Bo Porter is a great start. In his recent past, Porter was the third base coach for the Washington Nationals, who made the playoffs last year with an NL-best 98 wins last season. Knowing how to win is invaluable in sports and Porter has tasted victory. Now, his No. 1 job is to change the mindset in Houston.  Porter is doing just that as he’s prepping his men to be champions. Fans can’t argue with Porter’s passion.

Another thing to look forward to as an Astros fan is young players Jose Altuve and Matt Dominguez. Altuve hit .290 in 2012 with 33 stolen bases as a second baseman. He may be small in size (5’5”), but he has a big game. Last year was his first full season in the majors and he may have run out of gas down the stretch. Expect him to be ready to go for 162 games this season.

Dominguez is a 23-year-old prospect that’s been champing at the bit to make an impact at the major league level. After being dealt to the Astros last season from the Miami Marlins, he hit five homers in just 109 at-bats and hit .284. He’ll be a welcomed star for the Astros by season’s end.

Just like the team’s motto on their webpage this season, “It’s a whole new ballgame” in Houston.

May 21, 2012

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Kerry Wood Retires

By: Anson Whaley

With the abrupt retirement last week of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Kerry Wood, baseball lost one of the great flamethrowers of his era.

Is Kerry Wood comparable to Nolan Ryan?

Wood’s career didn’t turn out exactly as he probably thought it would, though. As a rookie in 1998, he burst onto the scene after recording 20 strikeouts in a game against the Houston Astros, tying a major league record set by Roger Clemens. Dominant performances like that helped him win the Rookie of the Year Award. That success didn’t last long, though, as Wood sat out the entire 1999 season due to an elbow injury and consequently had the famous Tommy John surgery. It could be argued that injury actually cost him two full seasons as he had a subpar 2000 in trying to get back on track.

Wood came back healthy in 2001 and in ’01 – ’03, put together three of his best seasons including his all-star 2003 campaign when he struck out a league leading 266 batters. But over the next few years, he struggled again with injuries and in 2007 became a full time relief pitcher. Having earned about $40 million in salary by that time, he could have easily ridden off into the sunset and called it a career. Instead, he chose to reinvent himself.

In 2008, he became an all-star for the second time – this time as a closer. Over 2008 and 2009, Wood was one of the best in the business in the National League, compiling 54 saves. He also had one of the best strikeout to innings pitched ratios in baseball, fanning 147 batters in only 102 innings. After a rough start in 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, he was traded to the New York Yankees and was the definition of a shutdown reliever. Helping the Yanks to the ALCS, Wood posted a microscopic 0.69 ERA in 24 games.

All of this isn’t to suggest that he was even close to a Hall of Fame player. Wood never won 15 games as a starter or had an ERA under 3.00. Further, even in his best seasons, it would be relatively easy to find a significant amount of pitchers that were more successful.

Also, for all of his talent, Wood struggled wildly with his control at times. He had the equivalent of approximately six full seasons as a starter, but he twice led the league in hit batters and twice finished in the top ten in wild pitches. He also ranked in the top ten in walks allowed four times.

Hall of Good? Maybe. Hall of Fame? Absolutely not.

Wood is frequently compared to another modern-day flamethrower – Roger Clemens. But though he tied Clemens’ record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game, he was actually more similar to Nolan Ryan. When he was on his game he was difficult to beat, but he was never considered the greatest pitcher during his time in the majors. Wood was king of the strikeout (he actually finished his career as the active leader in strikeout/nine innings ratio with more than ten strikeouts), but simply not the pitcher Clemens was.

Still, Wood had one of the best fastballs we’ve ever seen and at the height of his career, was a remarkable player. Few pitchers can successfully become an all-star starter and closer of the course of their careers, but Wood was one such player.

March 26, 2010

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Top Uniforms of the 80s – Baseball Edition

By: Denny

I’ll save the traditional classic uniforms for another list.  The 80’s were all about being bold and making a statement.  These are the best of the best as far as I’m concerned.  Grab an ice cold Fresca, pour yourself a bowl of Kaboom cereal, turn up your Bananarama and enjoy!

5. San Diego Padres “Burger King” collection.  Nothing wrong with being garbed with colors most closely resembling the aftermath of bodily functions.  Solid uniforms.

4. I see a theme here.  Bold and obnoxious colors are vastly underrated.  We’ve seen the all black uniforms across different sports, but the all yellow?  That takes guts!  The Big Bird theme topped off with a pillbox hat gets major points!

3. A sentimental favorite here- The 1980s Brewers looked more like a biker gang than athletes.  Pot bellies, curly mullets and jumbo mustaches are pretty cool.  BIG fan of the old MB Mitt logo as well as a team the celebrates the creation of beer.  Very clever logo!

2. The Montreal Expos – the team everyone agreed to just not care about.  Very nice, clean look though.  I have no idea what the heck the “elb” in the shape of an M logo is or means (has to be French), but I’m a sucker for powder blue!  Sharp!

1. The top slot goes to the Houston Astros.  Having the stones to have a home jersey comprised almost exclusively by a rainbow means you deserve to win.  Getting hit in the head by a Nolan Ryan fastball had to hurt.  Knowing he was rocking a rainbow jersey when he threw the pitch made it that much worse!