I am not a scout… BUT

No, for real, I’m not a scout. When I was on the beat, a scout-y eye was always one of my weaknesses. I worked over the years to refine it, but I do want to preface this by saying I’m not a trained scout.

With that said, I obviously watch a lot of baseball, and I watch a lot of college baseball. And I watched a pitcher tonight who MLB Pipeline has projected to go in the top half of the first round this June: Carson Fulmer, right-hander from Vanderbilt. So I figured I’d offer up a few observations, just from the FWIW category.

1. No doubt the kid has a big arm. Consistently hit 95 on the stadium gun, and hit 96 in his last inning.

2. But he had real trouble locating that fastball. Left quite a few of them up, and UGa punished him for it. One homer, some very hard-hit base hits and some very loud outs.

3. Oh, but that curveball. He threw it in the zone, threw it for a chase pitch; Georgia hitters were overmatched by it. 82-84 mph on the stadium gun, almost looks like a slider, and it’s a pretty pitch.

4. I may have just missed it, but I saw almost none of any other pitch. Reports indicate that he has a changeup, but I think I saw one all night.

5. Before I read up on him, my quick-and-dirty take was that he looked like a reliever to me. Power fastball, impressive breaking ball, shaky location, no third pitch (THAT I SAW), and a high-effort delivery.

6. With that said, that’s obviously not all he has. Like I said, I have read that he does have a promising changeup, and obviously his location is usually better than it was. Those two pitches, with a third and with better location? Yeah, that’s a starter. And the performance this year… 67 Ks in 48 innings against the schedule they’ve played is no joke. Big league scouts know more about this stuff than I do, and if clubs are thinking about him in the 10-15 overall range, then they’re almost certainly thinking of him as a starter.

So, anyway, take it for what it’s worth, but it was a fun opportunity to watch a guy up close who’s going to be talked about a lot in a couple of months. I also saw SS Dansby Swanson, who’s also projected to be a high first-rounder, but since I’ll be seeing VU again tomorrow, I’ll wait and see him a second time before posting anything.

-M.

2015 predictions

Yep, check it out, I’m trying to get back into the blogging game.

AL East: Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees, Rays.

I feel good about the Red Sox. To me, they’re the pick in the AL, with a high floor due to their deep offense and a high ceiling due to the potential of their rotation. Beyond that… I dunno. There is no order of the other 4 teams that would surprise me. I mean that. I like the Yankees and Rays both more than other people seem to. The Blue Jays have a really high ceiling, but also a low floor — I wouldn’t be surprised by 75 or 95 wins from them. I could easily see the Rays contending for a Wild Card.

AL Central: Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Twins

Only slightly less confounding. I’m not crazy about KC or MIN; those two were pretty easy picks for me. The other three? Yeahhh, we’ll see. I just don’t like the depth of the Tigers’ lineup at all, or their bullpen, or their rotation after the top 3 spots. They certainly could squeeze one more division title out of this, but I think the bust potential is extremely high. The White Sox, I feel like they’re still one year away, but I won’t be shocked if it works this year. That leaves the Indians, who I don’t love, but I think have the fewest weaknesses.


AL West: 
Angels, A’s, Mariners, Rangers, Astros

Seriously, the AL is just baffling. Could the Rangers challenge for the division? Yep. Could the Astros finish second or third? Yep. Could the A’s just not work? Definitely. Could the Angels suddenly get old? You bet. I am really high on the A’s, and not nearly as high on the Mariners as a lot of people are. In the Angels, I see a team that has a lot of depth on both sides of the ball, has the willingness to tinker in-season and has the game’s best player.


AL Wild Cards: 
A’s, Orioles.

But seriously, y’all, there are at least 12 teams in the AL that I wouldn’t be shocked to see in the playoffs.
AL awards: Mike Trout MVP, Felix Hernandez Cy Young, Bob Melvin manager, Carlos Rodon rookie (I know, bold)

NL East: Nationals, Mets, Marlins, Braves, Phillies

I really don’t have much read on the Mets or Marlins. I feel like one of them is likely to be pretty good, and the other will not, but I’m not sure I could tell you which is which. I just think I like the Mets a little more. I’m not sold that Washington is a super-team, but they’re the most complete team by a good bit, and should win the division pretty handily. I’m just saying I think 92-94 wins may be more reasonable than 100. The Braves, I think are better than they’re getting credit for. There’s some notion that they’ll be out-and-out bad, and I don’t buy that.
NL Central: Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Reds, Brewers

This is one division that I found pretty easy. I like the Cardinals more the more I look at them. They’re deep, they’re complete, I don’t see a whole lot to worry about as long as Wainwright stays healthy. The Pirates are also very good, and a pretty clear choice for second. The Cubs are getting there, and their long-term future is very, very bright… but I don’t think they’re there just yet. Could be a long year in Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
NL West: Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies

The Dodgers are as clear a favorite in their division as the Nats and Cards are, IMO. So much talent, so many ways they can win. I’d say the highest ceiling in the NL, even above Washington. The Giants and Padres I could go either way on, but I just think the Padres are more a collection of pieces than a well-assembled team. They won’t catch the ball well at all.
NL Wild Cards: Pirates, Mets
NL Awards: Andrew McCutchen MVP, Clayton Kershaw Cy Young, Kris Bryant rookie, Terry Collins manager (again, bold… as for Collins, if I’m right and the Mets make the playoffs, he’ll likely win the award)

Postseason:

With the reminder, as always, that picking postseason series is a fools’ errand even when you know who’s playing in them, this is part of the deal so I may as well go on record. Typically when I pick the postseason in March, I pick the teams that I think are most likely to be in the postseason in the first place, so let’s go with Dodgers over Red Sox.

-M.

Wrapping up a week in Florida

This afternoon, I hit my seventh ballpark in seven days, finishing up a week of barnstorming all over Florida. In my new role as full-time editor and sometimes reporter/columnist/analyst, my work was more about meeting people, talking to people, checking in on what’s going on, and less about writing Spring Training features.

Still, it wouldn’t be spring if I didn’t blog, so here, a wrapup of some of the numbers from this week in FL

Teams seen: 11 (the 10 NL East and AL East teams, plus the Pirates)

Ballparks: 7

Miles on the rental car (a rather enjoyable 2015 Jetta SE TSI): 1060

Most impressive hitting performance: Bryce Harper’s home run in Port St. Lucie that left the stadium entirely, and may or may not have landed yet

Most impressive pitching performance: Hard to say, but Michael Pineda looked awfully good against the Phillies in Clearwater on Friday, with five shutout and five Ks. Red Sox rookie Brian Johnson was impressive against the Rays, with the added benefit of potential AC/DC references galore when he gets to the big leagues.

Best concession item: Do you have to ask? Taco In a Helmet, Port St. Lucie

Best concession item, non TiaH division: Delco’s cheesesteak, without onions, with hot peppers, in Clearwater

Best meal: Another and-still-champion, Leftovers Cafe in Jupiter. Seriously, especially you Cardinals fans, if you go to Jupiter, you absolutely must go to Leftovers or Food Shack. Honorable mention: Tampa Taco Bus

Trips to Cigar City tasting room: 2

Best beer: Portmanteau, “sour session IPA” at Cigar City

Notable wildlife sightings: a bald eagle and numerous sandhill cranes (including a chick) on the way from Jupiter to Sarasota, wild pigs on the way from Tampa and Port St Lucie

Hold Steady albums listened to: All six, in order of release date

Best ballpark music: Clearwater where in the course of one afternoon I heard “Fools Gold” by the Stone Roses, “The Seed” by the Roots, “Buggin’ Out” by A Tribe Called Quest, “Outshined” by Soundgarden, and “Flashlight” by Parliament. That’ll do.

-M.

A tip of the cap to Rick Ankiel

According to Dan McLaughlin, who I’d have to think would know, Rick Ankiel is retiring. This isn’t an enormous surprise, since he’s not in camp anywhere and he hasn’t been in a big league game since June. But it’s still news. Ankiel was one of the most fascinating, exciting players I’ve ever seen, an absolute physical freak who had a unique career path.

 

So, first, I just want to wish him well. Ankiel wasn’t always easy to cover (he’d admit that himself), but in his later years he relaxed quite a bit and I found him warm and engaging. This story, from last May, was the product of a lengthy and wide-open interview and is one of my favorite things I’ve written in baseball. 

 

Rick had a hell of a career, making it to the Major Leagues three times (starter, reliever, outfielder), which is a stunning accomplishment in and of itself. He struck out 194 batters in one season and hit 25 home runs in another. We’re not likely to see a player like him again any time soon.

 

Anyway. I have three Ankiel stories. Actually, I have a lot more than three, but I have three that are suited to blogging.

 

The first is actually more of a Darryl Kile story. It goes back to my very first spring on the beat, possibly even my first couple of days on the beat. We were having our morning session with TLR at the corner of a practice field while the pitchers did their morning throwing. The nearest pair was Ankiel and Kile — Kile closest to us, Ankiel opposite him, maybe 100 feet away. 

This was the spring of 2002, so October of 2000 and the 2001 season were very, very fresh in people’s minds. Kile, a legendary teammate, was one of the people most aggressive about protecting Ankiel from anything he perceived as untoward or unfair attention from media (or anybody else).

So one of Ankiel’s throws sails a little off line — because when guys are playing catch in February, well, sometimes that happens. Kile had to jump a little bit to catch it. But from my angle, the ball looked like it was coming RIGHT at me. Again, I was new to the beat, and new to being around large numbers of baseballs being thrown around while I was doing my job.

So I had an instant, and ill-advised, reaction of self-preservation. Before I could process that the ball wasn’t REALLY going to get to me, I flinched and said “heads up!” It wasn’t mocking. It wasn’t even loud. It had NOTHING to do with who threw the ball and everything to do with the fact that for about a tenth of a second, I thought I was about to take a baseball in the teeth.

Kile reacted — instantly. He turned around, scowling. He took a couple of steps toward us. He growled, “WHO SAID THAT?” I kind of stammered a half-apology, didn’t really say much of anything, and made myself as small as I could. It was quite an introduction to DK.

So, yeah, that isn’t really an Ankiel story at all, but it always comes to mind when I think of him.

 

The second, though, is very much an Ankiel story.

It was also Spring Training, also in Jupiter.This would have been the spring of… 2003 probably. Matt Morris and Ankiel had pitched in the same game. Ankiel at that point was still not exactly a media darling, and we knew he wasn’t likely to say a lot when we talked to him. We knew likewise that TLR and Dave Duncan weren’t likely to fill up our notebooks regarding him either. So we asked Morris about him.

Ankiel that day had not been especially sharp, but he hadn’t been especially bad either. His fastball command was iffy, but his curveball had been sensational. (As an aside, I honestly believe Ankiel could be a lefty specialist TODAY with just those two pitches.)

Anyway, we were talking to Morris, who on a good day was a really entertaining interview subject, about his teammate and about those two pitches. And somehow the timing worked out perfectly.

Morris, who had a truly great curveball himself, had just finished talking about Ankiel’s fastball and started talking about the curve. Like, the instant Morris said the word curveball, and started talking with a little reverence about it, Ankiel happened to walk by the crowd of reporters clustered around Morris locker.

With a Cheshire-Cat grin, he strolled by, said “Curveball is the [stuff],” and kept walking.

Pretty sure it was the only quote we got from him that day. It was the only one we needed.

 

And the third is from several years later, after Ankiel was an ex-Cardinal. It was the 2010 NLDS between the Giants and Braves, and my first experience as a columnist in the playoffs (as opposed to as the beat reporter or being on sidebar/feature duty). It was a somewhat daunting responsibility, and I had kind of dropped the ball in Game 1 — not writing a bad column, but just failing to do justice to the most essential angle that needed to be written.

Game 2 of that series was a terrific game, weird and full of twists and turns. And I wanted to make absolutely certain I got the right angle, and just crushed the column. Thankfully, Ankiel delivered. A guy who’d been allowed to leave StL a few months either, who’d been kicked to the curb by the Royals at midseason, came up with an enormous, extra-inning, game-winning playoff homer into the Bay at AT&T Park.

I had my angle. Boy, did I. (You can read the column here, if you so desire.) 

 

Anyway. Good luck, Rick, in whatever you decide to do next.

-M.

So, that was pretty great

The best/most memorable/most compelling nine-inning games I’ve seen in person…

 

5. Tie: 2003 NLCS, Game 6 (Bartman), and 2004 NLDS, Game 3 (Lima Time)

4. July 28, 2004, Cardinals 10, Cubs 9

3. 2011 NLDS, Game 5

2. Tonight. 2013 ALDS, Game 3

1. 2006 NLCS, Game 7

Reminiscing a bit

I saw it noted on Twitter this afternoon that today is the 10th anniversary of one of the more memorable games I covered during my years on the beat. On June 13, 2003, Roger Clemens joined two very elite clubs by recording his 300th win and 4000th strikeout in the big leagues.

 

It was part of a very memorable trip to Boston and New York, actually. Also on that same trip, Tino Martinez made his first return to the Bronx since leaving the Yankees. Scott Rolen made a tumbling slide at Fenway that caused him some pain (he later came to call it his “scorpion slide). Matt Morris started a hometown game but left after a first-inning rain delay. There was a lot of stuff going on. Then again, there was a lot of stuff going on every week in 2003, it seemed.

 

But easily, the memory I’ll always have from that weekend in the Bronx has to do with Edgar Renteria. Renteria was one of my favorite guys to cover. He’s smart and funny, and although he was always uncomfortable with his English, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t/didn’t speak it well. Edgar was definitely fun to cover, and was of course beloved by his teammates. And if he didn’t like talking to TV cameras, hey, that just meant he was more available to the writers.

 

So anyway. Renteria was Clemens’ 4000th strikeout victim, so he was one of the people we obviously sought out in the clubhouse after the game. And he swore he had no idea he’d entered the history books. He knew Clemens was going for No. 300, but he didn’t know that he was No. 4,000.

 

This despite the fact that the old ballpark in the Bronx was absolutely shaking with every strike against him. This despite all the attention. Edgar told the scrum of reporters that, hey, he tipped his cap to Clemens for the accomplishment, but he really couldn’t tell us much about what the experience was like — because in the moment, he didn’t know.

 

Skeptical, I pulled him aside the next day and asked again. “C’mon Edgar… were you just pulling our legs? Did you really not know?”

 

He swore he had no idea. I asked him, didn’t it seem unusual that the place was rocking on every pitch like it was the last out of a no-hitter? 

 

The response from the man who’d never played in the Bronx before was perfect: “They were cheering every at-bat.

 

“But I thought it was always like that (at Yankee Stadium).”

 

-M.

2013 Predictions

I already laid out my division/wild card/pennant winner picks for MLB.com, as did several of my colleagues. You can check those out here.

 

But I try to go into a little more depth here at the blog, so once again I’m giving more extensive picks in this space. Here are last year’s preseason predictions, which had mixed results, and here’s my roundup of how I fared at the end of the year.

 

So on with the show.

 

AL East: Rays, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles

I’m very high on Tampa Bay this year. I think their lineup is better than they get credit for, and of course they’ll do a great job of preventing runs. The Blue Jays have huge upside, but lots of questions in the rotation. If you could tell me Johnson/Morrow combine for 55-60 starts, I’d probably take them to win the division. I’m once again buying, relative to overall perception, on the Red Sox. I think they’ll be improved and a Wild Card contender. It’s really hard to write off the Yankees, but I’m just not sure they’re good enough even when they get healthy. They’ll need to ride their rotation if they’re going to be good. The O’s outscored their opponents by 7 runs last year. I think that is a much truer reflection of their quality than their record was, and they didn’t do nearly enough to get better this winter. They won’t be bad, but in this division, not-bad isn’t good enough.

 

AL Central: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins

I was (relatively) down on the Tigers and up on the White Sox at this time last year. This time, it’s the opposite. I’m buying the Tigers much more than I was last spring. Sanchez and the emergence of Scherzer deepen their rotation. Martinez and Hunter deepen their lineup. This is a very good team, much better equipped to hold up over six months than last year’s Tigers, IMO. I’d buy any order on the 2-3-4 teams here, but the Royals were a bit better than they looked last year and I’m expecting their young hitters to step forward. Cleveland is definitely improved, but is still a couple of starting pitchers away from serious contention. I’m probably selling the White Sox short, but I see a lot more potential for implosion than improvement. The Twins are a ways off.

AL West: Rangers, Angels, A’s, Mariners, Astros

The Rangers had a frustrating winter, but for a combination of offense, defense, starting pitching and relief pitching, they’re the best this division has to offer. They also have depth and talent knocking on the door, enabling them to address needs in-season. The Angels are going to score approximately eleventy kajillion runs, but I just don’t like their rotation behind Jered Weaver. The A’s were better than people realized even at the end of the year last year, but I can’t shake the feeling that they take a step back. I think the Mariners are still a couple of years away; they needed OBP at least as badly as they needed power, and they didn’t address that need at all. I love the Astros’ plan, but 2013 is going to be a long year.

Wild Cards: Blue Jays, Angels

This part is pretty easy. I think there there’s a pretty decent gap between the top 5 teams and the rest of the AL. Sixth-best IMO is Oakland, and maybe Boston 7th. 

NL East: Nationals, Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins

I know, me and everybody else. This is the division that it seems everyone agrees on. Now, of course, that means something weird is going to happen, and the Mets are going to win 90 games or the Nats are going to lose 90 or something. 

Anyway, I’m buying Washington in a huge way. I’m buying their rotation and bullpen. I’m buying their lineup (though if there is a worry, I think it’s possible regression from LaRoche and Desmond). I’m buying their defense. Best team in baseball, IMO. And the Braves may well be the second-best team in the NL. I worry about their rotation, but it should still be good enough for serious contention. I can squint and see how it works for the Phillies, but I’m not buying it. I think they’re a .500 team again. The Mets I like a BIT more than some folks, but it’s not going to be a great year. And the Marlins, like the Astros, I like the future but the present isn’t pretty.

NL Central: Reds, Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates, Cubs

As with Washington, I love the completeness of the Reds. I just don’t see that weakness that will get exposed. I like their rotation, their bullpen, their defense, and their lineup (though the lineup is IMO maybe a bit overrated). The one worry is if something happens in the rotation; I’m not sure what Plan B is. But they seem like a heavy favorite to repeat. The Cardinals could be extremely good, but they have a very wide range of possible outcomes. They’ll score runs. The question is what they get from the rotation beyond Wainwright. Garcia’s health and the effectiveness of the other three guys are all, IMO, uncertain. If it all works, great year. But there are legitimate worries in my mind. The Brewers will score runs, and their rotation is better than you think (led the NL in starters K/9 last year). But the margin for error is SO narrow that even something like doing without Corey Hart will be a problem. I can see how it works for the Bucs — lots of young and talented hitters who could emerge at once, and if that happens, they’ll be better than 4th. But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s another season around 75-80 wins. I like the Cubs’ offseason, but I still don’t think there’s enough improvement to contend.

AL West: Diamondbacks, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Rockies

Maybe the most interesting division in baseball. I hated the D-Backs’ offseason, and yet the more I look at the roster, the more I like it. Deep lineup, deep rotation, and Kevin Towers always puts together a good bullpen. They had a very good run differential last year. The Giants will have better offense than people think, not as good a lineup as people think (courtesy, in both cases, AT&T Park) and will be around all year. I just have too many questions about the Dodgers lineup. Love their rotation, don’t have any confidence at all in anybody beyond Kemp, Ethier and Gonzalez in the lineup. The Padres are a bit of a popular sleeper this spring (my friend Joe Sheehan is all over them), but I can’t get past what looks like a brutal rotation. The Rox have a glimmer of hope if all their promising starters take off at once. IMO they have the most hope of any of the presumed “bad” teams this year.

Wild Cards: Braves, Giants. 

I won’t be one bit surprised if the Dodgers or Cardinals knock out one of the five teams I have in the playoffs. But question marks for both teams have me knocking them down a peg. I will say, in both cases, there’s a good chance of a midseason trade that changes how things look.

MVPs: Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper (yes, I had Harper even before today)

Cy Youngs: Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw

World Series: Nationals over Tigers

 

And, finally, the playlist:

Keith Richards, “Wicked As It Seems”
Four Horsemen, “Nobody Said It Was Easy”
Black Crowes, “Twice As Hard”
Danko Jones, “Lovercall”
Guns N Roses, “Locomotive”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 18: And on that note, we cue the music

Today was the last full day of my Spring Training 2013 odyssey, with a Braves-Cardinals game at Roger Dean Stadium. Tomorrow morning I fly back to NYC, where I’m told it’s still chilly. 

It’s been a tremendously entertaining, if draining, three weeks, and it’s been great to be back at the ballpark. Whatever my job may require of me in the coming years, I hope it always includes a significant chunk of time actually at baseball games. It’s where I belong, and it’s great to be reminded of that.

Among the impressions that stand out…

* Chris Archer still stands as having given maybe the most impressive pitching performance I saw. Boy does he have some stuff. It’s got to be nice to be able to send a guy like that down.

* Matt Carpenter really looks pretty OK at second base. In short, if he hits like he ought to, the defense will be good enough to play him. I can’t say I expected that. It’s a tribute to him and the coaching staff.

* Most impressive players I saw were Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper. Two guys who just absolutely smoke the ball and are also fairly freakish athletes.

* Evan Gattis is just a hitter. He may or may not break camp with the Braves, but put aside the novelty factor. He looks like a guy who will hit at the big league level.

* Lakeland is still the best place for a game in the Grapefruit League, at least until and unless somebody goes to Vero Beach. Clearwater is the runner-up, for my money.

* Best concession item? Duh – Taco in a Helmet, Port St. Lucie.

* Best meal of the trip? Another no-brainer. Leftovers Cafe in Jupiter.

* Best beer? Green Flash Hop Odyssey Black IPA, at Yard House in Jupiter

Today’s game in a nutshell: Matt Adams’ eighth-inning RBI single broke a tie and gave the Cardinals a 5-4 win. Mike Minor was very good for four innings and then rocky in the fifth. Joe Kelly was quite solid, though not against exactly an A lineup. And Oscar Taveras made a very nice catch to end the game.

Player of the day: Braves outfielder Jordan Parraz was 4-for-4 with an outfield assist.

Miles driven: 4 today, 1654 for the trip

Miles run: 2 1/2 today, 28 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 18 for the trip

Up next: A flight to Laguardia, dinner with my wife, sleeping in my own bed, and then the Drive-By Truckers in concert on Saturday night.

Ballpark music note: At about 11:05 am, with the gates already having opened, and the Cardinals taking BP, they played “Battery” by Metallica. That was decidedly unexpected. And very cool.

And, finally, the playlist:

Today is a sad day for me. The Boston Phoenix is closing up shop after decades of being an absolutely fantastic publication. I read it religiously every week when I was in school, for news analysis, local insight, music and arts coverage, and all kinds of fantastic writing and journalism. It was an example of how good an alternative news weekly can be, and its loss will be felt. So in a hat-tip to the Phoenix, it’s a playlist of Boston-area music from when I was in school. Thanks to everybody there. You did great work that mattered to a lot of people.

Letters to Cleo, “Pizza Cutter”
Aimee Mann, “That’s Just What You Are”
Morphine, “Cure For Pain”
Belly, “Feed the Tree”
Buffalo Tom, “Summer”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 17: Back home again on Planet Jupiter

So, somewhat appropriately I think, I’m back in Jupiter for the final stop of my 2013 Spring Training odyssey. This place really feels like home, which I guess makes sense given that I’ve lived more than a year of my life around here. I hit the Crazy Cuban for lunch and headed over to the ballpark for the Marlins and the Braves.

Kris Medlen pitched quite well before coming out of the game in the fifth. He was hit in the arm by a batted ball, and while it doesn’t seem to be serious at all, it would have been silly to push him.

Y’all know, if you read me with any frequency, that I’m not a “soft factors” kind of guy. I don’t pretend to know any of these guys’ character with any degree of certainty, even the ones I covered for a long time. I just think there’s too much that those of us who cover a team don’t know. We can get some read, but I’ve been surprised, positively or negatively, by so many guys over the years that I just think it’s safer to admit that I don’t know.

So, with that said, I don’t want you to think I’m holding Medlen up as a paragon of virtue as I write this. I _do_ think, though, he could be a star. I mean, obviously he could be a star in the baseball sense. The dude pitched 138 innings with a 1.53 ERA last year. He could be an All-Star this year. 

But I mean, he could be an off-the-field star, somewhat akin to how R.A. Dickey has taken off. Dickey of course has other things that make him noteworthy — the knuckleball and an incredibly compelling backstory. But Medlen, like Dickey, is almost disconcertingly honest and funny. He’s got a ton of personality, and an unusual personality. 

Maybe he goes out and posts a 5 ERA this year, and if that happens, nobody outside of Atlanta will notice. But if Medlen has another really good year, you’re going to hear a lot from him and about him, because he’s somebody that writers and TV and radio producers around the country will seek out. 

Today’s game in a nutshell: Medlen and Nathan Eovaldi were both quite good, and there wasn’t a lot of offense. Tyler Pastornicky walked, stole second, and scored on Chris Johnson’s single in the ninth to win the game, 2-1, for Atlanta.

Player of the day: That’d be Medlen by a hair over Eovaldi, since he didn’t give up a run. The Braves right-hander allowed two hits and no walks over 4 2/3 innings, striking out three.

Quote of the day: “I told him the very first time I threw a bullpen, I said, man, I feel like a [jerk] because I know you’ve caught Verlander before.” — Medlen on Gerald Laird

Miles driven: 18 today, 1645 for the trip

Miles run: still at 25 1/2, as I rested today following a rather embarrassing faceplant on the concrete outside the Braves stadium yesterday. Good times.

Up next: Tomorrow is my last game in Florida. I’ll be on Braves duty one more time, handling the beat for Mark Bowman as they play the Cardinals. It’s Joe Kelly against Mike Minor. But perhaps more important, it’s Joe Kelly against Shelby Miller, who will pitch after Kelly as they continue battling for the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation.l

And, finally, the playlist:

In honor of my time in the homeland, a playlist of Florida artists:

Tom Petty, “American Girl”
Jimmy Buffett, “Migration”
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”
Bellamy Brothers, “Let Your Love Flow”
Against Me, “Baby, I’m An Anarchist”

-M.

Spring Training, Day 16: No-hitter watch

Exhibit 14,729 as to how Spring Training is different: 

After five innings today, I took a look at my scorecard and said, “Oh, hey, the Cardinals don’t have a hit yet.” And then they got one, and that was that. 

Seeing them next to each other, thinking about them on the same day, I was struck by the similarities between the Cardinals and Braves. They’re both going to score a lot of runs, thanks to deep and powerful lineups (though the advantage goes to StL here). They both have some big arms in relief and should have quality bullpens (though the advantage definitely goes to ATL there).

And then there are the rotations, for my money are what separates the two teams — and yet in a sense are somewhat similar. The difference is the Cards have one or two more questions than the Braves do. In each case, it could be a very good unit. In each case, there’s an exciting youngster in the five spot. The Cardinals are more likely to have a Cy Young contender, I think, but the Braves are more likely to have above-average performances from their 3rd and 4th guys.

Overall, for both teams, I think it will come down to what the rotations do. If Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook and either Kelly or Miller come up big, the Cardinals could win north of 90 games and win the division. If Medlen comes anywhere close to repeating and Hudson has one more strong year and Teheran emerges, the Braves could have the NL’s best record. But it’s hard to shake the thought in both cases that if something goes wrong, it’s going to be in the starting five.

You can actually take this parallel one step further, in that in each case, I think they’re chasing a team that’s a little better, a little more complete, has a little bit less uncertainty. So IMO there’s a good chance they’ll be in a Wild Card battle with one another as they chase the respective defending division champions.

Today’s game in a nutshell: Teheran was very good. Westbrook was a bit shaky. And the back of the Cardinals bullpen was very, very rocky in a 12-3 Braves win over St. Louis. 

Player of the day: Teheran. He pitched five no-hit innings, striking out six against two walks. Aside from Brian McCann, he’s probably the biggest variable for this team, in my mind. If he’s very good, look out.

Miles driven: 7 so far today, 1464 for the trip

Miles run: 3 today, 25 1/2 for the trip

Starbucks visits: 1 today, 16 for the trip

Up next: It’s one more long highway haul for me tonight. I’m Jupiter-bound once again, spending the last three nights of the trip in my old stomping grounds. For the next two days, I’m on the Braves beat, covering for my good friend and A-1 teammate Mark Bowman as they play the Marlins (tomorrow night) and Cardinals (Thursday).

And, finally, the playlist:

Depeche Mode announced tour dates today. So you get a Depeche Mode playlist, which is fairly easy (or really difficult, I’m not sure which) given that there are something like 200 DM tracks on my iPod. 

“Black Celebration”
“World In My Eyes”
“In Your Room”
“Nothing”
“Everything Counts”

-M.

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