Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rickelsblog on the move

By Jeff

After 666 posts on Blogger, Rickelsblog is moving to WordPress. All of the old posts have already been moved and new ones will be posted at The design is still being worked on, but the posts are there and it already has a cleaner feel.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's time to commend MLB

By Jeff

Major league Baseball, and even commissioner Bud Selig, deserve respect and recognition for their complete turnaround when it comes to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Yes, I said it. Bud Selig, the man who made an exhibition game have a major impact on the World Series and has fought instant replay at every turn despite us living in 2013, deserves some props for the stance he has taken on PEDs since the league and its fans were duped by the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds to name a few.

"Do you think Jeter will still be my fake friend?"
Reports are coming out that today will be the day MLB hands out suspensions to those players implicated in the Biogenesis scandal. Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun was already hit with a 65-game suspension. Now it's expected that New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be banned through the 2014 season. It would be the longest suspension handed out since MLB and Selig revised their drug policy and consequences.

This is the same A-Rod who is one of the most recognizable names and faces in baseball. The same A-Rod who was supposed to be a key player in helping baseball fans forget the steroid era. The same A-Rod who has 647 career home runs and was supposed to give us a clean home run champion.

What I'm trying to say is that this is one of MLB's marquee players, yet the league is going to suspend him for more than a year. Throw in Braun and baseball will be handing out more than 200 games of suspensions between two players who have combined to win four MVP awards.

What other major sports league has done this? Ray Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder investigation, and the NFL didn't suspend him a single game. Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape and was suspended four games. If a player tests positive for a banned substance in the NFL, he only misses four games.

And do you really believe that players in the NBA and NHL are completely clean? I haven't heard of a single steroid suspension in either of those leagues to scrubs players, let alone the stars.

There is no question that MLB got themselves into mess they're now cleaning up. They did not have strict PED rules in place when the country was entranced by MCGwire and Sosa's home run race. They gladly turned a blind eye to the fact that these players heads were growing faster than their power numbers because fans were filling up stadiums to watch.

But at least they are working to clean up the mess. They aren't just sweeping the dirt under the rug. They pulled out the Power Vac and legitimately trying to clean up their sport. They are not showing an special treatment to the game's stars. Every player is being treated the same.

It took a while for MLB to recognize the problem in their sport, but it is commendable that they are taking big strides to correct their past negligence.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Taillon header to AAA

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Pirates organization has promoted its top prospect, starting pitcher Jameson Taillon, from AA to AAA.

The move was expected. The 2010 No. 2 pick posted a 3.67 ERA across 19 starts. What was more impressive was his 106/36 K/BB ratio.

If Taillon continues on his current path, he will probably get called up next June.

It is exciting to hear about Taillon's success in the minors and see Gerrit Cole's at the major league level. This is the first time in a long time that the Buccos have had multiple young starters with such high ceilings. Hell, when was the last time they had one? People were excited for Brad Lincoln, but that was more out of desperation. Maybe I never read about it, but it seemed that he was never touted by baseball minds outside of Pittsburgh the way Taillon is and Cole was.

We may not see Taillon this year, but fans have to be pleased that he continues to grow, improve and advance through the system. He and Cole could be one of the best 1-2 combinations in the majors for a long time to come. They both still have a ways to go, but it's definitely possible and has Pirates fans pumped.

Was Huntington gun shy or smart?

By Jeff

Obviously I don't work in any front office in Major League Baseball. I doubt this blog would exist if I did. So it is impossible for me to know what went down during Wednesday's trade deadline.

Here is what I do know. There were slim pickings this year. When Alex Rios is the biggest bat being talked about on the market, and Bud Norris is the only pitcher creating real buzz, you know there are not a lot of quality options.

But I also know that he Pittburgh Pirates have a serious hole in right field, and a slightly less serious hole at first base, when it comes to bats. The team could have used an upgrade. I'm not saying the team should have given up a grade A prospect for Rios, but I was expecting and hoping they would do something. Really, I just wanted Kendrys Morales. He is a free agent next year and his current team, the Seattle Mariners, are not going anywhere this season.

Alas, the Buccos didn't trade for Morales. They didn't trade for anyone.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington claims that he made offers that made him uncomfortable. News even leaked out that he made a major offer for Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.Yet not moves were made.

It was a little surprising that the Pirates didn't acquire even someone minor. I know Bob Smizik was gushing about bringing in David DeJesus from the Chicago Cubs, and I actually agree with him. DeJesus is not a sexy name, but he hits righties well, would have been an upgrade in right field and couldn't have cost that much.

So why no moves, Neal? It could be that selling teams recognized the Pirates had a huge need in right field and were demanding more than Huntington was willing to give up. If this is the case, I fully agree with the decision to do nothing. But if Huntington didn't pull the trigger on a deal because he unwilling to part with mid-range prospects, like Ken Rosenthal thinks here, then I'm a little disappointed in the man.

Another interesting point Rosenthal brings up is that the Miami Herald tweeted that a source within the Marlins organization said the team received plenty of calls regarding Stanton, but none of those calls were from the Pirates. It makes you wonder, was Huntington lying about making an offer to Stanton? If he was lying, was he also fibbing about making other offers that made him uncomfortable?

True or not, it doesn't matter. This is the team fans have from this point out. It is a team that currently holds the best record in baseball. Despite no trades, Huntington, the coaching staff and the players have built a winning team that has brought excitement to their fans. This team has shown they can beat the best the National League has to offer without any reinforcements. Fans can complain about Huntington if the team comes up short in September or October, but for now, let's enjoy the ride.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pirates shine on national stage

By Jeff

Last night was almost a perfect example of why the Pittsburgh Pirates have been successful this year.

The only thing lacking exceptional starting pitching. Jeff Locke allowed four runs on 10 hits in four innings. It was the first time he allowed more than three runs in a game since April. While it was a poor start, if you look back at the first inning when the Cardinals scored two runs, Locke was making good pitches and the St. Louis hitters were doing a better job of hitting.

Aside from an unusual poor showing from the starting pitching, the rest of the Pirates' strengths were showcased in the win. The bullpen had a tall order and responded with five shutout innings. The team was very resilient, coming back from multiple deficits throughout the game. Finally, the team got some timely hitting.

That last part is really the key. When the Pirates are losing games and struggling, it's because they make they can't get critical hits when they need them. When they're rolling, like they are right now, they get big hits from just about every spot in the lineup.

Last night's hero was Neil Walker. He has had a rough 2013. His power lately has been non-existent. But last night he went deep early in the game, got a clutch hit in the eighth inning, made a smart base running play to get to second on a fly ball to left field and then scored on a Russell Martin single.

The best part of last night's game, aside from being the fourth in a row against the Cardinals, was that they did it in front of a national audience on ESPN.

Living outside of Pittsburgh, you hear a lot of media and sports fans talking about the Pirates and thinking they're lucky. You hear nationally recognized sports talk show hosts claim that the Pirates were in trouble and needed a closer with Jason Grilli down, never mentioning Mark Melancon. So it was nice to have the team step up to the national stage and give the Zoltan to all these doubters and ignoramouses.

While this series against the Cardinals will be considered a great success no matter the outcome tonight, October is still a long way to go. If the team keeps playing like it did last night, only with better starting pitching, there will be playoff baseball in Pittsburgh. But after the past two seasons, Pirates fans and the team cannot get ahead of themselves. They all need to eat, breath and live the most annoying cliche of all time. They need to just focus on one game at a time until there is that little x or z by their name in the standings.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MLB trade deadline looking like a dud

By Jeff

If there is one problem with a second wild card in the MLB playoffs it is that now more teams think they are still in playoff contention at this point in the season. This of course leads to less sellers at the trade deadline and less action.

And this year has seen very little action. The biggest names that have moved in the past week have been Jake Peavy going to Boston, Alfonso Soriano being shipped to the New York Yankees and Matt Garza being acquired by the Texas Rangers. None of these moves were blockbusters and I don't see them making a big difference for any of the teams.

Last year was the first time since 2007 that Peavy pitched more than 200 innings. This year he has a WAR of 1. He is on the decline and has only pitched 80 innings this year.

Soriano has been on the decline practically every year since 2006. His WAR is .3 this season.

Garza is the best of the bunch. The only he has had a season ERA greater than 4 was in his rookie year with the Minnesota Twins. But the fact the Rangers had to give some of their top prospects to get him is a bit ridiculous. He's never finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting and has a career ERA of 3.77. He is a No. 2 or 3 starter at best, not an ace.

There have been some small moves. Ian Kennedy is headed to San Diego for reliever Joe Thatcher and a prospect, but really all the news has been that teams are not trading.

So what will the Pirates do? There were reports yesterday that they and the Chicago White Sox were close to a deal that would send Alex Rios to the Pirates. Later in the day it was reported that those talks had fallen through, which is probably for the best. With so few commodities on the market, it probably would have cost the Buccos way more than Rios is worth.

Other reports have linked the Pirates to Houston Astros starting pitcher Bud Norris. Again, that would be a silly move for the Pirates. Norris would not be much of an improvement to the rotation and it would probably cost a few good prospects to get him.

It's boring, but with the players available, it's definitely best for the Pirates to stand pat. Now if the team could get a bat like Kendrys Morales for a cheap price, I say they jump quick and make the move. It doesn't seem like that kind of move is in the works, though.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Expand replay in MLB

By Jeff

Can we please expand video replay in Major League Baseball? There is no excuse to allow bad calls to affect the outcome of games. It seems like such an obvious change that would improve the game, there is a very strong contingent of baseball fans and executives who fight replay at every turn.

Last night was another example of why we need change. Jerry Meals was the umpire and he was in terrible position. The poor positioning led to a horrible call in a one-run game. There is no guarantee the Boston Red Sox would have won if Daniel Nava was correctly called safe, but the game would have been tied in the eighth inning if the correct call was made.

See for yourself.

Anyone looking at that video could see in seconds that Nava was safe and this game should have been tied.

I hear a lot of opponents of replay complain that replay would slow baseball down even more. Well, what about all the arguing and ejections that happen after questionable calls? How much time does that waste? What about the guy that has to readjust his battling gloves after every pitch? Hell, sometimes they don't even see a pitch, call time and then readjust their batting gloves. It's ridiculous.

Replay isn't perfect. There are examples of umpires in baseball and referees in football making the wrong call even after seeing replay. There is no way to completely eliminate human error in sports. But that is a poor argument against replay. It may not result in every call being correct, but it will certainly get more calls right. Isn't that what we as fans want?

I don't want every play to be reviewable. Make logical rules and I'll be happy. Give a team two challenges per game and make sure only specific types of plays are eligible to be challenged. There will be struggles in the beginning, but most improvements in the sports world have growing pains.

If MLB isn't going to give fans replay, at least get exile Jerry Meals to the Frontier League. Pirates fans may recall he is the man responsible for the worst call in recent Pirates memory.