Monday, October 21, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased World Series Pick

I'm either looking at the yummy food in Houston or I'm following the flight of Jose Altuve's home run.

How is everyone doing?  I'm Joey Beartran and like Tony the Tiger, I'm feeling GRRRRRRRREAT!!  And I have Jose Altuve to thank for me being so upbeat.

I had always been a fan of Altuve, mainly because he's the only major leaguer who's my height.  But now, after hitting a walk-off, pennant-winning homer against the Yankees, I love him even more.  His blast allowed me to go 2-for-2 in my League Championship Series predictions, and that's the only reason why I'm this excited today.  Not because the Yankees lose, thaaaaaaaaaa Yankees loooooose.  That would be biased of me, and I'm not at all biased.

Thanks to Altuve's heroics, we now have a World Series that will be anything but boring, with intriguing pitching matchups in practically every game.  The Fall Classic will also feature teams that had combined to win just two pennants prior to this year, which hadn't happened since 1980, when the Philadelphia Phillies (who had previously won pennants in 1915 and 1950) faced the Kansas City Royals (who had never won a pennant).

Will the Washington Nationals win their first championship?  Will the Houston Astros tie the Mets for most titles for teams that played their first game in 1962?  Will the Yankees ever learn how to count past twenty-seven?  The answers to the first two questions will be revealed below.  The answer to third question is no, they will not.

The people who made this shirt should be happy they never have to update it.

World Series

Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros

For the opening act, we have Max Scherzer vs. Gerrit Cole.  Then we have Stephen Strasburg vs. Justin Verlander in Game Two.  And if that's not enough to whet your pitching appetite, it's Patrick Corbin vs. Zack Greinke in Game Three.  How's that for must-see TV?

The Astros batted just .179 against the Yankees in the ALCS, which doesn't bode well for them against the vaunted Nationals staff.  That Nats staff didn't throw a single pitch in the NLCS with the team trailing, as Washington led throughout their four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.  That might change in the World Series if Houston continues to jump on top early.  Of the 22 runs scored by the Astros in the ALCS, ten of them crossed the plate in the first three innings.

Washington is a very streaky team.  During their current six-game winning streak, they've outscored the opposition, 33-10.  They also scored 166 runs during a 21-game stretch in late August and early September.  But the Nats can also go cold at the plate, as evidenced by the 61 times this year (58 regular season and three postseason games) they failed to score more than three runs in a game.  By comparison, the Mets scored three runs or fewer in 54 games this season.

If the Nationals could be held in check that many times this year when they didn't face past, present and future Cy Young Award winners every game, imagine what they'll look like against Cole, Verlander and Greinke.

Then there's the case of the bullpens.  Washington's bullpen is such a mess that manager Dave Martinez went with his starters in relief on various occasions to navigate through the playoffs.  Meanwhile, Houston's bullpen was one of the team's many strengths, posting a 3.75 ERA during the regular season.  That's nearly two full runs lower than the Washington's 5.68 ERA for its relievers.  If a game comes down to Altuve and his brothers facing the Nats' relief corps, I'll put my lunch money on Mini-Me and the 'Stros.

I think it's clear who I'm picking to win the World Series.  But if it still isn't obvious to you, please think about this.

The Washington Nationals play their home opener next year on April 2.  Their opponent that day will be the New York Mets.  Do you really want to see them rub their World Series rings in our faces?  I think not.  Let them raise their National League pennant against us in 2020.  For this season, it'll be the Astros who will #TakeItBack.

Prediction: Astros in 6.

Little man on paper.  Big man on campus.  (Photo by F. Carter Smith)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

I'm Keith Hernandez! Where's My Birthday Cake?

Hello, my friends.  I'm Keith Hernandez.  And today is a special day for me.  You see, today is my birthday.  That's right, all you kids out there.  I'm now 66 years old.

In honor of my 66th birthday, the cast and crew at Studious Metsimus asked me to give you a brief recap of my life.  To be honest with you, I've never heard of Studious Metsimus, but the offer of unlimited Tootsie Pops was too much to refuse.  Plus, they promised me there would be no traffic on the Long Island Expressway so I could make a quick getaway after writing this piece.  How could I pass that up?

Anyway, I was born in San Francisco on October 20, 1953.  Contrary to popular belief, I was not born with a mustache.  The picture you see below is one of my early photos.  Yes, the ladies loved me even then.  Can you blame them?  I mean, look at me!  I'm Keith Hernandez!

Unfortunately, I failed in my petition to get my own name on my Little League jersey.

After my days as a Little League Lothario were done, I was drafted in the 42nd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1971.  (Yes, I did go to high school between my Little League days and my high school graduation, but that was an awkward time for me, so I'd rather not talk about it.)  Clearly, the scouts back then were terrible judges of talent if they waited that long to draft me.  Unfortunately, I did nothing to earn that selection early on in my minor league career until I was promoted to Triple-A Tulsa in 1973, where I hit .333 and showed those other kids out there how a real baseball player was supposed to play the game.

In 1974, I hit .351 for Tulsa and was promoted to the big show on August 30 of that year against my hometown San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.  I reached base three times in my first big league game, drawing two walks before collecting my first big league hit and RBI in the ninth inning off Giants' starter Mike Caldwell.  Unfortunately, we lost that game 8-2, but I let it be known to my teammates and the rest of the league that I was here to stay.

Once I settled in to the big leagues, I made my presence felt in the clubhouse and on the field.  The Cardinals just had to keep me around.  Therefore, they traded incumbent first baseman Joe Torre to the Mets after the 1974 season (more on first basemen being traded to the Mets a little later ... after a few more paragraphs and my first Tootsie Pop).  I was a Cardinal now, and St. Louis was about to see what Keith Hernandez was all about.

It was in St. Louis that I let my trademark mustache grow.  The Gateway City was also where I earned my first Gold Glove in 1978 and my first MVP Award one year later.  (Okay, so it was a co-MVP award that I shared with Willie Stargell.  But in Strat-O-Matic, I kicked Willie's posterior.)  In addition, St. Louis was the place where I claimed my first batting title (also in 1979), my first World Series championship (1982), my first line of... umm ... baseball cards (yeah, that's the ticket) and my first comparison to adult film thespian Ron Jeremy.

If my brother Gary were in this collage, you'd have the original Gary, Keith and Ron.

If you ask me, I don't see the resemblance.   He looks more like Mike Piazza than he does me.  Also, my acting skills are far superior to his.  Was he on "Seinfeld"?  I don't think so.  That was me.  Why did they choose me over him?  Because I'm Keith Hernandez!

Anyway, less than eight months after bringing home St. Louis' first World Series championship since 1967, I experienced one of the saddest days of my life, or so it seemed at the time.  On June 15, 1983, I was traded from the defending world champion Cardinals to the perennial cellar dweller New York Mets.  Shockingly, I wasn't even traded for future Hall of Famers.  I was shipped off to the Mets for Neil Allen, Rick Ownbey (who also celebrates a birthday with me today, but he's four years my junior) and a half-empty box of Tender Vittles.  Even my beloved cat, Hadji, wouldn't be impressed with that transaction.

It was already an insult to me that I was traded to the team known as "Pond Scum" and the "Stems" in St. Louis.  But come on!  Couldn't the Mets have offered some 9 Lives to the Cardinals instead of Tender Vittles?  After all, Morris the Cat was all the rage back then.  I mean, he was the O.G.  (Original Grumpy cat).   I would have accepted a trade for Allen, Ownbey and 9 Lives, not Allen, Ownbey and half-eaten Tender Vittles.  Sheesh!

I guess since the Cardinals already had the Clydesdale Horses, they didn't need another animal in the barn.

Anyway, the Mets didn't do too well after I got traded there.  We finished 68-94 in 1983, but showed some signs of life.  Old punching buddy Darryl Strawberry came up in May and future broadcast colleague R.J. (that's Ron Darling for all you casual Mets fans out there) was called up when rosters expanded in September.

Big Brother didn't come around in 1984 like he was supposed to, but we had our own little Animal Farm at Shea Stadium.  Top pitching prospect Dwight Gooden was called up in 1984 and Davey Johnson became the new Mets manager.  The team responded by going 90-72 and giving the Cubs all they could handle in the N.L. East.  As a result, I was no longer saddened by my trade to New York and only occasionally did I wonder if Whitey Herzog had finished what was left over in the box of Tender Vittles.

After falling short in the N.L. East race again in 1985, we put it all together in 1986.  That was the year I won my second World Series championship and helped bring the first title to Flushing since the Miracle Mets did the same in 1969.  I also paired up with another Ronnie after bringing the trophy home in 1986. 

What?  No Gary?  Fine.  Then we'll just have to make do with Keith and Ron instead.

Just as my tenure with the Mets was coming to an end, I decided I should give acting a try.  I wasn't planning on telling you this, but the Tootsie Pop dangling in front of my face has convinced me to do so.

Did you know that "Seinfeld" was not my first attempt at acting?  Before TV immortality, I wanted to be a movie star.  My time with former actor Ronald Reagan in the White House showed me that if he could be President and a movie star, then I could be a baseball legend and a matinee idol as well, so it was off to Hollywood for me.

I first gave acting a shot when I auditioned for the movie "Major League".  However, it ended up being a bad dream and instead of playing for the Cleveland Indians in the film alongside noted actors Charlie Sheen, Corbin Bernsen, Dennis Haysbert and Wesley Snipes, I ended up playing for the REAL Cleveland Indians, who were not nearly as talented as their current counterparts.  You know, the team that has averaged 95 wins over the last four seasons and hasn't had a losing record since 2012.  Needless to say, it was not a good time to be Keith Hernandez.

There's no way I would've let Roger Dorn get away with not diving for ground balls.

I was injured for most of my time in Cleveland.  Because of that, I only played in 45 games for the Indians, batting .200 with one HR and eight RBI.  You know it wasn't a good season when my Studious Metsimus editor reminded me that I had to write out my home run and RBI totals in words (one and eight) instead of numbers (1 and 8).  Needless to say, I retired after the 1990 season and went back home...

...which didn't last long.  In 1992, I appeared on Episode No. 34 of "Seinfeld".  The special one-hour episode, named "The Boyfriend", featured me trying to date Elaine Benes, but not being able to get past first base because I used to smoke back then.  Another subplot involved me being accused of spitting a magic loogie on Kramer and Newman, when in fact it was my former Met teammate, Roger McDowell, whose mouth shot the viscous projectile from the grassy knoll.

"That is one magic loogie."

My appearance on "Seinfeld" in 1992 and my subsequent cameo in the series finale in 1998 parlayed into several broadcasting appearances for the Mets.  When SNY debuted in 2006, I teamed up with former radio play-by-play man Gary Cohen and analyst/former teammate Ron Darling as the new broadcast team for the New York Mets.  My boothmates and I are also part of Gary, Keith and Ron, or GKR for short.  Together, we've raised money for our favorite charities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center (for Alzheimer's care) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (hoping to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes).  In addition, we've also focused on helping victims of domestic abuse.  And for all you kids out there, there's nothing funny about domestic abuse.

Fans might know me for my baseball career.  Others might know me for my excellent acting on "Seinfeld".  Some of you might even know me for my Just For Men commercials with Walt "Clyde" Frazier.  Current Met fans certainly know me for my unabashed analysis on SNY telecasts of Mets games.  And in 2017, the rest of the country got reacquainted with me when I offered colorful commentary in the FOX Sports/FS1 studio for that network's pre-game and post-game shows during the postseason.  (I'm too busy playing with Hadji now to be doing that job again.)

Today, I'm the author of a memoir with a predictable title.  I'm also Hadji's agent and food provider, as well as a cool follow on Twitter.  (Nearly 104,000 tweetsters who follow @keithhernandez can't be wrong.)

I'm all of those people.  And although I'm a year older today, I'm still only 66 so I have plenty left to accomplish.  Maybe I'll mass produce my Mex Burgers.  You know, the ones that used to be sold at Citi Field before they took my burger stand away.  Or perhaps I'll go from flashing the leather to wearing it on a broadcast.  Hey, I might even create a fantasy league for Strat-O-Matic players.  (Why haven't I thought of that before?)  Who knows?  One thing is for sure.  No matter what job I have or what position I fill, I'll always be around.  Why wouldn't I be?  After all, I'm Keith Hernandez!

It's not easy being me, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased LCS Picks

Please read my picks while I make a pit stop at Walgreens.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

What's good, kids?  This is Joey Beartran and we've reached baseball's final four.  And unfortunately, this year's pair of League Championship Series feature quite a few teams that I did not predict to advance this far.  In fact, the only team that did make it to the LCS as I foretold was the Houston Astros.

Batting .250 in the division series round means that I have some work to do to improve as a fearless forecaster.  But at least I can make myself feel better by saying I had a better chance of picking a winner in the last round than Hall of Famer and franchise legend Gary Carter had of collecting a base hit as a member of the New York Mets.  (He hit .249 while wearing the racing stripes and shooting Ivory Soap commercials.)

This year's National and American League Championship Series feature intriguing matchups.  In the Senior Circuit, we have the Washington Nationals, who are making their first NLCS appearance since moving to our nation's capital from Montreal and just the second final four appearance in the 51-year history of the Expos/Nationals franchise.  Their opponent, the St. Louis Cardinals, have appeared in 14 League Championship Series since the Expos/Nats last played in one.  The Redbirds are also making their 11th NLCS appearance in the last 24 seasons.

Moving over to the A.L., we have the New York Yankees, who are playing in their 1,000th League Championship Series in club history, according to what their fans say.  They'll be taking on the Houston Astros, a team which is appearing in its third consecutive ALCS.  This is also a rematch of the 2017 battle for the American League pennant, a series won by Houston in seven games.

Will the Cardinals win their 20th National League pennant or will the Nationals win their first?   Can Houston make its third World Series appearance of the 21st century and second in three seasons?  And how many times will Yankee fans remind us of their ringzzzzz?

You can either watch these four-plus hour contests that feature starters pitching in relief and 20,000 or so home runs (by coincidence, that's the same number of division titles the Yankees have, which must be true because I was assured of that fact by a long-time Yankee fan who said he knows everything about the team since he became a fan in 1996) or you can just read my predictions below while pondering just how many words I can fit in one sentence.  (Run-on sentence much?)

I'd take the "read my predictions" option if I were you.

National League Championship Series

Washington Nationals vs. St. Louis Cardinals

Although the Cardinals have home field advantage because they were a division champion, the Nationals actually finished with the better record (93-69, while the Cards were 91-71).  However, it was St. Louis that won the season series in this matchup, taking five of seven against Washington.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer was defeated twice by the Cardinals by identical 5-1 scores, while Washington's bats hit the snooze button in their regular season meetings with St. Louis, scoring just 17 runs in the seven games.

But that was a different Nationals team.  This group of Nats come back from two-run, eighth-inning deficits in wild card games instead of choking postseason advancement away as per the usual Washington script.  This group of Nationals erase two-games-to-one deficits in a best-of-five series and take future Hall of Fame pitchers deep on back-to-back pitches in the late innings of do-or-die games.  For everything this group of Washingtonians does now, there's one thing the team no longer does.

They don't pay Bryce Harper's salary.

These Nats don't choke.  (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Harper's .211 lifetime postseason batting average in a Nationals uniform is long gone, as he is now helping the Philadelphia Phillies underachieve.  But you know who is in Washington?  Anthony Rendon and his .412 batting average and 1.219 OPS in the just-completed series against the Dodgers.  So is Juan Soto and his 1.020 OPS in the same series.

Basically, all the Nationals had to do was cut ties with the hair-flipping Papelbonian punching bag and they were destined to win a playoff series and perhaps two.

The Nationals won't win this series because the pitching firm of Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin will keep the Cardinals' already low .245 batting average in check.  They also won't win because their relievers won't get the chance to blow leads if they're hardly ever used.  Nope.  All they need is the knowledge that Bryce Harper is busy playing golf and getting another one of his managers fired (the 2020 season will see Harper playing under his sixth different skipper in nine seasons) and that'll be enough to advance to the franchise's first World Series.

Prediction: Nationals in 7.

American League Championship Series

New York Yankees vs. Houston Astros

The Yankees can only win when they outslug you.  It's true.  When they scored five runs or fewer, their record was 31-53.  We're not talking about being 22 games under .500 when they score no more than two runs.  We're talking FIVE RUNS OR FEWER.  And even when they scored half a dozen runs or more, they still managed to lose six times.

Considering that New York will now be facing a dominant Houston pitching staff that held its opponents to four runs or fewer in 112 games (for all you kids out there, that's more than two-thirds of the games they played), it's going to be very difficult for the Yankees to keep up with the Astros.

Oh, and since we're on the topic of pitching, allow me to remind you that the Yankees allowed five runs or more in nearly half of their games (72 out of 162) and will now be facing an Astros lineup that averaged 5.7 runs per contest.

The Yankees have a great past.  But it's the Astros who have a great present and future.  And looking a week into the future, I see the Astros playing in the World Series.

Predictions: Astros in 6.

If S.I. says it, then it has to be true.  (courtesy Sports Illustrated)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Joey's Soapbox: My 2019 Not-At-All Biased Division Series Picks

Minnesota hit the target (the outfield seats) a major-league record 307 times.  (Ed Leyro/Studious Metsimus)

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran, and it's time to share my picks for the American and National League Division Series.  As usual, none of these picks will be biased because I'd lose all my credibility if they were.  You know, kinda like when the Wilpons lose their credibility as big-market owners every year during free agent signing season.

All my picks will be based as endless data that I've pored over for days.  I've considered pitching matchups, weather factors, if a stadium favors one team over another, and who's playing that team from the Bronx.  All of that information has led me to pick four winners who will compete in the League Championship Series.

Who will advance?  Will Minnesota do what no Twins team has done before in October against the Yankees?  Will the Nationals finally win a playoff series?  (Don't you dare say they just did.  They won the Wild Card Game, not the Wild Card Series.)  Will Houston have a problem against Tampa Bay?  And will I watch any games in the series featuring the last two teams to eliminate the Mets in the NLCS (Braves in 1999, Cardinals in 2006)?

The time has come for me to share my Division Series picks.

National League Division Series

St. Louis Cardinals vs. Atlanta Braves

I'm only picking the winner of this series because I have to, not because I want to.  Both teams have been a thorn in the Mets' side over the years, so I'm not particularly thrilled that one of them is going to play for the right to represent the National League in the World Series.  But I'm a professional, so I'll actually pick a team to win for a reason other than a meteor striking the other team's dugout, frying every player on the roster to a crisp and causing a forfeit.

The Cardinals made the playoffs as a division champion despite having the tenth-best record in the majors.  Their team batting average was only .245 and they had the fourth-fewest homers in the National League.  Their starting rotation is Jack Flaherty and the Mediocre Men.  If you want to argue that Dakota Hudson had a 16-7 record, I'll respond by pointing at his 1.41 WHIP.  Bring up Adam Wainwright and his Death-To-Beltran curveball and I'll show you his 4.19 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and .782 OPS against him.  Plus, Yadier Molina is playing in his 20th postseason series.  I've had enough of seeing him in October.

Meanwhile, Atlanta earned their trip to the playoff party, winning 97 games and graciously allowing the Mets to sweep them at the end of the season so that New York could finish ten games above .500.  Now that's southern hospitality right there.

Up, up and away. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) 
The Braves have Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuña Jr, Ozzie Albies and Josh Donaldson leading the offense, while the rotation of Mike Soroka, Dallas Keuchel, Max Fried and Julio Teheran is among the best in the league.  But those players aren't why I'm leaning towards picking Atlanta.

#VoteMarkakis.  It was cool in 2013.  It's still cool now.  And Nick Markakis - who's advanced to the League Championship Series just once in his 14-year career - is going to make the Cardinals buckle before him.  You know, kinda like what Adam Wainwright did to that future Hall of Famer in 2006.

I'm voting Braves in this series.

Prediction: Braves in 4.

Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

Let me begin by bringing up something I mentioned before.  The Nationals have never won a postseason series.  Ever.  They won the Wild Card GAME, not the Wild Card SERIES.  Plus, Wikipedia told me they haven't won a playoff series, and as we all know, if Wikipedia says so, then it must be true.

That being said, the Dodgers have too many weapons for Washington to handle.

Whatever.  (David Crane/LA Daily News)
Cody Bellinger led the Dodgers in hits, walks, home runs, RBI, runs scored, stolen bases and probably put on a vendor uniform and sold some Dodger Dogs between innings when no one was looking.  He's that talented.  And even when Bellinger had a rare bad night (like going 1-for-4 with a walk), his teammates were there to pick him up.  Joc Pederson and Max Muncy combined for 71 homers.  Corey Seager ripped 44 doubles and drove in 87 runs despite missing 28 games.  And Justin Turner was magically delicious as always, batting .290 and tying a career high with 27 homers.

The Nationals may have the three-headed pitching monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, but it was the Dodgers who led the league in ERA and WHIP.  Los Angeles also allowed just 185 home runs, which was the fewest given up by any National League staff.

If that's not enough for you to figure out who I'm picking in this series, consider this.  In using Scherzer for five innings in the Wild Card Game (still not a series) and Strasburg for three frames, neither pitcher will be available to pitch in the first two games of the Division Series, with Scherzer due to start Game Three and Strasburg toiling in Game Four.

In 2012, the Nationals famously shut down Strasburg before he got a chance to pitch in the Division Series.  He's not pitching in this series either, but this time it'll be because the Dodgers are shutting down Strasburg's team.

Prediction: Dodgers in 3.

American League Division Series

Tampa Bay Rays vs. Houston Astros

The Rays are a great story.  On a budget that would make the Wilpons proud, they've managed to lead the American League in ERA and allowed the fewest long balls in the majors in a year when baseball went homer happy.  They've continued to use an "opener" instead of a starting pitcher to great success, which allowed Tampa to limit its starters' innings to keep their arms fresh.  (Only Charlie Morton worked more than 150 innings this season.)

On the offensive side, the Rays got an incredible year from Austin Meadows, who launched 33 homers in 138 games after hitting just six in 59 games prior to the 2019 campaign.  They also got Travis d'Arnaud to come out of his shell, as he finally reached his potential with the bat just months after he played his final game with the Mets.

As I said, the Rays have been a fantastic story in 2019.  But dude, they're playing the Houston Astros.  And no one is beating a team that has Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke putting up zeroes and Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel blasting balls all over the field.  Oh, and let's not forget shortstop Carlos Correa, who's been injured for most of the season, but still managed to hit 21 homers and put up a .926 OPS in 75 games.  Correa is expected to be ready for Game One of the Division Series.

It was fun while it lasted, Tampa.  But the Astros are a team of destiny.

Prediction: Astros in 4.

Is Jose Altuve trying to give Cody Bellinger a run for his money as part-time All-Star, part-time hot dog vendor?

Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees

I'll make this one quick and painless.  The Yankees are 13-2 all-time against the Twins in the postseason.  But they've never faced a Minnesota team that can beat them at their own game.

The Yankees hit 306 home runs to shatter their major league home record, which was 267.  Except that the Twins hit 307 to erase the Yankees from the record book.

New York's starting pitchers don't miss bats, as evidenced by James Paxton's team-leading 186 strikeouts.  With Domingo German out for the postseason, no other Yankee on the postseason roster reached 150 Ks.  Pitching to contact against a team that makes powerful contact isn't a recipe for success for any team, no matter how many ringzzzzz they have.

By the time this series is over, the Yankees will have lost five postseason games to the Twins all-time.  Which will give them plenty of time to treat their necks for whiplash from watching all of Minnesota's home runs.

Prediction: Twins in 5.

Smile!  The Twins are finally going to (boom) stick it to the Yankees.  (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)