Baseball post-mortem

I was glad to see that the Washington Nationals’ Davey Johnson won the National League’s manager of the year.  He also won the award for the American League back in 1997 when he managed  the Baltimore Orioles.  On the same day that reward was announced for getting the Orioles into the post-season for the first time in decades, he got fired.  That won’t happen this time, as the 70-year-old agreed to come back to Washington for one more year before he retires for good.  He took a bad, hapless, hopeless team and turned it, virtually overnight, into the winningness team in baseball.

And, along that line, going from old to young, the National’s Bryce Harper won Rookie of the Year.  He was 19 for most of the season and his infectious energy, as well as his penchant for getting on base and then stealing them, contributed greatly to the team’s successful season.

I was hoping for a trifecta for the Nationals, the home team I’m now following in my new home, but the team’s ace, Gio Gonzalez (not Stephen Strasburg, great young pitcher that he is) finished third in the NL Cy Young.  Usually winning more games than anyone, going 21-8, having 207 strikeouts, and a 2.89 ERA is enough to get you a Cy Young, but this year’s award went to the Met’s kuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who went 20-6.  Since the Mets were a losing team, I can see that this was a greater feat.   race despite having

Gonzalez led the Major Leagues with 21 victories, led the team in strikeouts with 207 and had a 2.89 ERA in 32 games. However, Dickey, who went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, led the NL in starts, complete games, shutouts and innings pitched. The Dodger’s Clayton Kershaw came in second, despite his lowlier 14-9 record, because he came out so well in the sophisticated number crunching of sabremetrics.

 

The World Series

The San Francisco Giants did to the St. Louis Cardinals what the Cardinals had been doing to everyone else, coming back from near certain elimination to advance to the World Series.  They are playing the Detroit Tigers, a team that has the thanks and admiration of most of the baseball world for humiliating the New York Yankees by sweeping them in four games.

So, fellow baseball fans, who do you like in the World Series that began last night with an 8-3 Giants win?  That is to say, who do you think will win AND whom would you like to win?

I think I will pull for the Tigers.  Detroit is a beaten down city that could use the boost.

The agony and the ecstasy of playoffs

The baseball playoffs are on another level of sports enjoyment.  These games are not relaxing, as baseball usually is, at least if you have a favorite team in the mix.  You find yourselves fixating on every pitch.  The games are intense, suspenseful, stressful.  To be sure, they are great fun, but they are draining and exhausting.  This year, in the first round, every one of the best-of-five contests went to five games, the first time that has ever happened.

I stayed up until well after midnight watching the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Nationals, my new home team, jumped to a 6-0 lead after three innings.  But the Cardinals chipped away.  In the 9th inning, the Nationals led by two points, 7-5.   With two outs, the reliable closer Drew Storen on the mound, though with the bases loaded, the team and its fans could taste victory, especially after two strikes to low-in-the-batting-order Daniel Descalso.  But then he hit a two-run single!  The score was tied!  Once again, Storen, letting Descalso steal a base so with runners on 1st & 3rd, had the next batter, Pete Kozma, down to the last strike.  And he got a hit, putting the Cardinals ahead 9-7 for the win!

It could have gone so many different ways.  The Cardinals had two last-bat, last-strike miracles in a row.  But then again, this is exactly the kind of things that the Cardinals did last year, over and over again, in the playoffs and then in winning the World Series.  So now I’m going to pull for the Cardinals, though I’m not sure how many games I can take.

Nationals win NL East

The Washington Nationals, my home team now, after years of being bad, have won the National League East, contending with Cincinnati–another team that came out of nowhere–for the best record in baseball.  (The Nationals lost to the Phillies, but Pittsburgh beat Atlanta, arriving at the magic number.)  I’m enjoying watching the players come out of the dugout to spray the fans with champagne!

Nationals win NL East with Braves’ 2-1 loss to Pirates.

The Washington Nationals

Since I’ve moved out here to the D.C. area I’ve been obeying the baseball anthem that one should “root, root, root for the home team” so I’ve been following the Washington Nationals.  That has been a grim undertaking for the last few years.  But this season they have the best record in baseball!

On the surface, the main difference would appear to be the impact of two young baseball prodigies and #1 draft picks, centerfielder Bryce Harper and, especially, pitcher Stephen Strasburg.  There is, however, much more to it than that, including dramatically improved defense.

Strasburg is a fun pitcher to watch, throwing fastballs approaching 100 mph fastball with pinpoint accuracy, curveballs that are practically unhittable, and confusing changeups that go 87 mph.  But despite his 15-6 record, the Nationals are planning to shut him down on September 12 in the middle of a potential run for the World Series.  They are babying his surgically-reconstructed arm, which he blew out after only a few games when he first came up in 2010.  He had the Tommy John surgery and team officials, following medical advice for someone who has never pitched a full season and wanting to keep him on the roster for a long, long time, decided to limit him to 170 innings.

Those team officials, of course, never dreamed the team would have so much as a shot at the playoffs, so that made sense.  But now, many people are saying, this could be the Nationals’ year.  They may never get this close again.  The kid is still strong.  (In his last start he struck out 10 Cardinals.)  Across the nation on sports talk shows, people are calling the Nationals’ leadership wusses.  This is the time to go all in!  Let Strasburg pitch!

It’s odd that you don’t hear that line of reasoning very much here.  For one thing, Strasburg may not even be the Nationals’ best pitcher.  Gio Gonzalez has more wins (17).  Jordan Zimmerman, through most of the season, has had a lower E.R.A. (under 3).  And the guy who will replace him in the lineup, John Lannan, used to be the Nationals’ number one pitcher, starting on opening day twice.  But the pitching staff is so loaded he had to spend the season up to now in the minor leagues!  Now he’ll be the fifth starter, though once the playoffs begin with their travel days, a four-man rotation is plenty.

I like how the esteemed sportswriter Tom Boswell writes about this:

Sometimes numbers are more eloquent and sadder than words because they are harder to refute. In a weak year among NL powers, the Nats will seldom have a smoother path to a pennant. Look at the pitching hegemony the Nats would have brought to bear in the postseason when all teams use four starters. They’d have four of the top 15 in ERA among all starters in the NL. Only one NL team has more than one such pitcher (the Giants).

Also, the Nats would send out four of the top 15 NL starters in WHIP (walks and hits per inning), as well as four of the top 21 in lowest OPS (on-base-percentage plus slugging).

Finally, the Nats would have an overpowering staff with four of the top nine average-fastball-velocities in the NL. That’s almost insane.

On top of all that, the Nats would finally, if they stay intact, have their best seven hitters at the top of their lineup and their entire seven-deep bullpen all healthy at the same time. All season the Nats have waited for this full complement of top players. All in all, it’s a mighty powerful mixture.

Too bad: After 79 years waiting, we’re left with “might have beens.”

Oh, I’m sorry. I seem to have made a minor mistake in my calculations. The team I have just described is the Nationals without Strasburg.

The four-man rotation, primed for October that I’ve described is Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and Ross Detwiler.

via Strasburg shutdown? Nats can still be a playoff powerhouse – The Washington Post.

An architect’s vocation

World Magazine has a  profile of architect David Greusel, who specializes in designing baseball stadiums.  In addition to a fascinating discussion of ball parks, focusing on the one hailed as the best in baseball–Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, which Greusel designed–the article by Janie Cheaney highlights the architect’s Christian faith and his sense of vocation.  This excerpt has wide-ranging implications:

Integrating work with family and faith shouldn’t be controversial, but over the years Greusel has found himself running counter not only to the architectural establishment, but also to certain strains of Christian fundamentalism. In an online essay called “God’s Trailer,” Greusel boldly states that “bad church architecture is as much the result of bad theology as it is of bad design”—meaning that an overemphasis on saving souls has blinded some congregations to the value of nurturing souls. Too many Christians buy into a perversion of the old architectural saw that “form follows function,” seeing their buildings as so many square feet of function with a cross stuck on, instead of a place to direct our attention to God’s glory.

Greusel likes to quote Winston Churchill: “First, we shape our buildings, then they shape us.” He believes the need for Christian architects who bring their worldview to their work has never been greater, for at least three reasons. One, the “creation mandate” (Genesis 1:28) implies that we can continue God’s work on earth by designing spaces that are both useful and beautiful. Also, as creatures made in His image, we honor God by following in His creative footsteps and striving for excellence. And finally, designing (and insisting on) beautiful buildings puts us on the front lines of the culture war: Against the dreary functionalism, commodification, and standardization of concrete boxes, our buildings can reflect both the glory of God and the humanity of man—whether their primary function is to encourage worship or to showcase a perfect double play.

via WORLDmag.com | All-star architecture | Janie B. Cheaney | Jun 30, 12.

Read Greusel’s entire essay God’s Trailer.  The contradiction he cites–”fundamentalists” buying into the dogmas of the “modernists”– is very telling.  By the same token, some of the biggest critics of pop culture are insisting on pop music in their worship.  And theological “conservatives” are arguing that the church must conform to the culture, the textbook definition of theological liberalism.


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