Category Archives: All Content

50: Opening Day and 50th Episode Extravaganza



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Ack and Kiz are back and ready to roll on Opening Day of the 2019 baseball season. Extension season is in full swing as Free Agency seems to have changed dramatically (some teams seem to understand this more than others). The guys give their previews and predictions for the upcoming season before turning back the clock while discussing the origins of Pop Flies and Grounders. The show closes with Ichiro as the Baseball Reference Page of the Day. Hooray sports!


49: The continuing saga of Machado and Harper



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Where is Machado going? Where is Harper going? Somehow, someway, these questions have not been answered yet and the state of at least 4 or 5 teams rests on the decision of both players. Ack and Kiz look at the offseason of the Yankees, the NL East and, yes, where are Harper and Machado going. Baseball Reference Page of the Day focuses on the great and injury prone career of Troy Tulowitzki. Hooray Sports


48: Chestnuts roasting on a Hot Stove



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On the Christmas episode of PFG Ack and Kiz tell the story of their baseball gift exchanges before getting into the moves that have been igniting the Hot Stove over the last week. In a new segment, the guys do one short term bet and one long term bet on Manny Machado and the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball Reference Page of the Day finishes things off with Andrew McCutchen. Hooray Sports!


The Inaugural Class of the Hall of Very Good



“It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good!” We’ve all heard this phrase, or some variation of it, when someone is being critical of a player’s Hall of Fame resume. Receiving the label “very good” has become like getting a consolation prize which is then thrown in an attic to collect dust. It is exactly what happens to the career resumes of guys who do not get in the Hall of Fame; they begin to collect dust. Every year there are debates and hot takes on the careers of guys who are up for the Hall of Fame, like Larry Walker or Mike Mussina, that keep the story of their career alive. The players who are no longer on the ballot and not in the Hall of Fame fade from public consciousness a little more each year. No more! I’m going to recognize these very good legends of the game by shedding the stigma of “very good” and induct a new class of players into the Hall of Very Good every so often. Does it have to be only once a year? Certainly not. Is there a limit on how many guys can gain entry? Definitely not. Do guys ever fall off the ballot? Absolutely not. It will be a place for players who are not in the Hall of Fame and are no longer on the writers’ ballot to be voted in, but had very good, and sometimes great, careers. In the process of writing this article, the election of Harold Baines and Lee Smith into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Committee became public. This news started a conversation about the worthiness of their resumes. Many have said that they don’t belong in the Hall of Fame and picked apart all the negatives that should have kept them out. As someone who loves to talk about my favorite parts of the game and not all of its flaws, I much prefer to celebrate their achievements. Baines probably would have gotten to 3,000 hits if he hadn’t played through 3 strike shortened seasons. He finished with 2,866. Smith was the all time saves leader until Trevor Hoffman, and subsequently Mariano Rivera, passed him. While these guys are no longer eligible for the Hall of Very Good (it’ll be sad to see them go) there are still plenty of guys who will find their place inside. As you will notice, this first group will only be hitters. This is only part one of the inaugural class. Part 2 (release date TBD) will feature the pitchers that will take their place among the very good. I also included the team whose hat will be worn on their bust. I’m aware the MLB Hall of Fame doesn’t make busts, but busts are way cooler than images on plaques and I have full autonomy over the aesthetics of the Hall of Very Good.

Hall of Famers with a scandal

Pete Rose (Cincinnati Reds) Image result for pete rose We all know Rose’s resume: all-time leader in hits (4,256), games, plate appearances, at-bats, 2nd most doubles (746); 17 all-star games, 1963 Rookie of the Year, 1973 MVP, and 14 top-15 MVP finishes.  The betting scandal has become the major story that has overshadowed his accomplishments for many, but those of us (aka me) on the HoVG committee will not let that happen. A switch hitter who spent significant time at 5 different positions, Rose had over 3,000 hits just from the left side of the plate and helped lead his teams to 3 World Series titles and 6 NL Pennants. He played until he was 45 and had a career .303 batting average. This is a Hall of Fame resume and, frankly, doesn’t really fit into what the Hall of Very Good is at its core. However, Major League Baseball has prevented Rose from staying on the ballot so we get to open our doors to him. Mark McGwire (St. Louis Cardinals)
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McGwire is another guy who’s numbers are more than Hall of Fame worthy: 583 career Home Runs, .982 career OPS (163 OPS+), the highest AB per home run in Major League history. He won the 89 World Series and 3 AL Pennants with the A’s, set the rookie and single season home run record (both since broken) and had 12 seasons with at least 29. Big Mac’s exclusion from the Hall of Fame has been a result of his assumed steroid use in the 90s. This is something that needs to be mentioned in his career recap, but it also can’t go unsaid that he was an enormous factor in helping bring baseball fans back from the 1994 strike when he and Sammy Sosa chased 62 home runs in 1998. The bulk of McGwire’s career was spent in Oakland and there is certainly an argument to be made that he should be wearing an A’s hat, but his most important accomplishments and highest peak happened in St. Louis so it gets the edge for me. Shoeless Joe Jackson (Cleveland Naps/Indians) Image result for shoeless joe jackson The counting numbers alone do not look like much (1,772 hits, 202 stolen bases, only 54 home runs) but when you consider that he played his last game at 33 years old before being banned for life, that’s not surprising. The man who would one day be played by Ray Liotta in Field of Dreams batted .356/.423/.517 with a 170 OPS+ for his career including 168 triples and 62.2 WAR. Despite the swift and final “justice” handed down by Kenesaw Mountian Landis, Jackson’s involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal remains murky, at best. He hit .375 in the series, set a record, which would stand for 45 years, with 12 hits. and committed no errors. On top of that, a Chicago jury acquitted Jackson and his seven teammates of wrongdoing. A sad end to a superstar career that had years left in the tank. Shoeless Joe goes in with a Cleveland Naps/Indians hat on for his overall better play with the team and as a way to get away from the White Sox organization that’s so tied to the scandal for him. Rafael Palmeiro (Texas Rangers)
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Six players in Major League history have over 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. One of them is Rafael Palmeiro. His numbers were undoubtedly boosted by playing in a tremendous hitters era and at least some amount of performance enhancing drugs. He also had a 132 OPS+, 1,353 walks to 1,348 strikeouts, and one of the prettiest left-handed swings ever. The former Mississippi State star split his 20-year career between the Cubs, Rangers, and Orioles before infamously testing positive for steroids a few weeks after his 3,000th hit and effectively ending his career. He spent the 2018 season playing independent ball at age 53 and still hit. That swing ages well and will look great when it is featured on a constant video loop at the Hall of Very Good.

Disrespected Second Basemen

Lou Whitaker (Detroit Tigers) Image result for lou whitaker hittingThe Detroit Tigers selected 3 Hall of Famers in the 1976 draft: Alan Trammell, Morris, and Ozzie Smith (who did not sign). One year prior, they selected Whitaker in the 5th round. Along with Trammel, he formed the longest running double play duo in Major League history. He was not just a long time player though, he was a long time superstar. Sweet Lou finished his career with 75.1 bWAR, 2,369 hits, 420 doubles, and more walks than strikeouts (1,197 to 1,099). He won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year and helped the 1984 Tigers win the World Series. After the induction of Trammell and Morris by the Veterans Committee in 2018, I would be surprised if Whitaker doesn’t eventually get in, but for now he has a comfortable spot in the Hall of Very Good.   Bobby Grich (California Angels)
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There is a large list of Hall of Famers whose OPS+ is below 125. Some of the names include Banks, Alomar, Ripken, Yount, Biggio, and Molitor. On a related note, Bobby Grich had a career OPS+ of 125. In the 70s and early 80s, the traditional numbers of batting average, home runs, and RBI ruled the day and Grich’s excellence in OBP and WAR went unseen. He did lead the American League in homers and slugging in the strike-shortened 1981 season with 22 and .543, respectively. Perhaps he would get a little more historical credit if it had been a full season and he hit around 35. I’m sure having under 2,000 career hits hurt his candidacy in the minds of many, but 71.1 bWAR is a significant number that exhibits how much better he was than the other second basemen of his era.

First Base Defense Matters

Keith Hernandez (New York Mets) Image result for keith hernandez Most people below the age of 35 know Keith Hernandez more for his entertaining-as-hell broadcasting and appearance on Seinfeld than his baseball playing career. He was much more than the guy who said “I’m Keith Hernandez” though. The best defensive first baseman of all time (11 Gold Gloves, 117 Defensive Runs Saved), he also provided immense value offensively to his teams. His 10 years in St. Louis to start his career included a batting title and MVP in 1979. He would go on to became a Mets legend when he led the team to a World Series in 1986 and stayed on as a broadcaster post-retirement. Hernandez’s .296/.384/.436 slashline is very good and even though he wasn’t much of a home run hitter for a first baseman, he had a 128 career OPS+ playing in a poor hitters era. My only request to Keith, is that his cat, Hadji, attend the Hall of Very Good ceremony when he’s inducted. John Olerud (Toronto Blue Jays) Image result for john olerud blue jays There was no way in hell I was going to get through this article without getting to one of my favorite underrated players of all time. Many people remember him for the helmet he wore on defense, but not nearly enough know the story behind the helmet (a brain aneurysm suffered during his legendary 2-way college baseball career at Washington State) or the story of his remarkable career as a player. I was first introduced to Olerud when he got to the Mets and I was 8 years old. If I’d been paying more attention to the early 90’s Blue Jays than my Berenstain Bears books, I would’ve seen him have an all-time underrated 1993 leading the league in doubles (54), batting average (.363) OBP (.473), and OPS (1.072). In his 8 Toronto years, he won two rings and finished with a 130 OPS+. His Mets career was only three years, but saw a 30 point jump in OBP and slugging, and he played with one of the best defensive infields of all time (joined by Robin VenturaEdgardo Alfonzo, and Rey Ordonez). After spending 5 very good years in Seattle on some incredible teams, he made stops on both sides of the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry to close his career. Olerud finished his career with a .398 OBP, 500 doubles, and 103 defensive runs saved with more walks than strikeouts. I am so happy to see him in the inaugural class of the Hall of Very Good because I am ALWAYS down to talk John Olerud with anyone that will listen.

Overshadowed Outfielders

Kenny Lofton (Cleveland Indians)
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Picking the hat was not difficult for a guy who had a funky career journey around the league. All in all he would play 10 years in Cleveland over 2 stints, and 1 season or less with 10 other teams. Despite a constant stream of other stars in Cleveland, the former Division I basketball player’s athletic talent could not go unnoticed. He led the AL in steals in each of his first five seasons, finishing his career with 622. As a leadoff man, he got on base at a .372 clip for his career and never struck out more than 84 times in a season. When the 90’s Indians get discussed you usually go through Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and maybe even Omar Vizquel before you start talking about Kenny Lofton, but there is no doubt the effect he had on the team getting on base, stealing bases, and playing elite defense (108 career DRS). Bernie Williams (New York Yankees) Image result for bernie williams The most recent Yankees dynasty had four members last much longer than the rest of the group. As a result, Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Pettitte got the catchy nickname (Core Four) and all the glory as that era wound down a few years ago. Quietly, there was a switch hitting center fielder who has an argument for being the 3rd most important Yankee of that time. He played on 4 championship teams and has the second most career postseason hits, doubles, home runs, and the most RBIs. Williams was not simply a postseason star, he performed all year long. He was consistently sitting around 25 home runs, .300 average, and 30+ doubles from his first full season in 1993 until his abrupt ending after 2006 when it seemed like he might come back, but never did. Bernie won four Gold Gloves, a batting title, and went to five all star games over his 16 years in the league. He also plays a mean guitar. I hope to hear him playing something fun for the millions who will gather for the Hall of Very Good induction ceremony. As soon as we at the HoVG are able to find a bust artist and book an open field with a stage for millions of people where we can show videos and play music, we will inform you readers of the induction date. For now it remains unannounced. What I will guarantee is that the pitchers edition of the inaugural Hall of Very Good class will be coming before that wonderful celebration becomes possible. Follow me on twitter: @denack31 and check out Pop Flies and Grounders on iTunes for our latest podcast. We’re now on instagram (@pfg_podcast) and facebook. You can also find my articles on diamond-digest.com along with many other baseball guys like me. Follow @diamond_digest on twitter.

47: The Stove is heating up



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Ack and Kiz hit the ground running with the 2018 offseason. They start on a somber note remembering Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo after their untimely deaths. After recapping the dominance of the 2018 Red Sox, the guys go through a few of the moves that have been made already, and the 2018 Awards. Baseball Reference Page of the Day is a two-fer with the Hall of Fame bound duo, Harold Baines and Lee Smith. Hooray Sports!


Willie McCovey – A Star Without a Moment



Willie McCovey, also known as Stretch or Big Mac, is a pretty commonly known star in the baseball community, and that is precisely the problem. The average fan has surely heard of him as an all-time great and a Hall of Famer, but never mentioned in the same circles as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ted Williams. I believe this is purely due to his lack of a career defining play or stat – Mays had the over the shoulder catch, Babe Ruth called his shot, Williams hit 400. McCovey’s moment may have been stolen away from him in the 1962 World Series when his scorching line drive was caught at second base by Bobby Richardson in the 9th inning of Game 7 with 2 outs and the Series winning run on second. With no such stat or moment to speak of, where does that leave Willie McCovey in the pantheon of baseball lore? Oh I don’t know, just a career that spanned across 4 decades (21 seasons), a career .889 OPS, 521 home runs, a RoY, an MVP, and a hall of fame plaque to wrap it all up. Simply put, Willie McCovey was an all time great hitter year in and year out, although some left to be desired defensively, but our listeners know that’s not what matters.

It is notable the McCovey was forced to sit out of games in the minor leagues due to stadiums and towns still under segregation, but none of this deterred Willie from reaching the big leagues. McCovey spent the first 15 years of his career playing for the giants, with stops in San Diego and Oakland for 2 years, before returning to the Giants for the final 4 years of career at age 39. In that triumphant return to the giants, he hit .280/.367/.500 with 28 home runs. Since his retirement, Willie has been honored with a statue at AT&T park (PFG loves statues), the naming of McCovey Cove in right field, and the retirement of his number 44 jersey. After his retirement in 1980, Willie remained a senior advisor with the giants for another 18 seasons and was a constant presence around the ballpark and in the clubhouse. We at PFG salute a baseball life, and one hell of a hitter.

Not too bad for a guy without a defining moment.

Rest In Peace #44

Kiz is infamous for wearing number 44 and will probably be able to found on twitter someday. Listen to him on Pop Flies and Grounders which can be found on this website, iTunes, and Spotify.

Featured Photo: Associated Press


The Adam Dunndies



For people of a certain age, there is almost no argument over what is the best and most rewatchable comedy series. The Office was appointment viewing as it was released and has become the best Netflix-and-chill comedy. Over the course of 9 seasons we were introduced to Schrute Farms, Threat Level Midnight, and the Scranton Strangler. I think the only thing I’ve watched more of at this point in my life is baseball and every listener or reader of mine knows that I have thoughts on everything in the game of baseball. The 2018 season had so many ups and downs, funny moments, and memorable storylines just like my favorite show of all time. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to combine the two by telling the story of the 2018 MLB season through quotes from The Office. These will be the Adam Dunndies and they will be given out, like The Office’s Dundies, at the local Chili’s, where we will be having a live awards show later tonight.

(Takes phone call)

Turns out I don’t have the budget to rent out Chili’s so I’ll just share all the winners here:

 

“It all happened so fast. So…Fast”

-Kevin Malone / The 2018 Chicago Cubs

On September 18, 160 games into the season, the Cubs had the best record in the National League. They would then lose 3 out of their last 4 games, scoring exactly 1 run in all 3 losses, and that was it. Before the inception of the second wild card, the Cubs would have been playing in a Division series with a chance to right the ship over a few games. Instead they lost Game 162 and the Wild Card Game at home and their season over just like Kevin Malone’s conversational collapse with the woman at the Lonely Hearts Party in season 5…so fast.

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“Yeah I have a lot of questions. How dare you?”

Kelly Kapoor / Mets fans when Jacob deGrom trade rumors surfaced

Jacob deGrom just put together one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. He was must-see TV when the New York Mets were basically unwatchable on days he wasn’t pitching. There have been only 5 seasons in Major League history where a pitcher has bested deGrom’s 217 Innings, 216 ERA+, and 269 strikeouts. And yet, because everything else seemed to go wrong for the Mets, deGrom only won 10 games. In July trade rumors started, the loudest of which involving the cross-town Yankees. Needless to say, Met fans were as unhappy as Kelly Kapoor when Ryan Howard (not this Ryan Howard) returned to Scranton from New York in season 4.

 

“This is the worst!”

Michael Scott / Clayton Kershaw watching his poor playoff reputation prove true again

By so many measures, Clayton Kershaw has been the best pitcher of his era. He is a Hall of Famer if he retires today with his MVP, 3 Cy Youngs, 5 ERA titles and career 2.39 ERA. His playoff performance has been much different though: 152 Innings, 4.39 ERA and 22 Home Runs allowed. The more the narrative of Kershaw underperforming in the playoffs comes up, the more mediocre stat lines he puts up. Now that he’s lost some velocity on his fastball it seems like the task of changing his postseason fortunes becomes even more difficult. Michael Scott was miserable at the thought of the branch closing in season 3 and Kershaw is miserable at the thought of another postseason pitch he throws ending up in the outfield seats.

 

“That’s what she said!”

Michael Scott (and others) / Rockies Reliever Brooks Pounders

This needs no explanation.

 

“Next thing you know, I’m in Moneyballs 2”

Andy Bernard / Oakland Athletics

The 2018 Oakland A’s did not have any serious buzz around them going into the season, not totally unlike the early 2000s original Moneyball A’s teams. They had a few exciting young pieces in Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Sean Manaea, but the rest of the roster was pretty underwhelming. On June 15th, they lost their 4th game in a row and were 11 games out of a playoff spot. They went 63-31 the rest of the way and powered their way into a playoff spot thanks to contributions from a myriad of those supposedly ‘underwhelming’ guys including Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, and Blake Treinen. This season may catapult them into bigger and better things in the future, or it could go down in a heap like Andy’s acting career, but we certainly saw that Billy Beane’s methods of low-budget team building can still work.

 

“I steal things all the time”

Creed Bratton / Milwaukee Brewers

A team like the Brewers is never going to have the big money of a Boston, New York, or LA. As a result, they need to build their team very wisely and efficiently. They made a big splash last winter when they signed Lorenzo Cain to a 5 year 80 million dollar deal and traded their top prospect for Christian Yelich. These could have been seen as risky moves at the time, but proved to be brilliant. Cain finished 7th in the majors among position players with 6.9 bWAR and Yelich will most likely win the NL MVP. These great moves were not the only ones that built this team though. Jesus Aguilar was acquired off waivers from the Indians in 2017, all he did was finish 5th in the NL in Home Runs. Josh Hader was acquired as a throw-in in a 2015 trade with the Astros for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez. He had a historically great season as a reliever striking out 143 in 81.1 innings. Jhoulys Chacin was their ace, on his 6th team in 5 years. The list goes on and on. Creed was stealing chips on Casino Night and the Brewers were stealing players for a team that just missed the World Series.

 

“If there’s one thing I have learned through the whole experience, it’s that if you film anybody long enough, they’re going to do something stupid”

Kevin Malone / Manny Machado

As an Orioles fan, I have extremely conflicted feelings on Manny Machado. I have watched this guy grow up and defended him every step of the way for 8 years as he helped lift my team to places they hadn’t been in 15 years. He handled the first half of the 2018 season so well as it became more and more obvious he would not be with the O’s at the end of the season. He didn’t cause problems, kept his head down, and said all the right things. I saw all of his warts though. I knew he was immature. And when he made repeated head-scratching or downright dirty plays as the lights got brighter in October, it wasn’t totally surprising to me because I’d seen him get frustrated and act immature before. This time the whole country was watching though, and he looked worse than ever. With that being said, he will make a ton of money this offseason, and rightfully so, because he is a bonafide superstar who immediately improves any team he goes to tremendously.

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“And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do”

Michael Scott / Joe West

1st Inning, Game 4 of the ALCS, runner on first. Jose Altuve lifted a flyball that landed in the hands of the Astros fans and the inning ended with no runs scored for the home team, who would go on to lose by 2 runs. All respect to Mookie Betts for his tremendous effort, which may have been a catch if not for the fans he contacted, but it seemed pretty clear to most people watching that the fans were not reaching onto the field of play. The right field umpire, Cowboy Joe West, felt differently however. The review was made more difficult by a security guard who blocked what appeared to be the best camera angle and the Red Sox ended up winning the series in 5, but this was certainly a major turning point. In this crucial point in the Astros season, West seemed to be just as competent as Michael Scott as he watched Stanley’s heart attack.

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“Who is Justice Beaver?”

Dwight Schrute / Indians starter Shane Bieber

Bieber must have heard a lot of jokes about his last name being the same as Justin Bieber for the last few years. He steered into the skid during Players’ Weekend when he had “Not Justin” stitched on his jersey. Good work Shane.

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“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days, before you’ve actually left them.”

Andy Bernard / David Wright and Mets fans

As recently as 2013, it seemed like David Wright was well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. He was 30 years old with over 1500 career hits, an .888 OPS, and an average season of 34 doubles, 22 homers, and 18 steals with solid third base defense. He was the face of the Mets, a stand-up guy, and a leader. Then injuries derailed his career. From 2015-2017 he would play 38, 37, and 0 games, and was well on his way to another 0 in 2018 when he decided he would retire at the end of the year because his spinal stenosis was never going to improve. The Mets decided to have him play in the final home series of the season against the Marlins and it was an emotional scene. His actual performance in those 2 games was not important. Wright got to say his farewell to the game and city and the Mets fans got one more chance to show their appreciation for their captain.

 

“What are your weaknesses? I don’t have any, asshole.”

Kelly Kapoor / The Boston Red Sox

Was there any other way to close this out than with the deserving World Champion Boston Red Sox? This team had the best player in the American League in Mookie Betts. They had J.D. Martinez, who flirted with a Triple Crown, Chris Sale, who will finish top 6 in Cy Young voting for the 7th straight season, and Craig Kimbrel who’s “down year” included 42 saves and a 2.74 ERA. Their outfield defense was the best in baseball by a wide margin and their catching defense was among the best in the league. They picked up a gold glover and the World Series MVP during the season and won a franchise-record 108 regular season games. When the playoffs rolled around they were tasked with beating 2 100+ win teams in the AL and steamrolled them losing only twice in the process. In the World Series they beat Clayton Kershaw twice and the only loss they had required 18 innings and an error by the normally sure-handed Ian Kinsler. From beginning to end this was clearly the best team in baseball who, like Kelly Kapoor, knew they were flawless.

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That will do it for this year’s Adam Dunndies. You may not have gotten a drunken kiss from your secret crush (or maybe you did, I don’t know how people read my stuff), but you got a good idea of some of the fun, interesting, and important storylines in baseball in 2018. Those of you who feel snubbed, please take it up with Toby.

 

Follow me on Twitter @denack31. This article can also be found on ng-baseball.com.

Featured Illustration: James Boyle, Cincinnati Magazine


46: The Story of Wright and What’s right about Story



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Ack and Kiz delve deep into the Rockies, their lead in the NL West, and whether or not it will hold up. Later they discuss the oddly fascinating Mets, other races, and the peculiar AL Cy Young race. Closing out the show, the guys get a bit nostalgic about David Wright in Baseball Reference Page of the Day. Hooray Sports!


45: Athletic Supporters



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Ack and Kiz are officially on the bandwagon for the Oakland A’s who have dominated, not only aesthetically (as always), but with their play as well to put them in the AL playoff picture. The Yankees have the other Wild Card spot but need to play well despite their injuries to hold onto it. The Nats are officially dead, the Dodgers are fighting with 7 other teams for a playoff spot, and will have a lot of tough decisions in the offseason. The guys predict their playoff teams and award winners before Baseball Reference Page of the Day looks at the career of the new Cub, Daniel Murphy.


44: Are the Nats dead?



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Ack and Kiz are back to talk about the Red Sox domination, the Nats losing back to back heartbreakers, the O’s deadline deals, and David Wright playing baseball again. After recapping the Hall of Fame inductions, Barry Lamar Bonds is featured in today’s Baseball Reference Page of the Day. Hooray Sports!