Sunday, November 17, 2013

'08 Brew Crew Right on Pace in Season Replay

When the Brewers start hitting, look out!

Thirty-one games into replaying the Brew Crew's successful 2008 season and the team's record stands at 16-15 -- identical to the squad's real-life record.

A lifelong Brewers fan, I decided to replay this season because of the mix of hitting and pitching, and the Brewers first return to the postseason since their famous 1982 squad, which came up one game short of a championship when it dropped Game 7 of the World Series vs. the Cardinals. Argh!

Twenty-six years and practically a lifetime later, it seemed like it would be fun to see how Ryan Braun (steroid-free?), Prince Fielder and J.J. Hardy helped attain this monumental return to relevancy.

What's been surprising so far is that it hasn't been the potent lineup that's accounted for most of team's 16 wins, but an above-average performance by its pitching staff. At this point the staff has a stellar team ERA of 3.24. Starters Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush both have three wins, followed by Ben Sheets, Carlos Villanueva and Manny Parra with two apiece. Salomon Torres has four saves as the closer.

One big difference between my managing style and Ned Yost (No wonder he was fired before the season ended!) is my tendency toward complete games. I've already left my starters out there for 11 complete games vs. 12 for the season in real life. (And seven of those actual complete games were turned in by C.C. Sabathia, who won't even arrive until a trade in mid-season!)

Courtesy of
What's been most surprising to me so far is not a lack of home runs -- the Crew already has smacked 34 round-trippers, including eight by Braun, six by Fielder and five by part-time third-baseman Russell Branyan. Unfortunately, many of those have been solo jobs, as the team batting average is a lowly .210 at this point.

Among the starters, Hardy is leading off and hitting .270, with Braun the only other starter above .250 -- barely, at .252. Hardy leads the team in scoring, with 20 runs, following by Braun's 18. Braun leads in runs batted in at 25; Fielder is next with 17, which is amazing considering the Prince is hitting a robust .159!

One thing this team does accomplish with frequency is striking out! The team averages more than 7 whiffs a game! (Click here to see the complete stats.)

As you might expect, this team has been pretty even with the competition to date, going 8-5 at home and 8-10 on the road. The team just won its series in Houston (2-1) and now is headed on to Florida for a three-game set with the Marlins.

This is the first time I've tried a single-team season replay, and it's only this past weekend that I resumed playing after a break of several months. I'm using the Brewers' actual pitching rotation, along with the real lineups for their opponents.

I'm choosing Milwaukee's starting lineup. Fortunately, the team had a lot of starters who played a lot of games, so there's not a lot of platooning. I'm limiting all players to 115 percent of their actual at-bats and innings pitched, thinking that will give me some flexibility with only 30 or so players. I'm also paying attention to major injuries, mid-season trades and other transactions. (One of my favorite players, Mark Cameron missed the first 25 games for violating the league's drug policy. Ugh!)


Thursday, November 14, 2013

APBA Binges Hard to Resist When New Cards Arrive

My name is Rob. I'm an APBA addict.

Most of the time I keep my dice baseball obsession in check, playing only enough games to remind the family of my sometimes goofy hobby. But upon the arrival of a new card set in the mail ...

At such times they'll shake their heads in amazement and wonder as I spend hour after hour at the dining room table, shuffling player cards and  team envelopes, looking up boxscores, stats and other minutiae on a laptop, and shaking those multi-colored dice ... always shaking in hopes of the elusive 66 in the bottom of the ninth ...

My latest dice-tossing marathon came courtesy of the 1957 reprint set. (Dang, if I didn't look just like Tom Nelshoppen in that viral YouTube video where he tears into and sorts his new 1966 set ...)

What ensued were showdowns between:

  • Mantle's Yankees and Teddy's Red Sox
  • Cards vs. Cubs (Musial was indeed The Man!)
  • AL vs. NL All-Stars
  • NL All-Stars vs. Oregon All-Stars (more on them later ...)
  • Brooklyn vs. the 2012 Mariners (with Jacoby Ellsbury batting leadoff!)
  • Pirates vs. Cubs at Wrigley Field (Clemente vs. Banks)
  • White Sox vs. Orioles (... and some young guy named Brooks Robinson)
  • ... and a dramatic August series sweep of the Dodgers at Ebbets Field by the visiting Milwaukee Braves!

The '57 Braves -- one of my favorite teams ever -- was the main reason I added this set to my APBA card collection, which now spans seven decades. Nearly 40 years ago when I was growing up in Milwaukee, I bought the World Champs of Aaron, Mathews and Spahn along with some other Great Teams of the Past -- '27 Yanks, '34 Cards and the '59 Go-Go White Sox.

Of course, this latest binge of gaming was preceded by admiring and studying each and every card in the set -- Whoa, Mantle's got double 1's! How did Teddy Ballgame ever make an out?! Hey, Warren Spahn got an A!

Yep, one of the first things I checked out was the GTOP Braves vs. the '57 reprint edition. Spahn wasn't the only hurler who got a second look by the geniuses at APBA. Bob Buhl also benefited from the A makeover. I suppose something had to change to ensure the Braves triumph over the hated Bronx Bombers!

While the speed and fielding ratings remained unchanged, it's interesting to see how the batting has been tweaked from single to double columns in some cases. And I now have five more guys off the bench, including "Nippy" Jones, "Gabby" Jolly and "T-Bone" Phillips in the bullpen.

Finally able to get over the thrill of the new card set, it was time to let the dice roll ... and roll ... and roll ...

Some of the highlights:

  • Stan Musial smacking an 11th-inning home run to defeat the Cubs (Ernie Banks had a pair of doubles)
  • Mickey Mantle hitting a pair of homers to propel the AL All-Stars to a 4-0 win over the Nationals.
  • Williams hitting a pair of home runs in the rematch, only to be outdone by Musial's two-homer outing, including the winner in the 11th inning.
  • Cubs outfielder "Moose" Moryn going 3-for-5 with 2 runs, 4 RBI, and a game-winning home run in the bottom of the 10th against Pittsburgh. Banks hit a solo shot in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extras.
  • Billy Pierce tossing a 5-hit shutout vs. the Orioles, who got one hit from newbie third baseman Brooks Robinson.

Finally, I replayed Aug. 22-24 series between the Braves and Dodgers. Keeping up the trend, the Braves won two of the games in the 9th inning on dramatic two-run homers by "Hurricane" Hazle and Del Crandall.

The Braves wrapped up the sweep with a 4-2 win on the strength of a double by Eddie Mathews and back-to-back homers by Hank Aaron and Crandall. As an extra measure of insurance, Johnny Logan hit a solo homer in the ninth. The Braves had seven homers over the three-game set.

On the mound, Braves pitchers limited Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and the rest of the Brooklyn crew to 5 runs in all. They also got the best of Johnny Podres, Sal "The Barber" Maglie, and young Sandy Koufax, a D starter who pitched 7 shutout innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter.

A dozen games in the scorebook and it was time to get back to my normal routine. ... Well, maybe I'll just replay the '57 World Series. ... The Braves win, right?


Monday, November 11, 2013

APBA helps relive baseball memories

I'll never forget where I was on night of June 19, 1974 or the afternoon of Aug. 15, 2012. Although separated by nearly four decades and some 2,000 miles, both times I was sitting in the stands of a baseball stadium watching history happen.

One of the joys of playing the APBA baseball game is "reliving" games we may have watched on TV, heard on the radio, or attended in person.

I've been fortunate to attend a pair of no-hitters in my baseball life, the most recent being the perfect game tossed last year by Felix Hernandez versus the Tampa Bay Rays at Safeco Field in Seattle.

While I was thrilled to see King Felix win 1-0, I have to admit I wasn't as impressed nearly 40 years earlier when I saw my first no-hitter at old County Stadium in Milwaukee, Wis. Steve Busby of the Kansas City Royals pitched a 2-0 gem against my beloved Milwaukee Brewers that Wednesday night back in 1974.

The Brewers, led back in those days by Don Money, George Scott and a young shortstop named Robin Yount, were still struggling to notch their first winning season. I was 11, and excited to be attending one of my first major league baseball games.

After the game, I remember saying to my dad something like, "What a boring game," disappointed that my favorite players Bobby Coluccio, Money and Yount had let me down.

"What do you mean?" my dad responded. "You just saw baseball history!"

Not too long ago I hauled out the 1974 APBA set and "replayed" Busby's no-hitter in my living room in Philomath, Ore. This time, instead of the Kansas City hurler notching his ninth win of the year, the right team triumphed, the Brewers finishing off the Royals 8-2.

Clyde "Fireball" Wright got the win for the home team, with some relief help from Eduardo Rodriquez and Tom "Murph the Surf" Murphy. Ironically, every batter other than Yount, the future hall-of-famer, tallied at least a run or an RBI.

Just as in real life, the Royals scored a pair of runs, getting eight hits instead of seven. Lead-off man Freddie Patek tallied a pair of hits, including a second-inning double to drive in the first run of the game.

Recalling this string of talented Royals squads before they finally won their first World Series in 1985, it still amazes me that hall-of-famer George Brett could possibly have been penciled into the lineup batting eighth between right-fielder Al Cowens and catch Fran Healy! (Brett went 1-for-4 with a single in the replay.)

Of course, Felix's 1-0 win over the Rays a year ago was anything but boring! It was just a fluke that my wife Diane and I even attended the game, having helped move our daughter to Seattle that week for her year-long job with City Year/AmeriCorps.

We were on our way home that Wednesday and the Mariners had scheduled a day game. And Felix was pitching! How could we resist a chance to sit in the King's Court down the left field line, wave our K-cards and chant "K-K-K-K!" every time a Rays batter got two strikes on him.

We could care less about the notorious Seattle rush-hour traffic that afternoon after King Felix struck out Sean Rodriguez, displayed his famous "Felixing" pose and tried to avoid the dogpile of joyful Mariners that converged near the pitching mound. We were so excited to witness history this time that we couldn't wait to hear the Mariners radio station rebroadcast the historic game during our drive back home to Oregon.

The Rays managed a few more hits -- four -- in my replay but only a single run, a solo homer by right-fielder Matt Joyce. The Mariners, my second-favorite team after the Brewers, won 4-1. Third-baseman Kyle Seager went 2-for-4, including a solo home run in the second inning. Second-baseman Dustin Ackley, still batting leadoff back then, scored a run, drove in another and walked to lead off the game.

Felix was his usual amazing self, striking out 13 batters in all, and six of the first seven Rays he faced!

Also as in real life, this game was unusual when playing the 2012 Mariners in APBA. They actually scored more than one run! While the pitching staff is decent, including two A's coming out of the bullpen, this team simply can't hit or score runs. Although they tallied 4 runs in this replay, they did it on only 6 hits and were aided by three Rays errors.

Even so, I might be tempted to replay the perfecto by King Felix again sometime soon ...


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Nats sweep M's in finals of APBA baseball tourney

The Washington Nationals took on the Seattle Mariners in the championship series of my latest APBA baseball tourney. The Nationals won the tournament by defeating the M's in two games.

One of the most fun and interesting aspects of playing the APBA tabletop baseball game is to see what happens when your favorite teams acquire new players during the offseason, then seeing how they fit into the lineup.

So, for example, you can see what happens to the Seattle Mariners' anemic offense when you insert Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse and Raul Ibanez into the three, four and five spots in the batting order. Or you can enjoy seeing the impact of Denard Span at the top of the Washington Nationals lineup, along with pitching Stephen Strasburg in the playoffs.

This summer I wrapped up a tournament that used the 2012 season APBA cards to fill out the current rosters of eight favorite teams. And in the spirit of the College World Series going on in Omaha this past week, the tourney used the eight-team double-elimination format and included teams featuring former Oregon State standouts Darwin Barney (Cubs) and Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox).
In the end, the Nationals triumphed over the Mariners, sweeping the M's in the best two-out-of-three championship series. Losing by scores of 4-0 and 2-1 showed that maybe the Mariners could still use some more hitting, and the Nationals just might be one of the best teams in baseball if not for all the injuries they've endured this season.

Of course, one of the benefits of APBA baseball is that managers can ignore injuries and play their ideal lineup and pitching rotation, which proved beneficial to the Nats in this tourney. Strasburg earned victories in both his starts, and Jason Werth put a major hurt on opponents by going 7 for 18 (.389) with 2 homers, 3 doubles, a triple, 3 runs and 4 RBI in six games.

The only hiccup in the Nationals' run to the title was an 8-6 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were powered by their own Big Three of Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart, who pounded Nats pitchers for 6 hits, 2 home runs, 2 doubles, 6 runs and 4 RBI in one game. Oh how the Brewers miss having those three guys in the lineup these days! The Nationals, however, bounced back in the elimination game, winning 5-0 over the Brewers for the right to take on the Mariners for the championship.

The Mariners, meanwhile, made it to the championship by defeating the San Francisco Giants not once but twice, 2-1 and 2-0. The M's advanced primarily on the strength of rock-solid pitching, especially their grade A and B relievers. Needing only a three-man starting rotation, the M's and most of the other teams thrived on strong starting pitching. Using the designated hitter also kept the best starters in games into the late innings.

Relievers were limited to one inning per game if their real-life innings pitched were less than the number of games in which they actually appeared. The sacrifice and hit-and-run options were limited to three rolls per game per team.

Other highlights (and lowlights) from the tourney included:

  • The Mariners twice winning 2-1 extra-inning games on walk-off home runs, one by leadoff man Michael Saunders and the other by catcher Kelly Shoppach. (Shoppach jacked his homer off Cubs reliever and Corvallis native Kevin Gregg.) In fact, Saunders was the entire offense versus the Cubs, hitting a pair of solo homers.
  • Saunders almost single-handedly defeating the Giants as well, driving in both runs with a 2-run homer off Matt Cain in a 2-0 victory.
  • Gio Gonzalez of the Nationals pitching a pair of shutouts, winning 2-0 over the Brewers and 4-0 versus the Mariners in Game 1 of the championship series.
  • The Brewers scoring 7 runs in one inning -- including a 2-run homer by Hart -- in a 9-7 win over the Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia had a grand slam in the loss. While the Red Sox lost twice to the Brewers, Boston showed why they've returned to winning form this season with the addition of Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes and Mike Napoli to their batting order.
  • The Baltimore Orioles mustering but 1 run in two losses, 4-0 to the Giants and 2-1 to the Cubs, who won on the strength of a complete game by Matt Garza. It's no wonder contenders already are eyeing Garza for the playoff run later this summer.

Felix ticketI enjoyed the double-elimination format of the tournament and can see why it's so popular at the College World Series. (It was sad to see the Beavers' time in Omaha cut short by Mississippi State, but nice to see the Pac-12 prevail in the championship, even if it was the UCLA Bruins.)

I've been playing APBA baseball since 1976, starting with the 1975 set featuring the world champion Big Red Machine and the likable Boston Red Sox, including Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, Yaz and "Spaceman" Bill Lee.

A lifelong Milwaukee Brewers fan, I've played countless games with the 1982 World Series team, easily my favorite. I've occasionally erased the painful Game 7 loss with a win over Joaquin Andujar and those dastardly St. Louis Cardinals. It sure helps to have Rollie Fingers available in the bullpen instead of being on injured reserve! I can never get enough of hall-of-famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor and fondly recall all those games we sat behind Gorman Thomas in the centerfield bleachers at old Milwaukee County Stadium.
Since moving to Corvallis, Oregon, in the mid-1980s, I've also become a huge Seattle Mariners fan. I've replayed last season's perfect game by King Felix Hernandez against Tampa Bay, though it can't quite match the exhilaration or good fortune of attending the game in person!

When I'm not playing APBA baseball or city-league softball, I teach journalism at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, Oregon.