[SPORTS] What Did We Learn – Game 1, Braves v. Phillies

Opening Day! It doesn’t get more exciting than that…and as people filled the various ballparks across the country, Turner Field was packed as well, as the Braves and Phillies kicked off the 2013 campaign.

Starting for Atlanta was Tim Hudson, the 37-year old veteran of the squad. Opposing him was Cole Hamels, the ace of the Phillies staff, and one of the better left-handed pitchers in the game today.

The Braves were debuting their new outfield of Justin and B.J. Upton to go along with Jason Heyward, and big things are expected from them. The Braves were also sporting a new third baseman in Chris Johnson (who will platoon, at least early on, with Juan Francisco, who was Chipper’s backup last year).

So what did we learn from the first game of the year?

1 – Tim Hudson still has to be able to locate and get strike one on batter to stay effective. Hudson’s key pitch is a sinker that, when on, is one of the better pitches in baseball. It’s effective at getting ground balls but when his command is not what it should be, he stays up in the zone and he simply doesn’t have the velocity anymore to blow hitters away. Chase Utley has particular success against Hudson last night when Hudson failed to get his sinker to sink. But Hudson is a battler and he kept the Phillies mostly in check last night.

2 – Freddie Freeman could be up for a super huge year. This guy’s swing has very little wrong with it, and he sees the ball in the zone and really puts good swings on the ball to all fields. He had a tremendous spring and I predict he’ll be one of the leaders in many offensive categories come the All-Star Break.

3 – The bullpen, while a touch shaky, showed why it could be one of the best in baseball. Kimbrel pitched well to close the game, after a few command issues in the spring, and Avilan was also solid. O’Flaherty and Walden both gave up runs but neither pitched that bad. The Phillies have a pretty good offensive lineup so you don’t have too much to be ashamed of when they score on you.

4 – Justin Upton and Dan Uggla both went deep (along with Freeman) and it showed that we could be up for a huge year in the power department from this Braves squad. But, they did strike out 8 times in 33 plate appearances as a team, so hopefully more plate discipline will result in that number coming down into the more manageable 4-6 range.

The Braves are off today and head back onto the field on Wednesday as Paul Maholm and Roy Halladay face off. Go Braves!

[BASEBALL] My take on the Cole Hamels/Bryce Harper Thing

I’ve been keeping up with this story as it’s developed…well, I should say ‘non-story’…because to me, and many in the baseball world, this is truly a non-story.

In case you aren’t aware of what happened, Cole Hamels, one of the better pitchers in the NL East, and a guy that’s been a part of many pennant winning teams for the Phillies, came out and said yesterday that he intentionally plunked Nationals rookie OF Bryce Harper, calling it an “old school” move on his part.

Now to his credit, Harper didn’t complain at all…in fact, later in the inning, he took advantage of a 1st and 3rd situation to steal home on Hamels, and by doing so, evened the score.

Now we’ve got Nationals GM Mike Rizzo speaking publicly about this saying, “I’ve never seen a more classless, gutless chicken (bleep) act in my 30 years in baseball,” Rizzo said, according to the report. “With all the bounty (stuff) going on in professional football, the commissioner better act with a purpose on this thing.”

A couple things here…

This is an old school baseball play, no matter what you think you know about baseball. Guys hit other guys all the time, and here’s why it happened. The Phillies are your reigning 5-time NL East Champion, but they are currently in last place in the NL East.  Consequently, the Nationals are in 1st place, riding a great April to hold a slim half game lead over the Atlanta Braves. Now back in the day, when you had a rookie come up with the kind of hype surrounding Bryce Harper (relatively speaking of course because I can’t remember many position prospects that had as much hype as this kid has had), you would see a guy take a shot at him from the mound as a way of saying “Welcome to the big leagues.” And in many cases, the phenom player would attempt to get back at the pitcher, by taking him deep. This continues to this day.

But in this particular case, as I said, the Phillies are in last place, a game under .500, and here’s this kid up here representing the franchise as a 19-year old phenom. Cole Hamels wanted to make the statement, and that statement is this: “Yeah, we see you, kid. And we know you’re good. But we’re the champs, and until you beat me and beat us, you haven’t done anything yet.”

The problem comes when Hamels is asked by the reporter if he hit Harper on purpose. I don’t blame the reporter; he’s got to ask the question. I blame Hamels for admitting it. Here’s the thing…they call it an unwritten rule for a reason. There’s not one person in either dugout during that game that didn’t know exactly what was happening there, especially Harper himself.

So why didn’t Hamels just say “No comment” when the reporter asked him about the beaning? I don’t know…maybe he was trying to make a statement both on and off the field. I think that’s why you’re seeing some baseball guys, namely former pitchers, come out and say that Hamels was either wrong or that he didn’t handle it right.

Another thing to point out is the idiocy of Rizzo’s comment…to compare this with the bounty scandal currently being dealt with the NFL with the New Orleans Saints is completely out of line. It’s nowhere close to the same, and if he considers himself a “baseball guy” for the last 30 years, then he’s seen his share of beanings, intentional and non-intentional. Nobody was hurt, and he wasn’t throwing at his head. He wanted to send a message, so Hamels put one in his back.

Trust me, a guy like Cole Hamels can put it anywhere he wants. He’s walked a grand total of 6 people all year so far and averages less than 50 walks a year…he’s a control guy (with a great arm) and can do what he wants with a baseball. He could’ve put it in Harper’s ear if he wanted to.

In all honesty, the play was over when Hamels got plunked by Nationals SP Jordan Zimmerman later in the game. Both benches were warned and that was it. That’s the way this thing goes in baseball and how it’s gone for a long, long time. But now because of idiots like Hamels (who couldn’t just say “no comment” when no comment was needed) and Rizzo, the Commissioner is going to have to respond, with either a fine or a suspension (or both). And that’s the real shame here…this is 2012, yes, and I admit that player safety in all sports has taken center stage with the recent bounty scandal in the NFL.

But of all the major sports in the US, baseball is far and away the least violent of the group…perhaps even less violent as a whole than football, basketball, hockey and NASCAR racing is combined. Baseball doesn’t have huge safety concerns all the time…and this certainly isn’t one of them.

The sad thing is that more and more people are going to hop on the bandwagon started by Rizzo and his asinine comments. This is nothing more than a baseball player making a baseball play that affected one other player in a show of old school tactics. We knew that then and we know that now, the only thing that’s changed is that some people want to talk about it when the thing to do is just shut the hell up and play.