Mandel’s Musings

Scherzer Goes Six Shutout Innings Before Nats Bullpen Implodes in 6-1 Loss to Mets

It’s not every day you get to witness a matchup of arguably, the two best pitchers in baseball but, yesterday, at Citi Field, the Mets Jacob deGrom, the Cy Young Award winner last season, faced the Nationals’ Max Scherzer, the Cy Young winner the season before that.

Scherzer was trying to help Washington avoid a third straight loss to the New York Mets and a fourth straight loss overall, but he was matched up against right-hander Jacob deGrom, who beat him out for the 2018 NL Cy Young award.

Scherzer’s manager, Davey Martinez, told reporters before the third game of four against the Mets in Citi Field that he thought his ace would be up for the challenge.

“He’s a fierce competitor and he loves to win,” Martinez said. “There’s no other thing for him but winning, so he’s going to out there today and face an opponent that’s pretty good too, but knowing Max he’s going to gives us his best effort and go out there and try to get that win.”

Scherzer’s pitch count was high, but he tossed four scoreless on 73 pitches after the Nats jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, and he picked up three Ks in a 25-pitch fifth that left him with nine strikeouts and 98 pitches overall after five scoreless.

He came back out for the sixth and retired the Mets in order in an 11-pitch frame that ended his outing.

Joe Ross and Matt Grace combined to get the Nationals through the seventh with their 1-0 lead intact, but two runners reached against Kyle Barraclough in the eighth and three runs scored on a bases-loaded double off Sean Doolittle, who gave up a three-run home run as well in what ended up a 6-1 loss.

“Scherzer was amazing,” Martinez told reporters after the loss. “Exceeded the pitch count we thought he was going to have and gave us a chance to win and we just couldn’t close the deal.”

It was another loss for the Nationals, who’ve now dropped four straight overall, three in Citi Field, and 14 of 21 in May.

“No one likes to lose,” Scherzer said after another solid outing in which a potential win was lost in the bullpen.

“Everyone hates losing. Everyone in here hates losing, so you don’t have time to feel sorry for yourself, you play every single day, you have to come out tomorrow and just compete and there’s nothing else you can do.”

Scherzer was asked what the Nationals have to do to keep things from spiraling further out of control after they fell to eleven games under .500 with the loss to the Mets.

“When you face adversity, this is when you reveal yourself,” Scherzer said.

“Whether you have the mental fortitude to come back and know that you can block out all the negativity that’s probably going to surround us right now. You’ve got to come forward to the game with that positive attitude of knowing what you can control, knowing that you have the right mindset that you’re going to go out there and compete and compete at 100%. You have to think of all the little things you can do, and for me that’s really what I’ve been focused on in kind of the past handful of turns in the rotation, of all the little things that I can do to make sure that I’m executing pitches and make sure that I’m throwing the ball the way I want to. It just takes an individual approach when you have adversity.”

Mandel’s Musings: Brooks Koepka, Symbol of Golf’s Evolution is Blowing Away the U.S. Open Field

Koepka is showing why he is now the most imperious player in major golf with an explosive marriage of power, finesse and ice-cool emotions

by Scott Mandel

Evolution is inevitable. Who uttered that particular piece of brilliance?

I did.

But, really, evolution, as the primary driver of societal and athletic advancement, is inevitable and shows up in every facet of our lives, with the possible exception of the “natural selection” process for the current resident in the American White House.

Charles Darwin would have gone to town on that one, but if he were alive today, he would look at Brooks Koepka and note just how correct his theories of natural selection, in the 19th century, truly were.

Koepka, the product of Florida State University who is built like a linebacker, represents the new wave of golfer on the international scene. Koepka is 6’0″, 215 pounds of pure muscle. He hits the golf ball off the tee 340 yards away, or about 20-50 yards further than the average professional golfer. Koepka is also a self-described “gym rat,” working out with the weights and machines several times per week.

Keopka has become the epitome of the evolution of the sport that once was dominated by a bunch of 165 pound genteel men with plaid pants and cute golf caps. He has brought weight-training into the sport while combining his enormous strength with meticulous technique in his golf swing and all the modern advances of golf technology.

Brooks Koepka: force of nature.
Koepka is making The Black Course look easy

Koepka, who tied for second at The Masters last month, credits his ability to stay on an even keel as one of his best attributes.

This combination has created a veritable monster of the Midway on the most difficult golf courses in the world. This week, Keopka is blowing away the field at the U.S. Open, one of the four major tournaments of the year. Playing on one of the most difficult courses in the country, the Bethpage, N.Y. Black Course, Koepka shot a 63 (yes, a 63!) and a 65 on his first two days.

“It’s massive,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how difficult it is and how you have to let things roll off your back, laugh about it and move on. This game tests your patience, for sure.”

Playing alongside Keopka during the first two rounds of this event was one Tiger Woods, once the heir apparent to Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer the world had ever seen but now, at age 43, and several back and knee surgeries into his great career, is merely one of the best golfers in the world. He is probably still a top ten performer and on some weeks, such as last month’s Masters, Woods seems capable of summoning his old talent and beating the field of youngsters on this tour, as he did in gaining his fifth green jacket. But, Woods was unable to sustain it at this major, missing the cut.

It was strange seeing Woods and Keopka, the past and the future of the sport, standing side by side during this tournament’s opening two rounds. One looked fresh and muscular and eager while the other looked like he wanted to be elsewhere.

Perhaps, when Woods watched Koepka tee off from 18 holes each of the days they were paired together, with Koepka drilling the golf ball further than Tiger ever did, it contributed to the veteran’s sense of ill-feeling It was also strange seeing Keopka out-drive Woods off the tee by 40 yards.

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Tiger Woods, not a small man, looks much smaller in comparison to Koepka

But, that’s evolution for you. It’s also age vs. youth.

For further comparisons sake, Nicklaus, considered the greatest golfer in the sports’ history and the winner of 18 Majors, three more than Woods, was also one of the tours longest hitters off the tee, at 5’10”, 190 pounds.

Jack, in his prime, was measured by IBM in 1968, along with other top golfers from that era for their distance off the tee. IBM recorded driving distance data at 11 PGA Tour events. The top 10 players, 51 years ago, averaged 270.2 yards, the average was 264.0 yards and Nicklaus led the Tour at 276.0 yards. Adding 35 yards for increased speed, hotter driver and better ball, IBM estimates Nicklaus would’ve averaged 311.0 last season

Brooks Koepka (right) stamped his authority on the US PGA as Tiger Woods toiled.
Woods said he wasn’t feeling well this week. Koepka said he feels great

Evolution. It’s not just the human body that has gotten bigger and stronger, it’s the equipment and training techniques that have made today’s athlete capable of so much more than those of prior generations.

But, the combination of all of those things with Brooks Koepka’s talent and strong will is how a new champion of golf is being crowned, right here in Bethpage, New York.

Mandel’s Musings: Drake’s New 767, Melky’s Milestone, Sweet Doris Day, More Trump, Felicity Huffman sans Hubby

by Scott Mandel

From Melky Cabrera’s Milestone to Doris Day (Who was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers)

Doris Day is dead at 97. Her irrepressible personality and golden voice made her America’s top box-office star in the early 1960s.

For you young’n’s, who never heard of Doris Day? Think Madonna, but with more talent. And, if you are too young to know who Madonna was, use your power of the Google to figure all this pop culture out.

Melky Cabrera, who’s been with NINE teams in MLB, nearing career milestone

Who would have predicted, back in 2005 when Melky Cabrera was first brought up by the Yankees, would get to within 109 hits of 2000? But, the Melk Man is almost there. Now on his ninth team in his 15-year major league career, Cabrera, who was always a four-tool talent (throw, hit for average, run, field, hit for some power) has 1891 hits, going into tonight’s game. But, don’t ask me which team he’s with. I’ve lost count. No, actually, he hooked up with the Pittsburgh Pirates this year.

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Cabrera reportedly was traded by the Yankees because of his negative influence on the nighttime habits of Robinson Cano.

Felicity Huffman goes solo during her court battle

Where is actor William H. Macy, spouse of actress Felicity Huffman? Have they decided it would hurt his show business career by showing public support for his wife as she goes to court every day to fight for her freedom?

NBA stars are not all from power conferences

How great is it that the key players in these last set of NBA playoffs come from schools like San Diego St., Weber St. and Lehigh? All the talk about the importance of getting one of the first three picks in the upcoming NBA draft simply doesn’t hold weight when you analyze who the stars of the league are, today. Damon Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Kawhi Leonard? All came from smallish, mid-major schools.

Inflation will be returning to the national consciousness, again. Wait, this is a sports website so, concessions at stadiums and arenas will be exploding in price by 25% or more.

Allow me to re-introduce into the national vocabulary and consciousness, the word, inflation. We are headed there, and it’s going to come quickly.

Remember that middle class tax cut of Trump’s? The one his base loved so much? We knew it was a fraud but now, watch prices of everyday items shoot up, driven by the China tariff war.

Make no mistake, it is a war with potentially, equal or greater short and long-term impact on this country than a war with bullets.

Everything will go up by 15-25%. And, electronics, like an iPhone? 25%. Headphones? 25%. Trump’s tax plan? 25% higher than pre-Trump taxes.

Someone has to pay for the 22 trillion dollar U.S. debt Trump created and his military budget, an all-time record.

Increased wages, limited as they have been, will be eaten up. Tax refunds were eaten up with the first food shopping excursion.

Remember, this guy ran NINE COMPANIES into the ground. Chapter 11, baby. He will say this is short-term, and when China capitulates (never happen), prices will fall and jobs will explode

Milton Friedman, a free-market guy who would support several of Trump’s pro-business tactics would be rolling over in his grave to see how Americans are about to get screwed by this huckster/liar.

Inflation is on the way. As Jim Carville said almost 30 years ago, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Drake Buys 767 jet plane for $187 million. Jet is shaped like a……well, a long, cylindrical unit…

Guys used to buy expensive cars to cover up their insecurities. I guess being a rap star raises the stakes on phallic insecurity.

Memories of Minor League Baseball (and Johnny Oates)

by Scott Mandel

A friend of mine, a New York Post sports columnist named Mike Vaccaro, recently posted photos on Facebook of a minor league game he attended in the baseball hotbed of Rancho Cucamonga, California. The smallish stadium and the homey atmosphere were all captured beautifully by his cell-phone camera bringing back some childhood memories for yours truly.

Rancho Cucamonga, a city of about 177,000 residents located just south of the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest in San Bernardino County, is a perfect locale for a minor league baseball franchise. It is about 37 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles, just close enough to be near a media and population center but far enough to still be described as a sleepy, relaxed town. The city’s seal, which centers on a cluster of grapes, alludes to Rancho’s agricultural history as a producer of great wines.

Seeing Vaccaro’s pictures elicited wonderful memories about the experience I had at my first minor league baseball game in 1968, when I was a puny kid who dreamed of being a baseball player, someday.

My dad, a pitcher of some renown at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, New York along with a teammate named Hank Greenberg, loved to tell stories about his pitching exploits and his days roaming the Bronx fields with the future Hall of Fame slugger when they were 18-years old.

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Oates played in the Majors from 1970 to 1981, then became a manager

I hadn’t been to many baseball games at that stage of life but found out in the Spring of ’68 that our family would be taking a plane trip to Miami Beach to visit my grandparents. When we arrived in south Florida, I was thrilled to learn we’d be going to watch the Miami Marlins, a Single-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles on one of the nights.

The Marlins were a good team, with a winning record and several players achieving high statistical objectives. I even remember some of their names, today. Stan Martin at second base. Pedro Gomez, their 33-year old slugging outfielder. Larry Johnson, the slick-fielding first baseman. Or, Mark Hershman, the righty with the 12 to 6 curve ball. I don’t know why I can remember these players, most of whom were in their late teens or early 20s. Maybe it was the close proximity to the field offered by the small Miami ballpark. But, all these years later, those names have stuck with me.

They also had a young catcher named Johnny Oates, playing in his second season of professional baseball. Johnny, as it turned out, became the key element to my whole experience that night because unlike most current-day major leaguers, minor league players make themselves accessible to the fans and to the communities they are playing in.

Before the game, as I was asking Johnny for his autograph (which must have thrilled him, too), he told me he was 21 going on 22 years of age, which seemed really old to me. He said he was the catcher and he was from Virginia. The whole conversation took about 30 seconds but my world had changed. I, too, wanted to be a catcher. The next catcher for the Yankees. And, I wanted to meet more people from Virginia. Or Florida. The world seemed so vast, at that point.

As it turned out for Johnny Oates, he made it to the major leagues less than two years later, when he was brought up in 1970 to catch for the best team in the game, the Baltimore Orioles, who had miraculously lost the World Series the previous season to the New York Mets. Becoming a major league member of the Orioles, with Hall of Famers like Frank and Brooks Robinson, guys like Boog Powell and Don Buford, and that amazing pitching staff he got to catch, had to be heady stuff for the youngster from Virginia. Jim Palmer (another Hall of Famer), Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar were his battery mates. Quite a jump up the ladder from the single-A Marlins.

Johnny carved out a terrific career in the majors, playing for 11 years and gaining the respect of the baseball community as an excellent baseball man, which led to his being named a manager in the Yankees farm system almost the day after he retired as a player, at age 35.

Oates eventually became a major league manager in 1991, replacing his former teammate, the legendary Frank Robinson as the manager of his first big league team, the Baltimore Orioles, where Johnny would win the Manager of the Year award in 1993.

Despite being let go by the Orioles’ new owner, Peter Angelos, in 1994, Oates was quickly hired by the Texas Rangers, who had just fired their previous manager, Kevin Kennedy. Oates proceeded to lead the Rangers to their first playoff appearance in team history during the 1996 season.

Oates won the American League Manager of the Year Award for a second time, in 1996, sharing honors with the Yankees’ Joe Torre and a third time, in 1998.

I wrote to Johnny Oates when he was diagnosed with cancer while managing the Rangers. I took that opportunity to remind him of how nice he had been to a wide-eyed little kid in Miami Beach, a kid who never forgot that kindness. I mentioned how life-changing an experience it had been to get to talk to a “real” baseball player.


Johnny sent back a hand-written five-page letter, when he was in the middle of his final battle with cancer. His memories of those days were sharp and brought to life again by his elegant prose and recollections of his days as a Miami Marlin, in the lowest level of minor league baseball.

Johnny Oates passed away in 2004. He was 58 years old. Even as a Single-A baseball player, he was as big league as one could get.

A final note to Mike Vaccaro: I hope you got to observe a bunch of kids talking to “real players” at that game in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s life-altering stuff.

Johnny Oates hokiesportscom
Johnny Oates in 2003 for induction to the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame

Mandel’s Musings: Spring Fever – Tiger Woods and The Masters, NBA Playoffs, Baseball in Full Swing

by Scott Mandel

This is what spring is supposed to feel like. It’s not just the longer days, the warmer temperatures, and the rosier outlooks.

No, it can’t be spring without first checking out the azaleas in Augusta, Georgia, where there is also a little golf tournament being played called The Masters. Or, paying attention to the real NBA season, aka, the playoffs. And, as idyllic a season as spring can be, the most idyllic of sports, baseball, is now in full swing.

One of the rights of spring remains checking out the leader board among those azaleas in Georgia, where globally-branded golf names appear from April 11 – April 14. One of those brands is named, Tiger Woods.

No athlete in any sport has been as polarizing over the past 20 years than Woods, yet, his comeback into the upper echelon of the sport is being met with levels of appreciation, if not affection, for his evolving story of what his fans hope will be redemption. The fun part for observers is the experiencing of his trials and tribulations in real time. We don’t know if history will be made in Augusta this weekend or not, but, it’s an emotional roller-coaster to watch it play out in front of our very eyes.

What makes his play even more compelling is knowing there remain many Woods’ haters. People who will never forgive his past mistakes nor his treatment of his fans and the media. So, like the political landscape across the world, there are vastly different points of view about this athlete which draws the most casual of golf fans to his events.

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Tiger Woods seems to be enjoying his job, finally


From notorious cheating husband to the incurrence of several career-threatening surgeries on his back and knees, Woods’ playing career was all but left for dead. The sport places such tremendous torque on backs and knees with every swing that nobody believed Woods, at age 43, could ever approach his former talent, let alone his ability to win tournaments, especially major tournaments, on the PGA tour after what his body and mind have been through over the past 10 years.

However, Woods currently finds himself, today, with the onset of the third round, one stroke back of the Masters lead with most of the nation of golf fans and, now, those casual fans of the sport, rooting hard for him to pick up his fourth Masters green jacket and first win in a major in over a decade.

At the same time, post-season playoffs are beginning this week in two major North American sports. The NBA and the NHL. This is the part of each sports’ seasons that actually matters. After interminably long, 82-game regular season schedules which began in October of last year, we finally have competition in which the participants actually care about winning at all costs.

Not to be forgotten or outdone, baseball season is blissfully in full swing, too, allowing it, in spring of 2019, to once more become the national pastime of the U.S., while football, driven by gambling, huge television contracts, and concussions, tries to sort itself out during its off-season.

But, it is on this day, on this weekend when we focus on the drama of watching Tiger Woods. An often surly human being/athlete, never fan-friendly or media-friendly, we suddenly care about his appearance on the Masters leaderboard. We care about the tremendous theater his skills on a golf course can create on a pretty weekend in April. We care so much so that it even keeps us sitting in front of our televisions on a warm, bright Saturday and Sunday instead of leaving our homes this weekend to enjoy a sunny day in the spring.

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The Masters in Augusta is lined with beautiful azaleas





















Masters azaleas surround the beautiful golf course in Augusta, Georgia

Mandel’s Musings: Yankees, Missing Table Setter, Still Haven’t Fixed Lineup Issues

It’s early, of course, in the 2019 season but the New York Yankees, one of baseball’s favorites to win the World Series this year are looking very much like last year’s team, which fell short in the playoffs for one major reason. Their lineup of home run hitting sluggers was unable to put bat to ball when they faced top of the line pitching rotations like the Astros or the Red Sox.

This season, so far, has that same feel, know what I mean?

The Yanks’ lineup remains the most fearful in the game. From one through nine, a healthy Yankees’ batting order will do damage to most American League pitchers over the course of a season. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres will all hit more than 20 homers this year. Hell, they’ll all probably hit more than 30.

The question is, how many of these bashers will also hit .280 or better and strike out less than 100 times?

The Yankees dilemma this year is the same as it was last year. Hitting homers in batches, as the Bombers did in 2018 (266 – a major league record) puts fans in the seats, even bringing back the early-arrival fans who enjoy watching these very large men take their pre-game batting practice hacks but, it doesn’t win championships.

But, who are the table-setters?

Nothing wrong with power, in this age of weight-training, protein drinks, and any other enhancements used in professional sports. But, even in 2019, championship teams must possess lineups that include a smattering of hit-to-contact types so the bashers can get big, sweet fastballs to swing at with runners on base. Opposing pitchers prefer to pitch off the plate to big swingers, who tend to feast on fastball strikes but without ideal bat control, can be fooled by pitches that expand the strike zone to include breaking balls in the dirt. Base runners force pitchers to throw strikes, a good scenario for big swingers like Judge and Stanton and Sanchez.

But, who are the table-setters?

The Houston Astros’ second baseman, Jose Altuve, has, at 5’6″, 160 pounds made himself into a superstar by getting on base, not striking out, and making opposing pitchers jittery when he’s taking leads off first.

The Red Sox have Mookie Betts, who also knows how to make contact and does so to all fields with power, despite his diminutive body-type.

Guess which teams won the past two World Series? If you answered the Astros and the Red Sox, you’d be right.

I’m not saying the Yankees should have held onto a popular player of theirs from the past two seasons, Ronald Torreyes, but let’s just say, by getting rid of a “Torreyes-type,” they no longer have a diminutive contact hitter in their lineup who rarely strikes out. Brett Gardner is going to be 36 during this season, and never was a hit-to-contact type with a high on-base percentage. Tyler Wade has a lifetime batting average of .164. D.J. LeMahieu, a solid acquisition during the off-season, doesn’t fit the profile of an Altuve or a Betts, either.

Yesterday, the Yankees beat the lowly Orioles, 8-4. Their offense, third in the American League in strikeouts and at the bottom of the league in stolen bases, has been slumping for several games now.

Once again, the Yanks were in their collective offensive funk against Alex Cobb, the Orioles starting pitcher who will NOT be in the running for the Cy Young award, until the sixth inning. Cobb was treating this Yankee lineup as if he was pitching for the Astros or the Red Sox, in post-season games.

Baltimore, on paper the worst team in the sport, had a 4-1 edge going into the sixth inning, the Yankees lone run coming on, you guessed it, a home run by Gleyber Torres. Other than that, against Alex Cobb, zilch.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning when the pinstripes exploded against the putrid Orioles bullpen for four runs, on, yes, a solo home run by Sanchez and a three-run homer by Torres, his second of the game, coming after two singles by Bird and LeMahieu.

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Altuve is the perfect table-setter for the Astros

Here’s the thing about home runs. They come in bunches and practitioners of the art of home run hitting tend to be streaky. They will hit 10-15 in a month, then, nothing but ground outs and strikeouts for a few weeks. Nobody seems to know why that is. It’s one of baseball’s mysteries that keeps this game interesting. But, it doesn’t help a team when most of its lineup is comprised of precisely those kind of bashers who have their hot and cold streaks during the season, but are especially cold during the playoffs, when the strikeouts and ground outs are almost a guarantee.

Note to Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman: The Yankees will not win a World Series without scrappy, speedy guys with high on-base percentages to set the table for their sluggers.

Where have you gone, Ronald Torreyes?