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Marshall Garvey

Hello again Brushback faithful! It’s only been a few weeks since my Max Scherzer piece, but it feels thrice as long given the extent of things packed into my college graduation summer. And trust me, I’m not saying that with any complaint. In addition to a whole bevy of personal projects that of course includes this site, I’ve completed the first chapter of the book I’m writing for the Sacramento Historical Society about the history of baseball in my city. In a poignant end to that first step, I spent all night into the wee hours of the morning wrapping up this chapter, an assiduous approach that recalled my many all-nighters spent working on papers in college. (To further cement the moment, I wrote to the music of Kid Creole and the Coconuts on infinite loop just as I had in the same finals that Max Scherzer inspired me through.)

As I spent the weekend in Yosemite National Park immediately after the chapter was submitted to my boss, I was understandably feeling pretty triumphant. These good vibes led to a humorous train of thought about how my successes in baseball writing are the closest I’ll come to achieving glory in the national pastime. I may never turn on a fastball for a legendary game-winning home run, or pitch a perfect game, but hell: Why can’t we baseball writers receive some love too?

How about a great baseball movie of the “Moneyball”/”61*” ilk to chronicle our struggles and triumphs? I envision a tense scene of the writer at his laptop, struggling to come up with the right word. He types and erases a couple in frustration, just like a batter swinging and missing pathetically at the first two strikes. But then, he digs in and focuses on that next word even harder. “The Natural”-style music cues up, and in slow motion he types out the perfect word. The announcer intones: “Holy cow, what an adjective!” OK…not exactly stirring stuff, but allow me a little indulgence over my accomplishments here! None of my teams have won a World Series since we all had mullets and George Bush Sr. was in one of the two highest offices in the land, so I’ll celebrate my little victories as I please. Continue reading

First off, an apology for my long absence from this site. The past few weeks were a mind-numbing blitz of final schoolwork and graduation events, which left me without the time I need to write substantial pieces for the sites I contribute to (I only managed a quick article at Last Token Gaming). Luckily, in that time I landed my dream job, as I was commissioned by the Sacramento Historical Society to write a book about the history of baseball in the city (and my efforts here at Brushback were crucial to me getting it, as I sent my Clayton Kershaw contract extension article as one of three writing samples).

And, let’s be honest, I probably wouldn’t have had much enthusiasm to pump out an Artful Dodgers column during this recent juncture. Their mediocrity was so repetitious and unchanging it would have made for equally listless commentary. And while I’m new to enjoying hockey, I’ve gotta say watching the L.A. Kings grab their second Stanley Cup in three years in a white-knuckle 2 OT finale was a treat. Maybe when the winning goal was broadcast on the Dodger Stadium jumbotron it gave Dem Bums a modicum of inspiration to win a championship before we reach the 30th anniversary of the 1988 title. After Kershaw’s no-hitter, it seems it may have done just that…

Anyway, this piece isn’t about the Dodgers, but rather a single player I deeply admire, Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers. I’m glad to be writing this all the more after his first ever complete game recently against the Chicago White Sox, but that’s honestly irrelevant to the fact that even if I had had the time to write for Brushback in the past few weeks, I wouldn’t have been able to write this particular piece until only after I had graduated from UC Davis. That’s because, to put it simply, Mad Max helped inspire me to get to that point during my two years at university at a critical moment. But how does a Detroit Tigers pitcher inspire a lifelong Californian to finish his history degree, especially when I’m not a Tigers fan and the specific instance of inspiration came against my beloved Oakland Athletics? It sounds convoluted, but work with me here!

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This past weekend, between my routine of grinding out yet another underwhelming series loss by the Dodgers, I enjoyed the sight of the Oakland Athletics notching both white-knuckle walk-offs and blowout wins at home against the Washington Nationals. As I usually devote space here and on Facebook and whatnot to the Twins and Dodgers first, I should note that the A’s are basically my “number three” team. That said, they have a significance to me not even Minnesota and Los Angeles can claim. Around the time my family moved to Sacramento in 2000, I became a diehard baseball fan, and thus began forming my allegiances. I selected the Twins as my number one (long story), and naturally had the Dodgers handed down by my father.

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As I write this, the first game of the Dodgers/Nationals series is currently being rain delayed, so I figure this is the right time to look back on the first full month of Dodger baseball and assess the True Blue state of affairs. So, how do the Dodgers look thus far? Well…good enough. They may sit in third place right now with an 18-14 record, but it’s not in a way that reflects an irreversibly disappointing start. Nonetheless, it’s enough to gauge the incredible strengths and frustrating shortcomings that have pervaded each game thus far.

First, the highlights. A salute to Dee Gordon, who I expected to be a creampuff excuse for a second baseman. This season, he’s answered my prediction by leading the majors in stolen bases, all while batting above .300 and making a difference in seemingly every at-bat. On the contrary, I had exceedingly high expectations for the starting rotation and they have exceeded them. Even without Clayton Kershaw, we’ve been treated to Zack Greinke’s historic streak of starts with two or fewer earned runs, Hyun-Jin Ryu’s scoreless inning streak on the road, Josh Beckett’s gritty renaissance, and Dan Haren’s ace-like line that blows the mind when you consider he’s the fourth … FOURTH … starter.

Adrian Gonzalez is reaching new levels as a power hitter and producer on offense, and Yasiel Puig has mercifully cut out off-field drama in favor of simply being the titanic player he is. (And seriously, how about that crazy escape story? As I write this, even some things that were looking to be Achilles heels at first (Brandon League’s performance, the team’s resolve in extra-inning games) are looking up right now. Continue reading

These days I’m usually busy on this site with my Artful Dodgers column, and rest assured I’ll have another coming soon. But before I continue my routine of overreacting to every game and debating who I’d want to play Don Mattingly in “2014 Dodgers: The Movie” (I’m leaning toward Bill Murray at the moment), I want to get back to general commentary for this piece. More specifically, I want to take this space to congratulate Albert Pujols on his 500th career home run and the prestige it adds to perhaps the finest career I’ve been able to witness in my time as a baseball fan (from the 2001 season to present, which fittingly marks his exact career span).

In a series that was hyped as the first meeting between the brash young superstars Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, it made for an even more fitting occasion for Pujols to join the 500 club (granted, of the 26 members, he’s now the third-youngest). And he became the first player in history to notch both 499 and 500 on the same day, with the big one being one of his trademark mammoth blasts to left center. Continue reading

Have you ever had those moments where you’ve stopped and realized just how long a week felt? Particularly when it was an up-and-down, eventful seven days? Without a doubt, the past week marked an opening stretch for Dodger fans that was as exhausting emotionally as it was exhaustive in demonstrating everything that will either define a triumphant year or a high-priced flop in 2014.

First things first, the opening series in San Diego. After Brian Wilson and his Khal Drogo beard wasted Hyun Jin Ryu’s brilliant start in game one, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren won the next two games with sufficient, if not exceptional, help from the offense and bullpen. But the victories were offset by far greater losses, as both Clayton Kershaw and Wilson were sent to the 15-day DL (thus explaining the latter’s seemingly inexplicable meltdown in game one). Before panic mode could set in, however, both injuries were revealed to be far from season-ending material, with Wilson’s coming from nerve damage (a relief considering he’s had two Tommy John surgeries) and Kershaw’s more in the realm of back pain without any serious tears. Being without both players’ talents and exceptional personalities on the field is an undeniable setback, but when you’ve officially exceeded the Yankees in payroll, there’s no excuse to not hold first place in time for their return. Continue reading

Welcome everyone to the first edition of my new column, The Artful Dodgers! Here I’ll provide regular analysis and commentary of my favorite NL team (and second only to Minnesota) as they undertake arguably the most hyped season in franchise history. I know Brushback is primarily a league-wide commentary blog, as well as one run by Twins fans, but all the same I think it’ll be interesting to follow a top contender from start to finish (Also, I’ll include league-wide analysis and misc. observations when pertinent.).

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reach the satisfying level of crisp analysis at True Blue LA or the lethally hilarious and uncompromising nature of Dodger Blues. Hell, knowing the Dodgers’ propensity for excruciating heartbreak, this column’s greatest purpose could end up being to provide incriminating evidence of me angrily dropkicking someone like Chan Ho Park. But if my commentary turns out to be congruent with a long overdue championship season, it’ll prove more than worthwhile. Maybe I can publish all of these columns in a book and use the $13 in profits to buy a Darren Dreifort card for laughs. Sky’s the limit, eh? Continue reading

Texas Rangers

2013 result: 91-72, 2nd place, lost Game 163 to Tampa Bay

Since the mind-numbing heartbreak of the 2011 World Series, the Rangers have slipped in the past two years due to meager second halves. While 2012 at least yielded a wild card berth, their loss in game 163 last year kept them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2009. GM Jon Daniels has correctly improved the lineup by acquiring Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, although the rotation has taken a step back with Derek Holland out until midseason. But that rotation is still anchored by Yu Darvish, and if the other starters can pick up the slack reasonably well with such a muscular offense to aid them they should have the solvency to make it to October again.

Prediction: 93-69, 1st place Continue reading

Detroit Tigers

2013 result: 93-69, 1st place, lost to Red Sox 4-2 in ALCS

Aside from the baffling deal that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals for loose change and chapstick, Dave Dombrowski engineered a prudent offseason that keeps the team solvent even after many key players left (You hear that, Pittsburgh?). First and foremost is the Prince Fielder trade, sending his massive contract (and postseason lethargy) to Texas in exchange for Ian Kinsler, thus freeing up payroll space and strengthening the infield. The leaky bullpen that helped cost Detroit the ALCS last year (mostly due to a lack of a stable closer) has been patched up somewhat with Joba Chamberlain and AL Central veteran Joe Nathan, although it still needs an extra power arm or two. Most notably, the youthful Brad Ausmus has stepped in for Jim Leyland as manager, a decision that I’ll preemptively deem brilliant simply because I got Ausmus’ autograph when I was kid. In all seriousness, though, the jaw-dropping Max Scherzer/Justin Verlander/Anibal Sanchez trio and a roster that’s been to the ALCS three straight times probably makes for the easiest division lock in baseball.

Prediction: 94-68, 1st place Continue reading

New York Yankees

2013 result: 85-77, 3rd place

Until the signing of Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankee’s typically blockbuster-laden offseason didn’t seem particularly huge to me. I know that sounds ridiculous considering they signed Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury AND Brian McCann, and maybe it can be chalked up to the distraction of 24/7 A-Rod coverage. Not to mention, the significance of losing Robinson Cano to Seattle and of course Mariano Rivera to retirement (among many others) seemed to grab more attention in my view. But the arrival of the Japanese ace after a protracted bidding period gave the Bronx Bombers the most prized free agent available, and brings new life to a rotation that was simply leaden in 2013. If Tanaka can bring most if not all of his otherworldly talent to the majors, he’ll lead a staff that looks to rebound with the underrated Hiroki Kuroda and a slimmer C.C. Sabathia. Add to all this Derek Jeter’s farewell tour, and the Yanks should be primed for a 2009-style success fueled by blockbuster acquisitions and stalwart position players.

Prediction: 95-67, 1st place Continue reading