Former College Hitting Coach Breaks Down Jason Heyward’s Swing

Jason Heyward is 6’5” 240 Lbs; he’s a plus runner with plus bat speed, a plus arm, a plus defender, and apparently off-the-charts makeup. He’s been a top prospect since he was drafted. He looked like a future super star after his 2012 season that saw him hit 27 HR and 30 doubles. He signed a mega deal with the Cubs after a somewhat resurgent season with the St. Louis Cardinals only to fall to all-time lows in virtually every offensive statistic known to man. He struck nearly twice as many times as he walked, barely broke the .300 OBP mark, and hit a lowly .230 that was devoid of power and production. Thankfully for the Cubs, he is a stalwart defender and still has some worth. Will he ever live up to the contract he signed last off-season? Not likely. But the real question is how to get the ultra-talented 27 year old back on track for the prime years of his career? It’s easier said than done, but where there is a will there is a way. For me it is a 4 step process.

1. Tear it all down.

His swing simply does not work. It’s rigid, it’s long, and the small changes he has tried to make have done nothing to get at the root of his swing problems.

2. Find his athleticism

For such an incredible athlete, his swing lacks any athleticism. This has been evident since he was a high schooler. One of the first rules of coaching hitters should be: DO NOT take away a hitters athleticism. Use it as a way to promote rhythm and timing in their swings. Let him be an athlete again. The rigidity in his swing does not allow him to create timing. The swing unveiled this spring fails him by starting his swing in the front with little connection between upper and lower body. This leaves him continuously out of funk, unable to stay behind the baseball. All of these factors not lining up contributes to his inability to recognize pitches. This is evident in his takes and the excessive amount of bad early count contact (which mask his strikeout totals).

Ton continue reading the roughly 800 more words on Jason Heyward’s new swing, please visit Off The Bench Baseball Blog.

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The Easiest Question in Baseball History Might Have a New Answer

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Lou Gehrig.

The answer, that is.  It’s always Lou Gehrig.

Actually… we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ll come back to answer in a minute or two. Let’s first discuss the question.

So there’s a game baseball fans like to play (and by “fans” we also include anybody, anywhere, who has ever written any words, at any time, about the sport). The game, or exercise if you prefer, is to rank the best player who ever lived at every position. Think of it as the all-time, “All-Time Starting Lineup.” Entire books have been devoted the topic, TV shows, countless articles, blog posts… it’s a favorite pastime of devotees of the national past time. READ MORE AT PLATE COVERAGE

Is Nelson Cruz Showing Any Signs of Slowing Down?

Like a fine wine, Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz has gotten better with age.

He had consistently been a force in the middle of the Texas Rangers’ lineup since becoming an everyday player in 2009, but he’s gone to another level in recent years.

The slugger never collected fewer than 22 homers or 76 RBI in a single season with Texas, but also never hit more than 33 dingers or drove in 90 runs while playing over 128 games just once.

Things have taken off since leaving the Lone Star state, though. Between his age-33 and age-35 campaigns, he’s enjoyed three straight 40-plus homer and 90-plus RBI performances.

In fact, his 127 homers during this time is the most in the majors and his 306 RBI are seventh most.

While entering 2017 as a 36-year-old will raise some eyebrows with what we know about aging power hitters, he’s still expected to be a major run producer in the middle of Seattle’s lineup.

Besides age, have there been any signs of decline that we can see?

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 10, 2017

IMG_9302New cutting edge technology we use to enjoy entertainment is nothing new to young adults. And baseball can survive if they put their old wine in new bottles.

From the campus of UC Berkeley, enjoy this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 9, 2017

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The Tigers might want to rebuild, but they are stuck with the brilliant Miguel Cabrera whether they like it or not.

Bless you Boys on this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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The 10 Best Cy Young Performances Since the 2000 Season

While there’s a certain amount of joy in watching two baseball teams slug it out for nine innings, not much can beat a good old fashioned pitcher’s duel.

The game hums along at a nice pace (the commissioner definitely likes that) and every play — whether it’s someone collecting a base hit, stealing a bag, executing a hit-and-run, making a play in the field or something else — gets magnified along the way.

Hitters are forced to face a lot of failure on any given night, and the chances of coming up empty always skyrockets when one of the league’s top hurlers toes the slab. Especially when they’re in the midst of a Cy Young season.

Every award-winning performance is a special one for pitchers, but they’re not all created equally. Since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve been blessed with some truly dominant pitching performances, but which ones have been the most dominant?

Using FanGraphs’ version of WAR (referred to as fWAR here), we ranked the 10 best Cy Young seasons since 2000 (there was a tie at no. 10, so we handed it to whomever compiled their respective fWAR in the fewest number of innings).

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Los Angeles Angels Top Prospects

The Angels commitment to winning a World Series while Mike Trout is still affordable has led to a lot of money and prospects being spent, in most cases, unwisely. Among those lost included future starter and future bullpen piece Sean Newcomb and Victor Alcantara. Furthermore, the team’s hesitancy to draft high upside players in favor of high floor athletes has kept the team as the worst system in Major League Baseball. However, the team does have some promising players acquired via the draft. 2015 second rounder Jahmai Jones may have a ways to go, but the team has put a solid value on his toolsy approach. 2016 first rounder Matt Thaiss may be blocked by Albert Pujols and CJ Cron, but his bat has shown why he was taken with the 15th overall pick. And should 2016 picks Brandon Marsh, Nonie Williams and Chris Rodriguez show the upside that had the team sold on them, the system could start climbing out of the cellar.

Los Angeles Angels Top Prospects

Adam Wainwright Needs His New (Old) Curveball

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Ace Adam Wainwright returned from a brutal Achilles injury in earnest in 2016. With four top 3 Cy Young finishes since 2010, Waino is one of the most talented (and underrated) pitchers in the modern era. His success can largely be traced back to his nasty curveball, and even his Twitter handle (@UncleCharlie50) pays homage to his dominant offering. Wainwright’s 2016 performance did not exactly ring success with the same dominant Uncle Charlie that has earmarked his career.

Wainwright’s 2016 season was somewhere between pedestrian and ugly. He was healthy, starting 33 games, but ran just a 4.62 ERA and led the league in both hits and earned runs allowed. He struck guys out less frequently than his career average and also posted a career worst WHIP. But Waino thinks he figured something out, and it all goes back to his curveball.

MLB.com ran a story that, while watching an MLB Network special featuring himself, Wainwright discovered that he had inadvertently shifted his curveball grip while coming back from that Achilles injury. Following a few tosses with his wife, his optimism heading into 2017 was renewed.

Friend of the blog and mlb.com beat writer David Adler (_@dadler on Twitter and worth the follow) did some digging and found that Wainwright’s 2016 curveball was likely to blame for some of those 2016 struggles:

To continue reading about Adam Wainwright’s 2016 curveball, please visit offthebenchbaseball.com

WBC 2017: Israel Not The Ugly Duckling After All

The Dutch Baseball Hangout

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Most, if not all predictions (including the one made by this blog) about the final standings in group A can be scratched.  Didn’t everybody pick Israel to finish last?
After a stunning win vs Korea yesterday, team Israel completed the upset by routing Taiwan 15-7 today

Today’s game was exactly the opposite compared to yesterday’s game in which both teams had a hard time scoring runs. Today Israel slugged its way to the victory.

With a solid AA/AAA pitcher on the mound for Israel, the team jumped on the Taiwanese pitching and outhit Taiwan 20-12 with four extra basehits.
Taiwan started the game with Chun-Lin Kuo on the mound. He played for the Seibu Lions of the NPB in the past two seasons. Those two seasons weren’t quite a success with ERAs of 5.31 (2015) and 8.46 (2016) and WHIPs of 1.682 and 1.701.
It showed as Israel jumped on Chun-Lin…

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WBC 2017: Dutch Beat Taiwan In Nerve Wrecking Game

The Dutch Baseball Hangout

wbcThe Kingdom of the Netherlands “hosted” Taiwan in their second game of the tournament. In an exciting game in which the score went back and forth, the Dutch came back from trailing 5-4 and eventually walked off as a winner with a 6-5 win, due to a bases loaded walk. 

In a must win game for Taiwan, Jair Jurrjens took the mound for team Kingdom of the Netherlands. Manager Hensley Meulens took this decision because of the experience that Jurrjens has in the Taiwanese professional league, the CPBL. Jurrjens pitched almost one season for the Uni President 7-Eleven Lions and had some mixed results. Eventually, he was released due to a nagging injury.

The decision to send Jurrjens out to the mound was a bit unlucky perhaps. In the first two innings Jurrjens worked his way through the inning without any damage. But in the third inning he started to struggle…

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 8, 2017

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Photo: Kevin Sullivan

All things being equal, I would have been a Pirates fan. I have always gravitated towards them.

The current version of the Bucs are at an agonizing crossroads.

Celebrate the Fam A Lee in this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 7, 2017

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Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America

Rays pitcher Chris Archer has some admirable sentiments about the WBC. But I think that a real unifying lesson can be found with how baseball is already set up.
It is a melting pot episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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CINCINNATI REDS’ FARM SYSTEM

There are some very exciting players to be found within the Reds organization. Last year’s first-round pick Nick Senzel appears to be the real deal. Amir Garrett has the ability to lead a rotation. Jesse Winker, Luis Castillo, and Sal Romano provide a very solid foundation upon which the Reds can raise their floor, and the system contains a great deal of upside with players like Aristides Aquino, Taylor Trammell, and Alex Blandino.

There are few sure things in their Minor League ranks, but the farm is headed in the right direction. With a few breakout seasons from key prospects, the talent is present for this to be the group that leads the Reds back into the postseason for the first time since 2013.

Cincinnati Reds Top Prospects

Get to Know Pirates Outfielder Austin Meadows

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We all know the Pittsburgh Pirates starting outfield, Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, and Starling Marte, in part because they are so good and in part because they have been the subject of so many contract rumors, trade rumors, and now position shifts in the last few years. McCutchen is also one of Off the Bench’s 5 players to watch this spring.

But there’s a new name to know: Austin Meadows.

Meadows has reportedly made a good impression on the Pirates this spring and is set to see more playing time between now and Opening Day and will start the season in Indianapolis, at the top of the minor leagues. Coming into last season, he was ranked right around the 20th best prospect in all of baseball and last season the 21 year old made it as high as AAA. This year, some have him as the best prospect in the whole Pirates system and the 6th best in the sport.

Read the entire article here!

Jonathan Schoop Needs to Stop Swinging So Much

Every successful big-league hitter goes down their own path toward becoming productive at the plate, but the method in which that happens is normally rooted in plate discipline.

It takes certain players longer than others to make improvements in that area, but when the light switch goes off, everything falls into place — they start hitting the ball hard with more frequency and see a rise in multiple offensive categories. Or, if they were already an established hitter, something unexpected could result from it, like an increase in power.

Jose Altuve and his unique 2016 campaign is a great example, but that’s not the only way a hitter can find success — sometimes, being more aggressive is the key, like it was for Robinson Cano.

However, a lack of plate discipline can also prevent some from potentially taking their game to the next level, and that’s what’s happening to Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

Compiling a career-high 647 plate appearances in 2016 enabled him to set a few personal highs in various offensive categories, like in home runs (25), doubles (38) and RBI (82). But despite ranking amongst the top-7 among qualified hitters at his position in each of those categories, his wRC+ (97) and fWAR (2.0) don’t even rank among the top 15.

The key to watching his offense kick it up a notch is by improving that plate discipline.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 6, 2017

Some teams find themselves in flux between identity shifts. I illustrate that by shaving my beard.

I take blade to face on this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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The History Of Spring Training

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Ever wonder how spring training started, or why?  Well, here’s a little history lesson after watching a recent repeat of Ken Burn’s Baseball on the MLB Network.

The Early Years

Stories are a bit conflicting with some claiming the first spring training taking place in Hot Springs Arkansas in 1886, by the Chicago White Stockings (today’s Chicago Cubs) and team President, Albert Spalding and Hall of Famer Cap Anson.  Others claim that it was started back in 1870 by both Chicago and Cincinnati Red Stockings down in New Orleans.  A third story starts with the Washington Capitals in 1888, holding a four-day camp in Jacksonville.  Regardless of which story you hear and believe, we know that teams started training down south in the late 1800’s to prior to the start of their seasons.

Now back in the early years of spring training, most players could not survive on just a baseball salary, so they’d go home after the season and find a job somewhere.  Those jobs would take a toll and players would be out of shape and out of practice by the start of the season.  When it came to playing spring games, it meant mostly against colleges, semi-pro, and at times another Major League team.

In the early 1903, Connie Mack had his Philadelphia Athletics train in Jacksonville, however after a disappointing season; Mack blamed the outcome on the tropical weather and teams focus and didn’t return for 11 years.  One of my favorite stories around the A’ in Florida, was about a very eccentric star pitcher named Rube Waddell who wrestled an alligator while down in Florida.

Continue reading on Sons of ’84

St. Louis Cardinals Top Prospects

Right now the thing that jumps out at you about this system is the number of big arms that populate the various levels. I will rank Alex Reyes on this list, but he is far from the only guy who will light up a radar gun in this system. Sandy Alcantara, Dakota Hudson, Junior Fernandez, Rowan Wick, Ryan Helsley, and Ronnie Williams all are radar gun delights who can push triple digits in short spurts. The Cardinals philosophy in regards to pitching has always been to teach fastball command to all four quadrants first and foremost, so even if a pitcher is showing high strikeout rates and posting quality ERA’s, they may not move quickly if they cannot demonstrate fastball command first and foremost. They tend to favor athleticism in their pitchers first and foremost, believing they can teach consistent mechanics if they have the requisite athleticism. The Cardinals look for loose, fast arms, as they believe this is an indicator of an ability to create spin on a baseball- needed for great breaking balls. Finally, they look to the changeup as their secondary offering of choice. Pitchers who can locate a changeup and keep their deception are less prone to platoon splits against either right-handed or left-handed hitters.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS TOP PROSPECTS

 

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 5, 2017

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It is Sunday and time for The Sunday Request.

The WBC is well meaning but even its supporters can’t separate it from a spring training game.

I have ideas how to fix it, but if it goes away, I won’t be sad.

Evolve or become extinct on this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 4, 2017

Fred McGriff #27

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

THE TEAMS THAT SHOULD HAVE WON: The 1993 Braves had the momentum, the pennant chase, the build up and the perfect combination of beloved players. They should have been the team to win it all, not the 1995 team.

A what could have been episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 3, 2017

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Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

The vastness of the cosmos is helping me deal with the inevitability of the Red Sox losing David Price for the season.

We are all on the pale blue dot on this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Wil Myers Can’t Keep Disappearing on the Road in 2017

The 2016 season was one Wil Myers and the San Diego Padres had been waiting for.

After failing to play in more than 88 games during each of his first three MLB seasons, the outfielder turned first baseman suited up for a career-high 157 ballgames and earned his first-ever All-Star selection last year. It seems as though this kind of performance took forever, but that happens with top prospects — we hear about them for so long that we forget how young they actually are.

Myers is a perfect example — he’ll be just 27 years old on Opening Day with the sky being his limit as he prepares to embark into the physical prime of his career. San Diego is very much in the midst of a rebuild after selling off most of their MLB talent, but the front office wants to build around their first baseman.

At least, that’s what it seems like after the two sides agreed on a six-year, $83 million extension this past winter instead of going through the arbitration process.

But while his overall stats from 2016 make it appear as if he’s arrived, it wouldn’t be telling the whole story.

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Ranking the Worst MLB Teams From Each Season Since 2002

By the time each MLB season comes to its conclusion, there are only certain things we remember. Our thoughts are mostly dominated by who just won the World Series or how our favorite team performed. Unless it directly impacts us, we rarely remember who exactly was the worst team in baseball for any given year.

Win-loss record and winning percentage are what’s mostly used to determine who takes home this dubious honor — along with the top overall pick in the following summer’s draft — but it should go a little deeper than that.

So, while taking this particular trip down memory lane, we felt it was more appropriate to use run differential as the determining factor, which is the number of runs a team allows subtracted by the number of runs they score. After all, the whole point of baseball is to score more runs than you allow each night.

More often than not (11 out of 15, actually), the worst record in baseball was accompanied by the worst run differential, but there were a handful of times when a team didn’t accomplish both.

Below are the worst teams in terms of run differential from each season since 2002, ranked from least to most soul crushing.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 2, 2017

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Jason O. Watson/Getty Images North America

Baseball is meant to be a diversion or a distraction from every day life. But often the players, the key distractors, have real life interfere with their production on the field. Jake Peavy, dealing with a prolonged divorce is the latest example of reality colliding with fantasy.

Finding the truth half way in this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – March 1, 2017

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Rob Carr/Getty Images North America

The NL East will be won by the team that doesn’t break down. Meanwhile new Washington reliever Joe Blanton has turned his nice career around and could become a closer option.

Reinventing one’s self in this episode of The Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

Enjoy Joe Blanton’s home run in the 2008 World Series.

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The 60 Players I look Forward To Watching Spring Training

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Yes, we’re finally here with spring training games starting!!  Spring training can be such a fun experience from guys running poles during games, trying out new pitchers, or a new stance, to youngsters trying to grab attention, to guys duking it out for a few roster spots on their club.

With that, every spring I like to put a list of out of players that I look forward to watching during spring games.  There’s no rhyme or reason to be honest, as it could be a prospect getting a few innings on a big league roster, a guy coming back from injury, a key acquisition, or that teams top player.  Regardless, I love watching and listening to spring training games and am always surfing the web or tv to check these players out.

Here’s my list:

Atlanta Braves
Dansby Swanson: #1 draft pick in 2015, major steal in the trade for Shelby Miller, makes his debut a year after being drafted and hits .302 in 38 Major League games.

Ozzie Albies: I don’t think the 20-year old will have a ton of time in Major League camp, but from everything I know, I can look forward to a youngster with very good lead off potential and an outstanding glove

Arizona Diamondbacks
Taijuan Walker: Walker was part of the trade that sent Segura to Seattle, has show flashes of big potential in the past, but has had a hard time putting it together.  At 24, Taijuan has had 2 full seasons of Major League starts, along with 2 other partial seasons.  This could be the year he takes a big step forward…if he can keep the ball in the yard (1.8 HR per 9 in 2016)

Archie Bradley: Bradley had been a high profile prospect for some time before his debut in 2015 and looked to be ready to back it up as he was 2-0 in his first three career starts with a 1.48 ERA and 12 K’s.  Then Bradley got smoked in the face by a 115 MPH Carlos Gonzalez line drive on April 28th, 2015 and seems like he hasn’t been the same since.  I’m hoping that we see the guy this spring that was on all the top prospect reports and what we saw early in the 2015 campaign

Continue reading @ Sons of ’84 – You will be dropped off on my AL/NL West List and can link to the Central and East from there

Boston Red Sox

Coming into the 2016 season, the Boston Red Sox were positioned as well as any team in baseball to be a consistent force in the coming years. With a great team filled with young stars like Mookie Betts, and veterans who would be in the clubhouse to help guide the up-and-comers, like Dustin Pedroia, things were looking up. Bolstering this argument was a farm system that was a consensus top-10 in league with top-to-bottom talent, including the number one prospect in baseball, Yoan Moncada. It’s amazing what Dealin’ Dave Dombrowski can do to a farm system over the course of 12 months. The Sox are still a force to be reckoned with in the MLB, but their farm system has been changed dramatically, after trading away Moncada, and Michael Kopech to land Chris Sale. Boston still has a decent, albeit top-heavy farm system, headlined by budding star Andrew Benintendi and slugging third base Rafael Devers.

Red Sox Top Prospects

Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – February 28, 2017

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Jeff Gross/Getty Images North America

Mike Trout might never be universally recognized and that MAY just be a product of the current way we consume culture. Meanwhile Mike Scioscia might have outstayed his welcome.

Adapt with the times in this episode of Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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5 MLB Starting Pitchers Who Need to Build off a Strong Second Half

With Grapefruit and Cactus League games officially underway, everyone in baseball gets that coveted clean slate. The 2017 season presents endless opportunities for players and teams, no matter how good or how bad 2016 was to them.

Some are taking the field with the hopes of completely changing the narrative surrounding them, while others simply want to continue showing the progress they displayed just a few months ago is indeed the new normal.

The MLB regular season is a grind — as if 162 games in about 180 days doesn’t say that enough — and quick starts don’t always mean certain performances are sustainable over the long haul. The same also goes for poor starts, too.

The five starting pitchers below each saw their respective 2016 campaigns start on the wrong foot, but that didn’t stop them from having a strong finish in the second half.

Now, they’ll each try to use that momentum to produce from start-to-finish this season.

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Sully Baseball Daily Podcast – February 27, 2017

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Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

From the World Series to the election to the Oscars, nothing seems predictable anymore… and a certain amount of predictability is critical for baseball.

Black is white and up is down in this episode of Sully Baseball Daily Podcast.

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