‘Guys Know When a Guy Is the Guy’: An MLB First Half Recap

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With the All-Star break approaching, we asked current MLB Network analysts Mark DeRosa and Sean Casey to sit down and just talk baseball. The result was not your usual MLB first-half recap.

Mark DeRosa

Alright, let’s just get this one out of the way at the jump: Should pitchers be allowed to compete in the Home Run Derby?

Sean Casey

Only if it’s Bumgarner.

DeRosa

I threw a hard stance at it a few weeks ago that it’s a no-go because I was tired of hearing about it. But I do love Madison Bumgarner and he can hit absolute tanks. Taaaaanks. He might be the only pitcher who could kind of hang.

Casey

Oh, he can definitely hang. Have you seen him take BP? It’s must-watch.

DeRosa

I get that, but when these guys who do BP every day get on a run, I think they might blow him out. My fear is that it’s such a different setting for a guy who doesn’t hit that often. Once you get rid of the cage and put 50,000 people in the stadium, your adrenaline is going through the roof and I don’t know if a pitcher is used to torquing in those conditions. I would hate to see an ace throw off a team’s whole season by getting an oblique strain or any other kind of common hitting injury.

Casey

Yes, but on the other hand, it’s Bumgarner.

DeRosa

That’s true.

Casey

But honestly, my bigger question is, Why? I get the novelty, but this is a showcase for hitters.

DeRosa

Well, what if they did just the pitchers? Like, one round, three guys from each league. Sort of like an appetizer for the main event. I could see that maybe working.

Casey

I’m in. I just love the All-Star Game in general. The coolest thing I was ever part of as a player was the All-Star Game in ’99 at Fenway when they brought out the All-Century Team. It was my first All-Star Game. I felt like a little kid who got to sneak onto the field. It was a dream.

DeRosa

You were there for that? Wow.

Casey

It was incredible. We were all walking out to meet Ted Williams at the mound and I feel a pat on my shoulder. It was George Brett.

He goes, “Hey Sean, I just wanted to introduce myself. I’m George Brett.”

I was so starstruck I could barely get words out. I’m just like, “Uhhrahhrahhraaahharrr.” I was a mess. And he goes, “Man, I love your swing. It’s a sweet lefthanded swing.”

I respond, “Uh harrraa huuuahhuuu!

It was so surreal, just being surrounded by so many guys who have defined this game.

DeRosa

That’s amazing.

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DeRosa

Speaking more broadly here, if I ask you what the story of the first half of this season has been, what’s the first thing that pops into your head?

Casey

Cubs?

DeRosa

Gotta be the Cubs.

Casey

I always loved playing at Wrigley, even as a division rival. Every game was just one big party, regardless of how the team was doing. So I’m honestly really happy for the city. They deserve a team like this.

DeRosa

There’s something about playing in a big city that still has a small town feel to it. I know how much those people back their players. They deserve all of this success. The pieces they’ve put in place have been perfect. The Ricketts family came in and changed the team culture while still keeping the core values there. Then there’s Theo, the guy who broke the curse in Boston and could potentially do the same in Chicago. He could go down as the greatest baseball executive to ever walk the planet.

Casey

He’s made so many clutch moves. When I saw that they signed Lackey, I said, “Alright, now’s the time.” They have the kind of rotation you need to win a World Series. They have some really good arms.

DeRosa

The game’s gotten so young in general. For obvious reasons, really. Contracts — for pitchers in particular — cost so much now, so having a good farm system has become the lifeblood of teams that thrive today. To be able to develop guys in your system for five or six years at a decent salary before they hit free agency is a big advantage. The Cubs have done such a good job accumulating young talent that has ultimately panned out and been impactful. I mean Schwarber came up last year—

Casey

And he’s been injured. They’re doing all this without him. That’s insane. It feels like the organization just flipped a switch.

DeRosa

I first saw a change in ’07, while I was playing there. I was only there for two years, but during those two years we were good. I always got that vibe going in as a visiting player that win-lose-draw Wrigley was a good time. But when the team can actually potentially win the whole thing, the city is all in.

Honestly, I don’t even know what the fans would do with themselves if they won the whole thing. Like would they just wake up the next day and be like, What’s left?

Casey

That must have been what it was like when they won in Boston. It’s like, This is awesome … but what do we have to complain about now?

DeRosa

Oh, and then there’s Joe Maddon, who’s basically cut out of central casting to manage the Cubs. I’m serious. He’s exactly what the Cubs manager should look like and act like. The guy vibes with the city and is a perfect extension of the relationship Chicago has with the team.

Also — sort of a side note — but get this: When Wrigley got some renovations a few years back, the old home clubhouse was converted into one batting cage.

Casey

Huh?

DeRosa

Think about that. The whole clubhouse was the size of one batting cage. That blew my mind. I don’t ever even remember it being like supersmall. But the visiting clubhouse on the other hand …

Casey

The visiting clubhouse was a joke.

DeRosa

I’m guessing that was converted into a closet.

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Casey

Alright, let’s try giving out some awards for the first half.

DeRosa

Do you want us to choose guys in both leagues or just give out one award?

Casey

Let’s each just pick a guy.

MVP

Casey

The first guy who pops into my head for this is Ian Desmond.

DeRosa

You’re not wrong — he’s up there. This one’s pretty tough. A lot of great players, but nobody has been clearly above the field. I like Desmond too. I also like Altuve and his nonexistent strike zone.

Casey

Trout’s having a great year — shocker. Arenado is in the mix too, so is Kris Bryant.

DeRosa

I love Bryant. The other night he went 5 for 5 with three home runs, and the fans were cheering for a curtain call in Cincinnati. And some of his teammates were pushing him towards the steps. But he didn’t do it. Talk about having a feel for the game. You don’t take a curtain call in Cincinnati if you’re playing for the Cubs.

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Casey

Nooooope!

DeRosa

He would have been vilified there for years, but he acted the right way. I think Kris Bryant could hit 50 homers. We haven’t really talked about him that much and he’s already hit 25 — and counting. He hit 26 all of last year and he got Rookie of the Year. Even if he doesn’t win MVP this year, he’s going to win a few of them.

Casey

So Bryant’s your pick?

DeRosa

If only for not taking that curtain call.

Cy Young

DeRosa

Kershaw.

Casey

It’s not even close.

DeRosa

The guy is Sandy Koufax right now. Sandy was my dad’s favorite player, so he was all I heard about growing up. My dad used to tell me stories of how nasty Sandy’s stuff was. He’d gush about his devastating curveball. I know that’s all true, but I can’t imagine that Sandy Koufax was any better than what we’re seeing out of Clayton Kershaw this season. I just can’t.

Casey

The guy just doesn’t walk people. Before he went on the DL he was at 145 K’s versus nine walks. That’s absolutely insane.

DeRosa

He’s matured a lot as a pitcher. When I first faced Kershaw when he came up, he had a lot of stuff and was effectively wild. He couldn’t pinpoint his pitches, but he was still good enough to dominate. Now he’s incorporated a slider and he has pinpoint command. And he’s also really big and hides the ball well.

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Casey

I don’t think people fully understand how hard it is to hit a guy who’s as powerful as Kershaw, and who also hides the ball perfectly.

DeRosa

He’s really on his own level right now. If I had to face him today, I’d just be hoping for the gas. If he throws breaking balls early in the count, then you’re really in trouble. That’s when you step out, adjust your gloves, act cool and in the back of your mind you just know, I’m whiffing.

Casey

I only faced him one time. Actually, I was the first guy he ever faced in a spring training game. I turned to Terry Francona and was like, “Who’s this guy?” And he shrugged and said, “He’s some minor leaguer off the back fields.” First pitch comes in at 97 on the outside black. I don’t even see it, I just hear a big thunk as it hits the catcher’s mitt. I look over at Joe Torre and he’s cracking up in the dugout. And I’m thinking, Who the hell is this guy?

DeRosa

Oh no.

Casey

Next pitch was a nasty knee-buckling hook for strike 2. I now look at the bench and Larry Bowa and Joe Torre are both laughing at me, and I’m thinking to myself, They must know something I don’t know. The next pitch was strike 3, but the ump called it a ball. Next pitch, Kershaw throws a ridiculous hook on the outside corner, and that was called strike 3. I never pulled the trigger on any pitch. It was the first time I had felt like a little kid in the big leagues in a long time.

Rookie of the Year

DeRosa

The first name I think of is Nomar Mazara.

Casey

He’s legit. I covered the Rangers during spring training and I remember talking with Guillermo Mercedes, who I played with in the minors, and we were on a side field and Mazara was hitting and Guillermo says, “Case, you see this guy right here? This is the guy! This guy is a stud!” He pulled him out of the cage and introduced me to him — really nice kid. A little bit later, I’m talking to Joey Gallo, another top prospect, and he points to Mazara and says the same thing, “This guy’s a stud.” And I’m like, “Wait, but everybody’s talking about you.” And Joey shakes his head. “No, man. This guy. He’s the guy.”

DeRosa

Guys know when a guy is the guy.

Casey

All my friends who play fantasy baseball were asking me for a sleeper pick, and I called them all from spring training and said, “Pick up Mazara!”

You’re welcome, boys.

DeRosa

I also like Trevor Story. I mean, geez, there’s a lot of good young talent in the game. It’s exciting. I can think back to being 23 and being in the bigs and how I felt every morning. And then I think about when I was 35 and how I felt every morning.

Casey

Definitely. You start turning into the Walking Dead the longer you play.

DeRosa

When you get older as a baseball player, every day becomes a grind. Each game you play in is the end result of hours and hours of preparation that you put in to get your body ready. At 35, you get to the field five hours before the game and start treatment just to get to the point where you think you have a hamstring still. But when I was 23, I’d roll out of bed and be ready to bat.

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Casey

Later in my career, I had to do the cold tub after every game just to get going again. And it sucked every single time.

DeRosa

Same thing — 12 minutes in an ice bath after every game. The pain is off the charts at first.

Casey

Then you go numb after three minutes.

DeRosa

Yup, but those first three minutes, man.

Casey

What were we talking about again?

DeRosa

Rookies.

Casey

Oh yeah. Give me Mazara, obviously.

DeRosa

And I’ll take Trevor Story. Kid’s already got 21 jacks. That’ll do it.

The Eckstein Award

Casey

So here’s a fun one. This is an award for the guy who sneakily makes his team much better without getting a whole lot of credit. Eckstein Award. Boom.

My pick here is Zobrist.

DeRosa

This guy isn’t exactly David Eckstein, but I’ll give you one player who’s just bad to the bone: Rougned Odor.

Casey

Oh yeah, he’s legit.

DeRosa

Come on, what this guy does on a nightly basis is pretty impactful. He’s got 16 bombs batting near the back of the lineup. Plays great defense. He took Andrew Miller deep.

Oh yeah, and then there was that game against Toronto.

Casey

Oh, what game could you possibly be talking about?

DeRosa

That right hand, man. I’d never seen a punch like that connect in a baseball fight at any level.

Casey

The only fight I remember seeing that was even close was when I was with the Reds in 2000 and we were playing the Rockies. Our pitcher Scott Sullivan beaned Brian Hunter, then Hunter came running at him. I don’t think he knew what he was walking into. Sullivan wasn’t a guy you wanted to fight. He was a tough, country-strong Alabama kid. So Hunter runs to the mound and all of a sudden, it was powpowpow, fight over. I ran out to help Sully, but before I could the fight was over and I was under 20 Rockies. Todd Helton was laying on top of me and said, “Are you alright?” And I said, “I can’t breathe with all you guys laying on me.”

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Casey

So wrapping this up, you got any bold predictions for the second half?

DeRosa

Hmmmmmm … well … I think Cleveland could win the whole thing. I think their team’s set up where they could run the table. I mean, could you imagine Cleveland winning a World Series and an NBA title in the same year.

Casey

It would be the worst thing to ever happen to the Browns.

DeRosa

I also think Houston can run down the Rangers. Actually, I’d be shocked if Houston didn’t make a run. Those young kids already got a taste of the postseason and they almost went all the way. Just making it that far and going into spring training the next year with that taste in your mouth makes such a difference. I was fortunate to make it to the playoffs almost every year I played, and it was all I cared about. On teams that expect to make it, it’s basically like, We have to make it through 162, and then it’s time to have fun. I think the Stros have a bigger goal in mind, so I wouldn’t sleep on Houston. And also, I wouldn’t sleep on the Marlins.

Casey

I was going to say that the Marlins have a chance to make a run here.

DeRosa

I picked the Mets to win the World Series, but the Marlins could win that division. And with the Astros, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them react to postseason success the same way the Royals did. When you know you can compete on that stage in front of the world, it changes you. That experience is invaluable. I always say that you can bring up a stud from Triple A and he can play a day game in Milwaukee and nobody will notice he’s a rookie. Bring that same guy up and stick him in the lineup in October, and you’ll notice the difference.

Casey

Somebody asked me at the World Series last year if I missed playing. I said, I don’t miss playing, but I miss this. I didn’t make it into the postseason until my ninth year, and it was like a revelation. I was like, Oh my God. This is baseball. It’s a dream come true making it to the big leagues, but it’s something else entirely to play in a World Series. It’s just so frickin’ fun.

DeRosa

For sure. What’s your big second-half prediction?

Casey

I agree with a lot of the stuff you said, and this probably wouldn’t be considered bold, but I feel really good about Texas. While I was covering them during spring training, they’d play basketball every morning together. It would be a bunch of one-on-one free throw shooting contests arranged in a bracket, and the whole team would gather around and just lose their minds screaming and cheering. You could see, even from afar, that they were close, but also competitive. I remember leaving that camp and turning to my producer and saying, “Rangers are winning the whole thing this year, huh?” He nodded. I’ll stand by that. I think they go all the way.

And if you didn’t pick up Mazara in your league, you sure as hell better trade for him.

DeRosa

That guy. He’s the guy.

Sean and Mark will be part of MLB Network’s live All-Star Game coverage in San Diego.

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