Why the Chicago Cubs Could Be Legitimate Contenders by 2016

Just a year before the Chicago Cubs' infamous collapse after coming within five outs of a trip to the World Series, the Lovable Losers on the North Side were pitiful. Awful. Humiliating. Disgraceful.

Whatever you want to call it, they were bad.

The 2002 Cubs became the third team in four seasons to lose 95 or more games en route to setting the franchise record for the most strikeouts in a season. 

Perhaps history could repeat itself. Well, not exactly how it happened, please. Cubs fans couldn't handle another Steve Bartman-filled, Alex Gonzalez-bobbling collapse from the playoffs.

However, the Cubs have lost 90 or more games three seasons in a row prior to 2014 and are 14 games shy of 90 losses with 22 games remaining this season. The Cubs have played .500 ball since the All-Star break this season and currently stand at 64-76. If they were to play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they would finish at 75-87. It's not impressive, but it's progress.

Dare we mention Back to the Future II's comical prediction of the Cubs winning the 2015 World Series over Miami?

Now we're not exactly saying folks should run to Vegas and pull an ol' Pete Rose with the bookie. Anything could happen and there's quite a bit of progress and "what-ifs" in the Cubs organization. 

Realistically speaking, the chances of the Cubs contending in 2015 are very slim. The Cubs are planning to field a very young, inexperienced team with plenty of holes yet to be filled. During Jorge Soler's debut on August 27, five of the Cubs starters were born in the 1990s. Feel old yet?

However, any Cubs fan can't help but be excited for the team's future. If fans weren't pumped up at the beginning of the season, they should be so now.

Prospects have been arriving on the scene in movie-star fashion without even taking an at-bat in the major leagues. Players like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara were household names before they could even call Wrigley Field home.

And it's just getting started.

The Cubs' first-, third- and fourth-ranked prospects haven't even gotten the call to the bigs yet. They likely won't arrive this year, as the Cubs have repeatedly stressed that third baseman Kris Bryant will remain in Triple-A for the time being, while Addison Russell and Albert Almora have yet to get the call to Triple-A.

Bryant's performance in spring 2015 will likely determine where he starts the season next year, while it's likely that Almora and Russell will begin the season in Triple-A at best. Almora even has an ETA to the majors in 2016, according to the MLB.com top prospect chart. 

Besides outfielder Billy McKinney, the Cubs' top 10 prospects are all expected to arrive in the majors no later than 2016. Two prospects have already begun their major-league duties. Seven are ranked as a Top 100 prospect throughout all of baseball.

So far, the Cubs have their first baseman (Anthony Rizzo) and shortstop (Starlin Castro) signed to long-term deals. Both are sidelined with injuries but their ailments are not thought to be of long-term concern.

Which brings up the topic of the rest of the 2014 season.

The Cubs' elimination number for the division stands at 11, while the wild-card magic number is at 14. Sure, the Cubs are mathematically still in contention. But with Castro and Rizzo out for the season, it's not likely that the Cubs will do anything special. MLB.com's postseason probability shows a zero percent chance of the Cubs making the playoffs.

Sounds about right. So let's just talk about the future. 

Here is a likely starting eight, projected by end of 2015 or beginning of 2016 based off of MLB.com's prospect list and already signed players:             

Of course, these are only projections. Predictions are just predictions, and anything can happen between now and then. One can only hope that the Cubs' top prospects pan out to be what they are hyped to be. Positions may also change, specifically those of Bryant, Baez or even Castro. Perhaps No. 3 Cubs prospect Addison Russell may be on the list.

The bottom line is that the Cubs are in an exciting position for the future. By September of next season, it's possible that the Cubs will have all of their top prospects and All-Stars at the major-league level.

Give them a little time to develop, gel and adjust to a 162-game season and there may be red, white and blue bunting in Wrigley Field in just a few Octobers. It won't be immediate, but the Cubbies' top prospects have begun to prove that they are the real deals.

Hopefully, the Cubs will not be a one-and-done like the 2005 edition of cross-town counterparts the Chicago White Sox. However, as the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 26.5, the Cubs look to be in a good position for a number of years.

All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Why the Chicago Cubs Could Be Legitimate Contenders by 2016

Just a year before the Chicago Cubs' infamous collapse after coming within five outs of a trip to the World Series, the Lovable Losers on the North Side were pitiful. Awful. Humiliating. Disgraceful.

Whatever you want to call it, they were bad.

The 2002 Cubs became the third team in four seasons to lose 95 or more games en route to setting the franchise record for the most strikeouts in a season. 

Perhaps history could repeat itself. Well, not exactly how it happened, please. Cubs fans couldn't handle another Steve Bartman-filled, Alex Gonzalez-bobbling collapse from the playoffs.

However, the Cubs have lost 90 or more games three seasons in a row prior to 2014 and are 14 games shy of 90 losses with 22 games remaining this season. The Cubs have played .500 ball since the All-Star break this season and currently stand at 64-76. If they were to play .500 ball for the rest of the season, they would finish at 75-87. It's not impressive, but it's progress.

Dare we mention Back to the Future II's comical prediction of the Cubs winning the 2015 World Series over Miami?

Now we're not exactly saying folks should run to Vegas and pull an ol' Pete Rose with the bookie. Anything could happen and there's quite a bit of progress and "what-ifs" in the Cubs organization. 

Realistically speaking, the chances of the Cubs contending in 2015 are very slim. The Cubs are planning to field a very young, inexperienced team with plenty of holes yet to be filled. During Jorge Soler's debut on August 27, five of the Cubs starters were born in the 1990s. Feel old yet?

However, any Cubs fan can't help but be excited for the team's future. If fans weren't pumped up at the beginning of the season, they should be so now.

Prospects have been arriving on the scene in movie-star fashion without even taking an at-bat in the major leagues. Players like Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara were household names before they could even call Wrigley Field home.

And it's just getting started.

The Cubs' first-, third- and fourth-ranked prospects haven't even gotten the call to the bigs yet. They likely won't arrive this year, as the Cubs have repeatedly stressed that third baseman Kris Bryant will remain in Triple-A for the time being, while Addison Russell and Albert Almora have yet to get the call to Triple-A.

Bryant's performance in spring 2015 will likely determine where he starts the season next year, while it's likely that Almora and Russell will begin the season in Triple-A at best. Almora even has an ETA to the majors in 2016, according to the MLB.com top prospect chart. 

Besides outfielder Billy McKinney, the Cubs' top 10 prospects are all expected to arrive in the majors no later than 2016. Two prospects have already begun their major-league duties. Seven are ranked as a Top 100 prospect throughout all of baseball.

So far, the Cubs have their first baseman (Anthony Rizzo) and shortstop (Starlin Castro) signed to long-term deals. Both are sidelined with injuries but their ailments are not thought to be of long-term concern.

Which brings up the topic of the rest of the 2014 season.

The Cubs' elimination number for the division stands at 11, while the wild-card magic number is at 14. Sure, the Cubs are mathematically still in contention. But with Castro and Rizzo out for the season, it's not likely that the Cubs will do anything special. MLB.com's postseason probability shows a zero percent chance of the Cubs making the playoffs.

Sounds about right. So let's just talk about the future. 

Here is a likely starting eight, projected by end of 2015 or beginning of 2016 based off of MLB.com's prospect list and already signed players:             

Of course, these are only projections. Predictions are just predictions, and anything can happen between now and then. One can only hope that the Cubs' top prospects pan out to be what they are hyped to be. Positions may also change, specifically those of Bryant, Baez or even Castro. Perhaps No. 3 Cubs prospect Addison Russell may be on the list.

The bottom line is that the Cubs are in an exciting position for the future. By September of next season, it's possible that the Cubs will have all of their top prospects and All-Stars at the major-league level.

Give them a little time to develop, gel and adjust to a 162-game season and there may be red, white and blue bunting in Wrigley Field in just a few Octobers. It won't be immediate, but the Cubbies' top prospects have begun to prove that they are the real deals.

Hopefully, the Cubs will not be a one-and-done like the 2005 edition of cross-town counterparts the Chicago White Sox. However, as the youngest team in baseball with an average age of 26.5, the Cubs look to be in a good position for a number of years.

All statistics courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Yordano Ventura Can Springboard Breakout Rookie Season into Big-Game Stardom

The Kansas City Royals have their sights set on their first postseason berth since 1985, as the team holds a 1.5-game lead in the American League Central over the Detroit Tigers entering Thursday.

However, for the Royals to fend off the Tigers and lock down a playoff spot, the team will need rookie fireballer Yordano Ventura to further his success down the stretch.

Ventura opened eyes with his outstanding start to the season, as the flame-throwing right-hander registered a 2.40 ERA with 53 strikeouts over 48.2 innings (eight starts) and held opposing hitters to a .213 batting average.

But Ventura's performance regressed toward the end of May, possibly due to a minor elbow injury that led to severely decreased velocity and ultimately an early exit from his May 26 start. Though Ventura was able to avoid the disabled list, he still didn't appear to be pitching at 100 percent in subsequent outings. His numbers from June 5 through July 20 tell a similar story, as the 22-year-old posted a respectable 3.75 ERA over 50.1 innings but struck out only 29 batters compared to 16 walks during that span.

Since then, however, Ventura has looked like his usual self over his last seven starts, with a 4-1 record, 2.84 ERA and 44-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 44.1 innings. More importantly, Ventura's second-half resurgence has played a major role in the Royals' ascent to first place in the AL Central, as the team is 6-1 overall in his starts.

So what's behind Ventura's rebound exactly?

The rookie is once again missing bats with his entire arsenal, not just his fastball, and he's doing it consistently.

To me, the trend suggests that Ventura is worrying less about executing pitches with precision—not to say he's incapable of doing so—and instead trusting his electric stuff. He's continued to walk too many batters during the second half—which is understandable for any rookie hurler toward the end of his first full MLB season—but there's no denying he's been more effective overall.

The result has been fewer hits and more strikeouts in each start. Specifically, Ventura has allowed five or fewer knocks with at least six strikeouts and six innings pitched in five of his last seven outings. The right-hander has been especially dominant of late, with 22 strikeouts and just 15 hits allowed over his last 25 innings (four starts).

Royals manager Ned Yost discussed his promising right-hander following his Aug. 22 start (via MLB.com):

There's kind of two Yordanos. There's the one that was within himself and was banging strikes and staying downhill. Then there was one when he was just throwing out there -- rearing back and struggling to command the ball down and was getting a lot of pitches up.

When he stays within himself he's really a pitcher out there and when he starts rearing back, he turns into a thrower.

During spring training, Yost noted that Ventura would be allowed to work 180-200 innings this season after logging 150 frames in 2013 across three levels.

However, considering Ventura has now accrued 175.1 innings this year between spring training and the regular season, the team may be forced to adjust the plan for the young right-hander.

On paper, Ventura has five starts remaining this season assuming the Royals stick to a five-man rotation. If that's the case, then his starts will come against the following teams:

Surprisingly, Ventura's only success against the aforementioned teams has come versus the Indians, against whom he owns a 2.08 ERA over 21.2 innings this season. On the flip side, the right-hander struggled in his only starts against the Red Sox (4.1 IP, 6 ER) and White Sox (6 IP, 4 ER).

However, Ventura's track record of facing teams multiple times suggests he'll fare much better against both of the Sox.

Of the seven teams Ventura has faced multiple times this season, the young right-hander has posted a 4.00-plus ERA against only two of them, the Twins (4.08 ERA) and Astros (5.59 ERA).

Meanwhile, four of the five teams he's enjoyed repeated success against are playoff contenders: the Orioles (1.26 ERA), Indians (2.08 ERA), Mariners (3.38 ERA) and Rays (3.27 ERA).

This brings us back to his workload.

Ventura would finish the regular season (including spring training) with roughly 205 total innings should he complete at least six innings in each of his five remaining starts. And that doesn't factor in his potential postseason workload.

With a potential divisional title and playoff berth on the line, it's hard to see the Royals limiting Ventura's workload down the stretch, especially with him pitching so well.

That plan could change for the postseason, though, as the Royals' deep starting rotation could take some of the stress off Ventura's workload in October, possibly allowing him to work out of the bullpen.

At the same time, the Royals aren't going to mess with what's made them successful this season. Therefore, expect the team to milk every inning out of Ventura moving forward within reason.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Deal Of The Day: 51% Off On TextExpander 4, Winner Of The 2010 Macworld Editors’ Choice Award

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If you find yourself typing the same thing over and over again, whether for work or in your day to day emails and messages, you might get a kick out of TextExpander 4. It allows you to assign shortcut keys to a piece of text of any length, “from a single line signature to paragraphs of boilerplate, just drop them into your snippet collection and have them at your fingertips – literally.” It works with signatures as well, letting you pick from an image library. It’ll fix typos and fill out forms for you, and generally try to be of assistance in the sometimes tedious task of entering repetitive information on a computer. It’s normally $35, but today you can have it for $16.99.

[ Get TextExpander 4 ]

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Verner Panton Living Tower Is A Vertical Sofa For The Rich

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It’s nice when you can afford the luxury of decking out your living space in out-of-the-box pieces of furniture and home apparel. It’s all Ikea and dollarstore cutlery for us, but if your wallet has deeper recesses than ours, Verner Panton’s Living Tower is an interesting take on the sofa. It features an organically shaped sculptural piece that can accommodate up to 3 to 4 people in comfort, all the while looking like it came straight out of the 60’s. And that’s, well, because it did. Panton died in 1998, and originally produced this piece in 1969. But it’s being brought back by Vitra, the original manufacturer, and you can have it for an astounding $16,125. Yes, delivery is free in the continental USA, but that’s probably small consolation once you realize you spent 5 figures on a piece of furniture.

Dimensions, incidentally, are 78.75″ L | 26.5″ d | 78.75″ h.

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[ Product Page ] VIA [ ThisIsWhyImBroke ]

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E-Bike Retrofit Kit Monitors Your Heartrate, Adjusts Assist Accordingly

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Many people use bicycles as an exercise tool, and not only as an outdoorsy activity. But sometimes, when you’ve ventured out a little further than you normally do, it’s nice to have a little assistance on the way back. The Falco Fusion Sports Electric Wheel is an electric motor hub that can be mounted on just about any bike, turning it into an electric assist vehicle. Its rugged design means that this also includes mountain bikes, by the way. The 50V 400Wh Li-Ion battery pack is good for up to 110 miles of assistance, which is great, but not the salient feature. That would be its compatibility with heart-rate monitors, which would allow it to precisely and automatically control the amount of assistance its sending your way, based on how tired you are. If your goal is to maintain your heart going in a specific range, but suddenly a hill shows up, this electric hub would let you climb it without pushing your heart above its target.

Granted this isn’t the first electric drive hub we’ve come across, but we believe it’s the first time we see it integrated with heart-rate monitoring. It’s doing the Kickstarter dance at the moment, so we’re not sure if it’ll ever see light of day. A $495 pledge can get you on your way to owning one.

[ Project Page ] VIA [ UberGizmo ]

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Dyson Just Upped The Robo-Vacuum Ante

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Even though the company had gone on record saying the “technology for robotic vacuum cleaners isn’t ready yet”, that might have been $47 million and 16 years of R&D ago. Today that all changes with the announcement of the Dyson 360 Eye, a robotic vacuum cleaner that they clearly feel is ready for the big time. Unlike its competitors, this bot has a 360 degree camera mounted on top, which allows it to accurately map its surroundings and more efficiently cover its working area. It does the mapping at 30fps, but adjusts its shutter speed to match the bot’s own movement, so it never loses track of its position within the room. A rotating brush made from carbon fiber and nylon bristles spans the width of the front of the bot, kicking dust up in the air and making it easier for the powerful V2 digital motor to suck it up. This dust gets stored in the 0.4L tank, which is plenty for most jobs. The battery lasts about 20 minutes before the Dyson 360 Eye needs to find its way back to its charging station, which it’ll get to even if there are minor obstacles in the way, thanks to its articulated “tank treads”.

Excited? Get ready to wait. The bot is being launched in Japan in Q1 2015, and then the rest of the world afterwards, at an undisclosed price. Expect that price to be: a lot!

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St. Louis Cardinals Players Who Must Be Let Go This Offseason

The St. Louis Cardinals are in a dogfight for the National League pennant and Central Division title. With October looming, let’s take a quick timeout to consider what needs to happen this offseason and who must be released.

What unfolds in September could lead to the 12th World Series championship in franchise history. It would be thrilling, considering the roller coaster season the Cardinals have had up until the past two weeks.

Hold that thought.

General manager John Mozeliak and his staff will have decisions to make this offseason. They must determine which players on the current 40-man roster are worthy of bringing back for another season, and which aren't.

For example, Pat Neshek has done an admirable job. He made the NL All-Star squad. There’s no doubt in my mind Neshek will be at the top of Mozeliak's offseason checklist.

However, which players will be deemed expendable? Better yet, which players must the Cardinals ultimately part ways with for the better good of both sides?

There are a few who come to mind.

The obvious of the minority is Justin Masterson, whom the Cardinals acquired from Cleveland on July 30 in exchange for minor league outfield prospect James Ramsey. The move was considered low-risk for Mozeliak.

The Cardinals have enough minor league outfielders to field a starting nine. More importantly, the Cardinals were in desperate need of starting pitchers because of injuries to Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia. They didn't want to go all-in for David Price, which would have been foolish. The move was understandable. 

However, this was one of a few moves in Mozeliak's tenure as GM that backfired. Masterson has been brutal. In six starts as a Cardinal, the 29-year-old has failed to last five innings three times. The opposition turned each one of Masterson’s starts into a nine-inning batting practice session, posting a .312 average off the right-hander.

Looking ahead to 2015, the Cardinals will have Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, a (healthy?) Michael Wacha and John Lackey to back ace Adam Wainwright.

Accompanying Masterson should be Mark Ellis, the current utility infielder. The Cardinals and Ellis agreed on a one-year contract last winter. To no one's surprise, Ellis' time as a Cardinal has been appreciated, but he's no longer capable of making an impact off the bench. He isn't getting any younger (37), either.

Signing Ellis was everything but a bust for Mozeliak. Sure, Ellis' numbers aren't great. But what did you expect from the 11-year veteran? Ellis is one of many calming presences in a relatively young clubhouse. He’s been around the block. He plays the game the right way. He’s got the intangibles every manager envies.

More importantly, there’s a pool of prospects who will be competing for a job as a utility player next season. (See: Greg Garcia, Jermaine Curtis and Luis Mateo).

Finally, I don’t see the Cardinals bringing back A.J. Pierzynski next season. The Cardinals claimed Pierzynski off waivers in late July. The Cardinals would have to pay Pierzynski more than they would like if they attempted to sign him. Pierzynski did a fine job sharing time behind the plate with Tony Cruz while Yadier Molina recovered from thumb ligament surgery.

Pierzynski provides more pop than Cruz, but the latter is cost-controlled.

As the Cardinals sprint toward October, these three players should enjoy the ride because they almost certainly won’t be donning the birds on the bat next season.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Atlanta Braves Players Who Must Be Let Go This Offseason

The Atlanta Braves find themselves in the midst of a Wild Card race, but it's never too early to project what the offseason may look like.

It's amazing the Braves are still in the playoff hunt considering the low points of the second half of the season. The Braves went on an eight-game losing streak and were also no-hit by the last-place Philadelphia Phillies as part of a four-game stretch in which the offense scored one run.

These stretches have signified the likelihood that the current construction of this roster will not bring a championship back to Atlanta. Because of this, I think general manager Frank Wren will make some drastic moves in the offseason.

Here's a look at five Braves who the organization should look to part ways with in the next few months.

Begin Slideshow

Atlanta Braves Players Who Must Let Go This Offseason

The Atlanta Braves find themselves in the midst of a Wild Card race, but it's never too early to project what the offseason may look like.

It's amazing the Braves are still in the playoff hunt considering the low points of the second half of the season. The Braves went on an eight-game losing streak and were also no-hit by the last-place Philadelphia Phillies as part of a four-game stretch in which the offense scored one run.

These stretches have signified the likelihood that the current construction of this roster will not bring a championship back to Atlanta. Because of this, I think general manager Frank Wren will make some drastic moves in the offseason.

Here's a look at five Braves who the organization should look to part ways with in the next few months.

Begin Slideshow

Shirtless Dodgers Fan Basks in the Glory of Afternoon Baseball

You see that over there? That hillock of beige and hot shorts cooking in the California sun?

That, my friends, is leisure incarnate—an uncommon sight, but one that fans at Dodger Stadium were treated to during Wednesday's Dodgers-Nationals game.

Twitter user @Gregofla (h/t Pete Blackburn of NextImpulseSports) caught sight of the shirtless wonder simmering in the stands. Splayed out next to a jumble of beer cans, the man heedlessly collected rays and envious glances.

He found his beach. He is a living "Whatever's Comfortable" commercial.

Who is this man? Where have we seen him before? Why is he so chill?

I have my theories.

Indeed, this man was a rum ham away from winning everything. Then again, as Complex pointed out, his coma could've been induced by something more sinister.

Stay golden, Frank Reynolds look-alike man. You're the finger in the eye of every keyboard jockey sitting inside on a fine, late summer day.

We should all be so comfortable in our skin.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

How Boston Red Sox Will Solve Murky Future at Third Base

The Boston Red Sox have plenty of holes to fill for 2015, but one of their most glaring points of weakness is at third base.

The Red Sox headed into 2014 with a reasonable amalgamation of talent at the hot corner. Will Middlebrooks was just a year removed from a promising 2012 campaign. Garin Cecchini looked poised to break into the majors. And capable backups like Jonathan Herrera and Brock Holt figured to provide extra depth should something go awry.

However, Red Sox third basemen have hit just .207/.267/.297 with eight homers this year—a startling lack of production from a group that includes Middlebrooks, Holt and Xander Bogaerts.

It’s obvious that the Red Sox need to address their lack of front-end starting pitching talent in the offseason, and that is indeed the team's biggest need. Yet Boston will also need to make a decision when it comes to third base, and while there are no shortage of options before them, there's no clear-cut answer, either.

The Red Sox might choose to try and solve their third base vacancy internally. They might look to the free-agent market for help. Or, they could try and swing a trade.

A deeper look at these various options shows that while the Sox have plenty of room to get creative, it's likely going to be difficult to fix third base without allocating substantial resources. 

 

Will Middlebrooks

Few Red Sox have had as disappointing a 2014 campaign as Middlebrooks. Looking to cement himself as Boston's third baseman of the present and future, Middlebrooks has instead cast doubt on his role as an everyday MLB player.

In an injury-shortened year that's seen him reach just 179 PA in the majors, Middlebrooks is hitting .183/.251/.268 with a 29.6 strikeout percentage and just two home runs. The lack of power from Middlebrooks is especially concerning, as that was largely his calling card up until this season.

Middlebrooks feels like another one of Boston's young players, but he turns 26 next week, and we now have over a full season's worth of plate appearances telling us he's not worthy of a starting role. In 839 career PA, Middlebrooks' line is .239/.285/.421, and he hasn't done anything particularly inspiring since 2012.

On Wednesday, ESPNBoston.com's Gordon Edes reported that the Red Sox have spoken to Middlebrooks about playing winter ball, and ESPN's Buster Olney reported that Boston won't just "give away" the Texas native:

But at this point, it's tough to justify heading into 2015 with Middlebrooks as the everyday third baseman. That doesn't mean he can't earn a spot on the roster or stay within the organization, but it does mean that the Sox should consider anything he provides to be surplus value.

Brock Holt

If you had to handicap the race to be Boston's third baseman on opening day 2015, Holt would likely be in the lead. The 26-year-old is enjoying a breakout year at the plate, hitting .283/.344/.377 in 478 PA, many of them coming from the leadoff spot.

Unfortunately, much of Holt's success earlier this season was fueled by a high BABIP, and the subsequent regression hasn't been kind to him as of late. Since Holt's average reached its apex of .341 on June 11, he's hitting just .260/.316/.340. He's at just .236/.295/.268 since August 1, and it's a bit baffling as to why the Sox keep batting him first.

Still, Holt is an adequate defender at third, has seen the third-most games at the position for the Sox this year and shown an ability to hit MLB pitching recently. Sadly, that makes him perhaps the safest bet of any of Boston's internal third base options, and if the Sox don't address the hot corner this offseason, I'd expect to see Holt starting there next year.

 

Mookie Betts

The idea of letting Betts play third base seems to be gaining steam on Twitter and in comments sections around the web, and on paper it makes a good deal of sense. The Red Sox face a glut of outfielders under contract for 2015, and Betts has impressed in his most recent stint with the Red Sox, making what appears to be a natural fit.

Betts has never played third base professionally, but he was drafted as a shortstop. The Baseball Prospectus team (subscription required) gave Betts a 5+ arm before the season began, which would be playable if unspectacular at the hot corner.

 

But on Wednesday, Tim Britton of The Providence Journal reported that Ben Cherington doesn't see Betts as a possibility for the left side of the infield next year.

“We haven’t discussed the left side of the infield yet. I don’t expect to,” Cherington said. “I guess I can’t completely rule it out. We’ll likely focus on either one of the outfield spots or second base, and obviously on this team, second base is hopefully locked up.”

A lot could change between now and next April, of course, but it's unsurprising that the Sox wouldn't want to add yet another positional change to the plate of a player just getting his bearings at the major leagues. And so for now, we can't consider Betts a possibility at third.

 

Garin Cecchini

Cecchini's season has been nearly as turbulent as Boston's 2014 campaign as a whole. The 23-year-old looked to be on the precipice of significant MLB playing time when the season began, and he saw his first glimmer of the majors in June. But Cecchini was mired in a terrible slump in the middle of the season, ruining his chances at seeing extensive playing time this year.

From May 1 to July 31, Cecchini hit just .220/.292/.316 over 260 PA after hitting .312/.400/.390 in April. He struck out 59 times and walked just 21 times during that span, hitting for little power to boot. Questions about his defensive proficiency, pop and ability to make adjustments plagued Cecchini all summer long.

Those questions haven't quite been answered yet, but Cecchini has gone a long way toward turning his season around as of late. He hit .333/.413/.500 in August, and while his overall line of .264/.342/.374 isn't terribly inspiring, it does show that Cecchini has the ability to battle adversity, adjust to the league and let his plus hit tool carry the day.

It's quite unlikely that Cecchini starts 2015 as the Red Sox's third baseman, but if the team doesn't address its deficiencies at the hot corner this offseason, Cecchini could see significant playing time there next year. He doesn't profile as a superstar, but he should get on base and play adequate defense, and he possesses the type of left-handed bat the Sox suddenly need to balance out their righty-heavy lineup.

 

External Solutions

Of course while it's assumed that a majority of the Red Sox's financial flexibility will go toward addressing the rotation this offseason, Boston could look to the free-agent market to plug its hole as well.

According to Cot's Baseball Contracts, Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval are both slated to be free agents once the season ends, and either would be a more respectable choice than any of Boston's in-house options right now. Casey McGehee and Alberto Callaspo represent two lesser free-agent hot corner options, too.

The Sox could also look to get creative and either ask some free-agent shortstops to shift to third base, or they could sign a free-agent shortstop and shift Xander Bogaerts back over to third.

Jed Lowrie is having a down year, and his bat profiles better at short than at third, but he could prove to be a versatile, down-the-order switch-hitter if he heads back to Boston. J.J. Hardy would add to Boston's righty-heavy lineup, but he's a good player who would add defense and pop from the left side of the infield.

Or the Sox could really dream big and make a play for Hanley Ramirez, the 30-year-old star infielder they traded away for Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell in 2006. Competition for Ramirez's services will likely prove to be stiff, and he might require the sort of mega contract the Sox have been reluctant to hand out as of late, but he's an intriguing option nonetheless.

Boston could look to trade for a third baseman, of course, but there aren't a lot of obvious fits in terms of teams that have an excess of talent at third base. Plus, once again, one would assume that pitching is more of a priority in any trade than additional help at third base would be.

In short, the Red Sox may be left best served attempting to fill their hole at third base internally. Middlebrooks hasn't shown us much of late, and Cecchini is unproven at the MLB level. But at least they possess the upside to be competent MLB starters. Hoping one of them emerges while relying on Holt in the interim will let the Red Sox allocate their resources elsewhere.

It's not a sexy solution, but given the lineup the Sox figure to construct next season, letting their triumvirate of internal candidates bat eighth or ninth while they try to solve MLB pitching may be the smartest call.

If 2014 has taught us anything, though, it's that Cherington and Co. aren't afraid to make major changes to the roster. That means Boston's third baseman of the future could come from any number of places, and watching the team attempt to patch this hole this offseason should be entertaining.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Top MLB Prospect Call-Up Radar Report, Week 23

Over the course of the 2014 season, a number of notable prospects have received call-ups to the major leagues. With the final month here, rosters are expanding and changing all the time, meaning more young talent will be arriving—and soon.

Heck, take a deep breath and read through this rundown of just some of the big-name prospects who were promoted in the past week alone: Taijuan Walker, Daniel Norris, Joc Pederson, Andrew Heaney, Dalton Pompey, Maikel Franco, Marco Gonzales, Alexander Guerrero, Dilson Herrera, Steven Moya and Anthony Ranaudo.

More will be joining the mix too. Who will be the next to reach the majors? In order to predict estimated times of arrival with what's left of this season, we've classified the prospects on this list using the following color-coded scale:

  • Red: September call-up, if that.
  • Green: Call-up within a week/call-up is imminent.

Here's a look at the top prospect call-up report for Week 23 of the 2014 MLB season.

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MLB Playoff Picture: Breaking Down the Most Likely AL and NL Scenarios

After Wednesday's article offered up 25 predictions for the final month of the 2014 MLB season, including full predictions on who will reach the playoffs, it's time to dive a bit deeper into those potential October matchups.

Obviously, much can change between now and the end of the season, as there is still an awful lot of baseball to be played, but based on the most likely outcomes, we can take a quick look ahead at how the Wild Card Round and Division Series could play out.

What follows is a quick overview of how the most likely Wild Card Round games could unfold, followed by a complete overview of each subsequent Division Series matchup—looking at the hitting, starting pitching and bullpen of each team.

Again, these matchups are based on predictions made Wednesday, and things could certainly play out differently. This is just a quick look ahead at how things could shape up to kick off October baseball a month from now.

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Hot-Seat MLB Managers Who Need to Finish Strong

A wise man once said "We fear change," and he's absolutely right. It's far easier and less risky to stick with what you know, even if the results aren't what you hoped for and sometimes make you want to take a hammer to a robotic, prosthetic hand.

But change is a necessary evil, especially in baseball, where success is gauged on wins and losses. 

Just ask Bo Porter, who was recently dismissed as manager of the Houston Astros. While he may wind up as the only skipper to lose his job during the regular season seeing as how there's only a few weeks left, he won't be the only one looking for work before the end of the calendar year.

You could make an argument for Texas' Ron Washington to be the next to go, considering that he's one of the worst tacticians in the game. But it'd be absolute lunacy to blame him for the Rangers' injury woes this season, and his players genuinely seem to love playing for him. There's value in that.

Philadelphia's Ryne Sandberg would normally be another candidate for the chopping block, but the team's interim president, Pat Gillick, recently confirmed to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury that the Hall of Fame second baseman's job is safe.

Just like general manager Ruben Amaro and team president David Montgomery, who is off recovering from jaw cancer surgery, Gillick seems to believe that the year is 2009 and that the Phillies are in far better shape than they actually are.

But I digress.

There are a handful of managers, all of whom have been afforded a substantial amount of time to turn their teams into winners, who should be feeling a warm sensation building underneath them every time they sit in the dugout.

There's only one possible way to soothe that heat, and it's to win more games than they lose from here on out.

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Angels Searching for Vintage Josh Hamilton as Hamilton Searches for True Self

So here comes October, the Los Angeles Angels are getting nearly straight A's while producing the majors' best record and yet...what are we to make of that periodic coughing and sputtering sound coming from Josh Hamilton's part of the engine?   

A better question: What does Josh Hamilton make of Josh Hamilton right now?   

"I just have to remind myself before every at-bat to go up there and cut it loose," he told Bleacher Report last weekend. "Not think about, 'Oh, he might throw me this pitch here.'"

His current .416 slugging percentage is the worst of his career. In 27 games in the month of August, he hit .222 with a .286 on-base percentage and 31 whiffs in 99 at-bats.

He was so lost that on Aug. 17, he finally asked for a day off. Manager Mike Scioscia responded by giving him two.

"I'm a guy," says Hamilton, "who's always [believed] it doesn’t matter what the count is. Look fastball and then react off of the other stuff. Look [for pitches] away, react [to pitches] in, all those basic principles that I've always lived by, do it.

"And getting back in the routine of going up there every time with that approach, no matter what the situation is."

Always, through eight seasons now, he has been high-maintenance. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, just that Joshua Holt Hamilton is more complicated than others. Sometimes when he falls off the wall, it takes all the king's horses and all the king's men to put him back together again.

"High-maintenance," Angels batting coach Don Baylor repeats, nodding. "Tell me what players are not, really, especially when their swing is broken?"

At home, Hamilton has not exactly been, well, at home: All 10 of his homers this year have come on the road. He hasn't homered in Angel Stadium since Aug. 18, 2013. And over his past 24 home games, he’s hitting .182 (compared to .299 over his past 25 road games entering Wednesday's contest in Houston).

Voices sometimes find their way inside of his head—especially when he's not hitting—and well-meaning colleagues begin soft-tossing tips his way.

"I think players who are coachable, who respect guys who have been around the game, coaches and players, are going to listen to guys like that," he says. "And then you've got guys who don't care what anybody says, and they go out and do what they need to do.

"I can fall into the first category. Sometimes you've got to put that aside and say, 'All right,' [so] you listen, but then you know what you've got to do."

Sometimes what a guy's gotta do is tune out others, even if he does try to be the kind of guy who's coachable.

But then, with Hamilton, it's always been something.

Remember how he explained away one of his Texas-sized Rangers slumps by revealing that he had quit smokeless tobacco cold turkey? That was in 2012, as Texas gagged the AL West to Oakland, when he also missed five games down the stretch for the Rangers with blurred vision. That one was diagnosed, the Rangers said, as an eye condition in which the corneas dried out from too much caffeine.

Something had to replace the tobacco.

Two years prior, he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

No, you've never been able to be completely sure of what you're going to get with Hamilton. From his incredibly inspirational comeback from substance abuse and addiction issues to the MVP, from his white-hot streaks at the plate to his periodic need to substitute a nap in place of batting practice, this is one unique case study of a player who only knows one speed, and that's all-out.

Which, of course, sometimes has been detrimental, such as with his career-long habit of sliding head-first. At 6'4", 240 pounds, that's a lot of beef jarring those bones and joints during dives, and that's why he missed 48 games earlier this season with torn ligaments in his left thumb.

"He was on his way to having an MVP-type season when he got hurt," Baylor notes.

True enough...if you're moved to place the first eight games of a season in that department. Through those eight games, Hamilton was sizzling at .444/.545/.741 with two homers and six RBI. Then, crunch! The result has been 87 games in total, hitting .262 with 10 homers and 44 RBI.

He is 33 now, with fewer days in the front of the horse than in the back of the cart. How much longer will he be able to gallop unbridled? His body has been wracked over the years with, among other things, wrist, rib cage, hamstring, arm and thumb injuries. He's landed on the disabled list because of gastroenteritis and a sports hernia.

The Angels lured him with a five-year, $125 million offer in December 2012, because they went far beyond the financial line the Rangers drew with Hamilton.

Two years later, other than in very small flashes, Hamilton has been nowhere close to the MVP-caliber player he once was. He has been susceptible both to Angel Stadium and breaking pitches.

"Anybody who throws him a fastball should be fined $1,000," one scout says.

Nevertheless, the mind still whirs at the prospect of all the things he could do. So Scioscia continues to slot him fourth in the order, and maybe at the very least, while Hamilton searches for a groove, No. 2 hitter Mike Trout (already with a career-high 31 homers) and No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols see better pitches.

"Guys with toe taps (like Hamilton does at the plate), they have more trouble than most people," Baylor says.

Rhythm. Always with Hamilton, there is that, too. So, during that second consecutive day off last month, in Boston on Aug. 18, Baylor went old school and dragged out a batting tee.

"His strength is there," Baylor says. "You don't hit a ball off a tee out of the park in most places."

Hamilton did during early work in Fenway Park.

"We get him there, it's confidence after that," Baylor says. "He gets that confidence, we're rolling as a team because he is such a phenomenal player.

"I told him, 'Confidence. You're one of the top 10 players in all of baseball, not just in the American League.'"

Hamilton really was. Now the Angels are rolling, but can Hamilton again roll with them?

Indications are, he's gathering steam: Over his past 13 games, Hamilton has two homers, four doubles and nine RBI.

"You know, you go through these things and you think mechanical this, my hands there, I've got to start here," Hamilton says. "And you get to a point where it's like, OK, obviously searching and working on things mechanical didn't really get it done. So what's really worked in the past? And that's just get up there, see it and hit it."

That's the plan for these final few weeks, he promises. Grip it and rip it.

It seems a bit premature yet to call this the twilight of Hamilton's career. At least, as long as he continues actively chasing the ghost of his former MVP self.

"I feel like I've had glimpses of it at times," he says. "But the consistency of it hasn't been there for reasons I told you.

"Going out and playing. That's the approach I'm going to have this last month. See the ball, hit the ball, don't overthink things, and just play."

 

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

An Early Look at Detroit Tigers’ Top 10 Offseason Targets

When the on-field business ends for the Detroit Tigers in 2014, another busy offseason lies ahead. Team president and general manager Dave Dombowski faces many decisions as he tries to assemble a championship-winning roster. The stripping of dead wood, as well as the impending departure of soon-to-be free agents, such as Max Scherzer, will leave punctures in the current team. The ensuing search for upgrades and replacements portends another frenetic winter in Motown.

The Tigers will undoubtedly show interest in several players who are due to hit free agency. Jon Lester, James Shields, Melky Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez are among a constellation of high-profile players poised to ink lucrative multi-year deals this offseason.

Before speculating on who Detroit may or may not sign, it is worth noting Detroit’s upcoming free agents and their positions:

  • Max Scherzer (starting pitcher)
  • Victor Martinez (designated hitter)
  • Torii Hunter (right field)
  • Joba Chamberlain (relief pitcher)
  • Phil Coke (relief pitcher)
  • Jim Johnson (relief pitcher)
  • Joakim Soria (relief pitcher) *Club option

Also, people should not forget the recent departure of Austin Jackson. Center field has been weakened—especially defensively—since he was traded to Seattle.

Other positions, including the full infield, left field and catcher should remain stable next season. Despite the likely loss of Scherzer, Detroit still has four quality starting pitchers under contract. With some emerging youngsterssuch as Robbie Ray, Kyle Lobstein and Kyle Ryanthey should be capable of filling the fifth spot internally.

As he is owed $10 million next year, Joe Nathan will presumably be given another opportunity as closer in 2015. Therefore, it is unlikely that Detroit will pursue a high-priced stopper. Late-inning relief will still be a high priority, though.

With the fourth-highest payroll in MLB ($161 million in 2014), per ESPN, Detroit is always active on the free-agent market. Of course, it will not be a simple all-you-can-sign player buffet for the big-spending Tigers. Competition from other blue-chip teamssuch as the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Angelswill be stiff.

There is much water to pass under the bridge before this offseason. Happenings on the field in the next month or so will undoubtedly affect Detroit’s business activities. But given how the roster is constructed today, let’s look at who would be highest on Dombrowski’s shopping list.

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An Early Look at the Boston Red Sox’s Top 10 Offseason Targets

The last-place Boston Red Sox began rebuilding for next year by making a number of deals before the July 31 trade deadline.  However, the Red Sox still have a long way to go this offseason and among other things must look to fill gaping holes in their starting rotation (see last week's Red Sox Early Free Agency and Offseason Primer).  Below are the top 10 targets for Boston to pursue this winter, ranked in order of how great a priority each player should be.

 

10. Edinson Volquez, SP

In his first full year in the big leagues in 2008, Edinson Volquez posted a 17-6 record with 206 strikeouts in 196 innings for the Cincinnati Reds.  He's never been able to replicate those numbers, but in 2014 the 31-year-old Dominican is putting together his best season since.  After signing a one-year, $5 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates last December, Volquez is 11-7 with a 3.45 ERA and a career-best 1.28 WHIP.

Volquez isn't the ace Boston needs, but he might be an effective fourth or fifth starter who would come at a much more affordable price than some of the other bigger-name free agents.  

 

9. Pablo Sandoval, 3B

Will Middlebrooks and his .183 batting average just isn't getting it done for the Red Sox at third base, and prospect Garin Cecchini may not be major league ready by next year.  Pablo Sandoval will be the top free agent on the market at that position.  Sandoval is enjoying his best season since 2011, batting .288 with 25 homers and 64 RBI.

At 28 years old and in the prime of his career, Sandoval may command a longer and more expensive deal than Boston is willing to offer, especially given its much more pressing need of starting pitching.

 

8. Ervin Santana, SP

Ervin Santana is currently working under a one-year, $14.1 million contract he inked with the Atlanta Braves back in March, and his strong performance this season (13-7, 3.53 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) is likely to earn him a similar yearly salary going forward.

For his career, the 31-year-old righty has a very respectable 4.13 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP.  Now in his 10th season, Santana will be one of the better arms available on the free-agent market this winter.  Should the Red Sox fail to land any of the other starters on this list, they might be willing to spend money on Santana.

 

7. Koji Uehara, RP

Koji Uehara is the only significant player on Boston's roster who is about to be a free agent.  Locking in their closer for 2015 might be the Red Sox's first order of business this offseason.

On the other hand, the club must also be wondering if the 39-year-old reliever is finally showing signs of age.  Uehara has been scored upon in four of his last five appearances (while also blowing a save in the other) and seen his ERA jump from 1.27 to 2.36.

 

6. Giancarlo Stanton, OF

Having already belted 152 career home runs at just 24 years of age, Giancarlo Stanton is regarded by many as the best young power hitter in the game. So why doesn't he rank as a higher priority on this list?  

With the recent acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes and Rusney Castillo, another outfield bat is anything but a pressing need for Boston.  NESN.com's Ricky Doyle writes:

Reeling in Stanton this offseason admittedly would be the best-case scenario for the Red Sox, almost regardless of the package they’d be forced to assemble...But if Boston really wants to avoid a potentially serious pain point in 2015, the organization must exert itself on the starting pitching market with the same ferocity. Otherwise, the club’s recent efforts to improve its uninspiring offense could go down as a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The prospects necessary for a trade to pry Stanton away from the Miami Marlins might better be used to go after a front-of-the-rotation pitcher.

 

5. Cole Hamels, SP

Last month The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote the following about the Philadelphia Phillies' possible interest in sending Cole Hamels (8-6, 2.50 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) to the Red Sox:

Don’t think in 30 years of covering baseball I’ve ever seen a team (the Phillies) spend so much time scouting another team (the Red Sox) and not pull the trigger on a deal. Even after the trade deadline, the Phillies have had a scout in Boston, St. Louis, and Anaheim watching Boston’s young players. The match would be Cole Hamels for young players, and it may very well heat up this offseason. Hamels, according to a source close to him, would be open to a deal with the Red Sox.

In addition to being a potential No. 1 starter, Hamels' contract could appeal to a Boston ownership that has shied away from signing veterans to long-term deals.  Hamels will be paid $23.5 million for each of the next four seasons, with a team option for $20 million in 2019.  The Red Sox may prefer to trade for the high-priced 30-year-old than go after a free agent who would require a more lengthy contract.

 

4. Chris Sale, SP

Chris Sale is a 25-year-old left-hander in the midst of his third consecutive outstanding season as the ace of the Chicago White Sox's staff.  Over his five-year career Sale has struck out 707 batters in 649.2 innings to go along with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP.

Sale is also owed a total of just over $27 million for the next three seasons, with club options for 2018 and 2019 at $12.5 and $13.5 million respectively.  Considering this, is there any chance the White Sox might actually be willing to deal him?  From Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald:

OK, chances are, they won’t. Then again, they might finish last in the AL Central and are headed for their fourth losing season in six years since their last playoff appearance. Clearly, the White Sox have enough needs that they would have to consider moving Sale if they were overwhelmed.

And few teams have as many assets with which to overwhelm them as the Red Sox, who could offer a package of [Henry] Owens, [Blake] Swihart and [Mookie] Betts as well as a major league-caliber hitter the ilk of Allen Craig.

At the very least, it would give White Sox GM Rick Hahn something to think about.

That's a lot to offer for one guy, but Sale is the kind of pitcher who can be an Opening Day starter for years to come.

 

3. James Shields, SP

James Shields is not of quite the same caliber as some other names near the top of this list, although he is having a very good season for the Kansas City Royals (12-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP).

Oddly enough, because Shields is 32 years old Boston may actually be more eager to sign him than a younger free-agent pitcher.  While it will still take a hefty sum to get him, Shields' age could keep him from demanding an extended contract.

 

2. Max Scherzer, SP

The 30-year-old Max Scherzer was the American League Cy Young winner a year ago and an All-Star in both 2013 and 2014.  Over the last three seasons with the Detroit Tigers, he has a combined record of 52-15, a 3.28 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 691 strikeouts in 589.2 innings pitched.

Scherzer ranks among the elite starting pitchers in baseball and is likely to be the most coveted free agent on the market this offseason.  The only thing that keeps him from earning the No. 1 spot on this list is the unique situation involving the Red Sox and Jon Lester.

 

1. Jon Lester, SP

In each of Lester's last 15 starts, he's pitched at least six innings and given up three or fewer earned runs.  But his impressive performance of late isn't why Lester should be the Red Sox's top target this winter—he's already proven his value to Boston with 110 career wins and two World Series titles in a Red Sox uniform.

Over the last nine years Lester enamored himself to Boston's fans, and if the franchise could bring him back only months after acquiring an All-Star (Cespedes) for him, it would be a coup of spectacular proportions.

Upon being traded to the Oakland A's, Lester said that he would still consider signing with the Red Sox again in the offseason.  Via ESPN.com:

I'm glad with where I'm at, and I understood where [Red Sox GM] Ben [Cherington] was at. At the end of the season, it's not going to change my mind about going back there if they are aggressive and competitive and do the things they say they're going to do. Boston is definitely a place I would go.

Considering the fact that the Red Sox and Lester were unable to come anywhere close to agreeing on a new contract over the course of the year, the odds may be slim that the two parties will see eye to eye on what he is worth this winter.

Regardless of how likely Lester's return really is, an effort to make it happen should still be Boston's No. 1 priority.

 

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, with contract information via Spotrac.com.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Patrick Stewart: There’s no such thing as “just a domestic”

Domestic violence takes an enormous death toll. Every week two women are killed by current or former partners in England and Wales.

Right to refuge: Stewart holds the starte to account for its duty to protect those most at risk in their own home. Photo: Gary Carlton/Eyevine
Right to refuge: Stewart holds the starte to account for its duty to protect those most at risk in their own home. Photo: Gary Carlton/Eyevine

Several years ago, I met an extraordinary woman named Sharon de Souza. In 2008, Sharon witnessed the murder of her 24-year-old daughter, Cassie. Cassie was stabbed to death by her estranged husband in front of their two young sons as she attempted to flee to the safety of a women’s shelter.

With the help of Refuge, a charity that supports women and children experiencing domestic violence, Sharon secured an inquest that would shed light on the circumstances surrounding Cassie’s death. It was a long battle, but in February this year the inquest finally took place.

After hearing from a number of police officers and other professionals who had been in contact with Cassie in the months and weeks leading up to that day in July 2008, a jury concluded that two separate police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) all failed to take appropriate steps to safeguard Cassie’s life. They also found that, had the CPS and Sussex Police taken these steps, there is a substantial chance that her life could have been saved.

The sad truth is that Cassie’s story is not unusual. Domestic violence takes an enormous death toll. Every week two women are killed by current or former partners in England and Wales. And so, up and down the country, there are thousands of bereaved families struggling to come to terms with the loss of a beloved mother, daughter or sister. In too many of these cases, the police – and other state agencies – have failed to protect women and children at their moment of greatest need.

My own mother experienced violence at the hands of my father. I remember the police being called to our house on many occasions. As a child, I heard police officers standing in our small living room saying things like, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Well, Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.”

They had no idea. As a child I didn’t have the words to explain, but as an adult I can tell the truth.

The police had a duty to protect me and my mother, and they failed in that duty. They left us powerless and vulnerable. It shocks me that, decades later, women and children are still being let down by those agencies and by professionals who have a legal duty to protect them.

Of course, much has changed since my childhood. Many police officers do take domestic violence seriously. Yet the negative attitudes that I encountered as a small boy are still embedded in our culture and in our institutions. I have heard alarming comments from women using Refuge’s services about the poor response they still receive from police officers.

One woman was told that she should “just make up” with her ex-boyfriend though he’d assaulted her – an incident that the police officer involved referred to as “just a domestic”. Another woman reported that her partner was let off with a caution after he held a knife against her throat. These comments show how little we have progressed as a society in taking a stand against domestic violence.

It takes extraordinary courage for a frightened, abused woman to report her abuser to the police. When women make that brave step, it is vital that they be believed, supported and protected. They must have the full force of the law behind them.

Cassie’s story also proves that it is not just the police who fail victims of domestic violence. The inquest into her death found that the CPS was responsible for a number of failings. In 2012, Refuge gave expert evidence at the inquest into the death of another woman, Sabina Akhtar, which found Greater Manchester Police, Manchester social services and the CPS accountable for serious and significant failings that possibly contributed to Sabina’s death.

Our system is broken. Women and children continue to die in large numbers because they are not given the support and protection they deserve. Refuge is calling on the Home Secretary to open a public inquiry into the response by the police and other state agencies to victims of domestic violence. In my mother’s name – and in the name of women like Cassie – I support this call. We need a bold shift in the way we, as a society, view domestic violence – and in the way our public services and state institutions respond to victims. Those negative attitudes I encountered as a small boy – attitudes that allowed the violence to continue – must be banished once and for all. 

Patrick Stewart is a patron of Refuge. For more information and to sign Refuge’s petition calling for a public inquiry, visit: refuge.org.uk/publicinquiry

The greatest leaps in sport come from trial and error – not the conventional wisdom of coaches

Innovative sporting cultures become wealthy, so they can afford to have more coaches. That doesn’t prove that the coaches caused the innovation and wealth.

Babe Ruth hitting big for the New York Yankees in April 1925.
Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Despite the claims of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, for strategic insight I turn to Mike Tyson. “Everyone has a plan,” mused the former heavyweight boxing champion, “until they get punched in the mouth.”

In his scepticism about planning, Tyson keeps distinguished company. In The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley presents the argument – contra Francis Bacon – that science does not lead to invention. It is invention that leads to science. In the Industrial Revolution, the jennies and looms that transformed cotton-spinning were invented by tinkering businessmen, by “hard heads and clever fingers”, rather than by conceptual thinkers. The job of scientists, as the Cambridge physicist Richard Friend has argued, is often to explain the empirical findings of practical tinkerers after the invention has appeared.

Does Ridley’s argument apply to sport? The greatest leap forward in baseball – the use of the home run as a commonplace strategy – was not devised but chanced upon. In broad terms, Babe Ruth was responsible. In 1920, when Ruth hit 54 homers, no other team hit as many; in 1921, his 59 homers were 11 more than the next two hitters’ totals combined. In only his second year as a full-time batter, Ruth had hit 139 home runs, overtaking the previous career record.

You would have thought that someone – a coach, a strategist or team owner – in baseball’s previous five decades as a professional sport would have asked the question, “Why don’t we try to get our batters to hit the ball out of the stadium, where there aren’t any fielders, rather than fiddle around with the short stuff?”

But it seems they didn’t. Ruth, with his abundant talent and fearlessness, just did it, then everyone else saw the effectiveness of the idea – and its consequences. The Yankees’ attendances doubled, so they could spend $2.5m on a new stadium far bigger than any other. Ruth’s philosophy – “I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can” – inspired a nation and revived a sport.

Around the same time, Don Bradman – as controlled and wily as the Babe was open and brash – was finding an entirely new solution to the challenge of scoring runs in cricket. (The two men met, incidentally, in Ruth’s box at Yankee Stadium in 1932. When Bradman explained that in cricket, unlike in baseball, you were not obliged to run if you hit the ball, Ruth replied, “Just too easy!” Bradman later wrote: “I should like to have seen him try.”)

Bradman’s genius rested on a dual insight. First, he disproved the conventional wisdom that scoring quickly necessarily demands high risk. Bradman scored briskly and simultaneously eschewed risk. To use an investment metaphor, he was the money manager we are all searching for.

Second, Bradman abandoned established technique. His bat-swing started way out to the side, rather than being a straight pendulum line from behind him. As a child, he had learned to bat on his own, repeatedly hitting a golf ball against the curved brick base of the family water tank. The empirical method led him to a technique that no one had dared to try. He had escaped the greatest risk that can befall any genius: prescriptive formal education.

Consider the new shots that have redefined the parameters of modern batsmanship. The reverse sweep was invented by Mushtaq Mohammad, the switch hit by Kevin Pietersen and the scoop over the wicketkeeper by Tillakaratne Dilshan. None was the brainchild of a coach or strategist.

In athletics, coaches initially tried to dissuade a restless high jumper from major innovation before the 1968 Olympics. He wanted to jump over the bar face up, back down – something no one had done before. The new technique was considered strange and ungainly. He did it anyway, winning the gold medal in Mexico and breaking the world record. Dick Fosbury had just invented the “Fosbury Flop”. It quickly became the standard technique.

Even football’s classic example of apparently top-down thinking – the invention of totaalvoetbal (“total football”) by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff – was influenced by ideas bubbling up from below. The prefix “totaal” was not unique to football or even sport in the Netherlands in the 1960s. The brilliance of Dutch football was in its openness to ideas from other disciplines.

To return to Ridley’s examination of the true relationship between research and innovation: sports coaches are like academics. They tend to describe and analyse innovations that happened on the practice pitch, usually through trial-and-error tinkering. Coaches can certainly help players. Yet there is a danger in placing too much faith in the management class – which, after all, becomes a self-serving bureaucracy keen to justify the explosion in the number of jobs it commands.

When people argue, “Look at how the best sporting cultures have more coaches,” we see the back-to-front logic that Ridley observed. Innovative sporting cultures become wealthy, so they can afford to have more coaches. That doesn’t prove that the coaches caused the innovation and wealth.

I am not wilfully blind to the good that coaches can do; I experienced it as a player. But sportsmen should never underestimate their own capacity to come up with better answers. Sport is about problem-solving. A challenge is set: hit the ball over the boundary; jump over the bar. From then on, solutions evolve, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by accident. Irreverence always trumps the dissemination of revealed truth.

That is why innovation owes more to environment than directed planning. Sporting cultures open to change, innovation and risk will find the back of the net more often. l

Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99)