Toymail Lets Parents Send Voicemail to Their Kids’ Toy

Toymail

Being a working parent is hard. Aside from missing out on some of your kid’s firsts, it sucks not being able to hang out and bond with your offspring as much as you want to. You can, however, harness the power of modern technology and make them feel your presence one way or another, like with Toymail.

It’s a small, mailbox-shaped toy that lets you send voicemail straight to your kids. The awesome part is that your child can send you messages, too, simply by hitting ‘reply.’

Toymail1

Toymail is available online for £49.99 (or about $82+).

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Holy Cool ]

 

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Toronto Blue Jays’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 21

With the Toronto Blue Jays fading from contention in the American League playoff race—the club is 5.5 games out of a wild-card spot and must pass four other teams to get there—fans may begin turning their attention to the club's top prospects.

As September nears, so, too, does the conclusion of the minor league baseball season.

Major league rosters are also set to expand from 25 players to 40. That means prospects have a limited time frame to impress their parent clubs and earn a September call-up.

Here's a farm system stock report for each of the Jays' top prospects for the past week. Based on their performances, they'll receive a "Stock Up," "Stock Down" or "Even" grade.

 

*Note: Prospect rankings are based on those from BlueJays.com. No. 2 prospect Aaron Sanchez has been replaced, as he's received a promotion to the major leagues. No. 4 prospect Jeff Hoffman and No. 6 prospect Max Pentecost have been replaced due to injury.

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Seattle Mariners: An Early Free Agency and Offseason Primer

The Seattle Mariners are focused on a September push to the playoffs but also have a bright future to look forward to in 2015 and beyond.

After five months, the Mariners have a strong idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are heading into the offseason. As exciting as the current chase for a wild-card spot is, the Mariners could be even better next season with a couple of moves in free agency.

General manager Jack Zduriencik did a nice job of balancing Seattle’s present and future at the trade deadline and again will be faced with a similar circumstance during the offseason. This season’s unexpected run set the Mariners up nicely for 2015, so a couple of win-now moves would not be surprising.

The club’s performance in September, and potentially October, will impact the offseason, but there are already a few storylines shaping up for the winter.

 

Free Agents

The core will be intact for 2015, but the Mariners still have a few players who are due to enter free agency:

  • Kendrys Morales, DH
  • Corey Hart, DH
  • Chris Denorfia, OF
  • Chris Young, SP
  • Franklin Gutierrez, OF
  • Endy Chavez, OF

 

That list is assuming the Mariners exercise a $7 million team option on Hisashi Iwakuma, which seems certain to happen.

Hart and Chavez are the most likely to be gone, while Gutierrez probably won’t be ready to return to return to the majors at all due to his health situation. The Mariners will have some interesting choices to make regarding the other three players.

September will be most critical for Morales, as he will have to finish strong to get anywhere near the amount of money he was offered last offseason.  

If Morales continues to hit relatively well (106 wRC+ in August), the Mariners will look to bring him back, but Morales didn’t seem interested in signing with Seattle last offseason, and the cost may be too high.

Bob Dutton of The Tacoma News Tribune mentions that the Mariners will at least look at bringing Morales back in 2015. 

Attempting to retain Young would make sense for both parties. Young was built for Safeco Field, while Taijuan Walker doesn’t appear as ready for the majors as the Mariners would have hoped at this point. James Paxton has some health concerns—meaning the team could use the veteran depth.

The Mariners will be gambling on Young avoiding regression and his shoulder holding up, but he’s been consistently strong in 2013. A short, incentive-laden contract would be ideal.

To the point about Young's health, the 35-year-old says he's been pain free since undergoing surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome last June, via Jim Caple of ESPN.com.

It's been pain free. It's been a big blessing for me and I don't take it for granted. I was at a point where I was basically ready to walk away. 'I've done what I can and my shoulder just is not meant for this.' And so, after having surgery, I woke up and I knew the pain was gone. Ever since, it's just continued to get better and better.

 

Finding Help at First Base and Designated Hitter

The Mariners have received little production at the plate from either position until the last few weeks, which needs to change in 2015. Help could be on the way soon from the minors, but the Mariners may want to make some moves that focus on the present rather than the future.

One decision the Mariners will have to make is figuring out where Logan Morrison fits into their plans as he heads into an arbitration year. Morrison ran an unfortunate .211 BABIP in July but has rebounded with a .352/.403/.465 line since.

Morrison would be a fine placeholder until D.J. Peterson is ready, unless a better option presents itself.  

It seems unlikely at this point that Morales will be coming back. September will provide a brief look at Ji-Man Choi, who could DH or split time with Morrison at first, but the Mariners may want to look for more experienced hitters.

However, the free agent class doesn’t look too promising. Many of the big-name free agent first basemen are well into their 30s. Victor Martinez appears to be the best designated hitter available but will be expensive.  

 

Potential Trade Chips

The Mariners used a valuable trade community in Nick Franklin to fill a need with Austin Jackson on July 31. Some similar moves could be on the way in the offseason.

Last winter, the Mariners flipped Carter Capps, a young reliever with high upside, for offensive help in Morrison. A similar move could be coming in the offseason, as the Mariners have several high-upside relievers, like Brandon Maurer, who could be available.  

The team will also have to make a decision at shortstop between Chris Taylor and Brad Miller. Having one sit in Triple-A long-term isn’t going to help the club, and either one could land a decent return.

For now, the Mariners appear to be favoring Taylor, but they will have a better read on him after another full month in the majors.

If the Mariners don’t make a trade for a first basemen or designated hitter, they could be in the market for outfield help, particularly if Denorfia leaves.

Seattle’s outfield looks decent heading into 2015, but it depends on Dustin Ackley sustaining his current hot streak and Michael Saunders staying healthy. Both things could be impacted in September.  

 

Possible Contract Extensions

Instead of spending a large amount on free agents, the Mariners may look to work on contract extensions for Hisashi Iwakuma and Kyle Seager.

Iwakuma has pitched like an ace for the past two seasons and could make upwards of $20 million if he hits free agency in 2016, so it would be wise for the Mariners to work on an extension shortly after the season ends. He signed a two-year extension following the 2012 season with the option for the third year.

Another three-year deal would be perfect as Iwakuma turns 34 next season, but he may want to test free agency.  

Following his last extension, Iwakuma said he was pleased to be in Seattle, which means there could be interest from both sides to get another deal done, via Greg Johns of MLB.com:

"First and foremost, I am very happy with how the Seattle Mariners treated me throughout the season and for their evaluation in me as a starter...My family was a big factor in our decision [and] we are very happy and satisfied with Seattle, and we look forward to staying for at least two years."

Seager ranks ninth in the majors in WAR and is a critical part of Seattle’s core, so it’s time to think about locking him up long-term. The Mariners have more time with Seager, as he has three arbitration years remaining, but the price could go up if they wait another year or two.

Buying out those arbitration years will be more expensive over the next three seasons, but if the Mariners sign him for a few years beyond that it will save them money long-term.

All stats via FanGraphs.com unless otherwise noted. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

How to Throw a Terrible First Pitch

Although getting the chance to throw a first pitch is an amazing honor, the excitement can quickly turn to nerves once a person realizes that thousands of people will be watching their attempt.

Sure, there have been really good first pitches before, but, more often than not, we've seen ones that prove that throwing a baseball can be harder than it looks.

So how does one throw a poor first pitch? Keep reading and you'll see some examples.

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Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus Take the Time to Divide Territory on the Field

Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus and third baseman Adrian Beltre have a pretty hilarious relationship, but they can still get things done when they need to.

The two have been teammates since Beltre signed with Texas before the 2011 season, and they have created their fair share of funny moments.

Andrus and Beltre were back at it during Monday's game against the Seattle Mariners. An infield pop-up caused some territorial issues between the two. Luckily, Beltre, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and Andrus were able to work out the problem quickly.

Oddly enough, this wasn't even the first time in the past week that the two have discussed their territories on the field.

It's probably a good thing they finally had this discussion. They haven't always respected each other's territory on the field.

For those of you who want to see more of Andrus and Beltre together, watch this MLB.com video.

[MLB.com]

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Yankees Credit 5-Game Winning Streak to Reliever Wearing Horse Mask

The New York Yankees are currently riding a five-game winning streak and have pulled to within 2.5 games in the American League wild-card race. Teams may credit success to many different things, but the Yankees attribute their hot streak to something pretty unusual.

At the beginning of the day on Aug. 21, New York was sitting at 63-61. That's when reliever Shawn Kelley decided to wear a horse-head mask during the team's pregame stretch.

The team has not lost since, so naturally the players believe the mask is a good-luck charm.

Now that the team is winning, the reasoning behind the mask doesn't really matter. Kelley did explain why he bought the mask, which the players call Seabiscuit, per Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan.

"When I see those things, randomly in a crowd, it makes me laugh," Kelley said. "So I figured I'll do that, and it'll make everyone laugh in the clubhouse. And then we went on a winning streak."

Something like this does a great job to loosen up the clubhouse during a pennant race.

As silly as it may seem, the players are buying into the mask.

"Kelley is undefeated with the horse. I'm never going to go against that," Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury said. He added, "At first, I was wondering who it was. And then I wondered why he had it on. And then we got on a little roll, and I figured it doesn't matter what the reason is. We're winning with it."

The Yankees are averaging 5.4 runs per game and allowing just 2.2 runs per game since Seabiscuit made its debut at Yankee Stadium.

A 162-game season is a grind, and once August hits, the pressure for playoff contenders kicks up a notch. That's why it's good to have someone in the clubhouse who is willing to do something silly to help keep the team loose.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Giancarlo Stanton Quickly Chasing Down Mike Trout as MLB’s Best Player

Conventional creed these past few years more or less requires everyone in and around Major League Baseball, from players to coaches to executives to media to fans, simply to accept that Mike Trout is the best player on the planet.

But what if Trout, as undeniably superlative as he has been to this point in his still-young career, isn't even the best outfielder in the sport?

Taking that one step further: What if Trout isn't the best outfielder to share the same large expanse of green this week? After all, Trout's Los Angeles Angels are taking on the Miami Marlins and their very own freakishly gifted superstar, Giancarlo Stanton, for a three-game series that started Monday night.

If you ask Stanton, he's not taking the bait. Here's what he had to say about Trout before Monday's showdown:

Catch that right there at the end? "To be on the same field [as Trout] is gonna be cool."

Well, after Stanton's performance in Monday's game—the first time ever these two baseball behemoths, who are the MVP front-runners at the moment, have been on the same field in a regular-season game—maybe it's the other way around?

"I think it's great for baseball," Marlins manager Mike Redmond told Joe Frisaro of MLB.com prior to Monday's game. "You've got two dynamic young players playing on the same field. I know I'm excited to watch and be part of it. Hopefully our guy puts on great show."

As if on cue, Stanton did just that. Propelled by Stanton's three-run home run in the fourth inning that broke open what was a 4-0 game, the Marlins beat the Angels—the club with the best record in baseball at 77-52 entering the game—by a score of 7-1.

The victory helped the Marlins (65-65) gain a game in the NL wild-card chase, as they're now just three back of the San Francisco Giants, who lost to the Colorado Rockies on Monday.

Oh, and not only was the above blast the 33rd of the year for Stanton—a total that leads the National League and is only one shy of the Baltimore Orioles' Nelson Cruz, who is MLB's leader—there's also this:

While Stanton was busy making history as part of his 1-for-3, three-RBI night with a run and two walks, Trout was going 0-for-4 to drop his average to .285, the lowest it has been since May 28, nearly three months ago.

Heck, Stanton was even responsible for making two of the putouts against Trout, who lined out to him in the sixth and flew out to him in the eighth.

One game obviously is little more than a narrative reinforcement in the still-untested theory that Stanton just might be better than Trout. So how about measuring up each player's 2014 season as a whole then?

How's that for a pair of seasons, huh? The two studs' production has been about as similar as can be, especially when the numbers are as eye-popping as they are. By most of those measures, though, Stanton has been ever so slightly better so far, but it's extremely close.

To see if we can't get any more separation, here's a check on some key advanced metrics:

So much for that idea. Trout and Stanton are just as evenly matched in the deeper digits. Again, however, Stanton has what appears to be the slightest of edges in most categories, thanks to his big game Monday.

In fact, it's so close that, although Stanton ekes out Trout in Baseball Reference's wins above replacement (WAR), the two are deadlocked in FanGraphs' version.

It's worth pointing out for a moment that Stanton is trending positively in both aspects of plate discipline: His strikeout and walk rates are both career bests. Trout, on the other hand, is sporting a career-worst 25.2 percent strikeout rate, and that's something he's working to fix, per Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com. Of course, Stanton's 26.2 percent rate is still higher.

Considering the defensive side, Stanton is no slouch with the glove, but Trout is the better defender, particularly because he plays the more premium position of center field, while Stanton handles right.

What's remarkable is that both players are still so, so young. Everyone knows Trout just turned 23 in August, but Stanton is just 21 months older; he'll be only 25 after the season in November.

That's really not much of a disparity when both players are in the majors and performing at such a high level. It's also at least possible, given their youth, that both of these players are still on the upswing, meaning we may not have seen the best of either one yet.

Even if that's not the case, this indeed is shaping up to be quite the best-player-in-baseball battle over the next handful of seasons, assuming both stay healthy.

That's a factor that has been in Trout's favor to this point but has been Stanton's bugaboo. The 2014 season is really the first time in Stanton's career that he's been fully healthy.

While Trout is on pace for his third straight season with at least 139 games played (and he would have played more than that number in his rookie season of 2012 had the Angels not held him in the minors until late April), Stanton is working on just his second year out of five with at least that many games played.

When you're healthy, you're happy, and Stanton has been both this year. His personality and sense of humor come across in this postgame interview from Monday, so yes, dude has the chops to handle being in the running for the face of MLB with Trout, too:

As for which is the best player in baseball, it's still hard to go against Trout, who owns that throne based on what he's done at the outset of his career these first three incredible seasons.

But if Stanton is going to continue to improve as much as he has this year, Trout better not get too comfy on his perch.

 

Statistics are accurate as of Aug. 25 and come from MLB.comBaseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com, except where otherwise noted.

To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Trade Ideas Based on the Latest News, Rumors and Speculation

This will be the last installation of MLB trade ideas based on the latest news, rumors and speculation before the deadline passes on Sunday, whereby players who are acquired are eligible to participate in postseason play.

Needless to say, the situation is tense around MLB. That said, what types of trade ideas are possible with the information we already have at hand?

Here are three MLB trade scenarios based on actual need and published rumors through the end of Monday, Aug. 25. As a standard note, the following proposals are nothing more than postulation.

The point here is to build a trade based on someone else's written or spoken word. They are balanced deals that are fair for each team, though, and take into consideration each franchise's strengths and weaknesses.

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Baltimore Orioles: An Early Free-Agency and Offseason Primer

As we come closer to entering the final month of the MLB regular season, it's never too early to brainstorm how the Baltimore Orioles will handle the free-agency period in regard to replacing a few players whose contracts will be up at the end of this season and adding players who could be huge assets to the club for the 2015 season.

The Orioles will need to make preparations in order to determine how they will replace the free-agent trio of left fielder Nelson Cruz, first baseman/designated hitter Delmon Young and lefty reliever Andrew Miller.

Seeing as how Cruz is the major league leader in homers at this time with 34, it is extremely unlikely that the Orioles will sign Cruz to a multiyear deal, which is exactly what he's looking for after rolling the dice on his current one-year contract with the Birds.

As for Miller, lefty relievers will be in high demand, particularly a lefty of his caliber.

Miller holds a 2.13 ERA and a strikeout-per-nine ratio of 14.4 on the season so far. As an Oriole, he has only given up one earned run through eight and one-third innings pitched and has struck out 12 during that span.

Nope, the Orioles won't have a chance to sign Miller either if they hope to retain their core players when the following year's free-agent class is due for new contracts.

Signed to a minor league contract prior to the start of the season, Delmon Young brought a considerable amount of value to the Orioles. The former first-round pick is hitting .311 on the year and is slugging for a solid .461 with 17 extra-base hits.

Sure, the Orioles could bring him back as a bench player, but they seem content with Steve Pearce's ability in that first baseman/designated hitter role, and they may opt to have outfield depth considering it will be weakened by the departure of Cruz.

With that being said, here are a few interesting free agents for the 2014-15 offseason who the Orioles could make a run at.

 

Adam Dunn, DH/1B

While it may not be the most alluring potential signing that the Orioles could do, Adam Dunn still has a lot of power left in his 34-year-old body. Although his batting average is just .220 on the year, he draws a ton of walks and has an OBP of .343, something the Orioles highly covet.

Not only can the Orioles interchange Dunn at designated hitter or first base, but he has experience playing the corner outfield spots if need be.

 

Joe Thatcher, RP

Lefty reliever Joe Thatcher might not be a household name, but he had a very solid season during his time in Arizona this year prior to being traded to the Los Angeles Angels in early July.

The 32-year-old held a 2.63 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 24 innings while with the Diamondbacks and walked just three batters, making for an incredible strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.33.

With Orioles' lefty specialist Brian Matusz struggling this year to the tune of a 3.92 ERA and 1.443 WHIP, the club's key decision-makers will need to go after a rock-solid lefty so the bullpen won't miss a beat heading into the 2015 campaign.

 

Yasmani Tomas, LF/RF

One of the top young power hitters out of Cuba, Yasmani Tomas is a 23-year-old corner outfielder who could sign with a major league club in late 2014 or early 2015.

The timing depends on several factors, per Ben Badler of Baseball America: "Tomas will still have to obtain residency in another country, get an unblocking license from the United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and be declared a free agent by Major League Baseball to be eligible to enter into an agreement with a club."

According to the website, the 6'1", 230-pound right-handed hitter possesses 70 raw power on the 20-80 scale and is considered one of the elites in all of Cuba when it comes to power hitters. During the 2012-13 regular season for Cuba's Serie Nacional, Tomas hit for a triple-slash line of .289/.364/.538 with 15 homers over 81 games.

Considering the wave of superstars that have come from Cuba over the past few years, the Orioles would be wise to at least throw their hat in the ring and possibly get this kid locked up for several years, much like Jose Abreu's team-friendly deal of $68 million over six years.

 

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

The allure of the closet: is kink only sexy when it is underground?

Even in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey, kink is still a taboo. Margaret Corvid examines what can happen when private lives are made public.

An alleyway in Edinburgh. Photo: Getty
Fear of being outed makes many keep their interest in kink private. Photo: Getty

Having just celebrated my 35th birthday, I have been reflecting on how much my life has changed for the better in the last five years. When I turned 30, I took a hard look at my life. I quit my prestigious job and left the wrong husband, with whom I had been planning for children I had never wanted. I abandoned my conventional, ambitious life. I said goodbye to wonderful friends, to a vibrant city and to a good man who deserved a better match, and I built a new life for myself at the opposite end of the country. Here, I’ve engaged in serious study of kink, an art form that is my great vocation in life; through that study I have found a new community and a new circle of friends, and the right husband. Although I have had my tribulations, I can say, with conviction, that my life is better now than it was five years ago. The happiness and peace I’ve gained in being true to myself have given me the calm and clarity to reflect and to write. I’ve also gained the confidence to do kink professionally, as a dominatrix, which has been the key to my self-reliance during the recession.

The downside is the kink closet. Kink, a word, and a world, that encompasses fetish, BDSM, and a variety of alternative relationship styles, is still taboo, even in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey, and because nearly all of my social and work life touches upon kink in one way or another, I am careful about sharing details my life with those who I have known from before. The most innocuous small talk, such as “How is work?” could lead to an uncomfortable discussion. I live freely and openly but I rarely use the name I was given at birth, out of respect for my family. For all I know, they would be accepting of my work and my lifestyle, but out of my own fear and aversion to confrontation, I have not yet taken the chance of coming out to any of them and I feel the loss. I can’t share my hopes and dreams with them, or my pride in being the author of my own life; they don’t even know that I am a writer.

Even in my isolation, I am lucky, because I have relatively little to lose. The real victims of the kink closet are those who live and work in the everyday world, and keep their kink lives secret because of very real and likely consequences. “People who are outed risk losing their professional and social status; access to their children; and, in extreme cases, going to prison for having engaged in consensual adult activities in private. This raises significant civil liberties issues regarding the right to a private life, as guaranteed by law,” says Myles Jackman, an incisive, eloquent barrister who frequently advises Backlash, a campaigning group which fights for the right to freedom of sexual expression. In speaking to Backlash, I heard about employees hounded out of their jobs and parents losing their children. Backlash regularly hears from those affected by discrimination, and has been able to help many of them, but even those who have won their struggles have been traumatised, and many still require medication for stress; most wouldn’t talk to a reporter.

Burdened by the world-shaking risks of outing, kinksters also bear the daily vicissitudes of closeted life. Imagine you’ve found a suspicious mole on your skin. A kinkster who has some bruises from a recent play session might have to choose between raising suspicions that she is abused or self-harming, or waiting for the bruising to fade. Or, imagine you’ve got an anxiety problem. A kinkster seeking counselling on the NHS will have to choose between keeping their sex life private, or disclosing - and hoping that they’ve not been assigned one of the many therapists who sees kink as a pathology. Discrimination against kinksters intersects with other oppressions; while the wealthy and prominent Max Mosley has mounted a robust and successful defence of his privacy after being photographed having kinky escapades with sex workers, the poor, women, LGBT people, and people of colour often have far fewer resources to defend themselves if they’re outed.

By sowing mistrust, the kink closet also weakens the fabric of our communities. Most areas offer public meet-up groups for kinksters, called munches, and many localities have regular, supervised parties for BDSM play. Although media portrayals of kink usually omit them, these warm and welcoming events are an excellent resource for those new to kink, and foment lasting friendships and relationships. Our communities educate, protect and support their members, but there is often a subtle undercurrent of worry. The most ordinary falling out among kinksters can lead to each individual worrying about being outed. Most organised kink communities avoid outing, and shun those who out others. In practice, those with the most to lose have the most to fear; the threat of outing makes it harder for the community to police itself.

Only a fraction of people interested in kink participate in the community; to most people, kink is intensely private. But even those who would be interested in the benefits the community offers are likely to be dissuaded by the threat of outing. Without the community, and fearing judgment from family or friends, these kinksters have little support when things go wrong. “The worst part of the kink closet is that it discourages people from speaking up or finding help when they are in genuinely abusive relationships that are masquerading as kinky relationships,” says Clarisse Thorn, who writes and speaks regularly about feminism and kink. “The problem is particularly acute for people who are in kinky relationships but haven’t done any research into solid kink resources, or do not have access to a healthy and supportive kink-focused community. . .I’ve heard of many situations where someone got into a kinky relationship because they really wanted to try it – but then, when the relationship became problematic or abusive, they didn’t know who to turn to. Or even worse, they blamed themselves for getting into that position,” she says.

Despite the closet’s burdens, many kinksters are happy to stay there. To some, that air of the forbidden is part of the appeal of kink. It’s exciting to be part of an exclusive club. It can be a thrill to be buzzed into a vast, hidden dungeon in the heart of a teeming city, or to drive slowly up a bumpy path lined with ancient trees, to a remote country farmhouse where nearly anything goes. Others might like to come out, but must remain closeted due to their personal or professional circumstances. I respect and understand their decisions, but I despise the discrimination that makes the closet necessary to so many. As David Cameron promises to make each of his policies “family-friendly,” and is cracking down on sexual expression in the media with schemes like age ratings for music videos online, fighting for sexual freedom is more important than ever.

A growing number of kinksters are campaigning for kink awareness and rights. Much of this work takes place online, where we directly refute stereotypical portrayals of kink like Fifty Shades. Founded in 2013, a grassroots project, Kink Coming Out Day, encourages those who can safely do so to raise awareness by coming out as kinky on 28 September. In the United Kingdom, groups like Backlash and the Spanner Trust are fighting on the most important front for the rights of kinksters: the courtroom. Backlash pursues an ambitious strategy, fighting legal battles that help to set precedents for sexual freedom. One case they took on was that of “Legally Bland”, or LB. A caring woman with a sharp, ironic sense of humour, LB was a dedicated and respected social worker for nearly a decade. In her personal life, she was involved in the kink community, and discreetly attended occasional kink events in cities far from home. In time, she met a man and began a relationship, eventually becoming engaged. Sadly, her fiancé turned out to be verbally abusive, and an alcoholic. When he kicked a door off its hinges in January 2011, LB phoned the police, who came and arrested him.

LB threw him out, but operating out of the same caring ethos that drove her career, she still kept in contact, helping him find services to deal with his alcoholism. She continued to support his recovery, and helped him get into a hostel and rehab, but the abuse continued, so she ended contact in June 2011. She reported the breakup to her manager, as required; he was accessing services in the local area where she worked. His harassment continued. “He was begging me, phoning work constantly threatening suicide,” says LB. Her manager was very supportive, and said she would stand by LB’s decisions in the matter. Then, LB got a text from her ex, saying he had gone to the police. She called his bluff, and asked which police; he provided the name of an officer. She called the officer, who said that allegations had been made, and police would be over for “a chat” in the morning.

“I probably should have known through my work that when the police say they want a chat, it doesn’t really mean they want a chat,” says LB. She prepared for the meeting, ready to answer their questions, but when she opened the door early the next morning, she was arrested and taken down to the station. The police showed her a search warrant, and asked for her house keys. They seized her computer and phone, leaving her with no numbers and no way to contact anyone. “I was like, oh my God,” says LB. “What on earth is going on?”

She was held in a cell for five hours. When she spoke to the duty solicitor, she found out the whole story. While they were together, LB and her ex had engaged in kink. Now, banished forever, he had vengefully unleashed the nuclear option. He had told the police that their entire relationship had been non-consensual, and had made wild accusation about activities at the public, legal BDSM clubs she had attended. Bizarrely, he had also alleged that three sadomasochistic art photographs she had taken, which were innocuous enough to be hanging in her kitchen, could be classed as illegal pornography. The duty solicitor helped an extremely upset LB prepare a statement, and she was released.

She walked out of the police station alone, twenty miles from home, and without money. “I was in absolute bits at that point,” says LB. Like many who have suffered abuse, LB had found that the relationship itself had isolated her; she had drifted away from friends online, in the kink community and in the wider world. When she eventually got home, the first thing she had to do was call work, and let them know that she had been arrested.

Her house had been ransacked; she had nowhere to turn for help. Compounding her social isolation was the fact that her work colleagues knew absolutely nothing about her kinky lifestyle, and any discussion of the case could prejudice an employment tribunal. After a frantic search, she found a greeting card from an online friend in the kink scene, listing her phone number; on the advice of that friend, LB contacted Backlash. They returned her call in less than two hours. After calming her down, they got to work, finding her an adviser who was skilled in employment law and lawyers to engage with the police. With her experience, she knew how the process worked. She would be investigated for misconduct. “I knew I would be suspended, pending the outcome of the investigation. I was prepared for that, because I knew [work] would see it for what it was,” she said.

The police, who had rightfully responded to allegations of abuse, declined to press charges. But at work, the investigation continued. A bundle of nerves, LB reported to an investigatory meeting. At this meeting, officials pored through the police file, which included a list of BDSM equipment that had been removed from her house, such as floggers and rope. Even a packet of 99p craft knives, that had lain unopened in a garage toolbox, well away from her kinky toy stash, had been removed by the police. “Are you in possession of knives?” an official asked. When she explained that she used them for crafting, her service manager rolled his eyes. “I just thought, ‘I have absolutely no chance. No matter what I say or what I present, you’ve made your mind up’,” she says.

At two tense disciplinary hearings, LB’s large, public employer put her private life under a microscope. LB tried to pin down the officials on what their exact problem was. Was it the allegations? If so, she had evidence to refute those. Was it the taking of the kitchen photographs? Again, they were clearly legal, coming nowhere near the description of extreme pornography. Even though colleagues from police, council and NHS had appeared, attesting to her excellent performance at work, her employer concluded that her private practice of kink could impact her work and bring her employer into disrepute. In December 2011, she received a letter of termination.

She was dumbfounded, exhausted, and angry. She had no job, and as a social worker she fell under the Notifiable Occupations Scheme, which empowers police to share information about arrests and convictions more freely, in the public interest. Anyone from an airline baggage handler to a taxi driver to a veterinarian can fall under the scheme; in LB’s case, police had reported her to her employer, and the General Social Care Council, her licensing body, also got involved. Although she was never charged, her police report – then known as a CRB report – had a record of her arrest. With her license under review, a blemished CRB, and no reference from an employer she had served loyally for nearly a decade, LB couldn’t work as a social worker. “I was absolutely devastated. I’d trained really hard. . . it’s in my blood. When people say what defines you, it defines me; I am a social worker,” she says. “I work in a profession which is meant to be non-judgmental, equal opportunity. That was not extended to me,” she says.

With the help of Backlash and Leigh Day, a highly rated employment law firm that they had sourced, LB took her employer to tribunal. LB’s lawyers believed that she had a chance of overturning a precedent, Pay v UK, a 2009 case in which a probation officer sacked for his kink activity had appealed all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, citing his right to a private life, but was disappointed when his case was ruled inadmissible.  If she could overturn her dismissal, LB could vindicate herself and lay essential legal groundwork for others. With the financial support of well-wishers including the London Alternative Market, Leigh Day and Backlash assembled an array of legal experts, in areas including psychology, employment law and the differences between public and private. Their job was to debunk the prevailing misconceptions about kink in court.

With their help, the tide began to turn. In their 2011 hearings, LB’s employers had based their case on their reading of the rules of LB’s regulatory body, the General Social Care Council, but in March 2012, the GSCC ruled that LB posed no threat to service users, and that her private life was irrelevant to her job conduct. While it had come too late to save LB’s job, the ruling strengthened her case at tribunal. It took over a year before the tribunal was held, during which time LB, too ill to work, faced economic hardship and ongoing stress. Her benefits wouldn’t pay her mortgage, and she was nearly evicted. Finally, in March 2013, LB won her tribunal. As part of the judgment, she secured the excellent reference she deserved; in parallel, she had started the process of judicial review to contest her CRB report, at which point the police backed down and removed the record of her arrest. With clean paperwork, LB was able to work again as a social worker. Her vindication is a win for civil liberties, and for all of us. She has paved the way for other kinksters who face discrimination at work, who now have her strategy as a blueprint to follow.

The year and a half LB spent fighting for her rights changed her. She no longer participates in the public kink community, but she has used her years of experience as a social worker to develop advice for kinksters on how to respond when a social worker comes to visit. Her nuanced, thoughtful advice helps kinksters understand a social worker’s essential role in uncovering real abuse, and advises on the best ways to ensure that a social worker understands the difference between abuse and kink. Like many good activists, circumstances brought her to the struggle; like many of the best activists, she builds bridges.

Those of us on the edge of what is perceived as “respectability” – kinksters, trans people, and sex workers – often remark that, when it comes to our rights and social status, we are a generation behind gays and lesbians. While our experiences are often quite divergent, we all take inspiration from LGBT history. We owe a debt of gratitude to campaigners like LB, whose struggles and deprivations benefit us all. She should inspire action; those of us who can come out, should. Veteran kink educator Raven Kaldera agrees. “LGBT liberation means that a number of brave individuals put themselves on the line to make their practices better known and more ‘normalised’, and that gave the next generation of LGBT people a better choice around whether to tell anyone about their sexual preference or just keep it private.

“The point is that we ought to be able to make that choice, and not be penalised for it, and that never happens unless a certain percentage of that population grits their teeth and talks about it in public. Someone has to make the sacrifice for all the closeted people. That’s what activists are for,” he says.

What Does Rusney Castillo Splash Mean for Yoenis Cespedes’ Red Sox Future?

With the signing of Cuban Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox added even more talent to their outfield corps.

Already bursting at the seams, it seems inevitable that Boston will have to clear some of its outfield assets in the offseason in order to make all the pieces work.

Currently, the team's outfield consists of Allen Craig, Mookie Betts and Yoenis Cespedes. Boston also has Daniel Nava, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Shane Victorino in the mix for outfield time, and all have strong cases to start.

We already know that Castillo is essentially guaranteed a starting spot in the outfield in 2015. After all, why would the club have signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with the 27-year-old if the end goal wasn't to have Castillo patrolling center field for Boston?

Past that, how free agency plays out and what trades the Red Sox make will go a long way toward dictating who opens 2015 alongside Castillo in left and right field...and that includes Yoenis Cespedes, Boston's high-profile acquisition at the trade deadline. It's entirely possible the team could turn around and swap the former Athletic in the winter.

Before discussing Cespedes, let's run through his competitors for other outfield spots:

 

Mookie Betts

Betts is Boston's top prospect, according to SoxProspects.com. However, Betts is just 21 years old and his exposure to the majors in the early going shows that he might benefit from more minors seasoning. While Betts' .254/.338/.365 line through 20 games is nothing to sneeze at, he hasn't shown definitively that he belongs in Boston. Further, given the struggles of fellow 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox might elect to be more cautious with Betts.

Additionally, Betts was moved to the outfield this season to address what was at the time a shortage in outfielders. That's no longer the case, so Betts could move back to the infield and feasibly compete for the third-base job. Finally, if the Red Sox pull off a blockbuster deal for a pitcher in the winter, such as for Cole Hamels, Betts could be part of the trade package.

 

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Bradley spent much of 2014 as the starting center fielder but just could not get his offense in gear and is considered the most disappointing prospect in the game, according to a poll conducted by Grantland's Ben Lindbergh. He was recently demoted to Triple-A after putting together a .216/.288/.290 line, and his role in 2015 is a big question.

Bradley is an elite center fielder, notching 14 defensive runs saved (definition per FanGraphs), which places second in the major leagues. His defense is meaningless without a quality bat, and he has done enough damage to his stock that chances are the 24-year-old is ticketed for Triple-A in 2015 or as no more than a backup outfielder with the major league squad.

 

Garin Cecchini

Cecchini is a third baseman who has been seeing time in left field as well in 2014. The move to left was in part to help Boston give playing time to other infielders in the minors, but also as a result of Cecchini's own struggles defensively. He may not be a third baseman long-term, and Red Sox manager John Farrell has already said that Cecchini's poor play at third has factored into his continued stay in Triple-A, per Tim Britton of The Providence Journal.

Given the depth in the outfield and his unexciting batwhich has led him to a .257/.336/.367 line in Triple-Ahe's not a serious candidate for playing time in the outfield. More than likely, he'll compete for the third-base job or return to Triple-A in 2015.

 

Allen Craig

Craig is struggling through a career-worst season, but he was the cleanup hitter on the 2013 NL champion St. Louis Cardinals. While Craig could be flipped in the winter via trade, it's hard to imagine Boston giving up John Lackey to get Craig (along with starting pitcher Joe Kelly) only to turn around and trade Craig coming off a poor season. Kelly plus a discounted return on Craig in exchange for Lackey doesn't make sense. The club could also shift Craig to first base and deal Mike Napoli.

 

Brock Holt

While Holt took the league by storm and has given the Red Sox tremendous flexibility with his ability to play multiple positions, the bloom has come off the rose somewhat for the 26-year-old. Holt entered the All-Star Break hitting .327/.371/.463, which translates to am .834 OPS. However, that OPS has fallen significantly since the All-Star Break. Holt's line post-break is .224/.291/.266, which gives him a .557 OPS and puts him on the level of Jackie Bradley Jr. as far as offensive futility.

Prior to his breakout in the first half, Holt was considered a backup player, and that remains his most likely outcome. Holt should nonetheless be considered the favorite to play third base next season in a competition that's shaping up to include Will Middlebrooks, Betts and Cecchini.

 

Daniel Nava

While Nava was extraordinarily valuable to Boston in 2013 as a platoon bat that faced off against right-handers, he seems to have lost his cachet with the club this season. A year after hitting .303/.385/.445, he started off the season in a slump and was sent to Triple-A Pawtucket for his troubles. Stuck down there in part because of a game of numbers, Nava has hit .297/.370/.359 since his return.

While he's been getting at-bats regularly since the trade deadline, his participation in Red Sox games will drop now that Craig is off the disabled list, freezing him out of regular time in the outfield. It's even possible the 31-year-old is moved before September, as The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo linked the Tigers and Pirates to Nava's services.

 

Shane Victorino

The Flyin' Hawaiian is out for the season after requiring back surgery. He appeared in just 30 games all season. Victorino is under contract for 2015, but it's difficult to see him playing ahead of Craig, Castillo or Cespedes, making him a high-priced backup player unless Craig or someone else is traded.

 

After covering all these players, we can safely eliminate Bradley, Cecchini, Holt and Nava from consideration for 2015 starting spots. Given the outfield's abundance of quality depth, these players will struggle for playing time. That leaves Betts, Craig and Victorino competing with Cespedes for the right to fill the outfield around Castillo. 

Out of all these players, Cespedes is the biggest certainty to man an outfield spot for Boston in 2015.

Why would the Red Sox have asked for Yoenis Cespedes in return for Jon Lester if they were going to flip Cespedes in the winter? The Red Sox would have been better off chasing a different return for Lester over acquiring Cespedes, who has won the past two Home Run Derbies.

Cespedes gives the Red Sox a well-proven power supply, whereas no one knows what type of thump Castillo will contribute. Castillo reportedly wowed scouts with his increased power as he was putting on showcases for major league teams in advance of his signing, as Ben Badler of Baseball America writes. Will that translate to more than 20 home runs with the Red Sox? No one knows.

Just like no one knows whether Craig can bounce back from his poor season and rediscover his power. Betts, meanwhile, could be included in a blockbuster deal, moved to third base or sent back to Triple-A. In short, there's no reason why Betts should play over Cespedes.

The Red Sox need power. That was the whole motivation behind trading for Cespedes to shore up an outfield devoid of sluggers. Prior to the arrival of Cespedes, Red Sox outfielders had combined for 14 home runs on the season, while Cespedes had 17 himself.

While Castillo and Cespedes will co-exist nicely in 2015, it's the year after that's the real question as Cespedes will be a free agent.

While Castillo can play center, he spent most of his career in Cuba in right field. Given that the Red Sox always seek to have two center fielders on the team, as GM Ben Cherington tells The Boston Globe, it's possible that the Red Sox view Castillo as a right-fielder long-term if Bradley can rebound with the bat or Betts finds his permanent home in center field.

Right now, the splash that the Red Sox made signing Castillo won't affect Cespedes at all, as the two should anchor the outfield in 2015. Beyond that, having Castillo under contract may make it easier for Boston to let Cespedes, who will be 30 for the 2016 season, depart and sign a big-money deal elsewhere.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Scott Miller’s Starting 9: Stretch Run Will Tell Tale of Yankees Present, Future

1. Yankees vs. Schedule-Makers

Not that the Yankees are holding open auditions these days, but 52 times this season, Joe Girardi has handed the ball to a rookie starter and steered him toward the mound.

No other team in the majors has started rookie hurlers as often this summer, and only three times since rookie rules were established in 1958 have the Yankees entrusted a larger number of their games to those classified as such: 1991 (54 times), 1986 (54) and 2007 (52).

Click Ahead to Other Topics

• Numbers not adding up for the Orioles
• Finally, the Dodgers find some late-inning magic
• Joey Bats shows his not-so-glamorous side
• The numbers crunch is growing in the Bronx
• Mariners make dizzying history in Boston
• Stephen Strasburg keeps the Nationals guessing
• Is Billy Butler's glove key to Royals' renaissance?
• It's time to start planning for next year for a few teams

Yet each time this seeming pinstriped version of Christians-Lions threatens to become gory (especially with Masahiro Tanaka, who has started 18 times, out)…it doesn't. The Yankees steal a few wins, the Orioles get swept by a bad Cubs team in Wrigley Field, and, presto, the Yankees' pulse quickens.

That the Yankees started this week in second place in the AL East, only six games behind Baltimore, is either a testament to their steely resolve and fortitude, or an enormous indictment of the Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox.

Debate that as you may (correct answer: A lot of both), but now comes the next round of heavy lifting for the Yankees: A key stretch of schedule in which 21 of their next 30 games, taking them through Sept. 25, is against clubs with winning records.

Starting Tuesday, nine of their next 12 are against winning clubs: the Royals, Tigers and Blue Jays. Throw in Tanaka's scheduled simulated game Thursday in Detroit, and this is the latest week that could make or break the 2014 Yankees.

What we're watching is Girardi's best job of managing yet and a Yankees club that should leave even the most ardent optimists scratching the stadium giveaway caps sitting atop their heads.

A "future" with Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran really is more of a past. CC Sabathia did what he was supposed to, helping to bring another World Series title to the Bronx (2009), but he's not going to be leading a staff in his twilight years. And just think, only six more months remain before Alex Rodriguez pops his head out in Tampa like Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania.

What general manager Brian Cashman has been unable to do in the years since the latest dynasty ended in 2000 is establish a pipeline of prospects that replenishes the major league club.

As Derek Jeter enters the final month of his career, the roaring question is: When will the next Jeter emerge from the Yankees' system? That "Core Four"—Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera…all were drafted or signed and developed in the Yankees' system.

As for the present, the Yankees have used a franchise-record 31 pitchers so far this season. Only the Texas Rangers (36), hit by a Noah's Ark-sized flood of injuries, have employed more.

Still, including old warhorses Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano, Yankees starters were 6-4 with a 2.77 ERA over their past 18 games heading into Michael Pineda’s start in Kansas City on Monday.

That's a far better reality for this group than the Yankees had any right to expect. Now strength of schedule comes into play with the force of a USC linebacker.

Of course, the Orioles have helped New York remain alive. No sooner had the Birds opened a commanding nine-game lead in the AL East before they ran smack into the Javier Baez Wrigley Field Wrecking Co.

The result was a 4-5 road trip. Chris Davis is now down to a .190 batting average, the lowest mark of any major leaguer with at least 400 at-bats. And Manny Machado is lost for the season to knee surgery.

So can the Yankees erase the rest of the Orioles' lead? Or even wipe out a 2.5-game deficit in the wild-card standings, where they trail both the Seattle Mariners and Tigers (emphasizing the magnitude of this week's series)?

A lot may hinge on the one game this week that doesn't count, a simulated game scheduled for Thursday that will see Tanaka test his injured elbow, which has had him on the DL since July.

 

2. The Orioles By the Numbers

Just when the Orioles appeared to be running away from the pack in the AL East, they were whacked by the Cubs and sideswiped by news that Manny Machado will be lost for the year due to surgery on his right knee. Last summer, his season ended early with the same procedure on his left knee.

It's the end of a bizarre season for Machado, who lost it during a series against the A's in June, was suspended and now says he has abnormal knees, which left them vulnerable to injuries. By having this surgery now, he says, he hopes his knee issues will become a thing of the past

You can't help but wonder whether Machado's knees now will compromise his future. He arrived in the majors as such a supreme talent at 19 in 2012. With him and catcher Matt Wieters both out for the season, the Orioles have taken a huge hit.

Meantime, Nelson Cruz leads the majors with 34 homers after Chris Davis' 53 topped the majors last summer. If Cruz maintains his lead, the Orioles will become only the fourth team since 1920 to have two different players win homer titles in back-to-back seasons, according to STATS, LLC.

The others: The 1936-37 Yankees (Lou Gehrig 49, Joe DiMaggio 46), the 1987-88 Athletics (Mark McGwire 49, Jose Canseco 42) and the 1993-94 Giants (Barry Bonds 46, Matt Williams 43).

 

3. Dodging the Late-Inning Heroics

That the Dodgers beat the Padres 2-1 last Thursday in Dodger Stadium on its own wasn't a big deal.

That they did it when Justin Turner bashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning? That made it kind of a big deal.

Until then, the Dodgers were 0-46 in games in which they trailed after seven innings this season. They were the only team in the majors without a victory in that situation.

Big deal? Well, to hear radio talkers in Los Angeles, it at times showed a lack of heart, courage, fortitude and guts.

The truth of the matter is the zero wins was the weird part. You'd think that the Dodgers would have snatched one or two by late August. But it's not like successful clubs always thrive in those situations. The Nationals, leading the NL East, were 6-44 at the time when trailing after seven. The Brewers, leading the NL Central, were 5-41.

Closest to the Dodgers in the NL was the Cardinals, who were 1-43 in those situations (they're 2-45 now).

 

4. This Week With the Blue Jays

Toronto was supposed to be contending for a playoff slot right about now. Instead, the Blue Jays this month have made spectacles of themselves.

They're contesting a new logo introduced by the Creighton University Bluejays because, get this, it looks like a Blue Jay.

And as if losing nine of their past 12 isn't enough to put a damper on any October hopes, Jose Bautista is showing the opposite of leadership skills. After Bautista was ejected by plate ump Bill Welke in the sixth inning of Sunday’s 2-1, 10-inning loss to Tampa Bay, manager John Gibbons let him have it.

"Bottom line is, we needed him in the game," Gibbons told reporters. "Say your piece and get the hell out of there. We're trying to get in the playoffs, we need you on the field. He's a marked man in this game. Bill Welke? I thought he had a pretty good zone today. It was steady, he was calling strikes. He was looking to call strikes. But we need you in the game."

 

5. The Yankees By the Numbers

It was nice to see the final residue of hard feelings between Joe Torre and the Yankees melt away Saturday as they retired his No. 6. His was the 18th number the Yankees have retired, and at this rate, maybe they could use a few bitter breakups with legends in the near future (like the way the Red Sox always seem to roll!).

They're going to run out of numbers eventually, and assuming it is a slam dunk that Derek Jeter's No. 2 eventually will be retired, they're already out of single-digit numbers in the Bronx:

  1. Billy Martin
  2. Derek Jeter (will be retired eventually)
  3. Babe Ruth
  4. Lou Gehrig
  5. Joe DiMaggio
  6. Joe Torre
  7. Mickey Mantle
  8. Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey
  9. Roger Maris

By the way, for those who don't know, way back when numbers were first placed onto uniforms, they signified the slot in the batting order that player occupied. Thus, Ruth wore No. 3 and Gehrig No. 4.

 

6. Dizzying Heights for Mariners

Not to make light of Robinson Cano leaving Sunday's game in Boston because of dizziness—he later said he thought it might be a touch of the flu—but has anyone considered that Cano's condition might have been results-induced?

 

7. Nationals Alert

Winners of 12 of 14 and hotter than anybody this side of the Kansas City Royals, the Nationals are playing well enough that manager Matt Williams probably is going to have the luxury of arranging his playoff rotation sooner rather than later.

And his Game 1 starter at this point has to be…Jordan Zimmermann? Doug Fister?

There was a time the quick answer would have been Stephen Strasburg. But Strasburg's mysterious inconsistency this summer peaked Sunday during the Nationals' 14-6 laugher over the Giants.

The game became a laugher only after Washington was able to erase the 5-0 deficit Strasburg dug them in the first three innings. Strasburg, who has struggled with fastball location off and on all summer, inexplicably grooved pitches to Travis Ishikawa and Gregor Blanco, both of which turned into home runs.

Already this season, Strasburg has surrendered a career-high 21 homers, five more than he served up all of last year in only 7.2 fewer innings (175.1, as compared to 183 in 2013).

On the flip side, Strasburg leads the NL with 202 strikeouts.

He is an exceptionally hard worker. He cares. And the strikeouts tell you his stuff is still there.

Simply put, he is an ongoing example that this game is nearly impossible to tame, even by the uber-talented. Strasburg still has not lived up to the overwhelming hype that trumpeted his arrival back in 2010. But at 26, there is still time.

Heck, there's still time for him to tune things up enough this year to start Game 1.

 

8. To DH or Not to DH?

We all know the glory days of the designated hitter—way back when thumpers like Don Baylor, Chili Davis, Edgar Martinez and Brian Downing roamed the earth—have long since passed.

But check out the profile of a guy this summer whom you would think would be the perfect DH, Billy Butler.

As pointed out by stats guru Bill Chuck, in 93 games as a DH this year, Butler is hitting .261/.310/.336 with three homers and 35 RBI.

In 29 games as a first baseman, Butler is at .308/.351/.523 with five homers and 16 RBI.

Oh, and most important: Before July 20, Butler essentially was a full-time DH. Since he's moved to first base, the Royals had compiled baseball's best record at 24-8.

 

9. Cool Standings? You Bet

With September drawing near, a check at what used to be coolstandings.com and now is on the FanGraphs.com website:

The current division leader with the greatest probability of winning its division is the Nationals (at 98.9 percent), followed by the Dodgers (92.5), Orioles (89.5), A's (56.8) and Royals (46.5).

The NL Central? That’s the most fascinating division, according to the probabilities: The Brewers currently lead the Cardinals by 1.5 games…yet the Cardinals (48 percent) have a higher probability of winning the division than the Brewers (47.2).

According to FanGraphs' Cool Standings, nine teams can begin looking to next summer, with a zero percent chance at this year's wild-card slots: The Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Astros, Rangers, Phillies, Cubs, Diamondbacks and Rockies.

 

9a. Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Week

A prayer for Ferguson, Missouri, and for the greater good to be done throughout our land….

"Mother, mother

"There's too many of you crying

"Brother, brother, brother

"There's far too many of you dying

"You know we've got to find a way

"To bring some lovin' here today, ya

"Father, father

"We don't need to escalate

"You see, war is not the answer

"For only love can conquer hate

"You know we've got to find a way

"To bring some lovin' here today"

— Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On"

 

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

September Call-Ups: Ranking the Top 25 MLB Prospects Most Likely to Be Promoted

Even though a majority of the game's top prospects have already received promotions, teams will receive an infusion of fresh, young talent on Sept. 1 when the active roster expands from 25 to 40 players.

With roughly five weeks remaining in the regular season, expanding rosters will allow teams to address their needs at the major league level by essentially plucking specific talent from within their farm systems. In general, it's an opportunity for every organization to add bench and bullpen depth by utilizing its full 40-man roster.

In anticipation of what should be a flurry of promotions starting next Monday, we've got you covered with a look at the top prospects ticketed for the major leagues for the season's final month. The rankings for this article are based primarily on Prospect Pipeline's midseason top 50 update, though factors such as 2014 performances, 40-man roster status and teams' specific needs at the major league level were also considered.

Here are the top 25 prospects most likely to be called up on Sept. 1.

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In defence of idle students

Students graduating from university face huge debt, a difficult job market and declining starting salaries. Despite this, we shouldn’t allow education to become dominated by economics.

Students graduate from the University of Birmingham. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Students graduate from the University of Birmingham. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Another careers talk and the same advice: “Don’t worry too much about finding a job – there’s only so much you can do to prepare”. The group of students sit around, bemused. It’s our seventh talk in a series of meetings with successful employees as part of a student development programme. For each, the details of the story are different. But one over-riding factor is common to all of their advice. Each speaker proclaims that they just “fell into a job”.

This puzzles us. Having been lectured for years on the importance of qualifications, extra-curricular activities and work experience, we’d been raised on the belief that every choice we made as a student would have a direct impact on our career. Indeed, I'm still haunted by my secondary school careers talk, which came with the hideously cringe-worthy mantra “fail to prepare and prepare to fail”. So, you might expect that after years of stressing over internships and CVs, we undergraduates would be somewhat relieved to hear that finding a job was easier than the Battle Royale-style struggle we’d come to expect.

But rather than a revelation, a feeling of suspicion and resentment dominated. We shared an envy of a time where graduate’s degrees were widely respected, and sufficient to warrant a job.

Today, attitudes towards degrees are different; 47 per cent of graduates work in non-graduate jobs, while graduate unemployment remains worryingly high. To add to an already bleak outlook, average graduate starting salaries have decreased by 11 per cent in real terms over the past five years, and the burden of tuition fees means that 45 per cent of graduates will never earn enough to pay off their student loans.

Worse still, long before graduation, the race for most students has already begun. Over a third of graduate jobs are filled by students who had previously completed work experience, often unpaid, with the company, while other employers scrutinise application forms for substantial evidence that applicants have held positions of responsibility in university societies. Such intense competition has also changed our impression of academic results – without a 2:1, many employers won’t even consider a job application.

Students are well aware of this. Surveys suggest that we’re working harder (and partying less) than ever before, while research from Warwick University reveals that students are becoming increasingly career-focused. Indeed, the pressure of finding a career has entirely transformed the way that many view university. It’s not unfamiliar for roles in student societies to be advertised based on the “CV points” that one can garner by taking part. Student newspapers and campaigning groups, once powered by passion and enthusiasm, now seem driven predominately by students’ career ambitions.

Perhaps most troubling is the age from which students are faced with this pressure. One friend I spoke to recounted how his pastimes and interests during secondary school had been “invalidated” by teachers who encouraged their students to “fill every waking moment” with activities that could be referenced on an application form. Indeed, another friend noted that “even at the age of 13, I was doing activities based solely on how they would look on my CV”, which “stifled creativity and caused anxiety”. One undergraduate even went as far to describe how such a culture meant students were being “pressured to turn themselves into a product”.

These attitudes towards careers are perhaps most apparent in how students approach studying at university. One undergraduate commented how many of her peers had chosen a degree course based purely on graduate employment rates, even though “they admitted that they would’ve preferred to study something else”. This trend is further supported by academic research. A study from King’s College London found evidence of a “consumerist ethos” among students, considering the “financial value” of their economic “investment” in a degree.

Many of these attitudes are undoubtedly a result of the distinct political changes that have dominated higher education in recent years. With the raising of tuition fees came a new philosophy; one of marketisation and competition. Indeed, David Willetts, then Universities Minister, defended degrees as a “good investment”, while other members of the government boasted how the changes meant that students were scrutinising whether a degree provided value for money.

Yet we should be wary of such economic language and the fixation with financial benefit. The implication that a degree is “worth” investing in because of the associated increase in career earnings neglects a crucial aspect of university, and education more generally.

This might sound very abstract, perhaps even self-indulgent. Yet when speaking to anyone about their university experience, the clichés of “the best days of your life” and “maturing” as a person crop up so consistently that is hard to doubt that previous generations held a less career-dominated view of university. Higher education provides an immense opportunity for intellectual curiosity and self-reflection; a scarce chance to pursue interests regardless of whether they provide financial gain.

Such concepts are hard to quantify, but evidence exists in support of the importance of education for its own sake. Reading fiction, for example, has been shown to help develop empathy – one study even went as far as to demonstrate a relationship between reading habits and tolerance towards the LGBT community. Similarly, university is a hotbed of diverse ideas and is a great opportunity to meet students from an array of different backgrounds. It may be difficult to quantify these aspects of student life, but this isn’t to say that they’re worthless.

And it just about pretentious students “discovering themselves” – the student body’s freedom from career concerns and economic pressures has traditionally been of enormous benefit to society. Having propelled the feminist and LGBT movements at times when others showed only disinterest, we have much to thank idealistic students for. Similarly, the anti-apartheid campaign was accelerated by the student movement. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the world would be very different today had it not been for students who quite proudly, and slightly pompously, expressed a lack of concern towards their own career prospects.

It’s often argued that we live in a post-ideological age, that students are selfish and that student activism is dead. Yet, while it’s undoubtedly true that students are disillusioned with politicians (59 per cent of young people don’t plan to vote in the next general election), this anger shouldn’t be mistaken for apathy.

Likewise, the fear and anxiety students share regarding their future shouldn’t be confused with political indifference. You only need to consider the plethora of online student campaigns and e-petitions to realise that the student body still cares about activism and wider society. The difference is that when plagued with anxiety regarding our future, such incessant worry encourages us to structure our student experience with more self-interested, individualistic, activities in mind.

It might seem cynical to suggest that the government’s plan to increase tuition fees and entrap students in debt was to distract a powerful and conscientious group from political campaigning, yet such a claim doesn’t seem unreasonable. Regardless, it’s no surprise that students today are generally less forthcoming to protest considering the huge challenges we face upon graduation.

Maybe I’m idealising the past, or am too ready to believe a rose-tinted view of the university experience of decades ago. Perhaps I’m just scared about the prospect of having to find a job. But the culture of students constantly obsessing over the accumulation of “CV points” has left me thinking that university, the supposed “best days of our life,” should be about something more than preparing for a career.

Nonetheless, as I hear about my friend’s glamorous new internship, I’ll continue to apply to similar programmes, caught up in the same rush to acquire as much career experience as possible. Maybe, at least for the meantime, the self-fulfilling cycle of career anxieties and competition is here to stay.

Highlighting 5 Possible Last-Minute Impact MLB Waiver Deadline Steals

The bulk of trade activity around Major League Baseball goes down before the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but there is still time for players to be dealt in August and still make an impact on the stretch run and on into the postseason.

Teams will have until the end of the month to acquire players either via a waiver claim or a straight trade for someone who has already cleared waivers earlier this month.

The trade market is fairly thin at this point, but there are still a handful of players out there who could make a legitimate impact down the stretch.

Here is a look at five possible last-minute waiver trade candidates who could wind up being steals for a contender looking to improve its roster.

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Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Young Are Unsung Heroes of Mariners’ Rapid 2014 Rise

Felix Hernandez casts a long shadow over opposing batters and his teammates. So it goes when you're baseball royalty.

Two of King Felix's Seattle Mariners rotation-mates, though, deserve a moment in the sun.

Entering play Tuesday, the 71-59 Mariners hold a half-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the second wild-card spot, and unheralded hurlers Chris Young and Hisashi Iwakuma have more than pitched in.

Iwakuma, 33, made the All-Star team in 2013 but began this season on the disabled list with a torn tendon in his middle finger.

He's long since put the injury behind him and is in the midst of another stellar campaign. His 2.83 ERA and 0.98 WHIP would qualify for No. 1 status on most clubs.

In fact, as ESPN.com's Katie Sharp argues, the Japanese import is a de facto second ace:

It's hard to imagine where the Mariners would be without their dynamic duo of Iwakuma and Hernandez at the top of the rotation. The playoffs would certainly be a pipe dream. But thanks to the combination of baseball's most anonymous ace (Iwakuma) and most deserving ace (Hernandez), Seattle is now in prime position to give its fans something besides football to cheer about in October.

Here's another way of looking at how quietly dominant Iwakuma has been: He and Hernandez are on pace to become just the third duo in the live-ball era to finish the season with sub-1.00 WHIPs, per MLB.com's Roger Schlueter.

The other pairs? Derek Lowe and Pedro Martinez on the 2002 Boston Red Sox, and Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale on the 1964 Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pretty decent company.

Young, 35, is emerging as one of baseball's best comeback stories. Lingering shoulder issues that ultimately required surgery limited him to just nine minor league starts in the Washington Nationals system last season.

His 6.81 ERA in those minor league starts did not portend great things.

But after inking a one-year deal with Seattle this spring, the right-hander has bounced back in a big way. His 150.1 innings pitched speak to a pitcher who's healthy. And his 12-6 record and 3.17 ERA are pleasant surprises.

Pitching, indeed, has been Seattle's calling card. Thanks to a stable of quality arms—and to Safeco Field, the most pitcher-friendly yard in baseball, per ESPN.com—the M's are this season's most unexpected success story.

The bats can't be dismissed completely. Robinson Cano is living up to his 10-year, $240 million contract, and All-Star third baseman Kyle Seager has become a grind-it-out fan favorite.

The Mariners' improbable success, though, emanates from the mound. As of Monday, the M's own the best team ERA (2.95) and lowest opponents' batting average (.225) in MLB.

"We’ve got it all," catcher Mike Zunino told Jerry Brewer of The Seattle Times. "We have guys with great curveballs, great cutters, great sliders, guys with plus fastballs. We have the whole spectrum covered. To have that much talent, we can pretty much match up with any lineup."

Count manager Lloyd McClendon among the early believers. "I think we have shutdown pitching," McClendon told Brewer at the outset of spring training.

Still, Seattle's skipper recently admitted to Brewer, "I can't say I knew we'd be this good."

If the Mariners are going to keep being this good, and insert themselves squarely into the suddenly murky American League playoff picture, they'll need King Felix and his long shadow. 

Just as essentially, though, they'll need the guys laboring in relative anonymity. Guys like Young and Iwakuma, who might soon get a chance to shine under the bright lights of October.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Surging Yankees Keep Fighting Their Way Back into AL Postseason Picture

New York Yankees fans aren't easily impressed. This is the franchise that has won 27 World Series championships, more than twice as many as any other club. The franchise that spends more than anyone east of Chavez Ravine. The franchise of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth.

The pinstripe faithful expect greatness. So a distant second place in the American League East and a 2.5-game deficit in the wild-card race won't send champagne corks popping across the Big Apple.

For much of 2014, doom and gloom have reigned. Here's how Daniel Barbarisi of The Wall Street Journal summed things up on August 12, amid two straight losses to the division-leading Baltimore Orioles:

The 44 games remaining on the schedule represent a window closing, with each missed opportunity signaling a season that is slipping away. The Yankees talk about how important each game is to their quest to win the division, but this club is rapidly running out of time.

That sound you hear is a death knell reverberating through the Bronx.

There is reason for optimism, though.

With an 8-1 win over the Kansas City Royals Monday night, the Yankees moved to 68-61. Yes, they're still looking up at the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers in the scramble for the second wild card, and they trail Baltimore by six games in the AL East.

It was, however, the Bombers' fifth consecutive victory. For a team that has struggled to find consistency all season, that feels like a little headway.

Starting pitcher Michael Pineda continued his march down the comeback trail Monday, allowing one earned run in 6.1 innings and lowering his ERA to 1.95. 

Pineda was suspended in April for "possessing a foreign substance"—he admitted to putting pine tar on his neck, per MLB.com's Bryan Hoch—and then landed on the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder injury.

Since returning August 13, the big right-hander has tossed 17.1 solid innings in three starts and helped stabilize New York's rotation. Two of those games ended in losses, but Pineda was not to blame, what with his 2.08 ERA and 12-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks (not to mention two no-decisions).

"He's got so much cut on his fastball, I feel like he could throw that every pitch and be very successful," catcher Brian McCann said after Monday's win, per ESPNNewYork.com's Douglas Tucker. "And a wipeout slider and a really good changeup. When he's on, he's tough." 

The same could be said for other Yankees.

Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who left the rival Boston Red Sox to ink a seven-year, $153 million deal with New York, has had a serviceable but unspectacular season. On Monday, he connected for his 11th home run and drove in three with three hits, hiking his average to .280.

Ichiro Suzuki also showed flashes of his former self, going 2-for-4.

And Derek Jeter, in the midst of his farewell tour, collected two RBI and a standing ovation from the Kauffman Stadium crowd. It was an unusual goodbye—the game was a one-off makeup for a June rainout—but a goodbye nonetheless.

Jeter's swan song has been the backdrop all season for the Yankees and their fans, who want desperately to send The Captain out on a high note.

Of course, simply squeaking into the playoffs wouldn't be nearly enough, not by the Yankees' (or Jeter's) standards. And even that will be an uphill battle in the murky, ever-shifting American League.

There is good news on the horizon: Imported ace Masahiro Tanaka, who hasn't pitched since July 8 because of a tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament, could face live hitters as soon as Saturday, per the New York Post's George A. King III.  

The Yankees have a slightly less arduous remaining schedule than the Mariners and Tigers, per ESPN.com. And Baltimore, still reeling from the loss of third baseman Manny Machado, have the third-toughest road ahead in baseball.

If Tanaka can muster a dramatic re-entrance and New York can keep its mojo going over the month of September, anything is possible. 

Unless that "anything" results in another Commissioner's Trophy, though, don't expect Yankees fans to be impressed—or the bubbly to be flowing.

 

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Los Angeles Dodgers: An Early Free Agency and Offseason Primer

Hanley Ramirez headlines the Los Angeles Dodgers’ approach to the offseason, but he is far from the only point of curiosity. An outfield logjam loaded with big league regulars and a top-heavy pitching staff that all of a sudden needs help only add to the list of issues Ned Colletti must sort out before the 2015 season begins.

A farm system that has stalled since the class of 2006-08, which featured Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and others no longer with the team, is finally on the verge of bearing fruit again, and Colletti must find a way to successfully integrate young, talented and cost-controlled players into a team whose obscene payroll ($172 million already committed to next year) needs to be curtailed if the organization wishes to develop a sustainable model for success.

It is for this reason that the decision facing the Dodgers’ front office about Hanley Ramirez is by far the most interesting and important one. Either choice plays a huge role in the Dodgers’ next several years: If Ramirez is re-signed to a long-term deal, the 2015 team will likely look quite similar to this one. But in 2016, when Juan Uribe’s contract expires, elite prospect Corey Seager should (hopefully) be ready to step in on the left side of the infield and shift Ramirez to third base. While this is obviously an ideal situation in a perfect world, Ramirez has a history of resisting the move from shortstop as well as a rather lengthy list of recent injuries.

The alternative is to let Ramirez walk this offseason, sign a stopgap shortstop and then hope. They must hope for two things: Seager continues to develop as projected starter and can be a big league shortstop in the next couple years, and Uribe can continue to stave off Father Time and be a productive third baseman.

The first option is the path of least resistance. The Dodgers are clearly swimming in cash, so signing Ramirez likely would not considerably hamper their financial situation in the long run. Additionally, the memories of Ramirez as a world-beater when healthy in 2013 have still not entirely faded—re-signing him is a high-upside play, at least in the short term.

Where that plan would get tricky is in the later years. If the Dodgers invest a lot of money in Ramirez and count on him to play third base but he continues to get hurt, they will be hamstrung. They won’t be able to simply go get someone new because Ramirez will still be on the roster, but they also won’t be able to ink him into the lineup on a daily basis.

Colletti has to make a very difficult decision, and it is one that I do not envy. Either road, though, is dependent on the development of Corey Seager, and that takes us conveniently to the player he’s been linked with all season: Joc Pederson.

Pederson himself is an interesting case because his performance long ago earned him a promotion to the big leagues. He is making a run at 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League, something that has not occurred since 1934. As touched on in the True Blue LA post, it’s not as if the PCL is a particularly difficult place to go 30 and 30. Instead, players with the talent to do so are normally called up to the majors before they get the chance to reach those numbers.

The Dodgers’ 2014 outfield, though, was a special case. With three outfielders making $18 million or more and not one of those three being named Yasiel Puig, there were simply too many players for not enough spots. That was complicated further when Pederson hit the cover off the ball in Triple-A, as instead of three (or four, depending on your opinion of Scott Van Slyke) players fighting for two spots, there were four.

Coming into the season, the Dodgers expected to have a crowded roster. Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig are each talented enough to start, but—obviously—there can only be three starting outfielders. Prior to 2014, the Dodgers could delude themselves into thinking the problem would sort itself out: Since the trade in 2012, at least one of the four had been injured. Crawford missed the rest of the year after the trade, and Kemp played just 73 games last season.

Now, though, the Dodgers have had all four healthy for much of the last month and a half—ever since Crawford returned from the DL on July 10. And while manager Don Mattingly has settled on a lineup he prefers, it is a less-than-desirable outcome that has outfielder Andre Ethier (and his $18 million salary) consistently on the bench.

This offseason provides another opportunity for Colletti to sort out the problem. As with the Ramirez situation, there is likely no easy answer. Neither Crawford nor Ethier has much value, be it in a trade or on the field, and their contracts are massive. If they were easily traded, such a deal would probably already have occurred. However, a move is more necessary than ever. Scott Van Slyke has demonstrated that he can be a competent fourth outfielder, and Pederson deserves an opportunity.

The final large hurdle Colletti will have to handle this offseason is pitching. The bullpen’s struggles are well-known, but relievers are easily found and developed cheaply. It is the rotation that looks problematic. We are not far removed from a starting five that appeared to be an embarrassment of riches: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu led a rotation that was getting a surprise performance from Josh Beckett (ERA under 3 through June) and Dan Haren (ERA under 3 in April).

Now, though, questions abound. Haren has struggled mightily, as he has posted ERAs over 4.00 in each successive month. Beckett is currently on the disabled list, as is Ryu. Greinke is dealing with a sore elbow. While it is unlikely that all of those problems will persist through next year—particularly Ryu’s strained glute—the Dodgers certainly are lacking in depth. And Colletti will have to address that need, whether it be through continued development from internal options such as Zach Lee and Chris Reed or through external additions in trade or free agency.

With the talent currently on the roster and in the high minors, the Dodgers are certainly in a good position. However, their ultimate goal is to be a World Series contender every year, and the decisions Ned Colletti makes will go a long way towards determining both the short-term and long-term health of the organization.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Leather Beer Caddy For Bikes

beer-caddy

Making a beer run in the middle of the party can get annoying, but not so with the Fyxation Leather Bicycle Carrier. Instead of stuffing that six-pack in your backpack or bringing it back (gasp!) in your hands, just put the beers in this cool-looking brown leather carrier. It’ll fit right beneath your top post, making it super convenient. Ok… we’re sure some of you will complain that you have to take the extra step to remove each beer from its box and individually insert it in this carrier. It’s true… but just look at it! If you don’t have a backpack, this is still the superior option.

But hey, if you’ve been drinking, maybe it’s better to walk after all? Cycling while intoxicating is no better than driving, so be safe.

The caddy will cost you $57, from Amazon.

[ Product Page ] VIA [ Technabob ]

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