PROGRAMMING NOTE: My brother Andrew and I are now hosting "Blue Notes- A Dodgers Blog" for the LA Times.com. If you’re a Dodgers fan, or just want the lowdown on an NL West contender, check out dodgerblog.typepad.com, or just hit the LA Times website (www.latimes.com) and click on Blue Notes.
Just for giggles, for today’s post I’m going to "live blog" my way through the 5.9 episode of "Bonds on Bonds." This should be fun. The experiment is off to a great start already, considering the final item on the Sportscenter lead in said that if baseball and the MLBPA don’t agree on a labor agreement before the first of August, the union can revert back to the ’05 "Pretty Please Don’t Use Steroids" policy and penalties. That ought to be just the juice Barry needs to get that knee right (ha!).
I’m going to try and type the whole way through, without stopping the tape or rewinding.
And with that, I press play on the DVR, and we have…
Fuzzy shaky cam shots of "The Babe". Searing guitars. Barry pleading with us to let history happen, and then we’ll talk about it. Then reminding us that we can love or hate the guy, and it "don’t make no difference to me." God bless Kobe’s Nike commercial for providing Barry with material for this week. Maybe he’ll clone himself like those LeBron commercial for May sweeps. That should be fun.
"There are certain parts of my career that I want to give to the Hall of Fame, there are parts that I want to keep…" Balls, they get. Bats they get. A supply of helmets steadily increasing in size? Those he may want to keep. All the flaxseed oil? That definitely stays in house. He talks about how his stuff is now capable of being a lottery ticket for those who can get their hands on it. Especially the homers. That’s actually true. But this Warehouse of Barry we enter, filled with boxes of uniforms and game worn hats (again, didn’t see if they were sorted by size), tapes, bats, and other stuff. Barry says he’ll figure out what to do with it when he retires. Right now, it’s a museum to himself. Appropriate for one of today’s more self centered athletes.
The Victor Conte ad: We’ve reached the portion of the show I like to call, "Barry Spins!" Why did he do the ad for Victor? Because Conte gave protein shakes to Bobby Bonds when he was sick. I believe that, and I’m sure he was very nice. Still doesn’t explain the whole cream and clear thing.
Now we have Danny Glover! That guy still looks good! Like he could put together another three or four Lethal Weapon films. He’s here to talk about race so Barry doesn’t have to. He says that "this" (I’m assuming he means the MLB steroid investigation) is about being an attack on Barry. I don’t disagree that he’s at the center of it, but it might have something to do, maybe, perhaps, call me crazy, with all the steroid tainted homers he’s hit. One interesting thing about the race issue- it would be worth finding out if disliking Barry Bonds seems to be one thing we as a human family can all agree on. Good thing Barry has this show to present his side of the story!
I remember in the first commercial I saw for the show, he said, "There’s nobody better to hear it from then me," or something like that. Still on the fence on that one…
Back from commercial, and we’re in Milwaukee! Home of Hank Aaron. Methinks they’re a little protective of Henry’s legacy up there. Didn’t sound like he got such a good reception, and that’s from fans who have Billy Brewer to entertain them. They’re predisposed to happiness. Now we have more shots of Barry laughing and having fun, clowning in the dugout looking like just another one of the guys. The biggest problem with this show is from Day 1, or 1 A.B.I.D. (that’s After Barry In Drag) everything he does has seemed so calculated to make us like him, like he’s running for student council president or something.
Barry just got hit by the batting cage. That *****, I’ll give him that. Nobody should get hit in the head with anything. To show how that my feelings about this issue are legit, I will ignore the obvious joke about the size of the target found by the ball. That night, he didn’t get to first base for the first time all year. Pretty impressive for a guy in a hitting slump. Now we learn about how Barry doesn’t do this, or doesn’t do that, or never does this, or never does that, but he’s being pushed into it, and woe is me, and how all the attention is grinding him down. Keep in mind, I see all this watching his reality television show.
I would love to know if this show is helping or hurting him. I’d also love to see what’s on the cutting room floor.
Barry is complaining that more talented guys than him stay under the radar, but he can’t. He "can’t get back under" that radar. Again, an opportunity to make a cheap head size joke that I’m going to pass up. He’s heading to Philly, which is very exciting television. Will they boo him? Will they? Tough call there. Barry doesn’t care. He’s gonna get a cheesesteak and chill out. And hang out with Mike Schmidt! And complain again about how other guys get to have fun in baseball but he doesn’t. Or how sometimes twenty mil isn’t so great, because of all the headaches that come with it.
Are you kidding me? He acts as if the public just pulled his name out of a hat, as if the other outlet for our collective ire was Brett Tomko or Angel Berroa. he doesn’t have anything to do with his situation? Of course, according to him, he didn’t have to put himself through this, because he could have chosen to not hit so many homers. Instead he decided he wanted to be like Mays, Aaron, and Ruth. The woe-is-me meter in my apartment is about to explode. Again, he’s complaining about the attention he’s getting on his own freakin’ reality show!
And we cap the show with 713, the massive homer off the McDonald’s sign at Philly. "755 is reachable if Barry Bonds gets back into his character," says Bonds.
I’m not sure what that means, but at least he didn’t call himself "Starbury."
Can’t wait to tune in next week.
(Welcome to my first post of the year. I plan to keep the blog updated around once a week, so check back when you can)
Yes, I know that games played in April count. I know each game won early is one that doesn’t have to be won late. I think teams can’t afford to give away games right now with the idea that they can be made up later, because it may not be true. People have purchased real tickets for real games and players should play hard.
I just don’t think the standings should be in the paper until May 1, at the earliest. Why? Because while the games are important right now, where teams are in the standings generally isn’t. Are we really going to read too much into the fact that Tampa Bay, at 7-6, is just a game and a half out of first? Or that the Reds are just a single game behind the Brewers in the NL Central? Or that the Angles and Oakland have barely managed to play .500 ball?
The problem, of course, with printing the standings is that it forces us to do discuss those very things when everyone knows that come August, the Reds will have given up 8,281 home runs and buried themselves, the Devil Rays won’t be 1.5 games out of first*, and the A’s and Angels will be among the elite teams in baseball.
*Although I will go out on a limb and say this will be the year they don’t lose 90+.
The only exception, of course, is with the Royals. Their fans (who at this point either deserve medals for their faith and devotion to the team or forced commitment to a mental institution for the same reason) should take every opportunity to enjoy being 4.5 games out of first as of Monday, because we all know that number is only going to get bigger. Really, how can a major league baseball team have nobody on their roster that would get drafted in the first five rounds of a deep fantasy league? Even the Marlins have two in Willis and Cabrera. (Maybe, maybe, maybe with KC you take a stab at Sweeney, but considering he’s the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Fraternal Order of the Frequently Injured, I’m thinking later rounds are more appropriate.) The other caveat, of course, is the NL West, where every team is so deeply flawed that you can actually construct believable championship scenarios for every team based on today’s standings, including Colorado. It helps that the division king may not need to win more than 85 games, but hey, a pennant is a pennant, right?
On the other side of the standings coin are early season statistics. Those I love, mostly for the outrageous projections you get to make. For example, Detroit’s Chris Shelton, leading the AL in homers, is currently on pace for 112 of them after his dinger Monday afternoon against Cleveland. Plus, he’s batting .471 and has 18 RBIs. Who knows what will happen for the rest of the year, but he’s currently stalking April’s AL Player of the Month like a hungry panther after a wounded deer. Kind of makes you weepy for Tuffy Rhodes, circa ’94.
And I love the randoms that pop up in significant statistical categories (again, Chris Shelton is currently on pace for 112 home runs). How about your MLB wins leader… Oscar Villareal! How about Casey Blake (career .259) sitting sixth in the AL at .447. Of course you predicted Garrett Atkins would be leading the NL in hitting. Who else would you pick? Albert Pujols? Yeah, he may be on pace for 108 homers of his own, along with about 230 RBIs (tough to maintain, even for him), but he’s no Garrett Atkins. By the way, G.A. is also tied for the NL lead in doubles. Sure, plenty of guys who you’d expect to see (Pujols, Berkman, Ensberg, Wright, Jones, Guerrero, etc.) are right up there as well, but we have all year to praise them. They shouldn’t get all hoggy with the spotlight.
The sad thing is that each game makes the stats a little less outrageous and the standings slightly more meaningful, but while water inevitably seeks its own level, not all water is created equal. So around June 1, it’s still a little early to be making major predictions regarding division and wild card winners, but most of the early season statistical surprises will have leveled off. At that point you have to find other sources of fun. You know, like the actual games.
An early season word on the Cardinals….
I missed out on making a preseason prediction on this site for the Cardinals and the NL Central in general. Here’s the Cliffs Notes version:
Cardinals- Division winner, get back to the World Series (less a reflection on them, more on a weakened league).
Standings for the NL Central, full of solid teams, not spectacular ones, but still one of baseball’s most balanced, to the point where teams 2-4 could all switch places:
1. Cardinals- still too much offense and top end pitching. The defense stays solid, the closer remains indigestion inducing but effective. If the relief pitching holds and injuries aren’t a big issue (hello, Jim Edmonds!) they should win 95 games.
2. Astros- Oswalt, Pettitte, Lidge. That’s a good start. And the lineup, with Preston Wilson taking shots at the short left field porch, a healthy Lance Berkman, and an emerging Morgan Ensberg will be better than last season. Still, without Clemens, they just don’t have enough star power to compete.
3. Brewers- They’ll win more than they lose, and if everything goes well, could even approach 90 wins and a wild card birth. But I’m not buying it just yet. Last year, they snuck up on people. This year, everyone’s watching. Hardy, Weeks, and Fielder need one more year. Still the pitching staff is strong, so the postseason isn’t out of the question.
4. Cubs- If you could guarantee Wood and Prior would be active for 300 games between them, the Cubs would rank higher. I don’t see it happening.
5. Pirates- Covering games in LA means I had the opportunity to become familiar with new manager Jim Tracy, and I think he’s perfect for them. Solid young talent on the field (Bay) and the mound (Duke) make them a good bet to improve on last year’s 67-95 record.
6. Reds- The pitching staff *****, the lineup will break down, and they don’t catch the ball very well. What’s to like?
Back to the Redbirds…
The St. Louis media was about as rough as they get on ownership this winter, saying they didn’t do enough to improve the team, and should have spent more money. While I agree that this year’s Cardinals are not as strong on paper as last year’s version, I just don’t agree. I think Walt and the Gang did what they should have. They made an offer for A.J. Burnett, as big as any they’ve ever made for a pitcher. Too big, in my estimation, for a guy who’s never healthy and where the premium is on potential and stuff, not results. What the Jays gave him was nuts. People threw around Brian Giles as a stopgap in the outfield. Except, like Burnett, he’s always hurt and costs a ton. I wanted them to shore up the outfield as much as anyone, perhaps by trading Marquis. But assuming Johnny Damon wasn’t an option- even with a new stadium, he’s probably out of the budget- who else was around? Juan Encarnacion strikes out too much, sure, but he’ll hit 25 home runs, drive in 85, and play a decent right field.
They still have holes in the bullpen, the bench (though that seems to work itself out every year) and both long and short term in the outfield (get well soon, Jim Edmonds!). I would have liked to see them keep Reggie Sanders. But for a team like the Cardinals, the worst thing they can do is pay for reputation and get locked into bad contracts. The temptation is always there to get what you can when you can, but it’s a mistake to overpay for certain players just because a thin market in a given winter sets the bar too high.
If, come July and August, ownership won’t step up to strengthen the team, then fans and media alike have every right to complain. Thus far, their track record is pretty good. I would have loved for the Cards to get stronger this offseason, but how? They can’t afford to give away what top prospects they have, and other than Marquis, the roster doesn’t have many chips other teams would want in a trade. At least not anything they can actually have, that is.
So in the end, we’ll all have to wait to see how this year plays out and how ownership responds. Right now it’s unfair, even with the new stadium revenue, to call them cheap or greedy. Six months from now? Who’s to say? But I’d put my money on the Cardinals going out and getting what they need. They’re obligated to spend some of the windfall from the new park, no question. But there’s no rule that says they had to spend it last winter.
It was tough to take. I needed the month+ break from baseball blogging to regroup, after allowing myself to believe that the Redbirds would come back from a 3-1 deficit against the strongest starting staff the NL had to offer. Ultra dramatic 9th inning tape measure home runs will do that to a guy.
I had to get away. Or at least I thought I did. What I really needed, though, was some good news. And today it came…
The Cardinals have signed Dennis Tankersley.
Just kidding. Actually, my glee goes well beyond the hot stove. Yeah, the Cardinals look like they’re part of the herd willing to overpay for A.J. Burnett (Really on the fence on this one- he’ll want, and probably get, a 5 year deal. Too much for a guy who has had injury issues already in his career?). Or that they’re not going to toss a throw rug over a hole in the floor by signing aging and fragile Brian Giles to roam the outfield. Or the fact that while I was back home for the holiday, I saw the new stadium, and it looks really freakin’ cool.
No, my happiness comes from this simple fact…
Somebody, somewhere, can vote Willie McGee into the Hall of Fame.
Now, I don’t want to get into stupid, "Brian, Willie McGee doesn’t have the stats to get into the Hall of Fame," discussions. Don’t bog me down with, "If any outfielder is getting in this season, it should be Jim Rice," because I don’t want to hear it (primarily because if only one outfielder gets in, it should be Andre Dawson, who was Vlad Guerrero before Vlad Guerrero existed). No, instead focus on the incredible catches he made as a rookie in the ’82 Series to help lead the Cards to their last World Series title. Or his 3 gold gloves, 2 batting titles, and 1 MVP. Or his own line of delicious soft batch cookies.
Focus on the fact that even when McGwire mania was juicing up St. Louis (yes, I used "juiced" intentionally, in a commentary all at once scathing and biting…), if Big Mac and Willie both ran for mayor, McGee would have smoked him. Honestly, during the mid-80s and his triumphant return to St. Louis from ’96-99, Willie could have gone on a six day crack bender, shot up a post office, and mugged a dozen old women and still been the most popular guy on the team. And no, I’m not forgetting Rod Booker.
I mean, would it be a total joke to let in McGee? The dude did play 18 seasons. He did make 4 All Star Teams, had over 2,200 hits, and exceeded 350 stolen bases. If it weren’t for Don Denkinger and that stupid white roof in Minnesota, McGee would have 3 rings. Can’t we just let Willie be that guy who when families visit Cooperstown, they leave saying, "Willie McGee is in the Hall of Fame?"
My brother and I would always comment on how sad Willie looked when he struck out. It really got to us. He just looked so depressed. You know what would make the guy happy?
How ’bout a bronze bust in a certain New York museum? At the very least, it would drive up attendance from St. Louis.
That’s the word that best describes the Cardinals and how their season ended this week. You could see the cracks forming, just as they did last postseason when Carpenter got hurt. Reyes goes down before the playoffs. Then Nunez goes down, forcing John Mabry and Hector Luna into duty at 3rd and thinning the bench. Sanders dings himself on one of the strangest plays I’ll ever see.
And as bad as Phil Cuzzi was behind home plate in Game 4, and I don’t think we need to spend time debating he was awful, the Cardinals melted down in ways Houston didn’t. They seemed tight, as if the weight of being the National League’s best team all year finally began to bring them down. That same unrelenting focus and professionalism that allowed the team to stay on target during the season made it hard to loosen up and play when the pressure began to increase. I’ve heard from a few sources that they’re one of the most boring teams to cover, not because they don’t play good ball or aren’t good people. They do and they are. It’s just they are so focused, they don’t give media types much to discuss beyond baseball x’s and o’s.
I could feel the Cardinal Nation tightening up with them. We’re not quite the Cubs, where we expect bad things to happen, but 1982 is starting to feel like a very, very long time ago, and the city is growing desperate for another World Series Championship. That this was the last year in Busch would have made it all the more special. People wanted it bad.
The game is all about timing. 162 regular season games, plus playoffs. There’s a lot of ebb and flow. In the 2nd half of the season, there weren’t a lot of teams playing better baseball than Houston, including the Cardinals. Don’t forget, Houston ended up where they did coming back from 15 games under .500. You can make a solid argument that the Cardinals weren’t the better team in that series. Over the long haul, yes. At that moment, no. Play that series 10 times, maybe the Cards win 6? 4? Who knows?
The length of a baseball season is what makes it so frustrating, so numbing, and so incredible all at once. As a fan, you invest so much of your time and energy into your team, and for a sustained period of time. The same slow quality that makes games in April boring makes them incredibly tension filled in October. If Albert Pujols had taken Brad Lidge deep in June to win a game, would we even remember? Instead, that game will go down as one of the most incredible scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
Then the season’s over, and all that tension and excitement goes away.
Now it’s time to figure out what they need. Something has to be done to replace an aging outfield. Larry Walker is ending a distinguished career. Jim Edmonds is closer to the end than the beginning, as is Reggie Sanders (though I would try to resign him for another year, maybe two if the price were right). They need at least one more power arm in the rotation, and another in the pen. The core of the team is quite good, and save Edmonds, actually fairly young. Molina. Pujols. Eckstein. Mulder. Carpenter. Izzy. Rolen. All have some or many years of good baseball left. Walt Jocketty will go find some pieces in the offseason, and fill in the gaps.
But it might be time to sacrifice winning the marathon regular season to construct a team that can win the sprint of the postseason.
Fire up your hot stoves.
NLCS people!!! Who’s gonna win (not who do I want to win, but who’s gonna win… and I have very defendable reasons for believing they are the same thing).
To quote the immortal Hammer, Break it down!
STARTING PITCHING: Conventional wisdom says this is the place where the Astros can dominate and take a series. Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, and Roger Clemens will go in Games 1-3. That’s pretty intimidating. Pettitte ate up the Cardinals this season, and has been one of baseball’s most stealthily dominant starters. But the Redbirds have handled Oswalt in ’05, and despite Clemens’ celebrated relief appearance (I was impressed, but can we stop praising a pitcher for putting down a bunt? If he weren’t a 42 year old HOF’er, nobody would care) he’s been hit hard over the last month or so.
As for the Cardinals, they beat Houston last year without Carpenter and Mulder, who seems to have recovered from the shot to the shot to the arm he took against San Diego. Both of those guys are capable of dominating games in the same manner as any of Houston’s Big Three, while Morris and Suppan are certainly capable. The advantage goes to Houston, but not as big as it needs to be.
OFFENSE: Not even close. Top to bottom, the Cardinals outhit the Astros. Houston has nobody better in their lineup than Pujols… not that anyone does, but with Walker and Sanders hitting well, Eckstein at the top, and Edmonds in the middle, Houston is at a serious disadvantage. Not that they’re as weak as they were at the beginning of the year- Ensberg, Berkman, Lane, and Biggio provide a little sock, while Taveras sets the table nicely- they’re not equipped to put up runs with St. Louis. More than that, the Cardinals can score in ways Houston can’t, "big ball" or "small ball," or all the balls in between.
RELIEF PITCHING: The numbers say that Lidge and Izzy are comparable, and I buy it, although St. Louis’ closer certainly is more likely to give fans a coronary. But he’s also better rested. The big advantage for Houston is in the guys that get the ball to Lidge. The Reyes injury really hurt St. Louis. If Houston chases the St. Louis starters early, the Cards could be in trouble. Especially from the left side, because of Ray King’s ineffectiveness.
INTANGABLES: The Cards run the bases better, they are dependable in catching the ball. Houston does both of those things well, but in the end, there’s a reason the Cardinals were the best team in the league this year. They are solid, versatile, and so focused it’s scary. Houston is on a roll, played well to get into the playoffs, and has veterans like Bagwell, Biggio, and Clemens that know how to get the job done. I just don’t think they will.
Cardinals in six.
So I got my wish.
No more (Red) Sox. No more Yankees. Now it’s time to see if the larger baseball universe (i.e. media types and those who think the world revolves around east coast baseball) care about what’s left. Tonight, assuming they were watching, they would have caught a great game. A great game from Paul Byrd, pitching on 7 hours of rest in front of Jarrod Washburn in Game 2, who might be so sick he’ll have to lug an I.V. to the mound. Meanwhile, Jose Contreras, Yankee castoff, pitched his heart out to help keep the White Sox in the game.
Of course, they weren’t watching, because the Sox and Yankees weren’t in it. It’s time to pour over their rosters, figure out who stays and who goes, and wait for George Steinbrenner to stab Brian Cashman in the face with a fork. In the meantime, if they happen to catch a game flipping through the channels, all the better.
Back to the game….
Joe Buck and Tim McCarver went on at length about Scott Podsednik’s inability to get down a bunt in the 8th (heck, even Roger Clemens got the job done). Maybe I’ve been reading too much Moneyball, but I wouldn’t have had Podsednik sacrificing to begin with. I just don’t believe in giving up outs. Uribe’s on first, he runs well, and Podsednik can fly. If you really need a bunt, why not have him drop one down for a hit? Or hit and run? Put a little pressure on the Angels D by having them move around. If Podsednik puts the ball on the ground, he’s tough to double up, and can steal 2nd if he hits into a fielder’s choice.
Outs are a precious commodity. It seems counterproductive to give them up. And if Uribe couldn’t get to 3rd on Jermaine Dye’s flair, would he have made it home? Hard to say. Maybe in this case it would have worked, but more and more, the sacrifice bunt seems to be a part of baseball orthodoxy that doesn’t make sense to me.
(NOTE: I’m talking here about bunting with a man on first, moving him over to second with one out. Moving a guy to third with one out, where virtually any ball in play with one out scores the run, makes perfect sense to me. And obviously, if you’re pitcher is up and he’s not named Marquis or Dontrelle, go ahead and bunt.)
Still, if Ozzie wanted a sacrifice, there’s no good reason Podsednik shouldn’t have put the bunt down. After all, Roger Clemens managed to get it done.
COMING UP: Do I think the Cardinals can pull it out against Houston? It’s no secret what I hope happens… but as a passionless, cold media type, I have to study the matchups, engage in precise analysis, and deliver an honest opinion. (Check back to see why I think the Cards will take it in six… I couldn’t wait).
Go ahead. Accuse me of being small. Petty. Vindictive. I can take it. But I don’t want the Red Sox to advance any farther in this year’s playoffs than the NLDS, and it has absolutely nothing to do with a lingering anger over last year’s World Series (I’m a Cardinals guy, for those who might be new to the sight) debacle. Honestly, it was all over so fast last October that I really didn’t get the chance to get emotionally invested in the whole process. No, I want the Red Sox out early- and the Yanks to follow them into winter vacation- for one reason.
When New York and Boston play, the entire baseball world must be adjusted accordingly, at least in the minds of television execs. That means the Cardinals have been scheduled to play games 1 and 2 against San Diego at 1 and 4 pm EDT. If I were the kind of person who had a day job that required me to get to an office (and thank god I’m not), that would be a serious drag. Maybe that’s just a scheduling quirk, and when the Cards head to San Diego, they’ll play at night. But I doubt it. Not if Fox can put a Yankee game on in prime time.
And lord help us all if they get to play each other. I have an enormous respect for baseball tradition. I love rivalries as much as the next guy, and think I appreciate the significance of Boston-NY as much as anyone not from either city. But if they meet in the ALCS, it wouldn’t surprise me if they showed highlights of their games during the NL matchup, assuming they go every other night. Or maybe just cancel the NL, so we can follow Manny and Big Papi around the batting cages or in the training room on their off day. I’m sure if Fox and ESPN had their way, they’d figure out a way to cancel the NL, and let Boston and New York play for the Series.
Was I the only one who was incredibly annoyed at ESPN’s coverage of the weekend series? I understood that the network stuck with the Sox and Yanks through the conclusion. With Boston’s bullpen trouble, I wouldn’t cut away from a 5-3 lead in the 9th, either. But if memory serves, once the game was over the BBTN crew launched into analysis and highlights of that game before they even updated the three other incredibly significant games going on. No highlights? Fine. There are rules about that sort of thing, I think. But at least give me a score. Cut away and tell me what’s going on, then recap the game that 99% of the people tuned in just finished watching and presumably remember.
Call it sacrilige, but the world of baseball is bigger than New York and Boston. There, I’ve said it.
Onto my fearless postseason predictions:
New York vs. Los Angeles: Despite the "Unit-might-pitch-twice-in-a-short-series" factor, the incredible run of Aaron Small, and the success of Shawn Chacon, I’ll take the incredible consistency of Colon, Lackey, Byrd, and Washburn. Mussina isn’t pitching well enough. If the Halos hit at all, they’ll win. We deserve another "Winter of Angry George Steinbrenner." Maybe this’ll be the year he actually tries to toss Brian Cashman out a window for not signing a middle reliever than ends up on Boston.
ANGELS IN FOUR (By the way, every time I’ve written off New York, they win, so this probably guarantees they’ll win the Series. Sorry.)
ChiSox vs. BoSox: Tough to call. Both teams struggle in the pen. Boston can put up more runs, no question, but I’d like to like Chicago’s starting staff more, but I was wrong about the way Schilling and Wells would perform last weekend. If they can keep it up, there’s no reason they won’t match up well with Contreras, Garland, Buhrle and Co. In the end, Chicago has no Ramirez and Ortiz in their lineup. Guys that scare you out of your shoes, and change games just by batting 4 times a night. Plus, Chicago hasn’t won a championship since players routinely had nicknames like "Red Leg" and "Half Face." The make Boston look like, well, New York in comparison.
BOSTON IN FIVE
Cardinals vs Padres: Jake Peavy scares me, but very little else about San Diego does. But in a short series, two dominant Peavy performances could be enough. The back end of their pen is solid. But there’s a reason they were only a .500 team in the NL West. It’s because they’re not very good. Everything in this series that scares me comes from the Cards. The Reyes injury hurts, since Ray King has been unreliable. The starters are slumping at the wrong time, and at some point guys like Abraham Nunez have to hit the wall. But I don’t think it’ll be here. Walker and Sanders are back and rested, providing plenty of protection for King Albert in the 3 spot.
CARDINALS IN FOUR
Atlanta vs. Houston: If Oswalt, Pettitte and Clemens dominate, the ‘Stros will win. If they don’t, they won’t. I don’t think all three will come through. John Smoltz has been begging for this moment- to start in the playoffs- since they made him a closer. Hudson is solid behind him. If Jones, Jones, and Co. can crack one of Houston’s Big Three, I think that’s enough.
ATLANTA IN FIVE
First things first. You may be aware that Devil Rays 2B is putting the finishing touches on an excellent season. Then again, you may not, as Cantu is the 2nd baseman on the Devil Rays and really, nobody pays attention to them. But outside perhaps of Jeff Kent, no second sacker in the league has been better offensively than Cantu. While you (and I) weren’t paying attention, he’s managed to pile up 28 homes, 115 RBI, a .289 BA, .503 SLG, and .803 OPS. The only real knock against him is his 18 walks translate into a .313 OBP. Not quite Christian Guzman, but still that number should be higher. To think these guys were planning on playing Robbie Alomar at the beginning of the year.
Add Cantu to Carl Crawford, Scott Kazmir, Jonny Gomes, Joey Gathright, Justin Upton, Delmon Young, a returning Rocco Baldelli, a great trade chip in Aubrey Huff, and Mark Hendrickson (every baseball team needs a guy who can dunk), and the Devil Rays have a bright future, evidenced by their 2nd half performance. Of course, we all said the same thing going into this season, after the Rays had a good 2nd half in ’04.
Other guys who have had great years that have flown under the radar: Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday for Colorado, Bill Hall for Milwaukee, Oakland’s Mark Ellis and Dan Johnson. Jessie Crain has been incredible for the Twins, Solomon Torres has been very effective out of the bullpen for Pittsburgh, and Arizona’s Chad Tracy. There are plenty of others, especially on bad teams. It’s another post for another day.
NL WEST UPDATE: I’d congratulate the Padres for nearly clinching the division, but I don’t think anything that comes out of there deserves praise.
AL WEST UPDATE: I love the Angels. While they started the season with more talent than the Dodgers, and by all rights should be where they are, comparing the two LA teams is like night and day. The Angels have dealt with injuries and ineffectiveness from stars (hello, Steve Finley), yet kept it together. They watched the A’s catch them, but instead of folding, they kept playing. I’m a huge fan of Dodgers manager Jim Tracy, but the Angels under Mike Scioscia have played much like the Cardinals this season (or the Dodgers last year). No matter what happens, it’s the team on the field that has to perform. No excuses. The Dodgers can’t say that, though much of the blame goes to GM Paul DePodesta for the team he constructed.
NL CENTRAL UPDATE: The Cards wrapped it up weeks ago, because they’re awesome. Thought I’d throw that out there.
Finally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the Indians and White Sox. Not just because I said the Indians would win the Central, and that the Yanks wouldn’t make the playoffs (a prediction made in midseason, in the interests of full disclosure), but because the offseason is so much more fun when George Steinbrenner is angry.
Like most of the world, I’ve been gearing up because for tomorrow’s season premiere of Lost. Unlike most people, I’ve crammed the entire season into about 3 days of DVD viewing. (I missed most of last season- getting lost, so to speak, after about the 7th episode. I knew if wasn’t ready for the 2nd season, I’d have to TiVO the first couple episodes, and end up hopelessly behind again. For reference, check my attempts to follow Fox’s Prison Break, scuttled after 2 Mondays.)
Needless to say, I’ve spent the last couple days with those crazy castaways on the brain, and honestly, it’s cut into my baseball time (Between the pennant race, Lost, and Fantasy Football, there really aren’t enough hours in the day). My little DVDathon got me thinking. Yeah, the pennant race is pressure. Sure it’s tough to look down the barrel of a 2-2 fastball with a man on third, a 1/2 game lead in the wild card, and 50,000 fans screaming at you. But try walking through the "Dark Territory" while "the others" are breathing down your neck and you’ve got a boat you want to launch made from bamboo and twine into a very large ocean with no particular idea of where you’re headed (I’m currently on the 2nd to last episode…).
So in that spirit, I’d like to make some comparisons. If those characters on the pressure filled environment of Lost were teams in the pressure filled pennant race, which ones would they be?
Jack (Matthew Fox)- Dependable, honorable, highly motivated, and seems to be good at everything you need to do on an island. Solid in every area, all Jack seems to lack is a fully developed sense of humor. All business, his satisfaction comes in seeing the job done. He’s probably the best thing the island has to offer.
HIS TEAM: St. Louis Cardinals. So focused, they refused to celebrate their division title when they had technically clinched- no that didn’t happen a month ago- through tiebreakers against the Astros. Instead, they waited one more day. These guys mean business.
John Locke (Terry O’Quinn)- Enigmatic and extremely resourceful, he is the MacGyver of the jungle. A boy scout on steroids. An encyclopedia of stuff the rest of us learn on The Nature Channel. He lost a kidney, lost his legs, got them back, lost them again, and got them back again. You just can’t get rid of the dude. Plus, he’s full of riddles. Everyone likes riddles.
HIs Team: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim– Every time it seems like they’re dead, they come back to life. They’ve lost their power hitter (Steve Finley, who has basically ****** all year), and another power source (Dallas McPherson). But they’ve stayed on top. Why? Because they’re resourceful. Any team whose second leading home run hitter is stuck on 15 (Garrett Anderson) needs to be.
Kate (Evangeline Lilly)- She’s young, she’s hot, she’s gonna be good for a long time. You’d think by looking she wouldn’t be helpful, or couldn’t do any damage, but lo and behold, she kicks serious a**. And as for Evangeline Lilly, how the heck did anyone go this long without discovering them?
Her Team: The Cleveland Indians- They’re young, they’re hot, and they’re gonna be good for a long time. You’d think by looking that they might not be helpful (okay, I picked them to win the division), or at least you would have thought that 40 games into the season. Lo and behold, they can do a ton of damage, and kick some serious a**. How did we go so long without discovering them?
Boone (Ian Somerhalder)- Runs a wedding company (not too manly), has a crush on his step-sister, tries to be brave, tries to be useful. He’s good looking enough that you think something good will come out of him, but he just ends up dead in the end.
His Team: The New York Mets- They have a crush on their step brothers (the Yankees), or at least their success. They try to be brave, and they want desperately to be useful (hence Omar Minaya’s offseason spending spree). They look good enough on paper, with Beltran, Pedro, Benson, and Wright, but in the end, they just end up dead.
Sawyer (Josh Holloway)- He plays dirty, is more than a little unpleasant, and nobody likes him. And man, oh man, has that guy got some serious family issues.
His Team: The New York Yankees- Think for a second. Isn’t a seven gazillion dollar payroll past kosher? Isn’t collecting an all-star team kind of unfair? Ignore for a second that at this point, they’re season rests on Aaron Small and Robinson Cano as much as the Unit, A Rod and Sheffield. That’s not how it was supposed to happen. Outside of New York, nobody roots for these guys. And any team run by George Steinbrenner is gonna have some family issues. That’s a given.
Hurley (Jorge Garcia)- Entertaining, occasionally useful, bloated comic relief.
His Team: San Francisco Giants- Fine, they’re not entertaining, and they don’t really provide any comic relief (it’s not like they’re the Rockies, or anything). But sitting 11 games under .500 with a $90+ million payroll, they’re certainly bloated.
Among the sportswriting Kamenetzky’s, I am known as an unabashed Albert Pujols fan. He’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Better, really, since I haven’t bought a loaf of Wonder since I graduated from college. He has the power of Mickey Mantle and the discipline of Tony Gwynn (58 strikeouts? That’s a good month for Adam Dunn). No player is more focused on winning. That alone would make Pujols worth every penny of the big, long term contract the Cards gave him. But he’s more. Pujols has turned himself into one of baseball’s best first basemen and is an amazing baserunner, always hustling out of the box and always taking the extra base. Dude is not fast, yet he’s stolen 14 bases this season because he constantly takes advantage of pitchers who doesn’t pay close enough attention. In nearly 5 full seasons, he’s a career .334 hitter, has 196 home runs, a career .416 OBP and 1.040 OPS. Sick. He is the kind of player about whom you tell stories to your grandchildren.
Yet he’s never won an MVP.
Fine, you say. He’s been in the Bonds era. It’s hard to argue against Barry (although I’ve occasionally tried). But this year, with Barry on the shelf, it’s not much different. Most of the MVP buzz right now is on the red hot Andruw Jones. Sure, Jones leads the NL in homers and RBI’s, but his lead in the latter isn’t all that large. Meanwhile, Pujols has him dominated in just about every other statistical category there is.
It may not matter. Why? I’ll tell you.
I was watching PTI a couple days ago, when Jay Mariotti was putting forward his reasons why Jones is a better MVP candidate than King Albert. After going through the obvious- his lead in HR’s, that he’s finally having that true breakout season, that Pujols gets so much protection in the Cardinals lineup (with their injuries, by the way, that’s debatable. Yadier Molina hit cleanup a couple days back)- he got to the kicker:
Albert Pujols isn’t even having a dominant, Albert Pujols season. He’s capable of more. His ’05, by his standards, has been standard. That’s when it hit me.
Pujols may be the new Shaq.
Quick quiz… how many MVP awards has the player many consider to be the most dominant force basketball has ever seen actually put on his mantle? Six? Seven? Try one. He suffers from "Shaq Syndrome", where everyone knows how good he is, and expects him to be better than everyone else. He’s bigger and better. He should dominate. It’s just too easy to vote for Shaq. Who else is around that deserves a vote?
Pujols, if members of the media aren’t careful, could end up filling the same role. He’ll probably never have seasons too much better or too much worse than the ones he’s turned in each year of his career (really, how much better can he get?). 15% in either direction, year in and year out. Maybe one monster where he can’t be ignored, but other than that, just another Albert Pujols season. He’s always there, so who else can we vote for? Who’s the guy having that sexy, surprise season? The guy on a team that shouldn’t be as good? The guy that isn’t freakin’ boring? That’s who gets my vote!
Meanwhile, Pujols, like clockwork goes .330, 45, 130. Year in and year out, while his mantle stays clear of trophylike clutter.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe he’ll win it this season, and take home five or six more before he’s done.
Or, maybe we’ll look back in 10 or 12 years, after Albert retires, and wonder, "How the heck did that guy only win 2 MVPs?"