We’ll wrap this up tomorrow night with some thoughts on individual players and awards, but let’s do the last of the six divisional previews first.
seem to you as if Brandon Wood has been on the verge of breaking in to the LOS
ANGELES line-up since Mark Langston was the Angels’ pitching ace? Whether it’s
been four years or forty, this is the first time the team is actually relying
on Wood, and the
pressure is probably a lot more intense than generally understood. If Wood does not produce
a power-filled season, or doesn’t hold on to the job, the Angels will have to
revert to the Chone Figgins-driven line-up, only without Chone Figgins. It’ll
be tough enough adjusting to Erick Aybar at the top of the line-up, without the
Halos also failing to add the last layer of punch they missed so dearly in the ALCS
last year. The emergence of Kendry Morales and the resuscitation of Howie
Kendrick gave life to the club last year, but face it, four key positions are
beginning to creak a little bit with age, including the now three ex-Yanks in
the line-up. Torii Hunter should be terrified at Mike Scioscia’s insistence that
he may occasionally use Hideki Matsui in left. If placed between Matsui and the
periodically mystified Bobby Abreu in right, MLB might consider letting Hunter
ride a Razor. Pitching is deep but once you get past Jered Weaver, not very
intimidating, and Joel Pineiro might have been the off-season’s most overrated
signing (Fernando Rodney might have been the second, but with or without him,
the bullpen is the team’s top asset).
looks like an all-or-nothing proposition. Anderson, Braden, and Cahill might
emerge as world-beaters. Sheets and Duchscherer could make remarkable
comebacks. Bailey could expand on a ROTY season. Or literally any one of the
six could lose his job by June 1. The ailments of Joey Devine and Michael
Wuertz thin out an already thin pen, and the line-up, while energetic and
dynamic, does have to play 81 games on the road against teams that actually hit
those things where, you know, the ball goes past those walls behind the gents
standing on the far lawn – what are those called again? Honestly, if your
line-up looks like it could be beaten up, man for man, by that of the Royals,
you could be in for a long summer, even if every one of the pitchers come
strategic building in SEATTLE over the last two years – Figgins, Wilson,
Gutierrez, Lee, even Byrnes and Snell and League (to say nothing of Wakamatsu)
added to the Ichiro/Felix base, it would seem it would be almost impossible for
the Mariners not to be favored. But as I have suggested before, Jack Zduriencik
managed to make the one move that could undo all the good ones. Ask the 2004-05
Dodgers, who thought he was the guy who could take them over the hump. Ask the
2006 A’s, who thought he was the missing piece (and surrendered Andre Ethier to
get him). Ask the 2007 Padres, who brought him in for the stretch run (and
infamously coughed up the division to the Rockies). Ask the 2008 Rangers, who
signed him, only to start shopping him at mid-season. Ask the 2009 Cubs, who
gave him $30 million for three years and sent him home before the first year
ended because nobody could abide his presence any more. Ask the fans he’s
confronted, the reporters he’s confronted, the play-by-play man he ran up
several flights of stairs in hopes of knocking silly. It’s not as if Milton Bradley
has had a few problems. This is six clubs in six seasons and the longest he
lasted with any of them was until June 29th of the second year. I
don’t know what it will be, I don’t know when it will be, but Bradley will do
something to cost the Mariners the division. And if this somehow does not come
to pass, he will have earned an apology from me – but probably will not have
asked for it, because he would have already experienced an epiphany in which
his consistently uncontrollable behavior would have appeared as unacceptable to
him as it has to everybody else, and he would have apologized to the Cubs. And the Rangers. And
the Padres. And the A’s. And the Dodgers (and just for good measure, Cliff Lee
is not only hurt – he has the most nagging and unpredictable of injuries for a
baseball player, ‘something in the abdomen.’)
line-up in TEXAS frightens me. I know Josh Hamilton is not going to hit 57
homers. I understand Vlad Guerrero has aged. I’m sure Chris Davis could repeat
the first half of 2009. I noticed Ian Kinsler’s on the DL. Without them this
is still the most potent batting order in the division. So the Rangers’ questions are, as
ever, on the mound. But in addition to reclaiming Darren Oliver and bringing
back Colby Lewis from banishment, Texas has one other answer to those
questions: Neftali Feliz. It is impossible to watch him pitch and not see
either a super closer, or a 250-strikeout starter. Either one of them will do
the Rangers fine upon his maturation; for now, a dominating 8th-inning
presence will probably win them the division. And it will be fascinating to
watch any player struggles completely overshadowed by the good or bad conduct
of a manager – not to make a comparison that would be slanderous to the
good-hearted Ron Washington, but we haven’t seen that since Billy Martin died,
and it occasionally helps a team get on with its business while the skipper
takes the heat.
As suggested, I like Texas. Oakland’s pitching could jell to challenge them;
Milton Bradley could go AWOL on May 1 and save Seattle’s season; Brandon Wood
could be everything the Angels ever wanted from him. But I don’t think any of
those things are going to happen. Rangers by a five or six game margin, with
the others following in a jumble I can’t quite yet discern.
FORECAST: I think Tampa ends up with the best record, Texas the worst, and the
Rays will handle the Rangers easily. The Wild Card will go to Boston, most
likely, and they should probably dispatch Detroit, setting up a re-run of 2008,
including the TB victory. This time I like the Rays to win the Series, five
years after other owners seriously murmured about moving them or contracting
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that annually, Terry Francona lets me sit with him, on the bench, during a spring training game. This is half out of friendship and half, I think, to remind me how little I actually understand about managing – or baseball itself – compared to the pros.
Batting clean-up last night, Micah Hoffpauir of the Cubs
homered to erase Cincinnati’s only lead (off his rival Micah, Owings, no
less), walked, then lifted a sacrifice fly to put his team back in front.
“He’s going to get 350 at bats this year,” Lou Piniella told me as Hoffpauir’s
dominant spring training ended. “A little first, a little left, a little
right.” Lou being Lou, of course, after Hoffpauir showed what he could do with
those 350 at bats, he was due up with the bases loaded and a lefty reliever on
the mound. So Lou pinch-hit Reed Johnson for him, and Johnson promptly struck
Pitching Coach Joe Kerrigan never counts chickens in
advance, certainly not in Pittsburgh, but even in the middle of the spring he was
insistent he had been able to help Jeff Karstens and Ross Ohlendorf –
especially Karstens – with arm slots and release points. Are the last two
nights against Florida indicators that he was right, or just the odds breaking
against the Marlins?
The latest Pedro Martinez story – about some vague interest
by the Angels – is probably overblown, to say the least. A National League
General Manager who was incorrectly rumored to be interested, said a month ago
that people sure were getting hopped up over him handcuffing the Dutch team –
during the first week of spring training – and not hitting 90 on the radar gun
as he did so.
So far this year Daniel Murphy has dropped a fly in left to
cost Johan Santana a game, and, last night, after getting picked off by Yadier
Molina, and then deciding that the only way to get past Molina at the plate was
not to slide but rather enact a dance move, managed to slide out from under a
crucial fly ball in St. Louis. The Mets are in awe of the youngster’s plate
discipline but after Murphy’s tight night, manager Jerry Manuel suggested he
needed to relax and admitted “I guess I’m a little concerned.”
Another Cubs note. If you’re wondering how they hope to keep
Rich Harden intact into the second half of the season, yes, they will occasionally
skip his starts or give him extra days off. Kind of like the Chien-Ming Wang
plan. Only without the euphemistic “tune-up in Florida.” And replacing him in
the rotation at some point, more likely with Phil Hughes than Ian Kennedy. But
Wang is just fine – there’s nothing to see here.
A last question. Does it seem to you like the Angels treat
Brandon Wood as if he owed them money? Like they let him up every once in
awhile so he can breathe, before they stick him back under the water?
By the way, the title of this post is facetious – it comes from an obscure reference in the movie “All About Eve.” No actual confidences were violated in the writing of this blog.
FAN OF THE DAY:
Hats off to Ben Erdel. As part of his big night at Yankee Stadium last night, Brett Gardner let one of his Louisville Sluggers fly into the stands. Mr. Erdel and a much younger gentleman both had their hands on the rare souvenir – although only the younger gentleman had just managed to avoid getting hit with the helicoptering bat. Mr. Erdel took the bat, took a few steps, and then thought better of it, and generously did the right thing.
The younger gentleman now has a singular thrill from his first Yankee homestand, exceeding his previous one – being my nephew.
Here is Nephew, Jacob Smith, far left, and his bat, which was not stolen by either Katy Tur or Maegen Carberry.
And here is Mr. Erdel, whose second prize is a blog posting (and a clear conscience, and one happy kid left in his wake). Thank you, Sir.