Results tagged ‘ Stephen Strasburg ’

The Strasburg Redux

With today’s unfortunate news out of Washington I thought it was appropriate to do something I’ve never done here before, and re-post much of what I wrote about Stephen Strasburg on June 13 under the title “Right Now He’s Karl Spooner, Maybe Harry Krause.” This was, sadly, prophetic, and I sincerely hope it’s only temporary.

From June 13:
…as comparisons have been thrown out to Clemens, Ryan, Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Kerry Wood, Smoky Joe Wood, and everybody except Smokey Robinson And The Miracles, it is useful to remember that there have been more impressive starts. It is also useful to remember – as The Strasburg is either a potential victim of bad mounds around the sport, or is generating such strength that he’s gouging out good mounds – that injury has undone pitchers who have broken in even more impressively than has The Strasburg.
Karl Spooner is the most obvious 

warning story, but the match is a lot weaker than first blush might suggest. Spooner is the most tragic of baseball’s pitching prospects (this side of Steve Dalkowski, anyway). After a 21-9 season at Fort Worth of the Texas League in 1954 (262 strikeouts, 162 walks), the lefthander was promoted by the Brooklyn Dodgers, who gave him two late-season starts. Spooner proceeded to shut out the New York Giants on three hits, 3-0, in his debut, striking out 15. Four days later he shut out the Pirates on four hits, 1-0, striking out 12 more. With Strasburg exiting early today, Spooner’s record of 27 strikeouts in his first two starts remains unchallenged. 
But those strikeouts are a little less impressive than they look. The Giants, who had already clinched the National League pennant and would within two weeks sweep the heavily-favored Indians in the World Series, began pulling their starters in the second inning. In fact, ten of Spooner’s 15 K’s were against seven batters who averaged only 62 At Bats in 1954. Three came at the expense of back-up shortstop Billy Gardner, two against Joey Amalfitano (a “Bonus Baby” who had only five At Bats all season), two against pitchers. Five Giants regulars faced Spooner: Alvin Dark, Whitey Lockman, Don Mueller, and future Hall-of-Famers Monte Irvin and Willie Mays. They got nine AB’s against him; he struck out only one of them (Irvin).
In Spooner’s second start he didn’t do quite as well against a much weaker Pirates’ line-up. Nine of the twelve strikeouts came against rookies, including three from Nick Koback, a catcher who only had seven At Bats that year in which he didn’t strike out against Karl Spooner. Starting shortstop Gair Allie, who only appeared in the majors that one season, struck out twice, as did transient pitcher Jake Thies. That trio accounted for seven of Spooner’s dozen.
Spooner, of course, hurt his knee during a spring training game in 1955 and lingered ineffectively through his full rookie year with the Dodgers – then never pitched in the majors again.
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Bob Feller was at The Strasburg’s second start today in Cleveland – on the right you’ll see how TBS just barely caught the extraordinary pitcher in the press box during this, his 55th season in retirement. 
The mind reels at the thought that the year before Feller signed with Cleveland, Walter Johnson was still managing the Indians, and Babe Ruth was still playing. Feller knew them both – knew Johnson very well – and knew all the others, including guys who played in the World Series of the 1880’s, and everybody since – and today he watched The Strasburg.
It’s intriguing to look back at Feller’s debut, fresh out of high school and with his 18th birthday still months away. Impressively, the Indians rolled Feller out slowly in 1936,  having him work exclusively in relief for his first month, then finally starting him against the St. Louis Browns on August 23. He struck out 15 that day, and while a review of the box score would not produce a lot of household names only one K came at the expense of an utterly obscure player, a St. Louis catcher named Nick Giuliani. 
The Tribe again used Feller in relief for a time before giving him his second start on September 7, again against the Browns. He struck out ten. On the 13th he came back with his mind-boggling 17 strikeouts at age 17, against a Philadelphia A’s team that had a fill-in double-play combination of Hugh Luby and Rusty Peters who whiffed four times combined, and pitcher Randy Gumpert, who added a pair.
The play-by-play is incomplete for the pitcher with the greatest two-month start in the game’s history. Like Spooner, Harry Krause provides a cautionary tale about injury. He had started two games for the A’s early in the 1908 season, splitting decisions, and then went back to the minors. He stuck again in 1909 but didn’t get a start until May 8. After a neat 1-0 win, he still didn’t get another start until the 17th (the A’s had Hall of Famers Chief Bender and Eddie Plank ahead of him, and Cy Morgan, and Jack Coombs – who would blossom in ’10 to win 31 games). Krause then did it again – a 1-0 win (in twelve). Still he didn’t get another start for twelve days. The third victory earned him his spot in the rotation, and by July 11 he was merely 10-0 with 10 complete games, six shutouts, and four 1-0 wins. And then something in his arm began to hurt…
Krause was 11-1 lifetime at the time of the injury. He went 25-25 the rest of the way. Remarkably, despite whatever the injury was (“Sore Arm” was literally the catch-all medical diagnosis well into the 1970’s), he would win 249 games over 16 further seasons in the Pacific Coast League.

Your All-Star Controlled Scrimmage

Jayson Stark tweets that All-Star Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel were told to pick one “multi-position” player to their teams, which explains, if not excuses, the ludicrous selections of Omar Infante of Atlanta and Ty Wigginton of Baltimore. 

They are not All-Stars. They do not play every day. They are a kind of baseball equivalent of Special Teams guys, and that’s okay if that’s the way you want the All-Star Game to devolve. But you have taken it from an All-Star Game in which the actual stars often used to play the entire game, to an All-Star exhibition in which the roster is framed around a fans’ popularity vote, to one in which it is further restricted by a requirement that each team have a representative, to an All-Star Controlled Scrimmage in which a few more of the precious discretionary roster spots are awarded based on very narrowly defined “success.”
“Multi-Position Players”? “Middle Relievers”? What next, “Pinch-Hitters”? “Top Rule 5 Picks”? I mean, you could legitimize the ludicrous talk of having The Strasburg pitch in the game seven starts into his career by making sure a place on each team was reserved for “Top Rookies Brought Up Late To Avoid Super Two Arbitration Status.” And when you get to that point – and we’re close enough as it is – just call the thing on Monday “The Home Run Hitting Contest,” and the thing on Tuesday “All-Star Pitching Warm-Ups and Batting Practice.”
To expand on the issue of Middle Relievers, I have no problem with them. When Joe Torre put Mike Stanton on the 2001 All-Star team, many howled, I did not. But they have to be having a season that is as proportionately good as any Closer or Starter. And I don’t think Matt Thornton of the White Sox or Evan Meek of the Pirates are close to the top. Thornton is not an embarrassing pick (another tweet today suggested a good MLB scout considered him one of baseball’s top ten relievers – though I’d argue that surely at least one of the Padres’ Mike Adams, Heath Bell, or Luke Gregerson deserves to be ahead of him on that last, as does Bard of Boston, and very possibly Kuo of the Dodgers).
But I went a little further into the selection of Meek and it is just indefensible. 
Meek has pitched brilliantly this season. Obviously leads in Pittsburgh are scarce, but not impossible: Octavio Dotel has as many Saves as Jonathan Papelbon and one more than Mariano Rivera. One can argue that an All-Star Reliever – like Evan Meek – is more valuable with the Pirates than he is with the Yankees because leads are such a precious thing. Yet though he has pitched 38 times this year, the Bucs have only used Meek twelve times when they were ahead, and only five other times when they were tied. 
He comes to the All-Star table with more than half of his statistics compiled in games already lost, or nearly so. Twelve appearances with a lead. Ten appearances with his team already losing by three runs or more. These just aren’t the circumstances in which the other nine All-Star relievers have had their mettle tested. That he has been spectacular in 21 meaningless games, and less so in 17 others, is a virtual disqualification for consideration. You’re a step up from factoring how well guys did in AAA this year, or on Rehab, or in the AFL last fall.
It is also discouraging to how Meek has fared in the middle relievers’ equivalent of “Close And Late”:
Twelve Meek Appearances With Lead:
Games Saved:                                1
Games Held:                                   5
Games Won:                                   1
Blown Saves:                                  5*
No Win, Hold, Save, or BS:              1
“Record”:                                  7*-5-1
   * Blown Save 4/13, received Win
Five Meek Appearances In Ties:
Games Won:                                   2
Games Lost:                                   2
No Won or Loss:                              1
“Record”:                                    2-2-1

Even giving him both statistics in that April 13th game against the Giants in which he inherited a runner in the sixth, then gave up a single and a groundout producing the tie run, and then becoming the pitcher of record in what was ultimately a Pittsburgh victory, Meek, “Close And Late,” is 9-7-2. It’s counted seventeen times, and he has failed on seven of those occasions, and only twice because he inherited a runner and let him score.

Not only that, but the Pirates seem to be using him ‘when it counts’ less frequently as the season has worn on. Seven of his first fourteen appearances came while Pittsburgh was ahead or tied, and eleven of his first twenty-one were. Only six of his last seventeen have been.
I know this reads as if I’m beating up on Evan Meek. I’m not. He’s got great natural gifts and after years of struggle, his dedication to his craft and his willingness to learn has made him a valued major leaguer. I understand about the jigsaw puzzle that is the All-Star Roster (if Andrew McCutchen is actually the Bucs’ All-Star – and he is – then Michael Bourn can’t go representing the Astros and suddenly you’re making Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon an All-Star). It’s not personal (it actually startles me that Pittsburgh, in another rebuilding season, hasn’t worked him into more pressure situations; heck, I even had him on my rotisserie league team for a month earlier in the season, and I take that stuff way too seriously). But the statistics of how they are using him suggest that no matter how good he might look against an individual batter or even in an individual game, the Pirates use him as if he were the second or even third best middle reliever on their team.
And when the second or third best middle reliever on the worst team in the league is an All-Star, it’s no longer the All-Star Game.

Strasburg On Cardboard

With the scouting observation that the most impressive part of Stephen Strasburg’s night was his willingness to work quickly, to maintain ownership of the pace and momentum of the game, a little sneak preview of a much more “official” welcome to the big leagues.

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This will be what Strasburg’s rookie Topps card will look like, and it’s more than just a nice shot of the rookie’s classic delivery. It is, in fact, an image of the first pitch of Strasburg’s Major League career, to Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, Tuesday night at Nationals’ Park.
The other memorabilia for the most hyped rookie since Griffey consists mostly of his Bowman 2010 cards (including a 1-of-1 variety which inspired insanity and could never recoup its purchase price unless Strasburg ended his career 511-0). A few game tickets have already popped up (standard Ticketmaster style around $50, nicer Ticketmaster around $60, the deluxe Season-Ticket style not being offered as eBay buy-it-now, but with a minimum of $70).
But with Upper Deck out of the game, the Topps card is the gold standard. And this is what it will look like.
UPDATE: The card is destined for general release in the annual update set in the fall but the grass doesn’t grow between the toes of the execs at the place with the renewed card monopoly: they’ll be giving some away earlier as part of this year-long “Million Card Giveaway.”
ONE LAST UPDATE: I can’t think of Strasburg – and this only has tangentially to do with the card – and not flash back to a summer’s day 17 years ago when I saw another can’t-miss pitcher who did not get as far as the Washington rookie now has. I had never seen, and have never seen, anything like it. Some guys throw extraordinarily hard (I was in the Red Sox dugout for a Daniel Bard inning in Spring Training, 2009, and I watched him paint the corners with 98’s and 99’s), but all of them show it.
Not Brien Taylor.
The ill-fated Yankees’ top pick of 1991 had already made it to AA ball in ’93 and was pitching for Albany at the Beehive in New Britain, CT, just 10 minutes from my home when I worked at ESPN. Taylor was to pitch and a bunch of us went to see him. And he was not just everything they said, but he was more – by being less.
The sound of his effortless warm-up pitches thudding the catcher’s glove resonated around the park. And then he got serious, and you couldn’t see the ball any more. Of course, there was nothing to suggest Taylor was trying to throw that hard, even though a nearby scout with a gun told us “that hard” was 102. Taylor still looked like he was warming up, or perhaps just playing a serious game of catch. Not that the first pitch was caught - it hit the backstop on the fly. The next one nearly did the same, and then a coach hustled out to the mound and put both hands on Taylor’s shoulders.
A slightly quieter thud. Strike one, 97 MPH. Another one. Strike two, on a curveball, about 90, I think. The last. Strike three, 96 MPH. By this point, having taken something off his fastball, it appeared the catcher was trying harder to throw the ball back to Taylor than Taylor was pitching it.
The Taylor I saw was 21 years old. An outfielder just up from A-ball (might have been Brian Brown) took him over the fence in a very big ballpark, and Taylor got a little angrier, fired it back up to triple digits, almost looked like he was trying, and soon reached his pitch count. Six months later came the bar brawl that would destroy his shoulder and end his career.
I wonder how many pitchers I’ve seen, live or on television, in 44 years of being a fan. I do not wonder about how many of them threw that blindingly fast, that effortlessly. Strasburg was as impressive as any rookie pitcher I’ve ever seen at the big league level. But he’s not on the other list. Only Brien Taylor is on that one.

Stanton, Improbable Pitchers, And Joseph Joseph

So the guy many observers think is better than Jason Heyward has made the majors. Florida has promoted 20-year old Michael Stanton, the leading home run hitter in the game, and presumably he will make his major league debut on Tuesday – just as Stephen Strasburg makes his.

The question is: who loses their job in the Marlins’ lineup? Stanton is a corner outfielder, but Cody Ross can play an adequate centerfield. The assumption has been that the odd man out is the current occupant Cameron Maybin, and in that equation is the eternal caveat about the can’t-miss-prospect. Cameron Maybin has/had been that guy for nearly four seasons.
Maybin in the Dustbin of History might not be an automatic, however. There are other options for Florida, and it will be intriguing to see if they try any of them. Leftfielder Chris Coghlan has just awakened from his slumber of the season’s first seven weeks, and has infield experience. Putting him at third or second and leaving Maybin and Ross where they are, shifting either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first in place of the flaccid Gaby Sanchez, might actually improve the Florida defense, to say nothing of the offense.
WHICH PITCHING STATISTIC WON’T LAST?
Ubaldo Jimenez is a tidy 11-1 through his first twelve starts. He made the average number of starts last year, 33, and if he can match that, statistical projection has him finishing up at 30-3. This is why statistical projection is crap, but fun.
Just as entertaining is the line of Mitch Talbot of Cleveland: 11 starts, 7-4, 32 strikeouts. This extends out to a record of 21-12 with 96 K’s. If Mitch Talbot can win 21 games (and stay in all  his starts long enough to get a decision in every one of them) with just 96 strikeouts all season, he should get the Cy Young Award, the AFC Defensive Player of the Year, and The Lady Byng Trophy.
Still, the weirdest numbers a third of the way through belong to Tyler Clippard of the Nationals. If the Yankee castoff were to continue his current pace, he would end up with about 106 innings pitched in relief, featuring 123 strikeouts, 22 wins, 8 losses, 34 holds, and 14 blown saves. I’m not sure if those numbers would put him in the Hall of Fame or AAA, but you needn’t worry – Jimenez and Talbot’s projections seem likely by contrast.
PHOTO OF THE DAY:
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This is why being a graphics operator might be the most difficult job in television. You rarely have an editor, and very often you’re working on the road in a smelly, crowded truck, that might have the air conditioning sputtering, and the room is full of idiots shouting and spilling sodas and corndogs all over your console and whining about management and then shutting up when management suddenly walks in and before you’ve noticed it you’ve finished typing up all the Brewers’ names into their templates and you’ve made sure you put the second “l” in Counsell and that you haven’t typed in “Carlos Villauneuva” and you’ve double-checked whether Braddock is “Zach” or “Zack” and then there goes another corndog and the manager leaves and that one guy starts whining again about his per diem and before you’ve known it you’ve looked at the beard and typed in “Corey Hary” instead of Hart.

FROM A RESEARCHER’S NOTEBOOK:
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Other than perhaps the untouchable king of the hill, onetime pitcher Eugene Hamlet Krapp, this gentleman to the right might have the best full name in baseball history. He is the late Joe LaFata and he was a pretty nondescript lefthanded bat off the bench, playing some first base and a little outfield for the New York Giants in 1947 and 1949 (and for one game in 1948). 
He is something of a mystery, and not just for the fact that even in the minors he never cleared 14 homers or a .289 batting average in a single season. He is a mystery because all his records agree: his first name was Joseph, and his second name was… Joseph. 
Joseph Joseph LaFata.
Of course, Eugene Hamlet Krapp’s nickname was “Rubber.”

They Like Ike – But Not That Much

Had to laugh over the weekend at the murmuring – even the predicting on line and on talk radio here in New York – that Ike Davis, the slugging son of the original set-up man of the Yankees, Ron Davis, would be imminently summoned to take over first base for the Mets.

Try June 7th. Or July 7th. Or September 7th.
Omar Minaya has made it very clear that with Daniel Murphy out, Mike Jacobs is getting his second chance to make a great first impression. He’ll be spelled at first against lefties by Fernando Tatis and maybe others, at least until Murphy is ready to return from injury. If Jacobs hasn’t cut it, Murphy will then get a reasonable chance to regain the job. We’re talking about, at minimum, a month of Jacobs and a month of Murphy before the Mets promote their latest phenom – and that presumes that both of them wash out, and that he doesn’t get flummoxed by his first taste of AAA.

In fact, righty-swinging Nick Evans, a potential platoon partner with Jacobs or Murphy, stands a much better chance of promotion – and sooner – than Davis.

If this weren’t transparently obvious, the debut dates of last year’s most hyped rookies is an indicator that “Super Two” status is of far more concern to most clubs than having freshmen come up early. There are always exceptions (Elvis Andrus, Jason Heyward) and surprises (nobody thought Andrew Bailey was a closer, let alone a ROTY candidate, when he opened the season with the A’s last year, and even when NL ROTY Chris Coghlan came up on May 8th he seemed an unlikely candidate for the award.
But here’s the calendar:

May 26: Fernando Martinez, Mets

June 4: Gordon Beckham, White Sox

June 4: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

June 7: Tommy Hanson, Braves

So for those of you holding your breath (or your roster spots in fantasy leagues) waiting for Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Craig Kimbrel, Drew Storen, and even Stephen Strasburg and Aroldis Chapman, hope you’re prepared for a few months of zeroes. Some teams – like the Nats last year with Jordan Zimmermann – can’t resist. And we saw how that turned out.

Foul Balls; And 2010 Forecasts: NL East

Before we
wrap up the National League forecast, the Denard Span incident this afternoon
in Tampa (he hits his own mother with a foul ball – and she is wearing one of
his uniforms at the time) called to mind three equally unlikely events with
players and fans and balls flying into the stands:

1. August
17th, 1957. Richie Ashburn, who got to the Baseball Hall of Fame largely by
virtue of his ability to keep fouling off pitches he didn’t
like, until he got one he did like, fouled one off into the stands
at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia. It struck – of all people – Alice
Roth, the wife of the sports editor of the newspaper The Philadelphia Bulletin. They
had to carry Mrs. Roth (and her broken nose) off on a stretcher. While
they were so doing, Ashburn, who was still
at bat and still fouling pitches off, hit Mrs. Roth with another foul
ball.

2. Of
course, on June 17th, 2000, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees picked up a
ground ball and threw it wildly towards first base. It instead hit a fan
sitting behind the dugout, breaking her eyeglasses. The fan, of course, was my
mother.

3.
And perhaps the unlikeliest of the events: After Span got hit, the Associated
Press was reminded of the Bob Feller incident (reminded by Bob Feller, of
course). On May 14, 1939, when the Hall of Fame flamethrower was still just 20
years old, he threw a pitch at Comiskey Park which some member of the White Sox
fouled into the seats – striking Feller’s mother. May 14, 1939 was, of course,
Mother’s Day.

Now to
finish up the NL:

ATLANTA is
the obvious sleeper, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron. If Troy Glaus and
Jason Heyward produce as Atlanta expects them, Bobby Cox will have a
competitive final year. If they exceed expectations (and Heyward gives off the
vibe of a Pujolsian, From-Day-One-Superstar) the Braves might actually air out
the division. The rotation gets a little sketchy behind Hanson and Jurrjens,
and there is little or no room for injury (if Glaus gets profoundly hurt or
Heyward is Jordan Schafer
, Eric Hinske and Omar Infante will be playing nearly every
day). And of course it would not be the Braves without another new closer.
Here, updated from its first appearance in this space last summer, is the Bobby
Cox bullpen honor roll:

1. Joe
Boever, 1990

2. Mark
Grant and Kent Mercker, 1990

3. Mercker
and Juan Berenguer, 1991

4.
Alejandro Pena, 1991-92

5. Jeff
Reardon, 1992

6. Mike
Stanton, 1993

7. Greg
McMichael, 1994-95

8. Brad
Clontz, 1995

9. Mark
Wohlers, 1995-98

10. Kerry
Ligtenberg, 1998

11. John
Rocker, 1999

12.
Ligtenberg and Mike Remlinger, 2000

13.
Rocker, 2000-01

14. Steve
Karsay, 2001

15. John
Smoltz, 2001-04

16. Danny
Kolb, 2005

17. Chris
Reitsma, 2005

18. Kyle
Farnsworth, 2005

19.
Reitsma, 2006

20. Ken
Ray, 2006

21. Bob
Wickman, 2006-07

22. Rafael
Soriano, 2008

23. Manny
Acosta, 2008

24. John
Smoltz, 2008

25.
Soriano, 2008

26. Mike
Gonzalez, 2008-09

27.
Soriano, 2009

28. Billy
Wagner, 2010.

If FLORIDA
could make just two starters out of Anibal Sanchez, Nate Robertson, Andrew Miller, Sean West,
Ryan Tucker, Rick Vandenhurk, and Chris Volstad, the Marlins might be the
favorites. By mid-season this could be the most potent offense in the league,
because all Florida needs to produce seven house-wreckers in a row is for one
of the following three kids to live up to his promise: Logan Morrison, Gaby
Sanchez, Mike Stanton (if the Heyward-esque Stanton explodes to big league
quality, you put him in the outfield, you put the fabulous Chris Coghlan back at second or third,
and move either Jorge Cantu or Dan Uggla to first). Florida’s biggest question
mark is the bullpen, where Leo Nunez may or may not succeed.

All that
can be said about NEW YORK is: Sigh. I love the people who run this club, from
the ticket takers to the owners. But this year the wheels could fall off even
worse – and farther – than last. I think Jason Bay is a legitimate power
source, and I thought Jeff Francoeur a steal, but that begs the question of
what the Mets now expect from the guy who is still their top offensive
prospect, Fernando Martinez. If Bay, Beltran, and Francoeur are to be the
outfield for awhile, why is Martinez still there? Plus, the silence
about Beltran is ominous. The
ominousness of Daniel Murphy’s bat is silent. And there is nothing – nothing -
dependable in any of the three categories of pitchers, except for Johan
Santana, Pedro Feliciano, and Frankie Rodriguez, and the latter is just another
closer now. It is absolutely plausible that by June 1 the only questions will
be whether or not to give Ike Davis a taste of the majors, whether or not to
start screwing up Jenrry Mejia the way the Yankees messed with Joba
Chamberlain, and if some Japanese team will take Luis Castillo off their hands.

I’m not
the only person who believed Buster Olney’s story about PHILADELPHIA and Ryan
Howard – if not the plausibility of a swap for Pujols, then at least internal
musings about his decline against lefthanded pitchers and his decreasing
success against breaking pitches. When you are chewed up and spat out by Damaso
Marte, you are not exactly still in the same league as Pujols, or Adrian Gonzalez
for that matter. I’m a little suspicious of the assumed improvement in putting
Placido Polanco in at third (he’s 34, he fell off appreciably last year, he is
moving to a tougher position). Raul Ibanez seems to represent that Sword of
Damacles hanging over any team trying for three in a row (if you haven’t had a
significant position player injury in the first two seasons, you’re going to
in the third). I am not sold on the
rotation (Blanton, Contreras, Moyer, Kendrick – two of these guys must do well),
and the bullpen looks to be sketchier than a year ago.

There are
ways WASHINGTON can suddenly stop being a last-place team (the Ian Desmond
decision was superb – it needs to be followed by similar decisions involving Drew
Storen and Stephen Strasburg, and maybe new limbs grown by Jordan Zimmermann
and Chien-Ming Wang – quickly). Also, I think he’s a quality individual, but
the retention of Jim Riggleman as manager – after ten seasons that have produced
only one finish better than third (a weak second for the Cubs in 1998) – makes
little sense here. Unless Mike Rizzo is thinking of Pat Listach or Rick
Eckstein as a future big league manager, respectability for this club is going
to be the time it takes them to swap out Riggleman plus
the time it will take to break in his
replacement. Why not skip the first step?

DIVISION PREDICTIONS:
I’ll take the long odds that the Braves’ breaks fall the right way and Cox goes
out with a winner in a tight race over the Phillies. The Marlins will hit a ton
but waste the brilliance of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco by using 11
different fifth starters and half a dozen closers. The Mets will have their
nightmare collapse and be wondering if they can unload not only Castillo, but
maybe Beltran and Reyes, too. They will finish a few games ahead of the
Nationals – but only a few.

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LEAGUE PREDICTIONS: As mentioned, I like the Braves, Reds and the Rockies for the division titles. The Wild Card would seem to be a battle between the Phillies and the Giants – I really like San Francisco’s rotation, and I really do not like Philadelphia’s chances of getting through another season without physical calamity. So let’s assume the Rockies finish with the best record – they should handle the Giants, and the Braves’ experience should make them favorites over the Reds. An Atlanta-Colorado NLCS? I think the Rockies win that one, as much as I’d be rooting for the man I always greet as the guy the Braves once traded to the Yankees for Bob Tillman, who had been traded to the Yankees for Elston Howard, meaning Coxy was as good as Elston Howard….

Beerless Forecasts

Somebody Signed Strasburg On Saturday

Absolutely love this. Over the weekend, when things looked bleakest for Your Washington Nationals, a respected baseball writer with a fantasy league team revealed he filled a vacant roster spot with Stephen Strasburg. The punch-line is: it’s not a keeper league…What I don’t get: ownership of Billy Wagner at 0.6% in ESPN leagues and 6% in CBS leagues. He was in uniform at CitiField tonight and unless his arm falls off after a bullpen session tomorrow, he’ll be activated by Friday. How many contenders could use him, at the comparatively low price the Mets would ask – and wouldn’t teams like the Cubs, Marlins, Phillies, and maybe even Rays, contemplate using him in at least some save situations?…Gaby Sanchez came out of the New Orleans game early tonight and headed to join Florida. It seems implausible that he isn’t there to replace either Nick Johnson at first, or go to third and let Jorge Cantu move back to first – but the Marlins have already done bizarre things this year, like the last time Sanchez came up and didn’t play, and the fact that they’ve left Cameron Maybin in the Coast League even as he dominated it, just to make sure he wouldn’t become a “Super Two” arbitration guy…And the Brewers did let Mat Gamel come up and largely rot on the bench, setting him back a season’s development…Bizarre statistic that might not even qualify as such, maybe it’s just a coincidence: The Mets were 7-4 with ex-Rockie Cory Sullivan starting in left. They have now put him into a platoon with Angel Pagan in centerfield and when Sullivan starts there, the Mets are 1-3…While some agonize over the lack of a no-brainer Rookie Of The Year among N.L. hitters, there’s nothing wrong with just giving the trophy to Tommy Hanson…Atlanta also might earn the reverse equivalent of the Comeback Player Award: Kelly Johnson went from one of the majors’ premiere speed-and-power second basemen, to the victim of lingering injury, to Martin Prado’s backup, to going hitless today in a spot start while all around him were pounding Max Scherzer…Some in the Mets’ front office say they were told, but do not believe, that their first-round draft choice Steven Matz pronounces his last name “Metz.” Matz of the Mets is close enough, and Matt Helm, the seventh-rounder signed by Arizona, had a fictional counterpart in a ludicrous Dean Martin James Bond ripoff movie in the ’60s…Lastly, most politically incorrect joke in New York: they were really worried about David Wright after he got beaned Saturday because he couldn’t answer the traditional simple questions during the neurological work-up at the hospital. Then it turned out the doctors weren’t that baseball-savvy and had asked him to name the Mets’ starting shortstop, centerfielder, and first baseman.

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