Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland is a long way from the regular season home of the Minnesota Twins – literally and metaphorically – but it was one of the topics this morning on the mind of Manager Ron Gardenhire. Gardy outlined changes to the park’s outfield that seemed to flummox his hitters last year. “We moved the trees to get rid of the shadows in the batters’ line of sight – and those shadows scared me, the batters couldn’t follow the ball. Big stink over cutting the trees down so we sold ’em.” Gardenhire added that the ‘Batters’ Eye’ in centerfield had been changed to look more like the one in Seattle. “We got to get that out of their heads, that the park is against them somehow.” When it was suggested that merely emphasizing to Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau that these significant changes had been made might itself ‘get it out of their heads,’ Gardenhire laughed and said that was probably true. “Then again, now it’ll get IN our pitchers’ heads.”
It is 6-1 Yankees, one out in the top of the eighth, the bases are loaded and Kerry Wood has just left the mound to deafening silence.
While all eight teams are still there (for the moment) I thought this was a suitable time to salute the managers, and show them in the blossom of youth, on minor league (or in two cases, even more exotic) baseball cards from decades back.
A Tidewater set that depicted Bochy). The other one is a rookie and he’s bounced around among three teams this year: TBS, MLB Network, and PeachTree, but he might make it. I mean, if he can survive the experience of being on the Pro Cards’ 1987 Glens Falls Tigers card set, I suppose he can survive anything.
Before we look ahead, it’s necessary to look back. The divisional forecasts from this blog, from the end of March and beginning of April, beginning with the American League East:
Manager Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do…
PREDICTIONS: I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox. Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place…Well, I got the part right about Gardenhire knowing 447 times more about baseball than I do. I do wonder about this team’s long-term prospects given the Garza and Santana trades, and its short-term’s prospects given its stumble to the title.My forecast for the AL West was, if I must say so, pretty darn sharp:Texas, as you know, won not by five or six or by nine, with the Angels ten back and the Mariners having screwed themselves into the ground thanks to the continuing curse of Milton Bradley.Over in the National League:It is amazing that the prediction about the Braves wasn’t a bad one, and the forecast on the number of injuries in Philly rolled out pretty much as expected – and Philadelphia still won the Division. It is why the Phils must be considered the early line post-season favorites, and why the fact that the NL Manager Of The Year Award discussion is farcical if Charlie Manuel isn’t the odds-on winner.Here’s another prediction I am proud to recount, from the NL Central:Pretty much got that division correct, right down to the ascension of Jaime Garcia and the injury to Yadier Molina, to say nothing of being one of only two forecasters I’m aware of to pick the Reds, who won by five over the only other team to finish above .500 in baseball’s biggest division.I will not claim I did as well in the West, but this does wind up describing what actually happened:So all in all, the only division I got wildly wrong was the AL Central. Tampa, Texas, and Cincinnati were picked outright. I had the Braves winning the NL East and they go in as the Wild Card, and the Giants winning the Card and they instead go in as West Champions. Swing and a miss on Minnesota and Philadelphia, and all I can say is to repeat: when do we stop thinking of Charlie Manuel as an affable guide of talent-heavy teams, and start thinking of him as one of the top managers of the early 21st Century?
Managers promoted from own AAA team 0
Managers promoted from coaches 6
Managers already working in organization 5
Hires directly from other organizations 19
Having picked Tampa Bay to upend the Yankees in the East, we move to the AL Central.
confident about assessing CHICAGO than I am about any other team in the majors.
Here is a team with the terrific burgeoning talent of Gordon Beckham and Carlos
Quentin – yet its success will depend much more on virtual castoffs like Andruw
Jones, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen. Here, if Jake Peavy rebounds,
is a four-man rotation as good as any in the game, but a bullpen where only one
guy (Matt Thornton)
does not start
the season as a question mark (how could you possibly get as many ex-studs in
one place as Kenny Williams has in Scott Linebrink, J.J. Putz, and Tony Pena?). The White Sox could
easily win the division, but I would hesitate to bet on it.
scratches their head at the quick demise in CLEVELAND – except I appear to be
the only one who’s doing the scratching in surprise that everybody else is so
confused. What do you suppose happens to a team that is just one game from going to the World
Series, and then fire-sales Cy Young Award winners in consecutive season – and also
gets rid of their
catcher (who just happens to be the second-best offensive weapon at his
position in the game)? While the Indians may see some pay-off from these deals
this year (LaPorta at first, Masterson pitching, and, at least for the moment,
Marson catching), there is no reason to assume that the Indians have simply
corrected a temporary two-year blip. It is plausible that returns to form from
Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner could propel this team to the
flag, but it is just as plausible that the bullpen will again be its undoing.
Remember, this is a team that has not had a reliable closer since Joe Borowski
in ’07 (and this requires you to believe that Joe Borowski was a reliable
closer). There is the one wildest of wild cards: the chance that the Kerry Wood
injury is the ultimate blessing in disguise – that it shelves Wood and his
not-so-awe-inspiring 20 saves of a year ago and forces Chris Perez to live up
to his talent. Of course as Winston Churchill answered that cliché 65 years ago,
“if it is a blessing in disguise, it’s very effectively disguised.”
Dontrelle Willis really is back? What if Miguel Cabrera’s career flashed before
his eyes over the winter? What if Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are actual
major leaguers? If Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski come up trumps with those
four names, DETROIT should walk away with the division, because the rotation
seems outstanding, and the Tigers may have created its best bullpen (mostly by
default, and even though they’re about to find out what the Yankees did late
last year: Phil Coke can’t really get good lefties out). There are reasons to
suspect Johnny Damon will not be the kind of all-purpose threat he’d developed
into in the Bronx; 17 of his 24 homers in 2009 were hit at Yankee Stadium. It’s
possible Ryan Raburn or Wilkin Ramirez might have to be rushed into the
line-up. Then again it’s possible Alex Avila may force himself into it, behind
A’s still played there KANSAS CITY was the club on whom the Yankees palmed off
the guys they didn’t want any more. Funny that this year’s Royals start Chris
Getz and Scott Podsednik, and have Josh Fields on the
bench and Brian Anderson in the convert-to-pitching Skinner Box. The excuse that the Royals are the quintessential victim of the small market/big
market divide is nonsense: according to the Forbes figure filberts, the Royals
profit about ten million a year, gain at least thirty million more from revenue
sharing, and the franchise is worth three times what David Glass paid for it a
decade ago. So the free agents brought in to surround the American League’s
best starter, second or third best closer, fifth or sixth best first baseman,
and third or fourth best DH – are Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall? It’s pitiable:
with a little investment from management the Royals could contend in this
Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do. But
there is one fact that has been irrefutable since Tony LaRussa began to use
relievers on schedule, rather than when needed: Bullpen By Committee Does Not
Work. Gardy steered out of the skid just in time last night, designating Jon Rauch as his closer after weeks of saying he’d try the committee route. Do not be fooled by
reminiscences of the “Nasty Boys” – the 1990 Reds had 50 saves, 31 by Randy
Myers, 11 by Rob Dibble, 4 by Rick Mahler, 2 by Tim Layana, and 2 by Norm
Charlton. The Reds would trade Myers within a year and Charlton within two.
Minnesota’s committee could have been Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and
Al Worthington, and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are reasons to fear this team might not be competitive –
the tremendous home field advantage that was the Metrodome is gone (although
depending on how the wind current works – see “Yankee Stadium, 2009” – it could
turn Joe Mauer into a 50-homer man). The new double-play combo is also symbolic
of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy
(who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and
Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow
lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last
year). It is also
the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason
Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the
Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending
value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To
Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front
office personnel to pull it off.
I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is
this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox.
Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place and whether the Twins get it
will largely depend on how Target Field “plays” as a new home. Kansas City is
last again, which offends me, because there is as little excuse for this
perpetual state of suspended animation as there would be in Cincinnati or
Milwaukee or maybe even Denver and Tampa.