Saturday, April 11, 2009

Why It's Hard to Like National League Baseball

Watched two games today and both are reminders of why National League baseball is harder to like than American League baseball. The games in question were the Cubs/Brewers game and the Mets/Marlins. Before we get to the action, let the Fan say ahead of time that the game's purists might be a bit put off by this post. But keep an open mind.

Let's start with the Mets and Marlins. First, the Marlins look very tough right now. They play with a lot of enthusiasm, swing with aggression and seem to enjoy each other as teammates. They have a solid young core of players and if their pitching holds up the way they have started, they are going to be interesting to watch.

Okay. The game was still close. John Maine of the Mets had only given up two hits in five innings. Unfortunately, those two hits were monster homers by Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. He had thrown 83 pitches through those five innings. On the other side, Anibal Sanchez kept the Mets scoreless through five innings but had a high pitch count (98) due to pitching deep into the count while striking out five and walking three. It was obvious that Sanchez wouldn't make it deep into the game.

In fact, Sanchez was replaced by Dan Meyer to start the top of the sixth. Meyer promptly gave up a homer to Carlos Beltran and then a single to Church. Schneider then sacrificed but Luis Castillo flied out making it two outs. Maine was due up next and according to the logic of current National League baseball, Sheffield was called upon to pinch hit. Sheffield walked but Reyes then flew out to end the inning.

And so Maine was out after only five innings. Sean Green was called in to pitch the sixth for the Mets and gave up a run but also struck out the side. The Mets scored two runs to tie the score in the top of the seventh. But the Mets were then forced (having used Green already) to bring in inexperienced Bobby Parnell, who has thrown a total of six innings in his big league career. Parnell gave up the go ahead run.

Though the Mets did tie the game up against the Marlins' closer, Matt Lindstrom--a real weakness for the Marlins by the way--in the top of the ninth. The feisty Marlins then won the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Now the point of all this is that in National League baseball's silent bylaws, the Mets had to pinch hit for John Maine. If this was American League baseball, Maine would have pitched at least another inning which would have set them up perfectly to bring Green in the seventh, Putz in the eighth and their closer in the ninth. Exposing their bullpen another inning led to a weaker pitcher being relied upon with the expected bad results.

Now many of you might be wagging your finger at the Fan stating that this is purist baseball and much better than that DH business. Well, if you say so. But the Fan has been around long enough to know that in purist baseball, the Drysdales, Koufaxes, Gibsons, and other National League pitchers of the past wouldn't have come out after five innings and 83 pitches. That is totally a modern phenomenon just as the DH is in the American League. In the "good old days," you would only pinch hit for the pitcher if he was getting roughed up or very late in the game.

Okay, let's go to the Cubs game against the Brewers. This is a tale of how a 4-3 game can take three hours and twelve minutes. Harden started for the Cubbies and Looper for the Brewers. Harden was fantastic and struck out ten batters in six innings, but was dinged for two runs, one of them earned. Looper only gave up one run in his five innings but had trouble with his control.
And so Seth McClung came in the top of the sixth and that's when the fun started.

First, McClung couldn't McCling to the lead and gave up a two run homer to back-up catcher Koyie Hill, who to this point in his career had a .292 slugging percentage in 240 big league at bats. Harden dispatched of the Brewers quickly in the bottom half of the sixth and then McClung got through the top of the seventh despite two more base runners.

Piniella then brings Heilman in to start the bottom of the seventh and he promptly walks Bill Hall, which is historically pretty hard to do. Jason Kendall successfully sacrifices Hall to second and out comes Piniella to summon Neal Cotts to LOOGY Craig Counsell, who is batting for McClung. Cotts promptly plunks Counsell who trots to first base.

So for those keeping score, we've had 16 warm up pitches and only 11 real pitches and a runner is on first and second and out pops Piniella again, because, Cotts is only a LOOGY. In comes Marmol who throws 8 more warm up pitches (we're up to 24 for the inning and two commercial breaks). Marmol, once presumably warm, got lucky when Weeks lined hard to second. He then walked Corey Hart to load the bases. Fortunately for the Cubs, Braun flew out to right to end the inning. No runs, three base runners, 24 warm up pitches and 27 real pitches.

Ted Coffey comes in for the Brewers in the top of the eighth and promptly gives up a double to Fontenot. TheRiot grounds out and then Coffey plunks the immortal Koyie Hill who trots to first. Aaron Miles pinch hits for Marmol (since this IS the National League) and promptly hits into a double play to end the inning.

Sean Marshall, not a LOOGY by definition and normally a starting pitcher, comes in for the Cubbies to face the lefty, Fielder. But he walks him. Up pops Piniella from the dugout using his National League exercise program and replaces Marshall with Vizcaino. So now we have sixteen warm up pitches and only five real pitches have been thrown.

Vizcaino gets lucky and J. J. Hardy's line shot is caught in deep left field. He then induces Cameron to dribble the ball back to him and Cameron is thrown out at first, Fielder moving to second. Piniella again pops out of the dugout and replaces Vizcaino with Kevin Gregg, the Cubs' closer. So we are again up to 24 warm up pitches, two commercial breaks and only 13 real pitches have been thrown. Oy. Gregg finishes out the inning without incident.

The Brewers go down easily in the bottom of the eighth and Gregg comes out for the ninth and promptly (the Fan is using that word far too often...must be this week's catchy word) blows the save.

The bottom line here is Piniella's fiddling with all those pitchers meant that Gregg was asked to have more than a three out save, not a good idea with this generation of closers (See? Not so purist). Plus, the fans had to endure 48 warm up pitches, four commercial breaks to account for 47 real pitches and a whole bunch of idle time. Wasn't that fun?

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Real Tragedy

Roughly 37,000 people die each year in automobile accidents. That's roughly 20 per 100,000 licensed drivers. Unless it touches you personally, it's hard to understand how many people are anguished by that number. My dad died in a car accident in 1966, so it hits home. So why then does something like Nick Adenhart's death in an accident feel so much worse?

Two others died in that accident and another was seriously injured. Apparently, it was a drunk driver. The other two fatalities were mentioned in all the stories, but to a far lesser degree than Adenhart's. One of the fatalities was a 20 year old female. It all hurts. The families must be devastated.

It's big news when it happens to a celebrity or an athlete. They function in the realm of make believe. They are like the Santa Clauses we still believe in. And so it seems much more jarring when we learn of one of their demises among the thousands of others we hear about all the time. They are supposed to be super human. They are supposed to be immortal. It's supposed to be a game or a movie. It's not real life.

But it is real life. These players we watch and place somewhere above where our own lives are become our escape, our vicarious thrill. They are supposed to take us beyond our own misery and lift us to a place where our own pain is numbed for a little while. They aren't supposed to die. Not when they are 22 and gifted with a whole career and life in front of them. But they do and it reminds us all that life is a gift and can be taken at any moment and these players are flesh and blood and mere mortals that bleed and can be broken.

And it always seems worse when the victim seems innocent and fresh and so young. We can somehow stomach players who self-destruct and die before their time because of their own self destruction, whether it be drugs, alcohol or living too far in the fast lane for far too long. But when the pictures show a bright young kid with a home town smile, that isn't supposed to happen.

But the good book tells us that our days are numbered and known from the beginning of time. The cycle is longer for some than for others and it's a mystery we may never know until it becomes our time.

At least Adenhart was living his dream and was reaching his goals. How many of us can say that about our lives? His last game was masterful and won't be forgotten because of its timing. His father got to see it happen and can cherish that memory forever. That won't lessen the pain, but it should bring a smile between the tears now and then.

The truth is, my friend, that each one of those 37,000 is a tragedy. And tragedy is happening around us all the time. With television so gritty and so in your face, we get desensitised and numb to the pain all around us. Perhaps it's time to not only mourn Nick Adenhart, but all those who lost loved ones this past week or month or year. Maybe it's time to shake off the Novocaine and start reaching out to those who hurt.

Real life intruded on our fantasies again, just as spring felt so new and refreshing after such a long hard winter. But reality is what it is. We may numb ourselves with television, with the Internet or with booze and drugs, but reality is always there. Some times it can be breathtakingly beautiful and other times, it can be a real ugly pit.

Nick Adenhart had a wonderful smile. Maybe we can honor him and all those 37,000 by showing someone a real kindness today and tomorrow. Maybe we can take a moment to stop fearing and hating people we don't understand or know. Maybe we can mourn and rejoice. Either life condition is far better than being numb.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Box Score Mayberry RFD

The Fan likes the box scores over at Yahoo Sports. Unlike some other sites, they seem very straight forward. You can go right to the the main baseball page and the list of games is there and you are only one click away from the information you crave.

If you have read the Fan's previous post, you know the Fan was furiously flipping back and forth between two exciting innings--one between the Tigers and Blue Jays and one between the Yankees and Orioles.

Even when watching the games, the Fan still likes keeping the box scores going because it adds to the experience. Hey, so the Fan is weird. What else is new. In the midst of these two bizarre and exciting innings taking place hundreds of miles, and two countries apart, the Fan came across these two pictures. The one on the left is Zack Minor, the Tigers' pitcher. The one on the right is Adam Lind, who was batting against Minor with the bases loaded.

And in the middle of all that, the Fan busts out laughing because of those two pictures. Minor looks like Gomer Pyle and Lind looks like Opie. "Holy cow," says the Fan, "Gomer's pitching to Opie!"

Two Games. Two Simultaneously Weird Innings

Baseball is such a great game. Yes, the stats are fun. Yes, the analysis is great. But the games themselves provide so many unexpected moments. Two really weird innings happened at the exact same time in two different ballparks. One didn't factor greatly in the results of the game. The other really did. In the words of Randy Jackson, "Check it out, Baby."

First, we start in Toronto. The Tigers had scored three runs in the top of the first on a Miguel Cabrera homer. Zack Minor (check out the next post for more on him) comes out to pitch the bottom of the first for the Tigers. Marco (Polo!) Scaturo immediately greets Minor with a double to left. Aaron Hill hits a bomb to deep center for another double that scores Scaturo. Alex Rios singles to right field but Hill is held up at third. Vernon Wells then walks to load the bases. So a run is in and the Tigers are in some Minor trouble.

At the same time, in Baltimore, the Yankees are trying to win their first game of the year. But they went scoreless in the top of the first despite a walk by Jeter. Chien-Ming Wang comes out in the bottom of the first for his debut for the year after an injury-filled 2008. It doesn't start well at all for Wang. After Roberts grounded out to start the inning, Adam Jones hits a ground rule double to deep right. Nick Markakis pounds the ball to deep center for another double that scores Jones. Sounds familiar doesn't it? Aubrey Huff breaks the pattern and his the third consecutive double and plates Markakis. Melvin Mora is up next and Wang is in a heap of trouble.

The Fan, at this point is flipping back and forth to both games as all this is happening...well...simultaneously. We now flip back to Toronto. Remember the bases are loaded, one run is already in and there are no outs. Lind is up for the Blue Jays and he has already had a hot start. But he grounds it to the infield and a force is made at home and Aaron Hill is out. Runners still fill the bases and there is still only one out.

Flip back to Baltimore. Huff is on second and Mora is up. Two runs are already in. Inexplicably, Huff heads for third. Wang fires over to Ransom and Huff is tagged out. What the? What was he thinking? To make matters worse, Mora then singles and is on first with two out. The single would probably have scored Huff. But with two outs, Luke Scott grounds to the infield and Mora is forced at second to end the inning.
Flip! Toronto still has the bases loaded with one out. A run has already scored, but Zack Minor induced a ground ball force out at the plate, so that's the one out. Scott Rolen is up next and hits a fly ball to right field. Josh Anderson catches it and throws a strike to Gerald Laird and Rios is out, double play! Wow!
Two innings, lots of guys running around, lots of base runners and two very bizarre happenings. Only three runs score when it seemed like there would be a dozen between the two innings. The Orioles went ahead and won anyway, because Wang just didn't have anything tonight. But in Toronto, the Blue Jays never scored again, so that inning really did win the game for the Tigers.
Baseball is so great.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Well, That Didn't Take Long for Darnsworth

The Royals spent the preseason hearing for the first time in a long time that they might have an outside shot at competing in the weak American League Central division. That was something we haven't heard about the Royals in a long time. And for seven innings, they did everything right.

They got a great start from Gil-ga-Meche who pitched seven innings of seven hit ball with no walks and one earned run. He left the game with the lead. Young Alex Gordon knocked in two runs with his first home of the season in what Kansas City fans hope are the first of many. Young David DeJesus threw out a runner at home and a runner at second. Everything was going great.

And then the Royals manager brought in Kyle Farnsworth. Cubs fans, Tigers fans and Yankee fans all gave each other knowing and smirking looks. And they were all correct in knowing what was coming.

First, Josh Fields surprised everyone with a bunt single towards third. Great play. Dewayne Wise flied out to center (which is the only time the guy put a ball in play all day after three strikeouts). Young Chris Getz singled to right and Fields raced to third. Now it's first and third, one out. But Farnsworth then strikes out Carlos Quentin and you could see all the Royals' fans get some hope. Suckers!

Next up is the aged Jim Thome, now 39 years old and sitting at 541 homers. Farnsworth delivers, and in the immortal words of Stuart Scott, "Boo-yaah!" Thome clobbers the pitch to deep center, three runs score. The Royals fans now know what so many have come to learn before. He's Farnsworth, never your Money'sWorth. Jermaine Dye then singles, but mercifully decides to try to steal second and is thrown out to end the inning.

Bobby Jenks comes in the next half inning to close the game for the White Sox and the game is over. What a pity for the Royals, who could have had a real nice start to their season.

Today was the thirty-second time in Farnsworth's career that he has blown a save. He has now given up sixteen homers in his last 61 innings. He has allowed 93 base runners in those 61 innings.

Farnsworth used to throw 100 MPH and now throws around 95 to 96. Not bad in today's game, but the thing about his fastball is that it is dead straight. He gets no movement at all. You would think that in all these years, he would have picked up something from somebody on how to make his ball move a little bit. But no, nothing. So if someone like Thome is sitting dead red and a straight fast ball comes in there even at 95, he is going to crush it.

The Fan shouldn't be so mean to the guy. He might be a very nice guy and a good family man, who knows. But this much has been proven, he just can't do it when he needs to and has shown that time and time again. The Royals paid him a lot of money. But they should just swallow it and bury him in long relief. That's the only place he can't really hurt them. If he pitches in another meaningful situation for them for the rest of the year, they might as well get a gun and play Russian Roulette.

It is a pity. The Royals could have set a tone. And even though it's only the first game of the year, it's a kick in the pants on what could have been a great ballgame for them. But Chicago, New York and Detroit have all been there with Darnsworth and the results are never pretty.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Observations While Watching Today's Opening Day Games

The Fan overdosed on televised baseball today while working on a contract book. Needless to say, the book didn't get as much attention as needed while the baseball got rapt attention. Here are some observations while watching today's Opening Day games:

- Cincinnati has very good pitching but unless their hitters can find some patience, it's going to be a long season. Santana was good, but not THAT good. When he wasn't striking batters out on pitches that were balls, he was getting easy outs on first swing outs, as did all Mets pitchers.

- The Fan still can't believe that the Reds can't find someone better than Hairston in left.

- The new Mets bullpen did exactly what it was hired to do. Putz closed out the eighth and K-Rod closed out the ninth. Ball game.

- Steve Phillips is even more annoying when he doesn't have to share time during a broadcast. If he mentions one more time what he did while a GM for the Mets, the Fan is going to barf bacon bits.

- That kid, Murphy, looks like a natural hitter. Sheffield should not take any at bats away from him.

- In the Yankee game, Sabathia didn't have his fastball. That was obvious. But it should be nothing to worry about. It was cold and rainy. He'll be fine. What is more worrisome was that he looked uncomfortable. Was it Posada? The pitcher and catcher didn't look in sync. This will bear watching.

- As will Posada's catching. He did hit a homer and didn't have to throw anyone out, but he missed several pitches that he should have caught that resulted in wild pitches. He also failed to block an easy ball in the dirt...well, as easy as a ball in the dirt can be. It looked like he was too slow to get down. His catching will bear watching.

- Gardner did what he was supposed to do. Got on base, made something happen and played well in center while throwing out a runner at the plate.

- With all due apologies to Xavier Nady, the guy is a bum. Put Swisher in there! Nady killed one rally by overrunning third, then just stood there like a dummy when he did so. Try getting in a run down for crying out loud. Then he ruined another rally with a double play.

- Girardi may have cost the Yankees the game in the eighth inning. Phil Coke did a great job for an inning and two thirds and got the first out (a lefty) in the eighth. The Fan said, "Time to bring Bruney in." Girardi didn't. Five runs later, the game is over.

- Jeter looked great until he didn't wait for his pitch with the infield in. That was a rookie mistake that ruined a great game for him.

- Ludwick looked like a hero for the Cardinals with a homer to put the red birds up on the Pirates. But LaRussa put Motte in as closer instead of Ryan Franklin and the Pirates took the game. The Pirates are in first place! And the Cardinals are going to have a lot of fun closing games.

- Did Soriano clock Oswalt's second pitch or what? Wow!

- Griffey hit a homer in his first game back with Seattle. How sweet is that? Oh, and the Mariners beat the Twins as the Mariners' best pitcher looked much better than the Twin's best pitcher.

After all that, the Fan's wife wanted to watch Dancing With the Stars, so that was the end of baseball for the day. But it sure was fun while it lasted. The season has begun and as the English say, "the game is afoot!"

Monday, April 06, 2009

Watching the First Game

The Fan is camped out on his special recliner with ESPN on high definition watching the first game of the year on Opening Day, 2009. Here we go. The season is finally here!

While this isn't intended on being a live blog, here are some observations as the game goes on:

- Brett Myers looks awful. Derek Lowe looks great.

- The Braves' shortstop, Escobar, looks fantastic. He's slick, really slick.

- The third man in the booth isn't working for ESPN. The Fan is irritated every time Steve Phillips speaks. He's like an intruder. Ugh! Get him out of there.

- It's always fun when a rookie hits a homer in his first major league at bat. The rookie? Jordan Schafer. He also got a single his next at bat.

- Casey Kotchman must be the slowest runner in the major leagues. He's hit two grounders and looked each time like he was running in mud.

- Ryan Howard looks much slimmer.

- Man, Derek Lowe looks great. Reminds the Fan of his performance against the Yankees in the playoffs.

- Why wasn't Escobar's double reviewed? Why didn't ESPN even show a replay? It looked like an iffy call. Is this going to be a pattern?

- Joe Morgan had a great observation about Franceaur's open stance. Morgan said that those who are new to an open stance tend to pull inside pitches off the plate into foul territory giving up strikes. Nice.

- Myers settled down and gave the Phillies six good innings.

- Philadelphia's ball park looks fantastic. Beautiful green grass.

- Have you seen those Dustin Pedroia/Playstation commercials? Obviously, it's tongue in cheek, but it sure makes Pedroia look like a big-headed oaf.

- Ibanez has been up three times and pounded the ball into the ground all three times. Three ground outs. Not a good start.

- Scott Eyre = LOOGY. LOOGY baseball is annoying. Two batters. Bring a new guy in. [sigh]

- Not sure what Crown Royal is trying to prove. But their commercials feature scruffy looking people that aren't impressive at all.

- Why do the Phillies keep swinging at the first pitch?

- The Fan had forgotten how weird Brad Lidge throws a pitch. It really is a weird motion. But it sure is effective.

- The Braves' closer sure looked iffy. He pulled the game out with two strikeouts of Howard and Ibanez. Gonzalez is going to be an adventure for the Braves.

And so the game is in the books. The 2009 season begins with the Braves in first place and the Phillies in last. After a long wait, the season has started and it sure is wonderful to get going again. Wahoo! Here we go.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Weekly Romp Through the Transaction Wire

The Fan is all messed up. Not quite full recovered from his 40 hour internet blackout earlier in the week, he is consistently a day behind. Like jet lag for bloggers, the Fan is bleary-eyed and seriously messed up. So, though they are a day late and a dollar shortstop, here are this week's look at the transaction wire:

- Boston got down to its opening day roster. Van Every player is accounted for as Jonathan and four others were placed on the disabled list, which is beginning to look like a baseball equivilent of football's practice squad. In other Boston news, Buchholz's hopes to make the opening day roster appear to be a jar of Clay and he was sent down.

- Down in Florida, Rick VandenHurt was placed on the disabled list.

- In Houston, Abercrombe was sent to the minors and he was Fitch to be tied.

- The Fan is in deNile and can't believe that Cairo made the Phillies' opening day roster.

- Daric the Fan ask if Barton made the opening day roster? He didn't. He was sent down.

- In poetic justice to the Red Sox organization, Josh Bard made the Nationals opening day roster. In other Nationals news, the team Wil let Ledzema start the season with the big club. The Fan expected them to scratch him.

- The Nationals also ended their Mock epic and sent Garrett to Syracuse.

- The Braves' pitcher, Chris, was sent down and he hopes they don't keep Medlin with his mechanics. In other Braves' news, Brooks Conrad was also sent down river.

- The Orioles Jim Hoey wasn't digging the fact that he had to go to AA.

- The Nationals Kory Casto was a Castoff to the minors.

- The Orioles let Robby Hammock swing between the tees as they sent him down to the minors.

- Apparently, Edward wasn't Mujica to the ears for the Indians so they traded him to the Padres.

- The Twins put Scott on the disabled list for a Baker's dozen days plus two.

- In Detroit, Rapada, Raburn and Williamson were all packed like Sardinha to the minor leagues.

- The Braves went, "Here Chipper, Chipper, Chipper," and gave him three years worth of new bones. Oops. The Fan promised not to do that anymore. Bummer.

- In a singing telegram, the Indians sung: "Tell Lara we love him. Tell Lara we need him. Tell Lara not to cry. Here's a minor league contract for you and I." You have to be really old to get that one...

- Will "Busta" Rhymes was rapped to the minors by Detroit.

- And finally, Norris was sent to the Hopper as the Reds optioned the outfielder.

Opening Day!

Well...only one game is scheduled and the rest of the teams will open tomorrow. But still! It's opening day and Derek Anderson Lowe will face Brett Allen Myers in Philadelphia as the Phillies begin their title defense against the Atlanta Braves.

It seems only fitting that here in Maine, the robins returned just two days ago and the little wild portulaca the Fan saved from the garden, threw out its first flower yesterday on its window sill perch. After an extremely tough winter of harsh temperatures, huge snow storms and economic woes, hope begins again and baseball is a part of that and the Fan feels it in his bones.

After tonight's game, being aired on ESPN2 for those that want to watch, there will be crooked numbers in the standings. The stats page will have some real numbers and the fun will begin. Both teams playing tonight have some serious questions. Each has rotation issues. The Braves don't have an established closer. The Phillies have weaknesses at third and behind the plate and the Braves have question marks in two thirds of their outfield and two fourths of their infield. It should be interesting.

Sure enough, tomorrow will bring the full bloom to the season as all the other teams open their seasons and from now until the end of the season, the full spectrum of baseball thought and analysis will move from speculation to actuation. It's grand and it's time.

The Fan is ready!