Saturday, May 10, 2003

Win number 298 is in the bag. Roger Clemens outpitched Barry Zito today to bring his record to 5-2 and climb to within two wins of the magic 300 total. Clemens seems to be on a mission this year and though he has hinted that this year may be his last (or maybe because he has hinted that it's his last), he hasn't pitched one poor outing and very easily could be 7-0 and have the 300 already. His ERA is 2.35 in his eight starts. The American League is only hitting .225 against him. He has 50 strikeouts in 53.2 innings and has only given up 45 hits in those same innings. Not bad for a guy who is going to turn 41 soon. Watching him stretch out for this milestone has been most exciting.

A couple of other observations: Jorge Posada has stepped up his game. His defense is much better and his hitting has been very timely. With 29 RBI already this season, he is among the leaders. The one concern with Posada is that he always seems to have good numbers at the AllStar game and then seems to fade in the second half.

Oakland seems to have Soriano's number as he is 0 for the season against them now after five games. They bust him inside and since they have the heat and talent in their arms to pull that off, it is working. Other teams have tried that but he is too quick and a 90 MPH fastball is not going to get by him.

Besides Chavez, Tejada and the pitching staff, I'm not real impressed with the Athletics as a team. They win on good fundamental baseball and good pitching but they certainly don't have the best talent in the league. I would take Seattle's talent over Oakland's anyday.

Sammy Sosa is out 15 days because they removed the toenail on his foot. I've been there and a sore foot isn't fun. This will be a big test for the Cubs who are in a battle with the Cardinals and Astros in that division and will be all year. The Cubbies beat the Cardinals in extra innings today without Sammy. But Sammy is one of the most miraculous RBI man that has played the game in the last 40 years. The man has AVERAGED 140 RBI a season for the last five years. 700 RBI in five seasons! Wow! And that is on a team that has had no one around him or in front of him. He just got it done somehow. It will be tough for the Cubs not to slip a few games back without Sammy.

Okay, Okay. The Braves are going to be much better than I had predicted (or hoped) this year. I just hate those guys and I really didn't think their pitching would hold up. But they are getting great stuff from their makeshift staff and have had a great surge. A lot of that surge has to do with the hitting of the two Joneses...which I have to say through gnashed teeth as I hate Chipper Jones more than any other ballplayer.

I think the Yankees should keep Sterling Hitchcock this season. So far this season, Hitchcock has been well...sterling. He can keep the other team off balance for a few innings, that's for sure.

Mark on your Yankee calendar, Friday, June 13th as Interleague play will be in effect by then and Tino Martinez returns home to NY for a three game set. Tino had some great moments as a Yankee and was a truly class act. I hope the Yankee fans give him a superb welcome.

Friday, May 09, 2003

"This is ground control to Major Tom. There's something wrong. Your curcuit's dead. Can you hear me Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom? - David Bowie

Well, it was fun while it lasted but some of the teams that started off hot are crashing back to earth as are some fast starters individually. The Pittsburgh Pirates opened up hot and looked to be a whole lot better than in previous years. They started 5-1 and then 7-3 and have gone 7-17 since. Granted, Giles went down with an injury, but still. You had to hope that the hot start was for real.

The Kansas City Royals started out of the gate at a 17-3 clip. Sure, no one thought they would stay at that pace. But some of us were hoping they wouldn't fall to 3-9 since. Their division lead, which was once as high as eight games is down to two and a half. And like the Pirates, they are losing really ugly by blowing leads in the late innings or getting blown out altogether.

Also in free-fall are the Padres, the Indians and the Marlins. The Padres were bravely facing their injury problems but have sunk hard and have lost nine of ten. We knew this was a rebuilding year for the Indians but their record now is only slightly better than the Tigers (only a game and a half ahead of them!) as the Indians have lost eight of ten.

The Marlins are a special case and it's time for their leadership to really think about how they got to where they are. We have been hearing for at least four years about their great young arms and those arms have never developed to potential. And so many of those arms have gotten hurt. What is going on down there with how they handle the pitchers. With the talent they had, they could have been like Oakland but those arms never got where they were supposed to go.

Whomever is in charge of pitching in the Marlins' organization should lose his job and I believe their manager should go too. There is no way that team should be as bad as they are playing and there has to be a good reason why so many good arms have gone so bad. The headline on have talked about the Marlins bad luck. I don't believe in bad luck. I do believe in poor planning and poor execution.

Most people will be rooting for John Rocker to fail now that he is back in the majors. Hell, he's an easy target and in many ways, deservedly so. But there is another truth here and that is he's worked hard and took his demotion and his fall from the majors and worked back up the hard way. Secondly, since he has come back with the Devil Rays, there is no pressure on a bad team to ruin things for everyone. I could flower under Lou Piniella since Lou doesn't take any guff.

I hate when the Yankees are on the West Coast. I can't stay up to watch them tonight as I'm beat from staying up the last two nights. Sixteen runs against the Mariners yesterday! Man! I wish they would have saved half of those for Clemens on Saturday.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Just a reminder that the Flagrant Fan takes a day of rest on Thursdays. I'll see you all tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Have I already talked about how much I dislike this idea of the new AllStar game and how it will now determine which team is the home team in the World Series? If not, I'll be blunt. I think it's a travesty and I can't believe the players went for it. How can you have one event, an exhibition event at that, put that much spin on the outcome of the World Series. After all, the home team has a tremendous advantage.

The game is an exhibition. The fans want to see the game's best players just hanging out together and occasionally displaying some of the talent that got them to the game in the first place. Well, let me rephrase that because I'm not sure the fans want to see it at all. The ratings have slumped for years. There were so many good and solid suggestions on how to improve the game last year after it happened. Expanding the roster made the most sense. That way you'd have enough players no matter what happened. The other great idea was to do away with the idea of having to have a player from each team at the game. No disrespect to Randy Winn, but he was not an AllStar last year and the only reason he was there was because of the need to pick at least one player.

The homerun derby has been a great addition to the festivities and is almost as great as the celebrity softball game (that follows the homerun derby) is bad. That is pathetic and should be killed immediately.

Did the game ending in a tie last year bother me? No. Who cares who wins! It's an exhibition game for crying out loud. All I care about is whether my favorite hitters hit and my favorite pitchers pitch. The rest is just fun. My favorite part is the wide eyed wonder you can see in the players' faces when faced with so many of their star peers. That itself is worth the game.

Let's follow this logic...The Twins make it to the playoffs with the worst record among the division winners and have a worse record than even the wildcard. The Twins get hot and make it to the World Series. The Giants win 108 games and finish 20 ahead in their division. The American League wins the AllStar game and the Twins get home field advantage? That's a steal and an advantage to the Twins that they didn't earn. It just doesn't make sense.

For the players association to ratify the move goes to show just how much ownership has gained in the last few years. That's the cynical side of me. The optimistic side of me says that I'm glad the players are trying so hard to work with the owners. Isn't that nice for the game! But for crying out loud, players! This was a stupid move and it doesn't make sense at any level.

If you REALLY wanted to fix the AllStar game, put the choice of who plays back on the players and managers and away from the fans. I hate any thought of fans stuffing ballots and it tarnishes the game and those players who make the AllStar game.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

There was a lot of talk as recently as Mark McGwire's homerun record year about how thin the talent is in MLB. I have listened closely and have not heard that kind of talk lately. The closest theme to that is the talk that 500 homeruns in a career didn't mean what it used to mean (which is baloney). The implied argument behind the 500 career homerun/Hall of Fame debate is difficult to pinpoint. The implication is either that the players are too strong now or that the talent is too thin. My take on the discussions is that the implications are with the former and not the latter. If it is so much easier to hit now, how come we still haven't had a .400 hitter in 50 years?

The same pundits who explain the supposed cheapness of 500 homers are the same who say that Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux (and maybe Glavine) will be the last 300 game winners in our lifetime. The arguments presented there are that starting pitchers only pitch every fifth day and that they only pitch six innings and too much can happen once they leave the game. Neither argument makes much sense. Pitchers still won twenty games last year (though there were less than in recent memory). 300 wins in a career would mean averaging 17 wins for 18 seasons. Not impossible with a few 23 to 25 win seasons thrown in there.

Hitting 500 homers seems just as improbable. To do so means to average 30 homers or more for 17 years and that's a lot of homers. I do believe there has been a convergence of talent in the past few years. McGwire, Sosa, Griffey Jr., Bonds and Palmeiro (and A-Rod up and coming) are and were extraordinary players. But so were Mays, Aaron, McCovey, Killebrew, Mantle from their era. Clumps of talent have happened before.

There are two major differences that do aid the modern ballplayer. First, the science of fitness has dramatically improved and so players now know how to take care of themselves better than ever. Secondly, sports medicine is dramatically improved. Clemens and Schilling have had major shoulder surgeries in their careers. Many others have had the Tommy John procedure. In the past, if the arm broke, it broke and that was the end of it. And so a Clemens can pitch 20 years. That fact alone means that the days of 300 wins are not over with him.

To get back to my original statement, I don't see a thinning of baseball talent. In every game I watch, several pitchers are throwing faster than 90 MPH. Players at every position are making diving stops and plays that make your eyes pop out. There is no shortage of talent to fill the drafts for every team every draft day. Big time college programs provide almost a minor league level of training for players. The whole world is a market for talent with players coming from Hispanola, the Orient, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Baseball talent isn't thinning. I believe it's a very exciting time to be a fan as great players are springing up everywhere. Excuse me while I go check what Blalock and Baldelli are doing tonight...

Monday, May 05, 2003

In the past two days, I have heard baseball announcers talk about Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa slow starts. Slow starts!? Sosa always heats it up in June and is ahead of where he usually is this time of year. The last time I watched Bonds play, he hit two homers. I'd take that slow start.

Another player who has also had a tough start is Ichiro Suzuki. But he had two big hits last night and could be on his way. I doubt Japan had the arms to consistently blast him inside like MLB pitchers have been doing to him. Both hits yesterday were in the middle of the plate. Suzuki will need to adjust. Last year wasn't as big a year for Ichiro as the year before and his impact seems less. There was talk of him dealing with injuries last year. Plus he is getting older.

That leads to a point that I want to make with as much diplomacy as I can. I think MLB should model society and be as much a melted society as possible, but asian players have already been through many of their best years before they think about coming here. That limits the amount of quality years an asian player has in him in the majors. I just don't see any long term success stories out there.

Hideo Nomo has been a solid starter and has won 101 games since he arrived here. He had a great year last year and is off to a pretty good start this year. How many other asian players can you name besides Nomo who have played more than five years? Chan Ho Park? Uhh...nope. Hidecki Arabu? Puhleeze!

The same can be said to recent Cuban refugees who have signed with MLB clubs with much ballyhoo. There hasn't been one durable and effective pitcher who has defected. I don't count Livan Hernandez as he really doesn't seem to have much drive to succeed and has done little to improve his pitching. Orlando Hernandez? For two years maybe.

A sad, sad statement, but for the first time ever, I would rather play for the Florida Marlins than the New York Mets. The Mets are really the New York Mess. Steve Phillips can't be very comfortable sleeping at night.

Speaking of leadership not sleeping, Jeff Torborg is a dinosaur and needs to be replaced. The same can be said for Bob Boone in Cincinnati. It's time for a change on both teams. The other poor teams are at least playing hard. And you can't ask for more than that. Speaking of poor teams, it looks like the Tigers are going to win two in a row for the first time this year.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

Ack! OOOOOOOooooooooooooooo! Clemens lost again even though he pitched great. Barry Zito pitched even better and the Yankees made two baserunning blunders that cost them dearly. Both teams only managed four hits and one of Clemens' runs given up was unearned. The old man pitched great but at a bad time. I wonder how many times that has happened in his career. So...he is STILL at 297 and three from the magic number.

Bartolo Colon looks to be about 25 pounds overweight. Now, I can't say anything personally since I am MORE overweight than that. But I am not a ballplayer and I'm not paid a gazillion dollars to perform at my peak using my body. He is and he should be taking care of that body for the best results.

I have heard the other arguments before from overweight pitchers and how they do just fine with the extra weight. The Red Sox had a HUGE pitcher for a couple of years. His name escapes me at the moment except that they called him El Guappo or something like that. Yes, he did have one really good year but he was not the same after that and I believe he is out of baseball now. Denny McClain was great and then gained weight and also got in big trouble but he was never the same either.

I used to bowl competitively and made good money doing so. There is no doubt in my mind that my best seasons were when I was at my thinnest and most fit. When you are regularly exercising and taking care of your weight, for some reason you are just more aware of your body and can make it listen to your mind. The last time I tried to bowl, I pulled a hamstring. See!?

Colon has some of the best stuff in baseball (or at least he did). He topped out tonight at 96 MPH but most of his fastballs were of the 90 and 91 MPH category. I won't question him and his willingness to win, but he just doesn't seem to have much passion when he pitches. And it's always seemed that way with him.

The Tigers scored seven runs today and won! Wow!

Some of the colder players in April are starting to show some life: Jason Giambi won the game yesterday with a homer. Junior Spivey had three homers this weekend. Ichiro had a homer and a double tonight. Slow starts should never panic with those types of players with that kind of experience. They will end up where they always end up.