Thursday, May 20, 2004

Mike Lowell was the forgotten man during last year's Marlin championship run. Lowell had been the steady rock earlier in the Marlins' season belting 32 homers and knocking in 105 runs. His numbers would have been much higher but Lowell broke his hand. Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, great young pitching and an old timer manager led the Marlins to the Series title. Lowell had bit parts in the post season including one heroic hit, but his earlier season was largely forgotten.

Ivan Rodriguez is now gone and Cabrera is appearing to seem human after all. Mike Lowell has come to the fore as the leader of the Marlins offense and has helped the not-so-surprising team to the top of the NL East. Tonight's game against Houston is a perfect example.

Luis Castillo led off the game with a single and took third on Pierre's single. Castillo then scored on a wild pitch. But then Pierre got thrown out trying to steal. That could have ended a potentially big inning with only one run. But then Lowell came up and hit his twelfth homer of the season.

In the fifth inning, with the Marlins up 3-1, Lowell was pitched around and walked and came in to score on a Lenny Harris double.

On Lowell's next at bat, after the Astros had scored a run in the top of the seventh to cut the Marlins' lead to 5-2, Lowell responded in the bottom of the seventh with his thirteenth homer to put the nail in the game.

Lowell now has 13 homers in 38 games and is on pace to hit 54. He is also batting .349, with a slugging percentage near .700 and an OPS over 1.110. In short, he is having a monster year and is continuing his pattern of getting better every year, increasing his production while increasing his walks and lowering his strikeouts.

And Lowell has become one of the best fielding first baseman in the league. Scott Rolen may be the best fielding third baseman in the National League, but Lowell, right now, is the best third baseman in that league.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The thing about Major League Baseball is that life is mirrored on the field. Similar to an crime movie, problems are solved in two to three hours. There are good guys and bad guys and depending on the movie, either one could win. For the Fan, Randy Johnson has always been one of the bad guys. The bad guys won big last night.

Randy Johnson has always portrayed this scowling, oppressive presence on the mound. He is unlovely, gangly and uncouth to look at. He showed his bad guy presence during the All-Star game when he buzzed John Kruk to prove a point. And, worst of all, Johnson had the temerity to consistently challenge Nolan Ryan's single season strikeout record while also threatening Roger Clemens' record for Cy Young awards.

And then the bad guy beat the good guys in the deciding game of the 2001 World Series. The fan's teeth gnash when the bad guy is as good as Randy Johnson has been. From the second half of 1998, when Johnson was traded to Houston, until the end of 2002, Johnson won 91 games and lost 28. Johnson is now 234-118 in his career with 3952 strikeouts in 3185 career innings. Incredible.

The bad guy seemed finished last year. His velocity down, his back aching, Johnson limped through last year and ended up with a 6-8 record. More telling was that for the first time in his career, Randy Johnson gave up more hits than innings pitched. The Fan tried to avoid feelings of satisfaction.

And then there is the concerted effort in the past few years to make the bad guy look almost human. He appeared on baseball shows attempting to hit a baseball. He is shown gracefully bowling a beautiful left hook in a commercial. A sporting magazine showed him as a driven man and a family man. The Fan almost gave in to taking Johnson off the bad guy list. Almost.

Last night, at the age of forty, Randy Johnson did something Roger Clemens has never done: a perfect game. His last fastball was 97 MPH after only hitting 92 last year. The perfect game wasn't against any run of the mill team. The gem beat the Atlanta Braves. Granted, the Braves aren't what they were, but they are still the Braves. The bad guy made it look easy.

Sometimes, the admission has to be made that the bad guy is one of the best to ever work his craft. Sometimes, a true Fan has to acknowledge the bad guy with a tip of the cap. That was an awesome performance, Randy Johnson.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Take a tip from the Fan: Never move during baseball season if you love the game. This very good season churned on while the Fan was blacked out like the old days before the Internet and Baseball Tonight. I apologize to my loyal readers for the absence. The move was very much like this MLB season, full of surprises, good and bad, at the same time predictable. And the fun continues.

The season is nearly a fourth over (or, for the optimist, three fourths to go) and the surprises equal the predictable. The Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Marlins, Astros and Cubs are as good as expected. The Orioles are as improved as expected.

The Angels in particular are playing as well as expected, but in an unexpected way. The team has had terrible injuries to several of its stars, but they still roll along winning seven out of their last ten. The latest terrible injury is to Troy Glaus with a shoulder injury. Glaus was placed on the 60-day disabled list, which is a shame as he was off to a great start after being injured much of last year. Glaus had already homered eleven times this season after only reaching sixteen last year.

The real surprises so far this season are many. Nobody expected the Devil Rays to win the AL East, but most thought they would be vastly improved. On the contrary, they have only won ten games in thirty-six attempts and have lost nine of their last ten. Old Piniella must be coughing up blood at this point.

Nobody expected the Reds to 20-17 at this point in the season. Adam Dunn has an on-base percentage of .490 to go along with his eleven homers. Sean Casey is batting .374 with 15 doubles. Barry Larkin and Ken Griffey Jr. are contributing. The pitching isn't spectacular, but has been better than expected with Paul Wilson and Aaron Harang leading the starters. Danny Graves isn't unhittable, but he has saved seventeen of the Reds' wins.

A surprise on the negative side has been the Royals. The ugly ducklings turned swans last year have been abysmal to this point. The pitching staff in particular is scary with a staff 5.28 ERA. The pitchers have given up 467 base runners in 305 innings. Ugh!

The Seattle Mariners have fallen on similar hard times. The Mariners pitch alright--although Hasegawa and Pineiro have had horrible starts to their season. The Mariners hit for a decent team average as well. Consider though that the Mariners have only hit 24 homers in 36 games. Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud are all batting in the high .240's and have collectively seemed to get old all at once. The manager is taking the heat, but this is a team that was kept together for two seasons too long.

Just about every team in the AL Central is a surprise. The Royals have been discussed already for their sour season. But the Twins are above expectations, as are the White Sox, Indians and even the Tigers. While the Tigers don't seem capable of maintaining their .500 record, the other three seem to be ready to battle it out the rest of the season.

The Twins seem to be doing well with mirrors. Lew Ford is a blossoming and unexpected new star and Christian Guzman is off to a good start. The relief pitching has been sublime so far as unlikely heroes like 85 year old, Terry Mulholland is contributing well along with unexpected closing success by Joe Nathan. Nathan's ERA is down to 1.37 and has struck out 26 batters in 19.2 innings pitched. It seems hard to believe that the Twins can hold on, but they haven't cracked yet.

The White Sox and Indians are good, but seem no better than .500 teams, but neither does the Twins. The winner of this division may end up with 85-90 wins.

The most fun surprise so far this season has been the Rangers and the Brewers. The Rangers have a chance to stay in contention in the AL West while the Brewers won't win a division any time soon, but they've turned into a fun team to follow.

Lyle Overbay has blown open the league so far this season. The Brewers have a pitcher who hits...or is that a hitter who pitches? Scott Podsednik has already scored 30 runs and has stolen 20 bases without being caught. And recently, Ben Sheets is starting to live up to his potential as he recently struck out 18 batters. Sheets is 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA. There is a fun story everywhere you look on this team.

Overbay has been amazing. Batting .369 this season, Overbay already has 21 doubles to go along with five homers and 38 RBI. Overbay is on pace to hit sixty doubles and a 150 RBI.

Brooks Kieschnick is batting .368 as a pinch hitter and has a 1.47 ERA in twelve pitching performances. Now that is fun stuff.

The Rangers are just as fun to watch as they have several young stars that have gelled under Buck Showalter. Soriano, Blalock, Young, Texeira, Nix and Mench have to be entertaining for the Rangers' fans night after night. Playing nearly .600 baseball is by far the number one team surprise of the year.

Monday, May 03, 2004

The Texas Rangers are 16-9 and in first place in the AL West after sweeping the seemingly unstoppable Boston Red Sox. It's hard to believe that is the truth. The Rangers have had Ivan Rodriguez and never won. They had Juan Gonzalez and never won. They had Rafael Palmeiro and never won. They had Alex Rodriguez and never won. But after watching the Rangers finish the sweep of the Red Sox, this team seems to have something really good going.

And how can you not give credit to Buck Showalter for the turnaround? Showalter has a track record of taking struggling teams and making them better. Showalter took over a bad Yankee team in the early 90's and was on the way to 100 wins in 1994 before the strike shortened the season. The Yankees struggled the following season and came in second and Showalter was gone. Joe Torre came to manage New York the following season and the Yankees won it all.

Showalter then was hired as the first manager of the new Arizona Diamondbacks in 1998. But he didn't start his job in 1998. Showalter helped set up that franchise and he did it well. The first year of their existance, the Diamondbacks lost 97 games. The following season, Showalter took them to a 100 win season. What an accomplishment for the second year in a franchise history.

Again, as did the Yankees, the Diamondbacks struggled after their 100 win season and they only won 85 the following year and came in third. Showalter was fired. The following year, just as in New York, the Diamondbacks won it all.

How much of those championships for the Yankees and Diamondbacks were because Showalter was no longer the manager? How much was because he had set them up so well? The Fan truly believes that Showalter is the biggest single factor as to why those two champions came to be.

Championship teams are usually very good fundamental teams who take care of the small details, play the game correctly and win close games. Showalter has sometimes been criticized as too tough. That's funny, because that's the same thing Bill Parcells is praised about. And is it any coincidence that both Parcells and Showalter have such good track records in turning bad teams around?

And now look at the job Showalter has done with the Rangers. The Rangers have been terrible for a long time. Despite the superstars they have had on their team, they have been terrible. Showalter came on board last year and they lost 91 games. But he did something fantastic. He introduced six or seven really good young players to the majors and played them, not just in mop up games. They played regularly.

Blalock was slated to be a star and his playing time was expected. You can say the same thing about Teixeira. But Showalter played Nix and Young and Mench and R.A. Dickey. That experience is paying of this year as that core of players is leading the team to better times. And Soriano, who showed a stubborn side to being coached on the Yankees, looks like a better player this year at the plate and in the field. You have to give that credit to Showalter.

The 2004 Texas Rangers are fun to watch and you can see the buzz in the crowds that are starting to build at their games. And the Rangers are for real. They pound the ball. They throw strikes and they field very well. Let's hope that Showalter's history doesn't repeat itself and that they win it all this year so Showalter doesn't have to get fired and leave the genesis of another great team to someone else who will take his team to the next level.

Friday, April 30, 2004

They are having a wild and wooly one in San Francisco. The Marlins scored four runs in the first. Dontrelle Willis gave two of those back in the bottom of the first. The Marlins scored five more in the top of the second which included a double and a run scored by Willis. After two innings, Miguel Cabrera had the unique batting line of: 0 0 0 2, thanks to two sacrifice flies. That gave the Marlins a 9-2 lead and the start of a laugher, right? Wrong.

Willis couldn't get anyone out in the bottom of the second and was sent to the showers. His relief, Tommy Phelps could only get one out. Nate Bump relieved him and walked in a run before ending the inning. By then, seven runs had scored and now after two innings, it's a 9-9 game.

Between the two teams, they have given up 18 runs in two innings on 16 hits and 8 walks. It's going to be a long, long night in San Francisco. Oh yes, Barry Bonds has already walked twice in that game. The Fan has said it before and will say it again, the walking of Bonds is a travesty and an embarrassment. And many times, it backfires on the opposing team as baserunners leads to rallies and rallies score far more runs than a one run homer by Bonds.

With the poor start by the Giants, if it continues, the unthinkable could happen...the Giants could trade Bonds to an American League team for the pennant run. The Fan just has a feeling...

Speaking of weird games, the Cubs sent their best pitcher to the mound tonight against the Cardinals. Kerry pitched eight innings and struck out 10, but didn't factor in the decision. The Cardinals had last at bats and came up to hit in the bottom of the ninth. But they didn't get a chance to hit. Cub's pitchers: Kyle Farnsworth, Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins walked four batters to give the Cardinals the win. What a lousy way to lose a game...four walks in the bottom of the ninth.

The Yankees won their fourth game in a row to finish April with a winning record, the thirteenth straight time in a row they have done that--an American League record.

Javier Vasquez got the win and has pitched well in four of his five starts. Jeter had a hit and an RBI and now has a modest two game hitting streak after going 32 straight at bats without a hit.

And the top story of the night? Roger Clemens won his fifth straight decision and has started the season with a 5-0 record with a 1.95 ERA. How's that for a 41 year old retired pitcher? Clemens actually walked in a run in the first inning but settled down and pitched six innings, giving up only one run as he struck out six. What an amazing story.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Baseball is a lot like a perennial flower bed. Now where else are you going to hear a comparison like that? Many perennials have really showy years, off years and so-so years. Every year is different and every year is most interesting. Baseball is again blooming despite hints of scandals and a vagabond team in the NL East. Let's look at the garden for some interesting stories so far this year.

Brooks Kieschnick is one of the most interesting stories in baseball. In 1993, Kieschnick was the tenth player picked overall in the draft. The Cubs drafted him as an outfielder, although Kieschnick was a top pitching prospect as well. It was a struggle for Kieschnick as he bounced around and played for eleven different minor league clubs with a few cups of coffee with the Cubs and then the Reds.

Then the Milwaukee Brewers had/have a budget crunch and needed some versatile players who wouldn't cost a lot of money. They had an interesting idea: Why not give Kieschnick a chance as both a relief pitcher and a pinch hitter. Why not? Two players for the price of one. The experiment was partially successful last year. Kieschnick batted well, hitting .300 with five homers and nine RBI in 64 at bats. He had a nifty .618 slugging percentage.

But Kieschnick struggled pitching and ended up with a 5.26 ERA in 42 appearances. The thirty-two year old wasn't assured of a job when he came to spring training. Manager Ned Yost was quoted several times as saying that if Kieschnick didn't make the team as a pitcher, he wouldn't make it at all. Kieschnick had a decent spring and then Yost was quoted as saying that Kieschnick was only going to be a pitcher. Yeah, right.

Kieschnick already has 14 at bats (relief pitchers hardly EVER get at bats) and is batting .286 with a homer and three RBI. But the key stat is that he is pitching really well this year too. He pitched three scoreless innings tonight to lower his season ERA to 1.80 in six appearances.

You have to root for a player like Kieschnick. Now Ned Yost is saying that he'll DH Kieschnick in interleague games. It would be even sweeter if he started a game in the outfield and maybe came in to pitch an inning. Heck, after his inning, he could go right back out to the outfield. Real men love Kieschnick.

Derek Jeter extended his hitless streak to 32 at bats. Booed by the hometown fans during the Red Sox series, the Yankee fans rallied around him tonight and cheered and chanted during each of his at bats. It didn't help though as he still went 0 for 4. The streak is by far, Jeter's worst slump of his career.

The Fan can't understand how Jeter keeps getting blasted on his fielding. He has had no shoulder the past two years and last year also tore the ligament in his hand, all the while playing in pain every day and never letting it show. The respect Jeter has from his peers in baseball far outstrips the lack of it Jeter gets from some media circles.

One of the best fantasy league players this year is the one and only Mark Loretta. Who? Loretta has flown under the radar so far in his career, but the second baseman for the Padres has a .298 lifetime batting average. Last year, Loretta had a 185 hits on the way to hitting a very good .314. Loretta also had a career high 13 homers.

This year, Loretta is off to a .365 start with 4 homers and 14 RBI to go along with 15 runs scored. Loretta batted ninth for much of his career but is now batting second. Loretta doesn't strike out often (62 times in 589 at bats). Loretta is also a very good fielder with only 57 errors in his nine year career (.986 fielding percentage). This is a very good little player who may start getting his due.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Perhaps the Yankees aren't dead. They sure looked it after this past weekend getting swept by the Red Sox. The struggling team from the Bronx next had another tough team in the Oakland Athletics with ace Tim Hudson on the mound. Mike Mussina couldn't hold a four run lead as his pitching woes continued. Before you could say, "Mr. Steinbrenner," the Yankees had fallen behind 8-4 and it looked like their woes would continue. And then the Yankees batted in the bottom of the eighth.

By the time the dust settled, the Yankees had punished Jim Mecir and Roberto Rincon for six runs on five hits and three walks. Mecir and Rincon both had Earned Run Averages under 2.50. Mecir never did get anyone out and was charged with five of the six runs although Rincon didn't help him any by walking two and making sure all of Mecir's baserunners scored.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth inning for his sixth save (he now has a 0.75 ERA).

The win doesn't hide the problems. Mussina gave up eleven more baserunners in six innings and now has a 6.55 Earned Run Average. Derek Jeter went 0-3 with a sac bunt and an intentional walk to extend his hitless streak to 30 at bats. But the come from behind win has to breath some life into the moribund bunch and could help turn the season around.

The loss was especially tough for the A's, who have now lost four in a row and have fallen all the way to third place, two games off the pace.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Since it is a semi-slow night in Major League Baseball, it's time to re-introduce a regular feature of this site: The Fan's Box Score Favorites. The Fan has been nuts about box scores since childhood and it's only natural to see players that catch the eye. These players are followed more closely than the others. They may include favorites traded away from the favorite team. They could be exciting rookies. The box score favorites tend to evolve as the season rolls along (for example, if a player gets hurt, there is no reason to keep looking, right?). So here we go:

Alfonso Soriano/Texas Rangers - Of course you have to follow the guy traded for A-Rod. He was the goat of the post-season with his wild swinging and automatic strikeouts. So how is he doing the last seven days? Not bad. Soriano hasn't been hitting the ball over the fence this season, but he is batting a robust .338 and has seemed to cut down his strikeout ratio. Case in point is his last seven days where he has batted 21 times and only struck out twice. He has batted a respectable .286 this past week as his teammates have gone crazy around him. All that hitting will only help Soriano who bats third in the order.

Hank Blalock/Texas Rangers - In truth, the Fan could follow each and every young Texas Ranger. Unbelievably, the Rangers are in first place and are killing the ball. Blalock, like all his mates this year, is batting at a .325 clip. The past seven days, he's batted .308 with a homer, two doubles and six runs batted in. He now has 17 RBI for the season and is on pace to reach 125 by the end of the season.

Miguel Cabrera/Florida Marlins - Cabrera turned 21 this season and followed up his sensational debut last year with a fast start this year. He had six homers before the league caught up with him. He had a tough week though and only has batted .250 in his last seven to bring his season average down to .304 with no homers and only one double to go along with four runs batted in. He should bounce back and hit at least forty homers this season.

Derrek Lee/Chicago Cubs - The Fan is rooting so hard for the Cubs. This team just attracts those who root for underdogs. They sure aren't playing like underdogs so far. Derrek Lee is a great first baseman, but needs to hit too. He started slowly and is only batting .254 for the week. But he is heating up and batted .273 last week with seven RBI in only six games.

Manny Ramirez/Boston Red Sox - The Fan picked Ramirez as this year's AL MVP, so it makes sense that this feature has to follow his progress. And what progress it is! Ramirez batted .357 last week and lowered his average! Manny had two homers and two doubles last week and accounted for the only runs in Boston's 2-0 victory over the Yankees. Manny is on pace to bat .392 with 45 homers and 135 RBI. Sounds like the MVP is right on track.

Melvin Mora/Baltimore Orioles - Last year, Mora was having an outstanding, breakout season and the Orioles were batting really well only to see Mora go down with an injury. The Orioles and Mora never recovered. This year, the Orioles lineup doesn't depend so much on Mora but it's a happy thing to see Mora starting off this year like last year. Mora batted .348 last week to lift his season average up to .333. He had a double and a homer and drove in four runs. But the real contribution was the ten runs he scored last week in front of Palmeiro, Lopez, Tejada and others. Mora is on pace to drive in 114 runs and score 162!

Ken Griffey Jr./Cincinnati Reds - The Reds have been a major surprise this year and Griffey is playing full time again. Coincidence? Maybe. Griffey did have a tough week last week with a .217 average his last seven games, but golly, that man has only played a handful of games the last few years. And he is back to making the highlight reels with his fielding in centerfield. It's early yet and Griffey will heat up.

Adam Dunn/Cincinnati Reds - Two years ago, Dunn was a monster rookie. Last year, he looked overcoached and lost his edge for a very disappointing season. It's a shame when young players get overcoached. A decade or more ago, a catcher for the Red Sox came up a young player and hit the stuffing out of the ball. His name was Rich Gedman. Gedman had three great years where he averaged .288 with 20 homers and 80 RBI. Good numbers for a catcher! Then he came under the tutelage of Walter Hriniak (Wade Boggs' batting guru). Gedman's next five years: .258, .205, .231, .212 and .200. Rick Harden is having the same trouble with overcoaching in Oakland. Oh yeah, Dunn...

Dunn only batted .200 last week with one homer, but he did have five RBI. Dunn is still hitting .316 for the year with 8 homers and 15 RBI. He also has a .500 on base percentage so far this year.
Today was baseball day at the Fan's house. After watching Baseball Tonight on Sunday morning (Why don't they change the name for the day time?), it was time for watching the Yankees embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. After watching the series, it's hard to tell if the Red Sox are that good or if the Yankees are that bad. There is definitely trouble in the Bronx and that team doesn't look like it's going anywhere. After a day of baseball which finished with the Braves beating the Marlins, the Fan couldn't help notice things that have changed in the Major Leagues during a lifetime of watching the games. Here is an unofficial and incomplete list of things that have changed in this Fan's lifetime:

- The umpires ignore batters who call time when digging into the batters box.

- The players use all kinds of armor and equipment when batting and running the bases. Old ball players never wore batting gloves.

- The bats are different. Each player uses different bats. There are red ones, white ones, black ones and bats with all kinds of writing and markings. Back in the old days, all the bats looked the same.

- If a pitcher bounces a pitch in the dirt, the umpire immediately throws that ball out of the game. That never happened five years ago and longer.

- In that same category, the fielder catching the last out always throws the ball in the stands. It used to be a game in a game to see which player could roll the ball to the mound and get it to stay there.

- The gloves all look different. Pedro used a red one. Jorge had a multi-colored catcher's mitt. What's with that?

- Catchers now wear what looks like hockey masks. The name of the MLB catcher who invented them is beyond memory.

- Umpires no longer have those bubble chest protectors behind the plate. And then never stand directly behind the catcher.

- Shortstops hit homers. Mark Belanger hit 20 homers in his career and had a lifetime slugging average of .280. Yet he started for 17 years. Tejada and A-Rod hit that many in two months.

- Catchers hit for average. Piazza and Posada are weapons. Rick Dempsey was never a weapon. Ray Fosse made the All Stars as a .256 hitter.

- Middle of the road pitchers used to have records like 16-15. Phil Niekro had a two year stretch where his records were 19-18 and 21-20. Now a middle of the road pitcher has a 10-10 record.

- Starters were expected to finish. Now managers are scolded for ruining young pitching careers if two games in a row involve 110 pitches. Mike Cuellar had 172 complete games out of 379 starts. Mel Stottlemyre completed 180 in ten years. Jim Kaat completed 180. Bartolo Colon is considered a "horse" and has completed 28 games in seven years. At that pace, he'll catch Stottlemyre in 45 years.

- Leo Durocher would never intentionally walk Willie Mays three times in a game. What is going on with Bonds should lead to a rule change of one intentional walk a game. It's disgraceful.

- Catchers never gave third-base-coach-like signals to the pitcher to call pitches with runners on second base. That is brand new in the last few years.

- And finally, for tonight at least, players used to shake teammate hands after a homer or a job well done. The high five, fist pump, wrist slam, low five, and jumping chest bumps were unknown 30 years ago.

Things change but it's still the best game there is.

Friday, April 23, 2004

The Yankees look lost. Watching them tonight against Boston, the most expensive team in sports can't seem to do anything right. They are getting shaky starting pitching. They aren't hitting. They missed two fly balls in the outfield. This looks very much like a .500 team right now.

The number one concern is starting pitching. Mike Mussina is 1-4 and has given up 55 baserunners in 28.1 innings. Yikes! Jose Contreras should not be starting as his two years in the majors shows that he doesn't have what he needs to start. He could be great in relief as he was last year in the playoffs, but he shouldn't start. But who else is there? Vazquez and Brown will be fine, but there is big trouble after that.

Key Yankee batters have started off very slowly. The entire team has started the season batting .229. Bernie Williams is batting .191. Derek Jeter is batting .209. Gary Sheffield is only batting .268. Jason Giambi is batting .227. Alex Rodriguez is batting .206. All of those players have proven track records and will bounce back and end up where they usually do.

The Red Sox announcers mentioned that Kenny Lofton hasn't been a good fit in the Bronx. That is no surprise. He has never been a popular player and you have to wonder if Steinbrenner overruled someone to get an old centerfielder who is on the downward side of his career. Williams doesn't look physically healthy enough to play out there yet. Bubba Crosby should be given a shot despite his major gaff tonight.

You can bet that Mr. Steinbrenner is not a happy man.

In similar situations to the Yankees are the Phillies and the Angels. Both teams joined the Yankees in spending a lot of money in the off season and starting with high expectations. The Phillies are 5-9 and are already five and a half games behind the Marlins. The Angels are at .500 so far. The Phillies should be able to untrack a bit playing the Expos this weekend.

The standings have some surprises so far. The Twins lead the AL Central. The Reds are only a game back of the Cubs in the NL Central. The surprising Dodgers are on top of the NL West with the Padres right behind. The Giants and Diamondbacks are 6-10 and 5-10 respectively and look in deep trouble. It's going to be an interesting season.

The Fan is playing Fantasy Baseball for the first time this season. Being in New England, some of the folks at work thought it would be more challenging to be in a National League Only league. The Fan is enjoying the experience so far, but there is one problem. Sometimes there is hesitance to talk about some up and coming or surprising performances so far this season. My opponents in our fantasy league read this space and could get tips and use them. Hmmm... What's more important: Writing about what I love or winning a fantasy league? No question its the former.

One of those players is the Arizona third baseman, Matt Kata. He has opened the season batting .371 and is starting to get a lot of playing time. Mr. Kata might be one of this years box score heroes this year.

Barry Bonds is batting over .500 so far with 20 RBI. There is a lot of speculation why Bonds is getting more to hit this season and the most plausible reason seems to be that the Giants are playing poorly and have been behind early. There is less of a reason to walk Bonds if you are already ahead in the game. Bonds getting pitches to hit is good for baseball. Bonds walking three times a game is terrible for baseball.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

The life of a Fan of Major League Baseball is hell during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tonight is another case in point. Baseball Tonight was scheduled for 10 P.M. Eastern Time on ESPN and as sure as you can say, "icing," the hockey game has gone to overtime. And what series is this for the Stanley Cub chase? The semi-semi-semi-finals? Great! Only three more rounds to go.

This is how bad it gets: Last week, a few flips of the usual channels showed that hockey dominated the air waves. The last hope was NESN, the home network of the Boston Red Sox and sure enough there was a game on. And it was an exciting game too! The game was tied going into the 10th inning and Ortiz was batting.

The camera panned to the Boston dugout and...What!? Todd Walker was there. Did the Red Sox make a trade and get him back? He was off to a good start with the Cubs. A mental note was made to check on-line to read about the trade.

Anyway...back to Ortiz. One pitch and BAM! Ortiz hits it over the Green Monster and the Red Sox mob him at home plate. Man! That Ortiz is amazing. He always seems to win the game with a homer. At least one exciting baseball moment was available for that night.

But then the broadcast ended and the game had been a special highlight presentation of a game last year because the Red Sox game that night got rained out. Those are the kinds of things that happen when a Fan of Major League Baseball has to endure the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hey! Wait! The overtime only lasted a few minutes and somebody scored (who cares which one). The game is over. That special music is playing. The Fan of Major League Baseball is back in business.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Wouldn't it be great for baseball if the Baltimore Orioles beat out both the Yankees and the Red Sox for the AL East? The Orioles have now won five straight and have been the first team other than the Yankees or the Red Sox in more than two years to lead the division. It was known that the Orioles had a great lineup, but the team is also getting just enough pitching to stay on top.

Javy Lopez is batting .463 and is showing people that last year was not a career year. Fellow newcomer, Miguel Tejada is batting .365. Melvin Mora is batting .320. Rafael Palmeiro is defying those who questioned his age by playing first base every day while batting .311 and leading the team in RBI. Diego Segui is also batting .333.

The funny thing is that they haven't yet started hitting for power. They have only hit thirteen homers in twelve games but have scored six runs a game. Just wait until they get their home run swings going. With the above average pitching they are seeing, the Orioles could be very surprising and very dangerous.

Whether the Orioles can hold on to the division lead remains to be seen. Although it seems unlikely, their vast improvement and improvements in the Tampa Bay and Toronto clubs, it seems unlikely that the wild card team will come from the AL East.

Dontrelle Willis showed he was human tonight. He won his third start in a row and still has a perfect 0.00 ERA, but he did go 0-3 batting to fall all the way down to .667 for his batting average. What a fantastic story. The fans in Florida really have exciting players to root for don't they?

Monday, April 19, 2004

There has been an ongoing crime in Major League Baseball. The crime has been perpetuated for two years now and is a major black eye on the game. The Fan isn't talking about the steroid controversy. The subject is the "Montreal" Expos.

The Expos had a heroic season last year. Imagine being a major league player and half of your "home" games are played in Puerto Rico in a park that is not up to MLB standards. The Expos played the other half of their "home" games in front of a few thousand "fans" in Montreal. Home games usually mean a chance to be with family and familiar surroundings. Not only do the Expos not have a home, both their pseudo-homes are outside of the continental United States.

This travesty has been allowed by an ineffective commissioner whose own team is under financial scrutiny and by the other owners in baseball who know they could squash the team if they snuck up on the division leaders like they did for a while last year.

This year, the Expos have started the season 2-11 and who can blame them? Can you blame Frank Robinson? They lost their best player in Vladimir Guerrero. They lost their best pitcher to the Yankees. Next year, they will lose Jose Vidro, one of the best infielders in the game.

You could blame the 2-11 start on losing Carl Everett and much anticipated Nick Johnson (lower back strain). You could blame their offense which boasts a .250 hitter as their top average this season. You could even blame the manager. But you would be amiss not to add the two year road trip the Expos have found themselves on.

This shouldn't have happened. There is no reason that a buyer couldn't have been found. There is no reason why the team couldn't have been folded. There could have been a number of solutions but there won't be a solution until at least next year.

The Expos exodus is a crime that is one of the darkest stories in baseball's long history.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

What a great day in baseball. What a great day to prove that anything can happen in this game of baseball:
- Both Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa homered twice and were on the losing side.
- Both Philadelphia and San Diego won with walk off homeruns in come from behind victories.
- Atlanda finished their sweep of the Marlins on a ordinary fly ball that phenom, Miguel Cabrera, lost in the sun.
- The Yankees finally showed some life in their win over the Red Sox after two straight losses.
- Roger Clemens won his third straight start in continuing convincing fashion.

In the San Franciso game, Bonds' two homers were offset by the Dodgers' newcomer, Milton Bradley, who hit two himself. Bradley, who wore out his welcome in Cleveland, has been just what the formerly punchless Dodgers needed. The Dodgers are now in first place and Bradley gives them the kind of pop they desperately needed. Even so, Bonds is just unbelievable.

The Phillies did what they were supposed to do against the unexpectedly hapless Expos. The Expos don't look like they can win another game this season. They had the Phillies in this game until Jim Thome tied the game with a monster shot and then Glanville put the game away with a walk off homer. Billy Wagner hot the win in relief. Can someone tell me again why the Astros traded Wagner?

In San Diego, the highlights showed Ryan Klesko taking a defensive swing and slapping the ball just over the fence the opposite way. Excuse me, but that looks pretty good in the box score just the same. The Padres are holding their own and look solid this year.

The Braves showed the Fan and the world that they are not quite dead yet as they swept the Marlins just as it appeared the Marlins were going to run away with the division. The Braves did lose Chipper Jones to a severe hamstring injury, but had enough to finish out the sweep with the Marlins thanks directly to the lost fly ball. Cabrera doesn't wear sunglasses in the outfield and he certainly needed them to avoid losing the game for his team on his birthday.

Brad Penny pitched another great game for the Marlins but Mike Hampton matched him. Both team's bullpens pitched very well. Matt Perisho of the Marlins was the unfortunate victim of what should have been the last out of the inning.

The Cubs game was the second 11-10 game the Cubs have played in the last three days. They won the first one and lost the one today. Sosa did hit two homers to become the Cubs all time homer hitter. Moises Alou also hit his fifth homer in the last five games. Unfortunately, Greg Maddux pitched his third poor outing. Adam Dunn had two homers for the Reds as there were seven total homers hit in the game.

The Cubs have to be concerned about Maddux and he has not been his Hall of Fame self. The Fan has never been a fan of Maddux, but it is still uncomfortable when a future Hall of Famer can't seem to get anyone out. The pitcher's ERA is now almost nine runs per nine innings. Is this the end for the mighty Maddux?

The Yankees finally showed some life against the Red Sox as they used the opposite field for several of their hits to knock out starter, Derek Lowe. A-Rod really looks like he is pressing and almost looks like Soriano looked in last year's post-season. Soriano has started more like A-Rod in his early games in Texas.

The Yankees improved relief pitching won the game for them. The Red Sox had Yankee starter, Jose Contreras, on the ropes in the third inning and looked like they were going to climb back in the game after the Yankees had taken a 7-1 lead. Paul Quantrill, Gabe White, Tom Gordan and Mariano Rivera shut the door from there on out and the Yankees eventually won 7-3.

The Yankees starting pitching is struggling with the exception of Kevin Brown. It is also clear after watching the game, that the Yankees need a second baseman. Enrique Wilson is a good defensive replacement, but there is no way he is a starter in this league. He is very nearly an automatic out even if he got a hit and an RBI today.

One other item from the Yankee/Red Sox game. At one important juncture of the game, David Ortiz was at bat with men on base. Home plate umpire, Larry Young, made a questionable strike call and it looked like he looked back and said something. Larry Young immediately got in the big first baseman's face in a very aggressive manner. It was the kind of performance by an umpire that has disgraced the game for the past decade or more.

Since when should an umpire be aggressive in his approach to the players? How can MLB fine the players when they get in the umpire's face, but do nothing when an umpire acts so aggressively and gets in a player's face? From my view, Larry Young was way out of line, but in today's game, that is nothing new.

And finally, Roger Clemens did it again. He pitched another seven strong innings (he averaged six innings a game for the Yankees) as he struck out seven and gave up only four hits. In Clemens' three starts, he's given up just two runs for an ERA of 0.87. Can a 41 year old, formerly retired pitcher win the Cy Young Award? If it was held today, he's win. Clemens also had a hit and an RBI.

Friday, April 16, 2004

One of the Fan's greatest frustrations is having a lifetime of more baseball knowledge than baseball skill. I've always known a lot about the game. I have to say that I was a pretty darn good little league manager. When I was young, I could field very well and run very well, but I couldn't stop bailing out on a curveball. But I always knew a lot. For example, I know enough about baseball to tell you that the best way to hit a knuckleball is to wait until the last minute and then try to shoot the ball to the opposite field. Pitchers like Tim Wakefield flourish because Major League hitters don't know as much as I do.

Tonight, Tim Wakefield succeeded again to throw his junk because the Yankee hitters couldn't stay back long enough and shoot the ball to the opposite field. If there is any difference in the current Yankee team to the glory years of 1996-2000, it is that those Yankees were much better situational hitters than the current group of superstars. Those Yankees would kill Wakefield. These can't.

Many of you probably played slow pitch softball. The hardest thing about slow pitch softball is waiting for the pitch to get there. But the really good softball hitters wait until the last minute and by concentrating to hit the ball late and shoot it to the opposite field, they end up hitting the ball harder when it goes up the middle or gets pulled. Staying back on that darn slow pitch is hard, but if you force yourself, you can get great results. Hitting the knuckleball is no different. Too bad the current Yankees never played slow pitch softball.

The Marlins finally gave up a run and it's no surprise that their weakest pitcher, Darren Oliver, was the one to do it. Oliver blew two leads and the Marlins lost to the Braves, 5-4. Darren Oliver is the pitching equivalent to Brian Hunter. I look at both players and wonder how they have stayed in baseball for so long by being so marginal. They must be really good Spring Training players.

Although Oliver has a lifetime winning record, he also has a lifetime ERA over 5.00. In his 1341 career innings pitched, he's given up 1512 hits and 563 walks. That means that he has given up 2075 baserunners in those 1341 innings. Yeesh. And yet he is in his eleventh year in the majors. At least he is cheap at $750,000. Not a bad living though for a really mediocre pitcher.

What about Brian Hunter? Hunter is with his eighth team in ten years. He has a lifetime average of .264. But that doesn't tell the mediocrity story. His lifetime OBP is .313, which is really low and even worse is his lifetime slugging percentage: .346. Yeesh. Oh yeah...and he once made twelve errors as a centerfielder. How do you do that? Ten years of successful mediocrity. Only in America.

One of the most overrated aspects of any pitching staff is games won by a team on games with the rotation's fifth starter pitching. Let me demonstrate. Say that in an 162 game season, each of the top four pitchers on the staff are going to get 33 starts and the fifth starter will get 30 (due to rainouts and off days). If your top four are good, like the Yankee, Red Sox, Cubs or A's staffs, they will win sixty percent of their games or 79 games. They won't actually win all those games, but they will keep their teams in the game long enough for the team to win 79 games.

Now say that same team can win only half the games the fifth starter pitches. That brings you up to 94 wins and 94 wins can bring you the division title. If you have no viable fifth starter (like the Yankees right now) and only win twenty-five percent of those fifth starter games, you only have seven or eight more wins and you are a blah 86-76 team that will probably come in third place.

With all that said...maybe Darren Oliver can win half his games and be his bad old self but still be enough to win the Marlins a division title. That might be worth that $750,000 after all.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Last night, the Fan wrote about the start the Florida Marlins have had this season. I also extolled the virtues of their pitching performance thus far. And last night's post spoke of the great start by Roger Clemens. The Florida Marlins continued to prove the point tonight and the performance of Dontrelle Willis is worth talking about.

Willis had a terrific rookie season even though he faded late in the summer and into the post-season. When he had a rough Spring Training, the Fan was ready to Mark Fidrych the man. But Willis was brilliant his first start pitching seven and two thirds innings without giving up a run and sure enough, tonight, he has shut out the Expos through the first five innings as the Marlins are leading, 11-0.

But the most fun statistic of Dontrelle's performance is that the pitcher has batted three times tonight and in those three at bats, has a single, a double and a three run homer! Has a pitcher ever hit for the cycle? Willis will not get there as his manager wisely took him out after five successful shutout innings and an eleven run lead.

Even more fun than tonight's hitting statistic for Dontrelle Willis is that Dontrelle also went three for three his first game this season! So, not only is Willis perfect with his ERA after two starts, but his batting average is perfect too! I can just hear Mel Allen somewhere saying: "How about that."

Also off to an excellent start this season is Kevin Brown. Brown won his third straight decision tonight to obtain win number 200 of his career. Of course, the Fan has to mention that all three of Brown's victories have been against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. That's the first time since 1951 that a pitcher has won his first three decisions all against the same team. Brown certainly seems to be the horse the Yankees needed to replace Clemens.

Adding another log to the bonfire of opinion that says the Yankees can unfairly buy too many top players, four Yankee pitchers have reached important milestones in their last eight months. Three pitchers have reached their two hundredth win (David Wells, Mussina, Kevin Brown) and, of course, Roger Clemens won his three hundredth game and reached 4000 strikeouts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Don't look now, but it seems that the Florida Marlins were no fluke last year. The Marlins have come out of the gate fast with a 6-1 record and everything seems to be clicking for them: Starting pitching, relief pitching, defense and offense.

The pitching has been phenomenal. The team's ERA after seven games is a pip-squeak-like 1.57. That translates to eleven runs in seven games. And the neat thing is, there isn't a weak ERA in that team list. All of the pitchers have performed to this point. Sure, it's early in the season but eleven runs in seven games with Armando Benitez going five for five in saves is a pretty good reason for optimism.

Pitching goes hand in hand with fielding and the fielding has been solid for this team. The Marlins have only made two errors in seven games. Both errors are by second basemen. That means that the rest of the team is perfect.

Another statistic that shows the pitching performance and the fielding behind it is that only 28% of all the put outs thus far have been made by outfielders. And 39% of the outs have been strikeouts. The Marlins' staff has struck out 63 batters in 63 innings.

And the offense has been hefty as well. The team is batting .287 and even the pitchers are batting .500 so far! Miguel Cabrera is batting over .350 with five homers and eight RBI already. Mike Lowell is batting over .350. Luis Castillo is batting over .350.

This team seems very much for real and if the National League East isn't ready, the Marlins could easily run away with this division by the All Star break.

In an emerging story, Roger Clemens is pitching his second game of the season and has now pitched thirteen innings this season and has given up two hits and no runs. No matter if he holds on to win tonight or not, the man is amazing.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Imagine yourself as a Philadelphia Phillies fan. You go out in the off season and bring in Billy Wagner and Eric Milton. You know the Braves are going to fall off this year. You have a new ballpark. Pat Burrell looks like he is going to hit this year. You have solid starting pitching and solid relief pitching after last year's bullpen disaster. And you start the season 1-6. Ugh!

The fanatical Phillies fans (you can't help the alliterations with this team) booed their team during their home opener today in their new stadium. If this keeps up, it's going to be a very long season in Philadelphia. The problem with this team will not go away until one Larry Bowa goes away.

The Fan has always liked the Phillies. As a Bergen County, New Jersey kid who loved his Yankees, the Fan spent a glorious month every summer in Wildwood-By-The-Sea on the southern tip of New Jersey (exit 4b). The Fan would get down to the beach by eight in the morning and wait for the boys to sing their song: "New York Daily News...Daily News here." All the early box scores would be available along with a lot of news about the Yankees. There was a lot of news about the Mets too, but who cared?

But the New York Daily News didn't have the box scores from the later night games. So at just about eleven-thirty, the next set of boys would be singing a new song: "Phil-a-DELPH-EEA Daily News...Daily News here." The later newspaper would have all the late box scores. It was from that paper that the Fan started to gain an interest in the Phillies and how tough their fans could be.

Mike Schmidt played his first year while on that beach and batted .199 with a thousand strikeouts and the Philadelphia Daily News would scream and wonder why he was playing. The fans booed him mercilessly. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Those memories came back last year with Pat Burrell's travails that never untracked. That's why it's so important to the Fan that Burrell bounce back. And he has so far. But still the Phillies lose.

There was as much anticipation for this year for the Phillies than at any time in a long time. There was a lot of anticipation last year and despite a lot of setbacks, they had a good year. But this year...this year they are supposed to win. All the experts picked them to win. And they are 1-6.

You knew it was going to be a rough start when Jose Mesa saved the first game of the season...for their opponent! Mesa nearly cost the Phillies the playoffs last year in single-handed fashion. The Phillies won their only game the next night with Wagner getting his first save as a Philly. But Mesa shut them down again the third game and the Pirates won two out of three.

They then lost three straight to their new rivals, the Marlins. And lost again today to last year's doormats, the Reds. That made five straight losses where they scored a total of ten runs. Man. The Phillies fans must be going crazy.

This space has railed against Larry Bowa before. Larry Bowa is an ulcer. He is a stress inducer. Players don't play well at this level with stress. Look at what happened last year when the Marlins switched managers mid-stream. The Marlin players started having fun and they started winning. A manager does make that much of a difference and Bowa is the problem here. Scott Rolen would still be in Philadelphia if it wasn't for Bowa. That's all the proof needed to make this argument.

Larry Bowa has created what the Yankees deal with in New York. Watching the Yankees last year, the game isn't fun for them anymore. They HAVE to win and there is no fun. I don't blame Torre for that, but the situation and the expectations has debilitated the Yankees in their last two World Series appearances. And Larry Bowa does that for the Phillies all by himself.

The Phillies can still turn it around and win this thing. But they won't as long as Larry Bowa is manager. Is the Fan worried about eating crow for saying this? Nope.

It really is hard on a baseball fan to have to get through NHL playoff season. Tonight, Barry Bonds tied Willie Mays for third place on the all time homerun list. That is historic as the mark of Willie Mays has stood for a long time. Instead of Baseball Tonight being on at 10pm where it belongs, both ESPN and ESPN2 are showing hockey playoff games. Grrrrr! And then if you try to wait out the hockey game to hope to see Sportcenter (without knowing when it will be on), the hockey games go into double-overtime and pushes everything back another hour and a half.

The Fan has an idea: Why don't they just start the hockey game with a fight and then a sudden death format with the first team that scores wining the game. Then we can get Baseball Tonight on where it belongs and Sportcenter where it belongs. The least ESPN could do would be to just run ONE hockey game and leave the other station free for the only show that makes boxscores the second best thing to do as a baseball fan.

No one will ever convince the Fan that Barry Bonds' accomplishments are tainted. The man is purely amazing. Enhancements (which we can thank the steroids flap for rescuing that word from the fringe drug companies) do not aid the bat speed and hand to eye coordination and the ability to hit the one decent pitch Bonds sees a game. Barry Bonds is simply a baseball miracle that the baseball fan will not accept and it's really a shame. We are witnessing history and those that can testify to that history are denying what they are seeing.

This is a once in a lifetime baseball miracle folks. See it for what it is.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

The first week of the season is now history and the old game has already been interesting:

- Adam Dunn has four homers and is back from his softmore swoon.
- Kerry Wood hasn't lost this Spring (5-0 in Spring Training and 2-0 in the young season).
- Mike Mussina won his two hundredth game but looks very hittable.
- Tino Martinez looks ressurected in Tampa.
- The Phillies have Pat Burrell back and heading towards Comeback Player of the Year, but can't seem to win.
- Armando Benitez has five saves already for the Marlins, who look like last year was just the beginning.
- The Astros starting pitching looks as good as advertised even with Pettitte hurt.
- The Yankees seem to have a better Bubba than last year.

Golly, the Fan does love his baseball. Steroids, schmeroids. The game is the thing.

Just so this prediction thing can be put to rest, the Fan only has one division left--the American League West. The following is their predicted order of finish along with some predictions of who the teams' leaders should be:

1. The Anaheim Angels. With their off-season acquisitions of Bertolo Colon, Jose Guillen, Kelvim Escobar and Vladimir Guerrero and their exciting and passionate owner, the Angels are the team to beat. On paper, they have a great lineup, some solid starting pitching and Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez are a very good eigth and ninth inning pitchers. The rest of the division have their hands full this season.

Homeruns - Troy Glaus (37)
RBI - Vladimir Guerrero (129)
Average - Adam Kennedy (.322)
Wins - Bartolo Colon (22)
Career Year - Adam Kennedy (Kennedy becomes a star this year)
Record - 98-64
Keys - Can the Angels get 50 wins out of Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey and Aaron Sele? All three are coming off sub-par years after having success in the past. Darin Erstad has had only one year batting over .300 with more than 20 homers and 100+ RBI. Was that a tease? Is he overrated? The Angels have to stay healthy as they don't have much for depth.

2. The Oakland Athletics are only as good as their starters, which are the best in baseball. They have a potentially decent offense with a healthy Jermaine Dye and Eric Chavez along with newcomers, Kielty and Kotsay. But they are thin in depth and any kind of injuries will hurt them dearly. Plus, the Angels are going to be tough to play nineteen times. The Fan can't see the A's higher than second.

Homeruns - Eric Chavez (33)
RBI - Eric Chavez (109)
Average - Bobby Kielty (.319)
Wins - Tim Hudson (23)
Career Year - Bobby Kielty
Record - 90-72
Keys - The A's bullpen is really suspect although new closer, Arthur Rhodes has had a good start. Can Rich Harden be the fourth and final piece of the rotation puzzle? The big three are solid as ever.

3. The Texas Rangers. This is a much better Texas team this year and they have a great manager. The question mark is the same for the Rangers as it has always been: Can they get any pitching? Kenny Rogers always seems to be a gamble (do you get it?) as the number one starter. Chan Ho Park gave the Rangers a lot of hope with a great first start, but stunk up the joint today. Dickey has a lot of up sides. But there is no experienced closer and there could be a lot of 10-8 losses ahead.

Homeruns - Mark Teixeira (34)
RBI - Mark Teixeira (112)
Average - Laynce Nix (.324) A star is born
Wins - Kenny Rogers (17)
Career Year - Laynce Nix
Record - 81-81
Keys - Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Can Soriano get any discipline in his game?

4. The Seattle Mariners. Yes, the mighty Mariners are sinking. You can almost hear them creak. Ichiro Suzuki's average has gone down every year and his strikeout total has gone up. The league is catching up to him. Jamie Moyer is 42. Edgar Martinez is 41. Bret Boone is 34. Cather, Dan Wilson, is 34. Jon Olerud is 36. This team is a shadow of what they were and their competition hasn't gotten easier, it's gotten tougher. The Mariners come in last for the first time in years.

Homeruns - Raul Ibanez (26) Therein lies the problem
RBI - Raul Ibanez (88)
Average - Ichiro Suzuki (.307)
Wins - Joel Pineiro (18)
Career Year - Raul Ibanez
Record - 75-87
Keys - What do some of this team's geezers have left?

Other Predictions:
American League:

MVP - Manny Ramirez
Cy Young - Kevin Brown
Rookie of the Year - Erik Bedard: Baltimore Orioles

AL Champion - Boston Red Sox

National League:

MVP - Sammy Sosa
Cy Young - Kerry Wood
Rookie of the Year - Khalil Green - San Diego Padres

NL Champion - Chicago Cubs

World Series - Cubs over the Red Sox in six games.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Predictions for the American League's Central Division would have been vastly different if made before the season started. Now that the season is five games old, some things seem upside down. The Tigers are 4-0. The Twins are 2-2 but have lost have their stars to injury and the Royals just don't look very good. Pressing on, here are the Fan's predictions for the division. Following the team listing will be projections of who the team leaders will be:

1. The Cleveland Indians. Yes. That's right, the Cleveland Indians. The Indians have some exciting young talent and benefit from playing in the league's weakest division. Travis Hafner, Jody Gerut and Ben Broussard are going to be stars. Omar Vizguel and John McDonald anchor an excellent defensive infield and Sabathia and Jeff D'Amico seem ready to step up to the next level. The rebuilding of the Indians seems to be on overdrive.

Homeruns - Travis Hafner (32)
RBI - Casey Blake - (105)
Average - Ben Broussard (.310)
Wins - C.C. Sabathia (23)
Career Year - C.C. Sabathia. It's time this still young pitcher to come into his own.
Record - 86-76
Keys - The Indians need to get some quality starts from Jason Stanford, Chad Durbin and Jason Davis behind Sabathia and D'Amico.

2. The Chicago White Sox. The White Sox still have a decent lineup, but they will be derailed by starting pitching and a closer that the manager has already shown no faith in. The White Sox should have a feisty team that mirrors their new manager, Ozzie Guillen, but I just can't see them as more than a .500 team.

Homeruns - Frank Thomas (36)
RBI - Magglio Ordonez (117)
Average - Magglio Ordonez (.321)
Wins - Mark Buehrle (16)
Career Year - Juan Uribe <---a long shot
Record - 83-79
Keys - Jose Valentin has probably peaked in his career and is on the down slope of his career. Paul Konerko had an awful 2003 season after an outstanding year in 2002. The White Sox need him to bounce back. How much does Sandy Alomar Jr. have left? Was Estaban Loaiza a one year wonder?

3. The Detroit Tigers. I must be out of my mind, but the Tigers have made me believe after their first four games. What Ivan Rodriguez did in Florida, he can do again in Detroit. They actually have a decent lineup now with Rodriguez, Munson (coming into his own), Pena (ditto), Fernando Vina, Rondell White, Carlos Guillen and Bobby Higginson. Higginson and Pena should have much better years with more help around them. The starting staff learned a lot last year and Trammell sticking to the starters last year despite their won/lost record will make them better pitchers this year.

Homeruns - Rondell White (18) BIG ballpark
RBI - Carlos Pena - (96)
Average - Fernando Vina - (.309)
Wins - Jason Johnson - (17)
Career Year - Fernando Vina
Record - 80-82
Keys - Do they have enough depth to endure injuries? Can they play enough defense to keep their starters out of trouble? How soon can they get Urbina in shape and back in the dugout?

4. The Kansas City Royals. Despite the Royals' effervescent manager, Tony Pena, the Royals aren't as good as they were last year despite picking up Gonzalez. There are too many holes in the lineup despite some career years last year. The starters are suspect and they don't have any closer who has more than a few career saves. It could be back to reality for the Royal fans this year.

Homeruns - Carlos Beltran (31)
RBI - Juan Gonzalez (129)
Average - Carlos Beltran - (.312)
Wins - D.J. Carrasco (17)
Career Year - D. J. Carrasco - this kid can pitch!
Record - 76-86
Keys - Will Juan Gone stay healthy for once? Will Mike Sweeney's back let him play like he once did? Can they get any starting pitching? Is Joe Randa going to develop or just end up a Ed Sprague type of player?

5. The Minnesota Twins. The Twins have already lost Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, Matthew LaCroy and Joe Mays to injury. What they have left just isn't enough. They lost their two top bullpen pitchers from last year and that has gone from a strength to a weakness. The Twins still have terrific potential in their minor leagues but are destined as long as they are under the Pohldad cloud to have bright spots intermingled with sad years.

Homeruns - Jacque Jones (27)
RBI - Torii Hunter (93)
Average - Shannon Stewart (.303)
Wins - Kyle Lohse (15)
Career Year - Luis Rivas
Record - 70-92
Keys - Can their injured players come back and play? Can they get any bullpen help? Will Brad Radke ever be more than the most overrated starting pitcher in baseball?

It was great to see Ken Griffey hit his second homer of the year tonight. Maybe he can stay healthy this year. I wish he wasn't playing centerfield where it is so easy to get hurt.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The Fan is one happy camper! The NCAA has sunk its last basket and it's time for baseball. The games have already been interesting. Clemens pitched a one hitter. Griffey hit a bomb beyond the centerfield fence. The Tigers are the anti-Tigers of 2003. The Red Sox are bopping. Pat Burrell is back and is batting over .700 in the first three games. As Jackie Gleason used to say, "And away we go!"

But first, I need to take care of old business and give you my American League predictions. I will go with the teams in the order of their finish and also what I believe will be the team leaders in major categories:

Eastern Division:

1. The Boston Red Sox. It just feels like the Red Sox year. The Yankees and the Red Sox both had great off-seasons, but the Red Sox seem to go after talent and chemistry and I believe they have the best general manager in baseball. Theo Epstein always seems to make great choices. This year is no different as Epstein got a very useful player in Mark Bellhorn from the Cubs, Ellis Burks, Dave McCarty and Pokey Reese. Those players don't sound like much, but neither did Mueller, Millar and Ortiz last year.

This is a very good team from top to bottom, starters to bench, starters to bullpen. And they also have this team feeling that I have never seen in baseball and haven't seen in any sport since the 1969 Knicks.

Homeruns - Manny Ramirez (43)
RBI - Manny Ramirez (138)
Average - Manny Ramirez (.325) Yes, he's going to have a great year.
Wins - Curt Schilling (23)
Career Year - Mark Bellhorn
Record - 97-65 (only because the Yankees will split their 18 games)
Keys - How much does Pedro have in that arm? Can Nomar become the all fields hitter he used to be? Will Veritek hold up?

2. The New York Yankees. The Yankees have the greatest collection of All Stars ever assembled. But can Torre assemble them? They are also a fragile bunch and Messina doesn't look good early. I don't believe Derek Jeter has been the same since he went over the railing and into the stands in 2001. They will win their share of games and feast off of weak pitching, but they haven't proven that they can hit power pitching.

Homeruns - Gary Sheffield (37)
RBI - Alex Rodriguez (119)
Average - Alex Rodriguez (.311)
Wins - Kevin Brown (19)
Career Year - Javier Vazquez
Record (95-67)
Keys - Will Rivera remain dominant? Can Jeter be the Jeter of old? Will Mike Mussina be as weak as he looked so far?

3. Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles are greatly improved and have a lineup that is close to the Red Sox and Yankees. Unfortunately, their pitching doesn't compare. It's not as bad as others believe, but not good enough to unseat the Yankees or Red Sox. Their games should be a whole lot of fun to watch however. Lee Mazzilli is the perfect guy for this team.

Homeruns - Javy Lopez (40)
RBI - Jay Gibbons (108)
Average - Luis Matos (.321) This guy is going to be a star
Wins - Sidney Ponson (16)
Career Year - Luis Matos
Record - 89-73
Keys - How good is Tejada? Is he 2002 good or 2003 good? Can the Orioles get more than five innings out of their second through fifth starters. How long can Rafael Palmiero play first base?

4. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Surprise! I believe that strongly in Lou Piniella. This guy just gets a lot out of his players. The team is full of up and coming young players who can hit and run and if they get any pitching, they can be dangerous. Watch this team!

Homeruns - Aubrey Huff (35)
RBI - Aubrey Huff (117)
Average - Aubrey Huff (.325) The American League's newest star.
Wins - Victor Zambrano (16) He already has two!
Career Year - Carl Crawford - Especially if he can cut down on his strikeouts and get more walks
Record - 80-82
Keys - Can Zambrano ever cut down on this walks to become the superstar pitcher he should be? Will Baldelli and Crawford learn to be more patient? Will they hold their own after 19 games with the Red Sox and the Yankees?

5. Toronto Blue Jays. I just don't see this team putting it together this year. Their star pitcher from last year Roy Halladay threw too many innings last year and will lose effectiveness this year. They don't have an established closer and they have question marks at first, third and the two corner outfield positions. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

Homeruns - Delgado (43)
RBI - Vernon Wells (129)
Average - Vernon Wells (.329)
Wins - Josh Towers (15)
Career Year - Josh Towers
Keys - Can Halladay put two great years together? Is Vernon Wells as good as he played last year? Is there any pitching besides Towers and Halladay? Who is going to close?

Tomorrow, the Central Division.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

To continue the Fan's 2004 season predictions let's finish off the National League and then move to the American League. The predictions will follow this pattern: The teams will be selected in the order they will finish in the division and then predictions for leaders on each team will be made along with their projected totals for the season. Here goes...

National League Central

1. The Chicago Cubs. You have to go with the Cubs. The Cubs and Astros really match up well with each other but the Cubs young power pitchers play home games in Wrigley Field which, except for when the wind is blowing out, is a much more forgiving place for pitchers than the Astros little matchbox of a stadium.

The Cubs also picked up Derrek Lee, the best fielding first baseman in the National League and that will make their defense better and thus their pitching staff. Sammy Sosa is going to have a big year after two sub-Sammy, controversy years. The heck with the billy goat, the Cubs are the team to beat in the National League.

Homeruns - Sammy Sosa (61)
RBI - Sammy Sosa (140)
Average - Corey Patterson (.315)
Wins - Kerry Woods (22)
Career Year - Derrek Lee
Record - 98-64
Keys - Will Kerry Wood and Mark Prior be healthy enough for 30 starts each? How many games will LaTroy Hawkins blow in the bullpen? What does Greg Maddox have left?

2. The Houston Astros. The Fan has to root for the Astros with Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens pitching for them in 2004. Unfortunately, the Astros gave away Billy Wagner, the best lefthanded reliever in history, and their ball park takes away good pitching much the same as Colorado. The Astros are good enough for second, but can't make it to the top of the division.

Homeruns - Richard Hidalgo (42)
RBI - Lance Berkman (134)
Average - Adam Everett (.312)
Wins - Roy Oswalt (19)
Career Year - Adam Everett. The kid settles down and becomes a star.
Record - 94-68
Keys - Can their great starting pitching control the flow of runs at home? Can those same pitchers stay healthy? Will Octavio Dotel have success as a closer? How soon will Astros baseball people realize that Biggio hurts the team more than helps it?

3. The St. Louis Cardinals. With Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen and Sanders, the Cardinals will score some runs consistently. Unfortunately, what used to be their strength--pitching--has become their weakness and the Cardinals won't be able to overcome the Cubs and Astros as such. Pujols will have another big year. Rolen will again show that he is the best third baseman in baseball and Sanders will have a good year in this lineup. It's too bad about the pitching.

Homeruns - Pujols (38)
RBI - Pujols (137)
Average - Pujols (.336) This is an easy team to pick!
Wins - Woody Williams (17)
Career Year - Reggie Sanders - Well surrounded by great hitters.
Record - 84-78
Keys - Can they get any consistency from their starters? Can Jason Insringhausen close effectively?

4. The Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates improved last year and didn't seem to be such a push over. They haven't improved their team this year and Jose Mesa will be their closer. Oh boy. Another long season in Pittsburgh. They will regress from their progress and have a miserable year.

Homeruns - Craig Wilson (32) Who you ask? He's going to break out this year.
RBI - Raul Mondesi - (88) Personifies the problem of this team. No leadership and no big run producer.
Average - Jason Kendell - (.308)
Wins - Salomen Torres (15)
Career Year - Craig Wilson
Record - 72-90
Keys - Can Benson ever be the pitcher we thought he could be? Will Mondesi wear out his welcome in yet another city?

5. The Cincinnati Reds. What a mess at the bottom of this division. This once proud franchise is the second biggest embarrassment in baseball. The Reds have some hitting but also the most unproven, unsavory looking pitching staff in the history of their franchise. Ugh! Who do you like out there? Paul Wilson? Adam Harang? Yikes.

Homeruns - Adam Dunn (40) Dunn will come back from last year.
RBI - Adam Dunn (102)
Average - Sean Casey (.295)
Wins - Paul Wilson (11)
Career Year - Adam Dunn will be back with a bang.
Record - 62-100
Keys - Can they stay ahead of the Brewers on the bottom of the division?

6. Milwaukee Brewers. What the Selig family has done to this franchise mirrors Selig's success as a commissioner. They have bungled and fumbled this franchise in what should be a criminal act. Nevermind Martha Stewart. All she did was gain $40,000 in a stock deal. The Seligs have cost Milwaukee, the fans and the state of Wisconsin millions of dollars. And then they lost Richie Sexson, the only real reason to go to one of their games. Oh Woe is the city of Milwaukee. This will be the first division in history to have two teams lose a hundred games.

Homeruns - Geoff Jenkins (30) One of the real good guys in baseball.
RBI - Geoff Jenkins (95)
Average - Scott Podsednik (.322)
Wins - Matt Kinney - (11)
Career Year - Junior Spivey - I think Spivey will resurrect his career here.
Record - 60-102
Keys - Will dual specialist Brooks Kieschnick have more hits himself than he gives up pitching?

National League East

1. Philadelphia Phillies. This is the year that the Braves fall from the top of the table. The Phillies have assembled the second best team in the National League and if they don't do well, the world will finally find out that Larry Bowa is not the guy to manage this team.

Despite Bowa, this team has all the horses ready to win the division. Billy Wagner will give them a consistent closer. Padilla, Millwood and Wolf gives them three solid starters and Pat Burrell is going to be back with a monster year.

Homeruns - Jim Thome (48)
RBI - Pat Burrell (132)
Average - Bobby Abreu (.310)
Wins - Millwood and Wolf (tied at 18)
Career Year - Pat Burrell. Burrell is back to hitting the ball to all fields and hitting line drives. Look for a big year.
Records - 98-64
Keys - Can Millwood stay healthy? Can Thome stay healthy? Can Eric Milton resurrect his career? Will Bowa hold back this club with his overbearing managing?

2. Florida Marlins. The Florida Marlins lost a lot of their heart when they did not re-sign Ivan Rodriguez. And the team lost Derrek Lee, an underrated reason why they played so well last year on defense. A lot of the Marlins success will depend on the health of their pitching and the growth of their young players, Hee Seop Choi and Miguel Cabrera. Few people understand that Josh Beckett has only won 17 games in his career and another young pitcher named Jared Wright once dominated a post-season series never to be heard from again.

Homeruns - Mike Lowell (34)
RBI - Miguel Cabrera (109)
Average - Juan Pierre (.312)
Wins - Brad Penny (18)
Career Year - Carl Pavano with 17 wins
Record - 95-67
Keys - Can Armando Benitez succeed as their closer? What kind of year can Josh Beckett have? Was Dontrelle Willis a one year wonder? Will Cabrera continue to amaze as a youngster?

3. Montreal Expos. The vagabond Expos should have a better team than the Braves and even with the loss of some of their superstars, Frank Robinson will not let them play in a mediocre way. Nick Johnson was a great pickup as was (and I hate to admit it) Carl Everett. The Expos aren't a great team and may not be a good team. But they will scrap away and win their share of games.

Homeruns - Carl Everett - (29)
RBI - Orlando Cabrera (97)
Average - Jose Vidro (.322)
Wins - Claudio Vargas (17)
Career Year - Claudio Vargas as the pitcher comes of age.
Record - 86-76
Keys - How much does Livan Hernandez have left? Can Nick Johnson stay healthy? How will all the travel hurt the team?

4. Atlanta Braves. The Braves will not only not win the division, but they won't even be a .500 club. The luster is gone and the run is over. Of course, that could just be the hopes of the Fan making the predictions. I just don't see the pitching on this club doing anything to help them.

Homeruns - J.D. Drew (38) Drew finally decides to play baseball for a living.
RBI - J. D. Drew (112)
Average - Rafael Furcal (.309)
Wins - Paul Byrd (15)
Career Year - Rafael Furcal will hit .300 for the first time.
Record - 75-87
Keys - Can the Braves get anything out of Thompson and the other young starters? Can John Smoltz stay healthy? How will the team replace both Sheffield and Javy Lopez?

5. New York Mets. The poor Mets have yet to recover from the poor personnel decisions of a couple of years ago. They also have one of the worst ballparks in baseball. Mike Piazza is playing first and that means an even higher ERA for their pitching staff. Kaz Matsui will be exciting and is a great addition. But it's a mistake to move their new franchise player: Jose Reyes. Now Reyes has to learn a new position which could stunt his hitting growth.

Homeruns - Piazza (33)
RBI - Piazza (110)
Average - Jose Reyes (.313)
Wins - Al Leiter (16)
Career Year - Ty Wigginton who is a good young player.
Record - 70-92
Keys - Can Matsui adjust to the American game? Can Leiter stay healthy? Will Reyes progress?

Tomorrow, the American League. Tonight! Real baseball! On American soil! Red Sox and Orioles. Here we go, 2004!

Friday, April 02, 2004

Since we must wait until Monday for the season to restart (after the funky start in Japan), we might as well ponder the divisions and how they could shape up this year. Let's start in the wide open National League West (in order of where they should finish):

1. The San Diego Padres. The Padres will be this year's Cinderella team, not because they will be that good, but because the rest of the division could be that bad. Looking on paper, all the teams in this division have glaring weaknesses.

The Padres have weaknesses, but they can run three decent starters out there and have some good players in their lineup. Here are my projected leaders on the team and a few keys for them to win:

Homeruns - Brian Giles (36)
RBI - Ryan Klesko (105)
Average - Jeff Burroughs (.308)
Wins - Sterling Hitchcock (16) <--longshot
Career Year - Jay Payton
Record - 88-74
Keys: Trevor Hoffman coming back from injury; How long David Wells can hold up; whether Khalil Greene is ready to be the every day shortstop.

2. The Colorado Rockies. The Rockies should have a great lineup but have little pitching, so expect another season of 12-11 games. The Rockies will never win their division as long as they play in Colorado. But it sure will be fun to watch Vinnie Castillo (who comes home this year), Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Jeremy Burnitz and Preston Wilson knock the ball around in the thin air:

Homeruns - Vinnie Castilla (40)
RBI - Todd Helton (122)
Average - Larry Walker (.334) Rooting for a Larry comeback
Wins - Scott Elarton (14)
Career Year - Jeromy Burnitz
Record - 81-81
Keys: Pitching. Any pitching. Some pitching. Starting pitching. Relief pitching...

3. The San Francisco Giants. The Giants have little besides Bonds and it's always interesting to see when age finally catches up with Bobby's son. But this should be a record making year for Bonds and that should keep him popping the baseball into McCovey Cove. The trouble is, there's nothing to protect him from all those walks.

Other than Bonds, the pitching is weak and the lineup would be awful without Barry Bonds' presense in their.
Homeruns - Barry Bonds (46)
RBI - Edgardo Alfonso - (97)
Average - Bonds (.338)
Wins - Jason Schmidt - (15)
Career Year - Michael Tucker
Record - 80-82
Keys: I don't see where the pitching is going to come from and Barry Bonds does not have one star around him that would make any pitcher in the league.

4. The Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks lost Schilling. Randy Johnson got shelled in his last Spring Training tuneup and is 41 years old. Brandon Webb is all that is left. You know a pitching staff is in trouble when the big off-season addition is Shane Reynolds. Yeesh. The Diamondbacks should have a better lineup, but for the first time in years, seem destined for the lower reaches of the division.

Homeruns - Richie Sexson (45) Book it, Dano.
RBI - Richie Sexson (125) As consistent a slugger as there is in the game.
Average - Alex Cintron - (.318)
Wins - Randy Johnson (14)
Career Year - Brandon Lyon
Keys: What do Randy Johnson, Roberto Alomar, Luis Gonzalez and Steve Finley have left in those aging tanks?

5. The Los Angeles Dodgers. Last year, the Dodgers had the best pitching in the division and the worst offense in the majors. They haven't improved their offense and their pitching looks very, very shakey. Hideo Nomo looked bad all Spring. Kaz Ishii has lost all zip on his fastball. There is no telling how Jeff Weaver will respond after his disastrous detour in New York and Dan Dreifort and Odalis Perez could be great or non-existent. It will be a long, long year in the Chavez Ravine.

Homeruns - Shawn Green (22) If that...
RBI - Juan Encarnacion (88)
Average - Paul Lo Duca (.278) Really
Wins - Odalis Perez (15)
Career Year - Dave Roberts
Keys: Perhaps their pitching will gel, but that's a long shot.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Cubs seem poised to have a great season. Kerry Wood has gone 5-0 this Spring and looks nasty. Sammy Sosa looks healthy and has hit well. Derrek Lee has mashed the ball and every game seems lopsided. Houston also looks good as their starting pitching has been terrific. This could be one heck of a race in the NL Central with a slight nod going to Houston since I'll take Dotel as a closer over LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawkins was given the closer role in Minnesota in 2001 and, though he saved 28 games, ended with a 5.96 ERA. The past two years, he has been a setup man and has posted ERAs of 2.13 and 1.86 with a combined 15-3 record. In those two years, he gave up only 162 baserunners in 157 innings.

Some pitchers just aren't meant to close. Mike Timlin has been handed the job several times in his career and never could do it. Scott Williamson has been handed the job twice in his career and failed twice. Hawkins might be in that category. So what the Cubs have to hope for are a lot of 12-3 games with the starting pitching strong and the offense hitting like it has this Spring.

Speaking of Scott Williamson, both he and Kevin Foulke have been hit hard this Spring and that has to make Red Sox Nation a little scared. Nomar Garciaparra is going to start the season on the shelf and Pedro looks like a shade of himself. On the bright side, Schilling looks like a horse and their surprise this year seems to be David McCarty. McCarty, who has hit 32 career homers in his long, cup of coffee type career, has about that many during the exhibition season.

It was nice for Hidecki Matsui to hit a homer in front of his home country friends today. No wonder they love him over there. The Yankees are only tied now for the worst record in baseball. Kevin Brown pitched great getting his first win as a Yankee. Posada hit two homers and had six RBI in the game.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The first day of the season didn't feel like the first day of the season. The Fan woke up this morning and turned the game on. Two teams from the major leagues were playing, but it didn't look or feel like a real game. I stand by earlier post that I hate this Japan thing. The opening day of baseball should be about the home team's fans screaming for the first time of the season. It shouldn't be about a game a world away in front of polite and respectful fans.

The only good thing about the game today was old friend, Tino Martinez, starting the season going three for three with a homer, double and two RBI. He got a bad rap in St. Louis where it was said he wasn't a team player. Joe Torre doesn't put up with those types of players and a man doesn't change just because he moves to another city. I hope Tino has a great season in Tampa Bay.

Can you tell already that Tino will be one of my box score heroes?

The Red Sox have to be worried about Pedro Martinez. He got banged around today in his last exhibition game before the season. Peter Gammons reports that Pedro hasn't risen above 90 on the radar gun all Spring. The dominating days of Pedro Martinez are gone. He could be a very effective Luis Tiant type of pitcher--which can be very good--but not the kind of pitcher who puts fear into the batter.

Joe Girardi didn't make it with the Yankees and retired. He was a big part of some of their champion seasons and I'm sure that Steinbrenner will find him a job in the Yankee organization. I always thought he looked like Tony Danza.

Okay, there is one thing I have to get off my chest. I know reality shows are the rage on television and the best seem to be where the American Dream is lived out in front of us like on American Idol, Nashville Star and now ESPN's Dream Job. Most of those shows narrow their field down to a dozen or so contestants and then the audience takes over until the winner is chosen. Dream Job gave the audience only a fraction of influence until the final two.

Now why should the Fan care about the Dream Job and who the winner is? I am a baseball fan. A show like Sport Center is where I live. Who hosts that show makes a big difference. And the problem with leaving most of the voting in the hands of the judges is that we ended up with a choice of two safe, vanilla smoothies. Chris Berman never would have won that show. Kenny Mayne never would have won that show.

Zach was the correct choice for fans like me. He had personality. He had an edge. He was entertaining. He was what Sport Center needs. We certainly don't need another cutesy cookie cutter good talker. It was very, very disappointing. Congratulations to the guy, he has one of America's great jobs. But he wasn't my choice.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Transaction Wire is the best part of Spring Training in MLB. It is on the transaction page that you discover all the maneuvers made by teams to tinker with their recipe for this year's success. It is also a place of surprise and pathos for players sent to the minors--or worse yet--released with the dreaded word: "Unconditionally."

According to, a player is released "unconditionally" after being given, "a form of irrevocable waivers required before a team can release a player as a free agent." Can you kill a player off your team with worse terms than "Unconditionally" and "irrevocable?" Couldn't there be a gentler way to say that you're fired, you're out of a job, you're not going to make the team?

At least the player is given the euphemism that he is, "a free agent." Surely, people who have just recently been fired don't think of themselves as free agents. At least the players don't get "axed" like managers or general managers. Some of these "free agents" will find jobs with other teams. Others will have to find a way to hook up with a minor league contract and fight their way back to the majors. And there will be some that call it a career. Let's look at some of the most recent victims:

John Valentin' - Released by the Houston Astros:
It wasn't that long ago that John Valentin' was a major cog in a potent Red Sox batting order. Valentin' came up as a shortstop for the Red Sox and moved to third when Nomar Garciaparra broke into the Red Sox lineup. I was watching a Red Sox game once where a routine grounder was hit to third and Valentin' was gliding toward the ball to make the play when he buckled and went down. That's really bad luck to blow out a knew just moving laterally to field a grounder.

Valentin's best year was 1995 when he batted .298 with 37 doubles, 27 homers and 102 RBI. Valentin's OBP that year was a point under .400. Valentin' is a .279 lifetime hitter with a lifetime OBP of .360. Those are good numbers. But Valentin' could be finished. His legs gone, there are only so many pinch hitting positions open in baseball.

Bill Haselman - Released by the Baltimore Orioles:
The 36 year old catcher has played parts of thirteen seasons in the majors. He's also played a lot of seasons in the minors. He's just one of those average players who hangs around a long time. How much longer remains to be seen.

Dee Brown - Sent to the minors by the Kansas City Royals after he cleared waivers:
Dee Brown was a first round draft choice in 1996. He's only 26 years old but after parts of five years with the Royals, he's collected a .229 lifetime batting average. It doesn't look good for Brown to live up to that high draft choice.

Felix Jose - Released by the Arizona Diamondbacks:
This Dominican Republic native has had a long strange trip. Once a decent full time player for the Oakland A's (a .280 lifetime hitter), Jose hit bumps in the road and was out of the majors from 1995 to 2000. He made a minor comeback with the Diamondbacks but is now 39 years old. There appears to be no more way for Jose.

Erick Almonte - Released by the New York Yankees:
Another Dominican Republic player, Almonte got his big chance last year when Derek Jeter tore up his shoulder in the first game of the year. Almonte played 31 games and got exactly 100 at bats. His .260 batting average is one of the easiest in history to figure out. What happens if you finally get the shot you have waited for and you don't impress anybody? Will you ever get another chance?

Deivi Cruz - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
The thirty-two year old Dominican shortstop (is there a theme here?) has played seven full seasons as a starter in his career and he has been a throwback to the old arch type of shortstop: slap hitter, slick fielder. He has a little more pop in his bat than the Mark Belangers of the past but this is the era of the power shortstop and Lou Piniella cut Cruz. He is a useful player and should catch on somewhere.

Fernando Tatis - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
Now here is a story of a man who had one big year, got a big contract and fizzled. Did the money take him down? Who knows. But Tatis went from riding Mark McGwire around the bases when Mcgwire didn't ride himself around to getting fired by the Devil Rays. That one season? 1999 with a .298 average, 34 homers and a hundred and seven RBI. Before and after that? Nothing. Bye bye, Fernando. Oh yeah, he was another Dominican.

Todd Jones - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (the Devil Rays had a bloody day):
Todd Jones has 184 career saves. But he is 35 years old and probably doesn't have the velocity that he once had. He had some marginal success with the Red Sox last year. He'll catch on somewhere.

Mike Williams - Released by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
Another 35 year old former closer, Williams has 144 career saves. He signed a big contract with the Pirates two years ago after saving 46 games in 2002. In the two years since, Williams has had an ERA over six. That won't land you too many jobs. Williams has always walked a lot of batters. He probably doesn't have the hard heat he once did to get out of those constant james.

One other transaction note, the Braves acquired Reds' pitcher, Chris Reitsma. They seemed pretty pleased with themselves. I see a journeyman pitcher with a lifetime ERA of 4.52 and a lifetime BAA of .280. The Braves could be headed to uncharted waters.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The Fan is in the process of buying a new home and it's a funny thing. I love my current home. The place is warm and homey and appealing. I have worked for years on the landscaping and it's really pretty. I enjoy my time here and there are good memories here. But I love my new home. There is a little bit of terror that though it's bigger and nicer and has more features, that it won't feel like home. Two teams will experience that feeling this year as the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies open new ballparks in just a couple of week's time.

San Diego has built what looks to be one of the most beautiful parks in baseball. Petco Park (see seems to have everything. The park seats 42,000 and the seats down the line will be angled toward the infield. Well...nevermind my descriptions. Just go to the site and see it. I believe it will rival the San Francisco ballpark and surpass Camdon Yards in Baltimore.

The Vet was imploded last week and I don't think many will miss it. Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was the last remaining of the cookie cutter parks of the 70's where Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all had the same bowl stadium with terrible astro-turf and uniform dimensions. All three cities now have new parks with Citizen Bank Field in Philadelphia opening this season (see

What seems great about Philadelphia's new ballpark is how the field is 23 feet below street level so when you walk in, the first thing you see is the field. Most of the seats are below your entrance except for ten rows above ground. When you go to the site to see the park, take the tour to get a feel for the new home of the Phillies.

Some things I noticed about the new home of the Phillies is that there is a lot of foul ground on the infield. That will help the pitchers whereas the dimensions are not that deep with dead centerfield being only 401 feet away from home plate. I think you'll see a lot of home runs there and a lot of pop foul outs.

The Padres' new home seems to have even smaller dimensions that Citizens Bank Park but word is that the ball doesn't carry there very well. The Padres aren't a team built for pop though and they have a lot of line drive hitters. So that should play into their game.

Unlike my dilemma concerning leaving a nice home for a newer and better one, the Phillies and Padres both leave terrible facilities and have to be excited about playing in their new clubs. The only question will be if the parks give the teams a home field advantage until their new homes become...well home. I know the feeling.