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.