A year ago, Red Sox fans were anxiously awaiting word on whether Jim Rice would FINALLY be elected to the Hall of Fame. Thankfully, he was. Now, we wait for word on the newly elected members of the Hall. To me, there are three clear-cut choices for Cooperstown, whether or not the baseball writers in all their wisdom choose to see it that way. They are:
Jack Morris – With his devastating fork ball and Hall-of-Fame porn mustache, Morris was a dominant pitcher throughout the 80s and early 90s. He was THE MAN on World Series championship teams in Detroit, Minnesota and Toronto. (Not to mention he pitched what is arguably the greatest World Series game ever – Game 7, Minnesota-Atlanta.) He may not have the padded stats that mindless Hall voters have think for them, but anyone who followed baseball during that time knows Morris was consistently great and one of the very best pitchers of his day.
Bert Blyleven – Disregarding for a moment what I just said about mindless stats, let me say the most compelling case for Blyleven’s induction is one simple stat: The fifth most strikeouts . . . ever. Blyleven spent his career bouncing between a who’s who of the game’s worst teams . . . teams that made today’s Royals look like the Anaheim Angels. And, for them, Blyleven was great. He didn’t get a ton of wins, and because of that suffered when it came to Cy Young time, but he was great. Understand, strikeouts are not some meaningless stat. Simply, each time a guy strikes out against you, your stuff was too good for that major league hitter. It’s not like wins, where you can muddle by with mediocrity if you are on a good team. Because of a long career on several good teams, Don Sutton got wins and is in the Hall of Fame . . . somehow. He wasn’t half the pitcher Blyleven was.
Roberto Alomar – Arguably the greatest second-baseman to ever play the game. During the 90s, if a team wanted to win, they went out and got Alomar. The Blue Jays, the Orioles, the Indians, all were elite teams in large part because of Alomar. Offensively, for a second-baseman, he was great. Defensively, for a second-baseman, he was incredible. His election should be a slam dunk.
Early in the season, when teams and players are very hot or very cold, I often say “Wait and see where they are come Memorial Day.” Now here we are, at the end of May, and we can finally take a look at who are real players this year, and who are pretenders. So here are some of my thoughts on the year so far:
–Goodbye, Toronto. Thanks for playing.
–You have to be happy with where the Sox are considering Papi’s woes and that their starting pitching has yet to click.
–I hate to say it, but Papi looks done. Consider that this slump extends well back into last season. This happens a lot in baseball. You just hoped it wouldn’t happen to such a pivotal great in Sox history.
–I don’t know what’s more surprising: That the Devil Rays are four games under .500, or that the Orioles are only four games under .500. Actually, yeah I do. The more surprising one is the Orioles.
–The Tigers are winning the Central. But what’s up with the Indians? They just can’t put it together. Eric Wedge, meet the unemployment line.
–The Rangers are good, but not that good. They benefit from a weak division. And, yeah, I am saying the Angels are weak.
–Stick a fork in Matt Holliday. He’s done.
–Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would own the title of Team Owner I’d Most Like To Hit With A Shovel . . . if Mark Cuban wasn’t so damn annoying.
–The Cardinals won’t be near the top of their division come September.
–Ha ha ha ha. The Cubs are .500 and more than 4 games out! Ha ha ha ha ha . . .
–The Dodgers own the game’s best record by nearly 6 games . . . and they are probably only about the sixth best team in the game. They should send thank-you notes to all those Four-A teams that make up the rest of their division.
It’s that time of year when the season is just around the corner and all us baseball fans start playing Nostradamus. And, yeah, maybe the Mariners didn’t win the AL West last year (not even close), and, yeah, I didn’t really see the Devil Rays going all the way to the Series. But who did? The way I see it, though, is I’m so due. So I’ll start my predictions with our home division, and perhaps the most exciting in baseball, the AL East.
1. Red Sox
3. Devil Rays
4. Blue Jays
Go ahead. Let the calls of “Homer!” begin. I can take it. But, really, can one be considered a “homer” if they’re right?? I picked the Sox two years ago, and they won it all. I picked them again last year, and they were one win (despite a boatload of injuries) from going back to the Series. I’m much too vain to pick them if they are going nowhere.
How can you not like this team? They have the most depth everywhere in all of baseball. And depth is what wins championships. They already had a very good bullpen, and with additions like Saito and Ramirez — plus their herd of awesome young pitching prospects — they now have a great bullpen. You have to like Ellsbury leading off after a full year under his belt. And JD Drew and Rocco Baldelli are both gigantic injury risks, but if you put the two of them together, that platoon could be a hell of a rightfielder.
Sure, they have questions. Among them: How will Lester’s arm recover after last year’s heavy load? Which Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka will we get? Will Papi and Lowell bounce back? But even if they have injuries, they have such depth in their lineup they can weather the storm. And their starting pitching is the deepest in all of baseball.
Sure, the Yankees added Sabathia and Burnett to their rotation, and they get back a healthy Wang (giggle, giggle), but they still have more questions and less depth than the Sox. Sabathia has a lot of innings on that arm from the last two seasons. Will Burnett be able to make more than 20 starts (lot o’ doubt, here)? How will they handle not having A-Rod to start the season, and what will they get out of him when he returns. And take a look at that lineup — outside of Teixeira, they have a lot of aging, declining vets (Damon, Matsui, Jeter, Posada), whiffers (Nick “The Whiffer” Swisher), and underperformers (Cano and Cabrera). And, with that bullpen, how do they expect to get to Rivera, who could get old anytime now. With all of this, I wonder why I didn’t pick them to finish third.
But there’s just something about the Rays this season I don’t like. On paper, they are awesome. They have a deep lineup of young superstars. And they have a deep starting rotation that was incredible last season, and will at some point get even better when they add David Price. Given all of that, they should finish ahead of the Yanks, and be neck-and-neck with the Sox.
It won’t happen.
Their rotation is stocked with young guys all of whom never before have endured the workload they endured last season. You have to think more than one arm is likely to take a step back, at least for this year. Their bullpen was somehow strong last year, but I still don’t like it. And history isn’t on their side. How many teams have we seen come out of nowhere to make a huge splash one season, only to be mediocre the next. The Indians in 2005-06. The Tigers of 2006-07. The White Sox of 2005-06. The Indians of 2007-08. The Rockies of 2007-08. It is just such a common occurence for a team to take a step back, safe money has to be on the Rays doing the same.
But then again, I could be wrong. It has happened once or twice before.
(More predictions to come soon.)
Thank you, Yankees. Those spunky, loveable Bronx Bombers took another one from the hated Tampa Bay Devil Rays last night, while our own Boston Red Sox stole a victory from the jaws of defeat in a thrilling game against the Baltimore Orioles. That brings the Sox within three games of the Devil Rays (yes, Devil), four back in the loss column, and brings the division crown close to striking distance. Happily, my low-life brother Jason and I were able to score a couple of tickets to next Tuesday’s game against the D Rays in what is shaping up to be an exciting series with the division on the line. Seems that last winter when people were snatching up September tickets against the Yankees, they overlooked the Devil Rays series. Who knew?
Now, before you say winning the division doesn’t matter, that it’s just about getting to the playoffs, let me stop you right there. Sure, historically, you are right. A bunch of wild card teams – the Marlins twice, the dark Angels, even our own beloved Red Sox – have all gone on to win the World Series. And when you take a look at how the Sox are built and how the team has been playing, you have to feel good about their chances in Soxtober. But check out the possible playoff scenarios, and there is a HUGE benefit for the Sox should they win the division.
If the Red Sox are the wildcard team, they end up with the California Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles just south of Oregon and north of Mexico, a team that has torched them all season. Sure, October is a season of its own. And, yeah, the Sox have made some deals and are playing like a different team now. Still, a five-game series with the Halos would be a challenge.
Now, contrast that with the Sox winning the division and playing either the White Sox or Twins. We just got a glimpse of the White Sox, and Chicago looked like a team the Red Sox should steamroll in the playoffs. And the thin Twins would likely fare even worse than the South Side Sallies. While the Red Sox should enjoy a rather easy first series, the two talented, evenly-matched clubs of Tampa Bay and Anaheim would likely endure an epic, difficult series. Should either of them have tired arms when they open up the ALCS with a fresh Boston team, that would be a huge advantage for the Sox.
So just because the Sox have virtually locked-up a playoff spot, this is no time to put it in cruise-control. There’s a division crown to take before we set our sights on more valuable hardware.
We are just over two weeks into the season and hitting that fun early time of year when some teams are doing surprisingly well early and making excited fans wonder: Are they for real? Let’s seperate the pretenders from the contenders.
Baltimore Orioles Sure, the O’s may have started out 6-1, but c’mon. This team has nobody on it except for some young players who are still a few years away from making an impact. Pretender.
Kansas City Royals I know, they’re the Royals. Still, Zach Greinke and Brian Bannister are the real deal — exciting young arms with great stuff. Gil Meche might be considered the ace of the team, but in reality he gives the Royals a very good Number Three. The lineup has some exciting young players with a world of upside, the tops being Alex Gordon who after disappointing last season looks ready for primetime. Funny as it may sound, this might be a team who could really use a stick like one Barry Bonds. They could stick around long enough to contend for a wild card this season, so consider them a contender, but this team is truly poised for next season.
Chicago White Sox The White Sox are a tough, tough team to read. On paper they have more talent than a team like K.C., so if I’m going to consider the Royals contenders, then . . . Still, there is something uneasy about a team that tanked so badly last season and is made up of a lot of aged vets. Given that the division suddenly seems wide open, it is hard to count anybody completely out of it. Still, I just don’t believe in the White Sox. Call it a gut feeling. Pretender.
Detroit Tigers Okay, so they’re not surprising in a “good” way for their fans. Still, their start has been surprising to say the least. The national media, which was on the Tiger bandwagon in a big way a month ago is suddenly jumping off like it is the Titanic. Slow down. This is still a very, very good team. And by August their mini-slump in early April will be a distant memory. Contender.
Oakland Athletics In the midst of a rebuilding phase, the A’s seemed poised to battle the Rangers for the basement of the division. However, despite three losses to the Red Sox, Oakland has started off the season in first place. But don’t believe in them. They have good arms in Joe Blanton and Rich Harden, but Billy Beane knows this isn’t his year. The team will fade toward the back of the pack quickly, and don’t be surprised if Beane deals Harden this summer (Boston is a nice place to live, Rich). Pretender.
Florida Marlins Before last season, I picked the Marlins as one of the teams I thought could surprise in 2007. But, they didn’t. Still, this is a team stacked with great young talent. It could be that time when that young talent clicks, and if Anibel Sanchez comes off the DL looking strong in June, watch out. All that being said, at the end of the day I liked this team a lot better when they had Miguel Cabrera. And, the team that won it all in 2003 was built by one John Henry — not MLB Public Enemy Number One Jeffrey “The Bandit” Loria. That team also had some vets on it, including Ivan Rodriguez. And there are too many other titans in the division. So where do they stand? Hell, if I know. They probably won’t beat out the Mets and Phillies, as those teams have the resources to make a mid-season deal. But, the Marlins could conceivably contend for third place, which is a good season for them. So . . . Contender.
St. Louis Cardinals What’s up with the Cardinals having the best record in baseball right now? They have no business doing that, especially when I picked them to contend for the division’s basement. They’ll fade soon . . . I think. Pretender.