Friday, May 28, 2010

Nationals on the Verge of Greatness

Let me just be clear about something before I get into this post - I said at the beginning of the season that Nats were going to be the most improved team in the Major Leagues this season. Not quite a playoff contender, but certainly around .500. Everybody laughed at me at the time, but so far in the first two months of the season, the Nats aren't making me look like a idiot - a feat that is usually pretty easy to accomplish. The last couple of seasons, I've noticed that this team can actually rake quite a bit, and if they were to just get some solid pitching, they would contend in the NL East. Enter the 2009 Draft. The Washington Nationals selected two incredible power arms in the first round: Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State, #1 overall) and Drew Storen (Stanford #10 overall). Strasburg has been touted as the best raw pitching talent drafted since Dwight Gooden, and Storen dominated as The Cardinal's closer for two seasons. Both pitchers began in AA, breezed through to AAA after about a month, and now both are already making an impact on the big league roster. Storen made his MLB debut last week against the Cardinals and struck out slugger Matt Holliday for his first major league out, and it was recently announced that Strasburg will make his debut against in the June 7-9 series against the Pirates. The Nats have reportedly sold over 60,000 tickets for those three games already, which will be almost a year to the day since Stephen was drafted.

So you already had a solid lineup. Good on-base guys in Nyjer Morgan and Cristian Guzman, big run producers in Zimmerman, Dunn, and Willingham, and perhaps most importantly a veteran backstop in Ivan Rodriguez to guide a Nationals staff that averages about 24 years old, if you exclude the ageless wonder Livan Hernandez - who has been dealing, by the way. Guys like Stammen, Lannon, and Luis Atiliano are finally starting to come into their own with Ivan's and Livan's tutelage. To add to this lineup and their young starting staff, Washington's front office had a productive offseason. Despite giving over $50 million to a guy who's never thrown a pitch in his professional career, the Nationals decided not to just sit on this goldmine in Strasburg and went and acquired the aforementioned Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Chien-Ming Wang, and Matt Capps. Not necessarily good moves on paper, but Hernandez is an innings-eater and has an ERA under 2 and Capps leads the league in saves. You also can't overlook that maybe the best moves the Nats made in the offseason were the guys they released - injury-prone Nick Johnson and perennial clubhouse cancer Elijah Dukes. Incidentally, Johnson is back on the Yankees and is on the DL again and Dukes remains unsigned and is out of baseball.

The bottom line is that Marquis, Wang, and Strasburg have not even thrown a pitch this season yet (Marquis and Wang are injured) and the team is 24-24. When this team is at full strength, I suspect this team will be very good and will make a run at the division title, for this year and for years to come. The scariest part is that the Nats again have the #1 pick in the 2010 draft and will undoubtedly select catcher Bryce Harper out of the College of Southern Nevada, another absolute star in waiting. This kid is being called the "LeBron James of baseball" and was the first high school sophmore ever to be selected as a first-team All-American. If I was a betting man, I'd be putting my money on the Nationals next year.

Brewers 19-28, -8.5 (3 v. Mets, 4 @ Marlins)
Reds 28-20, +0.5 (3 v. Astros, 3 @ Cardinals)
Twins 27-20,
+1.5 (3 v. Rangers, 4 @ Mariners)

Erik - 10
Peter - 9

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Brewers are Terrible

I may have spoken too soon last week when I wrote a post about the Indians being the laughing stock of the league. Maybe Bruce Drennan can do piece on the Brewers, because they are playing the worst baseball I've seen them play in over 5 years. I vividly remember the 2003 season when the Tigers lost 119 games, and the Crew is not far off that pace right now. They are 15-25 and have lost 9 straight games as of this post. Even as I type this right now, they are already down 3-0 in the 1st inning, so it does not look like the end is near for their losing ways.

Everyone always loves to blame the manager when a team goes into a prolonged funk, and for good reason: the manager's job is more psychological than anything else. This is precisely why Ken Macha's lack of emotion makes him such an easy target. In-game strategy and filling out the lineup is only a small part of the job, things that I think Macha does really well. But his lack of intensity, stubbornness, and the day-to-day inconsistency of the team are big red flags that he is not the man for the job any more. Despite that, the only real reason to fire a manager mid-season is to appease the fans, and that may be enough for Melvin to send Macha packing this year, since the Brewers rely on so much of their revenue from attendance. Whether it's this year or next, the Brewers need a new manager.

Fixing the manager situation is only half the battle. That might help our feast-or-famine offense, or team morale, or even our crummy home record. It's pretty obvious to even the casual fan that the team's biggest problem the past couple seasons is pitching. Granted, Macha only has so much to work with, but this team won 80 games last year with an atrocious pitching staff, and you would figure with the signings of LaTroy Hawkins, Doug Davis, and Randy Wolf - albeit they're not all-stars - that the staff would improve. That has not been the case, as the Crew is 29th in bullpen ERA, and 28th in team ERA. It seems like the Brewers haven't had a clean game from the bullpen all season, and the entire staff is dragging like it's mid-September. Todd Coffey has 20 appearances and Trevor Hoffman has 5 blown saves, and it's not even Memorial Day.

I'm really angry with the team's play, but the worst part is there's no quick fix. Removing Hoffman as closer, for instance, is only a knee-jerk reaction to a more glaring problem: lack of young pitching talent. Thus, my main proposal for the Brewers would be to trade Prince Fielder in the offseason, regardless of how we end up in the standings. It would alienate the fan base less after the season than if this trade occurred at the break. It just makes me really uncomfortable that the Brewers have gotten away from building their farm system in the last few years, and that's something that needs to be addressed if they want to remain competitive. You might struggle for a little bit as players develop, but stocking a farm system perennially helps you avoid situations like we're in now. Yes, Ken Macha has been terrible, but he also came into this job in the midst of our poorest minor league talent pool of the Melvin-Attansio era. We've had to overpay free agents and hodgepodge together a bullpen for a couple seasons now because there is almost no talent at the AAA level. The Brewers need to get younger, and trading Prince and perhaps other sluggers for blue-chip prospects is the way to go. If we can get some major-league ready prospects for next season, combined with the pitching talent we have coming at the lower ranks, the Brewers can both rebuild and compete simultaneously, while leaving themselves cap room to go make that blockbuster deal at the deadline, a la Sabathia in 2008. I haven't checked out on this season yet, but I am very excited for what is certain to be a busy trade deadline and winter.

Brewers 15-25, -8.0 (3 @ Twins, 3 v. Astros)
Reds 23-18, -0.5 (3 @ Indians, 4 v. Pirates)
Twins 24-16,
+0.5 (3 v. Brewers, 3 v. Yankees)

Erik - 10
Peter - 9

Friday, May 14, 2010

Here in Cleveland? I didn't know they still had a team.

I mentioned recently that the Indians broke a single game low-attendance mark in April. With the front office trading away the reigning Cy Young award winner in consecutive seasons (CC Sabathia 2008, Cliff Lee 2009) and star catcher Victor Martinez to the Red Sox, and the team's poor offense, the low attendance can be expected. But it wasn't always this way. Throughout the 90s and early '00s, what was then known as Jacobs Field had a string of 455 consecutive sellouts, and not to mention some great teams. Even as recently as 2007, the Indians were only one game away from the AL pennant. Now it seems that the Tribe is regressing back to their days as the laughing stock of the league. Cleveland was just voted the 6th most miserable sports city in the country by Forbes (Seattle was #1), and the Indians were reported as being the most hated team in baseball by the Wall Street Journal.

So what is this all leading up to? This blog post is titled with a quote from the movie "Major League," the first of two movies that humorously portrayed the atrophy of the Indians franchise. Many of you probably remember the team's colorful play-by-play announcer in the movie, played by Milwaukee's own Bob Uecker. I couldn't help but think of Harry Doyle when Erik sent me this video last week of Indians' television announcer Bruce Drennan going off on how terrible the team was. If I was a player, seeing this would be just the spark I'd need to get going. Either that, or a life-size cutout of Mark Shapiro with peel-away suit sections.

Brewers 15-19, -4.5 (3 v. Phillies, 2 @ Reds, 2 @ Pirates)
Reds 19-15, -0.5 (3 v. Cardinals [Civil Rights Game], 2 v. Brewers, 2 @ Braves)
Twins 22-12,
+2.5 (3 @ Yankees, 2 @ Blue Jays, 2 @ Red Sox)

Erik - 9
Peter - 7

Friday, May 7, 2010

Thoughts on the All-Star Game

This year’s Midsummer Classic will be held in Anaheim, CA, and I’m still totally confused why Angel Stadium will be honored with hosting the game this year. Yes, the ballpark has undergone significant renovations since the Edison International Field days, but it is still a ballpark that is very old and nothing spectacular. There are at least five teams with new ballparks that have not hosted yet, excluding Chase Field, who is hosting in 2011 – more on that later. PETCO Park is one of the most beautiful and unique ballparks in the league, and Great American Ballpark is in one of America’s greatest baseball town and is already in its 8th season. The Reds would totally sell out the All-Star Game in about 20 minutes, and if the city can put together a half-assed ridiculous bid for the Olympics every four years, they can make a push to host the game. Neither the Reds’ park nor PETCO is even on the horizon of getting a game, as Kauffman Stadium is reportedly slated for 2012 (substantial outfield renovation), and Citi Field for ’13. And come on, if you’re going to have an ASG in Los Angeles, it should be at Dodger Stadium – at least that park is in a nice area and doesn’t have rats. Unfortuantely, despite my rant, I realize that Angel Stadium probably just got the game by default since it switches leagues every year and almost every other AL park has hosted recently.

Major League Baseball announced four changes to the ASG last week. First, the DH will now be used in all games regardless of host league. Second, any pitcher who starts the Sunday before the game will not be allowed to pitch in the game, and although he will still be recognized as an All-Star, his spot will be replaced in the lineup. Third, managers are allowed to re-enter a player into the game to replace any injured player (rule expanded from previously being allowed to only replace an injured catcher). Lastly, rosters will expand once again by one player to 34. I am in favor of all of these rule changes, particularly the DH rule. Even though I am generally opposed to the designated hitter, nobody is coming to the All-Star Game to watch Tim Lincecum or Roy Halladay swing the bat, and I think that for this one game it should be okay. The other three rules are all undoubtedly related to the All-Star Game’s major loophole and nemesis – extra innings. The worst thing any manager can go through is having to run out of players and use pitchers on one days’ rest just because an exhibition game went extra racks. I would even expand that injury replacement rule to say that you could replace any player at any point in the game, for whatever reason.

There has also been a lot of talk that many Latino-American players will boycott the aforementioned 2011 ASG at Chase Field if the new Arizona immigration law passes. I don’t want to get political on this blog, and I admittedly know very little about the law, but I’d have to think that if so many people in the players union are opposed, that Major League Baseball will work something out. It’s not a politician’s responsibility to vote for or against a law just to accommodate overpaid ballplayers, so the hones for this should fall squarely on Bud Selig’s shoulders, who has been an excellent problem solver in his tenure as commissioner. Latino-American player comprise a large and important portion of baseball today, and Selig and the city of Phoenix will not sit idly by and watch half of its stars sit this one out. I’m sure that only a few more weeks of Ozzie Guillen blabbering to the media will help the issue work itself out.

Just a note: Brewers’ beloved broadcaster Bob Uecker underwent successful heart surgery last week for a leaking valve, and after 6 days in the hospital, returned home yesterday with no complications. He has been texting various friends throughout baseball and is doing well, and I’m sure will be listening to Cory Provost’s call on 620 WTMJ until he is slated to return in about 3 months.

Brewers 12-16, -5.5 (3 @ Diamondbacks, 3 v. Braves)
Reds 14-14, -3.5 (3 v. Cubs, 3 @ Pirates)
Twins 19-10,
+3.0 (4 v. Orioles, 2 v. White Sox)

Erik - 8
Peter - 7