All Baseball Today…

I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I admire the creativity of many minor league baseball teams with regard to their promotional activities. There are two interesting ones coming up later this season that carry on this tradition of creativity. In August this year, the Portland Beavers are going to poke fun at baseball teams that give away bobblehead dolls. They’ll do that by giving away bobblehead dolls – but not just any bobblehead dolls. The Beavers have found three men aaround the country named Bob L. Head and fans will vote online regarding which man will have his likeness on the bobblehead doll to be given away on that night. It will officially be Bob L. Head night and the winner will also toss out the ceremonial first pitch. Clever.

Meanwhile in Las Vegas, the 51s will also do a bobble head promotional night in August featuring John Kruk, who played a couple of seasons in Las Vegas in the 1980s. Supposedly, the team considered giving away a modified bobblehead doll in honor of Kruk – one where the head was fixed but the gut bobbled around. If you’ve seen Kruk on ESPN lately in his role as a studio analyst, you know that would be a useful portrayal of his physique. But that was a bit more complicated than the promotional event seemed to warrant and so the Las Vegas 51s will go with the standard bobblehead doll.

In recent weeks there had been some more than predictable whining about the “unfairness” of interleague play in baseball since it produces unbalanced schedules and some teams get easier draws in the other league than do others. And to the folks who think they have discovered something there that is worthy of complaint, let me inform them that Paris is in France. Of course the schedule is unbalanced; even within each league, the schedule is unbalanced and it’s been that way for years. And by definition, every unbalanced schedule will produce a situation where one team has an easier schedule than some other team.

I believe it was Chipper Jones who complained that the Braves have to play the Yankees and the Red Sox every year and that gave the Braves a tougher road to travel than other teams. Sounds good on paper until you look at the Yankees this year. Yes, they have a $200M payroll, but the Yankees are 4 games under .500 with more than 25% of the season under their belt. At the moment, the Yankees are exactly 1.5 games ahead of the “less than fearsome” Tampa Bay Devil Rays. So as this first spate if interleague games goes by, it should not be such a daunting task to have the Yankees on the schedule.

And for the record, I just don’t believe that the Yankees are losing at the moment because Joe Torre has forgotten how to manage a baseball team. I think this particular Yankees’ team is just not very good. Their starting pitching is old and inconsistent; the middle relief pitching is decent but not great and Mariano Rivera as a closer has been a shadow of his former self. It’s the end of May and I believe Rivera has three saves. Yesterday, he pitched the ninth inning starting with a 5 run-lead; he gave up a solo home run and took 27 pitches to get the side out. That’s not the form Yankee fans are used to seeing from Rivera… Oh, and the Yankees seem to be “feast or famine” at the plate. They’ll go out and score 10 runs two games in a row and then go five games without scoring more than three. This is not Joe Torre’s doing.

ESPN is chronicling the next coming of Roger Clemens about as ardently as the major networks are chronicling the movements of the announced and potential Presidential candidates for 2008. Under no circumstances would I even hint that Roger Clemens is an ordinary pitcher; he is certainly more than that. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that he’s the answer for this Yankees’ pitching staff particularly if the Yankees’ bats don’t come to life soon. I think I’ve counted correctly; last year Roger Clemens made 19 starts for the Houston Astros; he went six full innings or more only 6 times. If he matches that kind of pitching this year, he’ll be turning over games to a mediocre bullpen and an “iffy” closer to get nine or more outs on a typical night. Yes, he’ll probably hold the opposing team down so that the game will be close at that point, but unless the Yankee bats can provide a cushion here, I’m not sure this will translate to wins every fifth day for the team.

Another story swirling around the Yankees is the possibility that A-Rod may opt out of his contract and become a free agent before the contract is over. The corollary to all that is that the Yankees may look to trade him sometime this season particularly if the team is not close to the playoffs. The favorite destination for A-Rod is the Chicago Cubs because the thinking goes that the Yankees would prefer to trade him out of the AL. I have no idea if any of that will happen and will waste no synapses pondering the hidden meanings of statements made by the Yankees’ front office. But I will say that A-Rod would do well to go to the Cubbies; it should help his baseball résumé a bit. The thing that A-Rod seems not to do well is hit in October in the playoffs; by going to the Cubs, he will avoid that problem because the Cubs don’t participate in the playoffs in October…

Speaking of the Cubbies, the team has the highest payroll (just over $100M) in the NL Central by a wide margin. The Cubs have three players (Lee, Soriano and Marquis) who will make this year just about what the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team will make. Nevertheless, the Cubs still have a huge hole in the team out in the bullpen. After last week’s “come-from-ahead loss” to the Mets where the Cubs gave up five runs in the ninth inning, the Cubs’ bullpen was a combined 2-11 with 8 blown saves. Ouch!

When the season opened, the Twins had Sir Sidney Ponson in their starting rotation. They seem to have given up on that stratagem after Sir Sidney lost five games in seven starts and amassed an ERA of 6.93. The Twins released Ponson who has had exactly one winning season in his 10 years in the major leagues. Any team that signs him is showing desperation.

Meanwhile, in Seattle Jeff Weaver has also pitched himself out of the starting rotation. You may recall that Weaver was one of the major contributors to the Cardinals’ run to the World Series championship last year and he signed with the Mariners in the off season. Weaver started six games in Seattle; he lost all six of them; he lasted a total of 22 innings in those six starts; his ERA for those six outings was 14.32. Folks, there are batting practice pitchers out there that can compile lower ERAs than that. So, how did this happen? How did he go from “playoff hero” to “pitching zero” so quickly? Let Tigers’ infielder, Brandon Inge, cut to the core of the matter and explain it:

“It’s an easy difference. He pitched well then, not so well today.”

Slow down there man, I need some time to ponder the depth of that analysis. OK, I think I’ve got it now…

Finally, Greg Cote had this observation in the Miami Herald regarding the Marlins’ pitching staff:

“The Marlins traded closer Jorge Julio. Sunshine Network will air a retrospective on Julio’s Marlins highlights tonight from 8 p.m. to 8:01.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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