I don’t want to go all Al Roker on you here, but as I gaze outdoors this morning from the lair that is Curmudgeon Central, the temperature is 39 degrees; there is a full cloud cover with a low ceiling; it rained overnight and threatens to rain some more today. The Weather Channel said this morning that parts of New England would get snow today. Nonetheless, today is the day that I consider as the first day of Spring – - astronomers notwithstanding – - because today is Opening Day for baseball. It may not be balmy here in the suburbs of DC and there may not be many leaves on the trees, but it is Opening Day and so it is Spring.
And so, today’s offering will focus on baseball and what might happen as the season progresses. However, before I start on that I want to comment on a grand larceny event in Florida where thieves broke into the house rented by several members of the Tampa Bay Rays during Spring Training. The thieves cleaned out lots of electronics gadgets; and from the reports, they got a good haul. The other thing they got was an AK-47 belonging to Evan Longoria.
Police have said that this was a legally owned weapon and I have no interest at all in any “Second Amendment” polemics here. If it was legally owned, that is fine with me. Here is what is not fine with me:
Rights come packaged up with concomitant responsibilities. The unfettered right to own an AK-47 for whatever purpose carries with it the constant responsibility to keep that weapon in a secure place when not being used. That responsibility was insufficiently discharged in this case and now there is at least one criminal (thief) in possession of an assault rifle. That is not a benefit to society…
As the baseball season begins, viewers should notice quickly that ESPN has made a significant change in announcing teams. Jon Miller and Joe Morgan are gone; Dan Shulman, Orel Hersheiser and Bobby Valentine have replaced them in the booth. Frankly, I will not miss Joe Morgan a whole lot; I do not have the visceral dislike for him that many media reporters seem to have. For me, his act and his stories had simply worn thin. I will miss hearing Jon Miller; with the passing of iconic voices of baseball like Ernie Harwell, Harry Kalas and Dave Niehaus and with my personal belief that Vin Scully’s best days are 15 years in the rear view mirror of life, Jon Miller and Marty Brennaman are the iconic voices of baseball today.
Oh, and I sincerely hope that Bobby Valentine does not become pedantic on the air. He has that tendency…
Looking at the Opening Day depth chart for the Pittsburgh Pirates, you have to take note of their starting rotation. Here are two of their five and what they did last season:
Ross Ohlendorf is the #3 starter. In 2010, his record was 1-11 with an ERA of 4.07. In his final Spring Training tune-up this year, he lasted 4 innings and hit three batters in those 4 innings.
Charlie Morton is the #4 starter. In 2010, his record was 2-12 with an ERA of 7.57.
I do not know what the odds are in Las Vegas for the Pirates to go over .500 for the first time in about 2 decades, but the odds are not high enough for me to take that bet. With improvement on offense, the Pirates will probably not lose 100+ games again this year, but they will still stink.
If Chase Utley cannot play more than 100 games this season, the Phillies will not win the NL East. The Atlanta Braves are a good team and if they stay healthy – - not a sure thing with an aging Chipper Jones in the middle of the lineup – - and the Phillies are without Utley, the Braves will beat them out.
The Mets will underachieve even the lowly expectations for that squad. The good news for Mets’ fans is that the Nats are in the NL East with the Mets so the Mets will not finish last. The Nats will be better than last year but are still not at the level of “good”.
[Aside: If the Mets hold a fire sale of their players at the trade deadline, how long until folks start referring to them as the NY Madoffs? Just asking...]
Who knows what the Marlins will do this year? They might win 75 games; they might win 90 games. Is this another season where three of their prospects all come into bloom at the same time? It has happened before…
The Reds and Cardinals look to be the class of the NL Central and with the Cardinals loss of Adam Wainwright for the season, the Reds look to be the favorite here.
The Brewers built a nice starting rotation and this is Prince Fielder’s “free-agency audition season” so they might threaten the top two teams here.
The Cubs, Astros and Pirates are here only to fill out schedules.
I like the Rockies in the NL West. Clearly, the Giants will also contend there because of the Giants’ pitching staff and the presence of Buster Posey. That race ought to be a good one.
The Dodgers look like they ought to aspire to win 82 games this year just to say they had a winning season – - because it is not clear to me that they can do that. The Padres gave up on a winning season when they traded away Adrian Gonzalez. The Diamondbacks would have to improve by 17 wins this year to have a winning season and that is not going to happen.
The Red Sox appear to be the best team in the AL East. The Yankees have plenty of offense but the starting rotation – - after CC Sabathia – - is really questionable. Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett might have great years – - but they might stink too. After that it is Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Really?
The Rays lost a lot in the off-season and have Kyle Farnsworth penciled in as their closer. Manager Joe Morgan will need to be Mandrake the Magician and cast mass hypnotic spells to win the division this year.
The Orioles are improved. The radio station here in DC that will carry the Orioles’ games says in their promos that:
“The O’s have never been this exciting.”
Excuse me, but the Orioles had teams with Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell. The Orioles will probably climb out of the AL East cellar this year but that is it. And the Blue Jays will fall into the cellar simply because someone has to be there. The Jays are not nearly as bad as some of the other cellar teams mentioned here.
The AL Central is a three way race that should be interesting all the way to the end of September. The Tigers are very good – - assuming Miguel Cabrera stays sober they will be in it all the way. The Twins are solid – - assuming that Justin Morneau is back from his concussion symptoms and Joe Nathan has mended. The White Sox will be right there – - assuming their starting pitchers stay healthy and that Ozzie Guillen does not lose it entirely.
It is “chic” to pick the KC Royals as a sleeper team to have a winning season this year. Even if their young players all blossom together this year, it will tough for them to break through that three-way logjam at the top of this division. Maybe next year…?
And then there are the Indians…
[By the way, which of the baseball gods did Manny Acta piss off so badly that he gets back-to-back managerial jobs with the Nats and then the Indians?]
The AL West championship is there for the taking. The A’s are solid on the mound but need to improve on offense. The Rangers can hit but their pitching staff might not be what it was last year. The Angels added Vernon Wells over the winter; if he plays the way he used to play, the Angels will be tough in the West. The Mariners actually have Erik Bedard on the active list for now and will need him to pitch to what he was 5 years ago to solidify a pitching staff full of question marks.
Allow me to pose a question here:
If I stipulate that Albert Pujols is the best overall position player in baseball today, who is the best young overall position player who might be coming up to take Pujols place in a couple of years? In alphabetical order:
Finally, a note from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
“Parting thought: A man named Joe D’Amico competed in the Los Angeles Marathon after eating nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 consecutive days. Coincidentally, I have done the same thing, but without the marathon part.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…