Friday

Baseball Notes: Mailbag, Managers on the Hot Seat & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Welcome to the end of another work week. Minnesota's finally scheduled to have a spring-like weekend. And that has me in a pretty cheery mood. That may change once I write the DFTU mind you. But for now? It's all smiles.

So today I'm introducing a new segment suggested to me by one of my loyal readers: The Sports Take Mailbag. Then I'll continue my baseball evaluation now that we're basically 1/3 of the way through the season by listing the 5 managers I feel are most on the hot seat. Finally it's the end-of-the-week version of the DFTU.

«Read More...»

Off we go...

It was suggested to me earlier in the week that I should begin writing a "Mailbag" segment. This gives you, my dear readers, the opportunity to send in a question or comment that you'd like to see me respond to. For reference, see two of my favorite authors: Bill Simmons and the end of Norman Chad's column.

Now I can't afford to send out the $1.25 every week like Norm, but hopefully the satisfaction of seeing your wit and witticisms in the blog each week will inspire you to send in your most clever queries. So if you look down the right side of the blog, just below my profile, I've posted my email address (replete with hyperlink for those of you who actually use Outlook)for you. So start composing your questions now. I'll pick one each week to print and respond to.

To whit, this week's Sports Take Mailbag question is:

Dan- With the rising prices of food, can you still afford the kool aid that is necessary to root for the Badgers, Twins, Wild, AND Steelers?

Josh in Shoreview


Good question Josh. First let me correct you on one thing. At various times in my life, I've rooted for the Vikings, Packers (sorry Wisconsinites, I'm over that one) and the Steelers. But the truth is at this stage of my life I don't feel any strong ties to any of them.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of Fantasy Football for me has been the dissolution of any allegiance to a particular team. For the past few years I've been conditioned to root for players, not teams. For instance, the historian in me wanted to see the Patriots win the Super Bowl last year to complete their perfect season. But I was also happy to see the Giants win because Eli Manning was my starting Fantasy Quarterback last year. A bit twisted? Probably. But that's where I'm at.

So let's strike the Steelers from Josh's list.

So the question then becomes, can I afford the "kool-aid" required to root for the Badgers, Twins and Wild? The answer is yes, but just barely.

The Badgers at this point don't require a whole lot of kool aid. The football team has been to a bowl game in 9 out of the last 10 years, including back to back Big Ten Championships and Rose Bowl victories in 1999 and 2000.

Meanwhile the basketball team has been to the NCAA Tournament for 10 years running, gaining berths into 4 Sweet Sixteens, 2 Elite Eights and 1 Final Four. During that same period they've amassed 3 Big Ten Championships as well as 2 Big Ten Tournament Championships.

And don't forget the Hockey team's 7 NCAA appearances in the last 10 years including 2 Frozen Fours and a National Championship in 2006.

Not hard to root for a school with that track record.

The Twins and the Wild have required a little more blind faith. The Twins have made playoff appearances 4 times in the last 10 years and the Wild only twice. The Twins last World Championship came in 1991. And the Wild have only made it as far as the Western Conference Finals.

But it could be a lot worse. I could be a Buffalo fan. Or a San Diego Fan. Or even a Kansas City fan! So even though I'll admit to there being some kool-aid required, I'll be okay. Thanks for asking!

That's it for this week's Mailbag. Remember to get those questions in to: dcook93@yahoo.com early and often!

Next it's time to break down which managers might want to dust off those resumes. You know, just in case!

Here are the 5 most unsettled managerial situations in the league.

1. New York Mets - I'll be shocked if Willie Randolph lasts the year. It's one thing to have big payrolls and bad results in Detroit and Seattle, but if you do it in New York, somebody's going to get fired. I don't think it's all Willie's fault. But when he made those comments about racism being involved with media coverage of himself and other black coaches in New York, he lost whatever cushion he had with ownership. Odds he'll be fired: even money.

2. Seattle Mariners - This will probably be one of those situations where everybody gets blown out. Manager Jon McLaren will almost certainly lose his job at some point. And General Manager Bill Bavasi won't be far behind him. This team will need a near complete overhaul and that's usually preceded by bringing in new management. Odds he'll be fired: 3-1

3. San Diego Padres - The transition from pitching coach to manager has failed plenty in Major League history. But Bud Black was supposed to be the kind of guy who could pull it off. So far? Not so much. In this case, ownership hasn't committed a bunch of money to payroll, so it's hard to put it all on Black's shoulders. But when you go from losing a play-in game for last year's playoffs to one of the worst records in the bigs this year, that generally spells trouble for a manager. Odds he'll be fired: 5-1.

4. Milwaukee Brewers - Come on Crew fans. You knew this was coming! Expectations were high in Milwaukee going into this season. So far they have not been met. When that happens there's going to be heat, and in this case much of it has been falling on manager Ned Yost. Personally, I don't think much of this disappointing opening is Yost's fault. Their pitching staff has been riddled with injuries (Gallardo and Capuano gone for the year, Ben Sheets being Ben Sheets), and nobody can blame Yost for the signing of Eric Gagne to that ridiculous contract. The line-up has been a huge disappointment as well, and that can be more directly linked to Yost. Though to be honest, who is he supposed to run out there? It's not like the Brewers farm system is teeming with talent ready to step in and contribute to their line-up. Odds he'll be fired: 7-1.

5. New York Yankees - Yes, the Yankees are in last place in the NL East. But they're only 2 games below .500 and given the injuries they've dealt with over this first 1/3 of the season, there's every reason to think they'll get back into the race sooner than later. So why should manager Joe Girardi be concerned? Because Hank Steinbrenner is doing an frighteningly good impression of his dad George. Hank's already got the "popping off in the media" bit down pat. Can the "firing managers like it's going out of style" bit be far behind? Not far enough for Joe's comfort for sure! Odds he'll be fired: 9-1

Finally it's time for everybody's favorite segment: "Dan's Favorite Teams Update"!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 28-25, in second place in the AL Central, 2 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

If you didn't catch the Twins game Wednesday night, you missed an important baseball lesson. The Twins trailed the Royals 8-3 with two outs in the ninth inning, and scored 5 runs to tie the game before the Kansas City pitcher was able to record the third out. Justin Morneau proceeded to launch the first pitch of the top of the 10th into orbit for the go-ahead, and ultimately game-winning, run.

The lesson is this. Never leave early. There's no clock in baseball. Nobody's won a game til they've recorded 27 outs. 26 isn't going to cut it. Sure 99 times out of 100 a team with a 5 run lead and 2 outs in the ninth is going to win. But if you leave early, you're going to miss that one time that they don't, and you'll regret it!

This weekend's an exciting one as the New York Yankees come to town for a 4-game set with the Twins. I'm tempted to remind you that the last time a beast from the east came to town for 4 games, the Red Sox (whom I hate) left having lost 3 of 4. Is that what's in store for the Bombers? We shall see!

After the Yankees, the Twins host the Orioles for three before heading to Chicago to face the division leading White Sox.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona's 30-24, in first place in the NL Central and 3.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

The Snakes are scuffling! They're 2-8 in their last ten games and coming off a sweep at the hands of the lowly San Francisco Giants. The freaking Giants for chrissakes?! I'll give the D'backs a pass on Game 1 of the series when they faced Tim Lincecum. That kid's the real deal and has frustrated a lot of teams. But I can't excuse the second two losses, especially last night's debacle which cost Randy Johnson a well-deserved win.

The one plus last night was Unit tying Roger Clemens for 2nd place on the career strikeouts list. Randy's 9 K's last night gave him 4,672 strikeouts for his career. What's interesting about this achievement is that this is the second time that Johnson has reached 2nd place on that list. Clemens passed Randy on the career strikeout list last year while Johnson was on the DL with his back trouble. So perhaps it's even more impressive that Unit came back from the injuries to reclaim his rightful place as the second-best strikeout artist in MLB history.

In case you were wondering, Nolan Ryan holds the career record with 5714. I don't know if anybody will be able to touch that number, but it certainly won't be Randy or Roger.

Arizona remains at Chase Field for 3 games against Washington. Usually I'd say something snarky about a gift from the scheduling-gods, but the way the D'backs are rolling right now, I assume nothing. After the series with the Nationals, the Snakes travel to Milwaukee for 3. That's right Crew fans... we're coming!!!!!

That's all for today folks. Enjoy your weekend and I'll be back on Monday!

Wednesday

Baseball Notes: Suprises, Disappointments & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

The beauty of a Wednesday after a Holiday weekend? It feels like it should be Tuesday, so the weekend seems even closer! Okay, it's not much, but it's something to help get you through the rest of the week.

By the end of the weekend we'll be 1/3 of the way through the 2008 Major League season. So it's time to start breaking down the season so far. Today I'll run down my Top 3 "Pleasant Surprises" of the season. Then it's my 3 "Biggest Disappointments". And finally it's this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment.

«Read More...»

So let's dig in and get after it...

Pleasant Surprises

1. Florida Teams Being Competitive

Who'd have guessed it? The Marlins and Rays in first place in their divisions on May 28th?! Clearly I wouldn't have. I had the Marlins finishing dead last in the NL East and the Rays finishing 4th in the AL East.

As I've pointed out several times, the Marlins are creating magic with the lowest payroll in all of baseball. They've half-buried my NL East favorite, the NY Mets, 5 1/2 games behind them. I keep waiting for them to falter, but their lineup - anchored by SS Hanley Ramirez and 2B Dan Uggla - is carrying through whatever pitching and defensive issues they may have.

Can the Marlins hang in for the rest of the year? Maybe their relative inexperience will catch up with them. But at this point I'm not seeing enough from the rest of the division to make me think they can't.

The Rays are combining solid young pitching with accountability amongst their every day players to compete with the Red Sox (whom I hate) in the AL East. Manager Joe Maddon has had some "interim manager" stints with the LA Angels (back in the California/Anaheim days) and has brought the things he learned in that organization to the Rays. Hard work, drilling the fundamentals and taking responsibility for one's mistakes. These are the qualities that Mike Soscia brings to the Angels and now the Rays are working off that model.

Can the Rays hang in for the rest of the year? I'm less optimistic if only because of the talent and experience of the Red Sox (whom I hate). It wouldn't surprise me a bit at this point if the Rays finish 2nd in the AL East and are perhaps even a factor in the Wild Card race, but I don't think they'll win the division.

2. Twins Starting Pitching

This is one of those "pleasant surprises" where you have to factor in the relative expectations at the beginning of the year. Are the Twins pitchers going to win awards and carry their team to the playoffs? Umm, no. But seeing as how I thought this staff had the potential to be a complete disaster, I'll also be the first to admit that I was wrong. And I'm happy to do it.

Livan Hernandez is 6-2 with a 4.22 ERA. Those numbers won't knock anybody over, but considering the guy's anchoring a staff in his 13th big-league season when most people saw him as an aging, back-end of the rotation type pitcher, I'm impressed. Hernandez doesn't throw hard, but he mixes his pitches extremely well. And most importantly, he works down in the strike zone. Given his age, 33, I still have some lingering doubts about his ability to stay healthy all year, but his track record makes those doubts fairly minimal.

Nick Blackburn was almost an afterthought coming out of Spring Training. He was "the guy who isn't Francisco Liriano". But he's quietly put together the 2nd best performance of any of the Twins starters. A 4-3 record doesn't catch your attention, but a 3.39 ERA is quite respectable. And with both Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey spending time on the DL at various times, Blackburn's been a workhorse averaging nearly 7 innings per start.

The Twins are 2 games behind the White Sox in the AL Central. And given some of their hitting woes, their starters deserve a large portion of the credit. Will they hold up? Let's say I'm cautiously optimistic. I didn't see them being as good as they've been, so I won't repeat the mistake and say they can't continue to perform at the same level.

3. Josh Hamilton/Texas Offensive Outburst

Some of Hamilton's teammates have nicknamed him "Hobbs" referring to the character played by Robert Redford in "The Natural". Roy Hobbs was a baseball prodigy who didn't make his major league debut til late in life due a series of unfortunate events. Hamilton's not as old as Hobbs was when he made his debut, but "a series of unfortunate events" could easily apply.

Hamilton was the #1 overall draft pick in 1999. For reference, Red Sox (whom I hate) pitcher Josh Beckett was #2. For a couple of years, Hamilton progressed through the Tampa Bay minor league system as one would expect. Then in 2001 he was involved in a car accident which cost him all but 27 games of that season. His 2002 season was also cut short by lingering shoulder and back injuries. Then, while trying to recover from those injuries, he was suspended for violating MLB's substance abuse policy. Mind you 2002 was pre-PED (performance enhancing drug) testing, so Hamilton's suspension was for some sort of recreational drug use.

Over the next 4 years, Hamilton's life spun out of control. There were a series of suspensions, rehab visits and suicide attempts. Finally in 2006, one of those rehab visits actually clicked with Hamilton and he managed to kick his drug habit and work his way back into independent baseball.

MLB reinstated him on June 1, 2006. He then became a Rule 5 draftee of the Cubs who traded him to the Reds where he spent 2007 chasing Milwaukee OF Ryan Braun in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

This past off-season, the Reds traded Hamilton to the Rangers for P Edinson Volquez. And now, finally in 2008, Hamilton is finally realizing the potential that the Rays saw in him back in 1999.

He's currently leading the league (or tied for the lead) in batting average (.329) and RBI (58) and he's second in the AL in home runs (13). Those, folks, are Triple Crown-like numbers.

Texas isn't usually one of those teams that I'd recommend you go and see. But now, Hamilton's batting practice sessions are worth the price of admission by themselves. When he last visited the Metrodome here in Minnesota, he reportedly hit a ball off the banner with the Twins Division, League and World Championships listed on it. That's a solid 500+ foot shot to the upper deck in right field.

Josh doesn't have a lot of help in the Ranger line-up, but here's to hoping that he's able to stay clean, stay sober and keep hitting the ball a country mile!

Biggest Disappointments

1. The Detroit Tigers

I debated whether to make their line-up or their pitching staff the bigger disappointment. But they've both been so terrible that it's nearly impossible for me to separate them.

The lineup was supposed to be Murderer's Row '08. Magglio Ordonez, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Guillen were all mainstays, but the addition of superstar Miguel Cabrera in a trade from Florida was supposed to put this team over the top.

Not so much.

Thanks to some big games recently, the Tigers have eeked into the upper half of the AL's batting statistics. But for the greater part of this first 1/3 of the season, they've been wallowing in the lower half. And given their enormous payroll and high expectations, that's a huge disappointment.

Detroit's pitching staff has been equally unspectacular. They have the second highest ERA in the league, while having given up the 3rd most runs. Not good. Jeremy Bonderman (3-4, 4.34), Justin Verlander (2-7, 5.19) and Nate Robertson (2-5, 5.88) have all taken drastic steps-back from last year.

Combined, the Tigers are making my World Series pick look awfully silly. Thanks fellas. Get it going would you?!
2. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners are another team that made a big off-season trade and added copious amounts of payroll in an attempt to make a playoff push.

Time for Plan B.

Much like the Tigers, the Mariners have failed in nearly every aspect of the game. Unlike the Tigers, they've buried themselves so far behind the division leader (19-34, 12.5 games behind L.A.) that it would take a near miracle to save this season.

I'd say that you should look for a big-time salary dump coming out of the Pacific northwest sooner than later, but when I look at their roster, the guys they'd most likely trade have cost-prohibitive contracts. That doesn't mean they can't be traded, only that Seattle would have to pick up large portions of their salaries. Which sort of defeats the entire purpose of a salary-dump in the first place.

What a mess!

3. New York Mets

The Mets are 24-26, 5 1/2 games behind the Florida Marlins. If you'd told me that was going to be the case in late May prior to the season, I'd have asked what particular brand of crack you were smoking!

Long story short, the Mets got old virtually overnight. Carlos Delgado has been a shell of his former self. Carlos Beltran has been giving spotty efforts at best. Johan Santana has gotten off to his usual solid, but unspectacular start. And Pedro Martinez has been hurt since his first start of the year.

And because this team's in the glare of the New York media, there've been all kinds of off-field distractions to go along with the on-field woes. Manager Willie Randolph and closer Billy Wagner have both had to backtrack from comments made in frustration.

Poor play? Media distractions? These things don't spell success. They spell "shake-up".

Finally it's time for this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment.

NL East - Florida Marlins, 30-21 (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 5.5 Games Back)
I discussed most of my feelings on this back in the "Biggest Disappointments" segment. The Mets need to shake things up somehow. I hate advocating for someone to get fired, but it might be time.

NL Central - Chicago Cubs, 31-21 (DP: Cubs)
The Cubs are tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in baseball. I think someone just forecasted a cold front in hell. The Astros and Cardinals are hovering 1.5 games back of the Cubs, so the Cubbies are far from having a stranglehold on the division. But so far the North Siders are rolling right along.

NL West - Arizona Diamondbacks, 30-22 (DP: D'backs)
Arizona's been struggling somewhat as of late. The offense has fallen off, and their once invulnerable rotation has looked awfully human. Fortunately they're in the worst division in baseball which not only means they have a lot of games coming against bad teams, but also means they can afford some losing streaks along the way.

AL East - Tampa Bay Rays, 31-21 (DP: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 0.5 GB)
The Rays continue to set club record after club record in terms of the standings. I'm not sure they've been within 10 games of the lead this late in the season before. And that really isn't an exaggeration. But the Red Sox (whom I hate) are right there and odds are their talent will overwhelm the Rays as the season moves along.

AL Central - Chicago White Sox, 28-23 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 7.5 GB)
Okay... I'll say this right now. Detroit's on the clock. If they're more than 5 games out by the All Star Break, I'm going to officially write them off! I keep hoping Jim Leyland has fiery speech left in him that will finally get this thing turned around. But that hope dwindles as the Tigers fall further and further behind.

AL West - L.A. Angels, 32-22 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 12.5 GB)
Yeah, I blew this one. And I'll keep admitting it. This is going to be a LONG year in Seattle.

That's all for today. Back on Friday with more Baseball goodness!

Monday

Happy Memorial Day!


Hoping your Holiday was safe and enjoyable!


"Baseball Notes" returns Wednesday!

Friday

Baseball Notes: Phase 1 (beta version), MLB reads the ST! & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

TGIF-time has arrived again, and it's extra special because it's a 3-day Holiday weekend. I'm sure you'll all join me in giving thanks to all those who've served and paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom (and the ability to have 3-day weekends)!

Today I'll talk about the rebooting of Phase 1 of "Operation: Release Gags". Then I'll give you further proof that some big-time people are reading The Sports Take. Finally it's the end-of-the-week version of the DFTU.

«Read More...»

"When the umpire says 'Play Ball', let's just go play ball!" - John Kruk (Deep Johnny... very deep)

I feel kind of like Ra's al Ghul from "Batman Begins". Phase 1 of my plan to get Brewers closer Eric Gagne released was unsuccessful, so now it's time to put Phase 1 (beta version) into action!

You'll recall not that long ago when Gagne "removed" himself from the closers role because he needed a "mental break". So I celebrated the success of the first version of Phase 1. Unfortunately, I celebrated too early. Two days later, Gagne was back in the closers role spreading more ulcers amongst Brewers fans.

Today, we find that Phase 1 (beta version) has found a foothold. On Tuesday, Gagne left the game complaining of shoulder tightness. Today, he saw a specialist and was diagnosed with rotator cuff tendinitis.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the "rotator cuff" is a group of 4 muscles and related tendons that form a stabilizing "cuff" around your shoulder joint. Being as your standard pitching motion isn't a natural motion, the rotator cuff is an oft injured muscle grouping.

So now Gags has this injury. They've given him a cortisone shot to help stimulate healing in that area, but he won't be allowed to throw a baseball until Saturday. If at that point, he's still feeling discomfort, there's every possibility that he'll be placed on the DL allowing the Brewers to add another healthy arm to their bullpen.

If he does go on the DL, then he'll stay around long enough to be given a chance to come back and give it one more try. And then if that fails, we may see the ultimate success for "Operation: Release Gags"!

So the success or failure of Phase 1 (beta version) will be better known over the weekend. If you see Gagne's been placed on the DL, then you know I'll be trumpeting its success next week!

Next up, it's time for a little more instant replay talk. Now first off, I have to thank all of you who are regular readers for entertaining my diverse and frequently odd musings on the world of sports. But you should know, you're not alone!

Recall earlier this year when I wrote an open letter to Twins GM Billy Smith pleading with him to not sign Frank Thomas. And he didn't. Coincidence? You might think so.

But then recall when I wrote a column detailing how slowing down his frantic pace would help Twins OF Carlos Gomez both offensively and defensively. And then that very night he went out and hit for the cycle. Perhaps you see a pattern emerging?

Now recall on Monday when I wrote about how MLB should at least start a testing phase for a limited use of instant replay. I even created a poll for you to express your opinion! Well, yesterday Jason Stark of ESPN.com reported that MLB officials are putting together a plan to test instant replay in the Arizona Fall League. And if that works well, then further testing could come during next year's World Baseball Classic as well as in Spring Training games. You can read Stark's article here.

Clearly this an idea who's time has come. Baseball GM's recognized that last November when they voted 25-5 to explore the use of instant replay in games. And now, with the help of The Sports Take and you, my dear readers, it finally appears that there's enough momentum to get it done.

So kudos to you. Your votes and your readership make a difference! Well done people!

Yeah... I know... I need some time off.

Finally this week it's time for everybody's favorite segment: "Dan's Favorite Teams Update"!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 23-24 and in second place in the AL Central, 3.5 games behind the Chicago White Sox.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Dickens most likely wasn't referring to the 4-game set the Twins just completed against the Rangers, but he might as well have been! The two clubs split the series, 2 games a piece. It started fantastically for Twins fans with a comeback, extra-innings win in game 1, followed by an absolute drubbing of Texas in game 2. But as has been the pattern for the Twins all year, they followed those two wins with a blowout loss in game 3 and an extra inning loss in game 4.

It's truly frustrating to watch. One day, things seem to click and the team excites you with their energetic play. The next day, they're walking guys and making sloppy plays on defense, not to mention that they can't hit water falling out of a boat. You just can't quite figure this team out. But one of the beauties of baseball is that, with the length of the season, there's still time for Gardy to get 25 guys on the same page and headed in the same direction. Who those 25 guys will be? That's an entirely different discussion... perhaps for next week!

The Twins are in Detroit this weekend for 3, (and they're off on Memorial Day?! That seems un-American!) before heading to Kansas City next week.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 28-19 and in first place in the NL West, 2.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

Not good. Oof. Yeesh. Pick a term, any term. The Arizona offense was downright Padre-like during their series with the Marlins. Florida pulled out the brooms against Arizona while holding them to 3 runs total over the 3 games. The D'backs hit a whopping .179 during the series. "Scuffling" doesn't begin to cover it. For an offense that led the league in most statistical categories throughout much of the first 2 months of the season, that's gigantic step in the wrong direction.

Hopefully this is just a minor correction and the boys will get the bats going again sooner than later. In the mean time, they'll need the pitching staff to continue their outstanding work to keep them in games.

The Snakes are in Atlanta for 4 - including a Memorial Day game, so apparently Arizona is still considered part of America - before returning home to face the Giants (thank you schedule makers) next week.

That's all for today folks. Like many of you, I'll be enjoying more than my fair share of grilled goodness on Monday. I may just sneak in a blog that evening, but it's entirely possible that the next update won't come til Tuesday ("hush hush... keep it down now... voices carry... - good god, I need some time off!).

Wednesday

Baseball Notes: Lukewarm for Lester, HOF for Piazza? & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody!

The middle of the week has arrived, so let's all enjoy the trip to the weekend! Oh who am I kidding? I'm staring down the barrel of a 12-hour shift tomorrow, so I'm just trying to hang on until those blessed letters "TGIF" become a reality...

But let's discuss things that are more interesting than my work-week. First of all, I'll break down why I'm torn over Boston P Jon Lester's no-hitter from Monday night. Then I'll opine about whether freshly retired C Mike Piazza belongs in the Hall of Fame or not. And finally it's this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment!

«Read More...»

Sweep off the plate and let's play ball!

Monday night saw the first no-hitter of the 2008 MLB season. Boston LHP Jon Lester stymied the Kansas City Royals for 9 innings, walking two batters and striking out 9 including Alberto Callaspo to end the game.

As I mentioned, I'm really torn over this. The thing is, I love no-hitters. It's no secret to people who know me that I enjoy good pitching more than good hitting. And a no-hitter is the 2nd best pitching performance you can see.

And this kid's story is nothing but good. He's a cancer survivor. He missed most of the 2006 season after he was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After undergoing treatment and rehabbing, Lester ended up making 11 starts in 2007 including the Championship-clinching game of last year's World Series. That's an incredible story all on it's own. And now he's got a no-no.

Like most of you, I know people who've fought battles with cancer, so naturally I'm drawn to any story about someone overcoming cancer to excel in their chosen field.

So with all of that said, why am I not more giddy about this?

Two reasons and they each play into the other.

First of all , Lester pitches for Boston. I hate the Boston Red Sox. Regular readers know that I've mentioned that fact once or twice. But what you have to understand is that I really hate the Boston Red Sox. There is no other franchise professional or amateur which I hold in more contempt. Not the Dallas Stars (screw you for stealing my hockey team!), not the LA Lakers (Lakes in Hollywood? Yeah that works...), not even Notre Dame football (*snarky comment deleted after being contacted by Dana Jacobsen's lawyers at ESPN*). I hate the Red Sox and virtually anything (Fenway Park not included) associated with them. So that makes it awfully tough to root for one of their pitchers, no matter how good his story is.

Secondly, Lester was the centerpiece of the trade discussions between Boston and the Twins as Minnesota prepared to deal Johan Santana. So not only do I have to stomach the success of a member of the franchise I most despise, but I also get to picture him having that success in a Twins uniform, had the Twins been able to consummate a reasonable deal for Johan. So far I haven't handled that well at all.

So these are the things that vex me. I think long term, I'll be able to get over it and appreciate the wonder of something that at best happens a couple of times a year. But it's not as automatic as it probably should be.

Moving on...

C Mike Piazza announced his retirement yesterday ending his 16-year career spent with 5 different teams. Most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets.

So now the speculation begins. Is Piazza a Hall of Famer? Tim Kurkjian of ESPN says, "Absolutely, no doubt, Mike Piazza is a first-ballot Hall of Famer." That's a strong statement from a guy not usually given to hyperbole.

So let's look at the numbers. Piazza finished his career with a .308 Batting Average, 427 Home Runs (396 of those as a catcher, 31 as a DH/1B), 2127 Hits and 1335 RBI. Impressive numbers to be sure, but none of them are your usual automatic-lock numbers (500 HR, 3000 hits, etc.) for the Hall of Fame.

But keep in mind he played catcher for the bulk of his career. His 396 Home Runs easily tops the career record list for catchers. The next catchers on the list are Carlton Fisk (Hall of Famer), Johnny Bench (Hall of Famer) and Yogi Berra (Hall of Famer). Sensing a pattern?

If the main criterion for election to the Hall is "dominance at your position over the course of your career" than certainly, offensively speaking, Piazza qualifies.

The knock on Mike has always been his defense. Teams ran early and often when Piazza played behind the dish. For the sake of comparison, Johnny Bench threw out 43% of potential base stealers he faced. Carlton Fisk threw out 34%. Mike Piazza? 23%. Better than 3 out of 4 guys who tried to steal a base on Mike did so successfully. Clearly that can't be classified as "dominant". I'm not even sure it can be classified as "average".

So the question becomes was his offense good enough to make up for his sub par defense? That's something the Hall of Fame voters will have to decide individually.

As for me? Given that the guy played during the steroids era which seemingly inflated everybody's numbers? I don't know that I could vote for him. Baseball has long been the most demanding sport when it comes to Hall of Fame election and I see no reason to go against that. If his defensive numbers were better, then I'd agree with Kurkjian and make him an "automatic", but given those numbers, I wouldn't vote for him. We'll see how he's treated by the actual voters in 5 years.

Finally for today it's time for this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment, where I compare the current Major League standings to my pre-season picks.

AL East: Boston Red Sox, 29-19 (Dan's Pick: Boston)
God I hate the Red Sox. The Rays are hanging in there 1 game behind the Sox, but I can't truly enjoy it, since I can't really believe they'll be able to compete over the long haul. Boston's just too talented. Did I mention that I hate the Red Sox?

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 24-10 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 6.5 Games Back)
Okay, we're getting close enough to Memorial Day that I'll admit I'm worried about this one. I keep thinking that Detroit's one solid hot-streak away from getting back on track and grabbing hold of this division. I'm still waiting. And in the meantime, they're getting so far behind that I'm not sure that they'll have enough time to make up that lost ground.

AL West: LA Angels, 27-20 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 8.5 GB)
I've already given up the ghost on this one. I've said it before, I should've picked the Angels. Dammit.

NL East: Florida Marlins, 25-19 (DP: NY Mets, 2.5 GB)
$22 million. They're leading the division as we close on Memorial Day with a $22 freaking million payroll?! This is why I love baseball. Well, that and because I figure I'm still going to end up being right!

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 28-18 (DP: Chicago)
The Centrals still a 3 team race. The bad news for my friends in Wisconsin is that the Brewers aren't one of them. St. Louis and Houston are 2.5 games back of the Cubs. The Crew? 6.5. Not good. There's still time, but I can feel the panic level to my east rising steadily.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 28-17 (DP: Arizona)
The Dodgers are hanging around 4 games back of the D'backs. But Arizona's still firmly in control. Early on I had visions of the Snakes running away and hiding with this thing. Not so much apparently. Outside of LA, there's no competition in this division which will hopefully allow Arizona to have something left in the tank come playoff time.

That's all for today folks. Back on Friday for the week-ending Baseball column!




Tuesday

Preakness Stakes Notes: Big Brown Crushes, Peek at the Picks & Looking Ahead to the Belmont


What a Saturday it was. I was fortunate enough to get paid to be at the Track watching yet another dominant performance by Big Brown.

So today I'll give you a brief break down of the race. Then (unfortunately) I'll go over the results of my picks. And finally we'll look ahead to the 140th Belmont Stakes and Big Brown's run at history.

«Read More...»


There's the bell, and we're off!

For those of you who missed the race, here's the best video clip I could find of it:





Big Brown is the 7-horse in the orange blanket with his Jockey, Kent Desormeaux, in white silks.

According to post-race interviews, Desormeaux said that Big Brown didn't get out of the gate terribly well. He slipped a little bit as he broke which allowed some other horses to get out in front of him.

If you look closely as Big Brown starts out, you'll see his head turning slightly to his right. This is because Desormeaux is holding him back early. He didn't want BB to use up his energy fighting for the lead early in the race. For horses that are used to being out front early, this can sometimes be a big problem. But in the case of BB, you'll notice he responds quickly and settles into a stalking position just behind the pace horses.

Heading into the first turn, BB is right at the rail, stalking nicely behind Gayego, Riley Tucker and Hey Byrn. Coming out of the first turn, Hey Byrn is already doing the moonwalk back to the rest of the pack. Desormeaux had to contend with Riley Tucker for position and ultimately chooses to move Big Brown outside of the front two horses as he prepares to make his move.

And just like in the Derby, it's in the second turn where Big Brown makes his big move. About halfway through the turn you see Desormeaux peek behind him to see where the rest of the field is at, and then leans in and asks Big Brown to go. And oh does Big Brown ever go!

The move that BB makes exiting the second turn and heading down the backstretch is as impressive a move as you'll ever see in horse racing. He's so dominant, that about halfway down the backstretch, you see Desormeaux taking an extended look under his arm behind him, and then looking up and slowing Big Brown down. He was so far out in front of the other horses that Desormeaux decided to try and save some of Big Brown's energy for the Belmont.

The final margin of victory was 5 1/4 lengths, but could've easily been 10+ lengths had Desormeaux let Big Brown sprint out the final stretch of the race.

So I've finally given you, my dear readers, a Preakness winner. Clearly I can't brag too much over picking a horse that went off at the gaudy price of 1-5. But since it's the first time I've actually been correct on a Preakness winner, I have to point it out.

That being said, I unfortunately have to inform you that all my exotic picks failed to hit. Here's what I ended up betting:

$2 Trifecta: 7 with 8, 10, 11 with 2, 8, 10, 11, 13
(cost: $24)

$5 Exacta: 7 with 8, 10, 11
(cost: $15)

Final Board: Win - 7, Place - 1, Show - 3
$2 Exacta (7-1) Paid $36.60
$2 Trifecta (7-1-3) Paid $336.80

So as you can see, there was money to be made, but I won precisely none of it.

What can I say? I've never hit a trifecta in my life, why should I start now?

Still, $40 isn't too much to spend on what was a worthwhile day of entertainment.

So where do we go from here? Well the simple answer is to Belmont Park for the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes on June 7th.

But the bigger question is: Will Big Brown win the Triple Crown?

My answer for you right now? Boy I sure hope so.

The Belmont is the longest of the 3 Triple Crown races at 1 1/2 miles. And as dominant as Big Brown's been at 1 1/4 miles (Kentucky Derby) and 1 3/16 miles (Preakness Stakes), there's some question as to whether he'll be able to handle the longer distance. I don't really think it's going to be a problem. This horse has been able to change gears from relaxed gallop to dead sprint and back again so flawlessly that I don't think there's a danger of him blowing up too early in the race - a fate that has befallen several previous Triple Crown contenders.

As of today, two horses out of the Preakness - Macho Again and Icabad Crane - and three from the Derby - Denis of Cork, Tale of Ekati, and Anak Nakal - were scheduled to face Big Brown in the Belmont, along with Casino Drive, and Tomcito. Behindatthebar, Ready's Echo, and Spark Candle are also candidates to run on the 7th.

Big Brown's biggest competition will be Casino Drive who's the half-brother of Rags to Riches and Jazil who are the last two Belmont Stakes Champions. So clearly he's bred for the distance. Denis of Cork finished 3rd in the Derby and will be coming to Belmont on 5-weeks rest as opposed to Big Brown's 3. So he's certainly another horse to consider.

The hype machine has already started. Big Brown arrived at Belmont Park yesterday with a UPS truck and driver waiting at his stall for the big media moment. And it's only going to get crazier from here.

So enjoy the ride as we build up to the biggest contest in horse racing in years and I'll return in a couple weeks with my Belmont Preview!

Monday

Baseball Notes: Instant Replay/Poll, Brewer Panic Button & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

It's the start of a new week. And even though I generally hate Mondays, I feel slightly better than average today. Why, you ask? Because we've got a Triple Crown contender!!! But more on that tomorrow...

Today, it's more baseball. It's time to talk about the latest example of why MLB needs to take a serious look at Instant Replay. Then I'll address whether the fine folks who call themselves Brewer fans should be hovering over their panic button. And finally it's the early week edition of the DFTU.

«Read More...»

Let's do it...

If you missed it, the Mets swept a rain-shortened 2-game series against the Yankees over the weekend. Those of you who didn't take my advice about hating the Yankees on Friday must be awfully pleased. But there was a specific play in yesterday's 11-2 blowout that I'd like to address.

In the fourth inning, Mets 1b Carlos Delgado sliced a ball down the left field line that, upon further review, clearly struck the base of the foul pole meaning that it was a fair ball and a home run. (Don't get me started on why it's called a "Foul Pole" when any ball that hits it is considered "Fair".) Third base umpire Mike Reilly initially - and correctly - ruled the ball fair and gone. Yankees SS Derek Jeter argued the call claiming the ball had sliced foul. After the umpiring crew conferred, home plate umpire Bob Davidson overruled Reilly and declared the ball foul. This seemed odd since you'd assume that the third base umpire would have a better view of the ball than the home plate umpire, but they made the change none the less.

The change of course, instigated vehement arguments from the Mets coaching staff, resulting in bench coach Jerry Manuel getting thrown out of the game. Ultimately, the Mets won 11-2, so the blown call didn't cost them the game. But it was still an incorrect call that easily could've been made right.

After the game Davidson admitted that he had made a mistake.

"I (expletive) it up. I'm the one who thought it was a (expletive) foul ball. I saw it on the replay. I'm the one who (expletive) it up so you can put that in your paper," Davidson said. "Bolts and nuts, I (expletive) up. You've just got to move on. No one feels worse about it than I do."

So the question now becomes, is there a way for MLB to incorporate instant replay on a limited basis, so that calls like these which can be clearly determined via video can be called correctly on a constant basis?

I say yes. Start it in AAA if you feel you need a test-run, but clearly the technology exists. The NFL has used replay for years now with a very minor impact on the pace of their games. (Seriously, when you have 15 commercial breaks per quarter, what's one more?)

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see reviews of safe/out calls at the bases, and I'm adamantly opposed to reviewing ball/strike calls. But if you can have a video hookup in one of the tunnels, then it wouldn't dramatically affect the pace of the game to have an umpire double-check on fair/foul or home run/not calls.

To whit, I give you the new Poll. You tell me what you think. Should MLB adopt replay on the limited basis I suggest? Or should they go full bore and review everything? Or are you completely opposed to the use of any replay in a game that is already viewed by some as being too slowly paced? Think it over and make your vote!

Next I have to have a conversation with you Brewer fans. Part of me feels like I'm picking on you a little bit, but I can't help it. You compose a sizable portion of my audience and in appreciation I feel like I have to pay you your fair share of attention.

So here's the thing. The Brewers have lost 5 in a row and 6 of their last 10. They're 20-24 and in last place in the NL Central. You've lost your best young pitcher for the year with a knee injury and your Ace has had health issues for his entire career. Your lineup on Sunday had only 4 batters hitting better than .250. And you had two hitters below .200, neither of which were a pitcher because you were in an AL park! And I think at this point I've made my feelings well known on the back end of your bullpen.

I'm sure you fine folks don't need me to tell you that your club has problems. And they're not of the minor, "turn-them-around-with-a-few-good-games" variety. So I have to ask, is it time for the panic button to be pushed?

That's tough to answer. I'm tempted to say, give it another week and see where they're at. But given my previous assertion that these problems aren't easily remedied, that wouldn't seen to make sense.

And if you're not going to panic given those ugly numbers, when are you going to panic?!

So the answer I guess is "yes". Panic. Call for heads to roll. Burn uniforms in effigy. Force Bernie Brewer to go into hiding.

Okay, so perhaps those suggestions are a bit drastic. But it wouldn't surprise me at this point to see some serious changes be made in the near future. And of course the first change that usually gets made is to fire the manager. I'm not saying this is all Ned Yost's fault. But this is a club that was supposed to be contending for the division title and is now mired 7 games behind the Cubs. Somethings got to give.

Sorry Ned, but I hope you weren't counting on retiring to a cottage on Lake Michigan.

Finally, it's time for everybody's favorite segment: the Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: So much for getting healthy in Colorado! The Twins are 21-22 and in 3rd place in the AL Central, 2 games behind the Cleveland Indians.

Thank heavens the Tribe got swept by Cincinnati (seriously Cleveland... the Reds?! really?!) because the Twins managed to drop 2 out of 3 to the fourth-worst team in all of baseball. Yikes. Included in that dreadful series was a game on Sunday described by manager Ron Gardenhire as, "the ugliest game of the year".

The problem he's referring to there is the teams defense. The Twins have long been known for quality pitching and outstanding defense. This year, the defense has taken something of a step back. They've added some young and inexperienced players along with the usual crop of "affordable" (read: average at best) free agents. And when you do that while losing Torii Hunter, Jason Bartlett and Johan Santana, your defense is going to suffer.

All that can be overcome if the offense steps up and scores bunches of runs. But that hasn't been happening either. Not surprisingly the Twins rank in the lower-third of the league in Runs Scored.

The saving grace so far has been the "better than expected" performance of the Twins starting pitching. If they lose that, Twins fans may be joining Brewers fans hovered over the panic button far sooner than they'd like.

The Twins open a 4-game series with the Texas Rangers tonight at Metrodome before hitting the road to Motown over the weekend.

Arizona Diamondbacks: As often as I type sentences like these, they don't seem to get old. the D'backs are 28-16, the best record in the Major Leagues and in first place in the NL West, 5.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

Arizona's coming off 2 straight series wins. A sweep last week over the hapless (unless they're playing the Twins) Rockies. Then they took 2 of three over the weekend from the Tigers.

Included in that Detroit series was the best start of the year by LHP Randy Johnson. Unit pitched 7 scoreless innings on Sunday scattering 6 hits and striking out 5. Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Micah Owings and now Unit's going to get it going? If you're the rest of the NL, that's just plain scary. Heck, even Max Scherzer had a solid outing over the weekend after he'd struggled in his first couple of starts.

Considering that enough of the bats are still hot and the bullpen has been solid if not spectacular, the Snakes could be well on their way to running away and hiding with this thing.

Arizona's off tonight as they wing their way eastward for series with the Braves and Marlins this week.

That's all for today folks. Check back tomorrow for a look back at the 133rd Preakness Stakes and a peek forward to the 140th Belmont Stakes!

Friday

Baseball Notes: Don't Hate the Yanks, Interleague Play & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Merry Friday to you all. The weekend is almost here, and the weather in Minnesota is glorious. Almost glorious enough to make me forget that Friday a couple of weeks ago where it was 40 degrees and raining sideways... almost...

But today is a day free of negativity! Today I'm going to make a case as to why people shouldn't hate the Yankees. Then I'm going to share my begrudging respect for interleague play. And finally, it's everybody's favorite segment, the DFTU!

«Read More...»


Somebody cue "Right Now" from Van Halen and let's hit the field...

With the first place bids by the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays this week, I've been inspired to stand up and say, "It's time to stop hating the Yankees people"!

What does one have to do with the other? Well one of the reasons I hear most often for why people hate the Yankees is, "they buy all the good players in the league and overpay them to a point where my small market team can't compete".

It's my opinion that this argument has been a fallacy from the get-go, but if you need any further proof, then please consult the AL East standings:

1st Place: Tampa Bay Rays, 24-17, payroll: $43,820,598

5th Place: New York Yankees, 20-22, payroll: $209,081,579

Now, I'll admit that this is just a snapshot during a long season. And it's entirely possible that those two teams will reverse their relative positions by the end of the year. But I do believe that it helps to demonstrate that simply paying exorbitant sums for ultra-talented players does not guarantee success.

If you need further evidence, consider the fact that the Yankees haven't won a World Series since 2003 despite increasing their payroll each year since then. For that matter, look at the rest of the top 10 payrolls in the league and the last time they won the World Series:

2. Detroit Tigers, 1984
3. NY Mets, 1986
4. Boston Red Sox, 2007
5. Chicago White Sox, 2005
6. L.A. Angels, 2002
7. Chicago Cubs, 1908
8. L.A. Dodgers, 1988
9. Seattle Mariners, Never
10. Atlanta Braves, 1995

Six of the top 10 payrolls haven't won a World series in the last 12 years. And in the mean time, you've had teams like the Florida Marlins, the Arizona Diamondback and the St. Louis Cardinals - all teams with middling payrolls at the time - who've won championships.

I'm not trying to be naive. Obviously to be competitive over a long period of time, you have to sustain a payroll in the middle to upper-half of the league. But I think it's fairly clear that simply spending money doesn't get you a Championship, ergo, hating the Yankees because of their high payroll is pretty much pointless.

So if you insist on hating the Yankees, do so because you think their owner's a jack-ass. Or because of the Hollywood vibe that follows the team. Or because they're on ESPN every other night while your club makes maybe 2 appearances a year.

The other option is to change your perspective. Realize that nobody buys a Championship. Realize that every time the Yankees come to town, your club nears a sell-out and makes a bunch of money. Realize that every time the Yankees play your club, you have a better chance of making national TV. Realize that this club has won 26 Worlds Championships and maybe, just maybe you can find it in your heart to give them just a little bit of the respect they've earned.

You know, or not...

Next up, with the beginning of Interleague Play this weekend, I wanted to discuss it a little bit.

First off, I'll cop to the fact that I'm a baseball traditionalist at heart. That doesn't mean that I don't recognize that some change is good. Rather, I'd suggest that change should come very slowly and only when a clear need is demonstrated. And it's in that latter criterion that I was misguided in my initial opposition to Interleague Play.

Coming off the disastrous strike in 1994, the only non-war year where there was no World Series, attendance was lagging at ballparks across the nation. So the folks that run baseball decided that bringing in teams that fans weren't used to seeing could be a way to spur attendance.

So on June 12, 1997, the Texas Rangers hosted the San Francisco Giants in Arlington, Texas marking the first time in the modern era that a team from the National League played a team from the American league outside of the All-Star game.

And lo and behold, the fans came... and they came in droves.

Since it's inception, Interleague games have drawn an average of 33,034 fans per game which is 11.9 percent higher than the average of 29,517 fans per game in Intraleague contests over the same period of time.

And lest anyone think that interest has waned, in 2007 Interleague Play drew a record total 8,795,939 fans, an average of 34,905 per game. That's 7.9 percent higher than the average of 32,529 fans per Intraleague game.

So there can be no question that fans love Interleague play. And with the potential for so many interesting storylines - meetings of regional rivals, meetings of former World Series opponents, etc. - it's clear to me now that Interleague play is a good idea.

There's always room for more tweaks of course. There's no doubt that to wedge in these games, the schedule does get a little dicey for some teams. This is certainly something that can be looked at and improved for the future. Plus, if baseball really wants fans to get to see and experience teams that play in the opposing League, then why not make the switch complete. When an AL team hosts an NL team, have the pitchers hit. When an NL team hosts an AL team, use the DH. That would certainly expose AL fans to how the game ought to be played. And give NL fans a reason to appreciate their normal form of the game for the rest of the year!

So if you're still not a fan of Interleague play after all that, I've got one last argument for you. You'd better get used to it, because it isn't going to stop any time soon! So try to focus on the positives. Twins fans, enjoy getting to see Coors Field. Arizona fans, enjoy the matchup I picked pre-season for the World Series. Brewers fans, please cheer your team on to kicking 10 different types of dog crap out of the Red Sox (whom I hate) please! Please?!

Finally, it's everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: And the rollercoaster ride that is the Twins '08 season rolls on! The Twins are now 20-20 and tied with the White Sox for 2nd place in the AL Central, 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians.

You want the Twins season in microcosm? Just look at this week. They started on a high note taking 3 out of 4 from the World Champion Boston Red Sox (whom I hate). And then promptly got swept in a 3-game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. Go figure.

In the words of a local sports reporter, "The Twins are what they are". They're going to beat some teams they shouldn't and lose to some teams that they shouldn't. It's a function of having a piecemeal pitching staff and a disorganized line-up.

Maybe they'll find a hot-streak or two along the line and threaten for a playoff spot. But I think it's most likely that what we see is what we're gonna get. Some highs, some lows, and ultimately somewhere around a .500 record.

The Twins travel to Denver to take on the Colorado Rockies this weekend. And then they return home to face the Texas Rangers for 4 games. Hopefully to avenge their dreadful performance in Arlington earlier this year.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Thank God for the Colorado Rockies, or as I like to call them "Baseball's Designated Slump-Busters". The D'backs are now 26-15, still the best record in all of baseball. They're in 1st place in the NL West, 4.5 games ahead of the L.A. Dodgers.

As I told a friend of mine last night, it's almost unfair how good Brandon Webb is. Webb finished off the sweep of the Rockies last night with yet another solid, if not spectacular outing. Brandon's now won all 9 of his starts so far this year. And not only is 9-0 superlative, but look at the rest of his numbers: 2.56 ERA, 49 K, 17 BB. That's nearly a 3-1 K/BB ratio. That's just not fair to opposing hitters. And I love it!

Also kudos to Stephen Drew who had a big night last night going 4-5 with 3 of his 4 hits being for extra bases! It's great to have guys like Connor Jackson and Justin Upton carrying the team, but to be successful over the long haul of an MLB season, you need some role players to step up and have nights like that.

Arizona hosts the Tigers for 3 over the weekend before heading out east to face the Marlins and the Braves.

That's all for today folks. Thanks as always for reading. Check back on Monday for more Baseball talk and then Tuesday for my Preakness recap!

Thursday

Preakness Stakes Notes: Post Postitions, Big Brown - Big Favorite & Dan's Picks


Welcome to my preview of the second leg of the 2008 Triple Crown Season.

Coming up on Saturday at approximately 5:15pm CDT, 13 horses will participate in the 133rd running of the Preakness Stakes. And at approximately 5:18pm, we'll know whether we're heading to the Belmont Stakes in June with a Triple Crown Championship on the line.

So today I'm going to run down the field, tell you about how enormous a favorite Big Brown's likely to be by post time, and finally lay out my picks and wagers for the race.

«Read More...»

So somebody cue the bugler and let's get this thing under way!

First off, here are your official Post Positions and Morning Line odds for the 133rd Preakness Stakes:

1. Macho Again, 20-1

2. Tres Borrachos, 30-1

3. Icabad Crane, 30-1

4. Yankee Bravo, 15-1

5. Behindatthebar, 10-1

6. Racecar Rhapsody, 30-1

7. Big Brown, 1-2

8. Kentucky Bear, 15-1

9. Stevil, 30-1

10. Rile Tucker, 30-1

11. Giant Moon, 30-1

12. Gayego, 8-1

13. Hey Byrn, 20-1

So Big Brown is your overwhelming favorite at 1-2 and those odds are only going to go down once the betting windows open. I have no idea what the final odds will be, but it wouldn't surprise me a bit to see a Big Brown win pay $2.10 to a $2 wager. Which means any investment in a Win Wager ticket would have to be WAY too large for comfort to make any money. Instead, I'll be looking for Exacta and Trifecta bets as my way of wagering on the race.

And to do that, we need to look at some other horses.

Gayego is the only horse other than Big Brown that ran in the Derby that's now making the trip to Pimlico in Baltimore, MD. He's also been installed as your second-favorite at 8-1. I haven't the foggiest idea why they're bringing this horse to the Preakness. He finished 17th out of 20 horses in the Derby and showed no spark or interest in competing in that race. Running a horse on only two-weeks rest is a dicey proposition as it is. Which is why you're only seeing 2 horses even attempt it. But if you're not competing for the Triple Crown, and you got crushed by Big Brown in the Derby, why would you even attempt this? I'm tossing him out of my wagers

Your third-favorite is Behindatthebar at 10-1. This is a horse that was originally scheduled to run in the Derby, but was pulled out after developing a fever a couple weeks before the Derby. I'm not a sold on this horse only because his best performances have come on synthetic surfaces, and as we saw in the Derby, the horses who excelled on synthetics didn't make the transition to dirt all that well. But he's got some of the best numbers in the field, so I'm thinking I'll have to account for him in my wagering.

After those two horses, everybody else is 15-1 or higher. Which means that if the right horses come in after Big Brown, you could still make some money on exotic bets. So who am I looking at? Glad you asked!

Kentucky Bear is at 15-1. This horse has only 3 races under his belt, but has the speed figures to be a factor in this race. He also has 2 bullet workouts (fastest of the day at a given distance) in the last 3 weeks, so he looks to be in good form. I'm definitely using him.

Riley Tucker at 30-1 is a bit more experienced that most horses in this race. He's run in 4 graded stakes races and has hit the board in 3 of them. He's something of a stalker who could be positioned to make a late move and sneak into 2nd or 3rd. I'll probably use him to show.

Hey Byrn is at 20-1. Winner of the Holy Bull back in April, Hey Byrn likes the lead. So I'm hoping he doesn't burn himself out chasing Big Brown. If he doesn't, he should be in a good stalking position and is very capable of hitting the board.

I'm still on the fence on two other horses, Tres Borrachos at 20-1 and Icabad Crane (the only horse with previous experience on Pimlico's dirt) at 30-1. But they could figure into some sort of exotic bet for me.

So my trifecta bet will probably look something like this:

7-Big Brown

over

5-Behindatthebar, 8-Kentucky Bear and 13-Hey Byrn

over

2-Tres Borrachos, 5, 8, 10-Riley Tuker and 13

A $2 trifecta bet with those horses will cost you $24. And if it hits you're probably looking at a decent payoff. Last year when the top 3 horses hit the board, the Tri still payed $50 to a $2 wager.

So make sure to tune in Saturday at 5:15pm on NBC and see how I did! Or, if you're in town, feel free to join WCCO as we broadcast live from Canterbury Park in Shakopee!

That's all for today, back tomorrow with more baseball!



Wednesday

Baseball Notes: He's Baaaaaack, Asdrubal's Astounding Play & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...


Welcome to the middle of the week! 3 days to the Preakness (more on that tomorrow). And the weather prospects, at least here in Minnesota, are actually looking good for the weekend! What more could you ask for?!


So today I have an unfortunate follow-up to Monday's rant about Brewers P Eric Gagne. Then I'll talk about some baseball history that was made Monday night. And finally, it' s this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment.


«Read More...»

What time is it? Game time!


I should've known on Monday when I went on my rant about the completion of Phase 1 of "Operation: Release Gags" that it wouldn't be that simple. Sure enough, two days after requesting a "mental break" from the pressure of closing, Gags begged back in to the closers role and earned his 10th save of the season as the Brewers defeated the Dodgers 5-3 last night.


So now what Crew fans? Another month of nail-biting late innings? More weeks of wondering whether your closer's going to mentally burn out yet again? Seriously, I don't know how you people are handling this. If I had to deal with this circus, I'd be tempted to abandon ship completely!


I tried to gauge the feelings of Brewer Nation by reading a Q&A session with one of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's beat writers. And after reading said session, I was left with the impression that Ned Yost might not want to let the family dog out into the front yard anytime soon. (For you non-Midwest folks, Google: "Dan Devine Dog" and you'll get the reference.) I don't get the impression that there's a lot of pressure coming from inside the organization for his ouster. At least not yet. But if the natives are getting restless, that can't be a good sign.


Last night's win got the Brewers back above .500. So maybe I'm wrong and the Crew's on the way back to contending in the NL Central (they're currently 4th). But I've got to tell you folks, I don't feel good about this. Not even one bit. Phase 1 is back to the drawing board I guess.


Next up, for those of you that missed the Indians/Blue Jays double header Monday, there was a small slice of MLB history involved. In the 5th inning of Game 2 of the twin bill, Indians 2B Asdrubal Cabrera (definitely in the starting line-up for my "best baseball names" team) turned only the 14th unassisted Triple Play in MLB history.


With runners attempting a double steal, Cabrera made a diving stab of a Lyle Overbay line-drive for one out, stepped on second to double-off the runner there, and then tagged Marco Scutaro who was on the move from first. Now, I'd love to embed the video for your viewing pleasure, the hip and happening folks at MLB's front offices haven't quite grasped the concept that making your video highlights free and easily usable by the public actually promotes your product! What a concept!


That said, here's a link to MLB.com that shows the play:




14 times. That's all. There have been more perfect games than there have been unassisted triple-plays. There have been more 4-Home Run games than there have been unassisted triple plays. And at the risk of a reader backlash, I'll point out that 6 separate teams have had at least 14 players bat for the cycle. So you get a sense of how rare unassisted triple plays actually are.


So enjoy the historical goodness of it all. After all, that's what makes baseball so special!


Finally, it's time for this week's Peek at the Picks segment!


NL East: Florida Marlins (Dan's Pick: NY Mets, 2 Games Back)

Yes, the Florida Freaking Marlins are still atop the NL East. They've slipped off the top of the baseball mountain with the Arizona Diamondbacks reclaiming the title of "Best team in Baseball", but the Marlins are still right there. The Mets are in 3rd, but still well within striking distance.


NL Central: Chicago Cubs (DP: Cubs)

It's still a dogfight in the Central. The Cubs and the Cards have been trading the division lead for the last couple of weeks. And now the Astros have gotten into the act, passing the Brewers and moving into 3rd place, a game and a half behind the Cubs.


NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks (DP: D'backs)

The Dodgers winning ways came to an abrupt halt as of late. Dropping 5 in a row has put them 4.5 games behind Arizona. No one else in the division has shown any signs of coming back from the dead, so the Snakes are still in a really good spot.


AL East: Tampa Bay Rays (DP: Boston Red Sox (whom I hate), 1/2 GB)

The Tampa Bay Rays?! You want to know how surprising this is? This is the first time in team history that the Rays have been 7 games above .500. And it has to be the first time they've been alone in 1st place this late in the season. The wackiness in Florida continues.


AL Central: Minnesota Twins (DP: Detroit Tigers, 4.5 GB)

The Twins' lead in the Central has slimmed as of late as the Indians have finally started coming on. The Tigers? I don't know. I keep waiting for them to get on a hot streak. Maybe as the weather gets better in June, they'll get it going. But it's looked bloody awful so far.


AL West: L.A. Angels (DP: Seattle Mariners, 9 GB)

Good gawd. The Mariners are behind the Texas Rangers for heaven's sake! Has the John McLaren watch begun? I'd have to think so. It's one thing to not be as good as the Angels, but to be in the basement out West after making the trade for Eric Bedard and positioning yourself as a legitimate contender? That's just flat out unacceptable.


So right now I'm 2 of 6, but I'm within 5 games in 5 of 6, so I still feel pretty good about the picks. Memorial Day's the first major signpost along the road that is the MLB season, so we'll see where I'm at in a couple of weeks!


That's all for today. Back at you tomorrow with the Post Positions and Picks for the 133rd Preakness Stakes and then more Baseball wonder on Friday!

Monday

Baseball Notes: Phase 1 Complete, The Florida Freaking Marlins?! & DFTU


Sure it's Monday, and that's always kind of a downer. But it always helps me to discuss the weekend that was in the wonderful world of Major League Baseball. So today we discuss the completion of Phase 1 of Operation: Release Gags. Then I'll look at the new king of the mountain in baseball. That's right, there's a new team with the best record in baseball, the Florida Freaking Marlins! Unbelievable. Lastly it's a start-of-the-week edition of the DFTU...

«Read More...»


Off we go...

As my regular readers know, I've been advocating the outright release of Brewers reliever Eric Gagne all year long. I was mystified as to why Brewers management thought it wise to sign the guy to a $10 million deal in the first place, and Gagne has done nothing to significantly alter my opinion since the season began.

Well as of Sunday, Phase 1 of what I'm choosing to call, "Operation: Release Gags" is complete. Brewer Manager Ned Yost has removed Gagne from the Closer's role. For now the Brewers will use a "Closer by Committee" approach while Gagne takes what Yost calls a "mental break"

Translation? Yost is trying to protect his player by not stating the obvious: Gagne doesn't have the stuff to close games anymore. Call it mental, call it physical, call it a vast right-wing conspiracy. Whatever. The point is, the guy can't get the job done and needs to move along and make room for someone who can. Guillermo Mota, David Riske and Salomon Torres all have closing experience and at this point all seem like better options than Gagne. All are right-handed as well, so it's not a matter of matching up pitchers to batters. Instead, it's likely Yost will give each an opportunity and see who steps up to perform best in the role.

So next up is Phase 2. This is where the Brewers realize that if Gagne isn't going to be your closer, there really isn't much point to keeping him in your bullpen at all. You're going to pay $10 million to a set-up guy? Or even a middle reliever? Really? Are you?

So Brewers fans? Rest a little easier. Your team is bound to go on an upswing once Operation: Release Gags is complete. Lord knows you could use it. 18-19 and 4 games back of the Cards and Cubs isn't gonna get it done! Come on Crew fans! Keep those letters and phone calls to the Brewer front office coming! Together we can get this done!

Next up I have to talk about the Florida Marlins. The team with by far the lowest payroll in baseball ($22 million) has the best record in baseball at 23-14. That's a half-game ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks and 1 game ahead of the Boston Red Sox. The Florida Freaking Marlins are the best team in baseball?! How in the name of Jack McKeon did this happen?!

The answer is far from obvious. If you break down their team statistics, nothing really jumps off the page at you. The only stats where they're in the Top 5 in the NL as a team are Slugging Percentage (.456, 1st in the NL) and Batting Average (.265, 5th in the NL). Impressive numbers sure, but they're 6th in the NL in Runs Scored, 7th in Opposing Team Batting Average, 9th in Team ERA and they have the 2nd fewest Strikeouts and 6th most walks amongst NL pitching staffs.

Now if you gave me those numbers and asked me to guess what the record was midway through May? I'd probably tell you somewhere in the .500 neighborhood, maybe slightly above with the high BA and SLG. But I sure as heck wouldn't be guessing 23-14!

So the more I looked into it, the more I started to believe that though the Team numbers don't blow you away, what's carrying the Marlins is a small core of outstanding individual performances.

SS Hanley Ramirez is clearly leading the way. The 24-year old phenom is hitting .336, with a .425 OBP, while slugging .559. He's got 8 HR, 21 RBI and you can throw in 13 Stolen Bases for good measure. Those are All-Star-like numbers and at this point you have to put him in the conversation for MVP.

To whit, the Marlins have reportedly come to terms with Ramirez on a new 6-year $70 million contract extension. Remember what I told you. The Marlins entire payroll this year is $22 million. Next year Ramirez will make $11+ million. Quite the commitment from the ballclub!

But it's not just Ramirez. 2B Dan Uggla is hitting .279, slugging .618 with 11 HR and 27 RBI. And reclamation project Jorge Cantu is hitting .272, slugging .456 with 5 HR and 16 RBI. Last year Cantu spent the majority of the year out of big league baseball, even refusing an assignment to the Durham Bulls at one point (Nuke Laloosh would be crushed). And don't forget the savvy, veteran presence of LF Luis Gonzalez who's hitting .282 with 3 HR and 9 RBI.

On the pitching side, Scott Olson is anchoring the staff with a 4-1 record, a 2.63 ERA and 24 strikeouts. Mark Hendrickson forms the latter half of a nice 1-2 punch with a 5-1 record, 3.56 ERA and 20 strikeouts. And closer Kevin Gregg has converted 7 of his 8 Save opportunities while picking up 3 Wins and compiling an ERA of 2.89.

So there are a lot of things to like about this club. There are also a lot of question marks. Giving up the 6th most walks in the NL is a big red flag. The ability to work out of jams is great, but it puts a lot less strain on your pitchers and your defense to just stay out of jams in the first place. And speaking of defense, the Marlins have committed more errors than any other team in the NL. Combining walks and defensive miscues will inevitably lead to a bunch of crooked numbers.

So I give full credit to the Marlins for what they've accomplished so far. And I wish them nothing but the best for the rest of the season. And who knows? If they can improve a few of those numbers, the Mets and the Phillies may have a much tougher road ahead then they imagined at the beginning of the year.

Lastly today, it's everybody's favorite segment, the "Dan's Favorite Teams Update"!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are 19-17, in first place in the AL Central and 1 game ahead of both the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.

Oh how I'm lovin this! The Twins are 7-3 in their last 10, including 3 come-from-behind victories. 2 of which were against the Boston Red Sox (whom I hate). And they have a chance for a 3-1 series victory over the Sox (whom I hate) with their best pitcher to date, Livan Hernandez on the mound tonight! Perfect. When the worst-case scenario in a series with Boston (whom I hate) is a split? Life's pretty good.

The Twins' pitching overall hasn't been stellar. In the last 6 games, they've given up 33 runs. That's 5.5 per game. Not good.

But the offense has picked the pitchers up, scoring 34 runs over those same 6 games. Joe Mauer's average is back to where Twins fans have grown to expect it (.330). And Justin Morneau is anchoring the lineup with a .286 Batting Average with 6 HR and 27 RBI. If Michael Cuddyer can get back to 100% and Delmon Young can manage to get untracked, the Twins will have a nice core to their lineup.

As I mentioned earlier, the Twins wrap up their 4-game set with the Red Sox (whom I hate) tonight before welcoming the Toronto Blue Jays to Metrodome for 3 and then it's off to Denver for interleague play this weekend!

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 23-15 and 3.5 games ahead of the Dodgers in the NL West.

The bad news? Arizona's 3-7 in their last 10. Oof. And the worst part of it is that those games have come during a stretch where the Snakes have been testing themselves against some of the stalwarts of the National League. They dropped 2 of 3 to the Mets, and split 4 with the Phillies at home before going to Chicago and getting broom-jobbed by the Cubs (Curse you Dave Anton... curse you).

The trouble for Arizona has been in the pitching and defensive departments. And with the pitching, I'm referring specifically to their bullpen. In all 3 losses to the Cubs, the D'backs held the lead at some point in the mid- to late-stages of the game and the bullpen was unable to hold it.

And the defensive problems I've highlighted in previous posts have not abated. Justin Upton had a particularly awful-looking play in Chicago where he misplayed a ball to begin with and then lazily tossed it into the infield while an alert Alfonso Soriano scored from second on a play where at worst, he should've been at 3rd.

I'm convinced that most of these types of errors stem from having such a young team. But I'd feel a lot better about it if there were some sort of Tony Clark/Luis Gonzalez type grizzled-veteran who could help solidify the defense and provide a "leadership-by-example" presence. Eric Byrnes is your most experienced fielder, but he's really more of the "quirky, keep the guys loose" kind of guy. So I have no idea where that kind of leadership is going to come from, but manager Bob Melvin had better figure something out quickly.

The good news? Even with all their struggles, the D'backs have maintained that 3+ game lead out West. Admit it Arizona fans. You knew the roll they were on to start the year couldn't last forever. This kind of rough spot was to be expected.

And the bright side is, they're still hitting well and scoring runs. And with Brandon Webb and Dan Haren leading the way, the starting pitching should remain fairly consistent.

So there's work to be done, but there really isn't any reason to glance at that "panic button" just yet.

The D'backs are off today before hosting the Rockies for 3 and then the Detroit Tigers in interleague play for 3 as well.

That's all for today folks. More Baseball-osity on Wednesday, and then Thursday's your official Preakness Preview!

Friday

Baseball Notes: New Poll, Big Sexy Charges the Mound & DFTU


Hello again everybody...

Hope you're all TGIF-ing it at the end of another work week - sorry Josh...

Today I'll talk about the results of the last poll and the genesis of the new one. Then I'll talk about Mariners 1B Richie Sexson charging the mound last night. Finally it's an end of the week edition of the DFTU!

«Read More...»


Let us away...

The latest poll is up, but let's look at the results of the previous poll first. The question was, "What's your prediction for the Minnesota Twins record". Out of 16 total votes, 9 of you (56%) said that they'll finish above .500. 3 of us (18%) said they'd finish at .500. And 4 of you (25%) said they'd finish below .500.

So do I have a bunch of optimistic Twins fans reading the blog? Perhaps. But based on their play of late, there's certainly a chance they'll exceed my expectations and finish above the .500 mark. I'll stick with my prediction that they'll finish at or around .500, though the way the Central has been going, that'd probably get them better than the 4th place finish that I predicted would go along with that record.

And now onto the new poll. "How many games will Brandon Webb win?" For those of you who don't instantly recognize the name (and that better be because you're not one of my baseball-fan readers), Webb's the Arizona right-hander who won the NL Cy Young Award (best pitcher in the NL) two years ago, and finished second in the voting last year. This year Brandon has won his first 8 starts out of the gate (he accomplished the same feat in his Cy Young year of 2006) and is currently sporting an ERA of 2.41. He's only the 6th pitcher in the last 50 years to win his first 8 starts while keeping his ERA below 2.50.

So the question now becomes, how many is this guy gonna win?! His stuff has been electric so far, and assuming he stays healthy, hitters are going to face an uphill battle against him all year. There's even speculation as to whether he could become the first 30-game winner since Denny McLain in 1968. I'm going to say "nay" to that idea. In Webb's 5 seasons in the majors, he's averaged 32.6 starts per season. So he'd have to maintain a ridiculous pace to be able to win 30. 25 on the other hand, that might might be doable.

So take a moment, think it over and make your vote. D'back fans, vote early and often!

Next up, I've got to talk about Richie Sexson's performance last night. The Seattle Mariners were hosting the Texas Rangers in a game between AL West also-rans. Texas was leading 4-0 in the 4th inning when Ranger 2B Ian Kinsler, who had homered in the 2nd inning, got hit in the back by Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez. Kinsler took exception and glared at Hernandez as he went to first base. In the bottom half of the inning Texas pitcher Kason Gabbard threw a pitch to Seattle 1B Richie Sexson, which was described as "up, but not far inside", by ESPN.com. Richie however, decided that the pitch was an inappropriate response to Kinsler's beaning and chose to express his displeasure by charging the mound and throwing his helmet at Gabbard.

He threw his helmet.

Think about that. Richie Sexson is 6-8 and 240 pounds. Kason Gabbard is 6-3 and 200 pounds. And Sexson threw his freaking helmet!

Friend of WCCO Radio Ross Bernstein just wrote a book entitled "The Code: Baseball's Unwritten Rules and It's Ignore-at-Your-Own-Risk Code of Conduct". It's a follow-up to last year's hockey version of "The Code", which described the unwritten rules of fighting in hockey. Who fights, when do they fight and how "hockey justice" is determined. I've only begun perusing the Baseball version, but I'm quite confident that "helmet flinging" is a violation of the Baseball Code. Especially if you've got 5 inches and 40 pounds on a guy!

I'm not going to argue the merits of intentionally hitting batters or charging pitchers on the mound. These are things that have been part of baseball since its inception. And though bench-clearing brawls have reduced in frequency, I'm not sure you'll ever eliminate them completely.

What I will say is that if you really feel the need to hit a guy, or charge the mound in response to a brush-back pitch, suck it up, be a man and go do what you have to do. Don't bring your bat, don't throw the ball back at the pitcher (Twins fans will recall an incident in Cleveland where Torii Hunter did just that), and for heaven's sake, don't throw your helmet. Either go out there and challenge the pitcher physically, or just take your base.

So until Richie Sexson offers some kind of explanation, or better yet an apology, he's officially on my "Less than Manly Athlete" list! Come on Richie! You're better than that!

(Ed.'s Note: This just crossed the wire -

NEW YORK -- Seattle slugger Richie Sexson was suspended for six games and fined Friday by Major League Baseball after charging the mound and throwing his helmet at a Texas pitcher the previous night.

Bob Watson, baseball's vice president in charge of discipline, cited Sexson for "violent and aggressive actions."

Sexson asked the players' association to appeal, and any suspension will be delayed until after a hearing.

The appeal will probably end up reducing the suspension to 4 games or so. That seems to be the precedent.

But they ought to tell Richie that they're actually adding a couple of games for pulling such a bush move!)

Finally it's time for everybody's favorite segment: Dan's Favorite Teams Update!

Minnesota Twins: The Twins sit at 17-16, 1 game ahead of the White Sox in the AL Central.

Winners of 7 of their last 10, the Twins are surprising a lot of people throughout baseball. I think what I find most remarkable is that they lead their division when they haven't been able to run out a consistent pitching rotation (due mostly to injuries) or a consistent lineup (some injuries, but mostly ineffective play). Neither of these issues are likely to be resolved real soon now that P Scott Baker's been placed on the Disabled List - Kevin Slowey is just coming back, and Glen Perkins has been called up to fill Baker's spot. And in terms of the lineup, IF's Matt Tolbert and Nick Punto have been making cases to play on a regular basis while 3B Mike Lamb and SS Adam Everett have struggled.

But it doesn't look like anyone in the Central is going to step up and take control of the division for a while, so it looks like the Twins can hang in there til they decide what direction they really want to go.

The Twins open a 4-game set against the Red Sox (whom I still hate) at the Metrodome tonight before welcoming in the Toronto Blue Jays in for 3 next week.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D'backs are 23-12 and 3.5 game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.

Arizona's smoking-hot start has seemingly cooled somewhat. The Snakes dropped 2 of 3 to the Mets and split a 4-game set with the Phillies. Eric Byrnes is really struggling offensively. Reports say that he's battling some bum hamstrings and that they're really affecting his swing. Obviously the Arizona trainers know better than we do, but sooner or later, fans have to wonder when it's time to let Byrnes take some time off and try and get those things healed up. Hamstrings are tricky that way. The only way to heal them really is to rest them. And if you keep trying to force it, they could be a lingering problem all year.

The pitching's still fantastic however. Brandon Webb's outstanding. Dan Haren has been solid. Randy Johnson has gotten hit around somewhat, but is still giving the Snakes a chance to win. Micah Owings has been getting more press for his hitting than his pitching, but don't forget this guy is 4-1 with a 4.33 ERA. Not shabby for a 4th starter. And more good news is on the way for Arizona fans. Doug Davis is going to be making a couple of rehab starts next week for Triple-A Tuscon and then he'll be ready to rejoin the rotation cancer-free! Kudos Doug.

The D'backs are in Chicago this weekend for a series with the Cubs before heading back home to host the struggling Rockies.

That's it for this week folks. More baseball on Monday and then I ramp up coverage for the 133rd Preakness Stakes!

Wednesday

5-7-08 - Baseball Notes: GoGo Needs to Slow Down, Rockies Pull a First-to-Worst & Peek at the Picks


Hello again everybody...

Happy Hump-day to you all. I'll save my rant on why tomorrow (Thursday) is my least favorite day of the week. Suffice it to say that I'm good with Wednesdays. Especially when they're sunny like today!

So today I'm going to go over a rant that I've been pondering for a few weeks related to Twins CF Carlos Gomez. Then I'll take a look at the Colorado Rockies' swoon. Finally it's time for another "Peek at the Picks" segment.

«Read More...»
So let's dig into the batter's box and take a hack...

"Speed Kills". One of those legendary sports cliches. And it's true. Pick a sport, any sport, and the faster you can execute your skills, the better chance you have at success. That being said, speed at any and all costs can be a hindrance.

Enter Twins CF Carlos Gomez - or as his teammates have affectionately dubbed him, "GoGo".

Now don't get me wrong. I'm as big a fan of his effort and exuberance as the next guy. But the kid needs to slow down just a touch. He goes so hard, and expends so much effort that he loses control and ends up hurting the team. And if he's not careful, he's going to end up hurting himself.

Example 1: His offense. I love this kid's potential for being a lead-off hitter. His ability to bunt his way on base and create havoc with pitchers and defenses due to his base-stealing ability is fantastic. But you can't steal second if you don't get to first and you can't bunt every time. Part of being a quality lead-off hitter is pitch recognition. Knowing your strike zone and taking enough close pitches to earn more than your fair share of walks.

On-base percentage (OBP) is an important stat to look at in this regard. Ricky Henderson is widely regarded as being one of the greatest Lead Off Hitters/Base Stealers in MLB history. His career OBP is .401. That means in 40+% of his career Plate Appearances he got on base via a hit, walk or being hit by a pitch. Now .401 is way above average and I'm not asking Gomez to get there in only his second full season in the Big Leagues. But a solid lead-off hitter should end up somewhere around .350 at least. Right now Gomez has an OBP of .287. Not nearly good enough.

But if he slowed down a little, focused more in the batters box, and knocked off those head-first belly-flops into first base - which can only serve to get him dinged up, thereby hurting his performance at the plate even more - he could improve that statistic markedly.

Example 2: His defense. Twins fans will recall Torii Hunter flying around Center Field diving for balls and making spectacular catches. They'll also recall Torii, on occasion, uncorking a throw home that caused him to do a somersault after putting the entirety of his body into the throw.

So what's wrong with Carlos doing the same thing? The answer is that Carlos has yet to learn control.

You hear athletes talking about "playing on the edge". Often that "edge" refers to the line between putting out maximum effort and losing control. Effort becomes wasted when you lose control. Gomez has a great arm, and can get the ball wherever he chooses to throw it in a hurry. Unfortunately, he can't always get it where he wants it. And the most glaring example of that is when he does one of those ridiculous somersaults trying to throw home. The result far more often than not is the ball ending up somewhere near an On-Deck Circle.

But if he slowed down and let his natural athleticism take over, he could be much more accurate and see his Outfield Assists number rise substantially.

So Carlos... my man... slow down! Take it easy! You're in the Majors and you're not going anywhere. They're not going to send you down unless you crack a bone and need a rehab assignment. So calm down a little bit. You'll do yourself a major favor in the long run.

Next up I have to talk a little about the Colorado Rockies. I was one of many sucked in by the Rocks' magical ride into and through last year's playoffs. Last year's National League champs are now tied for the worst record in baseball.

12-21. 12 and freaking 21! The Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and Kansas City Royals - all traditional doormats - all have better records than a team that was in the World Series last October.

So how did this happen? It certainly hasn't been their offense. They're right in the middle of the pack in terms of Batting Average and Runs Scored. And their big thumpers are hitting. LF Matt Holiday's hitting .305 with 5 Home Runs and 19 RBI. 1B Todd Helton's hitting .278 with 3 Home Runs and 11 RBI. And 3B Garrett Atkins has actually ramped up his production from last year, hitting .319 with 6 Home Runs and 22 RBI. The offense is just fine.

And it isn't apparently their defense. They're second in the NL in Fielding having only committed 14 errors and also having turned 36 double-plays. No problems there.

That leaves one last option: pitching. And oh my are those numbers ugly. A team ERA of 4.87, 2nd-worst in the NL. 143 Walks, the most in the NL. Opponents Batting Average of .272, 2nd worst in the NL. 181 Runs allowed, also 2nd worst in the NL. And finally they've blown nearly half of their Save Opportunities, converting only 7 out of 13 times.

Yikes.

Jeff Francis, one of the Rockies stalwarts in last year's rotation is 0-3 this year with a 5.26 ERA. Manny Corpas who was lights-out as a closer in last year's playoffs is responsible for that ugly 7 of 13 Save Conversion stat this year. And don't forget the loss of the Hawk! LaTroy Hawkins is a Yankee this year. And while he's not killing the American League by any means, his departure has meant shifting guys in Colorado's bullpen into roles they're not necessarily suited for.

So how to fix it? When it's this bad, most of the fixing has to come internally. Guys have to step it up and figure out how to get back close to where they were last year. Rockie's GM Dan O'Dowd will certainly be keeping his eye open for potential trades, but this staff's more than a tweak or two away from being back in contending form.

I mentioned in my MLB Preview that I thought the Rocks would take a step backwards this year. But First-to-Worst?! I certainly didn't see that coming!

Finally, it's time for this week's "Peek at the Picks" segment. Here are your current division leaders along with my predictions:

AL East: Boston Red Sox (Dan's Pick: Boston)
Not much to say here. Boston's good. The rest of the division's not. God I hate the Red Sox!

AL Central: Minnesota Twins (DP: Detroit Tigers, 3.5 Games Behind)
The Twins are still in first! Okay, they're only a game ahead of the White Sox. And the Tigers are in the cellar of the division while being only 3.5 games back. But hey, Twins fans will take it!

AL West: Los Angeles Angels (DP: Seattle Mariners, 7.5 GB)
Oof. This is probably going to be my biggest flub. The M's are floundering while the Angels have put together a solid start to the year. The A's appear to be the Halos' only competition, but I think by the end of the year, L.A. walks with this division.

NL East: Florida Marlins/Philadelphia Phillies (DP: NY Mets, 1.5 GB)
The Fish are still hanging around this thing. The standard is that you wait til Memorial Day to figure out if a team is for real or not. I don't know where the Marlins will be in a few weeks, but they've certainly surprised me so far!

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals (DP: Chicago Cubs, 3 GB)
The Cardinals are now a half-game behind the Diamondbacks for the best record in baseball. Color me flabbergasted. No way I would've predicted that! The Cubs are hanging around, but it looks like the Central's going to be contested late into the season.

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks (DP: Arizona)
The D'backs have been fairly average of late. In fact, they're 5-5 in their last 10 games. Meanwhile the Dodgers have caught fire, going 9-1 in their last 10 to move to 3 games behind the Snakes. After that it drops off precipitously. If Joe Torre can keep the Dodgers rolling, this division might have a 2-team race after all!

That's it for today folks. Back on Friday with more Baseball wonder!