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Friday, January 28, 2011

5 Headlines from the future ('11 MLB season)

   I once heard it said that the definition of "an economist" is "a person who predicts what will happen in the near future, then 30 days later, tells you precisely why it didn't happen.".  So, color me purple & call me Greenspan--here are my predictions for 5 headlines I expect (not necessarily hope) to see between now & the end of the 2011 World Series:

  • Right field wrong?
    • Cards lose 5-4 in 11 innings
  Franklin "blows a save" in extras on a ball that could've/should've/would've been caught by Berkman in right.  I like having Puma's bat in the lineup from both sides of the plate, but to say I'm less than confident in the Cardinals' defense this year is simply not emphatic enough.  Pitching & defense win championships, and my fear is that we've only got half of that recipe right.  (Btw, that goes for more than just RF.)

  • The "I"s of the Rangers are upon you
    • American League West division-leading Texas sends entire infield to Arizona for the 2011 All-Star game
   Ok, not the entire infield--Moreland isn't going to out-popularity-contest-score the big names that occupy first base across the AL.  But, with Beltre, Andrus, Kinsler, & Moreland on the diamond in Arlington, and oh yeah, Michael Young as a defensively versatile DH, these guys are for real!  Measure a team not by who they are, but by who they are compared to their competition.  Seattle's struggles will continue in 2011--even Harold Reynolds has to admit that.  Oakland has a lot of promising young arms coming up this year (remnant of Zito-Mulder-Hudson ten years ago), but as a team, they aren't "there yet".  The Angels are the only other team to really consider as competition in that division.  With Morales back this year (another AL 1B that Moreland won't garner more ASG votes than...not even sure what the over/under is on Derrek Lee), and the addition of Vernon Wells from TOR, this offense will be hard to stop, other than that, the team made surprisingly few off-season moves.  So, other than offensively, they're largely the same team they were in 2010...which watched the Rangers run away with things.

  • Halladay wins 20th, Lee with 16
    • Doc defeats Greinke, notches 4th 20-win season
   This is the headline on September 10th, after PHI wins @ MIL.  And I'm more using this headline to demonstrate my opinion on the 1 & 2 (reasoning why I'm not so sure they should start back-to-back is for another day) in the PHI starting rotation--which is to say Doc is gonna be Doc & Cliff Lee is an absolute stud...but, he's no Roy Halladay.  Doc has won 15 or more games 7 times, including the last 5 years in a row (4 of those years in the AL East).  Lee has two, the last coming in '08 (AL Central).  Both guys are no-doubt innings eaters, but Doc has 220 or more IP for the past 5 straight years & 7 times total (career high 266 in '03), Lee's done it twice ('08 & '09).  Both are incredible K/BB & control guys, and will certainly be factors all season long (think Spahn & Sain) for the entire National League.

  • Ejections, suspensions & fines
    • Cards, Reds renew rivalry
The *gulp* NL Central division champion Cincinnati Reds come to St. Louis for the first time of the 2011 season on April 22.  My projections have Carp pitching the next day (Sat, 23rd) provided the rotation is Carp-Waino-Garcia-Westbrook-5.  If the blood doesn't boil over on Friday night, things could get wild around 12:11pm on Saturday.  This rivalry has become the perfect storm between two teams.  Forget the cubs rivalry--that one is never going anywhere.  This is on a whole new level...several levels, in fact.
   Consider the rosters: double-digit figures of men who play for one team that were once on the other team.  Now add in the mouthy comments of Brandon Phillips (probably unknowingly) dogging current, former & soon-to-be teammates as well as the Cardinals.  You've taken a crazy situation, and thrown in some "bad".  Now, toss in some Cueto/LaRue "metal spikes to the face" action, and things get ugly in a hurry--we've gone from "bad" to "worse".  But wait, there's more...
No, seriously.   Wait.   There IS more!

   Let's talk management.  There is NO LOVE LOST between Tony LaRussa & Dusty Baker.  None.  At all.  Dusty Baker wouldn't know how to manage a ballclub if a Connie Mack-authored instruction manual came in toothpick form!  A lot of people believe he is to blame for ruining the young arms of young players with ridiculous potential like Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, & Aroldis Chapm...oh, wait--he hasn't done that yet.
   But that aside, Baker's track record includes 10 years with the Giants, and 1 NL pennant--They lost the WS to ANA (LAA) in '02 for the only time the Angels have ever appeared in a postseason series beyond the first round.  Since 1961, the Angels had NEVER won a postseason series (losing & eliminated in the first round in 1979, '82, & '86), and while I give due credit to Mike Scioscia, I can't deny Baker's involvement in the loss.  He was at the helm for the cubs in the Bartman meltdown series.
   As much as it gives me pleasure, I won't re-hash the whole scenario.  However, you must remember that 5 outs away from taking the cubs to the WS, things happened...Bartman, Alou's loose-cannon reaction, Gonzalez & the should've-been double play...etc, etc.  What did that game have in common with Bill Buckner's infamous error at 1B in the '86 World Series and the Denkinger blown call at 1B in the '85 World Series?  All three things occured in GAME SIX, and NONE of those series ended in six games.  As a manager, you've got to get your team mentally prepared to move beyond what took place (Bartman, Bucker, or Denkinger), and Dusty couldn't do it in '03 with the cubs.  Just like he couldn't do it in '02 with the Giants, just like he got swept (including no-hit for only the 2nd time in MLB postseason hstory) in the 2010 playoffs with the Reds.  So, there's that.  It's official: We've gone from "bad" to "worse" to "that's just ridiculous".
   But we're not finished yet.  Walt Jocketty was the former GM of the Cardinals, and when things started to change internally between the "Jocketty side" and the "Jeff Luhnow" side, Walt was asked to leave....by the DeWitts...who have a home Cincinnati, and have many socioeconomic ties to that city.  One of the first interview questions John Mozeliak was asked when he took over at the helm was something along the lines of 'Are you worried about adjusting to your new role as GM?' to which he responded something like, "Well, I've pretty much been doing all the work for the last several years, so it's not really a change for me, other than the title.".  Dude.  I'm *telling* you--this thing goes deeper than just Phillips & Yadi.

  • MLB to implement big changes for 2012 season
    • Playoff format, instant replay among major differences
   It's coming, folks.  Love it, hate it, or somewhere in-between, these things are going to happen.  Adding a team to the playoff structure adds revenue--no owner is going to vote against that.  The idea of a 1-game playoff for a 2nd wildcard spot isn't enough additional "labor" for the player's union to really railroad the idea.  And while my personal opinion is that it has the potential to create more problems than it "fixes", I can't argue that it would add to the excitement level of September/October [November?] baseball!
   Instant replay is much trickier to address.  I think most baseball fans agree on the premise: We want to get the call right.  Everything after that is complex, especially to a fan who is mostly traditionalist/purist, such as myself.  Do you have an off-the-field ump in a booth somewhere?  Will it be limited to postseason games only?  Does each team get an NFL-style "challenge flag" to use?  If so, how many per game?  Homeruns?  Out/Safe?  Fair/foul?  Catch/Trap?  If so, what do you do with the baserunners?
   If Colby Rasmus is on 2nd, and Yadi Molina is on 3rd with 1 out when Jake Westbrook hits an 'excuse me' popup down the line in shallow right, and Yadi goes halfway home...the ball is either caught or trapped (or is either fair or foul) and has to be reviewed.  If the initial call was foul (or caught), and the instant replay review shows it should be ruled fair (or trapped), is Yadi awarded home?  What about Colby?  Does Westbrook get first base?  What if there were 2 outs instead?  What if rather than Yadier Molina at third, it was Andrew McCutchen?  Does that change things?
   Very complex, this instant replay situation.  I think the general consensus/"big three" is/are that MLB: wants to get the calls right; the technology exists to accomplish that; but we don't want to disrupt the flow/pace of the game.  And I'm telling you, they're going to find a way to get it done.  Done right?  That remains to be seen.

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