Results tagged ‘ Ballgames ’

Monday’s Bunts and Boots–Timid Tigers, Animal Bannister, and Showboat Gomes

You can’t win a pennant (or a division title) in April, but you can come awfully close to losing one if you’re not careful. That’s the predicament the Tigers find themselves in, having lost their first six games of the season despite being cast as pre-season co-favorites in the American League Central.

What has been Detroit’s undoing? Well, just about everything. We knew the bullpen would be questionable because of first-half injuries to Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, but the Tigers’ problems extend well beyond the identity of the set-up corps to Todd Jones. With arguably the most talented lineup from top to bottom in the league, the Tigers were supposed to make a run at 1,000 runs this summer. Well, that’s not going to happen. Injuries to Curtis Granderson and Gary Sheffield have shackled the offense, which has shown a disturbing tendency to ground into double plays (ten in the first six games, including five on Sunday night). Without Granderson, most of the Tigers’ speed is gone, making them more susceptible to rally-ending twin killings. The team’s defense, particularly in center field (where Brandon Inge is no Granderson) and the left side of the infield (where the offensive-minded Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria reside), is shaky. And even the top of the rotation, in the form of Cy Young contender Justin Verlander, has bombed, with Verlander looking more like Jose Lima and Felipe Lira, vintage 1996, in the Sunday night game against the White Sox.

No matter how talented a team might be, no one wants to open the first week of the season without a win. Certainly not the Tigers, who reside in the same division as the equally regarded Indians and two improved teams in Chicago and Kansas City. None of this is meant to indicate that the Tigers are done–they’re only four games out in the Central–but the depth of the division and the difficulty of the schedule will not give the Tigers much of a buffer. If the Tigers do not turn their situation around within the next two weeks, they will find themselves having to play catch-up in a deep division, while having to overcome a shaky bullpen, a thin starting rotation, and constant reminders of high pre-season expectations.

It’s hard to believe, but the Tigers are already facing a critical watershed to their season. The 162-game schedule may be a long one, but it’s not long enough for a team to simply sleepwalk through the first month of the season…

 

Observers continue to be surprised by the success of Kansas City’s Brian “The Animal” Bannister, largely because of his lack of velocity and a general paucity of strikeouts. But should we really be surprised by Bannister’s continuing mastery of American League hitters, especially after his dismantling of the Tigers in his 2008 debut? Bannister owns a terrific curveball, throws strikes with regularity, and mixes his pitches with the kind of artistry that one would expect from the son of a former major league pitcher (his father is former Mariners and White Sox lefty Floyd Bannister). Those three strengths put the younger Bannister three steps ahead of many major league pitchers who throw 95 miles per hour but have no other discernible weapon in retiring opposing hitters…

 

Jonny Gomes is fast gaining a reputation as a hothead who talks too much and thinks too little. He only added to that reputation on Saturday afternoon, when he twice failed to run hard on long drives to the outfield. (Who does he think he is, Manny Ramirez?) In the first incident, Gomes assumed that a drive to right field would result in a home run, so he lollygagged his way to first base. And then, halfway between first and second base, Gomes realized that the ball was in play; Bobby Abreu nailed him at second base on what should have been an easy double for Gomes. One would have thought Gomes would learn from the experience, but later in the game, he once again went into a home run trot, this time on a deep drive to left field. Luckily for Gomes, the ball cleared the fence for a home run. I can only hope that Rays manager Joe Maddon said something to Gomes after one–if not both–of those at-bats… Of course, now I’ll have to hear criticism from some Internet hotshot for being an old-fashioned curmudgeon, fuddy-duddy, or worse. (Is there anything worse than being called a fuddy duddy?) God forbid that we get upset when players lazily run into outs on the basepaths because they’re too busy posing for alleged home runs.

Opening Day 2008–Observations From Cooperstown

The traditional Opening Day finally arrived on Monday–though it would have been difficult to tell based on the cold, damp air of Cooperstown. (Basically, we experienced the same weather that wiped out Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.) In spite of my usual complaints about the climate, games did take place throughout the country, including a smattering of matchups that made their way onto my television. So away we go…

Johan Santana, David Wright, and Jose Reyes all played the way the Mets expect them to, resulting in a 7-2 thrashing of the skinflint Marlins. After Santana left with seven innings of two-run, eight-strikeout ball, Willie Randolph did some mixing and matching with his bullpen, turning not to Aaron Heilman but giving Matt Wise and Jorge Sosa a taste of the eighth inning. Wise looked so-so, but Sosa pitched well, as Randolph searches for some bullpen answers during Duaner Sanchez’ latest stint on the disabled list…

As for the Marlins, they continue to look shaky defensively, as they did most of 2007. More importantly, they gave the Opening Day ball to Mark Hendrickson, a Lee Guetterman throwalike who should be pitching in middle relief, not anchoring the rotation. Without much established pitching and without the booming bat of Miguel Cabrera, it looks to be a long season in south Florida…

The Cubs and Brewers played one of the most entertaining games of Opening Day, with each team’s supposed relief ace blowing up in the ninth inning. We’re only one game into the season–and the Cubs already have a closer controversy. Kerry Wood gave up three runs in the top of the ninth, which will fuel fan desires to see Carlos Marmol in the ninth-inning role. The Brewers’ new relief ace, Eric Gagne, looked even worse than Wood. He couldn’t throw strikes, walking his first two batters before grooving a fastball to Japanese sensation Fukudome (who looks like a thicker, more powerful version of Ichiro).For Red Sox fans, Gagne’s performance was all too reminiscent of his second-half horror show in Boston. And to think that the Brewers spent $10 million on Gagne, who was far more concerned with the muddy mound and his own steamed-up glasses than he was with opposing Cubs batters. (An aside on Gagne: Could he make a semblance of an effort to wear his uniform properly? I’m all for players having a distinctive look on the field, but does Gagne need to wear pants that are three sizes too large? I mean, he had enough material with those trousers to make a couch! He also made no effort to tuck in his shirt, until the home plate umpire finally ordered him to do so several batters into his frightful inning of work. Looking distinctive and personal is one thing; looking like a complete slob is quite another. End of rant.)…

In between my usual Monday night fare of Medium (a terrific show, I might add), I watched bits and pieces of the opener between the Padres and Astros. Jake Peavy looked Cy Young unhittable over the first five innings, while Roy Oswalt struggled against what appears–at least on the surface–to be a popgun Padre offense. While the Padres have question marks in left, center, and at third base, they do have a legitimate star in Adrian Gonzalez. While the ESPN broadcasters compared him to Rafael Palmeiro, he reminds me more of a widebody version of Will “The Thrill” Clark. With that sweet swing, ability to hit to all fields, and raw straightaway power, Gonzalez could emerge as a serious MVP cancidate within the next two seasons…

Finally, I received a care package coinciding with Opening Day. Friend and fellow author Matt Silverman sent me copies of his three most recent projects–Mets By the Numbers, 100 Things Mets Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, and Meet the Mets 2008. If you’re a Mets diehard and are not yet familiar with Matt’s work, you need to change that quickly. A talented writer, Matt has emerged as a print version of Howie Rose–an absolute Mets expert and historian. Thanks, Matt.

Monday’s Bunts and Boots

Buddy Bell was a fine player, one of the most underrated third basemen of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but has continually shown himself to be overmatched as manager of the Royals. Over the weekend, Bell repeatedly resisted opportunities to pitch around Alex Rodriguez, who is currently in the midst of one of the best power streaks of his career. Instead, Bell allowed his pitchers to challenge A-Rod, who responded by clubbing four home runs in three games and almost single-handedly leading the Yankees to a three-game sweep. Fortunately, the Royals will have a chance to have a much stronger strategic presence in the dugout next year, as Bell has already announced his retirement, effective at season’s end. Let’s just hope the Royals do the smart thing and give the job to someone like Frank White, who has more than paid his dues as a minor league skipper…

Some decisions defy explanation. Over the weekend, the Devil Rays announced that they had exercised the 2008 and 22009 options on the contract of manager Joe Maddon? What exactly has Maddon done to merit two contract extensions, much less one? In the nearly two seasons that Maddon has been on the job, the Devil Rays have shown virtually no improvement in the standings. They remain inept in the critical areas of pitching and defense, which were problem areas prior to Maddon’s arrival. They also have a well-earned reputation for being one of the League’s most egregious offenders when it comes to executing fundamentals (they are notoriously bad at missing the cutoff man) and hustling on the bases (D-Rays batters routinely fail to run out ground balls and pop-ups). If Maddon doesn’t deserve some of the blame for this lack of attention to detail, then who in the Devil Rays’ organization should take the fall? Apparently no one. And that’s a sad commentary on the state of baseball being played at Tropicana Field…

It has been an incredibly monumental year for the village of Cooperstown. At the end of July, we saw crowds of 70,000-plus fans in town for the induction of Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. Now we’re in the midst of Cooperstown’s bicentennial celebration, which began over the weekend and will feature events for a full week. The celebration officially kicked off on Saturday with an hour-long parade, by far the largest parade in the history of Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame did a nice job with its float, which featured a large wooden stand filled with replica plaques, surrounded by two oversized gloves and escorted by 15 Hall uniform-wearing employees. (I especially loved the old Colt .45s uniform.) My favorite "float" in the parade was the most unusual: a large wooden casket that billowed smoke and featured the words "Dracula’s Coffin." And what does the most famous vampire of all time have to do with Cooperstown? Well, a local theater group is putting on a production of Dracula and decided to use the parade as an opportunity to promote its October programs. Only in Cooperstown.

Blow Up the Bullpen

I’m no fan of Charlie Manuel when it comes to managerial skill, but GM Pat Gillick has hung him out to dry with regard to the state of the Phillies’ bullpen. The eighth inning of Monday’s Opening Day game at Shea Stadium was only the latest and most blatant implosion by the Phillies’ sagging relief corps. Two walks by Geoff Geary, who had no confidence in throwing his fastball even on three-and-oh counts, coupled with a Jimmy Rollins error and a wild pitch, turned a one-run lead into a blowout loss against the Mets. In fairness, Geary did pitch well last year, but he’s never been used as a late-inning reliever, which requires a different kind of stomach. Jon Lieber is also out of place in the bullpen; he’s a career starter who relies on sinking the ball over the span of several innings, not coming in out of the pen and throwing high-octane fastballs from the first pitch. Ryan "Mad Dog" Madson remains an enigma. He has the stuff (very good fastball and curve) to dominate, but might not have the personality or make-up preferred in a late-inning reliever. That leaves Tom "Flash" Gordon all by himself, and at the age of 39, he can’t be expected to register two-inning saves on anything more than an occasional basis.

Gillick needs to move quickly to address Philadelphia’s bullpen quagmire. Late-inning losses are not only the most discouraging kind of defeats, but they’re also the most likely to raise blood pressures throughout the City of Brotherly Love, never known for its patience when it comes to its professional sports teams. That’s just not a healthy atmosphere for a team that has never advanced to the postseason in the new millennium and seems to have more than its share of fragile psyches. A team that is expected to contend simply cannot wait on an undermanned bullpen, not in a division that has the Mets and an upgraded set of Braves. Gillick should trade Lieber for the best relief pitcher he can find, be it a Matt Guerrier (part of that deep Minnesota bullpen) or Chris Britton (currently toiling for the Yankees’ top farm team in nearby Scranton). Failing that, Gillick needs to give serious thought to signing Dustin Hermanson and/or Ron Villone off the waiver wire. Both pitchers have track records, if not particularly young bodies, on their side. Both might benefit from pitching fulltime in the National League, rather than against those pancake-stacked American League batting orders.

Throughout baseball, we often hear the cliché, "You shouldn’t make change for the sake of making change." In the case of the Phillies’ bullpen, that might not be the case any longer.

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