Monday was home run day in Major League Baseball. In Miami, on their way to a 9-2 crushing of the wayward Miami Marlins (the fish have now lost eight in a row), Washington’s Tyler Moore and Sandy Leon hit dingers (it was Leon’s first ever), while the Marlins got their second run on a moon shot from Garrett Jones.
In Anaheim, where the A’s played the Belinskis, John Jaso’s pinch hit home run topped the Halos, but only after Albert Pujols put his 496th career round tripper into the Anaheim stratosphere. That was the second game of ESPN’s nightly offering, which led off with a head-shaking match-up between the Braves and Phillies.
The Braves-Phillies tilt was nearly unwatchable until the 8th inning, when Dominic Brown’s three run blast sent Philadelphia to what seemed an unlikely late-inning victory. That was not the story, as it turned out: Atlanta had scored its runs on back-to-back-to-back skyballs in the previous frame, courtesy of Evan Gattis, Dan Uggla and Andrelton Simmons, then went on to beat the Ponies in the 9th, when Dan Uggla homered.
Even then (with Washington, Miami, Oakland, Anaheim, Atlanta and Philadelphia all going long), April’s most impressive home run derby took place in Cincinnati, where the stinking Reds and mighty Pirates put ten (count ‘em) ten balls over the fence. It was a sight to behold: Pittsburgh had three sets of back-to-back home runs, while Cincinnati hit four solo shots. Pittsburgh’s Gaby Sanchez hit two, as did Neil Walker.
Ironically, while home runs played vital roles in all of these match-ups, the Cincinnati derby (at the Great American Bandbox, so there’s that) counted for nothing, with the game suspended in the 7th inning due to rain. Don’t think it was impressive? Take a look at this:
So? So what the hell is going on? Right here would be a good time for some statistical analysis, reputedly showing that April 14 was a “statistical anomaly” — an argument any old wag could make except that nearly every game in baesball (or so it seems) provides some kind of “statistical anomaly.”
Last year at about this time, baseball writers were going on about how 2013 was the “year of the pitcher” (when I was younger, the year of the pitcher was 1968). By June of last year, it was official, with analysts pointing out that over a period of five years the majors had seen 18 no hitters and six perfect games.
Adam LaRoche ended his standard early season drought with two home runs in consecutive at bats and the Nationals squeaked by the Chicago White Sox, 8-7 to bring their record to 5-2. LaRoche’s homers helped the Nationals stave off a surging Chicago line-up — and helped the team to survive some shaky bullpen outings.
LaRoche’s blasts came in the 6th inning with one on and in the 8th with no one on. Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth also went deep for the home towners. “You get into the second week of the season, that’s never a good feeling to look up there and not have a hit,” Laroche said following the win. “I felt great that first series at home, I just couldn’t get the ball to fall. To come back and get a couple [tonight] was nice.”
The home runs were needed: Chicago’s Paul Konerko blasted a three run home run in the 7th inning off of Tyler Clippard to bring the score within one. Washington came back to tack on a run in the bottom of the 7th, which was followed by LaRoche’s second home run — but Chicago added two more in the top of the 9th off of Rafael Soriano, who then closed out the game.
Both Chicago and Washington were hoping their starters would turn Tuesday’s game into a classic pitching match-up, but Jake Peavy gave up six runs on nine hits in 5.1 inning, while Nats’ lefty Gio Gonzalez surrendered four hits in five innings. That wasn’t so bad, but Washington’s bullpen gave up seven hits and four runs in the next four frames.
Washington’s big inning came in the 6th, when the Nationals put four runs on the board — with home runs from Werth and LaRoche. “Obviously, the sixth inning got away from us,” Peavy said. “I didn’t have much there, and it was hot and humid, and I ran out of gas. I didn’t have much left with LaRoche, and he put a good swing on it.”
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: It’s deja vu all over again for the Los Angeles Angels, who are repeating their slow start from a year ago. The Angels dropped a slugfest at home last night, in their opener, against the forever surprising Oakland A’s. The Angels yielded a one run lead in the top of the 7th by giving up home runs to pinch hitter John Jaso and first sacker Brandon Moss. The A’s went on to dump the Halos 9-5 . . .
Remember? The baseball world was all atwitter about how the Tigers had solidified their rotation with the addition of Willis. Cabrera, however, was hardly a throw-in. Even then, he was considered one of the best hitters in baseball. But he’d put on a lot of weight and that had raised eyebrows in Miami.
“A lot of pounds” is an understatement. Cabrera looked like Dumbo. He arrived in Florida in 2003 at a trim 185 and left for Detroit at 255. But the Tigers thought he was worth the bet: he was a four time All Star and had just come off a season where he’d hit 320 with 34 home runs and 119 RBIs.
Last night’s Los Angeles Angels-New York Yankees match-up seemed like so much ho-hum for N.L fans: a predictable struggle between the Titans of Gotham and an empire-in-the-making. These kinds of things hold little interest for the small ball, double-switch afficianadoes of D.C., Miami, Milwaukee, or Colorado who tend to look down on teams that have non-position players in uniform that are “designated.”
That sounds right, but you’d never know it from last night’s game. Solid starter Jered Weaver seemed anything but solid, as the Yankees touched him up for three runs in the top of the first. Then, even more ignobly, Weaver twisted, tore or tweaked something as he delivered a slider. He was suddenly done for the night, making way for a gaggle of relievers who looked just so-so.
The stage was set for the Yankees to cruise to victory. But this is not the Yankees of old, or even of two years ago. Empire starter Phil Hughes brought L.A. back into the game with a very average performance — seven runs on eleven hits in just 5.1 innings of work. Here’s the shocker: when he walked off the mound, the Yankee fans in the stands (a surprising number, in Angel crazy L.A.) gave him a standing ovation.
That’s the way it is in Yankee-land it seems: poor performances are built into the ubiquitous pinstripe “legend,” where every pitcher is a potential Whitey Ford, every hitter is compared with Mantle, and every mediocre outing is transmuted into “gutty.” ESPN headlined this performance — “Hughes Doesn’t Look Suited To Start” — to which we would add: or relieve.
L.A. eventually won the back-and-forth affair with a triumphant home run (a “trumbomb”) from Mark Trumbo, an underrated an often-ignored force at the plate in his sophomore year. You’d have to be out of your mind to think that this guy won’t be a superstar: in 41 games this year he has eight home runs and 22 RBIs. Last night’s shot snuck just inside the left field foul pole, but his power’s not in question.
Oh, and then there’s that Angels’ rookie, Mike Trout. Touted by some scouts as even better than Bryce Harper, the rookie is setting L.A. on fire: his .302 average is second only to Trumbo’s, and he’s a whiz in the outfield — which is (we wince in saying this) more than we can say for Bryce. And while he’s not as whip-fast as Harper, Trout is sneaky quick, with that all-out college baseball style shown by his Nationals’ counterpart.
business . . . of course. No one ever has any problem filling in the blank on that one, and no one would ever doubt it now — after one of the most expensive off-seasons in baseball history. The Belinski’s ponied up out in Los Angeles, and may well have bought themselves a World Series. The numbers are getting astronomical, undoubtedly because revenues from television contracts are spiking. The answer to whether spending all of this money is actually good for the game seems to be “yes” — at least so far.
Back in the late 60s, fans oohed and ahhed about the pricey St. Louis Cardinals, the first team with bragging rights to a $1 million per year payroll. That was the team of Roger Maris, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Ken Boyer and Orlando “Baby Bull” Cepeda, a powerhouse that remains among one of the legendary teams of the past. The money was worth it, but people worried that baseball was getting too expensive — and (even then), that MLBs’ pocketbooks could rui the game. It didn’t happen, but the question is being raised again, perhaps most of all in St. Louis, where offering the game’s best player the kind of money he was looking for was just out of reach.
But in the end, it wasn’t the Pujols contract, or the one given by Detroit to Prince Fielder, that has really shocked people. The real shock came this week, when Cincinnati’s owners put $251.5 million on the table for Joey Votto — a pretty good player to be sure, but certainly not the third best player in the game — which is where the contract puts him. That’s (arguably), one-fifth (or even a quarter) of the worth of the entire Cincinnati franchise.
The Cincinnati “doubles” machine (he had 40 last year, to lead the majors), has now signed onto the Redlegs for another twelve years (plus . . .), which means he’ll be 41 when his “club option” kicks in. That’ll be in 2024. Barring an international disaster (not out of the question, mind you), a lot of us will be here to watch him. The question is, will he still be around — will he be playing first base for the Reds?
Our bet is he won’t be — and we’re also betting that Cincinnati’s front office agrees. But the Reds are due for a new and more lucrative television contract in about three years, and the Votto contract is their way of telling their fans that they intend to be good. So the question is . . . is a team like Cincinnati mortgaging the future to bet on the present? And the answer? . . . we’ll just have to see.
Those Are The Details, Now For The Headlines: Your Washington Nationals open in Chicago this afternoon, and it’s just plain fun to read the Chicago papers — and listen to their fans. “This is the year,” they say — and they say it every . . . single . . . year. And two months from now, when the North Side Drama Queens (we might have to change that, with the departure of “Big Z”) are 12-24, they’ll still be saying it. Except the tense will have changed. “Next year is the year, you just wait . . .
The Nationals are picked for third or fourth this year, depending on who you listen to. But Mitch Williams over the MLB Network said just last night that they’d make the Wild Card this season. And we agree. All of this talk about how good the Braves are is, in our opinion, somewhat puzzling. If you put the two rosters side-by-side (as we have, and often over the last week), the Nationals look a lot better . . .”
So we’re back. For yet another season. And for those who stuck with us, thanks . . . and for those who have wondered where we are — well, there’s a four letter involved, and it starts with “w” and ends with “k.” Never mind. The Nationals are on the field in Chicago, and another great year of baseball beckons. The emails can wait. Go ahead. Watch the game.
Former hockey player (and Washington Nationals) Nyjer Morgan turned “chippy” in Milwaukee last night after striking out against Cardinals’ starter Chris Carpenter. Morgan had battled through the ten-pitch at bat and was headed back to the dugout when he said something to Carpenter and tossed his chewing tobacco at him. Albert Pujols sprinted down the line to confront Morgan and the benches emptied, but no punches were thrown. Morgan was tossed.
“I just got in the middle to make sure that Morgan didn’t jump on Carp,” Pujols later explained. “The last thing you want is our guy that’s trying a shutout game to lose his focus. I actually like that guy. I don’t mind having a guy like that on my team. He brings a lot of energy to the ballclub, and you want to have a guy like that. But sometimes I think he goes (a little overboard) and tries to put too much energy.”
After the game, Morgan claimed that Carpenter had cursed him from the mound, and Morgan returned the favor before tossing his tobacco and shouting at him. The Cardinals won the game, a pitchers’ duel that pitted Cardinals’ hurler Chris Carpenter against Milwaukee’s Zach Greinke. Carpenter pitched a beauty, blanking the Brew Crew 2-0 on a four hitter. But the Cardinals still trail Milwaukee by a wide margin in the N.L. Central.
Morgan seemed to shrug off the incident after the game . . . but wait, wait — there’s more. Later, on Twitter, “Tony Plush” talked about Pujols — as if the game was the baseball version of Hockey Night in Canada. “Alberta couldn’t see Plush if she had her gloves on!!!” he chirped. “Wat was she thinking running afta Plush!!! She never been n tha ring!!!” Ugh.
Aaron Boone and the BBTN crowd over at ESPN were asked the three things they would do now, if they were the Cubs, and they talked of clubhouse character and finding good talent — all of it good advice. But transforming the Cubs will take more than adding good players at reasonable prices, and saying that the team needs to “change the culture of losing” doesn’t help. What exactly does that mean? So here, unbidden, are our three simple ideas of what the Cubs can do.
First, show some patience. The best pitcher in the Cubs system is now in Tampa Bay — and his name is Chris Archer. The 6-3 righty was traded, with a packet of prospects, for Matt Garza last winter. Garza is plenty good, but Archer could be a lot better. The Cubs will never know, because they got impatient, and Garza looked attractive. This is an almost genetic habit of the North Side Drama Queens. Enough already: develop players and hang on to them. Like they have done (finally, blessedly) with Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney. Listen (you stupid jerks), instead of shipping out Josh Vitters (he can play third, for Aramis Ramirez — who’s going to get injured again, any minute now) and Tyler Colvin, play them. And when they don’t play well, play them anyway . . .