March 6, 2011
After enduring bleak, depressing weather for month after month, the long period of waiting is almost over for baseball fans: Spring training is underway! So it's time for me to get my rear in gear and try to keep up with all the action.
Predicting winners and losers is notoriously error-prone, which is one reason it's so interesting to watch the baseball season unfold. Who would have thought the Cincinnati Reds would win the National League Central Division last year? Hardly anybody outside of southern Ohio. (And perhaps my late Uncle Buddy, may he rest in peace.) For what it's worth, here are the Sporting News forecasts:
For the most part, they are fairly safe, conventional predictions, assuming that last year's performances will be repeated. I pay most of my attention to the Eastern Divisions in both leagues, so I'll simply say that I think the Tampa Bay Rays will once again put the heat on the Yankees and Red Sox, both of which are aging rapidly. Andy Pettitte decided to retire during the off-season, and there are questions about how well fellow veterans Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera will play this year.
For the Washington Nationals, the off-season acquisitions fell short of expectations in the pitching department, but there are signs of hope. Ryan Zimmerman is hitting his stride as the franchise player, coming off a .307 season last year; he ought to do at least as well this year. Adam LaRoche should do pretty well defensively at first base, now that he has been treated for Attention Deficit Disorder, but his batting remains in doubt. Ian Desmond (at shortstop) and Danny Espinosa (at second base) round out a top-notch infield, offensively and defensively. The outfield is in fine shape as well, with Jayson Werth, Roger Bernadina, and Michael Morse. Behind the plate, Jesus Flores seems to be healthy once again, but Pudge Rodriguez will be the starting catcher at least for the first couple months. Wilson Ramos But the main problem for the Nationals, of course, is on the mound. Livan Hernandez has been designated as the starting pitcher for the Opening Day game against the Atlanta Braves on March 31. (Maybe I'll try to get tickets...) Others in the projected pitching rotation include Jason Marquis, John Lannan, and Jordan Zimmermann. Chien-Ming Wang (ex-Yankee), Tom Gorzelanny (ex-Chicago Cub), and Yunesky Maya (ex-Cuban) all have a shot at the #5 position. All in all, there's a lot to be hopeful for this year, and as Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell writes, the Nationals are "cautiously optimistic" about their pitching staff, and about their chances of doing much better than in 2010.
Lo and behold, the Nationals beat the New York Yankees by a score of 10-8 today, as Ryan Zimmerman hit doubles off of C.C. Sabathia and Joba Chamberlain. They Yankees scored all eight of their runs in the fourth inning -- weird. The Nats now have a record of 4-2, for whatever that may signify. See MLB.com.
Having gone through the roller coaster of hype over Stephen Strasburg, whose future remains a question mark as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, I tend to be cautious about Bryce Harper. Sports writers routinely compare his to Mickey Mantle or other slugging greats of the past, but until a batter steps up to the plate and faces a major league pitcher, you just don't know how he is going to do. Harper got his first hit a few days ago, but he will spend this season in the minor leagues polishing his skills. That's probably what they should have done with Strasburg.
Last week we learned that Duke Snyder -- the Brooklyn Dodgers' star center fielder in the 1950s -- had passed away. All across the country, fans marked the occasion by playing Terry Cashman's nostalgic 1980s song "Talkin' Baseball": Willie, Mickey, and The Duke. Snyder (whose real first name was Edwin) didn't have as high career batting statistics as Mr. Mays or Mr. Mantle, but he did achieve at least one unique record: he is the only player ever to hit four home runs in two separate World Series. Also, unlike either Willie or Mickey, he hit at least 40 home runs in five consecutive seasons. See the Washington Post. That obituary notes that Snider was prone to argue with umpires and occasionally spoke in a derogative way about Brooklyn fans. Hmmm. (It also incorrectly states that the right field foul pole at L.A. Memorial Coliseum was 390 feet away; it was actually 300 feet.)
It's a good for Only the first of that trio is still alive.
I wanted to at least get a second diagram update done during the month of February, and I succeeded, just barely, with Milwaukee County Stadium. Unfortunately, however, I didn't have time to announce it properly, or explain the changes. In brief, the bleachers are slightly shallower than before, the protrusion of the press box / mezzanine level is now shown, and the outfield bleachers during the 1950s are now shown more accurately. And of course, the profile is rendered more precisely as well, and the text on that page has been updated. I swear, the choice of this stadium has nothing to do with the ongoing political battle taking place in Wisconsin.