Tampa Bay Rays vs Texas Rangers

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Podcasts, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Tampa Bay Rays (91-71; 2nd place, AL East; won Wild Card) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West)

Keys for the Rays: Don’t be satisfied with simply making the playoffs; expose the Rangers starting rotation; force Ron Washington into mistakes; play solid defense; B.J. Upton.

It goes one of two ways with teams that make a frantic late-season run into the playoffs out of nowhere: they either maintain their good play and streak on (the 2007 Rockies); or they get into the playoffs, are satisfied with that and get bounced early (the 2007 Phillies).

Neither the Rockies nor the Phillies had the playoff experience that the Rays do—they’ve been here before—so they won’t be relaxed and happy that they proved a point by overtaking the Red Sox; they’re here to win.

The Rangers starting rotation is overrated after C.J. Wilson.

Colby Lewis was excellent in the playoffs last season, but he allows a lot of homers and was very inconsistent in 2011. Lefties feast on him making him a target for Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, Casey Kotchman and Ben Zobrist.

I don’t trust Derek Holland—the Rays beat him up twice this season.

I don’t trust Matt Harrison—both Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria hammer him.

With all the extra bullpen arms Rangers GM got for manager Ron Washington, it leads down the road of overmanaging and making unnecessary changes once the starters are out of the games. Koji Uehara‘s strikeout numbers are impressive, but so too are the towering homers he gives up (11 out of the bullpen for the Orioles and Rangers is a lot); and Mike Adams has never pitched in the post-season.

The Rays are in this position because of their superior defense and a strike-throwing pitching staff—they can’t make any mistakes if they’re going to hold down the Rangers potent offense.

B.J. Upton is on a mission. He wants to get paid after next season and don’t discount the extra motivation of a potential World Series matchup with his brother Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks. When he’s playing as hard as he can—aggressively and smart—he’s something to watch at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths. In fact, he’s unstoppable.

Keys for the Rangers: get depth from their starting rotation; take advantage of Kyle Farnsworth‘s gopher ball; score a lot; mitigate managerial mishaps from Washington; keep the Rays off the bases; stop Upton and Longoria.

If Wilson and Lewis pitch as well as they did in last year’s post-season, the Rangers are going to be hard to beat. They have a lot of power and a superior defense behind their pitchers which is the actual strength of the pitching staff—not the pitchers themselves. They pound the strike zone and let the fielders—especially a nearly impenetrable infield—help their cause.

Washington tends to make too many moves once he gets into the bullpen; the Rangers push their starters during the regular season and will push them deeper in the playoffs to avoid that eventuality.

Farnsworth had a fine year closing for the Rays, but he’s still a manager’s nightmare with his wildness and tendency to allow homers. The Rangers have a group of bats who can crush a fastball—Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz.

Yorvit Torrealba also has a flair for the dramatic and has gotten big post-season hits before.

Because the Rays steal plenty of bases, it’s best to keep them off-base entirely. With their defense and strike-throwing pitchers, this is a reasonable goal for the Rangers.

Upton and Longoria have carried the Rays over the past month. If they don’t produce, the Rays lose.

What will happen.

Because they finally broke their playoff hex a year ago, got past the first round; beat the Yankees; and made it to the World Series, the Rangers are a battle-proven and experienced group in their second straight season in the post-season.

But the Rays have experience of their own from the World Series run in 2008 to last season when they lost to…the Rangers.

The Rays were beaten last year in large part due to the unreliability of closer Rafael Soriano. Soriano’s gone and the Rays overall pitching is in better shape now than it was a year ago.

I don’t like the Rangers bullpen despite the acquisitions of Adams and Uehara and the presence of Neftali Feliz.

Their starting pitching after Wilson is still questionable and they’re going to have to score plentiful runs to outshoot the Rays.

The Rays pitching is in a bit of perceived disarray after their desperate climb over the Red Sox to take the Wild Card; they’re starting rookie Matt Moore—their top prospect—in game 1.

But it could be the triumph of the uncluttered mind and the self-confidence of youth that makes starting Moore a brilliant maneuver.

The Rays have used young pitchers in key spots before. David Price closed games for them in 2008 and if they think Moore can handle it, I wouldn’t bet against that analysis.

A year ago, the Rangers were the team playing with low expectations and bent on killing demons of past post-season failures; they had a full-blown ace at the top of their starting rotation in Cliff Lee; they played with reckless abandon and a go-for-it mentality of “no one expects us to be here”.

The Rays are in that exact same position this year.

Wilson thinks he’s an ace—ask him and he’ll tell you in depth—but that doesn’t mean he is one on a level with Lee; if doesn’t mean he’s going to gut it out as James Shields and Price will. And don’t discount the financial aspect in Wilson’s mind as he tries to increase his free agent paycheck after the season a la Lee and Carlos Beltran.

No one expected the Rays to be here before or during the season; in fact, the consensus I’ve seen doesn’t think they’re going to be around that long either in the post-season.

But the Rays are here to stay.

They’re going to the ALCS and the Rangers are going home.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FOUR.

//

Advertisements

Detroit Tigers vs New York Yankees

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central) vs New York Yankees (97-65; 1st place, AL East)

Keys for the Tigers: Score early, score often against the Yankees starters; get into the bullpen early; ride their own starters deep into the games; win Justin Verlander‘s starts; Magglio Ordonez.

The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games, but that’s not an accurate gauge as to how they played this season.

Up until August, their position was precarious in terms of whether they would even make the playoffs; they made a series of trades to get Delmon Young, Doug Fister and Wilson Betemit; the Indians—who had led the Tigers by as much as 8 games in May—came apart.

It was Justin Verlander who carried the Tigers on his shoulders before they took command of the division by ripping off a 12 game winning streak in September. It will be Justin Verlander who will lead the Tigers past the Yankees or into the winter after a first round playoff loss.

They have to ride their horse.

Manager Jim Leyland is insisting that Verlander will pitch games 1 and 5 and under no circumstances is pitching in game 4.

We’ll see.

Fister has been masterful since his acquisition from the Mariners with an 8-1 record and ERA under 2. He’s only allowed 11 homers in over 200 innings this season, but Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have gotten to him; he lost his only start against the Yankees this season; it was his last start as a Mariner and he went 7 innings surrendering 3 runs on 7 hits.

Max Scherzer is starting game 3 and Rick Porcello game 4. Scherzer has a power fastball and wicked slider, but is either on or off—if he’s got his stuff and control, he’s nasty; if not, he gets hammered.

I wouldn’t trust Porcello in a game 4.

The Tigers bullpen before Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde is a question mark, but Leyland will push his starters further than he does in the regular season. Verlander’s pitch limit will be somewhere in the 140-150 range if necessary and since they’re insisting they’re not pitching him in game 4, don’t expect a quick hook if he gets off to a bad start in game 1.

The Tigers have to decide what to do with their veteran bats who’ve played sparingly in 2011. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have handled CC Sabathia in their careers, but will Leyland rely on his vets or stick with the players he was using for the bulk of the time over the second half?

Guillen has a calf issue and is probably out for the ALDS.

I’d play Ordonez against Sabathia.

Ordonez is also 7 for 14 in his career against Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees are starting rookie Ivan Nova in game 2; soft-tossing veteran Freddy Garcia in game 3. Nova and the Tigers don’t have much history. Garcia, however, has a long history with several of the Tigers hitters and has gotten blasted by Miguel Cabrera, Ordonez and Young. Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have a quick hook with Garcia and A.J. Burnett could be important in game 3 if he’s needed to restore order after a Tigers outburst. Burnett’s numbers against the Tigers are quite good.

The Tigers do not want to be nursing 1-run leads in the late innings against the Yankees; they need to build a bigger lead and hold it.

Keys for the Yankees: Beat Verlander; don’t let any pitcher other than Verlander beat them; make Verlander work and get his pitch count up to get him out of game 1 early; get into the Tigers middle-relief; score a lot to make moot their pitching issues; A.J. Burnett; end the series before game 5; Verlander, Verlander, Verlander.

Other than Sabathia, the Yankees aren’t going to mess around and leave their starters in the game if they’re getting roughed up. Burnett will be in the bullpen; presumably Bartolo Colon will be on the roster—they’ll have veteran arms to turn to if Nova or Garcia struggle.

If this were a best 4 of 7 series, I’d seriously consider shifting either Sabathia or Verlander so they didn’t have to pitch against each other. With a 3 of 5 series, that’s not really an option.

Nick Swisher is only batting .167 in 54 career plate appearances vs Verlander, but has 3 career homers. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner have very solid numbers against him and Ramiro Pena of all people is 3 for 5 in his career facing Verlander. The Yankees needn’t be terrified of the Tigers ace because they’ve hit him before, but they do not want to be dealing with a game 5 and Ivan Nova or anyone other than Sabathia scheduled to pitch; I don’t care how mentally tough Nova is, that’s not a fair position for a rookie to be in and if it happens, they’re going to lose.

Girardi has said that Posada is going to DH in the series and that’s a good move—I always defer to my experienced veterans who’ve been through playoff battles before and if this is Posada’s final post-season in his career, he’ll be looking to end it with an exclamation point.

I wouldn’t be concerned about facing Porcello—if there’s a game 4 and the Yankees are trailing in the series 2-1, they’re going to maul him.

Valverde is one of the best closers in baseball that no one knows. That said, he can lose command and walk people; he also gives up some homers. Andruw Jones is 3 for 7 in his career vs Valverde with a homer and he’s the type of pitcher upon whom Robinson Cano will feast in a big spot.

If the Yankees use Rafael Soriano with a lead, he’s going to give up a homer or three—he cannot abide post-season pressure, or any kind of pressure. He’s pitched 3 post-season innings in his career and allowed 2 homers including a backbreaker for the Rays last season in the ninth inning of game 5 against the Rangers and Ian Kinsler.

The Yankees won’t be worried about Verlander in game 1; if it gets to game 5, they will be worried about him. A lot.

What will happen.

I wouldn’t anticipate mutual dominance between Verlander and Sabathia in game 1. In fact, it could degenerate into a shootout between the bullpens. If Verlander gets knocked out early, would that change Leyland’s strategy in a game 4? Would he bring his ace back on short rest if he only throws 60 or so pitches in game 1?

If they’re down 2 games to 1, I would.

The other starters in the Yankees rotation are only going to be in games as long as they’re getting outs and will be subject to a quicker hook that you or Girardi’s Binder could fathom. Burnett is decried and despised by Yankees fans, but they’d better hope “good A.J.” shows up when that bullpen door opens because if they need him in game 2, 3 or 5 he has to pitch well.

Girardi won’t put Soriano in a big spot; David Robertson tends to get himself in trouble just for the sake of getting out of it. His strikeout prowess comes in handy in those situations.

If the Tigers get a big performance out of Fister and/or Scherzer, the Yankees will be in a lot of trouble. I’d expect one to pitch well. Either game 2 or 3 will be won late and is dependent on whose bullpen performs better, which specialists—Boone Logan of the Yankees; Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth—get the job done. Logan would be called on to pitch to Alex Avila. The Tigers are righty-heavy.

Will the young Schlereth be able to deal with Cano? With Granderson? Cano’s 1 for 4 vs Schlereth with a homer; Granderson 0 for 2 with 2 walks. Coke allowed homers to lefties Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez in game 5 of the 2009 World Series while pitching for the Yankees so he’s not exactly frightening to good-hitting lefties. But the Tigers won’t have a choice. The best case for the Tigers is to not get it to that point.

Two veterans—Ordonez and Posada—with excellent careers behind them and the windows closing on those careers will see important at bats in big situations.

The Tigers will win 2 of the first 3 games.

The Yankees will batter Porcello in game 4; this series will come down to a game 5 in Yankee Stadium with Verlander standing between the Yankees and the ALCS.

And he’s going to slam the door in their faces.

The Tigers and Verlander are taking them out.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FIVE.

//

My 2011 MLB Award Winners (And They Should Be Yours Too)

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Here are my 2011 Award Winners along with the other contenders listed 1-5. Also my pre-season picks are included.

American League Award Winners

MVP

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

Verlander carried a mediocre team into contention and was about as brilliant as a pitcher can possibly be for the entire season. The Tigers record makes them look better than they were at mid-season when they were far from a playoff lock. Verlander won the pitching Triple Crown with 24 wins (5 losses); a 2.40 ERA; and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings.

If you use advanced statistics like WAR as a barometer, Verlander was second in the American League behind Jose Bautista with an 8.5.

The combination of being the best at his position and being imperative to the team’s success—they wouldn’t have been where they are without him—makes him the MVP.

2. Jose Bautista, OF/3B—Toronto Blue Jays

3. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF—Boston Red Sox

4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

5. Miguel Cabrera, 1B—Detroit Tigers

Before the season, I picked Carl Crawford.

Yes. Well.

Cy Young Award

1. Justin Verlander, RHP—Detroit Tigers

See above.

2. CC Sabathia, LHP—New York Yankees

3. Jered Weaver, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

4. James Shields, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

5. Mariano Rivera, RHP—New York Yankees

My preseason pick was Verlander.

Rookie of the Year

1. Ivan Nova, RHP—New York Yankees

Nova has overcome every obstacle put in front of him including an “odd man out” treatment from the club that quite probably prevented him from winning 20 games as they had too many starters and Nova still had minor league options remaining. He’s fearless, he’s cool and he comes up big when the Yankees need him to. He went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA and was completely reliable on a team that had more questions at the beginning of the season than they care to admit—including a failure to truly believe in Nova.

2. Eric Hosmer, 1B—Kansas City Royals

3. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP—Tampa Bay Rays

4. Mark Trumbo, 1B—Los Angeles Angels

5. Jordan Walden, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

My preseason pick was Kyle Drabek of the Blue Jays. He wound up back in the minors.

Manager of the Year

1. Joe Maddon—Tampa Bay Rays

Maddon did a magnificent job in leading the Rays from “out” of contention into the playoffs. Had the Red Sox held onto their playoff spot, I’d have picked Joe Girardi, but the late season run by the Rays stole a playoff spot and the MOY award for Maddon. Girardi did a magnificent job this year and that must be noted.

2. Joe Girardi—New York Yankees

3. Jim Leyland—Detroit Tigers.

4. Mike Scioscia—Los Angeles Angels

5. Ron Washington—Texas Rangers

My preseason pick was Leyland.

National League Award Winners

MVP

1. Matt Kemp, CF—Los Angeles Dodgers

Kemp’s come a long way from being benched and ripped publicly by the club for his lazy, disinterested play and poor attitude that seemed to have come from going “Hollywood”.

He dedicated himself to the game in 2011 and almost won the Triple Crown while playing Gold Glove defense in center field. He put up massive numbers with 39 homers, 126 RBI, a .324 batting average, a .399 on base and 76 extra base hits.

2. Ryan Braun, LF—Milwaukee Brewers

3. Prince Fielder, 1B—Milwaukee Brewers

4. Lance Berkman, RF—St. Louis Cardinals

5. Clayton Kershaw, LHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

My preseason pick was Albert Pujols.

Cy Young Award

1. Clayton Kershaw, LHP—Los Angeles Dodgers

Kershaw won the National League pitching Triple Crown with 21 wins, a 2.28 ERA and 248 strikeouts in 233 innings. He walked 54 and allowed only 15 homers.

2. Roy Halladay, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

3. Cliff Lee, LHP—Philadelphia Phillies

4. Ian Kennedy, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

5. Craig Kimbrel, RHP—Atlanta Braves

My preseason pick was Lee.

Rookie of the Year

1. Craig Kimbrel, RHP—Atlanta Braves

Never mind the games he blew late in the season, Kimbrel struck out 127 in 77 innings and saved 46 games for the Braves. They collapsed, but it wasn’t because of Kimbrel.

2. Freddie Freeman, 1B—Atlanta Braves

3. Brandon Beachy, RHP—Atlanta Braves

4. Vance Worley, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

5. Wilson Ramos, C—Washington Nationals

My preseason pick was Kenley Jansen.

Manager of the Year

1. Kirk Gibson—Arizona Diamondbacks

This is partially good work and partially managing a team from whom not much was expected. Gibson’s intensity and the way it rubbed off on his players and the Diamondbacks won the NL West title.

2. Charlie Manuel—Philadelphia Phillies

3. Don Mattingly—Los Angeles Dodgers

4. Ron Roenicke—Milwaukee Brewers

5. Tony LaRussa—St. Louis Cardinals

My preseason pick was Mattingly.

//

The Aftermath Of Chaos—The Red Sox/Braves Collapses

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Let’s sift through the carnage.

Job security.

It’s fair to examine the whys concerning two teams that seemingly had playoff spots locked up and both fell apart. It’s reasonable to assess everyone’s job performance and come to an unemotional conclusion as to whether minor or major changes should be made.

With the Red Sox, I would expect something blockbuster in player personnel to be done. I’m talking about a massive trade of a name player or players.

With the Braves, don’t be surprised to see them go for an offensive force like Jose Reyes.

As for the managers, the idea that Terry Francona and Fredi Gonzalez should automatically be fired is idiotic; but so is the ironclad assertion that both should return without question.

It has to be analyzed.

Having watched Gonzalez with the Marlins and Braves, I was wrong about him in thinking he’d be fine as Braves manager. He makes too many strategic mistakes that a team fighting for a playoff spot can’t afford to have happen and I’d fire him.

I doubt the Braves will do that. If anything, they’ll make changes on the coaching staff, namely hitting coach Larry Parrish.

With the Red Sox, there’s a possibility that they will fire Francona.

I wouldn’t do that, but it’s their right if they feel it’s necessary to get a new voice in the clubhouse.

The Red Sox have to ask themselves whether they think another manager would’ve done a better job with the starting pitching in disarray; with unlocking Carl Crawford‘s talent; with patching together an injury-riddled bullpen along with handling the stifling, worldwide media attention the Red Sox attract and cultivate.

I don’t see who could’ve or would’ve done any better than Francona, but it’s their call.

If they do decide to make a change, one thing they absolutely cannot do is say something to the tune of, “we decided not to exercise Terry’s contract options; it’s not a firing; it’s moving in a new direction”.

That’s what they did to Grady Little and were hammered for it after the fact.

Fire him if you’re going to fire him. Be done with it and move on.

Michael Kay’s creepy world of “analysis” in the form of sycophancy and self-involved attacks.

In the midst of his rant about the Mets and Reyes’s individual decision to pull himself out of what was possibly his last game as a Met and try (successfully) to win the batting title, Michael Kay also defended the Yankees for their decision to play their regulars sparingly and use 4th tier pitchers in the series against the Rays.

The Yankees owed nothing to the Red Sox nor to the Rays. They didn’t “dump” the games like some latter day group of 1919 Black Sox, but they didn’t go all-out to win.

There’s a difference.

Saying the Yankees were trying as hard as they could needs to be placed in its proper context. By the metric of playing their starters and using their top players as the Phillies did against the Braves, the Yankees didn’t do that. Saying the players they used—Scott Proctor, Ramiro Pena, Greg Golson—tried as hard as they could is akin to saying that the Washington Generals try as hard as they can against the Harlem Globetrotters. Trying is great; winning is unlikely.

In a similar sense, the idea that the Red Sox spiral started with a series loss to the Yankees is a nice, neat, “we started this” story to get in on the action. The problem is there’s no factual evidence to support it. The Red Sox came undone because they were giving up 6+ runs every night after that Yankees series; not because of anything the Yankees mythic “aura” created.

Credit to the pursuers.

Much like the Phillies in 2007 against the Mets, the Rays played the Red Sox and beat the Red Sox. By doing that, they made their lives much easier in the chase.

The Braves haven’t hit well all year. Fingers will be pointed at Gonzalez and Parrish for that, but they were playing most of the season without a legitimate center fielder who could hit; with Jason Heyward needing to have the lowest grade dropped after his putrid (and injury-racked) sophomore season; Chipper Jones is more of a “threat emeritus” than someone for a team other than the Mets to be terrified of; and they had black holes in the lineup all year long.

Once they lost Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, the offense couldn’t pick up the slack and the bullpen was tired from Gonzalez’s overuse.

The Cardinals and Rays played well over the final month to stage their comebacks, but neither had a ridiculous 2007 Rockies-style run of never losing a game.

What will happen.

I believe there is a very good chance that Francona will not be back as Red Sox manager.

Jonathan Papelbon will be allowed to leave. J.D. Drew, Marco Scutaro, Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek will be gone. They will listen to some drastic suggestions like trading Kevin Youkilis. And they’ll desperately look for a taker on John Lackey.

Fredi Gonzalez will not be fired; Larry Parrish will be. The Braves will make a move for a bat—they certainly have the organizational depth to trade for someone big like Andre Ethier, Carlos Quentin or see if the Marlins will move Hanley Ramirez (doubtful). Or they could go after Reyes. A trade is far more probable.

I won’t speculate on what either will say to explain themselves and mute the pain and embarrassment.

That, like suggesting the 2011 Red Sox will compete with the 1927 Yankees, is something that will only be judged in hindsight.

Both have long, long, loooooong off-seasons ahead of them and they’re undoubtedly looking for reasonable, believable answers at this very moment.

I wouldn’t expect much in terms of reason and believability. But I’m a cynic. And thankfully don’t live in the fantasy world of Michael Kay.

//

Jose Reyes Does What Baseball Players Do Sometimes…Especially Late In The Season

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Players have pulled themselves out of games in the interests of individual pursuits forever.

They’ve adjusted their competitiveness to be part of history.

They’ve been placed in different parts of the lineup.

They’ve bunted.

They’ve swung at pitches that were clearly out of the strike zone to get extra swings to achieve goals.

They’ve gone for doubles and triples to complete cycles.

They’ve done it all.

Baseball is an individual sport within a team concept.

There are 162 games in a baseball season and rules as to how many innings and plate appearances are necessary for players to be eligible for ERA and batting titles.

Do you really believe that as the season winds down that players are concerned—first and foremost—with winning?

No. They want to pad their stats and they do it intentionally.

Today Jose Reyes of the Mets went up to the plate leading the National League in batting over the Brewers Ryan Braun. (I’m not looking up the percentage points because, truth be told, I couldn’t care less about the batting title); Reyes had told Mets manager Terry Collins beforehand that if he got a hit, he wanted to come out of the game.

Then he bunted for a hit.

Then Collins took him out of the game.

Collins and Reyes admitted as such after-the-fact, in a matter-of-fact fashion.

Before this information was revealed, two of the most absurd places for the dissemination of fact on this or any other planet in the universe—Twitter and Michael Kay—went on abusive rants against the Mets as if they were the one perpetrating this act on an unsuspecting public waiting for aboveboard and fair victors in the all-important batting race.

Naturally, no one retracted their statements when the truth came out.

It was still the fault of the Mets somehow even if it wasn’t.

Never mind that Bernie Williams won a batting title in 1998 after starting the day tied with Mo Vaughn of the Red Sox and when Williams went 2 for 2 with a sacrifice fly, he was pulled.

Never mind that players like Bill Madlock won batting titles after taking themselves out of games to achieve that end.

Pete Rose bunted for a hit to win the batting title over Roberto Clemente.

Denny McLain threw a room service meatball to Mickey Mantle for Mantle to hit his 535th career homer because McLain wanted to be part of history; in fact, he asked Mantle where he wanted the pitch and Mantle obliged by telling him.

The St. Louis Browns let Napoleon Lajoie bunt to his heart’s content in an attempt to take the batting title away from the reviled Ty Cobb.

Reyes played in 126 games this season; George Brett played in 117 in the year he hit .390 and nearly hit .400.

Does the fact that Reyes pulled himself from a game to try and win the title and was injured with hamstring problems twice in 2011 “ruin” a title that few really pay attention to anymore? Does the fact that Brett was oft-injured as well somehow equate into the batting title needing to be put in a negative frame of reference in terms of competition?

When Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth‘s home run record, it was decreed that there would be two separate records, one for the 154 game schedule and the other for the 162 game schedule. Incredulous, Maris asked something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last? The middle?”

The batting title is a resume builder; it’s an award; and it’s relatively meaningless.

This reaction is based on Mets hatred and the attempt to cast a negative light on a baseball player like Jose Reyes who looked to increase his own status with an “award”.

If you don’t know this or can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be talking about it in such a judgmental, holier-than-thou way.

They’re baseball players.

This is what they do.

//

Things To Watch In The Ozzie Guillen-Marlins Marriage

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

The Loria/Samson/Guillen trio:

David Samson is a hands-on team president who uses his status as the son-in-law of the owner to throw his weight around.

Jeffrey Loria is notoriously short-tempered and petulant.

Ozzie Guillen is a loose cannon who says and does what he wants.

None of them are entirely wrong in their behaviors. Samson was well within his rights to tell Logan Morrison to calm down with his use of social media; Loria’s the owner of the team and the boss and if an employee steps out of line, he can fire said employee for whatever reason; Guillen’s “madness” is used as a prop.

There are going to be clashes and they’ll happen quickly, but if the Marlins give Guillen a 4-year contract, they’re not going to fire him no matter what happens.

Guillen and Hanley Ramirez:

I think back to the Bill Parcells-Keyshawn Johnson relationship when Parcells took over the Jets. It was repeatedly said that Parcells was going to light into Johnson for his selfishness and egomania; instead, Parcells took a gentle approach to Johnson and the two became off-field friends.

Guillen won’t tolerate Ramirez’s lackadaisical play and self-important “I’m the owner’s favorite; I’m the highest paid player on the team” nonsense, but if you’re expecting a dugout shouting match between the two, you can forget it. Guillen will be the big brother to Ramirez.

Whether that works is another matter.

Guillen and LoMo:

Guillen uses social media himself and is way more outrageous than Morrison. Morrison’s not outrageous at all—he’s simply out there all the time, saying stuff.

If Samson/Loria complain about LoMo’s tweeting, Guillen will wave it off.

Guillen and the fans:

The Marlins hired a big name manager in Jim Leyland in 1997 and few if any fans went to their games to watch him and only him. If there’s an increase in attendance, Guillen will be part of it in a larger framework with their decision to spend on name players and the new ballpark.

Guillen and the media:

The Florida media will pay attention to Guillen to get a story, but Florida’s media’s not as ravenous about baseball as they are in Chicago. They’ll use Guillen; he’ll use them; and everyone will be happy.

The team on the field:

Lost in all his intentional lunacy, it’s forgotten how fine a strategic manager Guillen is.

That said, the White Sox appeared to tune him out after awhile and the club underachieved for the last three seasons he was there.

The Marlins have a lot of talent but were oddly constructed with a terrible defense and feast-or-famine bats.

In the early stages of his tenure, he’ll get the most out of the Marlins’ talent.

White Sox GM Kenny Williams was well-equipped to deal with Guillen’s madness. Will Larry Beinfest and Michael Hill want to deal with the Ozzie Package?

They’re not going to have a choice. Because he’s the guy the owner wanted. And he got him.

From this day forward…for better or for worse….for richer (in Ozzie’s case)…or poorer (in the aggravation content of the front office)…’til controversy and an explosion do they part.

//

Heads Will Roll(?)

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

The difference in perception is stark.

Tony LaRussa is entirely safe in his job with the Cardinals despite underachieving for much of the year and looking finished in the playoff race three weeks ago. Had the trend continued; had the Braves played even mediocre baseball, no one would’ve said a word about LaRussa or Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez and their respective job securities.

LaRussa’s job is safe no matter what and the Cardinals—despite their best efforts to open the door for the Braves to clinch with inexplicable losses to the Mets, Cubs and Astros—are tied for the Wild Card lead.

The Braves are reeling, shocked and desperate.

This could all be moot in 16 hours if the Braves win and Cardinals lose.

Tim Hudson is pitching for the Braves against the Phillies. The Phillies have clinched everything they can clinch and are starting Joe Blanton.

If the Braves lose tonight, they have no one to blame but themselves…and their manager.

Stability was one of the reasons that Bobby Cox lasted as long as he did with the Braves.

That and he won.

What’s going to happen if the Braves gack up this playoff spot that should’ve been wrapped up two weeks ago?

Gonzalez’s strategic mistakes and injuries to the team’s starting rotation are independent of one another. Their offense is not good.

But Braves fans are notorious frontrunners and nostalgic toward history.

What if a firing is necessary in the interests of placating the angry?

Are Cox’s batteries recharged after a year out of the dugout?

And would GM Frank Wren—with whom Cox had a somewhat stormy relationship—be on board if upper management says that Gonzalez has to go and Cox is willing to come back?

Jack McKeon provided a new ceiling for managers when he won a World Series at the age of 72 with the 2003 Marlins; then again this season when he took over at mid-season at the age of 80 and acquitted himself well without it showing up in the standings.

Cox is 70 and will be 71 next May.

He might be willing to go back on the field, but would he be okay with replacing his friend and hand-picked successor Gonzalez?

If the Braves frame it correctly by saying “listen Bobby, Fredi’s gone whether you take the job or not,” it wouldn’t be seen as Cox pushing Gonzalez out of the way, but taking an open position.

Cox might’ve lost in the playoffs and World Series every year but one, but his teams never came apart like this and those losses weren’t because of managerial missteps.

Making the playoffs will render this speculation meaningless, but if the Braves complete this collapse will they be willing to stay the course and run the risk of this happening again a year from now? Of having the endless criticism from inside and outside the industry as to what they’re thinking in entrusting a strong young team with a manager that’s costing them games?

Collapses take years to get over and not before significant alterations are made in personnel or management.

All of that young talent is not accompanied by a guarantee of contention on an annual basis, especially in the NL East.

Suffice it to say that the Braves had better make the playoffs—getting swept in the first round would be better than this embarrassing crumble. And if they make it, who knows? Maybe they’ll straighten themselves out, play relaxed and run the table.

But they have to make it.

Jobs may be riding on it.

//

The Mets Bashing Tour Travels To Newark

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

My sincerest apologies to those who were planning a family outing to Newark at some point in 2012 to see the Triple A club of the Yankees.

The heartless and brutal Mets—those known monsters of baseball—refused the Yankees request to allow their top farm club from Scranton Wilkes/Barre to play one season in Newark while the Scranton ballpark is refurbished.

They were well within their rights to do so.

The reason or reasons are irrelevant.

This latest criticism of the Wilpons is unfounded because no one knows who actually made the decision to deny the Yankees lobbying for the anti-trust exemption. There’s probably more to the story than what’s been reported so far.

Either way, how is this even an issue?

Because Jerry Izenberg wrote a partisan article about the Mets act and the history of baseball in Newark? Izenberg is 81-years-old; the piece is nostalgic of a lost time in the town of Newark that’s not going to return no matter how many affiliated clubs are attached to it. It’s a Philip Roth-style piece of “remember when” that has nothing to do with today’s reality.

That reality is that Izenberg and those who are protesting so loudly are doing so safe in the knowledge that perhaps a fraction of 1% of them would actually get up and go to a game in Newark to watch the Yankees farm club play.

If that many.

The only way people from New York (or from New Jersey) would go to Newark to watch that team is if there’s an injury-rehabbing Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez there for a night.

Self-interested parties are crafting a cause. This is a manufactured excuse to rip into the Mets for reasons that are clear. It’s agenda-laden and tinged with nonsense and has a shelf-life of a day. Those partaking are either digging for an attention-grabber or haven’t the faintest clue nor interest in what the true story is as to why the Mets said no. There might not be one, but there doesn’t have to be one.

No one cares other than to achieve their own ends and few are interested in a stroll down memory lane to the 1950s and they certainly wouldn’t be taking that stroll to go to Newark.

//

The Silly Uproar Over Trading For A Manager

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

Ozzie Guillen will not be returning to manage the White Sox in the final year of his contract in 2012 and there’s an agreement in place for the Marlins to exchange a player to hire Guillen—Chicago Tribune Story.

There’s an uproar over this because the Marlins are giving up a living, breathing player for a manager.

This is without knowing who the player is or anything about him.

It’s not without precedent for a team to trade a player for a manager. The Mariners traded the rights of Lou Piniella to the Devil Rays and got the Devil Rays’ best player at the time, Randy Winn; but the Devil Rays were desperate and stupid in trading an asset for a manager and then refusing to give that manager the players he needed to win.

In 1976, the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Athletics for the rights to manager Chuck Tanner. Tanner won the World Series with the Pirates in 1979. Sanguillen was a pretty good hitter and very good defensive catcher who wound up being traded back to the Pirates and was on that championship team.

If the Marlins are trading someone with legitimate, near-future potential to get Guillen, then it’s a mistake; with or without this agreement, Guillen was not going to be managing the White Sox next season; if the White Sox fired Guillen, the Marlins would’ve been free to hire him without giving up anything other than the money to pay him and they’d save on the deal because the White Sox would still be paying a chunk of his 2012 salary.

I highly doubt that the Marlins are giving up a player they have in their near or distant plans. I speculated recently that the White Sox should ask for Chris Coghlan, with whom the Marlins are annoyed and who needs a change-of-scenery.

Who cares what they’re giving up if it’s not someone they have use for?

Isn’t it better to get this done now rather that go through the endless speculation—with the White Sox as to Guillen’s future; with the Marlins as to whom they’ll hire—and complete it immediately without rancor and controversy?

Guillen was not going to keep his mouth shut—he’s repeatedly asked for a contract extension that he knew he wasn’t going to get; the Marlins have had enough aggravation this season with the Leo Nunez identity mess; the Mike Cameron “firing”; the Logan Morrison Twitter-gate; and Wes Helms‘s union activities among other things.

Yes, there were other things.

They wanted Guillen.

They’re getting Guillen.

They probably won’t give up a big league player or a blue chip prospect.

The deal for compensation is done; Guillen wants to go to Florida.

It’s better to be decisive than to handle the possible and likely alternatives.

Everyone’s getting what they want, so it’s a sound business decision despite the silly responses before the fact.

//

Strasburg’s 2012 Innings Limit

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires

I’m not sure how a team that has designs on contention can regulate the innings of the pitcher upon whom the hopes of the franchise are resting, but that’s what the Nationals intend to do with Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

In this ESPN Story, GM Mike Rizzo doesn’t give an exact number for Strasburg, but you can presume it’s somewhere in the 160-175 range.

That number of innings are fine…for your fourth starter; but what are the Nats going to do for the top three slots in their rotation?

They’re said to be ready to spend some money and be aggressive; the name C.J. Wilson has been mentioned; it’s doubtful they’ll want to ante up the cash to get CC Sabathia if (when) he opts out of his Yankees contract, but it was the Nats who gave Jayson Werth $126 million, so you can never say never.

Jordan Zimmerman isn’t going to be ready to give them 200 innings; John Lannan can and is a nice pitcher, but is certainly not an ace. Can they expect 200 innings from Chien-Ming Wang? Doubtful.

What you’ll have, again, is a team that relies heavily on its bullpen; so heavily that the bullpen might be exhausted as it’s been over the past few years with the reliever-abusive Jim Riggleman running the club; Davey Johnson is more judicious in his handling of pitchers, but if Johnson comes back, I’m curious to see how he handles the Strasburg innings-limit situation.

When he was the Mets manager and Dwight Gooden was a 20-year-old phenom and ace and was in the middle of a historic 1985 season, the club was in a desperate run to make the playoffs; GM Frank Cashen went to Johnson and told him basically, “the kid’s going to pitch nearly 300 innings this year and it’s too much; do something”. Johnson, who never met a GM he couldn’t annoy with his sarcasm and ginormous ego responded by basically saying, “what do you want me to do?” and following up with, “how about you give me a computer printout of how many innings and pitches he’ll be allowed to throw; then by the time he reaches the limit, I can go out to the mound holding the printout, show it to him and pull him?”

Johnson’s mellowed since then and he’s more agreeable to the limits predicated on young pitchers by the front office. Gooden’s situation was 25 years ago. But Johnson still thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and many times, he’s right.

So Strasburg will be limited in what he’s allowed to do next season; but I’m curious if the Nats are in contention in September and Johnson’s managing the team, will he toss those limits out the window to try and win? Or will those parameters be ironclad and adhered to at the expense of a possible playoff spot?

It’s then that we’ll see if Johnson still has his insubordinate managerial fastball and ignores the front office trying to win.

It wouldn’t be the first time. But it might be the last.

//