Streakin’!!!

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One can only be thankful that Joe West, umpiring at second base, didn’t take the appearance of the above streaker as a signal that he too should remove all his clothes and take a jaunt around the field.

Streaking at a sporting event isn’t a new phenomenon and the coverage of the games has made a concerted effort not to publicize this behavior. The one thing that pops into my mind is when Padres’ owner and McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc took to the stadium public address system to berate his team (during the game) as they got blown out of their home opener in 1974. A streaker came running out on the field to which Kroc yelled something to the tune of, “Get that streaker out of here!! Throw him in jail!!”

In terms of being memorable, the St. Louis streaker isn’t going to go down in baseball lore.

What I don’t understand is how he was able to get close enough to the field, remove all of his clothes and jump over the railing before someone—an usher, a security guard, a vendor—saw him and alerted the police of what was clearly about to happen.

One would assume that this incident isn’t going to be used by the Topps company for a baseball card and to create buzz for the new set as they did with the Skip Schumaker/squirrel card.

That said, in our society today and the desperation to sell stuff, who knows?

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Creative Writing and Cole Hamels

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Is there a reason that Cole Hamels‘s pending free agency is constantly updated as if there’s something to discuss?

It’s more trolling and laziness when there’s nothing to write about, so a “story” is formulated regardless of reality.

Here’s my logical outsider’s perspective from both sides of the bargaining table.

For the Phillies.

Eventually there has to be financial sanity; a realization that this cycle is ending and they must shift focus on a future that’s approaching faster than anticipated. At some juncture, they’ll need to restrain spending on the big league product and rebuild the minor league system.

The Phillies have a lot of players making a lot of money and giving Hamels the contract he’s going to demand may not be the best possible maneuver for them.

Cliff Lee is guaranteed $87.5 million from 2013 through 2015.

Roy Halladay is guaranteed $20 million in 2013 with an option for another $20 million in 2014 with kickers based on innings pitched that, barring catastrophe, he’s going to achieve.

Ryan Howard is guaranteed $105 million from 2013 through 2016.

Chase Utley is signed for 2013 at $15 million.

Jonathan Papelbon is guaranteed $13 million annually from 2013-2015 with a $13 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished.

Jimmy Rollins is guaranteed $22 million for 2013-2014 with an $11 million option for 2014 based on plate appearances. If the Phillies aren’t as good as they’ve been in recent years, Rollins is not going to get enough at bats to activate the option.

Hunter Pence is arbitration eligible after this season and a free agent after 2013.

Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Joe Blanton are free agents after this season.

Hamels is making $15 million this season and they could backload his contract to account for the money coming off the books in the future, but then they’ll be paying $25-30 million annually for a pitcher at age 33-36 as they’re doing with Lee now. It’s easy to say they should let Victorino leave along with the likely departures of Blanton and Polanco, but the Phillies farm system is gutted and they’ll still have to replace their centerfielder, their third baseman and their fifth starter. With Halladay, Lee, Hamels and (if his elbow doesn’t blow out) Vance Worley, that’s a good 1-4 starting rotation. They could find someone to fill out the fifth slot and be okay pitching-wise with Papelbon as the closer. But their problem this season has been a lack of offense and they’re going to be replacing Victorino’s offense and defense with whom? And who’s going to play third?

The Phillies have shown little willingness to give their young players a chance to play in their new incarnation of a star-studded, big name-centric club and they don’t have any major prospects ready to fill those positions for 2013.

This is also assuming Utley comes back and is: A) able to play; and B) able to contribute 60-75% of what he was in his prime. With his recurring knee issues, that’s not a reasonable expectation.

I suppose they could swing a deal with the Red Sox to get Kevin Youkilis for 2013 while he’s signed and stick him at third, but he’s been injured and declining similarly to Utley.

B.J. Upton will be too expensive to sign as a replacement centerfielder and to keep Hamels and to find a third baseman who can hit. Torii Hunter could be a stopgap for a year or two in centerfield. Or they could keep Victorino.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Phillies pay up to keep Hamels. What they’ll be doing is mortgaging the future—when both Lee and Halladay will be gone—and rely on an aging Hamels to be their ace for a team that will be in the midst of a major rebuild. He’ll be untradeable, fading and expensive. If they keep him, it would be with an eye on chasing a title in 2013-2014 and not worrying about 2015 and beyond.

Is that worth 7-8 years at $160-180 million?

For Hamels.

There is no reason whatsoever for Hamels to agree to a down-the-line contract during the season and shun his first opportunity at free agency while he’s pitching brilliantly at age 28.

Hamels has thrown at least 180 innings from 2007-2011 and he’ll break that threshold again this season. He’s got the post-season bonafides including the NLCS and World Series MVPs in 2008. He can handle pressure and a tough home crowd.

Why shouldn’t he maximize his dollars by exploring free agency?

The Yankees are always looking for pitching and given the disasters of their attempts to develop their own, if the 2012 season doesn’t go according to their mandate of championship or bust, they might use their checkbook to fill their self-created holes as they did after 2008 when they signed CC Sabathia.

The Dodgers new ownership is aggressive, willing to spend and Hamels is from Southern California.

The Cubs have money; the Mets’ finances are getting in order; the Orioles are finally showing signs of legitimate improvement; the Rangers consider everything and willing to pay; the Blue Jays are about ready to go for a title; the Marlins could continue their spending spree.

Hamels likes Philadelphia and presumably would like to stay, but he’s not going to do the Phillies any favors when it comes down to dollars.

In short, there are landing spots for Hamels. Why would he sabotage himself by signing now?

The answer is he won’t.

The reality.

This talk of the Phillies and Hamels having “discussions” or “contact” or “preparing to engage” or whatever terminology is considered new is just that: talk.

Or nonsense.

There’s not going to be a deal during the season and if the Phillies want to keep Hamels, it’ll take a big check. It won’t be until after the season and both sides will examine their circumstances and move forward accordingly.

It could go either way. Don’t let “insiders” or websites tell you any different.

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Is Roy Oswalt Worth the Daily Updates and the Money?

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Do we need to hear about Roy Oswalt as if there’s a paparazzi crew stationed outside his home to see if he goes for a run or ventures to the nearby park with a baseball glove hanging over the handlebars of his bicycle?

The same type of attention was paid to Roger Clemens when he was vacillating as to whether he’d come out of retirement to rejoin his friend Andy Pettitte with the Yankees in 2007. The indecisiveness and flirtation were probably negotiation ploys to squeeze as much money as possible out of George Steinbrenner.

And it worked.

But was Clemens worth it?

He went 6-6 with reasonably good numbers across the board. He received a prorated $28 million for the year. It came to about $17.4 million for 18 games and 17 starts. The Yankees lost in the ALDS to the Indians and Clemens was knocked out of the box in the third inning of his game 3 start. If it’s any consolation, the Yankees eventually won that game 8-4.

In addition to all of that, we were treated/punished with Suzyn Waldman’s reaction to Clemens’s “dramatic” and overtly staged return, announced in a PA address from Steinbrenner’s box and immortalized with Waldman’s shrieking, screaming, and bellowing like she’d just been electrocuted or received a simultaneous shot of lidocaine and B12.

Can any team expect that much on the field from Oswalt?

More? Less?

Oswalt is a very good pitcher, but he’s just as likely to sign with a team and suddenly develop a recurrence of the back pain that sidelined him last year with the Phillies and, at the time, was thought to be season or career threatening. His back problems have been chronic. They disabled him in 2009 and 2011. He could sign with a club, throw 10 pitches and walk off the mound. We don’t know.

Teams who are interested in Oswalt will undoubtedly be attracted by the short-term nature of his contract (he’d only want to sign for the rest of this season) and that they’re not giving up anything other than money to get him. Before jumping in, they need to realize that it’s not Oswalt from 2008 or even the Oswalt from 2010 when he went on a tear after being traded to the Phillies. He hasn’t pitched and wouldn’t be ready until mid-late-June. By then, who knows what’s going to come available with struggling teams looking to clear veterans or make a splash by doing something drastic?

Zack Greinke or Matt Garza might be on the move. Of course they’d be more expensive in terms of players than Oswalt, but it has to be considered what the club is making the move for in the first place. If a team is getting Oswalt, it’s to try and win a title in 2012 and Greinke and Garza would be more conducive to that end than Oswalt.

Getting Oswalt would create headlines for a day, but the lasting memory could be glass-breaking wail from an excited broadcaster rather than on-field production.

In that case, it wouldn’t be worth it for anything other than comedy.

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Trolling Questions and Actual Answers, 5.23.2012

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Have you noticed that certain storylines take on lives of their own and are promoted as fact when they’re—at best—rumors or simple considerations taken by clubs performing their due diligence?

Let’s take a look at three.

Will the Red Sox trade Kevin Youkilis?

The Red Sox are so ravaged by injuries to their outfielders that they fielded a lineup last night with Youkilis at first base, Adrian Gonzalez in right field and rookie Will Middlebrooks staying at third base. For the moment, they don’t have to worry about what to do with Youkilis and Middlebrooks.

Eventually they will have to come to a solution.

The Red Sox won’t trade Youkilis while his value is nonexistent. He hit a home run last night and they still harbor hopes for a playoff run this year. He’s making $12 million this season and the club has an option for 2013 at $13 million with a $1 million buyout. They’ll hang onto him to see if they’re in a playoff race by August and September and if they’re not, they’ll see what the market is for him.

The best bet in dealing Youkilis will be if he plays well for the remainder of the 2012 season and the Red Sox put the word out that they’re trading him. They can come to an agreement with an interested club and exercise Youkilis’s option before pulling the trigger. One year of Youkilis at $13 million is a good deal if he’s healthy.

Will the Mets send Ike Davis to the minors?

It’s nearly June and he’s currently batting .156 with 5 homers.

So yes, the Mets would send Davis to the minor leagues if he doesn’t start hitting.

Jason Bay is still a few weeks away after fracturing a rib, but when he gets back the logical maneuver would be to send Davis to the minors, move Lucas Duda to first base and keep Kirk Nieuwenhuis in the big leagues to play right field.

It wouldn’t hurt Davis to go down to Buffalo for a couple of weeks to a month. One mistake the Mets can’t make is to repeat what the Braves did with Jeff Francoeur when they demoted him and brought him back to the big leagues immediately. It makes no sense to do that. If they’re sending him down, it has to be done with a plan.

Is Kevin Long to blame for the Yankees’ hitting woes?

It’s floating around the Twittersphere and other social media outlets from the armchair experts and cranky, spoiled fans that Yankees’ batting coach Kevin Long needs to be fired for the club’s lack of offensive malaise.

Just so I understand, it was Long who was credited with Curtis Granderson’s subtle changes at the plate in clearing his hips quicker and turning on inside pitches to take advantage of right field at Yankee Stadium, but now it’s Long’s fault that the team isn’t hitting?

As I said when Mickey Hatcher was fired by the Angels, the batting coach is there as a sounding board and adviser when he’s asked for advice. As a scapegoat, he’s a perfect foil, but he’s not to blame when a veteran team is slumping.

In the spring of 2011, at the suggestion of Long, Derek Jeter tried a “no stride” style of hitting. It wasn’t working. He wasn’t comfortable and switched back to his normal style. For much of the first half of 2011, Jeter was thought to be finished. Since recording his 3000th hit, he’s enjoyed a renaissance.

Jeter went to Long; Long made a change; Jeter tried it; it didn’t work; Jeter switched back to what he knew.

That’s how it goes.

If George Steinbrenner were still around, Long would definitely be in the Boss’s crosshairs. But he’s not. Considering the year GM Brian Cashman’s having—on and off the field—it would take an audacity beyond all comprehension for him to fire anyone.

Long’s not getting fired. Nor should he. It’s not because he’s done such a great job, but because firing him is not going to do any good.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (National League)

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In recent days, I’ve looked at teams that were either underachieving or overachieving based on expectations. Let’s check the National League underachievers (or achievers as the case may be).

  • Miami Marlins

What they’re doing.

The Marlins are 23-19 and in 3rd place in the NL East, 2 1/2 games behind the Braves.

How they’re doing it.

Their starting pitching has helped them overcome Heath Bell’s rancid first two months, a shaky overall bullpen and struggling lineup.

Bell’s been better in his last several outings, but no one, nowhere in Miami is going to feel comfortable with him closing an important late season game against any contender.

The lineup, which was supposed to be a strength, is 13th in the NL in runs scored. Jose Reyes hasn’t been the sparkplug they thought they were getting and his defense is drastically declining. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list; John Buck and Gaby Sanchez are both hitting under .200 with Sanchez just having been sent to the minors; Logan Morrison has 2 homers; most glaringly and concerning (not counting last night’s game), Hanley Ramirez has played in a combined 133 games in 2011-2012 and hit 17 homers with a slash line of .259/.323/.412.

Then there’s the Ozzie Guillen-Fidel Castro controversy that, luckily for the Marlins, died down.

In addition to all of that, there’s the new ballpark and newly remodeled club and a still-underwhelming attendance that’s 8th in the National League.

Believe it or don’t?

I’d be very worried about Ramirez. With their starting pitching and Josh Johnson finding his form, they’ll have enough to loiter around contention, but their hitting and bullpen are so problematic that being barely over .500 is pretty much it for the Marlins.

Believe it.

  • Philadelphia Phillies

What they’re doing.

The Phillies are 21-22, in last place in the NL East and 5 games behind the Braves.

How they’re doing it.

They’re without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard; Jimmy Rollins is hitting around .230; they’re carrying hitters like Freddy Galvis who’s not ready for the big leagues; and playing role players Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry Jr. regularly.

Roy Halladay hasn’t been his normal, machine-like self. Cliff Lee was on the disabled list and Vance Worley is on the disabled list. Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton have picked up the slack and helped the Phillies stay competitive through their injuries and offensive malaise.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it and don’t listen to Jim Bowden/schlocky websites/trolling columnists when they suggest that the Phillies are going to be sellers at the trading deadline. They’re not selling anything unless they’re 20 games under .500, and that’s not going to happen.

The Phillies will be back at or near the top of the NL East by the time the season is over.

  • Milwaukee Brewers

What they’re doing.

The Brewers are 17-25 and 6 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

How they’re doing it.

Losing Prince Fielder was bad enough, but his designated kindasorta replacement in the lineup, Aramis Ramirez, is hitting .218 with 3 homers; his actual replacement at first base, Mat Gamel, blew out his knee; and for good (or bad) measure, shortstop Alex Gonzalez blew his knee out as well.

The starting pitching has been good and the bullpen hasn’t.

Ryan Braun has picked up where he left off from his MVP season in 2011 and—presumably—he’s not going to be stupid enough to do anything that might cause a failed PED test.

Believe it or don’t?

This team is flawed and short-handed offensively. They have the pitching to get back within striking distance of a playoff spot, but unless they hit, they’re a .500 team at best.

Believe it.

  • San Francisco Giants

What they’re doing.

The Giants are 22-20, 7 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

They’ve lost closer Brian Wilson for the season, but their bullpen is still deep enough even without their horse. Starting pitching is carrying them and that’s with Tim Lincecum carting around an ERA over six.

Their hitting has been better than the popgun it was in the past, but pitching is what carries the Giants.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it. The Giants are better than a .500 team and once Lincecum gets straightened out and Pablo Sandoval is back healthy, they’ll be in the thick of the playoff race.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks

What they’re doing.

The Diamondbacks are 19-24 and 10 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

A lot went right for the Diamondbacks in 2011, especially in the bullpen. The lineup has black spots. Chris Young is just off the disabled list and they’re waiting for Stephen Drew.

Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts have a combined 4 homers. You can’t win with Willie Bloomquist playing every day and your first and third basemen not hitting the ball out of the park.

Trevor Cahill is 2-4 and that’s with a .262 BAbip. Imagine if he wasn’t as lucky as he’s been. Ian Kennedy has an ERA of nearly 4.5 and is leading the National League in hits allowed.

J.J. Putz has been a calamity as the closer.

Believe it or don’t?

Believe it. Their luck from 2011 has abandoned them and they’re plainly and simply not that good.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (American League)

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Yesterday I examined teams that were expected to do poorly, but haven’t and whether or not their performances are real. Today let’s look at the teams that were supposed to be good and have started out…bad.

This is the American League; the National League will be posted later.

  • New York Yankees

What they’re doing.

The Yankees are 21-20 and in fourth place in the American League East, 5 1/2 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The easy answer is to say that the Yankees are hovering around .500 because of injuries. Strangely, the loss of Mariano Rivera hasn’t hurt them yet and presumably won’t until (if) they’re in the playoffs.

The word “if” concerning a playoff spot was once a hedge, but no longer. This team is not, under any circumstances, guaranteed a playoff spot in spite of the specious logic of Mike Francesa when he says something like, “well, they’ve made in in 15 of the past 16 years” as if there’s a connection.

They loaded up on starting pitching by trading for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda; prior to that, they also re-signed Freddy Garcia.

Pineda’s out for the year (at least); Kuroda’s been alternately brilliant and awful; and Garcia was bounced from the starting rotation. Andy Pettitte’s return gives them another veteran starter but they can’t reasonably expect Pettitte to be close to what he was in his prime.

The starting pitching has been inconsistent, but serviceable; the bullpen is still functional. It’s been the lineup that’s the problem.

Russell Martin is hitting .170 and losing playing time to the defensively superior and offensively inept Chris Stewart. Alex Rodriguez is now a “threat emeritus” against whom opposing clubs still need to be careful, but can challenge and beat him with power fastballs. Robinson Cano has gotten hot in May. Mark Teixeira has taken Derek Jeter’s place as the target of the fans’ ire. He’s been ill with a bad cough and hasn’t hit at all. It seems so long ago that Jeter was called “Captain DP” among other things; now Teixeira has taken his place.

Eventually, Teixeira will hit.

Believe it or don’t?

They’re going to hit enough to get back into contention for a playoff spot, but that doesn’t mean they’re a lock to get in.

Don’t believe it but don’t get too overconfident (or suffocatingly arrogant) either.

  • Boston Red Sox

What they’re doing.

The Red Sox are 20-21 and in last place in the AL East, 6 1/2 games behind the Orioles.

How they’re doing it.

The starting pitching got off to a woeful start and the transition from the laid back Terry Francona to the polarizing Bobby Valentine, combined with the front office regime change and still simmering tensions from the 2011 collapse put the Red Sox in an onerous situation.

Josh Beckett has pitched well in his last two starts following the golf outing/strained back/public effigy he endured. Daniel Bard is a Daisuke Matsuzaka return away from a trip back to the bullpen and they’ve lost Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis to injuries. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t gotten hot yet.

Believe it or don’t.

After everything, the Red Sox are only one game behind the Yankees.

I didn’t think they were a legitimate contender before the season. Nor did I think they were as bad as they looked early in the season.

Objectively, they’re about a .500 team.

Believe it.

  • Detroit Tigers

What they’re doing.

The Tigers are 20-21, in third place and 3 games behind the Indians in the AL Central.

How they’re doing it.

The Tigers were widely predicted to run away and hide in the AL Central based on their high-powered offense, deep bullpen and all-world ace in Justin Verlander. Those factors would make up for a rancid defense and questionable backend of their rotation.

The offense is seventh in runs scoured and is functioning with black holes at second base and DH. The starting pitching behind Verlander has been bad. Jose Valverde was on the verge of losing his closer’s job before he injured his back.

Believe it or don’t?

This isn’t a new experience for the Tigers. For years after their shocking run to the World Series in 2006, they acquired big, expensive names in an “I’m collecting superstars” fashion by getting Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis and it didn’t work then either.

The offense will be okay but the back of the rotation with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and a series of youngsters is a major problem.

They’re not an under .500 team, but they’re not walking into the playoffs.

Don’t believe it, but they’re going to have to fight their way into the playoffs.

  • Los Angeles Angels

What they’re doing.

The Angels are 18-24, in last place in the AL West and 8 games behind the Texas Rangers.

How they’re doing it.

They’re 13th in the American League in runs scored continuing the same absence of firepower that cost them in the pennant race in 2011. The difference now is that they have Albert Pujols.

The bullpen has been bad and closer Jordan Walden was replaced by veteran Scott Downs.

Inexplicably, only three of their everyday players have on base percentages over .300 and one of them isn’t Pujols.

This team is not a Mike Scioscia-style team that preferred speed, defense, good pitching and opportunism. The chasm between the manager’s style and the type of team he has is showing and it cost hitting coach Mickey Hatcher his job.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it.

Their starting pitching is too good and Pujols is going to hit at some point. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get on the same page, but by the All Star break, I’d expect an uneasy peace among new GM Jerry Dipoto, Scioscia, the newcomers and the remaining veterans for the Angels to right their ship and make a playoff run.

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The Lawrence Taylor Super Bowl Ring Non-Story

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Former New York Giants’ star linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s championship ring from Super Bowl XXV was sold at auction by Taylor’s son T.J. for a total of $230,431. That’s Super Bowl 25 for us normal humans who don’t want to engage in the pageantry of the Roman numerals preferred by the NFL to “add” something (I’m not sure what) to the hype surrounding the “ultimate game” that’s played every single year.

Current Giants’ star Osi Umenyiora’s attempt to bolster his Twitter following by inserting himself into the drama fell flat. After saying that he’d purchase the ring at any cost and give it back to Taylor if he reached 500,000 followers by auction time, he made it to 55,000.

I guess Taylor’s Super Bowl ring wasn’t enough of a worthwhile cause for the Twittersphere to band together to follow Umenyiora and support his decision to waste a ridiculous amount of money on something stupid.

The whole this is just that. Ridiculous and stupid. Apparently Taylor had given the ring to his son and said he was fine with whatever decision T.J. made as to what to do with it.

I don’t think people understand the thinking of people who were involved in playing the game and winning the championship. It’s not a pleasant realization to know that these possessions that so many people say, “if I ever had that, I’d never give it up” are not cherished to that degree by the participants. For many, it’s a bauble that isn’t doing them any good sitting in a safe deposit box or a drawer or closet in their home. Taylor especially has shown little interest in being involved with the game of football following his retirement.

If you listen to him analyze the game, he’d be a brilliant broadcaster. He’s not interested.

If you listen to him talk about little wrinkles that player can and should use to advantage themselves, he’d be a successful coach. He’s not interested.

Taylor could be a scout or a front office person, but it’s not what he wants to do.

He’s done some acting, professional wrestling and commercials with various levels of competence and success. But he’s never shown a serious desire to become a breakout star in anything other than playing the game of football. That’s what he was great at and he doesn’t do it anymore.

His Super Bowl ring was sold and it’s no one’s business. Even if it was, Taylor himself doesn’t care, so why should we?

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Good

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Let’s take a look at some teams that—based on preseason expectations—are overachieving, how they’re doing it and whether or not it will last.

  • Baltimore Orioles

What they’re doing.

The Orioles are 27-14 and in first place in the tough American League East.

How they’re doing it.

Led by Adam Jones’s 14, the Orioles have the most home runs in the American League. The starting pitching was expected to be led by youngsters Jake Arrieta and Tommy Hunter—they’ve been okay. Two ridiculed acquisitions Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen have been excellent. The bullpen and manager Buck Showalter’s manipulation of it has been the key.

Believe it or don’t?

The Orioles have gotten off to good starts before and wilted in the summer heat. They can hit and hit for power; their defense is bad. But if Arrieta, Hunter and Brian Matusz pick up for Hammel and Chen when they come down to earth and the bullpen is serviceable, they can surprise and finish in the vicinity of .500.

They’re on the right track, but 13 games over .500 is a stretch.

Don’t believe it.

  • Oakland Athletics

What they’re doing.

The A’s are 20-21 after being widely expected to lose 90-100 games following a strange off-season in which they cleaned house of young arms Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, but signed Yoenis Cespedes and Bartolo Colon.

How they’re doing it.

Slumps and scheduling have greatly assisted the A’s. They caught the Royals, Angels, Orioles, Tigers and Red Sox during lulls.

The starting pitching with youngsters (Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone) and foundlings (Colon, Brandon McCarthy) have been serviceable-to-good. Manager Bob Melvin knows how to run his bullpen.

I was stunned when I looked at the numbers and saw that Josh Reddick has 10 homers.

The Moneyball “stolen bases are a waste” Athletics are leading the American League in stolen bases.

Believe it or don’t?

They’ve lost two straight to the Giants and are heading to Anaheim to play the Angels and New York to play the Yankees. The Manny Ramirez sideshow is coming and no one knows if he can still hit enough to justify his presence. Cespedes’s hand injury saved him from being sent to the minors.

Don’t believe it.

  • Washington Nationals

What they’re doing.

The Nationals are 23-17 and in second place in the National League East.

How they’re doing it.

The Nationals’ starting pitching has been ridiculously good. Gio Gonzalez has been masterful; Stephen Strasburg is unhittable when he’s on (and hard to hit when he’s slightly off); Edwin Jackson, Jordan Zimmerman and Ross Detwiler have been good as well.

The bullpen has been without closer Drew Storen all season, but Henry Rodriguez is filling in capably. Manager Davey Johnson is adept at handling his bullpen.

Injuries have hindered what should’ve been a strong lineup. Mike Morse, Wilson Ramos and Jayson Werth are out. Ramos is gone for the season with knee surgery; Werth broke his wrist and won’t be back until the late summer. 19-year-old Bryce Harper is adapting to the majors and showing exquisite talent and baseball intelligence amid growing pains.

Believe it or don’t?

This is a talented team whose run-scoring ability has been hampered by injuries. They’re 5th in the National League in home runs, but 14th in runs—that will get better once Morse gets back and Harper’s hitting consistently. The loss of Ramos is a big blow. The starting pitching won’t keep up this pace.

Believe it.

  • New York Mets

What they’re doing.

The Mets are 21-19 in an NL East that might be the most talented division in baseball.

How they’re doing it.

The Mets are 4th in the NL in on base percentage. David Wright has been an MVP candidate for the entire first two months; Johan Santana’s been excellent. That they’re managing to stay above .500 with Ike Davis batting .160 is a minor miracle. Everyone—especially the youngsters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Lucas Duda—is contributing.

The starting pitching is short-handed and the bullpen has been, at best, inconsistent.

Believe it or don’t?

Unless Davis starts hitting when Wright cools down; unless the rest of the starting rotation and bullpen pick up for Santana when he slows down, they can’t maintain this pace especially when the Phillies get their bats back.

Don’t believe it.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers

What they’re doing.

The Dodgers are 27-13 and in first place by six games in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

Matt Kemp was laying the foundation for a run at the triple crown and the MVP before he strained a hamstring. Andre Ethier is having an All-Star comeback season. Their starting pitching has been a wonder; the defense has been good. The entire organization breathed a sigh of relief when the reign of owner Frank McCourt came to an end. They’ve been reinvigorated by the enthusiastic presence of Magic Johnson as the ownership front man and the competent organizational skills of Stan Kasten.

Believe it or don’t.

Believe it within reason. They’ll be aggressive at the trading deadline to improve and are in for the long haul, but Chris Capuano and A.J. Ellis aren’t going to be as good as they’ve been so far. They’re going to need a bat and probably a starting pitcher. Ned Colletti will get what he feels the team needs to win.

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Elephants, Donkeys and Cubs

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If a sports owner who decided he wanted to contribute money to a political Super PAC (Political Action Committee) that profiled presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as an unapologetic flip-flopper; someone who’s going to unleash the terrifying United States war machine on any and all countries that he deems as a vague “threat”; plans to cut taxes for the wealthy; take away Medicare, Medicaid and relegate the poor to what amounts to an inescapable cycle of poverty, would the media have reacted so indignantly as it has to the Joe Ricketts story?

I doubt it.

But because the patriarch of the Ricketts family that now owns the Chicago Cubs was interested in starting a Super PAC that was meant to rehash the inflammatory comments made by President Obama’s former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it’s considered an affront and the basis to engulf the politics of Joe Ricketts to his son Tom Ricketts’s attempts—as owner of the Cubs—to secure public financing to refurbish Wrigley Field.

Politics and presidential politics are seeping into baseball. Rather than focusing on the retirement of Kerry Wood, the “miracle” of Bryan LaHair, or what Theo Epstein’s going to do to rebuild the Cubs, the story is off-field issues.

Considering how things are going for the Cubs on the field, maybe that’s not as terrible as it seems.

Because the “big bad billionaire” wanted to use his money in a politically legal way, it’s transferred into his son’s running of the Cubs. There’s no connection. Even if there was, here’s a solution: prevent the public financing of the improvements to Wrigley Field through the political process.

Political tactics are what they are and it’s not outrageous to bring up Obama sitting by when Wright was making these statements about the United States; that political expediency led to his repudiation of what was said and he left the church out of necessity if he wanted to win the presidency.

The dredging of the Wright controversy isn’t on a level with absurd questioning of the validity of the president’s birth certificate or other silly intimations. It may have been settled to the satisfaction of enough people to elect Obama president in 2008, but it could also be used to assuage the fears about Romney’s Mormonism and convince skittish evangelical Christians to get out and vote for Romney.

It’s politics and is expected.

I’m curious if the reaction would be so widespread if it were a liberal owner who was trying to do “good for the masses” with a Super PAC instead of the “greedy, hoarding rich guy” who simply doesn’t want to pay as much in taxes as he is now and is using anything at his disposal to elect a president who’d help him achieve that end.

I doubt it would.

Either way, should this or any political affiliation be associated with the Cubs because there’s no link between Joe Ricketts’s proposed Super PAC and his son’s stewardship of a baseball team.

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There’s No Rift In Anaheim

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Speculation about a rift between Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia and the new GM Jerry Dipoto rose greatly when—to the displeasure of Scioscia—hitting coach Mickey Hatcher was fired earlier this week. The two are clearly not on the same page as to how a club should be run. The chain-of-command that had been present with the Angels for Scioscia’s entire tenure is broken. The slow start combined with these structural changes could lead to a parting of the ways following the season.

It’s understandable from both perspectives.

Athletes in general will try to exert their will over their titular “boss”. In today’s game, there are no managers with the cachet to do and say whatever they want; to discipline their players; to run the club as if they’re in complete command. The days of Earl Weaver ruling his Orioles with an iron fist are long gone. Back then, Weaver was going nowhere. Everyone in the Orioles clubhouse knew it and reacted accordingly. Scioscia himself spent his entire playing career with the Dodgers and Tom Lasorda who was similarly entrenched.

It’s the way it’s been with the Angels for his managerial tenure.

But with a new GM and new club construction come changes everywhere—not just in payroll and playing style. Angels’ owner Arte Moreno had businesslike intentions when he signed Albert Pujols. After signing Pujols, the Angels agreed to a lucrative television contract with Fox Sports worth $3 billion for 20 years. He’s turned the Angels into a cash machine as George Steinbrenner did with the Yankees. But in the process, Moreno unwittingly made his cohesive club into a 1980s version of the Yankees with the requisite expectations of immediate gratification and demands to “do something” if those expectations aren’t met.

Hiring Dipoto as the GM was well-received following the resignation of Tony Reagins. Reagins’s tenure is pockmarked by the disastrous trade of Mike Napoli for Vernon Wells and his public firing of respected scouting director Eddie Bane, but Reagins also did many good things as Angels’ GM by signing Torii Hunter and trading for Mark Teixeira.

DiPoto is more of a stat-based, coldly analytical GM than Reagins and his predecessor Bill Stoneman were, but he does it with scouting savvy and the ability to express himself to the media and get his point across with the various factions that permeate an organization in today’s game.

But he wasn’t an “Angel”. He didn’t come up through the ranks with the Angels. He hasn’t been working with Scioscia, nor is he a part of the Angels’ culture. A new GM brings in a new set of principles and it’s clear that Dipoto won’t adhere to the oft-heard lament, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Time will tell whether that’s right or wrong, but from Scioscia’s point-of-view, his power base is gone and with it is a large amount of the sway he held in the clubhouse as a result of being seen not just as the manager, but as a boss.

For a manager like Scioscia to have his hand-picked hitting coach fired out from under him is emasculating, but the firing also altered his perception. The same players who kept inner turmoil in house and had each other’s backs are seeing the new dynamic of me-me-me overtaking the club. And that’s not good.

In order for there to be a rift, there had to have been a connection. With Dipoto and Scioscia, they’re working together; doubtless they respect one another; but they might not be suited to a long-term partnership.

That’s what both men have to decide upon in the next four—and the Angels hope—five months. (A fifth month would mean they made the playoffs.)

Judging by the first month-and-a-half, it’s going to be four. Then the Angels’ foundation will rumble and it won’t be because of an earthquake.

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