MLB Opening Week Madhouse

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Let’s recap the lunacy of the first half-week of the 2012 season, disorder by disorder; mental issue by mental issue.

Mariano Rivera blew a save on opening day leading to speculation that he may need a replacement; the YES Network, appealing to its enabled and spoiled constituency of Yankees’ fans, assuaged the fears of their viewership by showing clips of Rivera blowing April saves in seasons past.

Of course there’s no connection between the two, but the same people who are consoled by this are the ones who think Rivera is finished after one bad game.

Yoenis Cespedes displayed awesome power with home runs of ludicrous distance thereby “validating” his signing by the moribund Athletics.

The Red Sox staggered out of the gate looking identical to the team from last September that blew their playoff spot and led to a mass exodus in their braintrust and odd personnel moves.

And Fredi Gonzalez is already under attack because of his bullpen maneuverings.

Yah. After what? 2 games?

Here’s reality.

Rivera:

If you’re actually concerned about Rivera based on one game, then you’re either overindulged; delusional; a plain moron; or all three.

If his velocity was down; if he was laboring; if he looked hurt then it’s cause for concern.

He blew one game.

Get over it.

Rivera already did.

Cespedes:

How many players have burst onto the scene with a flourish only to falter and need to be sent down? He’s an entirely new entity, completely unknown so far. Teams are testing him by throwing him fastballs to see where they should pitch him because the information available on him is limited to propaganda films by his representatives and poorly masqueraded lust for Billy Beane to defend his fictional persona of a “genius”.

Carlos Delgado hit 8 home runs in the first 15 games for the world champion Blue Jays in 1994, was in the minors by June and didn’t make it back to the big leagues full time until 1996.

Calm down with young players getting off to blazing starts.

The Red Sox:

It’s deuces wild. They’ve lost their first two games and Josh Beckett allowed two homers each to two of the the best hitters in baseball, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. It’s not a reflection of September nor is it something about which to overreact.

What would concern me more was Bobby Valentine’s strange bullpen calls on opening day and that he doesn’t appear to trust his players. The over-the-top reaction from fans and media doesn’t have as much to do with the poor start, the perceived organizational disarray or September of 2011; it has more to do with the acceptance/realization that this Red Sox team simply isn’t particularly good.

F-F-Fredi and the Braves:

Gonzalez won’t be able to win until he gets fired.

He got roasted a year ago because he overused key members of his bullpen to their detriment and came home to roost late in the season during the Braves’ September swoon.

Now he makes the choice not to overuse the same pitchers, inserts Livan Hernandez and Chad Durbin and it backfires. Because of that he has to hear from the armchair experts on social media unloading on him again.

How do you argue with a monolith of “experts” who have no accountability and maintain the mentality that if you were right about a particular decision they don’t agree with, you were lucky; if it fails, then you’re a fool?

How do you counter that?

If Hernandez had coaxed a pop up; if Durbin had gotten a ground ball, would they still have been “wrong” decisions? Or would Gonzalez have been lucky?

What’s most grating is that the same people who are on the constant tangent about negligible strategic decisions are the ones who defend the Red Sox 2003 bullpen-by-committee as “gutsy”, “innovative” and “revolutionary” for no reason other than they agreed with it!! In essence, it was a viable defense to have a bad bullpen because the Red Sox front office was populated by individuals from the same school of thought that creates this dynamic of nitpicking on tiny decisions over the course of a game and season that can go either way based on fortune, good and bad.

That “logic” has been evident with the Mariners under Jack Zduriencik and is happening now with the Astros and Jeff Luhnow.

Failure is justified by noble intent, but in a results-oriented theory, isn’t the result more important than the process?

I don’t particularly believe that; I want my managers and coaches to have an explainable reason for what they do and if they have that, I can live with their decisions.

I don’t think Gonzalez is a good manager, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win; that his calls won’t work. Ron Washington is no better a manager than Gonzalez and has won consecutive American League pennants.

Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

But that’s not the prevailing viewpoint in the world of social media. It has to stop and will only stop if you stop indulging in it.

Or at least put it in its proper context.

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2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series
Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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