April 2011


This may be considered nitpicking and labeled under the “things that don’t

The Brooklyn unis

really matter” category, but was I the only one who thought the Dodgers wearing the old Brooklyn jerseys on Thursday against the Braves was just wrong?

I have no idea how many times this has occurred since they left for the West Coast, but being a huge Ebbets Field and Brooklyn Dodger fan, this just doesn’t sit right with me. Sure the jerseys looked great, but to me it brings back the thought of what if the Dodgers had never left Brooklyn. If you aren’t there anymore, don’t wear the jerseys.

I mean, the Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who moved the Dodgers to LA after fighting with Brooklyn to get a new stadium, is long gone but it wasn’t a very amicable split. The hurt lasted long in Brooklyn or so I have read. Even when New York was awarded an expansion team for the Mets, true Brooklyn Dodgers fans never forgave the city or the Dodgers for leaving.

Maybe all of this was lost in the current ownership problems now that MLB has assumed control of the team. Maybe enough time has passed where the Dodgers felt it would be a cool thing to do and wear the blue Brooklyn jerseys. I mean that was all the way back in 1957 when they left for LA. Maybe the sting has dissipated from their fans over time or maybe there just aren’t many around in 2011, but seeing the team from Los Angeles wear a jersey with the Brooklyn script across the front didn’t seem right to me at all.

I haven’t talked much about the Pirates yet this season on here and maybe that’s me being selfish and not wanting to jinx their decent start, but after the series that just concluded I can’t steer away from talking about it.

The 2011 Pirates team is a hard one to figure out. They opened the season at Wrigley Field with a come-from-behind win over the Cubs that featured Neil Walker‘s grand slam, only the second Pirates player to ever hit a grand slam on Opening Day joining Roberto Clemente. The Pirates held the lead the next game until a major collapse in the eighth inning by reliever Evan Meek as the Cubs evened the series. But just when you thought that was a game to derail this team already, they rallied in the rubber match for two runs off Carlos Marmol in the ninth inning to give them a road series win.

The Buccos then flew out to St. Louis and took two-of-three from the Cardinals. Huh? Yes, the Pirates opened the season with two road series wins. That would have been unheard of last season when they won just a total of four series on the road all year.

So the Pirates came to Pittsburgh for the home opener against the Rockies with all the promise and hype from their great start on the road. And they absolutely laid in an egg. It started with the very first pitch from Paul Maholm, which was promptly lined into center field for a base hit, and ended with the Rockies cruising to a 7-1 win that included a rookie pitcher (Esmil Rogers) mowing down the Pirates lineup. There was pretty much nothing the Pirates did right in their opener. They rebounded the next night to win in extra innings (14 to be exact) and then dropped the next two games to Colorado in close games.

After a day off and a rainout against Milwaukee, the Pirates and Brewers finally played a couple of games though the Bucs offense basically took two days off. The Pirates were shut out in game one by Marcum and then blanked by Randy Wolf in the last game of the series. In fact, their only run of the two games came in the ninth inning of the last game on a wild pitch. Absolutely brutal.

The Pirates were sitting at 5-7 with a weekend four-game series in Cincinnati looming, so naturally I had the “this season is over” feeling. But the Pirates instead come out and take three-out-of-four from the first place Reds, winning another road series and getting back to .500 at 8-8. The offense produced six, seven and nine runs in the wins while the pitching staff saw TWO complete games (one from Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia each). If you’ve been a Pirates fan over the years, I don’t have to tell you how rare it is to see their pitching toss two CGs in one series.

Then came this three-game series against the Fish in Florida. The Pirates offense forgot to show up in the first two. I can understand the first game, they were shut down by Josh Johnson. He dominates most teams in the NL. But they also kept the bats in the hotel the next night against Ricky Nolasco and didn’t score five runs until they were already down 9-1 in the series finale. They were easily swept out of Florida while being outscored 21-5, including two shutouts. It was just a horrendous series to watch.

Heading into the season, I thought the one area of the team that would be fun to watch would be the hitting. While the big question everyone was wondering would be if the pitching would hold up. Well, 19 games into the season the pitching hasn’t been bad at all. Like I said, two complete games already is just one stat that is mind-boggling as a Pirates fan. They had just one all of last season.

But the alarming thing for me has been the complete disappearance of the bats out of nowhere. Basically being shut out two straight games against the Brewers at home, followed up by another two shutouts the next week against Florida will not cut it at all. You just can’t do that twice in a month. They cannot have those power outages all year if they are to stay around .500 this season.

So they stand at 8-11 this weekend with a homestand against the Nationals and defending champs Giants. My viewpoint on this season is to see significant improvement from the young talented core of McCutchen, Tabata, Alvarez, Walker, Hanrahan, Meek, Morton, McDonald, etc. And at times this month, this team just looks like different from other recent years, but then suddenly the floor drops out and it begins to look like every other year too. I honestly don’t know what to expect next from this group. I just hope they avoid the canyon (the massive free fall losing streak they usually get themselves in) and hover around .500 for most of the season.

Some random thoughts two weeks into the season…

The Jeter fascination is annoying. In the many nationally televised Yankees games already this month, I’ve grown tired of listening to the announcers feel the need to defend Derek Jeter at every step because of his down year in 2010. It basically goes something to this effect: “Everyone talks about what a bad year Jeter had last season, but who wouldn’t take a shortstop that scores 100 runs, hits .270 and wins a Gold Glove.” If I hear that line again, I may puke.Here’s my simple answer: Uh, that’s nice and all but I wouldn’t be paying this guy $20 plus million, which is what Jeter’s salary was last year, for that especially when his Gold Glove is a joke.

People will always defend him because of the greatness of his entire career, but let’s face it the guy has lost a step and is currently overpaid. He only hit about 50 points below his career average in 2010. It’s like “Holy cow! We can’t just say he had a bad year because he’s an awesome player and a nice guy!” We’ll see what year he puts together this season, but he’s already off to a slow, mediocre start.

The upside AL Central. While the Twins are struggling at 4-10 and the Tigers and White Sox are hovering around .500, the Royals and Indians are killing it in first place with a 10-4 record. I’m not sure I saw a preseason prediction that included the Royals and Indians anywhere but the basement. It’s a nice start, but at the same time it’s just a nice start. It’s April 16th. I hope both teams actually stay in the hunt, but I don’t see that happening. I liked the Indians lineup in spring training, but the pitching was going to be the question. Well so far, guys like Josh Tomlin, Mitch Talbot and Justin Masterson are pitching the lights out. If one of these surprise teams stay above .500, I see it being the Tribe than the Royals.

Fun fact: The Indians are the first team in the AL to win eight straight games after starting 0-2.

Craig Kimbrel. The Braves new closer is nasty. He nailed down his fourth save of the season today in Game 1 of a DH against the Mets. And he’s been pretty much unhittable since coming up last year. Check out these gaudy numbers: in 26.2 innings pitched in his career, Kimbrel has struck out 50 batters…that’s a 16.9 K/9 rate. Whoa. Kimbrel features a sinking fastball in the mid-90’s along with a devastating slider that hitters haven’t begun to figure out to date. This young kid is making Braves fans quickly forget about retired closer Billy Wagner.

Rockies rolling at 11-2. The Rockies are off to their best start in franchise history. And they are doing it without Ubaldo Jimenez, who is sidelined with an injured thumb. The Rox have certainly been impressive, but it should be noted that they have benefited from playing the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Mets already this season. They are just beating the teams that are scheduled in front of them, but I’m interested to see how they fare against the Phillies, Giants and some of the better teams in the NL.

Oh, and how big was Troy Tulowitzki‘s series against the Mets where he had 10 hits, four HRs and eight RBIs? He’s the first player to pick up numbers like that in one series since Vlad Guerrero smoked the Rangers in September of 2004 with 12 hits, five HRs and nine RBIs.

Charlie Morton has “good stuff.” And he may be finally showing it. The sinker was sinking all over the place Friday as Morton tossed a complete game in a victory over the Reds. He came within one out of the shutout before allowing a Jay Bruce home run. This is all significant because the Pirates had only one CG in 2010 when Paul Maholm fired a CG SO on July 18. Morton already matched their one CG in just two weeks into this season. After his disastrous 2010 season, Morton is off to a stellar start already: 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts. NL Cy Young anyone?

Troy Tulowitzki went on a tear this week by teeing off early and often against Mets pitching. The 10-2 Rockies swept a four-game series at Citi Field and Tulo was a big reason why.

So how good was his week? Well to put it into perspective, he left Pittsburgh after a four-game series hitting just .214 with three home runs. After his week in New York, he’s now hitting .364 with seven home runs. Tulo badgered Mets pitching at a 10-for-16 mark with four home runs, eight RBIs and five runs in four games. The series including a doubleheader in which Tulowitzki recorded five hits and launched a home run in each game.

And this wasn’t even the thin air at Coors Field. He annihilated the ball at Citi Field, an extreme pitching park. The Mets pitching staff may have nightmares for a while. Don’t look now, but the Mets will be in Colorado in less than a month in early May. I bet they can’t wait to see Tulo and the Rockies again.

I’m not going to spend very much time writing about this because it just isn’t worth it, but breaking news came out this afternoon that Manny Ramirez has retired quit.

MLB released a statement stating that the league notified Ramirez of an issue with the drug policy, something he is very familiar with, and he abruptly decided to quit instead of facing a 100-game suspension since this would have been his second positive test.

Basically he took his ball and went home. It’s not really surprising with how the tail end of Manny’s career went. He wasn’t really helping the Rays so far this season as he was just 1-for-16 with four strikeouts. Tough break for Tampa Bay, but they knew the risk when they signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract.

Manny pretty much quit with the Red Sox when he showed his displeasure with his contract situation by not running out ground balls and possibly bringing his game down to intentionally not produce until he was traded to the Dodgers. That whole mess of a situation along with his suspensions clearly shows Manny had no respect for the game of baseball. His latest move of quitting six games into the season is a joke, but one where no one should be surprised.

His numbers will always be up for talk on the Hall of Fame discussion, but my guess is he will not get into the Hall considering the voters set a precedent with being linked to steroids with McGwire and since Manny was suspended for it in his career, they won’t allow him in.

The bottom line is the game of baseball is a lot better off without Manny Ramirez. Good riddance.

LEAD OFF

There are three undefeated teams left in the Majors. The Reds defeated the Astros 8-2 to improve to 4-0 while the Rangers continued to roll with a 3-2 win over Seattle to move to a  5-0 mark. They join the 4-0 Orioles, who enjoyed an off day Tuesday. All three are in action on Wednesday. On the other side of the spectrum, there are three winless teams remaining: one that isn’t a shock (Astros) and two that are a surprise (Red Sox and Rays).

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Michael Pineda, Mariners: L, 6.0 IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 4K (Not a bad start at all against the red-hot Rangers offense on the road).

QUESTION:

The 4-0 Reds are off to their best start since what year?

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz‘s bid to become the only player in MLB history to homer in his first five games came up short Tuesday with an 0-for-2 performance with one walk. His four home runs in the Rangers first four games was a feat matched only by Willie Mays and Mark McGwire.

QUICK HITS

– The Mets will need more performances like this one if they hope to compete this year. Mets starter Chris Young did it all on Tuesday in his debut with his new team as he not only shut down the Phillies through 5.1 innings with one run allowed for a victory, but he helped his own cause with three hits and one RBI. Two of his three hits came in the third inning as the Mets exploded for a six-run inning. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was the last pitcher to record two hits in an inning last September.

– The Red Sox lineup Tuesday including their starting pitcher will earn $87.4 million this year. While their opponent Indians starting lineup and pitcher will make just over $23 million. And the Red Sox are 0-4. Good thing it’s a long season.

ANSWER:

The Reds haven’t been on a start like this since 1990 when they started the season 9-0 and would eventually go on to sweep the A’s in the World Series. On the flip side, the Reds dropped the Astros to 0-4. It’s the worst start for the Astros since…2010.

LEAD OFF

Break up the Baltimore Orioles! With a 5-1 victory over the Tigers Monday, the O’s improved to 4-0—their best start since 1997, which was the last time the Orioles made the postseason. Is it really possible? Is it Buck Showalter? I have no clue, but they sure on a hot ride dating back to last August.

Here are some of the numbers on the O’s 4-0 start…

  • O’s have allowed only four runs in four games.
  • They are outscoring opponents (Rays, Tigers) 17-4.
  • They have yet to trail a game this season.
  • Orioles starters have allowed two runs in 26 innings, a 0.69 ERA.
  • Since Showalter took over as Orioles manager on August 3 of last year, the O’s have the best record in the AL East at 38-23 in the 61 game stretch.

NOTABLE DEBUTS (from Sunday)

Zach Britton, Orioles: W, 6.0 IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 3BB, 6K

Michael Crotta, Pirates: 1.0 IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 1K

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz made history last night as he homered in his fourth straight game to start the season in the Rangers 6-4 win over Seattle. He became just the third player in history to accomplish the feat. Willie Mays was the first to do it in 1971 and scroll down to find out who the second slugger was.

QUESTION:

In 1998, this player became the second to homer in his team’s first four games of the season. Can you name him?

QUICK HIT

With every good start, there’s a bad start to the season as well. For a bad start, see the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew are 0-4 after being swept by the Reds that started with a blown three-run lead on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Today, they fell apart late again on two solo home runs by the Braves Martin Prado and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s home run hit the top of the wall and bounced over for the game-winning run. The Brewers responded by becoming frustrating and blaming it on bad luck instead of their lackluster play on the field:

“What do you want me to say? We had a ball hit the top of the wall and bounce away from us.” — Casey McGehee

ANSWER:

Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire belted a home run in his first four games to start the ’98 season. That season should stick out in fans memory as the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa went on a home run chase after Roger Maris single-season record of 61 home runs. McGwire would ultimately beat out Sosa and break the record with 70 homers.

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