Sunday, March 30, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Cleveland Indians

As pretty much everyone's season starts today, we take a trip over to Cleveland courtesy of our good friend Cleveland Frowns.

If we know more about the teams that our respective beloved squads vanquish or are vanquished by, we can better lend meaning to these ballgames that we follow so closely. So I, a dyed-in-the-wool Tribe fan whose first big league autograph was from Ernie Camacho at old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, will do my best to explain what the Indians mean to Indians fans, in view of our team's "relationship" with the Boston Red Sox. Two aspects of this relationship come immediately and primarily to mind. First, we surely don't differ much with fans of most other big league teams in harboring the sentiment that our team, in a very real sense, isn't playing the same game that the Red Sox are playing. Second, quite aside from the fact that the Indians and Red Sox play a different game, and quite differently from nearly every other ball club that the Red Sox will play, the two teams are playing for a vastly different prize.

We'll start with the second difference first – the way in which no Boston-bred Sox fan can relate to a Cleveland-bred Tribe fan. Our relationship with our team must be viewed in the context of the City of Cleveland's 46 year championship drought. This is very different from the Red Sox' championship drought that ended in 2004.

I don't mean to minimize the meaning of the 2004 Series to Sox fans or Boston-at-large. I know there are fans who would have traded all the Celts, Bruins, and Patriots championships for one Red Sox World Series win - and here the Boston and Cleveland fan bases differ in another important respect. It might well be that the Sox occupy the top spot in the hearts of the average Boston sports fan. That's certainly not the case here in Browns Town. But the fact still remains.

A region's civic pride is intimately related to the success of its sports teams, and while it certainly must have been painful for Red Sox fans to experience what they did, at least they never had to wonder if their team played in a "city of losers." So forgive us for saying that the "Now I can die in peace" exhortations that followed the 2004 Series struck us as a bit overindulgent. The Indians success in the 90's and early 2000's, although it did not include a championship victory, meant that a generation (or three) of Clevelanders grew up feeling at least a little bit better about their city, all else held equal. We can't measure how this influences folks' decision to leave, maintain ties with, or settle down in the area, but we know that it must, on the margins, have some effect. A championship for any of Cleveland's three major pro teams would have the same effect, on a far more significant level. This is important. So, understand that when we play, we're not playing for the same thing in a large respect.

You already know that we're not playing the same game. We could only laugh when Bill Simmons referred to J.D. Drew's grand slam in game 5 of the 2007 ALCS as a "karmic miracle." Simmons said that "some day, we'll be able to place (the Drew homer) in proper perspective. Just not today." ?!?!?!?!? The Sox have a payroll nearly three times the size of the Indians' ($143M to $62M) and were still relatively fresh off the 2004 Series win that might be the most publicized major sports championship in recent history, yet they needed a "karmic miracle" to beat one of those most cursed franchises from perhaps the most cursed city in all of American sport? How long will it take for us to put this in perspective? How long will it take for us to understand the importance of a home run hit by one of the most embarrassingly overpriced free agents in baseball history off of a pitcher throwing at a strike zone resembling the eye of a needle (that strike zone being the subject of another piece)? How long??? Are we there yet?

Relatedly, Manny Ramirez's success for the Red Sox against the Tribe serves as a painful reminder of the price of success in Cleveland -- the revolving door through which our best and most beloved players leave -- from Belle, to Manny, to Thome. Even Bartolo and Sexson. CC and Sizemore are surely next. All homegrown talent, and as a whole far superior to anything that's come up through the Red Sox system in the same timeframe. We don't mean to piss in anyone's punch bowl by pointing this out, and we don't fault the Red Sox or their fans for it given the current rules of the game, but when the Red Sox beat us, we can't help but feel like we feel when we lose in pick-up hoops to the guy who insists on stacking his team. Sadly, it's easy to shrug off. Perhaps you Sox fans like it this way. It certainly sets things up for more Red Sox/Yankees drama. But we can't help but wonder if that drama will soon wear as thinly for you as it has for most of the rest of us. We can't help but wonder if a salary cap would make this all more fun for everyone, even you Sox fans (see, generally, the NFL).

Of course, we know that money isn't everything, even in baseball. The Red Sox, Yankees, and especially the Mets have proven this over recent years, as well as the various successes of smaller market teams like the Indians and Rockies, to name a pair of examples. In this way, we can appreciate our team and front office in a way that Patriots fans (but no Sox fan) might appreciate theirs. Tribe GM Mark Shapiro has done a remarkable job signing a core of the Indians' best young talent to long term deals, ensuring that Travis Hafner (signed through 2013), Grady Sizemore (2012), Victor Martinez (2010), Jhonny Peralta (2011) will wear Tribe uniforms for at least the next three seasons, along with younger talent Fausto Carmona (2012), Ryan Garko (2012), and Rafael Perez (2013). For the next few years, this group will give us a good chance to be playing in October, which is an awfully nice time of year in Cleveland even without playoff baseball. And the chance to knock off the big boys makes it that much more exciting for us. Last year we were this close.

Which brings us to our final point, which is why, despite our love for our team and our town, we can't fully put our heart into pulling for the Indians. That is, our team's ridiculous and embarrassing logo, Chief Wahoo. Journalist Roy Peter Clark puts it well: "I don't think that Cleveland has to change its name (neither do we). . . . But the cartoonish caricature of a group of human beings -- signified by Chief Wahoo's red skin and big white teeth -- is the absolute equivalent of the blackface Sambo images that polluted American culture in the first half of the 20th century, and Nazi propaganda portrayals of Jews with big noses and wicked sneers." Many will argue that whatever the original intent behind the logo's creation, Wahoo has become a beloved symbol to which no Indians fan attaches any anti-Native animus. This might be right, but intent and impact are obviously two different things. Native American history is complicated enough. With alcoholism and unemployment ravaging the Native population today, the claim that a grotesque crimson red-faced (drunken?) caricature "grinning idiotically through enormous bucked teeth" honors our Native population in any way is simply incredible, especially in view of circumstances surrounding the alleged decision to adopt "Indians" as a team name and as a mascot. A fan base that doesn't demand Chief Wahoo's burial might not deserve a championship. A part of us, sadly, hopes that the curse of Chief Wahoo is real.

Of course, curse or no curse, salary cap or no salary cap, they will continue to play the games. And Indians fans and Red Sox fans alike, at least a great number of us, will enjoy them - not least because the ballpark is as good a place as any to see how the issues implicated by the match-ups can play out. Best wishes to you Sox fans, and thanks for reading. We appreciate your enthusiasm for your ballclub and hope that you'll continue to visit our town and our ballpark.

Know Thy Enemy: Cincinnati Reds

So we ain't gonna get to all 28 by Opening Day, this much is clear. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't still strive to meet our goal. And so we take an Opening Day Eve swing through the fine state of Ohio. Shawn Weaver of Cincinnati Reds Blog gives us his thoughts on his beloved Red Stockings.

A new season brings new optimism. The Cincinnati Reds look forward to the new season with hope, as do other teams. This year, however, the Reds have some good reasons for hope.

Start with the new manager, Dusty Baker. A three-time manager of the year winner, Baker brings high expectations into the job and into the dugout. Certainly a team would not hire Baker if it did not expect to field a strong team, capable of winning. Baker has a reputation as a players' manager, and a history of getting stronger performances out of players than they had reached before his tenure. These things bring great excitement.

Baker also comes with caveats. There are whispers that he let the Barry Bonds situation get out of control in San Francisco. Others say out loud that he ruined young pitchers in Chicago. One source has written of his propensity to get "84 win seasons out of 88 win talent." Baker has a checkered record with young talent, which worries fans of the prospect-laden Reds. So does his habit of leading off with players of low on-base percentage. It is not a perfect world.

The second cause for optimism is the young pitching. Two rookies, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, are in the season-opening rotation. They join holdovers Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, with veteran Josh Fogg also joining. Cueto and Volquez bring live arms and excitement to the staff not seen in years. In the wings is another live arm, Homer Bailey. Things are truly looking up for Reds pitching.

That optimism extends to the bullpen, where the Reds signed a big-ticket closer, Francisco Cordero. Cordero has a strong track record, and his signing helps settle a bullpen that was a major disaster last season. With Cordero around, David Weathers, Jared Burton, Todd Coffey, and Jeremy Affeldt are expected to settle into roles that are suited for them, rather than being pushed beyond their limits. When lefty Bill Bray has settled questions about his health and joined the 'pen, the stable of arms should be formidable, especially with hard-throwing Mike Lincoln around.

The team on the field is much the same as last year, with an exception in center field. Corey Patterson joins the team. His lack of walks and propensity to strike out are worrisome points, but fans hope he is just keeping a spot warm for superprospect Jay Bruce.

Ken Griffey, Adam Dunn, and Brandon Phillips will again lead the offense. Edwin Encarnacion could improve, and Joey Votto could add more punch at first base. If Jeff Keppinger gets plenty of chances to play, he will provide a season's worth of grit and determination, as well as a .300 average at shortstop. Alex Gonzalez might get his job back, however. Catcher remains a weak spot, and the position most in need of an upgrade. If the Reds are in contention down the stretch, catching is the spot most likely to be bolstered by a trade.

The Reds look ready to break .500 by virtue of an improved pitching staff. A bit better, and they could make a strong case in the wide-open NL Central. Reds fans hope for some Dusty magic in 2008.

Shawn Weaver has been a Reds fan since 1972, the era of the Big Red Machine, and started the first Reds blog, the aptly-named Cincinnati Reds Blog, in 2002. He has been spending entirely too much time on the blog ever since, but no one can talk him out of it. He also writes the Baseball Awards Blog and the Rating the Greatest Baseball Players Blog just so he doesn't have any spare time.


Great time to be a fan of The Great One.

American Experience has a Clemente profile debuting in late April on a PBS station near you.

21, a graphic novel about Clemente, hits shelves October 19. Bit of a wait there.

Here's a nice article about a Clemente museum in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania.

David Marinss's Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero, in my mind the best Clemente biography there is, has been available in paperback for a while now.

Saturday night at the Coliseum

Because I am lazy. Because I did not watch the game. I give you more words of others:

Surviving Grady:
Well, that was interesting. Possibly the most surreal game I've ever watched. The stadium looked unfinished with metal towers jutting up in unlikely spots. The home plate radar guy appeared at times to be sitting on the umpire's shoulders. People milled around foul territory and a peanut vendor made a few sales to bored infielders. That's spring training.

More surreal than the time Jose Canseco pitched? Let's not get crazy here.

Red Sox Monster:
It actually reminds me a great deal of the backyard whiffle ball field I played on as a kid, complete with the ridiculously cheap left field home runs, deep right field (had to hit it over the driveway at my house for a home run) and the tens of thousands of adoring fans (OK, so that was in my own 10-year-old mind).

The field I honed my skills on was very much like the Polo Grounds. Well, more like a bowling alley than the Polo Grounds, really. A bowling alley with trees scattered throughout. It was years before I realized that the reason I hit almost exclusively line drives up the middle in little league (not a bad approach, per se) was because I was trained at a young age to know that hitting it to either left or right would result in the ball being lost in a dense patch of poison ivy laden woods. It was years before I realized that my older brother made me retrieve the balls not because, as he said, I was "good at finding them," but because he enjoyed seeing me suffer with the poisonous ivies. And years more before I realized that the dense patch of poison ivy laden woods does not exist in most baseball diamonds. Except for Wrigley. As for the wiffle ball field of years later. Bryan can speak on that better than I. Jesus, we had ground rules arguments about once an inning. Except for when I was busy walking in runs. Then the ground rules didn't come into play so much.
Perhaps Dr. Charles Steinberg, chief of marketing for the Dodgers, captured best the lure of "the opportunity to take people back to the time in their lives when they may have fallen in love with baseball."

Honestly, I'm kind happy he's gone. He did some nice things. The whole Ted Williams at the All Star Game thing was great. But on the whole he's one gimmicky sob.

Extra Bases:
Q: Did it feel gimmicky?
Tito: Yeah I mean in between every inning (there was ceremony), but everyone understood why and whoever was responsible did a good job. We knew what was going on and you just talk about before the game, the key to the night was being flexible.
It was OK.

Ah yes, that's the work of Dr. Steinberg. And you know what, it that does sound just like the time I may have fallen in love with baseball. Except for the whole ceremonies between every inning part.

The Dodgers' Nomar Garciaparra addressed the crowd, then their manager, Joe Torre, took the mike and said, "There's not a better way to do this than against the Boston Red Sox . . . excuse me, the world champion Boston Red Sox. For some reason, it doesn't bother me to say that anymore."

I knew it! I knew he loves us.

Oh, Sox won 7-4. Wake was sharp. Kevin Ca$h hit a three-run dong. Papelbon gave up a home run.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Arizona Diamondbacks

We conclude today's trip around the the NL West with a visit to Arizona. Jim McLennan of AZ Snakepit is kind enough to take the time to give us his thoughts on the 2008 Diamondbacks.

The Arizona Diamondbacks posted the best record in the National League last season, and swept the Cubs out in the Division Series, before falling victim to their own sweep, against the Rockies in the NLCS. This was despite an offense which finished dead-last in the league for batting average, even playing in a hitter-friendly park like Chase Field, and they defied convention by winning their division, even after conceding more runs than they scored.

Perhaps surprisingly, their main off-season acquisition was another top-line pitcher, trading a number of prospects to the A's for Dan Haren, who started the 2007 All-Star Game for the American League. However, the team is relying on improvement from within - three starters (CF Chris Young, RF Justin Upton and 3B Mark Reynolds) who had their first taste of the majors only last season, and the bulk of the regular offense will be 25 or younger on Opening Day. More experience should lead to better things at the plate. Keep a particular eye on Upton, who will be too young to drink until after the All-Star break, but follows the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, as a rare modern case of a 20-year old being handed a full-time job in the big leagues.

Elsewhere, the team doesn't have a prototypical "slugger"; Chris Young led the team with 32 homers, but also stole 27 bases, the first rookie to do both. However, he also struck out 141 times and needs to improve his plate discipline, with an on-base percentage below .300. The lineup should be well-balanced - nine different players reached double-figures in homers, and there could be even more this year, thanks to Upton and Chad Tracy. The latter is returning from injury, but had twenty HR in 2006; he'll split time at the corner infield positions with Reynolds and Conor Jackson. Even the pitcher's spot could prove productive: Micah Owings batted .333 with 15 RBI, including one game against Atlanta where he went 4-for-5 with two homers and six RBI.

He will, however, be #5 in the a rotation which, with the acquisition of Haren, shapes up to be one of the best in the league. It's headed by Brandon Webb, who won the 2006 Cy Young and improved his stats further last season, though finished second in balloting, behind Jake Peavy. His year included three consecutive complete-game shutouts and a 42-inning scoreless streak, thanks largely to his devastating sinker, dealing with which has been compared to trying to hit a bowling-ball. Haren did drop off somewhat in the second-half last year, but that's because of the incredible first-half. In his first 17 appearances, he was 10-2 with a 1.91 ERA - and in the two losses, he allowed zero and one earned run. Even after the break, he had 11 quality starts in 15 outings, so should keep Arizona in most games.

Behind them, of course, only sits five-time Cy Young winner Randy Johnson, though he is returning from his second bout of back surgery - a relapse of the herniated disk which led to the first operation, ended his 2007 season after only ten starts. When he pitched, he was generally very effective; he struck out more than a batter per inning, and had a K:BB ratio of 72:13, including one-hitting the Rockies for six frames at Coors. Expect Arizona to use him cautiously, but if they can get 25 starts or more from the Big Unit, they'll be happy. Doug Davis's ERA belied his outings, which seemed often to consist of a tidal wave of base-runners, stranded at third. He needs to walk less people to be truly effective, but he's been within one game of .500 every year for the last five, and that's all you need from your #4 starter. Owings, already discussed, will fill things out, and looks to improve on a disappointing spring.

The bullpen was one of the main reasons Arizona had such a good record in one-run games last year. They've lost closer Jose Valverde, who is now with the Astros, but the reliever they got back from Houston, Chad Qualls, is probably not far short of Valverde's level. Replacing him as the D-backs closer is Brandon Lyon, who is not your standard archetype for the position, possessing four decent pitches rather than an overpowering two, and with a far more phlegmatic attitude than his demonstrative predecessor. If he falters, Tony Peña will be there to take up a role he'll likely occupy full-time from 2009, as Lyon will be a free-agent. Behind those two are Qualls and Juan Cruz - the latter had a better K/9 rate than almost any pitcher in the majors last year.

The NL West is perhaps the most competitive division in baseball, with four teams who can genuinely say they have a chance of the title. The Dodgers have the resources, the Padres a 1-2 punch in Peavy and Young that's not far off Arizona's, and the Rockies will be flying the NL pennant above Denver. So it'd be a brave man who guarantees a title for the Diamondbacks. However, they are the reigning champions, and should be better this season than last, meaning it's up to the rest of the pack to overtake them. It's going to be a fun season.

Jim writes about the Diamondbacks at AZ Snakepit.

Know Thy Enemy: Los Angeles Dodgers

From San Diego we head north to Los Angeles just in time for tonight's craziness at the Coliseum. Alfred, a proud Dodgers fan and noted Red Sox hater, offers his thoughts on the Dodgers' 2008 season.

As if ESPN and SI aren't the only places where the words New York and Boston are tirelessly uttered, the experts in either stable can now twist these within the 2008 make-up of the Dodgers. Or not... With the arrival of Joe Torre and the unfortunate continuing ownership by the McCourts, the 2008 Dodgers are bestowed with pretty demanding expectations.

Joe Torre and Andruw Jones each have defined the last decade of baseball in New York and Atlanta. Bringing them together shoots a dose of optimism in Dodger fans due to the credibility, resumes, and contention they bring to Los Angeles of Los Angeles. There's also a few other core guys in this clubhouse that will keep the Dodgers in the playoff race deep into September. Russell Martin( C ), Matt Kemp(RF), James Loney(1B), and Andre Ethier(LF) will continue to blossom as outstanding players at their respective positions. Jeff Kent has been hobbled this spring, and might see himself dropped to batting 6th in the line-up. The good news is that Delwyn Young/ Tony Abreu have showed potential, if not raw talent, at the position eventually vacated by Mr. Moustache.

This year also differentiates from past years where hitting was the problem, not pitching. Aside from All-Star Brad Penny, Chad Billingsby, and new-comer Hiroki Koruda, there isn't a solidified or healthy rotation. Derek Lowe's struggled in spring training with his location. Ironically, that's something that's actually been a hallmark of his career as a Dodger. Jason Schmidt is out until June. When he returns, we still don't know what three years and 47 million have bought us aside from a shelved arm. The 5th spot in the rotation is a toss-up between Chan Ho Park, who's posted decent numbers in spring training, and Often injured righty Esteban Loaiza. The bright side is that lefty hurler Clayton Kershaw might get a few call-ups this season to polish him into the rotation. His 97 mph fastball and dropping curveball have the Dodgers rejoicing over a potential lefty ace.

SS Rafael Furcal
C Russell Martin
1B James Loney
CF Andruw Jones
RF Matt Kemp
LF Andre Ethier
2B Jeff Kent
3B Andy Laroche*

*Laroche and Garciaparra are both on the 15-day DL. Do'h. God forbid the arrival of Brandon Inge....

RH Brad Penny
RH Chad Billingsby
LH Hiroki Koruda
RH Derek Lowe
RH Esteban Loaiza

RH Yhency Brezoban
LH Joe Beimel
RH Jonathan Broxton
CP Takashi Saito

The logjam in Left Field between Juan Pierre and Andre Ethier is complicated by the fact that Pierre makes 11 million the next three years. Possible trade bait at mid-season if he has a hot start and is packaged witha 2nd-tier prospect to a team DESPERATE for a Center-fielder. Aside from that, Pierre's coming off the bench for Torre in late-innings.

Alfred, aka RawLA, is a Sociologist/Dee Jay/Hater/Chicano from Los Angeles that loves his beisbol. In spite of his hate for all things Boston sans Sam Adams(beer), he would like to visit someday for some authentic New England clam choooooooowdah.

Know Thy Enemy: San Diego Padres

Continuing today's whirlwind tour of (most of) the NL West, we make our way down to San Diego. Where we check in with Padres fanatic J. Neff.

The 2008 Padres are mostly the same team that played well enough a year ago to suit up for one game past number 162, but not well enough to play any more after that. Before I get into that, though, let me get into this: this is the part where I show my San Diego insecurity. Actually, never mind. I might say something paranoid later about East Coast bias, I don't know yet, but just now I came to grips with the fact that America's Finest City® is a smedium media market and that's just the way it is. With a whole hell of a lot of water on one side of the city, a whole hell of a lot sand on the other, Los Angeles of Anaheim up above, Mexico down below, and a local rather than regional television deal, I don't expect that to change any time soon, especially not in time for opening day. If I was still insecure, I'd say something right here about the kind of Angeleno cultural imperialism that had Vin Scully on basic cable in San Diego during my childhood, but I'm not, so I won't.

Nevertheless, the Padres will never be able to spend with the Giants and Dodgers, so they're forced to compete creatively.1 For instance, they saved money on last year's bullpen by re-signing Doug Brocail, a year removed from a 99% blockage of the left anterior descending artery,2 for half of his 2006 salary. Glendon Rusch, after losing the end of his 2006 season and his entire 2007 season to a pulmonary embolism, will more than likely start this season in the Padres' pen after signing a minor league contract in December. But the most significant post-injury bargain contract in the organization belongs to native San Diegan Mark Prior, who, if he ever heals, will find himself at the back end of a rotation that should be functionally similar to last year's edition. That is, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Greg Maddux, and then two other guys.3

Trevor Hoffman remains the face of the bullpen and will accordingly face early season scrutiny. I don't like to tell family business in public, but based on the back-to-back blown saves that ended last season, a lot of us think hell's bells may have tolled, or something to that effect. The thing is, Hoffman blowing a save in Colorado4 doesn't really indicate very much. He's struggled there throughout his career, with a lifetime ERA in the City of God('s Team) that tops six. He may be done or he may have been following a trend. I don't know, and I won't be committing to anything here. I will say, though, that even though he's already highly specialized, even for a specialist,5 I wouldn't be opposed to seeing his role shift over the course of the season, with Heath Bell seeing more save opportunities, especially on the road.

The infield doesn't hold many surprises, but the outfield may be adventurous. Josh Bard and Michael Barrett will be back behind the plate, and both will continue to share blame with the pitching staff when the rest of the league steals at will. Adrian Gonzales worked out and talked hitting with Tony Gwynn this offseason and I know it's a lot to ask, but I'm hoping things work out the way they did when Gwynn had a similar conversation with former Padre Ted Williams.6 Tad Iguchi was brought in as a short term placeholder to keep second base company until Matt Antonelli is ready. Khalil Greene, who has more (batting) stances than Shaolin kung fu,7 will be back (after signing an arbitration-avoiding two year extension this offseason) roaming the earth between 3rd and 2nd. He will continue to have a mild case of Dave Kingman. Kevin Kouzmanoff was sub-Mendozal early last year, but rebounded to have a solid rookie season, offensively at least.

Erstwhile third baseman of the future Chase Headley8 is now the left fielder of the very near future. That means Jody Gerut is the likely opening day left fielder (as long as Scott Hairston is otherwise occupied) while Headley continues his on-the-job training in AAA Portland. This, according to the Padres, will allow him to experience playing in conditions in left—at night, on wet fields, etc.—that weren't available in the Cactus League. A side effect of this is that he won't be learning a new position and facing live major league pitching for the first time in a park that depresses all offensive stats (except for triples ) during the part of the season that it is at its most depressive.

Speaking of things that depress, the Jim Edmonds is the Padres' new center fielder. I read somewhere that he spent the offseason training with SWAT, presumably to give him something to do during his stretches on the disabled list. With Edmonds still sidelined with a calf issue, Scott Hairston is the probable opening day center fielder. Brian Giles is back in right and hoping to show that injuries more than age were the root cause of his decrease in production a year ago.

I think this team is too arm strong not to compete for the NL West again this year. I also think it unlikely that they'll do much more than that. 88-74.

1. The Diamondbacks and Rockies, under similar payroll constraints do something creative as well. They develop young talent.

2. I'll never doubt Kevin Towers' ability to put a pen together. I just think you have to be either some kind of low or some kind of saint to re-sign Doug Brocail to a 50% pay cut the year after he has two angioplasties.

3. Randy Wolf and (probably) Justin Germano to start the season.
4. I'm pretending the blown save in Milwaukee didn't happen.
5. He's pitched more than 60 innings in a season only three times this decade and over 65 only once.
6. It's true. Look it up.
7.He also talks a little bit like Kwai Chang Caine.
8. If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that, other than Khalil Greene, the Padres haven't really developed any position players since the days of Benito Santiago and the Alomar brothers. I guess Derrek Lee counts and Josh Barfield counted for a year and then had his name redacted from the list. Former Padre second base prospect Pedro de los Santos once developed, overnight, into an outfielder named Freddy Guzman who was two and a half years older than de los Santos. To the best of my knowledge, Headley (when he's called up) and then Antonelli will be the first position players drafted by the Padres to make the big club since Sandy Alderson took over as team CEO and Grady Fuson took over scouting and development a few years ago.

J. Neff is a temporarily displaced San Diegan whose Padre fandom defies words. So here's a picture of his shoes, instead:

Know Thy Enemy: San Francisco Giants

Today on Me and Pedro, we rip through much of the NL West, previewing four of the five teams. We begin at the bottom, with the San Francisco Giants. We are pleased to be joined today by Andrew Patterson, about whom it can be said without any hyperbole, he is the best baseball player of all our Know Thy Enemy contributors. Sorry, Posnanski.

The “Sleeping” Giants

For the past 15 years, Barry Bonds has been the face of the San Francisco Giants. Barry Lamar Bonds signed as a free agent with the Giants in December of 1992. During that time, the Giants finished 2nd or better 10 times. The 103 win – 2nd place ’93 Giants sparked MLB to create the Wild Card. Life was good!

The best of the 15 years, however, had to be the 2002 Season. On Opening Day 2002, I was sitting in my dorm room watching the Giants face the Dodgers on the internet. I spent 3 hours watching play by play and pouring my heart into every pitch. Ben (Blog Editor) walked by the door during this time and said to me, “You realize the season is 162 games and you can’t stay this intense the entire year.” Although true, I looked at him and said, “Of course I can.” That year ended in a World Series appearance and if not for a jinx by a roommate, a World Championship for my beloved team (I will never forget, Mike).

Over the last ten years, Brian Sabean has traded most of his young, raw resources for old, “refined” veterans to mix and “deal with” Barry’s antics. These trades have depleted the farm system and left the Giants a muddle of young and old “talent”. Maybe the most perplexing of the trades was our one year stab at A.J. Pierzynski. Sabean felt A.J. was going to be such a vital part of our 2004 team, he traded Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser. Nathan has saved 160 games for the Twins with an ERA below 2.00 while Francisco Liriano takes over as the Twins “Ace” for the departed Johan Santana.

But Barry is gone, the circus is gone and well, the winning is GONE!!! The Giants are sleeping, literally. I would be happy if they won 70 games this year and even that might be a stretch by 10 or more games.

This offense could possibly be the worst offense in MLB. Last year, the Giants finished 15th in the National League in runs scored and Barry led the Giants in runs, HRs, OBP,SLG and 2nd in AVG. The Giants will be forced to steal more bases and play “small ball” due to their lack of power. Last year, they finished fourth in the NL in stolen bases and have “decent” speed in Randy Winn and, yes Boston fans, Dave Roberts. The Giants also signed an All-Star centerfield, who plays the game hard and fearless in Aaron Rowand. Although I don’t think he is an ideal Off-Season acquisition for this team, he will be a quality asset in the next few years; teaching the young kids how to play the game “right.”

The Giants will not score a lot of runs and hopefully the front of the rotation can keep this team in some ball games. Barry Zito will get the ball Opening Day against the Dodgers, but young, hard throwing righties Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum will probably be the bright spots on this team. Noah Lowry, the scheduled third starter should return from spring forearm surgery by mid to later April. The bullpen will be solid for this team, but would not be a strong point for a contender.

Andrew is a native of Las Vegas and one of the world's biggest Barry Bonds fans. He was a standout at the best high school baseball program in the fine state of Nevada. Andrew attended the 2002 World Series and returned to his college apartment with a war chest of Thunder Sticks that became the source of wonderful amusement. Until the aforementioned jinx, at which point they became tchotchke non grata.


Says Edes:
"Jason Varitek struck out all three times he batted last night. Counting the regular-season games in Japan against Oakland, in which he struck out six times in eight at-bats, Varitek has whiffed in nine of his last 11 at-bats."

Let's not overreact. But just for the sake of overreaction, you want to know what's uglier than those numbers? The list of potential 2009 free agent catchers:

  • Rod Barajas TOR
  • Henry Blanco CHC
  • Johnny Estrada MIL
  • Toby Hall CWS
  • Kenji Johjima SEA
  • Adam Melhuse TEX
  • Mike Redmond MIN
  • Ivan Rodriguez DET
  • David Ross CIN
  • Javier Valentin CIN
  • Jason Varitek BOS
  • Vance Wilson DET
  • Gregg Zaun TOR

Johjima is somewhat intriguing. For a 31-year-old. The Mariners could potentially be looking to go younger and cheaper and give catching duties to Jeff Clement in 2009. But other than that? Is Steve Lomasney ready for the show yet?

Edes also says:
"[Timlin being placed on the 15-day disabled list] means three relievers battling for the final spot on the pitching staff - lefthander Javier Lopez, the incumbent, and righthanders Bryan Corey and David Aardsma - will remain with the club at least through the two regular-season games in Oakland."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Mariners

"Know Thy Enemy: Seattle Mariners" is twelfth in a twenty-eight part series of season previews. Today Matthew Carruth is kind enough to share with us his thoughts on Seattle's 2008 season.

Erik Bedard
Felix Hernandez
Carlos Silva
Jarrod Washburn
Miguel Batista

The Mariners upgraded their rotation more than any other team in baseball this winter and it's an area they were in dire need to. Ditching the combined 6.85 runs allowed by Horacio Ramirez, Jeff Weaver, Cha Seung Baek and Ryan Feierabend over 367.7 innings with the projected totals for Silva and Bedard result in well over 100 less runs allowed. 100! All told, if Felix and Bedard remain relatively healthy atop, the rotation should be the Mariners biggest asset. Jarrod Washburn scares me, however, with his collapse potential.

J.J. Putz
Sean Green
Eric O'Flaherty

The rest of the pen is currently unknown, a choice of three to four people between Ryan Rowland-Smith, Arthur Rhodes, Brandon Morrow, Mark Lowe, R.A. Dickey and Cha Seung Baek. It doesn't really matter as all of these, chosen or not, will be riding the AAA-MLB express back and forth as they're mostly interchangable. Don't let that confuse you into thinking they're mediocre though, it's an above average unit overall with the potential to be one of the game's best although it is shaping up to be a step back from 2007.

C Kenji Johjima
1B Richie Sexson
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesy Betancourt
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Raul Ibanez
CF Ichiro Suzuki
RF Brad Wilkerson
DH Jose Vidro

Many of the projection systems out there have the Mariners at or below .500 because of this right here. The projected runs scored for the Mariners usually hovers just over 700 runs. Given that Jose Guillen is the only loss and that the team couldn't possibly get less production from the right side of the infield in 2008 than they got in 2007, it seems unlikely for the team to collapse from 794 runs scored all the way down to 714 or so. This is the main contention between people that are bullish on Seattle's chances and those that are not.

The most important thing to know about the Mariners was that they were not an 88-win talented team in 2007. The second most important thing to know is that they were not a 79-win talented team either, as Pythag suggests they are. For as much good luck as they had with their run profile turning into extra wins, they also had some mitigating bad luck with their defense (and yes, you can have bad luck with your defense). All in all, Seattle was roughly an 83-win talented team in 2007. Is the 2008 team a better version? Tough to say. It's loads better in the rotation, but worse at the plate while the bullpen could go either way depending on the health of some key cogs. Overall, I would say they are better.

"So what," many people say, "if they're only a few games better than .500. The Angels won 94 games last year!" Well, that's the third most important thing to note about the Mariners. Their direct competition, the Angels, were not really a 94-win talented team in 2007, they weren't even the 90-win talented team Pythag pegged them for. Instead, according to BaseRuns and other peripheral-based measures of team quality, the 2007 Angels were actually somewhere around a 87-win talented team and to put it bluntly, they didn't get any better over the winter and now face 15-20* missing starts from their version of Bedard-Felix in Lackey-Escobar.

Matthew is a lifelong baseball, Seattle in particular, fan. His dad took him to his first big league game when he was 5 and by the time he was 6 he had the entire team's roster memorized and would score games at night listening to Dave Niehaus over the radio. By 8, he was playing fantasy baseball via snail mail with The Sporting News and compiling spreadsheets (no, really) to help determine how to maximize his player budget. He's since gone on to turn that drive into degrees in computer science and statistics and now regularly delves into baseball statistics. He helps write and edit for The Hardball Times and spends way too much time at Lookout Landing.

*This number is now significantly larger. Since the writing of this preview we have learned that Kelvim Escobar is likely to miss the entire 2008 season.


This Tyrone Brazelton fellow on the Western Kentucky hoops team has me thinking about former #3 overall pick Dewon Brazelton. In case you, too, were curious about Dewon's whereabouts, he was released by the Cardinals on Tuesday. The Cards were Dewon's fifth organization in four years. He carries an 8-25 career record, 155 walks, 145 strikeouts, and a reputation as a bit of a curmudgeon. He is now 27 and his career might be over.

3rd overall pick in 2001; came to spring training and couldn’t pitch for several weeks because of his conditioning. The Cardinals had hoped he’d participate in the “classic mechanics” camp. He missed it, most of the major-league workouts and wasn’t seen until minor-league camp opened.

The Grand Old Lady

Nope, I'm not talking about J.D. Drew (there is no update on his back). It is of the Los Angeles Coliseum that I speak. The Coliseum has been home to two Olympics, the Dodgers, Chargers, Raiders, Rams, O.J. Simpson: The College Years, and a whole gang of other stuff (New Frontier, anyone?) But not since the Los Angeles Xtreme of the XFL closed up shop has the Coliseum played host to wackiness like that which will ensue when the Red Sox play the Dodgers on Saturday in the fatuous confines of the Grand Old Lady.

The Los Angeles Coliseum sports a left field wall 201 feet from home plate with a 60-foot-high net. “We pulled the left-field netting as tight as possible so that balls will bounce off it kind of like the Green Monster,” says Lon Rosenberg, the Dodgers’ vice president for stadium operations. “But we didn’t want to pull it too tight and be like a vertical trampoline.”

A few things on the Green Monster comparison: The Green Monster is tall, yes, but it only stands 37-feet tall. The Green Monster is not very far from home plate, sure, but at its shallowest it resides 315 feet from home plate. 210 feet away! 60 feet high! Did I mention it's 440 feet to right?

The Gray Lady on the Grand Old Lady
Former Dodgers reflect on Coliseum
Comparing Dodger Stadium and the Coliseum
Record crowds expected at the Coliseum

Also: Today Josh Beckett threw 47 pitches in four innings of work. He struck out five New Britain Rock Cats. Bartolo Colon had a root canal, but is still expected to start tomorrow's game in Los Angeles.

I laughed

Hat tip to Big League Stew

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Know Thy Enemy: Chicago White Sox

Now that we've re-entered the pre-season, it's time to jump back into the Know Thy Enemy series. Today Devan Gonyea is kind enough to stop by and offer his thoughts on the 2008 Chicago White Sox.

The goal for the White Sox this year is to simply be "in the race" until the bitter end. I don't think there's a single person in the organization that believes they are better than the Indians or Tigers (except Kenny Williams, who knows the Tigers are inferior), nor should there be after the utter disaster that was 2007. Instead of thinking about playoffs right off the bat, the Sox need to worry about staying afloat through May (I gasped when I first looked at that month on the schedule). There is talent and experience and youth on both sides of the ball, which at times should be special to watch this season. However, glaring weaknesses such as the bullpen and bottom end of the rotation could possibly take center stage and ruin any positives. The White Sox will have to hope that some guys magically got better over the offseason in order to entertain hopes of playoffs this year.


Could potentially be top five in the Majors material. Jesus, they are going to mash a lot of home runs. The biggest question mark will be unproven Jerry Owens, the likely leadoff hitter. The lineup will look something like this most of the season, although Ozzie will likely shake things up from time to time:

1- Jerry Owens OF
2- Orlando Cabrera SS
3- Jim Thome DH
4- Paul Konerko 1B
5- Jermaine Dye RF
6- Nick Swisher OF
7- A.J. Pierzynski C
8- Josh Fields 3B (given a Crede trade)
9- Alexei Ramirez/Juan Uribe 2B

Bench: Pablo Ozuna (utility), Toby Hall C, Brian Anderson OF, Alexei Ramirez/Juan Uribe SS/2B

I'm not an incredibly optimistic person, but I can't help but get excited about this lineup possibly covering up a bad start or blown lead here and there (because believe me, there will be bad starts and blown leads. It is written in stone). Konerko and Dye are better hitters than they showed in 07, and will strive to return to .300/35/100 form. I will not be a fan of the Swisher trade until he gets some serious results. Power numbers won't be demanded but he'll get them anyway (I'd prefer a higher average). Josh Fields is going to struggle filling Crede's glove at the hot corner, but his bat is electric—when he makes contact. A.J. will be A.J., which means being a .250 hitter while picking certain spots to be clutch. The 2nd base job will no doubt be the shiftiest and most competitive throughout the season, with Cuban newcomer Alexei Ramirez and Juan Uribe getting a shot. Any kind of offensive production from this spot will be an unexpected treat. Uribe has actually played 2nd before and would absolutely, without a doubt be the steadiest on defense.


Shall be:

1- Mark Buehrle LHP
2- Javier Vazquez RHP
3- Jose Contreras RHP
4- John Danks LHP
5- Gavin Floyd RHP

This is not going to be one of the best rotations in baseball. I'm confident that Buehrle and Vazquez can have 15-18 win seasons, but the rest of the guys are question marks. The ageless Contreras will be depended on more than ever with no Garland to eat six or seven innings every start. We all saw his peak in 2005, but also know the horrors he's capable of (2007). I think by now Don Cooper has taught him everything he knows, so it's up to Contreras alone to throw strikes this season. Perhaps the measure of the Sox's success this year will be equal to Contreras's. The two X factors at the bottom of the rotation are expected to be better, but it'd be silly to expect winning records and sub 4.50 ERAs. The offense knows they will have to bring it every fourth and fifth day.


Was dreadful last season. So bad that it was funny for awhile, then got sad again. The Sox nabbed Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel in the offseason, a couple of vets that may or may not be dependable in a hitter's park against AL lineups. Linebrink is switching leagues and will be in a learning process the entire season. Dotel has been steady in the past but will have to prove his health and consistency again. These two will log the most innings by season's end, followed by lefty Thornton. Just give Jenks's sweaty ass a chance, guys. The patchwork pen will consist of:

Scott Linebrink RHP, Octavio Dotel RHP, Bobby Jenks (CL) RHP, Matt Thornton LHP, Boone Logan LHP, Mike MacDougal RHP, Ehren Wasserman OR Nick Masset RHP.

This team could win anywhere from 80 to 90 games, depending on how optimistic you are and what happens at 3rd base. Writing this, I chose to give Fields the benefit of the doubt even though it looks like Crede isn't going anywhere anytime soon and will actually start. It's tough to say the pressure will be off ala 2005 just because nobody expects anything better than third. The moves Williams made seem to demand instant improvement and wins in 2008.

Devan assumes he is the only White Sox fan in Wisconsin. When he turned 18 in 2005, he celebrated the World Series and his birthday with a tattoo of the Sox logo. The Big Hurt drew him in as a kid and he considers Hawk Harrelson one of the 5 best people to ever live.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Old pals

Embree, Foulke dominate Sox
Clement's return uncertain
Fossum cut, Kim to be bought out
Trot tries first base
Gabbard is struggling mightily
Sanchez's pain won't go away
Dodgers release Seanez
Urbina only has 13 years left!

Baseball and breakfast reheated for dinner

A mere 14 hours later, and I am settling in to watch the Sox face the Athletics in Game 1 of the 2008 campaign. Hopefully my MLB TV will be more cooperative than DirecTV. So far, so good. Still debating whether to mute Thorne and Phillips. Right now their voices are on, but ever so softly.

That's the one thing that bugs me about the MLB TV, no control over which broadcast I get. Those Rays' series with Joe Magrane doing color are a source of great distress. But, if nothing else, listening to the opposition's announcers throughout the season should provide a steady flow of blog fodder. Perhaps I'll get power rankings going for play-by-play and color guys. Scully sits atop both.

As Papi pops out in the first I see there is a Konami sign in left field. Makes me think of Double Dribble. That's pleasant.

Phillips is talking about how Manny is in the best shape of his life. Mute.

Thorne just said (I didn't really mute) this series is a homecoming for A's catcher Kurt Suzuki. Is this accurate? He was born in Hawaii, went to college in California, and played for Team USA in the qualifying tournament for the 2008 Olympics. I know what Thorne meant, but I'm not so sure he knows what he meant.

Anyway, no need to blog the early part of the game. It's already been done. The Red Sox won. Brandon Moss came up large but he's still headed to Pawtucket because Kielty's potency against lefties is nice to have on the bench.

My goodness, Dice-K looks dreadful. I can't wait for the part where he settles in. Please tell me that comes soon. At this point (sacks full, one out, no control) I'm amazed he only gave up two runs in the first.

OK, I'll stop! I leave you with this:

Rise and shine, campers

It's 6:08 a.m. and it's on for a three-inning live blog.

6:09: JD Drew has already been scratched.

6:10: Strike to littly Dusty and we're on! Then LITTLE DUSTY SINGLES UP THE MIDDLE, and now the Japanese fans are "Youk"-ing!

6:12: Youk grounds out, Pedroia to second, Papi up. Watch your heads. Popout. Man-ny. Man-ny. The first hint of sunlight over here. Manny fouls out. Dice-K time.

6:18: T-Buck time. Grounds to LITTLE DUSTY and he's out. Then Mark Ellis hits the absolute crap out of the ball, homer to left center, 1-0 A's. And all of a sudden Dice-K cannot find the strike zone, and I'm quite a bit more tired than I was 10 minutes ago.

6:22: Jack Cust, the legend, is hit by a pitch. Then there's a wild pitch. And Emil Brown walks (on a full count, at least), loading the bases. Looked to me like Bobby Crosby just struck out, but they didn't get the call. On the next pitch Crosby bounces back to somewhere not all that near the pitcher and Dice-K makes a silly play to get him at first and it's 2-0. Restart! Nevermind, strikeout, and its Mikey Lowell time. One inning in the books!

6:35: Single for Mikey-poo. Brandon Moss is up. He's no Randy Moss. Fielder's choice and Moss is on first, so I'm looking for the stolen base. Oakland gets a little DP therapy on the grounder to short. Now I'm REALLY tired. I'm going to have some coffee and some of the $40 worth of breakfast food I bought yesterday.

6:42: Kurt Suzuki hits a single to center, giving us our first Jacoby sighting of the year. He fields it exquisitely, like The Natural. Ryan Sweeney flies out to right. Travis Buck strikes out by Suzuki steals second. Varitek's throw ain't great but we get our first Lugo sighting. Dice-K's first strike to Mark Ellis is an awesome fastball. He's dealing now... straight into a full-count walk.

6:53: Get your crazy on. Throw down some sake bombs. Tavarez is warming up. Another full-count walk leading straight into Jack "Pedro Cerrano" Cust with Dice-K only throwing fastballs and his new change-up. Cust is swinging like Robb Deer. Cust strikes out looking.

6:58: I just took a tape recorder out of my bag to do some work and my bag smells like Trident Watermelon Twist gum. Holy crap, I have a lot of transcribing to do.

7:01: JACOBY. Strikes out looking. But Lugo singles. This is the year. LITTLE DUSTY shows off some opposite-field warning track power, which is promising despite the out. Youk grounds it to the far side of third and Jack Hannahan gets it but can't get Youk out, which is dangerous for everyone involved for Papial purposes. Ortiz watches the first strike like it's nothing and eventually rocks it — right into the shift. We'll take the solid contact, I guess.

7:10: Dice-K comes out for the final half-inning of your live blog (sorry kids). Emil Brown aims to make it a quick one by popping to Youk, who drops it, equaling his error total from last year. Wow, that was unexpected. And a lie. Youk caught it. Sidney Bubba Bobby Crosby grounds back to Dice-K and he's out. Full count to Jack Hannahan, and a walk.

7:18: Kurt Suzuki lines out to a leaping LUGO! That's it for me. Work and breakfast beckon. Enjoy the next 161 and two-thirds. Baseball season.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Thanks but no

10 AM kickoff for Pats-Jets? Marvelous! 9 AM kickoff for Michigan-Iowa? Lovely! 6 AM for the Wimbledon finals? A little early, but I’ll do it! Monday Night Football concluding at a reasonable hour? Pac Ten basketball beginning at a reasonable hour? Superlative!

Pacific Standard Time is a glorious thing.
(Editor's note: Pacific Daylight Time ain't so bad either)

Alas, tomorrow the time zone gods frown upon we in the west. 3 AM! You in the East have nothing to complain about. 6 AM is isn’t even early! But this 3 AM business, well, it’s just not possible. 3 AM is like the island on Lost, you can approach it from any angle, but you won’t find the bitch.

I certainly haven’t seen 3 AM since my sad, unemployed days when I willed myself there by staying up to the wee hours pondering impenetrable thoughts like, “Perhaps I was wrong about Arquimedez Pozo, maybe Billy Jo Robidoux is the greatest name in baseball history.”’ Failing at that, I would then contemplate whether my bank account could handle a trip to Dick’s for a cheeseburger, some fries, and a chocolate shake. The ketchup at Dick's costs extra, and in those days five cents was precious.

I should note that those days I speak of were only a few weeks ago. Fortunately for me, Bryan was in need of a Head Writer for “Me and Pedro Down By the Ballpark.” Twenty-five cents they pay me for every post. And a nickel bonus for each mention of a Lou Gorman-era player. Rather sly of me to get the Robidoux reference in there, no? Yes, friends, times are good. As you can imagine, now when I enter Dick’s I buy a round of ketchup for everyone in the joint. The regulars have taken to calling it "Robidoux relish."

Anyway, by the time I wake tomorrow at 6:30, I expect a colorful tapestry of opening day events to reside above this post. A game blog so full of life and infinite wisdom that it will seem as though I did in fact wake at 3 AM and watch the game with my own eyes.

Of course, there is always the chance I have a restless night’s sleep, get out of bed at 2:30, head over to the International District, and watch the game with an excitable crowd of Japanese expatriates. I imagine they’re pretty amped for this one, what with Kurt Suzuki getting the start at catcher for Oakland.

7 hours to go.

No Country For Old Young Men

We're in the home stretch, campers. Tomorrow's game won't be for the young and weak, who need their beauty rest; it will be for the strong, those who arise at 6 every day to soak in the life-affirming rays of the sun rather than stay up until 1 or 2 being poisoned by the life-sucking glow of the television. Tomorrow will be a day for the old guys. Let's act appropriately.

I will not be going to Professor Thom's, a bar in Manhattan's East Village, which is throwing a massive "Private Party" at the hour of six because it is not legally allowed to be open at that hour. I am on Thom's mailing list, however, and entered a Red Sox haiku contest to celebrate the opener:

The alarm clock rings
It's 6 and the Sox are on
Praise f*cking Jesus

I actually starred it out on the email. I'm getting better. Though it should be:

The alarm clock rings
It's 6 and the Sox are on
Please pass the sake

14 hours to go.