Sunday, September 9, 2012

Talking Baseball 2012

  On July 18th, the Yankees had a record of 57-34 and a 10 game lead on the rest of the division, as well as a 10 game lead in the race for the 5th best record in the league. The playoffs seemed assured but the Yankees have been worse than a .500 team since that record of July 18th and entering today’s action are tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the division lead with a record of 78-61 and just 2 games ahead of the Rays and Angels for the last playoff spot.

  The Yankees have a favorable schedule over the last 4 weeks of the season with only 7 games against the other playoff contenders (today’s game at Baltimore and 3 home games against the Rays and A’s), but the way they have been playing nothing can be taken for granted. The Yankees have had their share of injuries and coped well with most of them. Eric Chavez has been putting up numbers close to his days as an all-star 3rd basemen with the Oakland A’s in place of Alex Rodriguez, closer Soriano has been almost as good as the irreplaceable Mariano Rivera, and the mid-season pickup of Ichiro Suzuki has been made the loss of Brett Gardner a non-issue. The injuries to the starting pitchers have exposed what was already a weakness. Michael Pineda, the big off-season pickup was lost for the year in training camp, whatever value 39-year old Andy Pettite was going to bring to the table went by the boards with his broken ankle in June, and CC Sabathia’s has been on and off the injured list for the first time in his Yankee career (I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before given his extra weight). Ivan Nova has regressed from last year and is now hurt while Phil Hughes and high-priced free agent Kuroda alternate excellent games with poor performances. Freddie Garcia has performed about as well as expected but expecting him to anchor the rotation is a bit much to ask at this stage in his career. I was hoping Derek Lowe might be able to fill in as a spot starter, but he has shown very little in his limited action. It’s possible that the Yankees can sneak into the playoffs, Sabathia, Hughes, and Kuroda all go on a hot streak, and another World Series championship makes its way to the Bronx, but as inconsistent as the starters have been this year, I'm not expecting to have to dip into my piggy bank for a championship t-shirt and cap this year.

  I’m more of a Yankee fan than a baseball fan so I haven’t been following the day to day operations of the rest of the league, but one of the stories that caught my eye is the attempt of the Pittsburgh Pirates to have their first winning season since 1992. On August 8th, the Pirates had a record of 63-47 and only needed to go 19-33 the rest of the way to get to the 82 wins needed to ensure a winning record. Today the Pirates stand at 72-66 and now need a record of 10-14 to get to their promised land. I don’t know if the Pirates can find a way to get a winning record or even sneak into the playoffs (they are currently tied with the Dodgers a game behind the Cardinals for the fifth and final wild card spot), but if they do I have to say it’s about time. They are on pace to draw more than 2 million fans for the first time since their new ballpark opened in 2001 so the fans are showing that they will support a winner. The Pirates have consistently sold off any player of promise for the last decade but they may finally have a franchise building block in 26 year old outfielder Andrew McCutchen. If the Pirates can get into the playoffs, then there’ll be even less of an excuse for the Midwest most futile team, the Kansas City Royals to not have a winning team. The Royals last winning record was in 2003 and while they have had 2 winning records in the last 20 years, they’ve also lost 100 games 4 times in that span (the Pirates have lost 100 games only once in the last 20 years). The Kansas City fans have even supported their team through this pair of losing decades with over 2 million fans attending games every year since 1988 (except for the strike years of 1994 and 1995). The Royals are run by former Wal-Mart CEO David Glass and while he looks like he is running the operation like a Wal-Mart baseball team by cutting costs, he has continually hired highly regarded baseball minds to run the operation and has made a few free-agent signings, but the free agents and young players never seem to pan out.

  The other baseball story that caught my attention is the implosion of the Boston Red Sox. After firing Terry Francona, the only manager to have won a World Series for them in the last 90 years (and he won 2) for failing to make the playoffs for the second year in a row last year, Theo Epstein, the boy wonder General Manager, left the Red Sox to take over the Chicago Cubs and attempt to break their 100+ years streak of zero World Series championships. After the revelations that the Red Sox players had been lazy and lax under Francona the new Sox GM (Ben Cherington) hired Bobby Valentine as the new manager. Valentine is the polar opposite of Francona and was quick to try to assert his authority by taking on longtime Sox favorite Kevin Youkillis in the media saying that Youkillis had lost his passion for the game. A player revolt nearly ensued and Youkillis was traded to the White Sox in a deal that saw the Red Sox get some utility players in return for paying the bulk of Youkillis’s salary. The Red Sox played better after the trade, but Valentine continued his confrontational ways, causing him to receive the dreaded vote of confidence from ownership, who also claimed that they were trying to still win this year. After dropping hopelessly out of the race with a 6-14 start to August, the Red Sox decided to punt the season and traded a quarter of a billion dollars in payroll (Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett) to the LA Dodgers. Since then, the Sox have gone 4-11 to fall to last place in the division for what could be a long stay in the cellar. The Red Sox hired the wrong manager for their players and don’t want to admit it was a mistake. Instead, they’re getting rid of all the players. There’s still a lot of young talent on this team but Bobby Valentine will alienate every player from the Francona era because that’s what Bobby Valentine does. I expect the Red Sox to get Valentine to quietly resign at the end of the year and use the money they don’t have to pay Gonzalez and Beckett to get some new free agents for 2013, but it pleases me to no end to see an organization that was a hallmark of efficiency and genius turn into a bumbling shell of itself. Because while there is nothing I like to see more than the Yankees win, seeing the Red Sox embarrass themselves comes a close second.