Oct 12

Thoughts On A-Rod, Washington Nationals And Playoffs

This has been a compelling postseason and it is getting more intriguing with each day. At the start of the season I projected the Giants and Yankees to meet in the World Series, and that’s still in play.

The Yankees’ showing makes them hard to figure out, but one thing is for certain, and that’s things will never be the same for Alex Rodriguez and how he’ll respond to being benched for this afternoon’s game is anybody’s guess what it will do to that clubhouse over the next five years.

Rodriguez played the good soldier when Raul Ibanez pinch-hit for him and ended up homering – twice. He was the same last night when Eric Chavez batted for him. Both had to be blows to his fragile confidence and pride, but being benched is another animal.

Joe Girardi’s actions have stripped Rodriguez of his emotional armor in a far worse way than Joe Torre dropping in the batting order several years ago. Back then, Rodriguez was still a dominating player, but one going through a slump. Torre also had cache in managing four World Series champions.

However, Rodriguez, through the aging process, injuries and it has been suggested the residual effect of his admitted steroid use, is simply not the same player anymore. Whether is year is an aberration remains to be seen, but remember he’s 38 and what player gets better and more productive as he gets older. Other than, of course, one of baseball’s greatest cheaters, Barry Bonds?

And, the beauty of all this is the Yankees have him for five more years, in which they’ll pay him in excess of $100 million. It’s hindsight now, but they should have let him walk when they had the chance. Odds are there were no teams that would have given him Yankee money, but late owner George Steinbrenner ended up bidding against himself. With an increased luxury tax coming, the Yankees will be forced to reduce payroll and they might have a completely different look, and maybe one no so dominant.

If Rodriguez is indeed on the decline as it appears, having him get all that money for not producing will undoubtedly cause a strain among the players. How can it not?

However, Rodriguez was greedy and wanted every last time and the Yankees were smug and arrogant in their free-spending ways. They both got what they deserve.

Another impression about the postseason is the arrogance of the Washington Nationals. I like Davey Johnson, always have, but their GM Mike Rizzo is annoying. I couldn’t agree more with my colleague Joe DeCaro’s post this morning on Rizzo’s decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg. It was beyond arrogance for Rizzo to suggest the Nationals would be back many times to the postseason.

I covered the Orioles for ten years and I remember what Cal Ripken once told me. He appeared the 1983 World Series, and afterward said he thought he’d get back every year. Ripken didn’t play in another postseason game until 1996, a mere 13 years later. There is no guarantees in sports. The Nationals might never get here again during Strasburg’s career, regardless of how good it evolves. Then again, Strasburg has already had an arm injury. What if he has another and his career is cut short?

Above all, I have to wonder about the feelings among Strasburg’s teammates toward management. The pitcher is on record saying he wanted to pitch, so they can’t hold that against him. But, management is sending a bad message to the players. What if they never get here again? How will they feel about Rizzo’s decision?

Meanwhile, the Giants are an interesting story. As they were two years ago, they are pitching reliant. They got by Cincinnati without Tim Lincecum in the rotation, but they won’t be able to get away with that in the NLCS. Lincecum pitched brilliantly in relief, looking like his old self. This is a very good team that is flying under the radar.

Also in that position are the St. Louis Cardinals – they know what to do in October – and Detroit Tigers. The Cardinals could have the chance to defend their title without Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols, something few thought would be possible. The Tigers, meanwhile, have the game’s premier pitcher in Justin Verlander and one-two punch in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

Cardinals vs. Tigers in a rematch? That wouldn’t be bad, either.

 

Oct 11

Former Mets Shining In Playoffs; Beltran, Pagan and O’Day Playing Well

The Mets’ fear in releasing Jason Bay is he would suddenly find it somewhere else. They had the same trepidation with Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

Watching these playoffs, it is easy to see their thinking, but that doesn’t mean it is justified.

Outfielders Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan, and reliever Darren O’Day all distinguished themselves yesterday, and wouldn’t you know it, those are all holes for the Mets.

Angel Pagan had a huge day in the leadoff slot – another Mets’ hole – with two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBI in three at-bats. The homer was to lead off the game to get the Giants rolling so could live another day.

I don’t know what the Giants’ plans are for Pagan, but he certainly played better for them than Andres Torres did for the Mets. Pagan was an inconsistent player here and often let his concentration wander on the bases and on defense. Maybe he wasn’t ready, but he was definitely old enough where he shouldn’t have been making rookie mistakes. Perhaps the Mets weren’t patient with him.

I hoped it would work out when the Mets moved him to center and shifted Beltran to right, but Pagan never took the way he did the preceding year when he played when Beltran was injured.

Beltran, who homered twice in Game 2, had two more hits yesterday as the Cardinals took a 2-1 games lead over Washington. Beltran, who shines in the postseason, is hitting .417 in the series. And this, is after coming off a superb season.

Belran was injured at the end of his stay with the Mets, but when healthy produced. He moved without a hitch to right field and he played hurt. What else could the Mets want from him? Oh yeah, they wanted him to do it for half the price.

The Mets paved the way for Beltran’s exit with the flap over his knee surgery. After that, there was no way he was staying. Especially considering their financial situation.

O’Day appeared in four games for the 2009 Mets, but was released when they couldn’t find a spot for him on the roster. Mike Pelfrey was ailing at the time, but balked at going on the disabled list. He couldn’t make a start and the Mets had to bring somebody up to replace him  for a turn. That meant somebody had to go and it was O’Day.

Rather than exerting his authority and judgment, Omar Minaya gave in to Pelfrey and it cost the Mets. O’Day was quickly signed by Texas and became a bullpen stalwart that season and he was terrific for the Orioles this season with a 7-1 record, 2.28 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. Plus, he only made $1.35 million this year.

O’Day put the Yankees down in order last night.

Wouldn’t you know it? The game was decided by Raul Ibanez’s two homers. Ibanez was a player the Mets wouldn’t consider after he left Philadelphia. An outfield plug and power bat off the bench? Nah, that wouldn’t fit in Citi Field.

There are plenty of others with ties to the Mets this October, including Endy Chavez – did I mention the Mets need outfield help? – and coach Chip Hale and manager Bob Melvin in Oakland, and, of course, Davey Johnson in Washington.

There’s always an explanation for why somebody doesn’t work out for a team, and Beltran, Pagan and O’Day all left for different reasons.

But, were they good reasons?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oct 09

Count Upton, Cabrera Off Mets’ Radar

There’s plenty of intriguing possibilities, only if the Mets were willing to take a financial gamble, which Sandy Alderson said they are not inclined to do.

As I posted yesterday, the Mets have $79.5 million of their earmarked $100 million to spend on six players: Johan Santana, RA Dickey, David Wright, Jason Bay, Jon Niese and Frank Francisco.

B.J. Upton would be terrific in Citi Field, supplying defense to aid the pitching staff and offense. At 28, he’s just the kind of player you could sign to a multi-year deal and build around. Trouble is he comes with some attitude baggage and the Mets would be wary of surrounding their young talent around him. That’s one of the reasons they were willing to eat the contracts of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

Upton would be much better on a veteran laden team – like the Yankees – that has the leadership to keep him in line. When the Mets sputtered in the second half and Terry Collins suggested they were quitting, that’s the scenario where Upton might pack it in.

The guy I am especially intrigued about is Melky Cabrera, who would cost less than Upton because of his own baggage.

On the plus side, Cabrera could cover left field and adds a lot offensively. This year, and last season with Kansas City, he proved he can hit. But, he was making $6 million this year and even with a pay cut that’s too rich for the Mets’ blood.

Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for using a performance enhancing drug. His team, the Giants, wouldn’t let him go on a rehab assignment in the minor leagues as he is allowed and kept him off the postseason roster. What does that tell you about there desire to bring him back?

On top of the suspension, he and his idiot agent cooked up a crazy cover story that included the design of a website. That might have been worse than the drug use itself.

Cabrera, who led the National League in hitting this year and it a damage control move asked that he not be awarded the title, would likely get a short term deal because he’s a risk. Who wants to sink time and money for a player that could get nailed again? You don’t have to pay during a suspension, but you do have to fill the spot if he’s suspended.

Excluding the drug use there’s another question about him and that’s the number of teams he’s played for at a young age. In a seven-year span Cabrera has played for the Giants, Royals, Yankees and Braves, or just under two years a team.

There’s something wrong with that picture.

 

Oct 07

Interesting Start To MLB Playoffs; Intriguing World Series Possibilities

It has been an interesting start to the baseball playoffs. The play-in games put a different spin on things, but I’m hearing a lot of criticism of the single game format and it would be fairer to have best two-or-three. It probably would, but MLB doesn’t want to take the chance of playing in November.

A possible solution would be to incorporate at least one day-night doubleheader during the season among division opponents only. You would still have the same number of games, but a doubleheader a month would eliminate six days from the calendar, which would give MLB a week to tinker with the format.

There are a lot of interesting story lines. The one that stands out for me would be the fallout should the Cardinals run the table again like last season. In 2011, it was a special story because of how they came from behind during the season to make the playoffs and how they rallied in the World Series. This year would be an asterisk because of the “Infield Fly Game,” which will forever be a part of baseball lore.

It was predictable the MLB hid behind the “umpire’s judgment” clause and didn’t comment on whether it was a good call or not. With all this technology that showed it was a blown call, it is a shame a team is home possibly because an umpire made a bad call.

The Cardinals face the Nationals, with the first two games in St. Louis. I don’t like this format. The Nationals had the best record and shouldn’t open on the road. Who can’t see the Cardinals winning at home and stealing one on the road? There should be a reward for having the best record.

At the start of the season I predicted the Yankees and Giants in the Series and it could still happen. The Reds stole one in San Francisco despite losing their ace Johnny Cueto. He’s questionable for the rest of the series, but the Reds accomplished what they needed in getting at least a split.

In the American League, the Tigers and Orioles need to protect their home field and win the first two. Should they sweep the first two, I can see them taking one on the road. However, it is far harder to think they’ll win two on the road.

Just playing out some possible World Series scenarios that would be interesting.

ORIOLES vs, NATIONALS: Two teams horrid for so long are poised for prime time. About 50 miles apart, this has the potential to develop into a real interleague rivalry over time. Washington’s manager, Davey Johnson, used to play for the Orioles. Nobody could have forecast them meeting in the Series. The Nationals have a better rotation, but the Orioles have the better pen. Both hit for power.

ATHLETICS vs. GIANTS: Another potential geographical rivalry. They met before in the Earthquake World Series with the Athletics sweeping. The Giants might have the best rotation in the playoffs, but are already down a game.

YANKEES vs. GIANTS/CARDINALS: The Yankees’ power against the Giants’ pitching would be intriguing. Power vs. power. The New York angle for the Giants is long gone. … A Yankees-Cardinals match-up would feature the two winningest World Series teams in history.

Regardless of the World Series pairings, I’ll watch. I always do. Even when it is the Yankees or Phillies.

Sep 20

Mets Matters: R.A. Dickey Switched In Rotation

Trying to get the most out of R.A. Dickey, both on the field and at the gate, the Mets moved him from Sunday’s start to Saturday. The switch allows him to start the home finale next Thursday instead of in Atlanta the next night.

It might not be much with the way the Mets are drawing, but he could be going for his 20th win in the finale which would be a good send off.

Chris Young flips with Dickey and will start Sunday against the Marlins.

Dickey, 18-6 with a 2.67 ERA, will get three chances to win 20 games. About his Cy Young chances? The Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez might be ranked ahead of him, but working in his favor is being 12 games over .500 for a team approaching 20 under overall.

As somebody who has voted for the major awards, pitchers on losing teams get more consideration for the Cy Young than MVP candidates on losers.

The Mets said several times they anticipate signing Dickey to a contract extension.

More Mets Matters:

* Jordany Valdespin was tossed last night for arguing a strike three call. Although Valdespin has been electric as a home-run bat off the bench, he does have somewhat of a short fuse and has loafed several times. That’s something young players can’t afford to do.

I’m figuring Valdespin will come to spring training, but can’t see him winning a starting job.

* Jeremy Hefner (2-6, 4.99) hopes to avert the sweep by the Phillies tonight, going against rookie Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 4.95). Hefner will compete for a job in spring training, but will likely open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas.

* Tonight’s game will be broadcast on 1130 AM as WFAN will carry the Giants’ game in Carolina. With the Giants on local TV and the Yankees in a pennant race, I’m curious as to tonight’s crowd at Citi Field.

* Some awful numbers: The Mets are 4-25 at home and have scored three or fewer runs in 15 straight games. In contrast, the 1962 Mets, losers of 120 games, won 10 games after the break in a similar point in the season. Yes, they are amazing.

* Frank Francisco has elbow tendinitis. Francisco does nothing for me and if the last few games in a lost season are for learning, I’d like to see somebody else get the chance to close a few games. What would it hurt?

* David Wright is five hits away from tying Ed Kranepool for the franchise lead in hits with 1,418. Although I still believe Wright will be re-signed, I’d hate for him to fall short and then go elsewhere. It would be a shame.