Nov 13

Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson and Buck Showalter

The Manager of the Year award will be announced this afternoon by the Baseball Writers Association of America. You don’t usually see managers of perennially good teams win the award because they are expected to win. The writers prefer rags-to-riches stories, but sometimes it is harder to win with a bullseye on your back.

I agree with the consensus, which has Washington’s Davey Johnson and Baltimore’s Buck Showalter the heavy favorites.

JOHNSON: As we remember him.

No Mets manager has won the award, which was instituted in 1983, for those wondering about Gil Hodges. San Francisco’s Dusty Baker – who is a candidate – beat out Bobby Valentine in 2000. As far as Johnson in 1986, he probably wasn’t considered after his declaration the Mets “would dominate,’’ that year.

He made no such statement this spring.

NATIONAL LEAGUE: Baker and San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy are also under consideration, but both their teams were recently in the playoffs, with the Giants winning the World Series in 2010.

As for the Nationals, they have been traditionally bad since moving to Washington from Montreal.

The expectations for the Nationals heightened this year with the influx of free-agent Gio Gonzalez, return of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg and rookie Bryce Harper. The Nationals were considered in some circles to compete for a wild-card, but won 98 games.

Johnson had more to deal with this season than many realized. He’s been more comfortable with veteran teams, but was patient with the young Nationals. And, despite what he thought privately, he handled shutting down Strasburg, which was a controversial decision in the sport.

The Nationals were ousted in five games by St. Louis – Mike Matheny, who replaced Tony La Russa and didn’t have Albert Pujols, should also be considered – but that experience should be something to build on, much like the disappointment of his Mets losing in 1985 to the Cardinals.

AMERICAN LEAGUE: Showalter, who won the award in the 1994 strike season, and Joe Torre in 1996 and 1998 won the award for the Yankees.

American League finalists include Oakland’s Bob Melvin and newcomer Robin Ventura of the White Sox, both with Mets’ ties. Melvin worked in the Mets’ minor league system and interviewed for the job won by Terry Collins, and Ventura played for the team, 1999-2001.

The Orioles hadn’t had a winning season since 1997, coincidentally, the last year Johnson managed the team.

Behind the Yankees, Boston and Tampa Bay, the Orioles were given no chance to win and .500 was the goal. Instead, they won 93 games and took the Yankees to five games in the ALDS.

The Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games and went 16-2 in extra innings, including their last 16. In addition, Baltimore had just a plus-seven runs differential.

Did Showalter do it with mirrors? It seems that way as the Orioles made 178 roster moves involving 52 players; had only one starter make as many as 20; and didn’t have a .300 hitter.

They also prevailed down the stretch without their best hitter, Nick Markakis.

As much as Ventura and Melvin did, Showalter is the clear choice.

 

Oct 28

On Cheering For The Giants Or Tigers And If Lincecum Gives The Mets Any Ideas About Mike Pelfrey

When covering an event, I pull for good storylines and fast games. I don’t cheer for the teams I have covered. Never have; never will. Instead, I want good things to happen to good people. When you are around a group for nearly nine months, you get a feel for how hard these guys work and how much they care.

Even so, there are those who feel differently. When covering the Orioles, a nationally known columnist stood up in the pressbox and railed at third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., when a Baltimore runner was thrown out at the plate.

PELFREY: Could new role change his career? (AP)

I can’t tell you how many times when covering the Yankees or Mets when I saw radio reporters and those from the smaller papers wearing team colors or caps.

But, that’s just me. What about you guys with October again without the Mets? I know most relished the Yankees getting swept. Lot’s of people root for the underdogs, hence there was a following for the Orioles and Athletics.

What about this World Series?

I’d like to see the Giants because I respect how they play the game. They hustle, play good defense and pitch. Boy, do they ever pitch. The Giants are proof positive a team can succeed without power if they play the game the right way. Conversely, the Tigers also pitch, but they have mashers in the middle of their line-up, and we all know power is the great eraser. In that respect, the Tigers are much like the Yankees.

Only this time great pitching shut down their offense.

I’ve always been a great fan of pitching and defense. It makes for tighter, more intense games. To me, 2-0 is far more compelling than 9-6. It just is. Every once in awhile and 11-10 game can be interesting, but it isn’t a clean game.

Continue reading

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 24

Wright Hoping For Strong Finish To Salvage Season

David Wright was in full salvage mode yesterday, both from a team and individual perspective, After a blazing first half in which he carried the Mets, he’s fallen off dramatically and with his fall so has his team.

There have been numerous times during the Mets’ dreadful second half when they could have turned things around, but failed.

WRIGHT: A frustrating second half. (AP)

Now mathematically eliminated and after being ripped publicly by their manager, the Mets now have one more opportunity to wash out the foul taste in their mouths created by going from eight games over .500 to 14 games below.

I’ve mentioned several times how the Mets have a chance to become next year’s Orioles, who won 11 of their last 16 games last season and rode that momentum into 2012.

Wright noticed, too.

“It’d be nice to finish on a strong note,’’ Wright said. “You look at, for example, what the Orioles did, they finished strong last year and it kind of carried over into this year. It’d be nice to do that. And I think there’s a lot of individuals that want to finish strong and we as a team and an organization would like to finish strong.’’

Continue reading

Sep 17

Mets’ Fade Makes One Yearn For A Pennant Race

Every morning I take a glance at the standings and the pennant races. There’s nothing like the drama and intensity of a pennant race. It is the essence of the sport.

For the record, this morning the Mets are 14 games under .500 and 23 games behind the Nationals with a schedule that could plummet them to 20 below.

So much for a pennant race involving the Mets. Even the collapses of 2007 and 2008 gave those Septembers more meaning than this excruciating month. Of course the remaining schedule is of importance to the Phillies, Pirates and Braves, all in wild card contention. There are six games left with the hated Marlins in the battle to stay out of last place.

Major League Baseball added a second wild card in the hope of creating spice and interest in more cities. So far, it has worked in both leagues.

Sort of.

In the American League there are eight teams – including the three division leaders – that could end up with a wild-card berth. In the AL East there is a dogfight between the Yankees, Orioles and Rays. But, what kind of fight is it really if all three were to qualify for the playoffs? Mathematically it could happen.

In the National League, seven teams are in serious wild-card contention with all three division leaders having comfortable margins.

For all the drama – is it really manufactured drama? – in the wild-card races I think of perhaps the greatest pennant race in history, that being 1967 in the American League when five of the then 10 teams in the league were alive in September, but only one would survive.

For much of that tumultuous summer, the Red Sox, White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Angels were all packed at the top. The Angels were the first to drop out, then with over a week remaining the White Sox’s woeful offense finally wore down their marvelous pitching staff led by Gary Peters and Joel Horlen.

I remember it vividly because I spent that summer in New England and started following the Red Sox on the radio at night. My Indians, of course, were like the present day Mets and well on the outside.

The Red Sox, Twins and Tigers were alive heading into the final weekend. Carl Yastrzemski’s Sox and Harmon Killebrew’s Twins would eliminate one of those teams. All three were alive the final day. Boston eliminated the Twins early, then had to wait until the Tigers lost the second game of a double-header before clinching.

There have been many great pennant races, but for the amount of teams involved, that one had the most.

It’s not the same intensity when so many are involved for a play-in game.

If the old, no-division format were in place today, the Nationals and Reds would be having a great race, with the Braves and Giants on the fade.

The American League would have a spicier race with the Rangers, Athletics, Yankees and Orioles within five games of each other. That combination would give 1967 a run for its money.

Perhaps, because I was a kid and was just developing my passion for baseball

the 1967 race stands out. But nearly four decades later, it is still special reading about it.It is one for the ages.