June 2012

Houston’s Harrell and Mills Combine for One of 2012’s Best Moments

One of the best moments of this season took place in Houston earlier this week.  Rookie Lucas Harrell threw a complete game for the Astros as Houston defeated the Padres 1-0.  However that was not the most remakable part of the story.  The fact that Manager Brad Mills  let Harrell finish the game even after he loaded the bases in the 9th inning is something you do not see today.  Ever.  Just about every pitcher  today, from star to journeyman, would have been pulled after a leadoff hit.

As we all know, complete games by pitchers these days are not that common.  James Shields’s  11 complete games in 2011 were certainly the exception.  Rookie pitchers going the distance is even more rare.  Organizations tend to baby young arms to the point that it can be detrimental to the pllayer.  He will not be able to work out of his own messy situations if he is conditioned to look for his skipper at the first sign of trouble.  In the case of Harrell,  San Diego had runners on first and second with one out in the 9th.  The Padres”s Logan Forsythe  then singled but teammate Alexi Amarista was thrown out at home by J.D. Martinez.  Mills still left Harrell in the game even after he walked teh next batter, Mark Kotsay.  The game ended when Harrell got Nick Hundley to strike out swinging.  Mills showed a lot of guts leaving his rookie starter in the game and Harrell will no doubt benefit from this experience.

After losing 105 games last season, the Astros have been playing some decent ball.  They have been under the radar as another they seemed destined for another losing season.  For one night, however, their manager and their first year starter gave us one of baseball’s most memorable memories for this season while hopefully giving the rest of the teams in the game something to ponder in how they handle their pitchers.

 

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Yankees Are Rolling, Won’t Stop Until October

Image: fanpop.com

You can set your watch by it.  The calendar flips to June and all of a sudden the New York Yankees  go on some ridiculous run that makes fans feel as though they won’t lose much the rest of the season.  Their 19-4 record this month bears that out.  As wonderful as the Baltimore Orioles have been so far, doesn’t their 4 game deficit feel like it is about 14?  As usual with the Bronx Bombers, the question is:  can they sustain this run all the way to the World Series?

In a way, it is unfair to judge a Major League team (even the Yankees) solely on their playoff performance.  Sure they have the highest payroll and seem to get every call known to man (last night’s Dewayne Wise  adventure being the latest) but that shouldn’t dismiss what they have been able to do during the regular season.  Baseball is without question the toughest sport to reach the postseason and the Yanks have been there every single year (except 2008) since 1995.   That is a worthy accomplishment and should be respected by all fans, even the biggest Pinstripe-haters.  At the same time, it is hard to overlook their payroll advantage.  While most teams can only absorb one below-average performance by their highest paid players, the Yankees can absorb two or three of these kinds of seasons because they are so many guys around to pick up the slack.    Look how badly the Twins slumped in 2011 when Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau  had rotten seasons.  They were in the playoffs just the prior year.   Also the Yankees and their fans view anything short of a World Series as a failure, yet when others start bringing up that very point, those same people say we shouldn’t dismiss their great regular season.  Sorry, you can’t have it both ways.

As far as the rest of 2012 goes,  I hate to break it to Bomber fans, but the Yanks are not the team to beat.  The Texas Rangers, winners of the last two American League crowns are the best team until someone beats them.   Lest we forget, when the two of them squared off in the 2010 American League Championship Series, Texas smashed New York, outscoring them 38-19.   If the Yanks come up short again, don’t get on their cases for being failures.  Enjoy the regular season because the ride to October is a lot of fun when you are winning.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Interleague Play is Done for 2012. Will Anyone Miss It?

Image: New York Post

We are now officially in late June as Major League Baseball’s annual Clash of the Americans and Nationals  AKA Interleague play is now complete. Outside of the Yankees, who once again tortured the Mets and their fans, will anyone really miss this yearly excercise of mixing up the leagues?  Oh wait, next season there will be an Interleague game every day with the Astros moving to the American League West.   Yay!

Yes, I understand the buzz the game receives when it’s Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs and Dodgers-Angels.   But doesn’t it seem all of the other contests are just normal games?  And why do we keep stats for Interleague play as if they are their own categories like regular season and postseason statistics?  Is it something special to be the career leader in home runs for Interleague games?  What I am trying to say is, after 15 years or so of this, the novelty has worn off.  Unless the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs are coming to town, attendance does not spike when say, the Rays come to Miami as opposed to when the Phillies visit the Fish.  Most fans (like me) would just as soon see more games against division foes, games that mean a lot more at the standings than the alleged payoff at the gate.

If MLB wants Interleague games mean something, put a series like Mets-Yankees at the end of September.  Can you imagine a scenario such as David Wright homering off David Robertson  to send the Mets to the playoffs and the Yankees home?  That would put some real meaning into something that has become almost an afterthought.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

Davey Johnson: Good Player, Better Manager

Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

One of the best stories in Major League Baseball this season has been the emergence of the Washington Nationals.  Although yours truly picked them to win the National League East, I did not expect them to be this good, this quickly.  Even casual fans are familiar with their young budding superstars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, not to mention established stars such as Jayson Werth, Gio Gonzalez and Tyler Clippard.  Leading this fast-rising group is (I can’t believe I am using this term) grizzled baseball man Davey Johnson.

For those who are not aware or can’t recall, Davey Johnson was a pretty good player during the late 1960’s and through most of the 1970’s.  At a time when power was not associated with Second Basemen, Johnson hit 15 or more home runs three times, including 43 in 1973, one of three members (Darrell Evans and the legend Hank Aaron being the others) of the Braves to top 40 round-trippers.  He started at Second for the Orioles in four World Series trips, winning two in 1966 and 1970.  Before managing the Mets, their fans best remembered him as the guy who made the last out of the 1969 World Series. 

Aahhh, managing.  This second career is where Davey Johnson  has flourished.  He has won at just about every stop.  In 1984, his first season in New York, he guided the Metsto a 90 win season, their first finish above .500 in eight years.   In 1986, he led the team to its second (and last) World Series title.   His next stop was Cincinnati where in 1995, his Reds won the National League Central title and advanced to the National League Championship Series.  After a falling out with owner Marge Schott, Davey returned home (sort of) to Baltimore where the Orioles made the playoffs in 1996 and 1997.  Those were the O’s last two seasons over .500.  The Dodgers were his least successful stint, finishing two games over .500 in two seasons in Los Angeles. 

Many people were stunned when Washington asked him to manage the team in the middle of the 2011 season.  After all, he last managed a Major League team in 2000. When you see his winning percentage is .562  (1,226-957) perhaps it shouldn’t be that shocking.  Twenty-six years after the Mets’ title who would be surprised if he did the same with the Nationals?

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 ands covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

The Midnight Massacre and Other June 15th Trading Deadline Stuff

My buddy Doug reminded me not too long ago that the Major League Baseball trading deadline used to be June 15th.  He figured that would make for an interesting post.  Guess what?  He is absolutely correct.   With the date only two days away, now would be a perfect time to reflect on some major happenings that took place at the old deadline. 

The biggest June 15th deal took place in 1977 and it became known as the Midnight Massacre, considered by many Met fans to be the darkest day in the history of the franchise.  Tom Seaver  had been in a feud with Met management over the issue of (what else?) money.  Seaver had been critical in the press of ownership not spending the dollars necessary to keep the Mets from sliding toward mediocrity.  Dick Young was a writer with the New York Daily News who continually took the side of the organization even calling Seaver “greedy”.   It is worth pointing out that Young’s son-in-law worked in the organization.  Things came to a head in the June 15th edition of the Daily News  in which Young stated that Seaver was jealous of the contract of  Nolan Ryan  received from the California Angels, even dragging Seaver’s wife and Ryan’s wife into fray.  That night, Tom Terrific demanded to be traded and the Mets obliged sending him to the Reds  for Steve Henderson, Pat Zachary, Doug Flynn and Dan Norman.  Not only that but slugger Dave Kingman was dealt to the Padres, also over a contract dispute. The Mets lost their two best players on the same day, June 15th, 1977.  Check out Bill Madden’s column  for even more background on this historic deal.

June 15th is also a date Cubs’ fans would like to forget as a trade was made that has gone down as one of the most lopsided deals of all time.  In 1964 the Cubbies dealt Lou Brock  to the Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio.  At the time, it didn’t look so bad as Broglio was 18-8 the prior year and in 1960 led the National League in wins with 21.  Other than his .315 batting average in 1963, the speedster Brock was basically a .255 hitter.  Who knew that Brock would go on to the Hall of Fame while Broglio would post seven wins in his two and a half seasons in Chicago, retiring after the 1966 season? 

In 1976, Charlie Finley, having already lost Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson, decided to sell off more players who were instrumental in the A’s three consecutive World Championships.  On June 15th, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers were sent to the Red Sox while Vida Blue was sent to the Yankees all for cash.  Commissioner Bowie Kuhn rejected the deals, citing “the best interest of baseball clause”.  Finley tried suing Major League Baseball as well as Kuhn but ultimately lost.  Fingers and Rudi left after the season and Blue was traded before the 1978 season.

Since we started with a depressing story about the Mets, how about a good one for the Amazins?  It was June 15th, 1983 when the Cards traded Keith Hernandez to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey.  The two pitchers combined for a 21-22 record for St. Louis while  Hernadez trade helped restore some badly needed credibility.  His arrival set in motion a chain of events that resulted in the team’s second title three years later.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

We Hope Tim Lincecum Has Some Freaky Starts for Us

Image: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

 

Tim Lincecum was roughed up again in his outing on Sunday, this time  against the Rangers.   It has been a miserable year so far for the former two-time Cy Young Award winner, his record being 2-7 with an ERA of 6.00.  If you throw in his shaky outings the previous September,  the question that will start to be asked is this:  are we witnessing the decline of one of the games most exciting pitchers?

Since bursting onto the scene in 2007 for the Giants, Lincecum has proven to be one of baseball’s top attractions.   With his diminutive frame and signature windup, The Freak led the National League in strikeouts three years in a row.  Before 2012, his career record was a glittering 69-41 with an ERA around 3.00.  His won-loss record would probably be better except the Giants have been a sluggish offensive club during his time in San Francisco.   Now it seems he can’t get anyone out.  He has pitched seven innings or more only three times, the same number of starts he has lasted exactly five innings.

Before this season, the Giants and Lincecum could not agree on a long-term deal and they narrowly avoided arbitration by agreeing on a two-year contract through 2013.   At the end of the deal, Lincecum will be a free agent.   The signs are there that he will not be back in San Francisco.  Matt Cain signed a huge extension before the season and Madison Bumgarner is signed thru 2017.  If Lincecum hopes to score a big payday, he needs to return to the form that made him one of the top three pitchers in the game.    As fans, we need to see more big performances from The Freak.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at www.venomstrikes.com

Pedro Borbon and the 1977 Cincinnati Reds

Image: itsalreadysigned4u.com

It was a sad day for baseball Monday with the news that Pedro Borbon had left us way too soon at the age of 65.  He is best known for being part of the relief crew for the Cincinnati Reds in their hey day of the “Big Red Machine”.   He was a member of the Reds when they won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and 1976.  He won 13 games in those two seasons to go along with 13 saves with over 120 innings pitched in both years.  Borbon also led all  pitchers in appearances between 1970 and 1978.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family including his son, former Major League pitcher Pedro Borbon, Jr. 

The death of Borbon has brought out something that has been on my mind for quite a while.  That, is what happened to the Reds in 1977?   There they were, two-time champions of baseball coming off one of the most dominant seasons in history.  In 1976, they won 102 games (after winning 108 in 1975) and swept both the Phillies in the National League Championship Series and the Yankees in the World Series, the only team in history to do both.  On top of that, at the trading deadline in 1977, they acquired Tom Seaver  one of the best pitchers ever, still with a lot left in his career.  Pedro Borbon actually set a career high in saves with 18 coupled with 10 victories.    Yet, they slumped to an 88 win, 2nd place finish.

I suppose it started when Tony Perez was traded by the Reds to Montreal after the ’76 season.   He was a big run producer who eventually went on to be elected to the Hall of Fame.  Although Seaver won 21 games and Borbon was outstanding in the bullpen, the pitching as a whole was average at best.  Don Gullet, who won 26 games the previous two seasons signed a free agent deal with the Yankees.  Will McEnaney, an integral part of the bullpen, was part of the Perez deal.  The only other pitcher on the staff with more than ten wins was Fred Norman with 14.  Most of all, it was time for the Dodgers to break through.  They were loaded with All-Stars and went to the World Series.  They proved ’77 was no fluke by repeating as National League Champions in 1978. 

Overly simplistic?  Perhaps.  I was four years old in 1977.  However, I have the magic of baseballreference.com to help me plus a good old fashioned  sense of baseball history.  This piece helped me understand why the Reds fell when logic dictated they shouldn’t have.   It also helped me examine the career of Pedro Borbon and realize that he was an excellent reliever in his non-World Series years.  Rest in Peace, Pedro.

Follow me on Twitter @ltj41 and covering the Arizona Diamondbacks at http://venomstrikes.com

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