Shutting down Strasburg is. . .STUPID

Stepehen Strasburg

Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg has certainly lived up to all the hype surrounding him when he became the #1 pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft. Despite his elbow injury during his rookie season, which required Tommy John surgery, Strasburg has bounced back to nearly 100% health and strength. But a lot has been made on the Nationals decision to shut Strasburg down, no matter what, when he reaches 160-165 innings this season. With a legitimate shot to go all the way, is this really smart by the Nationals?

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Front-runners for MLB MVP, Cy Young Awards in Final Month

 

There is nothing I despise more than election speculation about results that are impossible to predict this far out in the presidential race. I, however, will make some bold predictions on some key postseason honors that have yet to come to fruition. My picks have a much better chance of occurring than those made on the roundtables of Sunday morning political talk shows.

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Time to Blow Up the Minnesota Twins Pitching Rotation

brian duensing

The Minnesota Twins are evidence of Murphy’s Law taking effect this season. Whatever could have gone wrong certainly has for the ball club. That is why it is time for pitching coach Rick Anderson to take his approach and turn it upside down. Some say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This staff is busted into a million little pieces right now.

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The Necessary Attributes to be a Major League Manager

ozzie-guillen

There are numerous schools of thought on effective leadership. One could spend hours upon hours at Amazon.com in this section. Because the Major League Baseball season is such a grind at around ten times the length of the NFL season, the necessary traits are somewhat unique compared with other professional sports. There are the old school supporters who would back the likes of Charlie Manuel and Jim Leyland, while opponents may cite the Braves Fredi Gonzalez and the White Sox Ozzie Guillen as models.

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The pros and cons of Interleague Play

Interleague Play

Another year of Interleague baseball (and an American League victory) is in the books, and unfortunately for the haters, it was deemed a success by Major League Baseball. Commissioner Bud Selig’s brainchild surely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

By Jake McCormick [Read more…]

Cardinal ‘Stache Attack! A Midseason Report

Cardinal moustaches

By Jake McCormick

It’s the All-Star Break and the St. Louis Cardinals are partying like it’s 1985. Literally. Instead of sporting retro powder blue jerseys, Cardinal starters and some position players are growing moustaches in true Tom Lawless and Todd Worrell fashion.

I guess when you’re exceeding preseason expectations and holding first place in a competitive division, even porn star attributes are acceptable. The Cardinals are positioned to hold steady in the NL Central race heading into the season’s second half, but it’s time to look at some of the reasons they are defying the “experts” who had already bet on the Cubs turning in a dominating regular season and subsequent World Series appearance.

First half MVP: Albert Pujols (.337 BA, .461 OBP, 32 HR, 87 RBI, 10 SB 71 walks, 35 strikeouts)
Albert PujolsIs there even an argument to be made against Pujols as the baseball MVP of the Planet Earth? Pujols has a legitimate shot at the Triple Crown and is on pace to become the first player to post 60 home runs under the new MLB performance-enhancement drug testing policies. Most players and fans would be content with any player posting those numbers by the end of the year, and Pujols has been a model of consistency and leadership even without Miller Lite sponsored protection to lock in his carbonated swing for maximum power. As Pujols goes so do the Cardinals, regardless of who bats behind or in front of him.

Most Improved Player: Ryan Franklin (0.79 ERA, 21 out of 22 SV, 27 K, 0.79 WHIP)
Ryan FranklinFranklin has stabilized a bullpen that spent most of the 2008 season throwing batting practice and notched an impressive 31 blown saves on the year. If the bullpen had only took 19 craps, the Cardinals would’ve won the NL Central and easily ran away with the Wild Card. The numbers this year are much more promising. The St. Louis bullpen has recorded six “here we go again” groans and only one by Franklin, and is ranked fourth in the National League with a 3.64 ERA. The Cardinals finished last year 25th in save percentage, but are ranked third at this point in 2009. Franklin will undoubtedly falter a few more times in the second half, but he’s been a force so far and has St. Louis all but forgetting Jason Isringhausen’s sad tumble from stardom to obscurity.

Biggest strength: The pitching ‘stache’
Captain planetCarpenter! Wainwright! Piniero! Lohse! Wellemeyer! By their moustaches combined, they are the Cardinals pitching staff!

With an offense that has struggled to find consistency behind Pujols, St. Louis pitchers have registered a combined 3.76 ERA, good for third in the National League. The Duncan/La Russa philosophy teaches development of consistent control, inducing ground balls, and trusting the defense to make plays. With the exception of historically bad Todd Wellemeyer, the Cardinal pitchers have excelled in these categories.

St. Louis’ groundball-to-fly ball ratio is .97, whereas the league average is a much lower .80, and they lead the league in total defensive chances and assists. They are tied for the league lead in shutouts (three), tied for third in home runs allowed (47), and are second in walks with 161. Wainwright and Piniero average 6.8 innings per start, with Carpenter slightly below that at 6.4 innings. If all three pitchers keep competing for the role of staff ace, the Cardinals will undoubtedly be talking playoffs come September.

Biggest weakness: Outfield production and Pujols protection
The production from the two, four, and five spots in the order looks significantly different compared to last year. Here are the 2008 midseason numbers for Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, Troy Glaus, and Albert Pujols:

Ankiel – 20 HR, 50 RBI, .270 BA/.343 OBP
Ludwick – 21 HR, 65 RBI, .289 BA/.365 OBP
Glaus – 15 HR, 59 RBI, .276 BA/.377 OBP
Pujols – 18 HR, 50 RBI, .350 BA/.466 OBP

Now look at their 2009 numbers:
Ankiel – 5 HR, 22 RBI, .215 BA/.278 OBP
Ludwick – 15 HR, 54 RBI, .264 BA/.333 OBP
Glaus – incapacitated, although he has taken a rehab assignment in class A Palm Beach
Pujols – 32 HR, 87 RBI, .332 BA/.456 OBP, 10 team-leading SB

Cool Hand LukeWhat we have here is a failure to produce. Ankiel has as many home runs as Khalil Greene, and the third base combination of Joe Thurston, Greene, and Brian Barden have barely reached a quarter of Glaus’ 2008 midseason totals. Despite the influx of Yugos parked next to the Porsche in the Cardinals lineup, there have been encouraging signs of life lately. Center fielder Colby Rasmus is setting himself up for Rookie of the Year honors, and is getting dangerously comfortable batting in front of Pujols. Ludwick has returned to form and tallied a .305 batting average, 6 home runs, and 25 RBIs over the past month. Add in a healthy Mark DeRosa at third base, and St. Louis starts to look like the most complete team in the NL Central.

Second half expectations
With the All-Star Game in the rearview mirror, the Cardinals’ are the healthiest and most complete team in their division. But there are still questions surrounding consistent play from every part of the lineup except the three hole, and it remains to be seen if the pitching staff can continue to perform on all fronts. The moustache revolution has boosted St. Louis morale in hopes of continuing its first half success, but it remains to be seen if the comparisons to the 1985 Cardinals extend beyond fashion statements.

The MLB All-Star Game: Encouraging voter fraud one fan at a time

The 2009 All-Star Game

By Jake McCormick

Trivia time! Name the only major American sporting event where there are no sports scheduled during the game and the days before and after.

By process of seasonal elimination, the answer has to be the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The subtitle should be “The Only Exhibition Game that Matters,” after its one of many flaws.

All-star games in other leagues are advantageous for all the players involved. The ones that are selected receive well-deserved recognition for their personal achievements in team sports, complete with week-long vacations to places like Las Vegas and Hawaii. Bud Selig believed that by The impending ending to an All-Star Game that mattersmaking the MLB All-Star Game count for something, it would improve overall ratings and easily solve the home field advantage in the World Series problem. The better idea would be to total up the final interleague records and award home field advantage to league that won the most games. Putting relevance into the game has the potential for a Griswold family vacation, where players get hurt or overworked because the managers treat it as more than just a friendly competition.

Although fan voting in any league can be considered about as smart as motives for choosing political candidates, the MLB has better election rigging tactics than Iran. Instead of fans choosing the starters for the game, follow the NBA’s lead and just count fans for one-third of the final results. Every year there are starters that are questionable for the overall team (See 2008: Jason Varitek, Kosuke Fukudome), and certain fan bases (Brewers, Phillies, Red Sox) cast enough votes that their bench players get heavy consideration. You don’t need a congressional audit committee to figure out the All-Star Game doesn’t always pit the best against the best, but neither do real elections I guess.

Setting these necessary changes aside, there were a lot less snubs for this year’s game than there have been in the past. Apparently voting has been a little smarter, as the players and fans connected on seven starters from the NL and six from the AL. The MLB must’ve done some fine exit polling. Here are the changes I would make to both leagues’ starting lineups, reserves, and pitching staff:

American League starters:
Justin MorneauFirst Base – Justin Morneau, Twins (Mark Teixiera, New York Yankees)
Pure example of fan voting at its finest. Morneau has been more consistent throughout the season, isn’t surrounded by the best lineup money can buy, and leads Teixiera in batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage, and both are equally excellent fielders.

Aaron HillSecond Base – Aaron Hill, Toronto Blue Jays (Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox)
This is the easiest change to make, and I would argue that Ian Kinsler, Brian Roberts, or Robinson Cano (preferably Cano) should’ve received Pedroia’s spot on the roster. Hill leads AL second basemen in home runs and RBIs, and gives the Blue Jays production the team expected from Vernon Wells, who looks more like Ben Grieve than Torii Hunter.

Torii HunterOutfield – Torii Hunter, Los Angeles Angels (Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers)
Hamilton has been injured for most of the first half, so replacing him was pretty easy. Hunter is on pace for another career year at the plate while continuing to make friends with every outfield wall he can. Side note: I became an immediate fan of Torii Hunter when he told Jim Rome that he doesn’t wear a cup because “there’s too much going on down there.” It makes every crazy catch he’s made that much harder/funnier to watch.

AL position snub:
Miguel CabreraKevin Youkilis should not be on this roster. Miguel Cabrera plays the same position, has more home runs, RBIs, a better average, less strikeouts, and more at-bats than Youkilis. Both are great players on good teams, but feel-good story Russell Branyan’s stats are almost identical to Youkilis’, and he’s not going to St. Louis either.

AL pitcher snubs:
Tim WakefieldThe biggest question mark for the AL pitching staff was Tim Wakefield, who has pitched well but not nearly to the caliber as starters like Jared Weaver or Kevin Millwood. Wakefield benefited from the Eric Crouch Effect, where as long as he has played well for a long enough period, he’ll get an All-Star berth, Heisman Trophy, or gold watch.

National League starters:
Brian McCannCatcher – Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves (Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals)
Like brother Benji Molina, Yadier Molina has quietly shed his reputation as a pure defensive catcher and has become a fairly good back of the lineup hitter. NL catchers have largely been an offensive disappointment this season, but McCann should be starting based off his better overall hitting statistics.

Brad HawpeOutfield – Brad Hawpe, Colorado Rockies (Carlos Beltran, Mets)
I chose Hawpe because he is in the top five for most offensive categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, and RBIs. You could make the argument that Coors Field inflates his stats, but they aren’t exactly night and day (.374, 4 HR, 27 RBI in 107 AB at home/.291, 9 HR, 29 RBI in 158 AB on the road).

NL position snub:
Mark ReynoldsRyan Howard should be swapped for Mark Reynolds outright. Reynolds leads him in home runs, RBIs, batting average, on-base percentage, and has 14 steals on his resume. Howard is good, and I’m guessing Charlie Manuel picked three extra first basemen so they could pinch hit in a clutch situation, but Reynolds doesn’t have Chase Utley or Raul Ibanez around him in the Diamondbacks lineup. Another easy switch would be Astro Hunter Pence for Dodger Matt Kemp, who is statistically superior to Pence in a lineup that was expected to falter without Manny Ramirez.

NL pitcher snubs:
Here are the 2009 numbers for Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, Ted Lilly, and Yovani Gallardo. Try to match the stats to the pitcher!

1. 9-7, 3.29 ERA, 107 K
2. 8-6, 2.95 ERA, 120 K
3. 8-6, 3.32 ERA, 97 K
4. 9-5, 3.09 ERA, 110 K

Yovani GallardoThe correct answers are 1. Santana, 2. Gallardo, 3. Lilly, and 4. Wainwright. Lilly’s addition to the team was simply because no one else on the Cubs stood out enough, and since every team has to have one player on the roster, I’ll let it pass. But other Adam Wainwrightthan wins, Gallardo has outpitched Santana throughout the year. Same goes for Wainwright, who has been a model of consistency for a Cardinals team that is in first in the NL Central and hosting the All-Star Game. Name recognition had to factor into Santana’s selection.

The NL team is very similar to the Cubs; they haven’t won a game in 12 years, continue to field better players each year, and every time I look at the rosters I keep thinking, “this could be the year.” Then I come back to reality and realize the AL has more money, and subsequently better overall players. Whatever the results may be, the selection process itself needs to be changed in some way. But unless there’s a big scandal, odds are that Selig will continue tooting the ratings and record attendance horn until he sells every used car in his lot.

DeRosa fits in Cardinals’ puzzle

Mark DeRosaBy Jake McCormick

The St. Louis Cardinals made the first major move in the 2009 NL Central Division race by trading for former Chicago Cub and fan favorite Mark DeRosa. Call it pay back for taking Jim Edmonds.

Mark DeRosa was the caulk of the 2008 Chicago Cubs. He could fill in at any position (except catcher) and put up career numbers in home runs (21) and RBIs (87). DeRosa became a fan favorite in Chicago because of his personality and ability to come through in the clutch when the rest of the team was floundering. After the Cubs mistakenly thought baseball playoffs were won by golf scoring, DeRosa was traded along with Kerry Wood to the Cleveland Indians so Chicago could add the left-handed Milton Bradley, who was coming off a career year.

Recipe for great television.

Recipe for great television.

Sidenote: There’s a Lewis Black stand up bit where he simply says “Dick Cheney,” pauses, then says that was all that was needed for the joke. I apply that same principle the Bradley, but I feel like he should have a reality show called Milton Bradley: It’s Complicated. He’s much more deserving than Denise Richards.

Chicago’s yearning for the days of DeRosa climaxed when he received a standing ovation during his first at-bat as an Indian at Wrigley Field last week. That makes the Cardinals’ trade for the utilityman all the more interesting.

There’s a good reason why the Cubs have seemingly regretted letting DeRosa go. He already understands the National League game and knows the NL Central especially well. His 0-for-9 start to his Cardinals’ career and wrist injury suffered during Tuesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants not withstanding, DeRosa was second on the Indians this season in

Career stats: 1.000 BA, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1.000 OBP, 0 E

Career stats: 1.000 BA, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 1.000 OBP, 0 E

home runs (13) and RBIs (50), and should provide St. Louis with consistent defense at third base and nearly identical statistics to injured starter Troy Glaus. But at this point, I think the Cardinals would take Kyle’s cousin Kyle from South Park over Khalil Greene at third base. At least Kyle could make contact with the ball and had more home runs and RBIs in the show than Greene does on the season.

DeRosa’s strong clubhouse presence should have a positive impact on the bizarro structure of the Cardinals’ roster. St. Louis doesn’t look like the Cardinal teams from the past few years, where veterans like Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, and Braden Looper were favored over the team’s skeletal farm system. So far this season, the Cardinals have had 14 rookies on the roster, which leads the league, and eight of them have made their Major League debut. Having so many young players on a contending team, even one with the Terminator (Albert Pujols), can have adverse effects as the season wears on and fatigue starts setting in.

Come with Albert if you want to win

Come with Albert if you want to win

As the All Star Break draws closer, the NL Central continues to stay tightly packed together, with every team (yes, even the Pirates, who are firing players off the port bow) within six games of the top spot. Last year, the Brewers and Cubs made big time deals to upgrade their weaknesses while the Cardinals stood by what they had, which wasn’t enough to stay in serious contention by the end of the season. By trading for DeRosa and despite his current unknown wrist injury, the Cardinals sent the opposite message and are playing to win now. If he lives up to his billing, DeRosa will continue to make the Cubs regret getting rid of him for prospects. But he can’t be expected to step up for the entire team.

With the obvious exception of Pujols, St. Louis has had problems scoring runs. They have been shut out in three of the past 10 games and are 3-7 in that span. Adding DeRosa to Pujols bodyguard duty with Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel should give a needed boost to hitters that have been out of sync from slow starts after injuries. The Cardinals have the pitching and coaching to carrying them into contention late into the season, and if DeRosa stays healthy he could very well be the difference in October baseball in St. Louis.

I love the weeks leading up to the MLB season

By Rikki Greenberg

The countdown to Opening Day has begun.

An undeniable urge to step onto the baseball field by the old elementary school hasn’t gone away since the beginning of March and won’t go away until April 6th.

I relish the weeks before the MLB official season start. It’s the anticipation of what stepping on the field is going to be like, how clubs are going to perform when the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed and whose going to have the better can of trash talk.

This kind of thinking may put me in the minority, but I’m ok with that. Most people look forward to the season where the real juice is, but I’m pouring the Emergen-C packets in the H20 now. Before you think it’s the enhanced water talking, let me explain why I’m bursting in the weeks before any cleats sink into the beautiful baseball dirt. And it’s a lot more than just the money has been set aside for a 2009 season wardrobe. The saved paper stares back at me like the beady-eyed stack of $5 bills in the Geico commercial

 

1) Spring Training will be over. Goodbye Cactus League and Grapefruit League and hello to American League East and National League Central.

2) I haven’t bought any tickets yet, but I’m pretty sure a certain TSB staff writer is checking out the prices on Stubhub right now…

3) The Yankees multi-million dollar off season makes me sick (CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett), but the curiosity of how this crazy talented team is going to perform is getting the best of me. Damn those Yankees!

4) Even though Nick Swisher is not a headliner on the Yankees 2009 roster, I’m still looking forward to seeing him trot onto the field at the new Yankee Stadium.

5) How about that new Yankee Stadium?! I guess it’s not enough to have Gold Glove winners, a feared lineup and two of the best pitchers in the league right now, so the Yankees just had to throw in a $1.3 billion new stadium in the mix. Can someone else be the cool kids for once?

6) There’s just enough time to hit up Wal-Mart, Target, Dominick’s and Jewel for new MLB gear. I could go on MLB.com, go crazy with the plastic and buy tons of super cute White Sox T-shirts for my debut at U.S Cellular Field, but I’m cheap so Wal-Mart here I come!

7) The winter temperatures in March are not cool, but I’m hoping that by Opening Day the weather will warm up enough so that I can finally enjoy an attempt at a glowing tan.

8) The ballpark menu isn’t exactly the healthiest, but the experience wouldn’t be the same without it. In order to prepare for a summer of hamburgers, beer and cotton candy, I’m working out religiously and eating nothing but organic foods until then.

9) The 2009 NCAA Men’s Division I National Championship is the same day as Opening Day. I don’t think life gets much better than crowning the National Champion and watching the White Sox home opener (Cubs also open in Houston that night) in a 24-hour span.

10) The switch to baseball has already been made. It’s only a matter of weeks before I become Ms. Baseball and watch nothing but until a) White Sox and/or Cubs get eliminated or b) World Series features two teams I don’t really care about.