In 1881 the future National League wanted to upgrade its image and target a more upscale fan base by doubling ticket prices, banning gambling, and outlawing alcohol sales. Several team owners who happened to be brewers refused to accept the new rules and banded together to form what would eventually become the American League. The National League attempted to discredit the new league by dubbing it the Beer and Whiskey League. This, of course only made the new league more popular. Duh!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Opening Day (Version 4.0)

I don’t understand MLB’s decision to spread “opening day” over such a long period. The first opening day, of course, was in Japan. Then we had the first U.S. version of opening day on Sunday (April 4) in Baltimore. Yesterday was “opening day” for about half the league and then today, of course, is opening day 4.0. Granted, I’m not a marketing person and maybe I’m completely talking out of my ass but I would like to see MLB turn opening day into a huge television event on par with the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament. Now that would be cool.

Anyhoo, so here’s a quick trip around the AL for today:

Boston at Baltimore

The first game of the series saw Pedro getting touched up in a very un-Pedro like fashion. This time around, we saw Kurdt Schilling being Kurdt Schilling. A couple of seasons ago I saw an amazing highlight of Kurdt telling the batter what he was going to pitch. He actually told the batter, “fastball, outside” and he threw a fastball outside for a strike. This is the pitching equivalent of a batter pointing to centerfield to indicate where he is going to hit a homerun. Is it obnoxious and annoying? Sure. But if you can actually pull it off, it’s also really cool.

Oh yeah, so Boston won the game 4-1 but they should have won by a larger margin. The BoSox left nine on-base. Damon also struck out with the bases load and, in fact, Damon has not had a hit yet. The other highlight: Mr. Viagra (Palmeiro) actually stole a base. He went a perfect 2-2 in stolen bases last season so he’s already halfway there to matching last year’s total. Go-go Raphie.

Anaheim at Seattle

The first game of the season is precisely just that: the first game. You never get too excited or too frustrated with early season numbers and performances. Moyer was very mediocre and Colon was very good and while I have no doubt that Colon will continue to be very good I also believe that Moyer will not continue to be very mediocre. And I’m not going to get excited because Willie “Boom Boom” Bloomquist got an RBI Double. If Boom Boom were not a hometown boy, I do not think he would be on the major league roster. All teams, not just the Mariners, seem to be suckers for hometown boys.

Anyhoo, so what worries me about this game is that, offensively, the game went according to script. Anaheim hit long balls and the Mariners singled the opposition to boredom. The Mariners have been in the top three team batting averages for the last three seasons but they have also consistently been in the bottom in terms of homeruns. This year’s Mariners were supposed to sacrifice defense for more pop … well, unless they were talking about installing a new Coke machine in the clubhouse or installing a bigger stereo system, I see nothing of this “more pop” and I have no reason to believe I will be seeing it anytime soon. I love the Mariners, I root for the Mariners, but I’m also not deluded and I will be very pleasantly surprised if the Mariners manage to make the playoffs (much less avoid placing third in the AL West).

Two random observations: I always thought that away uniforms were gray and had the name of the city on the front. Apparently, the Angels have gray away uniforms that say Angels across the chest. Anyone know anything about this? Secondly, Ichiro appears to have a new glove. He traditionally uses a black glove that is handmade by some old Japanese leatherworker. For sponsorship purposes, Ichiro slaps a Mizuno label on the glove but it’s not a Mizuno glove. Anyhoo, this season he appears to have a brown glove. I’m wondering if that old Japanese leatherworker died or something.

Detroit at Toronto

TIGERS WIN! TIGERS WIN! Yes, two in a row … the Tigers are on a hot streak! Conventional wisdom says that early in the season pitchers are generally ahead of the batters but the Tigers were able to light up Toronto’s pitchers for fourteen runs and twenty-three hits in two games. Yeah … believe it or not, the Tigers have scored seven runs in each of their first two games. Heck, maybe they didn’t really need to sign Urbina as a closer … yeah, and maybe Ty Cobb will rise from the dead and lead the Motor City Kitties to the World Series.

I think the Tigers are going to have an amazing turnaround and finish above or very near .400. Now, .400 might not be too impressive but that translates to a 65-97 record. That’s a twenty-two-game turnaround from their last year’s 43-119 record.

New York at Tampa Bay

Most critics of the Yankees have pointed out that despite the stellar lineup, their rotation remained questionable. The other day, in fact, my brother and I sat around trying to figure out the Yankee’s rotation and couldn’t remember who their #5 pitcher was until we realized they don’t have a #5 pitcher. Their rotation is basically Mussina, Brown, Vazquez, Contreras, and whoever else they might be able to find and as of today that “someone” is Donovan Osborne, a veteran left-hander. Although his lifetime ERA of 3.96 is respectable, take a look at his ERA over his last four seasons:

1997 4.93 3-7 (14 starts) 80.1 IP
1998 4.09 5-4 (14 starts) 83.2 IP
1999 5.52 1-3 (6 starts) 29.1 IP
2000 Injured
2001 Injured
2002 6.19 0-1 (0 starts) 16 IP

I think it’s safe to say that Osborne, who is 35, would most definitely fit into the category of “sucking.” But, of course, perhaps Osborne will have a bounce-back season, he’ll gets lots of run support, and besides he’s the fifth starter so he doesn’t have to have lots of starts. Plus, with the front-end rotation of Mussina, Brown, Vazquez, and Contreras, the Yankees are still looking good, right? Well, no. In the preseason, Mussina was the only “sure thing” in that lineup. Brown, if he is healthy, may be the best active pitcher on the planet but that’s a mighty big if. Vazquez and Contreras haven’t proven anything yet.

So, there’s Mussina except Mussina hasn’t looked so hot in his first two outings (both against the Drays). In fact, Mussina is the first pitcher to ever lose back-to-back starts against the Drays in their seven-year history. In Tokyo, he was touched up for ten hits and five runs in five innings. Today in Tampa Bay, the Drays got nine hits and six runs in four innings. Like I said before, it’s early you can’t draw too many conclusions but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Mussina obliterated on a regular basis.

Since last season, I’ve rather enjoyed following the Drays. Aside from my own fondness for sweet Lou, the Drays had a great rookie combo in Crawford and Baldelli. This year, however, watching the Drays is like stepping into Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine in that the entire right side of the defense is made up of former Mariners: Rey Sanchez, Tino Martinez, and Jose Cruz, Jr. Two years ago I was at the St. Louis/Seattle game with my brother and father. When Tino first came up to bat most of the fans stood up and gave Tino a rousing ovation. Seattle fans may know squat about baseball but they sure love that 1995 team. Jose Cruz, Jr. went 4-5 today and came up a homerun short of hitting for the cycle (quick: name the three Mariners who hit for the cycle).

Rey Sanchez, who was basically a rent-a-player for the Mariners last season has always intrigued me and I think the Mariners made a big mistake in letting him go and opting for Aurillia instead. Sanchez’s .273/.310/.334 (average/slugging/obp) numbers might not be very impressive but for whatever bizarre reason, whenever he’s been in the American League Sanchez has been close to a .300 hitter whereas in the NL he’s more like a .260 hitter. Go figure.

Oh yeah, and the funniest stat from this game: the Yanks got 9 free passes (8 base on balls and a hit batter) but aside from their four-run first inning (walk-homerun; walk-homerun) they couldn’t do squat.

Cleveland at Minnesota

Man alive, how good is this Mauer kid? Yesterday he stepped up to the plate 5 times netting two hits and two base on balls. Yep, that’s a .667 BA and .800 OBP. Not bad for a 20-year-old’s first major league game. What I find most impressive about Mauer is not the two hits but the fact he got two walks from C.C. “not the guy from Poison” Sabathia. I’ve seen the scouting reports and while his swing has been noteworthy, most scouts have gone ga-ga over his plate discipline. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a rookie-year OBP of over .500.

The Twins and Indians played the equivalent of three games within two days – that is, they played two actual games with the first game going twelve innings and the second going fifteen innings. That’s a total of twenty-seven innings or, again, three complete nine-inning games. The game should have been much shorter. In the eleventh inning the Twins had a man on third with one out but couldn’t bring him in. In the fourteenth inning they had men on second and third with no outs but still could not manage to score a run. Finally, in the bottom of the fifteenth, the Twins had the bases loaded with two outs when, of all people, Jose “barely worth the league minimum” Offerman smacked a single to win the game 6-7. Twenty-seven innings over two games: can’t wait to see what the bullpen is going to look like tomorrow.

If you ever get a chance to listen to the Twins on the radio (WCCO), I highly recommend it. Herb Carneal and John Gordon are incredibly entertaining partially because they are so unabashedly partisan. While I certainly have a soft spot for the sweet baritone of Dave Niehaus (Mariners) and the slow cadence of Vin Scully (Dodgers), listening to Carneal and Gordon is a lot like sitting in the bleachers. When there was a close call in the bottom of the 15th, for instance, Gordon started screaming, “no, no way. He was safe.” In the 12th when a ball nearly went out of the park, Carneal yelled out, “Come on, baby, come on … get up, get up!”

Injury report: Mauer hurt himself today and left the game in the third inning with 1 hit in 1 at bat. Santana also left in the 4th inning with a strained right calf. Torii Hunter left in the 11th inning with some sort of leg injury that has not been announced yet.

Texas at Oakland

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a rather negative post about Chan Ho “Out of the” Park. While I still think he’s an incredibly mediocre pitcher with a bloated contract, he did manage to pitch one hell of a gem. Unfortunately, Texas did not bring along it’s typical big bang and Park ended up losing the game. He pitched 7.2 innings and with the exception of a 3-run hiccup in the 6th, he pitched extremely well. You know, Texas is not going to get very many good outings from their pitchers and they really cannot afford to waste them like they did today.

Of course, Hudson had a lot to do with Texas’s offensive ineptitude. In 7 innings, Hudson allowed 5 hits, 1 run and 1 BB (with 4 K). Arthur Rhodes also got his first save for the A’s. I think by the end of this month, the Mariners are going to feel really stupid for letting Rhodes go.

By the way, Mark Teixeira might be the cutest girl in baseball.