The ‘dog days' of summer have arrived. The genesis of that phrase? I haven’t a clue. To tell ya’ the truth, sometimes I just don’t want to know the answer. Call it Information Age burn-out. Suffice to say, ‘dog days’ feels apropos come late July.
It’s that time in baseball when the pep & vigor of spring has vanished like a cool summer breeze. Players, managers and umpires start to dig deep into those reserves. Even a salary 20x the President’s won’t make a 162-game schedule feel any easier. It’s a grind.
The batsman who works the count long, keeping defenders out on the 100° field is a favorite of teammates. On the flip-side, if you’re out guarding the grass, it’s the pitcher who works fast, throws strikes and induces easy ‘cans o’ corn’ that you dearly admire.
This MLB season has been a bit of a mutt itself. Besides the early no-hitters that caused such a stir, there have been few special feats, record-paces or super teams to fawn over. And that’s fine. It means most games are in play and that’s good for fans.
The Feel Goods
New York Yankees
There are two kinds of sport franchise: the coasters and the go-getters. The pinstrippers are the Grade A, all-time getters of go. And when they’ve got rhythm, MLB smiles. Division rivals aren’t too thrilled about it but then most of them are real woofers this year. New guy Ichiro Suzuki spent his best (US) ball in Seattle but is a hit-genius. Yanks hope he is 2012’s version of Lance Berkman. Absent LB, who batted a sizzling .423 in the Series, Cards would’ve been toast by June.
A contender in the nation’s Capital is the biggest story of 2012. Might stir memories for real old-timers of DC’s great ‘24 team, the Senators, when Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice and Walter “Big Train” Johnson led them to a lone WS title. Harper & Strasburg (sound’s like an 1890s musical team) get all the ink, but direction of long-time Nat Ryan Zimmerman and legendary Davey Johnson stoke the fires that fuel this pleasant surprise.
As Texas won’t take-charge and the talent-laden Halos need more help (Greinke), the A’s become relevant. Beyond that, their clover is just a nice summer graze. Signing Youkilis (Chi-Sox) for that vital 3B-spot would’ve bolstered playoff bid (Inge .202). Looking ahead, Cuban pick-up Yoenis Cespedes will star if he perfects patience at the plate. Caveat: Oakland’s unies are great but the wedding-gown white shoes, gotta’ go.
Choppers make the list because they’re contenders, Ben Sheets is 3-0 and it’s Chipper Jones’ swan song season. Though sometimes cantankerous, no player in the years ‘95-04 was better all-around than Chipper. The fact he was a key cog on a perennial winner for all of his 19 seasons and retained a normal appearance, with strong, not gaudy stats in a time when PEDs raged, all make him a 1st-ballot Hall of Famer. One of the era’s best.
Dickey, Trumbo & Trout
Its been a storybook season so far for Mets' R.A. Dickey. At 37, R.A. has re-invented himself with a wicked knuckleball and terrific numbers (13-2 / 2.97 / 3 CG), while the T & T boys, Mark Trumbo (.307 / 69 RBI / 27 HR) and Mike Trout (.354 / 75 R) have caught on quick in Anaheim as vets try to get it together. Not to be over-looked, Halo Jered Weaver (13-1 / 2.26), Brewer Ryan Braun (.314 / 70 / 28) and comeback kid Giant Buster Posey (.315) are working on best-sellers themselves.
Boston Red Sox
Could this be Curse II? Only if you believe in boogie monsters and campaign promises. But Beantown may be feeling the Karmic backlash. Not for 2011 meltdown. Those are as common today as over-paid contracts. Rather, for the collective hissy-fit in wake of the crash. In contrast, Spurs flame-out in this year’s NBA playoffs (vs OKC) was its biggest shocker, but in their grief, San Antonio sucks it up and nobody gets run outta’ town (Vaughn? He got promoted in FLA).
No bad karma here, just injury influenza (Howard / Halladay / Utley), though Fred Galvis’ PED suspension is salt in the wound. His light-bat, low run output (14) made him a non-factor. Max factor is low output from oft-injured Polanco (.255 / 27 R) and Jim Rollins (.253). Off-season pick-ups Papelbon (25 SV) and Pierre (.303) prevent total disaster.
Though neck & neck with the pale hose, I expected more from Detroit. If there’s a better batsman in MLB today than Mr. Cabrera (.328 / 82 RBI / 24 HR), I don‘t know who it is. As playoffs have not been strong-suit for the princely-paid Fielder, his less-than-hoped-for RS stats (.306 / 69 / 15) are a slight downer. Maybe a bigger problem is the absence of reliable 3 / 4 starters to take some burden off ace Verlander, Scherzer and busy bullpen.
Bucs pass critical marker in reaching / holding ten games over. That keeps them in the mix and keeps Reds from creating separation. But stars McCutchen and good-fit Burnett need help in this lean line-up or Pirates turn into pumpkins. Standings evoke memories of 70s Bucs’ team under Should-Be-HOF skipper Danny Murtaugh. Their battles with the Big Red Machine were some of baseball’s best. As for Reds, Votto loss is bearable, for a time, in middling National.
Anyone thinking Brewers’ brass had hopes of contention in 2012 doesn’t know this franchise. When Miller Park opened in 2001, official word was that cost must first be recouped, then big bucks could be allotted. Ten years later, nada. Greinke commands a pretty penny (Angels) but has an arm you build around (Sabathia). The 1-2 punch of Braun & Fielder is history. Now plans to ‘youth-enize’ the roster. Whoopee. Can’t live off Molitor & Yount forever. Milwaukee, who had an original AL team (1901 / Orioles), deserves better but doesn’t seem to mind. And Green Bay? If Packers were dogging it, every pooch in Brown County would be on curfew (Devine ‘74).
Los Angeles Dodgers
LAD gets kudos for contending during Kemp’s absence and ace Kershaw’s imperfect year. The Hanley move has moxie but I question the smarts, given production fall-off (.251) and head-case hiccups. If Yankees are AL flagship franchise, boys in blue should be NL version, though St. Louis has a claim. Dodgers have coasted post-Lasorda and if Magic & friends feed the drift, dogged Halos will put a permanent & fitting stamp on the City of Angels. Can’t live off Koufax, Fernando, “Bulldog” & Scully forever.