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Tag:Detroit Tigers
Posted on: July 29, 2012 1:00 am
 

Playoff Push Belies MLB Grind

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.

Washington Nationals

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.

Oakland Athletics

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.

Atlanta Braves

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.  

Sad Sacks

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).

Philadelphia Phillies

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.

Get Crack’in!

Detroit Tigers

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.

Pittsburgh Pirates

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.

Milwaukee Brewers

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.

Steven Keys
Posted on: April 30, 2012 2:27 pm
Edited on: May 1, 2012 12:11 am
 

When In Rome, Mr. Pujols

Change is good, so they say.

And ya’ know who likes change? Marketing people like change, so do wet babies, unhappy workers, anyone living near a skateboarder, panhandlers and free agents.  That's about it.

When Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols made the big change this off-season it wasn’t because they were unhappy campers. Quite the contrary. Both were much loved and rather cozy in their respective cities of Milwaukee and St. Louis. Big baseball towns.

They opted for change because they wanted some big change, as in moolah. They got it, bushel-baskets full of it, courtesy of the Detroit Tigers and Anaheim Angels, respectively.

Like that employee moving-on to greener pastures, Prince and Albert arrived at their new surroundings with high hopes and long ‘to-do’ lists.

Moving is never easy. First there's finding a new home, then things like utilities, drivers license, schools for kids, satellite hook-up and on and on and on.  And while you're still fretting over all that there's the new job.  That starts with finding the best route to the stadium, securing a parking spot, meeting & sizing-up new co-workers, setting-up your locker and schmoozing the local press.

One more task that's too often left off the ball-player's moving list but can prove as important as any other: learning the new League. In this case, the American.

It’s one thing to dabble on the other side (interleague, World Series, Home Run Derby & Family Fun Show all-star game), it’s another to live there, day in, day out.

And don’t be fooled by interleague play.

Ever since MLB broke with a near 100-year old tradition (1997) and expanded League competition to a two-week period in the regular-season, the casual fan discerns no big difference between the rival confederations.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Each League retains a distinct style of play and strategy. Nuances remain in how runs are manufactured, navigating the base paths, use of pitchers and even fielder placement.

Then there's the designated-hitter rule, by itself enough to make each League unique.

Never a fan of the DH, I’ve nonetheless come to accept it as a trademark of the Junior Circuit, just as much as its absence is a defining trait for the National. To the degree that interleague play has homogenized baseball, the competing DH policies remain a hallmark of the Major League game which shouldn’t be lost. And the only ones who seem to feign frustration at the current state are a handful of writers and $-interested parties.

And there are the players themselves.

Succeeding in a new League requires homework: learning new pitchers, hitters, managers and even umpires, scorers and grounds-keepers to which you’d be wise to get accustomed.

It’s all more than enough to keep the multi-millionaire ball-player busy in the off-season.

But in listening to Al Pujols in spring training I got the feeling that the former Redbird and World Series hero didn’t do his studies. When asked what he was doing differently to prepare for the big change his answer was essentially…nothing. Bad answer.

It’s good to be confident but a little practicality, humility never hurt anyone and goes a long way in helping transition and insure $200 million investments.

Here’s how things stand between the two titans as of this posting (4/30):

Fielder: 22 GS / 13 R / 25 H / 2 2B / 3 HR / 11 RBI / .444 SLG / .309 BA.
Pujols: 22 GS / 7 R / 19 H / 7 2B / 0 HR / 4 RBI / .295 SLG / .216 BA.

Fielder has two distinct advantages over Albert in the transition game: 1) father and former American slugging star Cecil Fielder, and 2) teammate Miguel Cabrera.

While a rift had developed between Prince and his father, recent word is that both are now on speaking terms (Detroit Free Press / “Cecil” / Schrader / 1-24). Though Dad downplays the significance of League difference (“If you’re a good hitter, you’re a good hitter” / DFP), I can’t imagine Cecil has not imparted some helpful & pointed words of advice.

And with a game-changer like Cabrera in the line-up, how nervous can you be? Miguel’s numbers: 22 GS / 15 R / 25 H / 7 HR / 20 RBI / .571 SLG / .298 BA. By contrast, in LA it’s Mark Trumbo who's surprisingly the current pace-setter for the struggling Halos (3 HR / 8 RBI / .304 BA).

But not to worry, Angels’ fans. Pujols’ bread & butter with the bat has always been two-baggers and in that department he’s doing just fine (7). It’s something to build on.

One name Pujols might keep in mind: Adam Dunn. Dunn was an RBI machine in the Senior Circuit for ten years (Reds / AZ / Nats). In his American League debut last season with Chicago he bottomed-out (11 HR / 42 RBI / .159 BA). He’s finding his mojo again in 2012 (22 GS / 11 R / 5 HR / 16 RBI) but exhibited the same nonchalance about League disparity.

Dunn cost the White Sox a pretty penny but Pujols cost a king’s ransom. Angels’ brass and fandom have little patience for a long learning-curve.

In the game of baseball, knowledge is power.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com