Posted on: March 3, 2011 4:12 pm

On Felix, Randy and the Mariners

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Randy Johnson showed up in Mariners camp Thursday, a reminder that Felix Hernandez isn't yet the most accomplished pitcher to wear a Mariner uniform.

And a reminder that the Mariners don't always hold onto their most dominating pitchers.

But this isn't 1998, Hernandez isn't 34 years old, and for the moment I tend to believe the Mariners when they say they wouldn't even consider trading him this year.

"I can't prevent people from calling," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "But Felix is going to be a Mariner."

What does Felix think of that?

"Good, man," Hernandez said. "I love to be here."

The American League Cy Young winner seemed relaxed and happy Thursday, after throwing a two-inning simulated game in his first appearance of the spring. The Mariners hold Hernandez out of early Cactus League games, hoping that keeping him on the back fields will lower the intensity and perhaps reduce the wear and tear on his valuable right arm.

Even on the back field, Hernandez said, "The adrenaline's going, and you want to strike out everybody."

He struck out a few, as usual. At age 24 (he turns 25 in April), Hernandez already has 1,042 career strikeouts. He's 3,833 strikeouts behind Johnson, which Johnson didn't mind pointing out to him.

"He told me I need four more Cy Youngs and 4,000 strikeouts," Hernandez said. "I said, 'I'll be there, don't worry.'"

Will he get there in a Mariners' uniform? It's far too early to say that. The M's didn't trade Johnson until three years after he won his first Cy (his only one for Seattle), and not until he was 34 years old.


Two more thoughts on Felix and Randy:

-- I'd never want to judge anyone on a spring training game, let alone on a simulated game on a back field. But besides looking relaxed and sounding happy, Felix looks strong.

"I'm feeling so good," he said.

Hernandez said he wants to improve on his outstanding 2010 season.

"I think I can get better," he said. "Why not? This year, I'm trying to not let anyone score any runs in the first inning."

Hernandez allowed 15 runs in 34 first innings last year. While that may not sound like much, it's the most runs he allowed in any inning.

-- Watching Randy and Felix together, here's what I was wondering: If you take the two best pitchers in any franchise's history, where would the Mariners rank? In other words, Randy and Felix vs. any two pitchers any other franchise has had.

Posted on: February 27, 2011 4:07 pm

In so many places, a sad spring

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs don't go a day this spring without thinking of Ron Santo.

They barely go a day without talking about him.

"It's good to think of him," manager Mike Quade said Sunday, a few moments after recording his first radio pregame show with Keith Moreland, Santo's successor in the Cubs broadcast booth.

The Cubs will wear a patch on their uniforms to honor Santo, who died in December. The Indians are wearing a patch to honor Bob Feller. At Goodyear Ballpark on Sunday, the grounds crew painted a "19" in front of the Indians dugout for Feller, and a "10" in front of the Reds dugout for Sparky Anderson.

In Peoria, the Mariners ran a video on Dave Niehaus before their spring opener.

Nice tributes, all of them. It's sad that this spring is filled with them.

Santo. Feller. Sparky. Niehaus.

And now Duke Snider.

The Hall of Fame announced Sunday that Snider died in California, at the age of 84.

Unlike some of the others, Snider wasn't around big-league ballparks as often in recent years. For many fans of my generation and those younger, the biggest memory of Snider is from Terry Cashman's song, "Willie, Mickey and the Duke."

But Snider lives on in the memories of Brooklyn Dodger fans. He lives on in the memories of those who have been with the Dodgers over the years.

"Although it's ironic to say it, we have lost a giant," Vin Scully said, in a statement released by the team. "He's joining a great Dodger team that has moved on."

The Dodgers will no doubt find a way to honor Snider. I have no doubt they'll do it well, just as the Cubs have done, just as the Indians and Reds have done, just as the Mariners have done.

In too many places, it's been a sad spring.
Posted on: November 10, 2010 9:04 pm

My oh my, what a sad day

If you never heard Dave Niehaus call a Mariners game, do yourself a favor and click on this link from the Seattle Times . If you've heard him, click anyway.

I just did, and I heard Niehaus many times, all the way back to before his Mariner days, back when he was working with Dick Enberg on KMPC in Los Angeles. I clicked, because with today's sad news out of Seattle that Niehaus has died at the age of 75, I just had to listen one more time.

If you don't know what Niehaus was in Seattle, just think what Vin Scully is in Los Angeles, what Ernie Harwell was in Detroit. Dave Niehaus was the Mariners, all the way from the first game they ever played in 1977, and from the worst of years to the best, Niehaus made any Mariner game worth a listen.

He loved his job, and it showed. It showed on the air, but it showed any time you saw Dave Niehaus around a ballpark. He was always around, with his old partner Ron Fairly and then in recent years with Rick Rizzs.

Years back, before you could watch out-of-town broadcasts on cable or satellite TV, and before you could listen on the internet or on satellite radio, I started out on the Tiger beat and made a point to listen to the local announcers at each stop. Some I listened to more regularly than others.

I tried never to miss Niehaus.

I listened again this year, whenever I could, even though it meant sitting through Mariner games that I had no need to see.

With apologies to Rizzs (although I'm sure he feels the same way), Mariner games will never be the same again.

One day this spring in Peoria, Ariz., I had a chance to sit down with Niehaus and Rizzs at a picnic table outside the Mariner clubhouse. He was as pleasant as ever, and as excited about his job as ever.

The enthusiasm showed, in every game.

If you haven't clicked on that link yet, do it now.

If you have, do it again.
Category: MLB
Posted on: September 21, 2010 8:05 pm

Gillick won't rule out another run as GM

PHILADELPHIA -- Pat Gillick spent much of the last month vacationing in Germany and Russia. He just turned 73, and he loves the job he has as a Phillies consultant.

And yet, Gillick won't rule out taking another job as a major-league general manager.

"You never know," he said, before the Phillies-Braves game Tuesday night. "The right situation, I might -- if it's the right situation."

Gillick is one of the best general managers ever, having built winning teams with four different franchises. He won two World Series with the Blue Jays, made the playoffs in Baltimore and Seattle and then put together the Phillies team that won it all in 2008.

Gillick retired as the Phillies general manager after the 2008 World Series, turning the team over to assistant Ruben Amaro.

"The reason I left here was that Ruben was ready," Gillick said. "Ruben had gone through a number of interviews [elsewhere], we were together for three years, and it's just like a guy that's in Triple-A, and you say, 'Is he ready to go to the big leagues?' At some point, you think the guy's ready. He was ready."

Gillick said that there was another reason he made the move at that time.

"I tried to leave him a good club, too," he said. "I've been accused that I picked my spot to get out [in the first three jobs]. That's not true."

It's hard to what Gillick would consider the "right situation," and it's hard to know if that right situation even exists. Given Gillick's record of success, though, you'd think any team with an opening would at least want to ask him.

Posted on: September 19, 2010 9:23 pm
Edited on: September 20, 2010 6:03 pm

3 to watch: The Philly dilemma edition

Three games back of the Phillies in the National League East, the best thing the Braves have going for them is six remaining head-to-head meetings with the Phils, starting with a series that begins Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Two and a half games ahead of the Padres in the NL wild-card race, the biggest thing the Braves have going against them is that they play six of their final 12 games against the league's best team -- the Phillies.

"It is tougher," Chipper Jones said. "But I don't think we'd want it any other way."

One reason, of course, is that the Braves would like to think that they can still win the East. To win the East now, they need for the Phillies to lose. The best way to guarantee that the Phillies lose is to beat them yourself.

The other reason is that the Braves actually have a winning record against the Phillies over the last two years. They went 10-8 last season, and they're 7-5 so far this year.

"The one thing we have done really well the last couple of years is play well against the Phillies," Jones said. "And we're going to have to. They're the best team in the National League, and for some reason, we get sky-high to play them.

"To beat them, we need to play a near-perfect game."

But to make the playoffs, the Braves don't need to finish ahead of the Phillies. They just need to win the wild card -- although that might necessitate beating the Phillies a few times.

"Now we can't split hairs," club president John Schuerholz said. "Now it's about getting to the playoffs."

But still, Schuerholz said he doesn't mind it that half of the Braves' remaining schedule features the Phils (with other six games against the Nationals and Marlins).

"It might be the energy level we need," he said. "They will be energized games."

And they're leading off this week's edition of 3 to watch (which doesn't include the Rangers, Twins or Reds, even though all three could clinch their divisions in the next few days:

1. The Phillies were easily able to adjust their rotation, so that the Braves will face Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, maybe the closest thing we've seen to a true Big Three since the days of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. The Braves would have had a harder time making similar adjustments, and thus ace Tim Hudson won't pitch in this series. The Braves planned to start off with Jair Jurrjens, in Braves at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park , but Jurrjens hurt his right knee in a bullpen session last Friday in New York. So 24-year-old Brandon Beachy, who was in Florida with the Braves' instructional league team, will get the start and make his major-league debut. Rookie Mike Minor and young Tommy Hanson are the other two Braves starters this week. The Phillies' Big Three would be lined up again to pitch in the final three regular-season games in Atlanta, although if the Phils have wrapped up the division by then, there's a chance they wouldn't all pitch.

2. Elsewhere on this site , I made what I thought was a reasoned but traditional case for Felix Hernandez as the American League's Cy Young leader. Hernandez could help his own case considerably with a big performance in Mariners at Blue Jays, Thursday afternoon (12:37 ET) at the Rogers Centre . The Jays have hit a major-league high 128 home runs in 69 home games (nearly two a game), and they average more than five runs a game at home. Hernandez hasn't faced the Blue Jays yet this year. Neither has CC Sabathia, who never lined up with any of the Yankees' first five series against the Jays (but figures to pitch in Toronto during the Yankees Sept. 27-29 visit).

3. First, Sabathia has a rematch with Tampa Bay's David Price, and if it's anything like their last game, it might be the 1 to watch this week. The first time around, a week ago in Florida, Sabathia and Price combined for 16 scoreless innings (eight apiece), while allowing just five hits (three of them off Price). They hook up again in Rays at Yankees, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium , and by the time it's over, we should have a better idea of who wins the American League East (and who's the AL wild card), and also of who is the leading threat to Hernandez's chance to win the Cy Young.

Posted on: September 19, 2010 7:36 pm
Edited on: September 19, 2010 7:47 pm

A reasoned, traditional argument for Felix

It feels impossible to have a reasoned argument about the American League Cy Young Award.

The new-age stat guys say you're a dinosaur if you even consider anyone but Felix Hernandez. The old-age win guys think you're nuts if you consider anyone who has basically been a .500 pitcher.

The first group no doubt noticed that Hernandez took a no-hitter into the eighth inning the other night against the Rangers (although knowing them, they were more impressed by his eight strikeouts) to improve his record to 12-11. The second group was more interested in seeing CC Sabathia record his 20th win the next night in Baltimore.

The second group will remind you that the idea of the game is to win. The first group insists just as loudly that wins are the least relevant statistic for starting pitchers.

The two sides can't talk to each other, because they don't even speak the same language. The first group swears by WAR; the second group might declare war on WAR, if it could even figure out what WAR is.

So here's my problem, an admittedly theoretical problem since I don't have an AL Cy Young vote this year:

I fit in more with the second group. I have nothing against many of the new stats, but I refuse to accept that wins don't matter. I've seen too many pitchers who pitch to their stats, who would rather have a six-inning, three-run quality start than a 6-5 complete-game win.

So I should be supporting CC for the Cy, right? And if not him, then maybe David Price.

Instead, with two weeks to go that could change my mind, I believe King Felix is the most deserving.

Does that mean that I've changed how I look at pitchers? Not really. Does it mean that I've accepted that wins are just a matter of luck? Not at all.

The only thing it means is that with all the evidence out there -- and with two weeks to go that could change things in what is a very close race -- I believe that Felix Hernandez has had a slightly better year than CC Sabathia or any other pitcher in the American League this year.

Not only that, but I believe that if anyone had an equivalent year to Felix back in 1991, when I first joined the Baseball Writers Association of America and could have had a Cy Young vote (don't remember whether I actually had one that year), I would have given him my vote.

Why? Here's why, without a single mention of WAR, FIP or ERA+:

-- Other than wins, he leads the league in all the traditional categories for starting pitchers. He's first in ERA, first in innings, first in strikeouts. The reason nobody won the Cy Young with a 12-11 record is that nobody ever had a season like this before. I checked. Using the excellent baseball-reference.com play finder, I searched for pitchers with 230 or more innings, 220 or more strikeouts, an ERA of 2.40 or lower and fewer than 14 wins. You know who came up? One guy. Felix. This year.

-- He's absolutely, 100 percent pitching to win. And his sad-sack team is absolutely, 100 percent not allowing him to win very often. The Mariners say Hernandez has had 13 starts where he has pitched at least seven innings and allowed one run or less, and five starts where he has at least eight shutout innings.

-- While he pitches in the weaker AL West, Hernandez has faced a tougher schedule than Sabathia or Price. Of Felix's 32 starts, 13 have come against probable playoff teams (and he's 7-5 with a 2.58 ERA in those seven games). Sabathia has made just six starts against playoff teams (he's 3-1 with a 2.13 ERA), and Price has made just seven (he's 2-2 with a 3.28 ERA). According to baseball-reference.com , Hernandez has made 17 starts against teams that are .500 or better (he's 9-6, 2.34), while Sabathia has made 13 (he's 6-2, 3.50) and Price has made 18 (10-5, 2.59).

-- As if it's not bad enough that he's saddled with one of the worst offenses in recent history, Hernandez hasn't even been helped by his bullpen. Despite all the innings he pitches, Hernandez has been the victim of three blown saves, plus another bullpen collapse so bad that it didn't count as a blown save because the lead was too big. Sabathia has also had three blown saves (and one other bullpen collapse) behind him, but he has been able to hand far more leads over to the bullpen. Factor in Felix's four complete-game wins, and that means he has turned 12 potential wins over to the bullpen; they've converted only eight of them (while CC's Yankee bullpen has converted 19 of 23).

So there you have it, an argument for Felix that doesn't ignore tradition, an argument that (hopefully) ignores all the noise and doesn't demand that you consider wins to be unimportant.

Posted on: September 15, 2010 2:07 pm

And in 2011, interleague play will help the . . .

As it turns out, no one is making the 2010 playoffs because of interleague play.

Two of the three American League teams that did the best against the National League (the Red Sox and White Sox) won't make the playoffs at all, and the third (the Rangers) was the dominant team in the AL West, in-league and out-of-league.

The only NL team that truly excelled in interleague was the Mets, and they're not making the playoffs, either.

Still, there's no doubt that the interleague system is flawed, and that every year, some teams get easier interleague schedules (and thus, easier overall schedules) than other teams in the same division (or other teams fighting for the same wild-card spot).

So, now that baseball has released the 2011 schedule, it's worth taking an early look at how interleague play may be flawed next year:

First off, there don't seem to be as many disparities as there were in the 2010 schedule, which had the Red Sox playing four of their six interleague series against playoff teams from the previous year, while the Rays played none of their six. As it turned out, the Red Sox still outdid the Rays in interleague, 13-5 to 7-11.

Second, it appears that the 2011 schedule is somewhat truer to the original division vs. division concept. The rough matchups for 2011 have the AL East playing the NL Central, the AL Central playing the NL West and the AL West playing the NL East.

As always, those matchups don't hold up completely, both because of the desire to preserve geographical matchups (Yankees vs. Mets, Twins vs. Brewers, etc.) and because one league has 16 teams and the other has 14. So you still have out-of-the-blue series like Rockies at Yankees (while the Yankees play only three of the six NL Central teams). But there don't seem to be nearly as many of them.

So who comes off best and who comes off worst? It's subject to change, of course, because teams that make the playoffs this year may be bad next May and June, or vice versa, but here goes:

Toughest interleague schedule for an AL team: the Mariners, who play four of their six series against current NL playoff teams. They have their usual home-and-home with the Padres, and they're also one of the two AL West teams that will play both the Phillies and the Braves (the Rangers are the other).

Easiest interleague schedule for an AL team: the White Sox, who play none of their six series against current playoff teams (and only one, against the Rockies, against a team that even has a chance at making the playoffs this year).

Biggest disparity within an AL division: the East, where the Blue Jays (without a geographical rival) draw the top two teams in the NL East (Phillies and Braves) and the top two in the Central (Reds, Cardinals). Meanwhile, the Yankees and Rays avoid both the Phillies and Braves, and instead get rivalry series against the Mets and Marlins.

Toughest interleague schedule for an NL team: the Brewers, who will get three of the four AL playoff teams (Twins, Yankees, Rays), plus an extra series against the Twins.

Easiest interleague schedule for an NL team: the Nationals and Pirates, the only two teams who will avoid all four AL playoff teams. Not that it will help either team.

Biggest disparity within an NL division: the Central, where not only do the Brewers have four series against playoff teams while the Pirates have none, but at the top of the division the Reds get both the Yankees and Rays while the Cardinals get the Rays but miss the Yankees.

Unusual interleague series I'd most like to see: Padres at Red Sox, but only if the Padres haven't traded Adrian Gonzalez. Is he really that well suited to hitting at Fenway Park? Two others: Rangers at Braves, with Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and the others acquired in the Mark Teixeira trade finally get to Turner Field. Diamondbacks at Tigers, but only if Kirk Gibson hangs on as the Diamondbacks manager and then names Alan Trammell as his bench coach.

Interleague series I most want to avoid: Pirates at Indians. Have fun selling tickets for that one.
Posted on: August 22, 2010 5:47 pm

3 to watch: The Home sweet home edition

The American League playoff races are in danger of becoming runaways, with the Rangers far ahead in the West, the Twins opening a gap on the White Sox in the Central and the Yankees and Rays holding good leads over the Red Sox for the East and wild-card leads.

What's a lot harder to determine -- and maybe almost as important -- is how those four teams would match up come October.

Will it be Yankees-Twins and Rays-Rangers? Or Yankees-Rangers and Rays-Twins? And who has home-field advantage?

Heading into play Sunday, the Twins were 2 1/2 games better than the Rangers. The team with the better record at the end of the season will open the playoffs at home, against the wild-card winner (as of Sunday morning, the Yankees led the Rays by one game). The team with the worse record likely opens on the road, against the East winner (since both the Yankees and Rays are likely to finish with better record than the Rangers and Twins).

Here's why it may matter: Counting last October, the Twins are 1-11 in New York since the start of 2008. Over the same span, they're 5-6 at Tropicana Field.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are below .500 on the road this year (including three straight losses in New York, and three straight at Tampa Bay). They're 39-23 at home. The Twins have also been much better at home (39-22, vs. 32-30 on the road).

You've got to believe that the Yankees would prefer to play an opening five-game series against the Twins, who don't have a dominating No. 1 starter, than against the Rangers, with Cliff Lee (who won twice for the Phillies in the 2009 World Series).

Keep all that in mind as the Twins play four games this week in Texas.

On to 3 to watch:

1. The Yankees used just three starting pitchers in the postseason last year, and they won in large part because those three (CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte) were so good. Now two of those three are question marks, with Pettitte still on the disabled list with a groin injury and Burnett going 0-3 with a 6.08 ERA in four starts this month. With Javier Vazquez struggling with a lack of velocity, the Yankee rotation looks a lot less formidable, which is one reason it will be interesting to see how Ivan Nova does, in Yankees at Blue Jays, Monday night (7:07 ET) at the Rogers Centre . Nova, a 23-year-old right-hander who is considered the Yanks' top pitching prospect, was 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Jays aren't an easy opening opponent, especially at home, where they've hit a major-league leading 103 home runs in 55 games.

2. When Zack Greinke won the AL Cy Young Award last year, it was supposedly an indication that voters no longer care about how many wins a pitcher has (Greinke had 16; runner-up Felix Hernandez had 19). But what does that mean for Hernandez, who has a 9-10 record this year but otherwise has credentials to be legit Cy candidate (including a 1.54 ERA in his last 14 starts)? Hernandez gets another good chance to make his case, in Mariners at Red Sox, Wednesday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Fenway Park . His opponent is Jon Lester, whose own Cy chances had to take a big hit when he allowed nine runs to the Blue Jays on Friday night.

3. Lee's Cy chances have taken a hit recently, too, as he's 0-2 with an 8.24 ERA in his last three starts. His next start comes in Twins at Rangers, Thursday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark , and you can bet someone will mention that the Twins also tried to trade for Lee this year. Francisco Liriano starts Thursday for the Twins, which is appropriate, since if there's a Twins pitcher who has a chance to be a true No. 1, he's it.

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