Tag:Ichiro Suzuki
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: June 23, 2012 4:07 pm
 

No-Hitters, No Wonder

Everybody’s talkin’ (Nilsson), ‘bout LeBron, R.A. Dickey and no-hitters. While Kevin Durant’s Finals fade is fodder for debate, not much more worthwhile to write about His Magnitude, Mr. James until the leaves start to turn.

As for the plethora of pitching gems, theories abound.

Next time you go to the ballpark, better hold on to that ticket stub for you could be in possession of a little piece of profitable history. In MLB 2012, no-hitters are happening with the frequency of an Oregon Ducks’ uniform change: weekly.

Some worry MLB is on a fast-track to becoming the “Hitless Wonder” League (’06 Sox), even turning as barren of scoring as the flop-fest that is soccer. I shudder to think.

But keep off that panic button, Biff. This has happened before. The early 90s saw back-to-back seasons of seven no-hitters each (‘90 & ‘91). You can call what’s happening today a ‘variant of normal,’ even if the final tally does hit double-digits. Maybe no.

The wealth of no-hitters this year shouldn‘t come as a shock to baseball observers.

Reason # 1 happens to be the elephant in the room: PEDs, or as we like to think, their demise. Though, with all the legal maneuvering from MLB and the Union, I’m not clear as to whether or not baseball’s even drawing blood for HGH testing this season as planned. A real shell game.

Suffice to say, the glory days of PED use should be over. Consider this present period to be one of adjustment for players and managers both.

Most think the big benefit from PEDs is power, the long-distance, as in home runs. Yes, that’s part of the payoff.

But the biggest advantage from juicing is bat-speed. Power doesn’t mean diddly if you can’t make contact. And putting bat-on-ball is a learned behavior, demonstrated so sweetly by laureates of the art, Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn.

Ever try hitting a 70-mph pitch? For us non-professionals it’s a 1-in-20 chance (Billy Crystal should be proud he even fouled-off a few in Yankees’ spring-camp a few years back). Then try hitting the real heat: 90 plus. Forget about it, Frank.

Reason # 2 for the surge in no-nos and low-lows (1-hitters): today’s home-run mind-set.

The round-tripper has been a fan favorite since the Bambino and the hot dog hit the scene. But when juicing became common-place in the 80s, most batters began swinging for the stands with reckless abandon. And more than a few managers (Leyland / La Russa) seemed pleased as punch, converts of the Earl Weaver school of thought: “Pitching, defense and the 3-run homer.”

Today, principles of hitting like on-base % and having ‘command of the strike zone’ get the snub: ‘Who cares with these biceps,’ still seems the overriding outlook of many a ballplayer in 2012.

It’s why the ‘Bud Selig Home Run Derby & Family Fun Show all-star Extravaganza’ has sadly become MLB’s biggest showcase of the season, bigger than even the fall classic.

Next time you watch a ball-game on TV take notice how non-selective, indiscriminate batters can be in the box, how many bad pitches they’ll flail at. I’m talking really bad.

Batters seem less patient-at-the-plate than their forefathers, though King Kelly and Larry Doby might just laugh at that observation. I’m picking up a trend where, if the batter doesn’t like first-call strike, he pouts, tanks the at-bat and then fumes when the umpire calls strike three. Makes you wonder how they ever made it to the Majors.

And it’s not like most hurlers in 2012 are wowing batters with their own command of the zone.

Sure, we have our masters of the mound (Verlander / Santana), but plenty of pitchers need Mapquest to find the plate these days. With today’s free-swinging, disco-dancing batsman, it doesn’t really matter. Throw the heat high and he’ll chase it.

And before we start talking about replacing the ‘men in black’ with machines (Valentine / Loney), players & managers should re-acquaint themselves with something called home plate and the strike zone it represents. Then get back to us on that robot thing, Bob.

It all makes contact hitters like Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Al Pujols that much more special. These guys still remember the baseball adage they were taught as youngsters: A walk is as good as a hit. It’s not deep psychology, but the more selective you are, the better pitches you get. What do know, Turbo?

Playing baseball is a highly skilled profession. And it’s not without its dangers. But it ain’t rocket science, though, the knuckleball of Mets’ renaissance-man R.A. Dickey comes pretty darn close.

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