Results tagged ‘ Other Teams ’

Bleary Yes, Blurry No

Madduxwithblackdugout_2 Earlier in his career, we never cared much for Greg Maddux. Didnt despise him or anything, but felt his status as a legend was somewhat compromised by the wide berth umpires granted him through the 1990s. One could certainly argue that he facilitated or even earned it, but all the same, that and some visible mound fussiness never sat real well with us. So, like most Diamondback fans, we took particular glee watching the perennial All Star fume as we beat him up on an improbably regular basis.

Well, the old man’s beaten us twice in a week now (reliever Cameron was credited with the Aug 29 W),  in the heat of a pennant race, and I have to say, he’s really earned some newfound admiration. I know he benefits greatly from Petco, and he still gets calls, and the NL is very weak. But for all the talk about Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson and, more recently, Tom Glavine, this Maddux guy captains this generation’s ship of aging mound marvels. All four geezers masterfully screw with hitters’ balance and timing, but Clemens and Johnson enjoy the physical advantage of being power pitchers – the two ex-Braves do not.

With Glavine, we hear constantly how he never gives in. Well, Maddux rarely gives in either; the difference is Maddux doesnt give in and stays in the strike zone. And I do mean stays. Forty nine innings without a free pass? Across a wide range of opponents, home plate umps and ballparks?  Not even an intentional one to some "pitch around" power threat? Maddux hasnt walked a single batter… since July!

It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a 41 year old pitcher without overpowering stuff; a testament not only to his committment not to beat himself, but also to his physical ability in seeing that through. It’s not like he’s at a county fair either, just grooving it in there, knockin’ down milk bottles. Manager Bud Black:

He’s a phenomenal strike thrower. And he’s a phenomenal ball thrower, too. I mean, he can throw a ball when he wants and he can throw a strike when he wants. That’s what makes Greg Greg, is his ability to command the ball."

And Maddux on Maddux:

"The last thing you want to do is have a meaningless walk streak affect how you go about hitters. "I’m not good enough to just lay it in there and save a walk streak. I think my last one ended when I intentionally walked somebody."

More Captain Marvel?   The other day, at Petco, he pounced off the hill to his right – away from a RHP’s natural follow through momenutm – to snare a high chopper and fluidly, calmly throw out a streaking Justin Upton at home. Could even 20% of RHPs, including those half Mad Dog’s age, have executed that play?  I doubt it. For one thing, Maddux doesnt have any follow through momentum – he releases the ball perfectly balanced on the mound and has great fielding range in either direction – a big "secret" to those sixteen gold gloves. Earlier in the game, with speedster Chris Young eyeing MLB’s worst throwing catcher (Josh Bard) from first, Maddux lulled Young with several throws, finally got him rocking the wrong way, and picked him off – a potentially huge turnaround in what resulted in a very close game.

And yesterday, the old man cruised along in a hitter’s paradise with an early lead, in the comfortable knowledge that only walks could beat him, especially against a young lineup that strings together hits like a blind man strings a pearl necklace. And so, true to a winner’s form, Maddux didnt issue any walks. He didnt dominate or blow people away. Yielded a homer, a triple, but no real damage. He just didnt beat himself.

Later in the game, the old man Owingsgopherball_1hit a double . Not exactly Micah Owings, but all things considered, like pennants for example, one doubts the Padres are itching to go "younger, cheaper, or ostensibly better" anytime soon.  Folks have been waiting for Greg Maddux to fade away. However, if Labor Day was any indication, we saw Greg Maddux and the Padres quite clearly. The only thing fading, at the moment, is "Sedona Red".

( photos courtesy of AP/ Pual Connors )

It Takes A Parking Lot

Incredible Scene at Dodger Stadium

Dodgerfest

Some might venture that what’s "incredible" about this Chavez Ravine panorama is that – if you look real hard towards the rear – you can faintly make out a white guy.  What floors Diamondhacks, however, is that this cheerful ethnic gumbo of sports enthusiasts is lined up to pay Dodger prices.

Four thousand of them. Which goes to show that in a megalopolis of 12 million people, it takes all kinds!

( photo courtesy of Ben Platt/MLB.com )

King For A Day

Diamondhacks doesnt pretend to know if JJ "Buck" O’Neil belongs in the Hall of Fame, but we think this O’Neil Legacy Seating program is an appropriate and marvelous thing that the Royals are doing. Unlike most other MLB Legacy Seat setups, where deep pocketed season ticket holders purchase their own ‘legacy’ much like a timeshare or Ski-doo, Kansas City opted to generously fund the memory of a beloved baseball icon – by treating a season’s worth of fans, selected for their community service, to a complimentary Royals game in the field level box formerly occupied by the late KC Monarchs legend.

The Royals are in last place on the field, but they may be the first MLB front office to recognize that our most resonant, lasting legacies are human, indeed spiritual, in nature – independent of revenue streams.

Selma_bridge_p

Two Out of Three Aint Bad

Tonight, both teams tabbed a pitcher who has no business starting in a League Championship. The Mets, behind Oliver Perez, won. They needed to. This series of rapidly diminishing returns is mercifully down to three games, which seems fitting since the Cards and Mets boast three reliable starters between them. Genghis_smUnfortunately for the Mets, two of them, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan, pitch for St Louis.

Who’s going to win two of the remaining three games? Hard to say. To our Mongolian readers who may not have been apprised of the situation in the Ulan Bator papers, the New York Mets are the offensive class of the National League. Yet the Cards have the best hitter as well as an apparent pitching advantage the rest of the way.

That third effective musketeer, Tom Glavine, pitches Monday on three days rest,Oliver circumstances under which the 40 year old is usually ineffective. After that, returning to Shea, re-Flushing as it were, Cards Carpenter and Suppan meet Met Maine and any opposing Olivers ( Darren, Perez, maybe North and the musical! if things really get out of hand).

Carpenter has been shaky but is still the league’s best pitcher over the past two seasons and capable of a strong game. Those who nervously laugh off Suppan’s Saturday night special as a fluke should know that the Cardinals’ best, indeed the league’s best, pitcher since the All Star break was not Chris Carpenter, or any Cy Young notable, but an unassuming journeyman named Jeff Suppan(2.39 ERA). And unlike Carp, who struggles on the road, Suppan hasnt yielded a run in his Meat_loaflast 20 IP away from Busch.

Needless to say, the team that wins Game 5 will be the commanding favorite to take the flag. Expect both teams to come out like a bat out of ****, as if tomorrow were a Game 7, with the off day Tuesday. It should be fun and we have no idea who to favor – but if there is a genuine Game 7 at Shea, based on the pitching matchup, we like the Cardinals in a road upset.

Fixing A Hole

One of the more intriguing moves this postseason was Jim Leyland’s response to Sean Casey’s injury. The chatty first baseman was hitting .350 in October when he tore a muscle in his calf.  The conventional, and perhaps knee jerk solution, is to slide over a big hitting outfielder to tend baseball’s least demanding defensive position. Someone like Ordonez, Monroe, Thames or the new kid, Gomez. The hoped for result would be to recapture the lost offense while sacrificng some defense. Carlosguillen

Leyland eschewed convention, however, by shifting his All Star shortstop, Carlos Guillen to first, and inserting weak hitting Ramon Santiago at short. This made his overall lineup considerably less imposing, but arguably improved Detroit’s infield defense, a more valued commodity than hits when your pitchers yield less than three runs per game.

Sheffieldcurtains_1 Not one of the aforementioned outfielders has ever played first in the majors, and Leyland’s hand was forced somewhat after excluding Chris Shelton from the ALCS roster, but it’s still unusual how the top Tiger reacted to a loss(Casey’s bat) by acknowleding it, and finding a gain elsewhere(defense), instead of addressing the missed offense in the most conventional way, with an outfielder who cant really play first base.

Like Gary Sheffield. 

Ya Gotta Believe?

Mrmet4 Ya gotta believe the Mets are feeling enormous pressure right now. With Gotham’s predictably sour, overblown reaction to the Yankees collapse fresh in everyone’s minds, the Mets are playing with an awkward lack of faculty, presumably reserved for New York teams this time of year, that must have their fans concerned.

In two games, Endy Chavez and Shawn Green have managed to misplay four challenging but catchable balls, changing the course of the series . Tonight, Jose Reyes inexplicably failed to retreive a nearby richochet off Trachsel’s leg, gifting St Louis an extra base. Heartthrob David Wright, who managed just six homers after his ASG Home Run Derby meltdown, is hitless in the NLCS, despite his winning smile. And Willie Randolph’s stiff, hesitant body language conveys tension if not outright panic.

By contrast, the Cardinals, a team of everyday players steeped in the playoffs, most missing only a ring, are playing like they’ve been here before. Rolen’s barehanded and one handed grabs, Wilson’s perfect peg to nip Valentin at second, smoothly executed bunts. Journeyman Jeff Suppan has emerged as the second coming of Kenny Rogers – when his team needs him most. Even the combustible pen, Kinney and others, have risen to the occasion. After disillusioning many of their loyal but spoiled fans with lackluster, sporadic play down the stretch, the veteran Cardinals are playing as if they have been given a  repreive and have something to teach their more glorified upstart counterparts.

The Mets are playing as if they have something fragile they are about to lose.  Magic? Confidence? Those appear to already be gone. The only thing left to lose now is the Series.

Mookie Nookie?

Mookie Wilson’s real name is Willie Wilson, who is, as far as I know, no relation Mookie to Willie Wilson. It has come to my attention tonight, courtesy of Joe Buck, that William "Mookie" Wilson is the stepfather of Cardinal Preston Wilson, presumably by marrying Preston’s mother.

What Buck did not mention is that William "Mookie" Wilson is also Preston Wilson’s uncle

I get easily confused by these sorts of things, so much so that my wife doesnt tell me about all our family get togethers, but didn’t Mookie marry his sister?

A-Rod Wildly Successful

The company line on Alex Rodriguez says that he failed because he’s trying too hard, trying to do "too much". Based on our brief observation of his fruitless ALDS, we say just the opposite is true. Alex Rodriguez is desperately trying not to do too much – and has, in fact, been wildly successful at it. Arodsplinter_1

We’re not claiming he’s throwing games – being on the take requires a far more subtle, sporadic ineptitude – involving hits and cleanly fielded ground balls on occasion. We just think his professional focus is squarely on doing as little as possible.

What are the telltale signs of a player trying to do too much? For hitters, it’s being impatient, pulling your head out and swinging from your shoetops, yanking whatever you happen to connect with meekly down the line.  A-Rod swung at some bad pitches, but was no less disciplined than most of his teammates. His head was generally on the ball, with a compact swing, stroking balls to center and right, with a bat head that looked as if it was carefully swishing through a vat of molasses. That’s not trying to be the overachieving hero – it’s confining oneself to mediocrity by just making contact – or a least trying to.

Infielders who do too much typically hurry pegs, or throw to a wrong base trying to turn two when recording the out at first makes more sense. I didnt see A-Rod unnecessarily hurrying, but rather being extraordinarily deliberate at third. He fields the grounder, and instead of forcing a throw too soon as if he was anxious (the hot potato syndrome), looks at the ball first, looks at it again, and looks at it again, before retiring the runner. It almost appears obsessive compulsive, as if he’s saying, " I am an incredibly calm professional and I am definitely not hurrying." But of course, due to all the prancing around, he is, in the end, hurrying throws wide of his alleged first basemen.

Boredom Eliminated

It was a pleasure, for a change, to watch Yankee games this week, not so much because they were sufficiently humiliated to thoroughly invalidate their balleyhooed business model, but simply because the games rolled along at a fairly brisk pace. I guess that happens when you’re being no-hit.

The Yankees famously patient hitting style is Sleepingatgamebad for fans. Watching a lineup of quality hitters spend so much energy framing pitches with their bodies, ducking under strikes and sticking their rears out at pitches two inches inside just to draw a call, from umpires who wont call a strike above a batter’s belly button anyway, is boring baseball. Oh, I know it’s good baseball, winning baseball, and that’s exactly the problem. Winning baseball, at least this particular aspect of it, and boring baseball have become too closely aligned.

It’s not the players’ fault – they’re simply exploiting the game’s currently established guidelines to try to win – the Yankees just happen to do it better than anybody else. It’s the guidelines themselves that are the culprit.

Tedwilliamsstrikezone_1  The game would be more of a pleasure to watch if the strike zone was enlarged to approximate it’s standard size during the first 120 years of professional baseball, when, for example, pitches between the belt and armpits were regularly called strikes. This would speed up games, create fewer bases on balls, fewer pitching changes, more pitcher’s counts, and likely reduce the efficacy of approaching the plate "looking for a walk". Fewer runs would be scored, which is an additional benefit rather than a tradeoff. The importance of defense and baserunning is magnified in games with fewer runs, as each run scored and prevented means more in terms of the game’s outcome.

Walking is somewhat analogous to flopping in basketball. It takes considerable skill to do it well and it’s an integral part of the game. Some teams, Duke for example,  utilize flopping more effectively than others. But is this really what basketball is, or ought to be? Acting over athleticism. Similarly, is bending into an exaggerated crouch and ducking under strikes and acting like balls two inches off the inside corner are knockdown pitches really the essence of baseball? Is watching exasperated pitchers trying to aim strikes into a zone no bigger than a medium pizza really entertaining?   

I’m not advocating the elimination, or demonization, of walks, but rather an alteration of the pitcher/ batter equation that would enable and encourage more pitchers to attack a bigger, more equitable strike zone. Walks will remain the price pitchers pay for not letting a particular opponent beat them – and pitchers will continue to pitch certain hitters carefully – only now the price of a walk will be higher in what amounts to a lower run scoring environment.

Top 10 Figures We Wont Miss in the Playoffs

10. Theo Epstein – in case you missed the 47 previous features, he’s "young, Pettitteapple_1 smart and good looking".

9. Andy Pettitte – info still trickling in about that adam’s apple the size of an apple…on steroids.

8.  Braves TV Announcers - curiously similar voices sound like there’s one composite curmudgeon in their booth: Skip Van Sutton.

7. AJ Pierzynski - A genius, but we’re tired of having to spell this pri*ks name in our postseason recaps.

6. Craig Biggio – "graze my blouse or elbow pad, if you’re man enough to come inside" 

5. Byung-Hyun Kim – helps my digestion anytime Affleck_1_showB.K.’s not in the World Series

4. Ben Affleck – an obligatory "The Stars Are Out" closeup is fine, but please, no more interviews.

3.  Roger Clemens – Is the Rocket hormonally imbalanced? One hoof stomp means "Yes", two is "No".

2. Curt Schilling – publicity hound, proselytizer; this generation’s Reggie Jackson

1. Barry Bonds – 367 nationally televised at bats are sufficient.

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