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MLB 2012 season

My guess is that you think this is an open letter to the Major League Baseball Officials and Umpires, but it’s not. It’s to you, the cynical fans out there (like me) who thought that the second wild card team was utterly and ridiculously stupid and terribly-flawed idea.

WE WERE WRONG!

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I’ve been reading and watching a lot lately about the Washignton Nationals and their plans to shut down Stephen Strasburg for the season – including any potential playoff run – after 160-something innings.

I come away with three observations.

1 – I can totally understand why teammates, fans, former players and even Strasburg himself might be upset by this situation (though it’s arguable just how upset they are). Players’ careers are short and chances to go deep into the playoffs don’t come along every year. Look how often the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s appeared to be the league’s best team only to falter in the postseason. Continue reading

Commissioner Bud Selig has argued the last few seasons that Major League Baseball has solved its competitive balance issues by levying a luxury tax against teams that spend too much, but local television deals may be bringing those issues back with a vengeance.
Teams on the West coast with new ownership groups, television contracts and competition for popularity were the biggest winners of this year’s non-waiver trading period, which ended a few hours ago.

In the National League, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants competed for the top honors, trading respectively for outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence on deadline day. I’ll give the trading period edge to the Dodgers due to their additional acquisition of Hanley Ramirezfrom Miami.

In the American League, the Rangers trumped the Dodgers at the deadline by acquiring Chicago Cubs starter Ryan Dempster. But the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had already made their big rotation move, adding Zack Greinke.

One similarity among all those teams is HUGE new television contracts that are dwarfing the numbers being housed by teams in the Midwest. The Dodgers were purchased for $2.15 billion in March by Magic Johnson and Mark Walter in a deal that stunned sports industry observers.

Part of what made the deal work, according to the Wall Street Journal, is the opportunity the team will have in 2013 to either launch a regional sports network in the second largest market in the country or “hold an auction for the rights to telecast Dodgers games.”
Recent rights deals signed by the Angels and Rangers are reportedly worth $150 million a year. Lee Berke, a sports media consultant, told the Journal the Dodgers’ status as the top brand in the market could command even more than $150 million annually – perhaps as much as $300 million annually, according to the Journal’s story.
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Larry “Chipper” Jones addressed his teammates at the All-Star Game Wednesday night telling them what an honor it was to be in the same locker room and playing in the same game. Jones didn’t have to do tha, but the quiet, classy superstar was conducting himself at his eighth and final All-Star game the same way he generally has throughout his quiet, superstar career.

Jones is one of those rare baseball stars who truly warrant the farewell tour gifts he’s being given in most cities the Atlanta Braves pass through this season. And he’s likely just shy of six years away from having a bronze bust in Cooperstown.

That bust will be placed alongside those of several other players known more by their nicknames than by the name on their birth certificates, but unlike George Herman “Babe” Ruth, “The Mick” Mickey Mantle, “The Splendid Splinter” Ted Williams, “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson or even “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who belongs in the Hall of Fame, but is apparently banned in his afterlife as he was during the latter days of his life.

Not many people know Chipper Jones by his real name. And because he’s generally kept such a low profile during his career, many also are not aware how much he also had game. He’s not going to be a 3000-hit club member, or a 500-homerun club member.  He certainly won’t be next to Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente or Ozzie Smith, all of whom were known for their amazing defense as much if not more so than their hitting prowess.  He’s only won one Most Valuable Player award and one batting title.  He’s only won one World Series title.  Continue reading

I peeked at the American League East standings last week and for a moment I thought they had been printed upside down. Perennial powerhouses in New York and Boston were languishing in fourth and fifth place while Baltimore sat atop the division with Toronto and Tampa jockeying for second place.

Another look this morning shows that things might be normalizing a bit. The Yankees have edged into third, overtaking Toronto. But the Red Sox remain in last and the Orioles still top the East, although just 4.5 games separate the top from the bottom.

So with a questionable starting rotation and injuries to David Robertson, Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda and Brett Gardner hampering their season so far, just exactly where will the Yankees ultimately end up? We enlisted the assistance of Brandon C., co-manager of Pinstripe Alley, to provide some insight. Here’s what he had to say:

Brushbackpitch: What were your expectations for the Yankees heading into the season and what are they now? Continue reading

It is only human to look back and wonder what could have been. We all do it, and in the case of the 1998 National League Rookie of the Year award winner Kerry Wood, who retired earlier this week, it is a haunting epitaph on a career that could have led to Cooperstown.

His slurve along with a dominating fastball were practically unhittable.

I remember the first time I saw him pitch. It happened to be his 20-strikeout game on WGN. I was late for work because of it.  The only hit he gave up in that game should have been an error.  The wicked break of that slurve brought back shades of Dwight Gooden and Bert Blyleven’s curveballs. He won the Rookie of the Year award despite being shut down for the last month of the season with a tender elbow. Continue reading

We hear from managers all the time about how they are “hired to be fired.” Well, we’re still early in the 2012 season but here are a half-dozen who already have earned a pink slip and a free pass out of town.

Ozzie Guillen is a head-case.  He has been a one his entire career. Combine that with his pro-Castro rant coupled with his penchant for being a loose cannon and his team playing terribly I don’t see him surviving the season — and I believe that baseball will be better without him.

Speaking of head-cases; Bobby Valentine was an epic mistake for the Boston Red Sox unless they were sure this team wasn’t going to be any good. Then hiring him was a genius move, because then they have a built-in scapegoat – all the team’s problems can be blamed on him and injuries. Valentine never had his players’ respect, and called out one of the best people in baseball in Kevin Youkilis earlier this season. Red Sox bloggers are universally against Valentine, the fans in the stands hate him and his players can’t possibly like him. Former MVP Dustin Pedroia already shot back at Bobby’s comments on Youkilis.  I don’t expect Valentine to make it to the All Star Game.

Dale Sveum (Cubs), Bud Black (Padres), and Ned Yost (Royals) all need to be put out of their misery. Nobody deserves the headache that is Wrigleyville. Black may be scarred for life from having to watch that offense and defense every day. Yost may be a solid manager, but this is the Royals, and not even Yoda could mentor this many younglings into a winning team. I don’t believe any of them are currently on the burner so to speak, but these are three managers whose teams don’t have any chance of winning and who have little chance to see improvement from their teams’ collective weaknesses.

Then you get to former Manager of the Year award winner Ron Gardenhire in Minnesota. I get to listen to him throw rookies and young players under the bus often while having no accountability for his veterans. He has an incessant need to shuffle his lineups and to use players like Drew Butera, Nick Punto and Matt Tolbert.

Most recently, he plucked Clete Thomas off of waivers. He struck out 16 times in 28 at-bats before being cut for the May Waiver Wire Walking Dead signee, in Erik Komatsu. His roster consists of 13 pitchers and three catchers (one of whom is the third-worst hitting position player in the last 75 years of baseball in Butera on a 25-man roster.

The team went through a four-game stretch last week during which it was no-hit and one-hit and had a total of just nine hits, which Elias Sports Bureau confirmed was a historical achievement for futility. This is not the time to bring up a career .178 hitter with a.220 on-base percentage.

Wednesday night’s game where the Angels’ Jered Weaver no-hit the Twins may have been rock bottom, but the combination of a lack of talent and a coaching staff that has not been getting results over the last couple years could make no-hitters against the Twins a common theme.

I am committing a blasphemous act here in Minnesota by calling for his firing, but I’m not the first.  The blog Fire Ron Gardenhire was created in 2005. I don’t think that the injuries were the only reason the team lost 99 games last year and is on pace to do even worse in 2012. His smoke-and-mirrors career is based more on having beaten up the American League Central. His winning percentage against the AL East is pathetic, and against the Yankees alone is 20-53 during the regular season. His record is 6-21 in the post season alone could have netted an axe. When you add his horrible coaching staff, a GM that has cut payroll, and added nothing to the pitching staff, nothing coming up in the minors for another year or two, and an owner that has always cared more about profits than winning, I expect Gardenhire to retire at the end of the season if he isn’t fired. But as a Twins fan I’m hoping to see the axe.

Which manager will be fired first?

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Albert Pujols was arguably one of the two best hitters to ever play for the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s against baseball etiquette to imply that a current player is better than a Hall of Famer, and since I am not old enough to have watched Stan “The Man” Musial play, I will give the all-time great his due.

Pujols, however, is the arguable number two. But while his former team has had a solid start to the 2012 season, Pujols has moved on to Los Angeles, where he is on a severe homerun drought, having gone zero-for-April in that category.

The Angels, meanwhile, are a little south of heaven and very far south of the Texas Rangers in the standings.

While it’s early, he’s certainly not resembling any of the greatest Angels of all time, most of whom include Tim Salmon and great players signed from other teams. If it were just Pujols’ homeruns that were lacking, nobody would be saying the sky was falling. It would likely just be “a matter of time” before everything would be okay. And given his track record, it probably is just that anyway.

But this is Albert freaking Pujols. And he’s batting .226 with four RBI for the entire month of April. This is arguably the best hitter in the game – a generational kind of superstar who is showing signs of having gone the way of Jim Rice.

I bring up Hall of Famer Jim Rice because he was a monster force in baseball until all of a sudden he wasn’t. There wasn’t a slow decline. With Rice it was a light switch. If this is the case with Albert Pujols now… would he be a Hall of Famer?

My guess is that if the poll were taken today, he would be enshrined. But he’s got 10 years and $254 million worth of criticism coming. If he were to retire today he would forfeit the remaining nine years. There’s no one that proud to walk away from that kind of money.

I’m getting way ahead of myself on that train of thought, but if you compare Rice and Pujols and take into account the eras in which they play, there’s a scary similarity. It’s a tough topic to consider, but because of that contract’s longevity, Pujols may be the first player to ever play himself out of the Hall of Fame.

Is Albert Pujols finished?

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Could Albert Pujols possibly play his way out of the Hall of Fame?

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The Miami Marlins have a new ballpark, a new manager, a new name and a number of high-profile free agent signees joining a solid nucleus of young players who are developing into solid players. Adding Ozzie Guillen as the field general alone would make Miami a team to watch, but all these other factors make the Marlins one of the most difficult teams to project heading into the season.

There’s already been a couple dust-ups with the stream-of-consciousness speaking Ozzie. His comments about his post-game drinking raised eyebrows. Then his expression of admiration for Fidel Castro infuriated Miami’s Cuban population. But that’s what you get from Guillen, a hard-nosed baseball guy who has no filter when speaking.

None of us at Brushbackpitch.com project the Marlins as a playoff team, but I do believe this is a team that could find itself right in the mix as the season winds down. So just how high is the ceiling for this team? Michael Jong, manager of the fan blog Fish Stripes, shared his thoughts with Brushbackpitch.com. Here’s what he had to say:

Brushbackpitch: Marlins added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to Hanley Ramirez and youngsters like Giancarlo Stanton in the offseason, so they’re very talented. But they’re also in a division with Philadelphia, Atlanta and up-and-coming Washington. How good can this team be?

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It’s here, folks. Opening Day. Well, opening day to the extent that most American baseball fans will think of it. For purposes of enjoying this day, we’re going to ignore the two games played by Oakland and Seattle in Japan last week — games that we later found out many fans did not know were being played.

I’ve heard some people even treat this day like a national holiday, taking a vacation day from the job to sit in front of ESPN and other outlets showing games. I work from home and if I don’t get stuff done I don’t get paid, so I’ll still be working, but the television will be on in the background.

Brad Beneke has penned detailed season previews you can access via links in the table below. Also below are predictions for the playoffs from Brad, Tony and Andy. The 2012 season is now officially underway.

Brad
Andy Tony
AL East New York Yankees New York Yankees New York Yankees
AL Central Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers Detroit Tigers
AL West Los Angeles Angels Texas Rangers Texas Rangers
AL Wild Card Texas Rangers Boston Red Sox Los Angeles Angels
AL Wild Card loser Tampa Bay Rays Los Angeles Angels Toronto Blue Jays
NL East Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies
NL Central Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers St. Louis Cardinals
NL West San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants San Francisco Giants
NL Wild Card Los Angeles Dodgers Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Brewers
NL Wild Card loser Atlanta Braves Washington Nationals Washington Nationals
AL Champion New York Yankees New York Yankees Detroit Tigers
NL Champion Cincinnati Reds Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies
World Series Champion New York Yankees Philadelphia Phillies Philadelphia Phillies

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