Results tagged ‘ Braves ’

Good Riddance (!)

mike-sweeney.jpgJust heard the other night that Mike Sweeney retired. Whew! Talk about a Twin-killer!  He OWNED our pitching during his long stint with the Kansas City Royals, then continued his mastery of our hurlers in Oakland and Seattle.  I always cringed when he came up to bat against us.

Good guy, though, who just had a solid career with the bat.  A career .297 hitter with 215 home runs.  Not too shabby, especially considering all the years on dismal KC teams.

Oh yeah, this guy retired too…

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I’ll always remember Mike Hampton for those couple of dominating seasons he had early in his career with the Houston Astros.  Sadly, after being traded to the Braves (in a huge deal at the time) injury woes got the better of him and pretty much rendered him spotty for the rest of his career.

Very Quick NLDS Thoughts:

Phillies vs. Reds:

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Though the Reds are clearly the “fly under the radar and upset everyone” team, I’ll take Halladay, Oswalt, and Hamels in a short series.

Braves vs. Giants:

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The Giants can pitch, but Jason Heyward is a special player and will turn this series to Atlanta. Bobby Cox is also an X-Factor as the best manager in baseball.

Two Good Teams

This past weekend, the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves (both leaders of their respective divisions) played some hard-fought games that brought to mind another series between each club that you might remember:

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On Friday night, Francisco Liriano and Tim Hudson locked horns in an epic pitchers duel (I was at this one in person!).  Frankie struck out seven batters in a row at one point (tying a club record), and the Twins did Hudson in with one productive inning in the seventh.

For Saturday’s game, another pitching lockup commenced, this time with Nick Blackburn taking the hard-luck loss to Derek Lowe.

In the finale, Kevin Slowey came back down to earth after a series of outstanding starts, and the Twins effectively lost after the second inning (down 5-0).  Delmon Young did continue his hot hitting with a three-run bomb, though.

Notes:

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-It was nice to see the Twins organization recognize Bobby Cox before the opening game of the series (Cox has announced his retirement from managing effective at the end of this season).  He truly is a class act who will be sorely missed by Atlanta and all MLB.

-Boy, is Delmon ever on a tear!  Of course, he is also prone to those bone-dry stretches as well, so is it really necessary to re-hash the Garza/Bartlett for Young/Harris trade every time he goes on a streak?!

-We need to get healthy.  We may be able to beat some NL clubs (like the incoming Rockies) with the likes of Danny Valencia and Trevor Plouffe in the lineup, but we need O-Dawg and JJ back to compete with the big boys offensively.

Preview (36-27, 1st, 2.5 GA DET): Aaron Cook (2-3, 4.76) vs. Carl Pavano (6-6, 3.92).  Does Pavano ever get a no-decision?  I’m kidding…that’s actually a positive thing, as it means he’s pitching deep into games.

2010 MLB Picks

crystal-ball.jpgMy “official” predictions for the 2010 MLB season (before the season gets too far along and starts to affect my judgement!):

AL East

New York

Boston (Wild Card)

Tampa Bay

Baltimore

Toronto

AL Central

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Detroit

Cleveland

AL West

Los Angeles

Oakland

Texas

Seattle

NL East

Philadelphia

Atlanta (Wild Card)

New York

Florida

Washington

NL Central

St. Louis

Chicago

Milwaukee

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West

San Francisco

Los Angeles

Arizona

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champ: New York

NL Champ: Atlanta

World Series Champ: Atlanta Braves

Questions, comments, rants, profanity-laced tirades?!

The Sad State Of Baseball Economics

mmw_baseball_101608_article.jpgAfter watching my beloved Minnesota Twins got stomped by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs this past season, and then seeing Cleveland-bred C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee pitch the Yanks and Phillies into the World Series, I believe that now is the time for me to comment on the sad economic state of baseball these days.  This has always been a very hot-button topic for me (as I root for the small-market Twins), so I would like to take a few moments to explain why the current system is broken and what can be done to fix it:

Basically, the problem started way back in the 1900s, when both the American and National Leagues were first established.

mathewson-ruth-wagner-cobb-johnson.jpg Instead of free agency, there was something called the reserve clause, which was essentially a legal precedent that baseball used to keep players on one team until their owner decided differently.  The players were treated not too much different from a cattle-range steer, to be bought and sold as commodities.  It wasn’t, by any means, the greatest system in the world (as the only option a player had to fight against an unfair salary, which were very common in those days when most owners made Carl Pohlad look like the Monopoly Guy, was to quit playing altogether), but it did help the competitive balance of the game, allowing all teams (if managed/owned sensibly) to have a shot at competing for a championship.

That all changed in the 1970s when Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals challenged the reserve clause all the way to the Supreme Court.

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Though Flood didn’t actually win his case, he shed so much light on the matter that a free agency sytem was quickly established by MLB. During the 1980s, the system actually worked like it was supposed to…players had better rights, AND the game was still competitive.  But, starting in the mid-1990s, salaries began exploding (along with the economy) and suddenly the system was skewered.  Teams in huge economic markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston were able to throw huge wads of cash in the pockets of all the top free agents, all but assuring there services.  Sometimes, in the case of Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, all it took was an incredibly rich owner to give a team a distinct advantage.

Those big markets had (and continue to have) such an advantage for a few different reasons: First and foremost is the fact that, just by sheer geography, a team like the Yankees can much more easily fill their ballpark every night than, say, the Twins can out here in Minny.  Also, teams on both coasts have established their own TV networks (YES Network for the Yankees and NESN for the Red Sox), which bring in enormous profits compared to what the Twins get from Fox Sports North.

After about ten years of this broken system, when the same teams started making the playoffs year in and year out, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig established the “luxury tax” system into the game.  Essentially, this is known as the Robin Hood system, as it robs from the rich to give to the poor.

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This has helped a little bit (e.g. the Twins signed Justin Morneau to a long-term deal and have at least a shot at doing the same with Joe Mauer), but it din’t get to the root of the problem, as teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mets can continue to reach into their deep pockets to get the best players.  Essentially, they are saying “luxury tax be damned” and just paying the fine for going over the payroll limit.  This is evidenced very toughly for Twins fans by these two photos:

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johan-santana.jpgThe Twins gave very decent offers to both Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, but couldn’t come close to matching the amount of years the Halos offered Hunter or the sheer dollar amount the Mets dangled in front of Santana.  Another obvious example was the beginning of this season, when the Yankees went out and got C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while the biggest moves the Twins made was signing Nick Punto, bringing in R.A. Dickey (what a joke) and getting a Joe Crede whose back was so bad that he essentially a non-factor.  Those “moves” were all we could afford.  Imagine how different the 2009 ALDS might have been if Hunter had been patrolling the outfield instead of Delmon Young, or if Santana had made the Game One start instead of Brian Duensing.

Now, to be fair, there are some criticisms of instituting a salary cap into MLB, but I would like to give my rebuttal to two of them:

1. Why should the Yankees be penalized for running an efficent system?  It seems as if Yankee fans could just criticize Carl Pohlad for being a tightwad all those years and not spending money to improve his team, but that really isn’t a fair criticism.  First of all, George Steinbrenner isn’t really spending much (if any) of his OWN MONEY on the Yankees, instead relying on seemingly endless revenue streams based on his sheer geography.  Without those streams, other owners (like the Pohlad family) would be dipping into their own personal reserves, which would be like you paying for your office supplies/furnishings or me paying for Wal-Mart shelf labels. 

Secondly, then, is that if teams know they can’t spend with the Yankees, then why even try?  The Twins know that, under the current economic system, they are already beaten in trying to sign free agents, so instead we save our money to try and lock up as many of our good players as possible (which, in this age of inflated salaries, is fewer and fewer each season).

2. The second criticism of the the salary cap is that it really isn’t needed, due to the fact that the 1998-2000 championship run of the Yankees was accomplished primarily with home-grown players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posade, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.

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That may be true, but funny how those great players STILL WEAR YANKEE PINSTRIPES! Instead of losing those great players to a higher bidder, the Yanks can just keep them.  Plus, whether the free agents work out (Jimmy Key, Paul O’Neill, Johnny Damon, Sabathia, etc.) or flop (Kevin Brown, Chuck Knoblauch, Carl Pavano), the Yanks can just “pay through” and be done with it.  If the Twins make a mistake in signing the wrong player to an expensive contract, it would hamper the organization for a decade.

Thus, until MLB institutes a salary cap like the NFL and NBA (to a certain extent) have in place, the economics of the game will remain skewered towards the large markets, and that severely troubles me.  I consider baseball to be my favorite sport, the one that captivated me as a child and still does to this day, but right now the NFL is gaining ground and fast due to the fact that in the NFL setup, all teams have a chance to be competitive.  It is only through bad ownership (Al Davis, Matt Millen, etc.) that teams completely fail.

I know that this situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that it is right or correct.  Until Bud Selig can take charge of the National Pastime like he should and not just cater to the owners, the Yankees will continue to unfairly dominate the Twins for years and years to come.

Thanks For The Memories


dome6.jpgDuring the early goings of September of the 2009 Twins baseball season, it looked as if game number 162 (the contest that typically ends the MLB season unless you happen to play in the Midwest) would be a great remembrance of all the baseball that the Metrodome had produced before giving way to Target Field next season.  A post-game ceremony down on the field after that game was both parts touching and entertaining, but there was just one problem…the old Dome wasn’t done; it would go on to host two more games!

Thus, it never really felt as if the Metrodome got that proper sense of ending as maybe it should have…that moment when you just look around and soak it all in.  Obviously, with the New York Yankees celebrating, it wasn’t the time for that feeling.  That is why I would now like to relive my favorite moments of being at the Dome.  Perhaps you will remember some of these as well:

-1990: My first memory of the Dome recalls seeing Kirby Puckett being given the Silver Slugger award for winning the batting title the previous year.  While going through the turnstiles that day, I got a black bat “signed” by Puck that I believe I still have stashed away to this day.

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-1991: Though most fans may only remember the ’91 seaons for Puckett’s Game Six and Black Jack’s Game Seven, there was also quite a heated race (at least for awhile) with the Oakland A’s.  Back then, when both teams were part of the AL West division, the A’s were the powerhouse team of the circuit.  They came into a summer series at the Dome and jumped way ahead of the Twins in every game thanks to the power of guys like Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Dave Henderson (looking back, can you imagine all the steroids coursing through those veins?).  However, the Twins scrapped back in every game and won them all.  I was lucky enough to be at the one that everyone remembers, where the Twins rallied against Dennis Eckersley (the Mariano Rivera of his day) on a triple from Chili Davis that RF Canseco played like a pin-ball down in the corner.  As Jose was bouncing around, a fan overhanging right field chucked an unravelling roll of toilet paper down onto the field, only adding to the mayhem!

 
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-1996-2000: I really began following the Twins with a passion in ’96, but from then until ’00 the Twins were perennial cellar-dwellers. Not to be deterred, though, my Dad and I would still get down to the Dome a few times each year to watch guys like Bob Tewksbury, Pat Mahomes, Brent Gates, Rich Becker, and Scott Stahoviak (among others) battle to not lose 100 games.  I didn’t seem to care about the futility, I guess, as I still root-root-rooted for the home team with all I had.  The attendance was so poor during those years that one could (and we often did) guy a cheap ticket and move right up behind the infield.  Believe it or not, there were no users to stop people!

A more specific game from that time period involves a field trip with my sixth grade class.  My exact recollection of the event is understandably a bit hazy, but the Twins were facing Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox.  The game went into extra innings, the Twins loaded the bases with no outs, but then two guys (one of which I’m positive was Terry Steinbach) struck out.  The next batter then singled to win the game (I want to say it was Pat Meares, but I could be wrong).

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-2002: Fifteen innings of baseball against the Atlanta Braves.  Bobby Cox got tossed in the first inning, the Twins roughed up Greg Maddux, and Christian Guzman’s double off the baggy scored Tom Prince (pictured above) to win it.  Once you do the fourteenth-inning stretch, you never forget it!

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-2002: With the Twins already having locked up the division title, they hosted the beaten White Sox to close out the season.  I was at the final two games, both won by dramatic, late-inning home runs from Bobby Kielty.

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-2008: With the Twins needing to sweep the White Sox in the final homestand to stay in the playoff race, they do just that.  I was at all three thrillers, but of course momst remember the final contest when the Twins fell behind early but clawed back into it thanks to a dramatic triple from Denard Span.  A walk-off hit from Alexi Casilla sealed it in extra innings.

So, those are my fondest, brightest memories of the Metrodome.  Though many malign it as a dump and unfit for the National Pastime, it is the only home turf I have ever seen the Twins play on, and no one can take that from me.  Though Target Field may prove to be a rousing success (or a miserable failure, whatever the case may be), it will always be the Dome that holds my childhood baseball nostalgia.

Tommy-Boy and Big Papi

Two interesting events in the world of baseball that I would quickly like to touch on:

First, is David “Big Papi” Ortiz…

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As you very well know, Ortiz is currently mired in a slump so long that many people are starting to call it “reality”.  As the stats currently sit, he is hitting a paltry .188 with just one long ball and 21 RBIs in a full 191 at-bats.  I haven’t seen him a whole lot during this horrid stretch, but I guess the word is that he is not catching up to the fastball and, when he does make contact, just pops it up all over the field.

Personally, I hope that Big Papi finds his stroke at some point this season.  When hitting well, he is one of the most exciting players in all of baseball.  I think the thing that Papi has going for him is that, like me, everyone is rooting for him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a full season of at-bats even if he continues to stink.  There are just too many memories like these… http://mlb.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w=/library/open/moments/bbm_04alcs_gm4_nyybos_350.wmv&vid=7808&pid=gen_video&cid=mlb&v=2 … and many others that allow Ortiz time to turn things around.  I’m rooting for him!

On the other hand, there is Tom Glavine…

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He was recently released by the Atlanta Braves (the team for which he played for most of his career) after finally seeming to get healthy following his injury from last season.  There is much buzz going around that Glavine was given a rough deal, but unlike Ortiz, who is universally liked by his home and national fans, Glavine also has THIS on his record…

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For five seasons, Tommy-Boy “jumped shipped” and pitched for the Braves’ biggest rivals, the New York Mets.  I really don’t remember the details of those negotiations, but I do know that Glavine pitched long enough in the Big Apple to identify with fans their as well.  He re-joined the Braves last season but wasn’t able to stay healthy enough to do any real quality pitching.

Personally, I could care less about what Glavine thinks the Braves “owe” him.  As sports fans have learned from the Brett Favre fiasco year after year, until an athlete retires “for good”, sports, at their core, are still a business.  The Braves didn’t want to waste $1 million on Glavine when he could easily just go out and get injured again, and I don’t question their decision on that one bit.  The same thing happened with the Twins and Harmon Killebrew.  Towards the end of his career, Harmon was clearly fading skills-wise and Twins owner Cal Griffeth practically begged him to retire.  Harmon refused, and thus the Twins traded him to Kansas City were he limped to the quick end of his career.

The Next Timo Perez?

1twin0629gomez.jpgOne of the surprises of the 2009 Minnesota Twins’ season so far has been the reduced playing time of Carlos Gomez.  Whereas last year Gomez seem to be the catalyst of the batting order more times than not, this year he starts about one in every four games or so.  Conspiracy theorists like to point out that perhaps Delmon Young is “stealing” Go-Go’s playing time to maximize his trade potential come mid-season, but I think the fact of the matter is that Young can keep his batting average above .250, while Gomez cannot.

Right now, Gomez (while improving defensively…he is taking much better routes to balls and I haven’t seen him overrun a grounder yet) is completely lost at the plate.  He takes swings that often embarrassing and his pretty much a goner if the pitcher ever gets two strikes on him.

I hope I am wrong in this parallel, but currently Carlos Gomez is falling into the pattern of another young, exciting player who never lived up to his potential:

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During the late 1990s, with the Twins a perenniel cellar-dweller, I jumped on the bandwagon of the New York Mets, partly because I hated their chief rival the Atlanta Braves and partly because I just wanted to cheer for someone in the playoffs!  Thus, during the 2000 playoffs, I remember watching young Timo Perez make a tremendous impact for the Mets.  Timo only played about 20 games for the Mets that entire ’00 season, but he made a big enough impact with his torrid September play that he made the playoff roster.  For that one month and during most of the postseason, Timo was the catalyst for the entire Mets’ lineup, whether it was getting on base, stealing them, or hitting line drives all over the field.  Unfortunately, Perez is probably best remembered for his baserunner blunder that may have cost the Mets a game in the 2000 “Subway” World Series with the Yankees, but he was the kind of player that seemed to have a bright future in New York.

However, a telling sign was the two hits that Perez collected the ENTIRE World Series.  Thus, it was obviously that pitchers were finally figuring out how to get him out, and it was time for him to make the most crucial adjustment that a batter ever makes (that first one after pitchers find a weakness).  He never did.  He played a few more seasons with the Mets (one decent), then became a journeyman, popping up in Chicago with the Pale Hose most recently, I believe.  However, he was never able to regain that flash of talent he showed late in the 2000 season.

Like I said, I hope this isn’t true, but right now Gomez is following that same path.  Gomez single-handedly won games for the Twins early last season, but by the end of said season he had been replaced by Denard Span as leadoff hitter and was striking out at an enormous rate.  The pitchers finally figured him out, much like they did to Timo Perez, and he has yet (as far as I can see) to make the adjustment to start getting hits again.

The ray of hope I see for Gomez, though, is that he really hasn’t gotten enough playing time yet this season to show his current talent level.  Whereas Timo Perez got many years to try and recapture that once-attained talent, Gomez has primarily been riding the pine in his second season as a Twin.  It is a sticky situation, as the Twins like Cuddyer and Span in the lineup but also have high hopes (and Garza/Bartlett) invested in him.  It will be interesting to see how the entire situation pans out.

MLB Predictions: 2009

1908Cubs.jpgEach year, usually after receiving the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue, I make a complete set of MLB picks.  It’s always fun to look back at them and see how right/wrong (wrong far outnumbering the right!) I was at the end of the season.  Here they are for ’09:

AL East:

Boston

Tampa Bay (Wild Card)

New York

Toronto

Baltimore

AL Central:

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Cleveland

Detroit

AL West:

Los Angeles

Texas

Seattle

Oakland

NL East:

Philadelphia

New York (Wild Card)

Florida

Atlanta

Washington

NL Central:

Chicago

Milwaukee

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West:

Los Angeles

Arizona

San Francisco

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champion: Boston

NL Champion: Chicago

World Series Champion: Chicago

So, after 100 long seasons of waiting, I think this is the year that the Cubbies will finally win the big one.  I just think that their pitching is too good not to make a deep playoff run.

Double Homecomings

 
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Tom Glavine back to the Atlanta Braves: After pitching the first 16 years of his career with the Braves, then five years spent with the rival Mets, Tom Glavine was back in a Braves uniform last season.  However, his great homecoming story was cut short by an elbow injury that required surgery, after which many thought he would hang ‘em up.  However, it was announced today that he is coming back to the Braves for one (presumably final) season.  Hey, as long as he can still paint that outside corner, he can still win 10 games.

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Ken Griffey Jr. back to the Seattle Mariners: After spending his first 11 star-studded seasons in a Mariner uniform, KGJ left for his hometown of Cincinnati for eight years, where injuries plagued his performance to the point where he became a shell of his former greatness.  During the mid-1990s, when I was just getting into the Minnesota Twins and baseball in general, my favorite single player was Griffey (sorry Ron Coomer, you just didn’t cut it for me…!).  I loved the mammoth dingers he would crush and the confident (bordering on cocky, but he could back it up) way he carried himself.  Thus, although he’ll likely never hit as many as 35 homers in a single season again, it will be fun to see that bat-waggling, uppercut swing back in Seattle (although it will be a little wierd not observing it in the Kingdome!).

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