Thursday, April 03, 2008

Early Season Baseball Notes

Capitol Start—The Washington Nationals have a beautiful new baseball stadium, and are off to a 3-0 start. Gifted third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has hit two home runs, and both have been game-winners. Questions remain about the pitching here, especially with closer Chad Cordero still injured, plus the starters—Odalis Perez? Matt Chico? Tim Redding?—have to prove they’re for real. There’s hope in D.C. for now, anyway.

Bad Start—Three strong postseason contenders—Tigers, Cubs and Phillies—are 0-2. It’s early, but all three have lost at home, and if you check the history books, fast starts usually mean something at season’s end.

Geezer Yankees—Take a cursory look at the Yankees’ active roster. This team is old. Check out these ages, by mid-season: Mike Mussina (39), Mariano Rivera (38), Jason Giambi (37), Jorge Posada (37), LaTroy Hawkins (35), Johnny Damon (34), Bobby Abreu (34), Hideki Matsui (34), Derek Jeter (34), Alex Rodriguez (33), Morgan Ensberg (33), Kyle Farsnworth (32). Plus the starting pitching is a complete mystery at this juncture, with only Chien-Ming Wang a proven (but still young enough at 28) commodity.

Whither Juan?—Juan Pierre has a career batting average of .301. He’s had four 200-hit seasons since entering the league in 2000, and in 7 of his first 8 seasons he’s never accumulated fewer than 170 hits. He’s batted over .300 four times. He’s scored 100 runs or more three times. He’s also stolen 389 career bases. So what is up in Los Angeles, where new Dodgers manager Joe Torre has only started Pierre once in the first three games, and then pinch-hit for him later in that one game? Pierre earned a world championship ring with the 2003 Marlins. The guy’s on his way to greatness—only 30, and already with 1,440 career hits—and Torre’s playing youngsters Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, presumably looking for long-ball pop. (Pierre has only 12 career dingers.) Maybe trade the guy if you’re not gonna play him, since he won’t give you power off the bench. So far, Torre has Rafael Furcal leading off and catcher Russell Martin batting second. Seems like Furcal and Pierre at the top of the order would set the table nicely for Jeff Kent and Andruw Jones and the younger power bats. Pierre should be playing regularly somewhere.

Remarkable Rudy—The Phillies yesterday added 39-year-old Rudy Seanez to their roster. This guy’s a baseball phenomenon, or oddity, depending on how you look at it. Seanez has pitched in 16 major league seasons. He has never won more than 7 games in a season, never lost more than 4 (36-26 overall). He has appeared in 502 games, and not once has he ever been a starter. So you’d think he’d have some saves under his belt, right? He has exactly 12 saves in his entire career. He’s never pitched more than 60 innings in any one season. His career ERA is 4.15. But Remarkable Rudy also has struck out more than one batter per inning (523 IP, 544 K). He’s the quintessential one-batter reliever, and if he hadn’t missed the 1992, ’96 and ’97 seasons with injuries, he’d’ve logged 19 major league seasons. According to best estimates, Seanez has earned upwards of $10 million in his career. His high was 2006, when the Red Sox paid him $1.9 million. He’ll earn $500K this season, after earning $700K in ’07 with the Dodgers. Not bad for mediocrity.

Asian Influence—The latest Asian player to make his presence known is Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who blasted a three-run homer in the Cubs’ opener (a 4-3 loss to the Brewers). This guy looks for real. He’s built like Hideki Matsui and has a similarly sweet swing. Fukudome will turn 31 later this month, and like most Asians playing in the States, he’s already had a serious star career in Japan. He should be good for at least five years of MLB productivity.

Brewer Brawn—Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun has been moved from third base to left field this year. The 2007 NL Rookie of the Year was deemed a liability at the Hot Corner (26 errors in 112 games), so the Brewers brass figured he could cause less harm in the outfield and concentrate even more on his remarkable hitting. What’s weird is that veteran Bill Hall has now taken over at third, after spending all of 2007 in the outfield. Prior to last year, though, Hall spent most of his career shifting around from second to shortstop to third. If he’s successful in the field, the Brewers solve a problem and keep his solid bat in the lineup. And look out for Braun. He’s already one of the best natural hitters in the game, and last year’s power numbers (34 HR, 97 RBI) should improve.

Dusty Roads—In case you missed it, Dusty Baker is managing the Cincinnati Reds. It’s his first managing job since his ignominious departure from the Cubs after their 66-96 record in 2006. Old managers never die. They just end up in Cincinnati.

Be-Deviled—The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have only won as many as 70 games once, in 2004, under Lou Piniella. They actually did better in their second season (1999) than they did last year. Hope springs eternal.

Padre P. U.—After tanking critical games late in the 2007 season for the Padres, stopper Trevor Hoffman was at it again last night, blowing a 6-5 lead in the ninth, allowing four runs and watching the Astros claim a 9-6 victory. Hoffman will be 41 in October. He might be done. He has 525 career saves.

No comments: