Thursday, May 27, 2010
Mileposts and Signposts
Baseball has more mileposts than old Route 66.
There's Memorial Day, July 4, the All-Star break, the non-waiver trade deadline (that's three in July alone) and Labor Day.
It was just the other day that Newy, as my son and blog colleague is known to friends and former teammates, wrote that at this earliest of the mileposts he found the race in the National League West to be baseball's most intriguing. Newy acknowledged that as a born in, raised in and resident of California he has a tendency in most matters to favor the West (never the left, to his parent's dismay).
I, too, am a native, and while I don't totally disagree with Newy's NL West decision, I see the American League East as a bit more intriguing at this early juncture of a season which seems unlikely to produce a runaway in any division, unless Jamie Moyer continues to pitch shutouts instead of collecting social security and his Philadelphia Phillies blitz through the NL East.
Why the AL East?
As a financial and political pundit might put it, of course, it pits Main Street against Wall Street.
It poses the question: Can Tampa Bay, with a $65.1 million payroll that ranks 25th among the 30 clubs, hold off New York and Boston, those moguls of the East?
It is too early for a definitive answer, but this much is clear: It was only two years ago that the Rays did just that, emerging from the East to reach the World Series.
Now, the Rays are deeper and stronger. And even though I write this at a time when they have a three game losing streak, they have manufactured the best record in baseball and appear totally unafraid of the big boys' bats and wallets. They are 7-5 against New York and Boston, 14-7 in their division.
As for Newy's NL West, it is likely to come down to a question of money, as it often does.
--Will the McCourt's divorce, producing numbers that may qualify them for the proposed new banking bill, impact the Dodgers' deadline pursuit of one more front line pitcher, as it seemed to do during the off-season, handicappping the team's bid to repeat as division champion and/or remain alive later into the playoffs?
--Will new San Diego owner Jeff Moorad, still owing a big check for his purchase of the Padres, bow to fan pressure created by his team's surprising start and retain first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and closer Heath Bell at the trade deadline despite the potentially high cost and still difficult decision at the end of the season if they are re-signed then or walk as free agents with the Padres getting nothing expect draft compensation in return?
--Will pitching rich San Francisco bite the financial and personnel bullet and trade one of its prime hurlers (no hit Jonathan Sanchez?) for a legitimate slugger (Prince Fielder, if Milwaukee continues to falter in the NL Central, or Paul Konerko, if the White Sox continue to falter in the AL Central?) to bat behind or ahead of Pedro Sandoval? The Giants, wtih pitching depth in the minors, have been dabbling with Aubrey Huff in the outfield, creating an impression that they definitely believe there will be first basemen available at the deadline.
Amid all of those questions in an open division there's tthe menacing Colorado Rockies and the notion that they remain capable of producing a streak comparable to their amazing wild card drive of late last season despite the departures of Matt Holliday and Garrett Atkins and the sore shoulder that continues to sideline closer Houston Street.
Colorado retains impressive flexibility with its lineup but has battled a series of pitching injuries while getting a breakthrough and stopper season from Ubaldo Jimenez, whose 9-1 record includes a no hitter.
In the process, as baseball passes the first of its many mileposts, Manager Jim Tracy has asked Jimenez to throw a considerable number of pitches, averaging 109 per start and three times going over 120.
It would be a sad and damaging blow if the 26 year old right hander wasn't still lighting up speed guns at Labor Day, the last of those mileposts.