Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Wild Cards and More Trades? Maybe Not

      By Ross Newhan

     One day you're in and one day you're out?

     Not necessarily. Not under the new playoff system by which two wild card teams qualify in each of the major leagues.

     Approaching July, of the 30 teams, only seven appear to have no wild card oppportunity and are definitly out.

    In the National League, Chicago, Houston, San Diego and Colorado seem without a chance, joining Seattle, Kansas City and Minnesota in the American League.

   Entering Wednesday's play, Washington (42 wins), Cincinnati (41) and the fading Dodgers (43) led their respective divisions.

   San Francisco, with 42 wins, would be the wild card under the old format, but there are seven teams within six games of 42, meaning the two wild cards are up for grabs.

   The same situation existed in the American League, where Texas (46 wins), Chicago (39) and New York (45) led the three divisions.

   The Angels and Baltimore were tied for the wild card under the old system with 41 wins, but seven other teams were within five games of 41 wins, including every team in the AL East.

   What is the immediate impact of this potential playoff logjam?

   Well, aside from the smile on the face of Commissioner Bud Selig and aside from cell towers buzzing everywhere as general managers prepare for the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the question is this:

  Will there be that many more trades or even fewer with that many more teams thinking they are already in the hunt with a set roster?

  I have talked to several general managers and there is no consensus.

  "I don't see anything really changing in the sense that no one is giving anything away and no one is going to help a team with obvious problems," said a member of the Dodger front office, desperate for another starting pitcher and at least two or three position players as their offense and division lead disappears with the injuries to Matt Kemp and now Andre Eithier.

 "I'm just not sure there is going to be that much more activity even though there are that many more teams involved," he continued. "Besides, one issue hasn't changed and never seems to change. Every one wants pitching and who has a surplus to give away?"

 The Dodger situation, of course, is critical.

 They lost eight of nine games on a road trip that ended Wednesday, scoring three runs or less in eight of the games and being shutout in all three of a sweep by the Giants, who are now tied with the Dodgers for the West Division lead.

  Kemp is out for another three weeks, perhaps, and Eithier could be down for a month with an oblique strain suffered Wednesday. The farm cupboard is bare, so they have no prospect to trade for a key hitter, and they now come home to play four games with the New York Mets and three with the Reds.

  In the year of the wild cards, they have turned very, very mild at a bad time, new owners or not.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Roger Clemens, and Another Bonehead Decision

      By Ross Newhan

      So, a jury in Washington D.C.--Beltway Boneheads?--has acquitted Roger Clemens on all counts related to the charge that he lied to Congress in denying that he ever used performance enhancing drugs. This comes after federal prosecutors in San Francisco last year obtained only one conviction on four counts against Barry Bonds, the former Giants' slugger who is appealing his conviction of having obstructed justice when he misled a federal grand jury investigating PED use among elite athletes.

     Let's get directly to the primary questions and answers:

     Q--Do I think that Clemens, an unprecedented winner of seven Cy Young Awards, and Bonds, the all-time home run leader, used various forms of performance enhancing drugs at various junctures in their careers?

     A--Of course.

     I simply do not believe that Brian McNamee, Clemens' former trainer, could spin the incriminating web that he has without having a background in fiction. Bonds, meanwhile, has acknowledged using a substance he did not realize was a steroid even as it contributed to a three-ring expansion of his head and body size and his trainer, Greg Anderson, probably set a record for the number of times charged with contempt of court for failing to answer questions related to Bonds and the use of PEDs.

   Q--Should Clemens and Bonds be elected to the Hall of Fame?


   I accept that there is no clear cut, overwhelmingly definitive evidence tying Clemens, in particular, and Bonds as well to PED use, and juries have pretty much exonerated both, but then a jury once acquitted O.J. Simpson of murder, and Clemens and Bonds getting away with their respective charges is pretty much murder, too. That's how I feel. That's what I came to believe in the process of covering both athletes and knowing what I do about clubhouse whispers and the Mitchell Report and an era in which PED use was rampant. Statistically, Clemens and Bonds belong in the Hall, but how many of those statistics were honestly achieved?, and character is part of the election criteria as well. Many of my peers will disagree, and they are as justified in voting for the pair as I am in withholding my vote. It is every eligible writer for himself.

   Q--Should the federal prosecutions continue.


   Aren't those millions of dollars better put in schools and highways?

   Aside from a rare Ryan Braun or Manny Ramirez or some youthful stupidity by a minor leaguer, baseball has pretty much swept up the syringes and worked its way on a cooperative basis through a steroid era that the industry was initially too slow in attacking. There is now blood testing for human growth hormone and urine testing for steroids and amphetamines. The chemists will always try to stay ahead of the tests, but the rash of no hitters and perfect games are pretty much indicative that the wheel has turned.

   Let the juries say what they want about Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. I'm confident that I know how it was.