Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Triple Crown by Cabrera Should Deprive Trout of MVP

      By Ross Newhan

      In the last eight or so days of the baseball season, highlighted by a series of division and wild card battles--not to mention release of the great new Mumford & Sons' album ("Babel")--history is at stake in the American League, where Miguel Cabrera of Detroit and Mike Trout of the Angels are vying for the Most Valuable Player Award.

     This, of course, is not your customary MVP contest--nor will it be a knock on the loser or any of the other contenders, such as Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Adam Dunn, Derek Jeter, etc.

     While there are bigger rewards on the line--a Central Division title for the Tigers and the AL's second wild card berth for the Angels---it is difficult to escape the historical backdrop of the MVP contest.

    Consider that Trout--a lock for the AL's Rookie of the Year Award at 21 and putting together a collection of statistics never achieved by a rookie--could join Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) as the only players to win the rookie and MVP awards in the same season.

    Meanwhile, Cabrera could become the first winner of the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and only the 14th player--two did it twice--since 1878, an achievement that escaped Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, among many other Hall of Fame players and all of those players who are known to have cheated by employing steroids or human growth hormones.

  Cabrera, entering Wednesday's games, led the league in batting average (.331) and runs batted in (133) and trailed Hamilton in home runs by one, 43-42.

  Trout boasts impressive statistics in each of those three categories, is a far superior base runner and defensive player than Cabrera, and, seamheads would argue, has a considerable lead over Cabrera in the sabermetric category of Wins Above Replacement, which takes into consideration those defensive and base stealing categories, among others.

  There is no debating that Trout, in his first season and one of the youngest players in the majors, is a more complete player than Cabrera. There is no debating that coming up to the season's final week both players have been the most instrumental in putting their teams in position to reach the playoffs, although both have received considerable help from teammates.

  Who should win? Who should be the American League's Most Valuable player?

  Having watched Trout close up, roaming the outfield as if a member of the Border Patrol and becoming a more clutch hitter as games reached the make or break span of the late innings, his speed alone a catalyst as well, it is difficult not to vote him the MVP as well as the rookie award.

  Yet, it has been 45 years since any player has achieved the Triple Crown, and it is such an infrequent accomplishment in all the years of the game, that Cabrera would almost have to be voted the honor.

  There are many, among the MVP committee voters, who can be expected to cite the WAR category and vote for Trout as the more accomplished all-around player, but sometimes those three categories ---batting average, RBI and home runs--speak for themselves, and the difficulty in achieving all three in the same year is documented by the history.                

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Dodgers Should Be Better Next Year Because They Should Be Better

       By Ross Newhan

       I don't buy it.

       I don't buy the contention by some columnists and theorists that the Dodgers will be better next year specifically because Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez will have had more time playing together.

       I think the Dodgers will be better next year because Ned Colletti is certain to have improved the pitching staff, Ramirez will be moved to third fulltime and either Dee Gordon or another proven and newly acquired infielder will be at shortstop, the Dodgers could have a more offensive catcher and a surgery recovered left fielder Carl Crawford will be dedicated to proving he can be the player that he once was.

      My point is that Kemp, Ethier, Gonzalez and Ramirez aren't the type hitters--on a general basis--who hit behind runners, who hit and run, who do the little things that hitters benefit from by knowing each other better and by spending more time playing together.

     Yes, Kemp could be fully healthy and better, Gonzalez and Ramirez won't have been newly acquired and trying to prove themselves, and Ethier won't have recently received a contract extension that he may be feeling he has to justify.

     For these four, standing in the batter's box is standing in the batter's box and reacting to the pitch as talented hitters/sluggers do.

    They should (could?) benefit by playing for a better all-around team, but not necessarily because they will have had more time playing together.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Wild Card Wouldn't Change Fact: Angels and Dodgers Aren't Done Spending

    By Ross Newhan

    Both the Angels and Dodgers had 19 games remaining as of Thursday morning, and three things are clear (four, if you include the fact that the temperature is still hotter than either team):

    1--Neither the Angels nor Dodgers are going to win their division.

    2--Money, as proven often by the Yankees and others, doesn't guarantee success.

    3--Both teams face an off-season of continued spending.

    --The Angels and their $159 million payroll have fallen a surprising (shocking?) 8 1/2 games behind Texas and will see the Rangers win the American League West for the third straight year.

    --The Dodgers and their $262.5 million long-term commitment to four players via the Aug. 26 trade with Boston are a Woolworth's 5 and 10 since then to fall seven games behind San Francisco, which will win the National League West for the second time in the last three years.

   None of this is to say that the Angels and Dodgers are without playoff hopes, but only because of post-season reconstruction that will qualify two wild card teams in each league.

   The Dodgers are only one game behind St. Louis, the second of the National League's two wild card contenders (Atlanta has the first spot wrapped up), as they open a four game series with the Cardinals tonight. The Angels, threatening to finish like they started in an 8-15 April, are 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles (who are tied for the American League's second wild card berth), and 4 1/2 behind front running Oakland entering today's series finale with the $54 million A's, whose rookie pitchers have left the fastball favoring Angel hitters appearing as if they've never seen a breaking ball in a three straight domination.

  So, I suppose, if the Angels and Dodgers reach a respective wild card play-in game they can shrug off some of the division disappointment but not all the eventual questions.

  The Angels, potentially, appeared to have their most potent lineup and best rotation ever, but Arte Moreno will need to keep his wallet out because that potential failed to become reality.

   In fact, he should start working on Zach Greineke now because there will not be a better starter available in the market, and that rotation is a pitcher shy and an inconsistent enigma when it comes to Ervin Santana,  C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren.

  The bullpen, a problem from the start, needs rebuilding, third base can be improved (Adrian Beltre was a missed opportunity in more ways than one but that was two years and one general manager ago) and the saving that once seemed feasible with the expiring of Torri Hunter's contract may have to be reconsidered off  his performance behind Mike Trout and the slide of Mark Trumbo.      
   Also, is Mike Scioscia safe and does he want to be, even with a contract through 2018?

  The Dodgers, with Gugenheim already committed to $170 million next year and certain to pass the Yankees at the top of the payroll standings, have to rebuild the pitching staff, look hard at the middle of the infield and hope that a recovering Carl Crawford and those four would be bellwethers in the middle of the order--Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez--will be more effective with more time together, although the rules won't be changing. Each will still be alone in the batter's box.

  While all of that is getting ahead of those 19 games, the reality is unmistakeable:

  The Angels and Dodgers face a winter of cold cash, wild card or not.                       

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Orioles Are Unveiling Statues But Producing Bigger News In The Standings

      By Ross Newhan

      That was not a typographical error in Wednesday's newspapers. The Baltimore Orioles--the same Orioles who finished last season with a 69-93 record and had not been in first place in September since 1997--were tied with the New York Yankees at the top of the American League East with Tampa Bay only a game behind.

      How did this happen given that in any of the last 15 years Thursday night's unveiling of a Cal Ripken Jr. statue--one in a series of six unveilings by the organization during what it has billed as a Legends Celebration--would be the highlight of the club's September?

     Well, trying to explain it is no easier than getting your mind around the fact that now--with less than a month to play--the battered and misdirected Orioles of those recent years have to be regarded as a legitimate playoff contender--if not, obviously, more.

    I mean, start with the fact that figures obviously lie. The Orioles are 16th in the major leagues in earned-run average (having allowed fewer runs than only 10 of the other 29 teams), are 21st in hits and batting average, and 17th in runs.

   Yet, they are 24-7 in games decided by one run and have won 12 straight extra inning games.

   Both are measures of a team that isn't quitting on itself, as in previous summers when Camden Yards was a second home for Yankee and Boston Red Sox fans.

  Now, underscoring the standings, Baltimore has also won 21 of its last 29 games, and a corps of young players acquired in trade or developed within--Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and 20 year old Manny Machado among them--have played an important role.

   Nevertheless, there has been some educated magic involved.

   With an $84 million payroll the Orioles are still more than $100 million behind the hated Yankees, forcing General Manager Dan Duquette to operate a rotating roster.

   Duquette, the former Boston Red Sox GM who had been out of the GM chair for a decade, has made 158 roster moves, employing 50 players, including 25 pitchers and 11 different starters--the most recent being the addition of veterans Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf. Both Saunders and Wolf--Arizona and Milwaukee castoffs--made a key start in the last week, catching some of the magic.

   Duquette is the sixth general manager, and Buck Showalter is the seventh manager, since Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson led the Orioles as GM and manager to the 1997 division title. It takes a measure of guts--or the simple need for a paycheck--to become an Oriole manager or general manager given the propensity of owner Peter Angelos to have the final word and/or to interfere in every facet of the baseball operation--the one Oriole constant.    

  There are probably not two more controlling personalities in baseball than Angelos and Showalter,  but Showalter is now in his third year at the Oriole helm, and close observers say Angelos has stayed remarkably clear of the manager's and general manager's business.

  The owner has not even been attending the statue unveilings, sending Louis, the youngest of his two sons.

  Whether the senior Angelos can pass on the Ripken unveiling remains to be seen.

  Who would have thought that a September game with the Yankees following the unveiling would be the evening's highlight?