Tag Archives: Opening Day

Opening Day: Dodgers team to hate the most

The grass is Eden-like green. The first pitches have been tossed across the country. Bats smack, gloves pop, organs trill and life is good again.

Nothing like Opening Day to turn writers of prose into flawed fumbles of poetry. It’s just a lyrical game, far too often poorly described, much like romantic love that never quite reads like it feels. You just have to live it.

The two best words in my lexicon: play ball. Two other fun ones:

Prediction time.

I’ll leave the mashup that is the American League this year for a minute and get into the Senior Circuit, where truly great teams still exist and dominate the hopes of those trying to knock them off the pedestal. But the greatest of those teams likely won’t be among the playoff finishers this year. The Giants won’t repeat.

But the Nationals, Dodgers, Cardinals and maybe even the Pirates will. History tells us one of these teams will endure a bad rash of injuries and head-scratching slumps and maybe not live up to its potential. History tells us the Dodgers are the least likely to weather these types of turmoil. The stopgap solutions of Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins are not as great as people think, especially Rollins who at 36 may be the worst leadoff hitter in the National League.

The Dodgers are on their way to building a similar perennial power, while temporarily playing the awful Yankee-like overspender to bridge the gap. They have spent gazillions to offer some competitive teams while rebuilding from the inside out to make franchise, which took a ton of money, but also a lot of baseball smarts. But I’m still not sure they are going to put it all together this year. I want to believe they won’t. They’ve been good, but they’re going to soon be great. I hate ’em (though the All-time Giants still kick the All-Time Dodgers arses). But I love Vin Scully and for him alone (and the sheer joy of listening to him call a ballgame, I’m predicting they win the division).

The Nationals and Cardinals may be two of the best run organizations in sports. They have built powerhouses. The Nationals have so far mostly underachieved while the Cards have proven they can overachieve when it counts the most, much like the Giants who seem to be the only team that has their number in recent years.

The Cubs are coming. Joe Maddon was a brilliant hire, perhaps the one guy Theo Epstein wanted more than Jon Lester and he ended up getting both. Maddon alone makes the Cubs a contender in my book. The downside is all that young talent will take some time to sort itself out. They will strike out … A LOT… and as much as during the steroid era strikeouts didn’t matter much, they are absolutely killing teams again (rightly so… not that real baseball skills like moving runner and turning over the lineup are back). I wonder if Maddon is great enough to offset the terrible dead spots the strikeouts will create. I can’t decide.

I can decide on the Padres. Everyone is excited about them much they way they were excited about the Blue Jays last year after its spending spree and the Marlins the year before that in its spending spree and so many other teams that suddenly grow sick of stinking up the joint and decide, EFF THIS, and start spending money like Bernie Madoff before his prison stint.

The problem is it never works. Ever. The only times big spending works is when it’s coupled with deep internal talent. The Yankees overspent for decades but only won four championships when Big Money George was banished and the team was allowed to nurture the likes of Derrick Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite and Jorge Posada. The Dodgers outspent everyone but didn’t have the chemistry the Giants develop with consistency through its organization.

The Padres didn’t spend as recklessly as its predecessors but it gave away years of accumulated talent. Justin Upton can hit it out of the cavernous Petco Park, but my bet is Matt Kemp looks nothing like his old MVP self and just looks old. The pitchers will be good, but they are always are and the offense can’t be as bad as its been, but it still won’t be great. I see a near miss for this team and then back to the depths where it has been.

The surprise team in the West, if there is one, is the Rockies. The team can mash, thanks in part to its mile-high park. In an era where everyone has pitching, few teams have hitting, so the Rockies could stand out especially because it may, just may, just just may may have enough pitching to make one of its once a decade or so runs. The Marlins are going to be good. They have sooo much talent, but again the Cubs problem of youth and strikeouts could hurt them. I see the Cubs and see the Marlins and see two similar teams, but I see Joe Maddon and the Marlins fade away.

There is little else in the National League that interests me.

So the predictions:

East: Nationals
Central: Pirates
West: Dodgers
Wild Cards: Rockies, Cardinals (or maybe the Giants and then God forbid the other teams in the playoffs, but I suspect that’s wishful thinking.

Check back tomorrow for the American League, the playoffs and the World Series predictions.

Sadly, Giants #everyotheryear pace will continue

It’s a day of worshp… tomorrow. We celebrated Easter on Holy Saturday (much like how Black Friday shopping leaked into Thanksgiving gluttony, which first seemed like an afront, but actually makes sense of what Thanksgiving has become if you think about it… bottom line, in this impatient culture we’d have never stood for Jesus in a tomb for three days. You get two-and-a-half and then get your live ass out here, thank you very much). I think God allows me a fair amount of sacriledge when it comes to baseball. She’s a fan too, and likely a Giants Fan. How else can you explain the 2014 playoffs? More on that to come.

No, the holiday I’m now focused on as we enjoy the other side of Easter today (chocolate, family, fun and a teaser night baseball game, which too is early and out of place, but we’ll take it!) is Opening Day!

Opening Day is something of a holiday for me, far more than the Super Bowl or even some of the three-day weekend holidays that crop up expectedly unexpectedly each year. When Opening Day finally arrives each year, I try to turn on the early day games and keep watching until the last one on the West Coast is played. After several months of absence I’m ready for the background music of baseball to re-enter my life.

I also make predictions each year though nobody but me has much invested in the picks. But writing about baseball while watching baseball is about as good as it gets. Come tomorrow as Opening Day launches, I’ll be happily doing both.

Before the pitch is tossed on this season, lets put the last historic and exhilarating season to bed, with a final look at my predictions.

My picks last year were a strange brew of very right and very wrong: I picked all five NL playoff teams only getting the Dodgers and Giants mixed up as division winner. The American League was more of a mess.  I got three of the five playoff teams in the Angels, A’s and Orioles, but none in the right place. The Indians pick was a year premature and the Rays a year or six too late. Eight out of ten is pretty strong but like the rest of the free world, I went 0 for 2 picking in picking the World Series teams and eventual champion. As a Giants fan, I’ll gladly admit I was wrong.

Here’s the rub though. I picked the Nationals to win it all. Had the Giants not pulled off what history will show as one of the great upsets in baseball, the Nationals would have been champs. This is the missing story from the 2014 season and deserves a book of its own to cement the legacy of that incredible turn of events that gave the Giants a third, #everyotheryear crown. They were, at best, the 8th best team in the playoffs last year. Yet they ran the gauntlet of three straight series as the decided underdogs and won by a single run in the 7th and final game. Shoot, I need to write that book.

The Nationals were the best team last year. They far outmatched the Giants at virtually every position. Had Bruce Bochey not schooled Matt Williams like an old Kung Fu master, my pick would have turned out correct. Had the Giants not somehow won an 18-inning game because Williams didn’t let the dominant Jordan Zimmerman finish the ninth, the series would have been over right there. Anyone seeing that lineup of five lefties against the Nationals Gio Gonzalez should know how badly the Giants were over-matched and outgunned. They had huge holes throughout and Triple A guys all over the bench, their highest paid pitcher and their lead-off hitter were injured and yet, they still won. Amazing. Move over ’69 Mets, I think the Giants will take that title now.

And let’s set the record straight over the shibboleth that great managers don’t impact the game in baseball? Look back the records of a Davey Johnson, Buck Showalter, Mike Scoscia, Joe Maddon, Tony LaRussa, Terry Francona and a handful of others who simply win where ever they go. None of this cast of greatness though can match The Boch come playoff time.

Bochey is simply a shaman. He’s the best, which is why the Giants have won a World Series #everyotheryear this decade.

But those holes, that mediocre lineup, the lack of talent on the field at AT&T Park, the lack of depth, the aging, overpaid guys, well their all mostly back which means sadly, the Giants are in no position to repeat. I blame Brian Sabean as much as I exalt Bruce Bochey. The Giants won’t win this year. That much I’ll bet the house on. Their will be plenty of room on the water this October in McCovey Cove.

As for my predictions this year… check back tomorrow. As I said, I love to write about baseball on Opening Day, so I’ll be writing all day as I watch the games that will add so much to the next several months of my life.

Brian Sabean is the worst HOF GM ever

Well it’s April. I know that not because of the fool’s jokes being played, but because I can’t stop thinking about baseball.

I also can’t help my blood pressure from rising over the smallest things, like this: Why the hell isn’t it Opening Day already when the World Series is already played into November??? Who are the mensa schedule makers that started the season even later this year? Fire them all.  Baseball should start by March 31 and end by October 20. End of story.

But the real story here is not these minor irritations but my massive, coronary defarctualizing, fury inducing, appal meter rising abhorrence of San Francisco Giants General Manager Brian Sabean.

Even as I write this I know it is pure insanity. The GM has brought us THREE world championships. He made mediocre teams around Barry Bonds perennial contenders. He deeply loves the team, the city and the character of all things that contribute to the San Francisco Giants.  I can’t help but admire him and respect he’s one of our great city’s leading citizens. He is also likely headed to the hall of fame someday.

But… I simply hate him. I think he’s awful. I know for a fact what he won’t and will do long before he does it and I hate it all. Yep, it’s April. Baseball’s back and with it my daily gnashing of teeth over Brian Sabean.

Why do I despise thee, let me count they ways.

1) He tried to give Pablo the Fat $90 million. Thank God Pablo is nuttier than a filbert farm and feigned insult so he could rush to Boston and join his buddies Big Papi and Hanley Ramirez. Still, Sabean wanted him back. Sigh.

2) He was willing to spend $125-$135 million on Jon Lester when the only thing the team has are pitchers. Does Sabean see just how awful the offense is? I’m reminded of Bill Simmons one-liner after Sabean gave creaky, old Edgar Renteria $18 million to play shortstop. “Does Sabean watch baseball?” Simmons cracked.

3) He overpays old guys (see Renteria, Tim Lincicum’s last contract, Barry Zito, the Jon Lester attempted signing, Jake Peavy, etc. etc.) and overvalues old guys (see Zach Wheeler in a Mets uniform for a few months of Carlos Beltran).

4) He ignores the obvious needs in the lineup by trying to find value in the scrap heap. It actually works sometimes for a few months like Brandon Hicks first couple of months, about half a season of Michael Morse, Pat the Bat and Cody Ross in 2010. But then we get stuck with contracts like Pagan’s $40 million for what will likely be about a season and a half of play, Marco Scutaro’s millions for nothing, the dude that came over from the Pirates before Scutaro, etc. etc. etc. We have no payroll space because Sabean squanders it and then we can’t get guys who can actually help, like say, ANY OUTFIELDER???

Which leads me to today’s vitriolic screed about what seems so obvious I can’t even imagine why it hasn’t happened yet. We are about two real games away from Angel Pagan’s next back pain layoff, which means we will have an outfield of Nori Aoki, Blanco and Justin (who?) Maxwell. Not in August when the season’s grind has set in, but in April when the GM’s plans are most evident. That outfield will hit less than Madison Bumgarner combined.

MadBum should be shagging balls because in this lineup he could hit fifth if he can play even a little left field on his off days.

Solutions abound, but all we hear is Sabean is content to wait it out. For what exactly, since we have no major league ready outfield talent in the minor league system anywhere?

Fact 1: His minor league system ranks among the worst in baseball. The Giants have exactly ZERO prospects in the top 75. Not a one.

Fact 2: The Giants system’s players that even have a sniff of being starters in the majors are pitchers (with the exception of Andrew Susac for some other team), of which he has impressively stockpiled many arms with future potential.

Fact 3: He has only three healthy outfielders so they’ve had to keep Maxwell, a 31-year-old castoff who has a lifetime batting average  of .224 and designate first round pick Gary Brown for assignment.

Fact 4: IF there is ONE thing the Giants HAVE NEVER during Sabean’s tenure its a bonafide lead-off hitter who draws walks, plays stellar defense and can steal bases blind. Since proven by Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson, et. al. the leadoff hitter creates havoc from the game’s start and gets better pitches to hit for the power guys that followed. Angel Pagan, when healthy is a poor man’s leadoff hitter and yet the G-Men are much, much better when he bats lead off.

SO… Can someone tell me why Jackie Bradley Jr., who may be the best defensive centerfielder in baseball right now, who can steal 50 bases in a season without really trying, who draws walks like a veteran, and who appears to have corrected his long swing that killed his one shot at being a starter last year is NOT being acquired by trade? Anyone?

Sabean gave up TWO quality arms to the Red Sox last year for Jake Peavy. It will likely take only one and some parts to get Bradley, especially if they paired him with one of the Red Sox contractual problems like say Allen Craig, who could be a dynamic bat off the bench. The Red Sox have Bradley, Craig, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino not starting because their OF and 1b and DH are set in stone with all-star potential players.

The Red Sox love young arms like the Giants can offer. Any of the above mentioned players would RIGHT NOW beat out ANYONE in our OF other than Pence (who is hurt) and Pagan (who is already taking injections in his back). Conceivably we could take Bradley, Craig AND Victorino and ALL three could start games for us. Imagine Craig as simply as right -handed pinch hitter, first baseman. If we have one of those we may not have had to play five lefties against Gio Gonzalez (a lefty killer) in the playoffs against the Nationals last year (Thank God Gio couldn’t field his position allowing us to win on throwing errors, because that was the worst playoff lineup I’ve ever, ever seen). The hole in the bench was so obvious that it is unconscionable that Sabean didn’t fix it this off-season, and yet he still can!

But Bradley is the key. He is cheap, he can be controlled for several more years and if he doesn’t hit, he is still better than Blanco, Perez, Ishikawa, Maxwell or anyone in our system as a backup, defensive OFer who can steal a base. If you give up Zach Wheeler for three months of Carlos Beltran, you have no excuse for not giving up whoever for six years of JBJ even if he turns into nothing more than a better Gregor Blanco.

Yet, just as I knew Sabean would come up short in the bidding in all three of the recent Cuban all-stars who each could have plugged in as a starter for the Giants (Castillo, Moncada, Tomas), I also know Sabean won’t get the needed right-hand 1b/ph bat and even more won’t get a vital player in Jackie Bradley Jr.

Brian Sabean will be in the Hall of Fame someday. When that happens I will still think he’s the worst Hall of Famer ever.

Opening Day remains vital link to American pastime

As my life swirled ever-deeper into alcoholism, my interests diminished as if being forced through a funnel. At the end, I kept my work, my life with The Bride, our family and little else. Fun meant Happy Hour. I did little else because supposedly I was stressed out and tired at the end of the day. I didn’t want to do anything but watch a movie and relax, which was code for have a 4 p.m. cocktail, open a bottle of wine, drink it will mindlessly watching TV, open another bottle and get a little happy until I fell asleep in a stupor. Some days it took more than two bottles. Some days the cocktails started again around closing time. Some days it was not a stupor but a blackout.

Over and over again.

Recovery is about expansiveness. Once I broke through to the other side, life became big again. Glorious. Beautiful. Artistic. Creative. Interesting. It became filled with those “Ah-ha” moments that define EffinArtists.com.

Tomorrow is part of that expansiveness returning. It’s opening day of major league baseball. It’s the one interest of mine that I have loved and participated in for decades. It brings me back to the excitement of my youth, of going to games with my children and watching them become fans, of the thrill of covering baseball and seeing Opening Day from a press box, and the rhythm of consistency every year this time of year.

The only times in my life I let Opening Day slip by relatively unnoticed were the times at the very end when the grip of addiction took its toll. I can’t tell you how happy I am today to have it back.

I won’t be in ballpark this year, but I’ll have the television on for the first games. I’ll make sure to tune in to every inning of my hometown Giants. I’ll boo everything about the Dodgers except the magic artistry of Vin Scully.

And if ever there is a picture more beautiful that the artistic symmetry of a ballfield–the grass and the dirt and the distant skyline and the Opening Day colors of bunting and banners and American pageantry–I don’t know what it is.

We celebrate life and recovery every day (or try to anyway), but on celebrations of our past and present and future like Opening Day, it is truly time to take pause and thank the heavens for small blessings.

They say on Opening Day “hope springs eternal.” On Opening Day every team has the World Series in their view. Six long months from now through the dog days of summer there will be only one champion. But on Opening Day, everyone is a winner. Hope indeed. Eternal, indeed.

Play ball.

PS. Not that matters but each year I predict my winners for the coming season. In my mind I want to show I stand with the legion of prognosticators on the web and hold my own. Most year’s I do. So it’s important I call my show now so I can brag, or be rightly belittled at season’s end. So…

Predictions:

American League

  • East: Rays
  • Central: Indians
  • West: A’s
  • Wild Card: Angels, Orioles

National League:

  • East: Nationals
  • Central: Cardinals
  • West: Giants
  • Wild Card: Dodgers, Pirates

American League Champs: Rays

National League Champs: Nationals

World Series Champs: Nationals

If you are a baseball fan and want to talk trash later in the year, you better get in now with your predictions by replying below. If you don’t call your shot, don’t start talking later.