The Week Ahead: Hot matchups, big debuts, and a new ace in Philly

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halladay-100404.standard[1].jpgThe 2010 season started beautifully on Sunday night with a thriller between the Red Sox and Yankees. If you could ignore the dog-and-pony show that comes with an ESPN Sunday night telecast, you were able to enjoy quite the treat – even if you don’t have a horse in the Yankees-Red Sox race.

But believe it or not, there are more than two teams in Major League Baseball, and there are a lot of juicy tidbits to watch for in this first week. We have new faces in new places. We have some stellar pitching matchups. And we have some teams trying to live up to early high expectations as the season begins.

Let’s start with who won’t be around as the action heats up. In Texas, Ian Kinsler will not be suiting up. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran of the Mets are not yet ready to take the field. The Mariners will have to wait at least a couple weeks to see new ace Cliff Lee take the mound, and the Diamondbacks (Brandon Webb), Astros (Lance Berkman) and Rockies (Huston Street) are also among the teams that will be without key players as the season begins.

But even with the injuries, there is plenty of fun to look forward to this week. Phillies fans, enjoying two straight World Series appearances, will unveal their new ace Roy Halladay on Monday as he faces the Washington Nationals. They’re giddy about Halladay in Philly, and rightly so, and he is a big reason some are picking the Phillies to win it all in 2010.

Among other debuts to watch for are Chone Figgins (Mariners), Ben Sheets (A’s, pitching Monday), Orlando Hudson (Twins), John Lackey (Red Sox, Wednesday), Rich Harden and Vlad Guerrero (Rangers), and Hideki Matsui and Joel Pineiro (Angels).

There are some nice pitching matchups in the first week. The Marlins start their young ace Josh Johnson on Monday against the Mets’ Johan Santana, and two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum of the Giants faces off against the Astros’ Roy Oswalt. But the top matchup comes Monday morning when Kansas City’s reigning Cy Young winner Zack Greinke squares off against a man who could easily win it in 2010, Detroit fire-baller Justin Verlander. I pity the hitters in that one.

So settle in and buckle your safety belts. It’s going to be a fun week.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Yankees at Red Sox, April 4, 6-7:
There are only 17 more games between these rivals this season, so enjoy them while you can. Yes, these series get overhyped by ESPN. So what? They’re still fun to watch.

Twins at Angels, April 5-8: A couple of likely playoff teams square off in Los Angeles. And the Twins get one last chance to stay warm before returning home to open their new outdoor ballpark.

Cubs at Braves, April 5, 7-8: Both of these teams are expecting to contend in 2010, so there’s a nice bit of pressure to start fast in this season-opening series.

Yankees at Rays, April 9-11: The Rays think they can make it a three-team race in the AL East. Here’s they’re chance to prove it.

Cardinals at Brewers, April 9-11: Pujols, Holliday and company will test the Brewers’ revamped pitching staff. And Milwaukee gets an early look at whether it can get back into contention in 2010.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 1:10 p.m. ET:
Cardinals at Reds (ESPN)
Monday, 2:05 p.m.: Indians at White Sox (ESPN2)
Monday, 4:10 p.m.: Cubs at Braves (ESPN)
Monday, 7:05 p.m.: Giants at Astros (ESPN2)
Monday, 10:05 p.m.: Twins at Angels (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.: Yankees at Red Sox (ESPN2)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Mariners at Rangers (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Yankees at Rays (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m.: Cardinals at Brewers (FOX)
Sunday, 1:40 p.m.: Yankees at Rays (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Cardinals at Brewers (ESPN)
*Check local listings

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Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Lou Piniella

TORONTO - JULY 9:  Manager Lou Pinella of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during batting practice prior to the1991 All-Star Game at the Toronto Sky Dome on July 9, 1991 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, a won a World Series as a manager. That win total is good for 14th all time. Of the 13 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The only who isn’t is Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career. Connie Mack and Bucky Harris are in that crowd and they were under .500 too, but Mack is kind of a special case as the all-time wins leader and Harris, well, I dunno, he hung around forever and the Veterans Committee was a different beast back in the 1970s. Point is, if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re over .500, as Piniella is, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 26 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the 2016 team’s exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a repuatation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes and padding that win total to get him into that top 14. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undoing some bad things Piniella did. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Hard to say. On the one hand, Piniella feels like the sort of baseball man that gets rewarded by the Veterans Committee. On the other hand, the Veterans Committee took ages to vote in some other notable managers such as Whitey Herzog, suggesting that maybe Piniella will have to wait. This is the first year for the new composition of the Veterans Committe, however, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be tougher or easier graders. He may be the hardest call of all of the guys on this year’s ballot.

Twins hire James Rowson as their hitting coach

BOSTON, MA - June 4: The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Twins have announced that they have hired James Rowson as their hitting coach.

Rowson was the minor league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees for seven of the last nine seasons, interrupted by a short stint with the Chicago Cubs as minor league hitting coordinator. He also worked at the minor league levels with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in the minors for the Seattle Mariners and Yankees.

Rowson replacesTom Brunansky, who was hitting coach for the past four seasons.