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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A-Rod will be back on Fox for the playoffs

Alex Rodriguez
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Alex Rodriguez made for a shockingly good analyst during last year’s playoffs. He’s clear and concise and is able to criticize players without being a jackass. That’s key, as so many current and former players who spend time doing analysis seem loathe to call out a player despite the fact that that’s what they’re there for.

Fox obviously liked what they got out of A-Rod, because he’s coming back:

Now, if they can refrain from hiring Pete Rose and if TBS brings back A.J. Pierzynski, tuning in to the pregame and postgame shows may actually be worth your time this October.

Blame Baseball’s copycat behavior for its lack of diversity in the executive ranks

Rob Manfred
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Following on yesterday’s stuff about baseball’s marked lack of diversity in the executive ranks comes a Ken Rosenthal column which digs into it a bit.

I might observe that, while, Rosenthal is right on all of the facts, there is a whiff of pushback in the story. As if MLB folks were hearing the criticisms Murray Chass and others have leveled in recent days about the lack of women, minorities and other candidates who don’t fit the “30-something MBA from an Ivy League school” mold of so many of today’s top execs and wanted to get some points out there. The league’s search firm is examined and there is a bit of “well, here is an exception; and here are a few more . . .” to it. Which, hey, that’s fair. Like I said, Rosenthal has his facts right and treats the issue seriously.

I think Rosenthal’s best bit, however, is the point he hits on at the end, when he says “homogeneity is dangerous in any industry, particularly when bright people are excluded.” That’s probably the key word to think about when you think about baseball’s hiring practices. “Homegeneity.” Baseball has a distinct lack of women and minorities in key positions, but I don’t think it’s because baseball is maliciously racist or sexist. Rather, it’s because baseball is acutely prone to copycat behavior that breeds homogeneity.

Everything about baseball culture, from the first day of a player’s minor league career-on and from the first day an intern is hired to get coffee for an assistant general manager is about not being different. About not sticking out. About emulating successes. You may mess up or you may fail, but if you do it while going about your business the way other, successful people went about theirs, you’ll be way better off than if you did things differently or stuck out.

This is true of all industries to some degree, but it seems far more prevalent in baseball. It’s a smaller world with fewer opportunities than business at large. It’s a more conservative world in terms of temperament. It’s one where you’re far more likely to have a reporter ask you about why you did something than, say, the accounting industry. It makes people afraid to take chances and makes people far more likely to do what that last successful guy did than to go out on even the shortest of limbs.

Not that things don’t change. Indeed, today’s preference for 30-something MBAs is radically different than the old model of hiring some old “baseball man” to run baseball operations. But it only came to the fore after the sabermetric and analytical model forced its way into the conversation with success and/or efficiencies that were impossible for even the crustiest old baseball man to ignore. That said, it was a transformation that was so difficult and radical that it was literally turned into a book and a movie and led to a decade and a half of arguing. A philosophical change which may have been casually noted in another business and then quickly emulated played out like some sort of cultural civil war in baseball circles. Change came, yes, but it wasn’t easy.

But here we are again, with the old baseball men replaced by the “Moneyball” disciples, who have become the new normal. A normal which one deviates from at great risk in baseball’s conservative world. I don’t believe that baseball’s homogeneity in the executive ranks is a function of bad people who believe bad things making bad decisions. I think it’s about fear and conformity more than anything else. Now there is a fear that not hiring that Ivy League MBA is the radical and perilous move. And if that Ivy League MBA was one who worked under another Ivy League MBA with another, all the better. And the easier we can sell him to fans as “the next Theo Epstein,” well, the better. And it sure would be easier to do that if he looked like Theo Epstein! Comps are the lingua franca of old baseball scouts. They’re the lingua franca of baseball decision makers too.

Whatever the causes, the net effect of all of this is no different than if there were virulent racism and sexism in the hearts and minds of baseball’s decision makers. It’s the same rich white boys club that maliciousness and bigotry could’ve created, even if it was created via more benign means. If baseball’s leaders truly believe that diversity in their leadership ranks is important — and I believe them when they say they do — they need to attack the problem of its homogeneity in the same manner they would if there was something malicious afoot. They need to stop throwing up their hands and saying “well, that’s what clubs do” or “that’s what our search firm gave us” and make achieving diversity a goal with an action plan, not just a goal which is merely stated.