HBT Weekend Wrapup

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Things you missed this weekend while you made checklists of all of the stuff you’re going to need to do to prepare for your ten-day trip to Arizona which begins on Wednesday:

  • Domonic Brown is probably going to be the Phillies’ starting right fielder, but Cholly would like him to sweat a bit before handing him the job;
  • Michael Young showed up to Rangers’ camp.  Sadly, everyone was professional about it (well, mostly). I had really been hoping that Young would throw crap all over the floor and knock over furniture, after which Vernon Wells would talk about how it’s such a shame that the Rangers don’t keep their clubhouse clean and tidy.
  • Miguel Cabrera needs a doctor’s signoff before he can start spring training. Apropos of his patient, the doctor came in, stinking of gin, and proceeded to lie on the table.
  • The Madoff bankruptcy is going after Tim Teufel too.  Quick! Someone tell me if Irving Picard is a righty or a lefty so we can see if Wally Backman can be of any use here.
  • Garrett Wittels’ 56-game hitting streak ended. Buy hey, look on the bright side Garrett: you still have that rape trial to look forward to.
  • Brett Tomko signed a deal.  So did Matt Belisle. The former broke into the bigs in 1997 and the latter in 2003, but if you asked me in an unguarded moment, I’d guess that each one of them has been pitching for approximately 124 years.
  • I hope you’re sitting down for this: Scott Boras is probably going to be the agent for the #1 overall pick this summer.
  • Mark Teixeira calls the Yankees underdogs. Fair enough: if you consider the AL East to be a two-team race, sure, they’re underdogs.  But if the Yankees go on to win the World Series, I will not tolerate any “no one believed in us” talk, because that’s a bridge too damn far.
  • Hunter Pence beat the Astros in his arbitration hearing. It was the last arbitration of the year.  Which is nice, because now I don’t have to listen to anyone talk nonsense about “midpoints” again. Sure, fine: most arbitrations that settle do so around the midpoint between the player and the team’s offers.  But just because one settles below or above the midpoint doesn’t mean a player “won” or “lost” when he settles, as I’ve seen some people say.  Knowing that most of these things settle and knowing that most settle around the midpoint, won’t the player attempt to come up with a higher number and the team lower than they might otherwise do?  As such, hearing that a player settled below or above the midpoint doesn’t mean anything. A below-the-midpoint settlement may be a win for the player who never figured he’d get what he asked for.  Oh well, who cares? Arbitration is kind of boring to me to be honest and I’m glad it’s over.
  • Jimmy Rollins predicted that the Phillies will win 100 games.  I sure hope no one made a big deal out of this. I mean, (a) the Phillies are good, so even if you are conservative and acknowledge that it’s hard to win 100 games, it’s not like 100 is an absurd number; and (b) it’s Jimmy Rollins and confidence is kind of his thing.  Someone wake me up when a meek player on a crappy team predicts 100 wins. Better yet, someone tell me when someone on the Pirates says “If we win 60, I’ll be shocked, because we’re really crappy.”
  • Kevin Millwood to the Yankees: Drop Dead.  Well, he didn’t really say that, but I’d like the Post to drag that one out again.
  • I don’t think there has been a time in history when more ink was spilled over a player showing up on his reporting date.  And who cares about early?  I used to work with a guy at the Ohio State bookstore who would come in early every day. He’d sit on the loading dock and smoke until everyone else got there. Didn’t really change the game any.
  • Alex Rodriguez lost ten pounds this winter.  Just like A-Rod to do something so selfish and embarrassing. God, when will he stop trying to be the center of attention?
  • Brandon Webb had two years of trouble with his shoulder. Then when he came back at the very end of last season, he couldn’t throw it anywhere near normal velocity. Now he’s having shoulder problems. I sure hope no one is surprised about this.  People freak when they hear about Tommy John surgery, but way more guys come back from that than serious shoulder problems.
  • Cliff Lee has a mild strain in his side. This is not a repeat from 2007 or 2010.

Sorry to rub it in about my trip to the desert. But press registration for the fabulous Cactus League is already underway, and I have to get there by Wednesday to claim my sound-proof suite. A fashionable sporting website in New York has taken care of the reservations … and I am, after all, a professional journalist; so I have an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.