We’ve talked a lot about narrative lately, but that’s all pregame to the crowning jewel of narrative season: the World Series.
The big narrative: that whoever wins four out of seven games is and always was special and uniquely destined for this. There will be lots of post-facto story-telling after each victory and especially after the series is over. Folks looking back at seemingly random and inconsequential event X from earlier in the season which, now that we see how history unfolded, clearly meant that history was going to unfold just so.
But that’s easy. The narratives that are more fun are the individual ones. The “Kevin Millar kept the team loose” and “Jerome Bettis is from Detroit” kinds of things. Had the Steelers and Red Sox lost in 2004 and 2006, respectively, those tales would have dried up pretty fast. Or changed to “Kevin Millar and his idiots didn’t take things seriously” and “Jerome Bettis had too many social obligations in Detroit” kinds of things. Winning and losing changes the story.
Let’s see if we can get ahead of the game here, shall we? Some off-the-top-of-my head narratives coming to a broadcast or next-day column near you:
- Barry Zito: Everyone’s looking for a redemption story, and as the improbable Game 1 starter [all together now] two years after he was left off the playoff roster, Zito is the most likely candidate. Good luck to those of you who can find the personal hardship angle for a guy who still has another year left on his $126 million contract, has had to endure living in the most beautiful city in America for the last 13 years and somehow soldiers through the day married to a gorgeous woman.
- Justin Verlander: Because we’re finally acknowledging that Miguel Cabrera has a World Series ring, I presume Verlander will be the focus of the “he needs a ring to cement his legacy” thing. If he throws a no-hitter tonight but the Tigers lose in six, you see, he isn’t a good pitcher. If he gets beat up in two World Series starts but the Tigers still manage to win, he’s achieved his crowning glory.
- BONUS LEGACY: Jim Leyland will likely get the Miguel Cabrera treatment from someone. You know, with folks forgetting that he also has a World Series ring thanks to his time in Florida. I bet we can’t go the next week without someone saying that winning this year would validate him somehow.
- Miguel Cabrera/Buster Posey: As the MVPs presumptive, they will no doubt have every at bat analyzed more closely than others. As they should, of course. But do be on the lookout for Tim McCarver reminding us, in the event one of them struggles, that the MVP ballots were submitted prior to the beginning of the postseason and that none of this takes away from their worthiness for the award.
- Phil Coke/Hunter Pence: We love both of you, but sorry guys, there can only be one clown prince/crazy guy/oddball per World Series, which means that whichever of you finds yourself on the winning team should be prepared for an offseason full of feature stories. Well, more feature stories, as each of you have already received that treatment already this postseason. The loser, though, will disappear from view.
- BONUS QUIRKINESS: Though he has contributed zero to the Giants 2013 season, Brian Wilson has a Lifetime Pass in the quirky narrative, so be ready for the myriad shots of him doing zany, zany things in the dugout during Giants rallies.
- Delmon Young: Postseason God: Delmon Young is a not good player who has had a few big hits in the past couple of postseasons. I figure that we will soon learn that this is a talent of his and that is somehow makes him less of a miserable person who can’t play baseball very well. In non-narrative news, I also wonder if a couple of big World Series hits won’t land him a way-too-good-for-him contract next season.
- Detroit Ruin Porn: Did you know that every Detroit sports team since 1968 has carried the forlorn hopes and shattered dreams of a blighted city on its shoulders and that, if they win, everything will be OK in the Motor City once again, at least for a little while? It’s true! Enjoy your sidebars and photo slideshows of burnt out buildings and abandoned neighborhoods. Bonus points if the reporter takes on the hushed and portentous tones of some someone visiting blighted sub-Saharan Africa or whatever.
That’s all I got for now. I’m sure some more of these will pop up. Because if there’s one thing we in the media love doing is to apply storylines and to assign personal and moral worth to the outcome of sporting events.
You might want to sit down for this news. Giants manager Bruce Bochy has tabbed ace Madison Bumgarner to start on Opening Day in Milwaukee against the Brewers, CSN Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic reports. Shocking, I know.
The Giants had a busy offseason, adding Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija to the starting rotation, but neither had a shot at getting the Opening Day nod considering what Bumgarner has done for the Giants over the last five seasons.
Since the start of the 2011 season, the 26-year-old lefty compiled a 3.05 ERA with 1,034 strikeouts and 239 walks across 1,050 innings. Among starters who logged at least 800 innings in that span of time, only Clayton Kershaw, Cueto, Zack Greinke, David Price, and Felix Hernandez have posted lower ERAs. And Bumgarner is the only one among them with a championship ring. In fact, he has three.
We’re almost halfway through February. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training soon. And yet, there are more than a handful of solid free agents that remain unsigned. Among them: Yovani Gallardo, Ian Desmond, and Dexter Fowler. All three have draft pick compensation tied to them, as each rejected a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from his respective former team. That, undoubtedly, is a reason why they haven’t inked a contract yet.
MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark is unhappy about this reality and expects to discuss potential changes when the next collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. The current CBA expires after the 2016 season. Per the Associated Press, Clark said last week, “I think it’s disappointing when there are as many talented players still without a home. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to be in a world where very talented players are at home for whatever reason they are there. It will likely be a part of the conversation in bargaining.”
Clark also mentioned, among other things, the possibility of a draft lottery, which would take away the incentive for teams to “tank”, or lose on purpose. The Astros and Phillies have notably done this in recent years, finishing with baseball’s worst record and thus netting the #1 overall draft pick.
These are, however, simply two items of many that will be discussed during the upcoming offseason. It will be interesting to see what solutions are eventually put in place.
It was reported on Friday that Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka isn’t sure if he’ll be ready for Opening Day as he makes his way back from arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. His health will be crucial to the Yankees’ chances this season, but the same goes for rotation-mate Michael Pineda, who hopes that this is the year he’ll be able to take on the workload of a frontline starter.
Pineda was on pace for a career-high in innings last season, but he landed on the disabled list in late July with a right flexor forearm muscle strain and missed a month. He struggled upon his return and ended up with 160 2/3 innings, so he fell short of his career-high of 171 innings as a rookie with the Mariners way back in 2011. Now going into his age-27 season, Pineda told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com that his goal for 2016 is to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career.
“For me, this year, I’m coming here early to be strong and working hard to pitch 200 innings this year,” Pineda said at the club’s Minor League complex. “I want to throw 200 innings this year. This is my goal, and help my team.”
Pineda had a mediocre 4.37 ERA (90 ERA+) last season despite impressive peripherals with 8.7 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9. Among pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched, only Bartolo Colon of the Mets had a lower walk percentage. Pineda managed to increase his ground ball rate to 48.2 percent and also saw an uptick in velocity from 2014, so there’s reason to believe in improvement if he can stay healthy.
The Brewers acquired prospects Jake Nottingham and Bubba Derby from the Athletics on Friday in exchange for slugging outfielder Khris Davis. The hope is that Nottingham will develop into the Brewers’ catcher of the future, so you could say that the club is planning for life after Jonathan Lucroy. However, Brewers general manager David Stearns said today that the trade doesn’t change Lucroy’s immediate status.
The Brewers are in rebuild-mode and Lucroy is an excellent trade chip if healthy, as his contract includes a $5.25 million club option for 2017. It’s likely just a matter of time before he’s shipped elsewhere, but yesterday’s trade shouldn’t change the timeline for a potential deal. Nottingham doesn’t turn 21 until April and has yet to play in Double-A, so he’s still a ways off from the majors. The Brewers can afford to wait on the right offer for Lucroy, whether it’s in spring training or at the trade deadline or perhaps later.
Checking in at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Nottingham batted .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs over 109 games last season between Class A and High-A. He was traded from the Astros to the Athletics as part of the Scott Kazmir deal last July. It’s worth noting that Stearns was the assistant GM for Houston when Nottingham was drafted in the sixth round back in 2013, so he’s clearly a fan.