Tag Archives: National League

A pitching matchup to skip work for

The most intriguing pitching matchup in baseball today has to be Tim Lincecum and Stephen Strasburg. The game will be played in the sunshine at AT&T Park in San Francisco this afternoon, and I’d love to be there.

Lincecum has gone from being one of the undisputed top few pitchers in the game the past few seasons to a bafflingly miserable lower echelon ranking this season. Strasburg — the latest in a series of pitching messiahs — is living up to his billing.

Timmy has a bit of extra motivation for this start, and I’ll bet Strasburg is revved up high as well. Let’s hope it’s a good one!

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My National League West prediction for the 2012 season

With a heaping helping of faith and wishful thinking, I’m picking the San Francisco Giants to win the National League West this year. Even as I typed that sentence, the nagging voice in my head was saying, “What about the Diamondbacks?”

The pick comes down to arms versus bats, and the Giants have the better pitching. But I have my doubts about the San Francisco staff this year. I don’t think Tim Lincecum is a lock to have another dominating season, and I fret about closer Brian Wilson’s health.

On offense, the Giants should be more productive this year. That’s predicated on the iffy proposition that Buster Posey regains most of his 2010 form, Brandon Belt proves he can hit as a starting first baseman, and Melky Cabrera approximates his 2011 numbers.

I put the Diamondbacks a close second and the Rockies hard on their heels in third, with the Dodgers and Padres trailing.

That analysis and $1.35 will get you a tall Pike Place Roast at Starbucks.

First Albert Pujols, and now Prince Fielder bolt the National League

At this hour, it appears Prince Fielder will be skipping over Lake Michigan from Milwaukee to play with the Tigers in Detroit, and that has to be a bit worrisome for the National League.

Earlier this post-season, Albert Pujols bolted from the Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels. If the Fielder deal comes through, that will mean that the top two sluggers in the NL have jumped to the AL.

With free agency, there are no doubt a zillion reasons athletes consider when deciding to sign with a particular team. With Pujols and Fielder – both slugging first sackers – I have to think that the designated hitter position in the AL was a factor, and possibly a significant one.

Even if their legs give out, they’ll be able to keep coming to the plate in the AL longer than they would in the NL. An American League team can offer a slugger the DL and thus stretch that multi-million dollar contract a bit longer.

Requiem for the San Francisco Giants

The inevitable happened tonight as the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the defending world champion San Francisco Giants to win the National League West title. It’s a bitter end to the season for us Giants fans, none of whom have the least glimmer of hope that San Francisco can finagle a wild card berth. Frankly, I don’t want it.

The Giants’ season, as I see it, ended in Philadelphia at mid-summer when the Phillies crushed them. Or maybe it ended when Buster Posey broke his leg way back in May. It doesn’t really matter.

Following a defending world champion was a new experience for me. Growing up a Cleveland fan, I never had the pleasure. I came close in ’82 while living in Milwaukee, but the Brewers lost in 7 games to the Cardinals in the series. And yes, the Yankees won a couple of times while I was working in Manhattan and living in New Jersey. But there are no pinstripes on my heart.

In my middle age, my heart is black and orange. I have a couple of months to lick my wounds and heal, confident that some day soon pitchers and catchers will report to the desert, the same barren place where our dreams died tonight.

The 2011 National League MVP: Buster Posey

Scoff if you will at that headline, but the idea has merit. Buster Posey has proved just how valuable he is by his absence from the San Francisco Giants.

Posey broke his leg May 25 while trying to keep Scott Cousins of the Florida Marlins from touching home. Cousins scored, the Marlins won, and it’s not much of a stretch to say that the Giants lost their season that night. The mood in the clubhouse afterward was somber, and it seemed the whole Bay Area was downcast the following day when word got out that Posey was probably through for the year.

The Giants held the National League West lead for much of the summer, many weeks after Posey was sidelined. But the lack of scoring that Posey helped San Francisco overcome in their 2010 championship drive returned with a vengeance in the second half of this season. The defending champs were punchless, with the worst offense in either league.

Posey’s replacements, backup Eli Whiteside and AAA call-up Chris Stewart, struggled at the plate most of the season. They batted at the bottom of the lineup, not in the heart where Posey had been.

Also a factor in the Giants fall from first was the drop in the level of expertise behind the plate. Whiteside and Stewart let too many balls get away. Although they never quite made the comparison in words, the Giants broadcasters conveyed the change in their tone whenever the non-Poseys let one slip past. And the backup backstops didn’t gun down many runners or stop them from trying the way Posey did.

I can’t fault Whiteside and Stewart for their handling the pitching staff, however. The Giants starters were as impressive as ever in almost every statistical category but wins.

No one should lay the Giants’ troubles this year solely at the feet of Buster Posey. Closer Brian Wilson started the year hurt and is ending it hurt. The rest of the bullpen, so brilliant down the stretch last year, proved mortal. Miguel Tejada flopped at shortstop. Aubrey Huff lost his stroke. And so on.

But Posey was the nucleus of the Giants who swept to victory last fall. The team’s diminished powers in 2011 were at the very least exaggerated once he went on the disabled list.

The Giants have not been eliminated from the playoffs, but no one seems to believe either Arizona will falter or the Giants will catch the Diamondbacks with a late surge.

Maybe if Posey came back ….

Baseball is better when the pitchers hit

A recent spate of inter-league play has gotten me thinking again about the designated hitter rule. It’s not that I’m anti-DH per se. It’s simply that I think baseball is more entertaining when the pitchers hit.

When kids play the game of baseball, everybody hits. You’re supposed to hit. Baseball is a game that tests all your skills.

At the Little League and high school levels, the best hitters are often also the best pitchers. That changes once players go pro, as pitching becomes a specialty almost to the exclusion of hitting.

And that’s a shame.

I’ve always thought it was cool when a pitcher contributes to his own cause with a timely hit or a well-placed bunt. Earl Wilson slugged a number of home runs for the Tigers back in the 60s, and he was a gas to watch. There was never any shame in the at bats that Bob Gibson had for the Cardinals. Last October, Jonathan Sanchez of the Giants ripped a triple at AT&T Park that was one of the biggest hits of the year as San Francisco took the world title.

The American League shows no signs of chucking the DH, and that means extended careers for a number of guys with bad knees and exhausted legs. Fine for them.

But in real baseball, the batters plays the field and the pitchers hit.

19th Century baseball: ‘Old Hoss’ book doesn’t disappoint

A brief update: Last night I polished off the last chapters of “Fifty-nine in ’84,” the biography of Charlie “Old Hoss” Radbourn that I mentioned in a post a few days ago. The book by Edward Achorn was even better than I expected, bringing to life the game as it was played in the late 19th century.

I knew little about that era beyond that the game was different then. But what I discovered was that the game was not much different. Players bickered with owners over salaries, teammates backed each other up and betrayed one another in equal measure, and the fans (or “cranks”) loved the sport with a passion.

The book focuses on Radbourn and the Providence Grays, but there’s plenty about the Boston Beaneaters, Chicago White Stockings, Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Wolverines, Cleveland Blue Stockings and the New York Gothams of the original National League. I highly recommend the book to baseball fans, especially to those who appreciate the game’s rich history.

References to railroads, misguided medicine, alcoholism, prostitution and venereal disease only add to the book’s charm.