Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Lightning 10.3.2010

  • Where wings meet dream:

The above line is from Will Ferrell's Broadway show, "You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush". It neatly encompasses the frequent language lapses of our 43rd president.

"Where wings meet dream" is where "sense" meets "doesn't make".

Wings will be meeting dream for two of the three National League teams whose playoff spots are still in flux. Here are the scenarios (culled from the NY Times):

Braves and Giants win----Giants win the NL West; Braves win the Wild Card.

Braves lose and Giants win----Giants win the NL West; Braves and Padres are tied for the Wild Card and play a one-game playoff tomorrow in Atlanta.

Braves lose and Padres win----Padres win the NL West; Giants win the Wild Card.

Braves and Padres win----they'd all be tied; Giants and Padres play a one-game playoff for the NL West tomorrow in San Diego; the loser goes to Atlanta on Tuesday to play the Braves for the Wild Card.


The point of this section isn't to predict what's going to happen----who knows? And presumably, by the time many of you are reading this, the games will be over. What today will determine will be whether or not a veteran team like the Giants will be able to take the next step from contender to playoff team; whether the Braves will recover from their four lost years in which they were trying to regain their excellence from 1991-2005; and whether the Padres will rise from the ashes of their fall to the depths in 2008-2009 and parlay their young core and terrific pitching staff into legitimacy by making the playoffs.

Bobby Cox guiding the Braves into the playoffs is the romantic story as he's riding off into the sunset of retirement when the Braves are done; but to me, the most interesting story is that of the Padres. After they spent the first half of the season surrounded by questions of realism and if they were going to trade Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell regardless of position in the standings, they held their own and built a large lead in the NL West and a safe one in the Wild Card; then they lost 10 straight games in early September and saw their leads dwindle to nothing.

On Thursday, they lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Cubs and entered San Francisco trailing the Giants by three games in the division; they were two games behind the Braves for the Wild Card.

Then they fought back.

Now they're right back in playoff position and don't appear satisfied. This is a flashpoint in the growth process for a young team.

Will they do as the Yankees did in 1996 as they built the foundation for their championship teams after losing in 1995? Those Yankees faced a heavily favored Braves team in the World Series, got hammered in the first two games and grittily won three straight in Atlanta before clinching the series in game 6 at Yankee Stadium. Without that victory, it's hard to imagine the Yankees cementing their place in history as a dynasty with three more titles in four years.

Or will they be the Mets? They staged a similarly heroic comeback in 1999 when they were in essentially the exact same Wild Card position as the Padres going to the final weekend; the caught the Reds and won the one-game playoff in Cincinnati on Monday as Al Leiter pitched the game of his life with a 2-hit shutout; they shocked the Diamondbacks in the NLDS; then came thisclose to being the first team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Braves.

Those Mets went to the World Series in 2000 and lost; then they stumbled out of contention as Bobby Valentine's control of the team disappeared, GM Steve Phillips was fired and they didn't return to the playoffs until 2006.

There are many examples of teams facing the fork in the road to greatness and making a wrong turn.

If the Padres pull this off, they could be on the cusp of something special.

If they don't....

  • Viewer Mail 10.3.2010:

PairFace writes re the Phillies and me:

Well Paul, you begrudgingly gave Amaro some credit, so I guess I can live with that. But you went out of your way to rip Amaro at length on several occasions, and only credit him when someone calls you on the carpet for it. I would think it would be to your benefit, as someone trying to sell objective baseball analysis, to handle your non-favorite teams with a little more objectivity (and not so much favoritism for your team).

I never said Amaro was a "top-tier" GM. He will have to prove that over time. But he has done a good job to this point, and has brought big pieces in at the last 2 trading deadlines. No other GM in MLB can make the same claim. Not even Cashman, with his endless reserves. (BTW, did you really call the Yankees "conscious of their finances"??? That would be the first time I've ever heard that term associated with that organization. Just saying.)

I agree that getting Oswalt was at least a partial admission of a mistake in dealing Lee away. But as it stands, the Phils will have Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels under control next year, and perhaps 2012. That's as close to guaranteed pennant contention as there is in baseball. Lee pitching out the year in Philly, and then leaving, would not have left the Phils in as good a position as they are right now.

Which is why the talk of prospects and/or draft picks is moot right now. The Phils are built for the here and now. I think every rational Phils' fan realizes the window for this group closes sometime after the 2012 season. Whether the window closes quickly or gradually is irrelevant to me. This is the time for this group to collect all the hardware it can. I am with you in that I would gladly trade some down years in the future for pennants and championships now. That's why Howard's contract doesn't bother me so much, because there are no more uncertain arbitration years to deal with, and Amaro will know exactly how much wiggle room he will have at next year's trading deadline.

Calling me on the carpet? That's garbage. I give credit when it's due; I rip when it's due. If you look at what happened with the Oswalt trade, I credited Amaro; with the Lee trade in 2009, I said the following: "They held onto their vaunted prospect Kyle Drabek and still managed to get a top-of-the-rotation starter in Cliff Lee."

Am I supposed to bow at Ruben Amaro at any little thing he does that I deem intelligent? I defended him with the Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez. The prospects he got back for Lee were beside the point and we won't know about that deal until at least 2012 at the earliest. I've acknowledged the wisdom in placing his ego second while silently acknowledging the Lee error.

If anything, I'm harder on the Mets than I am on other teams. The same evenhandedness I gave to Omar Minaya when I went deal-by-deal on his tenure to provide full context while he was under siege is what I would provide for Amaro if I did a similar dissection.

Amaro is playing for the now----and that's the right thing to do----which exemplifies the glaring mistake he made in trading Lee. They were lucky in that Roy Oswalt finally asked out of Houston and agreed to go to an East Coast team which, prior to his frustration boiling over, was not going to happen. That said, the system is essentially gutted aside from Domonic Brown; they have those youngsters in the low minors like Jonathan Singleton, but by 2012, as I said they're going to be old and expensive.

The days of the Yankees spending unlimited money are over----they do have payroll constraints; it sounds ridiculous, but it's true. Brian Cashman had to get permission to expand the payroll to sign Chan Ho Park in the spring. They didn't make the aggressive play for Oswalt as they should've.

Howard's contract isn't due to any flaws in his game as much as it is the circumstances surrounding it. As I said when he signed it, where was he going? Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols are up for free agency after next season just as Howard would've. No one was going to come close to matching that contract; in fact, they could've gotten him for far less than what they paid. They're going to regret that contract.

Trading Lee was still a mistake, but things worked out; sometimes it happens that way.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Billy Beane and the Mets:

Billy Beane to the Mets? Did I actually read those words? Now that would be a fun trip for you to write about.

His name has been mentioned repeatedly; I don't want him and he's not coming. Trust me when I tell you I'll have plenty enough to say if they bring in Sandy Alderson.

MacW writes RE Ichiro:

Prince, once again the assumption that Ichiro could hit 25 to 30 homers a year if he simply chose to is completely unfair. In Japan Ichiro hit as many as 25 homers in 130 games, and his slugging percentage in his seven years there was around .530. But in the U.S. where the parks are bigger, most of his fly balls die short of the fence. Gerald Perry, the Mariners hitting coach in 2001, encouraged Ichiro to hit the ball on the ground and use his speed, which Ichiro did. Was Ichiro selfish to do so? Perry seems to have had the right idea. Ichiro's lifetime average on fly balls is .163 and .305 on ground balls (you can find the info on -- click on splits). Chone Figgins, who is ten pounds heavier than Ichiro, is hitting second in the order this year and has hit only one homer. Is Figgins selfish for not trying to hit more home runs?

And Prince, you're saying that Ichiro was giving his best effort in center field but showed everyone he was unhappy about it with his attitude? I personally couldn't see it. How could I with him giving his best effort. And is the only conclusion we can draw in Hargrove's departure was that Ichiro was personally involved? How about we take Hargrove at his word. How about that? Look, it's clear you're not coming off your point that Ichiro is selfish. As you say, it gives you pleasure. But please, deal in facts, not conjecture.

MacW had more to say than this, but I edited for space. You can see the full comments here.

You're picking and choosing facts and comparing two players who have nothing to do with one another. Ichiro has far more ability than does Chone Figgins. No one in their right mind would expect Figgins to try and hit homers.

I'm taking no pleasure in calling Ichiro selfish.

If anything, I'm saying he's not fulfilling his talents to the degree that he could if he made the conscious decision to do as Ted Williams suggested in his letter to Jay Johnstone and wait for a good pitch to hit, pull it and hit for power. The .163 average on fly balls is taken out of context. If he has a pitch to drive and turns on it to pull it, would his average be that low? I highly doubt it.

As you compare hitters of lower caliber and their power numbers from Japan----Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura----you're doing Ichiro a disservice by lumping him in with players who are in no way up to his skill level. The other hitter you mention, Hideki Matsui, was a power hitter. No one is calling Ichiro a prototypical "slugger"; suggesting he swing for the fences on every pitch like Adam Dunn or Mark Reynolds and pile up the resulting strikeouts; I'd like him to consciously try to help his team by hitting in the middle of the lineup and driving in more runs.

Regarding the center field stuff and the Mike Hargrove allegations, you're right in a sense----it's circumstantial and anecdotal. Ichiro and Hargrove had made an uneasy peace, but Ichiro's contract extension occurring simultaneously with Hargrove's resignation was suspicious; Ichiro had let it be known that yes, maybe he would like to experience free agency in North America. Then it all went away when he was extended and Hargrove was gone.

I didn't say he wasn't giving his best effort in center field; I said he didn't like the position and let people know with his body language and whispers. Both he and the club were concerned that he would wear down with the extra room to cover; he wasn't happy out there and was thrilled when he was moved back to right.

This is neither here nor there in the grand scheme; the main idea is not to criticize Ichiro; it's to say that he could be doing so much more than he does as he accumulates singles instead of using his skills to hit for more power----and the Mariners are a team that desperately needs a run producer in the middle of the lineup; and that is currently not Ichiro even though it could be.

  • The Prince on the Podcast:

I'm scheduled to appear with Sal at SportsFan Buzz tomorrow talking about the playoffs; Ichiro; and the Mets. Hopefully the playoff matchups will be set by tonight so I'll be able to write my playoff preview early and have it posted before the podcast.

I'm going to be doing a lot of writing in a very narrow timeframe if that's the case; if any of you remember the bursts of psychotic laughter on Twitter, it's very possible that another such eventuality is going to occur. Some were entertained; some were frightened; I was simply elsewhere.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.

Last day I promote!!!

1 comment:

Macw said...

Actually, Prince, both Figgins and Ichiro are similar offensive players. I was just trying to point out that asking Ichiro to hit 20 or 30 homers is as unfair as asking Figgins to do the same. Citing Ted Williams' advice and saying that Ichiro could work the count in his favor and use his hand-eye coordination and bat control to bang out home runs is to say that anybody could do the same thing. If Ichiro, then why not Dom DiMaggio or Richie Ashburn, both of whom are the same size as Ichiro. Imagine Ozzie Guillen going up to Juan Pierre, a player similar to Ichiro and saying: "Look Juan, Magglio Ordonez has gone down with an injury. We need you to move down in the order and hit more homers. I know you can do it because you have 14 career home runs. All you need to do is double that total this year. You can do that by looking for a good pitch to hit and using your superior bat control to knock it out of the park. No less an authority than Paul Lebowitz says it can be done." This of course is absurd. As for citing Iwamura, Kaz Matsui, Fukudome, and Hideki Matsui, you completely ignored my larger point, that those players showed dramatic declines in their power numbers when they moved from Japan to the U.S., declines that you seem to think that Ichiro should be immune to. To simply say that Ichiro has more ability than they do is to damn him with faint praise, while imputing to him a skill (power hitting) that he doesn't have in order to denigrate him.