The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Bleacher Fan.

Here we are in early May and the MLB standings are a bit confusing. The team with the best record in baseball is not the team many predicted – it’s the Cleveland Indians of all teams. A 18-8 April does not earn any team a championship, but it is as noteworthy as the New York Yankees’ 17-8. It’s as good as the Phillies as well. Since the Yankees and the Phillies are legitimate name-brand contenders, then the Indians must be for real also, right?

Unfortunately, that question does not have a simple answer… making it a great candidate for an eternal baseball debate. Does a strong April REALLY matter for Major League Baseball teams?

Loyal Homer will argue that an excellent April is not indicative of a great season while Bleacher Fan will argue that a great April means a great season is in the works.

Who do you agree with? Check back here and find out how the judge rules later this week.

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Does April Really Matter in MLB Debate… Pride Goeth BEFORE the Fall, and Winning in April Goeth INTO the Fall

May 3, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The first month of baseball is officially in the books, and the biggest story from the month of April has been the play of the Cleveland Indians.

The upstart Tribe has just turned in the greatest start in the 110 year history of their storied franchise, finishing April tied for the best record in baseball at 18-8, and currently owning a 4.5 game lead in the AL Central.

This is a better start than any of the AL Championship teams from the 1990s ever saw, and it’s better than the World Series Champion 1948 team. In fact, even the 1954 Indians (a team that went on to win 111 games that year) would have trailed its 2011 counterparts by two games when April turned to May.

So, why is it that most people are STILL not yet ready to give the Indians (who own the best record in baseball) any respect? Many writers around the country are reluctant to do more than acknowledge that the Indians had a good start to the season. And, of all the major publications online, only has the guts to put the Indians atop the Power Rankings (most still refuse to put Cleveland even in the top three).

I am not trying to make a claim that the Indians are destined for a World Series championship, but the team has clearly played as the best team in baseball so far. They swept five of their nine series, and have not lost at home in over a month. They swept the pre-season AL favorite Boston Red Sox, and just completed a thrilling sweep of the Detroit Tigers, a team many analysts’ pick to be the AL Central champions.

With the exception of a couple bumps in the road (which every team has), the rotation has been outstanding, and the bullpen has been virtually unhittable. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, the Indians are tied with the Texas Rangers for scoring the most runs in the AL, and the Indians trail only the equally surprising Kansas City Royals for the best team batting average at .272.

So, why are people still doubting the Indians? Because 30 days ago, NOBODY thought the team could be a contender this year (I even predicted a season with fewer than 72 wins). But is a prediction from 30 days ago really any reason to discount the Indians today?

Perhaps Indians outfielder Shelley Duncan sums it up the best – “Did you ever notice that people don’t want to be wrong?”

Rather than admit that they might have actually gotten a prediction wrong, analysts-turned-prognosticators like Jayson Stark would instead try to diminish a tremendous start to the season for teams like the Indians or the Royals by attempting to tag their records with an asterisk that “this is only the first month of the season… it doesn’t really MEAN anything yet.”


That’s like saying that the first inning of a game doesn’t matter, because there are still eight innings left to be played.

Let’s forget the obvious fact that the first month of the season is JUST AS important as the last month of the season. The notion that games played in the month of April should not serve as an indication of what to expect through the rest of the season for a team is absolutely absurd.

Every team is now at least 25 games deep into their season. Every team has already dealt with injuries and road trips, slumps and streaks. They have played in good weather and bad, and in front of fans both friendly and hostile. If a team after 25 games can’t at least say that they have indication of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead, then their problems are greater than where they sit in the standings.

The NFL crowns their champion after only 19 games, but baseball doesn’t mean ANYTHING after playing 25 or more? Child, please.

Last year at this point in the season the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa. Guess where things stood at the end of September… the AL standings had Tampa Bay, Minnesota, and Texas leading their divisions, with the Yankees sitting in the Wild Card spot, just one game behind Tampa.

And do you think there is a single person in the league – whether a player, manager, GM, or owner – who is shrugging their shoulders at their April performance because, “It doesn’t matter, anyway”? Of course not! Every single person in baseball would LOVE to have a 4.5 game division lead at this point in the season. It builds confidence for the athletes, and it sets a team that much farther ahead of the competition for the next 25 games (and more).

Obviously, there is a lot of baseball left to be played. There is a reason the playoffs are not based on season standings at the end of April. But that is the exact same reason why teams play the April games.

It is true that the Indians could blow the 4.5 game April lead over the rest of the division. But that same lead can also be blown in September. It is true that the Tigers, Twins, or White Sox could get hot, and make a stronger push for the AL Central than has been made so far. But it is also true that the season could end just as it started, with the Indians outright dominating the rest of the competition.

I’m not trying to make the case that the Indians are on course for a World Series championship. I’m not even arguing that they have the AL Central locked up. But I can guarantee you that teams like the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox are taking the Indians seriously, and the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Royals are taking the Indians VERY seriously.

If the other teams in the league are putting stock in the performance of teams like the Cleveland Indians, shouldn’t that be good enough for Jayson Stark and company?

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The 2010 Best Rotation for the Money Debate… How to Reach the Postseason on a Budget

April 7, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

A phrase like “best pitching rotation for the money” can be interpreted many different ways.

On one hand, you have a team like the New York Yankees. The Yankees are the name-brand shoppers of Major League Baseball, and only want the very best that money can buy. They have invested more than $60M into their pitching rotation, and last season it paid off for them in the way of a World Series championship.

Not every team has to spend top-dollar for their pitching talent, though. Some teams, like the great bargain-hunters of the world, have an uncanny ability to stretch their dollars to the very maximum. They may not get the top performers of the game, but they manage to find the right guys for the right price to get the right job done.

No team has managed to stretch their dollars better this year than the Minnesota Twins.

I know there are a lot of questions surrounding the Twins hurlers this year thanks to a new ballpark that seems to be hitter friendly, and the season-ending Tommy John surgery for closer Joe Nathan. What the Twins have going for them, though, is a very strong offense and a schedule that includes more than 30 games against either the Cleveland Indians or Kansas City Royals. Because of that, they don’t need world-beaters on the mound. Instead, they simply need guys who can come in and pitch consistently, keeping the offense in the game. That was the key to the Twins’ success last season, and 2010 should not be any different.

The Twins pitchers may not be the flashiest guys to set foot on the mound, and they may not put up the best numbers, but they will once again be successful. And, that success will come at a FRACTION of the cost the Yankees have invested in their hurlers. In fact, the Twins last season paid only $3.56M to the men comprising their 2010 starting lineup (Yankees’ starters C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett alone combined for TEN TIMES that amount), and will pay one of the lowest combined salaries in baseball again this season (only Washington, Pittsburgh, Florida, Tampa, and Toronto pay less). Yet the Twins reached the postseason for the fifth time in eight seasons in 2009, and will be among the teams competing for playing time in October once again in 2010.

Three of their budget starters, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Carl Pavano, combined last season for a record of 30-16 while in Twins uniforms. They are all practically locks to have winning records once again in 2010. Added to that mix is Mr. Consistency (Nick Blackburn), who has notched records of 11-11 in 33 starts in each of the last two seasons, with respective ERAs of 4.05 and 4.03 (his first outing of 2010 season resulted in a win and an ERA of – you guessed it – 4.05).

The only real question in their rotation is with their fifth starter, Francisco Liriano, who at one time appeared ready to become the next dominant name in pitching. However, on the heels of a 2006 all-star season where he pitched to a record of 12-3 and an ERA of only 2.16, Liriano had Tommy John surgery that he has not yet been able to fully bounce back from. After a very impressive winter campaign, though, Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire seems confident enough in Liriano’s ability to keep him as the fifth starter in the rotation. He also has youngster Brian Duensing waiting in the wings (at a whopping league minimum salary of $400K), who is more than capable of taking over a starting role, should Liriano prove unreliable once again on the starting mound.

The bullpen is the real question for the Twins this season, and the recent vacancy of the closer role by Joe Nathan is where the biggest challenge lies for Gardenhire. Nathan posted a career-high 47 saves in 2009 and has never had an ERA worse than 2.70 since becoming the Twins closer in 2004. Those are very tough shoes to fill, and the Twins don’t really have a bona fide closer who can produce those same results. They have named Jon Rauch as their closer pro tempore, and have Matt Guerrier on reserve, both of whom are VERY capable relievers. But neither will likely match the production that Nathan provided.

Nevertheless, thanks to residing in one of the weakest divisions in baseball, along with a very strong lineup at the plate, the Minnesota Twins should remain in contention for the postseason yet again. They don’t NEED the elite pitchers of the game to do that, because it would be a waste of money. The players they have in their rotation are consistent, successful, and most importantly CHEAP. They will manage to remain in HEAVY contention for the postseason with one of the least expensive pitching rotations in the entire league. I would call that one of the best pitching rotations for the money!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg! Bookmark and Share

The Speaking the Unspoken Rules Debate – The Speaking of Unspoken Rules

August 12, 2009

Read Sports Geek’s argument that it is ok to come out and speak about the unspoken rules and Bleacher Fan’s argument that players and coaches should not speak the unspoken rules of their sport

The city of Chicago is fortunate enough to have two teams in wild card chases (with the Cubs also being in a division race.) Entering play on Wednesday, the Cubs are three games behind the Cardinals in the National League Central and three games behind the Rockies in the wild card race. Meanwhile, the boys from the South side enter play Wednesday trailing the Detroit Tigers by two games in the American League Central. It is going to be wild!

Something else has happened involving the White Sox, though.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, perhaps feeling the pressure of the pennant race, spoke out in frustration last week. This is something he rarely does (just a hint of sarcasm here). The White Sox have been getting drilled in all parts of the body over the past month by blazing fastballs from the opposing teams. Guillen has had enough, and he is going to do something about it. He has issued a warning to every team the White Sox play from here on out.

“If I see someone hit my player, and I know they hit him on purpose, it’s two guys going down. I don’t care if I get suspended,” Guillen said. “I rather have me suspended for two games than have my players on the DL for 30 days.”

Now, it is common for a team to plunk a batter at some point after their player has been drilled. It is just part of the game and most people, sans Kevin Youkilis, accept it. I know, as a fan, if one of the players on the team I am rooting for gets drilled, I want someone on the other team to get hit also. Not headhunting or anything, but maybe right in the back. After that, all is forgotten and everyone moves along.

But Ozzie “The Non-Wizard” Guillen has upped the ante. On one end of the spectrum, he has really sent a message to his team that he has their back and that the constant beaning of the White Sox has got to stop. On the other hand, he has really put his entire pitching staff under a microscope and put them under a lot of pressure. If Mark Buerhle comes inside on Miguel Cabrera and unintentionally hits him, the home plate umpire, knowing Guillen’s comments, could toss Buerhle out of the game.

Sounds like a debate to me.

Is it wise to speak the unspoken rules of baseball?

Sports Geek will argue that it is ok to speak the “unspoken” rules while Bleacher Fan will argue that it is not something that a player or coach should do!

Game on! The loser either gets thrown out of the game or gets beaned by a Loyal Homer fastball (and we all know that’s a real heater!)!

My Zimbio Blog Directory Sport Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory
Add us to your technorati favorites Digg!

The MLB 2009 Division Race Debate – Balance Equals Excitement in the NL Central

July 13, 2009

Read Loyal Homer’s argument that the best divisional race in MLB’s second half is the NL East, and Bleacher Fan’s argument that it’s the AL Central.

While my colleges have largely concentrated on defining the best divisional race of the MLB’s second-half of quality alone, studying the NL Central proves that both quality and quantity are possible. The division leading St. Louis Cardinals are just 2.5 games up on the second place Milwaukee Brewers. The ever-dangerous and to date disappointing Chicago Cubs – as badly as they’ve played this injury-riddled season – are just 3.5 games back of the leader. They’re tied with the Houston Astros who started poorly but have rebounded thanks to consistent offense and a good bullpen. The Cincinnati Reds have gotten some bad injury news of late, but still factor in to the race with an always aggressive Walt Jocketty serving as the team’s general manager.

Like Bleacher Fan pointed out about the AL Central, the NL Central falls victim to the same curse of balance – the division’s winner will be their lone representative in the post-season give how good the NL East has been this season. The NL Central is the only division in Major League Baseball with four teams at or above the .500 mark. The top five teams in the division are separated by just five games, with a few early season rain outs back-loading the schedule of a few teams, including the Cubs who have played the fewest games in baseball at 86.

Why is the division so close? Four of the league’s top seven best pitching staffs reside in the NL Central. And that does NOT include the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cardinals and the Cubs both have ERAs under 3.84. The Cardinals have walked the fewest opponents in the majors with only 265 while the Cubs are within striking distance of the most strike outs in the league with 662. The pitching is outstanding, and good pitching always leads to close games.

The Cardinals, Brewers, and Cubs all have winning records against their interdivision rivals, too. Unlike the AL Central, there is not one team that struggles against the division, or dominates – they’re as close to even as a division can be at this stage of the season.

Trades are exciting. The NL Central promises to be one of the most active divisions this season with trades. Because the teams are so bunched up, they must make some moves to set themselves apart.

Talk about a Hollywood script! The Cardinals routinely make a joke of the “odds” and the prognosticators, basically winning consistently with very little consistent hitting (besides that “Al” guy). The Cubs have the fourth worst on-base percentage in the NL, the second worst batting average and the second worst RBI – but still have managed to win 43 games. The Brewers have the fourth worst pitching staff in baseball, but sit 2.5 games back. The NL Central is truly defying the baseball odds this season.

Movies need stars, and the NL Central has plenty. The Cardinals have the biggest star in the game right now, first baseman Albert Pujols. The Cubs have third baseman Aramis Ramirez who just returned from injury, plus starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano. The Brewers have right fielder Ryan Braun and first baseman Prince Fielder (who is the subject of some of the best sports satire I’ve ever read).

With each team in the mood to buy at the trading deadline, it’s impossible to forecast how the next chapter in the division’s season will unfold. Unpredictability is part of what makes for a great race to the post-season. The NL Central has all of the ingredients to be the most exciting division race in baseball.

The MLB 2009 Division Race Debate – You’re Not Cruising Yet, Philadelphia

July 13, 2009

Read Bleacher Fan’s argument that the American League Central is the best second-half divisional race, and Sports Geek’s argument that the National League Central is the best.

Well folks, MLB has reached the All-Star break. The all stars get to enjoy the festivities in St. Louis, rest, and get ready for the second half of the season.
Five of the six divisions are yet to be decided with exciting races up on the horizon (Loyal Homer has seeded the NL West to the Los Angeles Dodgers). This parity gives a lot of hope to many of the teams and keeps fans interested in these cities at a time when attendance is down six percent, as Sports Geek pointed out last week.

The Sports Debates has decided to give you a sneak peek at the second half of the season, as we’re excited about the next two and a half months. Sports Geek will argue that the NL Central is the most exciting division race in the second half of the season while Bleacher Fan will argue why the AL Central is the most exciting race.

Meanwhile, I have decided the NL East is the most exciting division race.

As it stands now, the world champion Philadelphia Phillies hold a four game lead over those pesky Florida Marlins. The Atlanta Braves are currently six games back, with the slumping/walking-wounded Mets six and a half games back.

This race was actually closer 10 days ago, before the Phillies went on a 9-1 tear that opened things up a bit. But, I don’t think those Marlins are going anywhere.

The Marlins, led by All-Star starting shortstop Hanley Ramirez, just keep hanging around. They aren’t supposed to be here, but yet, here they are. Ramirez is quietly having an MVP-type season. The youth and energy of this team is contagious. Too bad no one in Florida has caught the fever (see attendance numbers). I’m not sure this team is ready to take the next step yet, but they aren’t going away and they could steal this division. Keep in mind that the Marlins won a World Series in 1997 and in 2003. That’s six years apart. Six years after 2003 is 2009. Hmmmm????

The Braves, while maddeningly inconsistent offensively, can’t be counted out because of their starting rotation. Starting pitchers Derek Lowe, Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, rookie sensation Tommy Hanson, and Kenshin Kawakami form a rotation with a combined ERA under four. On offense, the Braves think they have added by subtracting the Jeff Francoeur with a recent trade. On paper, this team doesn’t have enough offense to catch the Phillies. However, there’s a lot of time left.

The Mets haven’t played with their regular team pretty much all season. First baseman Carlos Delgado hurt his hip early in the going, and he was joined on the disabled list by shortstop Jose Reyes and center fielder Carlos Beltran… among others. The Mets think they have provided a spark with the addition of Francoeur, and judging by the last two games, the spark is there. But, the Mets starting rotation is weak once you get past Johan Santana. However, once those guys come off the disabled list, they can certainly make a run.

The Phillies come into the break red hot. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins has finally broken out of his year-long slump and has been the catalyst to this recent hot streak. But, like the Mets, the Phillies rotation leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps that’s why they are looking closely at Pedro Martinez. That offense is one of the best in the league, with Rollins, first baseman Ryan Howard, second baseman Chase Utley, outfielder Raul Ibanez, and underrated outfielder Jayson Worth. Then again, every offense would be stacked if they played in a homer friendly ballpark like the Phillies do. (Remember that 1995 Colorado Rockies team with the Blake Street bombers hitting balls out of Coors Field… in the pre-humidor days?)

The weakness of the starting rotation of the Phillies gives the other three teams a chance in this division. Also, the four teams will be beating up on each in September. Whatever team gets hot in September is the one that is going to take the division!