Editor’s note: Due to technical difficulties, Doug Bird’s Tuesday post is going up a day later than usual this week.
With apologies to spaghetti westerns everywhere, let’s look at the first two months of the 2011 major league baseball season and see some of what and who went right, what and who went wrong and what and who went really wrong . Maybe the title of this week’s column should really be surprises, disappointments and disgusting.
Cleveland Indians: Although they have started the expected slide, the Cleveland Indians proved that defense and pitching (in that order) are what wins ballgames more often than not. Having two of your best players back and hitting (Grady Sizemore and Travis Haffner) doesn’t hurt either. The acquisition of Orlando Cabrera in the winter gave the team a genuine winning player with intangibles which defy his statistical performance. Almost everywhere Cabrera has played has turned that team into a winner. Astrubel Cabrera (Cabrera to Cabrera on double plays sure is fun to say and write) has been performing like the player scouts have always said he could be and the young pitching has been solid until it ran into the Boston Red Sox recently.
Tampa Bay Rays: That the Tampa Bay Rays are winning as much as they have been and especially after their horrid start proves that, as Yogi Berra once stated, “90% of this game is half mental”. Or Joe Maddon. Maddon has always managed this team emphasizing the importance of very solid fundamental play, no panicking and Evan Longoria. Maddon seems to have a quiet confidence in all of his players and adheres strictly to everyone being equally important. Half of his team are multi-positional players and defensive minded and his starters strike almost everyone out. Who says you can’t lose half your roster and still be in the hunt for a playoff spot? Not me anymore.
Arizona Diamondbacks: They still strike out way too much and don’t like to walk but first year official manager Kirk Gibson has instilled this team with a football type mentality. Gibson has insisted on intensity every play and every pitch and his players refusing to accept a loss. It sure helps that the totally revamped bullpen has been lights out with come back finally from injury closer J.J. Putz securing the back end.
Even once super prospect Sean Burroughs has gotten into the action if only as a reserve player. Pittsburgh Pirate castoff Zach Duke pitched well in his first start of the season last week and hit a three run homerun. Shades of Tampa Bay efficiency?
Honorable Mention: Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins
Chicago White Sox: Ozzie Guillen was quiet until a couple of days ago despite the fact that this year so far the team can’t pitch, hit or remember how to play the game. That all changed after a loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. The post game meet and greet with the press turned into an Ozzie rant and rave with more “bleeps” than anything. Not his best work but it was nice to see him finding his groove once again.
Adam Dunn is on pace for 20 homeruns and a .230 batting average and Alex Rios has turned into a player whose only virtue seems to be a strong throwing arm. If it wasn’t for converted shortstop Sergio Santos, the bullpen would be a complete disaster and John Danks is 0-8. At least Paul Konerko is hitting.
Chicago Cubs: The city by Lake Michigan isn’t having a very good 2011 baseball season. I still think hiring Mike Quade as manager was the right decision but even he can’t motivate Aramis Ramirez, (two homeruns thus far) and Carlos Pena. Soriano has continued to make any fly ball to left an adventure and the strangest sight of all, empty seats in Wrigley. Cub pitching has been only okay but although the Cubs would like to trade (give away) Carlos Zambrano, Rick Dempster no one will touch them except maybe the New York Yankees in September. With their large payroll and poor farm system (why is Josh Vitters still in Double A anyway?) the World champion drought will well into the future.
Minnesota Twins: Is anyone else having trouble getting used to seeing the Twins play poor fundamental baseball and their pitching allow football type scores? I didn’t think so. Of course injuries have really hurt the club with Joe Mauer hurt again, Justin Morneau still recovering from the concussion he suffered almost one year ago and Joe Nathan hoping his repaired arm can finally heal and allow him rediscover his fastball.
But the signing of Japanese league star Tsuyoshi Nishioka has proven to be a major mistake notwithstanding his injury, the fragility of Francisco Liriano and Delmon Young having an awful season, the Twins might be in big trouble not only this season but for the foreseeable future.
Dishonorable Mention: New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers