It’s the day after an off day for the Cardinals…the Redbirds are fresh off their first series loss of the season and the contending Brewers are coming to town as defending NL Central champs. Honestly, there doesn’t appear to be much to talk about regarding the Cardinals today – Carp is still an unknown, Freese is still hitting, the starting pitchers are still dealing, and the home town boys are still in first place – but it occurred to me that the rest of baseball is busy spinning stories and dramas outside of St. Louis. So let’s take a break from the boys of Busch and take a peek at a few things going on around Major League Baseball in 2012.
The Angels and Albert Pujols are off to an abysmal start. With a 6 and 13 record, the Angels find themselves 9.0 games back of the first place Texas Rangers. Their last place position gives them a perfect “behind the scenes” view of two teams many would list as among the worst teams in baseball – the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics. It’s a disappointing start to the season for a team most would concede are World Series contenders. And their $250 Million Dollar Man, Albert Pujols, isn’t helping much. After snapping a significant hitless streak by poking a single up the middle, Albert displayed his usual aggressiveness…and promptly got himself thrown out at second base attempting to stretch it into a double. The man formerly known as “The Greatest Hitter in Baseball Today” now finds himself treading water with a slash line of .224/.280/.316…and of course, zero home runs. And now it’s occurred to me…yes, Albert sacrificed his legacy in St. Louis, damaged his reputation in baseball, and cost himself an immeasurable level of comfort regarding a worshipping fan base, protective media, and proximity to home and family all by moving to LA…but did he also damage his career? The stats clearly show Albert in the decline phase of his playing career…but could moving to a different league with a different stadium in a different city with different pitchers all conspire to jumpstart his decline and threaten what was supposed to be the most celebrated part of his career? What a shame. I wonder if he would make the same decision if given the chance to do it all over again…
If he keeps this up, Matt Kemp is going to need a secret identity. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Kemp is having a season for the ages. Already slugging 10 home runs, the Dodgers’ MVP candidate is dominating the slash line leaderboard with .449/.513/.942 and 23 RBIs. Un…real. In my UCB predictions, I slotted Matt Holliday in as the NL MVP this year…and I still think he’s going to have an MVP caliber season…but my belief that Matt Kemp wouldn’t reproduce his 2011 stats is looking pretty foolish right about now. I just didn’t think anyone would actually pitch to him in that lineup! But what he’s doing in LA is just flat-out fun to watch. And do you know what the best part is? He’s doing it all in the same market as Albert Pujols and the Angels. When Albert came to LA, everyone assumed the Angels would be the next big thing in LA for the next 10 years. Matt Kemp is threatening that assumption. It is now Kemp – not Pujols – who seems poised to dominate the market in California.
I may have whiffed on my Matt Kemp prediction, but my World Series Champion pick in 2012 is lookin’ pretty smart, huh? The Texas Rangers look like they’re pushing to clinch a playoff spot…in July. At 15 and 4, this team seems ready to overlook the regular season and jump straight to October. After a rocky start to the season against Seattle (5.2 IP, 5 ER, 4 BB), Darvish seems like a fairly safe bet at this point. In his last three starts – two of which were against legit offenses in Detroit and New York – Yu has allowed only two runs and pitched as deep as 8.1 innings. On the flip side, Hamilton and company continue to slug away like the number one offense in all of baseball that many believe they are. If the Cardinals can’t do it this season, I hope the Rangers can. An excellent baseball team and a reportedly well-run organization…they deserve some pay off.
What kind of a circus is going on in Boston? This is exactly what I was afraid of when I picked Boston to miss the postseason this year. After years of legend-like success in Boston – he broke the freakin’ Curse of the Bambino, for cryin’ out loud! – Terry Francona’s team was not exactly prepared to welcome a flamboyant personality like Bobby V into the clubhouse…especially after such an epic and historic collapse. The organization’s handling of Francona’s reputation as well as Epstein’s position as GM probably didn’t help much either. In situations like this, a team can respond by becoming fiercely loyal and protective of each other – a circle the wagons kind of thing – and extremely suspicious of leadership brought in from the outside. It’s really a toxic situation all around. It will likely subside quite a bit by mid-season, but will the damage be done at that point? Can Boston recover in time to make the playoffs? My gut says ‘no’…but the Angels slow start could leave the door open. (Oh, and for the record…Roy Oswalt would be nuts to join this road show. I think I would rather sit out a year and rest my back if I were him.)
Is it just me, or does it seem like quite a few closers – or at least pitchers in the 9th – are blowin’ it lately? For some reason, I seem to remember hitters getting off to slower starts than pitchers at one point in time. Now, however, it seems as if offense is miles ahead of several bullpen arms in baseball. We’ve seen Heath Bell struggle mightily, several teams like the Reds are having closer issues related to injuries, and an unusually large number of hitters seem to be coming through in the bottom of an inning at the end of a game (see: Joe Mather, Brandon Allen, Matt Carpenter, etc.). I don’t know…maybe it just seems like it…but end-of-game bullpen arms just don’t seem to be quite as effective this season so far.
Alright…we’ll stop there. There’s so much left to say, but who wants to do that much reading on a Friday, eh? Cards vs. Brewers tonight…