September 28, 2004
The Gerald Williams Mystery, and Other Strange Tales
BEST MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): St. Louis @ Houston
Albert Pujols currently has 46 home runs and 49 strikeouts. It won't happen this year, but if he keeps lowering his strikeout totals, at some point in the near future, he could become only the second man ever to hit 50 home runs in a single season while striking out fewer than 50 times or having fewer Ks than homers. The only man ever to do it was Johnny Mize who, while with the 1947 Giants, hit 51 round-trippers while whiffing only 42 times. (If Barry Bonds manages five homers this week, he'll beat Pujols to the draw.)
How much has baseball changed in the last 90 years? Consider that in 1912, Walter Johnson went 33-12. Meanwhile the starters in Wednesday night's game of this series--both of whom are near the top of the league in victories--are a combined 34-12 (Jeff Suppan is fourth and Roger Clemens is second, behind teammate Roy Oswalt.).
While on the topic of Clemens, when he reached 300 wins last year, it was said and written a lot that once he was joined by Greg Maddux, they were going to pull up the ladder into the clubhouse and that would be the end of the species. Can we really say this, though? When we look at what Clemens and Randy Johnson are doing at the ages of 41 and 40 respectively, can't we assume that other pitchers will come along in the coming years who also show such remarkable longevity? As advances are made in medicine and our understanding of what happens to the human body when it does these unnatural things with its favored appendage improves, can't we expect even more pitchers to thrive and survive past the age of 40? With that--regardless of reductions in decisions owing to usage patterns--other men can and will join the 300 Club in the coming decades.
CLOSEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Teams with records most resembling one another): Anaheim @ Texas
In a preseason survey, pollsters asked people the following: "In the next-to-last group of series at the end of the season, which one will matter most in the standings?" This one finished 13th out of the 15.
Heading into Monday's action, the Rangers were 6-3 since Alfonso Soriano was shelved for the year. Prior to that, he had missed one game which they won, 14-6. This leads us to the question: Why bother with having good players? What's the point if you start winning even more than before as soon as they go see the doctor?
Chan Ho Park goes on Tuesday night for the Rangers, and the Angels must be salivating as we speak. Park pitched a great game on April 16 and a decent one on April 6. He had two half-way decent outings in 2003. In 2002, he had one very good one and a couple of solid ones. In other words, he hasn't pitched a truly great game since coming to the Rangers three years. Now, here he is, trying to keep Texas in the thick of things. Now would be the time to start earning that outrageous salary.
CLOSEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MATCH-UP (Teams with records most resembling one another): San Francisco @ San Diego
It's pretty simple: With three other teams in the way, the Padres have to win all their games to make the postseason. I don't mean this mathematically, but a team in this position simply cannot afford to rely on their competition to all go in the tank simultaneously, especially if there are three of them.
Do you think there's a team that would trade for Jose Guillen right now? Would he help the Padres in the last week of the season?
How about the Giants?
BIGGEST AMERICAN LEAGUE MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): Seattle @ Oakland
Who doubted, upon glancing at the American League schedule six months ago, that this would be a series that might determine the fate of both teams? Instead, it's an opportunity for Oakland to put some daylight between themselves and their feuding American League West cousins. A split in the Texas-Anaheim four-game series is just what the A's crave in this, their neediest hour.
With most of the A's starting corps struggling, the most interesting pitching match-up in this one would have to be the one that features Rich Harden and Bobby Madritsch. The latter was punished by the Rangers last time out, but he's still the most intriguing pitcher the Mariners have on the mound these days. Besides, don't we all have soft spots in our hearts for 28-year old rookies?
So, what do the out-of-it teams have to play for this week? Here's the American League To-Do List for the forgotten ones, starting with these Mariners:
Seattle: Win at least three games and avoid 100 losses.
BIGGEST NATIONAL LEAGUE MISMATCH-UP (opponents furthest from each other in won-lost records with the better team over .500 and the lesser team under): New York @ Atlanta
What, pray tell, are the Mets doing with:
a) Gerald Williams on the roster?
The man is a 38-year old drifter with no sentimental ties to this particular team. This isn't a case of an old favorite coming back for one more go-round before heading off to work in a car wash or become an accountant or whatever it is players do these days when they retire. He has an OBP under .300. Surely, the Mets could dragoon just about anyone from their minor league system who could do that. What exactly does Williams give a team that has been out of it for some time now?
Has this ever happened to you? You're watching a ballgame and, suddenly, you just know what's going to happen next. It doesn't happen to me very often, but it occurred to me twice on Saturday while watching the Mets-Cubs game. The first time was in the bottom of the ninth when Victor Diaz came to the plate as the tying run. I just knew he was going to tie the game with a homer to right and that's just what he did. Two innings later, Craig Brazell led off the inning and I announced to anyone who would listen that he was going to end it with a home run. I saw it in my mind and then he did it. This means nothing, of course--human beings are frequently guilty of forgetting the countless times our predictions don't work out and focusing on the few where they do. In any case, chalk it up to just one of those things that happens once in a while during a life spent watching countless ballgames.
You know who leads the American League in walks surrendered? That's right, New York Mets player Victor Zambrano. Actually, he's currently tied and will probably lose his lead to Miguel Batista of the Blue Jays. That's a pretty nice legacy he bequeathed, though: still leading a league he left nearly two months ago. I'll say the same thing about this trade that I've said about their unload of Nolan Ryan years ago: It's not who they gave up, but who they got in return.
WORST MATCH-UP (Best combined records with both teams being over .500): Milwaukee @ Arizona
A series that includes a Ben Sheets v. Randy Johnson match-up can't really be considered "worst," can it? Once we're past Opening Day and nature, scheduling, injuries and everything else start playing havoc with the rotations, we get so few of these big stud showdowns. It's nice to see for a change.
Has this ever happened to you? You watch a game and see a hitter strike out three times and hit into a double play to end the game or a pitcher get lit up like a tire fire in an eclipse and then you go look the guy up on a Web site or look at his baseball card--and he looks really happy in his picture. Isn't that incongruous as all hell? You say to the picture: "What are you smiling at? You just got creamed!"
Sometimes, though, the opposite happens. After watching Wes Obermueller shut out the Astros on Saturday, I glanced at his profile and found him grinning from ear-to-ear. "No wonder he's so happy," I said, looking at his picture, "he just pitched the game of his life."
It was nice of Chad Moeller to give up his number for Stan Ross's attempt to get his 3,000th hit. If you haven't seen "Mr. 3000" yet, you're missing an excellent performance by Bernie Mac. (And I'd probably watch Angela Bassett read a laundry list.) The movie nicely avoids baseball clichés and paints a fairly realistic picture of what it would be like if a 47-year old--nine years removed from the game--were to mount a comeback. Another thing is that as the years go by, the bar keeps getting higher and higher as to how good the baseball looks in movies. Mr. 3000 definitely clears that bar.