April 5, 2005
The New Season
BEST MATCHUP (Best combined record with both teams being over .500): Boston @ New York Yankees
Finally, it's back to the matchups. For the early going, we're going to use last year's records to do our matchmaking.
With that in mind, this is a pretty impressive first meeting, with two teams coming off a combined winning percentage of .614. This is not the best season-opening matchup in history, however. Those two are:
Of the top 20 one-two finishes in overall league records, fully half of them involve either the Yankees or Red Sox, including one--1939--that involves both. Of the 11 that occurred in the American League, only the 2001 Mariners/A's combo was the exception to the Boston/New York dominance. Those two teams did not meet on Opening Day of the following year, however.
For whatever it's worth, I've picked the Red Sox to win the AL East this year. Right now, the Red Sox are the superior club, but therein lays the folly of predictions. The Yankees, as we all know, are a self-correcting unit. If it appears that they are faltering they will make the changes necessary to overthrow the Sox. In order to render this factor moot, their collapse would have to be so total and complete that no amount of tinkering could help the cause.
WORST MATCHUP (Worst combined record with both teams being below .500): Kansas City @ Detroit
Here's hoping Dmitri Young follows the George Bell follow-up to the Three-Homers-on-Opening-Day Plan rather than the Tuffy Rhodes version. Rhodes had his way with an addled Dwight Gooden in his first three at-bats of the '94 season and has barely been heard from since on this side of the Pacific. He hit just five more big-league homers and was done with the majors at 26. For his part, Gooden had just six more starts left on his Mets meter. Bell was one of the more overrated players of the '80s and would never slug higher than .463 after his Opening Day salvo at the expense of these very same Royals, but he did have well over 100 homers left in him.
Here's also hoping that this was just an aberrant outing for Jose Lima. When last we saw him, he was on top of the world, having prolonged the Dodgers' playoff shelf life with a nifty five-hitter in the NL Division Series. It would be a shame if he were to have to rebuild his career all over again. He's been pretty league-average the last two years, and the Royals could really use 190 innings from him even at that level of performance
Why is it that every team thinks it needs a tag line for each and every season? We're headed into the third decade of this nonsense now. Think about how many different taglines we've had to suffer through over the past 20-something years. How do I know it's been 20 years? It's because I remember hearing that, back in the midst of the Royals' cocaine scandal of 1983, every slogan the team came up with could be construed as a drug reference. If only that had killed the practice then. Instead, it lives on with such inanities as "Come hungry" courtesy of the 2005 Pirates and "Watch it happen," the Devil Rays' pitch for this year.
If teams get desperate in the future, they might want to use one of these:
CLOSEST MATCHUP (Teams with records that most resemble one another at press time): Los Angeles Dodgers @ San Francisco
I think most teams would take a half a season of Barry Bonds. If we assume 2004 quality, we'd still be talking about one of the top 15 or 20 players in the game. The problem is, we can't assume 2004 quality because we don't know what he'll have left when he returns. Another thing that must be considered is that there is no way he'll play every single game once he does come back. Assuming a midseason return, we're probably looking at 65 or 70 games played. Let's say 72. The Giants played .592 ball with Bonds in the lineup last year and were an abysmal 4-11 when he sat out 15 entire games. Are they a .364 team with him gone? No, but they could easily be a .475 team.
Let's be generous and assume that the Giants play .600 ball with Bonds in the lineup. That's 43-29. Let's also assume it's going to take about 91 wins to cop the National League West. What that means is that the Giants need to go about 48-42 when Mr. Bonds is not playing in order to be near the top at the end of this season.
That seems like a pretty tall order for this team, doesn't it?
Now, let's say he comes back June 1. Their chances improve. At that point, they've got 112 games left. If Bonds can start for 100 of them, the Giants' Bondslessness will end up being around 62 games for the year. If that were the case, they might be able to get away with a .500 record when he's not in the lineup.
If the Dodgers spike it up to 95 wins, though, the Giants are probably already finished. Of course, that would be the case even with a healthy Bonds.
BIGGEST MISMATCHUP (Largest disparity in records with one team over .500 and the other under .500): Chicago Cubs @ Arizona
I've written this before but it bears repeating in the wake of the this year's Opening Day: as long as fans enter a park not knowing what they're going to see, then baseball will be forever popular. On the same day that one Chicago team wins 16-6, the other triumphs 1-0. When all the games skew one way or the other, then you might see a popularity crisis. When a pitcher's duel or a slugfest could break out in any given game, well, that will keep them coming back for more.