April 5, 2009
On the Beat
Let the Games Begin
Everyone is 0-0 today, though that will change later this evening once the opening game of the season between the defending World Series champion Phillies and the Braves has ended at Citizens Bank Park. Before any team has a blemish on their record and begins to give their fans reason for despair, let's remember that Opening Day is a time for hope.
With that in mind, here's a look at each of the 30 major league teams, and at least some reason for optimism:
Angels: The pitching staff is still deep enough to offset a number of spring injuries and the loss of some key players from last year's 100-win team.
Brewers: They have a big-strike offense stocked with power hitters.
Cubs: They're the most balanced team in the National League, with a deep lineup and a deep rotation.
Padres: The weather is always great in San Diego, and their home games are never rained out.
Rays: Adding Burrell as their designated hitter gives the defending American League champions the right-handed power bat they sorely lacked last season.
Royals: They've improved their record for three straight years and have their deepest roster since the players' strike wiped out the 1994 season.
Pedroia hit .333/.426/.487 in 47 plate appearances, despite having to leave the US team in the World Baseball Classic early because of a strained abdominal muscle after going 2-for-16. Pedroia had hit just .152 in 46 at-bats last spring. "I feel a lot better this year," Pedroia said. "I'm seeing the ball better. My last couple years, I was kind of nervous going into the season. This year, I saw the ball a lot better and hit the ball a lot better. So hopefully it carries over, and I'll swing the bat from the start all the way to the finish."
Lee, meanwhile, had a 12.46 ERA in exhibition play as he gave up 30 earned runs and 46 hits in 21
The Indians moved their spring training camp to Goodyear, Arizona this year from Winter Haven, Florida. Their pitchers learned throughout the spring that the dry Arizona air affects their grip on the ball and reduces the effectiveness of breaking pitches. "It sounds like an excuse, but I hope there's some truth to it," said Lee. "Hopefully, when we get back east my pitches will break more and the ball won't travel so far, but you've still got to pitch."
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, the 2008 NL MVP, hit only one home run in 91 Grapefruit League plate appearances, but had a .293/.413/.453 line. Last year's NL Cy Young winner, Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum, had a 4.03 ERA in the Cactus League as he allowed 10 runs and 16 hits in 22
The Yankees are not the only New York baseball team feeling the pressure this year, even after their spending $423.5 million in the offseason on Sabathia, Burnett, and Mark Teixeira as free agents. The Mets are also under the microscope as well after blowing leads in the NL East each of the last two Septembers and winding up missing the playoffs as the Phillies won the division both times. Now the Mets are expected to overtake the Phillies as they move into Citi Field, having remade the bullpen by adding Rodriguez and Putz while subtracting Billy Wagner, Aaron Heilman, Duaner Sanchez, Scott Schoeneweis, Joe Smith, and Luis Ayala.
Mets shortstop Jose Reyes believes that the new-look bullpen will make the difference in 2009. "Way better," Reyes said in describing the bullpen to Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News. "We have one of the better closers in the game, and we've got J.J. Putz; he's a closer, too. He's a hard thrower. Last year you know what happened. Billy Wagner got hurt, and that was a big loss for us. Now we've got one of the best bullpens in the big leagues."
The Mets are in a difficult division; the Phillies look to be strong again, the Braves appear to be improved after a 90-loss season, and the Marlins have a talented young roster. Still, Reyes sees the Mets as the team to beat. "It's going to be a really exciting season for us because we have a good team," said Reyes. "I mean, it's not going to be easy. There are a lot of good teams in our division. The last couple of years have been tough for us, but we have a good team this year."
When the Nationals open their season Monday against the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium, they'll be wrapping up a stretch that is something straight out of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.
It began last Sunday when the Nationals traveled from their spring training camp in Viera, Florida, to Jupiter, Florida, to play the Marlins in an exhibition game. The next day, the Nationals hosted the Tigers. The following three days saw the Nationals play the Tigers in Lakeland, Florida, the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Florida, and the Phillies in Clearwater, Florida.
Following the game in Clearwater, they flew from Tampa to Norfolk, Virginia, and played the Orioles in an exhibition game there on Friday. On Saturday, the Nationals and Orioles met again at Nationals Park. The Nationals then flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Saturday night, and have a workout scheduled today at Dolphin Stadium in advance of the opener. Mark Zuckerman of the Washington Times broke out the atlas and figured that the Nationals have bussed 1,056 miles and flown 3,240 in the past week-a total of 4,296 miles.
The Nationals' players were upset that management had made a rather petty cost-cutting move by having them bus back and forth across the state to Dunedin and Clearwater on consecutive days, even though the two cities are just three miles apart, rather than paying for hotel rooms. It's roughly 150 miles from Viera to Clearwater. "It's mind-boggling," said Nationals pitcher Jason Bergmann.
Manager Manny Acta, however, downplayed the idea that the Nationals could be burned out by all of the travel. "It's going to be a little tough, but hey, there are tougher things in life," he said. "Once that bell rings on Opening Day and the national anthem is being played, guys get re-energized, so no excuses."
Three season-opening series to watch amidst a group of clunkers, with probable starting pitchers: