Saturday, April 07, 2007
Despite the snow that canceled a game in Cleveland last night, spring is a time of rebirth in baseball. The slate is wiped clean, and everyone has to start over with only hopes and dreams for the new season.
For the large market clubs, this usually means admiring the free agent haul and hoping to avoid the injury bug. In some towns, however, hope takes the form of "Maybe we can get out of the cellar this year". But it's spring, and you never know what might happen.
That's the angle typically taken by writers who cover last-place teams, and after the jump, we'll cherry-pick the first week's worth of columns from the scribes who cover the teams that anchored their divisions in the 2006 season.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays: 61-101 in 2006. 41-40 at home, 20-61 on the road.
Marc Lancaster reports that Tropicana Field has some new features. In a stunning parallel, so does the team, which is relying on a bevy of talented youngsters to win this year. So far, so good. Best quote: "Everybody's bigger than I am, and I was at the bottom, underneath, but I had great excitement" - Rookie Akinori Iwamura, referring to the dogpile celebrating a comeback win over the Blue Jays.
In other news, I'm not eating something called a Sting 'Em Dog. I don't care how good it tastes. Most disappointing quote - "Today's consumer doesn't want to just sit and watch the game," Bigelow said. "You want to at least make it entertaining." Way to pump up the home team, dude.
Kansas City Royals: 62-100 in 2006. 34-47 at home, 28-53 on the road.
The Kansas City Star performs at a level above the sports teams they cover. They have their own Barry Bonds in Jason Whitlock. Joe Posnanski is beloved for his "Field of Dreams"-level love for the game, and his silver pen. Jeffrey Flanagan and Blair Kerkhoff aren't nationally known, but turn in more nuts-and-bolts analysis as a result. And they have to be good, to write about this team.
Before the season, JoPo was reduced to writing about the leadership potential of Octavio Dotel. Best quote - “It’s tough to lead anybody when you’re hitting .220.” (Terry Pendleton)
After opening day, and a surprising win brought about by newcomers other than Alex Gordon, he had a much rosier report. Best line - Former Kansas coach Roy Williams once said that the 18 inches that separate the head basketball coach and the No. 1 assistant during games is a gap wider than the Grand Canyon. That’s the gap between the guy who pitches on opening day and the guy who pitched game two.
Seattle Mariners: 78-84 in 2006. 44-37 at home, 34-47 on the road.
In the Seattle Times season preview, we get shrewd analysis from Captain Obvious, also known as baseball writer Larry Stone: Coming Year is Anyone's Guess. Please. We all know Selig writes the scripts in advance.
Get this. There's another Tuiasosopo in professional sports. This one is named Matt, and he hit .150 for the Mariners' AA affiliate, the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx. And yes, perennial backup QB Marques is his big bro.
Seattle's other paper is the Post-Intellegencer. If you ever wondered if there's a worse name than The Extrapolater, there you go.
P-I reporter John "Earl" Hickey is so sanguine about the Mariners' chances this year, he's giddy that a snow delay kept an L off the books. Some may decry Mike Hargrove's gamesmanship in getting the contest called one pitch before the game would have become an official loss for his team, but the truth is, the game never should have gone as far as it did. The snow was driving, and there's no way a hitter could see well enough to hit a ball. The conditions were the same for both teams, but they were also just flat-out wrong for baseball in general. And I'm sure most sane spectators were long gone by then, anyway.
In addition, the Post-Intelligencer has a fan blog going on, called Mariner Housewife. Not only is Moira Koskey easy on the eyes, but her son is named Brendan Ichiro. Still, her husband apparently had no idea that the Big Unit used to pitch for Seattle, so it could be maddening reading for M's fanatics.
Washington Nationals: 71-91 in 2006. 41-40 at home, 30-51 on the road.
The Washinton Post requires a login, and you can use ours: ID-awfulwrite password-freeharold
Apparently, the Nats get to choose whether they want to retain the official records of the Expos, or assume those of the old Senators. From the article: The new stadium could potentially include nods to a hodgepodge of groups -- the Senators, the Expos, the Homestead Grays, who dominated the Negro leagues. Wow, way to equivocate. I say go with the Senators, personally. Nobody in the District wants to be associated with Youppi in any way.
Gloomy Gus Thomas Boswell says the Nationals are finding new ways to lose. Savor the bitter flavor of opening day: Everything imaginable did not go wrong. It was worse than that. Things you never imagined went wrong, too. After that, it just gets downright morose.
Chicago Cubs: 66-96 in 2006. 36-45 at home, 30-51 on the road.
Headline of the week goes to the Chicago Sun-Times for this gem: Cubs Suffer an Ace-kicking. Best quote: "I think I'll talk to Lou [Piniella] next year and say that I want to be the second starter, not the Opening Day starter." - Carlos Zambrano, who really knows how to negotiate a new deal. The freaky part? Apparently that's OK with skip.
Sun-Times writer Gordon Wittenmeyer bucks up the Cubs faithful with the rallying cry Just Like the Old Days! Bad times, bad times.
Tribune writer Steve Rosenbloom is starting to look a lot like Larry Brown in his official photo. He didn't write much about the Cubs this week, but he did have a nice line: The Choice (and remember, death is not an option): Will Ohman pitching or Michael Barrett catching? Happy folks in Wrigleyville. Bad history, bad baseball, and now Steve's employer is selling the team.
Colorado Rockies: 76-86 in 2006. 44-37 at home, 32-49 on the road.
Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post gives a preview of the season. He echoes the feelings of Rox fans with this phrase: For years, the Rockies have begged fans for patience with promises of young talent on the way from the farm. Now it's high noon at 20th and Blake. Accountability is a good thing.
Speaking of which, accountability more or less evaporated immediately, as the Rox brain trust extended the contracts of the GM and Manager before the season even got fully underway. I agree with Woody Paige's opinion on this, but I've always found him to be an annoying writer. Way too cutesy, and willing to lock out the average reader with inside references like this one: The Monfort Boys were too busy sitting behind the dugout and having the poor people kiss their rings to hold a news conference, probably because they knew they couldn't explain why and they would have been embarrassed to admit so. The whoosie-whatsis boys? Just make your case, man. Denver already has one Rick Reilly.
The Rocky Mountain News just skips over the big-league club, taking "wait 'til next year" to a whole new level by reporting on the farm system. Nice cop mustache on Jack Etkin, though. The Rockies really do have some of the best affiliate names, though - Sky Sox, Drillers, Nuts, Dust-Devils & Tourists.
Tracy Ringolsby writes a lot about baseball in general, but very little about the hometown club.
If I had to guess which of these teams would make the biggest turnaround in 2007, I guess I'd have to say Seattle. Tampa's youngsters are hot, but they play in a top-heavy division. KC has too many question marks everywhere. Same for the Nats. The Cubs are distracted on day one by the news of the team being sold, and Denver is still Denver - nobody can pitch there. Besides, the Mariners only have to vault three teams to get to first place. The Cubs? Freaking five. Maybe they really are cursed.
If you have requests for particular writers you'd like to see in this space, leave me a comment. See you next week.