Anyone who has read Moneyball and knows the history of Padres CEO Sandy Alderson and his newest hire Paul DePodesta should know that big changes are on the way in San Diego. If I were general manager Kevin Towers and manager Bruce Bochy, I would be extremely concerned about my job security.
Alderson went to great lengths to illustrate how his running of an organization was no longer going to be based on what the "middle managers" wanted. The Moneyball theory of high on base percentage, power and economizing outs essentially eliminates much of what a manager does. Thus, the field manager becomes the epitome of a "middle manager" implementing what the higher ups, in this case the CEO and his newest hire, the Special Assistant for Baseball Operations, DePodesta, dictate.
What this means for Towers and Bochy has yet to be determined, but anyone with a firm grasp on reality and history can formulate a hypothesis. Towers is slowly being stripped of his authority as Alderson brings in people who are going to acquiesce to the Moneyball system. Both he and Bochy are being marginalized and if the Padres weren’t fortunate enough to be in the weak National League West and be the team that has staggered into first place, then both the general manager and manager might have been replaced already. One important part of the Moneyball school of thought is that if you’re expendable (and everyone seems to be) then you’re either on the bus or you’re under it. The hiring of DePodesta, who was an abject failure in his stint as the GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers diminishes the old guard even more and makes it abundantly clear as to what is going to happen next.
If the Mets can find any solace in the beating they took the past three days in Boston, it’s that they have gained some valuable experience should a rematch occur this October. The outcome of this series, while overwhelmingly bad, does have a silver lining etched within the dark clouds.
With all the poise and brilliance that Jose Reyes and David Wright have shown this season; for all the maturity they have exhibited in handling playing in a high pressure atmosphere with all the inherent distractions such as New York City, it’s easy to forget that they’re both 23 years old. Lastings Milledge, for all the talent and flair he has exhibited, is still a (very) green rookie who should be expecting a demotion sometime soon and will probably be recalled by August 31st to be eligible for the post season. This experience was invaluable to them.
For every member of the organization who has extensive post season experience such as manager Willie Randolph, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez and Julio Franco, there are other players who, despite being veterans have little or no experience in high pressure games at all. Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, Paul LoDuca, Steve Trachsel, et al. are all playoff neophytes. Randolph, for all his championship rings as a player and coach, has never managed in games like this. Games like the ones this week presented the Mets with a wake up call that they had better not read too many press clippings about how good they are, nor should they take their collective feet off the gas pedal.
If these two teams meet again in October, these games will serve as a reference point for the Mets on what not to do. The whole series seemed to happening before the Mets eyes; like it was an out of body experience and they were watching caricatures of themselves getting pushed around the field. They can take something out of this. They have had an experience with the atmosphere of a hostile environment (even though there were a substantial number of Mets fans in the crowd); they had a chance to check out the ballpark and the nuances from the Green Monster to Pesky Pole; from the crevices in center field to the small amount of foul territory. There won’t be any surprises in October, if they meet again.
And finally, Pedro. Despite the emotion and the mental and physical beating he took and the fact that he said before the series that he would rather not pitch in Boston, is it or is it not better for the Mets that he got the first confrontation against his former mates out of the way in June rather than in October? Remember when Roger Clemens returned to Boston to pitch as the opposition in a playoff game for the Yankees? The gravity of the situation got to someone as tough and ornery as Clemens. It’s not an easy thing to deal with. Now, even though he got pounded, Pedro had his first game as a Red Sox opponent at Fenway. There won’t be the same reticence or uncertain sentimentality as there was on Wednesday. If the two teams meet in October, it will be the Pedro that won the heart of the Red Sox fans with his courage, guile and belligerence.
So the Mets got swept. But with LoDuca turning his ankle, Reyes’s ill advised crash into Jason Varitek, Milledge’s being swallowed by the Green Monster and Pedro getting the syrupy love fest out of the way, the Mets will be better prepared to return in October and give the Red Sox a fight.
Mark Prior is not the same pitcher that was dominating big league hitters in his first full season. There is something wrong. Whether it’s physical, mental or mechanical I don’t know; but there is something wrong. Perhaps since this was only his third start this season and he was inactive for so long other than stops and starts in rehab assignments, this is the equivalent of spring training for him.
Watching Prior pitch, it looks as though he is holding something back. There isn’t the explosiveness in his pitches, nor is there the cocky, borderline arrogant attitude on the mound; that gunslinger’s body language that said, "I’ll tell you what’s coming p’odner, and you ain’t gonna hit it."
It’s gone. He looks like he’s unsure out there and trying to bluff his way through. His vibe is similar to that of the Yankees free agent disabled list all star, Carl Pavano (when he managed to crawl out to the mound, that is). Those powerful calves and legs that prompted the nickname "Calfzilla" aren’t working the same magic as before.
The minutiae that involves pitching mechanics is complicated; one thing out of whack can turn everything topsy turvy. For someone like Mark Prior, who was trained by pitching guru Tom House, there are certain aspects of the motion that were inherent in his success. One of those things was his explosiveness. In 2003, he was using those legs to explode toward the plate. The velocity, which today may be close to what it was then, was linked to the explosiveness of his pitches. He may not be getting the same extension of his arm. He may be afraid to cut loose for whatever reason. It could be any number of things. That fastball jumped in on the hitter when he was at his best. Now, it’s just there waiting to be hit. He’s not the same pitcher. With all the computer analysis available to today’s pitching coaches, it makes me wonder if the Cubs are putting an unhealthy Prior out on the mound.
I’m not in the Cubs clubhouse; I’m not a doctor; and I’m not Mark Prior. But if the Cubs have the temerity to place an unhealthy pitcher out on the mound in a season that is completely lost to them anyway, then they deserve whatever happens to them.
An article about the upcoming Pirates-Tigers series highlights former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon and his feelings regarding his first visit to PNC Park in Pittsburgh since his firing as Pirates manager. This is going to sound callous, but who really cares? Is this the main storyline behind this series between two teams heading in opposite directions? It’s not as if McClendon was fired unjustly or had a record equal to that Joe Torre has with the Yankees. Although it wasn’t entirely his fault that the teams he managed were so bad, he wasn’t exactly Billy Martin when it came to strategy and the only reason he lasted so long was because the Pirates didn’t want to fire him and pay him for doing nothing while someone else managed the team. While it’s true a manager is only as good as his team (Jim Tracy is proving that right now), to see McClendon’s return to Pittsburgh as an event even worth mentioning is telling as to how bad the Pirates are—-people have to look for even the smallest and most obscure reasons to pay attention to them.
As for the Pittsburgh attempts (with the encouragement of the mayor) to stuff the ballot boxes with Pirates players who aren’t in any way close to deserving of any All-Star consideration at all, I would hope that if any of those players on the Pirates are voted in to start, that the commissioner’s office will step in and put the right players on the team "in the best interests of baseball".
And while I’m on the subject of the Pirates, would they please send Roberto Hernandez back to the Mets already for "future considerations" or "cash considerations" or a "player to be named later"? I mean, the Pirates certainly don’t need him, do they? They’re gonna finish last with him or without him. The guy’s 41, let him have a chance to win a championship and the Mets could use another reliable arm in the pen. Please.
They’re going to the ninth in Boston as I write this, so barring any unlikely and unforseen comebacks, the Mets are about to lose their second straight game to the Red Sox by what would be considered a wide margin.
In all my years of watching baseball, I’ve found that the earlier I have to scream at the television, the worse the outcome is going to be and tonight was no exception. As soon as David Ortiz’s grounder back to the mound was hit and snagged by Pedro, I was thinking "double play". Then, much to my chagrin, Pedro inexplicably looked toward third for a force out. Of course, David Wright, in the midst of the "Ortiz shift" was nowhere near third base and probably wouldn’t have been expecting a throw had he even been there. As Pedro turned toward third and drew his arm back as if to throw, I screamed, "What are you doing?!?" and watched helplessly as he looked toward second and threw to first for the first out of the inning.
Then, after the first two runs inevitably scored, I watched with great disgust as Mike Lowell’s clearly catchable fly ball was botched by Lastings Milledge, who might as well have the word ROOKIE plastered on the back of his uniform. Milledge’s second blunder in two nights leads me to believe that Cliff Floyd, who is scheduled to play another rehab game tomorrow night in the minors, will instead be playing left field in Fenway as Milledge heads back down to Norfolk for some more seasoning.
The emotion of the game, combined with the Mets miscues let the Red Sox jump out to a lead; one which they maintained. Some will see this as proof that the best the American League has to offer is infinitely superior to the best which the National League has to offer and the American League will have an easy time of it this season regardless of who is in the World Series. The Red Sox are showing their dominance. That’s what will be said, anyway. I see it differently.
These two games have hinged upon the Mets playing shoddy defense and failing in the clutch. It is not an indication that the Red Sox are so much better than they Mets, but it is a circumstance of these two particular games. The Red Sox also happen to be blazing hot and hot teams get the breaks. I’m reminded of a story that may or may not be all that interesting. But it is an illustration.
When I was in high school, I took a tennis class. In this class was an acquaintance of mine throughout my school years who I didn’t particularly care for. Okay, I loathed him. This particular person was always babbling on about how he was on the tennis team and how badly he would beat me if we played, blah, blah, blah. I was seventeen and had never learned to play tennis, but I was a pretty good athlete and picked the game up to play decently relatively quickly. Eventually, this guy changed his tune and said, "It’s gonna be interesting when we play." Finally the day came and we were playing each other in the class tournament. We were in New York and it was winter so there were patches of ice on the court and it was windy. I told him, and this is verbatim, "We really shouldn’t count this to see who the better player is." Of course I won and of course I told the teacher so he could record it in his tournament record. (I lost in the next round, incidentally. Very badly.) After the match, my opponent made it a point to tell everyone that I had said we wouldn’t count the match at all, and then when I won, I ran to tell the teacher. Those that know me and this particular person know that I am telling the truth, but the whole Mets-Red Sox series reminds me of that. This series isn’t an accurate indicator as to who the better team is. That is something that may have to wait until October to be resolved. Even if the Red Sox run around and tell the teacher that they won and they’re the better team.
It’s a shame to say it, but I wasn’t surprised when the news came out that Steve Howe had methamphetamine in his system when he crashed his truck and was killed. When athletes who have had highly publicized drug problems are no longer active in their particular sports, there is little motivation for them to stay clean.
It’s happened time and again. Players who were known users in their playing days and were pronouncing themselves "free" of the demons that had consumed them in their youth, are suddenly discovered, in one situation or another, to still be using cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin or whatever. The names are famous and not-so-famous, surprising and not-so-surprising.
Lawrence Taylor, with his well-known problems, arrested time and again for trying to buy crack. Darrell Porter, one of the first players to openly acknowledge and seek treatment for the problem, dying of a heart attack and being found to have cocaine in his system. Darryl Strawberry, who received one chance after another, battled cocaine and cancer, seemingly won and then got busted again. Dwight Gooden, in jail because he cannot stop using drugs. And now Steve Howe.
Athletes love doing what they do, in part, for the rush they get from performing in front of 50,000 people cheering their every move and hanging on every moment and living vicariously through their heroes. But what happens when that career is over? There’s an endless supply of adoration even for the retired athlete. There are still a substantial number of people who will remember the athlete and lavish the adoration that they became accustomed to. There are no more drug tests and no more public scrutiny if not performing up to their usual levels. What are they going to do with themselves? Without the rush from playing the game, those who have addictive personalities search for that former feeling; those that have used drugs in the past see no reason not to start again. This is especially true with those who don’t replace their former career with something new. Some turn to business; some turn to their families and friends; others return to past behaviors. They may not realize it, but they still have things to lose in their personal lives. One of those things is their lives if they continue searching for that same rush that they’ll never be able to approximate. Sadly, that fact is proven again and again.
There seems to be an awful lot of "standing by" going on on the North Side of Chicago. General Manager Jim Hendry is "standing by" manager Dusty Baker; manager Dusty Baker is "standing by" closer Ryan Dempster; Mark Prior and Kerry Wood are "standing by" waiting for their injuries to heal; the ownership is "standing by" as another season goes down the tubes. Suffice it to say, there won’t be crowds of Wrigley faithful "standing by" for the parade after another curse busting World Series win.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about the Cubs plight, there really isn’t anyone to specifically blame for the debacle this season has become. There’s enough to dole out to everyone. Dusty Baker isn’t at fault for his two star pitchers getting hurt, nor is he at fault for Derrek Lee breaking his hand. I don’t know whose idea it was to install Ryan Dempster as the full time closer, but it was clear from the beginning that it wasn’t going to work. That’s one thing that Baker has never had while with the Cubs is a dominant reliever out of the bullpen. Joe Borowski, LaTroy Hawkins and Ryan Dempster don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Who is at fault for the decision not to find a dominating closer, I don’t know. But what is the difference now?
The Cubs are not going anywhere this year and in looking at their roster, it may be time to try something a bit drastic. If Kerry Wood were healthy enough to pitch, perhaps he would be better served coming out of the bullpen. The same thing with Mark Prior if he continues to struggle on and off the field. He’s gotten pounded in his two starts this year and, as far as I’m concerned, there will be a continuing question about his health until he can stay healthy for a substantial amount of time. It seems like so long ago when opposing teams were drooling at the thought of what Prior might become and how he would look in their uniforms.
They’re an old team, and a struggling team. That starting rotation, which was supposed to be set for years to come with the triminutive of Prior, Wood and Carlos Zambrano hasn’t been able to string together a streak of good health, let alone a series of wins. A bullpen with Dempster as the anchor is destined to sink. And, in looking at their roster, there isn’t a young arm that makes one think "closer potential". This is the way the team is and it makes little sense to take one journeyman out of the role and insert another one like Bobby Howry.
At this point, looking at their position in the standings and the questionable future, one has to wonder whether Baker even wants to return. Numerous jobs should be opening at the end of the season and Baker is still respected; he’d get another job. There are players on this roster with some value to teams that are gearing up for the stretch run. Older players such as Greg Maddux, Todd Walker, Phil Nevin, John Mabry and Neifi Perez would probably welcome a life preserver from the sinking ship. There is a decent nucleus there if the pitchers can get themselves healthy. Instead of "standing by" and watching the season go down the tubes with little hope for the future, perhaps the Cubs should "stand by" the telephone and see what other teams are willing to offer for their marketable players.