Friday, March 30, 2012

Good News for Cardinal Nation

Accurately predicting the fates and fortunes of all 30 MLB teams is virtually an impossible task; often, "luck" - good or bad - completely changes a team's destiny, for better or worse.  Or, we allow personal bias to factor into our prognostications; thereby creating our own, personal little "wish list" (Example:  The North Side Chicago resident who has predicted the Cubs will win the World Series every year, for the past forty-seven years.  Well, it's been 103 years and counting, and there's no end in sight).

Aside from luck and personal bias screwing up the predictions of even the most astute baseball "experts", the real culprit is misinformation; either ignoring relevant information or misinterpreting it altogether.  For example, MLB Network's team of analysts - including former players such as Harold Reynolds, Larry Bowa, Mitch Williams, Billy Ripken, Sean Casey, Al Leiter, and the ever-zany Dan Plesac - were unanimously off-base when ranking the hitting prowess of the four NL teams in the first round of last year's playoffs.

That one should have been a no-brainer; the Cardinals not only led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, and RUNS (the most important category), they were coming into the postseason about as red-hot as a team can be.  Strangely enough, not one of these savvy baseball whizzes figured that one out, favoring the obvious "favorite", the pitching-rich (not hitting) Phillies.  Go figure.

The uncanny knack for making predictions that are the polar opposite of what is actually going to happen is a trademark for some of these geniuses.  A classic example occurred during last year's World Series when the ever-garrulous Sean Casey was unable to correctly predict the winner for ANY of the seven games played between the Cardinals and Rangers.  That's hard to do, folks.

My personal favorite MLB Network prognosticator is Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams, who voices his opinions so decisively and with so much conviction, he almost sounds believable.  Of course, even by his own admission, when it comes to predicting the outcome of anything significant - such as the six division champions each year - he's batting .000.  That's why I was horrified when Wild Thing boldly declared back in December, the Cardinals - even without Albert Pujols - would win the NL Central in 2012.  Yikes!

They were officially doomed.

Reluctantly, I had to write the Redbirds off, although I tried to rationalize that the opinions expressed by Mitch Williams should have no bearing on the actual outcome.  But deep down inside I knew; if there's one thing certain in baseball, it's Wild Thing's absolute perfection in being wrong.  There's no denying it; he's the best there ever was at never being right.

Well, somewhere along the line, between Ryan Braun's miraculous synthetic testosterone exoneration and Chris Carpenter's shoulder problems, Wild Thing had a change of heart.  "The Brewers will win the Central", Mitch declared earlier this week on MLB Network.  This is, of course, horrible news for fans of the Brewers, although they probably don't realize it.  All they know is their man, Braunie, didn't do it and he's coming back for a full Beast-Mode season; so there!

More importantly, this is great news for the good guys - the Cardinals - who hope to defend their title minus King Albert, but still with a very good team that just got some very good news on the pitching shoulder of Chris Carpenter.  According to Cardinals Senior Vice President and General Manager John Mozeliak, Carp should be back in the rotation "sometime in May".  I think most fans would've been happy with a June or July return of our conquering postseason pitching hero; so this is a definite bonus.

Things are looking up in Cardinal Nation as this week draws to a close; and it all started innocently enough with Wild Thing's revised prediction earlier this week, capped off with that favorable prognosis coming down on Friday of that very important right shoulder in the Redbirds' starting rotation.

Cardinals fans have been patiently waiting for this new season to begin, biding time over the past five months watching David Freese's glorious Game Six heroics, over and over again.  It never gets old.

The team has had a nice Spring Training, looking good in their post-Albert exhibition games.  Now, it's just about time for the real thing, as the Cardinals strive to win back-to-back World Championships for the first time in franchise history; number twelve overall.

I suppose the only way the Redbirds could top the magic of 11 in '11 would be an encore.  How does 12 in '12 sound?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MLB's Power Rankings Rankle Redbirds

MLB's latest Power Rankings of all 30 major league clubs has the Texas Rangers in the top spot, followed by Albert's new team - the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Coming in at number three are the aging and overrated New York Yankees, who were eliminated in last year's ALDS by the fourth-ranked Detroit Tigers; and that was before they even had Prince Fielder on the team.  Go figure.

In case you're wondering what happened to the World Champion St Louis Cardinals (you know, the team that beat the top-ranked Rangers in the 2011 World Series), they are currently ranked as only the thirteenth best team in baseball, one notch behind the Miami Marlins, who finished dead-last in the NL East in 2011.  Of course, the Cards also rank well behind the fifth-ranked, aging, oft-injured and overrated Philadelphia Phillies (you know, the team that was eliminated from last year's NLDS by the Cardinals).

They also fall in behind the 11th-ranked Cincinnati Reds (you know, the sub-.500 team that finished behind the Cardinals in the NL Central standings last season); not to mention the 10th-ranked Atlanta Braves (you know, the team that coughed up that huge Wild Card lead last season to the Cardinals).

Coming in at number nine on the hit parade are the Boston Red Sox who also coughed up a mammoth Wild Card lead of historic proportions last September to the seventh-ranked Tampa Rays, who were the temporary beneficiaries of Boston's record-breaking choke job before being quickly bounced from the ALDS by the eventual World Series losers; our good buddies, the Rangers.  Got all that?

The team the Cardinals clobbered in last year's NLCS - the highly-overrated Prince Fielder-less Milwaukee Brewers are ranked five notches higher than the Redbirds; currently coming in at number eight, while the Arizona Diamondbacks (who were beaten by the Brewers in last year's NLDS) fill out the top twelve as the sixth highest-ranked team in baseball.

Rounding out the remaining seventeen Power Ranking positions:

14 - Washington Nationals
15 - San Francisco Giants
16 - Toronto Blue Jays
17 - LA Dodgers
18 - Chicago White Sox
19 - Cleveland Indians
20 - Colorado Rockies
21 - Kansas City Royals
22 - Pittsburgh Pirates
23 - Seattle Mariners
24 - Minnesota Twins
25 - San Diego Padres
26 - Baltimore Orioles
27 - New York Mets
28 - Oakland A's
29 - Chicago Cubs
30 - Houston Astros

Meanwhile, as the thirteenth-ranked Redbirds prepare to defend their eleventh title, they have the added incentive of proving to the naysayers they are still very much a championship-caliber team without Albert Pujols.  This is a franchise that won nine other times long before Albert came along; they intend to prove that there are plenty more where those came from.

This is hardly a complacent team, resting on its laurels.  This is a team with an attitude; a team with resolve.  For any opponent that takes them lightly, this proud and talented group of players - the 2012 St Louis Cardinals - intends to serve notice that they will never go down easily; they will never quit.

Anyone still doubting that; please refer to Game Six - 2011 World Series.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Carpenter's Injury May Be Blessing in Disguise

The much anticipated reunion of the Cardinals' top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers - Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright - will have to wait a while - maybe quite a while.  While Waino appears fully recovered from last year's Tommy John surgery, Carp is being shut down for an "indefinite" period of time, due to a pitching shoulder weakened by nerve inflammation in his neck.

Of course, this isn't good news for the Cardinals; especially if Carpenter's rehabilitation process takes longer than expected.  But, what can be "expected" from such a vague prognosis?  For Carpenter and the Cardinals, "indefinite" could well be "deja vu all over again".

This injury is nothing new; the same sort of problem ended Carp's season prematurely, in 2004; denying him the chance to pitch in the postseason for the first time in his career.  That may have been a blessing in disguise, however; even a healthy Carpenter could have done little to prevent that disastrous four game World Series sweep the Redbirds suffered at the hands of the Red Sox; Boston's first title since World War I.

The following season, the well-rested and healthy Cards ace came back strong, winning 21 games en route to his first NL Cy Young Award.  The big right-hander made the most of his first postseason experience, winning both of his starts; alas, the team came up short in the NLCS, losing to the Wild Card Astros in six games.  The 'stros celebrated their first trip to the World Series in franchise history by losing four straight to the Chicago White Sox; coincidentally, the South Side's first title since World War I, as well.

While the Cardinals stumbled through the 2006 season, somehow hanging on to win their third straight division title with just 83 wins, Carp bagged 16 of them; he then tacked on another three wins in the postseason, including one in the shocking five-game World Series annihilation of the Detroit Tigers.

However, victory came with a huge price.  Carpenter's 2007 season ended abruptly, sustaining an elbow injury during his six-inning Opening Night loss to the Mets.  The subsequent surgery and rehabilitation process cost Carp most of the 2008 season, as well.  Only able to make three starts that year, his 0-1 record matched 2007's disappointment.  Not surprisingly, the pitching-thin Cardinals failed to reach the postseason each year.

When Carpenter rebounded to a 17-4 record in 2009, it helped propel the Cardinals to another division title; however, a late season slump carried over into a brief postseason run; Carp lost his start against the Dodgers in the NLDS, and the momentum carried LA to a three game sweep.  Perhaps lost in the disappointing conclusion to the season was just how well Carp pitched until the end; his 2.24 ERA and 182 ERA+ led the National League, along with his .810 winning percentage, but it wasn't quite good enough to earn his second Cy Young Award; San Francisco's Tim Lincecum bagged his second in a row, instead.

Carpenter pitched well in 2010 (16-9), with a NL leading 35 games started; and his buddy Adam Wainwright pitched extremely well (20-11), while starting 33 games of his own that season; however, the Cardinals failed to win the division title for the first time when having a healthy and effective Carp in the rotation, from start to finish.  The team seemed to be torn with dissension; featuring a well-publicized riff between Cards skipper Tony LaRussa and center fielder, Colby Rasmus.

The 2011 season would end in great triumph for Carpenter and the Cardinals, but it began with the ominous news that Wainwright and his 20 wins would be lost for the season, undergoing Tommy John surgery.  When free agent-to-be Albert Pujols got off to an uncharacteristically slow start, the team seemed destined for another disappointing campaign.  Carpenter himself pitched poorly during the first half of the season, compiling just a 4-7 record in 19 starts, with a fairly high 3.85 ERA.

When the front office dealt the sullen Rasmus off to Toronto shortly before the trade deadline, for some much-needed pitching help, the roster had begun to gel.  The rest is history; as Pujols, Berkman and an emerging David Freese led the offensive charge down the stretch, while an inspired Carpenter reasserted his dominance on the mound, going 7-2 over his final 15 starts, posting an ERA under 3.  By season's end, Carpenter had pitched a NL leading 237.1 innings, although notching a rather modest total of 11 wins; but the best was yet to come in an improbable  postseason filled with historic magic.

Carp's fourth, and final postseason win of '11 came in Game Seven of the World Series.  By that time, the durable hurler had tacked on an additional 36 innings of work to his log, bringing the grand total for the year to 273.1.  Perhaps Carpenter is once again paying the price for another championship.  Five years ago, the price was quite steep; two lost seasons.

This time around, the Cardinals are hoping for a more favorable outcome.  If it means just a couple of months on the shelf for the big right-handed ace to fully recover; that would be a bargain.  Having a well-rested and healthy Carpenter back in time for this season's stretch run could be just what the doctor ordered.

That's why Carp's latest injury may, in fact, be a blessing in disguise.  Only time will tell.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mariano Rivera: Better Than Necessary for Yankees

Today (March 9, 2013) the New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera officially announced that the upcoming 2013 season - his 18th - would be his last.  It's hard to imagine the Sandman will be gone after this year, but as he said in a press conference today, there's really nothing left for him to accomplish on a baseball field.  As his old battery-mate Jorge Posada said, there will never be another reliever like him - essentially, a one-pitch closer who was nearly impossible to hit, even though the hitters always knew what was coming; they just never knew where it was going to be located by the time it reached home plate.  He probably shattered more bats than any other reliever in MLB history, although there are no official records on that; at least to my knowledge. 

I thought this would be a good time to dig into the archives; the following was written about a year ago:

Mariano Rivera is not only the greatest reliever in MLB history, he's the greatest pitcher of any kind, in MLB history.  It's not even close.  Aside from his record-breaking career saves total of 603, Rivera's 2.06 career ERA has been compiled over a period of time that has been a hitter's era.  Perhaps the best measurement of his dominance is reflected in his ERA+ during his seventeen seasons:  206.  Nobody else is even in that neighborhood.  Pedro Martinez is a distant second with 154.  Some guy named Jim Devlin is in third place, with 151.  Then comes Lefty Grove's 148 and Walter Johnson's 147.

Cy Young?  138.  How about some more contemporary names, like Sandy Koufax?  131.  Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Curt Schilling?  All three tied at 128.

That's how good Mariano Rivera has been; far above any other pitcher in MLB history.  In fact, he has been so good, his skills have far exceeded what his team actually needed; at least for the most part.

Yogi Berra once addressed an audience that had assembled to pay tribute to the Yankee great, with these renowned words of wisdom:  "Thank you for making this day necessary."

Strangely enough, when the Yankees were going through that incredible World Championship run from 1996 to 2000, winning four out of five times, they really didn't even need a closer.  Of course, they happened to have the greatest one who ever lived coming out of their bullpen, so they went to him to close games out, more as a formality than anything else.

Essentially, Mariano Rivera was better than "necessary" since the Yankees were far superior to any other team in baseball, with or without him; especially when they were making mincemeat of their National League challengers in their most recent late-twentieth century World Championship heyday.

It all started when the Yankees rallied from a 2-0 deficit to the reigning World Champion Atlanta Braves in the '96 Fall Classic; winning four straight games to complete the remarkable comeback in relative ease; in  just six games.  Mariano hadn't taken over the closer's role for the Yankees yet, but they didn't need him anyway.

The '98 World Series was a joke.  The over-matched Padres had no chance, getting swept in four straight.  Of course, Rivera sealed the deal, but there wasn't a closer in baseball who couldn't have secured those easy wins.  Mitch Williams could have come out of retirement to do the job and the Yankees still would have prevailed; it may have taken a couple of extra games, but there was no way they could lose.

The '99 rematch against the Atlanta Braves was once again, no contest.

Nor was the 2000 all-New York Fall Classic - the Subway Series - even remotely challenging for the Bronx Bombers.

Of course, Rivera came in; got some easy saves, and was on the mound for each clinching Kodak moment. He had a few dicey moments from time to time, but even if he had failed in some of those instances, it wouldn't have mattered in the long run.  The Yankees were going to win, eventually.  It just didn't matter what Mariano did.

Using the great Mariano Rivera in those lopsided World Series victories is pretty much equivalent to using an atomic bomb to kill a mosquito.  Or like using the Pacific Ocean to douse a cigarette.  Like using the sun to light a candle.  Overkill, to the max.

Certainly, he's had many moments to shine in the postseason during his illustrious 17-year career; the Yankees have advanced to the ALDS sixteen times, winning nine times to advance to the ALCS; prevailing seven times to advance to the World Series; and coming out on top five different times; most recently, in 2009, when he wasn't really needed to dispose of the Philadelphia Phillies, either.

His career postseason record is almost unbelievable in its excellence:  8 wins - 1 loss, with 42 saves and an ERA of 0.70.  Gaudy numbers, indeed.

Ironically, his only postseason loss came in the crucial Game Seven of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  Entering the game in the bottom of the ninth-inning in Phoenix, trying to protect a 2-1 lead, Mariano gave up a couple of runs to give the D-Backs their first World Championship.  Unbelievably, the greatest pitcher in MLB history - the greatest pitcher in postseason history - failed to record yet another save in what has proved to be the most crucial blown save of his career.

This was the only time his team really needed him, in order to win a World Series.  The fact that he didn't get the job done on that one occasion is one of the most shocking things to ever occur in World Series history.  The mosquito somehow escaped that nuclear blast; the ocean couldn't douse that cigarette; the sun couldn't light that measly candle.

Mariano Rivera lost the game and the Series for New York; the only time they really needed him in order to win another World Championship.  The only time he was really necessary.

All those other times, the greatest pitcher in MLB history was far better than necessary; closing out games for a team that was so good, his services almost became a luxury.  Of course, the Yankees were very happy to have him for all those years; especially since Rivera probably would've made a difference for a few other teams that were close to winning a World Series, but came up just a bit short.  Maybe the Cleveland Indians ('97) might've been able to prevail over the Marlins with Mo closing out Game Seven.  Maybe the Atlanta Braves may have kept the Yankees from rallying in '96 with a young Mariano Rivera working the back-end of their bullpen. 

Who knows?  He may have been better than necessary for the Yankees, but no need to take any chances with the greatest closer in the history of the game.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Pujols Contract: A Worst-Case Scenario

Most MLB analysts generally regard the $240 million deal Albert Pujols signed with the playoff-hungry Angels as a probable short-term bonanza (3-5 years), but long-term bust (5-10 years).  There is little doubt that the former Cardinals icon is going to have a monster year for his new team in 2012; quite possibly good enough to reclaim his stake as the Game's Greatest Player, which would more than likely earn him his first American League Most Valuable Player Award, and fourth overall; especially if the Halos do indeed make it back to the postseason.  I think they will; in fact, I think they'll take the AL West title away from the Texas Rangers this year, in a very heated division race.  That would likely have the Rangers still making it back into the postseason, as one of the two Wild Card teams.

Of course, the best-case scenario for Pujols and the Angels would have them going all the way - winning the World Series (the second in franchise history), as King Albert basks in the singular glory of being the only "repeat champion" - unless of course, the Cards deal one of their players to the Angels during their magical late season run; I wouldn't count on it.

Let's explore another scenario for Year One of the Pujols Contract.  This one would be every Angels fan's worst nightmare.  It has Albert experiencing a relentless barrage of injuries all season long; from a nagging strained oblique (it's the latest craze) to a pulled hamstring, and from a case of food poisoning to a broken big toe; Albert just can't seem to stay in the lineup with any regularity, as the Angels barely hang on to second place in the AL West, 27 games behind Texas; one game ahead of Seattle; two games ahead of Oakland.  All told, Pujols only plays in 81 games, hitting .238 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs.  That's not likely, of course; but it could happen.  If it did, most fans would probably sympathize with their fallen hero; after all, it's just one bad, injury-marred year.

Scenario Number Three would be less shocking, but still disappointing for the Halos and their loyal fans; maybe even more so.  The team finishes a distant second behind the Rangers; just like last year.  Unfortunately, their overall record just isn't quite good enough to get that newly created second Wild Card berth, as the Rays win Game 162 (Evan Longoria does it again), while the Angels, in the midst of a September swoon, cap it off by losing Game 162 (blown save).  Pujols has neither a great year nor a horrible year; just another slight decrease in his production; consistent with his recent past history.  The good news:  Pujols will lead the team in every offensive category.  The bad news:  He'll hit .286 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs; all career lows.

Taking this scenario a few years into the future; by Year Five of the Contract, Pujols has once again reached new career lows in offensive production, hitting .271 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs.  In 2016, the Angels will finally reach the postseason; by this time, they are being led by a young superstar heading into his prime - right fielder, Mike Trout who will win the AL MVP Award on the strength of 49 home runs and 137 RBIs, while winning his third consecutive Gold Glove Award.  Unfortunately for the Angels, the team loses the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals in Game Seven, by a score of 7-6, on a two-out two-strike ninth inning grand-slam home run by Eric Hosmer.  This time, the Cardinals finally avenge their 1985 World Series loss to Kansas City, by sweeping them in four straight games; but, that's another story.

As the 2017 season unfolds, a 37-year old Albert Pujols has lost his first base job to hard-hitting Mark Trumbo, and is now the full-time designated hitter on a team in transition.  By the end of the season, several key players will become free agents, including the reigning MVP, Mike Trout.  Other players have already been unloaded in exchange for a slew of minor league prospects; none of whom will be ready for the major leagues any time soon.  A sulking Albert Pujols has asked the team to trade him; preferably to a National League team, so he can return to his coveted first base position.  Unfortunately, no team in either league has any interest in an overpaid has-been who still has five more years left on what has long been regarded "the worst free agent contract in MLB history".

After struggling through another dismal season of diminished offensive production (.258 - 18 home runs -  67 RBIs), a distraught Albert faces the harsh reality of the situation:  He can no longer play the game in a manner that won't completely tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.  Yet, his contract will pay him for another four years.

What will he do?

PLAN A:  Continue taking the money, while his skills continue to deteriorate, further tarnishing his legacy as one of the game's all-time great players.

PLAN B:  Do what Joe DiMaggio did when he knew he could no longer perform at the level he demanded of himself:  Quit.  Ask the team to release you -without pay - from your contract, while issuing this statement:

"At this point in my career, I realize I can no longer play the game like the Albert Pujols we have all come to know and love.  Right now, I'm just one notch higher than Vernon Wells was back in 2011; remember him?  If I keep playing, I'll be performing at a level somewhere around "Adam Dunn - 2011"; remember him?  Yikes!

Anyway, thanks to my past earnings and some shrewd investment strategies, I am able to retire from the game, without having to get a real job.  Thank you, my wonderful fans, for all your support over the years; especially those who refrained from booing me mercilessly while I was going through my rapid decline.  I never thought it would happen so soon; believe me.  But, we all know baseball is a funny game.   Well, I suppose this may not seem funny right now, but maybe there will come a day when we can all look back on this chapter of my life, and get a good laugh out of it, after all.

I hope you all realize I had no choice but to walk away from that earlier chapter of my life, known as my Great Years; my St Louis Cardinals years.  But, for some reason, they seemed reluctant to give me the long-term contract I so richly deserved.  But, I forgive them; they knew not what they were doing.

In closing, I'd like to thank the wonderful owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, for having enough faith in me to give me the contract I so richly deserved.  It was nice playing for you and all the wonderful Angels fans who made me feel - at least temporarily - wanted; not that the Cardinals fans didn't make me feel wanted.  They did, but just not enough to offset being insulted with that lousy short-term offer the organization tried to get me to accept."

Sure, this scenario may seem ridiculous; after all, even if Albert's skills do deteriorate at such an alarming rate, would he really turn down all that money just to preserve his legacy?  Unfortunately; probably not.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

MLB's Injury Epidemic

Recently, when St Louis Cardinals utility outfielder Skip Schumacher became the latest victim of major league baseball's trendiest injury - the strained oblique - I suddenly realized I never even knew what an "oblique" was when I was a kid (about 40 - 50 years ago); primarily since guys like Lou Brock, Billy Williams, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Tony Perez, Brooks Robinson, Pete Rose, Ron Santo, Kenny Boyer, or Carl Yastrzemeski never seemed to have a problem with that.  In fact, each one of these great players averaged over 150 games played in the five-year span beginning with their age 28 season, through their age 32 season.  Billy Williams actually spent that five-year stretch playing in every single game for his team, the Chicago Cubs; while his fellow Hall of Fame teammate, Ron Santo, played in nearly every game in that time frame, while privately battling diabetes.  How's that for tough?

Clearly, there are significant occupational hazards in baseball which cause injuries; some minor, some career-ending.  These great players from my youth not only avoided straining their obliques or calves throughout the bulk of their careers, they also were fortunate enough - or smart enough - to steer clear of things like bone-breaking bean balls and outfield walls; and when sliding into bases, avoided bodily injury from their collisions with opposing players.  In the case of Pete Rose, who played the game as hard as anyone who ever played the game; he was usually the guy doling out the pain on the base paths, as Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse could attest on that famous last bone-crushing play of the 1970 All-Star Game.

While Fosse fell victim to that vicious, but clean, hit delivered by Charlie Hustle, a young Cardinals catcher by the name of Ted Simmons was just getting his career off the ground.  One of the greatest hitting catchers of all-time, Simmons was also one of the toughest.  In a feat unlikely to be duplicated any time soon, Simmons appeared in at least 150 games as catcher for St Louis, for an astounding seven consecutive seasons - 1972 - 1978.  In case anyone hasn't experienced the heat and humidity of St Louis in July and August, you don't know what you're missing.  For the tough-minded and durable Ted Simmons, "missing" (as in games) simply wasn't a part of his vocabulary.

Durability is as important to a player's success as his overall ability.  For every Cal Ripken Jr who grinds out every single game, year in, year out; seemingly forever; there are hundreds of of Grady Sizemores who seem to have everything going for them, except luck.  Injuries may be a part of the game, but for some players, injuries have become the biggest part of their game.  World Series hero David Freese is hoping for his first full injury-free season to prove what he accomplished last Fall was no fluke.  If the Cardinals have any chance of successfully defending their World Championship, they need to get 150 games out of their rising star, and close to that out of their seasoned stars - Lance Berkman and his old Astros teammate and newly acquired free-agent, Carlos Beltran.

Nowadays,  most players remain physically fit, year 'round, following a strict workout regimen that is intended to make them strong and agile.  But are some of these guys overdoing it?  I mean, when a 19-year old phenom - Bryce Harper - is sidelined with stiffness in his left calf, something's just not right.

Recently, I heard an interesting perspective from New York Mets color commentator, Keith Hernandez, on the rash of injuries plaguing so many players.  Hernandez observed that many of the Mets players were going to the gym before the scheduled games; since pumping iron tends to restrict muscles, it hampers the ability to play baseball the way it's meant to be played - free and easy.  His simple suggestion:  Hit the gym after the games, instead!

I think he knows what he's talking about.  I recall Hernandez, who was a superb defensive first baseman, spent a lot of time before games, stretching out the old muscles; with special emphasis on keeping the legs limber and flexible.  His strategy seemed to work; with cat-like defensive agility, Hernandez revolutionized the way first base was played, and no one played it better.

It's unclear what caused the calf problem of Bryce Harper; is it possible he overdid the weight-lifting routine on his legs, just a bit?   Was he so determined to make the Opening Day roster of the Washington Nationals, he spent a little extra time in the gym; instead of the batting cage?  After an unimpressive 8 for 28 (.286) performance in 9 games, which featured a team-leading 11 strikeouts and no home runs, the club decided the gimpy-calved teen-aged phenom would be better served playing AAA ball instead; at least for a while.

In the meantime, as more iron-pumping ballplayers strain their tight muscles, perhaps they could learn a thing or two from the training regimen of former Heavy Weight Boxing Champion - the late Smokin' Joe Frazier - when he was in his prime.  Frazier, who was known for his relentless style of fighting and ferocious punching ability, explained why he avoided lifting weights:  "It makes me muscle-bound, and I can't afford to be muscle-bound."

Major league ballplayers can't afford to be muscle-bound, either; it's just not conducive to playing the game the way it's meant to be played.  Nor is it conducive to being able to play the game on a regular basis, for any players who really want to help their teams win.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Healthy Roster Could Make Redbird History

Albert Pujols' final season as a member of the St Louis Cardinals began ominously; before the team had even assembled for Spring Training, Adam Wainwright had already undergone season-ending Tommy John surgery.  Meanwhile, the contract negotiations between Pujols and the Cardinals front office were at a standstill, casting a further pall on a team in disarray.  Not unexpectedly, most experts picked the Cardinals no better than third place in the NL Central; certainly not good enough to reach the postseason.

Pujols began the season poorly, clearly distracted by his uncertain future, and increasingly irritated by a relentless media's repetitious and mundane interrogations.  Still, his presence in the lineup alone certainly had a positive effect on the team's fortunes.  As opposing teams focused most of their attention on containing Pujols, perhaps they took the rest of the lineup too lightly.  Newly acquired free agent Lance Berkman picked up much of the slack early on, rebounding nicely from an unproductive and injury-plagued 2010 season.  In fact, the entire Cards lineup consistently generated enough offense to lead the National League in all the key offensive categories:

BA - .273
OBP - .341
SLG - .425

The fact that the Cardinals barely made it into the postseason with win number 90 in game number 162 made them huge NLDS underdogs squaring off against the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies; who were by contrast, coming off  a franchise-record 102 regular season wins.

What the experts failed to grasp was how the Cardinals had dramatically improved their bullpen with several key mid-season acquisitions; turning its weakest link into one of great strength by the end of August.  Even so, to understand how frustrating the season had been, the team had managed to save just 47 out of 73 opportunities.  Only the Washington Nationals managed to blow more save opportunities, converting just 47 out of 77 chances.

Of course, the Cardinals didn't go on to lose all 26 of the games which they held a lead; they had merely allowed the opposition to "get back into the game" with a reasonable chance of sending the Cardinals to another galling defeat.  Exactly how many times that happened is unknown (to me), although I'm sure there are  bound to be some saber-metrics geeks floating around out there who know every mundane detail in each blown save, and can document the actual number of Redbird losses that resulted in those cases.  For the sake of argument, I'm going to assume they could have won ten more games if they had the same bullpen that helped facilitate their late season and postseason success.  In other words, they should have easily won 100 regular season games in 2011.  That's how good they really were when they rolled through the last month of the regular season, and continued rolling all the way to a World Championship.

Obviously, losing Albert Pujols changes the dynamic of the Cardinals, heading into the 2012 season.  For all those experts who felt the Cards were merely "lucky" to have won it all last season, they are quick to give the predictable knee-jerk reaction; no postseason play (again), guys.  So what else is new?

A couple of weeks ago, Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright created a slight stir when he told reporters he thought the team would actually be a little better in 2012 than they were in 2011; even with Pujols gone.  I agree; not only will the pitching staff be significantly better with Waino's return to the starting rotation, all the other "core" players will be returning, and at least starting the season in good playing condition (aside from Allen Craig's slightly delayed start).

Also, free agent acquisition Carlos Beltran should be able to at least come close to replacing the 2011 production Pujols generated; and that's not such a bad deal.  Here's how both stacked up in 2011, along with a look at five other key players:

             G     R     RBI     HR     BA     OBP     SLG
Pujols   147  105    99       37      .299     .366      .541
Beltran  142   78     84       22      .300     .385      .525
Berkman 145  90    94       31      .301     .412      .547
Holiday   124  83    75       22      .296     .388      .525
Craig       75   33    40       11      .315     .362      .555
Freese     97   41    55       10      .297     .350      .441
Molina   139   55    65       14      .305     .349      .463

It's interesting to note that none of these players appeared in as many as 150 games last season, so injuries were a bit of an issue, especially for Allen Craig and David Freese.  If the Cardinals are going to silence the naysayers in 2012, both Craig and Freese need to avoid injury and pick up where they left off last postseason, with that lumber in their hands.

This is a team that could realistically win back-to-back World Championships for the first in franchise history - despite losing Pujols.  Albert is still a great player and appears poised to have a monster season with his new team, and a good bet to win another Most Valuable Player Award.  I think the Angels are clearly one of the elite teams in the American League now; I wouldn't be surprised to see them representing the American League in the World Series this time around.

That would be an interesting World Series, pitting the former Cardinal icon who apparently felt under- appreciated in St Louis, against his old team who would be trying to serve notice that they're still the best in baseball - with or without King Albert.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mike Shannon Did It - Why Not Hanley & Miguel?

Third base - The Hot Corner - has been a hot topic during the off season.  While World Series MVP David Freese - a third baseman by trade - has been making the national scene - from Leno to Ellen to some sort of Country Music Awards shin-dig; the Hot Stove League has been filled with heated Hot Corner debate, on a couple of fronts.

It all started when the "new-look" Miami Marlins signed free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes in December to supplant incumbent-former-All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez - a young man with a good track record for pouting; who seemed nonplussed with the idea of vacating the safety and security of his All-Star position for one that is dangerous and - worse yet - potentially humiliating.

More recently, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is gladly accepting the challenge of moving over to third base to make room for his new teammate, former Milwaukee Brewers All-Star slugger Prince Fielder.  Although Cabrera has played two full seasons at third base while a relatively lean member of the pre-Miami-Florida Marlins (2006-'07), it remains to be seen how the current, larger-than-life version of Cabrera will fare.  While the extra "padding" he's acquired over the past several years may protect his internal organs from trauma in case his glove isn't quick enough; the big question:  Will he be able to successfully execute enough fielding opportunities to avoid becoming a defensive liability?

For Hanley Ramirez, perhaps his biggest challenge will be dealing with the inevitable miscues at his new position without going ballistic.  He's a remarkable athlete who should be able play third base reasonably well once he adjusts to its nuances; however, if he goes off the deep end before he has a chance to grow into the position, he may be better off finding another team to call home - one that needs a decent shortstop who specializes in hitting.

While Cabrera and Ramirez deal with their new challenges in 2012, it brought to mind a similar transition which happened forty-five seasons ago, on a team that was surprisingly poised for a World Championship - the '67 St Louis Cardinals.

Coming off a dismal sixth place finish in 1966 (83-79), the Cardinals created a minor stir in the baseball world on December 8, 1966 when they traded third baseman Charlie Smith to the New York Yankees for their unpopular and disgruntled right fielder, Roger Maris.  Maris, who was never comfortable in the glare of the New York spotlight, welcomed the change of venue as his career was winding down.  Adding Maris to the roster created a temporary log-jam in right field, which was quickly addressed when the Cardinal hierarchy decided to move incumbent right fielder, Mike Shannon to third base; filling the void created with Smith's departure.

Shannon, with no previous major league experience at any infield position - let alone third base - eagerly accepted the new challenge.  His approach to learning the new position was what he referred to as "The Army Way" - a simple and pragmatic way to play defense.  He described the process in the following manner:

*Get in front of ball
*Knock it down
*Pick it up
*Throw it to first base

Mike Shannon may have been the worst defensive third baseman in the National League in 1967, but he survived.  Without getting overly bogged down with saber-metrics, Shannon's fielding deficiencies allowed an extra dozen or so runs to score over the course of the season than "average".  Fortunately, nobody was really keeping track of that kind of stuff back then (his "range" was also below average), so Shannon's first season at third base was relatively stress-free.  By season's end, his fielding percentage of .919 (.950 was league average) was hardly noticed by any Redbirds fan, as St Louis not only won the pennant, they proceeded to knock off the Boston Red Sox in a classic Seven Game World Series.

It wasn't pretty, but Shannon's mission had been accomplished.  To his credit, his defensive skills at the hot corner improved dramatically the following season (only slightly below average), as the Cards cruised to their second straight pennant; this time losing to Detroit in another classic Seven Game Fall Classic.

For nervous fans of the Tigers and Marlins; relax.  Your new third basemen should be able to get the job done without killing the team.  After all, if Mike Shannon could do it; why not Hanley and Miguel?


Friday, March 9, 2012

Deep Thoughts - Bob Costas Spouts Off

It's been two weeks since Ryan Braun won his appeal, overturning major league baseball's plan to suspend the reigning National League MVP for the first fifty games of the 2012 season, after testing (very) positive in that controversial urine sample, early last October.  In case you weren't aware of this precedent-setting successful appeal, allow me to summarize what went down:

*Braun's sample was tainted since it sat in a cool, dry place for 44 unsupervised hours before being shipped off to the lab.  

*The lab didn't know it was tainted, since all the tamper resistant seals had not been tampered with during that unsupervised 44 hour hiatus.

*The lab discovered the tainted sample was loaded with synthetic testosterone.

*Believing the tainted sample to be untainted, Braun was falsely accused by major league baseball of ingesting some type of banned, pharmaceutical product to produce all that synthetic testosterone.

*Some unknown blabbermouth leaked the news of the initial findings by the lab of the tainted sample to ESPN, who promptly spread the foreboding news to the rest of the world.

*Prior to the ESPN leak, Braun won the NL MVP Award, and appeared to be happy and synthetic testosterone-free during his congratulatory interviews with the media.  My favorite - MLB Network's ebullient analyst, Harold Reynolds' exchange with Braunie:  "Hey man, you look clean!"  "Thanks, HR!  Coming from you that means something; if it came from Ripken (Billy), not so much."  Guffaws!

*When Braun formally accepted his Award at the subsequent MLB shin-dig, he nervously dished out an awkwardly tongue-tied and embarrassing speech, mentioning key words like "challenge" and "opportunity" way too many times to make any sense.  Only his nervous laughter while stammering through the ordeal broke the dead silence among the wary gathering.

*During the long, drawn-out appeal process, Braun's crack team of legal experts proved to the arbitration panel that the sample was tainted; or at least possibly tainted (reasonable doubt!) by sitting around some guy's cool, dry basement for 44 unsupervised hours before being shipped off to the lab.

*A relieved, but indignantly bitter Ryan Braun held a fifteen minute press conference at his team's training facility in Peoria, AZ, citing the "fatally flawed" process which created the tainted sample that turned him into the falsely accused "victim".  Not wanting to leave well enough alone, Braun rambled on about the questionable integrity and competency of the guy who collected the sample that fateful late Saturday afternoon in early October.  Apparently, this collector has only done about 600 of these procedures without incident; but who's counting?

In the aftermath of this landmark decision, there was a flurry of media discussion and opinion - some "pro", and some "con" - along with the much-expected response from baseball fans everywhere - mostly "con" outside of greater Milwaukee.  There may be some fans of the Milwaukee Brewers who think the panel goofed when they upheld Braun's appeal, but I haven't seen evidence of that, anywhere; from Twitter to Facebook and all points in between; the consensus in Brewer Nation:  "He's innocent!"  According to these unbiased character witnesses, anyone who thinks otherwise is either an idiot or a "hater" (I hate that stupid expression).

One thing is certain.  Braun will be in the Brewers lineup now, for a possible full 162-game ride.  Also, the  initial widespread public outrage will gradually fade into apathetic acceptance (it may already have happened); by the All-Star break, it will be as far off the radar screen as the OJ trial.

While this story was still the hot topic on the national scene a couple of weeks ago, I happened to catch a brief telephone interview one of the hosts at the MLB Network was doing with long-time baseball purist and savant, Bob Costas.  Old Bob is a highly respected source of wisdom, particularly within the realm of major league baseball.  His commentary on a wide variety of topics - from Hall of Fame balloting to performance enhancing drug issues - is usually quite interesting; certainly, very well-prepared and at times, profound.

Costas was asked to expound upon Braun's overly zealous attempt to deny any wrongdoing; instead, pointing the finger at major league baseball's drug testing program, from top to bottom; finishing the tirade off with  an assault on the guy who collected the sample; implying a wide variety of wrongdoings - from general incompetence to haphazard procedural methods to the possibility of deliberate sabotage.  It seemed to be way over the top; borderline vindictive and somewhat paranoid; right Bob?

Nope.  Bob didn't see it that way; his response was something to the effect:  "Braun seemed more convincing in his defense than anyone else I can recall accused of using performance enhancing drugs.  Overall, he presented his case well; that there's enough reasonable doubt in the way things were handled to justify the arbitrator's decision."  Really?

I couldn't help but recall the harsh language Costas used when discussing the allegations against Barry Bonds:  "For anyone to think Bonds did not use performance enhancing drugs when he was breaking all those home run records and winning all those MVP Awards; they would have to be deranged!"  Okay; I tend to agree.

I suppose I was expecting him to say, with regard to the Ryan Braun case:  "For anyone to think synthetic testosterone mysteriously manifested itself in a non-tampered urine sample; even after a so-called 44 hour unsupervised delay in getting it to the lab for analysis; they would have to be deranged!"

I couldn't help but think back to early January, when Costas offered his opinion on the first-ballot Hall of Fame credentials for Houston Astros retired slugger, Jeff Bagwell.  Bob very solemnly and carefully crafted his pious response, which would be heard by millions of people throughout the world of baseball;  including many Hall of Fame voters who possibly value his perspective:

"You have to take into consideration the fact that Bagwell played the bulk of his career in the Steroids Era; so there's some doubt about the authenticity of his career totals.  I would rather err on the side of being overly careful, than letting a player in who may have used performance enhancing drugs."

Obviously, there were enough actual Hall of Fame voters sharing that same sentiment to keep Bagwell's inevitable Cooperstown induction on hold.  Suspicions will automatically arise when any power hitter's career numbers are scrutinized for Cooperstown consideration; simply based on their physical appearance; in other words, they have strong arms?  In Bagwell's case, there is no evidence linking him to any use of performance enhancing drugs.  He never tested "positive" and was never named in any formal inquiry, unlike so many others who were caught red-handed.  From all accounts, Bags developed those big strong arms by pumping iron; not by pumping pharmaceuticals into his system.

So, now that Bob Costas has apparently supported the decision ruling in favor of Braun, does that mean he would consider giving Braun a vote for Hall of Fame induction many years from now; assuming his career numbers look something like Bagwell's?  Would that be suspicious or deranged?

The perplexing perspective of Bob Costas keeps getting more difficult to understand.  I don't think I'm alone in that boat, either.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is Curt Schilling Hall of Fame Material?

A couple of notable players from baseball's Steroids Era - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - were at one time considered to be sure-fire-first-ballot Hall of Fame shoe-ins.  Next year, their body of work (no pun intended) will be scrutinized by Cooperstown's Hall of Fame voters for the first time, as 2013 marks their first year of eligibility.

Of course, we all know there's no way Bonds nor Clemens stand a chance of sliding into Cooperstown any time soon; certainly not on that first ballot.  Despite their remarkable career achievements, Barry and Roger are perceived to be two surly Poster Children for Performance Enhancing Drugs.  In time, the voters will gradually parole the pair for their Crimes Against Baseball; after all, both performed at Hall of Fame standards for the bulk of their careers (no pun intended), without the juice.  Had their careers ended the day before they began their performance enhancing regimen, they would already be enshrined, and I wouldn't have used this segue to examine the Hall of Fame credentials for Curt Schilling - a former right-handed pitcher who toiled for twenty major league seasons* (and has never been linked to performance enhancing drugs).

*Note:  Although Schilling spent the first three years of his major league career with the Baltimore Orioles (1988-90), he is still credited with playing for a "major league team" (technically).

Curt Schilling was actually drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the second round of the January, 1986 amateur draft.  After signing his first professional contract with those Bambino Cursed Bo-Sox on May 30, 1986, the young Schilling no doubt dreamed of joining a rotation featuring the aforementioned Roger Clemens; on a star-studded roster boasting other talented players such as Wade Boggs, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Bill Buckner (the pre-World Series goat version).

Somehow, Schilling's dream job in Boston took a detour; by the time the hard throwing right-hander was given his shot in The Show late in the '88 season - it was with the hapless Orioles, working out of their hapless bullpen.  Schilling's career seemed destined only for obscurity; by the time he was dealt to the Houston Astros after the 1990 season, Schilling had a lifetime 1-6 record, with three saves (only 600 behind Mariano Rivera's current total).  He spent the entire '91 season working out of Houston's bullpen, notching eight saves in 56 appearances, with a so-so 3.81 ERA.

Schilling's next stop was to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1992, where he was gradually worked into the starting rotation, and flourished, on a team that floundered all season long; winning 14 games with an impressive 2.35 ERA and NL best 0.990 WHIP, Schilling was now a rising star.

The following season - 1993 - the Phillies shocked the baseball world by rising to the top of the National League, en route to their first World Series engagement in a decade; Schilling pitched well in one World Series outing vs the defending champion Toronto Blue Jays, and not so well in the other, posting a 1-1 record with a 3.52 ERA; Philly fell to Toronto in six games, highlighted by Joe Carter's dramatic 9th-inning World Series-winning home run off Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams in Game Six.  Philadelphia would have to wait until 2008 to make it all the way back to the Fall Classic; beating Tampa Bay's Rays in convincing fashion - four games to one.  Of course, Toronto has long been trying to figure out a way to once again get past the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays; oh my; in its quest to grab Title Number Three.

Meanwhile, Curt Schilling would spend the rest of the '90s pitching well enough, when healthy; but was frequently frustrated by arm troubles, and even more frustrated by his team's inability to reach the post season again.  The Atlanta Braves - the National League's Team of the Nineties - virtually owned the East; reaching the post season in Philadelphia simply wasn't going to happen, so Schilling lobbied for a change of venue, which was granted mid-way through the 2000 season.  Next stop:  The Arizona Diamondbacks.

Schilling's move to the Arizona desert was a fortuitous one; teaming up with the incredible Randy Johnson in 2001 to form one of the most imposing "one-two" pitching tandems in baseball history, the D-Backs captured their first National League pennant, then prevailed over the vaunted New York Yankees in a truly classic Seven Game World Series, as Johnson and Schilling were fittingly named co-MVPs.  Curt pitched brilliantly for Arizona in his three World Series starts (1.69 ERA), winning once and getting a no-decision twice.

Schilling's regular season work in '01 was superb, finishing second in the NL Cy Young Award voting to - who else? - Randy Johnson.  While Johnson's ERA was roughly half a run lower than Schilling's that season, Curt actually led the league in wins (22), games started (35), complete games (6), and innings pitched (256.2).  On top of all that, Schilling's strikeout to walk ratio (7.51) was the best in baseball; a feat  he would accomplish in four consecutive seasons.

While his regular season accomplishments are noteworthy, they may fall just a bit short in the voter's eyes when it comes to Cooperstown consideration:

216 wins - 146 losses (.597 winning percentage)
3.46 ERA
3116 strikeouts
128 ERA+
1.137 WHIP

Major League Baseball Network analyst Mitch Williams - a former teammate of Schilling's - contends that Schilling's 216 regular season wins during his 20-year big league career doesn't cut the mustard:  "He only averaged about 10 wins per season!"  According to the "Wild Thing", a player's post season accomplishments are meaningless; the only "true measurement" of a player's value is derived from regular season play:  "It's not the Hall of Post Season Fame", is Williams' perplexing concluding argument in his case against Curt Schilling's Cooperstown credentials.

It should be noted that a line drive once smacked off the "Wild Thing's" skull during one of his (unsuccessful) relief appearances, back in the day.  The only reason I know this is because Mitch has proudly repeated this story numerous times on the air, claiming no long-lasting ill-effects from the head whacking.  I'm not so sure about that; better get that noggin x-ray-ed again, Mitch; I think they missed something that first time around, old bean.

Perhaps a player's post season accomplishments have no "Hall of Fame" value when they don't help his team win post season games (for example, Game Six of the '93 World Series).  However, when a player performs at astounding levels during the post season, helping his team win not one, but three World Championships in seven years; that should count for something.  Bonus points should be awarded for helping one of his teams break an 86-year old curse one year, then helping them win the whole she-bang three short years later.

In essence, playing a huge role in a team's successful World Championship run is what matters the most. Repeating that magic on three separate occasions is the stuff of legends.  Curt Schilling was at his best when the games mattered the most - on baseball's grandest stage.  He was on the winning side in three out of four World Series showdowns.  Without his contributions, it is highly unlikely any of those teams would have even made it into the post season; let alone win it all.

In case anyone has forgotten, here's how Curt Schilling performed during his post season career:

11 wins - 2 losses (.846 winning percentage)
2.23 ERA
0.968 WHIP

In seven World Series starts, Schilling was 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA and 0.896 WHIP.

Curt Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame.  Anyone who thinks otherwise, should have their head examined.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Will Extra Wild Card Restore Order?

Since major league baseball added the "wild card" to the post season mix in 1995, ten different "wild card" teams have advanced to the World Series in those seventeen seasons; five of them managed to capture the World Championship:  The '97 Florida Marlins, the 2002 California/LA/Anaheim Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and the 2011 St Louis Cardinals.

For the Cardinals, last year's World Championship was the eleventh in franchise history, and their first as a "wild card" entrant; likewise, the 2004 Red Sox not only won their first World Series as a "wild card" entrant, their stunning ALCS comeback against the New York Yankees - winning four straight games after trailing 3 games to none - propelled them to an easy four game sweep of the Cardinals in the World Series; ending the historic Curse of the Bambino in the process.

For the Marlins, the only time they've ever won the World Series came in those two "wild card" seasons; likewise, the Halos have only appeared in the Fall Classic that one "wild card" season, and with a little help from the Rally Monkey, captured their one and only championship since the franchise came into existence over 50 years ago (1961).

Clearly, "wild card" teams have had little trouble prevailing over higher seeded teams in advancing to the World Series; and thanks to the luck of the draw, four out of the five "wild card" World Series champions had the all-important home-field advantage when playing for all the marbles.  The only "wild card" team to overcome home-field "disadvantage" were those pesky 2003 Marlins, who handled the seemingly invincible Yankees in six games.  

Strangely enough, the Yankees have had their share of "wild card" trouble over the years; aside from that upset at the hands of those '03 Marlins, the Bronx Bombers have been bounced from the post season by the 2002 Angels, those '04 Red Sox, and the '06 "wild card" Detroit Tigers.  Of course, the Yankees were the original American League "wild card" edition back in '95, but they failed to get past an inspired Seattle Mariners team in a truly classic five game ALDS; capped off by Edgar Martinez' clutch two-run double which plated a jubilant Ken Griffey, Jr with the deciding run.

Many baseball purists despise the entire concept of allowing "wild card" teams into the post season to begin with.  It's "unfair", they contend, to give marginally talented teams an opportunity to eliminate superior teams in a short, five game series; or even a slightly longer, seven game series.  To make matters worse for these purists is the shocking reality that 50% of those lucky, talent-less "wild cards" have had the audacity to win the World Series (through 2011)!

For those wishing to have order restored in the world of post season baseball, there is good news:  Each league will add one more "wild card" into the mix.  Theoretically, ten teams will now enter the post season with a chance to win the World Series.  However, one of those "wild card" teams will have their hopes dashed in one fell swoop - a one game playoff between the "wild cards" quickly brings the total of World Series hopefuls back down to eight.  However, the surviving "wild cards" will be facing much longer odds in their attempt to continue advancing in the post season; after all, that one game victory over their fellow "wild cards" means a less favorable pitching rotation when the league division series begins.  It won't be impossible for "wild card" teams to prosper in the post season; but it will be extremely difficult.  It could be a long, long time before we see a repeat of what the St Louis Cardinals pulled off last year.

For those wishing to see the odds stacked back in favor of teams that win division titles, this expanded playoff picture should do the trick.  Only time will tell, but it seems as though the extra "wild cards" should restore order in major league baseball.