Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rockies and Tigers and Reds Oh My!

Well folks, the 2006 baseball season has reached the one quarter mark.. so its time for the Nate’s World Blog to take a look back at the first quarter of the campaign. Memorial Day Weekend is fast approaching, and we just had the first weekend of interleague play. which means some teams are starting to show what they are made of.. There have been some pleasant surprises.. And we will see if we are still on track with our original pre-season predictions.. (see the columns from the end of March in the archives)

Interesting sports weekend we just had… The Mets were one Billy Wagner choke job from sweeping the Yankees.. Barry Bonds cracked his Ruth tying home run.. But most people were focused on the injuries suffered by the horsey Barabaro. Amazingly, there were vigils outside his hospital room as doctors tried desperately to save the Kentucky Derby winner. All the kings horses and all the kings men paced the hospital as doctors tried to put Barbaro back together again. And as the masses gathered outside in a vigil, some are hoping Barbaro might feel well enough to giddyap over to the next room to watch a boxing match with Hal Holbrook.

2006 has been pretty good for the Rockies, Tigers and Reds. All 3 teams have been pleasant surprises so far, and all three could possibly make the playoffs. Also, the Red Sox have done better than I thought.. (although the decision to trade Bronson Arroyo to the Reds was a big help to the Reds rise to the top..) and if the Blue Jays continue to show improvement, the Yankees with a decimated outfield and a washed up Randy Johnson just might miss the playoffs.

So what contributed to these three teams success this season? It seems like the Reds made a couple of sharp trades, while the Rockies and Tigers embraced a new philosophy about how they will run their ball clubs. The Reds acquired Arroyo and 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips and along with their young infielders Edwin Encarnacion and Felipe Lopez.. and slugger Adam Dunn they have gotten off to a surprisingly good start. The NL Central is quite the competitive division, and with a rotation led by Arroyo and young Aaron Harang.. The Reds have a chance to make some noise this season.. And if the Astros have indeed slipped a notch.. The Big Red Machine has a decent shot at contending for the Wild Card.

The Rockies finally decided to dump their veterans and take the young players route. Now they finally have a supporting cast for Todd Helton with the emergence of youngsters Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, and Garrett Atkins. The pitching has improved with young Jeff Francis anchoring a decent staff with Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings and Josh Fogg. They also have a nice bullpen with Jose Mesa pitching well as a setup man for Brian “Don’t call me Tito” Fuentes.. the first pitcher in franchise history worthy of being picked up by a Rotisserie team. This might be the Rockies year since no other team in the division has really stood out.. although the Padres have been able to put together a bit of a hot streak. Nonetheless, the Rocks are in first place at the quarter point.. And they looked damn good sweeping the Blue Jays over the weekend. Who knows? They might win that weak division.

The Tigers meanwhile were so awful a couple of years ago, they elicited comparisons to the 62 Mets. Jim Leyland took over as mgr this season, and now their rotation of Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson seem to have matured, and having that nut-job cameraman-attacking Kenny Rogers’ veteran presence has helped turn this team into a force to be reckoned with in the AL Central. Magglio Ordonez seems to have woken up from a 2 year sabbatical and Chris Shelton has evolved into a valuable offensive presence in the Tigers line-up. They have done quite well.. but the Indians are starting to snap out of their slump, and who knows how far the Tigers can go having all those games against the Indians and The White Sox.

Looking back at the Top 14 teams of 2006 (see the columns from the end of March)... The only one of those teams that looks like it won’t contend in the NL are the Cubbies. The injury to Derrek Lee has been a season breaker.. Kerry Wood is back from the DL and Mark Prior should be back soon.. But it might be too little too late.. Although the young pitcher Sean Marshall appears to have good stuff. Marshall is the 2nd Cub to have a dad with the last name of Marshall. And who sports fans was the other one? The answer is Pete LaCock, the son of…. Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall! Can you imagine how much fun Paul Lynde would have had if Marshall had kept his given name Peter LaCock?

The other NL teams from that list seem to be doing ok.. The Mets are in first place.. Although the rotation needs some help… (Maybe the Kris Benson deal wasn’t such a great idea after all?)… Incidentally my fellow met fan homies Paul R and Nessim have been emailing me back and forth because I defended the Mets when they made the Kazmir for Zambrano deal in ‘04. Back then, I felt the Mets needed to make a move to compete for the wild card. They traded for Benson and Zambrano yet missed the playoffs.. And keep in mind, Zambrano entered the ‘05 season with a career record of 10 games over .500. Not bad for a pitcher who had been on a crummy team. Obviously 2 seasons later.. The D-Rays got the better end of the deal… Ok fellow Met fans... Lets pout for a few minutes and then we will get over it and move on…. By the way the Mets have 2 openings in the rotation… could there be another Kazmir type deal coming involving one of the young studs on the farm?

Speaking of studs on the farm.. I just called the Barbaro hotline… he is still recuperating! Back to the NL East..

The Phillies have rebounded from a slow start.. And the Braves are having their usual warm weather surge. The Cardinals are in great shape as Albert Pujols is cruising towards another MVP, and possibly dethroning the much hated Barry Bonds’ single season Home Run record. The Astros are a bit streaky.. By the way they have a pitcher named Wandy Rodriguez who has a groin pull… and his protective cup affects his ability to move around. Therefore, he doesn’t wear one when he pitches.. Which means he is one comebacker away from a lengthy trip to the DL and getting the new nickname “Squeaky”.

In the AL.. I think the Yankees may miss the playoffs.. The Red Sox look a lot better than I predicted, and if the Blue Jays can get the injured Gustavo Chacin, and AJ Burnett back to the rotation soon.. our neighbors to the north might move into one of the Top 2 spots in the Amercan League East. The Central Teams are also following form.. The White Sox haven’t lost a step and now they get Jose Contreras back from the DL, and the Indians seem to have righted the ship after a shaky start.

The one AL surprise? The LA Angels.. 10 games under .500 after the weekend sweep at the hands of the cross town rival Dodgers. The division is weak. And the Halos still have a shot.. But they better not fall too much farther off the pace. I’m sure the Angels fans are thrilled with the World Baseball Classic, since their ace, the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon seems to have gotten injured while pitching in that kooky tournament. And as we head to Memorial Day weekend.. He has yet to win a game!

By the way speaking of the Dodgers…. for those who get the baseball package isn’t it amazing that Vin Scully announces the games all by himself without a color commentator? He is just an incredible living legend! He is also piped into the clean! men’s room at Dodger Stadium as I found out during one memorable Dodger game after I ate something there that upset my tummy!

Click here to hear my favorite inning of Scully's network career!

Here is a pic of me at that Dodger game from the early 1990s… while Darryl Strawberry was batting...

Incidentally, I don’t get the baseball package... Just the free games. I watch enough TV as it is. Especially this week with the 2 hour finales of Desperate Housewives, 24, and Lost! Thanks to DH, I learned that Paul Revere was never President and high school kids stretch out their hoochy mcscoochy sessions by distracting themselves by naming all the Presidents. Hmmm.. Bush.. Clinton… Bush…. Not too distracting..

By the way, later this week I will comment on the Lost season finale chock full of my opinion on what is really going on there.. And then next week to commemorate the 29 year anniversary of the Star Wars release.. I will have my comments on Return of the Jedi!

No comments: