Five Thoughts for the Last Week of Spring Training

As Spring Training draws to a close and the 2011 season is at hand, here are five random thoughts from the ether:

1: Buck Showalter’s Rant

Most managers of cellar-dwellers have their melt-downs around the All-Star break, but the Baltimore Orioles’ Buck Showalter decided that he just couldn’t wait, and let loose in a recent interview this past week. Among other things, he complained that Derek Jeter jumps back at every pitch that is vaguely inside, as if this is some sort of personality defect. Here’s a flash: deking the umpire is as much a part of baseball as the ol’ “hidden ball trick”. He also complained about how everyone thinks Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein is such a genius for landing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, suggesting that any punter managing such a huge payroll could do as well. Later, he allowed that he might be “a little jealous”. No kidding. Dude, if the owner of your club were willing to part with just a little folding green to put a competitive team on the field, maybe even by aggressive and competent development of minor league talent, you could get over it. As it is, Peter Angelos is content to pick up a nearly washed-up star now and then (witness Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, and most lately, Vlad Guerrero) to get some butts in the seats with no real intention of building a contender. Maybe you should take up yoga to relieve the stress.

2: Terry Francona’s Starting Rotation

On St. Patrick’s Day, Terry Francona announced the starting rotation, and has taken plenty heat for it. The rotation is: 1. Jon Lester, 2. John Lackey, 3. Clay Buchholz, 4. Josh Beckett, 5. Daisuke Matsuzaka. The criticism has already arisen, full force, from the chorus of Those Who Know Better Than the Rest of Us. Just for the record, this seems a brilliant rotation. It separates Lackey from Dice-K, which is a good thing, because both have demonstrated a penchant for getting bogged down in the 6th inning, resulting a heavy drain on the bullpen. Putting Buchholz between Lackey and Beckett makes sense because we are just not sure about Josh right now, so best to have a rested bullpen when he takes the mound.

3. Joe Girardi’s Starting Rotation

On Saturday, March 26th, Joe Girardi finally unveiled the Yankees’ starting rotation, passing over Bartolo Colon despite a decent Grapefruit League record for Freddy Garcia, and including rookie Ivan Nova, who was sensational this spring. The full order is: 1. C.C. Sabathia, 2. A.J. Burnett, 3. Phil Hughes, 4. Nova, 5. Garcia. The Yankees have been plagued with uncertainty regarding the pitching staff and the readiness of some of its members, and the rotation may be fluid for some time to come. Much will be expected of the two guys with two initials at the top of the rotation, because there are still question marks surrounding the two at the bottom. Colon may find his way into a starter’s job yet.

4. Whom Do These Phillies Remind You Of?

On paper, the Philadelphia Phillies should be able to cakewalk to the National League Eastern Division Championship. In reality, the pain in closer Brad Lidge‘s shoulder is just the latest medical setback to threaten that fairy-tale ending. Third baseman Placido Polanco has been out with a hyperextended elbow, but is hopeful to be ready for the season opener. Right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt was hit in the head by a line drive, but still expects to start against the Astros in the opening series. Rookie sensation Domonic Brown (RF) is out for at least the first month of the season, recovering from hand surgery. Second baseman Chase Utley is out with a knee injury, and will definitely join Lidge and Brown on the disabled list for the start of the season. What does all this remind us of? Oh yes, the 2010 Red Sox! For the sake of my Philadelphia friends, I hope the Phillies overcome these problems and return to full strength soon.

5. Charlie Sheen is Still “Winning”

CBS has decided to throw the production company of “Two and a Half Men” under the bus, crawling to Charlie Sheen with a new contract offer, in order to save their top-rated comedy sitcom. What does this have to do with baseball? Admittedly, not much, though Sheen did become a star portraying fictional “Wild Thing” pitcher Ricky Vaughn in the film Major League, and still likes to wear the Cleveland Indians uniform he got in the production. More significantly, a close observation of the past month of Sheen’s posturing and the response of the network suggests that he took a few lessons in contract renegotiation from watching pampered and narcissistic ballplayers. Here’s a tip: if you hear Alex Rodriguez ever call Yankees GM Brian Cashman a “troll”, you’ll know that he and Charlie have been exchanging tips.

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