With just a few more days to go before the regular season begins, I am obsessively checking the SEAL (Semi-Employed All-Stars League) homepage in hopes that BREAKING NEWS will await me. Other than Brian Roberts’ bizarre ailment, which does not look like it will keep him out of the Opening Day lineup, my current fantasy league strategy is sitting on my hands to prevent myself from pointlessly signing free agents. Jeremy Hermida has had a monster spring! But he hit .249 last season! And how will his production be affected by his placement in the lineup relative to Cameron Maybin and HanRam? There has been a distinct dearth of news regarding Jay Bruce of late–THIS CLEARLY MEANS I SHOULD DROP BRUCE IN FAVOR OF HERMIDA, right? No? How is Jim Thome’s back today? Maybe I should drop him–WAIT A MINUTE, I can’t drop a first-ballot Hall of Famer in favor of a 25-year-old with just two full seasons under his belt, can I? Of course I can–fantasy baseball is all about gambling on breakout seasons, right? AAAH! Hands…off…mouse…NOW! Must…read…about…um…politics?
I followed the most recent presidential cycle obsessively, allowing entire days of my life to be swallowed up by various campaign intrigues which I cannot now remember. I would feel bad about this, except that the guy I voted for got elected President, and it’s relatively easy to make the mental leap to presuming that my hyperventilated mashing of the Refresh button on various poitical blogs had something to do with his success, and is therefore somehow related to the General Well-Being of the World. So what does it say about me that I am, if anything, even MORE consumed by the pre-season minutae of the upcoming baseball season, about which there is far less news–to say nothing of its decreased significance regarding the General Well-Being of the World? I am too busy to think about this at present; I am currently attempting to determine the relative weight of Jered Weaver’s potential statistics as compared to Gil Meche, who is still unsigned and has far superior stuff, but pitches for a far inferior team and received mysteriously mediocre stat projections from both Bill James and Baseball Prospectus. Additionally, I am deeply involved in my planning for Opening Day of the 2009 Prospect Park Wiffle Ball League, which will be played according to the Official Wiffle Ball Rules–which, interestingly, are quite different from the rules of Regular Baseball.
What the rules fail to mention is whether or not the use of a strike-zone/backstop is recommended, and if so how large it should be. THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT QUESTION. The site says each team should have a catcher, but if this is the case then who serves as umpire? ALSO, what is the meaning of this:
- The batter can strike out only if he/she swings at a pitched ball and does not foul tip the third strike. Foul tips count as a strike for the first two strikes only. A foul tip caught in back of the batters box does not count as an out.
- Fly balls caught in fair or foul territory
- Ground balls caught while the ball is in motion, in fair territory. Bunting is not allowed and the batter cannot obtain a base on balls.
Am I to assume, then, that no strike zone is in fact necessary? That an at-bat continues until the batter either strikes out or puts the ball in play? Plus, here is the real question: does it really matter, since a world in which Felix Pie gets the starting left-field job over Ty Wigginton is not a world in which I care to live?
Bad news for the Taxibirds today, as it looks like Wieters is in fact starting the year at AAA (leaving the day-to-day catching duties in the serviceable-but-unspectacular hands of Kurt Suzuki), and Guthrie got lit up again, surrendering six runs in the bottom of the first to the Fish.
Leaving the Wieters situation behind for the moment–I have resigned myself to the notion that he will be called up in mid-May and still manage to win the Triple Crown–I am left with an interesting pitching conundrum. Both Gil Meche and Joe Saunders are available as free agents, and I could sign either of them by dropping one of my current pitchers. Despite some fleeting injury concerns for both men this spring, either of them figures to have a better season than J-Guth (Meche by virtue of superior stuff, Saunders more by virtue of the team he pitches for). Which begs the question–why am I holding on to Guthrie? I think it’s some bizarre revenge fantasy against Saunders, against whom I played varsity ball in high school.* As for Meche, I am for some reason dubious of his ability to generate solid stats in Kansas City, despite the fact that I have placed the closer’s duties firmly and without question in the hands of Joakim Soria. You know what? I’ve just convinced myself–I must go now, I’m off to the Yahoo! Sports portal to drop Guthrie in favor of…OH GOD NOW I HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE!
*True story! Although “played” is perhaps a strong word–I watched from the bench while he struck the bejeezus out of my teammates.
I am now four games into my 162-game season in MLB 2K9 on XBox 360, and the virtual Orioles are 1-3 thus far. The various maddening glitches, hitches, and twitches of this year’s edition of the game have been actively covered elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on them too much–but the thing I find most striking about the game is that despite the common occurrence of such wondrous events as a throw beating the runner to first base by ten steps and the runner being called safe, it actually sort of manages to emulate the viability of the real-life Orioles fairly well.
In the first game, Jeremy Guthrie kept the Orioles in the game for six innings, giving up four runs. He then handed the ball off to Jim Hoey, who allowed six runs over two innings, putting the game out of reach. The Orioles scratched out 4 runs on clutch hits from Melvin Mora and Aubrey Huff. In Game 2, Koji Uehara and his nonexistent off-speed repetoire were tagged for 11 runs in the first two innings, after which Dennis Sarfate pitched five scoreless frames, during which the offense again assembled four runs out of a patchwork of clutch hitting from Mora, Huff, and Wieters (who is listed as “Mark Weathers” in the game, because he is not yet a member of the players union. Uehara also has an alias–something or other “Uto”). In Game 3, Rich Hill (whose left arm will be sorely missed in the rotation as he begins the year on the DL) pitched a solid but wobbly seven innings, allowing five runs on fifteen hits, but the offense came alive with seven runs (two of them on a homer by Adam Jones, who is eight for his last ten–and who the buzz indicates may be poised for a breakout year), and Chris Ray surrendered a run in his first appearance since his surgery, but got the save. In Game Four, Matt Albers (who will also admittedly not be a part of the 2009 rotation to start the season) held Tampa Bay to two runs through six innings, and then exploded in the seventh, allowing five runs without recording an out. Jim Johnson entered and proceeded to surrender three more runs, but the Orioles rallied to close the gap to 10-9 with more clutch hitting from Mora, Jones (and, hilariously, Cesar Izturis) in the eighth. They were unable to close the gap further, however, and ended up losing 11-9.
Roster-based inconsistencies aside, it’s hard to imagine the Birds first few games in real life going very differently than this (unfortunately). A wobbly pitching staff will be enough to keep the opposing teams at bay temporarily, but no amount of run support from the undeniably potent Orioles lineup can make up for the lack of overall competence from the mound. Replace Hill and Albers with any of the other contenders for the remaining three spots in the rotation–Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon, Hayden Penn–and the results are likely to be the same: flashes of quality but little hope of anything sustainable.
The question, of course, is does that mean it is actually fun to play MLB 2K9? I suppose there’s a certain geeky glory in callibrating the progress of a make-believe cadre of animated sprites to match that of their human counterparts–but it would be cooler if at least one version of the Orioles had an .800 winning percentage, and it ain’t lookin’ like Team Trembley is going to fill the bill.
The guy cannot catch a break. Here he is, being asked to anchor the starting rotation on a dead-end team for $650,000 a year (a pay cut from last year, and some $4.35 million less than the number 2 man in the rotation, who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues), and now this:
Jeremy Guthrie walked out of Dodger Stadium on Sunday night just after Mark DeRosa connected for a two-run double, the eighth-inning hit cutting Team USA’s deficit against Japan to two runs and breathing life into its chances of making it to the final of the World Baseball Classic.
At the time, Guthrie, an analytical thinker if there ever was one, was torn. The last thing he wanted was to leave an experience in Los Angeles that he said “can’t be matched” one game short of his and his teammates’ ultimate goal. However, he also knew that the Orioles pitching staff that he left behind was in desperate straits and he had already been publicly called home by his pitching coach, who was concerned that the right-hander wasn’t getting enough game action to be ready for his expected Opening Day start in two weeks.
Weighing all those factors, Guthrie boarded a plane to Fort Lauderdale not long after Team USA was beaten and eliminated by Japan.
“It was up in the air, it really was. It was going to be a tough decision [and] had we been ahead, it would have been real difficult,” Guthrie said. “But I couldn’t afford in my mind to lose that game and not catch the flight and only get two starts” for the Orioles.
Guthrie arrived in Florida at 6 a.m., went to his apartment to drop off luggage and then was on the Orioles’ team bus by 8 a.m. as it pulled away from Fort Lauderdale Stadium to make the two-plus-hour trip to the Minnesota Twins‘ spring training facility in FortMyers. At about 1:15 Monday afternoon, Guthrie was on the mound in a Grapefruit League game for just the second time this spring.
Guthrie lasted 3 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits, three walks and striking out four. It wasn’t an impressive performance, unless you consider the circumstances.
That last bit is the key, of course–I can’t think of that many pitchers who can get off a red-eye after an experience as heady as the WBC must be, and then be lights-out against a major-league team (albeit a spring-training squad) a few hours later–even 2008 AL Cy Young-winner Cliff Lee is having a rough go of it under far less dire circumstances.
Look–I’m certainly not going to sit here when I’m supposed to be answering 174 customer support emails and argue that J-Guth is in line for a Cy Young award. But I do think the guy gets a bad rap. He is, by all accounts, a very smart, analytical pitcher (a Stanford grad, like the last truly great Oriole) with decent stuff who has, in two full seasons with the Orioles, thrown close to 400 innings and kept his ERA under four, all the while being derided as indicative of everything that’s wrong with the team. The team seems to be waiting for something to justify a move for a true ace, when the reality is that the offense is there, as is the last half of the rotation in Guthrie, Uehara (I’m perfectly happy to gamble that what worked for the Yomiuri Giants will work for the O’s–I’d just prefer it were out of the 4-spot in the rotation), and Hendrickson or whoever. It’s not Guthrie’s fault the team can’t contend with him leading the staff–it’s the team’s fault for expecting it. MAKE A MOVE–spend the money to bring in a couple of studs so Guthrie can pitch to his abilities–200 innings and a sterling ERA from the 3-spot in the rotation. That’s giving your team three legitimate chances out of five to win games. You know, .600 baseball. Remember that, Baltimore?