by Tom DeMichael
OK. The horses (dark and favorite alike) are in the starting gate and the marathon run, known as the 2017 Baseball Season, is about to begin.
Before the overview of what’s to come in the future months, a couple of random thoughts…
– The spring training standings mean precisely squat. Thirty out of thirty managers manage these games in no way similar to how they would during the season. Many players – mostly with numbers in the 80s and 90s on their backs – pitch, catch, hit, and run in situations they’ve seldom seen before. Hitters face pitchers they never dreamt of stepping in against. Hurlers are left on the mound after giving up six or seven (or more) runs. During the season, a manager wants only to win – in spring training, they want only to watch.
– Overall, the World Baseball Classic (in case you missed it, and you probably did) was a good thing. Sixteen teams from around the world (all highly populated with MLB players) met in round robin style. Where else could you find a pitcher named “Shlomo Lipetz” tossing for the Israeli team? Where else can long-retired players like Ryan Dempster and Eric Gagne get the chance to “lace ‘em up” one more time? Where else can longtime friends Javy Baez and Francisco Lindor go from facing each other in the World Series to playing side-by-side once again? The WBC gave everyone a bunch of baseball in the spring that actually had some meaning.
– Starting this season, the intentional walk will happen with a mere wave of the hand (from the manager.) For the most part, I think I don’t like this…but, we’ll see. On one hand, I understand this feeble effort by MLB to speed up the game (it appears to be a mandate of Commish Manfred.) In 2016, the intentional walk accounted for a miniscule one-half of one percent (.005) of all plate appearances in the MLB. So, just how much faster will the game become without those 3,700 (or so) pitches in about 2,400 games? Right. On the other hand, (actually, the same hand,) consider this: Put a winning Nationals runner on third in a game-crucial situation…and the opposing pitcher goats one of his intentional pitches way over the head of Bryce Harper and…game over.
Recall – In the 1972 World Series, A’s pitcher Rollie Fingers went full on Reds slugger Johnny Bench. With the count three-and-two, catcher Gene Tenace stepped out to call for an intentional ball four. Then, with Bench expecting to trot toward first base, Tenace quietly moved back behind the plate and Fingers threw strike three. Would that kind of rich chicanery be possible today? No. I say, leave the game alone.
Grape nuts cereal contains no grapes nor nuts. Discuss.
At 35th and Shields –
There can be no question that the White Sox made a lot of phone calls and texts since last year at this time. But did they make enough?
No. Not yet.
There’s a lot of “re” in Chicago this year. For the Cubs, it’s “repeat.” For the Sox, it’s “rebuild.” Yes, a quirky combo of vets and rookies will leave the Southsiders in the bottom half of the AL Central.
The latest rumblings have the Cards sniffing around starter LHP Jose Quintana, but Williams and Hahn would do well to keep him in the fold. He’s delivered at least 200 innings in each of the last four years, and has a composite ERA of 3.41. Still, a pitcher of his caliber could bring more young talent in the reconstruction era at Guaranteed Rate Field (WTF! It’s still Comiskey Park to me.)
Local boy Charles Tilson’s 2017 debut in CF will have to wait, as a stress fracture in his foot leaves his appearance date in limbo. With RF Adam Eaton gone to the Nats, the position becomes a defensive adventure for Avisail Garcia. Hopefully, his powerful bat will make up for his deficient glove. Slugger 3B Todd Frazier may not stick around for the whole season, but for now he joins Melky Cabrera and Jose Abreu in putting the “pop” in popular White Sox hitters. Tim Anderson at SS will only get better, and it appears the front office borrowed a page from the Cubs manual by signing him to a long-term deal. And, 2B Tyler Saladino will hope to improve on his .282 average last year.
No doubt, there will be plenty of exciting baseball from the White Sox in 2017. But, just not enough to return to the glory days of 2005.
At Addison and Sheffield –
Even more than last year, many Cubs fans are set and ready to celebrate a World Series win in 2017. But, bear in mind – like any team – the Cubs are a torn rotator cuff and two hamstring pulls from a third-place finish.
Baseball plays ten times as many games in a season as an NFL team; twice as many as NBA and NHL teams. Those other sports play few (if any) games two days in a row, so there’s always some time for physical recovery. The secret to success in any sport is: H-E-A-L-T-H.
Baseball teams (the best, anyway) counter the season’s grind by having depth. Depth, in hitting; depth in defense; depth in starting pitchers; depth in the bullpen; depth on the bench. Theo Epstein’s and his Cubs’ athletic architectural achievements rely on depth.
Still, catcher and clubhouse general David Ross retired to the sound of tapping shoes. Leadoff sparkplug CF Dexter Fowler found a greener center field in St. Louis. But, additions like OF John Jay, bullpen hurlers Koji Uehara, swingman Brett Anderson, and Wade Davis add to the aforementioned depth. A full year of Kyle Schwarber and Albert Almora couldn’t hurt.
Only a fool would venture a guess on what may happen in October (I come by my simpleness naturally.) As such, the Cubs and Indians COULD meet again in the Fall Classic. But, the Red Sox, Rangers, and Astros might have something to say about that. And, the Dodgers, Nationals, and pesky Cardinals might take umbrage, as well.
In the end (and, at the beginning,) it’s best to sit back, enjoy a frosty cold beverage, and embrace the only game where the defense starts with the ball in hand, and the foul line is considered fair territory.
2017? Play ball!