Creeping Inexorably Toward A Worthwhile Sub-Heading.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Bonus Coverage - Maddux Re-Debut Version
As I spend the day staving off wave after wave of hyperventilation brought on by anticipation of this evening's All American Tribute to Prodigality, it seems as good a time as any to go over some of last night's events.
The NL Central has one team sitting atop it, and that team is the Milwaukee Brewers. I was going to do some time consuming, but fun, poking around on Baseball-Reference.com's cool standings search to find out when the Brewers were last in first, but the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel cheated and asked the Elias Sports Bureau. The answer isn't surprising. This is the first time Beer Town USA has ever led the NL Central all by themselves, and it's the first time they've singularly led any division since they were on top of the AL Central on May 9, 1995. The Cubs have them beat in the long term, but for recent history, that's futility.
In a similar story, the Detroit Tigers, a team bent in 2003 on becoming baseball's bloodless version of Custer at Little Big Horn, have begun this season 2-0, the first time they have accomplished that nominally impressive feat in 18 years. Like their hops-addled NL Central cousins, the Stripy Cats should enjoy this success while it lasts, but if nothing else, it serves notice that neither team will be lying down for anyone.
For all the talk about Andy Pettitte being the benefactor of a more accomplished Houston defense, they sure didn't do him any favors last night. Among the lowlights was Lance Berkman running circles around a fly ball that became a double, Jeff Kent non-spearing a ball into center field, and a Brad Ausmus passed ball that scored Ray Durham.
Despite the fielding follies and a night when Pettitte was not at his best, this was a game the Astros should have won. They left 16 men on base, and had every pitcher they faced in some sort of trouble, only to let them off the hook having scored little, or not at all. Fifteen hits, five walks, and two hit batsmen and you only score 5 runs? Geez, you'd think they were the Cubs.
What I had read about Kaz Matsui coming out of the spring indicated that he was not likely to generate much power. The reports said that his weight was always forward, that his hips tended to go early, and his swing had a downward chop; all indications that he would keep his bat back, slap the ball on the ground and use his speed to get on base. Well, Mini-Mats put the kibosh on that theory for at least one night, launching the first pitch he saw 429 feet to dead center at Wrigley Sou...er...Turner Field.
I happened to be watching the game as I waited for the start of Giants/Astros, and from what I could see, the scouting reports weren't far off. His weight looked forward (although I would have loved one of those side views of his swing you always see on ESPN when they're trying to make a point about how fundamentally sound a guy's stroke, just to see if he's leaning into the pitch as much as it seems), and I think his hips went early, but the difference was a pretty sizeable uppercut on his swing.
I remember speculation that Ichiro! purposefully looked weak in his first spring training to attempt to get a competitive advantage at the beginning of the year, and I have to wonder if a similar ruse has been used by his countryman. If we get to year's end and the little fella has 20 or more homers, I think we were had.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Maddux Era Redux begins at 6:10 PM Central Time. Grab a beverage, grab a seat, watch the game - it'll be a treat.