As April turns to May, there are several interesting story lines playing themselves out in the baseball world. Besides Zack Greinke being the best pitcher on the planet, and Heath Bell (yeah, he’s a Padre) leading the majors in saves, there are a few other things for fans to keep in mind.
1. The longer Toronto and Florida can stay in their respective races, the more pressure it puts on their big spending rivals, the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets and Phillies. Since no one thought either the Fish or the Jays would do much, I’m sure everyone will patiently wait for each squad to fall apart….just like everyone waited for the Rays to fall apart last year.
2. When people talk about “aces,” a name that always comes up is Josh Beckett. Few baseball fans will forget his post-season brilliance. In fact, in his first nine playoff starts, he recorded three shutouts and pitched to an ERA of 1.73. It was this reputation that carried him to the image of baseball elite. However, when you look at his regular season numbers, they are surprisingly ordinary. In 197 starts, he has only five complete games and two shutouts. He’s only thrown 180 innings twice in his career, and one of those two times, he did it carrying an ERA over 5.00. And as he takes the mound tonight, he does so sporting and early season ERA of 6.00 and a whip of 1.625. Neither of which are good. Couple this with the fact that in last year’s playoffs, Beckett made three starts, lasted only 14 1/3 innings, and gave up 14 earned runs on 22 hits, and you wonder what the next five or six years will really hold for this 29-year-old right hander. I know everyone talks about Beckett like he’s an ace, but to uphold that image, he needs to pitch better.
3. The Yankees spent boatloads of money in the offseason, but depending on your view of history, they may not be able to win a championship no matter who’s now on the roster. The problem lies in the age of one specific player; the Captain, Derek Jeter. No team since 1956 has won the World Series with a shortstop who was at least 35-years-old. Jeter turns 35 in June, so, unless the move the Fall Classic to late spring, the Yankees will have to buck a 53-year trend.
4. Before Mike announced his retirement last season, I had long talk with him about his career, the hall of fame, and everything else baseball related. When I asked him why he would walk away only 30 wins away from 300, his answer went something like this. “Everyone assumes I’ll go out and win 15 games two years in a row, and that will be that, but I’ll be 40 and 41-years-old. My body’s going to keep breaking down, either little by little, or all at once. What if I have one good year, and then limp through two injury filled seasons? If I was sure I could go out and put together two back to back solid seasons, that would be one thing, but realistically, at my age, that’s not overly likely. And for me to go out and hang on through three seasons, going something like 30-36 just to get to 300 wins, I don’t see anything glorious in that.” Every time I see Randy Johnson’s line in the box score, those words come to mind. Entering the 2007 season, Randy was just 20 wins short of 300. In the 2+ years since, he’s gone only 16-15. So far this season, he’s 1-2 with an ERA of 6.16, and that’s in the National League. In his one win, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but in his other three starts, he was putrid. This guy is certainly one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the rubber, but right now, at 45, he’s far from great. He might not even be good. Let’s hope he gets his four more wins sometime before August.
5. While the Orioles have spent the last decade being picked to finish near the baseball cellar, the O’s have often surged out the gate, only to fall flat during August and September. This year, there has been no early surge, however, for the first time in a long time, mid-season help may be on the way. With Matt Wieters showing up at some point, along with an array of promising young arms, the Orioles might actually be better in the second half of the season than they are in the first. How long has it been since that happened? And even if some of these kids don’t pan out, it will at least give O’s fans a reason to pay attention after Ravens’ training camp opens.