Friday, July 30, 2010
By Frankie O
As the summer progresses, with its mind numbing heat and insanely intense thunderstorms, which I seem to be dealing with daily, no matter which part of the country Im in, my focus is squarely on baseball. There are four teams I follow with keen interest, and not necessarily in this order: The Phillies, Sox, Cubs and my roto league team. Each have had an interesting season to this point and for the most part lived up to my pre-season expectations. Theyve all managed to do this while taking wildly different paths than I expected. The Phils starting out strong, then having half the team go on the DL, stumble, then get hot and as I type this, acquire Roy Oswalt for the stretch run. Theyre in the mix. The Sox stumble badly out of the gate, not able to pitch or hit, (dont get me started on the DH by committee again!) then their starting pitching took over and theyve been hot for six weeks playing the type of baseball we expected and taking the central division lead, setting up another duel with the Twinkies for a post-season berth. Theyre in the mix.
My roto team, while not especially dominant in one area, is well balanced and if I can ever get Chase Utley of the DL and Kung-Foo Panda to hit again will be a force to be reckoned with. Im in the mix! Then there are the Cubs. Being a bartender at Harry Carays means that you must be well versed in everything Cub. Im asked about them everyday. Talk about bringing the mood of the room down, theyre a buzz-kill! (And I spend a lot of time trying to create a buzz in the room!) I cant say that where the Cubs stand right now (46-56, 10 games behind, 4th place in the central division, 12th best team in a 16 team league) is a surprise, to anyone who is realistic, but it is their path that has gotten them there that is particularly maddening. Ive often compared this years Cubs team to one from the NBA. You know, saddled in mediocrity because of ginormous contracts to underperforming players that they cant unload. That being said, this season has presented every opportunity for the Cubs to do something with it if they just wanted to. My emphasis on: wanted to. I know the old adage: Baseball is a grind, its a long season, cant get too up for games since there are so many of them and on and on..
And I understand that to a point. You need to go out and grind. Play 5 games, you need to win 3. Go 3-2 and thats good. Do it 32 times and youre 96-64 and that is championship caliber. Dont win today? Youll win tomorrow. O.K.! I get it. But I say that some game are more equal than others and are the ones that will make or break you. Its also part of the three things that drive me crazy in baseball. Number one is 2-0 pop-ups. Honestly! You have the pitcher right where you want him and youre not sure of the pitch youre swinging at? Number two is blowing three run leads in the ninth. The game is o-vah! Wait, no its not. Nothing hurts worse than blowing a lead in the ninth, especially one where the inning has to blow up in your face! And number three is constantly losing to teams you should beat. To win a division should be the focus of every team in every sport. The easiest way to do that is to beat the teams in your division. It is very rare in baseball that a team wins its division without having a good record against it. (The Sox this year are a prime example. They are not going to stay in first if they dont start beating their division rivals.)
Mostly because you play so many games against your division, you need to take advantage of them or youre going to be swimming up hill. In the majors teams will play division opponents anywhere from 16 to 20 games. The Cubs will play 79 games in their division this year. In the last 3 years their record against the central, in order was: 45-34, 48-33 and 47-32. Not coincidentally they won two division titles and had a winning record each year. In your division, I think there are gifts being offered and you must take advantage. Ill use last years National League Champions as an example. The Phillies had the opportunity to play the Nationals and the Mets 36 times last year. Those were 2 awful teams. The Phillies were 27-9 in those games. 18 game over .500! Do you think that made winning their division easier? They were only 6 games over against everyone else. They had an opportunity against inferior opponents and jumped on it. Thats what a good team does. Then we have this years Cubs. In what I would consider an average division they have a 19-30 record. What?! But then it gets worse. As I mentioned before, they have a better record than only 4 other NL teams. Against the team with the worst record, Arizona, they are 6-1. Thats good. That is what you should do to a team that is a doormat. But against the other 3 below them? They are 8-19. Included in that is a combined record of 7-17 against the Pirates and Astros. Those are 2 god-awful baseball teams. How could you have a .500 record against everyone else in baseball and repeatedly get pounded by those two teams? That to me is inexcusable of a team that was being sold as having a chance. What it says to me is that this is a team, while we can argue about level of talent, has no heart or killer instinct.
To win you have to expect that you are going to do so. Think the Sox or Phillies feel that way right now? You do not get repeatedly beat by teams that you are supposedly better than and expect to achieve anything. For the fans, who I listen to everyday, getting beat over and over by these two team especially, has become a sore spot that has been met with a lot of biting, sarcastic humor. (Ironically, thats right up my alley! Im nothing if not versatile.) A baseball season does have a lot of ups and downs. Its the longest season in pro sports. But the beauty of that is that it will eventually expose you for who you are. If youre good, well know that. And if youre bad, or dont show up to play everyday, well well know that too. We just have to look at your record. It tells us all we need to know.