Weekly Hit Ground Ball: One week and counting

The clocks have gone forward an hour, the MLB season opener is a week away and it looks like there will be no MLB coverage on terrestrial TV.  The latter is a real disappointment, but WHGB will help to take our minds off the problem briefly with news of a pitcher retiring, the ever-present problem of injuries and some impressive Spring Training home run hitting feats. 

Schilling signs off

Curt Schilling announced his retirement on Monday, bringing to an end a twenty-year Major League career and beginning the argument of whether he is worthy of a place in the Hall of Fame.

Schilling was a very good regular season pitcher.  He didn’t win a Cy Young award, but he did finish second three times (twice to Arizona team mate Randy Johnson, once to Johan Santana).  He finished his career fifteenth on the all-time strikeouts list, joint 80th on the all-time Wins list and joint 119th on the all-time winning percentage list.  

The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the greats, so a “very good” player would normally fall just short of the mark.  However what separates Schilling from many other “very good” players is his extraordinary performances in the postseason. 

In nineteen career postseason starts, Schilling posted a 2.23 ERA and an 11-2 record, throwing four complete games in the process.  More significantly, some of those starts have become part of the sport’s recent folklore.

As someone who started watching baseball in 1998, my initial experience of the World Series was of the Yankees winning again and again and again.  Naturally I wanted to see someone break their dominance in 2001 (although with 9/11 still a very recent memory, that feeling wasn’t quite as strong as it was at the end of the 2000 World Series) and the deadly duo of Schilling and Johnson were the men to do it.  Schilling pitched superbly in his three starts, including the thrilling game seven that clinched a title for the D-Backs in only their fourth season.

Then, of course, there was his heroics in the 2004 ALCS and the subsequent World Series.  His infamous ‘bloody sock’ performances that helped the Red Sox ‘reverse the curse’ have gone down in sporting legend.  Boston’s 2007 success also saw Schilling collect a third World Series ring in what ultimately became his last appearance in the Majors.

I’m largely ambivalent to the Hall of Fame, so I won’t be campaigning strongly for his (or anyone else’s) election.  Still, it strikes me that if Cooperstown is designed to immortalize those few players who left a lasting impression on the game, Schilling should be a resident.

Damn injuries

Schilling lost what turned out to be his final Major League season to injury.  At this time of year, injuries are at the forefront of all baseball minds and Fantasy managers will be checking the injury news as closely as anyone. 

My first round pick Ryan Braun has been a regular cause of concern so far, with the player continuing to downplay a right side strain.  An MRI scan revealed no damage this week but that hasn’t stopped the worrying on my part, or for Brewers fans.

Of all the current injuries, Joe Mauer’s continuing struggles are potentially the most damaging to a team’s cause.  Mauer is irreplaceable for the Twins, both in hitting at the plate and catching behind it.  Mike Redmond has proved to be a capable understudy, but playing every day is a very different proposition for the 38 year-old veteran. 

What has made Mauer’s injury all the worse is that the situation has developed slowly.  Strange as it sounds, a more definite problem such as a broken leg would be easier to deal with mentally.  You get the initial shock out of the system and then accept that he’s going to be out of action for a set period of time, based on the recovery period of other people who have had the same injury. 

Mauer’s lower back pain didn’t seem like it was going to be a big problem, but it hasn’t gone away and right now it doesn’t appear as though anyone really knows how long he will be out for.  The uncertainty is difficult to deal with, especially for the player himself.

In the BGB fantasy league, Mauer owner Russ won’t be overly concerned because he also has Russell Martin on his roster.  Mauer can be moved to a DL spot and Russ will still get excellent production from his catcher position.  Sadly for Twins fans, no team has a Russell Martin backing up a Joe Mauer in the real world.

Balls spring off the bat

The ball has been flying through the air in Arizona and Florida this week.

The Angels went back-to-back-to-back on Thursday against the Indians. In football, the perfect hat trick involves scoring with your left foot, right foot and your head.  I guess what the Angels did is the home run hitting equivalent.  New recruit Bobby Abreu hit a shot to centre, then Vladimir Guerrero hit one into right field before Torii Hunter completed the show by launching a round-tripper to left. 

Scott Lewis was the pitcher taken to task by the heart of the Angels’ batting lineup.  He had his spot in Cleveland’s rotation confirmed earlier in the week.  I hope he’s got that in writing. 

The Angels’ assualt was overshadowed because the Red Sox had already gone one better on Monday.  Mike Lowell, Jason Bay, Chris Carter and Ivan Ochoa used the weather conditions to their advantage by sending four straight homers over the left field wall in their game against the Tigers.  The victim this time was Brandon Lyon,

“There’s outings like this that humble you a little bit, get you back to a different mind-set. Maybe you start focusing a little more”.

That would probably be a good idea, especially if, as expected, Lyon takes over the closer role for Detroit this year.

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