SweetSpot’s Michael Baumann has a pretty much on the money analysis as to why the Kansas City Royals and the Washington Nationals—both of whom were supposed to spend 2012 getting their youth to make their bones in earnest, meaning they might contend this year but would contend in 2013—went in opposite directions this year. The Nats, of course, have the National League East in a vise; the Royals, alas, are once again the American League Central’s poor cousins. The Nats broke out of the gate with a 13-4 start; the Royals, with a 3-14 start. Davey Johnson, whose history is rich with taking youthful teams to the Promised Land or close enough, has out-managed Ned Yost, who has a history of being a good manager who gets out-managed, sometimes (as in Milwaukee) to the point of losing his job. Baumann, however, isn’t ready to give up on the Royals’ chances for 2013.
The Royals’ performance since their 12-game losing streak in April represents encouraging progress long-term. So once again, it’s time for the Royals to look to the future, expect some growth out of what is still one of the best collections of young players in the game and maybe make some more prudent veteran acquisitions in the future. If they catch some breaks, we could be talking about Kansas City as a contender next season.
I don’t think he’s wrong. Yet. How he gets to that conclusion makes for reading you should, really, indulge.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .
HEY, NINETEEN!—That was last year: A 19-inning game that ended with a blown call causing a Pittsburgh Pirates loss knocked the wind out of the surging Bucs and the Bucs out of the pennant races in earnest, after they surprised baseball with their performance through and slightly past the All-Star break, and entered that game (against the Atlanta Braves) in a dead heat with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead. This is this year: the Pirates on Sunday won a 19-inning thriller against the Cardinals . . . and that was after both teams hung up a run in the seventeenth inning. Pedro Alvarez hit one out, Andrew McCutchen whacked a two-run single, and Wandy Rodriguez—erstwhile Houston Astro, usually a starter, who’d already kept the Redbirds quiet in the eighteenth—locked down the game in the bottom of the nineteenth. SweetSpot’s David Schoenfeld analyses the difference between last year’s Pirates and this year’s crew and comes up with a big reason why they’re still in the thick as the stretch drive begins in earnest: run prevention in hand with better run production.
ON THE OTHER HAND—Maybe Ichiro Suzuki has a bigger hand in the Yankees’ fortunes that it looked when they landed him from Seattle prior to the non-waiver deadline. Since becoming a Yankee, Ichiro has hit safely in 21 of his 23 game starts, hitting .322 as a Yankee, and crowning it Sunday night against the Red Sox when he sent two over the right field fence en route the Yankees’ 4-1 conquest. Which may help provide the Yankees with a delicious enough playing time quandary when at least Alex Rodriguez and a couple of others come back from the DL shortly, but for now the Yankees are thriving on the new spoils from Ichiro, as well as an apparent late renaissance season from Derek Jeter, who had three hits and scored twice Sunday night. The Red Sox set finished a Yankee homestand on which Ichiro hit .526 (10-for-19), scoring four runs, and adding a double and a triple as well as the two Sunday night bombs. He was nudged for a curtain call after his second bomb and admitted to feeling embarrassed. He also said he wasn’t exactly looking forward to becoming a power hitter late in his career, assuming he stays a Yankee: “For a guy my size, it’s still tough to get it out there—even at this ballpark.” (For the record, Ichiro now has two multi-bomb games at Yankee Stadium.)
RED CROSS CRAWFORD—Carl Crawford, who gamely whacked a base hit in the ninth Sunday night, may have played his final game of the season. Days of quiet talk that he’s considering Tommy John surgery on his bothersome throwing elbow may have come to a head. Various sources are saying the Red Sox have given Crawford the green light to undergo the procedure Tuesday, repairing a torn ulnar collateral ligament. This would be Crawford’s second time in the operating theater in 2012, having undergone wrist surgery in January and causing him to start 2012 on the disabled list, which has been—in all fairness—a significant mailing address for too many Red Sox this season. He sprained the ulnar ligament while rehabbing his wrist, putting him on the season-opening DL, and didn’t return until 17 July. The kicker: Dr. James Andrews may have told Crawford he’d need the Tommy John procedure in due course, but Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine both challenged the idea. Valentine has actually praised Crawford’s effort since coming back, but both men now seem to be resigning themselves to the procedure. Crawford, for his part, has seemed reluctant to go there because—in a season in which too many questions about Red Sox heart (from their manager and elsewhere, and in that order) have come up—he feared being perceived negatively even if he was dealing with a legitimate injury. Which tells you even more about what’s wrong with the Red Sox this year.
HAPPY ANNIVERSARY?—The Los Angeles Angels have spent much of the season commemorating the tenth anniversary of their first (and, thus far, only) World Series triumph, but it’s looking less and less as though they’ll have a chance to celebrate it with another shot at it. The Tampa Bay Rays helped that by finishing a series sweep Sunday, a series that began the day after the Rays were throttled by Felix Hernandez’s perfect game. The Rays outscored the Angels 37-14 in the four-game set, while the Angels’ starting pitchers finished a homestand that showed a 2-6 won-lost record and a whopping 7.57 ERA, not to mention thirteen home runs surrendered, putting even more pressure on the Angels’ injury-wracked bullpen, who had to work 35 1/3 innings. The lowlight of the set: Saturday night, when the Angels went up 8-0 in the first four innings and still managed to lose, 10-8, after the Rays started their comeback with a seven-run fifth. Torii Hunter, always a stand-up Angel, offered the most accurate post-mortem:
Tampa had grit. We had them down 8-0 yesterday and they just didn’t give up. That’s a good ballclub over there, and their pitching staff is even better. They’ve probably got one of the best teams in the league, and they did what they had to do. They came in here and took four from us, which is tough to do with the ballclub we have. But the way we’re playing right now, it’s not hard.
The way they’re playing right now, the Angels sit nine games back of first in the AL West, have lost 13 of 18, and sit four and a half behind the Baltimore Orioles for the AL’s second wild card.