Dickey Floats On–First 18-Game Winner . . .

The New York Mets aren’t playing for anything but pride, now. One source of pride: R.A. Dickey, who just became the first in Show to win his eighteenth, a nifty 5-2 conquest of the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday afternoon.

Floating along . . .

It almost doesn’t matter whether Dickey pitches on the road, as he did Wednesday, or at home this season. His splits are nearly dead-even. His strikeouts-per-nine differential between Citi Field and the great beyond is -1.1—he gets one more strikeout away. He’s a little more hittable on the road (sixteen more hits away; a mere 37 points higher in the batting average against him), but his defence is a little more potent at home. (The batting average on balls in play against him is 59 points higher on the road.)

His ERA is only 36 points higher on the road; he’s 8-1 at Citi Field and 9-3 as a traveling man. He’s thrown only one less complete game on the road than at home, and one less shutout in the bargain; he’s walked only two more on the road than at home, but he’s struck out twelve more on the road.

Dickey is even pretty even when you look at him against .500+ teams and .500- teams. Against the .500- teams he’s 9-1/1.72; against the .500+ teams, he’s 8-3/3.53. When you’re +1.81 higher against the winning teams, you’re not exactly a pushover, and you’re doing just about what a good pitcher should do between the two. You expect the better teams to do a little damage even against a likely Hall of Famer; if you’re giving up +2.25 or better against the winning teams, though, that’s when you’re flirting with big trouble.

He was a big reason the Mets looked so good in the first half of the season: he didn’t lose in May or June, and he posted a 1.38 ERA over those two months. Now he’s one of the better reasons to keep an eye on the Mets, even as they’re all but mathematically eliminated, and the club starts looking toward their 2013 options. It’s not for nothing that analysts through this date are divided on whether the Mets should pick up his 2013 option or buy him out for $300,000 and invest the rest on solidifying the lineup or the farm.

 

 

The Last Mile for a Mismatched Manager

It almost figures. The Boston Red Sox hit a skid that’s a self-immolation by any definition, just about none of which had anything to do with Bobby Valentine and his divide-and-conquer style, and now the Red Sox brass joins the team on the road in an all-but-obvious, on-the-spot evaluation.

Valentine isn’t without his guilt about the toxicity around this year’s Red Sox. Now, you almost feel sorry for him.

It began a week and a half ago when disgruntled pitcher Alfredo Aceves tore off his uniform, and damn near Valentine’s office door, after Valentine bypassed Aceves in favour of returning Andrew Bailey for a save situation. Valentine was justified entirely in his wrath, and in suspending Aceves three games.

It continued apace over Labour Day Weekend’s Oakland swing, which only began with the 20-2 nuking the Athletics dropped on the Red Sox, and merely continued when Aceves on Saturday committed three on-field crimes and two in the Red Sox dugout, the second of which involved Valentine by default.

Even acting strong and decent with a disruptive pitcher, Valentine now seems like a man who might ask his executioners-to-be, “What took you so long?”

First, Aceves waved away catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and first baseman James Loney on a foul pop—and dropped the ball. Aceves may never have received the memo that says on a play like that the pitcher defers to the catcher.

Second, Aceves fumed at the home plate umpire—about having to accept a new baseball following a foul tip. I can’t remember any previous time Aceves was suspected of throwing a non-kosher pitch, but what do I know?

Third, Aceves thought about picking off an A’s runner at second a few times. The only problem was that he caught second baseman Dustin Pedroia entirely by surprise. Usually, there’s a little signal coordination when you’re thinking about killing a runner at second.

Which is probably what Pedroia tried to remind Aceves when the sides changed, the Red Sox were back in the dugout, and the two players got into, shall we say, an animated conversation. It got animated enough to require something from Valentine.

When Aceves left the conversation, apparently at pitching coach Randy Niemann’s urging, Valentine decided to give his man a pat on the rump. Just a kind of “take it easy, brother, we’re all frustrated, too” kind of thing. It may have been one of the most decent gestures of Valentine’s time at the Red Sox bridge.

Except that Aceves wasn’t buying it. He shook Valentine’s pat off with a wave of his hand and an apparent flap of his lips. It could have been taken to mean, politely, “Get lost. You don’t belong here.”

Compared to that, letting the A’s finish what they started earlier in the weekend, then letting the Seattle Mariners kick them to the curb, 4-1 on Labour Day afternoon, was child’s play. “What difference does it make?” Valentine asked aloud Sunday night. He looked and sounded like a man awaiting his purge from a job he probably no longer wants.

You’d think Valentine has had enough trouble in 2012, too much of it his own doing, without having to wade into another troubled pond for no reason better than trying to calm down and cool off a volatile pitcher before his dugout exploded on him. Or, without having to incur his bosses flying to Seattle post-haste to watch their hapless charges in (I use the term somewhat loosely) action.

It’s not that Valentine and Aceves didn’t begin the season on the wrong, or at least on different pages. Valentine had Aceves—one of the Red Sox’s better 2011 pitchers—penciled into his starting rotation until Bailey’s injury came atop Daniel Bard’s misguided rotation promotion, and suddenly he needed Aceves, who has long had a rep for working well out of the pen or out of the rotation, in the pen.

Until a round of blown saves caused the save situation bypass in favour of the freshly-returned Bailey, Aceves seemed to have justified Valentine’s switch.

This is a pitcher who shone for the New York Yankees, helping them win the 2009 World Series and looking like a Yankee fixture in the making. But after he missed most of 2010 with back issues, the Yankees let him walk. The Yankees aren’t exactly disloyal to men who’ve been plagued by the injury bug. (See, among others, Joba Chamberlain.)

Aceves’ physical health wasn’t the deciding issue, as things turned out, but his attitude was. The petulance Aceves has shown with the Red Sox turns out to be the thing that got him no return invitation in New York. The Yankees aren’t exactly prone to suffering too many fools gladly, either, and the Red Sox probably can’t figure a guy going Benedict Arnold on a beleaguered manager whose few shining moments otherwise included putting Aceves into a position to shine, in which the pitcher did just that for a good enough while.

Maybe Valentine shrugged away Aceves’ dugout dismissal Saturday because he’s admitting to himself what his heart of hearts must have known since he questioned Kevin Youklis’s heart unreasonably. He doesn’t belong on the Red Sox bridge. Even if he’s done his own share to toxify it, even Valentine deserves better. All he’s done is champion Aceves, one of his genuinely decent plays this season, and all Aceves gave him for it was a fly act over one move and the back of the hand over a gesture of relief.

Once upon a time, firing Valentine seemed the thing too much needed. If it had to be done, and it did, it seems that it should have been done around the time of the Big Deal, or close enough. The Red Sox brass may have looked sharp in making the Big Deal, but they looked flat and fatuous when they overruled freshman general manager Ben Cherington and all but jammed Valentine down the team’s throat in the first place.

Yes, it was a bad match. And firing Valentine from this day forward may still be the thing too much needed.

But all things considered, it would seem now like a mercy killing.

A Slip of the Hip Sinking the Yankee Ship?

Make that a slippage to the point where the Baltimore Orioles—yes, those Baltimore Orioles—are one game behind the Empire Emeritus. In the American League East standings. The Orioles helped themselves there Monday by shutting out Toronto, but the Yankees held the door for them falling to Tampa Bay, 4-3, when Robinson Cano faltered in the bottom of the eighth on maybe the key play of the game.

And it’s no ordinary faltering if Cano wasn’t kidding about a barking hip as he went for the play and he, too, goes down on sick leave.

Roberts—Scoring on the turn of Cano’s hip?

Chris Gimenez, the batter in question with a man on second and the game tied at three, didn’t exactly shoot the grounder like a torpedo along the top of the Tropicana Field rug. The journeyman Gimenez came back up from the minors Saturday and carried a .203 major league average this year into Monday’s game. Not exactly a stick to strike fear into a Yankee heart even if he did swat home a run with a single off CC Sabathia in the Tampa Bay second.

Now, Cano shaded toward the pad with Gimenez batting righthanded, and the Rays’ rook cued it toward the hole. It’s a ball to which Cano normally gets, by trot or dive. Not this time. The ball danced under Cano’s downstretched glove and into the outfield. It rolled slow enough for Ryan Roberts, the man on second, to cross the plate like a commuter barreling his way to catch the downtown express the minute the doors begin closing. Except that now the doors may be closing on the Yankees’ postseason possibilities.

“I had it there,” Cano told reporters after it was over. “It was just my left foot just came up, and I just felt my left hip a little bit. Right when I tried to bend, my left foot just came straight up and I felt my hip. It will be hopefully just nothing bad. It’s just tight right now. Hopefully nothing bad or anything. Let’s see how it feels tomorrow.”

If Cano’s split more than his infinitives, the Yankees are the next best thing to dead ducks.

He looked suspect enough in the top of the same inning, when he couldn’t break out of the box in customary fashion when he hit a liner Tampa Bay third baseman Kelly Johnson couldn’t handle. He dropped and fumbled the ball like a tight end surrounded tighter by barreling defencive backs, then threw way off line toward first base. And he still beat Cano thanks to the Yankee second baseman’s rickety start out of the box.

On 18 July, the Empire Emeritus had a ten-game AL East lead. Eleven days later, the lead remained 7.5. Coming into Tampa Bay after dropping two of three to the Orioles in New York, the Yankee lead was down to a pair. Now it’s a game. And their coming schedule has about a 50-50 chance of allowing them breathing room. Following this week-opening set with the Rays, they get to play the Orioles again in Baltimore. And this year’s Orioles don’t know the meaning of the word “quit.”

Saunders—Shutting out the Jays while the Yanks fed the Rays . . .

By the time they leave Baltimore for a three-set with what’s left of the Red Sox in Fenway Park, the Yankees might discover that even slapping the Red Sox silly in three straight won’t help them much. On paper the Orioles have the tougher immediate schedule—two more with the Blue Jays, that four-set hosting the Yankees, then a showdown with the Rays, and a weekend in Oakland against an equally surprising collection of Athletics, who just might be the hottest team in baseball at this moment and could keep that status by that weekend. (Their upcoming schedule is no siesta, but they don’t exactly seem worried, either.)

But these Orioles are made of hardier stuff. The Yankees have been done in by injuries and too many lineups filled with scrubs and utilities, not to mention a pitching staff that’s beginning to show age and vulnerabilities up and down. The Orioles took two of three from the Yankees as July turned to August. Since then, they’re 20-9, and the Yankees are 15-15. They rode a castoff named Joe Saunders (cast off by the Arizona Diamondbacks a couple of weeks ago; once cast off by the Los Angeles Angels in a deal for Dan Haren) and three bullpen bulls to a three-hit shutout Monday, and they’re closer to the Yankees in the East than anyone’s been since June.

What if if the beginning of the end for these Yankees truly might come off a journeyman .203 hitter, toward the turn of a hip on a ground ball slip?

The Yankees aren’t used to losing pennants or being denied chances for them thanks to surrealities beyond their control. It’ll take just as long for Yankee-watchers and Yankee-haters alike to think of anything like that striking them down. Imagine that. The Yankees and their minions experiencing life according to the pre-2004 Red Sox.

Nicolaus Mills—Beaning the Brushback, or Brushing Back the Beaner?

Baseball and the professoriat have never been strangers, and never will be. When they have met, the net results have offered delight and instruction at once. Most of the time. They have also produced intriguing consequences among the professoriat, not the least of which involved one (A. Bartlett Giamatti, Yale scholar—of Dante—and president in due course) becoming baseball’s commissioner, albeit too ill-fated, too soon.

On occasion, alas, the professoriat have left the impression that they’ve waded into waters unsafe for formal or practical thinking. Nicolaus Mills, a professor of American studies at Sarah Lawrence College, and co-editor of the leftward journal Dissent, whose books include Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age, is one such entry. With Alex Rodriguez about to return to the Yankee lineup, after missing a month thanks to a broken hand on an errant pitch from Felix Hernandez, Mills is not amused. Not so much because his rooting interests are or might be under siege by the Yankees but because, he thinks, King Felix has gotten away with murder.

A-Rod takes a changeup in on his hands—literally . . .

“Rodriguez, who had to leave the game, was awarded first base after being hit,” Mills reminds us, “but there were no other penalties to Hernandez, who, on a night when his control was off, hit two other Yankees (three of the last five batters he faced) before giving way to a relief pitcher in a game that ended with a 4-2 Seattle victory.” My heavens, you’d think Hernandez was looking to put three Yankees on the disabled list. You’d also think, based on the way Mills arranged his thought into the quoted statement, that Rodriguez was the first of the three targets. He wasn’t—he was the last man King Felix faced before he came out of the game.

“Rodriguez was lucky his injury wasn’t more serious,” Mills continued. “He did not get hit in the head, but under Major League Baseball’s current rules, a serious injury to Rodriguez would have been treated the same as a minor injury. There is no meaningful penalty in baseball for a pitcher hitting a batter with the ball. Yet what the helmet-to-helmet hit is to football, the bean ball and its cousin, the brushback pitch, are to baseball—a tactic that is potentially life-threatening.”

He’s not wrong about certain dangers in the game. They exist with or without brushback pitches. (You wonder, come to think of it, what Mills thinks of takeout sliding.) They’re also nothing compared to helmet butts in the NFL, a league governing a sport (if that’s the correct word) which is arranyed primarily around massive, hurtling masses of flesh, bone, and muscle plowing into each other full force, and with the near-intent of wreaking bodily harm. To compare the brushback or the bean ball to a typical NFL helmet butt is to compare a single-vehicle road accident to a trainwreck.

Mills adduces such exhibits as Ray Chapman, Tony Conigliaro, and Mike Piazza. Chapman, of course, is the only man known to have been killed directly as a result of being hit by a pitch. Conigliaro took one upside the head and suffered vision problems that ultimately shortened his career. But Mills offers no evidence that he knows just how those injuries happened, and the rule changes they inspired directly. Chapman’s beaning and death prompted baseball’s government to mandate clean baseballs in play at all times; the ball that hit Chapman was in game play long enough to go undetectable even by infra-red technology. Conigliaro’s beaning prompted the post-haste mandate of ear flaps on batting helmets, similar to those the Little League had used for what seemed eons.

Piazza, after the Rocket’s red glare . . .

Piazza didn’t inspire a rule change when Roger Clemens, who’d had about enough of Piazza smacking him around like a speed bag in interleague games, decided to send him a message. Piazza suffered a concussion and a few headaches from that one. Lest anyone doubt Clemens’s intent, I’d still like to see him pass a polygraph when asked whether he really did think it was the ball, and not the jagged-ended broken bat head, he threw at Piazza up the first base line in the 2000 World Series. It could have been “Game called on account of shish kebab.”

Perhaps Hernandez’s manager might have hooked him earlier on a night he didn’t have his signature stuff or control working. But perhaps it’s also true that there are batters who get hit and injured with no intent or malice aforethought. How would Mills have the umpires determine intent? Is he prepared to declare any pitcher throwing to the absolute inside corners of the strike zone be considered headhunting and disciplined appopriately? Here are some of the things he’d like to see happen when it comes to the headhunters, actual or alleged:

* Distinguish between a pitch that is dangerous and a pitch that is life-threatening. The head and face are the most vulnerable areas for a player, and a pitch that hits a player anywhere above his chest should be treated with special harshness. Instead, of being awarded first base, a batter struck above the chest should be given second base and thus put in a position to score on a single.

Of course a pitcher throwing his hardest fastball toward a batter’s head should be held accountable. But Hernandez hit Rodriguez with a changeup, a pitch thrown merely to resemble a fastball, not quite to travel like one. A typical changeup is about 20 miles per hour slower than a fastball. (Charlie Dressen, Brooklyn Dodgers manager: “It spins like the hard one but it got no speed.”) Yes, it can still break a bone if it happens to travel inside enough to hit the batter’s hand on the bat. Batters have suffered such injuries on an assortment of pitches.

Padilla, in his near-customary position following a head hunt . . .

As for awarding two bases and putting the batter “in position to score on a single?” Please. Unless you’re Babe Ruth (who couldn’t run if you set a process server on him, as anyone watching Game Seven of the 1926 World Series could have told you) or Jason Giambi (who was never necessarily paid for his swiftness afoot), you can score on a single from first base, assuming the ball is hit to certain outfield locations and you run with your brain a little more than your legs.

* Treat a pitcher who hits more than one batter differently from a pitcher who hits a single batter. A pitcher who hits a second batter in a game should face automatic ejection and a fine of $10,000, no matter where his pitch lands. The severity of this penalty would mean any pitcher who thrives on intimidation would be put on a short leash, but it would also recognize that a pitcher who has poor control is a menace. 

This might or might not deter, say, Vicente Padilla, a pitcher who is somewhat notorious for playing the intimidation game and getting into fights with his own teammates over his apparent callousness toward the retaliatory pitches they’re likely to face for his “manliness.” (You recall him suggesting Mark Teixiera, such a teammate in their Texas Rangers years, should think about playing a “girl’s sport,” after Teixiera publicised his lack of amusement at Padilla’s recklessness.)

But such pitchers are the exception, not the norm. Pitchers with control trouble are merely nuisances, not menaces. Would Mills really like an end to the inside half of the strike zone? The umpires ran rampant, somewhat, two decades ago, shrinking the strike zone to about the size of a postage stamp, often from the middle to the outside of the plate. That had at least as much if not more to do with baseball’s offence explosion than smaller ballparks or actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances.

* Make a team, not just an individual pitcher, accountable for hit batters. Under this rule a team would be able to get away with hitting only one batter per game. Any time a second batter was hit, the pitcher who threw the ball would be treated as if he had already struck a batter. A team could not, as a result, game the penalty system for hitting batters.

Clemens, brought behind his knees . . .

I hate to break it to Mills, but this rule’s already in effect, though perhaps not to his liking. An umpire who thinks reasonably that a pitcher who just went a little too high and tight, or hit a batter, with intent and even malice, can issue warnings to both sides. About six percent of the time those warnings go unheeded. And about half the time there are legitimate questions as to whether the umps throw the warnings down a little too arbitrarily, if not a little too swiftly. (Some umps hand out the warnings for nothing worse than a pitch hitting the legitimate inside corner against a plate-crowding hitter. It compares to a Congressman calling hearings over a hangnail epidemic.)

Let’s reference Mike Piazza v. Roger Clemens once again. When the Yankees and the Mets squared off in an interleague contest a couple of years after Piazza was coned, Mets starter Shawn Estes—following a fortnight of nationwide blathering about his “duty” when facing Clemens, the Yankees’ scheduled starter—did, indeed, send Clemens a little message. He threw one behind Clemens’s knees. The pitch drew an awful lot of derision for being behind the knees, not to mention a knowing wink and nod from Clemens himself, who’d have had to be a fool not to suspect something might come. But the pitch had the desired effect. The umps did send warnings to both sides. They did, in fact, take the inside pitch away from Clemens for the rest of that game. And the Mets went on to romp, 8-2. Including Estes himself hitting one over the fence. Off Clemens.

* Increase pitcher liability for a hit batsman. Rodriguez has been lost to the Yankees for a good part of the season, while Hernandez, who now has a 13-6 record, has enjoyed a stellar year. The result is unfair to Rodriguez and the Yankees. The only way to equalize the situation partially is make any pitcher who forces an opponent out of the lineup remain out of his own team’s lineup for the same number of games as the injured opponent.

You’d think Rodriguez, who missed 36 games, was the only or the most important element in the Yankee lineup, that the Mariners were likewise in a pennant race, and that Hernandez hadn’t had any stellar seasons prior to this one. You’d also think Hernandez is an everyday player. Do you really want to propose docking Hernandez 36 games? Would you care to explain to the Mariners why an off-speed pitch thrown with no intent to maim should cost them seven Hernandez starts?

The Yankee lead in the American League East has shrunk since by six games since Rodriguez went down. Overall, starting the day after A-Rod was hit on the hands, the Yankees pending tonight’s outcome have been 18-18. And it hasn’t been a one-man show when it comes to how and why the Yankees skidded. Teixiera, Curtis Granderson, and Brett Gardner (who’s been out for the season, prompting the Ichiro Suzuki deal) have also been missing in action. As BleacherReport noted before the Yankees dropped two of three to the rising Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, “That’s four hitters out of nine that are out with injuries. The Yankees have platoons at nearly every position except for second base, shortstop and catcher.  If the majority of your lineup are platoons, you’re gonna have a bad time.”

Even before he went down, A-Rod wasn’t necessarily seen as the key to the Yankee lineup. In fact, he’d lost his cleanup spot. The Yankees have also had pitching issues much of the season. CC Sabathia hasn’t looked all that much like his old self, often enough. The back end of the rotation has been something of a mess. The last I looked, Alex Rodriguez wasn’t one of the Yankees’ pitchers.

“Some give their bodies to science. I give mine to baseball.”

Mills thinks his proposed rules changes for hit batsmen would be different because “their aim is safety rather than entertainment. A few batters might take advantage of them and try to get hit, but given the dangers that come from a pitch traveling upward of 90 mph, most batters are not likely to risk their careers just to get on base.” A few batters, he says? Never mind that more than a few batters would be taking advantage of them just to take over the entire strike zone. (Mills couldn’t possibly have slept that deeply through the 1990s, could he?)

There have been players who lived for getting on base any way they could get there, even if it meant taking the proverbial one for the team. “Some people give their bodies to science. I give mine to baseball.” So said Ron Hunt, second baseman, and the first-ever All-Star starter in Mets history. Hunt made a career out of it. He led the National League in being hit by a pitch in all seven of his final seasons and led the majors in that statistic in all but the last of those seasons. He retired as baseball’s all-time leader.

The man who broke his record, Don Baylor, was as famous for crowding the plate as for hitting the ball over the fence. Occupational hazard, for him. David Eckstein, shortstop, took the 2002 Angels’ run-gun-and-stun style to such extremes as to never say no if a pitch was coming into his body, never mind his head. Craig Biggio, second baseman, now holds the all-time record and wasn’t exactly ashamed to be known as the King of Hit Batsmen. It’s not the sole reason he’ll go to the Hall of Fame if he gets there.

Aiming for safety is admirable, and absolutely necessary. Mills, who once wrote a book called The Triumph of Meanness: America’s War Against Its Better Self, has an aim which might be honest but isn’t exactly true. Baseball is often at war against its better self, too. The trouble is managing the collateral damage and obeying the law of unintended consequences, a battery itself that’s too often prone to beanballs.

The Big Dealers, Thus Far . . .

Now that Josh Beckett has won his first game as a Dodger, maybe it’s a good idea to see how those involved in the biggest deals—non-waiver trade deadline and waiver deadline period alike—have done since pulling those triggers. We’ll list them by the major players who moved:

Ichiro Suzuki—Since becoming a Yankee, Ichiro’s played 37 games, scored nine runs, collected 35 hits including six doubles and (count ’em) three home runs. He’s racked a .310 OBP—55 points below his career average. He’s also -0.2 wins above a replacement player as a Yankee. As for the Yankees, since Ichiro joined them 23 July the Yankees have won 19 and lost 18, including one four-game winning streak and one four-game losing streak. The Mariners since the trade? 22 wins, 14 losses, including two stupefying winning streaks of seven and eight. Not to mention, immediately after Ichiro changed clubhouses (the Yankees were in town to play the Mariners when the deal was done) the Mariners reeled off a nine-of-twelve winning string that included the aforesaid seven-game winning streak.

Thus far, overall: The Marines only seem like a better team without Ichiro, but it’s really still too soon to tell for dead last certain. The Yankees have enough other problems (injuries for the most part) that you can’t really say they’ve been worse with or because of him than they would have been without him.

Not quite, not yet . . .

Zack Greinke—He became, arguably, the pitching star of the non-waiver deadline period once Cole Hamels signed that delicious extension with the Phillies, the Dodgers and Red Sox couldn’t yet pull a trigger on Beckett (the Dodgers were interested), the Rangers and the Red Sox couldn’t pull likewise, and Ryan Dempster’s dance between Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Texas drove everyone to drink. He hasn’t exactly been a saviour for the Angels since the deal: he’s 3-2 with a 4.82 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP, with one less strikeout per nine and his strikeouts-to-walks rate cut in half on the strikeout side.

Thus far, overall: He hasn’t exactly pitched like a horror, but you note that through this writing his ERA as an Angel is a full run higher than his career rate, and he’s been more prone to the long ball as an Angel thus far than he was in Milwaukee before the deal.

Ryan Dempster—He finally went to the Rangers at the non-waiver deadline’s eleventh hour. And the timing was fortuitous for the Rangers, since Neftali Feliz went down for the season practically in the same minute. Dempster’s 33-inning scoreless streak probably inflated his worth as the deadline approached, but he was still pitching reasonably well enough to win when the Rangers finally landed him. Since the deal? Dempster got dumped by the Angels in his first Rangers start (eight earned runs); he beat the Red Sox in his next start in spite of three unearned runs, then he got waxed for another eight earned runs by the Yankees following that.

Thus far, overall: Dempster rehorsed after that Yankee spankee; he’s won three straight starts and shrunk his season’s ERA to 2.87 since. Still, as a Ranger overall since the deal he’s got a 4-1 won-lost record but a whopping 4.58 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. His strikeouts per nine as a Ranger are impressive at 8.7, and if he’s indeed rehorsing himself overall it’s going to count big enough for the Rangers as the stretch drive reaches white heat levels.

Shane Victorino—The change of scenery hasn’t done him as much good as the Dodgers hoped when they landed him from the Phillies. As a Dodger, Victorino is hitting .248 with a .308 OBP—well below what he was doing in Philadelphia before the deal, and he wasn’t quite looking like his former All-Star self. Since Victorino suited up for the Dodgers, they’ve been 15-14.

Thus far, overall: Victorino hasn’t necessarily hurt the Dodgers, but they haven’t really been a better a team with him. Which has to hurt considering the Dodgers did slip into first place in the NL West for a spell not long after acquiring Victorino but have clung to second place with a 4.5 game deficit behind the Giants—whom they’ll play in two more series, including a regular season-ender, yet to come this season.

Decent return thus far . . .

Jonathan Broxton—The Reds already had one of baseball’s best bullpens when they bagged the former Dodger closer from the Royals. As a Red, Broxton’s been hurt by three shaky outings in ten assignments, so don’t be alarmed by that 5.00 ERA or 1.44 WHIP since he put on Reds fatigues. He has two wins and five holds to show for setting up Arnoldis Chapman. The Reds are really getting a very nice return on him.

Thus far overall: The Reds are 9-1 in games in which Broxton has pitched. He’s no team or pen killer just yet. And unless the Cardinals or the Pirates find a little September magic, you can all but hand the NL Central to them.

Hanley Ramirez—He came to the Dodgers before they landed Victorino. He looked like a classic change of scenery guy, since he’d all but worn out his welcome in Miami. As a Dodger, he’s been better than he was as a Marlin before the trade: he’d had a mere .322 OBP with the Fish this season, but since becoming a Dodger he’s swollen it to a .344, not quite to his career level .373 but well enough on the way. He’s being more selective at the plate and rediscovering his consistent enough power, with nine bombs, 17 of his 39 Dodger hits going for extra bases, all in 36 games.

Thus far, overall: With Ramirez the Dodgers have been 18-18. Don’t blame Ramirez, this one’s pretty much a team effort.

Hunter Pence—The Giants landed him right around the non-waiver deadline. He’s played thirty games with them since, with a .292 OBP, a .362 SLG, and 37 runs produced in those thirty games. He’s 0.2 WAR as a Giant, too.

Thus far, overall: Melky Cabrera’s suspension put a big cloud over the Giants when he went down midway through August. Without him, the Giants are 10-5. Keep that pace up and they can only win the NL West, assuming the Dodgers can’t rehorse in September. Since Pence joined them, the Giants are 18-11, and their longest losing streak over that period has been two games. So while you can’t necessarily argue that Pence is that much of a help to the Giants, he certainly hasn’t hurt them. If you’re 10-5 since your best hitter (reputedly) goes down under suspension, and you’re 18-11 overall since you picked up a Hunter Pence, you’ve sure got a terrific team.

(Come to think of it: If you’re 10-5 without Cabrera, who was fool enough to get bagged for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, why on earth would you want to screw with a team makeup that gets you that kind of performance otherwise and let him back in during the postseason, when he’s eligible to return? The Giants know better than most organisations what the PED issue can do to you. Here’s a grand opportunity to make a very big statement about that matter. It would also help remove that little gray cloud hovering around the return of two-time actual or alleged PEDaler Guillermo Mota, too . . .)

Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto—I mention those three alone because Carl Crawford won’t be back from Tommy John surgery until early in 2013. Gonzalez got off to the absolute right start when he suited up for the Dodgers after that laughing-all-the-way cross country flight from Boston that Saturday, hitting the second pitch he saw as a Dodger into the right field seats, on a day the Dodgers battered Miami.

That three-run bomb to introduce himself to Los Angeles has been his highlight thus far . . .

Unfortunately, the Dodgers are 2-5 since The Big Deal. Beckett’s first start as a Dodger wasn’t terrible, and his masterpiece against the Diamondbacks yesterday was much needed. He’s only given up four earned runs as a Dodger, and three were against the Rockies in his first start, not to mention he seems to have rediscovered his strikeout pitches for now. However, his WHIP in his two Dodger starts as been 1.39, which seems to indicate on the evidence thus far that you can hit him but he may still find a way to beat you. Gonzalez has played in eight games as a Dodger and, following that crowd-pleasing opener, has hit a mere .182 with a .250 OBP, though he has taken three walks, stolen a base, scored three runs, and only five of his 27 outs have been strikeouts—he’s making contact, but not getting much for it yet. Punto has only thirteen plate appearances since joining the Dodgers and you probably shouldn’t expect a big show out of that just yet, especially for a utilityman.

Thus far, overall: You can’t hang the Dodgers’ latest slippage on the three ex-Red Sox alone, or even remotely, just yet. How they do in September, when the Dodgers will really need them the most, should tell you more.

Sandberg, Iron-Willed IronPig, Working Patiently Toward Show Time

When he was spurned as Mike Quade’s successor to manage the Chicago Cubs, the team for whom he shone as a Hall of Fame second baseman, Ryne Sandberg on the record was as gracious as he claimed Theo Epstein, the freshly installed president of baseball operations, had been in delivering the verdict.

“Theo called me 10 minutes after they issued the press release and told me that they have a list of guys and I’m not on it,” Sandberg told the Chicago Daily Herald. “He wished me good luck and said he hoped I got a chance somewhere soon. He didn’t owe me that at all. He didn’t have to do that. It was a classy move and I’m very appreciative of the phone call. In the end, I wished him and everybody there good luck.”

Iron willed patience  . . .

Sandberg wasn’t necessarily angry. Ask his one-time mentor, Dallas Green, who engineered the deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that made Sandberg a Cub in the first place, after he’d had about half a cup of coffee (if that much) with the Phillies, and it was something else entirely.

“When the Cubs did what they did,” Green tells ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, as part of a remarkable profile of Sandberg, “I don’t think he was pissed as much as hurt. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub, but Ryne was like a second Mr. Cub kind of guy. He’s a Hall of Famer who paid his dues starting in ‘A’ ball. I don’t know what else the Cubs wanted him to do to prove he could manage.”

Epstein wanted someone with major league managing and coaching experience. Dale Sveum, his eventual hire, had been the Boston Red Sox’s third base coach in 2004-05, before returning to the Milwaukee Brewers (where he’d begun his career as an infielder in 1986) as bench coach and, in time, the club’s interim manager when Ned Yost was executed. Perhaps amazingly, Sveum took the Brewers into the 2008 postseason with a 7-5 finish, only to lose to the Phillies in the division series and become the Brewers’ hitting coach under Ken Macha.

From 2007-2010, Sandberg cut a respected swath managing up the Cubs’ organisational chain. He started with the Peoria Chiefs (A) . . . and led them to the Midwest League championship game. He got promoted to the Tennessee Smokies (AA) two years later . . . and led them to the Southern League playoffs. That earned him a prompt promotion to the Iowa Cubs (AAA) . . . and accolades as the Pacific Coast League’s Manager of the Year.

When Lou Piniella decided to retire in 2010 (midseason, as things turned out), he made a point of recommending Sandberg as his successor. The pre-Epstein Cubs installed Quade (who’d managed the I-Cubs for three seasons in the earlier Aughts), instead; Quade’s deceptive (24-13) finish helped remove the interim tag. Sandberg, who’d obeyed former general manager Jim Hendry’s advice to manage well and strong in the Cubs’ system first, wasn’t even a topic—except out in Cub Country, where the clamour for his promotion often hit fever pitch.

After Epstein shooed him away, however politely, Sandberg became a kind of prodigal son. The Phillies, his first major league organisation, hired him to take their Lehigh Valley (AAA) farm. All he did was manage the IronPigs to the International League’s Governor’s Cup finals. All he’s done is compile a 438-408 record as a minor league manager including what will be three seasons managing in AAA ball. And all he does, other than further solidify a reputation as a great baseball teacher with a flair for making his teams play and work like teams, is wait.

Sandberg is probably too polite to say it, but it probably vexed him quietly when two teams thought to have him on their radars, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago White Sox, decided after 2011 to hire managers (Mike Matheny, Cardinals; Robin Ventura, White Sox) with zero managing experience. The Cardinals needed a new skipper when Tony La Russa decided it was best to go out on top after a miraculous World Series championship; the White Sox needed someone to begin removing the toxic clouds bequeathed by Ozzie Guillen.

“Sandberg’s dogged pursuit of his goal and refusal to grouse about dues-paying,” Crasnick writes, “have won him a growing contingent of admirers in the industry. He has never vented publicly or shown impatience with his deliberate career track. On the contrary; he thinks all that time in the minors has laid the necessary groundwork for him to be successful when the opportunity arrives.”

Some think Sandberg has been too becalmed to impress Show general managers when they interview their next candidates. “He was very quiet as a player, and that was the only doubt I had,” Green tells Crasnick. “Could he bring emotion or a discipline to the dugout? I didn’t know. But everybody I talked to said, ‘Dallas, he’s really opened up. He’ll go out on the field. He’ll argue with umpires and get thrown out of games. He’s done it here.’ That was the growth part I hadn’t seen. He certainly has it.” If you take Crasnick’s word for it, there’s credit to spare going to Sandberg’s wife, Margaret (his second marriage; he underwent a bitter divorce in the mid-1990s that actually drove him into a first retirement as a player), for bringing him forth from his former reserved self.

Others perceive Sandberg as a Cub to the grave in his heart of hearts. The worst-kept secret in baseball may have been how he lusted to manage the Cubs. Until Epstein told Sandberg he wasn’t even a topic, Sandberg seems to have had no intention of going anywhere else.

Driving baseballs the way he now drives players—smooth, no nonsense, no fuss . . .

Crasnick speculates Sandberg being promoted to the Phillies’ coaching staff for next season. He also thinks incumbent manager Charlie Manuel, who’s trying to finish a deflating 2012 with an aging former champion but whose contract expires after 2013, isn’t necessarily going to reach for the rye bottle over the idea. “[I]f Manuel feels threatened by Sandberg’s presence,” Crasnick writes, “he certainly doesn’t show it. He sounds like Sandberg’s personal campaign manager.” Indeed. Manuel tells Crasnick, “I love talking hitting with him, and I like talking the game. He kind of revs me up. He’s going manage in the big leagues without a doubt, because he’s that good. He puts in the time and the work. In some ways, he’s quiet. But he’ll get what he wants, because he’s that good.”

Green illustrates a point about minor league managing that few seem to think about on contact. That lack of immediate thought could have been working to Sandberg’s detriment, too. “Triple-A is a horse[bleep] place to manage,” the former World Series-winning Phillies manager tells Crasnick. “Guys are always pissing and moaning about not being in the big leagues, or being sent down, or not getting a chance. You have all these grudge-holders with different agendas or an itch under their saddle, and there’s all that ragging going on. [Sandberg] is able to cut that ragging out and make them play the game of baseball. He’s done it everyplace he’s been.”

If you didn’t know better, you could just about take Green’s observation and wonder why it was that the Red Sox—whose freshman general manager, Ben Cherington, wanted Dale Sveum, but whose president, Larry Lucchino, may have led the effort to shove Bobby Valentine down the Red Sox throat—didn’t even give Sandberg a nod, never mind a wink. Like blind horses, the Red Sox threw a lit match into a gas house and watched it explode most of 2012. Sandberg, if you take Crasnick’s word for it, is exactly what the Red Sox were foolish enough only to think they were getting when they hired Valentine:

Sandberg demands professionalism from his players, whether it means running out groundballs or standing at attention for the national anthem. He preaches the team concept, and tells players that individual accolades will come if the team wins games. He urges the IronPigs to pull for each other, and believes in the importance of community service, readily consenting when the club asks him to appear at a local soup kitchen or visit with wheelchair-bound kids in the Miracle League . . . 

During his time in Lehigh Valley, Frandsen noticed that the manager never threw up his hands in exasperation or let out a sigh of discontent if a player swung at a bad pitch or made a mental gaffe. Sandberg would pull the player aside and quietly but firmly tell him the right way to do things, and leave it at that. Although Sandberg never played for Bobby Cox, he has a Cox-like aversion to showing up players or calling them out publicly.

Morganna missed. Sandberg didn’t.

Sandberg, in other words, would never have questioned Kevin Youkilis’s heart, betrayed Kelly Shoppach’s confidence, left Jon Lester in for an eleven-run beating (I’ve never seen a manager watch the bullpens . . . [b]ut it’s just another sign that he cares—Scott Elarton, ten-year major league pitcher now with Lehigh Valley), gone public with a lame crack about a young infielder’s hard inning with the glove, or dismissed most of his aura as a matter of players having to accept they might become collateral damage in the middle of the shooting at him. But neither would he have sanctioned the very idea that any of his players had quit on him down a rickety stretch.

This is the guy who was so even-keeled that not even Morganna the Kissing Bandit could rattle him. Granted that he got a little help from Wrigley Field security when she tried to nail him—it was the first night game ever played in the old yard, in 1988—but Sandberg still stepped back into the batter’s box and hit the next pitch into the bleachers. About the only thing that can rattle him now is badly executed baseball. Waiting it out to get his hard-earned shot at major league managing isn’t exactly the worst burden Sandberg’s ever carried. And he knows it.

WHO MIGHT HAVE SANDBERG IN SIGHT NOW?

I don’t apologise for beating a bit of a drum on Ryne Sandberg’s behalf. I’ve supported him getting a major league managing chance for three years and counting. If Jerry Crasnick is right, and it’s just a matter of when, not if, who might be Sandberg suitors down this year’s stretch or after the season?

Valentine—still going, possibly?

Boston Red Sox—Just because they rid themselves of a few players thought to be somewhat less than his allies doesn’t exactly mean Bobby Valentine’s going to survive to manage the second year of his two-year deal. General manager Ben Cherington looked more like a genius for swinging The Deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers than president Larry Lucchino looks for having led the cramming of Valentine down the Red Sox’s throat, and while there’s a lot less public turmoil from the Red Sox clubhouse it doesn’t mean they’re that willing to give Valentine a chance to finish cleaning up the mess. Normally, it’s just a matter of time before Valentine’s divide-and-conquer style re-toxifies. And, right now, you can pretty much write the 2012 Red Sox off as badly lost, a point hammered home (literally, too) Friday night when the Oakland Athletics battered them, 20-2. (Battered? More like human rights violations.)

Cherington, remember, first wanted Dale Sveum—whose Show managing experience amounted to one eleventh-hour stretch drive and an early postseason exit. Sveum seems to be safe in Wrigley Field for the time being, since the Cubs are strictly in rebuild. There’s much speculation about the Red Sox pondering a trade to bring John Farrell, their former pitching coach, back from Toronto to take the bridge, but the Blue Jays haven’t indicated (publicly, anyway) they’d be open to the deal. If they’re not, and if the Red Sox’s plans include picking and choosing from among their younger prospects to help re-fortify the parent club, Sandberg’s rep as a minor league manager could only add to his prospects as a Red Sox manager, for a team in dire need of learning and re-learning the right ways.

Sandberg, by the way, isn’t an obscure commodity in Boston: the Red Sox interviewed him in 2010 for the managing job at Pawtucket, before the Red Sox decided to stay within the existing organisation and promote Arnie Beyeler.

Cleveland Indians—A pleasant surprise in 2011, when they had baseball’s best record through May and stayed in the pennant picture until September, this year’s Tribe looked like a better encore—they spent most of the first half near or at the top of the American League Central (they spent a little over half of April leading it, in fact)—until a 5-28 spell,  including Friday night’s loss to Texas right after a sweep by the Oakland Athletics, seemed to hint Manny Acta was on the hot seat.

Acta—sacrificial lamb?

Acta can’t be blamed for injuries and underachievement, since his players seem mostly to like playing for him. But there’s speculation that if general manager Chris Antonetti fears his own job is on the line he might execute Acta, maybe as a bid to show he’s not backing down. Might. But would they have Sandberg in the Rolodex?

Houston Astros—They threw former Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills over the side after a couple of years in which Mills, admittedly, had about as much solid stock to work with as the Pontiac Aztek. Interim manager Tony DeFrancesco may have a comparable handicap, but he’s also 1-10 since taking the bridge. Say what you will about the Astros as the team to be named later to complete the deal making a National League team out of the Brewers. But if there’s to be a new atmosphere of reaching for winning baseball and team ball, Sandberg certainly couldn’t hurt.

Kansas City Royals—Ned Yost may be managing himself out of another gig, since the Royals—who were widely believed to be on the threshold of breaking into competitiveness if not quite a run at even a wild card—have broken only into another long season’s mediocrity. Remember: this is the same Ned Yost who managed himself out of a job with twelve games to play in 2008 and watched his bench coach Sveum finish with a trip to the postseason. Don’t be terribly shocked if Sandberg might be among those in the Royals’ sights.

Will the Blizzard of Ozz freeze himself out of Florida?

Miami Marlins—Their winter 2011-12 spending spree, and their prying Ozzie Guillen out of Chicago, have both blown up in their faces. Guillen’s fresh rant that practically implied his injured players were really quitters probably didn’t do him any huge favours, either. If the Fish—whose upper management isn’t exactly famous for deep thinking—decide to stuff and mount the Blizzard of Ozz, don’t be surprised if Sandberg turns up on a candidate list at least.

New York Mets—As late as a fortnight ago I assumed Terry Collins was safe. If I were making the call I’d keep him that way—he’s Bobby Valentine without the divide-and-conquer, no-secret’s-safe style. But the whisperings have actually begun that he may not be as safe as many think, even though it’s hardly his fault that the Mets couldn’t (and haven’t) lived up to their first-half results. They might be—would be—foolish to execute Collins over their second-half deflation, since he actually has done his best with what he’s had to work with. But if they do, Sandberg could be on their to-do list.

Farrell—please come to Boston?

Toronto Blue Jays—The Jays have been battered by injuries in 2012, a season in which some thought they could contend for a wild card spot at least. ESPN says the Red Sox actually thought of making a play for Farrell after 2011 until the Blue Jays pulled him back, but that was then and this could be now. Analyst Buster Olney has told The Mike and Mike Show he thinks the Jays will ask Farrell at season’s end (he, too, is signed through the end of 2013) if he wants to stay and, if the answer’s no, pull the trigger on a swap with the Sox. The likely trade: Farrell for pitcher Daniel Bard, or so the incessant speculation would have it.

If the Jays discover Farrell might want out and they make the Red Sox deal, don’t be surprised if Sandberg turns up among their candidates.

Yes, children—minus Strasburg, this Nats rotation DOES have good postseason chances

Let’s try this again.

Assume the Washington Nationals will stick to the script and implement, some time in September, the exclamation point of the Strasburg Plan. Period dot period. Assume, too, that there’ll be enough blue murder screaming over the Nats torpedoing their own postseason chances. Maybe even some conspiracy theorists demanding a formal investigation, perhaps into whether someone isn’t buying the Nats off bigtime to tank. (Would the conspiracy theorists surprise you, really?)

Now, shove all that to one side and look at the Nats’ rotation without Stephen Strasburg.

Zimmermann—Without the Stras, he won’t be leading a rotation of pushovers . . .

Jordan Zimmermann—At this writing, Jordan Zimmermann leads the team with a 2.63 earned run average. If wins and losses are still your thing exclusively, dismiss him if you must as barely above a .500 pitcher, since he’s 9-8 through right now. Want to know how many no-decisions Zimmermann has on his jacket through today? Nine. If you define pitching well enough to win as surrendering three runs or fewer, he pitched seven of those nine games well enough to win, and in five of those seven the Nats did go on to win. So if you still look at wins and losses first and last, Zimmermann should have a 15-8 won-lost record through today.

What do you know. That would give him as many wins as Strasburg has and a mere two losses more. But Zimmermann’s quality stats include a 1.13 walks/hits per inning pitched rate (team lead), a 3.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio (second only to Strasburg’s 4.23), a 1.8 walks per nine rate, and a 0.8 home run rate. He also has 2.9 wins above a replacement level pitcher. I’m not exactly convinced the Nats would be in terrible postseason shape with Zimmermann at the top of the rotation.

Gio Gonzalez—He’d probably win the Cy Young Award if it were going to the most congenially quotable pitcher in the league. He has the second best winning percentage (.696) to Strasburg (.714) as of today. He’s also third among the rotation in ERA—with a nifty 3.28. He only has three no-decisions, and in only one did he pitch well enough to win, according to the above definition. So, instead of his current 16-7 won-lost record, he’d be 17-7, since the Nats went on to win that one game. If you want to cut him a break and say four earned runs or less is good enough to win, Gonzalez could—since the Nats went on to win all three of his no-decisions thus far—have a 19-7 record.

He’s got a 1.16 WHIP through today; he has a 2.80 K/BB rate, he has a 9.5 K/9 rate, and he has a 0.5 home run rate, if that matters to you. He also has 1.6 WAR. In a Strasburg-less postseason rotation, I don’t think you’d be in grave danger with Gonzalez as your number two man.

Edwin Jackson—Start and end with wins and losses and you’d start worrying here. After all, Jackson only has an 8-9 record despite his 3.53 ERA. He also has eight no-decisions, one fewer than Zimmermann. And, by the aforesaid measurement of pitching well enough to win, in six of those games Jackson did pitch well enough to win. The Nats only went on to win one of those games, alas, which would make Jackson a 9-9, but since four of them ended up as one-run games, and you’d like to think a pitcher working well enough to win or better than well enough should have come away with a pitching win. By that, Jackson should be 12-9.

His quality stats are solid for a number three man. He has a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.85 K/BB rate; he has a 1.1 home run per nine rate and a 2.8 BB/9 rate. Look at a Strasburg-less Nats rotation and, so far, you can’t really think of one good reason why this rotation can’t succeed come postseason time. Among Zimmermann, Gonzalez, and Jackson, they average to a 1.15 WHIP rate. Folks, that’s 1965 Los Angeles Dodgers, 1969 New York Mets, or 1971 Baltimore Orioles territory.

Ross Detwiler—The sleeper of the bunch. He’s 8-6 with a better than respectable 3.52 ERA. He has a pile of no-decisions in his own right as a starter (he’s also seen some very effective bullpen duty)—seven, to be exact. Of those seven, he pitched well enough to win six of them, and the Nats went on to win four of those. By that, Detwiler should have a 12-6 won-lost record.

Detwiler’s quality stats are just about even with Jackson’s. He has a 1.17 WHIP and a 2.31 K/BB rate; he has a 2.4 BB/9 rate and a 0.6 HR/9 rate. As a number four man in a Strasburg-less postseason rotation, it doesn’t exactly look as though Detwiler’s the weak link. It doesn’t even look as though the Nat rotation without Strasburg is a weak link.

The entire Nats pitching staff through this writing is worth 17.4 WAR. With Strasburg, the rotation is good for 13.5; without him, they lose a mere 2.6. Believe it or not, Zimmerman leads the rotation with his 4.0. Are you trying to tell me a rotation configured to equal 10.9 WAR would go into a postseason with a gaping handicap?

Of course there’s no way the Nats are where they are without Strasburg. Assuming they hold those levels the rest of the stretch, nobody else going to the postseason in the National League should assume the Nats rotation minus Strasburg would be pushovers. Whoops! you say—whaddabout postseason experience? Gotcha! There’s Edwin Jackson, and there’s all the rest, and shouldn’t the Nats bring every damn last weapon to bear they can bring including Strasburg?

Well, now. Let’s take a look at a few rotations that went into a postseason with little to no such experience to carry into it and see what they did:

A tale of two Hall of Famers—little did Kid Palmer know . . .

1966 Baltimore Orioles—The only pitcher on the entire staff with postseason experience was reliever Stu Miller (1962 San Francisco Giants). Who also led the team in ERA. Except for oft-injured lefthander Steve Barber, the Oriole starters were kids: Jim Palmer was all of 20, Wally Bunker 21, Dave McNally 23, and John Miller 25. You’d have given a staff like that three chances in a World Series against the last of the great Dodger teams of the middle 1960s. Those Dodgers still brandished Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, plus Claude Osteen as the number three rotation man and Phil (The Vulture) Regan having his career year out of the bullpen. The Orioles swept the Dodgers in four straight, though they did get a little help from Willie Davis’s fatal inning in a Game Two in which Koufax otherwise looked like his usual self until then. Maybe they had some incentive not to get another turn against Koufax, but whatever works, works.

Koosman, doing what even a Hall of Famer couldn’t, beating the Orioles twice in the ’69 Miracle . . .

1969 New York Mets—Not a damn one of them, not even veteran Don Cardwell, had postseason experience to speak of entering that postseason. The Mets had one bona-fide Hall of Famer in the rotation (Tom Seaver) and one bona-fide Hall of Famer (Nolan Ryan) as a spot starter and relief option, and about the only postseason experience either had was watching on the tube or in the stands. The Mets steamrolled the Atlanta Braves to win the first National League Championship Series, then won four straight—with Jerry Koosman, not Seaver, winning twice—after losing Game One of the World Series to a Baltimore Orioles team that, on paper, was supposed to make three squares a day out of those Mets.

1970 Cincinnati Reds—The first of the teams to be known as the Big Red Machine had one pitcher (Jim Merritt, a 20-game winner) who’d been to a World Series in 1965 (with the Minnesota Twins) but pitched only 3.1 innings in two relief appearances. Not exactly a well-seasoned veteran of the wars. After burying the Pittsburgh Pirates in three straight in the NLCS, they went down in five to the Orioles in the Serious.

1971 Oakland Athletics—These A’s featured a rotation topped by Vida Blue (having his career year) and Catfish Hunter (future Hall of Famer) and nobody with postseason experience. They got overwhelmed by the Orioles and their four 20-game winners in the League Championship Series, alas. Call it a dress rehearsal for what was to come—namely, three straight World Series rings.

1979 Pittsburgh Pirates—The Fam-I-Lee had one starter, Bert Blyleven, with any postseason experience, and that was a mere two-inning relief gig with the 1970 Twins whom the Orioles blew away in three straight. It may have been one of the classic full-team efforts—no Pirate pitcher was all that dominant in the World Series, other than Blyleven and closer Kent Tekulve—but the Pirates did win it in a seven-game thriller.

“One Tough Dominican . . .”

1982 St. Louis Cardinals—None of this rotation had postseason experience going in, and they didn’t exactly go in looking like a particularly threatening rotation. (Their best starter: Joaquin Andujar, whose 1.09 WHIP was the only one on the staff below 1.25.) The only pitcher on the whole staff with postseason experience was Jim Kaat, by then working as a relief pitcher who only started two on the season. The Cardinals ground out a seven-game Series win over the Brewers, but you couldn’t really say that either team threw a deadly rotation up there. (The Brewers, in fairness, had a rotation slightly worse than the Cardinals’ and two pitchers—Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Don Sutton—on staff, but Sutton was a mid-to-late season pickup and Fingers, of course, was the closer.)

1986 New York Mets—They had no 20-game winners, three starters with ERAs under 3, and nobody with postseason experience. After they steamrolled the National League in the regular season, they had to win the pennant the hard way against a feisty collection of Houston Astros, then win the World Series the hard way against a star-crossed collection of Boston Red Sox. If you looked at the rotation’s WHIP overall, it compares pretty favourably to that of this year’s Nats thus far.

1990 Cincinnati Reds—The stars of this show, arguably, were the Nasty Boys bullpen, among whom only Randy Myers (1988 Mets) had any postseason experience. In the rotation, only Danny Jackson (1985 Kansas City Royals) had been there, done that; in the non-Nasty bullpen contingent, only veteran Rick Mahler (who had sixteen spot starts during the season) had gone to any postseason, and there he’d pitched less than two innings for the 1982 Atlanta Braves. These Reds ended up stunning the A’s with a Series sweep after needing six to beat the Pirates for the pennant.

Young, loud, and snotty . . .

2003 Florida Marlins—No postseason experience ever among the rotation, including young, loud, and snotty (You lost! Go home!) Josh Beckett. Beat the Yankees in six in the World Series, after shoving the Giants out of the way in the division series but winning an arduous League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs.

2007 Colorado Rockies—Had six starters on the year, none of whom took postseason experience into these rounds. These Rockies swept the Philadelphia Phillies out of the division series and the Arizona Diamondbacks out of the League Championship Series—only to be swept out of the World Series, in turn, by the Red Sox.

2008 Tampa Bay Rays—No rotation postseason experience. Not quite as good as this year’s Nats with or without Strasburg. And they got rolled in five by the Phillies in the World Series, after taking the Chicago White Sox in four in the division series and wrestling to a seven-game LCS win over the Red Sox.

Lincecum—no experience necessary . . .

2010 San Francisco Giants—They made themselves into a no-experience-whatsoever postseason rotation. The only member of the 2010 Giants with any postseason experience of which to speak was Barry Zito (when he was with the early-2000s A’s)—and he’d pitched so horrifically in 2010 the Giants didn’t dare include him on the postseason roster. This took the Giants to a World Series against a Texas Rangers staff that had two postseason-experienced starters. (Cliff Lee and Rich Harden.) The “inexperienced” Giants rode that pitching and some very timely and half unexpected hitting to a five-game Series conquest.

Covering twelve teams since 1966 who took little-to-no postseason-tested pitching into any postseason, it shakes out like this: eight of those rotations proved World Series winners. One of those rotations, moreover, beat a rotation loaded with two much-experienced Hall of Famers including maybe the greatest peak-value lefthanded pitcher of the post-World War II era at least and possibly all-time at most.

An 8-4 World Series-winning record among the inexperienced over a 46-year span isn’t exactly a great reason to be alarmed that the “inexperienced” Washington Nationals rotation—with or without Stephen Strasburg—is going to be guaranteed dead meat going into this year’s postseason. If the Nats stick to the Strasburg Plan on behalf of keeping their man’s arm from breaking off long-range, it is not going to kill them going in if they go without him.

That doesn’t guarantee the Nats’ survival, of course. But it does suggest that the alarmists bleating about whether they’re shooting themselves in the feet or “cheating” their fans out of the best possible chances to win are bleating through their derrieres.