At the Quarter Pole; Happy B-Day Gary Nolan, others

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball as we approach Memorial Day Weekend.

OK, it’s a little more than a quarter of the way through the season because of the insanity of how early the season starts.  But with no particularly prepossessing games last night, and given that this column may or may not be written during the holiday weekend I thought this was as good a time as any to assess where baseball is now.

For starters, the Nationals who have under-achieved the last two seasons find themselves in first place as of now. They find themselves 29-19.  They haven’t been bitten by the injury bug that did them so much damage in 2015 and it would seem Dusty Baker, the veteran manager has a better handle on his crew than novice manager Matt Williams had during his tenure.  Meantime, while the Mets are only a game out, they’re a mess.  2 of their starting pitchers-Noah Syndergaard and  Steven Matz have had their elbows examined. One of them has already had at least one cortisone shot in that most vulnerable area.

Their ageless wonder Bartolo Colon turned out to be a real life Ivo Palazzi from the Sidney Sheldon book “Bloodline.”  He is a man with two separate families and the scandal broke the day he was to start a game for his team.  He pitched as badly as you could expect a man to pitch with his darkest secret splattered all over the New York papers, who aren’t known to be charitable about that sort of thing.  In a rare moment of good taste I won’t reprint the headlines they used concerning Colon. Meantime Matt Harvey is pitching so badly that if I were his manager I’d have his surgically repaired elbow checked no matter what he says.  I hate to break it to you, but Players lie about their injuries to their managers, to the public and most of all to themselves. They’d sooner cut off all their limbs than be seen in the trainer’s room.

Amazingly, the Phillies are 26-21 and only 2.5 games behind the Nats.  Last year the Phillies nearly lost 100 games. Even the Marlins aren’t floundering at 25-22. Again, they were a baseball horror a year ago. Only the 12–34 Braves are as bad as, or worse than their 2015 squad.  Ownership has said from day 1 that they were rebuilding and hoping to compete in 2017 when they move into their new ball park north of the city.  Traffic problems could make that park nearly impossible to get to, and who would want to unless the team performs an impossible turnaround. They are at a .261 winning percentage.  The 40-120 record of the 1962 Mets was better than this version of the Braves. They are a hideous 2-20 in their home park. They are actually 10-14 away from Atlanta.

While the Cubs aren’t quite 35-5 as the 1984 Tigers were, they’re still an impressive 31-14 out of the gate, with Jake Arrieta carrying the flag. John Lester and John Lackey give the Cubs 3 quality starters and Kyle Hendricks hasn’t embarrassed himself.  They have Addison Russell back, after he was injured during last year’s playoffs.  He and Chris Bryant are just two of the bats the North Side DieHards can count on to steal the show in the land of Wrigley. In spite of the pieces they lost in the winter, Pittsburgh is still only 4.5 games behind the Cubs at 27-19.  Maybe their GM, Neil Huntington knew what he was about letting Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker go. Meantime, last year’s Central Division champs, the Cardinals are but 24-24 and 8.5 games behind their rivals the Cubs. At least one reader of this column has been telling me what a poor job their general manager has done, and with this record and with most of last year’s talent still in place it’s enough to make you wonder if he’s right. Milwaukee is doing what they do-playing badly at 21-26. Meantime the Reds are about as bad as they were last year, at 15-32.  Even if Homer Bailey returns from Tommy John surgery and is able to pitch that team needs a lot more help, particularly in the bull pen.  Their own broadcaster Marty Brennaman, a  Hall of Famer has called that bull pen “brutal,” during his broadcasts. His team has lost 10 in a row and are a horrific 3-17 away from the Queen City they call home.

Out west, the Giants are in the lead with a 30-19 mark having won 9 of their last 10. The Dodgers are 25-23 under new manager Dave Roberts and are managing to live life without Zack Greinke who jumped ship and went to Arizona. The Rockies are 22-24, putting them  6.5 games behind the Giants who they play tonight in Denver. The Diamondbacks certainly expected to be better than 21-28 at this point.  The worst blow they suffered was losing Chris Pollock to a season-ending injury very early in the going.  I think they expected to turn last year’s 17-game loser Shelby Miller around. It hasn’t happened. Zack Greinke alone hasn’t been enough.  And the Padres are, well, the Padres at 19-29. As usual, the best reason to go to San Diego is to pass it on the way to Mexico.

Meantime, over in the junior circuit Boston is on top, as much as I hate to admit it. At 29-18 they have a two game lead on Baltimore.  At least, Jackie Bradley JR.’s hitting streak ended at 29 games.  I purposely didn’t mention the streak  here, because my ex-wife who claimed herself a Yankee fan had a major crush on Bradley even before he got good this year. A Yankee fan crushing on a Red Sox player ought to be grounds for divorce in all 50 states, but it isn’t. The Orioles are within 2 games at 26-19 with Manny Machado swinging his mighty machete and Chris “Crush” Davis using his strong  shillelagh to launnch balls out of parks all over the country. They’ve been cold of late, losing 4 in a row and 7 of 10. Last year’s division winner Toronto is 24-25, a game under .500 and feeling the loss of David Price acutely. They’re just 9-13 in their home park. The Yankees recently escaped last place and are 22-24 now after losing 2 of 3 to the Jays in the Bronx.  It still wouldn’t take much for this team to be well under .500 by the end.  Too many of them are ready for Social Security and their one young starter Luis Severino first struggled and is now on the DL. They are only half a game up on the Rays, dead last at 21-24.

In the Central, the White Sox have come down to earth after a blazing start and are now 27-21 though still in first place. They’ve lost 7 of 10 and are only 13-12 at the new Comiskey Park. The surprising Indians are their nearest rival at 25-20. That puts them just half a game behind the PaleHose. The Royals are 24-22 and 2 games back but they’re in bad trouble.  Their third baseman Mike Moustakas, who just got off the DL with a broken thumb now has a torn ACL in his knee and is done for the year.  Also their left fielder Alex Gordon is on the DL with a broken wrist, and they feel the losses of Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto who are excelling with the teams they joined via free agency. The Tigers aren’t as dreadful as they were last year.  Now they’re 23-23 and 3 games behind the Sox. The Twins, who thought they’d do OK this year are an abominable 12-34, as bad as the Braves in the other league.  They got out to an 0-9 start and haven’t improved.

Seattle is astonishingly ahead in the AL West, at 28-18. They don’t do well at home, just 10-11 but are a damaging 180-7 outside of Seattle. The Rangers are 1.5 games back, sporting a 27-20 mark. It doesn’t help anything that Josh Hamilton is hurt again and there’s no timetable for his return.  The Angels are a disappointing 7.5 games out at 21-26. They were neck and neck with the Rangers last year until the final series of the season in Arlington. Houston, at 20-28 is a long way from last year’s wild card winner and Dallas Keuchel is a big part of the problem.  He hasn’t won this year as he did in 2015. Oakland is tied with them at 20-28.

There’s one matinee today as the Phillies face the Cubs at Wrigley. One of the Phillies’ young hopefuls, Adam Morgan faces the Cubs’ John Lester. Under the lights, Max Scherzer faces Jaime Garcia in DC.  The matchup would be good if Garcia can bounce back from two bad starts his last two times out. At Citi Field, 19-year-old Julio Urias makes his debut for the Dodgers against  2014 Rookie of the Year Jacob DeGrom. Urias is a lefty who was 4-1 with a 1.10 ERA at AAA Oklahoma City. The Mexican native’s full name is Julio Cesar, like the two boxers named Julio Cesar Chavez. The Dodgers signed Urias in August 2012 just after he turned 16. At his tender age he has already had 4 operations to save the sight in his left eye.  He will debut on the biggest stage of all, Citi Field with the MLB Network sending Bob Costas, Jim Kaat and Tom Verducci to call the action. The Twins’ Pat Dean makes his second major league start against King Felix Hernandez who is doing his usual excellent job for the Mariners without much run support to show for it.

The Twins’ major prospect Jose Berrios is 22 today.  After a disturbing debut he was returned to AAA. He was 1-1 with a 10-20 ERA.  He’s from Puerto Rico and players from there are subject to the draft.  As such the Twins took him in round 1 in 2012. Pitchers Brad Boxberger and Garrett Richards are both 28 today. Miguel Gonzalez is 32. He’s trying to resurrect his career with the White Sox after being cut loose by the Orioles.

Former Mets’ catcher Todd Hundley is 47 today. As a Met he was an All-Star in 1996 and 1997.  He played from 1990 to 2003, following his Mets’ time with two stints with the Dodgers and one with his dad’s old team the Cubs.  His dad was catcher and broadcaster Randy Hundley. They are no relation to present Rockies’ receiver Nick Hundley.

Jeff Bagwell who belongs in the Hall of Fame and Frank Thomas who is already there are both 48 today.  Bagwell almost brought University of Hartford to the NCAA regionals by himself in 1988 but Fordham beat his Hartford Hawks 10-8 in a do-or-die tournament final in New Britain, CT.  Thomas was with the 1987 Auburn team that beat Mo Vaughn and John Valentin’s Seton Hall squad 22-1 sending them out of the regionals.

The former Reds’ pitcher Gary Nolan is 68 today. Like the lefty Don Gullet, he made his debut before age 20 and was done before reaching age 30. While he lasted he put up a 110-70 record for the Big Red Machine. He was an All-Star in 1972. The 1966 draft was the second ever held and the Reds took him in round 1. In his first year he struck out veteran Willie Mays 4 times in a game. Only pitchers Tom Seaver and Dick Hughes were ahead of him in Rookie of the Year voting. He was 18-7 for the 1970 Reds who faced the Orioles in the World Series. He pitched and lost game 1 of that year’s fall classic. He’d already had arm trouble and it surfaced again costing him much of 1973 and all of 1974. In the 1975 World Series he had to leave game 3 after 4 innings with arm pain and was ineffective in game 6 lasting but 2 innings.  He finally won a World Series game in 1976 over the Yankees. He had to retire a year later with more arm problems.  He spent a quarter of a century after that working in Las Vegas.

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