Welcome to week two of baseball. As a Mets fan, it feels like last year never ended after dropping two of three to both the Marlins and the Nationals and sittin’ pretty in the cellar after six games. But it’s only been six games. The eerie thing is that, like last season, the Mets’ successes have been in series openers, and their downfalls have been, well, every other game. Including rubber games, when they especially tanked it last year.
Watching the Mets, though, has caused me to pay attention to Rod Barajas, who admittedly had a terrific game on Friday with two home runs. However, watching him has also caused me to cringe every time he swings. Mr. Barajas is one of many players I’ve seen over the years who, when he gets ahold of one, can smash the ball 400 feet, but will otherwise send a lot of flyouts to left-centerfield. I don’t ever expect to see him ground out, which I suppose reduces his risk of hitting into a double play, but overall it makes for some frustrating at-bats when all you’d like is a liner up the middle and instead you get a popout, as was the case when he swung at a ball at his shoelaces on Friday in between home runs. In short, Barajas is a player whose stats at the end of the year perfectly demonstrate his approach at the plate: ~20 home runs, ~60 RBI, not a lot of walks and a ~.50 GO/AO ratio. At least he’s not Rich Becker, though.
The Pirates are giving what little diehards they have a steady balance of hope and despair more frequently now. After starting off strong with their first 2-0 start in three years, they have suffered three lopsided losses to go with their third victory of the season as they are safely at .500 through week one. The seesaw tipped greatly towards the despair on Sunday, as the Pirates led 4-2 over the D-Backs through three and a half innings and trailed 15-4 after four. Lowlights included a two-run homer by Chris Young, a solo shot by Kelly Johnson, a three-run triple by Stephen Drew, a three-run double by Chris Snyder and a two-run homer to cap it off from Arizona pitcher Edwin Jackson. It reminded me slightly of the slaughter that was Game 6 of the 2001 World Series, when even Randy Johnson got in on the RBI action, but to see Jackson homer off someone who wasn’t even a position player pitching was, well… You can choose your own adjective. Mine starts with “H” and rhymes with “Borrendous.”
The first installment of The Cutoff Man, which will run in tomorrow’s issue of The Tartan, is titled “Jumping off the bandwagon.” I may or may not have thrown up in my mouth after seeing the headline “Chapman, Strasburg dazzle in debuts” on MLB.com today. Yes, they both won, and yes, they both looked good (Chapman especially). Yes, Chapman struck out nine and Strasburg struck out eight. And yes, Chapman pitched at Triple-A and Strasburg pitched at Double-A.
A much better feel-good story, in my opinion, was the debut of the Reds’ Mike Leake, who made his Major League debut Sunday after spending zero innings in the Minor Leagues right out of college. Leake worked out of a bases-loaded, no out jam in his first inning of work unscathed and finished with a no-decision after 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
Success in any player’s Major League debut is always encouraging. We always want to see guys with big futures live up to their potential. Success in one’s Minor League debut is less impressive and at times it feels like members of the media are trying to suck up enough to maybe get Chapman and Strasburg to share some of their signing bonuses. The hype surrounding even their mediocre Spring Training performances and side-sessions was vomit-inducing. I expect both to succeed at the big league level someday, but keep in mind that that day may come in their second or third seasons in the show, so be patient, everyone – just look at how long the Mets didn’t wait to see what Nolan Ryan could become.
Sometimes superb Major League debuts set the tone for greatness, but more often than not, an outstanding first game is but misleading for the beginnings of a mediocre, if not subpar career. The first time I learned this lesson was when Hideki Irabu was nicknamed “Mr. Broadway” by Yankees fans all over New York after his big league debut. Tabbed as the second coming of Nolan Ryan, the man George Steinbrenner once called a “fat ***** toad” saw his expectations quickly dip to the next Hideo Nomo, to the next guy in the rotation. And after apparently owning a restaurant in Arizona, he returned to independent ball last year and in August announced that he would attempt to pitch in Japan once more.
Short hops: CC Sabathia threw 7.2 innings of no-hit ball on Saturday before the Rays’ Kelly Shoppach sent a single through the infield. The Yanks took two of three from the Rays, who have also given their fans a Pirates-like opening week… Toronto, strangely enough, is in first place in the AL East at 5-1. Baltimore is 1-5. Perhaps the Blue Jays will make me eat my words… No ace is safe so far, as Carlos Zambrano, Sabathia, Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, Chris Carpenter and some others I’m probably forgetting have all had bad outings this first week.
Look for The Cutoff Man in tomorrow’s issue of The Tartan and online at thetartan.org!
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