by: Mauricio Rubio Jr.
email: mr@99sportsproblems.com
twitter: @MRubio52

“In American Society our ways of teaching about baseball are better than our ways of teaching about anything else. No matter how your mind works, baseball reaches out to you.”

Bill James

I

At my heart I’m a historian. My mind is stimulated by the pastoral, by history, by personal stories, by real emotions, my mind is stimulated by what was and how it can affect what will be. I had a rare opportunity at the All Star game in 2006 to sit down with Buck O’Neil and listen to him tell old war stories for 15 minutes. It’s a vivid memory that really won’t ever fade into my memory, and I’m glad I got to talk to him before his passing 4 months later.

The reason I’m so excited about this baseball season has very little to do with the local talent. Sure, Chris Sale looks like an absolute lefty monster on the South Side. Starlin Castro is a tremendous young shortstop that oozes potential and could become whatever he wants to become at this point. There’s some talent on both farms that warrant watching, but that’s not why I was so eager to start the 2012 baseball year. It really has nothing to do with Chicago, really.

II

The Washington Nationals (15-9) have never finished higher than 4th in the NL East until last year. After a surprise 81-81 inaugural season in Washington (they were originally the Montreal Expos), the franchise found itself stuck in the mud. They wouldn’t top 75 wins until 2011, and their winning percentages were pretty abysmal. They lost a combined 205 games in 2008 and 2009.

The fortunes of a franchise can change for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes they sign a few big name free agents, get the right coach, and go riding off into the sunset with a ring. Other times they get career years from everybody at the right time en route to a championship. And then there are the Nats who managed to be so bad that they got two potentially generational players in back to back years.

Stephen Strausburg  and Bryce Harper are extremes. Stories of their feats are the stuff fables are made of. “He throws 100 with plus command and has 2 wicked off-speed pitches. The other guy hits 500 foot homeruns and he’s only 17.”

That’s not made up, that’s the reality of the situation that the Nationals are in. They have 2 great talents on a roster that might just be good enough to win the pennant this year. Strausburg will have an innings cap, and Harper, for all of his physical tools, might not be ready to hit major league pitching just quite yet, but this Nationals team is for real everywhere else.

That’s ridiculous. Edwin Jackson is has the highest SP ERA at 3.69. For context, the current NL ERA is 3.72. He’s better than average this year but he’s about 2 runs worse than any other starter on the Nationals.

III

The Dodgers (17-8) have experienced some recent success, most recently reaching the NLCS in 2008 and 2009 before falling into a curious funk that some blame on the tumultuous McCourt divorce. Their ascension is linked directly to the maturation of two budding superstars, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.

Matt Kemp missed out on being a 40/40 guy by a single homerun last year. This was following an awful 2010 where he OPS’d .760 and was 19-34 on stolen base attempts. He cratered production-wise and decided to tinker with his batting motion. Kemp eliminated the stride that he took before he swung his hips and went with a no-stride approach. It resulted in a .226 jump in OPS and a 2nd place finish in the MVP voting. To start the 2012 year he’s just destroying everything.

Kershaw is 24 years old and has a Cy Young under his belt. He’s a legit Ace and just might be the best pitcher in baseball. His WHIP sits at 0.92, he strikes out 9 per 9, and last year he slashed his walk rate by 1 BB/9. What we’re watching with Kershaw is the evolution from a thrower to a pitcher. Not everyone gets it. Wood was a great thrower, but he never learned how to pitch. He never learned how to dial back the RPM’s and save the hard and good stuff for need situations (see Verlander, Justin). Jake Peavy looks like he’s just now starting to learn how to pitch, but he’s also 31 and past his prime stuff wise. Carlos Marmol never learned how to pitch and tried to make a career out of one pitch. Clayton Kershaw can pitch now.

That’s a dip in walks and hits allowed, and an increase in IP and K-BB ratio. The question on Kershaw was always whether he’d mature from a thrower to a pitcher and it looks like he’s supplying the answer. An ace in the truest sense of the word has no flaws. He’s durable, he has a plus-plus pitch, an arsenal of plus pitches, great command, great makeup, and he proves it, year after year. It’s a show me tag and Kershaw is in the process of showing us.

IV

Pennant chases make baseball. I wasn’t around for any of the good ones really. I didn’t get to see the Giants win the pennant, I missed out on Bucky Fucking Dent, I lost the most famous Cubs homer in the Gloamin, and I completely whiffed with the Gas House Gang comebacks. The true pennant chases are gone, and what we have left are division races and wild card finishes. The most recent amazing comeback was excellent and it brought me to a very happy baseball place where I threw my hands up in celebration as Dan Johnson hit a homerun that meant absolutely nothing to me in terms of rooting interest, but was probably the source of my highest high as a baseball fan. My heart broke with Uggla and Linebrink as the Braves melted, and I kinda dislike the Braves. Pennant chases bring out the best in baseball, and the Dodgers-Nationals thing has great potential to be an amazing cross-country rivalry.

Young superstars, one of them is a heritage franchise, the other is building up a fan base revolving around youth, it should be thrilling to watch. They gave us great theater during their first series match up this past April, Harper debuted, Kershaw was dominant, and Kemp won it in the 10th. It was a well played baseball game, it had drama for all the right reasons, and the star power was there. In time people should remember those matchups, when Scully called Kershaw vs. Strausburg, when Harper reached the bigs, when the Nationals and Dodgers played against each other in meaningful games. I hope more moments like that happen for Octobers to come.

Well, at least until the Cubs are good, in which case, fuck both of them.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. When I initially left a comment I appear to
    have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox
    and from now on every time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
    Is there a way you can remove me from that service?
    Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s