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(1) How do you feel about Nomar Garciaparra right now?
|Well, we figured we'd give you a look at both.|
Here's what manager Jerry Narron does: Sits him. A lot. In weird fits and starts, and often right after Freel has had a spectacular day. On June 4, Freel hit two home runs, drove in three and made a great diving catch in the outfield. On June 5, he got one pinch-hit at-bat. On June 8, he went 3-for-5, hit a home run and stole a base. On June 9, Narron gave him one plate appearance and then sat him altogether on June 10. Freel played on June 12, but not the next day. He played on June 14, but not on June 16. And on and on it goes. Not since Mommie Dearest went haywire on Christina have we seen such traumatic schizophrenic leadership. I say, let the Free Ryan Freel campaign begin here. Send your cards and letters to: Wayne Krivsky, General Manager, The National League Cincinnati Ball Club.
(3) Where have you gone, Vlad Guerrero? Some of the raw numbers are still solid (18 homers and 62 RBI are nothing to sneeze at) but some aren't (walks are down and strikeouts are up compared to this time last year); also, the percentages are troubling, down .54 in on-base and .62 in slugging.
Is he hurt? Is his all-out style finally taking its toll? Have the pod people swooped down and replaced him with one of their own, an alien programmed to do just well enough to fit in, but not so well that he will stand out and thereby risk discovery and the failure of the intergalactic domination mission? Vlad is a victim of his own ridiculously high standards, of course. A strong year is not good enough. We expect so much more.
And more to the point, the Angels need more. In 2004 Vlad rose up like a leviathan out of the deep and carried them to the postseason with a spectacular late-summer run. Does he still have that in him? The AL West is there for the taking, and the Angels have the pitching in John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver and Bartolo Colon to justify a move. So if Vlad isn't quite Vlad, does the front office have the Stoneman to deal some of the Angels' young talent (Kendrick, Morales, Kotchman, Napoli, Santana, etc.) to bring in backup? That's the question. (4) Will the Tigers realize they're the Tigers? No offense to manager Jim Leyland. No disrespect to Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya. Nothing but love for Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson. But there is some element of this that's like walking across hot coals under hypnosis, right? Some part of it that's like Wile E. Coyote walking on air, right up until the moment that the Road Runner points out it's impossible? The Tigers are supposed to lose 100 games, not win 100. They're supposed to fold in the face of the defending world champs, not surge ahead of them. They're supposed to go through the big, unforgiving slumps of the young, not show the steely, steady resolve of seasoned vets. They're supposed to look down, remember the coals are hot, remember the air is thin, and fail miserably. What's the old Yogi line? Ninety percent of the game is half mental? Will Detroit realize this? God, I hope not. (5) Who is the Twins' best starter?
|Hard to believe, but Liriano might just be better than Santana.|
(6) Will the Mets' pitching hold up? Pedro is on the DL as we speak. As my father-in-law likes to say: "The tendency is to get better." But as I like to say to my father-in-law: "That is, unless you're old." What Pedro has done with the Mets in the first year and a half of his contract has been outstanding. But there was a reason other teams, including the Red Sox, didn't want to pony up for four years. They were worried about how long he could hold up. Maybe this one's nothing. And maybe he's back on the beam in no time. But maybe this is the beginning of a long, tough second half for him. And if it is, the Mets and their big fat lead in the East are in trouble. Tom Glavine is coming back down to earth (check his June and July ERAs, up near 5.00). Steve Trachsel is Steve Trachsel. And after that it's rookie Alay Soler. Not good. They'll make the playoffs, sure. Philadelphia's rotation makes New York's look like Baltimore's in 1970. But are the Mets built for a championship run? Can they withstand the Cardinals and then one of the AL power lineups for the crown? I don't see it happening. (7) Are we still going to be talking about the Yankees and Red Sox come late September? Nah. First off, what's left to say? Seriously. We obsess over these clubs out of habit. But let's be honest, like late-series episodes of "Moonlighting," the characters are played out; not even a dramatic kiss after all the bickering would spice things up. (Well, maybe if A-Rod and Papi made like Isiah and Magic before the next big series.) But, beyond the fact that their familiarity should breed our contempt is the fact that the Yanks just won't be in it come crunch time this fall. Kudos to them for hanging in there through all the injuries so far this year; they've played the underdog so well even Jim Caple kind of likes them now (just kidding, Jim; I know that's sacrilege in your house). The offense is strong, as always, even without Sheffield and Matsui. But after Mike Mussina, the pitching staff is full of question marks. Shawn Chacon has reverted to Version 1.0. There is no Aaron Small, literally and figuratively speaking. And Randy Johnson just isn't scaring anyone these days. The stuff is still fast, but it's flat, hittable, almost inviting. I was in Yankee Stadium 10 days ago and I saw Eli Marrero, Eli Marrero, take the man deep with two outs in the sixth I'm not making this up.
(8) Has anyone gotten the Braves a commemorative gift? Gold watches for Schuerholz and Cox? Tickets to a cruise for Smoltz and Chipper? Flowers? Cards? A plaque, or better yet, a statue outside Turner Field? Anything? In September 1991, the No. 1 song in America was "I Adore Mi Amor" by Color Me Badd (yes, with two d's), an embarrassment of a boy band featuring some of the most regrettable facial hair in the history of Western civilization. This week, the No. 1 song in America is "Promiscuous" by Nelly Furtado, a Canadian songstress four out of five cloistered monks agree is a hot, smokin' babe with better than average pipes. I tell you this, my friends I point out this progress, this evolution if you will, this crawling out of the dark recesses of our ignorance and into the bright light of artistry and of U.S.-Canadian economic diplomacy, because it hints at and gives us a glimmer of understanding, because it is some crude but telling measure of exactly how long it has been since the Braves last missed the playoffs. Admire them, my friends. Respect them. And by the way, I hear candlesticks make a nice gift. (9) Would I trade for Bobby Abreu? In a heartbeat. The only thing more trumped up than the All-Star Home Run Derby itself is this theory flying around that Abreu isn't a good player anymore because he won the damn thing last summer. We're talking about a guy with a plus-.400 OBP, slugging in the .470s, who's on pace to steal 30-odd bases, hit a boatload of doubles and score and drive in more than 100 runs. Expect the Dodgers, Red Sox and Yanks to make serious plays, and expect him to be worth it. (10) Will Ozzie Guillen lose his job because of something he says? #!$% no. Eric Neel is a columnist for ESPN.com and Page 2. Sound off to Page 2 here.