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The Diamondbacks’ Cowardly Stupidity, and Kirk Gibson’s Vigilante Justice

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Kirk Gibson rounds the bases after hitting a walk-off homer in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. (Getty Images)

Kirk Gibson rounds the bases after his homer won Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. (Getty Images)

There are probably more famous home runs than the one that ended Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, but you’d only need a few of the digits on Kirk Gibson’s celebratory raised fist to count them.

Gibson won the ’88 NL MVP – somehow – but his pinch-hit two-run homer off Dennis Eckersley, which came as he was battling injuries to his hamstring and knee along with a stomach virus, made him a legend.

It was a narrative that was easy to love. The limping, battered star, down to his last strike and his team’s last out, taking the future Hall of Fame closer deep on the biggest October stage possible. Couldn’t get any bigger. Couldn’t get any better. Gibson, for at least that one moment that’s etched above almost all others in baseball lore, was a superhero.

In 2014, he’s a jackass. Just one of a few at the head of the snake in what’s become a truly pathetic Diamondbacks organization.

The steely-eyed glare of revenge. (AZCentral.com)

The steely-eyed glare of revenge. (AZCentral.com)

Call Gibson what you want – a heel, a meathead, a Neanderthal. The most accurate descriptor is almost certainly vigilante, since there’s apparently one thing that matters to Ol’ Gibby and the despicable club for which he manages: doling out justice for perceived slights and following baseball’s idiotic, hilariously anachronistic code.

Let’s run down the crown jewel of Gibson’s buffoonery, an encyclopedia of acts which – unlike his iconic homer’s place in history – require each finger on both hands of every child in an above average-sized middle school to properly document.

The scene of his latest crime was Phoenix’s Chase Field, spread out over three days last weekend but all stemming from the bottom of the ninth inning Friday. The Pirates, trailing 4-1 through seven innings, scored three runs in the eight and five in the ninth, allowing manager Clint Hurdle to eschew using closer Mark Melancon in favor of human batting practice machine Ernesto Frieri.

Frieri, you must understand, has no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand. That’s what led to the Los Angeles Angels – owners of baseball’s second-best record – giving up on him and shipping him to Pittsburgh for fellow relief cast-off Jason Grilli just a month earlier despite his propensity for being able to strike people out. Problem is, if you’re not whiffing against Frieri, odds are you’re depositing a ball somewhere between the outfield fence and three zip codes away. As of this writing, there were 1,035 pitchers over the past three seasons to log at least 40 innings. And 1,034 of them gave up fewer homers per nine innings than Frieri’s 2.38 in 2014.

"You know that pitch you throw that always winds up in the seats? Don't throw that one." (AP)

“You know that pitch that always winds up in the seats? Don’t throw that one.” (AP)

So it came as no surprise that Frieri, trying to establish the inside part of the plate against Paul Goldschmidt – a man with more homers since the start of 2013 than any player in the National League – would wind up plunking Goldschmidt on his hand. Not intentional in the slightest, simply a guy who struggles with his control trying to back a very good power hitter off the plate a bit.

Gibson now makes his living sitting in the Diamondbacks’ dugout looking for people to fight, which is a pastime that looks more and more appealing with every mounting loss during a 162-game baseball season. And he wasn’t happy with Frieri, nor was first-base coach Dave McKay, who barked at Pirates catcher Russell Martin at the end of Pittsburgh’s 9-4 win as Martin tried to explain that the pitch lacked any sort of intent.

Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero was also enraged, but the one player on that side who seemed to have a good handle of the situation was the man who got hit. “The guy’s trying to get outs,” Goldschmidt said. “What do you want him to do, throw it down the middle? They pitch inside as a team. We do too. We want our pitchers to be able to pitch inside. Obviously you don’t want to see anyone get hurt.

“It’s part of the game, being hit. I’m going to stay positive and think it’ll be OK.”

Unfortunately for Goldschmidt, it wasn’t. Arizona found out Saturday that its first baseman, who finished second in last season’s NL MVP voting, had a broken bone and was out for the season.

“The guy’s trying to get outs,” Goldschmidt said. “What do you want him to do, throw it down the middle?”

That diagnosis, however, had nothing to do with what happened Saturday. Ol’ Gibby and his dunce of a boss, general manager Kevin Towers, believe in an eye for an eye. “You hit our best guy, we hit yours!” “Baseball’s code must be upheld!” Whether Goldschmidt grew a sixth finger from Frieri’s stinger or had his entire left arm explode into a million pieces, the response was going to be the same.

Why do we know this for certain? Only because Towers said EXACTLY that in October.

“Not that I don’t take any of our guys from a lesser standpoint, but if Goldy’s getting hit, it’s an eye for an eye, somebody’s going down or somebody’s going to get jackknifed.”

"Sure, I'll admit that I condone violence. How many quotes do you need?" (Getty)

“Sure, I’ll admit that I condone violence. How many quotes do you need?” (Getty)

So we have a general manager of a Major League Baseball team on record that his entire organizational philosophy stems around retaliation, and he may intend to do so by luring them into a large vehicle with an attached trailer.

Only in this case, that retaliation didn’t happen right away. Reigning NL MVP Andrew McCutchen walked in the first inning Saturday, grounded out in the third, had an infield single in the sixth and another in the eighth before stepping to the plate in the ninth with the Pirates up 5-1. Gibson was long gone by this point, ejected after the second inning for excessively disputing a replay review. But hitting the showers early never is a reason for a manager to not convey his message. He wanted to avenge Goldschmidt.

And he did in the most cowardly way possible. Rather than going after McCutchen in the first inning of a scoreless game – which still would have been knuckleheadness of the highest order, but at least in line with baseball’s idiotic “code” – the Diamondbacks hit him down four runs in the ninth, with the game all but settled, and on a 2-0 pitch. McCutchen had a good idea when he stepped in earlier that he might wear one, but there’s no bracing for a beanball to the back after seeing two balls away from the strike zone.

That looks like it may hurt. (AZCentral.com)

That looks like it may hurt. (AZCentral.com)

“It got away,” was Gibson’s retort from the clubhouse afterward, three words that might as well wind up in quotes on his tombstone. They’re the same ones he said when Ian Kennedy nearly decapitated Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke last June, moments that made the Dodgers’ decision to jump in the Chase Field pool to celebrate their NL West title that September even sweeter.

They’re the same words Gibson muttered on May 17, the date he chose to have reliever Evan Marshall throw at Ryan Braun. Sure, two Diamondbacks had been hit earlier by Kyle Lohse, but Gibson also happened to be wildly critical of Braun’s two positive PED tests, the first of which – surprise! – was revealed shortly after the Brewers knocked the Diamondbacks out in a 2011 division series. So Braun got hit in a game Arizona led by two runs in the 7th inning and, just like with the McCutchen incident, the HBP loaded the bases. Who needs the intentional walk when you can bean someone with a baseball at 95 mph?!? That one, of course, became even more moronic when Jonathan Lucroy hit a grand slam on the very next pitch.

But Braun and McCutchen aren’t the only superstars to have felt the Diamondbacks’ petulant wrath. In March, Rockies minor leaguer Tommy Kahnle hit Mark Trumbo in the back with a fastball during a spring training game. For anyone to think this was intentional would be absurd for exactly two reasons: 1) Kahnle was trying to make the major league club, which you generally don’t do by hitting folks, and 2) Trumbo makes an out more than 70 percent of the time, making him, in theory, an easy out to get.

No matter. The Diamondbacks weren’t going to take it. Wade Miley responded by throwing at the perpetually injured Troy Tulowitzki, hitting him in the calf.

Lest you think Arizona’s culture of horseshit is limited to Gibson and Towers, one of baseball’s legendary managers is here to assure you that’s not the case. Tony La Russa, who has the title of chief baseball officer for the NL’s 13th-best team, came to his club’s defense Tuesday in the most asinine way possible: by condemning the inside pitch.

"You can only throw the ball between my left hand and my right hand." (AZCentral.com)

“You can only throw the ball between my left hand and my right hand.” (AZCentral.com)

La Russa points to the fact that the Pirates have hit more batters than anyone in the majors, which deserves a bit of context. Nearly a third of those 61 have come from sinker-baller Charlie Morton, and a majority of Morton’s have come on a curveball that can seemingly dip and dive like an errant John Daly drive upon leaving his hand. I can assure you that Charlie Morton is not throwing at people, and that Charlie Morton is not hurting the folks he hits with a curve that average 78 mph.

(This is not to say the Pirates are completely above throwing at people. Justin Wilson was rightfully ejected after hitting Dodgers shortstop Justin Turner on July 22, one inning after Jamey Wright plunked McCutchen in the shoulder. It was stupid, Hurdle also got tossed, and Adrian Gonzalez hit a two-run homer immediately after. Winning the game > machismo, always and forever.)

But not 24 hours after La Russa railed on throwing high and inside, his GM immediately contradicted him. “If you don’t pitch inside effectively, you’re going to have poor results,” Towers told 98.7 FM in Phoenix while also claiming that the Diamondbacks “are not a dirty organization at all.”

He wasn’t done spewing stupidity.

“With social media and what happens nowadays – 20 years ago, this wouldn’t be a story,” he said. “Now, it blows like wildfire and it goes crazy.

“But I think the one thing we all need to remember is baseball is a dangerous game. I think a lot of people think it’s vanilla. I mean, the game can be very dangerous and I think we need to remind ourselves that guys are throwing the ball 95 and 96 miles per hour across the plate and guys are leaning over the plate, guys are going to get hit and it can be very, very dangerous.”

It’s a story because the coverage of the sport that has made you a very rich man is now vast enough that dolts like yourself have to be held accountable, Kev. Baseball is a petting zoo compared to the shark tanks of terror known as football and hockey, where concussions are happening at a far-too frequent rate due to nothing more than simply playing the game. No one is getting a serious injury in baseball by just stepping into the batter’s box unless the guy in charge of throwing the baseball is told to use it as a weapon.

The coda to all of this, of course, is that McCutchen exited Sunday’s game with an injury that on Tuesday was revealed to be an avulsion fracture of the 11th rib. And guess where the 11th rib just so happens to be located?

rib cage

cutch

It’s unclear how long McCutchen will miss and how much the Pirates’ playoff chances may suffer as a result, but that’s not the point here. It doesn’t matter if he was perfectly fine even after being pegged in the back due to a sick need to stick to a ridiculously antiquated code.

What’s perfectly clear is that Gibson, Towers and La Russa can’t be allowed to continue playing Batman to police what they believe is a rogues gallery of pitchers, managers and superstars whom they feel must pay for their “misdeeds.” Let Major League Baseball play the role of judge, jury and executioner in meting out punishment.

It can start by hitting everyone associated with the Diamondbacks’ clown show as hard as they chose to hit McCutchen.

Eye for an eye.

Optimism: The Unlikely Tale of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates

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It's about time PNC Park has something to get excited about. (USA Today Sports)

It’s about time PNC Park has something to get excited about. (USA Today Sports)

“Are you starting to get excited about the Pirates?”

That question started coming, from various friends, family and co-workers, in early June. I wasn’t surprised, because I’d heard it before.

At the 2011 All-Star break, the Pirates were 47-43, a game out of first place in the NL Central. Was I excited? Sure. When your team hasn’t been relevant since before the Internet was a thing, you tend to get fired up just by looking in a newspaper and seeing “Pittsburgh” in the standings agate anywhere above last place.

At the 2012 All-Star break, the Pirates were 48-37, a game ahead of Cincinnati atop the division. Was I excited? Sure. When your team has the worst second-half winning percentage in the National League the year before, collapsing in its attempt to be relevant for the first time since before the Internet was a thing, and then picks itself up off the mat the next year, you tend to get enthused.

So here we are, just days removed from the 2013 All-Star break. The Pirates are 57-39, two games back of St. Louis in the Central. But the Cardinals are the only team they’re trailing. They have the second-best record in the NL – and the third-best in baseball – despite having a pitching staff that’s used 11 starters and a lineup that has more terrifying hazards than your average Links golf course.

But this whole second-half swoon wasn’t exclusive to 2011. The 2012 Bucs’ high-water mark was 63-47, on August 8. From there? 16-36, the worst record in the National League, and one that prevented them from the club’s first .500 finish since 1992.

So as we sit here, on July 22, with the Pirates three games into a critical 15-game stretch that includes 12 against Cincinnati, Washington and St. Louis – the very clubs they’re chasing or trying to run from. Am I still optimistic?

You’re damn right I am.

The Pedro Alvarez mantra: See ball. Hit ball far. Or strike out. (AP)

The Pedro Alvarez mantra: See ball. Hit ball far. Or strike out. (AP)

That’s a far cry from how I would have described my general mindset about this team as recently as 365 days ago. For years, it was all too easy to climb all over every aspect of the organization, from the ownership (downtrodden under Kevin McClatchy) to the general managers (Dave Littlefield’s incompetence deserves its own museum) to the leaders on the field (was John Russell a real person?) to the players (J.J. Furmaniak, Chance Sanford, Steve Bieser, John Raynor and Dusty Brown aren’t insurance salesmen. They all had at least a venti double latte with the Pirates, though they were probably selling insurance within 48 hours of their last miserable at-bats in Pittsburgh.).

That’s not to say this current bunch isn’t without its offensive warts. There’s a .310 on-base percentage that’s 23rd in baseball, a 25.0 percent swing-and-miss rate that’s only better than two teams, and a .225 average with runners in scoring position that’s dead last. And oh, by the way, have you met Brandon Inge, Clint Barmes, Josh Harrison and Michael McKenry? That’s essentially 80 percent of the team’s bench, and they each have an OPS about the size of a slightly overweight NFL offensive lineman.

I’ve been hesitant to write a column about this team, impressive as it’s played, but even if there’s a third straight collapse in the Pirates’ future, it’s hard NOT to be positive at this point about the organization’s future. Andrew McCutchen is under team control through 2018 at less than $10 million a year over the life of the deal, which was completed prior to his MVP-caliber 2012 season. Imagine if a movie studio had been able to lock up Jennifer Lawrence for the next half-decade prior to The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook being released. That’s essentially what the Pirates have in McCutchen.

McCutchen is the star, but the major league cast around him – barren as recently as the beginning of last season – is on a serious upswing. Pedro Alvarez still strikes out a ton, but he’s homering once every 13 or so at-bats. That’s better than everyone but Chris Davis, Raul Ibanez and Miguel Cabrera, and by Pirates standards, puts him in Ralph Kiner/Willie Stargell territory. He’s still under team control through 2016. Gerrit Cole, the top pick in the 2011 draft, is seven starts into his career, and while there’s much to work on, he possesses a 100 mph fastball – something few, if any, Pirates pitchers ever have. Get that secondary stuff working and he’s a No. 1 starter. Starling Marte, thought of by plenty of high-profile baseball people as someone whose plate discipline would prevent him from ever being more than a modest contributor, has 38 extra-base hits, has stolen 28 bases and is one of the better defensive outfielders in baseball.

The Pirates are spending money on right fielders only to keep the seat warm for Gregory Polanco. (Pittsburgh Sports Report)

The Pirates are spending money on right fielders only to keep the seat warm for Gregory Polanco. (Pittsburgh Sports Report)

More help is on the way. The Pirates’ farm system, ranked 21st by ESPN’s Keith Law as recently as 2011, was called the best in the majors in early June by a longtime scout speaking with Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan. Depending on whose rankings you go by these days, Pittsburgh now has as many as four of baseball’s top 50 prospects – with its two top-15 picks in the first round of this year’s draft (Austin Meadows and Reese McGuire) yet to be factored in. The two best, right-hander Jameson Taillon and right fielder Gregory Polanco, are top-20 prospects in the entire minor leagues and could be calling PNC Park home by next summer.

“It’s the Pirates,” a longtime scout told Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan of baseball’s best farm system. “And I’m not sure it’s close.”

Barring some massive mismanagement and/or horrendous luck – both of which are unfortunately second-nature to this organization – the Pirates should be well-positioned to contend for the rest of this decade.

But a lot that’s supposed to go right tends to go wrong in baseball. Contention, even in the days of two wild-card teams, isn’t guaranteed – even if you build what on paper looks like the best team the Miami Marlins don’t want to pay for or feature Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton on the marquee.

So why can’t 2013 be the year the Pirates not only wipe out their streak of losing seasons but also make the playoffs? Here are four reasons why they will.

1.) They can essentially get away with being the Colorado Rockies

But the Rockies are nothing more than an afterthought in the NL playoff race, you’re saying. They’re 48-51, basically the definition of mediocrity. The Rockies have a winning percentage of .485. Let’s say the Pirates, clearly a better team than Colorado, win at a .485 clip the rest of the way even after playing essentially .600 baseball through nearly 100 games. That still puts them at 89 wins. In seven of the last eight seasons – 2010 is the exception – 89 wins would have been enough to earn the Pirates a playoff spot in the NL, assuming we were operating under a two wild-card format.

2.) Their schedule is quite manageable

The Pirates have 66 games left. Forty of those are against teams below .500. The Reds have 35 left against losing clubs, the Cardinals 31. If Pittsburgh wants to have a shot at catching (presumably) St. Louis for the division, though, it will almost certainly need to have a lead by the time the teams’ season series ends Sept. 8. The Cardinals’ last NINETEEN GAMES are against teams currently sporting losing records. Their slate for the next six weeks is brutal.

But really, if the Pirates are going to have a shot at the division, it’ll be because they beat St. Louis head to head. Starting Monday, 14 of the Bucs’ next 39 games are against the Cardinals.

Jeff Locke's season has been a bit hard to explain. (USA Today Sports)

Jeff Locke’s season has been a bit hard to explain. (USA Today Sports)

3.) Regression? How about progression?

Anytime you hear most folks talk about the Pirates’ stunning first half, you’re reminded how ripe they are for regression. Example No. 1: “Jeff Locke cannot possibly continue to pitch this well.” Absolutely true. His .226 opponents’ batting average on balls in play is on pace to be the NL’s lowest since Tom Browning and Pascual Perez – in 1988. Example No. 2: “The bullpen can’t keep up their good fortune when it comes to stranding runners.” Almost certainly true as well. Pirates pitchers are allowing only 19.6 of inherited runners to score, a figure that would be baseball’s third-best since that data started being collected in 1974. Locke is not Clayton Kershaw, and the Pirates’ bullpen is not the infallible group it’s almost always been through 96 games.

But Locke also doesn’t suck, despite some opinions to the contrary. What if he’s Ted Lilly, who had similar SO/9, BB/9 and swing-and-miss percentages during some of his prime years – which, by the way, were pretty good? I’ll take that as the presumed third starter on a potential playoff team.

The bullpen’s BABIP is .255, easily the best in the league, but why can’t this team be the 2012 A’s, who led the league with a .253 BABIP? Oakland rode a talented but journeyman closer (Grant Balfour, not unlike Jason Grilli) and a stud setup guy (Ryan Cook, not unlike Mark Melancon) to a 94-68 record and a division title.

What did the A’s hit last year? .238, behind the Pirates’ .243 average so far in 2013. That bunch did hit .265 with runners in scoring position, which has a lot more to do with luck than being clutch when you’re talking about teams that are virtually the same otherwise. I’m 99% sure the Pirates are going to finish the year hitting better than .225 with runners in scoring position, but if they don’t? The 2011 Rays hit .224 with men on second and third, and they made the playoffs.

And this is as good of a reason as any as to why the Pirates might even have a decent shot to catch the Cardinals. St. Louis is hitting .338 (!!!) with runners in scoring position. Baseball’s previous best team in such situations hit .311. It’s a full FIFTY points higher than the next-best team in 2013. What are the Cardinals hitting when there’s either a man on first or the bases are empty? .256!

If you’re not fully satisfied with “clutch” being little more than a fluke, maybe a little late-game info will help. There’s a close-and-late stat that’s defined as at-bats that occur in the seventh inning or later in a game tied, within one run or with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck. The Pirates’ .260 close-and-late average is baseball’s sixth-best. The Cards’ .230 average is 21st. St. Louis is a better offensive team than Pittsburgh – no argument here. But the extent to which the Cardinals’ ability to come through in key situations is being vastly overblown, and that gap figures to be considerably closer 10 weeks from now. Possibly thanks, in some part to ….

4.) A move or moves that could be made

We’re just over a week away from the trading deadline, and Neal Huntington almost certainly figures to upgrade the Pirates’ offense in some way. Right field is the biggest need, as the Pirates’ .656 OPS from that position is worse than anyone’s but Houston. (St. Louis leads the majors with a .914 OPS from right.)

Brandon Inge in spring training, perfecting the look Pirate fans would share during every Inge plate appearance. (USA Today Sports)

Brandon Inge in spring training, perfecting the look Pirate fans would share during every Inge plate appearance. (USA Today Sports)

Huntington probably isn’t going to make a big splash – he isn’t getting Giancarlo Stanton, and potential best-case-scenario Alex Rios likely is only a modest upgrade –

but the trickle-down effect could be significant. This team, as constructed on July 22, has a bench that features Inge, Harrison, McKenry, Travis Snider and whichever part of the Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez/Jose Tabata 1B/RF platoon isn’t playing.

A month from now, there’s a possibility only Jones/Sanchez/Tabata are even on the roster. Tony Sanchez could replace McKenry as the backup catcher. Inge and Harrison will be long gone. Snider might be dead weight once a trade is made. Clint Barmes will be back there. Strengthening the bench, for a team that plans on being involved in quite a few one-run games, is of paramount importance.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Will this fist pump be happening in October? (AP)

Will this fist pump be happening in October? (AP)

Now, a one-tiered rebuttal for why this team will not make the playoffs.

1.) OHMYGODTHELASTTWENTYYEARSTHISTEAMISCURSED!&*!&#

There’s a long, long LONG way to go. Maybe the regression will outweigh the progression. Maybe Alvarez goes in a two-month slump. Maybe McCutchen’s second-half tear never quite materializes. Maybe people will be reflecting on the season in October, thinking “Grilli and Melancon were All-Stars?!?” Maybe Huntington fails to provide an upgrade at the deadline, or god forbid, ships out Taillon or Polanco for a two-month rental.

That’s a lot of maybes. But there are 66 games to go. That’s a number that’s usually meant good things for this city.

The Mirage of Opening Day

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English: Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay.

Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay. (Wikipedia)

“Hope springs eternal on Opening Day!”

You’d think this was the introduction to the Astros’ inaugural AL broadcast Sunday night as they brace for their third straight 100-loss season, but it happened to be a platitude from the pipes of Michael Kay.

You might recognize Kay as the Yankees’ play-by-play announcer for the YES Network since 2002, meaning he’s seen four 100-win seasons, five 95-win seasons, one 94-win season and one nearly apoplectic 89-win season back in 2008 that nearly caused the world to tilt off its axis.

Considering the team that employs him has 1,450 career home runs on the disabled list, with timeframes ranging from soon (Derek Jeter) to long enough to twice more be linked to steroids (Alex Rodriguez), perhaps Kay was simply preparing the Bronx for the possibility of – gasp! – the franchise’s first losing season since 1992. After all, that opening day lineup included Ben Francisco, Jayson Nix, Plenty O’Whiffs and Francisco Cervelli, at least three of whom are real baseball players.

That’s the plight of Yankees fans –knowing their team is not definitively the best team in their division for one of the only times in the past 21 years.

While the Yankees haven’t had a losing season since ’92, the Pirates – as it’s been rather well-documented – haven’t had a winning season in that exact same stretch.

If opening day around baseball is supposed to signal new hope and the first signs of spring around the majors, for Pirates fans it’s like opening Christmas presents with the knowledge your father will be laid off by June. There’s some excitement and optimism early on – what will Andrew McCutchen do for an encore? When will Gerrit Cole arrive in the majors? Will Jalapeno Hannah win the Pierogi Race more or less often than Sauerkraut Saul? – but it’s all false optimism amid a vicious cycle, knowing that by September they’ll almost certainly be rendered irrelevant once again.

The pomp and circumstance and – at least in everywhere but Tampa – the chance to sort of be outside makes baseball’s opening day unique, but where are we by the second game of that first series? The crowds of 40,000-plus that were packing places like Kansas City, Seattle, Cleveland and Oakland are down to 15,000 or so by game No. 2. Attendance picks up in the summer when the sun is shining and the beer is flowing, but more so than any other sport that’s because attending a baseball game is an event. The product on the field matters in the grand scheme of contention, but any franchise with a decent marketing department, a stadium that’s not falling down and enough fireworks and bobblehead nights can draw 2 million fans over the course of 82 games.

Even for bad NBA teams, a season opener generally offers the chance to see a top draft pick make his debut in a league that’s defined by star power. Eleven of the last 12 NHL No. 1 picks have been on the ice at the first opportunity with their new club. NFL openers practically feel like playoff games themselves considering the significance of every win in a 16-game season, but there’s hope even for the also-rans. For 10 straight seasons, an NFL team that finished in last place the previous year went on to win their division the following fall.

That’s happened the last two seasons in baseball – the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2012 Orioles – but those weren’t cases of a bevy of star prospects hitting the big stage and fulfilling their potential. Arizona was a statistically mediocre team that was below .500 until late May and took advantage of a weak division. Baltimore had a run differential roughly equivalent to a .500 team that wound up riding some amazing luck in one-run games to a 93-69 finish.

orioles

“A baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint,” Michael Kay probably said at some point during the Yankees’ clunker of a season debut against the Red Sox.  In this case, he’d actually be right.

The season’s not going anywhere. There’s no shame in keeping that foam finger in the closet until you have 60 games or so worth of evidence to find out if your team is a legitimate contender or if its home games will exist solely to sell beer and to drown the sorrows of a 104-year-old drought.

After the last 20 seasons, I already have a pretty good idea.

mccutchen

Wait, that’s not right.

pirates sad

There it is.