The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Weekend that Was

This past weekend’s slate of baseball games was more hyped than any other mid-April weekend in recent memory. Red Sox – Yankees headlined the weekend (with that series set to come to a conclusion with a Patriots’ Day morning matchup today). In addition, two West Coast powers – the Angels and Athletics squared off, with the A’s sending their triumvirate of aces to the mound (to mixed results).

There was another big West Coast series between two teams that started out their rivalry on the other coast. Giants versus Dodgers is always an intense series, regardless of what the standings say. While the Dodgers got the best of the series this weekend, Barry Bonds had a weekend to remember. The numbers he’s putting up right now are completely ridiculous. Aaron Gleeman had a great post on “Pace Fors” going into the weekend. Then Bonds went off and hit four home runs in three games, while hardly getting pitched to – including one blast to right centerfield on a wicked 3-1 curveball from Jeff Weaver yesterday.

The Cubs and Reds also surprisingly put together a great series all weekend. It started on Friday when both managers were ejected from a game that the Cubs (much to my chagrin) ultimately came back to win in extra innings. Cubs fans littered the field with beer cups and other debris following Manager Dusty Baker’s ejection. On Saturday, Kerry Wood was pitching a gem and Dusty left him in the game in the 9th. Unfortunately for the Cubs, Wood tired and may have been squeezed on a few calls, resulting in a walk that ended up having a big impact on the game. Wood spewed some heated words towards the home plate umpire and it wasn’t quite clear who was being held back from whom for a moment. Eventually Dusty lifted Wood from the game, but on his way back to the dugout, Wood exchanged words with the home plate umpire and was, somewhat unnecessarily, ejected from the game. Cub fans took this as reason to litter the field with beer cups and debris. The Reds went on to win that game to even the series. Yesterday in the rubber match, Reds catcher Jason LaRue looked much more like me than Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate. A few balls in the dirt got past him and a belt high swinging strike whiffed at by Derrek Lee completely eluded LaRue and could have cost the Reds the game. Greg Maddux was again roughed up for the Cubs and it was so windy at Wrigley that even Gold-glove caliber outfielders like Ken Griffey Jr. looked foolish on a fly ball or two. Although the game was not interrupted yesterday to remove debris from the field, at least one fan did attempt to shower Griffey with a cold one when he went back on a fly ball to center (fortunately for Ken, it looked like the beer missed him – on a random note though, why are Griffey’s new Nikes blue? Not exactly a Reds color. Seems random to me – maybe he was supposed to be traded to the Royals or Mariners by now).

I was also happy to see this weekend that the White Sox took two of three games from the Devil Rays in Tampa. Actually, I was only mildly pleased with this. Winning the series – any series – is good, but a sweep against Tampa would have been better and was almost expected. Loiaza looked good yesterday though, so that’s encouraging.

What was less encouraging over the weekend was the Marlins performance versus the Braves. While over the years the Marlins have usually performed well against the Braves in head-to-head matchups, they have never finished ahead of the Braves in the standings. After starting out the season 8 – 1, “fans” in Miami were starting to feel that this year might be the year. But the Braves swept the Marlins and in all likelihood killed the que of fans waiting to buy playoff tickets in Miami – or maybe those were just people who were waiting for the much anticipated, but to date only rumored, second distribution of replica world championship rings at the Pro.

Of the three losses, yesterday’s extra inning loss was far and away the most difficult to take. While the Fish’s bats were quiet all weekend, they still had a chance to win yesterday’s game until Miguel Cabrera inexplicably lost a ball in the sun. Cabrera was not wearing sunglasses and he said after the game that he never does because he finds them uncomfortable. I wish that a reporter in the locker room had followed up that response with a question about what looking directly into the sun without sunglasses on, like Cabrera did in the 10th yesterday feels like. I would suspect it’s slightly worse than uncomfortable. Particularly when the lost fly ball rolls up to your feet. Hopefully the good people at Oakley will talk Cabrera into an endorsement deal right away. It’s not exactly Oakley’s style, but you could work up some pretty funny advertising around the lost fly ball in the sun.

Overall what caught up with the Marlins this weekend was a lack of hitting. Since the Fish have a team ERA of less than 2, it went under the radar for the first week plus that the Marlins haven’t really hit well this year. Truth be told, they’re not going to hit as well this year as they did last year. Derrek Lee and Ivan Rodriguez are gone. Mike Lowell likely had a career year – despite the injuries. Juan Pierre, as much as I like and respect him, probably played a little over his head. But at the same time the slump that Pierre is in is just that, a slump, he’ll break out of it and when he does, the Marlins will be a different team. With Pierre on the bases, opposing pitchers have to be more aware of him than an average base runner and that likely means better pitches for Castillo, Cabrera, etc to hit.

Unfortunately though for Marlins fans, I think Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine may be done. Hopefully in a few months I’ll be proven wrong and this will turn out to be just another of Conine’s traditionally slow starts, but this year I’m not so sure. Conine looks old and slow in the field and at the plate. A platoon with Nunez may not be such a bad thing at this point. Nunez was hot all spring and appears to be on the road to becoming a malcontent if he’s left on the bench. Not that I advocate playing someone just because he’s a whiner, quite the opposite actually, but it’s going to be hard to develop him on the bench and they can’t send him to the minors without risking losing him through waivers either.

Still though, a month ago if you’d told me that the Marlins would be in first place after twelve games with an 8-4 record I would not have believed you, particularly if you’d told me that Mike Lowell would be tied for the team lead in stolen bases and that Juan Pierre would have none. All in all, a great start to the year for the Fish.


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