11th and Washington

11th and Washington: April 2005

Friday, April 29, 2005

Three duels, one night

The last time two 300-game winners took the mound to start in the same game was June 28, 1986, when Phil Niekro and Cleveland visited the Angels and Don Sutton. Neither starter got the decision in the 9-3 California (as they were called then) victory. Niekro went 6.1 innings, allowing 10 hits, three earned runs while walking seven and striking out four. Sutton lasted seven, but gave up three runs on seven hits (two of them homers) with no walks and six Ks.

The last time it happened in the National League was 1892, when Tim Keefe and Pud Galvin met for the fourth time in the past three seasons, and second time in a month, on July 21. Keefe's Phillies won that game 2-0 over Galvin's Browns after losing a July 4 meeting 9-2 in the first game of a doubleheader.

It happens tonight in Houston, when Greg Maddux takes his 305 victories up against Roger Clemens' 328. With 14 wins this season, Clemens will tie Keefe's 342 for eighth on the all-time list. Galvin finished with 364, in fifth place. Tonight's pitchers also have 11 Cy Young awards between them; where once they were tied at four each, Clemens now has three more than his opponent tonight, having won one every three years since 1998 (then 2001 and 2004).

There's another Cy Young matchup in the Bronx, where Roy Halladay and Randy Johnson are scheduled to go if the rain holds off. And in what would seem like a Cy Young matchup, had either of them won it in Oakland, former teammates Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson will pitch to one another when the Cardinals play in Atlanta. Both finished second, in consecutive years; Mulder in 2001 to Clemens and Hudson in 2000 to Pedro Martinez. This is the reason I have the Extra Innings package on digital cable. Alas, I have a friend's birthday party in New York tonight. The game I really want to see is in Houston, but so long as they play, I'll at least be assured of the Evil Empire vs. the team from the Great White North at the bar.

I'm such a good friend. Well, he is too -- $20 for a two-hour open bar, plus appetizers.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

As seen on the radio

I don't often read in bed anymore, another lost pastime swallowed up into the sensory overload brought on by digital cable and sleep timers on the TV. But tonight, as I spread out in the center of our queen-size bed, my fiancee away for the night, I began my weekly ritual wherein I meander, page-by-page, through the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.

Just past the letters to the editor and the contributors page came Steve Rushin's column, which, once I finished reading, made me put the magazine down and give in to yet another diversion -- the computer in my lap, my lap still in bed. I couldn't put this off until morning. If XM Satellite Radio hasn't already begun thinking of how to use this column in advertising its product, it will soon. I was debating the purchase myself, strictly on the strength of having 15 baseball games a day at my earlobes, but I hesitated when consulting the Sunday circulars and discovering the awful truth about such technology these days: You can't have it all. Baseball is on XM, but the NFL is on Sirius. XM has CNN, MSNBC and the Weather Channel, but Sirius has ESPN and Notre Dame sports. And, sadly, XM has right-wing blowhards and football and basketball from the ACC, Pac 10 and Big Ten. But to read Rushin's experiences from one week of surfing the satellites pretty much sold me. In fact, I picked up my TV remote and turned the Indians-Angels game I was watching (with my MLB Extra Innings package) to the Dodgers-Padres matchup to hear Vin Scully tell me Mark Sweeney's degree from the University of Maine.

Clearly, though Rushin didn't tune into a Pirates game, or he might not have been misled by Dan Gladden on a Twins broadcast. For it was in Pittsburgh along the Allegheny that the aluminum beer bottle was developed and marketed, not the Twin Cities of the Mississippi.

But maybe he did and just got confused. If I had 15 ballgames per day, at least five days a week, at my disposal, I might mix up some of the minutiae too.

In a week or so, I'll probably know.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Orioles-Nationals gate comparison No. 3

Yesterday in New Jersey, there was a promotion at the ballpark.

It was August in April day at Lakewood's FirstEnergy Park. I went to the 11 a.m. game against the Hagerstown Suns (how appropriate) in near-90-degree weather and was glad to put the sunscreen on. Even on an April Humpday, Lakewood drew 4,010 fans. (Unfortunately, the New Jersey team's four-year stranglehold on South Atlantic League attendance titles is in jeopardy with the long-needed new ballpark in Greensboro outdrawing the BlueClaws by 400 fans a game. Though once we get into summer at the Jersey Shore, that could change. Greensboro, though, doesn't have as much lawn seating, or as attractive GA locations as Lakewood.)

So maybe I'll have two sets of attendance wars to follow this summer.

Meanwhile, down around the Beltway...

Baltimore vs. Boston: 36,478 (the Red Sox will bring crowds)
Washington vs. Atlanta: 27,374

Baltimore vs. Boston: 40,419
Washington vs. Atlanta: 30,728 (this for a day game)

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Orioles-Nationals gate comparison No. 2

Frank Robinson should just worry about getting his team ready to play, not about what highlights ESPN is showing after the game.

Tonight they'll show a second straight loss for the Nationals, and also a second straight outdrawing of the Orioles. So Washington and Baltimore are now 2-2 for the higher attendance on nights both teams play at home.

Baltimore vs. Detroit: 16,301 (smallest crowd in Camden Yards history)
Washington vs. Florida: 24,003

Baltimore vs. Detroit: 18,009
Washington vs. Florida: 25,990

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Baseball in The District

Washington will be a great big-league city, and it won't be long.

It's just not quite there yet.

At roughly 7:06 p.m. on April 14, 2005, the first pitch in the first official Major League Baseball game in 34 years was thrown by Livan Hernandez of the new Washington Nationals. Leadoff hitter Craig Counsell of the Arizona Diamondbacks took the pitch, a called strike down the middle that brought a roar from the crowd.

Only the crowd was on its collective asses. The fans stood and cheered for pregame introductions, for the ceremonial first pitch by the ass of a president, and as the team took the field. And yet, the majority of the 45,000 in attendance settled into their seats as Hernandez toed the rubber and Counsell stepped into the batter's box. "The first pitch in 34 years, and they're sitting down?" I asked Matt, one of whose two season tickets I used to come to the game. I've been to the last six Mets home openers, and not once have the 55,000 fans at Shea sat down for the first pitch of a new season, even last Monday when the team and its $119 million center fielder came home from the opening road trip 1-5. The Nationals were in first place, and their fans were sitting.

After the game, Brad, who was sitting a level below us, out of sight, said that his section stood, but from what I could see, that wasn't the case in about 90 percent of the sections around RFK Stadium. I suppose Matt and I were at fault, in part, sitting down in our front-row seats of the upper deck. But I was a visitor, so I didn't see it as my place to tell the fans of Washington how to start their first season in three decades. (Clearly, I have no problem doing so after the fact.) I was also filming the one pitch with my digital camera (I have the express, written consent from Major League Baseball around here somewhere), and I wasn't in a position to have to debate sitting vs. standing with the fans behind me. To our credit, however, we were the last people to sit down. I stood long enough to make sure everyone behind me really thought about what they were doing and whether or not is was how they truly wanted to welcome baseball back to the District.

That was really my only criticism of Washington's fans, however. They were loud and enthusiastic. Quaint, almost, in the way they booed any mention of opposing players. Certainly, they're happy to have baseball back in town, but they'll have to endure three seasons of an aging, no-frills stadium until they get a new one a few blocks away. I wonder how they'll respond to a one-run deficit in the ninth in August, when they're 15 games out of first place. They jumped and rocked the place -- literally, we could feel the upper deck shaking after Vinny Castilla's home run -- when the Nats scored, but will they be the kind of crowd that cheers to fire up the team when its backs are against the wall?

They know when pitchers are throwing at hitters, though. When Castilla came up in the eighth needing just a single for the cycle, Lance Cormier drilled him with the first pitch. The umpire gave both teams a warning as Castilla walked to first, and the crowd responded with a chorus of boos generally reserved for Alex Rodriguez in Boston. The boos continued after the inning ended and Cormier walked to the dugout and again after the game as the losing pitcher was announced (see? quaint). This last one, though, begged the question, which I posed to Matt: Why boo the losing pitcher? He sucked enough to let your team win -- doesn't he get some cheers? Even the Boston fans are smart enough to realize that, what with Mariano Rivera's effectiveness against the Sox recently.

After the game, Matt, Brad and I walked back from the stadium all the way to Union Station as part of a horde of red-clad Nationals fans. The first few blocks were spent debating what action should have been taken against Cormier for his intentional beaning. Brad said he should've been tossed immediately, and I disagreed. Part of me would like to see the old style of baseball when pitchers pitched inside and used brushback pitches to reclaim the outside half of the plate and beanballs were returned when the offending pitcher -- or at least the other team's best hitter -- came up to bat. Bob Gibson would have a 4.80 ERA -- or worse -- if he had to pitch today, where one inside pitch can get you a warning from the umpire. I think, in general, baseball is too soft. Granted, Arizona manager Bob Melvin's intentions were clear when Castilla came to bat, but there have been games where the first HBP brings a warning from the ump, who then tosses the next pitcher to nip a batter with a curve ball. Despite what most fans believe, a warning does not mean an automatic ejection for the next pitcher to hit a batter. The umpire still has discretion as to whether or not he felt the pitcher was intentionally throwing at the batter. Yet sometimes, they'll still toss a hurler for grazing a guy with a curve or losing his grip on a changeup that sails up and in.

Still, I think baseball will thrive in Washington, and I expect to return for numerous games these next few summers. I should try to get there for some Mets games, at least, since Brad proposed a bet before the season began. For each Nationals win against the Mets, I pay him $3; for each Mets win, he gives me $2. At the end of the season, we expect one of us to be buying the other a beer.

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Orioles-Nationals gate comparison No. 1

So much to catch up on, but first (since it can be a short post), here's a look at the first head-to-head comparison of attendance in Baltimore and Washington when they play on the same day. Yesterday's games were played at different times, but close enough (4:30 in Baltimore, 7 p.m. in Washington).

Baltimore vs. Yankees: 48,598
Washington vs. Diamondbacks: 34,943

Baltimore vs. Yankees: 47,883
Washington vs. Diamondbacks: 35,463

Let's wait to see how things match up tomorrow through Thursday (when the Yankees aren't in Maryland) before we call bullcrap on Peter Angelos.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Orioles vs. Nationals ... at the gate

Because Orioles owner Peter Angelos and his staff continue to whine (and whine some more, and then piss off some people) about losing fans to the new Washington franchise, I've decided to take him to task. Throughout this season, I'm going to monitor the attendance of the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles. Neither team is expected to anything higher than third or fourth, at best, in their respective divisions and both have aspects intriguing enough to draw the fans to the ballparks. The Nationals are new, the first team in the nation's capital in a generation. The Orioles have star power in Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro (the first pair of 500-home-run hitters to ever play in the same lineup), Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez.

So what if Washington is 35 miles from Baltimore? A city Washington's size should have a right to a major league franchise. Granted, the histories are longer, but there have been no problems in New York, Chicago, the Bay Area or L.A. (The Dodgers haven't had a problem with the Angels until they took their city's name. They didn't even move anywhere!) While those four cities and metropolitan areas are large enough to support two franchises, there is nothing that says Angelos has the right to two cities' worth of support for one team. If anything, Baltimore-Washington should be looked at as Oakland-San Francisco.

So while there are already debates about which team to see, it remains to be seen if the Nationals severely hurt the Orioles' attendance figures this season.

So here's what we'll be looking at this season:

• Out of 81 home games for each team, 25 fall on the same day. That's 31 percent, or just about one-third of the home season.

• For the Orioles, four of those 25 overlapping dates are against the Yankees at Camden, always a big draw. They shouldn't have anything to worry about, since the ballpark will be half-full with Yankee fans anyway.

• For the Nationals, seven games involve Mets at RFK, which should be a draw. Mets fans in upstate New York (and some from downstate, too, I'm sure) often made a trip to Montreal each season, so it's no stretch to think that there will be some Mets fans heading south to D.C. for a weekend series. I'll be one of them, in fact.

• The days of the Mets games are: an April Friday-Sunday (when Tampa Bay is at Baltimore), a July Monday-Thursday (with the Red Sox at Camden on the Thursday) and a September Friday-Sunday (also with the BoSox at Baltimore). Days of the week and months of the season are important for the same reason Bud Selig always trumpets the rise in attendance for interleague games each year: they start in mid-June, right when kids are getting out of school and the weather's pretty much perfect in every city. If there is to be a decline in Orioles attendance vs. that of the Nationals, it's more likely to come in April, when D.C. has the added novelty of being new and it's just too dang cold and rainy to sit through a four-hour American League game in Baltimore.

• Back at Camden, six other games involve the defending champion Boston Red Sox, three are against the Western Division champion Angels and three more involve the A's, always an exciting, young, competitive team. So, counting the four Yankee games, that's 16 of 25 games against top competition.

• In D.C., five games feature the retooled and competitive Florida Marlins, three are against defending National League champ St. Louis and two involve 13-time NL East winners Atlanta. Including the Mets, that's 17 of 25 against the three best NL East teams and the defending league champion.

• The Orioles will play six of the games against the potentially underwhelming Tigers, Devil Rays and Indians at Camden (though the Indians could be a surprising team this year).

• The Nationals' eight remaining games involve the potentially underwhelming Diamondbacks, Pirates and Reds, though Cincinnati carries the same disclaimer as the Indians, only without as much of a chance of competing for the division because theirs is much, much tougher.

• In 2004, the Orioles filled Camden's 48,190 seats to 70.3 percent capacity in 80 home games. The team's average attendance had declined every year from 1997 (average of 45,816 per game) to 2003 (30,303) before jumping back up in 2004 (34,300). The magic number is 2.45 million for the season: In 13 years at Camden Yards, the Orioles have never been below that number.

• RFK holds some 45,000 for baseball (to Angelos' dismay).

Now here are the matchups for those common home dates for the Nationals and Orioles. Washington's opponent is listed first, followed by Baltimore's foe. The number in parentheses after each visiting team is that franchise's MLB rank in 2004 in average road attendance. The number at the end of each pairing is the Orioles' 2004 average against that opponent.

Sat. April 16 — Diamondbacks (11)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Sun. April 17 — Diamondbacks (11)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Mon. April 18 — Marlins (20)/Tigers (25); 32,207
Tue. April 19 — Marlins (20)/Tigers (25); 32,207
Wed. April 20 — Braves (16)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Thu. April 21 — Braves (16)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Fri. April 29 — Mets (14)/Devil Rays (23); 27,617
Sat. April 30 — Mets (14)/Devil Rays (23); 27,617
Sun. May 1 — Mets (14)/Devil Rays (23); 27,617
Tue. June 28 — Pirates (15)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Wed. June 29 — Pirates (15)/Yankees (1); 45,580
Thu. June 30 — Pirates (15)/Indians (26); 33,596
Thu. July 7 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Tue. Aug. 23 — Reds (10)/Angels (18); 34,652
Wed. Aug. 24 — Reds (10)/Angels (18); 34,652
Thu. Aug. 25 — Reds (10)/Angels (18); 34,652
Fri. Aug. 26 — Cardinals (13)/A's (8); 37,937
Sat. Aug. 27 — Cardinals (13)/A's (8); 37,937
Sun. Aug. 28 — Cardinals (13)/A's (8); 37,937
Mon. Sep. 5 — Marlins (20)/Blue Jays (27); 27,374
Tue. Sep. 6 — Marlins (20)/Blue Jays (27); 27,374
Wed. Sep. 7 — Marlins (20)/Blue Jays (27); 27,374
Fri. Sep. 23 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Sat. Sep. 24 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748
Sun. Sep. 25 — Mets (14)/Red Sox (5); 40,748

Two NL teams played in Baltimore last season. The Diamondbacks drew 26,603 fans per game for a Tuesday-Thursday (June 8-10) series in June. Atlanta was in for a Friday-Sunday series later that month (25-27), drawing 40,037.

Additionally, Washington gets home games against Orioles opponents Oakland (Tuesday, June 7-Thursday, June 9), Seattle (Friday, June 10-Sunday, June 12) and Toronto (Friday, June 24-Sunday, June 26).

We'll also be able to compare how each team did when it came to Baltimore in 2004, with the months and days of the week of those visits again important:

• The Red Sox (40,748 average at Baltimore in '04) were at Camden for an April Sunday (which was Opening Day) and the following Tuesday-Thursday, a July Monday and Wednesday (rainout) and an October Friday-Sunday, with a seperate-admission doubleheader on Saturday

• The Yankees (45,580) visited for a May Tuesday-Thursday, a June Tuesday-Thursday and a September Friday-Sunday.

• The Tigers were in town for a Friday-Sunday series in September.

• Tampa Bay showed up in April (Tuesday-Thursday), June (Friday and Sunday) and July (two separate games on Monday, one each Tuesday and Wednesday).

• The Indians came in May for a Friday-Sunday series.

• The Angels were also in Baltimore for a May Friday-Sunday series.

• Oakland showed up in August for a Monday-Wednesday matchup.

• The Blue Jays faced off at Camden in April (Friday-Sunday), August (Friday-Sunday) and September (Monday-Thursday, with a traditional doubleheader on Wednesday).

So there's the setup. I plan to monitor the teams' overall attendance figures, posting them either weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on how diligent I am with scrutinizing the box scores and whatnot. But for those 25 home dates the two teams have in common, I intend to post the comparison by the next afternoon.

And then, come October, we'll see whether Angelos was truly worried, or whole-heartedly trying to get every possible dollar from MLB that he could.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Mets' next stretch

In looking for a potential reason for the Mets’ 0-5 start (other than poor pitching), I consulted the schedule.

Since the lone off-day of the spring on March 21, the Mets played 12 straight days to finish the Florida exhibition schedule on April 2 against the Marlins. After that game, they flew to Washington for an exhibition against the Nationals April 3, then flew to Cincinnati for the Monday opener on April 4. They had an off day April 5, played two more in Cincinnati, then flew to Atlanta for last weekend’s series, flying to New York Sunday for Monday’s home debut.

After Tuesday’s off-day, they won’t have another break until April 28, but their schedule between now and May 5 includes 15 home games and just seven on the road, five of which are relatively easy jaunts to Philadelphia and Washington.

If this team has any dreams of contending, they'll go 15-7 in this upcoming stretch and emerge with a 17-12 record when we wake up on May 6. After these two remaining against Houston, all of the games are against NL East opponents: Florida April 15-17, at Philly 18-19, at Florida 20-21, vs. Washington 22-24, vs. Atlanta 25-27, off the 28th, at Washington April 29-May 1 and vs. Philly May 2-5.

Oh, and Al Leiter pitches at Shea on Saturday. My prediction: 4 2/3 innings, 8 hits, 7 runs, 5 walks, 3 Ks.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Opening days ...

Last week, it was Class A ...

First pitch in Lakewood, April 7, 2005

Yesterday, it was Triple-A ...

A beautiful day in Scranton, April 10, 2005

Today, it's Shea.

Thursday, it's RFK.

Lots of posts and game recaps coming up this week.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

2005 American League predictions

Oops. Didn't get my AL preview posted like I promised. Let's see if I can do this within the hour, when today's games are due to start.


1. Yankees. The first two games of the season have no influence on this choice. Really. As I said with the ALCS last year, I think Boston can do it, but I just don't know that I'll believe it until they do it. Yes, I realize that goes against part of what predicting things is all about, but I don't care. This is my column. I do, however, think we're going to see a sharp decline in the skills of at least one of these three players: Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield or Mariano Rivera. I don't know why, but something tells me that age and/or injuries will catch up with one of them this year, and we're going to see remarkably low numbers from one of them. I also think either Carl Pavano or Jaret Wright will turn out to be a questionable signing, if not downright horrible, though the latter is really only in the case of Wright. And it's Wright whom I think will be the bust much more than Pavano. Though I still have my doubts about him. And if Randy Johnson has any health issues -- his back, his knee -- and has to go on the DL, I expect the Yankees to stumble a little. If he's out for more than 15 days, it could be worse. But those are a lot of "ifs." What I do expect, on the positive side, is further improvement from Hideki Matsui. Like 35-40 homers, and maybe a starting outfield in Detroit of Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui in center and left, with Vladimir Guerrero in right. I also think Tino Martinez and Jason Giambi will combine for 40-50 homers and Tony Womack will pretty much give the Yankees what Miguel Cairo (mostly) and Enrique Wilson gave them at second last year.

2. Red Sox. Wild card. I bet this is how it will go: Boston will lose today's game at Yankee Stadium, Curt Schilling will get hit a little bit next week but settle down for the win at Fenway, and the Sox will finish two or three games behind the Yanks at the end of the season. But I would love to see this division come down to the final series in Boston. Major League Baseball, which for the first time this off-season relied solely on a computer to generate the schedule instead of some couple on Cape Cod or somewhere, got one thing right in having the Yankees and Red Sox finish the season against one another. Starting it that way is second. But on Sunday night's YES broadcast of the opener (since ESPN was blacked out in NY/NJ and probably CT and we had to suffer through Michael Kay instead of suffering through Joe Morgan), Jim Kaat -- or maybe it was Paul O'Neill, but probably Kaat -- suggested that because this rivalry has become such an event for baseball that they should space the six series out over the course of the season, one each month. I like the idea, with one exception: I think they should place twice in September. You could start the season off with them facing each other, match them up on Memorial Day weekend, do it again in mid-June (Father's Day weekend?), pit them against one another for the Fourth of July, skip August, and then reunited them over Labor Day weekend and to close the season. OK, they don't have to all line up with holidays, but why not? The Labor Day series could be pushed back a week or two if you want them to go home-and-home in six of the last nine or 12 games of the season.

Anyway, enough of that. Boston will finish a close second, if for no other reason than they've probably got the best lineup in baseball. If Schilling makes it back next week and gets through the season without any other issues, I think the pitching will come around. David Wells will bounce back in his next start against the Yanks and Matt Clement will turn things around with the help of Schilling and Fenway Park. He was 9-13 with the Cubs last year; I could see him going 13-9 this time. And look for Bronson Arroyo to emerge. Barring injury, I don't know that the Sox will have to do much at the trading deadline. They'll be looking for pitching -- either the best available starter because someone (Wakefield? Clement? Wells?) will indeed struggle, despite what I just said because those things happen, or an arm or two to shore up the bullpen. But I do see a chance that Bill Mueller or Mark Bellhorn won't be the starters at third or second, respectively, come August, and we may see a trade for an Aubrey Huff or a Bret Boone.

3. Orioles. Is this the easiest division to predict? Well, either this or the AL West. If nothing else, you know it's NY-BOS 1-2, one way or another, with Baltimore third and probably Toronto fourth. But who knows? There is certainly a lot of firepower in the lineups of the teams along I-95 from Baltimore to Boston. Rodriguez-Sheffield-Matsui? Renteria-Ramirez-Ortiz? Tejada-Palmeiro-Sosa? Wow. The O's will crush the ball -- Sammy should top 40, maybe 45, barring any sneezing fits -- but they'll get crushed too. Unless Rodrigo Lopez and Daniel Cabrera take two big steps forward, each, to something like 13-15 wins, this team will lose a lot of games when it scores six or seven runs.

4. Blue Jays. Well, Tom Verducci has some numbers that say Toronto will improve upon its 67-94 record from last year, though I doubt it will be by much. Maybe 72 wins? Seventy-four? Tampa Bay won 71 last year and could do so again. I think it will be a close race for fourth in this division. For its part, Toronto needs to get Roy Halladay some runs, or he's only winning about 14 or 15; with adequate support, 18-20. But what about the rest of the staff? The rotation? Yikes.

5. Devil Rays. I think the young energy of the stars who continue to emerge down on the bay can carry this team far... but I don't think Lou Pinella give in and make the changes that would allow the youngsters to develop. Things like finding a place for B.J. Upton in the infield (Alex Gonzalez over him, Lou? Really?) and sticking Joey Gathright in the outfield and living with it (Chris Singleton and Eduardo Perez the first two games? Are you sure?). But there's a continuing theme among the bottom three teams in this division: They'll hit, but they'll get hit. The Rays have a good bullpen, but their starters could be trouble. Something in me likes Dewon Brazelton, but maybe it's just his name. He's a two-pitch pitcher who's never won outside of the juice dome. As for Scott Kazmir, I think he's going to be brilliant at times -- and maybe only against weaker teams -- and decent, at best, against others. I think Tampa is rushing him. At 21, he hasn't pitched more than 134 innings in any one season (134 last year is the high) and you can't just throw a young guy like that out there and expect 200. He may be meeting Dr. James Andrews somewhere down the line.


1. Twins. This is like a smaller, low-budget version of the AL or NL East. Put the Twins at No. 1 in ink, and then try to figure out the rest. With Johan Santana and Brad Radke 1-2 in the rotation, no one in the division can match that. Santana's the true No. 1, after all, and what do the Indians and White Sox have? Jake Westbrook and Mark Buehrle? They match up well against Radke, but no one equals Santana. The bullpen is the best in the division, too, and they've got a nice mix in the lineup of veterans (Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter) and young studs with big upsides (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer). I'm hoping for a breakout from Morneau on more than one fantasy team, and he could come close to putting up what David Ortiz -- whom the Twins once released -- has done for the Red Sox.

2. Indians. I may be jumping on a bandwagon here, but I like what's developing in Cleveland. It's almost all young -- the anti-Giants -- with hitting at the core and pitchers who can get the job done. We'll have to see what they get from Kevin Millwood, because another rough year (.500 record, 4.50 ERA) could mean he's nothing without Leo Mazzone -- or at least the ear of Greg Maddux or John Smoltz. Catcher Victor Martinez should have another solid year, becoming the next Pudge Rodriguez. In fact, I don't think any division can match the four that this one boasts: Mauer, Martinez, Rodriguez and, we may soon see, Kansas City's John Buck. (Three-for-three, the AL East contends with Varitek, Posada and Lopez and the NL East, barring injury, has Piazza, Lieberthal, Lo Duca and Estrada.) Coco Crisp may become a 20-20 guy this year, and if Grady Sizemore is given a chance, might have found himself among the top three Rookie of the Year names come November, had he not had 138 at bats last year.

3. White Sox. Do they really think their Cuban connection -- Orlando Hernandez and Jose Contreras -- will be enough? I don't know if El Duque has anything left after effectively sitting out the postseason last year. And Contreras, well, who knows if we'll ever see what was expected of him. The ChiSox made an interesting move in the offseason, dedicating themselves to more of a small-ball approach. They didn't abandon the long ball, but everyone's talking about the Carlos Lee-for-Scott Podsednik deal, clearly a power-for-speed swap. But Pods hit .244 with a .313 on-base percentage. Horrible for a leadoff hitter. With a .313 average and .390 OBP, he might've stolen 100 bags.

4. Tigers. Two things we'll see from this team: They'll hit, and Jeremy Bonderman will win. A lineup containing Dmitri Young, Ivan Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez will smack the ball, and young guys like Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, Carlos Pena and Craig Monroe should evolve further. Detroit's one of the great, classic, historic franchises and deserves a good team. Alan Trammell, who's part of that history already as a player, should be able to cement himself as the manager of that turnaround in the next few years. That won't happen until they can get a couple of arms to slide in behind Bonderman, but with the season I think he could have, that should entice one or two guys to head north this off-season. Bonderman could flirt with 20 wins just two seasons after Mike Maroth lost 21, and Detroit should at least match last year's 72 wins.

5. Royals. Another team destined to improve, according to Verducci's analysis, but after a 58-104 season that was the worst in franchise history and second only to the 1964 Athletics' 57-105 for worst in Kansas City lore, they could improve by 12 games (70-92) and still be two games behind the 2004 Tigers. They're going to throw some rookies and near-rookies (guys who didn't play the full season last year, but have more than the maximum at bats or innings required for rookie status) in to the fire, guys like David DeJesus, Mark Teahen, John Buck and Zack Greinke. They'll perform (15 HR, 20 SB for DeJesus? 20 HR from Buck? 12 wins from Greinke?) but they'll struggle too (can DeJesus hit .280? Will Buck tire from catching? Can Greinke have a winning record?).


1. Angels. It's pretty simple: The division winners retooled and got stronger while the also-rans made minor adjustments or moderate improvements. If we thought last season's outfield of Vlad Guerrero, Garret Anderson and Jose Guillen was impressive, consider it now with Steve Finley in place of Guillen, who's emotional issues led to his unavailability over the season's final week and the postseason. The only concern is Finley's age. I don't think Anderson's health will be an issue; before last year, he'd played at least 150 games each season since 1996 and 154 since '98. The pitching's solid and the bullpen is among the best in the majors in part because they go with the best guys, ignoring perceived needs like a lefthanded "specialist" who would come in to face one or two lefties, nothing more. If the guys you have can get batters out, regardless of which side of the plate they stand on, you're better off. That's part of what makes the Angels so good in the late innings.

2. Athletics. I don't know if I truly subscribe to the tennents of Moneyball or if I just want to see a small-market club that Bud Selig thinks has no chance to compete continue (along with the Twins) make him eat his words. (Selig did a slimy thing fit for a used car salesman when he allowed his frat brother to buy the A's without giving Reggie Jackson a chance to get in on the bidding.) But I think with the A's solid, consistent lineup and promising pitchers, they'll still win. What I don't know is if they'll win enough to get here. This pick is more of a feeling for the rest of the division than faith in what Oakland can accomplish.

3. Rangers. Best offensive infield in the bigs, easily. Most offensive starting rotation in the league, at least. I like Chris Young, but that's about it. I don't know that the Rangers can build upon last year's surprising run. Just look at the Royals from 2003 to 2004. Similar situation: No perceived chance to finish anywhere but last, a new manager, a lineup that can compete but a pitching staff that was as much lucky as good. I don't think Texas will lose 100 games, but can they win 85? Not so sure of that. I do see a return to 30-30 for Alfonso Soriano and Mark Teixeira may be the first player to hit 50 home runs this season (with Adam Dunn of the Reds following suit within the week).

4. Mariners. I think we saw it in last night's game: Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson did spark the offense, yet again, but the bullpen blew it with a seven-run fifth inning. Seattle will hit a little more than last year's horrendous "effort," but beyond the top four (Ichiro, Jeremy Reed, Beltre, Sexson), what do they have? Bret Boone and Raul Ibanez have promise, but they were part of the problem last year. The rotation may be as shaky as the Rangers', both of which have an aging lefty at the front (Jamie Moyer and Kenny Rogers). And, well, we saw last night what the bullpen in front of Eddie Guardado can do.

Done. 1:06 p.m. and Mike Maroth has just thrown the first pitch to DeJesus. Close. (I'm ignoring that Brewers-Pirates game, since it's not on the MLB Extra Innings package.)

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Monday, April 04, 2005

2005 National League predictions

After last year’s predictions of how each division would play out resulted in somewhat moderate success – at least they weren’t completely crap – I knew I had to bring the prognostications back for a return engagement. So let’s get to it as we bridge the space between Opening Days 1 and 2.


1. Braves. Last year, I thought I’d go on the record (along with hundreds of others) in calling the end of the Atlanta’s run. Instead, I learned what it means to be a Phillies fan – I was let down, yet again. So with Tim Hudson and John Smoltz now in the rotation, Chipper Jones back at third base and some young guys in other key spots, I do like the Braves’ chances in a stacked division. It won’t be as easy as some years, but they’re still the team to beat. As for what I expect from the Braves, I figure Smoltz will hit the DL at least once, perhaps for three or four weeks, as he tries to pitch 200 innings for the first time in seven years. I’m also not sold on Dan Kolb at the back of the bullpen. Something tells me he’s going to have his share of struggles. Offensively, Rafael Furcal will have a stellar season in his contract year and I see the fountain of youth at work again in one corner outfield spot – right field. Raul Mondesi will get back to 20-20 territory, while Brian Jordan will probably lose his job after further injury and may end up retiring after this season.

2. Marlins. Wild card. It’s not what I’m rooting for (more in a moment), but how can you go against this school of fish? I’m not with ESPN’s John Kruk, who calls this the best lineup in baseball (or at least the NL), because I think the Cardinals are still pretty damn good. Position-by-position, I can see the Marlins having an edge (Paul Lo Duca is better than Yadier Molina), but I think for consistency and overall firepower, St. Louis is still the measuring stick. Their pitching is impressive, but they need Carl Pavano-like emergences from Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. Only Burnett, like Pavano last year, is in a contract year and has that motivation. Beckett needs to stay healthy and not develop eight blisters throughout the season. And if Juan Pierre struggles to stay healthy this season, well, then they won’t even be this good.

3. Mets. The bullpen scares me. Flat out, it could mean the difference not just between a wild card and fourth place for this team, but between the division title and fourth place. If the closers stayed the same but Mets had the Phillies’ bullpen, or the Yankees’, or the Angels’, they’d probably win this division. And then, on Opening Day, they get through the seventh and eighth innings with a 6-4 lead, turning it over to closer Braden Looper, a rather reliable stopper last year … and he gives up two home runs and loses the game. Omar Minaya needs to make a move before June 1 – maybe even before May 1 – to bulk up the ’pen, or it’s going to be another long summer.

4. Phillies. Fourth place in this division will be better than second in a lot of others. It won’t be like 1973, when nobody wanted to take first place and 82 wins was enough. But it could be like that year in that the fourth-place team is still within five games of first place. The lineup should be solid (but why is Placido Polanco playing over Chase Utley?) and the starters serviceable. The bullpen is potentially the best in the division. But they’ve had high expectations for a couple of years now and have been unable to perform under that pressure. Maybe the lowered expectations and the new, laid-back manager will allow this team to relax and play to its potential.

5. Nationals. The crowds will be there, and they will be an exciting team at times, but they just don’t have the horses to keep up with the thoroughbreds in this division. There could be some excitement down inside the Beltway. Ryan Church should finish in the top three in Rookie of the Year voting and a healthy full season from Nick Johnson would show us just what he can do. I also like the chances for Jose Guillen to turn things around. Again.


1. Cardinals. When you have a solid lineup that returns all the major components and a decent enough pitching staff that brings in one of the game’s best young lefties and remember that it’s on the team that represented the league in the World Series, you’ve got yourself a frontrunner. St. Louis is the team to beat, though there are a lot of things that could derail a division repeat. Among the internal concerns is the rotation: Can Matt Morris be an 18-game winner again? Can Jason Marquis and Chris Carpenter pitch like front-of-the-rotation starters like they did in 2004? The Cards also can’t afford to lose any of their major hitters for an extended period. They’re lucky, in a sense, that Scott Rolen went down in September, when they had a big lead and he could afford to rest up for the postseason. But it all appeared to catch up to him in the World Series. If Rolen, Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds or Larry Walker (now that they don’t have Edgar Renteria batting second) is out for a month, they’re in trouble. The other concern is …

2. Cubs. Suppose, for a moment, that Mark Prior and Kerry Wood return when expected (Wood next week, Prior once his 15 days are up) and pitch the rest of the season. Having those two healthy for a full season (or five and a half months) may be the difference between third place and first place. Even with their absences last summer, the Cubbies still only lost the wild card in the final few days. They got younger with the departures of Sammy Sosa and Moises Alou; the problem is, they replaced them with Jeromy Burnitz and Todd Hollandsworth. That might not be enough. But this season could be where we see the true emergence of Corey Patterson, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. All three had strong seasons last year, but I think this year they all do it again, cementing their star status – or elevating it to the next level.

3. Astros. Like the Cubs, the Astros might make a run this season despite their off-season losses. Certainly, Houston is weaker without Jeff Kent and Carlos Beltran, but they’ve got promising replacements in Jason Lane and Wily Taveras. And there’s also Andy Pettitte. Though his totals were low because of injury last season, the lefty’s peripherals (a 3.90 ERA, 2.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio) were enough that a full, healthy season would make a big difference to the team. But they’ll also need a bullpen to get to Brad Lidge, who has to be strong enough to bounce back from a 94-inning season. In fact, Lidge has thrown 179 innings over the last two campaigns, more than any two-year coupling in his entire professional career – one that has been hampered by injuries that led to the Astros moving him from starting to relieving.

4. Reds. It could be that the NL Central is the easiest division to pick the correct order this early. These top four teams all have great potential, and it’s as if they’re ranking in descending “if” order. That is, the Cardinals have the fewest “ifs” needed to turn out their way in order to finish first; the Cubs have more than the Cards, but less than the Astros, etc. Cincinnati, with its offense and a stable of adequate pitchers with solid potential, could conceivable take the crown IF everyone stays healthy (I’m looking at you, Ken Griffey Jr.) and hits well and the pitchers fulfill all those visions so many scouts and pundits had for the likes of Paul Wilson (a former No. 1 overall pick), Eric Milton, Ramon Ortiz, Brandon Claussen, et al. The Reds’ best bet is for Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena to play well, allowing the team to trade one for a pitcher down the stretch. That’s not out of the question, but I’m sure the division is. Too many “ifs.”

5. Brewers. The addition of Carlos Lee and the development of youngsters like Lyle Overbay and Junior Spivey give Milwaukee some more oomph in the order. With Ben Sheets, Doug Davis and Chris Capuano developing, this Crew has some promise. Not enough to end a streak of 12 consecutive losing seasons, tied with the Pirates as the longest active streaks in the majors, but enough to give fans reason to hope things could soon be changing. Sheets’ 12-14 record could become a 16-10 record, or better, just with the extra offense the lineup – a year older and wiser, and a veteran stronger – should provide.

6. Pirates. I want to like the Bucs. Actually, I do, and it’s not all that hard. They’re an historic franchise, they have classy throwback uniforms (when they’re not wearing the black jerseys) and they play in the best ballpark in the major leagues. Jason Bay, Craig Wilson, Jack Wilson and Matt Lawton are fun to watch, and every time Oliver Perez takes the mound, he’s fired up. You can’t help but like these guys. But you don’t sign a 40-year-old catcher (Benito Santiago) when you expect to contend for anything. They still have a long way to go. It’s a shame their classy manager, Lloyd McClendon, likely won’t be the one to get there with them.


1. Padres. They sure showed something last year, when few were expecting it and fewer were predicting it. A few insightful observers said, Keep an eye on San Diego, and they were right. This off-season, the Padres seemed to take into account the perceived characteristics of their new park; that is, after one season where it appeared to favor the pitchers and cut down on home runs, they went out and strengthened their staff and brought in some speed. It appears that only centerfielder Dave Roberts will be the change in the defensive alignment, but he’s on the shelf with yet another injury. Xavier Nady filled in with a couple of homers today, and with his ability to play third base as well, he might not make it back to the bench, filling in for Roberts and Sean Burroughs just to get his bat into the lineup. Woody Williams effectively replaces David Wells, so nothing is lost in terms of postseason experience. The bullpen is stacked, though age may be catching up to Trevor Hoffman, as his four-run meltdown in today’s loss showed. This could be another three-team race, but the two who don’t finish on top aren’t going to be playing for a wild card.

2. Dodgers. I don’t like either the Dodgers or Giants for second place, but one of them will get it because it won’t be Colorado or Arizona. LA has good starters (particularly Derek Lowe, Jeff Weaver and Odalis Perez) and a good bullpen, but the back of the rotation (Scott Erickson? Really??) and certain spots on the field (Jose Valentin at third?) leave a bit to be desired. Eric Gagne’s injury is bad news, and if he’s out too long, they may slide too much. But I do like these guys better than the alternative up the coast …

3. Giants. Everyone likes San Fran on paper, and so do I. Only this isn’t MVP Baseball 2005 or some other simulation game where you can turn off injuries. This team is OLD. Barry Bonds has already been sidelined, and it’s hard to see the other seven position players making it through this season at their ages without incident. I’m sorry, but I think it’s just too much to rely on when you’re trying to put together a championship team. As are Kirk Reuter and Brett Tomko in the front end of your rotation. I think the Giants will put up a fight (Barry always does, whether or not it’s warranted), but it won’t be enough.

4. Diamondbacks. Well, they tried. They made some moves this off-season, but how do you go from Randy Johnson to Javier Vazquez and Russ Ortiz and compete with what lies in front of you in this division? Troy Glaus is a great move … if he’s healthy. Luis Gonzalez is back after surgery, and I do expect him to have a good year, a 35-HR, 95-RBI kind of year. But what’s to his left in the outfield? What’s Chad Tracy bring at first base? And what do you get from a middle infield of Royce Clayton and Craig Counsell (as much as I love a fellow Domer)? I think you get a lot of 12-9 (or 16-6) losses and a fourth-place finish.

5. Rockies. If nothing else, I’m excited to see some of these guys. Matt Holliday, Garret Atkins, Clint Barmes, J.D. Closser. And Jeff Francis. I think Francis could be the pitcher who really solves Coors Field – at least as much as anyone can solve it. For one thing, he’s a science buff, and that trait may be what he needs to really learn and understand what it takes to pitch at 5,280 feet. If he can keep the ball in the park enough, his peers – along with Todd Helton and Preston Wilson – should send it out enough to help him pick up some 8-6 and even some 4-3 victories. If Jason Jennings can win the Rookie of the Year award in the Rockies, Jeff Francis can do it too.

Since it’s late and I write so much, this has now become a two-part preview. I’m sure most of you who have read this far wouldn’t look too kindly upon 14 more such paragraphs looking at the American League. So that comes tomorrow.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Opening Day game predictions

When I was a kid -- middle school, early high school, something like that -- I once wrote out the Opening Day schedule, and then predicted every game. I tried to predict the score, the winning and losing pitchers and who got the save, where applicable. I don't remember if I tried to name home runs, but that's what I'm doing this year. Yesterday, I posted my prediction for tonight's game: Yankees 8, Red Sox 3, win to Johnson, loss to Wells, home run to Matsui. Here are the rest (home teams in CAPS).

TIGERS 9, Royals 1. WP: Bonderman. LP: Lima. HR: Ordonez, Inge, Monroe.

Brewers 4, PIRATES 2. WP: Sheets. LP: Torres. HR: Lee.

Mets 7, REDS 4. WP: Martinez. LP: Wilson. HR: Wright, Dunn, Kearns.

Athletics 12, ORIOLES 7. WP: Zito. LP: Lopez. HR: Chavez, Kendall, Byrnes, Sosa, Tejada.

Indians 5, WHITE SOX 4. WP: Riske. LP: Marte. SV: Wickman. HR: Hafner, Konerko.

PHILLIES 6, Nationals 4. WP: Madson. LP: Ayala. HR: Utley, Burrell, Guillen.

ROCKIES 10, Padres 6. WP: Kennedy. LP: Williams. HR: Helton, Holliday, Nady, Nevin.

DEVIL RAYS 2, Blue Jays 1. WP: Miller. LP: Halladay. SV: Baez.

MARINERS 5, Twins 3. WP: Moyer. LP: Crain. SV: Guardado. HR: Sexson.

Cubs 6, Diamondbacks 3. WP: Zambrano. LP: Vazquez. SV: Hawkins. HR: Patterson, Gonzalez.

Braves 8, MARLINS 7. WP: Reitsma. LP: Alfonseca. SV: Kolb. HR: C. Jones, Lowell, Cabrera.

GIANTS 3, Dodgers 2. WP: Schmidt. LP: Wunsch. SV: Benitez.

ASTROS 4, Cardinals 2. WP: Oswalt. LP: Carpenter. SV: Lidge. HR: Biggio, Walker.

Rangers 7, ANGELS 5. WP: Brocail. LP: Donnelly. SV: Cordero. HR: Soriano, Young, Guerrero, Finley.

Tomorrow, I'll try to get through my division standings predictions and post them here.

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Saturday, April 02, 2005

Yankees vs. Red Sox on Opening Day

When the baseball season ends, the next one seems so far away. When spring training begins, we're so starved for the game that we follow it intently, talking about exhibition game statistics as if they were the true measure of a player. Then, finally, when Opening Day rolls around ... you almost can't believe it's here already. That's how I feel, anyway. All this anticipation and lead-up to the start of a new season, and now it's upon us. Other than the all-star break (and barring sweeps or short series in the League Championship Series or other playoff rounds), we shouldn't have a day without baseball until the night before the World Series starts. Six and a half months. Wonderful.

To start everything, MLB or ESPN (or both) went for the top acts. It's like having an all-star concert, yet opening with Bruce Springsteen and U2 instead of closing with them. Yankees-Red Sox. Or, if you prefer, Red Sox-Yankees. I kind of do prefer the latter. Considering that this rivalry has reached or returned to its peak in recent years, becoming more fervent in the last three or four summers as opposed to the early 90s or something, I wondered when these two rivals last met with 0-0 records and a five- (or six- or eight-) way tie atop the division (or league) standings. It's been 13 years since the Yankees won on Opening Day 1992 by a 4-3 score.

They've played a total of 28 times, these two storied franchises, to start the season. I trolled through the game-by-game results on Retrosheet just to get the basic backstory, the games and their scores. The Yankees have won 17 of the 28 games, the Red Sox 10, with one tie coming in 1910 (though the Yanks won when they played the following day).

But scanning the results for the Opening Day matchups wasn't enough. As I sat down to write this post out, I had to go through them again, looking at the standings, to see how the teams fared each season when they kicked things off against one another. Below are those results: Year, whether the Yankees won or lost the game, the score (Yankees runs first), and season record with final position in standings in parentheses (again Yankees first). The New Yorkers get top billing only because they've won more of these matchups. The starred years of 1917 and 1919 featured Babe Ruth on the Red Sox and, of course, '19 was the year the Sox last defended a World Championship.

Yankees vs. Red Sox on Opening Day
Forgive me for not learning how to format a chart yet. For years 1960 and earlier, an eighth-place finish is a last-place finish in the American League. In 1992, a seventh-place finish is last place in the AL East.

1992 W 4-3 / 76-86 (5); 73-89 (7)
1985 L 2-9 / 97-64 (2); 81-81 (5)
1973 L 5-15 / 79-76 (4); 85-70 (2)
1971 L 1-3 / 82-80 (4); 85-77 (3)
1970 L 3-4 / 93-69 (2); 87-75 (3)
1964 L 3-4 / 99-63 (1); 72-90 (8)
1960 W 8-4 / 97-57 (1); 65-89 (7)
1959 W 3-2 / 79-75 (1); 75-79 (5)
1958 W 3-0 / 92-62 (1); 79-75 (3)
1951 W 5-0 / 98-56 (1); 87-67 (3)
1950 W 15-10 / 98-56 (1); 94-60 (3)
1945 W 8-4 / 81-71 (4); 71-83 (7)
1944 W 3-0 / 83-71 (3); 77-77 (4)
1939 W 2-0 / 106-45 (1); 89-62 (2)
1938 L 4-8 / 99-53 (1); 88-61 (2)
1935 L 0-1 / 89-60 (2); 78-75 (4)
1933 W 4-3 / 91-59 (2); 63-86 (7)
1931 W 6-3 / 94-59 (2); 62-90 (6)
1929 W 7-3 / 88-66 (2); 58-96 (8)
1926 W 12-11 / 91-63 (1); 46-107 (8)
1924 W 2-1 / 89-63 (2); 67-87 (7)
1923 W 4-1 / 98-54 (1); 61-91 (8)
1919 L 0-10* / 80-59 (3); 66-71 (6)
1917 L 3-10* / 71-82 (6); 90-62 (2)
1912 L 3-5 / 50-102 (8); 105-47 (1)
1910 T 4-4 / 88-63 (2); 81-72 (4)
1906 W 2-1 / 90-61 (2); 49-105 (8)
1904 W 8-2 / 92-59 (2); 95-59 (1)

So in the 28 years in which these two teams have started it all against one another, the Yankees have finished higher in the standings than the Red Sox 22 times while also winning 10 pennants. Boston's won two pennants while finishing higher six times. Yet only one of the six meetings in the expansion era (since 1961) has led to a pennant-winning Yankee club, and that was in '64.

In all years, the Yankees' average record is 88-65 (.575) and their average place in the standings is 2.39. For Boston, it's 76-78 (.494) and 4.79.

New York has 25 winning seasons on the list to Boston's 13 (plus two at .500). The Yankees have 15 90-win seasons (one of which was a 100-win campaign) along with one 90-loss season, which was also a 100-loss season. The Sox won 90 or more four times (topping 100 once) and lost 90 six times (twice surpassing a hundred).

Now, in years when the Yankees win, they've gone on to have a 91-63 (.591) average record with an average standing of 1.88. When the Sox have lost the opener to the Yanks, they've gone 71-82 (.464), on average, to finish 5.53. But when Boston takes the first game, both teams finish with an average record of 84-71 (.542); however, Boston's standing is 3.60 while New York's is an ever-so-slightly better 3.30.

Finally, perhaps all we need to look at in these past results is the streaks. There are no stretches where one team has won two out of three with the other team winning the middle game of that three-game stretch. In other words, if that trend continues tomorrow night, the hometown Yanks will get the first W.

So my prediction, then:

YANKEES 8, Red Sox 3. W: Johnson, L: Wells. HR: Matsui.

Predictions on all Opening Day games to come, along with division standings guesses.

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The Anaheim/Los Angeles/San Diego Storm of Lake Elsinore

There was a surprising press release put out by the Lake Elsinore Storm late this week. It announced that the Southern California team, an affiliate of the San Diego Padres, was changing its name to the Anaheim/Los Angeles/San Diego Storm of Lake Elsinore. "The bottom line, we just want to make more money," said GM Dave Oster.

Luckily, most news outlets seemed to catch the joke before it went too far. Others, not so much. A few fans, however, were genuinely upset. Well played, Lake Elsinore Storm. Well played.

And hey, on that note, I now have a new blog: Jersey Baseball (permanent link is the photo in the column on the right, below my archives). It's a minor-league blog focusing on the teams in New Jersey, both affiliated and independent. I'll also follow the farm teams of the Mets, Phillies and Yankees, all of which have a strong fan presence in the Garden State. That blog will mainly be shorter posts and analysis based on my trolling of the web. More in-depth columns, opinion, historical analysis, etc., will remain here.

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