Hi, hello and welcome back to THE USB Baseball Report! We’re a week away from Opening Day, so now’s as good a time as any to talk about some of the things that went down while you were paying attention to other sports while looking at what the immediate future might hold for America’s Pastime. Let’s get right to it.
The World Baseball Classic: It Was Fun!
The World Baseball Classic tends to be popular everywhere in the world except for the United States. The reason why is fairly obvious: America already sees the world’s best baseball players from April to November every single year. It’s a long season as it is, asking us to add another month before Opening Day can be asking a bit much. Especially with March Madness in full swing & the NBA & NHL winding down towards their playoffs, not to mention MLS & NASCAR starting their seasons and WWE in the middle of WrestleMania Season.
We’re a little slow to accept international events, as we naturally assume that the biggest & best events already happen here. but we can get behind them as long as they have an established tradition. We put up with the Olympics every four years because they’ve been going on ever since we can remember. Soccer is most popular here during the World Cup, a long-running event that was a lot of fun when we hosted it in 1994. The World Baseball Classic has been around since 2006, not exactly enough time to start the type of time-honored tradition we Americans need to accept something.
Another key factor: American players don’t seem to care very much. While a lot of the international teams involved in the event feature players that will never get to set foot on a diamond against MLB players unless they participate in this event, all the players that would make Team USA are already in MLB. They already play against the world’s best players all the time, and considering that America invented the sport & the business of baseball isn’t bigger anywhere else than it is here, American players feel they have nothing to prove in the competition. America already runs baseball. The WBC is the other countries’ chance to prove something, while America has nothing to prove.
Even if you think you have nothing to prove and it doesn’t matter if you win, eventually you have to win. And winning also makes fans care more. The prestige of the men’s & women’s soccer World Cups is actually debatable here because the women’s team has won the World Cup while the men haven’t been close. We like events we can win!
People seemed to notice the WBC & talk about it more this year, and I have to believe the #1 reason is that the United States actually won. Had Puerto Rico won in the final, we would have collectively shrugged our shoulders and said it didn’t matter. Now that Team USA is champion of the World Baseball Classic, it’s an awesome event that really shows the heart of baseball.
And, it was nice to have something sports-related to watch at 10 AM other than First Take.
Why Dustin James Is Wrong And You Shouldn’t Cheer For The Washington Nationals
You know baseball is catching interest when The Boss Dustin James writes an article about it! I was so proud of him, like I imagine a father is of his son the first time he swings a bat. Much like your humble correspondent in Little League back in the day, Dustin took a big swing and a miss with the main point of his column though. It’s a wonderful idea to root for a long-suffering franchise to finally win the World Series after years of futility, no doubt. With the Chicago Cubs finally taking the 108-year old monkey off their back, baseball needs another loveable underdog for casual fans to get behind.
That ain’t the Washington Nationals.
For one thing, Dustin makes the small mistake of including the history of the Montreal Expos with that of the Nationals. To be fair, the Nationals include the franchise’s time in Montreal in their record books, but I think most people would agree that they probably shouldn’t. The Oklahoma City Thunder take credit for the Seattle Supersonics’ championship from 1978 and pretty much everybody agrees they shouldn’t. The same goes for the Sacramento Kings & the Rochester Royals’ 1951 title. Let’s be honest, there are very few crossover fans for the Montreal Expos & the Washington Nationals, as Expos fans either tuned out before they moved out of Montreal, or they were diehard fans and were upset to see them leave. There are probably some, but not many. Very few people out there are complaining about watching the Expos/Nationals ever since 1969 and not celebrating a championship.
So, in all honesty, the Nationals’ drought goes back to 2005, the year they moved to Washington. That’s not exactly breaking the hearts of multiple generations.
I guess you could make the argument that DC-area baseball fans still qualify as long-suffering since they haven’t had a World Series title in their city since 1924, when the Big Train Walter Johnson led the Senators over the New York Giants in seven games. You could also argue that they suffer more than anybody else in America because they don’t have representation in the Senate and have to put up with politicians mooching off their resources for most of the year. These are fair arguments, but they don’t quite cut the mustard for me. I mean, they didn’t even have a baseball team from the beginning of the 1973 season until the beginning of the 2005 season. If your city can’t hold on to at least one baseball team at all times, I can’t put you in the same breath with Cleveland, who might have lost their football team for a few years there but still managed to keep the Indians around. I don’t think being able to keep your team in town is too much to ask.
Especially when your original team bolted for Minnesota. I mean…Minnesota? C’mon.
More important than all this talk about the past is the present. Washington has a solid roster. Bryce Harper should rebound well from a down year by his standards. The pitching staff with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez & others compares well to fellow contenders. Matt Wieters & Adam Eaton should be solid additions. By all rights the Nationals should be in playoff contention, and if things break their way they could break that curse that’s lasted since 2005.
There’s one key factor that has me skeptical, and is enough to have me tell you not to go down this road…
Dusty Baker is a good manager. But once the postseason hits, something changes in him. I have no explanation for it, I just know the facts. He had the Giants, the Cubs & the Reds all within a break here or there of going all the way at various points in his managerial career. His teams got the bad breaks, and often it had something to do with a decision he made. As somebody that watched the 2012 Reds meltdown in the Division Series after building a 2-0 lead on the Giants and needing to win one game in Cincinnati to close out the series, I can’t in good conscience tell you to jump on the bandwagon of a team managed by Dusty Baker. Can’t do it.
So who’s the right underdog to cheer for this season?
2017. It’s the Astros’ year, baby. Been in Houston since 1962. One World Series appearance. This is the underdog you roll with at least until next year.
Opening Day Preview And Annual Complaint About Early-Season Scheduling
Sunday, April 2 will mark the official start of the MLB season. Three games will take place that day, each one being aired on national cable television. We start off with the New York Yankees, baseball’s greatest franchise. Makes sense. They’ll be playing…the Tampa Bay Rays?
The very first game of the 2017 Major League Baseball season is being held in Tampa Bay? Don’t get me wrong, I think Florida teams and all teams south of the Mason-Dixon line should be mostly at home to start the season so we avoid games being postponed due to snow, but I can’t justify THE VERY FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON being held in a market that hosts one of baseball’s newest franchises and seems largely indifferent to baseball most of the time.
Except, oddly enough, when the Yankees come to town. Yankee fans used to retire to Florida (nobody retires anymore), so there’s a sizeable Yankee fan following down there. Along with fanbases for all the other teams because people used to retire to Florida (nobody retires anymore).
Forgive me for being old school, but I still remember the days when the first game of the MLB season was held in Cincinnati because it was baseball’s oldest city. Now we’re going to one of baseball’s newest, along with one of baseball’s ugliest stadiums. OK.
The second game of the day will be hosted by the other 1998 expansion team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. They host the San Francisco Giants, which is fine. Kind of an uninteresting matchup nationally, but there’s a dome so there’s no need to worry about weather. The first two games of the season will go off without a hitch, at least weatherwise. And I just now figured out MLB’s celebrating the 20th anniversary of these franchises with this scheduling, so there’s at least some reasoning behind it. I kind of take back my complaint, except it would still be lame to start the season in Tampa even if it’s their 100th anniversary as a franchise.
Finally, we end the day with our third division rivalry of the day. It’s a real barnburner, as the Chicago Cubs take on the St. Louis Cardinals. Sounds great, right? Cubs vs. Cards is Flyover Country’s equivalent of Yanks vs. Sawx, the Cubs are coming off a championship, the Cards are looking to bounce back, everything sounds like a thumbs up here.
Well, except for the part where last year’s World Series Champions are going on the road to start the season.
The Cubs traditionally start the season on the road anyway, they’re one of the Reds’ most frequent Opening Day opponents. One would think, however, that even if Chicago weather is pretty dicey this time of year, the Cubs would be rewarded by getting to open the season in front of their fans so they can raise the banner & have any type of celebration they please in front of a national cable television audience. That would make sense, right?
Nah, MLB’s sending them to St. Louis so the Best Fans in Baseball can have their precious opener on ESPN. Makes a ton of sense, right? I mean, the White Sox are hosting the Tigers the next day, so the schedule makers obviously didn’t care about the potential climate in Chicago that much. Bad move by MLB here, they should have sent the Cards up to Chicago even if you risk snow or other weather phenomena. The NFL figured out a while back that the best way to start the season is to have the previous year’s champion at home celebrating their title & welcoming a rival or a notable opponent from the year before. Baseball’s got it half right here.
Reds Update: They Gonna Stink
The most interesting aspect of the 2017 Cincinnati Reds season is how much of the fanbase will remain engaged. The Reds have traded pretty much anybody of value not named Joey Votto at this point, and most of the guys making up the roster now are going to be the guys going forward, along with the eventual prospects that hopefully show up someday.
It’s really tough to get excited about a team offering this up as their starting rotation:
And then a whole lot of question marks. Homer Bailey & Anthony DeSclafani will start the season on the disabled list, which is a place both men seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on. Bronson Arroyo appears to be on his way into the rotation even though Devin Mesoraco decided to hit him in the face with a throw intended for second base the other day. Then it’s either Tim Adelman, Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Sal Romano or Robert Stephenson in the two remaining spots. On the bright side, these guys are having good springs, so it’s not like the Reds are tracking down Alfredo Simon for the fifth spot like they had to last season.
Feldman being named the Opening Day starter for a projected fifth place team wouldn’t draw much opinion one way or the other except in Cincinnati, where we still consider Opening Day the biggest day of the baseball season. I get the Reds wanting somebody with some experience in a high-pressure slot like that, but Reds fans would rather see somebody that’s considered a key cog of the future in the slot. Even if they get blown up by the Phillies. As the only other sure starter, Brandon Finnegan should feel insulted that the Reds rate Scott Feldman over him.
The bullpen should be better than it was last year, which wouldn’t take much. Drew Storen can’t be worse than the likes of Ross Ohlendorf & Jumbo Diaz they were trotting out last year. Rasiel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen & Tony Cingrani are a decent enough group to throw in there. The lineup won’t be anything that strikes fear in the hearts of pitchers, but Jose Peraza should be more productive than Brandon Phillips was last year. They need to do something with the catcher position since Devin Mesoraco’s not expected to be at 100% anytime soon (is he ever?) & Tucker Barnhardt won’t catch all the games. Billy Hamilton got better at getting on base last season. Scott Schebler has had instances where he hasn’t looked horrible. Adam Duvall’s progress this year will be interesting to see, we’ll find out whether or not he was a one year wonder. Zack Cozart is decent enough at shortstop, same with Eugenio Suarez at third base.
This has the looks of a team that won’t be contending for anything this season except maybe 4th place in the NL Central if the Brewers’ young players don’t progress as much as hoped. First in the draft seems possible. Will Reds fans come out to support the team or even bother watching the games on FS Ohio after Opening Day? Pete Rose is getting a statue this season so that game should sell out. The Yankees & Red Sox are coming to town. The Cubs fans will show up, and maybe St. Louis fans will too. But when your baseball team looks like this one on paper, it’s real easy to tune out and pay attention to Bengals offseason news, or FC Cincinnati, or your family, or something else.
I don’t expect to talk about the Reds much in this column unless something interesting happens, like Rasiel Iglesias injuring his elbow when slipping in the shower. Oh, that happened? Good ol’ baseball injuries…
Thanks for reading, and enjoy your last days of life without baseball! We’ll be back later this week with some predictions for the 2017 season! Until next then…