Our friend Ralph Rolph has a problem that is familiar to many of us. He periodically goes on a bender and makes himself sick behind alcohol and tobacco. Never again, he tells himself. This pain is too awful compared to whatever pleasure I had last night, he moans. Never again. Then, after some time passes and his body begins to heal, he is able to consider having just one drink or one puff. The next thing he knows, he is swearing off it all over again. So it must be with people who are followers of many major league baseball teams. I am thinking specifically of the Pittsburgh Pirates, but there are other examples.
In what some day may very well be termed the McCutchen Era, seasons 2013 through 2015, Pittsburgh finished second in the National League Central division, reaching the playoffs each time and winning 280 games for a winning percentage of .576, which was pretty good considering some excellent competition was involved. The Prates had a fine combination of good young pitchers and crafty veterans for starting pitchers, a bullpen that was excellent, power, some speed, and defense, at least in the outfield and at catcher. Nowadays, it looks as though fans of that team will have to be content with their memories for a while. There is talent on the roster for sure. Felipe Vazquez, known as Felipe Rivero when the Bucs obtained him in exchange for Mark Melancon, has been very good in relief. Josh Bell is a budding star at first base. Starling Marte missed a lot of time last season after being foolish but appears to be as good as ever now, and that’s very good, while right fielder Gregory Polanco at age 26 is fulfilling his great potential. The heart of the team was Andrew McCutchen, though, and he is gone. Yes, his skills diminished somewhat as he reached his thirties, but it was cruel to the fans for management to trade this man. Sure, move him to left field or whatever, but there is more to be considered than coldhearted metrics when it comes to maintaining a winning atmosphere. Players like Mazeroski, Clemente, McCutchen—it’s a good idea to hang on to them while you work in younger talent. The Pirates will be lucky to finish higher than fourth or win more than 70 games in what is still a tough division. They have some good young players on the rise, especially among the pitchers, but I think they are lacking veteran leadership that knows how to win.
It’s still odd to say it, but the Chicago Cubs know how to win. They faltered a bit in ’17 after the championship season of 2016, but it would not be surprising to see them go all the way again. At the moment, the back injury to stalwart first sacker Anthony Rizzo is disconcerting, and they will be without Jake Arrieta this time around, but perhaps Yu Darvish will live up to the hype eventually, and there is just too much talent there along with a versatility on the roster that few teams approach. If Brandon Morrow does not adequately replace Wade Davis, they will think of something.
National League Central is the beer league, with Busch in St. Louis, Iron City in Pittsburgh, and the Brewers in Milwaukee, even if Schlitz hasn’t been making it famous for years now.. Do they brew anything there these days? Perhaps someone will brew Selig, a beer that you can drink gallons of without ever copping a buzz. Craig Counsell‘s troops still include the pouting Ryan Braun, who is now joined by a couple of real outfielders in Lorenzo Cain and now injured Christian Yelich. With Domingo Santana displaying a powerful bat and strong arm in right field. Braun can get more days off at age 34. This is a team that can score runs, and their no-name pitching staff may only need to be average for them to contend. The Brewers surprised people last season, but we all know that they are for real this season.
St. Louis finished just four games over .500 in 2017 but they look like an improved flock of Cardinals for the new season. Yadier Molina is still producing behind the plate and at bat, and he insists on winning. For some reason, they seem to want a new shortstop every year, and last year Paul DeJong showed enough to keep his job. He’s not among the current crop of great fielding shortstops in baseball, but he hit .285 with power and they like that in St. Louie. Matt Carpenter is back at third base after Jose Martinez emerged as a force at first, and for variety they have the excellent fielder Kolten Wong at second base. Having Marcell Ozuna in left field improves the outfield all the way around, and Tommy Pham is great in center. It’s the pitching that presents a potential problem for the Cardinals once they get beyond Carlos Martinez,
They also drink beer in Cincinnati, but the AA pitching will doom the Reds despite Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton, and a fairly good offensive lineup. They need to get Eugenio Suarez back in there. Jose Peraza has the difficult challenge of replacing Zach Cozart at short. Unless Bryan Price can work miracles with the hurlers, it will be last place again for the once proud Reds.