In two days, I shall depart for Florida to join roving SnSer Chuck for some springtime fun (NTTAWWT). I have never managed to get to Spring Training before, but everyone tells me it’s a blast and so I’m really looking forward to going.
The mundane detail of the trip is that we’re attending two road games: the Gnats in Space City and the Blue Jays in Tampa, where our duo will become a threesome with Ty. Eh? Oh. Anyway, that’s Thursday and Friday. To be followed by 2 games at the OCS: a split-squad game with Washington being the visitors (while the rooks ride the bus to Jakeback Mountain) and then the Hated ATL come in to finish me off. Whatever.
Watching the drills will be very educational for me, I hope, never having been formally trained in the art of baseball. I’m also looking forward to seeing Brad Mills at the helm. Two years of Cooper has put me in a position of having to ration f-bombs, lest I run out of my quota before I die. I am certainly not alone in exhibiting a man-crush on Mills, but even this early into his tenure, he seems to be the antithesis of the outgoing skipper, and that is a whole boatload of good.
Looking at the projected lineup, this team is going to have to win on pitching and defense, and it is questionable in both areas. Even if the meat of the order is productive, it’s still only 2½ sluggers surrounded by Punch, Judy and a few of their ilk. Even then, while defense up the middle will be one of the best in the majors, and 3B has been shored up, the corner outfield spots will continue to be a rich vein of comedy.
Then we look at the pitching. It’s Nicole Richie thin. That doesn’t meant that it can’t get the job done, but it’s a brave man who expects it to get the job done. Oswalt, Rodriguez and Myers will have to do the bulk of the heavy lifting, while someone from the pool of Norris, Moehler and Paulino is going to have to step up. That’s not a major stretch, but the rotation can’t afford any slip ups. Oswalt needs to come back from last year’s struggles, Wandy needs to progress, not regress, and Myers needs to be on his game.
Then, if that all works out, the bullpen has to slam the door. The hitters are not going to mount too many late inning rallies. There’s too little fire power and, let’s face it, not good enough hitting to suggest that they will get knocks in bunches to push runners around the diamond. If the starting pitching works and the offense can eke out a lead, then the bully has to be merciless.
Unfortunately, this bully will have to cobble together its holds and saves; lacking, as it does, a dominant closer. Mills is going to have to manage his bollocks off in the late innings to get the right pitchers on the mound at the right time, and the right defensive replacements on the field in the right places. And I don’t mean the Cooperfucks (there goes another one) that we were used to seeing. You know. When the lead-off guy would get on in the 5th or 6th, prompting a 45 minute half-frame in which the same number of runs score, or don’t score, as would’ve without the changes, but now the defensive alignment looks like it’s been drawn by Picasso, and Stretch is all alone in the bullpen.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I am buzzed about this season. But I have tempered my joy at the change of skipper with a rationality born out of the reality of what he has to work with. Four games in mid-March really isn’t going to be anything on which to base one’s opinion, but maybe this trip to Florida will change my mind. Just maybe.