Michael R. Stevens
Baseball Review 2016, Part 2
Editor's Note: This is the second installment of Michael R. Stevens' annual baseball extravaganza. Part 1, posted on Monday, reviewed three recent books that fans shouldn't miss—including an account of the infamous "pine tar game" of 1983 between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees.
My not-so-strategic delays with this spring training/opening day review have taken us almost six weeks into the season, a fair but fragile sampling. A number of things are certainly clear by this point: the Cubs are for real, maybe even better, and that despite the loss of Kyle Schwarber's Gehrig-like presence with the ACL tear. Bryce Harper is finally living up to his hype—wait a minute, he's still one of the youngest players in the league! Chris Sale can pitch, and his stuff is nasty enough to at least provoke a glance over the shoulder at Gibson's 1.12 ERA mark. A Chi-Town series with irresistible force meeting unhittable object? Wait, not so fast, Stevens! Will the Sox outrun the Royals in the AL Central? Will Baltimore run away with the AL East, buoyed by Manny Machado's charismatic swagger? Will the Mariners keep it up out west, sustaining their surprising start? Should the Cubs and Nats already start sharpening swords for a clash in the NLCS? And why can't I care about the NL West—wait, I just got a D'Backs ballcap at a garage sale for free—is it an augury?!
How to sort out all these imponderables? I can answer that with a single number: 1983. Yes, the pine tar incident is our talisman to understand where this present season is heading, and so I have dredged up the opening-day rosters from that fabled (or not-so-fabled) season now 33 years past, to use as palimpsest for predicting.
Let's start in the NL East, where the Nationals began in torrid fashion, with Bryce Harper offering an apocalyptic week of homeruns (including pinch hit shots) to buoy up the boys, though they've staggered a bit lately. I've always liked Dusty Baker as a skipper, so the Nats should stay solid, and the one-two punch of Max Scherzer (joining the 20 Strikeouts in Nine Innings Club) and Stephen Strasburg is formidable, but their solid #3 starter, Jordan Zimmerman, is now excelling on the Tigers, and the pressure of expectations can impinge. Still, when I look back at 1983, hope springs in lively fashion from the north country, as the Nationals' antecedent, the Montreal Expos, fielded a powerful lineup of perennial stars, with Gary Carter catching, Al Oliver playing the one-bag, and an outfield of prowess: Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, and the later icon of Japanese baseball, Warren Cromartie. All but Cromartie played in the '83 All-Star game, and ace Steve Rogers pitched in it—the die is cast, the Nationals are formidable and Montreal is not forgotten (rumor has it that, along with Mexico City, the jewel of Quebec is at the top of MLB's list for expansion). The Mets are solid again this season after a surprise World Series run, with a stirring rotation that includes Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard, and the savage bat of Yoenis Cespesdes. Once again, '83 looms large—we already know that Gary Carter, cog of the '86 world champs, was still with the Expos, but it's also clear that Daryl Strawberry hadn't yet been called up, since the big sluggers were the quixotic Dave Kingman and the fading George Foster. Sure, Tom Seaver started on opening day, but his battery mate was Ron Hodges, who had 12 extra base hits in 110 games. As it turns out, Seaver had a respectable 3.55 ERA, and still went 9-14. Sorry to my brothers-in-law on Long Island, but the Mets fade this year by August. The Phillies of 2016 are confounding expectations so far despite being a band of relative unknowns anchored by the now veteran Ryan Howard. On the mound, Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nota have shined—could they be the John Denny and Steve Carlton one-two punch from '83? But something's disconcerting here—together Denny and Carlton totaled 25 losses, and the opening day lineup appears a bit like the re-heated Big Red Machine, with Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose all on the other side of the hill. I don't like the implications—I say the '83 effect has the Phillies stumbling in August. The Miami Marlins are hanging in there, though their sparkplug Dee Gordon is now suspended for PED's (was someone mentioning how much the game has changed?), and they didn't exist even in antecedent form pre-1995, so we need to let them go. Forgive me, beloved Don Mattingly, but what are you doing with the tropical color-scheme on your uni? The Atlanta Braves are off to a nightmarish start (they just won their second game at home in 18 tries), their current roster seems filled with players on their second or third or fourth time around (A.J. Pierzynski, Kelly Johnson, Nick Markakis)—and 1983 has an aging Chris Chambliss at first base and the bearded wonder Glenn Hubbard at second, a thin line of appeal. The great but dull MVP Dale Murphy did go .302/36/121 (what the heck, he also scored 131 runs and stole 30 bases!), but it won't be enough—this team will lose 95 games.
The NL Central did not exist in 1983, but all its teams did, and the Cubs were rising then as now. This is an example of a double whammy—Leon Durham, Ryne Sandberg, the productive bat of Bill Buckner (pre-trauma), the productive glove of Larry Bowa, Jody Davis behind the plate—wait, was this a super-productive lineup? Well, 2016 is, featuring not only Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and Javier Baez but also newly acquired Ben Zobrist, not to mention role-players like Tommy La Stella (credit Joe Maddon for getting reps for everyone on the roster). Jake Arrieta has reached Bob Gibson's stratosphere: the no-hit stuff, the 6-0 record, the outlandish ERA, the supreme confidence. Despite questions about 1983 (an aging Fergie Jenkins was the opening day starter), and dark memories of 1984, the Cubs will be a factor to the very end. Meantime, the Pirates hover, hoping the Cubs will slow down.Their star Andrew McCutcheon not yet heated up, but other guys are wielding hot bats, and they have a lot of young pitching, led by Gerrit Cole and Juan Nicasio. There is much to like here (watch out for former Tiger lefty Kyle Lobstein working out of the bullpen), but a glance at the '83 Opening Day lineup sends a shiver, as this was clearly an interregnum between Willie Stargell's 'We are Family,' and the early '90's Barry Bonds-led teams. I see corner infielders Jason Thompson and Dale Berra at an underwhelming glance, and Lee Mazzilli in center doesn't change the prognosis for 2016: third place, hovering at 83 wins. Right now the Cardinals are only above .500 by a tick, but that means nothing—this team rises from the ashes on a regular basis to play in the World Series, and though the personnel changes, the ethos does not. By the way, could we have another Smokey Joe Wood or Rick Ankiel on our hands with Adam Wainwright? If his surgically repaired arm doesn't hold, the upper-deck mammoth shot he hit a couple of weeks ago indicates he could move into a power-hitter role and platoon in right. This team has other sources of pop, and with young guns like Michael Wacha complementing Wainwright, why the sluggish start? Weren't the '83 Cardinals a force to be reckoned with, defending World Champs? George Hendrick, twenty years ahead of his time in wearing his baseball pants all the way down to the shoe-top, was a force that year, going .318/18/97, with the hirsute Ken Oberkfell and the crazy-legged Willie McGee both hitting at a decent clip and scoring runs ahead of him. So where does the bad vibe come from? Aha! I note that the Opening Day first baseman was the non-pareil field general Keith Hernandez, and that the mustachioed one hit .297 with 42 extra base hits—but he was traded to the Mets mid-season, and took his mighty presence away. I think that will haunt the St. Louisians one last time this year—they'll fade in late September. The Brewers were in the AL back in '83 and had just played in their only World Series ever. Were I using the 1982 season as a measuring stick, this might all be different, but they're already more than 10 games back, and though Ryan Braun has returned to form, hitting .380 with seven HR's, and formidable first baseman Chris Carter is enjoying a power surge, there is a bit of anemia, a sagging will in Milwaukee, that will make for an arduous summer. The Cincinnati Reds have lost a considerable slugger in Todd Frazier (more on this later), and starting pitching is as tempestuous as Tim Melville's surname, but it's really the '83 lineup to blame—what was Johnny Bench doing at third base, and what hope springs from Ray Oester starting at second? Sure, Mario Soto went 17-13 with a 2.70 ERA (one shudders at the lack of run-support), but he also gave up 28 home runs. The last puffs of the Big Red Machine, causing the 2016 edition of the team to stall as well.
The NL West is wrapped in mediocrity this season (or competitive parity, perhaps?); at the moment, everyone in the division is at or below the .500 mark. The Dodgers seem the team to beat, with Clayton Kershaw off to another outlandlishly good season, complemented by Kenta Maeda. Is there a 1983 connection to boost this rotation into the post-season? Through the fog I see a connection emerging, an erstwhile but not insignificant nostalgia—the Dodgers current pitching coach, Rick Honeycutt, won the American League ERA crown in '83, junkballing his way to a 14-8 record with a 2.42 ERA (on only 56 strikeouts in 175 innings!)—that stalwart of bad Mariners and Rangers teams will now help the Dodgers compete for the NL West crown. Should we bring up Steve Sax? No, let's move on to San Francisco, where the Giants are neck-and-neck with their arch-rivals. Their rotation looks like an A-list of potentiality—the Series veteran Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jake Peavy, Jeff Samardzija—but they've struggled, and no wonder. The Opening Day starter in '83 was Dave Krukow—enough said. But wait, Atlee Hammaker won the NL ERA crown that year with a strong 2.25! Yet he finished 10-9, dogged by an inconsistent offense (though Jeffrey Leonard was fearsome and Darrell Evans serviceable). This year, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, and Angel Pagan have all been cooking, but somehow Johnny LeMaster as starting shortstop in '83 gives me pause. It won't be the Giants 'every other year' World Series title this year. I want to think it could be the Rockies year, because of the outrageous fun of the Trevor Story arrival, as accidental starting shortstop, with 6 HR's in his first four games. There's a lot more to like on the mile-high team, starting with Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez, and the Rockies have a fine young arm in Tyler Chatwood. Still, with no 1983 back story to go on, I'm worried about the long-term chances. Manager Walt Weiss came a bit too late to bolster the 1983 creds—I think the Rockies fade to 90 losses. The Diamondbacks are also plagued by a lack of history—batting instructors Mark Grace and Dave Magadan don't quite reach back to 1983—but also by a lack of production from their stars thus far. Zach Greinke, nearly unhittable last year, gave up two of Trevor Story's early HR's in the desert, and has struggled since. All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is well below his usual level of performance, which is dangerous. Maybe a .500 season, but not much more, I'd say. The Padres are struggling at five games below .500, but they're fresh off a day/night doubleheader sweep of the Cubs (the first time the Cubs have lost two consecutive games this season). On the mound, Drew Pomeranz is a bright spot, and there's plenty of theoretical punch in the lineup. Can 1983 help? If it were 1984, a World Series year for the Padres, I'd have hope, but '83 was still centered around Gary Templeton's glove and bat at SS (think Ozzie Smith trade … ), and though catcher Terry Kennedy came up with a respectable .284/17/98 for the squad, and Dave Dravecky battled to 14-10, I'm not feeling a strong gravitational pull for this year's team—the will finish in the cellar.
Now, to the American League, and the additional X-factor which I must add to the mix, namely, who were the starting DH's on Opening Day of 1983, the tenth anniversary of the DH, and at this time (and maybe always) the place for aging sluggers to extend their arms and their careers? In the AL East, the Orioles are off to a strong start, clearly fueled by the vapors of their 1983 World Championship—a youthful (was he ever really young?) Cal Ripken went .318/27/102 that year, while his fellow Hall of Famer Eddie Murray went .306/33/111. Whatever Rich Dauer and Gary Roenicke contributed was gravy at that point. Mike Boddicker and Scotty McGregor finished in the top five in ERA and won 16 and 18 games, respectively. Okay, there is a strong edge from the past, but what about the 2016 Birds? Manny Machado is hitting .350 with 7 HR's and stellar defense at third, and Mark Trumbo has come over from the Angels, switched to RF, and is currently .337/8/22—and this with sluggers Adam Jones and Chris Davis not heated up yet. If Chris Tillman emerges as a bona-fide ace, this is a team to reckon with. That being said, the Red Sox are right alongside, with old guys like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz doing damage, and up-and-comers like Xander Bogaerts contributing as well. Former Tiger young-gun Rick Porcello has come into his own, while David Price, also late of the Tigers (and Rays and Blue Jays), has been inconsistent, suffering a couple of shellackings. The Bosox should compete with the Orioles, especially when I weigh in 1983 DH's Carl Yazstremski vs. Ken Singleton—I'll go with the Hall of Famer, and predict that the Red Sox will overtake Orioles in the last week. Last year's division champs, the Blue Jays, appear on the road to struggle, despite the powerful presence of Josh Donaldson with his MVP numbers in the middle of the order and an outfield of Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, and Michael Saunders, all solid offensive producers. Could the 1983 outfield of Terry Collins, Lloyd Moseby, and Jesse Barfield buoy this up? What about Dave Stieb's stalwart 17-12 campaign? Maybe. But the tipping point of Butch Johnson as the 1983 DH? Despite the formidable mustache, I don't think it's enough. Tampa wasn't around in '83, and they appear to be fading this year as well—sign of the times, another former Tigers lefty, Drew Smyly, had a 2.60 ERA after his first 5 starts but a win-loss record of 1-3. No pop. And the Yankees look worse. Even their invulnerable bullpen for 100+mph arms has been roughed up (though now Aroldis Chapman is back from his suspension), and the aging knees of A-Rod, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Texeira can be heard creaking throughout the Bronx. Starlin Castro has emerged as a top-of-the-order hitter and fleet second baseman, but darkness has begun to descend. Can 1983 help, despite the fiasco of the pine tar game and the implosion of the Steinbrenner-Martin 're-re-re-re-marriage'? Don Baylor was the opening day DH, so that's something—and Ken Griffey, Sr., and a peaking Dave Winfield were in the lineup on Opening Day—but Don Mattingly wasn't yet in the everyday mix, which has augury written all over it—it hurts to say it, but the Yankees feel George Brett's wrath once more, and cellar-dwell.
The AL Central has been my milieu for the past two decades, and here the 1983 vibe is heavy, though 2016 has absolutely belonged to the White Sox thus far. Were it not for Jake Arrieta across town, Chris Sale would seem superhuman, and Jose Quintana is off to a great start. Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie, and Adam Eaton are slapping it around, but Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier got off to slow starts—though Frazier just drove in a bushel of runs and may be heating up with the weather. Can 1983 help them? Tony LaRussa was at the helm in those days of yore, with Jim Leyland by his side, in the umpteenth hideous uniform style in a row. The offense was pretty ugly back then too—Carlton Fisk basically led the team in everything, going .289/26/86, with 85 runs—but their pitchers were horses, with Lamar Hoyt going 24-10, and Dotson and Bannister combining for 38 more wins and 450 more innings to match Hoyt's 260. Pitching then and pitching now—a solid combination. But is there a single lowering cloud in the sky? Greg 'Bull' Luzinski as Opening Day DH in '83 … hmmmm. The Tigers are muddling along, three games below .500 and seven behind the Sox. Even upbeat and unparalleled radio play-by-play man Dan Dickerson, whose voice in my car or kitchen is part of our familial summer fabric, has let slip tattered phrases of despair on the performance of Mike Pelfrey, the off-season acquisition to shore up the rotation. But the arrival of Jordan Zimmerman from the Nationals has been revelatory, as he has been superb, balancing out the inconsistency of Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez. In an odd twist of fate, Miguel Cabrera has struggled with sliders and strikeouts and making good contact, while 3B Nick Castellanos, who used to flail at sliders, has become Cabrera-like. (Will the foul ball my son retrieved from the bat of the 18-year-old Castellanos during his season here with the Low A West Michigan Whitecaps someday be a cog in our family financial plan?!) Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler are both experiencing veteran rejuvenation at the plate, and a glance back at 1983, the year before their World Championship, shows a Tigers team ready to bolster from the past. Whitaker and Trammell, purveyors of a million DP's together over the years, finished third and fourth in the batting race, at .320 and .319, while Lance Parrish and Larry Herndon provided some pop (Herndon was a strong .302/20/92 that year). Entering his peak moment, Jack Morris was 20-13, struck out 232, and shouldered a hair under 300 innings—a horse. But I have a concern, and his name is John Wockenfuss, DH on Opening Day of '83. Even if the 2016 bullpen stays strong, this blow from the past might be enough to take down the Tigers. I hope not, but I worry. Strangely, I'm not worried about Kansas City, World Champs but for the moment a mediocre team with pitching problems and, other than Eric Hosmer, sketchiness at the plate. Still, maybe I should worry. The 1983 factor, the 'ya gotta believe redux' factor in Kansas City, suggests that the ship will right itself. Willie Mays Aikens, Frank White, U.L. Washington, and George Brett—a solid infield, with Brett going .310/25/93, even with the pine tar HR stripped away, while the DH factor was strong, with Hal McRae hitting .311. The Royals will rise again. The Cleveland Indians will not rise, though they should—that rotation, with Carrasco, Kluber, and Salazar, is formidable, and the young DP combination of Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis can flat our field and flat out hit. But '83 revises me (to misquote Li Young-Lee)—Ron Hassey, Bake McBride, Manny Trillo—I'm not feeling it. Wait, Julio Franco opened the season at shortstop—isn't he still playing somewhere?! I like Rick Sutcliffe as the ace, but he ended up peaking for the Cubs. Toss in the DH factor, and you get a strong Christian force in MLB ranks in Andre Thornton—but is his big swing and high K total enough to carry the 2016 team. Not quite. The Twins are in deep, deep trouble, 17 games under .500 after an abysmal start. And no wonder—Kirby Puckett. The sparkplug of their '87 and '91 title runs had not yet been called up on Opening Day, and though several of the champion cogs were in place—Hrbek, Gaetti, Brunansky—the fact that Randy Bush was the starting DH bodes ill. Maybe Byron Buxton will get called back up to fulfill the destiny set for him as the next Puckett—but right now he's on a minor league bus, and the Twins will continue to struggle.
And hence we arrive in the AL West, with a great surprise in store, perhaps the ultimate surprise that 1983 holds (or would it be "held," or "will have held"—complexities of verb tense). This year's surprise is that the Mariners are leading the pack, though Robinson Cano's sweet swing is no surprise. With Nelson Cruz, the ageless free-agent, crushing 450 foot shots behind Cano in the lineup, the Mariners have discovered how to score. They already know how to pitch, with King Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker leading the way. There's bad news for the Pacific Northwest, though—1983 is not your friend. In a year when your twin pitching duo of Young and Beattie finished in the top 20 in ERA but were a collective 21-30, and when your best hitter might have been Al Cowens, things look slim. The DH factor is a non-factor—it was Richie Zisk (did anyone else of my age demographic seem to get three Richie Zisk cards in every pack?!). Seattle will fade in the long summer. The Rangers, well, I already stole their '83 magic by designating Rick Honeycutt's stats for assignment elsewhere, though they can keep Charlie Hough's 15-13 record with the league's fourth best ERA at 3.18. The issue of run support obviously surfaces, a point punctuated by Danny Darwin going 8-13 and Mike Smithson 10-14 that year, though both had ERA's under 4. The bats were 'led' by Buddy Bell and Larry Parrish—I think Jim Sundberg might have batted up in the order. The DH on Opening Day was one Hostetler—lost to history! This year they have a young RF, Nomar Mazara, hitting well, and the stellar Adrian Beltre joins Elvis Andrus around .300, but where's the power (Prince Fielder, I'm calling to you!)? Top-of-the-rotation excellence from A.J. Griffin and Derek Holland should keep them around, but not quite on top. And the reason for this is the LA Angels. This is my dark horse pick out of the West, though they are seven games below .500 right now. Why, you may ask? Is it the astronomical talent of Mike Trout or the Hall of Fame punch of Albert Pujols hitting behind him? Yes and Yes. The new table-setters in Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun? Double yes. The gritty rotation with Garret Richards anchoring? Yes. But it's really about '83. The California Angels didn't win it all that year, but they stacked the All-Star roster with no less than six personages (few of whom I primarily identify with the Angels, by the way): Bob Boone (defense first, clearly, since he hit .256 that year), Doug DeCinces, Rod Carew (a pedestrian, for him, .339 season), Fred Lynn, Brian Downing (re-inventing the open batting stance), Bruce Kison as the Opening Day pitcher and relative ace. And the DH on this squad? Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, a tad diminished, but still vicious on balls down and in. I like the 2016 Angels to finish the task their forebears could not—hurtling into the postseason as a juggernaut. Wait, I still have to deal with Oakland and Houston, two teams on the wrong side of .500. The Athletics are in a down phase; their best pitcher is Rich Hill, a thirtysomething journeyman who's barely pitched in the last 5 seasons, and their best hitter is Jed Lowrie. A glance at '83 shows a team in pre-'Bash Brothers' mode, with Davey Lopes, Carney Lansford, and Dave 'Hindu' Henderson as the lead-dogs. DH—big bopper Jeff Burroughs. Once hit four home runs in a game. But not a factor in this calculus. The A's take a plunge this year. But why has Houston flopped so far this year, after rising from squalor to the postseason last year, the darlings of developing young talent and putting it all together the 'right way'? Well, one thing is their swing-for-the-fences mentality. No one on the team is in the top 20 in the AL in batting average, and their best young players, George Springer and Carlos Correa (both five-tool phenoms), are struggling to make contact. Plus, the pitching, a strong suit last season, has slid a bit—Dallas Keuchel is a legitimate ace, but will Doug Fister work out, or the almost but not yet Collin McHugh? But let's be frank—the real problem is found when we cross the years and the leagues and locate the 1983 Houston Astros in the NL West. At first, the journey yields great promise—Jose Cruz was third in the NL in batting, with a stellar .318/14/92 line, and two notches down, the counterintuitive presence of Ray Knight (he was the Astro's first baseman?!) hitting .304 with 36 doubles seems to swell the possibilities. Don't forget Dickie Thon, before the brutal beaning that damaged his vision, hitting .284, scoring 81 runs and stealing 34 bases. There's a lot of energy here, so why can't Astros resurge in 2016? I will attribute my angst to the switch of leagues—with no DH, no matter how obscure, to infuse energy from afar, the wheels come off. Even a saving throw of Terry Puhl, with his perennial league-leading pinch hits, can't salvage the season for Houston.
So what do we have here? The postseason will begin in the AL with the hateful and confusing one-game wildcard between Baltimore and Detroit, and before Cal Ripken can be summoned to show his hoary, tonsured head to the crowd to summon the old championship magic, the Tigers will dispatch the Orioles, moving out west to take on the shocking Angels. Meantime, the two Sox will battle, with the Red Sox riding David Ortiz's wizened playoff wizardry to a seventh-game showdown with the White Sox in a frenzied Southside Chicago. Look for one of the three Tigers castaways—Alex Avila, Avisail Garcia, or most likely Austin Jackson—to play a crucial role in felling Boston. The White Sox have the vibe, and the pilgrim-collared uniforms of '83 might re-appear (but not the short pants, please!). The Angels will batter the Tigers faster than you can spell 'DeCinces,' as Detroit continues its long-term struggles in Southern California, and then the icy winds will descend on Chicago, as the Angels shiver and slip through sleet, slashing at Sale's sliders (Gerard Manley Hopkins finally makes it to the ballpark!). The White Sox will scratch and claw in the bad weather, then erupt on the Angels home field, but mighty Pujols and the leaping Trout will hold serve, and back at what was once Comiskey, in a Game Seven played in autumnal chill, with Bobby Grich present in the crowd, the Angels will earn the right to play for the World's Championship, with Jered Weaver matching Chris Sale pitch by gangly pitch, for ten innings, until Pujols quiets the crowd with a slider deposited deep in left-center. '83.
In the NL, the Cardinals surge, and no matter what I said before, they make the wildcard and clash with the Pittsburgh (Lee Mazilli, I've decided you did make the difference!)—the Cardinals emerge swinging bats and punches, ready for the rival Cubs, while the Nationals and the Dodgers cross the country to cross swords. The Cubs will be ready, emotionally and baseball-wise, to take down their longtime foe, as Arrieta provides a Bob Gibson-esque lesson in sustained postseason dominance, and Kyle Schwarber miraculously returns ahead of schedule from his ACL tear for one limping, Kirk Gibson-esque late home run. Wrigley will be electric, and twice Chicago will host games in the north and south sides on the same night—a vigor for the windy city not felt in the baseball world since a century ago. The Nationals will ride the Francophonic winds of Montreal mystique straight through the hearts of the Dodger fans, with an NLDS sweep that leaves an old refrain migrating west from Brooklyn to L.A.: 'Wait until next year'—and wait until $250 million on the payroll! Gio Gonzalez, Strasburg, Roark, Scherzer—this rotation is formidable and will be at its strongest when the Cubs come to town. Strength on strength, mano a mano, a Strasburg heater cutting in on Rizzo's hands, Arrieta 3-2 on Bryce Harper, an NLCS for the ages, with ghosts and echoes and tintinnabulations resounding through D.C. and the Northside. Back and forth, until Arrieta and Scherzer meet in Game Seven, in Wrigley, the World Series a few hours away. Steve Bartman in exile, the curse of the billy goat exorcised, the futility of the both sets of Washington Senators now rescinding, and then Jayson Werth twists all 6'5" into a fastball and the Cubs dreams must wait another year. The El-Series, the ChiTown Twinbill, the Cubs-White Sox miracle series, will have to wait for another year.
Washington vs. Anaheim—not phrasing to stir the hearts of the baseball faithful—but many of us should fault our younger selves, or our parents' generation, for stocking the ranks of the 1983 All-Star Game with Angels and Expos. I say the World Series is a denouement. Dusty Baker and Mike Scioscia shake off the nostalgic dust of Dodgers glory, of teammate bonding, and stare each other down from the dugout steps. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, neither yet eligible to serve in the House of Representatives or, according to T. S. Eliot, to pursue the title of poet (in both cases, one must be 25 years old), will shine like blazing young stars. Speaking of blazing, Strasburg will bring all his vast heat to bear. Nationals in five. Two complete games for Strasburg. Bob Gibson in the stands, smiling. Tim McCarver on the radio, reminiscing. Chicago baseball fans, not watching, not listening, not caring. Until next season.
Michael R. Stevens is professor of English at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
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