(Posted: 3/28/11; update 3/29)
On the brink of the new season, best the Mets’ concern about the health of Carlos Beltran has made it easy to overlook a potential long-term problem: Jason Bay’s persistent loss of power. Bay, see who hit only six HRs in 95 games last year, has had none in 18 spring games. The left fielder was given a four-year $66 million contract in hopes he would duplicate his four over-30-homer seasons between 2005 and 2008 with the Pirates and Red Sox. The Mets and their fans must face the real possibility that Bay’s long-ball days are over.
Lefty hitters are looking at a similar reality in the political game. Through the years they’ve lost their clout, the power to force opponents to play them deep, treat them with respect. Liberal fans couldn’t see what was happening clearly. They knew that their team, at the top of its game before Vietnam, had lost ground trying to do too much. They thought it would be forgiven for overspending because it went to bat consistently for the bleacherites. But strong, high-priced pitching helped the opposition develop a momentum that attracted the support of fans in the upper decks as well as the corporate boxes.
Lefties thought that would change when Team Obama took the field. Instead, the skipper is showing he knows the score – the poll numbers-generated message, which confirmed this truth: the noise coming from the left no longer makes a difference.
Responding to the scoreboard, Skip Barack has quick-pitched to strike out the public option, cut corners to keep the Bush tax cuts, slowed his delivery on Iraq and Afganistan troop withdrawals, served a hanging change-up to the Latin-American right, and balked on commitments to close Guantanamo, end torture, support whistle-blowing and civil liberties, in general. Approaching mid-game, he has blown away all but the desperate hopes of lefty diehards.
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Jason Not Totally at Bay: Tinkering with his stance, Jason Bay has hinted at his own desperation. His adjustments have resulted in improved hit production, if not home runs. He’s batting .333; he it .259 in 96 games last season.
A Job for Joba?: On MLB-TV, the other night, Larry Bowa expressed concern about the staying power of Phil Hughes and the back of the Yankees’ rotation. Bowa noted that overwork probably caused a drop-off in Hughes’ effectiveness at the end of last season. The same thing, he said, could happen to him, Ivan Nova and even Freddy Garcia this year. Joba Chamberlain, he suggested, could be the key to the success of the entire NYY rotation. “If he can get comfortable pitching the sixth or seventh inning (before Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera), the starters will be fine.”
Familiar Faces: Half the fun this season will be watching how familiar players do with new teams. Of particular interest here will be the performances of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez on the Rays (we mentioned Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur last time). The Tigers, opening with the Yanks at the Stadium Thursday, will have two former pinstripers worthy of attention in this, their second year in Detroit: center fielder Austin Jackson and former reliever, now fifth starter, Phil Coke. Ian Kennedy, also dealt by the NYYs before last season, but to the the D-backs, will be Arizona’s opening-day pitcher this week and worthy of attention throughout the year. The D-backs have two former Mets on the staff, J.J. Putz and Aaron Heilman. The team with most ex-Mets: The White Sox, with Ramon Castro, Philip Humber and Lastings Millidge.
The Un-Living: Zack Greinke was confident that, despite a cracked rib, he would be back pitching for the Brewers in time for opening day. The Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy reminds us that, with a similar injury last season, Jacoby Ellsbury played a total of 18 games. We predicted it would be late April, at the earliest, that Greinke would go off the DL. Now we think that might be too optimistic. In the same column, Shaughnessy recalls what Orioles manager Earl Weaver used to say when asked about an injured player: “He’s not on my team; I only deal with the living.”
Trouble Brew-ing? With Greinke out and fellow starter Shaun Marcum toting an iffy shoulder, the Brewers finish second to the Cardinals in our unwelcome pre-season, high-expectation “Teams-at-Risk” standings. The White Sox are third. Rick Sutcliffe said on ESPN that Ozzie Guillen would be wise to wait until July – the medical opinion – before letting surgery-convalescent Jake Peavy back in his rotation. Peavy wants to rush his return, an option that’s hard for Ozzie to resist.
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