The Nub

Ball Teams and Political Fans Facing Key Decisons

(Posted:  6/27/11; update 6/28)     

 The Cardinals, buy Brewers, sildenafil for sale Mariners and Mets are four teams that have big decisions to make: invest huge amounts in holding on to franchise players Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Ichiro Suzuki and Jose Reyes, or spend the money on collecting as many potentially good, if not great, players to carry them into the future. None of the four teams can afford to go into a total rebuilding mode if it wants to keep fans interested.  How each improves its product – spending here, cutting back there, and how fast that improvement comes – could decide how viable the franchise is in the long run. 

There are two franchises – Dems and Team GOP – trying to calculate the way to political viability into the near-future.  Each needs a financial strategy targeting debt-reduction that fans will support.  And each is currently playing a cautious game about the approach it wants to take.  National Journal mainstay Ron Brownstein has watched the game from the pressbox and tracked every move:

“Insiders believe (both teams) are likely to…squeez(e) domestic and defense discretionary spending, while moving only modestly to restructure entitlement programs and the tax code…That’s understandable:  Both parties are reluctant to settle those critical choices until they learn whether the 2012 election increases their leverage.  But taxes and entitlements are unavoidably the key to stabilizing the long-term debt…

“There’s not much mystery about how to raise revenue: Washington can increase tax rates, eliminate tax breaks, or impose new levies.   Nor should there be much mystery about the need to do so.  Despite the fiscal pressures created by an aging society, federal receipts are now at their lowest level since 1950 when measured as a share of the economy.  The problem is building majority support, in Congress and among the populace, for raising more revenue—particularly when so many congressional Republicans have pledged to oppose any tax increase.”

Some will say whichever decision voters make next year will not be critical, but a simple ballot-box choice.  Attentive fans know it will be a game-changer, with the country’s direction and quality of life of the many in the balance.   

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Fielder is 27, Reyes 28 and Pujols 31; they will be in, or close to, their prime.  Ichiro turns 38 this year.  A reasonable assumption would have Pujols, who plays first base, the least-taxing infield position, getting a seven-year deal, and Reyes, the most taxing at SS, signed for six.  Fielder might get five; his weight hurts his negotiating stance. The Mariners would probably offer Ichiro at least two more years.  But anticipating what the quiet Japanese star will do next is a challenging task.

Inter-League Cont.  Coming out of the weekend, the Rays and Nationals have dominated the second round of inter-league play, Tampa Bay going 8-1, Washington 7-2 overall.  The Rays were among three weekend sweepers, taking three from the Astros while the Brewers and Giants swept the Twins and Indians.  TB moved to within two games of the AL East lead.  The Nats have solidified a claim to be a better-than-.500 team.  The W-L breakdown going into tonight: AL 67, NL 59.

Test for the Mets:  As of Sunday night, the Yankees were in first in their division, having taken two of three from the Rockies while the Red Sox dropped two of three to the Pirates. That meant, for the moment, the Mets had the distinction of playing nine straight games against the three first-place AL teams – the Rangers (from whom they took two of three), the Tigers, with whom they have a midweek series, and, finally, the Yanks, whom they play at home next weekend.  Media buzz says the Mets’ performance over the nine could well determine whether Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez will be kept or dealt as summer unfolds.   

What We’d Rather Not Be Reminded About Derek Jeter (as laid out in Michael Sokolowe’s Sunday Times Magazine piece): “(Jeter) leads all of baseball, by a wide margin, in his ratio of ground balls to balls lifted in the air, an arcane but telling statistic.   Jeter can no longer consistently bring the bat through the hitting zone at the proper moment, and with enough authority, to hit line drives into the outfield gaps or fly balls that clear the fences…’His hands are not as quick (said a scout).  His feet are not as quick.  His overall strength is diminished…Father Time catches up with all of us’.”

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Errors and Rebuilding Linked in Both Fields

(Posted: 6/24/11;update 6/25)      

The Mets got a painful reminder this week of how arid their farm system has been:  Jose Reyes, generic levitra their last truly outstanding home-grown product, click says he is ready to move on.  Reyes, sales who joined the team eight years ago this month, confirmed that he will not negotiate with the Mets during the season, waiting instead to become a free agent in the fall.  Given the team’s Madoff-related losing streak, it’s doubtful enough money will be found to outbid competitors for Reyes’ services in 2012 and beyond.

Like the Mets, in urgent need of retooling their pipeline of prospects, Team USA’s Skipper Obama this week acknowledged the urgency of rebuilding the nation’s farm and myriad other systems – roads, bridges, schools, social services, etc.  “Nation-building here at home,” is how he put it.  And, just as Mets fans felt rolled their eyes when Fred Wilpon publicly questioned Reyes’ earning power, and therefore his value, fans of the Obama team had reason to question both his plans and the occasional over-pitching of his message.   For starters, the skipper can hardly expect fans to cheer a hyped pullout of troops from Afghanistan when, under his plan, close to 70,000 of the current 100,000 of them will still be in the country next summer.

Then there is this series of ill-considered, off-the-plate deliveries: 

“Al-Qaida has failed in its effort to portray America as a nation at war with Islam.”   A hard one to sell, given, among other things, our undeviating support for Israel against the Palestinians.

“When innocents are being slaughtered…”  Certainly a reminder of the thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan alone, caused by the American military on the ground and in the air via drone and conventional attacks.

“Let’s reclaim the American dream…with confidence in our cause.”   Our cherry-picking of places where we intervene – like Libya – and keep our distance, like Bahrein, Yemen and Syria, can’t help but undermine confidence that we are hitting disinterestedly down the middle in the Mideast.  It was Skipper George H.W. Bush who, in 1991, linked our first intervention in Iraq to the importance of access to oil.  It was, he said, what helped make possible “our way of life.”   Given this background, one could describe what Skipper Obama seeks to reclaim as an “oily American dream.”

The skipper seems to have lost the sharp rhetorical control that characterized many of his early performances.  It is a sharpness he’d better retrieve with the 2012 campaign season approaching.

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Inter-League 2:  The second three-game round of inter-league games through Thursday was almost a complete reversal of the first round.  NL teams won 26 of 42 games, only two fewer than their AL counterparts in the first round.  The Nationals had the best two-round record , 5-1; the KC Royals were 1-5.   Total W-L score going into Friday night games: AL 44-40, NL 40-44.

Nobody Asked Us, But…We admire Jim Riggelman for the remarkable job he did as manager of the Washington Nationals.  And we admit to a bias for on-field people in disputes with baseball front offices.  But we think it was wrong of Riggelman to spring a game of “chicken” on the Nats’ front office.  He should have fulfilled the remainder of his contract rather than resigning when he failed to receive a requested extension.  If he could keep his team playing above-.500, he would have been in a strong position to get his extension at the end of the season.  That’s especially true since the Nats seem to have the personnel to remain close to contention in the NL East.

A Natty Future:  As if Mets fans don’t have enough to be glum about, the team’s SNY broadcasters Gary Cohen and Ron Darling were near-euphoric Thursday afternoon about the future of the former doormat  Nationals.  “Whoever replaces Riggelman,” Darling said, “can look forward to having Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper added to what is already the hottest team in baseball.”  The two speculated about the possibility Bobby Valentine would replace Riggelman.

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Chance to Inch Toward Closer-to-Even Playing Fields

(Posted: 6/20/11; update 6/21)     

Next to the dollar disparity of its teams, baseball’s most puzzling inequity has long been the unbalanced league lineup: 16 clubs composing the NL, prostate 14 the AL.  That, shop we know, resulted in four five-team divisions and two exceptions: a six-team NL Central and only a four-team AL West.  So, playing the math game, teams in one division have a 16 percent chance of winning, in the other, a 25-percent chance.  Why the Rangers, Mariners, Angels and Athletics should be given that advantage while the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Cubs and Astros are required to meet the extra numerical challenge has never been satisfactorily explained.

Now, at last, baseball’s decision-makers are considering realigning the leagues into 15 teams apiece.  The early buzz has the  Astros moving to the AL.  Logically they would become the West’s fifth team, but there’s also talk of the six divisions being eliminated and everybody playing everybody else in its league on a so-called “balanced” basis.  Balance means Toronto and Baltimore would only play the Red Sox and Yanks the same number of times as do teams in the league’s other (former) divisions.  Such changes would clearly not bring perfect fairness to the pennant races, but they would help level the playing field.   

Tikkun, the progressive Jewish magazine, has sought to level the Israeli-Palestinian playing field by putting religion-based  pressure on Team Netanyahu.  Tikkun’s Michael Lerner asked lefty icon Noam Chomsky whether the T-team could exert more influence on Jewish public opinion by swinging on behalf of Israel’s self-interest rather than its usual slant, Palestinian suffering?  Chomsky answered that the focus should be neither on Israel nor Palestine:

“The real issue for us is not what Israel is doing but what the United States is doing — it’s in our hands to determine how this turns out.  If the United States continues to lend completely uncritical support to the Israeli policies of expanding their control and domination, as is in fact happening, that’s what will eventuate. But that can change.  And it can change by bringing the American population — Jewish and non-Jewish — to recognize that these U.S. government policies are unacceptable and have to be reversed.  If the U.S. were induced or compelled by popular opinion to join the world on this issue…then there could be…significant improvement (in the outlook for peace).”

Just as the Red Sox and Yankees would likely remain strong competitors in baseball without their superior financial clout, so would Israel remain a formidable Mideast nation without U.S. support, but with Team Obama serving as peacekeeping umpire.  On a more even playing field, Team Netanyahu’s aspirations for peace could be tested in talks on a fairer basis than they are now.  New odds would favor the conflict finally being resolved.   

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Weekend Happenings:  The second inter-league weekend was certainly eventful:  Edwin Rodriguez voluntarily jumping the Marlins’ floundering ship, with Jack McKeon to return as skipper; Albert Pujols sidelined for four-to-six weeks by a wrist injury.  Then there were the momentum rides – the Indians shocking the Pirates and sweeping back into first in the AL Central; the A’s doing the same to the Giants, to move back to within five games of the AL West lead.  The Twins stretching their latest hot streak to seven straight, beating the Padres, to give them a 14-2 record since June 2.  By sweeping the Marlins, Tampa Bay had the rare experience of gaining on both the Red Sox and Yankees (if only by a single game).  Total weekend score: AL teams 28, NL teams 14.

Help Wanted:  SNY’s Keith Hernandez on Jason Bay (.222, two HRs in 47 games) and his effort to regain his hitting form:  “He is still not there.  I thought he had a terrible game (the other night).  I don’t know what it is.”

If You Wanted an Explanation:  Ron Darling, on TBS, on the Red Sox formula for winning so far this season:  “This is what the Red Sox do – they pound the opposing pitcher into submission.”

Difference-Maker:  Brewers manager Ron Roenicke on the effectiveness of the knuckleball: “Anything that’s different can really mess up a hitter.  And that’s what’s happened to us today (against the Sox’s Tim Wakefield).                                        

Caveat:  John Smoltz (also on TBS) on Boston’s potential Achilles heel:  “If the Red Sox are going to be champions, they have to do something about the opposition’s running game.  An opponent can take advantage of their pitching and catching, and that can hurt down the stretch.”                                                       

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 (The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Familiar Gap in the Game of Good Intentions and Follow-Through

(Posted: 6/17/11;update 6/18)

The  The other night on ESPN, Bobby Valentine repeated a familiar Mets’ line:  “In a major market like New York, sickness you must have marquee players.”  We know that to be partially true: a big-market team needs marquee players along with savvy front office and field staff and a productive farm system.  The Mets, and all teams, dedicate themselves to providing the best possible product for their fans.   Many, like the Mets, Astros, Royals, etc., fall short because actions don’t match professed aspirations.  Most teams are unwilling to invest beyond a point they consider shaky financial ground.

On the foreign-policy field, we’re seeing a similar game playing out.  Team Obama is cheering loudly for pro-democratic rallies being staged throughout the Middle East.  But the skipper and his team are unwilling to go to bat militarily (or financially) beyond a limited point.  Aaron David Miller, formerly a key member of the State Department’s front office, told a BBC audience the other day that the U.S. was unlikely to do anything but jaw about the unrest in Syria.  Unlike Libya, which he called “low-hanging fruit”, Syria, said Miller, has a redwood-strong stance, powerful allies, and plays an influential game at the heart of the region.

But what about the ferment for democracy, he was asked; how could Team Obama justify doing nothing beyond delivering encouraging pitches?  The explanation is as basic as keeping one’s eye on the ball, said Miller:

“There’s a gap between our values and our interests.”

That’s the message on the scoreboard in Bahrein, Yemen, and, if it comes to that, in Saudi Arabia.  It’s a message that reassures tyrants like Teodoro Obiang – a “human rights bad boy” – in Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s fourth largest oil exporter.  A Team Obama scout was quoted in an incredulous NY Times report last week as praising Obiang’s “mellowing, benign leadership.”  To paraphrase the late, smooth-swinging Walter Cronkite: “That’s the way it is, the way the game is played.”

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Where We Are:  At the start of the month, the NL East was a dogfight between the Phillies and the Marlins.  Then Florida lost 14 of 15 games and the Phils are left without a division challenger unless you count the up-and-down Braves.  The floundering Marlins had to place ace Josh Johnson on the 60-day DL this week, adding to their plight.  On the other hand, the Twins – winners of 11 of their last 13 – climbed out of a similar hole created, in part, by the absence of Joe Mauer, who returns tonight.  Twins fans can hope having Mauer back will be the tonic that Ryan Zimmerman’s return has been to the Nationals; the Nats, winners of six straight, have not lost since their best hitter rejoined them earlier this week.  The Yanks are doing fine without Derek Jeter, thank you. The Mets, minus David Wright and Ike Davis, aren’t doing badly, either.  

Tightening in Two Divisions:  Going into tonight’s action, only three games separate the top four teams in the NL Central: the third-place Reds and fourth-place Pirates are riding three- and four-game streaks, respectively. The Brewers, meanwhile, have had a mediocre stretch, the Cardinals a scuffling one.  The AL West had three teams bunched within three games of each other.  The Mariners are the big surprise there – only a half-game behind the reeling first-place Rangers. The third-place Angels come into CitiField tonight having won only three of their last 10.

Micro Stars:  MLB-TV’s “look-ins” of key game moments, and pick-ups of entire games with local announcers give viewers a chance to hear some fine play-by-play and color:  Our favorites among a generally first-rate group of sportscasters: Vin Scully with the Dodgers, Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, White Sox;  Bob Brenly, Cubs; Gary Thorne, Orioles.  The verve and insights of all enhance the action on the field.

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests.  Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Weiner Trying to Avoid Tag in Tough Rundown

(Posted: 6/13/11; update 6/14)     

We remember one time seeing Anthony Weiner campaigning at a Staten Island Yankees game.  Fans know it is bad form for politicians to be pitching for votes at a ballpark.  It should have occurred to us then that Weiner – witty and engaging (if erratic on the issues) – was prone to making errors of judgment. 

Weiner’s misplay at that A-league game and his bizarre off-field behavior connects to the reckless, discount pills voyeuristic side of baseball described by Jim Bouton in “Ball Four.”  To MLB’s chagrin, discount sales that 1970 classic told of Bouton teammates who would bore holes into adjoining hotel rooms to spy on female neighbors, grovel under grandstands to look up girls’ dresses, etc.

By today’s standards it could be dismissed as boyish mischief.  Modern technology offers those so inclined now a way to establish personal contact through word and image – one-on-one exchanges of suggestive stuff at a comfortable distance.  Weiner, we know, was trapped off-base in that game.  He has yet to be tagged out, but it will take more than dashing for the DL to survive the rundown directed against him by his own teammates and the media.

We once razzed the Congressman to his face for publicly cheering George Bush’s vengeance-driven response to 9/11.  He shrugged off our criticism.  This time he acknowledges making a “serious mistake” and hopes to “redeem” himself.  We hope he succeeds, if for no other reason than, should he win re-election, Weiner would be an enlivening presence in the mayoral contest two years from now.

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Turnabout:  Eleven games ago, the Minnesota Twins were 16 games out of first place in the AL Central and all but written off.  After taking two of three from Texas this weekend, the Twins have won nine of 11, while the first-place Indians did the opposite – 2-and-9 – going into tonight’s game with the Yankees.  Result: Ron Gardenhire’s resilient team has climbed to within nine games of the lead.  And that’s not all – long-disabled star Joe Mauer is due to return to the Twins lineup in a few days.

Miscellaneous: Ryan Zimmerman’s scheduled return to the Washington Nationals today should give them a boost.  Their best hitter, Zimmerman has been out since the second week of April.  The Marlins, losers of nine of 10, haven’t been the same since injuries sidelined their best pitcher Josh Johnson and All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez. The Giants will be hard put to stay atop the NL West until Freddy Sanchez’s dislocated right shoulder heals.   Some key offensive disappointments as of mid-June:  the Nats’ Jayson Werth, .236;  Mets’ Jason Bay, .211;  Rays’ B.J. Upton, .219; Mariners’ Chone Figgins, .189; Athletics’ Hideki Matsui, 216; White Sox’s Alex Rios, .212, Rangers’ Ian Kinsler, .231, Yankees’ Nick Swisher, 225.  Special mention: Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki, .258 (far, far under his norm).  

The Derek-Caused Distraction:  Dating from our debut in April 2007, Derek Jeter has been a Nub post-er boy.  For us, his iconic status is indisputable.  But…we deplore the distracting excess coverage being given his 3,000-hit countdown.  Jeter would be the first to remind fans and the media that pennant-race results and team performances deserve reportage priority over individual record-setting.  Derek’s daily closing in on 3,000 can – and should – be covered in a few words.     

Huffy HoJo :  Former Mets hitting coach Howard Johnson says it was “ridiculous” for Terry Collins to bench Jason Bay in an effort to help him out of a prolonged slump.  Bay should have been kept in the lineup, says Johnson, for as long as it took him to get into the groove.  Some of us called Johnson a ridiculous choice to be the team’s batting instructor: he was one of the least-disciplined hitters ever to play for the Mets.  His criticism of Collins suggests that the new manager rightly vetoed keeping Johnson on in a role for which he was unqualified.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests.  Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Keeping One’s Word a Rarity in Baseball and Politics

(Posted: 6/10/11, usa sale mid-afternoon)

In a game televised by MLB-TV the other night, usa sovaldi Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was asked if he thought Albert Pujols would be with the team next year. “Yes, levitra ” said La Russa, while disclaiming any knowledge of salary negotiations in advance of Pujols’ possible end-of-season free agency.  Asked how he could be so optimistic, the Cards’ manager said “I know Albert; he says he wants to stay.  I have no doubt he means it.  He does what he sets out to do.”

The players union is urging Pujols to insist on a contract paying him market value, in the Alex Rodriguez range, so that game-wide salary levels will rise.  But if La Russa is right, Pujols could be ready to do what Cliff Lee did – accept less to play where he is most comfortable.

We know that Pujols has the stats, the stature, and the durability to entice some team to give him a 10-year $300 million deal.  But the St.Louis front office and fans believe he has the integrity to stick to his expressed commitment to the city and the team.  We know, too, that few players on the political field seem to have that same commitment to their fans and team.  This has been especially true at competitive local levels since 2010, when Team GOP players far outscored their entrenched Dem rivals.  Salon’s stern scorekeeper Glenn Greenwald laments the lack of a solid Pujols-like stance on the left as well as the right: 

“If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that the true test of the authenticity of claimed political convictions is whether they endure regardless of which party controls the White House.  Democratic loyalists spent many years pretending to care about civil liberties and wars because doing so allowed them opportunistically to bash a GOP President; as soon as a Democratic President adopted those policies, the purported concerns for such matters all but vanished…Obviously, widespread Democratic opposition to Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies was motivated primarily by partisan advantage, not actual conviction.”

Like media teammates on the left, Greenwald has swung away in similar fashion at Skipper Obama, attacking him often for his shifting stance.

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What We Know…going into the weekend:  With more than a third of the season gone, it is mini-panic time for teams in a tailspin – the 10-straight-losing A’s and the eight-loss Marlins.  Both felt they had to do something.   In Oakland’s case it meant firing manager Bob Geren, in Florida’s, it was goodbye to  hitting coach John Mallee.  The Yankees’ three-straight defeats at the hands of the Red Sox amount to the psychological equivalent of at least twice that many.  The loss of Joba Chamberlain for the season  compounds the sense of crisis swirling around the Yanks.  If any team deals soon for needed pitching it will the Bombers.  Why? Compared to others in distress, they have the amps – additional money and prospects to spare

Carlos’ Gift:  Amid talk of a long-shot effort by the Mets to hold on to Jose Reyes, there’s nary a word about a similar effort to re-sign Carlos Beltran, even though Beltran would probably cost a fraction of the ultimate Reyes pricetag.  Columnist Joe Posnanski has a plug for Beltran in his latest SI post.  Moving away from Kansas City after many years, he remembers, as his Kaufman Stadium highlight, watching a young Carlos Beltran: 

“How often can you say that you watched a player like Beltran grow up? How many players have ever been like him? He could run like few in baseball history — in his career he has stolen 289 bases and been caught 39 times. No base stealer in baseball history has been so efficient. He could play center field like a dream — I can’t tell you how many times I saw him gracefully outrun line drives into the gap. He could hit with power from both sides of the plate. There have not been many who switch-hit with power.  In 2003, the one decent team he played on in Kansas City, Beltran hit .307… stole 41 of 45 bases, he hit 10 triples and 26 home runs, he scored 102 runs and drove in 100 in just 141 games, and he was an absolute marvel in center field…

“I wouldn’t say Beltran was a moody player, not exactly, but he did seem burdened by his talent and the losses.  His mind would wander sometimes. His desire would flicker — or at least that’s how it looked to the fans. Whatever he did, it always seemed like he could do more…he was cursed with the gift of grace.”

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

The Waiting Game and Lineups in Both Pastimes

(Posted 6/6/11; update 6/7)

A clutch of major league clubs and Team GOP are playing the same brand of ball these days: it’s called the waiting game.  The Twins, sildenafil the most glaring baseball example, have waited since mid-April for their disabled all-star catcher Joe Mauer to return to the lineup.  Team GOP is scanning the political field, hoping a viable presidential candidate will play his way into pressbox approval and fans’ hearts.

A lineup of nine either announced or acknowledged as possible candidates for Team GOP leadership includes: former state Skippers Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, of Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Alaska; current state Skipper Rick Perry of Texas, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Ambassador (and governor) Jon Huntsman of Utah, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani.  Ex-Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and radio talk-show host Herman Cain , also part of the squad, get seats on the bench.

So far there doesn’t appear to be a five-tool player in the bunch.  That could change as the candidates perform under closer scrutiny during the long pre-primary season.  Mauer, the productive equivalent of a five-tooler, can bring little positive change to the plight of the Twins if and when he returns around the middle of the month.  The Twins, 4-6 when he left, have gone 17-31 without him and sunk too far back in the AL Central to have more than a slim hope of making the playoffs.  The Angels have been waiting since early last month for the return of their all-around left fielder Vernon Wells to recover from a groin sprain.  The Orioles are trying to remain competitive without their veteran star second baseman Brian Roberts, sidelined with concussion-like symptoms.  The Marlins are attempting to get along without ace Josh Johnson for awhile, ditto the Braves and Cardinals without regulars Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday.  The Phillies have had to be more than patient as they await the end of closer Brad Lidge’s season-long absence. The Yanks worry about when and if Phil Hughes will be ready to return to action and form.  That’s to mention just a few key DL names.  As for the Mets, we know they needed both David Wright and Ike Davis to return if they hoped to hang in until summer’s official arrival in two weeks.

Pressbox observers covering the political field give Romney, Pawlenty and Huntsman a very tentative early edge in the GOP contest  All three tend to hit up the middle more than the other six or seven; they’re considered to be business-friendly and right-leaning enough to attract mainstream fans of their team.  Gingrich, Giuliani, Perry, Paul and Santorum are considered longer shots, the first two owing to their faculty for self-destructing, Perry because of his “Would Rick Perry Have a Bush Problem?” problem; Paul, Santorum, and Cain all seem too far afield, even for a team so wide open.

The two (possible) women in the field – Palin and Bachmann – play a strong social/cultural/religious game in right.  They both have a Pedroiesque tool their male teammates lack: a suffusing sense of excitement.

Howard Dean, the early frontrunner in the 2004 Dem presidential field, tossed this accolade at Huntsman in a recent interview:  He is an independent. He is a moderate on some social issues and has a strong record as a governor and also has international experience that I think is lacking in every other candidate…With Huntsman or a(nother emerging) credible candidate, Obama could be in trouble with unemployment in the 9 percent range and [economic] growth at one percent.”  

Al Hunt, veteran scorer of the political game for Bloomberg News, adds this encouragement to fans of Team GOP who may feel they’re involved in a lost cause: “Despondent Republicans might look back to similarly depressed Democrats 20 years ago; all the heavyweights — Mario Cuomo, Ted Kennedy, Al Gore — were sitting out a race against an incumbent president, leaving the field to a group of second- raters.  Out of the pack emerged a nominee, the governor of Arkansas, who proved to be a pretty fair politician.”    

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What We Know after the weekend(and before Monday night):  The Rangers stopped waiting two weeks ago, when Josh Hamilton and Hector Cruz returned from the DL. Since then (May 17), Texas has won 13 of 18, including a current streak of five straight.  At the other end of the AL West, Oakland, which has lost a main starter, Dallas Braden, is reeling from six losses in games against the Yankees and Red Sox.  The Yanks return from having won six of nine on the West Coast.  The Yanks and Sox, as expected, are slowly taking control of the AL East as they prepare to meet Tuesday night in the first of three games at the Stadium.. The Indians, swept by Texas, are fading but still ahead in the AL Central.   In the NL, the Marlins stumbled – losing five straight – at a time the Phillies briefly showed vulnerability.  The Brewers, having swept the Marlins in Florida, remain on the heels of the Cardinals, who blew away the Cubs.  After a weekend in which the NL West’s only sweeper was the last-place Padres, that division became the tightest of the six, only six-and-a-half games separating the Pods and Giants.

Fred’s Boy Bobby:  On ESPN Sunday night, Bobby Valentine, a reliable shill for Mets owner Fred Wilpon, said the team was preparing to make a competitive long-term offer to try to keep Jose Reyes in NY.  A sensible idea (though problematic) given that the 2012 version of the Mets minus both Carlos Beltran and Reyes would draw fewer flies than those flitting around CitiField’s empty seats this season.                                                      

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(The  Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey.  Comments to dickstar(@aol.com are welcome, as are subscription requests. Previous Nubs can be found by scrolling below.)

Teams with ‘Wind at Their Back’ in Early Going

(Posted: 6/3/11 mid-afternoon)

Near a local ballfield this week, unhealthy we stopped to chat with a sometime player who was a big part of the previous NY skipper’s political team. The term “wind at the back, mind ” which came up in our banter, could have applied to the Yankees and even the faltering-for-the-moment Red Sox and Phillies (about whom more below). But we were talking about current NY Skipper Andrew Cuomo, who is hitting hard to right with gusts propelling his decisive policy drives over the outfield wall.

 “No new taxes. Period,” Skip Andrew told receptive fans in Utica the other day. “Not little taxes, not hidden taxes…”  The regular state political season is still young. A wind-shift could be coming when the effect of a likely property-tax curb the skipper pushed is felt combined no compensating revenue to soften any shortfall. That double play would solidify a $1.3 billion cut in aid to state schools. Poorer districts would be hit particularly hard, of course. As will the sick-poor dependent on the newly battered Medicaid budget.

In his pitch at Utica, Cuomo took aim at fellow Dems who “vot(e) their party ideology.” He could have used “values” instead of the i-word. Those values were cited by his father Mario this way, when Andrew was just a rookie leaguer:

“We must serve – first and foremost – those without power or property. No matter how out of fashion that may be regarded…our greatest energies must go to the areas of greatest concern.”

When we asked our political-player neighbor what he thought of the skipper’s unwillingness to require the wealthy to continue to pay a “millionaires’ tax, his response was measured: “Shared sacrifice,” he said, “should include us all, not just the rich. We should be asked to pay a proportionally fair amount in taxes, and told what we already know – it’s the right thing.”

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Memorial Week Rule: Teams in any division – it says here – in which the last team is six or more games off the pace have a shot at the wild card. That means top teams in all but the bunched AL West could qualify: Yanks, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East; Indians, Tigers and White Sox in the AL Central; Phillies, Marlins and Braves in the AL East; Cardinals, Brewers and Reds in the NL Central, Giants, D-backs and Rockies in the NL West. Theory’s (unscientific) basis: the likelihood pace-setting teams will beat up on also-rans in top-heavy divisions.

 Reyes by the Bay? The Mets clearly believe the sensible thing to do is trade Jose Reyes while they still can get something worthwhile in return. He becomes a free agent at the end of the season; his departure then will yield only a first-round draft choice. MLB-TV’s Mitch Williams said the other night he’s pretty sure Reyes will soon be gone. Where? “I believe the Mets will trade him to the San Francisco Giants. They need a shortstop badly and have attractive minor league prospects to spare. They can offer (starter) Madison Bumgarner as well.” Whether the Giants would make the deal on a rental basis, or have the money to sign Reyes long-term are key questions Williams acknowledged but couldn’t answer.

Boost for the Brewers: In a predictive mode, Williams picked Milwaukee, with its superior pitching, to beat out the Cardinals and Reds in the NL Central. Asked what he thought, fellow panelist Larry Bowa said a three-way Cards/Brews/Reds race would be decided “when one of the GMs adds a big-time player in a deal.” Former shortstop Bowa also said this about Reyes: “A shortstop who can hit, field and run like him is more valuable than almost any pitcher. Reyes contributes every day. That’s if he stays healthy.”

Devine Dividend: Few of us (especially on the East Coast) could guess the name of a relief pitcher who hasn’t given up an earned run in 33 innings (and more than three years). Here’s a clue: he’s with the A’s. It’s Joey Devine, recovering from Tommy John surgery that sidelined him in 2009 and 2010. Traded to Oakland from the Braves for Mark Kotsay, Devine had an 0.59 ERA in 2008. He’s picked up where he left off then, yielding his last earned run on May 23 that year.

Endy’s New Beginning: Former Mets-fan favorite Endy Chavez has returned to the majors with the Rangers, and is making the most of the opportunity. Platooning in center field, Chavez was batting .415 going into the weekend, .531 over his last four games.

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