Offseason changes add to senior circuit’s pitching depth, teams’ expectations
—by Mark Ross
Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.
The faces on this mountain will be more familiar in Montreal than DC.
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.
Wasington Nationals Mt. Rushmore
No other franchise suffered as much from the effects of the 1994 players strike as the Montreal Expos. One of the most tragic injustices in baseball is the fate of the 1994 Expos. On pace to win 105 games and six games ahead of the mighty Atlanta Braves, the most promising season in franchise history was erased by the strike. The team never recovered from the losses at the turnstiles or in local broadcast deals and eventually fell under the control of MLB. Ted Lerner purchased the franchise in 2006. Financial stability has been good for the team, but it has yet to breed a winner. In fact, this franchise is the only one of the 30 current organizations never to win a postseason series after a full season of play. The only series this franchise can claim is the 1981 NLDS between first- and second-half NL East champions. The Montreal Expos defeated the Philadelphia Phillies is the best-of-five series, 3-2. The Expos were then beaten by the Dodgers in the NLCS. Now in its 43rd season, the team has finished with the best record in its division once, and second seven times. Given that history, it’s surprising to find as many worthy candidates for the Expos/Nationals Mt. Rushmore.
Along with his friend Tim Raines, Dawson was part of the first dismantling of a contender in the late-1980s (the second coming after the 1994 strike). Reportedly, Dawson signed a blank contract to join the Chicago Cubs after no other team made strong overtures for the future Hall of Famer’s services. While a member of the Expos, the Hawk won Rookie of the Year, was MVP runner-up twice, won six Gold Gloves as a centerfielder, hit 225 home runs, stole 253 bases and drove in and scored more than 800 runs in his 1,443 games. Playing all those seasons on the hard turf at Olympic Stadium took a toll on his knees, retarding his production in his later years.
Raines is the franchise’s all-time leader in runs and stolen bases, and is second on the franchise list in average and hits. The seven-time All-Star finished in the top 7 in MVP voting three times as an Expo. He owns four stolen base titles, a batting title and led the NL in runs scored twice, once in 1987 even though he wasn’t signed by the Expos until May 1 after getting caught in the middle of the owners’ collusion in free agency bidding.
Guerrero, who never saw a pitch he couldn’t hit, was the last real star in Montreal. He left the team via free agency prior to the 2004 season. He had three seasons of 1.000+ OPS and in 2002 he led the National League with 206 hits and was one home run shy of reaching 40-40 status. He ended his tenure in Montreal with 1,004 games, 234 home runs and a franchise-best .323 batting average.
The Kid made a couple of Opening Day starts in right field before settling in behind the plate. His broad smile and fan appeal was a fixture in Montreal from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s. He ranks second, third or fourth in most offensive categories. The Hall of Famer made seven All-Star teams and won three Gold Gloves behind the plate. Four of his All-Star appearances were starts, and he hit three home runs and batted .400 in his All-Star starts. He led the National League in RBIs in 1984. The Expos reluctantly traded their superstar to the Mets for four established major league players prior to the 1985 season fearing they would not be able to afford him and would lose him to free agency. His final franchise tallies include 220 homers and more than 2,400 total bases in over 1,500 games.
Unlike the others on this list of candidates, Tim Wallach spent most of his productive seasons in Montreal. Consequently, he is high on the all-time list in most every category. But he didn’t seem to have the star impact the other players carried.
From 1969-76 the Expos had eight different starting pitchers on Opening Day. Steve Rogers was the eighth and made eight consecutive Opening Day starts of his nine total for the team. He leads the franchise with 158 wins and 37 shutouts.
Felipe Alou managed the team through some tough economic times for eight-plus seasons, leading the team to two of their best seasons in history (1993-94).
Le Grand Orange, aka Rusty Staub, was the first major league hero in Montreal. He was the team’s All-Star rep its first three seasons and his No. 10 is retired even though Andre Dawson wore it proudly for 10 years after Staub.
Surprisingly, Jose Vidro is fifth in hits and games played. He’s also the only player to start multiple All-Star Games as a member of the franchise other than the four players selected above.
The Nationals’ current young third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, is Washington’s best offering toward the monument.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Last night the capital was abuzz with excitement not seen in a few years. And it had nothing to do with job creation, bond ratings or tax relief.
Mr. Strasburg was in the house.
Yes, Stephen Strasburg made the second most anticipated start of his career last night. The first came on June 8, 2010.
Amidst all the anticipation, speculation and exhilaration the media mustered pregame, there stood a calm, relaxed, tall righthander, seemingly taking it all in stride.
And in all the chatter about pitch count, first-pitch strikes, velocity, command and all the other buzz words, no one talked about the maturity of Strasburg. As a pitcher or as an athlete.
But last night Strasburg performed like a polished pitcher, a vast improvement from the flame-thrower he was last June. And that’s taking nothing away from just how good he was last season.
In his first major league start, he threw 94 pitches, many of them clocking triple digits on radar guns, and he whiffed 14 batters in seven innings. Batters swung and missed 17 times.
Last night, he threw just 56 pitches, 40 for strikes and there were only four swings from Dodgers that came up empty. He was intentional and efficient with an assortment of pitches. He threw not so much like a young buck with all the talent in the world, but like an experienced veteran understanding just how to use his immense talent.
Whether it was soul-searching expected from a pitcher rehabbing from Tommy John surgery or just a matter of time, Stephen Strasburg has matured into an elite pitcher and what a future he will have in Washington. A brighter future than anyone else working in that town.
Atlanta manager Bobby Cox receives recognition tonight at Braves game
by Charlie Miller
Today the Atlanta Braves will retire No. 6 in honor of long-time manager Bobby Cox.
With 2,504 wins, Cox is fourth all-time. Having won 503 more games than he lost ranks him third behind John McGraw, long-time manager of the Giants for 33 seasons, and Joe McCarthy, leader of the seven world champion Yankees squads.
Cox took a bad Braves team in the 1970s and turned a laughingstock team into a .500 team. He then turned a next-to-last Blue Jays team into a division winner in four seasons. And even more remarkable was the turnaround the Braves enjoyed going from last in 1990 to first in 1991. Led by Cox, Atlanta sustained first place from 1991-2005, save for the strike-shortened 1994 season. Cox won 15 division titles, 14 with the Braves, five pennants and a World Series.
So where does Cox stand in terms of all-time great managers? McGraw and McCarthy are probably 1-2. McGraw managed over a long period of time even as the game changed dramatically, coming out of the Dead Ball Era. McCarthy was blessed with great players, but he delivered World Series titles with regularity.
I’ll put Cox third. Even though Connie Mack won 3,731 games, he finished below .500. Among his contemporaries, Cox stands above Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda, Jim Leyland and Lou Piniella.
Cox won in Atlanta with a different closer every year it seemed, and only Cox could convince Smoltz to assume the closer’s role for the good of the team. Cox got the best from Deion Sanders and John Rocker. How many managers could pull that off? He won with speed (Otis Nixon) and power (Fred McGriff).
And players loved to play for Cox. He respected players, allowed them to play their games and understood how to put players in the best position to succeed.
The question posed recently whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Philadelphia Phillies Mt. Rushmore
For a franchise that’s been playing baseball in Philadelphia since 1883, it’s astounding that the organization can boast of only two World Series titles (1980, 2008). The Phillies have won 100 games in a season just twice, but lost that many on 14 occasions. I’m convinced there are two non-negotiable members in this honored quartet: Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt. Beyond that, let’s roll with the discussion.
The 12-time All-Star, two-time MVP, 10-time Gold Glove winner, eight-time home run leader and Hall of Fame third baseman has a .908 OPS during a non-offensive era. He’s suited up for the Phils more than anyone else — 610 time more than anyone. Needless to say — or maybe not — he leads the franchise in home runs, RBIs, hits, runs, walks and strikeouts. Of the 35 players with more than 1,500 runs and RBIs, Schmidt is one of only 17 who have done it with one team.
Lefty’s tops on the all-time list with 241 wins and 3,031 strikeouts. He made 499 starts for the Phillies, 39 of them shutouts on his way to four Cy Young awards. From 1972-83, the workhorse averaged 19 wins, 274 innings and 230 strikeouts.
Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander has 190 wins with the Phils and owns the best winning percentage (.676). Perhaps the first ever steal in the Rule 5 Draft as the Phillies drafted him out of the Syracuse organization in 1910. He won 190 games in seven seasons before being dealt to the Cubs for Pickles Dillhoefer, Mike Prendergast and $55,000.
The rightfielder ranks in the top 5 in many categories including home runs, runs, RBIs and total bases. He spent parts of 15 seasons with the Phillies and had 1,705 hits, batted .326 and had more than 950 runs and RBIs.
Close Calls Robin Roberts, a Hall of Famer who spent the first 14 of his 19 seasons toiling for the Phillies, is second to Carlton with 234 wins. From 1949-56, Roberts was 172-111, while the rest of the team was 466-483. In the closest call to date, Roberts was edged by Klein.
Richie Ashburn, a four-time All-Star with the Phillies, had 2,217 hits — 17 behind Schmidt — and batted .311 in 12 seasons.
The mysterious Ed Delahanty, who had four brothers in the major leagues, collected 2,214 hits for the Phillies, but 1,848 of them were in the 1800s. That’s a long time ago for fans to really embrace someone.
The top current Phillie is Jimmy Rollins, although Ryan Howard is gaining ground quickly. The shortstop already ranks in the top five in total bases, hits and runs.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com