Some People's Kids: Neubie's First Half Nuggets

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Neubie's First Half Nuggets

As the second half is set to begin tonight, there are some interesting storylines to keep an eye on in the upcoming months leading up to the playoffs. Some have been beat to death already: The Tampa Bay Devil Rays coming out party and their pursuit of their first playoff spot in franchise history, Josh Hamilton becoming the player that everyone thought he could be,(Only a few years later than expected) and the Cubs having the best shot to finally win the World Series and end the stupidity that is the Curse of the Billy Goat. Along with the storylines for the second half, there were somethings that happened in the first half that I feel need elaboration. With all the things that you hear about on ESPN, things that don't involve the Yankees, Red Sox, or Brett Farve usually get little or no air time. But there are some more than intriguing things that have flown under the radar. Here are a just a few:

The Best Trade of the Last Ten Years...
In the off-season, the Cincinnati Reds and Texas Rangers agreed to swap a raw, super talented kid pitcher for another super talented outfielder with a more than checkered past. Not many people made anything out of it at the time, but looking back, it may have been one of the best trades in recent memory; one that worked out amazingly for both teams. I'm talking about the Edison Volquez for Josh Hamilton swap. When I first saw this trade, I kind of shook my head. I decided that the Rangers have officially given up on having an semblance of a functioning starting rotation. They always field one of the best offenses in the game, and they are very exciting to watch because they score a ton of runs, but they never have to pitching to come close to contending. Having the story of Josh Hamilton beaten into me over the past All-Star weekend, I have kind of soured on the whole thing. Nonetheless the story is amazing. What this guy has done is awe-striking. Have only had a handful of at-bats, ever, in a minor league uniform and to be doing these kinds of things in the pros. For once, the scouts who touted him saying that he would be one of the best in the game someday, based on the skills of a high school kid, weren't wrong. In half a season, Hamilton is leading the league in RBI with 95 and is on pace for over 170 for the year. The show that he put on at the Home Run Derby was something that even brought me to my feet sitting at home in front of the TV. I can't imagine what the fans inside Yankee Stadium felt like. As for that raw, young talented pitcher that was sent the way of the Reds? He has only been one of the best pitchers in baseball for the first half of this year. Compiling a 12-3 record with a sub 2.50 era. In his first 13 starts, he hadn't given up more than 2 earned runs. So for he has been an aberration. A pitcher that does well in Cincinnati's Great American BallPark, the very definition of a hitter's park. It's not supposed to happen. He is making that possible.

Trades aren't supposed to work this well for both teams. I know, thats the premise of a trade, for it to work amazingly for both teams, but they rarely do. Usually one team gets a proven commodity and the other gets some random prospects that no one has ever heard of that you wont see in the big leagues for the next three years. This is the epitome of a fantastic trade and other teams should take note. This will be interesting to see if both these players can keep up their torrid starts. These are two of the brightest young stars in the game today and I'm personally rooting for both of them to keep amazing us as they have thus far.

Speaking of bright young stars. Tim Lincecum certainly doesn't look like a baseball player. He looks more like the guy you goofed around with in band practice during high school. I can imagine there is plenty of band members that stand 5 foot 11 and weigh 170 pounds. But I can venture to guess there aren't many who throw 99 miles an hour and have a breaking ball that buckles knees. Not many people are like Tim Lincecum. He may be one of a kind, actually. Little guys like this aren't supposed to do the things that he does. He's a truly scientific marvel. Sports Illustrated recently published an article on Lincecum breaking down and explaining the reasons why he could do such things with such a diminutive figure. They explained that it's his windup and his delivery that generates all his power. They described it as his body generating such energy and torque that, basically, his arm just comes along for the ride. This greatly reduces his propensity to injury and will, in turn, make sure we see this Marvel for years to come. The article kept making comparisons between Lincecum and Mark Prior, the oft-injured former future star of the Chicago Cubs, now with the San Diego Padres. Mark Prior was the picture-esqe prospect. Big, strong, strapping young lad with an arsenal of pitches. The Twins were even thinking the same thing when they were deciding between whether to select Prior and Joe Mauer with the 1st pick in the 2001 Amateur Draft. Maybe the Twins saw something that the rest of us did not. The article pointed out that there was obvious mechanical flaws with Priors delivery that everyone seemed to ignore, as they were clearly blinded by his somewhat more obvious frame and stature.

The ultimate quandary.. How does the 5 foot nothing outlast and outshine a 6'5" ideal pitching prospect? Another amazing storyline, although most have never heard of this flamethrower. That might be because of the fact that he plays for one of the worst teams in baseball, the San Fransisco Giants. But anyone who bothers to look at his stats so far this season won't be able to look past him anymore. So far he has an 11-2 record, a 2.57 Earned Run Average, and 135 strikeouts in a 127 innings. Thats 11-2 on one of the two or three worst teams in Major League Baseball! Impressive. Even more impressive than his stats is actually watching him pitch. It's something that I suggest everyone see for themselves. I can tell you, you won't be disappointed.

Lastly, something closer to home.

The Twins are surprising a lot of people with the way they have been playing so far this season. What I hope people aren't forgetting about is that we have a not-so-secret weapon waiting in Triple-A. Fransisco Liriano is officially back. After undergoing Tommy John Surgery over a year and a half ago, people were wondering is what they saw in 2006 was a thing of the past. That the glimpse of greatness and dominance was just a flash of light that faded away. From the sounds of things, that isn't how its going to go. From multiple reports I've come across, Liriano is back to form, maybe even more so then before. One report had him hitting 99 Mph on the radar gun, higher than I ever remember him throwing before. This can only be music to Twins' fans ears. Another problem that he had when he came back from his surgery was his command. That apparently is no more, either. Over his last 21 innings, he has only walked 3 batters, while striking out 24, and over the entire minor league season, spanning 16 starts, he has walked only 28 batters in 97 innings. Fransisco is back to his old self and one can't help but smile at that. In 2006, baseball fans saw greatness and if you are a fan of baseball whatsoever, you have to be rooting for this young man to succeed. The question now is when will we see him in a Twins uniform? The Twins current staff has been pitching very well over the past couple months, with the exception being Livan Hernandez. There doesn't seem to be a spot for Liriano in the current rotation and from what I've read, the Twins seem content with leaving Livan in there, despite his 5+ ERA and leading the league in hits allowed. Apparently there have also been talks about moving him to the bullpen as a late reliever/set up man for Joe Nathan. I couldn't care less how you get him up here, but get him up here. At first I would recommend putting him in the bullpen to get him re-accustomed to major league hitters. If he still has the talent I like to think he does, he will find his way into the rotation sooner than later. He's young and there's no rush. I want to see this kid dominate like we know he can, and if that means waiting a while before throwing him to the wolves, I'm all for it.

Over the past year, I have seen my love for baseball return. These young stars are part of the reason why. With all the steriod talk clouding over the game in recent years, the future still looks brighter than ever. How can that be? These are the reasons why. This is why I still tune in, night after night to seemingly meaningless games in the heart of July. To see things that amaze me. That is why I will keep tuning in.

1 comment:

AdamBez said...

couldn't agree more, it's been a fun season to watch baseball. I wish we could watch Tim Lincecum more, the kid is a freak.