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Rotation, rotation, rotation
Posted: Wednesday September 08, 1999 11:38 AM
Click here to send your baseball questions to SI's Tom Verducci.
It's never too soon to start thinking about your postseason pitching rotations. Just ask Dodgers GM Kevin Malone, who had Kevin Brown slated to go against Roger Clemens in World Series Game 1. Oops. And just ask the Mailbag readers, who have an eye on October. Several of you wrote in wondering how the Yankees and Braves pitchers line up. So here goes.
First, Amol Modi of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., asks how New York will choose from among Clemens, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and Hideki Irabu. Right now it looks like Irabu is the odd man out. Clemens, Cone and Hernandez (who is as clutch a pitcher as the Yankees have) are locks. The final call comes down to this: manager Joe Torre wants a lefthander to throw into the mix and he is very loyal to Pettitte, who has thrown some very big games for him in the postseason (1996 World Series, Game 5; 1998 World Series, Game 4). Clemens has to pitch because, well, because he has five Cy Young Awards. But don't think the Yankees aren't scared about Clemens' season-long problems with his command. Can he turn it on in the postseason? Sure. You never rule out these kinds of special athletes doing something special. But the track record suggests that Clemens cannot put his pitches where he wants them, and with the enormous pressure facing him in his first postseason start -- he has to justify the David Wells trade and overcome his poor postseason history -- he could be guilty of trying to do too much, which has been a problem with him when it comes to keeping his emotions and aggressiveness in check.
That leads me to a question from Patrick Côté of Quebec City: "Do you think the Yankees will get rid of Roger Clemens this winter? He has not been as sharp this year as he has been in the past but, in all fairness, he is still Roger Clemens and still does scare opponents. I am just wondering if he really does bring something to the team, since Andy Pettitte has shown that he can really pitch (his last six starts or so have been great), Orlando Hernandez is as consistent as it gets, Hideki Irabu has finally gotten to a point where the team can rely on him (although he has struggled his last three or four starts), and Ramiro Mendoza does, in my opinion, deserve a shot. Do you think the Yanks could base their decision on whether Cone can return for another year (I hope he does)?"
Well, of all those pitchers you mentioned, most likely one of them will be gone. Clemens could be gone if, as he has the contractual right to do, he demands a trade as part of a strategy to get a huge raise. If he wants Kevin Brown money, the Yankees might balk at that. Pettitte could be traded, as the Yankees showed at the trading deadline when they almost moved him to Philadelphia, because he will be in line for a big raise in arbitration and the Yankees already will get killed there by Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Hernandez is a lock to come back. Cone, who took below-market money to stay in New York last year, probably will do the same -- though this could be his last shot at a big long-term contract, so if the Yankees don't pay him this time, maybe someone else will. The bottom line is the Yankees may want to open a spot for Mendoza or Ed Yarnall next season if only to keep their payroll from ballooning. Can they afford to bring everyone back? Sure, but George Steinbrenner much prefers some other club outspends him, even if it's only by one dollar.
As for the Braves, Jonathan Stroud of Athens, Ga., writes, "What three starters do the Braves use in postseason? Greg Maddux, Kevin Millwood and John Smoltz, in that order, would be my vote, but can the Braves really banish Tom Glavine to the bullpen?" I think you know the answer. No way Bobby Cox does not give the ball to Glavine after all he's done for him in the '90s, much of it in the postseason. Besides, I don't think Cox likes to use his starters on short rest (especially Smoltz, who has had elbow problems this year). Remember, there is no travel day between Games 4 and 5 of the Division Series, so if you use only three starters your top two will pitch Games 4 and 5 on only three days of rest. If I were Cox, I'd use Maddux, Millwood, Glavine, Smoltz, in that order. Maddux could then be available on full rest for Game 5, and Glavine and Smoltz would start the other potential series-ending games.
Now let's jump to some other Mailbag topics, starting with last week's SI cover story on the Mets infield. Frank Aimetti of Hicksville, N.Y., thinks "this infield is the best overall, ever. If you take into account their obvious defensive ability and add in their offensive prowess, I don't believe there has ever been an infield to match." I wouldn't go that far. The old Philadelphia A's $100,000 infield was terrific, loaded with Hall of Famers. The Big Red Machine infield had an edge on this group of Mets, and so did the Dodgers' and Yankees' of the late '70s. Actually, Rey Ordoñez is such a lousy offensive player and John Olerud's power is so limited for that position that it's easy to find better all-around infields.
Steve Buckman of Douglas, Wyo., asks, "How can you rate the current Mets infield among the best ever in baseball history? He goes on to say many others "were superior run producers on offense as well." Here's the deal with that story: Offense had absolutely zilch to do with the evaluation. This only was intended to say that these infielders catch, throw and generally play their respective positions as well (as a group) as just about any who ever played. Personally, I believe the Cardinals of the early '80s and the Orioles of the late '60s might be slightly better, but on something so subjective, it's impossible to come up with any kind of ranking. Suffice to say that the Mets at least belong in the debate of great infields, and we'll leave it at that.
On to the Dodgers. Mark Pembrose of Calabasas, Calif., has noticed that L.A. has been playing better ball of late and asks, "Do you think the Dodgers will try to keep this core unit together?" Yes, I do. Malone does not see the need for an overhaul. I do think he will make one or two blockbuster trades, though. He'd love to trade Raul Mondesi, so obviously that would be a big one. He might also decide to trade either Ismael Valdes or Chan Ho Park, both of whom still have great value, especially with such a poor market of free-agent pitchers this year. I don't think he wants to move either one, but if it takes moving one of those guys to make the team better, he'll do it.
Sean McAfee of Centerville, Ohio, sends in a question about Texas: "The Rangers' offense is arguably the best in the game and has been for the past few years. Yet because of their starting pitching (not to mention the Yankees), the Rangers have been unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs. Can and will this year be any different?" Texas had better get hot and finish with the second-best record in the league if it wants to get to the ALCS. The Rangers can't beat the Yankees. New York knows it, you know it and, worst of all, the Rangers know it. They are particularly horrid in New York, so trying to take a game from Clemens and Cone at Yankee Stadium in Games 1 and 2 of the Division Series is too big a task for them. If they get Cleveland in the first round, they have a much better chance of advancing. I do think this Texas team is better than their other playoff teams, but you can't ignore their history against the Yankees.
Victor Baez of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, asks, "Do you think there will ever come a time where a Latin American country such as Puerto Rico, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic will have a Major League team? That is taking into consideration that there is actually enough talent, especially in the DR, to build one." No, I don't see it happening. The games played in Mexico in past years did nothing to convince the Players Association that it's a good idea. It might be tough to get non-Latin players to go there, and travel could be a problem. And I know baseball doesn't like the idea of an all-Latin team. (Although they'd love to field such national teams in a World Cup-type of offseason tournament one day). I do think you might see regular-season games being played there, though. If it's been done in Mexico and it's being done next year in Japan, then certainly they ought to be played in an area of the world that is home to some of the greatest players in the game and a growing percentage of baseball's population.
Here's a note I'll pass along (and agree with) from Kevin Farrington of Boise, Idaho: "I liked your underrated/overrated list except you overlooked one very underrated clutch-hitting second baseman who's put up over 120 RBIs in each of the last two seasons: Jeff Kent. "
Here's one trade possibility from Chris Worrall of Linthicum, Md.: "The Cubs want a speedy second baseman and the Orioles want to get rid of Delino DeShields. Could there be a match there?" Only if the Cubs are dumb enough to make the same mistake Baltimore did. I would suspect Chicago could do better at the position while spending significantly less money.
Jeff P. of Huntsville, Md., writes, " Edgardo Alfonzo is having a sweet season, but an MVP season? Those people, especially the New York media, are kidding, right? To me he's clearly third in MVP balloting, behind Jeff Bagwell and Randy Johnson. " Well, I agree Alfonzo is no MVP -- probably not even on his own team (see: Robin Ventura ). I think the race will come down to Bagwell, Matt Williams, Chipper Jones and Ventura. Johnson, because he is a pitcher, has no shot.
Mike from Hershey, Pa., asks, "Do you think the addition of Tyler Houston in Cleveland will help at all in the Indians' stretch run? Are there any other moves that you think might help them?" Sure, Houston will help a bit, especially if Sandy Alomar can't make it back. But I think Harold Baines will play a big role for them in the postseason. Not only is Baines a proven clutch hitter, but he has terrific career numbers against both Clemens and Cone, batting well above .300 against both of them.
Send a question to Tom Verducci, and check back every week to read more of his answers.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tom Verducci covers baseball and appears regularly on CNN/Sports Illustrated.
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