SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Perils of the Modern Day Baseball Club

We heard it all last season.  Boy, are the New York Mets the team of the future.  Look at all that pitching. . . Harvey, de Grom, Syndergaard, Matz, Colon, with the first four being young, hard-throwing and very good.  Look out, NL East.  Washington, they said, had a tougher lineup, but the Mets' pitching, well, that was the difference.  It was fun to be a Mets' fan last season.

Going into this season, there remained reason to be very optimistic.  The starting pitching staff was intact, even with Jon Niese going to Pittsburgh and Zack Wheeler not ready.  But I cautioned a friend that any time you predict a dynasty, funny things can happen.  I offered that if the Mets were to have a starter or two go down -- and they inevitably do -- there could be trouble.  Well, Harvey has been erratic, Matz looks to be done for the year, and Syndergaard has a supposedly non-threatening bone spur.  Meanwhile, the ageless wonder, Bartolo Colon, at 43 is perhaps the squad's best starting pitcher.  Right now, Mets are in third, slightly behind the usually confounding Marlins.  It is not the season that Mets' fans had hoped for.  Atop that, they lost Daniel Murphy, the clutch-hitting second baseman, to rival Washington, and replaced him with the good but not-as-good Neil Walker.  The biggest blow was losing David Wright to season- and perhaps career-ending surgery.

Ouch.

Roll back the clock about eight years ago and Phillies' fans had every reason to be optimistic.  They won it in '08, and they had everyone back, most of whom were at or slightly before their primes.  In '09, they should have won it again, but somehow Brad Lidge, who was all-world in 2008, blew up to an ERA of about 7.50, the worst ever for a full-time closer, and the Phillies lost the Series to the Yankees.  Had Lidge just had half as bad a season, the Phillies would have won it all.  In '10, the team suffered injuries, still had a good year until they ran into the red-hot Giants' pitching in the NLCS.  In '11, with players more healthy than in '10, they won over 100 games, beat the Cards in Game 1 of the NLDS, only to have ace Cliff Lee blow a 4-0 lead after 1 inning in Game 2, and lose that series in 5 games, with Cards' ace Cris Carpenter outdueling Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard blowing out his Achilles' tendon on the last at-bat of the series.  Arguably, that team should have won two World Series in those four years.  And while few will complain about winning "just" one, I'm sure many Phillies' fans will express disappointment that they didn't win another.  They were built to, and they probably should have.

The moral of the story is enjoy it when your team wins, hope that they win again soon, because the game changes, players change and adjust, players age and get hurt.  The Mets were awesome last year, but they also were two iffy wings away from a mid-division finish.  The Nats by no means are invincible, but it will be hard for the Mets to win their division without a healthy rotation.  That can be said for almost any team, of course, but it goes to show you the fine line between having a team that goes to the World Series and having a team that doesn't make the playoffs. 

All that said, you would figure in this day and age and with the rise of elite sports performance institutes that there would be better theories about developing and maintaining good pitchers and avoiding the gruesome types of injuries that seem to befall them.  It is 2016 already, and pitchers and the art of pitching isn't much more evolved than fifty years ago.  Yes, there is more specialization, but the pitchers continue to get injured.  That is what makes the game so unpredictable, as it is hard to figure out what a pitching staff will look like year after year.  In contrast, you will know what your basketball team will look like next year, even if players might slip a little, because you have very little risk of a basketball player blowing out his shooting hand and being out for a year.  Baseball generates a lot of money, so you would figure that they should be working on some programs to help add more certainty to a pitcher's career and a team's future.

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