EBL. The Key To Success.

The battle in baseball is centered around pitching, especially relief pitching. It is a treasured position. Just as the Milwaukee Brewers found out this past season by having their relief pitchers fail with 28 blown saves, the most in the entire major leagues, it is all about that guy coming in out of the bullpen late in the game to preserve the lead and save the game. These guys are a different breed. They think differently. Hall of Fame relief pitcher, Rollie Fingers, probably said it best. “I focus on making that one pitch. That’s what I tell myself, “One pitch.” You can’t worry about the next one. Even with a good hitter, he’ll get out seven times out of ten. I want to make sure that this is one of those seven.”

This off-season, especially in the Western Division of the National League, it is completely about that…finding the guy who can concentrate on that one pitch that will make a difference and take their team to the World Series and win it. Of import is the knowledge that in order to win the World Series, teams first have to defeat the San Francisco Giants and their amazing bullpen which will only improve with the return of one Brian Patrick Wilson. With his four-seam fastball, slider and cutter, teamed with Sergio Romo’s slider, two-seamer, change-up and three World Series saves against Detroit this past season, the team that resides in The City is once again the team to chase.

Arizona Diamondbacks made the first move to beef up their bullpen by signing closer Heath Bell. GM Kevin Towers was able to release him from Miami Marlins hell and bring him into the world of Gibson, which is much different from the world of Ozzie. Gibby will grunt where as Guillen simply blows his top with expletives. Look for Bell to reclaim his old form that was his calling card in San Diego two years ago.

The Dodgers made their big move in strengthening their bullpen by re-signing their top reliever this past season, Brandon League. General Manager Ned Colletti understood League’s importance to his team’s rise to the top of the NL West was resting on the guy he traded for last July 30th from Seattle. League went 6 for 6 in closes after succeeding Kenley Jansen who went on the disabled list with an irregular heartbeat.

In San Diego, they are set through 2015 with their closer, Houston Street. With an excellent ERA of 1.85, Street, the former Rookie of the Year in 2005 for Oakland, finished last season with 23 saves in the 40 games in which he appeared. He earned All-Star status for the first time in his career last season.

For those who live in the East, you may be in a bit of a time-warp. Not everything in baseball revolves around New York and Boston. What may appear to be a little late for many in the Eastern time zone to see, fabulous play has been going on this decade West of the Rockies. It’s understood that you can’t read about it in your morning newspapers anymore (but who reads the newspaper anymore for news?). In those early Eastern slumber hours, when head hits the pillow, they are playing baseball out West, good solid baseball. In fact, the last three champions have come out of the National League and in two of those years, the Western Division champion became the champion in all of baseball.

The key this coming season will be to find out which team in the NL West can come up with the bullpen that can deliver the save, especially on the road. Tom House, the former Atlanta Braves reliever stated, “When I’m on the road, my greatest ambition is to get a standing boo.” That’s what the rest of this division is hoping they have on their staff…the ‘on-the-road boo leader. Look for it this coming season as the newest stat in baseball, the EBL, Earned Boo Leader.

No. Don’t look for that stat in your newspaper. This is the season to look for it on your mobile. It’s under “E” as in Earned Boo Leader.

Play Ball!

The Sosa Effect

This season it appears that the statement, ‘Injuries are part of the game’, is more factual than ever. Contending teams everywhere are being crippled by injuries to key players on their teams, threatening their hope in reaching the playoffs.

The New York Yankees have eleven players on the DL and lost perhaps the finest closer in baseball history when Mariano Rivera had a season ending injury this week while shagging a fly ball before a game. Going out and trying to catch fly balls during batting practice is something he has done for his entire career. This time, an injury will remove him from the roster for the entire 2012 season. Joba Chamberlain is on the 60 day DL with both elbow and ankle injuries. Nick Swisher, their starting outfielder, is out temporarily with a hamstring situation. The only thing that separates the Yanks with everyone else on this list is that they have one thing nobody else has: a revenue stream where they can go fishing for the best players available any time they want to.

Philadelphia Phillies lost their biggest hitter on the final play of last year’s World Series. Big Ryan Howard went down with an Achilles tendon injury which he is still rehabing in hope to join the club shortly. His loss is one of the keys to the ‘Fighins’ slow start this season. His replacement, future Hall of Famer, mighty Jim Thome also injured his back and is shelved on the DL.Then there is the loss of one of baseball’s best pitchers, Cliff Lee, out with an oblique strain. It doesn’t stop here for this team. Their second baseman, Chase Utley is also out and on the DL with an injured knee.

Milwaukee Brewers had a problem in the outfield during Spring Training. They had too many fighting for positions. No problem then. But today, the Brewers find themselves without Carlos Gomez who went down this week with a pulled hamstring and is on the DL;  current National League MVP, Ryan Braun, is questionable with a tender Achilles; first base Prince Fielder replacement hope, Mat Gamel, went down this week with a season ending knee injury chasing a pop fly into the right field stands in San Diego. To add insult to injury, Alex Gonzalez, their newly acquired shortstop, went down Saturday in San Francisco with an injured knee attempting to slide late into second base and will likely be placed on the 15 day DL; all after the loss of starting pitcher, Chris Narvason, who had a season ending shoulder injury.

San Francisco Giants lost their starting third baseman, The Panda, Pablo Sandoval with a broken hand. Aubrey Huff, their talented first baseman is on the DL with anxiety. Freddy Sanchez is out with a shoulder injury. And their All-Star closer, Brian Wilson, is out for the season with an elbow injury. Imagine, nearly the entire starting infield plus their closer are out. It seems everyone is sore or injured. If you want to see the walking wounded play today, watch the Giants host the Brewers at AT&T Park.

Tampa Bay Rays have lost their leader, All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria with a hamstring injury and is on the DL until June. This team has also lost two of their catchers (Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos).

The Minnesota Twins, off to one of their worst starts of any season, has once again lost Justin Morneau to the dreaded DL list. In Minneapolis they are going to call the DL the ML (Morneau List).

Then there is the Boston Red Sox. They have a major league leading 13 players on the questionable or DL. Some were on it before the season began. But since the beginning of May began, Kevin Youkilis is on the DL with a bad back; Daisuke Matsuzaka is about to rehab in the minors; Carl Crawford, their starting left fielder, is out until July with a wrist and elbow injury; and Josh Beckett is questionable for his next start. Some think their manager, Bobby Valentine, should also be included on the list. Just kidding, Bobby. ESPN loves you.

The Arizona Diamondbacks still are playing without their starting shortstop, Stephen Drew, recovering for that terrible ankle break sliding into home plate against the Milwaukee Brewers last year. He should be back in late May, just in time for Milwaukee’s next trip out west. Ouch! Chris Young, their great center fielder, is out until mid-May with a shoulder injury. Takashi Saito, the relief pitcher they picked up as a free agent from Milwaukee this past off-season, is on the DL until mid-May. He hasn’t pitched for the D’Backs yet this year. Gibby and his All-Star coaching staff have their tasks made harder this season with their M*A*S*H unit on the field.

These are just a few of the players on DL or are injured on contending teams. While not attempting to cover the entire DL for the majors, these contending teams have taken a big hit early on. They all hope there isn’t a Sosa Effect.

Sammy Sosa suffered one of the most famous baseball injuries and also one of the craziest injuries of all time. While being interviewed in the locker room after a game in 2004, he sneezed. Though routine for nearly everyone, Sosa’s sneeze just happened to pull a ligament in his lower back which landed him on the disabled list for 15 days. More importantly, it may have cause the spiral of injuries that ended his career a few years later.

Moral of the story: don’t ask any of these players a question in their locker room.

Play ball.