Storin: Thoughts on the state of baseball in 2014

storapse@aol.comMay 22, 2014 

As we approach Memorial Day, generally regarded as the first sign post of the baseball season, there are a few trends developing.

  • Last season's World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox, are looking more and more unlikely to repeat this October.

  • Detroit is resembling the 1984 Tigers, who romped to their last World Series title.

  • San Francisco and Milwaukee are the surprise division leaders in the National League while the free spending Los Angeles Dodgers are playing so poorly that once again manager Don Mattingly's job is in jeopardy.

  • Atlanta is in first place in the National League East "but it doesn't feel that way," says general manager Frank Wren. That's because two highly paid regulars -- outfielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla -- are batting .201 and .178, respectively.

  • Since the beginning of spring training 19 pitchers on a major league roster have needed Tommy John elbow surgery.

  • Some thoughts on those subjects:

    As a Red Sox fan, this is hard to admit, but the fact is everything went right for Boston in 2013. Injuries were few, timely hits were many, the relief pitching was superb and first-year manager John Farrell pushed all the right buttons.

    It has been a complete reversal thus far in 2014. The boos are starting to echo through Fenway Park as night after night the Red Sox fail to get base runners home and the media has started to question Farrell's strategy.

    Things are not looking much better in New York where the Yankees are spending more money than ever and struggling to stay in the race with Baltimore and Toronto. This is a team looking older by the minute, and it is only May.

    Since the current playoff system began in 1995 there has not been a postseason that didn't include either Boston or New York. Is history about to be made in 2014?

    Meanwhile Detroit, fresh off a three-game sweep at Fenway, is 27-14 and has opened up a six-game lead in the American League Central. The Tigers have a new manager, a new second baseman, a new closer and the best starting pitching rotation in the game.

    And I haven't even mentioned reliable Miguel Cabrera, who has won the last two AL most valuable player awards and is hitting .370 in May.

    I'll take the Tigers. You can have the other 14 American League teams.

    The Dodgers, with the highest player payroll ($241 million) in baseball history, are having trouble playing above .500 baseball and are four games behind San Francisco in the NL West.

    Last season the Dodgers had a similar start and saved Mattingly's job with a great second half. Will they do it again?

    On the other hand, the Cardinals, trailing Milwaukee at the moment in the NL Central, look to me like a team on the verge of making a strong move up the ladder.

    As usual, the Braves are the best in the weakest division in baseball, but not by much. They may make the playoffs, but we all know what happens then.

    Now we get to baseball's most perplexing question. Why are so many pitchers blowing out their elbows at an early age?

    Experts on the biomechanics of pitching say advancement in training and nutrition have helped more pitchers reach their maximum capacity, resulting in more of them propelling fastballs above 95 miles per hour.

    They claim the result comes at the expense of ligaments and tendons, which don't get the same benefit from training as muscles and they overload and break down.

    Some teams have shut down their young flame-throwing pitchers after x-number of innings. Washington did it with Stephen Strasburg and the Marlins followed suit with rookie of the year Jose Fernandez last season.

    Despite such caution, both ended up with elbow surgery.

    So what's the answer?

    Maybe baseball should look to Japan, where the need for Tommy John surgery is rare.

    It's worth noting that the Japanese leagues play a shorter season, with no games on Mondays, and employ six-man pitching rotations. And oddly enough, they pay little attention to pitch counts.

    Of course we all know that the chances of adopting such policies in the U.S. are slim and none.

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