MLB Thoughts: July 23, 2010

As July dwindles away, my hope that Roy Oswalt will soon don Cardinal red continues to swell. I know there are other baseball story lines to follow right now and I also recognize that Oswalt may very well pitch for another contender this season (Minnesota? Philly?) or he may not be traded at all, making this the non-story of the baseball season. But in what is shaping up to be yet another season of lackluster frontrunners in the NL (Is anybody honestly afraid of San Diego come October? Or Atlanta? Please.), adding Oswalt to an already top-heavy rotation would make the Cardinals the clear favorite for the pennant in the Senior Circuit. My only fear: acquiring Oswalt would somehow price us out of an extension for Pujols. I think Mo already knows how I feel about this matter.

Bobby Cox & Lou Pinella couldn’t be enjoying more different swan songs, could they? Actually, I doubt Pinella would use the word “enjoy” to describe much of his Cubbie experience. Hey, Lou, look at it this way: in a few months, you’ll never have to deal with Carlos Zambrano’s insanity ever again. Cox’s run in the ATL has been historic. I’m glad the Bravos are in contention in his final season; I’d hate to see him play out the string in a bunch of meaningless August and September games. With nearly 4,300 wins between them, there’s not much these guys haven’t seen in the game. It’ll definitely be a changing of the guard when they hang ’em up.

As of this writing, Alex Rodriguez sits at 599 homers. Did you know that? More importantly, do you care? I submit this as the latest evidence that our love affair with the game has been altered dramatically and possibly irreparably. Time was, ESPN tapped into (or perhaps created) a national fervor over home run milestones: countdown clocks; live at-bat break-ins; program alerts anytime a celebrated slugger within striking distance of a home run milestone even stepped out on deck. Now, we yawn. I suppose that no matter Rodriguez’s final home run tally (or Pujols or any other slugger — PED proven or not), we’ve entered a new era in our relationship with baseball, an era where the numbers matter less than they ever have. This is post-statistical barometer baseball, a drastic shift for a game that has always prided itself on planting her statistical benchmarks in the collective national consciousness. 755. 61. 56. These numbers used to mean something. Now? Not so much. Don’t believe me? Quick: without looking, do you know how many career home runs Barry Bonds hit? See what I mean? (For the record, it’s 762. And even I had to double check.)

20 years ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates won 95 games and the National League East crown, the first of three division titles. The 2010 Pirates couldn’t win 95 games if the season ran from Valentine’s Day to Christmas. The ’90 Bucs were led by National League MVP Barry Bonds, National League Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, All Star Bobby Bonilla, and National League Manager of the Year Jim Leyland. These were the salad days for Pirate fans, at least in their recent history. These days, Drabek’s son is a pitching prospect in the Blue Jays system, Leyland is managing in Detroit, Bonds is in baseball purgatory, and Bobby Bonilla is still drawing a paycheck from the Mets. And the Pirates? The 2010 season will be their 18th consecutive losing season, the longest such streak in any of the four major professional sports.

But if you’ve been paying attention — and I doubt very many of you have (I mean, why would you?) — there may be hope on the horizon. There is a spate of youngsters littering the Pittsburgh baseball landscape and these younglings are finding their way into the Pittsburgh lineup and pitching staff. Closer of the future Evan Meek was honored as an All-Star this year for his stellar work in a setup role. Center fielder Andrew McCuthchen boasts the kind of power / speed athleticism that has been rarely seen in the Pirate outfield since Bonds. The much ballyhooed 3B prospect Pedro Alvarez made his appearance a few weeks ago and despite an alarmingly high strikeout rate, his power potential has Pirate fans drooling over what the future might hold. Other players like 2B Neil Walker, speedy OF Jose Tabata, and C Ryan Doumit continue to accrue experience at the major league level that is accelerating the Pirate youth movement. Sure, the Pirates are still losing, but longsuffering Bucco fans can take solace that their streak of ineptitude just might be broken before these youngsters price themselves out of town. In a place like Pittsburgh, that’s really all you can hope for.

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