Hits and misses: Predictions revisited
This is one of my favorite columns of the year, even though it trashes my reputation as a supposed expert, insider, whatever.
Fans of the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Tigers have been waiting, and I am not about to deny them the simple pleasure of an apology from yours truly.
I completely underestimated all three teams in spring training, and like a good politician, I am here to take “ownership” of my faulty analysis.
What, you mean politicians don’t do that?
Of course, there is something for me in this column, too — I am extracting my own pound of flesh, demanding apologies from three clubs that owed me better, not to mention their millions of fans.
But first, my 2011 mea culpas:
Diamondbacks: Worst team I saw in Arizona, and scouts weren’t exactly singing their praises, either. Even the normally unflappable Kevin Towers, the team’s new general manager, seemed nervous. The D-Backs looked that bad.
At one point in late March, I wrote, “Spring-training results are largely meaningless, but the D-Backs started 5-17 and have since ‘rallied’ to 9-20, still worst in the majors. One of those wins was a comeback from a 10-0 deficit against the Reds, a comeback fueled mostly by reserves. One scout puts it best: The D-Backs have no apparent strength.”
Say hello to your 2011 NL West champions!
In truth, my spring training column about manager Kirk Gibson was largely positive, though I did question whether the Diamondbacks players would quickly tire of his relentless, back-to-basics approach.
“Talk to me in June, when the D-Backs are hopelessly out of it, and we’ll see if Gibson is still on message,” I said.
At least one section of the column turned out to be prophetic. One veteran told me that Gibson was just what the team needed, contending that the Diamondbacks’ young players had it too easy in the past. The most prominent of those players, right fielder Justin Upton, agreed.
Congrats to the D-Backs and to Gibby, who is a lock for NL Manager of the Year.
Brewers: Let’s just come right out with it — I picked them fourth.
Behind the Reds. Behind the Cardinals. Behind — heaven help me — the Cubs.
Here’s where I went wrong: I fell in love with one of my forecasts from the 2010 season, when I said the Mariners, coming off a big offseason were overrated.
That call proved correct, so in spring training I tried to identify the 2011 version of the 2010 Mariners. The Brewers looked like that club to me.
I conceded that the comparison was “too harsh,” but added that the Brewers were “hardly a complete team,” questioning their bullpen, infield defense and center fielder Carlos Gomez, among other things.
Some of that wasn’t far off — general manager Doug Melvin improved the bullpen by adding right-hander Francisco Rodriguez and upgraded center field with the addition of Nyjer Morgan. But there is no getting around it: I never thought the Brewers would win the division, much less with relative ease.
Mike Vassallo, the Brewers’ media-relations director, gave me good-natured grief about my initial analysis. I promised to apologize if I was wrong, and six months later I’m delivering.
To paraphrase Bob Uecker, I was just a little bit outside.
Congrats to the Brew Crew.
Tigers: I didn’t underestimate the Tigers nearly as badly as the Diamondbacks and Brewers, but I did pick them third.
Not behind the Indians, who proved their biggest threat.
Behind the White Sox and Twins.
“Love the pitching, starting and relief,” I wrote in spring training. “But how much can they count on Miguel Cabrera?”
It was a fair question at the time — Cabrera was coming off an arrest for DUI and looked overweight (still does, actually). But he produced his usual monster season, finishing second in the AL to Jose Bautista in OPS.
As it turned out, the Tigers’ pitching wasn’t quite good enough — it took their addition of right-hander Doug Fister to make their rotation complete. GM Dave Dombrowski also made two other strong in-season moves, acquiring infielder Wilson Betemit and left fielder Delmon Young.
I quickly became a believer, and if the Tigers beat the Yankees in the Division Series, no one should be surprised.
Congrats to the Tigers and to Cabrera for an MVP-caliber season.
Now, for the teams that should apologize to me:
White Sox: I should have known they were in trouble when Ozzie Guillen promised me on Twitter that he would wear a bow tie if he was part of the Fox broadcast team during this year’s World Series.
Guillen and I had tweeted back and forth in late March after I made him my No. 3 manager on the hot seat, behind the Marlins’ Edwin Rodriguez (remember him?) and Tigers’ Jim Leyland.
Alas, I had to remind Oz — your plan should be to manage in the World Series, not sit on the Fox set with Chris Rose.
In any case, there will be no World Series on the South Side — and no more Ozzie, either. The 2011 White Sox were even more disappointing than the Cubs.
Rockies: I’m done with these guys.
They again sucked me in with their talent, and I picked them to win the NL West. But I should have heeded my own words: In making my pick, I noted that the Rockies needed “to learn how to win.”
That is still the case, and the season-ending loss of left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and puzzling performance (and subsequent trade) of righty Ubaldo Jimenez amount to only so much of an excuse.
Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez are tremendous players; it’s not their fault that the Rockies underachieve. But I will not pick the Rox again until after they return to the postseason. Dudes can’t be trusted.
Blue Jays: What do I have against my good friends from the north, who did well this season to finish .500 in the AL East?
They ruined my Rookie of the Year pick, that’s what.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie was my guy, even accounting for the fact that the Jays probably would delay his promotion to prevent him from gaining an extra year of arbitration eligibility.
The Jays denied such intent, and in truth they wanted Lawrie to refine his defensive skills at third base. But just as they were on the verge of finally promoting him, bad karma struck — Lawrie broke a bone in his left hand.
By the time Lawrie made his major-league debut, it was Aug. 4. He then produced a whopping .953 OPS in 171 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending fracture to his right middle finger on Sept. 21.
For once, I had it right.
Look out Jays, you’re on my list.