Sportswriters love telling people how unbiased sportswriters are, and a big part of that is rooting for stories, not individual teams. That’s pretty obvious. It’s much easier and much more fun to write about an unusual defensive play, or a no-hitter, or a walk-off hit, than it is to write about an arduous 12-5 yawner that stopped being close after the third inning.
And it’s not just writers who do this. Even without the professional self-interest, fans want to see the underdog overachieve. They want to see the unusual, the exciting, and they want the drama and uncertainty to last as long as possible.
So in the spirit of lasting drama, everyone ought to be rooting as hard as they can against the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers are kind of old news, with two consecutive division titles in their pockets. They rely heavily on slow guys who walk and hit home runs (and if you’re going to do that, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are two pretty good slow guys to have), and they’ve got a starting rotation that might be better than all the other rotations in the division. To balance those strengths come two glaring weaknesses. First, the bullpen has been quite good so far this year but is built on a foundation of quicksand. Second, they have the kind of defense one might expect when a lineup has a lot of slow guys who walk and hit home runs.
Now, none of this makes the Tigers particularly objectionable. The reason you should root against them is that they’re by far the best team in baseball’s worst division, and they’re starting to pull away in the standings.
Lost in all of last year's hoopla over Miguel Cabrera becoming the first player to win the Triple Crown in 45 years were the impressive numbers put up by the Angels' Ervin Santana. Big Erv gave up 39 homers, the highest total of any pitcher in the majors. His 5.63 FIP was the single-worst mark for any of the league's 88 qualified starters. To be fair, Santana didn't quite pull off a Triple Crown the way Cabrera did: His 5.16 ERA was merely the fifth-worst mark for any full-time starting pitcher. So of course when the season ended, Kansas City Royals executives took one look at Santana's near-historic season, considered his $13 million option for 2013, nodded to each other, and said what everyone was thinking: "We've gotta get some of that!"
Miraculously, trading a prospect and paying all but $1 million of Santana's salary to acquire 2012's worst pitcher has actually worked out. The 30-year-old right-hander has averaged more than seven innings per start, posting a 2.00 ERA and a 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate, and ranking among the AL's leaders in Wins Above Replacement. After a rough first start in which he struck out eight but also allowed three homers and four runs in six innings, Santana's been nearly untouchable: 3-0, 1.20 ERA, 23 strikeouts, four walks, opponents' batting line of .239/.271/.274. And while the Royals have ceded 19 runs in their last two games, they're still the AL's third-best run-prevention team. As April comes to a close, Santana and the most overhauled starting rotation in baseball have the Royals a half-game out of first place, vying for the team's first playoff berth in 28 years.
To track how they got here, we need to start with Santana's transformation. Which means it's time to call in the esteemed analysis hounds at ESPN Stats & Info.
The series of tubes are still buzzing over Sergio Romo's parade-stopping T-shirt, and already we've got reams of Hot Stove news to sort through. Here are some of the biggest happenings from the past week:
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Despite Dwight Howard's 33 points and 14 boards, Steve Nash suffered a bruised leg and the Lakers fell to 0-2 with a 116-106 loss to the Blazers. "Look, I don't want anybody saying Mike Brown should be fired, or anything like that," Howard told the media after the game. "He's our coach, and I just don't want to hear that kind of talk. I won't stand for it." When the confused reporters began to tell him that nobody had suggested it, Howard cut them off. "It's way too early for that talk," he said. "Not cool, guys. Mike Brown? Fired? Way too early. Come on."
When Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick joined Phoenix radio station XTRA-910 for an interview Tuesday, he had no plans to hold back. Kendrick wasn't happy with the way his team was playing, and he had particular pointed comments for two of his employees: Stephen Drew and Justin Upton.
"You know, I'm going to be real direct about Stephen," Kendrick said regarding Stephen Drew, the team's usual starting shortstop who's been out since July 2011 with a serious ankle injury. "I think Stephen should have been out there playing before now. And, frankly, I for one am disappointed. I'm going to be real candid and say I think Stephen and his representatives are more focused on where Stephen is going to be a year from now than going out and supporting the team that's paying his salary. All you can do is hope that the player is treating the situation with integrity, and, frankly, we have our concerns."
He wasn't done. Addressing the disappointing numbers put up this season by his star right fielder, Kendrick's words came crashing down like lightning bolts.