Baseball Beat/WTNYAugust 27, 2005
One on One: Five Questions (Part Two)
By Rich Lederer & Bryan Smith

On the heels of yesterday's One on One segment, we switch gears for Part Two. It's now time for Bryan to grill Rich with five burning questions involving the NL West, the AL Wild Card, the worst team in baseball, a certain pitcher from the Northwest, the NL ROY and the AL MVP. Find out what the latter has to say.

Bryan: Rich, you're a West Coast guy. I know no one east of the Rockies cares about the NL West, but do you? Is it worth paying attention to, or is the winner just going to go three-and-out come October?

Rich: I don't think many people in the Rockies care about the NL West. The AFC West, yes. But not the NL West.

Despite where I live, I'm not the right guy to ask. I picked the Giants to win the division before Barry Bonds went down, then reluctantly chose the Dodgers in mid-May. Can I choose a third team? Like a stopped clock, I'm bound be right one of these times.

If San Diego wins the Worst...err, I mean the West, then you would have to give them at least a chance to take one of the playoff games in the first round. How's that, you ask? Well, Jake Peavy is good enough to win a game almost single-handedly. He has a sub-3 ERA and is tied for the major-league lead in strikeouts with 189 and is first in K/9 (10.03). Jake's fifth in WHIP (1.00) and Average Game Score.

Back to your original point, Dave Studeman said it best. "The NL West is now officially the worst division ever." He pointed out that the NL West teams are playing .443 ball overall, .413 outside of the division, and have a combined record of 5-7 against the Kansas City Royals!!!

Bryan: Speaking of the Royals, what in the world can they do to return to success? Give me a blueprint that you would advise Mr. Baird to follow to get the Royals among the AL Central contenders again.

Rich: Get a new owner. Get a new stadium. Get a new general manager. Oh, I guess that would be a tough sell to Baird. Seriously, I would suggest that the Royals follow the Jacobs plan as closely as possible. They are not in a position quite yet to lock up as many players as the Indians did a decade or so ago. But they need to make sure they take care of the talent they have.

Signing Alex Gordon is obviously numero uno. Let him get his feet wet in the instructional league this fall. Invite Gordon to spring training but don't rush him or Billy Butler or any of the other elite prospects in the system. Realize and be thankful that you're likely to get another Gordon or two in the 2006 and 2007 drafts. Think in terms of a couple of years out when these kids will most likely be in Kansas City. As such, trade Mike Sweeney and don't be so damn stubborn about paying a portion of his remaining salary. If you can find a sucker team willing to pay him $10M per year, then, my goodness, pick up the other $2.5M in 2006 and 2007.

Enunciate your plan to the fans. Stick to it through thick and thin. Evaluate your progress. And, by golly, step up the payroll when the time is right by adding the last one or two missing pieces of the puzzle via trades and/or free agency. It won't be easy, but it can be done.

Bryan: At least one outlet on the Internet currently has the Cleveland Indians ranked as baseball's best team. Are the Indians for real enough to outplay the A's and Yankees for the next month?

Rich: I don't see how the Indians could be considered baseball's best team, but I certainly think they are real enough to win a Wild Card berth. Why not? Cleveland is essentially locked in a three-way tie along with the Yankees and A's. Given their schedules, one could argue that the Indians have the inside track.

Cleveland has been en fuego on the road this season. Through Thursday night's action, the Indians are 39-26 away from Jacobs Field. For the mathematically challenged, that is a win-loss percentage of .600. To show you how insane that record is, consider that the Oakland A's (31-30) are the only other team in baseball that has a winning record on the road.

As far as the best team goes, I have to go with the St. Louis Cardinals. Not only do the Redbirds have the best record (80-47), they have the best run differential (636-500) in the majors. Most impressive to me is the fact that the Cardinals have overcome several injuries to their starters (Molina, Rolen, Sanders, Walker) without whining and feeling sorry for themselves. I predicted that the Cards would win the World Series before the season started, and I see no reason to get out of the driver's seat now. I mean, I have a responsbility to all those folks who hopped on board the wagon.

Bryan: Much has been made about the fantastic beginning to the career of Felix Hernandez. Where does the 19-year-old currently rank in your mind among pitchers in the AL, and should we consider him a Cy Young contender for 2006?

Rich: Felix Hernandez is as good as any pitcher in the AL right now. I know Hernandez has only pitched 29 innings in the majors (before Friday night's start vs. CWS), but do you know that he hasn't even allowed an extra-base hit thus far? He's going to give up some doubles, triples, and home runs--just not as many as the next guy. Look, other than big-league experience, this kid has it all. I don't know why we have to wait until Felix "proves" himself to call him what he is. I mean, he is what he is. . .one of the very best starting pitchers in the league. Period.

If you're talking about Cy Young candidates for next year, you gotta put Felix in the same conversation as Johan Santana, Rich Harden, and Roy Halladay. Why couldn't Hernandez do next year what Vida Blue did in 1971 or Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 or Dwight Gooden in 1985? I'm not saying he will, but I think he has that kind of upside season in him.

Bryan: Of all the end-of-season awards, the two closest races seem to be that for AL MVP and NL ROY. The White Sox don't have a real contender for MVP and Jeff Francoeur is the only rookie producing big for a NL contender, although he hasn't been doing it very long. Who is going to come up with a big month and take these awards?

Rich: I'm not so sure those are the two closest races but if you want answers, I'll give you answers. We live in a (baseball) world that has awards. And those awards have to be guarded by men with stats. . .You weep for Francoeur and you curse the White Sox. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Francoeur's lack of walks, while tragic, probably saved many games. We use words like AL MVP and NL ROY. We use these words as the backbone to baseball. [With tongue firmly in cheek] I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain my picks to those who then question the manner in which I provide 'em.

Bryan: Well, can you at least come up with A Few Good Men?

Rich: OK. NL ROY. . .Jeff Francoeur, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Church, Willy Taveras, Zach Duke, and Jason Vargas. Francoeur has the most buzz of these players and his team is the most likely to earn a playoff spot. Unless he falls off the cliff next month, look for the Atlanta rookie to win going away. With respect to the AL MVP. . .Now that one is crystal clear to me. Alex Rodriguez.

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Well, there you have it. We hope those of you who can handle the truth enjoyed this week's One on One.


To show you how insane that record is, consider that the Oakland A's (31-30) are the only other team in baseball that has a winning record on the road.

The White Sox are an even more amazing 21 games over on the road at 41-20.

Boy, I blew that one. Five teams are actually over .500, led by your White Sox at 41-20. The St. Louis Cardinals have the second-best record away from home and are #1 in the NL at 40-23. The Indians are next at 40-26, followed by the Angels (36-27) and the A's (32-30).

That has to be the best Few Good Men reference I have ever heard.