9:00 AM CDT, May 1, 2013
Talking baseball while hoping that it’s not a bad sign that the Blackhawks had to go into overtime to beat the Wild in their playoff opener:
1. Yoenis Cespedes was the guy last year. This time around, Hyun-jin Ryu is the guy.
Just as Cespedes would have made a major difference on the 2012 Cubs, picking up the pace on the rebuilding project, so Ryu would have done that in ’13. In both cases, the Cubs appear to have finished as runners-up in the bidding process.
They lost Cespedes in large part because they didn’t want to let him have an early-out in his contract, insisting on a six-year deal (Oakland signed him for $36 million over four years); they lost Ryu when they were outbid by the television money-rich Dodgers in blind bidding during the posting process.
Give Theo Epstein and his scouts credit for knowing how impactful both guys could be. But it’s got to be painful for all parties to live with how close they came to landing guys who would truly have created a different vibe around Wrigley Field.Ryu, a star from the Korea Baseball Organization’s Hanwha Eagles, is looking like equal parts Fernando Valenzuela, David Wells and Mark Buehrle after his first month with the Dodgers. He struck out 12 in six innings against Colorado’s dangerous lineup last night, going to 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA after six starts. He has 46 strikeouts in 37 2-3 innings and a 1.142 WHIP.
The Dodgers paid the Eagles $25.7 million for his rights, then agreed to a six-year, $36 million deal with Ryu. That’s $61.7 million over six years, which looks a lot better than the six-year, $147-million deal with Zack Greinke.
Because he’s only 26, the Cubs would look at Ryu as a long-term piece of a 1-2 combination with Jeff Samardzija in their rotation. They would be the guys that Epstein would build his rotation around while Tom Ricketts works to improve Wrigley Field.
Oh, here’s something else. Had the Cubs landed Ryu, they would not have pursued Edwin Jackson. He would be somebody else’s problem. But with Ryu as with Cespedes, the Cubs came close, they couldn’t seal the deal.
2. On the subject of Jackson, whose ears must still be ringing from the booing he received Tuesday night, know this: He’s going to get better than he has been in April. He’ll probably have a few months this season when he is very good, and at the end of the season his ERA will be somewhere close to 4.45, his career mark. The Cubs hoped that it would somewhere around 3.75, as he’d posted a 3.81 mark since going to the White Sox at midseason in 2011. That’s off the table after his horrible April (0-4, 6.27). Jackson ranks 103rdof 113 big-league pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. But here’s the good news. He’s in good company. At the moment, Jackson is sandwiched between Ryan Vogelsong (6.23) and Buehrle (6.35), and his ERA is lower than some excellent starters, including Matt Cain, Roy Halladay, Edwinson Volquez, Jarrod Parker and Brandon McCarthy. There are always guys who get off to bad starts, and almost all of them get a lot better when the weather warms up. Jackson seems healthy, so there’s no reason why he won’t get better. His confidence is shot at the moment but it is one or two good outings away from coming back. He’ll get better but he’ll never excite fans the way Ryu would have.
3. Since baseball went to divisional play, 100 of 230 teams that led their divisions have gone on to reach the playoffs -- a total that included three of the six leaders last April (the Rangers, Cardinals and Nationals advanced; the Rays, Dodgers and Indians faded). This a 43 percent success rate for April leaders, and the total has gotten only marginally higher since the addition of wild cards, with increased parity offsetting increased opportunity. So let’s say three of the six teams currently leading divisions are going to be in the playoffs and three aren’t. Which is which? If it really is a 50/50 proposition, I’ll say that the Tigers, Rangers and Braves have staying power; the Red Sox, Cardinals and Rockies won’t last. But with that said, looking at the Red Sox’s best-in-baseball 18-8 start and the Cardinals’ organizational pitching depth, I won’t be surprised if five of six April playoffs hang on this time around, beating the historical average.
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