Three strikes: Strasburg, All-Star voting, replay

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball:

STRIKE 1: Strasburg’s success will continue
Not that they are necessary, but here are two more reasons to believe Stephen Strasburg really is different:

There are two good reasons to believe Stephen Strasburg will live up to the hype.
There are two good reasons to believe Stephen Strasburg will live up to the hype.

Just three years ago, the Rays made David Price the much-ballyhooed No. 1 pick out of Vanderbilt. A "poised-beyond-his-years" lefthander with a 99-mph fastball and nasty slider, Price lived up to the early hype when — in his first month in the majors — he saved Game 7 of the ’08 ALCS against the Red Sox.

Price’s progress hasn’t stalled. After beating the Blue Jays Wednesday, he is 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA, making him the only AL pitcher to rank in the top 10 in the majors in ERA. Last week, I asked a longtime scout who he would want to pitch Game 7 and Price made his short list (along with Ubaldo Jimenez at No. 1, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson). No doubt, Price is well on the road to becoming one of the game’s top starters.

I asked another scout to compare Strasburg and Price, and he replied, "It’s really not that close. Strasburg is that good."

Two reasons: Strasburg’s command and his curve. Price, 24, pitches like the young starter he is, still working to master the ability to consistently throw quality strikes. Strasburg commands his secondary pitches as well as some command their fastball. While Price’s slider is considered a plus pitch, Strasburg’s 83-mph curve is plus-plus — especially when hitters have to remain focused on his high-90s fastball.

Strasburg sells. Credit (or blame) the media for creating the massive buildup. The Indians, struggling on the field and at the gate, don’t mind. Strasburg’s second start is set for Sunday in Cleveland and tickets are so hot that Indians’ PR folks are sending out updates on sales. One of them: 2,000 tickets were sold Wednesday afternoon. Attendance in Washington went from 40,000-plus for Strasburg’s debut to sub-20,000 the next night. Also, TBS has switched its nationally televised Sunday broadcast to Nationals-Indians — as unlikely a national telecast as there is under normal circumstances.

Coincidentally or not, Washington chose an ideal time to call up its phenom. If Strasburg starts every five days, he will start four times at home and face only one quality offense — the Braves — before the All-Star break. Five of his first six likely opponents rank in the bottom half of the majors in runs scored: Pirates (30th), Indians (26th), White Sox (21st), Royals (19th) and Mets (18th).

The Nationals, however, figure to start rationing Strasburg’s appearances at some point. The club has set roughly a 100-inning cap on his major league season after he pitched 55 1/3 innings in the minors. If Strasburg averages six innings per outing, 17 more starts would put him right at his limit. "We’re looking long term," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says. "He’s pitching at 21 throughout the season and we’re going to be careful with him."

STRIKE 2: New-look All-Star rosters
Although the All-Star Game is more than a month away, we already can expect another onslaught of first-time participants. There might not be 26 like last year, but with rosters expanded again (to 34 per side) there will be no shortage of young, rising stars in Anaheim.

First-time shoo-ins include the Rockies’ Jimenez (the deserving starter), Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (who would be the first rookie voted in by the fans since 2008 — Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukodome), Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (his team’s most deserving player), Royals first baseman Billy Butler (with apologies to Zack Greinke and his 4.05 ERA), and Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier (who should have made the team in 2009).

Other strong possibilities for making their first-time appearance include Astros center fielder Michael Bourn, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw, Braves second baseman Martin Prado, Diamondbacks second baseman Kelly Johnson and Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson.

Unfortunately, one 13-time All-Star, Ken Griffey Jr., wouldn’t be allowed to play even if he benefited from the sentimental vote for his lifetime achievements and moved from third to first in the DH voting. "You have to be active," an MLB spokesman says.

Would instant replay have overturned one of baseball's most famous plays?
Would instant replay have overturned one of baseball’s most famous plays?

STRIKE 3: A "no" vote on expanded replay
While most in the media continue to scream for more instant replay, Brewers manager Ken Macha remains opposed. He cites the "human element" and the time factor. "I have tickets to Pitt (football) and the games take four hours," he says.

Another reason: "Some of the most memorable plays in history have come on bad calls," Macha says.

Macha’s A’s were part of one in 2001 when Derek Jeter made one of the postseason’s most memorable plays with a flip toss to Jorge Posada, who tagged out a non-sliding Jeremy Giambi with the potential tying run. "I was there. Slow it down. He was safe," says Macha, then the A’s bench coach.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Stan McNeal analyzes three hot topics in Major League Baseball:

STRIKE 1: Strasburg’s success will continue
Not that they are necessary, but here are two more reasons to believe Stephen Strasburg really is different:

There are two good reasons to believe Stephen Strasburg will live up to the hype.
There are two good reasons to believe Stephen Strasburg will live up to the hype.

Just three years ago, the Rays made David Price the much-ballyhooed No. 1 pick out of Vanderbilt. A "poised-beyond-his-years" lefthander with a 99-mph fastball and nasty slider, Price lived up to the early hype when — in his first month in the majors — he saved Game 7 of the ’08 ALCS against the Red Sox.

Price’s progress hasn’t stalled. After beating the Blue Jays Wednesday, he is 9-2 with a 2.23 ERA, making him the only AL pitcher to rank in the top 10 in the majors in ERA. Last week, I asked a longtime scout who he would want to pitch Game 7 and Price made his short list (along with Ubaldo Jimenez at No. 1, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson). No doubt, Price is well on the road to becoming one of the game’s top starters.

I asked another scout to compare Strasburg and Price, and he replied, "It’s really not that close. Strasburg is that good."

Two reasons: Strasburg’s command and his curve. Price, 24, pitches like the young starter he is, still working to master the ability to consistently throw quality strikes. Strasburg commands his secondary pitches as well as some command their fastball. While Price’s slider is considered a plus pitch, Strasburg’s 83-mph curve is plus-plus — especially when hitters have to remain focused on his high-90s fastball.

Strasburg sells. Credit (or blame) the media for creating the massive buildup. The Indians, struggling on the field and at the gate, don’t mind. Strasburg’s second start is set for Sunday in Cleveland and tickets are so hot that Indians’ PR folks are sending out updates on sales. One of them: 2,000 tickets were sold Wednesday afternoon. Attendance in Washington went from 40,000-plus for Strasburg’s debut to sub-20,000 the next night. Also, TBS has switched its nationally televised Sunday broadcast to Nationals-Indians — as unlikely a national telecast as there is under normal circumstances.

Coincidentally or not, Washington chose an ideal time to call up its phenom. If Strasburg starts every five days, he will start four times at home and face only one quality offense — the Braves — before the All-Star break. Five of his first six likely opponents rank in the bottom half of the majors in runs scored: Pirates (30th), Indians (26th), White Sox (21st), Royals (19th) and Mets (18th).

The Nationals, however, figure to start rationing Strasburg’s appearances at some point. The club has set roughly a 100-inning cap on his major league season after he pitched 55 1/3 innings in the minors. If Strasburg averages six innings per outing, 17 more starts would put him right at his limit. "We’re looking long term," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo says. "He’s pitching at 21 throughout the season and we’re going to be careful with him."

STRIKE 2: New-look All-Star rosters
Although the All-Star Game is more than a month away, we already can expect another onslaught of first-time participants. There might not be 26 like last year, but with rosters expanded again (to 34 per side) there will be no shortage of young, rising stars in Anaheim.

First-time shoo-ins include the Rockies’ Jimenez (the deserving starter), Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (who would be the first rookie voted in by the fans since 2008 — Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukodome), Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (his team’s most deserving player), Royals first baseman Billy Butler (with apologies to Zack Greinke and his 4.05 ERA), and Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier (who should have made the team in 2009).

Other strong possibilities for making their first-time appearance include Astros center fielder Michael Bourn, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw, Braves second baseman Martin Prado, Diamondbacks second baseman Kelly Johnson and Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson.

Unfortunately, one 13-time All-Star, Ken Griffey Jr., wouldn’t be allowed to play even if he benefited from the sentimental vote for his lifetime achievements and moved from third to first in the DH voting. "You have to be active," an MLB spokesman says.

Would instant replay have overturned one of baseball's most famous plays?
Would instant replay have overturned one of baseball’s most famous plays?

STRIKE 3: A "no" vote on expanded replay
While most in the media continue to scream for more instant replay, Brewers manager Ken Macha remains opposed. He cites the "human element" and the time factor. "I have tickets to Pitt (football) and the games take four hours," he says.

Another reason: "Some of the most memorable plays in history have come on bad calls," Macha says.

Macha’s A’s were part of one in 2001 when Derek Jeter made one of the postseason’s most memorable plays with a flip toss to Jorge Posada, who tagged out a non-sliding Jeremy Giambi with the potential tying run. "I was there. Slow it down. He was safe," says Macha, then the A’s bench coach.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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