Karpin’s Korner: AL East for the Birds? and Mets Can Have Their “Phil”

The Baltimore Orioles had a say in who won the AL East last season and they could be a factor in 2019 as well. Baltimore had one of the worst records in the modern era in 2018 but it was the head-to-head match ups with the two primary contenders, that, in part, helped decide the AL East.

The Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games while the Yankees won 100. As far as the regular season is concerned, those are successful seasons but if you look at what created the 8-game gap, it wasn’t just the Red Sox’ 4-game sweep in early August. That just sealed the deal for Boston.

The Yankees went 12-7 against an Orioles team that finished with 115 losses. Six of those 12 wins came after the Red Sox engineered that August sweep. Boston finished 16-3 against the Orioles. That kind of dominance against a Divisional opponent does not happen very often. The Yankees began the season with a 6-6 record against Baltimore, so while the Yankees struggled, the Red Sox feasted and began to open up a gap, even before Aaron Judge went down with the wrist injury.

If you don’t think the early season games don’t really matter much, consider what happened between the Yankees and Orioles in the second week of last season. The Yankees lost three out of four to Baltimore at Yankee Stadium, a series that featured two embarrassing extra inning losses.

The first was in 14-innings as the Yankees did not get a hit in the final six innings against the Orioles bullpen. In the series finale, the Yankees blew a 5-0 first inning lead and lost 7-6 in 12 innings. To pour “salt on the wound,” the Yankees had bases loaded and no one out in the bottom of the 12th and could not score the tying or winning runs.

A team that has championship aspirations cannot afford to lose two, lengthy extra inning games in one series at home against an Orioles’ team that was 1-5 coming into the series and proceeded to lose 13 of their next 15 after leaving the Bronx. Not only that, Baltimore won 19 road games all season long and 5 of those came at Yankees Stadium. That’s a little over ¼ of their total wins away from home, a “jaw dropping” number when you think about it.

The Yankees were 44-32 (9-10 vs. Boston) against AL East opponents last season while Boston was 52-26. Another number that widened the gap was Interleague play. Boston was 16-4, Yanks were 11-9. If the Yankees hope to overcome the World Champions and win the AL East in 2019, they will need to improve on those numbers.

If the National League adopts the DH rule, the Mets would certainly be in position to take advantage of it. Many observers felt the Mets had a roster that would benefit by the “extra hitter” in the lineup. If they did acquire an aging Robinson Cano with that thought in mind, as some have speculated, then bravo for their foresight.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has already announced that the DH won’t be used in the National League until 2022 which is the year after the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires. Don’t be surprised to see the DH used next season in all Interleague games.

If the Mets weren’t going to be in on catcher J.T. Realmuto, they were hoping that he’d be traded out of the NL East. It was not to be as the Phillies acquired the All Star backstop and have put themselves in position to cap off an impressive off season haul with the signing of either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.

The Phillies will be one of the favorites in the NL East, but the Division is wide open. The Mets, Nationals and Braves are all legitimate contenders but a signing of Harper or Machado could shift the scales. If the Phils signed Machado, he would play shortstop and newly acquired Jean Segura would move to second base where many feel he’s better suited. If they sign Harper, RF Nick Williams would likely move to the bench.

The Mets added to their catching depth as they brought back Devin Mesoraco on a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. Mesoraco is an average defender, but, when healthy, he does provide some power at the plate. Signing Mesoraco could provide the Mets with the option to deal Travis d’Arnaud. Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has said that there has been some interest in d’Arnaud. Danny Espinosa was also added to the depth in the infield.

So saddened to hear that Frank Robinson passed away yesterday. Robinson was one of the best players that I ever saw and I used to follow the Orioles a bit so I was well aware of his exploits. I remember how he used to stand right on top of the plate, without the fear of being hit, as if he was challenging a pitcher to back him off. When the pitcher did come inside, Robinson got hit but he rarely got beat.

When I got into the business and had a chance to meet Mr. Robinson, I had always wanted to ask him about a game at Yankee Stadium during the 1966 season.

In the first game of a twi-night doubleheader in June, the Yankees trailed Baltimore 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth. I was listening to the game on radio because the first game of a twi-night doubleheader was not televised in those days. With two out and nobody on, the Yankees got two runners aboard and Roy White came to the plate as the potential game winning run. The Orioles were setting the pace in the American League while the Yankees were destined to wind up in last place that season, but they had a chance to steal a game from “the Birds.”

Orioles Mgr. Earl Weaver brought in knuckleballer Stu Miller (who would give up Mickey Mantle’s 500th home run less than a year later) to try and nail down the save but White drove a ball to deep right field that appeared to be heading for the seats. Robinson was in RF and as he’s attempting to make the catch, he falls into the lower right field stands. Robinson fails to come up for what seemed like a really long time, but finally, he surfaced and showed the ball in his glove. Yankees Mgr. Ralph Houk argued that Robinson didn’t hold the ball but to no avail.

The next day’s Daily News had a sequence of pictures on the back cover that showed Robinson going back towards the railing, falling in and then surfacing in another frame.

Years later, I met Frank Robinson and I asked him about that game on June 21st, 1966. He was a little taken aback that I remembered that particular game and he gave me that “cat who ate the canary” look. He winked and said, “Well, only one of us [him and me] know what the answer is.” RIP Mr. Robinson

HKLooking: Baseball’s off season has been like a game of “Jeopardy.” “Alex, I’ll take unsigned free agents for ?”. That question mark translates into what the heck is going on here. Look at some of the names besides Harper and Machado, that are still unsigned. Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Josh Harrison, Adam Jones, Gio Gonzalez and Marwin Gonzalez just to name a few. This is not sitting well with the players and as we get closer to the 2021 expiration date of the current CBA, it remains to be seen how the two sides will handle this situation…..Tough break for the Indians who lose Francisco Lindor for the early portion of the season. Some will say it doesn’t matter because the Indians have an easy road to a division title but the AL Central is one division, where if you like to play a longshot on a seasonal wager, that’s the place to look for the upset. The Twins could very well challenge an Indians’ team that has a lot of holes, especially in the outfield, and is a team where the “window of opportunity” is beginning to close

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