THE FUNK ZONE
December ruminations on my 1977 replay, Play That Funky Baseball (http://funkyball.wordpress.com), and other Strat-O things
Stocking Stuffers, ’77
This holiday season, how about we recruit Santa to help the needy of my 1977 replay? Listed in order of what I think is their championship potential, here is what each still-contending team needs
to make their holiday a happy one.
1. PIRATES: Unlimited Health. These guys would have a 10-game lead by now instead of their small margin over the Phillies if Stargell and Stennett didn’t get injured every other week. Despite that, they’ve come up with more clutch hits than anyone, from Dave Parker to Phil Garner, all the way down to Duffy Dyer and Ken Macha.
2. RANGERS: Metal Bats. With a pitching rotation of Blyleven-Ellis-Perry-Alexander, Texas has steadily climbed to the top of the AL race, but there are many days when they can’t roll big hits to save their lives. A halfway decent bench topped by a Pujols-like Kurt Bevacqua "ringer" card has helped them in late innings, but a little more oomph wouldn’t hurt.
3. PHILLIES: A Bigger Ballpark. Ace Steve Carlton has thrown 40 gopher balls, the vast majority at the Vet, and Larry Christenson has been almost as generous. It’s the main reason why I doubt this team can go the distance, despite the best bench in the set , better-than-average fielding, and Bull Luzinski.
4. ROYALS: A Deeper Staff. K.C.’s card roster came up woefully short in the pitching department, with only three relievers usually available for each game, and with Paul Splittorff getting trashed nearly every start lately, it’s hard to keep giving away early leads when your offense doesn’t have the power of other teams to fight back with. Still, I think their battle with Texas will go down to their final series, on the last weekend of the season.
5. DODGERS: Fear of Bodily Harm. I should probably rate this team higher, but their recent spate of inexplicable, backbreaking losses to sub-.500 teams gave me cold feet. Inconsistent hitting, erratic pitching, an unreliable Charlie Hough to close games and a generally useless Steve Garvey providing a walkless, DP-riddled black hole in the lineup has kept this club from getting hot at the precise time they need to.
6. REDS: A Tom Seaver Buddy. For about a month of the season, they were scary good, pummeling every team brave enough to face them. Then George Foster slowed WAY down, their lineup went with him, and beyond Seaver and Fred Norman, their hit-happy pitchers stopped holding leads. Hard to give up on a starting eight with fielding and hitting this good, so we’ll see.
7. YANKEES: New Team Witch Doctor/Exorcist/Psychic Healer. I’ve done more than enough complaining about this bunch, but until they eliminate themselves (and trust me, they’ve mostly been beating themselves all year) it’s hard to rule them out for a final week charge. It would just really help a lot if they had an outfielder other than Paul Blair who could catch a ball, a pitcher other than Guidry who could get clutch outs, or even a whiff of good dice mojo. They have more clutch hit chances in their lineup than any team in the set, and almost NEVER roll them.
8. RED SOX: Smokey Joe Wood. They hit like the ’27 Yankees, field like the ’70 Orioles, and pitch like the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. Anything’s possible, I guess, but when your #1 starter (Tiant) has allowed nearly 300 hits, you got issues.
9. CARDS: Albert Pujols and Bob Gibson. St. Louis will double and triple you to death, but outside of Ted Simmons or Roger Freed in a pinch-hit cameo, they never beat anyone with homers, and it’s been costing them lately. Can’t say much for their rotation, either, outside Forsch and Rasmussen, but they’ve played darn well to still be in the running at this point.
10. ORIOLES: The Real Eddie Murray. I’ve been ragging on Garvey and Schmidt much of the year for their disappointing seasons, but Steady Eddie and his miniscule 12 dingers (slated to hit 27!) has been a major vacuum in the Birds’ lineup. They also have the same pitching card shortage K.C. has, but with Palmer, May, Grimsley and Flanagan taking turns being tough, it hasn’t been as much of an issue. A recent winning streak against the Red Sox and Yankees has them sniffing at the door again.
11. INDIANS, TWINS, WHITE SOX, ASTROS, EXPOS AND CUBS: Golf Tee Times.
I’ll be back next month with my final Funk Zone, and news of how to follow my World Series on Twitter. Happy New Year!