The worm may not have turned yet on how opposing teams pitch to Barry Bonds, but the worm at least has his turn signal on.
Bonds, hobbled by a post-surgical knee and an elbow filled with bone chips, not to mention all the off-field stuff, has yet to hit a home run this year. He has four hits in 23 at-bats, two of them doubles. He looks like a guy with warning-track power.
And ever so gently, teams are starting to pitch to him.
I would too. Bonds is just like anybody else, it seems to me. Make him prove he can beat you, then decide what to do with him. Intentional walks are such an extreme strategic maneuver -- they give the other team a precious base runner for free -- that I'd have to know a hitter was deadly dangerous before I issued one.
And being dangerous last September doesn't count in April if there's reason to believe something's changed.
Bonds has walked 11 times, so he has a healthy on-base percentage of .472 to go with his anemic .261 slugging average. But six of those walks came in a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves in the first week. The Braves walked him intentionally in a couple of classic, first-base open, intentional-walk situations, and otherwise pitched gingerly to him. He managed seven actual at-bats and got one hit.
Opponents are still being careful with Bonds when runners are on base, whether first is vacant or not. But with the bases empty, they're pitching to him, and not getting hurt.
With nobody on base, Bonds has 16 at-bats and two walks, and he's been hit twice. He's managed three hits, two of them doubles. With runners on, he has only seven at-bats and nine walks. He's 1-for-7.
I'd take my chances with a guy hitting .174 too, even though the sample size is exceedingly small. That's because that small sample is aided by observation. Bonds still looks like he can punish a mistake, but he doesn't look like the guy he's been for the past five years.
He did a nice job going the other way for a double on a pitch down and away Sunday night, but opposite-field doubles are not the sort of thing that keeps opposing pitchers and managers awake at night.
All steroid questions aside, Bonds looks like his legs just won't give him the support he needs to put a charge into the ball the way we're used to seeing. It looks like old age, so long deferred, has finally caught up. If I'm an opposing pitcher, I go after him until he proves that theory wrong.
As the sharp grounders to first and the fly balls to the warning track mount, it'll be interesting to see how many teams agree with me. The Arizona Diamondbacks are next up.
NBA preseason winding down [PERMALINK]
The NBA playoffs are set. Jockeying for seeding is ongoing in the lower half of both conferences, but the battle among the league's mediocrities for the last few spots is over.
The winners: Washington, Indiana, Milwaukee and Chicago in the East, the Lakers and Sacramento in the West. Sorry: Philadelphia, Orlando, Utah and New Orleans/Oklahoma City.
This column, which lets its interest in this sport or that one's regular season wax and wane like the tides in a manner most irresponsible for a professional, has kept the NBA largely on the back burner these last four months, which is par for the course, to use a metaphor from golf, a sport that's wax-free in these parts, if you follow.
So it's a little surprising to find that this column's NBA Preview on Nov. 1 actually contained some reasonable predictions. And, of course, the usual pratfalls, including a pick of the New York Knicks, currently the most chaotic, pathetic franchise on the continent -- and I'm including the Ottawa Renegades of the CFL, who just suspended operations -- to make the playoffs.
I, of all people, thought Larry Brown alone would get the Knicks to the playoffs.
I also had the Pacers, who barely made the playoffs, challenging the San Antonio Spurs for the title, "If [Ron] Artest can keep his suspensions down to a game or two at a time and the Pacers can stay healthy." Well, he didn't before getting traded to Sacramento, where he helped the Kings make the playoffs, and they didn't.
The Pacers are showing signs of life, though not signs of title contention.
I predicted that the Milwaukee Bucks would be the best last-place team in the league, and at the moment, that's strictly true. The Bucks are in a three-way tie for last with the Pacers and the Chicago Bulls with two games to play.
And I gave short shrift to the Hornets, who made a spirited run at a playoff spot before falling short.
I only got five of the eight Western Conference playoff teams right, picking Houston, Utah and Seattle and missing Phoenix, Memphis and the Clippers. I thought the Suns would struggle without Amare Stoudemire, and while I saw the Clippers' playoff potential, I overestimated their Clipperness.
In the East I got seven of the eight teams right, missing only with that ridiculous Knicks pick. When I said "New York," I of course meant "Milwaukee." I get those two confused all the time.
My conference champ picks were San Antonio and, ahem, Indiana. There will be some revision there as we look ahead to the playoffs later this week. The action starts Saturday.
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A great city forced not to watch swill [PERMALINK]
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who fought hard to try to stop Washington from getting a baseball team, is now fighting Comcast, trying to force the company to show the Nationals' games in Washington.
The Orioles own 90 percent of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network as a result of the deal with Major League Baseball that persuaded Angelos to agree to stop fighting the Montreal Expos' move to the capital. The Orioles pay the Nationals a $20 million rights fee to carry the games.
But Comcast won't carry MASN, calling it an overpriced network that offers little programming. Angelos says Comcast is really trying to protect its own sports network, Comcast SportsNet, a charge the company denies.
"They are deliberately preventing their subscribers -- who are paying good money every month -- from watching the team that they consider their baseball team," Angelos told Washington radio station WTWP.
I've watched the Nationals quite a bit already this season, Nationals fans. You aren't missing much.
But there's no accounting for desire, especially with young love. Nationals fans want to see their team. This Angelos vs. Comcast whizzing match is of the kind that always gets worked out eventually because it's costing money and goodwill. Nats fans will get their games. A pox on both houses for not working out a deal already.
Still, there's time, Nats fans, to lobby for Comcast to carry NESN or the YES Network. Some good stuff on those.
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Reviewing two baseball books Thursday, including one by the authors of Baseball Prospectus, I mentioned that while I was acquainted via e-mail with some of those authors, I'd never met any of them.
That prompted one of those authors, Steven Goldman, to send me an e-mail saying, "I guess I didn't make much of an impression during our dinner in NYC with Allen Barra last year."
I did spend an enjoyable evening eating hamburgers and talking baseball, football and movies with Barra, Goldman and writer Kevin Baker last fall. Goldman, who writes the Yankees blog the Pinstriped Bible, wrote one chapter in "Baseball Between the Numbers."
Apologies to Goldman for the oversight and to you for the error, which has been fixed.
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