It’s a rainy, cold Saturday in Westchester County, New York. In a few hours my wife and I will drive south to Citi Field. We’ll grab some Shake Shack and a beer, and we’ll sit back in the wind and potential wet snow and freeze our butts off.
All to watch an 0-4 team predetermined by the world to be nothing short of terrible this season.
You may call that self-induced torture, but I call it Baseball Zen.
Last week I wrote a piece describing such a feeling, that of sitting back, not worrying about the images on television and descriptions on radio. Oh, another undisciplined swing at a high pitch. Look, another atrocious throwing error from shortstop. Yikes, we can’t even remember the rules of the infield fly rule!
Baseball Zen. Breathe in, then out, then sip the beer, smile. Breathe in, breathe out. The grasp of the infield fly rule by an average player on a last-place team is not the end of the world.
Nor is the performance of men like David Hernandez, Dalier Hinojosa or James Russell. Their individual ERAs are 16.20, 9.00 and 81.00. Eighty-one, by the way, is a high number for an ERA. Of course, these are the smallest of sample sizes – none of these pitchers has thrown more than two innings of work – but it’s eminently apparent that rooting for the Phillies won’t be akin to resting a woven basket on the summer grass. A leadoff walk could signal Armageddon. Just as if the Phillies don’t reach base to start an inning, we might as well attempt to press the “fast-forward” button and hope that baseball magically skips a half-inning. Just get the three outs over with already. And yet, while all of this stinks, it’s not the end of the world.
Here are a few comforting signals after four games of otherwise eye-averting baseball:
We have solid performances from the most important Phillies on the 2016 roster, also known as players who will either be here in 2017, or players that could fetch relatively decent value before then.
But, “Hey,” you say, “what about these small sample sizes? You can’t get that excited about just four games of data!”
Of course we can’t. Which is why we can’t get too upset about the terrible performance of the bullpen, or most of the offense, or half of the starting rotation. The game typically evens out, players regress and progress, and in the end, the Phillies will finish in a place corresponding to the talent on the roster (somewhere around 65-75 wins). Think of it this way: From this moment, the Phillies are likely to go 68-90, not 68-94. See! Closer to .500 than we were when the season started!
But Baseball Zen isn’t about the final record. And it looks at 0-4, maybe rolls its eyes for a second, then moves right past it and sees the entire picture. And the picture shows Franco showing distinct patience after annihilating a ball to the opposite field through a whipping wind. It shows Nola working through early command issues to find his groove, spot his fastball and ease through an average Cincinnati offense. It shows Eickhoff, despite having command issues including a tight strike zone, tossing his elite curveball for swings and misses against the Mets. And it shows Hellickson knocking down Joey Votto and the Reds like a seasoned pro.
It even shows that the struggling players – like Odubel Herrera and Tyler Goeddel – showing improved defense and sneaky power, respectively. And how about Cedric Hunter hitting his first major league home run? That’s awesome.
That picture will show more tonight at Citi Field. As rain and wet snow pound the car lots of Flushing, young Vincent Velasquez will make his Phillies debut. Velasquez has the stuff to be a No. 2 starter, but his current command issues remain a small obstacle. Tonight will be an opportunity to see if he can stay around the zone, set up outs with his 95 mph fastball, and send guys back to the bench with his trusty curve and slider.
I’ll be there, probably rubbing my hands together the entire night while clutching a chocolate shake. Because I make no sense. But baseball makes no sense. It all fits together. Baseball Zen, baby.