Memorial Day means something in baseball. Yes, it's still very early in the season. But my theory has always been that you can take a snapshot of the baseball standings on Memorial Day, and with it get an idea of how things will play out for the rest of the season. If you look at last year's Memorial Day standings, you'll find that seven of the eight playoff teams in baseball were either in first place or within 3.5 games of first place. Florida, Texas, and Baltimore were in playoff position on Memorial Day, but faded in the summer.
Drawing the same standard, here is a list of every team in baseball that is either in first place or within four games of first place right now:
New York Yankees
Chicago White Sox
New York Mets
Los Angeles Dodgers
Just keep this in mind. By the way, Atlanta is 4.5 behind the Mets, and Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are both five games back of first place in their respective divisions.
More on why Ron Gardenhire is an idiot. I like Gardy. Seems like the kind of guy you'd want to have as your manager if you were a baseball player. Well, unless you really wanted to win.
The Twins are 23-27. While they are probably already hopelessly out of the AL Central race (11.5 games out and dominated so far by the White Sox and Tigers - 4-12 combined against the two teams), they don't have a terrible record, and they have enough games coming up against crappy opponents to make you think they could pull out of this funk and have a decent season.
The pitching staff, however, is terribly thin. They don't have a truly dominant middle reliever, and their setup men (Jesse Crain and Juan Rincon) have been up-and-down so far. With that in mind, it stands to reason that the Twins would let their closer, Joe Nathan, eat some innings. After all, Nathan is one of the best in the business. 87 saves over two years. 183 strikeouts in 142 1/3 innings pitched over two years. He's good.
Of course, you wouldn't know that by watching the Twins play this season, because Nathan never pitches unless it's a save situation.
Here is a list of some of baseball's best closers (a list I think we would all agree that Joe Nathan belongs on), and the number of innings they have pitched this season:
Mariano Rivera 24 1/3
Jonathan Papelbon 26
Jason Isringhausen 18 2/3
Derrick Turnbow 22
Tom Gordon 22
Bobby Jenks 21 1/3
Brad Lidge 24 2/3
B.J. Ryan 24 2/3
Billy Wagner 24
Joe Nathan 17
With how inconsistent Rincon and Crain have been this season, it's absolutely inexplicable that Joe Nathan, who is by far the Twins' best right-handed pitcher, has only thrown 17 innings in 50 games. Ridiculous.
Even Isringhausen and Lidge, who have taken turns forgetting where home plate is, are getting more work than Nathan.
PING! Many can't stand the PING. I don't mind it, and I love watching college baseball. The NCAA Division I bracket came out yesterday, and while it doesn't lead to a pleothora of office pools around the country, there is plenty to discuss. The top eight national seeds drew little resistance. Clemson, Rice, Texas (defending champion), Alabama, Cal State-Fullerton, Nebraska, Georgia, and Georgia Tech were deserving of those seeds, and they will all likely play at home until the College World Series, if they get that far.
Of the eight, it appears that Georgia may have the toughest regional draw. The Bulldogs have to deal with two solid Florida teams, as Jacksonville and Florida State are both in that regional. Opening round opponent Sacred Heart shouldn't be a real problem for the Bulldogs. Also noteworthy there is the regional in Lincoln, where Miami and San Francisco are the second and third seeds, respectively. Miami is always dangerous at tournament time, and the Dons of San Francisco won the West Coast regular-season title before dropping two straight at home to Pepperdine in the WCC championship series.
The easiest draw, predictably, went to Clemson (Elon, Mississippi State (!), and UNC-Asheville, who is sub-.500 overall). The Tigers should stay hot by blowing through that regional. Another easy draw, surprisingly, went to North Carolina, who is unseeded nationally, but got Winthrop (serious struggles down the stretch), UNC-Wilmington, and Maine (team ERA over 5). The Tar Heels lost to Winthrop earlier in the season, but the Eagles have really had trouble since that win, blowing the Big South regular season title before losing in the league tournament.
If you're wondering, there are 16 regionals with four teams in each of them. The regional champs are paired off in eight "super regional" series next weekend, and the College World Series begins in Omaha, Nebraska, on June 16. I'll post a TV schedule for the regionals later in the week, after I figure out if any of the regional FSNs are picking up some games, assuming they're allowed to.