Interesting start we’ve had to the season. A couple of ninth-inning rallies by home teams, a couple of 11-inning games won by road teams…I caught the end of Diamondbacks-Rockies, because I can’t resist an extra-inning game. Heard the Rockies announcers refer to Ian Kennedy as having a “Vulcan changeup”, which actually makes perfect sense but still sounded hilarious. As usual, I kept a scorecard for the Sox’ opener, ugly as it was. Let’s rate the debuts of their newcomers, huh?
Adrian Gonzalez (2-for-4, 3 RBI): A. Drove in three of the first four runs, played good defense at first, and even his outs weren’t horrible.
Matt Albers (1.0 IP, 0 H, 1 BB): B+: First man out of the pen when Lester couldn’t get through the sixth, he came in with two on and one out and managed to strand all the inherited runners, then got the first out of the seventh. Don and Jerry were saying that he’s a guy who can go multiple innings if needed. Better still, all three outs came on ground balls. I like a guy who can come into a tight spot and induce a double play as well as eat up innings.
Dan Wheeler (0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 BB): C: Long outs are not inspiring. Wheeler faced only two batters and retired them both, but doesn’t exactly get much confidence.
Dennys Reyes (0.0 IP, 0 H, 1 BB): F: Apparently he’s the new lefty specialist, brought into today’s game to neutralize Josh Hamilton. And neutralize him Reyes did: Hamilton walked on four pitches. S***, I could do that.
Carl Crawford: (0-for-4, 3 K): F-: Apparently, Crawford is horrible against lefties. Have the Red Sox really been without a decent lefty for so many years? Because it seems like he always killed us. Four plate appearances, and no results. A single in any one of them would have gotten him his first RBI in a Sox uniform as Jacoby Ellsbury was in scoring position all four times–even a long fly ball would have done it on the first two, with Jacoby at third with only one out. Nothing. Anyway, Streak for the Cash decided to do a prop on the result of Crawford’s first at-bat–the usual “Hit, Walk, or Strikeout” vs. “Any Other Result”. Not realizing that Crawford was in a bad situation with the matchup with Wilson, I went the optimistic route and chose the former. It was the only at-bat in which Crawford didn’t strike out, instead hitting a weak liner to short. Crawford, you even fail at failing.
Been on an archive binge again, and I decided to look at my predictions and early impressions posts. First, the good. In the AL East, I predicted that the Yankees and Rays would be in the division race until the final week of the season and that one of them would be the wild card. However, I failed to predict that the other would win the division, although in all fairness, it was impossible to predict the number of injuries Boston would have and they still weren’t mathematically eliminated until Game 157, so I think I did fairly well. Only problem was the order of the bottom two in the division, but a lot of people made that error. Also, the NL East. Perfect. The Phillies were division champions, the Braves were second and were the wild card, the Marlins and Mets were almost in a dead heat for third, and the Nationals are both in last place and only picking 6th or 7th in the 2011 draft. NL Central wasn’t horrible, either. I had the Pirates as the worst team in baseball, which they were, and I had the Astros fifth and the Brewers fourth–they were actually fourth and third, but only 1 and 2 games ahead of the fifth-place team, respectively. I said the Reds would “make some noise”, and they exceeded my expectations, winning the division handily. My only real mistake was expecting the Cubs (the aforementioned 5th-place team) to be good.
Not so good: The AL Central, AL West, and NL West. The Central I called a “three-team race”, and while I did correctly pick the top three teams, it wasn’t very close at all as the division was the first to be clinched, and furthermore the team I picked to win it finished a distant third and was more or less out of contention in August. The AL West I called a “mystery”, and didn’t really say much explicitly until we got to the playoff predictions, which revealed that despite my faint praise, I had picked the Mariners to come out of that jumble. The Mariners went on to lose 101 games and set new records for offensive futility, as well as revealing that Don Wakamatsu had a case of “John Gibbons Syndrome”. Ouch. The NL West, I called a “four-team race”, making cases for the four teams in question and failing to actually pick a winner, saying that “all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.” The Padres entered the final day of the season tied with the Braves for the wild card lead and just 1 game behind the Giants, whom they were playing, for the NL West title, and furthermore if they won and the Braves lost, the Pads had the tiebreaker to get the division title and relegate the Giants to wild card status. They ended up losing and the Braves won, denying them a chance to play a 163rd game (not that that went particularly well for them in 2007), but still, bad. And Arizona’s collapse last year wasn’t a fluke, as they turned in the third-worst record in the majors. Yeah, you can blame part of that on the fact that their longtime ace was out for the entire year (remember him?), but it also became obvious that their rotation had never been more than two deep and they had no bullpen. In other words, they’re the pre-Nolan Ryan-era Texas Rangers. (Ryan’s time with the Rangers as an executive, not as a player.) And when their other best pitcher got off to a bad start as well, it was a ticket to last place. The “other best pitcher” then got traded mid-season.
Also, as the “early impressions” blog suggested, the Giants, who beat out the Padres for the division, appeared to have been my choice for #4. Another conclusion that can be reached from early impressions: I said this early order for the AL West was “almost exactly counter to my expectations”, with Mariners over Angels being the only thing I had right:
Thus, my prediction would have been:
Now look at the actual final standings:
That means that, once again, only one out of a possible six relative positions was as I expected, in this case, Rangers ahead of A’s. It’s really hard to screw up that badly.
Okay, not really, because they were on the road and it turned a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead, but I needed some way to make that pun. Stephen Drew capped off a series of four consecutive one-out home runs by the Arizona Diamondbacks, marking the seventh time in major league history that a team has had four consecutive homers and, oddly, the fourth time in the past five seasons. The reason that Drew is the focus and not Adam LaRoche, Miguel Montero, or Mark Reynolds is because it was the third time that a Drew was involved in such an event–Stephen’s older brother J.D. provided the second of four consecutive home runs to help the Dodgers rally from a 9-5 ninth-inning deficit in a game they would win 11-10 in 10 innings on Nomar Garciaparra’s walkoff home run in September of 2006 and then again provided the second homer of a four-homer outburst against the Yankees in April of 2007 for the Boston Red Sox–the fourth and fifth such occurrences. It was bizarre enough when J.D. did it twice in the course of two baseball months (the final month of one season and the first month of the next) for two different teams, but an event occurring only seven times in major league history and one pair of brothers being involved in nearly half of them…that’s just crazy.
After a period of being consigned to the house computer since coming home from college, I finally got my laptop set up with internet access again on Monday, and right away, I was battling with an annoying virus. The anti-virus program kept freezing up before it could finish its task, but the virus seems to have disappeared so I’m not going to keep up the fight. While waiting out the virus scans, however, I happened to check in on the games, and found that ESPN.com had “featured” three games, one of which hadn’t even started and all three of which involved teams from a certain division–the AL East. The Yankees-Indians game was an obvious one, as A-Rod is still sitting on 599. (It’s not his only “X99”, either–he’s got 299 career stolen bases, putting him one away from becoming the 7th member of the 300-300 club. In order by homers, Barry Bonds, 762/514; Willie Mays, 660/338; Andre Dawson, 438/314; Bobby Bonds, 332/461; Reggie Sanders, 305/304; and Steve Finley, 304/320. The all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson, fell just three homers short. I found this out because YES offered “who are the only three players with 400 HR and 300 SB?” as a trivia question on Sunday, the day Dawson was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.) The Red Sox-Angels game, which hadn’t even started, was somewhat of a mystery–maybe it was for Lackey’s return to Anaheim? (Nope, that wasn’t until Tuesday; Monday was Dan Haren’s first start with the Angels. They did the same thing for Cliff Lee’s first start with the Rangers, which also went poorly, though without the injury.) But the Rays-Tigers game…I opened up the box score to find a double-no-hitter in progress in the bottom of the sixth, the second time this year a game had been hitless on both sides that late in the game. (That one got a featured game tag, too, despite neither side getting the no-hitter.) Max Scherzer was unable to hold onto their no-hitter as Matt Joyce hit a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the sixth (two walks and a catcher’s interference having loaded the bases), but Matt Garza became the fifth pitcher of the year to complete a no-hitter, the first in Rays history. (The next morning, one of the ESPN people cracked that it was the second time this year the Tigers had a no-hitter broken up by a guy named Joyce.) With the Rays joining the Rockies as teams earning their first no-hitters this season, only the Padres and the Mets are without no-hitters in their franchises’ histories. Also, an odd note: the Rays acquired Matt Joyce from the Tigers prior to the 2009 season in a trade for Edwin Jackson. After one year, the Tigers traded Jackson to Arizona for…Max Scherzer, whose no-hitter Joyce broke up. And then Jackson went and no-hit the Rays as a Diamondback earlier this year. (On that note, today’s Phillies-Diamondbacks game matches Jackson against Roy Halladay–no-hitter versus perfect game. Incredible.) With the trading deadline not yet upon us, we stand just two no-hitters shy of tying the modern record for a season–and it would be one away if not for Jim Joyce’s bad call. Bring it on.
Absolutely loved the story that boy GM Jon Daniels had to put gold highlights in his hair as the result of a bet with shortstop Elvis Andrus–thanks to the Rangers’ winning streak reaching double digits. It’s hardly the first performance-related dye job–think Lou Piniella and the 70-91 fourth-place 2004 Devil Rays, the first time Tampa had ever finished out of last place. (Contrast the current Rays, who considered last year’s 84-78 performance a disappointment.) Still, funny stuff.
On the subject of old Devil Rays vs. new Rays, we’re now up to three no-hitters thrown against the mighty Rays in under 2
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½ years of existence, whereas the cellar-dwelling D-Rays were no-hit just once in their 10 years of pitiful existence. At least this one wasn’t a perfect game–far from it, with 10 baserunners on 8 walks, one hit batsman, and one error. It took a ******** 149 pitches for former Devil Ray (and modern-era Ray) Edwin Jackson to finish the game, which is nothing to old-time pitchers but would normally get current managers shot. If it weren’t for the no-hitter, there’s no way he’d have been allowed to last that long. Remarkably, that isn’t even the record for walks in a no-hitter this century–A.J. Burnett had 9 walks in his 2003 no-hitter, and amazingly didn’t even show up on SportsCenter’s list of highest pitch totals in a no-hitter since 1988 (when pitch counts were first recorded.)
But regardless, here we are, not even halfway through the season, and we officially have four (and unofficially, five) no-hitters, two (three) of which were perfect games. Not even the original “Year of the Pitcher” could claim that many that quickly–in fact, 1968 only had five no-hitters total, two of them on back-to-back days (at the same park with the same pair of teams, but for opposite sides) in September. The last season to even have four (this year’s official total) was 1991, when a total of 7 no-hitters were thrown–but five of those were in July or later. (Also, two were combined no-hitters). The last time four or more no-hitters were thrown by the end of June? You’ll have to go all the way back to the dead-ball era and 1917, when Eddie Cicotte of the White Sox no-hit the Browns on April 14, George Mogridge of the Yankees no-hit the Red Sox April 24, Fred Toney of the Reds pitched a 10-inning no-hitter against the Cubs on May 2 (formerly known as the “double no-hitter” as the Reds were also held hitless through nine innings against the Cubs’ Hippo Vaughn before finally breaking through in the 10th), the White Sox were held hitless on back-to-back days by Ernie Koob and Bob Groom of the Browns May 5-6 (not back-to-back games, though; the May 6 no-hitter was game 2 of a doubleheader), and Ernie Shore of the Red Sox had nine innings of perfect relief against the Senators after Babe Ruth got ejected for arguing balls and strikes after issuing a walk to the first batter of the game–long credited as a perfect game for Shore (especially as the leadoff walk was caught stealing, making it a 27-batter game in which one pitcher recorded all 27 outs and did not allow a baserunner) but later changed to a regular no-hitter, the first combined no-hitter in MLB history–on June 23. 6 no-hitters (and, by the definition of the time, seven), all before the end of June. But how many total no-hitters were there in 1917? Just the six. No team was held hitless for the rest of the year after Shore’s perfect relief stint. The modern record? That would be the 7 in 1991 (though the all-time record is 8, way back in 1884). We could be approaching a historic season, folks. The Year of the Pitcher II is officially on.
Other note: Edwin Jackson is the first NL pitcher to have a complete-game no-hitter against an AL team. It’s the fifth no-hitter between teams from opposite leagues, following Don Larsen’s perfect World Series game in 1956, David Cone’s perfect game in 1999, the Houston Astros’ combined no-hitter in 2003, and Justin Verlander’s no-hitter in 2007.
I’ve been keeping busy with other sports–and some non-sports entertainment–over the offseason, so I’m not 100% dialed in to the goings-on of baseball, but nonetheless, it’s time to at least make an attempt at predicting things.
AL East: As per usual, the AL East is quite possibly the toughest in all of baseball, and will likely be the source of the Wild Card. Now, I know that I am not unbiased, but I believe the Red Sox will take the division due to the depth of their rotation. When it was announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka would miss the start of spring training due to injury, I wasn’t really worried, because for all that he cost to get, he’s basically the Sox’ number 4 now, behind Beckett/Lester/Lackey (arrange these three however you like, although that’s probably the order I’d put them), and they’ve got Buchholz and Wakefield behind that, so even without Dice-K, they’ve still got a solid 5-man rotation. The Yankees and Rays should both still be in the division race up until the final week, though, and either one could end up as the wild card–it comes down to the Yanks’ aging veterans vs. the Rays’ unproven youngsters, particularly where the rotations are concerned (although the Yanks also have some unproven youngsters at the tail end of the rotation). Baltimore, for some reason, is optimistic about this year, while Toronto is known to be in a rebuilding year, so I’ll say that the Jays finish in last place and the Orioles in fourth.
AL Central: Another three-team race. I’ll give the edge to the Tigers, but I wouldn’t give anyone in this division more than a 35% chance of reaching the playoffs–the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox are that close.
AL West: A definite mystery. The Angels have definitely taken a step back and fallen back to the pack, to the point that I’m pretty sure I heard one person on the radio call the West a three-team race between the A’s, Rangers, and Mariners at one point during the offseason. I’m not sure if I’d go that far, though–it’s still the Angels we’re talking about here. The Mariners definitely made great strides during the offseason, trading for Cliff Lee and signing Chone Figgins as a free agent, but I’m worried they still don’t have enough star power to make it last–I’m not even really sure who their 3-5 starters are, and the lineup is decidedly small-ball. Then again, who in this division really does have serious star power?
NL East: The Phillies are still the class of the NL and should be able to make it four straight division titles and three straight NL pennants, at which point the talking heads will start to wonder how long it will be until we can start calling them a dynasty (yes, even if they lose the World Series again–after all, the ’90s/early ’00s Braves were a dynasty despite only winning one World Series, weren’t they? Okay, maybe not.) The Braves are my favorites to finish second, and possibly earn the Wild Card. The Mets have improved over the offseason and could end up in third if they stay healthy, or they could land in fourth. The Nationals will likely finish last in the division again, but will probably pick no higher than fourth and possibly as low as eighth in the 2011 draft rather than the #1 spot they’ll have for the second year in a row in 2010.
NL Central: To be honest, I really haven’t followed the NL that closely. I know that the Pirates will be in last place again, and that the Astros still aren’t terribly good and seem most likely to land in fifth, and that Milwaukee is a far cry from their 2008 wild card berth, but that’s about it. The Cubs and the Cardinals should slug it out again, and, like almost every other year, I’m going to say that the Reds could make some noise. (Note that I make this prediction almost every year, although I think I skipped it last year, and it hasn’t actually come true since 2006, when they still finished in third but weren’t eliminated from the division race until the penultimate day of the season.)
NL West: If the Braves don’t win the Wild Card, expect it to come from this division. This may be a four-team race, as the Dodgers and Rockies, both postseason teams last year, should not have fallen off much, the Giants are still a team on the rise (again, see last year), and the Diamondbacks…well, I still have no clue why they faltered so much. They won the division in 2007 and were in the hunt late in 2008, and they made humongous upgrades in the ’08-’09 offseason…and inexplicably were a complete non-factor in 2009. I can only dismiss this as a fluke, and I think they’ll compete this year. Who will win this division? Your guess is as good as mine; all I’m willing to predict is that the Padres will finish in last place.
Playoffs: Like I said, I’m not really sure who most of the NL teams will be, and frankly I don’t really care because the Phillies are far better than anyone else in the league in my mind and will win the NL pennant. As for the AL, I’m going to predict Red Sox over Tigers and Rays over Mariners in round 1, followed by…Red Sox over Rays in the ALCS, and then…ooh, this is a tough one. They say pitching wins championships, and nobody has better pitching (if they’re healthy) than the Red Sox, which is why I picked them this far (yes, the Rays could also outhit the Red Sox, but their pitching, while good, is not good enough). But the Phillies rotation, while not as deep, is probably even stronger at the top, and their lineup is quite possibly the best in either league. Then again, you have to look beyond the simple skills and consider the matchups. For some reason, the Red Sox never really had much trouble with Halladay, which is odd because the Red Sox usually struggle with the Blue Jays, period. Lackey, while never terribly good against his new team regardless, was especially bad at Fenway, so if he ends up as the #3 and the AL wins the All-Star Game again, that’s all the better–and if the NL somehow pulls it out and the Sox pitch Lackey in Games 2 and 6, even better. So…it’ll be a close one, but I think the Red Sox can make it 3 titles in 7 years.
Okay, full disclosure: As a Red Sox fan, I want the Phillies to win the Series, period. Heck, there’s even a good reason for that one, as a pure fan of the game. That reason, of course, is Chase Utley. With two home runs in Game 5, Utley now has five homers in the World Series, tying the single-series record set by Reggie Jackson in 1977–a Series the Yankees won. If Utley ties or even breaks Reggie’s record in a losing effort, it just wouldn’t seem right. (Then again, the 1960 Yankees still hold most of the records for team offensive production in a single Series, and they lost that in seven games, thanks to three double-digit wins and four losses by three runs or less. So maybe that’s not important.)
Here’s why the Phillies need to win Game 6: a return to the way things used to be.
Now, I may be young, but I’m not so young that I don’t remember a Series that went seven games. That last happened in 2002, and although I probably wasn’t paying attention to that one, I do remember 2001, probably the best Series of
my lifetime the period of my lifetime that I would reasonably be expected to remember (the only debate when limiting it to my lifetime would be 1991 vs. 2001, but I was just a toddler in ’91.)
I’m talking about pitchers making three starts in a series. I’m a fan of the history of the game, and way back when, three-man rotations in the postseason were the norm (and four-man rotations in the regular season, but that’s besides the point.) And when three-man rotations in the postseason were common, a pitcher would pitch Games 1, 4, and 7. (Okay, okay, that actually happened in the 2001 World Series, too, although the Diamondbacks did use four starters–Schilling in 1, 4, and 7; Johnson in 2 and 6; Brian Anderson in 3; and Miguel Batista in 5). If this series ends tonight, we’re denied that. But if the Phillies send it to Game 7, C.C. Sabathia makes his return for Game 7. I’d rather see the Phillies win that game, too, but either way, Game 7 is what I want to see.