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.
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.
Interesting week in baseball; I think the “three-ring circus” metaphor applies. The third ring: Mark Buehrle. Coming off of a perfect game (and 28 consecutive batters retired dating back to the final one of his previous start), Buehrle retired the first 17 batters he faced to break the record of 41 straight shared by former San Francisco Giant Jim Barr and current Buehrle teammate Bobby Jenks before giving up a two-out walk. One batter later, he lost the no-hitter, and one batter after that, he lost the shutout and the Sox’ recently-earned 1-0 lead. He then proceeded to retire only one of the five batters he faced in the seventh inning and got charged with 5 runs, the last scoring as an inherited runner after he’d been relieved, and the loss. When it’s over, it’s really over. The second ring: trades. The Pirates continue to sell, sending Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners for Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, and three minor leaguers, then swapping Freddy Sanchez straight-up for a minor leaguer from the Giants, and finally shipping John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny to the Cubs for three minor leaguers. Weirdest of all, they sent a Double-A pitcher to Toronto for future considerations. The Mariners, however, are not quite so sure they are buyers, sending Jarrod Washburn to Detroit for
two minor league pitchers a minor leaguer and a rookie pitcher–but then again, Washburn’s trade value is at its peak, as he’s having a career year. The Dodgers acquire George Sherrill from the O’s for two minor leaguers and send Claudio Vargas to the Brewers for one minor leaguer, while Oakland also continues to sell, sending Orlando Cabrera to the Twins for a minor leaguer. The big deal, of course, is Cliff Lee being sent to the Phillies along with Ben Francisco in exchange for four minor leaguers. And the center ring: PEDs. Two more of the 104 names from 2003 leak out–then-teammates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Papi releases a statement that he was “blindsided” and that he’ll find out what it is he’s been accused of taking, and when he does, he’ll share it with the team and the public, saying he wants to be open and not make excuses. Um…right. Sounds kind of like an excuse to me. Other members of the 2003 Red Sox weighed in as well. Nomar Garciaparra, in Boston as a member of the visiting A’s, dropped the bombshell that because players were led to believe there would be no names attached to the tests, only numbers, some players opted to not take the test and just be put down as positive so as to drive up the number towards the mandatory 5% because they wanted testing. Excuse me for a moment, news just broke that Victor Martinez has been traded to the Boston Red Sox for Justin Masterson and two Single-A pitchers. Back to the PED issue, Garciaparra also said that one team, the Chicago White Sox, he thinks there were like 7 or 8 guys who did that. Meanwhile, completely unprompted, Bronson Arroyo said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he was one of the 104, saying that he took the steroid precursor androstenedione (which wasn’t banned at the time) but stopped after he’d heard rumors that due to lax production standards, some of it might be laced with steroids, as well as taking amphetamines, which were not banned until 2006. This is what is generally known as “damage control”–preemptive action in case something unsavory comes out. Arroyo spent most of the 2003 season with the Red Sox’ Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket (where he pitched a perfect game) rather than with the major league club, so this all definitely seems suspect, and introducing the idea of the then-legal andro that may have been tainted, well, it’s creating an excuse before there’s even anything to be making an excuse for! And yet, it’s still the first time I can remember a player admitting using anything without being prompted by a news story about their drug use breaking since Jose Canseco himself. Speaking of Canseco, he now says that a member of the Hall of Fame used, but refuses to say who it is. Trying to drum up publicity for a third book, perhaps?
Update: Red Sox making trade moves again! I had a feeling when the Red Sox got Adam LaRoche that he might not be staying in Boston long, and sure enough, rumor has it that he’ll be heading back to his former team, the Atlanta Braves, straight-up for Casey Kotchman.
Another Update: Scott Rolen from Blue Jays to Reds; no details yet. Wait, first detail is that Rolen has to waive a no-trade clause in order to make it happen.
Next update: Joe Beimel from Nats to Rockies for two minor leaguers; Jerry Hairston Jr. from Reds to Yankees for a minor leaguer. Also missed from previous days: Josh Anderson from Tigers to Royals for cash; Brian Anderson for Mark Kotsay straight-up; Ryan Garko from Indians to Giants for a minor leaguer.
Post-deadline news break number 1: Nick Johnson goes from Washington to Florida for a minor-league LHP.
Post-deadline news break number 2: Jake Peavy will be going to the White Sox, after all. Chicago tried to make this deal before and failed to convince Peavy to waive his no-trade clause, but this time, he apparently decided to relent. Clayton Richard, who was supposed to start for the White Sox tonight, was among the group that Chicago sent to San Diego, along with three minor leaguers, two of which have major league experience. Also, details are coming in on the Rolen deal, and Edwin Encarnacion is among the players Toronto will receive in return. Sounds like the trades have returned to the center ring, after all, even with Halladay still a Blue Jay.
As I may have mentioned in earlier “way-too-early predictions”, I have a feeling that the Royals are going to be the surprise team of the year. Before, I compared it to last year’s Rays–a team that had been drafting early year after year, making a few under-the-radar trades and free agent signings–nothing that would catch anyone’s attention, but very important stuff. Now, the Rays even caught me by surprise, and the AL East is the division I follow the most closely. So is this really an equivalent case? Not quite. The Rays were probably helped out by being in the AL East. Is it really possible to make that sharp a turnaround that quickly? In a way, yes, but I often pick my teams that will improve based on who was doing well late in the year. (This is part of what led me to keep picking the Reds. This is also why I think the Astros will finish second in the NL Central this year.) However, September is a time where teams play a lot of games within their divisions. Tampa Bay was able to hide because while they were an improving team, they still weren’t on par with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, until suddenly they were. The Royals don’t have that luxury. While they are showing signs of taking the same path as the Rays, they are not yet at the point in that journey that the ’08 Rays were at. They probably need one more year. Now, seeing as how the ’07 Devil Rays were last in the league, how can I defendmy Royals pick? Well, for one thing, it’s not exactly one year off. They’re farther along than the Rays were at the start of ’07, but not far enough along to be at the point the Rays were at at the start of ’08. And, of course, while the Rays might have ended up showing some warning signs if they were in a weaker division, the Royals are about to get inflated by the AL Central. This is a division that was won last year by a team that nobody can explain and most pundits are picking to finish no better than fourth. Also last year, a team was pumped up as possibly setting all sorts of scoring records, and promptly finished last in the division. I think the Tigers got exposed, and there is no reason to think they’ll be getting any better seeing as how they still have no pitching worth speaking of. Then there’s the popular choice for this year’s division title, the
Indians Native Americans. At the start of ’08, they were riding high, having just missed winning the pennant in ’07 and looking like they weren’t going to be any worse in ’08. Then everything went weird. C.C. Sabathia didn’t get off to a good start. The offense that had done so well in ’07 went into hibernation. Players got traded away. Promising ’07 rookies hit sophomore slumps in a major way. Even with the return of Cliff Lee, who had been great in ’05 but disappointing in the following two years, the Tribe struggled mightily. And now, they’re the favorites, despite their bullpen having imploded on them last year (they’ve acquired a new closer that might be able to patch up the problem, but good luck getting to him without sending the starters out for at least the first out or two of the 8th), and their new #3 is Carl freakin’ Pavano. Yeah, really. That’s your favorite? So now, unless the mystery White Sox manage to carry onwards (and they’ve lost a few players, too, in important places, so don’t count on it), the only outside obstacle to the Royals riding a breakout wave is the Minnesota Twins, who were a big surprise last year and have much of that talent locked up for awhile. Of course, that’s because there were a bunch of rookies in there. While they do have plenty of good established talent, their rotation could end up hitting the sophomore slump, and the rotation is key to trying to win a division (which is why the all-offense Tigers are still no threat). The Royals didn’t really have that many rookies last year in the rotation, did they? Plenty of young pitchers, to be sure, but not so many rookies. Unless there’s a “junior jinx”that I’m not aware of, the Royals could end up riding an infusion of rookies and a wave of other young talents to a surprising AL Central title. Then again, maybe in the long run, that’s better. If they get that rookie infusion out of the way now, the inevitable sophomore slump would happen in 2010, which could lead to a large drop, but with the talent still there, they’d bounce back in 2011 and have another high pick to help keep things going. The AL Central runs in cycles because it consists solely of small-market teams. I think the Royals are about to get their turn.
No Cliff Lee after all, but Chicago is still
trailing by half a game entering play today. The Brewers, on
the other hand, have Sabathia ready to try to win them the
wild card. Playoffs? Yes, there will be playoffs! I do not
believe that today will end the season.
This blog, as it often does in the late
months, has lost its way. Time for the strange side of
baseball. The Royals have won eight road games in a row,
including the first two of their three-game series in
Minnesota. However, with one Chicago loss already in the
books and Cleveland due to send Cliff Lee to the hill
tomorrow, it may not matter, as the Twins could get to a
one-game playoff or even win outright without having to win
another game all season. Meanwhile…you can take the Lidge
out of the Experience, but you can’t take the Experience out
of the Lidge! Brad Lidge is now 41 for 41 in saves, but
today’s was a real gift. After striking out the first batter
he faced, he gave up a single, a walk, then a bloop RBI
single where the Phillies missed a chance to record an out,
trail runner Ryan Langerhans having fallen after rounding
second and being allowed to scramble back as the throw went
home to try to stop the run. Cristian Guzman singled to
center after that, but Langerhans held up to see if the ball
would be caught and could only get to third, where he was
stranded after Jimmy Rollins made a fantastic diving stop to
start a double play. The Phillies have clinched the division,
while the Mets are again tied for the wild card lead. The
Yankees and Red Sox will play a doubleheader tomorrow, quite
inexplicably considering the fact that the Yankees eliminated
the Red Sox from the division with a meaningful
win–meaningful in that the final score was NYY 19 @ BOS 8.
You all remember what happened after the last time that score
came up, right? Milestone watch: Gary Sheffield has 499 home
runs, giving him a chance at getting into the 500-HR club
before the year is out. Also, much to my appreciation, the
Twins’ radio announcer started to slip up and call
Progressive Field “Jacobs Field”.
By now you’ve no doubt noticed that the Tampa Bay Rays have
already equaled last year’s win total and stand just four wins shy of their
franchise record with 41 games remaining. (And this after a loss, too.) XM’s
Baseball This Morning provided a nice list of parallels between the ’08 Rays
and the ’69 Miracle Mets. First off: The ’08 Rays have a 24-year-old ace in
Scott Kazmir. The ’69 Mets had a 24-year-old ace, Tom Seaver. The ’67 Mets were
61-101, ditto the ’06 Devil Rays. The Mets’ manager in 1969 was Gil Hodges, who
has three letters in his first name and six in his last name, just like current
Rays manager Joe Maddon. What does it all mean? Absolutely nothing, of course,
but the Rays are a very good team without a doubt. Remains to be seen if
they can get past the Angels in the playoffs, assuming that that’s who they
play. The Red Sox’ traditional postseason dominance of the Angels can only go
so far, and with Boston’s horrible road record, I’m not so confident in their
chances as a wild card team–especially not against a team with the road record
to nullify their home field advantage when they do have. Modified predictions
for ALDS: Angels sweep Red Sox, Rays beat White Sox in 4.
Raul Ibañez set a new Seattle record for RBIs in an inning
with 6 in the seventh inning against Minnesota, part of a ten-run offensive by
the Mariners that inning. Ibañez’s grand slam proved key to the Mariners’
comeback win. Also hitting a grand slam yesterday was Marlon Byrd of the Texas
Rangers, after the Yankees rallied to tie the game at 5-5 in the top of the
ninth, providing a 9-5 walkoff win in the regulation nine. Oakland lost their
seventh game in a row and is just 2-14 since the All-Star Break. Furthermore,
they had been playing only .500 ball leading into the break and are 9-23 since
their high-water mark of nine games over .500 on June 28th. The
Angels won last night on a bases-loaded walk, the same method Tampa Bay used to
win the previous day by an equal 6-5 score.
Milwaukee continues to reel, falling for the seventh time in
their last nine games as they were shut down by a Cincinnati team that was
coming off of a sweep at the hands of the league-worst Washington Nationals.
The game was more notable for the fight that transpired in the dugout between
Prince Fielder and Manny Parra. The Cubs also lost, 2-0 in a rain-shortened
game against the scorching Houston Astros (7-1 over their last eight), so
Milwaukee remains five games back, now just half a game up on the idle Cards in
the wild card race.
Yeah, yeah, I did it again. Two days worth of writing for
this entry. Tampa Bay got that win, passing last year’s mark with 40 games to
go. Also, I feel a lot better about the Red Sox now. They continue to get
production up and down the lineup, as Youk had his fourth straight game with an
XBH, Pedroia’s now got the longest road hitting streak by a Red Sox since 1913,
Lowrie continued his hot streak with another triple and more RBIs, Bay went 4
for 5, and even Jacoby got into the act, with two hits and two stolen bases–the
first steals in over a month. I really love this team. Where else do you see
the number four starter win Pitcher of the Month? Oh, right, Cleveland
(actually, that was the number 5, at least when it happened, back in April. 15
wins and an All-Star start can change that designation quickly). With win 15 on
Monday night, Lee leads the AL and was briefly tied for the major league lead,
but NL leader Brandon Webb picked up his 16th last night to retake
sole possession of the overall lead. Many happy returns, with Mike Hampton
picking up his first win since 2005, Chris Carpenter making his first home
start since Opening Day 2007 in an eventual 11-inning Cardinal win, and
Fausto Carmona returning for the Indians, though I’ve already mentioned that
the Indians didn’t win last night, being the Rays’ opponents. (Another
reference to XM Radio on the morning commute there. Really blew that one.)
Interesting play in last night’s Red Sox-Royals game. One of Jason Bay’s four
hits had just barely enough distance and height to clear the wall if
uncontested, but of course, it was contested. Royals centerfielder Mitch
Maier managed to get a glove on it but couldn’t make the catch, instead weakly
knocking the ball away. The ball continued to roll on top of the outfield
wall for 10-20 seconds before left fielder Ross Gload batted it down and
threw in, limiting Bay to a double. Nevertheless, it was a wholly inexplicable
turn of events. Chris Waters had a phenomenal debut, shutting out the Angels
for eight innings, and the Tigers continued to struggle as they continued to
have trouble closing out games, blowing a 6-1 lead at the halfway point with a
run allowed in the bottom of the fifth, two more in the sixth and one each in
the seventh and eighth and wasting a two-run top of the 14th by
allowing four runs in the bottom of the inning, the last three on a Nick
Swisher home run.
Put it off another day…I really, REALLY despise the Tampa
Bay Rays. I wasn’t really paying that much attention to yesterday’s afternoon
games while they were in progress, but I knew that there were some going on,
including Rays-Indians. No sooner do I find the game on my radio… “WAAAAAAAAY
BACK!!! THIS GAME IS TIED!!!” I’m not going to do the whole quote, but yeah. I
then found out that the first two batters of the inning doubled. Disgusting…and
it only got worse. The infield single was disappointing, the four-pitch walk
was horrifying, and the three-run homer was, by that point, almost
predictable–I say almost because I was actually expecting the following batter
to get a grand slam instead. I’m watching the very beginning of SportsCenter
right now, and baseball is nowhere in sight–Brett Favre got traded, and the
entire rundown of seven topics is Favre-related. (I think it froze up again, though,
because this isn’t the top one any more. It may not even be one of the seven,
which would be really disturbing.) More media circus here in Jersey, too–the
Jets ended up winning out over the Buccaneers. (That’s a bit of a shame,
really; not only do I hate both “New York” football teams, Brett Favre would
probably be an upgrade for the Bucs–who do they have, Jeff Garcia? Garcia was
good for us when McNabb went down in ’06, but I’d rather have Favre
there–remember, the Bucs are in the same division as the Carolina Panthers,
whose ’09 first-round draft pick the Eagles picked up in a draft-day trade. So
improving the Bucs helps my favorite team.) Oh, wait, I was wrong about it
freezing up; we’ve returned from the first break and four of the seven are still
on the rundown. The end of SportsCenter was also all Favre…which detracts from
a different kind of Buc. I swear, good accomplishments on bad teams get
no attention at all–the next five on the rundown are “Indians-Rays”, “Walk-off
HR”, “Yankees-Rangers”, “Joba Chamberlain”, and “Red Sox-Royals”. In a way, it
makes sense–the Rays are a division leader and had an incredible comeback win,
the Yankees are in the same division and have a major starter who will be
missing some time, and the Sox are also in that division and leading the wild
card. Unfortunately, after that, it’s even more football coverage–about to fill
up the rundown again. Okay, so what’s the rule–you have to carry the
no-hitter into the ninth to get mentioned by the halfway point? Remember last
week’s entry, when John Lackey’s 8⅓ no-hit innings against the Red Sox got the
top story on SC (and brought the rest of the AL East to the top), even with
plenty of Favre news to go around, and Doug Davis, his cancer-survivor status
and his 7⅔ perfect innings couldn’t get in until after the second
commercial break? Guess what–it happened again, except this time it doesn’t
seem like this one will beat the third break. Eight NFL pieces in this
block, followed by…the NL East: Padres-Mets, then Marlins-Phillies. Hello? 7⅔
perfect innings!!! This time the Diamondbacks were on the other side of the
ball, unable to get a baserunner until there were two outs in the eighth. Two
more pieces appear on the rundown, and they’re Tigers-White Sox and
Twins-Mariners. We’ve hit the third commercial break, and they’ve told us to
stick around for highlights of the Cubs’ eight-run third against the
Astros–they often tell us to “stick around” for something that we’ll still be
“sticking around” for at the next commercial break, like yesterday with
the surreal play from the Red Sox-Royals game. We’re back, and the next one is,
rather cryptically, “Images”. I’m guessing it’s more Brett Favre. The clock by
the rundown says 11:37, and I might be wrong about the “Images” because the
next one is Dodgers-Cardinals. Will this be it? NO! The next one is
Astros-Cubs, so the following one should be Brewers-Reds…and it is…PGA
Championship. Man, and I was sure that they were going for the NL
Central thing. They go for the second-in-the-West Dodgers versus
second-in-the-wild-card, third-in-the Central Cards, and then follow up with
the Central’s leader…and doesn’t go to the Brew Crew next? Bad editing,
guys…Twins-M’s took us into the fourth commercial, and “End of an Era” followed
“PGA Championship”, followed by even more Favre. I am not going to
finish this entry until SportsCenter gets to the biggest accomplishment of the
night…I mean, you’ve got this 25-year-old, recently acquired…Ah, there’s
“Images”. Image of the week–Manny arriving in LA, Favre arriving and leaving
Green Bay, Carl Edwards celebrating a win, or US cyclists wearing black masks
in Beijing. Manny won out in the poll. “Headlines” and “Legends” follow
“Favre’s Best”…wait…at 11:47, “Headlines” could be that bit I saw…IT IS! The
next one after “Legends” is “Long, Strange Trip”, which was the final
segment–and, yep, there’s “Top Stories” again. Oh, look, “Favre’s Best” is the
daily top 10–they’re taking all of them from Favre’s career highlights instead
of the day’s plays. So, we’ve now got SportsCenter all wrapped up, and so many
games left uncovered. Brewers-Reds, A’s-Jays, Orioles-Angels, Braves-Giants,
Nats-Rockies (okay, that one got rained out; doubleheader today), and, of
course…Pirates-Diamondbacks. If a large-market team kept an opponent of the
bases–or was kept off the bases–for so much as six innings complete,
it’d probably be the top story. Jeff Karstens retires the first twenty-three
Diamondbacks he faces, and it doesn’t get on SportsCenter at all. Come on, near
perfect game? Against a division leader? Still a complete-game shutout–unlike
the Lackey game, which wasn’t a shutout, or the Davis game, which wasn’t a complete game?
Opposing a sure-fire Hall of Famer–“the ugly guy”, as my mom calls him. (Randy
Johnson may not be pretty, but he throws a mean fastball.) ESPN, you disgust
“As announcers, we use the word unbelievable far too often. This is unbelievable.”–John Sterling, November 1, 2001
Yep, another early morning, another classic game. What I found
unbelievable about that game was that a fan had a sign with the words
“Mr. November” at that game…which didn’t reach midnight until the
tenth inning. Premonition that it would go late?
Nothing last night was truly unbelievable, just highly unlikely. For
example, two 13-1 scores, neither of which were the biggest blowout of
the night (that would be the Cubs’ 19-5 pasting of the Brewers). The
Dodgers pounded the Marlins for that score, and the Pirates crushed the
Mets. In slightly closer affairs, the Diamondbacks closed out April
with their 20th win of the season, beating Houston 8-7, while the Red
Sox (for the second night in a row) and the Nationals walked off with
wins, the latter in 12 innings. 1-run games appear to be somewhat of a
trend this year. The average number of games played to date is 27.8
(BOS, NYY, LAA, OAK, STL, HOU, CIN, SF 29; CWS and NYM 26; other 20
teams evenly split between 27 and 28). In these approximately 27.8
games, the average team has played 8.4 one-run games. In addition, only
Kansas City (3-2 in 1-run games) and Detroit (1-3) have fewer than six
1-run games. In the National League, 74 of the 222 games played thus
far (remember to divide by two when counting the total number of games
played, because each game has two teams). That is precisely one out of
every three games! The worst record in one-run games belongs to
Atlanta, 0-9. Baltimore and Boston have the best such records, 7-2 thus
far. The team with the most 1-run games to date is San Francisco, with
7 wins and 6 losses. I predicted at the beginning of the year that
there would be a number of save opportunities for NL West closers. Sure
enough, while every other division has at least one team with just six
one-run games (or fewer, in the case of the AL Central), no NL West
team has played fewer than eight, and it hosts the only two teams that
exceed ten! (Colorado is 4-7.)
Now, I don’t know if the official monthly awards have been given out yet, but it’s time to name my Monthly award winners for April.
AL Rookie of the Month: A number of promising candidates, as Evan
Longoria has been a revelation for the Rays and Carlos Gomez of the
Twins and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox are 1-2 in the AL in steals.
However, with a league-leading 11 doubles and an OPS north of .800, my
pick is David Murphy of the Texas Rangers. (I was a little
unsure about this, having heard somewhere that he was a rookie but
having gotten the feeling that he ought to have used up his eligibility
already, so I checked. Combined between Boston in ’06 and ’07 and Texas
at the end of ’07, he had 127 at-bats, just few enough to still be
considered a rookie. Wait, shouldn’t it be based on plate appearances?
NL Rookie of the Month: I’ve previously expressed that I’m a big fan of
Johnny Cueto, but while still good (only his first bad outing on
Tuesday) he hasn’t quite held up to the blazing start he got off to,
and since he is technically eligible and has re-energized the Cubs and their fan base (read this week’s article in Sports Illustrated), I’m going with Japanese outfielder Kosuke Fukudome.
AL Pitcher of the Month: An easy choice here: Cleveland Indians starter Cliff Lee.
Last night, he gave up three earned runs in six innings, which were it
his first appearance of the year, would make his ERA 4.50. It wasn’t,
and his ERA is 0.96. Um, whoa. 5-0 record also good.
NL Pitcher of the Month: Another easy pick, as only one starter is 6-0: the always dominant Brandon Webb
of the Arizona Diamondbacks. B-Webb’s 1.98 ERA is sixth-best in the
majors, trailing the aforementioned Lee, Edinson Volquez of Cincinnati,
KC’s Zack Greinke, Ben Sheets of the Brewers and San Francisco’s Tim
AL Player of the Month: How does a team get two of the three awards for
the first month of the year and end up with the worst record?
Outfielder Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers is the pick here,
with 32 RBIs (at least 10 RBIs more than all but one other American
Leaguer, Emil Brown of the Oakland Athletics, who has 25), 6 HRs
(behind only Joe Crede and Carlos Quentin of the White Sox, who have
seven apiece) and a .330 average (fourth in the league, trailing Victor
Martinez, Casey Kotchman and Manny Ramirez). So, what’s wrong with
Texas? Oh, right, the same thing that’s always wrong with Texas:
pitching. They became the last team to hit double-digits in victories
with their tenth last night, an 11-9 slugfest.
NL Player of the Month: At first, I was going to give it to Chipper
Jones, who is not only leading the league with a cosmic .410 batting
average, but also is second in home runs with 8. Then I took another
look at the league leader in that category. Chase Utley of the
Philadelphia Phillies has a league-leading 11 home runs, 85 total bases
and .766 slugging percentage, and his 10 doubles are second only to
Nate McClouth’s twelve. In addition, despite the 50-point difference in
their batting averages, Chipper only has one hit more than Utley–the
difference is that Chipper missed a few games and therefore has 11
fewer at-bats. I definitely like my new choice better. If Utley stays
healthy this year, the Phillies could have three different players win
the MVP in three consecutive years.