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.
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.
Even retired, Kevin Millar makes the game of baseball more amusing. Last year he was with the Blue Jays, and they brought up a pitcher from the minors named Mark Rzepczynski, one of those great unpronounceable names you see occasionally in sports. (For the record, it’s pronounced zep-CHIN-skee.) Asked on the radio how that name was pronounced, he replied, “We just call him ‘Ski’.” However, with Rzepczynski making his first start of the year, Millar, now working for MLB Network, revealed that he and Bryan Butterfield gave the pitcher a different nickname: Splamitovich. Which Rzepczynski now has on his glove. Kevin, man, I love you. Don’t ever disappear from the spotlight.
On another note, yesterday looked like an anomaly for the Year of The Pitcher II. 47 home runs were hit yesterday, including 3 by Adam Dunn, two each by Casey Kotchman, Martin Prado, and Buster Posey, and an inside-the-park homer by Jose Bautista, whose 22 homers lead the majors. The only game without a home run was the Angels-White Sox game. But back to Bautista: Where’s all of this power coming from? Bautista never had more than 16 home runs in a year prior to this year, and suddenly he’s the biggest bomber in the league. Do you remember what we used to assume when players set new career highs for home runs by the end of May? Yeah, exactly–“Must be juicing.” (Okay, so Bautista was only tied for his career high at the end of May–and, of course, my example had already set a new career high by the end of April. Still valid.) I want to believe that the game is really completely clean now, but…when there are still players putting up anomalous numbers like this, I can’t be sure.
Of course, it could just be that Bautista is having a breakout season. The aforementioned Brian Roberts had only played more than 100 games in a season twice prior to 2005, when he set a new career high for home runs by the end of April, but he tailed off and ended that season with fewer than 20 home runs, and while it’s still a career high, he has reached double digits three more times. The performances you really have to worry about are when players can’t replicate them afterwards–think Brady Anderson, whose only season with at least 25 home runs was 1996, when he hit 50. Only time will tell which is the case for Bautista.
Final note: The Cardinals blew a five-run lead to the Rockies, their first time blowing leads of at least 5 runs in back-to-back games since 1930. Chris Iannetta hit a walkoff home run to lead off the bottom of the ninth off of Evan MacLane, who was making his major league debut and now currently has a career opponent’s slugging percentage of 4.000 (not that they keep track of these things) and an infinite ERA (1 earned run in 0 IP) as well as an 0-1 record. Not the best start.
Well, the race for the final All-Star spots is on, and Joey Votto is most deservedly leading the charge in the NL, while in the AL…Nick Swisher got off to the early lead but has since ceded it to Kevin Youkilis. Now, as a Red Sox fan, you’d think I’d be pulling for Youkilis, right? Nope. Here’s why. Overall, Michael Young has 5 career All-Star game appearances, with a respectable .333 batting average and .891 OPS, and 3 RBI. As those box scores indicated, however, those were not just any RBI–the first two came with two outs in the top of the ninth and the AL trailing by 1 run, resulting in the AL winning again, and the third came in the bottom of the 15th, again providing the winning run.
Anyway, the Rockies had a wild finish last night. 9 runs in the bottom of the ninth, the final three on a home run by Seth Smith, in a 12-9 victory over St. Louis. Smith was 3-for-4 with two walks. The lone out? A liner to first for the first out of the ninth inning. How amazing is that? Making an out and having a hit in the same inning isn’t that rare, but having the game-winning hit in the same inning as your only out…Also interesting to look at from this game: St. Louis closer Ryan Franklin was brought in after the Rockies scored their first run of the inning, cutting the Cards’ lead to 9-4, with runners on first and second. See anything odd about that? Yep, that’s right; it’s a non-save situation. With a 5-run lead, it’s only a save situation if the bases are loaded–La Russa brought in his closer one batter earlier than the custom, evidently trying to nip the rally in the bud. If the Rockies’ rally had come up just a little bit short and Franklin had been denied the save… (Also, the first batter Franklin faced was Chris Iannetta, who was batting just .208 and slugging .403 entering the at-bat. Iannetta had 1 career at-bat against Franklin, a double. Iannetta promptly homered to cut the deficit to 9-7, which is about the point where you’d normally be going to your closer…who was already in the game.)
Meanwhile, props to Johan Santana. After going 1-3 with three no-decisions, all Mets losses, in his previous 7 starts, Santana put together the type of dominant start baseball fans are used to seeing from him, a 3-hit shutout. His last complete game, also a 3-hit shutout, came in his final start of the 2008 season. As for the winning run? That would be a solo homer from none other than Johan Santana, his first career dinger, in the third inning. The Mets would tack on two more for a 3-0 win, but Santana is clearly the story here.
I’ve previously mentioned my concept of the “All-Name” team–the major leaguers with the names that are weirdest or just plain most fun to say. I never quite determined the whole composition, but one of the locks for the team’s rotation is Ubaldo Jimenez of the Colorado Rockies. Tonight, Jimenez did something that no other Rockies pitcher has ever done: he pitched a no-hitter. It definitely looked like it was only a matter of time before the first no-hitter of the year, with so many close calls already, but Rockies-Braves? And the Rox are the ones doing it? Definitely a pleasant surprise.
Elsewhere, the Mets have just taken a 1-0 lead over the Cardinals in the top of the 19th inning. I almost wish I’d been tuned to FOX from the beginning.
Update: Ouch. Ryan Ludwick got debatably tagged out trying to steal second during Albert Pujols’s at-bat, and then Pujols hit a double. That could’ve been a game-changer. Kyle Lohse (the left fielder in this particular game, who actually made the catch on the sac fly that gave the Mets their run) then made a productive out, getting Pujols to third. This is f***in’ weird!
BASE HIT YADI MOLINA! WE’RE TIED AT 1-1!
Which means…that Jeff Francoeur, now 0-for-7 (with a sac fly), will get another chance to continue his hitting streak. If he manages to do so, it would probably not set a new record for most consecutive hitless at-bats without breaking a hitting streak, as in 2006 Willy Taveras, already with a streak over 25 games, extended a hitting streak in the first at-bat of what would eventually be an 18-inning game; he would end that game 1-for-9. He then needed four at-bats to get his first hit of the next game, resulting in an 0-for-11 stretch in the midst of a hitting streak.
On the other hand, he might not get a chance to bat again, as the Mets have runners at first and third with nobody out in the top of the 20th.
…Make that a runner at first with one out. Sac fly Jose Reyes.
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.
It really does seem amazing that last night’s Dodgers-Cardinals game was the first postseason game ever in which the outcome was absolutely, positively, unquestionably altered by an error. The beauty of baseball is that until the final out is made, you always have a chance to come back. The Dodgers were the first team ever to trail a game with two outs in the ninth inning or later and come back to win after an error on a ball in play on what would have been the game-ending out. What about other famous errors? Way back in 1912, the New York Giants scored in the top of the tenth inning of the decisive game, only to be undone by an error in center field and a foul pop-up that neither the first baseman, second baseman, nor pitcher could get to, but the original error came on the first batter of the bottom of the tenth and the latter wasn’t a ball in play. 1986 World Series, everyone remembers that one–Mookie Wilson’s grounder going right through Bill Buckner’s legs.Of course, even though that was with two outs and it was in the tenth inning, it doesn’t count for two reasons, one of which is only sometimes forgotten and one of which is almost always forgotten. The one that is remembered more often is that the Mets weren’t trailing at the time; the tying run had already scored on Stanley’s wild pitch earlier in Wilson’s at-bat, so a third out would have merely taken the game to the 11th inning. The second, more commonly forgotten reason is that due to Wilson’s speed, Buckner’s bad legs, and Stanley’s failure to cover first, it also wouldn’t have been the third out; rather, it was an infield single by Wilson and an error by Buckner allowing Ray Knight to score from second. Had Buckner played it cleanly, chances are the bottom of the tenth continues with Wilson at first, Knight at third, and Johnson batting. So, yeah, that doesn’t work.
The net result of this? Disappointment for Cards fans, joy for Dodgers fans, and possible sighs of relief for TV executives and/or Red Sox/Angels/Rockies/Phillies fans. Thus far, the games have been staggered such that no two games will be going on simultaneously unless a game other than the last one of the night exceeds 3:30 in length. This is the main reasoning for staggering the starts of the series and for doing that weird thing with the “choose your series” in one league, and it works fine up to a point. Wednesday, we had both NLDS Game 1s and one ALDS Game 1. Thursday, the other ALDS Game 1 and both NLDS Game 2s. Tonight, both ALDS Game 2s. Tomorrow, both NLDS Game 3s. Sunday, however, is scheduled for the NLDS Game 4s and the ALDS Game 3s, so if neither NLDS ends in a sweep, there would be 4 games on one day. (This is also likely why they added the off-day between Games 4 and 5, which wasn’t always there.) The options would be something like this:
1. Schedule 2 games at the same time. This would not sit well with the TV executives.
2. Continue as normal with a quadruple-header. This would be equally problematic, as the 3-1/2 hour differential would mean the late game would start 10-1/2 hours after the earliest. Even if they started the first one at 12:07 Eastern (because they like using sevens, for some reason), the last game still wouldn’t start until 10:37 Eastern…and worse still, due to the way the teams are set up this year, no game will be played in the Pacific Time Zone on the day of the quadruple-header. Outside of World Series games in the Eastern Time Zone, who ever heard of a baseball game with a scheduled start time after 8:30 local? Also, I doubt they’d want to go with a 12:07 start time for the earliest game on a Sunday, especially not in Boston.
3. Still keep things staggered, but decrease the differential a little. This is probably the best option, as they could go with a 12:37 start time in Boston, then a 3:37 (2:37 local) in St. Louis, a 6:37 (5:37 local) in Minneapolis, and a 9:37 (7:37 local) in Denver. If the Cardinals win Game 3, they’ll have to do one of these, but for now, there’s still a chance that Sunday will be a normal tripleheader.
Speaking of time, the Dodgers’ first win over the Cards set a record, too. It was the longest 9-inning game in LDS history, clocking in at 3:54. It’s not a postseason record, as that belongs to Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, clocking in at 4:20, but it’s a record for the round. (And when you consider the fact that 3:54 was good enough to set a record for a nine-inning game, you have to figure that the 3:30 time slot they initially assign to the games is usually sufficient as long as the game doesn’t go into extras.