Yeah, I happened to be on the go as the Yankees-Blue Jays game began, so
I tuned in on XM Radio and heard John Sterling’s call of #600. I must say, I’m glad that this thing is finally over with–now we can get back to focusing on important stuff. Or should I be unhappy? After all, the grind of this media spectacle seemed to have worn on the Yankees. The facts:
When A-Rod hit #599 on July 22, the Yankees led the AL East by 4 games over the Rays. The Rays now lead by one game.Actually, this isn’t quite true. The Yankees’ win on July 22, on a Rays off-day, extended the Yankees’ lead to 3 games. In the next 12 days, the Yanks went 6-6 while the Rays were 10-2. However, the Yankees did have a 4-game lead during that stretch, as the Rays lost on the 23rd while the Yankees won. So the point about the Yankees going from a four-game lead to a one-game deficit during the stretch still technically stands–they just had to expand the lead ever so slightly first.
- A-Rod himself had been slumping as well, coming into the game 9-for-46 (.196) since hitting #599 and mired in an 0-for-17 slump.
On the plus side, A-Rod’s 600th home run was a 2-run shot in the first inning, which apparently has been a bad omen for the Yankees as of late. Today marks the fourth time in six games that the Yankees have taken a 2-0 lead on a two-run first-inning homer. The previous three all resulted in losses.
One final bit of trivia: Today is also the three-year anniversary of A-Rod’s 500th home run.
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.
Okay, let’s just put it out there: There was another perfect game on Saturday. That’s two in the same month–again, hasn’t happened since 1880–and three within a one-year span, which is unprecedented. Is 2010 going to be the next 1968?
So, about the pitcher who threw the perfect game: Roy Halladay. Not exactly a nobody. Anyway, Halladay’s Phillies were supposed to have a series at Toronto this year–Halladay’s old team. They’ll still be playing, but…the series has been moved to Philly due to the G20 Summit taking place in Toronto that weekend, not too far from the Rogers Centre. Only it’s still going to count as Toronto home games, with the Jays batting in the bottom of the innings and the DH will be used. That’s great and all, but…it’s still Philadelphia. You can call whoever you want the home team, but the fans are still going to be pro-Phillies, essentially giving them 84 home dates. That’s an unfair advantage, regardless of how you slice it. It’s not as severe as it would be in the NFL (where the brevity of the season magnifies every game) or the NBA (where it has been proven that home court is a larger advantage than in other sports), but every game counts in the end. Also, that means three extra chances to sell merchandise, concessions, etcetera. (By the way, that’s a nice ballpark they have there. I went to the first game of the Boston-Philly series, a 5-1 Philadelphia win. It was my second game of the week–I also attended the Yankee-Red Sox game the previous Tuesday. It was a miserable night, and with the prospect of an upcoming game at Citizens Bank Ballpark with “Hall of Fame Club” seats and my stomach starting to hurt, sticking around New Yankee Stadium on a cold, wet night while the Red Sox were being trampled was not so appealing,and we left in the bottom of the fifth inning, getting to our car right as Beckett was leaving with the injury. Wouldn’t you know it, they came back to win that one.)
And amidst the perfect game, Saturday was also a day for…injuries. Rough day at the Stadium, where Indians starter David Huff took a line drive to the head and a Yankee reliever also left with an injury, and both bullpens collapsed in a game that ended 13-11 Tribe, each team with an inning of at least 6 runs, but that was nothing compared to the carnage in Anaheim. Torii Hunter left the game after taking a pitch to the hand, and Kendry Morales broke his leg celebrating a walkoff grand slam in the Angels’ 5-1 10-inning victory over Seattle. Yes, celebrating. Jumped on home plate to end his trot and, well…yeah, let’s just forget this ever happened. I know the Angels are wishing they could…
The ever-wonderful Jayson Stark is at it again. Note that the link goes to ESPN Insider article, so you may not be able to read it.For this reason, and also because I want to comment, I’ll sum up some of the weirdness here.
In this past Thursday’s Phillies-Nationals game, Chase Utley and Shane Victorino of the Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Nats all homered, marking the first time that players whose names begin with the letters U, V, and Z all homered in the same game. That this has never happened before is not exactly surprising. What I want to know is, were all three necessary, or would some combination of two be sufficient? Obviously U and V have homered together before–Utley and Victorino–but none of those three letters is terribly common, and V is probably the most common of the 3. So have there been other times that U and Z have homered in the same game? And if so, was Zimmerman the “Z” involved? With both the Phillies and the Marlins in the same division as the Nats, this seems plausible enough…although I completely forgot about the Upton brothers when listing the active U’s, which changes things completely. Okay, so now the most likely combo for U/Z is B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays–although it’s quite possible this hasn’t happened yet, as both are fairly young and Zobrist didn’t really get regular playing time until just last year. Come to think of it, now that we have a plausible U-Z pair, what’s our V-Z?
Also, and I actually heard about this game while it was happening, there was Thursday’s White Sox-Blue Jays game. Freddy Garcia got knocked around early and only lasted 3+ innings, striking out 3 and being charged with all 7 runs. The first reliever, Randy Williams, struck out 3 over two shaky innings. Sergio Santos came in for the 6th inning and struck out the side, 1-2-3, and J.J. Putz pitched the 7th, allowing a hit but getting all three of his outs by way of the K. Scott Linebrink came in for the 8th, and sure enough, all three outs he recorded were strikeouts (he, too, allowed a hit.) Never before in a 9-inning game have five different pitchers gotten 3 strikeouts for a team. Also, never before has a team gotten their last 9 outs by way of strikeout with 3 pitchers getting 3 each. What makes this even more impressive, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that the White Sox managed to strike out 15 Blue Jays despite being a losing road team; therefore, it was 15 out of 24 outs, not 15 of 27. Not a bad performance at all, except for the part where they ended up trailing 7-0 after four innings.
Also, Monday’s Royals-Tigers game marked the first time that two Guillens (Carlos of the Tigers and Jose of the Royals) homered in the same game.
More LOL Mets, too. Josh Willingham of the Nationals hit a grand slam off of Johan Santana last Sunday, but it didn’t get ruled home run right away, so people started running like crazy. Adam Dunn, who had been on first when the ball was hit, had to bowl over Mets catcher Rod Barajas in order to score, and when the ball got away, Willingham tried to score as well, creating another home plate collision and initially being ruled out, until replay decided that it was a home run. Why is this in the category of “LOL Mets“? Because they were the home team, which means the home run that almost wasn’t is courtesy of their ballpark. Still, even securely in last place, this year’s Mets have a long way to go to become as LOL-worthy as last year’s were–and most of last night’s biggest weirdness (position players on the mound and pitchers in left field, for example) was courtesy of the Cardinals. Although having a starter with more saves than your closer is, well, kind of silly.
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.
To greet us, we have Toronto-Texas. Last night was a wild game, Toronto scoring the first 11 runs of the game and then letting the lead dwindle to a lone run before a 7-run ninth restored the blowout, 18-10 the final. So, what makes this the stretch run? Is it the roster expansion? The fact that anyone not on a team’s roster yet is ineligible for the postseason with that team? Nope, it’s…wait…by my definition, it’s not the stretch run yet. In my opinion, the stretch run begins with the first elimination: when the first bottom-of-the-barrel team becomes mathematically ineligible to take either their division or the wild card. Granted, in all likelihood, if you mashed enough teams together, the Nationals probably have been eliminated from the NL Wild Card race, but this can’t be confirmed, and they haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the division race quite yet. It will take another loss by the Nats themselves to do it outright tonight due to the Braves and Marlins playing each other; the schedule-based projection would need two of the top three or three of the top four to win against outside competition to do it without a Nats loss. However, with the Nats on the West Coast, even if they do lose, they may not get the dubious distinction of first elimination: the Yankees play Baltimore with a chance to knock them out of the AL East race. Yes, the status of baseball in the Beltway is sad. Meanwhile, the Pirates are just five losses away from their record-breaking 17th straight losing season. With the NL West looking like the hottest race around (the Dodgers added Jon Garland and Jim Thome, while the Rockies picked up Jose Contreras and the Giants added Brad Penny), it’s going to be an interesting September.
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.