Saturday, August 23, 2003

The Minnesota Twins had everything right where they wanted. They were playing division rivals, Kansas City, at home in their little ballpark with a chance to really make a statement. The Royals were ripe for collapse, on the ropes and gasping. The Twins won the first game. So good. Then they lost last night in a good pitching duel. No problem. Win Saturday and the Twins would still make a statement. They even had Jose Lima starting for the Royals as he is going in the Lima direction shown the last three seasons of his major league career.

And true to form, they whacked Lima around for ten hits in four innings. The trouble was that they only scored three runs. Ten hits to score three run? In four innings? That's 2.25 baserunners per inning and managed only three runs? They only knocked three more hits for the final five innings and didn't score any more runs. The Royals won 4-3. When the chips are on the line and the contenders are rushing towards September, you have to have a guy step up and get the big hit. The Twins just haven't had that guy.

You have to wonder if the 7-0 start was as good as it will get for Lima. It was fun while it lasted, but it was too good to be true. Well, it was true, but it was too good to last.

Three other teams that are staggering in this pennant race are the Marlins, the Mariners and the Astros. Seattle's lead over Oakland is down to two games even though the A's are only playing .500 ball the last two weeks.

The Marlins could have zoomed by the Phillies as the Phillies sat on the wildcard lead despite loss after loss. The Marlins have now lost five straight. They have pitched fairly well but have stopped hitting. All the losing by the wildcard leaders means that the Diamondbacks are slithering back into the race. I'm a Fan more than I am anything else and I'd rather see brown shoes at a formal occasion than see the Diamondbacks winning the wildcard.

The Red Sox have responded to adversity and beat the Mariners again today. The win was not pretty as their closer, Kim, again looked shaky in the last inning and allowed the Mariners to tie the game. But Kim and Mike Timlin held the Mariners there and the Red Sox put it away in the bottom of the tenth.

Now that the Yankees have lost two straight and are now leading the Red Sox by "only" five games, I wonder if Steinbrenner will start calling the red phone again. The man has the patience of a sled dog in Florida.

And finally tonight, the Fan sends condolences to the Bonds family as Bobby lost his battle today and died. Though I never did get over you coming to the Yankees at the expense of my Bobby Murcer, you were a good man and a great talent and gave us the best player of our generation. Rest in peace, Bobby B.

Friday, August 22, 2003

The incredible and interesting playoff races continued tonight as Oakland, St. Louis, Houston and Minnesota all lost their games and Philadelphia, Boston, Kansas City and the American's League's Chicago team all won.

The Cubs are beating Schilling and the Diamondbacks, 3-0 in the sixth inning as Sammy Sosa has already hit two homers and Carlos Zambrano has not yet given up a hit. Sammy now has thirty homers and over eighty RBI for the season.

Two homers were also hit by our friend, Pat Burrell, as he went three for four and was instrumental in bringing the Phillies from behind to win the game. In the process, they shut down Albert Pujols hitting streak as he went "Oh for Five."

The Marlins are winning early against the Giants as Cabrera singled and Gonzalez homered to plate two. Dontrelle Willis is pitching for the Marlins and has given up one run in four full innings.

The Red Sox beat Seattle as Jeff Suppon pitched a good game and Manny Ramirez hit his 31st homer. The Red Sox are now tied again with Oakland for the wildcard race. Oakland got a big blow today as ace, Mark Mulder, learned that he had a stress fracture in his hip and will be out for the rest of the season. Mulder had won fifteen games for the A's this year so that's a big loss.

Zambrano now has a no-hitter through seven!


Oh man. I knew Shea Hillenbrand would break it up! The no-hitter was broken up with two outs in the eighth inning. The Flagrant Fan was hoping...

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

With the Royals loss and the Twins win, those two teams are now tied. If Chicago wins, the White Sox will be in first by half a game. That's the bad news for the Royals. The good news is that they almost came back from way behind today to win in the ninth AND they have been counted out for dead a month ago and stormed back. We'll have to see which way they go this time. This Fan's sad opinion is that this is the beginning of the end of a great run.

The Cubs have bounced back tonight behind the brilliance of Mark Prior. If the 6-0 score (eighth inning) holds up, the Cubs will be only a half a game behind Houston. The Cardinals are losing huge, 13-0, so they will not be taking advantage of the opportunity to inch closer.

The Phillies are getting trounced by Milwaukee again and the more I see this collapse, the more I believe that there is no way that Larry Bowa will survive as manager. And with the talent they have, I wouldn't be surprised if it happens soon.

The Marlins, a half a game behind the Phillies are beating Colorado 1-0. That would not be considered a safe lead in Coors (obviously). Cabrera is two for two and has driven in the only run. Mike Redman is pitching very well again tonight.

Barry Bonds game winning homer last night reminded me of The Natural, one of the best baseball movies of all time. I will say this to you one more time: We are watching history folks. Sixty years from now, people will be asking you if you ever saw him play. The two best players ever: 1. The Babe. 2. Barry Bonds.

And now it's time for the Fan's favorite boxscore players and how they've fared the last seven days:

- Karim Garcia. Garcia has captured my fancy with his big week for the Yankees. Now I wonder why he sat today! Garcia came up to the plate thirteen times last week and had four walks and five hits (a tidy little .694 OBP!) with three homers, a double and seven RBI.

- Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli is the model of consistency. He batted .300 exactly for the week and is at exactly .300 for the year. What is promising is that his OBP seems to rise every week so that means he's getting more selective.

- Coco Crisp. Crisp didn't describe Coco's batting last week as he only hit .182 last week to pull his season average down to .262. His OBP is down to .301, which is very poor for a leadoff guy.

- Hank Blalock. Blalock batted a consistent .292 for the week with a homer, two doubles and seven RBI. He is now at .317 for the season with 21 homers and 72 RBI. His season OBP is .374. Excellent.

- Mark Teixeira. Teixeira struggled last week, batting only .192 but he did have three doubles and three RBI. He is batting a decent .250 for his rookie season with 19 homers and 61 RBI. Watch out next year!

- Michael Young. Young had a good week, batting .313 with a homer and three RBI. More importantly, he scored nine runs from the leadoff spot and now has scored 87 runs for the season to go along with his .310 batting average with 11 homers and 61 RBI.

- Pat Burrell. Burrell didn't make progress as it appeared he might as he batted only .182 for the week and shrunk back down to .201 for the year.

- Miguel Cabrera. The youngster had a great week as he batted .429 for the week with nine hits in twenty-four at bats. Cabrera had a double, a triple and two homers and drove in six runs. He's also improving his patience and walked four times last week.

- Jose Reyes. Reyes was as good as Cabrera as he had eleven hits in twenty-seven at bats for a week's average of .407. The twenty year old is now batting .308 in his rookie season.

Mark Prior is the man. He is the Cy Young Award winner this year and looks as dominant as Roger Clemens in his young years.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The Royals loss to the Yankees tonight combined with Chicago and Minnesota wins brought those two winning teams to within one game of the Royals. Watching the Royals is like watching that marathon runner in the Olympics who led the whole race and then staggered around the track at the very end while those behind passed to victory. This Fan hopes it doesn't end like that but the signs are there.

The White Sox and Twins both have winning records since the AllStar break while the Royals are a few games under .500. The question will continue to be if the Royals have enough pitching to get the job done. As much as it's painful to say so, it doesn't look like it.

The Phillies, who have 27 straight games without a day off, lost to a Brewer team they have to beat. It's hard to figure how this team can look so poor on some nights and like World Champions the next. I have some doubts on whether Bowa is the right manager for this team.

Fortunately, the Phillies are being mirrored by the Marlins who are not taking advantage of the opportunity. The Marlins are losing 7-1 tonight in Colorado. Colorado is not a place I'd want to travel if I was in the midst of a wildcard race.

Billy Wagner is in for the ninth inning of a slugfest between the Cubs and Astros that the Astros are leading 12-8. Sammy Sosa has gone suddenly cold as he only has five hits in his last seven games (for a .217 average over that span). Sammy just flew out to end the game with runners on second and third. Game over. The Astros win. The Cubs are now one and a half games back.

The Cardinals are winning big over Pittsburgh so they will leap frog over the Cubs and stay a game behind the Astros.

Bobby Valentine made a great comment on ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" concerning the Astros veteran players. He basically said that they look like they lack spirit and fun and play all their games with a grim determination. That is a feeling I have had without being able to verbalize it. A friend of mine at work says that if it isn't fun, it's not worth doing. It doesn't look fun for the Astros. Valentine has really impressed me with his observations.

It appears that after getting to within two games of the .500 mark that the Orioles have either run out of gas or have quit on Hargrove. The last few times I've seen them play it looked like they were sleepwalking. Tonight their uninspired play led to a gimme run as they threw the ball all over the place on a play where they had a Devil Ray player caught dead between third and home. The Orioles are now ten games below .500.

Monday, August 18, 2003

If there are any further questions as to whether or not Barry Bonds is the National League's most valuable player, please review the recent series sweep of his team by the Montreal Expos during his absence. Bonds, who has been with his ailing father, is expected to play Thursday night but has to heavy heart as Bobby Bonds is seriously ill with a variety of ailments.

In the four games against the Expos, the Giants managed only four runs on six extra base hits (no homers) while leaving 32 runners on base. They only managed 24 hits during the four game set or an average of six hits a game. Without Bonds, the Giants are the Tigers with better pitching.

The Yankees ended Lima Time rocking Jose for six runs in four innings. Lima lost for the first time this year. The loss is a bad start for an important Royals week where they face the Yankees three times before closing the week with a four game series at Minnesota. The Royals loss combined with tonight's White Sox win lowers the Royals' division lead to two games.

Karim Garcia had three RBI for the Yankees and could be a key slugger for New York down the stretch. Dellucci is a nice player but has never hit for much in his short career and the Yankees could use big production from Garcia down the stretch and into the playoffs. Garcia is batting .333 since joining the Yankees and has big time power potential.

The Yankees have their biggest division lead over Boston of the year at five games. I wouldn't count the Red Sox out yet though as the two teams will face each other over a dozen times down the stretch.

In battles of the lower end of the divisions, Texas and Detroit are in the bottom of the sixteenth inning as neither team has scored a run since Detroit tied the game in the ninth inning. Either that's a lot of good relief pitching or a lot of bad hitting. A-Rod is oh for six.

Tampa Bay and Cleveland are also in the fourteenth inning as the Devil Rays scored a run in the top of the eleventh only to see the Indians tie it in the bottom of that same frame.

Hey! At least those teams are battling hard with nothing to lose but the ballgame.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

What is amazing about MLB pennant and wildcard races is how much the teams involved are spinning their wheels. If one team were to put a winning streak together, they would blow the race apart. But it just isn't happening.

Take, for example, the National League Central Division race. Houston is leading the division by a half a game and have lost six of their last ten games. Pitching and spotty hitting has been a problem for them. Pitching problems in their starting ranks are a result of key injuries. While you can't plan against something like that, their great bullpen is also a concern due to overwork.

Meanwhile, the Cubs and Cardinals had a great opportunity to capitalize on the Astros' misfortune but both teams have only won half of their last ten games. The Cubs aren't hitting well and the Cardinals aren't pitching well.

The wildcard leaders, Philadelphia and Florida, aren't exactly taking charge either. The Marlins have won seven of ten to get back in the race after a tough streak but the Phillies have only been a .500 team for quite a long time. The Phillies are sabotaged by difficulties in closing games.

Tonight is a great example for the Phillies. Leading 6-3 going into the ninth, Jose Mesa--who has an ERA of 6.10 and has given up 1.7 baserunners per inning this season--came in and gave up four baserunners and a run. Mike Williams came in to fortunately get the final out. But when your main closer has an ERA over six and your backup closer has an ERA over five, then you sweat every close game. Fortunately for the Phillies, Thome and Burrell are starting to come on strong.

The Marlins seem to have an edge with good starting pitching and good relief pitching. They also have great clutch hitting but good pitching can shut them down.

In the American League Central Division race, the three teams involved are also treading water. The leading Royals are holding on by winning only five of their last ten. Their pitching is suspect and sometimes it seems as if they are winning with mirrors.

The White Sox, who made a major charge to get into the race are slipping back the other way. They have lost six of ten and have now lost Billy Koch. That may be a blessing though as Koch simply hasn't done the job. In the amazing statistic of the week, Koch leads the team with only eleven saves. Contrast that to the Braves and Dodgers who both have save leaders with over forty saves!

For all the talk of Frank Thomas not making the AllStar team, he seems to be clogging up the middle of the lineup. Batting only .259, Thomas only has 66 RBI, a paltry amount considering he has 28 homers. Ordonez and Valentin seem to be the leaders of that club and they better start righting that ship before it sinks.

The Twins seemed to be coming on strong, but coming on strong only means winning six of their last ten. That's not enough to get the job done. I seriously doubt the Twins pitching can get them where they want to go.

The top two American League wildcard teams are also spinning on idle. The A's have only won five of their last ten and the Red Sox have won only four of ten. Then again, that seems to be a result of the two teams playing each other and playing even. Do the Red Sox have enough pitching? Do the A's have enough hitting?

Part of the explanation for all the above mediocrity is the improved play of the "also-rans" of baseball. Last place Texas has won seven of its last ten. Next to last place Cleveland has won eight of their last ten. The Devil Rays have won more games than they have lost for three straight weeks.

In the National League, the last place Mets have won seven of ten but are the only bottom division team in the league with a winning record.

The real reason for the lack of clear leadership in the races is the current schedule. When the teams in each division playing each other nearly two dozen times, all they do is take turns knocking each other off.

On one hand, the close races lend excitement to the game and keep fan interest involved. On the other hand, it's sort of like watching two fat has-been heavyweight boxers stumbling through fifteen excruciating rounds.