Saturday, August 30, 2003

It's time to give it up to the Milwaukee Brewers! Winners of twelve of their last fourteen games, the Brewers are an unwelcome sight right now for any contender...just ask the Cubs and the Phillies. And even though the Brewers have lost seventeen more games than they have lost for the season, Milwaukee's Brew Crew is a fun team to follow.

Today saw these Brewers beat up on the Cubs who desperately need to put together a winning streak. Team offensive giant, Richie Sexson went three for four with four RBI to lift his season total to one hundred. Sexson is perceived as this big guy who strikes out a lot and hits a homer once in a while. Let's take a closer look:

Last five year homer totals: 31, 30, 45, 29 and so far 36 this year.
Last five year RBI totals: 116, 91, 125, 102 and 100 so far this year.

Sexson also has a lifetime .271 batting average (and hits there consistently year after year) while increasing his total bases on balls every year for the last five years. This is a good player!

Geoff Jenkins is another great player who just can't seem to shake the injury bug. Jenkins had 28 homers and 95 RBI when he went down again this year with a fractured left thumb.

Another find is rookie leadoff hitter, Scott Podsednik. Podsednik is batting .313 with a fairly good OBP (for a leadoff hitter) of .379. He has stolen 31 bases and has 76 runs scored.

The Brewers have a few good arms in Ben Sheets, Wayne Franklin, Matt Kinney and new closer, Matt Kolb (13 saves with a 2.01 ERA). But my favorite pitcher and story has to be Brooks Kieschnick who had cups of coffee with the Cubs, Reds and Colorado. This year he is a pitcher...a pitcher who regularly pinch hits.

Kieschnick hasn't played the field at all this year but as a batter--mostly as a pinch hitter--has five homers and nine RBI in only 55 at bats. His batting average is .327, his OBP is .383 and has a slugging percentage over .600! What's more, in his first year as a pitcher, he hasn't performed too badly. He's won a game and lost a game and has a 4.76 ERA. Hey, that's lower than Jose Mesa! What a great story.

Speaking of great stories, I almost hesitate to write about Barry Bonds as so much has been written already. But the man has game-winning homers in the last three games he's played and has homered in 24 of the last 27 games he's played. His homer today was off an inside pitch from Randy Johnson that he turned on lightning quick. The man is simply amazing.

After mentioning Randy Johnson, makes me compare him to Pedro Martinez who just don't seem to be themselves. Johnson has a bad knee and is 4-7 on the year. Martinez, after being sick last week, got hammered by the Yankees today. I have a feeling that this series is going to go fifty/fifty for both teams the rest of the way.

Friday, August 29, 2003

The Fan has never seen a baseball race like this. Oh yes, there have been two teams that went down to the wire. That is exciting in and of itself. But five teams tied for the wildcard in the National League? Three other teams within a game and a half behind those five? The race is stupifying. And the best part is that we aren't all tied up in June. This is the end of August--heading into September.

The Cubs, now a game and a half out, have lost two heartbreaking games to the Cardinals as their starters pitched with purpose and passion only to have the bullpen throw the games away. Last night's Cubs needed five pitchers to get three outs. That's when you know you're in trouble. The sad thing about the two games is that Sammy Sosa drove in nearly all of the Cubs' runs.

On the other side of that series, the two wins for the Cardinals has to drive them to an emotional push. Those kinds of wins bring a team together and make the fight much more cohesive...not to mention exciting.

The poor Phillies and Marlins can't win a game. To know how far they were ahead in this wildcard race, consider that the Phillies have lost nine of ten while the Marlins have lost eight of ten and it wasn't until tonight that the pack caught them to logjam the race.

The Expos have to be the scariest team right now as they are hitting and pitching very well while making great plays on defense. I wouldn't want to play them right now. All of the other contenders have played near .500 baseball. The wildcard race is like a great big ferris wheel spinning slowly into the night.

Nearly as interesting is the see-saw between the A's, the Red Sox and the Mariners. It's very weird looking at the wildcard standings and seeing the the Red Sox a half a game up on the Mariners. The Mariners? The Mariners haven't been the wildcard standings all year as they started on top in the AL West and stayed there until this week. Now they are two games back of the high flying A's.

You have to shake your head at the way a team suddenly loses their way. The Phillies and Marlins are now joined by the Mariners who have also lost eight of ten. Joel Pineiro was the ace of the Mariners early in the year. In his last two starts, he's only pitched eleven and two-thirds innings and has given up nine runs on fourteen hits. Meanwhile, Ichiro Suzuki has only six hits in his last forty-two at bats.

The race in the AL Central gets overlooked lately but the three teams at the top are all bunched up and any team can take it at this point.

The Fan will repeat himself one more time: Nick Johnson is the key to the Yankees lineup. Johnson's On Base Percentage for the year stands at .438 and he has scored 43 runs in 65 games.

And now it's time for the Fan's favorite boxscore players and how they fared the last seven days:
- Jose Reyes. I had to start with Reyes as the twenty year old has been flat out electrifying so far. In his last seven games, Reyes has batted .333 with three homers, six RBI and six runs scored. The youngster is now batting .312 for the season.
- Rocco Baldelli. Rocco had a quiet week as he batted .268 with three RBI. Baldelli is now batting .298 for the season.
- Coco Crisp. The speedy Crisp had a great week with a guady .429 average with seven runs scored and two RBI. Crisp has now scored 46 runs in just 71 games.
- Mark Teixeira. Teixeira had a miserable week with just three hits in twenty-two at bats. His season average sank to .245.
- Hank Blalock. Teixeira's teammate didn't do much better, batting .167 for the week. He did hit two homers though, good for three RBI. Blalock is still batting a solid .310 for the season.
- Pat Burrell. Burrell actually batted .267 for the week with two doubles, a triple and two homers to go along with five RBI. Burrell has crept over the Mendoza Line and is hitting .202 for the season.
- Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera's tough week matched the Marlins this week as the rookie only batted .217 for the week though he did have a homer and three RBI.
- Sean Burroughs. Jeff's son went crazy this week as he had fifteen hits in twenty-nine at bats! Six of those hits were for extra bases as he scored five runs and drove in four. Burroughs is now up to .299 for the year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The Fan understand about being a fan. Right now the Pittsburgh Pirate fans have lost their hero and the San Diego Padre fans have found a new one. Brian Giles is one of the best players in the game. The fact that he played for the Pirates hid that fact quite well for a long time. Try to remember the last time you saw a Pirate game on national television?

But Brian Giles also was paid over $8 million a year by the Pirates and when you are losing, that's a lot of money to spend on one guy. That is the strategy that has worked for the Oakland A's and the Seattle Mariners. The Pirates are hoping they can duplicate that philosophy. But the thing is, how much of Giles play for the Pirates is responsible for ticket sales in Pittsburgh? How do you measure that? How do you measure the amount of tickets are lost when the team's message to its fans is that superstars are too expensive? That's a bitter pill and almost as damaging to fans morale as a baseball strike.

On the other side of the country, the message that San Diego is telling its fans is that they are serious about building a great team. The core is shaping up nicely and with Giles being only thirty-two years old with at least six good years left, he will be the cog in that core. Giles is from San Diego and going home is only going to help him even more to continue to put up the kind of world class numbers the world shouldn't be ignoring.

Elsewhere, Portland Oregon has passed a stadium bill in an election and become the front runners for the Expos. Portland is a beautiful city and all, but you better build a dome as it rains a lot there. The only other Expos option seems to be Washington. I can't imagine baseball agreeing to a team in Puerto Rico as the travel costs that would be added to the teams would be enormous.

The only problem with an Oregon Expos result would be that the National League West already has five teams. The NL Central has six. What seems to make sense to me is to move Milwaukee from the NL Central to the NL West (but make sure plenty of Cubs/Brewer games are scheduled) and move the new Oregon Expos into the American League West as that division only has four teams. Texas would love more good team to have to contend with!

Oh those Phillies! They were beating the (for now) Montreal Expos 8-0 in the fifth inning and 10-4 in the sixth. They lost the game 14-10 as the Expos scored ten runs in the final two innings. "Ouch!" says those Phillies fans hoping for the wildcard. Yes, I know what it's like to be a fan.

In that Phillies game, the combined line of the Phillies' relievers is:

2 10 10 10 3 1

(Innings, hits, runs, earned runs, walks, strikeouts)

Quickly around the majors tonight: Toronto outlasted the Red Sox despite a late charge by the Sox. The game featured 31 hits and four errors.

The Cubs got another win from Mark Prior, who is really the front runner for the NL Cy Young award. Randall Simon has made a big impact in the first week playing for the Cubs. The man swings at everything but he rarely misses. He struck out only 32 times last year in 480+ at bats. The highlights showed him hitting a ball a ton that was pitched over his head! Oh! By the way, the Cubs beat division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Marlins lost again, this time to Pittsburgh as Jason Kendall took out his non-trade (he was hoping to go with Giles) frustration out on the fish including a two run homer. The Marlins are staying neck and neck with the Phillies as they shrink back to the wildcard pack that both teams could have owned.

The White Sox pounded Roger Clemens (sigh) as they won their sixth straight. Frank Thomas hit a grand slam. I hope Clemens doesn't finish the year poorly.

The Royals kept pace by beating Texas 9-2. Mike Sweeney broke out of his slump by going three for five with four RBI. Rafael Palmeiro hit his thirty-first homer of the season (521 for his career) and now has 93 RBI. Why would you want to dump a guy like that to go along with all your kids?

The Devil Rays are leading the suddenly anemic Seattle Mariners 3-0 in the fifth. The A's and Orioles are scoreless after four innings. The Orioles have really missed Melvin Mora and haven't shown the same potent offense since he had to shut it down. They will be a tough team next year.

Monday, August 25, 2003

In contrast to almost all the National League contenders, the Red Sox and the A's are doing what they need to do to contend.

The Red Sox, after a tough Oakland series, didn't get down and came back to sweep one of the best teams in the AL. And they beat the Mariners in convincing fashion after scrapping for wins in the two close games to start the series. First, Derek Lowe became the ace that he was last year and today, one of the best ever, Pedro Martinez, shut the veteran Mariners down for one run each game.

And what an acquisition David Ortiz has been. You have to wonder what the Twins were thinking to let this guy go. Only 27 years old, Ortiz is coming into his own in a park where he can either pull the ball out or knock it against that big green wall. Of David's 95 hits, 56 of them have been for extra bases. His 74 RBI in 99 games projects out to 120 RBI for a season if he played every day. He has already surpassed his career record for doubles with 34, triples with 2 and he's already tied his season high for homers. The guy has done everything you could ask him to do. And he's only cost the Red Sox $1.25 million.

The batting race tightened up in the Red Sox/Mariner series as well. The Red Sox kept Ichiro in check most of the series and now the great hitter is down to .331. Garciaparra is up to .325 and Mueller is batting .328. Garciaparra has already won one batting title and Mueller has been consistent throughout the season. The batting race is just one more fun one to watch the rest of the year.

I simply do not understand how the A's can pull off the kind of runs in the second half every year like they do. Every first half they look terrible and it looks like they will have an off year. Now they've come roaring back and amazingly, the A's and the Mariners are tied with the exact same record in the AL West. Didn't the Mariners have an eleven game lead at one point?

You can't ask for a better pennant race down the stretch as the Red Sox, the Mariners and the A's all have identical records. Only two of those teams will make it to the playoffs if the Yankees maintain their current play. The Yankees have won nine of eleven and have not shown any let up at all. The AL Central winner will have at least ten less wins than the three teams mentioned at the top of this paragraph. Amazing.

The playoffs are all about matchups. The Yankees don't match up well against either the Mariners or the A's. The Red Sox match up better against Seattle (in fact, they own them) but not against the A's. The A's don't match up well with the Mariners. The Yankees match up better with Boston. Who wins the races down the stretch will make a serious impact on which team makes it to the World Series.

In the meantime, the Phillies continue to look like a jet with only one engine as they are 9-12 in August. The Phillies will not make the playoffs and Larry Bowa will not be managing this team next season. The Fan is on a crusade. Boone got taken care of in Cincinnati and Bowa is next in the Fan's sights. This team will not contend with him in charge. Can you imagine where this team would be if Scott Rolen wasn't run out of town by Bowa?

Poor Jeff Weaver. He came in to pitch in the eighth inning against the Orioles with the Yankees up 3-1 and after getting his first out, gave up a homerun to Larry Bigbee. Weaver found out what the "yank" in Yankees stood for. On the flip side, struggling closer, Mariano Rivera pitched a perfect inning and a third for the save. Pettitte got the win and is now 16-7. The Yankees have to sign this free agent at the end of the year!
All baseball fans and human beings had to feel a tinge of sadness along with the thrill of the great performance given by Yankees pitcher, Jose Contreras against the Orioles today. The victory certainly seems to mean that Jeff Weaver has officially lost any shot at ever being a meaningful pitcher for the Yankees.

Weaver has gone in two short years from being the best Tigers pitcher to being the worst Yankee pitcher. How and why did that happen? Was it bad coaching? Bad luck? Unknown injuries? Or is it that baseball is a lot like golf--it's all a mind game. Weaver would be well at this point to move on from the Yankees and get a fresh start elsewhere. One also wonders if he could also use a sports psychologist to restore his confidence.

Weaver heads a list of players who could use a change of scenery. Joe Torre is likely to continue to support pitching Weaver except in long games where the Yankees are being blown out. Sterling Hitchcock is going to benefit from being let go to another team and another chance and Weaver could/should be next.

I don't know if Pat Burrell and Jose Mesa need a change of scenery or a change in who manages the team. The Fan has watched several involving the Phillies and the Fan would be a nervous wreck playing for Larry Bowa. Contrast his style with Tony Pena for the Kansas City Royals. Pena has just as much fire as Bowa for winning but does so with a positive attitude and an understanding of human nature. Bowa reminds me more of Billy Martin who either pushed a player or broke them depending on their makeup.

Lou Piniella has that fire too and can explode into rages as good as Bowa's but Piniella has won every where he's gone so he has to be a major motivator too. For those of you who thought he was too harsh to Ben Grieve, you may have been right...for Ben Grieve, but a similar player with Grieve's personality is Jon Olerud and Pineilla never tried to change Olerud's style of play. The Grieve blowup makes Ben another player who could probably use another place to play.

Another player who could use a change of scenery is Bobby Higginson. Higginson has hit over 25 homers four times in his career and has driven in over a hundred runs twice. And that was all for bad ballclubs. It seems like he is sleepwalking. Good players are good players because they love the competition. It has to have taken a toll on his interest in pushing himself from day to day. By the way, the Tigers broke an eleven game losing streak today.

A change of location can really help a player in a rut. Mike Hampton is the number one example. Colorado was not conducive to his style of pitching and another organization (the Braves) took an interest in him and right now is the hottest pitcher in the league.