Friday, April 30, 2004

They are having a wild and wooly one in San Francisco. The Marlins scored four runs in the first. Dontrelle Willis gave two of those back in the bottom of the first. The Marlins scored five more in the top of the second which included a double and a run scored by Willis. After two innings, Miguel Cabrera had the unique batting line of: 0 0 0 2, thanks to two sacrifice flies. That gave the Marlins a 9-2 lead and the start of a laugher, right? Wrong.

Willis couldn't get anyone out in the bottom of the second and was sent to the showers. His relief, Tommy Phelps could only get one out. Nate Bump relieved him and walked in a run before ending the inning. By then, seven runs had scored and now after two innings, it's a 9-9 game.

Between the two teams, they have given up 18 runs in two innings on 16 hits and 8 walks. It's going to be a long, long night in San Francisco. Oh yes, Barry Bonds has already walked twice in that game. The Fan has said it before and will say it again, the walking of Bonds is a travesty and an embarrassment. And many times, it backfires on the opposing team as baserunners leads to rallies and rallies score far more runs than a one run homer by Bonds.

With the poor start by the Giants, if it continues, the unthinkable could happen...the Giants could trade Bonds to an American League team for the pennant run. The Fan just has a feeling...

Speaking of weird games, the Cubs sent their best pitcher to the mound tonight against the Cardinals. Kerry pitched eight innings and struck out 10, but didn't factor in the decision. The Cardinals had last at bats and came up to hit in the bottom of the ninth. But they didn't get a chance to hit. Cub's pitchers: Kyle Farnsworth, Kent Mercker and LaTroy Hawkins walked four batters to give the Cardinals the win. What a lousy way to lose a game...four walks in the bottom of the ninth.

The Yankees won their fourth game in a row to finish April with a winning record, the thirteenth straight time in a row they have done that--an American League record.

Javier Vasquez got the win and has pitched well in four of his five starts. Jeter had a hit and an RBI and now has a modest two game hitting streak after going 32 straight at bats without a hit.

And the top story of the night? Roger Clemens won his fifth straight decision and has started the season with a 5-0 record with a 1.95 ERA. How's that for a 41 year old retired pitcher? Clemens actually walked in a run in the first inning but settled down and pitched six innings, giving up only one run as he struck out six. What an amazing story.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Baseball is a lot like a perennial flower bed. Now where else are you going to hear a comparison like that? Many perennials have really showy years, off years and so-so years. Every year is different and every year is most interesting. Baseball is again blooming despite hints of scandals and a vagabond team in the NL East. Let's look at the garden for some interesting stories so far this year.

Brooks Kieschnick is one of the most interesting stories in baseball. In 1993, Kieschnick was the tenth player picked overall in the draft. The Cubs drafted him as an outfielder, although Kieschnick was a top pitching prospect as well. It was a struggle for Kieschnick as he bounced around and played for eleven different minor league clubs with a few cups of coffee with the Cubs and then the Reds.

Then the Milwaukee Brewers had/have a budget crunch and needed some versatile players who wouldn't cost a lot of money. They had an interesting idea: Why not give Kieschnick a chance as both a relief pitcher and a pinch hitter. Why not? Two players for the price of one. The experiment was partially successful last year. Kieschnick batted well, hitting .300 with five homers and nine RBI in 64 at bats. He had a nifty .618 slugging percentage.

But Kieschnick struggled pitching and ended up with a 5.26 ERA in 42 appearances. The thirty-two year old wasn't assured of a job when he came to spring training. Manager Ned Yost was quoted several times as saying that if Kieschnick didn't make the team as a pitcher, he wouldn't make it at all. Kieschnick had a decent spring and then Yost was quoted as saying that Kieschnick was only going to be a pitcher. Yeah, right.

Kieschnick already has 14 at bats (relief pitchers hardly EVER get at bats) and is batting .286 with a homer and three RBI. But the key stat is that he is pitching really well this year too. He pitched three scoreless innings tonight to lower his season ERA to 1.80 in six appearances.

You have to root for a player like Kieschnick. Now Ned Yost is saying that he'll DH Kieschnick in interleague games. It would be even sweeter if he started a game in the outfield and maybe came in to pitch an inning. Heck, after his inning, he could go right back out to the outfield. Real men love Kieschnick.

Derek Jeter extended his hitless streak to 32 at bats. Booed by the hometown fans during the Red Sox series, the Yankee fans rallied around him tonight and cheered and chanted during each of his at bats. It didn't help though as he still went 0 for 4. The streak is by far, Jeter's worst slump of his career.

The Fan can't understand how Jeter keeps getting blasted on his fielding. He has had no shoulder the past two years and last year also tore the ligament in his hand, all the while playing in pain every day and never letting it show. The respect Jeter has from his peers in baseball far outstrips the lack of it Jeter gets from some media circles.

One of the best fantasy league players this year is the one and only Mark Loretta. Who? Loretta has flown under the radar so far in his career, but the second baseman for the Padres has a .298 lifetime batting average. Last year, Loretta had a 185 hits on the way to hitting a very good .314. Loretta also had a career high 13 homers.

This year, Loretta is off to a .365 start with 4 homers and 14 RBI to go along with 15 runs scored. Loretta batted ninth for much of his career but is now batting second. Loretta doesn't strike out often (62 times in 589 at bats). Loretta is also a very good fielder with only 57 errors in his nine year career (.986 fielding percentage). This is a very good little player who may start getting his due.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Perhaps the Yankees aren't dead. They sure looked it after this past weekend getting swept by the Red Sox. The struggling team from the Bronx next had another tough team in the Oakland Athletics with ace Tim Hudson on the mound. Mike Mussina couldn't hold a four run lead as his pitching woes continued. Before you could say, "Mr. Steinbrenner," the Yankees had fallen behind 8-4 and it looked like their woes would continue. And then the Yankees batted in the bottom of the eighth.

By the time the dust settled, the Yankees had punished Jim Mecir and Roberto Rincon for six runs on five hits and three walks. Mecir and Rincon both had Earned Run Averages under 2.50. Mecir never did get anyone out and was charged with five of the six runs although Rincon didn't help him any by walking two and making sure all of Mecir's baserunners scored.

Mariano Rivera pitched the ninth inning for his sixth save (he now has a 0.75 ERA).

The win doesn't hide the problems. Mussina gave up eleven more baserunners in six innings and now has a 6.55 Earned Run Average. Derek Jeter went 0-3 with a sac bunt and an intentional walk to extend his hitless streak to 30 at bats. But the come from behind win has to breath some life into the moribund bunch and could help turn the season around.

The loss was especially tough for the A's, who have now lost four in a row and have fallen all the way to third place, two games off the pace.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Since it is a semi-slow night in Major League Baseball, it's time to re-introduce a regular feature of this site: The Fan's Box Score Favorites. The Fan has been nuts about box scores since childhood and it's only natural to see players that catch the eye. These players are followed more closely than the others. They may include favorites traded away from the favorite team. They could be exciting rookies. The box score favorites tend to evolve as the season rolls along (for example, if a player gets hurt, there is no reason to keep looking, right?). So here we go:

Alfonso Soriano/Texas Rangers - Of course you have to follow the guy traded for A-Rod. He was the goat of the post-season with his wild swinging and automatic strikeouts. So how is he doing the last seven days? Not bad. Soriano hasn't been hitting the ball over the fence this season, but he is batting a robust .338 and has seemed to cut down his strikeout ratio. Case in point is his last seven days where he has batted 21 times and only struck out twice. He has batted a respectable .286 this past week as his teammates have gone crazy around him. All that hitting will only help Soriano who bats third in the order.

Hank Blalock/Texas Rangers - In truth, the Fan could follow each and every young Texas Ranger. Unbelievably, the Rangers are in first place and are killing the ball. Blalock, like all his mates this year, is batting at a .325 clip. The past seven days, he's batted .308 with a homer, two doubles and six runs batted in. He now has 17 RBI for the season and is on pace to reach 125 by the end of the season.

Miguel Cabrera/Florida Marlins - Cabrera turned 21 this season and followed up his sensational debut last year with a fast start this year. He had six homers before the league caught up with him. He had a tough week though and only has batted .250 in his last seven to bring his season average down to .304 with no homers and only one double to go along with four runs batted in. He should bounce back and hit at least forty homers this season.

Derrek Lee/Chicago Cubs - The Fan is rooting so hard for the Cubs. This team just attracts those who root for underdogs. They sure aren't playing like underdogs so far. Derrek Lee is a great first baseman, but needs to hit too. He started slowly and is only batting .254 for the week. But he is heating up and batted .273 last week with seven RBI in only six games.

Manny Ramirez/Boston Red Sox - The Fan picked Ramirez as this year's AL MVP, so it makes sense that this feature has to follow his progress. And what progress it is! Ramirez batted .357 last week and lowered his average! Manny had two homers and two doubles last week and accounted for the only runs in Boston's 2-0 victory over the Yankees. Manny is on pace to bat .392 with 45 homers and 135 RBI. Sounds like the MVP is right on track.

Melvin Mora/Baltimore Orioles - Last year, Mora was having an outstanding, breakout season and the Orioles were batting really well only to see Mora go down with an injury. The Orioles and Mora never recovered. This year, the Orioles lineup doesn't depend so much on Mora but it's a happy thing to see Mora starting off this year like last year. Mora batted .348 last week to lift his season average up to .333. He had a double and a homer and drove in four runs. But the real contribution was the ten runs he scored last week in front of Palmeiro, Lopez, Tejada and others. Mora is on pace to drive in 114 runs and score 162!

Ken Griffey Jr./Cincinnati Reds - The Reds have been a major surprise this year and Griffey is playing full time again. Coincidence? Maybe. Griffey did have a tough week last week with a .217 average his last seven games, but golly, that man has only played a handful of games the last few years. And he is back to making the highlight reels with his fielding in centerfield. It's early yet and Griffey will heat up.

Adam Dunn/Cincinnati Reds - Two years ago, Dunn was a monster rookie. Last year, he looked overcoached and lost his edge for a very disappointing season. It's a shame when young players get overcoached. A decade or more ago, a catcher for the Red Sox came up a young player and hit the stuffing out of the ball. His name was Rich Gedman. Gedman had three great years where he averaged .288 with 20 homers and 80 RBI. Good numbers for a catcher! Then he came under the tutelage of Walter Hriniak (Wade Boggs' batting guru). Gedman's next five years: .258, .205, .231, .212 and .200. Rick Harden is having the same trouble with overcoaching in Oakland. Oh yeah, Dunn...

Dunn only batted .200 last week with one homer, but he did have five RBI. Dunn is still hitting .316 for the year with 8 homers and 15 RBI. He also has a .500 on base percentage so far this year.
Today was baseball day at the Fan's house. After watching Baseball Tonight on Sunday morning (Why don't they change the name for the day time?), it was time for watching the Yankees embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. After watching the series, it's hard to tell if the Red Sox are that good or if the Yankees are that bad. There is definitely trouble in the Bronx and that team doesn't look like it's going anywhere. After a day of baseball which finished with the Braves beating the Marlins, the Fan couldn't help notice things that have changed in the Major Leagues during a lifetime of watching the games. Here is an unofficial and incomplete list of things that have changed in this Fan's lifetime:

- The umpires ignore batters who call time when digging into the batters box.

- The players use all kinds of armor and equipment when batting and running the bases. Old ball players never wore batting gloves.

- The bats are different. Each player uses different bats. There are red ones, white ones, black ones and bats with all kinds of writing and markings. Back in the old days, all the bats looked the same.

- If a pitcher bounces a pitch in the dirt, the umpire immediately throws that ball out of the game. That never happened five years ago and longer.

- In that same category, the fielder catching the last out always throws the ball in the stands. It used to be a game in a game to see which player could roll the ball to the mound and get it to stay there.

- The gloves all look different. Pedro used a red one. Jorge had a multi-colored catcher's mitt. What's with that?

- Catchers now wear what looks like hockey masks. The name of the MLB catcher who invented them is beyond memory.

- Umpires no longer have those bubble chest protectors behind the plate. And then never stand directly behind the catcher.

- Shortstops hit homers. Mark Belanger hit 20 homers in his career and had a lifetime slugging average of .280. Yet he started for 17 years. Tejada and A-Rod hit that many in two months.

- Catchers hit for average. Piazza and Posada are weapons. Rick Dempsey was never a weapon. Ray Fosse made the All Stars as a .256 hitter.

- Middle of the road pitchers used to have records like 16-15. Phil Niekro had a two year stretch where his records were 19-18 and 21-20. Now a middle of the road pitcher has a 10-10 record.

- Starters were expected to finish. Now managers are scolded for ruining young pitching careers if two games in a row involve 110 pitches. Mike Cuellar had 172 complete games out of 379 starts. Mel Stottlemyre completed 180 in ten years. Jim Kaat completed 180. Bartolo Colon is considered a "horse" and has completed 28 games in seven years. At that pace, he'll catch Stottlemyre in 45 years.

- Leo Durocher would never intentionally walk Willie Mays three times in a game. What is going on with Bonds should lead to a rule change of one intentional walk a game. It's disgraceful.

- Catchers never gave third-base-coach-like signals to the pitcher to call pitches with runners on second base. That is brand new in the last few years.

- And finally, for tonight at least, players used to shake teammate hands after a homer or a job well done. The high five, fist pump, wrist slam, low five, and jumping chest bumps were unknown 30 years ago.

Things change but it's still the best game there is.