Saturday, May 02, 2009

Welcome Back, Joe Mauer

There were some questions about how Joe Mauer would fare after a long layoff with a back problem that seriously seemed to threaten his career. He missed the whole month of April and has been this big question mark for the Twins all season. Mauer came of the Disabled List yesterday and played in his first game last night.

Mauer got a standing ovation from the Twins' fans who also had to be thinking how their All-Star catcher would do. They soon got their answer as Mauer drove a fastball the opposite way and into the seats in left field. He eventually wound up 2-3 with a walk.

Obviously, one game isn't going to erase the question mark, but it sure did make the Twins feel better about themselves and their chances.

Welcome back, Joe Mauer. We missed you.

Longoria and Pena - Best One-Two Punch in Baseball?

The Bay Rays found what they needed to turn their season around: Play the Red Sox! The team from Tampa just seems to triumph against the mighty Sox, especially at home. The game again featured a one-two punch from Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena, who might be, at this point, be the best three-four combination in baseball.

Evan Longoria hit a grand slam and now has seven homers and 28 RBI in just 24 games and is batting .368. His OPS is a ridiculous 1.148. We are watching a superstar develop with this guy who is clearly comfortable in his MLB skin in just his second year. Plus, he has cut back on his strikeouts and is hitting the ball much more consistently. He already has 11 doubles to go along with his homers.

Carlos Pena, meanwhile, has already hit 10 homers in his cleanup position and has knocked in 25 in just those 24 games. He doesn't get the bat on the ball as consistently as Longoria, but when he does hit it, the ball goes a long way. He only has a .256 Batting Average, but his OPS is sitting at .981.

The Bay Rays have a tough stretch of games against the Red Sox and Yankees, but they have started off the stretch, 2-0 and riding off their three-four monsters in the batting order, the AL East is getting interesting.

More Guys that Should Retire

Yesterday in the FanDome, we started talking about players who somehow still have a job in the major leagues despite not having any business still getting a paycheck. The old Fan got sleepy and didn't really complete the list. Here is the rest of it.

- Greg Zaun: How fortunate was Zaun that the Orioles wanted to scrimp a few bucks by starting Matt Wieters in the minors? The Orioles, of course, made the move to gain a year more of Wieter's services before he can go to arbitration and later, free agency. The Fan railed about it at the time and is still steamed. Zaun? The 38 year-old catcher has an OPS+ right now of 11. That's right, 11. Zaun should walk away as soon as June rolls around and Wieters comes to Baltimore. It's a good thing the Orioles were so conscious of their attendance in this recession and allowed their fans to see a creaky, ancient catcher put together six hits in fifty-four At Bats with only one RBI. Yup. Did the Fan mention that he has only thrown out four base runners out of twenty? Oh nevermind.

- Tony Graffanino: The last time the Indians' infielder played in the majors was 2007 and that year, Graffanino batted .238. It's now two years later and he is two years older and somebody thought this was a good idea? His current OPS+ isn't even a plus, but a -12. The Fan has never seen a minus before on OPS+. But that's what happens when someone goes 3 for 23.

- Alan Embree: Yeah, yeah, he's a LOOGY. But he isn't a particularly good one. And he's 39. Last year, his ERA (4.96) was a full run higher than the year before. So far this year, his ERA is 6.00. Last year, at least he struck out 57 batters in 60 innings. So far this year, he's struck out one in six innings. He isn't fooling anyone.

- Darin Erstad: Erstad isn't that old, but he is the older version of Byrnes. He crashed one too many walls when he was young. So far this year, he has nine strikeouts and only four hits in 23 At Bats. His OPS+ won't stay at 1 like is now (1??) but his average OPS+ the last three years is 64, so it's not like it's going to be pretty some day.

- Doug Brocail and Brian Moehler: Erstad isn't the only one on the Astros that should call it a career. Brocail has given up 12 base runners in 4.1 innings. Eight of those were walks. Brocail is 42 years old and NOT a LOOGY. Moehler has Wang-like numbers. The 37 year-old is 0-2 and has given up 15 hits and 12 earned runs in 4.1 innings. Wow! Hey Moe! Time to go!

You know, this is a thought process that is very draining. All these negative numbers sap a normally upbeat writer. Let's leave it here for now and try to finish it up tomorrow. Ugh. There has to be something FUN to write about.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Some Players That Should Retire

The 2009 MLB off season was a strange one and a lot of players had a hard time finding jobs (at least for the kind of money they expected). But some others did find jobs that shouldn't have and are still working for clubs and shouldn't be. Here are just a few:

- Tom Gordon: Gordon is now 42 and is in his 21st season. A 42 year-old reliever that is not a LOOGY is not a good idea. He blew the game for Arizona last night. This follows the last two seasons when his ERA was 4.72 (2007) and 5.16 (2008). Enough is enough, Flash.

- Gary Sheffield: He got his 500th home run. Now it's time to go into that good night. A .725 OPS last year and is currently sitting at .691 this year should be enough to indicate that he is done as a player. It's time for him to swagger on out of there.

- Guillermo Mota: Now 35, or as close to 35 as anyone originally from the Dominican Republic can be, Mota had a decent season for Milwaukee last year, but has given up 15 base runners already in seven innings this year. Why is this Mota still running?

- Tony Clark: Everyone loves Tony Clark. He's a great clubhouse guy, but he's now 36 and batting .160. It's time to start your coaching career, Tony.

- Eric Byrnes: Now 33, he is giving every indication that he is Byrned out. He hit .209 last year and is sitting at .176 this year. Looks like he hit one wall too many.

- Garrett Anderson: Guess it seemed like a good idea to the Braves. But he is batting .200 with no homers and only three doubles. Here's an idea. How about you and Greg Norman both tell the Braves that it was fun, but thanks anyway.

- Jose Contreras: Now 37 years old (Best we can tell anyway), Contreras is now 0-3 with a WHIP of 1.72. Enough said. He's done.

More tomorrow.

Nobody Will Catch the Dodgers

One thing seems evident at the end of April: The Los Angeles Dodgers are going to win the National League West. They have the second best record in the National League and play in a weak division where no other team seems capable of putting together an 85 win season. The Dodgers seem well-rounded and have a manager that will keep them relaxed and sure of what their roles will be. Need a few more reasons? Let's take a look.

Solid Lineup

The Dodgers' lineup is solid from first to eight. Furcal is off to a slow start, but he will get back to his career averages at least before the season is out. His double play partner, Orlando Hudson is a solid, league average hitter. Loney is solid. Casey Blake is an upgrade from Blake DeWitt. Manny is Manny and takes all the pressure off of all the other hitters and seems to be in an unbelievable zone since he got to LA. Matt Kemp has a .977 OPS and seems to be filling into the kind of hitter that was predicted for him. And Andre Ethier is also blossoming as a hitter and leads the team in RBI and batting behind Manny is going to keep him there. Russell Martin is off to a slow start, but as long as it's not health related, then he should get back to his career average of .280 by season's end.

Solid Bench

Juan Pierre should never again be a starter, but he is solid as a backup (even if he is going to pout a bit). Brad Ausmus seems to be enjoying his backup status in LA and is following a great spring with a great April in limited duty. Mark Loretta and Doug Mienkiewicz (who has the single hardest name to spell in the majors) are solid. DeWitt might be a liability as is Juan Castro, but that's hardly game changing.

Solid Starting Pitching

Chad Billingsley is an ace in all senses of the word. He is now 39-19 in his young career with a 3.25 ERA. Each year, his Walks per 9 innings decreases and he keeps the ball in the yard with a high strikeout rate. He's already 4-0 this year. Randy Wolf is solid, if unspectacular. He'll keep you in the game for six innings, doesn't walk many and is a fighter. Clayton Kershaw is scary talented. He's off to a rough start, but if he can find the plate a bit more consistently, he'll be as good as Billingsley. And he is only 20 years old. Eric Stults and John McDonald are question marks. They are both inexperienced and are walking too many batters. But heck, the Dodgers have the resources to go out and get somebody if they need to. Pedro Martinez comes to mind.

Great Closer

Joe Torre, more than any other manager, relies heavily on his closer and Jonathan Broxton has come in to his own in that capacity. He has been dominating this season with 16 strikeouts in 10 innings and has already won two games and saved six others. His current ERA is 0.90.

The Bullpen

The rest of the bullpen is kind of iffy. Ronald Belisario has been decent. Will Ohman is solid and Ramon Troncoso has had a good start. Kuo is reliable, but the rest have been pretty bad. Guillermo Mota is nearly eighty years old and should be cut.

Manager and Coaching Staff

Larry Bowa is one of the best coaches in baseball. Mattingly is respected and his players are responding to him as batting coach. Rick Honeycutt is smart and prepared and will get the most out of his pitching staff. Mariano Duncan has followed Torre from New York. And Joe Torre is Joe Torre. One of the best.

The Dodgers have a few weaknesses and will have a bad stretch or two. But overall, the team is as solid as any in the National League and certainly much more talented than any other rival in their division.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Here Come the Twins!

When the Twins traded Johan Santana last year, they were given up for dead. And yet, despite an uncharacteristically porous defense and some clunkers on the pitching staff (Boof, Livan and Everyday Eddie), finished in second place with 88 wins. Their final record was pretty much the same as it was the year before. This year, they faced a start of the season with Joe Mauer on the disabled list and they had a terrible start. Again, they were given up for dead. But now the Twins have won seven of eleven and they are right in the thick of the scrum near the top of the AL Central. And Mauer is on his way back.

In the first eleven games of the season, the Twins' run differential was -30. Ouch. But in the last eleven, they've been much better at +8. So their overall differential of -22 is misleading. The biggest difference so far has been the defense. Last year, the Twins made 108 errors in 162 games. So far this year, they have only made 8 in 22 games. That's a vast improvement over a year ago. And astoundingly, the standard infield set of Crede (0), Punto (1) and Alexi Casilla (1) have only made two errors between them.

Jose Morales, who is filling in for Redmond, who was filling in for Mauer, has been a surprise thus far and has Mauer-like production. His current OPS+ is 132, which is excellent.

At least half of the team has struggled offensively. That same infield trio that is doing so well in the field is wasting away at the plate in an an astounding way. The OPS+ numbers of the trio? Casilla (29), Punto (63) and Crede (89). 29! You have to be nearly comatose to have that low a number. Crede's 89 is actually not bad for him, but he had a hot start and has faded of late. Brenden Harris has played in half of the Twins' games and has filled in for the light hitting crew at all three positions and is hitting .350. So that helps. It also helps that he hasn't made any errors either.

All of the offense has been supplied thus far by Morales, Harris, Morneau, Span and a surprising Jason Kubel, who has an OPS+ thus far of 148. That's fantastic. But those guys need to get some help from the rest of the outfielders and the infielders.

Ron Gardenshire got in hot water over the winter by stating that his outfield was set with Span, Cuddeyer and Carlos Gomez. The obvious omission was Delmon Young. Gardenshire later backtracked and stated that all four outfielders would get plenty of At Bats. Span has been great, but Gomez, Cuddeyer and Young are all struggling mightily. The trio has OPS+ numbers of 47, 65 and 71 respectively (before Wednesday night's game) and all have an OBP under .300. What looked like a strength has been a real weakness so far.

The return of Mauer will be a boost, but with the offense Morales has been providing, it won't be that much of a boost except that Mauer is a known entity. The team will go as far as their pitching can take them. Their team pitching stats are in the bottom third of the American League thus far and their 5.37 is not a pleasant sight. But they have only had three poorly pitched games out of the last eleven and all of their starters are intriguing.

Scott Baker had a really good year last year, but this year has been more like "Home Run" Baker as he has given up seven homers already in 21 innings. And his 9.82 ERA is rather ugly. But some of his stats seem to indicate he will be okay. His strikeout to walk ratio is 3 to 1. And his stikeouts per nine innings of 7.4 is exactly the same as last year. Those numbers seem to favor him bouncing back and being okay the rest of the season.

Glen Perkins has pitched really well and is a hard-luck 1-2 despite a 2.48 ERA. His WHIP is 1 even and he hasn't given up a homer in four starts. He also has better than a 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. He looks great so far. Nick Blackburn pitched well Wednesday night and upped his record to 2-1. His appearance will push his ERA+ over 100.

Kevin Slowey has some funky numbers but has been great his last two starts. The number that jumps out immediately is that he has given up 36 hits in only 26+ innings of work. But he has 19 strikeouts in those 26+ innings and incredibly, has only walked two batters all season. If he keeps pitching like he has the last two outings, he'll be great.

The puzzling pitcher on the staff is Francisco Liriano. He's not the dominating pitcher he was two years ago and he is currently 0-4 with a 6.04 ERA. But his numbers aren't terrible except that his walks are high at 3.5 per nine innings. He's not as bad as his numbers indicate but he's not going to be great like he once may have been.

But overall, a rotation of Liriano, Slowey, Blackburn, Perkins and Baker can be very competitive. The bullpen, on the other hand has been pretty bad with the exception of Nathan at the end. He is his usual dominant self. But he isn't getting much help out there. In limited action, Jose Mijares has been dominating and might make a nice 1-2 punch with Nathan.

After mulling over the above information, the Twins are a pretty good bet to be in the mix of things in the AL Central. They pitch well and field well and have a few hitting stars. They need more offense from their infield and from three quarters of their outfield, but if that picks up, this could be a fun team to watch all summer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Curious Case of Julio Lugo

It seems hard to account for the Boston Red Sox and their love affair with Julio Lugo. Coming off the disabled list last night, he was immediately plugged back into the lineup and though he contributed with the bat, made an error in his first game back. That now gives the shortstop 17 errors in his last 82 games.

Granted, Nick Green's lifetime stats don't give much indication that he's a better player. But he was having a pretty good season and the Sox had a ten game winning streak with him in there. Why mess with that? It's also granted that Nick Green isn't a permanent solution. But Lugo is a worse solution at this point in his career.

Now 33 years old, Lugo has not had an impressive last three years in the field. His fielding percentage compared to league average looks like this the last three years: 2006 - .954/.971, 2007 - .968/.970, 2008 - .945/.972. But we all now know that fielding percentage does not tell the full story. Though Lugo's career Range Factor is above league average, he has not come close to the league average for the past two years. Here is a breakdown: 2007 - 4.21/4.27, 2007 - 3.70/4.39. That's an alarming decline.

In one more fielding statistic, there is a stat called Total Fielding Runs Above Average. In this measure, zero (0) is neutral. Lugo's measure for the last three years: -7.9, -0.4 and -7.0. By the way, all three of the fielding measures the Fan has indicated Lugo rated below Derek Jeter (who has become the supposed standard for the worst fielding shortstop in the majors) last year.

The Red Sox value defense and it is to be sure that their top line statistical analysts must be aware of these numbers. At this point, Green is performing better. But if anyone was available who could play the position better, the Red Sox should make a move.

Phil Hughes Brilliant in First Start for the Yankees

The Fan is sitting on the middle of a teeter-totter in how to approach this post concerning Phil Hughes' great first start of the 2009 season. The post hinges on a post written when Phil Hughes was sent down near the end of Spring Training. You may want to read that first. The teetering is this: Either the Fan was brilliant and correct in stating that Hughes should have started the season in the rotation or the Yankees were brilliant in sending him down for three confidence-boosting starts in AAA before his first start of the 2009 season. Hmm... It could go either way, couldn't it?

See, that's the weakness of the blogger. We who write on the sidelines don't know what's going on inside the head of a young player like Phil Hughes. We don't have access to the kid where he can be asked: "So Phil, did you need the three games in AAA to boost your confidence and was that the key to you first start this year in the bigs?"

Of course, Hughes seems like a nice kid and would probably answer: "Well, it's hard to say. The manager and General Manager here are great people with a lot of knowledge. I felt like I pitched great in the winter league and carried that over into Spring Training. But it has all worked out great and I look forward to contributing to the Yankees in any way I can." Which of course would tell you nothing anyway.

The game and covering the game has become (even in this space) about looking at numbers and projections and what the data is saying. One of the reasons that is comforting is that it's all there in front of you for analysis. When a blogger or any professional writer, for that matter, starts to speculate about what goes on in the head of a young player, things get a little dicey.

The dicey part is making a statement such as: "Well, too much pressure was put on Hughes last year when the Yankees didn't make the Santana trade. He started poorly and lost his confidence." Do we know that? Maybe he wasn't fully healthy. Maybe his mechanics were messed up. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with confidence. All we know are the facts that show that he was great in 2007 until he hurt his leg and was pretty good after he came back from that injury. Then last year, he started really poorly, never won a game all year long and looked terrible.

The Fan is going to take the low road here and push the playground equipment towards the side of sticking with the original post. Hughes should have started the season in the rotation, perhaps even ahead of Chamberlain, based simply on his success in the winter league and in his stellar Spring Training. In the Fan's mind, he out pitched Chamberlain in Spring Training and should have won the fifth spot. Those three wins in AAA could have been in the bigs and the Yankees surely could have used them the way things started this season.

The job should always go to the person who is performing better. Right? Doesn't that make sense? Isn't that why Melky Cabrera started tonight instead of Gardner because right now, he is hitting better than Gardner?

We can speculate all we want about Phil Hughes' mental state coming into the season. He was writing a blog, but hasn't posted in over a year there, so no help there. But whatever is stated concerning that subject is slippery. Winter league results and Spring Training results showed a pretty darn good and confident pitcher.

So the original post stands. That is unless Hughes is quoted stating differently, and if that happens, then the Yankees were brilliant and the Fan is a dope. Or, it was just one start and Hughes could be terrible the rest of the year and we're all dopes. That's life.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How are the Phillies Like a Basketball Game?

The old saying goes that the only important part of a basketball game is the last three minutes. The start of the game is just filler until the game goes into overdrive in a final flurry. The Phillies are Major League Baseball's equivalent as it doesn't matter what happens in the early innings. Just tune in to the last three innings. And doesn't it seem that it's been this way for the Phillies for the last three years?

So far this season, seven of their ten wins have occurred from the seventh inning on. Six of those were come from behind wins. And they have done it all different ways with walks, singles, stolen bases and of course, home runs. Let's recap those seven games:

- April 8, 2009: Victims - Braves. The Phillies had lost their first two games of the season and were headed to a third and were down 10-3 going into the seventh inning. They scored eight runs in the seventh inning with four of those runs coming on walks. They score another in the eight and win 12-10.

- April 12, 2009: Victim - Rockies. The Fighting Phils were behind 5-3 going into the top of the eighth. They hit a two run homer off of Corpas in the eighth and a two run homer or of Street in the ninth and win 7-5.

- April 14, 2009: Victim - Nationals. The Phillies had given up two leads themselves in this game and were tied 4-4 going into the seventh inning. They scored four runs in the seventh and another run in the eighth and then hang on for dear life and win 9-8.

- April 19, 2009: Victim - Padres (who were very hot at the time). The Phillies were down 4-2 going into the eighth inning. They scored two runs in the eighth and a run in the ninth and won 5-4. The Padres regular closer, Heath Bell was gassed from the previous couple of nights and was given this day off as rest. Too bad for the Padres, but great for the Phillies.

- April 24, 2009: Victim - Marlins (who were very hot at the time). The Phillies were just shooting blanks for eight innings against Josh Johnson and were down 3-0 going into the ninth inning. Unfortunately for the Marlins, they have a weakness in closing games with Matt Lindstrom. Three walks, a grand slam and a solo homer later, they scored seven runs and shocked the Marlins, 7-3.

- April 25, 2009: Victim - Marlins (who are not hot any more). The Phillies were in their favorite position and were down a run, 4-3 going into the ninth inning. The Marlins decide against Lindstrom. Didn't matter. The Phillies scored a run in the ninth and then two more in the tenth and win 6-4. In the ninth, they scored their run on a walk, a single, a wild pitch and a ground out. In the tenth, they hit four singles.

- April 27, 2009: Victim - Nationals (again). The game was tied, 7-7, going into the top of the eighth and the Nationals scored four runs to go ahead 11-7. By this point, the Nationals had hit five homers including two from Zimmerman. Game over right? Not! In the bottom of the eighth, they start the inning with a strikeout. Pedro Feliz (he's still playing??) hits a single. Rollins doubles. Men on second and third. Victorino hits a sacrifice fly. Two outs. No problem. Utley singles. 11-9. The Nationals pull Mock and put Hanrahan in there. Wild pitch. Utley goes to second. Ryan Howard is walked. Jayson Werth walks. Bases loaded. Raul Ibanez, who everyone said was a stupid signing for the Phillies, hits a grand slam (his sixth homer of the young season). 13-11, Phillies win.

Amazing stuff, eh? But the Phillies did this last year and the year before. They are a bookie's nightmare. You think the Phillies will lose and they don't. There doesn't seem to be a way to close them out.

Granted, they have hardly faced the cream of the league's bullpens, but even so, they have hit 14 of their season's 24 homers in the last three innings. That works out to be 58% of their season's homers in 33% of the game. They have hit 11 of their season's 24 homers in the eighth and ninth innings. That's 45% of their season's homers in the last 22% of the games.

The Phillies have a .990 team OPS (before tonight's game) in the eighth inning this year. Think that's good? They have a 1.136 team OPS in the ninth inning this year. Holy Cow! So it doesn't matter that they have a .540 OPS in the fifth inning or a little over .600 in the sixth. All that matters is the end of the game. And that's when they just find a way to get the game won.

After watching the Red Sox beat the Yankees in the third game of that series, the one thought the Fan had while watching it unfurl is that the Red Sox simply wanted it more than the Yankees. The same can be said of the Phillies. They just want to win the game at the end more than the other team wants to close them out. Seven out of ten wins in the last three innings. Six of those come from behind games. That's a team that simply wants to win and it doesn't matter what the obstacle is or how deep the hole.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Micah Owings - A Fan Favorite

Joe Posnanski, who just may be in the top five of sportswriters today, admitted the other day that his favorite player is Mike Jacobs, the former Marlins first baseman, now with Kansas City. In another recent post, Posnanski reminisced about his dilemma of being a writer who was still a fan and the advice he was given was to not publicly root for a team but root for the players. That makes sense. In the FanDome, the player most rooted for is Micah Owings of the Cincinnati Reds.

Owings is a pitcher who can hit, or a hitter who can pitch. Both descriptions fit. In a world where one league has a DH and one league has the pitchers hit, it's fun when the pitchers can actually do some damage. Owings hits on a regular basis. He isn't just a decent hitter like Zambrano of the Cubs. He is a threat every time he gets up to bat. And, it still can't be proven that he can't pitch either.

Against the Braves yesterday, Owings pitched seven innings, only gave up one run and struck out six. He also went 2 for 4 at the plate with a double and a run scored. He's now batting .400 for the year. The Fan can't resist. It's just too much fun to keep track of what he does and the Fan is hoping he has a good pitching year just to see how he hits for the rest of the year.

The Fan has a lot of favorite players and it's time to admit it. Perhaps the FanDome will have to resurrect the Box Score Favorites feature of a couple of years ago. Still mulling that one over. But for now, in a confessional of sorts, here is a list of players the Fan looks for intently over every box score scan:

- Zack Greinke: You just have to root for a guy who had a messed up head, worked through it with the strong help of the Royals and is now thriving and one of the best pitchers in the game.

- Derek Jeter: Can't help it. He handles himself the way that the Fan would want a ballplayer to handle himself. Been a major Fan of his since 1996.

- Mariano Rivera: Another class act who has done the impossible, carve out a Hall of Fame career with basically one pitch. Oh, as for his blown save the other day? The Fan blames the catcher for calling an outside pitch on Jason Bay. One more pitch inside and the game would have been over. Just like last night when Posada called an outside pitch on David Ortiz who has shown no ability to handle inside pitches this year. One more inside pitch and Pettitte would have been out of that jam last night with the game tied 1-1.

- Josh Hamilton: Another underdog story of a major drug addict who found God, found sobriety and re-found his extensive baseball skill.

- Mike Hampton: Another hitting pitcher, or pitching hitter. His comeback looks good so far.

- Mike Lowell: The guy looks like he is fifty years old, but he is a winner. Just seems to deliver when he is healthy despite looking like a chugger in a over-the-hill softball game.

- Lance Berkman: He is like the Phil Mikelson of baseball. He has the big frame, the tendency to man boobs, and yet has this sweet left-handed swing that is so good you have to admire the skill and talent.

- Ken Griffey Jr.: A major Fan of this Hall of Famer who always had big talent, big beautiful swing and yet smiled through his entire career.

- Alfonso Soriano: This one is despite the Fan's best interest. One of the biggest risk/reward players in all of baseball, it's hard not to root for a guy who is either amazingly good or amazingly awful and can show both in every game he plays.

- Curtis Granderson: His blog, which is sad that it can no longer be found, showed a talented player who was so down to earth and so respectful of the game and the African-American players that came before him, made him a Fan favorite for life. Of course it doesn't hurt that the guy can fly.

- Manny Ramirez: God love him, he is unique and polarizing. You either hate him or you love him. The Fan just thinks he's amazingly fun to watch to see what he'll do next.

- Evan Longoria: A new favorite. He just seems to play the right way and say the right things and is very magnetic to the average Fan.

- Nick Johnson: The brittle first baseman for the Nationals is the little engine that could...when he is not on the disabled list. Just like the guy.

- The entire Pittsburgh Pirate pitching staff: Because the Fan wants to see a miracle. Doesn't everyone?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Seattle Mariners Sailing Strongly

Don't look now but the Seattle Mariners lead the American League West by three and a half games. With a division facing massive pitching woes in Anaheim, Oakland and Texas, they just could win this thing.

Their pitching has been sensational. They are fifth in the majors through the first six innings and first from the seventh inning on. Their bullpen has a 1.91 ERA and the team overall has given up the second fewest walks in the majors.

The team's offense hasn't been that great and they are in the middle of the pack in team batting average. The Mariners' On Base Percentage is a woeful .318, currently 24th in the majors. But pitching cancels out a lot of batting woes and the Mariners certainly are pitching.

The Mariners currently have the second best record in the American League (behind Toronto) and are 7-1 in their own division (12-6 overall). If they can maintain a .500 record outside of their own division and keep mashing up their rivals, they have a great chance to stay on top of the division throughout the year.

Big Three in AL East? Big ERA

The big three teams in the American League East were predicted as the monsters of baseball. Headlines and projections stated that the Red Sox, Yankees and Bay Rays were the best three teams in the sport. Those clarion calls were based on pitching. Each team was projected to be deep in pitching with enough pop at the plate to be awesome. We are almost twenty games into the season now and Boston is riding a big win streak. But the other two teams look far from great. And pitching woes have beset all three.

Let's start with the Yankees. Their pitching staff has been a total disaster. Not just a little derailment, the pitching has been a train wreck. They have already had games where they have given up 22 runs and 16 runs. They have an astounding ERA through the first seven innings of a game of 6.79, dead last in the majors. Innings after the sixth haven't been much better where they have an ERA of 5.78. You can't get much worse. Sabathia has had one good game so far in four tries. Burnett gave them three good starts and then got bombed in Boston. Wang has been so bad they don't know what to do with him. Pettitte has been steady but Chamberlain has been all over the place and doesn't seem to have his old swagger.

The Red Sox lost Matsuzaka to the WBC shoulderitis. Beckett hasn't been good. Lester has been up and down. Their best pitcher so far has been an ancient Tim Wakefield. Who saw that coming? The team's ERA through the first six innings is sitting at 4.94. That is currently 21st in the majors. 4.94 from a staff that was supposed to be scary good? hmm.. It is hard to argue with their current win streak. They could run away from the other two. But Toronto has had the best pitching in the division so far and are fifth in the majors in ERA through the first six innings of their games.

Meanwhile, the Bay Rays are fourteenth in the majors in ERA through the first six innings, but 21st in the league from innings seven on. They are hitting well, but their batting average drops off dramatically after the sixth inning. In other words, they are striking early but not doing anything late. If they aren't hitting in the late innings and can't pitch in the late innings, that adds up to a lot of losses and though they have pitched far better than the Yankees, their record isn't nearly as good.

It will be interesting to watch what happens. It's a crazy game and things definitely haven't gone as planned thus far.