Saturday, May 24, 2003

"Oh woe is me," says the Flagrant Fan. Another loss for the Yankees. Now they are a game an a half behind the Red Sox and they look terrible. I told you that the loss of Nick Johnson was going to be a major loss. Bernie Williams is an important loss too. The Yankee attack is woeful. Giambi is still stuck in goo. Matsui is down in the .250's. Jeter is doing okay since he got back and Soriano is still Soriano, but this club isn't working right now and it's hard to know if it's a temporary lag or if this is the shape of the season to come.

The Red Sox really seem to have a chip on their shoulder and their attitude could take them to the show just the same way that it did for the Angels. It's amazing how far this team has come spiritually since Grady Little took over as manager. He has a team full of scrappers and they have gotten rid of all the malcontents (no matter how good they are doing in Texas). Now, if Lowe can figure it out on the road and Fossum could steady out the rest of the season, this is a powerful and deep team.

Mueller and Todd Walker and Kevin Millar have been huge pickups for the Red Sox and eventually, Ortiz and Jeremy Giambi will hit as they have in their history. Who would you rather throw in a game to give a starter a day off, Kevin Millar or Enrique Wilson?

Eric Gagne has become an amazing closer. He, Wagner in Houston and Smoltz in Atlanta are the best in the National League and may be the best in baseball (along with Rivera). Gagne has saved 18 games already (tied with Smoltz) and has struck out 45 batters in 25 innings! The league is batting .120 against him and he is averaging .64 baserunners per inning. Those are fantastic numbers.

Smoltz, who also has 18 saves has an even better ERA than Gagne (1.05! vs 1.88) but other than ERA, Gagne has Smoltz in every other pitching category. And Gagne has better stats in every category than Billy Wagner, who is having a great season. Probably the most unbelievable stat so far for Gagne is that his strikeout to walk ratio is 9 to 1. Wow!

Gagne is from Montreal and his name is mispronounced wherever he goes. Announcers anglo his name to "Gag-knee" but in french, the name is closer to "Gone-yay." Montreal is about six hours from here and I can't imagine how any player from up there can make the major leagues. Heck, it doesn't warm up until after school is out!

Mike Lowell is having a monster year in Florida. While the team has struggled and Lowell will probably end up getting traded (which is terrible for that franchise), he already has fifteen homers and thirty-nine RBI. What makes those numbers look so good is that his average hasn't changed. He's still hitting his normal high .270. He has carried that offense along with Louis Castillo and Alex Gonzalez while Ivan Rodriguez hasn't really gotten started yet.

I hope Lowell doesn't get traded. Owners like to blame cities for not supporting their teams but what happens when the emotional link between the fans and the team is constantly broken when the team trades it's most identifiable players? Oakland will eventually pay for the same thing as they lost Giambi and now have already said they will lose Tejada. The Twins also went through years like that.

I'm a fan and I know what fans like. We like to pick a player we can identify with and root that player on loyally for a long time. I still remember when the Yankees traded Bobby Murcer and I never got over it. The Marlins want to do that every time they unload the latest good, but high priced player. They give their fans a punch on the kisser. No wonder the fans would rather go to the beach.

Lowell's fast power numbers could mean that he has fully recovered from his bout with cancer. It was unbelievable what he was able to do considering that he went through chemotherapy at the same time.

Good for you, Mike Lowell. The Flagrant Fan is rooting for you.

Friday, May 23, 2003

The National League East is far from over. I know that sounds like wishful thinking because you know how much I hate the Braves. But the Expos are playing fantastic and the Phillies really haven't started to hit yet.

The Expos pitching has been terrific. Javier Vazquez is leads the staff with a 4-2 record and he has been very dominating. Vazquez has avoided injury to this point and has struck out 75 in 62 innings! His strikeout to walk ratio is 7.5 to 1. That's amazing!

The Expos aren't hitting that great though Vlad and Vidro are tearing it up as usual.

Hmm...I'm sitting at my desk and I am falling asleep. I guess since I usually take Thursday off and since I wrote a blog last night, I'm going to go to bed. Goodnight and sweet dreams!

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The following are the top six homerun hitters in the National League:

Adam Dunn - 17
Richie Sexton - 15
Mike Lowell - 14
Austin Kearns - 13
Albert Pujols - 13
Aaron Boone - 13

For the first time in many years, there isn't a Bonds, McGwire or Sosa in the group. Of course, Bonds could change that as he has twelve homers at the moment. But the point is that the guard is changing. Dunn, Sexton, Pujols and Kearns are among the top young hitters in the game. Boone is a surprise as is Lowell and those two would be a surprise to stay there.

The possibilities of the Cincinnati Reds outfield are amazing. Dunn, Kearns and Griffey is an unbelievable outfield and could be for years to come. Kearns looks like the best hitter of the three with Dunn the Dudley DoRight of the three. It's great to see Griffey ranging freely out in centerfield again. I still hope he has a great year.

And now with Aaron Boone having a great year, the Reds are suddenly in the middle of the NL Central race. That race has become really exciting as the Cubs are still in front by a game and a half and Houston, Cincinnati and St. Louis are all tied for second place. Each team has pros and cons. The Cubs have great pitching but an up and down lineup (especially without Sammy). Houston is having injury problems in their starting pitching, but have a great bullpen and hit well. The Reds can mash and play good defense but have trouble with pitching. The Cardinals are hitting really well but are having trouble with their pitching. This is a fun race worth watching.

If you want something really different, let's look at the top five in the National League in hits:

Rafael Furcal - 65
Edgar Rentaria - 61
Jimmy Rollins - 58
Juan Pierre - 58
Luis Castillo - 58

The only non-surprise on that list is Luis Castillo, who has shown glimpses of hitting production in the past (long hitting streaks, etc.). The big surprise is Rentaria who is batting .357 with 32 RBI a quarter of the way through the season. Furcal is finally playing to the potential that everyone predicted for him. Rollins' stat is misleading as he leads off for the Phillies but is batting only .293. His OBP is only .346 which is barely adequate for a leadoff hitter. Juan Pierre is similar to Rollins in that they both have burning speed but can't get on base enough to really qualify for the leadoff position.

It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do to get through Bernie Williams' four to six week injury. It would be great if Juan Rivera could get the shot to play every day for the Yankees like Almonte did at short when Jeter was out. The Yankees found out that Almonte has shortcomings that will not make him a major leaguer but Rivera looked good last year in a brief September call up. Most likely, the Yankees will make a trade for someone like Shannon Stewart.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Number 299 is in the book. It wasn't the prettiest win Roger Clemens has ever pitched. There aren't many times in Clemens' career where he has given up more hits than innings pitched (tonight 9 hits in six innings). But he hung in there and only gave up two runs and he did strike out seven in his six innings. He pitched damn well for a guy going against a very good...well...they're great...hitting team in the Red Sox.

I have watched Clemens for his entire career. I was in New Hampshire when he broke in with the Red Sox and watched the games on affiliates of Channel 38 out of Boston. I moved to Maine by the time he went to Toronto and was able to watch his games there on Canada's Channel 6 (CBC). And now, through the power of the Internet, I can watch him pitch for the Yankees. In all the times that I have ever watched him pitch, I have never once seen him look comfortable doing so.

I watch other great pitchers: Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson, and they always look comfortable and in control. They look like pitchers that know what they are doing. Clemens fidgits and tugs at places and hitches and pulls at his uniform and sniffs and makes faces. He just has never looked like he enjoyed pitching or looked like he was in control. And yet, he is one of the best ever. Who knows, maybe it hasn't made the batters too comfortable to see him so uncomfortable.

One more win. Just one more and I think this will become a more balanced place to read about baseball. I'm wrapped up in this story and I can't let it go until Clemens' conclusion to his odyssey as a player is the same as mine as a fan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I just finished watching American Idol on Fox. I know. I know. Some of you are going to roll your eyes. Some others are going to wonder what that has to do with a baseball blog. On American Idol, I just watched two guys who have dreamed since they were little kids of entertaining people and singing for a living. Now they've been through all the challenges and tonight, the audience is going to choose which one wins. And no matter how it comes out, their dreams have come true. That is what is so compelling about the show and the competition...people riding their talent as far as it will take them.

You're still wondering what that has to do with a baseball blog. If I am the typical American and in many ways I am, I grew up with baseball all around my me. I played it. I watched it. I traveled to Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium to watch it live. I played simulation games when I couldn't get baseball any other way. And you know what? I dreamed and wished that I had the talent to do what I loved more than anything else.

I'm no different than millions of others. That same exact wish and dream has touched countless people. And some 600+ of them at a time have that dream come true. As we watch them perform, we are aware of how they got there. We went through part of it ourselves. We might have seen some of them. They were the pitchers who were too fast for us to hit in Pony League. They were the ones who always seemed to have the big hit in the tournaments we played in. We identify with them. They have reached the dream that we had for most of our lives.

Oh sure some of them get really really successful and rise to the top like the A-Rods and the Jeters and Garciaparras and then they get the money that we'll never see in our lifetimes and we take pleasure in finding out their weaknesses and their follies. America likes to build up the dreamer and then knock them off the pedestal. But for those rookies...the new players who are just reaching their dreams, we root for them. It's always a sweet thing when a new player gets their first MLB base hit or win or save. We all smile and feel like a part of that story. We just witnessed the culmination of what we were a part of until we realized we weren't going to get there and got real jobs.

Yeah. American Idol has a lot in common with rookies in baseball. Sure, they have more talent than the ordinary joes among us. But they didn't out-dream us or out-wish us. They just reached a place that we wanted to go. And so we root for them and we cheer them on because they were once like us and we want what they are now receiving. A dream come true is always a compelling story whether it's Hank Blalock, Rocco Baldelli or Rueben Studdard and Clay Aiken. And we are cheering for you and for us.

Monday, May 19, 2003

You'll have to forgive the Flagrant Fan as this is holy week. The Yankees are playing the Red Sox and a MLB fan just has to watch a series like that. So this won't be the usual post tonight.

Two moments in the game stand out to me and make me wonder if I am smarter than those who manage and play or if I just get lucky with my guesses. That sounds egocentric but it's not really. Let me explain:

I'm watching the game and David Wells (who just throws strikes and gets more outs than he gives up hits) pitch against Nomar Garciaparra. It's getting late in the game and one more out for Wells will give the Yankee pen a perfect hold/save setup for the eigth and ninth innings. The first pitch is a great change up down and away and Nomar wasn't even close to hitting it. The second was a fastball up and in and it looked like Nomar guessed wrong. In my thinking, Nomar is set up perfectly for another down and away change up. Instead, Posada calls a curve and Wells delivers the pitch that Nomar seemed to be looking for and crushes a single to left. The curve was definitely the wrong call and it got Wells the hook.

A similar situation developed between the Red Sox reliever and Derek Jeter with the bases loaded. I can't remember the kid pitcher's name (Price?). Anyway, the kid throws Jeter 1-0 fastball that the umpire called a strike (it was definitely low and away). At 1-1, the kid throws a terrific slider that bends out of the strike zone and Jeter can't hold himself up. Now it's 1-2. A high fastball and Jeter fouls it off. I know from watching Jeter for years that with two strikes, he fights off inside and covers outside to right field. I would have busted Jeter inside and hard in that situation (especially with the just healed left wing). But Mirabelli, the Sox catcher, and the kid try another slider down and away and Jeter spanks it to right field.

The two sequences above really show how smart pitchers like Maddux and Pedro Martinez are. They always out think and out plan the batter. The only time they get beat is if the batter hits a terrific pitch or if Maddux or Martinez miss over the plate.

A look at the top hitters in the American League show Blalock at number one and Baldelli at number two. Both are still hitting over .350...which again goes to show why this is the greatest of all games and always the most entertaining. And Peter Gammons is still the best at entertaining in his baseball writing. Check out his latest columns on!

Game two tomorrow with Pedro on the mound. I'll concede that one to the Sox...

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The Texas Rangers' pitching staff continued to look like the best in the game as the Rangers swept the Yankees at home. Ouch. Mr. Steinbrenner must be restless somewhere. In the meantime, the Red Sox won and are now tied for first as the two teams get ready for their big series. I mentioned here early that when Jeter came back, it could mess up what was a good fluid lineup and I also mentioned here that losing Nick Johnson would hurt the Yankees hitting attack tremendously.

You cannot overestimate the affect a high on base hitter has on a team. I still believe that Barry Bonds 198 walks were the number one reason why the Giants came in first last year. And the managers who kept walking him never got it. I think they have this year as he is ot walking nearly as much. That's why the Yankees miss Nick Johnson so much.

Jason Giambi needs to get going. His slow start is becoming very painful as it is not just the start anymore. I also think that Juan Acevado shouldn't pitch again until he is sent to the minors to figure out why he is throwing beach balls right now. Can you imagine if the Yankees still had Jeff Nelson?

In what was a lot of fun to watch tonight, Pat Burrell hit a long fly up the hill in the centerfield configuration of Minute Maid (formerly Enron) Park in Houston. Biggio was chasing it, hit the hill and crashed to the ground like a train wreck. Very funny to watch.

Speaking of that hill in Houston, the biggest difference in baseball from my youth to now is the change in MLB stadiums. You still have (and hopefully always will have) classics like Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. But the new parks are such a big improvement over the ones that were built when I was young. There was the non-golden era when the Pirates, the Reds and the Phillies all built horrible ball parks all with identical dimensions, astroturf and functional-boring decor. Then you had the awful Olympic Stadium built in Montreal and the hideous dome in Minneapolis. Just as we have a whole generation that can't write, spell or compose a sentence, that must have been a bad era for architects.

Since then we've had wonderfully different parks being built all over baseball. The ballpark in Houston is so distinctive that you can close your eyes and picture the hill in centerfield and the train track in left. Camdon Yarks started the trend and is still a beautiful example of what you should do in building a stadium. San Francisco's park is probably the best of them all with McCovey Cove and how you can walk around the park and watch the game.

Super Stadiums are all over the country: Cincinnati, Houston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Baltimore and Detroit are just a few that have been built with their own identity and quirks and that's great. The biggest change to an old park was the installation of seats to the Green Monster at Fenway. What a great idea! And it wasn't detrimental to the team or the stadium. I'd love to be one of those people who spent a summer visiting all the ballparks in baseball. What a cool idea and a great thing to do. Maybe someday...