Saturday, August 09, 2003

Could this be it? Could this be the time we've all been waiting for? What am I talking about? Pat Burrell hit two homers today and went three for four with three RBI. Burrell entered the game batting .196 and the slugger had endured being pinch hit for, double-switched with a pitcher and not even starting. Today he started...and stayed in the game...the whole game. And because of it, the Phillies came from behind and beat the Giants.

Burrell came up in the eighth with the Phillies down a run and hit a shot to left to tie the game. Then in the tenth inning, with Jim Thome on base, Burrell won the game with a two-run homer also to left. Way to go, Pat! We've been waiting for you!

And this kind of production is just in time as the Phillies have really been struggling and needed a big win. The Marlins are breathing down their backs for the wildcard and the Phillies' ace starting pitchers had been knocked around the past few games. Heck, Burrell even went over the Mendoza line with his performance today.

The wealth of amazing rookies this year continues as the Kansas City Royals, desperate and scratching and clawing to stay at the top of their division lost Jose Lima to a muscle pull. When Lima went down, they reached into their farm system and didn't get a turkey. Jimmy Gobble won his second straight start in as many appearances and after two games, has an ERA of 0.78. He didn't walk anyone and let in one run for the game.

What a great lift Gobble's starts have to be for the Royals along with the activation of their only star, Mike Sweeney. The Royals have to hope they hang on and that the White Sox will cool off.

Friday, August 08, 2003

It's a fun and exciting time to be a Texas Rangers fan. There is so much for the fans to look forward to. Tonight in the first inning of their game with Toronto, Hank Blalock, the terrific second year player, hit a homer. Palmeiro got a hit a couple of batters later and then heralded rookie, Mark Teixeira, hit a two run homer. A revitalized Shane Spencer hit a single and then the Rangers' newest phenom, Laynce Nix hit a two run homer.

R.A. Dickey, another rookie for the Rangers, picked up his sixth win and new closer, Francisco Cordero, picked up his seventh save. Yes, this is an exciting and promising time to be a Rangers fan.

I hope Palmeiro declines the trade because the youngsters need veteran professionals to lead the way and you can't do better there than a future Hall of Famer like Rafael. If anyone crucifies Palmeiro for turning down the trade like they did Gonzalez, then they are pointing at the wrong guy. As I have said before, Texas made the deal with the no-trade clause, now they have to deal with it. Who can blame a guy for not wanting to upset his family's stability at the end of his career.

Buck Showalter deserves all the credit for letting the young kids play. Showalter could have played with his veterans and played for a .500 record. Instead, he played the kids and stuck with them through the young mistakes and the too-many strikeouts. His patience and intelligence has ensured a great future for the team. Which is logical as he did the same things for the Yankees and the Diamondbacks.

I might have to eat my words on the Armando Benitez/Jeff Nelson trade. Two days ago, I cried, "DOH!" at the trade but after two straight Nelson holds and Rivera saves, it's beginning to look a lot like 1998 again. Time will tell. The other story of the game was Nick Johnson who makes the Yankees' offense work. Tonight he was four for five with five RBI including a grand slam.

Bill Mueller had a tough night for the Red Sox. The Red Sox most valuable player (Nomar fans might disagree) went 1-9 in the double-header loss to the tough new Orioles and made a critical fielding error that cost the second game. Ouch.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Since Thursday night is usually the Fan's night off, let's take a quick look around the majors tonight:

- The Cubbies, who looked dead and out of the race have won eight of ten and are back to within two games of the Astros. Houston has sputtered and let them back in the race.

- Speaking of the Astros, the Mets beat them tonight. You have to give a lot of credit to the Mets as they haven't quit and Jose Reyes has brought excitment and spring to that team. Reyes was two for four tonight with his ninth stolen base. The 20 year old is now batting .296.

- Albert Pujols knocked in his 100th RBI tonight as the Cardinals dented the Marlins hopes of closing in the wildcard with a 3-0 win. The Marlins only had four hits off of on-again-and-off-again Brett Tompko.

- The Phillies made sure they are waiting for the Marlins (and others) as they too lost to Colorado.

- The Kansas City Royals are starting to wilt with their injuries and their lead over the White Sox is down to a half a game. Those pesky Devil Rays beat them 3-2.

- It was like old times as Jeff Nelson relieved Mike Mussina (well, that part's different) to get the hold and Rivera got the save as the Yankees beat Texas on a grand slam by Enrique Wilson, of all people. Rivera did give up a run on two hits though and seems shakey.

- Oakland had a chance to gain on the Mariners as Cleveland shut out the Mariners 3-0. The A's were beat by the Tigers as Barry Zito lost to the last place team.

- The Red Sox kept pace with New York by beating up on the fading World Champions, 9-3. Mueller and company had another big night at the plate and slower than Wakefield, John Burkett won to up his record to 9-5.

The hottest hitter in baseball right now? Would you believe Tony Clark of the Mets? I wouldn't believe it either except I keep seeing his homers in the boxscore. Yup, he hit another one tonight.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I don't get the trade. I do, but I don't. The trade of Armando Benitez for Jeff Nelson makes sense for Seattle. The Mariners have an injured closer and they trade a player who was openly critical of the Mariner organization. The trade makes all kinds of sense for the Mariners. But it makes no sense at all for the Yankees.

The Yankees trade a thirty year old arm that is one of the premier closers in baseball for a thirty-six year old arm that can't match Benitez statistics with a Frisbee. Perhaps the Yankees are trying to reach back for a proven formula of their championship seasons by bringing Nelson back to set up Rivera. Nelson performed flawlessly in that role in his Yankee career. But that was a few years ago. And he has never gone a season without some sort of physical problem.

This trade simply makes no sense from the Yankees perspective. In many ways, with Benitez, the Yankees had a setup man that was scarier than their closer. The Yankees closer is struggling right now. Benitez was excellent insurance and a solid performer. We'll see what happens IF the Yankees make the playoffs AND if they have to face Seattle somewhere along the way.

In happier news, Dontrelle Willis pitched eight innings, gave up only three runs and improved his rookie record to 11-2 tonight with a win over wildcard rival, St. Louis. Willis had a rough first inning and then was untouchable the rest of the way. There are few stories this year as much fun and as exciting as the year this Marlins' pitcher is having.

Florida is now only a game behind the Phillies in the wildcard race. The season the Marlins have put together is, along with the Kansas City Royals, one of the best stories in baseball. The Red Sox and the A's are neck and neck for the AL wildcard. Both teams still have a great chance to win their respective divisions.

It's time to look at the Fan's favorite boxscore players and how they have performed the last seven games:
- Coco Crisp. Coco had gone loco the last time we looked but came back to earth this week with only five hits in twenty-four at bats. His season average is still a respectable .289 and he did hit a homer tonight that do not factor into above stats.
- Rocco Baldelli. Baldelli also had a tough week batting .194 with only six hits in thirty-one chances. His season average dipped below .300 for the first time all season. I hope he bounces back over that mark soon.

My favorite young Texas Rangers players:
- Hank Blalock. Blalock beat Rivera and the Yankees tonight and continued his .350 batting for the last seven days. Blalock is back up to .321 for the season with 19 homers and 63 RBI. In a very positive statistic, he is also getting more patient at the plate as he walked five times last week.
- Shane Spencer. My old friend batted .313 last week with three RBI. It appears that his new batting coach believes in Spencer and is making adjustments that could get Spencer back to where he was when he started his career with a bang for the Yankees.
- Mark Teixeira. Teixeira is the hottest of the Rangers batting .391 with three homeruns and seven RBI. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up.
- Michael Young. Young had a bad week as he batted only .185. But he still hit four extra base hits and is fielding his position with passion and flair.

- Pat Burrell. Burrell has gone beyond the Phillies wish to keep waiting for him. He has been pinch hit for, benched, double-switched for pitchers. It's obvious that the Phillies patience is over. Burrell had only two hits in only fourteen at bats last week (.143) and remains below the dreaded Mendoza line for the season.
- Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera also had a tough week (a common theme this week?). He was only three for seventeen with nine strikeouts. Still, he drove in four runs with those three hits and has 29 RBI in just 38 games. Cabrera is now batting .250 in his young big league career.
- Jose Reyes. Ahh! The young Mets' shortstop was a phenomenal .423 last week with 11 hits in 26 at bats. He scored six runs and stole three bases. He is now batting .292 in the first year of his promising career.
- Bo Hart. The Cardinal second baseman bounced back this week batting .333 with two homers, six runs scored and seven RBI. He is a sparkling fielder and is very entertaining to watch.
- Albert Pujols. Pujols "only" batted .348 this past week. The third year player is batting .372 with 30 homers and 99 RBI.
- Sean Burroughs. Burroughs is spinning around a little bit, batting .259 this past week with only one extra base hit and three RBI. He's still batting a solid .285 for the season.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Tonight, Roger Clemens took the mound for the Yankees after a tough three game series in Oakland where Miguel Tejada beat the Yankees twice in the ninth inning. Clemens needed a big game after the swirl of second guessing (including the Fan's) of Torre's decision making process that probably cost the Yankees the third game. The old man was coming off of his first nine inning shutout in years. Could he deliver?

That question was in doubt in the fourth inning with the Yankees leading 5-1. Alex Rodriguez started the fourth with a single. The next batter, Rafael Palmiero, singled to send Rodriguez to third. Clemens then walked Mark Teixeira to load the bases with no outs. The game hung in the balance.

The next batter was old friend, Shane Spencer, who has been hitting well. Clemens went with his still dominating fastball and Spencer popped up in the infield. Laynce Nix was next and the youngster was overpowered by the old man and struck out swinging on a 94 MPH fastball right down the middle.

The next batter was Ramon Nivar, a slap hitter. Slap hitters are always the bane of hard throwers. It doesn't matter to a slap hitter how hard you throw. They just want to get the bat on the ball anyway and run. Clemens got two strikes on him and Nivar fouled off the next few pitches. Clemens then heaved one more fastball and Nivar, the slap hitter, slapped it up the middle. It was headed for centerfield and two runs. But the old man snagged it with a lunge and threw Nivar out easily at first. Game over.

Clemens, who seems so relaxed now that he has reached all of his goals, has pitched sixteen innings in his last two starts and has only given up two runs. The Rangers had been pounding the ball, but not on this night. On this night, the old man showed why he is a Hall of Famer and who will end his career this year the way he started it twenty years ago...with a winning record and overpowering stuff. This is a career of legend and there's only a few more pages to be written.

To give Torre some credit, the manager made a great lineup change and put Jeter at the top of the lineup and moved the struggling Soriano down to seventh. Soriano's OBP has sunk to the .330 mark and he was becoming a liability up there. Jeter has responded by hitting .360 in his last seven games with an OBP of .429! Jeter is now batting .326 for the year with an OBP of .395. This move makes a lot of sense as Jeter has a lifetime OBP of .386 and has eleven leadoff homers in his career.

Torre has also put Giambi back at first base and is DHing Johnson. Giambi responded by going three for four with an amazingly crushed homerun in the upper deck of the stadium. Some players just can't DH and Giambi seems to be one of them.

Monday, August 04, 2003

Would you have guessed that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had the best record in the AL East last week? Everyone knew that the Devil Rays (it's a stupid idea to have a baseball team with two words for its name) would finish last in the division. But if you have followed the career of Lou Piniella, you also knew that they wouldn't be a pushover either. They may lose their share of games, but they will win their share too and unlike last year, they are playing almost .500 ball against the AL East. If Piniella was managing the Blue Jays (another stupid two word team name) this year, they would still be in the wildcard hunt.

By the way, there are four two word team names and they are all in the American League. But we'll leave the Red Sox and the White Sox alone since their respective names are almost a hundred years old.

Kansas City is leading the White Sox in the ninth so if that score holds on, the Royals will have met the first challenge of what has become a very entertaining rivalry. Tony Pena has done an amazing job managing this team of no names, especially when you consider that Mike Sweeney, their only top player, has been out for two months. They remind me of the '96 Yankees when they didn't have any leaders in the top categories but won because they believed that they would. Those were back in the days when Torre was fearless and didn't pull triggers that shouldn't be pulled. But, alas, I have strayed off topic.

The Royals were in a nip and tuck game and only led by a run going into the ninth, but in a real display of the team's character, knew they needed more and scored three more runs and now lead by four. Wouldn't it be great if the Royals lasted and made the playoffs? The Royals did win the game tonight.

The Dodgers fired hitting coach, Jack Clark, today. It's obvious that you can't fire the players that are batting a collective .244 as a team so you might as well fire the hitting coach. Clark played fifteen years in the majors and piled up 700 extra base hits in his career to go with a lifetime OBP of .379. That's a guy who knew something about hitting. The lack of hitting isn't always bad coaching as it is the lack of talent.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Two things are abundantly clear from the outcome of the Yankees/A's game in which the A's rallied to beat the Yankees 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth. The first thing that is clear is that by the Fan's count, Joe Torre has lost three games for the Yankees by over-managing. Andy Pettitte had totally shut the A's down for eight innings, giving up only one hit and no runs. He had thrown 116 pitches, which isn't much for him. Pettitte walked the first batter in the ninth and before you could say, "Torre, sit down," Pettitte was out of the game and Rivera was in.

Pettitte had only given up one hit all game. One. Any other manager would have left him in there. Instead, Torre brought in Rivera. As mentioned in these archives before, most of Rivera's blown saves have come when he did not start the inning and there's a runner on base. For some reason, Rivera does not do well in those situations. His earned run average is double with men on base and here is one more stat to use as an example: Rivera has struck out 25 batters in 21+ innings with the bases empty. He has only struck out 14 batters in 23+ innings with runners on base.

Sure enough, two hits later, he blew the save. The first hit was by Eric Chavez who is batting .208 against lefties. Wouldn't Pettitte have had a better chance against Chavez? The bottom line here is that a pitcher who pitches that well deserves to finish the game and Torre hit the panic button and in this writer's opinion, lost the game.

The second thing that is terribly clear is that Rivera, at this point in his career, needs a second pitch. For all the years he was the best closer in the game, he was throwing that cutter at 95 to 97 MPH. Now he is throwing it 91 to 94 MPH. That is all the difference in the world. It's still an effective pitch, but you don't see him putting guys away and breaking as many bats. His earned run average (ERA) is terrific as is his walks and hits per inning. Rivera doesn't feel invincible any more and he needs another mean pitch to compliment the cutter.

O! Baseball fans! Glory in watching three of the best sluggers of all time tonight do what they have done for so long. Barry Bonds opened the floodgate for the Giants' offense by hitting a two run single with the bases loaded. The two RBI were numbers 1722 and 1723. Sammy Sosa won the Cubs game with homerun number 522. Sosa has hit fourteen homers since July 1 to lead the league in that category. And finally, Rafael Palmeiro hit homerun number 517 and added to his 1650 RBI. To borrow a phrase from the PGA commercials: "These guys are good."

I read today with interest how umpire Tim Welke admitted that he blew the call that cost the Rockies their game the other night. First, it is admirable that Welke was man enough to admit the mistake. But the Rockies are justified when watching the replay in asking how Welke could have gotten it wrong in the first place. Umpiring across the majors has been terribly spotty and the fans are getting restless about it. Here are a couple of examples:

- Several times this year, pitchers have been tossed out of games after beanball warnings even though the pitches they threw to hit the batters were curve balls and change-ups. Come on people! Can't a MLB umpire recognize a curveball?
- The game tonight between the Giants and Reds was blown open because the home plate umpire didn't give the Reds' pitcher, Jimmy Haynes, a third call strike that was clearly in the strike zone.
- Too many confrontations between the ump and a player or manager has been provoked and prolonged by the umpire. I have hated that for years and it should NEVER happen.
- And of course, the strike zone has been a mess all year. There has been no rhyme or reason for the lack of integrity of the major league strike zone.