Saturday, September 13, 2003

After today's games, two things are very clear. First, the Yankees are going to sweep Tampa Bay in a double header and will win the AL East. Secondly, the Cardinals are not going to make the playoffs in what is a huge upset in the NL Central.

The combination of the Yankees' two wins today along with the Red Sox loss to the White Sox puts the Yankees up by five and a half and seven games in the loss column with only fourteen games to play. Unlike many of the playoff contenders this week, the Yankees beat the poor teams and are finishing the season with what is now an eight game winning streak.

The Yankees starters have pitched well as David ("Big Mouth") Wells and Mussina have looked good recently. The Yankee bullpen is also starting to click. Gabe White has been terrific and Heredia has been a big lift from the left side. The bullpen only needs Nelson to get straightened out and they will be a tough unit again.

The Fan is still hoping the Red Sox can edge into the wildcard and even with tonight's loss, they should remain a game and a half up.

The Cardinals never could overcome pitching injuries and depth problems. It's hard to comprehend a LaRussa team that contains players like Renteria, Pujols, Edmonds and Drew could be out scored and outplayed so often. Woody Williams pitched his heart out all year but ran out of gas at the end. Matt Morris pitched well early and then late but had a bad stretch and then injury in the middle. The relief pitching never gelled and it looks like either the Cubs or Astros will end up the division winner.

And it's hard to tell which of the Astros and Cubs will end up on top. Both are playing well now when it counts. Dusty Baker knows how to win and has the managerial nod. But the Astros have the better bullpen which offsets the Cubs starters. The Cubs have the easier schedule. It will be interesting. The Fan can't help but to root for the Cubbies.

All three teams in the AL Central race won tonight. So that one is too close to call. And three and a half games out is not enough to count the Royals out. The Royals do have to win every game the rest of the season.

And in the most wondrous story of all, the Florida Marlins had their biggest crowd of the year on hand tonight as Dontrelle Willis won his thirteenth game (against six losses) against the Braves. Combine their second straight win over the Braves with a Phillies loss to the Pirates, and the Marlins now have a two and a half advantage in the wildcard race with two games to play.

Miguel Cabrera went three for four with four RBI in the game. Willis pitched six strong innings and the Marlins...Inexplicably...have won twelve of their last fourteen games and are pushing the envelope on this race.

This has been the most exciting season the Fan has witnessed in forty plus years of my love affair with the game.

Friday, September 12, 2003

The Fan was going to sound the gong on the Kansas City Royals for the 2003 season after their shutout loss to the Tigers tonight. But then the Twins and White Sox lost too. The Royals remain three and a half back in the division with sixteen games to play. Not impossible odds, but the odds are lengthening. It sure was fun while it lasted.

Speaking of fun, how about the two runs scored by the Marlins in the eighth to tie the Braves and then the game winning double in the ninth to take the win. That's the kind of win that will fire up the team and propel them from here. With the Phillies' loss, the Marlins are now a game up in the wildcard race and two games up in the loss column.

The Marlins are an amazing story. Here is a team that lost Mike Lowell and kept on scrapping and winning. Tonight, the Marlins lost Brad Penny in the first inning to an elbow injury. Penny is a big part of their rotation and success. Losing him had to be a blow. But the team still rallied from behind and won the game. Rick Helling, Chad Fox, Urbina and Looper pitched the last eight and a third innings and only gave up a run.

If the Marlins hold on to win the wildcard, Jack McKean will look like the biggest genius who ever managed the game. They were a .500 team when he took over and they are sixteen over .500 since. Amazing.

In other playoff hopeful games: The Cubs almost blew a big lead, but came back to win. The Red Sox beat Chicago's AL edition. Seattle and Oakland are both winning. And Houston is blowing out the sinking Cardinals.

And now for the Fan's favorite boxscore players and how they fared their last seven games:
-- Nick Johnson. Johnson batted .292 for the last week to keep his average just above .300, but that isn't the real story. Johnson also walked seven times and saw his season OBP rise to .443. His ability to get on base is critical to the Yankees' success and his eight runs scored last week indicate his importance.
-- Melvin Mora. Mora has struggled since his return from a hand injury. His season average is now down to .318.
-- Rocco Baldelli. Rocco had a tough week as he went three for eighteen (.167) to bring his season average down to .295. He did have three RBI and walked five times (the most in his short career). With the walks, Baldelli's season OBP is .331.
-- Coco Crisp. Crisp sure seems to be streaky! Last week he was great. This week he only had four hits in 23 at bats.
-- Hank Blalock. Blalock had a tough week also and only batted .192 for the week with a triple a homer, no RBI and three runs scored.
-- Mark Teixeira. Many of my favorite boxscore players had a tough week after a great week. Teixeira went 3 for 25 (.120) for the week with no extra base hits.
-- Miguel Cabrera. The Marlins young rookie continues to hold his own. Cabrera had six hits last week and five of them were doubles. He had five RBI and now has 49 RBI in just 71 games.
-- Pat Burrell. Burrell had a good week and is all the way up to .214 for the year.
-- Scott Podsednik. The Brewers leadoff hitter had an outstanding week as he went 10 for 29 (.345) and scored seven runs. His leadoff statistics (.317 BA, .383 OBP, 89 runs scored) rival anyone in either league.
-- Sean Burroughs. Jeff's son continues his steady season. He batted .292 for the week with an OBP of .393 and scored four runs. He's doing well in his new leadoff role.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Nothing changed today in the NL Central as the Cubs, Cardinals and Astros all lost. The Cubs' Mark Prior had a rare poor outing (for him) and fell to 15-6 for the year. The Cubs loss keeps them one game back of the Astros with the Cardinals a game and a half further back. Sixteen days to go and the race is still on!

The Marlins had the night off but the Phillies are trudging on playing the Braves. Pitching tonight for the Braves was Greg Maddux who, after a dreadful start to his season, had improved his record to 14-10 and his ERA to under four.

But the Phillies pounced all over him for seven earned runs on twelve hits in just three plus innings. The Phillies remain on top 8-2 in the eighth inning.

Both Roy Halliday and Esteban Loaiza went for their twentieth wins tonight. Halliday was successful as he and the Blue Jays beat the Devil Rays, 3-1. Esteban pitched well but was out-pitched by Brad Radke as the Twins not only denied Loaiza his twentieth win but knocked the White Sox back to a tie in the AL Central.

Halliday is still my pick for the AL Cy Young. While Loiaza is 19-7 with a lower ERA than Halliday, keep in mind that Halliday pitches all his home games on fake turf. That fact alone wins the Cy Young award to Halliday.

Radke pitched his one brilliant game of the year. He always has one brilliant game to remind you of the false impression that he is one of the best talents in baseball. The truth is that like Kerry Wood, he's a lifetime .500 pitcher. The Fan always hears about Radke and Wood's tools, but talent alone doesn't win the game.

And finally, my man, Roger Clemens won his fourteenth game tonight against the Tigers. At 14-9, Clemens won his 307th game and guaranteed himself his eighteenth winning season with only two losing seasons. We have less than a month to watch a legend.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

In the midst of one of the best playoff races in the history of baseball, a small story caught the Fan's eye. According to the story, a pitcher with a six year career, but who had fallen on hard times in recent years, fought his way back to the major leagues after not pitching since last year. That's a nice story so far.

What happened next is an unfortunate turn to this human interest story. Jose Paniagua, once a big part of the Mariner's playoff bullpen in the late 90's, came in to his first (new) playoff hopeful team game for the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox were leading 8-2 at the time. It would have been a sad end to the story if this was about the one third of an inning Paniagua pitched.

In that third of an inning, Paniagua walked one and gave up three hits to account for four runs. If that would have been the end of the story, Paniagua would have been a footnote under the heading of "Congratulations for Trying - Now Go Home With Your 108.00 ERA." But that wasn't the end of the story.

After all Paniagua's work to get back and all the repetitions and the bus rides in the minor leagues to get back to this point, all was lost as Paniagua inexplicably lost his composure and blamed the home plate umpire's pitch calling for his troubles. A diatribe and a body language that involves one digit on one hand followed and most likely, Paniagua may never be heard from in the major leagues again.

The White Sox released him today after rightly condemning his actions as not indicative of the White Sox organization and "inexcusable," according to White Sox GM, Ken Williams.

On the surface, and in a knee jerk reaction, most of us fans would applaud such swift action and our comments would be something like: "It's about time someone in baseball had the balls to put these prima donnas in their place." And again, that sentiment would not be wrong. There is an awful lot of disgraceful behavior in baseball and it's time to clean some of it up.

But there is a secondary reaction that wonders how much this smacks of double standards. The Chicago White Sox also have another player named Carl Everett who has made that same gesture to fans on at least two occasions in his career. Despite that history, the White Sox specifically traded for Everett to help them in the pennant race.

Would Paniagua's unraveling be punished the same way if he had been pitching all year in relief and had a 2.70 ERA? It's hard to know because it hasn't happened. But the double standard already found by trading for, and relying heavily on Carl Everett. That indicates that the punishment and its results would be different if Paniagua's history had been different.

And the more dangerous question would be whether or not the same punishment would be meted out if Paniagua was not Hispanic. If you think of the strongest moral condemnations in recent MLB history, at least after the John Rocker extravaganza, all involve Hispanic players. Juan Gonzales, Manny Ramirez and Jose Paniagua. Is that a coincidence?

Think about the controversy caused by Alex Rodriguez when he questioned his future as a Texas Ranger. You would have thought that someone had been caught with a voodoo doll of the pope. The man was just concerned and as a sensitive man, wondered out loud what was going to happen in his future. Don't we all do that?

I would be very surprised if Jose Paniagua ever pitches in the major leagues again. That's a shame and that's a double standard. The Fan does not condone what Paniagua did. But come on folks, ballplayers have done worse in a major league uniform and continue to play to this day.

And you know what? With the state of umpiring in Major League Baseball, as observed on numerous posts here this summer, Paniagua probably had a good beef.
The recent trend in the major league pennant and wildcard races continued tonight. The Diamondbacks, Royals, Cardinals, Expos and Twins continue to fade while the Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies, Marlins and White Sox surge. Ten days ago, there were seven teams within a game and a half of the NL wildcard leaders. Today there are two tied for the lead and only three more within two and a half games.

It's a shame that only one team in the NL will get the wildcard nod. The Phillies and Marlins, especially, have fought hard all season and have been right there. The Dodgers could sneak in there at the end and that would be a hard swallow for both of these two hard fighting teams.

If the Dodgers get to the playoffs, it will be their pitching, of course, that gets them there. The Fan is just astounded at the season Eric Gagne is having. Look at these ridiculous stats:

72 innings pitched, 33 hits!!, 12 runs (11 earned), 2 homers, 17 walks, 125 strikeouts (that's fifteen point six strikeouts per nine innings). 1.36 ERA, 0.69 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) and National League batters are batting .134 against him. As Stewart Scott would say: "That's sick."

Monday, September 08, 2003

The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins started a pivotal series tonight in Chicago. Both teams started the night with identical records of 76 wins and 66 losses. The Twins had won eight of ten to climb back up to the top after struggling in third place most of the season. The White Sox had won six of ten and have played very well since the AllStar break.

Besides having the home field, the White Sox also had Bartolo Colon on the mound. Granted, Colon hasn't been dominant this year and came into the game with an ERA over 4.00 and a .500 record (12-12). Looking at Colon's career, he really hasn't been as consistently dominant as his reputation. Consider that in Colon's career, opposition hitters have batted .253 off of him. That sounds fairly good until you consider Tim Wakefield has the same lifetime batting average against.

Compare that Colon stat to Pedro Martinez who has a lifetime batting average against of .206. Now THAT'S consistently dominating. Derek Lowe has a lower lifetime batting average against. Kevin Brown and Mike Mussina both have better lifetime batting average against stats. And yet, Colon is considered the of the best pitchers in baseball.

The statistics don't lie. He hasn't been consistently dominating and only seems to be dominating when he turns it on for a night. Fortunately for the White Sox, tonight was one of those nights. He did give up ten hits in his nine inning complete game performance and four of those hits were for extra bases. Anyway, the bottom line is that the White Sox go up a game on the Twins and three and a half over the Royals.

The hot Phillies faced a big test as they started a big series against division leading Atlanta. The Phillies started former Brave, Kevin Millwood (who has a better lifetime batting average against than Colon). Millwood had already lost twice to his former team this year and tonight added loss number three.

The loss combined with a Marlins' win over the Mets, knots the wildcard again between the two teams. Josh Beckett threw six shutout innings to gain the wind. Beckett looked like a bust by this spring training but the high draft pick has gone his second consecutive game without giving up an earned run.

And finally tonight, the Red Sox needed to keep pace with the Yankees who won a make up game today against the Blue Jays. The Red Sox were leading 8-5 against the pesky Orioles who put up two four-spots in the seventh and eight to take the game. The last four runs given up were all unearned as the Red Sox got loosy goosy and threw the ball all over the diamond.

The final score of the Red Sox/Orioles game was 13-10. The Yankees lead is back up to three and a half games as the Red Sox have undone a lot they accomplished last weekend.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The Chicago Cubs are back in first place in the NL Central. Their fifth straight win and seventh of their last eight games, combined with an Astros loss leap frogs the Cubs back up on top. Sammy Sosa hit another homer and had two RBI. Aramis Ramirez now has 90 RBI and the "Sausage Man" (courtesy of Baseball Tonight ), Randall Simon had two homers and five RBI.

The Cubs made some great acquisitions to help on this stretch run and they are really paying off. Dusty Baker knows how to keep them in the game and big arms like Prior, Wood (who won today) and Zambrano keep them in most games. Borowski has been great as a closer. There are a couple of dozen games to go, but the Cubs are in excellent position to win the division.

This has been one of the hardest seasons to predict as teams alternate between swoon and swagger. The Marlins and Phillies both had stretches where they lost nine of ten to let the pack catch up to them in the wildcard race. The Marlins and Phillies both then reel off eight wins out of ten. The Marlins are getting great pitching and have great spirit and refuse to concede to the hot Phillies who now seem to all be on the same page.

What was great for the Marlins today was to see Dontrelle Willis pitch a great game to get his 12th win. The critics were quick to point out how he faded a bit after the AllStar Break, but the man is 12-6 as a rookie and that translates to a great season. The jury is still out though as to whether the Marlins can stay in there without Mike Lowell. Conine was a big boost though despite a slow start.

David Wells proved he wasn't done today with a saving performance for the staggering Yankees. The Red Sox had totally blown the Yankees away for two games and one more win would be a statement and bring the Sox to within a half game of the lead. A two game swing occurred as the Yankees pulled out today's game to finish the series two and a half games up.

The Yankees are trying to hold on despite a series of injuries to key players. Giambi hasn't been the same since getting hit by a pitch on his hand. Soriano is banged up the same way from the Pedro Martinez hit by pitch. Jeter has been banged up all year and Bernie Williams has a bad knee.

Mariano Rivera seems to be back on track and his last two saves against Boston have featured retiring Nomar Garciaparra in men-on-base situations. Rivera's 33 saves despite missing the first third of the season is a testament to his ability and the amount of close games the Yankees play.

Boston is still a very, very scary team!