Wednesday, September 17, 2003

The Florida Marlins came back strong tonight after last nights drubbing at the hand of wildcard rivals, the Philadelphia Phillies. There was a log of commentary after last night's game on how that was such a devastating loss for the Marlins. The truth seems much different.

A come from behind win in the bottom of the ninth is a much harder pill to swallow than a blowout drubbing. After all, blowouts are common and it was one of those nights. Any player can forget those kinds of games. The bigger struggle was not the loss, but the wildcard lead shrinking from a game and a half to a game.

The Marlins answered that concern in a big way and in a way that they have answered every challenge so far this season. The team that turned around as soon as Jack McKean became the manager, came back and beat the Phillies 11-4. The game wasn't as much of a blowout as it seemed.

Early in the game, both starting pitchers were shaky and the game was close. The difference was the relief pitching. Mike Redman gave up four runs in five innings but was good enough to keep the Marlins in the game. Chad Fox, who was run out of Boston, pitched two critical scoreless innings. Urbina, another Red Sox castoff, pitched a scoreless inning and then the Marlins scored four in the top of the ninth to break the game open. Neal Bump finished up, giving the Marlins four scoreless innings of relief.

Fox was the focal point of the Red Sox experiment with a bullpen by committee. After several bad blown saves and cascades of boos, the Red Sox reworked their entire bullpen. Fox landed in South Florida and has pitched in fourteen games for the Marlins and has a 2-0 record with 21 strikeouts in 17 plus innings. His ERA with Florida is 2.55 and his base runners per inning is a very good 1.17. With the Red Sox, that figure was 2.00.

Urbina has been spectacular with two wins against no losses. He also has two saves and his ERA with Florida is 1.15! Put Urbina together with Fox and you have two pitchers who are performing better than any Boston reliever.

The Marlins are a wonderful story. But so are the Cubs. The Cubs lost 95 games last year. After a big performance by Mark Prior last night, Kerry Wood had his own dominating performance. If the Rockies hold on to their 5-3 lead against the Astros, the Cubs could be only down a half a game.

On the other end is the Kansas City Royals. The Royals lost to the Indians, 9-1. With that loss, it's time to count the Royals out. If the two teams ahead of the Royals finish the last twelve games at 6-6, the Royals would have to win 10 of their last 12 just to tie. The Royals were a great story all year. But they ran out of steam and the fat lady is getting ready to sing.

What a great season!
Twelve games left. Twelve games to decide two division champions and two wildcard teams. As the most exciting season in recent baseball history winds down, we are no closer to knowing what is going to happen than we were a month ago.

The Cubs are starting to come on and have a great schedule down the stretch. Prior was amazing tonight. The only trouble is that the Astros are playing just as well and won big against the Rockies. Down a game and a half, the Cubs finish with the Mets, Pirates and Reds--all teams they should beat.

The Astros have one more series at St. Louis, a series with the Giants and finish the series with Milwaukee. That schedule seems to favor the Cubs. But if things stay as they are, the best team in the division (the Cubs) might not win the division.

Meanwhile, the Phillies and Marlins have a big series with the wildcard on the line. The Marlins had a game and a half lead but were blown up by the Phillies today, 14-4. The Marlins and Phillies play each other six times between now and the end and each team has to play a series against Atlanta.

That kind of schedule for the two teams means that the Dodgers still have a chance though they play the Diamondbacks and Giants in the stretch. They are losing so far tonight to those Diamondbacks and may not gain any ground.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox beat off a scrappy Devil Rays team as they barely held on to win, 3-2. Pedro went all the way for the win. The question remains if Pedro has to work this hard down the stretch, will he have anything left for the playoffs?

The Mariners are fading at a bad time and it's hard to believe that Ichiro is only batting .309. His average has gone down for the third straight year and his OBP is thirty-eight points behind last year. A telling statistic is that he has batted over six hundred times and only has 33 walks. There is much speculation as to whether he wears down over a MLB season that is much longer than the Japanese leagues.

The Twins have the best record in baseball since the AllStar break and the White Sox are right behind them. The Twins won their head to head battle tonight and leaped frogged to the top of the division. The Royals started winning again to stay three and a half back but it is unrealistic for them to catch not just one top team, but two.

And finally, you know the Fan has to finish this post by giving it up to Roger Clemens as he won his fifteenth game tonight. The win was the 308th of his career. The Yankees are peaking at the right time which seems to coincide with the re-emergence of Soriano at the top of the lineup.

Monday, September 15, 2003

For the first time in quite a while, most of the contenders are not playing in series against other contenders. And with that the case, all of them have won tonight or are winning...except one.

The Red Sox had a big game offensively (no surprise there) and a terrific pitching performance by Derek Lowe to go two and a half games up on the Seattle Mariners for the wildcard as the Mariners lost to the Texas Rangers. The Red Sox now have four players over ninety RBI and are closing in on the all time extra base hit record.

The Rangers featured a homer by Rafael Palmeiro (his 35th to go with 105 RBI) and a homer, double and four RBI from rookie, Mark Teixera. Francisco Cordero came in for the Rangers in the ninth and struck out the side (now THAT'S impressive) for his fourteen save.

Despite the good performance by Texas, these are games the Mariners have to win. Two and a half games out with only thirteen to play is a tough way to go.

The Cubs and Cardinals both won tonight to pick up a half a game each on the idle Astros. Of course, at five games out, with thirteen to play, the Cardinals have to face the fact that they are out of it.

Kansas City and Minnesota both picked up a half game on the White Sox, who were idle tonight. The Twins put up an eight spot in their game tonight to come from behind to win that game. Good relief pitching then took over as (the Ancient), Orosco, Rincon and Pulido kept the Twins in the game so that they could come back.

The Yankees clobbered the falling Orioles 13-1 as the Yankees got a four for five performance from Soriano including two homers. If this is a sign that Soriano is going to break out of his funk, then the sign is loud and clear.

The Yankees also had some milestones as Hideki Matsui reached 100 RBI tonight as did Jason Giambi. Posada had several RBI tonight to bring his RBI total to 95.

Thirteen games left...

Sunday, September 14, 2003

On a day where the Cubs lost to fall two behind the Astros (Ugh!) and the Red Sox lost to the White Sox (Ugh!). And also on the same day, the Marlins lose a game of their National League wildcard lead (Ugh!), the Fan needs a night off.

Before I go, I have to take one more opportunity to stress how badly the MLB umpires are acting in this baseball season. As far as I can see, they are out of control. Today was just one more example as Barry Bonds, the World's best baseball player, and the reason forty-thousand fans turned out and paid thirty dollars a ticket, got thrown out of the game in the first inning without uttering one swear word.

If the man who just tied Babe Ruth in career walks doesn't know the strike zone, who does? If the same man questions the umpire about that same strike zone without swearing or showing the umpire up, then there is no reason to ever get thrown out of the game.

The umpires are out of control and I've seen at least five games in the last two weeks where contending teams lost one of their best players to an over-zealous, out of control umpire. The situation is ridiculous and baseball is suffering the consequences.