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Texas to tear it up (cont.)

Posted: Thursday September 7, 2006 12:17PM; Updated: Thursday September 7, 2006 1:01PM
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Braves' new world

John Smoltz is having a hard time coming to grips with the end of the Braves' playoff run.
John Smoltz is having a hard time coming to grips with the end of the Braves' playoff run.
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The Braves aren't good losers. And that's understandable since they've had so little practice at it. On Wednesday, John Smoltz called their current funk "nauseating," and while he conceded that the Mets are finally better, he also asserted without evidence that "we're not a below-.500 team."

Actually, John, at 66-73, you are. A great coach once said that you are what your record says you are. And he might have added that you aren't great just because you once were.

Perhaps the trouble is that since Smoltz never played on a bad team before, he doesn't know what one looks like. Or perhaps he just can't deal with the reality. If you recall, Smoltz publicly said he was ready to bail on the Braves and go to the Tigers before the deadline. He's a fabulous competitor, maybe the best in baseball, but he was acting as if the playoffs are his birthright. They're not.

I ran into Braves GM John Schuerholz, maybe the best in the business, in the press dining room at Shea Stadium on Wednesday, and he said that someone recently stopped him from what he admittedly called "whining" by reminding him that it's "OK to have a year like this once every 15 or 16 years." True enough. But then Schuerholz, whose team was then 6½ games out of a dreadful yet packed wild-card race (in other words, dead and buried), added that he still wasn't giving up on the playoffs yet.

It's like none of the great Braves believe it's possible that they could have a losing team. But alas, they do.

Around the majors

• Texas may have to do more overhauling than it believes. Two players they'd probably like to hold on to could conceivably bolt for their cross-state-rival Astros. Both Carlos Lee and Gary Matthews Jr. are said to have strong ties to Houston. Matthews is from there, and Lee has a 100-acre ranch nearby. The rivalry began anew with the competition for Roger Clemens, then heated up when Roy Oswalt briefly hit the trade market and Texas tried to get him through Baltimore. Said one competing executive about the coming winter competition between the two Texas teams, "It's going to be a shootout at the OK Corral.''

• Maybe the Tigers' Dmitri Young really was designated for assignment for "performance related" reasons. But it's still a little unusual to see the No. 3 hitter for the best team in baseball cut because he isn't good enough.

• The American League has at least five third basemen who are Gold Glove-worthy: Oakland's Eric Chavez (who has only three errors and is the perennial winner of the award), Seattle's Adrian Beltre, Detroit's Brandon Inge, Boston's Mike Lowell and Chicago's Joe Crede. Mariners GM Bill Bavasi said, "Chavez is going to get the Gold Glove award, but Adrian's the best. Our guy is better." Tough to disagree, if you've had the pleasure.

• Ichiro's been great since moving to center field against his wishes, but his offense has hit the skids. Batting .343 before the break, he's hit .266 since to fall to .315. A career .366 hitter with runners in scoring position, Ichiro is batting .200 in that situation this year.

• Arizona's hiring of Tom Allison as scouting director is winning rave reviews around baseball. Allison, who comes over from the Brewers, has big shoes to fill as the Diamondbacks have lost scouting stars such as Sandy Johnson, Bryan Lambe and Mike Rizzo.

The Diamondbacks are on the right track with all their front-office moves. The promotion of Derrick Hall to club president was surely applauded by everyone who's come across Hall, one of the biggest of many losses of the Frank McCourt-run Dodgers.

• E-mailers made several good suggestions for my AL Top 25 surprises, and I agree that Robinson Cano and Frank Thomas should have made the list. Cano's defense has improved dramatically under Larry Bowa's tutelage, and Thomas is in line for a big raise after Oakland signed him for $500,000 guaranteed (plus $3 million in incentives).

• Johnny Damon just recorded his ninth straight season with 100-plus runs. But that's not the best streak going in the big leagues, or even among his teammates. With 99 runs, Alex Rodriguez is closing in on his 11th straight 100-run season (the MLB record is 13 in a row, held by Lou Gehrig and Hank Aaron). Derek Jeter, whose best streak was seven from 1996 to 2002, is getting close to his 10th 100-plus run season overall, with 97. So Damon will have only the third most career 100-run seasons among his teammates. (Bernie Williams, by the way, has eight 100-run seasons.)

Damon's streak is even more remarkable in that he's done it for four teams (Kansas City, Oakland, Boston and New York). Barry Bonds has the most 100-plus-run seasons of any active player with 12. No asterisk needed there.