The Windup: Derby has perfect stage, imperfect lineup (cont.)
Lines of the Week
Nate McLouth, PIT vs. HOU, July 9
3-for-4, 2 R, 3 2B
All-Star McLouth has cooled off, but he's still an extra-base machine, sliding into Sunday's games tied with Lance Berkman for the Major League lead in extra-base hits.
Dave Bush, MIL vs. COL, July 10
8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 13 K, 0 BB
Bush, now a No. 3 behind Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia, is 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his last five starts.
Quotation of the Week
"I'm not reading nothing, not listening to nothing, not talking to nobody. I'm here, these guys know I'm here, I'm proud to be here." -- Toronto pitcher A.J. Burnett, trade bait
Series to watch
Looking ahead past the All-Star Game, we have a handful of intriguing start-up-the-second-half possibilities. The Dodgers-Diamondbacks series in Phoenix might not be one of them -- you know, the NL West has hardly done itself proud so far -- but it will be relatively important. These are two teams desperate to get a foothold, something especially true for the D'backs, who already have slipped back to the pack after building a 5 ½-game lead less than a month ago. Both teams have enough pitching when healthy (the Dodgers are out Brad Penny, who has a sore shoulder, right now). The problem has been, and remains, hitting. First one to get a reliable bat and run producer probably wins this division. A sweep by one team or the other in this three-game set could change a lot of momentum.
My play of the week may seem pretty pedestrian, but how can you deny Josh Hamilton? After this walkoff homer against the Angels on Wednesday, what you see is pure, unadulterated emotion from his Texas teammates, from the boyish Ian Kinsler to the controlled manager, Ron Washington, to the always fiery Milton Bradley. Hamilton's story of redemption and his ongoing battle to stay out of the clutch of drugs is inspiring to thousands of people. It's good to see that he, and his teammates, can enjoy the on-field benefits, too.
Speaking of the Rangers, they remain one of the least-hyped good stories of the first half. This was a team that was on the verge of firing its manager late in April, when the Rangers fell to 7-16. Since then, they've gone 43-30. And what they did in fighting the Angels to a standoff in that four-game series last week was beautiful. The Rangers are a very good hitting team (5.5 runs a game is best in the majors) and, still, a terrible pitching team (5.77, worst). That they're over .500 at all is a miracle.
The most pressing question facing the Rays has grown only more urgent as they hit the break in their most successful season ever: Can they win on the road? With seven losses in a row -- the last six in games away from Tropicana Field -- and a fall out of first place in the AL East, the answer, right now, seems to be a resounding "No." That should be especially unsettling to a growing number of Tampa Bay fans, considering that the Rays finish the season with eight straight on the road in a month that also includes six games in Boston and New York. In September, the Rays are on the road for 17 of their 27 games. I still think this is a postseason-worthy team. But the Rays had better learn a lot between now and September.
Brad Lidge faced Pujols in a potentially game-changing situation on Wednesday night -- and got him to pop up to right field. Somehow, I don't think that's going to erase the memory of that other Lidge-Pujols showdown way back in 2005. But, heck, it won't hurt.
If Don Mattingly can make a difference in Dodgertown, he deserves Cooperstown.
The Indians, who finally snapped a 10-game losing streak on Thursday with a win over the Rays, were so close last year. They had the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series. And now, with CC gone and all the problems they have with hitting, highly considered GM Mark Shapiro is back to rebuilding again. Gotta be disheartening, to say the least, for Indians' fans.
On either side of a 9-3 win over the Dodgers on Tuesday night, the Braves were alternately one-hit by Hiroki Kuroda and two-hit by Derek Lowe. Ooof. Maybe Mark Teixeira will be up for grabs by the end of the month after all.
Omar Minaya has been second-guessed plenty already this season, so I don't feel all that guilty for piling on. He coaxed 87 games out of a beat-up Moises Alou last year, then decided to pay him $7.5 million more this season. And now Alou is probably going to miss the rest of the season with a torn hamstring, after putting in only 15 games. So, 102 games for $15 million. For a guy who was 40 when you signed him. Not Omar's finest moment, certainly.
I wish I cared more about Madonna and A-Rod. I really do.
In another example of a team taking on the character of its manager, White Sox outfielder Jermaine Dye and shortstop Orlando Cabrera scuffled in the dugout Wednesday while everyone else was celebrating the team scoring the tying run. Evidently, the disagreement centered on Cabrera's baserunning while Dye was at the plate. "A little bit of a misunderstanding," Dye said. Manager Ozzie Guillen liked the show of fire. What a team.
Chris Duncan of the Cardinals is going to get himself, or one of his teammates, beaned one of these days. His takeout slide of Jimmy Rollins on Thursday -- arms up, slide way out of the baseline -- was so over-the-line that even the club's announcers, including Al Hrabosky, criticized it.
Kansas City's Mark Teahen was credited with an inside-the-park home run Thursday night against the White Sox, which he should have been. But what a heads-up job by third base coach Luis Silverio, who noticed that White Sox rookie second baseman Alexei Ramirez had put his head down, just for a second, as he jogged in with the relay from the outfield. That was enough for Silverio to wave in Teahen, who barely beat Ramirez's throw with a head-first slide.