Key injuries affecting playoff races (cont.)
Player of the Week
For a good stretch there, after his 9-0 start, Brandon Webb was not much more than just another guy. In seven mostly forgettable starts after his sizzling burst out of the gate, Webb was a No. 5-like 2-4, giving up 46 hits in 42 2/3 innings with a 4.22 ERA. Since then, though, the sinkerball specialist has been just what the D'backs have needed. He's 6-0 in nine starts with a 2.29 ERA. Two of those wins came last week in a complete game over the Pirates and a six-inning outing against the Braves on Sunday that snapped Arizona's four-game losing streak. Webb is now 17-4 with a 2.88 ERA, the definition of an ace. Can you say National League Cy Young winner?
Team of the Week
From now on, you're liable to see some repeat winners under this headline. I don't care, for example, if the A's run off seven straight wins. They're not getting in here. Instead, say hello again to the Rays, who have won three straight, eight of their last 10, notched a franchise-record 71st win of the season on Sunday and opened up a 4 1/2 game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East. The Rays haven't exactly been bringing down Goliaths lately -- Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle -- but, heck, they didn't make the schedule. (If they had, they'd be on their 50th game with the Mariners right about now.) Here's what's huge for Tampa Bay: The Rays are 7-4 in their last 11 road games. That's a big turnaround for them, and critical considering that September road gauntlet (17 games away from the Trop) that everybody's been talking about.
Lines of the Week
Raul Ibanez, SEA vs. MIN, Aug. 4
3 for 5, 2 R, 1 HR, 6 RBIs
Ibanez is hitting .341 since not being traded by the sinking Mariners at the deadline. In one four-game stretch, Aug. 2-5, he had 15 RBIs.
Jeff Karstens, PIT at ARI, Aug. 6
9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 4 K, 1 BB
Karstens, in his second appearance with the Bucs, had a perfect game until Chris Young doubled with two outs in the eighth.
Quote of the Week
"Maybe 'Chief' has to go and grab somebody from his neck and throw him into the wall and something's going to change. I'm very close to doing that, so write that down."
-- Seattle pitcher Carlos "Chief" Silva, on the moribund Mariners
Series to Watch
It's not a great week for playoff-possible showdowns. I kind of like Cardinals-Marlins (Tuesday-Thursday, in Miami) for its pennant race implications. Those two teams have hung around all year. They're just trying to do it for six more weeks or so, hoping that a hot streak puts them over the top. The Yankees travel to Minnesota early in the week in an important series for the Joba-less New Yorkers, who are coming off a sweep by the Angels. Still, I'm gonna put all my viewing loyalties into the Brewers at Dodgers next weekend (Friday-Sunday). There'll be a good bit of desperation in that one, as well. The Brewers are good (having won five in a row), but they can't make up any ground on the Cubs. And the Dodgers, now 1 1/2 games behind Arizona ... well, they need to do something. And now.
Despite their win over Oakland on Sunday, I'm ready to call a time of death on the Tigers. I realize a lot of others put the toe tag on them weeks ago. And, yeah, they have looked relatively lifeless all season long. I guess what finally convinced me was Tuesday's game, when they blew a 6-1 lead over the White Sox, scored two in the 14th inning to take the lead, then lost it in the bottom of the inning. You just can't do that. Detroit was three games over .500 the day before the trade deadline. Now they're a game under, and 7 1/2 out of first place in the AL Central. They're just not good enough to catch either the White Sox or the Twins.
And speaking of Oakland ... Billy Beane was right. The A's (3-19 since the All-Star break), or what's left of them, aren't good enough. Not nearly good enough.
Pitcher Brett Myers and manager Charlie Manuel argued Saturday in the Phillies' dugout after the skipper yanked Myers from the game in a tight spot in the eighth inning. The spat didn't descend into the Prince Fielder realm, or even C.J. Wilson territory (see below). But it was fun in its own harmless way, a snapshot of two guys wanting to win and stating their arguments. And Manuel was right.
OK, onto Fielder. His dugout shove of Brewers pitcher Manny Parra last week was inexcusable. One of the lamest, weakest, no-account excuses I hear in these altercations is the "heat of the moment" defense. You know it. "Fielder is a competitor. He wants to win. He's passionate. You want guys like that on your team, right?" Well ... no. I don't. I want passionate guys WHO ARE UNDER CONTROL. (Sorry for getting all wanky there with the caps key. I'm passionate about this.) The heat of the moment thing is a lame argument because you're saying, in effect, that any player who doesn't take a swipe at a teammate or lose it once in a while just doesn't care as much. I mean, really, it's a slap in the face -- no pun intended -- to all the players who keep those emotions under wraps, or at least out of the public eye. I now wonder how Fielder will react in the heat of a pennant race, or in a tough spot in a game. And his teammates have to be a little leery, too.
Finally, on the subject of smackdowns, is the one that Texas manager Ron Washington put on Wilson last week. After Wilson stunk up the joint, giving up a grand slam to -- of all people -- Richie Sexson, Washington came to pull his erstwhile closer. Wilson, clearly disgusted, flipped the ball to his skipper and began to leave the mound. This is, under widely accepted baseball etiquette, akin to flipping off your manager on the JumboTron. It's very bad form. Washington, to his everlasting credit, snagged Wilson by the arm, pulled him back up on the mound, gave him the ball and told him to hand it back to him. He did. Here's the video. This is the coolest part: After Wilson finally got it right, Washington patted him on the butt on the way out. Classic. Wilson was put on the DL the next day, probably never to close for the Rangers again. And everyone learned a lesson.
Barry Bonds says he's not retired. Is it me, or is he starting to sound more and more like Rickey Henderson?
I am not ready to pull the plug on the Cardinals. I may not do that until Sept. 30, if then. (I learn lessons, too.) But I will say that losing two of three against the Cubs last weekend at Wrigley did not help their life expectancy any.
Padres outfielder Brian Giles turned down a chance to leave San Diego for Boston, reportedly vetoing a trade that the Padres and Red Sox had worked out. If you're simply talking places to live, this is entirely understandable. Especially in January. If you're talking teams to play for, it's completely baffling. It just goes to show you that ballplayers are human, too, and balancing personal life and professional life is not any easier for them than it is for the rest of us. Seems to me that Giles is going to regret passing up the chance to play for a great organization that has a good chance at the World Series. But he won't regret the pain of moving and leaving his family behind for a stretch of time and getting used to new teammates and all that.
Watch out, AL. Here comes Ichiro. In his last 15 games, he's hitting .409 with 12 runs, a double, three triples and a home run. He's upped his average to .310 in his bid for his eighth straight .300-plus season. He needs 47 hits in the Mariners' final 44 games for 200 hits, another mark he's never failed to reach in America.
As well as Manny Ramirez is hitting with the Dodgers (.459, four homers, 11 RBIs in nine games), and Xavier Nady with the Yankees (.365), and Jason Bay with the Red Sox (.333, eight RBIs in nine games) ... Ken Griffey Jr. is not so good with the White Sox. He has four hits in 20 at-bats (.200) with no extra-base hits and didn't play Saturday or Sunday against the Red Sox.