The Windup (cont.)
Player of the Week
Cubs fans know how valuable the versatile Mark DeRosa is. The man plays second base, third base, left field and right field. Manager Lou Piniella can plug him in a lot of places, at virtually any time, to take over for an injured starter or to give one of the big studs on the team a much-needed rest. He's an irregular regular, a jack of all positions, and he's having the best season of his 11-year career. Last week, everybody's understudy crushed a homer in four straight games, hit .435 (10-for-23) and drove in six runs for the Cubs. DeRo (.287/.381 on-base, 18 homers, 77 RBI) is yet another reason why we can say the Cubs are a legitimate World Series contender while keeping a straight face.
Team of the Week
The Rays (4-2 last week) are back in St. Pete to start a nine-game homestand, which is awfully good news considering they're 47-18 at The Trop, the best home record in baseball. But the Rays are starting to make some noise away from Florida, too. They won two of three against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field last weekend, where the ChiSox are 46-21. That pushed Tampa Bay to .500 on the road this season. The Rays haven't lost a series away from St. Pete since the All-Star break. It's just another indication that Tampa Bay -- tied with the Angels for the best record in the AL, a half-game behind the Cubs for the best record in baseball -- is a real threat not only to make it to the postseason, but to win the AL East despite that horrid September schedule.
Lines of the Week
Ricky Nolasco, FLA at SFG, Aug. 19
9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 11 K, 1 BB
Nolasco's game score -- a measure of starting prowess designed by Bill James -- was the second-best this year, behind the no-hit game Boston's Jon Lester threw against K.C. in May.
Grady Sizemore, CLE vs. KC, Aug. 21
4-for-5, 1 HR, 1 3B, 7 BI, 1 SB
Sizemore is a home run short of his first 30-30 season.
Quote of the Week
"As soon as A.J. tripped, he yelled 'Obstruction.' I looked at the umpire, thinking he was going to say something like, 'Are you kidding me?' And [the ump] was like, 'Yep, yep, yep.'"
-- Rays shortstop Jason Bartlett, on the rundown play Sunday involving White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who admittedly initiated contact with Tampa Bay third baseman Willy Aybar
Series to Watch
If the Cardinals are to make all this effort worthwhile, if they're to really work their way into the postseason, they have to make their move now. They're 3 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the wild card race, and Tuesday they host Milwaukee in the first of two critical games, the final two games between these two teams this season. Things haven't gone too smoothly for the Cards against the Brewers this year. Milwaukee is 9-4 in the series. Ryan Braun has six homers and is hitting .481, too.
Maybe it's the blanket coverage, maybe it's the time of the year, maybe it's just players being tired. But, man, a lot of guys are dogging it these days.
After the Rays' B.J. Upton was benched last week for not hustling, Monday he cruised out of the box when he thought he had a home run, then loafed into second to settle for an apparent double. Except that the Angels' Mark Teixeira, trailing the play, tagged him before he got to the bag. Great play by Tex. Awful by B.J.
The Astros' Hunter Pence was ripped the other day for not breaking for home when he should have. His teammate, Lance Berkman, similarly messed up a couple of days earlier.
Sunday, Upton misread a fly ball to center and hardly seemed ready to get the ball back in quickly, allowing a catcher (Pierzynski) to tag up and go to second and to eventually score the winning run. (See the next note below.)
Sunday night, the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez loped over to a ball hit to him in left field in extra innings, instead of charging it, then flipped it casually into second base instead of firing it in. The Phillies Shane Victorino beat out the throw, and the Phils won a few batters later.
The good side of all these: At least we can show the kids how not to do it.
Pierzynski's 10th-inning play on Sunday (see "Quote," too, above) was so weak it was strong. You have to somehow appreciate a guy who can think on his feet that well. Or off his feet, as it were. And then to be able to sell it to the umpires. Beautiful. In a real ugly way.
If you missed it, it went like this: Caught in a rundown between second and third after breaking for third on a ball hit in front of him -- dumb, dumb, dumb -- Pierzynski, as he was stumbling back, threw out his left elbow in a desperate attempt to contact the Rays' Aybar. It worked. After barely grazing Aybar on his way down, Pierzynski got the call from the umps that he had been obstructed in his so-called running.
Pierzynski pulled off a smart play to get to second in the first place, tagging up on a cruising and evidently unaware Upton catching a ball in center. Then A.J. turned idiot on his decision to go on the ground ball. And then he reverted to genius to get the obstruction call. He ended up scoring the winning run. What a piece of work.
Jimmy Rollins has four hits in his last 45 at-bats (.089). He wants people to cheer for that?
Milwaukee manager Ned Yost fielded a few questions last week after he allowed CC Sabathia to throw 130 pitches in a complete-game, 9-3 win over the Astros. Sabathia threw 22 pitches in the ninth, an inning that started with a 9-2 Brewers' lead. Whether you believe modern pitchers are babied or not, the decision to let Sabathia continue pitching in such a blowout seems patently ridiculous.
Since Sabathia's arrival, the Brewers are 9-1 when CC pitches, 15-16 when he doesn't. He threw 96 pitches in six innings against the Pirates on Sunday in a game Milwaukee won in 12 innings.
The Twins' Road Trip from Hell has started about as well as you can expect a 14-game, 15-day march to go, starting with a four-game split in Anaheim against the Angels over the weekend. From here, the Twins have three games in Seattle, then four in Oakland and -- get this -- a cross-country trip to Toronto for a three-game set there. Somehow, the term "make or break" comes to mind.
The Braves have nothing to play for anymore. But Chipper Jones does. Suddenly neck-and-neck with St. Louis' Albert Pujols for the NL batting crown, Jones has reason to go for it. He's never won a batting title, finishing second last year (.340 to .337) to Colorado's Matt Holliday.
For all the fuss we made over Manny's move to L.A. -- including, in the interest of full disclosure, in this space last week -- the Dodgers are now just 11-11 since the trade. Manny has one home run in his last 44 at-bats. The Dodgers have lost six of their last eight. And did I mention Manny's play in extra innings Sunday night?
Not sure why I'm so obsessed with this, but I am. Ryan Howard averages about 1.3 strikeouts a game. If he plays in the rest of the Phillies' games -- and he probably should -- he'll end up with somewhere around 212 strikeouts, wiping out his record of 199 last year. And he'll still have 40-plus home runs and 130-plus RBIs. Would you want him on your team?
Randy Johnson almost certainly won't get the six decisions he needs over the rest of this season to reach 300 career wins. But you have to think he'll be back next year. In his last eight starts, the soon-to-be 45-year-old Unit is 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Opponents are hitting .160 off him.