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AL West: Recognize the O.C.
Earlier this month, Orlando Cabrera made a rare defensive miscue that loomed large in a 9-6 loss to the Cardinals. After the game, Cabrera wasn't too hospitable to inquiring reporters.
"You're wasting your [expletive] time with me," Cabrera said. "Get the (expletive) out of here. [Expletive] unbelievable.
"You guys are a bunch of [expletive] [expletive]; get the [expletive] out of here. Write whatever you want. [Expletive] use your imagination."
While there are enough expletives there to make Richard Nixon turn over in his grave, I can't completely blame OC. The guy is having as good a season as any shortstop in baseball, yet the only time he receives any attention is when he makes a game-changing mistake. This is nothing new. Cabrera is a Rodney Dangerfield in the baseball landscape: don't get no respect. When discussing the best shortstops in the American League, Cabrera's name seldom surfaces. But, make no mistake about it -- OC can flat out [expletive] play ball.
Everyone knows that Cabrera is one of the league's finest defensive shortstops. Referred to as "The Wizard of OC" by Angels announcer Steve Physioc, Cabrera leads AL shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage. With stellar range, soft hands and a plus arm, Cabrera's the complete package in the field and a dream for any pitcher. As former Red Sox teammate Curt Schilling told the Boston Globe following a playoff game in 2004, "He's a game-changer in the field."
It's Cabrera's exploits at the plate that go underappreciated. Last season, Cabrera hit .282 with 72 RBIs and led the Angels in runs (95) and doubles (45). His finest accomplishment of the '06 campaign was reaching base safely in 63 consecutive games -- something that hadn't been done since Ted Williams set the major-league record in 1949 with 84 straight games. This year, Cabrera leads Los Angeles in batting average (.337), runs (48) and doubles (23). A savvy baserunner, he's also 8-for-8 in stolen base attempts.
Cabrera has yet to make an All-Star game, and this year may be no different. The Angels have three All-Star locks (John Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero and Francisco Rodriguez) and Kelvim Escobar is making a strong case to join the party. So Cabrera may fall victim to his teammates' success. Also, there's little wiggle room at his position. New York's Derek Jeter will start at shortstop for the American League, and with Jim Leyland is the manager, Tigers SS Carlos Guillen is almost a sure thing to make the team. Miguel Tejada has made four of the last five All-Star games. Although his numbers are down this season, Tejada could be the Orioles' lone representative, leaving Cabrera off the squad.
Cabrera isn't the only AL West player who goes underappreciated. Below, I present the division's top five unheralded studs. There are only two requirements for players on the list: 1) No All-Star game appearances; 2) A track record of production beyond this year (sorry, Reggie Willits).
5. Chad Gaudin, A's: A solid contributor in out of the A's bullpen in '06, Gaudin was forced into Oakland's rotation by multiple injuries this season. But the transition has been extremely smooth; Gaudin owns a 6-2 record with a 3.05 ERA.
4. Akinori Otsuka, Rangers: Otsuka boasts a 2.39 ERA over his four-year career and he saved 32 games for Texas last season.
3. Kenji Johjima, Mariners: Johjima's boasting All-Star-caliber numbers (.316, seven homers, 28 RBIs) for the second straight season, but he still can't even crack the top five catchers in AL All-Star game voting.
2. Orlando Cabrera, Angels: This season, Cabrera's the best all-around shortstop in the American League.
1. Dan Haren, A's: While most talk regarding AL starters centers around Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Justin Verlander and Daisuke Matsuzaka, Haren quietly leads the majors in ERA (1.78), WHIP (0.90) and quality starts (14). At this point, it's a crime if he doesn't start the All-Star game.
Ohh, dream weaver,
I believe you can get me through the night.
Ohh, dream weaver,
I believe we can reach the morning light.
Labels: AL West
posted by SI.com | View comments |
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