Keep up with the latest news, notes and developments with Fungoes, a daily journal for all things baseball that will last all season long.
The Joy of Sox
Twenty-seven games into the season and Red Sox fans couldn't ask for more. The team currently stands at 18-9, 5 1/2 games ahead of the second-place cluster of Toronto, Tampa Bay and the Yankees in the AL East. More important, the team finally seems to have its 2004 mojo back after two years of frustration. No, this group isn't the Dirt Dogs or the Idiots; it has carved its own identity. So if you missed the season's first month, here's why the fun is back at Fenway:
The Tobacco Bet: Terry Francona, a longtime tobacco chewer, vowed during spring training that he would finally quit his bad habit. President Larry Lucchino wanted to give the Sox skipper some extra incentive, so instead of betting, say, a lunch, like a normal person, the two put up $20,000 (with the winner donating money to charity) on it. A month into the season, it appears Francona is about to break. "I'm miserable," Francona told the Boston Globe last week. "I almost went off the boat in the second Yankee game in the fifth inning. I made it, but I'm hanging by a thread." Will Francona go back on the juice (tobacco juice, that is)? Stay tuned...
Hideki Okajima: A month ago, he was the "other Japanese pitcher" who gave up a home run on the first MLB batter he faced (the Royals' John Buck). Now, he's one of the top setup men in baseball, as well as the most modest. After learning that he won AL Rookie of the Month, Okajima responded: "Is it really OK that I received this award? Am I suitable?" Imagine Nomar saying that?
38pitches.com: Curt Schilling's blog has been nothing short of incredible -- a pitcher willing to break down his performance after each start and give his two cents on other team matters. Granted, he needs about 3,000 words to do it, but it's still a must-read. And a memo to people who don't like Curt: Don't read his blog -- it's that simple. But I can't get enough of the guy. Hell, if a Curt Schilling reality show existed, I, along with most of Red Sox Nation, would watch it religiously.
The Odd Trio: Talk about a reality show -- can we get a camera on the burgeoning friendship between Daisuke Matzusaka, Okijama and Julian Tavarez? Two weeks ago, the cameras caught the Dominican showing Dice-K how to pitch to Alex Rodriguez (which, incidentally, resulted in A-Rod getting beaned on the first pitch). Now, Dice-K is teaching Tavarez how to throw a cut fastball and Tavarez, whose locker is located next to Okijama's, has made it a goal to pick up one Japanese word per day. Now that would be must-see TV.
Papelbon 2.0: Forget Jonathan. Little brother Josh is dominating as the closer for Single-A Greenville, a Red Sox affiliate. Tell us if these stats looks familiar.
The Gyroball: It may not exist, but this poor guy deserves props for this amazing video.
Alex Cora: Seriously, has anyone played this little and done so much? If the Sox had to pick an MVP right now, Cora would be fifth or sixth ... In only 29 at-bats. He was even intentionally walked earlier this week. The Red Sox brass insists Dustin Pedroia (a poor man's David Eckstein) will come around, but watching Cora is a pleasure for any true baseball fan.
April: The Overachievers
Two weeks ago, I pinch-hit for my colleague Alex Belth on the AL East beat here at Fungoes and made an off-hand comment that the Baltimore Orioles’ hold on second place was tenuous at best, prompting an onslaught of angry comments. The Orioles have lost nine of their 10 games since that piece appeared and have fallen all the way to last place (apologies will be accepted in the comments area below).
With the Orioles taken care of, I thought I’d try to identify five other teams around the majors that have been playing over their heads thus far. Think of it as something of a Conan O’Brien Hates My Homeland for baseball fans. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
The Braves are back in their customary first-place position in the NL East, but they have several hitters on unsustainable paces. Chipper Jones might be a future Hall of Famer, but he’s not going to slug .692 at age 35 when his career mark is .544, and, though he hasn’t missed a game yet, he’s also not going to stay healthy all season. Kelly Johnson is a good hitter (his career minor-league batting line is .281/.366/.464), but he’s not this good. His hitting .323/.466/.591 while learning a new position is a great story, but reality will come calling sooner or later. Meanwhile, Edgar Renteria is outproducing his 2003 career year. That can’t last either. On the mound, Tim Hudson’s 1.40 ERA and perfect record won’t hold and I’ll be surprised if he’s not sharing the DL with Chipper at some point during the season. On the flip side, other than Craig Wilson, the short side of the team’s first-base platoon, there are no real candidates for improvement, especially now that Ryan Langerhans and his .068 average have been shipped out of town.
While I don’t expect the Braves to win their division, the Brewers will probably win theirs, but they won’t win the 104 games for which they’re currently on pace. The only Milwaukee hitter whose performance doesn’t track with his past is shortstop J. J. Hardy (.272/.335/.402 in his minor-league career vs. .306/.369/.550 thus far this season). It’s the Brewers’ pitching that’s unlikely to hold up, particularly Jeff Suppan (2.55 ERA) and closer Francisco Cordero (no runs allowed). Ben Sheets' early struggles might suggest room for improvement, but, for all Sheets’ talent, his inability to stay healthy casts doubt over that potential improvement. Remember, for all the preseason hype, this team only won 75 games last year. Even if they improve on that mark by 20 wins this season, they’ll still fall nine wins short of their current pace.
While I’m at it, I might as well point out that the Cleveland Indians, no matter how good they might be, are not going to win 110 games, as their major league-best .680 winning percentage might suggest. I’ll admit to having doubted the Indians coming into the season. Looking at their roster, however, I can’t see any dramatic overperformance, save perhaps for relief pitchers Rafael Betancourt (1.50 ERA) and Fernando Cabrera (1.23). In fact, second baseman Josh Barfield (.181/.209/.241) and starting pitcher Jake Westbrook (7.90 ERA) are sure to improve. Still, the Tribe’s Pythagorean winning percentage (based on the difference between runs scored and runs allowed) is a mere .583. That would translate to a more realistic 94 wins over a full season. Also, the Indians have yet to face intradivision rivals Detroit or AL East leaders Boston and were swept in their only meeting with the scuffling Yankees. Despite Cleveland’s early lead, the AL Central should prove to be the dogfight we all expected before the season began.
First place teams are easy targets for this sort of thing, so I’ll pick some less obvious victims for these last two spots. The Mariners are the only team in the major leagues with a winning record that has failed to outscore its opponents for the year. Richie Sexson (.143/.233/.377) is a candidate for improvement, but the bullpen, particularly closer J.J. Putz (1.38 ERA) and LOOGY George Sherrill (no runs allowed) will have their struggles. Similarly, Jarrod Washburn (2.88 ERA) is due for some correction. Finally, though Felix Hernandez is expected to return next week, the M’s aren’t out of the woods with respect to his elbow problems just yet.
The Pirates are already a sub-.500 team with the third worst offense in baseball, how could they possibly get worse? Simple, by being forced to play outside the largely pathetic NL Central. Thus far, the Bucs have played just four games against inter-division rivals, losing three of them. There’s a lot more of that to come in the remaining five months of the season, though amazingly they don’t play another game outside of their division until a week from today.
Labels: Wild Card
AL West: Feast or Famine
Over the past dozen days, no American League team has been hotter than ... Seattle. The Mariners have won seven of eight games and sit a game behind the Angels in the AL West. This comes as a definite surprise, especially considering that prior to this tear, Seattle lost six straight games. But then again, this erratic output is nothing new for the Mariners. Since the turn of the millennium, this franchise's production has always been feast or famine.
From 2000-03, Seattle won at least 91 games every season, tying the 1906 Cubs' major league record for wins (116) in 2001. But over the past three years, the Mariners have averaged just 70 wins and finished dead last in the division each time.
So what does the 2007 campaign hold? Will the Mariners return to their steady form of the early aughts or check in for another stay in the division cellar. Early indications are inconclusive (and predictably hinge on Felix Hernandez's recovery)...
Three signs it will be a feast season:
1. King Felix's maturation: Entering this season, the biggest question was whether Seattle's 21-year-old phenom was ready to take over as No. 1 starter after going 12-14 with a 4.52 ERA in his first full season. Felix was nothing short of brilliant in his first two starts, throwing 17 innings of shutout ball while allowing just four hits. Although he was put on the 15-day DL after leaving his third start in the first inning, Hernandez is now expected to make his fourth start next Wednesday.
2. Success against Oakland: Last year, the Mariners opened up their season series against the A's with a 6-2 win ... and then proceeded to lose 17 of 18 to the eventual division champions. But in 2007, Seattle has taken four of five from Oakland. The Mariners boast a 7-5 record against all AL West teams.
3. Putz power: Lost in the shuffle of last year's forgettable season, J.J. Putz compiled some impressive numbers in his first year as closer. On top of posting 36 saves and a 2.30 ERA, Putz boasted a mind-boggling strikeout-to-walk ratio of 104:13. In his second year on the job, Putz has converted all five save opportunities with relative ease, further proving that this team won't give away many games in the latter innings.
Three signs it will be a famine season:
1. King Felix's pronator problem: It took just 17.1 innings for every Mariners fan's worst nightmare to come true. As mentioned before, Hernandez left his third start with an injury and landed on the DL with a strained flexor-pronator muscle. The injury doesn't seem to have long-term effects, but Seattle has already pushed back Hernandez's return from tomorrow to next week. Any lingering concern surrounding Seattle's burgeoning superstar will severely hamper the team's chances in the division race. Mariners brass have made it utterly apparent that Hernandez's grooming process is far more important than immediate team success and they'll shut him down at the drop of a hat.
2. Big Richie's little production: .143 = 15,000,000. Kind of fuzzy math, eh? Unfortunately, this is Richie Sexson's batting average and the money he's making this year. Through 22 games and 77 at-bats, Seattle's No. 5 hitter has managed four homers, six doubles and one single, making him the biggest all-or-nothing hitter since Mark McGwire.
3. The $8.3 million bust: While we're on the subject of underperforming multi-millionaires ... On the heels of a fabulous playoff run with the Cardinals, Jeff Weaver signed a one-year, $8.3 million deal with Seattle in the offseason. So far, he's 0-4 with a plump 18.26 ERA, and in his four starts, he has made it past the second inning just once. The good news: Mariners manager Mike Hargrove says Weaver will get one more start to turn things around and keep his spot in the rotation. The bad news: That start will come Saturday against baseball's most imposing lineup in Yankee Stadium.
Labels: AL West
NL East: The Braves' 10,000-to-1 Leading Man
"If someone gives you 10,000-to-1 odds on anything, you take it," advised Kevin from The Office a few weeks ago. "If John Mellencamp ever wins an Oscar, I am going to be a very rich dude."
If a month and a half ago Vegas were to have set odds on which NL East leadoff hitter would be tops in OPS through May 2, the list might have looked something like this: Jose Reyes, 3:2. Jimmy Rollins, 2:1. Hanley Ramirez, 3:1 ... Kelly Johnson, 10,000:1.
On my first of a few days in Braves camp in March, Johnson, an outfielder trying to learn to play second base, took a liner straight to the sternum during batting practice; then, a half an hour later, GM John Schuerholz gave him this vote of confidence: "At second base it’ll either be Kelly Johnson or Martin Prado," he said. "Or maybe Yunel Escobar. Or maybe Pete Orr." After that, I might have been reluctant to lay even a buck down on Johnson’s odds.
This, perhaps, is why I will likely never be a very rich dude.
After a mediocre spring in which he hit .268, Johnson, in his first full big league season, ranks sixth in the NL in OPS (1.057), and is nicely sandwiched on the leaderboard between Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Beltran. Reyes is ninth (1.006), Ramirez 12th (.982), and Rollins 13th (.980). Johnson’s pop (5 HR) and ability to get on base (25 walks) has been just as crucial to the Braves’ second-ranked run scoring offense as have been Jeff Francoeur’s 25 RBIs and Chipper Jones’ NL-leading 10 homers.
"He might not have the speed of some leadoff hitters, but he’ll work the count and do what he has to do to get on base, with a little power," Tom Glavine told me yesterday. "At the beginning of the season, before we knew what he can do, we could mentally skip over him and focus on the heart of the order. Now you’ve got to think about Kelly Johnson before you start thinking about Chipper and Andruw and the rest of those guys."
Johnson has also played a more-than-solid second base: he’s got only one error, and his .930 zone rating (which measures the percentage of balls fielded by a player in his typical defensive zone) actually leads the majors at his position.
Johnson may not continue his 36 home run pace -- 15 seems more likely -- but he should continue to get on base, and Prado, currently in Triple A Richmond, likely won’t be loading up the car for the trip to Atlanta any time soon.
The lesson in all this, I suppose? Always listen to Kevin from The Office.
Labels: NL East
NL Central: Progess Report
With May here, it's time to dish out grades in the NL Central for the month of April.
Ben Sheets has been so-so. Dave Bush has a 6.23 ERA. Prince Fielder and Bill Hall haven't warmed up. And yet on Wednesday, Milwaukee had the best record in baseball? According to the folks at Cardinals blog "Viva El Birdos": "The Brewers won’t be easy to catch." Indeed: in a mediocre division, don't be shocked if the Brew Crew run away with first place -- they're for real. Stud prospects Yovani Gallardo (2.42 ERA, 42 Ks in 30 innings) and Ryan Braun (.342 average, .694 slugging at third base) are dominating at Triple-A Nashville and will soon be starring at Miller Park. The Brewers are looking like this year's Tigers. Scout's take: "Their late inning combo of [Derrick] Turnbow and [Francisco] Cordero has been devastating. That's been the key. These two guys looked horrendous during parts of last year but now Turnbow looks like he did a few years back when he was unhittable and Cordero is the dominating guy he was in Texas."
True, their injured ace logged just half a dozen April innings, but the once mighty offense has scored more runs than only the Nats. In fact St. Louis has been outscored 123-84 -- only Washington has a worse run differential. Most disheartening to the Red Bird faithful has been the lack of progress from young hurlers Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright. The good news? Albert Pujols probably isn't going to hit .260 for the rest of the year. Scout's take: "Bottom line: they're not going to finish .500 without a healthy Jim Edmonds [.211 with a .294 OBP]. It's pretty clear that his shoulder is still bothering him. His swing isn't right. I know they're hoping he can play himself into shape but that may not be realistic. This team is toast without him."
It's a deal the folks in the Crawfish Boxes are gonna be bellyaching over for years: On Dec. 12 GM Tim Purpura dealt away prized pitching prospect Jason Hirsh and three other players for Jason Jennings. The pitcher of the year in the Double-A Texas League in 2005 and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2006, Hirsh has a 3.41 ERA and 25 Ks in five starts for the Rockies and Jennings, a 28-year-old with a 4.71 career ERA, is out with an elbow injury. Meanwhile, the offense -- still punchless with $100 million addition Carlos Lee -- can't score runs. Scout's take: "The offense looks awful but they're not this bad. Lance Berkman is going to hit. Carlos Lee is going to hit. But why isn't Mark Loretta playing more often? The guy is an All-Star and is hitting [.375] but [Craig] Biggio is in there every day hitting .250. I'm worried about the starting pitching: they've got [Roy] Oswalt and no one else that's a No. 2 or even a No. 3 starter."
The Northsiders finished the month in last place and posted their first losing April since 2002 but the Cubbies aren't even close to 2002 bad. Their luck should change: Chicago outscored their opponents by 20 runs and were 0-6 in one-run games. The pitching staff ranks sixth in the majors and take away two bad innings and Carlos Zambrano's unsightly ERA is south of 3.50. Despite a slow start Chicago should be playing meaningful games in September. Scout's take: "Moving [Alfonso] Soriano back to left field is going to help him. I think adjusting to center field was the cause of some of his struggles at the plate. He's going to turn it around. The hamstring injury isn't a big issue. When it's all said and done this lineup is the best in the National League."
Before this year most people didn't know Ian Snell from Ian McKellan even though the left-handed control artist was a 14-game winner. In 34 innings this year he's allowed six runs and one home run and K'd 28 hitters and emerged as the ace of a very promising young starting pitching staff. Once Jason Bay, Freddy Sanchez, and Adam LaRoche get going, the Pirates could start to win more consistently. Scout's take: "Salomon Torres is awful. They should give Matt Capps a look at closer. I really like Ryan Doumit. He's been injured a lot but he's got big upside and hopefully he'll get a chance to show what he can do. With their starting pitching this team has a lot more promise than they've had in a long time."
Last year GM Wayne Krivsky came in and made more deals than Howie Mandel, most notably the notorious Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez trade that netted them a group of relievers. Less than a year later the Reds' biggest headache remains their 'pen -- none of the relievers they received in the trade has pitched for them this year. Look for Krivsky to go out and get more help for a surprisingly strong starting rotation. Is there a more underrated pitcher than Aaron Harang? Scout's take: "I like Matt Belisle. He may be ready to take the step that Harang did when he was 27. Krisvky knew Kyle Lohse from Minnesota and he looks like he's made a great deal in bringing the kid in. This isn't a great team, but it's a team that's going to be competitive in this division. They'll score runs -- they always score runs. But I think they'll surprise people with their pitching."
Around the division
Labels: NL Central
AL Central: Has Sheffield Awoken?
Oh, Daniel Cabrera, what have you done? You may have awoken a sleeping Tiger.
Entering Monday night's game, Gary Sheffield had gone four for his last eight but was still slugging (.265) more than 30 points below his career batting average (.296). Then Cabrera had the audacity to plunk him. Granted, Cabrera's control has always been in question -- lifetime 5.4 walks/9 innings and five walks by the third inning last night -- but the fastball that got away may have significant consequences for the rest of the American League Central.
Somehow, Sheffield managed to play 23 games this year with just four extra base hits, which happened to be 17 fewer than former teammate Alex Rodriguez and the same number as current teammate and part-time player Marcus Thames had in just 29 at-bats. Sheff's just-published autobiography is titled Inside Power, and that was about the only power he had put on display this season.
Until he got mad at Cabrera, that is. Two innings later after getting beaned, Sheffield deposited a 408-foot home run into Comerica Park's left-field stands. The homer broke a tie in what proved to be an 8-4 Detroit victory, and he admired it for a good, long while before trotting around the bases.
The Tigers have somehow managed a 14-11 record, good for second place in the Central, despite performances from Sheffield, Craig Monroe (.193/.244/.325), Brandon Inge (.150/.242/.313) and Sean Casey (.192/.259/.244) that could make even the toughest general manager cry. The bullpen has been shaky, with losing records and uncharacteristically high ERAs from typically reliable relievers Fernando Rodney (1-4, 5.40) and Joel Zumaya (0-1, 4.11). But great starting pitching and hot hitting from the rest of the lineup, especially Magglio Ordóñez and the .356 hitter currently impersonating Plácido Polanco, have kept the Tigers in contention during the early going.
The Tigers started off slowly but have now posted consecutive wins, one in a Johan Santana start and one featuring previously-absent power from Sheffield. That's certainly better news to Detroit residents than finding out that the Lions drafting yet another first-round wide receiver.
Labels: AL Central
NL West: Lofty Heights For Giants
"Hoo boy, it's going to be a long season."
-- Idiots Write About Sports, a Bay Area blog, April 10
"The pennant is winnable."
-- Giants Win, Saturday
When life gives you lemonade, should you make lemons?
That's the question San Francisco Giants bloggers were asking themselves over the past week, after their team, predicted by many to be the NL West's doormat, won eight straight games and 10 out of 11 to reach first place Thursday night.
Many bloggers bridge the fan and analyst universe and are therefore torn when it comes to dealing with unexpected success. Surveying the Giants blogs, you could see the collective internal struggle.
In the midst of the streak, Only Baseball Matters allowed itself to exult: "That was some smokin' hot homestand," John J. Perricone wrote. "I'm talking about a season-changing, critic-swaying, bandwagon-building homestand. Damn!"
But even after the streak continued with a road sweep over the archrival Dodgers, Perricone stepped back for some perspective.
"The streak was nice, but we still need a hitter," he stated. "I'm not sure who he is, or where he'd play, but we need someone who can ctually hit home runs behind Barry Bonds. They'll still walk him, that's not the point. The point is that we have no one but Bonds who can go yard. You can't sustain winning baseball scoring the fewest runs in the league."
Even when the analysts are self-admitted fans, caution is rarely thrown to the wind. Instead, it nestles tightly against their chests. Bay City Ball checked its enthusiasm for the Giants by comparing them to the 2005 hot-starting, cold-finishing Washington Nationals.
"The question that hangs in the air is, 'Is this how good the offense actually is? Or will it get better?' Optimists would tell you that the offense still isn't clicking on all cylinders. Ray Durham hasn't hit his stride, and if he can get going he should boost the offense. Todd Linden, who most hoped could be a valuable contributor to the O, is still struggling. It seems a bit much to expect Bonds and Rich Aurilia to carry this team. ...
"The Giants are going to need the offense to pick up if they want to keep winning games. Bonds is doing it all right now. The pitching has been great but I don't like the chances of Matt Morris, Noah Lowry and Russ Ortiz continuing their early success over the course of a full season. They continue to walk too many hitters and eventually it'll catch up with them."
By the time we make it to Orange and Black Baseball, the verdict seems to be in. The Giants are having a great run, but it doesn't change the future.
"It's easy to get caught up in the wins," Daniel Smith wrote, "and easy to think that the starters are indeed this good and Bonds can indeed keep this pace up to an NL West title after that many wins in a row. But more the fools us, if we believe it will keep up like this.
"Not that the Giants can't make a run at the title -- when a team wins seven in a row with pitching like this, they're capable of making a run here and there, and I'm still not convinced there is a good team in the NL West. But the offense is still a problem, a problem that, for now, Barry is hiding behind his bat."
Bloggers bask in cold realities, even if they hurt. And sure enough, a sweep at the hands of the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend blunted the Giants' momentum, knocking them back to 12-11 and third place in the division.
Continuing last week's conversation with NL West bloggers, we asked the following: Who's your favorite player on your team to watch play baseball, and why? In other words, what player is the best reason for a baseball fan to tune in and watch your team?
Jim McLennan, AZ Snakepit: Watching Brandon Webb pitch is always a delight. His sinker may be the single best pitch in the majors. Even though the hitters know it's coming -- heck, the entire crowd knows it's coming -- the pitch is still absolutely unhittable when its on. But if Randy Johnson returns to anything like his old form, watching Mr. Snappy buzz in towards a hitter's ankles promises to be a joy to behold too.
On the position player side, I really enjoy watching Stephen Drew. He's been thrust into an unfamiliar spot this season, batting leadoff, but he battles every single time he's up there, working deep in the count and trying to get on base, by any means necessary. His defense was reported to be questionable coming up through the minors, but so far he's surpassed all expectations with the glove, making plays you'd never expect him to make. Carlos Quentin is another player who specializes in making the miraculous look routine in the field.
As an aside, the favorite player to listen to is, unquestionably, Orlando Hudson. The man's mouth is amazing: he gets out about 300 words per minute, and you don't so much listen, as hang on for the ride, hoping to pick out the verbs and nouns as they fly past.
Mark T.R. Donohue, Bad Altitude: My immediate knee-jerk response is to say Todd Helton, out of loyalty more than anything else. We haven't seen Classic Todd for more than three seasons now and are increasingly unlikely to see him ever again. The new Todd Lite is not going to justify earning the huge percentage of the overall Rockies payroll to which he is entitled through 2011, even with Helton's all-universe intangibles. For a long time though, Helton was the lone bright light in a very dark valley and for that I'll always be appreciative. Still, I'd rather trade him and win than keep him and not win.
So as for 2007's answer to the question, my choice is Jeff Francis. The signing of star free-agent pitchers is out of the question in Denver after the Mike Hampton debacle, so the only way this team will ever contend is if they can develop starters from within. The Francis Channel (his jersey number, 26, is the cable channel on which most of the Rockies games run) has the smarts of a 20-year vet and much better stuff than you'd expect from a slender lefty with a baby face. Even after consolidating his place as the rising star of the rotation and securing a nice contract extension, Francis continues to try and improve himself, adding a sinker to his repertoire and watching tons of game film on his iPod. The Rockies need more guys like him who can get strikeouts and ground balls, hang around in games when they don't have their best stuff, and who love the challenge of pitching at Coors Field.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Grant, True Blue L.A.: Russell Martin, without a doubt. Once he starts to get more recognition from the national press, he's almost assured of getting the"heart and soul" and/or "plays the game the right way" tag stuck on him. It's very rare that you see a catcher that could be classified as a five-tool player, but Martin can do it all. He plays great defense, has a good arm, can hit for average, shows good patience, flashes a little bit of power and he'll even steal a few bases along the way. Someone once suggested that the Dodgers marketing campaign should consist of Russell Martin saying to the camera, "Hi, I'm Russell Martin. If you come to Dodger Stadium, you can watch me play." I'd be willing to brave the Dodger Stadium parking nightmare for that.
Aside from Martin, I also like to watch Jonathan Broxton pitch. While Joel Zumaya was being hyped as the next big reliever last year, Broxton quietly put up superior numbers in 2006. When Broxton broke into the league, he struck out Albert Pujols on two separate occasions, and his hard fastball-slider combination been making opposing hitters look foolish ever since.
Finally, I enjoy watching Olmedo Saenz. Partially for his ability to seemingly hit every fastball he sees over the fence, but mainly because of my love for obese guys who can be considered professional athletes.
San Diego Padres
Geoff Young, Ducksnorts: Jake Peavy is exciting to watch because he has the ability to dominate a game when he's on the mound. That said, he only gets into around 30 games a year.
Trevor Hoffman has the history, and he's a true craftsman. Also, there's no better moment in sports than when he enters a save situation to Hell's Bells. I know I'm biased, but that never gets old. As with Peavy, though, Hoffman usually doesn't play.
On an everyday basis, the guy that really impresses me is Adrian Gonzalez. Despite his age, he's very focused and composed. It's a horribly trite thing to say, but he is a true professional. Gonzalez has a beautiful swing that generates line drives to all fields. What I enjoy most, though, is the way he fields his position. The importance of defense at first base is often dismissed or at least downplayed, but Gonzalez is a pleasure to watch around the bag. His footwork is fantastic, and he routinely (and seemingly without effort) makes his infielders look that much better. Gonzalez is the kind of player that, if I had children, I would have them watch to learn how a ballplayer does his job.
San Francisco Giants
Grant Brisbee, McCovey Chronicles: Barry Bonds is the obvious answer. I have my misgivings about blindly cheering him on, but he's like your uncle with five DUIs and a couple of possession busts; he's still family. It's even more entertaining now that pitchers are willing to challenge him. In a recent battle of steroid-fed monsters, Bonds tied a game with an eighth-inning home run off Ryan Franklin. He wouldn't have even had the chance to swing in previous years, and danged if it wasn't as exciting as any other homer he's ever hit.
Matt Cain is the less-obvious answer, but if I had to pick just one player, he'd be the guy. I can't recall a starting pitcher who could get by with his fastball like Cain. If he only threw fastballs, I could see him being at least a league-average pitcher for years. Add in his developing curve and change, and he's just going to get nastier and nastier. It seems as if he pitches a one-hitter every other time out.
Labels: NL West
AL East: No End In Sight For Yanks' Woes
For the Yankees, April has been the cruelest month, as the most expensive team in baseball finds itself smack in last place with a host of problems that don't look as if they'll be solved anytime soon. Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano and Bobby Abreu (whose longest hitless streak in his career ended late yesterday at 0-19) are all struggling, yet the offense has still been excellent.
The pitching, on the other hand, has been unsightly. Yankees starters have pitched the fewest number of innings per start of any team in baseball. The bullpen has thrown the most innings, but until Saturday, had yet to record a save. The Bombers have used five or more pitchers in each of the last 10 games, which according to the Elias Sports Bureau, hasn't been done in at least 50 years. If it wasn't for Kei Igawa's stellar outing on Saturday, the Yanks, losers of eight of their last nine, could have found themselves with a new manager.
Much has been written about The Boss not being what he once was, and you could argue that it is hardly Torre's fault that his pitchers can't pitch. Not surprisingly, Torre received the support of his players after yesterday's loss. According to the New York Times:
"It's common sense," said Derek Jeter. "He's not playing, that's the bottom line. That's pretty much all I've got to say. It's unfair. It should stop. We should never talk about his job. He's been doing a great job. He's doing a great job this year."
Still, in the past, Yankee skippers have been fired for less, as Murray Chass notes today in the Times. New York hasn't had this poor an April record since 1985, when they posted a 6-12 mark. Steinbrenner, who had given manager Yogi Berra one of his dubious votes of confidence, fired the Yankee legend before the end of April that year. Billy Martin took over and the Yankees finished the season winning 97 games, but the '85 Yanks are most famous for being the season when Steinbrenner referred to his star outfielder, Dave Winfield as "Mr. May."
The Yankees have held a lead in each of the six games they have played against Boston this season, and have lost all but one of those games. Which begs the question: What does one Roger Clemens make of all of this? Because of his relationship with both Torre and Andy Pettitte, it was believed that the Yankees had the inside track in landing Clemens should he decide to pitch again this season. Now, you'd think that the Red Sox are becoming increasingly attractive to the pitching legend. If he went to New York, Clemens would be seen as a savior to a depleted pitching staff. If he chooses Boston, he could round out the best staff in the league, and probably the game. As the losses mount, New York's chances at losing to the Sox in the Rocket Sweepstakes grows increasingly more likely.
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