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8/31/2007 11:14:00 AM

NL East: Moan of the Braves

By Ben Reiter

“This record keeps playing,” lamented John Smoltz on Tuesday night after the Braves dropped a 4-3 decision to the Marlins in 11 innings. “It seems like we can’t find a way to win a baseball game.”

I still believe that G.M. John Schuerholz did all the right things at the July 31 trade deadline in acquiring Octavio Dotel, Ron Mahay. Royce Ring and, of course, Mark Teixeira. Teixeira has been even better than advertised, with 10 home runs and 32 RBI (with an outstanding 1.080 OPS, second best in the NL this month) since his arrival – and he’s helped the Braves rank second in the league with 159 runs scored (5.89 per game) in August. While Dotel’s on the DL and Ring’s in Triple-A Richmond, Mahay leads the team with 15 August appearances and his 1.72 ERA has contributed mightily to the ‘pen’s 3.16 ERA in the month, third best in the NL.

However, what’s doomed the Braves since the deadline – and they’re 13-14 in August and now stand five games behind the Mets in the NL East and five out of the Wild Card – has been the one area which Schuerholz could not address at the deadline: the starting staff. It appears as if Schuerholz looked at the pitiable group of starters available and decided that none would be of help to him – and he was probably right, as none of the starters who ended up being dealt has done much: Kyle Lohse has one win in five starts for the Phillies; Matt Morris has a 4.65 ERA and a 1.516 WHIP for the Pirates. And the starter whom Schuerholz traded for Dotel, Kyle Davies, has been even worse (1-3, 7.48 ERA, 1.892 WHIP).

Schuerholz hoped that his suddenly stacked relief corps would take the burden off the starters – but the starters, apart from Smoltz and Tim Hudson, have been too dreadful for the bullpen’s stellar work to have any effect. The rotation has a 5.33 ERA this month – 13th in the NL and 25th overall – and has featured Lance Cormier (5.18 ERA in August), Buddy Carlyle (6.75), Jo-Jo Reyes (8.49) and the now-injured Chuck James (8.59).

Schuerholz should not be blamed for the Braves’ dog days struggles; he did the best he could to try to get this team to win, and win now. However, if the Braves fail to make the playoffs – a scenario that becomes more likely with each passing day, as the record spins ‘round and ‘round – the onus will fall squarely on the back end of their rotation.

  • Umpire C.B. Bucknor helped the Phillies win their third straight against the Mets last night. The Mets’ faithful will unpleasantly recall this MLB Players Poll from last June.

  • Nationals fans are after team president Stan Kasten again. I guess that’s what happens when you drop seven of eight. Still, the Nats are only five wins away from assuring themselves of a sub-100 loss season, which has to count for something.

  • The Mets clearly got jealous of all the Joba/Hughes/Kennedy talk in the Bronx: now they’ve got their own young guns on the way – plus one significant old-timer.

  • Talking Chop looks at the various reasons behind Bob Wickman’s ouster from the Braves. I’d like to see Peter Moylan – the 28-year-old Australian rookie who’s quietly putting together a phenomenal season (1.93 ERA, 1.06 WHIP in 62 appearances) – get some closing opportunities.

  • While it might be hyperbolic to say that Dan Uggla has now entered the “annals of baseball lore,” as Mike Phillips of the Miami Herald writes here, it is certainly notable that Uggla’s now the second two-bagger ever to hit 25 bombs in each of his first two big league seasons. If only he didn’t field like a designated hitter.

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  • 8/31/2007 09:54:00 AM

    Nine Lives: The NL Playoff Race

    by Cliff Corcoran

    Last week, I took a quick look at the AL contenders. As the pennant races continue to heat up, here's a look at the even more crowded National League field.

    New York Mets

    Status: 2-game lead in the NL East Record since the All-Star break: 25-21 (.543) Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds: Division: 74.5%, Wild Card: 10.8%, Playoffs: 85.3%

    The Mets looked like they were going to waltz into the playoffs until a recent 2-7 slump that culminated with a dramatic four-game sweep at the hands of the Phillies. The Mets have three more left against the Phils and six left against the third-place Braves (including a three-game set that starts tonight), so they're vulnerable, but there are no other winning teams left on their schedule and 13 of their last 14 come against the last-place Nats and Marlins.

    Key Player: Pedro Martinez is expected to make his long-awaited return to the Mets rotation next weekend after one more rehab start. He won't be the Pedro of old, and he'll only have four starts left in the season, but if he's even moderately effective, he could be the difference in the division.

    Arizona Diamondbacks

    Status: 1-game lead in the NL West Record since the ASB: 28-17 (.622) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 37.6%, Wild Card: 20.8%, Playoffs: 58.4%

    The Diamondbacks are probably the most compelling team in baseball right now. In addition to Brandon Webb's recent scoreless innings streak, Micah Owing's crazy day at the plate, the seemingly endless train of top-tier prospects entering their lineup, and the discrepancy between their record and run differential (currently an 11-game difference, a phenomenon which was explained in detail by SI.com's Jacob Luft here), they have the best record in the NL in the second half.

    Key Player: With the exceptions of Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes (who are good complimentary players, but hardly offensive lynchpins), the Diamonbacks' regulars are so young and inexperienced that it's difficult to demand that one of them step up with a big September, but someone on the offense is going to have to help tip the balance lest the D'backs' coin come to rest on the wrong side.

    Chicago Cubs

    Status: 2.5-game lead in the NL Central Record since the ASB: 24-21 (.533) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 65.5%, Playoffs: 65.7%

    After salvaging their season with a hot June and July, the Cubs have slipped back into their early-season form, but they're still beating the teams that matter, going 8-4 in their last four series against the Brewers and Cardinals. Thanks to Milwaukee's second-half collapse and the Cardinals' early-season struggles, the Cubs are likely to win the division by default much like St. Louis did last year, but the five head-to-head games remaining between the rival Cubs and Cardinals will likely be the deciding factor.

    Key Players: Alfonso Soriano and Derrek Lee. Lee has been an enigma this year. He hit .330 in the first half, but knocked just six pitches over the fence. In the second half he's hit already hit nine taters, but is batting just .274. Soriano lived up to his contract in the first half, but missed three weeks with a quad injury in August and hasn't hit even when healthy in the second half. These Cubs need to live up to the back of their baseball cards as the club's questionable offseason pitching additions are starting to do the same.

    San Diego Padres

    Status: 2-game lead in the Wild Card, 1 game behind in the NL West Record since the ASB: 24-22 (.523) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 42.9%, Wild Card: 19.4%, Playoffs: 62.3%

    The Padres are in that prime position of being ahead in the Wild Card race and very close to the leader in their division. They have a fairly stiff schedule remaining, however, with six each against the Dodgers and Rockies, four against the Brewers, and three against the division-leading Diamondbacks. Of course, the Pads just took three of four (at home) from the D'backs and have gone 7-3 against the Mets, Phillies, and Arizona in their last 10 games. They're up to the challenge.

    Key Player: Chris Young missed two starts in early August with an oblique strain, then another recently from lower back pain suspected to be the result of his compensating for the oblique. These sorts of injuries are particularly tricky for someone with Young's 6-foot-10 frame. Indeed, Young struggled in his return to the mound yesterday, but claimed he was just rusty and that he's feeling much better. The Padres hope he's right as they're at a loss for a fifth starter, let alone a sixth.

    Philadelphia Phillies

    Status: 2 games behind in the NL East, 2 games behind for the Wild Card Record since the ASB: 27-18 (.600) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 17.6%, Wild Card, 21.2%, Playoffs: 38.8%

    Despite injuries to Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and Shane Victorino almost everything else has gone right for the Phillies in the second half. Tad Iguchi and Jayson Werth have raked while filling in for Utley and Victorino, respectively, Pat Burrell has just gone batty, and the Phils just took four straight from the Mets without Hamels pitching a game. Still, the Phillies' rotation is a scary thing without Young King Cole and you just know they'll find a way to fall one game short of the playoffs come the end of September.

    Key Player: Hamels is due to return to the rotation on Sunday, but if his elbow flares up again, it could sink any hope the Phils have of crashing the playoff party.

    Milwaukee Brewers

    Status: 2.5 games behind in the NL Central Record since the ASB: 17-28 (.378) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 19.9%, Playoffs: 20.2%

    On June 2 the Brewers beat the Pirates in the opener of a series in Pittsburgh to go 14 games over .500. They then dropped the next three to the Buccos and have since sunk all the way back down to a game below .500. What changed? It's hard to say. The team's young middle infielders both suffered a collapse, but the addition of Rookie of the Year favorite Ryan Braun should have compensated for that (indeed, the team had its best offensive month in June). Ace Ben Sheets got hurt, but not until July. The pitching staff as a whole had a dreadful August, but what about the previous two months? Maybe the Brewers were just never that good to begin with. Maybe it has something to do with their almost perfectly inverted home and road records. This team still has a bright future, but with no games left against the Cubs (to whom they just dropped two of three in Chicago) and their last 11 games of the season coming against contenders, that future isn't now.

    Key Player: Sheets is beginning to look like a one-year wonder. It took him four seasons to put it all together for his 2004 campaign and he hasn't been able to stay healthy since. He turned 29 on July 18. Time is running out for Sheets to avoid coming up in discussions like this one. The Brewers can't keep waiting.

    St. Louis Cardinals

    Status: 3 games behind in the NL Central Record since the ASB: 24-21 (.533) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 13.8%, Playoffs: 13.9%

    The Cards must have stolen the Brewers' mojo, not that the Cardinals have been world beaters in the second half, in fact their second-half record matches the Cubs underwhelming performance exactly, but they've made up a lot of ground since bottoming out at nine games below .500 on May 29. Rick Ankiel has been a great story, and Brendan Ryan a pleasant surprise, but the Cardinal revival has had more to do with Albert Pujols reverting to form in the second half, and Adam Wainwright finding his sea legs as a starter (his ERA has improved dramatically each month this season). Unfortunately, their tough remaining schedule (15 of 32 games against contenders, no off days, and a double-header against the Cubs) means that it's all likely too little too late.

    Key Player: Yadier Molina discovered the base on balls after the All-Star break, walking once every 7.8 plate appearances after a prior career rate of one walk every 15.7 PA. The result has been a .294/.392/.413 line, which is fantastic for a defense-first catcher. If the 25-year-old backstop can make that change permanent, the Cardinals will have their best offensive catcher since 1982 World Series MVP Darrell Porter.

    Los Angeles Dodgers

    Status: 3 games behind for the Wild Card, 4 games behind in the NL West Record since the ASB: 21-23 (.477) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 15.1%, Wild Card: 12.6%, Playoffs: 27.7%

    The Dodgers don't really deserve to be here. They have a losing record in the second half and haven't taken a series from a contender other than the Phillies since June. Nearly all of their offseason moves have blown up in their faces leaving them to pick up waiver-wire detritus such as the 44-year-old David Wells and the injured and overpaid Esteban Loaiza, while the deadline swap of Wilson Betemit has reduced them to starting the execrable Shea Hillenbrand at third.

    Key Player: Tony Abreu is playing again after missing time due to a mysteriously undetectable "sports hernia." He's also mashing. Unfortunately he's doing so for Triple-A Las Vegas. He needs to be playing third base for the Dodgers.

    Atlanta Braves

    Status: 4.5 games behind for the Wild Card, 4.5 games behind in the NL East Record since the ASB: 22-23 (.489) BP Playoff Odds: Division: 7.9%, Wild Card: 9.5%, Playoffs: 17.3%

    The Braves' second-half run differential translates to a .608 Pythagorean winning percentage, which means they've underperformed that differential by more than five games thus far since the break, enough to explain their deficits in the playoff races. The Braves also have a terrible record in one-run games and in extra innings, and have greatly underperformed their run differential on the road. That all points back to the bullpen. The Braves have 12 games left against the two teams ahead of them in the East, which gives them the opportunity to make a run at the postseason, but to capitalize on that opportunity they need to stop letting leads slip away in the late innings.

    Key Player: Rafael Soriano. With Bob Wickman having been released and Octavio Dotel back on the DL, the onus falls on the 27-year-old Soriano to finally live up to his promise in the closer role.
    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment  
    8/30/2007 10:27:00 AM

    AL West: Seattle's last act?

    by Gennaro Filice

    Sorry, Seattle, but I think that portly gal just hit the high note.

    The Mariners entered this week with a golden opportunity, facing division leader Los Angeles for a three-game set in the comfy confines of Safeco Field. Trailing the Angels by just two games at dawn on Monday, a sweep would have given Seattle the division lead for the first time since April 17.

    Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out as planned...

    Instead, the Angels decisively swept Seattle by a combined score of 24-8, improving their season record against the Mariners to 11-4 and increasing their division lead to five games (their largest edge since June). Following the sweep, Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "I think this series probably put in their head they need to be worried about the wild card and not the division." I have to agree with OC.

    With just 29 games left, Seattle faces the extremely daunting task of closing a five-game gap on Los Angeles, and that's before taking into account both teams' remaining schedules. Other than facing off in three-game series in September, the Angels and Mariners finish the season in dissimilar fashion. Outside of Seattle, Los Angeles will play just one more team with a record north of .500 (in a four-game series against Cleveland). The Halos should rack up Ws against the likes Texas, Oakland, Baltimore, Chicago and Tampa Bay. On the other hand, Seattle has an extremely challenging slate, chock-full of winning teams. Today, the Mariners begin a 10-game road trip that includes one make-up game at Cleveland and three-game sets at Toronto and New York and Detroit... Oh, my! Just for good measure, Seattle also faces Cleveland four more times later in September.

    The Mariners have been a pleasant surprise in 2007, but it's obvious that they've been playing over their heads. The events that took place over the last three days exposed them as an inferior team to the Angels in almost every category (hitting, pitching, coaching, etc.). Combine this with their remaining schedule, and the Mariners' division-title dreams are cooked. The 2007 A.L. West pennant belongs to Los Angeles.

    On the plus side, Seattle's still tied with New York for the wild card lead, three games ahead of defending A.L. champ Detroit. But let's be honest: The Mariners' grasp on first place is tenuous and weakening by the day. Regardless of how good their bullpen is, the rotation (Felix Hernandez, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista, Jeff Weaver and Horatio Ramirez) makes this team highly suspect in a meaningful month of September.

    Seattle's play has rejuvenated an underrated baseball city, but unfortunately this improbable run will end in September, not October.




  • Boston pitcher Josh Beckett is tied for the major league lead with 16 wins. Turns out the Rangers could have acquired Beckett, had they been willing to give up John Danks back in 2005. Whoops...


  • After multiple surgeries last year, Jose Guillen signed a one-year deal with the Mariners. This risky signing by Seattle has paid off, as Guillen's hitting .293 with 19 homers and 83 RBIs. Now it's being reported that the Mariners are close to reaching a three-year deal with the 31-year-old outfielder.


  • Melissa Lockard over at Athletic Supporters is absolutely shocked that the A's let go of pitcher Esteban Loaiza for nothing in return. As the entry says, "This has a feel of a move the A's would have made in 1996. It stinks."


  • After one of the worst starts in recent memory (1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 ER), it looks like Ervin Santana will lose his spot in the Angels' rotation...again.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment  
    8/29/2007 02:34:00 PM

    NL Central: Redbirds On A Roll

    By Albert Chen

    On Tuesday night in Houston, Braden Looper tossed seven shutout innings and the Cardinals smothered the Astros 7-0. St. Louis is .500 for the first time since mid-April. It was the 14th time in 19 games that a St. Louis pitcher posted a quality start -- an astonishing run of success by a rag-tag staff that has miraculously propelled the Redbirds into the NL Central hunt.

    Cardinals pitching guru Dave Duncan has done it again, having turned an injury-ravaged, inexperienced rotation into the NL's second-best staff in August. Duncan has found a way to resurrect Joel Pineiro (he of the 6.36 ERA in 2006) and turned two former relievers who have never logged more than 86 innings in a season -- Looper and Adam Wainwright -- into effective starters who have looked terrific down this crucial stretch.

    "He doesn’t say much, so when he says something you listen," says Pineiro, who, at the suggestion of Duncan, relaxed his hands during his delivery and took tips on how to stop tipping his off-speed pitches, which Duncan believed he was doing. "He relies so much on charts and numbers, but he has a great eye for things, too. He’ll make the smallest suggestion, and he’ll turn out to be magic."

    So exactly how effective is Duncan?

    A few years ago J.C. Bradbury, author of The Baseball Economist (a fine read, by the way), did a study on Leo Mazzone that got a fair amount of press. Bradbury set out to prove that Mazzone's success in 15 years in Atlanta was merely anecdotal, so he ran a study of every pitcher who worked with Mazzone in a Brave uniform. He was stunned by his findings: Working with Mazzone shaved .60 points off a pitcher's projected ERA for that season.

    Last week I asked Bradbury to do the same for Duncan. Bradbury, who used a similar model to the one used for Mazzone, found that Duncan's presence shaves 0.35 points off a pitcher's ERA. "That estimate is statistically significant," he notes. Bradbury, however, also adds this: "One problem with analyzing Duncan -- similar to the one I had with Mazzone when he was only with the Braves -- is that Duncan has almost always been with La Russa. It's possible that La Russa's in-game management could explain some of this."

    Known for his stoic calm (in Three Nights in August author Buzz Bissinger calls him “the man who in the storm at sea would simply lash himself to the mast”) and exhaustive preparation (his scouting reports fill up a different thick three-ringed binder for each team), Duncan has of course long been regarded as one of the game's finest pitching coaches. If St. Louis is still playing in October because of its pitching, his 2007 could turn out to be his masterpiece.




  • Earlier this week in Houston there was a Monday Afternoon Massacre, and Richard Justice chimes in on the Tim Purpura and Phil Garner firings. As for Garner, he says that "Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Jim Leyland couldn't have gotten more from this club." As for Purpura, Justice says: "His legacy will be linked to Jason Jennings. That disaster of a trade will be remembered by many as his defining mistake. In three seasons on the job, he didn't pull off a single deal that looks good in hindsight. I don't know if he was unlucky or too cautious or what, but it didn't happen."

  • The faithful in the Crawfish Boxes offer their two cents on the firings: "I don't think Purpura has done a good job with the team, but I don't think he's been absolutely terrible .... Same thing for Garner. ... I've called for his head multiple times this year, but that's more out of frustration and me not agreeing with his moves. It still surprises me that he's being let go. But when it comes down to it .... I think we could be better off with a new GM and a new manager."

  • Yes, it's time to panic in Brewer Country. Milwaukee desperately needs its ace back, and Ben Sheets could be on the mound this week. Huge series between the Cubs and Brewers began last night, and here's a good preview of it from Brew Crew Ball. One important distinction between the teams is noted here: "A lot has been written about the Cubs defense this year and how they seem to be getting lucky on balls in play. But as of right now, they are tops in the NL in defensive efficiency. They are second in the NL in RZR (also at Hardball times) to go along with that. Each one of these statistics uses a different way of calculating defense and I just don't believe that this is all from luck anymore. The Cubs have a very good defense. Maybe they aren't the best in the NL but they are in the top three. The Brewers, on the other hand, are probably in the bottom three."

  • The surging Reds had a rough day on Tuesday, losing a pair in a doubleheader in Pittsburgh. Nice run by the Reds while it lasted. The Red Reporter says this reliever represents everything that's wrong with the Cincinnati Reds.

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  • 8/28/2007 12:00:00 PM

    Is Theo A Real Genius?

    Theo Epstein
    Theo Epstein isn't perfect, but he has built a winner in the 2007 Red Sox.
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
    By Andy Gray

    With the division lead hovering at eight games over the Yankees and the first AL East title in 12 years within reach, things are good in Red Sox Nation. This week's three-game series against the reeling Yankees couldn't come at a better time (and I wrote that before their 16-0 drubbing by the Tigers and the talk that Kei Igawa -– and his 6.79 ERA -- may take Mike Mussina's spot in the rotation surfaced).

    But this is Boston and we have a predilection toward half-empty glasses, so forgive me if I can't help but scream at my TV every time J.D. Drew (and his $14 million salary) watches a third strike while his bat remains velcroed to his shoulder. The same can be said for Julio Lugo (and his $9 million salary), whose futility in the field (16 errors) is matched by his futility at the plate (.240 average). Sure the Sox are a major-league best 29 games above .500 and I should be satisfied, but I can't hep but think that if either of this year's big money free agents matched their production from last year, it could be 35 games over .500. Maybe more. And I can't stop thinking about that.

    I look at Theo Epstein and I no longer know what to think. Do I blame him these two free-agent busts or praise him for the other 23 guys playing around him? Do I look at his tenure with the Sox and focus on the good free-agent pick-ups (David Ortiz, Bill Mueller) or the bad (Matt Clement, Edgar Renteria)?

    In a nutshell, is he a bad GM or a good one?

    A little of both.

    He's certainly not a genius as many heralded him after the 2004 World Series, but he's no slouch either. Here are five reasons we should give Theo a break:

    The Recycle Bin
    Retreads such as Mueller, Kevin Millar, Dave Roberts and Mike Lowell all thrived with the Sox after their old teams decided they no longer had value. That is especially true for Lowell, who the Red Sox were "forced" to take by the cost-cutting Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal. Lowell has a team-leading 93 RBIs.

    Big Papi
    We could've grouped Ortiz in the recycled bin category, but his production has so far exceeded expectations that he deserves his own category. It's not an exaggeration to say that he may be the greatest free-agent signing in baseball history. Not only has he led the team to a World Series victory and broken a handful of team records, but he also has become the second-most popular athlete in Boston (Gisele pushed Tom Brady back up to No. 1). Not bad for a $1.25 million gamble in 2003.

    The Farm System
    For years, the words "Red Sox" and "home-grown talent" were rarely uttered in the same breath. When Epstein took over in 2003, the team's farm system was ranked No. 27 in Baseball America's Talent Rankings. Four years later, it is ranked No. 8 with Clay Bucholz and Jacoby Ellsbury set to join the big club later this week. Though the team consists largely of veterans, productive second baseman Dustin Pedroia was an Epstein draft pick.

    Mistake Recognition
    It seems weird for someone's strength to only come as a result of his failures, but Theo isn't shy to backtrack when his moves have backfired. He swallowed his pride (and a lot of guaranteed money) to unload Renteria on Atlanta and traded back with San Diego to acquire Doug Mirabelli after realizing that nobody else could catch Tim Wakefield's knuckler. But the most impressive example is Theo himself, who briefly quit the team two years ago after failing to reach a contract extension only to return a couple months later.

    Moves Not Made
    He steadfastly refused to sign aging free agents such as Johnny Damon or Pedro Martinez to four-year deals, and didn't blink when both took the money and ran. Neither has contributed this season and few Sox fans are complaining as they were (loudly) when both were allowed to leave town.
    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment  
    8/28/2007 11:32:00 AM

    AL Central: Just The Links

    by Joe Lemire

  • The banner headline at Let's Go Tribe says it all about the Indians: "Worst. First-Place Team. Ever."

  • The following shouldn't be surprising for two teams known for 80-plus year streaks, the Red Sox became the first team in 85 years to score at least 10 runs in all four games of a series when they lambasted the White Sox but over the weekend.

  • The Twins keep gaining ground in the AL Central, complete with an unprecedented four-game sweep in Baltimore. Don't look now, says Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse, but Minnesota remains in contention in the most unlikely of ways.

  • It isn't easy being Gil Meche. He's now winless in his last seven starts, even though he's given up just two earned runs in five of them.

  • On the plus side for the Royals, Joey Gathright is turning into a very good leadoff hitter. My favorite note at the end of Sam Mellinger's notebook story is this one: "The Royals' winning percentage is now .442. The last time it was higher than the Chiefs' was 2001. If the Royals' percentage stays the same the rest of the season, the Chiefs would need to go at least 8-8 to keep the streak alive."

  • Talk about grade inflation: White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said he'd give manager Ozzie Guillen an 'A' for the job he's done this year but only an 'A-' for the work he did when Chicago won the World Series in 2005. Where was Jerry when I was in college?

  • More bad news for the reeling Tigers: Gary Sheffield heads to the disabled list. Worse yet: He didn't rule out being done for the season.

  • Meanwhile, the Indians have made a key late-season acquisition by calling up switch-hitting second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera, who's been a spark where Josh Barfield has mostly been a disappointment.

  • Once again, we're reminded that the Royals Review's list of 100 greatest Royalsis a little too long, when Jeremy Affeldt makes the list at No. 92. His career numbers in Kansas City? A 17-22 record and 5.05 ERA in 497 innings.

  • Twins reliever Pat Neshek once again provides an insightful view of life in the majors, discussing everything from what a thrill it is to see a Hall of Famer like Cal Ripken to the absurdity of many media stories to a shout-out to Minnesota blogger Aaron Gleeman.

  • Speaking of Aaron Gleeman, check out his detailed comparison of second baseman Alexi Casilla and Luis Castillo. I'm glad I'm not the only one who confuses them.

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  • 8/27/2007 08:56:00 AM

    NL West: Missing Maddux

    By Jon Weisman

    There might be all kinds of reasons why the San Diego Padres are 3 ½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the wild-card race, but perhaps this is the simplest: Greg Maddux.

    At the end of last season, the Dodgers chose not to resign the future Hall of Famer. In his place, they picked up Randy Wolf for $8 million (including $500,000 if they buy out his 2008 option), as well as offering arbitration to Mark Hendrickson instead of cutting him loose and negotiating a $2.925 million one-year deal -- even though there wasn't a spot for Hendrickson in the starting rotation.

    The Padres grabbed Maddux, locking him in for $10 million for 2007, plus an option for 2008 that could cost San Diego from $6 million $11 million, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.

    Perhaps San Diego will regret the deal in 2008, but as far as '07 is concerned, the Padres got Maddux for less than what the Dodgers spent on Wolf and Hendrickson. And what was the result?

    Maddux has already thrown 161 2/3 innings while leading San Diego in games started with 27, with an ERA of 3.90. His Value Over Replacement Player, according to Baseball Prospectus, is 32.0.

    Wolf's ERA swelled to 4.73 over 18 starts for the Dodgers before going out of the rotation for good with shoulder problems, and he accumulated a VORP of 11.4. Hendrickson, who began the season in the bullpen, has gone in and out of the rotation, making 15 starts in 30 appearances with an ERA of 5.49 and a VORP of 4.6. In short, the two pitchers combined have so far been barely half as good as one Greg Maddux, and the gap is almost certain to increase over the season's final month.

    You might be tempted to call it hindsight, because Maddux wasn't exactly a lock to shine this season. He turned 41 in April and has long since stopped being a pitcher you can count on for more than six innings.

    On the other hand, his durability over the course of a season has been remarkable -- he has made at least 33 starts each year since 1988, exculding strike years. And even if he can only give you limited innings, some felt he still was more likely to be reliable than Wolf, who was coming off Tommy John surgery and whose ERA was at or below the league average every season since 2002.

    As for Hendrickson, his combined ERA with Tampa Bay and Los Angeles in 2006 was actually almost identical to Maddux's, but Hendrickson's was more out of character with the rest of his career. And it's not as if Hendrickson, 33, was on the rise, either.

    In 2006, Maddux was a key reason behind the Dodgers' playoff push. Had the Dodgers been willing to give him the 2007 money they allocated to shakier pitchers (not to mention disappointments like Nomar Garciaparra), instead of allowing a rival like San Diego to take advantage, Los Angeles probably would be in better playoff position -- even with Jason Schmidt (six games, 6.31 ERA. $12.5 million) flaming out.

    It should be said that the final twist in this San Diego-Los Angeles exchange might be yet to come, now that an ex-Padre has moved up the road to pitch for Los Angeles. David Wells survived his Dodger debut Sunday despite allowing 10 baserunners in five innings, increasing the possibility that he will start against San Diego on Friday in a game that would affect the playoff race, one way or another.




  • And speaking of ex-Dodgers helping out in San Diego ... consider one Milton Bradley. No, you never know how long he is going to be in the lineup, but for the 119 plate appearances he had given the Padres through Sunday, Bradley has had an on-base percentage of .454 and a slugging percentage of .653. For a team that's as offensively challenged as the Padres, every little bit helps -- and that's more than a little bit.

    "Natural as it might be for people to assume that Bradley would be in the thick of any trouble swirling up around the Padres -- like the benches-and bullpen-clearing dust-up at second base last night at Citizens Bank Park -- the fact of the matter is that Bradley has been an instigator," wrote Chris Jenkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune on Friday. "He has created a huge problem for somebody else. ... The rest of the National League.

    "Without Bradley in the lineup this year, the Padres batted .241 and scored an average of 4.29 runs. In the 24 games he has started, they've batted .276 and scored an average of 5.28 runs."

    Said San Diego first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to Jenkins: "Milton Bradley is my favorite player."

  • Ground control to Micah Owings ... plan on coming back to earth anytime soon? Apparently, the Arizona pitcher has been checking his protein pills before putting his batting helmet on. After hitting a single, double and two home runs on Aug. 18, Owings came back in his next start last Friday and hit another circuit clout, boosting his season slugging percentage to .630.

    Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily Star said that Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin "has indicated his offensive skills are making him a viable pinch-hitting option in games when he does not start" -- and indeed, Owings did so Aug. 20, drawing a walk.

    Unfortunately for Owings, he took the loss Friday, Arizona's third in four game befoire a victory Saturday. The Diamondbacks also learned that they will probably be without infielder Chad Tracy (.795 OPS) for the remainder of the season, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic.

    Hard to feel too bad for the Diamondbacks, though. They not only hold a three-game lead in the NL West, they have a six-game advantage over the closest team that could knock them out of a playoff spot: Philadelphia.

  • With the Giants buried in last place (and unable to draw any fire-sale interest in their veterans, according to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle), Grant Brisbee of McCovey Chronicles doesn't want Matt Cain's laudable 2007 season (3.67 ERA despite a 6-13 record) to be overlooked.

    On July 23, he only lasted 4.1 innings and fell to 3-12. His ERA was just 4.02, but he had every right to curl up into a little ball and start feeling sorry for himself.

    Not only that, but he's had to sit back and watch Tim Lincecum become the darling young pitcher in the organization. Lincecum is now the fire-throwing arm talked about in hushed tones. Lincecum is the one on the cover of Young Giants Pitcher Quarterly. Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Cripes, what does a guy have to do to get some love around here?

    Cain's still a beast. He's still just 22, an age where a lot of pitchers are still in their first full professional season. He still has the fastball, he still has the curveball, and he's refining the changeup. His control is a continuing issue, but I refer you back to the second point: He's 22 years old.


    And look out Owings: Cain has two home runs himself this season, including a blast Thursday, and fellow starting pitcher Noah Lowry hit his own four-bagger Friday.

  • The injuries to Colorado's starting pitching finally took their toll. As Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post wrote, the Rockies' starting pitchers posted a 6.57 ERA over a recent 10-game stretch, stalling the team's charge in the wild-card race.

    Colorado's woes extended to the minor leagues: 2006 top draft pick Greg Reynolds underwent shoulder surgery after not pitching for three months, Renck reported.

    All that being the case, Colorado took three in a row from Washington over the weekend, moving within 3 ½ games of a wild-card spot.

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  • 8/27/2007 08:41:00 AM

    AL East: Sox Rules

    By Alex Belth

    I contributed two narrative chapters for the new Baseball Prospectus book, It Ain't Over 'Til it's Over. One of them is about the 1974 American League East. That summer, the Boston Globe featured a daily this-date-in-1967 column, reminding pennant-starved Red Sox fans of the improbable run the team had seven years earlier. The '67 team is credited with the resurgence of the franchise, even though it did not lead to a championship.

    The Sox narrowly missed reaching the playoffs in 1972, and they could thank a strike and poor executive planning for that. In '74, they found themselves in first place for most of the summer. On Aug. 23, Luis Tiant, the first black player to be fully embraced by Sox fans, shut out the A's 3-0, winning his 20th game of the season in front of the largest crowd to fill Fenway Park in 18 years. Boston was seven games in front of the Orioles and Yankees.

    Then, they lost 14 of their next 20, and finished the season in third place. The season would epitomize Boston's reputation until 2004. From Bucky Dent to '86, the Sox always found a way to come up short. But after thoroughly humiliating the White Sox in Chicago this weekend, 11-3, 10-1, 14-2, and 11-1 -- giving a new twist on the old Boston Massacre line -- the Red Sox are 7.5 games in front of the Yankees, and this is a brave new world.

    These Red Sox are different. Sox fans wailed last winter about J.D. Drew so far have been proved right. Drew, who hit just his seventh home run of the year on Sunday, could be the first Boston right fielder since 1953 to hit fewer than 10 bombs in a season. Imagine the Boston-baked beatdown this guy would otherwise be suffering if the Sox weren’t in first place?

    Of course, Red Sox have had lots of good offensive teams in the past, but now their strength is pitching. Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and ol' reliable, Tim Wakefield have been excellent this year, while Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Paplebon have been extraordinary out of the bullpen. Not the same Red Sox at all.

    Even in New York City, there is a different feeling about them. I lived in Brooklyn from '94 through 2000 and knew of only one Red Sox fan in my neighborhood. Now, Brooklyn's rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods are littered with Red Sox fans. The Sox have become virtually the third team in town. Most Sox fans are transplants from New England. Some are old Dodger fans, others are anyone in general who hates the Yankees. Others are Dominicans who have loved Boston ever since Pedro, then Manny and Ortiz arrived.

    It's not so much that older Red Sox fans are finally comfortable wearing their gear out -- though they certainly are -- it's that the younger generation of Sox fans, the ones that don't actually remember '86, are proudly sporting their team pride without fear of reprisal. You know, the Patriots-Era Red Sox fans. These fans are too young to care about the team's history of losing. They remember the comeback of 2004. They root for the best organization in football. They have developed a sense of entitlement about winning that reminds me of, dare I say it, Yankee fans.

    Whether Boston will reach the World Series remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely that they will miss the playoffs, despite the team's history. While some older fans will always wait for the other shoe to drop, younger Sox fans expect nothing but good things. August is not October, but Boston can deliver the knockout punch to the Yankees this week when the teams meet for a three-game series in New York. Curt Schilling had it wrong a few years ago when he said there was nothing he enjoyed more than shutting up the 55,000 at Yankee Stadium because there's generally 15,000-20,000 Red Sox fans in attendance for Yankee-Sox games. This week will be no different. The Stadium will be filled with raucous Red Sox rooters as their team looks to bury New York and sail away with the division title.

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