Archive for the ‘american league east’ Category

Baltimore’s “Wrigleyville”

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Two wins against the defensively challenged Washington Nationals must be a source of pride for Baltimore Orioles’ fans, but they’re unlikely to quiet the outrage and disgust that permeates the Baltimore faithful. The Orioles are on track to match the epic futility established by some of baseball’s worst teams: the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the 1962 New York Mets (40-120), the 1904 Washington Senators (38-113) and (who can forget?), the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, whose record of 20-134 remains unmatched. The Orioles, despite their two recent wins, might well match the ’62 Mets or ’03 Tigers — or the ’09 Nationals, who tabulated 103 losses. The O’s losing ways are particularly grisly for fans who remember the franchise of the 1970s, viewed as one of the most successful in baseball, a fact highlighted by yesterday’s celebration of the 1970 version of the O’s. The 1970 O’s had one of the best pitching rotations in baseball history (well — nearly so) and the “two Robinsons,” Brooks and Frank, who hit for power, average, and drove in runs. Cal Ripken and Rick Dempsey then became the face of the franchise and defined it. Unfazed by bumps and bruises, the two were very different and very much alike. Both were desperate to win.

Those days are gone.

So what’s wrong in Baltimore? While baseball analysts talk of poor drafts, poor development, poor scouting, “a culture of losing” and an indifferent owner, a not-very-close study of the O’s young players shows an Andy MacPhail bias that is hard to defend. MacPhail, the former President and CEO of the Chicago Cubs (and the former “boy wonder” of the Twins’ of the 1980s) has brought Wrigleyville east — to Baltimore. If you don’t believe me, check the O’s roster. Journeyman lefty Will Ohman was drafted by the Cubs in 1998, spent time with the Dodgers and Braves, but then came into Baltimore — an Andy MacPhail idea. If Ohman looks around he’ll see a lot of former teammates: Jake Fox (Chicago to Oakland to Baltimore), Scott Moore (who came, with Rocky Cherry, to Baltimore from the Cubs), Corey Patterson and Felix Pie (great hopes in Chicago, before failing), tweaky armed Rich Hill and lots-of-promise Lou Montanez, the Cubs first pick in the 2000 draft. There are others, squirreled away in the minors or nursing injuries on the DL. But this is good enough: evidence that MacPhail favors those he knows — even if they’re products of a dysfunctional organization.

MacPhail isn’t alone in trading for his bias — Mike Rizzo is as partial to the outliers of the Arizona Showboats as Jim Bowden once was to the farm system of the Cincinnati Reds. But there are limits, and MacPhail seems to have reached them. Felix Pie may or may not someday be a great outfielder (as the Cubs once thought), but it’ll probably be someday. Rich Hill is a talented lefty, but the Cubs decided they couldn’t wait for his arm to be surgically reattached. Jake Fox is a pretty fair ballplayer, but the fact that Billy Beane was anxious to move him (for pitcher Ross Wolf, who apparently hasn’t pitched since 2007) oughta tell you something. Corey Patterson looks good now (.273, 3 HRs), but he’s never been able to hit anything but a fastball his entire life and Rocky Cherry — well, Rocky Cherry is gone. That leaves Will Ohman, Luis Montanez and Scott Moore. All of them are serviceable. Ohman is a tough competitor and Montanez and Moore might actually make good ballplayers some day. But let’s be clear, in the AL East, guys like Will, Monty and Scott aren’t going to win you any pennants. Or lift you out of the cellar.

It took a while for Andy MacPhail to wear out his welcome in Chicago, in part because the Cubs had sunk so low. But eventually fans of the North Side Drama Queens turned against him. He seemed to lack the “feel” for young players who could turn into something. Cubs fans now refer to those twelve years as “the reign of terror,” but only because after more than a decade at the helm in Wrigleyville the MacPhail version of the Cubs had proven to be, well, the same old version of the Cubs (their record under MacPhail’s leadership was 916-1011). MacPhail’s first round picks in the first year MLB draft included such memorable names as Ryan Harvey, Todd Noel, Ben Christansen and Bobbie Brownlie. The development and scouting department that MacPhail put in place consistently failed to produce home grown products and, when they did, they couldn’t quite believe it — MacPhail traded them in a panic to fill immediate needs. Like Jon Garland, whose trade to the South Siders (for God’s sake) left Cubs fans spinning in despair. You could hear the screams from the bars on Division Street all the way to Wrigley Field: “For Matt Karchner. Matt  f-ing Karchner.”

Last week on the radio, Peter Gammons said that he’d heard that there were two lists of candidates for the manager’s slot in Baltimore. The first list, he said, was “the Peter Angelos list” and the second was a list kept by Andy MacPhail. At issue, apparently, is the power that a new manager will have. Gammons and just about everyone else thinks that, to be successful, Angelos and MacPhail need to bring in someone who knows how to handle young players and will have the run of the system. Someone who will have “complete power.” The phrase hints that what Baltimore’s Birds really need is a baseball man who can overrule the decisions of Angelos and MacPhail, and bring order out of chaos. But ask yourself: how likely is it that either a former abestos lawyer and his sidekick enabler (who are, after all, responsible for this debacle) will cede power to a manager who can veto their decisions? The final verdict will tell the tale. Orioles fans desperately need a guy like Buck Showalter, but if Angelos and MacPhail get their way, they’ll probably get Eric Wedge.

Solving The Argument . . .

Friday, June 4th, 2010

The Opposition Returns

From time to time a “friend” of CFG — and a Baltimore Orioles fan — weighs in give us his views on CFG posts. Under the title “the Loyal Opposition,” this “friend” offers critiques of CFG. We are pleased to present this, his most recent, posting:

With the same attendence record held in college: I am filing for this communist, idiotic and wasteful blog for the second time in as many years. A forced break from following real journalism, I had to return because “Centerfieldgate” has once again lost it’s way, misreported and become unpatriotic yet again.  The author of “Centerfieldgate” has been on a tear recently over not only umpires, but on the way these umpires are covered. There is no question the call made by Jim Joyce in Detriot was wrong — but to attack Tim Kurkjian for not citing other examples where umpires have influenced games and then parlay it into yet another sad Cubs story is tragic. 

Not only did both ESPN and Kurkjian tell the Pappas story repeated by CFG’s main author, but “Centerfieldgate” forgot to mention that Pappas started his career as . . . a Batlimore Oriole. The great and rising stars: “your” Baltimore Orioles. Once again raising the question of loyality: the author of this rag site is clearly a die hard Cubs fan — but like all Cubs fans has adaopted a new team because of geography. This borders on what some of this country’s finest reporters would call “unpatriotic.” But I digress. The author threw in the fact that the strike zone has changed this year; all following the breaking news article that they could be sick of re-play strike zones.

What is needed is less writing for the sake of writing: rather, a solution. One between umpires (who want baseball to truly improve), and players — who are sometimes caught up in winning pennants, and finding their place in history.

Recently the SEC (of the NCAA) put a time clock in centerfield to keep the pitchers working at a decent pace (twenty seconds to throw a pitch, should the previous pitch reach the catchers mitt untouched) and five seconds for the batter to be ready for the pitch. That means one step out of the box, four seconds, and back in. Thank God, some players are retired: this could work. And it did work — in the NCAA game. The game was played with a quicker pace. Pitchers found a rhythm and batters had to keep their heads in the game. MLB games, especially in the AL East, have been played far too slow: something even the announcers have noticed recently.

Like any final peace treaty there has to be a give and take. And since young Gallaraga pitched a hell of a game (a truly perfect game when you look at the pitches thrown and the lack of 3 ball counts), we need to find a way that veteran umpires are not brought to tears because of one bad historical call. The behavior of Joyce has been nothing short of humbling. He is the model of what a professional umpire is: apologizing to Gallaraga, crying to the press about “costing the kid” the perfect game.

So, here’s my proposal. Managers will have one challenge per game. Since every home team has some futuristic slow-mo device coupled with commentators who seem like they know more about criticizing than providing any useful insight, it shouldn’t take that long to review a play. The umpire crew can huddle and the booth can tell them the way the call went. Same rules as the NFL: “overwhelming evidence.”

It has not been a pleasure solving this problem for this blog: in fact, it’s 15 min of my time I’ll never get back. Like my last relationship . . . the entire thing was a giant waste of time.

Nats Win, But Struggle

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010


It is a hallmark of a struggling team that they will defeat themselves — and despite their win against the Birds on Saturday, the Nats came close to doing so, rallying to win a messy 7-6 contest. Included in the win was the second inside-the-park home run at Nats Park in four days — the result of a Nyjer Morgan gaffe in center field that brought jeers from the hometown folks — and the ejection of Washington first base coach Dan Radison. But while it might be that a struggling team defeats itself, the opposite is also true: that a good team that is struggling will find a way to win. It was the hitters that did that for the Nats on Saturday, relying on Roger Bernadina, the under-utilized Alberto Gonzalez, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham to build a solid mid-game surge as they went on to defeat an Orioles team that seems to play well against their I-95 competitors.

The Nats won for only the second time in nine games — bringing the team back to .500 at 22-22. While the Nats win was less a headline than Nyjer Morgan’s tirade in center field, the team’s outburst of hitting put the Anacostia Nine back on track as they face the heart of the season. The Nationals exploded for fifteen hits, including 3-4 days from Ryan Zimmerman and Cristian Guzman — who is hitting a torrid .343. And for the first time in more than a week, the bullpen was nearly perfect, giving up a single hit in 3.2 innings of work.

If it wasn’t for the surprising steadiness of Nats pitching (and the success of the Clippard-Capps late-innings combination), the continued solid hitting of veteran Cristian Guzman might well be the talk of baseball. The former regular shortstop (his position in the middle infield now taken by rising rookie Ian Desmond), began the season as a spot-starter, having been relegated by the Nats brain trust to sometime-play while Desmond and a series of failed platoons in right field kept him out of the starting line-up. But Nats skipper Jim Riggleman has had a difficult time keeping Guzman off the field: his hot bat at the top of the order has sparked innumerable Nats rallies, and Guzman is also devoid of the regular in-game errors that plagued him in the ’09 campaign. There continues to be talk of using Guzman as mid-season bait for a contending team, but that could well change — especially if Guzman continues to show that the Nats will need him for their own late-season push.

Nats Skid Now At Four

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Ian Desmond went 4-4 and Drew Storen made a solid debut, but the Washington Nationals fell to the Cardinals 6-2 on Monday night in St. Louis. The Nats were victimized by a tough first inning from starter Craig Stammen, who surrendered four runs against a hitting heavy Cards line-up.  Stammen pitched well the rest of the way, but Washington’s suddenly quiet bats could not get to the Redbirds. “He got settled in and pitched really good,” Riggleman said of Stammen after the game. “He really made a lot of great pitches and gave us a chance. He kept us in there. Their guy did a good job, too. Lohse did a nice job. He kind of kept us off.” Drew Storen came on in the 7th inning with a man on and one out to face former Nats infielder Felipe Lopez (who fouled out), Redbirds outfielder Ryan Ludwick (who he hit) and big bopper Matt Holliday, whom he struck out. It was an impressive first outing for the 22-year-old reliever. “He closed the inning. He did good. He threw strikes,” Ivan Rodriguez said. “He threw the three pitches out of four that he has. He threw the sinker, the breaking ball and the slider, and he did great. He did a great job.” The Nats losing streak now stands at four — with a second game against the Cardinals in St. Louis tonight.

Those Are The Details And Now For The Headlines: It looks like one of those seasons for the Bosox, who are mired in fourth place in the AL East, a full 8.5 games behind the surging Tampa Bay Rays. The sound and fury from Boston is deafening, as fans of “the Nation” have begun to take themselves apart about the deplorable state of their lovable Yazstremskis. Over The Monster is particularly puzzled, pointing out the “surprising teams” that have better records than the heroes of Fenway: the Padres, Blue Jays, Reds, Nationals and Marlins. The head scratching in the Fens is interesting to watch, particularly for a franchise whose fans suffer from attention deficit disorder. If you had claimed back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that the Sox would one day be viewed as one of the game’s sure-to-win franchises, your claim would have been greeted with jaw-dropping disbelief.

While Sabermetric gurus are able to point to a welter of statistics reflecting the Red Sox woes, the simple truth is that the once proud pounders who thrilled the nation (and “The Nation”), with two world championships are an aging, punchless, poor-pitching and injured group of Back Bayers who play their worst against their deadliest foes. The Red Sox lost two of three in New York one week into the season, lost four in Tampa Bay a week later and two of three against the Yankees in New York in May. That doesn’t count losses to teams they should dominate. For instance, the over-confident Sox lost three to Baltimore’s wadda-we-gonna-do Triple-A Orioles . . .  for God’s Sake . (Spontaneous demonstrations broke out on Eutaw Street and Dave Trembley was given the keys to the city.)

The problem is pitching (ain’t it always). The Red Sox rank 27th in runs allowed and 27th in team ERA. While the Red Sox can put runs on the board (they’re near the top in runs scored), they can’t keep others from scoring even more: Clay Buchholz (with four wins) is their steadiest starter, Josh Beckett is a mess and Daisuke Matsuzaka (just back from the DL) can’t get anyone out. Their roster is a doctor’s dream. Beckett has back spasms, J.D. Drew suffers from vertigo (and an inability to hit an inside slider), Mike Cameron has kidney stones (the poor sot), Jacoby Ellsbury has a chest contusion, Dice-K had a neck strain (and probably still has), Jed Lowrie has suffered from mono and (OLAS) Justin Pedroia continues to battle wrist issues. And now (following last night’s game against the hated Yankees) the entire team probably needs scream therapy.

For those who like tragedy (and walk offs), last night’s Red Sox tilt against the Yankees was fun to watch (you could switch over, just in time to see this disaster, following the Nats post game wrap-up). With a man on in the bottom of the ninth and the Sox ahead 9-7, super reliever Jonathan Papelbon collapsed. He gave up a game-tying homer to Alex Rodriguez (who hit it wicked faaaaah …), then plunked Francisco Cervelli with a fastball. With Cervelli on first, Papelbon missed his spot with Marcus Thames, who cranked Mr. P’s wheelhouse fastball into the lower left field seats. As Papelbon walked from the field, it was hard to shake the feeling that the Yankees have Boston’s number. So here’s the deal: after a season of success at Fenway the current standings in the AL East are, in fact, an accurate reflection of Red Sox reality. We can be surprised by the early season success of the Padres, Blue Jays, Reds, Nationals and Marlins. But no one should be surprised by the Red Sox. It’s not that they’re a bad team, because they’re not. For Red Sox fans, it’s  worse. They’re mediocre.

Nats Fall To Phillies: Again

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The Nats must have one of the toughest early schedules in the major leagues: Phillies, Mets, Phillies (that’s six games against the Phillies in the first month), then the Brewers, Rockies, Dodgers and Cubs. With the exception of the Mets — and a single end-of-month game against the Marlins — the Nats will face-off against a top team every single day until May. Of course (as some fans will note), when you finish with 103 losses, every team looks tough. Even so. There’s two ways to look at this: Nats fans can say it’s “not fair” (a phrase popularized by four-year-olds), or we can look at these games as tests of just how good the Nats are against the league’s best. In the case of the Phillies, at least, the results seem clear. It’s not simply that the Nats are not as good as the Phillies (that’s obvious), to complete with them the Nats will need more pitching — and lots of it.

The Nats fell to the Ponies in Philadelphia yesterday and played them even, until “the killer P’s” unloosed their hitters. For Jason Marquis, who must have come up short when the staff drew straws before heading north, the second outing against the Phillies was only marginally better than his first. Frankly, it’s doubtful that Livan, who dominated the Mets on Sunday, could have done much better. The line-up of Polanco, Utley, Howard, Werth and Ibanez constitutes a latter-day murders’ row of lumber that would be daunting for an elite team — let alone the Nats. Even so, as a guy like Jim Riggleman will tell you, a competitive squad should be expected to play the Phillies tough. But so far that hasn’t happened. The lesson seems to be that once you have your boot on their neck, you don’t dare give in. “They are a balanced lineup,” Nats reliever Walker said. “They have some free swingers and have guys that will grind it out. The balance is what gets you, because they are going to be consistent every day. You give them an inch, they are going to take a mile. You give them an extra out, that’s when they really gear up. They know they can break your back.”

Andy MacPhail’s renovation project in Baltimore is making progress, though the pieces he’s added over the winter (signing Garrett Atkins was a great idea) aren’t likely to make a difference for the Orioles in the standings. At least not this year. It doesn’t help that steady-as-she-goes second sacker Brian Roberts pulled an abdominal muscle last night — and will be out for the next fifteen days. But the Orioles are coming back, if slowly, in part because MacPhail has cobbled together one of the best outfields in baseball: Adam Jones might be the best centerfielder in the game, Nolan Reimold is a surprise addition in left and Nick Markakis is becoming an established star. Even Felix Pie (above), the Cubs cast-off (you could say the same about MacPhail, come to think of it), is starting to hit, though his dinger last night against the Tampa Bay Whatevers didn’t keep the Orioles from losing — or falling to1-6 on the season.

“Overall, our pitching is doing a great job,” Markakis said after last night’s tilt. Really? You could have fooled me.The starting four of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are just so-so, and closer Michael Gonzalez (brought in from the Braves as the real deal) looks terrified on the mound. The Orioles’ front office is hoping that semi-rookie Brian Matusz is the answer to the Orioles’ annual pitching woes, but he’s inexperienced. Matusz was an elite college pitcher (at the University of San Diego) with good velocity, and his trip through the minors was impressive. Signed by the Orioles in the same year that Washington failed to land Aaron Crow, Matusz is Baltimore’s  hope for the future, even if the future has yet to arrive. If there’s any good news at all, it’s not only that Matusz is unlikely to fail, but that rotation-mate Brad Bergesen has been a surprise. Drafted in the fourth round in 2004, Bergesen was 7-5 last year with a stellar 3.43 ERA. That’s two solid pitchers for the future. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the future will come only after Baltimore gets past a season with the savvy, but aging Millwood, and a bound-to-be-average Jeremy Guthrie.

None of this is cause to despair. While the future might take several years to arrive, Markakis, Jones, Reimold and Pie are fun to watch. If only they could pitch.

The $8 Million Man . . .

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Diamond Nuggets for 3/07/10

Spit and Vinegar:  Grizzled veteran Jamie Moyer is in Phillies camp this spring after three surgeries since the end of last season. The 47 year old went under the knife to repair three torn muscles in his groin and abdomen — injured in a late September relief outing. The $8 million man will join just 14 other players to compete in four decades. Moyer began his career in 1986 with the same Cubbies team that featured Ryne Sandberg and Ron Cey. To give some indication of his toughness, assuming an average 100 pitches per start (since I’m not counting some 60 relief appearances), Moyer has thrown 60,000-plus pitches in his career. 

Trivia Time: Which of Moyer’s teammates on that 1986 club went on to win two World Series Championships with another team?   

Swing and Miss? In the bottom of the second inning of a Cincinnati/Cleveland pre season game on Friday Redlegs right fielder Jay Bruce was called for a swinging third strike. Ordinarily that shouldn’t be a cause of dispute but Bruce’s wrists never broke and his hands hadn’t gone through the plane of the plate. But his bat did. In Bruce’s attempt to check his swing his bat broke in half and the top portion missed the pitch for strike three.  Bruce is a big kid, but I gotta believe it was the narrow bat handle that was the culprit. 

Say What? I guess the good ol days of players coining a phrase like “hit ‘em where they ain’t” or “give him some chin music” are long gone. The players are better educated than they’ve ever been and maybe the game’s gotten too sophisticated – or we have. But things may have hit a new low this week when a term best associated with Hegelian philosophy crept into the baseball lexicon. In response to a question about the growing trend of veteran players vying for a job as non-roster invitees outfielder Cory Sullivan told a USA Today scribe that it’s just part of the business now.  “It’s the zeitgeist of baseball,” he said.  Where’s Tom Hanks when you need him? 

“There’s no zeitgeist in baseball!”

Trivia Answer: Which of Moyer’s teammates on that 1986 club went on to win two World Series Championships with another team? Terry Francona, manager of the 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox. C’mon. You knew there’d be one Red Sox reference here didn’t you?

The Revenge of the Whiz Kids?

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The 1950 Phillies were one of baseball’s memorable teams: a great pitching staff and heavy long-bomb hitters. And they arrived at the Fall Classic in a similar fashion to their 2009 version: having humbled the Brooklyn version of the Dodgers in the season’s final game. Then, as now, their nemesis was the Yankees, as memorable a team as the Phillies — packed with prodigious power and strong arms.  Del Ennis, Dick Sisler and Richie Ashburn were the keys to the Phillies’ line up: Ennis because of his towering bombs (31 in all in 1950) and Sisler and Ashburn because of their nose-in-the-dirt style of play. We’ve forgotten just how good Ennis was — playing for sixteen years, eleven of them with Philadelphia. In 1950 he had 126 RBIs to lead the team. Ashburn didn’t have Ennis’s power, but his career ended in the Hall of Fame: with a lifetime batting average of .308, three different years with over 200 hits – and a skyscraping OBP. There’s a statue of him now, outside of Citizens Bank Park, in Philadelphia. But 1950 was far from Ashburn’s best year and the team needed the likes of Ennis to get into the series.

“The Whiz Kids” took the N.L. by surprise. No one even knew who they were. The left side of their infield was under 25 and their two best players were kids — Ashburn was 23 and Ennis was 24. Even so, if you knew only a little bit about baseball, you’d have easily picked the Phillies to best the Yankees in the ’50 Series. Their pitching was the class of the National League. The starting rotation was led by Robin Roberts, then in his third year in Philadelphia. He’d gone 20-11 with a 3.02 ERA and he’d thrown 21 complete games. Roberts threw the last game of the season against the Trolleys, and it was a gem: he pitched ten innings of one run ball before Philly won it all in the 10th. Curt Simmon followed Roberts in the rotation — and he looked (at 20) like he was eleven. Like Ennis, he is remembered best by baseball afficiandos. He had very good, but not great years. 1950 was one of his best: he was 17-8 with a 3.40 ERA. The third arm in the rotation belonged to Bob Miller, whose 11-6 record was a surprise to everyone (including Miller). It was the best year he ever had, but Philly needed him desperately — as the war in Korea was culling the N.L. of some of their best pitchers. By the time the series rolled around, the Phillies had lost stalwart Simmons and fireballer Bubba Church to the service.

The Yankees had won the series in ’49, but they knew the Phillies would be tough. To win, they had to get past their pitching. Their line-up was good, even very good, but these were not the Bronx Bombers of the 1920s. Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio were their power hitters, with Phil Rizutto the sparkplug in the middle of the order. Still, Phillies’ fans would be right to wonder why Phil is in the Hall of Fame and not Ennis. “I never thought I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame,” Rizutto once said. “The Hall of Fame is for the big guys.” That’s right, Scooter. The Yankees’ strength was their pitching staff. Vic Raschi (The Springfield Rifle) was the Yanks best starter (he was 21-8 that year), followed by Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Formidable, sure, but against the Roberts and Ashburn-led Phillies the Yankees knew they were in for a tussle.

Sadly for Phillies’ fans, that’s not how it turned out. In what has to be considered one of the best-pitched and closest World Series ever, the Phillies lost in four — by a combined 11–5 run total. The first game was the surprise, with Phillie closer Jim Konstanty pitching eight innings of one run ball. That how it ended: 1-0. Game 2 was a Robin Roberts’ gem, but he lost the game in the 10th on a DiMaggio home run. The pattern for the series was now well-established, with the Yankees matching the Phillies pitch-for-pitch. The third game ended 3-2, with the Yankees scoring their third run in a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth. The only game that wasn’t close was the fourth — with the Phillie’s nose-diving, 5-2. The Phillies should have won that fourth game: they were up against a young Yankee hurler by the name of Whitey Ford who’d had only a so-so year.

It seems unlikely that 2009 will see a repeat of the head-to-head pitchers’ duels of 1950. Philadelphia doesn’t have a Robin Roberts or Richie Ashburn or Curt Simmons. In fact, they’re better: with a loaded line-up that makes Ennis and Sisler and Ashburn look like spray hitters (which is, in fact, what they were). Then too, while the current Bronx crew lacks the power and presence of “The Yankee Clipper,” Jeter, Rodriguez and Teixeira hit more like Murderers’ Row than their 1950 ancestors. It will be a real surprise if this is a four-and-out series: and it seems very unlikely to be won by 1-0, 2-1 or 3-2 scores. That said, the 2009 Fall Classic has this one thing in common with the Whiz Kids vs. Empire match-up of 1950: in order for Philly to win, they have to hit Yankee pitching.

Cards Sweep Nats; Ronnie To L.A.

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Garrett Mock and Adam Wainwright threw a classic pitchers’ duel at Busch Stadium on Sunday, but the Nats fell to the Redbirds, 2-1 to drop the third game of a three game set. Mock and Wainwright traded pitch-for-pitch through six complete, until Mock left a 3-2 pitch up in the strike zone against Albert Pujols, which turned out to be the difference in the game. Pujols stroked the mistake into centerfield, ending the deadlock and giving the Cards the win. Both bullpens closed out the game in near-perfection, as Nats’ bats could not provide an answer against a trio of Cards’ pitchers. The Nats accounted for only four hits in the game: one each by Willingham, Dukes, Orr and Bard. It was a tough series for D.C. hitters — but a particularly tough last game, as they faced one of the hottest pitchers in baseball, and arguably one of the contenders for the Cy Young Award. The masterful Wainwright had only one shaky inning and is now 16-7 on the year. 

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Garrett Mock dueled Adam Wainwright in St. Louis (AP/Tom Gannam)

Sunday’s game was one of the best of the year by Mock, who was spotting his breaking stuff nearly perfectly. But the pitch to Pujols, Mock said, will probably keep him awake: “The pitch that’s going to cost me some sleep tonight is the one that he got a hit on that scored the second run,” Mock said. “I wasn’t trying to throw the ball there, obviously — not trying to throw the ball anywhere where he could hit it. I feel like I did do a good job of executing my pitches today, but that particular pitch, I’ve got to be better than that.” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had praise for Washington’s starter. “I just called Jim Riggleman and said, ‘Whoever decided to put Mock in the rotation, it was a good decision,'” La Russa said. “Boy, he was very good.”

After the game, the franchise announced the departure of Ronnie Belliard for the sunny climes of L.A., where he will find service with the Trolleys. Ronnie’s gotta be as pleased as punch to be headed to a contender, after riding the pines for most of the season behind Anderson Hernandez, now riding the pines for the Chokes, and Adrian Gonzalez. Not surprisingly, Belliard was of two minds on the trade: “I’m happy because I’m going to L.A. and that team is in first place,” he said. “But I’m sad because I am going to leave a lot of friends. I’ve been here for the last three years and I made a lot of friends.” Belliard had been playing well since the All Star break, hitting .325 with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He’d been getting more playing time. The Nats received minor league righthander Luis Garcia and a player to be named in the swap.


The Orioles might, truly, be one of the forgotten teams of baseball. Fated to play in the A.L. East, the little orange birds are mired in last place, 28 games behind the Yankees — and only eight wins better than the Nats. But there’s hope in Birdland, and not simply because the O’s have won six of their last 11. The team arguably now has one of the best outfields in all of baseball, a clear contender for the rookier of the year award, and perhaps one of the league’s premier young pitchers. All of this was on display on Sunday, when the O’s took on the Naps in Baltimore and coasted to an easy win behind the power arm of rookie Brian Matusz. All of 22, the former first round (fourth overall) pick in the 2008 draft, is the thinking man’s pitcher, who studies game-day videos of himself to determine how best to spot his killer curve, then adjusts his arm slot accordingly. Matusz threw 97 pitches yesterday, 67 of them for strikes. He held the Indians to four hits over seven innings.

Matusz isn’t a surprise: he’s a can’t miss pitcher who won’t miss. The surprise is Felix Pie — a former Cubbie who has now, shockingly, set down roots in left field after going through nearly three years of trying to figure out how to hit major league pitching. Pie has been on a tear, raising his average over the last two months to a respectable .272 and showing some power; he now has seven home runs (a laughable total, we suppose, except that the punch-and-judy Dominican wasn’t supposed to have any at all). Pie weighed in to help Matusz on Sunday, jacking a two run homer in the third. He’s hitting .383 since August 14.

Pie is a nice addition in the outfield, completing a trio that includes Adam Jones in center and Nick Markakis in right. If Jones was playing in New York or Boston, we venture to guess, people would be describing him for what he is: the best young outfielder in all of baseball. The Pie-Jones-Markakis trio has kicked Noland Reimold, a contender for rookie of the year, into the D.H. spot. Reimold’s hot bat has been a surprise for the MacPhail’s this year: the 25-year-old climbed his way, hand-over-hand through the Baltimore system, before the front office gave him a grudging look. He was a prospect that was once ranked near the bottom in the O’s system. But he’s produced and it looks like he’s in Baltimore to stay.

Okay: things aren’t all that great in Baltimore and the fans are restless. How can they be otherwise. The team is in last place. They’re certainly not going to win a pennant next year, or maybe even the year after. But the MacPhail plan is on track — and if the outfield of Pie, Jones and Markakis ever hit together, the Baltimore Orioles could become one of the most formidable teams in all of baseball and a challenger to “the nation” and the evil empire. With Matusz they have the beginnings of a young staff, the only other ingredient they need. And so, after an era of irrational interference from a know-it-all owner, the Orioles are finally on the right track. If they only had a little more pitching.

Felix Pie (left) is congratulate by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

Felix Pie (left) is congratulated by Melvin Mora after homering against the Indians

A “Wheezing” Nation . . . And Some Nuggets

Monday, August 24th, 2009

DWilly’s piece yesterday about the Red Sox was right on the money: their age is showing. I’ve been looking for a word that describes their play since the All Star break and I’ve had a difficult time coming up with just the right moniker. Then, this morning, I read a piece in the New York Times on the Sox newest Japanese import Junichi Tazawa and there it was: “wheezing.”  Perfect. Their batting averages show it precisely. The Red Sox top four guys are hitting .297, .300, .292 and .308.  After that the averages fall off, with their eight- and nine-slotted guys (Varitek and Gonzalez) not hitting their weight — at .222 and .210 respectively. Combine that with a two man rotation and you get what you get.

It is a truism that this not the ’04 ball club. There is no “Cowboy Up” talk and no emotional sparkplug. There is no Kevin Millar. The oldest guy in the Sox lineup that year was third baseman Bill Mueller, who was 33.  Today Varitek is 37, third sacker Mike Lowell is 35 (both, shown below, in the ’07 series) and two other guys are 33. Not the geriatric ward but no spring chickens either. But there is one similarity with the ’04 club. Today the Sox are 70 – 52, 6.5 games behind the Yanks. On this day five years ago they were in a similar position: 70 – 53, 6.5 games behind the Empire. The Sox finished the ’04 campaign with 98 wins, which is .700 baseball.  But without a bottom half of the lineup and a beat up pitching staff it’ll be quite a feat to match their ’04 glory.

Varitek and Lowell: old then, older now

Diamond Nuggets: Twins catcher Joe Mauer leads the majors with a .378 batting average. As surprising as it is for a catcher to be a league hitting leader it’s even more surprising to see what he’s done in the heat of August.  Over the last 30 days he’s been on a .427 clip with 10 dingers and 26 RBI. With his four year, $33 million contract up for renewal at the end of the 2010 season he’s a lock for a mid-year trade next year. I hope Theo Epstein is paying attention . . . My dislike of the Nationals TV broadcast team continues to deepen. Messers Dibble and Carpenter should be renamed drivel and . . . and . . . well . . . nothing rhymes with Carpenter — but you get the point. The inane stuff that passes for light banter is incredible. Yesterday it was a discussion of Frank Howard doing his laundry on road trips. Really. I toggled over to the Birds’ broadcast and listened intently while Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne talked about pitch counts and game situations. Music to my ears. Actually it felt like I pulled that stick out of my eye. I encourage you all to repeat my Nats/O’s toggle and listen to the differences in the broadcasts. Today was not the first time I’ve switched away from the pablum that passes for entertaining discussion on the Nats telecasts . . .
2007 was thought to be Prince Fielder’s break out year. He had 50 home runs that season along with 119 RBI, 354 total bases and he hit. 288.  But this year might be the one in which he becomes a more complete player. He won’t reach 50 homers (33 so far is nothing to sneeze at), but he’ll have more RBIs (he leads the majors with 110), his OBP is up 19 points over two seasons ago – and he’s hitting 15 points above his average that year. Plus, he’s much more patient at the plate and will probably have 100 walks this year — pretty good for a guy with a power swing. His fielding has also improved. He’s on pace to cut his errors in half from last year’s total of 17 and his fielding percentage is .995.  No wonder they love this guy in Milwaukee.

Nats End Skid, Tame Wallbangers

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Craig Stammen pitched 6.1 innings and the Nats rapped out ten hits — including three home runs — to take the third game of the four game series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Nationals Park on Sunday, 8-3. Stammen was not brilliant, but in firm control of the strike zone, moving his fastball in and out against a baffled Milwaukee line-up. Stammen, who has had several good outings of late, threw 97 pitches, 60 of them for strikes. Stammen consistently moved players off the plate by throwing his fastball inside on hitters. “My No. 1 goal is to pitch six or seven innings and throw a quality start,” he said after the game. “But it was really important today to save the bullpen, give some of the guys a couple of days of rest and pitch late into the game so we could win.” Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard pitched in relief and were able to close out the game.

Craig Stammen Three

As was the case in the previous two contests, the Nats’ bats came alive, but this time the effort was in a winning cause. And the wallbangers in this case were not from Milwaukee. Home runs by Cristian Guzman (number 6), Adam Dunn (his 33rd) and Ryan Zimmerman (his 26th) paced the ballclub. The club was even able to pull off a suicide squeeze, with Nyjer Morgan laying down a perfect bunt in the second inning to score a sprinting Mike Morse. “It was one of those plays where we had to get that run in and put a little more pressure on them,” Morgan said. “We got it down and executed the play. I was trying not to show the bunt too early. It worked out in our favor.” Morse started in right field, his first major league start for the club since coming over from the Mariners.

Some People Call It A Kaiser Blade, I Call It A Sling Blade: Ronnie Belliard has been hitting the ball well lately, stroking a grand slam homer in a losing cause to the Brewers on Saturday. He’s raised his batting average by twenty points in the last week and had a key hit on Sunday. So, despite our constant criticism of Ronnnneeeeee here at CFG, we’re all happy for him. In fact, we’re so fracking ecstatic we’re wetting our pants. A young guy who can hit .300 and field his position? Who won’t get picked off first? Who won’t boot a ball at a key point in the game? Fogeddaboudit  . . . we want Ronnie. That said, don’t ya think it’s a little much when Bob Carpenter described Ronnie as “a really good hitter” during the Sunday broadcast? 

The game of the week took place after the Nats-Brewers match-up today, but before the Red Sox battled the Yankees in Boston. Out in Colorado, the Rockies faced off against the Giants in a tussle of NL West contenders vying for a wild card spot. And, at least at first, it seemed a cinch that the McCoveys would stifle the Rockies’ bats. Tim Lincecum was dominant: he pitched seven innings of three hit ball and struck out seven. He had a no hitter through five. He was overpowering. In comparison, Ubaldo Jimenez looked merely average — giving up two runs to Frisco in the top of the second. But in the seventh, Lincecum left a change-up out over the plate and Rockies’ Seth Smith put it in the seats. The Rockies went on to win the game, 4-2, saddling Lincecum (now 12-4) with the loss. Jimenez, whose win might well have put a very large post hole in the “let’s give Lincecum another Cy Young” bandwagon, is now 12-9 with a 3.36 ERA. Coors Field was filled to capacity (47,704). The Rockies are now three up on the Giants in the wild card race, and only 3.5 back of the fading Trolleys, who lost to the North Side Drama Queens. This was one hell of a game.

Would you like some Coors Light with that Whine? The announcers on FSN Rocky Mountain were going on a bit today about how “those guys out on the east coast” (I’m not kidding) are ignoring just how good the pitching is out in the west, and how good the Rockies and Giants are. Yeah, there’s a little of that. I’ve even mentioned it here in the well-read and highly influential pages of CFG. But you know, they went on and on. And on. And on. It would help, of course, if major league baseball didn’t schedule the Giants-Rockies dust-up for a mid-afternoon in August. But, really, who knew? Then too, it’s hard to see how ESPN could have guessed that, during the third week of August, the most important game being played in baseball would be between the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies. Then too, the comment is just not accurate: it’s not as if Tim Lincecum hasn’t been celebrated.  Yeah, sure. We oughta pay a little more attention to the Rockies. But ignored? Give me a break.

Our Of Thin Air