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Vice President of Rules and On-Field Operations and New Rules

Friday, December 7th, 2007

As we have spent the last few days engrossed in baseball meetings,watching the American League get better, the Cubs stay static and most free agents go to California, I wanted to write about something that caught my eye this week.

The Boston Red Sox are not only World Series champions but now they are getting rules named after them as well. On Monday, Bob Watson, Vice President of Rules and On-Field Operations for Major League Baseball, said that managers will no longer be able to wear the pullover jackets as part of their in-game uniforms. It is going to be a Francona Rule. As we all know, Boston’s skipper typically wears a pullover and has butted heads with the league when asked to display his uniform top, especially this summer when MLB uniform police went into the Red Sox dugout during a game versus the Yankees to check Francona’s uniform.

According to Watson, You can only wear your uniform top or jacket. You cant wear your night-shirt, or whatever it is. You can wear it before games, or after games, but not during games. You have to have your uniform top at all times. Oh, and it gets serious – the first offense for not wearing a uniform top would be $1,000, second offense would draw a $5,000 fine, and a third time would result in a one-game suspension. Attention John Gibbons and Eric Wedge, Toronto and Cleveland coaches, Bob Watson is watching and you are next.

Are you kidding me? In a game where ticket prices are so expensive, the average fan can barely make it out to the ballpark and one of the most prestigious records in all of sports may have to be marked with an asterisk because of steroid use, this is how you are spending your time? Wow.

How about someone takes a look at making the game more fan friendly or figure out how to address the disparity not only between the two leagues but small versus big market teams as well. I mean will the Kansas City Royals ever be able to compete with the Yankees or Red Sox? I just think there are bigger fish to fry here and a little individuality never hurt a game filled with narcissistic millionaires.

BUT if I was the Vice President of Baseball Rules and On-Field Operations, what rules would I implement? By the way, is that not the lamest baseball title ever? It sounds like it should be a class in the Harry Potter series. I managed to come up with a few new rules:

The Ryan Dempster is Not a Closer Rule. It looks like we may have to enforce this rule after once AGAIN, Sweet Lou talks about the possibility of Dempster as the Cubs closer. I will say again, he is not a closer, especially when Marmol is just sitting there waiting to be utilized. This rule will ensure other teams do not make bonehead decisions regarding the closer role.

The I Couldn’t Even Imagine the DL without Mark Prior Rule.This simply states any player has the option to skip out on the DL if Mark Prior is not there for support. Luckily for players who get hurt this season, no worries he’ll be there.

The Kenny Williams Thou Protest Too Much Rule. This rules states that any general manager that has to sit and watch their divisional opponent get light years better right before their eyes, should immediately blame loose-lipped sources and the media for failing to land the big names.

What rule would you enforce?

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Roll Out the Red Carpet it is Award Season

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Unlike the American League MVP award race which looks to be pretty much a lock, the National League race is far from clear cut. Next Tuesday, Major League Baseball will name the National League MVP for 2007. I figured this post would be as good as any to break that down a bit. Keep in mind, since Barry Bonds won the award four consecutive times from 2001-2004; there has been no repeat winners. In 2005, our favorite St. Louis Cardinal took home the honors beating out D. Lee. Last year, Ryan Howard edged out Pujols to end his streak. Who is going to win this year?

First things first, what does MVP mean? Remember, there are no restrictions on the award such as MVP of a winning team or MVP of a playoff contending team,but we all know players who missed the playoffs are not in as serious contention as those who played in October. Exit Albert Pujols and unfortunately you might want to take Prince with you.

For those of you that live and die by statistics, I don’t do in depth statistical analysis because that is just not my thing. So, if you are a stat guy or gal, feel free to fill in numbers as needed, especially those not on the back of a baseball card. I want to discuss potential MVP candidates in a purely subjective way which eliminates any type of numerical ranking on my part. I do however,appreciate objective statistics and will try not to get stuck on what I believe are intangibles. Oh, and I don’t vote for pitchers.

I thought this was interesting to highlight how wide open the race is. According to the latest Rasmussen Reports survey of 500 baseball fans, in the National League, 22% of fans think that Matt Holliday of the Colorado Rockies should win the Most Valuable Player award. However, sixteen percent (16%) think honor should go to Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins while 12% believe Prince Fielder of Milwaukee Brewers should win the award. David Wright of the Mets received 9% support and two other Phillies, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley each garnered 5%.

So lets break down the top three:

Matt Holiday
Ever since the slide into home during the wild card playoff game when Holiday did a post game interview with a bleeding chin, he has been on my MVP radar. He is the 2007 National League batting champion, batted 340 during the regular season with 36 home runs and 137 RBIs as well as 50 doubles and an OPS of 1.012. As I mentioned intangibles, I think it is safe to say Holiday was a big reason why Colorado steamrolled into the playoffs. He is also a victim of a small market baseball team and gets nowhere near the coverage of one, Jimmy Rollins.

Jimmy Rollins
Granted he makes bold predications months before the season started that the Philadelphia Phillies were the team to beat in the east, but I can look past that because he backed those words to the end. He finished with a .296 average, 30 homers and 94 RBI. He also had 212 hits, 38 doubles, 139 runs, 41 stolen bases and an OPS of .875. He also became just the fourth player in baseball history to have at least 20 doubles, 20 triples, 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Some may argue Rollins isn’t even the Phillies MVP, let alone the National League MVP. Also, if it was just a numbers game, then Holliday would probably take the award but Rollins did it all the hitting, stealing, and fielding – every single game of the year 162 times. Impressive.

Prince Fielder
There is no looking past our neighbor to the north. Jelly doughnut jokes aside, Prince had a breakout year, he finished the season with 50 home runs, 119 RBI, a .288 batting average and an OPS of 1.013. He also had 35 doubles. He is the youngest player in major league history to reach 50 homeruns and he is part of the first ever father/son duo to reach that feat. Luckily for Cub fans and unfortunately for him, the Brewers did not make the playoffs.. Also, Prince was surrounded by a supporting cast with impressive numbers which may diminish his a bit.

Eric Byrnes
He is my dark horse and although I really don’t think he has the numbers to win, I at least want to add him in the mix. I admire baseball players that play the game as it should be played with heart. His batting average is a bit lower than the rest at .286 with 21 home runs, 83 RBIs and 30 doubles. Anyone who says, “Who needs time off? You take time off, you die.” gets some votes in my book.

My Ballot

1. Matt Holiday
2. Jimmy Rollins
3. David Wright
4. Chase Utley
5. Eric Byrnes
6. Hanley Ramirez
7. Ryan Howard
8. Prince Fielder
9. Chipper Jones
10. Albert Pujols

Whats yours?

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Scouting Japan 101, The Four Letter Word and Protective Gear.

Friday, November 9th, 2007

Cubs Scouting East
When the free agent market is weak, it is time to put plan B into action, and apparently during the organizational meetings this week, that is exactly what the Cubs are doing – scouting Japan.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, sources say the Cubs have heavily scouted left-handed hitting corner outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who is expected to file for free agency this month, right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda, who filed for free agency Monday, and left-hander Hitoki Iwase, considered Japan’s top closer.

Fukudome, 30, is known for his sharp eye and consistency. He has hit 192 home runs and has a .305 batting average during nine seasons with the Chunichi Dragons. Kuroda, 32, whose fastball has been clocked at 95 mph, went 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp. Iwase, who turns 33 on Saturday, has had 40 or more saves in each of his last three seasons with the Dragons, including 43 in 2007. His 46 saves in 2006 broke Kazuhiro Sasaki’s single-season record in Japan.

Sam Fuld, the outfield prospect who got a brief stint with the big club late in the year, is playing out of his mind down in Arizona. Fuld is one of the Cubs six Arizona Fall League representatives this year and currently sports some pretty hefty numbers. Through 11/8, here were his numbers..400 / .495 / .659 with 3 HR, 12 RBI, 9 SB, and 18 R.As of right now, he is clearly ahead of Felix Pie for a starting spot in CF in 2008. Baseball America had this to say about Fuld coming into last year:

“He has the best strike-zone discipline in the system, which led to a 17-game hitting streak and a 33-game on-base streak in 2006. He doesn’t have much pop, but he stings line drives all over the field. He has slightly above-average speed and basestealing savvy. He gets good breaks and plays a solid center field, though his arm is below average.”

Let’s break down the Cubs interest in Fukudome. SI.com reports he has had great success in his career, twice hitting better than .340 for a season (he hit .351 in 2006) and twice leading the Central League in hitting. He has a career on-base percentage of near .400 and a career slugging percentage of better than .500.

It has been said Fukudome is sort of a cross between the Mariners’ Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankees’ Hideki Matsui. Sounds good to me. He is also a very patient hitter. Again, sounds good. He is however, coming off an injury plagued season and of course there is no way to know for sure his talent will translate in America. My major concern is Fukudome is going to want a long-term safety net to get him out of Japan. Is a 30 year old, unproven talent in America worth the gamble?

The Four Letter Word A-Rod
I have avoided writing about all things A-Rod because quite simply, that is all everyone talks about. Also, the figures 10 years and $300 million, really do sicken me. It now seems like Boston has jumped in the mess. I mean would this saga really be complete without Boston in the mix?

As Red Sox fans in Denver chanted Re-Sign Lowell, Don’t sign A-Rod, Boston’s General Manager Theo Epstein met with the man everybody loves to hate, A-Rod’s agent, Scott Boras. Of course Epstein said he was just checking in with Boras because you know, that is what buddies do. Spin it however you want Theo, we know the first item on the agenda in that meeting. And I don’t think Boston fans are liking the idea. Can you see Alex Rod in a Red Sox uniform?

In other A-Rod news, (why does it seem like A-Rod could have a whole blog devoted to him) Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Newsday Tuesday that the Yankees would offer arbitration to A-Rod. If A-Rod accepted, he would be contractually bound to the Yankees for 2008, and in line for a significant raise from his 2007 salary of$27 million.

The top contenders in my mind are the Los Angeles Angels and the the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lets not fool ourselves, A-Rod is going to play in a big city market. What better place for off-field endorsements than Los Angeles. Also, guess who happens to have season tickets to both the Angels AND the Dodgers? Yep, you guessed it, Scott Boras. That leads to snarky, weasly sports agent heaven.

The New York Mets have made the rumor mill but I am not feeling it there, they have enough to worry about without adding A-Rod to the mix. The Cubs have been talked about, but that has died down as of late. The long shot in all of this? The Baltimore Orioles. It may seem excessive and out of nature for the Orioles but maybe not. By the way, I feel like I am writing about the Kentucky Derby not baseball. Stay tuned while the A-Rod saga continues.

Base Coaches to Wear Protective Gear
General managers decided Thursday that first and third-base coaches will wear some sort of head protection during games next season, an action taken four months after the coach for the Colorado Rockies minor league team, Mike Coolbaugh was killed when he was struck in the neck by a line drive while standing in the first-base coaches box. I am assuming the protective gear wont cause that much controversy, at least it shouldn’t. If wearing a batting helmet can prevent freak injuries I am all for it. I just wonder if it will affect their ability to see the whole field.

Name that Quote
Barry Bonds did not make the news this week so I found a quote that sounded like something Barry would say. Who said it?

“The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play”

Think late 60s to late 80s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. He played for five different teams and was he was recently featured in The Bronx Is Burning, portrayed by Daniel Sunjata. Yeah, that gave it away.

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LA Bound, Instant Replay and Yes, Barry Bonds – Again.

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox. Great win but horrible series to watch. I was not to far off with the Varsity versus Junior Varsity theme now was I. Let’s get to this week in baseball.

Torre Coast to Coast
I figured after how things ended in New York, Joe Torre was not going to walk away from baseball. Instead he decided to move from one storied franchise to another. According to ESPN, Joe Torre was hired Thursday to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers, taking the job two weeks after walking away from the New York Yankees. He takes over a team that finished fourth in the NL West this season and hasn’t won the World Series since 1988. Torre’s contract is for three years and slightly more than $13 million.

Interesting move here. Of course there is Torre-love in LA and there should be. Excitement however, should not be muddled by ridiculously high expectations. Case in point. This we do know, Joe Torre is a winner. We know being a winner in NY means winning the World Series. What does it mean to the Dodgers? Will Torre turn already-good Dodgers to a long time playoff team, just like he has done for Yankees in past decade? This will be fun to watch play out.

The Future of Instant Replay
A limited use of instant replay will be formally recommended by general managers for the first time next week, some GMs are predicting privately. There would be nothing binding about the recommendation, assuming that the GMs vote that way in their meetings in Orlando, Fla., next week, and it is unclear if or when Major League Baseball would implement a system. According to baseball insiders, some general managers say that sentiment on the issue has shifted from a split of opinion to a solid majority in favor of instant replay, and they expect that will be reflected in the votes taken at their meetings.

When I read this I think of two things, 1) I see baseball trying to implement some sort of NFL review system, where a manger gets one or two reviews a game. 2) That immediately leads me to think of the Wild Card playoff game, Matt Holiday sliding into home diving past Michael Barrett, the umpire slowly giving the safe sign and in the midst of Colorado’s celebration, Bud Black throws the challenge flag.

No thank you.

That play was exciting to me. I know what I am going to hear from Cubs fans, what if the Cubs lost that way, wouldn’t you want the instant replay? My response will still be no. Baseball is already a slow moving game. It is a 162-game regular season, costly and inaccurate calls against teams balance out. In my mind, there is something unique and thrilling about the human element of the game of baseball.

Performance Enhancers
As everyone knows, former Senator George Mitchell investigation on baseball steroid use it expected to be released soon. It promises to be a bombshell. OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but we do know it will include many names; names which have so far not been disclosed publicly; names of well-known players.

This could get really nasty and messy. Take this scenario. Player A is called out for using steroids, OK now what? What will Major League Baseball do? don’t forget about the players that have already been named. What will be the punishment? An obvious answer is suspension, but you know as fast as that first suspension is handed down, the Players Association will be there. Very messy indeed. I just hope this investigation is less witch hunt and more plan of action on how to get performance enhancers out of the game of baseball for good. I can dream, cant I?

Who Said It?
Speaking of performance enhancers, I may have to consider renaming my Who Said It, closing to guess what stupid thing Barry Bonds said this week. As luck may have it Bonds was in the news again as I was writing my column and of course he is not happy.
Barry Bonds would boycott Cooperstown if the Hall of Fame displays his record-breaking home run ball with an asterisk. By the way, that includes the introduction ceremony. He will not have any part of it.

I won’t go. I won’t be part of it,” Bonds said in an interview with MSNBC that aired Thursday night. “You can call me, but I won’t be there.”

Of course Hall of Fame vice president Jeff Idelson declined to comment. And of course, Bonds says he has nothing to hide, he says and I quote, I will look you in the face. I have nothing to hide, nothing. So look all you want to. What do you think; does the record breaking home run ball deserve an asterisk?

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Varsity vs. Junior Varsity and Name That Quote

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

It is almost November and the first game of the 2007 World Series is behind us. Here are my thoughts and observations.

The Talent Pool
It has never been as evident as it was Wednesday night that the National League just does not stack up against the American League. That pains me to admit because I am a fan of National League baseball. Although I don’t think it is quite as evident as in football with the AFC against the NFC, nonetheless, in baseball the talent disparity is there. Like most major newspapers across the country, I will hop on the “varsity vs. junior varsity” bandwagon. Is the American League just light years better than the National League or is one or two games blowing things out of proportion?

Josh Beckett
OK, I will admit I was wrong. The two-man Cy Young Award race is now down to one man, Josh-tober as Jay Mariotti likes to refer to post season darling Josh Beckett. I knew the Rockies were in for a long night when Beckett struck out the first four batters he faced. Think about his numbers, he is 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the post season and has three shutouts in nine October starts. So, after allowing a run and six hits in seven innings and making hitters look silly with an almost unhittable curveball, his response? I did enough to survive.While most pitchers wind down in September and October, Beckett is just getting locked in and while he may never admit it, his enough to survive is pretty special to watch.

The Rockies
This years Cinderella team was sent spiraling back to earth Wednesday night as the Boston Red Sox mangled the Colorado Rockies 13-1. Although the Rockies will say the eight day layoff did nothing to effect their rhythm, it was blatantly obvious they were rusty and probably a tad overwhelmed. Fenway can be a frightening place for the opposition and the Cleveland Indian hitters, while no disrespect to them, do not invoke fear like the Boston Red Sox lineup. Maybe the Rockies pitchers came in and tried to do too much on a night the Red Sox looked right at home. One thing is for certain, to have any chance the Rockies pitchers will have to have good command of their pitches and even then against a potent Boston lineup there are no guarantees that is in fact enough.

While I do not think the series is necessarily over, it all depends if the Rockies can shake off Game 1 and prove to me and all sports writers across the country, that the National League does not deserve it Junior Varsity label. Plus, what are the odds of Boston scoring 11 runs with two outs the rest of the series? We will soon find out.

Part Time Player; Big Time Ego

“If I’m a part-time player, I’m still better than your full-time player, and it’s a wise idea to keep me.”

Now for the first edition of name that quote. I will give you some hints, well actually just one. He broke Hank Aaron’s home run record with No. 756 on Aug. 7, 2007.

You guessed it; Barry Bonds was back in the news again Wednesday evening at a special speaking forum hosted by the Commonwealth Club. As he listened to his list of accomplishments being read, a record seven NL MVPs check, fourteen All-Star game selections check and Eight Gold Glove awards, Bonds drew standing ovations from the adoring, albeit mostly San Francisco in nature, crowd.

Barry Bond loves San Francisco, or so he says. He says San Francisco is his family and may have even hinted at the fact McCovey Cove should be renamed in honor of his splash hit home runs. Bonds has so much love mind you; he did not even stick around for a video tribute to him during the Giants final home game of the year. Some love Barry.

Although people outside of San Francisco may not like Barry Bonds,” the person,” I don’t think anyone is arguing Barry Bonds is a great baseball player, one of the all time best. As time is running down on the 43 year-old sluggers baseball career, how much is Barry Bonds worth? Should the Giants pay him 4 or 5 million to bat fifth and play every other day in 2008? Is he worth more than that as a DH? The Yankees probably don’t need him but somebody will. Is he worth the risk?

By the way, Bonds “the person” also said a tad bitterly, that if he were running the franchise, the Giants would have won a World Series by now. Right Barry, right.

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And Then There Were Four

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

If I have learned anything watching the National League playoffs unfold, it is this. The New York Yankee book of How-to-Win-a-Baseball-Championship does not work. Spend your money wisely; do not simply just spend it. Case in point, Colorado, 25th in the major leagues with a $54 million payroll, eliminated Philadelphia, and Arizona ranked 26th at $52 million eliminated the Cubs, in case you forgot the outcome of that series.

What does work is this, developing young, talented players combined with a couple of veteran leaders. (Jim Hendry, I am available if you want to talk.) This series is not exactly made in TV ratings heaven. It is a series I think will be fun to watch. Let me set the stage. The Rockies caught fire late and are hot having won 17 of their last 18 games. In that span, guess what team handed the Rockies their only loss? You guessed it, the Diamondbacks. The Rockies won the season series, 10-8, while outscoring the Diamondbacks, 86-72. However, 12 of the games were decided by two runs or less, with each team winning six. This has the making of a seven game series. Heres why:

NLCSColorado Rockies vs Arizona Diamondbacks

Lineup
The Rockies are playing baseball as it should be played. Good pitching and timely hitting. They are getting hits with runners in scoring position (I am talking to you Aramis). Leading the way for the Rockies is Matt Holliday, who belted 36 home runs and led the league with a .340 average and 137 RBI. He did however struggle against the Phillies hitting two home runs and an average of .231. I have no doubt he will be big in this series, even using his face to slide into home plate if needed. I doubt Troy Tulowitzki has another series batting. 167 and Todd Helton plays well against the Diamondbacks. In 160 games against them, Helton is hitting .327 with a 29 homers, 103 RBI and 116 runs scored.

Do not look past the Diamondbacks. When a team has Augie Ojeda hitting .444 against the Cubs, they must be doing something right. Obviously keep an eye out for center fielder Chris Young, who will, if thrown a fastball, HIT IT OUT. (Now I am talking to you Rich Hill) while Stephen Drew hit .500 with two homers and four RBI in the three games against the Cubs. Edge: Rockies

Starting Pitching
I have to give the starting pitching edge to the Diamondbacks. Even though Brandon Webb has a 5.77 ERA against the Rockies this year, he is still Brandon Webb and he can win twice in a seven-game series. If push comes to shove, Webb could even pitch three times. He is slated to go in Game 1, but could then return on short rest in Game 4 before starting a potential seventh game on full rest. My advice would be just don’t save him for a Game 4 while he is in the middle of pitching strongly in Game 1*. (Taken from the Lou Piniella guide to playoff pitching.) Jeff Francis won 17 games this season and I barely know his name. He is a 7-2 lifetime against the Diamondbacks with a 3.54 ERA in 14 starts. After Francis, the picture is a little cloudy with names like Josh Fogg, Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Um, who?Edge: Diamondbacks

Bullpen
Both bullpens are performing exceptionally well. In the ninth inning, The Diamondbacks Jose Valverde has proved to thrive on the pressure, recording the NL-best 47 saves this season. Arizona skipper Bob Melvin just has to remember not to call up Juan Cruz to early and the bullpen will be tough. The Rockies Manny Corpas was lights out against the Phillies, recording the save in all three games. Corpas posted 19 saves and a 2.08 ERA in a team-high 78 appearances this year. Interestingly enough, the Diamondbacks are just 3 for 36 lifetime against him. Edge: Even

I predict the Rockies, in seven. If the extended days off did not damper the Rockies momentum, they are really going to be a tough team to beat. Their potential has been there all season, they just clicked at the last and best possible moment.

ALCSCleveland Indians vs Boston Red Sox

While the NLCS is highlighting the young and talented, the ALCS will highlight the 1-2 punch. The two teams in my mind are pretty evenly matched on paper, but as we all know that does not always translate out onto the field. The Indians may have a deeper lineup, but the Red Sox have Ramirez and Ortiz. The Indians may have Sabathia and Carmona but the Red Sox have Beckett and Shilling. Lets see how it plays out:

Lineup
Two words. Ramirez and Ortiz. Ok, that was three words but you get my point. Ortiz batted .714 with three RBIs and two homeruns in the ALDS. Manny hit a game winning shot in Game 2 against the Angels and hit .375. (Note to Soriano, Lee and Ramirez – those are what playoff statistics should look like) Mike Lowell also batted .333 against the Angels. As good as the big three are performing; the supporting cast needs to step it up. According to the Sports Network, Crisp (.200), J.D. Drew (.182), Jason Varitek (.182) and Dustin Pedroia (.154) all hit .200 or below.

The tone is set for the Indians offense by none other than Kenny Lofton. Doesn’t it seem to be that way with every team he plays for. Lofton hit .375 against the Yankees, and was 5-for-7 through the first two games with four RBI and two runs scored. Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez both had good series and look for them to continue that. The Indians need Travis Hafner to step up his production to be able to stay competitive with Boston’s powerhouses. Edge: Red Sox

Starting Pitching
It just doesn’t get better than this, two Cy Young award candidates, Josh Beckett versus C.C. Sabathia. Number one versus Number two, who will win? I really don’t have enough room to write about Beckett’s post season resume but take this into consideration – in his seven postseason appearances, spanning 51 2/3 innings; Beckett has pitched to a 1.74 earned run average. In Game 1 against the Angels, he held them to four hits with eight strikeouts in a 4-0 win. Dust off a place for your award Josh? I imagine following Beckett cant be to fun but that is exactly what Shilling will do. Say what you want about Schilling, the man knows how to pitch in the postseason.

Although the Indians Sabathia won his start against the Yankees, he did not seem to have his best stuff and was in and out of trouble all night long. (and no, I did not forget I picked him to win the Cy Young a few weeks ago.) For his career, Sabathia is 2-4 lifetime against Boston with a 3.91 ERA in seven starts. Carmona, meanwhile, pitched brilliantly in the ALDS. He gave up just a run and three hits in nine innings, while striking out eight. If Manny and Big Papi stay as hot as they have been, it is going to be a long series for the Indians pitchers. Edge: Red Sox

Bullpen
Who would have though only three months after the acquisition of Eric Gagne, he would hardly be a factor in the Red Sox bullpen. That hurts. Instead, the Red Sox will rely on Jonathan Papelbon, who posted 37 saves and a 1.85 ERA this season. He was only needed once against the Angels and got the win. Hideki Okajima has also seemed to get some much needed rest and has pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings.

For the Indians it all comes down to an ex Cub factor. This time it is Joe Borowski, who led the AL with 45 saves despite pitching to a 5.07 ERA. (Maybe we can call it the Ryan Dempster effect, plenty of saves but plenty of earned runs too.) Borowski will most likely be called upon in a key moment of this series and you are not really sure what you are going to get. Will he give up a home run or will he get the out. (Again, that sounds awfully familiar.) Stay tuned. The Indians three set up guys, Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis and Rafael Betancourt, have been spot on and I am exited to see Perez match up against David Ortiz.

I predict the Red Sox in six. If the Manny and Big Papi stay hot, maybe 5 and no doubt Boston will win a game with a walk-off. The Indians are clicking but I just don’t think it will be enough. Sabathia and Carmona are good but Beckett and Shilling may just be better. Edge: Red Sox

Jacki’s column, Seven Up, Seven Down runs every Friday and highlights top stories in the world of baseball

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Who is the Best of the Best?

Friday, September 28th, 2007


As we head into the last weekend of regular season baseball and the races come down to the wire, I thought Cub fans would need a break from analyzing every game, inning, pitch, error, etc. Especially since the Marlins have not been kind to us and the Cubs have forgotten how to hit, pitch and field for that matter.

So let’s talk Cy Young Award Race 2007

The Cy Yound award can be defined as an annual award given by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to the pitcher voted the most effective in each of the two leagues. Well, here is where the debate can start. How exactly do you define most effective? Is it the most dominant? Does durability matter and if it does, it is more important than lights out dominance? How do you judge? Who do you pick? It is not black and white and that makes it so fun to argue about.

For the record, let’s get this out of the way now. In my opinion, pitcher A does not deserve the Cy Young award simply because he has won the most games in the league. The win-loss record in my mind is still overrated by most fans. Pitchers don’t need flashy win totals to have a good season, although I did in fact list their records. Lets take a look at the contestants, shall we?

American League

Josh Beckett (Boston Red Sox)
W-L 20-6
ERA 3.14
K 188
W 40
WHIP 1.12

The Cool Kid, Beckett’s the American League’s first to win 20 games since Bartolo Colon won 21 and the first for the Red Sox since Curt Schilling (21) in 2004. Beckett benefited greatly from the 6.66 runs per start the Red Sox scored for him, about a run more per game than received by C.C. Sabathia, two runs more than Fausto Carmona, and a run-and-a-half more than John Lackey. Still, he is the top five in WHIP and ERA, and the top 10 in strikeouts and quality starts. Also, according to ESPN, the only Red Sox starters in the last 50 years who had a full season with this many wins, this low an ERA and a winning percentage as good as Beckett are Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling. Now that is not bad company. Also,never underestimate the media’s fascination will all things East coast.

C.C. Sabathia (Cleveland Indiana)
W-L 18-7
ERA 3.19
K 205
W 36
WHIP 1.14

The Workhorse, Sabathia put together 10 straight starts of two earned runs or fewer. He also posted a 5.69 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which would be the second-best by any left-handed starter since 1901. The Indians offense didn’t always treat Sabathia well: In seven starts from July 24 to August 24, Sabathia allowed 12 earned runs, and his record in those starts was 1-3. He matched up against Johan Santanathree times, twice in the final five weeks, and won all three games. Sabathia has a strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.69) better than all AL starters.

Johan Santana (Minnesota Twins)
W-L 15-13
ERA 3.33
K 235
W 52
WHIP 1.07

The Longshot, most pitchers would dream of having the year he is having. He’s within range of leading the league in ERA and strikeouts. Fewer hitters reach base against him (.272 OBP) than against any starting pitcher in either league. In the five losses to the Indians, the Twins scored a total of eight runs.

Honorable mentions include, Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians, Dan Haren, Oakland Athletics, Chien-Ming Wang, New York Yankees and if you believe closers are in the mix, J.J. Putz, Seattle Mariners.

Who do I think will win? Beckett, it is hard to beat Red Sox nation, dominance, or 20 wins for that matter. Who do I want to win? Sabathia, I have a special place in my heart for durability. For those pure statistic guys – statically the two are pretty even. Although Beckett has two more wins, Sabathia has been pitching deeper into games, their ERA is statistically identical, as is their WHIP. Sabathia has an even better K/BB rate than Beckett, and has won 17 games while receiving over a run less per game in support than Beckett.

National League

Jake Peavy (San Diego Padres)
W-L 19-6
ERA 2.36
K 234
W 64
WHIP 1.03

The Triple Threat, it is really hard to argue against Jake Peavy, period. Consider this, Peavy could be the NL’s fourth pitching Triple Crown winner (first in wins, ERA and strikeouts) in the last 40 years. The others — Steve Carlton in 1972, Dwight Gooden in 1985 and Randy Johnson in 2002 — all got a Cy Young out of it. He has stopped 11 losing streaks — most in the big leagues.For the doubters out there, Peavy has been better on the road (9-1, 2.13) than at home (8-5, 2.68).It also never hurts when you one up the next closest contender for Cy Young award in a head-to-head competition. Yes, I am talking to you Brandon Webb.

Brandon Webb (Arizona Diamondbacks)
W-L 17-10
ERA 3.02
K 192
W 70
WHIP 1.18

The Dominator, Webb has pitched three complete-game shutouts in a row. Nobody else in the NL has thrown more than one all year.He is also the proud holder of a 42 shutout innings streak. He has racked up 23 starts of seven innings or more, most in the big leagues. He leads the league in innings pitched and complete games. While his record is 16-10, his run support (4.31 runs per nine innings) is a run and a half lower than either Peavy’s (5.75) or Brad Penny‘s (5.67). It is very hard to win back-to-back Cy Young awards, especially with a Jake Peavy in your way.

Brad Penny (Los Angeles Dodgers)
W-L 16-4
ERA 3.03
K 135
W 73
WHIP 1.31

The Monster, Penny is 15-4, and he could be 19-4 if his bullpen hadn’t blown four more games he deserved to win. He has as many quality starts as Peavy (25 in 30 starts), and as many starts allowing one earned run or none (16). But Penny also has won just two of his last nine starts (with admittedly crummy run support).

Honorable mentions include Aaron Harang, Cincinatti Reds, John Smoltz, Altanta Braves, Dan Haren, Oakland Athletics and if you believe closers are in the mix, J.J. Putz, Seattle Mariners.

Who do I think will win? Peavy. Who do I want to win? Peavy, Triple Crown threat? You can’t do much better than that.

All statistics provided by Yahoo Sports as of Thursday, September 27, 2007. ‚àë

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A Day at the Races

Friday, September 21st, 2007

One hundred and sixty two games and it will all come down to the last nine. Out of the last 34 days, the Cubs have been in first or tied for first in 32 of those days. A few weeks ago I felt the Cardinals would be the team giving the Cubs the most grief, but just as it has been most of the year; it is a two-team race. So, how many wins are enough? Can the Cubs win 85 or 86 games and take the division?

There is something special about September baseball and most, well all of it has to do with the last two weeks of the season, smack dab in the middle of the playoff hunt. It is even better when the Cubs are in the middle of that playoff hunt. It really feels like a lot of times anything can happen—anything.

Anything can happen example A, suddenly there is a chance the Yankees will make the playoffs and the Mets won’t. If the Mets season ends badly, and by badly I mean becoming the first team since 1938 to blow a seven-game lead in September, who is going to be under fire? Enter obvious contestant number one, Mets manager Willie Randolph. Among the explicit and derogatory accusations that will be made by NY fans and NY papers, inevitably the question will be asked, was Willie Randolph getting the most out of his players?

Although the Phillies make an art of blowing playoff chances, will this year be different? NY fans will tell you no way, Phillies pitching, starting and relieving will never be able to hold off the Mets. Philadelphia fans can counter that with a team that leads the league in hitting, runs, hits, total bases, doubles, RBI, walks, slugging and on-base percentage. Stay tuned.

Anything can happen example B, Boston’s lead in the AL East over the second-place Yankees was seven games less than three weeks ago, but has shriveled to a mere game and a half — and only one in the loss column. Of course, it is of no help to the Red Sox that Eric Gagne has had a convincing 9.00 ERA in 15 appearances or that Hideki Okajima, an eye-opener through August, has been shut down because of fatigue.

While this is typical Yankees/Red Sox style dramatics and ESPN is drooling over it so they can devote 3/4 of their programming to the playoff hunt and the rest of the time to the New England Patriots, in reality both teams will be in the playoffs. One will be the division champ and the other the winner of the wild card.

If the Yankees do win the East, all you will read and hear about is how the Red Sox “choked away” the division. What does that mean exactly? Will the Red Sox season hold less meaning if they only win the wild card? Or was it more important for Francona to head into the post-season with a healthy, well-rested team than forcing players to play hurt or pushing pitchers too hard in an all-out attempt to win the East?

While all that drama is going on in the AL East, quietly a race has shaped up in the NL West too. The funny thing is the Diamondbacks are sitting in first place in the NL West, sporting the best record in all of the National League and what do we really hear about them? Despite recent struggles, the Diamondbacks still hold the reigns to their success.

The Padres aren’t going away either. On Wednesday night, Hairston’s homer gave San Diego its sixth straight win and allowed the Padres to stay one game off the NL West lead behind Arizona and 2 1/2 games over Philadelphia, in the wild card race. Recently Mr. Padre himself Tony Gwynn predicted the Padres will win the division title and the Dodgers are going to come back and take the wild card. While that prediction may be based on sentiment rather than logic, who knows how this race will play out.

And I didn’t even touch on the wild card. In the NL there are six teams that are in striking distance albeit some further than others. San Diego leads the group with Philadelphia 2.5 back, Colorado 4.5 back, Atlanta 5.5 back, Los Angeles 4.5 back and Milwaukee 6.0 games back. Try figuring that one out.

The AL is easier to figure out, well besides the whole Yankees/Red Sox teeter totter we are on. It is almost safe to assume the wild card champ will come out of the East, with Detroit and Seattle being 5.5 and 6.5 games back respectively. Then again we all know what happens when one assumes.

Like I said before, anything can happen. Anything.

All standings are as of Thursday morning, 9/20/2007

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D*mn Yankees & Cards

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Once again the Yankees prove their offense is just too good. They have done what they had to do to get back into the American League playoff race by leading the Major Leagues in wins since the All-Star break with a 20-8 record. The Yankees find themselves closing in on the American League Wild Card, but the real test is about to begin. Seventeen of the Yankees’ next 20 games come against the Indians, Tigers, Red Sox and Angels — all teams that are in the thick of the playoff hunt. As much as I truly dislike most things Yankees, never count that team out.

Closer to home, the dreaded Cardinals will make their way into Wrigley this weekend and certainly have a buzz about them. Just 10 days ago, St. Louis was eight games behind Milwaukee. The Cardinals have won four straight to match a season high, batting .376 while scoring 38 runs, and now seek their longest winning streak since a six-game run in July of last season. In the middle of the heated battles of first place between the Cubs and Brewers, the Cards were forgotten about. Although I am curious to know, the Cards surge has taken place through playing .500 baseball. Are they that good or are the Cubs and Brewers just that bad right now? I hate the term must win baseball because it is over-hyped and overused, but this weekend the Cubs should be playing must win baseball.

Rick Ankiel
Speaking of the Cards making there way to Wrigley Field, the feel good story of the month has to be Rick Ankiel. Ten years after being drafted, seven years after winning 11 games as a too-young-to-drink rookie lefthander and six years after virtually vanishing from the Major Leagues, Ankiel is close to accomplishing feat of moving from a major-league starting rotation to outfield Babe Ruth Style. Ankiel completed his comeback in dramatic fashion when he homered in his first game back last week. St. Louis Cardinal or not, as a baseball fan, this is a good story and he will be fun to watch.

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