Saturday, September 29, 2007

All together now: AGHHHHHHHHHHHH

The roller coaster ascends for one final fall.

Prince Fielder, after his team lost 6-3 Friday to get eliminated from the postseason: "I like to win. Once that out was made ... you're kind of not really playing for much anymore. It hurts to be so close. I always watched the postseason when I was a kid and that's really where I wanted to be."

Not really playing for much anymore?

Today: Up 3-2 in the 9th with a chance to clinch the Wild Card, Trevor Hoffman blew the lead when Tony Gwynn Jr. (the irony...) hit a two-out, game-tying triple. Then the Brewers won in the 11th, keeping the postseason race interesting despite not being in it.

There could be a two-way tie for the NL East and a three-way tie for the Wild Card, if the Padres lose and Rockies win. Or there could be a two-way tie for the NL West and a tie for the Wild Card and/or a tie for the NL East.

Friday, September 28, 2007

AL Central Wrap: White Sox

The White Sox defeated the Royals last night, taking the season series 12-6 and building a two-game lead for fourth place in the AL Central with three to play. That does not mean, however, they are a better team -- maybe just that they have a few high-paid stars, plus the hunkering Royal killer Jim Thome. Consider the secret sauce formula developed by the guys at Baseball Prospectus. It's their formula, so they can explain it, but just note: the Royals are ranked 10th in the Majors; the White Sox, 29th. Out of 30.

Also consider these definitions found in the Urban Dictionary under "White Sox."

Our Wrap writer this time is Troy Appel, who is -- yes, I'm about to blow his cover -- Rangers Fan, the same who hates Jarrod Saltalamacchia for marrying a hot high school teacher, doesn't believe in the man, the myth, the legend, Rowdy Hardy, and, like everyone else, is mesmerized by Zack Greinke. He currently lives around the Dallas/Fort Worth area and recently wrapped up a job with the Texas Rangers.

His connection to the White Sox? We're not really sure. Maybe those years he spent going to school in Chicago, or his
hatred of bears, or, maybe, his hatred of the White Sox, shared by many (though he says he likes them). But really, we're not sure at all.



Contender to Pretender:
the White Sox Guide to Losing 90+ Games


By Troy Appel

Note: This column is NOT approved by Ozzie Guillen. It has been edited for language and all offensive comments have been removed.

“I'm tired of seeing this [expletive] every day.”

Not the kind of words you want to hear from your manager. And he is not the only one.

From the penthouse to the outhouse in two years.

In 2005 the Chicago White Sox mixed strong pitching with clutch offense to dominate their way to a World Series ring.

Ozzie Guillen is a genius.

In 2007 the White Sox can’t hit, can’t pitch and can’t keep their manager from going off the deep end.

Ozzie Guillen is certifiably nuts.

Oh, how things can change.

The hopes were high coming into 2007: an offense featuring Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, four proven big league starting pitchers and a bullpen chock full of young power arms. The pieces were in place.

But not for long.

The offense was as cold as a Chicago winter – but the summer did heat the bats up at least!

On May 8 the Sox were hitting .222 as a team. Today they are hitting .246.

Both good marks were/are good for last in the American League. But at least it went up!

The Sox offensive futility was a theme during the 2007 season, ranking last in the American League in runs, hits, doubles and on-base percentage.

You name the star, they had an off-year.

Jermaine Dye: .253 average, Paul Konerko: .257, Darin Erstad: .250, A.J. Pierzynski .263.

In 2005, the Sox made winning one-run games their specialty.

In 2007, scoring one run was a tall enough task most nights.

But with cold bats surely one could lean on a staff that would see Mark Buehrle throw a no-hitter and have Bobby Jenks set the Major League record for most consecutive retired batters with 41.

Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland and Javier Vazquez. What more do you need? Add in rookie John Danks, acquired in a trade with Texas for one-time White Sox darling Brandon McCarthy, and you had a staff with big names and big potential

Three starters with rings and a fourth, in Vazquez, with endless potential surely could save a nonexistent offense. Add in Jenks and one would figure the Sox could eke out some tight wins.

General Manager Ken Williams apparently forgot that you can’t get to your closer if you can’t hold the lead in the seventh and eighth innings.

Aardsma, Bukvich, Day, Logan, MacDougal, Masset, Myers, Sisco, Thornton and Wassermann are some of the no-names that have tried their hand at setting up Jenks this season.

Success has been minimal.

Outside of Jenks, who is in 39-for-45 in save opportunities and sports a 2.86 ERA and tied the Major League record for consecutive retired batters with 41, the bullpen is 1-for-17 in save opportunities and sports a 6.07 ERA.

Williams also forgot that Freddy Garcia is an elite Major League pitcher.

During the winter, Williams dealt Garcia for Philadelphia’s prospect/head case Gavin Floyd, which yielded little return, and the acquisition of Erstad didn’t help fans forget about Aaron Rowand.

Thanks to Kenny Williams, the Sox are now only an offense and pitching staff away from contending once again.

Ozzie said it best in one of his biweekly tirades: “People are blaming our pitching staff, but the offense comes along and puts more dirt on the grave. Everyone in that room should look in the mirror and be embarrassed.”

This team’s strength: That every player will finish the 2007 season alive and kicking. But not for a lack of trying on Guillen’s part.

Old outfielders, old infielders and the worst bullpen in baseball make for more problems than Jerry Reinsdorf would dare open his pocketbook to fix. So in 2008, except more of the same.

Things are back to normal on the South Side. The Sox are back to being inept.

From geniuses to idiots. That’s the story of the White Sox.

And that ain’t no *bleeping* lie.
-- Troy Appel, Sept. 27, 2007
Irving, Texas

A raffle for those who harbor a secret desire to look like canaries

For this jersey:



None other than Rob Neyer, who is to the Kansas City Royals as Ernest Hemingway is to the New York Yankees, wants you to have it.

Like, really, really wants you to have it. As he writes on Paul Lukas's Uni Watch website:

OMFG. Trust me: As bad as those jerseys might look in the photos, when you’re holding one in your hands it looks much, much worse. Oh, there’s nothing terribly wrong with the basic design, especially if you’re not averse to bright yellow and Royal blue. But what I couldn’t see from my upper-deck perch was that all the emblems and numbers on the jerseys were ironed on, just like cheap T-shirts. I couldn’t see that the fabric was some beastly synthetic not designed for laying against one’s skin [that would be nylon Dazzle, more commonly found in the NBA — PL]. What I also didn’t know is that my $75 didn’t get me the Royal blue undershirt. And let me tell you, without the undershirt the jersey was not only unwearable, but practically unbearable, too.


Apparently, after watching the Royals in those yellow jerseys in a game in Seattle in 1998, Neyer entered an auction and won one of those things for $75. He had bid on Jose Rosado's jersey because, as he writes, "I didn’t figure I could afford Johnny Damon’s jersey, and because I didn’t know just how good Sal Fasano would someday become (yes, that’s a joke). Rosado, meanwhile, was only 23, and just one year earlier he’d been Kansas City’s lone All-Star."

And then he realized the horrible mistake he made, and after several years, he donated his prize to Uni Watch.

And now it's available, via raffle, to the rest of us.

I must have that jersey. MUST. So if you want to do me a favor, DON'T enter this raffle.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm adopting the Rockies for the month. They won their 11th straight game Thursday night and now open a home series against the Diamondbacks, who lead the NL West by one over San Diego and two over Colorado. Want to hear a loud ovation? Try later tonight, when the Rockies return home for the first time in a week and get welcomed like conquering heroes.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Clubhouse fun with Sweeney and Bell

The Royals are losing 6-0 in the 6th in Chicago right now, but this from MLB.com brought me a smile:

Mike Sweeney was modeling a catcher's chest protector in the visiting clubhouse on Thursday.

He was spinning tales of his catching exploits and misadventures. It also was a not-so-subtle reminder of his kidding -- we think -- request that he be allowed to catch an inning in the final game of the season on Sunday.

Manager Buddy Bell walked by, shook his head and smiled.

"Oh, I put a smile on your handsome face!" Sweeney chirped.

Then he followed Bell down a hallway and shouted, "Hey, Buddy!" Bell turned, grinned and said, "No!"

Later, however, Bell said that Sweeney will play at first base on Sunday against the Indians. This might or might not be Sweeney's last game for the Royals.

If it is, Sweeney at least will go out with a glove on his hand, not as a DH.


I've said this before and I'll say it again: Mike Sweeney should be re-signed. It is the right thing to do, on multiple levels, and if I were a betting man, I'd say he will be.

POSTSCRIPT: As the fans in Citizens Bank Park go crazy and Brett Myers enters the dugout pumping his fists and looking like he could punch out everyone, thus is the power of his joy -- yes, the Phillies are tied for first place in the NL East (there's a Mets fan sitting in Citizens Bank with a towel over his head, getting taunted mercilessly) -- there's a Mets fan sitting across from me here at MLB.com looking like he wants to quit his job, crawl into a hole and sob till he drowns. I think I'm going to send him an IM right now that says, "Hey, so are the Phillies tied for first place?"

UPDATE: The response (not via AIM, mind you): "I'm seriously going to kill you right now and I'm not kidding. Don't do that."

NHZ of Royals Review posts some optimistic thoughts

When someone else says what's on your mind, only says it in essay form and uses 2,700 words, that just means less thinking for you. Less thinking = less work, and thusly I am grateful.

In no particular order, here's my list of undeniable positives.
...
3. Gil Meche: American BA
...
Dayton Moore's an idiot? Dayton Moore's a goddamn genius. That might be an exaggeration, but mad props to him for recognizing that the Royals could get more out of Meche than the Mariners had able to. I mean, what a surprise. It's not like the Mariners a give away good players all that often. I heard they traded this bum for a utility infielder and some banana twinkies.

4. Alex Gordon Charges Back From Oblivion
...
June: 883 OPS - on June 1st, Bell walks into the locker room with a crinkle-eyed, good-natured smile on his face and tells Gordon he was "just fucking around" when he told him to "swing at everything that moves." The veterans on the team have a good-natured laugh at Bell's pranking of the rookie. Realizing that it's okay to "take a pitch," and "wait for a ball to drive," Gordon hits the hell out of the ball.
...
8. We have approximately three thousand viable options for next year's rotation
...
9. Billy Butler's going to tear the cover off the ball playing a full year.
...
10. This, seriously folks, is a team on the upswing.
...
If outsiders, including ESPN talking heads, think that this franchise and fanbase have been crippled by David Glass or the small payroll or a general lack of interest, they're in for a surprise in the coming years.

Well said all around.

Baseball, baseball, baseball

Time for an admission: it's tough to find time to blog when you have a regular job, and it's tougher to find energy to blog about baseball when your job involves baseball writing. The last thing you want to do when you get home is watch more baseball, and write more about it. A beer always ends up being the better option.

That said, reading about baseball never gets old. Our friends around the Royals blogosphere continue to hammer on, but others around the country are doing fine work, too. A quick spin around the world of words:

DENVER POST: Loose clubhouse proves best elixir, by Mark Kiszla

Is it safe to exhale?

The Rockies stand tall. But, if they insist on playing with fate in this crazy dream of making the playoffs, anyone who loves them might crumble from the emotional strain.

Colorado won for the ninth consecutive time Tuesday night, hanging tough, staying a single game behind San Diego in the race for the final postseason berth in the National League, by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-7 in 3 excruciating hours and 21 nearly unbearable minutes, every last second tough enough to age a witness by years.

(And how bout those Rockies, still just a game behind the Padres after winning their 10th straight game Wednesday night.)

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Phillies fans who dare to dream, by Michael Vitez
The full moon was rising last night at game time at Citizens Bank Park, and so were the hopes and dreams of Phillies fans.

Consider Patricia Marie Kelly, a first-grade teacher in North Philadelphia for the last 40 years. Just the other day, she was teaching her children the short U sound, so of course she wore her Chase Utley jersey.

"U-U-Utley," she told them. She also taught them the CH sound for good measure. "That made it perfect," she said.

Kelly, 57, has been to 60 home games this season, and has been a Phillies fan since birth. The only time she's ever, ever been late for school - as a student or a teacher - was in 1964, when the Phillies collapsed and lost the pennant to St. Louis.

"It was such a heartbreak," she said. "My mother just couldn't get us out of bed."


DAVID M WARREN / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Alas, someone's heart will be broken again... Phillies fans have seen this before, writes Sam Donnellon.

They have seen the Phillies in this spot before, several times in recent years, a playoff spot attainable through a crisply played week, through a couple of big hits, a few well-pitched games.

Never before had it felt this way though, the team coming off an 8-2 road trip, the teams ahead of the Phillies playing worse, not better than them. They have overcome so much this team, battled through an incredible number of injury hits to be where it is now, arguably one of the healthier teams in the mix. The Phillies fight. They care. And yet here they are, a saddening sameness accompanying their final drive.

Or maybe new heartbreak this time...

NEWSDAY: Staggering Mets fall short despite six-run ninth, by Mark Herrmann
These last days of the Mets' schedule really are exciting. It is the kind of excitement you feel when you're driving home with a tank reading on "E" and you are not sure if you're going to make it or not.

The Mets, especially their pitchers, look as if they are out of gas. That is true even for Tom Glavine (13-7), who had figured to be their one sure thing on a reeling staff, but who got hammered for six runs in five innings in a 10-9 loss to the Nationals last night at Shea Stadium.

Still, although the Mets are running on fumes in this final week, they are running. They brought Shea to life with six runs in the bottom of the ninth and had the tying run on third with two out. They even made headway because the Phillies lost to the Braves, remaining two games behind in the National League East and reducing the Mets' magic number to 4.
Six runs in the 9th in a one-run loss...

Late September baseball is like the red wine before the peach cobbler that leads to foreplay and whatever comes next. Savor it, every last drop, because it'll make the morning after all the sweeter.

POSTSCRIPT: Bonds plays final home game in Giants uniform. Departs with fanfare.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Gil Meche is Optimus Prime

You got the heart
You got the motion

You know that when things get too tough
You got the touch

You're fightin' fire with fire
You know you got the touch

You're at your best when when the road gets rough
You've been put to the test, but it's never enough

You got the touch
You got the power

A 124-pitch complete game for the indomitable Gil Meche leaves me searching for words.

Alas, words will not do.

Images, perhaps.

And who comes to mind but the also-indomitable commander of the Autobots, he who wields a laser rifle and contains within him the mystical Autobot Matrix of Leadership?

There is no one else.


Labrum surgery (Megatron): It's over, Prime.
Gil Meche (Optimus Prime): Never!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The White Sox are not friends to bears

When the hyperlink for an article reads, "Buehrle bags bears," that's worth checking out, right?

I mean, what's the first thing you think about? Bagging teddy bears for sick children? Feeding bears bagels? Some euphemism for teabagging?

Or stalking them in cold blood and killing them with bow-and-arrows?

Yeah, that last one...

Buehrle, [Jim] Thome, Jermaine Dye and A.J. Pierzynski took a bear-hunting trip following Saturday's victory, an excursion set up by Twins broadcaster Dan Gladden on the property of a friend. Buehrle made the only kill of the day, using a bow, but it turned into a memorable moment with Thome right beside him.

"[It was] just a once-in-a-lifetime experience, especially going with Jimmy," Buehrle said. "When we got out there, the guy said we could hunt [separately]. But my main thing [was], I wanted to be in the stand with Jim Thome. I turned down hunting by myself to be with him.

"We weren't together together, but we were close enough [that] he got me on video. First, getting to bear hunt and then getting to hunt with him was more special."


Get Smart Bear Society: You have been put on alert. And to think, the White Sox share a city with a professional team called the Bears.

UPDATE, 9/27: From the "Who knew?" department, it appears a Google Image search of "Bears" brings up this hit:



Impressive profile picture, Mr.
MidwayMonSter23. You get my props for the day. Now if you could just fill me in on whatever happened to Jennifer Love Hewitt's career...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

AL Central Wrap: Tigers

The Tigers may have defeated the Royals today and taken the season series 11-7, but it's scant consolation for a team that entered the season with World Series hopes. Thus is the price of success: expectation, heavy and merciless.

The dream's over, Tigers fans. According to Baseball Prospectus, if you played out the rest of the season 500 times, the Tigers would win the Wild Card once. It's been a shocking about-face: On July 20, if you played the season 500 times, the Tigers would have made the postseason 465 times. "Each event is revealed to us only at the surrender of every alternate course," Cormac McCarthy wrote, and so it is for the Tigers, whose destiny converges at this place and soon the hour at the surrender of those 465 happier outcomes.
Team            ---- High Water ----  ----- Today ----
Tigers 92.9% July 20 0.2% -92.7%
Dodgers 75.7% July 24 0.00018% -75.7%
Brewers 82.2% July 18 12.1% -70.1%
Mariners 53.4% August 25 0.4% -53.0%
Braves 48.6% August 16 0.3% -48.3%
The Tigers wrap is written by Brendon Desrochers -- or Cranston, after his hometown -- who is 25, an Aquarius, engaged, and knows more sports than you. He's currently an editorial producer for Sports on Earth at Major League Baseball Advanced Media, writes a college basketball blog for Sports New York and is the lead producer at AVP.com -- which means he's about three times more employed than anyone here at IDWT.

TIGERS POSTMORTEM

By Brendon Desrochers

It hardly seemed possible. Surely if the Tigers failed to duplicate their success of 2006, it wouldn’t be because of the starting pitching. This was the deepest part of their team when they left Lakeland, Fla., in April for the Michigan chill, warmed by the hopes of another run at the World Series. With Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, Zach Miner, Mike Maroth and Andrew Miller, there appeared to be an abundance of riches for Jim Leyland.

The 2006 American League champion Detroit Tigers were built around starting pitching and defense and were buoyed by the end-of-bullpen combination of Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones. The same core returned for 2007, but with different results.

The defense merely regressed a bit to the mean, but it’s the starting pitching that has fallen from the top of the AL to the bottom third. Here’s a look at the four aspects of a baseball team using Baseball Prospectus’ all-encompassing statistics:

Starting pitching: Detroit is 11th in the AL in SNLVAR (1st in 2006).
Relief pitching: Detroit is 10th in the AL in WXRL (5th in 2006).
Defense: Detroit is 4th in the AL in defensive efficiency (1st in 2006).
Offense: Detroit is 2nd in the AL in EqA (10th in 2006).

The first reason for the decline is injury. Last season, four pitchers -- Bonderman, Rogers, Robertson and Verlander -- made 129 of the 162 starts for Detroit. This year, those same four have combined to start just 97 games, with six left to play. Instead of squeezing just 33 starts out of some combination of Miner, Maroth, Wil Ledezma and Roman Colon like they did in 2006, the Tigers have had to coax 59 starts out of pitchers ranging from the young and famous (Miller) to the old and obscure (Chad Durbin).
But besides having to use 12 different starters this season and seeing Rogers (blood clot in left shoulder; left elbow inflammation) and Bonderman (elbow) shut down for significant stretches, even the 97 starts the top four have made in ‘07 haven’t been of the same quality. Verlander (18-6, 3.68 ERA, 176/65 K/BB) has been the pitcher he was as a rookie, but Bonderman and Robertson haven’t been nearly as good. Their struggles not only go a long way toward explaining why Detroit will miss the playoffs this season, but also toward determining whether the Tigers can bounce back in 2008.

For Bonderman, there’s a clear dichotomy between his first 15 starts and his last 10:

First 15: 106 IP, 3.48 ER, 0.85 HR/9, 2.04 BB/9, 8.32 K/9, 10 quality starts
First 10: 68.1 IP, 7.38 ER, 1.71 HR/9, 3.16 BB/9, 6.19 K/9, 5 quality starts

On July 19, after Bonderman guided the Tigers to a 4-3 win over the Twins, the right-hander was 10-1 with a 3.53 ERA and Detroit had the best record in baseball. Now, two months later, he’s 11-9 with a 5.01 ERA, and was shut down for the season after a Sept. 9 start against Seattle in which he couldn’t get out of the second inning. (Ed’s note: Tigers reported today that he'll actually make one more start on Sept. 25.) Meanwhile, the Tigers went 26-35 (.426) in that span -- including getting swept in Cleveland this past week -- with only math keeping their slight playoff dreams alive (magic number for elimination: 2). It would be unfair to pin all the Tigers’ problems on Bonderman, but few teams can survive their No. 2 pitcher going into the tank like Bonderman has. The 24-year-old’s peripherals in his last 10 starts -- especially those home run and strikeout figures -- indicate there was a steep decline in his stuff somewhere along the way. Tigers management and their fans have to hope that it’s the minor sprain or inflammation in his elbow that caused his awful second half and that his poor performance is not evidence damning his bid to become an elite starter.

Nate Robertson is the other of the supposed “Big Four” to see his performance decline in the year after Detroit’s World Series run. But can you tell me which of these four seasons was Robertson’s best?

2004: 3.02 BB/9, 7.09 K/9, 1.37 HR/9
2005: 2.97 BB/9, 5.58 K/9, 1.28 HR/9
2006: 2.89 BB/9, 5.91 K/9, 1.25 HR/9
2007: 3.24 BB/9, 6.09 K/9, 1.15 HR/9

None of them are very good. In reality, Robertson has been approximately the same pitcher over the last four years, with a slight uptick in 2006. His home run rate has improved each year, while his walk and strikeout rates have fluctuated. The statistic that has gone furthest towards determining Robertson’s ERA each season is BABIP -- the percentage of opponent balls put in play that fall for hits.

2004: .310 BABIP, 4.89 ERA, 4.87 DIPS ERA (defense-independent ERA)
2005: .285 BABIP, 4.48 ERA, 5.11 DIPS ERA
2006: .281 BABIP, 3.84 ERA, 4.15 DIPS ERA
2007: .322 BABIP, 4.94 ERA, 4.96 DIPS ERA

Most pitchers -- knuckleballers excepted -- have very little ability to control their BABIP, and Robertson has surely showed none. 2006 was the only season where Robertson showed real improvement. His best walk rate, second best strikeout rate and second best home run rate combined with a low BABIP to give him a career year. In 2007, Robertson’s peripherals went back to resembling the fourth/fifth starter he is, and, to add insult to that, he had his worst BABIP numbers of his career. Detroit’s biggest problem was not that he didn’t perform like a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher but that the Tigers mistakenly expected him to.
The good news for the Tigers is that reinforcements are on the way. Andrew Miller (5.63 ERA, 7.88 K/9, 5.48 BB/9) showed glimpses of pitching competence in his time in the rotation this season. Jair Jurrjens (3.90 ERA, 13/8 K/BB ratio in 27 2/3 innings) may be a dependable pitcher -- if perhaps more useful in relief -- and the Tigers’ selection of Scott Boras-client Rick Porcello in the first round this season shows their commitment to using resources to build the farm system.

The relief corps was not as effective in 2007, partly due to the normal fluctuations of relief pitchers, who tend to be flaky. Of course, Joel Zumaya’s absence for much of the season due to a ruptured tendon in his finger didn’t help Detroit’s short relief, but the Tigers have enough good arms in their system to make sure the bullpen is an asset in 2008.

The most pleasant surprise in 2007 was the emergence of the Tigers offense as one of baseball’s best. While the Tigers were cranking extra-base hits all over Major League parks for the season’s first three months, a lot of their success was also dependent on a team batting average that hovered near an unsustainable .300. As that number has regressed, so has the Tigers offense, which is vexed by an inability to work pitchers and earn walks. Curtis Granderson is an exciting player, yes, but only Detroit’s two big sluggers -- Magglio Ordonez and Gary Sheffield -- and third baseman Brandon Inge can boast a higher-than-league-average gap between their batting average and OBP. In comparison, the other two top offenses in the American League boast six (New York Yankees) and five (Boston Red Sox) regulars above the league mean. An impatient lineup didn’t hurt the Tigers last season, but without the league’s best pitching this year, the Tigers needed more consistent run production. They didn’t get it. As their team batting average dropped, they could no longer produce enough runs to win consistently.
It all seems quite dire, but the Tigers are still likely to finish the season with the American League’s fifth best record. And let’s not forget, they still have some of the best young players in baseball in Verlander, Miller, Zumaya, Granderson and super-prospect Cameron Maybin.

Looking ahead to the offseason, GM Dave Dombrowski has several decisions to make. First, is Maybin ready to play every day in the bigs? And does he play center, moving Granderson to left, or settle in left? I would guess Maybin starts 2008 in center field. Second, do the Tigers pick up Ivan Rodriguez’s option? Pudge is still a superb defensive catcher, but his offense -- and notably his patience (just nine walks and a .293 OBP for the season) -- has declined to an unacceptable level. The option is for $13 million with a $3 million buyout if it is not picked up. I suspect Dombrowski will swallow hard and bring Rodriguez back, even though I’d use the $10 million in savings to improve the club elsewhere.

Like first base. Sean Casey will be a free agent, and Tigers fans can only pray that Detroit says goodbye to their singles-hitting albatross. Rumors have Carlos Guillen moving to first base, where his bat might play for the start of his new four-year deal – which kicks in at $12 million per season in 2008 -- though the Tigers would have to find a helluva defensive shortstop to make up for losing Guillen’s bat at short. Scouts all agree that Guillen will have to be moved from shortstop soon.

Veterans Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers are also free agents. One suspects the Tigers will make an effort to bring Rogers back while bidding adieu to Jones. If Detroit does bring back Pudge and Rogers, that leaves the Tigers with only about $10 million coming off the books. Unless Detroit is willing to go far above its $95 million payroll this season, there won’t be free agent reinforcements on the way -- not that there’s much talent on the market this winter anyhow.

So, while the long-term future of the Tigers is very bright, the near-term looks far bleaker. Cleveland will enter next season as favorites to win the Central, and Minnesota should be much-improved with their young pitching coming of age and Francisco Liriano expected to make his return. Chicago shouldn’t be a problem for another decade or so, but Kansas City is making strides towards competitiveness. Meanwhile, Detroit can’t depend on starting pitching to carry them in 2008. With Rogers a year older, Bonderman an enigma and Robertson a mediocrity, that leaves a still-young Verlander to shoulder a considerable load. On offense, Ordonez and Polanco are bound to regress a bit, and Maybin is sure to experience growing pains. It’s likely that Guillen, Granderson, Ordonez and Sheffield will be the only above-average hitters on the Tigers in 2008. Mediocre pitching plus mediocre offense usually equals a mediocre season.

2007 was certainly a step back for the Tigers, and 2008 may see another step or two in reverse, but the Tigers should begin an extended run of postseason competitiveness starting in 2009.
-- Cranston, Sept. 23, 2007
New York

Friday, September 21, 2007

Seizing fourth place by the scruff

The future is bright.

Zack Greinke (W, 7-6), 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10 K
Joakim Soria (SV, 17), 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 K

Maybe I'll come back tomorrow with a poem. But for now, let those two pitching lines sink in.

The game lasted an hour and 55 minutes, or just long enough for the sparse crowd of 10,264 to realize there really isn't a better place to settle on a lazy weekday afternoon than the ballpark, sitting on time and peering upon manicured greens.

One of the best games of the year, the kind to leave you content, full-bellied with soul and goodwill, as if part of you stepped out of darkness and into a dance of noise and color.

A tip of the hat to Jon Garland, who took the loss despite an eight-inning, six-hit complete game. Your team is back in fifth place, loser.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Elizabeth Merrill: taking Kansas City sports mainstream

The Kansas City Star-ESPN.com pipeline continues to flow. First Jason Whitlock, then Wright Thompson, now Elizabeth Merrill. (There was an editor who made the jump somewhere in there too, I think.)

Merrill, who was a Chiefs beat writer at the Star, has brought a welcome Midwestern tilt to the New York-based ESPN.com, but only recently has she begun writing heavily about Kansas City. Here are four examples:

July 29: Holmes eager to pursue comeback "dream" for KC
Aug. 7: Chiefs still tackling the old-school camp life
Sept. 15: Rap linked to LJ stirs controversy in KC
E-ticket: The Holmes Mystery

You'll notice all four of those stories are about the Chiefs. But now...

Sept. 18 (updated 9/20): Speaking Spanish helps Sweeney relate to teammates
Sept. 19: Grudzielanek happy to make Kansas City his home

The Royals getting national pub? About time!

An excerpt from the Sweeney article:

The lessons started, informally, in 1991 when he met Rev. Domingo Gonzalez, a Cuban native living in Florida. Sweeney was homesick and bored and bummed a ride to church from a teammate for $5. By the end of mass, he realized he didn't have a way home. Gonzalez offered to give him a ride, but only if he stayed for the Spanish mass. They became good friends and met every Sunday that year at 8 a.m. for breakfast and Spanish mass.

Sweeney still refers to Gonzalez as his "spiritual father."

"That was one of the highlights of my career," says Sweeney, who's played in five All-Star Games. "He not only helped me out learning the language, but it was the first time I was away from my family. Here was a Latin stranger opening up his heart to me. It really helped keep me on the right path when I started my new life in baseball."


And Grudz:

"I want to try to win," Grudzielanek says. "My time is way too valuable and I miss my family so much. … I'm at the point right now where I need to win and I want to win. I've made enough money, and all that stuff is fine and dandy. I'm happy with everything, but I'd love to be a piece of this puzzle here....

"This team can win, and in this city, it would be great. It would be a lot of fun. Somebody's got to stick around. Somebody's got to say, 'Hey, we've got an opportunity here. This is going to get better here real soon and real quick.'"

Pennant races, Red Sox and the incomparable Rudolph W. Giuliani

The cold vise of a baseball pennant race tightens, and here's what it does to people. Not long after watching a 11-0, then 12-1 lead shrink to 12-11, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel went up to his St. Louis hotel room and began drinking bourbon. As Jim Salisbury of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, "You're not supposed to lose a game like that," Manuel said.

Boston fans have a way of dealing with adversity that's endearing to those of us who enjoy, like every human being, a dose of schaudenfraud every now and then. They don't kick and scream so much as cogitate and deride, the latter a defense mechanism honed over years of suffering, sharpened to the hilt like a long-used, well-formed lament. The result is an impressive collection of voices that emanate almost as one out of the great northeast, cacophanous and keen.

The occasional potboiler finds its way into the heap, but usually the thoughts are honest, straight from the gut and entertaining as hell.

Examples:

The Soxaholix:

Doug:
I'm so friggin angry right now that if I was in a bah fight I'd probably inadvertently cut off my own nutsack from the sheeah blindness of my rage.

Mike:
Hey, at least you've still got nuts to sack … aftah watching the estrogen fest that is the Septembah 07 Red Sox, my testes have shrunk up and withdrawn into my abdomen like a pair of wannabe ovaries.

Sawx Blog:
Our lead in the AL East is now 2.5 games, which is the closest anyone in the division has been since April 25th. APRIL!!! If we lose the division I'll be absolutely rip sh!t. At that point making the playoffs is a mute point. Our momentum is nill, and there's only 10 games left on the schedule, which is probably a good thing. We can't tie the MFY in the regular season because they won the season series by taking 5 of the last 6 against us (good job guys!). Things are looking bleak and if we lose tonight I will officially take my hand out of my pocket and SLAM down the panic button. Ladies and gentleman, your 2007 Boston Dead Sox.

There's a funny sing-song and political cartoon over at Boston Dirt Dogs. There's a picture of a dead blue jay over at Joy of Sox (very joyous). There's some strange, might-as-well-give-it-a-try optimism from the folks at Over the Monster. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe's Amalie Benjamin, who I nearly had the pleasure of working under at our school paper, urges people away from ledges.

And all because of this:

May 29:
1. Boston, 36-15
...
4. New York, 21-29, 14.5 GB
Sept. 20:
1. Boston, 90-63
2. New York, 88-64, 1.5 GB

You have to love it. Have to. The "MFY" are coming, boys. 1978! 1978! 1978! 1978!

POSTSCRIPT: But cheer up, Red Sox fans. At least your region shows no outward support for this man:

Tony Gutierrez, AP

Oh wait... this was your guy. Never mind, New York wins again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fire burn, and the September cauldron bubble

Cubs lose, drop into tie with Milwaukee. Cubs Nation frets.

Red Sox lose, thanks to GAGné; Yankees just 2.5 back. Red Sox Nation freaks.

Mets lose (again), Phillies close to within 1.5. Mets don't have a nation, but their little borough is getting all twitchy as well.

Royals win! Royals win! And somewhere deep in a desolate forest, a tree falls.

POSTSCRIPT: This is kind of hilarious [via BBTF].

POSTSCRIPT 2: You'll notice the split infinitive in the headline of the Chicago Tribune link -- to say nothing of the headline's lameness -- and the cliche in the very first line of the story. I've said this for years, but the Tribune sports section is one of the worst in America.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

AL Central Wrap: Twins

Autumn encroaches and soon to lay us bare

Baseball, more than any sport, mirrors classic literature in its dramatic arc, possessing a beginning, middle and end, its season a coalescence of individual seasons that play out independent one from the next yet all connected as in some Rube Goldberg contraption that spits out a final winner after six uninterrupted months of games. For observers, there are uniquely distinct feelings that accompany the beginnings of seasons -- joy and hope and a sense of something long awaited arriving at last -- and the middle -- a blithe sort of contentment that eases by like the days -- and the end -- fatigue, and a desire to continue despite the fatigue, and perhaps sadness descending, to be fended off. And then, just like that, it's over.

The 2007 season, alas, has nearly arrived at this terminus, and at this juncture we can feel the Royals losing their pull and sway over your attention as surely as we feel the morning chill. But before we go, we thought a send-off would be appropriate in the form of AL Central Wraps, each written by a voice heretofore alluded to but never heard on this blog, at least not in these extended formats. It's our attempt to go out, if not quite with a bang, with something more than a whimper.


Today's guest blogger: Kinsella, who first made his appearance on IDWT talking about the White Sox, then made a snooty spelling correction, and has occasionally returned to drop allusions to more of the White Sox. This gives us reason to be suspicious of his claim to being a Cubs fan. It's as if he secretly loves the White Sox but wears Cubs gear just to look cool, like many North Siders who still call the downtown Macy's the "local Marshall Field's" and go to Cubs games just to be seen in their North Face jackets or Armani suits drinking their super cool Old Styles with their hot girlfriends.

K, as we call him, currently lives in Minneapolis and is a proud contributor to the national unemployment rate. He'll write about the Twins. The Royals went 9-9 against Minnesota this year, splitting the season series with them for the first time since 2003.

Without further ado:

Moving forward, Twins hope to resemble more Twins, less White Sox

By Kinsella

In 2005, the Chicago White Sox ended an 88-year drought by winning their first World Series since 1917. Adding power-hitting DH Jim Thome to an already dangerous lineup put the Sox as odds-on favorites to continue their run of dominance. Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" was destined to keep blasting throughout smoky bars and street corners on Chicago's South Side, as Ozzie Guillen was going to lead the boys back to the playoffs and again bring glory to the second team in the Second City. It turns out, though, that second place was too tough for the Good Guys in Black. 2006 proved to follow a different storyline, and the Sox were shut out of the postseason.

The reason behind the Sox's fall in 2006 was that the Minnesota Twins once again asserted their dominance in the AL Central. A 96-66 record gave the Twins a division title by one game over the Tigers and a return trip to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Oakland A's upended the Twins in the first round, while the Wild Card Tigers went on to the World Series to be defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals. Despite the first round loss, the Twins and their fans had much to look forward to heading into '07. Lefty Johan Santana was the reigning AL Cy Young winner, 1B Justin Morneau the reigning AL MVP and Joe Nathan was one of the best closers in baseball. Joe Mauer was just coming into his own as a bona fide All-Star behind the plate and GM Terry Ryan, the 2006 Executive of the Year, continued to make a contending team out of one of the smallest payrolls in the league. Things were good for the Twins, but as the White Sox can attest, things can change quickly in baseball. As of September 14, 2007, the Twins are 72-74, thirteen games out of first place.

What happened to cause such a drastic dropoff? Last year, the "Piranhas" were young and snappy, small-balling their way to the top of the AL Central. This year they've been notably more flounder-like. Here are some of their top offenders:

  • Starting Pitching
    • Johan Santana – In 2006, Cy-tana was 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 5.21 K/BB ratio. So far this year, he is 15-11 with a 3.09 ERA and a 4.63 K/BB. Critics have pointed out that Santana has given up the most home runs in the bigs this year, 30, but last year only served up 24. Though not up to last year's Cy Young season, Johan has been carrying the load for the Twinkies this year just as well as he has in the past. The Twins HAVE to re-sign #57, says fan Andy Gunderson, because he's the "Best. Pitcher. In. Baseball." Santana is not the problem. The big dropoff occurs here…

    • Brad Radke and Francisco Liriano vs. Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson – Radke (12-9, 4.32 in 2006) retired in December 2006 after a long, excellent career with the Twins; Liriano (12-3, 2.16) was the hottest rookie pitcher since Mark Prior until he was sidelined last fall with elbow problems (like Prior…); together, those two provided the Twins excellent backup for Santana. Unfortunately, with both of them unavailable in '07, Terry Ryan signed two retreads off the double-scrap heap, Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson. It's safe to say that this experiment did not work out, as Ponson was 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA before getting released in May while Ortiz went 4-4 with a 5.14 ERA before being traded to Colorado for a bag of balls.

    • The rest of the rotation: Young guys Matt Garza and Scott Baker have a lot of potential, but they're great only for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation right now. Royals fans may remember Baker's incredible eight PERFECT INNINGS on September 1st, and Garza has shown flashes of greatness the past year and a half. Carlos Silva is a bum and will be a .500 starter for his career if he's lucky. I don't care if the Twins re-sign him or not, and neither should Twins fans. [Ed's note: Kinsella was actually at the game in which Garza nearly perfect-gamed the Royals, and afterwards sent IDWT a correspondence. You can read it here.]

  • Hitting
    • Joe Mauer – Easy, Twins fans, don't get your undies in a bundle. But brace yourselves, because I'm going to bash Cretin-Derham's own golden boy, the high school legend, the greatest Minnesota athlete since Dave Winfield. Joe Mauer has had a bad year, and the Twins have struggled because of it. You can still wear your #7 jerseys and fake sideburns, but check out these numbers:
      • 2006 – 140 Games, .347 avg, .936 OPS, 84 RBI's, 13 HR
      • 2007 – 99 Games, .294 avg, .807 OPS, 54 RBI's, 5 HR

Bottom line, Mauer's been hurt and his productivity has fallen off. Take away his inside-the-parker when Gary Matthews couldn't read a ball off the baggy and Mauer has four home runs this year. FOUR HOME RUNS? That's like Nick Punto power… Mauer needs to stay healthy and produce like a big-money catcher for the Twins to be successful. How much longer does he actually remain a catcher?

    • Justin Morneau – Morneau has gone from "MVP" to "Oh-neau" in one quick year. His power is still comparable to last year, but his average has fallen from .321 in 2006 to .281 this year. Good news though, this slump in an arbitration year will allow tightwad Pohlad to re-sign Oh-neau at a much more affordable price.

    • Counting on Cuddyer backfired… Cuddyer had a career year in 2006, with 24 homers, 109 RBIs and a .934 OPS. This year he's at 13/73 with a .777 OPS. The Twins need better production from a corner outfielder who's playing this much.

    • Nick Punto – Seriously, does this guy have pictures of Gardenhire and Terry Ryan in compromising positions? .198 this year is pathetic. This guy is turning into the new Neifi Perez, but is a worse fielder. Get him off the field! Punto is the type of player that gets coaches fired.

Damn, that's a lot of negative. I'm normally a positive guy, but following the Cubs my whole life has turned me into a sports skeptic. There are some positives for the Twins going forward, and these things should give Twins fans hope.

· Morneau is still hitting for power. – If Morneau can continue to average 30-35 homers a year to go along with his .300 average, he provides a solid big bat in the middle of the lineup.

· Torii has been toriid at the plate this year – .291, 28 HR, 101 RBIs from a centerfielder? If the Twins re-sign him, they have to hope his numbers this year were not the result of a contract-year push.

· Jason Kubel – This young outfielder came back from a nasty knee injury to post a solid season. It's criminal that Rondell White has been taking at-bats away from this guy. I like him.

· New Stadium – The Pohlad family will always be a bunch of tightwads. That's not going to change. The Twins will get more revenue from their new stadium and ideally will have more money to spend on players in a few years. Outdoor baseball returning to Minnesota should be a boost for the team and their spending habits. The Twins will never be confused for the Yankess/Cubs/Mets/Red Sox in terms of spending, but they should continue to be competitive.

UPDATE:

As of Thursday, September 13, Twins GM Terry Ryan has resigned his position, effective end of the 2007 season. Assistant GM Bill Smith takes over. The TC media has been praising Ryan for all he's done, but I have to question the timing of this move. The 52-year old Ryan steps out of the spotlight right before some of the most important personnel decisions in Twins history. Fan favorite Torii Hunter is a free agent, Cy-tana is up for renewal after 2008, Morneau is also due big bucks. With the prospect of being the name behind the dismantling of the Twins at the worst possible time, I can't really blame Terry Ryan for wanting to "spend more time with my family."

Thanks to Twins fans Gundy, Nolley, Mike and AL Central observer Dees for their ideas, etc. Tao, the Royals got a long way to go. But using their youth and fundamentals (the Twins model for success), the future is bright. Not as bright as the Twins' though.

-- Kinsella, Sept. 14, 2007
Minneapolis, MN

Friday, September 14, 2007

An inspiration to fans everywhere. Seriously

I was watching the Devil Rays-Mariners game on FSN Northwest just now (don't ask) when I saw this man, the best real-life approximation of the Woman in White -- Glenn Close's character in The Natural -- that we have. Chewbacca, Sasquatch, Bigfoot, the Cowardly Lion, Freak, whatever you want to call him.... He wore a backwards Beltre jersey, danced this kooky jig, participated in a one-man chant of "We want Beltre" while waving a rolled up poster of some sort and played with a Beltre bobblehead. And when Adrian Beltre came up in a key situation in the bottom of the 8th, he hoisted a big laminated sign that read "I LOVE BELTRE," only "LOVE" was represented by a big red heart.

That man is an inspiration to fans everywhere. I'm still in awe.

Oh, Beltre singled in the go-ahead run, and in the next half-inning made a nifty defensive play for the game's penultimate out.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A benchmark win

From Dick Kaegel of MLB.com:

KANSAS CITY -- Gil Meche had lost six straight decisions. Scratch that. The Royals had lost seven in a row. Scratch that.

And, oh yeah, the Royals had lost 100 games in three consecutive years. Scratch that.

All of those unpleasant situations ended on one glorious happy note -- a 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins -- on a gorgeous 73-degree Wednesday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium.

It's over! 100 is broken!

And, of course, I'm about 30 hours late with this development, but so it goes.

POSTSCRIPT: Well, this is one way to avoid making the "Should we pay Johan Santana $25 million a year or trade him to the Yankees?" decision, for which you'd get lampooned either way. Now, I'm not drawing any connections, but Managers manager Mike Hargrove resigned right before playing the Royals, and now Twins GM Terry Ryan resigns right afterwards. To all future opponents: even if you win, do you really win? Make it easier on yourself by not showing up.

Odie's season is over

First off, we would never celebrate the end of any player's season due to injury. And in case you haven't heard, Odalis Perez's season is over, officially, due to a knee injury that's had him on the DL since August 19.

But imagine a parallel universe in which one has to pay $1.5 to Odalis Perez to be rid of his 5.57 ERA. Then imagine that it's not a parallel universe at all, but this one.

Yup, Perez has a $1.5 million buyout option on a contract that would pay him $9 mil next year. I think this might be the easiest decision Dayton has had in two years.

We don't feel too bad for the guy.

Look at how youthful Perez looks in that picture, a career's worth of cheers and happiness still fully ahead of him. Then, somewhere along the way, he lowered his standards so that a five-inning, four-run outing was considered good in his book, started bitching about lack of recognition for his charity, and lost all his fans, fame and fortune. We all lose our charms in the end, I suppose. Ahem.

"I'm very happy with the way I was treated here by everybody. They're great people," Perez said as he packed for the Dominican Republic.

It was nice knowing you, OP.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The best answer to anger is silence

In the same vein as the Ten Great Vows of Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, I'm taking a vow of silence until the Royals win again.

You'll hear from me soon, I bet. Until then, Royals Review has something to occupy your time, and of course, Royals Authority.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Kindly, that's quite enough

To this man:

Dick Whipple/AP

At the risk of sounding like a sad, stammering supplicant, we'll say it anyway: stop it-it-it. Please. We liked you a lot better when you were being called a Yankee Doodle Randy.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The story of Joba Chamberlain

If it's your policy to tune out everything Yankee, you've been missing the intriguing Saga of Joba, one of the best prospects in baseball. Never mind the Joba Rules, or the "relaxing" of them, which may result in the Royals getting a second helping of the kid on Sunday: in 11 appearances -- 14 1/3 innings -- Chamberlain has absolutely dominated, treating seasoned Major Leaguers like string puppets, baffling them with an electric fastball, a nasty breaking ball and control beyond his years. He's struck out 18 while allowing just seven hits and four walks. Billy Butler last night came about as close as anyone to driving in a run off Joba when he jerked a pitch to the left-center warning track. That's right, Joba's yet to allow a run.

If that's not enough, there's the story of his father, Harlan, who grew up on an Indian reservation but spent a good part of his childhood -- six years, five months and 11 days -- in the hospital battling polio. He and Joba, in Lincoln, Nebraska -- before Joba went off to college at Nebraska and teamed with Alex Gordon to lead the Cornhuskers to the College World Series -- often played catch, one while confined to a scooter, the other throwing as hard as he could until the the receiver could stand it no longer, his hand stung so much. "If it wasn't blowin' or a million degrees below zero, we were out there," Harlan Chamberlain says in this nicely done NY Daily News feature.

Harlan drove up from Lincoln with family and friends to watch his son's team last night, and when Joba entered the game, tears streamed freely down his face. He didn't wipe them. We can only imagine what the son was thinking on the mound, what anxieties. Did he know there was anyone else in the stadium? Did he hear any of the 27,000-plus when the most important person was the one who was silent, quietly weeping somewhere on the edge of the lower concourse?

Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated is writing a feature about the Chamberlains, this I found out one day when Michael Kay of the YES Network said off-handedly that Smith has been hanging around the Yankees dugout a lot recently. Writes Aaron McFarling of the Roanoke Times blog: "If Smith -- one of the most talented feature writers in the business -- profiles you, you've either killed yourself, killed someone else or killed your competition. With Joba, I'm guessing it's the latter."

I can't wait to read it. And when the story does come out -- I imagine among people in the know in New York, this is one of Smith's more anticipated pieces -- if you don't already, you will know.

POSTSCRIPT: From MLB.com:
"Everyone knows that he is a special kid and he is going to do a lot of things here in the future," Chamberlain said of Gordon. "Hopefully in the seventh or eighth, it gets close and I get to face [him]."

"I called him last night and told him that if he faces me, he has to throw me a first-pitch fastball," Gordon said with a smile. "I was the older guy at Nebraska, so he has to follow my rules."

Alex Gordon did face Joba in the bottom of the 8th. He singled cleanly to left.

POSTSCRIPT 2: On a lighter note, Harlan Chamberlain kind of looks like a cross between two Office Space characters: Tom Smykowski, the guy who tries committing suicide in his garage, and Milton Waddems, who was infatuated with a red stapler. Check the Daily News feature for a photo. Am I right?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Ankiel, Glaus, HGH, coin flips and two Idaho Falls rookies

These days, you don't appear out of corn in the middle of August, belt nine home runs in 81 at-bats, hit .358, slug .765 and spark an improbable resurgence out of a team left for dead just a month earlier without raising suspicion. It was baseball's version of the public secret for weeks before the New York Daily News brought it into the open yesterday, reporting that Ankiel apparently received shipments of HGH. Troy Glaus was also implicated.

I'll reserve my comments for a later time, except to say that I wonder how Tony La Russa's enjoyed this season.
***
Is this really necessary?
***
Mike Moustakas finished his brief season at Idaho Falls with a .314 batting average and nine RBIs in 35 at-bats. KC's No. 5 pick, Adrian Ortiz, batted .324. With so many failed prospects in the past, maybe the Royals scored (at least) two winners in this year's draft. We can always hope.

***
Royals-Yankees... NOW.

UPDATE, 9/8: Ankiel: "I've been through a lot emotionally and physically. There are doctor-patient privileges, and I hope you guys respect those privileges."

Wow. "Doctor-patient privileges," therefore I will not answer your question (paraphrased from Pedro Gomez), "So, just to be clear, you took HGH, right?"

Doctor-patient privileges. I can't believe athletes haven't used this defense sooner.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Why can't the Kansas City Royals own A-Rod?

It's a rhetorical question. If I were a Yankees blogger, here's what I would write:

Sometimes we wonder how the other half lives. Imagine you're a Kansan, settling in on Granma Ruth's bequeathed rocking chair in front of your dustless RCA CTC-5 after an honest day's work, rubbing the burn out of your wheat-stained hands and feeling conspicuously aware of a life passing by, when the man on the tube snaps you into a different reality -- his reality, which he creates with singularities so heavy they pull the whole of people in alternate realites into it, sucking first their breaths and then their senses, leaving them as Derek Jeter was on the top dugout step, staring aghast at the man for whom this world's reality holds no dominion, rendering else null and void. And then you, citizen of the Earth, Kansan by birth, would look upon your hands and not see the passing of your humble life but the potential contained within every hand and possibly wonder, Are these the hands of God? Are these the hands that lift New York upon empyreal shoulders? Why can't the Kansas City Royals own A-Rod? Can any entity, any earth?

He hit two home runs in the 7th inning yesterday. He and the Yankees come to town tomorrow for a three-game set.

POSTSCRIPT: Absolutely ridiculous comeback -- six runs in two innings, including three in the 9th after two were out -- that featured three bloop singles to the outfield, what can only be described as a "bloop hit" in the infield, a chopper high off home plate with two outs in the 9th, then a Sid Beam-like moment for the win. Find the highlights on ESPN.com if you can. There's a Philadelphia Inquirer column titled, "This one never should have gotten away." Personally, I think, "WHAT THE &$%#???" would have worked better. Maybe this is why I'm not an editor.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Three notable stories from MLB.com

BANNISTER WINS ROOKIE OF MONTH HONOR, by Leslie Parker
Lead: For the third month in a row, the Royals continued their dominance of the American League Rookie of the Month award with Brian Bannister picking up the award for the second time this season.

Quotable: "He's somewhat of a rookie," manager Buddy Bell said, "but since I've been managing, he's the best pitcher I've been around."

Notable: The 26-year-old compiled a 2.90 ERA over 40 1/3 innings. He struck out 16 and walked nine.

On Aug. 17 against the A's, Bannister pitched a two-run, four-hit complete game, fueling the talk of a possible AL Rookie of the Year Award.

TALE OF TWO CALLUPS, by Conor Nicholl

Lead: Luke Hochevar's and Craig Brazell's lockers stood on one side of the visitors' clubhouse at Rangers Ballpark, near a big-screen TV. The two players, each with different expectations entering the season, were both smiling.

Quotable: "There wasn't that much I could do except get that [40th] home run. I guess throw a couple more walks in there and maybe a few more RBIs," [Brazell] said. "I think it's just the matter of me getting the opportunity for me getting a chance to play every day again. In '05, I didn't get to play every day and in '06, I didn't get a chance to play the first month and a half every day. Throughout the season, it was off and on.

Notable: For Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft and one of the best prospects in baseball, Tuesday marked his first time in the Major Leagues after a season of constant changes.

"I have been dreaming about this ever since I was a little kid," he said.

For Brazell, the call up was the culmination of the greatest season "by far" in his career. For the first time in several years, Brazell saw consistent playing time.

He responded with a .308/.339/.612 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) line at Triple-A Omaha and hit a Minor League-leading 39 homers at two levels.

SWEENEY HAS IMPACT ON LIFE IN KC, by Conor Nicholl
Lead: Royals captain Mike Sweeney and his wife, Shara, have helped thousands of people throughout the past 10 years. This year, they presented a new award and most importantly, helped save a life.

Quotable: "[The award] has a heartbeat." --Sweeney, Royals' nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award

POSTSCRIPT: Our hero's chat.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A developing game situation...

Rangers manager Ron Washington is racked by indecision. Racked. It's literally making his face muscles twitch and skin creep.

The situation: His starter, Kevin Millwood, handed a 6-1 lead, gave up five unanswered runs in the 4th and 5th and was pulled. Then his team regained the lead, 8-6, but reliever Frank Francisco has allowed two runners on in the 8th while recording just one out (David DeJesus earned his Major League-leading 18th HBP).

Washington is currenly squirming over whether to bring in lefty Bill White, who has never made a Major League appearance after eight years in the minors. He's 28 and has waited eight years for this...

What's Washington going to do?
White, who the FSN Southwest announcers have compared to Jimmy Morris, Dennis Quaid's character in The Rookie, is loose in the pen and ready, but Washington just handed the ball to Joakim Benoit. This is a mistake. I know the game's close, but White has waited eight years for his debut, and his parents drove up to Arlington to see this game -- God forbid any of you have to drive to Arlington to watch the Rangers, especially on a rainy day with about a 900-person crowd dwindling to three dozen throughout the night -- and you think he's, what, nervous? I think he's ready...
Ross Gload: holy crap!

Lunging for first, his foot slipped off the bag and you can probably guessed what happened next. Scary stuff.Hoping for extra innings. We want Bill White!
11:42 p.m.: Well, no Bill White, but the Royals made another rally in the 9th, coming one run short when Tony Pena Jr. grounded into a fielder's choice to second with the tying run in scoring position.

Now, about why Tony Pena Jr. was at the plate and not, say, 39-HR-man Craig Brazell...

The Zack Greinke Scoreless Innings Streak Watch

The FSN Southwest announcer dropped Brandon Webb's name when discussing Zack Greinke yesterday, as did Rangers Fan a few hours later. And why not? Greinke hasn't given up a run since July 24 against the Yankees and has tossed 19 straight scoreless innings. He was very good in Texas last night, and if you need proof, Royals Authority's got you covered.

23 more innings to match Webb's streak! It's not like Webb's still working on it, so Greinke's really only competing against himself. And his opponent. (Next up: the Yankees.)

Monday, September 3, 2007

Things Brian Bannister is really good at (pt. 2): photography



Brian Bannister took those photos, we think/are pretty sure, because they can be found on his website, Beauty and Sport, in which the bio states matter-of-factly: "Photographer Brian Bannister was born in Scottsdale, Arizona and introduced to the world of professional sports at an early age. Traveling with his father Floyd, a Major League Baseball player for 15 years, Brian experienced the world through the life of a professional athlete." It makes no mention that "Brian" is now immersed in the world of professional athletes, that he is, in no uncertain terms, somewhat of a skilled professional athlete himself.

The website, rather mundanely, feeds into the site of a photography studio Bannister opened called Loft 19. A New York Times article from February 2006, when Bannister was still a Met, explains how the Royals pitcher came to his second vocation:

At 24, Bannister, one of the Mets' top pitching prospects, owns more cameras (six) than pitches (four). He invested his $100,000 signing bonus in opening a 9,000-square-foot studio in Phoenix called Loft 19 and said he spent most of his free time during the season retouching photographs or scouring Internet forums about photography.

He grew up in Phoenix and chose to attend the University of Southern California because of its fine-arts program, then walked on to the baseball team. He has taught himself Web-site coding and a cut fastball, Adobe Photoshop and a changeup, and in 2003 assisted the Mets' team photographer, Marc Levine, in the Shea Stadium photo pit. After Friday's workouts here, Bannister spotted Carlos Serrao, a prominent photographer he knows from shoots at Loft 19, and they chatted for a few hours.

On Bannister's Web site, beautyandsport.com, there is no mention of his day job in his 366-word biography. The closest he gets to revealing any association with baseball is in the second sentence, when he allows that he is the son of Floyd Bannister, a former All-Star pitcher who won 134 games over 15 major league seasons.

"I don't want to have an edge because of anything I've done in baseball," Bannister said. "I want to be compared with any other photographer out there on the merit of my work."


We wish we could say something here about the similarities between baseball and photography, perhaps drop a lesson on electromagnetic energy and particle physics as it relates to the finer points of ERA-plus, but as the man said so himself, the two worlds are best kept separate. So instead, we'll leave you with Bannister's profile words, with highlighted descriptors that apply to his budding baseball career:

Constantly evolving, Brian's work is a combination of his background in art and sports. His clean, vibrant style, trademarked by a cinematic use of light and a dynamic energy, strives to reveal the two themes that are his passion: classic beauty and pure sport. His perspective and technique remain perpetually fresh through the influence of the many great photographers that make Loft 19 Studios their temporary home.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Things Brian Bannister is really good at (pt. 1): pitching

The stopper took a shutout into the 8th before losing it on a sac fly, but he still lowered his ERA to 3.16. Consider the list of American League starting pitchers whose season ERAs are higher:
John Lackey
Josh Beckett
Fausto Carmona
C.C. Sabathia
Mark Buehrle
Jeremy Guthrie
Justin Verlander
Andy Pettitte
Scott Kazmir
...everyone else
And now, the complete list of starting pitchers whose ERAs are better:
Dan Haren
Kelvim Escobar
Johan Santana
Erik Bedard (tied)
That's it. Four names. You'll notice that Daisuke Matsuzaka is not on this second list. Keep that in mind before we revisit this topic.
Brian Bannister doesn't just win, he wins when the Royals absolutely need him to. According to the AP's Twins-Royals game recap, Bannister's 8-3 in 13 starts following a Royals loss. Remember when he won the AL Rookie of the Month award in June? He might win it again in August* -- he's 7-1 in his last nine starts, with a 2.17 ERA (!) -- which would be nice, since Billy Butler won it in July. He's great at home, dominant on the road: 2.15 ERA and four wins in his last five away from Kauffman. We can sing his praises here all night, but others can do it better:

Catcher John Buck (from the AP story linked above): "Every time we go out it's like I learn something about him and he learns something about himself and the other guys," he said, comparing Bannister to pitchers like Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. "He has a lot of that makeup. He has an idea of what he wants to do, executes it and makes us look smart."

Royals manager Buddy Bell, in the KC Star: "Since I’ve been managing," Bell said, fighting the smile, "he’s the best pitcher I've been around. (Pause) But you need to check that out …"

Brian Bannister, from Baseball Prospectus interview: "Every publication that’s ever tried to project me has been wrong. I think that’s because they use my current repertoire of pitches, and I’m unique as a player in that I continue to grow and evolve, always trying to refine and add new ways to help me get hitters out. That’s why I think I’ll always continue to surpass my projections. At the same time, I always use statistics--non-standard statistics that you’ll find outside of a box score--as a way to improve myself as a player. I know my weaknesses. I know that I have a tendency to give up more fly balls than ground balls. I’m also very aware of my WHIP, my on-base percentage against, my slugging percentage against, my home runs per nine innings, my strikeouts to walks ratio. I look at those things to see how I compare to other players in the league, and also to try to make myself a better pitcher. Like I said, I consider myself a student of the game. Numbers are important."

Internet forums are already debating the merits of "Dice-K vs. Banny" for AL Rookie of the Year, and already -- while they cede Bannister's having a good year -- they are saying, "There's no doubt that Dice K is going to be the better pitcher." No doubt? Really? Why exactly is there no doubt? Because one has been on an SI cover and the other quietly goes about throwing his four pitches at varying speeds in a small market? Because one throws a fictitious pitch that'd make Sidd Finch proud (a pitch which is very fictitious) while the other doesn't need to? Has anyone who's watched Dice-K and Bannister this year actually seen anything to suggest one would have the better career over the other? That the former would no doubt have the better career?

I'm going to propose something, and I want everyone reading who hasn't actually seen Bannister pitch this year to kindly preclude themselves from saying something idiotic and ignorant:

Brian Bannister may have a better career than Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Now, may hardly means will, in any sense, definition or context. But how can anyone who's watched Bannister more or less dominant this year (so far... I understand there's a month left to be played) not feel there's certainly a chance he could be really, really great, and that he has, at times, been nothing short of Maddux-esque? There are doubters out there, of course, and revisionists surely, hordes of them growing by the day, and apologists too (mostly Mets fans who say the Bannister-for-Burgos deal was "good at the time"). I encourage them to make themselves heard.

But first, just for fun, let's compare some stats:

CATEGORIES THAT MATSUZAKA WINS
Strikeouts
Matsuzaka: 174
Bannister: 72

H/9
Matsuzaka: 8.12
Bannister: 8.19

K/BB
Matsuzaka: 2.64
Bannister: 2.00

Opp. BA
Matsuzaka: .240
Bannister: .242

CATEGORIES THAT BANNISTER WINS:
ERA
Bannister: 3.16
Matsuzaka: 3.88

ERA+
Bannister: 145
Matsuzaka: 117

WHIP
Bannister: 1.15
Matsuzaka: 1.28

HR allowed
Bannister: 9
Matsuzaka: 20

BB/9
Bannister: 2.18
Matsuzaka: 3.37

Rookie of the Month awards
Bannister: 1
Matsuzaka: 0

TIE:
Complete games
Bannister: 1
Matsuzaka: 1

And yet, baseball writers will stuff Rookie of the Year ballot boxes with Dice-K's name because every time he pitches against their team, they glimpse firsthand the hype and the Japanese media miasma and the spectacle that is Daisuke the Monster, and the lasting impression they come away with is, "Now that's what an award-winner should look like." And then Brian Bannister shuts out their team for nearly eight innings and their manager only manages to say, "He just kind of shut us down. You get behind like that, and it takes the air out of you early," and they nod their heads and write their stories and forget all about Banny until it's time to send in their ballots, and because they're new-age baseball writers, hot damn, they bother to look at a stat sheet, and they see this Bannister name, and they think... Hey, didn't he get lucky that one time against us and shut us down for eight innings? Maybe I'll vote him into third place. Nice kid, that Bannister...

Well, I won't have it, and I'm going to type in all-caps so you know that I will NOT stand idly as a less deserving pitcher steals away with what's rightfully someone else's: BRIAN BANNISTER IS THE 2007 AMERICAN LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR.

Pass it on. Spread this truth.

POSTSCRIPT: Perhaps we'd be okay with Dustin Pedroia, all things considered.

UPDATE, 9/4: Whaddaya know, he
did win the AL Rookie of the Month award again, which was just announced. Well deserved.