Tuesday, August 30, 2005

« A closer look at each team's ... closer (NL) »

By Suss
The playoff race is very close to September, and these are the 13 teams that are either guaranteed or close to (within 3 games) one of the 8 playoff invites:
  • Cardinals
  • White Sox
  • Red Sox
  • Braves
  • Yankees
  • A's
  • Angels
  • Indians
  • Phillies
  • Marlins
  • Mets
  • Astros
  • Nationals
  • Padres
(The Twins are 5 1/2 back of the Wild Card ... go on a run and I'll include you in this. Plus I said the Mets were out, and I still believe that, but for the purposes of this post I'll include you since you're only 2 games behind Philly)

Let's look at perhaps the most crucial element of a playoff team's chances: the bullpen. In a playoff race as tight as this, a bad bullpen could be a divisional rival's best friend. If a team can't hold a close lead, not only will a team lose a couple extra games, but momentum can get sucked out of the clubhouse faster than a Kyle Farnsworth fastball.

Starting with teams with the worst record:

San Diego Padres. It never hurts to have the active leader and 2nd-all time in saves (Trevor Hoffman) as your stopper. This year he is 33-for-35 in save ops. Behind him are 5 solid relievers, only one of which has an ERA higher than 4: Scott Linebrink, Antonio Otsuka, Chris Hammond, Rudy Seanez and Paul Quantrill. Since this team won't be able to score 10 or hold a team to 2, they will have close games in the postseason and will need to count on these 6 to hold the other team to one run for every three innings they pitch. And with a bullpen ERA of 3.48 so far -- putting them 2nd in the NL in that category -- this team shall not be counted out once they make the playoffs.

Washington Nationals. While the team has taken a bit of a dive since the All-Star Break (yeah, they're in last place now), they're still much in contention for the Wild Card, and you can't blame closer Chad Cordero. Going into the All-Star game with 31 saves, he has added 10 more plus lowered his ERA from 1.13 to 0.96 (note: it's hard to lower a 1.13 ERA!) The rest of the 'pen, like Cordero, was unheard of prior to this year: Hector Carrasco, Gary Majewski, Luis Ayala and Joey Eischen. They solidified that 'pen with a veteran middleman with a couple of WS rings: Mike Stanton, whom the Yankees threw away earlier this year. Livan Hernandez ought to count as a reliever as well, since when he pitches, the pen gets the night off.

Houston Astros. If you haven't heard of Brad Lidge, get used to his name. This hard-throwing righthander has 81 K's in 52 innings, the best ratio in the major leagues. He has saved 31 of 34 games, and his middlemen haven't blown much either. Dan Wheeler (1.77 ERA) has been the star of the middle relief, and Chad Qualls, Russ Springer, Chad Harville and Mike Gallo. To be fair, Springer and Lidge are the only two I've heard of before writing this post. But you have to respect that 3.77 ERA (4th best in the NL), and if the Astros can muster up any hitting, they may go deep in the playoffs as well.

New York Mets. Closer Braden Looper headlines an eclectic mix of pitchers in this bullpen. You have the seasoned veteran setup man (Roberto Hernandez), the young guns (Aaron Heilman and Heath Bell), the journeyman (Manny Aybar) and the bitter 37-year-old rookie (Dae-Sung Koo) who, after an OK year, refused to warm up for a game Saturday night and was promptly demoted to AAA Sunday. At face value it's not an attractive bullpen, and among the 8 NL contending teams they're 5th in ERA (3.90, 6th in NL). They may need to rely on their starting pitching (which they've done) because I wouldn't want this bullpen in October.

Florida Marlins. On a team with Guillermo Mota and Antonio Alfonseca, somehow Todd Jones emerged as the closer this year. Someone forgot to tell him what year it is, because his 31 saves are the most he's had since his Detroit Tiger days in 2000. He has a sub-one WHIP (0.92) and has blown only two saves. But Jones is the closer because of all the injuries. Jim Mecir and Tim Spooneybarger are currently injured, and they got Alfonseca back last month. If the pitchers can get to Jones, game over. But if the pen gets in the game by the 6th inning, there will be trouble. That 4.41 pen ERA is not what you want in the postseason.

Philadelphia Phillies. Is this the same team that closer Billy Wagner said lacks "the know-how to win?" Because they're leading the Wild Card. And Wagner's no stranger to success. Having over 270 career saves, he has 31 this year and a tiny, tiny 0.82 WHIP. But while the pen is bolstered by Ugueth Urbina, too many of the relievers are left-handed. It's good to have a solid southpaw in a pinch, but Wagner, Aaron Fultz and Rheal Cormier are all lefties. There are way too many quality right-handed hitters to make a 'pen like that work.

Atlanta Braves. While the team has shown amazing resilience from big-name injuries and impressive rookies/managing/GMing, the team doesn't have an amazing bullpen. Danny Kolb began as the closer, coming off an All-Star year with the Brewers. Now the job belongs to Chris Reitsma (29 career saves, 15 this year) and they made moves bringing in Kyle Farnsworth for a hard-throwing setup man. The team needs to adjust to John Smoltz being back in the rotation, because they were banking on him for a few years. They even became the first team this year to bring up a 2005 draft pick -- Joey Devine -- whose career stats stand at 2 innings, 7 runs. John Foster has been an OK middleman and Blaine Boyer (1.94 ERA) is the unsung star of the pen. Still, the composite ERA is 4.60, too high for my taste to feel comfortable with them in close games.

St. Louis Cardinals. What more is there to say? Randy Flores (3.82 ERA) is by far the worst pitcher in this bullpen. Only four NL teams have a better average pen ERA below 3.82. Ray King (2.80), Julian Tavarez (2.77), Brad Thompson (2.62), Al Reyes (2.31) and closer Jason Isringhausen (1.75). These six have accounted for over 90 percent of the entire bullpen's innings, showings its durability and consistency to produce and average ERA of 3.00, best in the NL. When this team has few faults, fewer reside in the bullpen.

AL bullpens coming later.

Monday, August 29, 2005

« D-Backs / Padres »

By Suss
OK, Arizona's playing a series in San Diego. If they can sweep, they'll be 2 1/2 back of them.

Otherwise, I'm still not impressed.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

« Little League WS could be game in purest form »

By Suss
When you're staying in Jasper, Ind. on a business trip, there's no Fox Sports Net on Holiday Inn's TV. There is ESPN, though, and lately they've been showing nothing but the Little League World Series, being held in Williamsport, Pa.

So I indulged.

Don't worry, I still get my fix of "Baseball Tonight." But I've been fixated just as much on the 11-to-12-year-old division of the national pastime, and for anyone who has an appreciation for the game -- including those who are no longer fans of MLB for any reason -- ought to tune in and lose yourself in the purity of baseball at this level.

Even though the LLWS has a scandal of its own -- the 2001 team from Brooklyn forfeit all games because their pitcher, Danny Almonte, was too old when his dad said he was 12 -- the kid's game embodies the spirit and message the sport was meant to teach everyone, fans and players alike.

Sure, the kids make mistakes. They're learning the game just like any young athlete. Albert Pujols is only 25 years old and at the top of his game, but he has much to learn about the game.

“The kids serve as our personal mirrors to our own memorable past.”
Sure, we're never going to hear about 95 percent of these kids again. It's tough to refute that -- even the great Almonte is not widely expected to be a major league player -- but where the players lack raw talent, the teams make up for it with hustle and heart.

Sure, the kids are being "overexposed." When they lose, they're not just crying, they're crying on national TV. Then again, so would we.

And that's the common link between the game and its fans. We were those kids. We may have not had an ESPN camera watching us swing at balls way off the plate, we swung at that same pitch at our elementary school's recess diamond.

At this point I should reveal the obvious: I wasn't good at baseball. I quit after one year of fast pitch because it was too hard. But I played the game because I loved watching the Atlanta Braves as a kid. I tried to emulate Terry Pendleton's swing during games. (Looking back, I wasn't even close to it. It was more like Sammy Sosa's, but he was just a scrawny Chicago White Sock back then.)

I often batted at the bottom of the order, which at that level put everyone in the lineup card. So I would bat 10th out of 13, for example. But one game I remember well: at Memorial Park in Sylvania, I went 2-for-3 with an RBI and the only double of my fourth-grade career. The next game the coach rewarded me by batting me sixth. Highlight of my career. True story. (I think I struck out and fouled out in my next game, but meh.)

Granted, since they are at the LLWS level, they're considerably better at baseball but they're extremely fallible. They eat ice cream without getting fat. They look up to their coach and listen unconditionally. They are afraid to talk to girls. They hit the cutoff man, even if he's three feet away. They tag up. They never argue with the umpires. And they love their parents.

In other words, the kids serve as our personal mirrors to our own memorable pasts.

And ESPN does a good job of keeping these kids as kids. They ask them questions such as "who's your favorite singer?" and display factoids about their favorite food/TV show/movie. (When I was that age? Hot dogs / Garfield / "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.")

Then there are the international teams. Some of these teams reside in countries were baseball is a rarity. While there are many opportunities to play ball in Latin America, Canada and East Asia, the team from Russia only has access to Moscow's only batting cage on the weekends. Russia didn't win a single game, but they did travel thousands of miles to participate in the best-of-the-best tournament, and I can again relate to this feeling when my team and I drove from Ohio to Minnesota to go 0-3 in the College Curling National Tournament, outnumbered and outplayed. We still had a blast at the tourney, and so did Russia. You can see it on their faces.

And when you look at these kids faces -- American or international -- you might be able to see yourself at that age playing baseball, softball, kickball or foursquare with your friends. If we need any reality check in the world today, we need to be able to visualize ourselves playing catch with our folks, smiling, and going inside to watch our favorite team play.

If you're turned off by major league players amid bulging payrolls and damning steroid scandals, watch the rest of the LLWS. Or when it's over, watch your local neighborhood kids play a game and get back in the spirit of what it means to enjoy baseball.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

« Bringin' stat meat: Matt Cary picks Indians »

By Suss
When other people write stuff, it saves me the time to do it.

College roommate/curling teammate Matt Cary wrote a rather lengthy and statful (ooh!) comment on the post below, so I'd do the buddy thing and feature it so you don't miss it.
If today was August 23, 2004, then you may have just witnessed the Indians finish their eighth loss in a row of a 9 game losing streak. After the All-Star break last season, the Tribe was 23-10 until the 15th, showing promise that they could see the play-offs. That was until they started their slide, losing 9 games in a row and going 17-27 the rest of the year (that’s only 3 games above .500 in the second half of the season.)

Today, they won their sixth game in a row, they are 22-16 so far in the second half of the season, and only have 3 losing streaks since the break (swept by Chicago in 4 games in the first series after the All-Star game and the recent sweep by Tampa Bay.) Also, they have won a total of 7 series and only lost 1 to Oakland and splitting another with Kansas City (this does not include the previously mentioned sweeps by the Sox and Rays.) As far as winning streaks, they have three; one of three games and since today’s 5-4 win over Tampa Bay, two 6 game winning streaks. (The first 6-game winning streak was back to back sweeps over Detroit and KC, and the second 6 gamer includes the recent sweep over the Orioles and the first two games of this 4 game series against Tampa.)

How does the rest of the season look? Interesting. Let me first explain what you see at the end of the next four paragraphs; the advantage stat. This is what the teams record would be if they won all of their games against teams below .500 and lost all of their games against teams over .500.

Matt C. sez: White Sox, Indians in, Twins out; Yanks in, BoSox out.
Starting with the Tribe, they play 18 games against teams with winning records; 6 games against the Twins, 6 against the White Sox, 3 against the Jays, 3 against the recently un-athletic Athletics. On the other hand, their other 18 games include 7 with the Royals, 6 with the Tigers, and 5 with the D-Rays. (Advantage: 18-18. No advantage.)

If you look at the Yankees schedule, who are tied with the Indians for that wild card spot, you would see they have 21 games against teams with losing schedules; 8 against the O’s, 6 against the Rays, 4 against the Mariners and 3 with the Royals. In their other 17 games, they have 8 games against the Jays, 6 games against World Champ Red Sox and 3 against the A’s. (Advantage: 21-17. Four game advantage.)

Speaking of Oakland, they only have 18 games against sub-.500 teams and 20 in the other category. (Advantage: 18-20. That’s a two game disadvantage.)

Just for kicks, since the Yankee’s schedule has a four game advantage, and they are less than four games behind Boston, let’s see what the Sox schedule looks like. They have games 18 against losing teams, which include their next 12 games coming up, and 20 against winning teams, which fall in their last 26 games. (Advantage: 18-20. Two game disadvantage.)

Who’s my pick for the Wild Card? The Cleveland Indians. “But Matt, you said that the Yankees have the advantage of schedule.” That is true, but the Yankees also don’t play the Twins. The Twins, I have a feeling, will decline from where they are now. They may have the pitching, but I don’t think they have the offense to stay competitive, and could lose at least half their games to the Tribe. Who’s my pick for the AL East? The New York Yankees. I can see the Red Sox not making the playoffs. I can’t see The Yankees not making the play-offs. They are going to make a run in the next couple of months and come September, the Red Sox may fall out first place in the East, and possibly miss October all together. They are 6-7 against the Yankees so far this season with 6 games left against New York, 5-7 against Baltimore with 6 games left against them, and 3-8 against the Blue Jays with 7 more to go. That’s a combined 14-22 record, 8 games under .500. They have their work cut out for them.

And finally, on a side-note, while I was on ESPN.com, I saw Tim Kurkjian give a “Happy Birthday” to Julio Franco. How does his season look? His team has the second best record in the NL, he’s hitting .299, with 9 homer’s, 9 doubles, and 40 RBI’s. Over his career, he has 2513 hits, 170 homers, 1150 RBI’s and 273 stolen bases. He’s a career .300 hitter and has a career .993 fielding percentage. Turning 47 makes him older than Ryne Sandberg and the same age as the L.A. Dodgers, Sweet'N Low and the Hula Hoop. That’s some pretty good company.

Now that I'm done with my cut & pasting, I can get back to work.

Monday, August 22, 2005

« Soriano could be wired to Twins; WC update »

By Suss
The trading deadline isn't over. August 31 is the waiver trade deadline, and there's always a nugget or two that changes things in the postseason races.

And, sports fans, we may have our nugget.

Soriano (MLB.com)Both the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the St. Paul Pioneer-Press are reporting that the Twins have claimed Rangers' 2B Alfonso Soriano on waivers.

This doesn't mean they have him yet, and they may not get him at all. According to MLB.com, "Twins claimed Soriano to block a trade to another team and the clubs do not expect to make a deal."

The way the waiver wire works is such: a team puts a team on waivers. The team with the worst record to claim the player "claims" the player. Now the two teams have 48 hours to make a deal. Then, the waiving team can either trade the player to that team, give them the player or retain the player. If they retain the player, he cannot be traded for the rest of the season.

The Twins have used the waiver earlier this season to nab a prominent second baseman. They acquired bat-flippin' Bret Boone from the Mariners, then weeks later released him.

Minnesota has a remarkable pitching rotation, featuring 2004 Cy Young winner Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva, along with lights-out closer Joe Nathan. However, their offense has been inconsistent. The season-ending injury to Torii Hunter was both an offensive and defensive handicap on the team, and the acquisition of Soriano would be an immediate fix to their hole at second base, as Luis Rivas has been slumping all year.

And Minnesota may not be out of this race. Last week they were 7 games back in the Wild Card chase, but with Oakland losing 5 of 6 games, the Twins find themselves back only 2 1/2 games of the A's after sweeping the White Sox and winning 3 of 4 vs. Seattle. Now the Twins play the White Sox again starting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays (who have quietly stayed in the race) were swept in Detroit, the third stop in their 4-city, 13-game road trip. Toronto was outscored 29-13 by the Tigers. Capping off their trip is a four-game series at the Yankees, who are also in the middle of this Wild Card chase.

New York is currently tied with Cleveland in the standings. Both teams are 1/2 game behind Oakland, but the Yankees also have a shot at catching the Red Sox, who are 4 games atop the AL East. Cleveland, meanwhile, stays consistently hot by sweeping Baltimore and winning 2 of 3 at Texas. They now travel to Tampa to play four games, but the D-Rays should not be taken lightly at this point in the season -- they have one of the best records in the AL for the second half, and are playing like a team with nothing to lose. (Tampa has won 5 straight against the Rangers and Yankees.)

And with all these teams gaining ground, it seems that Oakland has been losing it. Unable to reclaim the AL West lead held by the Los Angeles Angels, they have lost 5 of 6 games, including dropping 2 games to Kansas City, who broke their 19-game losing streak Saturday against ace Barry Zito.

National League

Meanwhile, the NL Wild Card race is — go figure — too close to call. Currently the Phillies hold the lead after a 4-3 week against Washington and Pittsburgh. Even more mediocre this past week were the Astros, who at 1/2 game back lost 4 out of 7 against Chicago and Milwaukee to wrap up their homestand. Now they go on a West coast road trip to San Diego and Los Angeles.

The Wild Card will stay tight as Florida is one game back, Washington 1 1/2 back and the Mets are 3 back.

If the Mets are looking for a leg up, they will need to win most of their games on their upcoming West coast trip to Arizona and San Francisco, because in September the only sub-.500 team they play is Colorado.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

« KC "Royales" with cheese choke in 9th »

By Suss
In "Pulp Fiction" we all learned that in France a Quarter Pounder with cheese is called a Royale with cheese.

If the Royals had any cheese last night, it would have been swiss, because their mitts were full of holes in the ninth inning.

With a 7-2 lead going into the final inning, the Indians had narrowed the deficit to 7-5 with one out and runners at first and third. A Ron Belliard pop up into short center field was chased down by shortstop Angel Berroa, but the ball harmlessly bounced off the side of his mitt and landed to the ground. Travis Hafner scored, but the Royals did manage the forceout at second base.

With one out away from holding on with a 7-6 win, closer Mike MacDougal had worked Leifer into a 1-2 count and got him to hit a fly ball to left field.

Chip Ambres' mitt was full of swiss cheese (pictured right) as the ball eluded the leather confines. Belliard scored all the way from first, making it a 7-7 game.

They blew a 5-run lead, but it only got worse.

The first pitch to next batter Aaron Boone bounced off the left field wall, scoring Leifer and taking the lead in improbable fashion. Royals manager Buddy Bell promptly yanked MacDougal in favor of pitcher Jimmy Gobble.

Gobble intentionally walked Casey Blake to get to Grady Sizemore, who lined a base hit to right field. The ball landed in front of fielder Emil Brown, then bounced off (yet again) Brown's mitt and skipped by him. Boone and Blake scored.

After Coco Crisp drew a walk, Jhonny Peralta capped off the wacky inning with a 3-run homer before Hafner, at the plate again, struck out to end the inning.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Royals had an opportunity to make the same comeback, but didn't even reach base.

Final score: Indians 13, Royals 7.

Never before had I heard the home crowd boo a team so loudly. Then again, if a team has a 5-run lead in the 9th, commits 3 errors and loses by 6, I'd wear out my throat too.

Now what do they call the worst team in baseball in France?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

« AL Playoffs: Who's in, who's out »

By Suss
During the All-Star break, 11 of 14 teams were viable candidates for the postseason. Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles were all division leaders with the following tight Wild Card race:
Minnesota . . 48-38 GB
Baltimore . . 47-40 1.5
New York. . . 46-40 2.0
Texas . . . . 46-40 2.0
Cleveland . . 47-41 2.0
Oakland . . . 44-43 4.5
Toronto . . . 44-44 5.0
Detroit . . . 42-44 6.0
So now it's about 50 games until the end of the regular season, and the face of the Wild Card race has changed a bit. The A's began surging. The Orioles began reeling. Tampa Bay stayed the same. Who's left in this thing?


Eliminating the obvious: Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Seattle

Detroit is 6 games under .500, 20 back of Chicago and 8 1/2 back of Wild Card leader Oakland/Los Angeles. After dropping 3 straight to the Indians at home (two of those they had leads and lost them) and trading closer Kyle Farnsworth for two promising pitchers, the Tigers are reloading for next year, so they're out.

Baltimore fired Lee Mazzilli, their pitching has spiraled downward, and oh by the way their slugger is shrouded in steroid controversy (and I'm not talking about Sammy Sosa). And if today's injury suffered by Sidney Ponson lingers, they have no chance. They're out.

“The Blue Jays are the epitome of Jan Brady this season.”
As much as I love the small market teams like Minnesota, they haven't been making good moves. Bret Boone turned out to be a waiver bust, plus home run thief Torii Hunter is out for the season and everyone this side of Lew Ford is on a dismal slump this month. As much as I love that pitching staff and bullpen, they've fallen 7 games back in the Wild Card after possessing the lead by 3 games. It's tougher to climb back up, and the competition ahead is much tougher. Sorry Cullen, but they're out.

Yes, Toronto still has an outside chance. This weekend home series against the Yankees could have been a big statement in that division. It's a team with Roy Halladay and nobody else famous, and Halladay's hurt. The Blue Jays are the epitome of Jan Brady this season. Nobody's talking about this team, yet they're only 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card. The coming week's schedule features two teams down on their luck -- 4 hosting the Tigers and 3 at the Orioles. If the Jays have any chance of staying in this, they need to win 6 of those 7. If and only if they accomplish that, they're 61-55 and in -- barely. Otherwise, they're out.

Texas lost a series to Tampa Bay. They're sitting 7 1/2 back of both Oakland and Los Angeles, and they're tied with Toronto and Kenny Rogers is still on suspension. Plus, their upcoming schedule isn't too inviting: 10 games, all on the road, against Boston, New York and Cleveland. Despite picking up Phil Nevin and bringing up Steve Karsay from AA (what the hell was he doing down there in the first place?), while their record hasn't gotten much worse, it hasn't gotten better, and that's not a good sign. They're out.

Cleveland was was not a team that started out good at all. But they began playing to their potential in June and now see themselves 4 1/2 back of the Wild Card. And to take a page out of Woody Paige's philosophy, "Look at the schedule, jabroni!" They will not play Boston, New York or Los Angeles for the rest of the season, and have one series each with Oakland and Chicago. Watch out, they're very much in.

You know you want to count New York out. It's the fun thing to do. But they're the underdog here. Of course, if Boston didn't win the World Series last year we would be saying it's only a matter of time before their 3 1/2 game lead dissolves. But the Yanks still have some tough series ahead of them: 2 against Chicago, one at Oakland and two against the Red Sox. It may be those series against Boston -- one of them the final games of the season -- that could determine who wins that division, and the other team may not have a Wild Card to fall back on. It's sad to say it, but never in the year did I count them out and yet they're still in.

League Leaders: Boston, Los Angeles/Oakland (tied for the lead, the other would get the Wild Card.)

Locked in: Chicago. 13 games ahead. You do the math.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

« Belonging in a Negro League jersey »

By Suss
At the start of the Tigers-Indians game -- where both teams were honoring the Negro Leagues by wearing the old jerseys -- Fox Sports Detroit announcer Mario Impemba said starting pitcher Jeremy Bonderman "looked liked he belonged" in that jersey.


In today's PC world, imagine if he said that about Dmitri Young.

« As Lee chases Crown, what about Pujols? »

By Suss
Quick ... stats!

.357 BA (1st), 33 HR (2nd, 2 back), 84 RBI (3rd, 6 back)
.341 BA (3rd), 30 HR (4th, 5 back), 88 RBI (2nd, 2 back)

The top line is Derrek Lee, who has been competing against the world for the first Triple Crown in 38 years and the first NL Crown in 68.

But Albert Pujols, his top competition in the MVP voting, isn't too far behind in his chase.

Neither will probably get it (Andruw Jones is at 35 homers, Carlos Lee has 90 RBI) but while Lee has been associated with the Crown chase and Pujols was the one on the winning team, Albert has just as much a shot as Lee to win it.

After hitting .400 in April and June, Lee "slumped" to a .303 average in July, although his homer and RBI totals have been steady.

Meanwhile, Pujols' average has been climbing slightly from .323 to .341 since the beginning of June.

Again, neither is likely to win it this year, and it's very unclear if Lee can have another season like this in the future. But Pujols is only 25 and has the tools to make a Triple Crown run for each of the next 10 season.

Friday, August 05, 2005

« 102 reasons to love baseball »

By Suss
Reading so much negativity toward baseball makes me sick. Do these people seriously understand baseball?

Fellow Blogcritic author Sal Marinello opts to cover the negative side of the game. He is skilled at writing destructively about the game, ripping to shreds Barry Bonds, Curt Schilling, the All-Star Game, Sammy Sosa and most recently Rafael Palmeiro. And often he chooses to make Jose Canseco's book "Juiced" as his Amazon.com link.

The baseball writers I respect do not write so venomously towards the game the cover. They witness it. They interview it. And they, too, can be critical of it. But never do they let go of the undying spirit of the game.

Anyone who cares about the sport wouldn't just talk about black eyes in the game like Kenny Rogers' cameraman incident or Barry Bonds' grand jury testimony. They would obviously mention them and how their mistakes don't reflect the sport's nature, but would turn around and talk about how their favorite team needs bullpen help.

There are so many reasons to love the game that rarely make headlines. But they're always there when you need them the most.

Here are 102 such reasons to love baseball. On any day of the week, each item trumps anything bad about the sport. The list isn't ranked, nor is it comprehensive. But I could go to 1,000 if given enough time, so just be glad I stopped here.
  1. The double switch
  2. Chone Figgins playing second, third or center
  3. Rick Ankiel trying to come back as an outfielder
  4. The suicide squeeze
  5. Pudge Rodriguez's snap throw to first base
  6. Craig Counsell's batting stance
  7. Stealing signals
  8. Pitching inside
  9. An ump's own way of calling balls and strikes
  10. Still calling U.S. Cellular Field "Comiskey Park"
  11. Drunks trying to start the wave in the 8th inning
  12. Diving catches
  13. Hitting a home run out of SBC Park and into the bay
  14. Jon Miller's play-by-play
  15. Third base coaches
  16. Unassisted triple plays
  17. Players to be named later
  18. The train tracks outside Safeco Field
  19. Nolan Ryan putting Robin Ventura in a headlock
  20. The drum that beats while the Indians are at bat
  21. Hideo Nomo's statuesque windup
  22. The two kids running out to congratulate Hank breaking Babe's record
  23. Joe Carter's World Series winning home run
  24. Overpriced ballpark franks
  25. Nomar Garciaparra's obsessive-compulsive ritual at bat
  26. The Dodgers' home blue jerseys
  27. The fake-throw-to-third-then-to-first
  28. Derek Jeter throwing to first in the air against his body
  29. Home plate collisions
  30. Lou Piniella arguing with umpires
  31. The pool at Bank One Ballpark
  32. "Baseball Tonight"
  33. Moneyball
  34. George Brett flipping out after being ejected for pine tar
  35. Ichiro's infield singles
  36. Not updating your fantasy baseball team in weeks ... and still winning
  37. The Tiger's old English 'D'
  38. Adjusted OPS ratings
  39. Pitchers rounding the bases in warmup jackets
  40. Mariano Rivera's cutter
  41. Hitting a ball the other way ... on an infield shift
  42. Stealing third
  43. Personalized at-bat music
  44. Knowing an obscure stat, like the first person to hit a home run from both sides of the plate in the same inning (answer below)
  45. Carlton Fisk hand-signaling his home run off the pole
  46. Pitchers hitting home runs
  47. Hitting the catwalk in Tropicana Field
  48. Jack Buck's post-9/11 speech
  49. Legging out a triple
  50. Outfield assists
  51. Randy Johnson throwing above John Kruk in the All Star game
  52. Fans heckling ballboys for foul balls
  53. Watching the ground crew roll out the tarp
  54. Fielding a weak grounder bare-handed
  55. Lenny Harris making a career out of pinch-hitting
  56. Catching a flyball temporarily lost in the sun
  57. Gary Sheffield's bat waggle
  58. Players who never wash their batting helmets
  59. The 12-to-6 curveball
  60. Wrigley Field's ivy
  61. Getting a hit after an intentional walk
  62. Hall of Fame debates that never end
  63. Watching "This Week in Baseball" during a rain delay
  64. Sean Casey's personality
  65. Trades that, looking back, were highway robbery (Luis Gonzalez for Karim Garcia)
  66. Steinbrenner's "team meetings"
  67. Andruw Jones gracefully running down a fly ball
  68. Curtain calls
  69. Three players converging on a pop-up, nobody catching it
  70. Jeff Bagwell's bat windup
  71. Beer vendors
  72. The home crowd always booing a close call against their team
  73. Getting offense from your 9-hitter (AL)
  74. A batter fooled by a changeup
  75. Pedro Martinez throwing Don Zimmer to the ground
  76. Fenway Park's manual scoreboard
  77. Small market teams beating large market teams
  78. Scoring all the way from first base
  79. A pitcher getting out of a bases-loaded inning unharmed
  80. Johnny Damon's hair
  81. Batting around in an inning
  82. The umpire dusting off home plate
  83. Kirk Gibson's home run trot in the 1988 World Series
  84. Ernie Harwell's "Long Gone!" home run call
  85. Dugout clearing brawls
  86. Tony Gwynn's voice
  87. The Metrodome's right field baggie wall
  88. Sliding underneath the tag
  89. Leo Mazzone rocking back and forth
  90. Keeping the box score by hand
  91. Taking your hot fiancee to a game
  92. Wild card chases
  93. Explaining to someone the infield fly rule
  94. The knuckleball
  95. Keeping track of Ripken's Ironman record on the warehouse
  96. 5-4-3 double plays
  97. "Free baseball" (extra innings)
  98. Knowing the answer to the AFLAC Trivia Question right away
  99. Mr. Met
  100. Looking at who the Expos used to have
  101. 480 ft. power alleys
  102. The hold stat
(The answer to No. 43 is Carlos Baerga.)

The game brings us many moments of joy, angst and humor. Every day, players overcome adversity, numbers are crunched and a city comes together to unite and cheer for a common goal.

What do you love about the game?

Monday, August 01, 2005

« Palmeiro violates MLB drug policy »

By Suss
Orioles' first baseman Rafael Palmeiro was suspended 10 games under MLB's new drug policy, one which includes the use of steroids.

It is unclear whether Palmeiro used steroids or another banned substance.

Earlier this year Palmeiro reached his 3,000 career hit, making him the fourth player in MLB history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

Earlier this year, Palmeiro was one of a few current and former baseball players subpoenaed by a congressional committee regarding steroid use in baseball. Palmeiro was subpoenaed because he was named in former teammate Jose Canseco's tell-all book "Juiced" as being a steroid user.

Palmeiro, in front of Congress, vehemently denied ever using steroids:
"I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never."

Monday Palmeiro apologized for his mistake, but reiterated that he never "intentionally" used steroids.

This suspension is also another setback for the Orioles in their race for the postseason. They have collapsed to fourth place after holding a sizable lead in the AL East over the Yankees and Red Sox earlier this year.

But beyond the scope of division races, Palmeiro's shocking suspension re-opens the wound of debating steroid and illegal substance use in major league baseball, which unfortunately detracts from the exciting races currently present in both leagues.

« NL West is NL's Worst »

By Suss
Let's read the following all together, slowly and carefully, so we all believe the madness: The D-Backs are in first place.

(Checks date) Yep, it's August. And the Ari-freakin-zona Diamondbacks are first in the National League West. And yet they're three games below .500 (52-55).

By percentage points they lead the San Diego Padres, who are no games behind but have lost 13 of 16 since the All-Star break.

“ ... A Giants-Rockies or Dodgers-Pirates series still has playoff implications.”
Have the Padres played anybody good? Only the Cardinals, which one of their wins have come against.

Swept by the Mets. Swept by the Phillies. Swept by Cincinnati. Split a series against Arizona.

Going into the second half they were 7 games above .500. Now they're three below.

Have they sustained injuries? No more than the next team. The only crucial player currently hurt is pitcher Adam Eaton. In fact, on July 18 they returned two position players from the DL -- second baseman Mark Loretta and first baseman Phil Nevin -- and on July 11 Ramon Hernandez returned from injury. Also before the break they traded for former Yankee reliever Paul Quantrill and signed journeyman pitcher Pedro Astacio.

In fact, during a relatively quiet trading deadline the Fathers may have been one of the most active. After receiving Quantrill at the beginning of July, they traded for Reds third baseman Joe Randa to replace the slumping Sean Burroughs. And on July 31 they traded away Nevin to the Rangers for pitcher Chan Ho Park, after Nevin vetoed a trade that would have shipped him to Baltimore for Aruban knight/pitcher Sidney Ponson.

All they had to do was probably play .500 baseball for the rest of the season. But now they've taken a turn for the worse and now they're in a tight pennant race.

I still think the Padres have the tools, above any other team, to win that division. But it's not just the D-Backs they have to worry about.

How bad is this division?

The Dodgers and the Giants are 4 and 5.5 games behind, respectively. In fact, when everyone was talking about tightly-packed East division races, the 45-59 Giants are currently the fourth-place closest to first place.

Need more proof of how bad this division is, if the fact that all teams are at least 3-below .500? If the Mets, Blue Jays, Phillies, Rangers, Marlins, Orioles, Brewers or Cubs played in the NL West, they would be in first place, and the Tigers would be half a game back. Of those hypothetical first-place teams, none are more than 4 games over .500. And the next "worst" division leader is 14 games above .500 -- the Boston Red Sox (59-45).

Obviously the NL East deserves two or three berths to the playoffs because all teams have winning records, and nobody in the NL West, including my D-Backs, merit any worth in October. But these are the rules as laid down by Selig and commish before him, and someone in that division has to come out the winner.

The winner will not have a losing record. Division play heats up in September, and someone will probably win that division with somewhere between 85 and 87 wins. If history is any comfort to this division, the last team to win the World Series with 87 wins were the 2000 Yankees, and the last team to make it to the World Series with 86 wins were the 1997 Indians -- and they were one inning from winning it.

I'm not one to ever rule out teams -- I never counted out the Yankees, even when they were in fourth as late as June -- but it will be difficult to call an upset against St. Louis, Atlanta or current Wild Card leader Houston. But if there was a chance to steal a series against somebody in a 5-game series, it would be San Diego against Atlanta, whom they swept earlier in the year.

In fact, Atlanta is the only team, except for the Brewers and Rockies, to have a losing record against the NL West. Given how well they are playing it's probably an aberration, but who knows? The Braves are known for postseason collapses.

Bigger perspective

The horrible records in the NL West at least makes for a close race. While two teams already have commanding leads in their divisions (although Houston is creeping up in the NL Central, cutting St. Louis's lead to 9.5 games), the Padres pulling away as a good-but-not-great team would have made for less interesting intradivision games, and interdivisional play for the other teams. In other words, a Giants-Rockies or Dodgers-Pirates series still has playoff implications.

So while the race for the NL West is more like the NL Worst, it still stands as the undercard on a schedule of several highly-contested races, such as the AL East (Sox vs. Yankees -- again), AL West (Angels and A's -- again) and both Wild Cards (each race has 6 teams within 5 games of each other).

And now that the July 31 trading deadline has passed, the waiver wire deadline is still very much alive. Teams can place players on waivers, and if anyone claims the player, they get him and his contract. If no one claims the player, the team can keep the player or trade them. If more than one team claims the player, then preference is given first within the league, then to the team with the worst record. Trading isn't done by all means. Sometimes hidden gems slip through the headlines onto competing ballclubs.

Just another nuance of the game to keep an eye on. It's all sexy.