Thursday, July 28, 2005

Trade talk

The Detroit Free Press today said the Phillies were in Seattle to scout pitcher Joel Pineiro, not Tigers starter Jason Johnson. Pineiro, 26, was 36-20 with a 3.29 ERA from 2001-03. Over the last couple years, he is 9-17 with a 5.16 ERA. He is 3-6 with a 5.77 ERA this season. He went on the DL at the end of last July because of a "strained flexor bundle in right elbow" and missed the rest of the campaign.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A 50-50 proposition

The Tigers are 50-50 and continue to be remarkably unremarkable.

They are 24-26 at home, 26-24 on the road. They are 12-13 vs. the AL East, 21-22 vs. the AL Central and 8-6 against the AL West. They are the only team in the majors to be within 2 games of .500 in all of those categories. Usually, a team has one in which they're really good, or awful. Only Florida comes close to matching Detroit, but the Marlins are 3 games under .500 against both the NL East and NL Central.

But it doesn't end there! I'm not making this up, either. The Tigers are 18-18 during the day and 32-32 at night. They are 45-45 on grass and 5-5 on turf. And they were 9-9 in interleague play.

The only places where the Tigers break from this bizarre tendency toward .500 is in extra innings (6-1) and one-run games (12-17).

Wheeling and dealing

The Detroit Free Press reported that Phillies scouts were at the Tigers-Mariners game, possibly to check out Tigers pitcher Jason Johnson. The paper also reported that the Braves might be interested in Rondell White, provided White is healthy enough to play the outfield. Right now, he's got a bum shoulder.

I also noticed the paper had a note about the positive steps taken by the Tigers minor league system. I guess I haven't lost my journalistic instincts.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Minor miracle

The Tigers continue to avoid prosperity, losing to Seattle after taking 5 of 8 from the White Sox and Twins to get back to the .500 mark. Detroit won’t contend for the wild card if it can’t take advantage of the weaker teams on the schedule.

Anyway, in recent years, the Tigers were recognized for having one of the worst farm systems in the game. That might be changing, if the standings in the minors mean anything.

Toledo is 64-38 and has the best record in the AAA International League; Erie is 53-48, good for the second-best mark in the Double-A Eastern League; Lakeland is the best team in the A Florida State League; West Michigan is above .500 in the Midwest League; and Oneonta is 19-12 in the short-season New York-Penn League.

With that much winning going on throughout the organization, you would have to think it should mean some good things for the Tigers in the future.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rick Ankiel

For those who are interested, former Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel is batting .287-11-39 in 43 games with the Swing of Quad Cities (Class A) as he attempts to return to the majors as an outfielder. He has walked 21 times and struck out 32.

It's still hard to believe how the wheels came off for that guy. At the age of 20 he was 11-8 with a 3.46 ERA (which was more than a run less than the NL average). Then came that awful 2000 postseason. After that, he was unable to throw the ball over the plate. The next season he only pitched 24 innings and walked 25 batters. His ERA was over 7. How does that happen?

Anyway, I had him on my fantasy team -- traded Vinny Castilla for him when Ankiel was still in the minors -- so I'd like to see him make it back.

More innings, Les Mueller

On this date in 1945, Detroit Tigers right-hander Les Mueller pitched a record 19 2/3 innings of one-run baseball, yet still came away with a no decision as the Tigers and Philadelphia A’s played to a 1-1 tie in 24 innings at Shibe Park.

Mueller, according to The Baseball Biography Project, estimated he threw 370 pitches. He got the first two outs of the 19th, then walked two and was lifted in favor of Dizzy Trout, who finished the game.

Detroit loaded the bases in the 24th, but the A’s turned a double play to escape. The contest was called due to darkness at about 8 p.m. because American League rules prohibited turning on lights for a day game.

Mueller was 6-8 with a 3.68 ERA for the season, his only full year in the majors. He threw 6 complete games and had 2 shutouts. He appeared in 26 games, 18 starts, and tossed 134 2/3 innings, meaning he threw nearly 15 percent of his innings for the year in that one game against Philly.

Nonetheless, Mueller got a World Series ring as the Tigers beat the Cubbies 4-3 for the championship.

Time to move

The Tigers begin a 5-game series (doubleheader Saturday) tonight at home against the wild card leading Minnesota Twins. Detroit trails the Twins by 5 in the wild card chase, so, obviously, this is a huge series. This series will determine whether the Tigers will be contenders or pretenders the rest of the way. They must take at least 3 and, really, need to win 4 to make up significant ground.

Detroit is 10-8 since Maggs came off the DL, and 9-4 in its last 13. The Tigers are coming off winning 2 of 3 at Chicago, and should have swept. They need to keep the winning going and make up ground on the Twins this weekend because if they don't, I think they're pretty much out of luck. There are just too many teams in contention for the wild card that they would have to fight over.

Maggs is hitting .365-3-14 with an OPS of 1.016 since coming off the DL. A lot of people around him have been hitting, too. Chris Shelton is batting .373-5-16 with a 1.047 OPS during that span while Ro White is at .345-1-7 and Pudge is .316-3-7. Dmitri Young is batting just .208 but has 4 homers and 9 RBI in 12 games.

The Tigers have been playing without Placido Polanco (hamstring) since the All-Star break, but he is supposed to return to the lineup for this series. That should really solidify the lineup, which has been at full strength for only about 10 games this season.

Of course, the bullpen is in trouble after hearing Troy Percival might be done for the year. With the trade of Urbina, that leaves Kyle Farnsworth in the closers role. The Tigers went from being loaded for the 7-9 innings to having little depth. Jamie Walker, Fernando Rodney and Franklyn German have pitched well (although German's last 3 outings have been disappointing) and will need to step it up. Chris Spurling also had done the job, until his 3 HR implosion in Chicago this week.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Ryan Howard

The Phillies look like they're between a rock and a hard place with Jim Thome and Ryan Howard. When the Phils signed Thome as a free agent, it was hailed as a great move, and rightly so. Now, however, with Thome's injuries and lack of production, plus Howard's improved hitting, it looks not so great.

Howard started this season by going 2-for-21. Since then, he has hit .288 (17-for-59) with 5 homers and 14 RBI. He's hitting a homer every 11.8 AB and has a .951 OPS.

Now, what to do? The Phils need pitching help. It would be great if they could deal Thome, but that's unlikely for a few reasons -- his contract (he's in the third year of a six-year, $85 million contract) and no-trade clause being foremost among them. So, should they trade Howard? His value might never be higher, but he is turning into something of a fan favorite. Still, there's no room for both Howard and Thome, unless you plan to use Thome as a $14 million pinch-hitter.

There are two deals that might make trading Howard worthwhile. The first would involve sending him to San Fran for pitcher Jason Schmidt. The Giants have JT Snow playing at first, and he's in the final year of his contract. Lance Niekro is Snow's back-up, and has put up some decent numbers, so the Giants might need more in the deal.

The second deal would send Howard to Colorado for pitcher Jason Jennings. This seems perhaps more doable on paper. Plus, Jennings is signed through next season, which is better than a rental.

I'd rather see Thome go at this point, but the best place for him to land would be the AL, where he could DH. With so many teams in wild card contention in the AL it might be hard to pry away a pitcher.

Wild ride

As of today, only 3 of the 14 teams in the AL are more than 2 games below .500, which seems rather remarkable. Those teams are Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Seattle. Those 3 also are the only teams out of the playoff chase.

There are 8 teams within 5 games of each other in the wild card standings -- Minnesota, NY, Baltimore, Texas, Oakland, Cleveland, Toronto and Detroit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Vin Scully

Over the last few days, the Extra Innings digital cable package has been on for free as part of a promotion. This gives me a chance to watch quite a number of games. One thing I noticed while watching the Dodgers -- Vin Scully still broadcasts alone. And it is awesome.

Sure, Scully can get a little too poetic at times, but this is proof -- just as it was in Detroit when Ernie Harwell worked alone on radio -- that you don't need a multitude of voices in the booth. All you need is a good broadcaster, a good storyteller.

No one is butting in or pointing out the obvious. Scully can tell the story of the game at his pace without worrying about someone stepping on his lines. It is quite enjoyable. To make me want to watch the Dodgers, it must be.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Homer haven

There was a story in the Detroit Free Press about the home run contest, and it pointed out how people still regard Comerica as being unfriendly to power hitters. But, the article stated, in the two full seasons since Tigers management moved in the fences, Comerica has finished ninth and sixth in the 14-team AL in yielding homers.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Who am I?

I'm the only player in history to play in the Little League World Series, the College World Series and the Major League World Series. My LL team was second in 1973 and my other two teams won the titles.

A couple things that baffle me

Vlad Guerrero. How does this man hit so consistently well with that swing? Not counting his 9-game stint with the Expos in 1996, his first trip to the majors, the guy has never hit below .300 in the bigs and has a career .326 batting average. Entering this season, Vlad's lifetime average trailed only Todd Helton among active players and he was 40th all-time. He's hitting .344 this year and might win his first batting title. And he doesn't strikeout much, either. He entered this season with the 13th best OPS (.979) in history. He is scary.

The Atlanta Braves. Year after year, they torment the NL East. Considering that they're getting back two-fifths of their rotation shortly -- Hudson and Hampton -- they might now be the favorite to win the division. Again.

Tigers talk the talk

Now it's time to walk the walk.

Detroit has teased us with its potential, but done little more than hover around .500. That's not bad considering where the Tigs were a couple years ago. Now the pitching staff has come around and the Detroiters finally have their full lineup, with Maggs smacking the ball around pretty well.

All of which has led Pudge, the man probably most responsible for the Tigers turnaround by signing with them as a free agent last year, to say: "This team is going to be the biggest surprise in the second half, I'll tell you that right now. We're going to be the team to talk (about) in the second half. ... We're a good team.''

Time will tell if he's right. If the pitching remains as solid as it's been, he might be. Getting Dmitri Young's bat going would be a big help. He's been the heart and soul of the Tigers the past couple seasons. The biggest surprise has been Chris Shelton, who replaced Carlos Pena at 1B. Shelton has played 33 games and hit .336 with 6 homers, 24 RBI and 20 runs.

Cabrera the Infuriator

Daniel Cabrera is a 24 yr old right handed starting pitcher for the O's with a great fastball. In most of his starts this season, he has brought overpowering stuff to the mound. When he throws strikes, he reduces the game to "pitch and catch". The infuriation is that he throws strikes consistently - to right handed hitters only. Cabrera's stats this season versus right and left handed hitters is as follows:


Of course, everyone in the ML knows this as well and thus, they load the lineup with left handed hitters for all of Cabrera's starts.

Two starts ago, Cabrera took to the mound against the Indians with a new windup. The Indians had 7 left handed hitters in the lineup. Cabrera threw 7 innings of shutout baseball with 2 walks and the O's won 4-0. Hope arose (among the O's faithful) that Cabrera might be past his aversion to throwing strikes to left handed hitters, however, that hope was dashed in his next start.

Last night, against Boston, Cabrera did get a 3-1 rain shortened victory, however, in 5 IP, Cabrera surrendered 3 hits (all to left handed hitters), 5 walks (4 to LH), one hit batsmen (LH - rule 5 rookie w/no chance to hit Cabrera's stuff) and several wild pitches (to LH). The Red Sox lone run came in the 3rd inning on the strength of 3 walks and a wild pitch.

If Cabrera ever starts throwing strikes against lefties, he'll dominate hitters ala Bob Gibson. If not, I suppose he'll end up in someone's bullpen specializing in getting out right handed hitters.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Maddux redux

I saw a story online today about Greg Maddux's fall from greatness. I was looking at his stats and noticed that twice he had a higher batting average than the batting average hitters had against him. I don't know if that's rare for a starting pitcher, but it seems pretty cool.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Fred Lynn

I see that Fred Lynn will be signing autographs at the All-Star Game. When I was a lad, just starting out in Little League, Lynn was starting his career with the Red Sox. I don't know why, but he was my favorite player at that time. I remember trying to run like him, and carrying my glove a certain way -- the way Lynn did, tucked against his chest -- as I ran to the dugout from the outfield.

Lynn played with reckless abandon, slamming into walls and breaking up double plays, which pretty much ruined his career. Injuries hampered his production by the 1980s. In fact, after leading the AL in batting in 1979, Lynn got more than 475 at-bats in a season just once during his remaining 11 years (and he topped 400 at-bats only five times during that span).

In 1979, Lynn had a monster year, batting .333 with 39 homers and 122 RBI. During his first five seasons, from his Rookie of the Year and MVP winning campaign in 1975 through 1979, Lynn hit .308 and averaged 25 HR, 104 RBI and 104 R over 162 games. The rest of his career, he batted .267 and averaged 84 RBI.

From 1975-79, Lynn ranked 11th in the entire majors in batting average, 12th in runs, 14th in RBI, 21st in HR and 10th in on-base average.

I'll also always remember him for the great catch he made leaping halfway over a fence to take away a homer. This clip ended "This Week in Baseball" for years.

Capital gains

I give up. I have no idea how the Nationals keep winning. Frank Robinson must be a genius. Or, perhaps, getting out of Canada was key. (After all, the team won 67 games last year in Montreal, which is like 83 wins American.)

Nick Johnson, who now is on the DL, and Jose Guillen have been leading what only vaguely resembles an offense. Only Guillen, with 17, has more than 8 homers this season. Only OF Ryan Church, also on the DL, Guillen and Johnson are hitting above .300. This is a team with a lineup that includes Matt Cepicky, Carlos Baerga and Jamey Carroll.

Pitchers Livan Hernandez and Esteban Loaiza have been outstanding and John Patterson has been much better than expected. But the rest of the rotation is awful. The bullpen -- which I guess is the real story -- has been incredible, led by Chad Cordero, Luis Ayala, Gary Majewski and Hector Carrasco.

Washington has scored 340 runs, and allowed 340. Yet the Nats are 26-7 since May 29.

They are 23-7 in one-run games, which means 36 percent of their total games have been decided by a run and that 45 percent of their wins have come by a run.

They have won 16 games in which they scored 3 or fewer runs and six games in which they scored 2 or fewer. They have won a pair of 1-0 games.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Tears of a clown

There's nothing more entertaining than listening to Yankees radio announcer John Sterling when the Bombers are bombing out.

Last night, in the first inning at Detroit, the Yanks got runners to second and third with no outs. Sterling was talking about how NY could score two runs without getting a hit, and that a 2-0 lead with Randy Johnson on the mound was solid.

The Yanks could only scratch across a run against Jeremy Bonderman and the Tigers erupted for a 10-2 win. (Welcome back, Maggs!)

By the seventh or eighth inning, Sterling was lamenting the poor pitching of the Yanks. He was on the verge of writing off the season. The Yanks aren't a team that goes on winning streaks, he whimpered, and can't make up ground. (Even though NY has had win streaks of 10, 6 and 5 games this season.) He said, plain and simple, the top three pitchers in the Yanks rotation simply aren't good enough.

Sterling reverses field better than anyone, including Barry Sanders.

More Pat the Bat

Pat Burrell hit another homer today in Citizens Bank Park. It seems to be coming clear that Burrell is a big-time threat in the Zen, and not so much anywhere else.

Since the Zen opened, entering today's game, Burrell has hit .303 with 24 homers and 79 RBI in 100 games (353 at-bats). He is slugging .547 and has an OPS of .953.

On the road during that same period, Burrell has batted .232 with 16 homers and 65 RBI in 99 games (357 at-bats). He is slugging .406 and has an OPS of .735.