Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Heroes and Goats of the stretch run

The craziness that is baseball’s dog days of August have now been in full swing for over three weeks. We’ve watched the Giants fall from the beanstalk at the top of the National League West. Seen the Diamondbacks show a resilient bite with a bunch of unsung big leaguers led by a crusty, stubborn but respected former World Series MVP. As usual the A.L. East has turned into the annual New York – Boston two-man game of musical chairs swapping the division lead until the tunes run out in September. Just when you thought the sheriff had returned to claim the A.L. West again, the Texas Rangers after taking three of four from the Angels in Anaheim, upping their lead to six games, get shot down in five of the last seven. The Halos then suddenly found their wings, winning six straight cutting that lead back down to just two and a half games, with a three game series in Arlington starting on Friday.

There was finally a Carlos Beltran sighting in San Francisco. Since being traded for from the Mets, he’s helped the Giants lose a three game lead to now trail by two. Now, to his defense he has missed the last 13 games with a wrist injury but the patients of Giants fans was running out and he was no longer considered the San Francisco treat! That is until he roped a Tim Stauffer pitch into the right field arcade at AT&T Park for his first home run in orange and black. The solo shot broke a scoreless tie and helped Tim Lincecum win a
2-1 victory. As fans of the defending champs were starting to turn from the free love, costume wearing, first-time winners, into a talk radio lynch mob, with Pat Burrell, Aubrey Huff and even Cody Ross headed up the steps for a good hanging; Beltran just bought himself at least a couple more losses with his home run.

In Boston the five tool guys, appear to have found their hammer! Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury combined for eight hits, including two home runs, six runs scored, eight RBIs and two stolen bases, while helping the Red Sox to back-to-back wins against the Rangers, including a 13-2 beat down Wednesday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Ellsbury has been consistent to the point that the MVP talk continues in New England. But if Crawford, who hitting .346 over his last seven games comes on like this, the Yankees will be eating New York wild-card cheesecake in a few weeks.

Right now no one is flying higher with his home fans than Anaheim Angel Jered Weaver. The Southern California native has become a hero on and off the field at the Big A. He gave up possibly millions just the other day to sign a contract extension, instead of testing free agency after next season like his agent Scott Boras recommended. He’s reasoning, there’s no place like home. It was that simple and Halo fans love him for it. Then he turns around on the field and tosses seven innings of four-hit shutout baseball for an 8-0 Angels win over the White Sox, their sixth in a row. The victory moves Anaheim within just two and half games of division leader Texas. Dream Weaver’s record is now an outstanding 15-6 and he’s not just an angel to the Orange County fans, he’s a God.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Diamondbacks strike a Giant move in N.L. West

While the Yankees and Red Sox continue to fight it out in the A.L. East, probably to the final week and no one seems to be able to, “hold that Tiger” in the A.L. Central, it’s the N.L. West where a wild turn has taken place, in baseball’s tight races. Just three weeks ago the defending World Champion Giants held a three game lead in the division. Management added slugger Carlos Beltran, after putting 2nd baseman Jeff Keppinger’s name on the roster. San Francisco appeared ready to make a “giant” push into the post-season and go after a serious run for back to back titles. Like the fog rolling in at AT&T Park on a fall night, it’s amazing how quickly things can change.

There are still 39 games left in the division race and the regular season. But with just six games remaining between the Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s last year’s division winner who will have to play catch up! Not only has Arizona won seven straight games and turned a three game deficit into a three and a half game lead, but they’ve done it with clutch hitting not incredible pitching, which is usually baseball’s formula for fall success. The Snakes have come from behind in six of their last eight victories! That’s the type of energy that breeds the attitude that, “we’re always in the game”! Believing you can win is half the battle for a young team like the Diamondbacks, who seem to grow a little bit with each and every victory. On Tuesday night at Citizen’s Bank Park, Arizona trailed the National League’s top pitcher Roy Halladay and baseball top team, the Phillies, 2-1 heading into the top of the 9th. Nine out of ten times that game is over, especially when Doc Halladay had retired the last 12 hitters entering the final three outs. But after starting the inning with two singles, newcomer Lyle Overbay stepped up and crushed a one-out double to right-center field. Both Justin Upton and Collin Cowgill scored as Arizona again rallied for the 3-2 win. Sure four D-Backs pitchers held the Fightin’ Phils to just nine hits and two runs, but how about those clutch at bats in the 9th?

Meanwhile in Atlanta the tables continue to turn on the Giants. After back to back one-run loses, San Francisco is now 2-3 on its ten game road trip. They’ve lost 13 of their last 18 games overall and have dropped to 3-5 in one-run games in the second half of the season. This is a far change of direction and chemistry from a team that won 24 of 36, one-run games in the first half of the year. The biggest problem has been lurking in the dugout for sometime, a lack of offense. Over the last 18 games, the Giants have averaged just 2.4 runs per game. The big hits Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff contributed last season in the title run are now few and far between. Add in the fact only pitchers Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong have consistently given the team long outings and you’re begging to win three out of every five games from your starters. Add in the fact the newly acquired Beltran, brought in specifically to land the big hit missing from the attack is now on the disabled list with a wrist problem and it’s all adding up to the Giants fantasy from a year ago, slowly coming to a wake-up call.

There is still time for the Giants to make up a small three and a half game deficit, especially with six meeting still to take place between the first and second place teams. But as baseball’s dog days of August continue to roll on, it’s the defending champs with their injuries and fortunes turning, who are on the verge of being “snake-bit” for the division title and a spot in baseball’s post-season.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Giants Escape Brawl Unscathed

While the Philadelphia Phillies backed their play on the scoreboard, winning three of four from the San Francisco Giants last weekend, off the field they took a beating in the post-brawl suspension game. The Flying Hawaiian, Shawn Victorino is going to have enough time to visit the island after getting slapped with a three-game vacation which he is appealing. What is appalling, none of the Giants players will be missing any game time!
Not pitcher Ramon Ramirez, nor catcher Eli Whiteside or infielder Pablo Sandoval. You have to remember this was a punch-less bench clearing encounter so how can one man be the fall guy?

At the scene of the crime, the Giants were again getting their behinds handed to them 8-2 in the 6th inning on Friday night. They had already gotten beat the previous night 3-0, in front of over 42-thousand fans at AT&T Park. After Jimmy Rollins stole second and Placido Polanco reached on an infield hit, San Francisco reliever Ramon Ramirez hit Victorino square in the back. The Philadelphia Centerfielder, who had already homered in the game and singled earlier, took about four steps towards the mound before Whiteside jumped in front of him. As others including home plate umpire Mike Muchlinski stepped into the space between Victorino and Ramirez, Whiteside who’d been jumping around like a prize fighter, tackled Polanco and the benches ended up clearing to the field. In the scrum, no real punches were thrown with the exception of the one Sandoval got away with in the middle of the melee. Victorino did end up eventually in the middle of it all after a second effort to get away from several peace makers but did no harm to the opposition.

9-2 ended up being the final score as the Phillies went on to win three of the four games in the series. But on the brawl scoreboard, Victorino paid the price for just taking a few steps towards the mound. No charge, no pointing, no threats. Apparently he just wanted to know why Ramirez hit him. The three main Giants involved all received undisclosed fines but how they escape without missing game time is a mystery to all expect themselves. “Victorino's aggressive actions prolonged the bench-clearing incident between the Clubs," the commissioner's office said in announcing the penalties. As expected the Giants had no problem with the final decision on the incident. "I thought it was well done," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of MLB's decisions. "And I'm not saying that because we didn't have any suspensions. It was pretty clean out there." Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel had a different point of view. "They were the ones that provoked it." "Vic probably felt like he had to stand up for himself. Usually when you get into things like that on the field, and you get into a little pushing and fighting, whatever you want to call it, somebody gets suspended. And when you get one of your front-line players suspended, it hurts the team of course because of the games they miss. But it's good that it was just one guy."

While the Phillies end up with a four out of seven season series wins, this could just be a warm-up once again for the National League Championship Series. The Giants shocked the world last post-season with their upset in the NLCS. But this time come October, the victory they just won in brawl-gate, might be their last over the Fightin’ Phils.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

With 2/3rds of the season behind us all but one divsion is up for grabs

With roughly 56 games remaining in the 2011 Major League season, we are looking at a shootout at the O.K. Corral, baseball style! All of the contenders re-armed in different ways, hoping to bring in enough ammunition to get them over the top and into the post-season. Before yesterday’s trade deadline, there were eight teams in both the American and National League’s with legit shots at playing playoff baseball. Almost all of them did a little something in terms of adding personnel in order to make that final push!

In the American League East as always it’s a two team race. The Red Sox hold a slim two-game advantage on the Yankees, while the Bronx Bombers appear to have the wild-card spot all but lassoed-up with an eight game margin in front of the Angels in the loss column. Boston beefed up its staff with the addition of Eric Bedard from Seattle while also removing Jon Lester from the disabled list. On the flip side the back injury to Right-hander Clay Buchholz if serious, could make the Bedard move a wash overall. The surprise move might be that the Yankees decided to do nothing. Many thought the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez might look good in pinstripes and the change of scenery might do him good as well. But Yankee brass decided against the move and he landed in Cleveland. In a close race where anything can happen, you have to like the Red Sox here for not staying pat.

The Central is Detroit’s to win but Cleveland and Chicago are for real with Minnesota needing a lot of good fortune at seven games back. The Tribe made the latest splash with the pick-up of Jimenez in a five player swap, while also snatching outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from the Chicago Cubs. The first place Tigers must feel good about their slim two and a half game lead, because they didn’t re-load at all. But when you’re throwing A.L. CY Young leader Justin Verlander, and backing him with both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello both 11 game winners, you have good reason to feel confident. Besides taking John Danks off the disabled list the White Sox did nothing and it will take more magic than Ozzie Guillen has to win the division with the current squad.

The wild-west is once again a two-team race with the defending A.L. Champion Rangers holding off the Angels by just two games. They also did their best to make sure nothing changes with the acquisitions before Sunday’s deadline. Of course getting Mike Adams from the Padres was the marquee move they needed for the bullpen. But in also picking up reliever Koji Uehara turned their team weakness into strength. After this the Angels probably will need divine intervention to win the West.

Turning to the National League East the Phillies appear to be a lock for the division while the Braves have to be considered the wild-card favorite. Philadelphia’s move to grab Hunter Pence might have been a reaction to counter the San Francisco Giants acquisition of Carlos Beltran for another N.L.C.S showdown. But the bottom line is it gives Philadelphia another solid right-handed at bat for the stretch run, who will be able to deal with left-handed pitchers from both the Braves and Giants in the post-season. Let’s not forget Philly also appears to have a healthy Shane Victorino in the line-up. We’ll see how their next series with the Giants in the Bay Area turns out. As far as the Braves are concerned, no doubt with both Nate McLouth and Brian McCann on the disabled list, Atlanta might find itself not holding the wildcard spot for long in the National League, despite the speedy Michael Bourne in the line-up fresh out of Houston.

The Central is indeed the race to watch! The Milwaukee Brewers hold a slim lead of just two and a half games, but the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds are all in the hunt. Everybody tried to improve their chances for a division title. The Brew-Crew added infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. The Red Birds traded for shortstop Rafael Furcal. The Reds dealt outfielder Jonny Gomes for outfielder Bill Rhinehart and left-handed pitcher Chris Manno. The Bucs big move brings in hard-hitting outfielder Ryan Ludwick from San Diego. This division will be the hottest race down the stretch because even the third place Pirates and fourth place Reds are capable of making runs to the top of the division with plenty of time left! It is truly up for grabs in the Central.

The West is all about the defending World Champion Giants and second place Diamondbacks, now just two games behind. San Francisco picked up Beltran as we stated earlier and also shortstop Orlando Cabrera to probably take over the position for an aging and injured Miguel Tejada. Beltran is off to a terrible start in four games with just two hits and one run batted in. This is indeed the Giants weakness, hitting and if he can’t come through their chances of winning both the division and the pennant go way down. Arizona made some moves of it’s own on the hill. The D-Backs traded for starting pitcher Jason Marques and reliever Brad Ziegler. They are now better equipped to deal with the Giants pitching-wise head to head, but the injury to Stephen Drew might have been the game changer as far as the division goes.

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