The Week That Was in Baseball: May 12-18, 2008
Unassisted Triple Play Fever in Cleveland Hitting Recession in the AL?
Hello, Tampa Bay Fans, Where Are You? Great Start, Bad Start, Indecisive Start


Tribal Customs
The Cleveland Indians have a thing for unassisted triple plays. Of the 14 that have occurred in major league history, the Indians have been involved in six—most famously when Bill Wambsganss put out three runners all by himself in the 1920 World Series, and most recently this past Monday, when Asdrubal Cabrera went no-no-no for the Indians in the first game of a doubleheader against Toronto. Cabrera dove to his right to snare a line drive by Lyle Overbay, got up, stepped on second to double up Kevin Mench and, after realizing Marco Scutaro—running from first—was alongside him at second, tagged him out to turn the solo hat trick of fielding. Cabrera’s gem was a lone highlight in the Indians’ 3-0, 10-inning loss to the Blue Jays.

1968 Redux
On the 40th anniversary of the Year of the Pitcher—when American League hitters were held to a collective .230 batting average with only one of its players (Carl Yazstremski) hitting over .300 (and barely, at .301), the Junior Circuit seems to be re-experiencing a bear market of hitting—and a bull market in pitching. The Texas Rangers—yes, the Rangers—recently tossed 33 consecutive scoreless innings while Tampa Bay starters went 25-plus innings without allowing a run. Then, this past week, starting pitchers for the Cleveland Indians took a run of scoreless frames to 44.1, the most since Oriole starters managed 54 straight innings from September 1-7, 1974. It was also the longest for the Indians since the 1948 season that, coincidentally, was the last time they won a World Series. The New York Times even took time to note the lack of scoring in the AL—saying that the NL is on pace to score more runs for the first time since 1973, when the designated hitter was born to pump offense into a then-toothless AL.

Pitcing Over Power?
Already considered the stronger league, the AL can spin the light-hitting card by using the claim that pitching (along with defense) wins championships. And although the first grouping of interleague games this past week wasn’t a definite knockout in favor of the AL over the NL, the Junior Circuit nevertheless carried the slim edge by winning 22 of 41 games.

Fourteen for the Price of Four
After delivering four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice against Barry Bonds earlier this year, the BALCO prosecution team was told by Judge Susan Illston to come back with something better if they had a chance of proceeding to trial. So this past week, they did; they remade the indictment to include 14 counts of perjury and the one of obstruction of justice. The legal preponderance upon Bonds has not changed; the 14 counts are a feathering out of the previous four, which had many of the counts lumped together. There is still no date for a trial, while the 43-year old disputed home run king is still looking for a major league employer.

Oh Brothers, Where Art Thou?
The vibe was established long before the season began: Watch Tampa Bay. We said it ourselves in our 2008 season preview, and urged people to responsibly bet a few bucks or more on the Rays, at 150-1, to win it all. So here we are in mid-May, looking at the young, talented, confident, first-place Rays. People around the country are getting the buzz on the Rays’ exciting start, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on yet in Tampa-St. Pete. This past week, the House of David hosted Goliath itself, the New York Yankees, and the Rays all but hung them out to dry—winning three of four while allowing just seven runs to the Bronx Bombers. Yet, the average crowd for this pivotal early-season series was only 17,851, a good chunk of which was probably rooting for the Yankees (who hold spring training in Tampa). Memo to Ray fans: The bandwagon is waxed, oiled and ready. Jump on it.

Scoring Low and (Finally) Loving it
When the Detroit Tigers beat the Diamondbacks at Arizona on Saturday, 3-2, it ended a 29-game streak in which they had been unable to win scoring fewer than five runs.

Wounded of the Week
It usually happens once or twice a year. Major league pitcher goes through big-time funk, gets very angry about it. Hunts for some sort of object—a cooler, door, electric fan—and decides to take it on. Object usually wins. This past week, St. Louis closer Jason Isringhausen, having a wretched time of late, decided to take his aggression out on a television. Guess who won? Not Isringhausen, who’s on the 15-day disabled list after cutting his pitching hand. Other notables on this week’s list include Washington first baseman Nick Johnson, who missed all of last year with a leg injury and will now miss another month and change with a torn muscle in his wrist; Los Angeles shortstop Rafael Furcal, who had been having a whale of a year (.366, 34 runs and five homers in 32 games) before his back got to him, and Boston starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, who’s been bothered by—of all things—a broken fingernail on his pitching hand. Horrors!


Indecision 2008
Shawn Chacon of the Houston Astros established a major league record this past Friday when he recorded his ninth straight start without a decision to start the year. The 30-year old right-hander, whose career has careened back and forth from the bullpen to the rotation, left Friday’s game at Texas in the fourth inning trailing 8-2—all before Houston rallied to tie the score in the sixth to prevent him from taking the loss. (The Rangers bounced back to win the game, 16-8.) Chacon is now 0-0 with a 4.18 ERA in nine starts—four of which have ultimately been won by the Astros.

Positive Decision 2008
While Chacon continued to be frustrated on the mound, it’s an altogether different set of circumstances for Arizona ace Brandon Webb, who’s achieved victory in each of his first nine starts—the best jump on a season since San Diego’s Andy Hawkins shot off to a 10-0 mark in his first ten outings of 1985. Webb has won 11 straight starts going back to the end of last season, including a 4-2 win at Colorado on September 28—the only loss suffered by the World Series-bound Rockies over a 38-day period. 

Negative Decision 2008
While Webb racked up W’s and Chacon racked up nothing, Barry Zito avoided an “L” that would have put himself in historically miserable company. The beleaguered $126 million pitcher threw well in Tuesday’s 7-3 loss to Houston—allowing three runs in six innings—but ended the day with a no-decision that kept him from losing in his first eight starts. The last guy to go 0-8 in his first eight assignments was Mike Boddicker for the 1988 Baltimore Orioles—but in Boddicker’s defense, Nobody on that team won anything over its first 21 games, all losses for the Orioles. The Giants, on the other hand are 0-9 when Zito starts—and 17-19 when he doesn’t. 

It was no record, but Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals nevertheless had an impressive start to his season ruined on Friday when he failed to reach base for the first time this year after reaching safely via hit, walk or hit-by-pitch through his first 42 games. Pujols, who batted .357 with an on-base percentage over .500 during the streak, went hitless (and walkless) in four trips to the plate in Friday’s 3-1 loss at home to Tampa Bay, and added insult to injury by committing his first error of the year at first base.

God Bless You, St. Peter
Peter Magowan stepped down as the lead Lord for the San Francisco Giants on Friday, ending a 16-year tenure for the team he saved from a move to Florida and for which he brilliantly managed to forge a gorgeous new bayfront ballpark with no public funds. The praise for Magowan should also include his signing of Barry Bonds shortly after he took over late in 1992, an acquisition for which Bay Area fans are still experiencing a bad aftertaste from (in light of Bonds’ steroid use and Bad Santa behavior), but as time marches forward and proper perspective on Bonds’ early (and more legitimate) output takes hold, Magowan will be all the more highly remembered. It’s a real shame there aren’t more owners in the game like him.

Would-Be Duel of the Week
Forget New York vs. New York or those faux World Series rematches (Athletics-Braves 1914, Giants-White Sox 1917); the most anticipated event of this past weekend’s interleague action came Sunday when both ERA leaders—the Indians’ Cliff Lee and the Reds’ Edinson Volquez—went head-to-head in Cincinnati. Neither had his best stuff—in relative terms, anyway. Lee was banged up in five-plus innings, allowing five runs—more than he had allowed all season coming in through 53.2 innings—while Volquez emerged victorious, allowing two runs in six frames, the first time all year he had allowed more than one earned run in a single start. After the Reds’ 6-4 win, Volquez is now the major league ERA leader at 1.33—with Lee trailing right behind him at 1.37.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros may have been bumped off from our Best of the Week by Alfonso Soriano, but the consolation prize comes with this honor, as “Big Puma” currently holds the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 17 games. This is no ordinary 17-game streak, mind you; Berkman’s hitting .545 during the run, with eight homers and 19 RBIs. Berkman’s teammate Hunter Pence ends the week right behind him at 16 straight games with a hit.

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The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
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