This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: July 15-21, 2013
Wild Minor League Numbers Mariano Rivera's Final All-Star Hurrah
Matt Harvey Seeks Fame, Fortune...and Lots of Women Yasiel Puig's Bad Week

TGG Programming Notes
Because of the limited action in the majors owing to the All-Star Break, we are not featuring our usual collection of Day-by-Day notes and the Best and Worst of the Week.

Next week’s Comebacker will be released early on Friday, July 26 as TGG goes on summer break starting that weekend; we’ll be back with our next, all-new Comebacker on August 11.

The Best (and Worst) of the Rest
While Miguel Cabrera shoots for his second straight triple crown, Chris Davis aims for the recordbooks and Alex Rodriguez struggles to get something, anything going, we thought it would be a good time to take stock in what the minor leaguers have been putting out, by the numbers. Following are some of the more eye-opening statistics we came across.

First of all, we need to address the Mexican League, which is a part of the minor league network but has no affiliations with MLB teams; yes, it’s the same circuit that tried to muscle up as a postwar alternative for major leaguers that led to several controversial defections in the late 1940s. Today, it’s a hotbed of hot hitters; you won’t find a minor leaguer with a higher batting average than Pueblo’s Luis Suarez (.420) and with more home runs (34) and RBIs (110) than Japhet Amador of Diablos Rojos del Mexico. The hitters’ gain is the pitchers’ loss; only one Mexican League starting pitcher (Vanny Valenzuela) currently has an ERA under 3.00.

North of the border, Corey Dickerson (Colorado Springs, AAA) has the highest average at .379, and is also tops with 14 triples. His minor league success hasn’t translated well with a brief trip to the majors, hitting .212 in 15 games for the Rockies.

In the power department, Ryan Rua (Hickory, A) has conked out 28 longballs so far in the Sally League, all the more impressive given that Rua had just seven homers in roughly the same number of games last year at the A- level. A .260 average needs to be improved upon for Rua to advance upward.

On the mound, the most impressive set of numbers among starters goes to Taylor Jordan (Harrisburg, AA and Potomac, A+); in 15 games (14 of them starts), he’s got a 9-1 record with a microscopic 1.00 ERA and two shutouts. Should he jump up to the top of the organizational chain in Washington? He already has—starting four games with a decent 3.33 ERA but a 0-2 record for the Nationals.

Out of the bullpen, Ben Rowen (Frisco, AA and Round Rock, AAA) has been lights out with 13 saves, a 3-0 record and sensational 0.40 ERA in 40 appearances. This strengthens a trend in which Rowen’s been a pretty tough guy to hit off of, considering a 15-4 record and 1.35 ERA in 132 minor league games since being drafted in the 22nd round by Texas in 2010. Look for the Rangers to possibly bring him up to Arlington in September—if not sooner.

As far as overall offensive talents go, look out for George Springer (Corpus Christi, AA and Oklahoma City, AAA). The folks in the Houston Astros’ war room made Springer their first draft choice in 2011 and haven’t been disappointed since; the 23-year-old outfielder has hit for average (.313), power (27 homers), and has been tough on the basepaths (28 steals). Since being promoted to Triple-A, Springer has actually hit better, with a .400+ average.

The same could be said for Chris Colabello (Rochester, AAA), who finally made it briefly to the bigs and Minnesota in May (and returned again after the All-Star Break) after a nine-year minor league resume spent mostly in the independent Canadian-American Association. In 85 games at the Triple-A level, the 29-year-old Colabello hit .354 with 24 homers and 76 RBIs; he’s 2-for-20 thus far with the Twins.

On the bizarre side, there’s Chris Rahl (Syracuse, AAA). Another minor league veteran with 931 games of experience (and zero in the majors) isn’t hitting all that badly at .311—but in 307 at-bats has walked just five times. It would make sense if you go by the Caribbean adage that you don’t walk off the island, you hit off the island—but Rahl’s from Morristown, New Jersey.

Maybe Rahl should get a chance to face Ethan Stewart (Clearwater, A+). In 14 starts this year, Stewart is 0-4 with a 7.56 ERA; he’s walked 61 batters in 58.1 innings.

Everyone would love to face Barry Enright (Salt Lake City, AAA). Once a bright prospect in the Arizona organization (he put in 17 decent starts for the D-Backs in 2010), Enright bombed early this year with the Angels and, back in the Pacific Coast League, hasn’t fared any better—producing a 7.11 ERA with, gulp, 21 home runs allowed in 76 innings.

Just when we thought there was nothing better to do than to see a ballgame in the boom-to-bust Central Valley city of Bakersfield, California, we hear that almost nobody is showing up for the Class-A+ Blaze, averaging 826 fans per game. Could it be that few fans want to shield their eyes at Sam Lynn Ball Park, perhaps the only organized ball venue in which the setting sun is shining directly at the hitters?

And lastly: Do you remember Billy Hamilton? Last year, he dropped jaws across the baseball world by stealing an organized ball-record 155 bases between Class-A and AA. So how’s he doing this season? Apparently, he’s slowed up, with 54 swipes in 65 attempts for Triple-A Louisville. If he wants a call-up to his parent team in Cincinnati, he’d better show off a little more improvement with the bat; he’s hitting .243.

The happiest people after the American League’s 3-0 win over the National League in the 84th Annual All-Star Game were those who play for the team that will win the AL pennant. Of course, those people don’t know who they are yet, but you can bet in places like Boston, Detroit, Oakland, Texas and Tampa Bay, players and coaches will know that if they do make it to the World Series in October, they’ll be representing an AL team anchored with home field advantage for the first time since 2009. If one needs to stress the importance of that, consider this: Over the last four years, the winning league in the All-Star Game has also been the winning league in the World Series, owing to the home field advantage achieved in July.

The AL’s win ended a three-game losing streak from which it tallied a total of two runs; the shutout at New York’s Citi Field was the second straight, an All-Star Game first. The ten pitchers (ten!) who grouped up to silence the NL included Mariano Rivera, the Man of the Night marking his 13th ASG appearance and, as usual, not disappointing—retiring the side in order in the eighth to complete his Mid-Summer Classic resume with a 0.00 ERA over nine innings (he did allow an unearned run in 2000), giving up five hits and walking no one. Rivera received a thunderous ovation before the game and when he entered in the eighth; given no other clear choice, the press branded Rivera as the sentimental recipient of the game’s MVP, his first such honor—and the first pitcher to win the ASG MVP since Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Rivera’s mate in pinstripes, second baseman Robinson Cano, had a slightly rougher evening at Citi Field. He was plunked on the knee in his first at-bat from NL starting pitcher Matt Harvey of the hometown Mets and had to leave the game; x-rays declared him okay to return to regular season play later in the week. The Cano jersey was a popular target on the night; a kid wearing one in the stands was later hit by a foul ball laced into the stands by Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera.

It Could’ve Been Worse for the NL
The AL hit into an All-Star Game record four double plays.

Will he Close Out the 2033 All-Star Game?
Miami’s Jose Fernandez, 20, became the youngest All-Star participant ever when he took the mound for the NL in the sixth inning and retired Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis in order for a 1-2-3 frame. Only two other pitchers under the age of 21 have seen All-Star Game action: Bob Feller and Dwight Gooden.

Good for Yoenis, Bad for the A's
There was enough controversy at hand when Yoenis Cespedes showed up at Citi Field as an entrant in the Home Run Derby. After all, why bring in a guy who’s collected a few dingers (15 of them) on the season to date but hitting just .225? No matter for Cespedes, who between the criticism and the slight he may have been feeling over the enthusiasm generated for fellow Cuban émigré Yasiel Puig dug in his heels and won the Derby on Tuesday. And then this happens: He tweaks his wrist during batting practice before Friday’s game for the Oakland A’s at Anaheim and misses the entire weekend series against the Angels. Could this be the Home Run Derby Curse rearing its ugly head again, given the poor second-half performances of past winners like Bobby Abreu, David Wright, Alex Rios and Josh Hamilton?

Hey Trump, When's Your Pad Available?
Matt Harvey wants it all. The New York Mets ace and NL All-Star starting pitcher has the fame and will get the fortune soon enough—but the women he has in mind may be tougher to lay his hands on. In an interview with Men’s Journal magazine, Harvey envies the revolving-door love life of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter, who over the years has attracted the likes of Mariah Carey, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel and Minka Kelly. “That guy is the model,” he said.

Harvey also wasn’t shy about talking about that impending fortune—assuming that he’s not ruined in his early years by arm ailments. “I could buy a place (in New York) right now, but I’ve gotta wait for that $200 million contract. If I’m going to buy an apartment, it has to be the best apartment in the city.” We’ll see what Jeter has to say about that one.

Living the Long, Long Wait
They’re probably aren’t too many people around who were alive during, let alone remember, the last world championship won by the Chicago Cubs in 1908. But CSN Chicago found somebody who’s close:
Frank Marek, who turned 100 in June. The loyal Cub fan remembers going to Wrigley Field way back when Hack Wilson terrorized opponents in the late 1920s, and actually helped expend Wrigley when he helped on a crew pouring concrete to build the box seat base. He’s waited a century to see his favorite team win a World Series, and he keeps his hopes up that they’ll win it all at some point before he goes.

The Ballad of the Increasingly Lonely Box Seat
It’s been a tough early season for baseball with, it seems, an unusual amount of inclement weather, but MLB still has to be frowning over the fact that attendance is down 3% so far this season. There have been drops in many key cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, Texas, Wrigley Field in Chicago and Yankee Stadium in New York. The biggest drop of them all, not surprisingly, belongs to the slimmed-down Miami Marlins, whose average attendance is off 10,000 from a year ago; the Marlins’ current average of 17,416 is last in the majors—stunningly, just behind Tampa Bay (17,790), a model organization which continues to struggle at the gate. Note to
Bud Selig: Move this team.

The Lowe Down in Texas
After a frustrating existence as a forgettable reliever at Texas to start the year (leading to his release), veteran pitcher
Derek Lowe decided to hang it up for good this past week. His last appearance came on May 19, just two weeks shy of his 40th birthday; he was 1-0 for the Rangers but with a 9.00 ERA in 13 innings. Lowe retires with 176 wins and 157 losses (he had been the majors’ active leader in defeats) but also with great memories such as his 21-8 season in 2002 which included a no-hitter, his league-leading 42 saves as a closer in 2000, and a 2-0 mark during the Red Sox’ fabled 2004 run to their first world title in 86 years.

Let His Bat Do the Tweeting
Chris Davis is wiser than we all thought. First, he holds Roger Maris61 home runs from 1961 in higher esteem than the larger outputs from the steroid-tainted parade of players in the 1990s and 2000s. Then this past week, he did something else that totally made sense: He quit Twitter. Between the “you’re on steroids, creep” hate tweets he was getting, his current assault on the home run recordbook and the general risk of saying the wrong thing in the wrong frame of mind, Davis decided it just wasn’t worth it, adding: “It wasn’t my cup of tea.”

Disrespect Over Poverty
It’s not uncommon for a star baseball player to feel really good about his hot new contract…until one of his teammates gets a much better deal. It famously happened with
Rickey Henderson back in 1991 after he felt dissed over Oakland teammate Jose Canseco getting a much nicer package, leading to pouting, spring training absences and his “Bing-bing, where-he-at” rants. It happened again this week when star Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips, who inked a six-year, $72 million contract that began last year, called the deal a “slap in the face” in comments he made in a story for a local magazine. Part of Phillips’ disgust is aimed at the ten-year, $225 million extension given to Reds first baseman Joey Votto; Phillips maintains that the Cincinnati front office lied to him when he was told they didn’t have much more money to spare after signing his deal.

Phillips didn’t back down when cornered by reporters in the Cincinnati clubhouse, countering with the repeated refrain of “What did I say wrong?” Votto, for his part, played the good teammate when asked about the controversy, saying, “…what he had to say makes me like him even more. He’s honest.”

Hot Havana Slights
Reality began to settle in for Los Angeles phenom
Yasiel Puig this past week. No All-Star Game. His first slump. And now, he’s being sued. A Florida law firm representing a jailed Cuban named Miguel Angel Corbacho Daudinot is claiming that Puig testified against him three years ago in Cuba, helping to reinstate Puig’s good standing within the Cuban national baseball program—and helping to send Daudinot to prison for trying to smuggle Puig out of the country. Some loyalty Puig had for Castro; he later fled again, this time successfully.

The law firm, which also went after Cincinnati closer (and fellow Cuban expatriate) Aroldis Chapman last year, is asking for $12 million from Puig. A judge refused to throw out the suit against Chapman, so that upcoming trial will be closely watched by Camp Puig.

That’s No Way to Treat a Legend
Legitimate home run king
Hank Aaron had his house broken into this past week, resulting in the theft of jewelry and two BMWs. Aaron and his wife were away from the house at the time of the burglary; police have recovered the two vehicles, checked out fingerprints and are “anticipating” an arrest.

At Least He’s Not Wearing a Sombrero
luchadorThe Arizona Diamondbacks took a left turn away from the status quo by introducing Luchador, a “human” mascot that’s a departure from the oversized furry monstrosities roaming the seats at other major league ballparks. (Call him the Ultra Man of mascots, for all you Japanese monster enthusiasts who know what we’re talking about.) Luchador was introduced last year, sort of, when 20,000 of his masks were given away at a Diamondbacks game, but now he’ll be present at every game in the flesh—and not only will that appeal to the Hispanic demographic but for women in general, given Luchador’s sleek, tanned physique. Let’s just hope that he doesn’t get pulled over by Sheriff Joe Apario on his way to the game.

On the week that the Diamondbacks tried to show the more Hispanic side of themselves, came this:
Miguel Perez Quintana, the team’s Spanish-language play-by-play man, was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (in this case a knife). The victim: His wife. Quintana’s arrest continues a worrisome trend of tension felt in the Diamondbacks’ broadcast booths, following the DUIs slapped on Mark Grace and the turbulent departure last season of Daron Sutton stemming from a dispute over, of all things, on-air wardrobe.

Back to Earth
He could handle the Tampa Bay Rays, but he can’t handle the guys from Triple-A—at least not this past Wednesday.
Jarred Cosart started the Triple-A All-Star Game for the Pacific Coast League (taking on the International League) and was knocked around for four runs on three hits and two walks in less than two innings—a considerably less impressive outing that his eight innings of two-hit shutout ball in his major league debut with the Houston Astros at St. Petersburg the week before. Cosart was sent back to the minors after that game, with the plan that he’ll return soon.

Baseball is a Funny Game
This past Saturday, the Texas Rangers banged out 14 hits and lost; meanwhile, down the Interstate in Houston, the visiting Seattle Mariners got only one hit off the Astros—and won.

Thanks For All Those Times You Made Us Lose
After closing out the Boston Red Sox for the 57th time in his career on Saturday, the Yankees’
Mariano Rivera had dinner at a Boston steakhouse and received a rousing ovation from the other diners.

He Said What?
Actual headline on the NBC Sports web site: “Breaking news:
Alex Rodriguez eats at Chipotle.” No, he did not get an ovation.

This Week’s Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Cincinnati outfielder
Shin-Soo Choo ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hit streak at 15 games. Choo seems to be getting stronger as the streak grows, hitting at a .500 clip over the last eight games through Sunday.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekIt was not a great week for the two old warhorses of the East, the Yankees and the Red Sox, in their ongoing struggle to regain full strength on their rosters. In New York, quad ailments got the best of not just Derek Jeter (who was re-submitted to the disabled list) but Alex Rodriguez, whose anticipated return to the Yankees will now have to wait after a near-torturous rehab stint. Meanwhile up in Boston, Clay Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews to get an opinion on a neck strain that’s kept him sidelined for over a month, while closer Andrew Bailey is headed under the knife for season-ending shoulder surgery.

Rounding out the new patients at MLB’s House of Pain from this past week are St. Louis slugger Matt Holliday (hamstring), San Diego pitcher Jason Marquis (shoulder), Colorado closer Rafael Betancourt (appendicitis), and Baltimore outfield Nolan Reimold (spine).

The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.

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