This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: July 19-25, 2013
Braun-Out in Milwaukee Alex Rodriguez's Quad Squad
Robert Fick Talks About the Past Is Justin Verlander Burned Out?

Best and Worst of the Week

BEST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
25 6 12 2 0 2 4 2 0 0 0

Let’s face it: The fifth-year catcher doesn’t look destined to be the batting champ-type like All-Star colleague Joe Mauer, but he certainly came out firing after the break, racking up 12 hits and connecting five straight games with two or more knocks. Wieters is often considered a more valuable asset on defense, so this latest streak (which pushed his batting average to .250 for the first time since the season’s first week) is a boon.


BEST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Hanley Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
32 9 13 3 0 2 6 2 0 0 2

The Dodgers remain the hottest team in the NL, and Ramirez remains their hottest hitter. The 29-year-old shortstop continued his year of resuscitation that has seen him hit .411 in his last 33 games with 11 doubles, nine homers, 28 RBIs and five steals. So really, Ramirez was par for the course with his latest week of destruction. If he can maintain this damage and stay healthy (an early-season problem), he’s bound to enter the NL MVP discussion.


WORST HITTER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Seth Smith, Oakland A's

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
17 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 0 0 0

For a fourth outfielder, Smith has certainly been getting a lot of time in on the year as injuries have kept Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick on the shelf at various times. In his most recent stint of activity—replacing the Home Run Derby champion in Cespedes—Smith couldn’t even win a proverbial Singles Derby, as he’s gone hitless since the break with nine strikeouts. Ultimately, Smith will become a valuable left-handed hitting source off the bench, where maybe he just belongs right now.


WORST HITTER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals

AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
BB
IB
HB
SB
24 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0

The 23-year-old rookie from Texas was eclipsing the .300 mark just as the All-Star Break hit—but apparently a little rest did him no good. Rendon reached base three times but gave them back in the form of three ground balls turned into double plays. If he doesn’t get himself back to pre-break form soon, he’ll be pining for those earlier days when he hit bleacher fans in the face with his deep flies and Gio Gonzalez with sunflower seeds.


BEST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
2-0 15 8 1 0 0 0 2 0 0 10

The Angel ace finally seems to be rediscovering the winning rhythm after a rocky first three months dogged by injury. In the first game after the break, Weaver shut down the A’s for 6.2 innings, then was even more dominant against Minnesota on Wednesday—striking out nine Twins while allowing just two hits in eight more shutout innings. Weaver has won four of his last five starts and finally evened his record to 5-5 while lowering his ERA below 3.00.


BEST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
1-0 9 7 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 6

The veteran pitcher with a leg kick that looks like the start of one of John Cleese’s silly walks had it way too easy in San Francisco on Monday, polishing off a collection of lost Giants hitters with little sweat spared; the only suspense came with the very last out when Derrick Robinson stole a home run over the center field fence. With so much spectacle upon us with the likes of Matt Harvey and Stephen Strasburg, nobody thinks much about Arroyo in the conversation of good, solid NL pitchers, but maybe they should start.


WORST PITCHER, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Jordan Lyles, Houston Astros

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-1 4 8 10 9 2 0 2 0 0 3

The big right-hander from South Carolina has been one of the Astros’ few breaths of fresh air—he was 3-2 with a 3.11 ERA in 11 starts before the break—but because misery loves company, he apparently decided to partner with the woe. Lyles was tagged with a seven-spot in the second inning against Seattle on Sunday and began falling apart again in the fifth, leading to an early departure. A solid career may be just around the corner, but he needs to avoid the occasional implosion.


WORST PITCHER, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Jeremy Hefner, New York Mets

W-L
IP
H
R
ER
BB
IB
HB
WP
BK
SO
0-2 6.1 16 14 13 1 0 0 0 0 6

Like Lyles, Hefner—another righty who’s virtually the exact same height and weight—was finding a solid groove before the break, not having allowed more than two earned runs in any of his previous eight starts. But six days’ rest may have been too much; he was slammed by the Phillies in the Mets’ first game after the break, then got gopheritis by serving up three home runs in an 8-2 loss to the Braves on Wednesday. Notice that we’ve gone this far without stooping into Playboy jokes about this Hef, but these last two outings amounted to one big (center) fold.


BEST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Tampa Bay Rays (5-1)

The best team no one’s heard of in the Tampa-St. Pete area (even the dreadful Marlins are managing to drag in as many fans) is making a lot of noise on the road—and at the top of the AL East standings. With continued top-flight pitching doing its thing, the Rays improved their July record to 17-3 and had a shot to take over the division lead from Boston—but a Thursday rainout at Fenway robbed them of the opportunity. Home series with Arizona and San Francisco are to follow, and here’s a tip for people who have nothing better to do near Tropicana Field: Go.


BEST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Los Angeles Dodgers (6-1)

Once upon a time, Washington and Toronto were considered strong favorites to hook up in the World Series. But both teams, badly underachieving thus far, were run over after the break by a squad that’s made underachieving an art form of late: The Dodgers, who are finally in sweet tune as they extended a winning streak on the road to ten—their longest away from home since relocating from Brooklyn. From worst to first in the NL West within a month; now that’s achievement.


WORST TEAM, AMERICAN LEAGUE
Houston Astros (1-6)

A very strange start to the second half in Houston only confirmed that the Astros’ luck won’t be changing anytime soon. It’s not that they lost, again and again, but how they lost—losing while one of their own (Brandon Barnes) hit for the cycle, and losing another while allowing a single hit. Their only win was gifted, when a comedy of errors by Oakland catcher Derek Norris allowed the Astros to steal both a ninth-inning run and a rare win. Houston is roughly on target for a 54-108 campaign—pretty much what most people anticipated.


WORST TEAM, NATIONAL LEAGUE
Washington Nationals (1-6)

It took a walk-off homer from Bryce Harper to finally give the Nationals their first post-break win after six losses that sank them below .500 and perilously close to the fourth-place Mets (yikes!). Perhaps the Nats still sense a shot at the NL East title now that the Braves’ rotation has been getting stepped on (literally—see Tim Hudson), but at some point they have to take matters into their own hands. Perhaps Harper's shot was a start.


 

 

 

Best and Worst of the Week

Friday, July 19
Houston rookie Brandon Barnes goes 5-for-5 and becomes the first rookie since Fred Lewis in 2007 (and the first Astro to do it since Luke Scott in 2006) to hit for the cycle—and yet the Astros still lose at home to Seattle, 10-7, thanks to the effort of another rookie: The Mariners’ Brad Miller, who punches out two home runs with five RBIs.

Tampa Bay ace David Price surrenders three home runs over seven innings but still picks up the win as the Rays go deep four times on their own to defeat the Blue Jays at Toronto, 8-5. Price is 7-0 in eight career starts at Toronto; the Rays have won 15 of 17 games.

The Philadelphia Phillies storm out to an 11-0 lead after just three innings—they had topped double digits only once coming in—and hold off the Mets to win 13-8 at New York. For only the second time this season, the Phillies finish the day above the .500 mark at 49-48.


Saturday, July 20
In another noteworthy game at Minute Maid Park, the Mariners top the Astros 4-2 on just one hit: Michael Saunders’ tie-breaking, two-run double with two outs in the seventh inning. It’s only the fourth time in modern major league history—and the first time by a team not named the Chicago White Sox—that a team has scored four or more runs in a game on one hit or less. The loss goes to Erik Bedard, who is removed just prior to Saunders’ double despite not allowing a hit (he walks five and gives up three runs, one earned); Bedard is the tenth pitcher—and the fourth Astro—to lose while throwing six-plus hitless innings.

A day after getting benched for not hustling on a double play ball, the White Sox’ Alex Rios atones with three hits, including a go-ahead grand slam in the third inning, to propel Chicago to a 10-6 home win over the Atlanta Braves.

It takes the San Francisco Giants eight pitchers to hold off the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park, 4-3. Matt Cain gets the start and throws five innings, ultimately earning the win; six successive relievers each get credit for a hold, and Sergio Romo earns the save despite allowing a ninth-inning run—snapping a streak of 29 straight scoreless appearances against Arizona, which had tied a big league record for a pitcher against one team.


Sunday, July 21
The Milwaukee Brewers finish off a three-game sweep—and three-game shutout—of Miami at Miller Park, edging the Marlins in 13 innings, 1-0 on rookie Caleb Gindl’s first career home run. Miami has now gone scoreless in 37 straight innings—the longest such drought in the majors since the Astros went 42 frames in a row without a run in 1985.


Monday, July 22
The Los Angeles Dodgers, in last place barely a month ago, are now in first. Thanks to A.J. Ellis’ four hits, five RBIs and five Toronto errors, the Dodgers steamroll over the Blue Jays at Roger Centre, 14-5, to take a half-game lead on the Diamondbacks for the NL West lead. Josh Johnson is yanked after allowing five runs in two-plus innings and drops to 1-6 for the Jays.

The Rays’ rampage charges through Boston, where Matt Moore throws his first career shutout by two-hitting the Red Sox at Fenway Park, 3-0. Moore is the majors’ first 14-game winner, joined shortly afterward by Detroit’s Max Scherzer (earning a win against the White Sox at Chicago); since going through an early June swoon, Moore has won each of his last six starts with an ERA of 1.50.

Johnny Vander Meer can breathe easy; Tim Lincecum will not throw a second straight no-hitter. Shin-Soo Choo doubles off the Giants’ pitcher to lead off the game and the Reds don’t look back, scoring in each of the first seven innings as they stomp their way to an 11-0 rout in San Francisco. Bronson Arroyo easily goes the distance for his sixth career shutout.


Tuesday, July 23
The Astros finally get the better of the A’s after losing their first ten games of the season against Oakland, achieving the win in bizarre fashion; with the game tied at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, a pitch gets away from Oakland catcher Derek Norris but, after corralling it, appears to have Jose Altuve trapped in a rundown between first and second base. But his throw to start the pickle goes wildly past first and Jonathan Villar (in his major league debut) scores from second. The Houston rally ends Oakland closer Grant Balfour’s franchise-record streak of 44 straight saves without blowing an opportunity.

Like Villar above, Christian Yelich also marks his big league initiation with three hits—helping to give the Miami Marlins a 4-2 win at Colorado. Yelich gets his hits in each of his first three at-bats; the last major leaguer to accomplish that to start a career was the Reds’ Jay Bruce in 2008.

The Giants score a rare road win—sort of. Making up a game rained out last month in Cincinnati, the Giants and Reds square off in San Francisco—with the Giants officially playing as the road team and winning 5-3, to balance out a doubleheader after the Reds earlier beat them in the first (and originally scheduled) game, 9-3. After Minnesota closer Glen Perkins blows a ninth-inning lead and gives up his first run since May 28, the Twins storm back with seven runs in the top of the tenth—the bulk of which comes courtesy of Chris Herrmann’s grand slam—and topple the Angels at Anaheim, 10-3.


Wednesday, July 24
The Rangers, hoping they get better luck after acquiring a hot pitcher from the Chicago Cubs (see Ryan Dempster, 2012), get it from Matt Garza—who allows an unearned run on five hits and no walks in 7.1 innings as Texas quells the Yankees at Arlington, 3-1. Garza has won his last six starts and has a sterling 1.06 ERA over his last seven outings.

The first-place Braves upend the Mets at New York, 5-2, but absorb terrible news as veteran starting pitcher Tim Hudson—four outs from a shutout—has his ankle snapped when Eric Young Jr. steps on it trying to beat out a throw at first base. The broken ankle ends Hudson’s season.

Perhaps making up for Ryan Braun’s absence, Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez snaps out of a prolonged hitting funk by knocking out four hits (including two doubles) and knocking in two runs to lift the Brewers to a 3-1 win over the San Diego Padres. Gomez entered the game with just three hits over his previous 42 at-bats.


Thursday, July 25
After Washington closer Rafael Soriano blows a four-run lead in the ninth—it wasn’t even a save situation—that tied the game for Pittsburgh, Bryce Harper counters with a two-run homer that’s the first walk-off blast of his career and the winner for the Nationals, who take a 9-7 decision to snap a six-game losing skid.

The Blue Jays also put a losing streak behind them as Mark Buehrle tosses his ninth career shutout, a two-hit gem over the visiting Astros, to give Toronto a 4-0 win. The Jays had lost seven straight.


TGG Programming Note
We’re headed out on summer break, so this week’s Comebacker has been slighted altered to look back at the first seven days immediately following the All-Star Break. We’ll be back with our next, all-new Comebacker on August 11.In the meantime, check out the rest of what TGG has to offer, including Ed Attanasio’s hilarious memories of Sister Sandy Koufax, our list of the ten most dominant campaigns ever put together by a pitcher, and our growing list of interviews.

The Truth has Changed
Perhaps Ryan Braun simply thought he could get away with this for the rest of his baseball life, that he could cheat and deny and lie and cast those trying to catch him as the bad guys. He got away with it long another to be rewarded with a monster contract extension. But with the reward came risk—and when Braun conceded to baseball this past week under the weight of a reported mountain of evidence that even he never expected could be built, that risk was exposed. Big time.

The Milwaukee slugger was suspended for the rest of the season; the 65-game penalty came in the aggregate form of 50 days for, we assume, evidence of steroid use or purchase (no one on either side has publicly revealed any details), and 15 additional days as, according to what an inside source told Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, an “a**hole tax” for trying to paint blood collector Dino Laurenzi as a suspicious tainter of the positive samples he stored outside of the normal protocol because he missed the FedEx cut-off, allowing Braun to avoid a suspension last year on a technicality.

Braun will be relatively nicked in the pocketbook, losing $3.2 million for the rest of the year—but he still is guaranteed $113 million through 2020. Yet Braun has lost something more valuable: His trust. Trust with Brewer fans who held hope that he actually was telling the truth, with the media who’ll never believe another word he says, with players throughout baseball who’ll angrily view him as yet another symbol of their blanket reputation as cheats, and with teammates for whom he completely lied to when he stood his make-believe moral ground in consecutive Arizona springs and defiantly proclaimed his innocence.

Revolt of the Clean Players
There’s many a ticked-off man to be found in the wake of Braun’s self-indulgent, illicit journey to greatness. Their reactions to the Braun suspension broke the usual clubhouse silence of solidarity and signaled major momentum in the ongoing cultural shift within the union constituency, as the clean players have simply gotten fed up with trying to publicly ignore or defend the cheats.

Among the more vocal of the critics was Los Angeles infielder Skip Schumaker, who said that “Watching (Braun) talk makes me sick.” He also believes in a one-and-done policy (as we do, if baseball really wants to rid itself of the cheats), adding insult to the argument by vowing to take down an autographed jersey of Braun he had hanging up in his house.

In Anaheim, Angel pitcher C.J. Wilson was no less sharp in his response. “(The cheats are) lying to the fans. They’re lying to their teammates. They’re lying to their GMs, their owners, and they’re going to get caught.”

Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer echoed the sentiment of many who believed the suspension of Braun, who’s eligible to return next Opening Day, isn’t long enough. “The Brewers are unlikely to make the playoffs. (They’re in the NL Central cellar.) He misses 2013, and they are set for 2014,” Scherzer said. “For someone that cheated the game as badly as he did, it just doesn’t seem right.”

There were also grumblings of players and teams who suffered at the expense of Braun’s steroid-aided play. The Arizona Diamondbacks, ousted by the Brewers in the 2011 NLDS after Braun hit .500 with four doubles and a homer, were especially tweaked by news of his past. “I am not saying the outcome would have been different, but it leaves you wondering,” reflected Arizona infielder Willie Bloomquist.

Finally, the Braun suspension reignited the debate of whether Matt Kemp, who finished a close runner-up to Braun for the 2011 NL MVP award, should now be officially and belatedly crowned as the actual winner. Kemp himself couldn’t help but publicly state that he got robbed. “I mean, yeah, I do,” he said when pressed if he Braun should lose the award. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which gives out the MVPs, quickly stated that the award stays with Braun.

A Kwik Split
A day after getting suspended, Braun had his endorsement deal severed with Kwik Trip—not the candy bar, but a chain of 300 convenience stores in the upper Midwest.

My Doc is Better than Yours
While one supercheat waives the white flag after succumbing to the honest truth, another may be right on his tail to do the same. A desperate Alex Rodriguez, whose own Biogenesis suspension could come at any day and upset at the New York Yankees’ claim that he’s not 100% healthy, got a second opinion on his Grade 1 quad strain—bringing in Michael Gross, an independent doctor from Hackensack, New Jersey (the home of Miss Teschmacher’s mom in the original Superman movie) who agreed with Rodriguez that he was fine. But Rodriguez didn’t do his due diligence; it’s against the pact set between his own union and the owners to get any kind of medical opinion or advice without approval from his team.

Gross claimed he saw nothing wrong with Rodriguez, but that’s the problem; he didn’t even see Rodriguez, making his opinions by looking at the available medical charts while talking to Rodriguez via phone. Worse for Gross, when MLB heard about all of this, they did some fact-checking and came across this: In February, Gross was rapped on the knuckles by the New Jersey attorney general for “failing to adequately ensure proper patient treatment involving the prescribing of hormones including steroids.” Gross claims it’s a “closed matter,” but MLB is nevertheless expanding its Biogenesis investigation to include Gross.

To which at this point, Gross probably wishes he never took that phone call from Rodriguez.

Fick and Flak
Coming out of the steroids closet this past week was Robert Fick, which is fine with MLB because he’s been out of the game for six years. Fick had his finest years for Detroit at the turn of the century and is best remembered for hitting Tiger Stadium’s last home run—a grand slam that landed on the rooftop of the old ballpark. But Fick spent the majority of his ten-year career as a part-timer at best, and said he used steroids primarily to bounce back more quickly from injuries. Speaking publicly about his past, Fick also talked about the present and claimed that some 10% of major league players are still juiced—and also echoed our thoughts on what should be done for the future: Zero tolerance.

What's Up, Justin? (It's Not Your Fastball)
This may be why you shouldn’t give ace pitchers long-term contracts. Detroit’s Justin Verlander, owed $20 million this season and next—and then $28 million each year from 2015-19—may not be worth his weight in gold well before the contract expires, if this year’s numbers are any indication. The velocity of his average fastball has dropped to the low 90s after he regularly hit above 95 for much of his career—the Tigers are saying his MPH is still high and are actually blaming the lower readings on a miscalibrated speed gun at Comerica Park—but more telling are the results on the field.

With Thursday’s loss at Chicago against the White Sox included, Verlander is 6-6 since May 5—with a 5.20 ERA. After the game, Verlander spun it as positively as he could, claiming that his “stuff was the best it’s been all year.” Which leads us to ask: Why is it so often that pitchers say they felt really good on the mound while getting bombed on the scoreboard?

Lassoing the Bronx Bombers
The New York Yankees’ 3-0 loss to Yu Darvish and Rangers at Arlington on Monday was the second straight game against Texas in which they were shut out on three or fewer hits. The last time a team had similarly stifled the Yankees came in 1916 at the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Who threw the second of those shutouts for the Red Sox back then? Future Yankee Babe Ruth.

Alphabet Soup
When Jarred Cosart took the mound for his second big league career start this past Tuesday against Oakland, his catcher was Jason Castro—and someone with a comprehensive database and lots of time figured out that it was only the second time in major league history that a pitching battery had two last names that were anagrams of one another. The only other time it happened, according to valueoverreplacementgrit.com, was in 1985 when Detroit’s Matt Nokes caught Randy Nosek.

Selling his Own Private Idaho
He finished his career just shy of 3,000 hits but will always be remembered for letting that ball go through his legs in the 1986 World Series. Yet you can’t say that Bill Buckner’s home life has been all that bad for all that notoriety. He’s selling his Idaho home for a listed $1.7 million and, as you might expect, it’s a pretty nice pad. We assume Buckner’s moving up; after all, when you’re earning five-figure fees to appear at memorabilia shows, the bank account must be anything but empty.

Thank God his Last Name Isn’t Dick
Milwaukee reliever Donovan Hand left Tuesday’s game against San Diego after suffering…a bruised hand.

Will he Call them Minnie and St. Paulie?
Joe Mauer became a father for the first time this past week. The All-Star catcher for the Minnesota Twins welcomed in…twins.

He Said What?
“They should have installed that camera some safer place where it wouldn’t get hit by the ball. Like
Ike Davis’ bat.” —Reader (and a likely Mets fan) on Deadspin commenting on a plate of Plexiglas behind home plate that got smashed by a foul ball from Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman at New York’s Citi Field on Wednesday.

League vs. League
The American League continues to hold onto its arms-length advantage (108-98) over the National League in its quest win the interleague wars for the tenth straight year, but the Dodgers helped get the NL a little closer with an early-week sweep at Toronto. Interleague activity kicks up over the next few weeks with as many as five games a day, so the NL is hardly down for the count at this stage.

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekThe Atlanta Braves have a safe cushion with, easily, the biggest lead of any divisional leader—and they made need that buffer to help them get to the postseason, as the first week after the All-Star Break has seen the deletion of two starting pitchers from the rotation: Paul Maholm (left wrist contusion) will miss at least 15 days, but worse news came on Wednesday when Tim Hudson had his ankle broken while covering first base; he’s out for the year.

Pennant races in the NL’s two other divisions may have been affected by post-break losses; the Dodgers are shelving outfielder Matt Kemp (sprained ankle) for the third time this year—while in Pittsburgh, closer Jason Grilli, so excellent in his first career shot at the closer role at age 36, walked off the mound with pain in his right forearm; for now he’s on the 15-day DL, but team officials are weary that it could be longer. Much longer.

Finally, we’re happy to report that Seattle manager Eric Wedge is feeling better after suffering a mild stroke during batting practice this past Monday. He will miss ten games but is expected to fully recover.


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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