Is That the Light at the End of the Tunnel?
As we head into final quarter of the 2012 regular season, baseball’s two longest droughts appear ready to be washed over into history.
In Pittsburgh, where even recent college graduates are too young to remember the Bucs’ last winning season in 1992, the Pirates are in great shape to break the all-time record 19-year streak of sub-.500 finishes. At 63-50 (Sa), the Pirates only need to win 19 of their remaining 49 games to avoid another losing season. But Long-suffering Pirate fans will believe an 82-80-plus record when they see it set in stone; they’ll be the first to recall last year’s depressing plunge after peaking in late July at 53-47 and a share of the NL Central lead, going 19-43 from that point on to end up with a 72-90 mark.
What’s keeping the Pirates strong this season is the MVP-caliber performance of outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who’s leading the majors with a .365 batting average with muscle to spare, on pace for over 30 homers and nearly 100 RBIs; a solidified starting rotation led by a comeback effort from veteran A.J. Burnett, freed from the stress of pitching in Yankeeland and thriving as never before in the relative anonymity of the Steel City; and a terrific bullpen whose 3.01 ERA is the majors’ third best.
Lost in the record-setting path of losing set by the Pirates are the Baltimore Orioles, who themselves have suffered through 14 straight losing campaignsjust one shy of the American League record set by the Philadelphia-Kansas City A’s from 1953-67. The Orioles haven’t been consistently laughablethey’ve averaged 71 wins a year during their funkbut they’ve handicapped themselves in an exceedingly difficult division with a front office that has never adapted well to recent progress after quickly losing its advantage of making big money off the success of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, as almost everyone else has caught up with a new ballpark of their own.
But like the Pirates, the Orioles are making a move north of .500 as well. After a strong start, everyone expected the Orioles to ultimately cease playing above their heads, but it hasn’t happened; they’re in the thick of the AL wild card race with a 61-53 record (Sa) and only need to win 21 of their final 48 games to finish with their first winning record since 1997.
Unlike the Pirates, the Orioles are doing it with mirrors; their run differential is the ninth worst in baseball, yet only seven teams have better records. The hitting, which has been the Orioles’ strong suit over the lean years, remains solidbut their pitching (and especially their bullpen), which has terribly failed them one year after another, has shaped up, with a bullpen every bit as strong as Pittsburgh’s. It ain’t pretty, but what ultimately matters for the Orioles is the won-loss recordand that’s looking sweet, indeed.
The Grinch Who Stole Strasmas?
Earlier in the year, Washington general manager Mike Rizzo made it quite clear that ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg, in his first full year since undergoing Tommy John surgery, would be shut down after throwing 160 innings. But then Yahoo! claimed Rizzo upped that number to 180. Now, as the Nationals dance toward a likely (and rare) postseason appearance, Rizzo is backing off completely from all previous statements. With Strasburg on pace to reach 180 frames before the playoffs, Rizzo went back on the record by saying that Strasburg will be shut downas again reported by Yahoo!when the time is right. The Washington Post clarified it a little more, saying Strasburg would likely be shut down sometime in September. We just have to wonder, when the Nationals are facing elimination with an exhausted pitching staff in a postseason series, how big the urge will be for the team to unchain Strasburg from early hibernation.
Did the Phillie Fans Boo the Empty Seats?
The Philadelphia Philliesunexpectedly imploding from a mass of injuries and underwhelming play in generalhaven’t given up on their season, but their fans may be starting to. The Phillies drew 41,665 to their 6-1 loss against Atlanta this past Monday, but the crowd was over 3,000 shy of capacityending a 257-game sellout crowd streak that was the longest in National League history, and the third all-time longest after the Cleveland Indians’ 455-game run from 1995-2001 and the current streak by the Boston Red Sox which is closing in on 800 straight sellouts.
A Bleepin' Good Call
For those who think Vin Scully has lost it at age 84, watch this and think again. During the Dodgers’ recent 2-0 loss to Colorado at Dodger Stadium, a very close call that went against the Rockies had Colorado manager Jim Tracy storming out of the dugout to profanely protestand Scully doing his deadpan best to read Tracy’s lips and translate to his audience, using a G-rated filter. On a related note, Quentin Tarantino is reportedly lining up Scully to provide edited-for-TV dubbing of Reservoir Dogs.
After Further Review
In watching the play in question and the five-minute fuss that followed between Tracy and the umpires, Scully also pointed out, almost word for word, one of our arguments for expanded instant replay by opining, “We have all this technology and they don't use it because they say it would delay the game. Well, what was that we just saw?”
Pay Now, or Pay Later?
The rap on Cabrera is that he’s played for four teams and four years and he’s only excelling this year because perhaps he’s motivated to earn that fat new contract. But remember what he did last year in Kansas City, when his career came alive with a .305 average, 201 hits (including 44 doubles and 18 home runs), 102 runs, 20 steals and 13 outfield assists. And that was not with a contract on the line.
The San Francisco Giants and their all-star outfielder Melky Cabrera ended contract extension talks this past week. Though it’s not clear as to which party cut off the talks, it would be wise to assume that the decision came from Cabrera’s camp given what the Giants were reportedly offering: Three years, $27 million. This, for a player who’s currently second in the majors in batting average, third in runs, first in hits, second in triples and one of game’s better defensive outfielders? If Cabrera goes on the free agent market, which is all but likely at this point, you can rest assured that he’ll get a far better offer than that of the Giants’.
Jerk of the Week
During Monday’s game between the Giants and Cardinals at St. Louis, action was halted when players discovered that they were being the targets of a green laser pointer used by someone in the stands. Both home plate umpire Marvin Hudson and Cardinal manager Mike Methany eventually discovered the holder of the light, a 17-year-old kid seated in a luxury suite down the right-field line. When motioned to stop, the kid laughed and continued with his mischiefand that’s when security got into action. Authorities encountered resistance described as “uncooperative and confrontational”, found alcohol that had been smuggled into the ballpark, and arrested the teenage culprit with the laser; the Cardinals are now considering whether the owner of the suite, St. Louis-based Mercy Health, should have its luxury box privileges revoked.
Lest anyone think this was a harmless prank, we bring up an incident involving TGG friend Joel Zwink, who some ten years ago was photographing a game for the San Diego Padres near the visitors’ dugout when he was nearly blinded by a laser that brightened up the camera lens he was looking through. The culprit: Pitcher Jason Schmidt, then with the Pirates, killing time on a day off and pointing a laser at Zwink from the dugout. (An out-of-court settlement followed to pay for the damage to Zwink’s eyes, which fortunately wasn’t permanent.)
As Low as it Gets in Houston
You know you’re bad when the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) are compared to your performance. So it was with the Houston Astros, who won only four games in a 38-game stretch until beating Milwaukee to start a weekend series. According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, that’s the worst stretch by a NL team sincewait for itthe Bad News Spiders, who finished their historically awful 1899 season with just one win in 41 tries. And just how bad were the Spiders? Victims of a form of syndicate baseball that was about to be outlawedthe owners of the Spiders also ruled the St. Louis Perfectos (Cardinals), the Spiders’ best players had long since been siphoned off to St. Louis, and they had stopped playing at home because people in Cleveland knew they were being handed leftovers and stopped showing up. (Total attendance at Cleveland in 1899: 6,000.)
Brothers in Statistical Arms
We missed this in our return from vacation, but it bears noting as a lot of you probably didn’t hear about it either: On August 3, Arizona’s Justin Upton belted his 100th career home run at Philadelphia just moments before his brother, Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton hit his 100th career shot for the Rays in St. Petersburg.
How Bad is Volstad?
The good news for the Chicago Cubs: For the first time in 11 starts, they finally won when Chris Volstad got the start on the mound. (It also ended an eight-game losing slide for the Cubs.) The bad news: Volstad didn’t get to share in the victory, getting a no-decision to run his streak of winless starts to 22. The major league record is 28, set by Matt Keough from 1978-79 and tied just last season by Jo-Jo Reyes.
Wounded of the Week
Also making the Ouch Couch this past week is Colorado veteran slugger Todd Helton, who’s done for the year with a torn muscle in his hip; New York Yankee ace CC Sabathia, out 15 days with elbow issues; Texas catcher Mike Napoli (quad); Houston outfielder Jordan Schafer (shoulder); San Diego closer Huston Street (calf); and Boston rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks, likely out for the year with a broken wrist.
To quote Morrissey from The Smiths: “Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before.” Which brings us to Travis Hafner, the one-time dominant slugger for the Cleveland Indians who yet again is on the disabled list with back pain. (Over the last five years, Pronk has missed over 300 games due to injury.) It may be his last such stretch of shelf life with Cleveland, or anyone for that matter, as his six-year, $66 million contract expires at the end of this season. At 35, he’s likely to get nothing better than a minor-league deal next spring.
The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.
A Day-by-Day Review of the Week
Monday, August 6
The Minnesota Twins hand the Cleveland Indians their tenth straight loss in the most symbolic of ways: By scoring ten runs in the second inning, en route to a 14-3 slaughter. Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau hit back-to-back home runs in the Twins’ ten-run second.
In the first of a three-game showdown in Oakland between two teams fighting for the AL wild card spot, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim upend the A’s, 4-0, behind a masterful four-hit shutout from Jered Weaverwho becomes the majors’ first 15-game winner on the year (with just one loss) and improves his major league-leading ERA to 2.13. The crowd at the Oakland Coliseum: 13,341.
The legend of Yu Darvish may be starting to rust. The first-year Texas Ranger from Japan is knocked for six runs on 11 hitsincluding a franchise-record seven doublesin 6.2 innings as the Rangers lose at Boston, 9-2. Darvish is now 1-3 over his last five starts with a 7.76 ERA.
Justin Verlander throws a career-high 132 pitches and strikes out a career-tying 14 batters over eight innings, allowing just two unearned runs as the Detroit Tigers roll over the New York Yankees at Comerica Park, 7-2.
Tuesday, August 7
The Houston Astros lose in overtime at home to Washington for the second straight night. Their 3-2, 12-inning loss to the Nationals drops them to 0-11 on the year in extra-inning games; overall, the Astros have lost 32 of their last 36 games. Danny Espinosa knocks in all three runs for the Nationals, two from a second-inning homer and the other on the ultimate game-winning single in the 12th.
The Astros could use Chris Johnson in their lineupif only they hadn’t traded him. The third baseman plugs two homers and knocks in five to easily lift Arizona to a 10-4 rout of the Pirates at Pittsburgh. Since joining the Diamondbacks on July 30, Johnson has hit five homers and 15 RBIs in just eight games.
In his first game in over three months since tearing his hamstring, Evan Longoria has a single and a sacrifice fly to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to a 4-1 win over the Toronto Blue Jays at St. Petersburg. The Rays were a disappointing 41-44 without Longoria.
Wednesday, August 8
The Indians score four times early and hold on to defeat the Twins at Cleveland, 6-2, to avoid losing for a franchise record-tying 12th straight time. Starting Cleveland pitcher Justin Masterson keeps the Twins in check with seven solid innings.
San Diego’s Clayton Richard throws his second career shutout with a 2-0 blanking of the Chicago Cubs; it’s not only the second shutout thrown by a Padre pitcher at Petco Park in three weeks, but the second thrown by a Padre at the pitcher-friendly facility since it opened in 2004.
San Francisco turns a tight lead midway through at St. Louis into a laugher, as recent pick-up Marco Scutaro belts a grand slam and drives in a career-high seven runs to lead the Giants to a 15-0 rout against the Cardinals. Ryan Vogelsong pitches seven shutout innings to enhance his NL-best ERA to 2.27.
It’s a wonderful day for the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez, who throws his first career nine-inning complete game and hits his first major league home run in Washington’s 4-3 win at Houston. Gonzalez officially has one other complete game, but that was an eight-inning performance in a road loss for the A’s at Chicago against the White Sox in 2010.
Thursday, August 9
The Mets’ R.A. Dickey returns to early-season form with a five-hit, 6-1 win over the Miami Marlins at New York; in striking out ten and walking none, Dickey becomes the NL”s first 15-game winner and goes the distance for the fourth time this season. Dickey also keeps former Met Jose Reyes hitless in four at-bats, ending his 26-game hitting streakthe longest in the majors this yearand ends the Mets’ nine-game losing skid at home.
Friday, August 10
The Angels’ Mike Trout locks up a few more AL MVP votes by knocking in five runson a three-run homer and a two-run sacrifice flyoff Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who came into the game having allowed five runs over his last five starts. The Angels still have to muster up a walk-off single from Peter Bourjos to defeat the Mariners in the ninth, 6-5. Trout, who just turned 21, leads the AL with a .345 average, 88 runs (in 90 games) and 36 steals.
Not to be outdoneand attempting to prove that he’s not done, periodIchiro Suzuki, now laboring for the New York Yankees, also knocks in five runs to tie a career high and help the Yankees obliterate the Blue Jays at Toronto, 10-4. Suzuki had six RBIs in 16 games entering the contest since being traded from Seattle to New York.
Manny Machado, who just turned 20 a month earlier and made his major league debut on Thursday with two hits including a triple, smashes two homers in his second big-league game and helps the Orioles roll over the Kansas City Royals at Baltimore. The Miami-born shortstop becomes the youngest player in franchise history with a multi-homer gameand the youngest in the majors since a 21-year-old Manny Ramirez went deep twice for Cleveland late in 1993.
Jordan Danks, the 26-year-old brother of injured teammate John Danks, clouts his first career home run to win the game in the ninth for the White Sox, who slip past the A’s at Chicago, 4-3. Danks’ homer comes in his 49th career at-bat.
The Pittsburgh Pirates storm out to an early 7-1 lead at home against the lowly Padres, but can’t hold it as Chase Headley blasts two home runs and knocks in five to propel San Diego to a 9-8, comeback win that’s its tenth straight at PNC Park. Pirate starting pitcher James McDonald, 9-3 with a 2.37 ERA before the all-star break, is now 1-3 with an 8.71 ERA in six starts since.
Saturday, August 11
The Padres make it 11 straight wins at Pittsburgh thanks to an unexpected gem from Jason Marquis, whose career looked to be at an end two months earlier after an awful start (and subsequent release) with the Minnesota Twins. Marquis takes a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finishes with a two-hit shutout, the fifth of his career, to defeat the Bucs, 2-0; he is now 6-6 with a 3.66 ERA in 13 starts since being picked up by the Padres.
The Texas Rangers, after surviving a bases-loaded rally by the Tigers in the top of the ninth, take advantage of their own uprising as heralded rookie Mike Oltplaying in his fifth major league gamestrokes a single that sends home Nelson Cruz to win the game, 2-1.
Sunday, August 12
The Angels' Jered Weaver loses for the first time since May 13and fails to win for the first time in his last nine startsas he bows to the Seattle Mariners at Anaheim, 4-1. Seattle catcher Jesus Montero does all the damage to Weaver, hitting two home runs. It's only the second loss of the season for Weaver.
Hunter Pence, in a deep funk since being traded to the Giants from Philadelphia, breaks out with a three-run, tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning to propel San Francisco to a 9-6 win over Colorado at AT&T Park; with the victory, the Giants maintain a one-game lead over the Dodgers in the NL West.
Singing the St. Petersburg Blues
The Toronto Blue Jays have enough problems in the AL East having to deal with the Yankees and Red Sox, but they seem to be saving their worst for the Tampa Bay Rays. Since the midway point of the 2009 season, the Jays are 20-45 overall against the Rays; it’s worse when they come to visit the Rays at St. Petersburg, where they were swept in three games this past week to lose their 16th straight series at Tropicana Dome. During that stretch, Toronto is 12-36.
Thriving on Offensive Chaos
The Atlanta Braves are 10-0 in games in which both they and their opponents have both scored at least six runs.
A Tale of Two Howells
On June 13, Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell was sitting on a horrid 6.16 ERA in 23 games. In his 25 appearances since then, he’s a perfect 0.00having not allowed a run in 22 innings. During this run, Howell has allowed just eight hits and eight walks while striking out 20. Howell’s run ties the franchise record for the longest by a reliever, held by closer Fernando Rodneywhose own 22-inning streak just came to an end this past week.
This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki and the White Sox’ A.J. Pierzynski share dual honors to end the week as the players with the longest active hitting streak, at 13 games. Pierzynski is hitting .383 with seven jacks overall during his streak, while Aoki is at .358 with a single homer during his.
TGG Goes to CafePress
We’ve always gotten raves for how we look at This Great Game, and now you can own a piece of the brand. We’ve opened a page at the popular CafePress site, with apparel, mugs, clocks and other items dressed in the TGG brand now available. We don’t just throw the logo and be done with it, adding in some fun baseball trivia. We even have a boy brief for the ladies that says on the backside: “If baseball is on your mind at this point, we’re just what you need.” Now you can show the world that you’re a baseball expert...and you’ll look good, too. Check it out now!
Opinion: The TGG Midseason Report Card
Our annual look at the best, worst and most surprising players from each team at the midseason point is now lie in our Opinions section, check it out!.
Now Playing at TGG
In Ed Attanasio's newest addition to TGG's They Were There section, Chuck Stevens talks about being the first major leaguer to get a hit off of Satchel Paige, his life and times living in Hollywood as a Pacific Coast League player, and his role in establishing the Professional Baseball Players' Association, which helps former ballplayers in need.