The Weekly Comebacker: The baseball week in review
The Week That Was in Baseball: August 29-September 4, 2011
And the Nominees for MVP Are... A Bad Case of Déjà Vu for Roger Clemens
From Brooklyn to Los Angeles...To Mao? The Payroll Manager of Sherwood Forest

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Fun facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders
Updated!
Take the TGG quiz to determine your good baseball knowledge when it comes to the game's all-time hit leaders and the 3,000-hit club. Check it out now!

The 2011 Mid-Season Report Card
Our picks for the best, worst and most unexpected during the first half of the 2011 regular season. Check it out now!

MVP Candidates: Do the Pitchers Have a Chance?
As the regular season nears the end, the talk has begun on who has the best shot at each league’s MVP award. This year, much of the chatter has been centered around pitchers; with Detroit’s Justin Verlander racking up win after win in dominant fashion, he has been talked about as a front-runner for the AL honor—which will certainly rouse up the age-old argument of whether a player who appears on the field 35 out of 162 games deserves such accolades.

Below are the top players from each league who make up the best candidates for this year’s awards.

American League
Curtis Granderson, New York. The second-year Yankee is having the kind of mind-boggling season we anticipated from him when he joined the potent, star-studded New York offense. He leads the majors in RBIs, runs, is second in homers with a career-high 38, has ten triples and 24 steals. If his batting average wasn’t so modest at .271, he’d be a lock for the MVP.

Justin Verlander, Detroit. The big 28-year old right-hander has been on the rampage since a ho-hum 2-3 start in April; he’s 19-2 since with a 2.04 ERA. He’s not a runaway leader in all major pitching categories—usually a prerequisite for any pitcher winning the MVP—but without him, are the Tigers in first place?

Jose Bautista, Toronto. He likely won’t match the 54 homers and 128 RBIs he collected last season, but he’s still having a better year with a batting average 50 points above his career average and a major league-leading 109 walks on top of that. But because he’s a member of a Blue Jay team that seems eternally chained to the .500 mark, his chances aren’t too promising.

Adrian Gonzalez, Boston. We saw big things for the former Padre this year, surrounded by an all-star cast of hitters playing in a far more hitter-friendly ballpark than Petco Park. Overall, he’s fulfilled the promise with a major league-leading .340 average—although his 23 home runs are a bit fewer than we imagined. That latter fact will hurt his MVP chances, but certainly don’t count him out.

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit. Just another average year for Cabrera, on pace to hit .320 with 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 walks. It’s strange, but we think voters will pass on him because it’s just more of the same—but, more realistically, because he’s bound to lose votes to teammate Verlander.

Jose Valverde, Detroit. The Tiger closer has virtually no chance for either the MVP or the Cy, especially when one of his teammates answers to the name Verlander. But it should be noted that he’s saved all 40 of his save opportunities. Dominant? Not necessarily. Valuable? Definitely.

National League
Jose Reyes, New York. The flashy shortstop is having a renaissance season, and just in time as free agency looms—but that’s another story. Injuries and the Mets’ woeful state of being will handicap his odds.

Ryan Braun, Milwaukee. The 27-year old slugger is having a complete year, on pace for a .330 average, 30 homers, 100 RBIs, 100 runs, 40 doubles and perhaps 40 steals. His Brewers are all but likely to win the NL Central, and his chances hinge on how many other voters side with more prodigious (but also more relatively one-dimensional) teammate Prince Fielder.

Roy Halladay, Philadelphia. There’s a lot of noise being made of the Phillie ace’s chances to win the MVP, but he’s in a dogfight just to earn the NL Cy Young Award with Los Angeles’ Clayton Kershaw, having just as good (if not better) a year. And besides, the Phillies are so good right now, it could be argued that they win the NL East even without Halladay.

Joey Votto, Cincinnati. The reigning NL MVP is putting up similar numbers, but the Reds are out of the playoff picture and, hey, he already won once.

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles. Last year’s underachieving failure is overachieving this year; with a September power surge, he could become baseball’s fifth 40-40 man. But because the Dodgers aren’t going anywhere, he’ll likely have to settle for a Silver Slugger.

Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta. The NL Rookie of the Year award should already be his, with a rookie-record 42 saves, a .168 batting average allowed and nearly 17 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. He’s part of a terrific Atlanta bullpen, and that’s the problem for his MVP chances; he’s not the only one lifting the Braves toward a second straight playoff spot.

Barry Up, Roger Down
For Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens—the game’s most dominant hitter and pitcher, respectively, of the last 25 years—this was a week of legal contrasts that left one mostly relieved, the other incredulous.

In California, the Federal Government announced it would not retry Bonds for the three perjury charges that a jury failed to reach a verdict on, content that he’ll be sentenced in December for the one count he was declared guilty on: The obstruction of justice charge stemming from testimony during the 2003 BALCO grand jury hearing. Bonds’ lawyers plan to appeal that verdict to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile out east, a federal judge reluctantly agreed to a retrial of Clemens for alleged perjurious statements he made regarding his own steroid use. The first trial came to a very early and stunning end when Federal prosecutors stumbled out of the gate, introducing inadmissible evidence in their opening statement. Judge Reggie Walton grudgingly bought the Feds’ plea that the evidence in question was brought in by mistake and set a retrial for next April.

Fatigue over these trials has long since set in with the general public, much of whom believes that the Feds have bigger crooks to tackle than lying baseball players. (If only they had this kind of zeal going after the Wall Street criminals who ruined America’s economy three years ago.) Most people outside of the courtroom will likely care little for a second Clemens trial, and those who do will probably cast the former pitcher in a more sympathetic light as he gets hounded anew by determined government prosecutors.

The People's Republic of Chavez Ravine?
As baseball’s two troubled ex-stars dealt with varying degrees of news this past week, so it was with the game’s two most troubled franchises. In New York, the deal to infuse $200 million into the Mets fell through when the man with the money, hedge fund king Eddie Einhorn, pulled out because owner Fred Wilpon was unwilling to include an option for him to someday take ownership of the team.

And in Los Angeles, news of a possible savior for the Dodgers emerged with a $1.2 billion cash offer to embattled, bankrupt owner Frank McCourt. The frontman of this group is Bill Burke, founder of the Los Angeles Marathon—but the interesting aspect is that much of the financial muscle behind the offer comes from China. Major League Baseball is said to be skeptical of the offer, saying it could be a ruse to keep McCourt in charge of the Dodgers, while the Chinese connection worries some—with the Los Angeles TimesHarold Myserson writing that an actual sale to the group would make the Dodgers the “very symbol of the decline of American capitalism.” From Brooklyn to Los Angeles to…Mao?

Dial This
Cleveland prospect Trevor Crowe had his phone stolen and decided to fight back—not by going on a Death Wish-like hunt to find the phone and the guy who took it, but instead by giving out his number to the 8,200 people who follow him on Twitter, asking them to dial it up and drive the new owner crazy.

This Week's Challenger to Joe DiMaggio
As hot as Milwaukee has been of late, it’s therefore only natural that the Brewers’ Corey Hart ends this past week with the majors’ longest active hitting streak at 16 games. Hart is batting .368 with five homers during his run.

Now Playing at TGG
In our latest installment of the They Were There section, TGG's Ed Attanasio chats with the oldest living ex-major leaguer, 100-year old Connie Marrero—currently living in his native Cuba.

Now Replaying at TGG
In light of Jeter’s historic moment, TGG has revised and updated its Fun Facts About Your All-Time Hit Leaders, featuring a 22-question quiz to test your baseball knowledge on members of the 3,000-hit club as well as posers on all-time team leaders. Good luck!

A Day-by-Day Review of the Week:
Monday, August 29
Jose Reyes returns to action for the first time in three weeks and collects a single in four at-bats to lead the New York Mets to a 5-1 win and doubleheader sweep of the Florida Marlins at Citi Field. Reyes ends the evening two points ahead of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun for the lead in the NL batting race, at .336.

Tuesday, August 30
New York ace CC Sabathia finally wins his first game this season against Boston—and his 18th of the year overall—as the Yankees defeat the Red Sox at Fenway Park, 5-2. The game takes a slightly ugly turn in the seventh inning when Yankee catcher Franklin Cervelli, who earlier had celebrated a home run a bit too exuberantly at home plate for the Red Sox to appreciate, gets plunked in the back by John Lackey, precipitating a brief spat between the two teams. The New York win moves them to within a half game of the Red Sox for the AL East lead.

Roy Halladay pitches seven innings of two-hit shutout ball and clears the bases on a sixth-inning double to help the Philadelphia Phillies glide past the Reds at Cincinnati, 9-0. Halladay’s three RBIs give him nine for his entire career.

Wednesday, August 31
The surging Arizona Diamondbacks set a team record with their 12th straight win at home, finishing off a three-game sweep of the Colorado Rockies, 4-2. Miguel Montero’s three-run homer in the first inning sets the pace.

Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel earns the save in the Braves’ 3-1 win over Washington and breaks the major league rookie mark (set just last year by Texas’ Neftali Feliz) for the most saves by a first-year player at 41.

Former Oakland Athletic Jack Hannahan hits two home runs—the first the 3,000th ever hit at Cleveland’s Jacobs/Progressive Field, hosting its 1,400th major league game, and the second in the bottom of the 16th to give the Indians a 4-3 win over the A’s. Despite the loss, Oakland pitchers strike out 19 batters and, during one stretch through overtime, retire 24 straight Indian batters.

Thursday, September 1
Ervin Santana walks seven batters in 6.2 innings but still gets the win, as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim edge the Mariners at Seattle, 4-3 to remain 3.5 games back of Texas in the AL West. Santana entered the game having worked into the eighth inning in each of his last eight starts, walking a total of 13 batters over 72.1 innings during that stretch.

In the midst of a rough third inning, Kansas City starting pitcher Danny Duffy doesn’t make life any easier for him when he throws a wild pitch—during an intentional walk, moving the one runner on base (Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera) to third. The bizarre incident doesn’t hurt Duffy, as he strikes out Alex Avila to end the inning. The Royals go on to defeat the Tigers, 11-8.

Friday, September 2
The Philadelphia Phillies, owners of the majors’ best record this season, defeat the Marlins at Florida 5-3 and move to 42 games above .500 for the first time in their 129-year existence. At 88-46, the Phillies only need to go 12-16 the rest of the year to win 100 games for only the third time in franchise history (they won 101 in back-to-back seasons, 1976-77).

Yankee pitcher Ivan Nova wins his eighth straight start—and improves to 11-0 over his last 12 starts—in New York’s 3-2 win over Toronto at Yankee Stadium. The 24-year old rookie’s ERA during the latter stretch is 3.43, as the Yankees have averaged nearly eight runs a start during this time; his last loss was three months ago when the Angels defeated him on June 3, 3-2.

The Angels are routed by Minnesota at Anaheim, 13-5, as scheduled ace starter Jered Weaver is away attending the funeral of his grandfather. In his place, Tyler Chatwood gives up six runs on five hits and five walks in less than four innings. The loss drops the Angels 4.5 games back of the AL West-leading Rangers.

Saturday, September 3
Milwaukee back-up catcher Geogre Kottaras is the first major leaguer to hit for the cycle this season in the Brewers’ 8-2 win at Houston. Needing a double in his final at-bat, Kottaras drills a deep drive to the farthest reaches of center field and appears to be on his way to another triple—but the ball bounces over the fence for a ground-rule double, ensuring the cycle.

The Detroit Tigers deal a crippling blow to the Chicago White Sox’ fading postseason hopes by scoring five runs over the final three innings—the last three of them on two ninth-inning homers, the last of those a walk-off solo shot by Miguel Cabrera—to complete a 9-8 comeback win. The loss sends the White Sox 7.5 games back of the front-running Tigers with 26 games to play.

Washington pitcher Tom Milone, just called up to the majors for the first time, hits a home run on the first pitch of his first major league at-bat, a three-run shot off the Mets' Dillon Gee in the second inning. He is the eighth pitcher in major league history—and the first since St. Louis' Adam Wainwright in 2006—to homer on the first pitch he sees. The surprising blast is part of a bittersweet evening for Milone; he is removed from the mound in the fifth inning with the Nationals leading 5-4, two outs away from earning credit for the win. The Mets come back to take a slim lead, but the Nationals win it in the bottom of the ninth, 8-7.

Sunday, September 4
The defending champion San Francisco Giants are dealt a near-death blow at home by the Arizona Diamondbacks, losing 4-1 to the team that now owns the NL West lead by seven games over the Giants.

Robin O'Connor—or Robin Hood?
It was revealed this week that the San Francisco Giants fired Robin O'Connor, their payroll manager, for embezzling $1.5 million from fellow employees and team players. She was ratted out by Bank of America after it informed the Giants that she was attempting to purchase a home in the San Diego area from what she claimed was bonus payments given to her by the Giants for “assisting” in “accomplishing (the team’s) goal of winning the 2010 World Series.” We didn’t know that a payroll manager could be so crucial to a team’s championship performance on the field, but we do know this: If the employees O’Connor took wages from included Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada, then $1.5 million wasn’t enough.

Good Company
For the second time this season, Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies finished a month with at least five wins, no losses and an ERA under 1.00. Only two other pitchers have done the same: Walter Johnson in 1913 and Bob Gibson in his historic 1968 campaign.

Wounded of the Week
Florida star shortstop Hanley Ramirez called it a year this past week when he agreed to surgery on a left shoulder that has ailed him all year and led to, easily, his worst campaign to date. The career .306 hitter with power was hitting just .243 with ten homers in 92 games.

Overall, it was a quiet week for new enrollees onto the disabled list. Texas took a hit when it lost oft-injured outfielder Nelson Cruz for three weeks due to hamstring issues that have pestered him over the last two years. And in Cleveland, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo continues to have problems staying healthy, yet again admitted to the DL with pain in the oblique.

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!

The Comebacker’s Greatest Hits
Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2007 season.