Billy-Ball Daily: 2006-9-11

9/11/2006
Billy-Ball Daily
Bill Chuck (Billy-Ball his own self)

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The only spin here is on a curveball

Monday, September 11, 2006

Top of the 1st
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH THREE WEEKS TO GO
1. Do we care that Ryan Howard has 56 home runs?
Of all the individual things that people like Barry B*nds, Sammy S*sa, and Mark McLiar have done to the game, collectively baseball has taken the joy out of great home run season. Between steroids, bandbox ballparks, tightened baseballs, it is hard to get excited about Howard’s season.

Fans who have been repeatedly burnt are now cautious to embrace the sophomore slugger of the Phils and that’s not fair to him or his achievement. BS (Before Steroids) every Howard at bat would have been chronicled and analyzed. The glee we used to experience every time the ball flew into the stands is replaced with a cringe and almost embarrassment.

Don’t think it doesn’t affect Howard, “I know I’m not using steroids. This barrel right here is proof enough,” he told the Daily News while pointing to his paunchy stomach. “People are going to say what they want to say. I thought about it once, and then it was like, ‘Well, whatever.’ I’m not doing it. If they want to test me, they can test me.
“I just think it (stinks). The thing about it is … have proof. Otherwise, you can ruin people’s reputations.”

Welcome to the world of baseball profiling.

2. Will Joe Girardi win NL Manager of the Year and/or get fired?
The Marlins are a mere 2.5 games behind the Padres for the NL Wild Card spot. With all due respect to Willie Randolph, Girardi has led this team into contention with a team of youngsters whose total salary equals that of the loose change you might find in the seat cushions of the sofa in the Mets clubhouse.

Girardi has a personality that many people compare to the autocratic Buck Showalter and there are reports that this has chafed on many players. On the other hand, the first year manager has been teaching kindergarten with the Marlins this year. The question remains to be seen if he would adjust his style with a more veteran team, like the Cubs for example.

Annoying his players and suggesting strange moves (Girardi wanted to movie Miguel Cabrera to first and Dan Uggla to left) is not enough to get a manager fired, showing a public display of anger toward your boss is quite sufficient. You might recall in early August, Girardi, tired of owner Jeffrey Loria hollering at the umpires during the game, walked to the end of the dugout where the owner has a box and either told Loria to “shut up” or told the owner to “shut the —- up.” After the game, the Marlins players were told in the clubhouse that their manager was being relieved of his duties and Marlins media relations officials were readying a press conference room to announce the dismissal.

Girardi stayed, the Marlins remain in the race and we look forward to the other shoe to fall.

3. Will the Seattle Mariners catch the Texas Rangers for third in the AL West (and why does it matter)?
Seattle won the first two games of their weekend series with the Rangers and, even after a loss yesterday, the M’s are just four games behind third-place Texas in the American League West. There are 20 games left in Seattle’s season, and six of the last nine are against the Rangers. There is time for the Mariners to avoid last place and sink the Rangers.

Now finishing out of last for the wonderful people of Seattle would be a nice thing (they have rested in the cellar the last two seasons), the Rangers finishing fourth would probably enhance owner Tom Hick’s threat of “blowing up” his team, rather than fire Captain Queeg (a.k.a. manager Buck Showalter). Many teams would be very anxious to get their hands on Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira. SI.com reported that the Rangers already have offered Teixeira to his hometown Orioles for Miguel Tejada and Eric Bedard.

4. Can Joe Mauer hang on to win the batting crown?
It is still remarkable to think that Twins catcher is still leading the American League in hitting with a .350 batting average. The Yankees Derek Jeter, in the midst of a 20 game hitting streak is hitting .345. With the Yankees coasting toward the AL East title, Jeter has very little to do other than stay healthy and help the Yankees achieve the best record in the AL in order to gain home-field advantage through the playoffs. Yesterday’s win over the Orioles gave New York a record of 85-56 and moved them past teetering Detroit for the best record in the AL.

Mauer, on the other hand, has nothing but pressure. The Twins have the best record in the majors (57-26) since June 8, yet they are not assured of playing in October. Minnesota is in second place in the AL Central, two games (one in the loss column) behind the Tigers. They lead the AL Wild Card race by a game and a half (two in the loss column) over the White Sox.

So what does this mean for Mauer? Well for one thing, Mauer is not going to be getting a lot of good pitches to hit. Mauer has been intentionally walked 19 times, tying him with Rod Carew (1978) for third most in a season in Twins history. Harmon Killebrew leads with 23 in 1970. And, while Mauer is batting .444 over his past five games if his team needs him to hit a ground ball to an infielder to move the runner up, he’ll do it and get high-fives from his teammates. Jeter, who has never been a selfish ballplayer can simply go for hits and in the process may win both the batting title and the league MVP.

5. Can the Blue Jays catch the Red Sox?
File this question under the category “things that don’t matter” because it doesn’t really matter whether the BoSox or the BluJays finish second or third. Neither team is going to post-season. There are no bragging rights to be gained here. It is of interest to those fans who enjoy seeing teams that spend a lot of money finish out of the money, but I find it interesting for another reason.

While everyone is talking about the end of the Atlanta Brave streak of finishing first in the NL East (they have finished in the top slot for the last 257 years), their streak is a testimony to good upper management, good on field management, good players, and mediocre competition. It’s the streak in the AL East that I find so interesting, because it is such an anomaly.

In 1998, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays finished in last place and the Baltimore Orioles finished in fourth place. That year, the Blue Jays finished in third place and the Boston Red Sox finished in second place, 22 games behind the first place Yankees. While the number of games separating each team has varied, every year since that year the standings have been identical.

This year, the Yankees will once again finish first and the Devil Rays will finish last. The Orioles are mired in fourth place, so the only opportunity for a variation resides in the race for second place. Currently, the universe is in place with the Sox in second and the Jays in third. However, the lead is only two games and with the Sox playing out the schedule it will be interesting to see if the Jays make a drive for second.

Top of the 2nd
FREE AGENT WATCH
Jason Schmidt struck out 10 batters in seven innings of work in the Giants’ win Saturday over the Padres. It was his 27th game with 10 or more strikeouts since the start of the 2002 season. Only four pitchers have more 10-K games over that span: Randy Johnson (37), Johan Santana (31), Pedro Martinez (30) and Curt Schilling (29). The Righty is a free agent following this season

Top of the 3rd
FREE AGENT WATCH
Greg Maddux made his 30th start of the season in the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss ON Saturday to the Mets. It’s the 17th time that Maddux has made at least 30 starts, tying him with Steve Carlton and Gaylord Perry for the fifth-most such seasons in major league history, behind Don Sutton (20) Cy Young (19), Warren Spahn (18) and Phil Niekro (18).

Top of the 4th
GOT A WOODIE?
Jason Wood had a pinch-hit single in the Marlins’ win over the Phillies on Saturday, his first hit in the major leagues since Oct. 1, 1999. Wood’s span of six years, 343 days between hits is the longest by any non-pitcher since Warren Cromartie went seven years, 208 days between hits from 1983-91 (Cromartie played baseball in Japan from 1984-90).

Top of the 5th
HERE’S ONE I MISSED
On July 25, 1930, Pete Jablonowski is on the mound for the Indians pitcher facing the Philadelphia Athletics. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote that Jablonowski had “a leisurely delivery” enough so that Al Simmons stole home in the 1st inning with the bases loaded and Jimmy Dykes batting. “Dib” Williams and Bing Miller stole second and third to complete the triple steal.

By the 4th inning, Jablonowski was long gone and Milt Shoffner was on the mound with the bases full and Bing Miller at the plate. This time Mickey Cochrane stole home while Simmons and Jimmy Foxx stole third and second, respectively. The Athletics won, 14-1, on the six-hit pitching of “Lefty” Grove and the two triple steals are still a baseball record.

Top of the 6th
JAVA A BAD DAY
The Boston Red Sox released catcher Javy Lopez, with manager Terry Francona saying it was a matter of not having “enough at-bats for him.” The Red Sox acquired Lopez on Aug. 4 from the Baltimore Orioles, for a player to be named (MOST LIKELY Adam Stern), to fill in for Jason Varitek, who missed August with a knee injury. Varitek was activated last Sunday, and Lopez hasn’t played since.

Manager Joe Maddon called Travis Lee “one of the finest first basemen I’ve ever seen,” minutes after the Rays released the 10-year veteran. “We just felt there was no playing time left for him here and thought we’d give him an opportunity to catch on with somebody else possibly these last couple of weeks, maybe a contender looking for a first baseman,” Maddon said.

In 43 games after the All-Star break, Lee batted .264 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs. Overall, he hit .224 with 11 homers and 31 RBIs. Last season he hit .272 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs. He leaves as the top fielding 1B in the majors with a .998 percentage (two errors) this year and is the big leagues’ all-time career fielding percentage leader (.997) among first basemen with 750 or more games played.

Top of the 7th
AL CY YOUNG AWARD GOES TO…
Johan Santana. End of discussion.

His victory over the Tigers yesterday raised his record to 31-2 over the past four seasons during August, September and October. Not only that, Santana has won his past 15 decisions at the Metrodome. Since Frank Viola won 19 straight regular-season decisions there from 1987-88, only four other pitchers have posted home winning streaks of at least 15 games: Tommy Greene (15, 1991-94), Randy Johnson (16, 1995-97), Kenny Rogers (19, 1997-2000) and Barry Zito (16, 2001-02).

The Twins have won 22 straight home games started by Santana (the longest such streak for any team during the modern era in home games started by a particular pitcher). During that streak (since Aug. 6, 2005), Minnesota is 40-34 at the Metrodome in games started by pitchers other than Santana.

Top of the 8th
DID YOU KNOW?
Five of the 26 players with 3,000 career hits never fashioned a single-season hitting streak of at least 20 games (Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken, Robin Yount, Cap Anson and Rickey Henderson).

Top of the 9th
LET’S NOT FORGET
Major league baseball postponed games for one week after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Several weeks later, a New York City firefighter discovered a baseball in the ruins of the World Trade Center.

Bottom of the 9th
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Information provided in Billy-Ball has been gathered from A.P. reports, espn.com, sportsline.com, mlb.com and numerous other e-sources. Opinions expressed in Billy-Ball are obviously solely the opinions of the author of Billy-Ball and do not reflect those of source material no matter how off the wall they may be.