Friday, July 31, 2009

More Fallout From Manny and Papi

Stop. Everybody stop.

I'm tired of hearing fans and even some members of the media say that the revelations about David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in yesterday's New York Times somehow taint the Red Sox World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.

The Red Sox won the World Series in those years with at least two players (you and I both know it was more than just those two) who used performance enhancing drugs. Guess what? So did the 2008 Phillies, the 2006 Cardinals, 2005 White Sox, 2003 and 1997 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2001 Diamondbacks, 2000, 1999, 1998 and 1996 Yankees, and 1995 Braves.

Every team over the last decade and a half had many, many players who used PEDs. And while the Red Sox won the title in 2004 and 2007, the awful Pirates of the same years also had multiple players using PEDs.

If you read the Mitchell Report, (and I've read all 409 pages because I'm a LOSER), what you will find are players from each and every team, from every year from the mid 1990s to now. So when the Yankees were great, they had guys on the juice. And when the Rays were terrible and were getting pounded by those Yankee teams, they had guys on the juice too.

Steroids have altered the validity of individual records, but team accomplishments all took place on a level (tainted) playing field. Because of this, while individual players and reputations may be sullied, each team's win/loss record and achievements rest just out of reach of the stain of steroids.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reaction to Big Papi

I'd encourage any baseball fan to read this article about today's revelation that David Ortiz was one of 104 players to fail a survey drug test in 2003. It is written by columnist Howard Bryant, formerly of the Boston Globe, and in my estimation the best, most nuanced, most connected and informed baseball journalist on the topic of steroids in the majors. Read the article, and anything else you can find by Bryant. Whether it has to do with steroids or not. I recommend him because he's really good, and because he's one of my favorite baseball writers.

Thursday's Notes

-I'm pretty proud of myself. Yesterday I predicted that the sorry, no account Pirates would trade Freddy Sanchez by the trade deadline. And then, before the end of the day, the sorry, no account Pirates did just that, sending Sanchez to the Giants for pitching prospect Tim Alderson. Alderson is apparently pretty highly regarded, but when is it ever going to be 'next year' for the Bucs?

-I'm also pretty proud of Matt Garza of the Rays. Garza flat-out admitted that he nailed Mark Teixiera on purpose with a pitch in the fifth inning of last night's game against the Yankees. I'm not trying to advocate pitchers throwing at guys, or head hunting, or anything like that. But after Yankee starter Joba Chamberlain threw one a bit too close to the dome of star third baseman Evan Longoria, Garza had had enough.

"They can take whatever they want from it from it, but I just kind of got tired of people brushing him (Longoria) back. It's about time someone made a statement," Garza said, noting that Longoria was hit by a pitch in the opener of the three-game series on Monday night.
"I hate to be that guy, but someone had to take a stand and say we're tired of it," the right-hander added. "You can go after our best guy. Well, we'll make some noise, too, and that's what happened."

Good for him. Actions like that go a long way towards earning the respect of your teammates. Think after that, Longoria doesn't want to jump into the stands, slide headlong into the dugout, or dive all out after a grounder to help Garza get outs?

-Now David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are the latest to reportedly have failed a drug test in 2003. The more this stuff comes out in drips and drabs, the more I'm convinced that the Commissioner's Office, in concert with the MLBPA, needs to release the full list. Every time a new name comes out, the whole issue gets dragged up again. We'll never know the full extent of the issue, or everyone that did it, but releasing the list would kill some of the media momentum the story could gather.

-If you're keeping track at home, players reportedly on the list are Jason Grimsley, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, David Segui and Sammy Sosa. Not exactly a bunch of scrubs.

-More names are going to come out, and this leaky fawcet won't stop anytime soon. Too many people have seen too many names on that list to expect it to remain a secret.

-The Phillies were happy about the acquisition of Cliff Lee, I'm sure. Maybe too happy. They stunk against Yusmeiro Petit in a 4-0 loss to the Diamondbacks last night. Tough to complain about how they've been playing lately. But they really stunk against Petit. Did I mention they stunk? They stunk.

-The Phillies now have way too many starting pitchers. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, Pedro Martinez, J.A. Happ, Rodrigo Lopez, Jamie Moyer. That's seven. Lopez is headed back to AAA soon, so he's out. Then who? Happ has been great as a starter, but has also shown the versatility to be effective out of the bullpen, so he might end up getting hurt by the fact that he can do both. Martinez has some relief incentives built into his contract, and may actually be more effective pitching in short bursts than in the long outings he'd have to make as a starter. One thing I will predict right now... Jamie Moyer will not be on the Phillies playoff roster.

-Saturday in San Francisco could now be a Tim Lincecum-Cliff Lee matchup. That would be awesome.

-The Mets continue to show why they're the greatest thing ever. First, VP for player development Tony Bernazard challenges an entire AA team to a fight during a post-game tirade. Then last week, during a press conference to announce Bernazard's firing, Omar Minaya accuses a beat reporter of writing stories about Bernazard in an attempt to grab a front office job with the team. Combining a bad team (that has played well lately) with a couple of late-season chokes, a fired manager, and now these kinds of PR hits, Minaya's time as Mets GM is probably dwindling. Which, as a Phillies fan, is kind of like hearing that the Cowboys are about to fire Wade Phillips. You'd prefer someone who does their job so poorly for a team you hate stays in that spot for quite awhile.

-Early trade deadline winners: Phillies for solidifying their rotation with Lee, Cardinals for getting Matt Holliday as protection for Albert Pujols, A's for getting a very good prospect (Brett Wallace) for Holliday.

-Early trade deadline losers: Blue Jays for completely overplaying their hand in the Roy Halladay negotiations, Indians for only getting an 18-year old and three prospects the Phillies had cooled on for Lee, the Pirates for trading away the only players anyone has ever heard of.

-I'll make a few more quick trade deadline predictions: Adrian Gonzalez goes to the Red Sox, Halladay stays put, Anaheim does nothing, the Pirates trade at least one more decent player, Ed Wade acquires an average middle reliever for the Astros, and a major name gets moved during the waiver period of August 1st-31st.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Phillies Acquire Cliff Lee

After weeks of speculation, haggling and negotiating, the Phillies acquired the stud front of the rotation starter they've been looking for on Wednesday afternoon, acquiring 2008 AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from Cleveland for four minor leaguers.

Lee comes to Philadelphia with outfielder Ben Francisco for minor league pitchers Jason Knapp and Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, and catcher Lou Marson.

The Phillies apparently set their sights on Lee after Toronto's asking price for Roy Halladay proved to be too high.

The big winner in this mix? Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, who addressed his team's biggest need without losing any of the top four players (Kyle Drabek, Dominic Brown, Michael Taylor, JA Happ) who had been discussed in a deal for Halladay. Amaro was also able to address another need in adding a right-handed bat for the bench in Francisco, as Eric Bruntlett is versatile defensively but can't hit, and John Mayberry Jr. doesn't make enough consistent contact to stick in the bigs at this point.

Ever since Brett Myers went down with a hip injury in early June, the Phillies' need for a front of the rotation starter was evident to everyone who was paying attention. Already a formidable team in the National League, Philadelphia has now positioned itself with as good a chance as any team in recent years to repeat as World Series champions. Lee has a 7-9 record with a 3.14 ERA for a bad Indians team in 2009 after going 21-3 with a 2.54 ERA in winning the Cy Young last year for a Tribe squad that wasn't much better than this year's edition.

Lee steps in behind Cole Hamels to solidify the Phils rotation and start game two of each playoff series. He is signed through 2010 at a very market friendly $9 million before hitting free agency, and giving the Phillies at least two Octobers with Lee on board during which they will try to raise up another World Series trophy.

The move is significant in that it keeps the best of the Phillies minor league prospects in their system. While I am a firm believer that we never know what minor leaguers will do until they prove they can do it in the majors, it is a victory for Amaro and the Phillies to be able to hold onto the pieces seen throughout baseball as the bluest of blue chips, whether to help the big club on the field, or to be used as trade bait in another deal.

The curious aspect of this deal is from Cleveland's end. The Indians seemingly traded a Cy Young caliber lefthanded starting pitcher with a year and a half remaining on his contract (Lee) for a lower return than they received for a Cy Young caliber lefthanded starting pitcher with half a year remaining on his contract (C.C. Sabathia) around this time last season.

In 2008, with Sabathia staring at free agency and clearly not returing, the Indians managed to scare up Matt LaPorta, one of the better hitting prospects in the Milwaukee system, along with two other minor leaguers for a two-month rental of Sabathia.

For Lee, Cleveland received four prospects. Let's look at each...

-Jason Knapp, RHP, 18 years old- Knapp is seen as the centerpiece of this deal from Cleveland's perspective. The Phillies second round pick in the 2008 draft is a 6-5, 235 pound starter who has drawn comparisons to Josh Johnson. Knapp's fastball consistently reaches 98 mph, and he has struck out 111 batters in 85.1 innings at Low A Lakewood. Some scouts believe Knapp has a higher upside than the Phils' organizational gem, Drabek. Knapp's record of 2-7 and ERA of 4.01 aren't impressive, and an 18-year old that throws that hard is likely to be more of a 'thrower' than a 'pitcher.' He has been shut down of late because of 'shoulder fatigue', but has no discernable injury history. Pitching at Lakewood, Knapp is probably at least three years from the Majors, and as such, was not as painful for the Phillies to give up. How Knapp matures moving forward will likely make or break this deal for the Indians.

-Carlos Carrasco, RHP, 22 years old- Carrasco was once seen as the Phillies best minor league pitcher, but even during that time period, there was speculation that the Phillies saw him much more highly than other teams did. In 2009, he is 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA at AAA Lehigh Valley. The only 2009 statistic of his that stands out positively is his strikeout total of 112 in 114.2 innings. Another of Carrasco's problems appears to be maturity on the mound. He likely projects as a number three or four starter.

-Jason Donald, INF, 24 years old- In 2008 Donald emerged as potentially the Phillies' best position player prospect, appearing in the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium and participating in the 2008 Olympics for the United States team. With Chase Utley expected to miss the start of the regular season following hip surgery, there was talk that Donald would open the season playing second base for the big club. As we all know, Utley didn't miss any time, and Donald has spent the whole season in the minors. Donald has dealt with injuries and has just flat out struggled at AAA Lehigh Valley this season, hitting only .236. Most talk in the Philadelphia area has downgraded the expectations on Donald from a solid everyday player to a utility-type who backs up multiple infield positions.

-Lou Marson, C, 23 years old- Marson is the only player headed to the Indians who has appeared in the Major Leagues. He made his debut in late 2008, and hit a home run for the Phils in their meaningless final game of the regular season. Marson has also appeared in seven games for the Phillies this season during a stretch when Carlos Ruiz was injured. Like Donald and Carrasco, Marson's stock has cooled a bit after looking like an untouchable last year. Part of the reason for his availability is the emergence of Ruiz as a solid, everyday catcher. At age 30 and in his third major league season, Ruiz appears primed to be the Phils everyday catcher for the foreseeable future. Marson, who like Donald was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, is an obviously attractive trade candidate because of the dearth of good catching available. Marson is also particularly attractive to Cleveland if they really are intent upon moving Victor Martinez. Marson will likely develop into a solid everyday catcher, which makes his acquisition well worthwhile to the Tribe. He is also most likely to help the major league club right away.

Cleveland sacrificed the high, high level prospects that had been rumored to be included in a deal for Halladay and received quantity and major league readiness in return. Marson, Donald and Carrasco all project to help the Indians in 2010, while Knapp, probably won't reach the majors until 2012 at the earliest.

The Phillies got what they wanted and now appear set to make a run at another title in 2009 and 2010. Cleveland got quantity for Lee in an attempt to rebuild and become competitive again. How each team ultimately scores this deal will depend upon the development of four young men in Cleveland, and the outcome of the next two Octobers in Philadelphia.

Quick Pitches...

-Mark Buehrle had a pretty decent week. Perfect game, followed by six perfect innings last night against the Twins. Would have been better if he hadn't lost the Twins game.

-DeWayne Wise probably earned himself a nice, nice watch from one M. Buehrle. What a catch.

-Randy Johnson going on the 60-day DL is a blow to the Giants, but I have a sneaking suspicion that pitching won't be their problem. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, combined with a rejuvenated Barry Zito and the no-hit kid Jonathan Sanchez give the Giants a formidable rotation, but it's the offense that could keep them out of the postseason. Picking up Ryan Garko helps, but he's not a difference maker. I'd expect the Giants to go after another bat (Dan Uggla?) before the deadline.

-The Pirates traded Adam LaRoche to the Red Sox last week in a continuing effort to kill baseball in Pittsburgh. The linked article states that Pittsburgh has traded five position players since last July. Why do they even bother fielding a team? I'll step out and predict they trade Freddie Sanchez by the deadline too.

-Speaking of Tim Lincecum and the Pirates, how bout him striking out 15 in his start against the Buccos on Monday night? Yes, the Pirates stink, but 15 strikeouts is 15 strikeouts. He does need to trim that hair a little bit though. Must see matchup this Saturday as 'The Freak' pitches against the mighty Phillies lineup, with Howard, Utley, Rollins and the rest. The home park is obviously friendly to pitchers against a home run hitting lineup like the Phils have, but it should be an interesting clash of a great pitcher and a great offense regardless.

-Wait, Pittsburgh just traded Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners. What a disgrace. I don't even care about the Pirates, but it makes me mad to see a team not even try.

-Alfonso Soriano looked like a clown on his trip around the bases following a 13th-inning game-winning grand slam Monday night. Besides 72 gesticulations, the trot took an hour and a half. Slight hyperbole on both counts. But only slight.

-For all you trade deadline people that aren't as in tune as you think you are, let's practice this... Matt HOLL-IDAY (said like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving) is a right-handed hitting leftfielder who was with the A's and just got traded to the Cardinals... Roy H-AL-LA-DAY (said with 'Al' after the 'h' sound) is a righthanded starting pitcher for the Blue Jays. Ok, now that that's settled.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Take Care This Trade Deadline... (Part II)

Ahh, but 'caveat emptor' has a lesser known cousin, especially in terms of baseball's trading deadline.

'Caveat venditor.'

Seller beware.

Just because you have a stud pitcher or a game-changing middle of the lineup hitter to trade does not guarantee that you will do so successfully. Oh, you'll be able to move your player, but while you think you're getting a huge return (like Cleveland for Bartolo Colon), you're actually getting close to nothing. Shall we take a look at a few examples?

-July 18, 1993- San Diego trades first baseman Fred McGriff to Atlanta for Donnie Elliott, Melvin Nieves and Vince Moore. In what may be the original in-season fire sale, the Padres shipped the Crime Dog east for three minor leaguers. McGriff ignited an Atlanta team that went 51-18 down the stretch to take first place from the Giants on the last day of the regular season. He went on to play for more years for the Braves, hitting 130 home runs and helping the Braves to two more World Series. On San Diego's end, Moore never played in the Majors, Elliot appeared in 31 games over two years and Nieves hit .207 over three years with the Padres. Yuck.

-July 31st, 1997- Oakland trades first baseman Mark McGwire to St. Louis for Eric Ludwick, T.J. Matthews and Blake Stein. Whatever the source of the power, Mark McGwire was one of the best home run hitter the game of baseball has ever seen. So with the A's languishing and McGwire threatening to make a run at Roger Maris' single-season home run record (he would break it the next year), Oakland unloaded the gigantic first baseman to the midwest. While St. Louis never advanced to a World Series with McGwire, the buzz and interest he created for them during his tenure is almost unprecedented. During his five seasons in the Gateway to the West, Big Mac hit 220 home runs, including single season totals of 58 (split season), 70 and 65. Meanwhile, Ludwick complied an 8.35 ERA in 31 career games, Stein went 5-9 with a 6.60 ERA for Oakland, and of Matthews' 32 career victories, eight came with the Cardinals anyway. In a fun bit of irony, Ludwick's younger brother, Ryan, has become a St. Louis fan favorite as an outfielder for the Cardinals since arriving before the 2007 season.

-July 26th, 2000- The Philadelphia Phillies trade pitcher Curt Schilling to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Travis Lee, Vicente Padilla, Nelson Figueroa and Omar Daal. In exchange for the pre-eminent postseason pitcher of this generation, the Phillies received what was recently described by a friend of mine as "a poo-poo platter." In what my opinion is the most lopsided of these deals, Schilling left Philadelphia, ego, blogging skills, mouth and right arm in tow, and went on to win 103 games and two World Series in Arizona and Boston, not to mention a 10-1 record in the playoffs and a Co-MVP Award in the 2001 Series. The Phillies haul consisted of a guy who had five up and down years before being given away for a box of baseballs (Padilla), a guy that almost lost 20 games (Daal) and two guys that stink (Lee and Figueroa). The Phils GM at the time, Ed Wade, is now working his magic in Houston.

So it's not just the teams looking to add that pay a dear price at the trading deadline. The sellers can get ripped off just as easily. So keep that in mind as Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Chad Qualls, Jarrod Washburn et al are discussed this trading season. And when you're thinking about Kyle Drabek or Clayton Kershaw or Brandon Wood, that the likes of Blake Stein and Donnie Elliott were once untouchable, can't miss prospects too.

Should be fun. 4 pm on July 31st will be here before we know. Like Christmas in July for baseball nerds.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Take Care This Trade Deadline...(Part I)

Caveat emptor.

Buyer beware.

Each year around this time, contending teams line up around the teams that are playing out the string, set their sights, and seek to pull and pluck whatever piece seems like it would fit best for their own drive towards the playoffs. Think car thieves in a chop shop.

However, just like chop shop patrons, picking up a part or two you want can come with a heavy price. While no general manager or team executive is likely to be prosecuted making a poor decision at the deadline, the pulic shame and scorn could be on the same level.

Because even more likely than a team picking up an extra middle infielder that makes a game-saving play, at least one team will pay dearly for it's decisions at the deadline.

Some will pay right away, such as the GM that decides his starting rotation is fine with Oliver Perez as the number two, who will then miserably watch game after game when his team is behind 3-0 in the first.

Much worse, however, is the GM that overpays for a player that may help his team for two months, and five years later we figure out that said GM gave away a star. Need examples? I've got 'em...

-August 12, 1987- The Tigers, in a three-way race for first in the AL East, acquire 36 year old pitcher Doyle Alexander from the Atlanta Braves for a 20-year old AA pitcher named John Smoltz. Alexander went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA for the Tigers down the stretch, helping them win the AL East before losing to Minnesota in the LCS, making the deal look like a steal for Detroit. Alexander then posted back-to-back 4.30 and higher ERA seasons before retiring after the '89 season, while Smoltz became an anchor for the Atlanta squad that won its division every year from 1991-2005.
Short term edge: Tigers. Alexander was great and Detroit made the playoffs.
Long term edge: Atlanta. Smoltz is headed to Cooperstown with 210 wins and 154 saves in a Braves uniform. And 1996 NL Cy Young winner. And 1992 NLCS MVP. And eight-time All-Star.
One more jab at the losers: While Smoltz was pitching his way to Cooperstown and the Braves to five World Series in the '90s, who was Detroit's best pitcher? Did they even have one decent starting pitcher there for more than a year or two? Mike Henneman? Walt Terrell? David Wells had a few nice years there, but he still wasn't David Wells. And even italicized David Wells isn't a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher.

-August 30th, 1990- Boston acquires relief pitcher Larry Andersen from Houston for minor league third baseman Jeff Bagwell. Oops. Uh oh. Yikes. However you want to articulate this one, it works. Easily the worst of the deals on this list. LA is a nice man, a fine broadcaster, and everything else. But Jeff Bagwell is the best player in Astros history, and LA was a nice 7th inning type reliever, but nothing more. LA actually did fine for the Red Sox in '90, posting a 1.23 ERA in 15 games after the trade. Then he signed with the Padres in the off-season, but the Astros got to keep Bagwell. Bagwell was the NL Rookie of the Year in 1991, then went on to hit .297 with 449 HR and over 1500 RBI in his 15-year career, all of it with Houston. LA, again a nice man, went to the World Series in 1993 as a member of the Phillies, retired after the 1994 season, spent a little time as a pitching coach in the Phils system, and moved into the Phils broadcast booth in 1998, where he remains. Really, LA is a nice man.
Short term edge: Boston. "We're in the playoffs... who's that Bagwell kid anyway?"
Long term edge: Houston. LA is a nice man. Just let it go at that.
One more jab at the losers: Another example of why an 86-year World Series title drought has more to do with bad management than with Curses from the Bambino.

-July 31st, 1998- Houston acquires Randy Johnson from the Mariners for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama. The Big Unit pitches lights out for the Astros, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and four complete games in 11 starts. However, the Astros were bounced from the playoffs in the first round for the third consecutive season, followed by Johnson leaving in the off-season for Arizona via free agency, where he helped win a World Series in 2001. The trio of Garcia, Guillen and Halama was integral in helping the Mariners win an ML record 116 games in 2001.
Short term edge: Houston. Johnson was lights-out as the Astros coasted to the NL Central crown by 12.5 games. Even Seattle player griped that they got hosed in the Johnson deal
Long term edge: Seattle. In successive years, the Mariners got rid of Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, and won more games each time. What? While they never even got to the World Series, their consistent run to the playoffs and ability to re-stock after unloading some of the games best was impressive.
One more jab at the losers: Houston probably wins the division easily without Johnson. And when you win your division by 12.5 games, you're supposed to do better than lose the first round of the playoffs 3-1. Johnson walking away in free agency after the playoff debacle is insult enough.

-June 27th, 2002- Montreal acquires RHP Bartolo Colon from the Indians with Tim Drew in exchange for Lee Stevens, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee. In a sign that the fresh off the contraction table Expos were going for it, Montreal sent Lee Stevens and three unknowns to Cleveland for ace Colon. Colon pitched admirably, going 10-4 with a 3.31 ERA in 17 starts for the Expos... who finished NINETEEN games out of the money. NINETEEN. Lee Stevens was a guy, but Sizemore, Phillips and Lee have turned into stars, with Lee bringing home AL Cy Young honors in 2008.
Short term edge: Indians. They unloaded $5 million in salary, re-stocked their farm system and only finished 1.5 games further out than Montreal.
Long term edge: Indians. Seven years later Lee and Sizemore are still the Tribe's best pitcher and position player, respectively. Colon was dealt to the White Sox for a bundle of slop before the '03 season.
One more jab at the losers: Anybody remember who the GM was that made that deal? That would be one Omar Minaya, currently the GM of the Mets. Ha.

So have fun out there, GMs. But be careful...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday's Thoughts

-The Phillies are now 36-8 when Jimmy Rollins scores a run this year. I think I've made my point about his importance to the Phightins.

-Philadelphia is just on a roll right now where they are the hammer, and whoever they play is the nail. It's fun to be on this side of that equation, after so many years on the other.

-Orel Hershiser is a great analyst. I learn something or think of something new each time I hear him. In a rare non-blackout on ESPN for a local game, Dan Shulman, Steve Phillips and Hershiser broadcast the Phils-Cubs game in my house in a break from the local guys. It's not surprising Hershiser is so good, especially since 'The Bulldog' was one of the most savvy and well-prepared pitchers of his era. One point I especially found interesting was his comment on a pitcher going from the NL to the AL... everyone knows that you have the pitcher's spot in the NL, which is a bit of a break, but Hershiser pointed out that since the pitcher stinks at the plate (my words, not his), you don't have to worry as much about throwing good strikes to the eight-hole hitter, because if you walk him, whatever. Orel also articulated what a lineup with a ton of power in it (such as the Phillies) does to a starting pitcher both physically and mentally. Very interesting.

-One misstep for Orel, which was actually quite funny, was his describing Phils starter Rodrigo Lopez as just like Greg Maddux, except with lower velocity, lesser command and not as good breaking pitches. Shulman and Phillips summarily got on his case about it. Good times.

-Watching the Cubs last night was a bit painful. They just looked sloppy and disinterested once the Phils got up by a few runs. Alfonso Soriano dropping that ball on the warning track in left was just laziness, nothing else.

-I can't take much more of Dan Uggla. He's so clearly a one-tool guy, and that tool is power. He's hitting .227, strikes out in 25% of his at-bats, and he's brutal at second base. To top that off, he shows no ability to adjust at the plate or have a plan, he's just thinking long ball on every single pitch. He has more home runs than doubles for crying out loud. Playing home games in that stadium (whatever it's called today), with huge alleys for doubles, you can't have more homers and two-baggers. I hate players like him. As a baseball degenerate, I can't take it.

-Interesting article about who may be the best and worst bargain on the trade market. I'd agree that Nick Johnson is a good player that can help a team, especially one drawing dead at first base like the Rangers are. He's not an All-Star, and it seems Johnson is always on the trade market, so I'll believe he's going somewhere when an announcement is made. No way Jarrod Washburn is the worst bargain to be had. He's a starting pitcher, he's lefthanded and he can give you some innings. He's not a game two starter in the playoffs, but he can help you get there. This season, like always, there will be someone who drastically overpays for a modest middle reliever, so I hold that in reserve as the worst bargain at the deadline each and every year. Maybe the most interesting thing from that article is that Ranger first basemen are getting on base at a .275 clip. Wow. I know Chris Davis can swing and miss at a small island, but a .275 OBP is appalling.

-Todd Zolecki of is reporting that Brett Myers could return to the Phillies by the end of the August in a relief role. Myers would be a welcome addition to an already strong pen. As the saying goes, you never can have too much pitching.

-The A's trailed the Twins 12-2 last night and then came back to win 14-13. (Beat that, soccer). The Twins built a 12-2 lead heading into the bottom of the third inning, in which Oakland scored three times to make it 12-5. With the Twins leading 13-9 in the seventh, Matt Holiday (finally having a good game) connected for his second home run of the night, a grand slam to tie the game. Jack Cust followed with another round-tripper to put the A's in front 14-13. The Twins looked poised to tie the game with Michael Cuddyer on third with two outs in the 9th. When A's reliever Michael Wuertz uncorked a wild pitch, Cuddyer headed for home but was tagged out at the plate by Wuertz to end the ballgame. Well, actually, Cuddyer was probably safe, but oh well. I don't want to hear any whining from a team that gave up a 10-run lead.

-On the flip side of that, Oakland starter Gio Gonzalez gave up 11 earned runs and got a no decision. There's such a thing a vulturing a win, and I don't know what not getting a loss is when you stink, but that was it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Newsy Notes

-Jimmy Rollins has a .484 on-base percentage since July 3rd. The Phillies are 12-1 over that stretch. As I said a few weeks ago, when Rollins gets on base and scores runs, the Phillies win. Simple as that.

-The Nationals recently fired Manny Acta after two and a half years. Acta posted a record of 158-252, for a winning percentage of .385. He was replaced by Jim Riggleman, who has a .443 career winning percentage in 10 seasons as a manager, on an interim basis. Let's face it though: no manager could help the Nationals right now. They're just a bad baseball team on many levels. Manny Acta may turn out to be a great manager (see: Terry Francona with the Phillies and then Red Sox), but as Philadelphia sports writer Dick Jerardi said of Francona's time in Philadelphia after he won his first World Series with Boston, "You can be the greatest jockey in the world, but if you've got a horse that can't run, it doesn't matter." Same thing applies to Acta.

-It is not a good sign that the Nats have yet to talk to No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg.

-In a classic my-problem-for-your-problem move, the Mets and Braves swapped disappointing outfielders with Ryan Church going to Atlanta in exchange for Jeff Francouer. Has anyone's star fallen further than Francouer? He burst onto the baseball scene in 2005, even appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the heading 'The Natural.' He then struggled, was demoted to the minors in 2008 and finally had to be moved, despite being popular with the hometown fans because of his local upbringing. To watch Francouer, everyone knows he's a first-pitch hacker and that he can't touch a breaking ball. That's nothing new though. Now his front hip flies open and his butt falls out, meaning he can't cover the outter half and can't drive the ball anywhere. Just a mechanical mess all over.

-I'd expect Church to benefit from the steady influences on the Braves and be a solid, yet unspectacular contributor.

-It's turning out to be 'just one of those years' for the Mets, the type where anything and everything that can go wrong does. Injuries are a significant factor, true, but the expectations and the payroll for that team are far too high for 'just one of those years' to cut it. With the ownership a bit hamstrung by big losses in the Bernard Madoff scam, and a lack of viable prospects in the pipeline, it's hard to envision things getting much better for the Mets anytime soon.

-Matt Holiday picked a bad time to have a down year at the plate. The free agent to be has gone throught awful power slumps (going a month without a home run) and continues to struggle outside the friendly confines of Coors Field. I don't think he's a thin air wonder, though, and I'd wouldn't be surprised at all if he signed a one-year deal somewhere (Mets? Cardinals? Angels?) with a decent team in an effort to put up better numbers and then cash in after the 2010 season. Coors Field or not, he's too good a player to be having a season like this.

-I don't know if Sunday was Roy Halladay's last start with the Blue Jays, but everyone there sure acted like it was.

-Pirates middle infielders Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson both said no to the Bucs overtures towards signing them up to long-term extensions. Can you blame them? Pittsburgh is a disaster of an organization, and a clear sign that two of their better players are looking to leave doesn't inspire the dozens of Pirate fans that remain. Sad really.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The 2009 Mid-Summer Classic

The MLB All-Star Game is the best in pro sports.

In my opinion, it's really not even that much of an argument. The Pro Bowl is terrible, so get rid of that right away. The NBA and NHL All Star games are fun, but there is no semblence of defense whatsoever in either one. The two biggest reasons that the MLB game is the best are that it is the only All Star gathering that plays like a real game, and that you get to see outstanding pitchers face stacked lineups, with every pitcher and every hitter looking to make thier best pitches and get in their best hacks..

Some thoughts from the 2009 All-Star Game last night in St. Louis...

- Good to see a few good guys that have been good players for a long time get thier due and make an All Star team. Raul Ibanez, 37, started in left field for the NL, while 42 year old Tim Wakefield made his first All Star team after making his ML debut in July of 1992.

-The Mets apparently asked Charlie Manuel not to use Johan Santana. He didn't. But, if I was Charlie, I would've been tempted to say something like "Well, MY team might actually be in the World Series this year, so I'm going to try to win. If you don't like it, YOU can win the NL Pennant, and then YOU can play or not play whoever you want." Since it's Charlie, just throw in a few "you know, likes" in there. But come on, don't use Santana? I've got no time for that request, especially after Clint Hurdle warmed up Brad Lidge 47 times in last year's All Star Game.

- Fox should be embarrassed about that pre-game show. Are you kidding me? For an exhibition? Come on the air at 8, first pitch not until just before 9. Awful.

- Nice effort out of President Obama on the first pitch last night. He got up on the mound and didn't bounce the pitch to Albert Pujols. Good things indeed. Interestingly enough, the last two Democratic Presidents we've had are leftys. George W. Bush was a righty. Coincidence? Probably.

- Loved the All-Star matchup of Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay. Several other representitives from my man crush list were there last night too, including Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Josh Hamilton, Adam Jones, Hanley Ramirez, Curtis Granderson and probably a few others I'm forgetting.

- Now that Lincecum has started an All-Star game for the NL, he can move on to other goals in life, such as having to shave, getting his driver's license and being able to buy his own tickets to rated 'R' movies. If he looked a day over 16 out there, I'm Santa Claus. In all seriousness, Tom Verducci wrote an interesting piece the other day about how young starting pitchers are rising in prominence throughout the majors.

- Zach Greinke is filthy. Dirty breaking stuff to David Wright and Shane Victorino. Good for him. Greinke has battled back from a well-chronicled bout with Social Anxiety Disorder in 2006, and if he pitched for any team other than the Royals, would be on the same level as Tim Lincecum in terms of notariety and exploding superstardom. And not giving up an earned run in April helps too.

- Carl Crawford made a great catch to save the game for the AL last night, but that's an awfully soft MVP award.

- Jonathan Papelbon gave up two rockets for outs, then struck out Jayson Werth, and got himself a win. While not a vultured win, he wasn't exactly the most deserving of AL pitchers last night.

- Determining home field advantage in the World Series by the result of the All-Star Game remains patently absurd. Bud Selig looked dumb once when he had to declare the 2002 game a tie, so now we have this ridiculous solution. The '02 game was a tie because the teams ran out of pitchers. Call me crazy, but why don't we add a couple of pitcher slots to the rosters, instead of having four first basemen, as the NL did this year? Think about this... the winning run scored when Adam Jones, of last place Baltimore, hit a sacrifice fly to right off of Heath Bell, closer for the crappy Padres. And because of that, Cole Hamels or Chad Billingsley (or Roy Halladay) could open game one of the World Series in Fenway Park or Angels Stadium. Not because their team won fewer games than their AL counterpart, but because Adam Jones hit a sac fly against Heath Bell three months prior. Idiocy.

-And that's how I really feel about that.

-How great was the 8th inning showdown between Joe Nathan and Ryan Howard? One of the premier closers in the game mano-a-mano with one of the game's premier power hitters. Howard pinch-hit for Heath Bell in the 8th with the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on second for the NL. Nathan went right after the Big Man, challenging him with fastballs. Howard, to his credit, came off the bench hacking, missing Nathan's first offering and fouling off his second pitch. With the stars from both teams on the top step of the dugout, visibly enjoying this clash of titans, Nathan broke off a hard slider down that Howard offered at in vain for the third strike and an end to the National League threat. A GREAT matchup between two great players.

-Big ups to Mariano Rivera picking up his fourth All-Star save, breaking a record he held with Dennis Eckersley. Makes sense that Mo should hold that record too.

-The AL wins again. I can't figure out why they're on such a streak, having not lost since the 1996 game in Philadelphia. Think about what that means. The NL has not won an All-Star game since Derek Jeter's rookie season. How many great players have played their entire career in the NL and never seen an All-Star game win? Not new guys either, guys like Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Brandon Webb, etc. Does that mean tha AL is that much better? No. The AL leads World Series titles in that span by only 7-5. Just one of those things I guess.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Because I'm Not All About Baseball

... and Happy Birthday to my beautiful fiancee Carrie...

Phillies Appear Ready to 'Vote for Pedro'

Sorry, couldn't resist the Napoleon Dynamite reference.

Sport Illustrated baseball man Jon Heyman is reporting that the Phillies and free agent pitcher Pedro Martinez have agreed to a one-year contract, which will be announced on Wednesday.

I don't like the move for the Phils. I love it.

According to Heyman's story, the Phils will pay Martinez $1 million with another $1.5 million in incentives. While alot of money to the average Joe, Martinez will be paid roughly 1/8 of what the Phils paid Adam Eaton to go away. So financially, it's a small investment for the Phils.

For Martinez, who has always loved the bright lights and big games, Philadelphia presents a great stage. He goes to a very good team that is likely to go to the playoffs, one with a need for a veteran arm. With Hamels at the top and more help (YOU Roy Halladay) hopefully on the way for the Fightins, Martinez will need only to be a consistent presence, not the dominating force he was in the late 1990s. He's also a righthander on a lefty-heavy squad, and that he apparently has some animosity for the Mets won't hurt him in Philadelphia either.

The negatives for Pedro have been well chronicled in recent years: lowered velocity, injury prone, only goes five or six innings. These are all true. However, if he stinks, the Phils can't simply get rid of him without it costing them much of anything.

But if he approximates anything close to what he was for most of 1994-2005, Martinez will be a great bargain for the Phils. Would it really surprise anyone if he came to Philadelphia uber-motivated and put together a second-half better than anyone expects? Martinez also has a bevy of post-season experience, and while much of that glory is five years and more ago, maybe an arm that's only been pitching three months instead of six or seven will leave him with enough in the tank to turn in a playoff performance or two that remind us of yesteryear. Just as long as he doesn't have an affable manager with a thick southern drawl who... Wait a minute... But unlike Grady Little, Charlie Manuel has won the whole thing, and seems to understand enough about pitching to know that he trusts his lieutenant Rich Dubee to tell him what he needs to know about his guy on the mound. Like, if he's thrown 115 pitches or so and he's getting hit a little in game seven of the LCS, get him out of there. But I digress.

I hope Pedro works out for the Phils, but I think they need another legit front of the rotation arm regardless.

My prediction? Pedro goes about 6-3 with an ERA between 3.75 and 4.50 for the Phils in the second half and starts at least one playoff game.

And if that happens, the decision to Vote for Pedro will have been worthwhile indeed.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Alright, I'm back from my little 'vacation' and ready to write again. Since I last wrote, there's been so much going on, I guess I'll just take it a little bit at a time.

I'll start by taking us all back to last Monday night at the corner of Darien and Pattison in the City of Brotherly Love, as I attended a ho-hum game between the Phillies and the Reds. Except, there was nothing especially ho-hum about it.

Turns out, the Phils won this one 22-1. 22-1. There's nothing to compare that to. Not a football game, not hockey or lacrosse, maybe a junior high girls basketball game with nine crappy players on the court and one 6'-1" girl. 22-1!

I've been to thousands of baseball games in my life, on all levels. At this point, I love just being in the park and seeing a game, but I really enjoy when I get to see something I've never seen before with my own eyes. For example, I had my first Major League rain delay earlier this season. Last Monday's Phils-Reds game had several things I had never seen in a big league game...

- I had never seen a 10-run inning before, much less the first inning.

- I had never seen eight runs scored with two outs. Here's the play by play for the Phils first inning. Jimmy Rollins walked. Shane Victorino homered (2-0 Phils). Chase Utley struck out (1 out). Ryan Howard lined out (2 outs). Jayson Werth singled. Greg Dobbs homered (4-0 Phils). Pedro Feliz was hit by a pitch. Carlos Ruiz walked. Cole Hamels doubled, scoring two. (6-0 Phils). Rollins doubled, Hamels scored (7-0). Victorino walked. (Herrera relieved Cueto) Utley homered (10-0 Phils). Howard struck out (3 outs). So that's 10 runs, 6 hits, 3 walks, one hit batter, two pitchers and two outs by Ryan Howard.

- I had never seen a position player pitch in a Major League game. However, Reds backup infielder Paul Janish entered the game in the bottom of the 8th with his squad behind 16-1. Janish had pitched once earlier this year, giving up five earned runs in one inning for a robust ERA of 45.00. Seeing Janish enter in the eighth, bloated ERA in tow, I figured, sarcastically, that at least his ERA would go down. Nope. After Shane Victorino and Eric Bruntlett had RBI hits, Jayson Werth stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and an 18-1 lead. Werth cracked a homer to right center, putting the final exclaimation point on the rout. Janish's line: 1 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 SO, 1 HR and a new 2009 ERA of 49.50. THAT is taking one for the team.

- I had never seen a major league team score 20. I've seen alot of run totals in the teens, but never into three-touchdown land.

- I had never seen a legit, front of the rotation starting pitcher like Johnny Cueto get torched like that. Coming into the game, the 23-year old Cueto was 8-4 with a 2.69 ERA and was in contention for a spot on NL All-Star squad. Then he threw this line: 0.2 IP, 5 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 1 SO, 49 pitches, and an ERA spike from 2.69 to 3.45.

Entering the ballpark, I was excited to see a great pitching matchup between Cueto and ancient (by Cueto standards) 25-year old Cole Hamels, two guys who should be among the NL's best for the next decade or more. What we got was a laugher that had me excited for a few other reasons.

Just another example that you never know what you'll see at the ol' ball game.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

This Week

I'll be away for the next week, and won't be able to write again until next Saturday at least. However, I am planning on catching the Phils-Reds game at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. I'll save up ideas for things to write about next week, and hopefully I'll even have some good things to write about...

Fox Tries to Convince Us To Care About Manny

Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez made his return from a 50-game suspension for a failed drug test on Friday evening. Fine.

On Saturday, Fox decided that what we as the public needed was more Manny, whether we wanted it or not. As a result, each of Man-Ram's at-bats on Saturday were broadcast to 100% of the nation. No matter which Fox game you had on Saturday, when Manny came to bat, you had to watch him.

But why? I'm not of the belief that fans don't care about the steroid issue, as the fan reaction to Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro proves that people do care. I just think no one cares about Manny.

This is another example of why more and more people at-large and sports fans specifically are fed up with mainstream media outlets. I love baseball, and as a result, I do care that a great hitter like Ramirez used steroids. But I don't care, at all, about seeing each of his at-bats in his second game back from suspension. I'd much rather continually watch the Mets-Phillies game instead of being taken to the West Coast to watch Manny ground into a fielder's choice.

He wasn't chasing a record. They didn't broadcast all of his at-bats before. So why now?

Manny is turning into the Brett Favre of MLB, only unlike Favre, this isn't Manny's fault. The media loves him because there's always a story, whether it's home runs, throwing down the traveling secretary, failing a drug test or just being a regular malcontent, Manny's always got something going on.

And because of this, Fox and other mainstream media have shoved it down our collective throat. Manny came back on Friday. Did you hear?

Like the Brett Favre saga, Michael Jackson's passing, swine flu, or whatever else, the 24-hour news cycle is turning into one big, long re-run.

Maybe that's why people like me write about the subjects they're passionate about, be it baseball, politics or anything else. The 24-hour news cycle may produce an awful lot of schlock in the 'big' media outlets, but people writing about topics they legitimately care about will never go out of style.

The key is to let the consumer dictate what they want read or hear about, not to tell them what they should be thinking about.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Playoff Races on July 4th

It's July 2nd, but close enough.

The long-held conventional wisdom in baseball is that a team in first place on July 4th has the inside track on taking its division crown. So let's look at where the division races are, and where they might end up...

For each division I've given a summary of the standings today, who I think will win and why, a Captain Obvious Prediction (one everyone else will make), a Fearless Prediction (one no one else will make) and the Most Important Player Down the Stretch (self-explanatory).

AL East
Right Now- Boston is 2.5 up on the Yankees, and five up on Tampa. Toronto is hanging around, and Baltimore isn't.

Who Wins?- Boston is probably the best team in baseball right now, even despite Big Papi's struggles and Dice-K looking awful. They've got talent, pitching depth, experience, and grit, and teams like that usually win their division. Especially with the pitching depth.

Captain Obvious Prediction- A-Rod flames out as late August turns into the September stretch drive.

Fearless Prediction- Tampa Bay comes all the way back and wins the wild card. Which means the Yankees miss the playoffs for the second straight year after making the playoffs every year 1995-2007.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Alex Rodriguez, Yankees third baseman. Hip surgery, steroids and ineffectiveness have been the stories so far in 2009 for A-Rod. With the Yankee offense maddeningly incosistent, improved production out of Rodriguez may allow everyone else in the lineup to relax and hit. But that won't happen unless it trickles down from their best player.

AL Central
Right Now-Detroit holds a three-game lead on both the White Sox and Twins. Kansas City is moving its way toward 'frisky' and Cleveland has the worst record in the AL.

Who Wins?- Detroit has a tough three-headed monster at the front of their rotation with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Edwin Jackson. Throw in Miguel Cabrera's .331 average and a few solid hitters, and the Tigers probably have enough to hold off the Twins and White Sox.

Captain Obvious Prediction- Joe Mauer wins the AL MVP award.

Fearless Prediction- Gil Meche will get traded to a contender. Given what's out there, he may be the jewel of the starting pitching trade market. If I'm right and he's traded.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Joe Mauer, Twins catcher. He's not hitting .400 as a catcher, I don't care how good he is. But he is REALLY good, and him and Morneau has the Twins in contention with the high-payroll Tigers and White Sox

AL West
Right Now- The Angels and Rangers are in a virtual tie, with surprising Seattle is in striking distance. Oakland is playing out the string.

Who Wins?- Anaheim. Always a very, very good team. The names change, but the results generally don't. Mike Scioscia would get my vote for the best manager in the majors.

Captain Obvious Prediction- Texas will fade down the stretch, just like every year since the Alamo.

Fearless Prediction- The A's will not trade Matt Holliday, opting instead to hang on to him and taking the draft picks when he walks in free agency.

Most Important Player- John Lackey, Angels starting pitcher. Lackey's health and effectiveness will go a long way in determining if the Angels reach the playoffs, and how far they go once there.

NL East
Right Now- The Phillies sit on top half a game ahead of Florida, with the Mets two back and Atlanta three back. Washington is historically bad.

Who Wins?-
The Phillies. They are clearly the best team, even if they aren't playing like it right now. They have alot of injuries, which the Mets do too, but they also have weird stuff going on, like not being able to win a home series and Jimmy Rollins hitting around the Mendoza line. In order to win, they really only need one of the following to go their way: Raul Ibanez returns and plays as well as he did prior to going on the DL; Jimmy Rollins starts playing around his career averages; the team starts dominating at home like it did last year; the bullpen gets healthy and used less. If all of those things happen, the Phils run away and hide in the division race.

Captain Obvious Prediction-The Nationals lose 110 games.

Fearless Prediction- The Mets finish in fourth place and as a result, replace GM Omar Minaya.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Jimmy Rollins, Phillies shortstop. When he scores, the Phillies win something like 60% of the time. But right now, he stinks.

NL Central
Right Now- Milwaukee is a game up on St. Louis, with the Cubs, Reds and Astros hanging around. Pittsburgh can't drop out despite trying to trade away all of their players.

Who Wins?- Milwaukee has a very good everyday eight, and Trevor Hoffman has been unbelievable, but how much longer can that starting rotation keep up? Matt Burns isn't going to outduel Johan Santana every night. Last year's team, with Sabathia and Sheets, would win this race, but I think St. Louis takes it on guile, Dave Duncan's magic with pitchers, and Albert Pujols.

Captain Obvious Prediction- The Pirates trade another actual commodity for a pile of junk in the name of 'building for the future.' Look up their trading Aramis Ramirez to the Cubs if you need guidance.

Fearless Prediction-The Brewers step up and add a high-ticket piece by the deadline in hopes of the type of jolt C.C. Sabathia gave them last season.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch- Ryan Braun, Brewers leftfielder. For the Brew Crew to make their second straight trip to the playoffs, they will need the 'Hebrew Hammer' to carry them offensively for stretches, the way Ryan Howard and Manny Ramirez have done for their respective clubs.

NL West
Right Now- The Dodgers lead the Giants by seven, Colorado by eight and a half, and San Diego and Arizona by a hundred.

Who Will Win?-
If the Giants couldn't make up ground with Manny Ramirez out for two months, it's not happening once he comes back.

Captain Obvious Prediction-San Diego holds a fire sale, but can't move anybody because of injury or no-trade clauses

Fearless Prediction- Tim Lincecum wins his second straight Cy Young award in leading the Giants to the wild card.

Most Important Player Down the Stretch-Chad Billingsley, starting pitcher, Dodgers. The division race is over, so how the Dodgers' young ace grows up over the season's second half may be a prominent factor in how the Dodgers match up in a playoff series against another ace like Cole Hamels or Lincecum.

...So check back in on this entry as the season wraps up to laugh at me... Or laud my genius...

A 'Literally' Update

On Wednesday night's broadcast of the Phillies 11-1 loss to the Braves, Phils broadcaster Gary "Sarge" Matthews pulled a great 'literally'. I love Sarge, one of his catchphrases is the inspiration for the name of my blog, but he's a huge violater of the literally principle.

In reference to Randy Johnson, Sarge stated that in his heydey Johnson "was literally throwing aspirins up there." No Sarge, no he was not...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wednesday's Thoughts

- Jimmy Rollins made his return to the lineup in the Phillies loss to the Braves on Tuesday night. He promptly went 0-5 and struck out on two bouncing breaking balls and made two first-pitch outs, seeing a total of 18 pitches in the process. Awful.

- 610 WIP morning show member Al Morganti pointed out this morning that in 2009 the Phillies leadoff spot has an on-base percentage of .237, and the nine-hole has an on-base of .261.

- It's time for John Mayberry, Jr. to stick with the Phils full-time. I don't care what his average is, he's a legitimate threat to hit the ball out of the park as a right-handed bat off the bench. He's 26, so he's not a huge prospect, and I'm not sure how much he needs to play everyday at this point. He probably helps the organization the most as a RH power bat off the bench.

- The Pirates made two trades yesterday, leading me to believe that GM Neal Huntington went to the office and got bored.

- Don't look now, but the Marlins are only 1 1/2 games out of first place in a pitiful NL East. The Fish might very well have the best rotation in the division, and have some nice pieces in the bullpen and the everyday eight. But do they have what it takes to push through and not wilt down the stretch like they did last year? We will see.

-If Cliff Lee really is on the block, the Indians could go into full sell mode. Mark DeRosa is already off to St. Louis, and the Tribe have a few bullpen pieces (Rafeal Betancourt, Jensen Lewis) that contenders are always looking for.

- Loved Ryan Braun's schoolyard grand slam last night in the Brewers 6-3 win over the Mets. To set the stage, Braun was up against Johan Santana with the bases loaded and one out in the fourth inning with the Mets up 2-1. Braun hit a ball that bounced to the wall in leftfield for a double, then took off for third as the Mets relayed home a throw that would have had J.J. Hardy dead to rights at the plate. However, the throw from Alex Cora eluded Omir Santos, allowing Hardy to score. The loose ball was gathered up by Santana, who attempted to throw out Braun at third, but his throw sailed into left field, allowing Braun to scamper home. Mets centerfielder Fernando Martinez also just fell down in the outfield on a fly ball from Corey Hart. That's why the Mets are the greatest.

- How in the world can you let David Wright beat you if you're playing the Mets right now? He should go weeks at a time without getting a pitch to hit with that lineup around him.

- Two steals of home on the same day Sunday, but big ups to Gary Matthews for just taking it on a pitcher's delivery home. None of this delayed stuff or waiting for the catcher to throw the ball back. Impressive.

-Congrats to Mariano Rivera for his 500th career save. The Sandman might very well be the best closer in the history of the game, and all of this with one pitch.