Sunday, May 29, 2011

Are the Diamondbacks a Legitimate Contender?

The Diamondbacks beat the lowly Astros this afternoon and with the Giants' loss they moved into first place in the NL West.  Many people expected Arizona to lose 90-100 games in 2011, but they have quietly won nine of their last 10 games to move their record to 29-24.  If you asked many people outside the state of Arizona, they probably would assume that the Diamondbacks were still cellar dwellers.  However, manager Kirk Gibson has done a spectacular job early on this season.

Of course, many people will assume that this is a fluke, and it probably is one.  The Diamondbacks only rank in the middle of the pack in the bigs in terms of batting average and on-base percentage.  They are third in big leagues in home runs (57), which means that they rely (probably too much) on the long ball for runs.  Outfielders Chris Young and Justin Upton lead the team with nine homers apiece, but they are only batting .234 and .241, respectively.  The player with the best average on the team, Ryan Roberts, is only hitting .279.  Sure, the Diamondbacks have some power, but they don't get on base enough to contend deep into the season.

Arizona's pitching staff has a decent team ERA of 3.94, but that ranks in the lower half of all pitching staffs in the majors.  Besides starter Ian Kennedy, the rest of the rotation has been average to poor.  Daniel Hudson has an ERA of 4.13, Joe Saunders has one of 4.65, and the other two starters with at least six starts apiece this season, Armando Galarrago and Barry Enright, were so bad that they aren't even on the roster anymore.  The Diamondbacks just don't have a solid enough rotation to compete for a division title and while they have been able to compete for now, I wouldn't be surprised if they ended up in fourth place by the end of the season (yeah, the Dodgers are six games under .500 and struggling, but I still like them better than the D-backs).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Garza Scratched From Sunday's Game

Just when the Cubs' luck seemed to have turned in their series with the Red Sox, more bad luck hit.  Despite the 9-3 comeback victory over Boston tonight, the Cubs scratched starter Matt Garza because of stiffness in his pitching elbow.  Despite his 2-4 record this season, Garza has been one of the Cubs more reliable starters this season.  He has compiled a 3.72 ERA and 68 strikeouts in nine starts so far in 2011.  Garza will be examined by the Cubs' team doctor on Monday and he will most likely undergo an MRI.  Garza could have been a big help to the Cubs tomorrow night, as his experience with the Rays in the AL East would have been quite valuable against Boston.

Instead, the Cubs will turn to lefty James Russell to try and win their second game of the series.  Basically, Manager Mike Quade is conceding defeat to the Red Sox.  While Russell pitched effectively enough on Friday night, throwing three scoreless innings, he has been pretty bad all season.  After starters Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner were put on the disabled list earlier in the season, Russell was added to the rotation.  The results haven't been pretty.  So far this season Russell has gone 1-4 with a 6.26 ERA and only 13 strikeouts in 23 innings.

The problem is that the Cubs don't really have any better options.  Randy Wells only has one rehab start under his belt and the Cubs have no good options at Triple-A to make a spot start.  The Cubs will have to lean on Russell and the bullpen to get them through a game against a great Boston offense.  That can only spell trouble.  The Cubs have been absolutely terrible on the mound this season, ranking 28th in the majors in ERA, 30th in quality starts, 29th in WHIP, and 27th in batting average against.  Unfortunately, those numbers might just get worse on Sunday night.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cubs Lose to Red Sox

The Cubs came into Fenway Park this evening looking to extend their winning streak to three games and to climb closer to the elusive .500 mark.  Friday's game, the opening game of a three-game series with the Red Sox, marked the first time that the Cubbies had been to Fenway since the 1918 World Series.  While the many Cubs fans who made the trip to Fenway were hopeful that the Cubs would play well against the Sox, the pitching match-up of Doug Davis versus Jon Lester did not bode well for Chicago fans.

Sitting down the first base line, I witnessed the offensive rampage of the Red Sox firsthand.  The Sox scored 15 runs on 19 hits, while the Cubs managed 12 hits but only five runs.  Davis only lasted 3.2 innings, giving up seven runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and three walks.  From the first pitch he threw it seemed as though it was going to be a long night.  When Davis was pulled, reliever Scott Maine immediately gave up a bomb to Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis.  Maine gave up another home run to start the fifth inning off the bat of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.  After two more hits, Maine was relieved by lefty James Russell.  Russell pitched three scoreless before giving way to Jeff Samardzija, who gave up five runs in eighth inning.

The Red Sox were led offensively by Adrian Gonzalez, who compiled four hits and drove in four runs, and Kevin Youkilis, who drove in three runs on three hits.  Sox starter Jon Lester pitched six innings, giving up five runs and picking up the win.  Reliever Scott Atchinson pitched three scoreless innings and picked up the save.

For the Cubs, third baseman Jeff Baker went 4-5 with four singles and Aramis Ramirez went 3-4 and drove in one run.  Left fielder Alfonso Soriano and right fielder Reed Johnson had two hits apiece and Johnson drove in two runs.  Tomorrow, Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano (4-2, 4.89 ERA) will square off against Red Sox starter Alfredo Aceves (1-0, 2.60 ERA), who will be making his first start for Boston.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cubs Visit Red Sox at Fenway

For the first time since the 1918 World Series, the Boston Red Sox will host the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park.  The Red Sox, of course, won that series.  For the 86 years following that victory, both teams found unlucky ways to lose.  While the Red Sox broke their curse by winning the 2004 World Series, the "Lovable Losers" in Chicago still haven't won the World Series since 1908.  The last time the two teams met, at Wrigley Field in 2005, the Cubs won two of three games against the Red Sox.

Chicago will need to play their best baseball to win the series against Boston.  The Red Sox have won seven in a row and are 23-20 overall.  The Cubs are 4-6 in their last ten games and 19-23 overall.  Tonight's pitching match-up is Boston's Jon Lester (5-1, 3.28 ERA) vs. Chicago's Doug Davis (0-1, 1.80 ERA).  The Red Sox are expecting lots of Cubs fans to be in attendance and I'm lucky enough that I'll be one of them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Harmon Killebrew Dies at Age 74

Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, who played 22 seasons in the big leagues, died Tuesday morning at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona from esophageal cancer.  He was 74 years old.  His family was by his side.  Last week, Killebrew announced that he would no longer fight the cancer after doctor's deemed it incurable.

He was one of baseball's greatest ambassadors after his playing days, and one of the game's greatest sluggers during them.  He didn't just hit home runs, he hit absolute bombs.  He always swung for the fences, only hitting .256 during his career, but his 573 home runs are the eleventh most of all-time.  He played 21 of 22 seasons with the Twins franchise, first when the team played in Washington as the Senators (from '54 to '60) and then in Minnesota when the team moved before the 1961 season.  Killebrew played his last season, 1975, in Kansas City for the Royals.  He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1984.  He will be remembered as the greatest Twin to play the game.

Killebrew's stats:

Matt LaPorta Talks About 19-1 Win

Here is a video of Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta talking about his team's 19-1 victory over the Royals on Monday night...

Royals Pitcher Has Night to Forget

The Royals game against the Indians started off normally last night.  Kansas City starting pitcher Kyle Davies didn't last through the first inning, giving up two runs and leaving the game with shoulder soreness.  Reliever Nate Adcock came in and gave up one run in 1.2 innings.  Then, however, the game got crazy: enter reliever Vin Mazzaro.

Mazzaro was making his second appearance of the season.  His first appearance of the season was pretty average, as he gave up two runs and six hits to the Yankees in a four inning start.  His first inning on Monday wasn't a sign of things to come.  After Adcock walked the lead-off man in the third inning, Mazzaro came in and retired three batters in a row to end the inning.  However, the fourth inning was a different story...

Matt LaPorta singled.  Jack Hannahan grounded into a fielder's choice (LaPorta out at second).  Michael Brantley walked.  Asdrubal Cabrera singled and Hannahan scored.  Shin-Soo Choo flied out to center, advancing Brantley to third.  Cabrera stole second.  Carlos Santana walked.  Travis Hafner doubled to center, scoring Brantley, Cabrera, and Santana.  Orlando Cabrera singled, scoring Hafner.  Travis Buck singled, advancing Cabrera to second.  LaPorta then doubled to left, scoring Cabrera and Buck.  Hannahan singled, advancing LaPorta to third.  Brantley then hit a three-run home run before Mazzaro finally struck out Asdrubal Cabrera to end the inning.  Overall in the fourth, Mazzaro gave up 10 runs on eight hits.

While the fifth inning was better for Mazzaro, he still gave up another four runs on four more hits.  Overall, Mazzaro pitched 2.1 innings, giving up 14 earned runs on 11 hits and three walks while striking out two.  The Indians ended up winning the game 19-1.  Who knows why Royals manager Ned Yost left Mazzaro in the game for the fifth inning.  Most likely, he wanted to save the bullpen in what had already become a lost game.  However, Mazzaro's night ended up being historically bad, as no pitcher has allowed 14 runs in fewer innings than Mazzaro (according to STATS LLC, whose database goes back to 1919).  To make things worse, Mazzaro's night landed him a trip back to Triple-A Omaha.  After his two big league appearances this season, Mazzaro has compiled a 22.74 ERA in 6.1 innings, giving up 17 hits and 16 runs while striking out four and walking seven.  Talk about depressing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jair Jurrjens Quietly Having Great Season

Jair Jurrjens doesn't get as most attention as Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, and Derek Lowe, but a month and a half into the 2011 season the best pitcher in Atlanta has been Jurrjens.  His most recent win, a 5-3 win against the Phillies on Saturday, was his second win against Philadelphia since May 8.  He took a perfect game into the sixth inning, retiring the first 17 Phillies he faced.  He finished his day with 7.1 innings pitched, giving up three hits and three runs (two earned) while striking out six and walking only one.

After coming back from the disabled list, where Jurrjens opened the season with a right oblique strain, he has been phenomenal.  He is tied for the National League lead in wins, with five.  He is second in the majors in ERA, behind Josh Johnson by only .03 runs (Jurrjens' 1.66 to Johnson's 1.63).  He has the third lowest WHIP in the NL at 0.99.  He has thrown at least six innings in each of his six starts and he has yet to give up more than two earned runs in a start.

The Braves won two out of three games against the Phillies this past weekend, and now sit only 3.5 games back of Philadelphia in the NL East.  The Braves, however, have a lower team ERA (2.99) than the Phillies (3.13) do this season.  The Phillies sport a team batting average ten points higher than the Braves (.253 compared to .243), so if the Braves' hitting can come around and match up with Jurrjens and the rest of their spectacular pitching staff, the Braves could continue to climb closer to Philadelphia in the standings.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sports History 365

If you love sports history be sure to check out Sports History 365.  Mike, who writes the blog, publishes daily sports trivia and sports events that have happened on each day.  It's a quick read and always informative!  His current poll is "Who was the best athlete to wear #5?" and he has a great list of blogs to check out!  Go to Mike's blog and follow if you love sports history and trivia.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On This Day in Baseball History: Mantle's 500th

On May 14, 1967 (Mother's Day), Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run, becoming the sixth big leaguer to reach the milestone.  Playing the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, Mantle connected for number 500 on a pitch by Stu Miller in the seventh inning.  It landed in the lower deck in the right field corner and it would prove to be the margin of victory for the Yankees, who beat the Orioles 6-5 in front of only 18,872 fans.  Dooley Womack picked up the win in relief, pitching 3.1 innings of one run ball after Yankees starter Mel Stottlemyre fell apart in the sixth inning.  Mantle finished the game 2-4, with one RBI and two runs scored.

Despite many off-the-field problems, Mantle finished his career as one of the greatest Yankees to ever play the game.  "The Commerce Comet" played 18 seasons for New York, hitting .298 with 536 home runs, and 1509 RBI (all his career stats: Baseball-Reference).  He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 and he died on August 13, 1995.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Best Shortstop of All-Time: Cal Ripken

    Ripken hits a homer in record-breaking game #2131

Cal Ripken, baseball's record holder for consecutive games played, is the best shortstop of all-time.  With his combination of defense and offense, he tops a list of many candidates who are worthy for consideration for the top spot.  Right behind him, in my opinion, are Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter.  Wagner, who played his entire career in the dead ball era (which, at least for me, is a bit of a detractor), hit .328 with 3420 hits in 21 seasons.  Jeter is close to becoming the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits.  In 17 seasons (including part of this year), Jeter has a .313 average, 2960 hits, 236 home runs, and he has won five Gold Glove awards.

Ripken is number one because of his play on the field, and the fact that he managed to stay on the field on such a consistent basis.  Ripken, of course, broke Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played,  record deemed unbreakable by almost everybody.  On September 6, 1995, Ripken played in his 2,131 consecutive game, breaking the record.  He continued to play in another 501 straight games, and now owns the unbreakable record of 2,632 consecutive games played.  He never missed a game from May 30, 1982 to September 20, 1998.

Ripken's production on the field was almost as impressive.  Pioneering the way for larger shortstops (Ripken stood 6'4", 225 lbs.), Ripken was a 19 time All-Star selection, a two-time AL MVP ('83, '91), a two-time Gold Glove Award winner ('91, '92), an eight time Silver Slugger Award winner, and the 1982 AL Rookie of the Year.  Over the course of his 21-season career, Ripken hit .276 with 430 home runs, 3184 hits (14th all-time), 603 doubles (13th all-time), and 1695 RBI.  Defensively, Ripken finished his career with a .979 fielding percentage at shortstop (basically the same as Jeter).

I didn't include Alex Rodriguez because by the end of his career he will have played more games at third base.  As previously stated, Honus Wagner is right behind Ripken, but the fact that he played his entire career in the dead ball era is a major detractor.  Jeter is third on my list, and he will get hit number 3000 this season, but Ripken produced more on offense (despite the lower average). Ultimately, Ripken gets the nod because of his consistently good production and the fact that he showed up everyday, despite the wear and tear of a 162-game season, ready to play.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Harper Dominating at Hagerstown

It might be time for the Nationals to think about promoting Bryce Harper (currently the number two prospect in the minor leagues), who has been destroying low-A ball pitching while playing for the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League.  Harper struggled a little bit during the first couple weeks of the season, but he has adjusted nicely since then.  Earlier today, Harper hit a double against the Lexington Legends to extend his current hit streak to 12 games.  Through last night's game, Harper is hitting .370/.463/.707 (avg/obp/slg) with 7 home runs, 10 doubles and 23 RBI in 92 at-bats (27 games).  He ranks seventh in the South Atlantic League in batting average, third in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, tied for third in home runs, and third in RBI.  You get the point, the guy is absolutely on fire.

What's crazy about Harper and the way he's hitting is that he easily came into this season with more hype than any other prospect (the guy hadn't actually played a minor league ballgame yet and people were asking if he would reach Washington by the end of the season) and he is actually living up to the hype.  He has yet to perform poorly wherever he has played.  Let's not forget that he left high school after his sophomore year and earned his GED so that he could play at the College of Southern Nevada last season.  He dominated junior college baseball, winning the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the best amateur player in the country.  After signing with the Nationals, Harper hit .343 in the Arizona Fall League (he was the second youngest player ever in the league).  He was at big league camp for part of spring training, hitting .389.  The fact that Harper can perform with all the pressure to become a perennial all-star is pretty mind-boggling.  Obviously, the Nationals don't want to rush him, but Harper has proven that he is good enough to take the next step.  The next logical stop for Harper is the Potomac Nationals of the class-A advanced Carolina League.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Verlander Throws a No-No

Just four days after Twins pitcher Francisco Liriano threw the first no-hitter of the 2011 season, Detroit's Justin Verlander followed suit with the second no-hitter of 2011, blanking the Blue Jays 9-0 on Saturday afternoon.  While Liriano's no-no wasn't normal gem that fans expect from a no-hitter, Verlander's game on Saturday was a masterpiece, and he was only an eighth-inning walk away from throwing a perfect game.  Today's no-no is the second no-hitter of Verlander's career.  His first came on June 12, 2007.

The reason that Verlander's no-hitter is clearly better than Liriano's?  Control.  Liriano struggled through nine innings, throwing 123 pitches, walking six and only striking out two.  He threw a first-pitch strike to only 10-30 batters.  Verlander, on the other hand, threw 16 first-pitch strikes to 27 batters (the minimum you can face in a nine inning game).  He only struck out four batters, but his lone walk was issued to Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia on a full count in the eighth inning.  Verlander didn't labor through nine innings like Liriano either, hitting 99 mph and 100 mph on the last two fastballs he threw.

Verlander became just the 30th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to throw two or more no-hitters in a career.  Only five pitchers have ever thrown more than two no hitters: Nolan Ryan (7), Sandy Koufax (4), Larry Corcoran (3), Bob Feller (3), and Cy Young (3).  The only active pitchers with multiple no-hitters are Mark Buehrle (age 32) and Roy Halladay (age 33).  Verlander is the youngest of the three, and at age 28 he is in the prime of his career.  If he doesn't sustain any serious injuries, Verlander has a good chance to throw at least one, maybe even two more no-no's.

The above video is a little shaky because someone was filming their TV, but you can still see the last batter of the game, Rajai Davis, wiff on a breaking ball to end it.

On This Day in Baseball: Red Sox v. Yankees Begins

May 7, 1903:  In the first game between the two franchises, the Boston Pilgrims beat the New York Highlanders at Boston's Huntington Avenue Grounds, 6-2.  Before changing their names to the Red and Yankees, the teams had names that were based on geography.  The Pilgrims was a tribute to New England ancestors from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Highlanders stemmed hilly land in upper Manhattan where the New York team played.

The Pilgrims won that first game with the help of a Hobe Ferris home run and two triples from Chick Stahl.  The Pilgrims collected thirteen hits off Highlanders starter Snake Wiltse.  The Pilgrims went on to win the first ever World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, while the Highlanders finished 17 games out of the lead in fourth place.

The Red Sox v. Yankees rivalry is now the fiercest rivalry in the game of baseball, bringing us events such as Buck Dents' homer in 1978, Aaron Boone's walk-off homer in game seven of the ALCS in '03, the brawl between the two teams in July of '04, and the ALCS comeback by the Sox in '04.  New York owns the edge in the 2079 regular season match-ups by the two teams, with a record of 1,125-940-14 (.545 winning percentage).

Happy 80th to Willie Mays!

While this is roughly 15 minutes late, happy 80th to the best centerfielder of all-time and possibly the greatest player of all-time, Willie Mays!

Lee K's 16, Loses to Braves

Cliff Lee struck out 16 Braves in seven innings on Friday night, but was out-pitched by Derek Lowe as the Phillies fell to the Braves 5-0.  Lee allowed three runs on nine hits, while Lowe took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and finished with no runs, two hits, one walk, and four strikeouts in 6+ innings.  He left the game after giving up back-to-back hits to start the seventh inning, with an apparent leg or foot injury.  The three pitchers who followed Lowe, Eric O'Flaherty, Jonny Venters, and Craig Kimbrel, held the Phillies scoreless in the last three innings.  The Braves scored their last two runs off Phillies pitcher Dany Baez in the ninth inning.

Lee became the the 14th pitcher since 1919 to strike out at least 16 hitters and take a loss.  He gave up all three of his runs in the third inning.  After Lee struck out both Lowe and Martin Prado looking to start the inning, he allowed four straight hits which resulted in the three runs.  Alex Gonzalez doubled, followed by an RBI single by Chipper Jones, followed by an RBI double by Brian McCann, followed by an RBI double by Dan Uggla.  All four hits were on the first pitch of each at-bat.  Lee doesn't give up that string of hits, and it's a completely different ballgame by the ninth inning.

After tonight's ballgame, Lee drops to 2-3 on the year, with a 3.69 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 46.1 innings.  Lowe is now 3-3 with a 3.22 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 44.2 innings.  The Phillies are now 21-10 in 2011, with the Braves sitting 3.5 back in the NL East at 19-15.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Francisco Liriano Throws Ugly No-Hitter

Coming into last night's game with the Chicago White Sox, the Twins had lost six in a row and their supposed ace, Francisco Liriano, had a 1-4 record to go along with a horrendous 9.13 ERA.  Tuesday night may have helped both Minnesota and Liriano get back on track.  While it wasn't pretty by any means, Liriano hurled the first no-hitter of the 2011 season against the White Sox last night in a 1-0 victory by the Twins.  The Twins and White Sox were supposed to be the two best teams in the AL Central this season, but the Twins have a record of 10-18 and the White Sox have dropped 16 of the their 20 (overall record of 11-20).

Obviously, a no-hitter is always impressive, but compared to the no-hitters thrown in the big leagues last season Liriano's seemed almost mediocre.  Based on Bill James' Game Score, which measures and sums different part's of a pitcher's performance into a single number, Liriano only scored an 83, which ties the Pirates' Lefty Chambers for the lowest Game Score in a no-no of the 170 thrown since 1919.  Liriano threw 123 pitches on Tuesday night, with only 66 of those pitches going for strikes.  He walked six while only striking out two in his first career complete game.  Liriano became the first pitcher since Jerry Ruess in 1980 to strike out two hitters or fewer in a no-hitter.  He threw 39 pitches from the stretch and needed double-plays to get out of three innings.  It was definitely one of the weirdest no-hitters ever thrown in the Major Leagues, but hey, a no-hitter is still a no-hitter.