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    The Greg Maddux Watch: Stunning at 355

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      Even more insanity.....
    So much for a quiet deadline for the Red Sox. Many more deals coming through today, and I am still in shock. I can't believe they are true because I can't believe the Red Sox are that stupid. Cubs pull off a steal, the Yankees and White Sox deal, more Dodger trading, Twins, Phillies, seems like everyone is getting in on the action. I'm going to try and take some time to let my emotions die down before I try to sort this out, but needless to say its been an interesting day and a half of trading.
      Deadline Insanity.
    Right now I can't really believe what I am hearing on the radio and reading on the internet. If I got all these deals right it sure seems like someone was smoking something. Apparently, the Mets have unloaded their entire farm system for two mediocre starting pitchers. Yeah, the same Mets team that is 49-52 and 6 games out of 1st. It also looks like the Dodgers have raped the Marlins, and the Royals have turned trash into a couple of prospects. Insanity is right.

    There is a lot going on right now, so I'm going to try and ignore it for now. Check the updates on Sportcenter, and you can be sure I'll give a breakdown this weekend, after this deadline has passed.
      A Yankee??
    The third best pitcher of this generation, and one of the five best so far this season is on the trading block.
    Sort of.

    I usually don't like talking about potential trades around this time of the year. So much of what we hear is based on speculating sports writers and far-fetched rumors. The Randy Johnson rumors are a little different.

    The soon-to-be 41 year-old hasn't slowed down very much. In 22 starts this year, Randy is 10-8 with a 2.68 ERA. Randy has forced everyone to forget his injury riddled 2003 and forget that he is under contract with the Diamondbacks next year.

    Randy has a no-trade clause, which he seems pretty reluctant to give up. He has said he will only go to a team definitely making the playoffs. At this point of the season, with two months still to play, that means the Yankees or the Cardinals. The Cardinals don't have the money, so recently Randy has said he would only accept a trade to the Yankees.

    What Randy fails to realize is that whatever team he goes to INSTANTLY becomes a contender, and I don't mean for the playoffs. I mean the whole thing, the World Series.

    Pick any team within sniffing distance of the playoffs: Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Rangers, A's, Angels, Braves, Marlins, Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers, Padres, Giants. Replace any of those teams 5th starter with Randy Johnson and they not only make the playoffs, they are the favorite to win it all. The last time someone this good was available at the trading deadline was in 1998 when Randy was traded to the Astros for Freddy Garcia, John Halama, and Carlos Guillen. At the time of the trade, the Astros were already a good team, on pace for 97 wins. Instead they finished the year with 102 wins and a playoff spot. The offense then scored eight runs in four games to get the early exit.

    Maybe Randy doesn't want a repeat of 1998. Maybe he doesn't want to pick up and move to a new team for two months only to miss the playoffs or get bounced in the first round. I can understand that, but Randy doesn't really give Joe Garagiola much choice in only picking the Yankees.

    I'm going to say that Randy is better now than he was in 1998, but he is also six years older. Considering that, the Diamondbacks would be reasonable to expect a package of prospects similar to the one the Mariners received. At the time of the trade, Carlos Guillen was B-level middle infield prospect and John Halama was a mid-level pitching prospect. Freddy Garcia was highly regarded, and as it turns out, for good reason.

    Now in the present day, the Yankees don't have a prospect anywhere close to the caliber of 1998 Freddy Garcia. The last survivors of the Yankee prospect purge are infielder Robinson Cano and catcher Dioner Navarro. Check how they are doing this year. Both started the year in AA, but were promoted to AAA after the Yankees were rumored to be showcasing them for a trade.

    Both have struggled so far in AAA. Thats fine, a lot of players do struggle after a promotion, but these aren't exactly Freddy Garcia-like prospects. Cano might be as good as Guillen was, but I doubt it he will be more than a utility infielder. Depending on who you ask Navarro is either an A-level prospect or a fluke. I get nervous about a prospect when I see them come out of virtually nowhere, shoot up the prospect lists with a great year, then regress the next year to .271/.354/.369 at the same level. I tend to think Navarro is more of a fluke, although he is still a solid prospect as 21 year-old catchers who can hit are a nice commodity.

    Are Cano and Navarro (plus assorted trash and AAAA guys) enough to get Randy? They will have to be since Joe Garagiola has no choice but to accept this as the best offer. It's the best the Yankees can come up with, so its the best the Diamondbacks will get. Randy has really put Garagiola in a bind, with no leverage to get any more in return.

    If I were Garagiola, I wouldn't trade Randy. No way, not for that. The Diamondbacks have the worst record in baseball with Randy Johnson. Can you imagine this team without him? The fans are going to stop coming to the BOB soon. While Randy can't save that from happening, he can slow the bleeding. Garagiola should let Randy finish out his contract, and maybe his career, in Arizona. Who knows, if Randy retires after 2005, he might be the first person ever to go into Cooperstown as a D-Back. Think about it Joe, the ticket sales from Randy's starts and the value in saving yourself the fan resentment will easily be worth his $16.5M contract. Don't add this potential horrible trade to your resume of the Schilling, Sexson, Durazo, and Mantei trades. Yuck. Looking back on Garagiola's track record, I would be suprised if he didn't screw up this one too.
      On a completely unrelated note.......
    .........how good would the Yankees be with Randy instead of Jose Contreras in the rotation? Using VORP, Randy has been worth 42 runs over a replacement pitcher. Conteras, on the other hand, has been worth 2! Yup, that's less than the immortal Bartolome Fortunato. Over the rest of the season Randy would be worth roughly 20 runs over Contreras. That would be a scary team. Not to mention having to face Randy, Javy, Moose, and Kevin Brown in the playoffs. Who would go to the pen?

    Also, if the Yankees do rip off the D-Backs, they will have an incredible $188M already committed in contracts for 2005, including 11 individual contracts over $10M. They'll have $65.5M tied up in their rotation alone. There are 15 MLB teams with entire payrolls less than $65.5M! Wow.
    Since it worked yesterday, I had to try again. Mariano blew another save last night. Well, the Yankees came back and won it in the 10th to get him the win, but thats beside the point. Mariano blew the save. Here's another picture of a dejected Rivera to try and keep the streak going. And here's to your next successfully blown save Mo.

      My friends, up is down.
    I try to limit what I write about the Red Sox, especially when it comes to the Red Sox playing the Yankees. Generally, I tend to be overly emotional, and I don’t think anybody wants or needs to see that. Some times I just can't skip it though, and I have to talk about this game on Saturday.

    In what may have been the ugliest games ever played, the Red Sox (for once) came out on top. When I say ugly, I really mean it, but that’s not to say this game wasn't exciting. I haven't been this emotionally into a game since last year's playoffs. The game on Friday was just a warmup for this one.

    I should have expected something like this. I was coming into the game fresh off an hour and a half sleep. Around six this morning, I was just finishing up an all-nite poker game where the theme, repeated many times over, was "up is down". You know, one of those wild games, with huge swings in every direction, where every time someone made the right move, he lost money. And not a little bit of money either. Pretty much the better you played the more you lost. It was chaos. I made the comment sometime with the sun rising and birds chirping, that in order for up to become up once again, I'd have to get some sleep. Things were just too weird. Well I had to work today, so I didn't get any sleep and when it came to the game Saturday, up was still down. The world was still in relative chaos.

    This game had everything. And I mean everything. I'll try and recollect what I can while my head is still spinning.

    Bronson Arroyo started for the Sox, against Tanyon Sturtze. Does anybody realize that Arroyo was in the top 10 in ERA going into the game? Well, I did, and I also know how wretched Tanyon Sturtze is, so I was mildly optimistic. Needless to say Sturtze started off with two perfect innings, while Arroyo was touched up for two runs in the 2nd. It wasn’t looking good. Then came the top of the 3rd.

    Yankees 3, Red Sox 0. Down.
    With two outs, Arroyo drilled Arod in the elbow. Now, you may already be aware of my irrational hatred for the man, but I'll try to give my best objective opinion of the ensuing drama. Here's a video of it if you want to follow along.

    Arroyo didn't hit him on purpose. I don’t think anyone watching the game could claim that. That being said, Arod overreacted almost as bad as Manny did in the '03 playoffs. What gives Arod the right to bark at the mound? He ought to have shut up and taken his base. Instead, Arod starts mouthing off to Arroyo, like he just got pegged intentionally. Is Jason Varitek supposed to just let Arod have his way with the 26 year old kid on the mound? Of course not, and credit Arroyo for not backing down and barking right back at Arod. So Varitek tells Arod to shut it, Arod tosses some F-bombs Varitek's way, and Varitek just loses it.

    Varitek started it, but I can't really blame him since I would have wanted to do the same thing. Nothing would have happened if Arod would have just kept his flapping mouth shut. I'm partly glad Tek jawed him to try and shut him up, and I only wish Mo Vauhgn was still around, Arod wouldn’t have tried anything back in those days.

    Watch the video again. It's great to see how some players react. Some guys (Nomar, Jeter, Bellhorn, Williams, Clark) just stand around and look concerned, with no intention of doing anything.

    Then you have wahoos like Tanyon Sturtze coming out of nowhere and grabbing some random guy (Gabe Kapler) in a choke hold. Some guys just look for a fight. David Ortiz was defending Kapler, but what the hell was Trot Nixon planning on doing by going after Sturtze? In the picture it looks like Trot is humping him.

    I would say suspensions are coming soon, definitely for Varitek, Sturtze, and Arod, in that order of severity. Nixon will probablly get a small suspension, and Ortiz might, depending if the commissioner's office views his wildly swinging arms as an actual attempt at a punch or not.

    Amazingly, Sturtze was not ejected, which was a blessing, as he'd probablly just plunk Manny and get tossed in the next inning anyways. Oh yeah, that and he sucks, so I wanted some runs off the bum. The Sox hit him up for two in the bottom half, and two more off Juan Padilla in the fourth.

    Red Sox 4, Yankees 3. Up.
    Meanwhile, it sure looked like Arroyo had settled down, and that by making Arod taste some leather, Varitek had shifted the momentum. But the Yankee bats came alive in the sixth, when Tito brought in "Gas Can" Leskanic, who very predictably walked three of the four batters he faced. The fourth was a 2-run single to Enrique freakin' Wilson, and this game looked to be heading towards a blowout.

    Yankees 9, Red Sox 4. Down.
    In the bottom of the sixth, the Red Sox came right back to score four on four hits and three walks. Never one to be outdone, Felix Heredia (who has been given the perfect nickname of "The Run Fairy" by the Yankee fans over at Primer) tried to one-up Leskanic. Joe Torre brought him in to face the lefty Ortiz, who he walked. By some idiotic lapse of judgement, Torre left him in to face Manny with the bases loaded. That’s like sending Screech into the ring against Bob "The Beast" Sapp. I mean Heredia sucks this year, and Manny CRUSHES lefties. (.381/.484/.679 over the last three years) It actually could have been worse as Heredia merely walked Manny, forcing in a run. Scott Proctor got Nomar to strikeout to end the memorable 6th.

    Yankees 9, Red Sox 8. Up.
    The sixth inning lasted over an hour, and saw 7 pitchers and 22 batters. This game was beginning to spiral out of control. Then the top of the 7th came, which was one of the stranger innings of all time. After a Ruben Sierra leadoff home run, the next three Yankees reached base on three consecutive Red Sox errors. Three straight errors, no outs, and the Yankees couldn’t score another run.

    Yankees 10, Red Sox 8. Down.
    Then the unthinkable happened. After the ugliest 6 ½ innings in baseball this year, the Yankees and Red Sox played two almost perfect innings. Nobody made any bonehead plays, there was no more fighting, and Scott Proctor, Alan Embree, and Ramiro Mendoza got people out. It either looked like both teams had given up on the game or they had suddenly remembered that they were professional ball clubs. I also was quickly losing faith that the Red Sox could win the game.

    Then came the bottom of the 9th, and Mo Rivera couldn’t find the strike zone. After a double to Nomar, Trot took Rivera to the deepest part of right field. That long out would have been long, long gone in the Bronx. The suddenly red-hot Kevin Millar then came up and singled, putting a man on for Billy Mueller.

    Mueller proceeded to drop one in the Red Sox bullpen sending Fenway into ¾ bedlam and ¼ shock. It sent me through the roof, and I may have somewhat injured myself in a private celebration. No matter, the Red Sox won, and I still can't believe the game I just witnessed.

    Red Sox 11, Yankees 10. Way up.
    Up was up again. Or down (Friday) was now up, only to become down again tommorrow? I have no idea what I am talking about, but this game was crazy. To name just a few of its features, we saw 21 runs on 27 hits and 8 walks. Four runs scored on groundouts, one on a sac-fly, and two from bases loaded walks. A hit batter (there has been at least one in each of the last four Sox/Yankees games, and 13 total in the 12 games) resulting in a bench clearing brawl and five ejections. We saw the bottom of both teams bullpens, and it was ugly. We saw three straight errors that didn’t score a run, and we saw Ramiro Mendoza pitch two perfect innings for his first win in over a year. Maybe this will help him start to prove that he's not a Yankee spy after all. We even saw a balk for crying out loud. I was half expecting the game to end with an unassisted triple play or something. It sure wouldn’t have surprised me. Instead, we saw Mariano Rivera blow a save with a walk-off HR for only the second time in his career.

    I really hope this game, with its brawl and the come from behind win is enough to light a fire under this team. They need to start playing better to make the playoffs and this very well could be the turnaround point in a season that has been very disappointing so far. If the game Friday—great game in its own right—was a warmup to this one, this one better not be a warmup for the game Sunday. I'm temporarily breaking my boycott of Derek Lowe starts, but if there is another draining game like this one, I might not make it through the rest of the season. As the immortal Big Chris would say, "it's been emotional."
    For now though, I'm off to get some sleep, hoping everything goes back to normal when I wake up, and I'll leave you with this, I think it says everything:

      Can we get a doctor in here?
    “When Yaz would be hitting and he’d strike out or pop up, I’d say to me, ‘Kenny, get out of Hawk’s way and let’s go,’• ” Harrelson said.
    For those of you in the Chicago area, or if you've ever had the misfortune of watching a White Sox TV broadcast, I suggest you check out this article and read the rest.

    Kenny, in case you are wondering, is Ken Harrelson, former ballplayer and current voice of the White Sox. Hawk, on the other hand, is Kenny's self-titled "alter ego".
    “I don’t look at myself as a rebel or a bad boy...........I was a product of my alter ego. Hawk, he was the guy who protected me all those years.”
    Seriously. The guy is unhinged. I always thought he was a little off, but now I am completely convinced he is certifiably insane. Or to put it more appropriately: he gone!
      Round III
    Another series starts tonight. This time the Red Sox are in do or die mode. They're 8 1/2 back in the AL East, and don't exactly look to be turning it around any time soon.

    Interestingly, the Red Sox find themselves in a similar position to the Cubs last week. Unfortunately for the Cubs, the Cardinals strolled into Wrigley and stole two games ("instant classics") effectively ending the NL Central Race.

    Without a sweep of the three game series, starting tonight, the Red Sox may also find themselves out of the race. Yet, there is hope, after all look at the pitching matchups: John "duct tape" Lieber vs. Curt Schilling tonight; Tanyon "10th inning" Sturtze vs. Bronson Arroyo tommorrow; and the all-enigmatic matchup of Jose Contreras and Derek Lowe on Sunday. On paper, the matchups heavily favor the Red Sox.

    On paper? Am I crazy?

    I'm really sick of speaking in "on paper" terms. To quote my good friend (and visionary) Lee Flowers, the Red Sox are paper champions. On paper, they were every bit as good as the Yankees, and still are. Except where it matters.

    All I know is what I see, and this is the relevant information I see:
              RS  AVG  OBP  SLG |  RA  BAA  OBA  SLA   ERA |  DER
    Red Sox 521 .277 .356 .464 | 455 .259 .325 .404 4.07 | .688
    Yankees 517 .263 .352 .456 | 451 .268 .318 .424 4.40 | .691
    On paper the Red Sox have better hitting, better pitching, and defense (DER) equal to the Yankees. But all that means a pile of poop. The only thing that matters is this:
               W    L    PCT    GB
    New York 60 34 .638 --
    Boston 52 43 .547 8.5
    For those of you looking for some grand explanation, I suggest you go elsewhere. But at least I'll give you a choice. I've already done the eavesdropping. I already know all the explanations you will hear offered. While almost all of them are based on a bunch of bullshit conventional talk radio wisdom, I really don't care anymore. Take your pick, save some time:
    The Yankees                 The Red Sox
    Mystique & Aura Cursed.
    Born Winners Born Losers
    grit Can't hit in the clutch.
    God's gift to clutchness. Can't pitch in the clutch.
    Captain Intangibles A bunch of bums off the street.
    Move runners up. Strike out too much.
    The Boss Boy Wonder
    $183M $125M
    You know what bothers me the most? I don't believe any of that bullshit, but I also can't give in to your typical "it's just bad luck" excuse. I've lost the rational ability to explain what I see. I can't come up with any reason. I can't come up with anything but frustration.

    Well, that and irrational, bitter hatred towards an entire baseball franchise.
    Greg Maddux pitched his second consecutive complete game last night. Check out his line:
    9 IP  4 H  0 BB  2 ER  6 K
    The two runs came off two home runs by Javier Valentin. Yes, that Javier Valentin, he of the 14 career home runs. It took Maddux only 92 pitches to spin this gem, and reminded me of watching him in '95. Heck, it reminded me of watching him for all of the 90's, when there was none better.

    If nobody plans on bringing attention to Greg Maddux's win total, I'll continute to do my best to remind everyone lucky enough to stop by here. I said it before, and I'll say it once more (and probablly for #299 & #300 as well). We don't know how lucky we are to have watched this guy pitch. It sure seems that nobody will truly appreciate him until he's gone. It's insane he's getting such little publicity for this. Do you guys think its because of his reserved nature, because he's underrated overall, or just that people are sick of it all after seeing Roger Clemens do it just last year? I'm not sick of it at all.
    Just more proof that people will try to sell you anything. In case you forgot to ask someone to tape this debacle, you can have the scratchy video on YOUR computer! Own this classic keepsake today! Are they serious? Who buys stuff like that?
      The Cardinals in '04? Only on the backs of these three:

    I would have never guessed, but apparently I keep on ripping on the Cardinals. This has never been my intention. I actually like the Cardinals and I really like the city of St. Louis. The fans are a little passive and too polite for my taste, but you have to remember what I'm used to. One of those polite fans, who shall remain nameless, sent me an uncharacteristically angry email, in response to my latest "rip". Looking back, it didn’t seem all that bad, but I guess comparing the Cardinals to a former World Series champion is an insult in some people's book.

    Regardless, the Cardinals have been great so far. No question there. The real question about the Cardinals is: can they keep it up? I gather from the couple of Cards fans I've talked to, that people in St. Louis think they can. Me and the rest of the country? We're not too sure about that.

    The Cardinals are outperforming just about everyone's preseason predictions. I think everyone can at least agree on that. They have an eight game lead in a division they were "supposed" to finish third in. They have the best record in the NL, and the second best in MLB, second only to the Yankees. Yet while the Yankees success comes as no surprise, the Cardinals never really struck me as a 101 win team.

    So what changed? Nobody questioned their offense or defense. Last year they scored 876 runs, second most in the NL. This year they are on pace for 871, again, second most in the NL. Declines from Edgar Renteria, Albert Pujols, and the loss of J.D. Drew have been offset by excellent years from Scott Rolen, Ray Lankford, and Tony Womack (of all people).

    Their pitching, on the other hand, is on pace to only allow 673 runs, fourth fewest in the NL, and a huge improvement from 2003 when they allowed 796 runs. Last year, only five NL teams had worse (non-park-adjusted) pitching. This year only three have been better, the Cubs, Dodgers, and Padres. After adjusting for home park, the Cards might even be better this year than the Padres and Dodgers, but I'm lazy.

    How easy is it to improve a pitching staff by 100 runs? Apparently, all you have to do is replace the 101 awful starts from some combination of Brett Tomko (currently pissing off Giant fans), Garrett Stephenson (injured), Danny Haren (minors), Jason Simontacchi (minors), Sterling Hitchcock (injured), and Jeff Fassero (dead). The Cardinals have relied on a trio that is currently on pace for 95 starts with a 3.79 ERA, or more importantly, a hell of a lot better than the 2003 options.

    Chris Carpenter, a one-time Blue Jay prospect (and New England native) had his first solid year in 2001, then struggled through two years of injuries, including missing all of 2003. He has come back into his 2001 form, only with better control and gone 9-4 with a 3.87 ERA. Whether or not he can keep that up is a real question, especially with his lengthy history of arm injuries.

    The Cardinals also signed free agent Jeff Suppan. Prior to 2004, Suppan was pretty much the definition of a league average pitcher, with some good years and some bad, but mostly just an innings eater. It's not out of the question for him to put together a career year at age 29 though, so he may continue the success that has helped him go 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA.

    As part of the J.D Drew trade, the Cards got back Braves prospect Jason Marquis. There was a time not too long ago that people assumed that any traded Braves prospect wouldn’t amount to anything. I think after Marquis, and Odalis Perez, we can adjust that theory slightly.

    Woody Williams will be turning 38 this year, and only has the end of his career to look forward to. Considering Matt Morris hasn't had his curveball working since the '03 All-Star break, the Cardinals absolutely need Carpenter, Marquis, and Suppan to continue their pace. A relapse by any of the three and the Cardinals will slowly sink back towards the pack. A relapse by two of them and the Cardinals will soon be seeing the Cubs in the rear view mirror.

    Like the 2002 Anaheim Angels, who I compared them to, the Cardinals are having a number of unexpected, fluke, or career seasons. For every Scott Spiezio, and Adam Kennedey on offense, the Cardinals have a Rolen and a Womack. Carpenter, Suppan, and Marquis are just the Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn, and John Lackey of the 2002 Angels. Whether or not Marquis starts and wins game seven of the World Series remains to be seen, but the Cardinals have at least put themselves in place to give it a shot.

    If it were my team, I wouldn’t want success to be so heavily dependent on three average guys in the middle of great seasons, but its worked before and there is no reason why it can't work again. If I were a betting man (unfortunately I am), I wouldn't want to bet on this team being the next version of the '02 Angels, but stranger things have happened.
      Vintage Maddux.
    Today I got to watch one of those increasingly rare performances by Greg Maddux, which reminds me why he is one of the greatest pitchers ever. He's always been one of my favorites, and today he was in a groove, tossing a complete game 6-hit shutout in vintage-1995, 103 pitch efficiency.

    The Cubs amazingly scored some runs and gave The Professor his 297th win. My question, why is this getting no press? I bet nobody ever expected me, of all people, to complain about an east-coast media bias, but how much publicity surrounded Clemens when he was going for #300 last year? Will somebody go wake up the ESPN cartel and tell 'em to fire up the hype machine. Apparently they are too busy talking about the Lakers and imitating VH1 countdown specials to cover real sports.

    It's a shame that 20 years from now Greg Maddux will probablly still be in the shadow of Clemens. Clemens really has only been slightly better, and Maddux's peak years were much more impressive. Plus I like Maddux more. That ought to count for something.
      It is officially time to worry.
    In his first game pitching after the All-Star break, Mark Prior felt some pain in his elbow and left before completing the second inning. This is not good. Not good at all.

    We don't even know if this is serious, yet. If its not, false alarm. If it is serious though, it's officially time to worry. But while it may be time to worry, its not time to panic. Yet.

    Without Mark Prior, the Cubs will never catch the Cardinals, who hold a seven game lead in the Central. Keeping that all in perspective, without Mark Prior and/or Kerry Wood, the Cubs have still been good enough to keep pace with the best in the NL. They are only a game back of San Francisco for the wild card (who were 15-23 on May 16th, incidentally). The Cubs are also only a game and a half back of the 2nd best record in the National League. So considering the injuries they have had to work through, including significant time missed by their three best players, the Cubs are still ok. It just looks a lot worse because St. Louis is putting together a good imitation of the 2002 Anaheim "career year" Angels.

    The Cubs still need to be worried, however, because by getting outpaced in their division, they have essentially cut their playoff chances in half. That's not good. If they do make the playoffs though, I still like a healthy Cub team over anyone in MLB, not including a healthy Yankees or Red Sox.

    At this point I am more worried about the progress of Prior's career, the best young pitcher since Roger Clemens (or Rick Ankiel if you happen to be a Cardinal fan). Prior's career has been seriously derailed by injuries in only his second full season. Remember the rumors earlier in the year of Prior needing Tommy John surgery? Expect those to start re-surfacing again. Unfounded? Who knows. It's very easy to speculate now, after only 7 starts, that Prior's elbow wasn't completely healthy coming off the DL.

    To start his career, Prior had everything pointing in the right direction, everything said that this kid would put together a hall of fame career.

    That is, if he stayed healthy.

    That is a big "if" for any young pitcher, more so one lucky enough to answer to Dusty Baker's leash. It will be bad for the game if Prior's injury proneness turns out to be a real issue. Have you paid attention to all the attention surrounding Roger Clemens? Baseball fans want to see historic seasons and historic careers. Mark Prior had a better chance than almost anyone to give fans exactly that. This is turning into a very scary trend to start his career.
    Look, if your name just doesn't happen to be Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, or Ted Williams, you cannot carry a baseball team. I am sorry to everyone else who might delude themselves into thinking they have at one point or another, but it just doesn't happen. ESPN seems to think that Pudge is doing exactly that. Tell that to Nate Robertson, Carlos Guillen, Rondell White, or Brandon Inge, all having great years. Heck, even Omar Infante has improved significantly over his wretched 2003.

    I'm not trying to take anything away from Pudge, he's having a great year. But lets not get all crazy over the .377 batting average without keeping it in context. Even in what looks to be his career year, Pudge is about as good as Jorge Posada with the bat. With the huge defensive advantage, of course, Pudge is much better, but dont be fooled. Pudge is very clearly the best catcher in the league right now, and he is in a small class of people in contention for the first half MVP (Bonds, Vlad, Manny, Rolen, Abreu, Thome, Pujols, I forget anybody?), but its definitely not as clear as the ESPN cartel would make you think. Without Carlos Guillen, this team isn't even sniffing .500.

    Before, I stop this pointless ramble, can everyone stop referring to Pudge as going to Detroit to turn around a franchise. This is a man who has a statue of himself in his own palace. Pudge went to the only team that was prepared to drop that contract on a 32 year old catcher. Good for Detroit though, they realized a greedy bastard like Pudge might have a good year if they gave him (lightbulb) an incentive laden contract. Check out these incentives:
    MVP:                     $500k
    2nd (or more) MVP: $1M
    2-5th place MVP: $200k
    6-10th place MVP $100k
    All-star starter: $100k
    All-star reserve: $50k
    Hank Aaron Award: $100k
    Post-season All-star: $100k
    World Series MVP: $200k
    League Championship MVP: $150k
    Gold Glove: $100k
    Silver Slugger: $100k
    Exhibit A on how to motivate a greedy bastard. Now excuse me, I have to go model for the marble statue of myself I am having sculpted.
      I swear. I had nothing to do with it.

      NL Rookies.
    Khalil Greene, SS SD:….266 ABs, 4 HRs, 2 SBs, .263/.351/.395
    Greene started off hot but has cooled somewhat to .240/.318/.349 over the last two months. That's fine, theres going to be an adjustment for any rookie, and he's hitting pretty much what you would expect given his minor league numbers. From what I can tell his defense at short has been better than advertised, making him a success so far. I would guess there is just enough hype, especially if the Padres make a pennant push, to make Khalil the NL Rookie of the Year. Look for him to improve in the coming years and be a solid big league SS for many years to come.

    Kaz Matsui, SS NYM:….324 ABs, 7 HRs, 12 SBs, .259/.331/.398
    Little Matsui has been declared a bust by just about everybody, but he really hasn’t been that bad. The problem is that the New York hype machine was expecting Miguel Tejada, and instead they got Christian Guzman for the reasonable price of a 3 yr/$21M contract. There's still is time for him to go on a hot streak and make his numbers look respectable. In that case he'd make a decent investment. If he can have a second year improvement like his unrelated countryman Hideki Matsui he'll give the Mets at least an even return on their investment.

    Akinori Otsuka, RP SD:….39 G, 39.3 IP, 43/12 K/BB, 2.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
    Another Japanese relief pitcher making an immediate impact. If you haven't seen this guy pitch its worth it, he's got this strange delivery where he double pumps his pitching arm out of the stretch. Hey, the novelty worked for Nomo, and judging by the success, its working for Otsuka. Considering the success of Otsuka, Takatsu, in addition to Hasegawa and Sasaki in Seattle, expect teams to continue to bring in polished Japanese relief pitchers.

    Chad Tracy, 3B ARI:….232 ABs, 4 HRs, .284/.337/.427
    Arizona has started more rookies than they would probablly like to admit, but at least two of them have real potential to turn into excellent ballplayers. Tracy, once ridiculously blocked by Shea "it ain't so" Hillenbrand, now has a chance and he's hit pretty well. He'll only get better and should be a very good third baseman for the D-Backs rebuilding project.

    Scott Hairston, 2B ARI:….148 ABs, 4 HRs, .277/.323/.486
    What is it with the Diamondbacks and blocking good young prospects? Tracy might have got his chance, but Hairston is still ridiculously blocked by Roberto Alomar. I would have thought Hairston was still a little ways away from being ready for the majors, but he's hit well in his limited time filling in for the injured Alomar. Now that Alomar is back, the D-Backs claim to be committed to playing Hairston, sparking the always pleasant Alomar to demand a trade. Don't worry Robbie, I'm sure that's exactly what they have in mind for you. Hairston likely will outhit Alomar, yet their new manager has been playing Alomar. This is just dumb, the only reason I can conjure up is that they are showcasing Alomar for a trade. In that case I can save you the effort, every GM already knows what Robbie Alomar has left, and its somewhere in between nothing and not much.

    Chase Utley, 2B PHI:….125 ABs, 6 HRs, .256/.290/.472
    If I keep repeating it, does it make it more likely that someone will listen? I just don’t understand why teams call up their top prospects, start their arbitration clock ticking, only to watch them rot on the bench. Chase Utley is probablly the Phillies second best prospect (after SP Cole Hamels). After making the jump from A to AAA in 2002, Utley tore up AAA in 2003. Most people thought he was ready, but it wasn’t until Placido Polanco went down with an injury that Chase got his chance. He hit well and it makes you wonder if Larry Bowa isn't just a hot-headed version of Dusty Baker. Let's be realistic, Polanco is really just a suped-up utility player and Bowa would have one of the better benches in baseball with Polanco instead of Doug Glanville or Tomas Perez sucking up outs.

    Jason Bay, OF PIT:….136 ABs, 10 HRs, 2 SBs, .301/.374/.618
    Jason Bay can hit. Let's just get that out of the way. The kid has hit everywhere he's gone, and his first tour of the majors has been no exception. His 10 HRs is the equivalent of roughly 40-45 over a full season. If he can get enough at-bats to qualify, he has a chance to beat the rookie slugging record of .630 set in 1930 by the immortal but 30 year old George Watkins. The big thing for Bay will be to stay healthy, which he has had trouble over his brief pro career, and again is experiencing pain in the shoulder he had offseason surgery on. Bay was acquired by Pittsburgh with second year pitcher Oliver Perez for Brian Giles in 2003, the success of Bay and Perez is making the trade look better and better for the Pirates.

    Chad Cordero, RP MON:….37 G, 44 IP, 39/27 K/BB, 3.07 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
    Ryan Wagner, RP CIN:....19 G, 16.6 IP, 10/11 K/BB, 5.94 ERA, 2.22 WHIP
    I grouped these two together because they were part of the same experiment. Both were first round picks in 2003, and during the pre-season, a lot of people were talking about how the "success" of these two would instigate a new "Moneyball" type strategy: drafting college closers. The idea was that college fireballers like Cordero and Wagner would be ready for the bigs after only a short season at AA, and therefore more valuable on draft day. It looks like it might be a 50/50 shot, so maybe this idea won't catch on as some people suggested.
      AL Rookies.
    As we near the All-Star break, I thought I'd take a quick look at how some of the new arrivals and how they've fared over the first half. Today I'll take a look at the AL, maybe tommorrow I'll take a look at the other half.

    Lew Ford, OF MIN:....273 ABs, 9 HRs, 9 SBs, .315/.382/.487
    Lew Ford is probablly the AL rookie of the year through this point. Part of Minnesota's excess of good young outfielders, Lew stepped in when it seemed most of the Twins roster went down with injuries. As a result, Minnesota hasn’t missed Shannon Stewart a lick, and Ford is showing why it was dumb for a team on a limited budget to give Stewart a 3 yr/$18M deal when you have a perfectly legitimate (and cheap) option already on the roster. The biggest shame is that Ford is 27 already, and just now getting a shot.

    Joe Mauer, C MIN:....74 ABs, 5 HR, .284/.365/.554
    Here's a name you'll all get used to in the next decade. Mauer injured his knee early in the season, which is a very scary injury for a catcher to have at 21. He's going to hit .300 with doubles power that is likely to turn into home run power as he continues to mature. Barring any lingering effects to his knee, Mauer has a good chance to be the best cather in the league very soon, and for many years to come.

    Zack Greinke, SP KC:....8 GS, 50.3 IP, 33/9 K/BB, 3.58 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
    Greinke was probablly the best, major-league-ready pitching prospect going into the year. He was called up on May 22nd and has pitched pretty well (and much better than the record would suggest) despite a very low strikeout rate. Greinke never really was a big time strikeout guy in the minors, but with his pinpoint control he has succeeded so far. He's a very good bet to continue to do so. Look for him to pitch the next 3-5 years in Kansas City and then sign with the Yankees in his free agency year.

    Shingo Takatsu, RP CHW:....28 G, 30.3 IP, 21/7 K/BB, 1.19 ERA, 0.73 WHIP
    Mr. Zero not only has the coolest nickname in the bigs, but has also pitched extremely well for the White Sox. Has made Billy Koch expendable, although I would argue that Billy Koch has been expendable on his own for several years now. He's a 35 year old "rookie" so he better try and turn this performance into a nice contract before he goes the way of Tony Castillo.

    Bobby Crosby, SS OAK:....253 ABs, 11 HRs, 4 SBs, .277/.337/.482
    Oakland didn't bat an eye when Miguel Tejada left in free agency. They knew Crosby could at least play to a replacement level this year, and there was the chance he might be as good as Tejada. Crosby isn't that good yet, but it looks like he might be soon. He is striking out a lot, but the flashes of power pretty much show that Crosby is here to stay.

    Alexis Rios, CF TOR:....118 ABs, 0 HRs, 1 SB, .254/.307/.331
    Since nobody pays attention to what the heck is going on in Toronto these days, I'll fill you in. They're bad. There's not much positive they can take from this season, but at least they do have a young team with a lot of potential. That’s something Seattle could only dream for. Alexis Rios is part of that future for Toronto. He has replaced the injured Vernon Wells, and while he isn't quite ready for the bigs, eventually (maybe as early as next year) Rios will be pushing Wells to a corner outfield spot. Rios has shown in his brief time that he can hit big league pitching, now its just a matter of whether his power will develop. He's a funny kid to look at, as he's 6'5" and doesn't even crack 200 lbs. He's only 23, so if he ever fills out the power may come and make Rios a very good ballplayer.

    Chad Gaudin, SP/RP TB:....18 G, 4 GS, 30.3 IP, 23/11 K/BB, 4.45 ERA, 1.68 WHIP
    If nobody is paying attention to what is happening in Toronto, I know nobody is paying attention to what is happening in Tampa Bay. Chad Gaudin pitched mainly in relief last year (and pitched well: 3.60 ERA in 40.0 IP). Tampa Bay recently moved him into the rotation, and its not often you see a 21 year old kid be able to hold his own against big league hitters. Usually it raises some eyebrows when they do, but not Gaudin, he pitches in Tampa Bay. If you look a little closer you'll see that Gaudin also destroyed minor league hitters, so it shouldn’t come as that much of a shock. But, he does pitch for Tampa Bay.

    Doug Waechter, SP TB:....9 GS, 50.7 IP, 23/18 K/BB, 4.97 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
    With Doug Waechter, Tampa Bay actually has two pitching prospects. Pretty amazing isn't it? Both have been rushed to the big leagues because, well, they pitch for Tampa Bay. Waechter has at least held his own, and could turn into a decent middle of the rotation guy. With Waechter and Gaudin, Tampa Bay could have 2/5 of a pretty decent rotation to help out the young bats that will soon include Delmon Young and B.J. Upton. I'd say things were looking up for the Devil Rays who still sit in THIRD place, but again, it’s the Devil Rays.

    Kevin Youkilis, 3B BOS:....117 ABs, 3 HRs, .299/.399/.453
    Well, "The Greek God of Walks" hasn’t sold any jeans this year, but he's sure done his best to prove he belongs in the bigs. He hasn’t let his nickname down either with 18 walks in 117 ABs. Youkilis was supposed to spend a full year and be ready for 2005. When the man he was supposed to replace, Bill Mueller, went down with a knee injury, Youks got his chance. He has played well enough even to stay in the lineup even after Mueller returns. Whether or not he sticks in the bigs this year, Youkilis will be at third for the Red Sox next year and for many years after.

    Eric Bedard, SP BAL:....13 GS, 63.3 IP, 48/36 K/BB, 3.69 ERA, 1.59 WHIP
    We knew going into the year that Baltimore's rotation was going to be Sidney Ponson and four kids. We just didn’t know which kids. Baltimore's current cellar dwelling position is a result none of their young pitchers producing anything meaningful. Kurt Ainsworth got hurt, Matt Riley and Eric DuBose both sucked up the joint, then both got hurt. Bedard and Cabrera have been what Ainsworth, Riley and DuBose were supposed to be. Neither has been all that effective, but they've at least given Oriole fans a reason to look forward to next year. Bedard has pitched pretty well, especially lately, after struggling with some wildness early. If he can cut down on the walks, Bedard could turn into a solid starter.

    Daniel Cabrera, SP BAL:....10 GS, 63 IP, 27/28 K/BB, 3.29 IP, 1.29 WHIP
    Cabrera is an interesting case. He started the year in AA and has pitched well for the desperate Orioles since being called up, including a complete game win against the Braves. He keeps the ball down, getting a lot of ground balls, and could continue the success, just like Brandon Webb last year. Then again, the league could catch up to him and that tiny K-rate and knock him all the way back to AA where he most likely belongs.

    Jason Frasor, RP TOR:....30 G, 34.3 IP, 26/15 K/BB, 1.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
    This former Southern Illinois Saluki has pitched very well for the Blue Jays, providing a night-light of sorts in the black hole that has been Toronto's bullpen. Frasor throws gas, but has never been mentioned as a "prospect". Most of that is due to his relief pitcher status, but he has pitched well enough to get moved into Toronto's closer role, although he could have pitched like Kurt Knudsen and probablly still got the nod in that mess.

    Later guys, NL Rookies this weekend sometime.