MLB Second Half has begun

With a full slate of games tonight, the second half of the MLB season has truly begun.

The first certainly produced a few surprises.  The slump of David Ortiz, the scuffles of the Tampa Bay Rays, the never ending soap opera that is the NY Mets, the surprising start of the SF Giants, the mess that are the Central divisions in both leagues, A-Roid, and Manny-gate.  You just never know what’s going to happen in Baseball.

I’d like to give my condolences to Manny Acta, the recently let go manager of the Washington Nationals.  I really feel bad for him.  He was handed a bad situation, exacerbated by injuries, and was expected to perfrom a miracle.  So, when Washington performed to expectations, ok, maybe a little below expectations, he got the axe.  Maybe if the brain trust in DC would have given him more pitching, particularly in the bull pen, the Nat’s wouldn’t be so awful.  they’d still be bad, but not awful.  And the nagging injuried to guys like Ryan Zimmerman don’t help either.

Now for some 1st half “awards:”

Al Cy Young- Roy Halladay (TOR).  Josh Beckett (BOS) is a close second, but Roy takes it.  He should win it at the end of the year, as long as he stays in the AL.

NL Cy Young- Tim Lincecum (SF).  Matt Cain (SF) his teammate can give Tim a run for it, but I think that Lincecum is the odds on favorite to win his second consecutive award.

AL MVP- This is a tough one, with so many good candidates.  Jason Bay and Kevin Youkilis (BOS) are solid contenders, as is A-Roid (NYY), Nelson Cruz (TEX), and even Torii Hunter (LAA).  For myself, it would come down between Bay and A-Roid.  I’d give the edge to Bay mainly for his complete lack of controversy, and how he carried the Red Sox while Ortiz struggled.

NL MVP- Albert Pujols (STL).  Is there any doubt?  I can’t think of anyone else in the NL who even comes close to meaning what Puljols does to the Cardinals.

AL Manager of the Year- Mike Sciosia (LAA).  Jim Leyland (DET), Ron Gardenhire (MIN), and Terry Francona (BOS) deserve some notice, but none of them have faced the adversities that Scioscia and the Angels have this year.  Don Wakamatsu of Seattle should finish a close second.

NL Manager of the Year: Bruce Bochy (SFG).  Joe Torre (LAD) will get some votes, being Joe Torre and managing in LA, but Bochy should win this.

Looking forward, I expect to see a few things happen.  Texas will fade in the AL West.  They just do not have the pitching, in the rotation or the pen, to compete with the Angels and Mariners.  If the Mariners get a big bat to help their offense, they can give the Angels a serious challenge for the division, and the Yankees for the Wild Card.

The AL Central will come down to the Twins and Tigers.  The White Sox are just too inconsistent to pose a real threat.  The Twins have a terrific 1-2 punch with Mauer and Morneau, a top notch closer in Joe Nathan, and enough pitching to compete in the division.  The Tigers have an issue in the bullpen with no clear closer, but their rotation is by far the strongest in the division.  Expect the Indians to sell of a few players before the trade dead line, like Jamey Carroll and Rafael Betancourt.  Don;t believe the rumors surrounding Victor Martinez.

The AL East is going to continue to be a slugfest.  The Red Sox should win the division by 4-5 games.  The Yankees are something of an enigma, and what actions they take may be dictated not by baseball reasoning, but by the sports writers and vocal fans.  Brian Cashman may be forced to amek a deal he doesn’t want to, with Toronto’s Roy Halladay the main target.  The problem with the Yankees is that they are one injury away from being dead in the water.  The loss of an OF, A-Roid, or another SP will kill their season, trade or no trade.  Toronto is in a tough position, especially with Halladay.  He’s owed a lot of money for next year, and Toronto is 2-3 years away from being truly competetive.  They could get a lot for him, if they deal him.  He’s the prize of this years trade sweepstakes.  Tampa Bay could be surprising in the 2nd half, potentially passing the Yankees in the standings.  Despite the loss of Aki Iwamura, they have a solid offense, defense, and pitching staff.  You cna just write Baltimore off now.

Over in the senior circuit, the NL East is one ugly division.  It seems like half the time no one wants to win it.  The NY Mets are wracked with injuries (Reyes, Delgado, Beltran), and guys like David Wright are under performing.  The Phillies are so streaky, just like the Marlins, that one week they’re hot, the next they’re cold.  I’m not sure adding Pedro Martinez will do much for the Phils, given that Pedro likely won’t go more than 5 innings in any given start.

The Central division is far more competetive, probably the most competetive in Baseball.  The Cards, the Cubs, the Brewers, and Astros are all in it.  Only Pittsburgh is out.  The top teams are so evenly matched, which surprising given that an ace like the Astro’s Roy Oswalt is having an off year.  These will be the teams most active in acquiring a player before the dead line.  Look for the Brewers to get a pitcher, the Cubs a hitter, and the Cards for the best player they can get(a pitcher most likely).  I would offer that who ever makes the best deal by the trade dead line will win this division.

The NL West is a run away for the LA Dodgers so far.  San Francisco is off to a somewhat unexpected start, and could nail down the Wild Card for the NL by the end of August.  The Diamondbacks season was lost when Brandon Webb went down to inury.  Sand Diego, who had one of the more coveted SP in Baseball, lost out on a chance to make a big deal when Peavy went down to an ankle injury.

The Red Sox and Julio Lugo are about to part company.  This is far from unexpected.  The only question is if he will be traded or released, as I don’t expect he will accept assigment to the minors.  Likely suitors for Lugo will be Seattle, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Chicago Cubs.  If a deal is made, the Sox will have to pick up most, if not all of his salary, and will only get a medium level of value in return.

Expect eric Wedge to be fired in Cleveland.  He may last the season, depending on how the Tribe’s 2nd half goes, but he won’t be back next year.  Joe Girardi may be on the hot seat as well, more so if Cashman makes a deal and the Yankees don’t make the play offs.

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Manny who?

Manny, Manny, Manny.  We always knew you were an idiot, but this?

By now, everyone in the Baseball, heck the whole sports world, knows that Manny Ramirez, the highly paid outfielder for the LA Dodgers, has been suspended, without pay, for 50 games for failing a Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) test.  He becomes the biggest name to have been suspended since active testing began.  It’s a first time failure, hence the “mere” 50 game ban.  Bet the McCourt’s and Dodger’s brain trust are loving this.  Especially after all the hoopla in the offseason before he resigned with Los Angeles.

Now, for those of us who have watched Manny since he came up with the Indians way back when, we knew he was mercurial at best, and down right looney at worst.  While he never went to such strangeness in Cleveland as he did in Boston, he still had those “Manny being Manny” moments.  He’s always been one to just be in his own world, be it on or off the field.  He just did his own thing, and never a care for who thought what of him.

Even so, this PED test failure comes as a bit of a shock.  Unlike many others who have been linked to various PEDs, Manny was not one of them.  Even with his strange behaviors, no one ever made any sort of even vaguely sustainable links between Ramirez and PEDs.  Now, one could argue now that PED’s are the cause of much of Manny’s behavior quirks.  But IMO that’s just hind sight.  No, I think this is just as Manny said in his statement, he was an idiot.  He should have done more checking on what he was being given, and if it would fall under the banned substance rules of MLB.  He admits to this in his statement, and accepts “responsibility” for his actions, and will not challenge the suspension.  Oh, and he does have a point, in that he has passed some 15 previous PED tests administered by MLB.  So, in the absence of any further information, I will take Manny at his word (such that it is).  He’s taking his lumps, and that should be that.

I found it unsurprising that the media rather than talking primarily to the Dodgers, instead went to Boston.  After all the drama that surrounded Manny and his exit from the Red Sox, it was obviously where reporters thought they’d get some sort of sallacious details.  Unfortunately for them, the Sox weren’t so obliging.  Yes, Dustin Pedroia talked a bit, as did David Ortiz, and Terry Francona.  Yet in each case, they weren’t all that interested in giving scandalous details to reporters, even if they had any.  The general gist of the comments can be summed up as: “Manny’s in LA, not in Boston.  He’s not here, so why should we talk about him?”

This leads me to the man who “replaced” Manny Ramirez in Left Field for the Sox, one Jason Bay.  While Bay did not put up those lights out kind of numbers Manny could after he came over from Pittsburgh, he did more than enough to cement himself as an important part of the Red Sox team.  But his start this year has been outstanding.  He’s produced in the clutch (take that Mariano Rivera!), has been getting on base consistently (tied for the MLB lead in walks), driving in runs, and swiping the occasional bag with ease.  Further more, he’s as far removed from Manny personality wise as one could possibly get.  Not to mention a better defensive Left Fielder.  Bay is a fairly quiet (but not reclusive) player, who prefers to let his efforts on the field speak for themselves.  He’s much more a team player than Manny, and not one to seek, or even be found on the tabloid pages.  Basically, he’s the ideal Red Sox player.

So, like many in Red Sox nation, I’ll keep saying “Manny who” anytime he gets mentioned.

2008 MLB All Star Game

Wow.  A late night, 15 inning affair, one that had several people sweating bullets like it was 2002 again.

I think the happiest people in the park when Justin Morneau scored were Terry Francona, Jim Leyland, and Bud Selig.  Not just that the AL had won, but they were saved from having to make some really rough decisions if the game went into a 16th inning.  A brief recap first though…

Scoring was hard to find this year.  It was quite clear that the pitchers, from both the AL and NL, were out to win this game.  Matt Holliday got the scoring going with a solo HR in the 5th, which was followed by a another run in the 6th on a Lance Berkman Sac Fly.  MVP JD Drew got the AL back with a 2-run HR in the 7th.  Things got a bit ugly in the 8th when Jon Papelbon took the mound for the AL.  After some highly misinterperted comments got some typical NYC press coverage, the crowd got on Pap bad.  With the crowd chanting for Mariano Rivera, and a run of “over rated” chants, Miguel Tejada singled, stole second, and got to third on Dioner Navarro’s throwing error.  IMO, the crowd had an effect that inning.  I think that Navarro let the crowd get to him a bit, and he rushed his throw to second trying to get things quieted a bit.  Instead, he threw the ball into CF, which allowed Tejada to score on an Adrian Gonzalez Sac Fly.  As a side note, even Derek Jeter thought the crowd was “off” waving at them dismissively at one point.  Bet that doesn’t make the NYC papers.

Down 3-2, Grady Sizemore of the AL singled in the 8th, and then stole second uncontested.  With two outs, PH Evan Longoria (the fan vote 10th man), hit a ground rule double, scoring Sizemore.  Score tied 3-3.  Mariano River came in in the 9th, and worked almost 2 full innings, trying to get the win, and had to work out of a jam to preserve the 3-3 tie.  Things just got wild from there.

Rockies pitcher Aaron Cook had a bases loaded, no out jam, and got out of the inning unscathed.  Poor Dan Uggla.  He had a rough couple of innings, including back to back errors.  Yet neither error hurt the NL.  But Uggla couldn’t make up for the errors at the plate, going down twice more in the game.  Fast forward to the 15th inning..

Things were getting real tight in the 15th.  Scott Kazmir pitched the inning for the AL.  He wasn’t supposed to pitch at all, having thrown over 100 pitches on Sunday.  Then again, neither was Brandon Webb for the NL who had done the same, and pitched the 14th for the NL.  Kazimir was the last pitcher for the AL.  The NL only had Brad Lidge left.  Kazimir got a 1-2-3 15th for the AL.

Clint Hurdle brought in Lidge for the 15th.  He had some trouble, and ended up with a bases loaded, 1 out situation.  With the infield and OF “in,” Michael Young stepped up to the plate.  He hit a short fly ball to RF Corey Hart (the NL’s fan vote 10th man), who threw home as Justin Morneau tagged from third.  Morneau got in just ahead of Brian McCann’s tag, giving the Al the 4-3 win.

As Morneau tagged up, both managers were sweating bullets, along with Commissioner Bud Selig.  They were all out of players, pitchers and position players.  Every one on both rosters had been used.  Had the game gone to the 16th, Terry Francona was going to face a tough decision: Try to get 1 more inning out of Kazmir, and risk over using him, or got to a position player.  Clint Hurdle was facing a similar situation with Brad Lidge.  According to MLB.com, JD Drew was up to pitch for the AL, and David Wright for the NL.  Wouldn’t that have been interesting.  Yet Justin Mornaeu saved them from having to make those choices.  Francona was so elated I thought he was going to kiss Jim Leyland, who he’d obviously been consulting closely with on the matter.  And I haven’t seen the eternally grumpy Jim Leyland that happy since he won the World series with the Marlins.

So, thanks to a basic, fundamental baseball play, we were saved from seeing either another tie (which Selig said would not happen), or seeing position players tossing BP in the 16th.  And the crowd that remained, which I’d estimate at about a third of those who showed up originally, got to see an exciting play to end the game.

Now the good, bad, and ugly from the broadcast.

The good:

The tributes with the Hall of Famers.  It’s always fun to see the living HoF’ers gather together.  All that talent, all those memories, all those great players.  And it was the last All Star game at Yankee Stadium, which made it just a bit more special than in past years.I really liked how they broke the HoF’ers down by position, and introduced the All Star starters at each position after them. 

The tribute to Bobby Murcer.  Murcer passed away a few days ago, and was a well liked player and broadcaster.  I always liked Murcer, first as a player, then as a broadcaster.  One of the few Yankees I can say that about.  It’s too bad it was only one short bit about half way through the game.  He deserved a bit more than that IMO.

The game itself was a classic.  What more could one ask for?  You had everything happen.  Great pitching, cluth hitting, spectacular and awful defense, and close plays.  It would have been nice if they could have gotten it over in 9, but the excitement never ended in the extras.

Josh Groban singing “God Bless America.”  One of the better renditions I’ve heard in quite a while.  Usually these are just fluff additions to get non-baseball viewers to tune in.  But Groban didn’t mail in his performance, and in fact excelled at it. 

The Bad:

The Yankee ass kissing by Joe Buck.  Why didn’t Fox just cut to the chase and have Michael Kay do the broadcast?  Nobody kisses Yankee ass during a broadcast like Kay.  Though Yogi in the booth was worth while.  But still, Joe Buck could have been a bit more impartial, and not just keep sucking up to the Yankees.  the Steinbrenner comments alone made me cringe.

Too much Yankee this and that.  Yes I get it.  It was Yankee stadium.  It was the last All Star game there.  But there should be a limit.  I didn’t mind the Yankee HoF’ers throwing out the ceremonial first picth, that was to be expected.  But the crap with Steinbrenner bringing out the balls, and the constant cuts to the Monuments, just got annoying. 

Ken Rosenthal.  Ugh.  He’s awful.  Terrible even.  While no Rex Hudler, he’s still an rotten reporter and broadcaster.  He should be nicknamed Captain Obvious, as he’s rarely, if ever, insightful, or provides any sort of in depth analysis or information.

The Ugly:

Sheryl Crow siging the National Anthem.  Yikes, was that bad.  I’ve seen good, bad, and ugly performances of the National Anthem, and this one was ugly.  She couldn’t even keep her own timing.  Her voice was off, her guitar was slightly out of tune.  And she kept changing the time of the music, and threw herself off at least twice.

The Yankee partisans in the crowd.  I already mentioned what happened in the 8th with Papelbon on the mound.  The stupid crowd nearly cost the AL the game.  I get booing Red Sox players.  I expect that, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Yet the crowd went “one step beyond” in the 8th.  Even the Yankee players and Joe Girardi made it clear they thought the crowd was out of line.  Jeter waved at the crowd dismissivley, and Girardi looked like he was apologizing to Terry Francona at one point.  So, the NY press got the crowd fired up over nothing (which everyone except the NY press agrees on), and nearly cost the AL the game. 

So, here’s to next year.  St.Louis should put on a good show.

The Varitek All Star Selection

Figures.  I post about Tek’s intanigibles as a player, and lo and behold, he gets nominated to the All Star team this year.

The first comment I saw on this was from Joe Hammurabi of Baseball Digest Daily, who called it “a joke.”  Then while cruising thorugh the WordPress TAG surfer, I noticed a few more comments on this, a few calling it far worse than a joke.

Let’s set a few things straight here.  Varitek was elected to the team by the players, not chosen by Francona.  This in and of itself should be enough for fans.  Of course it’s not.  It’s also no worse, or better than any of the extra Yankee players who made the team when Joe Torre was managing the AL All Stars.  Every All Star manager tends to favor his own team for the bench guys, it’s just a fact of Base Ball.  But this was not one of those instances.  Tek was chosen by his peers to be there.  To my mind, that’s a far better honor than being popular among the fans.

Yes, Tek is having an awful year at the plate.  But the game is about more than just stats, as I pointed out in my last post.  Tek brings so much more to a team than his bat.  You can’t quantify what Tek does in a box score, or stats summary page.  How do you put how he calls a game, or manages a pitcher into a simple number in a column?  You can’t.  How do you reduce Tek’s presence in the clubhouse to a couple of digits?  You can’t.

Now, Tek wouldn’t have been one of my choices for the AS team.  More because the Sox were already well represented, and not having a 3rd catcher would have opened up a roster spot for another position.  Even so, I’m not offended by his presence on the team.  The fans have voted in starters who were far worse.

I guess AJ Pierzynski shouldn’t have been such an asshole to so many other players.  He might have gotten in otherwise.  Miguel Olivo?  His bad fortune that Dioneer Navarro is having a great season for Tampa Bay, who needed more representation on the AS team. 

So if you want to carp and complain about Tek’s being on the All Star team, blame the players.  Blame Pierzynski for being a twit.  Blame Tampa Bay for having the best record in Baseball.