Posted on: August 21, 2011 7:36 pm
Late August, and if you're looking for stretch-run drama, well, you'd better go find a good book. May I recommend David Halberstam's Summer of '49? Great book chronicling an epic Red Sox-Yankees pennant race. Sigh.
There's still time for things to change, of course, but as we sit here today (unless, of course, you're standing), there is less than a four-game difference in only one of eight potential playoff races. (I'm dismissing the half-game separating the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East because both clubs have all but formally qualified for October: The Red Sox own a 7 1/2-game margin over Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card chase).
No, after Detroit's beat-down of Cleveland, the only real drama heading into this week is in the NL West, where the Giants have pulled back to within 1 1/2 games of Arizona. The Diamondbacks were and are a nice story, but not quite so much after getting swept in Atlanta.
Anyway, for all of this, I blame California.
The Not-So-Golden State right now is playing harball at a level ranging from head-shakingly bad to maddeningly sporadic and is in danger of being shut out of postseason baseball for the first time since 1999:
-- The World Series champion Giants, playing catch-up with Arizona, currently rank 29th in the majors in runs scored and seemingly have more players on the disabled list than on the active roster. Carlos Beltran, hello?
-- The Dodgers' back-to-back NLCS appearances in 2008-2009 currently are tied up in divorce/bankruptcy court.
-- The Padres' 90-win season of a year ago has turned to dust.
-- The only way the Athletics will see October is in Moneyball -- literally. The movie opens Sept. 23.
-- The Angels were nearly extinguished by Texas last week before rising from the ashes with a four-game winning streak that has moved them back to within four games of the Rangers.
Starting in 2000, the Angels have made the playoffs six times, the Athletics five, the Giants and Dodgers four each and the Padres twice.
Now? The Giants are clawing and the Angels have regained a faint pulse. Those two right now are a couple of the last hopes to goose a stretch-run that is threatening to boost football's television ratings even more.
Now, with colleague Danny Knobler hopefully somewhere with his feet up and an ice-cold lemonade nearby ... on to this week's 3 to Watch:
1. Time was, the Red Sox looked loaded and dangerous. Aw, truth be told, they still mostly look that way, but with Clay Buchholz out until mid-September, Daisuke Matsuzaka done for the season and Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury all hurting, they're vulnerable. The pitching situation in particular is why they acquired Erik Bedard at the July 31 deadline, and it is Bedard who takes the ball in the series opener of Red Sox at Rangers, Monday night (8:05 ET) at the Ballpark in Arlington. It's an intriguing four-game series for a few reasons, not the least of which is because, if the season ended today, these two teams would face each other in the first round of the AL playoffs. One thing to watch between now and then, though: The Rangers' schedule down the stretch is more difficult than the Angels, with seven games against the Red Sox, six against Tampa Bay and three against Cleveland (the Angels have two against the White Sox and three against the Yankees, but they also get Baltimore again).
2. Speaking of tough schedules, what Manny Acta's Cleveland Indians are facing is pure torture, and the Indians did not get off to a good start in Detroit over the weekend, where Cleveland was swept. Thanks to early rainouts, the Indians are in the midst of playing 45 games in 44 days. They've got two home doubleheaders -- White Sox and Twins -- the final full week of the season. Before that, though, Seattle pulls into town on Monday, and Cleveland dives into its double-dips with Mariners at Indians, Tuesday afternoon and evening (1:05 and 7:05 ET) at Progressive Field. It doesn't get any easier with rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis (hamstring) on the disabled list and with slugger Travis Hafner nursing a right foot strain (he left Sunday's game in Detroit and the Indians will know more Monday).
3. Two teams struggling mightily to tighten a couple of AL races hook up for a quick two-game series, and by the time Chicago rookie Zach Stewart is finished facing Los Angeles' Jered Weaver in the finale of White Sox at Angels, Wednesday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium, we'll have a better idea of whether Ozzie Guillen's club is in or out in the AL Central, and whether the Angels are serious players in an AL West race that right now is Texas' to lose. The White Sox took two of three from the Rangers and are five games behind the Tigers in the AL Central. Thanks to the Sox, the Angels were able to gain a couple of games back on Texas to pull to within four in the AL West. Considering that Texas pushed the Angels to six back last week and was one out away from seizing an eight-game lead on the Angels last Thursday night, Mike Scioscia's club is living large.
Tags: Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Indians, David Halberstam, David Ortiz, Erik Bedard, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Kipnis, Jered Weaver, Kevin Youkilis, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Mike Scioscia, Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, Travis Hafner
Posted on: May 8, 2011 6:40 pm
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- This might sound funny, but the fact that Grady Sizemore has hit so well since returning to the Indians lineup on April 17 is almost a bonus. What Cleveland was celebrating upon first welcoming back the three-time All-Star was simply what he brings with him into the clubhouse.
Sizemore is one of a handful of elite players in the majors whose mere presence makes everyone around him better.
"You see the way he plays the game, the way he runs out every ground ball, the way he's diving all over the place," designated hitter Travis Hafner says. "He's the first one here every day. Him and Shin-Soo Choo are our two best players, and when they play that way, it just sets the tone."
Maybe something like a team's best talent always hustling should be taken for granted, but anybody who's watched Detroit's Miguel Cabrera "run" to first at times knows that the tone can be set in the wrong direction, too.
"Obviously, what he's done speaks for itself," outfielder Austin Kearns says. "But just his presence every day, how he goes about his business, how he plays the game ... it's the way it's supposed to be done."
Though the Indians dropped Sunday's series finale in Anaheim 6-5, they still earned a split on their West Coast trip (3-3) and have won nine of 12, and Sizemore on Sunday went 3 for 5 (including a homer and a double) and continued to spark the Tribe after a tough, tough year.
Micro-fracture surgery is not a first choice if you're an athlete facing the knife. It's a nasty injury with a long, tedious rehabilitation. Sizemore had the surgery on his left knee last June and hadn't played since last May 16 [aside, of course, from a minor-league injury rehab assignment just before being activated in mid-April].
Sizemore says, as Tom Petty once did, the waiting was the hardest part.
"I think just the time away from the team while you're rehabbing, it's frustrating," says Sizemore, 28. "The amount of time it takes.
"Every case is different. I didn’t really have a set program. You're really going month-to-month. We had a general outline, and I was constantly going back to the doctor to get re-examined and see where I'm at."
How many times? Too many to count, Sizemore says. But it was every five or six weeks for the past year.
Baseball-wise, the most difficult part of coming back after missing so much time, Sizemore says, is, "it's all difficult. The hardest part was probably stuff you can't simulate in games -- balls in the gap, rounding the bases hard, having to come to a complete stop when you're running."
Of course, by roaring off to a 10-4 start before Sizemore's return, the Indians didn't make it any easier on the poor guy.
"It was fun to watch, but it made the time I had left to return that much harder," Sizemore says, smiling.
But now, it makes things that much easier -- except, perhaps, where the outfielder's future is involved. In the final season of a six-year, $23.45 million contract, the Indians hold an $8.5 million option on him for 2012 (with a $500,000 buyout), though that becomes a player option if he's traded.
Though his long-term future in Cleveland seems doubtful, at this point, he's probably safe from any stealth July deals.
"I'm just trying to get through the weeks right now," Sizemore says. "It's the furthest thing from my ming right now. My biggest thing was to get back on the field, and not look past tomorrow."
Likes: Hitting streaks. ... Derek Jeter passing Cal Ripken Jr. for most games played at shortstop with one team. And after his two homers Sunday and boosting his average up to .276, maybe now he's earned another grace period. ... Rookie phenom debuts, and Eric Hosmer's mother, father, brother, aunt and uncle all flying into Kansas City from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for his debut on Friday night. ... Tom Hamilton, now in his 22nd season as the radio voice of the Cleveland Indians. Always great fun talking with Tom. ... Friday Night Lights back on television. Four shows into its final season and I'm still debating whether to just pick up the entire season on DVD. If I get the DVDs, I can rip through all 15 episodes. But not having the DVDs slows down the process and forces me to savor each episode for just a little longer. It's such a great show.
Dislikes: Awful, awful stuff in post-tornado Alabama. Here's a list of ways you can help.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
-- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sweet Home Alabama
Posted on: April 14, 2011 8:53 pm
Cabrera Tales, and other outtakes from the red- (downgraded from white-) hot Indians. ...
-- The last time Orlando Cabrera played second base for more than one game in a season, it was 1998, he was 23 and the name on the front of his jersey said "Montreal."
So other than the fact that he needed a job and spring training was about to begin, what possessed him to agree to move full-time from shortstop over to second base and sign with Cleveland this season?
"It was a matter of playing every day," says Cabrera, now 36. "I know I can do the job [at shortstop], no doubt. But I don't want to move over to second base for a guy I don't respect at shortstop."
Asdrubal Cabrera is not that guy. Orlando respects him a bunch.
"This kid is going to be one of the elite players at this position for many years to come," Orlando says.
The switch to second seems to have rejuvenated Orlando as well, and not just because he's batting .295 with a .333 on-base percentage over his first 12 games.
"It feels like when I just came up to the big leagues," he says.
-- Without using the word, designated hitter Travis Hafner likens Orlando Cabrera and his veteran skills to a quarterback.
"He's brought a lot of leadership," Hafner says. "He's really helped solidified the middle infield. Both he and Asdrubal have played great up the middle. Both are swinging the bat well. That's been a big part of our success."
-- Justin Masterson (2-0, 1.35 ERA), 26, who was one of the key pieces acquired from Boston in the Victor Martinez trade two summers ago, starts against Baltimore on Friday night as the Indians open a brief, three-game homestand before heading back out for a seven-game trip to Kansas City and Minnesota.
He's got a pretty good handle on the process these Indians will go through if they can keep winning.
"It goes from people saying, 'Who cares about these guys' to 'Oh, it's not going to last too long' to 'Oh, they've put it all together'," Masterson says. "We're not trying to prove people wrong. We're just trying to do what we know we can do.
"We know we're talented. We just have to ride the highs and not stay too long in the lows."
Likes: Figuring out which early surprises are for real in the game and which are mirages is always one of the fun parts of April and May. ... Cleveland manager Manny Acta, looking to build on some promise the Indians showed during the second half of last season, sounds a lot like Bud Black and the Padres last summer as they were winning 90 games following an August-September surge in 2009. That's not to say these Indians will win 90, but one thing in their favor is, the White Sox, Twins and Tigers all are kicking it around a little bit early in the season. No dominant teams right now in the AL Central. ... This video showing Tim Lincecum pitching in super-slow motion. ... The latest from the Drive-By Truckers, Go-Go Boots. Country blues, and it sounds so good. Used To Be a Cop is tremendous, and have alwayed loved the Eddie Hinton number, Everybody Needs Love.
Dislikes: The Bonds Trial. Manny. It never ends.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Riding in your top-down Mustang
-- Drive-By Truckers, I Do Believe