Tag:Cleveland Indians
Posted on: March 5, 2012 1:38 pm
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The catcher and the groundhog

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Dirt.

As a catcher, you wallow in it.

As a catcher who hails from Punxsutawney, Pa., home of the esteemed groundhog ... well, how perfect is that?

Rookie Devin Mesoraco, on deck to become the Reds' backstop this season, is just the seventh major-leaguer to emerge from Punxsutawney, where the country turns its eyes each Feb. 2 to see how much longer winter will last. (Well, perhaps not the entire country. ...).

He family home, in fact is only about a half-mile from Gobbler's Knob, where Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prognostication in a sacred ceremony. (Well, perhaps maybe not exactly sacred. ...).

"I went one time," Mesoraco says. "My brother goes almost every year. He seems to enjoy it.

"The rest of my family ... I don't know if my dad has ever been."

Mesoraco was Cincinnati's first-round pick in the 2007 draft out of Punxsutawney High School -- yep, home of the Chucks.

"He's around," Mesoraco says of the city's celebrity groundhog. "He comes to school with his handler. He probably gets treated better than any other groundhog in the world.

"If a groundhog could smell good, it would be him."

Odd thing is, both big leaguers to come from Punxsutawney since 1960 have played behind the dish: John Mizerock, who who caught for the Astros and Braves in the 1980s, and Mesoraco.

Who knew that, in addition to being Groundhog World Headquarters, Punxsutawney would become a cradle of catchers?

Also from Punxsutawney, a town of some 6,000 people, according to Baseball-Reference.com: Billy Hunter, an infielder for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians in the 1950s (he also managed the Rangers in 1977-1978); pitcher Al Verdel (Phillies, 1944); outfielder Nick Goulish (Phillies, 1944-1945); outfielder Wilbur Good (Yankees, Indians, Boston Rustlers, Cubs, Phillies and White Sox from 1905-1918); and shortstop Hutch Campbell (Pirates, 1907).

Don't ask Mesocaro, 23, if he saw any of the Bill Murray classic Groundhog Day being filmed. For one thing, the move came out in 1993, when he was just 5. For another, it wasn't even filmed in Punxsutawney -- it was made in Woodstock, Ill.

But he didn't need the movie. He's had plenty of his own Punxsutawney Phil encounters of his own.

"He's a big deal," Mesocaro says. "They bring him around in a big cage. At the library, he's on display 24/7. It's in the main park. He lives in what's called the Groundhog's Den. You can see him all the time. Him and his wife, Phyllis.

"I don't know what they do when they want some private time."

Sunblock day? Overcast skies in the desert today. They promised temperatures in the 80s. It's not even close. Some of these weather folks around here need to be replaced. I know where they can find a few groundhogs to do the job. ...

Likes: This passage from near the end of Rosanne Cash's terrific memoir, Composed: "We all need art and music like we need blood and oxygen. The more exploitative, numbing, and assaulting popular culture becomes, the more we need the truth of a beautifully phrased song, dredged from a real person's depth of experience, delivered in an honest voice; the more we need the simplicity of paint on canvas, or the arc of a lonely body in the air, or the photographer's unflinching eye." ... Great Michigan State-Ohio State game Sunday. The good guys didn't win, but it was terrific to watch. The Big 10 is the best conference in the country. ... Slickables, Home of the $2 ice cream sandwich. Great new discovery on Mill Ave. in the Arizona State University district. Freshly baked homemade cookies, you pick your two and which kind of ice cream you want between them. Everything from Snickerdoodles (by far, by the way, the most underrated cookie in the country) to chocolate chip to mint chip cookies. ... Grimaldi's Coal Brick-Oven Pizza. Heard great things about it and it didn't disappoint. The meatball pizza was delicious, but the pepperoni and mushroom was even better.

Dislikes: Still haven't picked up a copy of Leonard Cohen's new disc Old Ideas. Soon, soon.

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"You gave me light when I was blind
"You bring peace into my heart
"You drove me back to my beliefs
"And today I’m home again
"There must be a kind of light
"Lighting down you, from so far
"And wherever you go, it will follow you
"‘Cause you, my darling, you were made to shine"

-- Ilo Ferreira, Home Again
Posted on: February 28, 2012 5:25 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 5:57 pm
 

Indians off to rough start with Sizemore, Perez

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians and their fans remember the vintage days of Grady Sizemore: All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, game-changer, face of the franchise.

Now, they just hope there's room left for Grady Sizemore, major-leaguer.

Though the Indians said he was around Tuesday, he was nowhere in sight. He was off getting his back checked out after another injury in a string that makes you wonder whether there are many days left in his career.

"He was one of the reasons I came here to manage," skipper Manny Acta said Tuesday. "I was like, 'Man, that guy is going to win some games all by himself. The excitement, when you have a guy like that."

Instead, while rehabbing his knee the other day following arthroscopic surgery this winter, Sizemore suffered a back injury and will be sidelined indefinitely. Then, in what has been a nightmarish first couple of days of camp, closer Chris Perez suffered an oblique strain. It's estimated he will be out for four-to-six weeks.

Suddenly, one of the few teams in the AL Central that at least has a chance to challenge Detroit already is playing from behind.

"Better to happen now than during the season," Perez said after his own day of rehab. "We're not missing any games yet.

"Me, personally, I'm just happy it's not my elbow or shoulder. It's just an oblique."

Perez predicts he'll be ready for Cleveland's April 5 opener against Toronto. Because he only pitches one inning at a time, the Indians think all he'll need is four or five appearances to be ready.

Whether or not that's overly optimistic, barring some other setback, the Indians should be able to count on Perez sooner rather than later this season.

They have not been able to count on Sizemore, whom they brought back on a one-year, $5 million deal this winter, since 2009. That's the last time he played in as many as 100 games (106).

Microfracture surgery on his left knee limited him to 33 games in 2010, and he made three different trips to the DL last season (both knees) in a 2011 season in which he played in only 71 games.

Quite a difference from 2005-2008, when he played in a total of 639 of Cleveland's 648 games. Given the wear and tear a player takes in center field, especially someone who plays it with the reckless abandon of Sizemore (think: Darin Erstad), you wonder if he's used up his nine lives.

Veteran Michael Brantley is the probable center fielder and lead-off hitter if Sizemore can't make it. But that leaves left field wide open for someone among a cast of several -- veterans Aaron Cunningham and Shelley Duncan, rookies Russ Canzler (the MVP of the Triple A International League last summer) and Thomas Neal. ...

One thing the Indians don't need is another season of pain. A year ago, they raced to a 30-15 start -- only to see that sabotaged in no small part by DL stints to key players. They used the DL 22 times, second-most in the AL. Sizemore, Travis Hafner, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo were together in the same starting lineup for a total of just 17 games in 2011.

Less than a week into camp, already there are warning flares around Sizemore.

"You feel bad for the kid because he's dying to be out there," Acta said. "He's such a dynamic kid, such a big part of what we do.

"He doesn't seem to catch a break."

Sunblock Day? At your discretion. The wind storm blew through, and it cooled down to the low 60s.

Likes: Enjoyable evening Monday at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism, where a panel of us discussing spring training coverage. Really enjoyed meeting the kids, and some good questions. ... He was difficult to deal with as a player, but it was cool to see Albert Belle visit the Indians for the first time since he left Cleveland at the end of the 1996 season. Belle was a visitor at Tuesday's camp thanks to persistent recruiting from guest instructors (and former teammates) Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton. ... Killer stuff from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band on Jimmy Fallon's show Monday night. Wrecking Ball and We Take Care of Our Own were absolutely smokin'. ... The mesquite grilled shrimp burrito at Rubio's. Rarely do I stray from their fish tacos, but this was worth it. ... Good chicken enchiladas at Matador Mexican Restaurant in downtown Phoenix the other night, but no margaritas to go with 'em. They told us they had lost their liquor license a couple of days earlier. I'd recommend they figure out a way to get it back soon, because a Mexican place that does not serve margaritas soon will not be a Mexican place. It will be, I don't know, a flower shop.

Dislikes: Any school shooting is just inexplicable, and so it is with another, the one at Chardon (Ohio) High School on Monday. Indians owner Larry Dolan has extensive ties to that community and issued this statement: "On behalf of the Cleveland Indians baseball organization, and specifically the Dolan family whose roots are deep in the Chardon community, we offer our deepest sympathy to all involved in this senseless tragedy. We pray that the strength necessary to endure all the pain will come to the survivors. We hope for all of you peace and tranquility in due time."

Rock 'n' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"The silicon chip inside her head
"Gets switched to overload
"And nobody's gonna go to school today
"She's going to make them stay at home
"And daddy doesn't understand it
"He always said she was as good as gold
"And he can see no reason
"'Cause there are no reasons
"What reason do you need to be shown?"

-- Boomtown Rats, I Don't Like Mondays

Posted on: February 28, 2012 1:51 pm
Edited on: February 28, 2012 6:09 pm
 

Albert Belle tolls again in Indians' visit

Albert Belle, center, shares a laugh with former Indians teammates Carlos Baerga, left, and Kenny Lofton. (AP)


GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Spring training is one big reunion after everybody scatters for vacation. And the best part is, you never know who you'll run into.

Sometimes, it even draws recluses out of hiding.

"I wanted to see the guys," Albert Belle, 45, said as he surveyed Indians camp Tuesday morning. "We're rehashing old memories."

It's not quite that simple. But then, with a man as complicated as Belle, it never was.

Two stars from the classic Cleveland teams of the mid-1990s are in uniform for part of the spring as guest instructors. And Carlos Baerga and Kenny Lofton aren't alone: Their former manager, Mike Hargrove, is suiting up, too.

Anyway, Belle lives across the Valley in Scottsdale, and Baerga and Lofton were the driving forces behind the impromptu, unexpected and totally shocking reunion.

Belle has had zero contact with the Indians since leaving as a free agent following the 1996 season. Not even a trip back to Jacobs/Progressive Field for some ceremonial honor or first pitch.

"Carlos put in a couple of extra harsh words" to coax him to Cleveland's camp, Lofton said, grinning.

"I really miss Albert a lot," Baerga said. "And I wanted to see him."

His close-cropped hair almost all gray now, his trim beard containing far more salt than pepper, Belle smiled and laughed often Tuesday morning. He was clearly touched and happy to be back with some of the guys who helped him produce his greatest moments in the game.

"You know what?" Belle said. "I got hurt in 2000, and I couldn't play in 2001 and I was just devastated," said Belle, who was forced into retirement that spring with a hip injury. "I didn't watch any baseball until Game 7 of the World Series in '01 when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees."

Those painful days having receded with the years, Belle said he now keeps up with baseball on television and usually attends one Diamondbacks game a year. Not long ago, he went to Arizona's new spring training complex and visited with old teammate and current D-backs pitching coach Charles Nagy.

"I'm seeing the guys one at a time," Belle said.

The early-morning scene outside, just behind the Indians' clubhouse, was touching, funny and, for those who remember how a baseball team turned a city on with its fire, utterly nostalgic. Those Indians won five consecutive AL Central titles from 1995-1999 (Belle left via free agency for the White Sox after the '96 season). They played in front of a sellout streak in Jacobs Field that would reach 455 consecutive games.

Baerga, Lofton, Belle and Hargrove swapped stories, asked each other questions and, for a short time, were joined by former catcher -- and current Indians coach -- Sandy Alomar Jr.

The men clearly hadn't seen each other in quite awhile and were thoroughly enjoying the reunion. Belle said he hadn't seen Baerga since the former infielder was playing for the Diamondbacks in 2004. Said he hadn't seen Hargrove since 2000, when Hargrove was managing the Orioles. Hargrove asked Belle where he's living now.

"I think our '95 team was pretty incredible," Belle said. "The Yankees had a pretty good team in '98, but I think our lineup was way better than theirs. It all started with Kenny Lofton at the top. As soon as he'd get on base, he wreaked havoc and we started licking our chops. ...

"I think everybody in Cleveland had some kind of Indians jersey or cap."

Talk about glory days.

"We got to the World Series, and it was incredible for the fans. ... We had a great time," Belle said. "I thought we could have pulled it out.

"I wish we could have stayed together as a team for a few more years. It just didn't work out."

Those cheers now faint echoes, Belle is a "stay-at-home dad", a father to four girls ranging in age from 11 to "almost two." Still guarded, he said he preferred not to reveal their names.

He smiled when asked which was tougher, facing David Cone and Roger Clemens back in the day or being a dad.

"Facing Cone and Clemens was easy," he joked. "Seems like all the kids get tired and cranky at the same time."

The kids know their pop was a baseball player, he said, via the random baseball cards that still arrive in the mail with autograph requests, or when he periodically pops DVDs of the old days into his system.

Had his hip allowed, he would have liked to have played longer. He had resurfacing surgery on his right hip in 2001, he said, and he'll have surgery on his left hip this winter.

He plays a lot of golf these days, watches baseball (Albert Pujols is his favorite hitter) and he sometimes thinks he'd like to return to baseball in some capacity.

"I've thought about it," he said. "Maybe one day I will. I like to stay at home and raise my kids. Maybe someday it will be different.

"Before I got married, I interviewed with a couple of teams and it didn't work out."

He remembers his first major-league hit, against Nolan Ryan in old Municipal Stadium, to help spark a three-run first on July 15, 1989. He remembers "all of those incredible come-from-behind games at the Jake, the city in an uproar."

Lofton and Baerga reveled in the scene as Belle talked, sprinkling comments into the conversation when they felt something needed to be said or to help spark another memory.

Someone asked a question about Progressive Field, and Lofton interjected.

"It's The Jake," Lofton said. "It's forever The Jake. Sorry."

Belle talked about how intimidating those old Indians were, still appreciating how pitchers like Dennis Martinez and Jose Mesa protected their hitters.

"The game's different now," Belle said. "

Asked about mending fences in Cleveland, Belle said, "I thought the fences were already mended. That was a long time ago."

That's the thing about free agency, he said wistfully, and it is. Players come and players go. The great times can be fleeting, and sometimes you don't realize how great they were until they're gone.

Who can forget Game 1 of the 1995 playoffs against Boston when, after then-Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy asked the umpires to check his bat for cork after his 11th-inning homer tied the game at 4-4, Belle looked into the television camera near the Indians dugout and pointed to his biceps?

"That was a fun time," Belle said. "We were a great team. We had a lot of come-from-behind-stories."

He was always on edge, usually surly and often froze out the media. In a classic moment a few years ago, Indians beat man Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked him during a conversation whether he ever used steroids. No, Belle told Hoynes, "I was just an angry black man."

Tuesday, smiling, he said, "I talked to the media. They just didn't like the words I was saying."

Yes, he said, he enjoyed himself immensely throughout his career, even if it did not always appear like it to those on the outside.

"I look back, and there are some great memories," said Belle, who finished with 381 homers, 1,239 RBI and 1,726 hits over 12 seasons. "I had a nice career."

As a few current Indians trickled out of the clubhouse to begin their day, they couldn't help but notice the spectacle they were passing. Laughter, jokes and, for the longest time, the pulse of a team that produced some of the greatest hardball moments Cleveland has ever witnessed.

"What we should do is get a uniform and scrimmage those guys," Lofton joked.

And they all laughed like it was 1995 all over again.



Posted on: August 25, 2011 9:17 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 10:00 pm
 

Thome accepts deal to Indians

Jim Thome is going home: The slugger has accepted a trade to Cleveland in which the Indians will send a player to be named later to the Twins.

Thome accepted the deal late Thursday following the Twins' 6-1 loss to Baltimore.

Cleveland is struggling to hang on in the AL Central, where Detroit has opened up a 6 1/2-game lead over the Indians and a seven-game margin over the White Sox. Thome fills an immediate need for designated hitter in Cleveland, where the Indians this week lost Travis Hafner to a foot injury. There is a good chance Hafner will miss the rest of the season.

Thome, 40, had full no-trade powers in Minnesota, and his return to Cleveland undoubtedly will become one of the final month's most emotional storylines. Thome began his career in Cleveland in 1991 and played there until leaving as a free agent after the 2002 season.

He is not the player he once was, but he still has long-ball power every time he steps to the plate. He is hitting .243 this season with 12 home runs in 238 at-bats. He became only the eighth player to reach 600 home runs last week when the Twins were in Detroit.

Still, it's all hands on deck right now for the Indians, who are 33-49 since May 24 and have lost 13 games in the AL Central standings.

After the Indians put in a waiver claim on Thome on Wednesday, manager Manny Acta playfully tweeted midday Thursday as negotiations between the two clubs continued, "People, we all want Jim Thome. Some things you can buy, some things you can't. ... For everything else there is Mastercard."

Despite being gone for most of the past decade, Thome returns to Cleveland as the Indians' franchise leader in homers (334) and walks (997). He also ranks second all-time in club history in RBI (927), fifth in runs scored (917), fourth in total bases (2,633) and third in on-base percentage (.414) and extra-base hits (613). He is a five-time All-Star.

"Jim Thome is a Hall of Fame-caliber player and person," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said in a statement. He has meant so much to this organization -- both on and off the field -- and it is an honor to bring him back in an Indians uniform where he created so many great memories. Having his bat and presence in the middle of the lineup certainly improves our team."

Thome's reception upon returning to Cleveland over the years has not always been pleasant, due largely to an unfortunate comment he made in 2002 to the effect of people would have to rip the uniform off of him before he left Cleveland.

That winter, however, after the Indians had fired manager Charlie Manuel -- who is as close with Thome as anybody in the game -- and with the landscape changing in Cleveland, Thome accepted Philadelphia's free agent offer of six years and $85 million. Some in Cleveland never forgave him for that. This homecoming, a fitting bookend to the first several chapters of Thome's career on the banks of Lake Erie, should, by all rights, make Thome an Indian once and for all.

On a side note, Twins president Dave St. Peter tweeted that Jim Thome Wind-Up Walker Night -- seriously, set for Friday night in Target Field as the Twins host Detroit -- will go on as scheduled.

"The Twins org wishes Jim Thome the best," St. Peter said Thursday evening in a separate tweet. "It's been an honor to have him wear a Twins [uniform]."

The player to be named the Twins will receive is not on the Indians' 40-man roster.
Posted on: August 24, 2011 12:35 am
 

Konerko sixth to 2,000 hits this season

ANAHEIM, Calif -- Highlights have been few and far between for the 2011 Chicago White Sox, but Paul Konerko put up one for the books when he cracked his 2,000th career hit in the eighth inning of Tuesday's series opener here.

The hit surely was especially meaningful to Konerko in that it was an RBI single against Ervin Santana that tied the game at 4-4 at a point in the season where the White Sox are desperate for every run, every win they can get. Konerko, a beloved figure on Chicago's South Side and widely respected throughout the game, becomes only the 13th player in club history to collect his 2,000th hit.

It's been a boom season for the 2,000-hit club: Konerko is the sixth man to join that club this summer. Previously this summer, Houston's Carlos Lee, San Francisco's Orlando Cabrera (then with the Indians), Cincinnati's Scott Rolen, St. Louis' Albert Pujols and Texas' Michael Young each collected his 2,000th hit.

The White Sox dugout immediately erupted in cheers, then most of the players began waving for the baseball as soon as the play concluded with Alejandro De Aza crossing the plate. With the game 4-4, White Sox manager removed Konerko, who was DHing, for pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge.

Konerko also is at 393 career homers and soon could become only the sixth active player with 400 homers and 2,000 hits, joining Pujols, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, Atlanta's Chipper Jones, Baltimore's Vladimir Guerrero and Minnesota's Jim Thome.
Posted on: August 23, 2011 9:15 pm
 

Ozzie: "I'd love to have Jim Thome back"

If the Twins do opt to deal Jim Thome, who reportedly is on waivers through Thursday, it's hard to imagine a better way for Thome's career to end than him taking one last victory lap in Cleveland.

Thome certainly would fit with the Indians, with Travis Hafner possibly out for the season with a foot injury.

But here's a thought: What if another of Thome's ex-teams is in position to claim him first?

Hello, disappointing Chicago White Sox.

Any interest there?

"I'd love to have Jim Thome back," Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said before Tuesday night's series opener against the Angels in Anaheim. "I've said day-in and day-out, he's one of my favorite guys in baseball.

"But that's up to Kenny [Williams, Sox general manager]."

The Sox are still hanging in there in a tepid AL Central in the midst of a disappointing, mediocre (63-63) season.

Free agent slugger Adam Dunn (.169, 11 homers, 40 RBI) has been one of the game's most disappointing players. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski currently is on the disabled list with a fractured wrist. Outfielder Carlos Quentin (.255, 24 homers, 77 RBI) was out of the starting lineup for a second consecutive game Tuesday with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder suffered Saturday against Texas.

"If you ask anybody wearing this uniform if they would want Jim Thome back, they would say, 'Yes'," Guillen said.
Posted on: August 21, 2011 7:36 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Not-So-Golden State edition

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.
Posted on: August 21, 2011 7:36 pm
 

3 to Watch: The Not-So-Golden State edition

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.
 
 
 
 
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