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: December 4, 2010 2:31 am
Edited on: December 4, 2010 2:46 am
Sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed to CBSSports.com late Friday night that the two clubs are discussing a blockbuster that would send a package of prospects to the Padres in exchange for Gonzalez, the three-time All-Star who is entering the final year of his contract in 2011 before he becomes eligible for free agency.
The Red Sox, under general manager Theo Epstein, have taken multiple runs at acquiring Gonzalez going all the way back to '09. At this moment, they appear closer to landing the slugger than they ever have before. There were indications late Friday night that a deal possibly could even be reached before the clubs get too deep into next week's winter meetings that begin in Orlando on Monday.
Traveling parallel paths in looking for a big hitter, the Red Sox this week have spoken with free agents Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre. With Kevin Youkilis reportedly working out at third base this winter, the Sox would have the flexibility, if they do not re-sign Beltre, to move Youkilis across the diamond and plug in Gonzalez at first base.
Of course, in negotiations, things are not always what they seem, and the Red Sox currently are juggling enough possibilities that a well-timed run at Gonzalez also could be designed to break the will of Beltre and cause him to lower his asking price and re-sign with them sooner rather than later. Theoretically, with Beltre in the fold, Youkilis would stay at first base and the Red Sox could turn away from the San Diego talks.
However, late Friday night, that's not the way Boston appeared to be moving. Conversations with the Padres were said to have gained momentum throughout the day on Friday.
While neither San Diego general manager Jed Hoyer nor Gonzalez could be reached for comment, a couple of things are in play here:
One, Gonzalez, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder after the season ended, has not given any indication that he's amenable to signing a long-term deal with San Diego for a discounted price.
And two, the Padres, surprise winners of 90 games in 2010, likely realize that their optimal time to move him is now, when they surely would receive a bigger package of players in return than they would in July, when Gonzalez might be a three-month rental for a contending team.
While trading Gonzalez would be a public relations disaster for a San Diego club whose attendance already was disappointing in 2010, the Padres have been taking on water this winter, anyway.
Already, they've lost three key pieces from a team that managed to stay in contention all the way to the last day of last season: Pitcher Jon Garland has signed with the division-rival Dodgers, infielder Miguel Tejada has signed with the division-rival Giants and catcher Yorvit Torrealba has fled to Texas.
As things stand now, the Padres have serious holes in their rotation and in their middle infield. And the 2011 payroll is not projected to rise much beyond the low $40 millions. In 2010, only the Pirates had a lower payroll than San Diego.
Consequently, despite their surprise season in 2010, the Padres appear to be veering more toward rebuilding with young pieces -- witness their acquisition of outfielder Cameron Maybin from Florida earlier this winter -- than toward contending again.
Much as it would be unpalatable to the local fans to see Gonzalez, a San Diego native, dealt, he currently appears on a dead-end course with the Padres, and trading him clearly is their best shot at quickly accumulating three or four players who would either be major-league ready, or help fertilize the upper-levels of a weak farm system.
Hoyer, who just completed his first season as Padres' GM, and his assistant Jason McLeod, each worked under Epstein in Boston through the end of the 2009 season. As scouting director for the Red Sox, McLeod knows their system exceedingly well. The Epstein-Hoyer relationship is another reason why many in the industry have predicted Gonzalez would wind up in Fenway Park since Hoyer replaced Kevin Towers in the GM's chair.
Though the Padres picked up Gonzalez's $5.5 million contract for 2011, there remain no indications that he will be a San Diego lifer. Gonzalez is looking for Ryan Howard-Mark Teixeira-Albert Pujols money, a six- or seven-year deal worth somewhere north of $20 million a year.
The Padres sent strong signals that they intended to trade Gonzalez last year until their unexpectedly good season caused them to keep that team together. Though Gonzalez is a local hero and a highly popular Hispanic player for a team that draws from Mexico, there were zero promotions for Gonzalez during the 2010 season. No cover of the media guide, no bobble-head nights, no posters, nothing. It was a strong signal that he was not in their long-term plans.
Gonzalez last year batted .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBI despite being bothered by a damaged right shoulder beginning in May. With two good shoulders in '09, Gonzalez crushed 40 home runs with 99 RBI.
With numbers like that in the cavernous Petco Park, you can't blame the Red Sox for dreaming about the damage the lefty swinging Gonzalez could do in Fenway Park -- especially with David Ortiz moving into the, ahem, twilight of his career.
Some 16 months after the Red Sox first started talking with the Padres about Gonzalez, they appear closer than ever to making that happen. And they still would have money left for either Werth or Crawford.
Posted on: April 12, 2010 3:48 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2010 3:54 pm
MINNEAPOLIS -- The one obvious absence as the Twins christen their new outdoor ballpark this afternoon is the late Kirby Puckett, the all-time most popular Twin before hometown hero Joe Mauer's arrival.
Boston slugger David Ortiz, the former Twin who broke into the majors in 19976, spoke eloquently about Puckett and said he thought a lot about the Hall of Famer as he was driving to Target Field on Monday.
"All I can remember when you talk about those World Series was Kirby, man," Ortiz said as the Red Sox were hitting Monday afternoon. "Everything he did, how great he was. How good he was to young players."
Though Ortiz never played with Puckett, who retired because of an eye damaged by glaucoma in 1996, Puckett was still around the Twins as Ortiz got his feet on the ground.
"He was so cool to me," Ortiz said. "It was hard to see him go. I wasn't expecting that at all. I was talking to my boy about it yesterday and today, how great he was to this organization, to the Twins.
"That's one of the main reasons I wear No. 34, because of him. I thought about him a lot today."
Ortiz, by the way, already was finding life different at the new Twins' stadium: He got lost traveling to the ballpark. Looking for the loading dock, he finally had his driver drop him at Gate 29 (Rod Carew's old number), which is one of the main stadium entrances.
Several early-bird fans got a big surprise when they saw him, and Ortiz said he signed several autographs as he was circling the stadium looking for the entrance.
Posted on: April 8, 2010 12:02 am
Edited on: April 8, 2010 12:15 am
Yes, it would have made sense on paper for manager Terry Francona to use right-handed hitter Mike Lowell as his designated hitter against Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte on Wednesday instead of Ortiz, who staggered into the game 0-for-7 and already is showing signs of stress by profanely lashing out at reporters after Tuesday's loss.
But Francona isn't managing on paper and, right now, he's not even managing for one night.
He's managing for the rest of the season. And one man he cannot lose in 2010 is Ortiz.
At least, not until an apparently deteriorating Ortiz reaches the point of no return.
And two or three games into a season is not that point.
One month ago, during a conversation in Francona's spring training office, we talked about the possibility of Boston using Lowell as a DH in certain situations. You know, platooning with Ortiz.
"I really don't want to look at [Ortiz] like that," Francona said. "He's our full-time DH. For us to be as good as we want to be, if he is the full-time DH, we're probably a better team.
"If we ever got to the point where he wasn't, something went wrong. That's not what we're looking for."
That's especially not what the Red Sox are looking for two and three games into the season.
Ortiz was hitting .367 against Pettitte over his career when Wednesday night's game started. Lowell was at .345 against Pettitte.
Ortiz struggled badly against lefties last year, going .212 against them with a .298 on-base percentage. The Sox were -- and are -- hoping that those numbers are simply a manifestation of his overall struggles last year and nothing more. Career, including last year, Ortiz is hitting .261 with a .337 OBP against lefties.
"You get into some bad habits, and he was trying to cheat to get to pitches anyway ... you start doing that with lefties, now it opens up both sides of the plate," Francona said this spring. "Because David, I think, career-wise his numbers certainly are lower against left-handers, but they were still dangerous.
"If he's hitting, he's going to hit. We usually pick a guy who he doesn't see well off of to give him a day off, anyway. That's not a problem.
"But we don't want to turn him into a platoon player."
Starting Lowell in place of Ortiz on Wednesday maybe would have made sense, given what has to be considered an alarming start for Ortiz (even if he doesn't see it that way).
But that would have sent a distressing signal to Ortiz, who could easily read that as an early vote of no confidence, and it would have needlessly fueled the Ortiz/Lowell platoon DH debate that is in the beginning stages.
"In my opinion, tonight would have been a good night to play Lowell," Francona told reporters in Boston before the game. "It would have been a bad night not to play David.
"Since they won't give us two DH's, I kind of have to make a decision."
You bet that decision will be to back Ortiz, and to do everything he can think of to get Big Papi going.
As it was, Ortiz went 1-for-4 in Wednesday's 3-1, 10-inning loss. He singled home Boston's only run, but he struck out twice and grounded out in his other three at-bats.
He's now hitting .091 for the season, and while he's even losing support in Fenway Park, he's right, it's still way too early to render any final judgments.
And Francona is right in that Wednesday night would have been a bad night not to play Ortiz.
As the manager said one month ago, if the Red Sox reach the point where Ortiz isn't the full-time DH, then something went wrong.
Three games into the season, it's a little early for things to go permanently wrong.
Posted on: July 30, 2009 3:03 pm
Only this wasn't back in 2003, when, as the New York Times revealed Thursday, Ramirez and Ortiz each failed tests.
This was in May, just a few days after Ramirez was suspended for 50 games.
I sat with Ortiz in the visiting dugout in Angel Stadium in the midst of Ortiz's horrible start this season while doing a column on him.
And as he and I sat and talked, I told Ortiz that, even as he maintained he was clean, Ramirez's suspension would cause lots of people to link the two of them anyway.
Ortiz acknowledged that was true and it made him angry.
"(People) must be saying that all over the place already," a disgusted Ortiz said. "I don't care. Why do I gotta make the mistake he just made? If a reporter does bad things, I've gotta blame you because you're his friend? It's not fair.
"It's wrong. Totally wrong. Manny is one person. I'm another person. I'm not Manny's babysitter.
"Why should people blame me because he f----- up?"
This was five days after Ramirez was socked with the 50-game suspension.
Thursday, approached before a game with Oakland by a New York Times reporter regarding the paper's story, Ortiz declined comment.
Posted on: May 12, 2009 9:06 pm
"It's hard, man," Ortiz said. "You can't even reach out to Manny when Manny was here. Manny changed his (phone) number. Who knows? Manny's on his own, always.
"There were times when we were playing together and said 'Let's meet at noon ... and have lunch and go to the field' and he'd say, 'Oh, OK.' Next thing you know, you can't reach him. And you just talked to him an hour ago."
It might be awhile before Ortiz even has a chance to speak with his old Boston slugging buddy. For one thing, Ramirez hasn't surfaced publicly since last Thursday, when his suspension was announced. For another, not only does he have a different number (again), according to Ortiz, but Ortiz says, he hasn't even spoken with Ramirez since late last season.
"I don't know what I would tell him," Ortiz said. "I haven't talked to (the media) about that and I won't. I don't know what to tell you.
"That's not the guy I know. That guy worked hard every day. It's going to be something crazy and hard to deal with."
Ortiz says that his memory of Ramirez in Boston is that of a guy who declined even pain medication from the trainer.
"The trainer would give him Tylenol, and he'd throw it in the trash can," Ortiz said.
Asked if he is upset with Ramirez, Ortiz thought for several seconds.
"It confuses me," he said. "But that's something I don't really want to talk about now."
Posted on: November 26, 2008 1:01 pm
So what are you thankful for?
Loving family? Warm house?
Difficult to think of a better time than Thanksgiving Week for Nelson and Alisa Figueroa to hold an online auction of baseball memorabilia to help their friend Ricky Stone, the former big league relief pitcher who is battling a malignant brain tumor.
Stone was dealt a very tough break last summer when, after suffering an injury in Taiwan while playing in the Chinese Professional League, he returned to the United States and suffered a Grand Mal seizure. Subsequent tests revealed the brain tumor, and Stone now is in the fight of his life.
Looking to pitch in, Nelson Figueroa, who pitched for the New York Mets last year, his wife, Alisa, and Erin Pote, wife of former big leaguer Lou Pote, founded Rally for Recovery to raise funds for the Stone family.
They're not messing around, either. They've recruited more than 100 major leaguers to donate, and over here on eBay, you can help out (and perhaps do some early Christmas shopping?) by bidding on all sorts of items. Signed jerseys from Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz, a Yogi Berra autographed cap, an Adrian Beltre autographed bobble-head doll, the list goes on.
You can find signed items from 100 or so players, including Ichiro Suzuki, Johan Santana, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Jeff Kent, Jose Reyes, Ryne Sandberg, John Smoltz, Brad Ausmus, Joe Nathan, Roy Oswalt and many others.
Most of the Yankee stuff was signed on Sept. 21, the day they played their final game in Yankee Stadium, and the jerseys include the last year of Yankee Stadium patches that were sewn on. The list of items continues for four pages, and if you're a baseball fan -- or, especially, a memorabilia collector -- it's worth a look and it's a good cause.
The Rally for Recovery auction started on Sunday, and will continue through Sunday evening, Nov. 30. Items are listed at http://stores.ebay.com/Rally-For-Re
Likes: Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie. ... Happy Thanksgiving to all. Here's to a weekend of being surrounded by loving family members, close friends, good food, warm memories and bright futures. Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions are and however you celebrate, I hope it's wonderful. And I hope we all can take a few minutes during the day to pause and count our blessings during these scary economic times.
Dislikes: Tough end to a fantastic season for the Monroe (Mich.) St. Mary Catholic Central team in the Michigan high school football playoffs. My Falcons fell to Leslie 22-19 last weekend, but what an accomplishment, advancing all the way to the state semifinals in a season in which they started seven sophomores (eight before an injury).
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"As I was walking a ribbon of highway
-- Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land
Posted on: September 18, 2008 12:26 am
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- It feels like the beginning of a New World Order here.
Tampa Bay cleaned Boston's clock in two out of three games, and not only does Tampa Bay now have a couple of Magic Numbers, but those Magic Numbers are extraordinarily, incredibly, impressively ... low.
Here's a sentence that's never before been typed:
Tampa Bay can clinch its first-ever playoff spot by winning two games this weekend against the Minnesota Twins.
The Rays' Magic Number to clinch a playoff spot is 3.
Their Magic Number to win the AL East title is 10.
You'd better believe they sense October is close enough to reach out and touch.
"Minnesota's coming in, and whatever our Magic Number is, we can do it in two days," reliever Grant Balfour, who out-dueled David Ortiz in a key fifth-inning at-bat Wednesday (Ortiz flied to center), said. "We can do it on Friday night. I think the guys know that.
"I think we're in good shape. I've got a feeling we're going to do it pretty quick."
Two wins over the Twins simply gets Tampa Bay an October ticket. But the Rays say they're still gunning to win the AL East title. By virtue of beating Boston on Wednesday, they win the season series against the Red Sox, which would give Tampa Bay the tiebreaker if the two clubs finish with the same record.
But Tampa Bay holds a two-game edge with 12 games left. Boston has only 10 games remaining.
A division title would come in handy, because the Rays have been incredible at home. They're 55-22 at Tropicana Field. And when fans actually show up, they're even tougher: They're 20-1 now in front of 30,000 or more fans at home, and they've got a 20-game winning streak after losing on Opening Day.
"That's great," Pena said. "It really has an effect on the players."
Manager Joe Maddon said he thought the fans were "a little bit more anticipatory. They were really into it even before the first pitch, and it was kind of nice."
The manager also said that the Rays will celebrate as soon as they clinch a playoff spot, even if the AL East title is still up for grabs.
"Sure, that would be cause for celebration, absolutely," Maddon said. "You look at where the Rays have come from. I'm into celebrating.
"If we get to that point sooner, we'll do it in the appropriate way."
Likes: One of Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon's things is to push for Meatloaf series wins. Huh? That's his funky way of preaching to his players the goal of winning two games of each three-game series. As in, you know, the old Meatloaf smash hit from the late 1970s: Two out of three ain't bad. The Rays have responded, too, they own a club-record 32 series wins, most in the majors, and they've lost only nine of their past 41 series. That kind of stuff will get you a division title. ... I hadn't been to Tropicana Field since 1999, and I still much prefer my baseball outdoors. But I will say, they've brightened the place up considerably since I've last been here. ... I figured the White Sox were a lock to win in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night when, earlier in the day, I checked the pitching probables and saw the Sox were listing kid pitcher Lance Broadway as their starter. How can you go wrong in New York with a kid named Broadway? But alas, manager Ozzie Guillen went with Clayton Richard. And lost. Oops. ... Nice late-morning run on the Jefferson High School track -- home of such alums as Tony La Russa and Tino Martinez. But it is humid and sweltering here.
Dislikes: Milwaukee's Ben Sheets leaving Wednesday's game in Chicago with forearm stiffness. Not a good sign for the Brewers, who need every good fortune they can get down the stretch. ...Very noticeable how many political ads they're throwing on the television in the state of Florida -- at least, in the Tampa area. One after another, John McCain and then Barack Obama, then Obama and then McCain. And the negativity gets old, quick.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"You'll never find your gold on a sandy beach
-- Meatloaf, Two Out of Three (Ain't Bad)