Posted on: August 10, 2011 8:21 pm
I ran cross country for four years in high school. I was OK, not great, for a couple of reasons. One, I was smallish back then and not very strong. Two, hay fever clobbered me annually in Michigan, from August until the first frost in late September or early October. Ragweed pollen choked off my breathing passages, and there were days when it felt like I could get no oxygen into my lungs.
Sort of, I imagine, how the Pittsburgh Pirates are feeling these days.
For four months, the Buccos were one of the best stories in the game. Even Commissioner Bud Selig said that Pittsburgh's was the first score he checks every night. For the first time in nearly 20 years, the Bucs were buyers at the July trade deadline.
Then, wheeze, wheeze. ...
Clint Hurdle's club fell into a 10-game losing streak that has all but asphyxiated Cinderella. At 56-60, the Pirates were 10 games behind Milwaukee. Steelers season again is on deck in Pittsburgh.
Well, there are a lot of explanations, but those mostly are just accumulations of pieces of answers from over there and parts of answers from over here. Their pitching suddenly disappeared on them. Their bats went silent. The lowly Cubs and Padres swept them at home, socking the Pirates with their first winless homestand of six-or-more games in their 125-year history.
The Pirates were outscored by 45 runs during the 10-game streak.
Basically, the Pirates confirmed what many believed from the start: They're not quite ready to win yet.
Young legs and fresh arms are as important as ever in the game -- and, with the majority of steroids and greenies evidently expunged thanks to tighter testing, more important these days than at any time since the mid-1980s.
But young talent alone is not enough. Because among the many things the youngsters must develop is stamina -- both physical and mental -- for a 162-game grind.
The story of this year's Pirates is shaping up remarkably similar to that of last year's Padres, who also were the best story in the game until ... yes, until a 10-game losing streak knocked the wind out of them. Only difference was, the Padres skid started a couple of weeks later, on Aug. 26. Pittsburgh's started a month earlier, on July 29.
One common thread is poor Ryan Ludwick. The Padres acquired him last July 31 because they needed more production in the middle of their order. Pittsburgh dealt for him this July 31 for the same reason.
Now Ludwick is something of an unwilling expert on would-be contenders falling into 10-game losing skids and seeing their seasons crumble.
Though the losing streak wrecked their season, last year's Padres did gain a second wind, played in meaningful games all the way to the last day of their season and wound up with 90 wins.
These Pirates are only on pace for 77 wins, and the interesting thing now will be to see how they respond the rest of the way. This is an important stretch. General manager Neal Huntington has built a good nucleus of young players -- Andrew McCutchen, Neal Walker, Jose Tabata (who has been injured), Pedro Alvarez (who is having a miserable season). Pittsburgh is far closer to winning than it has been in a long time.
Still, what they need is some room to breathe, some room to grow. Some air.
That, or some allergy pills.
By my senior year, by the way, we won the league title. I contributed in a few small ways, scoring points here and there, but others did the heavy lifting. Still, it was a great ride and I made some lifelong friends while running over the trails and through the woods.
I still think about those days at this time of year, when school beckons and the baseball season shifts toward its final sprint. Sometimes the trails go uphill. Sometimes they disappear into the woods. The trick is in the persevering.
It would be a shame if things completely got away from the Pirates in 2011. This is an organization that has endured 18 consecutive losing seasons, a record for North American professional sports.
It won't be nearly the same as watching them fight for a spot in October, but if the Pirates can't climb back into the race, watching them battle for a .500 finish will still be pretty good drama.
Likes: Dan Uggla extending his hitting streak to 31 games. ... Sign-stealing controversies. There has been off-the-record chatter about those kind of capers in Toronto for years. It's amusing and entertaining. And my response is, if you think the Blue Jays are stealing your signs, then change your signs. ... The law in the great state of Michigan prohibiting public schools from starting before Labor Day. That's the way it should be everywhere. Summer doesn't end until Labor Day Weekend, does it? ... Here's to Jerry Garcia, who died 16 years ago Aug. 9.
Dislikes: The dancing woman in Cleveland behind the plate in that crazy Indians-Tigers game that ended at 2 a.m. the other night. Can't you just sit still and watch a ballgame? As if she wasn't distracting enough (I was home watching on television), she trended on Twitter. Now I can just see dozens of other wackos following suit looking for their own publicity. Please, no.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Well the first days are the hardest days
"Don't you worry any more
"'Cause when life looks like easy street
"There is danger at your door
"Think this through with me
"Let me know your mind.
"Oh, oh, what I want to know is, are you kind?"
-- Grateful Dead, Uncle John's Band
Posted on: July 31, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: July 31, 2011 4:15 pm
Score one for the Pittsburgh Pirates: They snuck around Cleveland minutes before Sunday's trade deadline and acquired outfielder Ryan Ludwick for a player to be named later or cash considerations.
Buyers for the first time since 1992, the Pirates wind up with both Ludwick and first baseman Derrek Lee as they continue their surprising push in the NL Central.
Though disappointing in San Diego since landing there last July, Ludwick's bat, once removed from cavernous Petco Park, could be a boost to the Pirates in a tight NL Central race.
In Ludwick, the Pirates will get a one-time potent bat that has lost its stride in the past year. Ludwick is 3 for his past 21 and is hitting .238 with 11 homers and 64 RBI.
Acquired from the Cardinals at last July's trade deadline to boost a Padres team that then was challenging for the NL West title, Ludwick hit .211 with six homers and 26 RBI in 59 games for the Padres in 2010.
Still, because of Petco Park's vast dimensions, it's hard to say how close Ludwick can come in Pittsburgh to his 2009 form in St. Louis, when he hit 22 homers and collected 97 RBIs, or even '08, when he hit 37 homers with 113 RBI.
Posted on: July 31, 2011 1:12 pm
Edited on: July 31, 2011 1:24 pm
The Cleveland Indians are on the verge of finishing what they started the other day, knocking off a deal to acquire Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
CBSSports.com first reported Saturday in the wake of Cleveland's Ubaldo Jimenez trade that the Indians were in position to acquire Ludwick on Sunday morning.
Though disappointing in San Diego since landing there last July, Ludwick's bat, once removed from cavernous Petco Park, could be a boost to the Indians in a tight AL Central race. Cleveland, which has been searching for outfield bats, landed Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs the other day.
In Ludwick, the Indians will get a one-time potent bat that has lost its stride in the past year. Ludwick is 3 for his past 21 and is hitting .238 with 11 homers and 64 RBI.
Acquired from the Cardinals at last July's trade deadline to boost a Padres team that then was challenging for the NL West title, Ludwick hit .211 with six homers and 26 RBI in 59 games for the Padres in 2010.
Still, because of Petco Park's vast dimensions, it's hard to say how close Ludwick can come in Cleveland to his 2009 form in St. Louis, when he hit 22 homers and collected 97 RBIs, or even '08, when he hit 37 homers with 113 RBI.
With Shin-Soo Choo and Grady Sizemore both on the disabled list, the Indians need whatever help can come their way.
Posted on: July 29, 2011 11:03 pm
Edited on: July 30, 2011 12:50 am
With Hunter Pence now off the board following his acquisition by the Phillies, and with uncertainty as to whether the White Sox will deal Carlos Quentin, everybody looking for a bat is now rushing to ... San Diego, to get Ryan Ludwick?
Not exactly. The Braves continued to show interest on Friday, according to CBSSports.com sources, along with the Indians and the Reds.
The Braves continue to appear to be the main players, but talks did not appear to be hot. Perhaps with Pence no longer available in Houston, Atlanta's efforts will increase toward Ludwick. But as the Padres shop their outfielder in advance of his impending free agency, no deal was imminent as of Friday night.
Part of that, according to sources, is because the Braves are still traveling parallel paths in their quest to obtain an outfielder. They had interest in Pence, continue to have interest in Quentin and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton, and could turn to Oakland and Josh Willingham.
The Indians, who acquired outfielder Kosuke Fukudome from the Cubs on Thursday, had several lines out on Friday both for another bat and for pitching.
The Reds, who have had a very disappointing season and were five games under .500 heading into this weekend's series with San Francisco, were thought by many to be veering into "seller" territory after getting pummeled by the Mets earlier in the week. But Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty said flatly Friday that the club is not in sell mode and added that with so many games remaining against NL Central rivals, there is time for the Reds to climb back into the race.
Ludwick, who batted fourth for the Padres on Friday night, is hitting .238 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs. He is a free agent this winter, and the Padres are not expected to make a bid to retain him.
Posted on: July 28, 2011 5:49 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 6:20 pm
Looking for an outfield bat, the Braves are engaging the Padres in trade discussions regarding Ryan Ludwick, multiple sources have told CBSSports.com.
Ludwick is not the only outfielder with whom the Braves are exploring a trade, but they are described as having significant interest in the 33-year-old. The Braves also have talked about Oakland's Josh Willingham, the White Sox's Carlos Quentin, Houston's Hunter Pence and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton.
The difference is that Ludwick and Willingham will cost less than Pence, Quentin and Upton.
Ludwick was held out of San Diego's lineup Thursday afternoon against Arizona, though manager Bud Black brushed off any suggestion that it was because a trade was imminent. The Padres acquired Ludwick from St. Louis at last year's trade deadline during a surprising season in which they won 90 games.
However, Ludwick was a bitter disappointment down the stretch in 2010 (.211, six homers, 26 RBIs in 239 plate appearances). While he's been better in 2011 (.238, 11, 62 in 412 plate appearances), he clearly is not in San Diego's future plans. A free agent this winter, it is believed that Ludwick will seek something in the neighborhood of a three-year deal. With his game not translating well in Petco Park, the Padres are not interested.
Willingham is hitting .240 with 13 homers and 50 RBIs for an Oakland team that long ago fell out of the race this summer.
There are two problems with the White Sox's Quentin, whom the Braves really like and have serious interest in:
One, he's more expensive than Ludwick or Willingham, according to sources. And, two, the Tigers apparently refuse to allow the White Sox to become full-blown sellers. Detroit lost again on Thursday, this time to the Angels, allowing idle Chicago to pull to within three games of the AL Central lead despite a 51-52 record. The White Sox are only two games behind Detroit in the loss column.
As for Pence, his market has exploded since San Francisco traded for Carlos Beltran. My colleague Danny Knobler writes that the Braves, Phillies and several other clubs checked in with the Astros on Thursday.
For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: July 27, 2011 8:38 pm
Edited on: July 27, 2011 8:49 pm
Aaron Harang does not want to be traded.
No. I mean, the Padres' starter REALLY does not want to be traded.
"You hear the rumors and hope it doesn't happen," says the native San Diegan, who signed with his hometown Padres as a free agent last winter.
His wife just gave birth to a twin son and daughter seven months ago. Three uncles, two aunts, both of his grandmothers and six cousins all live in San Diego. Two of the cousins have children the same age as Harang's oldest daughter, who will turn 5 in October. Not only do Harang's parents live in the area, so, too, do his wife's parents.
No, this guy wants nothing to do with a deal.
Yet ... with the Padres out of the race, Detroit is interested in Harang. Boston is watching. So, too, are several other clubs.
Somebody is not going to land Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez. Somebody is going to miss on the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda. After that ... well, there's just not a lot out there this summer in the starting pitcher department.
"I'd like to stay here," says Harang, who has bounced back from back, appendix and forearm issues over the past three seasons to go 9-2 with a 3.45 ERA over 17 starts this season. "I want to stay here.
"It's been nice for me. My family is here. It's a comfortable fit. I like the guys in the clubhouse.
"I feel like this is where I'm meant to be."
Over the next four days, we'll see whether the Padres feel the same way.
In his favor to stay: He and the Padres have a mutual $5 million option for 2012. That's very affordable, even for the Padres, for a starting pitcher.
Working against him: The Padres need a major influx of talent and are not exactly overloaded with trade chips. And there is no reason why they can't trade Harang while at the same time telling him they'd like to re-sign him as a free agent this winter.
Amid the uncertainty in the Padres' clubhouse, Harang has plenty of company with whom to discuss things. Closer Heath Bell, set-up man Mike Adams, reliever Chad Qualls and outfielder Ryan Ludwick all are in play at the trade deadline.
"We talk about it a little bit," Harang says. "We're all in the same boat. We don't know what's going on. Until we get told something ... we hear all the rumors. We get family and friends texting us telling us, 'We hear this' or 'We hear that.'
"There's nothing we can do to control it."
The bright side for Harang is, hey, at least he's healthy and productive. That's the whole reason he's in this fix.
"Obviously, people who are seeing me know I've been throwing well," Harang says. "I had a little fluke setback with my foot, but that had nothing to do with my arm or my back."
Posted on: July 27, 2011 7:53 pm
Edited on: July 27, 2011 10:08 pm
While the Rangers and Cardinals led a hard-charging pack Wednesday focused on San Diego relievers Heath Bell and Mike Adams, according to CBSSports.com sources, the Padres' asking price remains high.
One club source cautions that the Padres could reach Sunday's trade deadline without having made any deal for Bell, who has made it clear wants to remain in San Diego and who the Padres think would re-sign for a discount this winter.
That isn't diminishing enthusiasm shown on Wednesday. And there is no reason why the Padres couldn't trade Bell now, get some pieces back and then re-sign him this winter as a free agent if he'll take such a discount.
The Padres have several trade chips that have general manager Jed Hoyer working overtime: Bell, Adams, reliever Chad Qualls, starting pitcher Aaron Harang and outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
"Our guys who are being talked about are handling it well," Padres manager Bud Black says. "It's part of baseball. It's happening in 29 other clubhouses right now, too. You can't stop it.
"Our players know their focus is on our game at 7:05."
Bell is a free agent after the season, the Padres control Adams through 2012. Among the other clubs who are checking: The Phillies.
Harang and the Padres have a mutual club option for 2012 at a $5 million salary. Ludwick is a free agent this winter, while the Padres own a $6 million club option on Qualls for 2012 with a $1.05 million buyout.
"Qualls gets less out of good stuff than anybody I've ever seen in my life," one NL scout says. "His fastball has great movement, he has great sink, and yet he comes in and screws up more games than anybody I've seen."
As for Bell, sources from several rival clubs say the Padres' price right now is high. Another scout, noting that as a Type A free agent the Padres (or an acquiring club) would receive two picks for Bell -- "probably one in the 20s and then probably a compensation pick in the 40s" -- if he flees via free agency, says, "My opinion, if they think they're getting two big-time prospects for Heath, I don't see it. Because I think he's a short-term rental" before he becomes a free agent.
Cleveland, Atlanta and Pittsburgh are among those clubs who have inquired on Ludwick, who is hitting .240 with 11 homers and 62 RBI this summer.
While the Padres are expected to deal Ludwick because there is virtually no interest on either side of his returning in 2012, one source says, as with Bell, they could opt for draft picks as compensation for losing him via free agency. The Padres believe Ludwick wants at least a three-year deal via free agency and they are not interested in doing that.
Posted on: July 1, 2011 2:31 pm
OK, here goes: If I were to ask you coming into this season whose save conversion rate since July 31, 2007, is second in the game to Rivera's, whom would you say?
Yes, the answer is Soria, a two-time All-Star whose 92.4 rate since that date is second among all major-league closers to Rivera's 92.9.
Now, here's just one more piece of evidence that Rivera is superhuman: In late May, Soria suddenly fell into a hole and blew five of his first 12 save opportunities. It got so bad that after he blew consecutive save opportunities in late May, he admirably went to manager Ned Yost and essentially removed himself from the role. Something that in all of these years Rivera has never had to do.
Yost handled the situation superbly: He gave Soria a few days off to clear out his mind, eased him back into non-save situations in which he could pitch two innings at a time (to work on his fastball command) and then plugged Soria back into the ninth in early June.
The results, again, have been spectacular: Soria has worked 12 shutout innings in his past 10 games and is six-for-six in save opportunities, while holding opponents to an .098 batting average (4 for 41).
"It was not a big change at all," Soria says. "It was just a mind-set, getting my confidence back. Mechanics-wise, there was nothing to change. I looked at video, and I'm not doing anything different."
Soria isn't a closer with overpowering stuff, nor does he have one lethal weapon like Rivera's cutter. Instead, he throws all of his pitches -- fastball, curve, slider and change. Because he depends on location, problems can arise if he goes four or five days between outings.
"He's a command-guy closer," Yost says. "Command guys rebound so much better from that than stuff guys do.
"I've never had stuff guys who have gone through this rebound -- Derrick Turnbow, Danny Kolb, even Eric Gagne."
Soria, 27, right now is reinforcing Yost's history.
"Bad things make you stronger," Soria says. "If you've always been good, maybe you don't realize what it takes to be good until you go bad."
As for Rivera, who mostly has been immune to slumps throughout his Hall of Fame career, Soria, like everyone else, just marvels.
"He's the best," Soria says. "He's done everything in his career, and I don't think he's ever struggled."
-- Soria and Rivera have met once, at the All-Star Game in Yankee Stadium in 2008. But they did not exchange trade secrets. "We didn't talk about the game," Soria says. "We just talked about life."
-- Though they clearly could use reinforcements for a beat-up bullpen, and manager Charlie Manuel wants a right-handed bat (the Padres' Ryan Ludwick? The Twins' Michael Cuddyer?), the Phillies are telling teams that they they're tapped out financially. They're close to the luxury tax threshold and do not want to cross it. Of course, they were also telling rivals the same thing last winter before they shocked everyone by signing free agent pitcher Cliff Lee.
-- Emphasizing Philadelphia's need for a right-handed bat: The Phillies are hitting .196 in their past 13 games against lefty starters.
-- The Red Sox, too, say they do not want to push their luxury tax any higher than it already is, which suggests no pricey mid-season reinforcements. But recent history under general manager Theo Epstein also suggests the Red Sox get what they need and, right now, their internal discussions are centering on a hitter. They're not getting much out of right field, which led to the release of Mike Cameron this week.
-- Mariners officials are scheduled to talk via conference call next week to discuss final strategy leading into the July trade deadline. Though Seattle has done a nice job of staying competitive, the recent 3-7 tailspin could spur the M's to deal Erik Bedard. Though Bedard landed on the disabled list this week with a knee sprain, he could be a very good trade chip.
-- Thanks to Milwaukee's road woes, the Cardinals are back in a tie for first place in the NL Central entering the weekend. But one scout who has watched St. Louis recently remains unimpressed. "Colby Rasmus is so inconsistent," the scout says. "Sometimes it looks like he's not even there at the plate." Then there are the times when Rasmus looks like he is there, like when he homered Tuesday and Wednesday in Baltimore.
-- In St. Louis' defense, the Cards have been so beat up this year, but while Albert Pujols is out, at least third baseman David Freese has returned from the disabled list. "Daniel Descalso was playing third base when I saw St. Louis," the scout says. "And I'm thinking, 'These are the St. Louis Cardinals?'"
-- This is the Phillies' rotation we expected: Philadelphia starters compiled a 1.96 ERA in June. Which, according to STATS LLC makes the Phils the first team since July of 1992 to go a full month under 2.00. Both Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs did it back in July, '92.
-- Quietly, Padres outfielder Ryan Ludwick is resurfacing and showing why he will be in demand on the July trade market. He's at 51 RBIs in 78 games after finishing April with a .198 batting average and a .294 on-base percentage. That followed his miserable debut in San Diego last summer when he hit .211 with six homers in 59 games after his acquisition from St. Louis. There have been differences between this year and last: A calf injury nagged at him last year, while this April he was hitting the ball hard, just right at people. "I played terrible last year," Ludwick says. "I wouldn't say I've been playing great this year, but I've been doing what I've been known to do and what they brought me over to do. Drive in runs. Last year, every time I came to the ballpark I was stressed out, wondering if I was going to be able to make contact."
-- Know what's funny? The cover of Florida's media guide is a collage of small photos of historical highlights in Marlins history. And right there front and center, albeit at the bottom, is a photo of Jack McKeon in uniform. No need for updating there. Well, except he's wearing No. 15, and this time around, he's No. 25.
-- Angels manger Mike Scioscia, by the way, is still marveling about McKeon's enthusiasm for managing at 80. Scioscia and the Angels saw McKeon in his 2011 debut a couple of weeks back.
Likes: All-Star voting results coming soon, with the game soon to follow. ... Derek Jeter nearly set to resume his chase for 3,000 hits. ... Kerry Wood off of the DL and back in the Cubs' bullpen. ... From rocky NFL labor talks to rocky NBA labor talks to ... baseball labor talks still quiet and positive. ... The smell of neighborhood grills over the Fourth of July weekend. ... Modern Family boxed set, season 1. I'm just catching up to a show I haven't watched. Very funny. ... My sister's frozen key lime pie. Delicious.
Dislikes: Missed Jason Isbell coming through my town last week because of work commitments. His latest disc with his band, the 400 Unit, Here We Rest, is outstanding.
Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:
"Driving in to Darlington County
-- Bruce Springsteen, Darlington County
Tags: Albert Pujols, Boston Red Sox, Bruce Springsteen, Chicago Cubs, Colby Rasmus, Daniel Descalso, Derek Jeter, Erik Bedard, Florida Marlins, Jack McKeon, Jason Isbell, Joakim Soria, Kansas City Royals, Kerry Wood, Los Angeles Angels, Mariano Rivera, Michael Cuddyer, Mike Cameron, Mike Scioscia, Minnesota Twins, Modern Family, Ned Yost, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Ryan Ludwick, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals