Monday, June 28, 2010

Random Baseball Musings

By: RJ
This segment that I will hopefully contribute bi-weekly or perhaps it will exist weekly (and someone can trade off with me) will focus on giving a brief recap on the week that was in baseball. We had confrontations, call-ups, injuries, blowups and more.

BJ Upton, feel free to hustle anytime
It is an unwritten rule to hustle in baseball. Some managers make it one of the written rules. Jogging to first base has sadly become a somewhat accepted practice. However, dogging it in the field is not as the Hanley Ramirez incident showed us. BJ Upton apparently failed to take note of that Sunday, jogging after a ball in the gap, that allowed “speedster” Rusty Ryal to get a triple. (See video here.) Upton was subsequently confronted in the dugout by Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and things got a little intense. Upton was also later picked off by a right-hander in the bottom of the inning. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Upton has shown a lack of hustle on the ball field. Manager Joe Maddon benched Upton several times during their 2008 AL Pennant season. I would say something similar is in order here, but perhaps more needs to be done. Tampa has not been afraid to jettison a problem child (Elijah Dukes) and they also have a youngster in Triple-A, Desmond Jennings, who is ready to be brought up at any time. There is no question Upton is a talent, but at some point the 10-cent head and lack of hustle has to outweigh the talent.

The Boston Injury Bug
As soon as the Red Sox catch the Rays for second and control of the wildcard, the injury bug strikes. Dustin Pedroia was lost for at least several weeks with a broken foot, Victor Martinez has a broken bone on his left thumb and Clay Buchholz came up gimpy running the bases. The Pedroia and Martinez losses could be crippling if they are sidelined for a serious amount of time, as they would leave Boston without their top three hitters from opening day (including Ellsbury) in a lineup that wasn’t really deep to begin with. The Buchholz injury appears less serious but they need him and Josh Beckett healthy because their title hopes are entirely on the pitching now, if they already weren’t.

Matt LaPorta will get at-bats for now
Matt LaPorta was the top prospect Cleveland got back in the CC Sabathia deal with Milwaukee in 2008. Thus far, Cleveland has managed to find ways to not give him at-bats under both Eric Wedge and now Manny Acta. However, after Cleveland was able to some how right a wrong and move Russell Branyan to Seattle for some inexplicable reason (I didn’t realize 13 games out was close), it is believed Cleveland will hand the first base job over to LaPorta to see what he can do. It's about time. Cleveland needs to see what they have in this kid or they will risk having another Andy Marte on their hands.

Texas keeps on rolling
The team that the Mariners are chasing in the American League West (or one of them at least) keeps on rolling. The Texas Rangers are 20-5 in the month of June and have rattled off 13 wins in their last 14 contests. They have garnered little attention for their play (hardly a surprise when ESPN and FOX put the Yankees and Red Sox on TV every chance they get, and failing that it’s the Steven Strasberg show). But what the Rangers are doing is remarkable. They had a manager, Ron Washington, who was under attack in spring training for a positive drug test. The Rangers stuck by him when many thought they wouldn’t. Their current sale process has become a drama with everyone wondering if baseball will allow them to take on salary at the deadline. They switched closers a week into the season and everyone had questions about their pitching. Yes, their offense has been strong (third in runs scored, first in batting average), and the Josh Hamilton-Vladimir Guerrero revival certainly hasn’t hurt them. But their pitching has been remarkable threw the first half of the season, currently placing fourth in ERA at 3.90. 

Now can anyone name their rotation? The standouts thus far have been converted reliever C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis (who came over from Japan after being a failure in the majors prior to that) and Tommy Hunter (who spent the first two months of the year on the DL). And this is coupled with the fact that their big free agent acquisition, Rich Harden, is on the DL (I know, big surprise) and their best pitcher from last year, Scott Feldman has a 5.32 ERA. For years, the Rangers have been a team people liked because of the big offense but were scared off by the pitching. Well, the pitching has finally arrived and is ready to end the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s reign in the AL West.

Is Raul Ibanez’s time as a regular-everyday player finally over?
After Ben Francisco got a rare start yesterday and produced a 3 for 5 day with two doubles, manager Charlie Manuel hinted that he might see more time in left. As a Phillies fan, all I can say is it is about time. Raul Ibanez was great for two months last year, got hurt and then when he returned (too early), was nothing like he was at the start of the year. This year he has been a corpse. He is hitting .241 on the year with five home runs and while he generally can’t hit anything this year, he especially can’t hit left handed pitching (.206 average against lefties). Ben Francisco, meanwhile, is probably good enough to platoon on most teams and up until now has had 78 at-bats, which to me is inexcusable when you factor in Ibanez’s struggles (I could go off about how Manuel doesn’t spot start his bench enough but I won’t). Francisco is a decent hitter with some pop and a bit of speed and should be playing much more than he is. 

At the bare minimum, Ibanez and Francisco should be platooning and it is nice to see Charlie finally opening himself up to that. Now if only we could dump that final year and $10.5 million of Ibanez’s contract, maybe we could afford to keep Jayson Werth around.

Big Z erupts
Carlos Zambrano, he of a bloated body and contract, was suspended this weekend by the Cubs after he exploded in the dugout after he allowed four runs to the White Sox and yelled at first baseman Derrek Lee. (See video here.) He was then sent home by skipper Lou Piniella and preceded to go out to dinner with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s family (who by the way manages the team Zambrano’s current team was facing this weekend). Pretty much inexcusable behavior all the way around from Zambrano. 

Being angry at yourself is one thing but then completely blowing up and getting into a shouting match with Derrek Lee (who by all accounts is one of the really good guys in baseball) makes you look like a jackass. And then on top of it, he goes out to dinner the same night with the “enemy”/opposing team’s manager. Don’t be afraid to show a little remorse for your actions, Carlos. He has been sent to the bullpen where he will likely live out his year for the Cubs before they desperately try to find someone to take that awful contract, so they can start fresh for the Ryne Sandberg era of managing the Chicago Cubs.

Jonathon Broxton….the new Billy Wagner?
And lastly this weekend, Jonathon Broxton got torched for four runs on Sunday night, blowing a 6-2 lead for the Dodgers in ninth inning. It wasn’t a save situation but it was still a bad outing nonetheless, for a closer who always seems to fall apart in a big spot or on the national stage. In the previous two postseasons, Broxton has blown game four of the NLCS to the same team (the Phillies) in different ways. In 2008, he served up a game-winning two run homer to Matt Stairs. In 2009, he was so scared of Stairs that he unintentionally, intentionally walked him, lost his control for a bit and then served up a game-winning two run double to Jimmy Rollins.

Last night, on national television, he walked a few guys, served up some base hits and before you knew it, the Dodgers and Yankees were tied. Broxton reminds me of someone who is retiring at the end of the year, Braves closer Billy Wagner. Billy was, and still is, solid as a closer in low-pressure spots when the lights weren’t bright. Yet, when the times got tough and the pressure was packed, Billy Wagner always came up small.

You can ask Astros, Phillies and Mets fans about how frustrating Billy Wagner is. He served up a gopher ball in a 2005, September game against the Astros that was ultimately the difference between the Astros making the playoffs and the Phillies missing the playoffs. Mets fans will recall the agony he put them through in the 2006 playoffs and how Willie Randolph’s lack of trust in him resulted in Aaron Heilman pitching late in that tie game a. Mark my words, he will blow one key game for Atlanta down the stretch, if not more, and if they should make the postseason, he will add his name to Braves relievers who melted down in the postseason like Mark Wohlers and John Rocker.

Anyway, I regress. Broxton seems to be very similar to Wagner, in that his numbers look good and he racks up the saves in low-pressure spots. However, when the lights get bright and the going gets tough, Broxton gets a blowin’, just like Wagner did and probably still will.

The Rolling Stones - Midnight Rambler


  1. How could you forget the Pirates losing a pair of road series to extend their road losing streak to 17 games? That's right. They haven't won an away game since May 25 in Washington.

  2. Nice post RJ. Amazing usage of "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim!"

  3. I knew if I didn't use the full name, someone would say something, so thanks.