September 2010

With one week remaining in the 2010 regular season, the majority of fans are geared up to see who earns a playoff berth with five playoff spots still up for grabs. I’m obviously interested in that, but I’m also looking forward to those second place finishers that do not qualify for the playoffs. And why is that exactly? Because MLB awards teams for not making the playoffs as well! According to MLB’s postseason bylaws, it states that the four 2nd place teams (the non-wild card clubs) who do not make the postseason still receive 1% of the playoff shares.

I honestly didn’t even know this myself until a friend emailed me about it the other day. So even with some teams being out of the pennant race, they can still battle it out for a decent bonus paycheck at the conclusion of the regular season.

Take a look at 2008, where the Minnesota Twins received $511,593 for finishing in second place, which each player that received a share pulled in $11,078.97. Not a shabby bonus for finishing as the runner-up in the division.

So with the final week upon us, people will be excited to see who pulls the AL East out. Please. I’ll be watching the Tigers-White Sox in the AL Central to see who gets the 1 percent shares. Or how about the AL West where the A’s lead the Angels by two games. Suddenly that battle for second place doesn’t seem as pointless. Hey, there’s money on the line. Hang on Oakland!


Here’s a neat event that doesn’t happen very often. The television broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series, which was thought to be lost forever, was discovered in, of all places, Bing Crosby’s wine cellar in San Francisco. This was of course the game best known for Bill Mazeroski’s series-clinching home run to give the Pirates a championship over the New York Yankees.

Of all people though, how did Bing Crosby have it? Well Crosby was actually a part owner of the Bucs from 1946 to 1977, and he hired a company to record the game while he traveled out of the country in hopes that he wouldn’t jinx the team. The broadcast has now been converted to DVD, and MLB Network plans to show the game in its entirety sometime this offseason. The game was believed to only survive two radio broadcasts and photographs, but now the video has come out of nowhere. I was a big fan of MLB Network replaying classic Series games from the 1950s last offseason, and I absolutely cannot wait for this.

Plus, the game will be played with the broadcast of Pirates announcer Bob Prince. “How sweet it is!”

What a day for milestones throughout major league baseball! Well, how about the same game north of the border in Toronto for two major ones.

First, let’s start with Ichiro Suzuki who became the first player in ML history to record 10 straight 200-hit seasons, breaking his own record of nine straight. Ichiro continues to just hammer out hits and produce yearly since coming over to America to play for Seattle. The guy is rarely injured, rarely slumps and is on his way to Cooperstown after he retires. Just when you think age will catch up to Ichiro, he fires out another incredible season. His holds a career slash line of .331/.376/.430. He has more 200-hit seasons than Ty Cobb and is tied with hit king Pete Rose as the only other play with 10 seasons of at least 200 hits. Amazing.

Another incredible performance took place in the same game as Ichiro’s milestone in Toronto as Jose Bautista continued his meteoric breakout season with his 50th home run of the season Thursday. Not only was it his 50th blast of the year, easily leading the majors in homers, but it came off of fireballer Felix Hernandez and was the winning run for the Jays in a 1-0 victory over the Mariners. It will be hard to explain what exactly has happened north of the border this year with the Jays going homer crazy, but Bautista was a guy who had 59 home runs through six ML seasons and now this. His career high in one season was 16 homers and he triples that total for 50 out of nowhere. In a season of record no-hit and low-hit ballgames, this feat is even more special. I don’t think you will find too many people (even Blue Jays fans!) out there who think this is what to expect from Joey Bats year in and year out from now on. I sure don’t and that’s just my opinion, but we’ll eventually find out if this is the real Bautista or an incredible fluke of massive proportions. Of course as a Pirates fan, this is not even surprising to any of us. Not that anyone saw this kind of season on the horizon for Bautista, but it’s just about right considering he used to hit .230 with 15 homers for the Bucs.

I’ll be honest. Prior to the season and through the first five months of the season, I didn’t think there was a chance the Cardinals would lose the NL Central title. As we sit here on September 22nd, the division title hopes are long gone for the Cards, the Reds magic number stands at three and the Cardinals chances for the wildcard are near impossible (down 8.0 games behind three teams). Hell, they are only five games up on the Astros in the Central.

So how did we get here from when the Cardinals were sitting in first place a game up on the Reds a little over a month ago on August 13? Well since then, the Cardinals are on a 12-24 slide at the worst possible time a slump could happen for this team. I thought all year that while the Reds were proving to be a legit, surprise team that the Cardinals would end up pulling it out down the stretch because of the big three—Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. Seemed like too much firepower for Cincinnati to handle. Turns out, I was wrong.

Let’s start with CC. Carpenter has not been good in August and September. Since improving to 12-3 with a 2.91 ERA on August 4, the former Cy Young award winner has been a pedestrian 3-5 with 4.34 ERA in his last nine starts, including losses in his last three games. Wainwright also has seen his ERA balloon the past month and a half. He sported a sparkling 1.99 ERA after a 7.0 inning gem against the Reds on August 11, but since then has not been himself with a 2-5 record and 4.13 ERA. So the two aces of this staff has been middle of the road in crucial time late in the season, the back-end of the rotation was never that stable to begin with. Kyle Lohse has been terrible all year (4-8, 7.18 ERA, 12.9 H/9), and Jake Westbrook, who the Cards acquired in a three-team deal that sent Ryan Ludwick to San Diego, hasn’t been a savior by any means. Westbrook is 2-3 with a 3.26 ERA in nine starts since arriving in St. Louis…hey, he’s actually posted better numbers than Wainwright and Carpenter since August. To state it blunt, the Cardinals pitching just fell apart. Their team 2010 ERA is at 3.61, but the team’s earned run average in the past 28 days is a different story—4.70.

The pitching isn’t the only thing to blame since the bats also went south for the crucial part of the season. St. Louis team slash line on the entire season is .263/.331/.406. Not bad. How about for the past 28 days: slash line of .237/.299/.361. Significant drop offs in all three major categories. Pundits rode Pujols a bit hard this year saying this was one of his worst seasons in his career. Well, he’s still on pace for one hell of a season. Most major leaguers would dream of a down year like this one. He’s one homer shy of two straight 40-HR seasons, recorded over 100 RBI for the 10th straight year, looks like he’ll finish with a BA over .300 and while it’s hit lowest of his career, he’s still posting a stellar .403 OBP. Not to mention he’s leading the league in runs with 105. He also has not been part of the Cards slump. In their 12-23 slump since August 13, Pujols hit 11 bombs, 23 RBI, a slash line of .293/.394/.631 and has recorded more walks than strikeouts. I cannot state this any clearer than this—Albert Pujols was not the Cardinals problem this year.

Their problem was after dealing Ludwick to the Padres, besides Pujols, Halladay and Rasmus the Cardinals lacked another power hitter or even pure hitter to mix in that lineup. Also, the lead off position has been a mess for manager Tony LaRussa as he used a combination of Skip Schumaker (64 games) and Felipe Lopez (65 games) at the top of the order all season to no avail. Schumaker hit .268/.331/.347 with a big five steals while Lopez was actually worse with a .231/.310/.340 line. Basically there was no catalyst to jump-start this offense, and that’s a major problem because talent like Pujols and Holliday need runners to knock in.

Basically this team went on a slide in mid-August and never recovered as it turned into a collapse. While the team has a handful of superstars including two aces, this collapse proved that there was not much else around them to pick up the slack when the others struggled.

To further prove a point of the difficulty to explain why the Cardinals have been a mess since the beginning of August…they’re on the verge of being swept by the hands of the Pirates. Ouch. That’s an unprecedented low.

Justin Morneau did it again to me. Since winning the AL MVP award in 2006, Morneau has made a name of himself as one of the premier power hitters in the game. Last year, Morneau had a stellar first half with 21 HRs, 70 RBI and a line of .311/.390/.575 but after slumping in the second part of the season he finally was diagnosed with a stress fracture in September and missed the rest of the season and playoffs. Of course I had Morneau last year in fantasy baseball and reaped the benefits for his first half spoils, but he was missing when it counted. Just like he was for the Twins.

Well this March when people were shying away from Morneau in fantasy drafts, there I was suckered in again by the numbers he put up when he was healthy. Hey, he was injured last year for the second half, he’s primed for a big year, I thought, especially in new Target Field. And for the first 81 games, I looked like a genius as Morneau tore the cover off the ball, hitting .345/.437/.618 with 18 home runs and 25 doubles. At one point, he was leading the AL in WAR and getting on base at a .500 pace for the first three months. He was on his way to one hell of a season. Until July 7th when he was suffered a concussion. He missed the All-Star game and has not played another game so far this season. And a repeat from last year, here I am in the fantasy playoffs without one of my top picks and legit hitters. Currently he’s in jeopardy of missing the playoffs again as there’s no timetable for his return with the Twins once again storm toward the playoffs.

Morneau has always been a notorious second half slumper throughout his career, but since signing his six-year deal with Minnesota, he’s now having a problem staying healthy. Whether it’s training or just plain bad luck, the guy can’t stay healthy and put together a solid second half. Which begs the question, if he’s not around for October when the Twins need him the most, what is he really worth?

Over the next couple of weeks I will be breaking down different players’ seasons with the 2010 campaign quickly winding down. Yesterday, I wrote about Evan Longoria‘s 30 2B/20 HR feat and today I want to talk about the only side of the spectrum—the hard luck 2010 for Pirates pitcher Ross Ohlendorf.

In 2009, Ohlendorf enjoyed a semi-breakout year where he posted an 11-10 record with a 3.92 ERA in 29 starts. Hey, for the Pirates to get that from a second year pitcher who came over in a trade, that’s f’n spectacular. This year, however, Ollie has been victorious in exactly one game. He’s 1-11 on the season despite a decent ERA of 4.07. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that wins as a top stat to define a pitcher is clearly overrated. There are plenty of other factors that go into wins for a starting pitcher that they don’t have any control of throughout the game—how many runs your offense scores behind you, how did the defense play, etc. But 1-11? That’s pretty unlucky, even historically unlucky.

Consider this. Since 1901, Ohlendorf is only the second pitcher in MLB history to make at least 20 starts, sport an ERA under 4.50 and record one win in a season:

Rk Player W GS ERA Year Age Tm G CG L IP
1 Ross Ohlendorf 1 21 4.07 2010 27 PIT 21 0 11 108.1
2 Jack Nabors 1 30 3.47 1916 28 PHA 40 11 20 212.2
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/10/2010.

Ah yes, remember those great days of Jack Nabors of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916? The poor guy went 1-20 despite a 3.49 ERA. Ouch. He only pitched three seasons and finished 1-25 in his career. Talk about tough luck. But that’s it. Ross matched a dubious feat only seen one in over 100 years of baseball. Boy, it’s fantastic to be a Pirates fan! Ugh.

To make matters worse, Ohlendorf’s season took a scary turn on July 28 when he took a line drive from Troy Tulowitzki‘s bat off his head against the Rockies. Amazingly enough, he suffered no concussion and return to the mound five days later. He pitched four more effective starts (0-2, 2.45) before leaving August 23’s game against the Cardinals after just two batters due to a muscle strain in his right shoulder, effectively ending a season he wishes he could forget.

Heading into that Aug. 23 game, Ohlendorf had pitched solid over his last 10 starts. Since June 22, he posted a 2.35 ERA (53.4 IP/14 ER) while recording his only win of the season. One win during that stretch of pitching that including seven quality starts is insane. Nothing went right for him this season.

Of course some people (mostly sabermetric gurus) will argue that his xFIP of 4.98 suggests he’s been a bit lucky this year and his ERA could easily be higher, but the bottom line is that it’s not higher. His BABIP was up almost 30 points from last year from .265 to .293 so you could argue that he was unlucky on the balls hit into the field and it could have even been lower. Moreover, he exited eight games this year after allowing only two earned or less. His ERA may have been lower than what it should have been, but he was equally unlucky in how his team played behind him in the win column.

The 2010 season was one that Ross and the Pirates will love to move on from because his luck would appear to have nowhere to go but up for next reason…right? I sure hope so anyway.

Evan Longoria is obviously a great, young ballplayer, but sometimes with the accomplishments and milestones happening these days, for some reason I tend to forget how young and productive he’s actually been in just under three seasons. On Sunday, Evan Longoria joined a group of elite company in the history of major league baseball.

The third overall pick of the 2006 draft blasted a two-run homer off Chris Tillman for his 20th home run of the season. OK, 20 home runs isn’t that special these days. Well, with that home run Longoria became just the fifth player in history to record at least 20 home runs and 30 doubles in their first three big league seasons.

So who else is in that club? Oh, only Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Orlando Cepeda and Albert Pujols. Now, that’s some elite company. Think about that for a minute. That’s three Hall of Famers, including two of the greatest hitters to ever grace the diamond and a guy that’s a lock for the Hall. Not too shabby.Longoria’s power numbers are a bit off with 21 homers to his 33 last year, but he’s made up for it in the double category as he’s one two-bagger shy of his career high (44) with 26 games left in the season. Also, he’s already been to one World Series and looks to be on his way for a second postseason appearance as the Rays currently lead the wildcard.

I’m not sitting here saying that Longoria is a guaranteed future Hall of Famer, but the sky’s the limit since you pretty much can’t start a career any better.

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