No power outage
Can you name the batter who leads the Yankees in home runs this year? It’s not A-Rod, it’s not Teixeira and it’s not Robinson Cano, Russell Martin or Posada. Believe it or not, it’s former Tiger Curtis Granderson. Granderson ripped another two home runs in a 4-1 Yankees win in Texas Friday night. It looks like the Yankees lineup is a perfect fit for Granderson, who now has 10 homers through 30 games of 2011. Also, dating back to August 14, 2010, the only player who has hit more home runs than Granderson is Jose Bautista (who’s on his own planet right now) with 27. Granderson has 24 since last Aug. 14.

Ton of strikeouts and a big ol’ L
Phillies starter Cliff Lee struck out 16 against the Braves, but was tagged the loss after his offense managed just two hits off of Derek Lowe and the Braves bullpen in a 5-0 loss. According to B&R’s Play Index, there have been 287 games since 1919 where the starter struck out 12+ batters and took the loss. Lee’s performance Friday night was the first one of 2011. It happened five times last year: Josh Johnson (12k), Jhoulys Chacin (12k), Jon Lester (13k), Adam Wainwright (12k) and Jared Weaver (12k).

The most strikeouts for a starter who took the loss over the years at least since 1919? Randy Johnson (1997), Nolan Ryan (1974) and Steve Carlton (1969) all struck out 19 batters in a game where they were the losing pitcher. Ryan’s performance was an 11-inning pitched 1-0 complete game loss. Talk about a wasted effort.

Red Sox pitching routed again
Just when you thought the Red Sox were starting to turn it around, they drop three straight including a 9-2 beat down at home to the Twins. And I just wrote about the anemic Twins offense yesterday only to see them break out for nine runs in Fenway. This time the culprit was Tim Wakefield, who allowed eight runs (six earned) in just 4.1 innings of work. Besides Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, the Sox rotation has been a disappointment. This loss leaves Wakefield with a 5.73 ERA while John Lackey currently sits with a 7.16 ERA after his latest implosion. Meanwhile Dice K and Clay Buchholz are hovering in the mid-4 ERA. The Sox dropped to 14-18 and in last place of the AL East. That is not a misprint. Despite all the offensive improvement and signings in the offseason, Boston needs to find more consistency from its rotation if they are to compete for a pennant this summer.

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Trivia question: Who was the last team to have four 20-game winners in one year?

Answer: The 1971 Orioles rotation that featured Dave McNally (21-5, 2.89), Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90) and oh yeah, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68).

No one has been able to match that feat, or really come close for that matter. Keep in mind baseball was a different game in 1971 from today. Starting pitchers went further into games almost every time out and averaged more starts throwing on less rest than today’s pitchers. Though now the big comparison to this rotation is the current one the Phillies are about to start the 2011 season with that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton (the fifth guy could be my neighbor, it really doesn’t matter).

Do four pitchers on this staff actually have a shot at 20 wins each? Well three out of four have won 20 games at some point in their career. Halladay has done it three times including last year, Oswalt twice and Lee once. Hamels career high in win was 14 in 2008, but this could be a breakout year for him with less pressure on him as the number four guy. Though Blanton actually has more wins than Hamels in a year with 16 in 2006 with Oakland.

There’s obviously a chance, but I see it as a long shot to accomplish it. The offense is certainly there for the Phillies to produce plenty of runs, but everything would basically need to go right for them to do it.

As I mentioned above, Lee has only won 20 games once in his career as injuries have been a problem for him over the years. Oswalt is also 32 years old and his back is always a question mark. He reached 200 innings last year, but I think it will be difficult for him to continue to go deep into games all year. And Hamels would really need to take a jump in production and dominate to reach the 20-win mark. Halladay appears to be a lock for 20 wins (barring injury) with the way he pitched last year for Philly.

Plus, look at the ’71 Orioles numbers above for each pitcher. McNally reached 21 wins, but the other three just barely reached 20 wins. Obviously they were an incredible staff, but even they received some luck down the stretch for three of them to just get over the mark. You need the offense to score runs, you need your bullpen to hold leads late in the game, you need to stay healthy and avoid a freak injury, need weather to hold up and not wash out a pitcher’s start among other intangibles.

Another interesting fact is while that Orioles staff was unreal with four 20-game winners, they still did not win the World Series. They came close though losing in seven games to, that’s right, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Will the Phillies hold the same fate?

As the holiday season approaches (yes, Christmas is only one week away!), here are some offseason links on signings, trades and reactions from around the web…

MLB.com handed out their first GIBBY (Greatness in Baseball Yearly) awards during a one-hour show on MLB Network Friday night. The full list of winners can be found here.

Tom Boorstein of SNY.tv looks at life without Cliff Lee and what the Yankees can do from here.

The baseball world lost a legend earlier this week when news of Bob Feller‘s passing broke around the country. He was 92 years young. Joe Posnanski of Sports Illustrated remembers the Hall of Fame pitcher with a superb column on Feller’s career, and more importantly, his life.

Padres have been very active this month, especially this week when they finally acquired Jason Bartlett from the Rays. Today, they followed it up by signing infielder Orlando Hudson to a two-year deal. Dave Cameron discusses O-Dog’s underrated value over at FanGraphs.

Pat Lackey of WHYGAVS writes a detailed, passionate post on watching the broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on MLB Network. I missed the original airing last Wednesday, but have it DVR’d and plan to watch it as soon as I find the time.

Thought the Red Sox were done adding players this offseason? Think again. The Sox continue their own Christmas shopping with the addition of closer Bobby Jenks.

Warning, warning! Shameless plug approaching. Checkout these baseball blogs featured Friday morning on MLB Trade Rumors. Third one down should be rather familiar.

“I can’t play anymore. I can’t hit the ball when I need to. I can’t steal second when I need to. I can’t go from first to third when I need to. I can’t score from second when I need to. I have to quit.”  -Mickey Mantle

Speculation is that highly sought free agent pitcher Cliff Lee will make a decision early this week on which team to pitch for in 2011 and beyond to be said team’s ace for years to come. It’s basically down to two teams: Rangers or Yankees. But there have been reports that a third “mystery” team could be involved in talks, though it’s unlikely Lee would end up signing with this unknown team. Well, that kind of talk gets my mind thinking (never a good thing), and I thought what if my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates surprised everyone and signed Lee to a long-term deal? Hey, I can dream at least. Caught Looking enters my dreamland to see what the future would hold for a Cliff Lee-lead Pirates club…

Lee holds a press conference Tuesday afternoon to stun the baseball world with his announcement that he signed a six-year deal worth $146 with the Pittsburgh Pirates that includes a player option for a seventh year. The presser sends shock waves through the country as pundits wonder when the Pirates came into the Lee sweepstakes, and where did they suddenly get the money for the left-handed ace?

Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington is quick to tell media members that this is the move that will help put them over the top.

“We are serious about building a championship-caliber ballclub here in Pittsburgh. We actively pursued multiple starting pitchers this offseason with Correia and Olsen, and we felt that by adding Lee for the next six years gives us the move we have been looking for to make that next step and compete for a championship.”

Lee explains to a hoard of reporters that the Pirates came out of nowhere to sweep him off his feet.

“I honestly didn’t hear from Neal and the Pirates front office until about a week ago, but they brought me in and surprised me with the deal they laid on the table. I love what they are building here and the way they’ve gone about it. This team has a lot of young, talented players that are on the cusp of doing great things. Pittsburgh is a great town with a fantastic ballpark, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my career here. The Yankees and Rangers made very enticing offers, and this was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but ultimately I felt that Pittsburgh is where I’m supposed to be.”

Columnists and experts around the country bash Lee in print and the internet throughout the rest of the offseason. Meanwhile, Lee mania officially hits the Steel Town as the Pirates see an immediate increase in season tickets, advertising, merchandise sells, etc. Lee’s number 37 jersey easily becomes the Pirates top-selling jersey.

The Pittsburgh Baseball Club opens its 2011 season at Wrigley Field on April 1 with an afternoon game against the Cubs. Lee is on the mound for the Pirates and looks in midseason form on his return to the NL, blanking the Cubs through 7.0 innings of work while striking out eight batters in a Pirates 4-1 victory. Six days later, Lee is on the hill in PNC Park for the home opener in front of a frenzied, sellout crowd the likes of which has not been seen in Pittsburgh for years. Lee mows down the Rockies with a four-hit shutout, and second-year slugger Pedro Alvarez hits two home runs, one into the Allegheny River, as the Bucs cruise to a 7-0 win.

The Pirates hover around .500 through April and May as Lee goes 7-2 with a 2.58 ERA in the first two months. They sit at 35-36 on June 17 when the Bucs travel to Cleveland for an interleague series with Lee’s former employer. Lee starts the first game of the series and has a no-hitter through five before finishing with 8.0 stellar innings and one run allowed to propel the Pirates to a 5-1 win. Lee’s brilliant performance against the Indians was the beginning of a three-game sweep to push the Pirates over .500 as Correia continued his surprising season by blanking the Tribe through seven innings of work the next night. The sweep turns the Bucs red-hot to finish the first half, going 12-6 through their next 18 games to take a 50-42 record (good for second place, 2 games behind the Cardinals) into the All-Star break, which is the first time the Pirates have taken a winning record into the break since 1992.

Lee’s return to the National League has proven to be a success as he owns a 12-4 record with 2.74 ERA in the first half, good enough to start the game for the NL. Lee tosses two scoreless innings in his brief work in the All-Star game. The NL goes on to win its second straight All-Star game with a 7-4 victory over the American League.

With the Pirates playoff aspirations the talk of Major League Baseball at the break, the Pirates fall into a rut to start the second half. The offense goes into a coma as the Bucs struggle to provide Lee any kind of run support. They scuffle back to .500 with a record of 56-56 in early August and fall eight games back in the NL Central. With the playoffs not looking like a realistic possibility, the fans now hold hope that this will at least be the year they can finally end their years of futility and pull out a winning season.

The Bucs enter the month of September one game above .500 with a 69-68 record. Thanks to two wins in the week by Lee, the Pirates bring their record to 74-70 as they desperately try to hold on to this winning season. The city of Pittsburgh gets behind the team hoping to see the end of the record losing seasons streak. Attendance is the highest it has been since PNC Park opened in 2001, and the near-sellout crowds in September show how far this team has come.

With the division out of reach thanks to a hot month of August by Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, the Pirates play .500 ball for the majority of the month and continue to countdown their own “magic number” to a winning season.

On September 23, 2011, with the Pirates hosting their last three-game series of the season against the Reds, they sit at 81-75 and need just one more victory to clinch a winning season. As fate would have it, Lee just happens to be starting for Pittsburgh that Friday night as a sellout crowd watches in anticipation. Lee pitches as if it was Game 3 of the ALCS, fanning 14 Reds on the night for a three-hit, one run complete game victory for his 20th win of the season. It’s the franchise’s first 20-game winner since John Smiley in 1991. Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Alvarez all go deep for the Pirates as the celebration starts early in a Pirates 12-1 rout. The win halts the franchise’s losing streak at 18 straight seasons and the Pirates celebrate like they have just won the pennant. Lee is given the key to the city prior to Saturday night’s game, and the Pirates finish the season with two more wins to end with an 84-78 record.

Lee is awarded the NL Cy Young award, the second of his career, with a 20-8 record and 2.89 ERA while leading the Majors in complete games and strikeout-walk ratio. Alvarez comes into his own in his second ML season as the Pirates premier power bat with 37 home runs, 42 doubles and a slash line of .272/.352/.528. McCutchen excels in his third season becoming the newest member of the 20-30 club after belting 26 home runs and swiping 31 bases in his first All-Star year. The rotation seems to have fed off of Lee all year as well. Correia turns out to be another solid pickup in the offseason as he finishes his surprising year with 14 wins and a 3.80 ERA. James McDonald and Paul Maholm each picked up 10+ wins, which rounds out a rotation that exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.

The Pirates use 2011 as a stepping stone in the right direction and are ready to take the next leap forward. 2010 No. 1 draft pick Jameson Taillon arrives in 2012 and teams with Lee to become one of the best 1-2 punches in the game. The Pirates roll through a weak NL Central to finish 92-70 for their first division title since ’92. After defeating the Braves in the NLDS for a very late dose of revenge, the Pirates meet the Phillies in a NLCS battle of the Keystone state. Lee faces the pitcher the Phillies got to replace Lee years ago and defeats Roy Halladay in a pitching duel that goes down as an instant classic. The Pirates advance to the World Series for the first time since 1979 and meet the New York Yankees. Lee shows the Yankees what could have been if he had signed in the Bronx. He wins all three games he starts in the Fall Classic to lead the Bucs to their sixth world championship by defeating the Yankees in seven games.

Not even two months later on December 21, 2012, Earth spins off its axis, skips out of orbit and flies into the sun promptly ending the world.

In another life long ago, I worked in minor league baseball and was fortunate to attend a few winter meetings (Dallas in 2005 and Orlando in 2006). It’s a surreal experience for any baseball fan to suddenly be there in the midst of baseball personnel at every turn. Let me tell you what pretty much goes down as I remember it.

There’s a main hotel lobby that is the hub of everything. You stand there and look around to see famous reporters like Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal, agents like Scott Boras, managers like  Jim Leyland, front office executives and even some players. Barry Bonds made a splash was he unannounced made an appearance into the hotel in Orlando back in ’06. A friend and I would hang out in said lobby at night and rub elbows with reports and other baseball dignitaries while being an earshot of any rumor that Peter Gammons is hearing as well. MLB.com would have a remote set up in one of the hallways, which has now been joined by MLB Network. It’s truly a cool experience for fans. Anyway, just a brief recap of what I remember from ’05 and ’06. Here are some thoughts on the most recent meetings that just finished up from Orlando.

  • So much for that rough economy last year that limited teams’ spending. The Nationals are single-handedly trying to stimulate the economy themselves. Werth signs for $126MM, plus the Nats are in the hunt for Cliff Lee and Carl Pavano. Say what you want about the deals, but the Nats are suddenly willing to spend money to compete.
  • At this point I’m fairly certain Scott Boras would be able to negotiate a seven-year deal worth $22 million for me at my current job. Who thought we would see so much talk on seven-year deals to players in their 30s?
  • Here’s an intriguing thought—even though I do think Lee will eventually sign with the Yankees, what if he does decided that he loved Texas enough to accept their deal over the Yanks. How much of a blow would that be to New York? A team that has done pretty much nothing to this point in the offseason. Plus, they are still waiting to hear if Andy Pettitte is coming back, and the Red Sox just went out and made the biggest splash (or splashes) by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez via trade and signing free agent Carl Crawford and are considered the frontrunners for catcher Russell Martin. Lee signing anywhere else but New York would be a disaster for the Yankees at this point.
  • The Orioles were certainly active in deals by trading with the Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy and infielder Brendan Harris, and picked up slugger Mark Reynolds in a trade from Arizona. That’s all great for the O’s, but if you saw this team in 2010 they need pitching. Though they did just sign Koji Uehara and just offered reliever Kevin Gregg a two-year deal so that’s a start.
  • The Royals apparently have a liking for ex-Braves. Melky and Francoeur in one week? How will the Braves recover from losing these two studs?
  • It’s really discouraging as a Pirates fan or a fan of any small market team to see the big boys go out and sign Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee and other big names and then see the Buccos pull in guys like Scott Olsen, Kevin Correia and Matt Diaz. The Pirates were definitely active at the meetings, but ugh. Olsen and Correia may just be an upgrade to Zach Duke, who was dealt to Arizona for Cesar Valdez earlier this offseason.

There you have it as the winter meetings conclude for another year. The next question this offseason is who will Lee sign with and when?

Caught Looking recaps the most memorable moments and accomplishments from the 2010 season. Here are moments six through ten.

10. Cliff Lee‘s blanking the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS
With the American League Championship Series tied at one game apiece, the Yankees were looking to get a leg up on the Rangers with the series shifting to Yankee Stadium. Cliff Lee had other ideas. Lee was on his own stratosphere when he took the mound for Texas in Game 3 as he fired 8.0 shutout innings with just two hits, one walk while striking out 13 Yankees on the night. The Yankees missed out on acquiring Lee mid-season, and they realized the consequences quickly in that Game 3. The Rangers won by the score of 8-0 to take a 2-games-1 lead, and the Yankees never recovered in the series and were promptly sent home in six games.

9. The National League finally wins an All-Star game.
It only took 14 years and a 12-game winning streak by the American League before the NL finally broke through with a victory in the All-Star game. The NL defeated the AL 3-1 on July 13 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim to break the amazing AL streak. Braves catcher Brian McCann ripped a three-run double in the seventh inning to give the NL all the runs needed in this one and was named the game’s MVP. The game would feature the AL’s only run as unearned along with some questionable managing by Joe Girardi in the ninth inning.

8. Ken Griffey Jr. announces his retirement
Following two months of the 2010 season, Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement in early June. The man who was destined to break Hank Aaron‘s home run record never reached that accomplishment due to various injuries that derailed Griffey’s career from the premier power hitter he was in the mid-90’s. If you grew up watching baseball in that decade, that’s the guy you wanted to be when you played baseball in the backyard. Despite the injuries, Griffey still played 22 seasons with a total of 630 home runs. He was a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner and will soon be a Hall of Famer.

7. Trevor Hoffman opens the 600 save club
Thanks to some poor pitching to start the season and some poor decision-making by the Brewers coaching staff, it took Trevor Hoffman almost a full season to record nine saves in 2010 to total 600 saves for his career. But he eventually got there. On September 7 against the Cardinals, Hoffman finally had the opportunity to close the door again and tossed a scoreless ninth inning to become the first closer with 600 career saves. It’s a terrific accomplishment that was sort of overshadowed by the Brewers decision to not allow Hoffman to sniff a save chance for the majority of the season after some blown saves earlier in 2010 despite the Brewers being out of contention long before September. At any rate, Hoffman will be remembered for his stellar career and being the first to the 600-save club.

6. A-Rod hits home run No. 600, Ichiro’s and Pujols milestone
Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez went into a little home run drought (12 games) between number 599 and 600, but he eventually joined the 600-home run club with a blast off of Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum on August 4 in Yankee Stadium.

The hit machine Ichiro Suzuki continued to pile up his list of accomplishments as he became the first player to record 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons in 2010. Like A-Rod, Ichiro’s milestone also came against Toronto with a single on September 23.

A-Rod hit home run number 600, but one day he will be joined in that club by Albert Pujols. Pujols hit his 30th home run of the season on August 15 against the Cubs to become the first player to record 10 straight seasons of 30 or more home runs to start a career. Yep, that’s more than Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Barry Bonds…OK, you get the picture—Pujols stands alone in this category. He later hit his 400th career home run in the season.

World Series Game 5: Giants 3, Rangers 1  (Giants win WS 4-games-1)
Thanks to another stellar pitching performance by ace Tim Lincecum, the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers 3-1 to win the series 4-games-to-1 for their first championship since arriving in the Bay Area. The Giants ace defeated Rangers ace Cliff Lee for the second time in the series and left no doubts about how much pitching dominated these playoffs.

It’s only fitting that in a year dubbed the “Year of the Pitcher” that the playoffs and, more importantly, the world series would be dominated by pitching.

In a game that was more of what people expected from the Game 1 Lee-Lincecum matchup, Lincecum fired 8.0 innings with just one run allowed on three hits while fanning 10. Lee matched Lincecum until the seventh inning when Edgar Renteria, who is developing a flair for the dramatic, ripped a three-run homer off Lee to give the Giants all the runs they would need to win it all. Cody Ross and Juan Uribe led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Aubrey Huff laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over, and Lee then struck out Pat Burrell for two outs bringing Renteria to the plate. Renteria had the walk-off game-winning hit for the Marlins in the ’97 World Series and made the final out of the 2004 World Series for the Cardinals. This time he delivered again with a three-run blast into the Texas night to deep center field. It was all the Giants needed.

Nelson Cruz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, his sixth of the postseason, but that was all the Rangers would get off of Lincecum. Closer Brian Wilson came in for the ninth and shut down the Rangers middle of the order, striking out Josh Hamilton, getting Vlad to ground out and clinching the World Series for the Giants by striking out Cruz to end it.

Renteria was named series MVP thanks to a .412/.444/.765 slash line with two home runs, including the series-winning home run. You can definitely make a strong argument that Lincecum deserved the MVP award, but it really doesn’t matter because the Giants are champs and that’s all that matters to them and their fans.