LEAD OFF

There are three undefeated teams left in the Majors. The Reds defeated the Astros 8-2 to improve to 4-0 while the Rangers continued to roll with a 3-2 win over Seattle to move to a  5-0 mark. They join the 4-0 Orioles, who enjoyed an off day Tuesday. All three are in action on Wednesday. On the other side of the spectrum, there are three winless teams remaining: one that isn’t a shock (Astros) and two that are a surprise (Red Sox and Rays).

NOTABLE DEBUTS

Michael Pineda, Mariners: L, 6.0 IP, 5H, 3R, 3ER, 1BB, 4K (Not a bad start at all against the red-hot Rangers offense on the road).

QUESTION:

The 4-0 Reds are off to their best start since what year?

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz‘s bid to become the only player in MLB history to homer in his first five games came up short Tuesday with an 0-for-2 performance with one walk. His four home runs in the Rangers first four games was a feat matched only by Willie Mays and Mark McGwire.

QUICK HITS

– The Mets will need more performances like this one if they hope to compete this year. Mets starter Chris Young did it all on Tuesday in his debut with his new team as he not only shut down the Phillies through 5.1 innings with one run allowed for a victory, but he helped his own cause with three hits and one RBI. Two of his three hits came in the third inning as the Mets exploded for a six-run inning. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner was the last pitcher to record two hits in an inning last September.

– The Red Sox lineup Tuesday including their starting pitcher will earn $87.4 million this year. While their opponent Indians starting lineup and pitcher will make just over $23 million. And the Red Sox are 0-4. Good thing it’s a long season.

ANSWER:

The Reds haven’t been on a start like this since 1990 when they started the season 9-0 and would eventually go on to sweep the A’s in the World Series. On the flip side, the Reds dropped the Astros to 0-4. It’s the worst start for the Astros since…2010.

LEAD OFF

Break up the Baltimore Orioles! With a 5-1 victory over the Tigers Monday, the O’s improved to 4-0—their best start since 1997, which was the last time the Orioles made the postseason. Is it really possible? Is it Buck Showalter? I have no clue, but they sure on a hot ride dating back to last August.

Here are some of the numbers on the O’s 4-0 start…

  • O’s have allowed only four runs in four games.
  • They are outscoring opponents (Rays, Tigers) 17-4.
  • They have yet to trail a game this season.
  • Orioles starters have allowed two runs in 26 innings, a 0.69 ERA.
  • Since Showalter took over as Orioles manager on August 3 of last year, the O’s have the best record in the AL East at 38-23 in the 61 game stretch.

NOTABLE DEBUTS (from Sunday)

Zach Britton, Orioles: W, 6.0 IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 3BB, 6K

Michael Crotta, Pirates: 1.0 IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 1K

INSIDE THE BOXSCORE

Nelson Cruz made history last night as he homered in his fourth straight game to start the season in the Rangers 6-4 win over Seattle. He became just the third player in history to accomplish the feat. Willie Mays was the first to do it in 1971 and scroll down to find out who the second slugger was.

QUESTION:

In 1998, this player became the second to homer in his team’s first four games of the season. Can you name him?

QUICK HIT

With every good start, there’s a bad start to the season as well. For a bad start, see the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brew Crew are 0-4 after being swept by the Reds that started with a blown three-run lead on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Today, they fell apart late again on two solo home runs by the Braves Martin Prado and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s home run hit the top of the wall and bounced over for the game-winning run. The Brewers responded by becoming frustrating and blaming it on bad luck instead of their lackluster play on the field:

“What do you want me to say? We had a ball hit the top of the wall and bounce away from us.” — Casey McGehee

ANSWER:

Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire belted a home run in his first four games to start the ’98 season. That season should stick out in fans memory as the year McGwire and Sammy Sosa went on a home run chase after Roger Maris single-season record of 61 home runs. McGwire would ultimately beat out Sosa and break the record with 70 homers.

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?

Don’t look now, but pitchers and catchers report next week! With the start of spring training right around the corner, I thought we’d take a look at some of the prominent free agents who will be changing uniforms this year…

Yankees
The Yankees are having a bit of a rough offseason. They lost out on ace Cliff Lee at the last minute to the Phillies, their longtime steady All-Star pitcher Andy Pettitte decided to retire and then they were raked over the coals by Derek Jeter to sign him to an extension. Meanwhile, the Red Sox went out and brought in a ton of talent mainly Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks to name a few.

So what did the Yanks do to compensate? Well besides locking up Rivera and Rafael Soriano for their bullpen, they went out and signed Andruw Jones, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior and now Eric Chavez. These pickups would have been great if the year was 2004 and not 2011. Three of these deals are minor league deals, but wow could they be anymore desperate for starting pitching. If one of the following, Colon-Prior-Chavez, stick I would be shocked.

Rays sign some idiots
The Rays reunited outfielders Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez from their days in Boston, signing them both two one-year deals. Both players are winding down their careers and are not the same players they once were, but it will be interesting to see how their veteran presence will be on a young team that lost Crawford, Garza and Soriano in the offseason. They don’t have the power they used to process as Manny hit nine total compared to Damon’s eight last year. If one of the two can rebound from a mediocre 2010, it’ll pay dividends for Tampa.

Rangers give six years to Beltre
Texas used the money saved for Cliff Lee to pickup Adrian Beltre in a six-year, $96M deal. Didn’t the Rangers learn their lesson on the A-Rod deal that strapped them for years down the road. Beltre had a sterling season last year (.321/.365/.553), there’s no doubt about that. But it was a big improvement from 2009 when he struggled with the Mariners. Plus, Beltre will be 32 in early April, and I’m not so sure giving a 32-year-old with Beltre’s track record a six-year deal is a great idea. Besides the Rangers need pitching, not hitting at this point.

Dunn to White Sox
Adam Dunn signed with the Chi Sox for a four-year, $56MM deal. Dunn’s a player that has hit an average of 40.3 home runs each year since 2004. Now, he moves to an extreme home run hitter’s park in Chicago at the age of 31, Dunn may absolutely rake in the lineup that features Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin.

Quick hits:

Vlad and Lee sign with the Orioles: Minus the postseason, Vladimir Guerrero had a terrific 2010 season with the Rangers, hitting .300/.345/.496 with 29 home runs. His decline in the postseason is a worry for the O’s, but I think Vlad will at least be productive this year though not to 2010’s standards. As for Derrek Lee, he will be looking for a bounce back year in new scenery in Baltimore after seeing his home run total drop from 35 in 2009 to 19 in 2010, including just three dingers after being dealt to Atlanta in August.

Matsui lands in Oakland: Hideki Matsui ended up being one of the most consistent producers for the Angels last year and should provide some much-needed power and experience for the A’s in 2011. If he stays healthy, 20-25 home runs shouldn’t be a problem.

Cubs land Pena: Along with upgrading their rotation with a trade for Garza, the Cubs signed Pena to a one-year, $10MM deal. Pena will provide some power the Cubs need, but I don’t care how many home runs he hits, he better cut down some strikeouts and improve that .198 average.

Javier Vazquez returns to the NL: Vazquez is coming off probably his worst season in the majors since his rookie year. He posted a 5.32 ERA while his strikeouts decreased and his walks went up with the Yanks. Signing a one-year, $7MM deal with Florida, he hopes to turn some magic back in the NL where he’s been extremely more effective throughout his 13-year career.

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?

While sifting through some trade rumors tonight, I came across one where the Giants are interested in Orioles reliever Will Ohman. I hadn’t heard much about Ohman this year, so I was curious about his stats and something stood out to me as rare.

Ohman has appeared in 48 games for a total of 28.0 innings for Baltimore, but he has yet to factor in a decision in any of those games. He’s 0-0 on the year. So I wondered—how many pitchers pitched in a handful of games and ended up with a nothing and nothing record? You can tell where this is going. I pulled up Baseball Reference’s Play Index and searched pitchers since 1901 that appeared in at least 30 games and had exactly zero wins and zero losses. The list found only 38 players.

Ohman is second on the list, tied with Scott Aldred of the Devil Rays with 48 games in 1998. As the list proves—this is a pretty rare thing to do. Trevor Miller, who now pitches for the Cardinals, is first on the list when he appeared in a ridiculous 76 games (46.1 IP) without recording a win or a loss in 2007 as a member of the Astros bullpen. A win/loss record is definitely misleading for a pitcher, but I find it bizarre and fluky that some of these relievers never factored in a decision all season.

Here are some brief observations from this list:

  • The majority of these pitchers finished a lot of games when they were 0-0, but the most saves any of them recorded was three in the year, which means they pitched a lot in games where their team was already losing or ahead by a wide margin. Ohman has eight GF this year and while he has no saves, he does own 14 holds. So the bottom line is Ohman has been pretty effective this year in relief (2.57 ERA) and he’s been able to hold onto his team’s leads.
  • The pitchers on the list are mostly from the past 20 years, especially the 2000’s decade. This is obviously due to the game changing from the days when starting pitchers went the distance almost every time out and the use of relievers was entirely different. The earliest names on the list is Jhonny Murphy from 1947 and Eddie Erautt from 1951. After those two, the next earliest is in 1982.
  • Not only is 2010 the year of the pitcher, but the relievers rule this board so far (mainly because we’re only halfway through the season), but also on the list from 2010 besides Ohman are Carlos Villanueva of the Brewers (42 G, 46.0 IP) Sergio Santos of the White Sox (35 G, 30.0 IP), Joaquin Benoit of the Rays (33 G, 31.2 IP), Damaso Marte of the Yankees (30 G, 17.2 IP) and Logan Ondrusek of the Reds (30 G, 27.2 IP). However, I doubt all of these pitchers will end the year 0-0.
  • And lastly, the majority of these pitchers were effective throughout the year and ended with a nice ERA. The exception seems to be Mike Flanagan of the Orioles in his final season in the majors in 1992. Flanagan, mainly a starter for most of his career, somehow appeared in 42 games with an 8.05 ERA and did not lose one game. Looking at his game logs from that year, he really wasn’t totally awful but had a couple awful outings to balloon his ERA to more than eight. He did pick up 10 holds that year, but also pitched in a lot of games when the O’s were already trailing.

This isn’t exactly big news, but I found the stat intriguing. It will be interesting to follow Ohman and Villanueva to see if they keep up their 0-0 records.

Don’t look now, but the Baltimore Orioles finally have 20 wins in 2010! With an 11-5 victory over the Marlins last night, the Orioles reach the 20-win mark on June 25. That’s pretty awful, but how bad is it exactly?

Well in the past 22 years (minus the ’95 season due to the season starting later thanks to the strike), the only team to win their 20th game later than June 25 were the Detroit Tigers in 2003 when they were 18-58 on that date. They ended up finishing a putrid 43-119 before reaching the World Series three years later. The Orioles were also 20-54 on June 25 back in 1988.

That’s epically bad. It’s so bad that the Pirates can’t even top this one through the past 16 losing seasons. Obviously the O’s have been a complete mess this year from starting pitching and bullpen to shoddy defense and inconsistent hitting. Their 20th win last night was just the fifth win in their last 26 games. Ouch. They have a long way to go, but they have to start stringing some wins together to avoid one of the worst records ever.