Latest deals don’t play well in Chicago
At the time, it seemed like the next-best thing to a Red Line World Series – a rainout providentially providing a September encounter between the Cubs and White Sox, with the expectation that both clubs would have more than bragging rights riding on the outcome of their makeup game Thursday.
But instead of stretch-drive tension, the game will serve only as an ugly scar on a season gone horribly wrong for both teams, whose hopes for autumn excitement evaporated in August. If you’re seeking the two biggest losers since the trading-deadline machinations of a month ago, look no further than Chicago.
On Aug. 1, the Chicago Cubs were a half-game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central, and a game behind the Colorado Rockies and San Francisco Giants in the wild-card race. The Chicago White Sox, meanwhile, were 1½ games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.
Tuesday, the Cubs were 10½ games behind the Cardinals, six away from the wild card. The White Sox, meanwhile, had fallen six games behind the Tigers.
Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, his hands tied by the long-delayed sale of the club, did little at the trading deadline, adding only reliever John Grabow(notes) and starter Tom Gorzelanny(notes) from the Pittsburgh Pirates.
White Sox GM Ken Williams, meanwhile, was at his swashbuckling best, making two huge moves, acquiring ace Jake Peavy(notes) from the San Diego Padres and outfielder Alex Rios(notes) from the Toronto Blue Jays.
Inertia and boldness, the results were the same: The Cubs and White Sox had identical 11-17 records in August. Peavy, who had a bum ankle when acquired and had a setback with his elbow since, has yet to pitch. Rios, meanwhile, hit .179 with a homer and three RBIs in his first 15 games with the White Sox. Meanwhile, Jermaine Dye(notes), the player whose future was most impacted by Rios’ acquisition, has hit just .200 with two extra-base hits since the trade.
By last weekend, Hendry briefly considered trading one of his best pitchers, Rich Harden(notes), to the Minnesota Twins while Williams, pulling the trigger after eight losses in nine games, unloaded two veterans, shipping Jim Thome(notes) to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jose Contreras(notes) to the Rockies.
There will be no one printing postseason tickets on either the North Side or South Side.
The biggest winners at the trading deadline? The flip answer would be to say the New York Yankees, who were 21-7 in August, their primary move the pickup of utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr.(notes) Brian Cashman, who made all his big moves last winter, could afford to stand pat, unlike Hendry, whose offseason moves – trading Mark DeRosa(notes) and signing Milton Bradley(notes) – blew up on him.
But there is little doubt that the Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox are the teams that have profited most by their deadline dealings. St. Louis was 20-6 in August, transformed by the acquisition of Matt Holliday(notes) (.367-8-32 in August), strengthened by the addition of DeRosa and pleasantly surprised by the contributions of Boston throwaways Julio Lugo(notes) and John Smoltz(notes).
Cliff Lee(notes) was 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his first six starts with the Phillies, taking a load off the young shoulders of Cole Hamels(notes), who Tuesday night offered spectacular evidence that he is regaining his 2008 form with a 1-0 shutout of the Giants.
Adam LaRoche(notes), who spent a week in Boston before being displaced by Victor Martinez(notes), has provided desperately needed punch for the Braves (.365-8-19), who were four games back in the wild-card race Aug. 1 and began the night three back.
Martinez was installed in the No. 3 slot by Boston, anchoring a lineup that hit a club-record 50 home runs in August, one more than the Yankees. GM Theo Epstein, in moves reminiscent of his 2004 trades for shortstop Orlando Cabrera(notes) and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz(notes), upgraded the team’s defense by bringing back shortstop Alex Gonzalez and dealing for first baseman Casey Kotchman(notes), and carrying the 2004 analogy even further, added Joey Gathright(notes) as a potential 2009 version of Dave Roberts(notes). There is no ’04 precedent for the trade for left-handed reliever Billy Wagner(notes), who struck out the side in his first Red Sox appearance after coming from the Mets.
Boston won’t catch the Yankees in the AL East, but they will be dangerous in October. They also created separation from the Rays, who did only minor tweaking, bringing in veteran catcher Gregg Zaun(notes), because of financial constraints.
The Giants hoped that adding infielders Ryan Garko(notes) and Freddy Sanchez(notes) would bring needed offense. Garko hit .224 in August and Sanchez was hurt much of the month, but the Giants lost no ground to the Rockies in the wild-card race while creeping closer to the Dodgers. Brian Sabean’s latest move was to add one-time Dodger Brad Penny(notes) to a rotation still missing Randy Johnson(notes).
Ned Colletti, who was in serious talks for Roy Halladay(notes), opted instead to bolster his bullpen, lefty George Sherrill(notes) obliging with a 0.59 ERA in his first 15 appearances. Colletti had an obvious eye on October with Monday’s waiver-deadline deal for Thome, and Jon Garland(notes) gives him a starter with postseason experience. Los Angeles’ other team, the Angels, also were looking ahead to the playoffs with their trade for left-handed starter Scott Kazmir(notes) of the Rays.
The Tigers look like a trading-deadline loser in their deal for lefty Jarrod Washburn(notes), who is 1-2 with a 6.81 ERA in six starts, but the impact hasn’t been as bad as it could have been: The Tigers won four of those games. Washburn has time yet to become a worthwhile pickup.
No halfway for Halladay: Blame it on the groin injury that sidelined him in mid-June, or more likely, blame it on the trade talk that swallowed him up for weeks this summer. But there is little question, Toronto ace Roy Halladay has had an inconsistent season. After shutting out the Royals, 4-0, on June 7, one start after striking out 14 Angels, Halladay was 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA. In 13 starts since, he is 3-7 with a 3.80 ERA, and the Jays have lost 10 of those games. Part of it, too, has been the competition. Of his six August starts, all but one were against the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees. Halladay’s last three starts may have knocked him out of Cy Young consideration – 0-3, 7.94 and a .355 opponents’ batting average. Two of the losses came against the Red Sox, one against the Rays.
“Sugar” soars: Do yourselves a favor and get your hands on “Sugar,” just released as a DVD. Made by independent film makers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, and starring a former aspiring ballplayer (and nonprofessional actor) Algenis Perez Soto, this story of the fictional Miguel “Sugar” Santos as he makes his way from a baseball academy in his native Dominican Republic to the United States in pursuit of stardom offers terrific insight into the enormous obstacles facing Latin players. The movie has the ring of truth, gets most of the details right and is compelling storytelling. And yes, that’s Jose Rijo playing the director of the academy.
Closer than you may think: A persuasive case can be made that Joe Mauer(notes) is an easy choice to be AL MVP, but a handful of candidates – Derek Jeter(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes), Kendry Morales(notes), Kevin Youkilis(notes), Miguel Cabrera(notes) – could yet make it a tough call. To wit: Since the All-Star break, Jeter has nearly been Mauer’s equal as a hitter – Jeter has a higher batting average, .360 to .351, and his home run and RBI totals (seven and 24) are in the same universe as Mauer’s (11 and 31). Morales, meanwhile, has 15 home runs and 45 RBIs since the break, most in the AL in both categories, while batting .371. Teixeira has put up big power numbers while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense, Youkilis has proven a legitimate cleanup hitter in Boston, and Cabrera’s big bat has carried the Tigers.
Fungo hitting: Overlooked in the Mets’ disastrous season has been the play of second baseman Luis Castillo(notes), who has rebounded from last season’s year-long slump and embarrassing drop of a popup in May against the Yankees to post a .372 batting average since the break, second only to Hanley Ramirez’s(notes) .376. … Redefining the definition of “vote of confidence” was Royals owner David Glass by giving GM Dayton Moore a contract extension through 2014, even as the Royals try to avoid another 100-loss season. To Moore’s credit, the Royals have made significant strides in building the team’s baseball operations, but his hiring of Trey Hillman as manager, which at the time he called the biggest decision of his career, can hardly be said to have worked out. … Since July 1, the Cardinals’ Big Three starting pitchers Chris Carpenter(notes), Adam Wainwright(notes), and Joel Pineiro(notes) have gone 29-4. Is pitching coach Dave Duncan eligible for the Cy Young award?